“I had no idea what it was like being the outsider.”
Monday night, 19 October 2015, PM
GM: Caroline continues to spend more time with her clanmates and learn more of their own domains—and they of hers.
John Harley Matheson’s domain over Whitney Hancock Bank and Becky Lynne’s oversight of that domain, in lieu of his exile, are already known to Caroline. She learns from an example of Ventrue cooperation, however, with what Gabriel Hurst nicknames the “one-two operation” he runs with his sister-in-blood.
Becky Lynne oversees their sire’s interests in the bank directly and carefully husbands its growth. Hurst also aids that growth through the diversity of his own holdings, which Caroline has seen run the gamut from hardware stores to restaurants to private schools. Whenever any of Hurst’s businesses perform a financial transaction involving a bank—or whenever Hurst knows a person or other business who needs a bank—the Ventrue almost always brings in Whitney Hancock if there is not a compelling reason to do otherwise. In this manner, he ensures the bank’s financial tentacles are embedded far and wide throughout New Orleans. Becky Lynne, in turn, sees that her brother-in-blood’s businesses are granted loans at favorable rates, cuts through red tape, and otherwise lubricates the process of getting his enterprises off the ground and keeping them running through the bank’s support.
As Hurst himself terms it with a chuckle, “she counts and packs the eggs that fall from the golden goose, and I deliver them far and wide throughout the city.”
Most saliently to Caroline is that this sort of arrangement can be expected to mirror those of others with her law firm. Not all Ventrue are as committed to using Whitney Hancock Bank as Becky Lynne’s own broodmate is, of course—“some transactions they want to keep private”—but if they have to choose between multiple banks, they will choose Whitney Hancock Bank, bar a pressing reason to do otherwise. When Caroline engages with her clanmates’ domains in this way, she can expect them to reciprocate and hire her law firm for their own needs. Better, she’s already “put her foot in that door,” as Hurst puts it, by taking out a loan from Whitney Hancock Bank.
Caroline: Caroline cannot help but note how such an arrangement, in their specific case, seems to benefit their sire more than anyone else. Especially themselves given then active push towards growing the bank and funneling profits. If he was their father that might be more logical—they would inevitably inherit it—but their immortal sire will leave nothing to his childer. Unless he were destroyed.
Instead he has two childer out in New Orleans shepherding his assets and expanding his reach. Hurst has his own interests, but of Adler’s, she has heard little. While certainly for now Adler can trade on her sire’s influence, wealth, and domain, what happens when—not if—her sire’s banishment is inevitably lifted?
It also casts their Embrace in different terms and makes starkly clear the reality of most childer for their sires—at least for elder sires. They are investments, tools, often with purpose. How they make use of the opportunity provided by their role may define their Requiem, but ultimately little of their path is their own.
It is with softer eyes that she views her clanmate’s Requiem, the more she learns. Even her own instruction here, while it will no doubt raise Adler’s stock if she succeeds, is not for the older Ventrue’s own sake. Instead her sire is collecting the boon owed by Caroline even as he farms his childe out to do the work.
The lesson is also instructive in how the older, and more powerful, Ventrue are the anchors to the entire Structure in the city. The Whitney Hancock Bank, by its nature as a bank, touches the domain of every Ventrue in the city in a way in which few other domains might. Beyond the staggering financial resources that Matheson can bring to bear—and that he has available—his domain is critical to the success of many others.
It also raises questions what her relationship with her own sire could look like. Those questions are not new—they have dominated her thoughts since before she knew the prince was her sire. Why was she made? What awaits her in the future? They have however taken on a new urgency as she’s learned ever more about Kindred society. She’s ever more certain that even if she survives the seneschal’s trial and is accepted, her own trials will be far from ever.
But at least she’d have a place.
GM: Becky Lynne, at least, appears happy with her own place as her sire’s voice (Hurst seems to refer dealings with Matheson to her), and manager of his considerable holdings. All the Kindred Caroline meets seem to view her with great respect. The other Ventrue doesn’t speak of any domain outside her sire’s. Of course, she and Caroline have spent a great deal time together over the past few months, covering so many topics. Meetings with Becky Lynne start to happen less frequently, and the other Ventrue is forthright about why. Now that Caroline is developing her own holdings, she will have more to talk about other Ventrue with. They can also pick up some of Becky Lynne’s slack: it will be good for Caroline to hear more about their clan from new perspectives.
Caroline: The process as a whole keeps her nights full—relatively rarely does she have nights for leisure—but it’s a schedule she’s familiar with, little different than the one she lived for her mortal family growing up. She’s just glad it’s fall and the nights are long.
GM: It is her true sire’s domain which Caroline may be most interested by. Her “tour” is conducted by the Hussar, who shows her through several corporate offices in the CBD, but spends the bulk of their interactions inspecting Caroline’s developing domain. He is a stiff and humorless individual with frequent criticisms and few praises.
In contrast to John Harley Matheson, Caroline learns that her sire has less to directly offer other Kindred. He does, however, claim a much larger domain than the city’s financial sector. The mayor’s office and city’s municipal government are his. All law enforcement agencies are his. Officials who hold federal and state-wide office are his. A variety of corporate holdings are his, including Malveaux Oil and the entirety of the petroleum industry (although this last domain, and those of state-elected officials, are only recognized among the Ventrue).
Caroline: The close ties and parallels to her mortal life stand out in ways that Caroline could see might have made her an attractive candidate for the Embrace, especially if he is truly headed for torpor.
It does nothing to explain why she was kept in the dark, thrown to the wolves, and forced to make her way as she has though.
GM: Such a domain is apparently too vast to be managed by a single vampire, for Vidal has delegated even more of it to other Kindred than does Matheson.
Father Malveaux oversees the Catholic Church through Caroline’s mortal uncle. Donovan and Camilla Doriocourt attend to the city’s law enforcement agencies. Maldonato looks towards the city’s bureaucracy and has Vidal’s apparent blessing to “assist” with the administration of any area of his lover’s domain, including the mayor’s office that composes its crown jewel.
She also hears that Vidal has largely ceded the Fifth Court of Appeals, despite its nature as an institution of federal officials, to his seneschal. Then again, Caroline could readily surmise that most of the court’s activities are irrelevant to the nightly unlives of New Orleans’ Kindred, even if no one else told her so.
Caroline: It’s not shocking to her, though she can understand why he has kept control of so much, even those that have relatively little impact on the city. Anything ceded is much harder to get back later.
GM: Marcel Guilbeau’s domain consists of the gambling and related entertainment industries. Rocco’s domain over Harrah’s stands as a clear example of how Ventrue domains of authority are not recognized outside the clan. Still, at least within the Structure, no other clanmate will infringe upon the city’s casinos.
Marcel also retains connections to the state legislature in Baton Rouge, although these ties have atrophied since he was ousted from the city. The clan is eager to see him reinstated as prince—though a variety of factors have apparently stymied his reclamation of the city, not the least of which is Vidal’s ongoing conflict with Savoy and the Baron (who might otherwise lend greater aid).
Until that night, however, Marcel seems to have made a comfortable Requiem for himself in New Orleans. The Alystra is doing well as a business, and provides a means of mingling and developing connections with kine from multiple stratas of society. It’s also, as Caroline discovered with Harrah’s, a useful place to launder not just money but large amounts of physical bills through. Several clanmates have used the casino for that purpose.
Caroline: Caroline has already seen the value of that service. While she expects the firm to be a relatively useful place to launder money as a whole—billing rates being what they are—she lacks a convenient place to produce cash, beyond what she keeps on hand. The truth is, outside of Kindred circles, she’s rarely had cause to deal in that much physical currency.
GM: Pierpont McGinn, as regent of Uptown, holds perhaps the most expansive domain outside of Vidal’s own. In addition to tightly controlling (or at least influencing) the various businesses and institutions within its borders, the Ventrue regent owns a prosperous real estate conglomerate. Land is his business, or at least one of them. He also supplements this legitimate income through his hold over the Dixie Mafia. But the most prized area of his domain is the Ku Klux Klan. He’s also affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood, modern anti-Islamic groups, and—as of the past several years—the newly-emergent “alt-right.” He’s even branched into media since the rise of the last group. If Caroline’s firm does well, he should have many legal cases to send her way. Probably more than any other clanmate.
“So long as you don’t object to defending our great nation’s values, Miss Malveaux,” McGinn drawls.
Caroline: “I could hardly turn aside anything you sent my way, Gerousiastis McGinn,” Caroline replies. “Though it may be a time before my domain is ready to take on capably take on such complex matters.”
GM: “Good things come ta those who wait,” McGinn smiles contentedly.
Father Malveaux’s domain over the Catholic Church through her uncle Orson is already known to Caroline. The albino priest otherwise appears to maintain fewer mortal connections than his clanmates do, and to devote the bulk of his time to Kindred affairs.
He is somewhat cool when he receives Caroline to tutor her in his holdings and the clan’s ways, and he does so upon fewer occasions than the other gerousia. But he receives her all the same.
In addition to the duties Becky Lynne outlined, Father Malveaux serves as curator of the clan’s archives in the Garden District. The house where they are kept is known simply as the Library of New Orleans, and claims to house one of the most complete and formal collections of Ventrue correspondence and documentation in the New World. Of all the U.S.’ greatest cities, Father Malveaux explains—from New York to Los Angeles to Chicago and Washington D.C.—only New Orleans has seen uninterrupted rule by a single, Ventrue prince.
He does not once speak of Vidal’s purportedly impending torpor.
Caroline’s clan, she also learns, cares a great deal about their history. Father Malveaux states that the city’s collection is not comprehensive—no single library could contain the Ventrue clan’s entire history, nor would ‘placing all of their eggs in one basket’ be wise—but that New Orleans remains the clan’s foremost resource on Ventrue history within the French colonies, and, later, the American South. Some of the most frequent blue blood visitors to the city are individuals who wish to research their (and others’) family lines, past rulings by the Ephorate, strategoi, and the leadership of other societies within the clan, and assorted precedents and points of protocol. The clan was fortunate the collection was located in the Garden District and thus spared from flooding by Katrina, but Caroline sees no computers or other digital archives.
Strategos Vidal and Gerousiastis Matheson are credited for contributing many of the collection’s historic documents and artifacts from the Old World, especially their respective homelands in Spain and England. The names of the destroyed Gerousiastis Rojas y Batiz and Gerousiastis Constantine are no less enshrined. Though both elders met final death over a century ago, their names live on in the biographies and genealogical trees that Father Malveaux has dutifully recorded.
Caroline: It’s a staggering historical record that the legal scholar in Caroline can appreciate. She tries to conceal her interest in the genealogical trees—or at least that of Vidal.
Still, she can’t help herself. The archives present perhaps the best look she’ll get into her ’sire’s past. Despite the presence of Gerousiastis Malveaux, and their long antagonism (why must so many things she cares about tie back to the dreadful albino?) she takes any opportunity in which he is not directly overseeing her to seek her own answers within the archives.
GM: Caroline finds no such opportunity, for Father Malveaux remains close by for the entirety of her visit. She will either have to obtain answers through him—or make a new opportunity of her own.
Caroline: Ultimately her curiosity gets the better of her. She inquires as to what the oldest records are in the archive, and in more detail as to how various genealogical trees are tracked, especially as they expand in other cities, or when they move to the city from others.
GM: “All genealogical trees begin by tracing a clanmate’s lineage to their fourth-generation progenitor,” Father Malveaux explains. Any Ventrue who is unaware of this, who is so “grossly ignorant” of so essential a component of their heritage, would likely never be accepted into the Structure.
After this basic line of descent is established, Father Malveaux fills in the names, dates, and biographies of any additional Kindred relatives the Ventrue in question can name. A given city’s archivist is only required to track the genealogies of clanmates who reside in their city.
“To be merely adequate, however, is not in our blood,” Father Malveaux rasps. The ‘gold standard’ for any city’s archivist to record the names for every clanmate who is three or fewer steps related to every current and former Ventrue resident of the city. This includes a sire’s broodmates and a broodmate’s childer in addition to one’s own broodmates, direct ancestors, and direct descendants. Most local clanmates willingly help their city’s archivist in this task. The longer and more complete a Ventrue’s genealogy is, and the greater the dignitas of their blood relatives, the more dignitas their own name carries by association. The Kingship Clan literally believes quality is inherited in the blood, and that Ventrue from superior bloodlines are superior Kindred.
