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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VI, Chapter VIII

The Scourge & Cartel Kid

“I can be an illegal parasitic cancer to one person and a poor girl just trying to make her way through life to another, and who’s to say they’re both wrong?”
Isa Suarez

Sunday night, 14 February 2016, AM

GM: Within the week of Rocco’s loss of domain, Robert Congo summons Caroline to one of Perdido House’s mid-story offices. He queries her as to the terms of her feudal contract with Rocco, then states that their continuance is acceptable to his master before asking her to re-swear her oath of obedience to Regent Maldonato, Prince Vidal, and Almighty God.

Caroline: Caroline is happy—enough—to do so. Her relationship with the seneschal is… ambiguous at best, right now, but she can’t deny that he’s a less temperamental landlord than Rocco has proven. And one likely to ask fewer degrading things of her.

Tuesday night, 16 February 2016, AM

GM: The appointed date arrives and Isa makes her way to the Giani Building at 600 Canal St. 1 AM on a week night doesn’t see as much traffic passing beneath the CBD’s glass and steel monoliths as normal. But no city ever truly sleeps. No city is ever truly dead.

No more than its unseen masters are.

Caroline: One of the ghouls from before awaits Isa in the lobby. It’s the severe woman with the tightly leashed hair, who’s dressed once more in a conservative business suit.

A shorter, equally severe bald man looms next to her. Unlike his thin, almost frail companion, he’s built like a tank: a single muscle wrapped in clothing that barely contains the raw power underneath. If the other blonde from the previous meeting screamed security, he all but howls ‘danger’, complete with a pistol tucked in a shoulder holster under each arm.

Security cameras beat down on all who enter the building’s lobby from several angles. The woman extends her greetings to Ms. Suarez and leads her to the elevator. She inserts a key and hits a button for the top floor.

Isa: The Ravnos arrives dressed casually in a thin, sleeveless shirt that emphasizes her birdlike frame. She’s dainty and pretty and clearly not worth such a formidable greeting.

The man accompanying her is another matter.

Iron-colored hair cropped close to his skull, a dark tactical jacket over a windbreaker, and a nose that’s too crooked to have only been broken once all surround his scowl. It takes the center stage, as though emanating from the core of his entire being.

He doesn’t wear a gun, or any other visible weapon. It doesn’t stop him from staring down his bald counterpart, weighing him like a scale.

Caroline: The bald man does not appear impressed.

Eventually the doors to the elevator ding open to neatly furnished (marble tables and black leather seats) common area with an entire wall open to a rooftop—complete with a swimming pool—beyond. Fans swing lazily overhead.

The blonde security woman sits easily in one of the chairs at the edge of the patio. There are no illusions as to her purpose here. A pistol is strapped to her thigh and a rifle sits propped up next to her.

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Further out on the lobby is another tall blond silhouette at high table.

The ghoul, identified earlier as Widney, steps out of the lobby and turns back to the Latina Kindred. “Ms. Malveaux will receive you on the patio. Your companion may wait here.”

Isa: The ‘companion’ lets out a grunt of dissatisfaction.

“That will do,” the Anarch says, simply.

He contents himself with glowering discontentedly.

Isa walks out onto the balcony, seating herself across from Malveaux. “Your Requiem hasn’t been as cushy as they say, has it?”

Caroline: The Ventrue is dressed for Elysium in a long, short sleeved black dress with a gold belt that rides high and heels that peek out from beneath due to the tall chair she’s seated in.

She looks up from a folder as Isa approaches with Widney, setting down the red pen she’s making edits with and closing the cover. She arches an eyebrow. “I suppose that would depend upon whom they were, Ms. Suarez.”

Isa: “Would it? Rumors seem just as true regardless of who’s spreading them, don’t they?” She seems genuinely intrigued. “But the rabble, to answer your question. The unwashed masses. Is that the right phrase? It feels like the right thing to say, here.” She gestures to the view. “The friends of Eight-Nine-Six, me included. Officially. I never really hit off with them, even if we played for the same team.”

Caroline: “The truth and falsehood of a given tale may not change by the teller, but I’ve found that we each often have our own tale to tell,” Caroline offers by way of explanation.

Isa: “That’s true enough,” Isa agrees. “I’ve always believed lots of things can be true at once, even if they don’t make sense next to each other.”

Caroline: “The truth is relative?” Caroline asks.

Isa: “Maybe not Truth with a capital T, if you believe in that. But the broken knock-off we have to make do with? Yes. I can be an illegal parasitic cancer to one person and a poor girl just trying to make her way through life to another, and who’s to say they’re both wrong? We can’t even figure out who we are most of the time, so why should anyone else understand us better?”

She looks across the pool, the chlorine-soaked reflection of the skyline swaying and rippling. “Maybe there is a real, capital Truth out there. But I doubt any of us will get to understand it.”

Caroline: “Or perhaps a matter of perspective,” Caroline seems to offer and agree. “And we all have the worst one from which to see the truth—from within.”

Isa: “The Beast has its own view of things, too. Makes you wonder how much of our perspective is really even ours.” She smiles faintly. “And that’s all before how the masked city poisons hearts and minds, until all we see confirms ‘our’ own beliefs.”

Caroline: “An interesting philosophical question,” Caroline answers. “But perhaps one better suited to Elysium. I’m given to understand you had one of a more direct nature?”

Isa: She nods. “Which begs another one first. How confidential would you consider yourself, and your services?”

Caroline: “As confidential as possible, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline answers. “Obviously it depends on the exact nature of your interest. If for some reason it is something that cannot be contained, I’ll disclose as much to you. If it’s something I cannot—or will not—take on, I’ll disclose that up front as well.”

Isa: She nods, once. “This is pretty important to me. I would like for you to help me find, and, if I decide it’s best, secure custody of, a mortal boy. He would be 15 years of age and was introduced to the foster care system at the age of four.” She pauses. “His name is Mathias Suarez.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Your son?”

Isa: She raises an eyebrow.

“My brother,” she answers, her voice slightly amused. “I’m not a role model for Latina teens, but that particular mistake wasn’t made.”

