Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Master Logs Page

“You want to know how it starts? The same thrice-damned way it always starts. Somebody wants something. Bad. Bad enough to shell out clams, bullets, or blood. Maybe all three.”
—Louis Fontaine, retired NOPD detective

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New player question: What is the best order to read the logs?

Semi-chronologically. Start in Story One with Amelie, then Story Two with Caroline and Emil, then Story Three with Emmett. Emmett’s last Story Three log will link you to his and Emil’s appearances in later stories. B&B’s logs are huge and many of them aren’t posted, but each PC’s logs are understandable without having read the other PCs’.

Other question: Why can’t I read some of the logs?

Links in green aren’t posted to the site yet, so there is nothing there to read. Links in purple are the readable ones.


Story One


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Chronicle Prologue: An accounting of what has come before.
Amelie I: Fresh off the plane from Canada, Amelie touches down in New Orleans to make a new life in the home of a distant aunt. (Aug 14, 2015)
Alice Prelude: Alice lights a candle in the dark.
Amelie II: Amelie settles in to her new home and makes an auspicious purchase. (Aug 15, 2015)
Alice I: Alice attempts to answer an impossible question and investigates several purported hauntings. (Aug 24, 2015)
Amelie III: Amelie attends her first day at McGehee, the so-called “Southern belle West Point,” and sets her eye on a purportedly haunted house for a research project. (Aug 17, 2015)
Alice II: Alice makes plans for a party and fends off a petty thief. (Aug 25, 2015)
Amelie IV: Amelie attempts to fit in among her privileged peers. (Aug 17, 2015)
Alice III: Alice makes a potentially lucrative book sale. (Aug 25, 2015)
Amelie V: Amelie sets out to explore the Big Easy’s historic attractions and gets a taste of its equally storied corruption. (Aug 21, 2015)
Alice IV: Alice attends a strained family dinner. (Aug 26, 2015)
Amelie VI: Amelie receives a dire prophecy. (Aug 21, 2015)
Alice V: Alice attempts to help a restless shade pass on. (Aug 28, 2015)
Amelie VII: Amelie makes plans for an overnight stay in one of New Orleans’ most notorious paranormal hot spots. (Aug 25, 2015)
Caroline Prelude: Caroline claims her birthright.
Amelie VIII: Amelie eavesdrops upon a cruel truth. (Aug 27, 2015)
Alice VI: Alice makes a move on a long-held crush, but runs into unexpected competition. (Aug 28, 2015)
Amelie IX, Caroline I: Stripped of illusions by her furious aunt, Amelie takes a hard look at the Big Easy’s hidden ugliness; Caroline covers up an embarrassment to her aunt’s alma mater. (Aug 28, 2015)
Alice VII: Alice deals with an angry vampire. (Aug 28, 2015)
Amelie X, Caroline II: Still determined to get ahead in the city, Amelie attends a privileged lunch; Caroline gives a newcomer some helpful advice. (Aug 28, 2015)
Alice Epilogue: A final accounting of what has come to pass.
Amelie XI: Past and future converge as Amelie braves a night in the infamous LaLaurie Mansion. (Aug 28, 2015)


Story Two

Prologue: An accounting of what has come before.
 • Caroline Prelude II
 • Clea Prelude
 • George Prelude
 • Julien Prelude
Emil I: Emil receives a mysterious package and responds to a distressed phone call. (Aug 28, 2015)
George I: George deals with frenzying guests in his hotel and receives an invitation to visit his exiled clanmate John Harley Matheson from the enchanting young Becky Lynne. (Aug 29, 2015)
Caroline I: Caroline gets a 3 AM phone call to bail some family friends out of trouble. (Aug 29, 2015)
Clea I, Julien I: Clea and Julien compete for their sires’ favor and possession of a mysterious artifact. (Aug 29, 2015)
Caroline II: Caroline frantically works to save two lives as new disaster strikes. (Aug 29, 2015)
Clea II, George II, Julien II: Clea cuts a deal with George; George and Julien pay a visit to the Midnight Bayou and its proprietor Sundown. (Aug 29, 2015)
Emil II: Emil learns the way things are done among NOPD. (Aug 29-30, 2015)
George III: George searches for companions to entertain Matheson in his exile, but finds not all of the candidates are what they seem. (Aug 30, 2015)
Julien III: Julien returns to the French Quarter to tie up loose ends, only to receive a lesson in the nature of friendship from Antoine Savoy. (Aug 30, 2015)
George IV: George violates a new victim, pays his respects to two primogen, and swallows his pride for a miserable trek through Clan Nosferatu’s sewers. (Aug 31, 2015)
Caroline III: Caroline pays a hospital visit to friends old and new. (Aug 29, 2015)
George V: George smooths over a grudge with the Mafia, trades truths with an insightful Malkavian, and bears witness to another grim example of Vidal’s justice. (Sep 1-3, 2015)
Julien IV: Julien investigates rumors of hunters hunted, seeks atonement for his sins, and calls in a favor from the despicable Doc Xola to set up tentative peace talks between the Baron’s followers and the Tremere. (Aug 31—Sept 1, 2015)
George VI: George receives a warning from an old flame and deals with unforeseen trouble on the road to Matheson’s. (Sep 4, 2015)
Caroline IV, Emil III: Caroline keeps an eye out for a potential new ally; Emil receives an auspicious visitor. (Aug 30, 2015)
George VII: George races the rising sun back to the Windsor Court, only to face a second foe he cannot so easily avoid: his own Beast. (Sep 5-7, 2015)
Caroline V: Caroline deals with an unexpected fly in her family’s ointment. (Aug 30, 2015)
Julien V: Julien meets with one of the Baron’s lieutenants to negotiate a truce between their covenants, only for events to spiral far out of control. (Sept 2, 2015)
George VIII: George convenes a meeting of Clan Ventrue’s elders to flush out a traitor within the ranks. (Sep 8, 2015)
Caroline Epilogue: A final accounting of what has come to pass.
Emil IV: Emil begins a new investigation into an old mystery. (Sep 1, 2015)
George IX: George confronts not one traitor, but three—to explosive results. (Sep 9, 2015)


Interlude

Cletus I: Cletus deals with a trespasser on his land. (Sep 9, 2015)


Story Three

Prologue: An accounting of what has come before.
Louis I: Lou descends into the Crescent City’s seedy underbelly to find out who is murdering its prostitutes. (Sep 5th, 2015)
Caroline I: Caroline finds new troubles trying to forget old ones. (Sep 2nd—6th, 2015)
Emmett I: Em picks an ambitious new mark to con. (Sep 4th, 2015)
Louis II: Lou witnesses a murder through a dead woman’s eyes, reunites with an old failure, and puts a name to a killer. (Sep 5th, 2015)
Caroline II: Caroline plunges headfirst into her new existence among the Damned. (Sep 6th—7th, 2015)
Emmett II: Emmett tries to abort a soured heist while making a few bucks. (Sep 5th, 2015)
Louis III: Lou turns to the Holy Mother of Church for aid and attempts to pawn off an old keepsake. (Sep 6th, 2015)
Caroline III: Caroline fights for her unlife when an intruder breaches her daytime haven. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Emmett III: Concerned he’s in over his head, Em chances a meeting with a crooked cop and walks into a trap of his own devising. (Sep 5th, 2015)
Louis IV: Lou cases a double homicide and calls up an loa to obtain sorely needed answers. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Caroline IV: Caroline navigates a tense reunion with her mortal family. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Emmett IV: Em faces truth. (Date ?)
Louis V: Lou picks up the pieces of a broken world. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Caroline V: Caroline faces the Lancea et Sanctum’s judgment for her unsanctioned Embrace. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Emmett V: Em awakens from his nightmares in the hospital and faces a horrifying loss. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Louis VI: Lou teams up with a new partner. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Caroline VI, Emmett VI: Caroline attends a tediously necessary social function; Em remembers back to better times. (May 17th, 2014)
Caroline VII, Louis VII: Caroline enlists some desperately needed help in tracking down her sire; Lou takes on a case that makes him question everything he’s ever done. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Emmett VII: Em gets into further trouble with NOPD. (Sep 10th, 2015)
Caroline VIII: Caroline takes a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood. (Sep 7th, 2015)
Caroline IX, Louis VIII: Caroline covers up an inconvenient sin; Lou offers guidance to a fledgling in need. (Sep 8th, 2015)
Emmett VIII: Beset with crushing medical and legal debt, Em strikes a devil’s bargain with the Dixie Mafia. (Sep 10th, 2015)
Louis IX: Lou reunites with an old flame and confronts a wrathful loa. (Sep 8th, 2015)
Caroline X: Caroline swears a desperate oath and meets a friendly face among the Damned. (Sep 8th, 2015)
Emmett IX: Em faces sentencing for his latest misdeeds. (Sep 10th—13th, 2015)
Louis X: Lou races against time to save a stubborn mambo’s life. (Sep 8th, 2015)
Caroline XI: Caroline deals with a home invasion, learns an abject lesson in how little her pride sells for, and witlessly crosses a perilous boundary. (Sep 9th, 2015)
Emmett X, Mouse I: Em pins his trust on a desperate hope; Mouse helps out a ‘friend’ in need. (Sep 13th, 2015)
Louis XI: Lou recovers from his previous night’s ordeals and delivers a soul-wrenching apology. (Sep 9th, 2015)
Adelais I, Caroline XII: Adelais gives a neonate some lessons in etiquette; Caroline faces a regent’s wrath. (Sep 9th, 2015)
Emmett XI: A lifetime of lies comes crashing down as Em grapples over whether to do the unthinkable: tell the truth. (Sep 13th, 2015)
Caroline XIII: Caroline frantically tries to stop the Masquerade from unraveling as her mortal loved ones grow too curious for their own good. (Sep 10th, 2015)
Louis XII: Bereft of allies and options, Lou agrees to a reluctant meeting with the enemies of his enemies. (Sep 9th, 2015)
Caroline XIV, Lavine I, Rocco I: Caroline acts fast to protect her loved ones from their exposure to the Kindred world, but finds the price of their safety may be all-too high; Lavine puts in an appearance at Elysium; Rocco cleans up a neonate’s Masquerade breach. (Sep 10th, 2015)
Emmett XII: Em accepts his fate. (Sep 16th, 2015)
Louis XIII: Lou seeks out a long-dead fortune teller for counsel over his ominous new affliction. (Sep 9th, 2015)
Caroline XV, Rocco II: Caroline sacrifices a friendship to save a life; Rocco helps teach a neonate a needed lesson. (Sep 10th, 2015)
Louis Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.
Emmett Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.


Interlude

Mouse I: Mouse witlessly crosses a perilous line.
George I: George shares a devastating secret with Antoine Savoy.


Story Four

Micheal Prelude: An accounting of what has come before.
Caroline I: Caroline tempts a witless soul into damnation.
Micheal I: Micheal rallies support against an elder who’s gone too far.
Caroline II, Louis I: Caroline repeats an awful sin; Lou settles for losing slowly and stalks a witless pawn.
Micheal II: Micheal barters with Clan Nosferatu for secrets.
Caroline III: Caroline clashes with a rival coterie through mortal proxies and shares a bitter drink with her mortal brother.
Micheal III: Micheal makes an impossible choice between his family and his ideals.
Caroline IV: Caroline orchestrates a two-pronged hit to reclaim a kidnapped friend, but finds she may be no less a monster.
Micheal IV: Micheal attempts to sway an intransigent Malkavian.
Caroline V: Caroline saves a servant and loses a friend.
Cletus I, Micheal V: Cletus tests the loyalties of Antoine Savoy’s new ‘ally’; Micheal goes on an alligator hunt with Cletus, only to find his remaining humanity may be the Sangiovanni’s true quarry.
Caroline VI: Caroline watches a budding romance bloom full flower.
Cletus II, Micheal VI: Cletus and Micheal go hunting for the biggest alligator in the swamp: the Great Honky.
Caroline VII: Caroline clashes with some twice-slighted rivals for a final time—and the hands behind them.
Cletus III, Micheal VII: Micheal attends a birthday party thrown by Cletus’ cannibalistic redneck descendants; Cletus shows his guest the full measure of Southern hospitality.
Caroline VIII: Caroline interrogates an unexpected captive and tempts a second soul into damnation.
Cletus IV, Micheal VIII, Rocco I: Micheal loses more than time at the Boggs’ hands; Cletus celebrates some unexpected nuptials; Rocco issues a warning to a defiant Anarch.
Caroline IX, Louis II: Caroline severs another tie to her mortal past; Lou sets out to bring a criminal to justice.
Rocco II: Rocco passes on some unexpected news to an elder Brujah.
Micheal IX: The Boggs cross a red line with Micheal.
Caroline X, Louis III: Caroline gets drawn into a perilous game of cat and mouse with her sire; Lou gambles centuries of anonymity over a secret that could change everything.
Rocco III: Rocco plays a game of cat and mouse with an intransigent harpy.
Cletus V, Micheal X: Starving, wounded and out of options, Micheal turns to a seeming friend for aid—only to set and spring a trap of his own making; Cletus exacts vengeance upon a treacherous guest.
Caroline XI, Louis IV: Caroline faces apprehension for her crimes; Lou takes a once-inconceivable risk.
Cletus Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.
Louis V: Having exposed his centuries-hidden identity on Caroline’s behalf, Lou withdraws deep into hiding and seeks out an old teacher’s aid.
Caroline Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.


Interlude

Louis I, Rocco I: An old man attempts to save a young boy’s soul from sin.
Micheal I: Bested but not broken by his captors, Micheal holds out for as long as he can.


Story Five

Prologue: An accounting of what has come before.
Cletus I: Cletus disciplines a wayward childe and strikes a new accord with Antoine Savoy.
Lavine I: Lavine plumbs the centuries-old journals of Pierre d’Iberville, founder of New Orleans, to uncover an even older mystery.
Cletus II, Rocco I: Rocco baits a trap to ensare his new foes; Cletus defends his domain from a dangerous intruder.
Lavine II: Lavine runs into several unpleasant reminders of her mortal past and butts heads with a dogged cop.
Cletus II, Rocco II: Cletus interrogates his new prisoner; Physically and mentally broken by torture, Rocco entertains a duplicitous offer to yet serve his prince.
Lavine III: Lavine journeys beyond New Orleans to seek the wisdom of kowi anukasha, a native spirit of her people.
Cletus III: Cletus prepares a lavish party to host the Camarila’s diplomats, but discovers several flies in his ointment.
Lavine IV: Lavine receives a chilling reminder why her race keeps to the cities.
Annabelle I: Annabelle approaches the Ventrue elder John Harley Matheson over a matter of mutual aid, only to find she has struck a devil’s bargain and must immediately pay its price.
Jacob I, Lavine V: Lavine faces arrest by mortal authorities and assumes a grave new responsibility; Jacob welcomes a new addition to his ‘family’.
Cletus IV: Reeling from a series of new disasters, Cletus shows his mortal descendants the terrible price for disobedience.
Baptiste I, Lavine VI: Baptiste offers succor to a wounded soul; Lavine searches for sacrifices to placate a demanding spirit, only to make one of herself as well.
Annabelle II, Louis I: Annabelle seeks out an unlikely source of aid; Lou goes against his better judgment to help out a lady in trouble.
Baptiste II: Baptiste perfects Clan Nosferatu’s underground defenses and trades secrets with his overly affectionate sire.
Cletus V, Jacob II, Lavine VII: Seizing advantage of the conflict among the Circle’s Acolytes, Cletus puts his own pawns into play; Jacob gets in over his head rushing to a distressed ally’s rescue; Lavine turns to the despicable Doc Xola for help with a kidnapping, only to rapidly find his monstrosity too much to bear.
Baptiste III: Baptiste offers salvation and damnation to a wayward soul and commits himself to a grave new mission.
Annabelle III, Louis II: Annabelle plots revenge against those who have wronged her; Lou cases an old murder for new answers.
Cletus VI, Jacob III: Cletus receives an early guest to his soiree; Jacob is called upon to provide a sorcerous consultation.
Baptiste IV: Baptiste puts into motion a bold plan: the infiltration of Perdido House, seat of Prince Vidal’s power.
Annabelle IV, Cletus VI: Annabelle presents Cletus with an unorthodox gift; Cletus graciously receives his soiree’s guests and shares an enlightening carriage ride with a disembodied elder.
Annabelle V, Cletus VII, Jacob IV: Annabelle searches for allies among the soiree’s attendees; Cletus plies his charms upon his guests and pits the Camarilla against Clan Sangiovanni in a game of symbolic egg paquing; Jacob summons a restless spirit to learn of an ominous intrusion.
Annabelle VI, Cletus VIII, Jacob V: Annabelle attempts to thwart an assassin’s attack; Cletus moves to conclude his prolix diplomatic deal with the Camarilla, but looming specters threaten to throw all into chaos; Temporarily banished from his domain, Jacob makes provisions for the care of his children and witlessly invites a monster into his home.
Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.


Interlude

George I: George dreams.
Cletus I: Cletus looks into some unusual disturbances.
Rocco I: Rocco is called to account by his superiors.


Story Six

George I: George hires legal counsel for his upcoming trial.
Mouse I: Mouse enlists dubious help to navigate New Orleans’ criminal justice system.
Caroline I: Caroline deals with a truculent prisoner. (Sep 16th, 2015)
Mouse II: Mouse faces sentence for his inadvertent crimes.
Caroline II: Caroline deals with a long-postponed threat to her personal Masquerade.
Mouse III: Mouse finds himself in dire new financial straits.
Caroline III: Caroline confronts a dangerous intruder in her haven.
Mouse IV: Mouse becomes a YouTube sensation.
Caroline IV, Mouse V: Caroline punishes a wayward sinner; Mouse endeavors to prove his innocence before a stone-hearted audience. (Sep 17th, 2015)
Caroline V: Caroline loses a friend and entertains a cautious offer from a powerful new patron. (Sep 18th, 2015)
Mouse VI: Less than twenty-four hours after his release from jail, Mouse witlessly lands himself in further trouble with the Big Easy’s police.
Caroline VI: Caroline receives some sorely-needed lessons in Kindred etiquette.
Mouse VII: Mouse faces judgment and sentencing for his newest and even more inadvertent crimes.
Caroline VII: Caroline rediscovers a damning secret.
Mouse VIII: Mouse arrives in his new home.
Caroline VIII, Louis I: Caroline pays the price for her newfound knowledge; A wanted man braves too-familiar danger to aid a fledgling in need.
Mouse IX: Mouse hits rock bottom. (Sep 21st—Sep 22nd, 2015)
Caroline IX: Caroline is called to account for her actions and learns a shattering revelation.
Mouse X: Mouse makes his final stand. (Sep 22nd, 2015)
Caroline X: Caroline grants a faithful servant her final reward.
Mouse Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.
Caroline XII, Cletus I, George II, Rocco I: Caroline comes face to face with her true maker; Cletus makes a trip out to the big city; George betrays two clanmates; Rocco pulls some strings to acquire a new pawn.
Caroline XIII, Cletus II, George III: Cletus hatches a plan to avenge past slights; George is charged with blasphemy against the Lancea et Sanctum.
Cletus III, George IV: Cletus develops a newfound appreciation for the arts; George clashes with New Orleans’ dreaded scourge and pledges loyalty to a new cause and patron.
Caroline XIV, George V: Caroline presents herself before her clanmates; George’s garden of deceit bears fruit as Prince Vidal lays down his final verdict.
Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.


Story Seven

Caroline I: Caroline reminisces over what might (and could never) have been. (Sep 22nd—23rd, 2015)
Story Seven, Milo Prelude I: Milo loses a brother.
Caroline II: Caroline receives a rude awakening and enjoys the hospitality of a powerful new patron.
Isa Prelude I: Isa loses a father.
Caroline III, Rocco I: Caroline attends a tediously necessary social function; Rocco entertains a party of neonates.
Story Seven, Milo Prelude II: A retiring NOPD detective takes on his last case.
Caroline IV: Caroline faces a bitter preview of her Requiem ahead.
Isa Prelude II: Isa tries to save two brothers.
Caroline V: Caroline attends a family funeral.
Rocco II: Rocco collects an owed debt.
Milo I: Milo deals with an intruder in his apartment.
Caroline VI: Caroline sees to her mortal affairs and attempts to set right some old wrongs.
Rocco III: Rocco takes confession and receives a concerning warning about his new tenant.
Isa Prelude III: Isa tries to get by with what’s left of her family.
Caroline VII: Caroline works to engender herself to her discerning clanmates.
Milo II: Milo attempts to make sense of a bizarre home invasion.
Caroline VIII: Caroline establishes a new haven.
Rocco IV: Rocco unwinds with a fellow hound.
Isa I: Isa dies in a bathroom.
Caroline IX: Caroline attempts to mend relations with a former adversary.
Rocco V: A gathering of old friends goes awry as Rocco plays a game of scopa for answers as to a former coterie-mate’s past. (Sep 25th, 2015)
Milo III: Milo attempts to digitally turn the tables upon his stalkers.
Caroline X, Emmett I: Caroline frames an old patsy for a new crime; Em takes a trip outside the Farm.
Rocco VI: Rocco hunts for a patsy to distract a too-fixative Malkavian.
Milo IV: Milo attempts to brighten his spirits among friends and strangers.
Caroline XI, Rocco VII: Caroline and Rocco look into a missing neonate.
Isa II: Isa walks a social tightrope at Elysium.
Caroline XII: Caroline attempts to help an amnesiac solve her own disappearance to make inroads with the city’s Anarchs.
Milo V: Milo pays a visit to what’s left of his father.
Caroline XIII: Caroline investigates the circumstances of her still-mysterious Embrace.
Milo VI: Milo receives a warning from an anonymous benefactor.
Arthur I, Caroline XIV: Arthur prepares a lavish banquet for some demanding patrons; Caroline attends a celebratory dinner. (Nov 27th—Dec 4th, 2015)
Isa III: Isa strikes a devil’s bargain.
Caroline XV: Caroline receives a mother’s gratitude—and rich rewards long overdue. (Dec 4th, 2015)
Milo VII: Milo says his final goodbyes to friends and family.
Caroline XVI: Caroline displays the fruits of her agoge before Clan Ventrue.
Isa IV, Rocco VIII: Rocco raids a lawbreaker’s haven; Isa sells out a faithless ‘benefactor’.
Caroline XVII: Caroline discovers a terrible danger waiting in the wings.
Milo VIII: Milo braves the darkness to take the fight to his tormentors.
Caroline XVIII, Rocco IX: Caroline navigates a perilous web of diplomacy and deceit; Rocco deals with an attack upon his domain. (Dec 16th—17th, 2015)
Milo Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.
Caroline XIX: Caroline learns the truth of her Embrace at long last. (Dec 17th, 2015)


Interlude

Caroline I: Caroline gets into a bitter family argument.


Story Eight


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Caroline I: Caroline celebrates a birthday. (Dec 19th, 2015)
Arthur I, Emmett I: Arthur dances an evening away; Emmett sets his eye on a new conquest. (Sep 7th, 2007)
Adelais I: A heartless art critic discovers her true calling.
Emmett II: Emmett snares the object of his lusts with sweet words—and finds himself ensnared in turn. (Sep 7th, 2007)
Emmett III: Emmett resolves to make a movie and gets in over his head. (Sep 10th, 2007)
Arthur II, Emmett IV: Arthur hits on a new acquaintance; Emmett makes a long-planned romantic move. (Sep 11th—13th, 2007)
Emil I, Emmett V: Emil auditions for a movie; Emmett reviews a script that cuts too close to home. (Sep 15th—22nd, 2007)
Adelais II: Adelais reaches an accord over a prosperous new domain.
Emil II: Emil digs up old graves for answers into his father’s past. (Sep 22nd, 2007)
Emmett VI: Emmett meets the girl he deserves. (Sep 22nd—25th, 2007)
Adelais III: An icy-tempered harpy enjoys her Requiem’s spoils.
Emil III, Emmett VII: Past becomes present as Emil relives a horrific memory; Emmett helps a man in need. (Sep ?—26th, 2007)
Emil IV: Emil deals with inquisitive police—and parents—in the hospital. (Sep 26th—28th, 2007)
Emmett VIII: Emmett gets even like never before. (Sep 26th—27th, 2007)
Emil V: Emil foretells a dire prophecy. (Sep 26th—28th, 2007)
Emmett IX: Emmett walks into a lion’s den. (Sep 27th—28th, 2007)
Emil VI: Emil’s parents try to outrun his past. (Sep 29th—30th, 2007)
Emmett X: Emmett comes to a final understanding with his parents. (Sep 28th—30th, 2007)
Emil VII: Emil peers upon a foreboding future. (Sep 30th—Oct 2nd, 2007)
Adelais IV: Adelais places a “friendly” wager with her brutal paramour.
Emil VIII, Emmett XI: Emil places his faith in a faithless man; Emmett gets some much-needed legal representation. (Oct 6th—7th, 2007)
Emil IX: Emil comes home. (Oct 6th—16th, 2007)
Emmett Epilogue: A final accounting of all that has come to pass.


Story Nine


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Emil I: Emil’s troubles follow him to L.A. (Oct 16th, 2007—?)
Jon I: Jon touches down in Vienna and receives a new mission.
Emmett I: Emmett is executed for his crimes by the state of Louisiana. (Jan 5th—Feb 10th, 2016)
Amelie I: Amelie awakens from a coma into a nightmare.
Emil II: Emil accepts a devil’s bargain. (Date ?)
Jon II: Jon uncovers an alarming security breach among Clan Tremere’s secret police.
Amelie II, Emmett II: Amelie explores new realms beyond her darkest imaginings; Emmett faces his afterlife.
Emil III: Emil settles in to his apparent new life. (Day ?)
Jon III: Jon plays an unseen game of cat and mouse with a justicar’s agents.
Emmett III: Emmett faces judgment for his past sins. (Date ?)
Amelie III: Amelie reunites with an old enemy.
Emil IV: Emil erects the first block in his transyphysical tower. (Oct 16th—17th, 2007)
Jon IV: Jon reminds a long-time servant of her place.
Emmett IV: Emmett trades a tale for a tale. (Date ?)
Amelie IV: Amelie gets in trouble with the law over a falsified crime.
Emil V: Emil journeys into Houston’s labyrinthine underground. (Oct 17th, 2007)
Jon V: Dark wings alight upon Jon’s trans-Atlantic plane flight.
Emmett V: Emmett shares a bitter reunion with his living kin. (Date ?)
Amelie V: Amelie endures.
Emil VI: Emil meets a fellow seeker in his quest for knowledge. (Oct 17th, 2007)
Jon VI: Jon says a bittersweet farewell.
Emmett VI: Emmett faces imprisonment by an altogether different manner of gaoler. (Date ?)
Amelie VI: Amelie begins her jail sentence in Orleans Parish Prison.
Emil VII:
Jon VII: Jon collects his childe and sees to remaining affairs in Seattle.
Emmett VII: Emmett gets to know his cellmates. (Date ?)
Amelie VII: Pushed and provoked beyond all endurance, Amelie snaps.
Emil VIII:
Jon VIII, Rocco I: Jon receives a poor welcome in New Orleans; Rocco greets a new arrival to his prince’s city.
Emmett VIII: Emmett risks all to defy his gaolers. (Date ?)


Story Ten


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Celia Prelude I: Celia regrets a wish. (July 17th, 1997—Nov 15th, 2003)
Celia Prelude II: Celia learns to pretend.
Celia I: Celia spreads her wings beyond her sheltered life.
Celia II, Emmett I: Celia tries to introduce her boyfriend to her parents; Em submits to his latest indignity.
Celia III: Celia resolves to stop suffering in silence. (Nov 24th—25th, 2008)
Celia IV, Emmett II: Celia meets two families; Em fans a spark of rebellion.
Celia V: Celia dares to challenge her father.
Caroline I, Celia VI, Emmett III: Caroline helps her father clean up a mess; Celia works to extricate her family from their father’s grasp; Emmett makes a helpful introduction. (March 31st, 2009)
Celia VII, Emmett IV: Celia looks for love in all the wrong places; Em tries to do the right thing without it backfiring. (March 21st—April 1st, 2009)
Celia VIII, Emil I, Emmett V: Celia chooses between a mother and friend in need; Em plans to take down a bastard in need of taking down; Emil cultivates an investment. (April 1st, 2009)
Celia IX, Emmett VI: Celia makes a devil’s bargain; Em pays for doing what he thought was right. (April 1st—2nd, 2009)
Celia X, Emil II, Emmett VII: Celia witnesses the consequences of a fateful choice; Emil and Emmett try to offer what comfort they can. (April 2nd, 2009)
Celia XI: Celia comes face to face with the monster under the bed. (April 2nd, 2009)
Emil III, Emmett VIII: Emil and Emmett run for their lives with a tape that may decide everything. (April 2nd, 2009)
Emil IV:
Celia XII: Celia decides between fortune and family. (April 2nd—3rd, 2009)
Celia XIII: Celia confronts her sire. (April 3rd—7th, 2009)
Celia XIV, Emmett IX: Celia reaches a bitter accord; Emmett tries to just go home. (April 7th—21st, 2009)


Story Eleven


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Caroline I: Caroline comes to a reckoning with her mortal family.
Jon I: Jon reunites with an old friend and colleague.
Caroline II: Caroline deals with her disownment.
Jon II: Jon and another old friend educate a fledgling.
Caroline III: Caroline celebrates a Christmas Eve unlike any other. (Dec 24th—25th, 2015)
Amelie I: Free from Orleans Parish Prison, Amelie reckons with her all-too abrupt damnation.
Caroline IV: Caroline sees to her myriad affairs.
Adelais I, Caroline V, Isa I, Jon III, Rocco I: The city’s Kindred converge upon Elysium—and find much spectacle in a disorderly guest.
Rocco II: Rocco nurses his wounds and plots a comeback.
Caroline VI, Isa II: Caroline looks for a long-found missing person; Isa learns a brother’s fate. (Feb 16th—Feb 19th, 2016)
Amelie II, Caroline VII: Amelie makes a grisly sacrifice for a new benefactor; Caroline deals with a disobedient servant. (Feb 20, 2016)
Amelie III, Caroline VIII: Amelie comes to a second rude awakening; Caroline curries favor with a primogen.
Amelie IV, Caroline IX: Amelie tries to learn more about what she is; Caroline shows a new fledgling the ropes.
Amelie V, Rocco III: Amelie is presented before the seneschal; Rocco takes an interest in an abandoned fledgling.
Caroline X: Caroline seeks out lost souls and tries to appease an affronted elder.
Jon IV
Caroline XI: Someone close asks Caroline to cover up an unspeakable crime. (Feb 29th, 2016)
Jon V
Caroline XII: Caroline prunes a poisoned tree and looks for love where she can find it.
Jon VI
Caroline XIII: Caroline comes to a final reckoning with her mortal mother and a long-hated foe. (March 1st—7th, 2016)
Celia I, Jon VII
Caroline XIV: Caroline settles in among her new family. (March 8th, 2016)
Jon Epilogue
Caroline XV: Caroline confronts her sire—her true sire—and meets her destiny. (March 8th, 2016)


Interlude Eleven

Celia I: Celia settles in to her existence among the Damned. (Sep 4th, 2009—Dec 24th, 2010)
Celia II:
Celia III:
Celia IV, Estrellado I:


Story Twelve


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Caroline I: Caroline brings a dead woman back to life.
Emmett I: Em gets acquainted with his band of fellow escapees. (Date ?)
Celia I: Celia runs into some unexpected reminders from her old life. (March 4th, 2016)
Caroline II: Caroline deals with another disobedient servant.
Emmett II: Em catches up with an old girlfriend. (Date ?)
Celia II: Celia tries to rekindle an old flame. (July 20th—23rd, 2012)
Caroline III: Caroline attempts to enjoy a peaceful day with her new family.
Emmett III, Lamarck I: Em spies on a vampire and encounters a helpful soul in the Underworld; Lam finds some rubes to con.
Celia III: Celia confesses to an old betrayal. (July 26th—30th, 2012)
Caroline IV: Caroline balances her new duties with increasingly unanswerable personal demands.
Celia IV: Celia reminds her servants of their place. (March 4th—5th, 2016)
Emmett IV: Emmett grapples with his Shadow and spies on his ex-lover. (Date ?)
Caroline V: Caroline contends with the sheriff to sway her sire’s increasingly unstable rule.
Celia V: Celia drinks from the wrong vessel before a poorly-timed family dinner. (March 6th, 2016)
Emmett V: Weary of fighting his dark side, Em strikes an accord with an even greater evil. (Date ?)
Celia VI: Celia takes up the Nosferatu on a dare. (March 6th—7th, 2016)
Caroline VI:
Celia VII: Celia wakes up kidnapped. (March 8th, 2016)
Caroline VII, Emmett VI: Caroline evaluates a new asset; Em forgives an old sin.
Celia VII, Emmett VII: Em and Celia dance through a shared dream. (March 8th, 2016)
Celia IX: Celia interrogates a truculent prisoner. (March 8th, 2016)
Emmett VIII: Em hunts for souls.
Celia X: Celia lets her hair down at one of the French Quarter lord’s famous revels. (March 8th—9th, 2016)
Ayame Prelude:
Celia XI: Celia says a surprisingly easy goodbye. (March 9th, 2016)
Caroline VIII, Celia XII: A children’s playdate turns perilous as Celia reveals her true identity to the wrong person. (March 9th, 2016)
Celia XIII: Celia digs into the past with her mortal mother. (March 9th, 2016)
Caroline IX:
Ayame I, Celia XIV: Ayame tries to avert a massacre of the city’s thin-bloods; Celia tries to lure an older lover back into her arms. (December 4th, 2011—March 9th, 2016)
Celia XV: Celia reconnects with her one-time paramour. (March 9th, 2016)
Ayame II: Ayame reaches an arrangement with an unexpected contact. (March 10th, 2016)
Celia XVI: Celia receives a dire mission from her sire. (March 10th, 2016)
Celia XVII, Emmett IX: Celia deals with some unexpected daytime intruders; Em collects a few more souls. (March 10th, 2016)
Celia XVIII: Celia runs into an unwelcome figure from her past. (March 10th, 2016)
Emmett X: Em hits a potential jackpot.
Celia XIX: (March 10th, 2016)
Celia XX, Emmett XI: (March 10th—11th, 2016)
Celia XXI: Celia puts in an appearance at Elysium. (March 11th, 2016)
Emmett XII, Lamarck II: Emmett commits his greatest transgression yet to receive his heart’s desire.
Celia XXII: Celia shepherds a fledgling into the night. (March 11th—12th, 2016)
Emmett XIII:
Celia XXIII: Celia hears the last words she ever expected to from an estranged relative. (March 12th, 2016)
Ayame III:
Celia XXIV: Celia breaks some surprising news to her family. (March 12th, 2016)


Tall Tales & Might-Have-Beens

The following logs are not canon. They weren’t played out and are speculative fiction written by the game’s players. Nevertheless, truth may be found in lies, and lies may be found in truth: the “real” logs have misinformation and falsehoods aplenty, while the below logs may contain valid insights into characters’ true selves.

At the end of the night, vampires are a race of liars. Find your version of the truth wherever you can.

Capes: Celia waits for her sire.
Gravestones: Celia pays respects to her lost love.
Monsters and Maidens: Celia’s love takes her as a ghoul.
Rescue: Celia prays for deliverance.
Roof: Celia is too late to rescue a loved one.
Whore: Celia learns her place.
Wrists: Celia mourns a wedding that can no longer be.
The Tax: Some hapless tourists hope to win big at the casino.


View
Tall Tales & Might-Have-Beens

The following logs are not canon. They weren’t played out and are speculative fiction written by the game’s players. Nevertheless, truth may be found in lies, and lies may be found in truth: the “real” logs have misinformation and falsehoods aplenty, while the below logs may contain valid insights into characters’ true selves.

At the end of the night, vampires are a race of liars. Find your version of the truth wherever you can.

Capes: Celia waits for her sire.
Gravestones: Celia pays respects to her lost love.
Monsters and Maidens: Celia’s love takes her as a ghoul.
Rescue: Celia prays for deliverance.
Roof: Celia is too late to rescue a loved one.
Whore: Celia learns her place.
Wrists: Celia mourns a wedding that can no longer be.
The Tax: Some hapless tourists hope to win big at the casino.

View
Story Twelve, Celia XXIV

“This is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong."
—Emily Rosure


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless, and perhaps too short for the thoughts swirling in Celia’s head. Alana tells her that a girl named Danielle Garrison has come by, saying that Celia wanted to meet her here. She’s in the Tranquility Room.

Celia: The brief drive leaves her no time to dissect the thoughts racing through her mind. She barely has a plan in how to deal with them, though she knows some meditation will be in order later this evening with Princess, Blossom, and Lucy if she gets a free moment…

Ah, but Lucy is with Elyse, she recalls. Ready, or soon to be ready, to be picked up. Perhaps just the other two, then? Three minds are better than one, aren’t they, and Princess might have some valuable insight to share. This area is her specialty.

Celia stops on her way to the Tranquility Room to briefly discuss things with Alana.

“What I’m about to tell you goes no further than us, you understand?”

GM: At this hour, the spa is mostly closed down for the night. Piper has already left to hit up the bars. Landen doesn’t have any six-year-olds to do the nails of, this time, so they’re off too, as are most of the other girls. Perhaps Celia can ask Madison about Reagan’s makeup later.

Alana nods. “Of course, mistress. You decide what I get to tell people.”

Celia: Saturday evenings are not so busy as their mornings and afternoons. She’s usually the only one here after six, though sometimes she runs into Natalia or Louise working on inventory or counting down the drawer. Less so the former than the latter; Natalia still has school to keep her busy, and she’s that age where Saturday nights mean parties and boys.

“There is a longer conversation you and I will have once things settle. Privately. I have plans and dreams for you, Alana, but I would not sandwich what I think will ultimately be a very enjoyable evening telling you about them between what I must do tonight.” Celia reaches out, tucking a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.

GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” the ghoul beams under Celia’s touch.

Celia: “The girl who said she’s meeting with me. Did you notice anything different about her?”

GM: She shakes her head. “She seemed like she had something on her mind, though.”

Celia: “She does. She is newly Embraced. I hope to find out more about the nuances of what she has become this evening, and I would like you to assist me.”

GM: “She’s already good at blending in. She’s been drinking the tea.”

“But of course, mistress. Whatever you’d like me to do.”

Celia: So she does eat food. Interesting.

Celia takes Alana’s hand in hers.

“She doesn’t know about Jade. That remains between us. As does what I do with my clients, the sculpting. But there are other things…”

There’s no delicate way to put this. She already trusts Alana with the flesh work, the dual identities, knowing about her mortal family.

“Are you familiar with the duskborn?”

GM: The ghoul nods at Celia’s first instruction, then shakes her head. “Not really, mistress. Just that the Quarter has a lot of them, in the worse areas, and they’re pathetic half-vampires.”

Celia: She had expected as much. Not even true vampires know much about them.

“Miss Garrison is duskborn.”

GM: Alana makes an expression of distaste.

Celia: “I knew her in life, before my Embrace.”

GM: “Should Randy throw her out, mistress?”

Celia: Celia’s lips twitch in an aborted smile.

“No, ‘Lana. I’ve taken her in for now.”

“Her brother once did me a great kindness. I plan to return the favor to his sister.”

GM: “All right, mistress. But they’re supposed to be nothing but trouble. That’s what the ghouls I talk to say, who have domitors in worse territories.”

Celia: “They’re products of their environment. Treated poorly by the powers that be. Like any marginalized group, they chafe at this treatment. But becoming a Kindred doesn’t change who you are inside, and Miss Garrison, I believe, will bring a certain light to this world that many desperately need.” Just like her brother.

There’s a brief pause.

“She’s also important to someone I care deeply for, as well as myself, and her safety is the utmost concern. I don’t expect you to wait on her, but I do expect civility.”

GM: Alana inclines her head. “Okay, mistress. Whatever you want her to have, she’ll have.”

Celia: “I knew I could count on you, ’Lana.” Celia gives the ghoul a smile. “Come, let’s get you two introduced.”

She keeps a hold of Alana’s hand on the way into the room to find Dani.

GM: She finds the thin-blood in the Tranquility Room wearing a robe and sipping tea as she scrolls through her phone.

Celia: She doesn’t stare at the tea. But she looks at it, wondering at the answer to her questions.

“Hey, Dani,” she says finally, “thanks for coming over. I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is Alana. Alana, this is Miss Garrison.”

GM: Dani looks up and smiles at Celia’s voice. “Oh, it’s no big! I was glad just to get out. And we met when I came in, actually.”

Celia: “Perfect.” Celia takes a seat beside her, gesturing for Alana to do the same. “How was your day?”

GM: The ghoul sits down.

“It was good. Pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time on my phone or watching movies. Also studying for school. I have classes and work on Monday.”

Celia: “Where do you work? And what times are your classes and work?”

GM: “I’m a clerk for Judge Boner, at the Criminal District Court. It’s mainly thanks to my dad that I have it, ha.”

She provides her school and work schedule. It’s during the day, unsurprisingly.

Celia: “And you don’t burn. At all. Even with prolonged exposure?”

GM: Dani glances at Alana.

“She knows…?”

Celia: Celia nods in approval.

“Yes. Alana is my ghoul. Renfield.” They’d discussed them last night, but Celia is pleased that Dani had at least wanted to make sure that Alana was in on the secret before answering.

GM: “Okay. It’s nice to meet you for real.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Miss Garrison,” says the ghoul.

“I don’t, anyways. I tested it for a while. I don’t like how it feels, but it’s not like I can reschedule school and work to after dark.”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a small smile, “of course not. The job with Judge Boner; do you meet him at the courts or elsewhere? I need an exact part of the city.”

GM: “I meet him at the courthouse. It’s at 2700 Tulane Avenue.” That’s in Mid-City.

Celia: Celia pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that is decidedly human.

“Mid-City was the sight of a slaughter a number of years ago. The people in charge of it rounded up everyone like you, brought them together under false pretenses, and sicced the sheriff, his hounds, and a dozen other licks on them.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “They still make runs through there regularly. And kill everyone they find.”

GM: “But during the day…?”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. Problem is you smell like a ghoul. If you run into anyone who can pick up on that they’ll bring you in to find out whose you are. If they find out you’re Duskborn, you’re as good as dead.”

“And, frankly, I don’t trust them enough to keep their word if they grant safe passage.”

GM: “But will I run into anyone who can smell me during the day? I can’t just drop my job.”

Celia: “It’s a risk, honestly. I’d feel safer about it if you got another job.”

GM: “Well, why is it a risk? There’s… renfields during the day, but not the sheriff or vampires. I really need this job! My grades and resume aren’t as good as Stephen’s…”

Celia: “Because if their renfields are looking out for you then they’ll bring you in, too. People patrol the borders.”

GM: “I could sneak in. They can’t just keep everyone out.”

Celia: “It’s like shoplifting, Dani. You might get away with it once. But keep doing it and the chances of getting caught go up.”

“Let me think about this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“I have some ideas, but I need some time to figure them out, and I need to talk to a few people. Being able to walk around during the day is safer, but it’s not foolproof.”

GM: “Okay, please, let’s figure it out. I really can’t lose this job! My dad’s the only reason I have it. I can’t just stop going in to work, either, I’d need to give notice.”

“And I have to keep going to school, too. Law school has attendance requirements thanks to that fratire author.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. But I can get you another job. I can’t get you another life.”

GM: “I know. But in law, though?”

Celia: “I know some people.”

“There are a few other things I need to know about what you can do. It’ll help us figure out how to get around this for now.” Celia nods toward the tea. “Do you have any trouble swallowing that or keeping it down?”

GM: “Okay. But I think we need to figure this out pretty soon. School and work are on Monday, like I said. I can miss some class and take sick time at work, but I can’t do that forever.”

“And no, it’s good tea.”

Celia: “Good to hear that. Do you still need to use the bathroom?”

GM: “Uh, sort of? I don’t need to as often, and my poop looks like whatever I was eating.”

“It’s not even really poop. It looks like something between chewed-up food and vomit. It doesn’t even smell.”

Celia: “Huh. Sorry for the weird question. We don’t actually eat. Anything I eat I need to throw back up afterward.”

GM: “That must suck. Like permanent bulimia.”

Celia: “Worse. Food doesn’t even taste good.”

“That’s good for you, though. Easier to blend in.”

GM: “Oh, how does it taste?”

Celia: “Like, ah, ash and shit and garbage sludge.”

GM: “Seriously? You can’t eat?”

Dani looks taken aback.

“That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Food and blood are basically the only things I’ve enjoyed this past week.”

Celia: “Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, to be honest.” Sometimes. “What about sex?”

GM: “I haven’t really been thinking about sex lately,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: “Right,” Celia says with a wince. “Most of us can’t enjoy that either. I’m trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum. We can fake it pretty good, but actual sex is kind of pointless to most.”

“That being said, I brought Alana in so we can try a few things.”

“Not sex,” she adds after a second.

GM: Dani tenses at first, then relaxes.

“All of that sounds so awful. It’s no wonder other vampires are jealous of duskborn. All the benefits and none of the drawbacks, besides racism.”

Celia: Celia gives that a nod, even though she doesn’t quite agree. Unless her theory turns out to be wrong.

“They hate anything different,” is all she says.

“So normally when we feed it feels really, really good to the vessel. It kind of fogs their memories a little bit too, which helps preserve the Masquerade. What I’m about to ask you to do is normally… uh, honestly just don’t do it outside of this situation. But I’d like to see what happens when you feed on Alana.”

GM: “Okay. If you’d be comfortable with that?” she asks Alana.

The ghoul smiles winsomely. “Of course. Like the mistress says, it feels very, very good.”

Dani gives the word ‘mistress’ a bit of a look, but doesn’t comment. “All right. Wrist or neck?”

“Wrist, please.” She extends her arm.

Dani sinks her fangs into it and drinks. Alana gives a little ‘happy noise’ and closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks.

It’s a less enthusiastic noise than Celia usually gets, though.

Dani stops after a little while and looks at the ghoul. Alana has a glazed but not unhappy look to her eyes.

Celia: Celia watches, both to make sure that Dani doesn’t take too much or hurt Alana and to see the effect it has on her ghoul. Once Dani pulls away she tells her to lick the wound if she hasn’t and sees if it closes.

She sees the visible effect it has on Alana and remembers what it felt like when Dani fed on her, but she asks about the rest of it. The glazed memories, mostly.

GM: The puncture marks close under Dani’s tongue.

Celia: Perfect.

GM: Alana says that she “remembers thinking this was a good idea,” but can only recall the pair’s precise words after being pressed.

Celia: Celia beams at Dani.

“This is excellent. I was worried there’d be gaping holes and no fugue state.”

GM: “Okay, so that’s good news?” Dani smiles back.

Celia: “You still shouldn’t be feeding publicly because you could be seen, but it’s better than the alternative. Some of us have a painful bite, I’ve heard, which makes everything more difficult. I’d still try to disguise it as something else to be very careful, but this is good.”

“Now. The thing you did the other night. The fear. Try it again.”

GM: Dani pulls back her lips, showing her small fangs, and growls.

Alana doesn’t look terribly perturbed.

Celia: Celia nods again.

“Can you make her think she’s your best friend?”

GM: “How do I do that?”

Celia: “It’s an emotional pull. Like how you made the man afraid. You kind of just… will it to happen. Like you think about what you want to happen, ball it up inside of you, and then gently ease it around her. The emotional tools are things that are more subtle than other powers, so you don’t want to force it on her, but you want to kind of crook a finger at her and bring her to you. Like a skittish bunny that you really want to pick up.”

Celia gestures for her to look at Alana.

“Look at her. See how pretty she is? She runs a spa, she’s brilliant, she’s really good with makeup, she tastes great. You want her to want to be your friend, though. Close your eyes if it helps and picture it. Hold the thought in your mind: you want her to want you. Not sexually, but like the best girlfriend in the world. You want to drink mimosas and watch rom coms with her.”

“Feel for her. Mentally. Pretend there’s a line that connects the two of you and send those feelings across it. Picture it like a bubble enveloping her. A big friendship bubble.”

“Or a soft, warm blanket. Put it around her shoulders.”

GM: Alana fairly basks under the praise.

“Okay,” Dani nods at the description. “A bubble, a blanket. That’s a good way to visualize it. You’re a pretty good teacher.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the both of them.

“Thank you.”

GM: The thin-blood closes her eyes a moment, then stares at the ghoul with an invitingly familiar expression, the sort she’d flash to a girlfriend she shares mimosas and rom coms with.

Alana just smiles pleasantly back.

Celia: “Ask her something,” Celia tells Dani, “something personal that she wouldn’t share with a stranger.”

GM: “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?” Dani asks.

“Sorry,” says Alana.

Celia: Celia nods again. She lifts her wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into her own flesh, holding out the fare to Dani.

“Drink, and we’ll try again.”

GM: Dani leans to imbibe.

She drinks hungrily and doesn’t stop.

Celia: Celia pulls her wrist away.

GM: Dani watches it longingly for a moment.

“…sorry. You taste really good.”

Celia: Her smile is fainter than normal.

“I’ll manage,” she says to the apology. “I have a theory that you take on the abilities of those you feed from. Like Rogue from X-Men. I don’t know if it’s the predominant abilities or any ability, so… I think we’ll test both.”

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers, long and sharp and beautiful. She holds them up to Dani.

“Try this. Imagine your nails are claws. Like a cat. Or Wolverine.”

“You’ve seen X-Men, right? Stephen introduced me. I assume you’ve seen it.”

GM: “Oh, wooow! Yes, I have. Those are so cool, and pretty!” Dani exclaims.

“Everything about the mistress is cool and pretty,” Alana remarks contently.

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, ‘Lana. You try, Dani. See if you can make them happen. Like Wolverine. Just pretend you’re about to fight some bad guys and you left your knife in your other pants.”

GM: Dani holds up her fingers and concentrates. Nothing happens.

“Why can’t I?” she asks, frustrated.

Celia: “Not every lick learns every ability. The claws aren’t something most people in my clan know. It’s not rare, but it’s unusual. That’s also why we’re practicing, to find out what you can do, which might let us find out who did this to you. Each clan has their own gifts. Problem is not a lot is known about duskborn, but finding out what you can do will help others.”

GM: “Okay. That makes sense. But why isn’t there much known about duskborn?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Because of the policy of open genocide. Vampires can’t generally kill each other without getting into trouble. But in most cities they’re not considered vampires, so they just die by the dozen. It’s like… being an illegal immigrant. You kind of don’t exist. Or a slave before the Civil War.”

“Also I think they’re kind of a recent appearance. So a combination of things. Sorry to be blunt.”

GM: Dani doesn’t say anything for a moment. Just processes Celia’s words.

“I didn’t ask for this.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. I know. We’re going to make the best of it. I have some favors to call in to get some things done for you. And the Quarter is the best place for you while we get it settled. At least here you’ve got someone sharing domain with you, you know?”

GM: “I do. And I’m really thankful for that,” she says, sincerely. “What sorts of things and favors are you thinking? I don’t want to put you out…”

Celia: “A lot of them are pushed to the edges. The ghetto. And once you finish this semester there’s more flexibility in what we can do, I think. How much longer do you have left for school?”

“Don’t worry about the favors. I’ve got it covered. But if I need help with something I’ll let you know if you want.”

GM: “I still have a year,” Dani answers. “And, please, let me know. You’ve already done so much.”

Celia: “Your brother meant the world to me, and to my family. He was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed him, and he pulled me out of a hole so deep and dark I never thought I’d be free. And you, Dani, you should have been my sister. I can’t change the world, but I can make this little piece of it more bearable.”

“Family means a lot to me. My ghouls, they mean a lot to me too. You can ask Alana how others like her are treated. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I need to be a monster. And it might take a while for you. I know my adjustment was difficult and I didn’t have the stigma of being duskborn. Their world moves slowly because they’re immortal. Progress and change take time. But I promise, Dani, we’ll get you to a place where you’re comfortable with who and what you are.”

“And hey,” she adds, “some of them look down on me because I still enjoy sex, so fuck ’em, you know?”

GM: Dani stares at Celia with shining eyes upon her declaration. Some of it has to be the bond, but no doubt much of it is real too, and the bond has but amplified those emotions.

“I’m sorry that didn’t get to happen, you marrying my brother,” she gets out. “But I’m really glad you found me, Celia. Just so glad. I don’t know where else I would’ve turned. I trust that you’re going to make things turn out as well as you can. And I know you don’t want me to repay you, but… I’d still like to do something for you back, now or in the future. Just name it.”

Celia: Celia takes her hand. She feels bad about the bond. She really does. But it’s for Dani’s own good, just like pushing her brother to let her stay was for his good. It has to be. She’s not a monster. She’d said that. That means it’s true, that she’s not a monster. She’s doing the best thing she can for their family.

“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re safe with me. Always.”

“Now, let’s try that bubble again.”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It takes a few tries, and some patient tutoring, but the bubble meets with some success. Dani manages to inflame Alana with adoration for Celia, prompting her to start hungrily kissing and fondling her domitor.

Celia: It’s an unusual reaction for the fact that it’s usual for Alana, less so that it came from Dani’s attempt to manipulate her. After she gently cools Alana’s ardor with a stray thought she returns her attention to Dani. She lets Alana stay on her lap, though, so long as she keeps her hands to herself.

She asks Dani what she did, what she was focusing on, so that she can better understand the ability that she had shown.

GM: Alana makes herself at home on that lap like there’s no place she’d rather be.

Dani says she “felt for what was there” and tried to give it a push. A blanket, like Celia said, but one Dani was picking up from the ghoul’s lap to drape around her shoulders.

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s a good explanation of what she had just done as well, though she’d taken the blanket back off Alana and settled it on the ghoul’s lap instead. It’s a step in the right direction, and it tells her at least a little bit about Dani’s capabilities.

She tells her that the ability she’s using is called “star mode,” though Celia has always just referred to it as “charm,” and there are some who have more traditional names for it as well. Unfortunately Celia doesn’t know a lot of the other skills, so she might need to bring in someone else if Dani wants to find out what her capabilities are.

Celia, of course, has no idea how she’s going to explain this to anyone. “I’m running some experiments on thin-bloods, can I borrow your vitae?”

She offers to take a blood sample to her warlock friend, if Dani wants, to see if he can find anything out for her. Not that she thinks Pete will be much inclined to help a duskborn. She also kind of feels like she already owes him. But maybe.

GM: Dani is pleased to hear she’s making progress and asks what other things she could learn to do. Can she fly?

Dani thinks that Celia’s offer sounds like a good idea and draws a blood sample for her.

She also asks if she could be there. She’d like to meet some other vampires.

Celia: Flying, Celia tells her, is a very advanced skill. The only lick she knows who is capable of it has been around for over a hundred years. If Celia ever manages to learn it she promises Dani that she’ll bring her along for a ride.

Celia watches Dani draw the blood sample, wanting to know if she’s able to mend her flesh as easily as true-blooded vampires can.

There’s a pause while she considers the request. Generally duskborn only mingle with other duskborn. But if anyone would be open to meeting her it probably would be Pete, so Celia says she can ask him. She also wants Dani to meet a friend of hers, but she’s still working on a way to sneak him in. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, she jokes. The good news is they’re both already dead.

“By the way,” she asks, “did you get a hold of your father for dinner?”

GM: Dani’s eyebrows raise when Celia tells her that flying real. She’d love to come along for that ride.

Dani draws the blood by biting her wrist and licks it closed when she’s done.

Dani would very much like to meet Celia’s friend.

“I did,” she nods. “I told him there was a friend I really wanted him to meet, who knew Stephen, and who wanted to talk to him about Stephen. I didn’t say it was you. I wasn’t really sure how we’d explain how you, uh, only broke his heart because you were a vampire.”

Celia: “Probably for the best,” Celia admits. “I’m still working on a cover story for him.”

Celia: Celia nods. She asks Dani to excuse her rudeness for a minute and digs out her phone to call her mom.

GM: Her mother picks up promptly.

“Hi, sweetie! How was… your dinner?”

Celia: “It went well,” Celia tells her. “I’d like to tell you all about it. Are you going to be up for a bit? I have a client in…” Celia glances at the time, “soon, but it should only take an hour or so.”

GM: “Oh yes, definitely! It isn’t all that late, anyways.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I swing by after?”

GM: “Oh, that’d just make my night, sweetie! Please do!”

Her mother’s enthusiasm sounds as sincere as always. She loves having her daughter over. But it’s plain she wants to hear about that dinner with her ex, too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t blame her. All girls want to hear about their exes.

“Perfect. Hey, Mom… you remember Stephen, right? From college? I just ran into his little sister. And we got to talking about Stephen, and one thing led to another and… well, do you want to have dinner with her and her dad? With you and Emily and I?”

GM: “Oh, I definitely remember Stephen,” her mother says quietly. “That poor, poor family. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.”

“Yes, I’d love to have dinner with them. Over at our place?”

Celia: “If it’s not too much trouble. Maybe tomorrow or Monday?”

GM: “It isn’t, sweetie. Stephen did just so much for us. We wouldn’t even be in this house to have guests over for dinner, if he hadn’t put us in touch with Viv…”

“I’ll cook something extra special. But please let me know soon whether it’s going to be tomorrow or Monday, so I can know when to start cooking.”

“And so Emily can make plans.”

Celia: Celia considers her schedule. She doesn’t think she has anything pressing either night. And why not just go for it? The biggest hurdle is going to be clearing it with her grandsire, which she plans on taking care of tonight.

“Let’s do tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay, tomorrow it is. You didn’t mention her with dinner, but Lucy’s obviously still going to be home.”

Celia: “What? How dare she. Send her to the movies, Ma.”

“Just kidding, that’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, alright? Love you.”

GM: “Okay, we’ll talk soon. I love you too!”

Celia: Celia hangs up and looks back to Dani.

“Tomorrow it is.”

GM: Dani looks up from her own phone.

“Awesome. I heard something about someone not going to the movies?”

Celia: “My daughter.”

GM: Dani pauses. “Oh. That must be tough, to be a vampire and a mom.”

Celia: “My mother raises her.”

GM: “That makes sense.” She pauses again. “If vampires can’t have kids… you’d have gotten pregnant nine months before you broke up with Stephen…”

“Is he the father?”

Celia: Celia hesitates.

Lucy isn’t her secret. But it’s a good explanation, isn’t it? She’d told Stephen as much. That they could just tell Henry she’s Stephen’s child. And why not? What’s the harm? If Henry is as broken as Dani says he is, maybe he could use something beautiful in his life—

GM: Dani frowns. “Wait, no. He never said anything about you being pregnant.”

Celia: Her ruminations are cut off by Dani’s words.

“No,” Celia says.

“Lucy is not my child. Her mother was raped by a terrible person and didn’t want to abort her. I agreed to take her in, but… I died.”

“But to protect her mother, I’ve lied and said she’s mine.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani. “I’m sorry. But that was really, really kind of you.”

It’s just as well. Diana and Emily would probably look askance if Dani showed up full of excitement to meet her niece.

Celia: “A lot of people who knew me assume that Stephen is the father. We had a scare, once, but… well, I mean, I was Embraced shortly thereafter, so even if something had happened it died with me.”

“After Stephen died… I thought about… continuing the lie, you know, and introducing her to your father, but Stephen told me once that he’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie, and it wasn’t my place.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Celia…” Dani repeats at Celia’s first words, squeezing her hand.

“And Stephen is right. Dad wouldn’t want to believe a beautiful lie.”

“I wouldn’t either. The law exists to maintain justice, and justice can’t exist without truth.”

Celia: “You sound just like him.”

GM: Dani gives a faint smile. “Same dad. Same family.”

Celia: “You’re good people, Dani. You and him and your dad.”

GM: “Thanks. My dad can seem stern or distant to a lot of people, especially since Stephen died, but he’s good underneath.”

Celia: “He warned me about that same thing, you know. Before I met you guys for dinner. I was so nervous I was going to say something stu—silly.”

GM: “I don’t think you did. He didn’t say anything later, either.”

“He has gotten harder and less outgoing since Stephen died, though. Like I said, part of him did too, after that. His son was just his everything.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine how hard losing a child is. There’s…” Celia forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “A friend of mine asked if you’d be happier in another city, so you don’t have to hide what you are from him. And… ordinarily, you know, I’d have said yes. But I know how losing Stephen hurt your dad, and, Dani…” Celia reaches out, “I keep thinking about… what I’d say to him, you know, if you disappeared too, if you died…”

GM: Dani emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no, I don’t want to leave!”

“I mean, he might rather have Stephen than me, but I’m still all he has left.”

“And all of my friends and people I know are in the city. I’d planned to go into law here.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m so uptight about everything with the territories. I know it’s awful of me, I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to fence you in.”

GM: “Could we… negotiate?”

Celia: “I’m going to try.”

“I can manage your school, I think. The person who runs the territory is a hardass, but I have something he wants, and I’m happy to trade it to him for you. It’s the Anarchs that run Mid-City that make me nervous.”

GM: “Could we just pay a toll? Because that’s what the Mafia and other organized crime groups do, sometimes. They let outsiders do business in their territory in return for a cut of the money.”

Celia: “Usually, yes. That’s what I’d do. It’s the fact that they’re the ones who claim they’re for equality and then sell everyone out the minute they get a better deal that keeps me wary.”

GM: “They sound like scumbags.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“It’s not even that their ideals are flawed, it’s just… they’re so two-faced about it, you know? Like. A lot of the elders, they can be awful. Play games. Put you down. Make up stupid rules. But you know what to expect from them. And yeah they’re old school and racist and I sometimes wish they’d all meet the sun, but you know what to expect. How to act. The rules chafe, but you learn them like it’s a game and you succeed.”

GM: “But the Anarchs say they’re on your side.”

Celia: “And then they call the sheriff on you. And watch you die.”

“There was a girl… the massacre, right? This one girl was real vocal about it, sticking up for the Duskborn, but the minute the sheriff showed up she was the first to bail.”

“If she hadn’t who knows what might have happened. Maybe the Anarchs would have stood with everyone else. And sure she feels bad, but those people are dead.”

GM: “Well, you see stuff like that in the law and organized crime, too. People who maybe don’t mean bad, but who get caught up in bad situations, don’t put actions to words, and make things worse.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia agrees, “maybe that’s what it was. I can buy that. Bad situation all the way around. And I don’t blame her because it wasn’t all her fault, you know? But the people who are supposed to lead the cause? They knew it was coming. They set it up. I like their push for equality. But as long as those two are still around? There’s no way.”

GM: “Boot them out, then. Maybe better leaders will turn up.”

Celia: “They’re both super old and powerful. But I’d like to.”

GM: “Find other people who feel the same way. If there’s any hope for the movement, there’ll be people do.”

“And if there aren’t any, then maybe it doesn’t have a future anyway.”

Celia: “Maybe you can help. We can do it together.”

GM: “I think I’d like to do that with you.”

“I know I haven’t actually seen very much yet, but none of this society seems at all fair or just from what you’ve described, especially towards vampires like me.”

Celia: “Societies are built to keep the people on top happy. That’s what cultures do with anything, and they shove everyone else to the side. Keep them down. Powerless. They do it with words just as much as they do it with deed. You see it in religions a lot, it’s really obvious there, but in politics and… everything, really. They have terms for duskborn that are unflattering, spewed out like any other racist, bigoted term to marginalize them.”

“And the problem is that the people on top of our society have been there for a long time. You get more powerful as you age. So you hold onto it better.”

“And if you live forever and keep amassing power as you age?” Celia gives a half-shrug. “I’m pretty sure some places used to worship them like gods.”

GM: “How old are the oldest vampires here?”

Celia: “Well… one of the Toreador’s primogen is… centuries old. I don’t think she’s ever spoken publicly about her date of Embrace. The Brujah primogen was Embraced during the French Revolution. The lord of the French Quarter was part of the Sun King’s court. The prince… god, seven hundred? Eight? There are a lot like us, you know, newer blood. Late twentieth or early twenty-first century. But enough that were born hundreds of years ago.”

“Two of the people I regularly hang with were Embraced in the early 1900s.”

GM: “Wow,” says Dani. “They must have so many things to talk about. But that’s also… tragic, if they’re what’s keeping vampire society as unjust as it is. If they have all that power and experience but don’t use it for good.”

Celia: “It’s like this all over is the problem. There’s like… I guess there’s people above them that keep them in line, too. And they have these people that kind of travel around like detectives making sure everyone follows all the rules that they put down.”

“So it isn’t even just here. It’s everywhere.”

GM: “So there’s a government, beyond the city here? Who’s ultimately in charge?”

Celia: “I guess you could call it that, yeah.”

GM: “Is there a king, or a president, or…?”

Celia: “I think it’s a council.”

GM: Dani looks curious. “You think?”

Celia: “So… each territory is usually kind of self-governing, and as long as there aren’t any problems they usually just let us do our thing, you know? Travel can be pretty dangerous because of hunters and loops and stuff, so we don’t jet all over the place. And a lot of the old ones don’t like technology.”

“A lot of information is kind of like… not need to know, but just not readily available.”

GM: “That sounds like it would benefit the people at the top.”

Celia: “Exactly. Which is why they do it.”

GM: “So we don’t even know how our own government works, beyond the local level?”

Celia: “People do. My friend probably knows more. I bet he’d be happy to explain it to you.”

“Just, uh, don’t tell him it’s because I couldn’t. His sire is just more connected and into learning and history than mine.”

GM: “Secret’s safe,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

“All right. Go ahead and give your dad a call. My client is supposed to be here in a few and I need to get the table ready. Take Alana’s number in case you run into any trouble during the day and can’t reach me. I’ll talk to some people about what we’re going to do with your school and work and everything else, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

Celia pulls Dani in for a hug before she goes.

“We’re gonna change everything, Dani. I can feel it.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade waits for Rusty to arrive.

This late at night she walks the halls of her spa alone. Once she might have been bothered by this fact, but these days she knows that she can handle most of the things that go bump in the night. She had sent Alana home for the night after Dani’s exit to sleep off the effects of the feeding and emotional manipulation after asking about what Accou had said about their meeting, and promised that she and Alana would have a ladies night one evening this week to talk and unwind after a decidedly eventful week.

Now, though, her focus and attention moves to the man who will be coming through the door at any moment, already planning the treatment in her mind. She doesn’t keep notes for Rusty. She had, once, but years of working with him to reduce the pain from his disease have led her to conclude that the problem sticks to its usual haunts, and he sees her frequently enough that she no longer needs to consult the medical textbooks.

The thought of medical anything makes her think of her father’s promise to fix Diana. She can’t help but wonder which of the licks in Houston he’d get to do the treatment for him, but his mortal daughter, of course, doesn’t know anything about that. She’d been thinking of taking Diana there herself if her teacher or the archon fail to make a timely appearance, but if Maxen can take care of it…

And when, she wonders, had she decided that she trusts him with her mother?

The whole thing could be a ruse.

But it nags at her, the thought that what he’d said is true. A demon inside of him. A metaphor for the blood? He hadn’t smelled like a ghoul, but if he’d gotten rid of it… Or did he mean, truly, a demon? It’s too bad the priest who’d done the exorcism had died or she could simply swing by and find out.

But if there was a demon inside her father, what does that make her sire?

She has no time to figure it out. Not tonight. Tonight she has more worldly concerns, things that don’t involve demons and devils and soul-stealing, ghost-eating monsters. Things like muscles and blood and nerves that send constant pain signals to the brain of her ghoul, that no amount of muscle work will ever completely fix because the entire body itself needs realigned and reworked.

But she can help. Like she does with her mother, she can help until she finds a permanent solution to his problem.

Veronica had once told her that she doesn’t like broken things, but Jade seems to collect them.

She waits for Rusty, and when he walks through the door—slower than normal, she can’t help but notice, and she could kick herself for letting him go so long without her—she smiles at him and takes him back into the treatment room.

GM: Alana reports back that Accou’s herald said it was not necessary to set up a meeting between them over the matter of Cloe. “She said the primogen was willing to wait until North was back in the city, even if that took years. I guess being an elder makes you patient.”

“She also said to convey the primogen’s thanks for your offer of assistance, and that he will avail himself of it when the archon returns.”

“She also said that he would be available in seven nights to discuss Evan Bourelle.”

Celia: Elders and their pretend plans.

But she agrees, because she doesn’t have another choice.

GM: Jade is aware that many elders have real plans, commitments, and obligations, just as surely as any mortal mayor or CEO is likely to have a packed schedule.

Celia: Excuses, excuses.

When she’s an elder she’s going to make people wait months to see her.

Provided she makes it that long.

GM: Rusty, in any case, arrives at the spa and greets his domitor with a wordless nod. The ghoul looks somewhat stiff as he strides inside, and from more than just the time since their last session. He’s always looked a little stiff.

Needing someone else doesn’t come naturally to Regina’s son.

Or to someone whose family makes their own living off the needy.

Celia: Which is why Jade never offers to help, or makes a big deal out of their arrangement. She simply has the table lower for him to get onto without her assistance and a stool nearby in case he needs it. She understands pride. His pride, especially, after all these years.

She doesn’t ask him about the work she’d given him, either. This is his time, and when he’s on her table he is just another client. Everything else can wait.

Face up is the only instruction she gives him.

Once he’s settled she begins her work.

GM: “Still looking into Summer,” he says he lies down, bringing up a topic where Jade needs him. “We hit a new lead. She used to live at a shithole apartment in the Quarter for a little while.”

Celia: Jade nods her head, letting him speak while she works.

She starts with the neck. No face, no scalp. Those were the curt words he had said to her that first session when Reggie brought him in to see if she could help, and those are the rules she abides with Rusty. He doesn’t want the relaxation from the face and scalp. He wants the real work, the problem solving.

Her hands begin at the base of his neck, gliding upward in one long, smooth motion on either side of the cervical vertebrae. No pressure on the bones themselves, but close enough on either side to find the spots she needs. One hand and then the other, she repeats the motion.

GM: The ghoul pauses to sigh.

“Interviewed some neighbors who recognized her description. She had a roommate.”

Celia: Her fingers press upward into his muscles. She makes a sound that might be a “hm?” to show she’s listening.

Jade tilts his head to one side, cradling his cheek with one hand while the other strips the scalenes. Thumb anchored against his traps, the rest of that hand dips beneath his back to pull upward on the muscle fibers.

GM: Rusty falls silent again for a moment as Jade works her magic. He might not call it that like others do, but the silence says enough.

“Bad roommate too, seems like.”

“Pained noises from their unit. Sounds of throwing up.”

Celia: Perhaps if she had not just come from dinner with her father, if her mind was not already replaying the memories of her childhood, the words would mean nothing to her. Pained sounds. Throwing up. Anyone can throw up. She throws up every time she forces herself to eat.

But she is thinking about it. How her mother used to make those same noises when she was a child. How she’d thought it was stress, or pushing herself too hard at ballet, or maybe morning sickness with another surprise baby.

But no, none of that. A man with a demon inside of him had beaten her.

Maybe it’s a leap. Maybe she’s seeing connections where there are none. Maybe she has spent too much time with Elyse and the moon clan’s “enlightenment” has rubbed off on her.

Still, she digs.

With both her hand and mouth she digs for more. Information from his search: who is the roommate? Was she making the sounds, or was Summer? Has it continued since Summer’s disappearance? Information from his body: her fingers tap the message across his skin, stroking, gliding, kneading, until she finds what she looks for and presses down to release the bundle of tightly coiled muscle fibers that is so often responsible for the pain reverberating down his back.

GM: “Summer only lived here after she disappeared,” Rusty says thinly.

Stupid.

Celia: She chips away at it a little at a time, holding and releasing, holding and releasing, and beneath her touch the muscles melt like butter, releasing him from the aches that so frequently plague his body.

She pauses at the tone.

“I assume,” she says, and here her voice takes on the icy tones of her sire, “that if she were still there it would be a simple pick up. Ergo, another disappearance.”

GM: Rusty pauses again too as Jade’s hands do their work.

“It’s a disappearance if someone was expecting her to remain where she was, and she didn’t. This place was a shithole. There’s lots of turnover in tenants.”

Celia: Her eyes roll so far back into her head that they threaten to disappear. She leaves the topic of the roommate alone. If she were worth looking into Rusty would have already done it.

The nodule in his back finally disappears. Jade gives it a final stroke to ease the discomfort from the pressure she had applied and turns his head to work the other side.

GM: Rusty has not been able to verify who the roommate was. The lease was in Summer’s name, and she neglected to mention to the property manager there would be a roommate. The other tenants only think there was, because they sometimes heard voices from the unit.

Summer is gone again, in any case. There was an altercation in the building around when she left. Gunshots fired, though no one (known) dead. Violence is not uncommon around the property.

