“Where’s your catch?"
Thursday night, 9 April 2009, PM
Celia: Warden Lebeaux had promised to tell her what he found once he’d been able to run whatever tests he’d needed to run on the weapon Celia had retrieved from Em’s apartment. She doesn’t know exactly what it is he’d done—Mel had just wiggled her eyebrows and said something about magic when Celia had asked—but it looks as if the time to find out is finally here.
An answer, at last, of who it was that had placed the gun in her hand that night. Who else had been in her house, lurking in the shadows, waiting for her.
How many of them had been watching her over the course of her life? Had there ever been a moment of privacy? Had every action taken inside her home been watched, dissected, planned for? The way some of the others talk about the humans—breathers, she reminds herself—is downright appalling.
Lebeaux had told her to meet at the Evergreen, one of the rooms upstairs that Celia assumes he’s claimed as an office within Savoy’s headquarters. She stops outside the door and knocks.
“It’s Ce—Miss Kalani,” she says, stumbling over the foreign name she’s claimed as her own.
GM: “Come in.”
Lebeaux’s office is fairly austere and no-nonsense next to the rest of the Evergreen. There isn’t much in the way of decor, really just a table with a computer and phone, papers, chairs on either side, and some filing cabinets.
Pete gets up as Celia enters, then sits back down as she takes a seat.
Celia: Celia crosses one leg over the other, tucking them beneath her seat. That’s how ladies sit, Maxen had told her. She almost uncrosses them at the memory.
“Warden Lebeaux.” Celia is working on making the titles not sound as stuffy as she sometimes thinks they do, drilling them into her brain so she won’t forget. She doesn’t want another lecture from Preston. “How are you this evening? I heard you… got the results back?” She falters over the unfamiliar idea of testing items with magic.
GM: “Uh huh,” answers Pete.
“It’s information potentially dangerous for you to know that won’t change anything besides satisfying your curiosity. So better if you don’t. Sorry.”
Celia: “Wh-what?” Celia doesn’t even know what to say to that. Why had he called her in then? To waste her time? Is he messing with her?
“I don’t understand,” she says finally.
GM: “What part don’t you?”
Celia: “I mean. I understand the words. I just don’t understand why. This person was in my house. They grabbed me. I’m the one who retrieved the gun for you from where it was stashed so you could find out. If someone is seeking to use me, I’d like to know who.”
GM: “You’re not going to be now that you’re Kindred.”
“By the person who was in your house, at least.”
Celia: Human? Someone’s ghoul?
“Then why is it dangerous?”
GM: “Because knowing it makes you more likely to get ashed.”
Celia: “Then shouldn’t I know who to be on the lookout for?”
GM: “Not knowing means you don’t have to be on the lookout.”
Celia: “That doesn’t make any sense. Not knowing means I’m ignorant and won’t have any idea they’re coming. They obviously already know who I am.”
GM: “Nobody is coming for you over this.”
Celia: “Pete… please don’t keep me in the dark about this. There’s already enough secrets surrounding my situation. I feel like I’m just spiraling, adrift, losing any semblance of control over what happens to me anymore.”
GM: “Bluntly, your feelings matter less than the facts. The facts are that your knowing helps nothing and might hurt plenty.”
“Get used to being in the dark. That’s the Requiem. Most licks won’t even tell you like I am.”
Celia: So much for that tactic.
“Hurt me or your greater agenda?”
GM: “I’ve explained myself enough times,” says Pete. “We have any other business this evening, Miss Kalani?”
Celia: Jade almost lets her gaze drop. But that’s something Celia would have done, and Celia is dead. She softens her voice, though, dropping the challenging tone.
“I’d like to ask you something else. If that’s okay.”
GM: “What’s that?”
Celia: “My friend, the one who brought the tape to you.”
There’s not really a delicate way for her to ask. She hesitates only a moment.
“I guess I was just wondering why he was taken into custody. I thought he could just drop it off to you and he’d get to go.”
GM: “You think so?” Pete asks with a flat look. “That the sheriff’s people wouldn’t have picked him up? That they’d have been as gentle as I was?”
“APB was out on him. Better for the Masquerade if he was taken in.”
Celia: “Oh.” That makes sense. She nods. She doesn’t want to think about what could have been done to him. A little memory loss, a little blood, that’s not so bad a price to pay.
“Right. Thank you.”
She does drop her gaze then. Why, she silently asks the carpet, does she always feel like she’s managed to disappoint him?
GM: “Christ, kid,” Lebeaux says with an effected sigh.
“I’m not trying to be a dick to you, but we are a society of raging dicks.”
Celia: Should be used to it, she tells her shoes, growing up in that house. Thicker skin, that’s what she needs. He’d said it had made her strong, but being used and pushed around by people who are older, meaner, and smarter than her doesn’t make her feel particularly strong or useful.
She takes his almost-apology for the olive branch it is and finally looks back up at him.
“How come you can still work at the police department? Mel told me it was the prince’s domain.”
GM: “It is,” says Lebeaux. “But the precinct building is here in the Quarter. Not a lot he can do.”
“I haven’t been seeding the police with ghouls en masse or trying to take over the department. More effort than it’s worth to get me booted out.”
Celia: That makes sense too. The worry she’d felt for his safety slowly starts to dissipate. Of course he can handle himself. Doesn’t need some fledgling concerned about whether or not he’s going to make it out in one piece. Still, she’s seen what the sheriff can do when he’s feeling amorous; she doesn’t want to imagine what he’s like when he’s not.
“Is this the kind of thing you’ll tell me eventually, or is it an it’ll always be too dangerous thing?”
GM: “Kid, if you want answers, and I give this as broadly applicable rather than specific advice, go out and be useful to older licks. Stuff gets shared on a need-to-know basis. If it becomes useful for them to tell you, then you do need to know.”
“Just satisfying someone’s curiosity isn’t that high a priority for most of us.”
Celia: How, she thinks, am I supposed to useful if no one will tell me anything? Seems like the kind of thing that just leads to toes getting stepped on. Maybe when she’s that old and jaded she’ll feel the same way too, and make people jump through hoops instead of saying anything useful, and when she Embraces and abandons her own childe she’ll just loom at them instead of saying anything on the subject of why they exist. Then they’ll fuck. Obviously.
At least humans have it easy:
Why am I here?
Well, sweetie, Mommy and Daddy were very horny one day…
Her lips twitch.
“Yes, sir. Understood. Thank you for… helping me adjust.”
She doesn’t think it’s quite fair that he assumes her asking has anything to do with curiosity, either, but she doesn’t tell him that the lick she wants to make herself useful to is the one who’d dropped her into the Gulf. Somehow it seems like that won’t go over well.
Friday night, 4 September 2009, PM
Celia: When Jade had invited herself along with Mélissaire to a drag racing event months ago, she hadn’t quite known what to expect. Jade isn’t the type of girl who attends events like these. She isn’t the type of girl who knows the difference between a Cadillac and a Camaro, or what an alternator is, or why boys cream their pants every time Mel says something about her Hemi.
But she’d gotten tired of the ghouls and Kindred in the Evergreen, and she needed an excuse to practice her new face. That was what she had pitched to Lord Savoy to let her out, and her grandsire had, with his usual aplomb, just waved her off with a smile. She’d told Mel that she wouldn’t even notice her presence That of course the ghoul didn’t have to babysit all night, she wasn’t going to cause trouble (“of course I just ate”). She just wanted to get out of the club.
So she’d talked the ghoul into bringing her along under the guise of practice (she was sure Savoy had actually made it happen, come to that), had found a pair of ripped jean shorts and crop top to wear with her thigh-high stiletto boots, and had pulled her hair back into a high pony that then looped back under into a sort of quasi-bun. She looks… like all the other girls at the event, she notes once they arrive, though hers is the most cutting figure, and is glad she dressed down. It’s easy to flit among them like this.
And flit she does. Like a butterfly stretching its wings for the first time, this new Jade persona is charming and witty and confident, a little bit cool, everything that Jade had always wanted to be. How easy it is to put on a mask and simply become someone else. Two parts Em, one part Caroline, one part Pietro, with a dash of Veronica and a heaping scoop of Savoy to top it all off.
So it is Jade who stalks among these mortals, watching them drink their cheap beer out of red cups, listening to the roar of the engines in cars she doesn’t know a thing about, and cheering on her favorites as they go.
Support: The track stinks of motor oil and machismo. Men, a disproportionate of them white for this city, gallivant and drunkenly screech at each other over who grabbed whose girl’s ass first or whose engine can shit out more exhaust in a shorter stretch. The air is slick with grease, sleaze, and greed. A vampire like Jade should fit right in.
“Wow,” says a voice behind her.
It belongs to a boy pretending to be a man. He’s tall enough to be the real thing, though. The stubble adds to the effect, too. So do the bruises on his knuckles, the cigarette hanging from his lips, the leather and denim and chains he’s wrapped up in like a leather daddy’s Christmas present.
But those eyes give him away. Boy’s eyes, blue as the sky and wide with lust and unearned confidence. Eyes so like her cousin’s, but for the color.
