“Nothing goes as planned. Even when you win.”
Sunday night, 6 March 2016, AM
Caroline: There’s much to be done.
First, she wants Roger to dispose of the bodies of the hunters in a neat way, and will defer to him on it. If it causes a headache for Savoy, or at least forces him to get involved in some way, all the better. She wants the lord of the French Quarter’s fingerprints on this. Roger knows more about their operational patterns. No doubt this isn’t their first casualty.
The two that alive are turned over to her ghouls—unless he has some specific plan in place to make use of them. Their particular wounds are difficult to explain, and that many dead cops is not something anyone can readily wash away. Her initial thought is to brainwash the two living with the memory of having murdered their fellows—the group as a whole having served a small corrupt group within the NOPD whose greed eventually led them to violence against each other. It’s sure to be a story, but one the NOPD will want buried as much as anyone. Perhaps they were looting the evidence locker, or stealing from criminals they busted?
In either case, before they’re turned over towards that purpose, she needs information on, if not their other hunters, at least on their past operations. What else have they gotten up to? What else do they know? Who else have they destroyed? What vampires have compromised agents or havens? If necessary she can and will rewrite their memories before she departs to make Ferris their reporting senior, or to give them instructions from their leaders to read him in. In any case, their memories of her at the site of Malveaux’s murder are wiped.
She needs any and all documentation her mother kept her organization or ties, and on this operation specifically. She doesn’t expect much. If there is any recording of the attack on Malveaux she wants it. In particular, footage showing that she had no part in the attack is of value—she wasn’t even there when he went into the house—nor were any of her ghouls.
She is breaking for an important meeting of her own. Her first stop is her mother’s home. Her new mother. That Gettis is alive is information she’s as eager to share, as is news of her destruction of her distant ancestor. That news raises many questions, foremost among them about the providence of Cécilia’s bodyguard (and Gettis’ killer).
GM: Ferris brings up several matters pertaining to the French Quarter lord.
Savoy and Gettis don’t know Claire’s dead at this point, and have no reason to believe so. Savoy wasn’t involved in the hit’s tactical planning at all, but Gettis was, and knew Claire wasn’t taking to the field.
If Caroline desires, Ferris can resume his time-honored role as a double agent claiming to work for someone else. They won’t be able to maintain the ruse forever, but in the short term, they could.
Ferris thinks blaming the dead cops on the living cops is a good story as it pertains to the Masquerade. He doesn’t think it will fool Gettis, who knows his men and well knows such Kindred tricks. He also points out that too visible an effort to preserve the Masquerade will tip off Gettis (and through him, Savoy) that another Kindred was involved in this affair.
At this point, Gettis likely doesn’t believe Caroline was. Claire never shared her daughter’s nature with Gettis, though it’s possible Savoy did. Claire would not have told Gettis or Savoy about Caroline’s involvement in the Malveaux hit.
Ferris can interrogate the hunters for what they know. He says Gettis has certainly prepared for the possibility of his men falling into Kindred hands, and to treat all intelligence gained as suspect until independently verified. He doesn’t think it’s necessary for Caroline to make him their reporting senior—or rather, he thinks it’d be easier to interrogate them through conventional means.
As far as any documentation held by Claire, he’d guess that if there’s any, it’s in her hotel room—along with the devices where she remotely watched the hit.
“She also had another hideout in the city. I don’t know where. Could be more there.”
He does add that if he were Savoy, he’d have eyes on that hotel room. There could be risks to going back—it’s his guess how long any countermeasures placed by Claire may now last. “Risks and rewards.”
Caroline: “Plan for tomorrow,” Caroline responds, regarding her mother’s hotel room. “We can break off if needed, but if he gets in first it could be… very damaging.”
GM: “Could be a lot easier if you got back there the same way you got out,” Ferris observes. “You were in that room. Then you weren’t.”
Caroline: Caroline’s blue eyes betray nothing. “All things have a cost.”
GM: Ferris doesn’t press it, and next brings up an elephant in the room.
Explaining Claire’s death.
There are multiple reasons the sheriff didn’t attempt to eliminate her—at least, immediately—but one of the gravest was the threat to the Masquerade. She’s too public. Too important. Too connected. They have a brief window before the Malveaux family realizes Caroline’s mother is missing—and then neither of them will be able to stop the ensuing manhunt. Ferris supposes he’ll be in charge at first, but when he doesn’t produce a living Claire, he can think of ten thousand different ways this could fall out of his hands and onto the national news.
They picked a fight with the Masquerade even the sheriff didn’t want.
Caroline: Caroline is well aware of the implications of her mother’s disappearance. She doesn’t have an immediate answer, but will have one tonight. Producing a Claire will factor into it.
GM: Ferris says he’ll interrogate the hunters and hit Claire’s hotel room this morning, then asks what Caroline’s call is so far as any potential continued dealings with Gettis. They probably have until people realize Claire is missing for that too.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t expect Gettis will buy Ferris’ coincidental survival when all of his men died, and frankly considers Ferris to be too important for the information he has about recent dealings.
GM: “Two surviving helps there,” the ex-CIA agent points out, but otherwise defers to Caroline’s decision.
Caroline: For the moment, or the night at least, she wants him to avoid the ancient ghoul, especially since she doesn’t know the extent of his abilities.
GM: “Considerable. I’ve seen him take apart younger Kindred. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Caroline: “How young are we talking about?”
GM: “Last one we killed together was maybe half a century. Her name was Emily Thurmon.”
Caroline: So that’s what happened to Thurmon, Caroline considers.
“How old is he?”
GM: “Not sure. He’s been working with Savoy since the French Quarter lord came to power. Old enough he’ll be dust if he misses a dose.”
Caroline: “Among other things, I’ll need a list of Kindred you—or he—have killed in the last six months, along with those you have under observation.”
GM: “It’s a fair few. Sheriff used us to get rid of his enemies.”
Caroline: “Thurmon was on his hit list?” Caroline asks curiously.
GM: “She was,” Ferris states.
Caroline: Another weapon removed from the arsenal of my enemies, Caroline thinks.
GM: “We passed all his targets to Savoy. Arranged to foul a couple jobs, though Savoy let us kill a few of his people to maintain cover.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Can’t let your duties to your subordinates get in the way of expediency.”
GM: “Bishop’s dead. Gamble paid out for him. None of the people of his we killed were anywhere near as important.”
Caroline: “We’ll see. Anything else pressing?”
GM: “Plenty of potential usefulness or relevance. None immediately pressing.”
Caroline: Caroline’s blue eyes glitter at the prospect. “We’ll make time when the fires are out.”
Sunday night, 6 March 2016, AM
GM: Traffic is minimal between the CBD and Garden District at this hour in the middle of the night. No lights emit from the walled mansion where the Devillers family lives. No one answers when Caroline tries the house’s landline number or the gate’s intercom. She lacks a cellular number for Abélia, though has ones for Yvette, Yvonne, and the other Devillers children—or as Abélia might term them, her imminent sisters.
Caroline: She calls Cécilia, knowing she’s awaking her. Gettis is alive, which puts everything about one of her soon-to-be sister’s guardians into question.
GM: More than a few rings pass before a very tired-sounding Cécilia picks up. “Caroline… what is it…?”
Caroline can’t see Cécilia’s face. But she can hear how the news shocks her brother’s fiancée to instant wakefulness like a bucket of ice-cold water.
Caroline: “I need to talk to Abélia,” Caroline answers, not bothering to repeat herself.
GM: “She’s… she’ll be at the LaLaurie House. Caroline, how do you… did something happen? Are any of the girls hurt?” Cécilia’s initially confused voice goes sharp as a tack.
Caroline: “No one’s hurt,” Caroline lies. Then, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Did she have Simmone with her?”
GM: There’s a pause. “Yes, Simmone’s with her everywhere. Did…”
“Cécilia? What is it…?” sounds a muffled but familiar male voice.
“It’s about the wedding.”
“At this hour…?”
“I know. I’m telling them off… go back to sleep.”
Caroline: Caroline waits for Cécilia to finish her conversation with her brother.
GM: Cécilia’s hushed voice sounds again shortly later. “Tell Maman about this. In person. Stop by the LaLaurie House. I’ll… I have a thousand questions, but I’ll hear it from her.”
Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip. The French Quarter has eyes, but she supposes it can’t be avoided. “I’ll talk to you later,” she agrees.
She departs for the LaLaurie House.
GM: It’s a long-feeling drive back from the Garden District to the CBD, and from there to the Quarter. There’s equally little traffic even deeper into the dead of night. The city feels asleep as a light rain starts to patter down, but Caroline can only wonder how unsleeping the eyes watching the French Quarter are.
The house on 1140 Royal Street, the same street as Antoine Savoy’s own center of power, stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for when it was built at three stories.
Caroline: Caroline knows more than a little about the dark history of the house. Remembers her mother speaking of it. Remembers it at the center of a night of anguish what seems like lifetimes ago. Still, she’s never visited.
She knows the stories are far more than stories, knows the place is a pit of darkness, but finds herself unable to fear it. If this is where Abélia makes her home, she trusts whatever terrors it hides are not meant for her.
