“And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Chica’s lime-green ‘84 Ford EXP Turbo Coupe pulls up by the curb to Lou’s office. Today, if the interior contents are any indication, she’s probably calling it Whoopty Whoop Yo’ Ass. There’s a body bag laid out on the floor by the back seat, along with a second, smaller, and noticeably bulging ruffle bag that Lou knows she stores many of her favorite instruments of violence within.
Chica waits for Lou to close the door, but not to buckle his seatbelt as she hits the accelerator and asks, “Whozza lick an’ where he at?”
Louis: Lou grunts as the muscle car’s acceleration slams him back into the seat. He looks at Chica, feeling the equal press of years.
“Got to pay a gas bill, Shatoya,” he answers meaningfully, then raises a finger to his lips.
GM: Chica grunts but doesn’t lift her foot. Her driving is usually okay on the days she takes her pills. Those days aren’t every day.
Louis: Lou gives her an address, but it isn’t René’s, its Paola Quiñones’, who happens to Alejandra’s roommate and Lou’s friend but perhaps most importantly an ‘lineman’ at Entergy NOLA’s electric and natural gas utility provider.
The old PI then makes a sweep of the car, grunting and contorting in wince-worthy angles and sudden-swerve jostles.
GM: Lou plucks out the the tiny microphone hidden in the grills of the car’s front seat heater. Chica’s face contorts into a half-snarl, half-“not again” look of fatigued annoyance. This time, however, his former paramour keeps her mouth closed.
Louis: A less cynical or weary man might look smug. Lou, however, just frowns as the gut-wrenching worm of paranoia wriggles in his gut. He expertly places the well-concealed bug back, then speaks.
“But you didn’t come to hear about me begging for an extension on my utilities…”
GM: “God knows nobody’d give you one, th’ way you fuckin’ smell.”
Louis: Lou pauses for a moment, stung by his old paramour’s words but unable to protest. Alter all, he knows all too well how much truth hurts. Instead, he coughs, then rattles his briefcase pointedly.
“I got it, Chica. The con worked. I duped Ms. Silver Spoon that I found her sire even though I’ve turned up nothing. I rattled off an address in the French Quarter that’s undergoing renovation–and the best part is she can’t go investigate because of being forbidden by her bosses or something.”
He rattles the gator-skin compartment again, then adds, “Or well, that’s almost the best part. The best part is I scored. She gave me a drop, Chica.”
GM: For once Chica doesn’t say anything. She just stares ahead. Lou knows how she scored huge last month, something to do with the Baron’s people, and won’t have to worry about the Blood for months if she doesn’t do anything rash… which is never out of the question.
Lou still notes how pronounced her swallow is. The way her hands tighten around the steering wheel. How she shifts just so slightly in her seat.
Louis: The tells are all too familiar. The need. The emptiness. The thirst. He feels it too, after all. Keenly. More keenly in fact, as Lou’s last ‘dose’ was a while ago. A long while. Too long. There’s a reason why he didn’t bring out the vial. Didn’t and hasn’t flashed it. Multiple reasons.
Kindred aren’t the only ones who frenzy. Junkies comes in all stripes.
GM: “I’m stuffed t’ the gills, Lou,” Chica eventually replies.
She doesn’t turn to face him. Not because she wants to keep her attention on the road. This kind of avoidance is deliberate.
Louis: Lou’s own reply comes slowly, as if he has to reach deep into the bitter recesses of his gut and slowly, painfully drag it out of his mouth an into the painfully exposed air.
“I promised, Chica. I owe you.”
In this moment, there’s no pantomime for the electronic voyeur. The pain’s too real, too personal.
GM: The Green Machine’s tires screech as Chica pulls the car to an abrupt and all-too familiar stop. Lou jolts forward in his seat as the belt pulls taut against his chest. Chica doesn’t grit out the words so much as grind them out. She doesn’t turn to face Lou.
“Drink it now.”
Louis: Lou’s mouth goes dry. He mumbles something about how ‘he can’t’, but it’s barely audible or sensical over the unlocking click of the briefcase. The old man, whose face seems visibly older since he entered her car, stares at the woman, seeing at her naked heart and hunger and love, yes even love for the old pathetic man. But he can also sense the madness lingering at those emotions, the need that’s gnawing open her mind with the knowledge that the vitae is so close, so near, so available. Lou’s hand brushes against the vial. Not his real hand of course, but his prosthetic one. He doesn’t trust himself to get his skin so near to the substance again. Not now. Not when he’s promised. His hook clasps the vial. Its grip is neither sure nor steady, but it raises the vial and extends it to the bleach-haired woman with her manic, yet still so beautiful eyes of black Louisiana gold.
“I promised…” the man croaks. “…and we… keep our promises…”
He closes his bourbon-leaking eyes and half-moans, “Take it, Chica. Now. Please.”
GM: Those Louisiana-black gold eyes bulge wide and furious like cracked saucers as Lou draws out the vial in Chica’s presence. There’s a hunger there, a want, more desperate than any vampire’s. At least they can count on regular meals. The other ghoul’s pupils have actually dilated, her breath coming in ragged, faltering pants as she stares at Caroline’s bottled vitae. She’s not sweating, but only yet. If her eyes are Louisiana gold, it’s boiling and bubbling “gold” right now as they move between Lou’s hand and his face. Chica’s isn’t so visibly old as his, but right now, its lines seem to show every century that she’s lived.
Lou honestly can’t say whether she loves him or hates him in this moment.
Louis: Poison. The thought cuts through Lou’s mind like a cold, jagged scalpel. It’s poison. And he wants it. She wants it. Worse, they need it.
GM: “Fuckin’ blue blood vitae…” Chica hoarsely croaks.
Then without warning, she slams his head against the seat with one hand, yanks the vial out his hook with the other, pulls out the cork with her teeth, and spits it out.
“FUCK YOU, LOU! FUCK YOU WIT’ A CROWBAR UP YA MAMA’S FIVE DOLLA HAIRY HO ASS!”
Lou desperately fights back as Chica drives the vial towards his face.
Louis: Lou grunts, the impact and struggle smearing sweat and saliva on the dashboard.
This is what it does to them, makes them do to each other.
It’s why they keep leaving each other–and keep coming back together.
It’s what they want, what they hate, what they need.
GM: Lou drives his hook-hand into her stomach, cutting her off in mid-profanity-laden ranting. His other hand shoots out, grappling with Chica’s own all-too full hand. Clenched, sweaty fingers twist and awkwardly jostle. The vial slips out and plummets to the car’s floor like a falling star.
Shared horror flashes across the faces of both combatants.
With cat-like reflexes barely eclipsed by Lou’s own, Chica doesn’t catch the vial, but yanks Lou forward by his dishwater-hair, twists him around, and awkwardly slams the back of his head onto the car’s floor with a painful crack. The vial plunks against his face, Chica’s open hand trailing behind it like a catcher’s mitt. Caroline’s blood spills over Lou’s lips.
Louis: Or, would, if the old man were only an old man. But he’s not just old–he’s got one foot already firmly set in Hell. In an irony which no doubt draws the lament of angels and rueful mirth of fiends, Lou draws upon that same damned power from which he seeks to presently escape. He wills the fetid, dregs of false blood in his aged veins to quicken and flood his muscles and marrow with inhuman speed. He snags the vial from his cheek in the camera-flash instant before Chica’s hand smashes down. The vial flies outward, tumbling, and spinning. Lou tries to clasp it, crush it, and fling it into the mouth of his swearing, screaming ex-lover and fellow blood-junkie.
He tries. But supernatural swiftness means little when crushed to the ground in all-too cramped confines. It’s too little. Too late.
GM: Chica’s reflexes are too slow to react to Lou’s faster-than-human squirming and thrashing. But they don’t need to be, in the confined space. Her hand clamps down over Lou’s mouth—and the vial with it. He tastes the telltale junkie-sweat off her palms. The plastic of the vial. And something else hasn’t tasted for a very, very long time. That he swore he’d never taste again. Chica spits to the side and snarls, her Louisiana-gold eyes mad with rage and a denied junkie’s terrible want,
“Fuck yo stupid oath.”
Louis: The droplet of damned blood tastes like hell and hurts like heaven. It burns his throat like a falling star. One tiny God-damned droplet crashing into his heart, a meteorite catching on fire, violent and beautiful and terrible, somehow containing all the false joys, regrets, and hopes of a hundred million dreams, something you watch fall and make an asinine wish, like a kid pleading for a bicycle as he watches the whole world about to end. It makes a hell of a crater. It makes a hell of a man.
Lou cries, wretches, moans, and pisses himself in a minute of ecstasy, shame, rage, confusion, and enlightenment that lasts for three hours. His aged body lies crumpled in the front seat of Chica’s car like well-used, but ill-regarded trash. His soul and psyche, however, drift away like spider eggs scattered by the wind, settling and forming miniature webs across centuries and the wider chasms of the heart. His blood-stained lips gurgle and mouth words like a transcendent lush intoning incoherent, forbidden scripture:
“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that damned staircase between us…”
He remembers the first time he kissed her. He never forgot, never could forget, but now, now he remembers. God, he remembers. It was at twilight under the evangeline oaks at the bayou. The sky was lavender and pink and streaked with fire along the horizon. She looked up into his face like an opening flower, and when his lips touched hers, she came against him, and he felt the heat in her sun-tanned body, and suddenly realized that he never had an idea what a kiss could be. She opened and closed her mouth slowly at first, then wider, changing the angle, her chin lifting, her lips dry and smooth, her face confident and serene, and loving. She let her hands slide down on his chest, and rested her head against his. He could hardly swallow, and the fireflies spun webs of red light amidst the black-green tangle of oak limbs overhead, and the sky from horizon to horizon was filled with the roar of cicadas.
He remembers the roar of flames, he feels their heat now, coursing through his old, broken body, his marrow smoldering. He tries to shed his clothes, writhing, on fire. God, on fire! The whole god-forsaken city is on fire! No bells, no bells, no bells, no bells, NO BELLS, NO BELLS, NO BELLS!!!!
He froths at the mouth, a red spray along his tongue, his own, and hers. He tastes her. Hot, red. So very, very red. “Et visum est aliud signum in cælo: et ecce draco magnus rufus habens capita septem et cornua decem et in capitibus suis septum diademata…”
Heaven is silent. No bells weep…
Just an old man defiled and broken.
He weeps for the Heavens.
He weeps for Hell.
He weeps for her.
Above all, he weeps for himself.
Slowly, painfully slowly, he unfurls like a war-torn flag, a blanch-white flag of surrender.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline waits and waits as the minutes of her brother’s life tick by. Wright calls her back when there’s five left.
“Donovan says you’re drivin’ to Perdido House. Black Chevrolet’s gonna be parked outside. You’ll get in.”
Caroline: A chill runs through her.
“You’re trading me.”
GM: There’s an effected snort.
“We do not fuckin’ negotiate with Tradition breakers. Sheriff’s gonna be pissed if you ain’t there in ten.”
Caroline: “I’ll be there.”
Caroline’s heeled feet are already descending the stairs from Lou’s office, the gumshoe having already since beat feet while she waited on the hound.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Lou is brought careening back down to earth by a slap across his face and three words all but shouted into his ear:
“BUCK UP, FUCK!”
There’s a disgusted-sounding sniff.
“Pissed y’self like a goddamn baby.”
Louis: Lou’s only half present. At this point, he’s only half-dressed.
GM: There’s another slap across the other side of his face.
“You want me t’ change you too, or what?”
Louis: Lou finally registers the blow. Reflexively he tries to block it with his former boxing and sword hand, but it’s missing. For half a century, it’s been missing. His prosthetic arm dangles flaccidly, its harnessed jostled off during their scuffle and subsequent sanguineous catechisms.
“Rosa-” he begins but stops, looking down at his absent limb and mangled mechanical replacement.
He hauls himself awkwardly up, peeling himself away from his own filth and debasement like the rind of a rotten fruit.
GM: Chica looks at Lou for a long moment. It’s been even longer since she heard that name.
“Onea those trips, huh?”
Louis: He tries again, the blood in his mouth hot and pounding like a jackhammer hangover.
His eyes scan the streets, not in shame as much as slowly dawning remembrance. Coherence. Purpose.
“Help me up. I need… I just need a moment.”
His eyes cut meaningfully to the heater vent and the bug within it.
GM: Chica grunts and hefts Lou all the way up onto the driver’s seat, the previous site of their scuffle.
“I can kick yo ass, sure as hell can lift it up.”
Louis: The old man grunts, maybe even mumbles an apology to Chica. Yet, meanwhile, Lou expertly detaches the bug and hefts it carefully in his grasp. Then, the stained man half-stumbles out the car door.
“Just a moment.”
GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “Do NOT tell me you gonna hurl…”
Louis: Lou sits on the back of the lime-green muscle car, and lights up a cigarette, his eyes casually drinking in the street and its cars.
GM: The pair have left Lou’s office behind but are still in Mid-City. Car traffic is not so thick as it is in the CBD, but Lou can make out numerous vehicles on the road, their headlights flashing through night.
