“I’m sorry, Mom. I love you.”
Tuesday evening, 1 March 2016
GM: Claire meets Caroline in her hotel’s lobby at the appointed date. It’s been some time since the two last saw one another. Caroline’s mother has actually had a courier deliver January’s and February’s sealed missives for the Ventrue to re-deliver to Donovan, an action that seems as if it violates the spirit if not letter of the sheriff’s agreement.
Claire looks weary. And old. Her cheeks look gaunter, the lines on her face deeper, and there are dark rings under her eyes. Her blonde hair retains its color and most (though not all) of its thickness. She’s also walking with a cane. “I can get by without one,” she mentions conversationally. “It’s just easier. It looks better than wearing flats.”
Caroline: The sight of her mother with a cane hits Caroline like a punch in the gut. She’s not that old.
They’re killing her, she realizes. I’ve killed her.
There’s not really anything else to say on it. They both know it.
GM: “I gave Gabriel my blessing with Linda,” Claire mentions as they make their way up to her suite. “I talked with a few people who could pull strings to help get her in. To Cornell, that is. Your father was angry I didn’t consult with him. Said it’d ruin your brother’s future, that I’d squandered favors. We don’t fight over it, of course, we just don’t talk.”
She talks almost dreamily about the wedding, too. Cécilia has wanted to involve Caroline in so much of it, as have Yvette and Yvonne. Dress shopping, invitations, guest lists, planners, photographers (Jocelyn, she knows the Devillers hope), bands, florists, caterers, websites, hair and makeup artists, rings, the bachelorette party. It’s the first wedding of Caroline’s generation for both the Devillers and Malveaux families, and they’re pulling out all the stops. Not much of what her mother has to say is news.
“I’d give anything to be there for it… but it’s enough to know that it’s happening,” Claire remarks wistfully as the elevator doors ding open to the top floor.
“The family’s already damned to darkness. What’s bringing in another devil, so long as we have more life. It’s been too long since there were any babies.”
Caroline: Caroline moves to help her mother back to her rooms and buttons up afterwards before pouring Claire a drink and taking a seat with her. She doesn’t make false promises or reassurances that her mother will be there for the wedding. They’re well past that.
“I think Cécilia agrees. She and Luke won’t make others wait for that.”
GM: “I said I don’t need it, Caroline. It’s just easier,” Claire somewhat gruffly responds to her daughter’s unspoken offer of help, though she does sit down to let Caroline pour and bring her a drink.
“Luke is a good boy. Cécilia is… I’m sure enough she’s a good girl, whatever else her mother may be.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “If that’s the monster we have, better it than another. Whatever else Abélia may be, she cares for her family, is fiercely protective. We could do worse. And we may need that, if this goes as planned.”
GM: “Yes,” Claire says tiredly. Tiredly, but without surprise. “I’ve stayed my hand this many weeks for you to decide on a final course of action for yourself with the leeches, Caroline. What have you decided?”
Caroline: “He has to die,” Caroline answers without preamble.
GM: “Why do you now believe so?”
Caroline: “I tried bending a knee. It’ll never be enough for him, and none will move against him now, no matter how egregious his actions. The longer we wait the stronger he becomes.”
GM: “Your murderer will kill you again if he discovers your involvement in killing his faction’s bishop. What of your position among the leeches?”
Caroline: “And the bishop will eventually kill me if I let him. Or make me wish that he had. What I saw in his eyes was not something he will not act upon. He would possess me. Matters are improved, but we both know nothing will save me if we’re discovered.”
Part of her wonders if it wouldn’t be so bad to be possessed by the bishop. She rejects it. Fights it. An unnatural attraction borne of his blood, rather than her will. She doesn’t want to be the slave to her ancestor. She’s not meant for it. She’s better than that. She wants more.
GM: Claire denies none of those things—or at least, none of those things Caroline speaks aloud.
“Do you intend to stay aligned with the prince’s bloc, or to defect to Savoy’s? One or the other will inevitably turn on you.”
Caroline: “Hasn’t one already?” Caroline answers. “Haven’t both?”
She shakes her head. “Much will depend on tonight, but if we fail I expect nothing will save me from the wrath to follow.”
GM: Claire more than agrees with the sentiment that all leeches are treacherous and conniving parasites. She just as clearly desires an equally clear sense of Caroline’s future plans and allegiances before she’s willing to commit to such a dangerous undertaking. She also wants to hear why it’s now in the Malveaux family’s best interests.
“The Albino claimed the family as his domain, for good or ill. Who do you believe would now attempt to fill the vacuum left by his absence? The prince still, or another?”
Caroline: Caroline suspects the most important parts—i.e., their family, would pass to the prince. He already holds sway over her father. Other pieces might drift into varied hands. “Always consequences,” she explains without passion. As to the question of why now, she offers several reasons.
First, they may never get another shot at him. Now that he’s the bishop, his power will only grow with time.
Second, his flagrant disregard for Orson’s life was eye-opening. Caroline once believed he guided the family towards positions of power and influence: she’s far less certain after they nearly lost the archbishopric. She’s begun to suspect his motives are more personal and petty.
Third, the entry of Abélia into the family arena opens new doors with regard to sheltering them. “If nothing else, I expect she wants to shelter Luke and Cécilia, and her power is… sufficient to do so.”
Fourth, she can see plainly that they’re literally killing Claire. He’s the prime suspect in such sorcery, and even if it continues following his destruction, they’ll be better for it.
Fifth, his demand that she drink from him, his meddling in her affairs, and their clan’s seeming lack of concern convinces her that working within channels will not work. He’s too entrenched, too potent, too respected, and she’s not worth the trouble. Not with them squabbling for the throne. She might be able to leverage others with time if he weren’t the bishop, but he is the bishop and she doesn’t have time. If nothing else, Marcel’s reaction convinced her of her clan’s apathy to his actions. She thinks it’s only a matter of time until she is forced to drink again, and she will not be his slave. Better to strike first.
Sixth, the recent moves against her have convinced Caroline that the time for playing meekly is over. She’s made progress, but it’s time to get off the fence. Her mother’s and Roger’s actions, the strike on her haven, and her exposure to the family have all made clear that she’s out of time. If she is to face a decision, she would have it be now, on her terms.
Seventh, owing to time, her own grows shorter with each night. She can feel her doom creeping upon her. If she’s to die, she’d have it be with purpose, on her own terms, and take the bishop with her.
Finally, she’s frankly uncertain of her ability to do so without her mother’s help. Her mother has been frank about her own suspicions regarding her future. If the choice is now with her mother, or later alone, she would have it now.
“It’s hard to manage a killing strike from your knees. If the war is to be now or later, I’d have it be now.”
GM: Claire agrees the Albino is unstable, having long since concluded he does not hold the family’s best interests at heart, only his own. He’s killed Malveauxes before. Any affection he may have felt for his relatives appears limited to his long-dead mother and sister. Caroline’s mother is not sure off-hand if any of the living family are even Monique’s descendants—genealogy is Thomas’ department.
