“Truth always comes out in the end, I’ve found. You can fool people for a while, but eventually the house of lies comes tumbling down.”
Thursday night, 26 July 2012, PM
GM: Jade tells Mélissaire that she wants to see her grandsire. Several nights later, she does so at the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. As usual, Jade can come dressed, in a swimsuit, or naked. Or go from one state to the other.
Celia: Jade comes dressed, of course. She plans on losing it later, if she’s being honest with herself, but the gown is custom made; it would be remiss not to show up in it after she’d went through the effort of having it commissioned.
The dress tells the story of her Embrace.
At its base it is navy. Deep, dark navy that bleeds into black at the fringe. It is the color of the Gulf upon which her body was destroyed when she hit it after falling through the sky. White flourishes dance along its length: the crest of the waves, the clouds that hid her body from the mortals on the ground while he held her in his arms…
The innocence she lost that night.
Stolen, as she was, by the beast in the shadows. The hues bleed one into another, navy into azure, azure into cobalt, cobalt into cerulean. White and silver encircle her waist, a smattering of Swarovski crystal and diamond that make up the constellations in the night sky, picked out among her tightly-clinging bodice. Her shoulders and neck are bared by the cut of the dress, the straps hanging loose across her upper arms. Stars, for the sky in which she died. For the name that her parents gave her: Celia, of the heavens. Lord Savoy had been the one to point that out to her when he had woken her from torpor.
She does not walk in the dress so much as float. The skirts swim around her heels with every step that this ethereal ocean goddess takes. A white gold chain is fastened at her neck beneath the pile of curls atop her head. Its pendant is a teardrop, a blue sapphire surrounded by an outline of more white gold and diamonds on the rim. When the light catches the gem just right the star is visible inside, white against its darker backdrop. She wears simple stud earrings, square cut diamonds. On her finger is the only other piece of note, a ring of gold and opal and diamond, three bands soldered together to look like a sun.
Her eyes, ringed as they are by the liquid liner and lashes that are ever present on her face, seek those of her grandsire. She had requested a private meeting, no distractions from Preston or Lebeaux. Her heels click across the floor of the garden with each steps that she takes, lips pulled into a smile as the birds trill and butterflies flutter around her.
This is, she reflects, one of her favorite places in the city. Not only for the ambiance itself, the reminder of waking up in the literal lap of luxury after her untimely demise, but for the Lord who presides over it.
GM: Jade finds Preston seated at the delicate iron table beside her grandsire, tapping periodically into her tablet as they speak. The Malkavian takes her leave, though, at Jade’s arrival. The French Quarter lord is dressed tonight in a burgundy-hued sports coat, maroon silk shirt, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers that match his belt. Same signet ring with its fleur-de-lis coat of arms. He grins widely at the sight of the younger Toreador.
“I dare say you’ve outdone the inhabitants of Mt. Olympus tonight, my dear,” he remarks with a sly glance at some of the neoclassical statues nestled amidst the rose rushes and fruit trees. “Aphrodite may have emerged from the sea upon her birth, but you have taken the sea along with you.” He places a tender kiss upon her hand.
Celia: “My lord,” Jade sketches a curtsey with her dress as he takes her hand, rising only once he releases her. “You flatter me as always, though my ears will never grow tired of hearing you sing my praises. Aphrodite, you say, for love and beauty, and yet this evening I would wear her other mask: that of the more manipulative sort, the teeth behind the smile.”
She does not take a seat at the table. She sits instead on the lap of her grandsire, planting a kiss on his cheek. It is a familiar pose, if her ease at the position is anything to judge by.
“I’ve brought you a gift.”
GM: “The sight of you in that dress is gift enough, ma beauté,” he murmurs, his hands stroking her sides as he traces a fang along her cheek in answering ‘kiss.’
“We’ll have to find a soiree for you to attend later tonight. It’d be unthinkably selfish to keep such a gift all to myself. What second gift have you brought along with you?”
Celia: “Soon my ego will have me floating away, Lord Savoy, not only for your words but for the very idea that you’d pull a soiree from your hat at which I can shine for you.”
Her eyes close briefly at his touch. She is not immune to the charms of the Lord of the French Quarter; indeed, she has been taken with him for some time, and did she still need to draw breath she might find it hitching at his touch. A hand snakes inside the folds of her gown, drawing forth a small box. Green velvet adorns the outside, a sun emblazoned on its top. Inside her lord will find a ring.
It isn’t like hers, with its feminine cut. She’d asked the jeweler if a man could wear the ring that ornaments her finger currently, the sun with its opal and diamonds, and he had told her that the band is too feminine for a masculine wearer. Jade had not been sure that her grandsire would agree, but she is no jeweler, and so she had deferred to the experts.
One of those experts being Pietro. As successful as her business has been, her grandsire’s intended ring was still a little outside her price range. But Veronica’s cousin had laughed that “money is no object if you’re not spending money,” and he had stolen it for her after some verbal fellating to swell his ego.
This ring has a thicker platinum band. Onyx and diamond embellish the sides, cut into the metal in a shape that is suggestive of a rose stem, and blooming at its heart a cloudy green stone. Not jade, though the color is reminiscent. She tells him that it is meteorite, made from one whose trip around the sun is stuff of legends. She is shy as she presents it to him. She has not yet given him a gift, and she knows the custom among the breathers, though this is no engagement piece, no favor that he should feel compelled to wear. A simple token of her esteem, a reminder of where he came from and how far he might yet go, as the comet in his ring can no doubt attest.
It is sized for him, though she is not so presumptuous to slide it upon his finger.
She is no fool. She is aware that her position here, physically and within his domain, is a result of luck and his amusement. He is no iron-fisted Vidal to smack down her reaching hands, though elder he remains. Were they not alone she would never so blatantly drape herself across him, would never drop the formal decorum that his position demands.
Even without flaunting it the power rolls off of him. She would recognize it across a crowded room by the way it has ensnared her, caught and pinned her so helplessly beneath his great paw. He is the lion and she the cub he lets bite his tail and leg, yowling as if she has won this bout when they both know that a quick swipe would lay her out. He lets her cut her teeth, no more.
She will never be his paramour. She can pine for him all she wants, but his Requiem is hundreds of years longer than her own. The elder and the neonate would be a sick joke at Elysium. No, if he beds her at all it will be a secret thing, like a mistress of old. The lord and his whore. She is not so delusional that she cannot see it. Nor is she free to take him up on it were he to offer, degenerate rose that she may be.
And so when she presents this gift to him there is a part of her that thinks he will not wear it. He might not even like it. Their tastes may differ, and why should they not? She had looked at scores of bands and gems and metals and stones, each as different as the last. Rings are personal things. Perhaps she should have gotten one to remind him of the Quarter where he reigns, like the silver fleur-de-lis already on his fingers, instead of being so bold as to suggest he take more. Perhaps he thinks it a cheap trinket. A trap, like it is for the kine. Or the sun is an affront, not the symbol she means it to be.
She doesn’t watch his face. She cannot. Her eyes have dropped down to her own manicured nails after an instant that feels like hours, something seizing in her gut that twists in turmoil.
GM: Savoy gently lifts Jade’s chin to meet his eyes.
“You know, my dear, the Sun King turned everything in his palace into a ritual. Everything. Being there as he dressed. Being there for his daily shave. Being there for his bowel movements. To participate in any of these rituals were privileges for which men schemed and intrigued.”
“Fashion, of course, was a ritual too. Louis chose the style of his court. Those who were part of the ‘in’ crowd wore virtual uniforms designed by him. A single one of those, threaded with gold and trimmed with lace, could cost as much as a luxury car does today, and you needed an entire wardrobe. Courtiers could bankrupt themselves just keeping up appearances. So they took out loans from the king, and further placed themselves under his power. Louis truly was the sun around which all life in Versailles orbited. Every ritual in his palace was designed to remind his subjects of their sovereign’s exalted place.”
“But this need to be the sun, and these rituals to sustain his orbit, stemmed from fear, my dear. The country’s nobles were very powerful. Louis’ father had fought a bloody civil war to curb their power. As a child, Louis was once almost kidnapped from Tuileries, and that experience drove him from Paris to a hunting lodge. Versailles was a gilded cage for the nobility, where they would be constantly under his watch and too occupied by his rituals to plot and scheme. But you don’t build a cage for something unless it threatens you. Every rule of court, every ritual, was a bar in that cage, designed to shield the Sun King from the ravenous beasts trapped within.”
“It’s no different in Kindred society, except the beast we cage lurks within our own breasts. Every rule of our own courts, every little ritual—the ritual of whom to address and how, the ritual of how to comport oneself before the prince’s, the ritual of what clothes to wear and when—is another bar in the cage that keeps the Beast at bay. Ritual keeps us safe from that which we most fear.”
“Even the ritual of what rings one may gift one’s elders.”
The French Quarter lord slips Jade’s ring onto his finger.
“My reign is not one sustained by fear and ritual, but the love and loyalty of my subjects. I couldn’t ask for a finer symbol of that rule, Jade—or a finer subject to whom to owe that rule.”
Celia: Chastisement would hurt less than the swelling of her heart within her breast. The eyes he lifts to look upon him shine with the promise she pledged him years ago—that she is his if he will have her in his kingdom. The breath she seeks to draw catches in her throat. She cannot find the air with which to speak, the words with which to laud him.
Her fingers circle his. A gentle motion has his hand elevated through the air, and Jade presses her lips to the skin above the ring. An old gesture of fealty. A renewed pledge to serve. A promise of loyalty and love.
“You are this city’s preeminent ruler, my lord, and I will see you ascend to further yet.” He is transcendent. Unparalleled. There is no choice but him. No future but that by his side. Beneath, behind; it makes no difference to her, so long as she can stand within the circle of light he casts.
GM: Except, of course, her own sire.
Celia: The sire who abandoned her? That sire. The one who threw her from the clouds to smash, broken, upon the waves. Who left her for nineteen years with the monster that wore her father’s face. The one whose face still haunts her dreams, day and night alike.
Of course. That sire.
Life, death, her Requiem—it is not a mountaintop upon which her goals and aspirations perch, with only one road to lead her there.
She could spend the evening seated upon Lord Savoy’s lap, trading whispered secrets and tantalizing sweet nothings, cavorting about his rooftop garden that she once so fleetingly thought was Hell. But there are no butterflies in Hell.
Just her stomach, as she looks upon the face of Lord Savoy and tells him why she came. It is not to curry favor, not to bow obsequiously or kiss the hem of his robes. She has come for the Anarchs, to expand his rule, to give him power.
And so she tells him.
“I do not presume to think that you trouble yourself with the going-ons of all your subjects, my lord, or those with whom we dally. I tell you thus that I have taken for myself a lover from among the Anarchs in Mid-City. Primogen Duquette’s childe, the neonate who serves as scribe to the Calbido.” She pauses. She thinks to tell him that she knew this Kindred in life, that perhaps her sway over him is greater than what passes for relationships among their kind, though perhaps it does not matter.
“We spoke a few evenings ago about the way things are, the hierarchy you and I once discussed when I was freshly pulled from the Gulf. The pyramid that those like me can only hope to climb to reach the loftier heights carved out by Kindred such as yourself.”
“There was a proposition.”
“And I thought to bring it to you straight away, before the others had chance to comment or begin to plot, for it would rely on your goodwill. Your say-so. Your influence, as it were. Expanded. To include their lot.”
