“Miss Flores’ company would be vastly preferable to your own.”
Monday night, 14 March 2016, PM
Celia: The call comes late that evening. Her ghouls give her the details: envoy of Savoy’s. No time to waste. Urgent. Et cetera. Whatever it is they tell her soon there’s a lick at her door, a pair of ghouls at her side. Large. Black. They dwarf the girl standing between them, their faces a mirror image of each other. Neither one of them smiles.
The girl in the middle does, though. Maybe Caroline recognizes her: the dark brown hair that cascades to a point somewhere near her mid back, the heart-shaped face, the full lips pulled into a vague semblance of a smile. Smooth, glowing skin, dark lashes, winged liner, nude lip. Jewels glint at ear and throat. Tasteful, understated pieces that do little to detract from the gem wearing them. Her torso is wrapped in cream silk; a sheet of it curls around her neck and drapes down her chest, revealing her flat stomach and a deep swath of tan skin in a V between her breasts. Black pants hug her hips and thighs before flaring out, the fabric cut by a pair of shears and restitched with a satin finish. Familiar pants. Her pants. The same pair she’d sent Celia home in the night the younger lick had come to see her and they’d shredded her dress on the couch.
…her pants? Or an identical pair. Odd that they’d be so long, though; surely a lick like Jade knows to buy the right length. Heels add a few inches to Jade’s long legs, though she’s still shy of the Ventrue’s height.
Caroline has heard her fair share of rumors surrounding the Toreador: she’d met a pair of licks when she was still a breather and they brought her back to their place to feed. There’d been a body on the floor, but rather than the fear they expected she’d just told them how to get the blood out of their carpet, fucked the pair of them, and sauntered off on her merry little way while they fought over who would get to keep her. Veronica won, but that didn’t stop Pietro from inserting himself into their relationship once the harpy Embraced her new childe. She’s frequently seen on his arm. She’s frequently seen on the arms of many licks, really; everyone wants a piece of her, no matter who or what they are. Hasn’t she heard that Jade has bagged Donovan and Savoy both? She’s had lovers on both sides of the tracks and even tumbled with that scary Brujah on the Baron’s team. Even the visiting archon had sunk his teeth in; apparently she’s been tapped as servire and has already taken a few trips to the city’s chantry to prep for the work she’ll be doing for the Tremere. Junior harpy, too, so she’s got all sorts of dirt on all sorts of people.
Even if Caroline hadn’t heard of her there’s no missing the fact that she’s as Toreador as any Toreador Caroline has ever met. She’s hard-pressed to think of anyone prettier, either. Striking, really. It’s a good thing Caroline is of the clan of kings rather than roses or that blessing might rear up and consume her.
Jade Kalani is certainly the most attractive lick in the city, there’s no way around that.
It’s so easy to be dismissive of the pretty Toreador with the pretty smile that makes other people pretty just like her, but the eyes give her away. Sharp. Smoldering. Intense. They don’t miss much, those eyes, and they fix on Caroline now while Jade tilts her head to one side, eyeing the blonde Ventrue up and down like a piece of meat. Jade flicks her tongue across her lips.
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the lick finally says, “thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
Amusement dances in her eyes. She’d hardly given the Ventrue a choice, though she’s well-bred enough not to mention or allude to it.
Caroline: The doorman had been the first obstacle. He’d been far more skeptical of Jade and her two big, black, ghouls than he’d been of cute little Celia. He had to call up, she understood, to confirm that Ms. Kalani and both of her companions are welcome guests, especially at the late hour. He’d wanted their names as well. Cameras beat down on them from near the entrance. Did one of them move out of the corner of her eye to take them in more fully? Seconds ticked by. Stretch to a minute. Two. Finally he’d heard back. Only with Ms. Malveaux-Devillers approval did he admit Ms. Kalani to the building.
The lobby is dignified and comfortable, complete with a couch, several chairs, and a small table set with recent issues of several popular magazines.
‘TAYLOR SWIFT FLAUNTS HER FIT FIGURE DURING LOW-KEY OUTING!’ blares one headline on a cover featuring a picture of the singer, alongside ‘TEARFUL HARRISON FORD REVEALS DAUGHTER HAS EPILEPSY: ‘SHE’S MY HERO’, and ’10 TRICKS FOR A TAYLOR SWIFT BEACH BODY THIS SUMMER’.
Another, featuring a picture of a sailing vessel, declares ‘PIRATES! Truth Behind the Legend!’ and ‘Socrates on Trial: The Noble Death Of A Great Mind’ alongside “Akhenaten: The Forsaken Pharaoh”.
Jade had ample time to take in each of the covers while she waited again for the arrival of a ghoul to bring her upstairs. She had time to observed that the elevator appeared to have some sort of scanner above the call button. Finally, her escort had arrived.