Clanmates who are “cousins”—four or more steps removed from a given Ventrue, and who descend from the same fourth-generation ancestor—carry notably less dignitas. Ventrue descended from different fourth-generation progenitors carry no dignitas at all—unless the Ventrue’s blood is close enough to carry more proximate blood sympathy, but not even Vidal’s blood is that close to the clan founder’s. (One would have to be a mere five steps removed from Caine to have a different fourth-generation progenitor as their aunt- or uncle-in-blood.) Regardless, Father Malveaux continues, few archivists make an effort to track the names of Kindred more than three steps removed in blood from their city’s current or former residents.
Some archivists, however, are responsible for overseeing much larger genealogies. It is poor practice, after all, to keep all of one’s eggs in one basket. Most strategoi have their praetors forward periodic copies of their city’s genealogies and other records, which are stored in the strategos’ home city. Vidal faithfully follows this policy: the Library of New Orleans thus maintains genealogical and historic records for Ventrue across the larger Southeastern United States. The genealogy is updated frequently as new clanmates are Embraced, meet final death, accomplish noteworthy deeds, or discover additional details about their kin.
Caroline: Caroline is genuinely fascinated by the process and not even Gerousiastis Malveaux can put a damper on her interest. What began as an excuse to get a better look at her sire’s genealogy moves on to significantly more.
GM: “The strategois’ archives, however, are of but secondary value to our clan’s foremost storehouse of knowledge,” the albino priest rasps.
At the apex of the Structure, the Indian scholar Bindusara has been charged by the Ephorate itself with maintaining genealogical and historical records for the entire Ventrue clan. The mammoth task’s very nature ensures that his records are neither fully accurate nor fully complete—nor will they likely ever be. But the dignitas attached to Bindusara’s name for his millennia-long labor is inestimable. Beyond reproach. He personally visits the strategois’ cities every decade or so, to confer with local archivists and transcribe their updated records into his own.
Bindusara last came to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, several years in advance of his scheduled visit. Although the Library of New Orleans was mostly spared from the storm’s devastation, the renowned scholar understandably wished to make early copies of Father Malveaux’s records.
Bindusara is expected to make his next visit to New Orleans soon—possibly even next year. His arrival will be an occasion of great importance and celebration for the local Structure.
“Every childe of Ventrue blood knows the worth of the labors he undertakes on behalf of us all,” Father Malveaux rasps.
Caroline: Caroline can’t help but agree, even if the task seems almost unimaginably vast.
GM: As to the Library of New Orleans’ oldest records, Father Malveaux answers that those are several codices and manuscripts Vidal generously allowed his predecessor to transcribe copies of. They detail the history of the Ventrue clan in medieval Iberia and contain a number of genealogies particular to that time and place.
Caroline: It’s a different side of the older Ventrue, seeing him involved in his nightly activities. Previously she’s only seen him as the tyrannical and inhuman Sanctified priest, and as the monster between herself and her mortal family.
Discovering that he does things other than make the lives of others miserable, and that he perhaps even has a passion for something that piques her interest is almost unclean feeling, like she’s found that she and a racist share the same taste in music.
She dearly wishes that someone less hostile were presenting this information—and genuinely doesn’t really want to be around the priest at all—but doesn’t let the way he makes her feel demeaned suck the interest out of this particular discovery.
She’s grown increasingly, and perhaps depressingly, accustomed to that treatment from more than just him in a way that makes her want to peel off her own skin, to crawl out of this costume she’s been forced to wear that takes abuse, disrespect, and humiliation passively and with humility that is so foreign to her.
Perhaps the worst part of the meetings with some of the elder Ventrue in the city is not the meetings themselves, it’s having to look herself in the mirror later. The face that stares back is perfect, unchanging, unchanged from the moment the poisonous blood entered her. The familiarity of the face only makes her feel all the more like she’s living a lie—or not living as the case may be. Who is she now, that she rolls over and shows her belly so freely? That she tucks her tail between her legs so freely and waits for the next blow to land?
Caroline isn’t sure, but she is certain that she increasingly has a new target for her hatred: herself.
She can live with being a monster—most nights it makes it easier to take out her frustrations on mortals in a way that makes obvious the meaning behind the seneschal’s words on the value of the Sanctified. She can’t live with being a nobody, a failure, an object of scorn.
GM: Caroline’s hatred proves all-too lonely, for her clanmates seem to assume she is an enthusiastic participant in the Structure. After all, she’s choosing to involve herself in this. There is no punishment levied upon clanmates who opt out, merely benefits withheld.
Perhaps no better example of this lies in Father Malveaux’s authority over the Structure’s archives. Since he is the one who labors so diligently to maintain them, it is his purview to whom access is granted. Visits occur under his supervision. He is even willing to loan out items (on a temporary basis) to clanmates who enjoy his trust to a sufficient degree.
There are no formal punishments for incurring his ire. Merely denial of the benefits from earning his goodwill. In this way, conflicts within the clan seem to be subtle affairs. Caroline has yet to see or hear of any clanmates who openly dislike one another.
As the last detail of Caroline’s visit to the Library of New Orleans, Father Malveaux makes very clear that she is not to disclose the archives’ location, or even confirm their existence, to Kindred outside the Structure. Clan affairs, as Becky Lynne explained, are not discussed among outsiders. These archives consist of nothing but hundreds of years of documentation of those same affairs.
Caroline: Optional involvement, unless your sire happens to be the prince. Unless you want nothing so much as his approval. Unless you’re convinced that failure to earn approval from the Ventrue and acceptance into the Structure is a death sentence, giving the one secretly hanging over her own head.
Perhaps that’s what makes Savoy so attractive. He’s never insulted her, never belittled her. She knows his flattery is almost certainly empty, that he has his own agenda in this regard. But just because it’s flattery, and just because she knows it is, doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.
GM: Antoine Savoy, as ever, promises another way out. Another choice. Her choice. His brand of freedom—if she wants it.
Meanwhile, Caroline is introduced in passing to members of the local Structure she has not already met. These include John Polk, Roxanne’s sire, a Sanctified priest who helps Father Malveaux maintain the clan’s records. There’s also Reynaldo Gui, a mafioso affiliated with Antoine Savoy (he is viewed somewhat more coolly by the Structure’s members) who’s from Chicago and wants to re-establish the historic criminal pipeline between both cities. He claims to be the childe of an Embraced Al Capone.
Marcel Guilbeau also has two childer of his own. Anthony Brodowski, who Caroline already met in passing at Matheson’s trial, serves as his sire’s majordomo (he will be seneschal when Marcel retakes Baton Rouge) and administers many of his casino’s behind the scenes details. Marcel’s first childe Christopher has long been considered a self-centered embarrassment to his sire’s name, but has recently started to clean up his act. He’s the sole Ventrue in the Structure who counts himself as one of the Anarchs (Coco’s, of course).
Other Ventrue pass through New Orleans on a temporary basis, or maintain ties to the Big Easy from other cities. Lictors, praetors, and various clanmates from across the Southeast all have business in the great Augusto Vidal’s domain. Caroline may learn more of them, if she has the interest, after she is inducted into the Structure—a night that draws steadily closer.
Her tutors school her in a variety of further matters particular to the clan’s history and customs: how much money she is expected to have by when (enough that she never has to worry about it and within several years), how she is expected to display and act about it (with tasteful restraint); what sorts of havens she is expected to keep (at least one public and tastefully furnished haven in which to receive guests); which hobbies and recreational games are accorded the most respect (chess and “olympianism,” the art of subtly manipulating kine’s lives for entertainment purposes); how she converses with other Ventrue in private (she should be well-read and capable on discoursing on subjects besides politics and gossip; Becky Lynne mildly chides her for being unable to suitably entertain her sire during their first meeting); and many others, including a review of the basic points of etiquette Becky Lynne has tested her on multiple times (always make eye contact with one’s betters, never interrupt one’s betters or lessers, let men kiss your hand and kiss fellow women on the cheek, and always be a model of grace and poise, especially around those who lack it).
Much of Caroline’s history lessons, perhaps to her displeasure, are spent with Father Malveaux. He covers their clan founder’s Embrace and mandate to rule over the other twelve clans, granted to him by Caine; the founder’s final death at a jealous inferior’s hands; the exploits of his eleven childer; the clan’s glories in ancient Sparta, Persia, and most of all, Rome; the clan’s secret rule behind the thrones of feudal nobility, and their dominance over Britain and Germany that persists to this night; Hardestadt’s foundation of the Camarilla, and the Ventrue’s present mandate as its leaders; the clan’s transition from feudal warlords to merchant princes to Fortune 500 CEOs; and the glorious future that awaits them as continued lords over the other Damned, built on the foundations of an equally glorious past.
Becky Lynne previously told Caroline that when a neonate feels they have established their domain, they are to declare their victory to their sire. That sire judges for themselves whether the neonate has succeeded before recommending them to the Gerousia for induction into the Structure. As Caroline lacks a sire, she recourses to Gabriel Hurst as the clan’s aedile. He visits her firm’s offices for a final inspection (all the gerousia have previously visited to offer advice and criticisms) and agrees she is ready. Caroline is scheduled to appear before the full Ventrue clan at their next gathering on December 1st (clan-wide meetings are always held on the first Tuesday of every month). She will give a full accounting of herself, the clan’s history and traditions, and how she met her agoge’s challenge. If she is found worthy, she will be accepted into the Structure as one of them.
Caroline: The instruction in matters of etiquette is easily mastered—in many ways it builds upon foundations laid down her entire life, with subtle and unsubtle differences. The history lessons are another matter entirely. While a skilled student in her life, the various handicaps on her study in her Requiem make it significantly more challenging.
Not only is there the ongoing antagonism with her ‘teacher’ in these matters, there is hardly any text to go in in his place, and independent study is more than simply difficult. It requires she rebuild her lessons from memory on her own time, then bounce them against further instruction from Father Malveaux—often with painful results.
Still, she slowly builds her own notes on Ventrue history, and on the Camarilla as a whole based on the lessons she receives, and in the near dawn hours fills her last minutes of each night with additional study. It’s could be more effective, but she substitutes the various tools she’s accustomed to with time and unfound motivation she lacked in life: it was one (relatively easy) thing to get A’s in school, it’s another to meet the exhausting Ventrue standard.
As she gets closer to the 1st of December increasingly many of her incidental nightly activities fade into the background in favor of more intensive study. Sires, childer, genealogy, history, major accomplishments, ancestors and the traits and deeds they are known for. Much of her hunting time fades away into study-filled hours—the previous time spent cultivating her herd paying dividends now when she cannot spare hours to find the proper vessel.
GM: Caroline finds Father Malveaux civil but cool in his instruction. He does, however, have very little inclination to go over material more than once.
The wound that may cut deepest is the time she spends on “her” ancestors.
Alexander is known for being the youngest of Ventrue’s childer, and some apocryphal stories claim he was the Macedonian conqueror of the same name—although these seem at odds with the belief that the Ventrue clan founder perished countless millennia ago, as well as the bust that depicts a perfect-featured youth of no more than 20 years. He was notable for being the driving Ventrue hand behind Charlemagne’s empire, a great patron of the Carolingian Renaissance, and for founding the Grand Court in Paris, one of the great centers of Kindred civilization during the Middle Ages. His praxis cemented the close relationship between the Ventrue and Toreador clans that persists to this night. He was ironically overthrown by an alliance between the succubi and his childe Geoffrey, forced into exile, and eventually met final death at the hands of Mongol Gangrel in the barely-civilized Slavic east. An ignoble end for a methuselah who is now all-but worshiped by his many French descendants.
Gaius Pedius Marcellus was a young tribune Embraced during the Punic Wars. He was renowned as a thinker and philosopher, and his efforts to preserve the clan’s history in the aftermath of Rome’s fall likely helped Father Malveaux’s archive be as complete as it is. He was very active in his sire’s court as another patron of the Carolingian Renaissance, but grew less heard from after the Carolingian dynasty fell. His final fate is unknown, but he has not been heard from since the Anarch Revolt, and is presumed to number among that conflict’s many casualties.
Dominic de Valois-Burgundy is presumed to hail from the mortal noble house of the same name and shared an idealistic temperament with his sire. He ruled a mortal commune in France that sought, somewhat unorthodoxly, to “incorporate the best lessons of ancient Carthage” and control every aspect of their lives as an enlightened philosopher-king. He sought to eliminate crime, poverty, corruption, and all other social and economic ills from his commune, making it a “shining city upon a hill” hundreds of years before Winthrop’s sermon. He was also renowned as one of the clan’s most popular and trusted diplomats (through the Court of Many Colors) to the Brujah clan. He further distinguished himself during the Enlightenment as an orator and philosopher in Elysia throughout France, and very much considered himself the model of a then-modern enlightened despot. He has not been heard from since the French Revolution and is presumed to have met final death in that conflict.
