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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline V, Chapter VI

The Exiled Prince

“Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without.”
Marcel Guilbeau

Monday night, 4 October 2015, PM

Caroline: It takes eleven long nights for Caroline to make her first appearance before a clanmate. Things are finally beginning to take shape.

She’s left behind her ‘home’ in Riverbend in favor of the Giani Building, renting out two separate apartments under the names of her remaining ghouls while renovations are ongoing on the three bedroom suites on the upper floors.

Two ghouls have joined Autumn, replacing—if such a thing is possible—Turner and Aimee. The two ghouls weigh heavily upon her mind by their conspicuous absence.

Brian Fuller seems to be taking to it well. The former Corpsman is an intimidating presence despite his small stature, all coiled muscle potential for violence. He’s protective—Caroline knew he would be from their past dealings—and happy to have something else to provide meaning in his life. He took to her offered blood almost hungrily.

The second presence is dominating in an entirely different way. Sarah Anne Widney is thin, almost frail-looking, but that brittle frail of iron rather than the outright weakness of glass. Disgraced by her last client—the object of his lust—she was perhaps even easier to lure into the fold than Fuller. And is just as essential. Already Caroline has the orphaned financier helping to transfer funds into new names and new accounts.

More subtle activities are also in progress. Tours of office spaces. Meetings with other attorneys she knows are disenfranchised. Wheels are turning. Now she needs persuade Gerousiastis Guilbeau of that fact. Such is foremost in her mind when she presents herself before the Alystra.

GM: Caroline’s ride drops her off in the CBD, only a few blocks away from the Hilton where she spent a terrified first day as one of the Damned. Marcel Guilbeau’s domain is a multi-decked riverboat casino with yellow and purple lights that flash and pulsate over the water. Music, cheering, and sounds of revelry are audible from within.

Caroline remembers a few discussions within her own family concerning the state’s riverboat casinos, back during her father’s time as majority leader in Baton Rouge. Her uncle Orson was morally opposed to gambling, but her father was unopposed on the grounds that the industry brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Gambling on public land is illegal in Louisiana, the Ventrue also recalls, so the state legislature naturally had no objections to people gambling on water. Except for Harrah’s, also several blocks away, which was able to obtain an exception. And that new bill she heard about somewhere, still in the works, which would no longer require riverboat casinos to have operable paddlewheels. The Pelican State’s efforts at regulating gambling seem as slapdash as everything else it does.

If the numbers of people making their way up the casino’s walkway seem any indication, however, few souls besides her Uncle Orson would seem to mind their government’s laxness—though a few, with the benefit of hindsight, might be grateful for it. While some people leave the casino in excitedly chattering groups (or more lustful pairs of two), the losers look either sullen or morose. One man looks as if he’s about to throw up into the Mississippi and is hurriedly rushed away.

Caroline is greeted a short ways off from the casino proper by a handsome ghoul in a dark suit.

“Welcome to the Alystra, Miss Malveaux,” he says with an easy Louisiana drawl. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau was tickled pink you could make it here tonight. Before you step aboard, he has one request… please will your Beast to appear normally before the cameras.” He smiles wryly towards the stream of people making their way on and off the boat. “As a casino, we’ve got plenty installed. Any malfunctions make it easier on the cheaters who’d as soon rob us blind.”

Caroline: It’s not an unreasonable request, even if it is a slightly unusual one, but Caroline’s thought process immediately goes towards the worst possible scenarios. Blackmail? Perhaps, but tame if so. Documentation on her? Perhaps. Certainly she hasn’t posed for many family photos (or any photos for that matter) since her Embrace. Certainly a loss of deniability if she’s framed for (or commits) any crimes on board.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. She’s here as much at her own request as at his invitation, the product of her own decision to engage with Clan Ventrue rather than go her own way, and she’s been told time and again that notionally, backstabbing each other is not how the clan operates. Notionally. Still, if matters are so poisoned with Gerousiastis Guilbeau there’s not much hope as a whole. Better to find out here than in meetings with more overtly hostile players.

The calculus takes place in an instant behind her green eyes and she flashes a toothy smile. “I’d be a poor guest not to meet such a minor demand from such a distinguished personage.” It takes an effort of will, a conscious choice, she’s found to appear in photographs or video footage: her first Snapchat uses as a Kindred were a disaster.

She exerts that effort, but can all but feel her Beast circling in her mind at the unwanted imposition. Not quite angry—she’s experienced that enough to know when it is roused—but certainly stirred. It vastly prefers when its host is bowing to its whims, rather than the reverse.

GM: The ghoul beams and replies with various pleasantries as he escorts Caroline into the riverboat casino, even offering a hand to ‘help’ her up the amply wide (and railed) gangplank.

As soon as she enters the gambling hall, she is assailed by a riot of sounds, smells, and scintillating colors. The first thing she notices is the massive array of slot machines with blinking lights, whirring sirens, and tokens clattering into the metal payout drawers. Gold and bright primary colors glint excitedly everywhere. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people are clustered around the array of games, including three-card poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, Mississippi Stud, and Ultimate Texas Hold’em—and the ever-present slot machines that make up the most of any casino’s revenue. An all-you-can-eat Creole/Caribbean-themed buffet and bar is set up in the corner, along with the band. Cocktail waitresses weave their way through the lively crowds while suited croupiers smartly deal out cards.

A tall, dark-skinned man in his late 20s looks at Caroline as her guide leads her past one of the whirring slot machines.

“Hey, aren’t you Westley’s sister?”

Caroline: “I was,” she replies coldly. That wound is still fresh.

GM: “Yeah, was,” the man says. “I was his friend too, though that turned into a ‘was’ before he died.”
He swirls a drink in his hand. “I just wanna say, good fucking riddance, and fuck him very much.”

“Mr. Perroneau is upstairs, ma’am, whenever you’re ready to see him,” her escort states with an undeterred smile.

Caroline: “I’m glad you’re doing so well for yourself, Brayson,” Caroline replies with an even more noticeable chill than before. “It must be because of all the time you spend worrying about the fortunes of others.”

She doesn’t do him the dignity of granting a response, instead following her escort away.

GM: “Yeah, I learned from the best there,” Brayson calls after her over the din as she leaves.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t bother to look back.

GM: The ghoul leads Caroline up several flights of stairs. In contrast to the riotous scenes below, the baccarat lounge at the riverboat’s top deck is a much more subdued affair. It’s quieter, most noticeably. People are having normal conversations in low murmurs rather than screaming or cheering. The blues band plays relaxed, slower-paced tunes. The lights are dimmer. Larger windows overlook the Mississippi’s dark waters, imparting a sense of stillness. A cocktail bar and small restaurant with booths provides some distraction from the baccarat tables.

Caroline: Caroline takes it all in, soaking up the ambiance, carefully crafted she’s certain.

GM: The ghoul leads her a ways further back into a private room/alcove. Caroline didn’t see it from the main floor, but its tinted wall affords a one-way view of the baccarat tables. The lighting is even dimmer, but that doesn’t bother her. A snug-looking booth encircles a wide table that also seats the casino’s owner.

Baton Rouge’s prince-in-exile is a tall and deeply handsome man with rectangular features, a prominent nose, dark caramel-brown hair sculpted into a neat mustache and goatee, and deep blue eyes. Two pale gold crucifix earrings hang from his ears. He’s dressed in a navy blazer jacket, matching slacks, a white button-up shirt with no tie, and black loafers.

He’s reading through a sheaf of papers but looks up as his ghoul announces,

“May I introduce His Majesty Marcel Guilbeau, Prince and Duke of Baton Rouge, Gerousiastis, Praetor emeritus, Gold Consul of the Assembly of Colors, Knight Banneret of the Order of the White Cross, Commissioner, Interpreter, and Librettist.”

Caroline: “Gerousiastis Guilbeau, thank you for receiving me.” Caroline curtsies before the older Ventrue while doing her best to maintain eye contact—a matter made much easier by the preternatural grace she’s acquired in death.

“I am Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”

The lie is easier than the truth, and not only to the outside world.

“And I come before you to seek your wise counsel, that I might learn from your brightly shining example and build for myself a domain worthy of the name ‘Ventrue.’”

GM: Marcel quirks an amused brow at Caroline’s description of him, but gestures towards the place opposite his.

“You don’t need to flatter me that obviously, Miss Malveaux. Please, have a seat.”

Caroline: Caroline cracks a smile in turn that she hopes is at least somewhat charming.

“As you say, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, though I doubt any would challenge the description of the Alystra as anything but bright.”

She moves to take her seat opposite the once-prince.

GM: The elder Ventrue smiles in turn at Caroline’s quip. “You ever do much gambling as a mortal, Miss Malveaux? Or ‘gaming’, as it’s polite to call it now.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid not, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I always preferred the odds more stacked in my own favor,” Caroline replies. “Though I’m given to understand that for many, it’s as much about the experience surrounding it as the actual action.”

GM: “Oh, you’d be right. As a way of making money, it’s terrible.” A faint smile. “Unless you’re the house. But the experience is another matter. Would you care for a hand of baccarat?”

Caroline: “I confess, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I’ve never played.”

Westley might have, and might have tried to get her to go along with him one night: she never did. Going out with her brother had never seemed wise, both in entertaining his poor choices and in potentially ending up wrapped up in them.

GM: Marcel simply smiles. “Movies about… gentleman spies portray it as a deeply complex game requiring high skill and intense knowledge of the rules. But it’s actually dirt simple. I can show you how it’s played, if you like.”

Caroline: “Far be it for me to turn down such an offer, gerousiastis,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Well, here’s the first thing to know. The only real thing that distinguishes baccarat from the games you’ll see on the lower decks are the stakes, which are normally set high. That’s why it’s depicted as a rich man’s game, why it’s popular in the movies, and why it has its own floor here. Because you have to be rich to play it.”

“Minimum bets are $50, and can go as high as $500, depending on where you play. They’re lower here.” The elder Ventrue smiles deprecatingly. “We aren’t quite Las Vegas. The house edge on baccarat is fairly low, which means that if you can afford to play—and afford to lose—the payouts can be respectable.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress listens attentively to her elder. It makes sense—most high rollers aren’t inclined to throw away money on long odds—they wouldn’t have made it far if they were. A game with more neutral odds, though… she can understand why it would be appealing.