Short, slight, with a severe expression that reminded Jade of Preston’s and a wild next of hair carefully pinned back and subdued makeup that smoothed her image rather than highlighting anything in particular.
“Ms. Malveaux-Devillers will see you on the roof,” she had informed Ms. Kalani. The same voice Jade heard on the phone when she’d called ahead, and it betrayed no more in the lobby than it had over the phone. She lead them to the elevator where she waved a cardkey over the scanner to access it, then again inside to access the roof. The ride to the top was short.
As the doors opened all Jade could focus on for a moment is the Ventrue seated before her, as though she’s was the only thing that mattered in the room.
Dressed down from her typical Elysium standard—those clichéd black gowns she favors. Tonight Caroline wears a loose fitting black skirt that flows to her ankles and a white blouse with rolled sleeves and several buttons left undone—not enough to be unprofessional, but enough that at work it would catch the eye of most of the male employees.
One hand rests on a fist as she eyes the arriving ‘emissary’ from the Lord of the French Quarter.
Jade might be the cutest lick in the city, the sexiest, the most desirable even, but Caroline has never been overshadowed in a room. There’s a stately, statuesque beauty to the Ventrue, like she’s carved out of marble, sculpted by Michelangelo or Donatello in distinctively modern proportions. Long legs that go on for days; that elegant swan neck that Kindred can’t resist; blonde hair, and those piercing blue eyes. Had they always been blue?
For a moment the sight of Caroline seems to suck all the air from the room. Jade is aware of her ghoul escort leaving the elevator. She remembers stepping out of it, but that’s all for a moment.
Then everything else snaps into view.
The room is well furnished, with large comfortable leather seats and black marvel end tables. Two fans spin lazily overhead, and past Caroline a patio complete with a pool beckons. There’s something rather more pressing however that catches Jade’s attention.
What was that line from The Matrix?
‘Guns. Lots of guns.’
There are so many people waiting around the perimeter of the room, and every single one of them is holding an assault rifle. They’re not exactly pointed at Jade and her ghouls, caught in the deathtrap bullet funnel that is the elevator. They’re just… there, held with a casual familiarity that leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind that they know how to use them.
They range from a short, squat, man with all the energy of a coiled spring ready to leap into action, to a toned blonde with all the cockiness of a gunslinger, to a wolfish man with pitiless eyes, to a grim-faced titan that might even look down on Jamal, muscles comically constrained within clothing that looks ready to explode at any moment.
Who knows which ones are or aren’t ghouls, but the cute redhead with the lip piercing standing to Caroline’s left probably is. The ghoul that escorted her up takes a position on the Ventrue’s right.
The Ventrue doesn’t quite smile when Jade finally speaks. She just shows her teeth. “Ms. Kalani, I’m always happy to accommodate the needs of others. Please, come in and have a seat.”
Celia: It’s a petty sort of waiting. The games the little people play when they know they’ve been had. Jade doesn’t seem bothered by it, but then even if she were she’d hardly let the Ventrue know. Cool, assessing eyes take in the sight of the half dozen or so armed men and their assault rifles around the perimeter of the room. Her head tilts to one side as she catches the eye of one of them, a rather cute middle-aged looking fellow with a full beard just beginning to show the hints of his age.
Jade’s gaze finally sweeps back to her somewhat unwilling hostess.
“Miss,” she corrects idly. “Ms. is a modern term that many elders find barbaric."
Surely your sire taught you that, her smile says.
Jade’s heels click against the rooftop with every step. She sinks into a seat across from the Ventrue, the ghouls at her back.
“Sizable reception. I’m pleased to know my safety is a priority while I’m within your care. You seem a quick learner.”
Only a few weeks ago that Meadows dropped by for a visit.
Caroline: “How could I have forgotten your distinguished pedigree, Miss. Kalani,” Caroline corrects, still showing teeth. It’s a far cry from the genuine warmth she showed her previous guest.
She lazily watches the Toreador saunter across the room. Her room. To her chair. In her building. In her domain.
“Of course security is a concern. One never knows what kind of riffraff will show up at their door, especially with Vieux Carré right around the corner.”
She bites back her irritation. _Careful, Caroline… _ she warns herself. She doesn’t actually have any desire to pick a fight with Savoy. Of course, she half expects this visit is for more personal reasons to Kalani. Savoy was both more and less direct in the past. Not that that option is available to either tonight.
GM: The wolfish man offers gives no response or acknowledgment to the wink.
The large black ghouls next to Jade offer none to being outnumbered and outgunned.
Sometimes it’s helpful to say something.
Sometimes it’s more helpful just to shut up.
For the help, it’s the latter time.
Celia: Jade arches one expertly shaped eyebrow at the Ventrue. She makes her comments a little more pointed in response.
“No telling who will drop in unexpectedly.”
Celia: “Perhaps they’d be better stationed on the balcony while we conduct our business. I’ve heard the view is to die for.”