Claire’s eyes sharpen from their earlier wistfulness as the discussion turns to her son.
“I’d sacrifice Cécilia in an instant to secure our family’s future,” she declares coldly. “She’s sweet and well-bred, and a good match for Luke. But she isn’t my blood. Luke could always find another girl. Never forget that Abélia feels the same way, and never stop watching her. Any aid she renders our family is to advance the interests of her own. I certainly don’t expect she’s been paying those visits to Orson’s hospital bed out of the goodness of her heart.”
Claire only gives a stoic look in response to Caroline’s statement that the Sanctified are killing her, but agrees the time to act is nigh. Past nigh. She has stayed her hand this long only on her daughter’s account, and repeats her prior question concerning which of the leeches’ factions Caroline intends to throw in with. Given Claire’s present ‘alliance’ with the sheriff, Caroline’s decision to “stand by your murderer” or defect to the French Quarter lord will have significant permutations on her plans.
Caroline: “I suppose that depends on whether you tried to shove me into Savoy’s camp with the attack on the sheriff’s orders, or whether you were in contact with Savoy,” Caroline replies bluntly.
“I confess, I’ve gone back and forth on that one. Were you forced into action by the sheriff to drive a wedge between us, or compelled to action by the belief that Savoy was the better course and the belief that I needed a push?”
GM: “It doesn’t matter. All leeches would do that if they believed it was in their best interests,” Claire answers dismissively. “God knows I’m not advocating you should trust any of them, Caroline. They’re all just different flavors of poison.”
Caroline: “You pick your poison,” Caroline agrees. She still believes there is more future for her with the prince’s bloc, especially with Malveaux removed. Especially if it can be done quietly. She thinks Savoy would only have use for her until he were in power.
GM: Claire disagrees, arguing that Caroline poses no threat after the prince and “your murderer” are eliminated in the French Quarter lord’s likely inevitable coup. They cannot forget the prince’s nights are numbered. She eventually drops the matter when it becomes plain that Caroline’s mind is made up.
“We’ll address this later,” she says tiredly. “Whichever faction you take up with, the actual and potential benefits of the Albino’s death… outweigh the risks inherent to the attempt.”
She closes her eyes for a moment and leans back against the sofa, saying nothing. The lines on her face look very deep.
“Make whatever arrangements you need to get him somewhere he’ll be alone and exposed. I’ll take several days to get things set up as well.”
Caroline: “He’ll make the arrangements. I’ll give you as much notice as I can,” Caroline replies.
She wishes she could tell her mother the truth. Her position would make more sense if she could explain that her very existence will forever make her a challenge to Savoy’s reign, should it dawn. She will always be a loose end to be eliminated.
If she receives her sire’s acknowledgement, she might yet take possession of her family. Especially with the Albino out of the way. She wonders if that promise might even compel her mother to give up her fellows without deception. It’s a comforting hope.
That’s why it’s probably false.
Tuesday night, 1 March 2016, PM
GM: Obtaining audience with Bishop Malveaux is harder than it was last time. Father Polk has positioned himself as the bishop’s gatekeeper: many Kindred wish to see him these nights. Indeed, Polk initially denies Caroline a private audience, citing the bishop’s “full schedule” until the younger Ventrue brings up the boon promised by her elder.
Polk fits in Caroline a week later. Bishop Malveaux’s new office in Perdido House is on a higher floor. It’s larger, too, with a scenic view of the surrounding cityscape, though the decor is just as spartan as it was previously. Bishop Malveaux’s black vestments look more ornate and are trimmed with crimson rather than navy. His silver-headed cane has been replaced by a bishop’s crossier.
Her older clanmate’s pinkish eyes are flat as he receives her. She is not invited to sit, despite the presence of chairs.
The bishop continues that Father Polk has relayed the nature of her business. Though it is plain that he finds it inconvenient, he remains a childe of Ventrue and a Kindred of his word. Nevertheless, his patience—and time—seem short in supply.
“Get to your point, childe,” he rasps.
Caroline: The younger Venture dresses conservatively once more, favoring pearls and black as she arrives to meet the bishop. She’s the perfectly polite and contrite neonate in his presence, a pill made far easier to swallow by the pull of the bishop’s vitae on her mind. She knows the source and hates being made to feel that way about him, but she has little choice and even less reason to fight it this night. It’s not a lie when she declares her desire to accompany him hunting and visiting God’s vengeance upon the unfaithful, so that she might right her ways as one of the Sanctified. It’ll let her spend time with him. Seek his approval. She leans into that pull to make her efforts more convincing.
Her schedule, of course, is open to the elder Ventrue’s convenience, but she does ask (meekly) if he might choose a location that may be more accessible to a neonate such as herself. There are many prime hunting grounds, and few enough where she might be freely allowed to bring terror to the wicked.
GM: Caroline can feel the bond twisting painfully inwards on her mind like an ugly hangnail against too-red skin. She knows the truth. Part of her wants his approval, but the other doesn’t, not really. How could she, when she’s doing this to murder him?
The bishop appears short of temper at Caroline’s presence, and does not inquire as to her aversion to the CBD before perfunctorily declaring they will hunt in his territory within the Garden District. He also declares that she will not taste a drop of vitae, and will rue the consequences if she poaches within his hunting grounds. She will receive only what he pledged his word over, and no more. As Father Polk moves to escort her out, the albino finally hisses,
“Your faith is weak. Fail to convince me otherwise upon this excursion and you shall face excommunication. I pray thanks to Longinus nightly that your grandsire is not present to see the barren soil upon which his blood was spilt.”
Caroline: The words hurt, but not as much as blades and bullets. That’ll come later though, for now she finds faint solace in his ignorance.
You know nothing about me, she thinks silently. But you’ll see.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline aggressively pursues her plans for the bishop, centered around both maximizing her chances of eliminating her mother’s hunters and minimizing her exposure.
She, of course, draws on the provisions she’s been stockpiling since her Embrace. Weapons with strobe lights, construction site equipment, spools of steel wire, a portable PKP fire extinguisher, silencers for weapons, fireworks (both unused and expended), booze, solo cups, spare clothing, and a massive array of items are loaded into the vehicles for her ghouls.
The glass shattered by Meadows in her rampage is replaced with semi-transparent clouded glass that displays form without detail. Audrey takes her place in the top of the Giani Building on the night in question, visible only in profile through that glass—apparently Caroline—with stand-ins for Caroline’s more violence-inclined ghouls also in place. To outside appearances, Caroline is home in her haven. There’s even video evidence of Caroline entering her elevator with her ghouls on their way to the roof—they depart via internal stairwell (sadly the cameras therein haven’t been replaced since the attack by her mother’s hunters).