Celia: Jade thanks him for the update, her frosty tone since thawed. She tells him that she appreciates his work while her left thumb strips the left scalene twice before moving to the shoulders. This side of his body holds different tension: rather than work the lats she unrolls the traps to find the origin of his discomfort.

GM: As to the other two matters, Rusty has mixed news.

He thinks the name “Lee Andrin” that Jade got was a fake. There’s only a bare handful of people by that name, who live in Montana and Connecticut. One’s a retired rancher and the other’s a chiropractor.

Rusty hasn’t found any evidence they’ve ever set foot in Louisiana.

He has, however, had more success with Roxanne. He’s now in her Suncloud account. He passes its information to Jade.

Celia: Disappointing. But she’d gotten the name through a blood ritual… is it possible it had failed? She could ask Pete, she supposes. Maybe she’d heard wrong. The “glinko” thing hadn’t made any sense to her either.

She doesn’t sigh, but she nods her head and asks if he and Reggie can look into anyone with a fake ID (they know plenty of people, Reggie had told her once), or any other Andrins. She tells Rusty that she’d had to divine the name and it’s possible the “reception” was bad. She also mentions she has his friends’ phones, and asks if it’s possible they’ll help.

She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised about the name, in any case. The other hunters had used fake names as well.

GM: He says they can try, and that the phones likely will.

Celia: She’ll get them to him once they’re done here and showers him with compliments for getting into Roxanne’s account.

If he has nothing more for her in those regards, Jade continues the treatment. She waits until he’s done with his report to flip him onto his stomach—once he’s face down it’s more difficult to talk—and coaxes him into relaxing by phrasing it that she needs to feel for a few certain things on his back, and it would be very helpful if he could simply let his body be heavy and allow her to do the motions.

Celia: Only to herself does Jade admit to a certain amount of disappointment that Lee Andrin had not been so easy to find. She’d hoped that she could bring him to the Evergreen tonight, question him, and find out where the leak in security had come from in regards to Roderick. She doesn’t really want to think that it’s Coco, but if only a handful of them had known about his haven…

It worries her that her boyfriend isn’t safe. It worries her that she hasn’t been able to solve this problem for him, that she can’t balance the guilt in her heart with the knowledge that she had been able to eliminate a threat to his person, at least. It isn’t Rusty’s fault, she tells herself, it’s her own. She hadn’t heard right. She’d asked the wrong questions when Pete had used the ritual. She’d wasted the blood and now she doesn’t get another chance because the bodies are deep in the Gulf by now and while she doubts that Roderick or his krewe hadn’t drained their bodies no doubt that’s long gone too.

Stupid.

She is, isn’t she? If she can’t fuck her way out of a problem then she doesn’t know how to solve it. No wonder Savoy and her sire keep her at arm’s length. No wonder her “grandsire” won’t see her for a week, and Veronica lost interest in her, and the only reason Garcia wanted to speak with her was to make a pass and Gui had only wanted to fuck even after she’d showed him that cool thing and Pete… Pete just thinks she’s stupid, she knows it. Pretty but stupid. Someone had said that to her once, hadn’t they? While she was on her knees, someone had told her she was pretty but stupid. Someone who was supposed to help but didn’t, who just made it worse.

Celia’s memories won’t leave Jade alone. They drag her under and batter her from all sides, every nasty thing anyone has ever said about her, and even her father’s “you’re brilliant” isn’t enough to keep them at bay.

No wonder Nico left her.

Maybe her dad should have sent her to the dollhouse.

Maybe the wrong daughter died.

And that’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she can’t take it back, that she can’t fix her family, that she caused all of these problems and she can’t fix them. Every time she tries she gets it wrong.

It’s like a dam bursting. She’s glad Rusty stays silent on the table, that she doesn’t need to keep up appearances around him at least, because she can’t stop the flood of emotions, and only her hands on his body keep her centered.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Every beat of his heart thrums through her, reminding her who she is, where she is, what she is.

She can fix this, at least. She can do that much. She can fix the aches and pains that plague his body, can give him back his ability to walk, can take the tight lines from his face and the whiteness from his knuckles. She’s a physical creature. This is a physical thing. Like a Brujah who only knows how to smash, she’s the Toreador that only knows how to make bodies better.

So she works. She fixes. She glides and strokes and kneads her way down his back, working at the muscles, making them pliable, releasing the tension that she finds from the traps to the glutes. All along the spine she taps and vibrates her fingers to take away his pain because this, at least, this she understands. Bodies she understands. They don’t ask her to know about politics or hidden motives or hunters. They just lay there and let her work upon them and make them better.

Someone had told her that once, too. That she makes things better.

So she does that with Rusty know. She makes his body better because sometimes that’s all she can do.

And maybe that’s enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: However low a girl might feel, there’s always one place she can go to feel loved and accepted.

Or at least that Celia can go.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” her mother exclaims, smiling as she pulls her daughter close for a hug. Like it’s a treat that Celia came by again so soon.

Celia: Seeing her mother again makes her feel lighter than she has all night. She holds Diana close when her mom brings her in for a hug, content for long moments to just soak in the love this woman holds for her.

Even the dark thoughts that threaten to surface stay dormant in the wake of such shining affection.

“Hi, Momma. It’s good to see you too. Thanks for having me over.”

GM: “Thanks for coming over,” she smiles, rubbing a hand along Celia’s back. “I love having you over all the time, like this. It just makes me so thankful we still live in the same city, there are so many families that don’t.”

Back when she was first house-hunting, she’d asked if Celia wanted to live with her and Emily and Lucy, so they could pick a home with enough bedrooms for everyone. Obviously that couldn’t happen, but she’d accepted her daughter was ready to leave the nest.

“I know you just went out to eat, but if you’re still hungry, just say the word. We have leftover casserole and cake, still. And some other things in the fridge.”

Celia: “How did I know you were going to offer me food,” Celia says with a laugh, following Diana into the kitchen. “I’ll let you know if I get hungry, but I think I’m okay for now.”

GM: “Because I’m your mother, that’s why,” Diana smiles back. “But okay. Let’s go get Emily, she’s in her room studying.”

Celia: “Actually, Mom,” Celia interrupts, “it might be better if just you hear this first. And then you can decide how much you want to share with her.”

“Emily has really strong opinions on Dad, and I… want you to be able to hear this without them.”

GM: “All right, that’s fair,” her mom nods. “Though I’ll tell her everything when we’re done, of course.”

Celia: “Of course. I just want to give you time to process first.”

GM: Her mom nods and heads over to the couch to sit down. She pulls up her knees and wraps her arms around her ankles as she looks up at Celia with an expression that’s simultaneously nervous and excited. Almost like a schoolgirl’s.

Celia: “There’s some good and some bad and some ugly,” Celia tells her as she takes a seat in the chair across the room. “As with all things, I think. Do you have a preference on where I start?”

GM: Diana pats a spot on the couch for Celia to sit down next to her. “Oh, wherever you think best, sweetie. But maybe get the bad over with first, like a shot, if you’re not sure.”

Celia: “I don’t want to upset you,” Celia says gently, abandoning her chair to sit beside her mother instead. “And if you don’t want to talk about something I won’t force you, okay? But a lot of stuff came up at dinner tonight. And some of it you might not have wanted me to know, and some of it… answers a lot of lingering questions about… about things that have happened to the family.”

She pauses to take a breath she doesn’t really need, mentally preparing herself.

“We talked about Grandma, a little bit. And why you don’t get along. About the school. And… I just… I wanted to say, Mom, I’m really sorry that I tried to force that relationship on you with her.”

GM: Her mother’s expression turns very still at the word ‘school.’

She doesn’t say anything.

Celia: “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how painful it was, having a relationship with her. He told me that you talked him out of sending me there, and I’ve heard… I’ve heard things, I know some of what they do there, and… I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry I doubted you about her, I never thought that she’d do that to her own daughter.”

“So I just… wanted to say I won’t bring her up again around you.”

GM: Celia’s mother still doesn’t say anything. She presses her head against her raised knees, as if to keep her daughter from looking at her face.

Finally, she just nods.

Celia: “I love you, Mom. Even knowing that. Not because I pity you, I don’t look down on you for it, I don’t think less of you. You didn’t have a choice. I love who you are. And I would have loved who you were, I bet, and if you ever want to talk about it…” She doesn’t force her presence on her mother, but she touches the hand that’s wrapped around her legs. “I’ve seen really ugly things in the past few years, Mom, and if you ever want to talk about it, anything about it, I’m here. I’m listening. I believe you.”

“He didn’t tell me to hurt me. If it helps. He didn’t tell me to hurt our relationship, or to hurt you. And he didn’t say anything bad about you, ever. I asked once, about the divorce, about what happened, and he told me that he didn’t want to insult your virtue by speaking of it.”

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t look up for a few moments, though neither does she shy from Celia’s touch. When she finally does, she looks as if she’s blinking back tears before she pulls her daughter in for another hug. It’s desperate and tight, not warm like the embrace the two exchanged only minutes earlier.

Celia: Celia holds her close. She knows how painful it must be for her mother to speak openly about the things she’d gone through at the Dollhouse. And Celia can’t even tell her that she knows. She can’t ever tell her that she knows, or that she’s been there, that she’s helped. That makes her the worst sort of person: compliant.

She’s glad she had never made a doll for Lucy. Glad that she had never brought over any of the dolls she had made, that she hadn’t brought Lucy-Doll over to the house to show her mother.

GM: Their stares always seemed to linger for so long when she would get ready to visit her mother’s house.

“I’m… I’m sorry…” Diana finally gets out in a small voice. She doesn’t let go.

Celia: “Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”

GM: Celia’s mother just sniffs and holds on to her.

Celia: “You’re safe now, Momma. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”

GM: Another lie. Elyse has said she brings in dolls for ‘touch-ups’ before. Dolls require maintenance and repair, sometimes more advanced than their owners can provide. Just like Lucy does.

Diana clings to her daughter like she would a husband. Minutes silently pass with the pair’s arms around one another.

“Is that… all the bad news,” Celia’s mother finally says.

Celia: But Payton can’t hurt her, and Celia won’t let Elyse get her hands on her mother again.

She holds her mother for long moments, letting her cry as she needs. She doesn’t press for details. She wants to know, of course she does, but Diana isn’t ready to speak about it, and Celia will not force her to unburden herself.

“I think so. Aside from that… dinner went well. Really well.”

GM: Diana pulls away at last to dab at her eyes.

“Tell me about it,” she sniffs. “Tell me something good and happy.”

Celia: “He’s… different, Mom. Really different. Like he was before he became… you know, who he was when we were growing up. It was like seeing a completely new person, one that I thought had died a long time ago. He remembers what he did, he knows he hurt you, and he said he’s been working on a way to make amends. Because ‘a man doesn’t just waltz back into someone’s life with apologies,’ that’s what he said.”

“But he did start there. With an apology for everything he’d done. How he should have sheltered and protected us and he abused us instead, kind of… a lot of stuff like that. How he messed up. He said Logan has been pushing him to reconnect but he wasn’t ready yet, because he wanted to do something instead of just saying words.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks like she’s about to start crying again. “Oh, he’s such a good man. I told you, Celia, he was so gentle…”

Celia: “And he told me that we’d succeeded despite him. That even though he’d tried to break us we were stronger and better than that, and he… I said something ki—kind of dumb, I misunderstood, and I thought he was going to call me stupid again, and then I said it, later, and he… he said I wasn’t, that I never had been, and I shouldn’t care, you know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.”

Celia’s mother isn’t the only one that looks like she wants to cry.

“And I hated him for so long, and now I just… I just kept thinking, he’s not even my dad. Why does it matter. He’s not my dad. And if he knew that, would he have been nice to me tonight? And I can’t tell him. And I just feel like a big liar.”

GM: Diana cups her daughter’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, Celia, you aren’t stupid, you’ve never been, not ever…”

The reminder of the lie, though, makes the happier expression on her face die again.

“It’s my fault there, baby, not yours…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I know. I know it’s not my fault, but it still affects me, and you said… years ago, you said that the Roberts people knew somehow, and Dad is running against him next year, and what if it comes out?”

GM: Diana blinks. “He’s running…?”

Celia: “He’s running for governor.”

GM: “Oh my… oh my goodness! That’s wonderful! He told you this? Even the buildup to the election’s still some time away…”

Celia: “Yeah. I wondered… you know, a little bit if some of this was because he needed to fix his image to run for higher office.”

“But I… don’t think that’s true. I mean, it is, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”

“We had a… it’s kind of…” Celia trails off. She clears her throat. “It’s kind of weird, what he said, and I don’t… really know how to explain it…”

GM: Her mother takes her hands. “Go on, sweetie, I know you can, you’re so smart.”

Celia: She tells her mother about Isabel reaching out to their father. About the arguments they’d get into on the phone, and how Maxen had struggled to listen to her because he couldn’t beat her via call, and how if he’d tried she would have just disappeared again. She tells her how they’d talked a lot about faith, and how she’d pushed Maxen to confess his sins and let Jesus into his heart, and how he finally had.

She tells her mother what he said about the priest. And the demon. And the exorcism.

And when it’s done she lets the words hang, because none of it… none of it sounds plausible. Demons and priests and exorcisms. It’s a horror movie, not real life, but Celia doesn’t say any of this to her mother. She doesn’t tell her mother that she thinks it’s true, or that she knows it’s true, or that demons are the least of their problems, or that the same demon that had gotten to Maxen had taken her, too, had sunk his claws so deeply into her that she thinks she’ll never be free again.

She keeps that part to herself.

And she doesn’t say, either, that this is why she’d left Emily to her studies.

Because Emily would never believe it.

GM: Her mother slowly takes in the tale. She doesn’t interrupt, just listens, and though her eyes might be surprised they aren’t judging.

“Celia… do you think he’s changed?” she finally asks. “Do you think… that he might hurt you, us, again?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I think right now he’s changed. I think he wants to make things right. And I’m scared that if it got him once it will get him again.”

Because what else will her sire do when he realizes that Maxen is free?

Let him go?

Hardly.

GM: “But you think he’s better now. That he was like how… how things used to be.”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: Her mother makes another tearful sound.

“Oh, Celia, I miss my husband. I miss married life. I miss my children having a father. I miss having someone else make the hard decisions and take care of things, I don’t want to do that anymore. If he’s back, I don’t care why. I just want my man back.”

Celia: Celia had expected this. She doesn’t point out that technically her children still have a father, they’re just separated.

“I think,” she says slowly, “that this might be a wait and see situation. That if you want to get your toes wet… you’re an adult. I won’t stop you. But I don’t think jumping in is wise, given the history.”

“But he would like to speak with you and apologize for himself. And he gave me something for you. It’s in the car. Just… give me a second, I’ll go get it.”

Celia takes a moment longer than she strictly needs to retrieving the things from the car. The box of memories. The adoption paper. She looks down at the treasures in her hands and asks herself if she’s doing the right thing.

A year ago, she’d have said no. No way. There’s no way that she would have ever let her mother come near Maxen again.

A week ago she’d have killed him for showing up. She’d have pulled a knife like Emily, only unlike her (official?) sister, Celia would have finished the job.

Even last night. Celia would have gutted him. Would have told her mom no. Would have mind-fucked her so hard that she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone Maxen’s.

But that apology. The offer to fix Diana, when Celia hasn’t been able to. And maybe, if it had just been those things, Celia would have spat in his face and told him where to shove it. But the confession. The demon. It’s real. It has to be real because she’s seen it. She was inside his head. She knows there are ghosts and vampires and werewolves, why wouldn’t there be demons too? And maybe it’s not even him. Maybe it’s inside of him too, and maybe she has to pull it out of him. Maybe he’s been trapped for a hundred years with a thing inside of him and no one has even bothered to look and see because they don’t know him, they don’t care about him.

They don’t love him.

Not like she does. They’re connected, they have to be, because nothing else makes sense. Evil doesn’t get to win. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Life is cheap, sure, but maybe hers is supposed to mean something.

She’d asked him once. If he had known what her father had done to her family. And he’d told her it had made her strong. She hadn’t understood. Not then. But maybe now. Maybe this is what he meant, that she’s strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe he put her there, knowing it would be a loveless household, knowing that she would care about him anyway, so that she could save him.

Don’t you save people you love?

And that explains so much, doesn’t it.

Her father.

Paul.

Camilla.

The mimic.

All of them just as icy, just as frosty and aloof and awful as he is. Because whatever is inside of him spreads. And it spread to them through him, and it might have spread to her. Maybe it tried that night. Maybe when she’d been inside his mind it had tried to pull her in and keep her forever, and maybe he had known that she is the one that can handle it because…

Because she’s special?

“You’re my special little girl.”

Because she’s special.

And that’s why he’d Embraced her.

Because she’s strong. And smart. And capable. And special. And loves him despite the fact that he’s awful to everyone else, awful to her. No one else would have survived being his childe if they hadn’t grown up in that household. They fear him. She doesn’t. Not truly. She was taught to see the world through fire and nothing looks safe.

It was the perfect blend of everything she needed to become exactly who she is now.

So she’s going to find it. The source. The thing that has him.

And she’s going to kill it.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia makes her way back inside with the box of things her father had given her. She keeps the manilla folder to herself for now—she thinks Emily might want to be here for the big reveal—but she sits down on the couch with her mother and moves it toward her.

“Dad asked me to give you this.”

GM: Celia finds her mother massaging her leg with her eyes closed when she gets back, but when Celia does, Diana unwraps the box and pulls off the lid with a curious expression. She lets out a gasp at what she sees inside. All those trophies showing gold ballerina figures, a few of pointe shows, some with the name ‘Diana Flores’ and others ‘Diana Underwood,’ depending on the year.

Celia’s mother takes out one of the albums and opens it to a page showing a crowd of girls in black leotards and white leggings, the first row kneeling in front of the second as they smile towards the camera.

“Celia, how…?”

Celia: “He said he’s been collecting them for a while for you. He couldn’t give you the originals, but he tracked down people at your old studio, and your friends, and he was able to convince them to share with him. Because he said he was awful to you, that he stole what you loved most in the world, and that you hadn’t deserved it.”

“And he thought maybe it would help at least a little bit.”

“He also said…”

“He said there’s a medical center in Texas. And he spoke to them about you, and… and that your condition is going to get worse. But they have a new, experimental treatment available.”

“And he said that you might be able to dance again.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying again as she pulls her daughter into another hug.

“Oh, Celia… I don’t even know what, what to say…”

“This is like a dream…”

Celia: It is. It’s like the sweet dream after waking up from a terrible nightmare. Or the sweet dream before a terrible nightmare. Or something. She’s wary. She’s cautious. But she’s happy. For herself, for her mother.

“I know a little about the treatment,” Celia says quietly, voice choked with emotion, “I told you last month about my colleague, how he might be able to do something similar. I thought he could show me, that I could do it, but… he was called away, and I don’t know if or when he’ll be back, and I wanted… I wanted it to be me who helped, but I don’t have that medical training, and if he can make it happen…”

“If he can make it happen then you should do it, Mom.”

GM: “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay…” her mom murmurs, running a hand along her back. “You are making it happen, here… you’re such a blessing to have in my life, I don’t even know how many times I’ve thanked God for you in my prayers…”

Celia: She’s glad to hear that. That at least her mother loves her, even though she lies about… everything.

For long moments she’s content to stay in her mom’s arms, not speaking, just feeling. Letting the woman’s love wash over her. Letting it soak into her. Because so what if she doesn’t have a dad, right? Her mom loves her enough for two people.

“There’s one more thing,” she says finally, pulling away, “but it involves Emily.”

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and murmurs how much she loves her, equally content to let the seconds pass by and by. If there are moments that feel as if they last forever, there are worse ones that could.

“All right, sweetie, do you want to go get her now?”

“Or, actually, maybe I should, Victor and Shadow are in her room… we keep them there, usually, when you come over.”

Celia: Stupid cats.

GM: Smart cats.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: “Probably, then. I think… it’s going to be hard to explain Dad to her. She didn’t know him before.”

GM: “I don’t know why those kitties never liked you,” Diana remarks, shaking her head. “I think you’re right, though… I don’t think she’s going to take this well…”

Celia: “I don’t want to alienate her. She’s family. And I don’t want to make it sound like she doesn’t understand, or that she’s not part of this. Because she is.”

“And if I were her I’d see it the same way she probably does. Like we’re crazy.”

GM: “Oh, absolutely, I don’t want to alienate her either!” Diana nods resolutely. “I feel like God placed her in our lives, Celia, right when Isabel… left. You can’t replace one daughter with another, but… she was just the thing in our lives, when we needed her most. I don’t know how I’d have raised Lucy without her.”

“I want her to be okay with this. But I think you’re right she’ll probably think we’re crazier than soup sandwiches…”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“I don’t want him to tear the family apart again.”

GM: “What do you think we can do, sweetie?”

Celia: “I’m thinking. I don’t want to lie to her. And I don’t think she’d believe us about, you know, the thing inside of him. Even though she does play all those Shadow games with Robby, it’s just a game, you know? Saying that maybe Dad really did have a demon inside of him… who would believe that? And maybe it wasn’t a real demon, but…”

Celia trails off.

“Mom, what about… the school?”

“What if we told her about that? And just make it sound like Dad… did it in reverse? Had it undone?”

GM: Celia’s mother falls silent.

Celia: “That’s your secret. I won’t talk about it if you don’t want me to.”

GM: She gives a slow nod.

Celia: “Okay. I’m sorry I brought it up again. It was a dumb idea anyway.”

GM: “Would you like some cake, sweetie? Us and Emily?” her mom asks.

Celia: “No, thank you. I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.”

GM: “Oh. Okay.”

Celia: “But I’ll take some to go, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Oh, yes, more than!” Celia’s mom smiles. "I’ll pack something up after we’ve talked to Emily. But I still really don’t know what we’re going to say to her. "

Celia: “I think Emily is going to bring up some valid points about taking things slow with him if she comes around at all. And I agree with that. And maybe we all get together for a family dinner sometime this week. Let her meet him. I mean, meet him again.”

GM: “That might be something,” her mother nods. “There’s no better way to calm the waters than breaking bread together, I’ve always thought.”

Celia: “He never liked being challenged, you know. I remember that. Didn’t like repeating himself. Maybe we just let Emily do her worst, and if he makes it through that it tells us what we need to know, too.”

“And if it is all fake, it’ll come out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “That’s an idea! Maybe frame it like that, us needing her help.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “You’re so smart, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “You’re my little smarty pants. But okay, I’ll go get her.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom, watching her walk away.

Times like these she’d love to just tell the whole truth.

GM: There are licks who do it. There are ones who get caught. But they always seem like such stupidly sentimental licks, unsuited for this life, not like Jade is.

What if there are smarter ones who tell and get away with it?

Celia: It’s not worth her mother’s life. Not worth Emily’s life.

All it takes is one wrong word and they’d both be dead.

And her, too.

For real dead.

Not animated body dead.

Unless she bloods them…

Emily would be a terrible ghoul.

GM: They’ll die eventually, if she doesn’t.

There won’t be anyone else who loves her like they do. You can find other lovers, but you only get one mom.

Celia: Emily got a second mom.

GM: Only because her first one was crap.

New sisters don’t happen on a lark either.

Celia: Not worth it, though. McGehee is in different territory. She’d have to explain that. Plus Riverbend for Emily at med school, and she’s already trying to juggle Dani’s situation.

GM: Maybe she’ll feel differently some night, after Diana is old and gray and retired.

Celia: Maybe the best thing she can do for them is let them live their lives.

GM: It’s not overlong before Diana comes back. Emily’s dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She smiles as she hugs Celia.

“Hey. How bad did it go?”

Celia: “Hey, Emmy.” Celia rises to her feet to hug her adopted sister. “It, uh, it went pretty well actually. I was kind of surprised.”

GM: “So ‘well’ means ‘you pulverized him into goo with a glance and he’ll never bother us again?’”

Celia: “I wish I could pulverize people into goo with a glance.”

“Is that a World of Shadow power? ’Cause listen, I want to play that guy.”

GM: “Sort of? It’s one of the things you can do with wizard characters, if you take the right abilities.”

“There’s a lot about that game I really like, but it’s not Black Dog’s most popular one.”

Celia: “You’ll have to show me sometime.”

“But, uh, but dinner… dinner went well, though. Maxen was… nice. We talked about a lot of what happened. And he apologized, which kind of blew my mind.”

GM: “Eh. I could see it, actually. Abusers can turn on the charm and do a sympathetic act.”

Celia: “Actually… It’s funny you bring that up.”

“I was going to save this for the end, but since you’ve provided the opening…”

GM: “Apologies are worth shit, anyway.”

Celia: “That’s what he said too, actually.”

GM: “Sounds like he’s a good actor.”

“I hadn’t thought he had that in him, after he called me a mongrel to my face. And said in the good old days, ‘human abortions’ like me were sterilized.”

Celia: “Then you know what to look for when he comes to dinner.”

GM: Emily looks between her and Diana.

“What.”

“Maybe we should sit down,” their mom suggests.

“I’m fine standing, thanks,” Emily answers. “Since I’m presuming there’s not a lot to talk about, beyond ‘cut that piece of shit out of our lives, again.’”

Celia: Celia sits. This is going to be a long conversation.

GM: Emily sighs, then follows her to the couch.

Diana sits down on Emily’s other side.

Celia: “I’m honestly not really sure where to begin. I would just like for you to listen, though, and hold your skepticism ’til the end.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll say this first.”

“We don’t owe him dinner. We don’t owe him a chance. We don’t owe him jack shit.”

Celia: “We don’t. We don’t owe him anything. I made that very clear to him at dinner tonight.”

GM: “I talked with Payton, by the way, and scheduled some time with Viv.”

Celia: “With Viv for what?”

GM: “Uh, legal advice, because I did something illegal.”

Celia: Celia makes a stabbing motion with her hand.

GM: “Yeah. Or might not have. Stand your ground laws and the restraining order. But that’s why I’m talking to the professional.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

Which reminds her… “Did you tell her about tomorrow yet, Mom?”

GM: Diana nods. “I did, sweetie.”

“Yeah. Dinner with Stephen’s family. Sounds good,” says Emily. “I know how much he did for you.”

“Which having dinner with Maxen kind of spits in the face of, but I digress.”

Celia: “Oh, good. Before we talk about Maxen, I wanted to talk about Lucy. And let you know that—”

She’s right.

It does.

GM: “Yeah. You also told me all about that dinner Stephen had with him, that was so shitty and horrendous it opened his eyes and made him do all the things he did.”

“But, I digress. What about Lucy?”

Celia: “Just… just a sensitive topic, considering the timing could have made her Stephen’s.”

GM: “Well, we know she’s not. I distinctly remember watching Mom pop her out.”

Diana makes a mildly chiding throat-clearing sound.

“The timing, though… you’re right,” she frowns. “We can’t tell them Mom popped her out, obviously.”

Celia: “I was just going to talk to him about it privately before he came in.”

GM: “I’d just tell them the father isn’t Stephen and leave it at that.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “It isn’t their business beyond that.”

Celia: “Making sure we’re all on the same page.”

“But anyway, Maxen.”

GM: “I think we are,” Diana nods. “Just say she’s yours and not also Stephen’s. That’s nice and simple.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to rehash her entire history with Maxen to Emily. Between she and Diana, the girl already has a pretty good idea what he was like, and she’s seen firsthand the results of his abuse. Years ago she and Emily had spoken about what he was like before that fateful birthday party, so she knows that the entire history is… messy.

She doesn’t tell Emily about the demon, or about the school. Those aren’t things she thinks that Emily will understand, and how can she explain them anyway? But she does run down what happened at dinner. She describes his exorcism as “soul-searching” and “atoning for his sins” and “realizing his mistakes.” How he didn’t want to waltz in with apologies and nothing else. How he’s been searching for a way to make it up to them.

And how he’s started to, beginning with the box of memories. She lets Diana show it to her.

GM: Emily is true to her word and holds her tongue. But her face is flat as a pancake all throughout.

Diana wrings her hands at Emily’s expression, but all-too happily picks up the box and removes one of the earliest trophies, with the pointe shoes in pink as if for young girls. “So for this one I wasn’t even dancing professionally, yet, since I was only 13. I got it…”

“Give them back,” says Emily.

“What?”

“This is what narcissists and abusers do, Mom. They give gifts. And yes, conventional wisdom goes that it’s as a means of control and getting close to victims, so they can hold ‘I gave you this’ over their heads.”

“But there was an interesting paper I read a little while ago that said gifts from narcissists are actually gifts to themselves.”

“Because gifts cause cause feelings of gratitude and admiration, which are what the narcissist craves. Gifts are how they purchase affection and control. They don’t actually care if the gift makes someone happy.”

“I think he does want me to be happy, sweetie,” Diana says quietly.

“I don’t,” says Emily. “I think it’s just an act, and a way to draw you back into his life.”

“And it’s working. He gave you gifts, now you want to invite him over for dinner.”

“So give them back.”

“Let me show you some of these old photos, sweetie,” Diana says, reaching into the box. “You never got to see me dance, like the others-”

“I don’t want to see them.”

Diana looks hurt.

“You told me about those days, Mom,” Emily amends. “That’s enough.”

“You were a beautiful ballerina. I know that. I’m happy you had that. I’m mad that he took it away.”

Diana glances at Celia.

“These are just things, Mom. Objects. Bits of plastic and whatever they make trophies from.”

Celia: “That’s why we need your help,” Celia finally cuts in.

“Mom and I are too close to it. I think I’m pretty good at reading people, but it’s entirely possible that he was lying to my face and had ulterior motives. Mom wants to have dinner with him. Obviously I’m not letting her go alone. And I thought if anyone could see through his act, it’s you.”

GM: “Okay. So if I say it smells like bullshit, that’s it? You’ll return the gifts and cut him out?”

Celia: “Well. He did give me something I can’t return.”

Celia finally hands over the folder.

GM: Emily opens it up.

Diana gasps.

“How…?!”

Emily frowns.

“This has to be illegal.”

“Oh, you’re my daughter, sweetie! It even says so, right here!” Diana exclaims, overjoyed as she pulls Emily into a hug. “Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you happy, too!”

“I don’t want his gifts,” says Emily. She returns the hug, though with rather less vigor.

“I’m already your daughter. A piece of paper doesn’t change that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much.

“One dinner. If you smell bullshit I’ll walk.”

GM: “That’s all he’s giving, Mom. It’s just… confetti. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing of substance, nothing we need.”

“So he can have this back. I’m not taking it.”

“In fact, I’ll talk with Viv about this, too. He didn’t even get my signature.”

Celia: “That’s probably a good idea. Find out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Sweetie… if there were ever a hospital emergency, or if one us were to die without a will…” starts Diana.

“We have wills,” says Emily. “And yeah. It’d suck, if something came up, and the fact I wasn’t legally your daughter shut me out.”

“But I’d rather not be legally recognized as your daughter than let this piece of scum back into our lives so he can hurt you again. Hurt us again.”

Celia: “So it’s settled. You look into it. And if he doesn’t pass your bullshit detection test then we’re done.”

GM: She looks at Celia. “Couple things.”

“First, I expected this from Mom. Did not expect it from you.”

Celia: “Mm. Never mind that I just had dinner with him to make sure he wasn’t going to report you. And am playing peacemaker until his arm is fully healed.”

GM: Emily sighs. “Yes. I fucked up there. I know. Mea culpa. I’ll talk to Viv and see what our options are, because I am not relying on his goodwill.”

“Second, dinner is playing into his hands. He’s going to be on his best behavior. Because he knows that’s how he’ll ‘win’ and get close to you again, and hell, maybe he’ll try to look so nice and sweet that I’ll look like the crazy and unreasonable one for being cold and rude, probably helped by how I have a vagina and he doesn’t. Hell, maybe that’s how he hopes to drive a wedge between us. It’s all just fucking mind games with narcissists. You can’t win against them. You can’t out-mind game them. All you can do is refuse to play.”

“Third. Why take the chance?”

“Okay. Let’s say there’s a possibility he’s somehow turned around. It’s incredibly remote, and like something out of fucking Disney, but I’ll grant it’s at least theoretically possible.”

“But from your perspectives, it should also be possible that he’s not. That this all just an act, exactly what I described, and a way to get close to us again.”

“Why. Take. That. Chance?”

“There are other men. If you want a man, Mom, we’ll help you find one. There are more men in the world than Maxen Fucking Flores!”

Celia: “Mom, can you give us a sec?”

GM: “I should know that, I’m currently fucking a pretty good one.”

Their mother clears her throat. “Ah, of course, sweetie. Just give a holler!”

“Or just knock on my door, I’d rather we not yell with Lucy asleep. Or yell anyways.”

“Okay, we’ll do that,” says Emily.

Diana gets up and leaves.

Emily looks back at Celia.

“Seriously. I expected this from her. But not you.”

“Why the fuck do you want to take this chance?”

“If the dice come up short, Mom could lose her leg or get raped or killed or who the fuck knows what.”

Celia: “Because he dangled something in front of me I can’t look away from. And because I think you’ll agree with me.”

“And because if and when this does turn to shit I’m going to be in the position to ruin him.”

“None of which I’m going to say in front of Mom.”

GM: “So what did he dangle that’s worth gambling Mom’s life?”

Celia: “Her leg.”

GM: “Her leg?”

Celia: “There’s a procedure that can fix it. He has access.”

GM: “There isn’t a procedure. She got shit care when she needed quality care, and it fucked up her leg permanently. All we can do now is treat symptoms.”

Celia: “Those toes grew back by magic, did they?”

GM: “No, by science. Toe reattachments are possible. They can go wrong, but they can go right. We lucked out that hers went right.”

Celia: “Luck had nothing to do with it. What do you remember about that night, Emily?”

GM: Emily frowns. “What does that matter?”

“What if Maxen is lying? What procedure is this? Dd he actually show any proof?”

“Because while neither of us may be actual doctors, I’m a lot closer to being one than he is.”

“Not that you need to be a doctor to sell someone a load of bullshit.”

Celia: “Maxen didn’t need to show me proof. I’ve heard of the procedure he mentioned. I brought it up to you a while ago and you said it wasn’t possible so I didn’t push. But it is. And if he can get it for her and I just have to swallow shit for a year then that’s what I’ll do for her.”

“And, again, perfectly placed to ruin his career. He’s not the only one capable of lying.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s assume this procedure is possible,” says Emily. “Couple things.”

“First, Mom is past 40. Her best friend just retired from ballet.”

“Her days there are over. Have been for years. She can still dance. She dances at her classes. She just can’t do it on stage, at a professional level.”

“But could she do that anyway, with her leg back? There’s probably another principal dancer at her old production company now, someone who’s also been working years to get there.”

Celia: “She won’t be in pain anymore, Em.”

GM: “More pain than Maxen might put her through? There are meds she can take for her pain.”

Celia: “I’m not saying for her to date him again. I’m not saying that she’s going to live with him. I’m not saying they’ll be a family.”

“Those meds don’t treat the problem. You don’t slap a bandaid on a bullet hole.”

GM: “Sometimes there is no cure, just treatment. And sometimes a cure can be worse than the disease.”

“If he fixes her leg, Mom is going to fall head over heels for him. What if she does something stupid, like say he’s Lucy’s father?”

Celia: “Then I’ll kill him.”

GM: “…okaaay, leaving out the ‘how,’ that’s another cure worse than the disease.”

Celia: “Emily, I’m the last person that wants to believe he’s suddenly a good person. But if he can fix her leg? If she can stop taking pain medication and grimacing? I’ll swallow my hatred for that. And I’ll make sure that he doesn’t hurt her.”

GM: “How? Let’s say the procedure is real, and that he’s not changed. Mom falls for him, and he hurts her, again. Then what?”

“Because unless you live with them 24/7, you can’t guarantee that. He will have an infinity of chances to hurt her.”

Celia: “Then I’ll get her out. Like I did last time. And I was a kid then. I didn’t have you. I’m better prepared. And she’s not moving in with him. No. Ever. Never. She’s not going back to Audubon.”

GM: “What if he hurts her and she doesn’t want to leave?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that she’ll kill him again.

But she will.

GM: “What if she blabs about Lucy? What if both? What if she wants to move in?”

Celia: “She won’t blab about Lucy. She doesn’t get to.”

GM: “What if she does? Can you guarantee she won’t?”

Celia: “Then I’ll fight that custody battle. And Maxen will be known as the guy who raped both his teenage daughters.”

GM: “All she has to do is come out that you aren’t Lucy’s mom, and there is no custody battle.”

Celia: “You think I can’t fake a paternity test?”

GM: “Uh, why would you have anything to do with it? He’d do his own test. Mail in the sample to a genetics lab. And if it comes to a court dispute, guess who wins?”

“He’s a fucking rich white male politician, they always win there.”

Celia: “You think she’s not just going to sneak off to see him if you put your foot down? Like a rebellious teenager? We control it this way.”

GM: “What, we’ll just tell Mom she can’t see Maxen? We’ll keep her under guard, restrict her phone use, so she can’t ever talk to him?”

“If he fixes her leg, you think she’ll be able to stay away? Gifts are how narcissists establish control, and if she accepts a gift that big, he will have control. She’s gaga enough for him already.”

“She’s an adult. We can’t physically stop her from seeing another adult if she wants to.”

Celia: “And she’s going to do it with or without our approval. We can at least be there with her to show her if it’s wrong.”

GM: “Or we can try to nuke this entire thing in the bud, right now.”

“Before it gets any worse. Any more out of our control.”

“Give back the trophies. Give back the birth certificate. Call off dinner.”

“Fucking hell. Lie about Maxen hitting you when you return them, fake some bruises, if you think there’s no other way.”

Celia: “I get it. I do. Trust me, I understand. I lived through it. I’m asking for one dinner. And then, if you don’t like it, we walk.”

GM: Emily sighs.

“Fine.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her.

“I’m not going to let anything bad happen. I love her.”

GM: “Lucy won’t be there.”

Celia: “Of course not.”

GM: “Be a good moment to give back the birth certificate.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to seeing you riling him up.”

GM: “I’ll say something else, too. Mom has bounced back from some horrendous shit, and for all I give her about being a doormat, you were right when you said she’s come out from hell, twice, as a source of light and love and life, rather than something mean and broken and bitter. If she goes through hell a third time, I don’t know if she’ll come out the same. Or come out at all.”

“And Lucy. Mom and us have raised her right. She’s happy. She’s safe. But it would be so fucking easy for Maxen to ruin that.”

“I believe you are strong and capable, but these ’I’ll just ruin him’ and ’I’ll just kill him’ ideas sound like something out of a fiction novel. I see ten thousand ways they could go wrong and fuck up your or Mom’s or Lucy’s or my lives. Or all of our lives. Ultimately, you can’t predict or account for everything, and there are no guarantees. You are playing with fire inviting Maxen back into our lives, because however you slice it it, this is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong.”

“I’ll risk one dinner, to get you on my side. Because I don’t know how I’m going to keep Mom away from Maxen if you’re not also on my side.”

Celia: “I suppose I was a little dramatic,” Celia allows. “And you’re right. And when he shows his true colors in front of Mom, where we can see it happen, where we can stop it from escalating, I won’t even be mad when you say ‘I told you so.’”

GM: “I’m more scared if he doesn’t show his colors, Celia, than if he tries to hit her.”

“I’m more scared if he just hides them deep and Mom doesn’t believe me.”

Celia: “This is where I twirl my mustache and say ‘I have ways of making them talk’ in a bad Russian accent.”

GM: “Like I said. You can’t out-mind game a narcissist. All you can do is refuse to play.”

Celia: Sure you can. Especially when you’re a vampire.

GM: Emily sighs. “Let’s get Mom.”

They make their way down the hall. Emily and knocks and then opens the door anyway. The bedroom has floral-patterned white and pink wallpaper with a large bed heaped high with pillows and colorful quilts. There’s pictures of all the Flores children at various ages, Emily included, and two paintings of dancing ballerinas, and a pink ‘tutu lamp’ on the bedside table that Diana thought was the cutest thing. She’s on the bed, cradling her leg and making low noises with a pained expression.

“Damn it, Mom, you need to take your meds,” Emily sighs as she sits down and starts massaging the leg.

Celia: “Or stop overdoing it.”

“Maybe you give the extra lessons a rest for a while.”

GM: “The… sorry, sweetie?” she asks with a wince. Emily shifts her hands.

Celia: “The extra lessons. With the Devillers.”

GM: “Oh. Well I think they could use me, their youngest is just so scared of strangers, and it’s a crime for her not to dance…”

“That’s their problem, not ours,” says Emily.

Celia: “It’s not worth your leg.”

“And I spoke to your friend last night, actually.”

GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie! I’m glad you did! I’ve wanted you to meet a few times, but just haven’t been able to make the schedules work out.”

Because Celia is a vampire.

Celia: “Bit of an accident, didn’t even realize who I was calling. Naomi and Mom are close on the phone list. But we got to talking. And I remember you saying she was looking for a job. So… I mean, two birds, really.”

GM: “Well, she needs to get a job at a dance studio. The Devillers don’t pay enough to make a living off of. It’s side money.”

Celia: “Which will help while she looks.”

GM: “Oh, I have an interview lined up for her, though. It’s pretty soon. And she’s staying on at the company, for a little longer.”

Celia: “Mom. This allows you to bow out gracefully. Your health is worth more to me than their daughter dancing.”

GM: “I think more meds will be a better treatment than less lessons, though,” says Emily. “Even if they can be combined.”

Diana shakes her head. “I can’t take those, they make me say crazy things.”

“They don’t make you, Mom.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I think they do.”

Celia: “I mean, when you said the crazy things, you’d just left their house. Maybe it’s stress of all that extra? The whole evening was kind of… crazy.”

“And if it’s just side money anyway you don’t need it. You have a comfortable salary.”

“Even if you did, your health is, again, more important.”

“I knew a massage therapist who messed up her hands forever trying to keep up with too much work. Younger than you and she had tendinitis and carpal tunnel in both arms. Can’t even hold a phone properly now.”

“Take a break from that. When you stop feeling the constant pain you can try again.”

GM: “…all right, sweetie. Maybe until the pain gets better,” Diana relents. “That poor friend of yours…”

“The pain won’t get better if you don’t take your meds,” says Emily as she works.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mom’s hand.

“It’s not forever. Just have to take care of you first. Then you take care of everyone else. Like on an airplane with the oxygen masks.”

“And Emily is right, Mom. Take your meds.”

GM: “They make me say crazy things,” she repeats.

Celia: “Maybe we can get a different prescription? Try something new.”

GM: “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Celia: “That’s what you’ve got us for.”

GM: Her mother smiles. “Would you mind giving me the rest of this massage, sweetie? You’re both amazingly talented, but I can get them on-call from Emily, since she lives here and all. They’re rarer from you!”

Celia: “Of course not, Mom. Happy to help.”

Celia switches places with Emily.

GM: Their mother sighs with relief as Celia eases into her familiar routine. She asks if Emily would mind packing Celia some cake “and other food, too!” since she’d rather not get back up. Emily answers it’s a sure thing and leaves to do so. Diana sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughters take care of things.

It’s as Celia said.

That’s what she’s got them for.

Even if she won’t always let them.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXIII

“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
—Maxen Flores


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: After the time Celia’s spent with Dani, 4 AM is soon approaching. She has time to change back into her dress for Roderick, if she wants to. Dani asks what she’s dressing up for and where she’s going, but doesn’t raise any objections. “Only one bed in here, anyways.”

She asks, again, where she can go in the Quarter and the larger city, and if she can go more places during the day, when other vampires won’t be around.

“I’m so glad I found you, Celia. I really, really am,” she exclaims, giving her brother’s girlfriend a last hug. “I’m sorry how things turned out with Stephen, but… I think he’d understand, if he knew. And be happy that he was able to help your family.”

Celia: Celia clarifies the rules about the Quarter and the territory for her. She says that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to risk anything during the day, since ghouls are out and about. Not yet. Maybe once Celia finds out a few things for her. She gets Dani’s address and keys so she can visit the house in Riverbend and retrieve her belongings, though she doesn’t promise it’ll be soon. And she reminds Dani that it’s secret: Celia isn’t a vampire (even to other vampires, don’t tell even them, maybe especially them), vampires aren’t real, be careful not to be seen feeding. Take them into the bathroom rather than doing it in the middle of the club, that kind of thing. Also that she won’t be available during the day, but if she needs something to text and Celia will get back to her when she wakes up. She mentions that she’s free on Sunday or Monday for dinner if her dad wants to come to the Quarter. They can go out or Celia can host him here.

Celia hugs Dani close once her dress is back on, saying the same thing.

“I’m happy we found each other too, Dani. We’ll figure this all out together and make a plan. And… I think he’d understand too. Thanks for saying that. It means a lot.”

A few final goodbyes and Celia heads out to meet with Roderick. She has so much to tell him.

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy to limit her movements so much, but says she can do that for now as she passes off her keys and address. “I do still need to attend class, though… law school has attendance requirements.”

She says she’ll be careful hunting. She’ll call her dad and see what works for the D.A.

A drizzle starts outside outside. Dani looks around for an umbrella, so as not to ruin Celia’s pretty dress. The Toreador finds her haven much as it was when she returns at 4 AM.

Roderick arrives soon thereafter. Her lover looks glum and tired, but smiles when he sees her.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

He hangs up his coat, then scoops her up in his arms.

“What I said earlier. You’re not allowed to walk, in here. You’re too pretty to.”

Celia: She wants to know what it is that has him looking so glum, but she doesn’t want to ruin the mood. She’d almost expected him to fail to show, or to show up angry and berate her for letting someone else touch her, or say something rude about being able to fight his own battles. But there’s none of that, and the fight she’d been prepping for, the tightness in her shoulders, it all disappears as soon as he pulls her into his arms.

Her lips find his immediately, settling into his embrace with a little giggle.

“Is it silly that I missed you all night?”

GM: “No. It isn’t silly at all.” His answering kiss isn’t passionate, but it’s definitely… needful. He gives her a tired smile.

“Let’s get you onto the counter, it’s hard to molest my present when she’s in my arms like this.”

Celia: She can agree to that.

GM: Roderick carries her to the kitchen counter and sets her down, even placing her feet in the sink. His lips trace her cheek, her neck, and then her breasts as his hands appreciatively trace her her hips and rump. He finally lays his head against her chest for a long moment.

“Tonight sucked.”

Celia: Celia pulls him close, stroking her hands across his chest and shoulders, then around the back of his neck and head. She cradles his face against her chest.

“Talk to me. What happened?”

GM: “Just a lot of… bullshit in Elysium.”

Celia: “Oh, did I miss something after I left?”

GM: He lays his head contently against her.

“The story. With the hunters.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t wince, but she wants to.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “They wanted the details. All the details. Everything I could remember.”

“Guess the topic was a real hit.”

Celia: “Bet it made you look like a badass, though.”

GM: “I’m not proud of what I did there. I felt sick, boasting about it.”

Celia: She should have realized. Should have used something else. Anything else.

GM: “Chris congratulated me for losing my virginity.”

“That was a real hoot.”

Celia: Maybe the floor will swallow her.

GM: “Veronica and Adelais had a real time with it.”

Celia: “Were they cruel to you?” Sharpness in her voice that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

GM: “They’re cruel to everyone.”

“I guess this was mild, for them.”

Celia: “Cunts.”

GM: “Backhand barbs in all the compliments. I swear that only the harpies can make compliment still feel like put-downs, but like there’s nothing you can do except nod dumbly along.”

Celia: “You could dig back. Or divert their attention. They’re like dogs that see a squirrel. Chase after it.”

GM: “I guess,” he says heavily. “They just really liked the story with the hunters.”

“I guess fuck hunters.”

“Coco… god. She drew it out.”

“The story. Brought everyone back to it, when other things started to come up.”

“So I had to just nod along, because, well, she’s my sire.”

Celia: Her lips purse.

“Why would she do that? She knows how you feel about it.”

GM: “Yeah. She still did. Asked a bunch of questions. Said a bunch of things. Just wouldn’t let the topic drop.”

Celia: “I thought she was better than the others, but the more you tell me about her the less I think that.”

“At least Veronica is upfront about being a bitch.”

GM: “She is better,” Roderick says defensively. “I’d rather have her than Veronica, I know that.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“Right. Sorry.”

GM: “She didn’t put me down or try to make me look stupid. Just… wouldn’t let it drop.”

Celia: “Was she fishing for details? To find out if you’d really been alone?”

GM: “I already told her all the details, before tonight.”

Celia: “Then why?”

GM: “That’s what I asked her, afterwards.”

“Well, ‘asked.’ More like yelled. We got into it.”

“She said she was looking out for me, that it raised my standing for Elysium to hear I’d killed those hunters. That it did, indeed, make me look like a badass, and other Kindred would respect me more. Killing hunters is a good and socially contributive thing that good Camarilla licks do.”

Celia: Gee, Celia should show off her kill count then.

GM: “I told her how I wasn’t proud of it. That the whole thing made me sick.”

Celia: Tell them all how she made them kill themselves while she’d been cuffed.

Doesn’t sound like Coco cares much about what her childe wants. But Celia knows better than to say that.

GM: “There’s a quote from Foundation that I like. Sci-fi book I read a while ago, if you haven’t. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”

Celia: “Did you say that to her, too?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How did that go over?”

GM: “She took it pretty calmly. Said she agreed, herself, but that Elysium doesn’t see it that way. That they hadn’t mastered their instincts and just liked to hear stories about how blood flowed, beyond the hunter aspect.”

“She said how violence is essentially entertainment. That it’s technically only an incompetent’s refuge if they’re trying to achieve an end that doesn’t need to involve violence. So the quote doesn’t actually apply.”

Celia: “Mmm.” A noncommittal sound at that.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I know better than to debate with you and Coco.”

“I just think that she could have let the talk fade. Bringing it back up looks… well. Like she’s reaching.”

Desperate.

It looks bad.

GM: “Without debate, the mind stagnates. It’s a fitness regimen for your brain.”

“Her words.”

Celia: Of course they are.

Celia smiles politely.

GM: “She didn’t look reaching. She was… subtle. Just a word here or there, giving me extra spotlight. She let it drop after enough, but it would’ve dropped sooner without her.”

“Perks of having a primogen sire, I guess. More time in the limelight.”

Celia: Elder’s pet.

He’d be hunter chow if not for her.

GM: “I still yelled at her over how I wasn’t proud of that and didn’t want credit for it.”

Celia: And Coco didn’t care, she bets.

GM: “She said I needed standing and respect if I wanted to make a difference in Kindred society, and this was another stepping stone. She said they were already dead, so it’s not like I was hurting anyone.”

Celia: “…you don’t… you don’t think she…”

GM: “Think she what?”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia murmurs. “I don’t even want to suggest it.”

GM: He looks up from her chest. “What?”

Celia: “How many people know about your haven?”

GM: “Her. My krewe. You, i…”

His mouth drops. “You are NOT saying…!”

Celia: Celia hadn’t said anything.

She’d just asked a question.

GM: “No! She wouldn’t do that! How can you even say that!?”

“She’s not just another elder like you keep making her out!”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. I didn’t say that. I asked a question. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to figure out who has it out for you because you could have died. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Makes sense though, doesn’t it? Knows her childe can fend for himself. That his ghouls will help.

GM: “Why would my sire have it out for me,” he grumbles. “She wanted to ash me, she could do that with her own hands, easy.”

Celia: “Do you want to have a calm discussion about this?”

GM: “I am calm.”

Celia: “It’s not to get rid of you. It’s to use the fact that you killed them to your and her advantage. You look good. She looks good.”

GM: “She’s the one who taught me to fight. There’s no way I could take her i…”

Celia: “She knew you could handle it.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything to that for a moment.

“She knew I was a virgin. That I didn’t want to kill.”

Celia: Celia stays quiet with him, her fingers moving slowly across the back of his neck.

What had he said about Coco? That when push comes to shove she’s still another elder. Life is cheap.

Maybe she’d been embarrassed by her virgin childe. Or maybe she’s playing a different game. Maybe he’s just the first childe to be thrown to the Inquisition.

“Maybe she didn’t expect you to kill them,” Celia finally offers. “And maybe if you hadn’t been worried about me you wouldn’t have.”

GM: “Don’t blame yourself for this,” Roderick says, shaking his head. “They attacked me, in my home, with lethal force. I’d have tried to take them alive, but I could’ve easily lost control. You know how I do that. How all my clan does that. Provoking a Brujah is not a smart thing to do if you don’t want someone getting seriously hurt.”

Celia: She’s been on the receiving end of those fists. She knows how true that is.

She shivers at the memory, but holds her tongue.

Doesn’t remind him what he did to her.

GM: Roderick effects a sigh and pulls her close again, rubbing his head against hers.

“I’m just glad I can come back to you, at the end of the night. My sweet and kind and dolled up present who’s too pretty to walk.”

Celia: Is that all she is?

She doesn’t put the thought into words.

“I like coming home to you. Knowing that you’ll be here.” Celia touches the side of his face. Her thumb traces across his lower lip. “I’m happy with you. Safe.”

GM: He smiles back.

“I am too. I feel safe with you.”

Celia: “Because I’m so tough?”

Celia flexes.

GM: He laughs. “Tough comes in a lot of flavors. But also safe because I can be who I really am, around you.”

Celia: Wouldn’t that be nice. To have someone she can be herself with.

Who is she with Roderick? She doesn’t even know anymore.

“I’ll always be here for you. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world or city. This, here?” Celia touches his chest. “This is home.”

GM: “This is home,” he murmurs, nuzzling her neck.

“Now, I promised I’d clean your shoes, didn’t I?”

Celia: “I recall you mentioning you’d worship me. With your mouth.”

GM: “Mmm, so I did. Do you still want me to clean your temple, or do you want to be worshiped, right away?”

Celia: “That depends. Am I allowed to tell everyone that I made you clean the soles of my shoes for me?”

“I’ll say we arm wrestled. And I won.”

GM: “Never. They’d all beg for the privilege too, once they realized that was allowed.”

“I’d have to fight them all, to keep them from your shoes.”

Celia: “I didn’t realize you had a thing for ladies’ shoes.”

Celia squints at him. “Do you still have my panties in your pocket?”

GM: He smirks and fishes them out.

“Put them back in just for this occasion.”

Celia: “A souvenir from your conquest. Worship away, loyal follower. I shall not dictate the terms of your service.”

GM: “All right then.” He picks her off the counter and slings her over his shoulder, ass in the air.

“I guess I’ll enjoy my conquest…”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Enjoy it he does. Celia doesn’t feel his seed fill her womanhood, when she can tell how he hits his climax from the way he pumps faster. He goes limp, after that, but the lack of cum seems to have its advantages (beyond the diminished mess), because he’s hard again in no time at all. The lovers know pleasure in one another’s arms until the sun rises, and Roderick pulls Celia against his chest in familiar spooning position. They wake up after eight hours that pass in a second to their clothes still on. It’s not like the two corpses sweat or fart or smell or move in their sleep.

“Mmm,” he murmurs into her ear when she stirs. His arms still encircle her waist. “Someone’s up earlier.”

Celia: Good thing, too, because she’d meant to talk to him about a handful of things earlier and he’d distracted her with the promise of sex.

Her Beast yowls in her ear as soon as she wakes, making sure she knows that it, too, is hungry. That it doesn’t appreciate being ignored and not having its needs met while she fucks her lover. Where’s the blood, it demands.

Celia snuggles back against Roderick’s chest, ignoring it for a moment.

“I couldn’t let you shave my head,” she says seriously. “I have an important meeting today. Can’t look silly.”

She checks the time. Early. She doesn’t even need to rush to get ready to meet her father.

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: “Haven-hunting, first. That meeting anything I can help with?”

Celia: “Just stay with me forever.”

GM: “That’s tempting. But it’s tempting fate to come into the Quarter every night, even this close to the border.”

Celia: “We’ll dig a tunnel.”

GM: “Mmm. Bad idea, in this city. Same reason we don’t have basements.” He gives her a squeeze. “You can come stay in my place, though. You’ll always be welcome there.”

Celia: “Probably shouldn’t be seen visiting you that much. Don’t need people talking.”

GM: “Turn into a cat. I’ll give you belly rubs inside my haven.”

Celia: “Sold.”

“What would you want to be? If you could change.”

GM: “Oh, change what?”

Celia: “Your form. If you learned how to shift.”

GM: “Hmm. Interesting question.”

“Wolf is a classic. I’ve always liked dogs.”

Celia: “I could see that.”

GM: “There’s a lot to admire in wolves, too.”

Celia: “You’d be a corgi. Maybe a pomeranian.”

GM: “A corgi?”

Celia: “A little fluffy thing. I could put you in my purse.”

GM: “Ha. Haven’t heard of any licks turning into toy dogs.”

Celia: “That’s because they’re embarrassed.”

GM: “There’s worse places to spend your Requiem.”

“Much worse.”

“Though if I’m going to be something small, I’d rather be something small enough for you to stick between your bra…”

Celia: “Like a spider?” Celia makes a face.

GM: “Ew. I’ll pass.”

Celia: “Same. Don’t think I’d let one in my bra anyway.”

“They can’t hurt you, yada yada. Still gross.”

GM: “They are. Anyways, this meeting anything I could help with?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says after a moment of consideration. “It’s with… um. It’s with my dad.”

GM: “Your dad,” he says slowly.

Celia: “When I called him the other day. We set it up. About Emily stabbing him. You fell asleep before I could tell you.”

“Which is a shame because I told Emily how good you were in bed. You missed it.”

GM: He gives a slight smile, subdued by obvious thoughts over Celia’s meeting with her father.

Celia: “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I don’t know what he wants.”

“I haven’t seen him since… you know. "

GM: “Yeah. So what do you want to get out of it?”

Celia: “I want him to leave my mom alone. I want to know what he did to Lucy when he drove her to school. I want to make sure he isn’t going to go running to his master about Emily stabbing him.”

GM: “Okay. Those are all good goals.”

“Do you think you can get him to?”

Celia: “I’m not sure,” she admits. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly acting nice. If the sheriff pulled his talons out of his head or what.”

“People don’t just change.”

GM: “I’d assume the worst with him. He made your and your mom’s lives living hells. He’s a scumbag rapist child abuser.”

Celia: “I know. It just doesn’t make sense. Why now. Why come after her now. I mean, Logan is the one who brought him over, but… it just… Logan told me that he misses us, that he’s proud of me, that he never remarried or anything. And my mom…” Celia shifts in his arms, looking up at him.

“She had a nightmare about falling. And Maxen taking Lucy away. And she did fall. And now I wonder if Maxen is going to come after Lucy.”

GM: “He thinks she’s your daughter, right? You’re positive?”

Celia: “Yes. But he was alone in the car with her. What if he took a hair or something?”

GM: “Hm. I was about to ask why he’d want to do a paternity test, but… you’ve not said who the father is. Maybe he somehow thinks it’s his business to know.”

Celia: “He could ask. And it’s no one’s business anyway. Lucy doesn’t need a dad. She has three moms.”

GM: “A male role model might not be bad. But I agree. Her needs seem like they’re being more than met.”

“And I know. He could, and it’s not his business, but he’s a sick and twisted fuck who doesn’t respect other people or their boundaries.”

Celia: “What do I do if he knows?”

GM: “Prepare for a custody fight.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with him. I don’t know if I told you. There’s been a lot going on.”

“But the other night she was talking about it. How she misses him. As if he didn’t take her leg off with a hacksaw. Or rape her. Or hurt the rest of us.”

“Jesus apparently wants her to forgive.”

GM: “Your mom’s a little nuts.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I’m not sure what to do about that. But I guess meeting with him… well, I’m not about to say it can’t hurt, but the rewards sound worth having to let him back into your life, even a little. Just to find out what he’s after.”

Roderick squeezes her again. “You’re a badass lick now, though. He can’t hurt you.”

Celia: His friend in the shadows can, though. And probably will if he finds out about this.

“Right. Badass lick. I’ll beat him up.”

“I lied. I thought of something you can do to help.”

GM: “Anything.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to ask. It’s lazy of her. She could hurry and get ready and find a willing mortal somewhere along the way. But he’s right here.

Celia bites her lip. She glances away.

GM: He hugs her close again, shifting her position so his mouth is by her ear.

“I’m here. Name it.”

Celia: The breath on her ear sends shivers running down her spine.

“I don’t want to lose control around him. I mean. I do. But I can’t. And I’d rather spend what time I can with you instead of tracking down a vessel before I have to go choke down food.”

GM: He nods. “Okay. Let’s get a cup or something so I don’t collar you any tighter.”

Celia: “Smart.” Celia pulls away to find one. Luckily she’s got all those pots and pans she’d knocked over the other night; it takes a few seconds to find a cup.

GM: Roderick bites his wrist and bleeds into it.

“Just say when.”

Celia: She says when. The thing inside of her wants more, it always does. It’s a greedy little monster. But Celia doesn’t want to put him out any more than she needs to. He’s already doing her a favor; no need to drain him dry.

She watches the glass fill, can feel her fangs distend in her mouth. She’s patient enough to wait a moment longer before she reaches for the glass to drink down his offering.

GM: His blood is hot and filling and ferocious, like all Brujah blood, but sharpens and clarifies her thoughts too. It feels like a good libation before she sees her father.

Celia: She drains it. Licks the rim. Doesn’t let a bit of it go to waste. And when it’s gone she curls herself around his body, tucking her head against his chest, and thanks him for what he’s done for her.

“Do you really want us to get a place together?”

GM: He holds her close and runs his hand along the back of her head.

“Why not? We’d be safer, and I love spending time with you.”

Celia: “It’ll need a big closet. Really big. Whatever you’re thinking, triple it.”

GM: He laughs. “Okay. Walk-ins, got it.”

“Actually never had one of those.”

Celia: “You still won’t.” Her brows lift. Celia shares many things. Closet space is not one of them.

“What’s your krewe going to say when they find all those beautiful dresses in your place? Could tell them you’re exploring your feminine side.”

GM: He smirks. “Could also just tell them they’re my renfield’s. But I doubt they’ll see your closet.”

Celia: “Do you spoil Bess with clothes?”

GM: “Bess isn’t my renfield.”

Celia: “…did I get her name wrong?”

GM: “She’s the property manager at my old haven.”

Celia: “Oh. So the boy with the messy place is yours.”

Messy place. Her eyes dart around her still-destroyed haven.

Whoops.

GM: “Yeah, he’s one of them.”

“All right. We should get ready for our nights. I’m also going to reach out to Ayame, I still haven’t heard back from her.”

“Dani can’t stay in the Quarter.”

Celia: “She’s not safe anywhere else in the city. You think the sheriff is going to let her go back to her place in Riverbend?”

GM: “That’s why I’m getting her out.”

Celia: “She doesn’t want to leave, Roderick. She… your death broke your dad. That’s what she said to me last night. That he’s just a shell. That she’s a poor replacement for you, but she’s all he has.”

GM: “Wait, what? You spoke with her?” Roderick’s eyes widen.

Celia: “I told you I’d find her.”

GM: He frowns. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”

Celia: “You were upset about Coco. And then we got distracted.”

GM: “All right. Tell me about her! Is she safe? Is she all right?”

Celia: “She’s safe. She’s all right. She was turned a week ago but she doesn’t remember by who. She thought she was the only one in the world, and she’s been looking for answers, but so far she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s…” Celia runs her hand through her hair. “She’s a thin-blood. Like for real. Didn’t have any idea about anything. I had to explain it all to her. She’s in law school, you know.”

“And she said your dad wishes she had died instead of you. That she’s… how did she put it, the O’Tolleys playground after being promised Disneyland. It was… bleak.”

GM: “Oh my… god…” Roderick whispers, taking all of that in.

“That’s not true, he loves her just as much as me!”

Celia: “That’s what I told her. We talked for a while about it.”

GM: Celia can’t but think back to their own discussion about her mother’s favorite children in 2012.

How Roderick said all parents have favorites.

Celia: Parents are supposed to love the one that’s left, though.

“When we were dating, all those years ago, she said similar things to me.”

“It sounds like she’s always felt as if she were in your shadow.”

GM: “I’m the older sibling, by six years. And the one who was going to carry on the family legacy. I guess that was inevitable.”

Celia: “She wants to now. You should have seen her, Roderick, she scared off some guy who tried to rape a teenager. Talked about wanting to do good, change the world. It was like talking to you.”

“Just… a you with no confidence.”

GM: Roderick smiles at first, then stops.

“I’ll be honest… she’s a vampire now. And a thin-blood. That really closes a lot of doors.”

Celia: “She won’t do any better in Houston than she will here. Those doors will still be closed.”

GM: “Houston doesn’t have a policy of active genocide. It’s not going to be a good unlife for her, but I saw that massacre, Celia! She isn’t safe here!”

Celia: “I can keep her safe. I will keep her safe. She’s already learned the basics. She’s a bright kid. And I have some ideas for her.”

GM: “Except for how she’ll be Savoy’s hostage.”

Celia: “I promise you, Roderick, I will keep her from being harmed. Even by Savoy.”

“You know she doesn’t have a Beast? It’s safe for her to be around your dad. She won’t have to fake her death, not for a long time.”

GM: “Celia, you can’t keep her safe from Savoy. He knows who she is to me.”

Celia: “She doesn’t have powers, Roderick. None of them do. What do you think is going to happen if she goes to Houston? She’ll be a punching bag. Worse than a ghoul. They might not have an active genocide, but they aren’t going to give a fuck if some random thin-blood ends up dead.”

“You can see her here. Your dad can see her here. He won’t have to bury another kid.”

“She wants to go into business with you. Legal stuff. You could be a team.”

GM: “And all I’ll have to do is kiss Savoy’s ring, betray Coco, and work for him.”

Celia: Celia takes his hand in hers. She’s quiet for a moment, searching his face with her gaze.

The moment stretches between them. She doesn’t let the silence get awkward; how can it be, with two people who love each other? It’s a comfortable silence, the sort of silence that neither one of them need to fill. An understanding silence.

Celia moves her hands down his chest, working at the buttons on his shirt as she goes. Once they’re free she slides her hands back around him, fingers moving against the muscles on his back. She doesn’t dig, just lets her skin slide against his, feeling for the little spots of tightness that speak of tension and pain and past trauma.

She knows his body well. She knows where to touch, where it hurts, where her hands will find the answers she’s looking for.

And she’s well practiced at this technique by now. It stretches between them, that little band of energy that pulls her along for the ride. She doesn’t become him. It’s different with licks. Their Beasts are more wary than the kine. But she can surround him with herself. She cans see the spinning orbs and set them into motion, can free the ones she needs freed, the little blue light at his throat that might ordinarily keep him silent.

“I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind.” she murmurs after a moment. Her voice stays quiet. Steady. She’s nothing but a concerned girlfriend giving the boy she loves what comfort she can. “A personal question.”

GM: Roderick sighs with relief and doesn’t fight his girlfriend’s massage. He used to eat her out in return for this, after all.

It’s even easier to invade his mind than Diana’s was. He just lets her right in, equally oblivious to the supernal influence washing over this thoughts.

“You can ask me anything,” he murmurs.

Celia: “We talked before,” she continues quietly, moving her hands up and down his lats and making tiny circles across the paraspinals, “about getting married. And taking that third step with each other. Making it special. And I keep coming back to that thought. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through the night, the thought that… that you’re waiting for me, that I get to come home to you.” Her cheek presses against his chest while her fingers work their magic. “And I was just wondering… if you’ve done that with anyone before. If you’re already fully bound to someone.”

Like Coco.

GM: “No, I’m only two steps collared to her,” Roderick answers calmly.

Celia: “And to me?” The words come out as barely more than a whisper.

GM: “Once, I’m pretty confident.”

“I’d like to save the second drink for sometime special.”

Celia: So it had snapped that night. Broken face, broken heart, broken collar. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Celia silently nods her head. Something paces back and forth inside her chest. Not the Beast, but something similar. Something worse, maybe, that tells her… that tells her she’ll never be good enough for him. That if she doesn’t make him drink he’ll never choose her over her Coco. He’ll never think she’s smart enough. He’ll never think she’s strong enough. He’ll never think she’s capable. He thinks she’s pretty, but so does everyone. That’s all she has. She’s pretty.

She doesn’t realize when the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She wipes her cheek on her shoulder but only succeeds in smearing the blood across her face.

She’s a monster. And now it’s written across that oh-so-pretty face of hers.

Celia finds the tether between them, the little beam of white energy. She pulls it back into her body, withdrawing from her boyfriend’s mind. Her hands don’t stop, though. They continue for another beat before traveling upward and around his shoulders and the neck, rising to the tips of her toes so she can whisper, “me too,” right before she presses her lips against his.

GM: Roderick returns her kiss and wraps his strong arms around her, holding her close and tight.

“You’re crying,” he says after a moment, pulling away enough for her to see the concern writ across his face. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: Everything.

Nothing.

She doesn’t know anymore. She’s forgotten why she’s upset. She’s forgotten what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s forgotten her purpose.

She wants him. She wants him to want her. She wants to get his sire’s talons out of his head. She wants to break that bond so Roderick can see, clearly, the problems that she’s causing with her blind obedience and loyalty. She wants him to see that he’s on the wrong side. That his sire is just as bad as every other elder, and the fact that she hides it behind intellect and charm doesn’t mean she’s not. She wants him to realize that Coco set him up, that she sent the hunters after him, that she’s keeping him busy with scribe duties and note taking and won’t lift a finger to help him with his actual dreams because she doesn’t want him to succeed, because she doesn’t care about him. He’s a pawn. A tool. Like her.

But she can’t tell him, can she? Because his mind has been twisted by the blood. And maybe hers has too. Maybe the thing in her chest, the green monster, maybe that’s controlling her thoughts.

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of collars on her and leashes that tug her in so many different directions that causes this loss of control, that makes it spill down her cheeks. Or the thought of failure. She’s failing. Again.

But she can’t answer his question. Because she doesn’t even know where to start.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay,” Roderick says softly, drying her tears with his hands. Celia can see the fangs in his mouth at the heady scent, but he hugs her close again, running his hand up and down the small of her back. “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

“I love you. You’re safe.”

Celia: Twice in two nights.

She’s a wreck.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

GM: He rubs up towards her head.

“You bet.”

Celia: Celia nods. The smile she tries to send his way falters before it makes a complete journey across her face.

“Savoy summoned me tonight. I expect it’s for an update.”

GM: “Oh, what on?”

Celia: He knows what on.

GM: His face downturns into a scowl.

Celia: She doesn’t quite flinch. But there’s a wariness to her that wasn’t there a moment ago, like she’s ready to bolt if he decides to take it out on her.

Again.

GM: “Christ. I’m not about to go apeshit. You don’t need to do that every time I frown.”

Celia: “You keep getting distracted with other parts of my body when you’re supposed to show me how to throw a punch.”

GM: “I’ll show you. We’ll make time specifically to fuck first, then to get in some practice.”

Celia: “We did that last night. And we still ended up fucking. Again.”

GM: “Okay. We’ll make time to fuck twice.”

Celia: “Is that going to be enough?”

“I don’t know about you but the entire time Elgin was droning on I kept thinking about all the things I wanted you to do to me, and we’d just fucked.”

“And then I had to call you Mr. Durant and I had this schoolgirl fantasy…”

GM: “And what a naughty schoolgirl you’d be, not paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. Should I put you over my knee and spank you?”

“Ah, wait. Crap. That probably isn’t a turn-on for you.”

Celia: “Er… actually…”

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “It still is?”

Celia: She gives a sort of helpless shrug, eyes dropping to the middle of the chest rather than meet his gaze. She can’t quite keep the smile—two parts bashful, one part wicked—from her lips.

GM: “Well, if you want to now… when do you have to be out the door by?”

Celia: “I’m torn between arousal and horror at the thought of showing up to dinner with my dad after you spank me.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda had the same thought…”

Celia: “Bet we have time to fuck, though. In the shower. Two birds.”

“And then later tonight I can find a plaid skirt and some mary janes.”

“Maybe get you a tie.”

GM: “Eh, the schoolgirl skirt and shoes don’t really turn me on. I love you in this dress, though. Happy to spank you in it. It’s so tight and sexy, the way it clings to your hips…” He runs his hands up and down her sides again.

Celia: Celia leans into his touch. Her breath hitches as his hands move down her sides, whatever she had been about to say lost to the moment.

“I suppose,” she murmurs, “that it’s a good thing I have dozens just like this. Why don’t you help me out of it and tonight I’ll let you pick something else you can bend me over your lap in…” She tugs him toward the shower.

Conscious of the time, Celia and Roderick make it quick. Their clothing comes off without any prolonged foreplay, and when he takes her in the shower with her legs around his waist and her back pressed to the tile wall it’s frantic and needy. No fangs come out to play, just skin and lips and hands that bring them both to completion.