Louis: Fragments of tiny spiderwebs still float in his mind, tearing free of their old, ancient cellar corners.
The tragedy of life, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.
How many years ago had he heard that?
He takes a long drag to vainly calm his racehorse nerves and laughs bitterly. “Demasiado largo. Follando demasiado tiempo. Pero ella tenía razón. No en el camino que yo y ella pensamos. Pero ella tenía razón. Así que por todas las razones equivocadas…”
(“Too long. Fucking too long. But she was right. Not in the way I and she thought. But she was right. So right for all the wrong reasons…”)
Lou flicks the cigarette, watching it spin, bounce, and sputter into the gutter, just like so many of his dreams and former lives.
GM: Lou patiently waits for the next car to come along. It doesn’t take much waiting. He steps out into the center of the road, an indistinct phantom all-too difficult to notice at the best of times, and even harder in the middle of the night.
One moment, to a hapless driver, there’s nothing ahead of them but illuminated asphalt. Then there’s a man.
Headlights painfully flash in Lou’s eyes, momentarily blinding him. Absolute dark is encircled by absolute light that spills out to more dark, like an automotive-made halo. The car swerves, and Lou with it, his centuries-honed reflexes faster than any motorist’s control of their vehicle. The car pulls to a stop at the road’s side as a middle-aged African-American man wearing a blue dress shirt and yellow necktie steps out. He’s red in the face as he all but yells, “WHAT THE HELL, ASSHOLE!?”
Louis: Lou milks the ‘crash’. He rolls over the hood, letting his cursed half-dead flesh soak the little actual impact his inhuman reflexes choose not to evade. He rises from the asphalt, his shredded, half-ripped off and stained clothes and dangling hook creating an image that blurs the boundaries between pathetic, disgusting, and horrifying. Lou charges the man, spitting the blood from his bit tongue at the driver’s face and begins yelling back, rambling and ranting about nearly being killed, Chica’ car being struck, and other similarly falsely enraged accusations.
Still yelling, he throws a seemingly drunken punch only to accidentally miss, causing him to unintentionally stumble into the other man’s car, bashing his head and body against the consul and grill, his fist actually still expertly cradling the bug–which he attempts to cunningly plant.
GM: The man awkwardly jerks away and yells back in alarm at Lou’s awful visage, his flailing and seemingly ineffectual assault, or both. As the rancid PI’s bloodied head smacks against the dashboard, the man grabs Lou’s shoulders with the panicked, jerkish motions of someone who hasn’t had any formal combat training and shoves him onto the asphalt. He then all but flies back into his car, slams the door closed, and speeds off while yelling behind him, “I’LL SUE YOU FOR THIS, FUCKWAD!”
Lou’s only half-listening to the words. Now that he considers it, the man’s voice sounds a great deal like his own… that should leave whoever is listening on the device’s other end confused for a while longer.
Louis: A little while longer, the old man muses with a bitter hope and burning conviction.
Just a little while longer…
He scrapes himself up off the asphalt and falls into Chica’s car.
GM: Chica snorts at him.
Louis: “Moment’s passed. Let’s ride.”
GM: “Still got piss on yo leg. Fuckin’ baby.”
Louis: “And your hair still looks a polar bear’s ass. Crack ho.”
Lou gives her a smile. It’s bloodied and ugly, but all the more fierce.
GM: “An’ you’re the chewed-up fish I’ll shit out afta I beat yo wrinkly ass f’ the, oh, how many times is it now?”
Louis: “Not enough, Chica, not enough.”
GM: “Thas’ what your lovers say. Oh, wait. You don’t got any ‘cuz you’re a baby who pisses hisself an’ looks like polar bear shit.”
Louis: Lou laughs, and he surprises himself upon hearing the rising strength in it. Like a man coming awake after a long coma.
“Save some of that heat, Chica. I’ve got another white man’s ass for you to kick tonight.”
GM: “Yeah,” Chica says with another disdainful snort, “cuz yours is way too fuckin’ easy.”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline pulls outside of Perdido House. The black Chevrolet, a similar model to the Suburban provided by Blackwatch, is parked by the curb of the looming gargoyle-festooned skyscraper.
Caroline: She’s spent the breakneck drive giving instructions to Polk and firing off texts for Turner and Autumn, and slides the black leather bag she’s taken to throwing into her arranged transportation out of the back seat. She gives a last smile to the bodyguard. “Never boring at least?”
To the mercenary’s practiced eye it’s an act. A strong appearance put on to cover up weakness. Her employer is hurting, torn, conflicted.
GM: Polk just clenches her jaw and eyes the similar car. Meanwhile, its passenger door opens. A mirror-shaded man in a black suit and ear radio steps out and wordlessly holds it open for Caroline.
Caroline: She closes the door on Polk and the crisp sound of her heels snap and echo across the asphalt as she makes her way to the awaiting transportation. She extends a hand to the suited mirror of Polk.
“Check a lady’s back, will you?”
GM: “Get in,” the man orders, not taking Caroline’s hand.
Caroline: The pause gives her a moment to examine what awaits her inside the vehicle.
GM: The passenger seat is empty. There’s another suited ghoul occupying the driver’s. The pale, black-haired man sitting next to him does not wear a suit, but a sweater of the same color and dark gray slacks. A sword hangs from the back of his seat.
Caroline: Her temper flares, and her nerves, already worn thin stretch and tear even as her unbeating undead heart quickens in the presence of her regent. Only his presence spares the ghoul more than her withering gaze. She slides into the waiting seat.
GM: The car takes off as soon as Caroline and the suited ghoul get in. Donovan does not turn his head to look at her as he coolly intones,
“Inform me of everything you have learned pertaining to your sire and his activities since your previous night’s phone call to Hound Wright.”
Caroline: She hangs on each icy word like it’s the too-infrequent praise from her absent father, and takes a moment after he finishes speaking to realize it was a demand that requires a response. Then she starts speaking, remembering his response last time to deception. She speaks of the allies he’s courted, the ghouls he’s acquired, and his interest in her capture. She talks about his manipulation of the Eight-Nine-Six in the preceding nights against Caroline until they broke away from him, of the abduction of her ghoul and the plot to use her to capture Caroline. All the while she watches him, eyes shifting from the back of his headrest to the rear view mirror, waiting for some sign of his favor at the information.
GM: The black Chevrolet drives through the CBD’s clusters of skyscrapers, galleries and restaurants, passes through Canal Street’s wide thoroughfare, and continues on through the French Quarter’s low-rise posh hotels, bars, and tourist traps. The sheriff’s car stops a block away from a single-story red building unassuming but for the executioner’s axe hanging over the wooden front door.
Donovan does not turn from his seat to face Caroline throughout her exposition. He does not speak until she is finished.
“I have no further use for you. Leave.”
Caroline: Caroline, despite the lack of physical sensation, can’t help but have her skin crawl. Back in the Quarter again. Back where this nightmare began. She can almost feel the eyes staring at her from out in the street. It just feels wrong. Unwelcoming.
As does the entire situation. It’s too contrived, too easy. It screams trap.
“They’re going to expect this,” she chokes out to the sheriff, the concern for him too obvious in her voice. “It may even be what they want.”
Nonetheless, her hand moves to the door handle, and she starts to slip out.
GM: The sheriff offers no response to Caroline’s words as she exits the car. Once more, she stands naked and alone in the French Quarter’s dark streets.
In contrast to the teeming throngs that were present for Southern Decadence, however, the Vieux Carré feels next to barren of living souls on a late Tuesday night. No motion is evident past the black car’s tinted windows. Sickly green light from the nearby club spills over the Dungeon’s red, casting a ghoulish pallor over Caroline’s pale skin. Her shadow stretches long and uninterrupted across Toulouse Street’s asphalt.
She’s over ten minutes late for Westley.
Caroline: Caroline spares a glance towards “The Dungeon” and sets off away from it towards one of the Quarter’s many open bars, carrying the leather bag she brought with her in one hand. She needs to get off the street, where she feels so vulnerable.
GM: A lurid red neon sign winks out at Caroline from the dark. Saints and Sinners.
Caroline: Caroline flows towards the beacon like a star on a cloudy night.
GM: Leather and red velvet envelop Caroline like awaiting arms. Subdued lights glint from gold fixtures, a bare pittance next to the neon red that spills everywhere and bathes the already indistinct patrons in a sanguine sheen. A band blasts thumping music from the stage in tune to the audience’s writhing bodies.
Caroline: The scene near the stage is too self-indulgent and tacky, but Caroline is grateful for the crowd cover and picks up a drink at the bar before finding a table and digging out her phone.
GM: The bartender mixes up Caroline a “sinner”—Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.
“You don’t look like much of a saint,” the low-voiced man smirks as he slides it over.
Caroline: Caroline’s looks up from her phone, from which she’s just sent a text to Lou’s burner. Her gaze sweeps across the room seeking out other Kindred, or their thralls, before settling on the bartender. She’s not exactly dressed for this crowd, but she can make it work.
“Professional opinion?” she asks with a smirk.
GM: A new wave of red light spills over the man’s tattooed arms.
“I see enough to know.”
Caroline: The heiress crosses her legs and looks him over.
“I bet you do. And far more sinners than saints. Even if they walked in as the latter?”
GM: The bartender mixes up another drink and slides it off to a nearby patron.
“It takes a lifetime to be a saint and only one night to be a sinner.”
Caroline: “I’m sure you’d know all about that.”
GM: “You’re right. I do.”
Caroline: A smile as she nurses the drink and he makes another. Upon his return.
“So is this your typical crowd?”
GM: “Sometimes we have fuller nights than others. But the party never stops. Or the sins.”
Caroline: “I’m sure that suits you just fine.”
She looks down at her phone again. Another text goes out, this time to Polk. And another to Autumn.
GM: Polk texts back that she’s on her way.
Autumn confirms the message is received.
Caroline: Caroline casts another glance around the bar after sending off her last message as she locks the screen. Hostile. Uninviting. She feels like she’s back in that alley again with the Eight-Nine-Six. Twisting in the wind. Out of place. Unprepared.
There’s a twisting in her insides as she tries not to think on how much time has passed since Westley’s calll.
How long he’s been in the hands of monsters.
How close at hand he is.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Lou’s phone buzzes.
Louis: Lou bites back, or at least saves in reserve, whatever sardonic quip he had in store and looks at the phone to read the number.
Louis: He motions for Chica to burn rubber, then flips open the phone, cradling it to his ear with his asphalt-scrapped hand.
GM: There’s two cross streets in the French Quarter. Right by the Dungeon, Lou notes. And five more words:
Sheriff went fishing with me.
Louis: Lou grunts. He had expected a phone call, not a text, and it takes the anachronistic man a brief moment to reorient himself to the device. He considers ignoring it, the worm inside his gut more than disquieted by her text appearing mere seconds after ditching the bug. But something else compels his fingers as they awkwardly, one-handedly type back his reply:
You catch anything?
Caroline: Worm on the hook. Sinners & Saints.
A moment later:
Louis: Lou curses. He eyes Chica, then the phone. He recalls the perfect arc of his flicked cigarette as it spun its last swan dance. Perfect until it smashed into the oil-slick concrete and iron gutter. His thumb hovers over the phone’s keys. He hesitates another moment only to eventually find himself texting again–against his better judgment:
Tell me what you need.
Caroline: No response is immediately forthcoming.
Then, after several minutes:
I don’t know.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Caroline: That tattered conscience tears at her like a dress caught in the wind, trying to pull her along or rip free entirely, and her hand shakes. She buries it in her lap to hide the tremor.
GM: The bar’s blood-red lights continue to pulsate, bathing the writhing patrons underneath their sanguine sheen. At the seat next to Caroline’s, a girl pushes her drink away and grogs something about not feeling well. A scarlet-faced man murmurs something, places his arm around her shoulder to guide her off, then fondles her breasts. The bartender absently polishes a glass and glances at Caroline’s untouched drink.
“Yours doesn’t have anything like that.”
Caroline: Her hand snakes out to the girl before she can slip out of arm’s reach. “Why don’t you stay with me for now?”
She should let it go. It’s not only none of her business, but it’s actively the opposite of what she needs right now. She flashes what she hopes a friendly smile to the girl.
GM: The man tugs back as Caroline tries to pull away the dazed-looking girl. “Hey, I’m her boyfriend.”
Caroline: “And I’m her roommate,” Caroline replies, locking eyes with him. “Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”
GM: The man laughs cruelly and flashes Caroline a crimson-painted sneer.
“There’s plenty more.”
He lets go and vanishes into the pulsating throng of bodies.
Caroline: “But not this one,” she growls after him as she slides the girl into the seat beside her and looks her over.
GM: The girl rubs her head and grogs something inarticulate. Her age is hard to make out under the dark crimson “light.” She could be anywhere from her teens to twenties. She’s wearing a tight-fitting, mid-thigh, strapless club dress whose indigo color (it looks more like black contrasted by the club’s deep red) matches her dyed wavy hair.
The bartender smirks at Caroline. “I see enough sinners to know one. I still don’t see any saints.”
Caroline: “Even the devil has standards,” she snaps back as reaches for the girl’s bag and digs out her ID.
