“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended.”
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Louis: Chica shouts at Polk as she shuts the van’s back door and helps up the blood-sapped gumshoe inside.
“Shit’s deep, biatch, drive like yo crab-panties’s on fire!”
Lou, meanwhile, provides directions in a voice more weary than weak.
“Left onto Gallier. Now. Road’s narrower and will cut down the number of vehicles that can tail us. One block later, turn left onto St. Claude’s. Keep driving till you see it–and you’ll know it when you see it.”
Chica and Lou then work in tandem, their backs to Polk, blocking her view as their begin shifting and unzipping the two duffel bags with Caroline and René inside.
“Time to CPR yo chedda-flow,” Chica calls back, perhaps even sympathetically before she adds, “But don’t think I’ma gonna forget yo crazy ass bus’ing a cap in ma milkshake maker. Mothafucker hurts like a mission.”
Lou leans over a duffel bag and whispers something low.
“What do you know?”
GM: Like all Cainite magic, there’s no flash or performance to what Lou does. No grand incantations, entreaties to the saints and loa, or sacrifices of animals and obscure reagents. He just demands answers.
The torpid vampire’s pale, half-burnt lips move, whispering secrets that only Lou’s half-damned soul can hear.
Caroline Malveaux is not my childe. Someone set me up to take the fall for her Embrace.
The torpid vampire’s lips silently twist again.
I’ve been working as a double agent for Donovan. He, Savoy, or the Setites double-crossed me.
Louis: Lou’s old eyes only widen slightly–but not in shock. Yet having his suspicions so nakedly confirmed is like drinking the last drop from your bottle and finding it bone-dry empty. There’s no surprise, but the sting still remains. Those same old eyes glance at Caroline’s form.
There’s no time to stare, not now.
There’s no time to ponder all the implications, not now.
Now, a far more primal drive trumps such wants and desires, perhaps the most primal of all:
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
Support: In the meantime, a drizzle begins to fall from the sky. Tiny droplets form and run down car windows. A layer of clouds grows darker ahead, obscuring light from badly lit streets. A shadow hangs over New Orleans.
The black Lincoln’s engine roars, its wheels rolling along the wet road. Window wipers swing back and forth. Behind the car’s front window a gaunt-looking man eyes the back of a van with detached interest.
Caroline: The black-suited, blood-drenched bodyguard displays all the defensive driving acumen one might expect from someone that sent half a decade chauffeuring VIPs, blazing in and out of traffic and aggressively ignoring traffic lights.
GM: Rows of dilapidated houses, vandalized cars, broken streetlights, and hollow-eyed streetwalkers madly careen past the van’s windows. Rampart Street’s bleak cityscape can do naught but tiredly stare on. From the corner of his eye, Lou can make out an approaching park. “LOUIS ARMSTRONG” is written over the entrance in dully glowing letters. Gangs of feral youths prowl between the dark trees like predators on the hunt, ignorant of the true, oh so nearby monsters they futilely seek to mimic. Bronze or iron statues depicting a marching band of musicians remain locked in eternal step as the pursuing cars wildly speed on.
The black Chevrolet cuts through the desolate streets like a hungry shark through water. The sheriff’s pale hands spin the wheel with all the adroit familiarity of that same deep-sea predator yawning its jaws wide. Frigid eyes stare implacably after the fleeing vehicle.
The red-eyed priest by his side rasps something indistinct, then clasps his hands in prayer. The black car pulls away, vanishing down a divergent street like some undersea monster into the ocean’s darkest depths.
When the car re-surfaces, it’s no longer a black Chevrolet. It’s a white cruiser with the words “POLICE” written across its side in thick blue letters, along with a crescent badge. The sheriff and his passenger wear blue shirts with black neckties. Police headlights scream red and blue into the night for Lou’s car to pull over.
Louis: Lou regards the flashing lights and sirens behind him. He doesn’t sigh or grunt. But there’s a grimace tugging at his lips like a raw, ripped open ulcer.
“Keep driving,” he says as they round the expressway ramp onto Route 10. Unlike the cramped streets of the Quarter, the interstate is wide and brightly lit.