She loves him for it. For his willingness to play human and take her like a man takes a woman. For not judging that she still revels in the closeness of their bodies, or that she cries out the same way she used to, or that sometimes she just wants to kiss him without the taste of blood. She loves him for many reasons, but that’s one of them.

She tells him that after he lets her down, when his hands, lathered with soap, run down her body. She tells him that she loves him, that she’ll always love him, and that she can’t wait to spend the rest of her Requiem with him. She’s looking forward to more evenings like this: waking up in his arms, discussing their plans, going their separate ways, coming back home to each other.

She only wishes they didn’t have to hide it.

“Let me know what the Asian says so I can figure how to play this tonight, yeah?”

GM: The shower sex is brief but passionate. Roderick is so strong now and can lift her up like she’s nothing as he penetrates her. It probably doesn’t hurt how she’s removed many of her internal organs either. Or how his ass is now tighter. The pair emerge wet and dripping from the shower, and Roderick enjoys himself setting Celia on the counter and toweling her off in manner that feels more like being molested through the towel.

“God, I can’t keep my hands off you,” he murmurs.

He says he loves her too, so much, and can’t wait to get married as breathers. The way they were meant to.

He does so much to pleasure her body, to show the depth of his affection through touch. He touches her in ways Pietro never will with his feather-light fingers. He touches her like a woman, not just a lick. His libido is up to fuck whenever hers is.

And yet, her thoughts have strayed to other licks and ghouls and men, as assuredly as Evan strayed from Roxanne.

Perhaps they do now, or perhaps they don’t. But it’s as Mabel said.

Enough love to go around.

“Her name’s Ayame. I think she probably gets enough of ‘the Asian’ from other Anarchs.”

“And the sad thing is we’re still the most progressive club. Pretty sure the Invictus still calls them ‘orientals.’”

Celia: Her mind doesn’t wander when Roderick is inside of her. Or when he lays her out on the counter to “dry her off.” Or when he touches her. Right now her attention is fully on him, despite the overabundance of love in her… heart.

“Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “You’re right, of course. I know her name.” She lets out a long, forced sigh.

GM: “I also don’t like hearing how Savoy expects progress reports on manipulating me.”

Celia: “… you’re the one who brought it up nights ago, that he probably will expect them.”

“I don’t know if that’s what this is about. It could be any number of things.”

GM: “Let’s just not talk about him while we’re here.” He lifts up her chin to dab some moisture around her upper neck.

Celia: “Politics free zone?”

Celia lifts her chin for him, giving him easy access to the spot he needs.

GM: “That’s right.” She wonders if there was even anything to towel away there, because he kisses her instead.

Celia: There wasn’t. They both know there wasn’t. But Celia is happy to play along.

She lets out a breathy giggle at the touch.

“You’re insatiable.”

GM: He steals another kiss.

“Only because you’re irresistible.”

Celia: “I heard,” she whispers slyly, “that I’m the cutest lick in the city.”

GM: “You heard wrong. I heard you were the cutest lick in the world.”

“Although I suppose ‘in the city’ is still technically accurate.”

“We should schedule an entire night, sometime. To do nothing besides fuck in every way we can think up. I wonder if that would get it out of our systems.”

Celia: “Doubt it. But we can certainly try.”

GM: “We’ll do it for research purposes.”

Celia: “Of course.”

“Has it gotten better for you?” She nods toward what’s hiding behind the towel around his hips.

GM: There’s already a bulge.

“Think that answers your question,” he smirks, glancing down.

Celia: “But are you doing that?” She reaches for him anyway, loosening the towel to let it fall to the ground.

GM: His penis is there and hard.

“Not consciously. It’s funny.”

“I thought we couldn’t enjoy sex, so for a while I just didn’t try to.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so pretty, to be honest.” She takes him into her hand.

…what if it is her?

GM: He’s stiff and pulsing under her touch.

“Must be it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a girl who compares.”

He smiles and glances down.

“You know, I bet your dad will expect a kiss on the cheek, and if those were the same lips that had just sucked a dick…”

Celia: “Scandalous.”

But she’s on her knees a moment later.

GM: He lays out the towel underneath and folds it twice before she does. It seems less scandalous when he doesn’t cum in her mouth, but her lover still looks as if he (greatly) enjoys himself, and she can indeed kiss her father with lips that just sucked a dick.

Celia: What else can any girl possibly want?

It’s when he pulls her up after he finishes and kisses her throughly (that lack of cum is good for many reasons, it turns out) that she finally asks the question she’s been wondering since they’d gotten back together:

“Are we exclusive?”

GM: Roderick picks her up and carries her to her closet so she can pick out clothes.

“I’d like us to be, yeah.”

Celia: She had expected as much.

Celia opens the closet door, revealing a veritable treasure trove of clothing and accessories. It’s no wonder she demanded her own closet earlier: there’s literally no room for anything but her in here. It must have served some other function and been turned into a walk-in, because the space itself measures half the size of the front room. Clothes, shoes, bags, and other assorted accessories cover every square inch of it, neatly arranged by… well, by some sort of system that only she seems to understand. Dresses hang from the bars that have been installed on every wall, with racks of shoes beneath them. Countless pairs of heels, flats, and boots wait for her to step into them. Above the dresses shelves have been built into the walls to hold her collection of handbags and hats, and the scarves that dangle from hooks look more like decor than fashion. Soft, shimmery, glittery. A custom-built “island” has drawers that pull out to reveal undergarments ranging from barely-there strappy little numbers to a more conservative cheeky panty. Thigh-highs, fishnets, stockings, and socks sit pretty in another. The last reveals a tray of various pieces of jewelry nestled in velvet, half of which were gifted to her by Pietro; the thief had once said that she looks her best when he drapes her in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. “Just jewels and skin.”

She directs him toward a section in the back corner where a smaller selection of more modest clothing hangs, separated from the rest by a large white garment bag.

A pair of eyes peer out at Celia from behind a handbag on the top shelf as Roderick sets her down. Blossom has always loved spending time in here. Celia gives the doll a fond smile, arching a delicate eyebrow at her as if to ask if she’s getting up to something she shouldn’t be. She’s been quite taken with a certain somebody since their introduction… and, yes, there, a flash of brown hair. Delighted, Celia winks at the doll.

“Are you going to start fights with everyone who looks at me sideways?” she asks idly of Roderick, thumbing through the hangers.

GM: “Jesus, this is a lot of clothes. And you have even more at your other haven?” he remarks as he carries her over.

Blossom smiles back at her mother.

“He didn’t just look. He touched you.”

Celia: “I like clothes,” Celia says with a shrug. She turns her eyes away from the doll, letting her keep her secrets for now.

“And yes, I’m aware he touched me. You were going to come to blows over it.” There’s no question there; she knows exactly what his plan was.

GM: “I like how good you look in them, too. Just surprised you have so many.”

“And yeah. I was gonna challenge him to a duel.”

Celia: “I assumed. I’m flattered. But you know that’s what they do, right?” She turns to face him, clothing forgotten for the moment. “They touch me. That’s how they see me, as a pretty, vapid slut they get to touch.”

GM: “You’re not vapid or a slut, and I’ll punch out anyone who treats you like you are.”

Celia: He’d almost called her stupid the other night. But she doesn’t point it out.

“It’s just a mask, Roderick.”

GM: “You don’t need to wear that mask.”

Celia: “Are you planning on declaring your love for me to the whole city?”

GM: “If you wanted to join the Anarchs, we could. Some licks would try to take advantage, but would it be so bad?”

Celia: “I will not support Vidal. Ever.”

GM: “I didn’t say Vidal. I said the Anarchs.”

Celia: “The Anarchs support Vidal. Coco and Opal support Vidal.”

GM: “They might, but plenty Anarchs have about as much to do with the prince as you do.”

Celia: “I will not even nominally throw in with someone who would support the massacre of people like your sister, or let monsters like the sheriff roam the streets and mete out his version of ‘justice.’”

GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I have an answer to that, but maybe it’s better we just not get into politics.”

Celia: “Frankly I’d be surprised if whoever takes over for him even lets the Anarchs keep what they have.”

Celia closes her mouth.

GM: “Their mistake. Whoever takes over is going to be a weaker prince, and even Vidal wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout of that.”

“But I’m already breaking my word.”

“Speaking of Dani. I want to see her.”

“Could you bring her here? I know you’re concerned about this place’s security, so you could just leave her phone behind, take her in the trunk, and blindfold her on the way in and out.”

Celia: “They’re watching her. I told you that.”

GM: Roderick effects another sigh. “You did. And you’re right. They’d just watch you do it.”

“Wishful thinking.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I know you want to see her.”

“Maybe I can… ask him.”

GM: Roderick’s arms tense under Celia.

Celia: “I’ll just offer a favor or… or something.”

GM: He shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that. Get in any deeper with him. I’ll get to see Dani.”

Celia: “I’d do it for you. To make you happy. I’d do that.”

GM: “I’ll get to see her,” he repeats. “We do need an extract plan, to get her out of the city. I’ve already been working on that. Part of what I’m going to take care of tonight.”

Celia: “With Ayame?”

GM: “This is on my end. She promised transport out of the city, not moving a thin-blood out of the Quarter unseen.”

Celia: “…are you going to break into the Quarter to get her out?”

GM: He presses his lips together. “It’s a bigger security risk if you know the details.”

“But I trust you, if you want to know.”

Celia: She looks as if he’d slapped her. Just for a moment, until the rest of it follows.

GM: “…I just said I trust you.”

Celia: “Considering I’m the one that’s going to take the heat for this, yeah, Roderick, I’d like to know.”

GM: “Okay. I’m going to get her out during the day.”

“I’ve talked to some duskborn. They still burn in the sun, but not as bad as us.”

Celia: “Dani said she doesn’t burn. She said she just gets tired.”

GM: He blinks. “What?”

Celia: “I asked. She said she tested it.”

GM: “You’re positive? How comprehensively did she test it?”

Celia: “She said she read about it in Dracula. That he doesn’t burn, just loses his powers.”

GM: “Sure. But that’s fiction.”

Celia: “Right, which is what I told her.”

“Are you going to let her finish the semester, at least? So she has a chance to transfer?”

“I had to drop everything. It… sucked.”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’ll suck less than the alternative. She has forever. She can take as long as she wants to finish school, if she still wants to.”

Celia: “But you still burn in the sun, so I don’t imagine that you’ll be the one retrieving her. You trust your ghouls with this?”

GM: “Almost. Mine, and an independent I’m hiring who’s good at shadow dancing. To hide them on their way in and out.”

“You’re positive Dani can’t burn in the sun? That would make things easier.”

Celia: “I’ll double check. The whole thin-blood thing is… weird? Fascinating?”

“Both.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Who even knows what the rules are with them.”

Celia: “She wants to know why people don’t like her kind. I didn’t know what to say.”

GM: “Hatred of the other. Fear. Jealousy. Disgust. Scripture. Lot of reasons.”

Celia: “That’s kind of what we discussed. It just felt thin.”

GM: “All reasons for genocide are thin. Everything about unreasoning hatred is thin.”

Roderick effects another sigh.

“I really wish I could’ve been there for her, last night.”

“But I know she was in good hands with you.”

Celia: “It was fine. She was… happy to see me, actually.”

“She wants me to talk to your dad.”

GM: He smiles. “Good. I’d been worried she’d be angry at you, over…”

“Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. About how you helped my family. About how you’re a good person.”

GM: Roderick’s face grows still, and a moment passes before he replies, “I think… I think he’d really like that.”

Celia: “Does he know… what happened with us?”

“It’s one thing to explain to Dani, but your dad…”

GM: “Yeah. He knew.” Roderick’s words are slow. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t just keep it to myself.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

GM: “I wish he didn’t think I was dad,” her lover says heavily.

“I think that was the worst decision I made in my Requiem, in a lot of ways.”

Celia: “I had this thought to invite him to dinner at my mom’s house. Introduce them. Let him see how you helped my family. Bring Dani. Sneak you in, somehow.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “That’s really sweet. You should.”

“I’d like to see him again, even if… even if he can’t know it’s me.”

Celia: “Hello Mr. Garrison, this is my boyfriend Roderick that I definitely didn’t cheat on your son with.”

GM: Roderick starts crying. Celia’s fangs lengthen in her mouth at the coppery tang.

“He was just… the best dad, Celia… I did this to him… so I could… throw body parts off boats… like a mobster…”

Celia: Her heart breaks for him. She pulls him into her arms, holding him tight while he lets it out.

GM: “I haven’t even gotten around… to the Mafia…”

“I wish I could… take it back… I shouldn’t have, have let him think I was…”

Celia: “I sent flowers. To your funeral. I didn’t show up as me because… I didn’t want to hurt them, seeing me, with you gone, I didn’t think you’d want that, but… when Dani goes, I can… I can be there, maybe, do you think..?”

Otherwise he’ll be all alone.

Burying another child.

No more little Garrisons to carry on the family line.

No more Mafia behind bars.

GM: “I… I guess it couldn’t hurt…” Roderick wipes his eyes. “He doesn’t have to think Dani’s dead, just moving away…”

Celia: “She can never come back, Roderick. Once she’s gone.”

“She’ll never see him. No holidays, no birthdays…”

GM: “He doesn’t have to think she’s dead.

“He could… come see her, maybe…?”

Celia: “She was crying last night. Like you are. At the thought of leaving him behind. About how she’d wanted to… to do so much to make him proud, and how now she can’t even have kids to carry on, and…”

GM: “Yeah,” he says bleakly. “It sucks.”

“I… I accepted this, but it was for a reason. A chance to do more good.”

Celia: But he hasn’t.

GM: “Dani was just… there wasn’t even any reason.”

“She shouldn’t exist, like this. The thin-blooded shouldn’t exist.”

Celia: “I thought you were an ally.”

How can he say that?

About his own sister?

And if he thinks that, what about the strangers in Houston?

Surely he’s considered that.

GM: “I am. Genocide is wrong in any form. But if the thin-blooded just weren’t a thing, and all thin-bloods were still breathers? They’d be better off.”

“Dani sure would be.”

“Our dad sure would be.”

Celia: Maybe Coco knew exactly what she was doing when she’d taken him.

Kept him busy with all those projects of hers.

Maybe that rumor about Carolla is more correct than he knows.

Maybe she’d arranged for Dani’s Embrace.

Half-Embrace? What do you call the partial transformation of a half-vampire?

“Don’t take her away from him, Roderick.” The words come out as a whisper. She touches a hand to his cheek, lifting his gaze towards her. “Everything she told me last night… they need each other.” She wipes at his tears with her fingers. “Losing you almost killed him. He shouldn’t have to bury another child, and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. He’s busy. He won’t make the trip out to Houston. And how will Dani feel then? She already thinks he doesn’t love her.”

Her voice catches, threatening to break. She’d seen the pain in his sister last night.

“You can’t undo what happened to her, but you don’t have to take her away from everything she knows, everyone she knows and loves. She should have been my sister, too.”

GM: Roderick sighs wearily.

Still 22 years old, but he looks every bit past 30.

He looks down.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Let… let me see them, Celia. Dani, here. Her, my dad, at dinner.”

“I should talk to my sister. She’s the one who’s… who’s been in my dad’s life. I should hear what she wants to do. How she even feels, about Hoston.”

“But… you don’t have to stick yourself on a cross, for me. I’ll owe him. Not you. Tell him that. He’ll have his marker, to call in.”

The words sound like he’s had to pry them out of his mouth.

But above all, they sound tired.

Celia: Celia pulls him in. She rests her cheek against his chest, offering him what comfort she can with her physical body. She loves him. And she wants him to be on the right side. And that’s how she justifies what she’s doing to herself: that it’s for him. For the greater good. For Dani and all the licks like her who shouldn’t be put down for what they are. Because Vidal is a tyrant and Savoy should be in charge and when the prince takes his dirt nap Roderick will be safe.

“I’ll make it happen,” she tells him, “and I’ll keep her safe. I promise.”

GM: He holds her back for a while. He doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close against his body, face in her hair as he breathes in her familiar scent.

“Okay,” he says at length.

“Okay.”

Celia: She loves him. She tells him that, after a long moment, that she loves him.

And she repeats it to herself. That she loves him. That she’s doing the right thing. That it’s for his good. Dani’s good. Henry’s good. The city’s good.

Still, she feels like the monster everyone says she is.


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.

She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.

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She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.

The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.

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She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.

But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.

Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?

Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.

She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.

Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.

She uses that time to send out a series of texts:

To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.

To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.

To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.

Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.

GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your YouTube channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.

Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.

Alana does the same.

Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.

Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.

The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.

Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:

Love you Celia!!!

Four hearts faces.

So pretty

Heart.

Gorgeous. Two hearts.

:) :) :) :)

You are stunning… Heart.

Babe

CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!

So pretty!!! That lip!

Beautiful & great tune

Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.

She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the YouTube videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.

All she has to do is smile and look pretty.

And do the makeup, of course.

The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.

GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”

Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facebook.

One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facebook friend request from her.

Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facebook page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.

GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.

Celia: That’s normal, right?

They’re friends.

Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.

That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.

Celia: Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:

Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?

Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?

Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?

And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.

There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.

Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.

Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.

Though perhaps that’s more Master level.

No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.

She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.

Celia: Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.

…like her tits.

GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.

Not that she has many breather friends anymore.

So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.

Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.

Well, more like faintly sneering.

But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.

Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.

They’re a guild secret.

GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.

Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.

GM: It’s her dad.

He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.

“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”

He holds out his arms for a hug.

Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.

Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.

She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.

Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.

She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.

She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.

“Hi, Daddy.”

GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.

“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.

Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.

She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.

“You too, Dad.”

How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.

“How have you been? How’s… everything?”

GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.

“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”

Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.

Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”

GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”

He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.

Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.

“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”

Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.

“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”

GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”

He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower ship in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”

Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”

She wants to take Roderick there on a date.

“Election keeping you busy?”

GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”

“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”

Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.

“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”

She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.

GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”

Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.

GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. We’re technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”

“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”

Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”

GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”

“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”

Celia: He killed me.

“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”

It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?

“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”

GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”

Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”

GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”

“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”

Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”

GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”

Celia: Is that all it is?

“We definitely bounce back.”

GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”

“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.

They’ve had menus available for a little while.

Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”

GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.

Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”

Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.

“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.

GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”

He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”

Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”

“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”

She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.

She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.

She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.

GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”

Celia: “It has.”

“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”

There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.

GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”

“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”

Celia: “Is that… something you want?”

GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”

Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”

GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”

Celia: “Is it, though?”

GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.

“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”

“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for that.”

“I’m going to be governor.”

“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion to Bill Roberts.”

“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”

“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other Republicans out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”

“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”

“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”

“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”

“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively finished in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”

“I intend to be the red governor of a red state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”

“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”

“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”

“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”

He pauses to give Celia a chance to process and reply.

Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.

Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.

Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.

Already the wheels turn.

“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”

“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.

GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”

Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.

“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”

GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.

Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.

GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”

He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”

Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.

“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”

GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.

“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”

Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.

She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…

“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”

She bites into the dumpling.

It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.

GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.

Diana will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.

“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”

Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.

But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.

She swallows the dumpling.

She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of her, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?

She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.

She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.

The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.

Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.

Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.

Small blessings and all that.

“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’” She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.

GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”

“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”

“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”

Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”

GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”

“Here’s why he lost.”

“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”

“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.

“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”

GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”

“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are usually a lot of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”

“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”

Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”

GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”

Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”

Had Madison changed politics somehow?

GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone is going to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.

Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”

GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”

Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”

Which isn’t exactly true in the YouTube game, but she’ll live.

GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do a very good job.”

Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”

GM: The waitress arrives with the pair’s food.

Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.

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Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.

GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.

Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.

“This looks amazing.”

GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.

“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”

Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”

GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”

Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steak house so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”

GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”

GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.

“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”

Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.

She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.

Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.

GM: It tastes like shit.

Celia: Yum.

Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.

It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.

There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.

And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.

The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.

She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.

And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.

Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.

“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”

“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”

GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.

Celia: Celia will.

She plans to find out.

GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”

“There’s a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s discipline.”

Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”

GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”

“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”

Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.

GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.

Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.

It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.

Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.

Celia: After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.

GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.

I’m sorry.

It threatens to drown her.

How long since her last breath?

She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.

She kills it before it has a chance to live.

“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.

GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family, Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”

“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”

Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.

For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.

Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?

“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“What changed? Why now?”

GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”

“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”

“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”

Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.

GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”

Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?

“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.

“But that’s not a solution.”

GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”

“She could dance again.”

“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”

Celia: “How did you come across them?”

GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”

“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”

“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”

Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.

The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.

She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.

GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”

Celia: “Why did you do it?”

“That night.”

“Why?”

GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.

“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”

Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”

Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.

Your mom’s a sex slave.

She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.

GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”

Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”

GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.

GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”

Celia: Not him, though. Never him.

“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.

His master had killed his own parents, after all.

GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”

Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”

GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”

Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”

GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”

“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”

“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”

Celia: Payton did it?

The dolls.

Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.

GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”

Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”

GM: “Before you.”

“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”

Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.

“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.

GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”

“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”

Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”

GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”

“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”

Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.

Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.

Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.

But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.

GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”

Celia: Lucy.

Why would she name her daughter after her doll?

“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”

GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”

“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”

Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.” A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners. “Did you know her? Before she went?”

GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”

Celia: “…with a gun?”

GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”

Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”

But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.

GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”

“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”

“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”

Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”

GM: “When she started to cry.”

Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.

Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.

They do, but…

Celia sets her head in her hands.

GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”

Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”

GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”

Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”

She’d been there.

Breaking her.

Breaking countless hers.

For years.

GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”

Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”

GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”

Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.

GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”

He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.

“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”

“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”

“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”

“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.

Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”

GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.

Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.

She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.

Mom is a doll.

Dad said she isn’t stupid.

Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.

It can’t.

It can’t matter.

She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.

She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?

He’s not her dad.

And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.

It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.

Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.

She stares back.

She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.

Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.

She returns to the table.

GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.

If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.

Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.

Maybe she will.

GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.

Mom the doll.

Celia: And Payton.

Sending her daughter to become a doll.

She’d thought it was Maxen.

GM: That would’ve been easier.

Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.

Instead of whatever this is.

GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.

“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”

Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.

“I’m okay,” she says.

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”

Celia: “I will.”

GM: “Thank you.”

Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”

“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”

It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.

GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. But if you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”

Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”

GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”

Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.

“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”

GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”

Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”

“But she does. We all do.”

GM: “Well, about that.”

Maxen hands her a manilla folder.

Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.

GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’

Celia: “How…?”

She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.

GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”

Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.

She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.

“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.

GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”

“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized by the state.”

Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”

GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”

“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”

“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”

Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”

“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”

GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”

Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”

GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”

Celia: She waits, expectant.

GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”

“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”

Celia: His baby.

“I heard.”

GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”

Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.

“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”

GM: “Yes. When she needed my love and support most, I withheld it.”

Celia: She’d been telling the truth.

She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.

“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”

GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”

Celia: And now she’s gone.

GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”

Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”

GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.

“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.

GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”

Celia: Celia nods along.

GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”

Celia: He is dead.

He was probably eaten.

Or torn apart.

Or both.

“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”

GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”

“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”

“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”

“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a bit of a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”

Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.

It’s about Isabel.

It’s always about Isabel.

“I see.”

GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”

Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”

GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”

Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”

GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”

Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”

GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”

“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”

“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”

Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”

GM: “Partly.”

“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”

“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”

“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”

“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”

“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”

Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”

GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”

Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.

She nods. Waiting. Expectant.

GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”

“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”

Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.

GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”

Celia: “What changed your mind?”

GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”

Celia: “Who was the priest?”

GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”

“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”

“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”

Celia: “So he did it anyway.”

GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”

Celia: “And he died from it?”

GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take days or even weeks, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”

“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”

“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even phase him.”

“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or water.”

“He didn’t allow to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”

“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”

Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.

GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”

“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”

“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”

“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”

“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”

“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”

“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”

“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”

Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.

GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”

Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.

GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”

Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”

GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”

Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”

GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”

GM: “I do.”

Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”

GM: He shakes his head.

Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”

GM: “I remember those. I am sorry for them. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”

Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”

GM: “I remember.”

Celia: “And with Isabel?”

GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”

Celia: “Afterward.”

GM: “I’m sorry?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?

“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”

GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”

Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”

GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”

Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”

GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”

Celia: No one is going to believe her.

And there’s no one to talk it over with.

But she knows.

He really had fucked her entire family.

“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”

GM: “A woman?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”

Celia: “Then tell me your side.”

“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”

GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”

“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”

Celia: “You did.”

GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”

Celia: “In 2003?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Why did you think that?”

GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”

Celia: “What did she say?”

GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”

Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”

GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”

Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”

GM: “That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”

Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”

GM: “Understandable.”

Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”

GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”

Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”

GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”

Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”

GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”

Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”

GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”

“They missed, but if the party loses the general, they’re sure to try again in 2020.”

Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”

GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”

Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”

“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”

GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”

“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”

Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.

“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”

GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”

Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.

Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?

“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”

GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”

“I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”


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Story Twelve, Emmett XIII

“Dreams do come true. You just have to die for them.”
—Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

GM: The Quarter is a sea of glowing souls. True to Em’s memory, the Evergreen is a posh jazz club along Royal Street. Sounds of warmth and merriment emanate from within over the sound of classic Louis Armstrong.

Yet if that were all it ways, it does not feel to Em as if it were the sort of place his dark benefactor would send him.

Emmett: Forget feelings. Abélia’s love is rape and her favors are guided missiles.

But for all that, he suspects he’s at least carrying the payload rather than about to be crushed under it.

That’s fine. If Abélia won’t give him the time of day, he’ll leave things as they are with her. Her daughter’s still warm to him, after all.

And if this pays off… maybe it’ll make the loss of his conscience easier to bear.

Probably not, though.

GM: The Evergreen’s walls part for Em like so much smoke. He’s treated to an all-out assault on his senses as he floats inside. He hears laughter, and the sound of jazz, both louder now and carried through the place by means of a static-filled and barely functional sound system that hurts his ears. It sounded state of the art when he was last here. Em doesn’t smell any smoke or alcohol, despite the copious quantities of both. The rotted, once-fancy décor looks French. The first floor is a large, loud room full of carousing men and women lounging around on ruined antiques antiques while a live band plays.

The club’s walls suddenly turn solid and opaque. Em can no longer see through them. A high, alarm-like whine splits the air, although none of the patrons pay it a glance.

A tall and extraordinarily handsome Creole man strides towards Em, winks at him, and makes a beckoning motion with his finger. He strides up the stairs, away from the carousing patrons.

Emmett: Em salutes back, which is why he’s reasonably sure the playboy cannot see him.

Nevertheless, he follows. Seems only polite.

GM: The glove-wearing man looks and carries himself more like a butler than a playboy as he walks upstairs and down a hallway into a well-appointed parlor room in that same fancy French style. He opens a cupboard, removes an ouija board, and sets it down on a table.

“Welcome to the Evergreen, departed spirit,” smiles the man, inclining his head. “My name is Fabian. May I ask yours?”

Emmett: Well, fuck, Delacroix is too long to spell.

He spells out, E-M.

GM: The planchette does not move.

Hahaha. Idiot.

Fabian’s smile does not dim. “If you are unable to answer me, departed spirit, a medium can be made available. I would pray your patience until then.”

Emmett: Em waits.

GM: Fabian removes a phone from his jacket. “We have a guest who’d like to remain out of sight. Can you ensure they are suitably entertained, please?”

“Thank you. C-”

“Don’t bother, Fabian. I guess it’s your lucky night,” sounds a familiar voice at the door.

Sami Watts leans against the frame with an arm out. She wears a low-cut black dress tonight with red pumps.

“The spook’s at the table, you suppose?”

Fabian bows low. “Yes, madam. Lord Savoy would be most obliged if you were to be of assistance. I had not been aware that mediumship was among your many talents.”

“A girl has to keep a little mystery to keep herself interesting,” replies Sami. She looks at the table and closes her eyes for a moment. Em sees her fangs lengthen slightly in her mouth before her eyes open.

Emmett: He twiddles his fingers at her in greeting, crossing his legs as he sits in midair.

“Long time, no see. Moved past ouija, have you? That’ll make things steamier.”

So. It’s a vampire joint.

Hmm.

GM: Sami looks over his floating form. It’s not unappreciatively.

“That was the idea. Nice jacket. I didn’t notice it, last time.”

Emmett: He would dab if he hadn’t died before that became a thing. Instead he just winks and flourishes. “Ah, well. Can’t chat all night, but I’ll find you later, if you hang out around the hotel.”

He looks her over shrewdly, but not unappreciatively, either. “I’m here to talk to an Antoine Savoy, on behalf of the proprietor of the LaLaurie House.”

He lifts the box, taps it. “And I’ll give you a gift if you pass on the message.”

GM: She glances its way. “Mm. What’s in it?”

Emmett: “A surprise,” he says, completely honestly. “And my heart.”

“You wouldn’t throw away my heart, would you?”

GM: “I could probably use it as a blackening agent, at least.”

Emmett: He thinks back to the rotten, shriveled thing Abélia tore from his breast.

“You have no idea. So, you gonna tell this guy why I’m here?”

GM: “No, but Fabian will.” She glances at the living man. “He says he’s here to talk to Lord Savoy.”

The man bows. “Thank you for your assistance, madam. The lord has an opening in his schedule four nights from now.”

“He says the LaLaurie House’s owner sends him, too,” says Sami.

“Ah. The lord is available in two hours.”

Emmett: Em winks at Sami. “I’ll meet you at the hotel later tonight.”

GM: “I remember getting raped, tortured, and murdered the first time I accepted a gift from you.”

Sami winks at Em.

Emmett: He shoots her finger pistols.

There’s an accompanying pew pew.

GM: She cocks one at his forehead, deadpan, and fires it once without sound effects.

Emmett: His head explodes in a burst of gore and viscera. He cries out and clutches at it.

Then he lowers his hands and he’s fine. He wipes his intact brow of nonexistent sweat.

“I do birthday parties, too.”

GM: Nothing happens to his head. Em cries and clutches it without visual effects.

Hahaha, idiot! You don’t get ghost powers until I’m out of the box again!

Emmett: It’s a mime show, mate. I’ll cope.

GM: “I bet. Anyway, keep the heart. I suppose I’ll see you around.”

Emmett: “Your call,” he says frankly. “For what it’s worth, it’s one of those high-risk, high-reward deals. I’ll tell you more about it later.”

Aw. We’ll have to wait a bit longer ‘til we’re reunited, Gaspy.

GM: Don’t worry. I’m patient. Won’t be long before you’re like an ADHD kid forced to sit in class all today.

Sami knows how well those tend to work out.

“I bet. You want Fabian to get anything while you’re waiting here?”

Emmett: What the hell. “A Cafe Brûlot. With the fire and all, please.”

GM: A raised eyebrow. “I didn’t think you could still enjoy those.”

“He’d like a Cafe Brûlot, fire and all,” Sami says to Fabian.

“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else?” smiles the butler-like man.

Emmett: “I can always enjoy a drink somebody makes for me. Plus, I like a show.”

GM: “I suppose Fabian will enjoy getting to drink it, too.”

“Madam, may I inquire as to the departed spirit’s name?” asks Fabian.

“Delacroix,” Sami answers.

“Mr. Delacroix. It is Lord Savoy’s pleasure, and my personal one as well. Welcome to the Evergreen Plantation.” Fabian bows again, towards where Sami is speaking. “The lord shouldn’t wish you to be kept idle until he can see you. Are there any additional entertainments or diversions we might arrange?”

Emmett: “A movie, if it wouldn’t be any trouble. Surprise me.”

GM: “A movie,” says Sami.

“Of course,” smiles Fabian.

“See you around, again.” Sami eyes the heart-shaped box. “Good luck with the high-risk, high-reward deal.”

“You’ll probably need it.”

Emmett: “I make my own luck. Or make off with somebody else’s. Either way, I’ve only died once.”


Date ?

GM: The movie is the first to arrive. Some people bring up a TV into the room. Fabian selects the movie. Like everything else in the Evergreen, and the Shadowlands, it’s ruined. A spiderweb of cracks runs across the surface and the movie flickers with static. Em can make out enough of what’s playing. It’s the original 1960 Ocean’s 11 with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack.


The Cafe Brûlot comes partway through the first act.

Fabian prepares it himself over a portable grill, and briefly regales Em with the the drink’s history as he halfway peels the orange into a continuous curl and studs it with cloves. Café Brulot Diabolique, or “Devilishly Burned Coffee,” was invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in the late 1880s by Jules Alciatore, the son of the restaurant’s founder. According to Phillip Collier’s Mixing New Orleans, Alciatore was inspired by French bon vivants who would drown a sugar cube in Cognac and place it over an open flame before extinguishing it in a cup of hot coffee. Today, one can still find the drink in New Orleans restaurants including Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, and Arnaud’s—“As well as, of course, the Evergreen,” Fabian smiles.


The preparation of Café Brulot is something like a magician’s show. Outside of the flambeaux at a Mardi Gras parade, there’s nothing like it. Fabian puts cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel, sugar and brandy in a fireproof bowl and heat on open flame. When the brandy is hot, but not boiling, he brings the bowl to the table and ignites it with match, sending up a gout of fire. He uses a ladle to stir the liquid around for two minutes before pouring the hot coffee into the flaming brandy. Then—to the delight of usually present guests—he proceeds to ladle the still-flaming mixture into demitasse cups.


“A toast, Mr. Delacroix, to your and my good health,” says Fabian as he raises the drink to his lips.

It seems a safe enough toast to make with someone who can’t talk or toast back.

Emmett: Maybe less so to a man whose heath is decidedly moot.

Still, fire burns even in the Shadowlands. That makes the drink a spectacle, even if he can’t appreciate it more directly.

He can remember how it tastes, though. That’s enough.

GM: Fabian downs the drink, hits play on the movie, and leaves the room. He returns after the caper crew has made off with their millions (or rather, been revealed to have done so already).

“The lord will see you now, Mr. Delacroix. Please follow me.”

Emmett: He doesn’t answer the lackey. Why would he?

Perhaps it would be flattering to pretend he’s taken his respite and schemed even as Frank Sinatra schemes onscreen.

But the truth? That fragile thing he keeps running over, backing up on, and running over again?

The truth is, it’s nice just to watch a movie again.

Time to go see the vampire.

GM: The Creole man escorts Em to an old-fashioned gilded elevator with an elaborate iron pull gate. It’s all rusted and pitted. A preserved 1863 ‘greyback’, or Confederate dollar bill, is framed and mounted just above the gate. The bill is torn and the cracked glass is specked with crud.

Fabian steps inside with Em before the door can even close through his incorporeal form, then presses the ‘up’ button. Em doesn’t feel any motion underneath himself as he rises.

There is no ‘ding’ sound as the elevator reaches its stop—its burnished doors merely open to a rooftop, open-air garden that would probably afford a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline, on the other side of the afterlife. Here it’s just dismal. Em can survey carnage and destruction and decay across the ruined cityscape.

Corroded statues of disfigured angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, nestle among dead and leafless trees, rotted rose bushes, dead flowers, and withered grass. Moths and maggots infest rusted cages containing crows’ half-rotted carcasses.

A short ways off from them, a corroded marble jacuzzi beckons mockingly. Clouds of flies hungrily buzz over half-rotted corpses reclining in the filthy, stagnant, and algae-infested water.

In fact, corpses are everywhere. Some look fresh. Some are rotting. Some are skeletons. They’re as common as logs, all the way down to how they’re stacked and piled atop one another. Blood freely oozes from their cuts and gaping wounds, as well as the neck punctures that all of them have. Em’s never seen so many bodies in one place besides Abélia’s house.

He still hears the rain, endlessly weeping, but doesn’t feel it. A globe-shaped curtain of dark, hungrily crackling energy encircles the garden from the building’s railings to perhaps 20 feet in the air. Rain that hits it dissolves into plumes of noxious-looking black smoke.

The stench of blood, rot, mildew, and decaying vegetation is awful, but Em’s nose is as dead as the rest of him.

Three figures are seated around a rusty circular iron table, its surface slick and dripping with blood.

The first is a short, dark-haired man who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: sports coat, dress shirt without a tie, slacks, and snakeskin wingtip loafers. A signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers. Em can’t tell what color his clothes are, beyond various shades of cheerless gray.

Antoine_Savoy1.jpg
The second is a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression with hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative business jacket, matching skirt, lighter blouse, and darker pumps. A tablet with a shattered screen rests on her lap.

Natasha_Preston.jpg
The third figure is a biracial woman in her early middle years with a bush of straw-like salt-and-pepper hair tied up in a scarf. She wears a shawl and plain cotton dress. Beaded necklaces with a crucifix and tiny leather pouch dangle from her neck. One of her eyes is glass and glows a faint, otherworldly blue—the sole splash of color in this patch of the Shadowlands. The air around her feels thick and feverish, and is blotted with writhing shadows. Phantasmal faces fade in and out like mirages, their lips ceaselessly mouthing whispers too low for Em to make out. A single rotting, disembodied hand rests on her shoulder. Its wrist vanishes into the aether.

Rosa.png
There’s no telltale white glow around the three figures. Their forms are lifeless and ashen as Em’s own.

The first two figures continue speak among themselves, but the third one stares Em straight in the eye as he approaches.

Fabian bows deeply as he approaches to them.

“Lord Savoy, Madam Preston, Madam Bale, may I present Mr. Emmett Delacroix, departed spirit here on behalf of the LaLaurie House’s proprietor.”

Emmett: He winks at her.

Pauses and taps the sole of a dress shoe against the forehead of a blankly staring corpse.

“Well, y’all nailed the ambiance,” he ventures. “I like your eye, Ms…”

GM: The corpse continues to bleed from its neck.

“Madam Bale,” says the woman.

Her eye rests upon the heart-shaped box in Em’s hand.

Lord Savoy smiles at the same space in the air where Bale is staring.

“Mr. Delacroix! I think I’ve heard your name somewhere before, if memory serves. Where might that have been, Nat?”

“The first man executed by the state of Louisiana in some years, sir,” answers the glasses-wearing woman, who by process of elimination must be Preston.

Emmett: At last, his reputation precedes him. Famous, just like he’s always wanted. Goes to show, dreams do come true.

You just have to die for them.

“Lord Savoy,” he says. “From one dead man to another, your hospitality is a rare thing on this side of the grave. I’m grateful. I lived near here, you know. Right on Royal. The Quarter’s a good place for swindling.” He glances at the corpses stacked like pizza boxes. “I suppose it’s a good place to hunt, too.”

He glances at Bale. “Thanks for the translation, madam. I’m sure it’ll sound sweeter in your voice than mine.”

GM: Disembodied whispers sound near the glass-eyed woman as she repeats Em’s words.

“They aren’t always so different a thing, sometimes,” Savoy replies to the air with a knowing wink. “And it’s our pleasure, Mr. Delacroix! To a friend of Abélia’s, and to a fellow purveyor of the Quarter’s own pleasures. What can we do for you this fine evening?”

Emmett: “To converse with me is already a great gift. I ask for nothing more, merely a conversation. To be transparent, neither does Madam Devillers. I came here looking for somebody to give my heart, and when I listened to it it brought me here, looking for the one I would give it to. She told me to use her name to speak with you, and so I have, and I hope that you do not feel deceived by her. I am new to this side of the world, and there is much I have to learn. But, I hope, also much to tell. And much to offer, if you should like the services of a sandman who serves who he pleases.”

“I know that even Kindred dream. Dreams of blood, but dreams still.”

GM: Wow, you sell yourself to everybody. If you just could’ve kept doing that with your hole, without fucking things up, we’d be a rich man.

Or a rich man’s wife.

Bale translates.

“Indeed we do, Mr. Delacroix. I just may take you up on that offer! There’s much a freelance wraith can do for my people, and we for him.”

“But first things first. I don’t think it’s by chance your heart led you here, if Abélia also did. I wonder what we might do to unite your heart with the object of its affections?” Savoy drums his fingers against the blood-smeared table thoughtfully.

“Perhaps you should listen to it again, now that you’re here?”

Emmett: What a nice lick. So likable. So warm.

That’s probably what all the other dead people on the roof were thinking, too.

Still, it’s good advice. He listens to the box.

GM: He hears voices, like Celia’s and Cécilia’s and Sami’s, but they fade out against the sluggish thump-thump. A low whisper starts to build, hauntingly familiar. Em’s dead stomach clenches with instinctive, soul-deep unease, and he feels as if the box is somehow smiling at him.

Heh. Heh. Heheheheh.

Blood starts to leak from the box, black and oily, and it suddenly feels fleshy and sensitive underneath his hands. Like the time he carried Dino’s cut-off testicle to the gimp. The heartbeat grows stronger and faster. There’s suddenly a terrible, sucking emptiness in Em’s chest, a void that cannot be filled. He feels like he’s trying to breathe through a lungful of tar.

Oh yeah… !

There is a cavity in his chest. A gaping hole open to the air. Em feels like he’s having a heart attack, only held from the palm of his hand. The whispers around Bale rise to a fevered pitch as the faces fade in and out, faster and faster.

“…coming… "

“…rouq… "

“…heart’s desire… "

“…bargain made… "

“…heart’s desire… heart’s desire… "

“I suggest you replace your heart if you do not wish to meet Oblivion,” says Bale, the spectral hand tightly clutching her shoulder.

That’s right, Em! HERE IT COMES! HEART’S DESIRE!

Emmett: Guess this is the bed we made.

Bring it on, mini-me.

He replaces it.

GM: It fills his chest with a wet squelch, and he can breathe again.

But the hole expands.

It spreads over his chest. Em watches chunks of his corpus spiral away into black void. He pitches over backwards and the hole swallows him up. The last sound audible to his ears are the whispers fading in and out around Bale:

“…heart’s desire… "


Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Emmett XII, Lamarck II
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Story Twelve, Celia XXII

“Are you… a vampire?”
—Danielle Garrison


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Gui opens the door to his BMW for Jade.

“So, beautiful, where to?”

Celia: “Such chivalry,” she says with a smile.

Jade slides into the car. She supposes she’ll need to let Alana know to pick up her Genesis and drop it at the Evergreen for her later. She sends that text to the ghoul as Gui walks around to get in on his side and deposits her phone back into her jacket pocket.

“That depends. Can you keep a secret?”

GM: “Does anyone ever answer ‘no’ to that question?” Gui replies with some amusement. He starts driving despite not having a destination from Jade.

Celia: “No,” Jade admits, “but their answers let me get a good idea on whether or not they get to learn something fun.”

GM: “There’s mine. I’ll vouch that I’m trustworthy, but don’t take my word for it. I’m a vampire.”

Celia: She laughs. “I’ll rephrase, Mr. Gui. I’d like to show you something fun. Would you like to see?”

GM: “I should think so.”

Celia: She directs him toward the Evergreen.

GM: They arrive there in short order. Fabian greets them warmly. The place looks pretty empty on a Friday night with its master and many of his followers at Elysium Primo.

Empty of Kindred, at least. There’s a live music show going on, and plenty of kine eating, drinking, and having a good time at the club.

Celia: “It’s not often people throw that word around,” Jade remarks to Gui before they head inside. “It’s quite refreshing to know I’m not the only one.”

Most evenings, Jade comes here for Savoy or his warden. This evening, though, she’s here for the ghoul. She asks after Tantal and moves to find him, her arm linked through the Ventrue’s with the same amount of familiarity she’d use with… well, anyone, really.

GM: “You haven’t heard about that trend to ‘reclaim the v-word?’ It’s all the rage in Chicago,” Gui says as he walks her upstairs.

Fabian gives the pair directions. Jade finds the ghoul-turned-hunter lookalike watching TV on a couch with one of Mel’s girls in arm, probably killing time until Jade could get around to him. He looks glad to see her.

“Time for me to get my face back, ma’am?” he asks in his deeper voice.

Celia: She hadn’t heard. She’s amused by it and happy to do her part in New Orleans, she assures him. She tells him how when she’d first met Lebeaux she’d said the word to him and he’d all but flinched.

“He made sure to tell me it was very inappropriate for everyday use.”

Jade nods to the ghoul once they find him, gesturing for him to follow after her.

“That and more, as discussed. The warden has given the green light.”

Her eyes find Gui’s as she walks the pair of them down the hall toward the Red Room, wondering if he can guess what she’s about to show him.

GM: “Still only popular with younger licks,” Gui says.

Tantal kisses the girl and tells her to wait here before accompanying the two vampires.

The Red Room isn’t too red, tonight, and there isn’t so much as a single corpse. Fridays are the Evergreen’s least busy nights, at least for Kindred.

But tomorrow will be another matter. Saturdays always leave the Red Room reddest.

Celia: Empty of corpses, anyway. But there’s Randy, faithful as ever, with the bag of body parts from Celia’s haven that she’d been debating how to get rid of. Putting them in Tantal seems like a no-brainer.

She smiles at the boy and sends him on his way with a wink.

GM: He looks less than thrilled with carrying it, but thrilled as ever to see his mistress before she sends him off.

“I know him, the bail bond family,” remarks Gui.

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade nods her head. “He’s dating one of my spa girls. Useful. Though she’s been making noise about him not popping the question, so we’ll see how long that lasts.” Amusement colors her voice.

She gestures for Tantal to lay out on the table and opens the bag of body parts, slicing through the wrappers with quick cuts of her nails. She unrolls the assorted parts and sets them aside, then pulls a vial from her purse with a pair of needles and a bottle of something that looks like sanitizer but smells like pure ethanol. She rinses her hands.

“Anesthetic, Tantal,” she warns the ghoul before finding a vein with the first needle.

Finally prepped for “surgery,” Jade glances once more at Gui.

“Ready to see something fun?” The request to keep it a secret has already been issued. He wouldn’t be here if she didn’t trust him to do that much, at least.

GM: “He won’t ever love her while he’s drinking from you,” says Gui.

Tantal looks relieved to see the anaesthetic and gives a, “Thank you, ma’am.”

Butterfly would have killed to have that.

“Thought that’s what I was already seeing,” smirks Gui, looking directly at her.

Celia: That reminds her.

“Can you get the zipper? If I get blood on this dress I’m going to be distinctly annoyed.”

GM: “With pleasure.”

He swiftly peels it away. He folds the dress up and leaves it on a chair.

Celia: He’s such a flatterer.

Jade winks at him once she’s down to her bra, having already lost her panties. She’d take the former off too, but to be honest if she’s getting blood across her breasts… well, maybe she deserves it for being bad at her job. Maybe she would take it off if Gui could lick her clean later, but that whole no saliva thing really cramps her style.

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers. Long, sharp, deadly. She turns to her task at hand, beginning with Tantal’s face while the numbing solution does its job. That’s the part that the dolls all complain about: the face and hair. And while she’s removing from Tantal rather than adding hair, she’d rather he be comfortable. He doesn’t need the pain to sink in as a lesson, after all.

Quick cuts of her claws has the hair falling to the ground in no time, and a moment later she runs a hand across his scalp (with her claws carefully held out of the way) to smooth it all over. It’s a quicker effort than adding hair; within moments his head is as bald and shiny as he was before.

It’s not impressive. She knows that. Anyone can shave a head. She doesn’t even look over at Gui to catch his reaction. Not until her claws drag against Tantal’s face and she peels the skin back, adjusting the muscles underneath to give him that round-cheeked look he’d had before. Round but… chiseled, somehow. She manages to make it work despite the implication that fat equals round. She makes him look a little more dangerous than he had been with his baby-face to account for the new muscle she’s going to put into his body.

She closes his face with a press of her fingers, smoothing out the skin flaps until it looks like his skin had never been split.

She moves lower. Claws cut into his throat so she can rework his vocal chords. She has him speak while she works to make sure that the voice is where he wants it, whether that’s his higher falsetto or something a little more masculine. Jade doesn’t judge. His body, his choice and all that nonsense.

After that the real work begins.

She starts with his chest, cutting him open and bringing in the muscular fiber from the dead guy she’d met at the club, the one that her sire had killed for her with a boot to the throat, the one whose body Roderick had seen in her fridge and hadn’t asked about.

Adding isn’t like taking away. This isn’t fat that she just scoops out with a swipe of her finger to put into a trash bag. This is the addition of muscle to his frame, bulking him up to stay the same relative size as before while replacing fat with muscle. This is the kind of surgery that every kid who has ever been fat wants: pure replacement. It’s what body-builders wish they could do with their protein shakes and their heavy lifts and their steroids.

She checks the connections, the nerves, the bands of tissues. She makes sure that the arms work when he lifts them, that if he flexes his biceps are bigger than his head, that the cells get their required blood and oxygen and everything else that they need to survive. There are tons of tiny little connections to make to ascertain that the synapses fire correctly.

She’s not a blur, not quite, but she moves more quickly than any human surgeon would while she works on Tantal, while she cuts him open and stuffs him with the new muscle and fat and tissue from the hunter, while she sculpts and shapes and otherwise turns him into the ideal version of himself. She asks how big he wants to go and he gets it.

She chances a glance at Gui when she moves onto Tantal’s lower body, her hands bloody halfway up her forearms.

“You remember what he used to look like?” she asks him, referring to the fat, baby-faced ghoul he’d been before. “When we took it out of him he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted it to go back in. I’m sure you’ve never stared at a garbage bag of your own fat, but it’s not very appealing.” There’s a movie with that image in it. The one with that cute guy who’d once robbed a casino. Her mom thinks he’s cute, anyway. He’s a little old for her. He plays the imaginary friend in the movie she’s referring to, though.

“So we spoke to the warden about it and he said that if Tantal wanted his old size without the fat we could make it muscle instead.” It’s a shy smile she sends his way. “That evening at Elysium, all those years ago, when you asked how a vampire—” she tries out the word and finds that she likes it after not saying it for so long"—could benefit from body work? What I said was very, very true. But there’s also this way."

She pads the ghoul’s waist while she talks, filling him in. Then lower, to his legs. His quads get reworked: bigger, thicker, padding him with the additional muscle from the dead man whose only crime had been that he was at the wrong place, wrong time.

Unless he’d been working with the hunters. Then fuck that guy.

Oh, and he had tried to drug her, so she supposes fuck that guy twice as hard.

She checks in with the ghoul when she gets to his feet, making sure that the anesthetic is still working, that he’s the right size. She flips him afterward, putting another needle into him of numbing solution so she can start the work on his back. Again, she starts at the top. Adds the muscle and fat to his neck, then his traps and lats and scalenes. She rounds out the deltoids from the side, smooths out his waist, adds a bit more to the glutes. All the glutes, not just the one that sits on top, since that won’t do him any good if the medius and minimus aren’t just as strong. Hamstrings and calves are last, and when she’s done… well, when she’s done he’s got the kind of calves that gym rats dream of, with a smoothly tapered ankle and a fat chunk of quivering gastrocs that a woman wouldn’t be able to fit into a knee-high boot.

Funny, that, how the big people want to be little and the little people want to be big. A lot of fat people complain about their calves, how they’ll never be small, while other people want to build them up. It’s obsessive. Reggie had told her about it: the guys on body building forums who purposefully gain weight to get the extra fat and muscle that comes from carrying around such a large load, then cutting so they can slim down and keep that same muscle in their lower legs.

Personally Jade thinks it’s weird, but then she doesn’t need to spend hours in the gym working on her physique because she’s already perfect.

Flawless, really.

GM: Flawless in appearance.

Flawless in deed.

Tantal looks relieved the entire time as Jade works her torturous magic on his numb flesh. Perhaps some part of the ghoul wonders if it would hurt more to have muscle mass added than taken away. Different kinds of pain, Jade supposes. She’s made herself bulkier for some of her guises, though never so bulky as she’s making Tantal. The ghoul doesn’t go so far as to relax while she works on him, but he starts to look less apprehensive and more intrigued as the minutes tick by and Jade literally makes him bigger and better.

Gui watches too with clear interest. His eyebrows raise at first, but beyond that, the Ventrue simply studiously watches what Jade’s doing, his eyes moving between her claws, Tantal’s body, and the gory chunks of muscle she grafts on. At one point he remarks how the muscle looks “pretty fresh” and asks what would happen if she was working with “older meat.” Would she need to freshen it up? Beyond that question, Gui remains silent so as not to distract her from her work. As it goes on and the Toreador’s motions become more familiar, his eyes start to wander her increasingly gore-caked body. There’s no bulge in his pants, but Jade can see his fangs protruding in his mouth, and he smiles when he sees her notice.

“Thayncth, mu’m,” Tantal slurs out through his still-numb and anesthetized mouth. “Tha fel… muth be’er thith thime.”

“You’f rilly buffed me up. Warden Lebyoo’ll be pre’y happy to thee me liy thith. I know I am.”

Celia: Fresher meat is better, Jade tells Gui, though even old body parts can be used. She can preserve things as she harvests them, or refresh them. Like rehydrating a dead flower, almost, or dried food. It’s not as simple as adding water, but it’s still something she knows how to do.

She tells him, too, that she can dry it out. She doesn’t need to tan and stretch and roll the hides to turn them into leather; there’s a whole process she looked up once, and it involves a bunch of brain matter and ash and curing and drying… and she can do the same thing in a matter of moments. Turn humans into… well, into leather.

“Leather belts, wallets, purses, shoes, jackets…”

Maybe even a pair of bracers.

She smiles at the Ventrue, wondering if he’s now thinking of every bit of leather he’s ever seen her wear and where it came from. Who it came from.

Jade finds a mirror when she’s done, holding it out for the ghoul to get a good look at his new body. She asks if he’d like any adjustments and smooths the rest of him out, giving him a once-over to make sure that all of her cuts across his skin have been sealed.

“I’m curious to see how your new body improves your work, Tantal. Be sure to keep me appraised. Rest this evening and this day. Tomorrow evening you’re cleared to return to duty. Stay hydrated.”

GM: “Yeth, mu’m,” the ghoul nods as he slowly gets up. “Thaynth again. You e’er nee’ thomethin from me, juth ask.”

“I’m pretty sure most of the leather you wear still comes from cows, but I suppose I can’t be certain,” smirks Gui after Tantal leaves. “You’re very dirty. Good thing for us there’s a shower right here.”

He starts taking off his own clothes too.

Celia: Well this had backfired spectacularly.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked him to take her dress off for her.

Or invited him to watch.

Or asked him to leave with her with the implication that they’d fuck.

Had she implied that? It’s so hard to be certain these days. Seems like any stray glance or wink gets misunderstood by the people who want to get into her pants. Or at least her neck. Or whatever the vampire equivalent is.

What else is Veronica’s slut childe good for?

Not that she minds. She’d just thought she’d last more than two whole nights before she cheated on Roderick. Or one night? She’s not quite sure which of these evenings is their official “getting back together” night.

She’s reaching for the hooks on her bra when a phone chirps. She glances at where hers sits out on the chair where he’d draped her dress, but the screen is black. Her eyes drift back toward him and the phone ringing merrily from his jacket pocket.

GM: Fuck again.

Gui tsks when she starts to take off the bra and moves to help her out of it himself. “I’ve already helped you out of your dr…”

He picks up the phone.

“Yes?”

A pause.

“Keep a lid on things. I’ll be over soon.”

He flips the dumphone closed.

“Sorry, lush, but business before pleasure.”

Celia: Jade is pretty sure that if she’d gotten out of her bra any quicker he wouldn’t be able to tear his gaze away, and whatever fire had popped up would just go on burning without his attention.

She pouts spectacularly at him.

“You’re such a tease.”

GM: Gui pulls on his clothes and tilts up Jade’s chin to meet his gaze.

“Business pays in pleasure, beautiful. I’ll show you a time to make your toes curl once Harrah’s is ours.”

Celia: She likes the sound of that.

“It’s a date, then.” Which reminds her… “I’ll need to speak to you about that at some point, but go handle your business. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow evening to discuss.”

GM: “The Evergreen wouldn’t be what it is without me,” Savoy’s master of elysium declares. Jade is hard-pressed to think of an occasion Gui hasn’t been there on a Saturday. He brushes her cheek with his fangs, licking off some of the blood, and takes his leave.

Celia: Jade watches him go, annoyed by the little pang in her chest as he leaves. She shouldn’t want him to stay as much as she does. She reminds herself that she’s with someone. She reminds herself to keep it in her pants. She reminds herself that she’s about to get fucked six ways to Sunday when she gets home to see Roderick, with fang and cock and fingers and tongue, and that Gui wouldn’t have done that for her and she’d have only been half-satisfied. After he argues with her, of course, about letting Garcia grab her ass and then leaving with Gui and getting mad about whatever it is he’s going to get mad about, and maybe they won’t even fuck because he’s busy putting her head through a wall and then Savoy’s plan with him will definitely fall through.

And that’ll be her fault, of course.

She heaves a sigh once she’s alone, glad for just this moment to herself where she doesn’t need to play the games around the others and watch her tongue and thoughts and body language. And then she finishes stripping and steps into the shower by herself because even though it would be more enjoyable if someone were here to share it with, she still has a list of things to do this evening for which she probably shouldn’t be covered in blood.

She lets her thoughts swirl down the drain with the blood, though she feels far from clean.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The mystery number included in her mom’s group text wasn’t lost to Celia’s attentive memory, and it’s the first item on her agenda, if by dint of being the easiest to take care of. It’s easy enough to scroll back to the frantic message, copy the number, and make a call.

“Hello?” greets an unfamiliar woman’s voice after several rings.

Celia: “Mom?” Celia says into the phone. She knows it’s not her mom. But calling a random number and asking ‘who is this’ is suspect as all hell. Still, the female voice puts her at ease, if only remotely.

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number,” says the woman.

Celia: “Oh, I’m… oh my, is this Naomi?”

GM: “Why yes, how did you know?”

Celia: “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry. Your name is right next to my mother’s in my phone, my finger must have slipped. Mom talks about you all the time. Sorry to disturb you.”

GM: “Oh! No, no, it’s no disturbance at all from one of Diana’s kids!” the woman smiles. “Which of her daughters are you? You don’t sound like Emily.”

Celia: What on earth is Emily doing talking to Naomi?

“Oh no,” Celia says with a smile of her own, “it’s Celia. The… I’d say eldest, but I think Emily has a few months on me.” That’s a weird thing she hasn’t considered before.

GM: “Celia! Oh my goodness!” Naomi exclaims, audibly smiling wider. “Your mom’s told me so much about you!”

“We’ve met each other before, back when you were really little. Your mom took you to our ballet performances. I don’t know that you’d remember me, though, since we all look the same in our costumes with our faces made up.”

Celia: “She has told me plenty of stories,” Celia assures the woman. “Both from back then and more recent things.”

This is where she’d say that Diana had pointed her out in photos from the old days, but… well, she has no photos left. Maxen had seen to that. Celia had been too busy scavenging for concealer to worry about her mother’s memories.

The thought tugs at her heart.

“We were just talking about you the other day, actually. She mentioned that you were looking for something new.”

GM: Naomi gives a short laugh. “Well, new is relative. I’m finally retiring from the ballet, it’s a young woman’s game, so I’m hoping to teach dance at a local studio instead. Your mom helped me land a job interview, she was so thoughtful. She’s a really good friend.”

Celia: “She really is the best.” There’s a brief pause while the wheels turn in her head. “Say, I know this might be weird coming from me, but you don’t do private lessons at all, do you?”

GM: “Oh, well, I suppose so. I haven’t taught any yet, but your mom and I talked about those. She says it’s a good way to get some variety in your teaching and earn a little side money.”

“I can’t imagine you’re wanting to get lessons from me, though, with already having an amazing dance teacher for your mom?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Celia laughs, “not for me. A friend of mine, actually. One of the girls I went to high school with has a little sister who has been taking lessons from my mom for a while, but, well… between you and me,” Celia lowers her voice, “I think her leg is acting up, and I’m worried about the strain it’s putting on her, and I think she’s nervous about leaving them without a good teacher. But if you were to take over…”

“Is that something you’d be interested in? She teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at their house in the Garden District.”

GM: “Oh. Oh no, are things okay with your mom?” Naomi asks. “Those lessons can’t be very long, next to how long she’s on her feet at McGhee…?”

Celia: “It’s more the added strain,” Celia says with a sigh. “She’s been doing okay at McGehee because it’s not as… hands on, you know? And she can sit if she needs to, take a break.”

GM: “Are you sure? I’d think a family might be more understanding, not to mention how there’s fewer girls and… well, I suppose your mom knows what she needs better than me, though.”

“Okay, I’ll give her a call about this.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to both of them, too, just to be sure. Pick up for a random number and get a job offer, what’re the odds?” She laughs lightly.

GM: Naomi laughs too. “Well, my husband and I are thinking about adopting, so hearing a stranger call me ‘Mom’ was… well, what are the odds of that, too?”

Celia: “Oh, you should,” Celia enthuses. “Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to me. She really just… kids just change your whole world.”

GM: “Oh, yes, I’ve met her with your mom! She’s just beyond adorable. Such a sweet child.”

“I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, but I’m a bit old for it, and seeing how well adoption worked for Emily and your mom… it made me think.”

Celia: “Meeting Emily and bringing her into the family was probably the best outcome from college. She and my mom… they’re just so happy together, and I know it’s not traditional but…” She wipes at her eyes, glad that the woman can’t see the red.

GM: “I think if they’re happy, that’s what counts. Your mom’s said how Emily didn’t have a family, so good on y’all for giving her one.”

“Oh! I go to your spa, by the way, Flawless—your mom referred me years ago. I’ve had Emily as my massage therapist, that’s how I know her.”

“I’ve wanted to schedule an appointment with you, but your staff always says you’re booked up.”

Celua: “Unfortunately I do book pretty far out. I cut down on my hours to take a more managerial role while I look for a building for a second location. Buuut…” she draws the word out, “I have some evening appointments available, if you’d like? I can text you with some time slots once I check my schedule.”

“All of the building managers and bankers want to meet during my peak daytime hours,” Celia says with another sigh. “Worth it, though.”

GM: “Yes, your mom’s said evenings are usually better for you, and how that’s when all of her appointments are. Not so late in the day is usually better for me, but… all right, why don’t you text me your hours, and we can see. It wouldn’t even have to be regular, if you’re mostly a manager these days.”

“Plus I already see Piper and I like her a lot, too.”

Celia: “Everyone loves Piper,” Celia agrees readily. “I oversaw some of her training, so I’ll take that as a huge compliment. Alright, I’ll get those times over to you this weekend and get you set up with something, and I’ll talk to my mom about the dance classes. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I’m glad I was able to connect with you.”

GM: “Oh, it’s no disturbance, I’m so glad to finally meet you! Or talk with you, at least. Give your mom my love, will you?”

Celia: “Will do! Enjoy your evening.”

GM: “You too! I guess I’ll see you at the spa.”

Celia: Celia says a final goodbye and hangs up the phone.

It’s not quite how she imagined it would go when she’d dialed, but when does life ever go as expected?


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Car since delivered to the Evergreen, Jade makes the trek across the Quarter and into Mid-City to the LegalWings Bail Bond offices. She’d texted the boys to let them know that she’s on her way—sometimes she meets them at their home in the Quarter, but Reggie and Rusty had said they were still downtown working on a case. Randy is… well, she thinks he’s with Mabel at their home in the Quarter, which would have been more convenient a meeting place considering she needs to talk to that ghoul too, but she’ll handle it when she handles it.

It’s not her first trip into Mid-City. Despite the hiding she had done in the back of Roderick’s car, Jade’s face isn’t an unwelcome one within the Anarch territory. She and Coco had parted on decent terms despite her childe’s penchant for splitting Jade’s face apart, and the elder had been receptive to Jade’s bid for influence within the parish. So LegalWings had been recognized as hers, and that was that. The occasional favor doesn’t much take away from being able to move relatively freely within the territory, and she hasn’t had to worry about someone else trying to edge their way into her business or getting jumped on the streets if one of the boys slips up.

Her heels click against the pavement as she makes her way toward the large glass doors of the office building, swiping a keycard against the door to be let in. Ordinarily the door isn’t locked but this late at night they don’t need people wandering in from the outside.

Jade nods to the receptionist as she passes by. Malone, she thinks; Reggie had told her once that they keep someone at the desk 24/7 for those crazy midnight cases that are all the rage these days. He’d said it with a wink and they’d both known what he’d meant. She has a bag slung over one shoulder, the same sort of leather she and Gui had been teasing about. She doesn’t think he’d believed her when she’d made her claim, not if that smirk was any indication.

Celia: Maybe she’ll make him a new hat and let him guess what sort of animal it came from. She’s all about the gift-giving these days.

She has one with her, too. Of a sort. Roxanne’s phone is in her bag, but Rusty has always liked a challenge, hasn’t he? And he’s easier to get ahold of than the Tremere detective, or at least she doesn’t want to bother him any more than she has to, so Rusty gets to play ‘crack the phone’ while they look into the rest of everything. She should have given it to him nights ago, but… well, she’s been busy.

Jade proceeds down the hall to Rusty’s office, knocking on the door before stepping inside.

GM: Someone once said to her that every elder calls in markers eventually.

She doesn’t remember who. It seems like the sort of advice most licks who’ve been around could give. Who aren’t also elders.

LegalWings, as the city’s biggest most successful company, has its own two-story building with a giant neon sign displaying the company name and its logo of a jail suit-wearing man flying out of a birdcage on a pair of wings. LegalWings. Open 24 hours, proclaims a section of neon. Fortunate for the Kindred and fortunate for the kine with loved ones in jail.

GM: 24/7, though, doesn’t mean full staff on duty. Regina seems home getting her beauty sleep, if her lack of presence in the office is any indication, but Reggie’s head turns at Jade’s clicking shoes, and he gives the Toreador’s rear an appreciative pat. He and the receptionist (Malone seems right) are talking to a Latina woman who’s looking over a document and shaking her head as she sighs angrily. Then she signs anyway, and she’s soon on her way.

“How many fuckin’ times now?” mutters Malone.

Reggie shrugs.

Celia: What is it with boys and grabbing her ass?

Not that she minds. Not that she minds even a little bit. She winks at Reggie as she passes by, crooking a finger at him behind her back to summon him down the hall once he’s done with the Hispanic woman.

Still, she’s glad it happened here where there aren’t any raging Brujah to challenge him to a duel. She’s rather fond of the middle brother and doesn’t want his head thrown threw her window if her lover decides he’s threatened by the mortal.

GM: Rusty’s in his office. It’s a big enough building he gets his own, instead of one of the tables out front. He’s typing into his computer as Jade approaches and reports that he and his brother are still looking into Summer.

Jade: Jade nods at the report.

“She’s been missing since December; I don’t doubt she’ll be tricky to track down.”

She slips the phone out of her bag and sets it on the desk.

“Have a few more things I’d like to look into.”

GM: “What and how much are you paying?” the oldest brother asks perfunctorily.

“This Summer girl is already taking a while, but I suppose as long as you’re paying for her too.”

Celia: She’ll know something is wrong with the guy when he doesn’t immediately demand payment. She appreciates how little he changes between visits.

“I imagine the usual agreement is sufficient?” There’s a lilt at the end of her sentence, room for him to let her know if something has come up that he needs different or more.

GM: Rusty nods. He and Reggie have both given Jade an hourly rate. Discounted for the pretty lady who feeds them blood.

Randy mostly just begs his “girlfriend” for blood and money when he needs it.

Celia: Randy provides services his brothers don’t, like being on call whenever she needs him, so it’s a looser arrangement she has with him in regards to blood and money. She’s been thinking about just giving him an expense account with a monthly limit.

Jade smiles at the brother in front of her and gives him a handful of names to look into. The blonde haired girl and the green haired punk from the club are just a flag of sorts, in case they’re reported as missing. Jade needs to know to get ahead of that. It’s less active searching than just monitoring. She asks for the same from the hunters she’d put down, though she adds that she’d like their known associates, if any.

And finally she gets to the heart of the matter: Lee Andrin.

Celia: There’s a brief pause after she says his name. Then, finally,

“I need him located. Quickly.”

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. He asks if she has anything besides the name, but just nods when she doesn’t.

“A name’s enough to go on.”

Celia: “It’s possible I’ll need assistance bringing him in as well.”

In fact it’s highly likely.

GM: “Won’t be a problem.”

Celia: She gives him a grateful smile. She always enjoys watching the boys in action.

“Anything from the law office?”

GM: “Few things. Ocampo still poking for dirt on the police cover-up. The PIs have their eye on an ex-cop named Jeremy May. He’s the one who killed Gettis. He works for the Devillers family now as a security guard.”

“Ocampo’s people are searching for dirt on May so they can put the squeeze on him.”

Celia: “Mmm. I don’t suppose you have anything on him.”

GM: Rusty snorts. “We’re a bail bond agency, not an intelligence agency.”

“I can tell you he hasn’t taken out any bail bonds from us.”

Celia: That response earns a wry smile.

“I assumed as much. Doesn’t hurt to ask.”

That’s good, anyway. She’d rather they avoid that whole family and anything to do with them.

“Two more things, hopefully something you can assist with tonight.” Her brows lift. He knows she pays extra for rush jobs.

GM: “Okay. What is it?”

Celia: She nudges the phone toward him.

“Can you get into that?”

GM: He takes the Solaris and holds it under the lamplight.

“Damn, won’t be that way.”

Celia: “No,” Jade agrees. She’d already had the same thought.

GM: No oil secretions from their kinds’ fingers.

Celia: And she keeps forgetting to ask Pete.

He could probably just finger wave his way in.

But she doesn’t want to keep bothering him with this kind of stuff when she has her very own Rusty to help her out.

She gives the boy in question a winning smile.

Man, she reminds herself. He’s older than she is. Hard to remember that when she deals with his brother all the time and he comes off so… young.

GM: Alana is the same age as her mother.

Jade treats her like a child, too. The Blood just seems to bring that out in them.

Celia: Reggie is still pretty manly. All those times they… well.

GM: “Depends how many digits the password has,” says Rusty. “If it’s just four, give me probably six minutes. If it’s 10, give me probably 12 years.”

“Supposing there’s no other information you can give me on whoever’s phone this is.”

Celia: But she can.

She gives him her name, middle name, birthday. The name of her son, the name of her boyfriend, the date of her release as an independent lick. Their father’s birthday, their siblings’ birthdays. Her son’s birthday.

GM: Rusty tries combinations of those numbers to no effect.

Celia: It’s probably something stupid and sappy like her first kiss with Evan. Or the night daddy showed her how much he loved her.

GM: “I can get around the incorrect password timeouts and phone wipes, but this could still take a while if I’m going to brute force it.”

“What about her Suncloud account? That would be faster to get into.”

Celia: “Could try it.” She gives him the address.

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. “I’ll look into this and get back to you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Rusty.”

There’s more. There always is. But she’s already dumped enough on him this evening and feels a little silly about asking him to find out if this Vinny fellow is on a dating site for her when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.

As soon as she finds the time. Which is why, of course, she’d waited until this evening to come see him, because she’s been so caught up with everything else going on in her unlife that her priorities needed re-shuffled. Maybe next week she’ll be able to breathe again.

She’s also a little concerned about the downward pull on the left side of his face, the tightness around his mouth, and the white around his knuckles. Pain. When was the last time he’d gotten his work done? In the shuffle of all the chaos with Roderick and the hunters and her family she hadn’t gotten on his case about it, and when she doesn’t remind him… The silly boy will wait until he’s paralyzed by it to reach out if she lets him. She doesn’t quite frown, but she gives him a look.

“Come see me tomorrow night.”

No mention of treatment, illness, or the pain; they both know what she means.

She slides an envelope across the desk for him, their agreed upon sum for his work, and finally rises to her feet.

“Always a pleasure, Rusty.”

Then she’s gone, gliding down the hall to find Reggie’s desk. He doesn’t have an office, not like Rusty, but then he’s never here. More often than not he’s out and about the city, collecting people and running errands and… well, doing whatever the rest of what being a bounty hunter entails. She’s sure it’s not as glamorous as she envisions in her mind (she usually pictures motorcycles, leather jackets, and back-alley knife fights). She even knows it’s not that glamorous, having gone with him more than a few times to pick someone up when he needed a distraction, but there’s still a vague sense of danger that radiates off of him that she has seen cow plenty of people. It passes harmlessly by her… but fuck if it isn’t a bit of a turn on.

She won’t admit to the amount of times they’ve roleplayed the dangerous bounty hunter and his target angle.

She doesn’t need to lean over to whisper in his ear, but it lets him get a nice view down the front of her dress and, well, he’s a man who appreciates the finer things in life. Like that view down her dress and everything it lets him see.

She winks at him as she goes, off to find the final brother to complete the trifecta of Dufresne visits this evening.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: The tightness in her shoulders disappears the moment she passes back into Savoy’s territory. It’s not that she’s worried about being jumped in the streets, just that, well, sometimes she’s worried about being jumped in the streets. Or picked up for any variety of reasons, like running her mouth at Elysium, which is less likely to happen here, though still not impossible.

Her sire had proven that to her.

Hadn’t she needed to speak to him about something? And someone else, too.