GM: Caroline almost expects there to be no visible means of egress to the house, but there’s a doorbell as modern-looking as any on the Giani Building. She buzzes it.
There’s no answer—save for the house’s iron gate silently swinging open, admitting Caroline into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut behind her. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.
Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. Caroline pushes the second bell. The door swings slowly open on silent hinges.
The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. It doesn’t smell like Caroline thought it might, though. It’s clean and fresh. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.
Shuffling steps sound at the edge of Caroline’s hearing. A tall, looming figure emerges from within the gloom.
The figure stares down at Caroline. It doesn’t say anything.
Maybe it can’t.
Caroline: Caroline eyes the figure. “You’re not who I thought you were.”
She finds she cares less about its identity now than before.
“I need to speak with her.”
GM: The figure does not answer Caroline’s first statement. It silently points towards one of the adjacent rooms.
Caroline: The blonde sets off.
GM: For all that Caroline has heard of the house’s cursed reputation, the indicated sitting room appears mundane enough. It’s tastefully decorated with delicate rococo furniture, persian rugs, classical artwork, and a ponderously ticking grandfather clock.
She can see her reflection in the glass. She looks like death. Her skin is lighter than her destroyed—no, annihilated—ancestor’s, but not by much. Color is equally absent from her cheeks, lips, and forehead, giving her face a curiously uniform, plastic-like appearance. Her firm jaw, inherited from her mother, has an almost cruel cast to it. Her pale blue eyes are glassy like marbles. She looks like a morbid doll. A mockingly rendered approximation of the person she used to be.
Her mother’s—first mother’s—words on her appearance weren’t so long ago.
You look… good, did you know that? Less pale, maybe.
Less of the monster tonight, I guess, than the daughter.
Caroline: She wants to look away, but she doesn’t.
This is who you’ve become, she tells herself.
GM: Staring into that reflected vision of herself brings to mind another individual’s long-dead words. Dry and croaked, like he was.
I wish there was a way to fight against it and win. But there isn’t. I’ve searched. I’ve seen. All I know how is the way to lose more slowly.
Caroline: It doesn’t matter. He’s gone, just like her mother is gone.
GM: The faceless man wordlessly points towards one of the Roman numerals on the clock. A half hour or so from now.
Caroline settles in on a couch and pulls out her phone to stay productively occupied. There’s always something to do. Something to lose herself in.
It beats losing herself. Or at least distracts from it.
She doesn’t hear the tall figure’s retreating footsteps. They’re simply gone. The Ventrue is left alone with her thoughts and her phone’s faintly glowing screen.
Then, to Caroline’s newly-sensitive ears. A faint pitter-patter, like the rain against the windows, but heavier and more sequential. She hears the faint thumping of the kine child’s smaller heart before Simmone steps into view. She’s clad in a nightgown and her eyes are rimmed with sleep.
“Caroline…? It’s really late…”
Caroline: Caroline sets down her phone, devoting her full attention to the girl. “I know, I’m sorry. Did I wake you coming in?”
GM: “No… no, mah bedroom’s…” She yawns and points vaguely at the ceiling. “Up there…”
Caroline: “Did you need something?” she asks.
GM: Simmone clambers onto the couch, curls against Caroline, and then abruptly pulls back.
“Bong sang, you’re cold…!”
She tilts her and looks at Caroline. Her still-sleepy expression is almost confused. “You look really sick…”
Caroline: The Ventrue forces a smile onto her lifeless face. “It’s been a very long night,” she says. “I just need to rest.” She forces still blood to bump through arteries, forcing an illusion of life back into her corpse.
It’s not even all a lie.
GM: Simmone looks at her face another moment. Caroline can feel it taking more out of her than last time, but the ten-year-old’s sleepy face eventually un-furrows.
“Yeah, Ah guess… why are you ’ere so late?”
Caroline: “I did something tonight, Simmone. Something… something terrible,” she admits.
GM: “You saved Yvonne’s life…” Simmone answers, as if in refutation.
Caroline: “I did that too,” Caroline agrees with a steadily fading smile, like the setting of the sun.
GM: “So… what’d you do?” she asks uncertainly.
Caroline: “I hurt someone. Someone I cared about. Someone that cared about me,” the Ventrue admits.
GM: “Was it an accident?”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No.” She shakes her head again. “No. We were fighting, about something. They thought they were doing what was right, but they weren’t. They wouldn’t stop.” She digs her fingernails into her palms. “They wouldn’t listen. She wouldn’t listen.”
GM: “Oh.” Simmone doesn’t look completely sure what to say. “When are they, Ah mean she, going to get better?”
Caroline: “I don’t think so, Simmone.” She hangs her head. “I think it was the right thing. If I hadn’t stopped them it would’ve been very bad, but that doesn’t make it any better.”
She looks at the young girl. “Something about being an adult, I guess, sometimes you have to make choices when there aren’t any good ones.”
GM: “Oh,” Simmone says again to Caroline’s answer. She looks worried, even sad for the Ventrue, though still unsure of what to say. “Well… Ah’m sure you did the raht thing. Or the most raht.”
Caroline: “I hope so.” She looks down at the girl. “I guess it shows even adults make mistakes, right?” She draws in a meaningless breath so she can sigh.
GM: “Maman doesn’t,” Simmone says. “Is that why you’re ’ere, so she can ’elp?”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t know where I’d be without her,” the Ventrue admits.
But she made some mistakes, it seems.
She looks into Simmone’s eyes. “Could you forgive me, if I’d hurt you?”
GM: “Sûre. You wouldn’t on purpose,” the ten-year-old answers.
Caroline: Caroline stares at Simmone for a long moment.
“I wouldn’t want to,” she agrees at last.
“Why are you out of bed?” she asks, changing the subject.
GM: “Ah woke up. Sometimes Ah do that. Ah ’ave… bad dreams.”
Caroline: “Did you have a bad dream tonight?”
GM: Simmone nods.
Caroline: “Do you remember it?”
GM: “It was… the shooting,” she says uncomfortably. “Yvonne and… the man ‘oo did it. ’E keeps ’urting us. ’E’s always been ’urting us…” Simmone scrunches her eyes. “Ah wish ’e’d… Ah wish ’e’d go away…”
Caroline: Caroline reaches out for the girl and wraps an arm around her. “I’ll never let him hurt any of you again,” she tells her.
GM: Simmone gladly curls up against Caroline, resting a head against her chest. “Maman doesn’t want me to sleep with ‘er anymore, unless the dreams are really bad. She says Ah’m getting old for it. Ah guess she’s right, but…”
Caroline: “She’s right to,” Caroline replies softly. “Eventually children have to leave the nest. Parents have to let them go out and experience things, make their own choices. If they don’t, they’ll end up trying to run their children’s lives forever.”
GM: Simmone thinks for a moment, then says, “But what if Ah want ’er to?”
Caroline: “What about what she wants?”
GM: “She’d, well…” Simmone trails off. “Ah dunno. Sometimes Ah want to be like Peter Pan and never grow up.”
Caroline: Caroline could grant that wish, in a twisted and perverted way.
GM: “You make being an adult sound… well, ‘ard. Ah don’t want things to be ’ard anymore. Ah just want them to go back… to ’ow they used to be.” Simmone looks a little frustrated, but more sad.
Caroline: “We can never go back,” Caroline answers. “We can’t change the past, or repeat it. There is only ever the future.”
“But it’s not all bad. It may seem like it sometimes, but being an adult has its advantages.”
GM: “But Ah don’t like the future,” Simmone says glumly. “We’ve ‘ad… all this ’appen, and Yvette and Yvonne are leaving next year… and Cécilia’s going to ‘ave a baby, and it’s neat and a little weird Ah’ll be an aunt, but what if she doesn’t ’ave time for me…”
Caroline: Caroline gives a sound that might be a strangled laugh, and turns away to wipe her eyes as a sad but genuine smile blossoms across her face. She carefully wipes away the blood before turning back. The fears of a child.
“Not all change is bad. Would you have never met me?” she asks.
GM: “No… no, Ah’m ’appy for that…”
Caroline: She brushes Simmone’s hair out of her face. “I’ve been wrong before… many… many times. But I think I’m right in this, if nothing else.”
“The past, for good and ill, we carry with us. We can’t change it, nor can we return to it. Not the most terrible things, nor the best times. The future though… in it is endless possibility for good and will—and our own ability to change it.”
“When you become an adult your decisions become yours. Sometimes you make the wrong ones—or even the right ones that are still bad. But you gain the ability to make the right ones. To guide yourself down a path you want.”
“You can meet new people, and create new memories. You can become the aunt you always wanted to be for your new niece, and maybe make your mother very happy one day by giving her grandchildren as well.”
GM: “Ah guess that’s true…” Simmone nods at Caroline’s words. “Ah mean, Maman was a kid like me once, and she started to make raht decisions, like you say, and started to make them for a lot of people.”
Caroline: “And someday you’ll do the same for your daughters,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “It’s really ’ard to picture me like that. Being an aunt is easier.” She smiles. “You’re raht though, they would be girls. Men don’t run in our genes.”
Caroline: “Spoken like your mother,” Caroline answers.
GM: “She’s raht, we don’t ‘ave any brothers or uncles or anything. It’s kinda nice.”