GM: “A comely face and a sharp mind are a dangerous enough combination, my dear. But when that face comes bearing gifts of beauty in one hand, and gifts of aid in her other, that combination is fatal,” Savoy murmurs. He twins his fingers through Jade’s and raises her hand to his lips, planting a tender kiss upon it in mirror of her own.
“My heart stands open to you, Jade. It could not do otherwise. By what key and gift of aid have you opened it?”
Celia: Jade cannot help but flush. Her blood betrays her, staining her cheeks a milk pink that stands out even amidst the creams and powders on her face. He is too good to her. And she wishes to be worthy of the praise he lavishes her with.
“They speak of democracy in Mid-City. One Kindred, one vote. But it is not true democracy, not while Prince Vidal—” she affords him the title even here, courtesy demands it “—appoints the true regent of that domain. Though Primogen Duquette and Miss Opal rule in name, they stand aside if their subjects vote another way. The Anarchs want true democracy.”
“Not here,” she is quick to add, “not within the Quarter; this is yours, as is right. But there. Mid-City. They wish to be formally recognized as democratic. It was implied that, should you be so willing, there is much they can bring to the table.”
GM: “Oh?” Savoy asks. “My recognition of popular sovereignty in Mid-City wouldn’t change too many things there, while the prince’s law still holds sway. I could make a show of it, but they’d be fools to offer me anything of substance in return.”
Celia: Jade shakes her head.
“You promised Madam Alsten-Pirrie something three years ago when she was here, for letting me out of our bargain, for claiming me as hers. I won’t pretend to know what it is. But I do know that our plans can be longer lasting than those political machinations of the kine. You had said that you wanted to sway her, that you just moved up the timeline. If she is being swayed to your side, why not bring the lot of them with her?” It would be like what he had done with the Quarter: they are already so firmly entrenched in Mid-City that Vidal would be hard-pressed to push them out.
GM: “That certainly does have its appeal, my dear. Bringing even a good chunk of the Anarchs over to my side would give the prince something to lose sleep over!” Savoy chuckles. “You think you’ve found a way to pull that off?”
Celia: “I’m to speak at their next rant. But I think my… my relationship with Mister Durant would go a long way in convincing his sire, and if you have the two primogen behind you… Lord Savoy, that is a considerable loss for the prince, and it would put you in a greater position to expand.”
Expand, she says, though they both know she means something else.
“Can you tell me what it is that you promised Madam Alsten-Pirrie that night?” she finally asks. “If you can tell me, I will have a better understanding of what it is that they want, and can better leverage my relationship to your benefit.”
GM: Savoy chuckles and taps a finger to Jade’s lips. “Let’s suffice it to say, my dear, that Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s business with me is a personal matter separate matter from what the Anarchs may want. But I think that’s very promising of you to have established the relationship with Mr. Durant that you have! That can only be a boon to us in the nights ahead. I would stay close to him, and make as many friends as you can at the rant. More friends can always pay dividends down the line.”
Celia: “Of course, sir.”
She is glad that there is no one here to witness his abrupt dismissal of her question. The humiliation alone at the rebuff for being so forward is not as lightened by his suggestion as he might think. Her gaze drops once more to blue, pointed nails with their own constellations written in polish.
GM: “And here’s some food for thought, too,” the French Quarter lord remarks, tilting Jade’s chin to meet his gaze. “To consider while you see Mid-City’s democracy in action… how many times have Coco and Miss Opal been outvoted by their subjects?”
“How many times have they both been outvoted?”
“What matters were they outvoted on, and how much did they truly value those?”
Celia: She does not study her nails long. She does not need to; he has given her the answer to the question that she long chewed over these past few nights: the ‘democracy’ within Mid-City is another game. A sham.
“Would you, then, if the time were right, support their version of democracy if it meant winning them to your side?” The question is blunt. Here, on this rooftop garden, she feels secure enough to speak freely to him.
GM: “My dear, there is no such thing as democracy,” Savoy answers her, just as frankly.
“Perhaps I’m biased. Louis was an absolute monarch without compare.”
“But even here in the United States… oh, the people elect their representatives, but it’s the people who donate to their campaigns whose calls they actually take, and whose input they seek when writing bills.” He chuckles. “Or ask to write their bills. You’d be surprised how many politicians don’t even do that, these days! I’m afraid true democracy only exists in theory.”
“But would I support their political vision?” He chuckles again. “If Prince Vidal can be open-minded enough to, shame on me if I can’t! Mid-City’s Kindred seem happy enough with it.”
“I’ve never promised my subjects democracy. But I do promise them happiness.”
Celia: “He isn’t, though,” Jade cuts in, brow furrowed. “Mr. Durant told me that Prince Vidal doesn’t truly recognize their democracy as legitimate. He only sees the actions and decisions that come from Mid-City as valid because Primogen Duquette and Miss Opal approve of them.”
GM: “Oh, but he does. Prince Vidal cares a great deal what his subjects think, my dear. At least as much as I do, in his own way.”
“He knows what levers of power are pulled and by whom. Saying he only recognizes the decisions of the parish’s regents doesn’t change a thing in Mid-City, but is a minor rebuke. His way of reminding his Anarch subjects that only so much democracy exists in his city. That he, himself, will not ever recognize it as valid, and that the laws and hierarchy of his archdiocese come first.”
“But as for me? If one of my vassals wanted to democratize decisions in their territory, I would recognize the popular consensus of its resident Kindred as valid. I do so desire to make my subjects happy.”
Celia: “Then… with your permission, I would present this at the rant, to earn the status that I need so I may further ingratiate myself among them and bring them to your side.”
GM: Savoy motions grandly. “Granted, my dear. And you can be certain that you’ll be rewarded accordingly for those efforts! My rule won’t ever be democratic. But my subjects will always be happy.”
“And speaking of,” he smiles, “let’s find an event for you to attend in that dress…”
Monday night, 30 July 2012, PM
GM: “How’d it go?” Roderick asks as they drive to next week’s meeting. He’s dressed in similar attire to last week’s, but was sure to fuck Celia before they got in the car this time. Get it out of their systems after he saw her in her ‘Brujah pants.’
Celia: As if their pregame fuck will stop them from having another go at things.
Still, Celia wasn’t complaining when he’d maneuvered the two of them across the four poster bed in her secret haven. She’ll probably need to get it replaced, she thinks, if he’s going to keep it up with those muscle-bound moves.
She grins at his question.
“I was right. Lord Savoy is agreeable to recognizing the democracy that Coco and Miss Opal have set up for your—our—people in Mid-City.”
GM: “That’s pretty often,” Roderick smirks in answer to her first sentence. “But not ever institute himself, I’m guessing.”
Celia: “He said that he wants his people to be happy.”
“So, given time, it could come to that.”
GM: “Color me skeptical. Most elders won’t ever give up power.”
Celia: “I asked you, before. About Coco. Would she and Miss Opal give it up if they were voted out? You never answered.”
GM: “Voted out in what sense, though? They don’t hold an elected office. Their vote counts as much as yours or mine. We can vote out elected officials in breather elections, but we can’t vote out fellow voters.”
Celia: “But they have the power, as recognized by Vidal. If you were to say, ‘hey I want to be regent here,’ and there was a vote and you won, would they recognize that?”
“Not him. Them.”
GM: “Well, regent doesn’t mean anything inside Mid-City. Outside Mid-City is another matter. But, yes, they would abide by that, and ask Vidal to make the winner the new regent.”
Celia: Would they really, though? Celia doesn’t press the issue.
GM: “I doubt he’d actually do that, but they would at least ask.”
Celia: “And they’d bring the lot of you with them, to see that they asked?”
GM: “They could record the meeting. I don’t think that would be an unreasonable request to make under the circumstances.”
“Or, hell, just send the winner to ask Vidal along with them.”
Celia: “Has anyone floated that?”
GM: “No, because the office of regent doesn’t have any authority inside Mid-City. There isn’t anyone else who wants the title.”
“Honestly, the position is more like a foreign minister than anything else. The person who has to deal with Vidal, or more often, Maldonato.”
Celia: “But it’s a stepping stone, if someone desired to expand their own influence with Kindred society at large.”
GM: “Sure. It’s a prestigious title to float around at Elysium.”
Celia: “You imply it’s just that: a title.”
GM: “It’s obviously vastly more than that in literally any other parish. They’re basically mini-princes.”
“And trust me, they have real power over licks’ nightly unlives in a way that the Cabildo as an institution lacks. It’s being a primogen that’s closer to just being a title in this city.”
Celia: “I know you’re not supposed to talk about that…” Celia slides her eyes toward him. “Is it interesting? The things they discuss?”
GM: “Oh, absolutely. You see a lot of what they really think.”
Celia: “Are you allowed to share anything, or is this one of those ‘if you tell me you have to kill me’ things?”
GM: “I can share some things. It’s… mainly a question of what’s sensitive and what isn’t.”
“Coco really drilled that into me. They don’t like other licks knowing about how a lot of things work.”
Celia: “Doesn’t that kind of… flout your whole agenda in Mid-City? To keep it secret? Why wouldn’t they want us to know what’s going on?”
“How can you vote on something with any semblance of authority if you don’t know how things work? How can anyone?”
GM: “Wait, are you talking about Mid-City, or the Cabildo?”
Celia: “If you want to spread democracy, isn’t it one and the same?”
GM: “Well, they’re separate offices. It’s like how someone can be a state senator and an attorney at the same time. There are things at one of their jobs they can’t talk about at their other job.”
Celia: “But one thing affects the other. At least in this case.”
“Greater Kindred politics has a say in what happens in Mid-City.”
GM: “Coco doesn’t represent Mid-City as one of the primogen. She’s there for Clan Brujah.”
“It’s a separate office. The Cabildo doesn’t have any say over what happens in parishes.”
Celia: “That’s like saying what Congress does doesn’t affect the states.”
“Things still go on in the city. If Mid-City is ignorant to what happens, how can they reliably vote?”
“How can you say to someone ‘pick an outcome,’ but you only give them half the facts?”
GM: “Well, the same way anyone else does. Regencies aren’t represented at the Cabildo. That’s very clear. Donovan, McGinn, Elgin, Sundown, and the Baron are all regents, but they don’t sit on the Cabildo.”
“If the prince is the president, it’s more accurate to say the primogen are like the National Security Council than the U.S. Senate. California isn’t entitled to know what goes on at those meetings.”
Celia: “I don’t understand,” Celia admits. “It sounds like Coco is asking you to keep secrets about great Kindred society at large, when it could help the Anarchs of Mid-City be more informed.”
GM: “Again, those aren’t my secrets to give away. The Cabildo is not a body that purports to represent Mid-City or serve its interests.”
Celia: “But they discuss things that happen in the city, don’t they?”
GM: “Sure. But they don’t have any authority over Mid-City.”
Celia: “Mid-City is part of the city. It’s all connected. You don’t see that?”
GM: “I just said they don’t have authority. That’s like saying a lawyer who’s part of the state legislature should tell his colleagues at one job about the things that go on at his other job.”
Celia: “You’re generalizing, though.”
GM: “Sure, it can be connected. And it usually violates all sorts of laws when they don’t keep their jobs separate.”
Celia: “This isn’t separate law firms. This is essentially two bodies of government that refuse to converse. Like if Mid-City is the city level, they need to know what’s going on at the state level.”