Ah, well, must have gotten lost in the shuffle of everything else going on this evening. Next time.

She pulls into the driveway of the home she’d helped purchase for the brothers years and years ago, bypasses the security with keys and cards and codes, and finally lets herself in.

Pic.jpg
Pic.jpg
Like a twist on the quintessential bachelor pad, everything is done up in mahogany and chrome and marble. Exposed brick in the kitchen adds some character (Reggie, of all people, had been the one to say that), and they’d been oddly taken by the stuffed rhino head that the prior owner had left behind in the attic. They’d opted to keep it and now it sits on their wall watching over the living room.

And the woman currently taking up space in the living room, the captive ghoul of Roxanne’s. Or Evan’s. The MILF, anyway, and now that Jade is seeing her without the stress and terror of serving Roxanne she definitely understands what all the fuss is about: she’s hot.

She spies Randy in the kitchen with Diana’s leftover cake and a glass of milk and gives a little finger wave to her “boyfriend” before turning her attention to the ghoul.

GM: Jade’s ass still smarts from how hard Reggie pinched it on her way out of Legalwings.

The ghoul is hot, for an older woman. Or because she’s an older woman, depending on one’s tastes. Evan was known to like them older. She’s a long-haired blonde with a full and curvy figure, full lips, good skin, and tight but non-trashy clothes that show off her curves. Definitely a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type.

Or at least, she looks as if she used to be. Probably only an eye for beauty as discerning as Jade’s could spot that truth.

The ghoul hasn’t applied any makeup, her clothes have a rumpled, slept-in look, she doesn’t look as if she’s washed her hair recently, and her eyes are red and puffy as if from crying. She doesn’t smell as if she’s showered in a while either. Her hands are tied behind her back. There’s bruise marks on her face, too.

She doesn’t even look scared by the Toreador. She just offers a bleak look, like her life has gotten even worse.

Or as if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

Celia: Jade has no doubt that Roxanne wasn’t the gentlest of domitors, if that bruising is any indication. She’d told the boys to lay off any physical violence against the woman. No touching. She’d been very clear.

At least she doesn’t quite smell yet, despite the unwashed hair and rumpled clothing. Nothing some baby powder won’t fix to suck up that oil spill on the top of her head.

Or, y’know, an actual shower and change of clothes.

Jade pulls a chair up in front of her, muting the TV in the background with the press of a button on the remote. She doesn’t even wince when she puts weight on the recently pinched cheek. Maybe it’s the cushion.

She gives the ghoul a long look and finally smiles.

“Good evening. It’s Mabel, isn’t it?”

GM: “Yes,” the ghoul answers without enthusiasm.

Celia: "And you were with the Storyvilles? Gerlette?

GM: “Evan.”

If it’s even possible, Mabel looks even more miserable at his name.

Celia: Evan. Right. Roxanne’s boyfriend. The nice one, isn’t that what she had said? Jade hadn’t been particularly close to him despite their shared clan, and he’s been missing for almost a year now.

“I doubt it’s been easy with him gone,” Jade says softly. She looks again at the bruise. No doubt he kept her more gently than her former sister had.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Mabel. I’m sorry that he’s gone. I know it hurts to lose someone that you care deeply for. I’d like to help you find out what happened to him, and then maybe find a new place for you where you can be happy.”

GM: The Toreador’s consoling words bring on a wave of relieved-feeling tears.

“Please. I just want to find him. He isn’t dead, he’s my boy, I know he’s not, he’s just… in torpor, or staked somewhere…”

Celia: Maybe that’s even true. Wouldn’t that be a blessing.

Jade nods her head. She leans forward, keeping her movements slow, and unties the woman’s hands from behind her back. She takes one of them into her own. Her skin is warm; maybe that helps Mabel feel less like she’s in the presence of a monster.

“Can you tell me about him? The last time you saw him. The things you did together? I bet there’s something I can look into.”

GM: The ghoul sniffs and squeezes Jade’s hand. “He’s a wonderful boy. Just such a good boy. We pretend to be a mother and son, living together in the apartment where his haven is, but it’s not pretend. He calls me Mom anyways, even when no’s listening…” The ghoul gives a happy, broken smile. “He likes to pamper me, draw up baths for me, and wash my hair with his hands… and when he holds me in his arms, I feel like there’s no one in the world but us…”

Celia: “Evan sounds like a real sweetheart.”

GM: “He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

“He lets me drink from him, as much as I want, then he drinks it back, and I just feel so loved, so safe, so good, like I never have with anyone else… God knows not my husband.”

Celia: Husband.

Well there’s a loose end. She should have looked into that before she’d just… scooped her up.

Whoops.

“Is your husband still in the picture? I imagine hiding this life from him was pretty difficult.”

GM: Mabel shakes her head. “We divorced a while ago. Evan helped me leave him.”

“He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

Celia: “I’ll help you find him,” Jade says again, giving the ghoul’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “But I need to know what you know so I can start looking. Anything you did together, anything out of the ordinary, anything he might have said in front of you?” Licks treat their servants like they’re less than a lot of the time. She’s seen it. They get complacent and let things slip and don’t imagine that the ghouls hold onto that knowledge. She tries not to, but she’s probably done it herself. It’s why she thinks the Harrah’s business will be so successful. It’s why the maid business has netted so much for her as well. She’s banking on the fact that Evan, Roxanne, and the rest of the Storyvilles sometimes forgot that Mabel is a person and not just a ghoul.

GM: “Well… the last couple nights before he disappeared, he was on edge,” Mabel sniffs. “He was scared, I could tell, but he tried to look brave around me. He said I didn’t need to worry, and we fed on each other. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t all there.”

She sniffs again.

“I wanted to hep him, with what was wrong. He’s my boy.”

“He did go to see a fortune-teller, in the Quarter. Yellow Sidra. That was very unusual, because he never went to the Quarter, and said I should never go there. He said all of the licks there would try to hurt us…”

Mabel sniffs and warily looks between Jade and Randy.

“But I don’t care about that. I just… I just want to find him…”

“He went to the Lower Garden District, too, before he disappeared. He said he talked with Accou, the… primogen, was what Evan called him. He said he admired Accou, because he also looked after his mom.”

Mabel manages a smile and gives another sniff. It’s an earnest smile, but a sad one too.

“I’m glad he talked with Accou, because it seemed to make him feel better. After he talked to Sidra, he was… oh, I wish he hadn’t, he was scared and miserable after he came back…”

Celia: Jade nods encouragingly as Mabel speaks. She gives her a wry smile at the announcement of not going into the Quarter; it’s a lesson she has instilled in her own ghouls, where and when they can travel so nothing untoward happens to them.

“It shows how much you care about him that you were willing to come here anyway. I’m glad we found each other. That kind of loyalty is admirable, and I think I can help.”

Jade waves Randy over with a plate of food and beverage for the ghoul.

“You might not want to eat with how upset you are, but keep your strength up so we can get through this, okay? His girlfriend’s mom made it and she’s a great cook.”

“I know Accou. He’s my grandsire, actually. And Evan is right, he does look after his mom. It’s really sweet, like Evan is to you. I’m happy to follow up with him about this. Do you know where he came from when he got this way, anyone he was speaking to before he got so on edge? Anything he might have said to his krewe?”

Convenient, really, that both of the people Mabel had spoken of are people that Jade has a decent enough relationship with. And Sidra still owes her that boon. Could be worth calling in.

GM: Well, “willing” was probably relative with the tied and bound woman.

Mabel looks at the casserole. “There was another lick, who asked about Evan. But she didn’t tell me that… you think Accou can help? You really think he can, that he can find Evan…?”

There’s hope in the ghoul’s voice, for what sounds like the first time in a long time.

She swallows after a moment, though, to answer the vampire’s questions, mindful she must still do that.

“Evan got worse right when he came back from Sidra. He’d seemed on edge before, but it really got a lot worse after they saw each other.”

“Before that it was a… a gradual thing, I guess. Things seemed a little more strained between him and Roxanne. I tried to help, because they were both so sweet, both so good for each other.”

The ghoul dabs at her eyes. “Roxanne took it really badly… she misses him, so much…”

Celia: “The other lick, was she tall and blonde, rather pretty?” Roxanne had said that Caroline worked for her before Jade had ripped her heart right out of her chest.

“I think she might have a reason to cover up what happened with Evan,” Jade says with an effected sigh. “And she doesn’t know Accou, not like I do. She’s new to all of this. If Accou knows something I’ll do my best to get it out of him.”

She says nothing about Roxanne being sweet. The girl was a heinous bitch, she doesn’t think the lick was any better.

“Were they fighting at all? Did they say anything about in front of you?”

GM: Mabel nods at Jade’s first question. “Yes, she had a lot of questions like yours.”

Celia: Of course she did.

Caroline is showing up all over her Requiem these nights.

Jade gestures Randy over, telling him to call Alana and get her to set up a meeting with Accou via his herald. Might as well get that ball rolling now. Who knows how far out that will be.

GM: Randy nods and gets out his phone.

“They don’t really fight much,” Mabel answers the second one. “She can be a little high-strung, sometimes, but Evan always talks her down. Then she gets sorry and they cuddle. Or feed.”

“She comes from an abusive family, but Evan is so good to her. She feels safe when they’re together. He’s so good to us…”

Mabel dabs at her eyes again.

Celia: “Did she tell you that she comes from an abusive family?” Jade sounds surprised. It’s not the kind of thing she expected her sister to spill. A little off topic, but she’s curious.

GM: “Well, Evan did. She didn’t talk about it much, at first, but after they were together a while, she started to. I don’t think she’d told anyone before, because she really broke down after she did, about how much they all hated her and how she’d ruined things and wished she could do things over again. And Evan just held her and said all the right things, like he alw…”

Mabel gives another sniff.

Celia: Well that’s a gut punch she doesn’t need. She swallows, blinking back something that might be emotion.

GM: “She would talk to me, sometimes. She doesn’t let her guard down easily. She can be really stiff and prickly. But underneath I think she’s just really, really lonely, feeling like she made her family all hate her. And that’s why Evan really touched her, why she cares about him so much, because he’s the one person who really sees her and accepts her. She’s been… losing him has been really, really hard on her, but I know she’ll stop at nothing to get him back…”

Celia: She would have. She did. Went after Meadows by herself, the idiot.

Maybe if Celia hadn’t hidden who she was from her. Maybe if she’d reached out as herself instead of hiding behind her mask. Maybe if she’d talked to her that day after Dad was arrested, or hadn’t made him fuck her, or hadn’t just left her there like a piece of garbage.

What ifs and maybes are useless, she knows. Just a trip down pain lane.

She doesn’t know if she’s ever hated herself more.

GM: “He had this idea, that after a while, he’d ask her if she wanted to call me Mom, too. So we could be a… be a family… he’s just such a sweet boy…”

Tears bead in the ghoul’s eyes.

Celia: “That’s… that’s really something,” Jade says, voice thick. “I think she’d like that.”

GM: “I, I need to see her, please. She needs me…”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do.”

GM: “Her and Jocelyn, they’ve been fighting… they’ve all been fighting, since Evan…”

Celia: “The lick you mentioned, though. Like I said, I think she has a reason to hide what happened. So with your permission, Mabel, I have a trick I can use to undo anything she might have hidden after she asked you these questions, anything she might not have wanted other people to know. It’s possible she made you forget, and I’d like to unlock them for you.”

“So we can get Evan back.”

GM: The ghoul looks apprehensive, but nods. “O… okay, what trick…?”

Celia: Jade directs her to sit on the floor in front of her with her back to Jade. It’s less ideal than having a massage table handy, but will be better than if she lays out on the couch. At least for Mabel. It doesn’t make much of a difference for Jade.

She tells the ghoul she’s going to touch her. To just focus on the movements and let her mind and body go heavy. She starts lightly at the scalp, her fingertips brushing through Mabel’s hair. Some women think that the best part of going to a salon is when they wash your hair for you, and those are the motions that Jade does now. She’s quiet while she works, focusing her attention on the ghoul. Her hands move down the back of her neck, pressing against the tension she finds there, then lower, into her shoulders and upper back. She works above the clothing, kneading rather than gliding. Seated or chair massage like this is nothing new to her.

While she works she drifts inward. Her mind opens, consciousness projecting along the unbroken line of energy that stretches between the bodies of the two women. One moment she is Jade, the next she is Mabel.

Seven colored disks spin before her eyes. She’s not surprised that the green burns so brightly; the woman has a lot of love to give. It’s covered in dead leaves and dirt, but Jade brushes it away with a touch of her hand. It winks at her, glad to be free, but its spin is sluggish, and when it pulses she can see the effort that it takes. Like a pair of blackened lungs struggling to breathe.

Her attention drifts upward, to the combination of three that she needs to unlock to get into her memories. Vissudha, Ajna, Sahasrara. The throat, the third eye, and the crown. Jade dives in.

The world shifts around her. She’s in her seat, but she’s inside of Mabel too, and in here… in here she can see the effect that various abilities have had on her. The ecstasy of the kiss. The heady sweetness of charm. And something… blacker. Something meant to conceal. Jade follows the trail through the ghoul’s aura like she would a forest path. She whispers while she moves, telling the woman that she’s safe, that she’s a friend, that this will help heal her heart. And she’s rewarded by a different path appearing before her, one that was obscured by overgrown vines, one that holds the secrets of her mind behind a wrought iron gate. Darkness reigns here, holding in the truth. Jade presses her hands against it. Her fingertips glow. Warm, healing energy. Safety. Trust.

Out loud, she speaks. She probes further into Evan’s period of anxiety, focusing on anything he might have said after visiting Sidra or Accou. She wants to know what had him upset. Who had him upset. Maybe he said something. Maybe Mabel herself saw something. Didn’t she keep his schedule? Doesn’t she know where he was when he came back upset?

GM: Mabel becomes as putty in the Toreador’s capable hands. A massage table might be nicer, but that hardly slows Jade down, and the ghoul falls apart as she unwinds. There’s so much tension in her muscles. So much stress. Jade kneads it all out as Mabel comes apart. She cries, a little, but she feels like she’s cried so much of late that her tears are wrung dry. She moans softly, little low sounds of pleasure, and says how good this feels. How much she needed this. Jade has little doubt the ghoul might fall asleep soon, without her influence, but that will not pass while there is truth she yet seeks. Visuddha, the chakra for communication, pulses blue. There are truths Mabel must speak.

“Evan was seeing another lick on the side,” Mabel murmurs slowly. “Amandine. A Crone girl.”

“He didn’t want Roxanne to know… he loved her, he did, he gave her all his love… but he had enough for other people, too, and it would’ve just hurt her to know… she wanted him all to herself…”

“It was better this way… she got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”

Celia: It’s a familiar story. One that she’s been debating playing herself.

But how much would it have hurt her sister to find out that her lover is cheating?

Maybe that’s their real clan curse, that they have too much love to give. That not one single person will ever be enough. That she can love Roderick with her whole heart but still have room for Gui and Savoy and Pietro and Donovan and that blonde beauty in the Garden District. Even the ghouls. She can love them too, can’t she, can show them the depths of her affection with physical touch. And Star’s lover, the lawyer with the missing daughter; she helps him forget his pain for a night.

No one ever tells a rose to stop growing. Why, then, should they pluck her from her garden to put her behind a glass case, tell people they can only look but not touch? Who walks through a rose garden and doesn’t want to feel the soft caress of petals against their skin, breathe in the deep floral fragrance?

It takes a moment to re-center after her thoughts threaten to spin away. She breathes in, reminding herself who she is, where she is, her purpose of the evening.

Amandine. She sends the pulse of thought down that line between them, searching for information. How long? When? How soon before he disappeared did he start seeing her?

GM: She’s heard from more than one clanmate that their curse isn’t a curse, not truly. It’s a blessing, that they might appreciate the world’s beauty even as other Kindreds’ hearts turn hard and cold.

“A few months… they kept it secret, very secret…” Mabel recites tranquilly. “The prince wouldn’t have understood, Evan was scared the scourge would come from them both…”

Celia: Why would the prince care who Evan was seeing? She sends the curiosity along their tether, picturing his face. She had seen it so clearly last night in Caroline:’s office.

GM: Confusion meets Jade’s curiosity. “Amandine’s one of the Baron’s followers… a Vodouisant… sleeping with the enemy…”

“Evan and the Storyvilles all work so hard to impress the prince, win his favor…”

Celia: How close are they, she asks, that the prince would know who Evan is sleeping with?

GM: “That’s what Evan thought too… it’s not like the prince watches in the bedroom… but he said, Amandine said… if they were seen together, by other Kindred… they’d report it, or use it as blackmail… too much risk, not to play it safe… Evan always says how smart she is….”

Stupid, whispers Maxen’s voice in her head.

“They’d go to out of the way places… places other licks couldn’t see them… take walks together, look at the stars… love each other, where it was just them…”

Celia: She doesn’t recognize that voice in her head.

Jade doesn’t have a father.

She brushes it aside, focusing on the words that the ghoul spills to her. Secret lover. Another familiar story. She and Roderick are secret lovers too.

Amandine, though. Another name to look into.

Is it enough for him to speak to Accou about? She… doesn’t think so. Why would Evan speak to Accou about a Crone lover? Why tip his hand like that?

Why would he speak to Accou about her?

GM: “I don’t know what they talked about… it might’ve been that… but he wouldn’t tell me…”

Celia: She presses further here, watching the spinning disks in front of her, looking for signs of black or gray against their brightness. Like rot in a garden, it discolors everything in its path, and she searches for evidence of its passing now. Snippets of altered memories that she can grab onto and unravel.

GM: The garden’s rot is well-hidden, but Jade will not be denied in her search. It’s there, black and ugly and festering. Perhaps Dahlia has given her something of a green thumb.

Yet, Jade senses, Mabel’s psyche is fragile, and this garden has long been starved for water and sun. To raze away its rot may be to raze the few remaining healthy plants too.

Celia: Tending gardens has always been delicate work. Roots tangle beneath the soil, weed and plant alike, and infestations of bugs spread so easily from one leaf to another. Gardens can be temperamental things; a touch of frost can kill flowers before they ever bloom, a stray rabbit or bird can eat the leaves clean, too much water or sun can be just as damaging as not enough.

Jade stops pushing. She sits in the garden Mabel’s mind has yielded, her legs folded beneath her. Damp grass brushes against her bare skin. The circles spin around her, thick and sluggish and blackened by decay. One by one Jade calls them over, gently tugging on the tether of energy between their forms. She’s no plant whisperer, but from the ground she calls up a green stalk. Green, like the heart chakra, the one that Mabel has in spades. Green, like the dress she had chosen this evening. And green, like her name.

It’s a sign, isn’t it?

She weaves the stalks of the green plant around the orbs to hold them still. She’ll chase the rot away with Mabel’s own love. She sets it in motion, letting it work slow magic on the altered memories.

GM: Jade has little doubt that the Ventrue’s gifts could discern Mabel’s hidden truth. They’d bulldoze over everything else in the process, crude and blunt as they are.

Yet Jade’s own clan would likely fare little better. Their gifts are subtle things, and their province is feelings, not memories.

But Jade is more than her clan. She’s an esthetician. She’s seen how much comes out on the spa table. All those traumas and secrets and gossip that dumbfound people outside the industry. People never do have any idea how much their massage therapists and hairdressers and makeup artists hear from them.

All Jade has to do is coax Mabel along. Work her familiar magic with her hands, and let her Beast fill in the gaps.

“I once heard Evan and Roxanne, talking about the Storyvilles’ secret meetings with Vidal,” murmurs the ghoul. “Roxanne told me to forget it.”

“So I did.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal.

The words echo through her. The whole krewe was meeting with him. And Roxanne had tried to cover it up, to prevent the truth from coming out. It could be nothing. Or it could be everything. Suddenly her plan to disseminate the information no longer seems like the lie she’d planned to tell.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Inside the garden of Mabel’s mind, Jade strokes her fingers across the slowly blooming flowers growing from the orbs. With each word the black rot recedes, giving room to the light inside. She coaxes further truth from the woman with a gentle nudge of silent energy.

What did she hear?

The wind carries the question through Mabel’s garden with the floral scent of roses and greenery and golden sunshine.

GM: “Evan thought their sex hadn’t been as good,” murmurs Mabel. “She called him the prince’s name.”

“They had an argument, and Evan said they should wait to feed on each other until a while after they’d seen Vidal.”

“He’s such a sweet boy. Always trying to keep everyone happy. It had to have hurt him, but he didn’t even say that, just how to make it not happen again.”

“Then they heard me, and Roxanne panicked, saying how they needed to keep this absolutely secret. How the Hussar would kill them, and me, if they didn’t keep this secret.”

“So Evan told me not to be scared, and then Roxanne told me to forget. So I did.”

Celia: Petals spread as the truth comes out.

This is it, though. Secret meetings with the prince. Something worth killing over. Because it can’t be the sex. Calling someone the wrong name during sex is hardly something they’d be killed over, even if it was Vidal. Lord knows she’s done worse, called out…

Well.

She snips that thought before it can take root.

Jade watches the rot leech from the orbs, the colors slowly returning to their vibrant selves. She lingers on this memory, waiting to see if there’s something more. A snippet of conversation between the pair. More about the meetings. Anything that will give her what she needs: proof. Proof of her wild accusation. Proof that Vidal was using them like she thinks he was.

GM: “That’s all they said,” Mabel murmurs.

“That’s all I heard.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal, though. That’s something.

The blooming petals wither and scatter across the garden’s carpeting. Jade sits quietly with the orbs, pleased by their revelations. Still, though, it would be remiss of her to not probe further into these meetings.

Gentle fingertips caress the fallen petals as the orbs break free from their green stalks. She plucks one from the ground, focusing her intention on the soft remnants of the flower in her hand.

Meetings. Other mentions of meetings. Vidal.

She lets the wind take it from her grasp.

She waits.

Perhaps there’s nothing else. Perhaps this had been the only mention. But if the krewe were meeting regularly with the prince, no doubt they might have made some other offhand remark.

GM: “I don’t remember any other times,” murmurs Mabel. “They’d all go places together without me, but they did that all the time.”

Celia: It’s enough.

As quietly as she had come, Jade withdraws from Mabel’s mind. She rises to her feet within the garden of memories, sending the orbs back to their respective havens with a gentle touch of her fingers. She retreats from the garden, pulls closed the gate behind her—white now instead of black—and skips down the forest path.

It takes her no time at all to find the familiar pull of energy directing her into her own body. Her consciousness spins along it, severing the tether between them as she goes.

Jade’s eyes open.

Her hands continue to work on the ghoul, easing the aches and pains she finds in her back.

“Thank you, Mabel.”

GM: Mabel’s face blanches with horror.

Celia: She can’t see it. But she can feel it, the sudden tightness in her neck and shoulders.

“Don’t be alarmed. You did well.”

GM: The ghoul starts weeping.

“Evan, I’m sorry…!”

Celia: “Why, Mabel? Why are you sorry? This helps us find him. This helps bring him back to you.” Jade lowers herself from the seat. Her arms slide around the crying woman like they would if it were her mother. “It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s going to be okay.”

GM: It doesn’t hurt that she’s had her share of practice comforting her own crying mother.

Mabel continues to weep.

“Vidal, he’s going to kill my boy, now…!”

Celia: Well. He might have already done so.

That’s what Jade had planned to say, anyway. Now she wonders at how close she’d been to the truth with her carefully concocted lie. Telling, isn’t it, that the only Stroyville who isn’t missing or dead is his childe’s lover. Meadows makes a good cover. She’d planned to use it herself to explain Roxanne’s disappearance.

“He won’t,” Jade says to her. Her words are whisper-quiet, barely a puff of breath against the woman’s neck. “You did nothing wrong. Everything you told me will help. I promise you that.”

Jade lets the woman cry herself out. She pulls Mabel onto her lap, such as it is while seated on the floor, and rubs her hands up and down her back in a slow, soothing gesture. The tears will stop coming eventually. They always do. And Jade is here for her until that time. Jade has her. Jade will make everything better.

After a time the tears do stop. And Jade, conscious of the things she has left to do tonight, conscious of her need for blood and the dwindling hours she has left to find it, takes the meal that is right in front of her. A hand winds through the woman’s hair, tilting her head to the side. Jade trails kisses down her neck until she finds the perfect spot. Her fangs grow long in her mouth, sharp as ever as they pierce the ghoul’s skin.

She drinks.

GM: Mabel cries for a while as she lets it all out. What she just said. Her fears for Evan. How much she misses him, and just wants “her boy” to “come home.”

The ghoul’s blood is sour against Jade’s tongue. It’s very different from the usual sweetness she’s accustomed to, but it’s not an unpleasant sourness, no more than salt or lemon or sour cream is. Mabel’s grief is soul-deep and haunts her every thought, Jade can tell. The ghoul truly loves and mourns her domitor as a surrogate son (and lover), even beyond the collar’s pull. Jade is hard-pressed to name the last occasion she tasted such grief, and the powerful taste lingers on her tongue, and makes her think of how Emily or Diana or Lucy would react, if she never come home one night. Such tears they would weep.

Mabel gives a last whispered, “Evan…” as her eyelids flutter. She looks very pale and does not move when the Toreador is done.

“You want me to put her to bed, babe?” Randy asks.

He looks at Mabel’s untouched plate of casserole, then starts eating from it.

Celia: Undoing the work of Roxanne had taxed her more than she’d thought it would. Manipulating Mabel’s memories left her Beast hungry. She drinks deeply, sour though it is, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of hot, red blood. It sates the Beast inside of her and leaves it all but purring in her chest when she’s done. Her tongue laps the final drops of blood from Mabel’s neck and the wound closes.

Like magic.

She thinks it every time.

She does the woman a final kindness, reaching out with her clan’s gift at warping emotions. She takes away her pain. She takes away her sadness, her grief, her misery. She removes it for this night, at least, so that she may sleep untroubled.

GM: Mabel does not respond, but the grief lines ease around her face.

Celia: Her eyes find Randy when she’s done. She rises, reaching for him, but the forkful of casserole he has shoved in his mouth halts her actions.

GM: He immediately sets it down and swallows.

Hard. He looks like he actually struggles not to choke, from how much he’s swallowed at once.

Celia: He’s not who she wants.

The thought crosses her mind and stills the flame inside of her that had wanted something more after this paltry mortal fare. She’d wanted…

It doesn’t matter, does it, because he’s not who she wants. His touch isn’t the touch that she craves. And bringing him into her arms now… it won’t turn him into that person.

She sees his eyes when she closes her own. They haunt her, even now, miles away from his influence.

But she reaches for him all the same, stepping closer so that her cheek can rest upon his chest. Maybe it was the grief she had brought into herself. Maybe it was the memories, or the mention of her sister, how she’d wanted to make it right. Maybe it was the fear, the cloying taste and scent of it, the tears that Mabel had wept.

For one moment she just wants to be close to someone. She wants to know that he will miss her if she’s gone. If, like Evan, her unlife is snatched away by a more powerful predator. Silly, maybe, to cling to the kine like this. He has no reason to love her. For seven years she has promised sex, dangled it over his head like a toy on a string, and not once had she let him have it.

And now… Christ, now it’s too late. Now she’s with someone else, someone who wouldn’t understand if she were to say she’d lain with her ghoul.

GM: Randy seems almost surprised by the motion, at first, but he wraps his arms around her and runs a hand through her hair, like she’s any mortal girlfriend seeking comfort in his arms.

“Hey. It’s okay, babe. It’s okay. I got you.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe so her shoulders don’t shake. She makes no noise. But red rims her eyes all the same.

Would they miss her? Any of them, would they miss her if she died? Or is it just the collar that keeps them loyal? She’d tasted it herself, the love that Mabel has for Evan, the way she mourns for him. Real love. Twisted by the blood maybe, but there all the same. And here she is playing games with people. Breaking hearts. Toying with their emotions like… like she’s Veronica with a new plaything.

Happy noises, little toy.

She’s a terrible person.

But she takes the comfort that he offers her, even if it can’t go any further. Perhaps because it can’t go any further. Maybe, for just this moment, they can lie to each other. Maybe they can pretend that this is enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Despite the fact that Randy isn’t who and what she wants, Jade lingers in his arms for long moments while the emotions run their course. When she finally pulls free she whispers a quiet thanks, smoothing out his shirt where it had been rumpled by her body pressed against his. She asks him to see to Mabel and make sure her needs are taken care of, and warns him that she’s emotional. She’ll need supervision.

Jade raids his kitchen for a container of salt while Randy puts Mabel to bed, and locks herself in his bathroom for a moment. Her hands blur across her face as she reworks her image to become Celia once more, the Celia that the world knows. She raids his closet for one of the outfits she had left here prior, something loose and comfortable, something that isn’t the ballgown she had worn to Elysium. When he comes back down the stairs she presses a kiss against his cheek and wishes him good evening. Then she’s out the door, aura dampened with a stray thought, to find Roderick’s kid sister.

Maybe not a kid anymore, she thinks as she gets into her car. Only a few years behind Celia, isn’t she? Mid twenties. She wonders what she’ll say to her. How she’ll explain things. How much she needs to explain. Preston and Savoy had mentioned that she knows enough, at least, which begs the question how long she has been like this. It’s not as if she and Roderick have any contact.

Celia drives toward Beach on Bourbon, the last place Dani had been sighted, to look for her trail.

GM: Late Friday night is when all the clubs’ monsters come out to play. Sweaty bodies are crammed so tight they can barely move, but they dance no less furiously. The musk of sweat, alcohol, and perfume is omnipresent. Love & Liars’ “Brother, Brother” pounds in Celia’s ears at triple decimals. Angry and disaffected youth dance to the entropic chord of oblivion.

Pic.jpg
Celia knows the lyrics well. Andi didn’t say the names Caine or Abel, but the subject matter of a man who murdered his brother cannot do aught but speak to their kind. The punk screams her fury, her pride, her curses upon the Almighty.

The Toreador’s predatory vision cuts expertly through the club’s dim lighting as she searches between faces. She needn’t bother. Her nose instantly picks up the tang of Kindred vitae, even pitifully diluted as it is. Stephen’s little sister is no longer so little. She’s a woman grown, dressed in a revealing black minidress with fishnets and heeled boots. There’s a lustful wildness to her eyes as she pounds her feet and grinds against her partners. Celia sees a young child of the night, heady with her newfound power and immortality, all-too ignorant of the elder terrors that have already taken umbrage at her impudence. As the Toreador watches, she wraps her arms around a man and feeds from him in the middle of the club. Nobody pauses to stare amidst the revelry.

Celia: Convenient, she thinks, that Dani is here again.

And stupid. So very, very stupid. Even the Maxen of her mind agrees with her verdict as she watches Dani feed on someone in the open, flaunting the Masquerade like only a fledgling without a sire can.

There are things called bathrooms. Or corners, at least. Not in the middle of the crowd. Not that she doubts the girl’s cojones; it takes a lot of balls to sink fang-deep into someone like this in unfamiliar territory. An idle thought crosses her mind, wondering if the pair will be interrupted by the holder of said domain, but she imagines that the eyes Savoy and Preston have put on the young almost-lick prevent the club’s proprietor from getting too grumpy about it.

Perhaps, though, the feeding in the middle has merit. Maybe she knows that everyone is so busy grinding and playing grab-ass around her that they won’t stop and stare at the vampire in their midst.

She gets a drink for herself at the bar while Dani feeds, sliding a twenty to the bartender to keep her own mask firmly in place. Drink in hand, Celia joins the throng of sweaty mortals on the floor. She dances with various partners while the girl feeds, spinning and twisting and dipping her way across the floor, keeping an eye on Dani all the while.

She waits for the right moment to pounce.

GM: It’s as the DJ mixes in Andi’s “Damage Control,” seguing flawlessly from a brother’s murder to cleaning up a murder, that Dani pumps her fists, spins, and finds herself almost chest to chest with Celia. Her eyes flash with surprise.

The Toreador can make out her fangs. They’re tiny things, barely more than normal teeth with sharpened points.

Celia: Dani is hardly the first thin-blood that she’s seen. But this is the first she’s been so close to. Celia, master of deception, feigns surprise as the crowd brings the pair of them together. She woos with the opening chorus of Damage Control, voice pitched high to match the sirens in the song that Andi so effortlessly belts out every time she sings.

Celia passes her drink to someone else—someone who is happy to accept the full cup from the pretty girl—and draws Dani into her arms as if she were any other girl on the floor as the music throbs around them.

GM: If Dani is taken aback, it’s only for a moment.

She leans in to Celia’s embrace, then sinks her fangs into the other vampire’s neck.

Celia: Oh. Well. This is awkward.

Celia’s hands fist through Dani’s hair, but she doesn’t jerk away. She presses herself closer to the thin-blood as fangs find her neck, knowing that to pull away would only draw attention.

She lets the thin-blood take a hit, long enough that the bond will settle into place. And then she murmurs in the girl’s ear, “Greedy little lick.”

GM: Dani’s kiss doesn’t feel as good as other vampires’. It doesn’t leave her weak in the knees with ecstasy. It’s merely pleasant. A nice feeling. By way of comparison, it’s like having sex with a virgin, or a guy who’s only half-hard.

Celia: She wonders how weird it’s going to be when she tells Roderick she half-fucked his kid sister.

With her itty bitty baby fangs.

GM: Stephen’s sister blinks.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, GREEDY?” she shouts over the music to make herself heard.

Celia: Does she not recognize what Celia is by taste alone?

A frown mars her features. She leans into Dani, but her words are lost to the music and bodies around them. Shaking her head, Celia takes her by the hand to pull her off the floor and find a quiet corner where they can chat. Perhaps the aforementioned bathroom. Or outside, even, before Reynaldo sends someone to deal with the thin-blood feeding so blatantly in his club.

GM: Dani stands still for a moment, then seems to consider and follows after Celia.

The bathroom is less loud, but no less distracting. Sounds of fornication emanate from within. Many sound pained.

Celia: Hardly the ideal location. She imagines that the predators who have orchestrated those pained cries are too busy taking advantage of their victims to pay attention to the girls tottering into the only stall left.

At least the Ventrue won’t find them here. Awkward to explain that she’s trespassing in his club.

GM: Dani doesn’t walk into the stall immediately. She pounds her fist against the filthy, obscenity-scrawled door the cries sound from, blinks only once when it comes open unocked, and yells, “HEY! FUCK OFF!” at the larger man sodomizing a crying teenage boy.

The man’s eyes widen for a second like Dani is the bigger, stronger one, then he barrels out.

She kneels down by the teenager and asks, “Hey, are you-” but he just screams, slaps at her, and runs off.

Celia: Hip against the dirty counter that holds a handful of sinks, Celia crosses her arms over her chest to watch the display. Something that might be amusement dances in her eyes at the sight of the man running from the girl. It dies once the hand finds Dani’s cheek.

GM: “You try to do the right thi…” Dani starts, then trails off at Celia’s touch.

Celia: “They never thank you for it,” she says to Dani. “But it’s admirable to try.”

GM: Another guy comes in, gives an annoyed grunt at the full urinals, and starts pissing into the sink.

Celia: Celia gives the man a look that could curdle milk.

GM: “You want a drink, bitch?” he leers at her.

Celia: “I choke on small things.”

GM: “Fuck you, cunt.”

He moves his junk to start peeing over her.

Celia: “You’d like to.” Her head tilts to one side. Her eyes might flash, but maybe that’s a trick of the light. She smiles at him. It’s a little wider than it needs to be. Shows a little too many teeth. Not fangs, never that, not with this face.

At least until he moves.

Then she sends it out of her in a wave of crushing emotion. He does want to fuck. But he doesn’t want to fuck her. He wants to fuck the stall door, the place where it latches to close. Such a small hole is the perfect size for his dick.

GM: Celia nimbly sidesteps the stream of piss. The man’s sneering expression suddenly gives way to a look of lust. He shakes out the last piss from his newly-erect willy, pulls open the door, and starts trying to pound the tiny hole.

Celia: Charming.

“Perhaps another venue,” she says to Dani.

GM: Dani looks between the man and Celia, then Celia and the man.

Then she nods.

“Ah, FUCK!” he yells, grabbing the door with both hands.

Celia: Celia takes her hand once more to avoid getting lost in the crowd. They step out of the bathroom and Celia worms through the mass of writhing bodies toward the front door.

She leaves the man with his toy.

Door?

Toy.

Whatever.

She’d done enough good deeds for one night.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair make their way out into the night, heels clicking against the asphalt. Love & Liars still pounds from outside, but it’s low enough to make themselves heard, at least insomuch as one can in the Quarter on a Friday night. Drunken tourists and club-goers stumble along the streets, laughing or yelling about things that only make sense to themselves, some with open carry cups in hand. A few obvious tourists wear Mardi Gras beads, which Dani rolls her eyes at.

She finally looks back at Celia, questions dancing in her eyes. And some measure of apprehension.

“How did you do that…?”

Celia: Even outside, Celia doesn’t let go. She knows there are other dangers in the evening, and she won’t be the one who loses Dani because she hadn’t been paying attention. They look like just another pair of drunken college co-eds, tottering their way from bar to bar.

“It’s a trick I picked up a long time ago. A combination of tricks, actually. Usually it makes them want to focus on me.” She flashes Dani a sly smile. “You used something similar earlier. To make the man run when he was hurting that boy.”

“Have you done that before? Used the charm like that?”

She keeps her voice low, conscious of prying eyes and ears.

GM: Maybe a little old to be co-eds, if someone were to ask their ages. But still fun-seeking 20somethings, unburdened by the responsibilities of real adult life.

“Yeah,” Dani says slowly. “Are you… a vampire?”

Celia: Gui’s earlier commentary about the V-word comes to mind. She almost laughs at how different this is from her first “talk.”

“Yes. There are other words for it, but yes. Like you.” Her eyes move toward Dani. “How long?”

GM: Not really like her.

But close enough.

“Just this week,” says Dani. “You?”

Celia: A week?

Christ.

“Since 2009. How did it happen?”

GM: Dani blinks. “That’s… when you broke up with Stephen.”

Celia: “That’s why I broke up with Stephen. I didn’t want to hurt him. And it wasn’t safe, if I were around him.”

GM: Emotions swirl over Dani’s face. They aren’t happy ones.

“You really hurt him, you know. He never got over you.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I had to live with that for a long time.”

“I still… I still have to live with that. Knowing what I said to him. I assume he told you.”

GM: “He said you’d cheated on him.” Dani’s voice is stiff.

“I remember what I said to you, at that dinner. How he was really into you.”

“He never got over it. And then he died.”

Celia: “I told him I cheated on him,” Celia says. The words are bitter. “I told him what I thought would prevent him from coming after me, because if I hadn’t he would have looked for, chased after me. I’m not proud of it. I should have handled it better. There’s no easy way to tell someone who is still alive that you’re not.”

GM: “You could have just told him the truth.”

Celia: “A week ago, would you have believed me?”

GM: “I’d tell him. If he was still alive.”

“You could’ve shown him. The fangs.”

Celia: “I thought about that. Telling him. There are people that help us during the day, when we sleep. I thought about turning him into that, bringing him with me into this. But it’s… I couldn’t do that to him. I thought he deserved better than that.”

GM: “Help us during the day?” Dani looks confused.

Celia: “Do… do you sleep during the day?”

GM: “Well, sure.”

Celia: “Because the sun burns.”

GM: “No it doesn’t.”

Celia: She actually blinks at that.

“What?”

GM: “The sun doesn’t burn. I looked it up in Dracula. It didn’t for him either, he just lost his powers. I guess that’s how it works.”

“What, does it for you?”

Celia: “Have you been in the sun since you were turned? Tested this?”

GM: “Yes, I tried my toe first, to see what would happen.”

“I didn’t burst into flame, so I tried the rest of me. I’ve gone outside a few times.”

Celia: “And it doesn’t hurt? At all?”

GM: “I don’t like how it feels. I’m tired and it’s bright without sunglasses. But I can if I want.”

Celia: Fascinating.

GM: “That’s not how it works for you?”

Celia: “No. We burn, usually.”

“Sometimes our Beasts take over to prevent us from even trying. Its survival instinct is… strong.”

GM: “Beasts?”

Celia: “The thing inside you. The monster.”

GM: “What thing?”

Celia: “The… the thing.” Celia stops walking. She turns wide eyes on Dani. “You don’t feel it? Pacing, snarling, always hungry? When you get mad or scared it takes over.”

GM: Dani gives her an odd look. “I’m thirsty for blood, sure.”

“Uh. Sorry for… drinking from you.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I baited you. I knew you were here. It’s fine.”

GM: “Your blood tasted… really strong.”

Celia: “I’ve always been curious, you know. What I taste like.” She lifts her brows at the girl.

GM: “Sort of like… it reminded me of makeup. Really sweet, too.”

Celia: Celia laughs at the description.

“That makes sense. Have you met others like us?”

Us, she says kindly. No reason to make Dani feel bad.

GM: “No. I thought I might’ve been the only vampire in the world. Are there many others?” She looks at Celia curiously.

Celia: “Not even the one who turned you?”

GM: Dani’s brow furrows.

Celia: “Do you remember how it happened?”

GM: “I was… here at the club, drinking. I used common sense, I watched the bartender mix everything, but someone must’ve… must’ve slipped me something. Maybe it was the bartender.”

“I don’t remember a lot after that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much, that Dani doesn’t remember.

GM: “I woke up in a garbage dumpster. That was fun.”

Celia: “Oh. That’s… not ideal.”

GM: A fitting origin, for the thin-blooded.

Baptized in garbage.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that, of course.

Her fingers drum against her thigh.

“I thought I was in Hell when I woke up. There was a man standing over me and I thought he was the devil.” She gives Dani a wry smile. “Without knowing about this beforehand, there’s no easy way to transition. But to answer your earlier question, yes, there are a lot of us. A lot of us in the Quarter, a lot of us in the city, a lot of us in the world. We’re all over.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

She seems to think.

“Do you want to sit down? My feet are getting sore in these shoes.”

Celia’s haven’t once gotten sore. One of the perks to undeath. She can wear whatever she wants, as high as she wants, for as long as she wants.

Celia: “Of course.” Another note to file away.

Celia leads her down the street to an empty bench. She looks around them as they walk, watching the tourists and clubbers as they go about their business. She nods to a pair of mortals that pass them by.

“What do they smell like to you?”

GM: “What do you mean?” Dani asks as she sits down.

“I can smell their blood. That’s stronger.”

Celia: “Yes,” Celia says, nodding. “But they smell human, right? Like… prey. Food?”

GM: “It smells good, yes.”

Celia: “Okay. Now focus on me for a minute.”

GM: Dani looks at her.

Celia: Celia lets her aura drop. The thing that masks her Beast disappears between one moment and the next.

GM: “Is there something I should look for?”

Celia: “Do I smell different?”

GM: Dani pauses, leans closer, and sniffs.

“Maybe?”

Celia: “Sometimes,” Celia says slowly, choosing her words with care, “we can recognize each other on sight. The reason I’m asking is because I need to know what you can do. How much you know. So I can fill in the gaps.”

“People like us,” Celia explains, “they’re not always friendly. And if you’re caught somewhere you shouldn’t be… it can get ugly.”

GM: “Well, I guess you do smell stronger. But that might be confirmation bias, since I think that’s how you… taste, too.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “Older blood will taste stronger. Generally.”

GM: “What do you mean, we’re not friendly? Do we have a… society?”

Celia: “Sort of. It’s like… it’s like gangs, right? The older you get the stronger you get. And the strongest are in charge most of the time. They divide up the city into little chunks and parcel it out. And it prevents chaos, so we don’t fight with each other over resources. Keeps us from feeding in the same area too often so we don’t tip off the people who shouldn’t know about us. Everything is secret.”

That’s kind of a rosy way of explaining it.

“Because there are people who want to kill people like us. Just for being what we are.”

GM: “Like… Van Helsing?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Pretty much.”

GM: “Van Helsing and his people did kill Dracula.”

Celia: “These people kill licks.”

GM: “I reread the book. Looked around on the internet. I don’t know how much of it is true and how much is just… pop culture.”

“Licks is our name for vampires?”

Celia: “I’d like to help. To fill you in. Keep you from getting in trouble.”

GM: Dani nods eagerly. “Yes, please! Whatever you can tell me. You sound like you’ve been… doing this for a while.”

Celia: “Lick is the common name. Kindred is the… eh, socially acceptable term. Lick is slang.”

GM: “I’m not sure where to start. I have so many questions…”

Celia: “All right. Well. The first rule of lick club is that you don’t talk about lick club.”

GM: “Oh. Ha. That makes sense.”

Celia: “I’m happy to answer your questions, though. And to offer you a place to hunt. And stay, if you need it.”

GM: Dani pulls up her feet onto the bench and sits cross-legged as she listens.

“Hunting is feeding, I’m guessing?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Okay, dumb question. That’s… what predators do.”

Celia: “Nah. There are some weird terms sometimes, it’s not a dumb question.”

GM: “True. I’ve mostly been hunting here, this past week. I’ve been hoping someone might come by with answers. But it’s been a week, and I’ve not seen anything.”

“I talked to the bartender and he just said he didn’t see anything. And denied spiking my drink.”

Celia: Celia is about to tell her that she doesn’t want the guy who holds the domain to find her when that bartender comment stops her in her tracks.

“What did you say to the bartender?”

GM: “I told him I thought I’d been drugged, and how I woke up in a dumpster. I didn’t say I was a vampire. But I got really in his face. He just repeated he didn’t know anything.”

Celia: “What exactly do you mean by getting in his face?”

GM: “I cornered him when he got off work, not just at the bar. I stood in front of his car door and yelled at him. He didn’t blow me off. He broke down and just said how he didn’t know anything. That he was sorry.”

“I think I did it to him. That same thing I did to the rapist.”

Celia: “It’s a useful trick.”

GM: “It’s not always useful. Sometimes I can’t do it.”

Celia: “Can you do anything else like that? Anything… unusual?”

GM: “That’s it, really. I can’t fly or turn into a bat or anything like that.”

Celia: “Ah, well, very few of us can fly.”

“How long after you woke up did you corner him?”

GM: Dani raises her eyebrows at that, but answers, “Maybe 24 hours after. I was… trying to sort my own shit out, first. And I figured he’d still be there at the club.”

Celia: Celia nods again. “What day was this?”

GM: “Sunday, technically. A Saturday late enough to bleed over into Sunday. That’s when I became a vampire.”

“So this would’ve been Monday night, AM, when I talked to the bartender.”

Celia: “All right. I have some theories, but I need to do some digging to see what else I can find. See if we can track down who did this to you and why.”

GM: “You said this was like gangs, with territory. Have I been in someone else’s…?”

Celia: “Ah, yes. But I have my own, and I’ll show you where it is, and you can feed there. Discretely.”

GM: Dani’s face flickers. “I’d also like to know. Who did this to me. I think I, that I might’ve been…”

Celia: “The guy who runs this place, though—”

She cuts off.

GM: “I woke up in a dumpster.”

Celia: “Might’ve been…?”

Don’t say raped.

GM: Dani blinks. Angrily, helplessly.

“Raped.”

Celia: “Oh, sweetheart…” Celia leans over, pulling Dani into her embrace. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“We’ll find the bastard.”

GM: Dani breaks down crying against Celia’s shoulder.

“I… I shouldn’t have been here, drinking… fucking off law school… shows what, what I get…”

Celia: She was going to law school?

Celia’s heart clenches. She was trying to fill Stephen’s shoes.

She runs her hands up and down Dani’s back while she cries, letting her get it all out, making encouraging noises to her. Sometimes that’s all someone needs, a firm hug and a friendly ear, and Celia knows that she’s been in this position enough times to want to be able to be there for someone else. Especially Stephen’s sister. But not just because of that, no. She’d liked Dani. Really liked her. She thinks they would have been close if Celia hadn’t… died.

“I’m not going to say it’s okay,” she says quietly as she holds Dani, “because it’s not. It’s not okay what happened to you. And I hate to tell you that I… that I’ve been there, I get it. It’s awful. What some of them do, it’s awful. But we’ll get you through this. And it will be okay, even if it’s not right now.”

GM: Dani sniffs as she clings to Celia.

Sniffs, like a breather.

“Tha… thanks… I don’t, I’m not gonna let them to get away with this, it’s not right…”

Celia: “It’s not,” Celia agrees. “It’s not.”

How can she tell her?

How can she say that there might not be anything they can do… all because of what she is? Someone had called her half-human once, like an insult, because she fucks and her heart beats and she breathes without conscious effort. But that’s the Blood doing it for her, keeping her skin warm. With Dani… it’s just blood. Lowercase B. She really is half-human. At least.

She wonders if Dani even tastes like she’s human.

GM: It’d be easy to find out.

“I’m so glad… I’m so glad you’re here, Celia,” Dani sniffs, holding on to her brother’s ex. “I just felt so alone…”

Celia: “You’re not alone anymore, Dani. I’ve got you.”

GM: “I’d love, I’d love to stay and…. hunt with you, that’s really nice of you to offer…”

Celia: “Then it’s yours. Now, dry eyes.” Celia pulls back, using her fingers to wipe away the tears on Dani’s face. “Chin up. We’re in this together. Come on; I’ll show you everything.”

GM: Pinkish, half-red and half-clear tears come away under Celia’s fingers. She can smell the diluted coppery tang.

Half.

Celia: She’ll pass her off as a ghoul. She’s already working through the logistics in her mind.

GM: Dani takes a steadying breath.

“Okay… where to?”

Celia: “Down Bourbon Street. I’ll show you my clubs and explain the rules as we go, and then I’ll take you to my place. I don’t stay there every night, so you’ll have it mostly to yourself. It’s comfortable and clean and you can help yourself to my clothes. I have some ideas for you, but there are some things I need to look into as well…”

Celia rises, taking Dani’s hand once more. She gives her a squeeze that reinforces everything she just said: they’re in this together.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia talks as the girls travel down Bourbon Street. She explains the rules to Dani in as kind of language as she can find, filling her in on her new life. Unlife. Requiem. Whatever word Dani wants to use for it, but Celia provides the alternatives. She talks briefly about their society at large but most of her focus is on the city: the factions, the cold war, the way the territory is split. She’s alarmed but unsurprised to find that Dani lives in Riverbend and attends Tulane, and she makes sure to tell her that… well, that she needs to stay out of Riverbend. If Dani asks why, Celia tells her about the sheriff. She tells her about what happens to people who trespass, but how for Dani it might be worse.

There are rules, she explains, about turning someone into what they are, and it sounds like whoever did it to Dani didn’t have permission, which essentially makes her illegal. So, too, does her ability to walk in the sun. Duskborn, she says, not thin-blood, but as politely as she can she explains how others will see her.

The Quarter is safe, she tells Dani. The lord who runs the Quarter allows duskborn to settle in his domain, but everywhere else they’re hunted. If Dani makes noise about leaving the Quarter Celia quietly tells her about the massacre her friend had once witnessed, and says that getting caught is… well, she won’t have much to worry about anymore because, frankly, she’ll be dead.

She makes sure that Dani understands the severity of the situation before she moves on.

Celia takes Dani to the two clubs in her domain, Bourbon Heat and The Cat’s Meow, though they linger outside rather than going in since Dani has apparently already fed. She explains how her domain stretches down the block, that all of the residences along Orleans St, St. Peter, and Dauphine along this block are hers as well. Feeding at the club is always easiest, though.

“Except the Gardette Mansion. It’s haunted. I’d avoid it.”

At Dani’s look of interest Celia explains that they’re not the only monsters that go bump in the night. There are ghosts and werewolves (Celia calls them “loops,” like with the P at the end, which she thinks started as a joke but the term stuck so that’s what she uses now), people with magic, and more besides. Cities are safer, but even licks like them will fight and kill each other.

She warns her about feeding publicly. Warns her about cameras. Warns her about hunters, and that she was picked up by a pair at Bourbon Heat, so she’d avoid it for a week or so.

Eventually Celia takes Dani back to her place. The one she owns as Celia rather than the one she owns as Jade, since Alana might be at the latter. It’s not a large place, but it’s comfortable enough for a girl on her own, which is exactly what Dani is.

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Stocked kitchen, Celia tells her, in case she still likes normal food.

Then she has questions of her own: Dani’s plans for the future. What she’d like to do. Her address in Riverbend so that Celia can retrieve her clothes and other necessities.

GM: Dani listens attentively as she walks with Celia. She has many questions, but she lets the Toreador tell things at her own pace too. Dani does ask why she can’t go to Riverbend, citing how all of her things are there. Plus school. The factional cold war seems like a little much for her to digest at once, and she asks about the larger Camarilla (“Who’s in charge? How are they elected?”) and its laws. The bit about the Fourth Tradition hits hard. Dani does not look happy to have broken the law through her simple existence.

She’s confused as to why duskborn are so hated.

She does ask why she can’t leave the Quarter. She does appear to grasp the severity of the situation, or at least as much as anyone can who’s brand new to all of this.

“I don’t… I don’t understand. Why do they hate me just because I can walk in the sun? How can they even know I can do that, if I don’t say so?!”

Dani is thankful, at least, that Celia shows her the clubs where it’s legal to hunt. She uses that word a perhaps unsurprising number of times. “Legal.”

She is very interested to hear that monsters besides vampires are real. “So, are mummies? Aliens? Dragons? What isn’t real?”

Dani is mindful of Celia’s warning and says she’ll avoid the Bourbon Heat. There’s no reason to go there when there are other clubs.

She likes the apartment and compliments Jade on how neat, clean, and well-decorated it is.

“It’s actually nicer than my current place, so no complaints…”

Celia: Celia answers Dani’s questions as best she can. She doesn’t know about aliens—“though how could we possibly be the only life forms in the universe?”—and doesn’t think dragons are real, but she says she knows a girl who experiments with animals who might be working on one, she’s just stuck on the fire part. And the wings part.

She’s glad that Dani likes her haven, in any case, and hands her a key as they take a seat on the couch together.

As far as the duskborn, though, she doesn’t have a good answer. Honestly, sometimes… she doesn’t understand it herself. Even Roderick had a strong response. She wonders if there’s something wrong with her. If she’s broken in some regard. Or if the fact that she appears more human than she is, that her life is so tied to the mortal she used to be, keeps her mind open.

Maybe she just misses the sun on her skin.

Or maybe she needs this to work so badly with Roderick that she’s swallowing down every bit of revulsion that she feels.

Regardless of the why, the fact remains that duskborn aren’t well-received in other parts of town, and even here they’re barely tolerated. Celia tells her that she’ll work on a cover story for her. She tells her that maybe they can say she’s a ghoul. As long as she isn’t seen feeding it might be a good cover for now.

She warns her about technology, too, and to not send anything sensitive over text or email or even look it up on the internet. It can all be traced back to them, and there are… well, a lot of hunters in the city.

“How much longer do you have left in law school?” Celia wants to know.

GM: Dani looks askance at the fact duskborn are so hated.

“So why don’t I just say I can’t walk in the sun, then? Is that all it is?”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a sigh. “It’s… you read differently. Smell differently. Like a ghoul, not a vampire. They’ll know.”

GM: “That sounds like… Jim Crow. Discrimination. Just because I can walk in the sun.”

“Worse than Jim Crow. Ethnic cleansing.”

Celia: “It’s more than that, I think. The blood is power. The closer you are to the original vampire the stronger you are. The further away, the more generations removed, the… the weaker the blood, essentially. And that’s how they all see it.”

GM: “The original vampire? How close are you?”

Celia: “Nine steps removed.”

GM: “Weaker how? How many am I?”

“Sorry, lot of questions. This is all just… so much to take in.”

Celia: “Ah… I’m… I’m not sure for you, but I can test it, if you want.”

“You could be fourteen, or… maybe fifteen.”

GM: “Those numbers don’t really mean a lot to me without any context, sorry.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her hand. “May I?”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. Go ahead.”

Celia: Celia lowers her mouth to Dani’s wrist. Her fangs sink into her skin. She draws the blood forth. She doesn’t take much, just enough to get a taste.

GM: Dani flinches slightly, but waits to see what Celia does.

Celia: The blood touches her tongue and Celia has her answers. She licks the wound to seal her flesh back together, pulling back as the sanguine liquid slides down her throat. Thin. Nothing like her brother. Similar to a ghoul, but there’s no strength to it, no potency. And no other licks in her system, none but her. It had been a long shot, anyway, long ago as her Embrace was, and even if she had tasted someone else she might not have recognized it.

Pete could tell her, she bets.

And, perhaps most telling of all, there’s no collar that slaps into place around her neck. She hadn’t waited long enough to let it cool, a risky guess but one she wanted the answer to. And now she knows.

“You can taste the difference in the blood. Recognize what clan someone belongs to, how strong their blood is, who they’ve been feeding from recently. Things like that.”

GM: “Oh. What’d you taste from mine?”

Celia: “I… I have a friend,” Celia says slowly, “who could use a sample to maybe find out more. I don’t know how soon he can see me, but if you want I can look into it, get some decisive answers.”

“You taste like a ghoul.”

There’s not a polite way to say it.

“It’s possible you can pass for one.”

GM: “Okay, so like a black person passing for white.”

Celia: “More like a mixed person passing for white.”

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy at the idea of having to hide what she is. But also like she has has no idea why she should be offended to pass as a ghoul.

Celia: “To be honest, the fact that you can move around during the day is a boon. Other ghouls can, so it can help sell the idea. And if you want to be a lawyer you could still practice. I know it’s difficult to keep jobs for a lot of people when we have to sleep during the day.”

GM: “Okay. You did ask about that, but I’m just struggling to understand. Why do they hate me?”

Celia: “Because they’re old and awful and set in their ways.”

“Because they don’t change and can’t accept anything new.”

“Because they were born hundreds of years ago and some of them are still racist.”

“Because the idea of anything that is different than them is scary.”

“Because some of them are so old they don’t know how phones work, or how to drive.”

“And they can’t keep up with the idea of a changing world.”

“And it really just comes down to something like racism.”

“That was a pretty spot-on assessment.”

“There are clans, all sorts of clans, and some of them hate each other for no reason, and some think they’re better than the others, and everything happened so long ago that no one even has the right story and it’s ridiculous and stupid but it’s just passed on and on and on for no reason.”

“I’m sure they think they have a reason. But it’s like any white person hating any black person without knowing them. It’s just… bigotry.”

GM: “So it’s basically just… beat me to it. It sounds exactly like racism.”

Celia: “That being said, there’s someone I can talk to about this. I’m seeing him tomorrow. He might have a better answer as to the why. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

GM: “I think they must be jealous of duskborn, is why. That we can walk in the sun and they can’t.”

Celia: “Could be.”

GM: “I don’t like this. It’s… unjust.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“You sound like Stephen.”

GM: Dani smiles back. A little sadly, but there’s fondness in it.

“I guess I do.”

“I miss him.”

Celia: “I imagine losing him was hard. On you and your dad.”

GM: “It was. My dad… God, I don’t know how it didn’t destroy him. It nearly did.”

“I’ve gotten over it. I’ll always miss and remember Stephen, but I’ve moved past it.”

“My dad never has. I don’t think he ever will.”

Celia: “Parents shouldn’t bury their children.”

GM: “Stephen was just… his everything. Everything in our family’s past, everything in its future.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says to her, “I know. I thought that same thing, when I heard. We’d talked about it. How… how he wanted to carry on the family line, continue the work of his father and grandfather. How our kids would…”

She cuts off, shaking her head.

She would have married him. Had children with him. Watched them grow up to be just like him. They could have had that. And now they’re both dead. And Dani is dead, or half-dead, or something, and their dad… their dad is all alone.

She wipes at her eyes. This isn’t about her. Or Stephen.

GM: Dani squeezes Celia’s shoulder.

“Yeah. He wanted that too.”

Celia: “I’ve adapted, you know. Got used to it. Like you, I didn’t have a choice. And I’m happy most of the time. But… Christ, do I hate them for what they took from me. I remember those first nights. Hearing him on the phone, not able to understand why I couldn’t see him. And leaving him. Breaking his heart. I was… I couldn’t stop crying. Two nights, three nights before I died, we’d finally said it, you know? That we loved each other. And then it was over. I was dead. Then he…”

“And no one on this side cares what your life was, not unless they can use it against you somehow, so there was no one to talk to about it.”

“Sorry. This… not about me, sorry.”

GM: Dani hugs her.

“I’m sorry. It sounds like… it sounds like you didn’t want to hurt him. That means something.”

“It does. It really does.”

Celia: “I hated myself for what I did to him. I still do sometimes. It creeps up on me.”

GM: “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t have a choice.”

Celia: It almost comes pouring out of her then: how she’d thought she was making things right when she’d been snatched up and killed. But the words die in her throat, and she just nods her head, hugging Dani close to her. She doesn’t sniff, not like Dani had.

“I’m sorry it happened to you this way,” Celia finally says, pulling back. “I’ll find answers for you, see what else can be done. Right now the safest place is the Quarter, though, and… I mean, your status aside, it’s the best feeding in the city, so that’s good at least. Lots to do and see. If you don’t have a Beast it’s safer for you to be around people, too. Maybe convince your dad to move to the Quarter?”

GM: “That… might be hard. He doesn’t really have a reason to, does he?”

“Unless we tell him the truth. He was a federal prosecutor, he won’t blab. He can keep secrets.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“You can’t tell anyone. Ever. If you do, they die, you die. It’s not my rule, it’s just how it is. There are people who make sure that you don’t talk. They’ve got eyes and ears everywhere.”

GM: “They can’t know everything.”

Celia: “You’d be surprised.”

“Don’t tell him. Put him off for now if he wants to see you. Make excuses for your classes. Let me talk to a few people, see what arrangements I can make.”

None with her sire, she already knows that much.

There’s no way he’d let her in.

Celia: “It can be problematic if you don’t have a way to hide. None of the licks know me as Celia. Fake names, all sorts of stuff.”

GM: “He… told me a lot, by the way. About your mom and dad…” Dani’s face turns sympathetic.

Celia: “He helped my mom and I out of a really bad situation. I don’t know that I’d have had the strength to leave without him.”

GM: “I’m glad he was able to do that. That’s what he and Dad always wanted him to do. Make things right through the law.”

Celia: The law hadn’t really helped much, not with Maxen.

Though she supposes some of that is on her.

Warning her sire. Selling out her family.

GM: “It’s… it might mean a lot to my dad, to hear from you that there’s more to the story, and that Stephen helped your family.”

Celia: “Do you want to know something silly?”

“Stephen and I used to talk about getting our parents together. Your dad and my mom.”

GM: Dani laughs. “Cue a bunch of ‘what are you doing, stepbro’ memes, I guess.”

“That’s sweet of him, though. He really did just want to make people’s lives better.”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh along with her.

“I said the same thing when he brought it up. I can talk to your dad, though. We can just say we ran into each other. I can’t tell him the full story, not about being a vampire, but I’d be happy to talk to him again. I really liked your family. That first dinner we had together… well, Stephen told you. Dinner wasn’t like that at my house.”

GM: “He did tell me that. The worst dinner of his life, he called it.”

Celia: “It was bad.”

“Is your dad still in Uptown?”

GM: Dani nods. “He still is. He keeps saying the house is too big for him, though. He’d wanted to pass it to Stephen, when… when I guess the two of you had kids.”

Celia: Celia swallows.

“That would have been really nice of him. I would have liked that. We both would have.”

GM: “I think he still wants to do that for me, at least, when I do.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to the regent. See if I can arrange to visit. Or maybe we can have your dad come here, that might be easier.”

GM: “I could call him. He’s really busy, usually, but he’d make time for Stephen.”

Celia: “That works. We can set something up.” Celia glances at the time.

GM: Definitely too late to talk to the man, but there are some hours in the night remaining.

Celia: “Probably wait until tomorrow.”

GM: “That still seems so weird you need to talk to a…. regent, just to see someone.”

Celia: “It’s not ideal. I used to think ‘hello yes you’re an immortal vampire now, please stay inside the lines.’ But they’re very… strict. You’d be killed.”

“The one where your dad lives is, uh… he was one of the licks who helped kill all those duskborn I told you about. Was happy to do it.”

“Not everyone is bad, but some of them really are monsters.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “I still can’t believe that’s a thing.”

Celia: “It’s a big change from what you’re used to.”

GM: “Why the fuck do they hate us, just for not combusting in the sun?”

Celia: “Because they’re a bunch of assholes.”

GM: “I mean, sure, jealousy, but what you’re talking about… I just can’t picture it.”

Celia: “It’s like any culture. They marginalize what is different. What they don’t understand.”

GM: “I don’t know what I want to do, if I have forever, but I’d like to change that. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just.”

Celia: “There are a lot of people who agree with you. And you’re right. You shouldn’t be persecuted because of an accident of Embrace. It’s backwards thinking. But you have to keep in mind these people don’t change. Hundreds or thousands of years old, they’re the ones making the rules. And if you do something the wrong way, if you voice something the wrong way, if you don’t address them with the proper title, they’ll use it as an excuse to berate, hit, torture, kill.”

“I was late to an event this evening. Five minutes or so. And the looks I got?” Celia shakes her head.

“I got caught somewhere I shouldn’t be earlier this week. The person who caught me threw my mom off a roof. Told me to catch.”

GM: “What? Oh my god, did you?!”

Celia: “Yes. She’s fine.”

GM: “That… doesn’t sound fine.”

“Does she know about vampires, now? What you are?”

Celia: “No. The person who did it altered her memories. She can’t know. If she knew, she’d die. I’d die.”

GM: “What about if I want to have a husband? Kids?”

Celia: There’s silence for a beat. Can thin-bloods have kids? Her heart still beats, but…

“Vampires can’t have kids. And if you take a husband it would need to be someone who knows. Another vampire. But they don’t really marry, not like that. They have blood marriages, but it’s… the whole thing is kind of weird. We take lovers. But not really husbands.”

GM: Dani takes that in slowly.

“Why not? And we… we really can’t have kids?”

Celia: “It’s a different culture. Like if you went to Africa or Russia.”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I want them, some day.”

“Not right now, obviously, but I do.”

Celia: “So. I’ll be honest. Your kind, the duskborn, they’re new. Not a lot is known about them. I can’t have kids. My body is dead. But you still breathe, still have a heartbeat, still taste almost human. I can look into it, see what information I can find. We can run some tests on you, see what you’re capable of. I think you need to know anyway. I have some theories, but nothing proven.”

“That being said, socially, keeping a human family is very, very frowned on. If the wrong people knew about mine they’d be killed, maybe. For various reasons.”

GM: Dani looks relieved. “Okay. Like I said, not something I’m worrying about right now, but that’d be nice to know.”

“But that’s ridiculous. Keeping a family is… it’s an intrinsic right.”

“There was this court case, actually. About a deadbeat daddy who kept having kids with more and more women, and who never paid child support. He had an insane number of kids.”

“A judge ruled that he couldn’t have more until he coughed up child support for the ones he’d already had. But a higher court overturned the ruling. The right to reproduce and make babies was a fundamental human right.”

“They could throw him in jail if he didn’t pay child support, but they couldn’t order him to stop having kids. Not even being able to have a family is simply insane.”

Celia: There are plenty of people Celia thinks shouldn’t be breeding.

“Hard to have kids in jail. But I believe it. And I get it. You have to understand, though, things are different in this life. There’s no court. No arguing your case. The guy in charge says you’re guilty? You’re guilty. He kills you. Done.”

“I’ve been nice to you. I know you. And I’m not a monster. But if the guy who owned the club you were at found you? He’d have taken your head. At least.”

“And he’s not even the worst of them.”

“That’s also part of why we left. He and I are friendly, but if he’d caught me there I’d have been in trouble too.”

GM: Dani slowly shakes her head disbelievingly. “You said there were laws, with the Traditions. There has to be a channel through which to settle legal questions and to revise and update laws as needed.”

Celia: “There’s not.”

“The Traditions keep the powerful people powerful. That’s all they care about. All they respect.”

GM: “But that isn’t how the law works. Even Roman law, two thousand years ago… you had lawyers. You had magistrates. The law is an imperfect and constantly evolving body.”

Celia: “To humans.”

“Because humans change. Adapt. Vampires don’t. It’s static.”

GM: “If you don’t have that, what you’re describing sounds more like… gang rules than actual laws. A code of behavior that’s completely arbitrary and up to the whims of whoever’s enforcing it.”

Celia: “We’re not human anymore. Some of them get offended if you call them man or woman. We’re vampires. That’s it. Corpses. Dead. Sexless.”

GM: “That’s also stupid. I’m still a woman. You even say I might be able to have kids, and you don’t get much more womanly than that.”

“And, okay, even if I can’t, a woman is more than her uterus.”

Celia: “You’re thinking about it from your human perspective. What you think of as normal isn’t normal all over the world. Some places there’s still slavery, women are castrated, are seen as property. Language is different. Food is different. Religion is different. Look at any culture and you’ll see that. Even basic human biological needs: here in the States we have whole rooms devoted to using the bathroom. Some cultures just do it out in the open, right in the street. It’s not weird to them because it’s what they know. There’s no universal ‘normal.’ It’s all relative.”

“And now you’re part of a new culture. It’s enculturation. Growing up to think that what you know is normal.”

“And it’s not wrong, not morally. That’s how humans live. But we have our own culture with our own rules. And the people who don’t support what’s already in power are marginalized. Killed. Exiled. Et cetera.”

“So the Traditions… they’re put in place and maintained by the rich white men of America, basically. If you need a comparison. And you’re a poor black lady.”

Not even that.

Maybe a dog.

GM: Dani doesn’t look terribly happy at that.

In fairness, the kine are animals. Literal cattle. Thin-bloods and ghouls are a step up.

But only one step.

“All of this sounds wrong. Everything about the society you’ve described.”

“Does it do anything good?”

Celia: No.

“There are people who are good. Who fight for change and equality.”

GM: It’s kept her posh and comfortable.

Celia: “Who want better for everyone.”

GM: “Are you one of them?”

Celia: “I’d like to think so. I could have killed you and no one would have stopped me. I try not to hurt people.”

GM: “Well, I’m glad you didn’t kill me.”

Celia: “But even the people in charge of those people, the ones who fight for change, only want some change. They set up that slaughter. They’d sell you out if it suits them.”

GM: “They don’t sound like they actually want change, then. Or they only want change for themselves. Sort of like how a lot of Second Wave feminist leaders were white and didn’t want to be associated with black feminists.”

“I’d like to meet some of those licks, anyway. Who want actual change that applies to duskborn too.”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. A lot of them are pretty quiet about it.”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. And thanks. I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at this system you’ve described.”

Celia: “I know. I get it. I would be too. I was for a long time.”

“The people in charge play games with people like us. Younger licks.”

GM: It helped that she benefited from the system. Strong-blooded Toreaor childe of a harpy like her.

Celia: “Stupid games because they’re petty.”

It did help.

But she doesn’t rub it in.

Besides, she thinks that being Savoy’s lapcat has done more for her than being Veronica’s childe.

GM: “I guess that’s what people in charge will always do, even if it’s worse here.”

Celia: She’s glad Roderick had his meltdown when Dani wasn’t around to see.

GM: “Hey. This might seem silly, but do you want to take a picture?” Dani smiles.

Celia: “That might not be a good idea. Your face isn’t going to change as you age. Staying out of photos should start now.”

GM: “Oh.” Dani looks disappointed. “But it has been just a week, and you’re on social media…?”

“Please? You’ve been so nice, you’re my brother’s girlfriend, and I’d really, really like to have something of us together here.”

Celia: What’s the worst that happens?

Dani gets found out as a thin-blood. They trace her back to Celia. Celia’s identity is blown. Someone kills her family. Someone kills her. Hunters tear her apart, or make her watch them kill Roderick, or…

Any number of things, really.

But she runs that risk already, doesn’t she?

GM: “I could keep it off social media. I’d just send it to you and my dad.”

“Or just you, if you’d rather talk to him first.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia finally says with a smile. “Sorry, I know I sound paranoid. Sometimes we come out wrong in photos.”

GM: “Oh, it’s okay, all of this does sound really serious. I guess you’re used to being safe and not sorry. But, anyway!” Dani fishes out her phone from her purse, wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder, holds up the phone, and smiles towards it. The device gives a click. She takes a couple photos, moving the camera for each one.

Celia: Celia reminds her to keep her lips together to hide her fangs. After that she smiles for the camera, making sure she’ll show up properly.

GM: Dani licks her teeth and says she doesn’t feel any. “They sort of just… appear, sometimes, when I get ‘in the mood.’ I guess like a boner.”

Celia: “That’s their term for it when they get turned on. Boner.”

GM: “That’s hilarious.”

Celia: “I thought so too.”

“I’ve seen duskborn with permanent fangs. You’re lucky yours hide.”

GM: “That does sound pretty inconvenient,” Dani frowns. “What’s your number?”