And not just by the far-stretching line of street lamps.
Dozens of ambulances crowd the expressway. Their loud emergency sirens and flashing lights crash over the raised interstate, interspersed with megaphone-wielding EMTs shouting, “Wake up, New Orleans!” and various other slogans protesting the gentrified emergency service response times to various neighborhoods so ironically divided by class and race rather than distance.
GM: Meanwhile, on Rampart Street, a gunshot rings out. A large gray bird with a bloody hole in its wing plummets from the raining sky like an overlarge piece of hail. It crashes into the police car’s rain-specked windshield, sending the vehicle careening into a street lamp with a resounding crash. The two seated vampires jolt forward in their seatbelts. Father Malveaux’s red eyes burn like hot coals, the blasphemous priest seeming to all but choke on his hatred as he stares after the shakily—seemingly impossibly—retreating bird. Donovan’s still expression does not change in the slightest, but the sheriff’s hands rapidly spin the steering wheel to regain control. An ugly dent now mars the police cruiser’s side.
Louis Lou nudges the bleeding Polk and points. As if on cue, the ambulances part to admit the white van like a brother–especially when Chica rips down their van’s tarp to reveal a similar protest slogan and fires up one of the Ret. Det’s old undercover sirens. Thereafter, with a nod from Lou, they close ranks around them, concealing the van behind their blaring sirens, shouting EMTs, and blinding lights. It won’t last forever, Lou knows. But maybe, just maybe, it might last long enough.
Lou’s thoughts, however, are interrupted by his ex-paramour stabbing him in the butt with a vitae-filled syringe. “Take yo’ medicine, you wrinkly ass crybaby. and get us the fucking hell outta here!”
Louis: Hit by his centuries-old drug, Lou loses the next few seconds. Granted, the past few minutes have taken months off his life, but as René’s drop of vitae seeps into his skin, he shudders, blushes, and swallows down his saliva till all the world tastes red.
GM: Polk abruptly chokes and convulses. She’s burning up from the inside. Liquid fire blisters through her veins as she hacks and coughs up blood. Hellish—or heavenly—mirages swim at the corners of her vision. Dozens of writhing, beating, feathered wings. Burning eyes that glow with the promise of hell’s torments.
Caroline: The mercenary all but collapses on the wheel as only the near incendiary and instinctive burning away of Caroline’s vita keeps her conscious. She lets out a far too girlish scream for the number of weapons she’s carrying, “WHAT THE HELL!” she howls before lapsing into another series of bloody coughs. Fear slides in her eyes and her foot comes off the accelerator, the woman just shy of outright panic and her actions slowing to merely human speed.
GM: The wailing police car finally pulls onto the freeway. The sheriff’s frigid eyes bore after the fleeing van.
In Corbin’s vehicle, the radio crackles to life.
“Do not pursue.”
Further orders sound from the device.
Support: A small, wry smile appears on the skeletal man’s face as his foot eases away from the accelerator pedal. The black Lincoln backs away from its pursuit.
Louis: But when the scarlet fugue fades, Lou’s mind hones to a razor-sharp focus. Sounds of Polk’s bloody screams, the sirens. The red sirens.
Lou rises, old knees protesting with lost days they will never recover. He tears back the carpet, revealing a trap door into the floor. The next few moments are a chaotic, yet somehow preternaturally coordinated series of events that terminate with the ghoul ex-paramours sliding underneath the van’s carriage to a waiting ambulance. Yet before the pair depart, Lou takes one thing and leaves another. The former is the cue stick from Caroline’s chest.
Caroline: Caroline takes an unneeded, but instinctual, gasp when Lou rips the wooden pole from her chest, eyes wide with a combination of confusion and fear.
Louis: The latter is a potentially final word of advice from the PI to his client. It is not spoken, but seemingly carved into the cuestick which now protrudes from René. The parting message is brief. Merely a word and a number:
Caroline: Caroline hauls herself up off the floor, taking a moment to reorient herself. She was in what must have been René’s haven. Blood everywhere. Screaming, fire. The smell of gunpowder. René. He’s beside her, a savaged corpse. She remembers the falling star. That impossible speed. And… that cunt driving a pool cue through her chest when she left herself open.