Caroline: “Men can be nice to have around,” Caroline replies. “I love my brothers… my father.”
GM: “Oh they can be, your brother’s nice. It’s just seems like it’d be…” Simmone seems to search for words. “Ah dunno. Different, Ah guess. Ah guess there’s just good and bad things to everything. Like ‘ow Ah don’t ‘ave to go to school anymore. It’s nice getting to sleep in every day, and see Cécilia and Adeline more, but Ah miss mah friends too.”
Caroline: “Would you like to go back to school?” Caroline asks.
GM: Simmone looks uncomfortable. “Ah’m… Ah’m scared, without Maman. Ah’ve missed ’alf the year. Ah was in theater. We were doing The Wizard of Oz, and Ah was going to be Dorothy.”
Caroline: “That would have been something to see,” Caroline replies. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to.”
GM: “Well… Ah guess it’s like you said, you wouldn’t ‘ave come if you ’adn’t saved Yvonne’s life…”
Caroline: Caroline nods, then checks the clock. “Are you ready to go back to bed?” she asks.
GM: Simmone follows her gaze. “Ah guess so. Though it’s not like Ah ’ave to be up early, right?”
Caroline: “Still a good habit,” Caroline answers. “Come on, I’ll tuck you in.”
GM: Simmone holds out her arms. “Carry me?”
Caroline: A smile worms its way across the dead face. “I suppose,” she answers. “Just don’t tell your mother.”
GM: “Oh, she still carries me everywhere,” Simmone smiles back. “She says Ah won’t be too old for that until Ah’m too ’eavy.”
Caroline: That won’t be that long, Caroline thinks. Especially on an eternal, immortal calendar. She can see why Abélia does it.
“All right. Let’s go.”
GM: “Ah still do ballet,” the ten-year-old adds as Caroline picks her up. “Maman ’as mah dance teacher come by to give me lessons. You could watch those.”
Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline agrees, kicking off her heels even as she hoists the preteen.
GM: “She comes bah on Tuesdays and Thursday at 5:30, for an hour,” Simmone helpfully adds as they start moving.
Caroline: “I’ll make a note.” The timing would be awkward under ideal circumstances, but maybe if she’s late arriving one night…
GM: It’s a long and winding path up the three flights of stairs to Simmone’s bedroom. “Ah thought the view was better last time,” the ten-year-old comments humorously, though it’s certainly an easier walk barefoot.
Simmone’s bedroom looks utterly unlike what one might expect of the LaLaurie House. There’s pink bubble patterns on the walls, posters for several plays (including Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods), and a zebra-patterned rug next to the pink-sheeted bed.
Caroline: Caroline settles the girl into her pink bed and adjusts the sheets and stuffed animals to tuck her in comfortably.
GM: Simmone has Caroline tuck a stuffed panda bear named Mrs. Melons (“because Ah spilled melon on ’er once”) under the sheets next to her, murmurs a “g’naht…” and yawns as she turns over against her pillow. Caroline turns off the lamp on her bedside table. The room is silent but for the steady pattering of rain against her window.
“You’re fitting in marvelously, Caroline,” purrs a low and familiar voice.
Caroline: Caroline turns, searching for the source but not expecting to find one.
“It’s all about finding one’s place,” she agrees quietly.
GM: The Ventrue’s eyes cast towards the door, across the room, and then abruptly back to the door. Abélia Devillers stands within its threshold. Caroline’s sight cannot pierce the clinging darkness in the hallway beyond, but the swollen and melon-like shape to Abélia’s belly is unmistakable.
Caroline: Caroline stares at it for a moment, before settling her gaze back on the French matron’s face.
GM: “Your eyes are already coming in,” the raven-haired woman smiles, stroking her belly. Her voice remains at a whisper. “They look beautiful, Caroline.”
Caroline: Caroline wants to ask, but fears for the answer.
“They’re different,” she says she touches her face. “But then of course they’d be. I shall have to think on how to explain them.”
GM: Abélia gives a faint, fluttering laugh.
“Such a responsible daughter. So concerned for your Masquerade.”
Caroline: “Shall we withdraw so she can sleep?” Caroline gestures to Simmone.
GM: Abélia smiles benignly as her dark eyes passing between Caroline and her youngest. She seem to doesn’t step back into the hall so much as recede into it.
“On this occasion, you may direct your efforts elsewhere—you have so much else to do, and de Corazon’s little dream shall not suffer on account of your lovely eyes.”
Caroline: “And of the questions it may raise among the Damned?” Caroline asks.
Who are you? she wonders as Abélia so casually references centuries-ancient Kindred.
GM: There’s that same fluttering laugh.
“Most of Caine’s children are as gullible as Seth’s.”
Caroline: Caroline lets the matter go and continues in the hall with her ‘mother.’
“I destroyed the bishop. No, more. I devoured him.”
GM: “How did you find his taste?”
Caroline: “As bitter as he was in his Requiem,” Caroline answers. “But deeply satisfying,” she admits.
GM: “Bitter herbs are not without their place in one’s kitchen,” Abélia smiles. “You are pleased with your new power, I trust?”
Caroline: “It is necessary. As necessary as his destruction. Better that it should have been with purpose.”
Yes, she admits to herself.
GM: “More may yet come… give what you have taken time to digest. Whom shall you sup upon next?”
Caroline: “What may come. There’s more though, things you should know.” She waits this until they’ve moved down the hall. “Gettis is alive.”
GM: The two have already spoken of sensitive matters within Simmone’s earshot, of course, but Abélia seems unbothered and content to stroll through the gloom-shrouded halls at a leisurely pace.
“Oh, is he? I fear Jeremy may not be the sharpshooter he fancies himself.”
Caroline: Sensitive is one thing, but she would not give her ‘sister’ cause to fear the demon that haunts her dreams.
“He leads a large and powerful group of hunters within the NOPD,” Caroline continues, shocked by Abélia’s calm at learning of the deception.
GM: “That must certainly be a headache for Vidal,” Abélia smiles. “Savoy is clever to distract him with more visible threats to his influence. But that’s very considerate of you to bring me this information, Caroline. The safety and well-being of your sisters—don’t fret, more than your eyes is still to come in—was of course heavy upon your mind. What counsel would you give me towards that continued end, in light of this new development?”
Caroline: “I want to have all of their security vetted by my people,” Caroline answers, “and eventually replaced by those whose loyalty can be more firmly guaranteed. I will eventually move against Gettis directly, for now he’s lost an ally and many of his soldiers. I have two more I intend on using to create further headaches for him.”
GM: “Do we know the number and composition of his forces?” Abélia inquires. “But of course, vetting their security… I’ve been letting Daniel Hayes handle things there. He seems capable, but he isn’t family. He gets so discomfited when I don’t wish his men around. You won’t see any of them here… Simmone doesn’t like them, I don’t think, unfamiliar men carrying around those noisome guns.”
Caroline: “Moreno is also involved with Savoy, but I’m certain you knew that. Still, that danger is closer than others, depending on how deeply he is in with Savoy.”
GM: “Of course. Adeline and I will be very careful, and heed any further counsel you should give us.”
Caroline: Caroline looks at her mother, trying to figure out if she’s being patronized by the (much) older being.
GM: “One loses naught and may gain much from others’ counsel, my dear child.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “In that vein, I thought to seek your own.”
GM: “Seek and ye shall find,” Abélia smiles.
Caroline: She outlines the potential difficulties of explaining Claire’s disappearance, and also her concern should anyone suspect her part in the bishop’s death, and inquires as to whether her birth mother’s body might be produced, and similarly if her crime might be hidden.
GM: Abélia gives a light and fluttering laugh. “If it were simple to do, my dear child, all Cainites who supped upon their fellows’ souls would do it.”
“Still… hmm. To hide so dark a stain upon yours is no small thing, but it can be done. Bring me a child. The younger, the better—the innocence within an infant’s blood would conceal your crime most totally of all.”
Caroline: Caroline stares at Abélia.
GM: “It’s rude to stare, Caroline,” the raven-haired woman chides with an indulgent smile.
Caroline: She looks away. “Is there no other way?”
GM: “Like requires like, my dear. To paint a black soul white, one must draw from white.”
Caroline: “And the body?” she asks, already knowing her answer to the question of child murder.
GM: Abélia makes a faint tsking noise.
“Quite gone, I am afraid.”
Caroline: Caroline tries not to frown too obviously.
GM: The smile returns. “Oh, but I can hardly bear to see any of my daughters unhappy. Just as an older child’s blood might substitute for an infant’s, perhaps we may find something to substitute for Claire Malveaux’s corpse… in what capacity would you desire to employ it?”
Caroline: “Her death will create a great many questions, both for the Masquerade generally, and specifically within the Malveaux family and the hunters she worked with. At minimum I’d wish to cover up the details of her death with the national media. If possible, I’d also desire to create the appearance to the various hunters that she either died a natural death or was killed by Savoy,” Caroline answers, perhaps too professionally.
GM: “Killing two birds with one stone. Very clever, my dear.”
Caroline: “Fracturing that alliance is necessary. As is securing the seneschal’s blessing, now that his demands are met.”
GM: “Oh, have you concerns that Philip may not grant it?”