Caroline: The Ventrue stares back. Comfortable. Content. Confident.
“Certainly. I’d hate for them to make you uncomfortable, Miss Kalani,” she replies, not breaking from the Toreador’s gaze.
“Mr. Fuller, perhaps you’d care to take Ms. Kalani’s friends outside.”
GM: The burly corpsman stares at them. He doesn’t bother saying to “take a walk.”
Randy briefly glances at Jade, but Reggie just meets the other ghoul’s stare.
Some of Caroline’s people give her further looks, as if to be sure. But unless told otherwise, everyone walks out in silence.
Caroline: The wolfish man remains behind as the rest filter out.
Celia: “Boys,” Jade says to the pair with a wave of her hand. They’re dismissed.
Caroline: The parade of armed men and women surrounding them make the two seem like nothing so much as prisoners as they march into the night air.
Caroline’s men at least have the decency not to point their weapons at the black men.
Celia: She settles back against her chosen seat, crossing one leg over the other, and glances again at the wolfish man.
Caroline: On closer examination Jade notices he’s missing his pinkie and ring finger on one hand from the second digit on.
Celia: She bets he still has what she wants, though.
“Don’t the Japanese do that?” she asks, nodding toward the hand.
GM: “It’s done mostly by Yakuza,” the gray-beared man remarks blandly.
Caroline: “Only if they’ve shamed themselves,” Caroline answers. “By means of apology.”
“Something you’d like to apologize for?” she asks the Toreador.
Celia: “I’d thought it was for punishment. I was wondering if he’d been a bad boy.”
GM: “Good boys and girls wouldn’t be sitting in this room,” says the man.
Caroline: “I think, as with most things, that’s always a matter of perspective,” Caroline adds. “I’m certain some people might feel that way about him.”
Celia: “I suppose it means rather less when a hit of blood can put them back together again.”
Caroline: “Pain can still be a good teacher. I heard the prince forced almost every lick at an Elysium to offer up a hand not that long ago after they lost their heads.”
“Better than the alternative, I suppose.”
Celia: “Crude, but effective,” Jade agrees.
Caroline: “Not as crude as what they were doing, I think. But I’m certain you’ve heard all about it from your sire, Miss Kalani… or were you there yourself?”
Celia: “When you mauled her in the middle of the gathering?”
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “The rumor mill operating at full capacity again? I assure you, Ms. Kalani, if I were to maul someone, it would have been something much more public. There’s usually a long trail of bodies Kindred and otherwise.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was some Brujah in my lineage.”
GM: If they didn’t know better.
Celia: “I dated a Brujah once. Terrible temper, but that physique really made up for it.”
Caroline: “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure,” Caroline answers.
She can see why the Toreador is attractive to so many licks, and it’s not just her appearance. The power dynamic in play must be positively intoxicating. The slight challenge in every statement, the hint of what could be but isn’t. Everyone wants what they can’t have, and none more than the predators in human guise accustomed to taking what they want.
“Something for a bucket list? I feel like that list gets longer for me every night.”
Celia: “The right one,” Jade agrees. “Some of them really are no better than brutes, but there are a few who live up to their clan’s original vision. Carthage and all that.” A pause. Then, “Though I suppose that doesn’t sit well with your clan, does it?”
Caroline: “I suppose that depends. Personally, I find it more difficult to hold a grudge when I win.”
Celia: She’s polite enough to cover her mouth when she laughs.
“Someone gave you a version of the story, then. Not as sireless as you appear to be.”
GM: Becky Lynne went over the basics with her. Carthage was a blood-soaked nightmare of human sacrifice, complete disregard for the Masquerade, and unmatched cruelty and evil. Clan Ventrue put an end to the nightmare. Becky Lynne’s own ancestress Artemis Orthia sacrificed herself in battle against Troile. The Brujah have never forgiven them.
Celia: Certainly one version of the story.
“Clan Ventrue always sees to their own. Well, eventually. Obviously the René matter complicated things when he was still alive.”
Celia: “‘Alive’ being a relative term here.”
“Landed on your feet, though.”
Caroline: “Talented people always do, regardless of what hand they’re dealt.”
Celia: A glance around the apartment. The ghouls. The rooftop pool where her own wait for her.
“Could be worse.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “I’ve heard of the squalor that some licks are forced to live in within the Quarter, what with so many packed in closely in. I trust your own accommodations are more… agreeable?”
It wouldn’t do to admit she’s seen some of that squalor in cab rides through en route to Savoy. As a mortal it’d just been so many filthy homeless, but after her Embrace the Kindred roaming the streets were impossible to ignore.
Celia: “I’m quite comfortable,” Jade assures her with a smile. “Lord Savoy and my sire have seen to that. But you’re right. The Quarter is quite crowded. Such choice feeding. The crown jewel of New Orleans, I think they call it. So many who enjoy its offerings.” So many who pledge loyalty to the lord who reigns over it.