GM: “Honestly, you’re overestimating how important the Cabildo is. It’s a common thing new licks do.”
Celia: “Then why keep secrets? Coco doesn’t want people to know how things work. That’s kind of a red flag.”
GM: “Because that’s just how elders are. Coco would be fine with it. The others wouldn’t.”
Celia: “So you bow to some of their rules but not others?”
GM: “Absolutely. We can’t do everything we want in Mid-City. We can’t, for instance, desecrate churches. That’s a ‘federal’ law set by Vidal.”
Celia: Celia makes a noise that might be a sigh.
“I don’t… understand why you don’t understand, to be honest. You don’t see this as a problem? Are you… like, after your Embrace, did she bind you fully to her that you just follow what she says without question?”
GM: “I argue with her all the time about things, actually. But I think you have a mistaken impression of what the Cabildo is. Most licks think that ‘advise the prince’ is what the primogen does, right? Except Vidal is a dictator who doesn’t really listen to anyone’s advice besides Maldonato’s. So it’s basically a club for a bunch of elders to get together and talk and go through the motions because having a primogen is just what every city does. And sure, they do still talk about sensitive things, because they’re a bunch of elders, most of whom are also regents.”
“But asking why Coco doesn’t share that is like asking why every lick who lives in Mid-City doesn’t share everything they get up to in their own personal unlives. Like, say, why Veronica doesn’t share a lists of everyone’s boons she knows because she’s a harpy. That would help out Mid-City if she did that, no question.”
Celia: “You’re generalizing again. It isn’t a question of what the elders get up to in their personal lives.”
“Tell me, then. What’s the last thing they talked about?”
GM: “How much they hated ‘Ms.’, spelled M-s-period, as a form of address among breathers. Pearl Chastain brought that up. And most of them nodded along and agreed with her about how ghastly it was.”
Celia: Celia stares at him.
“And that took up the entire meeting?”
GM: “Of course not. You just asked about the last thing they talked about.”
Celia: “Stop mincing words, Roderick. We’re supposed to be able to talk to each other.”
GM: “I took notes on even that though, if you’re curious.”
Celia: “I don’t want to play games with you. Not games that don’t involve you tying me down, anyway.”
GM: “I’m not trying to play games with you. But I can’t talk about the actual things of substance they talk about.”
Celia: “Then you admit that they have more bearing on the city than you… than you admit.”
GM: “Yes, because they’re a bunch of elders. But the Cabildo as an institution is pretty impotent, because Vidal doesn’t really heed the primogen’s advice.”
“So saying I should share what goes on there is like saying Veronica should share all of what goes on among the harpies. That absolutely has bearing on the city.”
“Heck, you seem to hang out with them a fair bit. Why don’t you repeat everything they talk about?”
Celia: “We’ve gone back and forth about this for so long that I don’t even remember our initial conversation,” Celia sighs.
“Did I tell you about the tongue lashing I got from Preston when I called her Ms.?”
GM: “Huh. I guess it’s a sore spot for a lot of older licks.”
Celia: ""I don’t see what the big deal is."
GM: “They’re just very, very, very socially conservative.”
Celia: ""They’re a bunch of weirdos. If I were an elder I don’t think I’d care if someone called me Ms. It’s not like I’m married."
She glances at him.
GM: “Well, who knows what we’d be like as elders. If we’d just get mentally stuck in 2012 forever.”
He looks back at her.
Celia: “Do licks marry?”
“Weird concept, right? ‘Til death’ but you’re already dead.”
GM: “I think for the most part they don’t, outside of… blood marriages. Which seem a little weird. I think Pierpont McGinn and Adelais Seyrès are in one, though.”
Celia: “I don’t really understand them,” Celia admits. “Mel mentioned them with me and I just… it was like, what?”
GM: “I guess it makes a twisted sort of sense. But I think it’s rooted in pretty old-fashioned notions, too, that marriage exists purely as an institution to produce children, rather than as a declaration of love and commitment between two people.”
“But Coco tells me ‘love marriages’ are a pretty new idea in the grand scheme of things.”
Celia: “Are you telling me, in a roundabout way, that you don’t believe in marriage and wouldn’t have given me a ring if we’d both lived?”
GM: “…I’d have totally given you a ring,” Roderick says quietly after a moment.
Celia: Something moist gathers at the corners of her eyes.
GM: Something coppery-smelling, too. She can feel her canines sharpening in her mouth, just so slightly.
Celia: She turns her face away to peer out the window. It doesn’t matter. They died. Thinking about what might-have-beens is an exercise in futility.
GM: “I’ve… I’ve thought about that.”
“A lot of times.”
After his Embrace, she means.
GM: “How I’d have said it. Where.”
“I thought about it more after my Embrace than any other time, honestly. About the life I could’ve led. That we could’ve led.”
“I did think about it when we were alive. I mostly figured… later. After law school. Since we were still young.”
Celia: “And now we have eternity. We’re still young.”
“We think we have all this time, when death is just around the corner for us all. Even if our bodies remain animated.”
GM: “Yeah. That’s true.”
He reaches out to take her hand in his.
“Marriage might not be a thing, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”
Celia: “It could be a thing. If you wanted it to be.” She squeezes his hand. “I still have a mortal life. I… My mom would like it, you know, and we could… your face could change.”
GM: “Like… what you did with yours? A night doctor?”
Celia: “Yeah. A more permanent change. If you wanted it.”
“If you wanted me. It’s… I mean, it’s just a party, I guess, we don’t…” she trails off.
It doesn’t matter.
GM: Roderick is quiet for a bit.
Then he starts crying, red leaking from the corners of his eyes.
Celia: Oh God. She takes the wheel in her hand, murmuring for him to pull over.
GM: They pull over. He doesn’t sniffle. The red just leaks as he gets out.
“I… goddamn… I didn’t have to… I didn’… didn’ have…”
Celia: “Oh, sweetheart…” Celia reaches out to him. There’s nothing sexual in her touch, nothing overt that would make his fangs pop out, but she offers him the comfort that she can provide, the comfort of her body pressed against his. On his lap, curled against him, she gives him what she can.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, you made the decision that you had to at the time… there’s still so, so much good that you can do, even like we are.”
GM: Roderick hugs against her, burying his face against her shoulder.
“They… they think I’m dead… it… it killed them… just killed them…”
“And I… didn’t… even… have to…!”
Celia: Her lower lip trembles. She can’t even tell him that she knows what it’s like. She doesn’t. She sees her family on a regular basis.
“You did, though,” she murmurs into his hair, “you did. Coco would have taken you, you know how long she had her eye on you, you couldn’t just… couldn’t walk away from that.”
“You can still be in their lives,” she offers. “We can make it happen, you can… work for him, maybe, and… pursue justice.”
GM: He just holds onto her.
“I could’ve… I could’ve had another face, for Roderick… like you do, for Jade… goddamn…”
Celia: “That’s… oh god, Stephen, that’s my fault. I stayed away from you because I was afraid, and I should have offered…”
Her fault. That he’s like this. That he can’t be close to his family.
Her fault. Always her fault.
GM: “No. No,” he repeats, pulling away from her. There’s blood messed all over his eyes, but his voice steadies as he plants his hands on her shoulders.
“I beat the shit out of you, remember?”
Celia: “I could have de-escalated.”
GM: He laughs. Bitterly.
“You can’t deescalate a Brujah once they’re mad.”
Celia: “There was a moment where I could have,” she presses, “don’t be mad at yourself.”
She’ll take the blame for this.
Everything is her fault.
GM: “I’m not mad,” Roderick says dully. “I just… just a missed chance.”
“But you didn’t have a moment. I remember what it was like. The anger, it’s just… this elemental force. Like a tidal wave inside you. You can’t stop it, only get out of its path.”
Celia: “It was before you gave in,” she tells him. “If you have to be mad, be mad at me. Don’t beat yourself up over something that you… that you can’t control. You told me. You wouldn’t have agreed to her if it wasn’t for me. Don’t take that on yourself. Don’t spiral. Not like that.”
GM: “I’m… I’m not, I just…”
He hugs Celia close against his chest and runs a hand through her hair.
“We fucked it together, all right? We fucked it together. We can blame each other and forgive each other.”
Celia: “I would never blame you for what happened to me. My murder had nothing to do with you. You were the only bright thing in my life.”
“I wish I’d run away with you that night.”
GM: “That isn’t true. There’s your mom, Emily, Lucy.”
Celia: “You don’t understand what you did for me. What you changed. Here.” She taps a finger against her chest.
“I was nothing until I met you. I would have let my dad rule my life for years. Forever. You… gods, Stephen, you showed me what I could be, what life could be like, what happiness was. That isn’t something my mother had until you came to dinner with us. You. You made that happen. My whole family is different because of you. I’d be different. Less than. Still under his thumb, I bet.”
GM: “Yeah, well. I’d have absolutely nobody left from my old life, without you. Absolutely nobody. Coco knows who I was, and cares about me, but she’s… just worlds apart, in some ways. You don’t know what it was like finding out you were one of us. I mean, on one level, sure. Horrified and sad for you. All the usual angst over being a vampire. But I seriously think I might have gone insane, just being so totally cut off from everything that I was. I could look at you and think, here’s one person who understands, who knows the real me, even when we weren’t talking. And it meant just so much.”
He pulls away from Celia and runs his hand along her face.
“I love you, Celia. Still do.”
Celia: She doesn’t know what it’s like, he’s right. She didn’t have to give up her family. Her heart breaks for him. She wants to make it better but she doesn’t know how.
“I love you too, Stephen. I always will. Always. I don’t care what kind of monsters they turn us into, you’re mine, and I’m yours, and it will always be that way.”
GM: “Yeah. Maybe… maybe we can do that. Marry each other, as breathers.” He smiles. “I could put a ring on your finger, still.”
“Let’s give it a bit, though. I know you said you’ve got your ghoul posing as your boyfriend.”
Celia: “I don’t care what he’s posing as, I’ll give him up in a heartbeat for you.”
GM: “It’s okay. Doesn’t change how we feel. It’s not like we’re getting any older, right?”
“I can show up in your life as just a friend, at first. Make it gradual.”
Celia: “Celia’s face will change. Has to. But this?” Celia presses a kiss against his lips. It’s an entirely human gesture. She doesn’t care. “This is real. This is infinite. Eternal. You show up… and we’ll make it work. And if you want to put a ring on me, I’d love you even more for it. We can marry, like you said, and then it’s… it’s us against the world. We don’t have to be alone.”
“Politics, the prince, all of them—I don’t care. They can’t separate us.”
GM: “Yeah,” he says, kissing her affectionately back. “I really like that. Us getting a mortal life together. Something secret, that no one but us knows about.”
“We can spend a couple years building up my mortal identity. Get it totally perfect.”
He laughs. “Your mom’s totally gonna nag us about giving her grandkids, I bet.”
Celia: She laughs with him. The life he outlines is ideal. She will build the identity for them, if need be.
“She will, she really will. We can adopt. Or tell her we’ve adopted. Maybe a dog.”
GM: “Be cleavers?” he asks, almost surprised. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, two licks raising a baby. Maybe better if we’re childfree.”
Celia: “No, no, I know. I just… sometimes I think, you know. What it would be like to have a baby.”
“Your baby,” she admits, and she looks down as she shares this secret of hers.