Caroline simultaneously trades on, as best she is able, Meadows’ attack on Isa and Caroline at her haven. The mad scourge at it again, still rampaging through the city unchecked, narrowly held off by Caroline and her many ghouls. She gossips about the attack with Kindred that show interest at Elysium, speculating as to the many possible things that could have placed her in the ‘sights’ of the rogue scourge.
Her ghouls pack rounds made of yew wood, Meadows’ bane, for sawed-off shotguns and stakes. Her plans are multi-layered: if Malveaux is killed, to potentially frame the scourge. The brave bishop cut down defending one of his flock against the maniac scourge. Even if he survives, she intends on planting that idea inside his mind, given the opportunity: that Meadows is behind the scene.
Finally, she retains the faint hope that the matter might go off without a hitch—and she can claim compete ignorance of it.
That hope doesn’t cloud her judgment. She dominates a number of patsies to go stir up trouble throughout the night. Not real trouble—no violence—but things that have the initial report of it. Things to draw the attention of the sheriff and hounds throughout the night. Fireworks at high school, college, or random street parties that might be reported as gunfire. Homeless in the street that might be bodies. Mundane break-ins at potentially sensitive sites. Social landmarks like the old City Hall building rather than havens. Most of these are done via second and third order patsies. Those encouraged to action by random dominated individuals with no ties to Caroline.
GM: Several nights pass. Sundown’s herald relays that her master is grateful for Caroline’s rescue of Shaw and pledges his own boon in return. The news of Isa’s concurrent final death at Meadows’ claws (unsurprising, given her antagonism of Rocco) lends credence to the story that Caroline clashed with the scourge and fought her off, which most Kindred listeners are impressed if surprised by.
Caroline’s mother receives her at her hotel suite shortly before the scheduled rendezvous with Bishop Malveaux in the Garden District. Claire doesn’t meet her in the lobby this time, and texts her to simply see herself up (she’s left the door unlocked). Caroline finds Claire sitting on the couch. Her mother looks terrible. Her hair is actually grayer, her cheeks are definitely hollower, and there are veins along her hands. She doesn’t look like she’s slept once since they last spoke.
She has a number of linked devices laid out along the table. Screens show various camera vantage points of the Garden District house where Bishop Malveaux said Caroline was to meet him. The setup reminds her of the Situation Room photos when Bid Laden was killed.
Claire doesn’t rise to greet her daughter, but simply motions tiredly to a spot beside her and says, “The place has been booby-trapped to hell. We’ve both done our parts in setting this up.”
She closes her eyes and just breathes for several moments before continuing, “Now all that’s left is to wait, and watch how the dice fall.”
Caroline: The sight of her mother in such a frightful state drives daggers into Caroline, hardens her heart against what’s coming. Maybe. Maybe, she tells herself, she’ll be able to leverage her mother’s life if all goes according to plan. Maybe.
She lays a hand on her mother’s own.
She has questions, a hundred of them, but they matter less than this moment.
GM: Mother and daughter sit and wait. The bishop’s appointed hour draws close. Several more devices’ screens flicker on. Infragreen, jiggling body-mounted cameras (unsurprisingly, non-thermal) give further views from inside the house. Caroline can make out men with shotguns, assault rifles, silencer-mounted heavy pistols, and even archaic crossbows. Their faces are indistinct. They speak little.
Another camera flickers on. Caroline sees a man and woman in the kitchen. They’re tied up, hooded, and make whimpering, pleading-like noises through what sounds like gags. A man’s crackling voice from one of the cameras asks, “Now?”
Claire responds with a grim, “Yes.”
The hoods come off. Silencer-mounted pistols take aim, then shoot the suddenly wide-eyed and frantically struggling pair. Dark hands remove the gags and bonds, carefully reposition the bodies. Guns are placed in their hands, or rubbed against them and placed just a little ways off. Other alterations are made to the scene. Caroline has staged enough murders by now to know another one when she sees it.
Claire watches the unfolding scene grimly, even tiredly, and issues no further directives.
Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother. “What the hell was that?”
GM: “An explanation for the eventual noise and arson.”
Caroline: Caroline’s mouth sets in a firm line. “Who were they?”
GM: “The Albino’s likely planned victims,” her mother answers tersely. “Sinners worthy of death according to your shared religion.”
Caroline: “Did we identify them first? Make certain they weren’t people who mattered?”
Caroline can picture him putting someone she cared for in that room or several people. Images of Luke and Cécilia’s bullet-riddled bodies fill her mind.
GM: “This isn’t the first time my people and I have done this, Caroline.” Claire’s face isn’t sad, or regretful. Just tired. So tired.
Caroline: Caroline says nothing further on the matter. “It’s almost time for me to go.”
GM: Her mother shakes her head. “You’ve done your part in drawing him out. Generals lead from the rear.”
Caroline: “Killing him is only the start. I need to frame the scene, and that assumes you can bring him into the house without me.”
GM: Claire shakes her head again. “I’m not putting you in the same room as my people. They’d attack you on sight—even if they didn’t immediately recognize what you were. We’ll deal with framing the scene further after he’s been neutralized.”
Caroline: “And if he’s not alone? Or he sends in his bodyguard first? I’m more afraid of the sheriff’s blade than your hunters’ bullets,” Caroline replies.
GM: “We’ve planned and accounted for all of this. Your presence will only be an impediment to the operation’s success.”
Caroline: “You’re willing to bet our lives on that?” Caroline asks.
GM: “More than our lives. I’m not putting you in the same room with my people, Caroline.”
Caroline: “I won’t ask you to, then.” Caroline rises.
GM: Her mother’s sigh is almost inaudible over the whoosh of crackling fire that abruptly surrounds the sofa.
Caroline’s Beast recoils in instinctive panic. She forces it down this time, finally noticing the subtly hidden runes surrounding the pair, pressed deep into the fabric of the room’s persian rug—a rug, she abruptly recalls, that was only also there on her prior visit.
Claire motions again and tiredly rises, the circle of flames expanding to between her and her daughter.
“I’d hoped not to do this until he was destroyed.”
Caroline: Caroline literally shakes against the sight of the flames, but her voice is controlled. Firm. “Planned for everything.”
GM: Her mother looks tired. So very, very tired.
“I won’t kill you, Caroline. But I should have done this months ago. I’ll release you from the binding, and remove the stake, after Savoy is prince and your murderer is destroyed.”
Caroline: “Don’t do this,” Caroline all but begs. “Don’t make me do this.”
GM: Claire shakes her head and slowly sits down on a nearby chair. “You’ll just hurt yourself struggling against the wards. Your powers won’t help you—or your slaves.”
Caroline: “They still might.”
Caroline reaches into a pocket.
“This shot is not meant for you.”
She shakes her head.
“I wish I could have told you the truth, about everything. Maybe I should have.”
GM: Claire only gives a second, even wearier-looking shake of her head. Her eyes look so dark and sunken.
“Your phone won’t work here either. You won’t be able to call your slaves. The binding is as secure—more secure—as any I’ve ever drawn.”