The amusement, already scant, fades. “Not that worse ones weren’t. He entered the system in 2006, after being rescued by CPS. He was found alone in an apartment, sick.” Bitterness laces her voice like chlorine in the pool they sit by.

GM: “Have you enlisted the services of any other detectives or Kindred in finding your brother, Miss Suarez? Eleven years is a long time,” the ghoul with the tightly leashed hair inquires.

Isa: “Back after I was first turned, once I escaped my sire,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of money, and the PI I hired had… let’s call it a shit work ethic. I didn’t bother with any more less-than-private dicks after that. Besides, if another lick really got interested in my family, anybody with a beating heart would spill everything. Not to mention people aren’t lining up to take money from a Latina teen who has way too much of it.”

“I’d like to hire a lick I can trust, and yes, I know those qualities don’t exactly go together, but it’s what I need. The only problem is that ones rich or connected enough to find my brother are probably elders, and I wouldn’t be an Anarch if I was interested in owing them favors.” Her eyes glitter. “When Des told me about an incredibly resourceful neonate who’s been playing P.I., and who’d solved her problems, I felt… very hopeful.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “A sensible precaution.” She considers for a moment. “Tell me, Ms. Suarez, what are your intentions if I am able to discover the location of your brother? Do you wish to bring him into your Requiem? See to his welfare? Introduce him to the All-Night Society in some way?”

“I know it’s something of a personal question, and ultimately what you do with him is not really of my concern, but it colors how I go about seeking him out. If, for instance, you intend on abducting him from a foster home or family I would be much more opaque in my investigations than if you simply were concerned about his welfare. If you don’t wish to answer, I can proceed there as well, though the price will increase.”

Isa: She shakes her head. “I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t going to tell you what’s important, at least as far as this shit goes. I just want my brother to have a good life, and to be looked after by people who actually love him. I tried to take care of him once, but I was younger than he is now and it went like you’d guess. I’m not gonna even try playing vampire mom. But I’m also not peachy keen on trusting the foster care system with a young Mexican boy with no documentation or connections to check in on them. I’d appreciate your efforts to be on the DL, but not if it means shooting yourself in the foot. That’s also why I’d like to be kept in the loop. I need to know how he’s being treated before I decide whether or not I need to burn down a trailer park, or if I could use your help there, too.”

Caroline: “You need not explain your motives, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline replies. “Simply articulate them.” She glances at her ghoul. “I think this is a matter we can assist in.”

GM: The ghoul offers a firm nod in confirmation.

Isa: *"Now that that’s out of the way," Isa says once they’ve hashed out the details. “I was wondering something.”

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to go on.

Isa: Her head tilts, the seeming sloth and relaxation in her frame giving way to an intense…. something in her eyes.

“Why the Sanctified?”

Caroline: The Ventrue cocks her head. “In general, or vice?” she asks.

Isa: “Why not both? We can trade, even, if you’re interested in the lowly vagabond’s views.”

Caroline: “I was god fearing in life, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline replies. “Though perhaps not god fearing enough.”

Isa: She raises an eyebrow, as if expecting elaboration.

Caroline: “I’m a Catholic from a family of them. I would not turn entirely from god, even in my damnation. Perhaps especially in it. I wasted my opportunities in life to be a good Catholic. I hope that in my Requiem I might do better.”

Isa: She nods, simply. “And in the prince’s archdiocese, in the Lance, you see God? Your God?”

Caroline: She leans back. “I see pieces of Him, but I also think my vision is distorted, as though I’m looking through faceted diamond. There are things I struggle with. Parts of the Gospel that challenge me, but that’s the nature of faith, isn’t it? You don’t demand that it bend to fit your own beliefs or desires.”

Isa: “I suppose not, though it’s been a very long time since I’ve prayed.” She nods. “Although, I admit, faith isn’t what I think of when I hear your last name. At least, not first.”

Caroline: “What do you think of, Ms. Suarez?”

Isa: “Just Isa, please. I don’t like to tie myself up in their titles. Their honorifics are made of the same shit they use in their slurs. But, to answer your question, power. Money. Influence. But you aren’t Invictus.”

Caroline: “Should I be?” comes Caroline’s response, amused.

Isa: “If you want to be typecast. If I was playing lick Jeopardy, and the category was ‘clubs,’ and Alex Trebek was saying, ‘white Ventrue girl whose family puts their name on every inch of the city they can reach,’ I’d scream ‘who are the First Estate trying to Embrace’ real damn quick.”

Caroline: “And yet, they weren’t exactly lining up to welcome an illicit Embrace,” Caroline replies. “Stereotypes may exist for a reason, but to be shackled to them to often find one’s self with rather large blind spots. We’re all more, and less, than the sum of the parts others think make us up.”

Isa: “We can agree on that,” Isa smiles. “But it’s the parts of us that don’t meet expectations that often define us most deeply. So, I guess what I’m poking at is: you don’t care about power as much as your faith, even being raised with so much of the former?”

For now, the casual tone remains, but the slang falls away as she leans closer to the heart of the matter. She is no mere rabble, no matter how much she can play the part.

Caroline: Caroline considers the Anarch for a moment. “I think it’s easier to cleave to one as a neonate than another,” she replies.

Isa: “No doubt there,” Isa agrees. “And what thoughts do you have on the Movement, if any?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I think that ship sailed very shortly after the Invictus one,” she replies after a long moment, somewhat somberly.

Isa: “Mmm. Maybe it did.” She tilts her head. “But that’s not what I’m asking. Forget whether or not we’d have you, for a moment. Your dad’s a politician, and he seems to be good at it, even if I’m not even going to pretend to like the shit he says. You believe in God. What about in change?”

Caroline: “I’m not adverse to it, but I think that people often forget that change more often brings about destruction than creation. Maybe that destruction is good, healthy in the long run, like a cleansing fire in a forest grown too wild. But that doesn’t make the fire any more enjoyable for those that live in the forest. It’s easier to talk about change than to try to affect it—as I think you know better than some.”

Isa: “Maybe I do,” she says, amused. “Doesn’t seem to make me keep my fat mouth shut.”

Caroline: She leans back in, almost conspiratorially. “There was a time, I would have said that I had nothing to lose, after the Embrace. As my life was coming apart and this existence brought me only violence, pain, and suffering—and those to the kine around me. But the Sanctified helped show me that wasn’t true. That I have perhaps everything to lose.”