A whimper of terror from the front seat brings her back to reality. The van losing speed. Polk all but panicked. They’re clear some conflagration of red lights behind them, but the bodyguard is a bloody and bloodless mess, her face as white as a sheet.
GM: Outside, the sheriff’s police cruiser screams flashes of red and blue. The Kindred-driven vehicle makes turns no mortal’s reflexes could possibly equal. It doesn’t seems to drive along the roads so much as glide right through them. Donovan’s eyes bore into Caroline’s like ice-rimmed needles as the car rapidly gains on hers.
Caroline: How the hell did he get loose?
She saw those Kindred stake him.
There’s more going on here.
Or that wasn’t actually him.
GM: Her Kindred relative’s eyes are another matter. Malveaux’s features are contorted into a festering hatred as black as his albino skin is white. His pinkish-red eyes, never quite human-seeming even when their owner was lucid, burn like blazing coals dropped onto a sheet. The fiend-like creature audibly hisses, thrusts out a skeletal hand, and savagely twists as if he’s ripping apart Caroline’s innards. Polk screams instead as spectral slashes open across her back. The spurting blood runs onto the floor, then twists into two steaming, hate-written words:
Caroline: Caroline leaps over the back of the seats to seize the wheel as the ex-Secret Service agent gives an agonized cry and slips into blissful unconsciousness, buried in pain, terror, and blood loss. Unable to manhandle the woman out of the seat she fights to keep the vehicle from plowing off the road and waits for the already dropping speed to slow to a crawl. The Ventrue’s own sucking chest wound slowly closes.
GM: Lou, meanwhile, drops down his cunningly-hidden trap door with Chica. The road’s yellow-lined asphalt, tinged sanguine red by the blaring ambulance lights, roars past his head.
A second trap door opens on another car’s gray belly. Thickly-muscled, dusky-hued arms haul Lou up into the ambulance.
“Someone called 911,” Malechi states with an impassive expression whose smile still leaks through in his tone.
Past the towering Choctaw’s long black hair, Lou makes out the column of protesting ambulances wailing down the I-10. Their omnipresent flashing lights bathe the highway’s traffic under a sanguine sheen—including the two demons pursuing Caroline’s car, whose neckties and police uniforms do pitifully little to mask their true natures to Lou.
Malechi says something else. Maybe Chica does too. The old man stares out at the onrushing highway, the looming night beyond it, and the uncertain future he careens towards—well past any reasonable speed limit.
Louis: Against that onrushing terminus, the old man’s thoughts start turning like old keys, unlocking silent words long etched into his heart:
Recordare Domine quid acciderit nobis intuere et respice obprobrium nostrum.
(Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.)
Pupilli facti sumus absque patre…
(We are become orphans without a father…)
Patres nostri peccaverunt et non sunt et nos iniquitates enrum portavimus.
(Our fathers have sinned, and are not: and we have borne their iniquities.)
In animabus nostris adferebamus panem… (
We fetched our bread at the peril of our lives…)
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Father Malveaux’s smoldering eyes burn impossibly brighter. The damned priest snarls out another black prayer, and pain stabs through Caroline as she feels stigmata opening across her palms, chest and feet—the same five holy wounds endured by Christ. Once more, the blood pools onto the van’s floor:
Caroline: She lets out her own scream as the awful wounds open across her body, blood running freely from half a dozen gaping holes in her pale flesh, and recoils from the driver’s seat like there’s a rattlesnake wrapped around it. The blood is nearly invisible against her black dress, but stands out oh so clearly against her pale skin, running in tiny rivers. The van hasn’t fully coasted to a stop, but she jams open the back loading door and slides out into the street as it keeps rolling, grabbing her sire by his feet as she does so, letting the moving van amd her own weight pull him out with her, broken pole cue in his chest waving like a white flag as his battered body bounces off the pavement.
