“‘For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.’”
John Greenleaf, quoted by Claire Malveaux
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline has long since grown tired of sleeping in an attic, but it is among the least of her concerns as she rises covered in fiberglass for the third night in a row. She’s free, as free as she can ever hope to be in her Requiem, to pursue those many tasks that yet await her. Veronica’s blood flows in her veins, thick and heavy, enough to chase away the hunger for at least this night. It’s a bitter pill, but she’ll take the medicine now that she’s paid for it. Her house, literally and metaphorically, is far from put into order, and there is so much to do. That she wakes up at all is a positive sign however.
Most of her actions, waiting upon her mother, are mundane. She orders a rental car drop off, sorts through what little is left downstairs for those things she wishes to keep, sends an email to her professors belatedly apologizing for not keeping in touch (mentioning unspecific personal matters she has been dealing with) and expresses her hope to see them next semester. What little time is left before her mother arrives is spent on social media digging into the past of the victim she murdered.
GM: Caroline finds a number of events have taken place during her daysleep.
Carla has been through her home again. The Mexican housekeeper has avoided the second story, per Caroline’s request, but the rest of the seemingly tornado-struck house is well on its way to being transformed back into a bare and empty one.
Her phone, landline, and email have been flooded with text messages and voicemails concerning a single, terrible piece of news:
Westley was found. Dead.
When hours pass without any reaction or acknowledgement from Caroline, her family is no longer irritated. They’re by turns furious or deeply concerned, mostly the former. Gabriel has said he’s coming over to her house. He’s worried something has happened. Further texts read:
I’m outside your door. Where are you?
Oh my god, what’s happened?
Several more fretful messages follow, including one about calling the police, since it looks as if she’s missing (again). There are further inquiries on that vein from other family members. After several hours, the flood of messages finally stops. There’s a last one from her mother.
Calmed things down. For now. We’ll talk tonight.
Caroline: Uncertain as to what lie her mother has spun for her, Caroline offers no response to the other texts until she speaks with her. The messages tear at her savagely, but ultimately reinforce what she has grudgingly begun to accept: she has no place in the mortal world with her family. The longer she drags all of this on, the more pain she’ll bring them, the more difficulties she’ll create, and the greater the odds that she, and they, will be caught up in the prince’s justice.
Faintly she remembers an old argument an atheist once made to her, about the various rules and laws in the Bible essentially being good sense in the era. ’Don’t eat shellfish’ because no one knew how to cook and clean it properly. ’Don’t eat swine’ because they were filthy creatures and undercooked pork could kill you. It brings a brief smile to her face to compare that argument to those commandments of the Sanctified she has learned. Clinging to your mortal family may be a sin, but it is it a sin because cleaving from them was simply best practices? That cynical amusement gets her through the top of the hour.
GM: Buried underneath her family’s many text messages is another one from Autumn’s phone number.
I’m okay and coming by at 8, you need me to bring anything?
Caroline: Glad you’re ok. I’m sorry for everything. She sighs. 8’s a bad time. Visitors. Grab some food, I’ll call you when they leave. I’m sure your life is upside down.
GM: It’s been worse but ok cya then
At 8 PM, the doorbell rings.
Caroline: Caroline is downstairs to open it.
GM: It’s her mother. Claire still looks tired, with bags under her eyes, and also unsurprised as her gaze sweeps the destroyed house. “Caroline.”
Caroline: “Mom.” It’s a staggering reminder of just how fragile mortals are for Caroline, seeing her mother worn down. “Do you want to come in, or go out for a drink?”
GM: “Your house looks like it’s seen enough visitors. We can visit the Corner Club if you don’t mind faking it.”
Caroline: Caroline chews on her lip. “Sure, let me grab my bag.” She vanishes for a moment to do so before returning to meet her mother. A new black BMW sits in the driveway, the earlier rental dropped off. She lets her mother decide who’s driving. And which car they’re taking.
GM: Claire lets her daughter drive the new BMW, if she wants to, though Claire makes plain she’ll be taking her own Mercedes. “If that’s been sitting here all day, who know what bugs might have been planted in it.”
Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to the cynical—though not paranoid—comment and climbs into her mother’s Mercedes, escaping the night.
GM: Her mom drives past Audubon’s high concrete walls and the perimeter of armed mercenaries. “So. Where should we begin?”
Caroline: “Thirteen Kindred were executed last night. Three others narrowly avoided execution. It’s been a busy weekend.”
GM: “I suppose your prince isn’t all bad,” Claire remarks.
Caroline: “I thought you might appreciate it. Some good news to go with the awful.”
GM: “Is that all that happened at the trial, thirteen executions?”
Caroline: “Our secret is out to the prince. I’m told to convey that should you ‘cease cooperating’ I am to be executed immediately.” She continues, “Also, that I am to stage my death as quickly as is feasible.”
GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh or look surprised at the news. Her eyes just look tired and heavy as they stare out at the road. “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Caroline.”
Caroline: “I’d think you already knew much of it. Didn’t you bug my house when you broke in the first time?” Caroline asks.
GM: “No. Too high a risk of the bugs being found out by someone else, from everything you’ve said.” She then adds, “And that I’ve seen.”
Caroline: “And none of your associates had the thought to do so either, when we were alone?”
GM: “Not without my consent.”
Caroline: “Someone did.” Caroline explains in brief that she was caught up in a feud between several much elder Kindred, and ultimately staked and taken into custody by the prince’s agents, whereupon she was forced to make a full confession under questioning to avoid her own imminent execution.
GM: Claire doesn’t seem to take her daughter’s recounting of events in stride so much as she seems grimly resigned to them. Streets, lights, and cars roll past the window. Her mother doesn’t stop by the Corner Club, and instead continues to drive on a seemingly aimless path through the city. It doesn’t stop her from extensively questioning Caroline as to what she gave away.
Caroline: The Ventrue neither embellishes nor hides the extent of her revelations. “He literally looked into my mind, Mom, into my memories. I’m sorry. There wasn’t anything I could do. As it was…”
GM: Her mother doesn’t sigh. She just looks tired.
Caroline: It’s a sentiment Caroline can sympathize with. She slides her too cold hand over to her mother’s.
GM: The actions finally makes Claire shake her head. “Your lying to my face will only make this worse, not better.”
Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I didn’t lie, not about anything about you. I thought I’d caused you enough trouble for one night though.”
GM: Claire hits the breaks, stopping the car dead in a parking spot that says unauthorized vehicles will be towed.
“I took a terrible, terrible risk not leaving you for the sun that day,” she says bluntly. “Against my every instinct and better judgment. What you’ve told me right now only confirms that it was.”
Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Fine. You want to know?”
GM: “No, young lady, I haven’t finished yet,” her mother reproaches severely.
“Letting this,” Claire says vaguely, “continue is extraordinarily dangerous for me. More so than you clearly realize. And that’s assuming a state of complete honesty from you. Anything less goes from dangerous to suicidal. If there’s something that you believe telling me will lead to either of our deaths, then you’ll tell me that there are things you can’t risk talking about. Feed me any more lies, including by presuming to make any further decisions in my place, and this can’t continue. You know the consequences for that. Do you understand?”
Caroline: “I’m past my last chance,” Caroline snarls back. “You want absolute honesty? They’re going to end me. And if I’m very, very lucky they’ll behead me instead of locking me in a steel coffin and slowly burning me alive in front of a hundred people while I scream and give in to that snarling monster and die as something less than even this,” she gestures to herself, and her words are heavy with genuine fear and desperation.
“They were literally leading me by the hand to be executed. Do you know what that’s like? What it’s like to know you’re not only damned, but going to hell at any moment? To be utterly helpless? And every night I get to wake back up to that, because it’s not good enough for me to play by the rules. It’s not good enough for me to make not a single further mistake. It’s not good enough for me to use my own mother towards their ends, fake my death, and cut away everyone I care about.”