GM: Marcel glances to the nearby ghoul, who pulls the various papers off the table, and then presses a button underneath its surface. There’s a soft whirring sound as the top-most section of the table retracts into the wall, revealing another green-colored surface beneath. It has spaces sectioned out for multiple players. Each numbered space has two sections above it that read ‘PLAYER’ and ‘BANK.’

“You only need two people to play baccarat,” the ex-prince goes on. “One is the player, and the other is the banker. Each one gets two cards from a dispenser called ‘the shoe,’ which contains eight complete decks of cards. The hand that comes the closest to nine points wins. That’s essentially it. Aces are worth one point, cards numbered 2-9 are worth their point values, and 10s and face cards are worth nothing.”

Another faint smile. “Sometimes, being king isn’t all it’s cracked up.”

Caroline: “So, where does the house’s advantage come in?” Caroline asks.

GM: Marcel chuckles at that. “In due order, Miss Malveaux. Now, so far as how you place bets.”

“As I said, you only need two people to play baccarat, though it’s more fun in groups. Before cards are dealt, you place your bets on either the player’s hand, the banker’s hand, or a tie between them—that obviously doesn’t happen as often, but payouts are higher when it does.”

“Once the cards are dealt, you add up their values. If the cards have a combined value above nine, you reduce it by eliminating the first digit. For example, say a player gets the eight of spades and six of hearts, which adds up to 14. You then remove the first digit, so he actually has four.”

The ex-prince looks content as he continues to explain, “Reasonable payouts, and rules against shooting too high. That’s why baccarat is a gentleman’s game. Depending on how high or low the initial hands are, the dealer may decide to ‘hit’ one or both of the hands with a third card. This is determined by stringent rules that, of course, only dealers need to know. It usually favors the bank hand.”

“Player bets pay out at even money, as do bank bets, but the latter are charged a five percent commission by the house. That’s how we make money. So, although baccarat remains a gentleman’s game with a gentleman’s sense of restraint, it’s still gambling… you can play it slightly safer, and win slightly less. Or you can play it slightly less safe, and win slightly more.”

Caroline: “By betting upon a tie,” Caroline fills in. “In which case, the house is more likely to collect. Though, obviously, if one had precise betting upon the likelihood of ties versus… wins or losses by house or player, that might be eliminated over a long enough period of time.”

GM: “Betting on the bank hand is safest,” Marcel clarifies. “Betting on the player hand is slightly less safe, but slightly more lucrative, since the house charges no commission on your winnings. Tie bets aren’t safe bets at all. House odds are 8 to 1, but true odds are actually 10 to 1. So those favor the house even more. Gentlemen shouldn’t be reckless with their money.”

Caroline: The heiress nods in understanding. Most of her math classes were in accounting rather than higher-level theoretical math: not only were they easier, she thought they’d apply more in her day-to-day life. She didn’t expect they still would in her night-to-night undeath.

“More a game of chance than of skill, then?” she asks the exiled prince. “It’s all in where one puts their money.”

GM: “That’s the nature of gambling,” Marcel agrees. “If you want skill, there’s chess for that. Or poker, really, if you care to straddle the line.”

Caroline: “Were you a gambling man in life, Gerousiastis Guilbeau?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, yes. So were most of my peers. The Bible said it was a sin, but all of our fathers initiated us into that manly art when we were young, so we’d know how to take part. It was almost a social obligation at barbecues, musters, jockey clubs, race tracks, aboard steamboats… you name it. Only cowards would refuse to ante up, so it was believed—and you only gambled to excess when you lost more than you could pay.”

Caroline: “If I might ask, is it something you were able to retain a taste for, personally, gerousiastis?”

GM: Marcel simply gestures at their surroundings with another content smile.

He then nods to the ghoul, who removes several rolls of tokens from his coat and sets them down on the table. “No need for us to go visit the cage,” the ex-prince states.

The ghoul produces a deck of cards and shuffles it several times.

“For luck,” Marcel adds, “as the shoe randomizes them too.”

The ghoul feeds the cards into the device.

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much do you care to bet?”

Caroline: “I suppose that depends, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, on what I’m playing with. Is it house money?”

GM: “Your money, just as I’m betting mine.”

Caroline: Caroline cannot help but note the allegory for a young Kindred’s existence in the ex-prince’s proposal. Those with the money and power, with the odds inherently stacked in their favor, dragging those still learning the rules into games where they have little to gain and everything to lose.

She keeps the observation to herself and instead keeps the smile on her face. She reaches out and plucks a stack of chips, turning them over in her hand to verify their $25 denomination before dropping three into the betting area.

“Conservatively,” she answers.

GM: “Here’s the next lesson I’ll offer you, Miss Malveaux. Never look as if you’re short on money around a clanmate,” the older Ventrue replies, matching her three chips with three $500 ones. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the man smiles before looking towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Far be it for me to gainsay, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline gestures in agreement. “Better to be incautious than cheap?” she asks the ancilla more directly.

GM: “What is there to be cautious about, if the sum is too trifling to mean anything?”

Caroline: It’s not a sentiment she’s often heard echoed. Though far from penny pinching, throwing money away towards no discernible end was always frowned upon.

“Perhaps I’ve been learning the wrong lessons, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” she concedes.

GM: “Kine lessons, more likely. Applicable enough among them. But you’ll find that money means rather less among us. No one in the Structure is impressed at one another for having money. That isn’t to say you should spend it frivolously, but to appear concerned over amounts this small is to project an unsuccessful image and impose a needless handicap in your dealings.”

Caroline: “If you can’t afford to play or have to wonder how much it costs to do so, you shouldn’t be at the table,” Caroline fills in. “My mortal father once said the same thing about owning a sports car.”

GM: “Exactly,” Marcel agrees. “Or to look at it another way, it’s paying to improve your clanmates’ opinion of you—or your mortal peers’, in the case of the sports car. From that standpoint, what seems a frivolous use of money is actually a sound investment.”

“Now then, Miss Malveaux, how much would you care to bet, and on what hand?”

Caroline: The heiress plucks a pair of $500 chips and places them forward.

“On myself, of course, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Then it seems we’ll both make something if you win,” Marcel remarks as his ghoul feeds several more decks into the shoes, then proceeds to deal Caroline’s cards.

“Four points to you,” Marcel remarks as the ghoul deals the banker’s hand.

“Now here is where it seems like we’d lose, but this is where things get interesting,” the exiled prince smiles. “In the punto banco version of the game—that’s the one played in the U.S.—the player receives another card if she has a total of 5 or less.”

“Ah, a pity for us,” Marcel remarks as the queen’s face turns up. “Baccarat may be a rich man’s game, but being royalty counts for nothing.”

The ghoul collects the tokens, putting them out $1,000 and $1,500, respectively.

Caroline: Caroline has spent money quickly, but she’s rarely seen money disappear that quickly without return.

“That’s why they call it gambling,” she replies easily.

GM: “Hopefully your other endeavors will have more luck, Miss Malveaux. What domain are you establishing for your test?”

Caroline: “I’d thought to establish it around a law firm, and in the legal arena as a whole, from within the Central Business District. I’m told there was another Ventrue that maintained such a domain with some success before Katrina,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Yes, there was. A promising domain. Everyone relies on lawyers these nights,” the exiled prince remarks, before dispensing three more $500 chips to himself. “I’ll bet on the player’s hand again,” he tells the ghoul.

“Very good, Your Majesty,” the ghoul smiles. “And yourself, madam?” he asks of Caroline.

Caroline: “A leopard cannot change its spots,” Caroline replies, sliding out two more matching chips.

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A stronger hand,” Marcel remarks. “That leaves you with nine—the highest total you can get in the game.”

The ghoul deals the banker’s cards.

“Rather less strong,” Marcel remarks. “But since my total is five or less, that means another card for me.”

“And that still leaves me with a four. It seems we’ve won back everything,” Marcel smiles as the ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline smiles contentedly. “A more social game, with a more natural ebb and flow.”

GM: “It is, isn’t it? There’s a reason we give it its own floor, away from the other games’ noise.”

Caroline: Caroline can picture a group of rich men sitting around playing the game for hours as they discuss business propositions and social arrangements. It’s neither a pleasant nor unpleasant image, simply one her family tended away from. They preferred other arenas.

“I can see it.”

GM: “Tell me some more about your firm,” Marcel goes on. “What areas of law will it be specializing in? How do you plan to use it in Kindred and kine circles?”

Caroline: “Notionally I’d like to diversify in interests, though civil is likely to be a larger area. Asset management, estates, and trusts all have significant application both among Kindred and kine circles—especially for those making a transition from among the living to the dead.”

“Criminal law, though less directly applicable to us—if it gets to the point where a Kindred is arrested things have probably gone too far already—but it has its own appeals with pawns. Ghouls that take the fall for things, mortal pawns of interest, and the obvious general application of influence in the legal field to anyone that seeks influence as a whole.”

“At least so goes my thinking, Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Those are some relevant areas to us,” Marcel agrees. “Especially to our clan. There are plenty of kaintucks who get by with only the clothes on their backs, but I’ve yet to meet a blue blood who didn’t own some manner of assets intangible to all but the law.”

He nods to his ghoul, who slides him another three chips and takes his bet (the player’s hand, again).

“You say recently Embraced Kindred are of interest to you,” Marcel remarks after Caroline has placed her bet. “Do you plan to offer them your services? Would they be your primary focus, or other Kindred too?”

Caroline: “I’d be interested in offering my services to any Kindred that was in need of them or had an interest, but it is not my immediate expectation that more established Kindred would be willing to entrust a relative newcomer before they’d proven themselves capable, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” the much younger Ventrue replies smoothly. She slides forth two more of her own chips beside his (once more, on herself).

GM: The ghoul deals the player’s cards.

“A one. That would bode very poorly, by itself. Since your total is below six, you’re due another card.”

“Five, now. That’s an all right hand.”

The ghoul lays out the banker’s cards.

