“It’ll never be okay, but it can get better. Trust me, I know.”
Saturday night, 20 February 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline looks for a doctor to bring into her service’s fold: patching up a victim when a Kindred got a bit too excited is easier than explaining a corpse and more practical than making ghouls of them, in many cases. Especially when she can create memories for how they were injured.
GM: Autumn and Widney both come back with names after Caroline tasks them with finding a doctor.
Autumn brings up Lena Merinelli.
“She’s Emmett Delacroix’s sister,” the older ghoul says. “She got caught up in… well, the trainwreck that was his life. She lost her medical license and got sent to prison. She really hasn’t taken to it… she’s actually in Tulane now, as a patient, because the prison infirmary couldn’t treat her injuries. Obviously all sorts of stuff we and the law firm could do for her. Be pretty easy to get her completely loyal, no juice or mindscrewing even involved.”
“What kind of doctor was she?” Widney asks, seemingly unimpressed.
“A pediatrician.” Autumn looks at Caroline instead of Widney as she says so.
“I have a better candidate,” the newer ghoul tells her domitor perfunctorily. “Dr. Leah Crawford. She’s a well-respected trauma surgeon with decades of experience. I believe she’s better-suited to the role you have in mind than a children’s doctor. She makes good money, but she’s unmarried and has a substantial brood of children. One is still attending an expensive private school. I believe she could be made amenable to illegal activities through financial assistance and use of your mental powers,” the ghoul still sounds less than certain what to call them, “as well as your blood.”
“Merinelli’s the better choice,” Autumn tells Caroline. “Crawford has decades at TMC, like Widney says. The Krewe would retaliate if we snatched her up. That isn’t worth it. The pros of using her don’t outweigh the cons. Besides, even if that wasn’t an issue, you’ve got a lot of mouths that need your juice already, and mindscrewing people can be pretty chancy in the long term. There’s a lot of illegal stuff we’ll want Crawford to do and she’s got everything to lose. She could balk. Merinelli’s already lost everything. She’s got every reason to be completely loyal to us, to do whatever we want. And, again, picking her isn’t picking a fight with the Krewe.”
“We can make the Krewe an offer,” Widney says, looking at Caroline rather than Autumn. “Everything has a price. You should have the best, ma’am. I’ve never advised any of my employers to settle for less, and I’m not about to start now with you.”
“Crawford’s not the best,” Autumn retorts. “She already has a good life. She doesn’t need us. Merinelli has a shit life, and absolutely needs us. I seriously can’t think of anyone we could get more loyal. We’d be her saviors. And if we really want her to have more surgery experience, we could set her up with a new identity or pull enough strings and send her back to med school. She’s still in her 30s. I’m sure she’d be just as loyal too if she thought she owed us a new start on life. Crawford won’t ever be that, even if the Krewe plays ball. And that’s a big if, because licks don’t like sharing.”
“Crawford has decades of experience as a surgeon,” Widney says. “It will take us equally long to bring Merinelli up to a similar level of expertise. Nor do we lose anything by simply asking the Krewe’s price. We should at least be aware of our full range of options before deciding on one.”
“We don’t need a surgeon with decades of experience though. Merinelli still went to medical school for a billion years like any doctor, and pediatricians are actually…”
The two ghouls continue to undercut one another and puff up why “their” doctor is the better choice for Caroline. Their dislike is like a crackling undercurrent throughout the exchange.
Caroline: Caroline refuses to give either the win over the other. She has them leave both files for her review and dismisses them for the evening. She spends several hours reviewing both dossiers and brings each in individually the following evening to answers a few additional that come up. She’s particularly interested in more about Merinelli’s family situation. Merinelli is not her maiden name: where’s the husband? She’s not eager to draw in another ghoul with extensive family commitments, but admits to a particular interest in Merinelli’s situation.
GM: Autumn first points out, again, that Crawford has a large family. A daughter who’s around college age. Another daughter, and a son, who are post-college. A grade school age daughter who still lives at home. She seems all-too happy to point out the ways in which Widney’s pick is problematic, and reiterates her points about the Krewe and Crawford not actually needing Caroline for anything like Merinelli does.
Widney repeats her own pros when she comes in. Crawford being the best. About approaching this “Krewe” to make an offer, or simply stealing Crawford away—whatever is most efficient. She reiterates her commitment to delivering Caroline “nothing but the best” and how “cowering” like Autumn would have her do will only hinder her rise to the top. She even makes a personal dig at Autumn not being particularly successful in her own life and cites her as a poor person to take advice from “at least in these matters.” She’s oblique about it, but the sentiment is plain.
Autumn answers regarding Merinelli that, “So, it’s a little weird. House was robbed, pretty much everything valuable that wasn’t nailed down got grabbed, and the husband and kids both disappeared. I did a little more digging, and cops think they skipped town to avoid creditors, because they were complicit in more crimes, or both.”
“But, well, we know Em was set up for the stuff he did, because we set him up. Though there was also how he lost his legs… he was up to some really shady shit, and his family seemed like they were on the straight and narrow. The husband’s an engineering geek without so much as a parking ticket. I’d guess whatever Em was caught up in caught up them too. Cops just found it more convenient to say everyone was guilty and call it a day.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t entertain the sniping about each other’s preferred candidate. Instead she makes clear she is judging each on their own merits, vice opposing ones. They are to keep their comments narrowly upon their own candidates. When they inevitably stray from that charted course, her anger bleeds through plainly.
When Autumn has finished, she’s contemplative. “So she really has nothing,” Caroline observes, somewhat sadly to Autumn. “Nothing but questions.” She’s reviewed Merinelli’s file. The charges against her. The entire case falls apart under any scrutiny. Would fall apart with the prodding of a capable attorney, with any amount of resources directed at it.
With Widney she’s more directive. “If circumstances were different, you’re quite right, that Crawford would be the best choice. Her resume speaks for itself, though it doesn’t need to.” She pages through the folder the assistant provided her, stopping on a smiling staff picture of the doctor. “Did you know she and I have history? She was a mentor of mine, when I was still an undergraduate studying pre-med.”
“I don’t, as a rule, involve individuals I have history with in my after-dark affairs,” she declares. “Especially not those with so many levers to be pulled upon by others. That, even more than the association with the Krewe—which might be managed with time, are the downfalls of Crawford, Widney.”
She sighs, then runs her tongue across her teeth. “To say nothing for my predilection for those things I’ve broken… and for growing things.” She eyes the ghoul squarely. “There are things that must become clear to you, in time. To be given, or to claim, something great is good. But to create something great… that is to have purpose. Any nouveau roturier, can buy a precious thing. To make one, though… that is something more.”
She maintains eye contact, boring into Widney’s eyes. “I could scour the city for the best of everything, but it makes me no more than a frivolous consumer in the eyes of my peers. And indeed, it would devalue any deeds I accomplished to use those tools. A child buying what others have earned, or have created through skill. Or worse, a child carelessly using things of great value. And make no mistake, it’s not money, not ghouls, not assets that matter. Respect is the currency that we deal in. And there is so very little time to gain it.”
GM: The two stop in short enough order (though Autumn takes slightly longer than Widney). Caroline doesn’t find it necessary to draw on the Beast. For now.
“She has parents, still,” says Autumn. “They’re both professors at Tulane, under the name Delacroix.”
Caroline actually recalls Professor Delacroix. He’s an environmental activist who’s been a persistent pain in the ass to her family, both on Tulane’s campus (where he’s ardently opposed the family’s various efforts to control curriculums, hire and fire professors, obtain student personal data, and promote pro-market ideas in exchange for donations), and in the real world.
Apparently Em’s his son. Same Delacroixes.
“You want us to get her off the hook, then?” Autumn asks.
Widney did not know of Caroline’s personal history with Crawford, but cites it as a plus initially for why they should pick her. Although she doesn’t fully seem to grasp why the Kindred would respect Caroline more for creating something than buying something, the majordomo relents once her employer’s mind seems made up. She advises Caroline only not to conflate knowing one’s place with being worthy of respect before asking if the Ventrue wishes to proceed with Merinelli.
Caroline: The Ventrue wants to meet Merinelli, to judge her. She tasks Autumn with ensuring the details of that meeting are seen to on the Krewe side—given her current isolation in their hospital.
GM: Autumn reports back that the Krewe is willing to permit Caroline a meeting with Merinelli in TMC in return for a boon. She can do what she wants to the ex-pediatrician, as long as she isn’t killed or the Masquerade otherwise endangered. “Don’t think Merinelli means anything to them, they’re just happy to make a buck off her.”
Autumn also might be able to finagle a visit in return for a hit of juice delivered to Dr. Gremillion, the ghoul who oversees the hospital on their behalf. Ghouls always want hits.
Another alternative is to intercept Merinelli once she’s sent back to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. That’ll likely be during the day. Or if Caroline wants to visit the prison herself, it’s some 68 miles northwest of the city.