Celia: Celia gives it to her.

“Don’t send anything sensitive over text. The photo is fine. But no talk of vampires.” Celia had already told her, but she needs to make sure that Dani understands.

GM: Dani nods. “Okay, no vampires. These two came out crappy, but the others are good.” Stephen’s sister taps off a text. The photos ping up on Celia’s phone. They show her and Dani sitting on the couch, the latter still in her club clothes sans boots. Her face and makeup look worn as if from a long night out, and perhaps even like they’ve shared something significant. But the photos are happy ones, showing the two with their arms around each others’ shoulders as they smile up at the camera like a pair of 20something breather girls.

They look like friends and equals, not a thin-blood and a true-blood.

Celia: Celia grins down at the photos. She’s happy she found Dani this evening, that she could give her a warmer welcome into the all-night society than she would have received from someone else. She’s pleased she has enough territory to share; she’ll just rely on her business a little more, feed from a few more clients to make up for the lack of hunting. And now Dani has someone that Celia thinks she desperately needed.

Maybe, she thinks, this can work. Maybe it won’t all blow up in her face.


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Story Twelve, Emmett XII, Lamarck II

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”
—Abélia Devillers


Date ?

GM: Em’s been to Clay Square a literal lifetime ago with Cécilia. It’s a tiny, block-sized park in the Garden District that consists of a green field surrounded by trees and an iron fence. There’s a few benches and tables to relax and enjoy picnics at.

There’s a children’s playground, too, and a paved area to play sports on. Cécilia thought it was romantic to do that ‘too-old couple playing on the swings’ scene.

On the other side, everything is shittier. The withered grass is dry and lifeless. The trees are barren. Anything metal is rusted, pitted, and bent out of shape. The catcher’s enclosure, or whatever the fuck it’s called (Em wasn’t big on sports) looks like a hungrily yawning maw.

Rain starts to fall from the black sky. It batters relentlessly against his corpus, but Em doesn’t feel cold. His legs don’t feel sore. He doesn’t feel hungry. He doesn’t feel like taking a piss.

He doesn’t feel anything.

He’s not sure how much time passes. It feels like a while. It might be an hour. It might two hours. It might be twelve hours. He supposes time doesn’t matter as much when you’re dead.

The dead have nothing but time.

Emmett: Em enjoys these moments of silence. He didn’t have many of them when he was alive, and now his existence is such that they are his only luxury. Well, not his only luxury.

He has the dreams.

Em doesn’t know either when he realized that’s what they are, the phantom FX he can conjure on a whim. But that’s really the only way to describe how he conjures them. He dreams, and his dreams make themselves seen.

He measures the time in stories, now, half-imagined fantasies and fancies that he makes swirl around him. There a couple dance, the prince dark and cackling, the princess grinning and fanged.

GM: He does have so many to choose from.

Tall and blonde? Darker and shorter? Dusky-skinned and poison-eyed?

Emmett: None of these. Frankly, the princess looks more like him, which he’d rather not think too hard about.

Other stories abound. He does not focus too hard on any one of them, and so the gloom of the Shadowlands about him is suffused with the endlessly shifting story-lights, all greens and purples and golds, Mardi Gras decorations given shadowy life.

The stories are not easy to follow. They don’t have to be; he is the audience. When he was a child, he could sometimes spend hours in a daydream, perfect loops of fantasy and meaning that he could not separate from himself until somebody said his name and the bubble popped, the dream vanished.

This is no different than that, really. There a ghost outwits a vampire. Here a father embraces his son. There a hitman sticks his gun in his mouth as (for convoluted reasons Em hasn’t entirely thought out) his enemies conspire to keep him alive.

A dozen idiot, ignoble stories. Smears of color in an ugly, corpse-colored world.

He’s still there when they come upon him, floating cross-legged in a mist of fantasy and idle nightmare.

His expression is almost peaceful.

Casket-ready.

GM: Applause echoes through the gloom.

Rain and fog part to reveal Doc Brown’s grinning face. Ectoplasmic blood leaks down his torn-open throat. He claps his hands as the illusions play out, spots of color in an afterlife of cheerless blacks and grays.

“Isn’t this a pretty little show! There’s just nothing like a splash of color in a world with so little, now is there, Emmett?”

Emmett: He shrugs as he rises himself. “We all do what we do. You bring the merchandise?”

GM: “We all try to bring a little cheer wherever we can,” the doctor agrees, smiling widely. “I tried to bring some to your bedside when I treated you, you know! Research shows patients in happier moods recover faster and more fully.”

The sounds of footsteps and the clink of chains grow audible past the downpour. Along with moans.

Emmett: “I remember.”

Stop smiling.

GM: Em sees the first of them, a broken-looking man with vacant eyes, and an iron collar fastened around his neck. Chains link it to another collar and another broken soul behind him, another man whose mouth has been… Em can only describe it as fused shut. His eyes are numb with despair. Another chain followers behind his collar. It links to another, and another behind it. As the shuffling line of thralls emerges from the fog, Em can see over a dozen souls held in bondage, all told. Some are men. Some are women. Some are men. Some are young. Some are old. One looks no older than 12. Some have had their hands chopped off. Some have had their mouths and eyes fused shut. But most numbly shuffle along without any visible restraints save for the collars and chains. Bob and Mark stroll along their sides, armed with long knives.

“Oh, I’d be surprised if you remembered everything,” the dead doctor winks.

“And here they are! I suppose you should lead the way, Emmett. Where are we headed to this merry night?”

Emmett: He gets to his feet and starts to walk, smiling vaguely.

As they proceed into the Garden District, past ruined villas and manors, Em asks, “What don’t I remember, Jared?”

GM: They are already in the Garden District, but Em’s path starts to carry them to 1415 Third Street. The softly moaning convoy follows behind them, chains clinking in its wake.

Doc Brown just grins. “You were in and out of it. And out of it for quite a bit. The hospital staff can get very playful!”

Emmett: “Including you? You always had a bit of a reputation for, ah, playfulness.”

They’re close, now. Em keeps his mind on maintaining a leisurely pace, on leading his fellow dead to their doom as calmly as possible.

Plus, he’d like to get a straight answer before Brown becomes chow.

GM: The doctor chuckles. “My goodness no, Emmett! You did have AIDS, after all. I certainly didn’t want to risk catching that. No, the two of us had to have fun in other ways.”

Emmett: “Don’t get prudish with the details now, doctor. We’re no longer in the flesh.”

Just around the corner, now.

GM: “That’s right, Emmett,” the forever-bleeding doctor grins, his dark eyes twinkling.

“We’re so much more.”

Suddenly, the fog stirs like a monster’s exhaling breath. Mark and Bob grasp their weapons.

A pained, inhumanly low noise as though the earth were screaming splits the air. They come out of nowhere. At least half a dozen figures, gaunt of figure and grim of visage, with cruel-looking weapons drawn at the wraiths. They emerge from patches of solid midnight, dark shadows clinging to them like cobwebs.

“Make this easy and you’ll be thralls. Make this hard and you’ll be soulslag,” sneers one of the figures.

“Look at ‘em all! We’ve hit jackpot!” whoops another one.

Emmett: Em keeps his calm, though it’s touch and go for a moment. A glance at Jared tells him the doctor isn’t surprised.

“You know these gentlemen, Jared?”

GM: Doc Brown’s smile notably dips.

“I can’t say that I do, but I suppose it’s no shocker someone would want to rob this many thralls.”

Emmett: He nods, then raises his voice.

“Howdy there. Whom do I have the honor of addressing?”

Egotistic pricks love the whom. Really gets their dicks hard.

GM: Outnumbered at least three to do one, Bob drops his weapon in seeming surrender. Mark sprouts molting wings and takes to the air. Several of the figures collide into him like flashes of dark lightning. He hits the ground hard, but Em can’t see what happens next as the shadowy figures fan out around Em and Doc Brown, attempting to shove them to their knees. Two other pry open steel collars. Soft moans waft up from them.

One of the figures walks up close to Em.

Real close.

The shadows run off his face like water. Em sees a slashed-open, bleeding throat. Like Doc Brown’s, but neater and tidier.

Along with a familiar face.

“Still honored, cuz?”

Jermaine.jpg
Emmett: Hey, Gasper. Can you talk to his Shadow and find out what our cousin needs more than anything right now? I’ll make you stronger for it.

“Jermaine,” Em says out loud. “I’m honored by my luck. Small underworld, huh?It’s been a while, cousin.”

GM: “Pretty big, actually,” his cousin replies with a mean smile.

“Bet you’re wondering why you’re running into me here.”

He holds up a forestalling hand to the shade with the collar, but the kneeling Em and Doc Brown are swiftly surrounded by Jermaine’s apparent friends.

“Well, you’ve been wandering all over the afterlife like an asshole. I thought about just jumping you, the first time I saw you.”

“But that lacked something. Being dead’s taught me to be patient. And I thought, what kind of man is my cousin?”

Emmett: “A forgivable man?”

GM: “I guess we’ll see how forgiving you are in a bit.”

There’s that same iron-hard and iron-sharp smile.

“But my cousin’s always got a hustle going. He’s always running some kind of score.”

“I waited. And you led me right here.”

His eyes sweep out across the mass of chained thralls.

“What a score. Whole shipment of Hierarchy thralls.”

Yawn. I’m already gonna be the strongest Shadow in the Underworld after you feed all those assholes to dear Maman.

Emmett: Sure, but that only happens if this conversation goes the way it needs to.

“Not compared to what we were about to spring,” Em replies. “The thralls are just the buy-in to a much, much bigger game.”

He spreads his arms, as if to welcome a hug.

GM: Oh, you’ll find a way, Emmett. You always do. I’m gonna need more than ‘make you stronger.’

“Really,” says Jermaine.

His cousin doesn’t look in a very hug-giving mood.

Emmett: That’s preposterous. Everybody wants a hug.

Still, he folds his arms. “Well, if you want to be skeptical about it, that’s fine, but I’ll tell you the same thing I told these fine reapers,” Em says, flourishing his arms from the ground, his palms open and appeasing. “There’s a woman who has more oboli than you could stuff in a fridge, just aways down the road. 1415 Third Street, actually. You ever been?”

GM: “Suppose I may in a bit,” says Jermaine.

“They must’ve been about to sell her those thralls,” says one of the other figures.

“Could do that ourselves,” says another.

“Or just take her oboli and keep the thralls.” A third.

Emmett: Em gives him a pair of finger-guns.

Timeless.

“She’s expecting me. I’ll be happy to introduce you. Help you take her by surprise. And maybe, in return, you could keep my share of the take, seeing as how we’re both victims of circumstance, ultimately.”

It was very circumstantial, your murder.

GM: “How convenient,” Jermaine says flatly.

“How about your friends here?”

Doc Brown’s smile looks more entreating than sinister.

Emmett: Em studies the nails on his dead man’s hand. The few of them that remain, anyways.

“Well, that depends on who you work for, Jay. That, and how they feel about the Hierarchy.”

GM: “I work for the same guy I’ve always worked for, cuz.”

“Me.”

Emmett: “Wouldn’t have it any other way. What do you think of the Hierarchy, boss-man?”

GM: “Hmm. So we can let go four wraiths, who I’m sure will be happy to get robbed in return for not getting slapped with Nhudri’s embrace.”

“Or we can just collar them and sell them without any risk of getting stabbed in the back.”

“Try harder, cuz.”

Em sees it in his eyes.

Jermaine is enjoying this.

Watching him squirm.

Watching him try to talk his way out of trouble.

Emmett: “Who said anything about letting us go? I’m just saying we’re wasted as thralls. I’m more the kind of help you employ. Look, I’ll make you a bet. You like bets, right?”

GM: “When the odds favor me.”

Emmett: “Okay, well, let me give you a win-win. Let me show you to the place. We’re not ten minutes from it. I won’t bolt, we both know I wouldn’t make it around the corner with this many guys on us. I’ll bring you to the lady these upstanding gentlemen had decided to rob. We’re on good terms, and she’s loaded—and she’s looking for friends on this side of the Shadowlands. Let me introduce you. If you don’t make more oboli from shaking her down than you would a few extra thralls, I’ll give you something more valuable to you, still. The name of the bitch that made me kill you, and how you can find her. And, you know, you’ll enslave me and cut off little bits of my corpus and feed them to me, and all that.”

“But, if I win, and you admit you’re satisfied, then I’m not your enemy. I’m your second. Your personal Sandman. And then I can start making you lots, and lots, and lots of money.”

He’s so close. So close to getting them where he needs them.

He only needs his cousin to bite.

GM: Jermaine stares at him.

He doesn’t smile.

Em probably can’t make him any less pissed off about his own death.

But directing that anger onto something else? Someone else?

That he can do.

That’s something he knows how to do very well.

He spent his whole life (or at least adolescence) pouring self-hate into external hate, after all.

His cousin extends a wordless hand to the prone wraith.

Emmett: Em takes it.

As he rises, he glances at Jared and happens to catch his eyes.

“Oh, and these lot have a whistle on them that summons legionaries, I’d get that off them, Jared over there looks very… whistley.”

GM: Doc Brown chuckles.

“My goodness, Emmett. Those things do have a limited range, you know.”

“But I suppose while we’re speaking of legionnaires… "

“Collar them. Now,” snaps Jermaine.

Suddenly, dark shapes materialize from the fog.

They’re humanoid shapes, garbed in heavy gray clothing under armor resembling that of the Roman legions. Their helmets mimic human skulls. Cruel-looking swords bristle from their arms.

Wordless war cries go up from both sides. Blades flash, biting deep into spectral flesh. Jermaine’s sword sends a legionnaire’s head tumbling from his shoulders. Doc Brown stabs his hands into a wraith’s face, laughing as the corpus comes apart in oozing chunks. The one menacing Bob gets basted off his feet by an unseen force. Mark vanishes into a patch of shadow, then reappears behind one of Jermaine’s crew, knife slashing across the wraith’s throat.

A few ghosts in the mass of bound thralls try to run, tugging desperately at their chains, shouting for the others to make a break for it. Many just stand there apathetically, literal dead weight against their fellows, but the chained mass starts to sluggishly move away.

Emmett: Em, for his part, works to ensure both that Jermaine’s team comes out ahead, and that the huddled masses stay conveniently in place. A nightmare mass of glaring, spectral eyes and fanged mouths straight out of a horror game (Domestic Wickedness 3: The Blob-Things, to be exact) burrows from the ground and scatters the encroaching legionnaires, allowing Jermaine’s crew with their lesser numbers to regroup. Then said blob menaces the straggling thralls, making them stumble over and entangle each other in blind panic.

Nothing’s ever allowed to just work, is it?

GM: Em’s conjured nightmare conjures dread indeed among the thralls. The ones trying to escape shriek with terror at the sight of it and try to flee back the other direction. With the battling wraiths behind them, and the weight of their more apathetic members dragging the more animated ones down, the desperate mass of damned souls gets nowhere fast.

Jermaine’s outnumbered crew, however, fares worse against the Hierarchy’s legions. Ear-splitting shrieks split the gloom, loud enough to make Em feel like his head will explode. Blood rains from the sky, melting corpus on contact. The wraiths on both sides are relentless warriors, fighting past gaping wounds, past loss of their limbs, past all the frailties of living bodies. There’s one particularly vicious Hierarchy wraith, adorned in a featureless steel mask, whose sword cuts down three of Jermaine’s crew. Shrieking black voids yawn up to swallow most of the defeated, though a few collapse to the ground and writhe with pain as their foes clamp collars around their necks. The battle comes to an end when Jermaine gives it up and dives into a shadow.

Emmett: It’s not the first battle he’s been in the middle of.

It is the messiest, though. His corpus drips with ectoplasmic ichor. He weaves and floats and dances among from the carnage, his only priority his survival and not letting that steel-faced brute catch him; the featureless figure seems to be looking at him intently, for some reason.

Probably jealousy. It’s often jealousy.

GM: “Don’t go a-running now, Emmett! We still need to meet the nice lady together!” smiles Doc Brown as the masked legionnaire lunges after Em with a collar.

He can try to still deliver the Hierarchy to Abélia in chains.

Or he can flee a free man.

Lamarck: There’s no such thing as an easy come up, but why does it always end up like this around him. Ever blood-soaked, ever spiraling further into madness. Death sacrificing death. He can see it all, the brutal slaughter, the gory explosions of wraithly forms, the terrible pull of the nihils on the bodies of his fallen combatants. No one could blame him for losing his focus in the tempest.

But in this darkest, most important of moments, his sight becomes as sharp as any one of the Hierarchy’s soulforged daggers.

And in the crystal clarity he sees one of Jermaine’s men with fury in his eyes staring directly at him. He’s a boulder of a man, and his black, veil-like clothing is draped over stone-grey muscles that shift like quaking tectonic plates as he takes a thunderous step forward in the carnage.

The hulk of a wraith opens his gorilla-like maw and starts to roar something at Emmett, ectoplasmic spittle already hitting his face, and then he is silent.

The eyes of the tank go painfully wide as his jaw drops and two ectoplasm-soaked blades stab through his gut and pull up, tearing through his dead entrails. The blades stab in and out of his form again and again, tearing two windows through the dead man’s insides.

The gore-spattered blades run him through and through, and then they go further, and they don’t end at hilts but arms, which stretch out a man-sized hole in the unfortunate wraith. The blade-handed man crawls like devilspawn out of his womb, and stands proud in the dead corpse, grasping a length of its intestines and biting into his trophy.

As he steps past the soon-opening oversized nihil that the corpse falls into, not seeming to notice the dead conman, Emmett catches a view of the mad butcher’s blood-soaked face.

It couldn’t be. But it has to be. He wears the same predatory grin he did when Emmett put on that terrible collar.

He’s back.

Pic.jpg
Emmett: When it’s all over, though, he can count. It’s five against one.

Oh, and Lamarck. Because why not. He accepted long ago that God, fate, the universe, whatever, was determined to quash his hopes and dreams.

“Let’s talk about this,” Em says, and then the collar snaps shut around his neck.

GM: The pain is as horrific as it was last time. Searing hot flames and powerful surges of numbing cold rip simultaneously through his mind and corpus. Even his Shadow screams inside his head. A shrill chorus of agonized shrieks seems to simultaneously ring from the collar’s dull surface.

“Ah, today is a good day! So many new thralls!” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: He screams.

A part of him knows he deserves it.

GM: “I presume you’ll want this one for yourself, sir,” the doctor addresses the masked wraith.

Emmett: “Marck,” he gasps, at some point in between the screams. “’La… Marck. The… collar. I took off… your… collar. Chains. Not collar. Please.”

GM: The masked wraith doesn’t say anything. Just folds his arms and stares at Em.

Bob laughs and glances at Lam.

“This one stole every artifact to your name, didn’t you say?”

Emmett: “Spared… the… collar.”

Lamarck: The ectoplasm-soaked butcher’s boots squelch against the wet ground as he lands his gaze on Emmett. He smiles sickly, sharpening the blades extending off his arms against each other. The metal shrieks.

Bob’s words don’t seem to affect him, perhaps it’s all water under the bridge.

“Zis von, ist very klever. Very klever in-deed.”

Lamarck frowns.

“But terribly foolish. And so green. I vould hef had gut use for you too, Emmett, but ze commander insisted. You vould hef made gut entertainment, zandmann.”

Emmett: Ah, well. Worth a shot.

OhjesusfuckthePAIN.

A distant corner of his soul, untouched by the freezing agony, watches. And waits.

Waits for them to make him walk, and lead them to their doom.

GM: The masked wraith brushes a hand against Emmett’s cheek, almost tenderly. Em feels wet ectoplasmic blood against his skin, from the taller figure’s glove. It doesn’t smell like any blood he’s been around before. It doesn’t smell like anything.

Emmett: Bad touch, he would say if he wasn’t screaming.

But he is, sadly, screaming.

“CUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNTfuckkIKeChrIST!”

GM: There’s soft laughter at his cries. Then the figure takes off the skull-patterned mask.

He smiles fondly. Like a father being reunited with a long-lost son.

Or a daughter.

“Hello, Em.”

Pic.jpg
Emmett: Called it, Em thinks.

Out loud, he says, “FUCKUNTABITCH!”

GM: Em would say his former john looks good, but he doesn’t. He looks dead.

“My sweet little boywhore,” he murmurs, pulling Em into an embrace that’s almost warm. Em feels too-cold steel against his chest as Mark brushes a hand through his hair.

“I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve spent seven years thinking of you.”

“Thinking of the things I’m going to do to you.”

“There are so many, many things.”

“I’d say I don’t even know where to start, but I do. I’ve spent seven years thinking about where we’re going to start.”

Emmett: At least now he knows that if he doesn’t pull this off, he’ll literally be a sex slave. Nothing like a good incentive.

Em looks to Doc Brown. “Rich… make you… rich.”

GM: The doc just laughs. Rivulets of ectoplasmic skin and fat run down his chin, mingling with the blood spurting from his slashed throat. He hasn’t even bothered to clean it off.

“Oh, we’re all going to come out of this rich, all right.”

“First, we’re going to visit the masquers,” says Stines. “There are some really good ones in the necropolis here. They’re going to give you an enormous pair of tits. Just enormous. They’ll be so heavy you can’t even walk with a straight back. They’ll give you long hair, makeup, giant eyelashes, fat dicksucking lips, the whole nine yards. They’ll also get rid of those clothes you have on, and replace them with something frilly and lacy that ends with a skirt, which they’ll fuse to your skin. I’m going to tell them to make the entire moliating process as long and painful as possible. They’ll be able to make it very painful, though not as much as what comes next.”

“All of that will just be the appetizer.”

Lamarck: Lamarck shakes his head at Emmett’s vulgarity with a smile that carries a certain almost paternal pride. Boys will be boys. And what’s the harm when the boy is under excruciating, debilitating pain?

But when the commander starts talking, his expression shifts, like that of a child taking their first bite out of a lemon their their parents promised would be sweet as sugar. No one cleared him on these details, it seems. He holds his tongue for the moment, but his grin transfigures into a grimace. Before the commander looks back, he hides his disgust behind his dead stare.

Emmett: Talk, talk, talk. Em doesn’t bother to listen to it. If it ends up happening, he won’t need to spoilers, and if it doesn’t, he’d rather not know to begin with.

Plus, well.

The pain.

“CooWFuckerKIKE!”

GM: Stines just smiles and pulls back, brushing Emmett’s cheek again.

“Because once you’re dolled up, once we’ve got you looking ready for one of our dates again—and you’re going to look like that forever, the process is permanent—we’re going to visit the soulforges, you and I. I’m going chain you down to a low table, with your legs spread, and stick your dick right into those furious white flames. The artificers will get to work with their hammers and anvils, and they’ll forge it into a little keepsake for me, while it’s still attached to you. They’ll only slice it off at the very end. Do you have any idea how painful that process is? Just any idea? Getting your attached penis soulforged is most painful thing I could think of to do to you, and I’ve spent seven years thinking of painful things to do to you.”

“That little keepsake made from your dick is going to be a collar, by the way. Just like this one, and just as painful. But it’ll have a little tag that reads ‘Mark Stines’ pet bitch.’ Or maybe ‘dicksucking faggotgirl.’ I actually haven’t decided. It won’t even come with a lock. I’m going to have them weld it around your neck.”

Emmett: Is he still monologuing? Jesus fucking christ, you’d think a dead man would learn to appreciate how little anybody actually cared about what he had to say.

Still, almost feels rude not to give as good as he gets.

Em howls and hacks and sputters, but sways desperately close to Stines and looks him in the eyes.

Then he smiles, a pain-fueled grimace, a smile only a corpse could wear.

“How’s… the… wife?”

He even winks. Well, winces. But only with his left eye.

It’s wildly impudent.

Mark can see it in Em’s eyes, then. The worst thing a man like him can ever see in a victim’s eyes.

Em thinks he’s funny.

“Hehheh… heh… heh.”

His laughter turns into a scream. Or maybe the other way around. It’s not a nice noise, any which way.

GM: Stines’ cheeks don’t redden. There’s no color here.

Instead, the dead man’s ashen-hued face turns black with rage. Literally black, like someone spilled paint over it. Paint distilled from seven years of pent-up, fetering hate.

Stines belts him across the face, hard, crunching in his nose with a bloody spray. He throws Em to the ground. Falls on top. Brings down his fists again and again and again, beating Em until his face is a mashed-up, bloody ruin.

“Hey, you beat him too bad-” starts Bob, with a dubious look.

SHUT UP!” roars Stines, his eyes bulging with hate.

He beats Em some more.

And some more.

His soldiers frown among themselves. Doc Brown trades a glance with Lam.

They’ve collared and chained up all the wraiths who didn’t flee or plummet into those black rents. Everyone is just standing there, waiting, as the commander throws his tantrum.

Emmett: It hurts.

But fuck, everything hurts, and every blow that lands tells him that Stines still knows Em’s winning.

Yeah, that’s what this is.

Winning.

“Ah’ll neVer… shOw yah where shh, she iS…” he hacks, between the howling laughter. "No o-bo, oboli, for yooou… "

Give Stines something to take from him. Something to bully him into.

GM: “1415 Third Street, Emmett,” smiles Doc Brown with a tsk-tsk tone. “You did say so, yourself!”

Emmett: He shakes his head. "Need me… to int, introduce… " but Stines is beating him and he’s screaming.

Lamarck: Lamarck looks on with disgust at Stines’ weakness. It’s a weakness he bore himself. Cut on Emmett’s sharp tongue. And collared as well. It’s disgraceful.

When Emmett brings up the oboli, he breaks his quiet by sniffing the air around Stines’ body and recoiling.

“Ze smell of his Shadow ist thick viz him, gentlemen. Es ist mein professional opinion zat ze dear commander ist under ze influence of his Shadow as ve speak. He’s undergoing catharsis. Ze Shadow might ruin his mission and throw away all our oboli if ve don’t take action to reshtrain him.”

He gestures to the collar that hangs around his belt.

“I might be able to calm him. But only ven he is reshtrained.”

Looking to Emmett writhing like a maniac on the floor, some part of Lamarck still has hope for himself. Maybe this is what altruism looks like. That’s what it is, after seventy years of enslaving the freshly dead, he’s turning a new leaf.

Bullshit. Of course not, whispers the Shadow into his ear. He’s doing this for himself. For money. And he can’t afford to fail. That’s why he calls on his Shadow when it offers it’s wares, and sells off one more bit of himself to his greatest weakness.

GM: The soldiers look at one another.

“Too many fucking times,” says one.

As one, the armored legionnaires yank Steins off Em and hold him down. He howls and bellows orders until they snap a collar around his neck.

Then he just screams.

“Regs are clear, sir. I’m assuming command,” says one, a grim-faced legionnaire missing his left eye. There’s just a steadily weeping pit of gray where it used to. “You’re relieved until the pardoners can calm down your Shadow.”

Emmett: Hahahahahahaha.

Oh my god, I think I might literally die from the pain. AGAIN.

GM: He looks at Lam. “Can you do it here, or do we need to take him back to the necropolis?”

Lamarck: Lamarck takes a moment to look at Emmett as the legionnaires wrestle and collar the degenerate rapist.

Lamarck a pardoner. Perhaps he was more ‘unharrowed’ than they expected.

He turns back to the new commander and responds,

“It’s likely best vor us to press on, acting kommander, unt let him tucker himself out. I vill check up on him every zo often, but I don’t vant to let zis effort go to vaste if ve don’t hef to.”

“Ze castigation process is kvite energy-intensive, unt I very vell might reqvire zat strength to finish zis mission. Ve kan get him some longer term treatment ven ve’re back if it appears necessary,” he assures.

GM: “All right,” says the one-eyed legionnaire. He motions at the others. “Chain them.”

The remaining legionnaires attach chains to Em’s and Stines’ collars, which they hook to the thrall first in line. Stines’ face is a mask of agony. He doesn’t resist the other wraiths.

But he still manages to shoot Em a look of pure, murderous hate.

Lamarck: Lamarck absentmindedly sharpens his blade-arms against each other, thinking, and then he approaches Emmett, and asks the now chained conman,

“All right, zo, vat ken you tell us about vat ze vun at ze address ist expekting of you? On a normal trip hier, vat vould you be doing to approach?”

GM: Bob laughs.

Emmett: Em screams and gesticulates wildly to his collar.

GM: “Why the fuck would he tell us anything close to the truth now?”

“I take it back, you know. You’re not my kind of scum.”

He delivers a swift kick to the screaming wraith’s flank.

Lamarck: “Because Bob, wiz ze oboli ve ken collect from a successful operation, unt ze delivery of ze ozer thralls, ve can afford to offer zis von a chance at mercy. He ist a being of opportunity. Unt right now, beink honest ist ze only opportunity he has if he vants to get zat collar off.”

Emmett: Em gives a thumbs up.

He doesn’t stop screaming.

GM: “Or he could just lie,” Doc Brown smiles.

“Well. More, that is.”

His grin spreads.

“I’m afraid your only future is as a large-breasted sex toy, Emmett.”

Emmett: He shrugs. Pleads, with his hands.

But mostly screams.

GM: The doctor laughs.

“What a sissy,” says Bob.

“Well, it does take them some time to get used to,” says Doc Brown.

Lamarck: “Vat ze commander vishes to do viz him ist zomething he can handle upon ze castigation of his Shadow. For now, I vant ze oboli. If zat takes taking off his kollar, zen so be it.” Lamarck reasserts.

“Unt he should know,” Lamarck says, holding his literal sword-arm up to Emmett, “Zat I am proficient in zat kapacity az vell. If he gets any ideas, I’m happy to demonstrate.”

Emmett: Em manages to stop screaming long enough to squeak out a particularly high-pitched “Please!”

GM: Bob kicks him again.

“Enough,” growls the one-eyed legionnaire.

Emmett: “Enough,” wheezes Em in agreement.

GM: He looks at Doc Brown. “You warned us about this one. He was behind the illusions?”

The doctor nods. “Struck a deal with the renegades, too.”

“This was a setup?”

“Spontaneous, it seemed like.”

He looks at Em. “Well, renegade, tell you what. Answer our questions, and we’ll let you go. You won’t get any of the spoils, but you won’t be a spoil either.”

Em’s told enough lies in his time to smell another one.

“Anything you hear from him is suspect,” cautions Doc Brown.

Emmett: Em tries to disagree, but finds himself screaming instead.

Somebody should really take off that collar.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire gestures to two others with an irritated look. They shove Em to the ground and pin him with their arms and knees. But the acting commander unlocks the collar. The sheer relief hits Em like a gut punch.

Emmett: “Oh thank fuuuuck,” he practically sings as the soulforged torture-steel leaves . “Okay! Okay, in order of importance. I’m not a ‘renegade,’ I’m just a prick, all right? I just look out for myself, like everybody else does. Nothing more to it than that. These fine gentlemen captured me, I told them my situation and how they might make some oboli and they let me go. We were on our way to the deal, my jerk cousin showed up and made like I was about to be soulslag. So I sold them down the river to him. Now you lot are in control, so I’m on your side again. Look, it’s not fucking ideological, I just really like my own skin, is that so wicked? Now, what do you want to know?”

Tongue like a fucking turbine.

Lamarck: “All right. Zo, first zings first. On an average meeting, vat’s your approach?”

Emmett: “I fly in and bow in the yard. I say whatever flowery shit comes to mind. Then the doors open. I go in. She’s normally waiting in there. The Devillers witch.”

“I don’t know what she is, exactly. Not dead. Not alive. Not a lick. But she’s got oboli. Whopping big safe full. And she’s, um, well, she doesn’t like you lot very much. The Hierarchy. She sent me out to feel out some recruits. Potential, I guess you would call them renegades, but she pitches it using words like ‘opportunity’ and ‘ground floor.’ You know, she’s looking for ambitious Caspers who don’t like wearing the uniform or getting their wanking hand turned into a cutlass.”

He chooses to wait, at this point, for questions.

Lamarck: Lamarck chews on that answer like a goat would his cud, long and slow.

“Ah, I see. Unt zer ist no one zer to open ze doors? Zey just open? You think she can see you from inside? Hev you ever tried to open ze doors yourself, without alerting her?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. “She’s got some kind of power over the house. She won’t be easy to surprise there. I know she can be lied to, though, I’ve done it before. Let me walk you up there. No chains, no collar, or she’ll know something’s off.”

The bruises and bleeding inflicted by Stines’ beating are already fading, his corpus restoring itself and his face to its usual charming proportions.

“Look, I get that I’m scum, you can’t trust me, whatever, but that’s just the best way to get her to come out on our terms. It’s not like I’ll be able to get away from you if chucking you down that elevator shaft didn’t do the trick. I’ll behave. I mean, it’s five of you against her. Like I said, earlier.” He nods to Bob. “I’m scum who can count.”

GM: The other wraiths don’t immediately reply, seemingly content for the pardoner to finish his questioning first.

It’s a tough-looking audience.

When isn’t it?

Lamarck: “So, no shneaking up on her, or her oboli. Ve hef to get her to open ze gates of her own volition. Zen ven ve’re in ve’re good to get her. Zat’s ze deal? Like ze Trojan horse. Ve just need to get through ze gates.”

His sword arms scrape against each other further. Emmett can’t help but notice how honed the edge has become.

“Unt vat vill she think ven zer are armed wraiths and legionnaires at her doorstep viz you? You don’t hev a horse to hide us in, do you?” he asks with a hint of humor.

Emmett: “I was kind of imagining y’all would do your shadow-teleporting thing and swoop down from above. Once we get there, you can get into position.”

Lamarck: “I see.” He chews on that thought too. “Do you know her to have any particular blind spots or veaknesses? You’ve lied to her? Vat does she fall for?”

Emmett: “The same lies anybody believes, Lamarck. Ones about how she’s the prettiest woman you’ve ever seen and how she’s got you wrapped around her finger. She’s smart, but arrogant, like.”

Lamarck: “Vell, zat ist all very helpful. Your ko-operation ist noted,” Lamarck says with his permanent smirk, before turning back to his fellow wraiths for their thoughts.

GM: The one-eyed legionnaire seems to consider all that he’s heard.

“What about his Shadow?” he asks Lam. “How large a threat do you peg it?”

Lamarck: Emmett sees Lamarck turn towards him once again, lean close, and inhale the dead air around him. The skin around his nose wrinkles and he slowly withdraws.

After seeming to consider it for a moment and looking back to ensure Emmett’s still held down, he answers, “Es ist qvuite ze stronk Shadow. It requires purifikation before ve kick zis off. Ve don’t vant it sabotaging ze operation.”

“I aem prepared to do zo, but I’ll need extra pathos to sustain my corpus in ze process.”

He looks to the one-eyed legionnaire.

“Akting kommander, ef I rekall correktly you are shkillt in usury. Vould you be villink to facilitate donations durink ze purifikation process?”

GM: “If I had a reason to throw pathos after this one,” the legionnaire answers levelly.

“Just snap a collar back on the fuck,” agrees Bob.

Emmett: “I might be better placed to distract the lady and give you gentlemen the opening you need if I’m not screaming in agony,” Em suggests.

GM: “Who the fuck cares what the pardoner says, sir. Let’s just get a damn move on,” says Bob.

“I suppose we aren’t getting any younger, are we now?” smiles Doc Brown.

“Cute,” says another legionnaire.

GM: “We’ve already gone to all the effort of lugging these thralls here,” says another legionnaire.

“Caught a few more, to show for it,” says another.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Em. “You’ll approach the house to sell the thralls. Brown and Norman will go with you. We’ll also give you some extra incentive to stay loyal.”

He produces a dull-looking knife and stabs it right into Em’s heart. The blade pierces Em’s corpus like it’s made of clay, and the sensation doesn’t hurt as much as Em probably thinks it should, though it isn’t a comfortable feeling either. A dull chill seeps through Em’s chest after a few moments.

The one-eyed legionnaire looks at Brown. “Say ‘command word’, and he’ll get what’s coming to him.”

“With pleasure,” smiles Brown.

“We’ll be watching you for any illusions, too, Mr. Sandman,” says Bob.

The one-eyed legionnaire makes a signal, and just like that, they vanish again into shadow. Em and his two ‘companions’ lead the fettered thralls up to the Walter Robinson House. It’s a short trip. The gates are closed when they get there, but Em can see through them to the other side, unlike last time.

Also unlike last time, the house’s yard consists of dead and withered grass rather than skulls. The living darkness smothering the building is also absent. The property appears as ordinary as any of its neighbors.

“Knock knock,” smiles Doc Brown.

Emmett: Dammit, dammit, dammit. One more fucking hoop to jump through, eh? Well, stick a tail up my ass and call me a bunny.

“No worries, Bob,” he says as they approach, the house’s participation in his chicanery only vaguely registering next to the knife in his heart. “Got me cornered, you have. No more tricks up my sleeve.”

Gasper, you still want me to shove these pricks down her gullet, yeah? I need a favor to make that happen, if you’re game.

Knock, knock, go his dead man’s knuckles against the door. He expects it to sound like knocking on a coffin.

GM: I’m game to cut a deal.

Em’s hand passes through the translucent gate like so much smoke. Bob and Brown trade amused looks as they follow him up the house’s front steps, their line of weakly moaning thralls in tow.

But the house itself is opaque to the wraiths’ sight. When Bob gives an experimental knock, the door silently swings open. The inside is pitch dark.

It feels like opening a coffin.

“There’s too many to bring inside,” frowns Bob. “Get her to come out.”

GM: The two wraiths look impatient.

“There’s a collar back there with your name on it, if you can’t,” growls Bob.

Emmett: “Uh huh,” Em says.

Get Brown’s shadow to pull him into a harrowing, I’ll let you decide what we do to him when he pops back out. Even shit I’d normally fight. Plus, I’ll make you stronger, obviously. Deal?

“As you wish,” he says aloud, and steps into the perfect pitch black of the house.

GM: Bob plants a hand on Em’s shoulder.

“Yeah, leave you to go warn her we’re out here, or lead us into an ambush. Maybe you should just try yelling it’s you?”

Uh huh, I’m already gonna get a lot stronger, and there’s nothing I’d do to that smiling fuck you also wouldn’t. Swear to kill Lena, on your soul—which I’ll get if you try to weasel out—and I’ll get the good doc’s Shadow to play ball.

Emmett: You know that’s a nonstarter. Nightmares about her kids dying, take it or leave it.

Em shrugs off the hand. Worth a try.

“Madame,” he croons, “I have brought you your thralls, and those who would sell them. They shan’t fit in the house. Would you deign to meet us outside? I told these gentlesouls your beauty could make a garden bloom, and I quite look forward to being proven right.”

He glances at Brown.

An idea blossoms.

“And if she would join us… your eldest might find the company invigorating.”

GM: Em’s Shadow does not answer him.

But the darkness does.

A figure steps out. It looks like Abélia, down to the pale skin and black hair, but that’s where it ends. The cheeks are a bit rounder, the smile less knowing, the eyes less dark. Her dress looks like a real dress, moves like a real dress, rather than a living extension of the night itself. The figure looks exactly like her, but somehow robbed of all that she is.

The facsimile smiles.

“Hello, gentlesouls. I bid you welcome to my home.”

Even the voice sounds off.

“My eldest shall be along momentarily… I’m afraid she can’t see you, but perhaps you might find her company invigorating?”

Emmett: And just like that, the game is still on.

Em keeps his face composed even as he ponders his next move.

“How could we not, when she’s your spitting image?”

GM: “How could we not, if she’s as lovely as you, madam,” smiles Doc Brown. “Aren’t you going to introduce us, Emmett?”

Emmett: Em lets a moment pass so the copycat compliment can linger like the bad fart it is before he speaks.

“Madame Devillers, Dr. Jared Brown is an old associate from my breathing days and currently employed as a thrall-hunter by… well, I’m sure he can list his credentials more precisely than myself. Oh, and that’s Bob. His sidekick. Bob, Jared, this apparition is Madame Abélia Devillers, and her needs for spectral muscle are, as I’ve mentioned, substantial.”

He glances at Bob. “That means ‘large.’”

GM: “Cute,” says Bob. Em gets a very mean-looking smile.

The facsimile gives an airy laugh. “It’s my privilege to make both of your acquaintances. And you’ve some thralls to sell, I hear from Mr. Delacroix?”

“Why yes, madame. A whole 22,” smiles Doc Brown. “We’re hopeful that many of them will meet your needs.”

Emmett: “Enfants mostly, I expect?” Em cuts in breezily.

GM: “A corpus is a corpus, at the end of the night,” smiles Doc Brown. “Though there aren’t many things as satisfying as snapping nhudri’s embrace around the neck of an arrogant older wraith. We certainly have a few of those!”

“I am certain they will serve splendidly, young and old,” smiles Abélia. “Please, take me to them.”

“We’re going to ask that you bring your oboli with you, ma’am,” says Bob. “Standard rule for prospective customers.”

“Why, of course… I’m certain you’re used to dealing with all manner of unscrupulous sorts,” agrees the facsimile. “A moment, please.”

She disappears back inside the house.

Doc Brown and Brown both smile at Em.

They’re smiles as nice as is typical for the pair.

Emmett: “She’s nice, isn’t she?” Em smiles back. “And wait ‘til you meet the daughter. You’ll like her, Brown. I did. Bob, she doesn’t have any sons, but you can probably get a handy from one of the thralls. You know, as a going away gift. If the doc gives you permission, I mean.”

GM: “That’s also cute. Still not as much as you’re going to be with a giant pair of tits as the commander’s fucktoy,” leers Bob.

Emmett: Em grins.

GM: “He’s been fantasizing about what he’ll do to you for years. Had a lot of stories down in the necropolis.”

Emmett: “Yeah, and I bet you listened to all of them, eh? You’re right, Bobby boy. You’re not scum like me. I’d rather get fucked by your boss in the taint than spend my afterlife choosing to follow him around like a dead fucking groupie. At least Brown knows why he’s a rapist. It’s because he likes the power. You don’t even realize why nobody needs to put you on your knees. It’s because you wind up there your own damn self.”

He just needs Brown to crack a smile. To break ranks for a moment. A snicker will be enough, if he’s got Bob’s number right.

And he knows he has. The schmuck’s deathly garb is a wife-beater. He won’t like being laughed at.

Well, then again, nobody really does. Not even the dead.

GM: The other wraith’s face can’t turn red. But his eyes turn furious. Absolutely furious.

“You’ve got some lip on you. Command wo-!”

The knife flies out of Em’s chest.

“-rd!”

The blade turns solid black, then explodes in a shower of glassy, bleeding fragments. Em doesn’t want to think about what that would have done inside his corpus.

Dr. Brown shoots the other wraith an equally black look.

“Couldn’t leave that alone, could we, Bob?”

“Couldn’t wait all of five minutes?”

Emmett: Em stretches, his chest suddenly feeling miles lighter. “Don’t be too hard on him, doc. We can’t all be as cool as you. And let’s not get too worked up, eh? The lady’ll be back soon. And we have a sale to make.”

He regards the pitch darkness of the house plaintively. “Command word,” he scoffs. “Nobody ever bothers to change the factory settings, do they?”

GM: He’s heard of bondage couples who use “safeword” too.

And also children’s show critters.

Bob just glares.

Nobody talks. The facsimile eventually re-emerges, though, along with Cécilia. She looks straight past the three wraiths as if oblivious to their presences.

Several chests on little carts follow along with Abélia. They’re heaped high with colorless coins stamped with a masked figure and bearing a reaper’s scythe. Low moans go up from them.

Emmett: “Shall I bite one?” Em offers.

GM: “Seems like you’re pretty used to experimenting with things in your mouth,” says Bob.

Abélia only smiles and gazes out at the line of fettered thralls as if noticing them for the first time.

“Please, tell me of them. This white-haired one looks of exceptionally fine stock?” she inquires, looking towards Mark Stines.

Emmett: “I can certainly vouch for his stamina. Easy to manipulate, though,” Em chimes in.

Emmett: “Of course, that might be a pro, not a con.”

GM: “Very good,” smiles the facsimile.

“I shall be happy to purchase all of these thralls.”

Doc Brown smiles back at her, then blows his whistle. It sounds like the screams of the damned. Dark shapes suddenly materialize out of nowhere, clad in the Hierarchy’s skull-and-bones armor. They fall upon the facsimile with collars and chains, burying it beneath the weight of their numbers as they bind it fast.

The facsimile, Cécilia, and the carts full of oboli abruptly dissolve into oily black sludge.

Some of the legionnaires’ gazes turn sharp with surprise.

Bob just roars,“GET HIM!” and tackles after Em.

Emmett: “Sorry, boys.” Em deftly weaves away from Bob, retreating back towards the house. “You bet on the wrong horse. Or beat the dead horse. Because we’re ghosts? Get it? Oh, never mind, I bungled it.” He sprouts wings and flaps into the air, stares down at his old tormentor. “Hey, Doc Brown? You really should have stopped smiling.”

He spreads his arms wide, the pitch-black doorway looming behind him.

“Your larder, madame.”

GM: The house ripples as though from a mirage’s heat waves.

The ground beneath the wraiths does too. The gates and fence suddenly grow solid and opaque to their deathless eyes.

Lamarck: Lamarck catches Emmett’s eyes from beside the mass of legionnaires. The blade-armed man sprouts two great wings which unfurl as he twirls into the air. At first he seems to grin, but then as the illusion melts melts away, so does his levity. There’s an unstated question in his gaze, Please.

Emmett: Em spots a certain Kraut in the crowd. “Maybe leave that one. He’s all sinewy. He’ll behave, won’t you, Lamarck?”

GM: An abyss yawns wide over the house. Enormous, tree-sized tendrils of dripping darkness squeeze about its walls, whose geometric angles seem off and no longer fully euclidean. Staring at them makes the wraths’ heads hurt. Black, tar-like blood runs down the building’s side like oily tears. The ground is no longer dead grass, but row upon row of human skulls and flesh-picked bones.

But its true shape is but the precursor.

Lamarck: The Amerikan kraut doesn’t hesitate a lick at the offer. Maybe it’s that they’ve ran into a trap and only Emmett seems comfortable. Or maybe he’s developed a soft spot for the young sandman.

Either way, he flies before Emmett to brandish his swordarms in his defense.

“Of kourse I vill, Emmett.”

Emmett: It’s definitely the first one.

Lamarck: Perhaps Lamarck was surprised at first how comprehensively Emmett’s soul was tainted. So young, so struck with naiveté about the world of the dead. This very same soul even tried to save him from his own sins and even offered him a way out.

One glimpse at the true form of the mistress he serves dispels any and all such illusions. He averts his eyes immediately and looks to Emmett gravely.

“Vas ist das, mein Freund? Mein Gott in Himmel.”

There’s no power to his voice, no outward presence at all. Just a cold, concentrated mixture of fear and awe that flirts with Oblivion.

Emmett: “That’s my madame, Mr. All-American. Now shut up and watch the show.”

GM: The doors burst open, vomiting out a tidal wave of pure darkness. Shapes swim through it, like a spider’s writhing hairy legs, a shark’s gnawing teeth, and a kraken’s grasping tentacles, all at once, as though the night itself and all its terrors were come alive with hunger. The black tide floods over the wraiths like a vast web enveloping a cloud of flies, then sucks them in.

No one is spared. The legionnaires, the thralls, Doc Brown and his associates, Lamarck, Em: all souls are food for the void past the house’s yawning doors. The legionnaires hack away with their swords, slicing off chunks of dripping darkness that transform into scuttling spiders and writhing maggots as they hit the bone-lined ground. Em and Lam watch as their corpi blacken and rot before their eyes. Wholesale chunks disappear as though gnawed away. Em looks down where some of his used to be, and sees himself in his old apartment’s dumpster, screaming over his lost legs. He and Lam struggle and beat their wings, taking advantage of the house’s preoccupation with so many other victims to extricate themselves. Lam fights like hell and tears himself from the darkness first, coated in oily-smelling black bile. Em suffers far worse before he’s spat out, his legs resembling blackened bones gnawed clean of flesh.

A few of the legionnaires cut themselves free, too. The one-eyed legionnaire tears off Stines’ shackles and shouts something indistinct before his head disappears beneath the nightmare tide. Bob just screams as he’s sucked past the house’s doors. He does not reemerge. Mark rips open a dark tear in the ground and prepares to dive through, then screams as black tendrils explode from the rift and drag him inside. The other legionnaires, shouting not to open nihils here, sprout wings and take to the air. The house ravenously drags back several to their dooms, including the one-eyed legionnaire. Stines and Doc Brown soar furiously towards the starless sky.

Emmett: It take the last drop of Em’s powers to restore his wrecked corpus, but restore it he does, as his wings propel him upwards after his fleeing foes. He has no intention of letting the two biggest fish off their hooks.

He doesn’t even have the juice for an illusion. So he’s reduced to soaring within shouting range and hollering at the fleeing wraiths at the top of his lungs. The sound seems to carry all right, though. He supposes air isn’t so much a factor.

“That’s right, you limp-dicked FAGGOTS! Fly off! You think this is where it ends? I’ll find your fucking families and give them dreams about their cowardly casper cunts! You’ll remember that I fucked you harder than either of you fucked anybody, and you’ll remember it for-FUCKING-EVER!”

Bit crass, but he’s still reeling from the tentacular rape of his corpus. Luckily, they probably are too.

GM: Doc Brown flashes Em a humoring smile but seems to have no intention of flying back to certain death. After all, Em hasn’t actually done much of anything to him.

But the same can’t be said for Mark Stines.

The hate on the other wraith’s face is as black and festering as his ravaged and half-destroyed corpus. With a wordless scream, he launches himself back towards Em as he throws a punch, frothing and spitting (though no spittle flies from his dead lips) about the unspeakable things he’s going to do.

YOU COCKSUCKER SISSY FUCKHOLE _YOU’RE MINE!”_

Emmett: Eh, he’ll take it.

He lets Stines get close. Too close. Dangerously close.

Then he tucks his wings and falls, plummeting from the skies like a sickly angel, forcing Stines to dive with him—

—so that the dead legionnaire can see Em’s grinning face fade away like a bad dream, the grin lingering behind as his rapist enters the house’s orbit once more, and a tentacle slithers around his blackened corpus.

“Bye, Stines,” the real Em says, just a few tantalizing feet out of reach. “It was nice seeing you again. Enjoy Oblivion. I hear it’s quiet.”

Lamarck: Up in the sky, as Doc Brown smiles down at Em, Lamarck beats his wings once again, spiraling with the quiet of the dead towards his hopefully unsuspecting quarry. He can’t let him escape, not after what he saw Lamarck do.

Lamarck’s corpus is fully healed. He escaped in time. This man was too busy ogling that woman— that thing’s daughter to have gone unscathed. That means he’s weak, and for Lamarck, there’s only one thing weakness can be met with.

He readies his last collar and then his arms shoot out from his body, stretching like endless vipers before clamping the cold steel around the resident rapist’s neck. A lengthy chain, held firm in his hand, extends from the collar to let the wraith’s tortured form hang from.

GM: Jared writhes and screams as the collar clicks shut around his neck. Both Lam and Em well recall its pain.

Blackness washes up from the house like a cloud of ink expelled into the sky. Nightmares roil within the surface, teeth and claws and less identifiable terrors out of mankind’s darkest memories. Doc Brown, already free-falling through the air as his wings cease to beat under the collar’s pain, is helpless to avoid his fate. The chain is yanked out Lam’s hands as Brown hits the cloud’s ‘surface’ and sinks into it like quicksand. He struggles and flails, but it only seems to make him sink faster. His arms disappear, then his hands, and finally his head.

The last the other two wraiths see of it, he isn’t smiling.

Just screaming.

Mark Stines’ fate is little kinder. His mouth opens in alarm. He beats his wings and tries to pivot, but he’s too slow. Darkness flows into his mouth. Stines gags and chokes, but when he tries to pull it out, his hands pass through like smoke. The darkness pours out of his ears, his nostrils, and his asscrack, and his screams get shriller. He stares at Em and Lam with terror-mad eyes. Finally the darkness bursts out from his pores. The wraith splinters into a thousand pieces like shattered pottery. Em and Lam hear his screams echoing from each one.

Then the darkness washes over them too, and there’s only silence.

The black cloud hungrily flows up around Lam. Thicker tendrils lined with gnawing teeth and madly swiveling eyeballs shoot up to ensnare the wraith.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s form ripples and flows as the primeval blackness begins to surround him. His visage is wrought from an unholy mixture of yellow gall and freshly invigorated blood which show easily through his stretching ectoplasmic flesh and scraping bone. The old wraith roars and thrashes against the threat of Oblivion, his skin stretching to cover every vulnerable orifice and sprouting dark scales. Grasping hands erupt from his back wielding jagged blades which slash at the gnashing mouths that bite at his clawed feet.

Wings, once feathered and corvine sharpen into powerful skin-sails stretched over a spiny osseous frame. This crop he reaps is far from free. It comes from feeding the darkness within, fueling his Shadow. But oh is it worth it. Anything as long as those rapists get what they deserved, anything to see another day, even if it cuts into his soul.

Heavy wings beat against the dark and spiral his ever-shifting form out like a missile shot out of this hell.

A monster roars.

GM: Lam’s herculean struggle send the black cloud roiling like jello in a bowl. Black tendril after tendril lashes towards the wraith and plummet through the sky after he slashes them off, trailing their own small clouds of inky blood. Dozens of hungrily gnawings maws gibber incomprehensible blasphemies. Lam beats his wings mightily and soars higher, only for one last tendril to snake around his ankle. Needle-like teeth bite deep and the wraith’s corpus blackens as ugly veins spread up from the wound. More tendrils snake up from the black cloud. The starless sky stares pitilessly down as Oblivion’s siren song sweetly beckons. Why does he fight?

Emmett: “Madame! He’s served you tonight. Spare him and he will again!”

GM: The darkness rises up Lam’s legs like quicksand, heedless of Em’s words.

Emmett: Well, he tried.

Lamarck: Lamarck’s herculean task continues. He cannot give in, no matter how sweet the sound Oblivion is. It is a falsified rest, built from lies. Oblivion is the end of all that is good, the erasure of all hope down here. He’s fought over seventy years to reach true peace, to get his last works in order. Instead of fighting that fight, Oblivion has made his afterlife into an awful death march, ever growing closer as the necessary deeds he does strengthen the darkest parts of hos soul. Today is not the day he succumbs to its lies. He is sure of it. He wills it.

As he thrashes wildly to escape, further ectoplasmic blades erupt from his legs and attempt to excise the vile tendrils.

GM: The spikes draw gouts of inky blood as Lam slices through his assailant (assailants?). Coils of darkness roil towards him like striking serpents, one after another, but Lam desperately drives them back, pushing his corpus and soul to its uttermost limits. Black blood splashes his face like fast-flowing oil as his clawed hands rip and tear and whir through the air. His beating wings mightily push him ever higher, knowing that to sink into that midnight morass like Brown or Stines is to never reemerge.

It’s then that the ex-pharmacist attempts a risky gambit and tears open a nihil in the sky. Darkness flows after him like a fast-rising tide. Lam waits a fraction of a second of a second to see if it pours out from the rift’s other side, then dives through. Incomprehensible blasphemies ring in his ears, and then the nihil snaps shut as liquid blackness pours over an empty spot in the air.

Emmett: And that’s that, then. The board is emptied, but for Em and all the fallen pieces. The Sandman perches on the privacy wall of the house across the street, knees pulled to his chest in a crouch that would be uncomfortable if his muscles were corporeal, batlike wings folded around him in a chiropteran shroud.

Emmett Delacroix watches the carnage he has wrought, listens to the screams of souls whose names he does not know being torn asunder. The thing in the house gorges itself on his gift.

Perhaps he expected to feel something, some satisfaction at the destruction of Stines and Brown. Both rapacious bullies who sneered at him when he was in their power and never conceived of how he might ruin them—and now they are gone, their souls ravaged and devoured, and he is here, dead but not dead, haunting the house across the street from the devil.

And he feels nothing at all, except relieved that he doesn’t have to think about them ever again.

He can feel Gasper swelling, pushing out whatever parts of him aren’t already cast in Shadow. Good. That way he doesn’t have to feel the guilt, the doubt, the parts of him that are worth saving but too painful to live with. Die with. Whatever. No more jokes, not tonight. There’s nobody to make laugh, anyways.

There’s just the waiting. So he waits.

GM: That’s it, Em. Just a little longer, and you won’t have to feel anything at all.

The house spares little thought for Lam as he escapes.

Not next to the feast before it.

They’re all there, still. The score of chained, doomed souls. Suspended in the morass of darkness just beyond the doors, hanging from it like flies caught in a spiderweb.

Some of them look like people Em could have known. Many of them, in fact, from all walks of life. Some look like party kids whose dreams of being young forever both came true and were forever denied. Some are older adults like his parents in sensible, grown-up clothes. Some are children clad in pajamas; Em wonders how they died. Some look like old men and women who died in their beds, still clad in hospital gowns. Some look like victims of drive-by shootings or gang violence. Some have slit wrists and look like they killed themselves. Some have blackened veins in their arms like he did, perhaps dead from one shoot-up too many.

Some of them beg and plead for their lives. Unlives. Whatever those are now. Some futilely tug at their fetters. Some scream, their voices mad with terror. A few accept their fate with bleak resignation.

In the end, all stand equal before death.

All stand equal before the death after death.

The house’s doors yawn cavernously wide. The damned souls shriek their final pleas and lamentations, or just scream with pure terror. It doesn’t matter. The universe doesn’t care. It never has. Bad things happen to good people and bad people and all people, because Em was right to Miranda, all those years ago. The world is sick and broken and it will take everything from people who don’t see it coming.

It’s impossible for the score of wraiths to escape, chained together as they are. What happens next reminds Em of the way someone might suck up a long piece of spaghetti. Just like that, the chained mass of wraiths is swallowed up past the doors, vanished into whatever endless night awaits beyond. Just like that, a score of existences are snuffed out without so much as a soul to mourn them.

Yet, even as the house feasts, Em can all but physically feel his Shadow swelling in his chest. Like oil in his veins, it blackens everywhere it spreads. It screams its exaltation over this feast of sin.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

Em remembers back to one night after a “date” with Stines.

Stines pounded Em’s ass until it bled and he could barely walk in his high heels. When he sat down in Ray’s car, the guy who drove Christina’s escorts to and from their clients, it felt like someone was stabbing him there. He stumbled up to his apartment and looked in the mirror, Celia’s makeup messily smudged over his face. In his reflection’s blank expression, one utterly indifferent to his or any other person’s suffering, he saw a terrible yawning emptiness that would swallow him whole if it was not immediately filled.

Some girls said he was a slob, that he didn’t know how to cook. But the truth was he did know how. He was capable. He just never applied himself. Like in so many areas.

He’d gotten the idea from a YouTube video. Pizza, but with a crust made out of chocolate chip cookie dough. Surface lathered with Nutella, for tomato sauce. Cream cheese, butter, and marshmallows for cheese. Extra Nutella on top. M&Ms and other candies for toppings. Bake until golden brown, then spread the gooey warm surface with frozen double fudge brownie ice cream, and lather with even more Nutella on top. Em ate and ate and ate. There was enough fat in that pizza to stop his heart and enough sugar to give him diabetes.

He drowned his emptiness and depression and self-hate in sweetness.

But it wasn’t enough. No matter how many messy, gooey, Nutella-lathered slices he crammed into his mouth, it didn’t fill him. It didn’t plug the whole. It was just another way to kill himself. So he ate himself, desperately, into a sugar-induced coma.

Then he woke up the next morning, still dressed in his whore clothes, feeling fat as a whale with a splitting headache and a bleeding ass and wanting to throw up and just shrivel up and die, if he weren’t too fat to do anything besides stew in his own misery.

He remembers, because that’s exactly how he feels now as Gasper gorges his fill.

YYYEESSSSS!!!!

YYYYESSSSSSSSS!!!!!

OH, FUCK, YESSSSSS!!!!

Almost there, Em! Oblivion’s right around the corner now!!!!!

Emmett: Right around the corner, huh? Em starts snickering.

All that, and you can’t even cross the finish line.

There’s so little of him left. Almost nothing.

But that which is there cackles in defiance, and he can feel its heat chafing at Gasper, holding him back from the edge.

Ha. Haha. Ha.

GM: Oh, guess I wasn’t clear.

I can fuck you over whenever I want.

Like, right now, before you get to talk to dear Maman. If I want to.

Emmett: That’s not going to change no matter what I say. Are you asking me to apologize, or are you just swinging your dick around for a physics lesson?

GM: Huh. That’s a good idea too.

Yeah, why don’t you apologize. Make it good, because it’d be pretty funny to hear you scream if you weren’t able to collect shit from her.

Emmett: I’m sorry, Gasper. You deserve better than disdain.

Em can’t do much about the hate seething behind the words, though. Probably makes it better, anyways.

GM: Good boy, Em.

Good boy.

Emmett: When it’s all over and done, and the house starts to look like it’s regular horrifying self, he takes to the air, until he hovers a dozen feet above the middle of the ruined boulevard. He’s reminded, absurdly, of a nature documentary factoid about crocodiles and a certain species of bird. Not filmed around here; there’s only gators in Louisiana, and gators don’t get along with anybody. But not so the crocodiles in (was it Egypt? Probably Egypt, they’ve got all kinds of mad shit down there) the documentary, who let the birds pick rotten flecks of meat from their teeth. The bits of carrion too small for apex predators to bother with.

And now that he’s staring into this evil bitch’s teeth, Em’s appreciating how much smaller to her he is than a bird is to a croc.

But he’s here, now. And she’s evil, but she’s the kind of evil that keeps her word.

“Madame. How was dinner?”

GM: The house looks much as it did when Em last laid eyes upon it. Vast and dark and terrible, and actively painful to gaze upon for too long.

But it’s different, too too. The air around him is darker, as though an enormous shadow were cast over the house’s yard. Dead trees’ rotted leaves no longer stir in the wind, nor does he hear the rain’s steady downpour. All around him is silent and still.

He remembers when Jermaine slit Sami’s throat, and the part of his soul that wasn’t dead exclaimed, oh shit! like a rule-breaking kid who suddenly realized he was in terrible trouble. He could imagine his father’s wrathful, red-hued face.

But there was something almost comforting in that wrath. If you break a rule, you’ve done something wrong, which means there has to be an opposite. Something right. Dad yells and calls you selfish and horrible and lots of other angry names, but implicit in that yelling and its promised punishments was restitution. A way to make things right again, after a good chewing out.

Em knows, like he did then, that he has done something bad. Something very, very bad.

But this time, he has the snaking suspicion he has done something there aren’t even any rules against. Because no one thought he would ever break them. Could ever break them.

And he finds himself oddly unable to summon Phil’s face in his mind, or to picture what his father would say.

There is only beshadowed stillness and silence, like an exhausted Jiminy Cricket that’s finally packed all his things in a cardboard box, and decided being Emmett Miloud Delacroix’s conscience is too thankless a job.

Fluttering laughter breaks the silence.

He turns and sees Abélia Devillers standing behind him. The real one. Or the closest thing to whatever is real for her. She looks identical to her form in the Skinlands. The same pale skin, the same midnight hair and dress, the same knowing smile. There’s even color to her lips and cheeks, as though this realm’s laws affect her not. There is little comfort in that color. Only the nagging sense there is more to this ‘woman’ than he might ever understand.

Abelia_Devillers.jpg
“Mine appetites are sated. You have done well, my dear boy. You have done very well.”

Her dark eyes gleam.

“I am certain you are eager to claim your reward.”

Emmett: Reward. Right. That’s why he led all those souls to massacre. That’s why he razed most of his soul.

What was he going to ask for, again?

“I would ask a favor first, madame. I would put myself in your debt, and count myself lucky to be called upon in the future.” He makes a little flourish, and a flower appears in his hand. Only, it’s not a real flower, so it’s far less banal. The petals are blades of gossamer light, the bud a miniature sun.

Envy green, dragon gold and aubergine purple. A crest of a flower, painstakingly rendered in three dimensions. It smells of the Quarter, and of lilies, and innocence both of them know is not real.

He’s so absorbed in its creation that he doesn’t remember why he’s distracting himself until he’s offering it to her.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you would impart to my Shadow some of your genteel manners, madame. It needs to be disciplined. I don’t care how much it hurts me, as long as it screams too.”

He’s expecting it when Gasper tries to seize the words in his throat. And maybe the Shadow succeeds, at that.

But Abélia is no mere enfant, and he doubts she will be misled in her own home. Misled, or escaped, or restrained.

Have fun, Gasper. I know I will.

Even if you stomp me into the dirt. Even if you try to make me regret it. I’ll never stop fighting back.

GM: Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha.

Yeah.

I know just what I’m gonna do now.

Also, you’re wrong. You will stop, once I take over for good.

Emmett: He looks Abélia in the eyes. Strains to convey his plea.

GM: She can’t help you, Em! NOTHING can!

Emmett: He’ll fight as long as he has to.

GM: I’m YOU, dipshit! If you’re sick of me, you’re sick of yourself! And there’s just one way to fix being sick of yourself, isn’t there, that you were too chickenshit to try when you were alive?

Emmett: Oh, I’m not asking her to off you. Just to give you a makeover.

GM: You’re asking her to give YOU a makeover, idiot. There is no me! There’s just we!

Emmett: I’m down. This face is getting old. And you know the best part? So is this conversation. Which means…

GM: Abélia plunges her hand into Em’s chest and rips out his heart. The pain is incredible. His heart is a shriveled, blackened thing. It looks like it belongs to a man who’s been smoking a pack a day for all his life, then somehow got the tar to show up in his heart instead of his lungs.

Emmett: He screams.

Or is he laughing?

He can’t tell anymore.

“AARgghFFANnnncKkk, yyYyOOOOuu—!”

Take a time-out, okay Gasper? It’s time for the grown-ups to talk.

GM: Guess that means dear Maman’s having a conversation of one.

Abélia smiles and holds a finger to her lips at Em’s screams, as though to shush an infant.

“Shhhh… "

Emmett: Witty. Wanna back that up with a harrowing? Maybe a few phantom dicks?

It takes a few moments to adapt to the pain.

“Thank you,” he pants again, finally. “It’s a relief to talk freely.”

GM: Oh, I have something even better in mind, Em, after how strong you made me. Don’t worry. I’ll be patient. Being the Underworld’s chum bait should get pretty old, pretty fast.

Emmett: Em doesn’t bother to respond. He lets his satisfaction speak for him.

GM: Shadows thicken around Abélia’s hands. Squelching noises that sound more like screams go up from within. When the shadows dissipate, Abélia presents him with a black and unadorned heart-shaped box. It feels cool to the touch. A steady beating pulses from within.

“From the heart, heart’s desire. Take this to she who holds your heart.”

Emmett: Em takes it in his hands, staring down at it. “Your daughter?” he ventures.

GM: A fluttering laugh.

“My Cécilia can be many things, but in this matter she is unsuitable.”

“A young man as charming as yourself is acquainted with other young ladies who hold some claim upon his heart, I am sure.”

Emmett: “What would make somebody suitable, then? And what will happen when I give it to them?”

GM: The ’woman’s’ dark eyes glint as she smiles.

“Why, you shall receive your heart’s desire, of course.”

“But you know your heart better than I, Emmett. Surely, there is another daughter of Eve with some claim to its affections.”

Emmett: He wants to ask more, but if she wants to be cryptic, there’s not much he can do about it. Nothing, actually.

“Many thanks, madame. I confess I had hoped to talk to you more. Not about my heart’s desire, but how I might be a part of yours. How I might enter your service, and learn from you. Might we come to such an arrangement? Your feast was the work of a day. Your imagination is far vaster than mine. I’m sure you grasp how much more I could do for you, with time. With power.”

The flower that isn’t a flower is in his hand again, outstretched for her to pluck.

GM: Yet when Emmett does, he finds his hand empty. A dull ache throbs in the sealed-over cavity where his heart once sat.

“No power—or denial of another’s—without price, Emmett, son of Philémon.”

Emmett: He sighs. “Thought I’d ask. I’ll see you around then, madame.”

He bows before turning back as he’s about to leave.

“A daughter of Eve? A mortal?”

GM: “Eve is mother to Caine and Seth, my dear boy, and all their daughters through them.”

Cécilia’s mother smiles.

“Perhaps it is well, if an immortal daughter should hold claim to your heart. Naught but tragedy may result from a mortal’s love for one such as you.”

Emmett: “Maybe. But I bring tragedy where I walk anyways. Thanks for the doggie bag, madame. I’ll see you when I see you.”

GM: Mirth dances in the woman’s dark eyes.

“Your heart knows its way, son of Philémon. Hold it close and listen.”

Emmett: He pauses and lifts the box to his ear.

GM: Past the sluggish beating, he hears the sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz amidst people drinking and carousing. Such sounds are not uncommon at the city’s jazz clubs, but he knows, too, that this one is the Evergreen Plantation, a posh joint along Royal Street.

Emmett: “Lovely and fruitful advice, as ever,” Em oozes, even as he thinks. The Evergreen? He’s talked his way in there for drinks once or twice, and been taken there on dates one or two times more. Nice place.

Weird fucking crowd, though. Even for the rich.

GM: “Should its master’s servants attempt to molest you, you may inform them that the LaLaurie House’s proprietor has sent you to speak with Antoine Savoy.”

“Should you reveal my nature to overcurious fools inclined to pry into others’ affairs, or to needful wretches seeking alms, know that I mislike uninvited guests in my home. Send further Lamarcks or Celias to my door, and I will devour them.”

Emmett: “Plain language is such a rarity these days. My appreciation is unbounded, and my gratitude is overflowing.”

“Should I expect my Shadow to be in state to seek revenge immediately after I, ah, make the delivery?”

GM: Abélia’s form dissolves like oily tar. The black morass seeps into the earth as the house swells, its motion reminiscent of an enormous spider bloated from a feast and stretching its legs. Soon ready to spin further webs anew.

Emmett: “…good talk,” Em murmurs, and takes his leave.

He keeps his heart under his arm, boxed up and safe.

Perhaps he should be more grateful, more gracious. But somehow, he has the distinct impression that he hasn’t won dirt.

He’s just been shown the edge of the grave.


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Story Twelve, Celia XXI

“What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good.”
—Abraham Garcia


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Daysleep claims them instantly and recedes just as instantly. It’s a poor substitute for the sleep of the living. It never feels like they’ve actually slept, or like any time has passed. Perhaps there is a reason the elders long for torpor.

Roderick strokes her cheek.

“This is somewhat less romantic, but getting hard for you isn’t even that bad.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“You know if I were less confident that would be the worst thing to say to me.”

GM: “Hey, if you were less confident I’d remind you how we normally don’t do that.” He frowns a little. “Veronica must give you a pretty hard time, for still liking it the breather way.”

Celia: “Veronica’s idea of a good time is putting a spiked heel inside of someone’s ass, so.”

GM: “Pietro can’t seriously be into that.”

Celia: “You know when I was still a breather I saw them fuck, it was… intense. They ripped skin off of each other.”

GM: “That must’ve been really scary, if you had no idea what it all meant.”

Celia observes her surroundings look different. The apartment has been cleaned up. The salvageable furniture and sundry have been moved back into place, the trashed ones moved into a corner. The fluid stains on the cushions, and their bodies, have been cleaned up. They’ve both got clothes on. Celia’s got on a dark minidress that looks similar to the one they met in, though the cut is more modest than Alana’s usual choices.

“By the way,” he smirks, “you’re a total sleepyhead.”

Celia: “Ah, see, I was only pretending to sleep so you’d move things around for me. It worked.”

GM: “Nah, you were totally out of it. I could’ve put you in overalls, clown shoes, and drawn a mustache under your nose, and you’d have still been a total mannequin.”

Celia: Her eyes narrow at him.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

GM: “I know how serious you take looking good,” he answers somberly.

Then he grins. “So only if there’d been a floor-length mirror I could’ve moved for you to wake up to…”

Celia: Celia rolls away from him, crossing her arms over her chest. She sticks her nose in the air—at least as much as she can considering she’s still in bed—and huffs.

“You’re fired. Go away. You’re never getting laid again.”

GM: He laughs and pulls her against his chest.

“Not haute culture enough? Maybe also shaved you bald…”

Celia: “Couture.”

“I will murder you in your sleep if you shave my head.”

GM: “But whenever I’m asleep, you’ll be asleep, so I’ll always get away with it.”

Celia: “I’ll set an alarm.”

“And wake up just to smack you.”

“Then go back to bed.”

GM: “And you’ll still be bald.”

Celia: “I’ll tell all your friends you got beat up by a girl.”

GM: “But unlike your dad, I’m not insecure enough to let that bruise my ego. Coco or Opal could kick my ass anytime. Caroline also sounds like she could give me a run from what you’ve described.”

“Men of quality do not fear equality.”