Isa: “And what does ‘everything’ look like, from the perspective of a believer?”

Caroline: “Purpose. Opportunity to correct the wrongs of one’s life—or at least atone for them. We’re Damned beings, but we were long before the Embrace due to our own actions. How many get a chance to atone, past death, for our sins?”

Isa: The Ventrue’s right about at least one thing there.

Not all that many.

Tuesday night, 16 February 2016, AM

GM: Several nights go by. Caroline’s search with Autumn turns up the following on Mati:

First, Isa was either lying or incorrect when she told Caroline that her younger brother had no documentation. Mati is an American citizen who was born at St. Joseph Women’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He has a birth certificate, social security number, school and dental records, and all the usual paper trail that one expects to find for children born in the modern-day United States. Autumn gives voice to the obvious thought that this is certainly easier than looking into an undocumented illegal.

Their investigation gets even easier when it turns out Mati was in the news and the subject of an AMBER Alert back in 2006. He was reported missing along with his older siblings Nico and Isabella (whose disappearances were equally publicized) shortly after the disappearance of their father Juan. Mati was eventually located in New Orleans by Child Protective Services. They found him in a shithole apartment without working heat or plumbing. Mati was in an extremely sick and malnourished state. Authorities concluded the boy was kidnapped by his older siblings, who ran away from home in apparent distress over their father’s disappearance. Most kidnapped children, Caroline and Autumn both well know, are abducted by family members.

Mati recovered at the Children’s Hospital New Orleans and entered the foster care system following his discharge. He was placed in a group home run by a woman who had fostered and adopted numerous children. Mati stayed with his foster mother for only a month or so, however, before being reunited with his birth mother Melina. She took him back to the Suarez family home in Houston, where he has resided ever since. Nico and Isabella were never located.

Mati has returned to New Orleans on a number of subsequent occasions. During one of his more recent trips, he enjoyed a stay at the city’s juvenile detention center after being arrested on a variety of gang- and violence-related offenses. Bail was posted by Mary St. George. Mati was fortunate to be released without any charges pressed. There are several other salient facts related to the teenager that Caroline and her team dig up.

First, the Suarez family are drug lords. The largest branch lives in Houston but maintains profitable (if perilous) financial and familial connections to Mexican cartels, particularly the Cártel del Golfo. The Suarez family matriarch María is known as the Bloody Mary of Galveston Bay and feared on both sides of the law and border. Many of the Suarezes (especially the men) have extensive criminal records in the United States and Mexico. Two of Isa’s uncles are currently serving time at Angola. Juan is not the only Suarez to mysteriously ‘disappear’, although Isa’s uncle Gael is known to have been killed in the 2012 Nuevo Laredo massacres. Much of Caroline’s and Autumn’s information comes from Diego, who clearly knows vastly more about the cartels than either of them. In fact, Diego reflects as he hears more about the Suarez case, he might even be acquainted Isa and her brothers personally.

“Not as friends or anything,” he adds. “I think we were on the same bus once. The one I came to the city on. Two scared kids with a crying brat that wouldn’t shut up.” The gangbanger laughs. “Small world.”

Autumn is surprised and intrigued by Diego’s unexpected usefulness. When she asks more about the cartels, he blithely tells her about the grisly ways they kill people. They’re notorious for delivering cut-off heads to the victims’ families, but Los Zetas once put a novel spin on that tactic by tying a man’s cut-off head onto a turtle. They wired an explosive to its belly that blew everything to kingdom come when DEA agents grabbed the head. What, do vampiros think they have a monopoly on violence? Diego laughs at the notion. What he’s seen from Caroline hasn’t impressed him. He considers the cartels vastly more dangerous and ruthless than vampiros, and when Autumn tells him he hasn’t seen the worst the Camarilla can do, he merely shrugs. The ex-Krewe ghoul seems split on whether to find Diego’s indifference foolish or impressive.

As far as the Mati case, Caroline also turns up that he and Isa have an aunt in New Orleans named Alejandra Suarez. She works as a hematologist at Tulane Medical Center. Neil might be acquainted with her.

Caroline also discovers, after an especially laborious paper trail and interviews with now-decade-older social workers, that Mary St. George hired a private investigator during the time Mati was in her care. She apparently wanted to look into his family and home life in Houston before returning him there. Caroline finds almost nothing else on this PI’s search. Paper trails lead to dead ends. Peoples’ memories are faulty ten years later. She does, however, dig up an address.

5666 Canal Street. The former office of Louis Fontaine.

If Caroline wishes to contact the Suarez family in Houston, she obtains multiple home addresses, landline numbers, and a few emails for various family members, including Mati’s and Isa’s mother Melia. If she wishes to contact Mary St. George or Alejandra Suarez, it’s easy enough to uncover the same information on them.

She can also contact Mati directly. Like many kids his age, he has Facemash, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, some of which he posts more regularly on than others. An email and cellphone number also aren’t hard to turn up after some more digging. Autumn is irked they didn’t just plug his name into Qeeqle from the start. This was a breeze compared to the Wells case.

“Honestly, the only person Mati seems to be missing to is Isa,” the ghoul remarks. “The rest of the world looks like they found him… years ago.”

Caroline: Caroline reviews the documents in her growing office with moderate interest. “It’s easier to believe a lie sometimes,” she replies mildly.

GM: “I guess so. Do you want to turn this all over to her? Or interview any of the people involved?”

Caroline: Caroline flips through printed photos of the boy taken from Facebook.

GM: He looks like any other teenager—apart from the pictures where he’s posing with gold-plated assault rifles, making out with a top-less girl in a flashy convertible, stacking piles of cash on his sink, and tossing raw meat to a collared leopard. His Instagram says they’re from a trip to Mexico. Diego mentions how all the cartel kids post photos like those on social media. All of them want to out-do one another for sheer, gaudy excess.

Caroline: “Charming boy,” Caroline remarks sarcastically.

“She’s the only witness to have seen him both recently, and immediately after he was taken,” she observes. “I think I could be persuaded to speak with Ms. St. George. Can you persuade her to speak with me?”