GM: It’s only the worst parts that are really crowded.
Celia: She doesn’t point it out.
“Convenient things, sires. So many of our kind would be lost without their guiding hands.”
Caroline: “Being thrown to the wolves,” play on words by the Sanctified, “certainly made for a more challenging Requiem,” Caroline agrees.
“On the other hand, it made my victories and defeats my own, so there’s something to be said for that.”
She tilts her head. “Yours seemed to land quite well on her feet when she defected. I suppose it’s to be expected from a Kindred of such excellent stock she’d help ensure her progeny did as well. And of course, no one could blame you for following her lead: it would be a difficult thing to betray your sire.”
GM: Her sister did it.
But then, Matheson got to sink his claws into her.
Or fangs, as it most likely was.
Caroline: Did she? Could Caroline have known that? What does it say about Veronica that her childe betrayed her?
Celia: Jade all but titters at the words, the white tips of her nails stark against her tan skin as she again covers her mouth.
“I’ve been with Lord Savoy since almost the eve of my Embrace,” she corrects, “and it was my sire who followed me over when yours wouldn’t put a stop to the headhunter’s actions.”
Caroline: Caroline lets that declaration hang in the air for a moment.
“That’s right,” Caroline smiles, “it was your sister-in-blood that went out more than a hundred miles from the city to curry favor with the reclusive elder that had been banished more than a century before and kicked off that whole matter, wasn’t it?”
“I’d heard though that she rather likes Mr. Matheson, though? Do hope matters aren’t too strained between her and your sire over that difference in opinion.”
“And, I didn’t realize René was involved in the allegations against Mr. Matheson. Is that why he returned to New Orleans as he did?”
Celia: “Oh, I wouldn’t know a thing about René,” Jade says with a careless shrug. “Bottom of the barrel blue blood trash. Doubtless that’s why you picked him.”
Caroline: “You’re rather mistaken, Miss Kalani.” Caroline’s voice loses some of his cheer. “He very intentionally dragged me off the street. In the middle of the Vieux Carré, as it turns out.”
She knows. Or at least she suspects. But the Toreador is missing pieces. Is that because she’s only been given some of them? Or is this just more fishing?
GM: “‘Trash’ is a low opinion to have of a sheriff’s childe, ma’am,” states the gray-bearded man.
Caroline: “And that,” Caroline agrees. “You should be wary of whom you voice that opinion to—Sheriff Bastien remains quite well respected, whatever the sins of his childe.”
Celia: “I wasn’t speaking to you,” Jade says to the ghoul. Her eyes don’t leave Caroline’s face. “How unfortunate that must have been, not to get the cushy Embrace of a typical stiff.”
Caroline: It occurs to Caroline the extent to which that bloodline—one she’s well familiar with—has been extinguished by her hand. Polk. René. Perhaps Roxanne if rumors hold true.
Celia: “Tell you what, Caroline—do you mind if I call you Caroline? I’m going to call you Caroline—why don’t you dismiss your pets so we can get to it.”
Caroline: Tragic, really. What does this entitled lick know about tragedy?
Something snarls angrily inside her, vicious and hungry, always ready for a challenge.
“Of course, Jade.” Caroline leaps on the Toreador’s familiarity. “Since you seem to know me so well, and since we’re going to know each other so well, we might as well dispense with the pleasantries.”
She drops the pretense of the fake cheer. “Though I know you have more ‘dating’ tips to share than any other lick in the city, I don’t think that you’re here to swap advice on sexual conquests, so let’s get to the point.”
“And if it really has to do with your master, you can share it freely before Mr. Cairns. He’s been up to his elbows in those plots for a long time.”
Celia: Is Caroline trying to slut-shame her?
The thought is laughable.
“It’s not such a hard thing, being desired. Maybe one night you’ll learn when the truth of you comes out and patches up all those early blunders. I suppose being a figurehead is being desired, of a sort.”
What was that about riding someone else’s coattails?
She moves on with a rather pointed smile.
“My ‘master’ has asked if you’ve given any thought to your future and that of your dwindling flock. He thinks you might have more to offer than whose blood runs in your veins and ascertains there’s much the pair of you can do for each other.”
Caroline: “It’s interesting that you believed they were blunders. I suppose it can be easy to lose track of the forest through the trees.”
The Ventrue leans forward. “As for your master, I trust he understands how I might have some reservations about his intentions after the last…” She laughs a single note, tilting her head up slightly as if in thought before continuing, “two ploys.”
“Though I could see how that might have intrigued him—I’m certain he’s not accustomed to others getting the better of him.”
Celia: Jade’s smile finally reaches her eyes.
“Thick skin, barbed tongue, pretty face. He’s right; give it enough time and you’ll be a force of your own.”