Celia: Celia huffs again.

“It’s against the constitution to shave my head. Cruel and unusual punishment. You’ll go to jail.”

GM: “Mmm, but that particular piece of it only applies to the federal and state governments. Your legal defense is in tatters, counselor.”

Celia: “I’m a national treasure. You can’t deface me.”

GM: “Not even in the Constitution…”

He smiles and hugs her close.

“But you’re right. You are a treasure. A UNESCO world heritage treasure. Every country in the UN would go to war, if ours allowed such a crime against humanity to take place.”

Celia: She positively preens at the praise.

“I forgive you for thinking such heinous thoughts, then.”

GM: “It was fun to dress you, anyway. Like I said. Total mannequin.”

Celia: “You know most people would find that creepy instead of cute.”

“Ah yes my boyfriend watches me sleep and puts me in clothing.”

GM: “Hey, I was already cleaning up everything, and figured you’d appreciate it. Keeping you naked would also have been incredibly distracting.”

Celia: “Did you bathe me? I seem to recall more bloodstains than this.”

GM: “Yeah, actually. I was going to do a sponge bath, but then I figured, you’d probably want me to be thorough.”

Celia: “I wasn’t even awake to enjoy it,” she sighs. “Now we have to recreate the scene. Rose petals, champagne flutes of blood, LED candles…”

GM: “And it was a way to pass the time. Didn’t even use superspeed to make it faster. I didn’t want to leave you alone, in case… more hunters.”

Celia: “Oh. Right.”

She twists in his arms so that she can see him.

“Thank you.”

GM: “Unlikely at night, granted. But no lick should sleep completely alone.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Have you ever heard the word ‘glinko’ before?”

GM: He thinks. “Nope. Context?”

Celia: “That was it. Just the one word. Something I came across while cracking the phones. I thought it might be a name. It’s… not a word. Not in English. Bulgarian, though, it means ‘clay.’ And there’s a ‘glinko’ mask that a cosmetic company has, it’s a clay mask people use to draw out impurities from their skin, so that makes sense, just…” She trails off, shaking her head.

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “I’m impressed you managed to get into those.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, despite what Maxen says, I’m not stupid.”

GM: “It’s not a question of intelligence, just training. I don’t know how to hack a phone.”

Celia: “Mostly you press the buttons and hope they don’t have a lockout timer.”

GM: “Oh, that actually works well with superspeed,” he says thoughtfully. “I might have been able to brute force a phone like that too.”

Celia: “I’ve seen you brute force a phone, Rod, there’s a lot of broken glass involved.”

GM: “Ha ha. The other kind of brute force.”

Celia: “I know, I know, I’m just teasing.”

GM: “I’ll have to keep that in mind for security with the new place, though. Lockout delays.”

“Oh, when I was cleaning, I saw food in the fridge. I thought you didn’t share this place with your renfields?”

Celia: God damnit.

“Uh. I don’t.”

She can’t even think of a way to spin it.

She changes the subject instead.

“How would you improve security here, anyway?”

GM: “I’ve looked it over. There’s a couple ways. Why do you have a bunch of salad and casserole, though?”

Celia: “Oh. That. My mom. I forgot it was in there.”

“She made me eat with them last night. You know how she is about leftovers.”

GM: “Oh. That must be awkward.”

Celia: “It wasn’t pleasant. There was cake, too.”

GM: “I saw. And you can’t say no without being rude.”

Celia: “I could only come up with so many diet excuses. Emily finally called me on the bullshit.”

“So now I have to make sure I’m, uh, really full before I go over in case they decide they want to eat.”

GM: “Well, count yourself lucky. I’d love to still come over for dinner with my dad.”

Celia: Her face falls.

“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to complain. I’m lucky to have them.”

GM: “It’s okay. I still doubt it’s much fun, if it tastes as bad as they all say.”

Celia: “It’s worse on the way up.”

“If you really want to try it you can help yourself, though.”

“Hell, if we make this work you can come over for dinner.”

GM: “You don’t think your mom would mind, if I’m just going to throw it up?”

Celia: “She wouldn’t know. It’s not like I tell her what I do. She’d accuse me of bulimia or something. Then Emily would tell me how it rots my teeth and the stomach acid destroys my esophagus. Then she’d say something like, ‘if you destroy your gag reflex you’ll never be able to suck another dick,’ and then my mom will make a face at us. It’s a whole thing.”

GM: He smiles. “They sound like a great family.”

Celia: She arches her brows at him.

“That is not the response I expected.”

“But they are. I’ll hook you up with some prosthetics and you can come over.”

GM: “Prosthetics?”

Celia: “Like facial things. Inserts. Special effects makeup.”

GM: “Ah. That made me think of artificial limbs.”

“That would be nice, though. I spent a while wondering if Lucy was my daughter or not, so I feel… at least a little close to her, if that doesn’t sound weird.”

Celia: “It doesn’t. Makes me wonder sometimes, you know. What if you’d have approached me after your Embrace, before our release. How that would have gone. Finding out about each other like that, rather than… how we did.”

“I think you’ll like her, though.”

GM: “Who knows there. But she seemed like a pretty happy little toddler, last I looked in.”

“I wouldn’t mind getting to see your mom again, either. She was always so nice to me. Just a total 180 from your dad.”

“I had this fantasy a few times, you know, that if we’d gotten married, we could’ve set up our parents together.”

Celia: “…wouldn’t that make us stepsiblings, though.”

“Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Is your dad still available? Because Mom wants to get back with Maxen and I’m just… not about to let that happen.”

GM: Roderick frowns in thought.

“Well, my dad never remarried. He’s always been so busy with work. I think how bitter the divorce with my mom was just burned him out to the idea of marriage. Made him not want to put that effort into another one when it could go into his career.”

“I asked him about it, once, and he said he wasn’t really thinking of dating until Dani and I were out of the house. And maybe college.”

Celia: “So now’s the time.”

GM: Roderick looks thoughtful.

“He’s going to die alone, if Dani disappears and he doesn’t find someone else. I’ve thought about that.”

“How he’s going to think both his kids are dead.”

Celia: “Dani doesn’t need to disappear. She can stay here. In the Quarter.”

“And… there’s a rumor, you know, that… that Lucy is yours. I was with you and the timeline meshes, and maybe… I mean… a grandchild isn’t a replacement for a child, but maybe if he thought that, too…”

GM: Roderick seems to pause in further thought.

“Coco asked me, once, which I thought was more important. Truth or beauty.”

“I said truth. I know my dad would too.”

Celia: Celia had also asked him that. Right before he’d smashed her face in. But it doesn’t matter since she’s not Coco.

GM: “That’s a sweet thought, to give him a grandchild. But he’d rather have truth.”

“And your mom knows the truth. She knows he’s not the grandfather.”

Celia: “I know. Just…” she doesn’t sigh, but she looks like she wants to. “I just… feel terrible.”

GM: He strokes her cheek.

“I know there’s a lot. What about?”

Celia: “You. Becoming what you are. You dying. Your dad. Your sister, even. I know… I know Coco said I was overstating my own importance, but… I still feel responsible.”

GM: “You aren’t. Coco made the offer, and I said yes, because I saw a way to destroy the Mafia.”

Celia: “I want to help.”

GM: “I’d welcome that help. It’s funny how I just haven’t gotten around to it. Like you and your dad, I guess.”

“Right now, though, I think I want to keep my family safe and happy first. The Mafia will still be around after they’re gone.”

“I think my dad could really use someone. He took my death… he’s moved on, but it’s cast this eternal shadow over him.”

“I don’t know what losing Dani might do.”

Celia: “Then don’t make her leave, Roderick. Don’t do that to him. Let her stay here. If she’s a thin-blood… I mean, you know the rumors, that they don’t rage. It’s safer. And isn’t it better if she’s here, with someone who loves her?”

GM: The Brujah looks torn. He really does.

“But Savoy knows who she is. What she is. She’ll always be leverage over me.”

“If I thought he didn’t know, then no question, I’d want her to stay.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“He’s known who my family is this whole time and he’s never done anything to them. He’s not like that.”

GM: “He’s an elder.”

Celia: “So is Coco.”

GM: “Celia, I get to listen to a roomful of them when they let down their hair. I’ve gotten to listen for years.”

“Dani is leverage to him. That’s just how their minds work. You would not believe how ruthless, cynical, and utterly without conscience they can be.”

Celia: She would, actually, but she doesn’t tell him that.

GM: “Henry Kissinger could take tips.”

Celia: He’s going to know she told. He’s going to know she told Roderick the truth about his family, and he’s going to… to be done with her. That’s it. Second chance. Gone. It’s like she can see her family dying in front of her eyes. Lucy, Emily, Diana. The only people she cares about anymore. Heads rolling. Worse.

She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “Coco cares about me. And she’s decent, for an elder. But when push comes to shove she can be ruthless too.”

“I told you all about those thin-bloods…”

He shakes his head.

Celia: “Then why would you side with the people who made that happen?”

“Yeah, Roderick, he’s an elder. He’s probably as ruthless as the rest of them. He wants what he wants. But he doesn’t butcher people because of an accident of Embrace. He doesn’t round people up and sell them out.”

“And if that Asian bitch hadn’t dragged Max out like you said, you think the Sanctified would have stopped at murdering the thin-bloods? No. They’d have taken down the rest of you because that’s the kind of rule Vidal has.”

GM: “I think there are a lot of ways that could’ve gone south for them. Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors running to Savoy. They didn’t want a fight with us, even if they’d have won. Too much mess.”

Celia: “But they would have done it. They would have come after all of you. And that’s the difference.”

“You told me. You said he counted back from ten. Anyone inside would die with the rest of them. They don’t care. Vidal doesn’t care. You’re all expendable. And your own sire sold them out. She knew what she was doing. That she sent her people to die. That the other Anarchs who believed in her could die if they did what they normally do.”

GM: “I think it may have been a bluff. We outnumbered them. I don’t think we’d have won, but I think that’d have been an ugly enough fight they’d have tried to avoid it. You can’t try to butcher dozens of true-blooded Kindred without a really big mess that benefits Savoy. Again, Sanctified casualties, Anarch survivors all fleeing to Savoy, not to mention Coco and Opal for the sheriff trying to destroy their covenant.”

“What it ultimately comes down to is practicality, not morals. That’s why Coco and Opal were complicit. The Camarilla says the pogrom is over, Vidal is just a hardliner who refuses to get the message, and pushed my sire to go along. She cares about the thin-bloods as much as Savoy does. It will always be a question of expediency to them.”

Celia: “Do you hear yourself? You’re literally defending them.”

GM: “I’m not! What Coco did was wrong! But you’re kidding yourself too if you think Savoy will be a good faith actor, or that Dani won’t be a hostage he’ll use to control me with.”

Celia: “What do you think is going to happen when Vidal konks out?”

GM: “I don’t know what’ll happen. Maybe Vidal will try to take Savoy and the Baron our before he does.”

Celia: “And it’ll be my head if he doesn’t get to.”

GM: “You’re not one of Savoy’s inner circle. If there’s war, you can hide out, and I’ll do everything to keep you safe in the aftermath. They can’t execute every single Savoy partisan. You’ll probably lose your domain, but you could survive this.”

Celia: “I’m not talking about a war. I’m talking about the fact that I’m the only person who knows what and who Dani is. I’m talking about the fact that I was seen leaving the Quarter yesterday in a car that belongs to you. It doesn’t take a genius to put that together.”

GM: “I doubt Savoy keeps a database with my car make that his people have memorized. His people probably wouldn’t even give it a glance with you behind the wheel.”

Celia: “All it takes is a quick online search, or a whisper in the right ear. But it’s fine. I get it.”

Who cares about the girl you claim to love when your sister is in danger, right?

GM: “But you are right, it’s still a needless risk to keep using my car when we could just use another.”

“Look, tonight’s Elysium Primo. All of Savoy’s important people will be there. Maybe see what you can find out. If they know about you driving my car.”

Celia: “He knows I know, Roderick. He knows I know, and he knows what you are to me. He’s not stupid.”

GM: “He isn’t omniscient either.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, you can deliver the news to my mom if he puts me down for the betrayal.”

GM: “It isn’t a betrayal. You just failed to convince me to sign on. I doubt he’ll be happy with you, but I’d say that’s better than Dani being a hostage he could kill anytime I make him unhappy, wouldn’t you?”

Celia: “I don’t think he’s going to give me a third chance,” she says quietly. “I might as well just cut my losses and run.”

GM: “So because you’re not useful enough… he kills you? That really sounds more like Vidal.”

“But, look. If you’re really scared… you could come over with me. To the Anarchs.”

Celia: Celia turns away. She presses a hand against her face, wiping at her eyes. The scent of blood is unmistakable.

“It’s fine,” she says again. Her voice exudes a cheerfulness she clearly doesn’t feel. “It’s fine.”

GM: He wipes her eyes too.

“It’s not fine. You’re crying.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter. Your mind is clearly made up. You’d rather support the butcher on the throne than take a chance and work for change. It’s easier that way, right? Just go with it. Let yourself get distracted playing Kindred politics, forget about what matters.” The Mafia. Cleaning up the city. The reason he’d agreed to Coco’s offer. Generations of Garrisons all fighting for the same thing, and him the only one left in any position to do something about it. The dream will die with his father.

“Any of those elders you regularly listen to will feel the same way, but fuck it, let’s get them in when Vidal kicks it.”

GM: “Vidal isn’t going to be around much longer. Whoever succeeds him won’t be able to govern the same way. And to hear the primogen talk about it, Savoy’s no better than any of them.”

Celia: She wonders if he even hears himself.

“Savoy wouldn’t throw out his own for the scourge and sheriff and hunters to exterminate. He wouldn’t sacrifice childer because it’s easier than trying to deal with an external threat. He wouldn’t make an example of thin-bloods by sending his lapdogs to slaughter them.”

GM: “I think he’d do all of those things if it was convenient. That’s how all the primogen talk about him.”

Celia: “You don’t even know him.”

GM: “I hear how other elders talk about him. He’s one of them. They all think so.”

“Hell, they want him on the primogen. Him and the Baron.”

Celia: “So you’re just going to take Dani out of the city because it’s a little bit dangerous. Send her to another place where she doesn’t know anyone, where she has no one to rely on if things get tough, where you can’t look after her. Where I can’t look after her.”

GM: “Do you hear yourself? It’s way more than a little dangerous. Savoy will kill her as soon as I step out of line.”

“Houston is a bad option, but at least there she won’t be an elder’s hostage. There are no good options here, just bad and worse.”

Celia: “Why,” she asks, “would he kill her? She’s not worth anything if she’s dead. If you were a ruthless elder, would you kill her?”

GM: “If I had no more use for Roderick anymore? Yeah, I might.”

Celia: “I wouldn’t. Death is very final. Life is full of possibilities. People are always useful, even if it isn’t readily apparent.”

GM: “Except to elders there’ll always be more people. Life is cheap. More always comes along. But loose ends can always pop back up to make trouble.”

Celia: “Sure. Your sire could find someone else. I mean, she let Micheal go, what’s another one, right?”

GM: “Don’t even start on Mike. He went out of his way to alienate her. And me. She did everything to be a good sire to him and he just threw it back in her face.”

“I think he never got over his stupid complex. He never went to school. He never read books. He’s everything that gives our clan a bad name as a bunch of angry thugs and punks instead of scholars and philosopher-kings.”

“Coco tried to teach him to be more. He has no idea what an incredible opportunity that was. She’s collected countless degrees from the city’s universities. She’s seen hundreds of years of history. She has a tested IQ over 150. And she was willing to be his personal tutor, for years. But he just pissed that opportunity completely away.”

“I don’t accept that not everyone can improve themselves, either. Coco used to be even less educated than Mike. She was illiterate until she was around 20 years old, did you know that? She hadn’t read a book or gone to school a day in her life, until my grandsire taught her. He’s at least as smart and well-read as she is, but she didn’t let her ego get in the way of bettering herself. She wanted to give Mike the same gift William gave her. She tried and tried and tried. And he just threw it back in her face. I don’t blame her for washing her hands of him, any more than I blame you for not wanting your dad back in your family’s lives. Some people—actually, probably most people—just do not ever fucking change.”

“Your dad was also half-right. You aren’t stupid, and you’re way smarter than he ever gave you credit for, but some people are stupid. Some people have no desire to better themselves, even if they get the opportunity. Unpopular opinion here, but one that a lot of well-read people secretly hold: we’re better than them. Mike realizes that, deep down, but he’s too lazy and egotistical to admit he could improve himself. So he chooses to be small and petty and stupid for eternity.”

“Coco didn’t let Mike go. She tried and tried and tried with him, and he cut her out. I don’t blame her one bit for that.”

Celia: Saying she’s smarter than her dad gave her credit for isn’t much of a compliment considering what her dad thought of her, but she doesn’t bother to point it out to him. He wouldn’t understand. After all, he’d almost said it to her—about her—last night. As if it means nothing. As if it didn’t take years to finally put it behind her.

She wonders if he’d feel the same way about Micheal if he knew what Veronica is doing to him. How she treats him. Night after night after night. But hey, Mike is stupid, right? He deserves it.

Her lips thin.

“I used to be jealous of you, you know. That Coco is your sire. That she keeps you busy with everything. Got you a spot as the scribe, protected when the sheriff comes calling, talks to you about history. Embraced you so you could realize your dream of taking down the Mafia.”

When he’s done playing lapdog to her, anyway.

But he’s a well-read, smart sort of guy. Better than other people, isn’t he? She doesn’t need to say it.

GM: He grasps her arms as it seems to click on his face.

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m not better than you.”

“I’m sorry. That was the wrong thing to say. I know that must be sensitive after how much your dad insulted and belittled you.”

Celia: “That and everything else,” she mutters.

All that book learning and he’s still ass at reading people.

“We have some time to kill before we need to leave. Why don’t we go upstairs and you can show me how to throw a punch without breaking my hand.”

Really knock her around since he’s so good at that.

GM: He glances at the time. It’s around 10 PM.

She really has been sleeping late.

“Tonight’s Elysium Primo is at midnight. You don’t have anything else on the docket until then?”

Celia: “Why, trying to go meet up with your other lovers? ‘Cause listen, I’ll fight them.” She holds up a fist. Or rather a poor interpretation of a fist: her thumb is tucked inside her fingers, popping out the knuckles on her first three digits.

It’s quite possibly the worst form anyone has ever seen. Easy way to break her thumb, her knuckles, even her wrist.

GM: Roderick smirks.

“If you know how to fight, like you said you did, you know what’s wrong with that. Or else it’s a good thing you didn’t use your fists against those hunters.”

“But okay, we can get in some practice,” he says, pulling off his nice Elysium clothes for a t-shirt and sweats. “We’ll try not to fuck each other’s brains out until the end, this time.”

Celia: There are too many things to say back to that: a reminder that she doesn’t need to fight because she’s so pretty no one would even think to swing on her so of course her form is wrong. An accusation of actually having other lovers since he hadn’t denied it (and when had that changed?). A scowl and reminder that she’s able to control herself and doesn’t need to fuck him, thank you very much.

The words die before they ever reach her lips, though, when he starts peeling off his clothes. Her eyes follow the movement of his shirt as he pulls it up over his head, revealing the unblemished, flat stomach, the muscles that play beneath the skin. So much more buff now than he was when they were together as mortals, and she gets to enjoy it. Forever. Now, even, all she has to do is reach out, and…

Celia blinks a few times and turns her face away, then finally gets up and moves across the room to distract herself so she doesn’t pounce on him while he’s half-naked. She opens the refrigerator in want of something else to do. His earlier question made her wary.

GM: Celia smells the coppery tang as soon as she opens the fridge. The grisly “food” is where she left it in the lower produce compartment: leakage is easier to clean up there. There isn’t much blood left at all in the plastic-wrapped body parts. Celia was very thorough. A human probably wouldn’t smell anything. But she isn’t human.

Celia: She shuts the door just as quickly.

How had he missed it? Or does he just not care that she’s got a fridge full of body parts?

That’s what love must be: finding a body in your girlfriend’s apartment and not asking questions.

GM: She finds Roderick on his phone wherever they’ve decided to practice. He sets it down and tosses her the best workout clothes he could find in her closet.

It’s not like they ever sweat. Or need to work out.

Celia: It took her all of two seconds to open and close the door, but she supposes that’s the problem with millennials. Can’t pry them away from their devices.

“Are you telling your other girlfriend you’re going to be late?” she asks as she strips and changes into the offered clothing. Yoga pants. T-shirt. It’s not like she only owns ball gowns.

GM: He watches her appreciatively at first, his fangs lengthening in his mouth, then turns away.

“What gave you the idea I had another girlfriend?” he asks with amusement.

Celia: “Cute guy like you?”

GM: “I’ve been with other girls. But not in a while. Plenty else to keep busy with.”

Celia: “I’d ask who, but then I’d have to beat them up, and apparently I don’t even know how to make a fist.” Celia sighs at him, hands on her hips.

GM: “I can see why. I already want to do you over the bed.”

“The way you move, the way you dress, the way you look… you make everything hot.”

Celia: Celia beams at him. She tosses her head, hair flipping over her shoulder.

“Maybe if you win I’ll even let you.” She watches him for a minute, then asks, “you’re not gonna lose it on me if we’re not really fighting but I hit you or something, are you? Because, just… I don’t know if I could actually take you like that…”

GM: “God, and your smile,” he smiles back. “I really just want to flip you over right n…”

He trails off at her question, but shakes his head. “Maybe if you were fighting with your claws out. Bare-handed shouldn’t be enough to seriously hurt me, though.”

Celia: “That’s why we never got anything done last time,” Celia reminds him, but she’s still grinning. She finds a tie for her hair and pulls it up so it’s out of her face, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet.

“This one of those things where I have to call you sensei? Teacher? Mister Roderick? I think I’ve got a plaid skirt somewhere…” she trails off, wiggling her brows at him.

GM: “It’s in the way you move, how you just make every little thing so sexy… you’re irresistible…” he murmurs, pulling her close. His hands start to explore her body as he nuzzles her neck.

Her next words only seem to make him more excited.

“Mmm, why don’t I help you change out of these clothes, first…”

Celia: She starts to tell him that they’re supposed to be doing something—she doesn’t get dressed like this for no reason—but it flies out of her mind the moment he pulls her in. Her resolve falters; why put in the effort of learning how to fight when the lick in front of her is so much sweeter?

They’d made it further than usual, at least. All the way into sweats.

GM: Before those come off.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The lovers lie naked and spent in one another’s blood-streaked arms. Roderick chuckles.

“Shit.”

“You’re never going to learn to fight at this rate.”

Celia: “Probably not,” she agrees. She doesn’t look too put out about it though. “If someone comes after me I’ll just blind them with my dazzling smile.”

GM: “Could you make yourself look, maybe… uglier?”

He laughs again.

Celia: She gives him a flat look.

GM: “You’re really too sexy for your own good. It’s very distracting.”

Celia: “I could get a bag, maybe. Poke some eyeholes in it. Would that work for you?”

GM: He looks thoughtful.

Celia: “Oh my god. I was kidding.”

GM: He smirks and squeezes her against his chest. “I’m just worried it wouldn’t make you un-sexy enough.”

Celia: “You’re ridiculous,” she mutters. She leans into him all the same, a satisfied smile pulling at her lips. “I have a weird question for you.”

GM: “Can’t be weirder than my thinking you should wear a bag over your head,” he smiles back.

Celia: “I wonder if we can say it’s a new trend and convince the rats to try it.”

“But I was wondering… you don’t get off the same way I do. But you said earlier that you don’t mind it. So I’m just kind of curious what it feels like.”

GM: “It’s… it’s really not that bad, actually. It’s kind of like the first time I got off, where I felt so close, and didn’t have any idea when I would finally come. Part of me wanted to stop, but also keep going…”

If Celia didn’t know any better, she’d say he was enjoying himself.

Celia: “Hm.” She can’t relate. The first time she’d gotten off had been with him, and she hadn’t had much choice in the matter; it had kind of just snuck up on her all of a sudden without her doing much of anything. He’d taken care of all of that, the first time. “But you don’t mind it? Or you… like it?” She looks up at him.

GM: He seems to think for a moment.

“Uh… maybe?”

Celia: “I was just going to say if you’re not into it we don’t have to do it every time, is all.”

GM: “No, no, I think…”

He trails off, then smiles.

“Would you like to play with my dick? As an ‘experiment?’”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need further encouragement than that. She’s happy to lend a hand. Then her mouth. The rest of her, too, even if he doesn’t take her up on it yet, so she sticks to her mouth, with her fingers wrapped around the base. Just as she used to do for him, the way he showed her he liked all those years ago.

GM: He swiftly grows hard under her touch. Celia keeps going for a while. He breathes and pants (both needlessly, but perhaps a psychophysiological reflex). Towards what feels like the end, he tenses and breathes harder, but Celia doesn’t feel anything come out of his shaft.

“…huh.”

“That felt… good.”

Celia: She looks up at him from where she’s kneeling between his legs.

“Yeah? Like you, ah, got there good?” She’d almost thought there’d be blood. “Or like it was mildly enjoyable good?”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I got there…”

He smiles and puts his hands around her, just under her armpits, and lifts her into the air. He sets her down on the couch and pulls her against him. His arms encircle her belly.

“You make everything around you better. You know that? Everything you touch comes out with a coat of gold. The makeup is part of it. Making people look like their best selves. But that’s only part of what you do.”

“The way you gave Emily a family. The way you turned your mom’s life around. The way you brought, bring, so much happiness into mine. You’re like a fire. A sun. The closer someone gets to you, the more the more warmth and joy you bring into their life.”

Celia: Nestled against him, snug within the circle of his arms, she can almost believe him. That she makes things better. That she’s capable of being good.

But that’s not true, isn’t it? None of the planets closer to the sun than theirs can sustain life, and a fire eats up all the oxygen in the room. It’s like her. It just destroys. The pretty little flames melt the skin off anyone stupid enough to get too close.

Would he still think the same if he knew the truth? If he knew how monstrous her sire is, the terrible things that she has done, still does, plans to do? The lives—and unlives—she’ll destroy to claw her way to the top? Could he still care for her then?

Celia tucks her cheek against him. She’d asked herself two nights ago if she could be better for him. She can. She can try, at least. He’s worth that much, deserves that much from her.

“That was really beautiful, you know. You give me hope for the future. That it can be beautiful, even with this thing inside of us. That we can be good, do good things, be better than the rest of them, than what they think we have to be. You make me think it’s all possible.”

GM: His hand traces along her flank.

“That’s what Carthage was, you know. Maybe not literally. But as a story. An ideal. That a whole city of licks, just like us, could all decide to be better than what everyone thinks we have to be. To use their powers and immortality as a force for good. To live in harmony with mortals, to no longer need any lies between us, with both races using their abilities to build something together that they never could apart.”

“That’s what I see, too, when I look at you. A citizen of Carthage. The promise of something better.”

He hugs her close.

“I love you, Celia. I love you so much.”

“I don’t know how I was able to spend so much of my Requiem without you, or how I could’ve been so stupid as to throw you away, but I’m not ever going to make that mistake again.”

Celia: His words fill her with warmth. She’s safe here in his arms, pressed against his chest. Cheek on his shoulder, she breathes him in and closes her eyes, letting his love wash over her.

She’ll never tell him. Never tell him that she’s not what he thinks. Never give him a reason to look at her like she’s some sort of monster. She can protect him from that, from the worst of their kind. Maybe she’s not a fighter, but she can still be a shield of sorts.

“I love you too, Roderick. I missed you. Every night we weren’t together I missed you. So much.” She twists in his arms, turning to face him. She touches a hand to his cheek, trails kisses across the other side: brow, cheek, jaw, lips. “People say they have all the time in the world, you know, when they talk about the future. But it’s true for us in a way it isn’t for others. We have forever. Eternity. Together. We don’t need to be apart again. We never have to be apart again.”

It doesn’t feel like enough, not next to what he said to her. But it’s what she has, what she can give him.

GM: He kisses her forehead. Traces a hand along her hair as he stares up into her eyes.

“God, I don’t even want to go to Elysium tonight. Having to pretend as if we’re total strangers in public.”

GM: “Part of me wants to just spend more time with you. Actually get started teaching you to fight.”

Celia: She gives him a wistful smile.

“I wish. I’d love to tell those blowhards where to shove it. Tonight, though. Afterwards. I have a few things to take care of immediately after, but spend the day again. I feel safer when you’re here. And we can amuse ourselves until dawn however you want.”

She glances at the clock.

GM: There’s enough time to get ready and go to Elysium without rushing, but probably not an extended martial arts lesson.

“Okay,” he relents. “Are you going to talk to Dani tonight?”

Celia: She’s more concerned about the ghoul’s body she needs to put back together than the boxing.

“If I can find her.”

GM: He looks worried. “You can do that, can’t you? Or else how do we get her out?”

Celia: “Yes, Roderick. I’ll find her. Of course I can find her.”

She hesitates a beat. What if she can’t find her? What if she’s overly optimistic about this whole plan? She tries not to let him see it, the uncertainty. But she’s never been able to hide her emotions from him, has she? It’s there in her eyes, all he has to do is look into them. Belatedly, she averts her gaze.

GM: “Oh my god! Celia, we can’t just have her running around loose with no idea where she is!” he exclaims.

Celia: “And I can’t make contact and tip our hand until we’re ready to move her. It has to be one smooth operation, otherwise it’s going to get messy. Is that what you want?”

GM: “I want you to at least know where she is! How the hell are we going to move her without that?”

Celia: “I’ll find her,” Celia says again. “I just don’t think I should approach her yet.”

GM: “Okay, just… find her. We need to be ready to go, as soon as Ayame comes through.”

Celia: “Roderick… what if she doesn’t?”

GM: “We’ll deal with that then.”

Celia: She makes a noise that might be assent. She doesn’t say anything. Not for a long minute. She’s not particularly hopeful that everything will go off without a hitch.

She finally changes the subject.

“What do you know about Carolla? If we’re going to take down the Mafia we can start there.”

GM: “Brujah, like me. He’s showed up to the rants. I’ve slugged it out with him a few times.”

“Can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Decent in a fight, though.”

“There was a stupid rumor going he’s Coco’s childe.”

Celia: “…oh?”

GM: Roderick actually looks a little angry at that.

“It’s pure bullshit. You’ve probably heard how coy he plays over his sire.”

Celia: Is it, though? She’s kept Roderick too busy to pick him off, anyway.

“Yeah.”

GM: “My guess would be it’s a nobody and this is how he builds up his rep.”

Celia: “Thought Brujah didn’t care about who their sires were, just their own merit.”

“Anyway, isn’t he First Estate? Kind of lame for a Brujah.”

GM: “We don’t, that’s the thing. He makes it a mystery and that gets people curious, anyway.”

Celia: “Ah. The game of rumors.”

GM: “Also, we might not, but the other clans do.”

“Sheriff spared me because of who my sire was, at the massacre. I’m not blind to that.”

“Or how being able to say I’m Roderick Durant, childe of Coco Duquette, childe of William Starkweather, childe of Eleanor de Valois, childe of Adana de Sforza, childe of Losario, childe of Troile, opens more doors with elders.”

Celia: “Do you think it matters, though? Who someone’s sire is?”

She doesn’t bother pointing out that the sheriff spared him because Coco set up the massacre. He has to know.

GM: “100% not. I’m not my sire. Or grandsire. Or so on and so on down the line. If you mean ‘matter’ in the sense of ‘should it entitle them to preferential treatment in Kindred society,’ at least. For good or ill, it definitely has consequences.”

Celia: “What about those people who have super fucked up sires. Like real monsters. You think they come out like that? Like how people turn into their parents?”

GM: “I’d say they can, but they don’t have to. Wright had a horrific sire and he’s turned out… mostly okay. But not everyone is that lucky or resilient, and I doubt things are perfect with him either. A horrible sire can fuck your Requiem up in all sorts of ways, just like a horrible breather parent can.”

“In a perfect world, either of those scenarios wouldn’t be a barrier to your future opportunities, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”

“I’m very lucky with who my sire was. Both that she descends from a fairly prestigious line, which opens more opportunities to me, and also because she treated me decently. Which also opens more opportunities, in other ways.”

Celia: “People think I’m a slut. Because of Veronica. And how she sleeps with everyone. They assume that I’m the same way. I’ve heard rumors…” Celia trails off, shaking her head. “The things they say about me are just… ugly. And I wonder, y’know, what it’d be like if she weren’t my sire. If it were even someone like Pietro, or if my grandsire had gotten to me instead. Same line, different reputation.”

“Anyway, sorry, we were talking about you. And beating up Carolla.”

GM: “You probably would have a different reputation,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “For good or ill, our sire colors everything about our Requiem. Some licks think that’s unfair and some think it’s right and proper, but there’s no avoiding it.”

Celia: “It’s the same as anything, really. Like you said. Being born to a different breather family would have made my life different, too.”

GM: “And even among the Brujah, we aren’t completely indifferent to it. Elders tend to put more stock in lineage than neonates. And if your sire was someone like Jeremy MacNeil… we might not think you’re better than another lick, but you’ll have people wondering what you did to impress such a badass sire.”

Celia: “I mean, aside from him just being an accident. But you think he’s making it up.”

GM: “I think he does it to get licks talking, which is exactly what we’re doing.”

Celia: “Maybe. I asked about him, you just brought up his sire,” Celia points out.

GM: “It’s the only noteworthy thing about him.”

Celia: “Because you’re mad that Coco might have Embraced him. Doesn’t his dad run the Mafia?”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look. “Coco didn’t Embrace him.”

Celia: “I could find out. If you really want to know.”

GM: He looks angrier. “I just said she didn’t Embrace him!”

Celia: Celia holds up her hands, placating. “Sorry. I was kidding.”

GM: “I’ve seen no evidence. Absolutely none.”

Celia: “You mentioned him a while back. I remember because I made fun of his name. And you said there was something weird about him?”

“But then we got distracted.”

With sex, probably.

GM: “Sorry, don’t remember. That was a while ago.”

Celia: “You are dead to me,” Celia says with a sigh.

GM: “Oh, too bad. I was going to suggest we take a shower together before Elysium.”

“But since I’m dead…”

Celia: Celia considers him.

“I’m actually a necromancer, so… I guess I can bring you back.”

She presses the palm of her hand against his forehead.

“You’re healed.”

GM: He smirks, gets off the couch, and picks her up, positioning his arms under her knees as she holds onto his shoulders.

“Let’s see how healed…”


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Their shower turned into another bout of sex, more enjoyable beneath the spray of the water as members of the undead than it had ever been while they were alive. She’d made him wash the blood off of her after that, scrubbing her back while she was awake to enjoy it, and she’d returned the favor once he was done with her.

It’s a feeling she can get used to, more showers with Roderick. Waking up with him. Spending her evenings with him. Already she’s looking forward to the end of Elysium so she can hit up the Evergreen, fix the ghoul, and jet back here to spend more time with him. Eternity, right? Somehow it doesn’t seem long enough.

He’d laughed at her when she had dithered over what to wear. He has it easy, she tells him, all he has to do is slap on a suit and tie and he looks presentable. Plus he’s an Anarch, it’s not like anyone is really judging him for what he wears. She walks a finer line. Not quite welcome in this domain because of who she serves, childe of a harpy, grandchilde and great-grandchilde of two primogen, hangs with the bitches who titter all night over a faux pas… it’s a lot to handle.

She’d changed twice before settling on the green gown. Seafoam or mint or shamrock or emerald, some such variant that means green without being so gauche as to actually say the word, because god-forbid licks like her stoop to such plebian descriptors. Mermaid cut, gauzy, with a tiny train and cutouts along the midriff and thighs that offer a peek at the delectable Kindred wrapped inside the ruched tulle.

Pic.jpg
Jewels glitter at ear and throat, though her neck is left bare, and, as always, she wears her fire opal ring on the middle finger of her left hand. A pair of black heels complete the look. None so tall as her sire glides around in—she’d be a fool to try to mimic Veronica’s footwear—but strappy all the same, with a delicate strap around her ankle.

She even finds an overcoat in case it rains, pulls her hair into an effortless up-do that leaves a few strands free to curl around her face, and swipes on a fresh coat of lipstick. She almost can’t pry her eyes from the mirror once she’s done, and she’s glad that she and Roderick had fucked themselves silly because she looks bangin’.

Celia winks at her reflection before she leaves.

GM: Roderick agrees. He runs his hands along her shoulders in shoulders in massage-like motions as she finishes up in the mirror.

“Keep that on,” he murmurs into her ear. “I’m going to fuck you in it later.”

Celia: Do they really need to go to Elysium?

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her stomach to flutter anymore. She’s dead. But it does anyway. A thrill runs through her at the words. She’s already wondering what part of her evening she can shift to tomorrow so she can get back here more quickly.

GM: Roderick’s hands move down from her shoulders. They squeeze her breasts and rub up and down the hips her gown’s mermaid cut makes so deliciously plain.

“Wrapped and dolled up just like a present…”

Celia: Celia only lets him touch her for a minute, only leans back against him and closes her eyes while he tells her the words she loves to hear for long enough to think that maybe they could just skip it…

No, no, no.

“Shhh,” Celia says, pulling his hands away, “if you don’t hush I’m going to jump you again, and then we’ll definitely never make it.”

GM: “Would that really be so bad?” he smiles. “I know you’re thinking it.”

Celia: “I am thinking it, that’s the worst part, that I just want to lock the two of us in here and let you ravish me.”

GM: “Sex with clothes on is messy. But we don’t even sweat…” he murmurs. His hands move back to her hips, then start appreciatively tracing her rump. “We could make it fast… I could do you right here on your vanity, arms around my neck, sexy dress on the whole time…”

Celia: “And show up smelling like sex and blood so everyone knows that we just fucked each other?” Celia gives him a look. It’s an appraising look, because she very, very much wants to do as he says. To hop up onto her vanity and let him slide the dress up her legs, to let him part her thighs with his hands or body and slip inside. To fuck. He doesn’t have to make it messy, she doesn’t have to make it messy, he’d said before that he just likes to drink blood, none of the kinky shit…

She shivers in his arms, clearly torn. She wants him. Wants him now, wants him later, wants him forever. He’s hers. His blood calls to her, and it’s so close, right beneath the surface, all she has to do is lean in and… bite.

Unless he means fuck like breathers.

Then there really is no mess. Nothing to clean up because he doesn’t actually…

She stops her thoughts from traveling further down that line. They don’t have time. It’s the blood, she knows, the collar they share, their prior history, his adoring words. It’s just like last time, when they’d never actually gotten to any of the rants because they’d been too busy bumping into cars and fucking on the roof to get anything done.

She’d never imagined there’d come a time when she wanted to turn down sex. Not with him. But she has things to do tonight. People to talk to.

Finally, she shakes her head, turning in his arms to press a kiss against the underside of his jaw.

“Later,” she whispers in his ear, “after you’ve been thinking about me all night, about the things we’re going to do together, after you’re so riled up and turned on that you can’t even think straight. Then…” she trails a hand down his chest, “then you can unwrap your present.”

GM: “Oh, I want to fuck my present with the wrapping still on, when she looks this delicious…” Roderick grins, his hands longingly kneading and squeezing her ass.

He relents after a moment, though, with a wistfully effected sigh.

“But I guess you’re right. Licks to see. Things to do, besides each other. And it does feel like a waste for you to get so dressed up without going out.”

He hefts her up, moving one arm under her legs and the other around her back.

“Carry you to your car, at least?” he smiles.

Celia: He spoils her, truly. It’s the sort of treatment she can get used to, the kind of thing she deserves, beautiful creature that she is. She shouldn’t have to walk, not when there’s a dashing Brujah here to do it for her, not when she fits so snugly against him. Cradled in his arms, head against his chest, her thoughts run as wild as the hands that roam his body. Teasing, gentle caresses, nipping at his neck, his ear, his lips. He reminds her to lock the door and she does it in a haze, back to him before she’s even finished putting the key back into her purse.

He fills her world. He is her world. Sire who? No one else matters, not when she has Roderick. Soul mates. There it is, the beautiful word that ties them together. Have to be, don’t they, because she can’t think of another place she’d rather be than right here nestled against him.

Her feet find the ground again, but Celia pays it no mind. He says something, his lips moving, but she doesn’t hear the words because she’s busy pulling him in, pressing her lips against his, her body against his, her arms around his neck, holding him close. A flash of fangs against his skin, not enough to cut, but to give it to him two ways, lick and human both.

She could drown in his love. She is drowning, spiraling down, further and further, and she doesn’t need the air to breathe so she doesn’t care, they can find the bottom of the abyss together, see how deep the trench goes.

But something else pulls at her too. Commitments. Things she said she’d do, people she needs to see. She claws her way back to the surface, fighting against the shackle that has her by the ankles, the anchor that wants to sink her. She fights against it, kicking and screaming to pull herself up, up, out. Her head breaks the surface and she can breathe again, but the waves keep rolling over her, crashing again and again, and she clings to him, her little place of safety in the turmoil.

She’ll see him again. Soon. That’s what makes her finally pull back, touch a hand to his cheek, look up into his eyes. Soon. Thirty minutes. He’ll be there, and they’ll pretend they don’t know each other, that they mean nothing to each other, but it’s just another game. Another game to keep them safe. Another game in a city of lies.

But tonight. Later. Errands, then him. All night, all day, the next night and day. Him.

“Temporary goodbyes shouldn’t hurt so much,” she whispers.

GM: Perhaps she notices how long it takes him to carry her to her car. More likely she doesn’t. It’s a nice feeling to not need to think about anything in the world, even walking, except the lover with his arms under her.

Her teasing touch when he finally (and so reluctantly) sets her down clear electrifies him. He pulls her close, her breasts pressing against his chest, his hands squeezing her rear, as he plants hungry kisses against her lips. His tongue explores her mouth, tracing against her fangs. She can feel how long and sharp his are, too. He runs his hands through her hair. He wraps his arms around her back and hugs her against him like he wants nothing more than to hold her in place there forever.

Some of it has to be the bond, this sheer intoxication with one another. But it’s real, too. She knows it is. It’s a rose planted in already fertile soil.

“It almost feels like a crime to set you down,” he whispers ruefully into her ear. “Those dainty little feet of yours shouldn’t ever have to touch the ground. You should have admirers to carry you everywhere.”

Celia: Her eyes all but shine as she looks up at him, cheeks flush with blood. She doesn’t care that it’s a conscious act to send it there, she wants him to see what he does to her, the effect that he has on her.

It’s real. It is. His sire has said it is rare, and their kind maybe don’t believe in it, but she knows the truth. They’re both capable of love, and they’ve found it in each other.

“How would they ever get close to me if you’re around to beat them off with a stick, hm?” Celia slides her hands up his chest, then around the back of his head to slide through his hair. “I don’t need any admirers but you.”

GM: “God…” he murmurs, his hands continuing to appreciatively trace up and down her backside.

“You’re too good for them, for Elysium. It’ll only seem fair if they declare you’re the exhibit. The center of the evening, for everyone else to gush about and admire.”

“They should put you on a throne. And all the other licks should have to beg just for a turn of getting to help carry it.”

Celia: “Everyone already knows that,” Celia tells him, smirking. It’s true, though. Jade’s face was designed to be the prettiest lick in the city, and anyone who says otherwise is simply lying to themselves. She’s not so gauche as to brag about it, though. She’s never even said as much out loud.

“A throne, hm? I’ve a crown somewhere, maybe I’ll put it on tonight and make you worship me.”

GM: He just presses her close. “Oh, I already worship you. When Elysium’s all over, and we’re back here, I’m going to carry you inside. I’m going to set you down over the sink, and hand-wash the bottoms of your shoes, so we don’t ever have to be reminded they touched the earth. Then I’m going to carry you to bed, and unwrap my present, just a little, when I crawl up between your legs, with your sexy dress still on. Then I’ll really worship you, to pay you back for that blowjob.”

Celia: “Now that,” she murmurs, pulling him down to press her lips against his once more, “sounds like a perfect end to the evening.” Her body responds to his words, nipples stiffening and moisture pooling between her thighs at the thought of him kneeling before her. Oh, yes, a wonderful evening indeed.

It’s difficult after that to extricate herself from him, but a glance at his watch tells her that if they don’t get going they’re both going to be late, and that will set all sorts of tongues wagging. Not in the good way, either. Not like he promises to do later.

“Four?” She turns it into a question. Four am. Enough time for her to complete her tasks and get back here so he can ravish her, provided Elysium doesn’t run long.

GM: “Four,” he repeats longingly. He opens her car door, then picks her up and sets her down in the driver’s seat, as if solely to enjoy having her in his arms again. He pulls up the hem of her dress, pulls down her panties, and runs his fingers along and inside her womanhood, getting as much of her dampness all over them he can.

“Have to keep you dry so your dress doesn’t stain,” he smiles.

It doesn’t help that she probably just gets wetter.

Celia: It doesn’t help at all. She almost yanks him into the car with her so that he can finish the job. She makes a noise, clearly discontent when he pulls away, her lips pulled back from her teeth to growl at him.

“Tease.”

GM: “Turnabout is fair play,” he smirks, though his eyes turn concerned after a moment. “I can grab you a towel from inside, though. You don’t want to have even a hair out of place around the harpies.”

“Maybe some new underwear too, if yours got wet. They might be able to smell it.”

Celia: Celia pats the purse, then makes a vague gesture to her glove compartment as well.

“I have wipes,” she tells him, “and I’ll simply remove my panties. Now you have to think about that while they drone on tonight.”

GM: “Oh, are you sure? You don’t want me rifling through your underwear drawer and picking out a sexy pair?”

Celia: “Oh, no, I’ll let you dress me for tomorrow, so that when I go to this tedious dinner function you’ll know I’m thinking about you.”

GM: “That does sound incredibly tedious without me there. But okay, if you’re not wearing panties tonight…”

Celia doesn’t see the lightning-fast Brujah do it, but she feels her suddenly close-together legs shoot up into the air. The she sees the panties dangling from his hand. He rubs his wet fingers against them to towel off.

“I think I’ll keep these inside my jacket as a good luck charm.”

Celia: “Then you’re going to smell like sex,” Celia points out, but she’s too busy giggling at the sight to put any heat into her words.

GM: He smiles back, ruefully. “You’re right. I suppose I’ll just have to keep them in my car, until I can get them framed or mounted to a plaque in my new haven.”

“Or maybe I should donate them to an art museum as a priceless piece of cultural heritage.”

Celia: “You could auction them off online. I think my panties might sell for a pretty penny, especially worn.”

GM: “But there’d be no one with enough money to buy them. It’d be like with the Cullinan, where all they could do was give it to the British monarchy.”

Celia: “I guess they’re yours forever then.” She tilts her head, considering. “I kind of like the idea of you carrying around a little piece of me.”

GM: “I like it a lot too.” He leans in to kiss her.

“All right. I love you. Make sure you get everything with the wipes.”

Celia: “I will. I love you too. I’ll see you soon. Or rather, I’ll studiously avoid looking at you soon and sneer at the mention of your name.”

GM: “You and me both,” he says with another rueful look. He closes the car door, waves, and heads off to his own car.

It feels like it’s going to be a very long Elysium.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the CBD next to Lee Circle, the traffic circle dedicated to the eponymous Confederate general. It’s a five or so minute drive.

The tall and looming building almost resembles a prison, with an impassive male face staring through a partial cage of iron bars. It’s a popular Elysium locale, and Celia has even been there a few times when she was alive with her parents. The Ogden’s collection, she knows, consists of work by artists from or associated with fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. Since its foundation by Roger H. Ogden, the museum’s collection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, wood and crafts has grown to include more than 4,000 works donated from individuals and collectors from across the US, and constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

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Celia: It’s a five-minute drive that turns into ten. Roderick’s words linger in her mind: make sure you get it all. She doesn’t need the harpies tittering over the state of her on top of whatever other perceived slight they’ll find to mock this evening. Even those inside the circle are torn viciously apart by their barbed tongues. So she uses a wipe between her legs before she even puts the car in gear, another at a red light—and wouldn’t that be a sight if someone happened to be around this hour of night, a woman with her dress hiked up around her waist and a hand between her legs—and a final time before she gets out. She smooths her dress back down prior to opening the car door. No need to flash anyone, at least not for free.

Legs lengthened by the heel on her shoes, Jade unfolds from the vehicle and glides towards the entrance of the museum.

GM: It’s too bad Randy isn’t here to drive her. She could get everything. While he watched.

Celia: She gets everything anyway, it just takes an extra minute.

GM: Maybe he’d make do with sniffing and licking the wipes while he rubbed one out, after she left.

Celia: That boy needs to get laid.

GM: She’s also late. There’s no way around it. Jade doesn’t see any other vampires entering the building, though maybe that’s just them being discrete.

There’s one Kindred, though, who’s seemingly waiting outside. Becky Lynne Adler stands near the museum’s front entrance, conversing with a ghoul while she taps into a phone. Embraced in the flower of late adolescence, she has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. Jade knows her to smile easily and often, which together with her slight build and short height (she barely breaks 5’0"), give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler. She wears a strapless white evening gown cinched at the waist with a pink bow and matching heels. Two diamonds glint from her ears, while a silver heart-shaped locket rests on a chain around her neck.

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“Oh, hello, Miss Kalani,” the Ventrue smiles as Jade approaches. “I had a hunch you’d be here… what do you say we go in together, so there’s less stir with the harpies?”

Celia: Jade’s smile stretches across her face as the sight of the stiff waiting for her. Her eyes sweep the blonde’s form, taking in the dress—white? that’s brave—with the cutesy bow and heels, the jewelry at her ears and throat. Tasteful, as always. Effortless, or at least that’s what the Ventrue would have them believe. Just as she’d have Jade believe that she happened to be caught up outside. Had a hunch? Indeed.

She halts just before Becky Lynne, for once a giant among her peers. In height, at least. Heels may be the great equalizer, but someone as short as this one would need to don the platform pumps of Veronica to put her on even footing. Still, it would be a silly lick indeed who let her small stature fool them into thinking she’s harmless.

“Good evening, Lady Speaker.” Were they not on the grounds of Elysium they would both let their masks slip enough to refer to each other more familiarly as they often do but here, at least, they play their roles. “I am always happy to share your presence. Doubly so when it allows us to duck their ire.” Jade flashes her a conspiratorial grin.

“Shall we?”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “My mama always liked to say—trouble’s gonna come after you at some point, so no sense in goin’ after it yourself. Same with harpies and their ire!”

She turns to her ghoul. “Peggy, can you be a dear and wait outside with the car, usual time?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the ghoul nods. She’s also short blonde, and comely enough, but pudgier of face and more plainly dressed than her mistress. Everything about her looks like a plainer version of her mistress. She inclines her head and moves off.

“Good thing we’re showing up without any ghouls, too,” Becky Lynne smiles again. “My brother was telling me about a Kindred who showed up to Elysium with half a dozen ghouls, once, and the harpies just never let it die down. Which makes sense enough—we all have them, so no sense in showin’ off that we do. Less there is more, I think.” She gives a light laugh. “Unless we’re able to make them into ensembles as stylish as Regent Harlequin’s, of course.”

She reminds Celia of her mom, in some ways.

Blonde cutsey Southerners eager to make nice.

Celia: Is she, though? Eager to make nice for niceties sake? Hardly. Even Diana has a purpose for being as sweet as she is, and she doubts that Becky Lynne’s motives are as altruistic as she would have people believe. A Southern woman grows up learning how to put poison into her smile.

Jade has never brought her ghouls to Elysium. It isn’t their place.

“Less is more with many things,” Jade readily agrees. “Easier to add something than to take it away once it’s in the pot, as they say.”

Still, the sweet-as-pie Becky Lynne is preferable to the caustic tongues of some others she could name. So long as she’s aware of what the girl is she’s hardly a knife in the dark. Jade even likes her for all that because she gets it. She does the same thing. So it’s not as if she needs to feign interest in the blonde or force a smile, and her company is hardly a chore. She appreciates the cover with the harpies; solidarity in numbers and all that.

Even if her brother is slumming it and her sire is the most hated lick in the city.

“I suppose it wouldn’t be in line with my clan to confess that I couldn’t think of a more aesthetically pleasing exhibit for ghouls than Regent Harlequin has. I hope you won’t tattle for my lack of artistic bodily expression.” The wink is implied. “Think we should make the rounds and pretend we were here the whole time or throw ourselves into the thick of it?”

GM: Alana had always wanted to go. On her hands and knees, wearing a collar and leash, for everyone to see how Jade owns her.

“Oh, I think bodily expression is exactly what the artist behind Flawless is known for,” Becky Lynne smiles back, then taps two thoughtful fingers against her chin.

“Hmm. Makin’ the rounds makes it easier to slip under the radar. A harpy who notices might think we’re trying to fool them, though, and nobody likes that.”

“Goin’ right into the thick of it is bold. That might mean something, but it’s also a lot more scrutiny, and it’s always easier to get bad attention than good.”

“What do you think we oughta do, Miss Kalani?”

She seems to think some more. “Hm, or actually… maybe the best trick is to distract them with something else. Something more worth talking about than the fact of our arrival.”

“I wonder what we could do there?”

Celia: Jade had been about to suggest that they cozy up to the most important lick in the room and simply pretend that their presence was so much more important than that of the tongue-wagging harpies. Someone like sheriff. Not that her eyes seek him out. Oh no, not even a little bit. Not even a glance.

Well, maybe a glance. Once around the space to see if he’s there.

Other targets, though. Any of the elders, really, what harpy could complain about that? McGinn or Marcel, Becky Lynne is friendly enough with both of them, isn’t she? And it would cut through trying to deal with Josua if the blonde could get her an audience.

But dangling something shiny in front of those wagging tongues is certainly just as appealing—more believable and spreads what needs spread.

“Well…” Jade trails off thoughtfully, as if she doesn’t know exactly what the girl is thinking, “I suppose we’d have to share something scandalous.” She waits a beat.

GM: The Ventrue draws in a little (and needless) breath, the tips of her fingers fluttering over her mouth as her eyes scan their surroundings. But there’s some amusement dancing in them, too.

“Oh? Did you have somethin’ in mind for us to share, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: About your brother’s affair? Maybe the prince’s unknown childe? Or his diet of neonates?

Not the sort of thing she’d like to speak aloud in a place like this. Especially to a stiff. Something less volatile, then.

GM: Smith spoke ideas like those aloud.

Vidal could only execute him once.

Celia: And Smith was a somebody. Relatively, Jade is a nobody. She can’t imagine that the prince would be any more lenient towards her. Would he execute her publicly, she wonders, or have her abducted in the middle of the night? Maybe she’d go the way of the rest of the Storyvilles and serve as his midnight snack.

She wonders if her sire would be stirred to action should his liege order her execution. Maybe he’d be sent to deal with her. He’d berate her for the clumsy handling of the information he wanted her to spread. Would he use the sword? That new gift she gave him? Simply rip her heart out of her chest, poetic justice at its finest? After all, it has always belonged to him.

The amount of times that she has pictured her death at his hands makes her stomach clench.

No, none of those will do. And the others… she can think of too many ways that the information would be more useful in the hands of someone wiser. If only Savoy had sought fit to see her prior to this evening to offer guidance; what a field day she’d have with it now.

Jade tucks a curl behind her ear and bites her lip. Finally, she lets out a breath as unnecessary as the Ventrue’s earlier gasp.

“Well,” she says slowly, “it’s about a neonate, and it’s a little gauche…”

Exactly the sort of thing they’d like to sink their teeth into.

GM: It does make her stomach clench.

But perhaps the danger is part of the appeal. She can’t picture Roderick ever doing something like that.

Except when he loses it and really manhandles her.

“Well now, it’s all in how one presents it, isn’t it?” Becky Lynne smiles.

Celia: The difference between Roderick and her sire is the systemic destruction versus mindless chaos. Roderick losing control is bedlam, a whirlwind of rage, literal frenzy. An inferno. He obliterates everything around him. With Roderick she can only attempt to throw herself from his warpath and hope he passes her harmlessly by, then console him when it is over.

Her sire is a different beast altogether. Beautiful. Meticulous. Frozen. Utterly lethal annihilation. He does not smash; he shatters. He lays ruin with exact precision, destroying only what he wishes to see ruined. A scalpel to Roderick’s hammer. The difference between fire and ice.

His is a controlled burn.

And it terrifies her, how close she seeks to put herself to that cold fire. That she would let it—him—consume her. Have it. Have it all. Keep it, if only he’ll keep her too.

The thought is disquieting. She does not let it linger. Her eyes seek those of her would-be conspirator.

“Then I suppose, Lady Speaker,” she says at last, “that we must dazzle them.”

Celia: She leans in, lowering her voice.

“Perhaps you can assist me with neatly packaging this: I found one of the Storyvilles on a cam site.”

GM: “Oh my goodness,” Becky Lynne murmurs, holding a hand to her mouth.

Celia: Gauche, as she said.

GM: “She might be very, very grateful if that were to remain between us three.”

Celia: Jade acknowledges the point with a dip of her head.

“She might be.”

If only she weren’t dead.

GM: Talking further, Beck Lynne (perhaps unsurprisingly) seems to think that she and Jade stand more to gain by helping Storyvilles save face than spreading rumors about them. She won’t stop Jade if she wants to do that, though—including to her as an apparent explanation for the Toreador’s tardiness.

Celia: Jade supposes that Becky Lynne is right. Or at least she supposes that she doesn’t care enough about the Storyvilles to save or ruin their reputation, and every moment she spends out here debating the merits of spreading a rumor versus not is another moment she could be doing… literally anything else. She’s unsurprised to learn Becky Lynne’s stance on the subject; apparently she only hangs around the harpies so she can listen to rumors and refrains from spreading any herself, angel that she is.

Deft maneuver, she can’t help but note. She gives in graciously—there are other stories she’d prefer to spread about the coterie anyway—and offers to let Becky Lynne lead the way.

GM: The two make their way inside. A crowd of Kindred is gathered around what looks like a central exhibit.

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It sounds as if Celia and Becky Lynne have missed the opening prayer and whatever opening words Gus Elgin had to greet the attendees with. A glassy-eyed mortal man in fine eveningwear next to Gus Elgin sleepily recites,

“…the act of wrapping objects and binding things together is as ancient as mankind itself. Weaving is at least 12,000 years old (recent discoveries suggest possibly 27,000), and the world’s oldest sewing needle (made of bird bone possibly by Denisovans) dates back to approximately 50,000 years ago. While it is an ancient and very human act, perhaps the inspiration arose from observing nature. Spiders bind filaments together to form a web, and wrap their prey in silk. Vines wrap and cling for support and movement. Birds build nests and bagworms build homes through binding objects together. Each and every one of us begins life bound within the womb, one life entwined with another. Perhaps that is part of the primal urge to wrap objects: to protect them, hide them, contain them. Wrapping can be a preservative endeavor, like the mummy’s quest for immortality. It can be a violent act, like the coil of the snake or the chains of human bondage. It can be an act of solidarity and devotion, as with the hand-fasting rituals of marriage. Every wrapped package or bound bundle contains a secret—a hidden thing, the unknown—and activates the very human emotions of curiosity or fear.”

Music soothes the savage beast. Calm and reflective words seem to to have a similar enough effect upon the assembled predators, each one’s pale and motionless face concealing so very savage beast. One misspoken word, one shed drop of blood, and perhaps this hapless kine would lie screaming for his life as the city’s Kindred fell upon him like a pack of wolves, staining the hardwood floor red with his blood. For now, listen attentively, like civilized people who go to art museums do. But in each and every one of their breasts lurks a monster that couldn’t give two shits about the subtleties of object-wrapping next to the hot taste of blood.

“From Native American sacred medicine bundles to the Jewish laying of tefillin, wrapping and binding have been used as a symbolic device by humans throughout history. Both the ritual act and the act of creating art are ways of putting concrete reality to abstract ideas. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of various cultures—Haitian Voudou, Appalachian broom-making, Calabrian silk production, Peruvian rope coiling, Congo Nkisi—the contemporary artists in this exhibition engage wrapping and binding as both symbolic aesthetic device, and often as a ritual practice within their work.”

The children of the night have come out in all their pageantry. Philip Maldonato’s tall frame, garbed in archaic-looking Muslim robes, is immediately noticeable. Antoine Savoy wears an Enlightenment-era courtier’s outfit. Vidal and the Baron are not present, likely to the surprise of few. They rarely are.

Among the primogen, Jade espies Pearl Chastain in a hennin and medieval-era gown. Little interest passes over her face. Jade may wonder if she has anything better to do. Accou, unsurprisingly, remains close to his sire’s side in more recent but still centuries-dated finery. Coco opts for more modern garb in a black turtleneck and dress slacks. Roderick looks at Jade as she arrives, but moves away his gaze after a moment.

How much is he thinking about the things he’d like to do with her, once Elysium is finally over?

Vein Steinhausser stands present and impassive in an archaic Enlightenment-era gown of her own, as if to say everything is still normal for the Tremere. Miss Opal, alone among the primogen, is not present tonight.

But he is there.

He isn’t tall and dark. He’s dark and feels tall. He’s dressed in the same utilitarian black garb that could come from any number of decades. It reveals nothing of his origins—no more than his expressionless, marble-like face reveals of his feelings. He does not spare Jade a single look.

Celia: How fitting, the topic of the evening. Bindings. It has long been on her mind, the question of why he will not take her fully. Why he will not let her have that third sip from his wrist. She has her own private theories why he denies it, none of which give her comfort. She’s often wondered how angry it would make him if she were to take that step with someone else. What he’d do to her. To them. Or if he’d care at all.

Looking at him now, in his dark garb of no note with his eyes resolutely turned away, she doesn’t think that he would. A flicker of emotion passes through her, something like yearning. For him, even now, fresh from a tumble with someone else, late because she had fallen into the arms of another lover. What would it be like to be able to stand beside him in a place like this? What would it be like to be known as his childe, not the childe of the vicious slut? How might her Requiem have changed?

Not at all, she thinks. It isn’t as if he and Doriocourt canoodle in a corner. And she knows why he has done it. Why he ignores her. Why he sent her off with Savoy. She knows, or thinks she knows, and if it is a lie she tells herself then it is a beautiful lie and she clings to it with every bit of delusional strength she has. It is her light in the darkness, her secret fantasy, and she will not let it be snuffed out.

Jade does not let her gaze linger on the dark one. She sweeps it past Roderick, no flicker of emotion giving away the squirming of her insides. Not here. Here she beats it down. Roderick is nothing to Jade, no matter how Celia may want him.

Perhaps she should take some sort of public lover, someone to hide their dalliance from the rest of their kind. The art thief, maybe; she’s been seen arm and arm with him before, and it isn’t as if he expects monogamy. He might even find the whole thing amusing. Or Gui. Now that she’s had him she wants him again. Years of flirtation finally paid off, and what a delicious paring it was. And it would make sense, wouldn’t it, two young bloods from Savoy’s faction shacking up. More sense than the decades-older thief, anyway.

She can’t imagine it would go over well with Roderick. He, at least, is hot-blooded enough to get a rise out of. In a hundred years she wonders if that will still be the case, if he will still be the same man that she met in college. Do they change at all once they die, or is he stuck at 22 like she is stuck at 19? She’d like to think she has changed. Can change again, be the girl he wants her to be. But isn’t that the girl he knew back then, the sweet one who would do anything for her family, who died to save her mother, who made a devil’s bargain for the desperate chance to finally do something for once rather than continue to sit idly by?

Isn’t that still her? If she ignores the rot that has taken hold of her, the Beast inside her chest that eats away at her humanity bit by bit, she thinks it might be. Only he doesn’t know what she’d done the night she died, the way she had given in to the darkness, let it consume her. Only when her psyche had begun to shatter did she pull back.

She died broken. Perhaps that is who she will always be. Perhaps the girl he thinks he loves is what died that night, stripped away with the rest of her innocence.

Jade pulls her thoughts from that downward spiral. Pulls her gaze from the assembled primogen and sheriff—her thoughts flicker his way once more, wondering if he is wearing the gift beneath his clothing (and what else he’s hiding beneath that dark garb, and if he’ll ever—), but she does not let either linger overly long. She moves it across the room once more before finally settling on Savoy. She has so much to tell him. Already she’s looking forward to tomorrow when she can present him with everything, where he will tell her how smart and capable she is, pat his lap for her, let her curl up, whisper in her ear. She’ll convince him to get rid of Preston for an hour. Maybe they’ll soak in the hot tub once they’re done tearing each other apart, and he’ll tell her… tell her that he’s proud of her? No, she doesn’t think that’s what she wants to hear from him. That he’s pleased with her, maybe. Yes. Pleasure. That’s what she wants from him.

Perhaps she’ll take Mel up on her offer to come naked to a meeting and see how that plays out.

Two minutes in and she’s already lost sight of what she came here for. She looks for her pretend sire, or Marcel’s most recent fuck toy.

GM: She espies Veronica among the other harpies. The Toreador wears gold sandal heels and a black and brown dress that Jade doesn’t have to be an esthetician to identify as being made from human hair.

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Perhaps, she may wonder as she looks upon her purported sire’s so-often sneering face, that’ll be her in a hundred years.

Perhaps a hundred years ago, Veronica was Celia Flores. A well-meaning girl in over her head and driven to darkness.

Celia: Veronica was never a girl like Celia.

GM: Maybe that’s what the neonates will say about Jade in a hundred years.

She was never a girl like them.

Celia: Then again, she’d just wondered why Veronica would wear a dress of human hair when it could be human skin, and she’s been dead less than a decade.

Perhaps she really will gift her “sire” something from her new line.

GM: Veronica’s bitch isn’t there. “Micheal,” if one were to be kind and use his name. Shep also seems to have skipped Elysium, but Pietro’s there next to her, along with the other harpies. Adelais and Sundown and Marguerite and Katherine and Harequin, and the rest of the in crowd, plus the hangers-on (like her) hoping to someday join their ranks. There are worse Kindred to be childe to than a harpy, than a primogen’s childe and a leader among her covenant, whatever her reputation.

Jade could have gotten saddled with someone like Isabel’s sire, and been a mere handful of steps away from Dani’s fate.

Or she could have been turned by whoever cursed Roderick’s sister with their feeble brand of dime store damnation.

Celia: There’s a thought. Celia the thin-blood. She doubts she’d even have to make a new name for herself if she were to have gone that route. Who cares about another half-breed mongrel, anyway? She’d have been slaughtered with the rest of her kind. Turn in by her boyfriend’s sire. Would he have protected her, she wonders, or just stood idly by while the murder brigade did their ghastly deed?

She couldn’t help but notice Opal’s absence this evening. Planning another massacre?

Jade is glad she doesn’t need to worry about such things, at least. And Pietro is a welcome sight at her sire’s side, in any case. These events are always brightened by his droll humor.

Her eyes and thoughts flit back to the speaker and the exhibit.

GM: “…each artist in this exhibition approaches the simple acts of wrapping and binding from a unique perspective. Some are involved in the haptic absorption of repetitive handwork—a sort of ritual meditation on texture and rhythm. Others are exploring the symbolic power of the physical act—weaving narratives through form, image and materials. This exhibition contains a feast of texture and a vast range of materials—clay, fabric, rope, egg tempera, driftwood, loofah, antler, bone, wire, coffee, ashes, teeth, yarn, wool, chalk and a plethora of found objects. Through wrapping, painting, weaving, coiling, drawing, or knotting, each artist binds their own unique and thoroughly contemporary vision to an ancient, universal and very human practice.”

Celia: If only the ancients among them would allow for the introduction of more contemporary visions.

GM: There’s a few final words before the assembled predators start to disperse into their own cliques and stroll down the museum’s empty halls. Perhaps this man has some inkling of how much safer he now is. Sundown starts off the conversation with a joke about spiders in the centers of their webs. Binding and weaving is an all-too familiar practice to the Kindred. Katherine Beaumont concurs and draws comparisons to the chains of blood that bind them to their clans and kin. The ties binding mortals to their lives and duties are weaker, Gus Elgin states: “Just as one must tie an object more securely to withstand a hurricane than a summer breeze, the ties that bind us to eternity must by necessity be stronger than the ties binding kine to mortality.”

Some of the present Kindred seem to be following along and considering the conversation. At least as many others are exploring the museum exhibits on their own, or in discussions with their other cliques.

But there are still plenty of cold eyes resting upon the tardy arrivals.

Celia: Bully for them and their cold eyes. Jade would roll her own if she were anywhere but here. She doesn’t bother to move closer to them to join their discussion, turning instead to begin her own with the Ventrue at her side.

“Interesting,” she remarks to Becky Lynne, her voice quiet so as not to compete with the others, “his comments on the mummies and their bindings. It isn’t why they wrapped their kin, but I suppose he couldn’t resist the tie-in.”

“It was actually,” she continues unprompted, “because of their obsession with order, and their desire to defeat chaos. As a concept.”

GM: Those cold eyes include her purported sire’s.

And the other harpies’.

And assorted other Kindred of greater standing than the neonate’s.

Celia: Ah, right. Fuck her for trying to engage with something other than vicious gossip. Cold stares and wagging tongues really makes her glad that she bothered to show up instead of turning around to find literally anything else to do when she realized she’d be five whole minutes late.

Personally, she thinks the discussion on Ancient Egypt is fascinating, but clearly the harpies never heard that “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people” quote.

Jade can dig into the mud with the best of them. She gives Becky Lynne an apologetic smile. For a moment longer she talks about Egypt and their burial customs, chaos, the historical idea of evil, and the afterlife. She manages to tie it together and swing it back around to something that someone as vapid as the harpies can understand in the end:

“…which is why I think that Storyville started on the cam site, you know, and there’s months of content. It’s tragic. You should see some of those videos…”

GM: Becky Lynne listens attentively to Jade’s initial explanation. There’s a lot more interest on her face than Roderick’s, but Jade supposes the Ventrue hadn’t just heard her sister was a thin-blood.

“Oh my goodness,” she repeats upon hearing the salacious rumor, covering her mouth with several fingers.

“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” says Duke Elmhearst. The Sanctified neonate has a face with eyes meaner than a gator’s and a sneer that could shame a rattlesnake, all framed by a shock of dirty blond hair. Jade has heard a few of Savoy’s people make fun of Duke’s face for “looking like an internet picture that gets you idly thinking of ways to murder him, ten minutes after you meet.”

But Vidal’s people probably don’t say anything nicer about Jade.

“Sin against God to endanger the Masquerade like that. That isn’t them.”

Amused eyes among onlookers flicker between the two neonates.

Celia: Duke looks like the kind of guy that might benefit from visiting a cam site himself. All that pent up male aggression, she bets he’d get off on telling some poor slut what to do. She’s not put out by his doubt, though. She glances at him and smiles. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her. Regardless of what Vidal’s people say about her, they can’t take that away. She waves him over.

She’s happy to discuss it with a doubter.

GM: He smirks and saunters over.

Celia: Jade smiles up at Duke. She hasn’t gotten to know him well, but she’d like to. She likes the cut of his jib. Likes his arrogance. Likes his swagger, even, in an “I’d like to punch him in the face” kind of way. But she’s enjoyed plenty of people like that. She stands close to him—really close, Jade likes that physical contact—and shows him the screenshot on her phone.

It’s a pretty standard-looking still from a cam site. A girl on her knees dressed in skimpy attire, bra and panties, black lace. It’s almost beautiful against her pale skin. But instead of a dick in her mouth it’s a long dildo, cheeks bulged out around it. The screenshot includes the chat telling her to suck it, the recent donation of $5. Jade swipes right and shows him the next one, where the girl in the picture puts the dildo—purple, huge, spiraled—into herself with her legs spread wide. Her eyes are closed and her mouth open, like she’s panting heavily. The donation line reads $15 this time, and the chat is wild with people telling her what to do, to fuck herself, to show her pussy, to spread herself wide, that they want her to bend over and take it like the slut she is.

Even with her eyes closed, Roxanne’s face is unmistakable.

Jade looks up at Duke, brows raised.

GM: Duke eyes the playing video. His face briefly catches.

It really does look exactly like Roxanne.

“That’s so fake,” says the Brujah. “It doesn’t even look like her.”

Celia: Her brows threaten to disappear into her hairline.

Jade swipes right once more. It’s another screenshot of Roxanne. Only this time she’s got a dude in the photo with her. Two dudes. It’s pretty clear what’s going on: one is fucking her from behind while the other cums on her face.

GM: Titters and knowing glances start to go up from the onlookers. Perhaps they can’t all see exactly what’s happening, from this distance.

But they can make out enough. They can read the two licks’ expressions.

And there are assuredly at least several Kindred here with very, very good eyesight.

Harlequin starts to laugh.