GM: Riley Nielsen, born 1991, it dimly reads.
“He doesn’t, I’ve found, though he enjoys fooling himself,” the bartender answers with a shrug.
Caroline: Caroline focuses on the girl. “How are you doing, honey?” she asks, looking up, then glancing at her phone.
She texts out a short answer with one hand to Lou.
GM: “Uuuhhhhh…” is the girl’s only answer. She lays her arms down over the bar, and her head over her arms.
“But you know,” the bartender continues, “there’s one thing I’ve found that drives sinners to play saints. Guilt. Guilt over some sin so awful, that’s crossed so many lines, they feel they have no choice but to make up for it and become a saint. Or at least try.”
Caroline: Caroline flinches like he’s just punched her in the face.
GM: The scarlet-faced man smirks.
“I’m not really one for the ‘wise bartender’ stereotype. But I see so many sinners.”
Caroline: “I guess you see right through me,” Caroline all but sneers back.
“Or maybe I just don’t need to wear a mask. I know what I am.”
GM: “A sinner that knows what they are doesn’t pretend to be a saint.”
Caroline: She leans over the bar, voice just loud enough to be heard over the music and crowd.
“I’m a Catholic, darling. We’re all sinners. And we’re all doing the best we can.”
She leans back. “And among those bests, I think I can draw a hard line at ‘casually watching a girl get dragged off to get raped.’”
GM: The bartender doesn’t quite smirk at Caroline’s declaration, but his eyes glint against the bar’s scarlet light.
“Her ‘boyfriend’ was right. He’ll find someone else.”
His gaze lazily drifts towards the slumped-over girl.
“And someone else is going to find her, if she keeps going out like that. What have you accomplished besides making yourself feel like a saint for a moment, o sinner?”
Caroline: She clenches her teeth.
“I hate to break it to you, but disengaging and pretending there’s nothing you can do isn’t being a ‘sinner.’”
GM: “Hopefully for your friend you’ll still be around tomorrow. And the night after. And after.”
Caroline: “Were you always this bitter?”
GM: “Will you always be this… caring, I think, is the question.”
Caroline: She looks down at her ringing phone and unfamiliar number. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
She slides the accept bar on the phone.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: Meanwhile, Lou fills in Chica on his plan as they cruise across the French Quarter. The buzz of his phone interrupts his line of thought. He stares down at the text and frowns. He checks his mental rolodex on Caroline’s reported whereabouts, but it’s a poor hand: a pair of nines at best. Nothing to wager good money on, much less throw good money after bad.
But sometimes, all you can do is play the hand you’re dealt. Spotting a payphone, Lou motions for Chica to pull over. “Just a moment,” he says, then adds pointedly, “A shorter moment that doesn’t involve car-hopping or asphalt kissing.”
GM: “As if,” Chica snorts. The Green Machine still pulls over.
Louis: Lou steps out, bizarrely content at his visible disarray, and makes a collect call to Caroline’s number. As the operator begins to patch through the call, Lou scans the streets and surroundings for any suspiciously attentive cars or pedestrians.
GM: Lou can see none.
Can see none, the worm of paranoia wriggles.
Louis: Lou sucks his gums, the taste of blood and worse long replacing the rich bourbon that served as his breakfast. A few seconds later, after Caroline accepts the collect call from “A skeptical fisherman,” Lou leads with a question.
“Ms. Malveaux, any change in your situation?”
Caroline: Loud music can be heard in the background, the chatter of a crowd, the sound of glasses against a bar. The Ventrue’s voice cuts through.
“Would you believe my date just dumped me out on the street?”
Louis: Lou’s answer sounds more sad and bitter than sardonic. “He’s not your type.”
Caroline: She looks around the bar and eyes the bartender.
“Do you still have plans tonight?”
Louis: “You know what they said about plans.”
A minor pause, then, “But yes, provided my date doesn’t me up too. For all I know, he might hook up with old ones.”
“But for now,” he adds, “let’s focus on the now. I think you better do some bailing of your own.”
Caroline: “So I’m not invited to the party?”
Louis: “One thing at a time, angel.”
Lou’s next words come out fast, like an old stenographer banging out words with little thought, or at least indelible familiarity:
“I don’t know if you have a ride, but I wouldn’t advise leaving in the same one. If they’re fishing, it’s time to pull a bait and switch, or at least jump off the hook. You say you’re at the Saints and Sinners, ok, let’s work with that. The place is used by the CDC to incubate sexually transmitted diseases, which is why it’s a frequent hot spot for Detective Mouton. Given the date and time, there’s a good chance he’s there. Look around. If he’s there, you can’t miss him. Guy looks like a beanpole decided to grow limbs and get a lip job with all the world’s spare collagen.”
Caroline: “There’s a complication. I have a passenger.”
Louis: There’s only the slightest pause.
“So long as she’s a… civilian, that’s even better. If eyes are watching for you to run, they won’t be expecting a pair and police escort. But do you see him?”
Caroline: Her eyes sweep the room for his described detective.
GM: It’s hard to make out specific people through the crowd and under the scintillating red lights, but Ricky Mouton is hard to miss, resembling nothing so much as a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. Even the bar’s pulsating red lights can’t hide the almost iridescent sheen that his contagious sleaze lends to his tan skin. His clothes consist of a ballooning yellow silk leisure shirt, a long white leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and brown crocodile wingtips. All things told, the man looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies, which might explain the falsely eager expression of the scantily-attired woman he’s talking to. His hand is reaching underneath their shared table to stroke an exposed thigh her tight club dress doesn’t cover.
Louis: “Well?” Lou asks, readjusting his prosthetic hook.
Caroline: “Slimeball. I see him.”
Louis: “Yep, Detective Mouton makes slugs seem dry as a drunk in a twelve-week rehab. Anyways, that slimeball you see might be your ticket. You see, the boys in blue and those they bust refer to Ricky Mouton as ‘Cash Money.’ Despite what his badge might say, Ricky there worships the almighty dollar.”
Caroline: Despite. Caroline bites back a laugh.
“What’s the approach? Dangle the hook? Blunt or subtle?”
Louis: “Blunt. Give cash, promise more. Make sure you stiff-arm any attempts at sleaze. Ricky’s learned not to lose meal tickets by disrespecting big shots, so make sure he knows you’re a big shot. Say you and your friend need a discrete ride home right away. Have him put whatever ridiculous jacket he’s wearing over your head, handcuff the other one, and lead you both out the back. If he needs any more incentive, claim you can make his current Internal Affairs investigation go away. I have no clue if he actually has one right now, but a guy like him is always flirting with at least five. And that’s being generous.”
Another pause. “He gives you anymore flack with those fat lips, tell him you’re going to make a call to Sal’s wife, Gina. Then tell him, ‘If the dragon ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.’ But don’t use those last two cards unless you have to, since they’re mostly paper tigers.”
Caroline: “Is he read in?”
Louis: “He’s not drinking the juice, if that’s what you mean. Not last I checked. But you don’t need poison to make a dirty rat stink. He’s on more pads than most Ninth Ward prostitutes, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the local red-tabbers bribe him to run errands for them. That’s the ugly beauty of Mouton, he serves the higher bidder. So if they have him on a money leash, just bid more to make a tighter leash.”
“Your call. If you want, I can call some cleaner cops to pick you up. But that will take time. And frankly, Ms. Malveaux, I don’t know how much you have.”
Caroline: “Out the back is dangerous.”
Louis: “Front door, then,” Lou replies, nodding to an increasingly impatient Chica who sits in the idling EXP Turbo. “You want me to call someone else?”
Caroline: “No. I’ll reach you when I break clear.”
Louis: “Please do. And Ms. Malveaux, try to not to die. Again.”
Caroline: Caroline ends the call on that morbid topic.
“Trying, old man,” she grumbles to herself.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline shifts her attention to ‘Cash Money.’ She lets the Beast slip a blood-soaked appendage out of the cage, just a bit, a hook, to reel the detective in with rather than abandon her charity case at the bar. Besides, it’s not like she’s going to walk over and compete for attention with his chosen tramp.
GM: Cash Money’s beanpole-like face immediately looks up from the woman whose crotch he’s moved on to fingering. The sleazy, self-contented smirk is gone from his face. Bereft of it, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything left.
“That’s very touching you aren’t leaving her behind like you left your brother, you sickening hypocrite,” the bartender answers with a lazy smirk that all but drips venom.
He’s a lean man. Slightly taller than average for a man. Around the same height as her in tall shoes. Not exceptionally muscled. No excess body fat though. Lean and languid. Ink tattoos, their patterns indistinct in the dark, coil up his arms like incestuously knotted snakes. He’s dressed casually in a short-sleeved navy polo shirt, black belt, and dark slacks.
His face is long and high-cheekboned, just slightly darker than Caroline’s. It’s faded to a healthy tan, yet a century of undeath has simultaneously bleached it pale and left it seemingly neither alive nor dead—the struggle of Man and Beast writ across the contours of his face.
His eyes, perhaps a clear gray outside of Saints & Sinners, seem to drink in the bar’s pulsating, blood-red lights with the same thirst that has claimed God only knows how many lives—one of the bar’s present occupants among them. They glow an angry crimson, promising a damnation more real and immediate than Uncle Orson ever could. There’s a wildness dancing through those eyes in tune to the bar’s teeming throngs. It’s a mixture of cruelty, amusement, lust, madness, bitterness, and melancholy. His crooked smirk promises equal parts mirth and mockery, gallantry and monstrosity.
“Are you still lost, little lamb?”
Caroline: The Ventrue heiress slide her gaze back to the bartender, all the while keeping her Beast focused on Cash Money. Drawing him in.
“I’m sorry, am I supposed to be surprised?”
She digs something out of her bag with one hand. She doesn’t quite meet his eyes.
“The too-insightful bartender picking a fight with his patron? A little obvious, don’t you think?”
GM: A smirk traces her sire’s red-painted lips.
“Release Cash Money.”
The redbone cop all-too eagerly returns to his impatient tramp as her Beast dies.
Caroline: “What do you want?”
GM: René strides outside the bar.
“Follow me upstairs. Take your friend with you.”
Caroline: Caroline feels her body moving at his command.
“Why are you doing this? Why do you even care, pops?” she demands. She’s waited what feels like years to throw that word in his face.
GM: The two vampires depart the throngs of teeming revelers. René proceeds towards a back door, smirks and holds it open for Caroline, as if to say ‘ladies first.’
Caroline: She unwillingly continues on, the drugged girl leaning heavily on her shoulder.
“Why are we going upstairs?” she growls. “Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”
GM: René closes the door behind Caroline and follows her up the building’s stairs. The blaring music and dancing crowd fades to an increasingly low din with every step the pair climb.
They reach the top, and Caroline’s sire pauses to get the door for her again. It leads past a short halfway into an almost ordinary-looking office space: desk with computer and printer, swivel chair, and couch that a motionlesss woman in business casual is slumped over.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t wait for the command. She walks in.
GM: René pulls the woman off with neither brusqueness nor gentleness and lays her on the floor. He motions to the now-unoccupied seat. “Do sit down, Caroline.”
Caroline: She grinds her teeth as she slides into the seat. “Why thank you.”
She drags the girl down beside her.
GM: The barely conscious woman groans and lolls against Caroline’s shoulder. René, meanwhile, pulls out the chair from behind the desk and sits down, facing Caroline.
“Your brother said all the usual things you’d expect from someone in his situation. I won’t bother repeating them. But there was one thing that stood out to me. He thought you ‘understood’ him where no one else in your family did, except for your mother.”
Caroline: Her face twists between fury and grief.
GM: “That you were one of the only two who actually loved him.”
Caroline: “I’m going to… I’m going to kill you. I swear to god.”
GM: René offers a mirthless laugh. “Robert already beat you to the punch there by a hundred years. Still, I was surprised by what your brother had to say. I hadn’t been expecting you to actually stride into the Dungeon, before I kidnapped him, but the way he went on…”
Caroline: There’s anguish written across her face.
GM: “I’m not one to relish pain to the same extent that others there do. But there is a certain… beauty to such moments.”
Caroline: “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?” she all but screams in his face. All pretense of pride and composure is gone beneath a mask of rage, hate, and grief, a boiling pot of mixed emotions fit to be called gumbo.
GM: Amusement glitters in René’s wild, now clear-gray eyes.
“All masks, all deceptions, all the little white lies people tell themselves… they fall away like snowflakes when someone is staring death in the eye. When they know, truly know, that their time on God’s earth is about to run out. There’s no longer any point in keeping up the lies, and that’s when you see what a man is made of. What ideals he cherishes. What people he loves. Who he truly is, underneath it all. I relish those moments, Caroline.”
“It was your name Westley screamed past all the blood. Yours and your mother’s.”
Caroline: Her fingers dig into the sofa, and there’s a sound of tearing fabric as Caroline’s teeth grind together. Her eyes well with crimson and the deluge opens up, scarlet raindrops rolling down her cheeks. The creature inside her lashes out screaming, trying to break free, and she holds on only in her grief, clinging to it, cling to her own pain. Refusing to let the Beast have its way. It’s her suffering. She isn’t going to hide behind a rabid animal.