She closes her eyes and leans back against the chair. Her voice is almost a whisper.
“God knows I paid a high enough price to keep you safe.”
Caroline: “You paid the devil’s price, Mother,” Caroline replies. “And he tricked you, like he always does. There is no safety for me in his reign. There will never be. There could never be. I will be a challenge to it for as long as I’m here.”
“Which is why I can’t let you do this.”
GM: “Yes… we can’t ever trust him… taking you away from this, from here, was always safest. Easy enough to fake your destruction—among your kind, until we can destroy him too…”
Her mother’s head droops. Her eyes close.
“I have enough time left… enough to bargain with, still… to start finding… how to cure you… there are methods, it’s been done…”
Caroline: Red tears leak from the corners of Caroline’s eyes.
GM: A voice crackles from one of the devices.
“Showtime, Mrs. Malveaux. He’s in position.”
Caroline knows that voice. Roger Ferris.
Caroline: Her fist closes around Abélia’s gift.
“I know you think you’re doing what’s best, Mother. But you’re not. Break the circle. Please. Please don’t make me do this. Please,” she begs. The flames tear at her composure, but not nearly as much as the act she’s contemplating.
GM: Her mother doesn’t acknowledge her, or open her eyes. Caroline watches as whitening hairs drift from her slumped-over head.
“Kill him, Roger… end this…” she murmurs.
“And I’ll finally free Westley…”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lips hard enough to draw blood as she watches her mother fall apart before her.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
She doesn’t fight the tears.
“I love you.”
She throws the pearl at her mother.
GM: The marble’s opaque, too-black depths reflect none of the flames. It silently bounces off the air just above Caroline, as if striking an invisible barrier—then shatters.
Pure darkness washes forth.
The ceiling and rug within the circle disappear. There’s just blackness, like a kraken’s expelled ink. It washes against the crackling flames. Caroline can feel the eldritch power within her mother’s barrier, so much more than simple fire. Power enough to silence Caroline’s sanguine voice and block her supernal mien. It’d have been a challenge to deal with a Ventrue’s mental powers, especially if Claire was telling the truth about her phone not working.
Caroline can feel the dark energy rippling beneath those unnatural flames too. The price her mother paid to reinforce the binding, to make it stronger, after Caroline revealed the ‘truth’ of her heritage. Claire wanted to be absolutely certain that it would work. That it would contain her daughter and keep her ‘safe.’
The flames hiss, burn, and crackle. They seem to almost scream to maintain their shape. To hold fast Caroline and whatever she has unleashed.
Then, with no more than a mournful hiss, they’re gone as the darkness floods past.
Caroline: She can see it all through red-rimmed eyes, see how much effort her mother has put into this. How much planning. How much she’s sacrificed.
For nothing. For worse than nothing.
GM: Claire’s head snaps up. Horror spreads over her exhausted face. Then it’s gone too, as blackness consumes everything—
All but for a woman’s fluttering laugh.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
GM: The darkness recedes.
The binding circle that surrounded Caroline is gone. Blackness is everywhere. There are shapes in the gloom. Outlines. Indistinct. Only some seem Euclidean.
“My, my, my!” purrs a too-familiar voice. It wafts from every direction around Caroline, and from nowhere at all.
“You are full of surprises, my dear… I certainly wasn’t expecting this.”
Caroline: Red stains Caroline’s face as she stares into the darkness. Her voice is choked as she answers, “Neither was I.”
GM: A pale hand reaches out to brush Caroline’s cheek as the corners of Abélia’s dark eyes crinkle with sympathy.
“Oh, I know you weren’t, sweet child… to raise one’s hand against one’s family, even in self-defense… there are few things more terrible. Few burdens that weigh heavier upon the soul.”
Caroline: “It had to be,” Caroline answers flatly. There’s a hollowness to her eyes.
GM: A second pale arm reaches out from the darkness and embraces Caroline, holding her close. She can feel the older woman’s body pressing against hers. Abélia is shorter than her, Caroline knows, but it doesn’t feel like it. Her embrace is soft and comforting.
“I know it did, you poor thing… I know.”
“You had no other choice. It was not even a question of ambition, but simple survival. It was her… or you.”
Caroline: She leans into the darkness.
GM: The darkness enfolds her, envelops her. She can feel soft hands brushing away her coppery-smelling tears.
“I know what it is to face such an impossible decision, my dear. It was my father whom I slew. There was no other choice. It was him, or I… I and my sister.”
Caroline: The tears flow.
GM: The darkness coos.
Caroline: “Iyazebel,” Caroline answers.
GM: The darkness chuckles.
“No, my dear. But a guess delicious in its irony, all the same…”
Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent.
GM: The darkness cradles her, enfolds her, embraces her. It answers the silence in kind. Time seems to stretch for a second, or an eternity, interspersed only by Caroline’s faint weeping, and the pale hand wiping away her eyes.
Caroline: The tears slow. More slowly than she might like to have thought they would.
“I have to go. There’s so much more I have to do. It’s all in the balance.”
GM: “Time holds only what meaning I permit it within this realm, my dear… you need not rub salt upon a wound still so raw.”
Caroline: “Did she suffer?” Caroline asks.
GM: The darkness sighs.
“I shall not comfort you with lies, dear child.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. She knew the truth before she asked.
GM: “But she suffered less, perhaps, than had she witnessed the slow erosion of her hopes. What you are may be altered, transfigured… but not undone.”
Caroline: “I know,” Caroline admits. “I’ve made my peace with it, but I don’t think she ever could.”
GM: “Your family has brought you such pain, Caroline. You have only ever wished to play the role of the filial daughter. You have but wished to demonstrate your love for your parents. You have but wished to know love repaid not in endless demands, not in cruelty, but merely in kind. You have but wished for your father to be proud of you, to show he values and treasures you. You had but wished for your mother… to do the same.”
Caroline: The words are true. Poisonously true. The tears start again.
She says nothing. She’d never say as much. Never admit as much.
GM: The darkness enfolds her, embraces her, cushions her. She knows softness and warmth.
“I cannot compel love to spring from whence it is absent, my child,” murmurs Abélia’s voice. “Such a feat is beyond my paltry abilities. But where love is present… I may yet make a stream well to a current.”
“My girls think the world of you, Caroline. You spared our family an unspeakable tragedy—you have shed blood to spare us blood.”
“If you should desire, I may make you their sister… in truth.”
Caroline: Caroline lays in that warmth. She doesn’t want it to end.
“What would that make me?” she asks. “Other than their sister?”
GM: She feels motion around her. It’s not unpleasant, but like being slowly rocked.
“It would make you my daughter.”
Caroline: Abélia’s daughter. Cécilia’s, Adeline’s, Yvette’s, Yvonne’s, Noëllle’s, and Simmone’s sister. A new family. One to love. One that loves her. The idea is like a weight coming off her shoulders. She relaxes into the darkness that enfolds her, like a black womb. To be reborn as something new…
“What would it cost?” she asks.