“I thought my heart was going fast a few minutes ago,” says the boy-man. “But you’re makin’ me rethink what a race should feel like.”
GM: The cigarettes are the worst thing about this place. The fires are tiny enough, but Jade’s Beast whines in instinctive unease. They’re a constant distraction. The lighters are worse. Get enough of them close to her face and she might lose control.
There’s a reason Savoy strictly enforces a ‘no smoking’ rule in the parts of the Evergreen that Kindred pass through.
There’s a reason Mélissaire recommended she not target smokers when hunting, either. That anxiety mixed with the rush of hot blood might also cause her to lose it.
Or at least get them to put out the damn cigs, first.
Celia: She can hear it, too. His heart pounding away in his chest, pumping blood through his body. There’s a pulse point at his neck that her eyes are drawn to. Good thing she just fed, right? Good thing she can’t smell it under the pungent stench of smoke.
She’d be more impressed if he didn’t have a cigarette dangling from his lips. Cute enough, but that’s a deal breaker. Even when she was alive she wasn’t a fan: it’s the kind of stink that lingers. That calls for excessive showers and immediate loads of laundry.
Her lip curls.
“Gonna have to try harder than that, sweetheart.”
Support: He blinks, his pride stung. But he rises to her challenge, responding to her sneer with a wry smile. “I’m just saying, if you like fast cars, maybe you’d like to be inside of one? As a good-luck charm? For the race. Which I’m in.”
Utterly. Unearned. Confidence.
Celia: She makes a show of looking him over.
“You even old enough to have a license?”
Support: He snorts. "Aren’t I supposed to ask you that? Not that I think you’re underage, obviously. " He thinks a little more. “Not obviously because you’re old, but because it would be illegal. Although I guess that part wouldn’t me bother me either. Look, what I’m saying is, I’m over sixteen and I don’t fuck underage girls. Anymore.” He coughs and looks vaguely uncertain. “Uh, what were we talking about?”
Celia: “You were telling me how much you hate smoking and about to show me your big, fancy car.”
Support: “Right… one of those sounds really, really fun.”
Celia: “It’s a both or nothing kind of deal.” She tilts her head to one side. Flashes him a smile.
Support: “I mean, if it has to be both. Call me Mr… shit, I had something for this.” He drops the cigarette and grinds it under a shoe. “Maybe buy-one, get-one?”
He fishes a key fob from one pocket and clicks.
A ride chirps in response.
His confidence might be utterly unearned, but at least some of it comes from the car. It’s a sleek, cherry red, with all the muscle in a muscle car and all the angles of the Mach 5.
“I wouldn’t say ‘big,’” he says, patting the hood. “But definitely a hot ride. Which, coincidentally…”
He opens the door for her.
Celia: “Cute,” she says with a wink, though whether she’s talking about him or the car is hard to say. She slides inside, waits for him to go around to the other side. “Who’re we racing?”
Support: He gets in, points to a lime-green car that looks like TV shows get paid to reference it by name parked on the far side of the track. “This pig-fucker Pavaghi. Some fuckin’ city kid whose parents don’t know he’s spending his allowance on a sport for men. Or maybe they do and just don’t care because they don’t understand drag racing. I’m not sure what, like, ethnicity they are, but its probably not one where most of them know what four-wheel drive is.”
Celia: She knows of the Pavaghis. She’s pretty sure Stephen had mentioned one of the kids once, something like “no good, crooked family, spends all his time partying.” She’d never had a reason to run in the same circles as them.
“Do you keep his car if you win?” she asks, one brow lifted in a delicate arch. “Or do I get to decide what your prize is?”
Support: “That’s called racing for pink s—” he begins eagerly, then hears the second part of her question. “Oh. Well, um, I think you’d be awarding me a lot of, um, rep. If you gave me a kiss when we got out.”
Celia: The sound of her laughter fills the car. She puts a hand on his knee. “Impress me.”
Support: He raises an eyebrow, and a stupid grin spread across his face.
“Yeah. I can do that.”
Support: It’s a few minutes more of flirting and charmingly awkward small talk as they prepare the track. His car rolls onto asphalt like a snake finding purchase on the ground. But Jade doesn’t understand these ceremonies, these people with their raised hands and exclamations, and Randy’s explanations are… amusing, but not exactly informative.
But then the cars, cherry red and lime green, are wheel-to-wheel. She can see the other driver’s face, chubby and sweat-covered. But Randy doesn’t sweat. Unearned or not, he smells like confidence.
The cars wheel closer and closer to the starting line, as the officials and judges slowly clear the track.
“Vroom, vroom,” Randy mutters, and before she can so much as giggle at him, the car is racing.
Support: It’s fast. Very fast. She knows what it is to move faster than cars, of course, to hurtle at speeds faster than the human body should be capable of. But the unnatural speed of her kind is nothing like this chaotic, barely controlled acceleration, the roar of combustion and impossible generation of momentum as an engine screams and whips the car forward.
So fast, and yet the seconds that pass are the longest she’s ever felt.
Randy’s screaming. She doesn’t know exactly what. It’s a sustained, furious stream of abuse, pleading, and profanity like a drunkard’s prayer. The exact words are muffled by the roar of his ride’s engine, though, and by the merciless squeal of his tires.
The curve of the track looms suddenly close, impossible to miss, the car about to careen into the watchers—but somehow he has turned, just so, and the car stays on the road.
She’s thrown, inside the car, her seat belt barely restraining her.
She can see the individual brows on Randy’s forehead furrowing as he guns the pedal and the car somehow goes faster.
Everything is noise, stimulus, speed. Her bones seem to sing with the pressure of it. A part of her is certain the car is about to crash, this idiot boy is going to trap her in a hunk of burning steel and blood…
“VROOM FUCKING VROOOOOOM!”
And the race is over.
It’s a pitiful few seconds later that the lime green car finishes.
He never had a chance.
So maybe not completely unearned.
Celia: If she had a heart, she thinks, it would be hammering.
She’d be as nerved out and as unsteady as any of those girls in their four-inch heels after a few cheap beers.
She’d have screamed, maybe.
But she’s already dead. Not unfazed, though. No, she gets it now: why Mélissaire likes these kinds of places. Why the ghoul spends so much time down here. Why she pouts so prettily when she has to drive a boring Altima.
She doesn’t wait for them to get out of the car. Or rather, she waits long enough to tell him to find a secluded place, and as they drive off together she waves at the gathered people to give him the rep he so desired. She can be a benevolent master.
Then she’s on him. Her knees are on either side of his lap, steering wheel pushing against her back. She doesn’t care. Her lips find his, then his jaw, his neck. She bites. Lets her fangs pierce his skin. Fastens her mouth around the wound and pulls that heady nectar free from his body. She doesn’t take much. Enough to fill her mouth, to get a taste of that adrenaline, that cockiness. She licks it closed, then bites into her own wrist and presses it against his mouth.
“To the victor,” she murmurs in his ear.
Celia: Maybe he was already so enamored that he doesn’t notice the bond taking effect. Maybe it means nothing for him when it snaps into place and she’s the new object of his adoration, the new subject of his idolization. It’s a small step, after all, one of three.
It’s like a small trip. Like a full body unwinding. Like the best rush he’s ever gotten from that first inhale after jonesing for a cigarette for hours.
She sees it in his eyes, the way they glaze over, the little smile he can’t help but send her way. She likes this power. It’s intoxicating. She croons soft, nothing noises and words into his ear while he drinks from her. Her hands slide through his hair, her teeth pull at the lobe of his ear. She doesn’t let him drink long. Enough to quench a tiny amount of thirst. Enough to bring him to heel, to let immortality flow through his veins.
She wonders if he feels it.
She sinks her teeth in again, pulling aside his shirt to bite over his clavicle, sucking and slurping from him while he feeds from her, an unbroken cycle. It’s bliss. A rush. Even her Beast is pleased, purring contentedly in her chest. Or maybe that’s her. Or him. It doesn’t matter. He’s hers now, for the simple act of saying hello.
She pulls her wrist away when she’s decided he’s had enough, though she continues feeding from him a moment longer. She goes slow, savoring the experience; there’s something about these mortals that makes her want to be gentle with them. Maybe it’s their fragility. Or the noises he makes.
Happy little noises from her new toy.
Friday night, 4 September 2009, PM
Celia: “You’re mine now,” she tells him when she gets him back to the apartments near the Evergreen Plantation. Savoy had given her to them when he’d fished her out of the Gulf, and she had yet to move out into a space of her own. They’re lavish. Well appointed. The other ghouls see to her needs.
She’s not in a hurry to leave. She likes this lap of luxury.
He will too, she tells him.
She tells him what he is now, too. A ghoul. Her ghoul. It’s like slavery, she says, only she’s a vampire instead of a rich white guy. She watches his face when she says that word: vampire.
Support: He’s confused at first. Then she says that word and he just looks amused.
“Yeah, okay,” he says. “Whatever. I could say I’m a race-car driver to impress you, too, babe, if we’re roleplaying.” He leans forward to kiss her.
