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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline V, Chapter XII

Reasons for Being

“May you find the truth you seek.”
Antoine Savoy

Tuesday night, 13 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Amid her investigations into Wells’ lost memories, amid searches for her future haven and ideal candidates for her businesses, Caroline continues to dig into her own past, into a night she doesn’t remember. The night she died.

She has leads, and amid everything else consuming her lengthening evenings the Ventrue tries to pursue them, not as doggedly as she might wish, but neither without passion. Not willing to journey into the Dungeon herself, not yet, she chases her own leads into it: a missing ghoul, those that come and go, and those that only enter, never to emerge. There are other more mundane approaches as well. Tax records, utilities, ownership. Everything has a paper trail, and she doggedly pursues it.

GM: Looking into the Dungeon reveals that it’s an industrial and metal-themed bar/nightclub off of Bourbon Street. It has its own Yelp and Facemash pages, and caters mainly to goths and newcomers who want to experience its novelty. Variously called, “the worst-kept secret off of Bourbon,” they describe it as “Crazy,” “a hidden gem,” “dark and gothic,” “cool dark and scary,” “professional security,” “dark but fun,” and “legit hole in the wall.” There is an adamant “no phones and no pictures” policy. Caroline even finds it featured on a “where to drink in New Orleans” flowchart:

Are you from here? —> Yes → Where are you? —> Downtown → What’s most important tonight? —> Conversatin’ → Are you homeless? —> No → Are you a vampire? —> Yes → The Dungeon.

Caroline: Caroline gives a dry laugh at that.

GM: There are also a number of stories floating around about the Dungeon. One rumor claims that there is a “second level” holding a real BDS&M dungeon staffed by professional dominatrices. Less a rumor and more a subject of several police reports is the sighting of several missing persons around the club. No action or follow-up seems to have been taken by NOPD. Indeed, one of their better-known detectives, Ricky Mouton (who has the ear of his uncle Delron, the district commander), is a sometime patron of the Dungeon’s. Indeed, for all that Caroline and Emmett have suffered within its walls, the vice den appears to hide in plain sight. As one Qeeqle reviewer describes it,

“Dark, grungy, and true to its name, there is a constant feeling that you might be tortured and murdered at any moment. One of the few bars that doesn’t try to coast off the reputation of the city. Instead it touches that dark place in us all.”

Caroline: Caroline steadily deposits such offerings where they belong: in the garbage.

GM: A casual search into the Dungeon’s neighbors turn up Funky 544, a nightclub, Molly’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, the historic Hotel Maison De Ville, and Ra Shop, a cigarette store. Antoine Savoy’s favorite restaurant, the eponymous Antoine’s, is also not far off. Some of these places and additional neighbors maintain security cameras, and some of them do not. Of the ones that do, all but one have since thrown out the months-old tapes.

The exception is Ra Shop and its night manager, a portly and black-wearing man named Stephen who is an ardent follower of LaVeyan Satanism—and morbidly curious about what “really” goes on at the Dungeon. He’s been there on many occasions, of course, and likes the ambiance. But he’s heard there’s a lot more to it. He repeats everything from an underground sex ring to a “hardcore” Satanic coven to a real BDSM dungeon where safewords and consent don’t exist.

Stephen hasn’t been able to get anything out of the Dungeon’s staff, who always laugh the rumors off. He tried pressing one of NOPD’s visiting officers, asking why there were semi-regular visits but never any arrests. He received a gut punch that “made me feel like I’d been shot” and cold warning not to ask so many questions. All he can do is sit on tapes and fantasize.

One of the many benefits to having ghouls working for her is that Caroline doesn’t need to personally watch the hours-long security tapes for items of interest. When Autumn is finished, she has several cars leaving the choice limited-parking spots (it’s at a premium in the Quarter) during approximate times that probably belong to employees. She runs down license plate numbers and traces owners (a task that would surely be easier with access to police databases). Most are either mundane or dead ends.

The exception belongs to a man named Jayden Proctor. He does not work for the Dungeon, but has been seen there on a number of separate occasions. He recently sold his car, terminated the lease on his apartment, and purchased a one-way flight to the Cayman Islands, all several nights after Caroline’s Embrace. He was last seen leaving for Louis Armstrong Airport in the company of a muscular man with jet black skin. Autumn identifies the latter.

Kâmil. A ghoul to Philip Maldonato.

Caroline: Jayden Proctor’s life becomes the subject of Caroline’s most recent interest, and the Ventrue heiress sets about tearing his life into bloody pieces to get to the bottom of his own (perhaps all too obvious) allegiances. If he came into the service of Maldonato, she wants to know when. If not, she wants to know who he serves, or at least served.