Dominic’s descendants are the first ones whose faces and voices are known by New Orleans’ Ventrue. Strategos Vidal, Gerousiastis Matheson, and Marcel Guilbeau all knew Lothar Constantine personally as the city’s first Sanctified bishop, a brilliant thinker in the mold of his sire, the founder of the library that Father Malveaux now maintains, and a long-valued member of the Gerousia and Cabildo. Marcel was there when Constantine met final death, sacrificing himself so that he and his mortal brother-turned-sire Jereaux had time to flee the pack of Loup-Garoux descending upon their family’s plantation.
Pierpont McGinn and Father Malveaux also knew Robert Bastien, the city’s previous sheriff. He was a ghoul Embraced for his valor during the last of the Kindred revolts that occurred against Vidal’s rule during the War of 1815. He maintained the peace during some of the city’s most tumultuous years and trained Donovan to be the sheriff he now is.
This legacy and more, Caroline is told she is heir to.
Caroline: It’s a lie. A worthless lie she has never understood and may never. A lie that nearly ended her Requeim and even now haunts it, wasting her time and poisoning her relations. She hates learning of René. Hates the idea of continuing to recite this lie.
Not that she has a choice.
Tuesday night, 1 December 2015, PM
GM: The lie persists, like so many others, and the night of December 1st eventually comes. Caroline is summoned to a conference room in Perdido House, large enough to comfortably seat several dozen people around a wide table. An elevated portion seats all of the Gerousia by order of seniority, from right to left: the Hussar (representing his domitor), the ghoul possessed by John Harley Matheson, Marcel Guilbeau, Pierpont McGinn, and Father Malveaux. Gabriel Hurst, as the clan’s eldest (and currently sole) aedile acts as presiding officer of the meeting, which Caroline has learned is conducted largely along the same procedural lines as Roberts’ Rules of Order.
The whole of the local Ventrue clan turns out, also including John Polk, Reynaldo Gui, Becky Lynne Adler, Christopher Guilbeau, Anthony Brodowski, Roxanne Gerlette, and several other Kindred whose faces Caroline does not recognize, but who she was told had business in New Orleans. Caroline is seated at the table’s left-most space, after Roxanne. The medals and insignia she studied under Becky Lynne are pinned to the lapels of suits and the collars of dresses.
Her eye is notably drawn to the pendant of a candle that Matheson’s younger childe wears. Lightbringer, for completing one’s agoge with exceptional distinction. The Gerousia’s recognition of the bright future that lies ahead for the recipient—and equally high expectations.
A brief period is permitted for all the attendees to settle in before Gabriel Hurst stands at the elevated portion of the conference table and strikes it once with a gavel to draw attention. “The convention will come to order,” he announces.
Caroline: That the prince has sent a ghoul torpedoes her spirits, but she keeps her face carefully neutral.
GM: Caroline was told this was not unusual. Vidal has not personally attended the clan’s monthly meetings on a regular basis in quite some time.
But she evidently did not warrant an exception.
Caroline: She has never seemed to. Not for anyone’s busy schedule. The disappointment is bitter but familiar.
GM: A prayer service to Longinus, notably briefer than the ones in Sunday Elysia, is held. Hurst then reads the items on the nightly agenda, which notably begins with “the final testing and induction of Miss Malveaux into the Structure.” Every other item on the agenda comes afterwards. After all, there are few events more consequential than a new Ventrue’s addition to the clan’s ranks. Their new domain will provide potential opportunities to all, and makes the Structure as a whole that much stronger.
“The assembly calls on Miss Caroline Malveaux to rise,” Gabriel Hurst says, looking up from the written agenda in front of him.
After she does so, the aedile continues in his steady Louisiana drawl,
“Miss Malveaux, as you are no doubt aware, your actions since your release and your conduct at this gatherin’ will determine whether you are you admitted into the Structure of Clan Ventrue as an eiren.”
The eyes of a dozen dead men and women survey Caroline steadily. Several, unblikingly.
“So, go on and tell us,” Hurst continues, spreading his hands. “Who are you, Miss Malveaux? How have you completed your agoge—and what dignitas have you earned that honors the Ventrue name?”
Caroline: Caroline has always hated public speaking, particularly the self-aggrandizing type. Speaking about one’s own greatness and achievements always struck her as the opposite of what the great do. She’d brought up the point with her father on several occasions, particularly in her youth, given that he was required to give such speeches frequently, trumpeting his accomplishments.
He’d had little sympathy: the need to be comfortable in front of a crowd was one he saw for all of his children, especially his eldest. Very shortly thereafter she’d found herself thrust into the forefront of numerous campaign events, and and told she would find a leadership position in student government. Lessons with her father flowed naturally from this—by far the best part of the entire demand was the time it bought her with him—and while she outgrew her fear of such things, she’s never quite outgrown the discomfort with them.
All the more so now standing before this collection of the dead and damned. Some of then centuries old, all of them accepted by their peers, all of them her senior, and all of them all too aware of her dirty laundry among Kindred society. Several she’d all but begged before. Others she’s apologized too. Many hold boons over her and more than one has physically assaulted her.
All are more accomplished, in their own ways. Often in several ways. The agoge showed her as clearly as it taught her that each of these damned is successful in their own ways. In some cases fantastically successful, however monstrous some may be.
But she remembers well her father’s lessons. Remembers going up against juniors and seniors who had far more to their name than her. Remembers how to make something out of nothing.
“I am Caroline Malveaux. In my mortal life was the daughter of Nathaniel Malveaux, now senator from Louisiana and one of three heirs to Malveaux Oil and the Malveaux fortune.” She begins.
“In my mortal life I graduated from Tulane University, fenced alongside world champions, debated in the National Forensic League at the national level, and just prior to my Embrace saved the lives of heirs to the Devillers and Whitney families.”
Her voice is strong and clear, her words crisp, ringing.
“I was Embraced on the 6th of September, 2015, in the Dungeon, following my torture and murder by René Baristheaut.” The lie stings, but it’s a familiar one by now. “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.”
“René Baristheaut who honorably served as hound in this city until his sire’s final death, and who met his own end with dignitas.”
“Childe of Robert Bastien, who was Embraced for bravery and valor during the war of 1815, who as sheriff maintained the peace for decades and instructed the current sheriff of New Orleans, who met his end defending the city against the blasphemous forces that would destroy us all.”
“Childe of Lothar Constantine, the city’s first bishop, founder of the city’s library, member of the Gerousia and Cabildo, who met his end honorably against Loup-Garoux to save members of this current body.”
“Child of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, renowned diplomat, orator, philosopher, and despot who sought to liberate kine from their own sins and worst inclinations.”
“Childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, soldier of the Punic Wars, philosopher, and savior of the archives of Rome following its collapse, and longtime member of his sire’s court.”
“Childe of Alexander, the youngest childe of Ventrue, architect of the Carolingian Empire, patron of its Renaissance, and founder of the Grand Court of Paris. Father of the ties between Clans Toreador and Ventrue that persist to this night.”
“Childe of Ventrue, founder of our clan.”
“My Embrace was atypical. No sire awaited me upon my awakening. Nor the following night. Nor any night. Gratefully, one of the members of this august body saw fit to introduce me to the All Night Society. From their I learned my path forward, that René was to be delivered to face the prince’s justice.”
“I was challenged in this course by an Anarch krewe recruited into his service. Thrice I bested them before they met their demise.”
“Thus he was so delivered, and found his final justice by the prince’s hand.”
“Following my release I came to learn for the first time of Clan Ventrue’s nature, of what it meant to be Ventrue, of our clan’s history. And began upon the construction of a domain that might bring honor to the Clan, truth to my naming among them, and purpose to my Requiem.”
“I settled upon the legal field as one not yet touched by another Ventrue, and began my efforts to establish a domain worthy of the name. Servants within it, pawns to be moved, clients to be influenced. Influence, power, and worth. I created a firm and recruited attorneys of talent and skill to man it. I established relationships with other firms, with judges, with clients. All increasing the reach of the firm.
“Today it stands ready to meet any legal challenge. It produces wealth to satisfy my needs. It offers influence within the courts that will only grow in time, and more mundane services that any attorney might. The handling of wealth, of properties, of estates.”
“This is my domain. My offering to the clan, my demonstration of worth.”
“I bring this with me, weighed and measured by those gathered tonight.”
“Alongside it I bring my skill, my knowledge, and my dedication to Clan Ventrue. My skill in the blood: velocitas, sublimitas, mentis imperium. And I bring my ambition. My desire to succeed. To be greater than I am. To honor my sire and my ancestors in blood.”
“I offer myself, and my domain, for consideration by those gathered here.”
GM: Caroline might hate public speaking—but her audience clearly does not.
Despite the faintest of frowns at her Embrace’s initial description, Anthony Brodowski and Roxanne Gerlette look favorably disposed by Caroline’s initial description of her pedigree. A few eyes flicker towards Matheson’s ghoul as Caroline mentions saving a Whitney heir. The five Kindred in the room who claim descent from Alexander—Marcel and his childe, Roxanne, and John Polk—all seem to follow Caroline’s words especially closely as she recites the deeds and accomplishments their allegedly shared ancestors, and to swell with pride (at least in their eyes) as she proceeds through each name. Her description of Dominic “liberating kine from their own worst inclinations and sins” even draws a few smiles, and Marcel offers a faint inclination of his head with a deeply somber expression as Caroline praises his grandsire’s valor in meeting final death. Pierpont McGinn and Reynaldo Gui both crack the slightest of smiles at Caroline’s description of Eight-Nine-Six’s three defeats (perhaps little surprise for a recipient of the Daley Prize). Father Malveaux and John Harley Matheson evince no outward displays of emotion, but neither do they indicate disapproval—perhaps an accomplishment of in of itself.
A pause stretches the air as Gabriel Hurst permits the assembled Ventrue a further moment to silently appreciate Caroline’s words.
“Well said, Miss Malveaux,” the aedile finally declares.
He turns towards his sire’s ghoul. “Gerousiastis Matheson, as the eldest among us, would you question the aspirant further on our clan’s behalf?”
“I would, Aedile Hurst,” the ghoul replies. Hurst opens a folder and slides it towards him. ‘Matheson’ briefly glances at the contents before fixing his gaze upon Caroline.
“To whom do you credit the successes you have relayed us, Miss Malveaux?” the elder Ventrue inquires.
Caroline: “Gerousiastis Matheson,” Caroline begins, “I once, when speaking to your own esteemed childe, Questor Adler, spoke of Ventrue within a city as a Parthenon among its Kindred.”
“Remarkable not only for the unbroken longevity of such domains, for their strength of form, and for their ability to awe those of taste, but also for how such a structure is held up not be a single pillar that bares the load, but instead by the collective strength of all under its roof.”
“As with such a structure, so too would I say that I am the sum of many parts. Arrogance would have me claim that my successes are my own, but pride and respect beg their due. Each Kindred in this room has formed a pillar that has allowed me to build my own domain, and accomplish in those ways I have.”
“Some, certainly more than others by virtue of their patience and proximity: Strategos Vidal for the mercy of his rule that spared an illicit Embrace an ignoble death, for his induction into Clan Ventrue, and for the strength, stability, and security of the city. Yourself, Gerousiastis Matheson for your own willingness to meet with a then sireless fledging awaiting release and devote the efforts of your own childe that I would not be released into ignorance. Gerousiastis Guilbeau for his willingness to meet with me as I was and reset me upon the proper path. Gerousiastis McGinn for his unvarnished honesty, for painful lessons better learned early he was willing to provide. Gerousiastis Malveaux for his initial initiation into the all-night society, instruction in matters of faith, the beginnings of my development of mentis imperium, his patience in forgiving early missteps, and his later lessons in the history of this clan. Questor Adler who’s great patience, and great dedication, I hope has educated me as a member of this distinguished clan should be.”
“And more than those within this room. All those enumerated in my blood’s past, distant and near. I have inherited no shameful history or merit-less legacy. I have inherited strength of blood, strength spirit, and nobility of purpose from an unbroken line of Ventrue that did honor to the name.”
“Even my sire, who saw not fit to await me upon my Embrace, bequeathed upon me rare, neigh unique, opportunity. To test myself as few have. To discover for myself if I had the strength and bearing to take my place. To face a challenge few of my blood ever have the opportunity to.”
“My mortal upbringing too gave me skills and tools by virtue of its privileged few might enjoy.”
“And yes, Gerousiastis Matheson, beside these mighty pillars have I built my own efforts. My dedication, my cunning, my intelligence. My ambition. My will to power. I credit my successes to Clan Ventrue and all those that have honorably born the name.”
GM: Audible murmurs go through the assembled Ventrue this time.
Hurst approaches his ‘sire’ and whispers in the ghoul’s ear.