GM: “That price would be borne by me, dear child, not you,” wafts a soft voice from that dark womb.
“A mother sacrifices for her children.”
Caroline: The thought is overwhelming. It can’t be true. It can’t be that simple. The heiress weeps for the simplicity of it. “You’d do that?”
She remembers Yvette’s and Yvonne’s words about their mother. How she always seems to get what she wants. How others always seem to end up doing what she wants—and think her doing them a favor.
She remembers Abélia’s terrifying… folds in her home, on Christmas Eve, slithering around her in their monstrous size and power. She remembers the dark blood pouring from her each time she’s accepted the woman’s gifts, the dark temptations of the knowledge she’s offered.
She always gets her way.
She always gets what she wants.
Would that be so bad? She’s already damned by her blood. She’s already doomed by her creation. She’s already despised by her actions.
She just killed her mother.
She just murdered her mother.
“Will it hurt?” she asks—her last question.
She hopes it will.
GM: The darkness chuckles.
“‘To the woman the Lord God said: I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.’”
“Did your birth hurt you, my dear? Such hurts are for one’s mother to bear. In matters of family, you are innocent as Eve before she ate of Eden’s fruit, and undeserving of pain.”
Caroline: The darkness scares her still, but then, didn’t the light as well when she was born?
“I would be your daughter, Abélia.”
GM: The darkness embraces her. More than the mere sensation of strong arms about her, Caroline feels snug, as if an enveloping presence were embracing every part of her at once—body, mind, and soul. She feels her still-smudged tears dry, even her eternal thirst dim. She feels as if the ground has been taken out from beneath her, and that she is floating in a place removed from time or space as she knows them, yet still protectively embraced by the enveloping presence. Even the slow-burning hunger and ever-present rage of her Beast she has known since her Embrace seem to fade… burdens now borne by another.
“It is begun… my daughter,” sounds Abélia’s voice.
She feels a tender kiss against her forehead.
“Like the gestation of any child in the womb, your full entry into our family shall take time… but what is begun is begun.”
She feels soft hands stroking through her hair.
“I can hardly wait until that night… until what is begun is finished, and your sisters may gaze upon you with the same warmth and depth of affection as I now do.”
A sigh wafts through the darkness, but not wistful or morose like Claire’s. It’s content. Happy.
“Your foe awaits. Go now, with your mother’s blessing… and return to your family in triumph.”
Shapes and phantasmal outlines swim in the darkness. Dreadful shapes, that might descend upon witness’ naked souls like ravenous birds upon wriggling worms, but which Caroline knows will harm her not. Not while Maman is present. She feels motion without ground beneath her feet, as if she is caught within a river’s fast-accelerating current.
“The battle still rages and has left him weak… along with his foes. Neither may withstand you. Go now, and claim your deathright!”
Caroline: “I will not fail,” Caroline replies. The emotions are a whirlwind within her. Grief, self-loathing, terror, fear, frustration, desire, resentment, relief. All will have their day. All have had their moment of rule.
But most all, she feels the hands stroking against her hair. The promise of love, of affection, of a mother that she can trust, that she can share things with. She’d always dreamed of those things, thought perhaps, if she was just a bit better, she’d be worthy of them. If she was a bit more perfect.
She feels safe, for the first time in a long time. Perhaps ever that she remembers.
The relief of the weight of her ravenous thirst and the unending rage of the Beast comes like shedding a burden she’d carried so long she barely noticed it until it was lifted. The muting of the rage and the clarity that comes with it.
Daughter. She’s killed her mother, but gained another. Lost a family, but gained another. Gained sisters that she always wanted. Whatever else may come of it… well, perhaps that is enough. It’s a salve over a wound, numbing it, perhaps numbing her.
“Thank you.” The words spill out with a welling of emotion. They’re inadequate. “I… I can’t wait. To see them. To see what the future holds.”
GM: “You are the one who bears that future within your grasp, my dear… it is yours to shape. Your future holds greatness…” wafts Abélia’s voice, but the sound is fast fading.
More sounds rise—ones of violence. Pain. Hate.
Maddened howls split the empty air. The almost empty air. A weirdly glowing light agent clings to the air in a man-shaped pattern, careening back and forth. The scent of gunpowder is heavy in the air as bullet after bullet riddles the mannish outline, spattering the walls and floor with red. Spent casings tinkle against the ground. Wood-tipped crossbow shafts fly. Explosions sound, and flames roar—but the outline’s maddened shriek still isn’t nearly so agonized as it is at the light.
Caroline is nearly blinded herself from the glare of the headbeams, but the entire house is lit up like someone decided to celebrate a decade of Christmases and New Years’ at once. The phantasmal outline’s unceasing scream is like a spike in her ears, even past the explosive gunshots and literally explosive detonations.
The man-shaped outline blindly stumbles past tripwires and infrared beams in its simultaneous fight and flight. Masked figures fire and retreat, fire and advance, clearly directing their fire to herd him through the worst of the booby traps. Caroline wonders how much longer he can last.
She can still make out several fallen bodies. The shape gestures furiously, all but clawing at the air, and one of the masked figures collapses from behind his cover. He writhes like a gutted fish as blood sprays from his palms, arms, and legs—the same holy wounds borne by Christ.
The shape recoils as another round of bullets chew and pulp its outline, painting the floor red. Fire blossoms around its legs, and its screams reach a ravenous new pitch even as Caroline’s Beast recoils in instinctive panic. The figure’s outline sharply motions again, and another masked figure collapses screaming to the ground, locusts hungrily devouring flesh.
Caroline: Her mother—her birth mother—was wrong, it would seem, in her assertion that she had enough to bring down the bishop. Very wrong.
So much the better. Rarely has Caroline been more inclined to violence, so eager to unleash her loss, her pain, and her anger, on something. So eager to prove herself. And so readily in possession of a target so deserving of her violence.
Malveaux, who would possess her. Malveaux, who would destroy her. Malveaux, who has threatened her since her earliest nights, who dogged her efforts, who insulted and belittled her, who has humiliated her at every opportunity.
Malveaux, who made her kill her mother.
In a moment, all she sees is red.
It doesn’t matter that he’s ‘invisible’. It doesn’t matter that she’s unarmed. It doesn’t matter that bullets and bolts fly back and forth across the room. What matters is that he’s here, where all of his status and influence means nothing. What matters is he’s hurt. What matters is he’s within reach.
Caroline’s attack is utter savagery, lacking in anything approaching subtlety, but not at all in grace or beauty. She’s a blur through the floating particles, then her fists are raining down on him, twisting, turning, trying to rip the bishop limb from limb even as she pulls him, tries to find purchase with her fangs. She digs cruel fingers and canines into the many rents within his skin, tearing them into chasms that weep vitae. She savagely claws and bites at charred skin, ripping it away in bloody hunks. She savages what might be his face, ruining delicate features. Months of loss and repressed rage unleash the gates of hell.