“Only three for the banker’s hand. But I’m due another card too.”

“Leaving me at one. Our lucky streak continues,” Marcel smiles.

The ghoul slides over their chips.

Caroline: Caroline’s attention is far more upon the ex-prince than the game.

GM: “That’s prudent,” Marcel continues in answer to Caroline’s earlier remark. “The newly-released ones are more trusting.” He glances over the chips. “Hmm. We’re both over a thousand dollars richer than when we started playing. Here’s the most cardinal rule of all in gambling, Miss Malveaux: quit while you’re ahead. Luck is a fickle patron.”

Caroline: Not the only fickle patron.

GM: “What do you say we bet some other collateral? The coup’s winner gets to ask a question of the loser. And if we’d rather not answer, we’ll slide over one of our checks to the other.” He then adds, “That’s the polite term for ‘chip’.”

Caroline: “I’m amenable to that arrangement, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies. “As you so astutely observed, the money is of little concern.”

GM: “Excellent,” the deposed prince smiles as the ghoul starts dealing Caroline’s cards.

Then Marcel’s.

“A rare tie,” the older Ventrue observes. “We’ll say that entitles us both to a question. You can ask first.”

Caroline: The heiress considers for a moment before asking, “What have you heard of me, Genousiastis Guilbeau?”

GM: “Quite a few things,” the exiled prince answers. “That you performed your role adequately at the trial. That you are an ill-mannered whelp who understands no language but force. That you are a flagrant violator of the Traditions, unreliable in the execution of your responsibilities, and unworthy of the Blood. That you come from worthy stock, have been disadvantaged by the circumstances of your Embrace, and should be afforded the opportunity to correct your ignorance and prove your worth. And that you are an adequate conversational partner who is neither particularly engaging nor offensive.”

Caroline: Were she living, Caroline might flush with embarrassment or anger at some of the comments. Or perhaps not. Controlling her reaction to provocations became a constant during the last election cycle. Neither is a concern in death.

“It’s difficult being so many things to so many different people,” she replies instead.

GM: “They say there are two sides to every issue, or sometimes three. I’ve never found that to be true. There are as many sides to an issue as there are people involved in an issue.”

Caroline: “I’d beg to differ, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies with a hint of a smirk.

GM: “As for my own question, how do you intend to attract more established Kindred into engaging your firm’s services?”

Caroline: “In the immediate? By establishing a reputation for competence at odds with much of what you’ve heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau, with those that will deal with me.”

“Selectively but aggressively extending my services to those more established with whom I have better relations at reduced rates to build a ‘client’ base. Cultivating relationships and allies among those more established. To find a place among them myself.”

That grin appears again. “And, perhaps, I had thought, asking you to join those willing to make use of such services, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “That’s a question of its own, Miss Malveaux. Answers, at least for now, aren’t free,” the deposed prince smiles faintly back as the ghoul deals their cards. Caroline’s are first.

Then come Marcel’s.

Marcel arches an eyebrow. “Another tie. Luck can take strange turns.”

“You can ask first, again.”

Caroline: “What guidance would you offer to my plan, as described, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks piercingly.

GM: “That would very much depend on the Kindred you had wanted to approach. Fortunately, that was also my next question.”

Caroline: “I have some ties to other Sanctified. The Storyville Krewe. Perhaps Marguerite Defallier—we share some past interests from my mortal life,” Caroline replies. “Others… I confess, to be identified.”

GM: “That’s a very small list, Miss Malveaux,” Marcel states. “Perhaps somewhat obvious of me to state, but no less true.”

Caroline: “A fine rope to walk, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies.

GM: “But as for what guidance I can offer, I can think of several things off-hand.”

“Eiren Gerlette notwithstanding, other blue bloods seem conspicuous for their absence. They are some of the Kindred most likely to benefit from such services. They are the only Kindred who will feel a sense of obligation, or at least collective self-interest, to make further introductions and help you ‘network.’”

“I imagine your mortal family helped you snag a number of choice internships and career opportunities before you had done much to build up your own name. The Structure is much the same. We all share the same blood.”

Caroline: Caroline nods but replies, “All the same, Genousiastis Guilbeau, it was not my intention to come to others in the blood, hat in hand, requesting their aid if there was another avenue available. Even laying aside my understanding of the agoge as a test of one’s ability to individually make a place for themselves without the aid of the clan, I am not of a mind to ask aid. Perhaps I an mistaken, but while we are stronger together, a Ventrue that cannot stand on their own is only a liability to others.” There’s a certain fierceness to Caroline’s reply.

GM: “That’s true. Yet you have expressed a wish for me to engage your services, as well as Eiren Gerlette,” Marcel observes.

Caroline: “I would engage Erien Gerlette as fellow neonates, rather than as Ventrue, asking nothing she would not grant to any other.”

GM: “That would seem fair of you, to only engage those Ventrue with whom you are personally acquainted.” Marcel strokes his beard. “Another name that still occurs to me is Questor Adler’s. The Gerousia is aware she is providing your education, and approves of the arrangement. Compared to the Storyville Krewe, she could be a far more lucrative client to you.”

“I don’t know if she’s yet outlined for you which spheres of influence are claimed by which clanmates, but her sire claims domain over the city’s banking and financial sector. He’s held onto it since long before my Embrace.” Marcel smiles. “The Brits are the fathers of modern banking. And he was still a neonate when he witnessed the Bank of England’s 1694 founding.”

Caroline: Caroline squirrels the knowledge of Matheson’s Embrace away amidst the many others.

“I’ll speak with her, but as favorable as her arrangement has been to present, I do not want to seek an undue influence.”

She will give no excuse to deny her due if she succeeds in this arrangement.

GM: “Mm. As a related bit of historical trivia for you, in fact, Spain didn’t have a central bank until 1782. France took all the way until 1800, thanks to the phobia of paper money that John Law helped them develop—he was the real founder of this city in many ways.”

Caroline: “It was a major cause of their economic woes as a result of the colonies,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Yes, it’s a fascinating piece of history. Questor Adler could tell you all about it, too—she learned her history from a firsthand witness who was extremely studious as to the mistakes France and Spain were making.” Marcel smiles again. “So you can see why Strategos Vidal allowed a Brit to manage the city’s finances. They knew what they were doing.”

“So did Gerousiastis Matheson. He was there pulling the strings of the Monnaie de La Nouvelle-Orléans when it was first founded. It was his domain until his exile, and that whole business with the Numidians. He was one of the original founders of Hancock County Bank too, back when 19 men could do that with only $10,000 in their pockets. Nowadays of course, it’s called Whitney Hancock Bank. It’s continued to grow under his careful husbandry ever since.”

“I believe its total assets are now worth around $20 billion. The Alystra is worth around $150 million. I have other assets and sources of income, of course, but since money means rather less to us, I’m not embarrassed to admit that Gerousiastis Matheson is richer than I am. I don’t think anyone except Strategos Vidal, and maybe a few other elders, hold personal fortunes that can believably claim to rival his own. Certainly, his influence over the banking sector gives him flexibility in the ways he can use capital that even our prince lacks.”

Caroline: “He’s involved with the Whitneys?” Caroline asks, not so much surprised as curious. Another piece in a puzzle whose edges she has yet to find.

GM: “They’re less useful to him now than they once were. Lyman’s retired and Warren doesn’t seem to have any aspirations of becoming CEO after the Hancock merger. But they’ve been his for many years.”

Caroline: “Such is the way of things,” Caroline murmurs.

Had she learned such a thing only months ago the degree of Kindred involvement in the lives of mortals might have been horrifying, but she’s had a rough enough lesson in just how little independence many have from the all-night society in these last weeks.

GM: “Perhaps Sarah will be more ambitious than her father, though.” Marcel smiles. “I’m to understand it’s thanks to you that she’s alive at all—and made that miraculous recovery following her hospital stay.”

Caroline: “We can hope.”

The memory of the younger Whitney dying under her hands is not as fresh as it once was, but Caroline cannot help but feel a swell of emotion at the mention. She’d feared the girl might have significant brain damage, but last she heard the teenager is recovering neatly.

“It’s always a shame to see bright stars fade.”

The Ventrue smiles. “It would seem we’re once more due a hand,” she offers, “unless we are to dispense with the pretense, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Not just yet,” Marcel says, motioning his ghoul to refrain from dealing the cards. “There are ways in which Gerousiastis Matheson’s financial flexibility is more limited, however. His banishment and inability to physically enter the city are significant handicaps. That’s where the younger of his childer comes in.”

The older Ventrue smiles again, but with a touch of wistfulness. “I rather wish I could have been her, at that age. She has almost unrestricted use of an elder’s resources, his name and authority to invoke in her dealings with other Kindred, and what’s probably very little actual oversight from him. Gerousiastis Matheson doesn’t even maintain a herald, or at least a ghoul herald. He allows her to act as his voice and representative in all things.”

Caroline: “She seems to have enjoyed a rather charmed Requiem,” Caroline ventures.

GM: “Yes, she has. I think she’s a model childe and has a very bright future within the clan. But as to my actual point, Miss Malveaux, you’re receiving private lessons from her and working together in a close capacity. Thanks to that acquaintance, you have a potential point of access to nearly $20 billion in assets, and one of the largest banking empires in the South. It predates my Requiem by at least a century. The Storyvilles are nothing next to that.”

Caroline: “An astute observation,” Caroline replies.

But do you know the details of it? That he would have fed upon me as though I were kine had it not been for the words of another?

“As you observed though, Genousiastis Guilbeau, the wealth means little next to potential influence among others. Whatever her means, Questor Adler’s wealth means less than the potential esteem that others might provide by their interest.”

GM: “I’m not the only Kindred of standing to have a favorable opinion of Questor Adler, Miss Malveaux. Primogen Chastain enjoys her company. Madam Defallier believes she has the makings of a harpy. Gerousiastis McGinn considers her a fine example of traditional Southern values. To cite but a few examples. The Storyvilles, unfortunately for them, are less talked about.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than smart enough to read between the lines.

“Your point is well taken, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies.