She’s moderately certain that he is long since departed not only the city, but also the living. Still, his present activities, be they on beaches or among the fishes, are of little interest. She wishes to know his part in something specific: her own departure from the living.

GM: Jayden Proctor was born in Frederick, Maryland on July 7th, 1981. His father worked for the IRS. His mother was a homemaker. He seems to have lived a comfortable life, attending private school and finally leaving home for college at UT Austin in 1999. He never graduated, though. Indeed, he held no jobs that any of Caroline’s investigations can find after he dropped out.

Financial records indicate this was seemingly no impediment to him living in a posh apartment in a nicer part of town. Proctor drifted through his 20s and 30s without any apparent path in life: he spent a few more years in Austin and moved to a number of other cities, including Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. He held no employment in any of these cities except for Las Vegas, where he got a job as a croupier that lasted for several months out of his two-year stay. He was arrested twice in LA for drunk driving but charges were dropped.

Proctor moved to New Orleans in 2013 and was active in the city’s club scene (including, apparently, at the Dungeon’s), though by that point he was starting to get a little old for it. Indeed, by mid-2014, he seemingly found religion: he attended regular Catholic Mass and had stopped partying. He still does not seem to have held a job, but maintained leases for two apartments in the French Quarter and CBD.

Following 2015’s Southern Decadence, of course, all of this abruptly ends.

Caroline: It’s a frustrating and almost nonsensical trail. Was he René’s ghoul? Another’s ghoul? It’s almost impossible to tell. The question is all the more complicated by details of her interest she can’t share. She solicited opinions from Autumn—she cannot cut the investigative ghoul out entirely anyway.

The lack of clear revenue and ways in which various institutions controlled makes her suspect he was far from a normal kine.

GM: “We could try and follow up on this guy in the Caymans,” Autumn suggests. “Though that’ll probably be harder. I have no idea what the all-night society there is like.”

Caroline: “Have you ever heard of another Kindred moving around so frequently with their ghouls?” Caroline asks. It’s a long shot.

GM: “Some might. Nomads don’t stay in any one city. The Krewe doesn’t like them. They come in, make a mess, and leave the locals to clean it up.”

Caroline: Caroline clearly doesn’t like the answer, but less for its source than its content. She drums her fingers on her desk in thought.

“Kine only.”

The use of the word has come easier, more readily to her over time.

“And small-time investigation. Just a few pictures. Proof of life, see if we catch him with anyone that they just can’t,” she grins, “seem to get a clear picture of.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s actually a dead giveaway to people who know what to look for,” Autumn nods.

“I mean, you guys can ‘turn it off’, but that’s only helpful when you know someone’s watching.”

“But anyway, yeah. Couple kine is probably best. Cheaper too.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “All right, I’ll look into who to send.”

Saturday night, 7 November 2015, PM

Caroline: Much of the investigation is relatively mundane, as so many are. Following money trails. She has Autumn follow up with his landlord and the person he sold the car to. Investigators are dispatched off to the Cayman Islands. She’s fishing for anything unusual, anything that confirms theories about his origins, or points to a domitor, or ties him to other points of interest. Neighbors are canvassed at his apartment. Did anyone know him? Know of him? What was his schedule? Money changes hands with the landlord, if they’re so inclined, for any postage left behind or coming in after he departs.

GM: Jayden previously lived at 833 Howard Ave # 700PH in the Central Business District, rented by Latter & Blum Inc. Realtors. He also lived at the historic Lower Pontalba Building on St. Ann Street, right along Jackson Square, which is owned by the city government. Caroline even knows one of the tenants, or at least tenants in the neighboring Upper Pontalba Building (Luke’s girlfriend Cécilia).

Caroline confirms that Jayden was often away at all hours of the night, even after he’d given up his partying lifestyle. He was friendly with his neighbors, who liked him. He never talked much about himself, but he talked someone from the Louisiana State Museum (which owns the building) into installing new counter tops and cabinets in some of the older units, and at the state’s expense. That made him popular—the museum previously had tenants pay for such upgrades. They’ve apparently reinstated that policy since he left, too.

Jayden spent less time at the Pontalba after he started attending religious services, at which point he also started renting his CBD apartment, but he was still by maybe a couple nights a week. He didn’t break his lease, anyway. Remaining postage at Proctor’s apartments was junk mail, which Proctor was apparently uninterested in claiming, and his landlords have since thrown out. He sold his car to Del Cid Auto Sales Inc., rather than a private individual. Autumn reports that the car (a red 2015 Scion FR-S) has yet to be re-sold.