Celia: She doesn’t move to stop him. She just smiles and there they are in her mouth: fangs.
“You are a race car driver,” she agrees.
“And I’m a vampire.”
Support: He screams.
Then he clears his throat.
“Drag… racer, technically,” he corrects. “But, uh. Those are. They’re fake. Right?”
He reaches for one, dumbly.
Celia: She lets him touch them. She finds the whole thing incredibly amusing, really. She wishes she’d thought to ask Pete if they were real when he’d shown her. Kind of like asking a woman if her tits are real, though. That’s awkward.
“If you scream again I’ll have to kill you,” she says with a long-suffering sigh. She hasn’t quite kicked the habit of sighing.
Support: “I, uh, “ he says when the tip of her fang draws blood.
“Oh. Oh. Fuck.”
He doesn’t scream.
Celia: “Good boy.” She pats his head, like she would a dog. Then she pats the seat next to her, invites him to sit beside her.
“There’s a whole new world for you to explore, pet. Here’s what’s important: you’re mine. If you run, I’ll find you. I’ll kill you. It’ll be very slow, and you’ll wish you hadn’t. Then I’ll find your family. I don’t want to have to do that.”
She strokes the back of her fingers along his cheek. “You’re cute. In a trailer park kind of way. Let’s keep it that way, mkay?”
Support: He scowls. “Come on. That’s not funny. Unless, again, it’s a roleplayjng thing. And then I want to take turns.”
Celia: “I don’t want to kill you. I want to keep you. Don’t you want me to keep you? Get you out of whatever place you’re living now, which I can guess isn’t as nice as what I can give you. Strength. Speed. Parties. You’ll still get to drive. Get to race. You just don’t get to run that pretty mouth of yours to anyone.”
“There aren’t a lot of rules. But breaking them once is all you get.”
“Don’t you think I’m pretty, little racer boy?” She traces a finger down his chest, cocks her head to one side. She shifts, moving until she’s on his lap, her arms draped around his neck. “Don’t you want to stay with me?”
Support: He’s clearly struggling a lot with the state of affairs as she describes it to him. Then she gets on his lap and he looks suddenly thoughtful, inquisitive. “So I’d be, like, your driver? Maybe?”
“Also, I like my place. It’s nice. Small, but nice.”
Celia: “Driver,” she agrees. “Do you fight? Know how to throw a punch?”
Support: He snorts. Shows her his knuckles. “You think I got these beating up kids at school? I mean, probably one of them. But come on, I was raised to be a pseudo-cop from eight. I think I know how to handle myself, babe.”
Celia: “Poor baby.” She kisses the bruised knuckles. “You won’t have to worry about that anymore, the bruising. You can beat up all the school children you want.”
Support: “I don’t still beat up schoolkids,” he snorts. Then he thinks about it. “Recently. Anyway. Wait, what do you mean by that?”
Celia: “No beating up school children,” she tells him. “Big guys only. Make me proud. Remember what happens when you impress me? Anyway, haven’t you seen any movies? Get a little blood in you and you’re near invincible.” That’s not entirely true, but she’s sure he’ll find out. “You can heal almost anything. Just like that.” She snaps her fingers.
Support: “For real?” he says. He looks again at her fangs. “So. Wait. Do I… do I drink blood now?”
Celia: “Mine,” she tells him. “You’re still… human. Ish.” She explains what he is. His place in their society. The perks of being hers. There are a lot of perks, she says, like the lack of aging, the health benefits, the things she’ll teach him.
“Plus,” she says, “you’re cute enough that you could plausibly be my boyfriend. So you get to drive, beat people up, and smooch me in public.” She beams.
GM: And live forever.
Never get old.
Support: “I could do that, for a little bit,” he says. “Sure. Yeah. Okay.”
Celia: For a little bit. Ha.
“You got a name, cutie?”
Support: “…Randy. Randy Dufresne.”
Celia: “Randy.” She considers. “That’ll work. Tell you what, Randy, I’m gonna send you off with my friend Mélissaire. She’ll show you the ropes, teach you everything you need to know about being a good little pretend boyfriend. If she tells me you’re doing well then that’ll make me very, very happy. And when I’m happy, you’re happy.” She kisses his cheek. “Any questions, Randy?”
Support: “…so can I smooch you in private, too?”
Celia: She smiles at him.
Support: He goes for it.
Wednesday evening, 6 January 2010
GM: “Sweetie, I want to tell Emily,” Diana says from the chair at Celia’s styling loft. “About your real dad.”
It’s been close to nine months since that fateful night. Celia’s mother looks like a balloon almost ready to pop.
Celia: This far along with her pregnancy, there’s no comfortable way for Diana to lay down on one of the tables for her treatment, nor is she permitted to anyway due to medical concerns: she’d be cutting off the blood supply to the fetus and to her own heart. The studies done about how it harms the baby and the mother were small, but Celia isn’t going to risk her mother’s happiness for an hour on the table. She’d done enough of the side-lying treatments, with piles of pillows supporting her head, between her knees, and in front of her that she’s pretty sure she’s unofficially earned the title Pillow Fort Queen.
Celia also, she’s decided, never wants to see another pregnant client again. Facial treatments are a bust, lashes need to be done one eye at a time… the only thing she can really do is massage, and when you’re that big around it takes a solid five minutes to roll over anyway. The whole thing is just an annoyance she doesn’t enjoy dealing with.
Hence the chair. Tilted far enough back to let Diana get comfortable, but not so far that she’s putting any pressure on the vena cava. Baby and Mom are both safe.
Or as safe as they can be under the hands of a monster.
Celia is in the middle of applying the first of three masks to her mother’s face when the woman opens her mouth. She frowns, uses her hand to swipe away the small amount of product that had been too close to her lips, and finally shakes her head as she finishes painting the mask on.
GM: Celia’s mom did like the pillows. She’d chuckled she “didn’t mind feelin’ pampered like a queen.” This close to the due date, though, she’d rather not spend a while shifting positions (such as she can) against the pillows to find the most comfortable one. Chair was faster and still pretty comfy.
“I’ve just been thinking, when we’re about to welcome a new member of our family into the world,” she says. “You know how I want you and Emily to be present for the birth. And, sweetie, you believe me, you watch a woman go through that, you’ve seen all there is to see with her. There’s no such thing as modesty left.”
“And if we can share that with her… I don’t want there to be any lies between us. I trust her.”
Celia: Celia has been pushing her mother toward a more natural birth, at home, rather than dealing with all of the procedures and complications that a hospital birth would bring. They’d argued repeatedly about whose name will go on the birth certificate until Celia had pointed out that Maxen has ears everywhere, and if they use Diana’s name he’ll be more likely to look into the child. Better this way to keep her safe. Better if it’s just the three of them at the birth.
“The problem, Momma, is that the secret about my father isn’t about you. It’s about both of us. I love and trust Emily, of course I do, that’s not the problem. The problem is if she decides she trusts someone else, then they decide to trust someone. It’s a scandal waiting to happen.”
She pauses to rinse and wipe her hands once the mask is in place.
“What do you think he’d do if it ever got back to him?”
GM: Pete, when Celia had brought up the topic, agreed that a home birth was “better all around.” Unless her mom was considerate enough to go into labor during nighttime and get the baby out before sunrise, there’s no way Celia could attend in a hospital. But she could force herself to stay up for a home birth in a windowless room.
Diana had been alarmed, though, at the prospect of not even a midwife. What if there were complications? Emily had done a lot of pregnancy study recently, but she wasn’t a certified midwife, or for that matter a real doctor. She also wanted to bring in a midwife.
Pete agreed, too. He had volunteered to alter the woman’s memories and simply swap Diana’s and Celia’s faces with each other. “It’s a small and unobtrusive ‘edit’ she’s not likely to question. Better for your cover, too, if there’s someone who ‘remembers’ Celia Flores having the kid.”
“She wouldn’t, sweetie,” insists Celia’s mom. “She knows… she knows full well what he’d do. To you. To me. She’d know it’s not her secret to tell.”
Celia: Celia had been extremely grateful for Pete’s support; she’d teased him about wanting to keep Diana safe so he could take her out later, and even his firm rebuke hadn’t been enough to dim her amusement, nor the respect he’d earned from her for all of the work he’d put in to help her family. She’d told him once, privately, that she “would’ve been lost without you.” She thinks he’d gotten a little emotional, but it’s hard to tell with Pete: all of his glowers look the same.
“I don’t see any benefit in telling Emily,” Celia says to her mom, “only drawbacks. She knows I don’t consider him my father. That’s enough for her. If you want to tell her about other men you’ve been with then that is your prerogative, but I won’t have either of our names slandered in some political stunt because Emily accidentally let it slip.”
GM: Some are harder than others. Like the one he gave at the suggestion of taking her mom out. But there hadn’t been one after she’d thanked him.
“There is a benefit, Celia. Telling the truth. It’s a weight off your shoulders, not to be livin’ a lie. It shows how much you love and trust someone, to be open about who and what you are.”