GM: Hell yawns wide—and a demonic host spills forth.
Already wounded, already shot and burned and pierced and ravaged and blinded by her mother’s hunters, the would-be invisible bishop all-too ironically doesn’t even see the hateful whirlwind that is Caroline tear into him. It’s only by the most token of efforts that she tries to resist the Beast. Its instincts and the Man’s are in complete concordance:
The bishop must suffer.
The partial blood bond tugging against her mind is no more than a hangnail against a sucking chest wound. Caroline smashes into her already buckling elder clanmate like a cyclone. Hitting his bullet-riddled skin is like hitting concrete, but she doesn’t care. Even the strongest foundation cracks after enough blows, so she just keeps hitting. And hitting. And hitting. Blow after blow after blow rains down like a howling wind.
Perhaps he screams another invocation. Distantly, her Beast registers pain. Wetness in her hurting palms and arms. She doesn’t care. His physical struggles, even with his own raging Beast behind them, are pathetic. Caroline stops hitting him. She starts devouring him.
Her snapping canines chew, rip, and tear. His neck is as hard as the rest of him. She keeps at it. There are more screamed prayers, more pain across her back, but prayers they’re prayers to a God who must truly be deaf to them as Caroline claws at his half-visible face, digging her nails into an unseen but all-too soft part of his anatomy.
His shrieks are music to the Beast’s ears as the vulnerable organs squelch and pop under her furious fingers. Retinal fluid runs down his suddenly visible face from the gaping holes where his eyes used to be. The bishop lies still.
The red haze recedes.
Gunfire and dragonsbreath explodes at the Ventrue from the remaining masked figures, who perhaps think her spent and weak. She flies towards them. There’s a burst of light and heat in her face. She blurs aside, snap kicking the man in his groin, bringing down an elbow on his neck, and then smashing his masked face against a wall. He crumples to the floor and lies still.
A gunshot sounds behind her. She whirls to face it—and sees one of the men lying on the floor in a heap, bleeding profusely from his ankle. A grenade rolls from his fingers. The man with the smoking gun behind him carefully stops it with his foot, then smashes the butt of his gun into the other man’s face. He also lies still.
“Cops are going to be all over this place in no time, Ms. Malveaux,” sounds Roger Ferris’ voice.
“Plan was to start a fire and blame it on the couple who blew each other’s brains out. The bishop brought backup. Wasn’t supposed to be this much noise or this many bodies. The plan can still work, if you tamper with enough responders’ minds.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps her eyes on the eight-fingered ghoul as she digs out her phone with a viscera-covered hand and dials a number. “Who did he bring?” she asks.
GM: “Fat man. He’s ash. Two ghouls. Both dead.”
“Chandler and the rest of the crew can be here in minutes to help clean up. Your call.”
Caroline: Caroline stares at him and speaks into the phone. “It’s done. Time for cleanup. Get everyone here.” A moment. “No, police.” She hangs up. “Were you ever a ghoul?”
GM: “No. Your mother taught me how to fake it even if one of you tasted me.”
Caroline: Caroline stares, then nips her wrist. “You’re going to be.”
GM: The eight-fingered man bends to receive it.
Caroline: She lets him drink from her, but makes no ceremony of it. Before long, her hand is withdrawn.
“Get your people here. They are subordinate to mine. Are any of the hunters still alive?”
GM: “Only those two,” Ferris answers. He doesn’t lick his lips, but his eyes glint. “My people don’t know about Kindred. But they’ll do what they’re told without questions.”
Caroline: “Get the bodies out of here. Yours will do the immediate cleanup inside. Shell casing, any ordinance, weapons. You know better than I do what’s left here.”
GM: Ferris pulls out out a phone. “Chandler. Scene to scrub. Get everyone.” He gives the address, then hangs up.
Caroline: “Mine will delay the cops. When the first room is set up, start the fire.”
GM: Ferris wordlessly binds and gags the two unconscious men, then starts dragging away the nearest corpse.
Caroline: Caroline once more turns her attention to her defeated foe.
GM: His ravaged, torpid body lies motionless.
Caroline: He’s too dangerous to leave ‘alive.’ More to the point, every moment in which he’s not ash invites his ‘rescue’ and her likely to follow execution.
She knows what Abélia would recommend. What her new mother would want. There’s a poetic justice to it—he would have possessed her. For her to possess him…
My daughter would not shrink from a weapon I placed in her hand.
If that’s what she is now, let none say she fears.
She doesn’t know how it ends, but she knows where to start. She bends to drink from her ancestor once more. For the final time.
GM: Caroline knows well the taste of Kindred vitae by now. She knows it from her liaisons with Jocelyn, from the draughts of elders so often forced upon her lips in punishment. It’s hot, rich, and thick, against which mortal blood tastes like water, even past the faintly bitter ash- or dust-like undertaste. She can almost make out a low Gregorian chant at the edge of her hearing.
She drinks fully, gluttonously, past all satiation. She’s never fed before like this, drained a vessel completely empty while already completely full. She’s never had so much blood. She swollen, bloated, like an engorged tick. Her skin feels wet and she become conscious that the excess blood is leaking out of her pours, she’s taking so much. The omnipresent coppery scent is impossibly arousing. She drinks and she drinks and she drinks, like she has a vein to the world’s own arteries, like she might never run out.
She drinks deep—and hits gold.
It’s not liquid she’s drinking anymore. It’s as heavy as gold and weightless as air. It’s so pure and powerful that she seems to be swallowing liquid fire. She feels a burning in her veins, starting in her throat and spreading outwards through her entire body. It’s indescribable: pleasure so piercing it’s agony, pain so sweet it’s ecstasy.
Bishop Malveaux’s pinkish eyes are wide open, even past his torpor. She sees his mouth laboriously parting past his protruding canines in a silent scream. His face is a shattered mosaic of agony and naked terror: she doesn’t think she’s ever seen another sentient being in such pain.
Caroline: Something within her recoils from that pain and terror, pleadingly claims that she isn’t this person, that she isn’t a sadist, that she doesn’t want to, or enjoy hurting people. I’m a good person, it whispers.
But she knows that voice is a lie. She wants him to hurt. She wants him terrorized. She wants to be the one to hurt him. This freak. This sadist. He deserves it. More to the point, she deserves to do it to him.
My Yvette would not hesitate to seize a newly-forged sword placed before her use. If its steel burnt her hands, ah, well. No power may be claimed without price.
No power without a price. Malveaux’s terror and pain is one she’ll gladly pay.
Especially when it feels so. Damn. Good.
GM: The soundless scream rings back and forth in Caroline’s ears like the tolling of a great church bell. It dongs with every mouthful of that transcendent, soul-scorching flame she sucks into herself. It’s fast at first, like the beating of a vessel’s heart. It slows with each mouthful, yet rings all the deeper, all the louder.