Caroline: Caroline is willing to offer up the boon to avoid the appearance of stepping on toes with the Krewe, especially given the most likely uses for that boon and their relatively apolitical stance, so long as they’re willing to roll any future interactions with Merinelli into the same boon. She also asks that they arrange a cover for her visit.
GM: Autumn gets back in a few hours that the the Krewe is fine with those conditions. Merinelli is only going to be in TMC for so long anyway before she’s sent back to prison. Prison authorities don’t like to give convicts “vacations,” not to mention ones in accommodations as expensive as hospitals.
Caroline: Accommodations withstanding, she makes arrangements to visit the hospitalized convict at TMC early the next evening.
She’s not sold on the potentially broken pediatrician, simply intrigued… at least for now.
Sunday evening, 21 February 2016
GM: The door to Merinelli’s room is guarded by two police officers, per all convicts and arrestees. They let Caroline in after verifying her credentials. It looks like the Krewe went with the easiest explanation for why she’s here. Lawyer.
Lena is supposed to be in her late 30s, according to Autumn, but her hair looks pretty gray and thin for that age. So does the deepness of the lines on her face. Her skin seems to hang loosely over her bones, suggesting a once-plump figure that’s rapidly lost weight. She’s far from plump now. She’s dressed in a plain hospital gown and handcuffed to her bed.
She looks at Caroline with a dull expression, then flatly asks, “Who are you.”
Caroline: The Ventrue takes a seat, crossing her legs as she looks over the ex-pediatrician.
“My name is Caroline, Dr. Merinelli. I can see you’ve had a rough go of it. Is there anything I could get you at the moment to make you more comfortable?”
GM: “I’m not a doctor anymore,” the once-pediatrician says lifelessly. “I wouldn’t say no to a cyanide capsule.”
Caroline: “That’s pretty dark, and as I understand what got you here,” Caroline answers thoughtfully. “Well, at least, most recently. It seems as though your life really came apart this year, and through no fault of your own.”
Her mask cracks sympathetically. “I was very sorry to hear about that.” She pulls a flask out of her clutch purse. “Something to take the edge off?” she offers, leaning forward with the flask.
GM: Lena looks at it for a moment, then drinks.
She drinks for a while.
Caroline: The Ventrue lets her take a long pull of the bourbon and gives a weak smile. “Small mercies, right? I know there haven’t been very many lately, but they still exist. They help us get through the day.”
GM: Lena just drinks until it’s empty or Caroline pulls away.
“Why are you here?”
Caroline: “Because we have something in common, at least I think we do,” Caroline answers quietly. “Emmett Delacroix. Your brother, right?”
GM: Lena gives a dark look.
“Guess he ruined someone else’s life too.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Well, the way I hear it, he did that to a lot of people. ut yes, he tried to with me as well.”
She gives a weak smile. “I was a little harder to destroy, I think, or maybe I just wasn’t around him long enough, but either way it’s given me an…. affinity for others caught in his wake.”
“Some of the details are still fuzzy, but something about your list of offenses seemed a little… implausible.”
GM: Lena’s expression, perhaps loosened by the liquor, starts to break.
“He took out a loan from the Dixie Mob he couldn’t pay back and offered them my kids’ lives as collateral. I liquidated $16,000 to pay off them and the crook lawyer with their contact information. The police thought the financial activity was suspicious. They thought I was involved in his drug operation after he was busted for that.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that. Anything. I was a doctor. My husband was an engineer. We made good money. We had good lives. Em never even graduated high school and fell in with a bad crowd.”
Caroline: Caroline watches the once doctor sympathetically, then nods. “And you couldn’t exactly tell the police you were paying off the Dixie Mafia, but nor could you explain where the money went. So they came for you…”
GM: “And the Mob… came for my family anyway.” Lena’s voice is ragged. “They’re gone. Just… gone…”
Caroline: “What do you mean, gone?” Caroline asks softly.
GM: “That’s what my parents said. When they visited. That they’d just disappeared, that, that their house was robbed, that the cops were saying they were connected to it all, had fled the country…”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’m so sorry.”
GM: Lena looks like she might cry for a moment, but Caroline can imagine she’s cried enough for ten lifetimes already. She looks at the Ventrue and repeats hollowly, “Why are you here.”
Caroline: “I want to offer you an opportunity. To make something of the life you have left,” Caroline answers. “I have… means. I can have your case re-examined. Can get your convictions overturned. Can find a place you for, when you’re released. Work—in a medical field.”
“But after what’s happened, I thought you’d want to talk about it, about what you wanted, vice have someone start taking actions on your behalf. I know how frustrating it can be to have your life out of your control.”
GM: “My kids,” Lena entreats, desperately. “My husband. I want to find… at least find their bodies…”
Caroline: “If they’re dead,” Caroline answers soberly.
GM: The ex-doctor just stares at Caroline with a dead expression. She’s clearly not holding out much hope.
But she has to know.
Caroline: “Should I take that as wanting me to start on your case then?” she asks.
GM: Caroline’s words seem to take a moment to process.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks.
Caroline: “Because I’ve hit rock bottom before, but was fortunate enough to bounce. Because it’s the right thing to do.” She frowns. “Because his fall shouldn’t drag everyone else down with him,” she answers.
And neither should mine.
GM: “No one does the right thing,” Lena says bleakly.
Caroline: “You’re right,” Caroline offers. “But I can do more right for you than this.” She gestures to the handcuffs.
GM: Lena says nothing for a few moments. Her eyes look little more alive than those same cuffs.
“Okay. I want you to start on my case. Please.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles for the first time. “I’m happy to hear that. In the meantime, is there anything else I can do to make you more comfortable?”
GM: “This is… fine. Just not going back to that place.”
Caroline: “I’m certain a competent legal team can find a reason to extend your stay here, vice return to prison,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll see if we can’t get you something to fill the time as well. A book or something. I know I’d go crazy sitting there.”
“How’s the food?”
GM: “I don’t care.” She sounds like she really doesn’t. “It’s edible. People here don’t steal it.”
“I won’t survive going back there. I’m not built for it.” Her voice is numb. “I was supposed to have a soft life.”
“I treated fucking children. Gave them lollipops for taking shots.”
Caroline: “I’ll see if we deliver a few meals that are better than just edible.”
She lays a hand on Lena’s. “It’ll never be okay, but it can get better.”
“Trust me, I know.”
Sunday evening, 21 February 2016
GM: Caroline goes through Cécilia to reach Abélia. The Ventrue’s future sister-in-law is always happy to see her, and seems especially glad to make time in the aftermath of her family’s disownment. At least in winter, coordinating schedules with Cécilia (who, unlike the Ventrue’s ghouls, maintains a strictly diurnal sleep schedule) isn’t hard: it’s finding time away from Luke that’s more difficult when the matters they wish to discuss are not for mortal ears… or at least, most mortals. Cécilia has Caroline over to her apartment in the Pontalba Building several nights later, during a window her fiancé isn’t around.
“I’m going to be moving out of here after the wedding, though,” she adds as they sit down. She hasn’t offered to get Caroline refreshments, or gotten any herself. “Maman, and your family too, have both made up their minds that Luke and I are going to be homeowners. So the children have plenty of room.” She laughs. “It all feels like it’s happening so fast. They’ve ‘let slip’ the house is going to be our biggest wedding present. They’re going to move all our things over during the honeymoon, so we don’t have to worry about that.”
“It’s really all so fast… Luke got a bit angry how they wanted to ‘run our lives’ for us. I could understand how he’d feel that way, when they’re assuming a lot of things about our marriage and even picking the house for us. But it seems like a net positive. I’d rather we move in to a free home that I’m sure is going to be wonderful than pick one we have to buy ourselves, and go through extra hassle for.”
Cécilia looks contemplative. “But what I really think is everyone’s just had enough trauma, enough tragedy. Enough death. They’re doing so much for us, because they really want to see this work. And they really want to see grandchildren.”
Caroline: The Ventrue smiles at the idea, but sobers. “It’s been a traumatic year. I hope to give them no more shocks from my end.”
“Well,” she amends. “No negative ones.”
“I know you’re doing your part to give them a positive one, if the amount of time you two spend together is any indication.”
She folds her hands. It’s times like this she misses eating and drinking still. For the most part she’s grown apart from the desire, from the needs that now seem so base, but refreshments during conversations still feel right, and she appreciates how powerful that tool is offered by Savoy, however distasteful the process may be behind the scenes.
“I had some news for your mother, that also concerns you and your sisters. Amelie was Embraced a few nights ago. Some illicit turning that the sheriff is no doubt looking into. My people found her wandering around Algiers covered in blood. She made quite a mess before they subdued her. She passed briefly from my custody into the hands of the prince’s agents, where I’m told she met her end. It appears she made as poor an impression on them as she did on all others that she met.”