The ghoul also turns up that one of Proctor’s neighbors (in the CBD) admits to having spotted him feeding a significant wad of cash into a nearby ATM late at night. She (the neighbor) thought it looked sketchy, but Proctor just laughed it off and said he’d had a lucky night at a casino. She saw him do that several further times, but didn’t feel comfortable approaching him again. Proctor looks to have been a very lucky man.

Caroline can find no evidence to link Proctor to any specific domitor. Of course, such evidence could exist in abundance, and Caroline is merely overlooking it. She still doesn’t have many contacts among her fellow Damned (though she has been working to rectify that), which stymies attempts to uncover Kindred-specific information. Mortal channels can only tell so much about a ghoul’s possible domitor.

The PIs she’s hired from Paradigm Investigations take some extra time (and fees) for the international case, but return with findings contrary to her initial expectations: Jayden Proctor is alive and well.

He’s currently staying at the Margaritaville Beach Resort Grand Cayman in George Town, the capital of the Caymans, and has been for some months. There are no apparent irregularities in any of the nighttime photographs that Paradigm’s people took of Proctor, though this was a “small time” investigation at Caroline’s request. They could put him under continuous surveillance for a longer time period if she wants to potentially turn up more. They also obtain the phone number for his hotel suite. She can contact Proctor herself if she would like to.

Caroline: She toys with the thought, and brings it up one night after a night of excitement with Jocelyn. “He may be one of the only people left that know what happened that night,” she muses.

She’s always gotten contemplative after ‘sex’. Even when she was still alive.

GM: Jocelyn turns over in Caroline’s low, black-sheeted bed. Even nude, the room’s low temperature doesn’t bother either vampire.

“Yeah. Definitely. You should try and get to him, somehow.”

Caroline: “What kind of ghoul though travels from city to city for years at a time though?” she asks.

GM: “Maybe he works for an archon like my sire. Or he’s just a nomad,” Jocelyn thinks.

Caroline: “I hope not,” Caroline replies, rolling over onto her back. “I’d hate to piss one of them off.”

She laughs lightly. “Do you think it’s worth trying to fly out there?”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment. “That’d be… interesting. The Caymans aren’t that far away.”

Caroline: “Just dangerous, trying to make it out and back in a night, and visiting another city where I don’t know anyone.”

GM: “We,” Jocelyn says with some emphasis, “could stay the day, find a hotel or something. It might be kinda nice, just to get out of the usual rut. Meet some Kindred outside the city.”

Caroline: “I can’t imagine there are that many there,” Caroline replies, thinking. “There’s only what, 50,000 people in the Caymans? We looked at it in one of my economics classes.”

GM: “Bet there’s a bunch of licks with their money parked there though. I mean, that’s true even for kine. Well, probably more elders than licks. And blue bloods like you.”

Caroline: “It depends. Any lick, or almost any, could accumulate a lot of money pretty quickly if they wanted,” she contemplates. “You could, for instance, with a few months of work set yourself up so you don’t have to worry about it for decades, especially the way you spend.”

GM: “I dunno, I never really got into that whole finance game.” Jocelyn grins and starts running a finger along one of Caroline’s blood-encrusted breasts. “I think I’d rather mooch off you…”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “It’s not hard. Honestly, I could probably set something up for you with just a little bit of base capital that when invested within a couple years could support you on its own. Build it behind a trust. Market rate of return is really good right now. It’s a good time to start investing.”

GM: “Huh, I didn’t know that. But I guess everyone is saying the economy is pretty good.” Jocelyn thinks. “Okay, if you wanna set it up, that sounds worth it.”

Caroline: “It’ll take a few years to start to matter, but the earlier you start, the easier it is,” Caroline assures her. “I’ll have to set up something to shelter the investments and pay out—since I can’t exactly have it pay to a dead woman, but that’s just some paperwork. Once it’s sustaining there’s only really one rule: don’t touch the principle.”

GM: “I’m actually not dead,” Jocelyn mentions. “Well, legally, anyway.”

Caroline: “You’d mentioned, but I’m sure you’ve got a plan to do so eventually, right?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yeah, eventually,” Jocelyn nods. “Just always seems like a hassle to do right now, and no one’s breathing down my neck about it.”

Caroline: The Ventrue laughs. “Must be nice.”

GM: The Toreador pauses. “It has its pros and cons. But I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side and all.”

Caroline: “I can fix that for you.” She leans over the Toreador’s form and breathes on her with cold, unliving breath.

GM: Jocelyn laughs as Caroline’s hair brushes over her stomach. “Oh gosh, I don’t feel it. Must not be a big deal. Or maybe it’s just how cold you like this room.”

Caroline: “You don’t like it?” she asks distractedly, licking some mostly dry blood off Jocelyn’s side.