“He mentioned you might be uncomfortable coming to him,” she continues, drumming her fingers across the leather armrest of her chair. “If Mr. Cairns and his hired guns make you feel safer, he’d be happy to meet you here.”
“Or the LaLaurie House.”
Caroline: Caroline lets the barb pass. Let this lick underestimate her. It has proven a fatal mistake for others.
“He’d feel safe visiting me at the LaLaurie House?” Caroline titillates.
Celia: “Mentioned it by name,” Jade confirms, watching the Ventrue’s face.
There’s a piece of the puzzle she’s still missing for all that she’s put together.
GM: “Did he mention ‘here’ by name too?” asks the gray-bearded man. “Mr. Savoy is too smart to meet her, or anyone, outside his home ground.”
Celia: Jade finally cuts a look back to the ghoul with the apologetic fingers.
“Lord Savoy is more than happy to allow your mistress the safety and comfort she desires if it’s her wish to meet with him in the Giani Building.”
GM: “How gracious of him. I expect he doesn’t often lower himself to visiting neonates in their havens.”
Caroline: “Don’t be unsporting, Eric.” The fake name he wants her to use around Kindred who don’t know his real one. “After all, doesn’t the story go that he’s paid a visit to Miss Kalani here?”
Celia: Caroline’s comment earns a wolfish smile from the Toreador. She doesn’t deny it.
Caroline: “Oh,” she raises an apologetic hand, “I’m sorry, Jade. I forgot that we’re friends now.”
Celia: “Friends, Eric," Jade says with a conspiratorial wink. “And friends visit friends in their homes, regardless of the differences in their… stations.”
GM: “Does Mr. Savoy want to bring any more friends of his along for this delightful visit?”
“The more’s the merrier, when it comes to friends.”
Celia: “Oh I hardly know what Lord Savoy plans,” Jade says with a careless shrug. “You certainly seem capable enough to handle any surprises, Eric.”
Caroline: “Careful, Jade, you’re hitting too close to the truth.” There’s a bit of smugness in the Ventrue’s voice.
Celia: Jade tilts her head in consideration of the ghoul a final time.
“Well I suppose we can’t have that, Caroline, I know you blue bloods loathe combining business with pleasure. What shall I tell Lord Savoy?”
Caroline: “Oh, Jade, you have it all wrong. It’s not that we hate combining business with pleasure. We just hate pleasure.”
Celia: Genuine laughter follows that.
“I’d always wondered if Ventrue were sore that they were just less fun Toreador.”
Caroline: “Not any more than I think Toreador are salty about being less successful Ventrue.” A smile.
Celia: “Successful partiers, though. Perhaps you’d like to come with me to the Evergreen sometime. As a friend, of course. We throw wonderful soirees.”
Caroline: “Oh, you know us Ventrue. I’d be out of my element and out of character if I ever let my hair down. It’s sweet of you to offer, though.”
She’s dodged the real question.
Does she want to meet with Savoy? They’re well past the point in which there is no harm in it.
How would her sire react?
Poorly. He’s already shown his jealousy (and doesn’t that send a small thrill through her).
But until she’s officially acknowledged it’s not as if she can simply ignore an invitation from the powerful elder.
GM: She feels the collar tighten around her neck.
He would not want this.
Celia: Ignorant—or is she?—of the collar that digs into the blonde before her, Jade just smiles again at the rebuff.
“Maybe a guild function, then. It’s almost like work.”
Caroline: There’s some irony in the way she jerks against that tightening collar. Perhaps out of anger, but more out of pride.
Like a whipped dog, she was eager to run home to her master. To lay herself at his feet and never leave. She would have done anything willingly for him. She did do things—betrayed Claire, turned aside from the easy comfort Savoy offered, turned aside from a group that offered her everything, for the sire whose dogs hunted and harried her entire Requiem.
She was his already.
And then he put a collar on her, like she was a disobedient servant in need of correction. There’s a part of her does thrill at the possessive claim he’s staked to her, at the idea that he wouldn’t have collared her if he didn’t want her, and want her only for his own…
But while she’d have willingly been his loyal servant, while she fought to be his obedient servant, part of her rebels against being his slave.
The same part of her that her mother praises, nourishes, encourages. The part that dreams impossible dreams, that tells her she can. That she is good enough. That as much as she wants to be her sire’s childe, she can be that and more.
GM: She should be ashamed.
Is she another Westley, to disobey her father at every turn? To think of nothing except her own selfish gratification?
Did he not say he would give her only the best—and expected only the best?
Caroline: And what has he given her? A voice snarls back inside her.
She gave up everything just to come before him, and still it’s only Maldonato who helps her. Maldonato who took her to Egypt. Maldonato who introduced her to the Lasombra. Maldonato who let her fly. Maldonato whose elder ghouls attend and protect her. Maldonato who even _sees _ her.
Has he even seen her since he put her in chains?
She’s her sire’s creature—she always will be now—but the world can burn before she’ll be his slave.