“They want more. They’ll always want more out of me.” She spits the last out bitterly, exhausted by it, and shakes her head. “A delay in execution. That’s what they gave me. Not a commutation of my sentence. They decided to lose the paperwork for a while.” She sighs and continues quietly, “That’s what I’m not telling you. I got into some bad stuff. Things I wasn’t supposed to know, things I wasn’t supposed to have, and they killed a bunch of people to keep it quiet, clean it up. Between that and the shakeup in the city from the trial—which the prince lost, badly—they gave me a suicide mission and a timer and said ‘if you succeed maybe we won’t kill you.’ So that’s what I’m not telling you.”
GM: “Then those are the realities. That’s what we’ll deal with,” her mother answers. “It also doesn’t change a thing. Any more lies from you, and our arrangement can’t continue.”
Caroline: “There are things I can’t tell you. Not won’t. Can’t. As in, physically not able to. Is that a problem?”
GM: “And as I’ve told you—if there are things you believe are too dangerous to say out loud, or which you can’t say out loud, then you’ll simply tell me that the information I’m getting is incomplete. I’ve done the same for you. But there can be no more lies, Caroline. None. That’s not a risk I can justify continuing to take.”
Caroline: Caroline tries not to feel like a scolded teen as she looks back to her mother. “Fine. Incomplete details: what I got into, why they didn’t just execute me along with the rest of the bushel, and all of the exact requirements to not get burned alive.” She bites her lip. “Though they continue with ‘do as much damage to the prince’s rivals as you nearly did to us’.”
GM: “That had been a question of mine,” her mother says piercingly. “From all that you’ve said, you’ve caused enough trouble for them to execute you three times over. Letting you live doesn’t make any sense.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “It’s complicated.”
GM: “So is everything.” Her mother doesn’t seem to have it in her to sound wry. The quip comes out as dead as the fruit of Caroline’s womb.
Caroline: “Running won’t work,” she continues. “And I don’t know what the hell to do.”
GM: “I suppose play the hand that you’re dealt. Or cast in your lot with Antoine Savoy’s faction.”
Caroline: “I suspect he’d like nothing else, but I doubt he could protect me.”
GM: “Would you, if he could?”
Caroline: Caroline looks down. “He’s in the ascent. And smooth. So smooth. He makes the other elders—well, most of them—look like sandpaper.”
GM: Her mother frowns thoughtfully. “Do you have any personal loyalty or regard for any members of the prince’s bloc?”
Caroline: Her emotions are a complex jumble of twisted threads, pulled every which way by the array of blood bonds. “I don’t know…. yes? Maybe?” She looks back at her mother, then away. “Both sides have holds on me. The prince could have had me executed half a dozen times. Instead at every turn I’ve had another chance. A break. Five of the twelve executions were specifically in relation to me.”
GM: “Did you receive those breaks from the prince, or his seneschal, who you’ve said won’t succeed him?” her mother asks pointedly.
Caroline: “Assuming he needs a successor any time soon?”
GM: “That does touch upon another question. Do you believe George Smith was simply lying?”
Caroline: “No.” The word comes out before Caroline can stop herself.
GM: Her mother raises an eyebrow. “It’s hardly as if he had anything to lose spouting slander with his last breath.”
Caroline: “Except his childe and every mortal or ghoul he ever touched.”
GM: Claire shakes her head. “A hallmark of power-mad dictators everywhere.”
Caroline: “The peace of the gun,” Caroline agrees. “But it’s worked so far…”
“He was so angry, you could feel it. He didn’t even have to use any Disciplines to cow the entire room. A look was enough. It said kill to every idiot chanting in the crowd.”
GM: “Then it sounds as if what Smith had to say was true, if it struck a nerve that deep.”
Caroline: “About the seneschal,” Caroline agrees. “I don’t know enough about torpor to comment on the rest, but even if it is, I can’t imagine a ‘power-mad dictator’ not having a backup plan.”
GM: “So you think the seneschal will succeed him after all, despite what Smith said?”
Caroline: “No, I think he has something else lined up, but I don’t understand enough about the city politics to say what. Assuming he needs it. Like I said, does he even need to go into torpor? Whatever that is.”
GM: “Then who? Either they hand the reigns of power to someone less experienced, when it sounds as if the city needs a strong leader, or the religious zealots hand the reigns to a faction that doesn’t share their faith.”
Caroline: “Savoy shares their faith, presumably. Or a third party could enter the scene.”
GM: “Savoy sounds unlikely if they’ve been at war for so long. But I suppose circumstances can always change.”
Caroline: Caroline thinks. “I don’t think an outsider could take power while Savoy was here, but so much of his power is built, as I see it, on his ability to charm people. I don’t know that someone else could fill that role. That most elders would even be willing to try.”
GM: “On the contrary, his appeal sounds quite simple. Don’t execute one person, or I suppose a dozen, for another’s crimes. It’s not even a question of morals, but simple practicality.”
Caroline: “Everyone that was executed deserved it… except George’s childe. And he brought that down on her. I think people were more upset over the people he didn’t execute.”
GM: “I presume by ‘people’ you mean Matheson?”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or his childe.”
GM: “I suppose it’s no surprise they’re upset about him being spared. Your kind don’t like being victimized the same way you victimize humans.”
Caroline: “More the imagery of the elder getting off while everyone else burned, I think.”
GM: “From an objective standpoint,” Claire muses, “this Matheson seems like a fairly benign example of your kind. He feeds on other leeches and goes out of his way not to kill if he doesn’t want to be caught. I wonder how many humans haven’t died because of his proclivities.”
Caroline: “Not that many, he keeps a stable of human slaves as well.”
GM: “To feed on, or to use as servants?”
Caroline: “Both, I suspect—most Kindred aren’t willing to go all the way to see him. I suspect for him it’s like most rapists—more for the power than anything else. If he’s guilty.”
GM: “Him aside, we’d previously been discussing Antoine Savoy’s political bloc.” Claire seems to chew that over thoughtfully. “Our arrangement with the prince’s is delicate, and breaking it is sure to make them take retributive action. But Savoy also knows nothing of us, at least that we know. What do you think about the risks and rewards of jumping ship?”
Caroline: “Risks: he’ll want something in turn, and it’s a hard stifling of opportunities in the city going forward. It’s essentially betting all of our chips on the idea that in a year or two he’s going to be the prince, because any other opportunity will dry up like the Sahara Desert. It also hopes he is both willing and able to shield me from the prince and his agents.”
She pauses. “Rewards… I mean he doesn’t have a death sentence hanging over my head, and if Smith was right, then he very well might be the prince in a few years. He’s riding a wave of support, and if anyone could shield me, it’s him. And if he does become prince then jumping ship early bodes far better than late.”
“He’s more approachable. More social. Less formal.” Caroline bites her lip. “But I feel like no matter what else happened, I’d always be watching my back with him. If I was out of time, up against the sharp edge of the prince’s justice? Maybe. But bargaining with him like that is asking for trouble. I don’t think… no. I know that the prince wouldn’t simply let me vanish into Savoy’s hands.”
GM: “Savoy becoming prince would be more convenient, but that’s largely out of our hands,” her mother considers. “Defecting is risky, like all defections are. But the long-term benefits of him being unaware of our arrangement are significant. I think it would benefit you to start making friends with him, if nothing else so that he’s an option when and if the prince’s bloc finally turns on you.”
Caroline: “He scheduled a meeting tomorrow.”
Caroline: “He also had his people watching me during the trial.”
GM: “Hardly surprising.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Oh?” The extent of her mother’s understanding of the supernatural is still a vague and nebulous thing in her mind. Still, even outside of that, her mother is at least as, if not far more, politically astute as she is.
GM: “That Savoy’s people would be monitoring someone disaffected with the prince’s rule.”
Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline remembers someone catching her, at least the feeling of it. The last person that tried ended up with her head as smashed as a post Halloween pumpkin, and yet Veronica just shrugged it off…
The two bounce a few more details of the current political situation around. Caroline’s broad position is openness to exploring other ideas and opportunities in the immediate. When they’ve not quite exhausted, but certainly walked the horse around the barn a few times, the talk moves to the family. In contrast to their dynamic discussion of politics, the Ventrue is now muted. “So it came out today.” The sadness in her voice isn’t forced.
GM: Caroline’s mother has by now started the car back up. Darkened skies, blinking lights, and the faint of whoosh of other cars roll past. “The story is that Westley fell off a boat.”
Caroline: “How bad was it?” she asks quietly.
GM: “He went yachting in the Gulf of Mexico with Talal al-Saud and some other ‘friends’,” Claire continues, her hands tightening on the wheel. “It was the middle of the night and everyone had been drinking or snorting god knows what. He went to the edge of the boat to relieve himself, and fell off. The yacht sailed back to the city. No one was sober enough to notice when he didn’t get off with them.”
Caroline: Floating for days in the water. “Oh.” That bad.
GM: “They say the body is unrecognizable.”
Caroline: Caroline’s perfect nails dig into the leather seat, and she can’t bear to look at her mother. Two dead children in as many weeks. Both her fault. The Ventrue heiress falls silent.
A long moment passes in uncomfortable silence. “He burned. For what it’s worth, he burned. I listened to his screams.”
GM: Her mother’s jaw clenches as she honks the horn at a car that tries to cut her off. “I want my son’s body, Caroline. His real one.”
Caroline: Caroline clenches her teeth. “I’ll make some calls. I can’t promise anything. It happened in the French Quarter, so it may fall under Savoy’s influence, but his body likely belongs to Father Malveaux. Finally, there’s the complication of those that actually did the deed. I’ll have to find out who even has it.”
GM: Claire’s eyes harden. “You can promise this to the seneschal, the sheriff, or whoever you’re reporting to: if I don’t have my son’s body, the deal is off.”
Caroline: “Jesus Christ, Mom…” Caroline grinds her teeth in frustration.
GM: “Yes, how unreasonable of your mother to want to lay her own fucking child to rest,” Claire snarls, blaring the horn at another passing car.
Caroline: “You’re not unreasonable, Mom, they are!” Caroline all but yells. “You think they are broken up about your cooperation? If I go to them with that, the answer is going to be that I had better come up with the body then at any cost, because I know the cost of you not working with them.”
GM: “Then go to them with something else. I don’t care what. Just get his body.”
Caroline: “You think I don’t want his body back? You think I don’t to lay him to rest? You think I don’t want some closure, and to give you some? But ultimatums don’t work when they hold all the cards.”
GM: “Caroline. Get his body. I don’t care what you say to them. It’s of no inherent value to them except as leverage over me.”
Caroline: She sighs. “But I’ll do it. I’ll pay whatever price they want. But know you’re not making demands of them. You’re not hurting them. You’re making demands of me.”
“And no, Mom, it’s not. They already have leverage over you: it’s the sword hanging over my head. It’s leverage over me… and it’s protection of the Masquerade, because what they did to Westley is not fit for public consumption.”*reverse those two
GM: “Fine. I am demanding that you bring back the body of your brother, who you didn’t even try to save,” Claire snaps.
She pulls the car off to a stop at the nearest curb and closes her eyes for a moment, the haggardness of her features looking all the more pronounced. “I’m sorry.”
Caroline: “No… I’m sorry. Your whole world has come crashing down, and it’s my fault.”
GM: Her mother lets out a low sigh as she stares ahead.
Caroline: “Just know it’s come crashing down for me too.”
GM: “Just get his body, Caroline,” she says wearily. “The public funeral can use the fake, if they’re so concerned about the Masquerade. It’s not as if it’s going to be open casket anyway.”
Caroline: “Okay,” Caroline nods.
GM: “And don’t undersell your position. They want us to cooperate with them. I’m an inordinately inconvenient Masquerade breach to have to clean up.”
Caroline: The comment sets Caroline deep in thought as to the very nature of her Embrace, to how she was plucked from a crowd and how long she was watched, how subtly she was influenced. To whether or not they knew the truth of her mother’s activities before her Embrace.
“Clean up.” Caroline says the words bitterly.
GM: “It’s what it is to them, Caroline,” her mother says levelly.
Caroline: “I know. What did you tell the family about me? It seemed like things were rapidly working towards panic.” Caroline knows. And she knows now matter how inconvenient, the moment they don’t have her as leverage over her mother, that her mother’s life is over. Another reason she can’t afford to meet her end.
GM: “Yes, they were. You only being able to answer your phone at night isn’t going to work. Not in today’s day and age where everyone is constantly connected.”
Caroline: “I know. They want me to stage my death anyway. Soon.”
GM: Her mother is quiet for a moment at that statement. “I suppose this couldn’t go on forever.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “And in this, if nothing else, they’re not wrong. You said yourself, this isn’t working. We’re barely two weeks in and I’ve got Gabriel trying to drop by and threatening to call the police. And it’ll only get worse in the summer, when the sun sets late and rises early.”
GM: “Gabriel wasn’t being unreasonable either,” her mother adds. “Both of us have seen you lately, but to the rest of the family, you seem like you’ve fallen off the grid since Decadence. When there was a catastrophic piece of news like your brother dying, your continuing silence only made everyone more bewildered.”
Caroline: “So, what was the story, before I get to returning calls?”
GM: “Gabriel stopped by your house. When it looked so wrecked and of course you couldn’t answer the door, he thought something had happened and reached out to the family. They hadn’t heard anything from you either, so he went to the police.” Her mother purses her lips. “He should have gone to Roger.”
Caroline: “So what did you do to calm him down?”
GM: “I caught wind and had Roger clear things up with NOPD. I told Gabriel that you’d been… raped at Decadence, and that was why everything in your life seemed to be falling apart.”
It’s a story they both discussed, but it’s still harsh to hear her mother talk about explaining to her little brother how she was sexually assaulted to cover up the far darker assault that took place.
“I’m sure that wasn’t an easy conversation.”
GM: “No. No, it wasn’t.” Her mother’s eyes look misty.
Caroline: “How did he take it?”
Caroline: A nod. “Should I assume that story is making the rounds in the family then?”
GM: “I had him promise to let you deal with things on your own time. I told him you didn’t want the story spread around, and that after an ill-advised party you held in Matt’s house, I was getting you to see a therapist.”
Caroline: “Does Dad know?”
GM: “Not yet. But now that the story is out to one person, it’s only good sense to tell him. He’s going to be back in the city the day after tomorrow. He flew back up to Washington to take care of some further business there, and tomorrow there are some things he wants to get done in Baton Rouge.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll try to keep the night open.”
GM: “Westley’s never been his first priority. Or I suppose anyone’s.”
Caroline: “Neither was I,” Caroline bitterly replies before she can bite it off.
GM: Her mother looks torn between the impulse to admonish Caroline and simple resignation over what’s an all-too apparent truth.
Caroline: Caroline shuts her mouth, but the next question sneaks out all the same. “Did you ever notice anything weird, Mom? When I was growing up I mean?”
GM: “You mean about you?”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “No, you were… normal. Normal enough, at least. All of this… I never expected it to happen… not as it did.”
Caroline: “What do you mean, not as it did?” Caroline probes.
GM: “That monstrous albino doesn’t just watch our family, Caroline. He’s interfered before.”
Caroline: “Did he interfere with me?” Caroline presses.
GM: “What are you searching for?” her mother asks back.
Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline admits. “Meaning? Purpose? When you’re turned into a damned monster by a being that walked the earth as one of the damned before your grandmother was born…” She sighs. “I got no answers from him in our brief meetings and now… well. It’s a bit too late to go asking questions. But it makes you question every choice in your life. Going to school at Tulane instead of to an Ivy League school. That push into law instead of medicine?”