She shrugs. “In any case, that loop is closed.”
GM: Cécilia looks faintly… something by the news about Amelie, but thanks Caroline for the information and says she’ll pass it along to her mother. She is glad that her sisters no longer have anything to fear from Amelie—especially one who had been Embraced—even if the girl’s fate is a terrible one. The whole situation actually reminds her of Mouse’s.
Most of all, however, she is simply glad that Yvette (who’d been far more fixated in her hatred than Yvonne) can get on with her life. Some things aren’t worth holding a grudge over.
Caroline: The Ventrue nods in agreement with her soon-to-be sister-in-law on all points, none so much as to the awfulness of Amelie’s fate. To live as a walking skeleton, then become a walking corpse, then die and be consigned to Hell for eternity by sins of the Blood she only carried for nights is one of the worst fates Caroline can imagine—and her early nights as one of dthe Damned were far from kind too. It’s almost as though someone engineered the most terrible end possible for her…
Still, it’s just another chapter they close. Another sad story in the Crescent City. Caroline is happy to close that book and move onto the next topic with Cécilia. She—or more specifically Widney—had some thoughts on wedding planning, having seen the extravagant affair her last employer put on and some snares that had come up in the process.
Sunday night, 21 February 2016, PM
GM: Autumn is pleased afterwards to hear that ‘her’ candidate apparently won out. She doesn’t brag or disparage Widney, but she seems to stand a little taller, sound just a little smugger, when in the majordomo’s company. The younger ghoul has a thick skin and is seemingly unbothered. Seemingly. She and Bishop are ready to coordinate the details of how to proceed at their domitor’s instruction. Autumn, seemingly determined to be more relevant than Widney, volunteers to look into her missing family and/or Kindred associations with the Dixie Mafia, as well as to find or doctor whatever evidence the legal team needs.
The two ghouls also try to out-do one another offering advice. Widney suggests arranging regular visits between Lena and her parents. When they hear she could be getting out of prison, their good mood might improve hers. Autumn seems slightly sour not to have thought of that first, and suggests getting her a TV or laptop with a streaming service subscription. She might prefer something that takes a minimum of mental effort.
Caroline: Caroline shoots down the TV and laptop—she’d rather have Lena more mentally active and they’d be magnets for theft by the police in a way a book isn’t. She likes the idea of having her family visit her and hands the case as a whole off to her firm to start on, beginning with seeking an injunction to keep her at TMC indefinitely for follow on care.
She does want information on who is connected to the Dixie Mafia, specifically if it is anyone other than McGinn, but advises Autumn to tread very carefully. She’d rather nothing than trouble. If it comes to it she can reach out through more official channels. And in truth, her family is a carrot they can work on for a while to come.
The case against her is weak, essentially all circumstantial to begin with and further polluted with the general laziness endemic of the NOPD.
GM: Bishop takes the case without complaint, though Ericson doesn’t think it’s worthwhile pro bono work; there are needy people who’d give the firm better PR. When she hears Caroline wants to recruit the doctor for her own personal use, she cites ethics issues and starts asking questions about how much start-up capital the Ventrue really has invested. Bishop tells her to stop and says Dustin will be a good lawyer to assign to Lena’s case. It’s a softball one and he loves cases where someone’s future is on the line.
Autumn takes her domitor’s advice to tread carefully and returns (to her chagrin) empty-handed rather than with trouble. She admits organized crime isn’t really an area of the Krewe’s. She might be able to find out more by sticking her nose into things more obviously.
Autumn also knows a ghoul who knows more about that sort of thing, and who’d probably be willing to trade the info in return for a hit.
That’s what it always comes down to with ghouls.
Caroline: ‘Whose ghoul’ is what it really comes down to for Caroline.
She remains profoundly aware of stepping on toes.
GM: Corbin ‘Spook’ MacCready. He’s a ghoul of Rocco’s with his fingers in organized crime. Autumn doesn’t think there’s any great risk in trading him a hit. He’s not about to tell his domitor, and from what she knows, he’s the least attached of Rocco’s ghouls anyway. He’s actually a transplant from Miami, whose domitor was killed in the city’s Camarilla-Sabbat-Setite skirmishes. He’s not been with the Gangrel hound for all that long, as the All-Night Society reckons such things.
Caroline: Caroline has Autumn set up the deal. Quietly.
GM: Autumn bags her domitor’s blood and brings back the following information:
Pierpont McGinn is the sole Kindred to claim domain over the Dixie Mafia. Their criminal pursuits generate him good a bit of income on top of his legitimate real estate business, which he uses to help launder the money. There are… rumors about stranger occurrences surrounding the Mob, though.
Caroline: It’s what she needed. Enough to not go poking around. At least not yet.
Monday night, 22 February 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline had originally hoped to draw on the Anarchs for her plans, but her poisoned well with them all but slams the door on that desire. Instead she finds her attention employed by younger Invictus—often seeking better Requiems than they possessed in life. Many want earthly possessions: homes, cars, clothes, everything. They are ideal candidates for Caroline. David Hansen, from what she’s overheard, is nearly perfect.
GM: Caroline hears, in fact, that Hansen has been missing lately. He hasn’t shown up to Elysium since the Matheson trial. Perhaps Caroline can find what’s become of him and see if there’s been any mess. Garcia frankly doesn’t care enough to go looking himself—an attitude that feels all-too like so many Kindreds’ towards Evan.
And perhaps even hers. If she went missing, how many Kindred would call it a shame, and how many would actually go looking?
Caroline: She knows at least one that might have a pressing interest if she ‘vanished’. Probably several. None for altruistic reasons though. There’s some turnabout there—her own interest in Hansen isn’t exactly altruistic. She brings up the missing Toreador to his regent, first inquiring whether or not McGinn objects to investigating his disappearance. She’s learned once before how defensive the older Ventrue is about things that are ‘his’.
GM: Pierpont’s herald smiles coldly that Hansen is indeed ‘his.’ Find and return Regent McGinn his rightful property, and he’ll see Caroline rewarded well.
Caroline: If Violet is willing to turn over the location of Hansen’s haven she begins there.
GM: “Regent McGinn has already thought to investigate so obvious a site,” Violet replies dismissively.
Caroline: The former heiress begins by investigating any kine or ghouls Hansen possessed or showed interest in according to those she speaks with about him. Did he maintain ghouls? Did he care about mortals? What were their names? She sets Autumn and Bishop into the ghoul ‘under society’ in search of the ghoul question even as she tears about Hansen’s life. Once she has names she pulls their recent spending and credit histories, their addresses,
Is Hansen his birth name? She finds out, then pulls his credit history, relatives, and background off various background search sites and from an array of available resources. Disappearance of his ghouls or mortal associates, or emptying of his bank accounts would suggest flight. Their unraveling might suggest destruction.
She’s careful not to put mortal PIs on Hansen himself, instead targeting mortals as she builds a fuller picture.
GM: True to Caroline’s initial suspicions, Hansen’s bank accounts have all been cleared out. Autumn reports (Bishop doesn’t make as much headway) that his ghouls are all gone too. Their bank accounts have also been cleared out.
Caroline: Caroline tells her people to chase the ghouls via mortal relations and contacts. Eventually someone will break and call. She’s also willing to offer a hit of vitae to a ghoul that comes forward with meaningful information on his whereabouts.
GM: Eventually someone does. Sherri Rodgers, 53, tearfully comes to Autumn with news that her disappeared daughter Lori finally called. Lori assured her mother that she was fine, but sounded “so scared.” Sherri thinks she’s been kidnapped. She wouldn’t say where she was calling from, and hung up so suddenly. Caroline and her ghoul trace that call to Abita Springs—a small town about 50 miles outside the city limits. Population four thousand.
Caroline: The entire thing stinks to Caroline. She sends in mortal investigators and arranges a meeting with Coco while she waits to hear back. Her pitch to the Anarch matron is simple: if she’s stepping in something with the movement she’ll drop the matter.
GM: Jennifer Haley meets with Caroline. When the ghoul hears the nature of Caroline’s business, she takes care of it herself. She says Hansen doesn’t have any current association with the Anarch Movement—there’s nothing here for Caroline to step into. Coco’s hands are clean. If there’s any Anarch who has anything to do with Hansen, it’s likely his grandsire Max. Otherwise, he walked out on them a while ago.
“Seems he learned the hard way young licks don’t have many friends in the First Estate,” the ghoul remarks.
Caroline: Caroline laughs at that. “You could have left off the qualifier, Ms. Haley.”
GM: The herald just smiles. “There’s one club they do.”
Caroline: The heiress doesn’t take the bait, swallowing her response.
Yes, everyone fell over themselves for Eight-Nine-Six when they crawled in bed with René and got themselves executed.