She doesn’t say anything about how trusting Celia resulted in her daughter giving her the silent treatment throughout the worst period of her life, right when she needed Celia’s love and support most. The Toreador later learned her mother had stayed with one of her ballet friends to get back on her feet.
She never has, either. Celia is pretty sure her mother would prefer just to forget that fight ever happened.
“I could’ve just not told you, if I wanted to be positive it’d never get out. But I wanted you to know, because you were family. And so is Emily.”
Celia: One of these evenings she’s going to try to hug him and see what kind of look that gets her.
“That’s the problem, though. People don’t confess to things to help other people. They do it to assuage their own guilt. You’d be burdening Emily with something she has to protect now. I don’t agree that ignorance is bliss, but she can’t mess up something if she doesn’t know about it.”
The timer goes off on her phone and Celia pulls a hot towel out of the caddy. She unrolls it and squeezes out the excess moisture, then places it delicately over her mother’s face. Only her mouth and nose remain free.
“It’s not your secret. It’s mine. My dad is my business. And I’m not living a lie; I know perfectly well that Maxen isn’t my father. Emily doesn’t consider him my father either. Family is who you choose, remember?”
“You’re not still married to the man. You don’t call him your husband. I don’t call him dad. No one is lying.”
GM: “But it is my secret too, sweetie. It affects me, it happened to me… it’s both of ours,” her mom says from under the towel.
“And your dad… is your dad, even if he was a bad one. Emily knows that too, how that… woman,” she says, clearly substituting the word for a less polite one, “who got into DUIs with her and ignored her calls and letters is still her birth mother. She didn’t have to tell us that, she could have just said her birth mother was dead, if she was scared we’d judge her or just didn’t want to deal with the pain. But she didn’t. She trusted us.”
Celia: “That’s an entirely different situation.” She begins to remove the mask, wrapping her fingers in the towel and wiping upward. Each pass of her hands brings some of the product with it, leaving behind clean skin.
“Emily has nothing to do with her mother. Her mother can’t come after her for anything. Emily has a new family now. If it gets out, Maxen comes after you. He comes after me. You know that reputation is everything down here; why would we take a risk when just keeping our mouths shut about it doesn’t harm anyone?”
GM: “I just think tha… oh, sweetie, I’m leakin’ over your seat. I’ve got a change of underwear in my purse.”
At nine months into her sixth kid, she seems pretty much past embarrassment.
Celia: Celia had, thankfully, put a towel down under her mother. Even if she hadn’t, the seats themselves are non-porous and liquid resistant, so cleanup is pretty easy. Used to dealing with blood and other gross things besides, what’s a little… ah, urine? Vaginal… juices?
…maybe she’s not as okay with it as she thought.
“Let me get you a towel, Momma.”
She quickly finishes what she’s doing and reaches for a fresh towel, handing it to her mother, then bends to search her purse for the change of clothing.
GM: It’s a pretty big purse. Besides the usual essentials, there’s a water bottle, protein bars, trail mix, extra wipes, body butter, antacid, tylenol, a change of panties, and empty plastic baggie.
“Emily isn’t going to tell,” her mom says as she slides down her underwear to towel herself off.
“I just know she won’t. Why would she?”
Celia: Celia can only assume the plastic baggie is for the now-soaked panties. She holds her hand out for the dirtied pair to stuff inside the bag, then offers her mom the clean pair. It’s less awkward than she thought it would be. Some part of her wonders if she would have leaked all over everything. If she wasn’t, y’know, dead.
“I don’t know,” Celia finally says. “Because she’s mad we didn’t tell her earlier.”
GM: Celia’s mom starts to thank her as she pulls on the clean underwear, then blinks in seeming disbelief. “Oh, you can’t think she’d do that!”
Celia: “I just don’t think it’s a good idea, Mom.” Celia tosses the towel she’d offered her mother into the hamper. Lots of bleach, she thinks, and steps toward the sink to wash her hands again.
“It doesn’t really matter who my dad is, does it? I don’t have a relationship with either one of them.”
GM: “Well, how do you think Emily would feel about it, if we told her?”
“And, oh, would you mind bringin’ over the hand sanitizer from my purse?”
Celia: “I think she’d want to know why we didn’t earlier.” It’s not that Celia expects the girl to betray her, not really. It’s that she might not have a choice, and that’s what scares her. Someone ripping into her mind because she’s close to Celia. Anyone who knows about what Celia is could be a potential threat to everyone she’s close to.
She hands her mother the sanitizer after another quick dig through her purse.
GM: “Thanks,” her mom says as she squirts some over her hands, then offers it to Celia. “Emi keeps trying to get me to wear pants, I bet you can remember. And, not to gloat, but this is just one instance why it can be a good thing for women to dress like women, and men like men. Clean-up’s a breeze.”
That was what Maxen said for why the Flores girls weren’t allowed to own pants. Minus the ‘clean-up’ bit.
Celia: “Mmm, easy access too,” Celia says with a smirk as she squirts some over her hands too. She remembers the times she and Stephen had put that to use. Mall. Bathroom. Movie theater.
GM: “Oh, you get your mind out of the gutter, missy,” her mom says with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.
“But if you think she’d feel hurt, doesn’t it make more sense to you to tell her later, than not at all?”
Celia: “Not really.”
“Can’t be hurt by something you don’t know.”
GM: “But she’s not a little kid, Celia. She can handle it.”
“I mean, like I said, I could have just not told you, and what would it have changed?”
“You’d have the same relationship with both men, and we’d still be here today, and maybe it would be a little safer.”
Celia: Well, that’s not strictly true. And I wouldn’t have been able to confirm that Em was my cousin after we fucked, either. But Celia doesn’t tell her mom either of those things. She doubts Diana would take it well how she’s met Ron. And she’s been trying not to think about Em since that final goodbye at his apartment. Better this way.
Celia finally sighs. She’s been working on still appearing human, and that’s one thing she’d noticed about their lot: they sigh. A lot. Little fidgeting gestures and noises.
“I guess it would do more damage to him and his reputation to know he was cuckolded than it would to me.”
GM: “I’m just saying, sweetie, if you’re glad that I told you, I think it’s only fair to tell Emily too. She’s part of this family.”
Celia’s mom moves forward a bit on the seat and holds a hand to her belly.
“Oh, oof, Lucy’s kicking. Remindin’ us she doesn’t want to be left out,” she smiles.
Celia: “That’s, uh, the only other person you’ve been with, right? While we’re… spilling secrets and everything.”
GM: “Well… can you not be hurt by somethin’ you don’t know, missy?” her mom says with an exaggeratedly serious air and wiggle of her eyebrows.
“And go on, sweetie, touch my belly! I don’t know how more times you’ll get to before the due date’s here.”
Celia: At the mention of the kicking, Celia slides her hands around her mom so she can get a feel, too. She’ll never have her own; this is as close as it’ll get for her.
“I just meant we’re positive that Lucy is his, right? You weren’t secretly dating anyone?”
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Your father and your… biological father are the only men I’ve been with.”
Celia can feel the pressure against her palm, abating and then renewing as the infant kicks.
“Oof. Due date is definitely close, with how strong those are.”
Celia: “I guess… as long as she’s the only one you tell, and it’s just me who would be in danger if it got out…” Celia trails off as the child kicks against her palm. Unbidden, a smile creeps across her face.
GM: Her mom’s answering smile is just as glowing.
“Isn’t it just such a miracle? I can’t wait for us to meet her.”
Celia: “It really is, Momma. I’m… happy for you. That you get this one to keep all to yourself.”
GM: “Ourselves, sweetie. You and Emi are going to be very important people in her life. We’re in this together.”
Her smile dims a bit. “Just like you wouldn’t be the only one in danger, if that got out. It’d be me, too.”
Celia: “I guess I just meant that it was only me. That you didn’t… see him again.” There’s a brief pause as Lucy kicks against her hands again. “He doesn’t know I exist, does he? You never contacted him?”
Obviously, he does know. But she’s curious if her mom does.
GM: Her mom shakes her head. “I’m not ever going to. Though I admit it did… cross my mind, back when I was really strugglin’ to cover your tuition and car payments.”
“But every time I decided I’d really rather just give some more dance lessons. For so many reasons.”
Celia: Funny. His money actually did help with those things.
“I thought about it too, you know. After you told me. For the first few years it was there in the back of my head, to go see him. To meet him. See what he was like.”
“To call him, I guess, since he wasn’t in the city until later.”
GM: “Honestly, sweetie, if I could wave a magic wand and just have your father also be your biological father, I would. It’d be one less secret to carry and not change a thing between any of us.” She gives a rueful smile. “Except maybe make your hair a lil’ easier to manage.”
Celia: “I could always shave it off, like Maxen does. But hey, that’s the benefit of cos school, you know? All these new products I can use on it to make it manageable.”
GM: “Har har har.”
Celia: “What, you don’t think I’d look good bald?”
GM: Her mom laughs. “You remember that movie Emi showed us, that science fiction one on the dessert planet, with the bald women? It was just the strangest, strangest thing. No thank you.”
Celia: Celia laughs at the memory. Her mom had tutted almost the entire way through.