GM: “Probably,” Autumn nods. “I could just say you’re looking into one of the kids she fostered, if you want to play it straight. Or considering a donation to one of the social services organizations she’s involved in if not.”

Caroline: “Send Audrey. Let her showcase her skills in this matter,” Caroline replies. “She can offer a donation or play it straight as she judges best.”

GM: “I wonder if I or even Brian could work better here, actually. Mary seems like the kind of person who might not approve of people like Audrey. Church-going older mom and all.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say she need present herself as she is. Let her play the socialite, or whatever she wishes.” Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Unless you think she would fail?”

GM: “Just a thought. Sincerity seemed like it’d be up her alley, but guess you can fake that like anything.”

Caroline: “It’s a low bar and low-hanging fruit for her to show her skills on.”

GM: “Fair. Though speaking of law bars, there was another thing.”

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to continue.

GM: “The Suarez case ended up being really easy, but it would’ve helped if I’d been around to question Isa when we first took it. And probably when you first met her in Elysium, too. I won’t pretend I’m Monty Lestrange or anything, but you never know what little details you might pick up that help in the investigation.”

Caroline: “Should you be married to my side then, Autumn?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Not always. Just when it could be useful,” she answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Then always?”

GM: “Not always,” Autumn repeats. “Just when it could be useful enough to be worth it.”

Caroline: Caroline leans back. “It is always potentially worthwhile to have you with me, Autumn. But you are also very worthwhile elsewhere, in a way that few others can be. And the others also need experience.”

GM: “That’s great to hear,” Autumn says, sincerely. “But I meant that earlier. Being around when you first talk to the client, if I’m going to look into stuff for them, helps me do my job better.”

Caroline: “I didn’t want to expose you to her,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Not me, but the others?” Autumn asks curiously. “She probably wouldn’t have known who I was, but there are other Licks like Harlequin and Rocco who do.”

Caroline: “You are more uniquely gifted,” Caroline answers. “And she is more… unpredictable than our other guests have been.”

GM: “I guess she did kidnap her brother,” Autumn agrees.

Caroline: “That’s not the half of it. The chaos she caused in Elysium…” Caroline shakes her head.

GM: “Anarchs always cause the most Masquerade problems for the Krewe,” Autumn notes.

Caroline: “She snatched up one of Hound Agnello’s ghouls. Claimed she was going to cut him apart when she left Elysium,” Caroline fills in. “So you understand why I was not eager to expose you.”

GM: “Okay, that does make sense. Self-defense isn’t really my thing.” She smiles a bit. “You could probably have taken her, though.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a teeth-showing grin. “Any other concerns?”

GM: “I think that’s it. Well, I’ll get with Audrey on St. George.”

Thursday morning, 19 February 2016, AM

Caroline: Audrey departs to meet with St. George in Caroline’s place, spinning a story about interest in the foster system as a whole, and about her own contributions to it specifically.

GM: She returns to her domitor at nightfall with the following information.

Mati, as Caroline already knew, was extremely sick and malnourished when CPS rescued him: Isa’s and Nico’s attempt to care for the four-year-old by themselves, however well-intentioned, almost killed him. Mati recovered after some time in the Children Hospital’s New Orleans and Mary St. George made sure he was discharged into a stable and caring home environment. Audrey notes that’s “a lot more than lots of kids in the system are lucky to get.”

Mati remained physically healthy and got along with Mrs. St. George and her other children. Unlike many foster kids, Mati had no notable behavioral problems or mental health issues. He missed his mother inconsolably, however. He also missed Isa and Nico—he was too young to really understand what had happened. St. George questioned him about his earlier home life and swiftly concluded that Mati should be reunited with his mother. There was simply no reason for him to be in the foster system.

When Audrey questioned Mrs. St. George about Mati’s recent arrest, and whether she believed him to be currently in danger, the older woman grew more taciturn and started asking questions about Audrey’s interest. What did she say this was all for, a published article? Audrey had the uncomfortable feeling that her act wasn’t fooling the widow, but definitely that Mrs. St. George was holding back too. She cited Mati’s privacy and volunteered some of the contact information that Caroline already has if she wanted to get in touch with Nico personally.

Mrs. St. George also volunteered to put them in touch upon Nico’s next visit. He has family in New Orleans and usually stops by when he’s in town. She didn’t say so outright, but it was plain to Audrey that the Suarezes are eternally grateful to Mrs. St. George for reuniting them with their missing child.

Audrey seems somewhat on edge after the visit to Caroline. The ghoul says she “didn’t like the vibe [she] got” at the St. George house.

Caroline probes deeper. It eventually comes out that Audrey’s meeting with Mary brought up a lot of uncomfortable thoughts for the former prostitute and foster child. About the kind of life she could have led.

Mary said she could tell how Audrey had been hurt, and that it “wasn’t too late.” Audrey quickly got out after that. She stares at Caroline with plaintive eyes.

She’d really like a fix right now.

Caroline: Caroline does not conceal her displeasure that Audrey not only failed to return with more detailed answers to various questions, especially about the boy’s more recent criminal run ins, but also allowed herself to be seen through and intimidated by a foster mother.

“I thought you were much better than that,” she concludes with disappointment.

GM: Audrey’s demeanor instantly changes at seeing her domitor’s disappointment… and the expectant fix withdrawn.

“It was a fluke. I’ll go back and try things another way. I’ll get the answers out of her.”

Caroline: “No, you won’t,” Caroline replies firmly. “Even if you succeeded it would make an unnecessary mess. That is not how we do things. Next time do it right the first time.”

GM: Audrey briefly looks like she wants to protest, but doesn’t. “Next time will be different. I won’t let you down, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression softens. “Do you regret me entering your life?”

GM: Audrey shakes her head firmly. “Never. I’d have probably turned out like my mom, eventually.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And instead?”

GM: “I get to live forever. Be young forever.” Her eyes linger on Caroline’s. “And help you.”

Caroline: “Then help me,” Caroline answers, almost plaintively.

GM: “I will. This won’t happen again,” the ghoul repeats, fervently.

Caroline: “I believed in you enough to choose you. Prove me right.” She chides gently.