Caroline drinks ravenously. She’s lighter than air and denser than rock. She’s full and she’s empty. She’s divine and depraved. The bishop’s neck is a vein of liquid gold.
She drinks until that vein is empty and that gold is hers—and, impossibly, her ecstasy blooms to even greater heights. She could not stop the raw scream that tears from her lips even if she tried to. The sensation is akin to orgasm, but so much stronger, and omnipresent, lighting up every inch of her skin like she’s been struck by a divine thunderbolt.
She feels ready to burst like a star going nova, so inadequate is her dead shell to contain all that she is. Space vanishes. Time hangs still. She feels herself expanding, racing, as it fills that existential void, and she becomes more than she was… and her ancestor becomes nothing. She sees a crying and naked boy, shunned and mocked by all for his too-pale skin. She sees him wail pitifully for his mother and sister, the only two who loved him, as his brothers hold him down and hit him, laughing what a “runt” and “freak” he is.
She flays his hopes, rapes his tears, swallows his screams, and devours him utterly: in mind, body, and soul. She feels her own all but curl black from the weight a transgression for which there can be no atonement, a sin that no penance may ever erase.
No power may be claimed without price.
She comes to, dead lungs empty of all air, ash falling from her mouth.
Caroline: Caroline takes a deep breath, feeling, for a moment, alive. Her lungs feel, and it feels as though for the first time. Reborn again, something more.
She reaches up and is surprised to find dampness around her eyes again. Tears for her tormentor? She’d never thought of him as anything but a monster. A killer, a terror, an implacable and unyielding fanatic. How many dozens had he killed? How many hundreds in his long Requiem? Beside those murders, those rapes, those torments, his crimes against her are petty. And yet… they all seem petty.
She cannot force the image of him as a crying child from her mind. Afraid, hurt, alone, unloved, reviled. A slave to his mistakes in life—and to the mistakes of his birth.
The Ventrue knows he was more than that. A priest, a bishop, Ventrue, a gerousiastis. He’d risen far from his horrible beginnings. Almost as high as any Ventrue could hope. Far beyond his failings and his limitations. He’d done it on the back of murder and terror, on the back of bigotry and intolerance. He was a monster, objectively, by any measure.
As hard as she tries though, she finds it impossible to remember him as such. Impossible to remember his wrathful castigation of her, time and again. To remember his humiliations of her. To care about the mountain of corpses he left behind him.
The image of the screaming, wailing, pathetic thing he once and always was is seared into her mind, across her soul in ugly black block print. She sympathizes with him in his destruction in a way she never could in his Requiem. She pities him, and hates herself for snuffing out all that he was. And she knows she’ll never forget.
She rises, breathing out the ash of all that’s left of him.
There’s no time to mourn him. There’s no time to regret her actions. The sheriff will be coming. The police already are. She’s made herself the worst type of criminal to her clan, covenant, and kind. Now there is only time to hide her crime.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
Caroline: Normally Caroline would leave the cleanup to her ghouls: that’s what they’re here for, to do such work. Not tonight. There’s no time. Even more, if there is a single error, a single sign of her passage, of her crime, her fate is assured.
She follows the cleanup plan her mother setup: remove the bodies, remove the explosives and bullets and weapons, and burn the building to the ground. She uses Ferris and his men to delay the police, leaning upon the police on his payroll to give her time even as she blitzes throughout the building in a whirlwind of activity gathering up incriminating items.
So far as anyone is concerned, so far as anyone must be concerned, she was never here.
In so much as possible, she keeps her people apart from any of the cleanup. They arrive by van, masked, to assist in loading out corpses, weapons, and the like. When her masked ghouls arrive she has them spread accelerant throughout the house, and additionally bring in numerous more mundane ‘accelerants’. The worst room has an array of paint products brought in, piled among it. Home improvement gone wrong: little burns hotter or faster than paint and paint thinner.
GM: Ferris’ and Caroline’s people get to work. Autumn looks less than happy to see the other now-ghoul working alongside her domitor, but no one wastes time on chatter. Cops in the Garden District are not nearly so inattentive to residents’ needs as they are in other areas of the city. Ferris knows Lt. Curt “The Hurt” Buchowsky by name, but says his people won’t be able to delay the police for long—violent crimes like this are not supposed to happen in the Garden District. On second thought, it may be better if no one messes with the cops’ heads too extensively—the sheriff may look for signs of tampering. Cleaning up the scene to Caroline’s meticulous satisfaction is like walking a tightrope while running instead.
Fortunately, the Ventrue likely could run tightropes. She blurs from carnage-devastated room to carnage-devastated room, too fast to follow, gathering and planting evidence, leaving everything all just so before the big finish.
The house goes up in a roar of flames as Caroline’s vans make their getaway. Some hold fire as a symbol of truth and purification, burning away falsehood and deceit.
But fire has no will. It just burns—and it burns truths as well as it burns falsehoods.
Caroline: Ferris’ people never see Caroline. Once they’re away she brings Ferris in with her to a secondary location, the building she bought for Lou in fact, to debrief him. The bodies of the ghouls are sent off to be disposed of as Ferris / her mother’s team had planned on disposing of any bodies—immediately. Too easily tracked. The hunters are photographed, fingerprinted, and have DNA samples taken for identification if that becomes necessary.
The most immediate and pressing question is who they are, and who among them may be missed. What information Ferris has on them goes a long way towards identification.
Beyond that she wants to know everything about tonight. What involvement they had with Savoy, who else knew of the plot, where any information or plans were stored, the works. She makes no bones of the fact that her mother is dead. Very shortly, if this matter is not cleaned up perfectly, they’ll both join her.
GM: “I know she is, Ms. Malveaux,” Ferris states. “We were in contact. I heard what happened to her.”
“There’s some things you should know.”
“Gettis is alive. He was there at our last meeting. Gettis isn’t his name either. He’s a ghoul. Independent. Ancient. Leads his own organization of police-affiliated hunters called New Orleans Special Task. NOSTF. He’s been working with Savoy for over a century to undermine Vidal’s control of NOPD from within. Lebeaux and Moreno are just the more public efforts.”
“He knows about tonight’s hit on Malveaux. He’s got a nose for trouble. Your mother wanted him to participate. He wouldn’t. Thought it smelled wrong.”
Caroline: The news that Gettis is alive sets Caroline’s nerves on edge, but she simply listens.
GM: “The cell we and Malveaux took out are NOSTF grunts,” Ferris continues. “They operate a clandestine cell system structure. The captives we took won’t be able to identify anyone. They, and the ones we killed, are all cops. NOPD is going to come looking for them.”
Caroline: Caroline scowls. Dead cops are bad news.
“What about the rest of her own ‘cell’?” she asks.
GM: “Your mother wasn’t part of NOSTF, Ms. Malveaux. She was affiliated with an allied group of hunters known as the Barrett Commission. They’re a national organization drawn from politicians, bankers, CEOs, senior military. People at the top.”