GM: He gives a faint chuckle as he lifts her face. “That’s what you usually do after someone puts a ring on you.”
“I’d have loved to have had kids with you.”
Celia: “I hate them for taking it from us.”
“We should have had a beautiful life together.”
GM: He squeezes her shoulder. “We have forever, though. You said so yourself—there’s a lot of good we can do. Like taking down the Mafia. That’ll spare so many families so much pain.”
Celia: “It will. We can infiltrate.”
GM: “So how exactly is it you do that, with our faces?”
Celia: “…you can’t tell. Anyone. Even Coco.”
GM: He nods. “I won’t. I swear.”
Celia: “You can’t even think about it. They’ll pull it from your mind.”
GM: “Consider it subject to attorney-client privilege. I’ll take it to my grave.” He pauses. “But if it’s really sensitive, maybe you shouldn’t tell me. I know the night doctors are pretty secretive.”
“I mean, like you say. They can get things from us, even if we don’t want to tell.”
Celia: “I won’t explicitly tell you that I know one… but I also won’t not tell you that,” Celia concedes.
“If you want something changed about your physique, I know a way to make it happen.”
“So if you wanted to infiltrate, I could get it done for you.”
“He owes me,” she tells him.
As if there is a him.
GM: “How long could we keep that up?” Roderick asks thoughtfully. “Our mortal marriage. Our faces would have to age and get older, if we want to do this longer than maybe a decade.”
Celia: “I wouldn’t let us be found out,” she promises him. “If you need to age I’d see to it that you aged. Celia’s face hasn’t changed much in the past few years, but there have been some changes. She’s not the nineteen-year-old I died as.”
“Though we could always start over. Another wedding. Another ceremony. A renewal of the vows.”
As if shopping for dresses would bother the Toreador.
GM: “Hey, that’s true. Could always do it again, like you say.” Roderick smiles. “I guess if we have forever, one wedding could start to seem pretty long ago.”
Celia: “I know the kine do it. Why not mimic them? Every X years we pledge ourselves to each other.”
“I don’t want to be without you,” she tells him, offering a shy smile. “I’d do anything to keep this going.”
GM: “Me too,” he smiles back, running a hand through her hair. “I just wish there were some way to undo it. Faking my death.”
Celia: “I can look into it. I might know someone.”
“He doesn’t owe me anything. I might owe him, to be honest.”
“Your family’s memories would need to be erased.”
GM: Roderick blinks. “That was months ago. That’s… a lot of memories to doctor. I’m not a Ventrue, despite what some Anarchs might say, but I think they mostly do it as a short-term thing.”
“And there’s how Kindred all know me by this face, now. The point of faking my death was to keep everything separate. Or at least as separate as we could.”
Celia: “It isn’t separate if you only have a new name and not a face. But I won’t push you. I just… worry. At the future crossing of faces.”
“You told me how excited you were to pass the bar, and I don’t want you to be hindered by an identity issue. Especially because I’ve been working on your party.”
GM: Roderick smiles. “You can throw it either way. I can pass the bar again. That isn’t a big deal.”
“And I know, it’s not perfect with me using the same face. I’ve tried to keep my family as safe and far away from my Kindred life as I could.”
Celia: Does he judge her for doing the opposite?
“I think, at some point, Celia will need to die. I’m just… not ready yet.”
GM: “I don’t blame you. At all.”
“Your family’s been through so much hurt already.”
“You have a pretty good way of keeping them shielded, too, with the two faces.”
“Lucy would get over it, since she’s so young still, but just imagine how Emily or your mom might take that news?”
Celia: “Poorly,” Celia sighs, “I know. They’re who I think about when I consider giving it up.”
GM: “I think you’re right to let them have a while without any more tragedy in their lives.”
Celia: “Lucy thinks I’m her mom,” Celia points out. “Even if she has two others she calls mom it’s still not something you get over. Losing a parent like that?” She shakes her head.
“Regardless, you’re right. We said a few years. Build it up. No rush. Plus it’ll give Momma something to be happy about.”
GM: “Yeah, I can only bet. You’re probably her favorite kid.”
“I read an interesting study about that a few years ago. Parents actually do have favorite children. Most just won’t ever admit to it outside of highly clinical settings.”
Celia: “Me and not Lucy? I think her favorite is the one that Maxen will never get his hands on.”
GM: “Mothers actually tend to feel more connected to children who face lots of challenges. It may be that kid who has failed out of college twice but if they’re on track even at the local community college, Mom is more likely to say she is proud of them.”
Celia: “I thought that was just a lie mothers told their children to make them feel better.”
GM: “It was an interesting study. It found most kids are actually wrong about who they assume is their parents’ favorite. Mothers especially tend to prefer children who are nicer to them or who do things for the family than kids who’ve gone on to be successful in prestigious careers.”
Celia: “And the fathers favorites are the opposite?”
GM: “Hm, I couldn’t say. The study focused mostly on mothers, since husbands are likelier to die before their wives.”
“But, yeah. If I had to take a favorites guess, it’d go you, Lucy, Logan, David or Sophia, Isabel. Not sure where Emily fits.”
“Though Isabel might be higher. ‘Black sheep’ children tend to be some of the most beloved.”
Celia: “Isabel wasn’t the black sheep growing up. She was Dad’s favorite. Especially after he and Mom split.”
GM: “Sure, but you told me she was the one who sent your dad that text. Black sheep.”
Celia: “It would be just like Momma to love her more for getting her kidnapped, beaten, and raped.”
GM: “Well. That’s a depressing line of thought.”
Celia: Celia presses her lips together rather than make one of the two morbid jokes that come to mind. They’d spoken about enough tragedy already.
“Sorry. I think it has some merit, though. She was abused by Maxen for years and loved him, what’s to say she wouldn’t act the same with Isabel?”
GM: “I guess so. Anyways, yeah. Getting married sure to make her happy. And Emily of course will be overjoyed too.”
“Cute thought, we could have Lucy be the flower girl.”
Celia: “I was thinking the same thing. She’d be adorable. You thinking big or small?”
GM: “I’ve got literally no one I can invite, if we want to keep this secret from other licks. So, small.”
Celia: “We probably do want to keep it secret. I can’t imagine anyone would have anything positive to say.” Celia looks up at him. “I’m still gonna mash cake in your face. Did you know that you can use blood as a substitute for eggs to bind it?”
GM: Roderick smirks, then looks curious. “Really? That still sounds pretty gross paired with food, though.”
Celia: “You think we’d be able to taste it, or would that get cooked out?”
GM: “Hm, dunno. But I figure it’d be like eating moldy gruel with fine cognac poured over it.”
Celia: “Well when you put it like that…”
“How will I open my vampire themed bakery now?”
GM: “Ha. Maybe try something with thickened blood sculpted into cakey shapes.”
Celia: “Has to be warm, though.”
GM: “Hm, true. Might be we’re just stuck on a liquid diet.”
Celia: “Like the ladies in the magazines.”
“If only I were taller. I, too, could be a supermodel.”
GM: “I like you just the way you are. Fun-sized.”
Celia: “I’d offer to show you that fun, but I think we’d be late again.”
GM: “I picked you up early. Figured we might get sidetracked.” Roderick rubs the dried blood crusted over his eyes. “Ah, damn. Got anything for this, o beauty stylist?”
Celia: Celia reaches into the back seat to pull open her purse. Makeup remover wipes are made for waterproof liner and mascara, but they’ll work for blood in a pinch. She knows: she’s done it before. She opens the package and rubs at the blood over his eyes.
“Don’t tell me you doubted that I would.”
GM: “Ha. Not ever.”
“Got some over your jacket, but think it adds to the look.”
Celia: “Does it make me look tough? Since, y’know, someone told me they’d show me how to throw a punch but every time we start you just flip me over and ravish me?”
GM: “It’s your fault for being so hot,” Roderick smirks. “But, yeah. It’s a tough look. Leather that looks brand new isn’t a popular look.”
Celia: “How am I gonna fit in with your friends if I don’t know how to handle myself? They’ll call me Princess or something.”
GM: “Ah, but if you’re too hot to teach to fight, that makes you too hot to actually fight.”
“In seriousness, though. Violence isn’t allowed, and I will teach you. Ravishing after we’re done.”
Celia: “I don’t think being too hot to fight is a thing, but I’ll hold you to that. Regardless, I meant so that I don’t get shown up in your games.”
She finishes cleaning the blood from his face. The coppery scent of it clings to the makeup wipe, crushed in her hand.
“It’ll bring me back to all those times I was picked last at recess.” There were no such times.
“Speaking of people I’d pick last, did that douchebag attorney ever send you a bill?”
GM: “Ugh, he did. Told him I wasn’t gonna pay. He said he’d sue. We’ll see if he actually does. People make idle threats over that all the time, and there’s… ways I can make it go away, if it gets that far.”
Celia: “That’s… kind of hilarious. And sad. I’m torn between wanting to know what his hourly rate came out to be, and thus the bill, versus just suggesting we kill him.”
“Think anyone would miss him?”
“I’m kidding, don’t give me whatever look you’re about to.”
GM: Roderick gives her a look. “He’s a douchebag, but he doesn’t deserve to die for being one. God knows we’d all deserve to die at some point if that were true.”
Celia: “You never listen to me,” she sighs, patting his cheek. “I still don’t think anyone would miss him. Go apply for his lawfirm and y’all can sue people together.”
“How’re you gonna take the bar? And by that I mean are you still planning on October, because I may or may not have a surprise for you.”
GM: “Ha ha. Rather not work with that guy, thanks. But as far as the bar… I’m promising a favor to the sewer rats, in return for stealing a copy of the exam for me to take, and hacking the Bar Association’s computers to say Roderick Durant took and passed the bar. I can look up the answers for the exam and grade it myself. If I don’t get a passing score, I’ll hold off on doing anything as a real lawyer until I can retake the exam.”
“Pretty confident that I’ll pass, though.”
“Coco thought it was a great idea. She agreed I should be able to actually pass the exam on my own merits, without using Kindred powers.”
“I’d have preferred to just take the exam like any other law student, but it’s during the day. So not a lot I can do there.”
Celia: “You figured she’d have waited to Embrace you to let you actually pass it, considering. Still, I’m selfish enough to be glad you’re here with me now, and happy you’ve managed to work it out. Are you going to, like, go for a job then? Or what are you planning?”
GM: “She could’ve, but there’s some prestige in being one of the first post-Katrina Embraces. And it was a sign of prestige that she was one of the first Kindred allowed to Embrace.”
“Like they say, timing’s everything.”
“And I don’t think so. I’ll be independently practicing, rather than joining a firm. Having a law license can be useful for a lot of stuff, but Coco already gives me plenty to stay busy with.”
Celia: What would it be like to have a sire who keeps her busy rather than one who abandoned her, whose replacement is both open handed and closed fisted? She’s like the kid whose mom took off to be an actress so she was foisted off onto her grandfather. A doting grandsire, to be sure, but there’s still remnants of a gap between them that she has yet to find a way to bridge.
She nods, though, as if she understands. Veronica might have kept her busy, too.
“Glad you’re making time for me, then.” She shifts, finally, onto her own seat again and stuffs the bloodstained wipe back into her purse, tossing it in the back.
“Do you guys have agendas at these things, or is it kind of a free for all?”
GM: Roderick starts driving again.