GM: “Excellent,” Marcel smiles. “Now, I believe we are due for another coup.” He adds, “That’s what ‘hands’ are called in baccarat, by the way.” The ghoul deals Caroline’s cards.

“A strong total,” Marcel observes as the ghoul deals his own.

“The question is yours,” the exiled prince grants.

Caroline: “What might I do to earn your favor, Genousiastis Guilbeau?” Caroline asks.

GM: “You can start by acquitting yourself well in baccarat, which you have,” the older Ventrue smiles faintly.

Caroline: “Fearlessness I have never lacked in,” Caroline replies. “As you have heard, Genousiastis Guilbeau.”

GM: “Yes. But since you won the coup fair and square, I’ll answer you directly. Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux have both had very unfavorable things to say about your character. I respect them both. They’ve earned their spurs to sit at the same table as me, and I’m inclined to listen to their opinions on many things.”

“But I also recognize that Lady Luck sometimes deals us bad hands, and that bad hands can play out even worse when we don’t know the rules of the game.” Marcel gestures as if towards the whole of his casino. “Luck is fickle. Another hand of cards, and bad luck can turn good, especially after we’ve learned the rules.”

Caroline: “I would make no excuses for the past,” Caroline replies. “Only seek changes for the future. A man I knew once said that a card laid was a card played.”

GM: “A card laid can be a card played, but there are always more cards to be dealt. In any case, Gerousiastis Malveaux has refused to personally take part in this stage of your agoge, as is traditional. He’s delegated the task to a ghoul. I’ll give you a guess as to why—but it’s not the dislike he bears for you.”

Caroline: “A boon owed to another,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Marcel quirks an eyebrow. “Who among the Ventrue would call in such a boon for your sake, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline can think of more than one name on that list.

“I have made enemies enough beyond our clan, Genousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies. “But while naming one among many may be a struggle, I can think of few other things that could keep such an esteemed Ventrue from doing his own duty. If it is, as you say, not a personal matter.”

GM: Marcel only shakes his head. “He recused himself from your instruction because he believed that was the best way to fulfill his duty.”

Caroline: “Better to say nothing than to give false counsel?” Caroline states as much as asks.

GM: Marcel looks at Caroline for a moment, then answers, “Gerousiastis Malveaux believes his feelings for you would prejudice his judgment and make him a poor teacher. He also does not believe that you are likely to pay heed to his instruction. So he has recused himself, in the modern parlance, and delegated that instruction to another.”

“He admitted, without pride, before the Gerousia that he did not believe himself competent to execute his responsibilities. He could just as easily have assigned no ghoul to show you the workings of his domain, and none would have begrudged him for it. You had only enemies and strangers among that body.”

Caroline: A fact that makes this meeting both all the more meaningful… and all the more meaningless.

GM: “That is what it is to show dignitas,” the exiled prince states slowly.

“Gerousiastis Malveaux is easily given to hate. But for ten years I watched him faithfully execute the instructions of a clanmate he despised. That was why the vote to install him in that clanmate’s seat on the Gerousia was unanimous. He’s served the Structure faithfully since before your grandfather was born. To be frank, Miss Malveaux, you aren’t important enough that he’d compromise his dignitas for you.”

Caroline: Caroline betrays no emotion.

Inwardly, though, she thinks upon hearing that the vote to place Father Malveaux on the Gerousia was unanimous. That had been one of her last hopes.

GM: The exiled prince holds up a finger. “But.”

“Gerousiastis McGinn is willing to personally meet with you, instruct you in our ways, offer advice, and show you the workings of his domain. He places much stock in blood, and can be a forgiving Kindred towards members of our clan.”

“I’m aware that bad blood exists there as well, and that he had you whipped for prior offenses. I’d willing to accompany you to that meeting, as an assurance for your physical safety—though I don’t think you’ll actually need me—and to provide re-introductions.”

Caroline: “That’s an extremely generous offer, Genousiastis Guilbeau, but one that I hope is unnecessary. If matters were truly so poor with Genousiastis McGinn that I should fear for my safety, and are also so poor that Genousiastis Malveaux can’t bring himself to speak with me, then I can think only that I might have made poor use of your own valuable time in pursuing this course at all. I should rather place my faith in Genousiastis McGinn’s own honor and integrity.”

The words are easier spoken than believed, but something pulls upon her judgment. She vividly remembers the whipping, but it’s difficult to hold it directly against him. However unpleasant it was. Despite what she learned of her ’sire’s’ own plans with McGinn to frame her and further blood bond her.

GM: “I see this meeting still having much potential to be a profitable use of our time, Miss Malveaux. As for meeting Gerousiastis McGinn on your own, I believe that’s a decision he will respect.”

“As for Gerousastis Malveaux, I’ve spoken to him already. If you are also willing, he will meet with the two of us. Not to, as my childer would term it, ‘kiss and make up’—but to simply recognize past wrongs, agree that neither of you will seek to further aggravate the other, and leave things at that.”

“Do these three things, and I will be willing to not only personally engage your firm’s services, but to recommend that both of my childer do the same, and to make introductions within Clan Ventrue, my covenant—the Invictus—my personal household, and Camarilla society at large. Some of those pending your agoge, since I’m not allowed to directly help with your Test.”

“I will do this even if Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Malveaux do not alter their opinions of you, and abstain from voting in favor of your induction into the Structure. My only condition is that you attend a meeting with them both, and display the same dignitas they are also expected to uphold.”

Caroline: It’s an incredibly generous offer, perhaps the most so she has received since her Embrace, even with the obvious outs built into it—that it requires she complete her agoge and be accepted into the Structure.

“Even were you not a member of the Gerousia and centuries older, that is a term I would be a foolish not to meet, and an offer I cannot refuse, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” Caroline replies, trying to keep the surprise off her face at the magnitude of what the elder Ventrue is offering.

A mediator with Father Malveaux who isn’t hostile and potential inroads amid the Invictius—to say nothing of his own not insignificant dealings. It’s quite a carrot vice the typical stick she’s seen in most of her Kindred dealings to date.

GM: The exiled prince spreads his hands. “This is how we operate, Miss Malveaux. Clanmates can abide by the rules, contribute towards shared prosperity, and reap the benefits—or they may go their own way, and do without. I’m pleased to hear you want to do the former.” Another faint smile. “There aren’t many blue bloods we fail to win around.”

Caroline: “I can begin to see why,” Caroline agrees.

Though where was all of this when René was hunting me like a dog and Gerousiastis McGinn was plotting to enslave me?

The question goes unasked, mostly drowned by the opportunity before her. She knows the answer anyway, or at least think she does.

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: Marcel and Caroline play a few further baccarat coups, with the casino owner questioning her further regarding the details of business plans. He states that he’ll inspect her burgeoning law firm in person (once it gets to the point), as well as offer Caroline a later, lengthier tour of his own business operations. The rest of the Gerousia will do the same, for this is apparently the first of many further meetings that will occur over the coming months.

Two nights later, Becky Lynne receives Caroline again to coordinate scheduling between the recently-released fledgling and the two lictors, the latter of whom are soon to depart the city.

“By the way, Miss Malveaux, how did that first meeting of yours go with the gerousiastis?” she asks.

Caroline: “Genousiastis Guilbeau was a charming host, Questor Adler,” Caroline replies professionally.

GM: “Oh, I’m so glad you thought so. I’m not much of a gamblin’ woman, but the Alystra is a gorgeous sight over the water.” She smiles. “Only fitting that its owner should be equally charming, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “Indeed. He had quite the generous description of you as well, Questor Adler.”

GM: “Oh, now I’m certain he is a flatterer,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “Some make it easier than others.”

GM: “And I might say the same for yourself, Miss Malveaux,” smiles Becky Lynne. “Complimentary turns of phrase like those will go over very well for you in Elysium.”

Caroline: “Some of us take longer to learn lessons than others, but the all-night society has ways all its own to make one begin to understand the rules. And they are quite persuasive,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Aren’t they so,” Becky Lynne echoes. “Everyone learns the rules, even if they claim not to follow them.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’d argue there are plenty that don’t learn, we simply have to clean them up with a broom.”

GM: “A difference of philosophies, then,” Becky Lynne smiles. “My mama always taught me there’s no one who’s unreformable, not really—though sometimes they do make it too hard to justify the effort involved, unfortunately.”

Caroline: “Fortunate for me,” comes the heiress’ response.

GM: “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, she also said—or every man’s, once it’s had a good polishing.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh. “I’ll take that in what I presume was the spirit it was meant, Questor Adler.”

“Speaking of treasure, though. It was observed to me how greatly many have come to value your counsel and opinion.”

GM: “You must have been talking to a whole bunch of flatterers there, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne laughs again before her expression grows more serious. “But it’s flattery I hope there is some truth to. I owe my bloodline’s reputation nothing less.”

Caroline: Particularly after all he has given you, Caroline cannot help but think with the lingering hint of bitterness, but that’s a scabbed-over wound.

“Perhaps I was, but that wouldn’t necessarily make it less true. I’ll move towards the point, however. You are familiar with my past, mortal dealings, with the Whitney family. I’m told they reside largely within your own sphere of influence.”

GM: “Oh, that’d be my sire’s sphere, Miss Malveaux, let’s have no illusions there,” Becky Lynne amends. “But he is most appreciative of the earlier service you rendered him with their daughter. The Whitneys have faithfully served his interests for a very long time. They aren’t what they used to be in the company, but he’s not a Kindred to forget loyalty.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard she’s recovering well,” Caroline agrees. “I’ve been thinking about that night. On the insanity of Detective Gettis’ actions. But that’s a story for another night I suspect.”

GM: “Yes, she’s very lucky by all accounts,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Or at least, certainly lucky that you were there during an unlucky time.”

Caroline: “It was a very strange night,” Caroline continues. “And also interesting how close on its heels my Embrace came.” She shakes her head somewhat dismissively and smiles.

GM: “I’m sure that it must have been,” Becky Lynne agrees. “Two lives dropped right in your hands, all out of the blue. That’s news to me so far as your Embrace, though. How much later was it?”

Caroline: “Eight nights,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: “Hot on the heels,” Becky Lynne agrees again. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, what’s the main story if that one’s for another night?”

