“Goddamn. I’ve seen some weird-ass shit in my night. Then this comes along.”
Monday night, 29 February 2016, AM
Caroline: Caroline calls Autumn and gets the information she promised Doriocourt from her. She passes it off to Fuller before she leaves. The Ventrue doesn’t go home. She can’t face that yet—not physically and not emotionally. There’s still more to clean up. Instead she drives to Rocco’s domain to answer any questions the hound might have about his tenant. About her place in this. About why she didn’t tell him first.
It goes about as well as she might expect.
Rocco tells Caroline to drink from him.
The eventual drive back to the Giani Building is long and dark. Widney says, “You did the right thing, ma’am.” Her eyes show too-obvious doubt.
Caroline eventually has to face what she wishes with all her heart she didn’t have to face. She feeds her blood to Jocelyn’s corpse.
She even waits. Just long enough.
She’s already violated the Toreador in enough ways.
Before she doers so she binds Jocelyn broken corpse. The last thing she wants is for the weakened Kindred to awaken and set upon her again, and she expects all too well the frenzy that might overtake her.
Have a break here?
GM: Jocelyn comes to.
When she tastes the blood.
When she sees her surroundings.
When she feels her bonds.
She doesn’t even ask what the fuck is going on. There’s just a furious howl as the Beast overtakes her.
The steel cuffs don’t threaten to snap like Tina made them, but Jocelyn is no half-finished excuse for a vampire like Natalia. Caroline has to hold her down on top of the cuffs, well away from her snapping mouth and clawing hands, as the Toreador mindlessly roars and thrashes.
It feels like it goes on for hours.
It’s exhausting. To the spirit, far more than the body, even when Caroline can hold her down.
When the madness recedes from her lover’s eyes, it feels temporary. Temporary before the Beast will fill them again. Before the Beast will fill her eyes again. It’s like she said.
It never stops.
It always wants.
It always comes back.
It always gets back out.
“Let me go! LET ME THE FUCK GO!” Jocelyn shouts as she strains against the cuffs. Caroline can all but hear the second frenzy’s approach in her ragged voice.
Caroline: “I will! I fucking will, but not until you listen for one minute.” Caroline’s grateful she soundproofed her apartment.
“I know you’re angry, and I know you hate me, and I’m not even sure you shouldn’t,” the Ventrue continues. “But I’m not letting you leave here beaten to hell because of me.”
There’s pain in the Ventrue’s voice. “Like… just listen. I get it. But that’s… that’s the one thing I can make right.”
“I don’t your handouts! I have a fucking krewe, you know, licks who actually like and help me, in case you’ve forgotten!” Jocelyn flares.
“It’s the only thing I can make right.”
* “I don’t want your handouts! I have a fucking krewe, you know, licks who actually like and help me, in case you’ve forgotten!” Jocelyn flares.
“Guess y-” she cuts.
“What the fuck did you do with Gwen?”
* “Guess y-” she cuts off.
“What the fuck did you do with Gwen?”
Caroline: Caroline, straddling the battered and spread-eagle Toreador, looks away. “Yeah… she flipped when I stopped mind-screwing her…. and then I flipped.”
“Doriocourt woke her up later.” Which had genuinely surprised Caroline. She’d not heard that the hound was that old.
Of course, Kindred wouldn’t think she could do that either.
She’s not supposed to be that old.
“Dorio… what!? What’d you do with Gwen!?”
Caroline: “I brought her to Perdido House,” Caroline replies, bracing for another frenzy.
GM: She gets one.
The Toreador’s maddened howls echo off the walls as she snarls, snaps, and tugs against the four handcuffs and Caroline’s weight.
It never stops.
It always wants.
Caroline: Jocelyn isn’t strong. Even with the Beast, she’s never been that strong, at least compared to Caroline. Beaten half-to-death she’s weaker still. It doesn’t make it pleasant.
It almost makes it worse. This pathetic, thrashing, hating thing wrapped in the body of her lover. All of it brought on by Caroline.
She holds Jocelyn down. That’s the easy part. It’s in the trying not to weep over the awfulness of everything that there’s a challenge.
GM: She feels a good damn deal stronger than Caroline, or at least a calm Caroline. But a fat lot of good it does her spread-eagled and so poorly able to leverage that strength.
It lasts a while.
Not as long as last time seemed to.
But still too long.
Long enough for Caroline’s face to smell like blood.
“Why the fuck did you do that!? They’re gonna KILL HER!” Jocelyn shouts.
Caroline: “Because otherwise they’d have killed Natalia for sure!” Caroline screams back, her face a mask of grief.
GM: “So we HIDE Natalia! We find a lick look strong enough to, to,” Jocelyn suddenly frowns in puzzlement, “how’d you wake up me?! Why couldn’t you for Gwen, huh!? You KILLED her! You KILLED GWEN!”
Red freely leaks from Jocelyn’s eyes.
“Oh my g-god, Evan, and now f-fucking Gwen!”
Caroline: “She fucking deserves what she gets!” Caroline snarls.
GM: “Oh you’re full of SHIT, like you haven’t done WORSE!” Jocelyn shouts back. “LIKE WE ALL HAVEN’T!”
“She has fucking stuffed animals! She’s a wimp! How many people have you killed, huh!? WHY ARE YOU SO FUCKING BETTER!?”
Caroline: “No, I haven’t,” Caroline snarls back. “I haven’t ever murdered a pregnant girl because I felt bad them brought her back as a thin-blood. Have you?” she accuses.
“There’s a line, Jocelyn! We’re monsters, but there’s a fucking line!”
GM: “Great! I guess you should tell the sheriff to kill you next, you’ve killed a million fucking people!”
“But that’s not is it, huh? You’re just butthurt ’cuz YOU killed a baby!”
Caroline: There’s truth there Caroline doesn’t try to deny. Instead she falls silent.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” she replies softly after a moment.
GM: Jocelyn starts crying again.
“You killed Gwen! I, I can’t BELIEVE you! Ev-Evan, NOW GWEN!? We-we’re fucked! S-stick a g-godamn f-fork us, we’re f-fucked!”
Caroline: “You’re right, Jocelyn. Maybe if it’d been some random guy I could have looked the other way. Could have helped her hide her crime.” She wipes the blood from her eyes with the back of her hand.
GM: “Take these fucking off!” Jocelyn yells, rattling the handcuffs.
Caroline: “And when you frenzy again?” Caroline snarls. “What do you want me to do with your ashes?”
GM: “Oh gee, thanks for asking! Boy, that’s a first!”
Caroline: “I’m fucking serious! If you lose it on me I won’t be able to stop myself!” she snarls. “And we both know damn well you couldn’t stop me on your best day.”
GM: “I HATE YOU!” Jocelyn shouts, red leaking from her eyes. “Why don’t you just MINDFUCK me again already, if I’m just your fucking toy!”
“How many times, huh!? How many bloopers off the memory reel!?”
Caroline: Tears well again in Caroline’s eyes at the accusation, and she climbs off the Toreador.
“Fucking never. Never, Jocelyn, not once. Why the fuck do you think I’d bother trying to talk to you about it all if it was really that easy for me to do something like that to you?” she replies, shaking her head and heading for the door.
GM: “Oh, yeah! Except that one time! Just now! Guess you forgot!”
Caroline: “No,” Caroline snaps back. “I didn’t forget. And I never will. And neither will you. I’ll send in some ghouls in a bit with a snack.” She opens the door.
GM: Jocelyn laughs manically as red rolls down her cheeks. “Oh, that’s, that just, ha ha, bet that’s new! How many times?! Huh!? HOW MANY TIMES!?”
“Fucking answer me, if you’re just gonna do this all over!”
“What is this, just, just some fucking experiment!? See what I’m like when you aren’t sticking a bot switch in my head!?”
Caroline: “If I wanted to fucking control you it’d be way fucking easier to have bonded you when I woke you up and mind fucked this all away.”
The Ventrue leaves. Caroline slams the door behind her.
GM: “Boy, guess you can write that off! Jocelyn’s no fun now!” is the last thing she hears as the door slams.
Caroline: Caroline walks over to the windows looking out into the city lights in her living room. Compared to the bedroom it’s warm out here. Pleasant, even. Caroline doesn’t really notice.
She wishes she could have a drink. Something to numb the pain, or make her forget the awfulness of this night. Another thing the Requiem has robbed her of.
GM: Well, mostly. She heard about it from Jocelyn. Boozing up your vessels and then feeding on them.
“They call it blood alcohol content for a reason,” she’d joked.
Caroline: She doesn’t want to entertain a vessel, want to fatten them up like a Christmas goose to make herself feel better.
When the night started there were painfully few worthwhile things in her Requiem. Only really two. Now there’s one. She looks out on the city bathed in darkness until the tears stop. Until she calms down, and the only thing left is the throbbing, instead of the anger she felt beginning to bubble up.
She’s not really mad at Jocelyn. Can’t be mad at her. It’s impossible to tell her ‘feelings’ apart from the ever-present tug of the bond—and at this point Caroline doesn’t really want to. Jocelyn’s hurt because Caroline hurt her, in every way. A sadistic bit of her says she should let turn her loose, let her wander out into the street covered in blood with her broken body. That it’s not her problem.
But it is her problem. It’s her fault. And while she can’t undo the things she did to her the Toreador mentally—or at least won’t—she can put the physical pieces back together. She picks up the landline and tells Audrey to bring them up in a few minutes, then tells Fuller to come up as well.
By the time the security man arrives she’s already put the vessels Audrey brought under her spell. She orders them under his control and asks him to ‘administer’ them to the bound Toreador in the bedroom.
“I don’t trust anyone else not to hurt her—or not to let her hurt them.”
GM: Audrey’s picked up two seedy- and disheveled-looking men. The kind out and about during the middle of the night on a weekday. They’ve got messy hair, rashes on their skin, and a sunken cast to their eyes. They look like dope fiends.
Fuller nods at the order and sees the men in.
He comes out after a moment.
“She says she doesn’t want anything from you.”
He shrugs. “Can force-feed her. Asking since she’s your girl.”
“She looks pretty hungry. Just being stubborn.”
“Probably wouldn’t even need to force her, actually. She’d lose it just smelling blood right now.”
Caroline: “Petulant,” Caroline growls without animosity.
“She needs to eat,” she replies. “Give her the choice, but it happens on her terms or yours.”
GM: Fuller returns several minutes later. The two men look notably paler.
“Spat on my face. Did it on my terms. You’ve pissed her off something fierce, ma’am.”
Caroline: “I know,” Caroline replies sadly. “I’m sorry she spat in your face, Brian, and that I asked you to do that. There’s no one else I’d trust to do it.”
She pauses, then continues, “Thank you.”
GM: “Been hurt worse,” the ex-corpsman shrugs. “Seen girls like her, though. Thought you should know the state of mind she’s in. But you’re welcome, ma’am.”
Caroline: “I don’t expect I’ll be seeing much of her in the future,” Caroline replies with resignation. “Can you see these two back to Audrey to return wherever she got them from?”
GM: Brian nods. “Overheard the earlier stuff between Widney and Rabinowitz, ma’am. It’s ugly. They’re getting in the way of each other’s jobs.”
Caroline: “I’d hoped they’d have resolved their pecking order by now,” Caroline agrees, grateful in the moment for something else to worry about.
GM: “Not happening. Each thinks they should be the boss. The other’s boss, anyway.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “You think I should get involved.”
GM: “You don’t have a clear chain of command, ma’am. So it comes down to personalities and how they get along. Or don’t.”
“Curtis had his act together. Green, some of the time.”
“Attribute it to them being civilians, ma’am. No offense.”
Caroline: The Ventrue gives a dark chuckle. “None taken. There’s a reason I employ so many of you.”
GM: “There’s a reason so many people want to employ us.”
The Ventrue looks at the former corpsman, tilting her head slightly to the side as if to see him in a different light.
GM: He’s all crags, leathery skin, and thick-corded muscles from whatever angle Caroline looks at him, standing assertively to attention. Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in, eyes front, blank facial expression. It’s a more ‘overt’ variety of professionalism than she’s been used to with Roger Ferris.
Caroline: “I’ll deal with them,” she continues after a moment. “Not tonight, but soon.”
She looks back at the bedroom. “One mess at a time.”
GM: “As you say, ma’am.”
Caroline: She waits for him to leave with the dope fiends before heading back into the bedroom.
GM: He’s gone in short order when Caroline indicates she has no further orders. The door to Jocelyn’s room is closed.
Caroline: Caroline heads into the bedroom.
GM: Jocelyn’s still cuffed down. There’s some blood running down her chin. She glares furiously at Caroline and spits red when the Ventrue gets close.
She remembers her uncle Carson saying he could deal with screaming, gibbering, crying, ranting, insane, whatever, defendants. He could deal with them all. But if there was one thing he absolutely detested, it was spitting.
Not an uncommon attitude among his peers, as the newly-certified lawyer well knows.
Caroline: “At least now you’ve got it to spare,” Caroline replies stoically. She picks up Jocelyn’s phone from the dresser. The screen is cracked, presumably from where Caroline slammed the Toreador down along with it, but it still works. “I need you to unlock it so I can call Meg to pick you up. Unless you’d rather I called you a Ryde.”
GM: “Fuck you.”
Caroline: “Do you hate me and want to leave or just want to sit here and insult me?” Caroline asks tiredly.
GM: “What a goddamn control freak. Even when you’re deciding how I’m gonna leave, you have to do it with me chained up, and you have to decide it yourfuckingself.”
Jocelyn’s face twitches.
Caroline: “Fine, what do you want?” Caroline asks. “Just… what will make you happy?” she asks.
GM: “Oh, how nice of you to ask. Go save Gwen from the church, turn back time to whenever-the-fuck you didn’t mindfuck me, and hey, maybe a pony on top. A magical goddamn fairy pony that loves vampires.”
Caroline: “I’m sorry,” she says. “For whatever it’s worth.”
GM: “It’s worth shit. Why the fuck would you KILL GWEN and RAPE MY MIND and think I wouldn’t have a fucking problem!?”
Jocelyn’s eyes blink open and shut dazedly.
Caroline: “If I could undo what I did… undo snapping at you like I did, don’t you think I would?” Caroline answers.
GM: “Dunno, I’d think you’d have never done it if you really fucking cared!”
She flops her head back against the pillow and gives an inarticulate half-moan, half-snarl.
Caroline: The Ventrue gives a sad smile.
“If I didn’t care more than words can say
If I didn’t care, would I feel this way?
If this isn’t love then why do I thrill?
And what makes my head go ’round and ’round
While my heart stands still?”
GM: Jocelyn gives several hard tugs, dulling clanging the cuffs against the bed frame. The metal doesn’t snap, but Caroline can smell the telltale coppery tang in the air, even make out the dead muscles swelling against Jocelyn’s skin. She’s clearly burning through the vitae in her system to deliberately pointless effect.
“Can’t make me, can’t make me, can’t make me!”
“La la la la la!”
“Can’t make me, can’t make me, can’t make me!”
“La la la la la!”
Caroline: The Ventrue pulls the handcuff keys off the dresser. “Fine, just… just fucking go. Stop fucking hurting yourself just to hurt me!” she snarls.