“I’ll make sure to get you in for extensions if you ever start thinning.”
GM: “I’ll know I’m in the best of hands,” Celia’s mom smiles.
“Oh, speaking of, was there more you were going to do…?” She motions at her face.
Celia: “Oh, yes! Got distracted with the baby kicking. Sit back, sit back, I’ve got you.”
Celia guides her mother backwards until she’s lying upright in the chair again, then resumes the treatment. A second enzyme mask meant to reduce puffiness (which the pregnant woman has in spades) and break up some of the dead skin cells on her face. It’s lightly scented, but not overpowering. Celia uses a brush to apply the mask, and once it’s on sets another timer on her phone. A second later she has the arm of the facial steamer set over her mother’s face. The water begins to bubble and the steam spills out across her skin. It helps break everything down, loosens the gunk inside her pores to make for easy extractions (pores don’t open and close, thank you very much), and… well, honestly, it just feels nice to have the warm steam on your face, especially in the middle of winter. Even in New Orleans it gets chilly at night.
GM: “Oh, that feels just heavenly,” Celia’s mom murmurs under the treatment. “I know I say it all the time, sweetie, but you’re so talented. You just have such a gift at this. I can’t wait until you have your own place like you’ve been talking about.”
“I had this, maybe not fantasy, but just cute little idea, I guess, inspired from a book I read a while ago. There’s a pregnant woman whose water breaks early and who goes into labor in the middle of her family’s kitchen, so the baby grows up to be an incredible cook.”
“So I thought, wouldn’t it just be ‘cute’ if my water broke in Celia’s place, we delivered Lucy right there, and she also grew up to be an amazing esthetician.”
Celia: “I was wondering if you were going to say spa or dance studio,” Celia says with a smile. “Though I suppose with you teaching her she wouldn’t have to work too hard at being great at both.”
GM: Her mom smiles back. “Dance studio is another cute thought. Maybe a dance studio that doubles as a spa, however that’d work, and she’d be a born natural at both.”
Celia: “Well I’ve got the midwife on speed dial, if you think you’re going to, ah, pop her out here.”
“If I do a little dance here we could pretend it’s a studio, then you’ve got both. Enough mirrors around.”
GM: Celia’s mom laughs. “Or we both could! I still dance, too, a bit.”
“Dancing while pregnant is pretty interesting. When you’re pregnant, you release a hormone called relaxin to loosen up the ligaments in your pelvis so your birth canal can expand. Relaxin affects you from head to toe, so it can actually make you more flexible. Though it also means you have to be extra careful to prevent injury.”
“Obviously I’m not about to do any grand jetés with how big I am, of course. I can’t really do those anymore anyways.” There’s a moment of sadness in her eyes before she continues, “But I’ve told you about how I’ve been belly dancing, haven’t I?”
“That uses your tummy and trunk muscles and helps to keep your back supple. It helps you to focus on good posture, too. Plus your pelvic floor muscles work, so you don’t leak as much wee when you cough or sneeze.”
“Since it uses slow, controlled movements, it’s a great way to exercise when you’re pregnant.”
Celia: “You mentioned that. Showed me those hip shimmies they had you doing; think it’s something you’ll keep up with once you’ve had Lucy?”
“Once I take this mask off you and finish up we could take a twirl around the floor.”
GM: “Oh, that’s a great idea, sweetie! We can give you a little lesson now, for when you’re pregnant someday,” her mom winks.
“It really is a very good form of exercise when you’re this late into your pregnancy. Another benefit is how when you’re exercising, blood gets diverted to your working muscles to make sure they’re getting enough oxygen—and that can possibly mean less blood going to your uterus. But that’s a non-issue with belly dance, since it’s tummy and trunk muscles you’re working.”
Celia: “Glutes, too. For those hip circles.”
GM: “Yep. I’ll probably do less of it after I’ve had Lucy, but I definitely think I’ll keep it up! It’s always worthwhile to learn new forms of dance.”
Celia: “I started looking into it after you told me about it. About how you have to isolate the ribs in order to do some of those more advanced techniques. It’s definitely an interesting feeling; I’d never really thought about it before, how it just kind of goes along with the rest of you, but with that control… it’s really something.”
A quiet chime from her phone has her reaching for another hot towel after she turns the steam off.
GM: “It sure is. That’s actually what some people think the original purpose of belly dance was, as a pregnancy aid and celebration of female fertility. It used to be a very private dance, done only around women. Women would gather around the laboring mom and dance to encourage her to imitate them. The dances were said to soothe the mom and lessen her pain. The movements were also pretty conductive to helping the baby along the birth canal.”
Celia’s mom chuckles. “I’m not about to ask you and Emily to belly dance for me while I’m in labor, but it’s a sweet image, isn’t it?”
Celia: That would be the only reason Diana allowed herself to do it.
GM: “Just that whole sense of community and women supporting each other.”
Celia: “I s’pose we’ll see how it goes with the delivery, Momma. If you need me to dance and praise the Mother Goddess then who am I to deny you?” Her tone is teasing. She tosses the last of the towels into the hamper and reaches for a bottle of moisturizer. No extractions for her mother today; her skin doesn’t need it, and it’s a less-than-pleasant feeling besides.
GM: “Bring a fertility idol, just in case,” her mom chuckles again.
“But about Emily… you said you’re okay with us telling her, sweetie?”
Celia: Celia is quiet while she applies the eye cream and lip balm. The treatment is pretty much over at this point; nothing left for her to do but help her mother up.
She finally shrugs.
“I guess if you make sure she knows the very, very serious nature of keeping it to herself.”
Maybe they can bond over the fact that they both chose new families for themselves.
GM: “We’ll tell her together, so you can be absolutely sure she sees how serious this is,” Celia’s mom says.
“And thanks, sweetie. It means a lot to know we can all trust each other, with something like this.”
Celia: In the grand scheme of things, she supposes it’s one of her lesser secrets.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Friday night, 17 September 2010, PM
Celia: It’s a useful trick, he had told her, a Masquerade behind the Masquerade. Other licks will look at you and see just another juicebag, so long as you are careful what you do. And for someone like you, trying to maintain a mortal identity… it is doubly so. Use it with your Celia face and no one will know any better.
I’ve seen you vanish into nothing, she had responded, will you show me how?
He had laughed at her. It wasn’t unkind; his cousin’s presence was woefully lacking this evening. The ebon goddess complained about being bored and had left her childe in Pietro’s capable hands. There was no one to posture for save each other.
Steal something worth my time, he’d told her, and I’ll show you everything I know.
Jade had waited a week to put her plan into action. It had given her the time she needed to come up with and summarily discount a dozen ideas, each more elaborate than the last: art, jewelry, that crown on display at the Presbytere, or the diamond and ruby rose with emerald leaves on loan to the art museum. Maybe, she reflects, she could steal an entire plane from the World War II place, and idly wonders what expression he would don were she to land the damn thing on top of his apartment in Marigny.
None of it seems right. Not for him. He’d enjoy them, certainly, but they’re all things that he can get on his own. Make it worth his time, he’d said. Besides, getting out will take more skill than she currently possesses, which is why she’d wanted to learn more of his stealth skills in the first place. For sneaking. Anyone who sees her vanish and stumbles across the Jade/Celia discovery will assume it’s nothing but an illusion, as Roderick had. Easier to think it’s something familiar than to strain too hard to consider the alternative. Jade will give them no reason to suspect that she is anything more than a stealthy trickster. Better for her personal Masquerade and the lies she’d like to spin.
Which is why, she thinks ruefully, Pietro is giving her a chance in the first place instead of dismissing her outright.
She’d never asked if he felt bad for the hand he had in turning her into this, but she thinks she can see it in his eyes sometimes when he assumes she isn’t paying attention. Regret. Guilt, perhaps, more than regret. He’d been the one to pick her up that night, the one to bring her back to his apartment to feed. Not fuck—she knows that now, or at least assumes she knows the truth of the evening, that he hadn’t wanted to waste the blood. Why bother if she wouldn’t remember and he wouldn’t enjoy it? He could just used his fingers and charm her into thinking it had been the best night of her life. She’d never asked, not after Veronica had made it clear that blood is sex now and anything else is a perversion against their very undead nature. Jade hadn’t bothered to tell them about her own ability to still get off that way.
Maybe it had been the best sex of her life, the best night of her life, but that was prior to waking up in his bed to hear him arguing about the body. Prior to being caught on the stairwell in a game of cat and mouse. Prior to the rape. The murder.
She prefers his touch to Veronica’s, though she has never told him. Enjoys his caress, whisper soft. She’d spent many evenings sandwiched between the pair of them, no longer left to her own devices while they rip and tear and snarl.
It’s these memories, these thoughts, that give her the idea.
She dresses for success this night, farther outside her typical wardrobe than she has ever been before: distressed jeans cut through with black patches that proclaim the names of punk and rock bands she’s never listened to, a black belt to keep them snug around her hips, black stiletto boots beneath the jeans. A cropped shirt shows off every inch of her toned, flat stomach, Satan’s goat face stretching proudly across her chest. Fingerless gloves complete the look. Grunge chic. Rocker chick. She’d given herself tattoos even, spent hours on the kaleidoscope of colors etched across her skin.