Matheson’s ghoul nods in answer.
Hurst makes eye contact with the remaining members of the gerousia. Finally, he calls, “This is assembly will now vote upon the resolution to induct Miss Malveaux into the Structure. All those in favor, please say ‘aye.’”
Hurst looks towards the Hussar.
“His Majesty delegates his vote to Gerousiastis Malveaux,” the scarred ghoul replies.
Hurst looks towards his own sire’s ghoul.
“I delegate my vote to Gerousiastis Malveaux.”
Hurst looks towards Marcel Guilbeau.
“I, too, delegate my vote to Gerousiastis Malveaux.”
Hurst looks to Pierpont McGinn.
“Gerousiastis Malveaux’s got ma vote ta cast as he pleases,” he drawls.
Hurst looks towards the albino priest.
All the clan’s eyes rest upon him.
Caroline: Caroline watches the murmurs sweep through those assembled, the whispered message to Gerousiastis Matheson, and the decision to stop questioning at one with more than mild trepidation. It’s possible she’s misstepped. Committed some egregious violation or breach of protocol. It’s also possible she was never in consideration, that there’s been some back room deal cut between those truly in power in the room making her appearance here nothing but a formality. As the votes flow to Gerousiastis Malveaux that sinking feeling only grows.
That relationship remains fraught, and as the pale priest holds her future in his hands she feels the trepidation every young mother must feel when the family drunk hoists their newborn from the crib. That it would be so easy for him to drop and smash that thing so precious to her. Placing all the votes in his hands is so convenient as well for the rest, they can rest assured that the Gerousia will speak with a single voice.
What is in the folder given to Gerousiastis Matheson’s ghoul? Something incriminating? Something to strike her down with? A past failure unrevealed? So many of her failures have been laid bare before those here that she already at times feels naked, exposed, before them, but she has secrets still. Dangerous secrets. She doesn’t look at the Hussar.
When the votes make their way to Gerousiastis Malveaux she need not hold her breath—she’s practiced not breathing when not speaking for exactly this moment, this night, when her composure is essential either way. Less to give away. Whatever happens, she’s done the best that she can with the hand she had. She regrets some early moves, cards discarded and mistakes made that placed her in a hole, but she feels no shame in her plays since then. She looks around the room. There are monsters here. Beings that in life would have more than repulsed her. Racists, murderers, bigots. Worse.
But she’s one of them, and however humble and fragile the empire she’s built from glass and spun dreams in the last months, it is her empire, and it stands among their own. Whatever Gerousiastis Malveaux decides, whatever deals have been cut or arrangements made, she knows her worth. And so to do they all.
GM: “Aye,” rasps Father Malveaux.
Hurst looks towards his sister-in-blood.
Guilbeau the younger.
The several strangers in the room each indicate, “Abstain.”
“All those opposed, please say no,” Hurst calls out.
Silence answers him.
“Looks like the ‘ayes’ have it,” the aedile declares. “I vote ‘aye’ as well. Gerousiastis Matheson?”
The ghoul steeples his fingers as Hurst seats himself.
“This assembly has voted in favor of the resolution to induct you into the Structure as an eiren, Miss Malveaux. Is it your wish to accept this position, and all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities pertaining thereto?”
He motions briefly for her to rise.
Caroline: When the albino finally casts his vote, she barely hears the chorus of ‘ayes’ that follow from the junior members of the room. She keeps her expression carefully neutral throughout, but the dread that surrounds her melts away like a morning fog under the summer’s sun. The path forward lays revealed in its absence, a path into the future. The first she’s seen in many months, and for the first time since the seneschal bestowed upon her a second doom she is, for a moment, simply happy.
The heiress rises once more to face the assembled Ventrue clan of New Orleans. She’s had this speech prepared, according to form, for weeks on the chance she had the opportunity to give it. There’s only a small pang of disappointment that her sire isn’t here to see it, but it’s swept aside as she begins to speak.
“I do, Gerousiastis Matheson, and I do swear and affirm that from this night, and in all future nights…”
Tuesday night, 1 December 2015, PM
GM: When Caroline resumes her seat, it as “Eiren Malveaux.” As one of them.
There was a reason the motion to induct her into the Structure was the evening’s first order of business, above and beyond the inherent value of a new member to expand the Structure. She will have a voice and vote in the following clan-wide matters.
The first such matter concerns two guests to the city.
The first guest introduces himself as, “Questor Thomas Becker, childe of Peter Hartmaan, childe of Maximilian Maurey, childe of Hugo Kleist, childe of Hardestadt, childe of Antonius, childe of Ventrue.” Peter Hartmaan is the former (but unlike Marcel Guilbeau, neither banished nor technically deposed) prince of Houston. Becker is present in New Orleans, he announces to the gathered clan, to broker deals regarding the expansion of clanmates’ domains into his home city. As everyone knows, his Prince Hartmaan’s praxis over the Space City came to an end during Hurricane Katrina when the Church of the Longest Night, a group of Anarchs and Sanctified heretics led by the Brujah “First Minister” Hezekiah Rutledge, orchestrated a coup d’etat that abolished the princedom and divided Houston into a city of effectively independent regents, which now-Regent Hartmaan was reduced to. This has obviously been bad for the local Ventrue clan.
Houston is a huge city with notably unique zoning laws and one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the United States. “Frankly, there’s more than we can chew off,” Becker says. While the local clan normally would be content to “take our time to gobble up every morsel,” recent political circumstances have made this stance impractical. The local Structure would rather see the city’s surplus resources go towards fellow Ventrue, with whom “mutually profitable arrangements” may be struck, than risk those resources falling into the hands of Rutledge’s followers or the Ordo Dracul, which is a a powerful covenant in Houston. Becker is here in New Orleans to both make this larger offer on behalf of his sire, and to offer his own services as a guide to the politics and economics of the Big Heart City.
Several clanmates express their interest and ask Becker a variety of questions. They makes plans to discuss further details pertaining to any arrangements in private.
The second guest, a young-looking Asian woman, draws the room’s attention when she presents herself as “Questor Lin-Mei Yuen, childe of Jan Pieterzoon, childe of Hardestadt.” She is in New Orleans because she is already visiting kin in Houston (Peter Hartmaan also shares her descent, albeit more distantly, from the Camarilla’s legendary architect). When Questor Becker traveled to New Orleans, she decided to accompany him. She’s heard a great deal about the city’s cultural and historic heritage (mortal and Ventrue) and is interested in seeing it for herself. She intends on visiting the clan archives in the Garden District. She says she will welcome the company and hospitality of any clanmates feeling “inclined to entertain a tourist,” but otherwise has no business to bring before the local Structure.
Becky Lynne happily volunteers to “play tour guide”. When Roxanne Gerlette and Anthony Brodowski also seem interested in doing so, Adler suggests they could all “make a night of it” together. Yuen and the others seem happy with this suggestion.
The next matter brought up by the Hussar concerning the matter of the Windsor Court. The hotel has been demolished and the land it occupies, through Vidal’s prior manipulations, indirectly belongs to him. However, “the strategos’ time is beset by many pressing matters,” the Hussar declares, and sorting out what to do with the Court’s land does not rate highly among them.
Vidal is thus willing to farm out this task to the clan at large. Interested Ventrue have until the Structure’s next Tuesday gathering to research and put together proposals for what to do with the Court’s land. There are no requirements for what these proposals must entail, beyond being beneficial to Vidal (and the clan at large, of course). If the strategos does not find any of them to be of sufficient interest, his intention is to sell the former hotel’s land to developers.
The Hussar pauses to field questions from any interested clanmates.
Caroline: Caroline inquires politely as to the exact extent of the prior Windsor Court’s lands.
GM: The land is approximately 44,000 square feet, the Hussar answers. The Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office has valued it at $2,640,000.
Caroline: Caroline takes notes in neat precise hand on a spiral-bound portfolio.
GM: Anthony Brodowski inquires whether Strategos Vidal would prefer to retain a stake in any new enterprise built on the Court’s land, or whether he would prefer to sell it to another clanmate. The Hussar answers that the strategos has no preferences. He will judge proposals by their comparative merits and back whichever one he deems to have the most promise.
Caroline: She jots down several thoughts beside her notes: lost services?, interaction with other domains, value added. collaboration? She looks to Brodowski and circles the last bullet.
GM: Reynaldo Gui inquires to what extent “extralegal activities” on the building’s former site will be of concern to the Masquerade.
The Hussar answers that the Masquerade remains a matter of some concern. Unusual happenings were reported in the Windsor Court. The family of a woman who claimed to have been raped in the hotel also made recurrent nuisances of themselves.
Caroline: More notes.
GM: Hunters were also suspected to have been active in the area. When Reynaldo Gui inquires for more details, the Hussar elaborates that Vidal ultimately settled on killing two birds with one stone. An already known hunter, and a member of the woman’s family, were used as a patsies to start the fire that burned down the Court. Although the Hussar does not phrase his words in such crass terms, it is apparent that burning down the Court was a way to save on costs. Vidal only had to purchase land rather than land occupied by a far more expensive building he intended to demolish anyway.
Caroline: It’s an instructive example for the use of such catspaws for Caroline.
GM: Christopher Guilbeau inquires in an idle tone what became of the hunter and family member. The Hussar regards the young Ventrue for a moment, then answers that the latter slew the former. He is now serving a lifetime sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary for aggravated arson and second-degree murder.
Roxanne Gerlette begs the Hussar’s patience as she inquires as to the sinfulness of the life-serving family member. The Hussar answers (shortly) that the man was specifically chosen to receive such a fate for his sinfulness, but goes into no further details. It is plain that he no longer wishes to entertain questions he considers irrelevant.
The Hussar entertains several further questions about the land itself before yielding the floor to Pierpont McGinn. The Ventrue ancilla begins by announcing that he is backing Woody Long against Joseph Kelly in the Republican primary for the 2016 Senate race. He pauses, however, to field a question from Roxanne Gerlette.
“Senator Kelly is a decades-serving incumbent, Gerousiastis,” Gerlette states, before offering brief but pointed commentary on how unlikely he is to lose a reelection bid. Unspoken is not without the direct sort of tampering that is discouraged with such public figures—but the eiren knows better than to make such insinuations.
McGinn merely grins at her.
“Well, eiren, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”
Caroline: I was under the impression that everyone here plays to win, Caroline thinks, not buying the gerousiastis’ response.
GM: McGinn continues that he has received Strategos Vidal’s permission to back Long in the race—federally elected officials are still the strategos’ domain—and that Long, by grace of the strategos, is to be considered his own domain for the duration of the 2016 Senate race. His clanmates receive this news cordially.
McGinn also adds that he will “look favorably upon” and be “amenable to making arrangements” with any clanmates who wish to help out Long’s primary run.
It was only at Thanksgiving that Caroline’s father said she would be working for Kelly’s campaign.
Caroline: Caroline takes notes on the matter, but judges it’s too soon to speak on the matter directly. After all, by the time the campaign gets into full swing she should be dead.
GM: Father Malveaux takes the floor next to announce, although Caroline has half-heard the news already, that the renowned scholar Bindusara is expected to visit the city to transcribe copies of the Library of New Orleans’ genealogical records. This month’s first Tuesday marks the (closest) point to the 11th anniversary of his last assistants’ departures.
Caroline: It’s not news to Caroline—he’d let it slip to her earlier—but still catches her attention. The records were of particular interest to Caroline, and for more than simply selfish reasons.
GM: An elder of his unassailable dignitas should be received and celebrated accordingly. Father Malveaux, however, has no taste for planning parties. As with Strategos Vidal and the Windsor Court’s land, this is a task he is willing to farm out to any interested clanmates. Arrangements should not be made in earnest until Bindusara sends word of his arrival (and Father Malveaux vets plans), but ones that are not overly time-sensitive may begin to be made.
The father fields a few questions, and in short order, Hurst moves through what he declares “a related” item on the agenda, concerning the recently discovered addition of Brienne of Lindum Colonia—long destroyed but no less consequential—to Questor Polk’s and Eiren Gerlette’s lineage, and the public acknowledgment thereof…
Wednesday night, 2 December 2015, AM
GM: The clan reconvenes several hours later to celebrate Caroline’s formal acceptance into the Structure.
The choice of venue is a familiar one to the new eiren.
The first time Caroline went to the Hilton New Orleans Riverside was as a twelve-year-old who managed not to impress her uncle after turning around what could have been a humiliating fumble. The last time was as a confused and ignorant childe pursued by that same uncle’s mortal agents.
“This time you’ve found your place in the world, Eiren Malveaux,” Gabriel Hurst grins as he ushers Caroline out of the chaffeured limo and into the hotel’s ballroom.