GM: “What’s that, I caaan’t heee-eeeaaaar you, over the sound of yooouuuu beeeeing a giaaannnt biiiii-iiiiiiiitch!”
Caroline: The Ventrue unlocks the Toreador’s left hand.
GM: “La la la la la la!”
Jocelyn slaps her across the face. She’s no Brujah, but it still stings.
“Can’t make me, can’t maaake me, can’t maaaaaake me, you’re a giant cuuuu-uuuuuunt!”
Caroline: Caroline shoves the Toreador’s hand back into the bed and its silken sheets. “You’re right, I am a cunt.” She straddles the Toreador again.
GM: “Lemme out, I’m gonna go break the Masquerade! Fuck the Masquerade, ha ha! I’m gonna tell eeeeeveryone in this building I’m a vampire, and when they don’t believe me, I’m gonna suck their blood!”
“Ha ha ha ha fuck you,” she snarls, “fuck you so much, you fucking bitch!”
Caroline: The Ventrue brings her own free wrist up to her mouth and opens it. “Is this what you want?” she demands, dangling the bleeding thing over Jocelyn’s lips.
GM: Jocelyn glares at it with simultaneous hate and longing. Her eyes look ready to pop out of their sockets.
Caroline: Vitae drops into the Toreador’s face, the wrist just in her reach. But she’ll have to reach for it.
GM: She spits in Caroline’s face, eyes bulging, and then grabs at the wrist.
“Good fucking riddance to your stupid baby! You’d have been a horrible mom, I bet! Fucking babykiller!”
“La la la la la, Caroline the babykiller! Caroline the babykiller! La la la la la la!”
Caroline: The Ventrue lets her seize the wrist. It’s wrong, but in the moment it feels right. Her anger melts under how much easier it is to grind against her lover’s near-helpless body.
She slaps the Toreador, but there’s no anger behind it. Just something else, burning beside beside everything else.
It’s impossible to tell where the bond begins and affection ends.
GM: Caroline might be tougher, faster, but she isn’t so much stronger than Jocelyn. The Toreador strains and throws off Caroline’s hand, grabs it, then bashes it against the wall, once, twice, then three times. She screams incoherently. It hurts.
“Fucking fucking fucking fucking… you fucking cunt… you… killed… Gwen… fuck… you…”
She snaps at Caroline’s wrist and clamps her mouth around it, her eyes mad as she sucks ravenously.
“Fuck… you… bitch…”
The hate in Jocelyn’s face doesn’t sputters out. Just hisses, sputters, and yes, even dies, at least partly, like someone’s dumped a jug of water over a roaring blaze.
She lets go of Caroline and throws her head back against the pillow.
“F… uck… you…”
She starts crying again, red freely leaking from her eyes.
“F… f… uck… you…”
Caroline: Caroline climbs off her and drops the keys into her open palm.
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t move. She just lies there crying.
“F… uck… you… Carol… ine…”
She picks up the keys and flings them at the floor.
“You… bitch… you… b… itch… fuck… you…”
Caroline: “Your choice, Jocelyn,” Caroline replies. “I didn’t want to lose you, but I gave you the choice.”
GM: Jocelyn just gives a needful moan.
“I… don’t… want to… fucking… remember… this… get… get it… out… of my… head… please…”
Caroline: Caroline looks down at her. “You don’t know what you’re asking.”
GM: Jocelyn stares up at her past still-bleeding eyes. “I fucking do.”
“I don’t… wanna remember, either… how you’ve been in there… fucking with my head… you… bitch…”
Caroline: “You want me to just go through and erase all the bad memories?” Caroline asks impassively.
GM: “Y… eah… what you did… to Gwen and me… edit it out… fucking wish I’d never asked you for help…”
Caroline: “Why the hell would I do that?” the Ventrue responds after a moment. “Why should I have to carry that memory but you shouldn’t?”
GM: Jocelyn starts crying again.
“Fuck… fuck you… because you fucked me… you bitch… and you’re the strong one… fuck… fuck you…”
Caroline: “You keep saying that, but you know what I did was right. That’s why you called me, to make the decision you couldn’t.”
GM: Jocelyn keeps crying.
“You’re such a bitch…”
Caroline: “You can be mad at the word, and mad at Gwen, and mad it all happened, but don’t fucking be mad at me for doing what had to be done.”
GM: “Oh,” Jocelyn says, her voice suddenly low, “Skyman’s Vidal…”
“Has me and the Storyviles… drive out every week… this abandoned warehouse in the middle of bumfuck fucking nowhere…”
“I’m not supposed to say that… ha ha… fuck him… fuck you…”
“He, like, preaches, just for us… really fucking something, lemme tell you… tells us how special we are…”
Caroline: “Stop!” Caroline snaps. “Just stop talking.”
GM: “Yeeeeep!” Jocelyn laughs dementedly. “We think he’s God. Like, first there was Longinus, and then there’s him.”
Caroline: “Fucking stop!” Caroline screams. “Don’t talk about him!”
GM: “Everything he says is the word of God, we all think that…” Jocelyn laughs on. “The Hussar’s there, too… he does the driving, and like… Vidal doesn’t even take any other renfields, any other people, just him and the Hussar… super fucking secret…”
Caroline: The Ventrue stares in mute horror.
So, fucking, close.
GM: “And he, like… says we’re a big fucking deal… did shit for Evan, but hey… does this ritual shit… even brings in donors, for us to snack on… told you to come hungry… there’s always plenty there…”
Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth.
“So… close…” The words slip out.
Tears slip from her eyes.
GM: “He’s God, or I thought he was,” Jocelyn goes on. “There’s, like, gonna be a new age or shit, and we’re his chosen… his first, or…”
Caroline: Caroline sinks to the ground. It’s too much. So close… to have come so close to her entire Requiem being so different.
GM: “He’s annoyed about the Evan shit… wonder why he can’t find Evan, if he’s God…”
“And, boy, the Hussar said… he said if we talked… ha ha ha… he’d cut off our fucking heads… oops… ha ha ha… wonder how long… before he’ll catch on…”
“Unless you erase it from my head, ha ha ha…”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “You vindictive bitch…”
“You realize… I’ll never get that out of my head. I’m going to have to live with that the rest of my Requiem?”
GM: “Hussar’s gonna cut off my heeee-eeeaaaaad,” Jocelyn repeats in a sickly singsong voice.
Caroline: She shrieks.
GM: Jocelyn laughs insanely.
Caroline: “You want to hear a secret, Jocelyn? Since you won’t remember in the morning?” Caroline answers after a long moment.
GM: “Why not, ha ha ha…”
Caroline: “You remember how you said it was a shame I wasn’t the childe of some elder?” She gives a little laugh.
GM: “Yeah, you’re sure a stuck-up enough cunt to be one.”
Caroline: “I’m his.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs bitterly. “I… am… his.” She says each word carefully, as though speaking to a small child.
GM: Jocelyn laughs. “Oh, yeah, and I’m Rafael de Corazon’s!”
Caroline: “Why do you think my blood’s so strong, Jocelyn?” the Ventrue asks.
GM: “Actually, no, I’m Vidal’s, I like that better. I’m secretly a Ventrue, ha fucking ha.”
Caroline: “Strong enough to wake you up.”
GM: “Okay, so what the fuck are you doing on the streets with the rest of us plebs?” she scoffs.
Caroline: Caroline gives a choked sob.
“He doesn’t know. I didn’t know, until the night the Matheson shit blew up.”
GM: Jocelyn laughs again.
Caroline: “The seneschal told me, when he was about to execute me.”
GM: “Oh, what, you tripped and fell in his vit—oooh, that’s even better! Well, worse. I couldn’t think of a dumber fucking story if I tried. What idiot would even buy that.”
Caroline: Silence greets her rhetorical question.
GM: “Yeah, not me. Your secret sucks.”
GM: “All right, time to mindfuck me I guess, we should make this a regular Tuesday thing.”
Caroline: “No, I don’t think I will,” Caroline replies.
There’s a savagery in the words.
“You don’t get to abuse me and make me clean up your fucking messes. To threaten me, and to do it with your safety.”
“You can fucking lay there and think about it. Think about what the Hussar is going to do. I’ll be sure to let you go in time for your meeting, to send you on your way to meet the prince. Make sure you get there on time.”
Caroline’s eyes blaze with indignation.
“You can fucking be afraid for once in your Requiem! You can know what it feels like!” she screams.
GM: “Good, maybe I don’t wanna have a Requiem anymore!” Jocelyn shouts back. “You’ve made it shit! I think I’m gonna tell the Hussar all I blabbed, and that I blabbed to you too! Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, you still looo-ooose!”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Fine, you want me to fuck with your head? Let’s do it. I want you out of my life.”
She doesn’t sound frustrated anymore, just resigned. The Ventrue stands and walks over to the Toreador.
GM: “Too late,” Jocelyn laughs bitterly. “We’re both collared.”
Caroline: “Yeah, we’ll see if that holds against what I’m going to put in your head.”
GM: “Oh, boy. Build me up, buttercup.”
Caroline: “Either way. Goodbye, Jocelyn.”
Caroline leans in and stares into the Toreador’s eyes.
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t look away.
“Oh, why do you build me up, buttercup, just to let me down… and mess me around…”
She gives another manic little laugh.
“And then worst of all, you never call, baby…
When you say you will, but I love you still…”
Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees sadly. “I won’t.”
She takes a deep breath.
The Ventrue stares into Joceyln’s eyes one last time, then unleashes her Beast for the second time on her lover’s mind. It hurts her. It bleeds her. It’s like crawling through broken glass. She damns Jocelyn for making her do it. Hates her for it. She wants to demand of her, to scream at her for making Caroline do it, but there’s no point now. Maybe there never was.
She knows what Jocelyn wants, understands it even. Just wipe away all the fights of tonight, pretend nothing happened between them. She would rather blissful ignorance than the pain Caroline has inflicted on her.
But the Toreador has sorely underestimated the wounds she’s inflicted in return. Wounds Caroline doesn’t get to simply forget. Jocelyn may want to wake up and go on like nothing ever happened, but Caroline can’t. She won’t.
She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror if she raped away all of Jocelyn’s memories of the wrongs Caroline has done her, much less look the Toreador in the eye ever again. She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror if she let Jocelyn manipulate her with this petulant self-destructive lashing out—and not for the first time.
Caroline might understand why Jocelyn is lashing out, she might even sympathize with it, but she can’t accept it. Won’t accept it. Can’t have it in her Requiem… and doesn’t want it either, no matter how the collar tugs against her. It’s an ugly side of Jocelyn, the childish manipulative side. It’s using someone else’s love to get what you want, to see to your needs with no regard for anyone else.
Caroline tears into Jocelyn’s mind. She tears up memories and plants new ones, but they’re not the whitewash her lover wants. Not memories to pretend everything is fine between them.
She wipes out the memory of Caroline dominating her, replacing it instead with an argument over turning Gwen in. She leaves the memory of Jocelyn’s frenzy, but replaces her awakening to Caroline’s blood with her awakening from a staking at Caroline’s hand, pausing to tear a whole in Jocelyn’s shirt to match. She destroys everything that’s transpired here in the Giani Building between them. Replaces their argument here with a furious argument in the car as Caroline drove her back to her apartment. Replaces her last words to Jocelyn with harsher ones. “I don’t ever want to see you again.” Inserts Jocelyn’s own to the same effect, the Toreador screaming her hate at Caroline in their last moments together. About how Jocelyn is glad they’re done, and how Caroline is nothing but a poison.
Then she unlocks the still-dazed Toreador from her shackles and leads her downstairs. Puts her into a car and drives her back to her apartment. She replaces her memory of Fuller force-feeding her with the memory of finding a victim herself to heal from her staking after she and Caroline splits. She gives last instructions on how to wake up from her fugue when she steps inside the building, returning from her hunting. Then she sends Jocelyn on her way, watching her head into the building.
It’s like watching someone she cares for die. But it’s for the best, for Jocelyn. She wasn’t wrong, Caroline is poison. Just look at what she does to everyone that gets close to her.
It’s not going to get better either. She knows what’s coming. Knows how easily everything could go wrong with the bishop, with her mother’s hunters. She tells herself it’s better for Jocelyn to get out now. Better for her to get away from Caroline before her Requiem becomes ground zero.
It’s easier to tell herself she’s doing the right thing for Jocelyn. The Ventrue can swallow that story, that she’s making the harder choice for someone else. Doing what’s best for them.
She doesn’t try to tell herself the other story. The story the tears again sliding down her face as she drives away give obvious lie to: that this is what she wants.
Monday evening, 29 February 2016
GM: The next evening is about as much fun as Caroline might expect.
It’s impossible not to think about Jocelyn. Maybe it’s her feelings. Maybe it’s the bond’s.
Maybe it’s all the reminders of her. The clothes they picked out shopping together. The furniture and decor, that Jocelyn said “ok, I’m pretty sure there’s a Toreador law that I have to help you pick out” over, before doing exactly that.
It’s easy enough to throw out those things, if Caroline wants to. Harder may be the framed photographs all around her haven.
Or all the day-set ones on her social media.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t throw anything out. Nothing except the few photos of the two of them together.
She deserves the pain. Deserves to hurt. She knows Jocelyn is hurting too, and worse. The least she can do is hurt with her. The pain gives her clarity, keeps her focused, as she throws herself into her planning against her mother and the bishop. Into her meetings with other licks. Into her arrangements with them.
It’s incredible how much time she’s freed up by not spending any of it with Jocelyn… incredible, and painful. No matter how much she throws herself into her ‘work’, no matter how aggressively she fills moments of downtime with tapping away on a tablet, there’s too many moments she’s alone with her thoughts, and her thoughts are as often as not on Jocelyn.
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t call or text back. Perhaps she’s sulking, or trying to move on (good luck with the bond), or who knows what. Maybe she’s wondering what Caroline’s doing with all that freed-up time.
But the rest of the world moves on too. Word arrives at the Giani Building from Perdido House. A ghoul delivers a letter signed and stamped with a wax seal bearing the seneschal’s personal heraldry. The letter is brief, stating only that “Natalia Garcia shall be granted a period of reprieve” if Caroline assumes responsibility for the thin-blood’s care. Caroline will be held accountable for all of Natalia’s actions, as well as charged with maintaining her personal Masquerade. Natalia’s fate subsequent to the birth of her child “shall be decided upon the basis of your shared actions and behavior.” If Caroline does not wish to serve in such a capacity, she has three nights to find another Kindred willing to act as the thin-blood’s mawla. If no Kindred is willing to do so, Natalia shall be put to death.
The ghoul patiently awaits Caroline’s written or verbal reply.
Caroline: Caroline has Widney settle the ghoul in with, if he wishes, a drink while she pens a response. She replies that she would like to meet again with the girl before making such a commitment, if possible.
GM: One night later, Caroline is in a cold and bare-looking room in Perdido House that reminds her of a police interrogation room. Natalia is led in by a ghoul. She’s still wearing the same clothes, which smell worse, and looks pale and haunted. She all but collapses with relief when she sees Caroline.
“What’s, what’s happening to me? Am I going to die, are you going to take me away?”
Caroline: “Let’s talk, Natalia,” the Ventrue replies reassuringly. “Are you hungry? Have you eaten?”