“Is he dead?” she chokes out.
GM: Her sire throws back his head and laughs.
“That’s a child’s fantasy. No, you made your choice for poor Westley. It’s not the one he would have made for you if his last words were any indication.”
“You’d know better than me, though. Was he really that selfless, or just desperate for whatever scraps of affection someone in your family tossed his way?”
Caroline: “What did you do to him?”
GM: “Enough that he was begging to die rather than live by the the end.”
Caroline: “I HATE YOU!” she snarls, blood dripping from her face. “WHY!? WHY ARE YOU DOING ALL OF THIS?!”
GM: “Why didn’t you do anything for your brother?” René poses. “Do you enjoy this life, enough for it to be worth more than his? Or are you simply afraid to die and go somewhere even worse?”
Caroline: A crack appears in her enraged mask, but only for a moment. “You wouldn’t have let him go.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sure that’s easy to believe, Caroline. Or at least something you’d like to believe. Lets you wash your wash of him, keep your conscience clean. But wouldn’t the alternative be so much worse?”
Caroline: “They’ll catch you. Eventually.” She shakes her head. “Regardless of what you do to me. They’ll catch you. And you’ll burn with me.”
GM: Her sire gives another bleak laugh. “We’re all going to burn. Maybe in two weeks, maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a thousand. But unless you don’t believe in God, there’s going to be a final reckoning for all of us. Immortality is a lie.”
Caroline: “You know I believe in God.”
GM: “Then you know it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
Caroline: “Then I’ll take cold comfort in the fact that I’ll see you in Hell.”
If Caroline were alive at this point, she might be sobbing. She might be spraying snot everywhere. Instead there’s only blood rolling down her face. Rivers of blood.
GM: “A very cold comfort, if Dante was right,” René smiles. “Betrayers to family, after all, are condemned to the second ring of the ninth circle of hell. It’s quite a chilly place.”
Caroline: “Why? Why do this? Isn’t this existence awful enough? How could you do this to someone? Why me?”
GM: “You know,” René blithely continues, “to a casual reader, how Dante assigned sins to hells appears completely arbitrary. But there’s actually a very precise order to it. The cardinal of all virtues to Dante, you see, was love.”
Caroline: “Did you just want to destroy someone? Ruin their lives and everything they ever touched? Everyone?”
GM: “The hells are ranked according to the degree by which they are removed from love. So lust occupies the uppermost circle—Limbo notwithstanding—as it’s simply ‘misguided’ love. While Cocytus occupies the lowest circle for reasons you’re far more personally acquainted with than I am. Because traitors twist love, use it to hurt those who loved them, and consequently reject it to the greatest degree.”
René smiles and traces one of the faded ink tattoos over his arms. “Semper fidelis. I’m sure you know the saying, one of your ghouls is a former Marine.”
Caroline: “Congratulations. You succeed. You ruined me,” she spits. “You fucking coward.”
She focuses on her rage. Her hate. On anything to avoid thinking about Westley’s last moments. On what he must have gone though. What he must have thought.
GM: “Also a far less grave sin, if Dante was right. But we’ve strayed from the subject, Caroline. Do you actually enjoy this life, or are you simply afraid to face what comes next?”
Caroline: “What does it matter? What do you care?”
GM: “I suppose it doesn’t, in the end. We’re both going to burn.” He smiles. “Or freeze.”
Caroline: “Do you just want some other way to torture me, René? Looking for your next dagger?”
GM: “No, I’m sure your brother’s fate wounded you more deeply than anything I can say here.”
Caroline: “You’re a monster.”
GM: “The retort to that is rather obvious, isn’t it? On the other hand, I’ve never left any of my brothers behind to die.”
Caroline: “If I thought, for a moment, that I could save him I’d have been there.”
GM: “Mmm. You could have tried to negotiate with me. You can’t ever replace a brother, true, but it’ll take my entire Requiem twice over to replace Kelford. He’d have been quite an asset to bargain with.”
Caroline: “This would be the part where I’d taunt you about him, but I’m not a fucking monster like you. He cared about you. Loved you. For a century.”
GM: “No, just someone who abandoned her own flesh and blood when he needed her most. And please, if you’re mistaking the blood bond for love, it’s as close to that as we are to being human.”
Caroline: “He said he was worried about you. How you’d become so self-loathing.”
GM: “Well, perhaps if he’s lucky he’ll get to roast in one of the upper hells.”
Caroline: “You still haven’t answered my question.”
GM: “And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
Caroline: She says nothing, only stares at him. The tears have stopped, for now, but the blood remains, awful rivers charted down her porcelain face.
After a moment, “And why bring Westley into it. Why did you care about capturing me? What’s the point of this?”
GM: René leans back in his chair.
“Well, I’ll say this much to begin with, it wasn’t out of some misguided religious zeal. If you ask me, which you have, I think the Sanctified’s entire dogma is a load of claptrap. Not that God cursed us, or that we’re monsters, but that He’d actually trust creatures as flawed and broken as us to do His work. We simply aren’t very good tools. How many of our kind really only prey upon sinners? How many innocents have you murdered in all of two weeks?”
Caroline: Her face hardens.
GM: “That’s leaving out poor Westley, but congratulations, you’re walking proof the Sanctified are deluding themselves.”
Caroline: “They would disagree.”
GM: “Oh yes, and they’d punish me for speaking blasphemy too, but that’s among the least of my sins.”
“That wasn’t an ‘I disagree,’ though. You haven’t bought into their little fantasy that our existence has purpose, have you?”
Caroline: “I don’t know. I’ve been too preoccupied to bury myself in dogma. I do know that my… victim,” the word does not come out easily, “wasn’t what they would describe as an innocent though.”
GM: “Did they deserve death, then? Were you a righteous wolf of God, dispensing His judgment upon a wayward sinner?”
Caroline: “I was starving and in agony, and completely out of control. Is that God acting through me?”
The words sound hollow even to her.
“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not right now. Not to either of us. Either you’ll kill me or they will. Either I’ll kill you or they will. Either way, I’m not sure it’s a productive topic for contemplation in our final hours.”
GM: “If you ascribe to the idea that God is present in or simply acts through the Beast, how do you explain the Sanctified being perfectly willing to frenzy at the people Longinus says not to kill? Wave vitae in front of a starving Kindred and they’ll lose control, God’s will be damned.”
Caroline: “You want a firm answer? I don’t think God would let us exist without some purpose. Maybe though if you’d hung around instead of leaving me I wouldn’t have ended up with what you consider the wrong crowd.”
GM: “Oh, I could care less which of the covenants’ drivel you fill your ears with, I’m probably going to kill you in a few minutes.”
Caroline: “Then tell me why in the hell you did it in the first place!” The anger is back.
GM: René sits down on the couch across from Caroline and lifts up her chin with a slender hand. His eyes travel the length of her face.
“You’re beautiful, you know. I’m sure you do. Death becomes you.”
Caroline: “As beautiful as a corpse when a mortician is done with it.”
GM: “Yes. But those last only so long before crumbling apart. Besides. Even dead, there’s a life to you no mortician’s hand could impart.”
Caroline: “Why did you have to drag my family into it? Why couldn’t you just ruin me? Kill me? Embrace me? Whatever the hell you wanted. Why ever you wanted?”
GM: René hasn’t removed his hand from Caroline, continuing to study the contours of her face.
“Well, Westley was to get you here. Which it still did, I might add. Donovan will be just at home as you in Hell’s lowest circle. I think the temperature rather becomes him already.”
Caroline: “What are you talking about?”
But she already knows. Or at least suspects.
“Either he set me up, or you used me to set him up. Or both.”
GM: René smirks and finally withdraws his hand.
“Yes, those things do get to be a rather incestuous mess where our kind are concerned. Plots within plots crossbred with other plots. You ask me, the whole thing is worth swearing off, but I suppose it’s inevitable you’ll get pulled back in too. Such is the Jyhad.”
Caroline: “The what?”
GM: “The Jyhad. The Great Game, the Eternal Struggle, the Danse Macabre, or whatever sobriquet you want to call it by. I think ‘petty bickering’ is the most fitting, but what else are our kind supposed to do with eternity if we can’t bicker?”
René offers a sallow parody of a smile.
“Let it not be said I haven’t taught my childe anything.”
Caroline: “Are you done gloating, then? Going to leave me as you found me? In the dark.”
GM: “Mmm. Tell you what, Caroline, when you’re a moment away from being ashes, I’ll whisper it in your ear. But if things don’t turn out that way, well, I am petty enough to think it’s amusing if you never find out.”
Caroline: “So, what are we waiting for then, dad. Having trouble getting it up?”
GM: “If you’d like, I can try my hand on your friend and see.”
René smiles as he glances towards the slumped-over girl on the couch.
Caroline: Caroline’s mouth slams shut.
GM: Her sire laughs.
“Pick her up.”
Caroline: She mechanically complies.
GM: René walks behind the room’s desk, strips off his shirt, and pulls on a long-sleeved white dress shirt and casual dark outer jacket. He smiles back at Caroline.
Caroline: “Leave her the fuck alone!”
GM: “Robert always thought I was something of a clotheshorse. Said a Toreador probably would’ve Embraced me if he hadn’t. But depending on how things turn out, well, I may as well meet my end well-dressed.”
Caroline: She grinds her teeth.
GM: René picks up a cane and pulls out the handle, revealing a slender blade. He turns it over, puts it back, and hooks the cane to his belt.
“Always check your weapons.”
He then picks up a wooden stake and looks it over in turn.
Caroline: She can do little but watch.
GM: “It’s time for us to go. In…” He glances down at his watch. “Three, two, one…”
The office’s door explodes open.
An eyeblink passes. René is crouched over a body on the floor. There’s two more bodies, suited men wearing mirrored shades, missing their heads. Caroline spots them several feet away. Blood leaks from their amputated necks. More blood is spattered over the couch and desk.
René pulls away. The corpse on the ground is Donovan, with a stake in his chest. Caroline’s sire looks up. There’s several more figures past the doorway. Dark men, with darker smiles. Blades in their hands. Kindred.
René nods at them. “Well done. He’s all Savoy’s.”
“Now, my childe and I have somewhere to be.”
Caroline: “Donovan!” Caroline croaks out. “Who are they? What did you do?”
GM: One of the beshadowed men offers René a dead smile.
“May the Ghede continue to bless you.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will. Caroline, follow.”
Caroline: She robotically follows after her sire, drugged woman in hand.
GM: “And please, you know he wouldn’t be crying over you.”
Caroline: Caroline looks down as she goes. Care about her or not, Donovan was her last hope here. Her last real hope. After all, what’s a washed-up, one-handed old bum going to do?
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: Lou’s barely stepped off the curb when his pink bedazzled burned lights up. Lou curses, but flips open the phone. What he hears, however, causes him to curse a lot more. Silently, but no less furiously.
GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “You havin’ a fight wit’ your boyfriend over that?”
Louis: In a flurry of movements that would ordinarily seem impossible for the decrepit drunk, Lou mutes his phone, jams it against his ear, races to Chica’s car, barreling his torso through the rolled down driver’s side window, and explains the situation as he steals enough coinage to make a single call from the payphone. A preternaturally short time later, Lou’s punching in a number he hadn’t expected to call. Not tonight at least.
GM: “Who the fuck izzis?” snaps a man’s voice.
It’s the last thing he says. Lou has to check to make sure he’s not been disconnected. Wright’s kind, after all, don’t breathe.
Louis: The PI doesn’t answer, not with his own words. Not yet at least. He turns the phone, angling it and increasing its volume so that the hound can hear Caroline explain in her own all-too raw words:
“Why are we going upstairs? Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”
Lou lets the clandestine, if makeshift conference call continue for just long enough so he’s sure Wright understands the situation–or at least the players involved. Lou then cuts in, supplying another key piece of information: the setting. “Upper floor, Saints and Sinners.”
He listens for a response.
GM: None is forthcoming.
Louis: By the time René laughs and explains how Robert already beat Caroline “to the punch there by a hundred years” and explains kidnapping and torturing her brother in the Dungeon, Lou cuts in a second time.
“Either piss or get off the pot. The party line’s about to die.”
GM: There is still no response.
Louis: Lou no longer waits for one. He hangs up.
GM: Chica waits impatiently from the Green Machine.
Louis: She doesn’t have to wait long. Lou all but leaps into the car.
“Drive, Chica, drive like the motherfucker of all fucking bleeding periods is about to hit.”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: The two vampires proceed down the stairs. The music’s pounding and crowd’s roar washes back over them. René does not leave through the bar’s entrance, but takes a back door out, methodically scanning his surroundings with the same careful look Caroline has seen Turner wear.
Caroline: “You’re making a play. For who?”
GM: “Myself. I’ve debts to pay. The sheriff more than pays them back.”
“Oh, now let’s take care of how he found us.”
René reaches into Caroline’s purse and smashes her phone against the building’s outside wall. He drops the ruined device into a trash bin.
Caroline: She glowers behind a crimson-stained face.
GM: Her sire tsks. “I’m sure you can afford another. Did you even check to see if that thing was being used as a listening device?”