GM: Jocelyn giggles at the sensation and squirms a little, making Caroline work for it.

“I don’t really notice it. Like your breath.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly and pricks an elongated canine of her lover’s side, below her breast.

GM: Jocelyn’s own fangs show as she reaches up to knead one of Caroline’s. “God, I wanna just puncture these, like melons, spray the blood all over the walls…”

Caroline: “Like you’re Jackson Pollik?” Caroline laughs, watching a tiny trickle of blood roll down the brunette’s side hungrily. “I bet that’s a thing among Toreador artsy circles, isn’t it? Blood splatter art?” The elongated fangs slightly complicate speech, but she’s had enough time to get accustomed to it. The blood runs.

GM: “I’m not normally into drip painting… except when I’m…”

Jocelyn doesn’t finish the thought. Her eyes are hungry as she lunges up, mouth open, and sinks her fangs into Caroline’s breast. Blood flows over her face as she bites down over the pale flesh and shakes hungrily. The Ventrue’s Beast instinctively rises in arousal and counter-challenge.

Caroline: There’s a flash of pale flesh as Caroline climbs more fully atop the Toreador artist, taking a dominant position even as she surrenders into the kiss.

Wednesday night, 11 November 2015, AM

GM: Fresh blood coats dried blood as the pair’s Beasts eventually spend themselves. Caroline’s whips Jocelyn’s into submission, and she’s on top, as ever, as their blood cools. At this point the Toreador doesn’t even try to fight back. The sense of power is an intoxicating as any vitae. Part of Caroline, perhaps the Beast—but perhaps not—whispers that she could take Jocelyn here. Drink her utterly dry. No one would stop her. Not the seneschal. Not the prince. No one. Here, she has the power.

Caroline: The thought comes unbidden, and is equally unwelcome. It scares her a bit, the idea of drinking someone dry for no other reason than because she can, even if the most the act could do to Jocelyn is torpor her. She enjoys the control, the power, she has each night she spends with the weaker Toreador, but likes to believe she has more control than that. That she has limits. Places that she will draw the line.

She likes to believe that, but the fact that she’s even thinking about it makes her think that is a lie.

GM: It wouldn’t be the first comforting lie that’s crossed over to a hard and undeniable truth.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, rests her head against a newly-bloody hand. “So… what do you think about the Caymans?”

Caroline: “I think it’s still dangerous, but could be a lot of fun.” Jocelyn tagging along presents its own complications. There are secrets that she has to keep, even from the Toreador, and this one sits near to the top. “The other option is visiting the Dungeon.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her for a moment. “Uh, I think the Caymans might be safer. A lot safer.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard things,” Caroline agrees quietly.

GM: “Horror stories,” Jocelyn echoes. “They say anyone who goes in there, if they even come back out, gets their life destroyed. Unless they’re already… ‘one of them.’”

Caroline: “One of whom?”

GM: “The people… things, Kindred… whatever there. The ones that live there. Make it what it is.”

Caroline: Caroline wiggles. “I can attest to that.”

GM: “There’s some parts of the city, that are just… where everything that’s wrong with it, everything that’s dark and awful and out of control, I guess, just… grows and breeds, like mold. Where the sin’s thick enough it stays on your skin, maybe your soul, like soot.”

Caroline: “You’re saying if I go in, I’ll come out stained?”

GM: Jocelyn’s voice is quiet. “I don’t know. I’ve never been inside or anything. It’s just… there’s just some parts of New Orleans that feel… dark, wrong. Maybe sick, like nowhere I’ve seen. Maybe that’s what ruins anyone who goes inside. The… all that’s bad there, clings to them, and spreads and infects everywhere they go.”

Caroline: Caroline lays in thought. Maybe she’s right. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with her.

It’s easier to think that than face the truth.

GM: “That’s how it is in photography. Or really, art in general. You darken one element in a piece, by enough, and your entire perspective changes. The entire composition changes. Even if you haven’t altered anything but that one element.”

Caroline: “Afraid you won’t recognize me if I go in, even if I come back out?” Caroline asks.

GM:If you come back out,” Jocelyn says. “They say lots of people who go inside never do.”

“But it’s not even that. It’s just…”

She looks at Caroline helplessly for a moment. “Why chase this? I mean, I get wanting to know why you were turned, why all of this happened, but… your sire’s ash. Is knowing everything about him, why and how he Embraced you, really going to change anything?”

Caroline: Caroline is silent for a moment.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to know what I’ll find waiting at the end of this chase, but I know that the longer I wait, the less chance I have of learning anything. As you’ve said, I can’t exactly ask René about it now, can I?”