GM: They might not have fallen on the sheriff for that, but they did fall on her. The ones who didn’t decide they were sick of Coco and the prince, at least.
Caroline: Discount principles costing only scorn towards a newblood. Caroline isn’t impressed.
GM: Autumn reports that Hansen left with three ghouls in tow. Lori Rodgers, somewhat salaciously, was her domitor’s girlfriend as a mortal. The other two, both men, were new faces to the half-bloods’ society. Hansen gave them the Blood mere days before his disappearance. Caroline’s investigators, meanwhile, don’t call back.
Or come back.
Tuesday night, 23 February 2016, PM
GM: Coco has Caroline come over to Blaze several nights after she left Amelie in the Brujah primogen’s care. Caroline’s inquiries as to how the orphaned fledgling is “settling in” are met with a frank, “She’s not going to be paying you back anytime soon. She let her Beast get loose at an unlucky time.”
Coco sips her rose cocktail as if to say that’s the end of the matter.
“As to why I’m having you here. I’ve heard about your attempts to make inroads with the Movement, and you’re doing it wrong. Still, you’ve been determined enough to make friends, and it’s not hard to imagine why. What can you offer in return for access to the court system that’d make a biweekly boon from you useful?”
Caroline: “We all need friends,” Caroline acknowledges, “some of us just more than others.” Turning over Amelie was a gamble, especially after waking her up. But then, she imagines the potency of her blood is among the least well-kept secrets in the city, and if she is to tease it to someone, Coco is among those she fears the least.
She bites her lower lip for a moment as she considers Coco’s question.
“That’s the second time you’ve asked that question, Coco,” she observes.
“What I can offer,” she adds by means of clarifying. “I rather prefer this conversation to the last one, but I’d use the last one to frame the answer.”
“It wasn’t six months ago that I was a lick with no friends, no knowledge of the all-night society, a death sentence over my head, no ghouls, marginal influence caged by domains I didn’t even know existed, and a former hound with a hundred years in the blood hunting me.”
“Tonight I’ve been acknowledged by clan and covenant, I’ve started a firm and settled relations with my mortal family. I have half a dozen talented ghouls. René is in the wind and even the scourge could not take me on my ground.”
“I have no doubt, Coco, that most of what I might offer to younger licks you could get elsewhere. Investigations, help with the legal pieces of cleaning up a Masquerade breach, social media management, even paltry things like money, or—if you permitted it—the exercise of influence within the court system.”
“Though perhaps I could offer those things in less direct ways than others would,” she offers. “Really, what I offer is whatever you might want me to offer—in time. Make the request, and I will rise to meet it.”
She meets the much older vampire’s eyes. “I will be something, or I will be nothing. And I will be one of the two very quickly.”
GM: “That’s a little vague, but it’s true you have been resourceful to have made it this far,” Coco says thoughtfully. “And your juice is as red as anyone’s if I can’t think of any other rent.”
“What sorts of things are you wanting to do at the courts, broadly speaking?”
Caroline: “Depending on the level of access? Someone in the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Clerk of Court would provide a significant amount of leverage with more petty problems. Making annoying lawsuits or charges go away or appear, pushing people into settlements or ensuring they aren’t pushed, ensuring paperwork is, or isn’t, or was, or wasn’t, filed properly and on time.”
“The Registrar of Deeds office would also be useful, especially for any licks that want to maintain their living identity for a while longer—or wish to transition from it without losing control of assets.” Caroline bites her tongue for a moment before continuing.
“And that same office, also provides a window into many Kindred transactions of property that are not neatly handled. It gives me the opportunity to observe outliers early, and potentially identify Kindred ‘owned’ properties, or Kindred agents being groomed or set up, significantly earlier than many would think.”
“That isn’t as immediately evident if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but if you do… it’s another tool to build the picture.”
“Judges, as elected officials, are trickier, but with a subtle hand also extremely valuable. Tweaking briefs that go before them, putting information into their hands, subtly influencing cases so they are decided in various ways, or so that they’re appealable when the outcome is certain. Influencing bail via magistrates and getting petty matters thrown out in district court—things like DUIs. Or knowing that they are being thrown out.”
She meets Coco’s gaze again. “There are a great many more subtle levers that can be pulled. Some that I could probably pull less effectively from outside as well, but that would be… well, impolite, and you’ve never been that to me, Coco.”
GM: “I find that politeness rarely hurts, even if it doesn’t always help,” the Brujah primogen remarks.
“Oh, there’s one last thing,” Coco says as the legal-related talk concludes. “I don’t think of either us is especially pleased how things turned out with Amelie, but I did promise you something extra for your help there.”
Coco swirls her rose cocktail.
“I heard about your fight with Meadows. I’m impressed that she didn’t think finishing a fight with you and your people was worth it, after the showing you gave.
chose to disengage after the showing you and your people gave.
“I also wouldn’t count on that tactic of burying her under ghouls working twice.
I also wouldn’t count on that tactic working against her twice. Almost of us have ghouls, and Meadows is no exception. Hers are a brood of animals as mangy and foul-tempered as she is, and most of them fairly old. She doesn’t use them often, since she can tear most licks into shreds just fine on her own, but she brings them out for more dangerous missions."
Caroline: Caroline’s tongue rolls across her fangs.
“Thank you, Coco. I suppose I would be flattered if the scourge felt she need bring more against me than against licks a century my elder—but without that warning I suspect I’d also be dead.”
She continues, “It’s not in my nature to back down from any fight, even before the Beast was born in my breast.” The Ventrue’s gaze is steady and unflinching in the Brujah’s own. “For better and worse.”
“Far less so a conflict on my doorstep.”
“I’m certain whispers have already started among some of the Anarchs that I might have set up Ms. Suarez to glean some favor from the prince, sheriff, hounds, or even scourge. I don’t respond to whispers, but I would tell you to your face the lie that is, so you can see and judge for yourself the truth of it: I knew nothing of the scourge’s planned assassination, and if I could have stopped her I would have, for no other reason than it happened on my roof.”
“You know better than most the fiction that is this love between the sheriff and I, but beyond that tale I would offer this: even if I turned from the hospitality of our kind, and that of the south, I would not turn from the face of God so casually. I would not offer up my daughters as did Lot, but I would not hesitate to offer up the tip of my sword.”
GM: Coco rolls her shapely shoulders in a shrug.
“I suppose that was Isa’s good luck then. For my part, I frankly don’t care whether you or anyone set her up. She’d walked out of Mid-City with the rest of Veronica’s people, and chose to dwell in the Quarter outside of my protection.”
“By all accounts, she was getting on her krewe’s nerves even before that public scene with Wells and the tiff she started with Rocco. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who particularly cares that she’s ash, one way or another, except perhaps the good hound.”
Caroline: “All the same,” Caroline answers, her gaze not breaking from the elder’s.
She doesn’t know why she’s so eager for Coco’s approval.
But then, doesn’t she? That faint pull that keeps tugging her back to the Anarch matriarch.
“Whatever her choices say of her, I would have my own speak for me, not those supposed.”
Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM
GM: After several nights, Caroline gets a call from one of the PIs’ numbers.
A low and wheezing chuckle sounds across the line. It’s a cold sound, devoid of mirth. But thick and scratchy too, like inhaled sawdust.
“He he he… he he he…”
“I sees ‘em all… knew ya’d come… he he he… ou’siders… he he he… he he he…!”
“Mighty fine… mighty fine… he he he…”
“Goo’ boys… goo’ boys… dumb boys… ma boys… he he he…”
Caroline: Caroline isn’t amused. “Who is this?”
GM: “He he he… names is… names are… my name… my name, all mine… he he he…”
“Yer here… here for ’im… aincha…”
“Mighty fine… mighty fine… mighty fine… he he he… thanks fer the boys… he he he…”
Caroline: Caroline’s scowl doesn’t abate. “I hope you cleaned up after yourself.”
GM: “He he HEE HEE HEE HEE!” wheezes the voice. “Ou’siders…”
“Davey Hansen… he he he… y’all… he he he… him, aincha… he he he…”
“I’m gonna give ‘im ta y’all! He he he! Presents! Presents! I give y’all presents! He he he he…!”
“What ya say… darlin… ya want a present? He he he… plum happy… real happy… pigs in a blanket… pigs in shit… he he he…”
Caroline: “I’ll decline.”
GM: “Will ya now… ya don want ol’ Davey Hansen… ‘cause I don’… wan’ ‘im gone, I do… he he he… wan’ ‘im dead… dead an’ fed… back to da city… good ‘nuff… he he he… city slicker… witth ’is city slicker seed… he he he… ma help me… I’s a good boy… he he he… good boy…”
Caroline: Caroline’s attention perks up. “Well now, that would be interesting to me.”
GM: “Darlin, darlin, oh do… do, de… be dat way… darlin, darlin, oh, don never you stray….”