It goes with the face. Pale and angular, with dark shadow and darker eyeliner swiped across her lids. Less than blended, as if she doesn’t have time to worry about such frivolities. Her hair is long, unbound, an ombre of magenta into teal. Snake bite piercings top it off.
She looks less like herself now than she ever has. No one would recognize her as Celia Flores, senator’s daughter, or Jade Kalani, Savoy’s pet. She gives herself a new name to go with her new face: Raven.
Raven strides into the bar with a click of her heels, aura dampened, charm projecting what it is she wants people to see: fierce. It’s a challenge and a war cry all in one, and all the red-blooded males who aren’t turned off by the tats and studs answer the call. They want a piece of that fierceness; they want to tame the bitch.
Her mark sits at the bar with another woman, showing her the same tricks he’d used on Cici the night she’d come to Saints & Sinners with her arm in a sling. Raven pays him not the slightest bit of attention; the surest way to scare him off is to show any interest. She sets a trap instead, something that will bring him to her.
Her moves are sinuous, winding. She draws people in and lets them go just as quickly, dismissed. The music pounds through her veins. She lets it lead her, hips and shoulders and torso reacting to some deeper, instinctual urge. Even her Beast, quiet though it is tonight, sways inside of her. Her partners shift around her, vying for her attention, clamoring to be the one to catch her eyes. Some are bolder than others; they jostle and jockey for a better position, a closer spot to this siren in their midst. One is so forward as to think to put his hands on her. She smiles, delighted, and spins within the circle of his arms to put her back to his chest. When she turns again he is gone. Replaced by hands and a body who echo his lost gestures before diving into his own.
She doesn’t know when he approached, when he made the others back away with look or word, but she feels the first of those feather-light touches, his hands on her hips, her back, her stomach. Claiming. It’s just the two of them on the floor; everyone else falls away, the rest of the world reduced to nothing more than a murky din. Colors fade. Faces blur. The music continues to thrum through her, but he is her focus, and she his. Hunger gazes out at her.
When he smiles at her she knows she has him.
His hand on her back pulls her in. Their hips meet. His lips graze her neck and he whispers in her ear: come back to my place.
She’s ready for the suggestion. Even so, her mind clouds. His whisper makes her pliant. She follows him from the bar, hand in his, to the car waiting outside. Expensive. Flashy. A sports car or muscle car or luxury car, top of the line, nothing she recognizes.
Do you like it, he asks, and when she affirms that she does he says that it’s stolen. Like you, he tells her, stolen from all the other men who wanted you this evening.
It’s a familiar conversation, but Raven doesn’t tell him so. Raven hangs onto his words, star struck.
Until they pull up to his apartment. Until he takes her inside and to the couch, a long, leather affair, the same one she had spent countless nights on after her Embrace. The painting hanging over it is new, though. So is the rug. Both lifted recently, shown off here before he gets bored of them and replaces them once more.
He has her on his lap before she can take in the rest of the room’s differences. His hands traverse her body, stroking and teasing, his mouth at her throat. She makes encouraging noises, like Raven would, and waits until something harder presses against her neck. Two little pinpricks—that’s when she lets the aura drop, and the Beast inside of both of them recognize the other. They snarl, snap, jostle for domination.
Skin rips. Fangs tear. Blood flows.
She ends up on her back with Pietro on top of her, her hands caught firmly in his grasp. She looks out at him from Raven’s eyes and smirks, her struggles ceasing.
“Teach me,” she tells him.
His answering growl is satisfying.
“Where’s your catch, then?”
“You’re it. I stole you, darling.”
Wednesday night, 15 December 2010, PM
Celia: She never learns the way the mind powers work.
She tries. She does. She tries to learn how it goes, how to jump into someone else’s head, how to read their thoughts through their eyes like she knows the elders of her clan can do. Preston and Savoy both seem to always know what she’s thinking. Pietro and Veronica too. And her sire, him perhaps most of all. She’s never tried lying to him, not outright, but there are times where she has not told the full story and he knows, anyway.
She thinks back to that time on the roof, waking up on Savoy’s lap. Wanting a hug. How he’d known to put his arms around her, how he’d known the proper words to welcome her to the Society of the Damned.
She can’t get headaches anymore, not dead as she is, but she tries often and hard enough that she thinks she might have gotten one if she were still alive. Veronica sneers at her when she learns that she hasn’t mastered it yet. Even Pietro’s patience runs out one night. “Not everyone is good at the mental arts,” he finally says with a shrug, content to let it go.
Stupid, Maxen’s voice whispers in her head.
She tries not to take it personally. She has gotten pretty good at shadow dancing, and he said that was a mental art too.
And she doesn’t need to get into someone’s mind to read their thoughts. She reads their bodies instead: watching the way their muscles move, the minute expressions that cross their faces, dissects their gait.
She is a physical creature.
She studies the outside to get inside.
What use does she have for being inside?
She likes to touch. To be touched. To be stroked, petted, adored; to be lavished in physical affection and lavish in return. It goes against her clan to not be able to get into the minds of others, but it is true for herself.
For all that he took from her that night, he did not take her sense of identity.
Social chameleon. Liar. Woman with a thousand masks. She has long known the truth of herself, that she blends and bends and twists to get what she wants, when she wants, where she wants. Why would her Requiem be any different?
It comes upon her in a rage. One night she thinks to tear the throat out of the people who so vex her. She retires alone—and when she comes to from her red haze she finds her clothing shredded, scratches in the walls, gouges in her skin. Her nailbeds bleed. Split, torn asunder by the claws that have sprung from the tips of her fingers.
She is a physical creature.
Tuesday night, 21 December 2010, PM
Celia: True to form, the Evergreen has been transformed for Lord Savoy’s holiday party. Rather than the typical decor or the Christmas explosion that has taken over much of the city, stepping into the Evergreen transports the guests back in time. Low couches and pillows dot the floor for seating, and off to one side a table has been set with a feast fit for kings—or at least the ghouls that will be treated as kings on a night when rules go out the window and society flips on its head. Gauzy drapings hang from white column pillars, roping off private sections and turning a segment of the large area into secluded alcoves for clandestine trysts or other fun. The center of the room, though, holds the main attraction. No one is quite sure how he pulled it off, but two pits have been dug into the very floor of the Evergreen itself. One has been filled with water and bubbles merrily, steam wafting from the top of it. Attendants stand by with scrubs and towels in smaller sectioned-off areas to rub down the licks or ghoul who choose to use the tub. The other pit is ten feet deep, its bottom piled high with sand. Rough stairs descend into the pit to allow for easy travel in and out, and “viewing boxes” have been cut into the walls themselves to allow for a closer look at the action. Right now it sits empty while Kindred guests mingle, some decked out in togas or synthesis garb, others in their modern-day clothing. Various vessels offer themselves to the present licks, their blood spiked by spirits and other party drugs.
Savoy and Mélissaire appear atop the stage, the former lifting his hands to draw attention to himself. A hush falls over the room, expectant.
“Good evening one and all!” he calls, hands slowly lowering to his side. “Thank you for your attendance this evening. The winter solstice, the longest night of the year, has long been celebrated around the world to honor the gods and rising sun.” Some few Kindred hiss, and Savoy chuckles. Beside him, Mel smiles. “Precisely. Tonight we celebrate Saturnalia as the Greeks and Romans of old. Eat, drink, gamble, cavort—slaves and masters alike! I’d say no base desire is to forbidden to you, but we all know there’s no such thing as ‘forbidden’ in the Quarter, now don’t we?" He grins as laughter goes up from the gathered Kindred. "But first, the opening ceremony! OXR, would you care to crown our Saturnalia’s king?”
A spotlight appears from above, centered on the black Kindred that appears beside Savoy in a puff of smoke. Dark hair curls around her face, framing her kohl-rimmed eyes and red, red lips. A similarly colored robe hangs from her shoulders. She pauses for one long moment to let the assorted licks get a look, then opens her mouth and croons into the microphone in her hands. Seconds later the steady beat of a drum joins her voice, followed by a soft piano. The sound starts light. For all that Andromeda Brooks is known to be a punk artist, the velveteen purr that pours forth from her lips serves her just as well singing the story of Lucia of Syracuse.
Across the room, the doors open. Tyrell waves a hand and smoke pours forth from the open door, heralding the approach of the girl from the story. From deep within the shifting smog Jade emerges, clad in a long, flowing white gown that leaves her shoulders bare. It’s cinched at the waist with a red sash that trails between her legs as she walks, her bare feet making not a whisper of sound upon the floor. On her head is perched a wreath that flickers with each step, “candles” to light her way. And in her hands…
Blood. A silver goblet filled to the brim. The heady aroma makes people stop and stare as she winds her way through the congregation. On stage, Andromeda sings about Lucia bringing nourishment to the people. Her words encourage people to approach, and anyone who does is offered a sip from the chalice. Licks take a knee and let her pour it into their mouth, or cover her hands with theirs and lift it to their lips. Everyone who desires a sip is gifted the blood from her chalice, until at long last she comes to a halt in front of where Nico, Roxandra, and Lord Savoy have gathered near the stage. Jade offers the final drink to her grandsire; he takes the chalice from her, freeing her arms to be gathered by Nico and Roxandra. They drag her backwards and denounce her as a heretic. They say she’ll pay for her sins. Andromeda’s song changes, the music sharpening to something harder. No longer the smooth beat of the drum but unsteady, frantic. She sings about a virgin sacrifice, the death of Lucia of Syracuse, the stories and traditions woven together in such a way that leaves no doubt as to what will happen next.