Caroline: “I’d rather hoped it was.”
GM: René looks up at the waiting cab. He gets in, followed by Caroline and the all-but unconscious girl she’s dragging along. The driver gapes at Caroline’s bloody face, only for René to curtly order him to drive them to a Rampart Street address. The man instantly settles down and complies. The French Quarter’s dark cityscape speeds past.
Caroline: “Who’s your actual target, René? You used me to draw out the sheriff. Used the Setites to take him down. Used Savoy… and still are. You came back here for a reason.” Caroline’s mind is working, her emotions pushed back.
GM: René methodically continues to scan the surrounding streets, his eyes not meeting Caroline’s.
“Well, I’m getting the hell out now. God knows I’m not going to be welcome after staking the sheriff.”
Caroline: She reads off a street sign as she passes, then another, quietly, trying to make sense of their destination. “So where are you going?”
GM: “Anywhere but here, really. Maybe Los Angeles. I’ve always liked the sun.”
Caroline: She snorts darkly in spite of herself.
“Do it in the city. Please.”
GM: René’s eyes are still fixed on the surrounding streets.
“What? Oh, of course, it’s a needless loose end hauling you across the country. Travel is hard enough with just one Kindred.”
“Word of advice, if you ever do. It’s about as dangerous for us now as it was for the kine a thousand years ago. Weeds out the weak and insincere, though. Only the strong and committed make it in the dark places between cities. Where no prince rules.”
Caroline: “Seems pretty unlikely right now. But I know what happens when we die again. I’d rather not have my ashes scattered all over some swamp.”
GM: “Would you like them in an urn? I can have it sent to your family.” Caroline can’t tell if he’s mocking.
Caroline: She gives another snort. “What a mystery this is going to be. The stories they’ll tell.”
The weight of it all comes crashing down on her, and she’s grateful she’s facing away, out the window, where he can’t see her tears.
“The missing Malveaux.”
GM: “The missing Malveauxes,” her sire corrects.
Caroline: She has nothing further to say to that.
GM: On the west side of the French Quarter is Rampart Street, favored by the Kindred because of its easy prey. A divided, two-lane road, the sorry section of the French Quarter is known for the prostitutes, pushers and junkies who regularly hang out there. It’s the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off to.
Caroline: “Never thought I’d end up in a gutter.”
GM: “You’d be surprised at the places this existence can take you.”
Caroline: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go? I hated that book.”
GM: René only gives her a blank look.
Caroline: “Really? You… of course not.”
GM: The cab stops outside a run-down apartment complex marred by graffiti, peeling paint, and crusty-haired gutter punks sleeping in the streets. René orders Caroline to wipe her face and then tells the driver how he ferried some perfectly ordinary passengers from Point A to Point B. The driver nods calmly along at René’s words. He even pays the man as he gets out with Caroline and their all-but unconscious third wheel.
“It’s little touches like that, you know, to maintain the Masquerade. I don’t imagine you’ve had anyone to teach you.”
Caroline: She does the best she can, using the car window as a mirror as René deals with the driver.
“No. I didn’t. I got to pay in blood for all of my mistakes. Too often not my own.”
GM: “The Lasombra believe in survival of the fittest. Facing trials by fire. Maybe there’s something to that if you managed to eliminate my elder ghoul.”
Caroline: “That was a nasty touch, shooting at me right after Eight-Nine-Six attacked.”
GM: The two make their way up the apartment’s stairs.
“Yes, I’m sure it was. And now they’re being executed for violating the Masquerade, while you are blameless.”
Caroline: She frowns but says nothing.
GM: The pair proceed down a filthy, debris-strewn hallway lined with doors that aren’t numbered. Black mold grows on the peeling walls. The place has barely been maintained. Caroline can hear something, though, past the door of the unit René approaches. Heartbeats. Pumping that precious blood through veins.
René abruptly turns and retreats back down the hall, motioning for Caroline to follow. His hand clasps the hilt of his swordcane.
Caroline: “Things suddenly not going according to plan?” she asks.
GM: “Be quiet,” her sire hisses in a low voice. The two begin to make their way back down the stairs.
Caroline: She can do little besides comply, but a hint of a smile rolls across her face.
GM: “Attack anyone who assaults me,” René whispers. He produces a hand knife and extends it towards Caroline.
Caroline: She makes no move to take the knife.
GM: “Take it,” he impatiently orders.
Caroline: Reluctantly she does so. Or at least, with mental reluctance. Physically her actions remain on autopilot.
GM: The two vampires make their way down to the building’s equally dilapidated ground story. René approaches the front door. He pauses for a fraction of a second, clearly listening, and then pulls it open with his sword drawn.
Louis: The door slowly opens to reveal the inviting darkness of night. But a man stands in their way. He’s dressed in the gray-bland service uniform of Entergy Gas and Electric Utilities. He’s old. He hefts a gator-skinny briefcase to his chest and asks with a grim grin,
“Excuse me, sir, but do you have time to hear about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”
He doesn’t wait for the answer, though, just flips open the briefcase to one-handedly grip a pistol-handed sawed-off shotgun which he promptly points at René.
GM: Revulsion twists René’s face at the crucifix around Lou’s neck. He doesn’t so much as pause before running the old man’s belly through with his sword in a barely visible blur.
But the motion is suddenly arrested as if by an invisible barrier. The blade swings, jerkingly, as René stumbles in place.
Caroline: The woman that pokes her head out of a door from which René backed away is is dressed in a conservative business suit. The shotgun in her hand is not conservative, nor is the rifle strapped across her chest but hanging to her side. The shotgun belches flame at the sword-armed man.
Caroline unwillingly and mutely leaps at Polk, knife flashing at the talented bodyguard. It comes up woefully short.
GM: The dragonsbreath rounds explode into René, leaving burning holes in his chest and turning his black jacket into a funeral pyre. The burning monster lets loose in an unintelligible howl and blurs up the stairs, his blade moving too fast to follow. Screams and thudding footsteps sound from inside the apartment units.
Louis: Yet, before the inhumanly fast vampire so escapes, the old man also moves with inhuman grace or at least hellish power to aim and fire his own shotgun filled with dragonsbreath. The wooden cross around his neck swings, his heart beats, and his bourbon eyes soak in the screams and burning flesh.
Caroline: The knife against snakes out with inhuman quickness despite the frown and frustration plastered across Caroline’s face. Fortunately, for all her swiftness, Polk is better trained. It finds no purchase in the former Secret Service agent.
Louis: The same former secret service agent is suddenly yanked inside the room by Chica, who herself steps back inside the blood-smeared room, a sword-cane wickedly gleaming in her other hand.
“Come get yo white ass slapped like yo motha fucka daddy did!”
GM: Lou’s shotgun roars with all the fury of a true wyrm, belching a veritable column of fire at the staircase. René is gone the moment the hot shell casings eject, but the old hunter notes with some satisfaction how his preternaturally fast (and still-burning) prey shrieks and stumbles, then re-apparates in front of Polk. None of the combatants can even follow his sword’s motions. One moment, the former Secret Service agent is fending off her own employer. The next, she’s a ravaged bleeding mess, all but ready to topple over.
René bares his fangs, letting out a strangled scream that, for once, sounds more human than bestial. The other combatants can’t make out his motions. There are crashing sounds against the floor and walls, then suddenly his jacket’s roaring flames are extinguished, though his clothes themselves remain charred tatters. His eyes bulge, nearly mad with the effort to contain his Beast.
Caroline: The ex-Secret Service agent doesn’t need to look to know she’s been hurt badly. Warm blood runs across her skin and soaks through her white shirt. She snaps off another booming, red-hot round in the narrow confines of the building, the weapon smoking in her hand.
“Incoming,” Polk growls to Chica. “Multiple vehicles.”
Louis: Lou surreptitiously drops the shotgun in the bushes as the black vans pull up. His hale hand rests lightly on his sabre beneath his jumpsuit.
Caroline: Caroline leaps past her sire into the room after her employee. The knife’s reach is all wrong for her, or maybe her heart isn’t in it as she fights against her sire’s programming. Whatever the case, her woes continue.
GM: René barely dodges Polk’s shotgun blast, and the dragonsbreath rounds only leave further scorches across his already perforated torso. Caroline’s sire looks like nothing so much as a walking burn victim. His clothes hang off his blackened, bullet-chewed chest in tatters, and enough hair is incinerated that he’s almost bald. He shows far too many teeth as he stares at Caroline and snarls,
“Dominate everyone into killing each other.”
The older Ventrue abruptly vanishes in place as if he were never there. The building’s fire escape bursts open as if by a poltergeist.
Louis: Another ghost follows after him.
The old man pushes his body beyond its limits, the vitae in his veins bleeding away like Louisiana fog at noonday. His skin tightens, his gums withdraw, his hair whitens and thins, as he burns away his mantle of false sanguineous life. No mortal man could or should ever run so fast, so far. His scream tears from his own mouth, disappearing in the stream of sliced air in front of him. Driven by a drive and desperation honed by centuries, the old man overtakes the fleeing ancilla.
Then, there’s a bright flash of old steel, a glint in the darkness like a falling star.
GM: For the others, it happens too fast to process.
For two men, time slows to a crawl.
To them, Lou’s blade seems to hang suspended in the air, in defiance of gravity, of human limitations, of all the self-important laws of physics that are woefully incapable of describing reality as it truly is. The rest of the world stares on at them, frozen in place, a snapshot of eternity that could last for ten milliseconds or ten thousand years.
René Baristheaut stares back at the old man, who in this out-of-time instant has no need for the false names that are so transient.
There’s much that’s written on his face. Pain. Fury. Fear. The cardinal three, right now. And hate. Bitterness. Loss. Despair. Madness. Disdain. Mockery. Amusement—black, bitter, and howling with laughter at his own fate, at Lou’s, at Caroline’s, mocking and laughing at it all, because if he didn’t laugh, the only alternative would be to weep—and once René started, once he saw his race for what it truly was, he might not ever stop.
Lou knows. He’s seen Caine’s children for what they are.
The blade falls.
He knows them for what they are. Monsters. No matter how they try to coat it.
The blade falls.
Not all the excuses, not all the rationalizations, not all the mockery in the world can hide it from him.
The blade falls.
René stares back up at Lou’s face. Perhaps he seeks some sin, some failing, some vulnerability to mock. Perhaps he expects to see a pathetic drunk. He sees iron. He sees the implacable resolve of a man whose centuries-spanning existence has been sustained not by vitae, but by purpose, and one greater than he could ever know.
The blade falls.
Fueled by Caroline’s vitae, guided by Lou’s hand, and inspired by a righteousness no son of Caine could ever lay claim to, the falling sword descends upon René Baristheaut like a long-evaded divine judgment. His judgment.
The vampire screams as Lou’s remorseless blade sheers through his spine and flays open his back. Blood pours forth. Droplets of red scatter like a child’s flung marbles—each one stolen from some human being, some victim who, no matter their crimes, did not deserve to be fed upon like cattle by this monster.
The old man’s blade delivers their justice—and more.
Time, held frozen, speeds forward like a spun clock as René Baristheaut buckles to his knees. He reaches out a hand as if to rage, to plea, to protest—but his words would fall upon deaf ears. The vampire crashes to his face. Time’s halted march resumes in full force as the grizzled old hunter stares down at his defeated quarry.
Justice has been served.
The old man turns his gaze up to the heavens. Unlike purgatory below, the dark heavens are soft and quiet. The white moonlight is cold and clear, like the justice men dream of but don’t find–save for rare nights like these.
He lets the pale moonlight bathe his face, mingling with his tears. His knees give out, bereft of vitae and overcome by emotions. He kneels against his ancient blade. Holding the cross to his lips, he prays. It is a silent prayer said for only the angels and God to hear.
But it is a short prayer, for purgatory is far from quiet and many devils run free. Justice may be served, but the law, both of the quick and the damned, is far from sated.
Law isn’t justice. It’s an imperfect mechanism. If one presses exactly the right buttons–and are oh so lucky–justice may show up in the answer.
The old man sighs. The cross falls to his neck, the blade is tossed back into his briefcase. He keeps his forensic glove on his hand, however, for the dirty work is not yet done. It’s never done, he thinks with a weariness to his brittle bones.
He fishes out Chica’s borrowed burner and texts Polk according to their plan, Fat Lady’s singing. He then unfolds the large duffel bag he retrieved from his case and shoves the torpid vampire into the bag.
Caroline: It’s like watching the wrath of Heaven descend. Through leaden limbs and iron bound orders she sees it happen, just peripherally, out of the corner of her eye. When dodging bullets she’d once thought she was fast. That she was nearly invincible. Faster than a speeding bullet. But Lou… the old man. The washed-up hack that smells of booze and crushed dreams. One minute he’s there feet from her, and the next René is on the ground in a heap of blood and flesh.
Whatever happens to her. Whether or not she survives this night and any other, at least there’s a closed loop. Justice? Maybe for Westley. Justice though is too sharp a word for her to touch. It’s a blade without a handle.