She bites her lip. “That night… there’s so much that I don’t understand about it. About what happened, or why.”

GM: “But does it really matter, anymore?” Jocelyn entreats. “I mean, he’s gone… you’re your own Kindred now.”

Caroline: “I matters to me. Matters why I exist. Why my sire chose me.” She grinds her teeth. “You probably know as much about him as I do—or even more—and I don’t even know if I was chosen, or if I was anything more than a mistake.” She pauses. “And I don’t want to be, don’t want my entire Requiem to be an accident.”

“I can accept that my Embrace is, ultimately, the result of my sins in life, but why did he think that I had to die, and… so awfully.”

GM: “Well… okay, look,” Jocelyn says, turning over onto her stomach and resting her chin against a hand. “Even if you don’t find anything in the Caymans, it could at least be a fun trip. We could meet new Kindred, even people, enjoy some beaches… night beaches, anyway. You could network and maybe have fun with some offshore tax haven stuff. I mean, sure, things could go wrong, but they could also go right. I don’t see any way that the Dungeon ends up going right.”

Caroline: “You don’t think I’d make friends there?” Caroline asks sarcastically.

GM: “I dunno who would,” Jocelyn answers, not all sarcastically.

Caroline: “My sire, for one,” comes Caroline’s more serious answer. “All the same, I’m willing to give the Caymans a shot first. Is there anyone you can think of who might have visited in the past, to make sure we’re not violating some kind of fraternal Kindred bylaw?”

GM: “My sire, grandsire, or great-grandsire, maybe?” Jocelyn seems to guess. “Beyond that, I dunno.”

Caroline: “Well, if you want to make a couple calls, I’ll book tickets. Do you have a passport?”

GM: “I have a passport. But making calls to my sire is… hard. She can be out of contact, for months, and she always changes numbers. She’s pretty paranoid the government could be spying on her.”

Caroline: “I mean, the government is definitely spying on her,” Caroline fills in. “They’re spying on all of us. It’s why I try to avoid saying anything specific to us on the phone.”

GM: “Really? We’ve said a fair amount of sensitive stuff over the phone. I mostly just use a secure text app and call it a night.”

Caroline: “I mean, sensitive to a point, and maybe in emergencies I’ve gotten lax, but you haven’t seen me waving a vampire flag around various texts or calls since after René got ashed.”

GM: “I guess that’s safe. Safer, anyway. But it might be a while before I can talk with my sire. It’s more she calls me than the other way around.”

Caroline: “We’re not in an immediate rush, are we? And we don’t have to wait, I just thought it would be a nice touch.”

GM: “That’s true, on both counts. You wanna go soon?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “I’ll book for a couple weeks out. If we hear from her, great. Otherwise, we’ll just keep a low profile. Enjoy the change of scenery.”

GM: “Great! That sounds like it’ll be fun,” Jocelyn smiles.

Caroline: Fun.

Yes, not at all dangerous and potentially lethal.


She’d almost forgotten that word.

Thursday night, 19 November 2015, AM

GM: Antoine Savoy receives Caroline as cordially as ever from his and Preston’s usual table at the Evergreen. “So what can we do for you tonight, my dear—or are you merely feeling charitable enough to brighten the Evergreen with your presence?” the French Quarter lord idly asks, draining the last of the blood from his glass.

Caroline: “It’s quite your own fault, my lord,” Caroline replies mischievously. “Every time I appear with my hand out you can’t seem to resist the urge to leap up, take it, and dance with me. You and I may be dead, Lord Savoy, but chivalry appears to be far from it.”

GM: “Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is long dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth,” the French Quarter lord smiles.

Caroline: Caroline smiles in turn. “Ah, well, in the interest of redressing wrongs and not dancing around the matter overly much, I had hoped to call in a boon you’d offered, Lord Savoy, in pursuit of more knowledge of my Embrace.”

She briefly explains her interest in Jayden Proctor and his current location without touching on details such as his arrival at the airport with one of the seneschal’s ghouls or her earlier suspicion that he was the seneschal’s ghoul and instead focusing on his involvement in her Embrace and his many moves across the country.

“I was considering a field trip, but thought it wiser to seek out a more worldly Kindred for guidance,” she smiles.

GM: “Pursuit of the truth is as worthy a venture as any could pursue, my dear. What guidance would you ask of me?”

Caroline: “I know little of the Caymans, and any such journey seems fraught with enough peril by its nature. I had hoped you might know something of them, and any Kindred expectations on them, Lord Savoy.”

GM: “Guidance easily and gladly offered,” Savoy smiles. “They’re the private domain of an elder by the name of Prospero.”