Caroline: “There are two matters. The first relates to the Whitney family and that night, moving forward. I suspect after that night they would be willing to sponsor one of my chosen pawns in the establishment of my domain—and point other kine in the direction of it, but I would not presume to meddle in Genousiastis Matheson’s domain, even indirectly, without his blessing. But that connection would also be valuable in preserving my own Masquerade as well.”

GM: “That is very prudent—and polite of you to bring to his attention first,” Becky Lynne nods. “Might I ask after the second matter?”

Caroline: “Given the regard with which many hold you, Questor Adler, I had hoped I might persuade you to make use of my services in some capacity,” Caroline replies. “I understand that members of the Structure are not permitted to meddle in the establishment of one’s domain during an agoge, but I would seek to engage with you outside of such bonds.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods thoughtfully, clasping both her hands over a crossed leg. “Miss Malveaux, you’ll pardon me if this seems forward, but since you have engaged my sire for my help here… are you new to the city?”

“Obviously, of course, your family isn’t,” she clarifies. “They’re a big family, with a lot of branches in a lot of places. Have you spent much time among the out of state ones?”

Caroline: “Thankfully not,” Caroline replies, scrutinizing the other Ventrue heiress.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles at that, but Caroline can’t make out anything past the shorter blonde’s so-frequent expression.

Caroline: “I tried, of course, but the family wouldn’t let me out of Louisiana for an extended time.”

GM: “Blood can keep us on a short leash,” Becky Lynne agrees. “In any case, Miss Malveaux, I ask because this isn’t quite how business is done in the city, among Kindred or kine circles. It’s missing a certain somethin’. A je ne sais quoi. if you will.” Despite her Southern accent, the French effortlessly rolls off her tongue.

“Relationship, is what I think I’m gettin’ at,” she continues. “My sire is very traditional and deals with Kindred he knows—or Kindred his associates and kin know. You can be the best lawyer in the world, but for him, it’s that personal relationship which really seals it.”

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time together lately, Miss Malveaux, but I don’t rightly feel as if I know you too well. And I reckon you don’t feel as if you know me too well, either.”

Caroline: “Its position to be in,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles again. “But those relationships can still be built, fortunately for us both.”

Caroline: Caroline meets that smile with one of her own. “I confess I’ve been hesitant in approaching such things,” she admits. “The rules of propriety that govern us in death are far more akin to those that I suspect governed Gerousiastis Matheson in life. Adjusting to them, and to my own… shall we say revised position in relation to others in death has been difficult.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods again. “I’m sure it has been very confusing, and you’ve not been sure what social guns to stick to and which to holster up, knowin’ that one wrong shot could mean disaster. But there are some things that don’t change, not too much.”

Caroline: “Like common interests?”

GM: The other Ventrue nods again. “That can well be one.”

Caroline: “Then forgive me, Questor Adler, I had not wanted to presume an undue familiarity. After all, as your sire made quite clear, we are not peers.”

GM: “That’s another thing that can change, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne beams. “Another thing my mama always told me was, ‘act like you’re gettin’ ahead, but not that you’re already ahead’.”

Caroline: “Meaning the stricter formalities are of less interest to you, absent your sire,” Caroline speculates.

GM: Becky Lynne taps her chin, then smiles. “Why don’t we make me seem like a good girl by saying not less interest so much as fewer are required. As you say, Miss Malveaux, we may not be peers quite yet, but formalities are less strict between you and me than they are between you and my sire.”

“What is of interest to me, though, is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline knows about that.

She knows all about that.

Wednesday afternoon, 17 March 2004

GM: It’s not Mardi Gras.

Uncle Orson had always disapproved of the family’s participation in those festivals, and particularly the girls. Luke and Westley had never got to go before, but the latter pleaded and cajoled with his parents so badly that they relented, and the boys got to experience their first Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Caroline didn’t. She stayed home in Baton Rouge, where she had a ‘girls’ night in’ with her mother and grandmother.

One month later, it’s still not Mardi Gras. It’s her mother’s idea of a compromise.

The St. Patrick’s Day parades attract a less wild crowd, Claire said. That had to have been true, because even Orson didn’t object to the idea. Caroline didn’t have much chance to object either. Her mother felt that with high school at St. Joseph’s Academy starting next year, the fourteen-year-old could use the time to “unwind” and “have some fun.”

Caroline: Being left at home with her mother was a hard pill to swallow, especially given how the distance between them has grown over the last year. They’ve never been particularly close—she was her father’s daughter—but the petty fights are becoming more frequent.

She’s too well-behaved and too inculcated to the family’s expectations to really lash out, but it probably only makes the biting comments and empty silences all the more obvious. The trip to New Orleans can’t help but feel like an attempt to band-aid over a wound that grows more infected by the day.

GM: Her mother hasn’t come with her. She cited things to do in Baton Rouge. Caroline’s father has been a state senator for two years, ever since he had to retire from the House (where he served as speaker), and is gearing up his bid to take over as majority leader. Claire has had more to do.

She also didn’t want to be “a drag” on Caroline’s outing with her older cousins and their friends, she’d said. So the eighth grader gets to tag along with a clique of girls who’ve all grown up together, but are either family or (at closest) acquaintances to her.

Bossy, grown-up Savannah accompanies the group as a chaperone. The 17-year-old didn’t appear to enjoy hanging out with a bunch of middle schoolers either. And so they all went out to enjoy the parades in the Irish Channel, only a few blocks away from Uncle Orson’s home.

Elaine, the youngest girl at only 10, squealed and tried to run out among the crowds before Savannah annoyedly pulled her back. 12-year-old Charlotte teased her. The tall, gangly, pimpled and braces-wearing preteen liked to take shots at other people, maybe because she was so easy to take ones at herself. 14-year-old Susan simply had fun, snapping pictures on her cell phone with its built-in camera. Uncle Matt’s kids always get the newest toys.

Savannah talks on a cellphone too, or at least is trying to, and trying not to be overheard by her sisters, cousin, and the former’s friends. “Mae? Mae? Where the hell are you? I have to look after these dorks all day, you could at LEAST be around to talk!”

Caroline: Caroline, already tall and lankier than she’d like, mostly tries to tune out her older and younger cousins. She points out things of interest to Susan and enjoys the break from the highly supervised and structured life of Baton Rouge. Between language classes, music lessons, extracurricular activities, political events with her too absent of late father, and her recent uptake of fencing she’s had precious little time to do so.

GM: Susan is tall for her age too, and lanky—few fourteen-year-olds are actually graceful—but she’s a sight prettier than her sister Charlotte, with unblemished skin and hair that’s dark rather than blonde like Caroline’s. She smiles at the floats, leprechaun costumes, and outrageous red dye jobs Caroline points out.

“Vannah’s pretty pissy lately, you’ll have to excuse her,” the other eighth grader remarks as she catches a flung green and yellow bead necklace. It could be made for Mardi Gras if it had any purple.

Caroline: “It’s fine. She’s still better than my mother,” Caroline replies, with particular emphasis on the last two words. She’s made a point of not calling her ‘mom’ around others.

GM: “What’s she do?”

Caroline: “Nag, mostly.” Caroline points to another float. “Talk about when she was my age half a lifetime ago.”

GM: Susan glances at its foam rainbow, then catches a handful of chocolate coins one of the leprechauns tosses out of a black pot. “Our mom does that first one a lot too. Though she also freaks out about all the horrible stuff that could happen to us.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “‘You don’t know how dangerous the world is. You don’t understand what it’s really like.’ I’ve heard that one so many times.”

GM: “Really? Did your mom get stabbed or something too when she was young?” Susan asks as she peels off a gold wrapper.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Nothing like what happened to yours. She’s just… protective is a nice word.”

GM: “Guess that’s all moms.”

Caroline: “I guess,” Caroline concedes. “Doesn’t make it less annoying to get treated like a kid.”

GM: “At least you’re not pregnant.” Susan munches on a coin. “That’s what I think happened to Vannah’s friend Mae. Mom freaked out and says she can’t even see her anymore, like it’s contagious.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Only if stupidity is contagious.”

GM: Susan snickers. “It might be.”

Caroline: It’s stupid enough to sleep around, but much less forgivable to not even bother to use protection. Not that St. Joseph’s is eager to advertise the latter. She suspects that the Ursuline Academy is very much the same in that regard. Still, the internet is a thing.

“At least it’s interesting. St. Joseph’s is as boring as my French tutor. Vous devez pratiquer la conjugaison de vos verbes, Caroline,” she quotes.

(“You need to practice conjugating your verbs, Caroline.”)

GM: Susan rolls her eyes. “I’m taking French too. So are all my sisters. My mom actually picked it out for all of us.”

Caroline: “It’s not just French,” Caroline continues. “My parents want me to be ‘well-rounded’, but they forget I want to have a life too.”

GM: “Well, at least you get to pick yours. Uncle Orson pretty much told Adam he’d be a priest and what to study in college. And he does it all without complaining.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I think he mostly forgets about me unless it’s something that’ll make the family look bad. One of, maybe the only, perk to living in Baton Rouge.”

GM: “Yeah, I wouldn’t want to. There’s nothing to do in a town that small. Well, city, I guess.”

Caroline: “What about you? Does Uncle Orson pay a lot of attention to you?”

GM: Susan thinks. “I didn’t think so, but we actually sat down a couple weeks ago, to talk about stuff He asked me about my grades and hobbies and what I want to do in high school. Stuff like that.”

Caroline: “What did you tell him?” Caroline breaks from the conversation to point out a woman with lime green hair covered in lime green body paint—and seemingly little else—on a float that goes by.

GM: “Oh, wow. He probably wouldn’t want us to see that,” Susan remarks. The woman’s breasts are covered with two tiny shamrocks, and more than one voice in the crowd makes a “luck o’ the Irish!” related joke.

“Anyway, pretty much what he asked,” Caroline’s cousin answers after a moment, “though I dunno how much fun he had listening to my volleyball records or what malls I go shopping. He mostly just nodded and said to ‘stay on the path.’”