Vengeance is fullness of recompense, it’s satisfaction. And she’s not satisfied. She’ll never be able to take from René what he took from her. Her life. Her brother. Maybe her soul. There can be no accounting made of what’s been done. How can you repay in full what you can’t measure? What’s the price of a smile? The cost of a sunrise? The value of salvation?
And yet there’s something that stirs within her. That beats within her dead heart other than rage, and fear, and all too raw grief. Relief. A crushing, suffocating weight off her chest. In the smoke-filled, gunpowder-blasted, roaring-hot apartment she can breathe for the first time in weeks.
Louis: That breath, however, is soon stolen after Chica slams a broken cue-stick into her heart, causing the Ventrue to collapse like a string-cut marionette. Meanwhile, the mentally enslaved Polk shoots Chica–its bullet bloodily sinking a mere inch into the ghoul’s inhumanly tough breast. In retaliation, the black woman slaps the injured bodyguard with the flat of her sugarcane sword, literally beating the mind-control out of Polk’s skull.
“Cracker biatches, please,” Chica snorts. She turns to Polk. “Stick to the plan, which means clean up yo shit. This nigga ain’t yo mothafuckin’ maid.”
Lou’s text interrupts any further retort, as both woman rush to complete their and the PI’s earlier preparations. Doors fly open, bodies are hurled down a pre-arranged shute, and the gas utility van is loaded up with the duffel-bag staked Caroline while the apartment’s original inhabitants are less unconscious but unbound and safely on a nearby patio below. And then, like a domino tipped to create a chain reaction, Chica lobs a lit lighter across the balcony and bounces into the kitchen with its long gas-pumping oven. By the time Chica and Polk pick up Lou and his own duffel-bag body, the smoke from the violent but expertly crafted flash-gas explosion has vanished into the night.
GM: And so do they–or so they hope.
Black vans have by now surrounded the apartment complex. It’s a testament to Lou’s and the women’s skills that the process happens as fast as it does, like an assembly line in motion. They can smell the smoke as they leap into the white utility van, hit the accelerator, sand take off. Thudding feet, shouts of alarm, and screams of terror sound from behind them.
Two figures in the black Chevrolet don’t startle.
The first is the vehicle’s driver: a pale, clean-shaven man, with short, neatly combed black hair. He is dressed in a long-sleeved black polo shirt and navy slacks, and apart from the saber hanging by his seat, he would look like the host for a gallery opening or wine tasting… were it not for his eyes. They are the same sea-gray color as New Orleans’ troubled skies, and seem to pierce through to the very soul of whoever meets them.
Sitting next to him is the second figure, clad in a priest’s black habit. He is a slightly short, cadaverously thin man with limbs like a scarecrows, and skin so pale one would think he poured flour over it. His short, slicked-back hair is similarly white, and his eyes are an unhealthy reddish-pink. His nose is just a little large, his features just a little off: an albino. His head is bowed and his hands clasped in prayer.
“Baristheaut is in that van,” Father Malveaux rasps as he looks up.
The sheriff of New Orleans does not reply, but merely presses his foot down on the accelerator.
Meanwhile, a black Lincoln rounds the bend. The angel-faced, boyish-looking young man smiles to himself as he reaches the same conclusion.
The prince’s fugitive will be apprehended.
Previous, by Narrative: Story Four, Micheal IX
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Next, by Caroline: Story Four, Caroline XI, Louis V
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Next, by Louis: Story Four, Caroline XI, Louis V
Pete Feedback Repost
So. That was a thing. I’m not completely certain what kind of thing it was, and I’m putting thoughts down this evening before posting feedback tomorrow mostly as a means of staking out where my mind is in the immediate aftermath of all of this. It was a cool thing in many ways, because there were a lot of epic moments here, but for me as a player, also a very frustrating thing in the moment. Maybe some of it will shake out in aftermath posts and in post-game dialogues, but I’d be lying if I said that I was entirely satisfied at the moment. I am happy to move forward with Caroline’s downtime, I’m glad this plot resolved after like 15 months in limbo (thanks Navy!). I am excited with where Caroline’s story is going to go moving forward, and glad that she didn’t get executed (yet).
That said, moving forward with feedback on the topic, we’re going to start negative so we can end on a positive note, because there are positives at the end of this seething ball of malice and discontent that is my omnipresent feedback.
The night was, at its close for me, a disappointing resolution to what has been an ongoing, detailed, well plotted and well paced plotline for a long time. As a whole, picking up with Westley’s abduction, it felt in many ways to me like a TV series that got towards the end of the season and realized it needed to wrap up plots in the 1 hour finale. Some of this is likely stuff going on off screen that I as a player can’t see, or can only speculate about, but having Donovan essentially dump her into Rene’s lap, having her pre-dominated, and then racing off to a confrontation with Lou & Co where they beat him down while Caroline essentially stood and watched was not particularly satisfying for me. With the exception of a couple of declarations relating to events in the past, essentially the whole night felt as though it could have been played out without my presence. It proceeded along a set script in which Caroline’s part was already written out, and in particular, during the finale that would decide her fate she was a complete non-factor. Most of her past victories and successes were nonfactors. My plans were nonfactors.
It’s a tough balance to strike as a GM, running a coherent world with powerful people that all have plots and plans of their own, in which those individuals behave intelligently and with cunning sufficient for their experience and station, while still allowing players (especially two-bit players in the political scheme like Caroline) to have an influence in the storyline. I felt like until last night said line was walked exceptionally well, where she always felt as though her actions had an impact, but it was the impact of a stone thrown in the pond: mostly, she caused ripples.
I’m disappointed that discovering Rene’s bane came up not at all. That discovering info on his strike team of ghouls didn’t matter. That the information on his allies and enemies wasn’t able to be used. That Caroline was not capable of leveraging the Storyvilles, Father Malveaux, Coco, the Nossies, or any of a two dozen other plots, plans, and pieces I had planned for dealing with her sire. In particular I feel as though, given the way the Kelford matter was handled, this really took from her a lot of the value and meaning of that victory (which had itself been shifted to lean in the direction of setting up her future success) and squandered it. Again, more will come out. There are very clearly things I don’t have access to right now that influenced how all this came together. For those not in the know however, Caroline had more than 30 moving pieces in aspirations related to her eventual take down with Rene, and while many of them were likely not achievable in practice, the fact that almost none of them were even able to be attempted does rub me a bit raw. I am confident that there is a reason things played out as they did within the contest of the game world. I’m not going to tell you that I enjoyed that in this case however, at least in the moment. Maybe I’ll have a greater appreciation for it all in time, with more perspective, and with more information on what was going on that fed into that final confrontation. We’ll see.
It was disappointing to see every single one of Lou’s plans laid for dealing with Rene utterly derailed, and the fight reduced to whether or not, effectively, the ancient old ghoul could overcome the former Hound heads up. No weakening. No plotting. Ritual to sap his power in the room non-functional. Plan to trap him in the fight on every level an utter failure. Plan to frenzy him a failure. Plan to free Caroline from his control by getting her in the room not applicable. Plans that she’d be mitigated even when freeing her failed by the room’s power wrong. Mechanics repeatedly functioning in ways that were not as understood (speaking also to several merits especially that Lou possessed). I could sense what appeared to me to be a palpable feeling of frustration as failures and misunderstandings mounted to cripple Lou’s best laid (impressively laid) plans. Did it culminate in a great finale? Absolutely. Lou cutting down a fleeing Rene was the high point of the ‘session’ for me, up there with any of Caroline’s personal victories in the past over great odds. It was a great moment for the much maligned and weary detective, to finally get some degree of closure on one of his many open cases. It was great to see a glimmer of what he once was, back when he was whole and hale, and a glimmer of what he could be (and perhaps is), in the servant of justice in the city.
That said… that victory did not have weight to it for me. It felt more like a slug fest in an alley between Kimbo Slice and Brock Lesner than anything else: two heavyweights slugging it out in a street brawl lacking elegance or beauty. Who had bigger pools? I just didn’t care for it. She could have sought that same fight last week if that was all it was going to come down to. Utter lack of subtlety and nuance to it, like a bull in a china shop or a turd on a dinner plate.
Rene felt, in the vast of majority of his interactions, psychotic and disconnected, much as he’d been described by his long time ghoul Kelford. The most real and intriguing he felt to me as a player was during his wrap up scene with “Donovan” getting staked and his departure with Caroline. For a moment there it felt like he had a grander plan and there were big things in motion here on his end. I‘ll be interested to see if he did have a bigger agenda in mind, because right now his actions in terms of what we’ve seen (vs. various theories that have been kicked around) raise a great many questions. For a moment there I thought he was creating chaos / setting up Donovan to make a play for some third party he wanted to strike. Now I’m thinking the Donovan thing was a setup against a third party and in some way Rene was in on it all along to some extent, as I’d pitched a few times before.
His conversation with Caroline prior to that was simply sadistic and felt indulgent. His taunting over her brother’s cries and suffering was wrenching in a way that I found hard to properly describe with a dominated Caroline. She rode a rollercoaster of rage, grief, and rage again, combined with frustration over her circumstance (both as a Kindred and in the moment). She wanted to lash out, cry, smash things, destroy Rene, or at least try to resist. I thought the scene lost something by not giving him an opportunity to actually manhandle her physically in a response to that. He was also toying with her, dancing with her burning desire to simply understand the why of it all, and all the while refusing to give anything of meaning, while repeatedly mentioning his intention to murder her for good that night. This was a conversation she had been waiting for seemed like an eternity for, a chance to finally ask questions and get answers, to confront him, and he never gave her the satisfaction of getting those questions answered, and in some cases asking them at all with how off balance he kept her for the majority of the scene.
The whole thing is the sort of thing that could give someone PTSD, and you can bet her lack of answers, brother’s death (maybe?), and the lingering doubt in her mind over whether or not Rene really might have released him is all hanging heavily on her, and will continue to do so moving forward. I felt at times the tone was off on both ends (yours and mine) but the scene went on for hours OOC and meandered a lot, and the overall feel of it was right. Caroline coming out of that conversation that she’d so desired to have with literally no answers and only more questions and frustration feels tonally appropriate to me for her, even though as a player I can cite a bit of disappointment that there were (and are) still so many questions without answers. You did an amazing job with Rene offering constant hints and vague suggestions without giving anything away. Everything from where Rene put himself in hell, to the suggestion that Donovan was going down with Caroline to freeze (for similar reasons), to the “is he, isn’t he” with Westley’s potential death. For a while I even wondered if he was simply going to turn himself in once he satisfied himself that he’d wrecked Caroline mentally.
I do think it would be quite tragic for Caroline to never answer the question of why she was actually Embraced, however appropriate that question is for the many (most?) Kindred that never get answers to it (or at least proper answers), and however unsatisfying any answer is likely to be. Hoping there will either be a chance to interrogate Rene, or information will come forward. It’s a question haunting Caroline in game, and teasing as a player, because a lot of potential theories hinge on that answer. You’ve commented in the past that World of Darkness thrives on shadow, and questions, and murkiness, and I’d agree as a whole, however it does lose some impact when you aren’t able to shine a light even on your own tiny corner of it with time and effort. Doesn’t look good for Caroline though with getting that answer, as literally one person can answer it, and it seems doubtful that she’ll have an opportunity to ask (or he’d have an inclination to answer even if she got to ask him). The real tragedy however might be that whether or not she gets an answer, it’s not likely to be an answer that brings her any peace or happiness. Indeed, it may be that getting the answer is worse than going without. We’ll see I guess? I suppose it would be interesting if it was a lingering question she could did into going forward.
Also on the positive side is the general mystery and darkness and conspiracy laden nature of the game. I know that as a player I was never sure where the alliances lay with regard to Caroline, what parties were in play, and what was going on. Caroline’s never really felt comfortable, or that she could trust anyone (even Lou, except in desperation). Everyone has an agenda. Everyone is trying to use someone. The world itself feels coherent, and maybe always putting power in the hands of players and narrative at times is the cost of that on occasion. Not fudging rolls. Not giving players that benefit, that bending of the world around them. I can’t argue that Rene dominating her in the past didn’t make sense, even though it wasn’t something I’d considered. It does definitely paint her Embrace as far more intentional and calculated, and makes Rene that much scarier (appropriately so, given his background).
There was also the “power of Declarations” clinic put on between Sam and myself (more him) that I’d like to highlight going forward (maybe in the guide). I think between us almost a dozen Declarations were made in the lead up to the fight and the fight itself which did help shape the scene to our advantage to a substantial extent. For newer players, it’s worth keeping in mind just how influential those Declarations can be in shifting the nature of the battlefield, as long as you leave plausibility behind those Declarations. You’ll note that I frequently leave ambiguous texts, bags, messages, and other contacts with Caroline’s allies and retainers, specifically so that Declarations are easier to set up going forward.