She’s seen him twice.
More than most Kindred get to. More than his own lover now he gets to.
He has many demands upon his time. He’s important. He’s busy. She knows, from her mortal father. She should understand. Why can’t she be the good daughter?
And surely he’ll see her again, too. He’ll see her many times. She should have patience. She should have faith.
Faith, like he’s shown in her. He could have ended her. Just like his last childe.
Is she proving his faith worthy?
She was bound to so many other Kindred, too. So many more will seek to bind her, once they know what she is. He did it for her own good. He kept her safe.
Caroline: The collar pulls tight and she pulls against it not only with the strength of the woman, but with the strength of the Beast.
She feeds it with her anger. Feeds it until she rips not the collar off, that unbreakable chain that cuts into her neck, but the nails that hold its other end to the wall from the wall itself.
It’s not a betrayal, she tells herself.
She wouldn’t ever betray him, no matter what he does.
It’s a meeting with one of the two other licks that will help decide the fate of the city while he rests. It’s a necessity.
If the kingdom weren’t so rotten, weren’t built on corrupted pillars, maybe she wouldn’t have to.
GM: That she would try to run free only shows how much she deserves to be chained.
Chains aren’t really chains to someone who won’t wander past their limit.
Caroline: “You may relay to him that the LaLaurie House will be fine. It’s friendly enough territory for the both of us. The timing will be complicated, as I’m certain he will understand.”
There’s no chance she’d ever host him here. Not in this place her sire gave her. She couldn’t disrespect him in that way.
I trust that is acceptable to you, Mother.
She doesn’t really need to reach out to her, she knows. Her mother will support her in any way she asks. But she wants to. Needs to.
GM: The ‘response’ is as immediate and assuring as a blanket draped over her shoulders.
There are no words, from this far away. There’s just a feeling. A certainty.
Caroline: The heiress pulls that blanket tightly around herself like a barrier against the world.
Celia: Jade makes no comment that Caroline had simply ignored her offer of a date. Maybe she expected it.
She does rattle off a list of potential dates that Savoy had given her, then says that if the Ventrue can’t make up her mind now about a time she can leave her number.
“In case things change.”
She’s certainly not only speaking of the meeting.
GM: “I should hope not, Miss Kalani, with the two of you such good friends,” says the gray-bearded man.
Celia: “Eric, darling, you’re missing the subtext.”
Caroline: “The one about taking our very special relationship to the next level, Jade?” Caroline asks, deadpan.
GM: “I’ve seen enough of the Kindred, Miss Kalani, to realize the more attractive the package, the more dangerous the contents.” The ex-CIA agent’s voice is equally deadpan.
Celia: “He thinks I’m cute,” Jade stage whispers to Caroline, hand up against one side of her mouth as if to conceal the words from the ghoul.
GM: That elicits a snort.
“Your holes are dried up. Your body is ice cold. It’d be like fucking a corpse. Sorry, not into that.”
Celia: “A very attractive corpse. But good backpedal. We’d hate for Caroline to get jealous.”
Caroline: Caroline bites back the smile. “Eric, dear, that’s the sort of true but unpleasant statement that might make Jade think you’d offered up fingers in apology. I know that being in my employment has accustomed everyone to offering only one in particular to most people, but perhaps we could keep the pretense of politeness with my very special, very close, friend?”
Celia: Jade drags a tongue across her teeth, blatantly eyeing the ghoul.
“I don’t have much use for fingers.”
GM: “As you say, ma’am,” Eric answers. “My apologies if I’ve offended your sensibilities, Miss Kalani. It’s clearly no accident Mr. Savoy chose you as his messenger.”
Celia: “Just my ego, darling.” She sounds delighted more than offended. “But I know better than to go after something that belongs to someone else.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t contain the chuckle at that, though she does cover her mouth.
GM: “If I were 20 years younger I would count myself very unfortunate at that.”
Celia: What a turnaround.
“Speaking of,” Jade says to Caroline. “There’s one more matter to discuss if we’re quite finished with the topic of Lord Savoy.”
Caroline: “I’m waiting with baited breath, Jade,” Caroline answers.
Celia: “It’s impolite to touch things that aren’t yours. Come after my pet again and it won’t matter who you call daddy.”
Caroline: Does she have any idea how foolish she sounds threatening Caroline over Donovan’s childe? Or does she just not know what she has?
Either way, Caroline’s game to play. Nothing about the Ventrue is fond of being threatened in her own haven. She shows teeth again.
“Do you actually believe that, or is this just for your ego too?”
Celia: “Believe that the bitch is mine? Why yes. Yes, I do.”
Caroline: Caroline leans in. “No, I mean, do you think that you can waltz into my home unannounced and threaten me in my building?”
“Think very carefully before you answer, Jade. I would hate to think that I’d have one less friend tonight over a misplaced word.”