GM: Father Malveaux’s coal-like eyes flare again. Caroline tugs at the van’s back door, but finds it seemingly stuck fast and unresponsive to her attempts to force it open.
Donovan’s frigid eyes once more bore into Caroline’s. The bond tugs at her—and pulls her head over heels. His voice rings out over the cop car’s megaphone.
“Pull off at the nearest exit.”
The father stares after her, smoldering red eyes still all-but ablaze with loathing.
Caroline: She returns to the wheel of the still slowing van, trying to maneuver the van despite the unconscious and bleeding out woman occupying the driver’s seat.
GM: Caroline breaks off from the column of protesting ambulances, pulling off at the nearest exit from the roaring freeway. Donovan’s car stops behind her. The sheriff gets out and walks up to her window. He’s seemingly dressed in a policeman’s blue uniform and black necktie.
It almost looks as if he’s about to write her a ticket for speeding.
Caroline: The Ventrue heiress looks awful. The sucking hole in her chest still remains where the makeshift stake was driven through it, and the fresh wounds opened by Father Malveaux’s curse all send trails of crimson across her pale flesh, up and down her arms and filling her heeled shoes.
GM: Without warning, a stake plunges into Caroline’s heart. She sees no motion. She’s just frozen again. Petrified. The car door hangs open.
The black ghoul who punched Caroline across the face in front of Eight-Nine-Six is there, too. He gives the staked vampire a very ugly leer before hefting her over his shoulder. He opens the back of the van and throws Caroline inside with all the respect he might dump a sack of potatoes. She painfully lands on her face. She can’t see anything except floor.
Caroline: She rages inside. She came so close. She did everything they asked…
GM: “‘The first tradition: Reveal yourself only to your Kindred,’” Father Malveaux rasps, that awful hate still licking at the edges of his tone like a dying fire’s embers. He murmurs several benedictions in Latin, and Caroline hears bodies being moved. The van’s door closes again, then it takes off.
The drive passes in silence and darkness. Eventually, the van stops, and Caroline hears its doors being opened again. She feels herself being carried outside, then dumped inside the back of another car. It, too, revs off.
After another dark and silent ride, the second car stops. The van’s doors open. Rough hands seize the staked Ventrue and pull her out. The cruel-looking ghoul hefts her over his shoulder. She’s in the underground parking garage of Perdido House. Father Malveaux and the sheriff are present, once more clad in their respective black clothes and priestly habits. Suited security personnel are hauling out René’s and Polk’s motionless forms.
The group proceeds to an elevator. Donovan swipes a keycard and presses a button. The doors ding open into a dark and yawning stretch of hallways.
Caroline: She can offer no defense. Can’t even move. Can’t point out he was in the process of murdering her. Can’t observe his own reckless and rash actions that created the circumstance. She can only rage silently at the sheer unfairness of it all. Of their sudden interest only when the battle was won, of how they set her up, dumped her in René’s lap, and left her to die. She hopes that Polk is okay. Hopes that Lou got away.
But mostly she rages. In spite of all their interference, in spite of everything, she was so close…
GM: “Have you scrutinized the ghoul’s mind, sheriff?” Father Malveaux rasps.
“I have,” the sheriff answers.
Father Malveaux savagely motions with a spindly hand. Caroline can feel the building heat as Polk’s skin turns lurid red. Smoke wafts from visibly writhing warts and boils. After a second, the unconscious mercenary’s head explodes in a gory shower that leaves sizzling chunks of cooked gore, bone, and brain matter sliding down the walls.
The dark-skinned ghoul holding Caroline gives a low, belly-deep snicker and taps an ear radio.
Father Malveaux wordlessly stalks away from the scene.
Caroline: She would scream if she could at the casual disregard for life.
GM: Donovan answers a ringing cellphone.
A moment of silence.
“Contain the situation pending my arrival,” the sheriff orders before ending the call.
“Leave her,” he orders the ghoul without looking at Caroline as he does something on his phone.
The ghoul wordlessly dumps Caroline onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.
Donovan hits a number on his phone.
“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended. They are outside the elevator on the 35th floor. I am unavailable to process them.”