GM: “I will, Caroline. I won’t let you down twice,” Audrey repeats again.

Caroline: Caroline finally nods. “Good. Then come here.”

She extends her wrist.

“Let’s start this night over.”

Friday evening, 19 February 2016, PM

GM: Isa hasn’t had much experience with hired investigators after her first ill-fated “try” with one, but it doesn’t feel like very long at all before she gets a phone call from one of Caroline’s ghouls inviting her back to the Giani Building to hear their mistress’ findings. It’s definitely less time than she remembers it taking for Desirae. 

Caroline: Two ghouls once more await Isa in the lobby and escort her to the rooftop patio. Tonight the blonde security woman has replaced her shorter bald counterpart in the elevator and is with the dark-haired beauty with the tattoos from Elysium.

The roof is surprisingly cool for New Orleans, especially compared to the street level, even for the winter. Between the constant breeze and the cold tile it would be uncomfortable even for the dead were it not for the two tall heaters that frame Caroline’s table out on the patio, glowing orange with warmth that neither of the dead women produce naturally. 

Isa: “Cozy,” the Ravnos comments as she takes a seat. She regards the other neonate calmly, even as she asks the most dangerous question first. “Good news?”

Caroline: Tonight the heiress is dressed in a rather plain sleeveless black dress and heels that Isa still suspects cost more than most people’s rent. She has a large legal folder and a tablet in front of her, but closes and sets it aside when Isa approaches.

Another ghoul remains with her, a red haired girl with dark eyes, full lips, and glasses that may be necessary or simply a fashion accessory. She’s dressed more casually than the other ghouls Isa has seen with Caroline in jeans, a blouse, and a coat. 

The Ventrue shows a fanged grin.

“We found him. He’s alive, currently living in Houston with his mother.”

She slides over a picture of a teenager, picturing him in profile with a gold-plated assault rifle. 

Isa: The emotions on her face must make for an interesting slideshow. The simple, plain surprise. The sudden irritation at herself, that she hasn’t even considered… but of course…

And then, perhaps most painful—or perhaps delectable, to the Ventrue heiress—the realization. The defeat.

The understanding that it was all, from the beginning, worthless.

The Beast rises. She does Caroline the courtesy of holding it in her throat. Later, she will scream and hurt herself for this.

But now, she will understand what happened.

GM: Once asked, Caroline and the red-haired ghoul explain everything they found.

“…and that’s that,” the red-haired ghoul concludes several minutes later. “For what it’s worth… he made a full recovery in the hospital, after CPS picked him up. His foster family didn’t abuse him or anything.”

“He did miss you and your brother, while he was in foster care. The rest of your family kept looking for you guys for a really long time.”

Isa: She nods, once, at the red-haired girl for her kindness. “Embarrassing, to put you through the trouble when qeegling him might have told me the important stuff. You know what they say about assumptions…or maybe I just didn’t want to think about it.” The Beast might be controlled, if barely, but doesn’t try to hide the bitterness in her voice.

Caroline: The heiress, for what it’s worth, does not seem alarmed in the slightest by the Ravnos and her brush with the Beast. She watches the older Kindred wrestle with the information and her own feelings quietly from across the table.

“You asked for a service. It’s not my place to judge why anymore than it’s my maid’s place to judge why I make her clean up my toilet or clean my laundry.”

Isa: Perhaps a long minute passes, as the Beast snarls and paces and shakes it’s prison.

But it does pass.

“And yet,” the Ravnos says suddenly, her voice raw, “you’re a smart chick. I’m curious, what you think.”

Caroline: “About?” Caroline asks expectantly.

Isa: “This. How sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you lost, how much you tried to keep yourself, the person it was all for has already forgotten you. And how we’re supposed to live forever, but without any of the things worth living for. Take your pick—what do you think, now?”

Caroline: Caroline lets her blow of steam, and lets it float away, before replying, “I’m sorry your plan didn’t work out. Presumably you were trying to take your brother away from the cartel lifestyle when you fled.”

“It may not be too late to influence him, if that’s what you wish. He seems to visit New Orleans with some frequency.”

“If not, if you would rather set aside that part of your life from your Requiem, I understand that too.”

The suited ghoul remains silent and impassive throughout the two’s exchange. 

“This existence, though… it seems as though it’s whatever you make of it.”

GM: The red-haired ghoul looks between the two Kindred, but seems to hold her tongue for now.

Isa: Isa looks to her expectantly. “I don’t have a problem with you talking if she doesn’t,” she says simply.

GM: The ghoul shakes her head. “Thanks, but it wasn’t that. I was just thinking of some other not important stuff.”

Isa: “I don’t know,” she says, after a time. “How’s that conversation going to go? ‘Hi, Mati, I know you think you’ve figured it all out, but your father had his fucking head cut off when he was barely out of his teens and men in our family keep dying, so maybe run away again—you know, like your sister, the vampire?’”

GM: “We could put you in contact with some other people who know him first, maybe, so you could get a feel for things,” the ghoul suggests.

Isa: Isa nods. “I’d appreciate their information, if nothing else. Thank you.”

Caroline: “Of course. What you do with it is, of course, your business.” The Ventrue does not move to silence her ghoul. “Is there anything else you’re interested in? An arranged meeting with him? An investigation into your other brother?” 

Isa: “No; I can handle things from here. I owe you, of course."

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies amicably. “l’ll pass on all the contact information for both Mati, as well as his foster mother, the person whom paid his bail last time he got arrested in New Orleans, and the entire paper trial.”

Isa: She nods. “You’ve given me answers I’ve wondered about a long time, even if the answers were simple to find."

Caroline: “If you need anything further, you know where to find me.”

Isa: “Until then,” the Anarch says.

She leaves, her mind elsewhere as her ghoul walks besides her through the night.

She has calls to make.

Friday evening, 19 February 2016, PM

GM: Isa and Shaw don’t walk far.

She wasn’t there on the patio a second ago. But now she is. Like she was always there.

Her apparel is plain and worn. Brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and dirty condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with black that probably used to be red. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Another individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Too-pale flesh drawn taut over bone, faintly burning red eyes, and calloused hands ending in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption. Tonight those ‘tips’ are black as sin and long as steak knives.