Other things: Rene was terrifying mechanically. Even on fire, even wounded, even surprised, even out numbered for a couple of actions he was a monster, dodging exceptional success shots, carving up ghouls, and generally showcasing just how powerful a powerful old Kindred is compared to ghouls (much less mortal hunters). Three actions in a round? Outch. On fire? No frenzy. That’s some iron will right there. Even armed with the (probably overpowered) dragons breath rounds he was…. yeah. Thank god (Sam?) for blessed swords I guess? When he’s dead dead, I’d be interested in seeing some of his stats, if you have them available (not sure if you subscribe to the Kain school on that topic). My guess is that he was burning a lot of Willpower and Vitae in a hurry during that ongoing fight. Probably max points a round, between Celerity, Celerity Defense, Resilience, and so forth. Curious as to where his BP lies. 3? 4 range?
With the benefit of the morning after, I’m going to come back and embrace something that was a bit lost on my last night.
I’m going to come back to Lou, and despite as frustrating it was a times for me, how in the noir narrative Lou having to come back and save Caroline, the dame in distress, fit so perfectly as a resolution to this arc in their story. Up against overwhelming odds. Knowing it was a bad idea. Knowing nothing good can come of it. Knowing she’s not innocent, that she’s manipulating him, playing him, not telling him everything. Still coming forward, still running towards danger because she was there too. Still fighting with everything he has, no matter the cost to himself. This is Lou’s story as much as it’s Caroline’s. Probably even more so. At every step along the way they’ve danced the dance, playing the roles they were given to perfection. Embracing this as Lou’s tale actually paints it in a very different perspective that fits to a greater extent
Of course her schemes don’t play out or pan out. The dame’s never do, whatever her intentions. There’s a reason she went to the dick, that he’s the hero, the one they write the story about. She’s going to scheme and plot. She’s going to have her agenda, but at the end of the day he’s going to be the one that has to clean it up. And really, as the beginning of her story it does make sense that she’s going to screw up. I can live with that as the narrative behind this wrap up.
I did think we got a lot of hints dropped here about Lou’s background, his last master, and where he is in his life, what he’s doing, and how he got there. Too many of them were mechanical bits I think, but as a player it was interesting to see behind the curtain at how Lou is set up, how he works, and what his history may be. It’s a subject of substantial interest to me as a player (and to Caroline as a character), so I’m not going to complain about learning more.
I am glad that Donovan didn’t get truly wrecked here. That would have created a whole new array of problems for Caroline in all of this in the aftermath, what with her landlord MIA or compromised. I’ve also truly enjoyed trying to figure out what the hell is going on in the world, with Rene, with Donovan, and so forth. There’s a lot of mystery to unravel, and lots of possibility that can be filled in. It’s definitely let me pitch some interesting and off the wall theories as to what was really going on.
More likely to follow. For now, ball’s in your court with the story Sam. I see you setting up your Declarations like a spider, and I’ll be waiting eagerly to see what ends up happening to Caroline.
I am excited to move forward with oh so many scenes during ‘downtime’ to set up Caroline. I want to know what happened to Westley. His own fate was left delightfully ambiguous Rene’s abuse of Caroline with it. Maimed? Killed? Embraced? Ghouled? Lost? Inquiring fledglings want to know.
I want to deal with her family. She has so many things on the mortal side that need to be cleaned up, and quickly. I want to run her plots against less overwhelming threats than a century-old hound for a bit. I want to pursue an agenda, instead of a breakneck death race. At least until her patron starts calling in favors in 2017 that throw her against something awful…
Calder Feedback Repost
I agree with you it was sad that Caroline didn’t seem to have much influence on the final Rene confrontation. He was your villain, it was a long-running story arc, and it would have been ideal (IC and especially OOC) if Caroline’s manipulations were the one to bring him down. Doubly-plus so if Lou had still been the one get in the literal killing blow, because fatales and PIs as you’ve said.
There were a bunch of reasons things didn’t pan out that way. The ones you know might not make the confrontation’s aftermath feel any more satisfying (Kain put it rather aptly that “you can’t argue someone into having fun”), but understanding them may help future plot arcs to play out differently.
Rene was also proactive in pursuing his agenda. Kelford said that Rene would probably go after your family. There’s a lot you still don’t know about his goals and background, admittedly, but a lot you can guess by putting yourself in his shoes. After his right-hand ghoul failed to report back, Rene had every reason to assume Kelford was dead (at best) or had been captured and spilled everything (at worst). That made it time to kick things into high gear. (The bright side to that, however, is that your actions certainly influenced his own.)
With perfect foreknowledge, the ideal thing to have done would be to set a security detail around Westley. He was the least likely Malveaux to be missed, the most likely to get himself into dangerous/sketchy situations, and of the closest relation to Caroline. Granted, Rene could’ve gone after another relative of yours, so the most time-prolonging tactic might’ve been to fool him that Kelford was still kicking (Dominate him into calling his master) or that someone else had taken him down.
Calling the Guard de Ville for help, as a Status 0 fledgling, can be tantamount to boarding the railroad train. It’s probably safe to assume Wright reports everything Caroline tells him to Donovan/the other hounds. The Guard de Ville includes fairly potent Kindred who are not only proactive in pursuing their agendas, but also work closely together and have the prince’s full backing behind their actions. Neonates who call on them for help can either expect to be ignored (if they don’t think the matter is important), or for the De Villes to do things their way, on their time (if they think it is). Their political position makes them pretty hard to coerce as a unit/institution (vs. as individuals), which Lou observed when he tried to rope Wright into acting as his 11th hour cavalry.
Caroline put out an SOS that someone actually important and a fellow servant of Vidal’s was in trouble, so the Guard de Ville dealt with the matter as they saw fit, and unfortunately included using the Status 0 unreleased fledgling pretty callously. I would have loved to see Caroline’s plans unfold, but Wright/Donovan shared no such concern. Neonate PCs who “call the cops” for help can risk losing a great deal of agency.
Rene’s bane. You’re right, it would have been cool if that had come up. Capping Rene’s dice pools by his Humanity (I recall Izzy pegging it at 3 or 4, though that’s conjecture) would have been extremely nasty, and likely would’ve been a better use of Lou’s, Chica’s, or Polk’s actions than shooting him. It was ultimately on players to take advantage of that, but where I dropped the ball was not describing Rene’s instinctive revulsion to Caroline’s cross. Sure, he had reason not to order Caroline to discard it (give away his weakness to hounds listening through her phone, then other things on his mind), but no vampire with the Weakened by Crosses bane is ever going to be completely comfortable around them. I’ll add a few touches to the logs.
Lou’s plans and abilities. These are harder to comment on, as there’s a lot that hasn’t been publicly shared. The long story short was some bad rolls (luring him into the apartment) coming up with some clunky 1e mechanics. (As written, that power could strip all Disciplines from a dozen methuselahs gathered in the apartment.)
There were several notable instances, however, where they did help. Lou’s door-ward saved him from getting stabbed by Rene. More importantly, the plan to frenzy him did succeed, until he spent Willpower to break out of it. By then, however, he’d taken a ton of damage—enough that Lou was able to fell him with that glorious final attack.
A lucid, non-frenzying Rene wouldn’t have stuck around for any of that fight. Three adversaries, even ghouls, armed with dragonsbreath rounds and who found his haven (!!!) are bad news. Lucid-Rene would’ve used Celerity to get the hell out of Dodge, researched who Lou was (assuming he stayed around in NOLA), and then either avoided him or set an ambush, if he believed there was anything to gain by personally taking Lou down. Like most ancillae, Rene hasn’t survived 100 years by letting somebody else pick his battles for him. The whole setup with Lou was terrible, someone else picking all the terms, and he wouldn’t have stuck around for any of it if he’d been in his rational frame of mind.
Making him frenzy was a big success. Finding his haven, and being able to ambush him there at all (he destroyed Caroline’s phone, so that couldn’t have tracked her) was a big success.
Declarations. These are an almost game-breaking (in a good way) mechanic when employed to their utmost. You’ve mentioned them being pretty potent, but compared to Sam, you generally spend them on “standard” things like having your Retainer be there with Lou, having access to grenades, remembering to pack a medical kit, etc. Sam tends to use them in more lateral, narrative-altering ways like having the driver of the cab “Chester” steps into actually be a friend of his. (Though one way you did there was tracking 896’s haven via Aimee’s “find my phone” app.) Off-hand, you could have used a Setup to retro-obtain an early meeting with Coco (by offering a boon in return for moving it up her schedule) and pursued some of the goals on your sheet, or simply a Declaration to have texted Jocelyn/the Storyvilles his haven “just in case” you needed the backup.
Granted, that may be the GM’s perspective talking, as it’s easier to think up clever Declarations when you have a full view of all that’s going on. I’ve used them in some nifty ways as a player in Sam’s game, but no mind-bogglingly genius ones come to mind.
All that said, I don’t mean this to come off as a “here’s everything you guys did wrong, do better next time but not counting on it ha ha” feedback reply. By and large, you were proactive about how you were going to defeat Rene, laid a lot smart plans, proposed bringing some interesting elements into the picture, and did everything you could to play to his weaknesses and your strengths. The big things that removed control from your hands were being forced to react fast to Westley’s kidnapping (itself spurred by Rene’s knowledge of Kelford’s loss), inherently disadvantageous circumstances against Rene (Dominated at Embrace if you’re right about that), and then reporting Rene’s activities to Hounds who were happy to chuck you aboard the railroad train when it suited their purposes.
Westley’s kidnapping you chose not to bite on. The circumstances of your Embrace there also wasn’t much you could do about. Belligerent NPCs you can, and in more ways than simply “don’t ever rely on other people for anything.” When and if Caroline becomes a bigger player in Kindred society, hounds and their like won’t be able to use her so callously and with indifference to how their actions affect her goals. There are serious consequences to treating more established Kindred that way, and Caroline will soon be free to show them what those consequences will be. For all of the Camarilla’s inherent equality, it can also be remarkably egalitarian in that those with the most drive, cleverness, connections, and ability/willingness to play the game by its rules will inevitably rise to the top. Caroline has #1 and #2 down for sure. They don’t cut it by themselves, but she’s been improving at #4 (it remains her weakest area), and has gained a powerful in with the Storyville’s patron for #3. Mentor/Patron isn’t something PCs can take willy-nilly, as both you and Jack can testify, and Caroline now has an in with someone (something?) who is both willing and able to go above even Donovan’s head. That’s not an advantage most neonates enjoy, and adds a potent new weapon to Caroline’s arsenal, as well as a necessary one given the scope of her ambitions. Assuming nothing happens during Lou’s car chase to get her executed (not impossible, but then, that’s never impossible), now that her sire’s crime is no longer being held over her head, she will be free to finally engage Kindred society on her own terms, as her own person. We’ve repeatedly spoken about the importance of picking fights on your own terms, and it’s no less true for social battles than it is for physical ones. Rene’s Baristheaut’s capture and the major victory it represents sets the stage for a new story arc to Caroline’s story, one where she is far more of an actor in her own right. There will still be older Kindred who seek to use and exploit her, but no longer will she be under threat of imminent execution for not turning in her vastly older sire. There will be further wrenches thrown into your plans, but I expect far more of these to ones you’ll gladly incorporate and base further plans around.
IC and OOC Caroline’s first victory has been a mixed bag, but pretty good for someone without a sire to show her the ropes. That last count excepted, I’m confident the next victories won’t be.
Pete Feedback Repost
This is all fair and valid, though I’ll note that the speed with which events took place limited Caroline’s ability to react / respond in practical terms, especially after her fun with Jocelyn. She absolutely intended to bring up the topic with Malveaux, given her own limited resources in terms of personnel at the time (e.g. she didn’t think any of her protective measures would stop 4 of Rene’s ghouls or Rene herself). In hindsight trying to set a trap around Westley would have made a lot of sense, and was probably the ‘perfect’ response here, but again time and the benefit if hindsight being 20/20.
I’ll be curious to see (or not) what their actual plan was here. While I think Sam and I both knew that Caroline was going to get screwed pretty hard, but I definitely didn’t expect to get dumped in with Rene so blatantly (particularly after Wright’s scoffing at the idea of a trade for Westley), so I’m curious as to whether or not that was just happenstance or an intended effect. It certainly had the look of something more than a simple bout of bad luck running into Rene like she did.
As you saw / read however, I definitely did get a read that she was getting used as bait to draw out Rene and his allies in the Quarter pretty much as soon as they demanded she show up somewhere, and knew the gig was up when the bartender started arguing with her (hence my comment to you at the time in private). I certainly didn’t expect him to be Rene (figuring she’d recognize him to some extent), but I did think he was at the very least someone associated with Rene / on his payroll, and that bad things were coming.
I’d like to take a moment to highlight just how well the abrupt drop-off, the framing of the scene, the art chosen, and the description of the area fit together to create a sense of menace and intense vulnerability. I felt physically uncomfortable as Caroline surveyed the barren street, deep in hostile territory. Everything was uninviting and there was a distinct feeling of being hunted in the moment, even though nothing had happened. Like the hounds had already been set loose, and it was only a matter of time until they caught up with Caroline and / or something bad happened. I had the thought at several points to declare that Polk followed them in and picked Caroline up presently, but I suspect that would have ended more badly than what happened, because (as noted) my feeling is this was a pretty big setup. We’ll see how much of the sheriff’s plan shakes out in the aftermath.