Celia: “I was announced,” Jade says primly. “You played the waiting game, don’t you recall? And if I threaten you, darling, you’d know.”
A sharp smile.
She reaches into her bag, her movements slow to avoid spooking the hired guns, and pulls free a small device that she sets on the table in front of them. Another smile and she presses a button on the side of the device. Tinny voices echo up from it.
“Who were you with?” Jade’s voice. As sharp as the smile she wears now.
“N-nobody, I wasn’t—” A familiar voice. Celia’s voice.
The sound of flesh striking flesh. A low cry of pain, then another.
“Liar,” Jade hisses at her. “I can taste them on you.”
Footsteps. Another cry. Easy to envision Jade grabbing Celia by the hair, yanking her head back. Muffled pleas. Another series of smacks, each punctuated by words.
“Who. Was. It?”
“I di—I didn’t—”
A garbled scream.
“Car-Caroline,” Celia finally sobs, “it was Caroline, we were friends—”
“You don’t have friends, you stupid whore, you don’t have anyone. You are mine. Say it. Say it!”
“Y-yours, mistress, I’m yours, I am, I’m yours, please—”
“Get the rod.”
“If you want to act like a whore, I’ll treat you like a whore. Get it. Get it. Now, slut, or I’ll give you back to him and let his friends use you.”
Footsteps. A door opening. Closing. More footsteps. Scuffling. Fabric tearing. Soft crying.
“Apologize.” Jade’s voice again.
“I’m sah—I’m sorry.” Her voice cracks.
“Not good enough. Do you want me to take your daughter from you?”
“No, no! Please. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I won’t again, I won’t, I promise—”
“Bend over. Count it. You know the words.”
SMACK! A sharp cry.
“One.” Celia’s voice. Broken. “Thank you, mistress.”
“Tw-two. Thank you, mistress.”
So it goes, Celia’s voice getting quieter and quieter as she thanks Jade for the lesson. They end at twenty.
“I’m s-sorry, mistress, I’m sorry I disobeyed, I won’t again, I won’t, I promise, I’ll be good.”
“Do I need to call him? Let him use you again? Were you not satisfied with the last time?”
“N-no. Please, no. I’ll be better.”
“Good. Clean yourself up. You’re filthy.”
Running water. Footsteps. The gentle whisper of cloth against skin. The sound of a belt striking the floor. Water splashing, possibly over the side of a tub. Silence. More splashing. A second body joining the first? A soft sigh.
“Th-that feels nice.” Celia’s voice again. Hesitant. Uncertain.
“Good, pet,” Jade murmurs, “good. Just relax. I’ve got you. I won’t let anything bad happen to you while you’re with me.”
“I’m sorry,” Celia repeats. More water splashing. The wet sound of a mouth on flesh. A soft sigh. A long pause. Then, “I love you, mistress. Thank you for keeping me safe.”
Jade leans forward and flicks the device off. She levels a gaze at Caroline.
“As I said,” she repeats, “the bitch is mine.”
Caroline: The Ventrue sits in glowering silence as the recording plays.
There are rational questions to ask: why Celia would submit to such treatment. Why she hides behind Jade. The nature of the would-be harpy’s relationship with the sheriff’s illicit childe. Reasonable, meaningful questions that might meaningfully color events and explain what’s happening.
Those questions don’t occupy her thoughts as the tape plays.
You don’t make a tape like that on a whim. You make it to send a message. She beat Celia to send a message to Caroline. And Caroline remembers well the beatings she’s received from other licks.
Silence reigns when the tape finishes.
Finally, Caroline growls, “I bet you felt powerful when you beat her.”
Jade can see it, in slow motion, right up until she can’t. She watches the anger build in Ventrue. She might even see the exact moment that Caroline starts to move. The rest is like a bolt of lightning.
There’s a sound out on the deck, shouts maybe, but Caroline fills Jade’s vision. One hand is around the Toreador’s throat and there’s a sharp pain in the Toreador’s chest that’s very familiar. The tip of a stake buried in her flesh, resting between her breasts against her ribs, awaiting a single motion to drive it into her cold, dead, heart.
GM: Eric’s reaction is more muted than his domitor’s as the tape plays. The sounds of suffering and humiliation might as well not be sounding, for all the response he evinces. Then he’s on his feet, slower than Caroline, but united in purpose as he maneuvers behind Jade. He seizes her arms and twists them behind her back while he presses his weight against hers to give his domitor’s stake an immobilized target.
Caroline: The target can feel the Ventrue’s breath on her face as she hisses, “Do you feel powerful now?”
Celia: She does.
She feels vicious satisfaction at the response from the Ventrue, at the anger displayed on Celia’s behalf. The sharp point of the stake in her chest is nothing compared to what others have put her through. Have put the other one through, the girl from the tape.
Celia might back down. But Jade smiles with her teeth, eyes locked onto the blonde lick in front of her.