The vampire herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her flint-brown eyes burn at Isa with feral, slow-simmering fury. Not the impatient viciousness of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the mad rage of a rabid bear howling from behind a cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tame.

Most know her as “the scourge” or “Scourge Meadows.” “That fucking maniac” has also been gaining recent traction.

But to Isa she’s something else, too.

Rocco’s sire.

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze fixes on the ‘mad’ scourge.

She knows Meadows inspires fear in most, that she’s a century-old killer, that she happily slaughters Kindred like no other. She should be afraid. She should run. It would be the smart thing. Especially since Meadows is likely here not for her, but for Isa.

She doesn’t feel afraid, and she doesn’t run. Not here. Not from her haven. From her place of strength. If she runs here, where would she go?

“Welcome, Scourge Meadows, " she ventures.

Isa: Isa, for her part, is silent as she stares intently at the Gangrel. Like this, then.

“Ms. Malveaux,” she says after a too-long-feeling moment. “You did me a big favor, showing me what happened to my brother. I wish I had the chance to pay you back, but let’s not kid ourselves. My word is dirt and my favors are about to be worth even less. But Sundown would probably like his ghoul back. Might even owe you for the trouble. Just please make him stay out of this.”

Without shifting her eyes from the Gangrel, she touches Shaw’s arm. “I’m sorry, Al. Step back for me, please. And you tell ’em how I died. Not screaming. Not begging. Never.”

Then she steps forward. It was always going to end like this, one way or the other.

“Hey Meadows,” she says. “Next time you want to Embrace a whiny little bitch, just visit a pound.”

Then she snaps her fingers and surrounds her killer with a roaring fire. The flames snap, crackle, pop as they enclose the scourge.

Something to remember her by.

“Oh,” she says quietly, as the flames dance in her eyes. “And you tell my brothers I’m sorry.”

GM: The iron-haired, broken-nosed ghoul’s scowl recedes at Isa’s touch and words. It’s odd look, or lack thereof, to see on him. It’s like seeing a thick-haired and bearded man who’s suddenly gone hairless after chemo.

Perhaps he starts to say something back. His mouth opens.

Then the scourge descends—and the illusory flames roar.

To Caroline, Autumn, Audrey, and Green, Meadows seemingly goes up like a torch in mid-pounce, hungrily crackling orange-white tongues streaming from her hair and clothes. But the scourge doesn’t slow. The scourge doesn’t stop. Knife-sized claws shred through Isa’s belly and punch all the way through her back as the pouncing Gangrel smashes into her chest and body-slams her to the ground.

Flames crackle. Claws eviscerate guts. Flames hiss. Saw-like teeth shred through throat. Flames smoke and billow and roar. There’s no grace or technique to what the seemingly immolated Meadows does: just pure, feral savagery. Within seconds, the scourge literally rips Isa to pieces, wrenching her head free from its neck with a hideously snap-crunch and foisting it high like a grisly trophy. Yet the expression on Isa’s blood-spattered face is oddly calm, even accepting… the Ravnos—ironically true to her words, for one of her clan—has not died in fear.

Blood rains over the gore-spattered scourge like a red baptism, even as the billowing flames wink out.

Caroline feels her howling Beast, already kept tightly leashed by her will, mostly un-tense.

All four ghouls stare in shock at the sheer suddenness and carnage of the scene. Green’s grabbed a fire extinguisher. Meadows ignores them all and bounds away on all fours towards the edge of the deck.

The fire extinguisher hits the floor with a heavy clang as Green opens fire with her sidearm and roars, “NOT SO FAST, FUCKER!”

The shots take Meadows in the back of her neck and crown of her head. She doesn’t even glance backwards as the bullets audibly clang off—until a bellowing, mad-eyed Shaw’s fist descends.

Perhaps a martial artist would sidestep, grab the furious man’s arm, and leverage his own momentum into an over the shoulder throw. Instead there’s just a hideous crunch, flying bits of pink and red, and an agonized scream as Meadows’ saw-like teeth catch and chomp through the descending fist in mid-swing. There’s a sharp crack as Shaw’s back hits the railing at an angle, and then blood everywhere as the Gangrel’s claws explode through his stomach. Red-spattered fingers fly from the howling scourge’s already gore-caked mouth as she roars her bloodlust.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression twists into an ugly snarl. This beast loose in her haven. In her building. The terror in the night for neonates here to rampage against her, just like the sheriff has, like his hounds have, like even her mother has. Step on the neonate because she can’t do anything about it, the game of the All-Night Society. Attack Isa at the neonate’s haven, where she can easily make her escape—or clean up the loose end with Evan as well. The Ventrue is tired of being underestimated. Tired of being pushed around. Tired of backing down.

The scourge is terrifying, a buzzsaw that Caroline well knows has destroyed more experienced vampires, more vicious vampires, and more cunning vampires in her long unlife. Seeing her at work in person tonight further reinforces just how terrifying she is, how earned her reputation is. In a street fight she might kill Caroline nine out of ten times. In ambush, striking suddenly, she might crush Caroline. Any given night even the prince’s childe might not hope to match her. Any other night she should flee, should run in terror.

But not tonight. Not tonight. Not here. Not now.

The rounds start falling before the sound of a gunshot reaches them, the high-caliber bullets moving faster than the sound waves their flight leaves behind. That was important to Caroline, when they picked a post for Fuller to set up with his rifle. She knows how fast she is, recalls how easy it was to dodge Kelford’s bullets when the sound of their fire preceded the rounds. She had Brian run the tables on time in flight vs. distance to make sure any Kindred on the roof would have no warning when they picked out his hide—and with the seemingly insane (and most wanted) Anarch visiting, she put him in the hide—however much he might have complained about wanting to be in the room for the meeting.

She’d also put Ericson and Curtis on standby for the night—every ghoul she could manage should violence erupt: there were too many possible sources to take chances. Isa, Rocco, and, of course, Meadows. The scourge, who she’d feared might come for her after the investigation into Evan. She traded precious favors with Savoy when she was younger and more naive to learn one of the monster’s banes. That Green has a shotgun full of bizarre white ash slugs ready for, to buy Caroline just a moment should this moment ever come.