There’s another pause. The sheriff does not reply before hanging up. He wordlessly retraces his steps back to the elevator, stepping over the gore left from Polk’s exploded head. His ghoul follows after him and presses a button. Donovan presses some more buttons on his phone. The doors close.
A minute later, the doors re-open receptionist appears. She looks at Caroline’s and her sire’s bodies. She looks at Polk’s gory remains. She says nothing. She does nothing. Just stands and waits.
Time passes. Caroline waits on the ground.
Caroline: Apprehended. As though she were to blame for this. As though she were doing something wrong.
She had him! For a brief and fleeting moment, she had her sire in her grasp, ground giving way to do exactly what they’d ordered.
My domain. As though he could begin to imagine her own sense of loss over Westley. As though his own rage were somehow more valid, or valid at all in the face of her own.
Everything hurts. The bleeding at her wrists, blood running down her hands to drop, pitter-patter on the floor. The blood filling her heels, coating her feet, staining her flesh. The wind-sucking hole in her chest. All unclosed.
GM: Caroline can do little but ferment in her misery and wrath. Eventually, the elevator doors ding open. A ghoul steps out. His face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded.
He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that Caroline can see her reflection in them. Medals also hang from his chest.
The ghoul’s hooded eyes bore into Caroline’s. “Carry Baristheaut,”he commands in a sharp staccato. Once more, the Ventrue feels her will crushed beneath another’s. The ghoul pulls the stake out of Caroline’s chest. She robotically hefts her sire’s body over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
“Follow me,” the ghoul orders.
He looks at the receptionist.
“You may return to your duties.”
She wordlessly departs. The scarred ghoul walks back into the elevator with Caroline. He swipes a keycard and presses a button to a higher floor, though the wait is significantly shorter before the doors ding open. He leads Caroline down another maze of dark, bare halls. Not so much as a sound disturbs the pair, leading the fledgling Ventrue alone to her equally dark thoughts.
The ghoul finally opens a door and leads into a gray room empty of all furnishings but for a clock, table, and chairs.
“Leave your sire upon the floor,” he orders. “Tell me everything that has occurred to you since September 1st.”
“You may sit.”
Caroline: She dumps her sire’s body onto the ground with the same reverence the other ghoul showed her own. Getting off her bloody wounded feet is a relief, but there’s little else in his demand. Her secrets are laid as bare before the ghoul as her body and flesh were before McGinn. One look at the charred face convinces her, long before she spends hours relating her tale, that this is not the man to raise an objection with, and she spends most of the time that she’s robotically relating her actions with a growing sense of dread, certain of her own pending doom.
GM: The ghoul patiently listens to Caroline’s lengthy tale. By the time she is finished, the clock reads several hours later, and perhaps several more before dawn.
“You are free to return to your haven, or to spend the remainder of your night however you wish,” he states when she is finished.
“The ceremony for your release and induction into the Sanctified will be held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 12 o’clock, September 20th, concurrently with the trials of Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis Smith, and Questor Hurst.”
Caroline: His pronounced judgment catches her completely by surprise, and for a moment she forgets to breathe. As that moment passes emotions war in her pierced breast. Anger and relief, joy and pain, hope and heartbreak. And questions. She has so many questions. She sits still for a long moment, caught up in her feelings. At last she stands, her wounds beginning to knit, and she chokes back questions and sobs behind a demurred, “Thank you.”
It burns her pride, stings like McGinn’s whip, but she feels so numb that it hardly matters. She just needs to get away. Away from the insanity and horror of this place.
GM: The ghoul removes a phone from his pocket and dials a number.
“Escort Miss Malveaux out of Perdido House.”
“Can I make a phone call for a ride?” she asks, with some trepidation and without the accompanying ‘since you murdered my driver.’
GM: “You may make such inquiries to one of lesser station,” the ghoul declares haughtily.
Caroline: She nods her understanding. “By your leave, then?”
She motions to the door.
GM: “By our prince’s, Miss Malveaux.” His hooded eyes glint. “Maintain the Masquerade or you shall be executed alongside your sire.”