GM: “N-no. Eaten, I mean. I am hungry. But the seneschal said I don’t need to.”
Caroline: “But you want to,” Caroline replies.
GM: She nods after a moment.
Caroline: The Ventrue reaches into the gym bag on the floor next to her and pulls out a Tupperware container. She doesn’t crack the lid, but she does slide it across the metal table to the girl along with a fork.
It’s not hot, but it is still warm, the plastic lid’s interior beaded with moisture. “You can eat while we talk,” she tells the thin-blood.
Inside is a salmon filet, several pieces of steamed broccoli, and sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted on top. “I have no idea if it’s any good, I made Autumn make it,” she admits.
GM: Or at least bring it over. The ghoul seemed a little indignant at the suggestion she do cooking, but had said sure. Her dad’s a pretty good cook, she could bring a spare plate.
Caroline: “The seneschal seems to think your child is going to be ok,” Caroline continues.
GM: Natalia hungrily sets into the food, starting with the salmon. She looks famished, but there’s no look of disgust or surprise at the taste.
She stops in mid-bite at those words.
“He… he said Miles, that he might be…”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “We’re in sort of unexplored territory here, but I trust his judgment.”
It is, after all, all that she has left.
GM: “He, he said… ‘life cannot come from death.’ But that since I’m only, only really half d…”
Natalia swallows, but not any of the food.
“He said there was, was a high risk of complications. Of a miscarriage. Or… or a stillbirth.”
Maybe that’s what she’s pale from.
Caroline: “There’s a chance,” Caroline replies, not unkindly. “That’s all anyone can promise.”
GM: “But he said, he said it’s happened before,” she continues urgently, hopefully. “Births. From… women, like me.”
Caroline: That’s interesting, and news to Caroline, but she doesn’t comment on it.
GM: “He said, he said there was a doctor in the city. Dr. North, a vampire doctor. And another one, Dr. Netchurch. Who’s studied… thin-bloods. Even delivered babies.”
“I want to get him. Them. Please. I’ll do anything, pay anything.”
Caroline: “Let’s back up a little bit,” Caroline replies, trying to soften the words with a smile. “The seneschal has offered to allow me to take you on as my ward, until Miles’ birth.”
GM: Natalia starts again on the fish, then stops again at Caroline’s next words.
“You… you mean, I’d get to have him?”
Caroline: “That’s one possible outcome,” Caroline answers. “The other, more probable one, is you’d do something and get us both killed.”
The Ventrue leans back. “I’ve tried to help you at literally every turn.”
She digs her nails into her palm under the table as she continues, “And every time you’ve chosen the path of greatest resistance for me. You have no idea,” the last two words escape with a shiver, “none, what it cost me to help you get this far.”
GM: Natalia drops to her knees at Caroline’s feet, her large belly brushing against the Ventrue’s knee.
“Please. Please. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever you say,” she begs.
Caroline: “Start with sitting back down,” Caroline replies, disgusted more with herself than the girl.
GM: Natalia slowly gets up, clutching the table for support, and sits back down.
“Please,” she begs again.
Caroline: “I don’t need you to beg, I need you to understand,” Caroline continues.
GM: “I’ll understand. I’ll understand whatever you want. Please, help me understand.”
Caroline: “We’ll start where it matters the most,” Caroline replies plainly.
“If you haven’t caught on already, no one knows about any of this,” she gestures with one hand in a circle. “Not about vampires, or werewolves, or any of the other things that go bump in the night. That’s an absolute law among us—if you fuck it up, you get killed and no one bats an eye at it, because that’s the way it has to be.”
“That’s what we all exist under.”
GM: “All right. No one knows. About… vampires. I won’t tell anyone.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a light, joyless, laugh.
“And it means lying to the people you care about every day, and every night. It means making excuses. It means hurting the people you care about and hurting yourself when you have to. Destroying your reputation. Destroying your friendships. Shoving your family away. Letting other people think the worst of you when you have to because it’s better for them to think you’re a fuck-up than to even guess at the truth.”
GM: “I’ll do it,” Natalia repeats. “I’ll lie to them, about anything you want, if that’s what it takes for Miles.”
Caroline: “Yeah?” Caroline demands. “What about your husband? How are you going to explain going missing to him? And why you’re acting so weird. And why you’re dropping out of Tulane for the rest of the semester and moving across town? Why you sneak out at night? Why… god I have no idea how you even react to sunlight, or if you can even be awake during the day.”
“What’s your story for him?”
GM: “I…” Natalia starts.
Caroline: Caroline waits.
GM: “I, I can’t do it anymore. Go to school and raise a baby when I’m pregnant. I have to do it later. Go to school when I’m pregnant and raise a baby, I mean.”
Caroline: “And leaving him behind? Moving across town?” Caroline asks patiently.
GM: “Wh, why do I have to do that?”
She adds quickly, “I’ll do it, I’ll do whatever you want. You just said you wanted me to understand.”
Caroline: “Do you think he’d understand? Could understand why you’re acting oddly? Why you’re shifting doctors? Why you have to live in this area? Why you can’t go certain places anymore?”
GM: “That’s… wouldn’t it be easier to just… tell him?” Natalia ventures. “He’s my husband. He loves me. He’ll help me, through anything.”
Caroline: Caroline seems to think on that. “How much do you trust him? To keep it all secret?”
GM: “Yes, I trust him, I trust him completely,” Natalia says relievedly. “He was in the Army, he didn’t do intelligence work, but he’s good at keeping secrets.”
Caroline: “He wouldn’t tell anyone?” Caroline asks.
GM: “No, not if we made it clear, that this has to be a secret. Wouldn’t that be so much easier, than a bunch of lies?”
Caroline: “He’d understand you have to drink blood every night to stay alive?” Caroline asks. “And he’d be ok with that?”
GM: “Yes, yes,” Natalia nods, “he’d do anything for me, for our baby.”
Caroline: Caroline drops her hand on the table with a crash. “And just like that we’re both dead.”
She doesn’t sound angry, just tired.
“And that temptation to tell him will always be there.”
GM: “But, but he’d understand!” Natalia protests. “He would keep it secret, I know him!”
“Have you ever told anyone? Is there anyone you know, who’s not a vampire, and knows?”
Caroline: “I tried it with my best friend, right after I got turned,” Caroline replies.
“I’d been lying to her, but eventually, one night, all the lies fell apart. She brought my brother to come stage an intervention,” the Ventrue continues.
“I thought I could convince them to go along with things, to believe me. They just ended up making these worse.” Caroline looks very soberly at the other girl.
The Ventrue knows of one exception, but Cécilia’s case is hardly normal, and that’s hardly her secret to share either. Not here, and not with this desperate thin-blood.
GM: There’s her mother, too.
But maybe that falls under ‘making things worse.’
Caroline: It does.
GM: “Well, doesn’t it make sense then, to be up front instead? So they don’t get upset catching you in a bunch of lies?”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, because even if there wasn’t a group of us that make their whole every existence every night making sure the secret stays secret out there, and even if they didn’t pay particular attention to young little vampires like yourself that are most likely to make that mistake, and even if I thought it could end well—which I don’t—it’s still blasphemy against our church, and if you hadn’t caught on, it’s pretty non-secular around here.”
GM: Natalia doesn’t look sure what to say to that and starts again on the fish.
Caroline: “Domestic abuse,” Caroline muses.
GM: “Sorry?” she asks confusedly between a hungry bite.
Caroline: “It would be a good excuse to explain your split from him, and your moving,” Caroline answers.
GM: Natalia looks horrified.
Caroline: “Believable too, he’s prior military? PTSD is real.”
GM: “But, he’d know that wasn’t real, it’d be just another lie!”
Natalia looks as if she wants to protest more, but then the look on her face grows resigned.
“Am, am I going to die? After I have Miles?”
Caroline: “There’s a lot up in the air,” Caroline responds. “It’s possible you could die having Miles. That said, I suspect if you were able to manage the next couple months without… well, incident, there’d be little reason for the archdioceses to order your execution.”
Which would hardly mean you’re safe, Caroline thinks, but doesn’t say. A Requiem is hard enough without a child, as a full vampire, or with a sire. With only Caroline’s meager protections…
“The point I’m getting at, Natalia, is there’s no easy way forward here, and it doesn’t get easier. This is not a one-time terrible thing that happened. It’s your life now.”
GM: “I just want to have my baby, and raise him with my family. If I have to drink blood, go to night classes, only work at night, I’ll… I’ll make it work. Can that happen?”
Caroline: “If that’s the way you’re thinking about it, it’d be kinder for me to leave you here,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Please, no,” Natalia begs. “Forget about me. Can, can Miles still have a life, after I have him? What’ll happen to him?”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “This is what you need to do, Natalia. You need to think. You need to think long and hard on this, and not just give the knee jerk reaction.”
“You need to think on whether or not you can live with losing your family, with losing your husband, with ruining their lives. You need to think on how much sin you’re willing to swim through for the slim chance we make it past your release. You need to think how you’re going to be a vampire that can’t go out during the day and sucks blood from people.”
“Think on how you’re going to get that blood, and before you go to something like stealing from the hospital, know those are all controlled by one of our kind, and they do not look kindly on others getting in their business.”
“You need to think on how you’re entering a society full of a lot more people like the one who murdered you, and that woman that so terrified you last night, than it is people that are like me.”
There’s a joke, something dark inside her whispers at the suggestion Caroline is any better than any other lick.
Caroline ignores the voice.
“You need to think on spending every night as a member of that society will you will always be worse than a second-class citizen, and where plenty will have cruel plans for you and your son just because it’ll amuse them. And you need to decide if you can live like that, because if you’re not there for him…”
She holds up her hand to forestall a response. “Finish eating. Think on what I said.”
She knows it’s a near wasted effort. Nothing she says can prepare the girl for what awaits her, but that nothing she says will convince her to accept execution. Maybe if she was just a girl forced into this, without a child in her womb, she could consider it.
But not with the child. She’s seen enough of Natalia to know there’s only one answer she’ll get. And she knows enough about herself to know there’s only one answer she can give to the seneschal.
Damn it, Lou… where the hell did you go. She resents the old ghoul for how he played her, but can’t bring herself to hate him. He knew the score all along and was happy to keep her in the dark, but then, she was trying to play him right back.
GM: She can’t claim she didn’t get what she needed from him, even if it wasn’t all she wanted.
It’s not hard to wonder what he’d say now.
What he’d want to do here. With this pregnant half-vampire.
Caroline: She knows the old ghoul wouldn’t be able to resist this case. He couldn’t help himself with Caroline: she knows he wouldn’t be able to resist this damsel.
She lets silence reign while the girl eats.
GM: The Ventrue’s own thoughts are already far down the line. Not with what to do with the girl, with whether she’ll take her. No, she’s already thinking about all the consequences it’s going to bring down on her head when she does.
Natalia’s appetite seems slow at first, but she doesn’t seem like she wants to get on Caroline’s bad side either. She eats the salmon first, without trying the other food, then alternates between the broccoli and sweet potatoes.
It took Caroline a lot of practice to get to that point, of not regurgitating it back up, and nothing wipes out the taste of ash and drain cleaner.
Natalia just chews and eats.
Chews. Eats. Swallows.
Caroline: She can’t resist asking.
“Are you actually…. enjoying it?”
GM: The thin-blood looks a little surprised by the question. “Oh. Yes. It’s good.”
“Thanks for bringing it. Even if, if the seneschal’s right I don’t have to, it just seems better safe than sorry. For the baby.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t say anything. It’s like she’s not even a vampire.
GM: “And I definitely wouldn’t want to just drink blood, anyway.”
Caroline: “We can’t really eat,” Caroline volunteers. “The rest of us. I mean, we can force it down with practice, but it tastes like I imagine drain cleaner does.”
GM: Natalia looks genuinely taken aback. “Oh. I’m so sorry! That must be awful.”
Caroline: “You get used to it,” Caroline replies. “It’s just… bizarre watching you eat.”
GM: ‘Bizarre’ is one word for it.
Caroline can picture the pulped, useless organic matter sliding down her throat.
Sitting in her stomach. Rotting. Decaying.
Do her stomach acids still work? Her digestive system? Is she going to shit it out?
Is she going to squat over a toilet, expel foul-smelling, ugly, brown stool, and run her hand against that shit through a layer of toilet paper?
There’s a lot of things to miss about being alive. There’s some not to miss at all.
At least the kine do that to stay alive, though. Eat.
It’s like the blood Caroline drinks. Grossly less efficient.
There’s so many ways to turn it into poison. Leaving it out for too long. Eating the wrong amounts and quantities for too long, to shave years off their too-brief lifespans for the simple pleasure of their taste buds.
It’s so much less efficient. It can’t sustain them forever. They die with it, and sooner without it. It kills them, not drives them into hibernation. Can permanently cripple them. Generates disgusting literal waste product, because their bodies can’t even use it all, not like Caroline’s can.
But for all that, at least their eating serves a purpose.
Prolongs their temporary lifespans for that much longer.
Natalia said Maldonato said so. She doesn’t need to eat.
What purpose is there here, in her eating?
What purpose in her kind at all?
“It seems more bizarre not to eat,” Natalia says. “No offense.”
Caroline: And yet, Caroline can understand her position. Especially with the child.
Caroline has no particular answer to that, save to ruthlessly beat back the more terrible thoughts ripping their way forward into her mind.
GM: “Thanks for bringing it,” she says again, filling the void. “The salmon especially. Protein is what I should be eating.”
Caroline: “It’s nothing.” Caroline lets her finish eating.
GM: Calcium, too, as Caroline is aware, but Natalia doesn’t say anything about that. Eventually, she finishes.
Caroline: Everything in the meal was picked out with a purpose. But Caroline doesn’t need to rub it in the girl’s face.
GM: “I’ll, I’ll do whatever I have to,” she says. “So I can have my baby, and he can grow up with a nor…” she seems to reconsider that, then substitutes, “good life. That’s more important. Than anything about me.”
Caroline: It’s like listening to a scratched record on repeat. But then, of course it is.
GM: “You seem good,” she adds.
Caroline: Caroline actually laughs at that.
GM: “Hard, but, I think good,” Natalia amends.
Caroline: “You didn’t think so last night when you were screaming for help and trying to run from me.”
GM: Natalia shivers, then says quietly, “I’ve seen… I’ve seen worse, now.”
Caroline: “You haven’t seen bad,” Caroline replies genuinely. “This,” she waves around, “isn’t bad.”
GM: “I, I believe you. I saw some other vampires.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.
GM: “A pale one. He screamed at me, that I was an abomination.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs again, well, more chuckles at that, though she tries to contain it.
GM: There’s a silence from Natalia. She isn’t laughing at all.
Caroline: “Would you believe we’re related?” Caroline asks, when she contains herself.
GM: “No. I was, I was so scared, just looking into his eyes. They were like coals. I don’t see that in yours.”
“They… cut me in places. They poked me, prodded me, inspected me. Like a piece of meat.”
Caroline: Caroline can well imagine. She remembers her own experiences in the hands of the sheriff as an unreleased fledgling. She keenly remembers staring down death, watching it claim so many others so cruelly.