“He’s neutral in the Jyhad. He’ll allow anyone, or their money, on his islands. Be they Camarilla, Sabbat, independent, or anything in between—all are welcome so long as they keep the Traditions and cause no trouble.”

“Anything worse as well as in between, sir,” Preston notes. “Prospero is reported to allow Kindred guilty of atrocities for which you and Prince Vidal would both order them slain on sight.”

“Neutral is neutral, Nat. But it’s true one can run in to… interesting characters in the Caymans,” Savoy grins.

Caroline: The Ventrue considers. “Probably not a place that Prince Vidal, or many Sanctified as a whole, endorses for vacations, then?” she asks dryly.

GM: “You might be surprised how many Camarilla luminaries have had dealings with Prospero, my dear,” the Toreador answers. “Queen Anne of London, Prince Vitel of D.C., Princes Michaela and Panhard of New York… them and many others. Including at least a few elders in this city. The Caymans are rather conveniently close by for us.”

Savoy smiles easily. “It’s not hard to see why Kindred deal with him. Visitors and foreign investors alike are free to conduct their business without disturbance. Whatever a Cainite’s sins may be outside the Caymans, they don’t matter a whit on those three islands. So long as you play nice while you’re there, Propspero will allow you.”

Caroline: “Yes, I can see that being very appealing to some,” Caroline nods, clearly faintly disturbed.

GM: “It is uncanny how our world can so mirror the kine’s at times, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “It is,” Caroline replies. She clears her face of concern purposefully and smiles again. “You’ve given me a great deal to go off of, Lord Savoy. I appreciate your time. And of course, the boon is more than fulfilled.”

GM: Preston taps away into her tablet.

“I assure you, my dear, your mere presence at the Evergreen is boon enough,” Savoy grins.

Caroline: “Charmer.”

GM: “The word you’re thinking of ends with a ‘d’, actually,” Savoy idly corrects, then grins. “But truth be told, Miss Malveaux, I often feel as if I’m taking advantage! So I’ll do you one better, if you’ll allow me—I’ve had a few dealings of my own with Prospero. I could write a letter of introduction for you to bring along, if you’d like, or send my herald Mélissaire to accompany you.”

Caroline: “As always, Lord Savoy, your charm is exceeded only by your generosity. One of these days you’ll have to let me pay you back.” There’s an alluring smile there she seldom shows, one half-playful and half-inviting. “I expect traveling with Mélissaire would raise some interesting questions, but if I make the trip I may indeed take you up on the letter. I’ll be certain to reach out if that’s the case.”

GM: Savoy raises his empty glass in seeming toast.

“If it is, my dear, may you find the truth you seek.”

Friday night, 20 November 2015, AM

Caroline: Raymond. Everything seems to come back to Raymond. Her own Embrace. The auction. Matheson. Desirae Wells. The latter gives her ample excuse to investigate him. A convenient shroud for her real purpose. A paranoid part of her mind screams it’s too convenient, but then that part is always screaming these days. If she listened to it she’d spend most of her time crying in her bedroom, rendered motionless by all too justified paranoia.

He’s not exactly the sort she can investigate using her mundane resources, but fortunately her less mundane ones are growing, albeit less quickly than she might wish. She asks friendly Kindred about the Caitiff if they know about him and tries to figure out if he’s still operating in the city, and in particular if he has contact with Matheson and Adler. She tries to investigate ‘the auction’.

GM: Jocelyn initially has no idea who Raymond is. After some prompting, she goes, “Oh yeah, some lick who showed up to a few Elysia. I think he got kicked out of the city?” She doesn’t remember anything else about him.

Peter Lebeaux is willing to part with what he knows about Raymond for a boon owed.

Gus Elgin makes Caroline the same offer.

Alder, of course, she’s declined to ask at all.

Caroline: Of course. No one is willing to help for free.

For now, Caroline tables incurring further obligations in favor of what her own efforts can uncover.

Thursday evening, 26 November 2015

GM: Claire has remained in New Orleans after Westley’s funeral in order to “take care of things” with the family. She takes occasional flights up to DC and drives out to Baton Rouge to see Gabriel every weekend or two. Caroline’s youngest brother is otherwise spending his last year in high school by himself, which Claire thinks is good for him. It’ll prepare him for being fully on his own next year at Yale. Caroline’s mother stays at the Hotel Monteleone, as Matt seems to have grown sour over letting relatives stay in his Audubon home for free. A few family rumors say that Vera has sent more PIs to scope out the place for evidence Matt is keeping any mistresses there, but nothing comes of it.