Caroline: She departs without another word.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: Caroline is escorted down to the 34th floor by another ghoul. She is permitted to use a phone to maintain the Masquerade. She calls Autumn.
She is not permitted to leave the floor in her present state. Autumn takes the service elevator up and wraps a blanket around her to conceal the most obvious of her injuries. The ghoul is clearly fraught over the state her domitor is in, and finally asks, “So… what happened?” on the ride down to the garage.
Bleeding from both her body and sanity, it’s hard for the now hungry-Ventrue to ignore the heady aroma wafting off her servant. The hot blood pumping under the ghoul’s veins. She can feel her fangs extending in her mouth. Autumn is just what she needs…
Caroline: The worst of those wounds are no longer evident by the time the ghoul arrives, but Caroline’s eyes are close to ravenous, and she refuses to let Autumn touch her.
She climbs into the back seat of the girl’s car, as far away as possible, and rolls down the window to try and get some fresh air, anything to ignore the tempting morsel dangling in front of her. Once they’re out of the parking lot however she all but growls, “It’s over. He’s in their hands now.”
GM: The minicooper swoops out of the parking garage’s jaw-like gate.
“Wow. You caught your sire? I… wasn’t actually sure if you were going to.”
Caroline: “Neither was I.”
The words are bitter.
GM: “Well, congratulations.”
Caroline: The thought of congratulations is so bitter across her tongue. It scrapes across her raw and thirsty throat. She feels awful, and worse the further she gets from downtown. Dirty. Worthless. Used. Like a filthy rag used to clean up some unmentionable fluid and tossed away.
She looks away, out the open window. She remembers a moment when life was so much less awful. It feels so long ago.
GM: Autumn looks into the car’s mirror. She makes out Caroline’s face, then stops talking.
Caroline: Time passes. At last Caroline speaks again, practical considerations winning out against self-pity.
“I need blood. Contact the Krewe. If I fall on someone right now… I won’t stop.”
GM: Worry colors the ghoul’s features. “They’ll know your feeding restriction, though… I could bleed Aimee for you. Into a bowl, like last time. I mean, when was the last time she helped out? Besides by bleeding out.”
Caroline: Flashes of violence. Breaking glass. Blood everywhere. A ruined face sliced apart. Blood on her own hands.
“It wouldn’t be enough. Just buy in bulk, don’t disclose.” She does some math. “Up to 11 bags shouldn’t arouse suspicion in tracking.”
GM: “Actually… I could bleed Aimee, and then bleed myself too. You could give me a hit later, to make up for it.”
Autumn tries to sound casual posing the idea. But the addict’s want is all-too plain.
Caroline: She’s too tired to even argue the point.
“Call the Krewe. We’ll see after that.”
GM: “All right. Though… they could take a little while. It’s not on-delivery service.”
Caroline: “Get a time.”
GM: “I’ll do my best.”
Caroline: She never looks away from the window. Never faces the ghoul, but at least, as an almost aftermath, “Thank you.”
GM: Autumn actually looks a little surprised by the thanks.
Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM
GM: The pair pull into Caroline’s house at Audubon Place. Never has it looked more bare. Caesar is gone. Furnishings and electronics wrecked by Wright’s thugs gone. The coffee table she smashed Aimee’s face into, gone. Aimee herself upstairs, mind-controlled into compliance. Autumn mentions that she got the other ghoul to shower and eat something, but she’s been crying a lot.
Turner is upstairs, still keeping vigilant watch over the storage closet Kelford has been locked inside. Caroline’s surviving bodyguard grudgingly admits, “Gonna konk out at some point. Need someone else to watch him in shifts, and Leaf isn’t qualified.”
Autumn bristles but doesn’t say anything, all-too aware of her domitor’s mood.
Caroline: Caroline relieves her of the firearm.
“I’ll watch him for now. Go get some sleep.”
Turner is the only one in the building Caroline doesn’t want to fall upon.
GM: “Not too long before dawn,” the still-injured merc grunts. “I’ll catch a few winks.”