The other dozen-plus members of the clan have already arrived in advance of the pair. They break into applause as Caroline enters last, down literal red carpet. The venue, too, has been transformed since her last visit.
She recognizes the same tapestry that hung behind Vidal at her initial release. It’s as tall as a man and depicts the archaic Ventrue coat of arms: a shield with scepters (the clan’s modern insignia), roaring lions, and the fleur-de-lis, all in stark golds, reds, and blacks. A crown rests above the shield, which is flanked by two larger roaring lions, and hovers above Latin scrollwork that reads, In veritate in minus ut praeesset sanguis est imperare.
(“To rule in blood is to rule in truth.”)
There’s also a towering marble statue of Alexander, a perfectly-featured Greek youth of exquisite beauty and golden curls, along with busts of Caroline’s other purported ancestors from Gaius Pedius Marcellus all the way down to René Baristheaut. The sculptor imparted his features a somber dignity they lacked in unlife. More banners depict the Ventrue clan’s scepter; the fleur-de-lis that represents so many different personages and causes; and the many nations both patronized and puppettered by her ancestors, ranging from the owl of the Athenian Empire, where Alexander was Embraced; the golden eagle and SPQR of Rome; the intertwined cross of the Carolingian Empire; the quartered dolphins and fleur-de-leis of the Capetian dynasty, mirrored again in the coat of arms of the House of de Valois-Burgundy; and many more flags, insignias, symbols, and seals belonging to a scattered assortment of houses, bloodlines, martial orders, fraternities, and other social entities both mortal and Cainite.
Amidst this backdrop, a live band plays subdued classical music. The center of the ballroom has been turned into a makeshift boxing ring—or perhaps gladiatorial arena. Perhaps six mortals, some male and some female, are dressed in the archaic garb of Athenian hoplites. Each one stands stoically at attention, their features masked behind bronze-hued Corinthian helms.
Matheson’s ghoul rises from his chair to give a prepared-sounding speech about how tonight is a cause for great celebration: Clan Ventrue has weathered the challenges before it just as Caroline has weathered her own agoge, and the tribulations of both have made them each stronger.
The clan’s eldest gerousiastis ends his speech with a proclamation of, “Nos imperare ejus in sempiternum!” (“We shall rule forever!”) as Caroline’s clanmates applaud. He then dedicates “the games” in Caroline’s name and calls for them to begin in earnest.
The clan watches with excitement as the six mortals compete not with blunted fencing foils, but real xiphoses and shields. The band’s music takes on an urgent, pounding tempo as steel clashes against steel, fighters grunt, cry, and sweat, and red stains the floor beneath their sandaled feet.
Caroline could smell it from a distance before. But the aromatic tang, so hot and salty from their exertion, is unmistakable now. Her favored vintage.
Most of the swordplay is quite skillful, too. Caroline can spot the occasional too-wide gap in someone’s defense, the odd bit of footwork that’s too slow, but these people clearly have experience in handling weapons. It makes for a far livelier show than she might expect from hapless everybodies snatched off the street.
None of them fight to the death, though. A few collapse from their wounds and are ignored by the others as attendants carry them off; others are almost-felled by opponents who turn their blades aside at the last moment, but the losers reflexively collapse as if the cut or stab had been fatal.
Eventually, one combatant is left standing after expertly dispatching no less than three of the other ‘gladiators.’ Gabriel Hurst calls on the bleeding woman to unmask herself and presents her with a olive wreath, which she accepts to the gathered clan’s applause.
The face underneath her Corinthian helm is a familiar one to Caroline. Marcel Guilbeau beckons for the adjacently-seated eiren to lean closer as Hurst begins another speech, then murmurs,
“I’m sure you remember Nerea Ericson as the 2008 Olympic Individual Sabre silver medalist in women’s saber, Eiren Malveaux. We found she’s left that career behind to become a lawyer, of all things. She practices commercial litigation for the firm of Dentons, but she clearly still remembers how to use a sword. A multitalented woman like that could be quite useful to you, couldn’t she?”
Marcel smiles at that, then goes on,
“Say the word to us, and Ericson is your servant to command. We can recommend an Invictus guild to train her in a ghoul’s duties if your time is now occupied by other matters. Or, if you should prefer that Ericson remain mortal, she will be flown back to her home in Atlanta and abundantly compensated for her time and trouble. The Gerousia offers either as its gift to you.”
“What is your wish, Eiren Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline remembers Nerea Ericson well. She used to train with her—and sometimes against her. Many hours—many more than her mother or father would have preferred—spent in practice bouts against the older girl. She was shockingly fast then. Only Caroline’s greater reach let her compete against the already once-Olympian. Caroline had lost far more than she ever had in the past, far more than she’d ever taken a bout from her. It had been a bitter pill to swallow for the proud heiress who had trounced most of the state’s competition—but then that’s why she’d asked to spend her summers in Houston.
Tonight Nerea’s movements were, in contrast, sluggish to Caroline’s eyes. Almost slow. Despite how gifted she is, despite her training, despite her blind instinct that Caroline was never the equal of, that gap is gone. As the Ventrue motto declares: to rule in blood is to rule in truth. The distance between them closed by Caroline’s death. Closed despite Nerea’s continuation of her training. Despite the more than decade of experience she has on Caroline.
It’s a tempting offer.
She’d not really kept track of Nerea. Not purposefully anyway. She’d tried to bury that part of herself deeply, but the holes, the wounds, were deep. She knew Nerea had left competition. It had been a shame in her eyes. Nerea was the best. Throwing that away for an ordinary life was a waste of her talent.
Bringing her into this life would be a destruction of her life. A ruination of it. A bending of another life to her will, to Caroline’s ambition and desire.
And yet everything around her says that’s what’s right. Her right. This entire night a tribute to her imposing her will on the world. To the call to power that is her birthright. Or at least her deathright.
And she would be so useful. An attorney ghoul she could use as a potential check against Bishop, someone she knows but isn’t as close to as Denise.
Beyond that, a potential sparring partner? Caroline’s tried finding someone local, but frankly, even the would-be ‘scholars’ are just slow in her eyes. Uninspired. Historians pretending to be fighters. She knows how good Nerea is. Knows how much better she could be with the blood running through her.
The thoughts war in her mind in an instant, as the offer is extended by the gerousiastis. It really is so tempting. She can almost feel her fangs extending in her mouth in excitement over the offer—or is it simply all the blood she can nearly taste in the air?
“An extremely generous offer, Gerousiastis Guilbeau,” she replies. “I do remember her, very well in fact. No doubt the Gerousia knew we had a history?”
GM: “It always pays to do one’s homework before offering gifts,” Marcel smiles.
Caroline: Questions go through her head: does Nerea have those that will miss her? A family? Almost certainly so. She was always friendly, and Caroline knows that she’s from a well-off family. Rule forever. She wants Nerea.
“Do you believe she would do well as a ghoul, Gerousiastis Guilbeau?” she murmurs back.
GM: “I honestly don’t know her well enough to say, Eiren Malveaux,” the older Ventrue answers.
“That could depend on a number of things. I think she might find the transition to the all-night society easier, though, after knowing you as one of the kine. You aren’t a dark stranger who’d be initiating her into a perilous and terrifying new existence, but an associate and perhaps even friend who she knows was new to it as well, once.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “I would offer her the opportunity then,” she answers. Turning down a gift would be poor form.
GM: “Very good,” Marcel states. “She’ll be waiting for you after the party’s over.”
Caroline: It’s a healthy compromise that doesn’t war with her faith.
Just what little is left of her conscience.
GM: Marcel gestures to Hurst, who in turn directs a retinue of servants to lead (or carry away) the combatants and disassemble the makeshift arena. In short order, the ballroom is a ballroom once more.
The band starts up a more relaxed and stately waltz as the aedile entreats Caroline’s clanmates to enjoy the “more genteel” entertainments. They’re joined by a new retinue of mortals clad in formal gowns and tuxedos—a number of whom also smell of Caroline’s preferred vintage.
Matheson’s ghoul, however, is the first prospective partner to approach her. He is the eldest Ventrue present, and she the one in whose honor the present festivities are being held. She’s learned what tradition dictates.
“If I may have this first dance, Eiren Malveaux…”
Wednesday night, 2 December 2015, AM
Caroline: As it turns out Caroline is quite a skilled, even remarkable, dancer, especially out from under the prying eyes of mortals that might wonder just how quickly her feet move.
As the night moves on, and the blood flows freely into each of the Ventrue amid the merriment, she eventually finds herself with less distinguished personages—but no less desirable company. Anthony Brodowski, she knows, has his own merits.
After more polite reintroduction and some polite conversation she steers the topic towards the offer for proposals with the Windsor Court lands. “Is it particularly common for opportunities like that to come up during meetings?” she asks, playing the neophyte to the ‘older’ Ventrue.
GM: Anthony Brodowski is an emaciated, rail-thin boy who looks in his mid- or late teens. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a vampire, with hollow cheeks and dark discoloration under his watery gray-blue eyes. He’s around a head shorter than Caroline and wears a dark suit tailored to downplay the thinness of his bony, stick-like limbs. His neck-length brown hair is thin and wispy.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an everynight thing, but it’s not uncommon. Sometimes a gerousiastis is too busy to take care of something themselves.” He smiles faintly. “Or just feels like throwing the pups a bone.”
Caroline: “Frequently enough then that canny Kindred are ready for it?” she asks, half-coyly and half-leadingly. “I couldn’t help but notice some took more note of it—or at least showed more interest—than others.”
GM: “Canny Kindred are usually more than ready for it,” the skeletal Ventrue answers as they dance. He still leads, despite the pair’s significant difference in height.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go to the floor, if someone hears early and convinces the gerousiastis they can do a good job. That doesn’t happen with the strategos, though. I don’t think he sees much of anyone besides the seneschal.”
Caroline: Caroline tries not to let her own disappointment in that show. “Is it relatively common that he sends the Hussar in his stead?”
GM: “Oh, he almost always does. Gerousiastis Matheson chairs most meetings.”
Caroline: “Mhmm.” Caroline takes in the ‘elder’ Ventrue’s words. “Still, you didn’t seem particularly surprised by the offer the Hussar put out, Questor Brodowski.”
GM: “Neither did you, Eiren Malveaux.”
Caroline: “Perhaps I just thought it noteworthy,” Caroline replies, making a mild pun.
GM: An amused smile.
Caroline: Caroline smiles back. “I did have a thought on it,” she admits.
GM: “I managed several. They can be useful things to have.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “A mind can be a dangerous thing.”
The Ventrue smiles back as they waltz, perhaps waiting for Caroline to give voice to her earlier thought.
“I heard a rumor that the St. Bernard Project was looking for a new home,” she admits.
GM: “Oh? That’s promising.”
Caroline: “It could be,” Caroline agrees. “I have a hope that pulling one of the most powerful charities out of the Ninth Ward might seem worthwhile to the prince. Of course, the logistics of pulling such a thing off is… complicated.”
GM: “Yes, it could be. All before the interest other Kindred might have in keeping them there.”
Caroline: “Yes, it does seem like it might be a complicated web for a young eiren to navigate alone,” Caroline agrees.
GM: Brodowski reconducts Caroline to her initial place and bows as the band concludes its piece. The action is mirrored by a dozen more pairs throughout the chamber.
“Thank you for the dance, Eiren Malveaux.” He smiles faintly again. “It’s an especially great honor when only five women here aren’t ghouls.”
Many of the majority-male clan’s male Kindred, Caroline observes, have made do by dancing with ghouls in lieu of available Kindred partners.
Caroline: “The honor was mine, Questor Brodowski. If it’s pleasing, I’d have a ghoul pass on contact information,” she replies.
The smile lingers on her face after Brodowski has departed. After dancing to someone else’s tune for half a year, it feels good to finally play some music of her own.
Wednesday night, 2 December 2015, AM
GM: In due time, festivities wind down as the evening concludes. Sleek black chauffeur-driven vehicles pick up the assorted Ventrue. Servants pick up the clan’s paraphernalia and sanitize the area for the Masquerade. Come the morning, the Hilton’s ballroom will be ready again for mortal use. None will be aware pf the events that transpired the previous night.
Others, though, may remember something more.
Ericson still looks like she’s sleepwalking when she’s turned over to Caroline, still dressed in an Athenian hoplite’s anacronistic garb and sporting several red cuts from her fight against the other fencers. The olive wreath rests on her head—an inexplainable prize to a battle she may not even remember fighting.
Caroline: It’s a strange feeling to be back in a room with the fencer Caroline once viewed as a titan. She distinctly remembers the opportunity to fence against her in the already Olympians lead up to her final run—Caroline’s long reach and left handed style made her an acceptable stand in for one of Ericson’s likely opponents.