“She headed the chapter in Louisiana. They’ve been decapitated with her gone, but have other members. Someone’s eventually going to replace her.”
“NOSTF is an allied group. Your mother leaned on them to do her dirty work in return for funding and behind the scenes assistance. Most of the Barretts don’t get their own hands dirty.”
“She also trades vitae with Gettis to help keep him alive. He’s dust at his age if he misses a dose. That’s where your sample went.”
Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs. It’s a lot—maybe enough, especially with what she got from the coin. Or might have been if she hadn’t destroyed Malveaux. Not that she regrets it.
“How did you get roped in?”
GM: “Seven years ago. When the bishop tried to make me his. He was sterile. He couldn’t Embrace or make ghouls, so he had to be creative.”
“He’s been inside all of your family’s heads at some point, and also uses his magic to perform ‘miracles’ and dupe them into believing what he wants through ‘divine signs.’ Orson truly believes he’s God’s chosen agent on Earth.”
“He tried to suborn me after I started working for your family. Sent me visions and nightmares. Made impossible things happen around me. I’d seen things in the Middle East. When the visions started giving orders, I played along.”
Caroline: “Gettis was at our meeting,” Caroline states as much as asks.
GM: “He was,” Ferris replies.
“Your mother approached me shortly after the bishop tried to get to me. She figured he’d want to. She told me the score. I played double agent and passed along his orders to her.”
“Your mother made me a nominal member of the Barretts, but we agreed she should keep me away from other members. Too close to the front lines. We worked to covertly undermine the bishop’s influence over the family and keep its members safe.”
Caroline: “What happened the night Gettis broke his cover and shot Yvonne Devillers and Sarah Whitney?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Don’t know. Wasn’t your mother’s concern, or mine, except for how it reflected on Gettis. We thought he’d cracked. He only said it was time to abandon the Gettis cover and that his actions served a purpose. We didn’t press for more.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t react to the news.
GM: “Hunter organizations aren’t unlike the CIA, Ms. Malveaux. They don’t share more than they absolutely need to.”
Caroline: “If it were easy to ferret them out, they wouldn’t exist,” she agrees.
GM: “Gettis has been allied with Antoine Savoy since time out of mind. When she blew her cover sparing you, she went to Gettis. He put her in touch with Savoy. She knew things wouldn’t last with the prince’s bloc. Knew the prince would betray her. Savoy has a proven track record of working with hunters.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “And where do you stand, Mr. Ferris?”
GM: “That was an interesting question initially, Ms. Malveaux,” the gray-bearded man replies. “The cardinal rule for any spy is to never burn your own boss. One of my old ones joked trust is like a girl’s virginity. Gone for good once it’s soiled.”
“Your uncle Matt hired me. On paper I reported to him. In practice his actions weren’t his own. It made things messy. Unclear what boss not to burn.”
Caroline: Caroline waits for him to mull it all over, her green eyes glittering.
GM: Caroline’s eyes aren’t green anymore.
She didn’t notice it, at first, until she glimpsed her reflection in the car’s window. They’re the same pale blue as Cécilia’s.
“I concluded my loyalty was to the Malveaux family,” Ferris continues calmly. “As the ones who’d pulled me back from the brink and enabled me to recover my daughter.”
“I also concluded your mother and the bishop were the only ones capable of making true executive decisions as to its future. Your mother had the family’s welfare in mind. The bishop didn’t. He was cracked. Damaged. I threw in with Claire.”
“I liked your mother well enough, Ms. Malveaux. But I’m not going to die for her memory. She’s gone now. So’s he. None of your relatives know the real picture. You’re the only one left who can lead the family.”
Caroline: “And what would you advise me, the last loyal man in New Orleans?”
GM: “You think my advice so free of self-interest? I’m flattered.”
Caroline: “All the better.”
GM: Ferris shrugs. “There’s reasons to eliminate me, and ones to keep me around. You know my skills. I won’t repeat those.”
Caroline: “I didn’t mean about you. Broaden your gaze. Would you advise my mother’s course? That I leap in with Savoy as the old order crumbles?”
GM: “When I was in the CIA, Ms. Malveaux, I didn’t care if it was a Democrat or Republican in the White House. The orders handed down aren’t so different. Domestic macro-politics isn’t our concern.”
“But since you’ve asked.”
“Savoy’s on the rise. He’s had a lot of recent wins. I think he’s shrewder, more open-minded, and more adaptable than the opposition. We’ve handed him another significant win taking out the bishop and his lackey.”
“Savoy’s head still isn’t the one that wears the crown, though. The prince is more established, has more clout, more resources, more everything. But he’s worse at leveraging those advantages than Savoy is. The operative question seems to be how well he can, or can’t, leverage them before his time runs out.”
“Some insurgencies against the established order succeed. Others fail. I’d say between the two here it’s a toss-up.”
Caroline: “The prince cannot hold out,” Caroline agrees. “Not as he’s done. It would require a radical change.”
She rolls over the case agent’s words.
“Insurgency is a good word for how Savoy has run his campaign. And the prince has utterly failed to win hearts and minds. This is not the city it was in his heyday, or even before Katrina, I think. It cannot be ruled as though it still is.”
GM: “The prince doesn’t think he needs to win hearts and minds. He crushes dissenters. That’s worked in the past. Not so much now. Regime change seems inevitable if he’s bound for torpor, assuming that’s accurate information.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “That was why Malveaux had to die, regardless of which side I take.”
GM: “Extra bodies won’t make a regime last if they’re not dependable, and can lull leaders into overconfidence.”
Caroline: Caroline considers that answer before changing the topic.
“And your current state? Can you tolerate existence as a ghoul?”
GM: “Hunters tolerate it well enough when they want to.” Ferris shrugs. “You’re Kindred. Mortals don’t work for you. Hezbollah doesn’t recruit Jews. The CIA doesn’t recruit Muslims. That’s how it is.”
Caroline: “I have need of you, Roger. I need your expertise. I need your knowledge. I need your connections. I need your loyalty. My own ghouls are good at their jobs, but none of them are you. They lack your subtlety, your finesse. That attack on my haven was a work of art.”
GM: The gray-bearded man’s face flickers with annoyance. “It was sloppy. We relied on bad intel, to predictable results.”
“Regardless. Your mother and the bishop are both off the board. My loyalty’s to the Malveauxes, and you’re the only one who can lead them now. You want my service, it’s yours.”
Caroline: The Ventrue lets out her Beast to sniff Ferris’ words, to scent through lies, for any trace of falsehood. It’s eager to come out, still so freshly soaked in her foe’s stolen blood.
Then she rises and extends her hand.
Most women don’t shake hands.
Most women weren’t Nathaniel Malveaux’s daughter in another life.
GM: Ferris rises. The man’s grip is firm, though his two prosthetic fingers lend it an unusual, even off-balancing feel.
Caroline: “We have a great deal to do, Roger.”
Her blue eyes dance.
“We’re going to win a war.”