“Squeeze a little tighter, baby, I might even think you mean it.” Rasped words from the hand around her throat.
She doesn’t even struggle against Eric’s grip.
Caroline: The Ventrue leans close, whispering into the Toreador’s ear.
“You’re not wrong. If I wanted to end you, we wouldn’t be speaking.”
She laughs darkly. "You well-kept licks are all the same. You get so accustomed to your games that you forget what actual power is. You think your titles and your secrets can protect you.”
“I’ve ended older and more powerful licks than you. I’ve stood my ground against thrice my number of older, more established licks, and left their cold corpses on the ground.”
“Allow me to provide some of the clarity that brought me for you, Jade. All that really matters is what you can and can’t do. For instance, you can play your games and hurt her again. But you can’t do it and continue your Requiem. Not if you ever want to step foot out of the Quarter again.”
“Your coveted social position will not save you if I come for you. Your ghouls will not save you. And before you think that anyone, including your master, would avenge you, I’d remind you that I could kill a dozen of you, and he’d still welcome me with eager and open arms.”
She pulls back and fixes her gaze on the Toreador’s own, and what lurks within is no gentle beast, no privileged childe.
“I didn’t want to end you. I just want you to know how easily I could.”
Celia: Emotion wars within her. Jade’s anger, furious and snarling, itching to slap the smirk from the cunt’s face.
Do you feel powerful now?
That’s the real question, isn’t it. Does threatening Jade, who has displayed no outward signs of aggression, who came only with a pair of ghouls knowing whose domain she was walking into, who is a head shorter than Caroline with no discernible muscle to speak of, who is outnumbered and outgunned, who is just a pretty, vapid Toreador—does ganging up on her make Caroline feel powerful? Does she like the way Jade flinches back from the stake, the way Eric pins her arms behind her so she can’t move, the way the trained muscle on the roof put the black men on their knees?
Does she feel powerful when she outmaneuvers a lick who has probably never had to fight a day in her life, the childe of a hundred-year-old harpy whose blood certainly isn’t as potent as that of her sire?
Does she feel like a badass?
Or is she just another Jade, mindlessly shattering the people in her care?
But there’s a girl in there somewhere, the girl from the tape, who the words strike deep. Doubt swims to the surface. Is Caroline right? Would her grandsire not avenge her? Is she nothing to him, just another pawn, a stupid fuckup that can’t do anything right, that ruined his plans twice? Is her Requiem empty and hollow because she spent so long trying to be Jade that she forgot to be Celia?
And would he care if she were lost to this one’s claws?
She thinks she knows. And she doesn’t like that answer.
…and what about this? What does this response mean? Another game?
The two sides of her clash. They fight for dominance. And when it’s over and one of them wins, she gives Caroline the answer she’s waiting for. She drops her eyes.
An entire message without a single work spoken.
Caroline: “I’m glad we could come to an agreement.”
Caroline withdraws, removing the tip of the stake with a sick plop. There’s no more actual warmth in her words than there is in her body.
Celia: Jade shrugs off the ghoul once Caroline withdraws, her eyes cutting toward the rooftop to make sure her own boys haven’t been injured by the assault rifles. She wouldn’t put it past someone as feral as Caroline to take them out just to make a point.
Caroline: The men are on their knees, their hands on their heads, but appear otherwise unharmed.
“I don’t think we have anything further to discuss, Miss Kalani.” The Ventrue’s voice drops with hate.
Caroline gestures and the guns on the Toreador’s ghouls are withdrawn.
“Tell your master in the future that Miss Flores’ company would be vastly preferable to your own.”
Celia: Relief passes across her face, replacing the genuine concern. For the ghouls? It’s only there for an instant before her eyes flicker, face shuttering to become just another cold, dead monster that makes up their society.
She jerks her chin down, lifting a hand to summon the boys back to her, and finally looks back at the Ventrue. The smile has been replaced by a sneer.
“Watch your back, princess. No matter how noble you think you are, we both know the truth: you’re nothing but a bully hiding behind hired guns, proud of this little piece of nothing. I have more friends in this city than you ever will.”
Caroline: “We all must take comfort in something, Miss Kalani,” Caroline doesn’t quite sneer back. Confident. Powerful. Haughty.
“If it’s bullying you into keeping your hands off the girl, I can live with that.”
Celia: She could argue the point. Tell Caroline that Jade keeps Celia safe. That, of the two of them, Celia is the real monster. Even Roxanne had thought so.
The barb misses its mark, regardless. Jade accomplished what she’d set out to do.
“I’ll be sure to send her your regards.”
There’s nothing further for them here. Jade turns her back on the Ventrue and leaves, the ghouls at her side.
Caroline: The Ventrue’s voice chases her into the elevator, haughty but grim.
“Please do, Miss Kalani. And remember what I said. There’s only room here for one monster.”