The older woman had all but dismantled Caroline, piece by piece, inch by inch. The polite answer was to claim that she’d learned a great deal from the experience, but the truth was more complicated.
Caroline had hated the experience. Others said afterwards there was no shame in losing to the vastly older, more experienced, more talented fencer. She’d privately disagreed.
To not only lose, but to lose so utterly, was an experience Caroline was horrifying unfamiliar with. She was there, at that facility, to train in part because she was talented. Because typically it was Caroline on the distributing end of one sided beatings in local and regional competition against her peers.
It had scared her, in a way—it was one thing to know others could physically manhandle you and another entirely to be physically manhandled. Frustrated her in others. Caused her to redouble her efforts. And perhaps more than anything made her hate the woman, in the most horribly selfish and petty way.
Envy was an ugly emotion that the Caroline of that time had been particularly unaccustomed to feeling.
She’s had plenty of opportunity to adjust
As she settles her gaze on the archaically dressed once fencer—the night’s champion—many of those old feelings rise to the surface once more. Tempered now by her own experiences, Caroline finds her feelings more mixed towards the woman entirely within her power.
“Can you hear me, Nerea?” she asks the bespelled woman.
GM: “Yes,” the shorter blonde answers. To most people her voice might sound only a little sleepy. To Caroline, who was so hyper-sensitive to every pitch and nuance that accompanied the usual “good showing”—or, perhaps better or worse, critique of how she could improve—after she soundly lost, it might as well be coming from a different person.
Gabriel Hurst had mentioned that the command word “Nike,” after the Greek goddess of victory, would release the mesmerized fencer from her suggestive state.
Caroline: Caroline is content to wait for a few moments for that.
“How are you, Nerea? How have you been?”
GM: There’s only a blank look at the open-ended question.
Caroline: There are, apparently, limits to the power of the spell placed over the fencer by the Caroline’s clanmates. That brings a smile to her face as she considers it. After a few moments further she sets her gaze for firmly and speaks the word. “Nike.”
GM: A palette of emotions washes over Ericson’s face. Disorientation. Confusion. Alarm. It’s only a split second, though, before she falls into a fighting stance—she and Caroline didn’t train extensively in hand-to-hand combat, but they did enough—and casts a wild glance over her surroundings, and her own bizarrely attired, clearly injured body
“Where am I!?” she demands sharply.
That voice sounds more like the fencing partner Caroline knew. But not completely like her. That old partner never sounded afraid.
Caroline: The heiress sits, legs crossed, before her. Her makeup is flawless, her gown more suited for a prom than a fight. “New Orleans,” she replies calmly.
GM: The servants around Caroline continue to take down and pack up the ballroom’s furnishings. Tapestries, statues, and paraphernalia from a panoply of cultures recognizable and alien still surround the pair.
Ericson does not relax as she takes those features in—and Caroline’s own. Her next word is almost a yell:
Caroline: “Nerea,” Caroline begins, “I’ll be happy to answer your questions, but you’ll need to calm down. Why don’t you have a seat. You’ve lost a fair amount of blood.”
GM: Everything about Ericson is tense, but Caroline’s measured words seem to get through to the rational part of the fencer’s brain, the one that tells her to at least sit down when she’s bleeding.
She sits down.
Caroline: “I’ll have someone come patch you up when we’re finished. Don’t worry, he’s very skilled. Nothing is going to happen to you. I thought it better that we chat in relative private for now,” she continues calmly, in full control.
GM: Ericson regards Caroline warily. Questions are clearly darting through her still-scanning eyes, but for now she holds her tongue.
Caroline: “Congratulations, by the way.” She gestures to the wreath atop Ericson’s head.
GM: The one-time Olympic silver winner pulls it off like it’s something offensive. Her voice isn’t a yell this time, but it does break.
“Caroline, what is going on?”
Caroline: “I will answer that question for you, and one additional question in turn, for each you answer for me. Does that seem fair?”
GM: A terse nod.
Caroline: “You were brought in to be a champion, for some games held as part of a celebration. You won by the way,” she gestures to the wreath in the other woman’s hands, “quite handily.”
GM: Ericson looks at Caroline for a moment, then finally asks, “Why don’t I remember?”
Caroline: “Ah,” she waves a finger, “It’s my turn. But in the interest of expediting this for you—I imagine you have more questions than I—allow me to provide some direction. You should ask yourself, what are the actual important questions in this moment. I think those questions lie more with the future than with the past.”
GM: Ericson looks angry. “I’ve been drugged. I think the past is important right this moment.”
Caroline: “It sounds as though you’ve already decided what happened,” Caroline observes.
GM: Ericson stares at Caroline accusingly, as if daring her to deny it. She looks very close to getting up from her chair again.
Caroline: “I didn’t have you drugged and brought here, if that’s what you’re asking.” Caroline replies.
GM: “Then why don’t I remember anything?” she demands.
Caroline: “I can only speculate.” Caroline answers, “As I said, I wasn’t the one to bring you here.”
GM: “Then who did? And why are you here, Caroline?” Ercison asks, no less sharply.
Caroline: “Any one of a number of my new associates,” Caroline replies, “This was something of a celebration for them, and for me.”
“They brought in a number of would be ‘gladiators’, or perhaps ‘champions’ is a better word.”
GM: Caroline’s former sparring partner takes that in, then asks in a hard voice, “If I leave right now, will you or anyone here try to stop me?”
Someone else might overlook it. Perhaps Caroline is paying overmuch attention to her former sparring partner’s tone and word choice, like she did in college.
But there’s just something about how she says ‘try.’
Caroline: “Nerea, I can see you’re ill at ease. I understand. It can be very frightening, especially when you’re accustomed to being in control, to feel out of it. To feel unsafe. Even afraid. Maybe even victimized.”
She smiles for the first time, her expression softening. “Let me try to put you at ease. At the end of our conversation if you wish to go home I’ll ensure that happens. That was the intent anyway, I simply thought you might appreciate the opportunity to have some of your questions answered, and perhaps to have a voice in what happens next.”
GM: The hard and set look to Ericson’s features subsides at Caroline’s words. She still looks wary, but it subsides.
“What do you mean, ‘what happens next?’”
Caroline: “There are other options than that, if you’re interested in them,” Caroline replies. Her expression narrows. “Why did you give up fencing?”
GM: Ericson looks initially dubious, but finally answers Caroline back, “It’s not a real job.”
“Same reason that you quit.”
Caroline: “No future in it?” Caroline asks curiously.
GM: “If you really want one. Stephen did. But most people don’t.”
Caroline: “Teaching wasn’t for you?”
GM: “No. What happened to m-” Ericson suddenly stops as her eyes flash. “What happened to my family? Did anything happen to my family?”
Caroline: “I would be shocked if anything had happened to your family,” Caroline answers reassuringly.
GM: “‘Would’ be? Do you know?” she demands, her voice suddenly uneven again.
“Wait. What day is it?”
Caroline: “December 1st,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Oh my god.” Ericson’s eyes dart over her body. “I need a phone. Right now.”
Caroline: Caroline purses her lips. “Why?”
GM: “It’s been a week! To tell them I’m not dead!”
Caroline: The Ventrue rolls her tongue over her fangs uncomfortably. She digs out her phone and pulls up her web browser, typing the fencer’s name into it and selecting the ‘news’ option.
GM: There’s nothing recent.
Plenty of past hits about her Olympic fencing career, but nothing recent.
Caroline: “They don’t appear particularly concerned,” Caroline replies as she reads, “They haven’t, for instance, reported you missing.”
GM: Ericson stands up. Caroline can hear her labored breathing and see the unabated worry, if not fear, in her eyes. “Give me a phone, or I’m out of here.”
Caroline: Caroline closes out her phone to the password screen hand hands it to her companion.
“Stop letting panic overwhelm you, Nerea. Think this through. Even assuming you could simply walk out the door, nothing out there is going to get you what you want any faster than this conversation. Your family is safe, they are not worried about you or in some panic.”
GM: Ericson snatches the phone and dials a number before Caroline can even finish talking. Several rings go through. There’s a muffled, “Hello, who is-?”
Ericson interrupts him. “Chris! Oh my god!”
“I’m in New Orleans. I’m in New Orleans. I’m naked, and I’m bleeding, and I’m in New Orleans-”
Caroline: Caroline lets her continue a moment longer, but rises from her seated position to intervene. She can be heard loudly uttering, “Seriously,” at Ericson’s description of herself.
GM: “What!?” comes ’Chris’’ voice. “Ner, who’s that-”
“Are Cam and Avery all right?” she interrupts.
“Are—yes, they’re fine, they’re asleep. Ner, what’s happening?”
Caroline: Caroline meets the fencer’s eyes and gives a command as she unleashes the Beast upon her unsuspecting mind. “Hand me the phone.”
GM: Ercison hands her the phone.
Caroline: “Hi, Chris, right?” she interjects, sounding both patient and weary.
GM: “Who is this?” asks an alarmed-sounding male voice.
Caroline: “My name’s Caroline, Nerea and I have known each other for… it must be almost ten years at this point. I’m sorry about all this. We were having a some drinks and it got… well. More than a little out of hand. She was really freaking out and wouldn’t calm down until she knew you and the kids were all right.”
Caroline wonders how honest the former Olympian has been with her spouse about her past. Caroline remembers all kinds of rumors spreading on more than one occasion about the Nerea not being able to control herself once she got drunk. It had come close to endangering her last run for a while.
“I should have known it was a bad idea to go out, but it had been a long time since I’d seen her…”
GM: “Caroline, right. Ner mentioned you.” There’s an uncomfortable silence from the man at the mention of his wife’s drinking habits. He clears his throat. “I’d like to be sure she’s all right. Can you put her back on?”
Caroline: The heiress gestures the ease-dropping Widney over, “Yeah, totally understand. Give me a minute, I think one of my girlfriends almost has her calmed down. I swear, she cut her leg on screw that popped through the side of a chair and you’d have thought she was literally bleeding to death between that and how she was going to sue them. Let me hand you off to my friend for a second.”
GM: Widney takes the phone. The normally stiff- and formal-sounding woman doesn’t sound quite so natural in the role as Caroline does, but plays along.
Ericson stares blankly ahead.
For once the almost dreamy state that mortals come over when under the influence of the Beast works for Caroline as she places Nerea more firmly under her control, then guides her through the conversation, listening on and telling the dominated woman what to say.
She’s ashamed, she didn’t think she’d get like this. She corroborates Caroline’s story, and apologizes over and over for calling so late. Does he understand? She was just worried. She’s sorry. Does he understand? After the second or third iteration Caroline takes the phone from her.
Caroline: She apologizes, more soberly, for taking Nerea out like this. She hadn’t thought this would happen, and promises to have Nerea call back tomorrow when she’s had a chance to sober up. “She’s pretty out of it,” Caroline admits. He has Caroline’s number right, on caller ID, if he has any worries? If he wants she can text him when she gets Nerea to bed somewhere safe.
GM: Chris sounds embarrassed by the whole thing. He remarks that “this trip never felt like a good idea,” and finishes, “Thanks for taking care of her, Caroline. I’m sorry to put you and Sarah out like this.”
Widney looks at the still sleepy-eyed Ericson. “You could also tell her to forget your initial conversation, ma’am.”
Caroline: “I’m not done with her yet,” Caroline replies with some irritation, though not directed at her ghoul.
GM: The fencer stares sleepily ahead.
Caroline: Caroline tucks the phone away and snaps her fingers angrily. “Wake up,” she demands.
GM: Ericson blinks confusedly.
She looks at her empty hand.
“What—what happened?!” she demands.
“I just had that phone!”
Caroline: “Do you remember speaking to your husband?” Caroline asks piteously.
GM: “Yes, I was just doing that!”
Caroline: “Yes, and you started saying things you shouldn’t have said. He’s safe by the way. As are your children. So far as he’s concerned you’re on a business trip.”
GM: “What happened!?” Ericson demands alarmedly, if not angrily. Her eyes dart across the room.
Caroline: “I made you give it back to me. And I reassured your husband you were safe. That you’d call him in the morning when you sobered up.”
GM: Ericson doesn’t even say anything to this assertion. She just looks bewildered.
Caroline: “Is it really so difficult to believe, if you could be transported here and win a tournament you don’t remember, that I could do such a small thing?”
GM: Ericson starts briskly walking away towards the ballroom’s doors.
“Ma’am, you’re scaring her,” Widney interjects in a low whisper.
Caroline: “Good,” Caroline replies. She blurs in motion, coming to a stop before the leaving Ericson.