GM: “I suppose it’s not impossible that another leech might have… groomed you. But the family is claimed by the albino, as you’ve said. I hadn’t been expecting Westley and… your murderer to interfere with our family, and as blatantly as he did. He seemed to come out of nowhere.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Maybe I’m just looking for meaning in it. Searching for purpose amid the senselessness of it.”
GM: “You should look into him further. Even if he’s gone and can’t directly answer our questions, establishing a better sense of who he was could make his motives clearer.”
Caroline: “The childe of the last sheriff,” Caroline recounts. “Who left the prince’s service after his sire’s death at the hands of a group of hunters. I had an opportunity to interrogate his oldest servant. He didn’t seem to know very much.”
GM: “Yes, we went over your discoveries. What he had to say was quite informative, but there’s a great deal still missing. I suppose it’s poor practice for your kind to tell their slaves more than they need to do their jobs.”
Caroline: “What detail is that?”
GM: “His activities around the time of your death, for one. Why he came back to the city at all. Why he left in the first place. Outrage over the prince killing innocents sounds possible, but that’s still speculation on our parts. The full nature of his dealings with Savoy and the Setites.”
Caroline: “I’ll add it to the list,” Caroline replies dryly.
GM: “It’s your own murder to investigate.”
Caroline: “Is Gabriel still in town?”
GM: “Of course, after the news about Westley,” Claire confirms.
Caroline: “I’d like to see him.”
GM: “You have his number. I’m sure he’d like that too.”
Caroline: “Just making sure there aren’t any hanging chads on that. Are you going to be available over the next few days?”
GM: “None on him. But now that Gabriel knows something of what’s happened, we need to straighten out what story we’re going to tell your father. And yes, I should be.”
Caroline: “You’ve known him longer than I have,” Caroline responds to her mother’s comment on her father.
GM: “This isn’t solely for his sake, Caroline. We need to establish a consistent narrative that’s going to eventually come out to the rest of the family, as well as the police and possibly media, once you’ve faked your death. I was vague on the particulars of your… rape with your brother, but other people are going to require more detail.”
Caroline: The entire conversation leaves her feeling unclean, but Caroline finally nods in agreement.
GM: Her mother starts the car back up. “So, what’s the story?”
Caroline: “In broad strokes, I went out to Decadence, was separated from everyone else as the crowd turned rough, and was dragged down an alley by a group. At some point during their attack I blacked out. When I woke up I was alone, and had to make my way back home alone without my phone or wallet. My memories of it all are fuzzy—I was drunk, maybe even drugged.”
The unclean feeling builds. None of it’s a lie, not really, but none of it is the truth, and she’s known victims of sexual assault. Friends. Clients. Using it like this feels so wrong.
“But you knew all of that. We’re building out the details, right?”
GM: Her mother doesn’t look as if she’s enjoying the conversation particularly much either, but answers, “Yes, such as who’s going to take the fall for assaulting you.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” she adds, looking less grim, “there is some good news to share. That stalker of Cécilia’s has been sent to Orleans Parish Prison for a year, if you haven’t already read.”
Caroline: “Christ, what did that idiot do now?”
GM: “Oh, so you haven’t? Well, I’ve not followed the case as closely as Luke, but it all started when he tried to break into the girls’ dorms at Tulane, then caused a scene with the police. You said he was harmless, but it really does seem like a pattern, how much he’s harassing girls. I don’t think it was even 24 hours after he got out from jail that he was arrested again. There were also several counts of assaulting and obstructing public officers.”
Caroline: Caroline pinches the bridge of her nose. “He’s going to die there.”
GM: “Yes, that’s what Carson said too. Luke wanted him to reject any plea deal that didn’t result in prison time, but Carson was very insistent that conditions in the parish jail are worse than in many federal prisons.”
Caroline: “It’s pretty terrible,” Caroline agrees. She shakes her head. “You can’t fix stupid.”
GM: “He said that over 20 inmates are sent to hospital emergency rooms every month—hospitals, because their injuries are so severe the in-house infirmary can’t treat treat them. And that’s leaving out the ones who die or the corrupt staff refuses treatment to.”
Caroline: “That sounds about right.” Caroline shakes her head again. “What a moron.”
GM: “Luke says Cécilia is feeling much better.”
Caroline: “I guess that’s something. She was pretty freaked out when I talked to her.”
GM: “Yes, she was. God only knows how he got into her apartment building. And God knows that family has been through enough after the police shooting.”
Caroline: “In any case, enough about him. For potential attackers, I’m going to need time to put something together. My police contacts were… cut off. I can build something, find some likely sadists, but it’s going to be through other channels. For now, I’m too distraught to clearly recount it, and was drunk during the attack—I don’t clearly remember.”
GM: Her mother purses her lips. “You’ll need to put something together very soon, then. Your father will want to keep this out of the media, but taking care of ‘problems’ like this is exactly what we pay Roger for.”
Caroline: “I know, but I’m not eager to throw innocent men to the wolves, or craft a narrative that isn’t going to stand up and make it a bigger mess. I’ve also got, as you alone know, a number of other matters on my plate just this moment. And Roger isn’t some two-bit thug. He’ll do his homework, so this needs to look good.”
GM: Claire finally pulls up by Distinctive Parking, a parking garage near One Shell Square. She pays for a space but has to spend several minutes searching for an available one. “This is terrible,” she remarks. Normally, of course, the chauffeur would spare either Malveaux the need to hunt for space.
Caroline: Not the first uncomfortable ground they’ve been forced into of late. “It’s pretty awful,” Caroline agrees. “I almost had to go into a Wal-Mart earlier.”
GM: “And yes, you’re right Roger will do his homework. I suppose your kind’s powers could come in useful there.”
Caroline: “They could. I’d prefer they not be necessary.”
GM: Claire makes her way across the street to One Shell Square with Caroline. This early in the evening, there are still many pedestrians up and about. Bars and restaurants are still open. Human society carries on as normal during the night’s initial hours, and it feels almost possible to pretend the two are another mother and daughter discussing mundane things on their way to somewhere.
“Power is best only used when necessary,” Claire agrees.
Caroline: Caroline keeps her own more morose thoughts on that matter to herself. “Why didn’t we do this, Mom?”
GM: Claire doesn’t immediately respond to the question as the two approach the stairs down to the skyscraper’s basement club—one of the comparatively few buildings in New Orleans to possess a basement, thanks to the less swampy ground in the CBD.
The doorman smiles at the pair and gets the door for them as they approach.
“Why don’t people do any of the things they wish they had on their deathbeds?” her mother asks.
Caroline: “Clarity,” Caroline provides. “Death is sobering.”
GM: The club’s interior is best described as subdued luxury. Silhouettes of dark figures are illuminated by soft multichromatic lights. In contrast to the wildly spinning and scintillating ones at French Quarter dance clubs, the Corner Club’s are stationary and reflect a graduating color palette: yellow by the bar, orange in an adjacent corner, magenta in the one next by, and indigo at that spot’s neighbor. Faces are distinct up close but not far away. Background music is soft, relaxing, and only half-audible against the low murmur of conversation. There is no central dance floor, and most patrons are parked at the bar or reclining on comfortable-looking leather couches. Most wear business attire, and many look old enough to be home-owning parents, or even grandparents.
The figure who moves to greet Caroline and her mother is a handsome, 30-something man with dark hair and a carefully-trimmed goatee. He’s dressed in a casual black suit that could still be formal enough to wear to a board meeting if he buttoned it closed and on a tie.
“Mrs. Malveaux, Ms. Malveaux,” he says soberly, without his usual smile. His gaze lingers on Claire. “I heard about your son. I can’t begin to say how sorry I am. I’ve had your favorite seat reserved, and drinks are on the house tonight. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything more I can do.”
“Thank you, Marcus. That will be enough for now,” her mother answers.