GM: “They wouldn’t even look at me. They just talked to each other. They said I was vermin. That I was filth.”
Caroline: “But not the seneschal,” Caroline inserts.
GM: “The, the pale one. He said he wanted to cut me open. Cut my baby open.” Her voice is positively faint. “He said, that he’d heard of births, like mine, but no one had ever di… dissected…”
Caroline: Caroline feels a stab of anger run through her. Of course he did.
She may sympathize with the callousness the hounds, and even sheriff conduct themselves. She may have come to understand, and even agree with most of the laws of their kind. But her ancestor’s capacity for unnecessary cruelty never fails to amaze.
“He’s not going away,” Caroline answers after a moment. “And if you make a mistake, if you think you know better, if you go around me and lie to me out there he’ll do exactly what he told you he would.”
GM: Natalia goes paler still at the threat.
“No, I don’t know better. I won’t lie to you or go around you. I won’t make mistakes.”
Caroline: “God, I hope you mean that, Natalia.” She stands. “For your sake. For Miles’ sake. For mine. Because there aren’t any second chances here, and they’ll cut my head off right next to yours.”
GM: “You’ll… you’ll do it? You’ll give me one?” Natalia rises with Caroline, seems to move to touch her, but then sinks to her knees instead. “Oh… oh, thank you! Thank you! You’ve saved my baby!”
She looks as if she’s about to weep. “If there’s anything, anything, I can ever do, my family can ever do, to pay you back…”
Caroline: Caroline looks down at the ill-made fledgling. There’s a lot in her gaze. Sympathy. Pity. Maybe even fear. She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it.
After a long moment she opens her mouth again.
“Remember those words,” she tells the pregnant girl. “Remember this moment, where you were grateful. Remember them when you hate me later. When you think I’m being a tyrant or a monster. When you scream about how I’m ruining your life.”
She takes a senseless, meaningless, breath and sighs, offering a hand to the girl.
“And pick yourself up off the floor. No one bows or grovels to me.”
GM: Natalia takes Caroline’s hand. Her skin feels warm to the touch, and she’s heavy to help pull up.
“I will. I won’t ever, ever, forget, Caroline. Thank you, more than I can… thank you, just thank you.”
Caroline: Caroline knows it’s desperation talking. Terror mixed with determination. That urge to please Caroline at any cost to protect her unborn child.
Caroline knows Natalia would say anything right now, when her situation is so dire. It’s what any mother should do. She knows the girl will be cursing her soon enough, when the terror wears off and all she can see is what she’s losing. Gratitude is a fickle thing, with a half-life measured in moments.
She knows she’s invited a mountain of problems into her Requiem. Knows she can barely keep up with the vitae for herself and her own ghouls, much less support some malformed fledgling. She knows cleaning up the girl’s personal life is going to be a nightmare. Knows that when word of this gets out, that she’ll get mocked by other Kindred. More ammunition for the harpies. More reasons for the bishop to scorn her. More trouble with Agnello.
There’s no good reason to take the girl on as her ward. Not a single logical argument in favor of inviting the disaster she heralds into her Requiem. That whatever her gratitude, the thin-blood won’t ever really understand the risk Caroline is taking on her behalf, or be able to repay her.
It doesn’t matter.
For one night it’s not about what’s best for Caroline. It’s not about what she can get the most advantage out of. It isn’t a question of how she can get ahead or make her on Requiem easier. It isn’t about what other Kindred might think, or do, or say. It isn’t about her dreams or ambitions. It’s about pushing back the darkness for one night, just a bit. It’s about drawing a line in the sand, and saying this far, no further.
What was it Lou said? He didn’t know how to win, only lose more slowly?
Caroline doesn’t know either. God knows she doesn’t have any idea, and perhaps never has. But even if losing is inevitable, it won’t be here. It won’t be tonight. It won’t be over the girl’s dead body. Not if she has any say in it.
Monday night, 29 February 2016, PM
GM: It doesn’t take overly long for Caroline to arrange Natalia’s extrication from Perdido House. She doubts any of the prince’s people want her there.
It is not a painless departure.
Wright is the one to administer it. Caroline’s Beast flares in instinctive alarm at the heat radiating from the brand’s red-hot tip. There’s a low metallic hiss, then the sizzling burning of human skin over wafting smoke. Natalia’s raw-throated screams are awful. When Wright pulls the brand away, Caroline sees the blackened mark of a crescent moon upon the thin-blood’s upper arm.
Caroline: The Ventrue offers no comment on the branding. Her opinion is as worthless as it is unwelcome here. Instead she clenches her teeth, clenches her fists, anything to find purchase against the Beast’s whining in the face of the brand.
GM: “Don’t know whether to call you an idiot or a saint,” Wright says over Natalia’s whimpers, shaking his head. “They don’t last long. Any of ’em. Kinder to put ’em down.”
Caroline: The Ventrue meets the hound’s gaze. The venom that was once there is missing tonight. “Verdict’s in, not a saint. Jury is still out on the idiot part.”
GM: “Wannabe saint, I guess. When she’s ready to deliver, you let us know.”
Caroline: “I’d like to hope we all have a line somewhere we won’t cross,” Caroline replies to the hound. “I can’t help every other sireless fledgling, and largely agree that it doesn’t look like much of a Requiem for her. But an unborn child?” She shakes her head. “I’ll let keep in touch as she gets close.”
GM: “Don’t spread around you got a pregnant run-off in your crib, either. Or wherever the fuck you gonna stash her. Seneschal wants this on the down an’ low.”
Wright shakes his head slowly. “Goddamn. I’ve seen some weird-ass shit in my night. Then this comes along.”
“What do any of us fuckin’ know.”
Caroline: “Fewer know, easier it is for me,” Caroline agrees. “And for her.”
She bites her lip, then continues, “How quiet does he want it? Is it going to cause problems if I stitch up the loose ends in her life to keep people from going looking for her?”
“Get her to withdraw from school, all that,” Caroline clarifies.
GM: “Didn’t say.” Wright shrugs. “Do what you gotta do.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Anything else for her, or can we go?”
GM: “Your granddaughter…” Natalia croaks from the floor, “Coils, snakes, around her school…”
Wright whirls at the thin-blood, his eyes suddenly dangerous.
“The fuck did you say?”
Wright seizes Natalia by her hair. The Brujah’s nostrils flare.
“The fuck did you say!”
Caroline: “She has no idea what she’s saying,” Caroline interrupts. “She’s half dead and all terrified.”
GM: “I, I don’t kn…” the thin-blood repeats, eyes wide.
Wright just stares into them, his gaze as hard and pointed as a wooden stake.
Caroline: “She probably doesn’t even know your name,” Caroline interjects. “How would she know anything about you?”
GM: The Brujah barks a laugh, though it comes out half a snarl. The human part is still a hard sound without any trace of humor.
He stares into Natalia’s eyes a moment longer, then drops her hair without a word.
The thin-blood is quiet on the drive back to the Giani Building. She looks angry, humiliated, and in pain from the brand, if tempered by profound relief to be getting out of Perdido House.
Caroline settles her into one of the spare apartments, stripped of communicative technologies like it was for Amelie. Natalia is inordinately grateful when Caroline lets her call her husband and parents. She is even more grateful upon hearing she’ll get to see them again tomorrow.
Caroline: The Ventrue goes over her script for both groups before she lets the teenager make either call, which she still monitors. There’s a difference between mercy and stupidity, and certain things she can’t let the girl talk about yet.
GM: The Ventrue can hear the furious but intensely concerned-sounding phone conversations from a distance. Her family had already gone to the cops and filed a missing persons report. Natalia lies about going camping and claims she sent text messages she’s puzzled they never received. Maybe her “phone wasn’t working, or my service got weird.” She’s really sorry. There’s no lie at all when she says those last words. She says she’ll see them tomorrow, when she’s back in the city.
“I was, just really overwhelmed. I had to get away and breathe. Please don’t be mad.”
There’s a muted reply. Softer.
“Yes. I love you too. See you soon.”
“How much does your husband look at your finances?” Autumn asks after she hangs up.
“Like, who pays the bills, plans budgets, logs onto your bank accounts and sees balances, that kind of thing.”
“We both do. But I let him handle more of it. He’s older than me and has, had more money. But he wants me to be more involved.”
Caroline: “She’s asking because if he goes looking and doesn’t see any spending that reflects your ‘gone hiking’ story it’s a loose end,” Caroline interjects.
GM: “All right, well, you buy stuff to go camping,” Autumn says. “It’ll show up on credit card statements, or at least as ATM cash with…”
“Yeah, beat me to it.”
“But there’s an easy way around. You went camping with a friend. Maybe one of us. We paid for it. How we wanna play stuff from here depends on the overall plan, though.”
Autumn can’t stop from staring at the thin-blood’s swollen belly.
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I need to think on it.” She looks pointedly at Natalia. “You need to think on it.”
“And that level of detail Autumn was talking about—down to receipts and explanations for spending—that’s the way you need to start thinking about your lies.” She bites her lip before adding, “There’s a reason most vampires fake their deaths.”
GM: Natalia nods slowly. “I will. I’ll think of something.”
“You’ve got a better start than Caroline, at least,” says Autumn. “Can I… touch your belly?”
Natalia looks wary.
“Just touching. Nothing else.”
“All right,” she says after a moment.
“Yeah, sorry. I’m sure th…”
“Please, I don’t want to talk about it,” Natalia preempts.
“Sorry.” Autumn touches her. “Wow. I mean, wow. I thought this was just… an urban legend.”
Caroline: The Ventrue watches the exchange without comment.
GM: Natalia doesn’t look sure what to respond either.
Caroline: Caroline gives Autumn her moment before she speaks again. “You’re welcome to anything in the apartment. Anything in the closet that fits is yours, and I’ll have someone bring by some food later. Most of what’s in the pantry is dried foods.”
She looks at the girl. “For both of our safeties, you’ll be confined here until tomorrow night. There is no phone and we’ll hold onto yours, but you’re free to spend your time here as you wish. Watch TV, read a book,” she gestures to the lone bookcase in the hall, then crinkles her nose, “take a bath.”
“If there is anything pressing you need one of my people will answer the door. Please don’t waste their time by trying to run away or begging to make more phone calls.” The last bit comes out a little sharper than she means. “Tomorrow night we’ll have your husband over and see where we go from here.”
Maybe by then Caroline will have some idea.
“For now,” she gestures to the apartment, “welcome home.”
Monday night, 29 February 2016, PM
Caroline: She could claim she went over in the interest of developing further relationships with other licks. She could tell herself it was because she wanted to leave something behind if things went sideways in the nights to come with more meaning than a photograph. She could even claim it was to break up her schedule and avoid the appearance of plotting to others.
But she knows those are all lies.
She went to the Alystra because he said things, did things, that made her feel better about herself. And those things were in short supply of late.
GM: Caroline’s ride drops her off in the CBD, only a few blocks away from the Hilton where she spent a terrified first day as one of the Damned. Marcel Guilbeau’s domain is a multi-decked riverboat casino with yellow and purple lights that flash and pulsate over the water. Music, cheering, and sounds of revelry are audible from within.
Caroline remembers a few discussions within her own family concerning the state’s riverboat casinos, back during her father’s time as majority leader in Baton Rouge. Her uncle Orson was morally opposed to gambling, but her father was unopposed on the grounds that the industry brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Gambling on public land is illegal in Louisiana, the Ventrue also recalls, so the state legislature naturally had no objections to people gambling on water. Except for Harrah’s, also several blocks away, which was able to obtain an exception. And that new bill she heard about somewhere, still in the works, which would no longer require riverboat casinos to have operable paddlewheels. The Pelican State’s efforts at regulating gambling seem as slapdash as everything else it does.
If the numbers of people making their way up the casino’s walkway seem any indication, however, few souls besides her Uncle Orson would seem to mind their government’s laxness—though a few, with the benefit of hindsight, might be grateful for it. While some people leave the casino in excitedly chattering groups (or more lustful pairs of two), the losers look either sullen or morose. One woman who’s actually breaking down in tears and making a scene is quietly but briskly ushered away by security.
Caroline is greeted by the same handsome, dark-skinned and suited ghoul who’s received her during her prior visits to the casino. When he hears she’s here to see Josua, he simply smiles, says “Right this way, madam” and leads her aboard. As before, he still offers her a hand to ‘help’ her up the amply wide and railed gangplank.
As soon as she enters the gambling hall, she is assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and scintillating colors. The first thing she notices is the massive array of slot machines with blinking lights, whirring sirens, and tokens clattering into the metal payout drawers. Gold and bright primary colors glint excitedly everywhere. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people are clustered around the array of games, including three-card poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, Mississippi Stud, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em—and the ever-present slot machines that make up the most of any casino’s revenue. An all-you-can-eat Creole/Caribbean-themed buffet and bar is set up in the corner, along with the band. Cocktail waitresses weave their way through the lively crowds while suited croupiers smartly deal out cards.
Caroline: As before, she’s careful to settle the Beast, to allow herself to be seenby the cameras throughout. Her appearance is no secret, and the rules haven’t changed.
GM: The ghoul thanks her doing so as he leads her up several flights of stairs. In contrast to the riotous scenes below, the baccarat lounge at the riverboat’s top deck is a much more subdued affair. It’s quieter, most noticeably. People are having normal conversations in low murmurs rather than screaming or cheering. The blues band plays relaxed, slower-paced tunes. The lights are dimmer. Larger windows overlook the Mississippi’s dark waters, imparting a sense of stillness. A cocktail bar and small restaurant with booths provides some distraction from the baccarat tables.
Marcel isn’t there among the players time, and the ghoul leads Caroline down a seemingly employees-only corridor away from the lounge. The music and sounds of gambling are largely muted by the time he knocks softly against a cabin’s door and announces, “Miss Malveaux is here to see you, Master Cambridge.”
“Oh, do let her in,” comes a pleased purr.
GM: The ghoul opens the door. Josua’s cabin is a sumptuous-looking space with an amply large ovular-shaped shaped bed with silky red sheet. A flatscreen TV hangs from one of the walls. There’s a phone and tablet on the bedside table. The rest of the space is taken up by a painter’s easel, canvases, and assorted brushes, paint tubes, and other artist’s supplies. It’s a relatively cramped room.
Josua himself is seated by the easel. Unlike in Elysium, he doesn’t look jaw-droppingly perfect and like he’s just stepped off a magazine cover: he’s merely boyishly handsome with casually ‘I woke up like this’ tousled brown hair, full lips, a firm chin, and soulful green eyes. He’s dressed in a simple white t-shirt whose tightness nicely shows off his smooth chest and thick arms. Caroline can’t see his rear, but those skinny jeans have to make it look great.
Caroline: The Ventrue is in her trademark black, tonight a tight number cinched at the waist with a white belt that leaves her shoulders and arms bare.
GM: He smiles widely as he sees the Ventrue and slowly runs a tongue across his lips.
“It’s not gold, but it’s still delicious. That belt makes you look like a present just waiting to be unwrapped.”
The ghoul unobtrusively closes the door behind them. Josua rises from his stool and gives Caroline a very full, very intimate hug that presses his firm chest tight against her breasts and his pelvis directly against hers. His hands stroke the small of her back in almost massage-like motions. Up close, he smells like Old Spice Original: nutmeg, cinnamon, and musk.