“Is there really nothing left of you in there, Nerea?” Caroline asks. Demands.
GM: Ericson’s eyes only widen for an instant as a fist swings towards the Ventrue.
Caroline: The preternaturally quick vampire effortlessly blurs away from it.
“Too slow Nerea,” Caroline taunts. “Did you bury that part of yourself too deeply?”
“Are you happy being ordinary?”
GM: “Leave me alone!” she screams, launching several more punches that the Ventrue just as easily sidesteps. Hand-to-hand combat isn’t Ercison’s strongest area, somewhat in her defense. Or Caroline’s. It’s mainly carry-over from what Stephen taught them about fencing.
Caroline: Caroline catches a punch, brushes another aside, slips under an elbow, then roughly throws Ericson to the ground over her hip. It’s incredibly satisfying.
She looks down on the Olympian. “They told me you’d been successful. That you were a lawyer. That you were smart. And I thought you could still fight.” She huffs in disappointment. “I guess we were all wrong.”
“We had an agreement. I gave you what you wanted and answered a number of your questions, and you responded like a child. So tell me, are you ready to finish our conversation, or do you want to continue to throw a tantrum?”
GM: Ericson leaps to her feet, grabs a cloth off a table, and throws it at Caroline’s face to entangle her. She grabs one of the old-fashioned broadswords hanging from the wall and brandishes it at her old fencing partner.
“Stay back! All of you, who don’t want to get hurt!”
A number of the servants, previously indifferent to (or at least ignoring of) the pair’s struggles, look upon the armed and furious-sounding woman with expressions of growing concern or alarm. A few reach for phones.
Caroline: Caroline glares death at the ghouls that have stopped to gawk. “See to your business,” she snaps before turning her attention back to Ericson.
“What do you want, Nerea?” Caroline demands.
GM: The servants all look away at the Ventrue’s commanding tone. Ericson starts backing away towards the ballroom door.
The man and woman standing by that door, the woman with an assault rifle casually held in her hands, stare at her.
She levels the sword at the armed woman. “Out of the way. Now.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head angrily. “Eyes on me, Nerea," she almost snaps as she lets the Beast out of its cage once more, tearing at the attention of the fencer.
GM: Ericson’s widened eyes cut to hers.
Caroline: “Why are you running away, Nerea? We’re friendss, aren’t we? Haven’t I answered your questions, helped you make sure your family is ok, promised to return you home safely?” The Beast turns its attention rabidly on the fencer’s mind, plying her feelings, clouding her mind.
It would have been so much easier if Nerea had been willing to talk. Especially on what’s left of Caroline’s conscience. But she can’t have everything, and her irritation is beginning to cloud any sense of mercy she might still feel. This night was going so well.
So they’ll do it the hard way. They return to their seat.
What follows is a through discussion of Nerea’s life since Caroline last saw her. She’s married? Had children? How old are they? What led to those decisions, and to her decision to leave fencing, seemingly in her prime? Caroline congratulates her on her law degree and position in the firm. She fields questions and concerns that the fencer has, but keeps the focus on her.
Is she happy where she is? No, really happy? Is there anything she misses or regrets? Caroline regrets quitting fencing when she did.
It’s a through dive into Nerea’s life, though the revelation that the Olympian has married and has children takes most of the wind out of Carolines’ sails in her interest in ghouling her: she’s not eager to destroy more lives than she has to towards her own ambitions and desires.
That conflict wars with a feeling that she shouldn’t turn down the ‘gift’ offered by the Gerousia.
GM: The conversation feels like a parody of how any such normal ‘catching up’ would go. Ericson fawns over Caroline’s every word. She never asks questions about the Ventrue’s life, voices contrary opinions, or even bring up topics of her own. All she does is eagerly parrot back whatever Caroline brings up.
She is married. Her husband Christopher is another retired fencer (they met at a tournament) who now works as a software systems engineer. Their children Avery and Cameron are two and four years old, respectively.
Ericson doesn’t seem sure how to answer in a way that pleases Caroline when she asks ‘what led’ to that decision. They both wanted a family. Having kids is just what you do.
Her last name isn’t Ericson anymore, actually. It’s Arnolds.
Ercison left fencing because there wasn’t any future in it. The average instructor makes around $56,00. Top earners make around $85,000. Caroline knows how that compares to a successful lawyer’s salary.
Ericson has no questions or concerns whatsoever for Caroline to field—or at least none that she brings up in her altered state of mind.
All she wants to do is please and impress the Ventrue.
Ericson gives whatever answer Caroline seems like she wants to hear most. When the Ventrue expresses regret over her quitting fencing when she did, she agrees she should have hung on another year to make a run at a gold medal. When Caroline acts disappointed she left fencing at all, Ericson agrees she should have followed her passion. When Caroline acts concerned for her happiness, she assures the Ventrue that she is happy with her family and career.
Caroline: The experience ruins whatever vestiges of Caroline’s good mood existed from the beginning of the night and leaves her feeling all the more monstrous. Ericson is no drifting soul, lost for purpose. Ripping her from her family to bring her here casts Caroline and her fellows in all the more monstrous light.
To say nothing of what night be required to rip the fence from her family to enter Caroline’s service. Four shattered lives is too high a price for the heiress to simply add another sword to her arsenal.
Perhaps some night she will be that great of a monster. Perhaps some night she will be that desperate. It isn’t tonight, a night that began with celebration and joy.
GM: Widney raises how the family “could be relocated to New Orleans, ma’am.” They wouldn’t have to split anyone up. Families relocate all the time in search of better career opportunities. Ercison could make full partner at Caroline’s firm right away. They could easily find another software job for Chris. If money is so important to the Arnolds family, Caroline’s manipulations could easily enable them to enjoy a higher standard of living than they do now. Ericson would even get to fence again while still being a successful lawyer. It sounds like she really does miss that, even if she believes she might the right decision going into law.
“That sounds a lot like what you offered me,” Green speaks up. “More money. A better future for my kid. I thought it sounded like a good fucking deal. Was I wrong?”
Fuller eyes the other ghoul, but remains silent.
Caroline: Caroline looks at Green. “Slightly different circumstances, Ms. Green,” the Ventrue replies. “You seemed quite happy with the opportunity. She seems quite satisfied with where she is. I would not force such a decision on anyone.”
GM: “Probably ’cuz you fucking kidnapped and scared the shit out of her. You suck at job offers.”
Widney continues past the other ghoul, “She might prove more amenable to an offer made in economic terms, ma’am, under circumstances where she is not concerned for her personal safety.”
“And you talk like a fucking robot,” Green half-snaps, half-snorts.
Widney, however, keeps her eyes on her domitor.
Caroline: Her domitor’s face is locked in a scowl. Green isn’t wrong. She’s botched this meeting, and she can identify exactly where it started: the moment Nerea revealed she had a family.
GM: Caroline’s ghouls wait expectantly.
Caroline: The Ventrue turns her gaze back to Green. “Would you like to interview her then, Miss Green, given your sudden interest?”
GM: Green snorts. “Will I get overtime?”
Caroline: Caroline gives Widney a sardonic glance. “Can we afford that?”
GM: “We can, ma’am,” the majordomo answers humorlessly.
Green looks at the glassy-eyed Ericson with a note of apprehension.
“Great. Erase the part where you freaked her out, get her some real clothes, and maybe fill in the giant gap she doesn’t remember that’d freak out anyone.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Is that all?”
Caroline: She looks Green in the eye. “Why do you care if she stays or goes?”
GM: The merc shrugs. “I don’t. You asked if I could do better. Then said I’d get overtime.”
Caroline: “I suppose that’s as good a reason as any.”
Caroline turns to Widney.
“See that it’s done. We’ll let Ms. Green decide Nerea’s fate.”
Wednesday night, 2 December 2015, AM
GM: Widney reports back to Caroline several hours later at the Giani Building that Nerea Ericson has agreed to enter the employ of Bishop, Bowden, & Reffett as a named partner, as well as Caroline’s personal service as a ghoul. She will relocate her family to New Orleans. One of her conditions includes securing a new and better job for her husband Chris. Employment prospects for a software engineer aren’t bad in any major city, but New Orleans (where a whole 40 percent of the population does not have internet service) is a definite step down from Atlanta. Ercison said she ultimately couldn’t make an executive decision to uproot her family’s lives. She did say, however, that if they both received attractive new job offers, it would be much easier to convince him that moving is the right decision for their futures.
Ericson has gone back to her hotel. She will meet with Caroline tomorrow to finalize things.
Caroline: Caroline is wary of the entire thing and has her placed under observation.
GM: Widney relays that Ercison knows the supernatural is real. She and Green both provided demonstrations of their powers. Ericson had the “sort of reaction” that one could expect from most people, but the two ghouls “helped her through it.” Widney thinks she will benefit from having a night to sleep on things.
She is willing to accept that power for herself. Green played up how she will get to be an even better fencer than before—and get to fence again while holding a law firm partnership. It’s everything she could have wanted.
Caroline: Caroline greets the news with mixed feelings. There are good reasons to desire Ericson as a ghoul, and many more reasons to hold reservations against it. She’s been careful until now in picking those that have relatively little else in their lives, those seeking some purpose, before drawing them in. As much as she would like to push off all responsibility for the recruitment of the Olympian, as she shoved the duty off on Green with the slightest excuse, it makes her uneasy. Uncomfortable. She’s seen what the blood does, how it destroys lives. Still, it’s too late to change now.
The Ventrue remains firm that they shall keep Ericson under observation—Autumn is a good choice—until she’s actually ghouled, as she remains a risk to the Masquerade. She also gives Widney a terse congratulations on her efforts.
Everything Ericson ever wanted. Caroline reflects on the old adage: be careful what you wish for…
Wednesday night, 3 December 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline is still flush with victory the following night when she entertains her mother on the roof of the Giani building. In a rare move, she goes down herself to collect her mother upon her arrival. It’s hard to describe a corpse as glowing, but some of the gloom that has hung over the young Ventrue for months has begun to clear, and she smiles more than she had in the past.
The roof is quiet and deserted, but there’s a small bar outside that Caroline leads her mother to. She pops the cork on a bottle of (rather expensive) champagne and pours two glasses.
GM: “There’s no need to keep up pretenses here,” her mother remarks as she pours.
Caroline: “Isn’t there?” Caroline asks.
GM: She studies Caroline for a few moments longer.
“You look… good, Caroline.”
Caroline: Caroline hands over a glass. “It’s been a good week, Mom.”
The word rolls off her tongue more easily than it did in life. Too often she was “Claire”.
GM: They’re words many mothers would say to their children, but there’s something else to them. Hesitance. Doubt. Skepticism. And perhaps even an odd, almost resigned ember of hope, but that might simply be Caroline’s imagination.
Caroline: “A better week than almost any I can remember. Certainly since… well, you know.”
GM: “Oh, and what’s the occasion?” her mother asks, sipping the glass. She looks around at the deck. “This place?”
Caroline: “Of a fashion,” Caroline replies, taking her own vulgar sip of the champagne. There’s barely distinction between drinks other than blood. Just different variations of bad. Still, she swallows it down.
“The fruits of a great many labors came due yesterday in the form of an acceptance, of sorts. I have a hope that it’ll present some stability and opportunity in the future.”
“It felt good to accomplish something.”
GM: “Among others of your kind?” Claire fills in. She doesn’t say ‘leeches’, but neither does she look quite thrilled.
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes, it was. I’ve been something of… well, honestly I’ve been very much of an outsider since, this happen. Last night was the first time I actually felt… accepted, I guess?” She smiles. “I had no idea what it was like being the outsider.”
“To feel helpless. Like no one was on your side. Just the crushing weight of everyone beating you down and taking what they wanted from you every night.” There’s a faint sadness in her voice. “I imagine it’s very much how most people go through their entire lives.”
“I knew how awful the world could be, intellectually at least. But you and Dad always kept me sheltered from it. I knew I grew up in privilege, but didn’t know what that meant until I saw the alternative.”
“Every night, just a struggle to keep my head above the rising water. Looking for a limb to grasp hold of. Watching things I wanted or cared about being swept away. It feels like now I might have a chance to hold onto something that matters to me. To find some kind of life.”
GM: “Unlife, you mean,” Claire says, her lips faintly pursing. “I do want you to be happy, Caroline, but… these same vampires who are accepting you are the same ones who were tormenting you.”
Caroline: “Some of them,” Caroline agrees. “But what other option is there? Holding a grudge for eternity?”
GM: “What do you think your father would do, if senators with more seniority had been treating him badly, then deigned to let him sit among them?”
Caroline: “I think we’d be funding campaigns against them under the table,” Caroline replies. “But my father has always had a big stick at the table. I don’t.”