Caroline: “Marcus.” Caroline offers by way of greeting and acknowledgement. She can actually smell how good the hunting is here: middle-managers chasing MBAs, others chasing undergrads desperately in the rat race. Dark corners. The Ventrue doesn’t quite lick her lips.
GM: Her mother’s eyes linger on her for a moment. Claire does not otherwise seem in the mood for further small talk and Marcus is sensitive enough not to make any. He personally leads the two to what’s likely Claire’s favorite spot: a secluded, half-walled alcove that has a circular couch surrounding a round glass table with a large hole in the center. The hole rests just over an open and (thankfully for Caroline) unlit stone hearth. A soft orange glow rises from unseen lights at the bottom. Figures beyond the alcove seem indistinct shadows under the dim light. It seems almost as if Caroline and her mother are gathered around a primeval fire-spit, like ancient peoples who did so to ward off the dark—and the equally ancient monsters within it.
Marcus states that Claire’s and Caroline’s usuals will be by shortly, though he pauses just long enough to see if either of the two wants to order anything else. Claire doesn’t. The club’s manager tells them to let him know if there’s anything (anything) at all they should want, and the silently withdraws. An intercom is even built into one of the alcove’s walls, allowing patrons to order food or drinks from the bar in the other room without any need to get up from their seats. Claire sighs as she sits down on the couch.
“We did things together, when you were very young, but you always were closer to your father. Then during your teens I suppose we just drifted apart. His career kept him busier, he didn’t have as much time for you, and I suppose… we all kept drifting.”
Caroline: “You could have just said we all grew up,” Caroline replies wistfully.
GM: “There’s a difference between growing up and growing apart,” her mother refutes. More wantfully than insistently.
Caroline: “Is there? We all go form our own lives, our own circles, our own things that matter. For Dad it might have been politics, for Luke it looks like Cécilia… I think it’s like nap time though.”
GM: Claire gives a tired shrug. “That’s why we didn’t do things like this.”
Caroline: “You don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. Not just the thing, but even the opportunity.”
GM: “’For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these:
It might have been.’”
Caroline: “What do you want, Mom?”
GM: “Nothing. That I can have, at least. You broached the topic.”
Caroline: “I mean in general. I know this,” she doesn’t need to specify what, “wasn’t what you wanted, but what was your vision?”
GM: One of the club’s staff arrives, bearing Caroline and her mother’s drinks: greyhound with vodka, lime and gourmet ice for the former, and a white cuban with cream in place of milk for the latter. Claire thoughtfully swishes the sweet, coffee-flavored drink as the woman leaves, sending its own octagon-shaped ice cubes clinking.
It’s not without some irony that Caroline can smell how the deliverer of her now-noxious drink is working on a college degree. How she could so easily slake the Ventrue’s real thirst.
“You and the rest of the family kept ignorant of the things going on in the shadows,” her mother answers. “But beyond that… I suppose I didn’t put a great deal of thought into how things could have been either.”
Caroline: “Interesting choice in men, if that was the goal,” Caroline replies as she takes a putrid sip of her already tart drink.
Because it’s expected, Coco said. The taste is even worse than she feared, but much like the hotel food of not so long ago, she manages to choke it down. It immediately sets her stomach—such as it is—rolling. It’s mostly through force of will that she keeps it where it belongs. Where she needs it to be. She has to be able to blend.
GM: Her mother silently and very obviously stares as she forces down the drink. “I can take a few sips of that for you. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant to choke down.”
Caroline: Caroline’s instinct is to decline. She needs to learn this skill, and her pride, to say nothing of the Beast, wants her to hide any weakness. But there have been so many barriers between them. So many missed opportunities.
“I’d appreciate it,” she answers. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”
GM: Her mother picks up the glass and takes a sip. Her lips pucker slightly. “Sour. I always preferred sweeter drinks.”
Caroline: “You and every other sorority girl I’ve ever known.”
GM: Her mother looks simultaneously guarded and faintly amused as the topic of sororities, but also her sorority comes up. It’s a peculiar expression.
Caroline: “Sometimes a joke is just a joke,” Caroline replies with a smile as she takes another sip of her drink that reduces it to the halfway mark and wipes the smile from her face. It’s awful, like drinking drain cleaner. There’s mental revulsion at the taste and physical revulsion to what has become so much more than the poison it once was to her. She sets the drink down.
GM: “Goodness, Caroline, I still said I’d drink from it,” Claire remarks as she sees Caroline still take a pull. “You could drop an entire lime in that and it’d probably still taste better to me than you.”
Caroline: “I need the practice, though I won’t turn down the help. Next time I’ll order a more housewife-appropriate drink though. Something off Sex and the City. No reason we should both suffer.”
GM: Her mother takes another sip of Caroline’s drink, then washes it down with a sip from her white cuban.
“The lead woman from a Bond film popularized these, actually,” she answers. “Mine is technically a variant. The film’s used vodka.”
Caroline: “Something new every day,” Caroline quips. “I used to meet him here. Not was often as I should have, but it was relatively safe for him after the accident. He could get away here.”
GM: Her mother’s face falls a bit. “Yes. I paid one of the bartenders to keep an eye on him.”
Caroline: “And no cameras here,” Caroline agrees. There’s a wistfulness and a sorrow to her words. “I’d have a couple of drinks with him, mostly to check on him. I think mostly we complained about Dad.”
GM: “At least you were talking. So many others in the family seemed to forget he existed,” her mother remarks with another sip of Caroline’s drink. There’s equal parts regret to her own words.
Caroline: “At least Luke and I had the early years. The only attention he ever got from Dad was when he did something wrong. Is it any surprise he kept doing it?” Caroline shakes her head. “After a while instead of trying to measure up…”
GM: “I suppose he just wound up the forgotten middle child,” her mother reflects. “You were the only girl. Luke was the oldest son. Gabriel was the baby, especially with how much later along he came than the rest of you.”
Caroline: “It’s not just that,” Caroline admits. “Luke and I were so busy competing for Dad’s attention… how was little brother supposed to compete? Oh, you took second place in the spelling bee? Caroline, tell me more about your trip to nationals.”
GM: “I had hope for a moment, you know, when you went into med school. Westley could have gone into law, and from there, politics. Luke’s always had a better head for business, and Gabriel was still so young. Your father would have been so proud to see one of his sons become senator or governor.”
“But Westley was…” Her mother sighs. “Well, I suppose if we’re being honest, he never felt he could measure up to you or Luke, in college. He felt as if he’d squandered his time in high school, not going to nationals or doing anything else really noteworthy like you did.” Claire sips her drink. “And spending time at that New Orleans school. He wanted to be in the city so badly, but maybe he felt like we didn’t want him either.”
Caroline: “You didn’t know?” Caroline asks.
GM: “I didn’t know what?” her mother asks.
Caroline: “He threw it. Those last two meets. After Dad didn’t show up when he cleaned house at Berchmans.”
GM: Claire sighs again. “No, he didn’t tell me that. But it would explain a few things.”
“After you went to med school, I convinced him he could make a new path for himself in law, and maybe politics—he’s always been good with people, and not quite so uptight as Luke. But the pressure was so hard on him in college. He still felt like he was racing to catch up with you and Luke. He was embarrassed that he didn’t get into an Ivy League school—maybe he felt part of that stemmed from shooting himself in the foot, with debate.”
“I tried to point out we’ve had a speaker of the House come from Tulane, but college party culture was just so attractive to him, I suppose, as a way to blow off steam. But that made his studies suffer, and turned it into a catch-22.”
“Then came the accident with the girl. You remember the family drama over that. How they all treated him. After that, he just… stopped trying. I’m really not sure how much St. Joseph’s had to do with that.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles sadly. “Different perspectives, I guess. It’s interesting to see the other side of it.”
GM: “How did you?”
Caroline: “Well, for one thing, I thought for sure you both knew how heavily he started drinking after Berchmans. He was so hung over the morning of his next tournament that I had to break out the frozen spoons to get him half presentable for it.”