The three brothers’ families reunite at Orson’s home in the Garden District for Thanksgiving. The largest spat of drama surprisingly centers around Luke, who’d wanted to invite Cécilia (and who he seems to have grown increasingly close to since Westley’s death). Cécilia’s mother, however, was extremely firm about keeping her family together for Thanksgiving. It’s not a French holiday, but after ten years in the States they’ve “gone native” enough to enjoy celebrating it anyway. When Luke thought to simply have dinner with them, there was nearly as much objection from the Malveauxes. Vera considered it particularly baffling when “he isn’t even engaged to this girl.”

In the end, Luke and Cécilia decide to spend their Thanksgivings with their respective families. Perhaps they’re all tired of fighting, or Westley’s death is still casting a long pall over events. Something simply feels subdued even as the family avidly talks and heaps their plates with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pecan pie with whipped cream.

Caroline: Caroline’s memories of what food actually tastes like become more and more indistinct over time, and by Thanksgiving, only a couple of months after her Embrace, so much of it seems like nothing but the next rotation of foulness she has to endure as part of her own private Masquerade.

She tries to keep a lower profile at dinner, out of the spotlight and grateful for Luke’s soaking up of the heat. Though she’d never admit it to the rest of the family, part of her suspects that the entire dust up was kicked up on purpose to take people’s minds off of the past. Luke’s good like that.

GM: If Caroline’s suspicions are true, Luke does not come forward with them, and the rest of the family’s speculation remains minimal (at least for the holiday). Congress has a state work period during Thanksgiving, which means all the politicians and big-name donors are spending time with their families, and allows Caroline to briefly see her father again. Clare makes a point of seating them next to one another. Nathan tells his daughter that he’s pleased to see her “doing well,” and is sorry he can’t attend her graduation. His schedule is packed.

“But I’m proud to see you moving forward, Caroline,” he remarks between a bite of the bourbon-infused pie, a local twist on the classic recipe. “It’d have been twice the tragedy if we let Westley’s death stop anyone else’s life.”

Caroline: The words feel so hollow and empty. The shell of what she once wanted just like she’s a shell of what she once was. But she knows what he wants to hear, and more importantly what her father wants to hear.

“You’re busy with actual important things. It’s just a self-indulgent ceremony anyway.. Nothing we haven’t both already seen,” she answers. And there’s truth to it, even if Caroline won’t see another.

GM: “I’d have had my degrees mailed if it weren’t for appearances,” her father agrees between a bite of pie.

Caroline: “Postcard to a beach somewhere?” Caroline puts on a smile. “It’d certainly be a more productive use of time.”

GM: “There’s no time for those either with the election in 12 months,” Nathan replies. “Senator Kelly’s going to face an actual primary challenger instead of the usual Democrat sacrificial lamb.”

Caroline: “Cherry again?” The heiress asks.

GM: “Some rabble-rouser crawled out from the swamps. He claims to be the son of Earl Long, but none of the family know him.”

“Cherry wouldn’t run in a Republican primary. Journalists would consider it a good day’s work if they caught you making such a stupid gaffe,” her father reproaches, cutting another slice of bourbon pecan pie.

Caroline: Caroline’s skin might flush with embarrassment if she were still living. She’s not.

“If that’s all they got you might too.”

GM: “He’s probably just trying to get his name out,” Claire remarks. “Kelly will win, but this is going to be his last term.”

Caroline: “Where’s he from?”

GM: Nathan shrugs. “Nowhere we’d set foot.”

Caroline: “I can’t help but wonder how many of your colleagues would say the same of us,” Caroline offers.

GM: Her father takes another bite of pie.

Her mother asks, “I’m sorry, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Baton Rouge?” she offers. “How many senators could find it on the map much less see it as worth visiting. It’s easy to look down on people.” She carves off a piece of her own slim slice of pie.

“And just as easy to forget that as foolish as others look as they crane their necks at you, so too do you to others in kind.”

GM: “I could find every state capital on a map when I was 15. I’ll welcome the ignorance of any opponent who can’t,” her father answers, pausing to dab some cream off his mouth with a napkin.

Caroline: “And so will Mr. Swamp Thing,” Caroline offers. She bites her lip.

GM: “There still remains a world of difference between rural swamps and state capitals,” her mother states.

Caroline: Caroline carves off another revolting slice of pie.

“A fact not lost on me… or the hicks.”

GM: “There’s a young woman in Washington state who ran for state legislature when she was only 24 years old. What are you doing like that after you graduate?” her father asks.

Caroline: “Shouldn’t you be telling me the answer to that question?” Caroline asks and answers.

GM: “You’re going to work on Senator Kelly’s campaign, then. Caleb will arrange things,” her father replies without missing a beat.