“I kin tell you where he is… his address… he he he… I knows, I knows… he he he…”
“You take ’im away… I want ’im gone, all gone… never you stray… he he he…”
Caroline: “Just come and get him?” Caroline replies skeptically.
GM: There’s a cluck-cluck-cluck sound of a tongue against gums.
“Come an’ get ‘im… come an’ get ‘im… take ’im away… but darlin, oh darlin’… we gots ta do it this way…”
“He hurts… he hurts… God almighty, he gots ta hurt… like timber… like shiver… he hurt, stay, away…”
“He he he… he’ll hurt… he’ll hurt… you see it, ma way…?”
Caroline: “I imagine I can make him regret his choices,” Caroline agrees.
GM: There’s a sudden fit of manic, shrieking, hack-like coughing. It’s so deep and phlegmy Caroline wonders if the speaker is retching blood, or perhaps something thicker.
But there’s glee buried in there. Shining and unmistakable. Like gold nuggets in mud.
“He’ll hurt… he’ll hurt…?”
GM: “He he heeeeYYYAAAHHHWWWWW!!!!!”
There’s a vicious, wet tearing sound from the phone, and an equally wet, turgid splat.
“He he… he he he…”
“You see it… ma way…”
“Ya come… ya bring… y’also bring… ten thousan’… cash… in a suitcase… a nice one… with a shovel… a nice one… so I kin bury it… deep… I don’ trus’ da banks… run by kikes… kikes lie… dey lie… dey lie… lie… lie… dey die… dey die… die, die, die…”
“Ya bring… a camera… nice one… pictures… I want nice ones… REAL nice ones… REAL nice… o’ ‘im… Davey… Davey… hurtin’… yes… yesss… hurtin’… pictures… pretty, pretty pictures… ma pictures…”
“Abita Mystery House… das’ where… leave ’em… ma money… ma picy, pict, pictures… ma case… ma shovel… ya leave em… all mine… ya leave em all… all… all dere… mine…”
“An if you lie… if you lie… you take ’im… leave me high, dry, leave me dry… he he he… you try… you try… you wish you die… wish you die…”
Caroline: “You want pictures of him suffering?”
GM: “He he he…! Davey… pictures… he hurt… he hurt… you try… you try… kint hurt… not good as me… you kint hurt, like me… but you try… you try… he he he…!”
“You cross me… you die… I’ll take it back… the secret… and y’all die… all die…”
Caroline: The heiress is happy to meet all those terms, save the ‘pickup’ location. She has no interest in venturing into the depths of the Outlands over some neonate. Especially not after hearing what happened to Rocco when he ventured into the same area. She’s willing to meet at the edge of the city, the bridge out of New Orleans.
GM: “NNOOOHH-HHOOO-HOOOOO!!! NNN-OOOO!!!!!!” the voice shriek-spits. There’s a sound like glass crunching under teeth.
Caroline: “You murdered my men and expected me to visit you?” Caroline laughs. “I don’t care about him that much. Certainly not enough to die for him.”
GM: “DIE! DEN DIE! I AIN LEAVIN! I AIN LEAVIN! FILTHY! FILTHY, BLOOD, TRAITOR! SLUT! FUCK! I AIN LEAVIN! I AIN NEVER LEAVIN! SLUT FUCK TRAITOR CUNT!”
Caroline: “Can I reach you at this number?” Caroline asks.
GM: There’s a low, gurgling hiss.
“WE… GOT A DEAL… OR AIN’ WE!?!”
Caroline: “We have a deal, though the pictures will arrive later, of course.”
GM: There’s a wet, raggedy crunch.
Caroline: “How can I provide pictures of him hurting before I have him?” Caroline asks reasonably.
GM: “He in da town… ya dumb, slimy, cunt… ya hurt ‘im… ya hurt im bad… ya give me… ma pictures… dumb, fuckin’, faggot, ass… mmm… I… I… he he he… faggot… lickin’, spittin’, fuckin’, faggots… lezzy… licker… nigger… faggot, nigger, faggotnig…”
“I wanna fuck you, fuck your fat, wet, hairy, pussy, an’ eat your pretty titties… he he he… stuff em… fuck ’em… stuff em, dump em, fuck ’em…. dump ’em… he he he… dunk ’em… sour cream… he he he…”
Caroline: “I’m removing a nuisance for you, overlooking your murder of my men, and paying you for the trouble.” Caroline’s voice is firm. “You’re providing an address. You’ll get your pictures when I say, not when you do. Or you can deal with your little problem alone. And you will keep a civil tongue in your mouth.”
GM: “NOO! NNNOOO!!!! NNNOOOO!!!! HEEE HHUUURRRRTTTT!!!!” shrieks the voice.
Caroline: “When I say.”
GM: There’s a wet, ragged wheezing, and another low squelch.
“HHHUUURRRTTT!!!!! HHHUUURRRTTT!!! NNNOO DEALLL!!!! HE—HHHUUURRRT!!!!”
Caroline: “Then good luck with your problem.”
GM: “FAGGOT FAGGOT FAGGOT FAGGGOT!!!!!!!”" the voice shrieks.
“NO MONEY! NO MONEY! FINE! NO MONEY!”
“He hurt! He HURT! HE HHHUUURRRRTTTTT!!!!”
Caroline: “Yes. But where I say. Not when you say.” Caroline is firm.
Tiring of the profanity and insanity, she finally tells the voice on the other side to hold onto the phone and hangs up.
GM: Her sole answer is a choked half-sputter, half-hiss abruptly cut off by the ended call.
Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline reaches out to schedule a meeting with McGinn.
GM: Violet haughtily questions Caroline as to the nature of her desired business. Regent McGinn’s time is valuable and not granted lightly.
At least to rubes like you goes the unpsoken insinuation.
Caroline: Caroline replies that she knows where his missing tenant is.
GM: There’s a sniff from the ghoul before she questions Caroline briefly to the circumstances, then declares the regent has an opening in five days.
Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline reaches out to ‘Zilly’ about her grandchilde, happy to sit down at the bar they met at.
GM: Zilly isn’t around when Caroline first swings by the bar, but the bartender (after holding out his hand for a “tip”) says she and her friends are usually around at least a couple times a week. The Toreador is there playing pool the next night Caroline swings by, along with a bearded and middle-aged Kindred wearing a button-down shirt and cowboy hat. From Maxzille’s Cheshire cat grin, she looks like she’s winning.
“Leas’ we got ahsselves pleny o’ ahmmyahnishun…”
“You’re clearing me out,” the other Kindred mutters.
The Toreador rocks on her heels and blows on the tip of her pool stick like it’s a smoking gun. “Y’ain’ no nit aht least.”
The other Kindred takes aim with his stick. Click. Roll. Clunk.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t make any pretense of this being a social call, or of trying to fit in with the older Toreador. She approaches her and asks for a few moments of her time.
GM: Max shrugs as she bends to take aim with her stick. “Da game ain’ goin’ noahwheres.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs back. “I thought I’d give you the first look at it. I confess, I don’t really know how the sire or grandchilde thing works from personal experience, but it seemed… polite.”
“Hansen,” she says simply, after a moment’s pause.
She explains in brief that she’s tracked the neonate to a small town outside the city, where he seems to have gotten himself into some kind of trouble with the locals. If Zilly is interested she can share more. If not, she’s done her ‘due diligence’.
GM: She’s interested.
Caroline: Caroline shares what she knows with the Toreador. He’s fled the city with his ghouls—apparently a planned departure, perhaps seeking greener pastures. Locals—who have murdered several of Caroline’s agents seem to have taken offense to his attempt. She has a number for him but hasn’t called.
“I was considering going to get him, but honestly that’s a lot of risk. The last person I know that wandered out of New Orleans came back a shadow of himself.”
GM: Maxzille doesn’t ask many questions throughout. She listens, and plays. Click. Thump. Click. Thump. Her companion frowns deeply, but doesn’t speak.
The Toreador bends to take aim at another ball, then finally mutters:
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “If you want to deal with it, you’ve got a three night head start.”
GM: Maxzille isn’t smiling anymore. Not by a long shot.
“Whas’ your in’rest in findin ’im, dawlin?”
Caroline: “We all answer to someone,” Caroline answers. “We’re all clawing for our break. They’re few enough that I thought this had some potential.”
The ‘smile’ on Caroline’s face is far from friendly, “It’s not out of the goodness of my beating heart.”
GM: Maxzille eyes the table after the other Kindred shoots, but doesn’t make any move. “We all be creatures o’ habit, dawlin. Well, Ah suppose Ah owe ya one foah passin’ dat along. Considuh us squah.”
The other Kindred’s frown deepens. “You’re not seriously contemplating going after him.”
“I thought about it.” Caroline admits.
His address sounds to the Toreador.