“Kind of both. Licks bring up important things they think are important, and sometimes we know in advance there are things they’re going to bring up, but anyone can stand up and speak about what they like.”
Celia: “And I just jump in when it feels appropriate?”
“As opposed to being formally recognized or something.”
GM: Roderick chuckles faintly. “It’s a little more organized than that, but not a lot more. Everyone gets a chance to speak, but if you’re a better speaker, you’ll hold the floor for longer.”
Celia: “I’m not nervous, you’re nervous,” she mutters, squeezing his hand. “What if your friends hate me? Do they beat me up in the parking lot after?”
GM: “Don’t worry. I’ll walk you back and beat them up if they try.”
“And you might know a few faces there. Max is also a Toreador, do you know her?”
Celia: “Max… oh, you mean Zilly? Yeah. Veronica introduced us. We actually met up at, uh, at a concert once. Lily Thoren. She’s… well you know how incestuous the MeVid community is. Asked if I wanted to go, then Zilly was there, one thing led to another.”
GM: “Oh,” says Roderick.
“I guess that is normal for Toreador.”
Celia: “To hang out at a kine concert?”
GM: “Sharing blood. Having lots of vampire sex.”
Celia: “Whoa, whoa, we didn’t share blood. I mean we did, but not ours.”
“We shared Lily later. It wasn’t a big thing.”
Celia glances at him. “You thought I fucked her?”
GM: “Well, I mean, it’s just what you hear about Toreador.”
Celia: Her glance lingers. Becomes a look. Maybe a stare.
“You sound a little judgey.”
GM: “I guess I don’t have any right to be, since feeding is basically sex, and I’m doing that every night. But sleeping around a lot just isn’t something I did.”
Celia: “I didn’t sleep with Lily, Roderick. She and Zilly laughed about their names rhyming and played some banjo together and sang some songs and I, like, drummed my knee. Then we fed.”
“Anyway, if you’re getting at something I’d rather you just say it.”
GM: “I’m not getting at anything. I was just a little… surprised.”
Celia: “I don’t understand why. Because I didn’t fuck her?”
GM: “I don’t mind if you fed on or slept with Lily. I mean, you have to. Blood is food.”
Celia: “You don’t like the idea of me sleeping with another lick. That’s why you got all…” Celia makes a vague gesture at him. “Right?”
GM: “It’s somewhere you can draw a line,” Roderick nods. “Other licks, versus breathers.”
Celia: “And you want to draw a line. No sharing blood.”
“Man, this conversation is so much weirder when you’re dead. Don’t fuck someone else is pretty straightforward.”
GM: “I know,” he says, effecting a sigh. “I asked Coco about it. The social dynamics are just totally different. Monogamy isn’t even the baseline.”
“So I get it. Lots of licks share blood with lots of other licks.”
“But that isn’t something I want to do. Or… want you to do.”
Celia: “Okay. I am down for that.”
“Gonna leave a lot of people heartbroken, you know.”
GM: “Oh, how many licks have you been with?”
Celia: “I was kidding.”
GM: “Genuine question, have you shared blood with any before? It has been three years since you were turned.”
Celia: “Um. Outside of like, rising from deep sleep and being taught things?”
“Like Coco and I shared blood when you took me to her after that incident. Or… she shared her blood, anyway. To me. With me? To me. She gave me blood.”
“Pietro, when he taught me shadow dancing. Ronnie.” Celia shrugs. “It didn’t seem like a big deal since she’s my sire, and you know her reputation.”
“Why, have you?”
GM: “I mean ‘sharing blood’ as in vampire sex. It doesn’t really count the way Coco did it.”
“It’s just… a bit of a sore spot after how you said you cheated on me. I had that rattling around in my head for years.”
Celia: “Was that why you hulked out and destroyed my spa?”
GM: “That was, uh. A lot of things.”
Celia: “I needed you to not follow me,” Celia says quietly. She pulls her hands back onto her own lap. “I told you that I almost killed you that night. I didn’t have any control over myself. Keeping you around… you know what it’s like, to feed from someone who actually cares about you, not the bullshit taste with star mode.”
“I would have wanted to keep you. Like one of them. You deserved better.”
“So I told you what I had to to make you angry enough to not come after me. But if you want to be exclusive that’s all you had to say.”
“And honestly, Roderick, it kind of hurts that you just assume I’m some sort of blood whore because I’m a Toreador.”
GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I’m sorry. I know you did what was best, to keep me away from all this. I just… I still spent three years feeling like you cheated on me. That really, really hurt. I know you didn’t actually cheat, and that it’s unfair to blame you, but I can’t just tell those feelings to go away. It’s a sore spot.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. Her mind jumps from thought to thought. Things she could say. Things she should say. Actions she should apologize for.
She wants to be with him, doesn’t she? But she can’t be with him, not truly, if their relationship is built on a lie. And she had lied to him. Because she had cheated on him. She’d let him think it was just Pietro and Veronica, but that isn’t the truth, is it? Paul. Emmett. The guy she’d literally told him not to worry about—she’d already tried kissing him at that point, had slept in bed with him. And Paul. God, Paul. That’s the worst offense, isn’t it? She doesn’t even have a good excuse for why she had done it with Paul. Money. Blackmail, she told herself at the time, as if she’d ever been able to actually capture the deed on camera. She’d had some weird, convoluted plan to force him into having sex with her—actual sex, not just swallowing down his load—and then telling him… what? That if he didn’t hand over her trust in its entirety she’d tell Daddy?
What had she been thinking?
They don’t have time to have this conversation now. They’ll be late, again, for the rant.
“Would you ever be able to forgive me for something like that?” she finally asks.
GM: “For if you’d been cheating on me?” Roderick asks.
“Well… here we are now. After I’d spent three years thinking that you had.”
Celia: That’s not a yes. It’s not a no, either, and Celia’s indecision makes her tongue thick and heavy in her mouth.
She wants to be a better person. Worthy of him. That’s how everything started, hadn’t it, all the lies that she’d told him, the reason she’d broken up with him: to keep him protected because he’s just better than her.
She’s not worthy of him. Maybe she never will be. Losing his temper one time and beating her into oblivion isn’t like routinely cheating on him. Ripping his heart out.
It’s so easy to lie. It’s her first instinct. Make him feel bad for her. Make it sound like it’s not her fault. Put the blame anywhere other than at her own feet, like the worthless whore that she is. Was. Is.
Can you escape that? Her very human nature, does becoming this undead monster somehow make it better? Hadn’t she done worse things in the scheme of things? Doesn’t she know that she will, eventually, do worse things? Terrible things. That’s her very nature. Their nature, as Kindred.
It’s so easy to blame the Beast.
But she’d fucked this up all on her own. Human. Whore.
She hadn’t thought she was good enough when she met him. She’d lied about her major, kept him talking about himself in shame. Dancer. Cos school. Now she knows, even if they’re both monsters, he’s a better sort.
God, it hurts.
“Would you rather be told a beautiful lie or an ugly truth?” She almost laughs at how ridiculous the question sounds when she asks. She is not some poseur poetess to mince her words or hide behind the trite and tired mask of affected eloquence and pretentious sayings. Not here, not to him. She speaks again, more plainly. “What happened in the past—do you want to leave it there, or do you want to go through everything that we’ve ever done, every wrong we’ve committed… hash it all out, and let it go?”
GM: “Coco’s told me stories about Carthage,” Roderick answers thoughtfully after a moment. “I dunno how much you’ve heard of it. To anyone but the Brujah and Ventrue, I suppose it’s just ancient history. But the story goes that Carthage was a city-state where Kindred and kine lived in harmony, without any Masquerade. The kine supplied the Kindred with blood, and the Kindred used their powers to make life easier for the kine. Freed from the need to compete with each other for sustenance, the Kindred were able to focus on meaningful creative endeavors instead of endless scheming. The city was a shining utopia.”
“The Ventrue couldn’t stand to be second-best at anything, of course, so they destroyed the city during the Punic Wars after claiming the Brujah had attacked them first. They claimed it was impossible for Kindred and kine to live in harmony, hence the need for the Masquerade, which is really just a tool of social control.”
“But that’s just one version of the story. Coco says that if you ask the Ventrue, they say the Brujah ruled over the kine as terrible gods without any checks on their behavior. They killed, abused, and so terrified the Carthaginians that they engaged in regular child sacrifice to appease their Kindred masters. There were entire pits of victims’ bones. Eventually the kine would have gotten sick of it and risen up against us during the day. Carthage was a nightmare, not a utopia.”
“But there are even more issues with that second story than with the first. Coco also says that human sacrifice during times of community need was fairly normal for the period. So another variation goes that the Brujah were just scavengers, happy to take the blood that would’ve just watered some Canaanite deity’s idol. Coco says there are other stories that the pit of bones was actually just a graveyard, nothing sinister about it beyond the fact that it’s where the Carthaginians put their dead bodies.”
“Personally, I think the Brujah at Carthage were trying something new and innovative to live without any Masquerade, but that the process probably wasn’t perfect. Human sacrifice probably still happened and I don’t think Kindred would’ve been above feeding on the victims. The Ventrue have always been conservative, reactionary, and controlling, and I think they would’ve had ample incentive to want to establish a social system they were the architects of. I also think the mortal economic and military tensions between Rome and Carthage probably went a long ways in driving up tensions between the Brujah and the Ventrue.”
“So you might think to ask ‘what the hell does what happened in some ancient city two thousand years ago matter now.’”
“The answer is that it informs everything. The Ventrue use it as their mandate to rule. They were the ones who established the modern Masquerade because the alternative was so much worse. The Brujah use it as their mandate to reject Ventrue authority, because the alternative at the time actually may not have been so much worse. It’s why our clans have fought so bitterly. Coco says that when she first came to the city, Vidal had brutally cracked down on earlier Brujah who’d wanted to create a new Carthage here. To them that meant something good, but it didn’t to Vidal, so he ashed them for it. She also said that when she first spoke with him, they talked about Carthage, and the fact she was able to do so without offending him is one of the reasons he let her stay in the city. Stories of Carthage passed down from sire to childe are one of the reasons we have so few Ventrue Anarchs—I don’t know any in the city besides Christopher. And his sire Marcel is unusually open-minded to the Brujah interpretation of events. Coincidence?”
Celia: His answer is a boot to the gut. For a moment she cannot think of anything but the fact that his sire has educated him, brought him willingly into the fold, given him a position of envy. Hers had abandoned her. She does not get to sit at his side and speak of history, talk about their clan, art, the city, anything. Everything she has learned is because of Savoy and Mélissaire, because Savoy was decent enough to take her in, his abandoned grandchilde.
Like a fucking puppy no one wants. Or the pony she’d wished for.
It’s just a moment, though.
“What you’re speaking of are called myths. Symbolic truth, I mean, not ‘myth’ as in ‘not true.’ Myths of Othering, Myths of Cultural Origin. Othering constructs an idea about another group: who you are, who ‘they’ are. Them, the others, based in fiction usually, such as here with the Ventrue thinking the Brujah were reigning as some evil gods. They built a lie about ‘the others’ to de-humanize them—yes I’m aware that isn’t the proper word we’re not human thank you—so that their clan would, morally and ethically, be okay moving against them. So it’s ‘us’, in this case the Ventrue, and ‘them’ the Brujah based in fiction, and ‘them’ the Brujah based in reality. It ties neatly in with the Myths of Cultural Origin. Where your culture comes from. A literal origin story. Like Spiderman.”