“It’s so good to see you, Caroline,” he purrs into her ear.
Caroline: “All things in their time,” Caroline replies to his comment about waiting to be unwrapped with a toothy smile.
“I like to imagine you weren’t very good at waiting though,” she continues.
She leans her head back, pulling away her very pointed fang as she all but shivers, hungry with desire at the physical contact.
“You’re not the first man to say that.”
GM: “Ever, or just today?” Josua smiles, showing two of those same fangs.
Caroline: “In the last five minutes,” she lies.
GM: “Marcel gets around,” the Toreador laughs. “We could unwrap presents together.”
Caroline: She arches an eyebrow. “That sounds a great deal like an invitation for more than a painting.”
GM: “He’s great in bed. Ever since Marie got torped, he’s been looking for another fuck buddy.”
“It appeals to his ego, really, to have at least two at a time.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes narrow suspiciously. “Did you want me to come over, or did he?” she asks, her gaze on the Toreador, though without pushing him away.
GM: Josua continues to massage Caroline’s shoulders. “Relax. He’d have just asked you if it was his idea.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly, trying to take the sudden edge off. “So is he the one who prefers more than one at a time, or are you?”
GM: “Oh, we both are,” Josua smiles as his hands squeeze her posterior. “That works out rather well.”
“But sometimes we prefer one on one. Variety is the spice of unlife, too.”
“Do you want to talk first, paint first, or fuck first?”
Caroline: There’s something suddenly off-putting about the presumptuousness of Josua that makes her want to walk out on him. She can smell the blood in him, feel his strong hands, feel the Beast salivating at the prospect of vitae sliding across it’s tongue, an arousal both physical and mental, as intoxicating as any drug, and yet…
She’s not some common tramp. Not something to be taken for granted.
She slides out of his arms. “You promised me a painting.”
GM: “Art before presents,” he smiles. “We can talk, too. It’s really just picking now or later.”
He looks over Caroline’s form appreciatively. “You’ve got a great figure. I mean that in both senses of the word. From an aesthetic perspective, too. You’ll be a delight to put to canvas.”
Caroline: A smile creeps back onto her face. “So, where do you want me?” she asks suggestively.
GM: “On top, of course,” he grins. “Blue bloods hate being anywhere else.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. He’s not wrong. That distantly makes her wonder what it would be like with another Ventrue.
GM: Something he invited her to find out.
“We could have you striking a pose, seated on a chair, or laid out on the bed… what feels natural to you, Caroline? Who are you in your element?”
Caroline: “You had it right the first time,” Caroline purrs. “I like to be in control.” She stalks around the room/studio, looking for a place to stake her claim, ultimately deciding on the high stool Josua paints from, taking it and repositioning it in the center of the room.
She takes a seat, straight-backed and imperious.
GM: Josua laughs about how he just shouldn’t offer a blue blood any ideas next time and re-purposes the chair to serve as a painter’s stool. He adjusts his easel and gets to work. His hand and brush are literal blurs of motion as they move across the canvas. Caroline suddenly has some idea of why that particular gift of Caine’s may be so valued by the Rose Clan.
“So what’s Caroline’s story?” he asks idly as he works. “What happened in her life to make her an alpha bitch who steals artists’ stools?” Despite the harsh words, his tone is playful enough.
Caroline: Caroline laughs wickedly. “You know blue bloods. We all want control. Some of us have to find it where we can.”
“I suppose the easy answer, the cliché one, is to say it all started with my father. Wasn’t loved enough. Only two options from there.”
GM: “That’s so sad,” Josua says. His face looks truly mourning for hers. “Maybe hard people only turn out that with hard parents. But you deserve to be loved. You’re too beautiful for any parent not to love.”
“I’m sure you were radiant as a little girl. A golden-haired little cherub who could’ve shot arrows with Cupid.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs at that too. “I was a terror, too precocious for my own good.”
GM: “Stolen Cupid’s bow, then,” Josua smiles. “And the grown-ups all thought you were too adorable to ever punish you for it. For anything.”
Caroline: Another, more genuine laugh, but tinged with bitterness. “Quite the opposite. I’m the oldest. I had to set an example. I got punished for everything.”
“There’s this funny idea that growing up rich and powerful makes your life easier.” She smiles. “Only with wastrel parents.”
GM: “Oh, that is sad,” Josua repeats, his smile turning upside down. “You’re too beautiful for any parent to punish, too. Especially as a little girl. Punishing you would have been like hitting a puppy. You’d need a heart of absolute stone.”
“Raise your chin just a bit, please.”
Caroline: She does so. “Granite. Like his jaw.”
GM: The brush remains a nonstop blur in Josua’s hands. “A granite-jawed father. Tell me about him.”
Caroline: “Hard. Powerful. Indomitable. Everything always had a purpose. Had to have a purpose. He refused to leave anything on the table, miss any opportunity.”
“I always wanted to impress him.”
GM: “But he never appreciated you, did he? Even after all those boxes you checked.”
Caroline: “Not enough boxes,” Caroline sighs.
GM: “I think he must have just hated women,” Josua declares. “He wanted his firstborn to be a son, didn’t he?”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I don’t know. Maybe. But they didn’t seem to have it easier. Maybe the youngest, but only because there was so little time by then, and he found value in a daughter. Good PR.”
GM: “Do your brothers and sisters feel like he appreciates them?”
Caroline: Caroline thinks. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not in practice. In some ways they had it easier because social expectations are different between men and women, but we all carry our crosses. Sometimes we just have to play the hand we’re dealt.”
GM: “Yes, we do. My cross is being too handsome.”
Caroline: “And talented, don’t forget talented.”
GM: “Being handsome is worse than being talented,” the Toreador smiles, showing his fangs. “It’s easier to hide talent.”
Caroline: “It must be so hard with men and women throwing themselves at you.”
GM: “It is! You saw it with your ghoul. She started kissing me, just like that. It happens all the time.”
Caroline: A flash of possessiveness. “You enjoy getting under people’s skin, don’t you?”
GM: The brush stops moving. There’s a look of sorrow on Josua’s face. “Oh, no. I love women, Caroline. I was raised by a single mother and three sisters. I adore women. I wouldn’t ever want to get under one’s skin. Get in their pants, sure, but that’s completely different kind.”
Caroline: “That’s interesting,” Caroline answers contemplatively. “No father in the picture at all?”
GM: “He walked out on us while I was still young. My mom never wanted to break our hearts with that news, so she never really said it directly, and we all kept hoping he’d come back.”
Caroline: “You ever think of looking for him? Now?”
GM: “All the time, when I was younger. He was an artist too. I used to fantasize if my work was good enough, if I got famous enough, he’d notice and come back.”
Josua laughs. It’s a rich and velvety sound, not altogether unlike Coco’s, that shows off his fangs as he does.
“Now, not really. He showed us all how he really felt.”
Caroline: “I meant more as one of the Damned. You could get answers. Hold him accountable.”
GM: Josua shrugs. “Answers to what? He didn’t want to be in our lives. It took a lot to get that out of Mom, but it was that simple. Some dads are just deadbeats.”
“We could have used the child support, growing up, but it’s a little late now.”
Caroline: “I’d have to know. Have to face them. To get an answer. To make them acknowledge what they did.”
GM: “Yes, but you’re a badass bitch in charge. I’m just a boytoy,” Josua grins.
“Besides, Marcel still needs to find my vampire mom first. My breather dad can wait.”
Caroline: “Your sire went missing?” Caroline asks curiously.
GM: There’s another laugh. But lower. Less humorous.
“I guess you could say that.”
He tells her his story.
Caroline: Caroline listens attentively, asking questions at appropriate moments. She doesn’t have to feign interest or sympathy. “Do you still have any paintings of her?”
GM: “The original’s long gone, like I said. That was the best one. But I’ve made more from memory.” He gets off his chair and pulls up a backwards-facing one from the wall.
Her white, so-pale face seems to float like a mirage in the darkness. She looks tall and thin, at once haunting and vulnerable, like a phantom just out of reach.
Caroline: Caroline studies it. “Too much to hope for a familiar face.”
“Absent sires seem a theme here,” she continues softly.
GM: “Just more deadbeat dads, aren’t they?” Josua agrees with a wan smile.
Caroline: “They can be,” Caroline answers. “I like to think some at least had reasons, though I didn’t get a chance to discuss the matter with my own.”
Still, the tale can’t help but color her view of Josua, soften how she sees him.
GM: “I heard about yours.” Josua’s eyes look mournful. “That was so sad. You deserved someone like Marcel. You really did.”
Caroline: “It’s complicated. Might be for the best.” She shrugs. “It let me form my own identity, at least. That’s rare among blue bloods.”
GM: “Mmm. You might be right. And Marcel took me on, so it could have been worse there too.”
Caroline: “Is worse for plenty,” Caroline agrees. “Still, at least I knew who mine was. It must be so difficult… with that still hanging over your head.”
GM: “It’s comfy here. But she destroyed my life. I hope Marcel finds her.” There’s the faintest tremble of rage to his voice as the brush flies to and fro. “She deserves whatever Vidal’s going to do.”
Caroline: “She also made you immortal. There were easier ways to destroy a life.”
GM: “You remember that prom queen during the ‘90s who gave birth during the dance, then left her baby in a bathroom trash can? That’s like saying she also gave her baby life. There’s a thousand ways I could’ve died, again, or had something awful happen to me. It was dumb luck I ran into Marcel. She left me in the bathroom trash can.”
Caroline: Caroline rises and lays a hand on Josua’s cheek. “Maybe. Or maybe there was more to the story. She didn’t leave you in the sun. It could have been worse.”
“And she clearly saw something in you.” She brushes his hair back. “Something more than just the good looks.”
GM: An infectious smile spreads over Josua’s face at Caroline’s touch. He reaches out to cup her face back. His touch is soft but firm.
“You’re right. Maybe she saw I was going to paint you.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles, stealing a peek at the painting so far, even as one hand snakes across his shoulders.
GM: Josua’s hand just as quickly slips over her eyes.
“Good things come to those who wait, Caroline,” he smirks. “Be patient. I’m fast enough we’ll be done in one sitting.”
Caroline: After a moment Caroline’s hand snaps like a cobra to snatch his, even as she turns from the painting back to the Toreador, rotating around to sit on his legs facing him, straddling him. “That’s usually been my line,” she whispers, leaning close.
She runs a hand back and lightly across his throat.
GM: Josua doesn’t get hard like a man might, but the gleam of his fangs is all-too evident. His hands mirror Caroline’s. They’re an artist’s hands, delicate and discerning: they remind her of Neil’s hands, which had to be delicate and careful for his surgeries. But there’s a hunger to Josua’s her mortal ex never had as they stroke the contours of her neck, then longingly run across her chest’s exposed skin, stopping just shy of her dress’ bust. The skin is smooth, clearly pampered, and like velvet against Caroline’s.
“A woman’s shoulders are the front lines of her mystique,” he purrs, leaning in equally close to nip the Ventrue’s ear.
“And her neck has all the mystery of a border town. A no-man’s land in that battle between the mind and the body.”
Caroline: Her breath is cold across his neck, and there’s perhaps a hint of a prick there, a careless brush of her fangs.
She drinks in the friendly odors of the oh so sensual artist.
“Am I mystery to you then?” she whispers in his ear. “What secrets of mine would you know?”
GM: “Every woman is a mystery,” Josua purrs back, fangs tracing against her skin. His arm snakes around her shoulders as he rises from the chair with her, and then the pair fall onto the red-sheeted bed.
“The best women, anyway.”
He pulls off his t-shirt. Caroline’s seen buffer from some of the ex-service members who make up so much of private security, but he’s clearly someone who’s done more than his share of cardio and lavished care upon his body as though it were a temple. He’s shaved off all his hair, too, leaving nothing but the lines and contours of his pale figure to admire.
He takes Caroline’s hands in his and slowly runs them along his abs.
“The better the woman, the deeper the mystery.”
He pulls off her shoes, tosses them onto the floor, and raises her right leg high enough that her toes meet his face. Joint flexibility seems another benefit of undeath. One by one, Josua kisses, nibbles, and tenderly licks each of her toes, even as his fangs press firmly against the skin, stopping just shy of drawing blood.
“Some women…” he murmurs between each kiss and flick of the tongue, “go… their whole lives… without anyone… solving them…”
Caroline: Caroline tolerates his tender affections, a bemused smile on her face that does nothing to hide the prominent canines.
It’s fun, this tenderness. It makes him feel sort of like her earliest mortal lovers, tender, gentle, almost uncertain.
“You think you’ve solved me?” she purrs.
GM: Josua laughs at that, sets down her foot, and starts to undo her belt. If there’s one thing he doesn’t feel, it’s uncertain.
“Not in a thousand years…”
Caroline: It happens in a flash. One moment he’s on top, the next he’s not, and Caroline’s atop him. She smirks down at him.
“Good things come to those that wait. You were painting a picture for me.”
She slowly climbs off him and makes her way back to her seat. “Leave the shirt off though.”
GM: “As the blue blood commands,” Josua grins, returning to his chair.
“I hate to tell any girl to put more clothes on, but I hadn’t painted your feet.”
Caroline: There’s an almost girlish giggle as she slips the heels back on. “Very thorough, Mr. Artist.” Her green eyes glitter.
GM: The brush blurs again in Josua’s hands. Caroline wonders if it’s a coincidence he hadn’t painted her feet yet, the lowest part of the portrait, because he looks like he’s painting her hair at the top too. She gets a good look at his chest at various angles as a result.
“That’s why artists have such great sex, and talk about sex so much. We’re always thorough.”
Caroline: Another laugh. “Did you always swing both ways?” she asks, curious.
“You speak a great deal about women.”
GM: “I slept with a few guys when I was a breather, but it didn’t do much for me. Not until I was turned.”
“Men can be great fucks, but they’re not beautiful like women are.”
“I appreciate women more on an aesthetic level. Beyond fucking.”
“Men’s bodies are robust and functional. They’re all straight lines and sharp angles. They’re easier to draw, too. Ask any artist. It’s much easier to draw a realistically proportioned man than a woman.”
“Women’s bodies aren’t functional, aren’t utilitarian like men’s bodies are. They’re curvaceous. They’re soft. It takes so much more effort to draw them properly. To draw women, to really draw them well, you can’t hate them for their shape. You have to love them for it. You have to love their bodies. You have to relish how much more difficult they are, because you know it’s worth it, because to do any great thing always takes more effort.”
Caroline: “You’re more functional than I am?” Caroline asks, amusement evident.
GM: “Of course not,” Josua grins. “Only my body type.”
“Take the world’s fastest runners. They’re mostly men. Women’s hips have more air drag.”
“Men’s bodies are made to do things. Women’s bodies are made to be pretty.”
“I had a girl in one of my art classes say that was sexist of me to think.” He grins again. “But she was ugly, and I’m pretty sure she was gay too, so I didn’t care.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh, tinged with something darker, but seems to take the comment in stride.
GM: “I had a renfield who was gay,” he remarks idly. “She was cute, and an artist too. I could never get her to want me in her pants.”