“Kin’s kin.” Maxzille’s eyes are hard as they sweep across the table. “An’ dat fool spent all dis time bein’ scahed o’ me.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression darkens, “Yes, childer in this city have such a great history with their sires and grandsires.”
“In any case, in three days it’ll be out of my hands and yours. If you’re interested in acting, I might suggest doing so before then.”
She looks at the older Torrie. “I can get him out. Not pleasantly, not neatly, but I can do it.”
GM: “Goah on.”
Caroline: She shrugs. “I’ve always been a fan of Wagner. It’d be messy, though. I’m not certain it’s worth the trouble, or the risk. Maybe you’ll have a better option.” She leaves a small black card on the edge of the pool table. “Let me know if it’s something you want.”
GM: “‘Pends what it is, dawlin’. May be, may not be, but doan cos’ nuhthin ta lissen.”
Caroline: Caroline isn’t willing to discuss the details of her plan tonight, in public. She’d be more willing to in private, when Zilly’s had a chance to assess her own options. She takes her leave from the Anarchs and continues planning for her next move, whether Zilly calls or not.
Thursday night, 25 February 2016, AM
Caroline: In the aftermath of turning over Amelie to Coco—and learning of her fate—Caroline is not unmindful of the ‘debt’ owed to the near-terrifying elder that savaged the young Brujah. Though she cannot quite satisfy his demand that she spend a night with the subsequently executed lick, she does send Autumn to scout the location in question, and prepare for Caroline’s spending of a night there. It’s easier than trying to find a naked and nigh-forgotten elder.
GM: Autumn reports back that Demourelles Island is a tiny little neighborhood of an island. It has a nice view of the bayou (which is more like a river than the usual swamp the word makes people think of). The houses are nice, too. There’s a warning sign that says deaf children play on the streets, but traffic isn’t too big a concern. That’s probably one reason why their parents live here.
“Be a pretty nice place to live, actually, this little island all to yourself and your neighbors.”
Autumn’s rented a house from one of the families there for Caroline to stay at.
She’s also pulled up a report on the island’s history if her domitor is curious about that.
New Orleans doesn’t exist without Bayou St. John.
The city was first settled via the Mississippi River, whose path is anything but straight. A steam- or motor-powered ship has little trouble navigating, but for sailing vessels, those bends are a giant pain in the ass. You need the wind. So you wait for it—maybe for several days—to get you going in the direction you want. You go a few miles. And then the river abruptly changes direction. So you wait, again, for the wind to change—maybe another couple of days—to go a few miles more.
Because of this, when local American Indians showed the French there was a straighter shot to the city directly from the Gulf of Mexico, via Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, and Bayou St. John, this became the preferred route.
But this route wasn’t without its challenges. Particularly, one extreme bend in the bayou, called “The Devil’s Elbow,” was often clogged and rendered impassable by sand and branches, causing major problems for shipping.
So in the mid-1800s, it was decided a straighter channel for the bayou would be excavated. The plan was tabled during the Civil War and completed after. The soil from the dredging was heaped onto the land between the bayou’s original path to the east, and its new path to the west. That island—above sea level, thanks to the added soil—towers (relatively speaking) above its surrounding neighborhoods.
The soon-to-be island was gifted (by the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls, it seems) to surveyor, Jules Alou d’Hemecourt (of Mid-City’s d’Hemecourt Street fame) in 1859 to thank him for his work in creating a plan for its development. In 1866, Isle d’Hemecourt, as it was originally called, was sold to James Joseph Demourelle, which explains why it’s often referred to, today, as Demourelle Island.
The island stayed in Demourelle’s family until 1905, and for the next few decades it was used as a hunting ground, a dairy farm, a small shipyard, a recreational boathouse, an (unofficial) home for squatters, and even a city dump.
There was a man named Sylvain Vincent Dedebant who owned the island for a portion of the second decade of the 1900s, who lost it in a lawsuit in 1916. That probably isn’t even worth mentioning, except 1) there was a spirited debate in the 1970s over whether the island was originally called “Demourelle Island” or “Dedebant Island” (those of you reading this now know neither answer is correct, it was originally called “Isle d’Hemecourt,” though “Demourelle Island” is far more common); and 2) Mr. Dedebant, apparently a milkman, was also in the news two years earlier for pulling out a concealed firearm and pointing it at another citizen while delivering his dairy.
In 1952, Demoruelle Island was briefly owned by a law firm of five partners who considered dividing the island into five huge plots on which they would each build a house. Instead they sold it to a corporate buyer, Park Island Incorporated, who were chartered in 1953, with the plan to build 28 lots (all but four on the water), and selling each for $18,000.
One of Park Island Inc’s officers was Joseph Schiro, a Sicilian from the town of Contessa Entellina—a community with a unique Albanian heritage, and one that sent many of its citizens to New Orleans. Schiro began his New Orleans career operating grocery stores, but eventually prospered in real estate, developing the Jefferson Parish community, “Schiro Park.”
The first home was built on the island in 1957, and the last was built in 1973. But the fact that the island—now most often called “Park Island” after Schiro’s corporation that developed it—sits on Bayou St. John isn’t its only charm. It’s also the style of the homes that occupy it.
A new neighborhood required a new look, so community members turned to architects to design their homes in innovative ways, representative of the time. It just so happened that a popular architectural style of the time was known as “Mid-Century Modern,” and that’s the style the architects called upon preferred.
The full report has further information.
Autumn otherwise reports no findings of interest. Caroline is free to move in to the rented house at her leisure.
Caroline: The Ventrue does so several nights later, having allowed a pattern of life to develop in the area and the install of surveillance equipment. She keeps Green and Fuller on standby not far away, both otherwise is content to spend the demanded ‘night’ alone in the home.
GM: Caroline’s ghouls remain vigilant at their posts. Sleep comes but does not pass easily for the Ventrue.
The dreams are dreadful, echoing with a thousand screams crying out as one, the roar of fast-rushing waters, and the terrible, suffocating sensation of liquid filling lungs that should be unimpeded by it. Indistinct sounds (voices?) gurgle through the depths as clammy tendrils coil around the Ventrue, greedily pulling her down.
Down. Down. Down.
Caroline steels her will and pulls herself away. Pulls herself up. She awakens, gasping for needless breaths, covered in a coppery-smelling red sweat. An indefatigable sense of hollowness tugs at her.
Her ghouls await her instructions what to do next.
“You, uh, don’t look like you slept well,” remarks Autumn.
Widney refrains from any commentary, and seems oh-so-faintly disdainful that the older ghoul does not.
Caroline’s dreams on the second night are dark, muddled, and unclear, like the bayou’s own depths.
On the third night, they become nightmares. Caroline sees herself, breaking her mother’s bones hard enough for splinters to stab out from bloody skin, then tossing each of them into the water. She laughs dementedly at the sights of her parents’ and brothers’ gurgling, silently screaming faces, then leaps in after them. She sinks from the weight of her own sins, and feels her thousand victims’ hands pulling her after them. She smiles as she realizes she is finally home. Where she belongs.
She awakens to sheets drenched in bloody ‘sweat’ and a longing urge to return home. Where she belongs.
Caroline: The Ventrue is all too happy to leave the island. She has the beds stripped and the sheets carried down to the incinerator in the Giani Building’s basement. On the ride back ‘home’ she asks Autumn if she’s had any luck locating Misha Sipokni.
The Ventrue tries not to dwell on the nightmares. They’re hardly the first, however personal they might have been. It’s not hard to read symbolism into the events with her mother. Shattering her bones, tearing her apart. Crippling her. It’s exactly what she has planned in less gruesome ways.
Even that thought sets her dwelling hatefully on what she’s become. ‘Less gruesome’ indeed. She’s only planning the cold-blooded murder of perhaps dozens of men and women whose greatest crime may be in seeking to rid the world of bloodsucking monsters. Murders she feels almost no hesitation in planning.
So long as she can avoid hurting her mother directly, avoid killing her. The Ventrue laughs bitterly at the petty personal nature of her ‘mercy’, how short its reach is. Does she even remember Diego’s thugs she executed?
Their faces, but not their names. Only Diego stands out. Only he stung. Because only he mattered to her. Just like her mother is the only hunter that matters.
GM: Autumn bears no answers to absolve her mistress’ ever-darkening conscience, but has some regarding Misha Sipokni.
“Take the ferry to Algiers and look off the railing,” says the ghoul.
‘Misha Sipokni’ is Choctaw for ‘beyond age and time.’ Given the context of Blanch’s usage, Autumn thinks it is in reference to the Mississippi River, which the Choctaw considered ‘so mighty as to be beyond age’ and frequently referred to by that name.
“Couldn’t find any person who went by the name, anyway,” the ghoul adds.
Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes are hard, though not angry, as she listens to Autumn’s report. The truth of her earlier words about Caroline’s poorly rested appearance obvious in her ill humor.