She slowly makes her way into one of the bedrooms, and Caroline suspects will be out like a log.
Caroline then hears Autumn’s voice calling from Aimee’s bedroom. “Don’t get mad, I just… don’t wanna see the Krewe take advantage of you.”
A full red plastic bag lands in the upstairs hallway with a wet plop. The door quickly slams closed.
Caroline: She wants to be angry. She wants to lash out. She wants to make sure Aimee is okay.
But at the end of the day she wants the blood so much more. Caroline falls on the bag.
GM: Her former friend’s blood is as delicious as last time, flowing over her tongue like red velvet. But this time it’s not so much a guilty pleasure. Some part of Caroline whispers that this is earned. Recompense.
Caroline: It’s not enough to close her wounds completely, not enough to make her feel whole but it’s enough to ease that burning thirst, just for a moment. She loses herself in the blood for the long moment it takes her to guzzle it down, and in that moment all of her troubles seem far away. It’s a poor substitute for Jocelyn, but it’s better than nothing, even if it leaves her feeling empty at the end.
GM: “I can give some too, if you still need it… you can hit me back later…” Autumn calls from behind the still-closed door.
Caroline: When she’s done she distantly hears Autumn’s voice in the back of her head, even as she stares at the empty bag, resisting the urge to lick it clean. She looks back at the closet containing Kelford, then at Aimee’s door.
“Come out, Autumn.”
GM: Autumn opens the door with a more than apprehensive look.
Caroline: Caroline drops the bag and motions for the woman to come over.
GM: The ghoul approaches her. Slowly.
Caroline: Caroline reaches out with her still-damaged hand and touches the ghoul’s face.
“I understand why you did it, Autumn. I’m not mad at you.”
GM: “Okay, that’s… I just wanted to help you,” Autumn answers, though doesn’t look wholly at ease with the touch. “That’s all I want.”
Caroline: There’s a quick flash of teeth, gentle rather than savage, and she feels the ghoul’s hot blood roll across her tongue. The sensation lasts only a few moments before she releases her.
GM: Autumn’s cry of alarm all-too quickly muffles into gasps of pleasure at her domitor’s Kiss. When Caroline pulls away, she’s breathing hard and her cheeks are flushed, but there’s visible fear in her eyes too.
“I’m sorry. I-I won’t do it again,” Autumn apologizes, trying to step back away.
Caroline: “But I gave you specific instructions.” She looks the ghoul in the eyes, but there is only her green eyes waiting, not the Beast. “Call the Krewe. Get the blood. When it arrives I’ll give you what you want.”
That hand runs down Autumn’s face gently teases her wrist across the girl’s mouth.
“I know you care. But I also need you to listen. Or do you think that money matters more to me than your health? Or Amanda’s?”
GM: “But it could take a while, I just didn’t want you on edge…” The ghoul responds, but her heart clearly isn’t in the words. Her eyes follow the wrist like a starving dog being dangled a bone.
Caroline: She can’t deny that it felt oh so good. That even as her wounds close across her body, as pain fade into memory she’s grateful.
“I understand. I’m not mad at you, Autumn.”
GM: “I’ll call the Krewe though, if there’s… nothing else,” Autumn ventures.
Caroline: “But I need more than you have to give right now.”
GM: “I’ll do what you say. Nothing else,” the ghoul readily echoes.
Caroline: “You did the right thing, Autumn. You just didn’t do all of it.” She pulls the ghoul in close again and kisses her hair before releasing her. “Just go finish.”
GM: Autumn doesn’t fight the kiss, but Caroline can feel the tension in her servant’s body as she plants it. Once the Ventrue lets go, Autumn repeats she’ll get on it and quickly sets off.
She returns after a few minutes on the phone.
“I need to drive there. They want me to pick it up.”
Caroline: Caroline has seated herself in Turner’s former chair. There’s an emptiness to her eyes.
“I understand. Be safe. I’ll be here when you get back.”
GM: Autumn looks into Caroline’s eyes and settles for, “All right. See you later.”
A few moments later, the car’s engine sounds from outside.