Roxy and Nico drag Jade to a stone altar. They bind her at wrist and ankle, and each of them heft a wickedly curved blade in their hands. They make cuts along her arms, her blood slowly dripping from the wounds. Jade hisses, fangs lengthening in her mouth, but the steel cuffs hold her tight.
“Who will rule tonight?” they ask in unison.
“Who will blood the virgin—”
“And who will bring her back?”
A hulking Brujah steps forward, clad in a leather vest that only serves to accent the slabs of muscles on his chest and abdomen. He accepts the knife from Nico and stands over Jade, glancing at the two krewe members.
“Carve her,” Roxy whispers to him. The Brujah nods, plunging the knife into Jade’s abdomen. She howls and thrashes at her bindings. The white shift turns red when the knife comes out.
“Blood for blood,” Nico says, offering the chalice. The Brujah bites into his wrist and drips it into the chalice, then bends to slurp the blood from Jade’s body.
“Put your chosen vessel in the pit. If, upon waking, the virgin chooses yours to sup from, you will be crowned king.”
The Brujah moves off.
A parade of Kindred follow after him, everyone from Gui—with a cocky smile—to Pietro to a handful of nobodies. They each bleed into the chalice and carve Jade with teeth or knife to take their drink. Some sip directly from her flesh, making her writhe atop the altar, while others use it as a means to inflict pain upon the pretty neonate for past slights. The white gown becomes saturated in her blood by the time Veronica saunters forward and rips out her childe’s throat. She shrugs at Roxandra when the Gangrel bares her teeth, says something about “that’s how the story goes,” and tosses her vessel into the pit with a careless shove.
Jade lies still upon the table, her body sinking into the deep sleep of torpor. Still they come to claim her blood, until Nico finally puts a halt to it.
“Dry,” he announces. He produces a stake from his robe and plunges it unceremoniously into Jade’s chest. He and Roxandra untie her. Nico scoops her into his arms and Roxandra follows with the chalice when he deposits her in the pit, laying her gently upon the sand. He tilts her head back to pour a small measure of blood into her mouth. Her eyes open instantly. Her face can’t move, but the fangs in her mouth tell them what they need to know: the Beast has her in its grasp. Roxandra evacuates the pit, Nico at her heels with the chalice in his hands, still half full.
“Remove the stake,” he says to another vessel. The man’s eyes glaze over and he nods, taking the stairs one at a time, then moves unsteadily across the sand until he kneels before Jade. His fingers close around the wooden stake in her chest, yanking it free.
Immediately Jade jumps to her feet, ignoring the man in front of her in favor of an obese woman doing her best to avoid notice. She launches herself at the woman and they go down in a tangle of limbs, Jade’s fangs sinking into the woman’s throat. She rips it out in a spray of blood that has the Kindred attendees murmuring and jostling one another, inching forward as if to get in on the action. The other vessels in the pit scream and make a dash toward the stairs, but they’re snatched up and snacked on by the licks closest to them, passed along the audience while Jade finishes her meal. The red haze recedes from her vision. Blood stains the front of her, splattered across her face, her chest, her neck. It weighs down the curls in her hair, turning it into a sodden mess. She looks up to see Gui smiling at her.
“King of Saturnalia,” he declares in a lazy drawl. “My first order—a bath for our not-virgin.” The Ventrue takes her hand when she ascends the steps, leading her across the floor to the bath. He smirks at Nico when he strips her from the saturated gown and shucks his own clothing, descending into the water.
“You were a lovely virgin,” Gui murmurs in her ear, pulling her bodily onto his lap. His hands stroke down her front and sides in the guise of washing, fingers lingering over her breasts, stomach, and hips. Jade leans back against his chest, eyes closed while he works.
“They all watched me murder her,” she says after a moment, voice quiet. She doesn’t sound particularly upset about the death of the woman, but the witnesses. “Isn’t that… bad?”
“It happens every year. Didn’t they warn you?”
“No,” Jade admits. Then, hesitantly, “I thought losing it like that at an event is poor form.”
Gui laughs. He gives her rear a squeeze.
“Ordinarily, yes. Tonight, though, the rules go out the window. Tonight you will see plenty of Beasts running rampant, limited to the pit. Tonight ghouls will be treated as equals and dine with us. Tonight you’ll see licks duke it out, fuck it out, rage it out. There are no rules tonight, save that all must stay within the walls. And my rules,” he adds.
“Yes,” Jade murmurs, “King of Saturnalia. What does that entail?”
“Ruling. My word is law. If I tell you to do something you have to do it.”
“Even Lord Savoy?”
“Especially Lord Savoy.” She can hear his smile. He nips at her neck and she giggles, tilting her head to the side. “But it’s a double-edged sword. Fine line to walk between entertainment and impudence. It’s mostly just silly things. Telling people to do what they’re already good at. I could tell your sire to sing, or Silvestri to steal something, or your paramour to fuck you. Or I could make you be my arm candy all night, make him watch.” His hand cups her breast, thumb flicking across her nipple. Jade squirms. She rolls her neck to the side, nuzzling his cheek with her lips.
“Don’t be cruel to him.”
“And why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you’re a brighter king than that. Happy subjects are loyal subjects.”
“Smart and pretty,” Gui says again. “Go on then, find your lover and a corner. And Jade,” he wraps a hand around her wrist as she rises, pulling her to a halt, “when you’re tired of him I’d be happy to show you a good time.”
True to his word, Gui serves as a magnanimous king. He presides over the Gladiator Games—single combat in the pit until one lick cries uncle or is knocked into torpor, upon which they are woken by a drink from Lord Savoy—and indeed has Veronica regale them with a set to give Andi a break. The hulking Brujah who had first stabbed Jade wins the bracketed Gladiator Games and claims a pair of Caitiff as his prize. Their snarling fills the air even after they excuse themselves to a private alcove. More people pair off after that, licks and ghouls intermingling with no thought as to who belongs to whom. Jade sees Alana bent over by one of Gui’s security thugs, then later riding Nico’s herald with her head thrown back. Alan pins Clem’s adolescent form against the wall while he worships her with a tongue between her legs. She smirks, half-lidded eyes pronouncing her smugness to the room.
The Kindred become more rowdy the more they drink from the provided vessels. Some have been fed alcohol, others smoke joints or take tabs of ecstasy, and it shows: ordinarily orgies, the party has devolved into a frantic need, partners coupling and moving on and coupling again. Some fuck, others fight, still others allow themselves to be chained to the altar and abused by any who wish to inflict pain. Groups of three, four, or five share each other. Jade never manages to make it back to Gui for the promised good time, but she does tumble with Nico, then Roxandra, then Tyrell and Andi, and finally the five of them all together in a pulsing, throbbing mess of desire. She thinks she’s spent until she sees the hulking Brujah eye her from across the room, and when he draws near and pulls her into his arms she doesn’t even think to protest. He apologizes for the gut shot before sinking his fangs into her shoulder. Her nails rake down his back. When it’s over she shyly tells him that she’d been impressed with his prowess in the arena, and he smirks and throws her over his shoulder to give her an impromptu lesson in brawling that ends with his knee on her back and her arms yanked behind her, throat exposed for his fangs. He takes her again. When he’s done drinking his fill he flips her over and lets her drink from him, then tells her he’d be happy to go again sometime. She’s whisked away by Pietro before she can respond, dunked into the water, then bent over the edge of the pool so the thief can drink from the supple flesh of her lower lips. Then he’s gone, his laughter lingering in her ear.
Nico slings his arms around her from behind and pulls her back into the hot water, both of them flushed and sated from their hours of play.
“Guess you’re not a virgin anymore,” he says, idly tracing a hand up and down her side.
“Mmm,” Jade hums in agreement, “does that mean you don’t like me anymore?”
“Yes,” he says, effecting a sigh. “I only like licks in white.”
“Pity. I suppose I’ll need to find someone else with whom to while away my evenings. Maybe that Brujah—did you get his name?”
“Who, Teddy? No, no. He won’t do at all. I heard,” he stage-whispers, “that he fucked a thin-blood.”
“His name is Teddy?”
“Like the bear.”
“Huh. Well, I suppose I’m stuck with you, in that case.”
“I think I’ll manage,” he says with a smile.
Friday night, 24 December 2010, PM
Celia: Jade had thought that maybe they’d cancel Elysium Primo considering the holiday. Savoy had thrown a solstice party three nights prior that had, in her humble opinion, been the best party ever. She’s not sure how he plans to top it next year or in the months between now and then, and she doesn’t think it’s possible, but she’s hardly going to turn down an invitation if he attempts to outdo himself.