Caroline: “So, don’t go taking your top off at parades for attention?” Caroline scoffs at the painted woman as much as anything else.

GM: “I think this parade’s a little tame for that,” Sarah remarks. Indeed, though the painted woman only hangs onto a semblance of modesty, there are still numerous parents and children throughout the crowds. No one is obviously intoxicated, and no women are baring their breasts. The St. Patrick’s Day parade seems quite a bit tamer than the city’s other festivals—at least during day and in the family-friendly neighborhood.

“Not that Mom cares. Vannah’s friend got pregnant or whatever during Mardi Gras, and now she’s actually on Orson’s side about it.”

Caroline: “Was she anyone important?” Caroline asks in the way that only children of the powerful can. “Her mother must have been all over her if they caught it that fast…”

GM: “Yeah, her dad’s a bank CEO,” Susan answers in a similarly casually familiar way. “She goes to McGehee but Vannah knows her.”

Caroline: “Did they, like, walk in on her or something?”

GM: “Dunno. It was a month ago though, maybe she took a pregnancy test.”

There’s a somewhat uncertain pause from the Catholic-educated girl.

“But I think you have to wait before you can take them?”

Caroline: “I don’t really know. Maybe? That seems really early, though.”

GM: Susan shrugs. “I hear she’s a total daddy’s girl, so he’ll probably just… hire a nanny or something. But it’s all ‘cuz of her I can’t go to Mardi Gras when I’m 16 like Mom promised.”

The other girl makes little effort to hide the annoyance in her voice.

Caroline: “What a dumb way to ruin her life… and everyone else’s,” Caroline agrees.

“Wait, it wasn’t the friend dating James Dyer, was it? Because that would be both kind of gross, and also seriously bad news for everyone in the family.”

GM: Susan thinks. “Actually, yeah… it was. They were going out for a while.”

Caroline: “We’re never going to hear the end of this one.”

GM: “No, we’re not.” The other fourteen-year-old looks annoyed. “I’d like to really tell her off, for ruining Mardi Gras.”

Caroline: “What’s her name? Mai?”

GM: “Mae. Short for Rebecca Mae.”

Caroline: Caroline’s always hated those double names.

GM: “Vannah has her number on her phone…” Susan says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Yeah, because none of our moms and dads would get upset if they caught us calling her,” Caroline replies. “Plus, I don’t think your sister is going to hand it over… but maybe she could lure her out.” She tunes back into her older cousin’s phone conversation.

GM: Past the blare of musicians, the float performers, and noisy crowds, Caroline can observe that Savannah looks a bit calmer.

“Okay, look, it’s probably not that bad…” she says into the cell.

Caroline: It doesn’t even occur to her to torment James about it. It’s not his fault, after all. He wasn’t the one that let himself get pregnant.

GM: The ambient noise makes it hard for Caroline to hear, but that cuts both ways, for it proves equally hard for Savannah to notice her younger cousin’s and sister’s eavesdropping. Caroline picks up that Mae is out doing things with her own friends, and unsurprisingly doesn’t want anything to do with the younger girls Savannah is so reluctantly babysitting. Savannah says she’ll find a way to ditch them later, and the older girls can meet up to “have some ACTUAL fun.”

“And you should have some, with how shitty everything sounds,” Caroline’s older cousin adds.

Caroline: Caroline relates what she’s learned to Susan and pitches her own plan: they’ll give Savannah an easy out by explaining they want to go shopping, but instead, if she goes for it, follow Savannah to enact some kind of revenge—or at least get some juicy gossip.

GM: Caroline doesn’t need to relate much, as the other fourteen-year-old could hardly resist the opportunity to eavesdrop on her big sister’s phone conversation. “What do we do about everyone else, convince them to actually go shopping?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I don’t like the idea of leaving them alone. We can see if she’ll take them—probably home—or we can see if there’s somewhere we can drop them off. Do any of their friends have phones? See if we can set them up with their friends?”

GM: Susan thinks. “That could work. And yeah, probably. I mean, it’s 2004.”

Caroline: They go about executing the plan.

GM: And enjoying the parade.

The parade is a sea of green, starting with the giant floats accompanied by bands, music, and marching clubs. Crowds of people chow down cabbage, corned beef, beer, and green-dyed foods, but are no less vigorous in chanting the timeless, “Hey, mister, throw me something!” The float crews oblige, showering the crowds with potatoes, carrots, moonpies, chocolate coins, shamrock tokens, leprechaun hats, and most of all, cabbages. Everyone’s hands are raised in the air, hoping to catch a throw. A few enterprising children and adults can be found in trees along the route, trying to capture the best position. At that moments, it seems nothing else matters but being the lucky one to catch those beads, cabbages, or even underwear. Cabbage recipes will doubtlessly be in abundance throughout the city over the coming days.

Caroline and Susan, meanwhile, are able to obtain several phone numbers from Elaine easily enough (despite being two years younger than Charlotte, she has the most friends) and convince the younger girls they can have more fun with their friends. Savannah, who clearly isn’t enjoying being a babysitter, actually helps out.

Savannah is a bit more reluctant to leave off Caroline and Susan by themselves. It’s still a school night, and Caroline needs to be back at Matt’s house for one of the family employees to drive her the one hour and 22 minutes back to Baton Rouge. She lets up when she sees the girls have cells, and agree to be back no later than 9 PM.

Caroline: They even agree to make use of one of the family driver’s for their shopping.

GM: The 17-year-old finally ditches them.

“So what do you think we should do to Mae?” Susan asks.

Caroline: “I don’t know. Depends on where they go, really.”

GM: That answer soon becomes evident.

Parosol’s is locally known as a bastion of roast beef po’boys and cold beer, but is perhaps most widely reputed for being a gathering place for St. Patrick’s Day revelers. The combined Irish pub and restaurant, along with the neighboring pub Tracey’s (less than a block away) serve as the final party stop for crowds of revelers decked out in green outfits, buckled hats and shamrock pins. The block party between the two pubs is in full swing as the crowds swig green beer and hope to catch some last “luck o’ the Irish.” Savannah arrives at the pub for her rendezvous around dinner time, leaving the two cousins with ample time to actually go shopping (like they’d lied) before following after the high schooler and her friend.

Caroline: Caroline is rather satisfied with the day so far: away from home, with shopping bags filled with new cloths, and now an opportunity to pick up either some choice gossip or to prank the girl likely responsible for her own loss of Mardi Gras for the foreseeable future.

GM: “You think they’re gonna let us in? It is a bar,” Susan wonders. “Well, kind of. I guess Vannah isn’t old enough to drink either.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to see her way through the crowd to figure out if there’s a doorman in place checking IDs.

GM: There is not. The pub is already a combination bar-restaurant, and is full to bursting with patrons on St. Patrick’s Day. Some even have young kids.

Caroline: “The harder question is how we get close without them noticing us.”

GM: “It’s pretty crowded. Maybe just try and blend in?”

Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline eyes a late teens or early twenties something woman with a large green top hat with matching cheap green wig, “Hi, I forgot my green. I’ll give you $100 for the wig.”

GM: The woman, who’s sipping from a tall mug of green-colored beer, raises her eyebrows and grins at the same time. “Little late to remember now, but it’s all yours.”

“I’ll give you another $100 for the hat,” adds Susan.

The woman laughs about the “luck o’ the Irish being with me,” hands off the hat and wig, and pockets the teenagers’ money.

Caroline: Caroline fits the shockingly green wig over her own standout pale hair. “Blending in by standing out. How do I look?”

GM: Susan grins as she dons her hat. “Green.”

Caroline: “Let’s give it a shot,” Caroline smiles.

Having changed into one of the new sets of cloths she bought earlier—and garbed in the wig—Caroline makes her approach with Susan, using the crowd for cover (or at least trying to so much as a 14-year-old may).

GM: Susan actually tries to order drinks at the bar first. She and Caroline are both as tall as many adult women, but the bartender just rolls his eyes and ignores them.

“My dad could buy this place,” she huffs as they leave.

Caroline: “Yeah, but it probably still wouldn’t serve us,” Caroline observes. Drinking may be a Catholic pasttime—Caroline’s seen a massive share of it at St. Joseph’s—but it tends to be a high school activity.

GM: “True,” Susan admits. “Could fire that jerk though.”

Caroline: “At least he didn’t throw us out.” She searches the crowd casually for her cousin—and their mark.

GM: The crowd inside the restaurant-bar is quite thick, which is both a hindrance and blessing. “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly plays in the background, while the smell of fried pub food is thick in the air.

GM: Caroline isn’t so sure she’d be able to pick out Mae in a crowd, but her older cousin is another matter. Now that Savannah no longer has any younger girls to look after, the 17-year-old is seemingly cutting loose. She’s wearing more shamrocks and bead necklaces, her hair is a bit more missed, and she’s drinking.

Caroline: She’s quite certain the same applies in reverse, and the sight of Savannah drinking puts her at ease. Between the change of cloths, the packed room, the loud music, the wig, and being inebriated she doubts Savannah can pick her out. In time Mae will become clear based on both Savannah’s interactions—and Susan’s inputs. She finds a spot in Savannah’s blind spot to watch.

GM: Susan doesn’t settle down with her so much as stand next to her. Savannah waits for a bit, then orders some food from a server.

“So, what do you think we should do when she shows?” the other eighth grader asks.

Caroline: “The toilet shower is always popular,” Caroline observes mischievously. “Especially if you spike the water green with all the food coloring around…”

GM: “Oh, that’s good!” Susan smirks, her eyes briefly cutting towards her sister as she realizes she’s raised her voice, but Savannah doesn’t appear to notice them. “Though she’d need to use the bathroom here, and other people could get in the way…” She thinks. “Though I guess we could just pay them too.”

Caroline: “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. The more we throw money around the more someone’s might remember us. If they stay here long enough drinking though we should get at least one chance.”

GM: “We’re not really doing anything that bad, though. I mean, who cares if anyone remembers us?”

Caroline: “I care if we make your sister mad enough that my parents find out. I don’t want to wait until I’m 25 for Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Okay, true. I guess we can still make it work, if we just keep anyone else out of the bathroom.”