Caroline: With Autumn gone and Turner resting the house is eerily quiet. The life that once filled it is as dead as Caroline. She’s alone with her thoughts. Lou’s last message comes back to haunt her in the darkness. And his first.
When the dark thoughts grow unbearable, images of Westley’s fate, of Polk’s death, and of her own horrors, she gathers a pen and paper to write some notes for Autumn tomorrow. Her stomach twists at how she’s used, and is still using the poor girl, but beside the greater sins of her unlife, it pales.
GM: Much like Caroline’s ‘life’ after that death, the silence seems to stretch on for an eternity. Turner is asleep, Aimee bled back into a near-coma, Autumn and Caesar gone.
The faces of her victims, all the lives she’s ruined in two weeks, flash across her mind as she writes. Paxton, dead in a hotel bathtub. Trenton, savaged to death mere feet away. Polk, murdered for seemingly no reason at all after her head was mined. Lauren Peterson, the unknown mother and son, sent to the hospital. McGinn’s and Eight-Nine-Six’s ghouls, casualties in the conflicts between their masters. Aimee, turned from someone with a future into a crying, sniveling, beaten junkie. Autumn, already half-damned but with a ‘future’ among the Krewe, pulled under her thrall. Turner, witlessly forced into slavery.
Her brother. Her son.
Some lives she mourns. Some she feels nothing for.
The night is old. What is left feels as if it will be all-too long and all-too lonely.
Autumn comes back only minutes before dawn with a duffel bag full of smaller, red-filled plastic bags. Caroline is out over three thousand dollars, but she’s lucked out. All of it is from her preferred prey, if the smell is any indication.
‘Lucked out’ being relative.
Caroline: Caroline praises Autumn’s success and sucks down the blood rapaciously, chasing away nightmares. It isn’t as good as Jocelyn. It isn’t even as good as Autumn or Aimee, but it is far better than the thin slop she’s subsisted on too many times. When each of the packs is long empty she smiles at the ghoul. “Thank you, Autumn.”
She brings her wrist to her mouth where her fangs still slow, lightly showing red, and makes two pinprick holes in it, before extending the wrist to Autumn.
“You earned it.”
GM: Autumn falls upon Caroline’s wrist just like that. All her earlier trepidation melts away as she blissfully sucks the Ventrue’s vitae, and then all-too reluctantly pulls herself from that blissful font. Her eyes shine in the afterglow. She whispers how much she cares about her domitor, how she’d do anything for her. How she’s so grateful Caroline isn’t mad at her for disobeying. How all she wants to do is help her.
Caroline: Caroline tolerates only so much of that praise before handing off her shopping list to the ghoul for that day, starting with another replacement phone. She instructs Autumn to pick up several given the way she keeps going through them. One of the benefits of Sunburst is that configuring and setting them up is as simple as plugging them into her computer at home and resyncing her data.
GM: Autumn looks somewhat hurt by the brush-off, but also equally eager to please while she’s still riding the “high.” The ghoul makes off with the shopping list to follow her domitor’s instructions. Once again, the house is left as dead and silent as its unliving occupant.
Weariness weighs heavily upon Caroline’s soul, and in short order, equally heavily upon her body. It’s similar to the sluggish feeling she got staying up late as a mortal, but far more acute, as if someone had injected her veins with sand. René Baristheaut’s hold over her life may be broken, but the sun will burn her flesh just as surely.
Nor will her Beast thirst any less ravenously.
Dawn comes—and it’s still a long night ahead.
Many, many long nights.
Caroline: She does rounds, checking in on Kelford, ensuring he’s still securely bound and blind. She looks in on Turner and Aimee. She wanders the shattered home, knowing deep in her core that her remaining nights in it are likely numbered.
Signs of violence from the last ten days are everywhere. The fitfully sleeping women. The absence of Caesar. The destroyed and missing furniture and electronics. The thick shades over her bedroom, which will once again lay empty tonight. Read carefully, there’s a story of a life defiled. For Caroline, it’s something else. It’s a life all but left behind, at last. Tomorrow is a new night with new challenges.
But she can’t deny that things have changed.