His four ghouls are with him tonight, like they are every night. Each one dressed in nothing except chain links over their naked bodies. Their faces are hidden beneath silver masks that resemble deformed infants with varying, eerily adult expressions of lust, contempt, horror, and despair.

As one, they clutch their hands to their masked faces. As one, laughter spills from their concealed lips.

Veronica starts to laugh, too. The other three harpies do not take overlong before joining in. Elyse Benson makes a remark disdaining the “imperfections” of such a lust-driven creature. Randolph Cartwright sneers how much she looks like she’s enjoying herself. Esther Sue Parker shakes her head disapprovingly. Speculation starts to go up about Roxanne being a pervert. If she actually enjoys doing it the breather way.

The Ventrue are the only ones not to laugh. They just don’t say anything.

Duke rolls his eyes. “I don’t know any blue blood who’d take money to do something like that. Ha ha at the fake video, I guess.”

He stalks off to salve his pride.

Just like that, Jade fees welcome in polite company again.

Celia: Jade slips the phone back into her pocket. She watches Duke disappear into the crowd, wondering if there’s something she can do there to soothe his wounded pride. He could have spun it another way, she thinks, laughed along with them, nudged her in the ribs, made it look like he only asked because he wanted to show the rest of them what a little whore Roxanne is. She’d have winked at him and played along and let him save face.

Ah, well, they can’t all be winners.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles and politely excuses herself. She’s played her part.

“I want to see this up close,” declares Veronica, striding up to Jade’s side. Pietro, Abraham Garcia, Andy Philips, Will Carolla, and Laura Ravenwood all seem to want a closer look too.

Celia: Jade is happy to show the harpy who claims to be her sire. She pulls her phone back out to show Veronica and the assorted others who crowd around her, scrolling through photos as needed. She’s pleased with the turnaround.

Pleased, too, that Carolla came to her and not the other way around. She hadn’t thought to approach him directly, but when he falls so perfectly into her lap… well, she’s never been one to pass up an opportunity. She catches his eye across the little circle.

GM: All of them. All of them laugh. All of them mock.

Where did Jade ever find these?

She doesn’t find it hard to catch the Brujah’s gaze. He’s a strong-jawed and thick-framed young man with brown hair dressed in a dark suit.

“I know some people who might pay big bucks for her as a prostitute, if she’s looking for work,” he remarks with amusement.

Celia: “Mmm, the whole thing was quite by accident, really. My ghoul, you know, he’s very into movies, so apparently when he’s not busy he likes to watch them online, only the thing he was trying to watch wasn’t available on his preferred platform in our country, so he got around that with a VPN, and I guess he forgot to switch it off when he went browsing further because there she was. So he calls over to me, ‘hey don’t you know her?’ and points her out. Naturally I did a little digging, and there it was: tons of past videos. Apparently if you pay enough you can get the models on these sites—yes, really, they call them ‘models’—to do anything, so I thought about what a lark it would be to tell her to fuck a dog, and, well…”

Jade trails off, lifting her shoulders in a shrug.

“I guess when you’re desperate for money you’ll let anyone put something inside of you.”

She smiles at the Brujah. She tells him that she’d love to get together some time to talk about it.

And other things, is the unsaid implication.

GM: Laughter goes up from the clique.

“I suppose she’d be in good company,” Pietro remarks with amusement.

“More like the dog would be in bad company,” sneers Veronica.

“Maybe the dog should get paid,” says Laura.

There’s more laughter.

Carolla remarks with some amusement that he should meet with Roxanne, if they’re talking about ‘work,’ but assents to see Celia later. He’ll have one of “his people” contact hers to schedule a time.

As far as her implication goes, the Brujah looks as if he wouldn’t mind fucking her.

Like almost everyone.

Celia: Almost? What. Who is holding out?

No one she cares about, surely.

She winks at the Brujah and says she’s looking forward to it.

GM: Well, probably Emily and Celia’s mother.

Celia: She hopes so.

Emil too, she bets.

He taught her about VPNs, so he’s on her mind.

GM: If Em were here, he’d probably say the only thing Emil wants to stick his cock inside is a computer port.

Celia: Too true.

She pushes the hacker from her mind, though. He has no bearing on this event. No bearing on the Brujah in front of her who is, decidedly, easy on the eyes. Maybe not the one she wants warming her bed, but she wouldn’t mind ‘getting to know him,’ or whatever the kids are saying these days. She lets her gaze sweep his form one last time, knows he’s doing the same to her. He’s not the only one, either.

Jade smirks up at Veronica, waiting until the harpy and her clique has had their fill to put her phone away.

GM: The others have their laughs and start to drift off into the museum.

“Clementine said you’d called about some filthy little idea running through your filthy little mind,” Veronica remarks.

Celia: “Mhm.” Jade nods once they’re relatively alone, watching the last of them disappear down the halls. Never truly alone, not in a place like this. Ears everywhere, she knows. She turns to regard Veronica with a sly smile.

“I did. I don’t know if it can top the filth that was just shared, though.” Privately, that means. Veronica is coy enough to get the message, she’s sure.

GM: She, Mélissaire, and Savoy had all instructed Jade in that much. Assume anything you say out loud in Elysium will be overheard.

“Probably not, unless you wanted to suck a cock right here.”

Celia: Oh, no, that’s for later.

She’d need a bucket of them, anyway, to outdo her sister.

She says something witty. Something clever. Something that lets her “sire” know, in no uncertain terms, how unlikely that is. It’s not as if she’s ever admitted her perversions to the harpy or engaged in that sort of sexual deviance in front of her. She’s not entirely sure why anyone would think she’d have done so, really. Hadn’t Roderick made that comment a few times, something about Veronica belittling her for it? As if she’d tell. It’s like everything else to do with the blood: she’s perfectly capable of controlling herself.

She doesn’t point out to Veronica that perhaps it’s her reputation that makes the city come down so hard on Jade when the only person Jade has ever admitted it to and engaged in it with is the same boy whose mind she plans on blowing later tonight. If Veronica weren’t such a voracious slut maybe they wouldn’t feel the need to up the ante with her childe.

But fuck her, right?

Regardless, if Veronica doesn’t want to bite then Jade is happy to end their conversation and seek out someone else with whom to spend her evening.

Maybe she’ll find a few cocks to suck while she’s at it. Since apparently that’s all she does.

GM: The harpy seems amenable enough, her caustic words notwithstanding. Both to conversing now and meeting in private later. She does seems amused, though, by her alleged progeny’s soreness.

Celia: The soreness that she didn’t let slip at all because she’s better bred than that, but sure. Veronica’s amused by everything, why not this too.

There’s a smile somewhere in her toolbelt. She reaches for it now. Lets it stretch across her face, lift her eyes, wipe whatever imagined emotions people think they see from her face.

She makes plans to meet with Veronica at a later time.

GM: Jade’s sire takes her leave. Meanwhile, the rest of the exhibition awaits.



GM: She spends a little time observing the exhibits before Laura Ravenwood circles back to her. The other vampire is a slender, pale-skinned woman in seemingly her early 20s with wavy auburn hair. She wears a shape-hugging black silk dress with heels and lipstick that are the same deep red hue as her nail polish.

It’s a comely enough package for the creoles to overlook the Caitiff’s clanless heritage. Enough, at least, to let her into Elysium.

“I heard you talking earlier about why the Egyptians wrapped their mummies, Miss Kalani. You’d said it was to defeat chaos?”

Celia: If Jade is bothered by the Caitiff’s origins it doesn’t show on her face. She offers the same smile she’d give to anyone with a real bloodline.

“Indeed, Miss Ravenwood. The concept of chaos, rather. Their whole society was based around the flooding of the Nile, you see. Every year it would flood at the same time and deliver the sediment and nutrients at the bottom of the river to fertilize their soil. If it were ever to flood too early, too late, or not at all, their whole society would be in shambles. They were obsessed with order. Maintaining things exactly as they are. We see this in their graves and their attitudes towards the afterlife. They thought that by preserving and wrapping their dead it would allow them some measure of control over the decay, which they viewed as another form of chaos.”

“They also,” she adds, “used to use green wrappings, which was symbolic of life to them.”

GM: “Oh, that makes perfect sense,” she nods at the explanation. “I didn’t know they used green wrappings. We think of mummies as having sand-colored ones.”

Celia: “It might have changed over time,” Jade admits, “but when they began the process it was green. Their maps were different back then. You know how kine say ‘up north’ even though north isn’t really up? Back then ‘up’ meant topological.” Which, she realizes, is off topic, and only on her mind because of the mention of maps. She reins it in before she hits lecture mode.

“But they used blue to color the Nile, and green for the fertile area around it, and brown for the area beyond that where there was no life. Green was life. So they used it to fight against death, which they viewed as chaotic.”

“If I’m not mistaken, theirs was among the first cultures to turn death into a business.”

“In that they sold things to help you get into the afterlife or serve you once you were there, I mean. And the things they sold, the things archaeologists found in their graves, suggests that their idea of order persists into the afterlife with them.”

“It was just another way for them to impose order on chaos. Another ritual to keep it at bay.” Much the same as their kind dress up and play this polite charade of art critics to stave off the snarling Beasts inside them all.

GM: “I once read a comic about a high priest who unwrapped a mummy, threw it out of the tomb, wrapped himself up in its bandages, and then killed himself, all so he’d be able to enjoy the same afterlife as his pharaoh.” The Caitiff smiles with amusement. “I doubt something like that actually happened, but when you say they turned the afterlife into a business… it’s only natural some people would want to steal the merchandise.”

“They thought you could take it with them, didn’t they, which was why they buried the pharaohs with so many treasures?”

“Well, entombed them.”

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch in amusement at the mention of the comic.

“It could have happened,” she allows with a grin. “Like stealing someone’s car to make off with whatever they’ve got inside. But yes, even tombs of normal people had things inside of them. Cosmetics, combs, tools, food… things that wouldn’t really help in the afterlife. It’s part of what made the archaeologists and anthropologists believe that their afterlife is exactly like the real world, but better. A step up. Everything tastes, smells, feels better. They thought they would need to take these things with them. They even had these little statues they would buy to serve them in the afterlife, so that they didn’t need to do work.”

GM: “I thought the Egyptians believed in reincarnation, too, after their hearts were judged and they didn’t get eaten? Was all of that essentially just temporary?”

Celia: “Sort of. Their whole view of what it took to get into the afterlife is pretty fascinating and there are a bunch of steps. First, you die. You lose all of your senses. Then there’s a ritual performed on you by Anubis, the opening of the mouth. You’re essentially ‘reborn’ and you regain all of your senses, which I believe is what you’re referring to. Their idea was that you are more ‘alive’ than you were back then. You can see more, hear more.” Sort of like their Kindred senses, she realizes.

“Then you go through 22 gates. Each of the gates is guarded by a god, and you’re asked by the god to give a negative confession. ‘I did not do this thing.’ Scholars aren’t sure if this meant that you needed to stick to a moral code or if you were fine as long as you confessed and repented, but this is one of the first examples of an afterlife we’ve seen where personal choice seems to matter. Between the gates were what is essentially chaos. Scorpions that multiply if you attack them. Beetles that are twenty feet tall. Things that are changed from the natural order. In order to get past these things the people would need spells from the book of the dead, which was just another way for them to make money through all the customization that they could do, to put things back to their natural order. Then the weighing of the hearts. Those who were balanced would move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: The more vivid senses bit does sound a lot like Kindred existence.

It seems like an open question, though, what’d happen to her if her heart got weighed.

Laura, though, listens to the impromptu mythology lecture with interest. So do a few other Kindred within nearby earshot.

“I knew the part about evil hearts getting devoured by a monster,” she says. “But good hearts, too? What happened to those?”

Celia: “Well, that’s when we kind of get into the idea of good versus evil. Their idea of evil wasn’t bad acts, it was chaos. So if your heart was balanced, it was ordered, which is good. You got to move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: “Oh, that makes sense. What would a person do that was chaotic versus how we’d define evil now, simply not follow cultural norms and keep faith in the gods?”

Celia: “Very similar to what we’d consider evil today, to be honest,” Jade admits. “Their scrolls—the book of the dead—they had these list of negative confessions that they would have to offer to the gods before the gates. If they wronged someone, false feelings, slept around, committed fraud. The basics.” She smiles. “They also apparently had a very dim view on liminal states.”

“That being said, their moral transgressions were not inalienable. Scholars have found tons of graves with these little sculptures, Heart Scarab Beetles, that had phrases carved into the bottom. The gist of it was, ‘heart don’t sell me out when you’re on the scale.’ And the confessions before the gods, the chaos that they fought between the gates, that all helped re-order their hearts.”

“Both of those things were purchases people could make. Their rituals of death became very economics-based.”

GM: “That sounds similar to papal indulgences,” remarks Abraham Garcia, a slender Hispanic man with deep brown eyes, thick black hair, and a large nose.

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“Actually, it sounds exactly the same. There’s always plenty forgiveness to spare, so long as it makes somebody a buck.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward Garcia. The topic is something a little too hot-button for her to take up in Elysium, of all places—her own opinions smear the church and religion itself pretty hard for all that she’s a member of the Sanctified—but she gives him the benefit, at least, of agreeing.

“It’s a profitable business. Just look at what the kine have done with it. Funeral homes make tons of money for all that they’re selling a box to bury someone in. Even urns get costly.”

GM: “Well, at least those look pretty. People will always spend money on pretty, even if it’s pretty they won’t get to see. But with those scarabs the makers could sell people absolutely nothing at all.”

Celia: “They sold them the idea of eternity.”

“Which, in and of itself, is beautiful.”

GM: “I’m sure it seemed even more beautiful if you were in the scarab business. Who wouldn’t want to sell ideas, rather than material things?”

“The scarabs were material things,” says Laura.

“But only as a means to an idea. I’m sure they made them as cheap as they could.”

Celia: “Of course they did. That’s how a business operates. Is selling an idea any less viable than selling an experience?”

“They’re not tangible things that you can hold onto, experiences, but you can treasure them all the same.”

“So it goes with ideas. If I said to you that I could sell you something for a trivial amount that would assure you a happy unlife, would you not be tempted?”

GM: “There’s no one who wouldn’t be, unless the happiness was predicated on false premises. But I’d probably give you at least 50/50 odds of still getting customers then. People don’t care about truth next to feeling happy.”

Celia: “We do so love our beautiful lies. There are entire industries that have developed due to that intrinsic desire to feel happiness.” Jade offers him a smile. “But I would also concede that those 50/50 odds depend entirely on the speaker.”

GM: “I think it depends on your point of view,” says Laura. “Baudelaire said imagination is the queen of truth. Doesn’t that just seem so exciting, if you think about those words, for the possibilities they open up? Everyone can be a queen. Everyone can enrich the world through their truth.”

“But are you defining truth as an objective measure of reality, or simply what makes you feel satisfied?” asks Roderick Durant. He glances briefly at Jade. “Those are two different things. Everyone likes to throw around ‘truth’ as a rhetorical construct, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what the definition actually is. It’s the measure of reality, nothing more or less.”

“Well, that’s an unpopular view these days,” drawls Garcia. “People like the good Caitiff here are a lot more common. What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good. And they feel even better about feeling good if they can find ways to philosophically justify it. To turn their feelings into validation that they’re right about the world. People love feeling right as much as they love feeling good.”

Laura seems to bristle a little, but doesn’t say anything.

Celia: If Jade is bothered by Durant’s sudden appearance it doesn’t show on her face. Her expression stays perfectly neutral at the interjection.

“I might have to say that I disagree with you, Mr. Durant. Truth can be entirely subjective. There are such things as symbolic truths. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote about the truth of family dynamics, war, and romance with Romeo and Juliet. Were they two real people? Is their story objectively true? No. But symbolically? That is truth.”

“And isn’t feeling good, feeling happy, someone’s truth?”

Religion is a symbolic truth. The Bible. Neither of which she will bring up here. Perhaps later they can have their own debate on things that would label her blasphemous.

“Such things would hardly hold up in court, I imagine,” she acknowledges with a smile.

Mr. Durant, though. She can’t think of the last time she called him that. It brings all sorts of things to mind that she shouldn’t dwell on: a wooden ruler, knee-high socks, the plaid skirt in her closet.

One of these nights, she thinks, she’ll learn that mind-to-mind communication trick so she can plague him with these images at times like this when she has to stand across from him and pretend they barely know each other.

GM: Perhaps he’d have his share to plague her back with.

Though maybe she’d win that round. Is her mind dirtier than his?

“Truth is the state of being in accordance with reality,” states Roderick. “Since ‘reality’ encompasses so many things, it’s important to exercise specificity in language. As a historical record, Romeo and Juliet isn’t in accordance with reality. As you say, the characters weren’t real people and the events described never happened. But it does accurately portray the culture and social environment its characters lived in, so by that metric Romeo and Juliet is true. It also contains moral lessons and insights into human nature, though the truth of those is more debatable.”

“But again, when we talk about truth, we have to be specific in our language. Saying ‘happiness is in accordance with reality, which we define as truth’ means absolutely nothing when you pause to deconstruct it. Mr. Garcia is, unfortunately, right that many people would rather feel better about themselves than know more of truth.”

“Well, you can’t blame them either,” says Garcia. “Everyone likes that metaphor of ‘truth as light,’ but it’s a damn painful light. Who wants to burn their eyes when it’s nice and cool in the dark?”

“If you’re blind either way, I’d rather be blinded by truth than lies,” says Roderick.

“Truth can be painful. But we can grow accustomed to pain, and to excessive light.”

“Ironic that all of us can see in the dark so well,” observes Laura with a faint smirk.

Garcia laughs. “It’s not ironic. God knows truth has even fewer adherents among us than among the kine.”

Celia: Jade tilts her head to one side. He’d said something similar to her once about preferring truth to beauty. Then he’d smashed her face in when she’d given it to him. He’s doing it again now with the wilful ignorance in which he regards his sire.

“I believe we’ve circled back to the preference of beautiful lies and ugly truths.”

Ah, truth to beauty, she gets it now. By attacking her he’d made his thoughts clear. He’d ruined her face and no more. The pretty thing about her.

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “that the real determining factor is how much pain an individual will weather when their truthful light would ruin a beautiful lie.”

GM: “I imagine you’d suffer any amount of pain for the truth, isn’t that right, Mr. Durant?” asks Garcia. He isn’t quite leering, but there os a look approximating one on his face.

“That makes it sound more heroic than it is,” answers Roderick. "Lies are their own pain. "

“Only if you find out they’re lies,” observes Garcia.

“Truth always comes out.”

“Were you in the Boy Scouts?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” There’s a faint grin on Garcia’s face.

Celia: He knows something.

Jade doesn’t know what it is that he knows, but she’d like to find out. Her expression mirrors her clanmate’s, amusement tugging at her lips while she watches the exchange.

GM: “What about you, Mr. Garcia? How much pain would you suffer for truth?” asks Roderick.

“Miss Ravenwood and Miss Kalani, I think, would prefer beautiful lies. I may disagree with their values, but I can respect their consistency. I’m less certain where you fall.”

“Mm. I suppose it’d depend on the lie and how beautiful it was,” answers Garcia.

Celia: “I would ask that you not speak for me, Mr. Durant, as my preference depends entirely on the speaker and the situation.”

“Were it someone that I don’t care about or would never see again, then beauty would suffice. Were it someone I respected or felt some measure of affection for?”

“Truth, then. Always truth.”

GM: “I’d say that too,” agrees Laura. “Most of the time, I’d prefer beauty. But every time? Some lies can be too harmful, even if they’re beautiful.”

“Life is shades of grays, when it comes down to it. I don’t think any of us can say we’d always prefer truth or always prefer lies without being dishonest.”

Celia: “Those of us who do are simply lying to ourselves.”

GM: “Maybe so,” Roderick grants. “But there’s appeal in that sort of purity.”

Celia: “Is it appealing? There is a saying about trees that have learned how to bend so they do not break. Can the same not be said of us? After all, the plants that learn to flourish in various climates are those that would outlast the others.”

GM: “They might. But are those trees the tallest ones, that inspire so many others with their majesty?”

Celia: Her smile flickers, the retort dying on her tongue. To delve into this topic is too akin to bad-mouthing those mighty “trees” in public, and that is something she cannot do.

“I recall learning in grade school about the different levels of the rain forest. How each of them adapted to their position in certain ways. The flora at the bottom have giant leaves to soak up what little sunshine filters through. Is that not also majestic?”

GM: “I’d say it’s efficient and successful at adapting to its environment. But majestic? That word makes me think of soaring trees.”

Celia: Jade bites back the insult to his clan. She takes a moment to consider her response, eyes sweeping toward the floor before finding his face once more. She looks up at him through long, black lashes.

“Perhaps beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Durant. Personally I find it compelling when things can thrive in otherwise hostile or derelict environments.”

As much as Jade wouldn’t mind passing her evening engaged in debate with Roderick, she has other people with whom she needs to speak. This exchange of words is doing neither of them any good: not only are they unlikely to change their minds and must bandy their words with care, but they shouldn’t be so publicly amiable. She also fully intends to spend the remainder of her evening debating the merits of various surfaces in her haven with him. Wordlessly.

She inclines her head toward Roderick and Ravenwood, thanking the latter for the conversation with an invitation to continue their discussion of mythology at a future date, and the former for his lively debate. She turns to regard Garcia.

“Will you walk with me, Lord Garcia?”

She hopes that their shared covenant will prevent him from snubbing her.

GM: The other two Kindred exchange parting pleasantries and take their leaves.

“I’ll never say no to a sexy lady’s company, Miss Kalani,” her clanmate smirks. “I wonder what those pieces are, over there.” He points. “They look like… brooms?”

“Broom heads.”

Celia: It’s not that she goes out of her way to put a little extra sway in her step. She’s always sashayed like this. Really. It has nothing to do with Roderick watching her go, arm in arm with her clanmate.

Her eyes follow Garcia’s pointing, brows lifting at the sight of… broom heads. She lifts her brows.

“Perhaps there’s more to it than meets the eye from over here. Shall we?”

Jade leads or lets him lead the way, making idle commentary on the other pieces that they pass. Her eyes roam the halls even as she speaks, searching the faces of those licks who remain. She looks for her sire. Her true sire, not the woman whose blood she claims.

She turns the conversation around as they walk, spinning it back toward Durant and Ravenwood. More idle commentary on the art around them, though it relates back to the subjects they had just been speaking of. Finally, she says,

“I wasn’t aware you and he were well acquainted.” A question colors her voice despite the lack of upward inflection at the end of her sentence.

GM: “We aren’t, personally, but I still know him fairly well.”

There’s a sardonic leer.

“He’s an idealist.”

Celia: Jade’s lips curl, an amused smirk gliding across her face.

“And what are you?”

GM: “Someone with open eyes.”

Celia: They reach the things that look like brooms. Jade tilts her head in quiet examination, finally flicking her eyes back toward Garcia.

“What do you see?”

GM: He shrugs. “I’m a photographer. Broomheads against a wall. Good shot, though if it wasn’t a good shot in a museum, the people responsible should be fired.”

“Symbolically, a look up close at domestic labor.”

“The silent worth and dignity inherent to the work.”

“A look up close at daily existence for the migrant maids in our houses.”

“I don’t think that’s what it’s actually ‘supposed’ to be about, to the artist, but what fucking ever. Stick some broomheads on a wall and you’ll get different opinions.”

Celia: She manages to contain her peal of laughter. It isn’t hard, being dead, but she touches her fingers to her lips anyway as if it might be stolen from her.

GM: He smirks. “So what do you see?”

Celia: “Disillusion.”

GM: “You should forget being a makeup artist. Be a broom artist. Stick a plaque saying ‘Disillusion’ under those and they’ll still mean a million things to people.”

“But a different million.”

Celia: She wasn’t talking about the brooms. But she smiles all the same.

“That’s the appeal of art, I believe.”

“The fact that it is subjective.”

She thinks, though, that her own art is less subjective, and perhaps his as well.

“I have seen some of your work, you know. Pictures are a thousand words and all that…” she pauses, offering him a small, private smile. “Yours, though, perhaps more.”

Unlike the elders of their clan, she does think photography is a valid format.

GM: Garcia smiles back. “That’s why I prefer photography. There’s subjectivity, but it’s over something tangible. Look at the picture of the lonely pretty girl. Is she ‘sad’ lonely, is she ‘wants to fuck’ lonely, or is she not actually lonely. How does the shot composition change which she seems like.”

Celia: “That is the trouble with those who simply pick up a camera to point and click, is it not? They give no thought to composition, framing, or lighting.”

“So we are inundated with photos, particularly now with the move to digital media, that fail to tell a story or move its viewers.”

She lifts one shoulder, a half-shrug to go with her wry smile. Perhaps she is wrong. She is, after all, one of those would-be photographers who takes pictures of her face to plaster them across the Internet.

“Have you dabbled in film at all?”

GM: “Sure. Digital didn’t exist when I started out. Everyone shot with film. Lots of photographers these days are all saying how great it is and how people should at least try shooting both to get a complete picture of photography as a practice.”

Celia: “My apologies, I meant more film in line with movies.”

GM: “Nope. Photography and movies are as different as drawing and sculpture. One uses two dimensions. The other uses three.”

“But as far as Facebook pictures, I don’t see those being less intelligent as a problem.”

“Any more than you probably see non-professionals being able to use makeup in their own homes as a problem.”

Celia: “How selfish of me if I did.”

GM: “Sexy women are always a little selfish.”

“Or a lot.”

Celia: That earns a smile.

“I hope you won’t tell on me.”

GM: “I’d rather show.”

She feels a hand idly caress her rear.

“And see.”

Celia: Expected. But thrilling, isn’t it, to know she can wrap them so quickly around her fingers. All the same, she’s too aware of how public this scene is, too aware of her lover in the next room, to let this go any further than what could be perceived as an accidental touch. She takes a tiny step closer, putting her hand on his shoulder as if to steady herself.

It tugs at her. The bond she has recently renewed with Roderick. She hardly thinks that canoodling here with Garcia is going to do any favors for her in that regard, despite how it adds to their cover. This is who Jade is: flirty, sexy, social butterfly, flitting from group to group, chatting and laughing and touching. It’s who she has been for years. It’s who they expect to see.

Not monogamy. Does he expect it from her still? They hadn’t had that talk. She thinks that he does. She blames him, really, for this show here in the corner with Garcia. If he hadn’t approached, hadn’t spoken to her, she wouldn’t have had to move off with someone else. But people watching—people are always watching—will know that the Brujah means nothing to her. Safer that way, even if it threatens to pull apart that thing in the middle of her chest.

She could whisper the words that Garcia expects to hear. Agreement. Encouragement. They would fall from her lips like the well-practiced lies that they are. After all, she’s played this game for a long time. She knows what to say to get their blood pumping, even if it’s a forced gesture from their kind.

She could, but she doesn’t.

After a brief moment Jade extricates herself from Garcia, giggling about public spaces.

GM: “Hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go,” he smirks after her.

Jade leaves and goes to find her grandsire. She finds him conversing with Coco Duquette over a piece of art depicting a chained man struggling to burst the links of his fetters. The two elders’ faces are smiles (wider in Savoy’s case), but beneath the surface meanings and artistic critiques, one can see their debate over the meaning of the man’s struugle is a battle of words over whether Vidal’s reign can hope to endure. Whether its ‘chains’ will be shattered by time and struggle. Spectators from both sides of the political divide watch the debate avidly.

“With respect, my lord, this debate accomplishes little,” Preston interjects. “We hide behind nuances and doubletalk when we should simply say what we mean: the prince has slaughtered over a dozen Kindred on the last occasion he went out in public. How many more unlives will he destroy before torpor claims him?”

Scandalized looks and furtive whispers greet the Malkavian’s open declaration.

Savoy raises his eyebrows.

The French Quarter lord offers her several conversational outs to downplay the severity of her words. Preston ignores them all, stating, “We all know it. An archon was even here for several nights. The justicars sent North to evaluate the situation. Even they believe things have gotten out of hand under Prince Vidal’s rule. If we do not resolve the situation, a justicar may do it for us.”

Louder sounds of offense go up at the Malkavian’s words.

Pierpont McGinn raises his eyebrows and smirks at his lover Adelais.

Celia: Ballsy, some part of her thinks.

Suicidal, whispers another.

Amongst the crowd, Jade watches the play between Savoy and his steward, biting her tongue to keep from interjecting her unwanted neonate opinion into… into what, she’s not sure. A ploy to make Savoy look more moderate? A sacrificial offering of the Malkavian to the powers-that-be?

She doubts that this is anything but scripted.

GM: The scent of blood in the water, though, swiftly draws sharks. Marguerite and Veronica both appear alongside Adelais. Benson and Doriocourt bring up the rear guard. It’s just as two of the harpies begin to ‘converse’ with Preston that Savoy interjects, and calmly brings up how the Malkavian has some pressing civic affairs in the French Quarter to attend to—he supposes he’ll be joining her shortly as well.

Preston mutely inclines her head and departs the Elysium.

Whispers blossom up like weeds in her wake.

Celia: Her desires with the halls of Elysium suddenly seem less pressing than the bomb that Savoy and Preston just dropped upon the city’s Kindred.

And here she is with the detonator.

She watches Preston go, listening to the buzz of whispers around her, watching the faces of the Kindred in the crowd to find those who seem more receptive than derisive of the Malkavian’s bold words. It would be easy to titter with the others and make “she’s finally showing her crazy” jokes, but Jade has another play in mind.

At last she turns to the lick who stands beside her, one Reynaldo Gui, and says to him the words that are sure to have even more people talking.

“I hope he isn’t too harsh with her. When I met with Archon North he implied the same.” Quietly, but who is she kidding? This is Elysium. Everyone hears everything in Elysium.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, quite a few Kindred are tittering and making “finally showing her crazy” jokes. Some are wittier than others. Adelais’ icy barbs and Marguerite’s droll observations both draw laughter. Elmhearst’s mean cracks draw less. Roderick rationally points out that Preston is as crazy as any other Malk. A few members of the Moon Clan seem indignant, but they’re mostly younger ones. Harlequin only titters and makes references as to Preston’s “enlightenment.” The older ones never see their crazy as a curse.

Gui raises an eyebrow. “Oh, you met the archon?”

Nearby Kindred talking amongst themselves make only the vaguest pretense of not listening in over that tidbit.

Celia: Jade doesn’t make a spectacle of nodding. The movement itself is tiny, as if she doesn’t realize that others are listening.

“I did. He asked to meet with me.” She’d positively preen if she weren’t in the middle of Elysium. As it is, she doesn’t even allow herself a satisfied smile. “We had a very illuminating discussion. We met in Faubourg Marigny, at the Carnival Club.” Sundown’s domain. Neutral territory. “Have you been there? It’s lovely.” Idle words, or a glowing recommendation.

GM: “I have. The Afterhours King knows how to throw a party.” The Ventrue smiles faintly. “You also thought the archon was there to evaluate the city’s situation for the Camarilla?”

Celia: Jade leans in, lowering her voice further.

“He mentioned that he was interested in taking action against a problem in the city.”

GM: That draws even more glances and whispers.

“He left pretty soon afterwards,” says Gui. “The Tremere seem like they have a lot on their minds these days, I suppose. Maybe there’ll be another archon.”

“Or maybe he addressed the problem already,” speculates Anthony Brodowski.

Celia: “Perhaps,” Jade says to Anthony. “Only, well… he was most eager to meet with Lord Savoy, and it was so soon before he left…”

It’s clear by her tone, though: whatever drew the Tremere archon away from the city, it wasn’t that the issue was dealt with.

GM: “So he wanted to meet with Lord Savoy. But I don’t think he met with the prince, did he?” asks Gui.

“It’s possible they did in private,” says Brodowski.

“That would be quite the snub if our prince didn’t,” says Gui.

“It’s also possible North isn’t an archon any longer. There’d be no snub then,” says Brodowski.

Celia: “I doubt the prince wanted to meet with him after how he greeted Lord Savoy.” Right in the center of Elysium, for the whole city to hear: Lord.

After all, if the prince let off a known headhunter simply because he was a clanmate and old friend and searches for any excuse to slaughter his enemies under the vaguest of pretenses, why would he care about offending an archon?

There’s a word for that. It starts with “tyrant.”

“Besides,” she continues, “he was looking for an assistant specifically within the city. I highly doubt that’s the sort of thing an ex-archon needs.”

What’s that called? Server? Servant?

Servire. That’s the one.

GM: “The prince still granted North permission to remain in the city on a provisional basis,” says Brodowski. “I don’t think he was happy over the breach in etiquette, but it was a more measured response than simply throwing him out. Or doing what the Southron Lords did and shipping pieces of him back to his justicar by railroad.”

“Mmm,” Gui agrees noncommittally. “A servire, though? That’s interesting. I wonder who he had his eye on.”

The Ventrue smiles like it’s not obvious. A few more Kindred talking among themselves try not to look equally obvious in their glances towards Jade.

Celia: She knew she liked the cowboy for a reason.

She smiles prettily for him, making the same sort of noncommittal sound at Anthony’s words.

GM: “I don’t envy them,” says Brodowski. “Tremere archons blood bond all of their servires.”

“Whoever they might serve before, they serve the Tremere clan after they swear their oath.”

Celia: Jade slides her tongue across the long fangs in her mouth, as if she doesn’t mind the thought of sinking them into the very, very handsome archon she’d took a spin on the dance floor with.

He’s reaching, anyway. The archons bond their ghouls. And the servires generally only serve for a specific instance.

But whatever makes the little boy happy, she supposes.

“I guess that prospect should make the most of their remaining time as a free agent.” Sarcasm? From Jade? Never.

Jade turns an appraising eye to Gui. She lifts a brow, head canting to one side. Her eyes flick toward the exit. “I suppose we’ll hear all about it tomorrow. But if you’re free this evening…”

Tomorrow. Lord Savoy’s Elysia. In case the licks behind any of those not-so-subtle looks directed her way want to swing by and see what passes for a fun time in the Quarter.

GM: It’s rare that Lord Savoy’s court fails to draw invitees, but perhaps tomorrow it will draw still more.

“I can always find time for a beautiful woman,” smiles Gui. He nods towards his clanmate. “Mr. Brodowski, a pleasure as always.”

“Likewise, Mr. Gui, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.” Jade inclines her head toward the Ventrue, a pleasant smile on her lips. It widens when she returns her gaze to Gui and the two of them start toward the door.

GM: She espies Roderick and Abraham Garcia engaged in a debate over an art piece as they leave. It sounds heated.

Onlookers watch with looks amusement and entertainment.

Celia: Interesting indeed.

Jade gives a gentle tug on Gui’s arm, nodding toward the bickering couple. She smirks at him, lifting her brows in amusement, and drifts that way.

GM: He looks equally amused and drifts over to watch. Roderick does not look happy at the mafioso’s presence, but doesn’t let it distract him from Garcia as the verbal arrows fly.

Things start to get personal when Roderick accuses the Toreador (in barely veiled terms) of being a sellout who’s compromised all his principles and Garcia accuses the Brujah of being a privileged elder’s pet.

Celia: She should have expected this.

Maybe she did expect this.

Because it’s not as if she doesn’t know what this is about: Garcia grabbing her ass. She’d wondered what would come of it. Had expected a private argument between the pair of them later this evening. Maybe a beating. But the way Roderick is going on… she sees the logical end result: challenging Garcia to a duel.

Over her.

Some part of her is flattered. Isn’t this every girl’s fantasy, a boy she likes challenging another boy over her? Her honor, or his honor, or someone’s honor.

In her dreams it had always been Roderick and her sire, and the winner would get to have her hand in marriage.

Her dreams are very sexist and archaic like that.

She supposes that Gui’s presence does little to calm the Brujah. She wishes he were anyone else. And that there weren’t any harpies around to watch this little tiff. But she does what she can, because she loves the poor sap arguing in front of her, and she’s not going to let him get humiliated if he loses to Garcia.

“I love their passion,” Jade murmurs to Gui. “What do you think has him all riled up? Do you think it’s a lover’s spat? Something like that I’d save for the bedroom, but… well, this is terribly amusing.”

She rakes her gaze down the Brujah’s form.

“I heard,” she continues to the Ventrue, “that he recently took out a whole cell of hunters by himself. Middle of the day and everything.”

That asshole Chris had been all but crowing about it to anyone that would listen.

Her tongue runs along the sharp points of her fangs. Maybe she’s thinking about asking him to show her what’s underneath that suit of his.

GM: She supposes her mom and dad would both approve of those dreams.

Well, her dad would probably still find something wrong with them.

Celia: That’s okay, Savoy walks her down the aisle and gives her away in those dreams.

GM: Laughter goes up from some nearby Kindred. Some eyes cut towards the present harpy, Katherine Beaumont.

“I didn’t figure them for an item,” Tina Baker remarks amusedly.

“Opposites attract,” says Frank Larsen.

“Oh, it’s true, he did,” remarks Amaryllis DeCuir, who was has not directly spoken to her pretend-sister since before the trial. “Whole cell of hunters. Jumped him in his haven and everything.”

“Did you, neonate? Tell us of this,” Katherine Beaumont requests.

“Yes, let’s hear it in Elysium if it’s already being told on the streets,” echoes Elyse Benson.

Roderick doesn’t look thrilled to be put on the spot, but goes on, “So it started when…”

Maxzille Babineaux approaches her sire and starts talking him with about other art. He takes the window to avoid a duel with the angry Brujah.

Gui smirks and heads off, clearly expecting Jade to follow if she’s already heard the story.

Elyse’s eyes briefly meet Jade’s before returning to Roderick’s.

Celia: She’d give a nod to Elyse on her way out, but the Malkavian has wanted to keep their association under the radar.

GM: She’d said the maintenance work on Lucy would be done soon.

Celia: Jade will need to pencil in a visit, then. She misses the doll something fierce.

Satisfied, Jade leaves Roderick to look like the hero while she slinks away, content with her role with… well, whatever this makes her.

GM: Perhaps a puppeteer. Someone who pulls strings from the shadows, where no one can see and no one can hurt her, because to do good is to look weak.

Perhaps that simply makes her another Kindred.


Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XX, Emmett XI
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Story Twelve, Celia XX, Emmett XI

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”
—Ron Landreneau


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

Celia: After her first meeting with Ron, Celia hadn’t let him slip out of her life. She had told him that she doesn’t need him to be her dad, and he wasn’t interested in it anyway, but she’d also told him she wasn’t some money-grubbing child claimant who’d only hit him up for a check when she’d needed it. They’d made plans to see each other on her birthday, get dinner again, and that had been that.

Only Celia had died before she’d made it to her next birthday. So it had been a little difficult to explain to him why she couldn’t meet him until really late at night, when most restaurants are closed. Rather than go out she’d asked if they could stay in and she’d bring something over. He’d accused her of not wanting to be seen with him—laughing, of course, always laughing—and Celia had made it up to him with a fancy bottle of bourbfon, steak, and the biggest damn lobster she’d been able to find. Plus a rich key lime cheesecake for dessert. She’d sworn she’d never eat again, but he’d been mollified.

Her grandsire hadn’t been, though. He hadn’t spoken to her directly about it, but Lebeaux had taken her aside to tell her that it isn’t proper behavior to speak to someone like that without permission from who they belong to, which, admittedly, Mel had covered with her, but she hadn’t known that individual people could belong to licks too. She’d been more than a little flustered when the warden was done dressing her down for her behavior, and she’d told him that of course she hadn’t meant anything by it.

After that she’d had to apologize to Lord Savoy. Formally. Explain what she wants with the movie producer. That she hadn’t mean to step on his toes or approach his subject or encroach on his territory.

Now each time she wants to see him she asks if she’s allowed, and since nothing bad has ever come of it he’s never said no. She tells him the when and the where, he either has Mel tell her it’s fine or, if she’s meeting him directly about something else, waves a lazy hand and tells her to enjoy it.

She’d never directly told him that Ron is her dad, but she thinks he might know. That or he thinks she’s sleeping with the producer, and she’s not really sure what would be worse for her. She had explained this time, at least, that she might see if he’s still game to offer her a part in a movie.

It’s in a decidedly not whoring outfit that she shows up at Ron’s place when she’s done with her mother and Emily. A little late for dinner, but still not late enough that she thinks he’ll be asleep. He seems like one of those sleep all day, party all night kind of guys.

She just hopes he isn’t with one of his ladies of the week.

Celia lifts a hand to press the buzzer at his door.

GM: It’s been Mel that does, after the first few times. Vampires don’t like to share, but they can, at least, still let their guards down.

“Yeah?” grogs the now-older man’s voice from the box. He’s past 60.

That’s what all the kine do. Get old.

Celia: “Hey, Ron.” Ron. Not dad or Mr. Landrenau, just Ron. They’d both agreed to that. “It’s Celia.”

GM: “It’s late, Celia,” he grogs. “But whatever, I guess. Come up.”

The Toreador makes her way up to his floor. She doesn’t need to knock. The door’s already open. A girl dressed in suggestive attire is giggling and trading a kiss with the man on the other side. She looks as young as Celia did during her first meeting with her biological father.

Maybe a little younger.

Celia: Not much of a surprise. Diana had been 17. She’d heard he likes them young.

Celia doesn’t apologize for disturbing him at this hour like she might usually have. She’s got some cookies that Mom foisted off on her before she could get out the door, and she nods to Ron as she sweeps past the pair to deposit them in the kitchen for him. He’ll find them later. She rejoins them after a moment.

Maybe the girl is gone.

GM: Perhaps she wonders what Mom would think of that. Giving the snickerdoodles she baked to this man.

Celia: Mom will never know.

Better than throwing them in the trash, anyway.

GM: The girl isn’t gone. She’s dragging things out as she hugs and fondles him. She shoots Celia a jealous look over the older man’s shoulder that clearly says ‘stay away.’

Celia: Celia purses her lips and flutters her lashes at the girl. She unbuttons the top of her shirt. Just one. She’s older than the girl, but she doesn’t look it.

GM: The girl glares at Celia, then makes a kissy face and gets to her knees in front of Ron. He makes half-hearted sounds of protest.

Celia: “Charming,” Celia says dryly.

To remind him that she’s there. His daughter.

GM: “Ah. Shit. Not right here.” He pulls the now-protesting girl up. “Later, all right, babycakes?”

“How much later?” the girl presses, still glaring at Celia.

Celia: “Probably past your bedtime.”

GM: The girl glares harder, as if trying to think of something to say, then just exclaims, “You look like such a slut.”

“Fuckin’ Christ. Out,” grouses Ron.

“She’s just here t-”

Celia: Celia’s lips quirk upward in amusement. She glances down at her blouse and pants. Slut indeed.

She gives the girl a little finger wave as Ron shows her the door.

GM: “Yeah, and you ain’t? She’s my kid, dumbass. Out,” Ron repeats.

The girl looks a bit thrown off by that, then just glares at Celia again and makes her way out in a huff.

Ron closes the door behind her.

“I swear they get dumber every year.”

Celia: “Should have let her think you were fucking me,” Celia says after the door closes. “She’d have doubled down to win you back.”

GM: “Whatever, I guess. Always more.”

Ron’s dressed in a different-colored bathrobe, but still a bathrobe. Seven years later, his diminished hair is whiter, his belly’s larger, and his pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. He does not look as if he’s aged gracefully.

He shuffles off to the kitchen. “Drink?”

Celia: “Might try even harder thinking she insulted your kid,” Celia says thoughtfully. She trails after him. “Whatever you’re having.” Same line, every time.

GM: He pours some glasses of what Celia knows by now is whiskey. He plops down heavily on the couch and takes a pull. The bright lights cast longer shadows over is face against the night. Celia supposes she hasn’t been giving him the same skincare regimen as her mom, and he might be 20 years older, but he has not aged as well.

“Little late,” he repeats. “So what is it?”

Celia: She’d offered, though. She still gives him products for holidays, but she doesn’t think he uses them. Shame, really. She imagines he’d be a good-looking guy if she could work her magic on him. Maybe if her grandsire decides to keep him around… feign a heart attack, say it made him more wary about his health, make a few changes… easy.

She imagines the whiskey tastes about as good as the first time. She can almost pretend that the ash is just the result of being filtered through charcoal if she were so inclined. She pretends to sip. Makes a face, as if she’d swallowed.

“You’re right. It’s late. I’m sorry for barging in on you like this. I tried to get in to see you at the office but my assistant has been a little scatter brained lately.” She flashes a rueful smile. He knows what that’s like, she’s sure. How many assistants has he hired for their brains versus their willingness to get on their knees under his desk?

GM: “Scattered brains should be easy to find when there aren’t many to scatter,” he grouses.

“But you’re right, who the fuck hires them for their brains.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass in a ‘cheers’ motion.

“I’ve been thinking about the offer you made me a while ago.” He’d told her when she gets tired of playing online to hit him up and he’d “catapult her into stardom.” His words.

GM: “And you had to come tell me that right when I was getting laid,” he grouses again.

Celia: “Mmm, well, like I said, she’s going to try even harder with you now. Maybe let you do her the back way, you know how girls play shy about that.”

“You can probably convince her to bring a friend or two. Really, I did you a favor.”

GM: “Kid, I don’t care about all those bullshit games at this point. I want more girls, I can buy more girls.”

Celia: “I’ll buy you a girl, then.”

GM: “Lunch is when you normally say these kindsa things, you know. ‘Hey I’m interested in movies.’”

Celia: “I know. I also work through lunch most days, as you know. Business is going well. You should come by sometime.” She tells him that every time, too.

There’s a brief pause. Celia glances down at her drink. She swirls the ice around.

“I had a… nightmare, I guess. That I’d wasted my life online. You told me once that the kid thing doesn’t do it for you, that the legacy you want to leave behind is the movies. Something that breaks records. That’s turned into a classic. That, fifty years from now, people point at and say, now that’s art. People like stories, you said.” She leans forward. “Let’s give them one.”

GM: “I also told you art doesn’t sell. Art makes me you think. People don’t like that. They hate that.”

“But whatever. You want to be on the screen, that’s doable. Another pretty face is an easy fit into Vieux Carre.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“How much does an episode of that cost to produce compared to what it brings in?”

GM: “Uh, you bet it brings in more than it costs, or we’d drop it like a hot potato.”

Celia: “Obviously.”

GM: “Average episode costs about a million, anyways. Individual episodes also aren’t what we make money from, beyond selling them to networks for the cost it takes to make them.”

Celia: “Sure, but the demand for this kind of content, and thus the profit, has gone down, hasn’t it? I looked into it a little. Last year there was a garbage movie that brought in a billion dollars at the box office in seventeen days. Seventeen. That’s a record.”

GM: “Sure. It’s gonna get canceled eventually, like all shows. ‘Til then, we’ll milk the cash cow for all it’s worth.”

Celia: “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of telling you to put it down. But while you’ve got that guaranteed source of revenue, why not expand a little?”

GM: “And what do you think I should expand to?”

Celia:RED just released their new Dragon Vista a few months back. There are some studios out there who don’t even have the Epic Dragon, and you’ve still got people who think Arri can keep up.” Celia shares a look with Ron. “Those are the same kinds of places using day-for-night, too. Put Zodiac in front again. Grab a DV, put together a night film. First foray into this, maybe make it low budget. Bunch of nobody actors, keeps cost down on salaries. Horror, maybe, those tend to work well like that. Push it out under a sister company even. Real unknown. But you’ve got the talent here with your DP and FX guys, I’ve seen it. Knock it out of the park. Market the fuck out of it. You’ll see a bunch of copycats, but Zodiac got there first. Stick to the Quarter, even. Amount of ghost stories around here?”

Celia shakes her head.

“You could make something new for each one if you wanted and it goes well, even.”

It hits all the right beats: lets him play up the “local director” angle, uses the newest gadgets on the market, draws on the experience of his guys while still doing something new. Low budget, low risk, potential for a big reward both in profits and in sequels. Worst case scenario he buys a new camera.

And horror movies notoriously get a good turnaround on profits.

She’s not married to that idea, though.

GM: “Right, let’s establish a few things, ‘cause this ain’t the first time I’ve talked to someone, or even a relative, with big ideas who wanted to get into movies,” says Ron. “What are you after? Do you just want your face on the screen? Or do you want to make this specific movie?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite deflate, but she nods her head in agreement.

“You’re right. You’re the movie guy. I just got excited.” The smile she gives him is sheepish. She swirls her drink, sending the blood through her body to give herself a flush. It reddens her cheeks, makes her eyes a little shiny. Blame the whiskey and excitement, right?

GM: “Do you want make more movies, have a career in the industry? Do you want to be an actor, a producer, a director, or what? Or just build your brand on top of the YouTube and Instagram stuff? Like, what the fuck are you after here?”

Celia: Celia considers the question. She’d thought, initially, she wanted to be an actress. They make the big bucks, don’t they? But they’re the subject of constant gossip, their every move scrutinized… and they have to do what other people tell them to. Plus they have to be on set early, during the day. She’d have to rely on doubles to take her spot. Producers have more longevity, don’t they? Pick their own projects. Make a pile of money, too. Easy to hand it off to someone else that’s actually her once “Celia Flores” runs out of time.

“Eventually, I think I’d like to produce. Like you do. And I’ll admit that the idea of being on screen while I’m young and pretty enough to do it is appealing as well.”

GM: “I produce and direct. Sometimes write, though not so much now.”

“So what you want is to be on screen, and build that into producing later? Lot of stars who’ve done that.”

Celia: Celia nods.

That sounds about right.

“Do people take them less seriously as producers or directors because they used to act?”

GM: “Used to be actors were just actors—you don’t hear of Gary Golden or Ginger Swan producing movies. But even then you had exceptions. Think Orson Welles. It’s gotten more and more common with time. Actors taking on production responsibilities has changed the nature of filmmaking for the better. The more actors who also direct and produce means bigger creative investment and better conditions for cast and crew. Because working actors understand what’s needed to get the best performances. Think Clint Eastwood. Actor with a rep as an outstanding director and producer.”

“So no, not really.”

Celia: She was thinking more like the female actors who turn into directors and everyone thinks their movies are shit because they’ve got a vagina.

But she nods again.

She can be Clint Eastwood.

GM: “But okay. You just want to get your face on screen, forget a new movie for now. Big hassle to make a movie. Also damn hard to raise money for if you’re brand new and want a high production value. Easier to fit you in to someone else’s project, build your reputation, make your own movies from there.”

Celia: “So you think the show to start, or I should get… like a small part on a movie?”

GM: “Show,” says Ron. “Easier to slip you in. Ongoing thing you can do for potentially a while.”

“Average shooting day is 10-12 hours, by the way. Make plenty time.”

Celia: That’s a problem.

That’s a big problem.

GM: “We usually get 8-24 minutes of usable footage from that.”

Celia: “Why so little?”

GM: “When the fuck doesn’t shit take longer than you think?”

Celia: “It just… seems unproductive, is all.”

“But I guess if you’re shooting 50-60 minute episodes… one episode for every two to three days…”

Celia shrugs.

GM: “The full cast ain’t on set, or even on property, that full time. There’s a lot of moving parts that go into making a movie. Just how it is. That rate’s stayed pretty much the same since I started out, way before you were born.”

Celia: “Okay. So. How does this all work, then?”

GM: “I’ll get you an audition. You don’t do terrible, you’ll get a part.”

Celia: If only she weren’t his daughter, she could sleep with him for a part like every other actress.

“Okay.”

“And you recommend that instead of just… following what you do?”

GM: “What do you mean, following what I do?”

Celia: “I meant like you recommend going from acting to producing / directing instead of just going into the latter?”

GM: “Unless you’re independently wealthy enough to bankroll it all yourself, you will not be fuckin’ producer or director out of the box. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

“And even if you are, everything’ll be ten times harder without industry experience and connections.”

Celia: Celia nods. She gets it.

GM: “Like, I want to open a spa, right now, what the fuck would you tell me? I got money, right, and appreciate chicks who look good?”


Celia: “Hire a good manager.”

Celia grins at him.

GM: “Ha. I bet.”

Celia: “No, right, you’d want to make sure you know what you’re doing. That your techs know what they’re doing. That everything is priced right, that you’re following state board rules, that the marketing is on point, everyone has a license…” Celia trails off.

GM: “And a lot more shit you haven’t listed, ‘cuz you ain’t done this before.”

Celia: “So, really, hire someone who knows what they’re doing so you can learn.”

GM: “By the way though, if you’re serious about starting a movie career, you’re in a good place.”

Celia: “Yeah? Why’s that?”

GM: “Because there’s main two things that get you in, these days.”

“Family connections and money. Talent’s optional.”

“You don’t need talent to make it big.”

Celia: It’s not quite a ringing endorsement to what he’d once said about her being a good actress, but she smiles politely all the same.

GM: “Like, if I hadn’t cum inside your mom, you’d need all sorts of bullshit like acting classes and volunteer experience and a resume and an agent and there’d be a million other bitches and sonsofbitches who want the parts you want.”

“But here I am saying okay, you have an audition, just like that.”

Celia: She doesn’t point out that she’s prettier than the rest of his cast, either.

“I appreciate my luck.”

GM: “I didn’t have family connections or money. I busted my balls to make it in Hollywood. And the industry’s changed since then. Gotten way more competitive, like everything. Busting your balls isn’t enough no more.”

Celia: “And look what you’ve made with it.” Celia gestures around them, to the apartment, then beyond that to the city at large, the company he’s built. “You made everything yourself. You’re not coasting by on a name or looks or money or because you bent over for some guy. And that’s admirable.”

GM: “Yeah, I just sold my soul and make shitty movies. Lot to admire.”

Celia: “Ron… you’ve said that a few times. Shitty movies. Do you want to do more?”

“Has anyone ever asked you that? What you want?”

GM: “Doesn’t matter. ‘More’ doesn’t sell.”

Celia: “Would it make you proud, though?”

GM: “Audiences don’t want ‘more.’”

He gestures around the condo.

“I’d also rather have this than pride.”

Celia: “What if money wasn’t an object? If you could just… make what you wanted to? If you could have that and your condo and the girls?”

GM: “What if unicorns were real? Yeah, I’d clamber on one for a ride.”

Celia: “But I mean think about it, Ron. You’ve spent your lifetime building a company, and you don’t sound happy. And I’m your kid so I’m not going to lecture you because you don’t need it from me. But if you want to be happy, to be proud of the legacy you leave behind… maybe just think about it, you know?”

GM: Ron takes a pull of his drink. “I have this romantic idea, sometimes. When I’m really drunk and my girl’s nodding along to everything I say. Of making the last movie I make a real movie. Being sole producer, spending every cent I have, so no one else gets to sink their claws into it. Writing the screenplay. Directing it. Making do on the lower budget. Using every trick I ever learned, to make something real and beautiful and thoughtful and profound, to say everything I ever wanted to say, that touches people in their hearts and leaves them thinkin’ about it years after they’ve seen it. It wouldn’t make a lot of money. Box office flop. Critics would say it was weird, too different, too nonconventional. Wouldn’t matter, because I’d die in my director’s chair the day of the final shot, or maybe the premiere. But it’d be a cult classic, and a few decades later, it’d show up on all those ‘Top X’ lists and critics would all be gushing over what a work of art it was, and how unappreciated for its time, and how it changed things in movies forever.”

Ron takes another drink.

“And then I see my girl noddin’ and gigglin’, and I come back to fuckin’ reality.”

“And I think, hey. Maybe that would be a catchy movie. Movie about a director who wants to make a not-shitty movie, except the movie actually is just another shitty movie.”

Celia: Celia sets her glass down on the coffee table between them. She doesn’t quite lean forward in her chair, but she does fix him with a look.

“Do I look like I’m giggling and laughing and nodding along? If that’s what you want to do… do it. Start writing it. You’ve got this life here, sure, and you’ve got these movies and the shows you’ll leave behind, and a bunch of kids that will fight over what you leave when you die. Or you could actually do it, be the cult classic, be a name that people remember forever.”

GM: “Leaving aside all the other reasons that’s a better story, and movie, than it is a reality, I’m not about to kick the bucket. I can’t make it before I’m about to die, remember, since it’ll take every penny I have.”

“Though I guess I could kill myself when it’s done. Maybe even make that into a scene in the movie, ha ha. A real fuckin’ suicide. That’s almost beautiful.”

Celia: Celia is pretty sure that’s illegal, but she doesn’t tell him so. He’d know better than her, anyway.

“Could always write it now. Direct it under a different name, push it out under a different studio. Subsidiary, that kind of thing.”

GM: “Were you listening to a damn word I said? Use whatever fuckin’ name or studio you want, those kinds of movies don’t get made, unless you’ve got the money to take total fuckin’ control of production.”

Celia: Celia gives him a flat look.

GM: “Hollywood is an abortion clinic. Good ideas are the babies.”

Celia: “Then change it. Be different. You’re top dog in New Orleans, aren’t you? Do something with it.”

GM: “You are not listening to a damn thing I said! I make a movie that way, it’ll take every last cent I have, bye-bye all this.” He gestures at the condo. “Bye-bye to your inheritance, too.”

Celia: Celia considers him for a long moment.

“I am listening to you. I’m hearing you say that it’s a money problem. That you’d have to spend everything you have to be in charge. But it’s your name on the side of the building, isn’t it? You’re already in control. I know that’s not always how it works when people start throwing money at projects, they all want a hand in it. So… what if I throw money at it? I don’t know if I could bankroll the whole thing, but I could help. If that’s what you want to do.”

GM: “Soon as you take somebody else’s money, kid, they’re also in charge,” Ron says wearily.

He looks at her dubiously.

“The movie’d be a box office flop. Might even never be appreciated, years later. You’d probably just be lighting cash on fire.”

Celia: “I’ll make more money,” Celia says with a shrug. “If it’s what you want to do and I can help, I want to help.”

GM: “Why?”

Celia: “Because even if I don’t call you ‘dad’ you’re my dad. Because when I approached you years ago you were nice to me, and you could have just blown me off. Because you’re not… fake. You don’t smile and then stab someone in the back, you just say it like it is. ‘Celia, that’s not a good idea, this is what’s wrong with your plan,’ and you do it in a way that doesn’t make me feel less-than. Because I told you years ago I didn’t contact you for your money and you did something nice for me anyway, and now it’s my turn.”

GM: Ron doesn’t say anything for a while.

“What was it you said about who your mom was, way back? Sweetest lady in the world or some shit?”

“There’s a lot more of her in you than me.”

“Lot more.”

Celia: Plenty enough of him in her too, though. With a dash of Maxen on her darkest days.

She leans forward to touch his hand.

“You’re my family, Ron. This is what we do for each other.”


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Em looks around. He’s in Uncle Ron’s condo.

It doesn’t look like it’s changed much, besides newer technology. Smart TV instead of the old non-smart widescreen.

Emmett: “Oh, that evil son of a bitch.”

It’s been a while. But hey, a lot’s changed in nine years. Like apparently Ron’s gotten real sentimental about his blood relations, or so Em assumes from being deposited here.

GM: Ron’s there. So’s Celia. They’re seated on the leather couch talking to each other. Ron’s in his bathrobe. Celia’s more dressed up and is touching his hand.

Ron’s aged, and not well. He’s fatter. His hair’s whiter, and there’s less of it. His pudgier, blearier-looking face has more wrinkles. Em can see an ugly black stain around his liver, like black tar or plaque. There’s black gunk clotted around his heart, too.

“All right, enougha that mushy shit,” Em’s uncle says to Celia in a gruff but faintly choked-sounding voice. He takes a swig of his nearby drink.

“Someone’ll call you about the details. Audition times and shit.”

Celia: Celia pulls back from him with a smile, folding her hands on her lap.

“I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for setting it up.”

GM: “If you’re really serious about movies, by the way… I can talk to Rick. Rick Towers. We’re friends. He could take you with him to Hollywood. He won’t break his back to start your career, but he can open doors. Help you land some gigs.”

“I might be top dog in Louisiana, but this place is the kids’ table next to Hollywood.”

Celia: That’s certainly tempting. Or would be, if she weren’t predisposed to that certain type of sun allergy that involves bursting into flames at the slightest touch. She nods, though, because she thinks he expects it of her, and because there’s some part of her that wonders if she could make it work.

“I’d have to consider that. I have a business here, would need to sell. We don’t even know if I’m any good at this yet,” she says ruefully. “But… yeah, that sounds really great.”

There’s a pause, then, “do they really sleep with all the girls out there like you say?”

GM: She’s heard about L.A. from Roderick in passing. Anarch city. Anarch capital of the world, really. Vampires involved in Hollywood.

“Yep,” says Ron.

Celia: Not that Celia is opposed to sleeping with people to get what she wants.

GM: “Lot more shit I don’t say too.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Isn’t shit you’d see goin’ with Rick,” he waves off. “That’s for the really desperate girls.”

“Spreading your legs isn’t shit you’d need to do, either. That happens most with the actresses starting out, who don’t have money or connections. But it’d still help you get places with a body like yours.”

Celia: She should feel a certain way about her dad judging her body, she’s sure. Disgusted, maybe. But she’s dead, and she’s heard worse, and he’d never been much of a dad to her. She’s kind of flattered. She does have a bangin’ bod, she’d made it herself.

“That the kind of thing that’s gonna come back and bite me in the ass later?”

GM: “Sleeping with somebody to get ahead?”

“Pffft. Bite half the asses in Hollywood.”

“Can happen though if you’re careless and the paparazzi are hungry.”

“Then again, all publicity’s good publicity.”

Celia: “Ah. Like people who get work done, right? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you can’t even tell. Show some discretion, that sort of thing.”

Is he really suggesting his daughter fuck her way to success?

GM: “Well, like I said. Sex sells. Worked for Paris Fucking Hilton, didn’t it?”

Celia: Christ, speaking of work done, she’d make a fortune in Hollywood.

“I’d actually point to the Kardashians before I do Hilton. She didn’t do much since then. Whole Kardashian clan has ridden that sex tape to success.”

GM: “Guess it goes to say sex sells, but doesn’t have to be your sex.”

“We call people who do that pimps.”

Meanwhile, Em looks about the place.

Emmett: Particularly for any indication of hidden spaces, or the telltale glow of his niece and nephew’s souls.

GM: Like everywhere else, it looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The drapes and carpets are rotting. The TV has its face smashed in. There’s grime over the broken windows. The couch is stained with the smell of sweat and old semen.

He sees no souls except Ron’s and Celia’s.

The smell gets worse from the bedroom. Em stares through the translucent walls. The bed is the beating heart of this place. It smells like sex, old and stale, dried tears, and crusted vomit, though less of that than the bathroom does. The place reeks with a toxic amalgam or lust, despair, and self-hate thick enough to choke on.

Celia: “There’s a joke in there somewhere about pimping out your own family, I think.”

GM: “You don’t have to sleep with nobody. Just telling you how it works.”

Celia: “No, no, I know, I appreciate how upfront you are about things.”

GM: “But like I said, you got a great body. It’d help you get ahead.”

“If you weren’t my kid I’d have definitely wanted to fuck you.”

Celia: Celia lifts her glass to that.

“Now there’s a compliment.” She doesn’t even sound sarcastic.

GM: Ron lifts his and takes a swig.

“All right. This old man needs to get to bed.”

Celia: “Of course. Thanks for seeing me tonight. And for the talk. I’m really looking forward to this. I’ll send a girl by to make up for the one I chased away.” She rises, holding out her hand. “I can set that in the dishwasher if you’d like. Mom sent cookies, they’re on the counter.”

GM: “Remind me who the fuck she is?”

Celia: They have this conversation every time.

“Diana. The ballerina.”

“Real bendy.”

GM: “Huh. Feel like I’d remember that.”

“Worked with dancers for some movies. You’re right they can be bendy as all fuck.”

Celia: “She didn’t go out for a movie. She said you met at a party.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Thanks for the cookies, anyway. And the girl.”

Celia: “Anytime, Ron. I’ll talk to you soon.”

GM: Ron sees her out with a hug.

Em watches his uncle walk back to the kitchen and sample one of the foul-smelling, mold-laced cookies. Celia heads for the elevator.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite head for the elevator. She spends a minute searching her pockets for something, and a moment later there’s a knock on Ron’s door when she comes up empty.

GM: Em watches his uncle walk back to the door, check who’s there on the nearby monitor, then pull it open. Celia sees he’s munching on one of the snickerdoodles.

“Yeah?”

Celia: “Hey, sorry, I forgot my keys.”

“How’re the cookies?”

GM: “They’re really good. Your mom’s some baker,” he says. He gestures towards the living room. “Take a look.”

Celia: “She is. Taught me everything she knows.” Celia slips past him, moving toward the living room. She checks the table, then the floor, and finally lifts the cushion she’d been on. There they are. “You really don’t remember her?”

GM: Ron shakes his head. “Pretty long while ago, obviously.”

Celia: She pulls her phone from her pocket, taps in the PIN, and scrolls through her gallery. A moment later she has a photo pulled up: she and her mom with Lucy sprawled across the both of them in a tutu and tiara. They all look like they can hardly catch their breath from laughing.

“That’s her.”

GM: Emily took the picture. Ron smiles as he looks at it, but part of him looks reflective too.

Celia: “Her last name was Underwood,” Celia presses. “She was… young. Seventeen when she had me.”

GM: It’s a curious-feeling moment, when Celia looks at the picture too. Someone who did something bad to Celia’s family, but who’s why it exists, and who’s looking at it now so appreciatively.

It’s not even the sole instance of that feeling. Lucy was conceived the same way. In an even worse way. Celia could fairly describe that night as the blackest, most awful night of her life (as well as the last), and for her mom it’s probably the second-most terrible. She remembers talking with Emily about the rape baby her mother shouldn’t have to bear to term. Maybe even slipping an emergency contraceptive. How could anything good come from a night so evil.

But there the result is. She looks so happy. So stitches-in-their-sides happy. She and both her moms. Even Emily, who’d privately agreed with Celia over abortion, said after nine months, “I just can’t believe something like her came from something so bad. Or how Mom… had so much faith that something would. I don’t know were she got it from.”

Celia and Lucy are both rape babies. Sisters by conception as well as blood.

But Roderick said they’re both probably her mom’s favorite kids, because parents do have preferences, especially ones with so many kids.

Ron just looks at the picture thoughtfully.

“So I’d have been… you’re 27… 34.”

“Your mom looks good for her age. I thought I might’ve been a pedophile for a moment,” he says with a faint smile.

“Usually don’t get girls’ last names at parties. Underwood doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Shit, though… you all look happy. Real damn happy. What were you laughing over?”

Celia: “She comes to the spa a lot,” Celia tells him. “Keeps up with skincare. I could do the same for you, if you want.”

She glances back down at the photo.

“Yeah. We were. Are. They’re a good family. My friend Emily took it. Mom kind of adopted her when it turned out she didn’t have a family of her own. She was my roommate in college, and after that first year she came to live with us.”

GM: “Huh. So if she was 17 then she’d be… 44 now?”

“Damn. You’ve kept her looking really good for her age.”

Celia: “I’m good at what I do.”

GM: “I might take you up if that’s the end result.”

“That’s sweet of your mom to do with her. I guess you did say she was really nice.”

“Hot and sweet. She looks like a keeper.”

Celia: “She is.” If only the men in her life weren’t such scumbags.

“I’d be happy to get some work done on you, anyway. We can set something up for next week if you want.”

GM: “Yeah, sure. Call my secretary.” Ron looks back at the picture. “Don’t see any guys.”

“Are Emily and your mom fucking?”

Celia: Celia smirks.

“We had dinner earlier this week and I asked them the same thing. But no.”

GM: Ron laughs.

“But no guys in there? Feels incomplete.”

Celia: “Her ex is trying to win her back.”

“I’ve been trying to set her up with anyone else.”

GM: “Huh. I prefer them younger, but I’d be down to… see where things go.”

Celia: “What, exclusively?”

GM: “Christ, kid. I said see where things go, not jump off a fuckin’ cliff.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “I’ll put in a good word for you.”

GM: “I wouldn’t mind seeing my granddaughter sometime, either.”

“She’s really fuckin’ cute.”

Celia: “Yeah, she gets it from me.”

GM: “She sure does. You got any other pictures on here?”

Celia: “Of Lucy or my mom?” Celia swipes through her phone. Like any twenty-something woman, she has a lot of selfies. But there are quite a few photos of her family as well, and she goes through them with him, pointing out Emily when she gets to a photo of her and Celia arm in arm at the spa. They’re both in gray hooded shirts with pink lettering that says “Flawless League” on them. Celia tells him that her mom found them while she was shopping one day and thought they were too cute to pass up. There are some of Lucy in her dance outfit, a few of Diana after Celia had done her face up for a “girl’s night in,” which is almost like a night out only it’s the three of them after they put Lucy to bed all huddled on Diana’s couch. Sometimes they play with makeup, sometimes they watch movies in pajamas, sometimes they just lounge around making jokes that get more and more lewd while Diana blushes.

GM: The only thing missing from those evenings is alcohol. Diana doesn’t touch the stuff, and since dying, it doesn’t do a lot for Celia either, unless she’s able to feed on a drunk vessel. Emily doesn’t like being the only one in a group drinking (or, since college, drinking alone either), so that stopped happening. Diana (silently) approved that it made the nights in more wholesome. Celia and Emily did their best to undermine that. But Celia supposes they still are, for all the raunchiness of the jokes.

“Lucy,” says Ron, but he still looks over the other pictures.

“Oh huh, that Emily girl’s got a nice bod too. Wouldn’t look bad on camera,” he remarks appreciatively when she comes up. He squints at a few of the pictures.

“What is she though… Hispanic? Indian? The other Indian? Viewers don’t like being confused.”

Celia: “Little white, little Hispanic, then whatever her dad is. Not sure if it’s Native or South Asian or Middle Eastern or all of the above,” Celia tells him, “but she’s in her last year of med school. Not sure she’s looking to switch into film after finally powering through all those headaches.”

“My dad called her a mongrel mutt,” she says cheerfully.

Or was it half-breed? Something rude, anyway.

GM: “Case in point,” says Ron. “You get some multiracial actors, Keeanu Reeves and all, but it’s a strike against. I don’t like to cast them.”

Celia: “But half black and half white is okay?”

GM: “So long as you don’t look it.”

“Or if you do and market it right.”

Celia: Celia glances down at herself. There’s no part of her that looks black. Maybe her butt.

GM: Her mom always called her hair “feisty.” But she can control that now.

Celia: She’d asked her mom once how come she has hair when Daddy doesn’t, and after that Maxen had shaved off the rest of what was clinging to his head.

GM: “He probably would’ve done it anyway, sweetie,” Diana had replied consolingly. “And it is a good look on him, I think!”

Celia: Celia, Isabel, and David had gone in together that Christmas on shoe polish so he could keep it shiny. They hadn’t understood why he’d gotten mad.

Celia: “Lucy passes for white pretty well,” Celia says after a moment, looking down at a photo her mother had sent her of the girl with both cats cuddling on her lap. “She’s… what, half on my side… half on her dad’s? Quarter on her dad’s? He never looked it either, though.”

GM: Shadow and Victor. The calico and black cat have their eyes closed as they contently purr.

It’s something to see them looking so peaceful. All they ever do when they see Celia is hiss, growl, and flee.

“Huh. Lucky her,” says Ron. “Remind me who that apparently handsome motherfucker was?”

Celia: There’s an awkward beat of silence. Then,

“Em.”

GM: Ron gives a flat look.

“Well, what the fuck, I guess. Who’m I to judge.”

Celia: “I, ah, I didn’t know who he was at the time. It wasn’t until after we’d…”

GM: “Legal in California, I’m pretty sure.”

Celia: She’d looked up the laws, after. Apparently in Louisiana she couldn’t marry the guy, but sexual relations were allowed. Weird rules, but then so is fucking your cousin.

“I haven’t told anyone that, since… well. She never met him. And he’s…” Celia trails off, voice dropping, “gone now, anyway.”

Emmett: Sure he is.

He watches Ron’s face carefully.

He hasn’t even registered that Celia’s claiming he’s her daughter’s father. He’s pretty sure he isn’t. But that’s neither here nor there.

Celia: He could be, though. They definitely didn’t use a condom. And it’s not like they saw much of each other after that.

Timeline matches up, too.

GM: “Yeah,” Ron says hollowly. “Drug-related shit. Bunch of people dead.”

“Can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Something like it.”

“I told you, when you first showed up. There’s real poison in our blood.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t mean to bring it up. Are you okay? After… everything?”

GM: “I’m here. I’m breathin’.”

“Poison burns through me slower than him, I guess.”

Celia: “I don’t think that’s true, you know. About poison in the blood. He was… I mean, when I knew him, he helped me out of a bad spot. And you did too.”

GM: “He also killed my son,” Ron says flatly.

“I bet he meant well, with you. Hell. Maybe he didn’t mean for things to spiral out of control, the way they did.”

“But they always do. Always fuckin’ do.”