Caroline: “Stained by the bishop’s blood and with a potential mess left by Claire’s disappearance?” Caroline asks in turn.
GM: “All stains fade in time, my dear. I’m certain a bright girl like you has the sense to wait until she’s cleaned up.”
Caroline: “All things with a cost, Mother. The longer I delay the more vulnerable I and everyone I care for am.”
GM: Abélia only smiles and strokes her swollen belly as the two’s meandering steps carry them past one staircase and then down another. Intricately patterned rugs, the occasional potted plant, and photos of the smiling Devillers family at various ages line the walls. Caroline sees herself in one, on a beach with Cécilia. Both hugging girls wear swimsuits and look younger than Simmone.
Caroline: Caroline stops to look at the picture. “Rewriting history, or just writing another one?” she asks.
GM: It’s not a local beach, or the Florida ones where her (old) family would sometimes go during long-distant childhood excursions across the Gulf of Mexico. The architecture is older, with as much stone as concrete, and orange shingles on many rooftoops. Caroline pegs it as the French Riviera.
“All threads of fate are intertwined, dear child. Embroider another pattern, and existing ones cannot help but be rewoven too.”
Caroline: “And what happens to Caroline Malveaux?”
GM: “Would you still bear that name?”
Caroline: It’s a meaningful question.
“It’s been mine for all my life,” she replies. “But more than a name, what happens to who I was?”
GM: Abélia chuckles lightly as she strokes her swollen belly. “Fret not, my sweet. You shan’t lose your bank accounts or any of those other trifles your clan prizes so dearly.”
Caroline: “What about my experiences?” Caroline asks.
GM: Abélia removes her hand to tenderly stroke Caroline’s cheek. Her dark eyes glint as they take in the Ventrue’s blue ones.
“Trust Maman, dear child. I desire naught but your happiness and success.”
Caroline: “I just want to understand what I am. Who I am. If I didn’t trust you I wouldn’t be here.”
Her mother never would have made such a gesture. Claire, who would have, who did, give up everything until her last moment trying to help Caroline, but only on her own terms.
Another question strikes her. “Were all my sisters born the same way?”
GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh as she removes her hand from Caroline’s cheek.
“Oh, clever girl.”
“They were… and they were not. Jehovah’s curse held as true for me as any mother. In pain did I bring them forth. They were not conceived as you were. But your entry into this world shall mirror theirs.”
Abélia walks with Caroline. They reach a balcony overlooking the home’s first-story interior courtyard. Rain pitter-patters against the brick floor. Camellias, rosemallows, gardenias, and other flowers bloom from pots and an earth-filled tough. Fig trees, Japanese maples, and other small trees branch above the flowers. Cushioned garden chairs and tables recline under wide parasols that keep them sheltered from the rain. A set of double french doors leads out to the street. Several further doors into the house’s depths.
“What do you think of our family’s little home away from home?”
Caroline: “It’s not what I expected,” Caroline admits.
GM: “Expectations are so often traps of our own making,” Abélia smiles. “What had you expected?”
Caroline: “Darkness. I’d heard the LaLaurie House was one of the darkest and most haunted places in the city.”
GM: There’s a fluttering laugh.
“A poor home such a house would make for my Simmone indeed.”
Caroline: “Unless bent to your will,” Caroline answers.
GM: Another fluttering laugh.
“Oh, such feats you ascribe me. Next you shall be saying I direct the sun and moon in their cycles.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Only feats within your grasp. That being a mother is enough may be true, but you are far more than simply that.”
GM: Abélia’s smile returns. “Having family agrees with you, my dear. It makes you say the sweetest of things.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles too. Why couldn’t it ever be like this, she wonders, but the thought passes just as quickly.
“But back to the body,” she presses.
GM: “You spare overmuch thought for the Masquerade, my dear,” the midnight-haired woman tsks. “We shall have to broaden your mind where that little chimera is concerned, sometime.”
Caroline feels a sudden sharp pain at the back of her head. Abélia pulls her hand away. A thick drop of blood clings to her fingertip.
“One of Claire’s children would have served better, but enough of her blood yet lingers in your veins.”
Abélia’s smile returns again.
“Waste not, want not.”
“Return your haven, my dear, ere the dawn rises. The Malveaux family shall have their corpse to mourn.”
Caroline: One of Claire’s children. The words echo in Caroline’s mind. I guess that means I’ve truly left behind my mortal life.
She isn’t certain if that disturbs or relieves her. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter.
Sunday night, 6 March 2016, AM
GM: If Antoine Savoy’s agents notice Caroline’s car in his domain, parked on the same street as their master’s court, none visibly move to waylay her. She returns to her haven as the dawn rises and sleeps.
She doesn’t settle in to bed, close her eyes, and then wake up. She sleeps.
It does not feel restful. It feels like she is slowly sinking, as if into quicksand, and frantically for a handhold upon the shores of consciousness. Oblivion yawns beneath her. She is glad to awaken.
A woman’s naked corpse lies sprawled over the spartan room’s floor as casually as someone might have dropped a candy wrapper. Hollow green eyes like the ones Caroline used to have stare dumbly open. The face looks like Claire’s, but has a faint and disconcertingly plastic-like quality to it. It looks so much like Claire, it’s impossible to think of the corpse as anyone else’s… and yet the body is not Caroline’s (former?) mother, either, of that she is certain. It’s at once similar enough to attract and strange enough to repulse.
A black, tar-like substance leaks like drool from the naked corpse’s mouth, nostrils, nipples, and wide-staring eyes. The jaw’s lips are quirked in an almost amused-looking half-smile.
Caroline: The ‘sleep’, the body, her now-blue eyes, and the newly-heightened senses that bring it all into vivid clarity leave Caroline more than uneasy. They’re a horrifying and immediate reminder of everything that happened the night before. How she murdered her mother. How she diablerized the bishop. How she stained herself with the blackest sins of both Kindred and kine.
It’s too soon to know what she’s gained from all of this, but she knows all too clearly what she’s lost.
For there to be any gain, she needs to get to work. She doesn’t want to approach the body, doesn’t want to touch it, doesn’t even want to look at it. But she does. She moves to examine it, to determine how closely it might pass for a real one. She wipes away the black tar-like substance and closes the green eyes that stare at her.
Accusing eyes that seem to scream at her, You killed me.
GM: Claire’s corpse only lies there on the floor, almost repulsively stark in its nakedness.
As Caroline could well attest, however, the night does not slow for the dead. Her first meeting is with Roger Ferris. The ex-station chief says he has good news and bad news.
The bad news is that Claire’s hotel suite, when he went back, was stripped of all electronic devices, documentation, and other items of value. “The list of people who could have wound up with those is short. We can assume Savoy wouldn’t have known how the hit played out until Gettis told him.”
“There were eyes on that hotel. I picked up a tail. Ditched them, but wouldn’t want to go back to the Quarter. Only a matter of time until Savoy learns about last night, if he hasn’t already.”
The good news is that it “turns out our enemy’s enemy is our friend.” It’s never smart to go back to the scene of a crime, but in this case the crime scent came to them. The burned Garden District house and murder of its two occupants (a young married couple named Andrew and Heather Reid) made the morning news.
“Police concluded the scene was staged, and that a third party murdered that couple.” Ferris looks pleased. “They’re pursuing suspects in the poorer parts of the city. Vodouisant paraphernalia was found on the scene. I’ll give you one guess who’s framing the Baron’s people for this. If the sheriff sees through it, and he might suspect a bluff, doesn’t hurt someone else was there tampering with the crime scene after we pulled out.”
Ferris waits until last, however, to bring up the potentially most germane subject.
He didn’t ignore Claire’s body when he first came in. He didn’t look at it either. It was simply there to him, like any other piece of furniture in the room. Now, however, he finally looks at it. Then he looks back to Caroline.
“I will not be able to do my job effectively, Ms. Malveaux, without knowing the story behind this.” The ex-CIA agent’s tone is flat. “How was your stepmother’s body brought here and who was involved?”
Caroline: Caroline tries to keep the surprise off her face, but doubts she succeeds—at least in the face of the veteran operator that’s known her since she was a teenager—when he refers to Claire as her stepmother. She bides him to examine ’Claire’s’ sheet covered body, curious as to what he might make of it, while she takes in the details from the day. The stripping of the hotel creates problems with her plans to stage Claire’s death that’ll have to be cleaned up. She tries to keep it together as she falls away from the brief habit of calling Claire ‘mom’ and back into the impersonal.
She’s pleased that the police concluded the scene was staged, and that others seemingly meddled, while remaining concerned that in their own efforts they might have discovered something of her involvement.
She tells him in simple terms of her intentions with Claire and the necessary cover-up she’s even now putting into motion. Given Claire’s failing health and fatalism of late it’s fairly plausible others might believe her to have been suffering some chronic condition. Caroline is going to work to create a record of that, both in print and in memory with both the family and numerous doctors to explain her sudden death. There’s groundwork there she needs to set tonight with other Kindred, and the body needs to be carefully staged. Throughout the conversation she tries to feel out and build her knowledge of her relationship with the Malveaux family. If Claire is her stepmother, who is her mother? Presumably Nathan remains her father, so was he previously married to Abélia… or did they have an affair…
She tries to let Ferris fill in the gaps of her ‘knowledge’ of who exactly she is while he examines the corpse.