Yet here they all are, listening to Gus Elgin give a few opening words about the piece, the holiday, the history. They came out in their “Elysium Best,” be it floor-length gowns or frocks or just their nicest jeans to listen and mingle on this holiday eve. The primogen and elders take up the prime spots, closest to the master of Elysium and art both. Jade can barely see from where she’s at with the other nobodies.
Following the revelry of Lord Savoy’s party, this week’s Elysium is downright dull. Jade is glad she doesn’t need to shift her weight or yawn at all; it’s proving more difficult than she imagined to keep her attention on the droning of the Nosferatu, but at least she doesn’t need to be rude about it. Some of the Quarter’s residents didn’t even bother to show up this evening, perhaps knowing anything that took place tonight wouldn’t top what they’d already been to. Jade wonders if she should have sat this out as well.
The sermon is mercifully brief this evening. Elgin dismisses them with a few final words. The Kindred attendees disperse, cutting off into smaller groups to discuss the art or each other, and some walk the halls in pairs or alone. Jade plays nice with the harpies and their hanger-ons for a few moments before excusing herself at the earliest possible convenience to see the rest of the exhibits.
She walks alone, her thoughts muddled by what she could be doing this evening instead of mingling with the Kindred of the city. She had left her mother’s house at ten to get ready with the promise to stop by tomorrow evening—she’d lied and said she’s spending the day with Randy’s family—and she wishes, not for the first time, that she did have a family to spend the holiday with. A real family, one she doesn’t need to lie to about why she’s not around during the day, why she can’t come over to watch Lucy “open” presents on Christmas morning (at this age it’s more watching Diana open them for her), why she’s just not around anymore. It’s easy to pretend she isn’t dead when she can spend her evenings with them, when they can laugh and smile and be a family, but every time her alarm goes off on her phone that tells her to “get to bed or else” she knows the lie for what it is. She has them, at least, and maybe that should be enough. But the guilt… the guilt gnaws at her. She knows that some of the older licks have long since stopped celebrating, that to most of them it doesn’t mean anything, but to her, still freshly dead, the holiday is just a reminder of a life she no longer has and the tales she needs to spin to keep her mask from slipping.
Last Christmas she’d still been new to all of this. She’d accepted an invitation from her grandsire for a quiet night in and he’d left her mostly alone with her thoughts. No business on Christmas, he had said, and she didn’t know if it was because of her or because he never does business on Christmas, but she’d appreciated the sentiment all the same. Preston hadn’t been there. Just the two of them. He’d spoken enough for the both of them, telling stories while she listened like a literal grandchild at his knee, and when she’d excused herself to the restroom he hadn’t pointed out that their kind don’t use restrooms anymore, and hadn’t said anything about the red around her eyes when she came back.
She brushes the thought from her mind and continues down the hall, her eyes on the artwork around her. She hadn’t been listening to Elgin, but she thinks there’s some sort of holiday theme going on with these paintings. Renditions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph. The wise men. The angel. The birth of Christ.
She’s standing in front of a particularly realistic carving of the nativity scene, her thoughts inward even while her eyes gaze upon the white marble, when Nico finds her. He slides towards her with all the smooth confidence of someone who is used to getting exactly what he wants, hands in the pockets of his leather jacket. Beneath that he wears a suit, but even for Elysium he won’t change his habits.
She kind of likes that about him.
“What’s on your Christmas list, Miss Kalani?” he asks once he’s drawn near. Difficult to be melancholy around him, she muses, turning to him with a smile.
“The usual,” she drawls. “A Ferrari, a yacht, diamond necklace, world peace.”
“Tall order,” Nico observes. “Have you been a good girl this year, or are you on Santa’s naughty list?”
She can’t help but think of a very similar conversation she’d had with Pietro when they’d met at Saints and Sinners. Jade takes a step toward him and he reaches out, resting a hand at the small of her back. She leans in to whisper in his ear.
“If I say naughty, are you going to spank me?”
“Such a mind, Miss Kalani,” he murmurs. His finger taps against her spine, sending a shiver all the way up. “Maybe, if you ask nicely, I’ll forgive you for such filthy thoughts.”
“Did you bring me a present, Mr. Cimpreon?”
“It’s on your bed.”
Her eyes glitter.
“What is it?”
“That would be telling, dear. You’ll have to wait and see once this is over.” He pulls away, winking. “I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“You’re such a tease,” Jade mutters. Nico whistles, hands in his pockets as he strolls off.
Jade watches him go, a fond smile on her lips. He turns the corner and her eyes move past him to the Brujah Anarch standing near the Calbido. Her smile dies as quickly as a rose touched by frost. She turns away before he can see her looking and moves in the opposite direction. She doesn’t want anything to do with Roderick Durant tonight.
She isn’t fast enough. He’s just behind her a moment later, keeping pace with her while she walks through the museum’s halls. Her heels click against the marble floors with every step that she takes. Neither one of them says a word. Not for long minutes while he trails after her, pretending that he’s not following her, until finally they’ve reached a secluded area. Relatively secluded, anyway; she knows that nowhere in Elysium are they ever truly alone. She stops in front of a painting, hoping that he won’t turn the corner, that it was mere happenstance that made him take the same path as her.
“Miss Kalani,” he says a moment later, sliding up beside her with a smile. “How are you this evening?”
“Mr. Durant.” She keeps her voice cold, not even turning to look at him. “I’m well. If you’ll excuse me—” She starts to move past him. He reaches out, touching her arm.
“Don’t.” She turns to him. “Don’t. There’s nothing here."
“Stop it.” She lifts her gaze. He can see it then, the red that rims her eyes and threatens to spill down her cheeks. “Please. Just leave me alone.”
His jaw tightens. This time when she turns to go he doesn’t stop her.
Art blurs around her. She blinks back the bloody tears that will give her away, wipes the emotions off her face. It won’t do for someone to wonder who or what has gotten under her skin this evening. She pauses in an out of the way area to pull herself together, standing in front of another piece of art. Something she can’t make heads or tails of, some abstract sculpture with smooth edges and square cutouts. She doesn’t know what it has to do with the theme—or even what the theme was. Christmas, she thinks idly. Or maybe Jesus.
She doesn’t know when he appeared beside her. One moment she is alone, lost in thought, the next she is aware of him some few feet away. Not close enough to touch. Not close enough to speak without raising her voice. He scrutinizes another piece of art with those stormy eyes of his. No one looking at them would even know that they were aware of each other’s existence. She’s so far beneath him that of course he doesn’t register her as being present.
A moment later he’s in her head, his presence a permeating chill that sweeps through her. Hard, cold, insistent, he forces his way into her mind, an icy pick cutting through a field of red roses. She puts up no resistance, no struggle, simply welcomes him with silence. And silent he is. There are no thoughts that leap from his mind to hers, no orders, no questions. Just a steady presence in her brain, a steel trap around her own. Utterly still. A blanket of darkness that she can sink into and know that the claws who rip and shred so many others have been tucked away. The world around her fades out; she loses herself in that sea of black.
It’s… nice, honestly. Not the physical affection she craves from him, but something like affection all the same. Acknowledgment. For long moments she is content to simply stare at the vague sculpture and feel him around her, floating on her little piece of ice. Then she tests the waters. She searches for the tether that links their minds, the little cord from her brain to his, and sends a pulse of emotion down the line. Not happiness, but something similar. Contentedness, maybe. Safety. Affection. Gratitude. She sees it as a string of lights that flare a dusky pink before dimming.
The answering pulse contains no words or images, just quiet acceptance.
Emboldened, Jade sends another. His face, as viewed at eight. A heart in his hands. His face again, half-shadowed as he whisks her away from a hallway filled with blood. A thrum of pleasure. Wind against her face, her dress dancing with the breeze, his arms holding her aloft. Longing. Him. Not an image of him but the idea of him. Strong, silent, cold. Demanding. Intoxicating. She drowns in his sea, happy to have her breath stolen away.
Another pulse echoes down the line from him. Questioning? Hesitant? She isn’t sure. She doesn’t recognize it, not on him.
Shyly, she sends a third. The two of them at a party, speaking in low tones in a corner. She’s in a red dress, he has his arm around her waist. He says something and she smiles, looking up. Her eyes catch sight of a sprig of mistletoe above them and she laughs, pointing. He favors her with a smile that she has never seen in life or unlife. It’s hard to picture, that smile, just a gentle lifting of his eyes rather than a movement across his lips. A surge of affection follows after.
She lets go of the image. The tether in between them fades back to black, once more a simple sea of ink. No breeze, no light; emptiness all around, as devoid of any sort of anything as the home in which he lives. She floats in the ebon sea, her sire all around her. Silent and still. Moments pass in nebulous quiescence. Finally, a cool breeze swirls past her, lifting the hem of her dress and brushing the curls from her face.
In real life, Jade shivers.
The mental tendrils of her sire slowly retreat from her mind. A moment later he’s gone.