Caroline: “Mostly your sister,” Caroline agrees, watching. “Which one is Mae?” she asks of those around Savannah.

GM: “None of them,” Susan answers. “I guess she’s taking her sweet time.”

It’s a few minutes later before a girl around Savannah’s age wearing a bright red wig, shamrock hat, and knee-length green dress finally shows. She and Caroline’s cousin hug one another in greeting.

“I went ahead and ordered for us. Just us, I figured your McGehee friends wouldn’t be around,” says Savannah.

“Thanks. You know how it is,” the other girl smiles as she un-shoulders her purse and sits down.

“That’s Mae,” Susan whispers to Caroline, her eyes cutting back to the red-wigged girl.

“Yeah, I do,” says Savannah. She slides over a mug of green beer towards Mae. “So, what’s new?”

“Same old, same old, you know,” Mae smiles between a pull of beer. “Getting ready for college. Convincing my daddy I’m not just just lazin’ around on my bum ’til then.”

Savannah smiles back, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “You’ve never liked beer.”

“I guess not,” Mae admits with a faint laugh. “But we’re all Irish today, now aren’t we? And the Irish do like their beer.”

“I don’t like beer either, honestly,” says Savannah. “It’s always makes me think of fat men watching TV and asking their wives to ‘get me a cold one.’”

Caroline: Caroline lodges no disagreement, nursing an iced tea herself to better blend in.

GM: Mae laughs again in agreement. It’s not much longer before the pair’s food arrives: two po’boy sandwiches with sliced wet tomatoes, lettuce over a gravy-like, sweet-smelling sauce, and deep-fried crab. The tender meat inside looks to pair well with the crab’s crunchy exterior.

“You ordered us the same thing. Isn’t that cute,” Mae smiles.

“Seemed fitting,” Savannah agrees.

Light crunching is audible as the two set to work on their crab po’boys. They don’t say anything for a bit.

The third girl watches them no less intently for it.

Caroline: “Why don’t you get it ready, set up in a middle stall,” Caroline suggests to her cousin.

GM: Caroline spots her at the table adjacent to her cousin’s. She’s pretty, looks around Savannah’s and Mae’s age, and wears one of the telltale green wigs and shamrock hats that so many other women today are sporting. She nurses a green-colored beer as she silently watches the pair out of the corner of her eye.

Susan looks between Caroline and the first two girls. “Good time, maybe. I’m getting hungry watching them.”

She heads off towards the bathrooms.

Caroline: Caroline tries not to make too obvious her own observation of the girl watching her cousin, but she can’t help but be curious.

GM: “We have a lot in common,” says Savannah.

“We sure do,” Mae smiles.

The other girl continues to watch the pair.

“Too many of my friends are bitches,” says Savannah. “I’m always thinking about what I say around them. I feel like I can just talk with you. And not have to think about what other people might think.”

Mae pauses mid-bite, swallows, then smiles again. It reaches all the way up to her eyes, and all but glows there. “You know, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in a while, Vannah. Thank you.”

The third girl shifts forward in her seat to stare at Mae more closely.

“The nicest thing anyone’s said since Mardi Gras,” Savannah says. It could be a question. It doesn’t sound like one.

Mae is silent for a moment as she happens to take another bite of food. Her eyes drift across the crowd. For just a fraction of a second, they flit upon the girl watching them.

The green-wigged teenager gives a minute shake of her head. She licks her lips as Mae turns back to Savannah.

“Yes,” Mae admits.

Caroline: Caroline feels a shiver go through her. What the hell? she wonders with more than mild concern.

GM: “You must be in so much shit for that,” says Savannah. “And it’s even worse than I see, I bet. I know how good you are at keeping up appearances.”

“Not good enough here,” Mae admits. She tries to smile, but her heart doesn’t seem in it.

The third girl watches them both like a hawk.

“I want you to know I don’t judge,” Savannah says.

Mae looks at her.

“The pregnancy thing. I think that’s just my mom freaking out.” She lowers her voice. “I know what it’s like, Mae. Living with the lie.”

Savannah reaches across the table and takes Mae’s hand in hers.

“It’s a lot easier when you can… when you can be real with someone.”

Mae’s words seem to catch in her throat for a moment. “Vannah…”

“I know with your parents… how much you care about them. How you don’t…” Savannah continues.

“Vannah… this is in public,” Mae whispers. Her face catches, but only for a moment as she pulls her hand away from Caroline’s cousin. There’s another quick glance, that seems like it tries to reach the other girl but stops just short of her face.

The other girl silently stares back.

Savannah looks hurt as Mae pulls her hand away, but goes on, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Caroline: Caroline is utterly silent, almost transfixed by the sight.

This is so much better than a prank.

GM: “I had… I had this whole speech prepared. But I just…” Savannah looks like she wants to take Mae’s hand again, but seems to settle for touching the other girl’s arm. “I hate seeing you like this. You don’t deserve it. You’re not a bad person, Mae.

Mae’s hand goes to her mouth. She looks as if she’s on the verge of tears. Their po’boys sit uneaten. “Vannah…” she whispers, just as the short blonde from the next table strides over to the pair.

“…I want you to meet my friend.”

Savannah is speechless as the smiling new girl lays a hand on Mae’s shoulder.

“I’m Rebecca,” she says. “Mae and I have the same name. Isn’t that the funniest thing?”

Caroline: Caroline pauses to take a drink, looking away.

GM: “You can call me Becca, though,” the new girl’s voice continues.

“So you and Mae are together,” Caroline’s cousin says. There’s pain in her voice.

“Since Mardi Gras,” Becca answers, before her tone softens. “But I really am sorry, Savannah. I had no idea… and I don’t think Mae did either.”

“Well,” manages Savannah. “I guess not.”

Caroline: Caroline swallows. Susan is going to freak.

GM: “I think we should take the rest of this conversation somewhere private,” says Becca. “Why don’t we freshen up in the bathroom?”

“…all right,” comes Savannah’s voice.

The seated two pull out their chairs.

Caroline: Caroline carefully turns away. She hopes Susan doesn’t do something dumb with all three in there. For now all she can do is wait.

GM: “Excuse me,” says Mae.

She sits down at Caroline’s table.

Caroline: The young heiress doesn’t turn towards Savannah.

“Hello. Do I know you?” she asks lamely.

GM: Mae dabs at her eyes and gives a sad smile. “Probably, to be listening in.”

Caroline: “I mean… it was interesting.”

GM: “Your mama had to have taught you it’s bad manners,” Mae answers, but her heart doesn’t seem in the rebuke.

Caroline: “There were a lot of lessons she taught that no one seems to be following,” comes Caroline’s slightly stronger reply, but there’s an emptiness to it: her mother taught her few enough lessons.

GM: “You’ll find those lessons aren’t always easy to follow once you’re older.”

Caroline: “So why are you lecturing me on them?” comes a defiant response.

Lesbian. And her cousin is one of them too. If Uncle Orson found out… talk about a scandal. She’d be in so much trouble. This is way better than a prank.

GM: “Habit, I reckon,” says Mae. She seems to study Caroline. “You’re very young.”

Caroline: “Because you’re so much older.” The 14-year-old’s sarcasm shows through.

GM: “I suppose not by all that much. Not really.” Mae looks sad. “It’s so funny, you know. I never felt that way about her. Or had any idea she felt that way about me. Then again, maybe I did, and just wanted to pretend things were normal.”

Caroline: “Well, you seem happy now with your girlfriend, or whatever.”

Only, she doesn’t.

After a moment, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

GM: Mae pulls out a tissue from her purse and runs it across her eyes. “Oh, what do you think?”

Caroline: “Then why are you doing this?” Caroline asks.

GM: Mae looks at her and sets the tissue down. “Some things about ourselves we can’t change.”

Caroline: “That’s not true,” Caroline answers. “You have a choice.”

GM: Mae actually gives a laugh at that, but there’s little mirth in it.

“I used to think that too.”

Caroline: “What changed?” The young teen seems genuinely curious.

GM: Mae looks at Caroline, as if thinking of how to answer that. She finally seems to settle for, “I’m sure your mama says this all the time, but… you’ll understand when you’re older, maybe.”

Caroline: “Sounds to me like you don’t know either,” Caroline counters.

GM: The older girl just gives another sad smile. “I’ve been rude. I shouldn’t keep you like this.”

Caroline: “I’m just waiting on my friend to get back.” Caroline gestures.

GM: Mae looks at her again.

“You’re so young. It wasn’t good for you to get involved in this, but I’ll do my best to keep you out.”

Caroline: Caroline feels a faint stab of fear, but marshals her composure and wits.

Involved in what?

“I think it would be best if you went back to your friends. We’re leaving soon anyway,” she says more bravely than she feels.

It’s a phrase she’s heard many times, ‘I think it would be best’. Typically when she was actually being given an all but order.

Footsteps approach the pair. Susan and Savannah aren’t there, but the other girl is. She takes a seat next to to Caroline. She looks older up close. Not wrinkled, not even middle-aged, but definitely past college age.

“There was another girl,” she says.

Mae looks at Caroline. “Your friend?”

“That’s who she said she was,” ‘Becca’ replies. “They were eavesdropping on your friend.”

Caroline: Caroline’s discomfort only grows. What happened to Savannah? If she comes over and sees Caroline she’s going to flip. Beneath that though another sharper fear bites at her. They’re talking about her like she isn’t even here, and Becca isn’t just another teenager.

“Look, just leave me alone, all right?”

GM: “You don’t need to be scared of us,” Mae says. She sounds like she wants the words to be comforting. They aren’t.

“She should be. Especially of you,” says Becca.

Mae looks at her.

“Sorry,” says Becca. “You don’t want to drag this out, though. It’ll just make her more scared.”

“You’re right,” says Mae before looking back towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you shouldn’t.”

Caroline stands and takes a step away from the table and the two increasingly threatening homosexuals.

GM: Mae’s eyes look sad as they stare into Caroline’s, but they’re no less level.