Caroline: “What an excellent symbol of solidarity,” Caroline replies with a fake smile.

GM: “Charlotte’s involved too in a less direct capacity. You’ll be able to learn from her good example.”

Caroline: “I suppose someone in the family has to set an example for others.”

GM: “Someone does,” Nathan agrees with complete seriousness.

Caroline: “I didn’t realize what high esteem you held her in. I’m glad you have at least one person that doesn’t disappoint you.”

GM: “We are proud of you for getting things so well back on track, Caroline,” Claire states, her eyes briefly meeting her husband’s.

“Yes, we are,” Nathan agrees simply. “It’s more than Westley ever did. It’s good progress. Don’t accept it as a substitute for success either.”

Caroline: “And here I thought we were talking about what a success Charlotte has been,” Caroline replies mildly. She slides the last sliver of her pie into her mouth, chewing on the ashes.

GM: “We were. She’s far from the only success in this family,” Claire answers.

Caroline: “That’s true. I suppose none of Matt’s children have strayed from the path.” She slides her plate away. “I wonder why that is.”

GM: The barely-chewed physical matter slides down Caroline’s esophagus with all the pleasure castor oil. It will not be long before she has to vomit and heave out last crumb from her forever-empty stomach.

“Because he no longer has any who have,” Nathan answers. Around them, the low din of conversation from siblings, uncles, and cousins continues to sound. Orson has eaten no fewer than four very generous slices of sweet potato and bourbon pecan pie. No one makes any jokes. Caroline’s father looks as if he could say a good deal more, but perhaps bearing in mind their present setting, he simply stares directly at her.

“Failures are failures because they no longer have any future. Spend more time thinking about yours.”

Caroline: “But why, when you send so much time thinking about it for me?” Caroline asks quietly. She holds her father’s gaze for a moment, but only just, before she sighs, seeming to deflate in place. She looks away, and returns in a gentler voice, “Why do we always do this?” Caroline’s pride still stings, but she’s too conscious of a truth her father is bitterly ignorant of: this may be the last time they are in a room together.

GM: “That’s exactly what I am wondering, Caroline,” Nathan answers in the same unyielding tone. “If you resent us for telling you how to live your life, why don’t you simply live a productive one on your own? Luke has done almost everything since graduating under his own direction. He’s turned out fine.”

Her father doesn’t sound quite regretful, but at least puzzled.

Caroline: “I should think Susan makes that point bitterly clear.”

GM: “You can live a thousand other lives than Westley’s or hers.”

Nathan doesn’t say the name around the rest of the family. No one does.

Caroline: “The last time a woman went against the family’s direction they ended up in a convent, Dad,” Caroline says very soberly, but quietly. “How many of us do you think are eager to try our luck?”

GM: Her father frowns deeply at the further mention of Susan. He doesn’t look away from Caroline, but he’s plainly listening more closely to the three families’ (or at least Orson and his brothers’ families) chatter around the great table. They are mostly finishing up desert and carrying on slower conversations amongst themselves. Orson has started a fifth pie slice but is eating that more slowly too.

“One woman,” Nathan notes. “There was one man who also did, and he wound up dead.”

Caroline: The Ventrue tilts her head to the side, her face slightly downcast.

“You put me on a path, Dad. For better or worse, I was afraid to step off of it. Maybe I should have. Maybe things would have gone differently. But I wanted,” she closes her eyes and shakes her head just a bit, “so badly for you to be proud of me. To do what I thought you wanted. Did I ever have plans of my own? Things I wanted to do and achieve beyond the plan?” She shrugs. “Of course I did. I just didn’t want them as much as I wanted that.”

GM: “Don’t talk in the past tense like that, Caroline,” her father reproaches—and might even entreat. “You have your entire life ahead of you. Twenty-five is still just a kid. I didn’t want you to drop out because I didn’t want you to lose stride and become accustomed to failure. You can still be more. Much more.”

Claire doesn’t interject as she silently sips her wine. But it’s few mothers who wouldn’t be hanging onto every word.

Caroline: More than you know.

Caroline stares down at her empty place setting for a long moment.

“What can I become?” she asks.

GM: “A senator, governor, CEO, senior partner, attorney general, Supreme Court justice, and a great deal more, if you maintain the necessary commitment.”

Caroline: Caroline nods mutely. “And is that what you want?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: Her father’s glass has run empty, but her own, barely touched, sits more than half full. Orson’s tastes have seen to the bottles on the table aptly. She pours half of her glass into his own.

“To the future then, and opportunity.”

She looks at her father, but also past him, to where her mother watches.

GM: Both her parents raise what remains of their glasses.

“To the future.”

“And opportunity.”


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