The appearance of the scourge, her savaging of Isa first, gives Ericson and Curtis enough time to rush out from the other elevator they were waiting in, to bring bullets and blades to bear—including one for Caroline.

The two fencers take the monster’s flanks to keep the line of fire clear for the shooters and set to work. Even as shards of wood spray into the scourge, even as 50. BMG rounds hit with enough force to punch holes through engine blocks (the decision to turn that weapon against anything resembling a human body produces horrific results), Caroline and Ericson keep her at bay, box her in, push her into a corner towards the deckhouse, from which there is no escape for a raging monster.

No human could fight against Meadows and win with a sword, but then, neither of the women is quite human. Ericson’s world championship caliber skill mixed with inhuman quickness. Caroline’s lesser skill but greater experience against inhuman foes—and the Ventrue’s ungodly swiftness. If Ericson’s reactions are too fast for the eye to follow, Caroline’s are too quick perhaps for even a camera to catch. She doesn’t blur, she simply is in one spot, then another.

Not tonight.

GM: Not again.

Four gun barrels explode. Two fencing sabers flash.

Meadows is there, reveling over her kill, and then she’s not. The shotguns blasts explode apart the railing, sending chunks of steel and masonry tumbling down the building’s side. Ericson’s blade flashes right, whistling through air by inches. Caroline instantly assesses that the Gangrel is faster than her servant, but perhaps not faster than her as the fencing foil finds purchase in the scourge’s gut. It’s like stabbing a suit of armor. Caroline rapidly shifts footing and throws the whole of her body behind the strike in response to the unexpected resistance. Her efforts are met with a gout of blood and malevolent, nigh-ursine snarl.

The shotguns train after Meadows and belch wood. She isn’t there anymore. Caroline’s eyes whip across the deck, then up. The Gangrel soars through the air like a great bird of prey and lands with a heavy crash on the patio’s other side. She whips up from all fours and chucks the glass and steel tables at Caroline and her servants, one after another, like baseballs.

Glassy shatters ring in the Ventrue’s ears like gunfire as she blurs past one and Ericson narrowly throws herself away from another. Green and Curtis are too slow as the glass smashes into them head-on, knocking both ghouls to their feet as the smell of blood wafts from a thousand so-tantalizing cuts.

Meadows bounds across the swimming pool in a great leap, smashing into Caroline like a cannonball. The Ventrue doesn’t try to throw her off, but lashes out with a snap kick to her opponent’s groin and rolls aside. She springs up and triple-flips behind the scourge as eviscerating claws leave inches-deep rents along the floor.

Fuller’s soundless—or more precisely, sound-delayed—50. BMG strikes true. It doesn’t blow the Gangrel’s leg clean off like Caroline has heard of it doing to mortal victims, but still leaves a raw and red welt that sends the scourge staggering back. Caroline and Ericson press their assault with their blades’ longer reach. Glass crinkles in the distance as Ericson and Green amble to their feet with Autumn’s and Audrey’s help.

The scourge’s claws slash and rip. Steel scrapes against keratin. Caroline dodges, weaves, and strikes like a panther—faster, actually—and Ericson isn’t much slower. Fuller, Green, and Curtis lay on the covering fire, keeping Meadows too preoccupied evading the anti-Kindred rounds to devote herself fully to the melee threats in front of her. Wood and metal perforate her already stained and dirty clothes, the former drawing especially maddened howls. Meadows might be good, but five on one is ugly, ugly odds—at least when one’s opponents aren’t simply chaff to scythe through.

Hellish red literally blazes in the scourge’s eyes as that fact seems to sink in. She throws herself at the two fencers, roaring, howling, twisting, clawing, and lashing in every which direction, forcing them back. Bullet after bullet blows off chunks of her flesh. She doesn’t even seem to care. She doesn’t seem like a human adversary: just a rabid animal to hold off until it can be put down.

Feral claws slash and rend at Caroline’s face, but the feint is revealed when a steel-toed work boot smashes into her lower abdomen with bone-crunching force. As Caroline staggers backwards, Meadows literally dives in after her—to the swimming pool.

The twin splashes haven’t faded in any of the combatants’ ears as the Ventrue lashes out, twisting and thrashing like a squid. Water resistance slows the fencing saber, but the mist-like clouds of blood it draws forth are no still bright red. Meadows accepts the hits as her claws tear through the flesh of Caroline’s legs to scrape and then puncture bone. Yellow-hued marrow leaks into the swollen clouds of red. The scourge’s oddly glassy, distinctly fish-like eyes burn with pure hate as her vice-like hands pull Caroline downwards to the bottom of the pool. The Ventrue can already make out webbing between the Gangrel’s now-hairless fingers as her scaled flesh shudderingly realigns into some hideous sea creature’s. All that’s missing are slit-like gills, but neither of the dead women need breathe.

Muffled-sounding bullets pummel the water’s surface, their slowed trajectories leaving behind tiny lines of foam in one of the few details Hollywood gets mostly right. The scourge may be a beast, but she is no dumb beast… she has moved their combat to a more favorable environment where gunmen are useless, swords are slowed, and ghouls can’t breathe.

Caroline wonders if she is to face her foe alone when Ericson dives in to the water with a splash. It might be touching to consider the Olympian that devoted, but Caroline sees only the slavish obsession of the blood bond driving a mother of two children to risk her life for a former fencing trainee’s.

Caroline: Caroline might scream in pain if she wasn’t underwater. Instead she drives the point of the blade into Meadows and jerks at the handle, snapping off the blade to give herself a shorter weapon—something more effective in the water. Elegance has its place, but this has turned into a brawl.

There’s another splash as Green joins the other three in the water, wooden stake gripped tight and she drives to find purchase in Meadows’ tough hide.

GM: Fullers’ and Curtis’ bullets continue to whistle-splash harmlessly from above as the three brawlers converge on Meadows. Three on one is less ugly odds than five on one. The piscine Gangrel has no bullets to dodge this time, and looks as if she can maneuver far better in the water. Her reddish eyes all but boil as she tears into Green, her cruel claws puncturing the ex-SWAT’s lungs and ripping off wholesale strips of flesh from her breast. Caroline can’t see the ghoul’s face past all the red clouding—churning—the water, but Meadows roars as the yew stake finds purchase in her torso.