GM: “He’d always had a weakness for alcohol,” her mother admits, “especially as a coping mechanism. But he wasn’t always a drunk. That really only got out of control after college… but since he’d always had a history of drinking, was intoxicated when he killed that girl, and no one else had really paid attention to him, I think they just wrote him off as being a perennial drunk. But he wasn’t born with a bottle in his mouth. He didn’t just drink for no reason. No one does.”
Caroline: “I don’t know why I jumped ship into law. Selfish I guess.”
GM: Her mother shakes her head. “It’s not as if your brother or I told you any of this. Besides, med school never seemed like it would work out.”
Caroline: “What do you mean by that?” Caroline asks.
GM: Claire takes another sip from both glasses, washing down the tart greyhound with sweet cuban. The glow of the hearth’s orange light softly illuminates her still-comely features, so like Caroline’s, but also the age lines her daughter will never bear.
“You never really struck me as a healer.”
Caroline: The words get under her skin like a splinter, and just like one she can’t help but pick at them.
“What did I strike you as, then?”
GM: “Someone more in your father’s mold. You always looked up to him so much.”
Caroline: “The early years. I remembered those years. Kept trying to recapture them. Remember him tucking me in, bedtime stories. My first report cards.”
GM: “It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. Your father always wanted to prove he could do more than your grandfather. His responsibilities finally grew to the point he could throw all of his time and effort into them.”
Caroline: “Does knowing make you feel it less?” Caroline asks, and not about her father.
GM: Her mother takes another sip from both drinks. “No. It helps some small part of it feel better, or at least make more sense. But I don’t feel it any less.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “And neither did I. I think I thought I could make him come back, make him see me, if I did something great. I guess I’ll get his attention at least once more.”
GM: “You could have gone into politics yourself, you know. A while in private practice, maybe concurrently as a state congresswoman. A jump from there to district attorney or attorney general, and from there to governor or senator. We did have a woman governor not too long ago.”
Caroline: “It was there in the back of my mind,” Caroline admits.
She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out when she starts to speak. She closes it.
GM: Her mother takes her hand. “I’m sorry.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Don’t be. The church,” and it’s clear she’s not speaking of the Catholic Church, “teaches that everyone that it happens to had it happen because they deserved it. I’m not any different. Maybe sometime I’ll tell you that story. And unlike all the others, there’s someone I can talk about it with at least.”
GM: That sentiment is oft-repeated among less spiritually developed Sanctified as ‘we are all Embraced for a reason’ or ‘it is by God’s will that we become Kindred.’ Such bromides, however comforting, are simply untrue. They posit a simple answer to an exceedingly complex question.
“Well, as far as sins do go, Caroline, your mortal ones are hardly a ping on the radar net to others in this family.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles tightly. “We’ll talk about it. Just not tonight.”
GM: “Very well. So far as remaining things for tonight, you’ve said they told you to fake your death.” Her mother takes another two sequential sips of greyhound and cuban.
Caroline: “Yes. Within the next year, and the sooner the better, so long as it doesn’t arouse suspicion.”
GM: “A year gives us some time, then, and could make sense in the aftermath of a rape. But a rape-driven suicide isn’t very good for your father’s image.”
Caroline: “The longer we wait the more uncomfortable this is going to become with the rest of the family,” Caroline replies. “And the more forced a narrative we’ll be crafting.”
GM: “So sooner rather than later, then.” Her mother drums her fingernails on the table’s glass. “We may as well get something out of your death if we have to put the family through it. We could have you murdered by a black criminal or anti-petroleum activist, who’s subsequently sent off to prison. That’ll make your father look strong while building up sympathy for him.” Claire sighs. “If only this were happening during an election year, and we could link the murder to your father’s opponent.”
Caroline: Caroline stares at her mother.
GM: Her mother stares back. “Your death is going to put this family through enough, especially after Westley’s. We might as well use it to help your father’s career.”
Caroline: Caroline holds her mother’s gaze for a moment, but finally looks away.
“So you want a murder,” she finally answers after a long pause. The Ventrue shakes her head. “A murder leaves a corpse, leaves an investigation, leads to trial, leads to extended media play. Makes everything much harder on my end, up to and including day to day interactions for the foreseeable future by keeping my face in the press. If that’s the direction you want, it’s going to have to be damn airtight.”
GM: “Of course we want a murder, Caroline. It could make an excellent political narrative.” Claire looks at her daughter sharply. “Do you want a suicide, instead? Some other scandal the family needs to cover up, that will tar our image? Is that the parting gift you want to leave your father with?”
Caroline: She effects a sigh. “No, but I’d rather it not be my last action either. It’s exactly the opposite of what they’re going to like. It’ll attract attention, it’ll invite outside investigations… it’s going to have to be perfect.”
GM: “Yes. That’s also why we should have a backup plan, in case for whatever reason, we can’t or don’t want to go through with a murder. An accidental death of some kind that won’t generate a sustained investigation, but will at least generate sympathy for your father. Lord knows the public is up in tears for the vice president after his son.”
Caroline: “What kind of accident?”
GM: “Perhaps a car crash, or drowning. Something that doesn’t make you look at fault. What occurs to you?”
Caroline: “I’d been more focused on narrative and cleanup, a jump off a bridge.” Caroline bites her lip. “Car accident might work better, especially with a fire. Drowning would leave too clean a corpse they’d want to see.”
GM: “A car accident, then. I presume acquiring a disfigured corpse wouldn’t be overly difficult for you.”
Caroline: “You’d think that,” Caroline replies. “Right now I don’t know. It’s probably not impossible, but again, it has to look good. If we mess this up it’s not just my head on the chopping block.”
GM: “It frequently isn’t.”
Caroline: “All right. I’ll start laying plans. But I’m going to need your help when it comes time to execute things.”
GM: Claire takes a long sip from her cuban. “Very well. Let’s plan your death.”
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM
GM: Claire drives her daughter back to wrecked house several hours later. She reminds Caroline that the rest of the family will expect to her from her by tomorrow (the “lost phone” excuse will work only so many times, she adds) before pulling out of the driveway.
Caroline gives Autumn another call. It isn’t long before her minicooper pulls in to the driveway. “Hey. Lot to talk about, I guess?” She finds a place to sit down and looks at her domitor expectantly.
Caroline: “Why don’t you start with your end.”
GM: Autumn shrugs. “It’s been an uneventful few days. I mainly sat around watching Webflix, like you wanted. My family gave me crap for disappearing that many days with only a text, but they didn’t call the cops over me being missing or anything.”
Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her face straight, but if her first words strike a spark of irritation, everything Autumn relates as she goes on just adds fuel to the fire. “I see,” she replies tightly. Must be nice.
GM: “Is something wrong?” Autumn asks uncertainly. “I mean… besides the house. What happened here, anyways?”
Caroline: “Redecorating,” Caroline replies. “And nothing you did. It’s just been,” she pinches the bridge of her nose, “It’s been a long few days.”
GM: “I bet. They end up trying to use me against you like you thought?”
Caroline: “Let’s just say it wasn’t a very fun time, Autumn, but it’s over now and we’ve got a lot of work to do.” She bites her lip. “A lot of work.”
GM: “All right. A few other ghouls filled me in on how it went. What’s there to do?”
Caroline: “Well, let’s start with what the other ghouls told you. Easier for me to fill in around what you know than start from the beginning,” Caroline answers.
GM: Autumn fills Caroline in. It has most of the highlights; the prince executed around a dozen Kindred, including George Smith, for breaking the Masquerade. Hurst and Matheson got off. Before he died, Smith spilled that Vidal is overdue to enter torpor, and that Maldonato is Sabbat. Coco’s Anarchs aren’t jumping ship over to Savoy, but Veronica’s aren’t jumping back to Vidal either. Between that and the firestorm-like rumors Smith started, the general consensus is that Savoy won this round.