There was a lot of player misunderstanding on this point I think. It was brought up in private, and I somehow got the impression that Sam was told the fact that everyone was carrying / wearing crosses openly would be enough. Apparently he got that same impression by some means. Definitely a dropped ball on the player side as well, but again, late hour, push to finish, and all the associated matters combined to produce an unusual circumstance in which there was a lot of misunderstanding.
Lou’s plans and abilities. These are harder to comment on, as there’s a lot that hasn’t been publicly shared. The long story short was some bad rolls (luring him into the apartment) coming up with some clunky 1e mechanics (as written, that power could strip all Disciplines from a dozen methuselahs gathered in the apartment).
Yeah, that power seemed to be a point of particular contention, because Lou’s expectations for how it would interact (e.g. breaking Caroline’s dominate, not letting her dominate) were pretty clearly not in line with how you were running it. The idea that you can easily rip a Discipline for any methuselah, much less a dozen, seems crazy to me, so I do understand your move to tone it down. More than anything I think it was the ambiguity and confusion over how it would be run however that created irritation and, frankly, some relatively bad tactics.
Ah, see his actions breaking out of the frenzy were the real shock to me in this, and gave the impression that we’d misread him earlier, and that he wasn’t frenzying. I was not under the impression that completely ignoring all the drawbacks of frenzy was a simple as burning a point of Willpower, and (per my last post) am curious as to how this actually works in practice once you stop burning Willpower.
Fair on all points. I’ll also note that dragonsbreath, as run, feels over the top right now. Convert up to 4 damage into aggravated, set on fire, and inflict the rest as lethal creates no real disadvantage to using them against any target, and makes them comically powerful against Kindred (Which I’m not convinced they would actually work with to the same effect). I think I’ve brought up in the past that functionally these rounds don’t have very much (any) penetrating power, and that I would recommend capping their damage pretty harshly.
Ah, see I’d had the impression that the phone he smashed was the one in her purse, vs. in the larger bag she had along with her and used to call Lou (alternatively that the phone was still functional, since he smashed the screen, as I might expect an older Kindred to not fully understand), hence Caroline calling out cross streets on the drive past there, etc. Obviously though it’s a point of relatively minor contention though right now, as either way Lou found her and set up his ambush.
GM perspective, also limited Willpower, and a fairly set timeline for Caroline at that point, and a desire not to bog down what was an ongoing scene with an extended flashback that would have deflated the scene. It would have made a lot of sense, but there was both no guarantee anything would have panned out from it, and, again, a plot already racing towards a conclusion. It’s a valid point that I tend to use them in fairly direct ways, however, I’ll also note that it often also has to do with not wanting to throw longshot dice / pools at more of stretch declarations. There was also a bit of not wanting to put Caroline in a worse position than she was originally in, given her own very weak hand.
And Caroline definitely didn’t want to involve the Storyvilles with Lou, or throw Jocelyn / Storyvilles at Rene directly. Part of the problem with having allies with conflicting agendas, and actually caring about them individually and collectively.
Granted, that may be the GM’s perspective talking, as it’s easier to think up clever Declarations when you have a full view of all that’s going on. I’ve used them in some nifty ways as a player in Sam’s game, but no mind-bogglingly genius ones come to mind.
Perspective defiantly helps. Not always knowing who is involved, who can be trusted, or what their agenda is (and in Caroline’s case often not knowing all of the above) puts Caroline in a much more awkward circumstance relative to Lou, who has a much bigger idea of what’s going on in the world than Caroline (and as a result so does Sam vs. Peter). I’ll also note that Lou also has far more resources available to him, especially allies, contacts, sorcery, and so forth, than Caroline does at present. It’s my hope that moving forward, with more such assets and a more dynamic timeline, Caroline can be a bit more dynamic with her declarations. On the other hand, maybe not. Some of it is no doubt a function of player inclination. Sam and I both tend to approach problems in different ways (linear vs. nonlinear, direct vs. indirect, complex plans vs. chaos shuffle). Time will tell I guess?
You’re not, at all. Offering legitimate commentary, suggestions, and clarification is always appreciated, and if nothing else getting some insight into GM perspective is helpful in forming your own plans and goals moving forward.
I’m glad you felt that way. I felt like I was often fighting with both hands tied behind my back, blindfolded in a hood soaked in pepper spray with regard to, as you’re going to go on to note, disadvantageous circumstances, lack of social position, lack of resources, ticking time, restrictions on what she was allowed to do, and so forth, so hearing that my futile struggling on the hook and weak cries for mercy as I flopped on the floor went over well is nice to hear.
All seems fair.
Westley’s kidnapping you chose not to bite on.
Yeah. Honestly unfortunately for Rene (and Westley), this is one that would have actually worked out better if Caroline did have an ally that could ensure the trade went off cleanly, and that Rene didn’t simply snag her and torture him in front of her before moving onto the fun activities planned for her directly. That not being the case, Caroline wasn’t interested in watching him get tortured in front of her.
Mhm. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don’t get drunk out in public, separated from your friends, attacked by asshole Kindred, then attacked by another Kindred that rescued you from the first group, Embraced, and then dominated while you were still asleep.
Oh, yes she will. She’ll show them all…
For all of the Camarilla’s inherent inequality, it can also be remarkably egalitarian in that those with the most drive, cleverness, connections, and ability/willingness to play the game by its rules will inevitably rise to the top.
So long as they aren’t filthy Caintiff and are lucky enough to have a nutjob 200 year old PI ghoul with a sense of honor to come save them from their evil and powerful sire and let them get started. ;)
She’s working on 4. Big issue has been not knowing the rules of the game, not having someone to explain them to her, and such a week social position that she wasn’t even really able to seek a solution to that deficiency. Hopefully some fast forward will set her up in that regard for success.
I’m particularly excited to explore her mystery patron to a greater extent – you’re absolutely correct in that it presents a huge advantage as a player / character that I feel pretty privileged to have as a player (and which Caroline will come to better understand is a privilege as a Kindred). The details of that relationship are going to be a lot of fun to explore moving forward, especially as has the possibility to take on the appearance of something resembling a sire / childer relationship if it’s any of the Kindred I might expect it to be (that is, that list of Kindred on the short list of possible Patrons at that Merit level within the city who might be associated with the Sanctified).
You mean… she’s a real (girl) and not a puppet? Seriously though Lou, don’t get me fucking killed. Getting through this whole storyline only to get Caroline executed would be a pretty big disappointment.
Absolutely, and picking your foes as well carefully as well. You’ll note in her aspirations that even when competing socially with people, step one against more powerful people is not setting herself up for reprisal, either by creating social circumstances that make reprisal dangerous or remaining hidden herself. Lashing out, for instance at McGinn, is the kind of thing that is going to set her up for a world of hurt.
Yeah, my own expectations as a player are that her next storyline will probably have to do with her mystery patron calling in her favor, but that it will be more of a running goal that she can run over a length of time (in keeping with previous comments on wanting to keep game speed moving around the same speed as real life speed), vice something on a harsh timeline (e.g. I want this accomplished as an end goal, you figure it out). We’ll see how closely that expectation matches reality, but the playing out night by night by night on a firm timeline I think does negative things to the game in a some of ways (though it does have its own advantages). It certainly contributed nicely to Caroline and Lou’s story fitting together neatly, but it makes fitting in past Declarations more narratively challenging, and contributes to a sense of monotony to some scenes, rather than to a feeling of excitement in scenes (e.g. skipping the mundane). It was fitting for this story, where she was on a firm deadline and every day mattered, but moving forward I’m excited to showcase her ability to flirt from scene to scene and take interactions and meetings in a more socially appropriate way (rather than asking for sudden last minute meetings with more senior kindred, and even elders like Coco which were, even she realized, somewhat in poor taste).
At the same time, we’ll see what you cook up and go with it. This plot as a whole was really enjoyable, so I have faith in where you’re going to go with things.
Izzy Feedback Repost
Sweeeeeet Caroline, dum dum dum…
Ohboyohboyohboy… where to begin?
Props to Pete for playing Caroline like the queen bitch I’ve grown to love. Props to Calder for never, ever letting up.
Caroline’s become the classic Vampire story for me. Childe abandoned by Sire, sent on a mission by the establishment. Succeeds through perseverance and in spite of the horrors the world throws at her.
The consummation of her relationship with Jocelyn. The showdown with 896 and Kelford. The reuniting with Lou, and the showdown with Rene;
Events unfolded perfectly, bouncing off one another as smoothly as if you and Calder were playing pool with the characters and you both knew just where to tap. It was like the last three episodes of a good show, everything kicking into high gear so quickly that you’re too busy keeping up to even try to guess what comes next.
Third: Mr. Man himself, Daddy Deadbucks, Pops! I loved Rene, and even hold out hope that we see some more of him in the future, unlikely as that may be. I always find the most interesting NPCs to be ones that are heavily affected by their Curse, and Rene fits that bill perfectly. I love the symbolic conflict of his character, the Vampire who hates being a Vampire and, as Calder so poignantly put it:
“Amusement—black, bitter, and howling with laughter at his own fate, at Lou’s, at Caroline’s, mocking and laughing at it all, because if he didn’t laugh, the only alternative would be to weep—and once Rene started, once he saw his race for what it truly was, he might not ever stop.”
I’m drawn to Rene because he strikes me as, ironically, one of the most self-aware and morally conscious characters in the game. He is unable, like Maldonato or Vidal, to make meaning out of his monstrosity through fanaticism; nor is he drawn to other Kindred philosophies, as he seems unimpressed by the Setite’s benediction. No, Rene is horribly, terrifyingly aware that he is Damned, that he serves no purpose, and that he is nothing but a blight on mankind. And he is too cowardly to end it, just as Caroline is. That is a truly awful existence. To know that you are a monster, to have enough of a heart to wish you weren’t, and yet not have the strength of will to atone. I’m repulsed by Rene, but even more so I pity him.
His conversation with Caroline was easily one of my favorite moments in game. Incredibly tense, and gratifying to see Rene’s worldview in action. To belatedly respond to Pete’s point, I agree it was unfortunate that the situation was one in which Caroline was so disempowered, but as a simple reader, I know I found their conversation enormously satisfying. If I had one nitpick, it was that I wish Caroline had engaged with Rene a bit more in regards to the debate he was trying to start, but both Pete’s response as a player and Caroline’s response as a character are completely understandable.
I read him as traveling because he cannot bear the petty bickering of the Jyhad, can’t stand the lies Kindred tell themselves to justify their existence. So he travels, and amuses himself, and tries to distract himself from the Truth that, just like all Kindred, he must ignore; he is just as bad as them.
His defeat was also probably the most cathartic moment in B&B thus far, period. I suppose the one moment that might change that is if Micheal ever finds a way to destroy Cletus, or if the Giovannini were to be destroyed by Rocco.
As is, that entire fight scene was epic. I don’t know enough about what happened behind the scenes, but it seems clear to me that even what little did make a difference ended up making the difference between life and death.
Rene showed off his terrifying skill in combat, taking massive advantage of both Dominate and Celerity. Lou showed off the power of even a haphazard ambush and preparation. And all around, excellent writing. That 10L strike, Lou aging as he chases down his quarry, the complete shock and miraculous nature of that blow; all of it was facilitated by some beautiful prose. I’m two parts inspired, on part saddened that I’ll never have a victory so memorable. I also liked the emphasis on how every drop of blood in Rene’s body was stolen—it drove home that vampires, especially the older ones, are nothing but misery. They might not kill every night, but after a century, who knows how many people have suffered, even at the hands of the most moral Kindred? And what then of the elders?
Side note: “Do you have a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?” followed by a shotgun blast to the face is right up there with “Say hello to my little friend” as far as combat one-liners go. I’m going to use that at some point, though not in this game.
Before moving past Rene, I’ll also echo Calder on at least one count. Caroline’s actions severely impacted the situation she found herself in. Rene was clearly scheming and had numerous advantages and plans in the works, such as her kidnapping by McGinn. Kelford’s capture forced his hand in a way that, had he been a PC, I’m sure would have had his player pulling their hair out. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the lack of nuance you found in this showdown, Pete, I think it actually played a big role in your victory. You’re a great player, but Rene’s shown himself as machiavellian as the next Kindred, and in a drawn out, politicking Jyhad, I think you would have had a much, much harder time coming out on top.
Years-belated public response to this piece of Izzy’s feedback, and one that I know I told Izzy over Discord and/or Hangouts:
The bolded line there is hogwash. Any player in the game can have victories as memorable as Caroline’s. Doesn’t matter how smart or savvy a player considers themselves, how new to the game they are, or what kind of PC they’re playing. All the player needs to do is play. That’s it. The more play a PC sees, the deeper the storylines around them become, and the more payoff those stories’ climaxes get to have. The only PCs who don’t get to have memorable victories are the ones whose players who don’t play their PCs for very long (or with lots of interruptions).
Not all PCs in the game have storylines as good as Caroline’s, but there have been a number of subsequent PCs who very much did. I like Celia’s Story 10 arc at least as much as Caroline’s Story 4 arc. (Possibly more so; B&B had a lot of time to mature as a campaign by the time we hit Story 10, and I think it showed.)