Caroline: “Do you frequently sleep with your ghouls?” Caroline inquires, maintaining her stately poise.
GM: “God no. Even a girl who’s great in bed feels like sticking your dick in a fleshlight, after injecting it with anesthesia.”
“I feed on the one I have now, sometimes. We both like that.”
Caroline: “Colorful,” she answers.
GM: “You don’t? It’s great always having a little juice around.”
Caroline: “I’m picky,” Caroline laughs. “And generally don’t mix business with pleasure.”
GM: “Business without pleasure is…” Josua laughs, “not pleasurable.”
“But it’s okay to be picky. Are your renfields not hot enough?”
Caroline: “They were chosen for other reasons,” Caroline answers. “Isn’t Marcel picky too? I thought you’d be familiar with a Ventrue lover.”
GM: “With what, his renfields or his lovers?” Josua smirks. “With the latter, at least, I can say he’s got great taste.”
Caroline: “More his snacks,” Caroline answers wryly.
GM: The Toreador laughs. “Sure, he’s picky. Asking that is like asking whether my clan spazzes out, isn’t it?”
Caroline: That thought sends a stab through her, but she waves it off. “It makes finding valuable ghouls and those with the proper flavor… complicated.”
GM: “Oh, true. Your guys’ curse is the second-worst there is, no offense.” He smiles. “I’d hate to have a more limited menu.”
Caroline: “Second worst? So who’s got it the worst?” She asks.
GM: The smile turns into a smirk. “Oh, that’s easy. Can’t you guess?”
Caroline: “Being a little crazy can’t be that bad, can it?” Caroline asks sincerely.
GM: “Definitely not, against what’s worst.”
“Come on, can’t you guess it? It’s easy.”
Caroline: “Indulge me,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Okay, here’s a hint. The hipsters are angry, the outlanders are beastly, the kooks are crazy, the sewer rats are ugly, the grayfaces are clingy, the torries are spazzy, and the blue bloods are picky. What’s worst?”
Caroline: “I get the impression you wouldn’t be fond of most of those things,” Caroline answers wryly.
GM: Josua laughs. “You’ve not been around many torries if the one at the bottom of the list isn’t obvious.”
Caroline: “Maybe I’ve just been around too many sewer rats,” Caroline answers. “If that’s what you’re getting at.”
“For myself, I think the Brujah’s curse would weigh especially heavily on me as well.”
GM: “Oh, I hope you haven’t. You can call this racist or clanist or whateverist of me, but I’d never want to hang out with a nossie. They’re too ugly. I only want to spend time with beautiful people.”
Caroline: The argument isn’t so different than the position of many of the racists her father had crawled in bed with (figuratively). In truth it isn’t even so different than her own position in life. She’d have never slept with a black man.
It doesn’t stop it from getting under her skin. Irrationally. Hypocritically.
“We’re all ugly in our own ways,” she answers.
GM: “Oh, sure,” Josua answers. “But beauty’s skin deep. You have to look at it more.”
Caroline: “I guess it depends on what you find most valuable,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Call me shallow there,” the Toreador smiles, “but I’d answer beauty. The Requiem’s cruel, tragic, and ugly enough on its own. But in beauty there’s something pure, something right. Beauty gives us something to smile at, to lose ourselves in, to forget being monsters over. When I admire a beautiful woman, I’m not just turned on. I appreciate her beauty on an aesthetic level, for that… touch of God, maybe, that’s made her a bright spot in a dark world. It makes me want to protect her, nurture her, and capture her on canvas, so that everyone else can feel all the things she makes me feel. Maybe that’s love.”
He looks at Caroline soulfully.
“Beauty brings out the best in us.”
“You bring out the best in me, Caroline.”
Caroline: “Charmer,” she answers. “How many other Kindred have you painted?” she asks.
GM: “Oh, tons. Mostly ones I’ve fucked.”
Caroline: “Before or after?”
GM: “Mmm, varies. I’ve done some before and some after to mix things up.”
“Marcel likes to keep them separate, though. Another blue blood not mixing business with pleasure.”
Caroline: “What do you mean there?” she asks, still in poise.
“He didn’t strike me as a painter.”
GM: “Oh, he’s not. I mean I don’t fuck him and paint him in the same session. He’s had me do a few ‘official’ portraits of him as prince.”
“He’s very serious about those. About anything to do with him still being prince, really. There’s nothing that gets him off more than getting called ‘Your Majesty.’”
Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Once and always.”
“What about you?”
GM: “Does getting called ‘Your Majesty’ get me off? I can’t really say so,” he smirks, “but I won’t knock someone else for it.”
Caroline: “More generally, what’s your hang-up?”
GM: “Oh, I didn’t mean ‘gets off’ in the sexual sense. He likes it when everyone calls him that.”
“Though he doesn’t seem to mind when I call him that in bed, either. I guess kings like being reminded they’re kings everywhere.”
“There’s a movie I saw a while ago, about some British king whose wife calls him ‘Mr. King’ in bed. It was cute, and seemed innocent and lighthearted, but he has a pretty raging ego in the rest of the movie.”
“I think you have to be, to be a king.” He smirks again. “Or a blue blood.”
Caroline: “Someone has to rule. Has to accept responsibility,” Caroline answers. “There’s debate of course—does the blood make us call to it, or do we only Embrace those called to begin with…”
GM: “Chicken’s here either way, whether or not the egg came first. Marcel says that too. And his kids.”
“Well, Anthony more than Chris. Chris is gorgeous. I’d love to fuck him, but Marcel wouldn’t be happy about that, with how tense things are between them.”
Caroline: “Does he usually care what you do? Well, who you do?”
GM: “Mm, not that much. I’ve fucked tons of licks. He’s just clear that he comes first, and I’m not to do it in his bed. Unless he also gets to join in.”
Caroline: “Remarkably progressive.”
GM: “Some licks get possessive. But monogamy’s for breathers. We’re basically fucking somebody every time we eat. Kind of dumb to get hung up about, really.”
Caroline: “More one way than the other.”
GM: “Mmm, true. But I guess that’s like being okay with your boyfriend getting blowjobs from other girls, but upset if he does anything else with them.”
“His pants are coming down either way.”
Caroline: “Colorful,” she observes.
GM: “And true. But you asked about my hang-up.”
“Women are my hang-up.”
Caroline: “Other than beauty,” Caroline fills in quickly, amused.
GM: “Any guy could say that, of course. But not like me.”
Caroline: “You’re special?” Caroline fills in.
GM: “Feminine women are my hang-up. The more feminine, the better. Women who grow their hair long. Who doll up their faces every day. Who wear perfumes you can feel like you’re in a field of flowers, when you smell. Who wear beautiful jewelry. Who wear skirts and dresses. Who wear heels that make their hips delightfully sway. Who keep their legs silky and smooth. Who have full breasts, voluptuous hips, and those round, dainty, eternally child-like faces…”
“I could go on and on. But it’s not just how they look, too. It’s how they act. Their body language. Their gestures. Their posture. The way they hug instead of shaking hands. How much they smile. How they’ll lie next to their friends, in ways guys never would. How they scream at spiders and shrink back for a man’s protection. How their high, trilling voices stay eternally young like a little child’s.”
“There’s so much to love about women. There’s an art to being a woman, not like there is to being a man.”
Caroline: “You almost sound like you’d rather be a woman,” Caroline observes.
GM: Josua laughs. “I’ve put on a dress and makeup before, if you’re wondering. I was told I made a great woman. But I make a better man.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t be mindful of what it takes to make a great woman. And it does take them so much work. A guy getting dressed can just throw on a shirt and deodorant and call it a day. When a guy gets dressed up, he puts on a black tux. Only a slob can get it wrong. Women labor for hours and hours. They spend so much time. So much money. So much pain—advertising makes them feel so sad about their bodies. All those eating disorders. I’m mindful of their sacrifice. They, you, suffer for your beauty.”
“Beauty brings so much good to the world.”
“Women bring so much good to the world.”
“We don’t appreciate women enough as a society. We should worship women, put them on pedestals and altars, for the good they bring to the world. Through their beauty. Through their pain.”
Caroline: Are we certain he’s a Toreador? Caroline wonders passingly.
She doesn’t quite know what to say to that.
“No wonder you’re such a successful womanizer,” she purrs. “That’s an uncommon appreciation. Most men just seem interested in how quickly they could fuck me, for their own ego’s sake.”
GM: Josua smiles from ear to ear.
“Oh, I do want to fuck you, as quickly as possible. But I want to fuck you because you’re so beautiful. Because of the light you bring into the world. The way you you elevate, the way you better everyone who so much as looks at you.”
“I want to share in that. I want to experience that. I want to acknowledge your beauty. I want to show you how deeply it affects me. I want you to know how you speak to my soul. Fucking you is so much more than just fucking. It’s… _communion.”_
Caroline: “Then you should hurry up with that picture,” Caroline smirks.
She’d rather be wanted for who she is, for what she’s done. But tonight she’ll settle for beauty.
GM: “Soon,” he smiles. “I have to get it right. I couldn’t hurry it, just to fuck you sooner. That would be as… as bad as rape. I have to honor your beauty, fully and completely.”
Caroline: “Mhmm.” Caroline eyes his shirtless form as she waits.
GM: “Have your lovers appreciated you, Caroline?” he asks. “Appreciated what you go through, as a woman?”
Caroline: “I don’t think most cared to understand,” she answers. “And how can you appreciate what you don’t understand?”
“And most of them were more about convenience. For both of us. A woman in my position was expected to have a boyfriend of a certain social status.”
“Which wasn’t terrible,” she continues. “It meant we had certain shared interests and expectations, it just also narrowed the field considerably. My father wouldn’t have ever, for instance, approved of me seeing some artist.”
GM: “Oh, but ’isn’t terrible’ isn’t the same as ‘everything I always wanted.’ You deserve so much than just ’isn’t terrible.’ Who were the boyfriends you always wanted?”
Caroline: An image passes through her mind, swiftly buried. “I don’t know. Someone gentle and kind, but firm, with strong hands.”
“Successful.” She might have blushed if she were living. “Domineering.”
“I think I wanted to date my father for most of my life. Not literally of course, but someone like him. I spent my life thinking I needed to earn his love, that doing so was how I could be the best daughter, the best version of myself.”
GM: “Hmm. That does make sense. We want love from our parents, when we’re children, then other people once we’re grown up. But if we never get it from our parents, we keep trying to get it from somwhere.”
Caroline: “It’s what we know.”
GM: “What about since dying? How many licks have you been with?”
Caroline: “That’s sort of a tasteless question, isn’t it?” Caroline answers pointedly.
GM: “Hey, you asked me.”
Caroline: “What happened to never asking a woman her age, weight, or number of partners?”
“And in fairness, you didn’t provide a number either,” she points out.
GM: “Only because I’ve lost count.”
Caroline: “There aren’t that many licks in the city,” Caroline answers dubiously. “I think it feeds your ego to ‘lose count’.”
GM: “It does,” Josua smiles. “But I still have. Honest. I was turned a couple years ago, and there’s lots of licks who just pass through the city for a little while.”
Caroline: “You make it a point to add them to your number,” she inserts.
GM: “A fuck’s a fuck.”
Caroline: “Poetry,” Caroline mocks playfully. “Fewer than you, to answer your question.”
GM: “You don’t have to be bashful about numbers,” Josua smirks. “We’re all out there getting blowjob equivalents every night. The only real thing someone’s still a virgin over is whether they’ve killed or not.”
Caroline: “Few enough of those,” Caroline answers. “Sounds like a boring Requiem.”
GM: “Marcel says the Crones recognize licks for it. Female ones who’ve never taken a life are part of some holy order or something and dress all in white.”
“The First Estate’s supposed to recognize them, too. There’s one in your clan, Becky Lynne, who I hear’s a virgin.”
Caroline: Of fucking course she is.
“I stand by my statement,” Caroline replies.
GM: “I suppose it depends who you kill,” Josua says thoughtfully. “I couldn’t live with myself if I’d killed a beautiful woman. A really beautiful woman. I’d walk into the sun.”
Caroline: “I’m not in favor of it. I’m not proud of it. But the only way I see you never losing it on someone is a pretty soft Requiem.”
GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to fuck her too, but you’re both very different kinds of femininity.”
Caroline: “Turned you down?”
GM: “Worse. I tried to force myself on her.”
Josua looks heartbroken.
“I didn’t mean to. Like with your renfield. I never do.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I thought that was an act. That you were trying to get my goat. Or at least my ghoul.”
GM: “Oh, no.” Josua sets down the brush and looks at Caroline forlornly. “I have this ability… this talent… and it’s beyond my control.”
Caroline: “I don’t know that I’ve known a lick that couldn’t control themselves in that way,” she muses.
GM: “Marcel says I have a natural flair for enthrallment. That’s what he calls it. A ‘natural flair.’ He says I can do ‘very impressive’ things with the discipline, for a lick who’s been dead as little time as me, and that I’ll do more amazing things after I’ve been dead for longer. He expects I’m going to come up with ‘a whole host’ of new tricks and uses for it. I’ve already taught him a few.”
The Toreador shakes his head slowly.
“But he says that talent comes with a cost. I can’t always control it. Sometimes I make women feel things I don’t mean them to feel. I put urges in their heads without even wanting to, sometimes without even knowing I have. When they start kissing me, when my blood runs hot, when I feel how warm and beautiful they are in my hands, I can get… carried away. I’ve wondered if that makes me a rapist. I think it does.”
He stares at Caroline with deep and sorrowful eyes.
“I’m a monster, Caroline. A beautiful monster.”
Caroline: Caroline feels an urge to lay a hand in that chiseled jawline, but she keeps her place.
“We all are,” she answers soberly but gently. “I’ve killed… God, so many people. So many. And I don’t have a talent to show for it. If you’re a monster, it’s a lesser kind.”
GM: There’s a smile beneath the sorrow, as sweet as it is bitter.
“You have this.”
He turns the finished portrait to face her.
It’s different from the haunting quality of Josua’s prior pieces, or at least the way he’s described them. Caroline looks radiant. A soft glow suffuses her skin, granting her an almost heavenly air even as her face makes plain she is no angel. She stares imperiously above the portrait’s viewers, but her eyes are not downcast upon them: instead, they look upwards, heavenward, towards some distant horizon or planned future she can see but her viewers cannot. Her platinum blonde hair cascades freely down her shoulders like a lion’s mane, even as she casually tosses it back with one hand as if to say there’s work to be done. She’s dressed all in black that strikingly contrasts her pale skin, while her shoulders are the front line of her mystique. Her swan-like neck is the mystery of a border town: the no-man’s land in the battle between her mind and her body. Its length, further accentuated by the low but narrow cut to her clothing that juts beyond the portrait’s border, seems to imply there is no solution to that mystery… or at least none the viewer may ascertain themselves. That power rests within Caroline’s hand alone. She is an enigma, but one whose posture and expression assures all that she is the holder of some vast and terrible and glorious secret. One must tremble to imagine the consequences of its revelation. One must tremble before her.
She is proud. She is regal. She is powerful.
And she is, above all else, beautiful.
Caroline: Caroline drinks in the image, the painstaking detail, the sheer admiration evident in every brushstroke. Has anyone ever looked at her thusly? Have they ever viewed her so favorably? Has she ever viewed herself thusly?