Beyond that, however, many of the finer details are vague or incomplete, as might be expected from witnesses who were sitting in the very back of the cathedral. None of the Kindred were using microphones.
“I also heard about your sire… I hope seeing him get justice brought you some closure,” Autumn finishes.
Caroline: “It was a bad way to go… but not bad enough.”
GM: “I can’t think of much worse, being burned alive and dying while apeshit.”
Caroline: “Maybe I just have a more active imagination,” Caroline concedes. “In any case, some of the concerns are the same: Trenton Nowak’s ‘suicide’, continuing to shift assets, my family probing, and how compromised this home is. Others are new, such as investigating, screening, and initiating additional prospective ghouls.” She bites her lip. “And putting your own life back together. I know hiding put a significant strain on you.”
GM: “It’s not the first time I’ve had to disappear from them. Not usually for that long, admittedly.”
“That’s a lot of other stuff, but I guess it’s good, now that your sire’s ash and you can focus on other things. Who are you wanting to bring in, so far as other ghouls?”
Caroline: “Less who, more what. There are certain needs that need to be seen to. Managing assets during the day, points of contact for other Kindred, and of course security.”
GM: “I can do some of that. Any new ghoul you bring in is gonna be totally ignorant of how the masked city works. And picking up an older one who isn’t won’t be free.”
Caroline: “Then we phase them in slowly and identify the best candidates. No more rush jobs, and no outsiders.”
GM: “You mean, normal people who aren’t already inside the club, or current ghouls?”
Caroline: “No one else’s ghouls.”
GM: “Well, you won’t want them interacting with other licks, then. Even you’re still getting up to speed on doing that.”
Caroline: “Not yet, but we need to start identifying long-term assets, Autumn. The basis for all power is long-term planning. Compounding factors.”
GM: “Sure. But if you need a ghoul to handle that stuff right now, or over the next few months… you really don’t wanna entrust it to someone green.”
Caroline: “I don’t want to entrust it to anyone, but even damned I’m not foolish enough to entrust it to someone else’s ghoul.”
GM: “I hope I don’t still count as one.”
Caroline: “You were different,” Caroline replies defensively.
GM: “That’s a relief. Where’s Turner, by the way? She should probably hear this too.”
Caroline: Caroline looks away for a moment. “She’s dead. She snapped… I don’t know what the last straw was, but the last time I spoke to her she was spewing nothing but hate and trying to get me killed.”
GM: Autumn grows very quiet at that news.
Caroline: “Look… there’s more to it…” Caroline sighs. “There’s more to a lot of things. And no, I can’t tell you. But this is the truth: I didn’t want her to die, I did everything in my power to prevent it, and I did everything I could to make it easier on her when it happened. I hate that she’s gone.”
GM: Autumn still does not speak for several moments. “Okay. Well… I guess life has to go on.”
Caroline: “The madness is over, Autumn,” Caroline tries to reassure her. “The bit with René, Eight-Nine-Six, the trial. There are always going to be dangers, but it’s my hope that we can take them more on our terms.”
GM: “If you say so,” Autumn says quietly. “I hope so too.”
Caroline’s insides abruptly churn. The Ventrue feels sick. Not from something as paltry as a stomach ache, but like bleach eating away her intestines.
Caroline: Her hand comes up to cover her mouth as Caroline bolts for the kitchen sink.
GM: The lime greyhound violently rocks up Caroline’s throat like an acidic geyser. The Ventrue hears herself loudly retching as something wet trickles down her chin. There’s no gunk that sticks to her teeth, but the aftertaste is worse than any vomit she’s expelled. It’s like trying to throw up on an empty stomach. It is throwing up on an empty stomach. She feels oddly but unbearably famished as it occurs to her that’s been over two weeks since she last ate anything solid.
Caroline: She shivers and wipes her mouth and chin with one hand. If she had to breathe she’d be gasping. As is she simply feels disgusted.
GM: “Uh, you okay?” Autumn calls. The revolting aftertaste does not go away. Caroline’s Beast snarls at the memory of how this meatsack could once have quenched it, but even Autumn’s thin blood would be better than the residual poison fermenting in her mouth.
Caroline: Caroline wets a towel instead and wipes the remains of the drink from her chin. She turns the water up to hot and scrubs at her hands without turning to face Autumn. “Tastes even worse on the way back,” she growls.
GM: “Bad blood?”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Vodka.”
GM: “Well, good call if you were wanting to blend in.”
Caroline: “Doesn’t feel like it right now.” Caroline rewarms the towel and wipes her face again. “But the family was freaking out. Had to put on an appearance.”
GM: “No way you could see anything like that coming in the future?”
Caroline: “The family or the vomit?”
GM: “Well, the vomit I think’s a given. And less dangerous than the family.”
Caroline: “I saw it coming, which is the only reason the cops didn’t show up.” Caroline rinses out the hand towel and hangs it over the facet. “I spun a story, but it’s not going to hold up forever. Need to start thinking about how I’m going to fake my death.”
GM: “That’s a good idea,” Autumn nods. “Suicide that doesn’t leave behind a body is easiest. Jumping off a bridge. Suicide via pills or overdose is even better if you have someone inside the coroner’s department to help falsify things. The Krewe does, of course.” The look in the ghouls’s eyes over Turner seems to mostly dim as she talks about the Masquerade.
Caroline: “That was my initial thought… but my family being the domain of Father Malveaux complicates things. A suicide would do a lot of damage to them, especially on the heels of my brother.”
GM: “You have something else in mind?”
Caroline: “Precisely? No. I need to talk to Father Malveaux. Generally? Maybe something that advances a political position or undermines a rival. Or a tragic accident. Car over a bridge railing. Everything has an up and a down side.”
GM: “Oh, speaking of Father Malveaux, I actually got a message from a ghoul of his to pass onto you. He said he’ll take your confession and hear how you did on your penance tomorrow at 9. Guess the trial had him pretty busy for a while.”
Caroline: “God damn it,” Caroline curses.
GM: “Busy then?”
Caroline: “Meeting with Savoy at 10.”
GM: “Could maybe work if you squeeze it. What’s Savoy meeting you for?”
Caroline: “Presumably to make his pitch.”
The two discuss events past, present, and future that Autumn has been largely left out of by her isolation over the last few days. Caroline doesn’t clue the ghoul into the details of her sentencing and instead focuses on plans for the future, in particular the idea of laying low and trying to establish a solid foundation before delving into Kindred politics. Among those things, she brings up the idea of interviewing and screening other potential ghouls more closely.
GM: Autumn is receptive to the ideas of Caroline establishing her own power base and performing interviews and background checks on other prospective ghouls. She continues to maintain that such recent inductees to the All-Night Society should not be allowed to interact with other Kindred. Her last question does not pertain to the future, however, but the past.
“So, Matheson… do you think he was really doing it? Feeding on those neonates? Or… you?”
Caroline: Give yourself to me. Caroline tries very hard to keep her face motionless at the memory of those words: not even a memory, a memory of an electronic memory.
“No. Not really. Too much to lose, too little too gain, and he’s been good to me… and by most accounts other neonates to.”
GM: “Well, I’m not sure most addicts do cost-benefit analyses of their addictions. But I guess at the end of the day no one could find proof.”
Caroline: “All they ever had was some weak ‘could haves,’” Caroline agrees.
Much like she herself does.
Wednesday night, 23 September 2015, AM
GM: It’s some hours later when Caroline parks her new BMW outside Donovan’s Audubon home. It’s still an expensive-looking, three-story affair with a wide driveway and impeccably-maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house. Unsmiling guards see the Ventrue in. They walk her down polished hardwood floors and past bland photographs of still landscapes that would get an ‘A’ in photography class for meeting all the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices, dirty dishes, or sign it’s actually lived in. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic, the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias. This house lacks a soul.