Her smile and good mood are slipping away.
GM: “Don’t be so sure,” her mother says. “There’s strife among the leeches. And wherever there’s strife there’s opportunity.”
Caroline: “Is that what you want me to do? Rise to the top?” Caroline asks. “Claw my way through the others?”
GM: “Absolutely not,” Claire responds quickly. “Your kind’s entire society is toxic. Rising to the top of it is just another way of killing yourself.”
Caroline: “So what do you want for me, Mom?” Caroline asks genuinely.
GM: “For you to be happy, of course. And successful,” her mother says, laying a hand on her shoulder. “And independent from the leeches who only exploit, degrade, and destroy everything they touch.”
Caroline: “They’re everywhere mom, how exactly could I be independent?” Caroline asks softly.
GM: “Only because your face is already so known to them,” her mother counters. “I’ve mentioned before that you could start over somewhere else where you aren’t.”
Caroline: “And spend eternity in hiding somewhere, hoping none in whatever given city ever saw me?” Caroline asks sincerely. “They’re in every city mom. Even if I could get away from those things weighing me down here, once the poison is in you, there’s no getting out. We instantly know each other for what we are.”
“You want me to be happy—and not to become more of a monster than I already am. And I want the same. But the only way out is through. What was it Churchill said, ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going.’”
GM: Claire shakes her head. “There are always ways of hiding, mundane and otherwise. Your kind like to act as if they’re omniscient, but they’re not. Not by any stretch.”
Caroline: “It isn’t in me to hide mom.” Caroline replies. “That’s not who you raised.”
GM: “I hid from your kind for decades. Sometimes there’s simply nothing to be gained from exposure.”
Caroline: “Was that a victory?” Caroline asks softly.
GM: “For the time that I did? Unquestionably,” her mother answers. “I might’ve been dead decades ago if your kind knew who I was. You might never have been born.”
Caroline: Maybe that would have been better. Caroline bites back the harsh words, but her good mood is long gone. She sets down her glass, the poison tasting liquid no longer satisfying even intellectually.
The idea of running has its own appeal, but Caroline can’t believe they’d allow her to get away. Not with the prince. If she was even willing to run. She could build a new life somewhere, but she doesn’t want to. Here she might be something one day. Already is something. Elsewhere she’s another neonate with no name to offer that won’t bring hounds running to her door.
“I wish I could tell you more,” she admits.
GM: “That’s one wish at least one of us will get fulfilled. But we don’t have to talk about the leeches for now. This is your new home?” her mother remarks, looking across the deck.
Caroline: “It is.” Caroline’s smile slips back. “The open air helps me relax.”
GM: “And the pool, in warmer weather. There’s something about swimming on the roof of a tall building,” Claire says, sipping from the champagne.
Caroline: “You’re welcome to come over so long as you call ahead,” Caroline quips.
GM: “How’s the management at this place, by the by?”
Caroline: “Accommodating,” Caroline answers.
GM: “The building looks new. They can be too obsequious, sometimes, next to staff at the historic places.”
Caroline: “You prefer a more ornery staff?” Caroline asks with amusement, taking another sip of her own drink.
It tastes something like Draino smells like, but the familiar motion has some pleasure to it. The feeling of something faintly normal. Intellectually she wonders if it—like food—tastes so awful because her body recognizes it as poison.
GM: Her mother eyes her as she drinks, but continues after a moment, “Oh no, they’re still respectful at the Monteleone. But they’re more quiet about it, I suppose. The place is older and they know what its reputation is to guests.”
Caroline: “Less desperate,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll ask for an opinion. I honestly don’t deal directly with them very often.”
GM: “I suppose I’ve been thinking about them more. Your brother was a gentleman and had Cécilia stay at his place for a little while, after that stalker broke into her building. Somehow it got out to the staff, though, and a few of them tried too hard to make her feel at ease. But that just reminded her why she wasn’t staying at home.”
Caroline: “I don’t think he was really a stalker.”
GM: Caroline’s mother gives her a dubious look.
Caroline: “After it all happened I paid him a visit with someone else. He was an idiot. Autistic. All of five foot five. Didn’t seem to actually know much of anything about her, or even understand why anyone would think he was stalking her.”
GM: “I think I mentioned this to you earlier, but he was arrested for breaking into the girls’ dorms at Tulane. That really doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.”
Caroline: “I hurt him,” Caroline confesses.
GM: “You mentioned that to me, too. If anyone deserved it, he certainly did,” her mother answers.
Caroline: “I know the family wants him done away with,” she continues.
GM: “He has been. He’s still in the parish prison for about a year.”
Caroline: “Do you wonder sometimes if we weren’t so much better than any ‘leech’ with the trail of broken lives we left in our path?”
GM: Her mother shakes her head emphatically. “There’s goodness in our family, Caroline. Humanity, certainly. It wasn’t so many months ago that you saved those girls’ lives at the police station.”
Caroline: That memory brings up a dark look to Caroline’s eyes. “There was a lot about that night that just didn’t make sense. So much madness. Gettis going insane. It makes more sense now.”
GM: Her mother’s lips purse faintly. “Yes, I suppose it must.”
Caroline: “Have you heard of ‘the auction?’” she asks.
GM: “What have you heard of it?” Claire asks in turn.
Caroline: “That certain powerful vampires are involved,” Caroline answers. “That one of them claims the Whitney family as part of his personal domain.”
GM: “The leeches have their tendrils everywhere.”
Caroline: “That it was associated in some way with the night I died. That night, I thought it would be my finest hour. I think maybe it was. I wonder if it wasn’t my death warrant as well.”
GM: “You think it drove that monster to murder you?”
Caroline hasn’t ever ever heard her mother refer to René by name.
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth. There are some secrets she can’t share, even the privacy here, but her mother has proven sharp enough before. Capable enough to discover answers for herself.
She reaches over the bar and pulls over a small snack platter to go with the wine. Grapes, sliced cheese, dried peppers. Crackers. She serves up a small plate for her mother while she answers, “Or maybe to something else.”
GM: Her mother regards her expectantly as she places a cheese slice over a cracker.
Caroline: “Accidental Embraces happen… but very rarely.”
GM: Claire looks at her. “Neither of my children’s murders were accidents.”
Caroline: You have no idea, Caroline wants to say.
“No one ever provided a satisfactory reason why he would come back to New Orleans. Why he would choose to create another vampire. When I had even a moment of opportunity in which I might have questioned him, gotten to the truth, he was immediately snatched from my hands.”
GM: Her mother nods. “We’ve been over this before too. The Albino’s interest in our family goes back a hundred years, but that monster came out of nowhere. Looking into its interests and activities on your end could be worthwhile.”
Caroline: “There were others there, that night, when I died,” Caroline replies. “One’s a mortal now on death row. Another I have a name for and nothing else. Another is living, but… beyond my reach. It seems immediately after my death he got on a plane and fled the country.”
GM: Her mother takes a bite of cracker. “Perhaps not mine. What name is that?”
Caroline: “Raymond, another of my kind that has allegedly left the city.” She purses her lips. “And Jayden Proctor, who has fled to the Cayman Islands.”
GM: “The Caymans aren’t very large. They’d be easy to search.”
Caroline: “I know exactly where he is, but that’s not a trip I’m willing to risk,” Caroline answers.
GM: Her mother regards her expectantly again as she picks up a pepper.
Caroline: “Do you want my full file on him?” Caroline asks.
GM: “I’d find it of interest.”
Caroline: “I’ll have a copy made for you.”
GM: Her mother nods. “Let’s talk about something more cheerful. It’s not healthy to only think about… what’s behind the Veil.”
Caroline: “It’s easy to get sucked in though,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Too easy,” her mother says.
“If there’s one good thing that’s come from everything that’s happened to our family and the Devillers, it’s how much closer your brother and Cécilia appear to be.”
Caroline: “They’re a good match,” Caroline agrees. “She seems to make him happy.”
GM: “She wouldn’t even admit that Luke was her boyfriend at first. She’d just say that quote about ‘youth being a time for love, not romance.’ But after all that’s happened they’ve definitely been spending more time together, and been more obvious about it.”
Caroline: “It’s still early, but let’s be honest, there are only some many people that understand what it is to be in either’s position socially. I think that counts for a lot: shared territory. Both had family tragedies close to each other.”
And he’ll have another, Caroline thinks sadly.
GM: “Or understand what it is to be in that position emotionally,” her mother concurs. “They haven’t lost a daughter, but Luke was right there when they nearly did.”
Claire sips her champagne. “Life goes on. I’m glad theirs has brought them closer.”
Caroline: “Is Gabriel seeing anyone?” she asks.
GM: Her mother laughs faintly. “Of course he is. He’s been dating that girl Linda for literally years.”
Caroline: “They’re still a thing?” Caroline asks doubtfully.
GM: “For now. He wants to go to the same college as her, but… well, that doesn’t always work out.”
Her mother purses her lips. “Her family’s not really from an Ivy League background. But they’re well-off enough that no university is going to score points for socioeconomic diversity by admitting her.”
Caroline: “Let him be young and sweet,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Gabriel wants your father and I to help get her admitted, actually.”
Caroline: “I’m sure that was well-received,” Caroline replies.
GM: “He doesn’t see why not. Her grades and extracurriculars are as good as his.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “He’s too nice for this family.”
GM: “Part of me says why not. He’s caused so few problems, over the years, I suppose why shouldn’t he have this.”
Caroline: “And part of you says he needs to move on,” Caroline fills in.
GM: “More that pushing people at Cornell for this girl’s admission costs social capital without any likely returns.”
Caroline: It’s telling how like another Ventrue her mother sounds.
GM: “Very few high school sweethearts last, after all,” Claire continues. “Their paths could still diverge anyway. And it’s not even as if she’s the ideal match. She’s a sweet girl, well-behaved, but she’s not from a family like Cécilia’s.”
Caroline: “Two schools of thought. One, that with Westley and I out of the picture, a match needs to be carefully arranged for him, since it’s down to Luke and Gabriel.”
“Another, that he’s buried a brother. He’s going to bury a sister. Let him have this.”
GM: “Exactly,” her mother nods. “We have plenty of cousins, of course, even Thomas’ and Carson’s children here in the city, but… call me old-fashioned, it’s important the direct family name should go on. Matt’s never gotten over how his own isn’t going to. And while things look promising with Luke and Cécilia, after all that’s happened lately… I’d sooner not put all of the family’s eggs in one basket.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “College deadlines are approaching, but I suppose I should wait to see how he takes your death, at the very least.”
Claire shakes her head. “When was the last time you talked with anyone else in the family, by the way? You should hear things from more of us than just me.”
Caroline: “Not recently enough,” Caroline answers. “That last dinner conversation was… uncomfortable.”
GM: “They’re talking about how long it’s been since you were in touch. Not a great deal, life today being what it is, but they’re remarking on it.”
Caroline: Caroline takes another drink of the poison, wishing she could feel its effects.
GM: “It’s believable you wouldn’t have contact with Matt or Orson, after how many times you’ve made them explode.”
Caroline well recalls the results of that $50,000 Harrah’s spending spree. Her mother actually has to authorize transactions and withdrawals above a certain amount. The family no longer trusts her to manage money responsibly.
“Luke’s run into you a few times. But it’s odd how little you’ve had to do with Gabriel or Carson. You were always close to them.”
Caroline:“It’s all complicated by the Albino,” Caroline answers. “He’s not exactly sympathetic towards family visits, and he has a lot of power.”
GM: “Texts, calls,” her mother ticks off.
Caroline: “I’ll make some calls,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Christmas is approaching, speaking of visits. We’ll be having the usual family gathering at Orson’s.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quote groan. She’d almost forgotten that particular event.
“No doubt they’ll want to see that I’ve turned myself around,” she replies.
GM: “They will. It’s unfortunate you can’t yet take the bar.”
Caroline: “The good news is, short of coming out or bringing home a black man, I don’t know how much further their opinion could fall.”
GM: “Your father will be there. It could be the last time he ever sees you, Caroline,” her mother says quietly.
Caroline: Caroline looks away. “He’ll be fine either way.”
GM: “He’ll go on. He won’t be fine.”
Caroline: “It’s almost like you’re having doubts about this,” Caroline replies.
GM: Her mother shakes her head. “We’re long past the time for doubts.”
Caroline: “There are things I’ll miss… and maybe with another family it could be done.”
GM:“It is what it is,” Claire says.
Caroline: It was one of her mother’s favorite sayings even before Caroline’s death. It is what it is.
The catchall for all manner of unpleasantness in life and death. Still, it has a certain familiarity that provides its own comfort.