She drinks in the painting. If she had breath, the painting would take it away.
How long she stares she can’t say, but when her gaze breaks from it she turns it to Josua, stares into his eyes.
GM: “This is you,” he repeats softly, his soulful eyes meeting hers.
“Art doesn’t lie, Caroline. It’s the most honest form of communication there is.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline answers, through eyes faintly rimmed in red. “I’d beg to differ.” She rises, advancing on the artist and his creation.
Her hands deftly undo the belt at her waist, casting it aside.
“I can think of one that’s a little more… intimate.” One hand gently seizes his jaw, runs down to his throat, even as she pulls him to her.
Her gown falls away, and all that’s between them pale flesh.
GM: Josua drops his pants, then slides to his knees on the floor while Caroline remains on the bed. He pulls away her undergarments, then sinks his fangs into her most intimate place. His tongue caresses and explores her womanhood even as it laps and smears the turgidly flowing blood.
He doesn’t say anything further. Whatever the most ‘direct form’ of communication between their kind may be, be it actions or artwork, there’s one thing it isn’t:
Caroline: The blood flows back and forth, a sanguine truth shared between them. It’s not sex, but it is. It’s better than sex—and also worse. There’s no future with Josua. No expectations.
For once she’s content to let him take the lead. To be loved. The be lavished with attention. To simply be beautiful.
At least for a little while.
Tuesday night, 1 March 2016, AM
GM: Caroline’s settled Natalia into one of the spare apartments, stripped of communicative technologies like it was for Amelie. Natalia is inordinately grateful when Caroline lets her call her husband and parents, just before dawn. She is even more grateful upon hearing she’ll get to see them again tomorrow.
Caroline: The Ventrue goes over her script for both groups before she lets the teenager make either call, which she still monitors. There’s a difference between mercy and stupidity, and certain things she can’t let the girl talk about yet.
GM: The Ventrue can hear the furious but intensely concerned-sounding phone conversations from a distance. Her family had already gone to the cops and filed a missing persons report. Natalia lies about going camping and claims she sent text messages she’s puzzled they never received. Maybe her “phone wasn’t working, or my service got weird.” She’s really sorry. There’s no lie at all when she says those last words. She says she’ll see them tomorrow, when she’s back in the city.
“I was, just really overwhelmed. I had to get away and breathe. Please don’t be mad.”
There’s a muted reply. Softer.
“Yes. I love you too. See you soon.”
Tuesday night, 1 March 2016, AM
Caroline: There’s one last matter Caroline sees to before taking her rest.
The earlier near-miss with Bishop Malveaux and the raid on her haven by her mother drives Caroline to Abélia’s second gift. The second coin. She clears her haven of her ghouls and barricades herself inside for another brush with darkness and madness. She restrains herself once more but leaves keys available, along with a spare in the hands of Widney.
She takes up the coin and whispers to it of the secret she would know: one of Lidia Kendall’s.
GM: The coin turns black as Caroline’s dead breath passes over it. The tarnished silver rises aloft into the air. There is no bedlam and destruction this time, however… or at least none the Ventrue can perceive. Instead, her consciousness is simply swept away by dark currents, as easily as one might fall into a dream.
She’s at a derelict street corner marred with all the typical signs of urban decay: crumbling buildings, gang tags, distant car alarms and gunshots. A weather-worn couch sits in the middle of the street, the gangland throne of an inner city king. His four courtiers haven’t bothered to get seats of their own. Dead legs don’t tire.
The first is a teenage girl with dark hair in cornrows. She’s dressed in a plain t-shirt and low-cut jeans. Her gaze looks older than any flighty teen’s, though.
The second figure is a stocky mixed-race man built like a wrestler with broad shoulders and a thick, full beard. His facial bones visibly jut against pallid, waxy flesh, and his eyes are deeply sunken in dark-rimmed sockets. Sickly veins bulge against his too-thick muscles. Few humans, Caroline suspects, can meet his gaze without shivering.
The third is one of the most striking men Caroline has ever seen. He’s not handsome: he’s beautiful. His features are soft, almost feminine, but his well-muscled physique looks flawless in every aspect past his tight clothes. Something about him feels uncomfortably at odds with his physical beauty, though, like the stink of failure or the pang of unrequited love.
The fourth is strangely muted to Caroline’s sight. Their build seems female, and dark of skin, but all past that is indistinct, like a smudged or dented spot over glass.
All four pay homage to their king.
All Kindred may be dead things, but Caroline has seen few others whose state is so obvious. He’s a corpse. An upright-sitting corpse. His once-dark flesh is gray and sunken, his hole-lined teeth are more yellow than white, and his hair falls to his shoulders in wet, stringy clumps. He’s almost paradoxically dressed in old black suit, top hat, cane, and sunglasses. He smells of moldering rot congealing beneath only barely adequate scents and cleansers. His bearing is reserved and dignified, like that of a respected grandfather who knows what’s best for his descendants. A dark, musky power feels as though it could roll from him like the miasma off a bayou, yet is held in check—not, perhaps, out of concern, but for reasons that bemuse his children and are inscrutable to those other than kin.
“You smell like shit,” the teen girl says to the bearded man.
“Bale,” he rumbles.
“Gonna ash her?”
The bearded man smiles. It is not a nice smile. It makes Caroline feel dirty. “’Ventually.”
“Enough ash to coat the city after that trial,” remarks the beautiful young man. “Too bad about the Angels.”
“Already jumped into bed with Savoy,” says the teen. “Good riddance.”
“An unfortunate loss of inroads among the Anarchs,” speaks the muted woman. “That leaves Freeman and the witches.”
“Ironic you should say.” The teen.
“You mean…” The beautiful man.
“Oh, yes,” purrs the bearded man, smiling that same cruel smile.
“Ancient history. They’ve cozied up before.” The beautiful man.
“Vidal is fuckin’ batshit. Coulda collared or exiled the fugly. You do not fuck with her kids.” The teen.
“This proves the rumors true. Vidal is no longer a rational actor, and Maldonato is no longer able to rein him in. He has lost his mind.” The muted woman.
“Our gain,” rumbles the bearded man.
“Might be he is reinin’ the old fuck in, an’ what we’re getting is the censored version.” The teen.
“His ability to is declining.” The muted woman.
“Didn’t say it wasn’t.” The teen.
“We’ve got an opening with Miss Opal. We could reach out. Quietly.” The beautiful young man.
The other four all turn at their leader’s low voice.
“Too many will suspect. We will wait. She will come to us.”
“Guess revenge is best served cold.” The teen.
“She will take her time. But she will betray the prince for this.” The muted woman.
“Savoy may reach out first…” The beautiful man.
“Bondye, I can picture Savoy doin’ it. ‘I am so sorry for your loss. Hey, here’s how I can make things better.’” The teen pantomimes spitting on the ground. “Fuckin’ used car salesman.”
Their leader speaks again.
“The French Quarter lord has long grasped for power he does not understand.”
“He has always been overeager. To our gain.” The muted woman.
“I say. Angels aside, Vidal goin’ crazy aside, Smith’s whole torpor and Lasombra shpeel aside, this trial was still our fuckin’ birthday present on Christmas. The prince an’ the Frenchie will be goin’ at it like never before.”
“Sidelines are a good place to be when blood’s getting spilled,” the bearded man purrs.
The four look towards their leader.
“Minimize your direct involvement in the Jyhad. Allow the conflict between the prince and French Quarter lord to fill the city’s thoughts. We shall use the time provided by their distraction to reach out to Miss Opal and set our own house in order. Malia, what new developments have occurred among the Bata’a?”
“They remain in disarray. The Macoute have been expanding to fill the power vacuum left by Wedo’s death…”
She trails off, staring into their leader’s face. He is looking towards her, but not at her. Beyond her.
“We are being watched,” he murmurs.
The teenager’s voice grows sharp.
The leader’s gaze slowly sweeps across his surroundings.
“By magic… that is mine…”
Caroline: It’s time to go.
She got what she came for.
Abélia warned her against seeking more than was bargained for, and the Baron—who else can it be?—clearly recognizes that someone is watching. And possibly still more.
She tries to will the vision to end. Tries to pull away.
GM: Caroline’s surroundings blur and distort. The gathered Kindred’s voices indistinctly gurgle as though from underwater. Their forms recede.
Before they vanish completely, the Baron turns and stares directly into Caroline’s eyes. His decayed lips move.
“Ah,” he murmurs. “Yes.”
His arm reaches towards her.
With terrible physicality, Caroline feels a rotting hand clamp around her throat.
Then, the last of her surroundings wash away like a rushing river. Noise roars in her ears. Blackness overtakes her vision. She comes to on her bed. The coin is nothing but blackened, ruined slag. The scent of decay hangs heavy in her nostrils. Her neck throbs with pain. It’s not until she gets up and looks into a mirror that she sees why.
Five wet, black, finger-shaped holes mar her throat. The flesh around them looks like it’s rotted for weeks.
Caroline: That was too close.
She’d shiver at the sight, if her body still experienced those physical reactions. She stops breathing. She’d rather not feel air circulating through those ugly holes, and the absence of that familiar action makes her feel more dead than ever. She wills vitae to mend the gruesome disfigurements, restoring rotted flesh to corpse-pale. She watches it happen in the mirror.
It only makes her feel a little better.
Magic that is mine. What did the Baron mean? For not the first time, she wonders who—and what—Abélia is, and just what she’s gotten in bed with.
It’s too late for regrets. Besides, she’s walked away with a secret: Miss Opal’s planned treachery. The Baron’s people reaching out. Yes, she thinks that will be worth something to the seneschal. And her sire. Abélia came through on their bargain. Even if the experience left her less than whole, and with as many questions as answers.
Abélia’s gifts have never been painless.
As ever, the only way forward is through.
Tuesday evening, 1 March 2016
GM: It’s another empty-feeling day for Caroline in her bedroom without Jocelyn, even if sleeping still only lasts an eyeblink. Widney greets her the next night to read her schedule, which among other items, includes the visit between Natalia and her husband and parents. They’re already here at the building. Widney has fed them whatever script Caroline gave her.
Autumn, ever-jealous of Widney seeing their domitor first during the night, also finds a reason to see Caroline. She says she eavesdropped on Natalia during the day and that the thin-blood tossed and turned in bed, rather than lying still as a corpse. She woke up around sunset—while it was still bright out, though she didn’t try to lift the extra-thick drapes to see outside. Autumn was also able to view Natalia through a camera without interference while she was asleep. Once the thin-blood woke up, the feed crapped out like it would for a normal lick.
“She also, uh… I heard her going to the toilet,” Autumn says.
The ghoul leaves it at that.
“Pretty eager to see her family, anyways. They’re downstairs.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let her frustration or irritation show in front of Autumn, but there are times she dearly wishes she had access to other powers of the Blood. The ability to linger unseen and listen in rather than lead the discussion like the bishop. The ability to casually pluck thoughts from minds… like Jocelyn.
The tug of both on her thoughts is like an itch she can’t scratch. A constant source of irritation that begs for attention in a way that is almost maddening.
Working with only the tools she has is at times frustrating, like sculpting with only a sledgehammer. It’s easy to forget that only months ago she had so many fewer. It seems, she reflects, envy is a reflection of what you see, not what you need. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to think about the others.
She’s prepared the field, as it were, with Natalia. Given her the lies she’s to tell about their relationship, about the heightened danger in the pregnancy, about her decision to take the rest of the semester off.
GM: It was met with a common refrain:
“But I can go back next semester, can’t I? Night classes, or online ones?”
Caroline: It’s possible, Caroline tells her. Not certain, but possible. Other Kindred have gotten degrees. The biggest limitation will be her adjustment to the All-Night Society, and whether she can offer something (not money) to others to make letting her do that worthwhile to them.
GM: Natalia looks confused. “But I just want to take classes and pay tuition, like anyone else. Why should that be a big deal?”
Caroline: “Because they have dominion over Tulane—well, all of Riverbend, really. Because you shall respect that dominion. Because you could be a threat to their influenced.” Caroline lists off the reasons almost languidly.
“Because they said so, and because if you don’t they’ll hurt or kill you and people around you.”
Caroline is quiet for a moment. “I had a friend that was a cop. I asked her to look into something for me, after I got turned.”
“They delivered her head to me. Just her head. In a box.”
“There wasn’t any warning. That was the warning.”
The memory is as fresh tonight as it was that night. Jessica’s eyes looking up at her. Her hair mattered and slick with her blood. The moment of shock and horror as she struggled to reconcile this friend she had known with this object in the box.
GM: And Jocelyn being there to offer what comfort she could. Who took away the head, said she’d bury it “someplace respectful” so Caroline wouldn’t have to deal with that. Who offered to show the Ventrue her art, for the first time, to take her mind off things.
Caroline: She tears away from that memory. She has to.
GM: Maybe it’s her own feelings. Maybe it’s just the collar. But she can feel her fingers all but twitching with desire to yank out her phone. To call up her ex.
Caroline: She’s glad she’s dead. That there’s no flush associated with those feelings. No rapid breathing. Nothing to betray her feelings to Natalia.
Natalia, who’s fault this isn’t, but whom is a reminder in every moment of what she lost for this ungrateful little thing.
GM: Natalia looks faintly horrified. But it’s one thing to hear about it and another to see it. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way.
“That’s terrible. I’m… so sorry for your friend,” she replies, seeming more than a little unsure what to make of it all.
“I’m actually not sure how a big threat she’d be,” Autumn raises. “Though not like it really changes anything, so far as the sheriff being willing to share. But you might be able to get away with online classes. The Traditions are pretty blurry when it comes to the internet.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Could be. But your name and face are known to the sheriff, and he is not known for his mercy.”
“There’s no forgiveness to be asked among us. Only permission. Or deception.”
GM: “Well… what could I do for him, then, to let me take classes?”
Autumn’s look says it all.
Caroline: “One thing at a time.” Caroline answers. “You have to show you can keep the Masquerade, can control yourself, can learn our laws. You seem to be assuming your life is going to go back to normal. That you can just blend back in.”
“That may not be true… or necessary. Depending on what gifts you might develop over time.”
GM: “Well, obviously it’s different, with having to drink… blood. But I can do that, I can do all those things. I just want to keep my head down, have my baby, and become a doctor.”
Caroline: Caroline restrains the laugh she wants to give. She was naive once too.
“Speaking of, you must be thirsty.”
GM: The thin-blood’s eyes glint.
Caroline: “Wouldn’t do for you to meet them hungry.” Caroline turns her wrist up for Natalia.
It should serve several purposes. Identity whether the girl can even perform the kiss with her mangled teeth, and make her a little more pliant. And perhaps soothe her thirst.
GM: Natalia starts to ask whether that “would hurt” Caroline, but then seems to remember the Ventrue cutting herself earlier. She bends to drink. The sensation isn’t nearly so pleasant as with another Kindred: the punctures come from the wrong places at the wrong angles, like someone giving her a bad massage. Still, it’s a pleasurable enough feeling once she gets going.
But it’s not Jocelyn.
Caroline: Caroline lets her drink deeply before gently but firmly pushing her away.