“I want you to forget Savannah’s conversation, all right? I want you to forget talking to me, too. What you actually remember is…”

Wednesday night, 6 October 2015, PM

GM: “…what is of interest to me, though,” Becky Lynne goes on, “is someone who can follow those formalities while makin’ nice and makin’ new friends. It’s a fine line to straddle, and can take some real skill—but it’s the kind that gets noticed by the right people.”

Caroline might have been wrong to presume an ‘undue’ familiarity with her older clanmate.

But they were familiar.

Entering someone’s mind and pulling away a few pieces surely counts.

Caroline: The rush of memories, broken loose perhaps by a careless word or just frequent proximity, rocks Caroline’s psyche for a moment, but she’s far from the 14-year-old girl of years past. She covers her brief disorientation with a hollow response.

“Well, I confess, Questor Adler, we’ve had only a few opportunities to become more antiquated outside of these meetings.”

She looks down for a moment, wincing as minutes slip back into her memory in seconds.

GM: “I suppose we haven’t, now. My daddy always told me not to mix business with pleasure—which gettin’ to know unfamiliar people usually is,” Becky Lynne smiles back, either unnoticing or unremarking of Caroline’s thoughts.

Caroline: The younger Ventrue finishes wincing.

“Few opportunities,” Caroline concludes. “But there have been a few. Do you remember when we first met?”

There’s now something else in her eye, almost predatory, honed.

GM: “Are you referrin’ to the Elysium at the Ogden Museum, Miss Malveaux?” Becky Lynne asks, then smiles. “Yes, I do remember that. It was your first time out in Elysium, wasn’t it?”

Caroline: “You have an excellent memory, Questor Adler, but we actually met some years ago.”

GM: “I’m just a regular barfly in Elysium, I suppose,” the other Ventrue lightly laughs. “We could have, though, what was the occasion?”

Caroline: “I confess, it was a long time ago and I was only a bit player to it, but I think the meeting was similar in some ways to this one, with you providing guidance to another fledgling.”

GM: “Now that would be rather symmetric, wouldn’t it? I hope you found it of use.”

Caroline: “It aligns with some thought I had already,” Caroline agrees. “What happened to her?”

GM: “I’m sorry, Miss Malveaux, what happened to who?” Becky Lynne asks in turn.

Caroline: “Mae,” comes Caroline’s one-word response.

GM: “I’d find it helpful to have more context, Miss Malveaux, if you could oblige,” Becky Lynne requests.

Caroline: “Of course. Honestly, I’d forgotten it myself. It was 2004, not long after Mardi Gras.”

GM: “Mae left the city,” the other Ventrue answers. “She’d had a rough start in her Requiem and felt too much of herself was still here. I’ve not heard from her much, but I think she’s made a fresh start and adjusted to things.”

Caroline: “She seemed very melancholy,” Caroline agrees softly.

GM: “Not all of us take well to the Requiem at first,” Becky Lynne nods. “I might even take a gander that most don’t.”

Caroline: “Did you, Questor Adler?”

GM: “That’s a rather personal question to ask anyone, Miss Malveaux. Have you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers. “A personal answer then, for a personal question.” A beat passes. “I didn’t. Not in those first nights when I knew nothing, and then knew nothing but misery. I actually considered destroying myself because everywhere I went, and everyone I touched, I caused nothing but destruction and suffering.”

She pauses before continuing, “In my first week among the Damned I was tortured, shot, stabbed, burned, beaten, and whipped—each to a point that would have probably killed me were I alive. I destroyed my best mortal friend’s life, lost my family to Father Malveaux, and saw my brother murdered.” She pauses again and admits in a softer voice, “I murdered. I had murder done on my behalf, and ruined more lives along the way even as I dragged more still into corruption with me.”

“No, I did not take well to the Requiem at first.”

GM: “At first,” Becky Lynne nods.

Caroline: “The Requiem has its own trials. Its own costs. But it is not inherently better or worse on its own than a life.”

GM: “My thoughts exactly,” the other Ventrue smiles. “My own start to the Requiem was rough, for similar reasons. Giving up my future. Wrestling with the Beast. Accepting I’d never have children. Leaving my entire life behind. But I adjusted, with my sire’s help. I believe the Requiem can be as good or bad an existence as you decide to make it.”

Caroline: “As you are capable of making it,” Caroline abridges.

GM: “You really put your mind to something, and there’s a lot you can be capable of,” Becky Lynne smiles.

Caroline: “Did your sire ever tell you how he decided upon you, Questor Adler?” Caroline asks.

GM: “He did, Miss Malveaux. I’m afraid that repeatin’ his full reasons would sound awful immodest of me, though,” the other Ventrue laughs lightly.

Caroline: “No doubt a Kindred as distinguished as Gerousiastis Matheson put a great deal of consideration into his childe,” Caroline agrees. “Had he not explained himself, I might have offered that it was your optimistic nature, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises a hand to her mouth as she laughs, quite fully this time.

“Oh, now that’s good, Miss Malveaux! I’ll admit it wasn’t one of the reasons he gave me, but I think he’d smile if he heard that.”

Caroline: “It must be your influence then, Questor Adler: I am rarely in the habit of finding good in people that others have missed,” Caroline replies.

GM: “My mama always said other people can’t change who we are, but they can bring out our best selves. I’d give yours its due credit too, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “You speak about her a great deal.”

GM: “Quote her, if we’re to split hairs,” Becky Lynne smiles. “But she was a font of practical wisdom, fortunately for me. And at the risk of bein’ immodest, I might even hope for others who’ve known me too.”

Caroline: “What we say says a great deal about us. What we say that others carry with them says more,” Caroline observes. “But I think there’s a rather limited amount of modesty required for the city’s most successful neonate, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne daintily covers her mouth as laughs again.

“Oh, definitely not the most successful at compliments and flattery, Miss Malveaux!”

Caroline: “We play the hands we’re dealt, Questor Adler: occasionally my own permits me to speak the truth.”

GM: “We’ll just have to hope those occasional occasions grow all the more frequent,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: “Oh, let’s not hope for that too strongly, Questor Adler. The truth isn’t always as pretty as it has been tonight.”

GM: “Even ugly things can be made pretty, I think, if they’re just presented different. But speakin’ of tonight…” Becky Lynne glances down at her Sunpad. “The hour isn’t too late yet, but it’s headed there. You also had some business you wanted to discuss, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “Well, there was a small matter with the Whitney family…”

The two Ventrue spend some time going over Caroline’s two proposals.

First, that she be allowed to use the Whitneys’ influence with Whitney Hancock National Bank to help fund her firm’s startup. The agreement will not be unfavorable to Whitney Hancock, but does entail the meddling within Becky Lynne’s sire’s domain on several levels, and Caroline wouldn’t do so without permission.

Second, that Becky Lynne herself conduct some manner of business with the firm as it starts up, to lend credibility to it. Caroline does not ask that she make major commitments or entrust her with matters of particular significance or sensitivity—not tonight. Instead only that she make it known she is doing so to provide, what Caroline describes as, “instant credibility.”

GM: After discussing the details of Caroline’s first proposal at length, Becky Lynne states that her sire through Whitney Hancock will be willing to loan her the necessary start-up capital for her firm—subject to several conditions.

The first of these concern the terms of the loan itself. Matheson does not require any assets as collateral from Caroline to secure her loan, and is willing to waive virtually all of the barriers and red tape that would normally inconvenience someone who wants to legally die and start up a firm that her name isn’t attached to.

In return for a pledged prestation rather monetary debt, Matheson is also willing to give Caroline an interest-free loan. For a larger such debt, he will not even require her to pay the money back.

Caroline: Caroline chooses to pay in money. She owes enough favors to the elder Ventrue as it is.

GM: Becky Lynne nods and continues that Caroline will not need to interact with the Whitney family. She will conduct her dealings through Becky Lynne, who will grease the same wheels that the Whitneys would.

“Your heart’s in the right place for askin’, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne adds, “so good on you there. Most elders, as a heads up, will also say no to you influencin’ their mortal agents… we Kindred usually don’t much like to share.”

As to the second term, Becky Lynne says that Caroline will need to “do her share” in preserving the Masquerade throughout her financial dealings with Whitney Bank. In fact, until her agoge is complete, she will need to “do my sire’s share as well” in maintaining the Masquerade. Other Ventrue are prohibited from directly assisting Caroline throughout her agoge; she must exercise the same care in her initial dealings with Whitney Hancock Bank as if it were any other mortal financial institution.

Becky Lynne will still be watching these dealings, and will correct any “Masquerade hiccups” that slip through, “so no real harm done if there’s any,” but the Gerousia will make note of these in their final assessment of Caroline’s performance. They want to see how skilled she is at maintaining the Masquerade in this particular arena.

Regarding Caroline’s second proposal, Becky Lynne is willing to do business with the younger Ventrue’s firm to give it some good publicity. She will do so once the Caroline is fully accepted into the Structure—“as the Gerousia, once again, wants to see that your domain can stand on its own two feet.”

“We can also discuss the nitty gritty details of what your firm can do for me then—you’re likely to have a wider range of ranges and firmer idea of them once it’s started up anyway. All that seem fair?”

Caroline: “More than, Questor Adler.”


Pete Feedback Repost

The Marcel conversation with Caroline was one of the better interactions in a while. It had moderate stakes without feeling oppressive, it was a meeting with someone new, and it was informal enough from both an IC and OOC standpoint that I felt like I could to an extent get back to playing Caroline. Sandwiched amid scenes that focused on he kowtowing (McGinn), walking on egg shells (Becky Lynne), and getting humiliated (Father Malveaux), it was a really pleasant change.

I appreciate your willingness to entertain a lot of possible ‘out there’ Declarations that I think some others might look at more skeptically. One that jumps out is the Caroline flashback scene with Becky Lynne to try and give her an opening for further conversation. While there are times I feel like you want what I might feel as a player is excessive specificity about how various things happened that could have happened (not just in Declarations, just in general), especially for things that to me appear trivial, you’ve almost always been willing to entertain some Declarations that could be viewed as something of a stretch. (it’s worth noting that I can acknowledge that my view on what is important vs. trivial varies from your own in many ways simply because of where we’re sitting at the table).

Caroline V, Chapter VI
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