She smiles briefly. They’d taken an evening to watch the movies together after their Batman date, the trilogy from the early 2000s and then the one in theaters now. The Amazing.
“Generally people don’t just spring up. People and cultures meld together, change over time. Humans are story-driven, narrative driven. It’s their nature. Ours too, I think, though then you delve into the argument on whether or not a Kindred can truly change, and thus whether our culture can change. It’s easier to see in humans because their lives are so short.”
“But it’s all perspective, the stories that we tell. If you complain about a bad day you edit the good parts out, and if you tell me about a good day you edit the bad parts out. Because you, as the person telling the story, control the power of narrative. So in the Brujah and Ventrue both saying ‘this is how we began,’ or ‘this is how the Camarilla began,’ they’re each telling the side of the story that makes them look like the heroes, because they each fall back into the old trap of ‘Othering.’ When you listen to a story, when you read a book, when you read political articles or about ancient cultures, you constantly have to ask yourself who is telling the story, who is controlling the narrative, who are they telling it to, what do they get out of it? It’s usually not what literally happened, it’s got a spin on it to make them look more heroic.”
“Take, for example, Carthage and the Punic Wars. The Ventrue tell their story about taking out a monstrous civilization and creating the Masquerade. The Brujah tell their story about being wrongfully destroyed and this great city-state they had and how it was beautiful. No one paints themselves as the bad guys. The Ventrue don’t admit, ‘yeah we were jealous,’ and the Brujah would never say, ‘well we did rule in terror.’ You give yourself the best possible light that you can, make yourself the most flattering. Like, ah, like when you post a photo to social media. You don’t post one with double chins and acne showing. You touch it up. Edit it. Make yourself look how you want to look with the best angles and background. Tell the story you want people to know about you.”
Like she does with everyone, she realizes. Her entire personae of Celia Flores has been crafted and honed over time, sculpted like a block of clay. She slips in and out of who she needs to be when she needs to be it, and it’s the same thing that cultures and religions and extremist terrorist groups do, the same thing that the Ventrue and the Brujah do with their stories of Carthage.
She used it as a tool to survive when she was growing up. A way to avoid her father’s ire. Her long-ago tutor had seen through it immediately when she was a teen. She’d kept at it, though, and now… now it’s just second nature, the lies that she tells, the edits that she makes to her life. Lying without lying. Misdirection.
The entire story that she had told Roderick about her escapades had been concocted and heavily edited to make herself look like a victim. Rape, torture, star mode, drinking, familial abuse. Make him think she didn’t have a choice, didn’t do anything wrong, and how can he be angry at her? It’s not my fault.
“Is that what you’re getting at?” she finally prompts, unsure of how else to put it into words. “That we’re all just playing a role? And you… don’t like it? Do like it? Want to play, don’t want to play?”
Want the truth, don’t want the truth.
GM: “I definitely agree with you that both sides paint whatever myths make them look best,” Roderick says. “But it’s also important to remember that truth isn’t always found in the middle, which is the fallacy of golden means. For instance, Jews in Nazi-occupied Vienna were forced to scrub streets while jeering crowds watched. Some Holocaust survivors claimed they were forced to use toothbrushes, or their own tongues, which isn’t true. ‘Their side’ was absolutely in the right, but they were still exaggerating. That’s just what all humans do. We tell the story that mirrors our feelings, and the facts can be on our side to varying degrees.”
“Another example of that would asking you and your dad ‘what kind of father was Maxen Flores?’. You’ll both tell a story that paints you in the best light, and you’ll both probably exaggerate some details, but you’ll still be 100% in the right when you say he was a shitty father. The truth isn’t anywhere close to the middle.”
“But although this is a fascinating discussion, the main reason I brought it up was to illustrate a point. Lots of people think the past doesn’t matter, but it shapes the present in ways large and small. Everything is interconnected. Everything that happens causes or contributes to the causation of something else. Coco told me how you blamed yourself for me getting Embraced, but also that she told you how everyone from your dad to your mom to Veronica was also partly responsible for the chain of events that led to that. I think it’s the height of presumption for anyone to say they don’t need to learn from the past, because they’re smart enough to grasp all of the connections in the present. No one is that smart.”
“And I’ll admit that’s one thing the Ventrue do better than my clan. Their histories have lots of issues, but pretty much all blue bloods make an effort to teach history to their childer. While probably at least half of all Brujah don’t give a rat’s ass about our history.”
“But the main reason I was bringing this up was to say… yes. I do want to know about your history. Our history. Because that’s going to shape our present and future, whether I know it or not.”
“And I’d rather hear ugly truths than beautiful lies.”
Celia: That’s what she had been afraid of. That, given the option, he’d pick the truth.
Isn’t this what she wants though? To be able to tell him what she had done, to earn his forgiveness for past transgressions, to go in fresh? Neither of them are coming into this an empty, unwritten book, but they can at least start on a page that isn’t sullied by lies and half truths.
For good or ill, if she tells him the guilt will be gone. No one will be able to use it against her the future. He’ll know, at last, who she is, and can make his decision accordingly if he wants to stay with her. If he does, then he’ll be the only one to know. Someone she can trust. She can tell him everything. A haven of truth in the mound of lies and polite smiles her world has become.
She swallows a lump lodged in her throat.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay. After the rant. I will tell you everything. I’d rather not go in with this fresh in our minds and both of us distracted.”
GM: “Honestly, I’m fine skipping another one. We’ll have other things on our mind then and this is more important.”
Celia: “At this rate they’re just going to think I’m afraid of showing.” She tries to laugh. It sounds weak, even to her. Maybe she is afraid of showing. Afraid of being honest with him, too. It’s easier in the spa, where people just lay down and don’t talk and she doesn’t have to worry about anything besides their muscles beneath her hands or if the towels are too hot.
“My place, then?”
GM: “Okay. Your place.”
Monday night, 30 July 2012, PM
GM: They get there. They get out. Roderick remarks on now being a good time to fuck Celia in those “Brujah pants” of hers, but he sounds like he’s joking. He looks interested in other things right now.
Celia: Of course he wants to fuck. She wants to fuck. She’d rather get it in one last time before he tells her that he’s done with her, but she doesn’t push it or throw herself at him. Better not to risk a full bond if he’s just going to abandon her anyway.
She takes his hand on the way up the stairs, mulling over what she’s going to tell him. Nerves make her fingers more fidgety than usual, and she almost drops her keys before she can get them in the door to unlock it. She closes it and bolts the door behind her, taking stock. How much of this is he gong to destroy if he gets mad? Her art? The easel she’d just purchased to try her hand at painting? The genuine Chanel clutch Pietro had lifted for her?
She leads him to the couch, kicking off her shoes to tuck her feet beneath her.
“Coco told me once that anything I told you you’d tell her. Is that still true?”
GM: “Maybe back then, sure,” Roderick says, looking at her earnestly as he sits down. “But no. I don’t tell her everything about me. Just like you wouldn’t tell Veronica everything about yourself.”
“Or, maybe better example, your mom everything about yourself.”
Celia: “You really do think of her as your mom, huh? You two never…” She makes a motion with her hands to indicate sex.
GM: He shakes his head. “Some sires and childer are fine with it, but there’s just too big a gulf between us. Like dating someone 60 years older than you, only she’s obviously a lot older than 60.”
“She isn’t quite my mom. But, yeah. My sister and I weren’t ever as close to Mom as we were with Dad.”
Celia: Celia nods. She can’t imagine trying to date Savoy or Donovan either, though she’d take a tumble with both. Christ, every time she’s in the same room with the French Lord she wants to pounce on him, and she doesn’t think it’s the blood of his already inside of her calling her name. Even Veronica is decades older and she’d been with her enough times. Maybe it’s just different for her clan.
They call them degenerates for a reason.
Apprehension gnaws at her gut. Her fingers slide the ring around on her other hand over and over again, twisting the metal until she can barely feel it bite her skin.
“Do you want to go first, or do you want me to go first? Or take turns? Or… just ask questions?” That had been a game once, with drinks involved. She can’t think of what the equivalent would be here.
She supposes she could just rip off the bandaid. Better that way, maybe. Then if he reacts poorly at least she hasn’t told him anything damning.
GM: “Did you have something you wanted to know about me?” Roderick asks. “I thought this was mainly about you, but I can answer if you have questions.”
Of course. Of course there’s nothing for him to say. He’s a good boy. Doesn’t stay out late, doesn’t drink under age, takes the proposed one-night stand on a date to make it special for her, probably doesn’t kill people just because Coco tells him to.
Didn’t cheat on his girlfriend and then lie about it and rip her heart out.
Maybe one day she won’t take breaths she doesn’t need. Maybe she’ll remember that they don’t do anything for her, don’t settle her nerves at all. It’s habit to keep up the charade around the breathers. Habit to take one now, as if she’s not a monster.
Enough stalling. She blurts the words before she can stop herself.
“I did cheat on you.”
GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything for a moment. His face looks almost carefully blank. Celia can’t help but think back to his earlier words:
“I’m sorry. I know you did what was best, to keep me away from all this. I just… I still spent three years feeling like you cheated on me. That really, really hurt. I know you didn’t actually cheat, and that it’s unfair to blame you, but I can’t just tell those feelings to go away. It’s a sore spot."
“Okay,” he says finally.
His voice sounds a little stilted. His voice sound a little harder.
“When and with who?”
At least it’s not flying into a frenzy like last time.
Celia: Instinct screams at her to lie. She is torn between watching his face and speaking to the ring that she spins, faster and faster, around her finger.
“His name is Paul. He controlled my trust. I went over to meet with him about the terms after that dinner with my mom. He… basically told me I could get the money out earlier if I blew him, and when I went to refuse he… he just kind of… pushed me down and…” suck it like a popsicle.
“So I… so I did.”
Like a whore.
Her own money.
GM: “Did you feel like you could have turned him down and walked away? Honestly?” Roderick asks.
Could she have? Would he have forced himself on her if she’d tried?
“I don’t know. I truly don’t know. Like, if he’d have tried to kill me or something if not? No. But forced himself on me? Called my dad? Made more trouble? Yeah. He… he wasn’t… he’s not a good person. He… Christ, I was down there on my knees and he just patted my head and told me I was ‘stupid. Pretty, but stupid.’”
“I found out, later, he’s… I think he’s one of the sheriff’s ghouls or something. He lives at the same house. I didn’t, like, go back to confirm it after I was Embraced or anything.”
GM: “Sounds like a real piece of work. I’m sorry he put you in that situation. Sounds to me like it was rape,” Roderick answers.
His voice is sympathetic enough. But that edge from before is still there.
“Was that the only time?” he asks.
“It gets… the story gets more involved after the night Maxen sent me to the hospital.”
“I told you about Veronica and Pietro. The bar. The rape. And… the next night, when my mom disappeared, I didn’t know what to do. I was desperate. So I called the bar where I met them. And I told them I had a score to settle and where to find me.”
“Pietro said he was a thief. I thought maybe he could steal her back for me.”
GM: “So… what happened?”
Celia: “They said no. I mean, there… was a lot more to it than that, but the gist of it is they said no. I can tell you the whole story if you want. Then Veronica offered me the tools to do it myself. We made a bargain. A few nights of power and then I’d be hers.”