“When’s the next ferry,” she doesn’t quite snarl at the ghoul, eager to put this entire, thus far dreadful, affair behind her.
GM: “Being figurative there. You can see the Mississippi, well, anywhere. Take a bridge, take a boat, walk up to the water. I mean, there it is.”
Caroline: Autumn’s answer is less important than what follows. Caroline arranges passage on the next ferry, leaving the ghouls behind.
“Take the rest of the night off.”
There will be few enough of those if Caroline has her way.
GM: “Oh, really? Thanks. Family’s getting a little sad I’m not around as much.”
Autumn waits to say those words until Widney’s not in the room.
Caroline: “Savor the time while you can,” the Ventrue replies. She knows what’s coming. Success or failure, death or victory, she doesn’t expect much time for the ghouls in the next months.
Sunday evening, 28 February 2016
Caroline: At Autumn’s suggestion, the Ventrue boards a ferry to Algiers—it’s less obviously tracked than crossing the bridge. Looking out on the Mississippi also gives her more time to air her dreams to it. Dreams of murdering her mother horribly and falling into darkness.
GM: Some older people look at Caroline curiously when she talks into the water. Younger ones ignore her, perhaps assuming she’s wearing a Bluetooth.
If only they listened to what she said.
It’s raining heavily. Thick droplets pound against the Mississippi’s black waters. The weather’s around 50 degrees. It’s a wet and miserable night for all of the ferrygoers.
Caroline: Caroline, at least, isn’t bothered by the cold or the wet. It’s little comfort. It just makes her feel less human.
When she arrives in Algiers, she takes a Ryde to the house where they hid Diego and his gang. She’s determined to honor, as best she can, the ancient vampire’s demands. Even if Amelie—stupid bitch that she was—got her head cut off. If none meet her, she does not linger.
GM: The house sits vacant and empty when Caroline enters. Less than empty. The walls where the bodies were interred have been torn open.
A figure sits in the chair.
He’s somewhat short by today’s standards but has a commanding presence that belies his size. His dark brown hair lays flat against his head, coming to rest in a slight curl just below his ears. A well-groomed mustache and Vandyke would give him an almost roguish appearance, but his timeless hazel eyes betray any sense of youth he might otherwise project. He wears a worn but sturdy-looking long coat and set of hiking boots.
He looks like the same man.
But he doesn’t look like the same man.
Not like Caroline remembers him.
“I hold your debt to me fulfilled,” the elder Cainite murmurs.
Caroline sees his lips move this time.
Caroline: “I believe Amelie Savard was destroyed,” Caroline answers, studying the ancient monster.
GM: His lips move again.
“I am aware.”
Caroline could swear she just saw him blink.
“Your forgiveness, young one. I am not always myself.”
Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lower lip. “None is necessary, regent, I have seen more wroth for lesser violations, but I offer it nonetheless.”
“The name Nathaniel of Blanch is not well known, nor his dominion over Algiers. Is it your wish, regent, that it remain so?” she asks.
GM: “Yes. I wish to be undisturbed.”
His jaw moves, as does the tongue behind it, but the words are as soft as the silvery coat of fur Caroline once observed on his naked chest.
Caroline: “A worthy desire,” Caroline agrees.
GM: Blanch makes no immediate reply.
His nostrils widen slightly.
“You have a curious scent.”
Caroline: “More often others have so named my mind,” Caroline answers lightly, deflecting. “I hope it is not displeasing.”
GM: “It is familiar.”
There’s the slightest cock of his head. Caroline has seen a similar motion from wolves.
“You may sit if you would stay.”
Caroline: “I would not intrude, if solitude is preferable,” Caroline offers, but she moves to find a seat.
GM: Blanch offers no reply. Caroline thinks she sees him blink a few more times. Slowly. She wonders if he is remembering to.
It’s an improvement from before.
“Your scent is neither pleasing nor displeasing. It is familiar.”
“It is curious.”
Caroline: “I have not often ventured into Algiers since my Embrace, but I did not uncommonly venture here in my life,” Caroline answers. “That was not so long ago.”
GM: Blanch’s nostrils widen again.
He doesn’t blink.
Caroline: “Certainly not by an elder’s standards.” Caroline has no doubt as to what he is.
Caroline: The Ventrue tilts her head to the side. “Do we carry ours with us, locked in our corpses, unable to pass on?” she asks.
GM: “We are shilombish. We are one. We are not two. You smell of two.”
Caroline: “As though I’m… still alive?” Caroline asks.
GM: “No. You are dead.”
Caroline: “But my ghost has not passed on?”
GM: Blanch’s head slowly tilts again.
“I smell your shilup. I do not see it.”
“Perhaps I would know more if I tasted you.”
There’s no hunger in the words.
But his eyes don’t blink.
Caroline: “There are some mysteries that do not require answers,” Caroline replies in turn. “But it is curious,” she admits.
GM: There might be a smile. The faintest twitch of one.
Or maybe it’s just her eyes.
“The Baron knows more of such things than I.”
Caroline: “He has little love, I’m told, for those that number among the Sanctified,” Caroline answers.
GM: “The trifling grudge of one city’s prince.”
Caroline: “Words not often spoken within the city,” Caroline answers with interest.
GM: “It is all you have known. I have known more. Followers of one god and followers of many gods stood side by side in the Old World to withstand annihilation.”
Caroline: “But not here?” Caroline asks. “What changed?”
GM: “Annihilation does not threaten the shilombish that haunt Misha Sipokni’s headwaters. Followers of one god make war against followers of many gods, because the one they believe Nalusa Chito wishes it so. There are no matters of more urgent self-interest to occupy him.”
Caroline: “The prince is Nalusa Chito?” Caroline answers as much as asks. “They say his torpor is imminent.”
GM: “The followers of one god believe him Nalusa Chito.”
Blanch looks as if he could shrug. He does not.
“All things pass.”
Caroline: “Is it known why he holds a grudge?”
GM: “Is it known why white men begrudge red men?”
Caroline: “Only by those that presume to understand hate,” Caroline answers. She knew plenty enough professors that felt they could easily explain it, though.
GM: “All life must fight.”
Caroline: “We are, none of us, alive though,” Caroline answers.
GM: “As life fears death, death desires life.”
Caroline: “By mimicking the conflicts of life then, we pretend at it?”
GM: A low growl sounds from behind the Ventrue.
A great cat sits on its haunches behind her chair. Its orange-yellow eyes are at once distant and thoughtful. Extended claws slowly trace against the floor.
Caroline: Caroline steals a glance at the creature. Her eyes sweep across its coat, across the rippling muscles beneath it, and across those thoughtful eyes. Kindred and great cats are not so different in their perfect predation.
She’s heard tale of a ghouled jaguar—the last in the city for more than a century. Jocelyn had gushed about wanting to photograph it, though the story never caught Caroline’s attention. Just another mystery, when the ones that consumed her Requiem were of so much more consequence.
In the moment, though, it’s not difficult to imagine the existence of such a being. A century as the last of its kind. A creature in a world it no longer recognizes—and that no longer recognizes it.
“I suppose we all must find some purpose in our existence. I wonder,” she addresses the last words towards the feline, “how you find yours.”
GM: The leopard’s low, rumbling growl doesn’t subside, but its patient, feral-tinged eyes lower just slightly from the ceiling at the Ventrue’s voice.
Caroline thinks she sees… understanding.
Then a crash sounds against the ceiling.
Blanch isn’t in the chair anymore. There’s another crash, louder but more focused, and he’s on the ceiling too, impossibly crawling across it like a centipede as massive gray claws protrude from his pale hands. He smashes a hole with his fist, sending wooden chunks and splinters falling, and then he’s gone into the night.
The leopard roars, and then its claws are scraping against the ceiling too before it disappears through the hole.
Thuds and crashes sound from above, interspersed with bestial snarls and a warbling, simultaneously high- and low-pitched fleshy shriek that makes Caroline’s ears ache.
Caroline: The Ventrue moves in a flash. She can’t leap through the ceiling, but in a moment she’s outside, looking up at the battle ongoing.
GM: The Ventrue’s night vision cuts through the gloom like a knife, but it still hangs thick and heavy over one part of the house. Blanch’s and the leopard’s outlines are hazy as if she’s viewing them underwater.
But she smells it, even from there. A stench that’s fouler than foul. Wet. Acrid. Rotten. Like a waterlogged corpse dredged up from the Mississippi after days floating, but worse, as offensive to human nostrils as bleach to human fingers.
Blood flies in thick, paint-like splatters from the warring figures. Some of it red.
But more of it a hideous green so putrefied as to be almost black.
Caroline: Part of her says she should run, take the opportunity to escape Blanch’s scrutiny. Another part says to flee this battle she has no part in and the possibly frenzying elder at its conclusion. She’s already seen Blanch at far from his worst.