GM: Ferris does not drop the subject of how Claire’s naked corpse wound up in Caroline’s bedroom, and points out the thousand and one security risks he sees that could threaten her plans.
Caroline: She bids that she’d hear his thoughts on the corpse before offering her commentary on the body, and the varied ‘security risks’ associated with it.
GM: Ferris has already pulled the sheet back, but bends closer to examine it. “Feels wrong. Looks like her, but I can tell it’s not.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s a creation. A facsimile stand-in. We need to get it into place.”
GM: Ferris then returns to the subject of how it got here, whether it was seen, who made it, and whether they are trustworthy.
Caroline: She replies that no one has seen it, that it was created by someone extremely trustworthy, but that the who is a detail she’s not ready to disclose yet. There’s no chance anyone saw them arrive or depart though, or the body’s creation.
“Some secrets even I have to keep, Roger, from everyone.”
GM: “So does everyone. Including whoever made this. No one’s completely trustworthy, Ms. Malveaux.”
Ferris, in any case, has a number of matters to report.
He and his people disposed of the hunters’ and two ghouls’ corpses. The chopped-up body parts are floating down the Mississippi in weighted bags towards the Gulf of Mexico.
They did not incriminate Antoine Savoy while doing so. There were a lot of corpses, and as it’s turned out, other parties are already on Caroline’s scene. Ferris deemed it safer to get rid of the corpses as quickly and expediently as possible than to try for anything extra.
Caroline: She asks as to whether she thinks their disappearance will cause more or less problems than their staged murder.
GM: “Gettis knows why these men are really missing, Ms. Malveaux.”
Caroline: “I’m less concerned with him, in this instant, than with a dozen police officers vanishing without answer.” She muses, “Though, so long as we are not attached to it, it’s less of an issue.”
GM: “Less than a dozen. They won’t be traced to us. I’d rather keep Gettis in the dark wondering how many are captured and talking than knowing for certain.”
Caroline: It’s not the most Masquerade friendly thought she’s ever had. She nods and bids him continue.
GM: Ferris interrogated the surviving hunters. Besides the missions they worked with Claire on, they were primarily involved in operations against the Baron’s followers (some Kindred, some ghouls, and some simply mortals) in the Seventh Ward. The regent-less parish has long been fought over between Savoy and Cimitiere in a game of tug-o-war behind the screen of gang violence in a high-crime area. Vidal largely leaves them alone to bloody one another’s noses. The Baron also has no influence over NOPD, unlike Vidal. Using them against his people, already frequent targets of NOPD, risked the hunters’ exposure less.
The hunters knew enough about this op to do their jobs. They knew Bishop Malveaux was a high-profile target among the leeches, and that the operation would be a dangerous one, but that they were stacking the deck in their favor. They knew the priest’s physical strengths and vulnerabilities, though little of him personally. They knew of the plan to stage the scene and the actions that would be expected of them. They did not know that Claire Malveaux was a hunter or watching their body cameras, though they knew that their NOSTF superiors were doing the latter.
Caroline: Caroline takes note of that without any pleasure. At this rate she wonders whether there will be any kingdom left for her to inherit when she’s done.
GM: The hunters do not know any others of significant note. Gettis only told them what they needed to know and discouraged contact with hunters outside their cell. They don’t even know any other NOSTF operatives.
Their cell was involved in an unsuccessful attempt on the Requiem of Doc Xola some months back. They did not engage him directly, but called off the op after it appeared he’d compromised a mole they’d placed among his ‘patients.’ They believed the undead bokor was attempting to bait them into a trap.
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I presume some detail of the interrogation is lost in translation.”
GM: “They’re still there if you want to do it yourself.”
“There’s other news. There’s been a third attempt on your Uncle Orson’s life.”
“The first was in the hospital. Your Uncle Matthew tried to poison his food. He didn’t try again after my people foiled that, but your Aunt Vera pulled the same stunt shortly after his discharge.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “That’s aggressive. Has that been common?”
GM: “Your aunt and uncle hate him, Ms. Malveaux. Always have. They didn’t want him to ever leave that hospital.”
Caroline: “Adam,” Caroline speculates.
GM: “I presume Matt also wanted to seize control of the family, though it might have just been hate.”
“Yesterday someone mailed Orson a letter laced with anthrax. Alphonse intercepted it and came to us. I’ve been working on him for a while now. More than one reason it’s for the best he didn’t tell his boss. The heart attack took a lot out of your uncle. So did the gastric plication surgery. He doesn’t get out of the house a lot now. I hear he’s taken up gardening.”
“Not sure yet who sent the anthrax. Could be your aunt or uncle making another attempt. Could be a third party. But these attacks don’t look like they’re stopping.”
“Your stepmother said she would deal with Matt and Vera. I don’t know how she planned to. It’s moot now. She was going to get around to it after we’d left your staked corpse in a basement.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “More problems to be dealt with. I expect to have some tools available she never did. First I need to solidify my control of the family within my own circles, and that… that I expect to take a while longer. I do need to meet with both Matt and Orson as soon as possible though. Then, of course, the matter of Nathan.” It feels awkward using his name, but she has so many questions. “I don’t relish having to tell him his wife is dead, for many reasons, not the least of which is it will require more finesse than the other two, and I can’t exactly pop in on him besides.”
GM: Ferris raises an eyebrow at Caroline use of her father’s given name. “Your name’s mud with all three of them. They’re not interested in seeing you.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs bitterly. “All the more reason I need to do some restructuring.”
GM: “So’s mine. I’ve been fired from my official position in the family.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “The ploy in December?”
GM: “You told Bishop Malveaux I was a rogue ghoul. He didn’t sit on his hands. Your stepmother and I thought about me trying to bluff I was still under his control, but concluded it’d have been too risky. He was too suspicious.”
Caroline: She nods. “Restructuring, as I said.”
GM: “The rest of my team’s all been fired too. It’s made protecting the family somewhat inconvenient.”
“I suspect it was one of the reasons your stepmother agreed to the hit. Bishop Malveaux’s been eager to find me. Living like I’m back in Jordan has been inconvenient.”
Caroline: “We both played the hands we had,” Caroline remarks. “Neither of those matters should be especially difficult to clear up going forward. Especially after… well, for now I need an opportunity to speak with them alone. With your knowledge of their schedules and protections I don’t imagine that will be impossible to arrange. The less immediate term matter of your status can be cleaned up following the cleanup of Claire’s passing.”
GM: “If you want me in charge of the investigation into Claire, I’d advise before. Your mother also might be able to arrange a more convenient meeting. She was a regular visitor to Orson in the hospital. He’s become fond of her.”
Caroline: “If it goes as planned, there won’t be much of an investigation,” Caroline replies. She explains in brief her intentions on covering up Claire’s death, related to creating the appearance of a long-term illness they all knew about that has taken a recent turn.
GM: “Nothing goes as planned. Even when you win.”
Caroline: “I hadn’t planned on her dying,” Caroline admits.
GM: “Neither did she,” the ex-CIA agent observes blandly.
Regardless, he stands prepared to carry out Caroline’s further instructions.
He cites several other matters, including the requested hit list on Claire’s past targets and a power play against Orson and Adam by priests within the Catholic Church, that are of relevance to Caroline’s or the family’s interests but do not require immediate address.
Widney, finally, also wanted to see Caroline. Ferris says she doesn’t have any news of consequence besides that Cécilia said she would be dropping by soon. Caroline cannot help but observe that seeing her first before anyone else was supposed to be Widney’s job—one Autumn had been vainly trying to muscle the younger ghoul out of for months.
Ferris awaits Caroline’s instructions what to do with the two captive hunters. He suggests doctoring their memories to make them “responsible” for disposing of their fellows’ bodies. Kill two birds with one stone. They can always release them later to keep Gettis in the dark for now.
Caroline: Caroline agrees with the suggestion, and makes arrangements to come before the two later in the evening to do the appropriate doctoring. She tasks Ferris with finding several of the spots in their memory she can plug in the demise of their fellows alongside their ‘criminal’ activities before she does so. She tasks Audrey with having a ‘snack’ ready before she heads off to do so.
GM: The latter ghoul fails to come through. She is not present at the Giani Building and does not answer calls or texts.
Caroline: That stops Caroline in her tracks. There’s no good reason for Audrey to be unavailable, no fresh horror that might have driven her away, no task more essential than being available right now. She is however, and has long been, the most vulnerable member of Caroline’s entourage. Vulnerable to either seduction or abduction. She taps a pale finger on a pale lip. That’s an unforeseen development. After Claire’s death she knew the mess of her plans this night might draw attention, might lead others to her door, but she’d hoped to wait it out. If someone has already drawn the connection and started moving against her…
Then she has far less time than she’d hoped, regardless of who it is that saw fit to investigate her. She can picture already nightmare scenarios, Savoy holding such power over her, the sheriff using it as an excuse to kill her, Gettis putting pieces together and taking some rash action or dismantling the world she’s carefully built—or, worse, attacking her family. Her sisters.