The guards escort Caroline to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs, and little else. Donovan almost sits behind the desk.
“Hound Agnello has purchased your rights to dwell in my domain,” the sheriff states without preamble, “and is willing to accept your oath of fealty as his tenant. You are hereby expelled from the parish of Riverbend. You are permitted 24 hours to remove yourself and your possessions before you are dealt with as an intruder.”
Caroline: Caroline keeps the frown off her face as she tries to put together what the sheriff said, make sense of the words. Out of the sheriff’s house into his hound’s kennel? It’s a bitter thought that she flushes. Agnello has been little but kind to her, and she can hardly pretend that she didn’t wish to be free of her oath to Donovan. The two have yet to have an interaction that doesn’t involve him taking advantage of or punishing her in some way, and given his low opinion of her is, the prospect of eternity under his thumb was unpleasant.
On the other hand, twenty-four hours to make a move into another domain given her meetings tomorrow and the late hour already leaves her little time to make it work, and that he took the time and spent the effort to buy out her ‘lease’ as it were bodes ill of she turns up her nose at his offer…
“My thanks for conveying his invitation, and for the shelter of Riverbend these nights.”
GM: “Your total obligations to me amount to the following,” Donovan coolly continues. He recounts: last week’s still-outstanding corvée. Her failure to pay that corvée on time. Changing the form of that corvée at her request. Permitting her to abduct a single kine from Tulane.
The sheriff pulls back his sleeve, produces a pen knife, and slits his wrist. He extends his arm across the desk. The unmistakable coppery tang of vitae fills the air as his storm-gray eyes wordlessly bore into Caroline’s.
Caroline: Caroline keeps her face impassive as the sheriff lays out the many ways in which he has ensnared her, then stares at his wrist. The smell is remarkably distracting. Much rests on whether or not he knows, but she suspects he does, suspects he has as much respect for the privacy of her mind as did Matheson.
“Was there anything else I should be aware of in the immediate, Sheriff Donovan?”
GM: Donovan’s achromatic eyes bore into hers.
Caroline: There’s a flash of muted colors, all black cloth and white skin, as Caroline rises from her seat and half-kneels against the desk. She doesn’t quite lick her lips as she swallows the blood down.
GM: The vitae is ice-cool as it trickles down Caroline’s throat, as if it’s been left in a freezer. Each cold pang leaves her longing her more.
“Deliver me a complete recounting of your interactions with Claire Malveaux since your Embrace,” the sheriff states. His face seems all-too close. His frigid gaze all-too intense.
Caroline: She feels that same abnormal pull towards the sheriff, that slight tweaking of her perspective, as the vitae fills her. It twists at his demand, though. Bucks. Fights.
“Deliver you, or deliver the prince through you, Sheriff Donovan?”
GM: The sheriff only stares, eyes cold and dead as any shark’s.
Caroline: Caroline meets that stare. Those dead eyes. Something pulls at the back of her mind, asks what the harm could be of giving in to the sheriff… it wars with her rational mind, but for now she holds her tongue.
GM: Pallid lips pull back. Fangs flash. Howling winds fill Caroline’s ears as a storm bursts from Donovan’s colorless eyes—eyes as frigid and merciless as an Arctic sea in the dead of winter. The low hiss from the sheriff’s lips sounds like cracking ice plates. Caroline’s Beast shrieks as its plummets into the deathly cold waters beneath. It thrashes madly to surface before it’s too late. Before it sees what’s at the bottom.
The Ventrue realizes she is staring at Donovan’s desk—and that his patience, like the seneschal’s, is far past its end with her.
Caroline: The Beast’s retreat leaves Caroline feeling empty in the face of the monster inside the sheriff. She’d once thought he was simply doing a job. That it was a thankless one. She’d defended him in her mind, as she defended many cops forced to deal with thugs and criminals on a daily basis. She was wrong.
This is no tired lawman exasperated by his duties. It’s a cold-blooded predator that takes its only pleasure in the sick domination of others. His office is not a burden, it’s a bludgeon in the hands of a monster. He’s every bit as disgusting, vile, and cruel as any Anarch in the city might believe. His lack of patience is not with exasperation over her actions, it’s with the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to murder her as he’s murdered so many countless others on the edge of that sword he carries around. She remembers all of those Kindred executed on the stage when she was first turned over to him in front of her. Remembers his blade over her neck and the lie his hound told that spared her. Remembers all of those horrible executions at the trial. Remembers Jessica’s head in a box. Remembers how he turned her over to René.
For all of that, this is the first time she’s seen anything but that blank stare on his face. The first time she’s seen anything inside of him. Anything of what makes him tick. The sheriff may be empty, but it’s not the emptiness of an unfilled room, the emptiness of the shattered home she’ll never go back to after tonight. It’s the emptiness of the deepest oceans scoured clean of life by the most terrifying of predators. The emptiness of the Arctic circle, where only those that hide from the unforgiving wind can exist. The emptiness of space, in which anything that enters dies. And her brief visit leaves her just as cold as one to any of those.
She shivers and shakes physically, her teeth clattering. Left alone, abandoned by her Beast before the sheriff, she’s all too aware of her vulnerability. Of how many souls he has swallowed up. Of how easily she could be next.
She begins to talk. She tells him what he wants. To tell him whatever he wants about perhaps the only human that knows, that will ever know, what she is, and how she feels. As she does so his blood works upon her, painting upon her mind in strokes neither gentle nor subtle to her already torn consciousness, pulled in half a dozen directions by similar ties. As she relates a tale that can only end with her mother at best slain, and at worst enslaved, it isn’t with the hatred of a daughter betraying her mother. It isn’t as a fish caught in the jaws of a shark. It’s as a young wolf offering up a tribute to the pack alpha. A monster admiring a monster. And no matter how hard she tries she can’t hate him for it. For anything. Even as her conscious mind rebels. As it screams in intellectual terror and reasoned fury at being treated so, her emotions betray her. Those arguments are only words. Those thoughts are only thoughts. In this moment she only feels close to him.
GM: Donovan patiently listens to Caroline’s tale without comment or change in facial expression.
When she is finished he states, “You will deliver weekly oral reports to me, at this time and location, on the entirety of your interactions with Claire Malveaux. You will establish a direct channel of communication between us. I will not deal with her through you.”
Caroline: “She will refuse to use that channel,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Then you are of no use to our prince and may be executed without loss,” the sheriff answers dispassionately.
Caroline: That’s not true, Caroline wants to snarl. Instead, she continues simply, “But you’re trying to force her to alter her deal within a week of making it to her determent. No one would agree to that. To say nothing of how she’ll view meeting with any other Kindred to begin with.”
GM: “This audience is concluded. Remove yourself.”
Caroline: She doesn’t want to go, but the weight of his Beast and the blood running through her pulls her in another way. She stiffly stands and takes her leave from the sheriff, passing back through the halls of the wretched McMansion and into the night. Another impossible demand. Another threat of execution. She peels out of the driveway and accelerates rapidly past the speed limit out of Audubon Place in the sleek German-built car, focusing on the road as cars and houses flash by. She doesn’t want to go ‘home’, such as it is, for the last night she’ll ever spend there, but she can stay out a few more minutes into the evening.
While she’s speeding down dark and empty streets—darkness she can see through better than any human—she can try and distract herself with the operation of the vehicle. But when she pulls back into Audubon Place and the driveway ‘home’ she can’t hide from the anguish she feels. The still-open wound of the seneschal’s death sentence broken back open and left to bleed. The ruin of her life and everyone she’s cared about. The future’s endless promise that comes due each night only in the form of more misery. When she finally drags herself back inside the house for perhaps the last time, in flight of the coming sun, a voice in the back of her mind why she bothers. It’s not the first time. She still doesn’t have an answer.
Robbed of the freedom to hate her sire, the sheriff, or most of her tormentors, she’s left only with hatred for herself.