“And my son’s still dead, whatever the fuck he meant to do.”

Emmett: Well… yeah, not much he can say to that.

GM: “We’re fuckin’ hurricanes. Calamity wherever we go. We don’t mean it, we really don’t, just a natural fuckin’ phenomenon, right? Still calamity. Bodies. Lives destroyed. Everything we touch, turns to shit.”

“I’d say the whole thing’s a sad fuckin’ waste. I’d say he coulda made movies. But maybe he’d have just… turned out like me.”

Ron sighs wearily.

“Maybe better the poison burned through fast.”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward him. He’d said “no more mushy shit,” but when someone needs a hug, well… Diana had taught her to give ’em out like candy. She does so now.

GM: It’s not a tight hug. It’s not a limp hug. It’s just a heavy one. It lasts a while. Ron feels old and tired. He doesn’t move his arms.

Finally he pulls back.

“All right. Bed’s calling my name.”

Celia: “Right. Sorry for…” making him sad? reminding him of his dead son? bringing up Em? “…lingering. Everything. I’m glad you’re in my life, Ron. I just want you to know that. But get to bed. We’ll talk later.”


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, PM

GM: Ron and Celia see each other off after the former declares “enough mushy shit,” but says he “ain’t sorry” she came by either. Em watches his uncle go take a piss in the bathroom. Celia heads for the elevator.

Emmett: He’s still wondering why “Caroline” sent him here. Maybe Ron knows something.

Maybe it’s all a crock of shit.

He follows Celia, for now.

Celia: Unaware of her ghostly stalker, Celia heads back home. It’s a short drive from Ron’s place to her place in the Quarter, and she pulls her car into the drive behind a ruby-red… something. Randy had told her a handful of times what it is and she’d always forgotten. Too many numbers and letters in the name for her.

The house itself is brick, three stories, with two entrances. Celia goes around back to find the second entrance, passing through a security gate when she punches in the numbers, then a thick door with a series of deadbolts, and finally another PIN code. She takes a moment to lock up behind her before she ascends to her haven.

It’s a nice place, really: wooden floors, exposed brick walls, open floor plan. The furnishings are very Celia: tasteful, elegant, probably expensive. A lot of wood. A pink velvet couch, too. The only non-Celia thing in the place is the pool table that sits in the center of the floor, currently in use by a man and a woman. A spiral staircase leads upward off to the other side, and there’s a door off the kitchen that probably leads to the bathroom.

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GM: It would be a nice place, at least, in the real world.

Emmett: No Nutella in the cupboard, though.

GM: The couch is moth-eaten, caked with dust, and stained with dried cum. The pool table’s felt is little more than colorless rotted strips. The same stink of old sex wafts from them. The bulbs in the lights are shattered. The broken windows are caked with grime. The rooted floorboards look like they’ve been left to soak in a bacteria stew for years.

All just more rot and trash. Like everywhere.

Emmett: “Ugh, somebody’s totally fucked on this pool table.”

“I’ve never had pool table sex. I guess I never will, now.”

He waits for Celia to fall asleep before he nestles besides her and slides into her dreams.

Celia: Unfortunately, Celia doesn’t fall asleep for a long while. She spends some time with the two people at the table, asking the girl about a series of text messages, then letting her know to expect a call from Ron’s people about an audition. Em might notice that the boy kind of looks like him. Has his eyes, anyway, though Em’s probably never looked at anyone with such clear adoration. The three get together on the couch to watch a movie together after a while, some action flick with lots of explosions and a British bad guy.

GM: The girl lies down with her head on Celia’s lap, sometimes nuzzling back and forth against the woman’s thigh.

She looks a little sleepy, and the boy too, but they try to stay awake.

Celia: Celia runs her fingers through the girl’s hair while the movie plays. She tells them after a while, when it’s clear they no longer care if the hero can save the hostages, that they can head on up to bed and she’ll see them tomorrow evening.

GM: “I’d rather spend time with you, mistress…” the girl murmurs, rubbing her head against Celia’s belly. “I could eat you out, if you’ve had enough of the movie…”

“Babe, I’m always happy to watch anything with you. Or about you,” says the boy, with a brief eye towards the girl. His voice is a little jealous.

Celia: “And what will poor Randy do, hm?”

GM: “I guess he’ll just watch, like always.” The girl starts contently rubbing her face against Celia’s crotch.

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia muses, “but what about the fact that you broke the rules today, hm? You know better than to do what you did.”

GM: The girl looks up and hangs her head. “I’m sorry, mistress. I just wanted to be completely clear with you. I know how much you value your family.”

Celia: “You can’t call me mistress over the phone. You know that we’re already under scrutiny. If the wrong people see it…” Celia forces a sigh.

GM: The girl nods her head. “I won’t do it again, mistress. You can just spank me, once, for every time I don’t address you properly, when you see me again.”

Celia: “I value you your discretion more than I value you calling me mistress. What would I do if I lost you, pet? If someone picked you up for questioning?”

“Don’t you know how sad I’d be?”

GM: “You fucked up is what you did,” the boy helpfully chimes. “Like, don’t blab about stuff over the phone. That’s pretty basic.”

Celia: “You know better.”

GM: “You’d be very, very sad, mistress,” the girl replies mournfully, with a brief dirty look towards the boy. “I should know better. I’m so sorry. It won’t ever happen again.”

She crawls off the couch, prostrates herself on the floor, and starts to kiss Celia’s feet.

“You’re a goddess, mistress. You’re so much smarter, so much prettier, so much more everything than I am.”

“It’s so hard for any of us to match your example. But I’ll always do my best, do better than my best, for whatever you ask…”

Celia: Celia leans forward, touching her chin to lift her face. She strokes her fingers down the girl’s cheek.

“I appreciate hearing that. But you still messed up, and you need to face the consequences. So here’s your choice: no sex for a week… or you can watch Randy and I.”

GM: Randy’s face lights up.

“What kind of sex, mistress?” the girl asks slowly.

“Between you and Randy.”

Celia: “Well, I suppose considering I’ve made him wait this long, I should show him a good time.”

GM: Randy looks like he could cry ‘hallelujah.’

The girl shoots him a hateful look.

Celia: The girl knows how good the sex is, too. She knows exactly what Celia will make her watch. How much satisfaction she’ll give Randy.

GM: “I’ll take… no sex, mistress,” she says slowly. Spitefully. “He isn’t good enough for you. He’d… deface you. He isn’t good enough for you. He doesn’t deserve you and he _never will.”_

“I’ll suffer, and go without, so you don’t have to suffer.”

Celia: “How noble,” Celia says dryly.

GM: Randy’s face seems to almost… freeze, as his breath catches.

Blue-balled.

Celia: “Go on up to bed, pet. I won’t make you watch now.”

GM: And just like that, unadulterated joy shines through on Randy’s face.

“You mean…?”

Celia: She does not mean. Celia has no intention of fucking Randy tonight: he hasn’t earned it. Plus she’s in a possibly monogamous relationship with an old partner who’d been hung up on her cheating last time and she isn’t going to ruin it one night in by fucking a ghoul.

Besides, he’d turned her down the other night. He doesn’t get to fuck her now.

GM: Alana throws herself at Celia’s feet, weeping openly as she clutches the Toreador’s leg like a lifeline. “Mistress, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m so stupid, I’m sorry I’m not good enough, I’m trying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, please, mistress, please, I’ll do anything, anything, I’m your pet, I’m your toy, I’m your property, I’m nothing, do anything to me, please, please…”

Celia: “I meant the movie,” she says shortly, looking back to the screen. “She looks tired and I’m still mad at you for drinking sewer water.”

GM: And just like that, the look of joy instantly vanishes.

Celia: Ghouls are a fucking headache.

She disentangles herself from Alana’s clutching arms. She wants to lash out, to berate her and tell her that she deserves it, but it’s like kicking a puppy. It’s just pathetic. And she’s not Veronica, no matter how much sex she has; she doesn’t get off on causing other people pain, even emotional pain. They’re just so… whiny when they’re like this. Is it what she has to look forward to if she and Roderick take that third drink? Christ. No thanks.

GM: Alana grovels on the floor and kisses the ground where Celia’s feet rested. Tears run down her face even as she gulps out between an ear-to-ear smile,

“Thank, thank you, mistress, thank you, thank you, I’ll be good, I’ll be worthy, I’ll do everything you want, everything right, I’m worthless, I’m yours…”

Celia: Is this how her sire sees her?

The thought fills her with revulsion.

GM: “You’re so fucking pathetic, Alana,” Randy says flatly.

So flatly.

An elephant could balance on his voice.

She could swear his balls have already shriveled in.

“There’s nothing sexy about it. Even remotely.”

Celia: “Shut it,” Celia snarls at him. “She isn’t yours to berate. Alana, get up, stop blubbering, and if you call yourself stupid again I’ll have your tongue.”

GM: Randy shuts up.

Alana rises to her knees, head bowed so she still isn’t Celia’s height. “Ye-yes, mistress,” she sniffs. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Just tell me what to do. Please. I want to do, whatever you want me to.”

Celia: “Fix this bullshit between you. Your squabbling is over. We are a team. There are enough people in this city to tear us down without you two doing it to each other.”

GM: “Uh, okay… how you want us to, babe…?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Find common ground. Fix a problem. Go fuck it out of your systems if you need to, I don’t care.”

“I don’t need you to be best friends. You don’t even need to like each other. But you will stop sabotaging and bad-mouthing each other, you will stop making each other feel bad, you will stop trying to get the other one in trouble. Neither one of you is better than the other. You both have your different areas of expertise, and you’re both with me for a reason.”

GM: “…all right. Sure, babe. We won’t fight about shit,” says Randy.

“Okay, mistress,” sniffs Alana. She remains kneeling. “What else do you want me to do?”

Celia: It isn’t this easy. She imagines they’ll have this same conversation next week as well. Maybe she should just lock them in a room with each other. Hit them with some feelings of lust so they can work it out. That always works for her.

“You’ll need a new identity soon, Randy. Your time as Celia’s boyfriend might be coming to a close. Start thinking about what that will look like. And you…” Celia wipes the tears from Alana’s cheeks. “You need more fire inside, pet, if you’re going to be a movie star.”

GM: “Oh. Uh, okay,” Randy says, a little lamely.

Alana basks under Celia’s touch, smiling up at her adoringly.

“A… movie star, mistress?”

Celia: “Mmhmm. I spoke with a producer this evening. We might be making a trip to LA.”

Celia taps Randy’s legs until he turns sideways and moves them so she can sit between them, then pulls Alana up onto the couch between her own. She takes one of Randy’s hands and puts it around herself, wordless permission granted, then tugs Alana until her pet’s back rests against her chest. It’s a Celia sandwich, a ghoul on either side of her. She nuzzles Alana’s neck.

“We’ll figure out the logistics. Press play, Randy, let’s finish this movie.”

Emmett: As Randy presses play, Em nestles his way onto the couch too. It’d be tight if the inconvenient bits of his corpus didn’t become gaseous where appropriate.

He hasn’t seen this movie before.

He tries to keep track of the hours. He ought to have some time, still.

GM: “Oh, L.A. sounds wonderful, mistress! Let the whole world see how beautiful you are!” Alana croons, grinding her ass against Celia’s crotch.

Em, meanwhile, is less gaseous than incorporeal. His corpus melts right through the seated trio. The couch might as well be empty.

The movie is one of the worst movies that he’s watched. Maybe not because of the plot or acting or cinematography or anything like that: the image and sound quality is simply atrocious. He can barely make out what’s happening, half the time.

Eventually, the movie ends. Randy and Alana go to bed. Em watches through the walls as both of them masturbate.

Celia, though, remains awake as she goes about her business. It does not look as if she’s going to bed anytime soon.

It’s hard to say whether he’ll have enough time to share her dreams before Doc Brown and the others expect him back.

Emmett: He’d rather not take risks. Not with this. She can wait until later. So can Ron.

But he has souls to damn, and only so many hours. He spends them at the rendezvous.

Waiting.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: At 5 AM, Celia’s back in Pete’s office at the Evergreen. He gives a nodded, “Celia,” after she knocks and steps inside.

Celia: Celia smooths her skirt down after she shuts the door. She takes the seat across from him and can’t help but think that every time she’s in this office she feels like she’s in trouble. She’s glad that her hands can’t get clammy.

“Hello again, Pete. How was the rest of your evening?”

GM: “A gutter punk threw up on my shoes.”

Celia: “Was he aiming for your shoes? Or was it just a crime of opportunity?”

She’s decidedly not smiling.

GM: “She. I’m undecided whether it was deliberate, but inclined to think it wasn’t premeditated.”

Celia: “Lesser sentence, there. Good counsel, she could be out in five.”

GM: “Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, good counsel is rare for their ilk. We have one of the most overworked public defender systems in the country.”

Celia: “She’ll think twice before she barfs on another innocent pair of shoes.”

GM: “How was your evening?”

Celia: There’s a loaded question.

She’d lied to her brother about not hearing back from Isabel. Technically she’d phrased it as not a lie, I messaged her a few days ago but haven’t heard back, which is… true. She hadn’t heard back because Isabel is dead, though, which she left out. Celia is still debating what she can do with her identity. She had retrieved the phone from its hiding place, though, and brought it with her.

She’d also told Alana to be nicer to Emily and her mom since she’s going to have to pretend to be Celia for the next few days while they figure out this hunter stuff. And so she can trade in the old car. She’d been very, very thorough in her explanation about not saying anything sensitive in the car because it might be compromised and had given her explicit instructions on what kind of vehicle she is looking for. Told her to take Randy, too.

Then a back-and-forth with Roderick over whether or not he should come as far into the Quarter as Jade’s haven is, and they’d decided to go back to the same one from the night before since no one else knows about it. Except the sheriff, which she hadn’t told him, and considering he’s never come by twice in a row she figures it’s a safe bet.

No call from Veronica, either, which is less surprising than annoying.

She finally fixes Pete with a bemused smile.

“All right. Mom force-fed me dinner and talked about wanting a man in her life.”

“D’you still enjoy food, Pete? She sent me home with leftovers.”

GM: Logan hadn’t responded.

Alana was contrite.

Roderick was amenable.

Veronica was typical.

“Pawn it off to your renfields,” he says. “Someone might as well eat it.”

“Or Tantal, when you fix his face. He loves food.”

Celia: “I will. Might make him feel better after… well, the pain.” He knows how unpleasant it is. Celia does what she can to lessen what they feel, but there will always be a price to pay for the way she sculpts the flesh.

“Hey Pete, can I ask you a question before we get started?”

GM: “Go ahead.”

Celia: “Do you know of anything that eats souls?”

GM: He frowns.

“Souls?”

Celia: “Yeah, like… human souls.”

“Or ghosts.”

GM: “Depending on who you talk to, those things are either closely related or only superficially so. Some insist ghosts are real people, just missing their bodies. Others think they’re just cheap copies and knock-offs going through the motions.”

Celia: “But there’s something that eats them?”

GM: “Well, we certainly don’t. We take enough from people as it is. But we stop at their bodies.”

“The concept of soul eaters exists in a few mythologies. Choctaw and African-American, to cite the most local ones. I can’t claim to have heard of a specific entity that eats souls, although the existence of one wouldn’t surprise me either. Souls are a form of energy and everything needs energy to sustain itself, even dead things like us.”

“I suppose it also wouldn’t surprise me for a creature like that to exist in this city. Ghosts are common as fruitflies here, especially in the Quarter.”

Celia: Celia nods. She doesn’t have much to go on. Em hadn’t been very specific, and the dream… she doesn’t remember a lot of the dream, really, just impressions. But the fact that something is eating ghosts, that she needs to kill things for him… she remembers that.

“Oh. I heard something about it, and I figured… well, maybe you would know.”

GM: “If Grunewald were still around I’d have recommended you talk with him. He was our ghost expert.”

“But in lieu of him, there’s Rosa Bale.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can give it a go. More interested in the what than the ghosts, really.” She lifts her shoulders, shrugging. “Plus I figured since you and I are best friends you’d be the lick to talk to.” She beams at him. It’s a pretty smile, even if the words are facetious. She’d meant what she said earlier: that she trusts him.

GM: “That’s us, staying up every morning to do each other’s hair and nails,” the Tremere deadpans.

“But as far as licks. There was a bloodline, once, that devoured souls as well as blood. Stole them right out of people’s bodies. Licks and breathers. Worshiped demons too, if that all wasn’t enough. My clan wiped out most of them a long time ago, but sometimes a survivor pops up. Does that sound anything like what you’ve heard of?”

Celia: She almost huffs at him. Best friends don’t have to do each other’s hair and nails. Life—unlife—isn’t a teen movie. She’ll get him a bracelet, though, for next time. “BFFs” or something similar. Braided rope, plastic beads. Maybe one with a heart on it. He’ll love it.

She keeps her mouth shut, though, as he speaks. Does it sound like what she’s heard of? She doesn’t think so, and she’s almost positive she knows what he’s talking about. The same thing she’d warned Jon about a month ago. Does he know she knows? Does he know Savoy has evidence of their presence in the city? Hadn’t Savoy said he tells Pete and Preston everything?

No lick tells someone everything. That’s just bad politics. Why not tell Pete about it, though, if he’d trusted her to tell the archon?

Unless Abélia is a soul thief. Does she eat licks, too? She could ask Em, next time he visits… if he visits… she supposes she has something for him. Four bodies. Her meeting with Ron. She’s looking forward to seeing him again in her dreams.

Finally, she shakes her head.

“I don’t think so. I got the impression she ate them mostly after they were dead.”

Souls for power, though. That makes sense. That’s a demonic thing, isn’t it? Classic demon worship. And licks are dead.

GM: Pete raises his eyebrows.

“She, you say?”

Celia: …whoops. Alarm flashes across her face for half a second before she can smooth it out.

Celia nods, though. Glances over her shoulder at the locked door. Lifts her brows back at him, as if to ask if he’s got some sort of privacy magic he can do.

GM: “There’s no such thing as a perfectly secure room, but this one is as secure as I can make it, short of you leaving your phone outside the door,” answers Pete.

Celia: She responds by pulling the battery out of her phone and setting it aside.

GM: “Smart,” says the Tremere. “It actually is possible to eavesdrop through phones that are just turned off. It’s less convenient, but it is possible.”

Celia: “Oh. Well. Better… to make it less convenient then.”

She’s quiet for a moment, chewing over the words. What to tell him. How to start. Her finger taps against the desk. Nerves. She pulls her hands back onto her lap, sits on them to keep from fidgeting.

GM: “It’s a trick with the gyroscope. The tiny vibrating chip that tells your phone whether it’s in horizontal or vertical position. It’s sensitive enough to still pick up soundwaves, so software can turn it into a crude microphone.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Good to know.

GM: “It only picks up a fraction of words spoken nearby, and if someone wanted to use it to overhear a credit card number, there’s probably only a 50/50 chance they’d get the full thing.”

“But it’s something rather than nothing.”

Celia: Well, she did what she could anyway.

“I spoke to a ghost the other day. Who told me that there’s a… thing. She eats ghosts. And maybe people.”

GM: “But not a lick?”

Celia: “I don’t… think so. The ghost knew what I was, so I think if she was the same it’d have said that.”

GM: “If you’ve got a haunting problem, they can’t cross an unbroken line of salt. Hurts them. Getting salt over their bodies by any means hurts them.”

Celia: “No, that’s not the point. I mean, that’s good to know, but it’s not bothering me.”

She leans forward in her chair.

GM: “This sounds like something you might be better off leaving alone. There’s a lot of dark things out there, going bump in the night. More than just us.”

Celia: “Right, well, I would. Only my mom goes over the house a lot.”

GM: He actually blinks.

Celia: “And her daughter is a lick.”

GM: “Uh, your mom should stop.”

Celia: No shit.

“Yes.”

GM: “Ghosts aren’t unstoppable menaces, but they can be trouble. Something that’s adapted to prey on them sounds like something that could prey on licks pretty well too.”

“It’s like lions and tigers eating smaller animals. If you want a consistent diet, you prey on something that’s significantly weaker than you.”

“And devouring souls is the blackest sort of magic. Can you think of anything worse, than destroying someone’s chance at an afterlife? That one piece of them which is truly immortal?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No. I thought we didn’t get an afterlife, though. Doesn’t the Embrace kind of kill all that, too?”

GM: Pete laughs.

“Sorry. Flattered you’re asking, but even Tremere don’t have all the answers.”

“That really comes down to what you believe. To faith.”

“I believe we get an afterlife, though. That we all face justice for our actions in life, and the Requiem. Hauled before the ultimate cop high up in the sky.”

Celia: Straight to Hell for her, then.

“Right.” There’s a brief pause. “So… your suggestion is to just leave the scary thing alone.”

GM: “You have any particular reason not to?”

“You sound like you don’t know a whole about this thing. There’s a lot of cops who are former military, and I’ve heard plenty say that bad intelligence is one of the most surefire ways to get somebody killed.”

Celia: “That’s why I asked you. Obviously I don’t want to poke it with a stick.”

GM: “Your mom seems to have a habit of doing that.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with Maxen.”

GM: “Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete spits.

Celia: “That’s what I said.”

“She started going on about how she misses him. How he took care of her. How it was so long ago. How Jesus wants people to forgive.”

GM: “Jesus forgave a lot of people. Know where that got Him?”

Celia: “Dead.”

GM: “Yep. Hands and ankles nailed to a cross, dying a slow and torturous death from exposure.”

“But He got to die for our sins, because God was His old man. Is God your mom’s old man?”

Celia: I fuckin’ hope not. Apple fell pretty far from the tree if my mom is Jesus.

“No.”

“To be fair, he died before I was born, so it’s entirely possible I’m wrong.”

GM: “I recommend she leave the forgiving rapist abuser scumbags to Him, either way.”

Celia: “Should have just put him down that night.”

GM: “What-ifs are useless.”

Celia: She sighs, rubbing a hand across her face. “I know, Pete.”

GM: “I also haven’t been able to reach my former partner. Find her another man.”

Celia: “Gettis?”

GM: “Gettis was never my partner.”

“Also not someone I’d have recommended to a delicate flower like your mother.”

Celia: Her hands drop back to her lap. She peers across the desk at him.

GM: “I am still not interested,” he says flatly.

Celia: “You are, that’s what bothers you. You just don’t want to risk it.”

GM: “Find an actual living breathing man, Celia.”

Celia: “I didn’t even say anything, Pete. I just looked at you.”

GM: “Uh huh.”

Celia: She just smiles at him.

GM: “Women all do that.”

Celia: “Look at you?”

GM: “Say things with looks and glances, instead of out loud, so they can play the doe-eyed innocent when it’s convenient.”

Celia: “That’s kind of sexist.”

“Further, like it’s been drilled into me, I’m not a woman anymore.”

GM: “Doesn’t make it wrong.”

“And you’re not. But old habits die hard.”

Celia: “Effective habits.”

“Got you thinkin’ about it, anyway.”

“Your surgeon friend didn’t know what to make of it either, though.”

GM: “Don’t tell me you tried to set up him,” Pete groans.

Celia: “No, actually.” Not really, anyway. She’d have slept with him, but she’s not going to tell Pete that. “Why, is he celibate?”

GM: “By our very natures, none of us are.”

Celia: “You know what I mean.”

GM: “Unfortunately so. Keep your mother away from the monsters. Mortal and otherwise.”

Celia: So much for finding out if North ever talked about her. Aren’t Tremere supposed to be tight?

Pete is the worst best friend.

“What, me too?”

“I’m trying to convince her to leave the city, to be honest, but I don’t even know if she’d be better off somewhere else. At least I can run interference here.”

“She just has a way of bumbling into danger.”

GM: “I don’t know how much luck you’ll have getting her, or anyone, to leave willingly if you can’t explain your reasons.”

“As far as that though, I’d say it depends. Are you good for each other? Have you ever lost control around her?”

Celia: “No. Never. I wouldn’t put them at risk by being around them like that.”

GM: “You’d be surprised how many licks do, by feeding on their families.”

Celia: “I would never feed on them. I make sure I’m not hungry when I go over.”

GM: “Then I’d say you’re more considerate than many licks, and otherwise a good influence in one another’s lives.”

Celia: “They’re one of the only good things I’ve got going for me. Why would I mess that up?”

GM: “People do stupid and senseless things all the time. But I’m glad you’re not.”

Celia: “I’ll keep her around for you, no worries.”

GM: “Like arguing with a brick wall…” Pete mutters.

Celia: “I’m your favorite,” Celia tells him with a grin.

GM: “Right.” Pete glances at the time. “Don’t think you’ll have time to give Tantal his makeover tonight.”

He pulls out a cup from his desk. “Bleed into this if you still want to go ahead.”

Celia: “…is it going to hurt, Pete?”

GM: “It shouldn’t, beyond the initial prick.”

Celia: “I mean whatever you’re about to do.”

“What are you going to do?”

GM: “Magic.”

“Pull answers from nowhere, for all intents and purposes to a layman.”

Celia: “That’s it? Just answers?”

GM: “That’s all. You’ll see the blood go poof.”

“What do you most want to find out about these guys?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes a smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: His eyes silently follow the sanguine trail.

He waits, though, to hear what she’s looking for.

Celia: Celia stares down into the cup. What she wants to know. Something to find out who is behind this all, mostly, but she doesn’t know if the blood can tell her that. And she might already have the answer. She looks back up at him and asks anyway.

“Who is behind all of this. What they want. How they’re finding us.” Her hand clenches into a fist. “How to stop them. Something to just ruin their whole operation.”

GM: “The bigger or broader your question, the vaguer your answer.”

Celia: Right. Even magic doesn’t make things easy.

“Is this like a twenty questions thing?”

She could ask if her own identity is shot. But she’s always been willing to sacrifice for the people she cares about, hasn’t she. It’s less important than finding out if someone sold him out or if he just got sloppy.

“Is who they’re working for too vague? I don’t even know if they’d know. How they found us, I guess.” She eyes him across the desk. “It’s not going to spit out something about GPS, is it? I mean how they found him to get to him. His place.”

“Because he said it was hidden behind a handful of pseudonyms. So it’s possible he just got tagged while he was out and followed home, and it’s all just a happy accident.”

And it’s possible these are the people the elders are working with and Roderick is just the first round of sacrificial lambs. Even if they’re “not religious.” How many groups of hunters are really in the city, though? But that doesn’t make sense if Coco is one of the people throwing names in, since she arranged for him to be protected before. Why throw him in the ring now? To make herself look innocent? Because she knew he could take them? Because she knew Celia would be there? Had Roderick told her even after they’d discussed not doing so? Maybe that’s why she sent them today (yesterday?), so that he’d have backup. Or it’s someone else working against the Anarchs. Someone with a rivalry, maybe. Savoy? But he’d sent her to collect Roderick, why move against him? He’s the in with the Calbido. Because he knew she’d be there—no, she’s overplaying her own importance. There are plenty of ways for him to get rid of her if he wants to.

It’s also possible that they followed her even though Pete already said that’s unlikely.

And maybe they’re not connected to licks at all and she’s searching for threads when there aren’t any.

Fuck, maybe it’s ghost boy, jealous that she’s back together with her ex when she said they could… what had she said? Dream together? Does sex with a ghost count as sex if it happens in a dream?

On that note, maybe it’s even Don—no. Better not even think that.

He’d been at the apartment, though. Had seen the mess left behind. Hadn’t asked about it, but he’d been in her head; who knows what sort of things he had pulled out of her.

She doubts he cares that much.

Cared enough to drop off a loose end, though.

And promptly throw her mom off a building the minute she’d admitted to a mistake. Maybe he thinks Roderick is a mistake. Maybe he doesn’t want her distracted. Maybe he doesn’t want Savoy to have an in.

And people with no regard to human life, sure sounds like him, doesn’t it? Pete said that wasn’t the point he was getting at, but…

She nods.

“Yeah. How they found him. If he was sold out. By whom, if so.” She lifts her brows at him. “If that’s not too much.”

GM: “I guess we’ll see.”

Pete gestures sharply and barks several harsh-sounding phrases in a tongue that mostly feels like Latin to Celia, but something about the accent is… off. The blood in the cup writhes in place, splashing against against the rim like a giant spider that’s been stabbed through its abdomen by a knife. Helplessly flailing its eight many-jointed legs. Low hissing noises that sound like screams to Celia, yet no louder than a whisper, waft up from the blood’s angrily bubbling surface as an unseen force seems to burn it from within. The hissing liquid rises above the cup in a cloud of scarlet vapor.

Celia makes out crude figures in the mist. The three hunters, talking to two men. Dark and tall figures with metallic voices, droning words she can only partly make out. Address… where you’ll find him… last assignment… deliver staked… glinko…

Celia: Celia looks past the vaporous, bloody figures to Pete. None of this is new. Of course the hunters were given the address. Of course they wanted him staked.

Her brows lift.

She waits.

There has to be more.

GM: The coppery-smelling fumes shift. Celia sees the hazy outline of a large and foreboding-looking building with monolithic architecture, the kind that makes everyone around it feel small and puny. It seems like something the prince would approve of. Heavy rhythmic thumps, like the disciplined march of an army, distantly echo.

Celia: It reminds her of every shitty cop show she’s ever seen, trying to put together the pieces of a crime scene or camera feed with only half the information or grainy images. Where’s the enhance button when you need it. She leans forward in her chair to see if she can make further sense of the vision.

If glinko is some sort of organization (the church? Does that mean Pete was wrong earlier when he said they weren’t religious, or just that they no longer need to be because no one is actually religious anymore so what does it matter?), who is the man on the ground? Who sold out Roderick? Who passed his information along to these two? How did they find out about him? Maybe she can’t go after an entire organization by herself, but she can find the rest of the puppets and cut their strings.

GM: Celia can’t make out anything more through the dissolving red plumes.

But she can hear something. A sibilant whisper against her ears.

Lee Andrin

There’s another faint, almost scream-like hiss in Celia’s ear as a coppery smell wafts across Celia’s nostrils, and then it’s gone. Pete’s cup sits empty.

Celia: It’s not a name she recognizes, but the prevalence of social media sites means she has a direction to go, at least. Maybe this “Lee” can provide her with more information. She’ll have to pay him (her?) a visit.

Tomorrow, though. Tonight she has more pressing matters to attend to, not the least of which is the rapidly approaching sunrise.

Her eyes find Pete.

GM: “You want to follow up on this?” he asks.

Celia: “Does that word mean anything to you? Glinko?”

GM: “Can’t say it does.”

Celia: “Church though, wasn’t it?”

GM: “Didn’t look especially church-like to me. No cross or stained glass.”

Celia: “Churches are usually distinct,” she agrees, “maybe more of a concept… organized religion. Catholicism. Army.” She turns the idea over in her head. Maybe she’s wrong.

“Throw childer to Inq. pyres,” she says quietly. She watches his face, to see if the words mean anything to him.

GM: He raises his eyebrows.

Celia: “The attack on Vienna.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “We squashed that. Anyone who’d make a run against our oldest elders on their home turf has a death wish.”

“Some of those Tremere were old when feudalism was new.”

Celia: “Glad to hear it. But it’s spreading. The people behind it.”

GM: The Tremere smiles humorlessly. “It’d chill your blood to learn just how far our elders go to get revenge, and how many ways they know to cause pain.”

“If any of the idiots behind that run on Vienna are still alive, they’re assuredly wishing they weren’t.”

Celia: Celia taps a finger against her thigh. She considers him, then finally just nods. She’d been hoping he could get her a quicker meeting with Savoy, but she thinks that she’s going to need to spill everything to him to get that, and she doesn’t have the time.

“I’m glad we’re friends then, Pete.”

GM: “Me too. Good luck with Roderick. Your grandsire will be very happy to flip him to our side.”

Celia: The smile she gives him doesn’t quite reach her eyes. It’s even a little bit sad, just one corner of her mouth ticking upward. Resigned, maybe.

“I hope so.

Celia doesn’t need to cut herself again. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a small vial of red liquid.

“I took a sample earlier. I didn’t know if I’d burn through it trying to blend in at my mom’s.” She flashes an apologetic smile, then upends the vial into the offered cup.

GM: “What do you want to find out most?” he asks.

Celia: “Do you have time to do one more, or do you think the sun will catch me on my way back home if we try it?”

GM: Pete glances at the time.

“Shouldn’t take long, so long as we don’t spend a while flapping our gums.”

Celia: Celia gives a brief nod. “I’d like to speak further with you about what we just saw, when we both have time. I believe it’s related to the information I have for Lord Savoy. Tomorrow?”

GM: “Elysium Primo’s tomorrow evening. I’m also on police duty, starting midnight. Saturday is better.”

Celia: She gives another brief nod. “I will make myself available. I’ll be around to fix Tantal tomorrow, anyway, if he’s here. Just have him text me.”

GM: “He’s here. He isn’t leaving until his face is his again.”

Celia: “I’ll do it first thing. Sorry I got caught up with talking to you earlier. I should have come by to fix him first.”

GM: “He doesn’t mind spending some off time here.”

“If your grandsire’s good at one thing, it’s keeping people entertained.”

Celia: She’ll have to ask the ghoul what he gets up to tomorrow when she works on him. Maybe he’s enjoying the girls Mel rents out.

“Don’t want to leave you without the help, though.”

GM: “He isn’t a cop. I don’t have him with me then anyway.”

Celia: “Well pardon me for worrying about you.”

GM: “It’s a grave sin, but I suppose I can if you’re contrite.”

Celia: “I’m not, really. Told Mom I’d look out for you.”

GM: “She should forget about me. In any case, what do you want to find out from this second sample?”

“As before, the more narrow your question, the more specific your answer.”

Celia: “So something like, ’what’s the worst thing this person has ever done’ or ‘what secret would they kill to protect’ might not fly?”

GM: “Almost anything flies, but you’ll get a vaguer and more cryptic answer if those sins and secrets aren’t recent ones.”

“There’s a saying among diviners. ‘Ask small questions, get big answers. Ask big questions, get small answers.’”

Celia: She doesn’t know what else to ask, though. She can look into Caroline’s public life herself. Roderick had told her how she’d been messing with the Anarchs, which is all mostly known by the rest of the licks. None of that really serves her purpose. He’d tasked her with bringing her to heel. That involves… dark things. She’s already planning on how to spin something else to blame the blonde if she moves against her…

Celia finally forces a sigh.

“I doubt anyone will take my word for it if I say I did it with a blood ritual anyway. Might as well see what it turns up that I can dig further into.”

GM: “So what do you want to shoot for?”

The detective adds dryly, “I also wouldn’t mind knowing whose blood this is.”

Celia: “She’s an enemy of Lord Savoy and stands directly in the way of what he wants. And she messed with my mom.” Quiet, but bitter beneath the tightly controlled words when she mentions her mother. “She’s the one with the mom who eats souls.” A look at him at that revelation, brows raised; after what he said about that sort of act she can’t imagine that he wouldn’t want to know what’s in this sample.

“Worst thing she’s ever done, then.” Maybe her ghost friend can help her uncover some secrets.

GM: Pete’s eyebrows raise too, but it’s not enough to eclipse the angry look his eye gets after Celia mentions Diana.

“She did, did she?”

“Tell me how.”

Celia: There’s a tale.

Celia keeps it brief.

“My mom teaches dance, as you know.” Does he know? She thinks, based on his reaction, that he pays more attention to Diana than Celia had realized. “Private lessons sometimes. She had a session with the lick’s kid sister at their house and she got emotional, and she was hit by some charm and some mind-fu—uh, mind twisting, memory stuff. And then she started crying outside and talking about Maxen taking her daughter away, and she got sick early the next morning and Maxen showed up. And Emily told me that she threw out her pain medication for her leg because she thought it made her say weird things and I think it was just a lingering result of the mind-twisting, and she’s refusing to take her meds now and she’s in pain and now I’m like well I better go see what Xola wants to fix her leg because otherwise she’s going to not be able to walk or something.”

Clearly exasperated, Celia looks like she wants to start pacing or throw her hands up in disgust. She does neither, but her fingers twist together on her lap.

“She’s delicate. She can’t take that sort of mind-bendy garbage and just… just bounce back like nothing happened.”

“And I don’t know maybe it’s all just a big coincidence but it sure doesn’t feel like one.”

GM: Pete gives a low growl.

“Keep your mom out of that damn house, you hear?”

Celia: “I’m trying. She doesn’t want to listen to me and it’s not like I can tell her the real reason.”

GM: “So lie about something. I know you’re pretty good at that. Or take some damn executive action, and put your foot down that she’s not going, you’ve decided she isn’t allowed anymore.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says quietly. “I’ll figure it out.”

“…d’you think Xola would…? Your friend said he might teach me, but he’s gone now, and if she’s not on her meds anymore…”

It’s such a human problem that she feels ridiculous bringing it up to him, but she searches his face for an answer all the same. There’s no disguising the hope, desperation, and apprehension in her eyes. As if waiting for him to tell her to make it worth his time to even talk about it.

She’s asking, she realizes, if he’ll go with her again. As much as the back alley doctor hadn’t really phased her the first time she’d met him, Roderick’s warning rings in her mind.

GM: “Jesus Christ, kid,” Pete sighs.

“Leaving aside all the ways that’s a bad idea—and there are a lot of them—how the hell are you going to explain to your mom why you’re taking her to see a ghetto back alley doctor like Xola? Who can somehow work miracles a proper doctor can’t?”

Celia: It’s been a long time since she’s heard his voice in her head. But there it goes, whispering that word she hates so much.

Stupid.

She doesn’t say anything. Just nods her head, trying to control the desperation that makes her look for any answer to keep her family safe.

GM: “Put your foot down. Tell her she’s taking her meds. For good or ill, she’s used to someone telling her what to do.”

Celia: She nods again. She doesn’t trust herself to speak.

Celia: He has to be thinking it. That’s she’s stupid. Incompetent. He’d almost said as much two nights ago with his thinly veiled comments about the time she spends online. Do they regret fishing her out of the water?

She’s not. She’s not stupid. She’s useful, she can be useful.

Prove it.

“Vidal’s kid,” she says finally. “The blood. You asked who. That’s… that’s who. He has a childe. A new one.”

Less eloquent than normal. She must be rattled.

GM: Pete actually blinks.

“What?”

Celia: “He has a childe. A fledgling. Months old.”

GM: “Yeah, and I’m actually Hardestadt’s.”

Celia: Celia blinks at him this time. Her brows furrow, but no crease dares to mar her perfect skin.

“Why would I lie about that?”

GM: “So just what is it that makes you think so?”

Celia: “I met her. Last night. She was in the Garden District, bold as brass, like she had every right to be there. And we shared blood, and she was… I mean, it was potent. Hers, and the stuff inside of her too. It’s not like I go around chomping on elders but… Pete, I’ve never tasted anything like it. And you know that trick with the speed, how you can share it? She did that. Months old.”

And her sire confirmed it, but she doesn’t think she should tell him that.

GM: “There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.” Pete gives an ominous look. “Some pretty nasty.”

“I’d be more inclined to suspect those.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says. “Considering whatever her mom is, sure, I could see that. And maybe she’s just a natural with the speed. It makes more sense than the alternative. And I’d probably believe that if she hadn’t sicced the sheriff on me and he hadn’t threatened me for interfering with the prince’s business.” She tries to make her voice sound like his: cold, imperious. She doesn’t quite manage. Why else would Donovan have used her mother as an example?

GM: “That all sounds pretty anecdotal to me. Vidal’s had hundreds of years to Embrace. He hasn’t. Pretty unlikely he’s about to start again.”

Celia: Celia looks like she wants to sigh at him. And maybe at herself for even bothering to bring it up. She should just take the bitch out and be done with it.

“Pete,” she says quietly, “he told me. He said it, that she’s the prince’s childe.”

GM: Pete looks at her strangely.

“Have you been spending time with Malkavians?”

Celia: “Just Preston.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll play along. Why would your sire randomly decide to tell you that she’s Vidal’s childe?”

Celia: “I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside his head. Why did he Embrace me? Why did he abandon me? It’s not like we sit down and chat over a pint of blood like Roderick gets to do with Coco because she’s so fascinating and knows so much and she’s just so smart and amazing and pretty but let’s ignore the fact that—”

Celia cuts herself off. She stares down at her lap, where her claws have sprung free from their fleshy prison. She swallows the hurt and bitterness and jealousy, watching them sink back into her flesh as if they had never been.

“Sorry,” she mutters. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask why he told me. He just said that she’s the prince’s childe and to stay out of the Garden District and then he threw my mom off the roof to prove his point.”

GM: “I find it extremely improbable that Vidal would have taken another childe, or that Donovan would have felt any particular reason to share that with you. Maybe he’s feeding you lies to further some scheme.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she allows. “Could ask the blood. I thought… I dunno, maybe there’d be… better questions for it, or something, and I was trying to… to not be emotional, not waste it on my own petty revenge…” Questions, she says, but she really means uses. She thinks it might be rude to blatantly say as much, though.

GM: Pete shrugs. “It’s either confirm something that’d be a real game-changer, or get something on a neonate of no particular importance.”

Celia: Celia smiles at him. Her lashes flutter, just a little, as if to say, See, this is why I let you guys do the heavy thinking.

“Okay,” she says. “Should we… do that now, or… should we get Lord Savoy, in case he wants to know..?”

GM: “He’ll take my word if the results are positive, and we’ll have wasted his time if they’re not.”

Celia: His word. But not Celia’s.

That’s not a bitter pill at all.

She just nods.

“Makes sense.”

GM: Pete repeats his ritual. Pours in the blood. Mouths the incantations. Caroline’s face forms from the scarlet plumes.

Pic.jpg
They shift into another a face Celia can only recall seeing a bare handful of times, at a bare handful of Elysia. Most recently Matheson’s trial.

Augusto_Vidal.jpg
Celia: She doesn’t say told you so. But she definitely thinks it.

GM:Longinus in fucking lingerie,” Pete exclaims.

The plumes shift again, into two more faces.

Urcalida.JPG
Tiamat1.JPG
The cup stands empty.

“Why the fuck is she running around saying she’s René’s childe?” Pete speculates aloud.

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Same reason we say I’m Veronica’s childe, maybe. Maybe they thought it would be less of a target on her back. Roderick told me that she was causing all sorts of issues with the Anarchs. Like trying to make deals and just being kind of…” cunty “… not very friendly. Like how she couldn’t stand the thought of being this sireless nobody after, y’know, who her parents are. Maybe she’s… a plant? Or like, trying to spy? Or she was an accident?” She’s doing a terrible job at it, if that’s the case.

“I didn’t tell him,” she adds, as if expecting the question. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

GM: “Spy or accident both seem very unlikely,” Pete says, shaking his head. “Any other lick could serve as a spy. And Vidal making that kind of rookie mistake, for an accident? I don’t see it.”

“But there’s obviously a lot here that I don’t see.”

“The results don’t lie. Lord Savoy will hear about this. He’ll know what to make of it.”

Celia: Pete knows more about their prince than Celia does. She’s inclined to trust him in this matter. If he says she’s not an accident or a spy then she isn’t an accident or a spy.

Not an accident.

It shouldn’t make her think of her sire, but it does. That he’s also not the type of lick to make a rookie mistake. That he did mean to Embrace her, that he chose her.

She pushes the thought aside. It doesn’t matter. She already thinks she knows why, and it has no bearing on this conversation about Vidal and his childe.

She nods at his statement.

“I’m supposed to see him on Saturday. I was trying to get an earlier meeting to tell him about it, but…” she lifts her shoulders in a gesture that might be a shrug. “You know how it is, when they’re busy. Better this way, I think. To confirm it.”

Celia: “Hey Pete,” she says after a minute, “that was Sumerian, right? The thing at the end? You went through their whole line?”

GM: “I did. It looked Middle Eastern. Why?”

Celia: “Well. ‘Cause the other night, with Roxanne, she mentioned something about Vidal being the childe of Longinus. Sounded like she was convinced of it. She was… real fanatical about it, kind of like he’d, I dunno, collared her a few times. It reminded me of how ‘Lana gets about me. And it didn’t make much sense.”

She repeats part of the conversation for him. How she’d said Vidal is not Kindred, not Ventrue, but touched by God.

GM: “Your sister was cracked in the head,” says Pete. “You said it yourself. Crazy even before she died.”

“Pretty common for Vidal to collar licks who get on his bad side, though. Can’t imagine that helped.”

Celia: “You think she was on his bad side?”

GM: “The Storyvilles had their lips pressed to his ass, by all accounts. I doubt she wanted to be. But it’s possible she did something stupid and wound up on it anyway.”

Celia: “Oh. ’Cause I have her ghoul. The MILF. I thought maybe she might… know more, or something.”

GM: “Might be she does. I suspect your sister’s particular basket of crazy was exactly that, but renfields can pick up some interesting things.”

Celia: “I’ll see if I can get it out of her, then.”

“The blood thing you do. Is that something you can detect with it? Collars, or memories, or…?” She trails off.

GM: “There isn’t much my clan elders can’t do with a blood sample,” Pete answers with a humorless smile. “But that isn’t something I can.”

Celia: Celia nods, as if she’d expected that answer. She’d been asking about Roxanne, but some nagging thing inside of her thinks that Roderick might be triple bound to his sire, and she’d been thinking about stealing a little bit of it to find out.

Probably better that she not betray his trust like that, anyway.

“Thanks. Just figured I’d ask. Any chance you want to teach me that phone finger wavey-thing you do so I don’t have to ask you to get into them all the time for me?” She flashes a hopeful grin his way.

GM: “Might take a pretty long while. It’s not a parlor trick.”

Celia: “I can be patient.”

“I bet you’d be a good teacher, too. Very patient. Like my mom.”

“You guys have a lot in common.”

She beams at him.

GM: Pete groans.

“It isn’t ever going to sink in, is it, no matter what I say?”

Celia: “She’s a good-looking lady. Has to beat them off with sticks these days.”

“Anyway, you’re the nicest person I know. That means you’re meant to be together.” There’s sincerity in her words despite her tone. She really does appreciate him.

It’s why she teases him so much.

GM: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it every time. Find her a real man. Should be pretty easy with you keeping her so good-looking.”

Celia: “Mr. Landrenau said the same thing earlier this evening. Asked if she was single, then said that maybe he’d have to start going to the spa if my work was that good.”

“I don’t want to step on my grandsire’s toes, though.”

Not that she thinks Diana will do anything with Ron. He’s… not her type. And she’d already found Mel and had picked out two of her girls to send over as an apology for interrupting his evening. They’ll meet with him tomorrow and he’ll forget all about Diana.

No, now she’s just baiting the Tremere.

GM: They’re probably more his type than Diana is, too.

Celia: She’s pretty sure Diana could give those girls a run for their money in flexibility, though.

GM: She’s pretty sure the former ballerina would beat them. Emily says their mom still does lots of stretching exercises around her and Lucy. “I swear that her joints are slinkys.”

Celia: She’ll make some man real happy one of these days.

GM: “Doesn’t hurt to be considerate,” says Pete. “Plenty fish in the sea and all that.”

“I’ll get this to your grandsire. He should hear fast.”

Celia: “Thanks. He should.” She glances at the clock. “I should get going, anyway. Meeting Roderick.”

This close to dawn, the implication is clear: they’re definitely sleeping together.

“Convenient that his haven was compromised.” Idle words, but she watches his face, wondering if Savoy had pulled some strings to give her a better chance at flipping him.

GM: “Sounds like it,” says Pete. Celia doesn’t spot anything on the Tremere’s face.

He sees her to the door. “Good luck.”

Celia: It was worth a shot, anyway.

“Have a good night, Pete. I’ll see you tomorrow.”


Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana’s traded in Celia’s car, per her domitor’s instructions. It’s a short drive in her new ride back to her secondary haven. Roderick meets Celia there. He greets her with a kiss.

“How was your night?”

Celia: She’s relieved to see him. All in once piece, too. She spends a little bit longer than she needs to eying him up and down, as if waiting to see him crack under the knowledge that he had to kill and dismember his first person. People. Multiple.

She lets him in and hands him the spare key. He hadn’t personally given it back those years ago after he’d smashed her face, but the sudden appearance of it one night where she’d been sure to see it had been a clear message. She’d stopped waiting for him after that.

“I missed you,” she tells him, “so it was awful. But it’s better now.”

The apartment is still a mess. She hadn’t had a moment to shop for anything new, and the destroyed furniture sits where they left it. So much for making out on the couch, anyway.

“How was yours?”

GM: He looks together. Enough. Her question, though, brings a grim look to his face.

“Honestly, it was… awful.”

“Your being here makes it less awful.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I should have been the one to clean it up. That shouldn’t have been on you.”

GM: “I killed two of them. With my own hands. It might as well have been me.”

He sits down with a tired expression.

“I guess I was going to do that sooner or later. Kill someone. Dispose of the body.”

Celia: Celia curls up beside him. She runs a hand up and down his back, lets her head rest on his shoulder.

“You did it because you had to. It wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t because you were hungry, you didn’t kill a vessel. You defended yourself and protected what’s yours.”

GM: He leans into her, running a hand of his own along her back.

“I know. Defended you, too. But doing what I did… that midnight boat trip, dropping bags of body parts overboard, weighted down with rocks…”

He doesn’t sigh. He just stares ahead at the floor for a moment. His face is very still.

“I felt like a mobster.”

Celia: “You’re not. You know that, right? That you’re not. What they do… what they do is awful. For money. For power. For drugs, or whatever else they’re after. That’s not you. That’s not you at all.”

“You’re not some heartless thug.”

GM: “That’s what I tried to tell myself. But all I could think of. All I could think of, was what my dad would say. What my grandpa would say.”

“If they could have seen me there.”

His eyes start to rim red.

Celia: “You know the night you went missing your dad brought a gun when we went looking for you. He handed one to me and he had one for himself. Do you think he’d have done that if he didn’t intend to use it, should he have found that something happened to you, that someone had you?”

“If someone hurt you, he’d have put them down. If someone hurt me, you’d put them down. That’s what love is, Roderick. You’re not a mindless killer. You don’t go around looking for people to kill. That’s not you. I know that. You know that. They would know that.”

“Do you think I’m a monster? Because I told you last night that I had to kill two people earlier this week. And you said that I did what I had to do. Because they’d have killed me, if not.”

“So what’s the difference here? Do you think I’m some battle-hardened, dreadful criminal who slaughters people and is completely inured to it?”

“I don’t feel bad for defending myself. I don’t feel bad for putting down someone else before they could put me down. I don’t feel bad for killing someone who wanted to hurt you.” She pulls back so that she can look him in the eyes. “Because I promise you this. I promise you. That if someone were to come after you, if someone were to hurt you, I would find them and I would end them. And I will not feel bad about it.”

“So don’t,” she continues, voice hard, “don’t. Do not beat yourself up about doing the same exact thing. Do not feel bad because you didn’t allow yourself to be staked and beheaded or lit on fire or ripped apart for science projects. I would have watched them kill you. You would have made me… made me watch them kill you.”

“And that is bullshit.”

“I lost you twice already.”

“Don’t make it a third. Don’t put me in that position, that I have to watch you die. That I have to lose you again.”

GM: He dabs at his eyes. Celia can feel her fangs lengthening in her mouth.

“You’re right. I don’t… I don’t regret killing them, when they were trying to kill you. When they might have been like those last hunters who raped you. I talked with Coco, and she said there was no way those hunters were going to make it out alive, even if I’d captured them all. ‘Walking Masquerade breaches,’ was what she called them.”

“I don’t think you’re a monster. I just wish… this whole thing hadn’t happened.”

“I don’t like how killing makes me feel.”

Celia: Of course he talked to Coco.

What’s it like, she wonders, to have a sire that gives a fuck?

“It doesn’t need to happen again. Do you have another place picked out?”

GM: “Yeah. A house in Mid-City. It’ll take a little to set everything up, but I can crash with my krewemates, Coco, and hopefully you until then.”

“Although… even that depends, how the stuff with Dani shakes out.”

Celia: “You can stay here. You don’t need to couch surf. There’s no reason for it.”

GM: “More just that it’s an increasing risk to be coming here every night.”

“But I talked with Ayame, earlier. I don’t remember if I told you, between everything that’s been going on.”

“She said she’ll get in touch with her friends in Houston. I’m going to reach out to her again tomorrow, if I don’t hear from her first.”

Celia: “And you’ll take Dani out of the city?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll go with her.”

Celia: “…wait, for… for good?”

He can’t leave.

GM: He shakes his head.

“I’m needed here. But I’ll go with her, probably spend a few nights in Houston, just to be completely sure Ayame’s friends are on the up and up. And to help Dani settle in.”

Celia: “Oh.” That makes sense. She inhales, then nods. “What about after?”

GM: “I’ll stay in touch with her.”

Celia: “I meant with you.”

GM: “I don’t know,” he admits. “That’ll be something to think about on the trip back. Right now I’ve just been so focused on Dani and those hunters.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again. Quietly this time. She doesn’t quite meet his eye anymore.

GM: “Oh, what?” he frowns. “Did you think I meant us?”

He takes her hand in his. “Look, whatever comes… I want you in my Requiem.”

“You don’t need to worry about that. At all.”

Celia: She starts to protest. To tell him that isn’t what she means. But his words halt her in her tracks, and she can’t help the way her lips part. Her eyes shine.

There’s a conversation she should be having. Something she’s supposed to convince him of. But factions, princes, politics—what is all of that compared to matters of the heart?

So she doesn’t say anything. She just leans in. Her fangs are already long and sharp in her mouth. She drags them across his cheek, his throat. She doesn’t break the skin, not yet. She pushes him back, though. Moves so that she’s on his lap. Pins his arms above his head—as if he couldn’t shake her free.

“Not what I meant,” she finally says, once she’s got him where she wants him.

GM: He starts to kiss her as she traces his skin with her fangs. When she pushes him down onto the sofa, he grins and lays back. She can see how long his own fangs are in his mouth.

“Oh yeah, what did you mean?”

Celia: “Politics,” she says absently, “but you distracted me when you told me how much you like me.”

GM: “I like you a lot more than politics, too.”

Celia: “How much more?”

GM: “So much more. Lake Pontchartrain next to your bathtub more.”

Celia: “That’s almost romantic.”

GM: “It’s romantic if I talk about how much I like you, politics be damned.”

Celia: “Then be with me.”

GM: He smiles down from under her, arms still pinned under hers.

“I’m right here.”

Celia: It’s not what she means. He knows that. She knows he knows that.

GM: “Or, what, you mean… politically?”

Celia: He saves her the trouble of bringing it up, at least.

“How do you think this is going to end if not?”

GM: “We could make it work. Keep things on the down and low.”

Celia: “What, you didn’t already tell Coco you’re seeing me again?”

GM: “Give me some credit.”

Celia: “And the Golds? They just thought you killed three hunters on your own in the middle of the day?”

GM: “That’s what I told them. They seemed to buy it.” He smirks. “What can I say? I’m a badass.”

“Okay,” he adds after a moment, “it wasn’t. I told them my renfields arrived in the nick of time. Just so it sounded extra plausible.”

Celia: Celia pulls at the collar of her shirt. “Take me now, badass.”

GM: “That almost sounds sarcastic. I should punish you.”

His hands shoot up from their pinned position, grabbing hers. Her throws her to the side, against the back of the couch, then grabs her by the shoulders and flips her around, pushing her chest-first against the (torn) cushions as he clambers on top of her. He twists her hands and pins them against the small of her back as he leans in, fangs piercing the back of her neck. His other hand reaches along her groin and starts to play with her clit.

Celia: It was sarcastic. She doesn’t have the opportunity to tell him that, though, because before she can do more than think the words he has her flipped and pinned. Celia yelps at the sudden movement, thrashing against him, but the position favors him and he’s always been stronger than her. She whimpers when his fangs pierce her skin, the sound swallowed by what’s left of the padding in the cushion. Her hips press down against the hand he’s worked inside her clothing. She rubs against him, helps him find the right spot.

It’s hardly punishment, but she won’t be the one to tell him he’s doing it wrong if he’s suddenly decided to play at being aggressive.

GM: Play seems to be mostly what he’s interested in. For good or I’ll, he isn’t her sire. Or her father.

He does screw her, though. He pulls off her top and nips, rips, and bites all over her neck and back. He’s careful to lick the blood up after it’s had time to cool. He pleasures her between her legs with his fingers, and eventually with his mouth when he flips her over so that she can bite and suck from him too. He nips and licks her stiffened nipples, pleasing the Beast and the Man at once (or at least the vampire and the woman). He even gets hard, near the end, and gives her an “old-fashioned” fucking as they drink from one another’s necks. The motions of intercourse help distract from that torturously long wait for their blood to cool.

The two Kindred know pleasure in one another’s arms. The couch is heady with the scents of their blood and Celia’s love juices when they finish, naked and spent as dawn rises over the city. Roderick spoons with her, wrapping his arms around her belly as he nuzzles his face against her neck.

“I really love you…”

Celia: Licks don’t get tired anymore. Not really. So it isn’t exhaustion that she feels when they’re done licking and fucking and drinking from each other. Sated, maybe. Content. Pleased, if her smile is anything to go by, not that he can see it when she’s turned away from him as she is. She slides her arms around his, nestling further against him, and turns her head to plant a lazy kiss on the corner of his mouth. All lips, no fangs. She doesn’t need to pretend to be someone she isn’t around him. He doesn’t call her perverted for the human way she still shows affection.

His words wash over her. She closes her eyes, lets them sink in. Her heart swells.

He loves her.

It’s like no time passed at all. Like there was never any distance between them. Like she never fucked up to the point that he had to leave her. A pang in her chest reminds her that she did—that she’s been denied this for the past seven years because of her own actions—and she shoves it back down. She won’t look back. Only forward. Years of this, of him, ahead of her.

“I love you too.”


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Story Twelve, Celia XIX

“People rarely get the things they wish for.”
—Payton Underwood


Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

GM: Celia falls asleep. One second later, it’s hours later. She’s starting to forget what that transition between wakefulness and sleep even felt like. She’s in bed by herself. Roderick’s left a note, along with some folded clothes.

Guess I’m an earlier riser than you. Text me when you’re up.

Celia: He was supposed to wake her. She’d told him that last night before they’d gone to bed to begin with. “Wake me so we can talk,” she had said, and he’d agreed.

Rude.

Better this way, though. Maybe he’s done with the bodies already.

Celia glances at the time on her phone as she unlocks it to send him a text. She checks her messages while she unfolds the clothes he’d left for her, then glances at the door. Did he take his people with him? Is she alone in the house now? Did he leave the phones for her to try or did he back out of that and take them with him?

GM: Celia looks alone in the bedroom. She may or may not be alone in the rest of the house.

Roderick’s left behind three phones on the bedside table. This time, however, Celia does not appear so lucky. All three ask for a PIN.

She also has numerous texts. The first that catches her eye is from Logan:

Ugh Emily can be such a bitch. You try to do something nice

Celia: He’d left them. All of them. All three phones, waiting and ready for her. All she has to do is slide into the clothes, call an Uber, and take them to Lebeaux like she’d planned. She’s meeting with him anyway to fix Tantal and find out what happened with the other hunters.

Only… she doesn’t know if she wants to take them to Lebeaux. He’d hidden things from her before—for your own good, kid—even when she had been the one to get the objects for him to test in the first place. She almost expects him to tell her the same thing about this meeting that she’d made possible by killing the hunters and by getting into the phone and by changing the ghoul’s face and by giving him the idea to bug the stake, which gives them more future information. She’s sure he’ll pat her head for it, then make some comment about it being need to know or above your paygrade or whatever other cliché bullshit he’ll use as an excuse not to tell her because he thinks she’s a stupid Toreador slut like everyone else does.

Just like she planned, right? Except somehow, when he says it, she’s still offended. He’s supposed to know her better than that.

Better this way, though. He’ll think she hasn’t put it all together yet.

Opening Logan’s text gives her a new idea, though. She quickly types in a response.

Think she was just surprised. You can do something nice for me, though. Got any nerdy tech-y friends?

She could try to get into the phones on her own. More difficult than just waving her hand at it like the warlock can do, and the fact that they’re all locked with a PIN makes it… unlikely. Ten thousand potential combinations, if her math is right. Possible lockout timer, which delays her from just punching in a bunch of numbers. The tech is out there to wipe the phone after too many tries, but she’d had a friend once who worked for a carrier and told her that most people don’t bother to do that. They’ll eventually be prompted for the PUK, her friend had said, which they get just by calling their provider and verifying the information on the account. Usually last name, phone number, address. Sometimes the last four of the social, or a birthday, or the PIN as well. Only problem is she doesn’t have that information, and she thinks Roderick might be over there disposing of the bodies right now, and unless the hunters brought their wallets and ID with them…

Lotta ifs.

He’s smart enough to keep the IDs, though, if there are any.

Damnit, she should have gone with him. Even if she doesn’t want to simply hand the phones over to Lebeaux he could have done his witchy magic finger waving thing if she’d brought a blood sample. Could have found more ghouls to take on their identities. Infiltrate. Get rid of the threat before it gets any bigger.

She sends another quick text to Roderick: ETA?

Then her gaze lands on the provided clothes. Slacks, a blouse. Professional enough for her meeting with Lebeaux, she supposes, and she dresses quickly. She can change afterward. Bess’ clothing? Has to be. Unless Roderick has a harem of female renfields, and she doesn’t see why not. She tells herself the idea doesn’t bother her. That he’s probably not fucking all of them. That they’re probably not as horny as Alana is.

Feet bare, she pads toward the bedroom door. The place belongs to a human, he’d said. Stands to reason the kitchen is stocked. Garbage bags. Sandwich bags. Plastic bags. Tupperware. Her mom has piles of it in her house. Hell, even Celia’s haven has it. Ghouls gotta eat, after all. She opens the door and steps out to find something suitable.

GM: Lol I’m not friends with nerds, Logan texts back. But there’s a couple comp sci people I have classes with

Roderick replies after a moment: Pretty soon. Finished cleaning up my apartment. Want to go boating

Celia: To Roderick: Is that an invite?

To Logan: “Friend” is just a nice way of asking if you know any nerds lol

After a second, she sends another text to Logan. They around now or nah?

GM: The clothes are slightly large on Celia, but they fit well enough. The rest of the apartment looks like an older bachelor’s pad. It’s not as messy as a 20something’s, but her mother would probably find a lot of things to clean up from the pile of dirty dishes in the sink to the clutter left strewn over the the furniture. Most of the food looks like takeout, frozen, or canned, but she finds trash bags and plastic bags without issue. There’s even some tupperware, just not a Diana-level amount.

Roderick texts back, Was going to go with some friends, but could cancel for just us

Logan: I can try to hit them up, you need something?

Celia: She slips the phone into her pocket to search for the plastic bag in the kitchen. Gotta be around here somewhere, right? At last, in a drawer where they definitely don’t belong, she finds what she’s looking for. She pulls one free, shakes her head at the mess, and wonders what Diana would say if she could see this now.

Then it’s back to the bedroom to put the three phones into the bag. She makes sure they’re silenced—super awkward if they start ringing inside of her, right?—before she closes it. After half a second of consideration claws grow from the tips of her fingers, and she cuts into her own flesh, hissing as the skin splits beneath the nails. It’s fixable, of course, but it’s not pleasant to slice into herself like this. She needs to find a better way to smuggle things.

Maybe all those times Paul had taken advantage of her were—

No, she’s not going to let her brain go there.

She stuffs the phones inside and pinches shut her flesh.

Her attention returns to her own phone.

She texts Roderick back: nah it’s cool Idk where my bikini is anyway, call me after tho ;)

Then to Logan: Employee locked up salon phone, think they can help?

GM: She’s seen worse apartments, at least. Like Em’s. At least there’s canned vegetables instead of endless jugs of Nutella.

She remembers that. Ramen, booze, and Kraft mac and cheese. Cocaine in white plastic baggies next to the Nutella. That half-eaten white bread Nutella and butter sandwich. Stacks of Hot Pockets, bags of candy, Red Bull, and sugary soft drinks.

This man (it has to be a man) isn’t ever going to win a “best homemaker” award, but he isn’t living a 10-year-old’s dream diet either.

Celia: Celia is definitely going to tell her mom to bake this man some meals. Canned vegetables are not food.

She doesn’t wait for a response from either Logan or Roderick. She has a meeting to get to.


Thursday evening, 10 March 2016

Celia: Celia crosses the kitchen to the window and unlatches it, pulling down the screen. A moment of concentration and she’s not Celia anymore. The world around her shifts and changes as surely as her own form blurs. Things get bigger. Her bones hollow out. Feathers sprout in place of hair. The window that was within reach is suddenly feet above her head, and she’s left hopping across the floor on feet that don’t much like the smooth tile. Her arms—wings, now—spread to steady herself. She hops again, beating her wings against the still air in the kitchen, and after only a moment she has achieved flight. She soars toward the window, flits through the opening she’d made in the screen, and is free.

Pic.jpg
Paranoia makes her keep a sharp eye on the world around her as she soars through the sky, and she draws that predatory aura of hers inward just in case anyone happens to be looking. She’s nothing but a common nightjar now. Just another nocturnal bird going about its bird business.

The nightjar, or more commonly the nighthawk, is both nocturnal and native to New Orleans. So while it isn’t particularly pretty to look at—it’s actually rather dull, which serves them well in the wild when they sleep during the day—it’s the perfect thing she needs to get around the city unseen.

GM: Celia’s enormous new black eyes facilitate that sharp eye. The nightjar doesn’t have the best color discrimination, but it can see in the dark as well as any vampire. Her tapetum lucidum, that distinctive eye shine which night-blind humans lack, takes it all in.

But even her kind would still kill to have eyes like these, with each one positioned on different sides of her head. Her 300 degree vision sees in front her and across from her at the same time. Her peripheral vision is anything but peripheral, and the next-best thing to eyes in the back of her head. Sneaking up on a bird with with this vision is damn hard.

But none of that compares with flight.

Air rushes past her as she climbs the skies. She flaps her wings until she finds a thermal current, then just glides. Endless horizon stretches before her. Endless sky stretches above her. She flies.

Emily had gone skydiving once and been disappointed Celia couldn’t come with her: she said the experience was as exhilarating as it was terrifying, that it made you feel alive like nothing else and longing to be in the air again, once your pumping heart had calmed down. Perhaps this is like skydiving. She’s gone skydiving too, in a manner of speaking. But instead of falling like when her sire dropped, her dead frozen with terror as she fell and fell and fell, she’s in control. Her dead wings don’t get tired from flapping like a bird’s. If she soars high enough, the city becomes a speck in her vision, and all of its troubles and intrigues so small before her. She’s above it all. She has the freedom to go anywhere. To just fly away.

Celia: Nothing compares to flight.

No arms around her, no one holding her aloft. No thoughts of falling to the city far below. No wintry presence that steals the warmth from her, that steals her very life. No thoughts invading her mind. No terror. No hoping that someone doesn’t drop her.

She cannot fall, not like this.

She is in control now. She directs her body which way to go, which currents of air to ride. Wings outstretched, she rides the waves. There is little flapping in the flight of a nightjar; her wings are longer than they are wide, perfect for gliding through the air. And glide she does. More graceful in the sky as she is on two feet, the nightjar soars toward the French Quarter. A cry of jubilation leaves her recently narrowed throat, a bird-like trill rather than the exclamation of a girl.

This is what freedom tastes like.

GM: The Evergreen approaches soon. Much too soon.

But there has to be time for another few laps. She can go back. She can go anywhere. She can come back or leave forever.

Birds don’t know the freedom they have.

But maybe that’s because they don’t build cages.

Celia: Maybe she should leave forever. She’s thought about it plenty of times. Leaving the city behind. Living as an animal. A cat, to be adored, to be given the physical affection she so desperately craves. A bird, and she’ll never let her feet touch the ground again. Another step and she can be anything she wants. All she has to do is learn how.

All the time in the world up here for the bird, but the lick inside knows that’s not true. She has responsibilities to see to. A family to take care of. Up here, the problems seem so far away. Still, no matter how fast she flies, how far she goes, she’s always back by morning.

Jade casts her gaze toward the roof of the Evergreen, searching for the lord who holds his court there.

Better not to risk landing, even if it’s empty. She has no doubt that she will be delivered, staked, to her grandsire should she try it. She lands nearby instead, finds what cover she can, and shifts back. Once more humanoid feet touch upon the ground. The sudden mass of her body weighs heavily on her, as if it has thrown shackles around her heart and soul.

A prison, truly, this form of hers.

She does not dwell. She sees herself inside to find Lebeaux.

GM: The Evergreen’s rooftop garden sits empty to the nightjar’s sight. There’s the hot tub, the iron table, the cushioned chairs. It looks all-too easy to swoop down onto one of the many fruit trees. She could conceal herself amongst the thick canopy and the other birds and butterflies and beautiful things, and wait for her grandsire to show up. She could listen to whatever conversations the French Quarter lord might have in the heart of his court.

It looks so invitingly easy.

Celia: Her grandsire cages the other things. The songbirds in gilded cages, to be sure, but cages all the same. She is not a bird, and in this form not beautiful besides. She has no place atop this roof tonight.

GM: The same Louis Armstrong jazz merrily sounds throughout the Evergreen as Jade enters, though the main lounge has been cleaned up from the revels of earlier. Ordinary mortals talk, eat, and listen to music. Fabien greets Jade with the same smile as ever and directs her up the stairs to Lebeaux’s office when she asks whether the warden is present. She finds him typing into the computer at his desk.

Celia: She knocks on the frame of the door before she steps into his office.

“Good evening, Pete.”

GM: “Evening, Celia.” He looks her over. “I wouldn’t say you’re dressed down, but definitely sideways.”

Celia: “Careful Pete, I might think you’re paying attention to me.” She slides into the seat across from him and crosses one leg over the other. The once-over she gives the detective is far less subtle than the one he’d given her. When she finally meets his eye again she winks at him.

GM: “I thought you were saving me for your mother,” he remarks dryly.

Celia: “Ah, see, I know you broke your own heart the other night when you told me it would never happen. I’m here to pick up the pieces.”

GM: “Of course. Offering me comfort in my time of loneliness and need.”

Celia: “What are friends for, right?”

“Should I close the door, warden?”

GM: “Always, please, though I’m afraid my reasons will always disappoint a Toreador.”

Celia: She heaves a sigh, forcing air through her body to make the sound long and drawn out as she rises again to close the door before resuming her seat. She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like “tease” as she re-crosses her legs, just loud enough for him to hear.

GM: “Both renfields made the drop-off,” he says without preamble. “They’re back and in one piece.”

Celia: Thank God for that.

“Glad to hear it. I’ll see to yours tonight before I head out, get him back to his normal face. How’d it go?”

GM: “So far so good. They met with a couple other breathers who paid them cash for ‘your’ body. Provided them with an address in Mid-City for their next target.”

“Said there’d be good things in their futures if they continued to deliver results.”

Celia: “I hope I was worth a pretty penny.”

“Easy way to take out some enemies.” It’s not quite a question, but there’s a lilt to the end of the statement, a lift of her brows.

GM: “It is a time-honored tactic, yes. But my gut tells me to be cautious here.”

Celia: “Inq?”

GM: “I suppose it’s possible, but neither of those two’s handlers said anything to indicate they were especially religious.”

“They had more to say around the bugged stake. They seemed to hold those two in contempt. Had another target for them in the Quarter, if they pulled off the job in the Mid-City.”

“Three missions for them to get in with the real team.”

Celia: “Well, considering I talked them into letting me kill them, I would also hold them in contempt. What’s your gut telling you is wrong? Sneak in, find out who they are, take them all out. In theory, anyway.”

“Someone give them my name or did they find me by accident?”

GM: Pete slowly shakes his head.

“Those two’s lives, whether they succeeded or failed in killing more licks to join the team, meant nothing to them. I could hear it in their voices. Absolutely nothing. They might as well have been talking about how long a set of batteries would last.”

“Hunters normally want to work together, if they can get past their mutual distrust. This apparent lack of practical and not merely moral regard for potential allies’ lives is very strange.”

Celia: “I assume the meeting location isn’t set up to be a long term thing. Renfields get any weird vibe from them? Met in the outlands, all sorts of scary shit out there. Could explain their lack of regard for human life.”

“Heard plenty of our kind talk like that before. Like humans mean nothing to them. Could be working for someone like that, even. Said it’s par for the course to go after enemies with hunters.”

“We get an image of them at all?”

GM: “You’re mishearing me. Ruthlessness by itself isn’t an uncommon trait in this life. Or even among humans.”

Celia: “Then what do you think it is, if my theories are off?”

GM: “Again, I don’t find anything especially noteworthy about their lack of regard for human life. I’m concerned by their lack of apparent regard for additional assets and allies when hunters normally need all the help they can get.”

Celia: Oh. She nods, already working out the possi