Caroline: The Ventrue roars silently, breathlessly, underwater as her opponent turns her back on her. It’s all the louder as she sees Green shredded, sees her blood cloud the water. Her ghoul. Hers. This monster, this savage, cutting down the mouthy mercenary in her disdain for Caroline. Seemingly trying to take lives until the last moment of her unlife. The water slows her. Her wounds slow her. But not that much. She is still Caroline Malveaux, childe of Augusto Vidal, and she doesn’t hesitate in her vengeance. The broken sword lacks elegance, but its jagged tip presents opportunities. She drives it into Meadows’ back, sawing, slicing, ripping it through the red-eyed demon in the water.

GM: As Green’s motionless body drifts through those too-red waters, the howling scourge rips into her remaining two opponents. There’s no grace to what she does—or what Caroline does back. No finesse. Not even any skill.

Just pure, bestial, mindless fucking savagery.

She stabs the broken sword into one of the crater-like holes left by Fuller’s 50. BMGs, which have to hurt like hell even for a Gangrel, and rips. There’s a howl in her ear. Maybe hers. Maybe Meadows’. Then there’s pain as the scourge’s claws explode into, and through, Caroline’s chest, like they did Isa’s. Water rushes through the connecting hole between her abdomen and her back as bladed, iron-hard hands eviscerate her guts, madly stab her internal organs, and wrench them out, literally pulling her apart piece by piece. Caroline’s Beast whines in her ears. Her foe is as fast as she is. Stronger. Tougher. By all rights, she should lose this fight.

Maybe she would, if she weren’t so fucking sick of not being taken seriously.

Of just any asshole dropping in to her haven, thinking they can kill someone there, and jaunt out like it’s a fucking drive-thru.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter if Green’s dead or alive. Maybe what really matters is how Meadows is just the latest in a long line of Kindred to underestimate her, to treat her like shit, to feed her shit and expect her to just take it.

Fuck. That.

There’s pain in her torso, pain in her arms, pain in her everywhere, but that all seems a distant second next to inflicting it. The snapped-off sword stabs, slashes, rips, tears, plunges, pierces. Maybe Ericson helps. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she can’t see Meadows anymore because the red haze is her Beast snapping loose, or maybe it’s just all the blood that’s been spilled.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, so long as she’s fucking dead.

Caroline: Caroline barely notices when it ends. Or why it ends. She just notices the broken-off sword, broken like she is, broken like everything, isn’t stabbing against anything anymore.

The former heiress drags herself to the lip of the pool, drags herself out. Everything hurts. She doesn’t want to imagine how she looks. She begrudging looks back into the bloody water, then for her remaining ghouls. Then she starts giving orders to those left standing.

GM: The scene is one of chaos and carnage. Most are still standing. Two do not.

What’s left of Curtis is strewn over the patio in limb-sized chunks. His shredded guts, literally yanked out from his destroyed chest cavity, gruesomely decorate the floor. Green lies motionless, her chest all but shredded apart. Ericson has two deep- and cruel-looking cuts over her belly. Fuller and Autumn look uninjured, though the latter has thrown up.

Green is alive but not stable: Fuller fished her from the water and messily fitted back on the torn-off folds of flesh. Shaw, who the group interrupted Meadows from finishing, also yet lives. Both ghouls will be dead within the minute without a life-saving draught of vitae. There is no question that neither would have survived the encounter if they were mere humans, or Caroline not present to administer ‘first aid.’

“Meadows burst out of the water,” Autumn reports shakily. “I… I caught a glimpse, but she was invisible…”

Fuller relays how Curtis leaped in the Gangrel’s path when it became plain—to Caroline’s servants, and to Meadows—that Autumn was the only party present with a shot at tracking the scourge’s movements. Curtis died so the rest of his ‘squad’ wouldn’t be left defenseless. “Marine ’til the end,” Fuller reports soberly.

Ericson and Fuller concentrated fire on the spot where they saw Curtis vanish. They heard a maddened howl from the Gangrel, then silence. No one can find any body: Autumn thinks she must have cut her losses and decided the battle was too much fight for too little gain. After all, she’d already accomplished her primary objective of killing Isa.

Shaw is nigh-delirious with pain and fury at the monster who killed Isa, but Autumn ventures that Sundown would owe them for saving his ghoul—and the ex-boxer could get the story out, over how they drove off Caitlin Meadows.

Audrey is not present. People lost track of where she went in the heat of combat: trying her phone confirms that the ghoul fled the battle. She didn’t see anything she could have done. Autumn and Ericson don’t blame her, but Fuller looks disgusted.

Fuller’s and Ericson’s assessment of the combat is they had all the firepower they needed, but, “We need more of whatever she has,” Fuller says, nodding at Autumn. “Or some other way to track her, if she can turn invisible. Doesn’t matter many holes we can fill her with if we can’t keep her pinned down.”

“And she’ll be ready for us next time. Wouldn’t count on her just dropping in like this again. She learned her lesson.”

Caroline: Caroline quietly seethes in her agony. All the work and effort with Isa wasted. All the blood it’ll take to put herself, Ericson, and Green back together. All the trouble this mess will make. Curtis, dead and torn apart in pieces that’ll make for a difficult to explain closed casket funeral.

Still, Sundown owing her a boon. That’s worth something. As is the story of her battle against Meadows circulating. She’ll get it circulating, if Shaw doesn’t on his own, and she’ll certainly make sure he does his utmost after saving his life. Getting underestimated might be more advantageous in a fight, but she’ll happily trade an edge in a fight for more social capital.

She’s seen what a vampire who only cares about the former looks like.

She has Autumn kill the lights on the patio and take the usual Masquerade precautions: checking the nearest units and erasing the memories of anyone who heard too much. Widney can help with that before arranging to get the damage to the patio fixed. Fuller is sent to make sure the building security stays out of their hair. Audrey is recalled and told to procure vessels. And, of course, Caroline goes to work saving the lives of the ghouls. Both of them.

It’s what she’s always done. What she’s always been best at:

Picking up the pieces and making something out of them.


False_Epiphany False_Epiphany