GM: “I’d be relieved if Gettis did something rash. Rash is messy in the short term, but easier to remove in the long term,” Ferris raises. “Wouldn’t count on us being that lucky though. Rash hasn’t him alive and independent from Savoy a hundred years.”
“Wouldn’t count on lucking out with the sheriff either. Claire always said her cooperation was the only reason he wasn’t taking off your head. Once he finds out she’s gone, you’ll be of no use to him anymore.”
The ex-CIA agent shakes his head. “Morrow being gone is bad. Bad enough ’someone’s’ already been to the crime scene and Claire’s suite. Enemies are moving, Ms. Malveaux. Best we don’t fall behind.”
Sunday night, 6 March 2016, PM
GM: Cécilia stops by the Giani Building a little after 9 PM. It’s an almost uncannily perfect time, giving Caroline just enough to get dressed, showered, debriefed by Ferris, and to issue orders to her ghouls. It even seems to account for the alarmingly late hour she arose for the night—another grim sign of the Beast’s ever-widening jaws clamped around her soul. Spring, that unwelcome intruder, further eats away at the time.
But her future sister, not merely in-law, may be a less unwelcome one. Cécilia arrives at Caroline’s apartment alongside Daniel Hayes, the first time Caroline has actually seen the former mercenary accompanying Cécilia anywhere. The Ventrue’s now-keener eyesight can easily pick out the faint bulge of a concealed firearm on his clothes. The large man himself is quiet and professional, like many of the older ex-service members Caroline has known in a private security capacity. Cécilia has him wait outside the door.
She doesn’t say anything once they’re alone. She just hugs Caroline. Full, long, and deep.
“Maman told me everything that happened last night,” she exclaims, stroking a hand along Caroline’s back. “Everything. I’m so sorry, Caroline. I can’t even imagine how that must have felt—and still feel. I don’t blame you at all. You had no choice. And I’m so happy, at the same time, how you’ll be part of our family. How we’ll be sisters now, real sisters. I can’t wait until we can tell the others.” Cécilia’s voice is almost gushing for a moment. Her gaze sobers, though, when she pulls back enough to look Caroline in the eye. She doesn’t let go.
“I’m sure this must be very confusing for you, to have so many awful things happen the same time as such a happy one. And to still have so many things, so much of the future, riding in the balance.” Her matching blue eyes concernedly roam Caroline’s face. “How are you… how are you holding up?”
Caroline: The former heiress dismisses everyone else from the room—her living room rather than the roof where she conducts business—and settles in to talk to Cécilia. If Caroline had any doubts about her decision to accept Abélia’s offer, Cécilia puts them to rest as surely as Caroline put down Father Malveaux the night before. The Beast hisses its annoyance, baring its teeth at the ‘kine’ that dares to touch it, but the woman whose flesh it wears is left speechless—no, breathless—by the gesture, and despite the Beast’s tantrum, she is reluctant to pull away.
Is this what acceptance feels like? The thought drifts its way across her consciousness like an idle cloud, but hits with the force of a thunderbolt, battering down and reducing to ash her fears. Whatever else Abélia is, whatever else the family she’s joined is, it is a place she belongs. It’s wonderful, wonderful enough that the nasty fears, the constant paranoia skulking about the back of her mind, are, for the moment, wise enough to make themselves scarce.
She mulls over her ’sister’s’ question for a heartbeat. She’s committed matricide and murder, diablerie and betrayal of clan and covenant both. She’s painted her soul in shades of black she didn’t even know existed until this year and fed the hellish thing inside of her. She knows how she should feel, knows how she’s supposed to feel that is. But she knows how she actually feels as well.
“I’m clear, Cécilia,” Caroline tells her sister. “I just feel… clear. Maybe it all hasn’t hit me yet, but I can clearly see what I have to do, the path forward in all the varied branches it might go. I think most of my attention is focused on ensuring it takes the right one. I don’t know if it makes me more of a monster or less.”
GM: Cécilia looks concerned, but more relieved. “Maybe it just makes you human. There are plenty of people who only grieve or let themselves collapse later, after the crisis is over. I know you’re busy with so much… I guess you can’t afford to.”
She nods firmly. “We’ll get you down that path. Then… then we can catch our breaths and let it hit you.”
Cécilia is not just here “to check in on my sister,” as she puts it, “even if that is the first reason I’m here.” There are some other things:
First, there are their other sisters. “Maman and I haven’t told them about Gettis yet. Adeline can handle it, and maybe Yvette, but the others… and Simmone, especially… it’s taken a lot of work, with your help, to get her to the point she feels safe in a room without Maman. I’m really concerned that telling her Gettis is still out, and knowing so little about him, could shatter her all over again.” A helpless look plays across Cécilia’s face. “Yvonne’s been through a lot of therapy, and Yvette’s been so angry. Well, no, I suppose we’ve all been through a lot of therapy.”
“I suppose it sounds fairly minor, next to that, saying I don’t want to lie to them. But I don’t want to put them in danger, either, if there’s any chance that their knowing might make a difference. I just don’t want them to live in fear again. What do you think we should do?”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t think that Gettis is going to come after them immediately—he’s had plenty of time to do so until now and chosen not to. She admits to being uncertain as to his motives for his initial attack, though.
“For now, I think it’s best it stay between the three of us. I wouldn’t have woken you last night but… with everything else going on, I didn’t want you to be left in the dark about him if something else befell me.”
GM: “That’s true he hasn’t,” Cécilia nods. “It’s just hard not to expect the worst when we don’t even know why he did it. I’m already looking over my shoulder wondering if he’s going to be there…”
She shakes her head as if to clear it. “But don’t think anything of waking me up. This was an emergency. And I’m glad that I know, even if the others don’t.”
Caroline: “I’m glad you know too.” Even if the next few nights are unkind to her, that information passed on to Cécilia and Abélia might have been worth everything else. “But don’t look over your shoulder. I’m going to give him much larger problems—and have already.”
GM: “Is there anything Maman or I could do to help there?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline muses. “Right now he’s got a lot of missing and unaccounted for agents that he won’t be seeing again, and I’m going to use the ones still alive to create all kinds of problems for any he has left. He’s also just lost one of his most powerful allies and can’t know why. He has a lot to busy himself with in the coming nights. After that… well… either I’ll have more resources to deal with that matter, or it’ll be entirely left in your hands.”
GM: “That’s a grim thought,” Cécilia grimaces. “Well, good luck. And again, if there’s anything Maman or I can do, just let us know. You’re not alone anymore.”
Caroline: “I need to understand what’s going on, what’s happening to me, to us. Cécilia, I saw photos of us together, as children. Things that I have no memory of on a beach in France. Ferris called Claire my stepmother…” She bites her lower lip. “I don’t care how, and I am incredibly happy that it is, but I don’t even know who I am to everyone else.”
There’s not quite fear, or even unhappiness in the admission, but there is something that might be unease, or perhaps simply unfamiliarity with being uncertain.
GM: Cécilia nods. “I’m sure that must be confusing, not to mention scary. Maman may seem to you like she’s being vague or opaque, a lot of the time, and maybe even inconsiderate as a result. But I think she just doesn’t see the point in explaining herself when she knows everything will work out. You’ll find that things simply… happen around her, and everything naturally sorts itself out. She’s not really a ‘details’ person. She sees more than we do, and prefers that we simply… trust.”
“I guess that’s a somewhat long-winded way of saying,” Cécilia smiles self-deprecatingly, “I probably don’t know that much more than you about what’s specifically going on. But maybe there are some things I can clarify.”
“From what I understand, our mother was always your mother, and your father Nathan is still your father. Claire was your stepmother, which you seem like you’ve already figured out. I don’t expect the entire story is that complex—Maman would have gone with the path of least disruption to your existing life. Making… changes like that is a very dangerous art, and Maman has to be very careful when she does. You might think of it as re-weaving a tapestry over an open fire. Loosen too many threads, and the entire thing could unravel, or get singed… and if it caught fire, there might not even be any tapestry left. Her hands would likely get burned too, and the fire could spread from there…”
Cécilia shakes her head. “Maman would want to keep any alterations as seamless as she could, keeping as much of the existing tapestry intact as she could. That’s why Claire is still a parental figure in your life. Maman has just tweaked a few things, as opposed to trying to remove her altogether, or you from the Malveauxes. You’re bound too tightly together.” Cécilia smiles again. “And, of course, I’m sure you still want them as your family. Maman wouldn’t simply take that away.”
Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip at the reference to flame, but nods when her sister is finished. “That all makes sense, even if it’s more than I’d thought was possible, even after all of this. I guess… I’m not afraid—trust her. You might be the only ones I trust. I’m just not comfortable with not being in control. So much has been out of my control. You think I’d be accustomed to it.” She puts on a slightly strained smile.
“And this,” she touches the corner of one eye, “was something of a surprise.” She looks at her sister, studying her with a keenness of eye she’d never had before, taking in all the perfect details. “Did you have the same experience, did any of our sisters?”
GM: Cécilia frowns thoughtfully. “Maybe. I don’t think we have. But if we did, it’s possible I might not remember.”