And yet, Caroline finds herself unable to flee, or at least unwilling. She wants to know, not only what he fights, but what he might offer.
The Ventrue eyes anywhere along the side of the house she can climb up—a gutter drain, a low overhang, anything.
GM: It’s been a while since Caroline went on that rock-climbing date with Neil, but he’d been impressed at the determined speed of her upwards crawl then, and she wasn’t dead then either. She doesn’t even have to be a good climber when she’s as fast as she is. Climbing onto the roof is easy.
The battle ahead awaits.
Caroline: The Ventrue darts gracefully along the roof towards the conflict, taking position behind the monster engaged with the elder, trying to draw it out of position and force it to split its attention a third way.
What was it Blanch had said about desiring life? The elder isn’t wrong, and the truth is Caroline has only felt truly alive in her unlife when she’s been fighting for it. When, just like in those moments in her life when she was fencing, it all came down to the simple question of who was better. Not who had the better trainer. Not who had more social connections. Not how the game was stacked. In a fight, all the social demands of the All-Night Society melt away. All the power and privilege that some licks enjoy. Simply, who was better. And in her Requiem it’s rare that Caroline hasn’t proven herself so.
These moments are the only ones she’s felt alive, the only ones in which she’s been nothing but herself.
Whatever the creature is, it’s large. It’s ugly. It’s putrid. That’s enough for her, especially with it splitting its attention between the feline and the elder. It leaves her plenty of room to move.
She wishes she had a sword. Wishes she’d worn that sword belt Autumn found online. As ridiculous as it was (she’d had to fight to avoid laughing in the ghoul’s face), she can’t deny it would have been useful now.
Caroline doesn’t have the bone-snapping strength of an elder. She doesn’t have even Baker’s raw power. But Blanch does, and all she really has to do here is make sure he connects. She’s a buzzing fly around the monster, shoving it from behind, attacking its legs and joints, throwing it off balance however she can and withdrawing before it can strike. Digging nails into already open wounds and ripping them open further when the opportunity presents.
God, if she doesn’t feel alive.
GM: Caroline feels her fists connect with something wet and rancid. The belt Autumn found was around $200. Not a bad price tag to still have a sword. Still, she makes do without. She can’t make out her foe. It wears the thing, whatever it is, is fighting from underneath a barrier of pouring water. Sight and sound seems to strangely distort around where its flesh should be. Caroline makes do without, there, too. She hears ghastly sounds of pain go up from where her fists land and her fingers tear. Sounds like no screams or vocalizations she’s hear; it’s like listening to something wet and bulbous rupture. Blanch trades blows with the creature, withstanding some, being tossed back by others. The elder gestures and thunder rumbles as rain intensifies over the combatants, further obscuring their battle. Spectral wolves, with glowing snow-white pelts and eyes that burn with cold blue fire, snarl and tear at the thing from its side. Birds descend from the sky, clawing and pecking in droves. There’s an ungodly foul, rotting stench hat only grows worse the longer the battle plays out.
Finally, there’s a hideous shriek as the thing gives flight. Its rippling outline dissolves into the night sky as it clears the roof, jerking schizophrenically. This does not feel like a tactical withdrawal, like with Meadows. Deciding a battle’s outcome is no longer worth a continued fight. This thing feels beaten, and like it’s fleeing for its life.
Blanch seems to half-explode, half-dissolve apart into a ghostly mist with burning yellow eyes. He pours after the thing. The leopard, unable to follow its master’s pursuit, snarls after his retreating foe. Caroline supposes that her part is done, too.
Dead she might be, but victory’s flush is no less sweet.
How many kine have felt so alive as her?
Sunday night, 28 February 2016, PM
GM: It’s not overlong before Widney informs Caroline that the firm sprung Lena from prison. Kindred powers helped lubricate the process. She’s now a free woman. Something something injustice. Something something emergency. She didn’t pose much flight risk and was pretty badly hurt in prison to get sent to TMC in the first place. The police wanted some bribes to grease the wheels, but business as usual.
Lena’s parents are taking her in until she’s back on her feet. They’re both professors and fairly well-off financially.
That may take more time emotionally than anything else. Widney says Lena is deeply traumatized by her family’s probable deaths, her brother’s betrayal, and her experiences in prison. The ghoul recommends therapy, but imagines Lena’s parents are going to be pushing that already.
There’s also the question of Lena’s medical license. If Caroline wants her to practice off the books, that’s a non-issue. And indeed, having no license will keep her all the more dependent on them.
If Caroline wants Lena to get her license back, there is a 3 year minimum waiting period before she can petition for her license to be reinstated. This process is lengthy, tedious, and of course (normally) lucrative for the lawyers involved. Lena and her lawyer (Dustin, who always loves cases where someone’s future is on the line) would gather character witnesses, statements from employers, CME certificates, volunteer letters, remediation course letters, and psychiatric evaluations in order to put together a case to petition the medical board to reinstate Lena’s medical license. This might be a contingent license or she might have her medical license reinstated fully. It all depends on the medical board and the potency of Lena’s petition.
Autumn, no less desirous to upstage Widney than before, says “Screw waiting three years.” The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is located on Camp Street in the CBD. Caroline could invade their heads, have Autumn doctor the board’s records, and get that done by tomorrow.
She also “reports” how Widney didn’t have a good cover story for why the firm was bailing out Lena like this. Her father Philemon Delacroix, who Caroline’s Uncle Matt called “a meddler” among other less flattering names, was awfully curious about his daughter getting bailed out like this.
Autumn, in her position as the firm’s director of media relations, has been casting Lena’s acquittal as pro bono work done to get some good publicity. She’s been puffing up the case to as many media outlets as she can. It’s a great story. Gentle-souled children’s doctor gets her life destroyed by her wicked brother, almost murdered in prison, then rescued by the firm of Bishop, Bowden, Reffett, & Ericson, that’s so determined to give something back to society.
Widney criticizes Autumn’s methods. Isn’t this going to ruffle feathers with the DA’s office, or the police? Do they want that?
Autumn retorts that by that logic, private criminal lawyers shouldn’t defend anybody. That is sort of what they do.
Caroline: Caroline refuses to get involved in the slap fight.
Merinelli is out of prison. That’s what matters.
She tables the question of Lena’s medical license for now; she has enough things on her mind and the ex-pediatrician is probably in no mental or physical state to immediately resume practice anyway. She tells her ghouls to keep an eye on Merinelli in case she’s considering suicide, and to stop her if she tries.
It’s not a happy ending for Lena, but it is a better ending.
Monday night, 29 February 2016, AM
Caroline: While Caroline waits to hear back from Zilly or her meeting with McGinn she puts several contingencies into place, depending on each. If she visits Abita Springs it’ll be in force, with enough private security to invade a small country. It’ll also be by air.
GM: Zilly does not call back.
Caroline: When Caroline’s meeting with the older Ventrue rolls around, she relates that she’s seemingly located his missing tenant just outside the city, where he’s landed himself in a spot of trouble. She inquires as to his further interest in the matter.
GM: McGinn barks a laugh when he hears the news.
“That weak-blood’s so dumb he could throw ‘imself on the ground an’ miss.”
“Violet, call up the dear sindaco.” He grin is the same one as when he watched Billy whip Caroline’s back into red tatters. “I do so enjoy our chats together.”
He informs Caroline that David Hansen will never leave Abita Springs. He declares she’s done “mighty well, mighty well,” and asks what boon she would ask of him for this service.
Caroline: Caroline is happy to take the debt for what it is, but is bold enough to ask why the older Ventrue is making no effort to recover the foolish neonate, especially if McGinn has a connection to the powers that be beyond the city. “I expect his grandsire would be grateful for his return, however useless he might be.” She coaches the question as one for her own edification, rather than as one questioning his judgement.
GM: “Yer education’s over, Eiren,” McGinn drawls. “Information ain’t free, now. But if yer curious enough, that can be yer payment.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps the smile on her face. “As valuable as it might be, I’d hold any debt as more so. I simply thought it might send an array of messages at once. Of your strength and influence beyond the city and of the fate of oathbreakers, while also earning a debt from his grandsire for his ‘rescue’.”
Her eyes glitter. “But then, as you say, Gerousiastis, I’m the eiren, and my own perspective may be painfully limited.”
GM: McGinn smiles indulgently.
“Ma daddy wore a gray uniform an’ fought at Gettysburg in the War o’ Northern Aggression, Eiren. And before he perished nobly upon the field o’ battle, he told me an anecdote. ’Mong the junior officers, his superiors wanted yer body. ’Mong the mid-level officers, they wanted yer mind. And ’mong the general staff, they wanted yer soul.”
“It’s similar with us. The thing we want from you is loyalty, Eiren. And it do so please me that we have it.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps her expression still at the backhanded combination of insult and compliment.
“As you say, Gerousiastis. I’ll endeavor to better know my place.”