It’s almost a tease, and more irritating and less pleasurable for being not good enough than for not being pleasurable in and of itself.
That frustration is all too clear in Caroline’s eyes.
It’s like the worst sex of her life.
GM: Natalia licks her lips, all-too clearly savoring the taste, but there’s uncertainty in her own.
“Did I… do something wrong?”
Caroline: Everything. And then, Nothing.
“No. It’s just… Different.”
GM: The thin-blood looks a little unsure what to say to that before Widney says the Garcias are here. They head down to the Giani Building’s lobby.
Natalia’s husband Jake is a tall, brown-haired Caucasian man with a short beard and callused-looking hands. He’s wearing a long-sleeved white Vans tee, light-wash jeans, a black watch, and small studs on his ears. He gives off a similar vibe to a lot of the predominately ex-service members who compose so much of the private security Caroline has spent her life around.
Her father is a balding, gray-haired, mustached Colombian man who looks a little on the older side to be Natalia’s father. He wears rectangular glasses and a button-up shirt and dark jeans.
His shorter, plumper wife looks around his same age, also wears glasses, and has on a magenta top in a looping pattern.
All three of her relatives immediately wrap her up in hugs with assorted greetings and exclamations of relief in Spanish and English. “I’m sorry I disappeared,” Natalia gets out, “I didn’t mean to scare you, I thought my phone was working…”
“Olvídalo, nena,” her mother replies in a quavering voice, clasping her head before kissing her brow. “We’re just glad you and Miles are safe. We prayed, we prayed you would be safe…”
“Yes. We’re just glad it was all over nothing,” her father says, squeezing her shoulder. “Your brothers and sisters were going to take time off from work to help look for you.”
“That’s so sweet of them,” Natalia manages. “I know how caught up Valeria is, with the campaign…”
“You’re easy to be sweet to,” smiles her husband as he rumples her hair.
Caroline: The entire thing is so sickeningly sweet Caroline makes a note for Widney to schedule her a dental appointment.
GM: Or maybe it’s because she never got much of a taste of sweet.
She can’t think of any time that her mother, or other family members, said they prayed she was safe. Despite all they believe she’s been through.
Despite all her mother knows she’s been through, and is going to go through, to destroy the bishop.
Still no prayer for her safety.
GM: “And this is Caroline,” Natalia finally says, indicating the true-blooded Kindred. “She’s why I’m here. She really helped me out.”
The husband looks curious as to the ‘how’ behind both those things, but ends the hug to offer Caroline his handshake. “Jake Abel. Thanks for being there for her.”
Caroline: Caroline takes the hand with her most dazzling smile. “Caroline,” she offers back.
“It’s something of a long story, perhaps we could tell it upstairs?” she offers lightly.
GM: Jake’s grip seems to slacken for a moment as he shakes the vampire’s too-cool hand, but the family (after introducing themselves as Raul and Paola) agrees to follow Caroline up.
“You look so pale, querida! You should eat more,” Natalia’s mother comments.
Caroline: If you only knew…
The Ventrue has set up drinks on the roof and introduces Autumn (waiting upstairs) tonight as her assistant.
Caroline mixes herself a grapefruit and tonic and offers refreshments to the others, providing Natalia with a chilled mango juice (her self-admitted favorite in earlier questioning) without prompting.
GM: Natalia’s parents both take a rum and tonic. Jake takes a screwdriver. The pregnant and underage Natalia sips the virgin cocktail. It’s almost laughable to think of alcohol being off-limits after what she drank earlier.
When everyone is settled in she gestures to Natalia, “Bad news doesn’t age like fine wine.” She tells the thin-blood.
GM: “So, I guess there’s no way to put this well. And I guess it’s better to just get it out. But there’s…” her face sinks with all-too genuine worry, “there’s been complications, with the pregnancy…”
She lists off whatever medical conditions Caroline told her say.
Caroline: The Ventrue’s had some official looking ‘test’ results printed out with Natalia’s name on it. It wasn’t difficult, between her own background and the helpful pediatric doctor under her wing these nights.
GM: The Garcias take the news about as well as Caroline might expect.
Jake protectively pulls Natalia close, as if to shield her from an approaching enemy. There’s disbelief from Paola. Then she starts to sob and cry. Natalia begs her mom in Spanish not to cry. “¡Por favor no llores, mamá!” Raul lays an arm around his wife’s shoulder with a haggard expression, like he’s just lost a grandson he’d already gotten to know. Paolo clasps her crucifix and starts to pray.
“Oh santa santa,
quien tuvo el privilegio incomparable de traer al mundo
La que se convertiría en la Madre de Dios,
Venimos a colocar a nuestra hija
bajo su especial cuidado…”
(“O Good Saint Anne,
who had the incomparable privilege of bringing into the world
Her who was to become the Mother of God,
We come to place our daughter
under your special care…”)
Jake bows his head and clasps his hands at first, but looks over the tests as the prayers continue. The Army vet looks like he’s trying to project a strong front for his wife and in-laws at first, but Caroline can see what the news is doing to him, what the official-looking tests are driving home. The fear in his eyes. The grief when there shouldn’t even be grief. The desperate hope that there won’t have to be.
It’s almost like telling them the truth.
In fact, Caroline supposes it is telling them the truth.
There are likely to be ‘complications.’
Caroline: She listens to the prayers acutely aware of the blasphemous twisting she’s put upon them. Their daughter has been entrusted into someone’s care, but not the hands of a saint.
GM: Natalia sneaks a glace at Caroline past her husband, as if unsure where they’re supposed to take this next.
She supposes that’s also just as applicable to the ‘lie’ and truth.
Caroline: Caroline lets the family get out their initial grief, patiently waiting as Natalia tries to reassure them, to calm them. It’s hard to watch. Not only for their pain, but for their obvious affection for their daughter. Their love.
The entire thing just makes her entire life feel so hollow.
Her Requiem all the more.
When they’ve gotten past their shock, she finally interjects.
She hasn’t known Natalia as long as they have (god, is that true), but Caroline knows that she hasn’t given up—and won’t. This is a trial, but one that is survivable.
She’d like to help—and my how she can.
GM: “How? How can you help?” Jake asks, looking between Caroline and the tests. His tone isn’t ungrateul, but the man is clearly still fighting to maintain his composure.
Caroline: The Ventrue flashes a dazzling smile. “Well, I hope quite a lot.”
She explains, in brief, how affected she was by Natalia’s story when she came to her for advice, and how she wants to do everything she can. She had some ideas for a start.
Natalia’s condition requires someone be available at all times in case something should happen. Caroline explains gently that she knows how ‘happily’ the family would take their daughter back in, but also how eager she and Jake are to carve out something of a life for themselves.
She can offer an alternative to simply moving back in—one that would ensure that Natalia has someone available while also allowing her and Jake to continue on with their lives.
If he still has concerns and wants to stay closer to her during this trying time, she’s certain she can arrange work for him in the building.
That might even work best, as it would allow him to place Natalia under the rather robust insurance plan the Giani Building offers.
GM: Paola dabs at her eyes at first, but then replies, “That’s very generous of you to offer, querida, very generous, but we’d rather look after her ourselves.” She turns to Natalia and her husband. “We’d be so happy to you both back home, there’ll be so much less for you to worry about. I always did say that was a good idea, didn’t I, Raul? To have them back home?”
“Yes, you did,” Natalia’s father answers, also looking towards Jake. “And I agree. Jake, this is the best thing we can do for Miles and Natalia right now. All the help they can get.”
“Yes, that’s what we’ve always been saying!” Paola adds. “We just want to make things easier for you. People are so hung up in this country about living with their parents! Everyone does it back home, everyone. And you do want to give Miles the best chance, don’t you?”
Jake, though his are silently pressed together, seems to mentally halt at that question.
Palola continues, “Her due date’s only two months away! Look, it’s not that long. Why don’t you keep your place, it’s only two months’ rent, and just move in for a bit so we can help. Then you can decide what to do, after we’ve all welcomed Miles into the world. Just two months, to help Miles. Doesn’t that sound like the right thing to you?”
“You’re right.” Jake looks like he might have been suppressing a sigh, but the look on his face soon passes to one of resolve. “Whatever it takes to beat this. Whatever gives him the best shot.”
Caroline: “I think,” Caroline interjects softly, “that Natalia has a vote in this. In fact, the largest vote.”
GM: “Oh, we all know Naty’s always wanted to move back home!” her mother declares. “Oh, we already have your room all ready for you, and tonight, why don’t I bake some-”
“I’d… like to say here,” Natalia ventures.
Her family all turn to look at her as if she’s sprouted a third head. Jake included.
“It’s… the insurance,” she offers lamely.
“It’s a really, ah, good policy…”
Caroline: “You can tell them,” Caroline interjects. “You should tell them.”
She looks up to meet Natalia’s mother’s eyes.
“Added stress is potentially very dangerous right now.”
GM: “Un higo para el seguro!” Raul declares, bringing his fist down on the table. “Insurance isn’t going to keep Miles alive! Insurance! You think we care about the money, Natalia? You think we give a damn about money, of all things right now!”
“Raul, calm down! Of course she’s going to live with us, even Jake agrees now!” Paola exclaims, resting her hands on her husband’s shoulders.
“Tell them…?” the teenager ventures unsurely, looking between Caroline and her parents.
“Tell us what?” Jake asks, not looking away from Caroline or his wife.
Caroline: “Fine, I will.” Caroline looks them in the eye. “Natalia is concerned that moving back in will cause conflict, between you all, and with her.”
GM: “What!?” Paola exclaims, looking at her daughter. Raul just stares.
“It’s, um… I know Jake hasn’t wanted to, and maybe he’s right…”
“I don’t care anymore, Nat,” Jake says flatly. “You’re right, I didn’t want to. It was pride. Fuck pride.”
“Language!” Paola exclaims. Raul holds up a hand and looks at his son-in-law.
Jake continues, “Guys who only think about their egos are the ones who get their unit killed. Maybe I’ve forgotten that.”
“Miles isn’t safe. Whatever makes him safe, I’ll do.”
“There’s no conflict. This is bigger than me and what I want.”
“Oh, well, it’s just…” Natalia starts.
“Just two months. We’ll review our options after then. After we’ve held our son.”
Natalia looks at a loss what kind of defense to offer.
Jake looks at Caroline. “Thanks for your help, ma’am, and the kind offer. Shouldn’t be having a family argument in front of you anyways.”
He looks back at his mother-in-law. “Sorry for the swearing, Mom.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she waves off, “you’re just worried! So are we.”
Caroline: Not exactly doing your part here, Caroline growls to herself behind her smile.
She’d have preferred to do this the easy way, but that is far from the only way. She turns her attention on Paola, letting the Beast out into the room. Letting it invade Paola’s mind, letting it weaken her resistance to what Caroline suggests.
“Come on now, Paloa, you can see why moving back home with her husband, with many other changes in her life, and the stresses it might add could be intimidating for Natalia.”
She blinks at the matronly woman. “Even if she loves you and respects you too much to say so, and would rather give in than ever argue with you.”
GM: Natalia’s mother blinks but frowns deeply. “No, that’s… silly. Of course you want to come home, don’t you, Naty?”
“I do! I’m just not sure that’s the best thing for us right now,” the thin-blood replies. “It’s just… not the best thing.”
“Natalia, what are you talking about? You’ve always wanted to move back home with us,” Raul frowns.
“Yes. You have.” Jake frowns even more deeply, a questioning look to his eye. “Why isn’t this the best thing anymore? What changed your mind?”
“Yes, Naty! Why are you saying this? Tell us!” her mother exhorts.
“Ah… look, this is all just so overwhelming. I talked a lot with Caroline, about things, she can tell you,” Natalia tries to deflect.
Three sets of eyes fall on the Ventrue.
Caroline: The Ventrue turns her attention towards Natalia’s father, massaging his feelings towards her. Taking his trust.
“I don’t want to speak for her,” Caroline begins, “but it sounds like Natalia wants to preserve some independence if things work out, and lessen the blow if… well, they don’t.”
GM: Raul looks at Caroline solemnly. “If my grandson is dead, nothing will lessen that blow. It does not matter if he dies in my house, the hospital, or anywhere else on God’s green earth.”
He looks back to his daughter. “Natalia, nothing will change how we feel about Miles. Nothing. We are in this together. You need help. Let us help you.”
Natalia’s eyes start to water. “Papi, you… you’re all so good… but you don’t understand…”
“Then help us, nena! Help us to understand. What don’t we understand?” her mother implores.
“I, I want to be more independent,” she starts. “That what it is. This, this isn’t… isn’t Colombia. I want us to live on our own.”
“Good. We agree,” says Jake. “We’re going to raise Miles in our own place, Natalia. We’ve talked about this. We can take out the VA loan. We’ll see you through this, two months, then move out. We can start looking at realty listings this week. Okay?”
“No, I’m sorry, it’s…” Natalia wipes her eyes. “It’s not okay.”
“Naty, you aren’t making any sense,” her father declares in a tried-sounding voice.
Jake frowns, starts to say something, then pauses and sniffs. “What’s that smell?”
Caroline doesn’t need to pause to smell it.
Caroline: Damn her, Caroline seethes.
But not really. She made the same mistake.
The Ventrue turns to Jake. “Will you be a dear and grab her a box of tissues? I think there’s one on the patio with the towels.”
GM: Jake gets up, then stares at his wife.
“Is that… blood?”
Raul and Paola make sounds of distress. There are cries to get Natalia to a doctor. Jake gets out his phone to call 911.
Caroline: Caroline’s patience is spent.
They’re kine, and she’s Kindred. Natalia has left her little other choice.
“Look at me,” she commands, and then invades their minds. All of their minds. Can she suborn multiple kine at once? Natalia has forced her to try. It looks like she can. That knowledge pleases her, but only briefly. She tells Natalia the things to say. The excuses to make. The medical condition she’s seen a doctor for. The importance that she stay here. She uses the thin-blood’s genuine fear and worry, and together with sheer brute force, she bludgeons and dominates the three kines’ minds and twists their emotions like taffy until they agree to let their daughter stay with her. They leave as drugged-looking, glassy-eyed automatons, but convinced this is for the best, filled with all the right memories and glamour-induced matching emotions.
Will it hold? That remains to be seen. It’d have been more seamless, better for the Masquerade, to convince the Garcias of their own free will rather than impose hers. The thin-blood left her little alternative but to resort to such a blunt solution, however, and she feels her patience slipping. Especially after the girl makes a scene over what Caroline did to her husband and parents.
That only inflames the Ventrue’s irritation. How much would she have given to have a guide and protector in her early nights? Who could make a problem like a family that cares too much for their own good just go away?
She wonders if her own parents would have even cared this much. No, she knows they didn’t care this much. How long did it take them to even speak with her after Decadence?
Either way, it was foolish of her to care. Foolish to take up this needless burden. But what’s done is done. She doesn’t have any more time for Natalia tonight. She tells her as much, and bluntly. She leaves her ghouls to handle the thin-blood.
Her meeting with Claire is in under an hour, and with it, the hit on the bishop. She has Kendall’s secret. Events are rapidly coming to a head.
She doesn’t know how it’s going to go down. But nothing, she’s confident, will be the same afterwards.