She looks sympathetic, then adds, “I’m sure that answer isn’t putting you any more at ease. Everything I know about Cainite society fits with what you’ve said, that it disempowers newer Cainites and takes so many things away from them. And I’m sure you’re tired of it and want to be in control of your life, now more than ever. It’s simply that I wasn’t raised knowing the truth of the world, or many of the things Maman can do. She waited until I was older before telling me. And it could cause… scarring, if things I’d long believed true turned out to be false.”
“Or at least, that’s how Maman said others might put it. But I don’t really think of it that way. It’s a false dichotomy to say parts of my life are real or not real, because Maman has or hasn’t touched my past like she has yours. All parents shape their childrens’ lives. However Maman did with ours, she did to make us happy. The truth, my truth, is whatever Maman decides is true.”
Cécilia takes Caroline’s hand. “I don’t expect you to trust her that totally, of course, not right away. We have to earn it from you first. But I hope we will, with time. I know everything since your Embrace has been so hard, and maybe your life before that was too… I want you to know the peace and happiness that Maman can bring, Caroline. From all that I’ve gotten to know of you this past year, you deserve it.”
Caroline: Caroline nods thoughtfully. “It doesn’t matter. Not really. What’s going on with our mother and I… it’s separate from everything with Kindred, even if it isn’t really. I’m just trying to understand.” The idea that she might not remember what’s happening when it’s done bothers her, but only a little. “Whatever the cost, whatever is happening, it’s a small price to pay for what I’ve gotten in return.” She squeezes Cécilia’s hand.
GM: Cécilia smiles as she squeezes it back. “And there’s so much that we have gotten in return. Can I help you understand anything more, still?”
Caroline: The once-more heiress thinks, then smiles. “I suppose I could ask for the details of how our mother does all the things she does, and what she truly is, but I expect I’ll never fully understand. Certainly not anytime soon. And I’m not certain it matters anyway. It’s like she’s always said—enough that she’s a mother to seven daughters.”
“There are some other things that you could help with, in the immediate term. Explaining… explaining Claire’s death is going to take a tremendous amount of time and effort. Especially when it comes to the Malveaux family. I’m not exactly on in the graces of the family, but you and Luke…. well. Are.”
She asks if Cécilia can help set up the meetings she needs to plant the idea of Claire’s ‘illness’ in the minds of her uncles, and also tells her sister of the mental ‘surgery’ she needs to perform on Luke as well. It’s the kind of thing that could be harmful, but that Cécilia can help ensure is as painless as possible by identifying times in which her ‘fake’ memories and alterations fit best into a coherent narrative.
GM: Cécilia frowns. “On someone who’s family, Caroline, I think there may always be some amount of harm in that… not just to them, but to you too. Would you be able to see and relate to them in the same way, after imposing yourself like that without their consent? How easy would it then be to do it again? What level of boundary would…”
She trails off. “I don’t mean to sound like I’m moralizing. I know you’ve had to make some very hard choices. But this one makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe we could build a narrative that his mother was hiding her illness from him, because she didn’t want to spoil the wedd…”
Cécilia’s face falls at that statement.
Caroline: The Ventrue reaches out a room temperature hand for her sister’s. “I know this is going to throw a wet blanket on everything… I can’t tell you it won’t, but I won’t let this derail or damage your wedding.” She bites her lip. “I’m going to make it right. I’ll make it right, Cécilia. I can’t fix it, but I’ll find something that makes it up.”
She isn’t sure what else to say. If she can take the family it will make things easier, make the wedding easier, but she knows the truth. Her path isn’t going to get easier. Especially not if Prince Vidal truly is going into torpor.
GM: Cécilia’s smile returns as she squeezes Caroline’s hand back. “I didn’t mean to throw a wet blanket on things, either. You already have made things up—I get to have you in our family, not to mention at the wedding. I’d consider that a more than worthy trade for any added fuss.”
Speaking of their family, she also wants to talk about their sisters’ security and physical protection. “You have the most experience here, Caroline. I’d like to draw up some kind of plan. Should we have bodyguards following them every hour of the day? It seems hard to picture Gettis attacking them at McGehee, but then, I wasn’t expecting him to attack them in a police station either.”
“You also mentioned wanting to vet the people we already have. Whatever you think is best… I’ve brought Daniel along, if you want to start with him, or go over details and coordinate further things. What can I do to help?”
Caroline: The Ventrue pauses. “Honestly, my preference would be to put ghoul bodyguards around each of you every time you step out into the open… but even if that were feasible—and it isn’t—if he’s half as old as I think, I don’t know that would do much more than inform your teams of some of the things that could come up. And even if they could help it would be very… invasive to live like that. The younger girls at the very least deserve something approaching normal. I also suspect that after the shooting his interest in… our family may have waned, when there was no immediate supernatural response.”
“That said, there are some things I’d like to do in the near term. The first is vetting everyone hired on in that capacity by the family and letting any that don’t pass the smell test go. The NOPD in particular is rife with supernaturally aware groups of varying factions, and I don’t want any of them anywhere near any of you.”
She goes on to explain that she’d like to transition the head of their various security details over to one of her ghouls, asserting that even if they’d still physically be a ‘speedbump’ for an elder ghoul, they’d at least know something of what the score was, and ways to make the girls and their varied homes ‘harder’ targets.
“Most of it isn’t even invasive, stuff you saw on your way up here that you didn’t even notice.” She has some thoughts on who would fit best, but wants to wait a couple days on that until she can be sure she’s not adding chaos without value.
GM: “All of that sounds for the best,” Cécilia nods. “I can have Daniel get you a list of everyone we’ve hired. It might hurt his ego a bit not to be in charge of the detail anymore, but I’m more interested in keeping our family safe. Maman and I can find reasons to keep them close by for the next few days.”
The next matter she brings up concerns “furnishing a room for you in the family house. I still keep one, since I’m over so often.” Cécilia smiles. “It’s not as silly as it sounds for me to be bringing this up now. It’s simply that it would be another haven for you—in the true sense of the world. As scared as I am for our sisters now, I’m not scared when they’re home. Maman is strongest there. Her… essence, has seeped into every floorboard, every blade of grass, every speck of gravel. Every mote of dust. Nothing can harm our family there, even when she isn’t home. Not without going through her.”
Cécilia smiles again. “Naturally, we’ll want to have you over all the time, so you could use a room anyway. But you might find it useful to have another haven from a security standpoint. There might, or might not, be times you’d want to spend the day under Maman’s protection. I figure having another option can’t ever hurt. It’ll be proof against the sun, of course, and none of our sisters will disturb you.”
Caroline: The shift in topic to something less bleak brings a genuine smile back to Caroline’s face. Claire’s warning about the house, once so dire, seem so meaningless now. Some small voice in the back of her mind asks what manner of corruption Abélia must be to have saturated such a dark and unholy place so thoroughly. The voice whispers frantic warnings with the speed and energy that only true panic, real fear, can bring on.
The voice is all but drowned out by the smile on her sister’s face. What little remains is only an annoying buzz.
“I don’t expect the French Quarter to be an especially friendly place for me in the future,” Caroline answers. “But it’s good to know there’s at least one place I can feel safe.” She’s happy to spend a few minutes discussing the specifics. What rooms might be available, her preferences for furniture and decorum, how often the girls are all in the house.
GM: “Oh, I meant our house in the Garden District, Caroline,” Cécilia clarifies. “The LaLaurie House isn’t… quite ready for company yet, according to Maman, though it’s coming along very well. Simmone loves it there.”
Cécilia’s even more happy to bring Caroline over to review those options in person. “If you have time these next few days, of course. Though with how dangerous things are, I figure sooner could be better to set it up than later.”
Cécilia’s last topic is cybersecurity. “I was half-asleep when you called me last night, and together with the news about Gettis being such a shock, I wasn’t thinking clearly—but we should keep conversations like that off the phone. The only real security mine has is an encrypted call and messenger app anyone could download. From what I know, it’s secure if the other person is using the same one—it’s Signal, by the way—but with news stories like the NSA wiretapping foreign leaders, I’m not sure how secure ‘secure’ really is. I’m sure their phones are harder to get into than mine.”
“Anyway, next time, just let me know over the phone that you want to meet in person. And if you ever want to get in touch with Maman faster, call or text Simmone. Maman doesn’t use cellphones, but Simmone can pass along whatever you say. I don’t need to tell you not to make it identifying around her, of course.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees about the phone call, though she has a few means and ideas about overcoming it that she’s picked from Roger’s brain over the years and bounced against Fuller’s own experiences. “I remembered him talking about how for a while the people he was hunting got away from all technology as a means of making themselves harder to track, but eventually they got smart to that and began to look for the absence. Honestly, that’s what a lot of older vampires do anyway, I think, what with being less comfortable with technology in general.”
“Burner phones are one way to keep off the radar, unless they have massive resources to track and intercept everything—NSA type things—but they can also be a pretty big giveaway if they’re used frequently, and with high level signals intelligence and enough time you can break into those too. So that brings me to… daily changing cards.”
She goes on to explain, in brief, that her ‘higher level’ agents are given a daily changing card each day with a series of ‘pro’ words that correlate to various sensitive subjects. On one day vampires might be ‘Canadians,’ on the next day they’re ‘old folks,’ and so forth. Common words are given common stand-ins. The entire cards are little bigger than an index card. Each day the cards are burned. She wants to include Cécilia in those that receive cards.