“She’d already tried to kill me at that point, and it was just Pietro who held her off, so… I thought, if it’s me or my mom, I guess she can have me.”
“So I took her deal.”
GM: “I’m sorry for that too. That sounds like an unspeakably black night, for you and your mom to both get raped.”
Celia: “I invited the monsters in and abandoned my mom.” Her voice is bitter. “I deserved what I got for it.”
“I should have been there. When he took her. I should have been there. None of this would have happened.”
GM: “There isn’t anyone who deserves to get raped,” Roderick says emphatically. “Anyone.”
Celia: Celia pulls her knees up to her chest. She isn’t able to look at him anymore. Em’s face floats in front of her: victim. Like her. Give her power and she uses it to abuse. What else can they expect from Maxen’s daughter?
“You know what it’s like to struggle with the Beast. The urge to give in and do terrible things to get an edge. I don’t know how fast you are, or how strong you are, but I was stronger. Faster. That night, I could do anything, I could make anyone do anything.”
She explains, briefly, going to check on Emily. On him. Finding him “missing” after he’d wandered off. Coco, she tells him, in case he doesn’t remember their conversation.
“Then I went to meet up with Em. To find a way to use these new abilities against my dad. He’s… I mean, he’s… we’d talked about killing him, so I thought maybe he’d have some ideas.”
“And I kept thinking there’s no world in which people ignore someone raping their own daughter. I could get it on camera, Maxen raping me, use it as blackmail or… or something. Destroy him. And Em said, ‘you can’t do that.’”
“And I…” she hesitates. She finally looks up at him. Her lips press together, shame in her eyes. “I used it on him,” she whispers, “he was my friend and I used it on him. Just a… just an innocent kid. He didn’t deserve it, either. And you didn’t, what I… we were together. I thought my life was over, but we were together still.”
GM: Roderick just looks at Celia for a long, long moment.
“Why?” he asks.
“You’d been raped. Twice.”
Celia: There’s no good answer. No good reason to do what she had done. She hadn’t even had a good reason in the moment, only that he had doubted she could and she had to prove him wrong.
“Because I’m a terrible person. A… a scumbag. He was willing to help me and I just…”
“I don’t know.”
“I convinced myself he wanted it. Like I’d just turned on the charm and he came onto me and… like that made it okay.”
“It wasn’t okay.”
GM: Roderick nods slowly.
He’s quiet for another long moment. His face is very still.
“Were those the only two times?” he finally asks.
“Sorry. One time. The ones where you were raped weren’t cheating.”
Celia: That’s a difficult question to answer. She doesn’t know if she should include her time with Veronica on Savoy’s roof, or the time with Donovan. Does vampire sex really count?
“I shared blood with two people shortly after my Embrace,” she finally says. “It wasn’t… I wasn’t expecting it either time, I didn’t go out seeking it. I was very new. It wasn’t like sex I was used to, it was just… fighting. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, the significance of sharing blood. I thought, honestly, the one was trying to kill me.”
“And, uh… the sheriff.”
GM: Roderick actually looks thrown off by that.
Celia: “Yeah. Sheriff Donovan. He, um. There’s a whole… story…” she trails off, making a vague gesture with her hand.
GM: “I’m listening,” Roderick says flatly.
Celia: She almost tells him it’s the kind of thing that can’t be repeated. The kind of thing that will get her killed. But she doesn’t. She’s come this far. Her eyes close briefly, settling back on his face when she reopens them.
“You know some of it already. I’ve told you some. I might be repeating parts, so just… bear with me, okay? I want to get it all out.”
“You know my dad belongs to Donovan. I don’t think he’s actually a ghoul or anything, but he… serves him. And the night they made their deal, I was eight. It was my birthday. I saw them shake on it. And Donovan saw me. I don’t… know what he did to me, it just got very cold, and I felt like I was drowning, and I heard my dad screaming. And the next morning I woke up and there were blueberry pancakes and Dad said everything was going to get better for us. We moved to Audubon. Life went on.”
Her voice is hollow, eyes flat.
“Then the election. You know how he… went after my mom. I walked in on it. Called the police. They said they weren’t coming. So I went to my dad’s gun, and… I saw him, with the hacksaw…” she falters. Clears her throat before continuing. “And I told him to get away, and he turned around, but he was… shadowy. And I was going to shoot him, you know, but I… didn’t. I don’t know if it was some kind of command thing or star mode or what, but he kept telling me everything was okay, and then he… he put me to bed. And I saw his face. And it was Donovan. I think he fed on me, but I… I don’t remember.”
“When Maxen was arrested I went back to the house. Someone was waiting for me. Grabbed me from behind. Told me the only way to put a man like Maxen down was with this, and put a gun in my hand. I thought… at the time I thought it might have been him, you know, like testing me. But I don’t think that’s right, why would he take out his own pawn?”
“So… after I was Embraced, I asked Savoy about it, and he said if I could get the gun they could find out, and so I went to the apartment where I’d left it, and… Donovan took me. I don’t know why. It’s not like he told me. I can only guess. I was from his territory, maybe, and he was…” She trails off again, lifting her shoulders. “I don’t know. I don’t know why me.”
GM: “…oh,” Roderick says slowly.
Celia: “He didn’t say anything, he just… came at me. I was terrified.”
Celia’s eyes return to the floor. When she speaks again, it’s quietly.
“You know what they’re like. They just take what they want. They’re just…you know. Scary.”
Scary. As if that is a strong enough word to describe the sheriff.
GM: “Yeah,” he just says, a little lamely. “I didn’t think he was… into that sort of thing.”
“But I guess he drinks hot sauce like anyone else.”
Celia: “I heard Veronica had him, once,” Celia offers. “I just… I don’t know why me. Jealousy? Or to prove he could?”
GM: Roderick just shakes his head. “I don’t know. Who the hell knows what goes on in his head.”
“So was that every time?” he asks. “Three rapes, which don’t count, and once with Emmett?”
Celia: She nods.
Three rapes. Four, if she counts Emmett.
Roderick is the only consensual sex she’s had.
Christ, what a thought.
GM: “You’re positive?” Roderick asks, his voice suddenly sharp again. The lawyer before the court.
“Because if I feel like you’re lying again after this, I don’t know how I’d ever be able to trust you again.”
“Because I can’t do this again. I spent three years feeling like the girl I loved betrayed me, cheated on me, and lied to me. Then you told me that lie was just a lie, after you’d been Embraced, and you’d been faithful all along when we were together. And now I’m hearing that was also a lie so we could get back together, and you actually were telling the truth earlier. I can barely even keep it all straight.”
“I just can’t keep trusting you and getting lied to. So if there’s more you haven’t told me, now’s the time. To just be honest.”
Celia: Celia bursts into tears.
She presses her face into her hands. Her shoulders hunch forward, making herself small; they shake with the effort to keep herself together, bent almost in half with her face buried against her lap. She says something into her hands, the words muffled by her flesh. Crimson, coppery tears leak out between her fingers.
GM: Roderick scoots over and pulls her against his chest, wrapping both arms around her shoulders as she cries.
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” he murmurs quietly.
Celia: At least her dead body doesn’t produce snot. It’s just the blood that trickles from the corners of her eyes and colors her face, then his shirt when he pulls her close. She doesn’t try to stem the flow of tears. She lets it out. All the guilt that she had harbored for the long years apart. All the lies she had told him. The anger, the anguish, the regret. It’s all there, a scarlet stain.
She tries to speak around the outpour of emotions but the words just don’t come out coherently; it’s a jumbled mix of not good enough, don’t deserve, blackmail, and broken apologies.
GM: Roderick cradles Celia as she cries, at first. He hugs her tight. Runs his hands along her back. Tells her that things are going to be okay, that she’s safe here. With him. That she can tell him anything. After all, he’s taken it calmly enough so far.
Maybe it’s the bond.
Maybe it’s him.
Maybe it’s both.
“Just get it out, Celia,” he says quietly. “You’ll feel better. Telling the truth might be scary, but it’s so much harder to live with a lie.”
Celia: After some time she’s calmed enough to tell him the rest: what she’d seen in Paul’s house. How she’d thought that she could find a way to blackmail him, so she’d gone back. Multiple times. “Gathering evidence.” Looking for a place to mount a camera. Each time she’d started on her knees.
She doesn’t tell him that Donovan lives there, that she realized it is vampires hiding behind the steel doors. Those aren’t her secrets to tell, and even here with Roderick there’s the pull of the bond that keeps her from spilling about her true sire. The bond, she blames, but some part of her knows the truth: even without it she wouldn’t give him up. She doesn’t need a bond to keep her loyal; it isn’t his blood thrumming through her that makes her want him.
She just says what she’d thought at the time, that it was some sort of weird sex slave thing.
“It’s not okay,” Celia finally says. She wipes at her face and her hands come away red. When she looks up at him the blood is smeared across her cheeks. There is nothing pretty about a crying lick. She looks like the monster that she is: red-faced, red-handed. Guilty.
“Of course it’s not okay. I cheated. I lied. You must hate me.” She hates herself enough for the both of them if he doesn’t.
She’d betrayed her sire. That’s what sticks with her, that she had spilled about him, that someone besides her knows they’d been together, can piece together where he lives. Even if she’d spun it she’d still told, and now what? Now Roderick knows. Now he can tell someone. No wonder Donovan doesn’t tell her anything. He’d made a mistake with her and cast her out before she could cause more problems for him. Any evening now he’s just going to come back and finish the job.
She thought she’d feel better for the telling. She just feels worse. Like scum. He isn’t going to stay with her now—how could he? She wouldn’t stay with her. Or maybe she would, because that’s all she deserves: a partner who cheats on her, lies to her, abuses her.
“That’s it. That’s all. Everything.”
She sounds defeated, like she’s just waiting for him to get up and go. She wouldn’t blame him. Even if he stays there’ll be a day when he throws it all back into her face, calls her a whore, tells her she’s as stupid as her dad made her out to be. Their relationship will never be equal; he’ll always have that power over her, that trump card ready to go in his pocket.
GM: Roderick listens.
He listens as he tells her about it. All of those times with Paul, on her knees, his cock in her mouth. Swallowing his cum. While he called her a whore. ‘His’ whore. His stupid but pretty little whore, blowing him for her own money, because she wasn’t good enough to pay with his own.
What a stupid thing to do.
What a stupid thing that only being pretty let her do.
He doesn’t let go of Celia as she talks, but his jaw clenches. His eyes get hard. His grip starts to hurt. He asks just two questions:
“How many times?”
“What did you want to do with the money?”
He waits until she’s done.
But he doesn’t get up and go.
First his closed fist smashes into her face, crunching in her nose with a gory red spurt. There’s a rush of motion under Celia’s back as Roderick lifts her into the air, legs and torso held all the way over his head, then hurls her to the ground like so much trash. There’s pain as the floor slams against her back. Then there’s worse pain as the frenzying Brujah falls upon her with a bestial howl, his fists blurring as they smash into her pretty face again and again. Her lip splits. Quarters. Teeth fly. Bone crunches. Blood spatters everywhere. He pins her underneath his body as his brutally strong hands destroy her face.
Paul said, once. That is how whores are treated.
Men beat them.
What a whore she must be to earn this many beatings.