She readily agrees about Simmone as a means of contacting their mother.
GM: “Oh, that’s very clever,” Cécilia says of the cards. “It doesn’t stand out when you change the words daily, and even if someone else learns them, they’re only good for a day… I guess technology still has a while before it catches up with mundane subterfuge.”
She’s humbled by Caroline’s trust in wanting to include her, and works out a means by which she can conveniently receive the cards. She usually starts and ends her day at her Pontalba Building apartment. Sometimes she’s over at Maman’s place, or at Luke’s (or he’s over at hers). They haven’t “officially” moved in together, what with Caroline’s uncle being the archbishop—“and we don’t want to be caught living in sin.” Cécilia is somewhat concerned over how to keep the cards concealed from Luke, but that’s a long-term problem. The wedding, and their move-in date, is still the better part of a year away. For now, what would be the best daily means for by the head of the family’s security each day—if and when Caroline puts a ghoul into place.
“All of that sounds like a very good idea,” Cécilia nods. “I already feel safer.”
Caroline: The Ventrue smiles. “I like to think I can be clever on occasion.”
GM: “On many occasions,” Cécilia amends.
Caroline: “As for the cards, we print them on quick dissolving paper, so disposing of them should be straightforward. Drop them in a glass of water or the toilet and they’re gone in a few seconds. If you want we could print yours in ink that only shows up when something else is applied—like the ‘magic’ pens they sell kids. You’d have to keep one of the revealing pens, but unless someone knew exactly what they were looking for, it might look like another business card or piece of paper.”
Finally, the former heiress expresses once more how grateful she is that Cécilia is ‘in the know’ about everything. She’s so glad to have someone she can talk to, and that there’s no need for such invasiveness with her sister.
She’s also plain that this cover-up is tremendously important, life and death. She asks if the family has a place they can use as a ‘sick ward’ for Claire. Somewhere she’d ‘feel more comfortable’ than a hotel, that they can control.
GM: “Aside from Yvette’s allergies, I’m afraid we’re all pretty healthy. There’s definitely not much that gets Maman down.” Cécilia smiles at that. “Still, I could find a house in the Garden District to rent for a little while. Something nice, but quiet and out of the way. I could have my PA arrange it and pay in cash. The only wrinkle I can think of is that someone still might be able to link it to us, rather than Claire, with a little detective work. Does that sound like what you’re looking for?”
Caroline: Caroline clarifies that she’d meant a spare bedroom or such, vice a more dedicated hospital setting.
GM: “Oh, yes, we do have a spare room in the house we could use,” Cécilia nods. “But that seems a little odd Claire might choose to stay with us, doesn’t it? We were on good terms, but it’d make more sense to me if she wanted to stay with her own family. That’s what I’d want to do if I came down sick, at least.”
Caroline: The heiress laughs. “I think if you’d seen some of the internal politics you could understand it… on the other hand, not knowing what her relationship with our mother might make that complicated…”
GM: “Maman was always very friendly to her,” Cécilia says, then smiles. “Though she tries to be that way to everyone, of course. I just have a hard time seeing Claire wanting to stay with us, if she were really sick, rather than getting a place of her own.”
Caroline: “Perhaps. I could come up with an excuse for her to do it… but that may be a question for later.”
GM: “It just seems unusual to me,” Cécilia repeats. “We were on good terms, like I said, but I wouldn’t say any of the family was that close with her. But all right, if there was something else you wanted to bring up…”
Caroline: The former heiress broaches a final subject with her ‘new’ sister as their conversation starts to close. “How much was she able to tell you, about me? About how I was Embraced?”
She’s grateful for her dead and still heart as she broaches the subject. It’s several less avenues to betray just how uncomfortable she is even speaking the words.
“There’s a reason, Cécilia, a reason for all of this. For why I’m doing what I’m doing. For why I can’t be comfortable as some second-rate vampire eking out each night in their Requiem.”
She bites her lower lip. “I want to be completely honest with you, Cécilia, in a way I can’t be with anyone else. Haven’t been able to be. I have a birthright. I’m not the childe of Rene Baristheaut. I was not an accident. I think… I think our fates were linked the night Yvonne was shot, but whatever, why-ever… I can be… I should be… I have to be someone.”
She looks at her sister. “Do you know what I’m talking about? What I mean when I say I have to be something more than I am right now? More than anyone knows me to be?”
GM: “I do, Caroline,” Cécilia nods. “Maman was… well, let’s just say you’ve been very close with her in a lot of ways, over this past year. And she always said it was inevitable that charade would unravel.”
“That’s where we’re at now, isn’t it? You’re the one unraveling it, like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon. You’re ready to claim what’s yours.”
Caroline: “I want to know more, but it should wait,” she admits. “At least, until things are more stable.”
It’s a reassuring enough lie. When have things ever gotten easier?
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
Caroline: The former heiress attends midnight mass. She barely hears the sermon and leaves once it’s over. She’s just glad the bishop wasn’t scheduled to be there. She and Claire had been very careful to kill him as far in advance of his next public appearance as they could.
She resigns herself to her inability to fully conceal Claire’s death on her own. The magnitude of the breach is simply too massive, the forces involved too great, and her own resources too paltry. Despite her best efforts, six months have been dozens too few to have every asset she might need or wish. She lacks the hold on the medical industry. Her position with her family is too precarious. Claire’s death is too unexpected. A million excuses—but not without standing.
The decision to consume her ancestor has made it harder than was necessary. She could have destroyed him. Could have captured him. Could have done anything but what she did. But she did consume him, and now she needs to buy time. Needs to stretch as long as she can.
The first step is planting the seeds of Claire’s declining health in the minds of her uncles and brother—that she’s been dying, and that the end is approaching. In some ways the setup, the opportunity to draw her father home, is better. She works between Cécilia and Roger to arrange those meetings with her unfriendly uncles.
GM: Ferris is unable to arrange a meeting. He’s been fired for months now, and the brothers aren’t about to welcome him back. Bishop Malveaux was quite diligent, when he couldn’t catch Ferris, about making the former security chief’s name mud with the family. Ferris also points out that the bishop has almost certainly changed security protocols around the brothers given that Ferris himself was responsible for the old ones. They’d be idiots not to have.
Cécilia says she could likely finagle a meeting with either of her uncles-in-law through Luke. But Luke’s not likely to want to bring Caroline, and once they got to the front gate, the Ventrue’s presence could lead to an awkward if not violent situation.
“Your first family has been telling… horrible things about you, Caroline,” she explains, shaking her head. “Unspeakable things. I know that shooting you wouldn’t hurt you very badly, but your uncles don’t. They’ve actually been bragging about how their guards are under standing orders to. That’s how much the bishop has twisted them… he was obsessed with keeping the family ‘his’ and keeping you away from them.”
“I’ll help however I can, of course. Just tell me what I can do.”
Caroline knows their addresses. The walled, gated, and heavily guarded redoubts await.
Caroline: The heiress pauses in contemplation. She could get to them—of that she has little doubt. With or without Cécilia’s help. But if they’ve really taken that position, she doesn’t think she can get there quietly, and quietly is a priority right now. Meddling in Malveaux’s domain before word of his final death gets out is exactly the kind of thing she can’t afford. It will stain her hands as surely as the undead priest’s diablerie stains her soul. She’d not expected her uncles to be so hostile, but perhaps she should have. The bishop made his position clear regarding her and the family.
She can wait to move on the family and create a Masquerade disaster. She can move on the family and expose herself. Poor options on either hand for the heiress, but…
She stops like she’s been struck by a thunderbolt. There is a third option. An audacious one.
She could go before the seneschal now.
It seems like suicide. What if someone scrutinizes her soul? What if the seneschal or someone else invades her mind again? He’d know in an instant. He’d know, and it would all be over. Whatever her accomplishments, whatever terms she has met, there is no place for her at her sire’s side if this crime comes out. It’d be safer to run to Savoy.
But… what reason will the seneschal have to suspect her? If she goes before him now, before Malveaux is considered ‘missing’, it’s possible the thought of her involvement might not occur to him until it’s too late.
Gettis and Savoy surely won’t be idle, either, if she gives them another three nights. ‘Someone’ has already been tampering with the scene of Malveaux’s final death. ‘Someone’ stole the documents and devices from Claire’s hotel suite, and robbed her of whatever secrets may have lain within those. And one of her ghouls is already missing. Even if it’s a coincidence, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. She’s damned if she does wait and damned if she doesn’t wait… and the third way promised by her mother, to hide the stains upon her soul, would have damned her no less assuredly.
But Ferris is right. Their enemies are moving.
Best they don’t fall behind.
“For now, nothing,” she finally responds to Cécilia’s question. She bites her lip, her mind already racing to plan how she’ll pull off the impossible—again.
It’s a gamble. The collateral on the line is her Requiem. But the whole of her Requiem has been nothing if not a gamble.
Tonight’s odds aren’t new. She’s stared down ugly odds a thousand times before.
But if she has a winning hand…
She’s always played to win.
Widney hears her cold voice crackle to life as she hits the intercom.
“Get a car ready. Perdido House is expecting me.”