Celia: Her Beast comes roaring to the surface the moment his first blow lands. She lashes out at him with her nails on the way down, before he has a chance to secure her hands. Even then she thrashes beneath him, body bucking and twisting and writhing to get him off, to scratch or bite or claw her way free. His body is heavy. Larger than her, stronger than her, faster than her. He’d never finished teaching her how to fight. She’s no match, but that doesn’t keep her from trying.
Her nose splatters. Her lips split. She spits in his face with her useless, broken mouth. Broken teeth fall backwards into her throat as her jaw cracks. Hissing becomes a guttural scream of rage and pain.
The rest of her doesn’t suffer the same fate as her face. She’s pretty. That’s what caused this problem. That’s what he destroys. Systematically, while she howls and pitches beneath him, while her nails grow into claws and shred through wood in want of flesh, he takes away her beauty.
I trust you, she’d told him once.
His snarling, twisted face is the last thing she sees before his fist slams into the orbital bone, blinding her.
She sinks into darkness.
GM: Bliss burns Celia’s lips.
There’s hurt, everywhere else.
There is pain.
There is hurt.
There is want.
But it all pales, next to the bliss.
All just like last time.
Eventually, the life-giving font recedes.
She’s in the same office space. Coco’s a blonde again, with a pixie haircut, and wearing jeans rather than cargo pants, but the scene seems just like last time.
“Rise and shine,” Roderick’s sire repeats.
Celia: She’s trapped in a bad dream. A memory looping, over and over again. Another lost fight. Another beatdown somewhere she thought was safe. Her business. Her haven. Nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred.
At least he hadn’t left her. She’d have lain there for days. Weeks. Months maybe. How long before someone would have thought to look for her, would have known where to look? Perhaps the sun might have been the one to find her.
The pain abates as Coco brings her forth, world narrowing to the sensation on her lips, the heady rush of pleasure that the blood fills her with. It’s all she can think about, the blood that’s so close… then just out of reach. As soon as it’s gone reality sets in again: her body throbs. She shouldn’t hurt this much. No one should hurt this much. Her body, yes, but deeper too: that place inside her chest where a girl named Celia once had a heart.
“Prim’gen D’ket.” Celia doesn’t know what else to call her, doesn’t know why Roderick had brought her here again instead of leaving her like the trash she is. She doesn’t let herself linger on the thought. How thin is the ice she dances on now? “Go’ tht’p mee-n like thith.” Her voice is as broken as the rest of her. She can’t even muster a smile; a twitch in her cheek is the only evidence of attempt. Her jaw cracks as it rights itself; another echo from their first meeting, slurred words and broken bones.
Talking hurts. Moving hurts. Opening her eyes hurt. Every muscle and nerve ending is on fire.
I trust you. Stupid. Honesty. Stupid. Fuck honesty. Fuck trust.
Celia had once promised Coco that she’d tell her childe everything when he was ready to listen.
Time and honesty heals most wounds, Coco had said in response.
Just not this one. Not this wound. Not this long, jagged, twisting wound that had been left to fester for years, gouged in further by lie on top of lie on top of lie, a hulking mess of a thing.
Maybe one night it’ll be sealed over in scar tissue and the feeling will return to the nerves and muscles (and hearts) that had been damaged.
Just not tonight.
GM: At least she’s on a couch.
Just like last time.
“I suppose you’ve had another lesson in how hot our tempers can run,” remarks Coco.
“For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing. Truth always comes out in the end.”
“We can either be on its side, or against it, once it finally does.”
Celia: “He hates me.” It isn’t a question, but she looks to Coco anyway in search of an answer.
GM: “Someone who felt nothing but hate wouldn’t have brought you here.”
Celia: Something burns in the corners of her eyes. She drops her gaze before it can do more than that.
“He likes you. A lot. The way he talks about you… the admiration, the respect…” she trails off. “It’s good. It’s a good thing. I wanted something good, too.”
GM: “From what he’s told me about you, it sounds as if you really did,” says Coco.
“I can understand selling your body for money, for what that may also be worth. For two ecus, you could fuck me any which way you pleased, when I was a breather. It was either that or go hungry. Everyone does what they must to survive.”
Celia: Her lips, split as they are, twist into something that might be a rueful smile.
“Thank you. For… understanding. Sharing.” Despite the situation, despite the pain in her body, the words offer a balm for her aching heart. She wants to ask where he is, what he said, what she should do, but she doesn’t think that Coco’s patience extends that far. Roderick had said she is different than most elders, but she’s still an elder. Still has better things to do than nurse the wounds of broken neonates.
“I think,” she says finally, “if it isn’t presumptuous to say, I would have liked to get to know you under better circumstances.”
GM: “I suppose waking up twice on someone’s couch after your lover beats the shit out of you will make those less than ‘better,’” remarks Coco.
“I think he’s hurt by the perceived lack of trust, as much as anything. His family wasn’t the Malveauxes, but they had money. He’d have likely helped if you’d gone to him.”
Celia: She closes her eyes, fighting to keep her face still. She hadn’t even thought of asking him for help, not in that way, not when he’d already done so much for them. She really is as stupid as her dad used to say. She could have walked away at any moment. They could have walked away together.
Her lips press together, though not before they begin to tremble.
It comes up again, comes back to her, the words she’d thought so many times and even said to him. She doesn’t deserve him. He’s just inherently better.
GM: “To him it seems completely illogical. Why would anyone whore themselves out to cruel strangers when they could ask their boyfriend for help.”
“But I’ve often found logic to be a subjective thing, relative to our emotional state and life experiences.”
“They call whoring the world’s oldest profession. Women have done it since the dawn of time. It’s just the way humans are biologically wired as a species.”
“The males want as many partners as possible, to produce as many offspring as possible. When a female’s survival is threatened, she’ll offer him a chance to do just that.”
“Religion may not be as old as our former species’ biological imperatives, but two thousand years is still nothing to sneeze at.”
“Whenever moral authority tells people to do things contrary to their base instincts, something has to give.”
“A woman can’t be the madonna and the whore. When circumstance demands that she play both roles, you get strange behaviors.”
Celia: She is silent as Coco speaks. The words wash over her, background noise to the mess inside her head; they twist once they reach her ears, shifting to fit her narrative. He’s all she can think about. Face broken, body aching, even now she wants him. Another chance to explain. Illogical, like Coco had said, her actions then and now.
She’d wanted to be able to take care of herself. She’d seen what relying on a man could do—just look at her mother—but she is no Diana, and he no Maxen. Theirs could have been a better story. Away from the city. He’d been willing. Just a few months until graduation.
He was made for this life, she realizes. His patience comes naturally. He knew, before his Embrace, that he’d spend years, decades, generations getting what he wants. It’s three years late, her first lesson in patience.
She wants to laugh. She doesn’t dare. Nor does she know what response is required of her; this isn’t a casual conversation in the car with Roderick, who won’t laugh at or dismiss her if she fails to meaningfully contribute. Still, the question burns in her mind, the one she wouldn’t dare put to words around anyone else. But something—the bond, this conversation, the way Roderick speaks of Coco—makes her take the leap.
“Do you think,” she eventually asks, “that our kind can truly love and trust anymore, or will our limits always be the echo of such sentiments, brought on by the blood?”
GM: “Can love and trust exist among inmates at the Farm? That’s a society with a level of viciousness and disregard for human life comparable to our own,” replies Coco. “The conditions there make it exceedingly unlikely for love to blossom, or to last. But in a community with 8,000 people that’s been around for 100 years, can we say for certain that it’s never once happened?”
The Brujah primogen shrugs.
“In my experience, few rules are absolute. Every one has exceptions. Probabilities are more useful to consider than ‘nos’ and ‘yeses.’”
“I think that it can happen. It’s just harder and rarer.”
Celia: “And I’ve already ruined my chance with your childe. He said he wanted honesty, so that is what I gave him. The ugly truth of my life in desperation.”
Love. She’d told him she’d loved him. Naive to think that they are the exception to the rule. Life isn’t a movie; she isn’t the singing princess with a horde of dancing animals around her. He might be a prince to someone, but it isn’t her.
GM: “Truth always comes out in the end, I’ve found. You can fool people for a while, but eventually the house of lies comes tumbling down. Usually all the faster if the liar feels guilty.”
Celia: “Better to have told him, then, instead of years from now finding out another way.”
It doesn’t make her feel any better. She touches a hand to her face, swollen beneath the tips of her fingers. Rest will fix it. There’s no permanent damage. Even their kind is not so destructive that she cannot come back from it.
“He told me about what you’re doing here in Mid-City,” she says at length, “I think it’s good work.”
GM: “If he’d found out another way you might’ve been left on the floor.”
“I’m glad you think so. He told me earlier about the debates you’d had. We both thought you’d be a valuable addition to the Movement.”
Celia: She swells at the words. He’d talked to his sire about her. They think she’s valuable.
Thought, though. Past tense. She swallows.
“I’d like to be,” she says slowly, “only now I worry that my presence would be a detriment to his experience. I’ve no wish to push into somewhere I’m unwelcome.”
GM: “People need space after breakups,” says Coco. “Licks, too. Emotions are too raw for them to see each other. They need time to process things on their own.”
“Give it a while. After that, you’re welcome to come to a rant if you’re still interested.”
Celia: Breakup. She supposes his fists had told her the truth of it, then. There’s no reason to cling to this idea of unlife together. Is that her dead heart breaking?
You did it to yourself. The past will always catch up with her. She’d thought to leave Coco with something like he knows where to find me, but the words stick in her throat. She won’t pine after him, even if losing him hurts more than the broken bones of her face.
“Yes, Primogen Duquette. I understand. Thank you.” The words ring hollow even to her own ears.
GM: “Eternity’s a long time, greenfang. I wouldn’t rule anything out,” says Coco. “Especially if your two’s collar hasn’t snapped.”
“If I were you, to offer some unsolicited advice, I’d use the time to reflect on yourself and your actions, how you’re likely to act in the future, and what outcomes those actions are likely to lead to, over simply hoping he’ll take you back.”
Celia: “I wouldn’t know if his has.” Another statement that seeks an answer if the way her eyes search the primogen’s face is any indication. She inclines her head at the advice with another murmured word of thanks. Perhaps throwing herself at the next lick she sees to rebound can wait.
GM: “I think you should focus on yourself rather than him right now. Following an ex’s life, or unlife, doesn’t lead anywhere good after this soon.”
Celia: “Of course. I will, ah, live my own life, as it were. He knows where to find me if…” She trails off.
GM: “Unlife. And he does.”
Celia: Unlife. Right. They’re all dead. Monsters. Neither Coco nor Roderick seem as bad as her though. Even angry he’d still saw to it that she was taken care of.
Celia doesn’t think she has anything more to say on the matter. She’d lost her lover and her chance to join the movement in one swift bout of honesty. She’d told him once that she would drag him down, and she’d went ahead and proved it to them both. Roderick knows where to find her, but she doesn’t think that he’ll ever go out of his way to do so. Why would he?
Perhaps it’s a good thing she didn’t portion off a slice of soul to the sheriff for a hall pass for one night. A good thing she didn’t say why wait to his prospect of marriage, counter-propose with that final step that would keep them tied together. She can cancel the party for October. Maybe a “we passed the bar” crawl is a stupid idea anyway.
Another on the long list of stupid ideas.
Better this way. Better for him. She’d done the rightest thing she knew how to do. It wasn’t enough, but it’s what she had.
It still hurts.
She bids the primogen good evening and takes her leave.