“Everyone’s owned, Ms. Malveaux. If we’re lucky we know by who.”
Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM
GM: Caroline’s next stop is the Alystra. She is received by the same handsome-featured ghoul who greeted her during her first visit to the riverboat casino. The ghoul inquires as to her business with “Prince Guilbeau,” but asks for no further details if she states the matter is a sensitive as well as urgent one. He does, however, regret to inform Caroline that the soonest opening within his domitor’s schedule is five nights from now.
Fortunately, Caroline held her first planning conference with Anthony Brodowski concerning the Windsor Court’s lands not too long ago and exchanged phone numbers with Marcel’s childe. She calls him and agrees to cede all credit for the idea, should Prince Vidal adopt it, if he can arrange an earlier meeting with his sire. The other Ventrue calls back later and tells Caroline that he can get her in to see Prince Guilbeau on the 18th, two nights from now.
Caroline: She thanks him and tells him that if he can get her in tomorrow she can further sweeten the pot for either him or his sire with a minor boon—though she understands if he’s unable to make that work.
GM: The younger Ventrue gets back to Caroline an hour later. For the price of a minor boon owed to himself, he can get Caroline in to see his sire at 1 AM tomorrow. That is the earliest he can do.
Caroline: The heiress readily agrees and thanks her clanmate.
GM: Her attempt to secure an audience with Pierpont McGinn are less successful. The older Ventrue’s herald receives her courteously enough at his Uptown mansion, but actually declines the neonate’s boon. Her domitor’s time is completely booked up for the next several weeks. She should ask again in January if she still desires audience with the gerousiastis.
Caroline: Caroline thanks her for her time and consideration, and asks that she pass on her respects to the elder Ventrue when the opportunity presents itself. It’s a setback, though not an immediately lethal one.
She has some hope that Guilbeau might be able to attract his peer’s attention to the matter after their meeting tomorrow if she can sell her case to the once-prince well enough. Father Malveaux announced at the last Board meeting that he was visiting Cardinal Arechavaleta in Corpus Christi on Sanctified business, but given that his route passed through Houston, he was open to traveling with other clanmates who sought to further ties with the clan’s Texan branches. She recalls Becky Lynne Adler and Roxanne Gerlette both taking up his offer.
She weighs the merits of trying to bring Matheson in via Gabriel Hurst, with whom she’s had clearer lines of communication, but almost immediately dismisses it. If nothing else it would almost certainly require a visit to the banished elder, and despite the generosity of several deals struck with him through Adler she’s far from certain he’s content to let their past experiences go unpunished.
GM: Caroline calls her mother next. Claire says she can see her in several days. Caroline drops hints about Ferris “receiving other offers,” which prompts her mother to move things up to tomorrow. She nevertheless appears in an ill temper when she lets the Ventrue in to her hotel suite.
“This had better be important, Caroline. I’m not going to keep dropping everything like this whenever you want to talk.”
Caroline: Because it wasn’t important last time, Caroline doesn’’t quite snarl in her mind.
“Ferris is taking the Albino’s blood,” she states bluntly. She hands her mother a manila folder. “He’s had his team breaking into my ‘home’, tapping my devices, and investigating known crimes related to Kindred activities. He also knows of your own dealings with the supernatural.” Inside the folder are several pages and photos printed out from the vast array of documents stolen from the investigation into ‘Carolinegate’.
“I thought you should know,” she doesn’t quite declare with a bit of obvious hurt behind the worlds.
GM: It’s then that Caroline’s phone goes off. The caller ID is Ferris.
Caroline: “Speak of the devil,” she observes.
GM: “Better the one we know,” her mother states.
Caroline: Caroline answers with an, “Hello, Roger.”
GM: “Ms. Malveaux,” sounds the ghoul’s voice. “I’ve talked with the new boss. He’s willing to deal.”
Caroline: “Oh?” comes Caroline’s expectant response.
GM: “Meet me at the Corner Club and we can talk. He wants an answer by nightfall tomorrow.”
Caroline: “11 PM,” Caroline replies. “And Roger, please don’t try anything we would both regret.”
GM: “Good advice, Ms. Malveaux. You should follow it.”
The line clicks.
Caroline: Caroline stuffs the phone back into the purse she’s brought to this meeting (she can hardly believe she used to carry one all the time), and turns her attention back to her mother.
GM: Her mother looks back to her. She hasn’t yet paged through the manila folder, but her brow furrows. “To what purpose is all of this, Caroline? You said the Albino had made peace with you.”
She gives a dry, wordless sound. It’s not quite a laugh. It’s far from a laugh. “No, I’ve answered my own question. Of course he hasn’t made peace. None of your kind do.”
Caroline: Caroline takes the not-laugh like a slap in the face. “Roger said he wanted my open ended service to him in exchange for dealing with the matter,” she replies stiffly. “I told him to pound sand.”
GM: “But something changed that, evidently.”
Caroline: “I’ll deal with the personal side of it. I just thought you should know which team Roger was playing for.”
For your safety, she doesn’t say.
GM: Her mother sighs. “I suppose it was inevitable the Albino would get to him eventually.”
Caroline: “I wish he hadn’t, but Roger was clear in no uncertain terms that he was happy for it, and that his own goal was to become a vampire,” she continues.
GM: Claire’s expression grows notably stony, but it doesn’t seem to interrupt her as she says, “There’s some hours until this meeting. Why don’t we sit down and discuss the details?”
Caroline: “I don’t want you to feel my problems are your problems,” Caroline answers, perhaps defensively. “I’ve made enough other ones for you.”
GM: Claire shakes her head. “The Albino has been my problem since before you were born. I’m frankly surprised he didn’t contaminate Ferris with his blood any sooner.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts between a contemplative frown and a lower lip biting thoughtfulness. “All right.”
She sits with her mother and briefly outlines her previous conversation with Roger, and his promise to speak with Father Malveaux to seek out a ‘better compromise’ in the form of a set price, and his proposal for a meeting tonight. “The Albino is out of New Orleans until the weekend—or at least is supposed to be.”
GM: “You don’t believe that he is?” Claire asks.
Caroline: “I think he was, but I could see him returning early depending on the story Roger sold him.”
GM: “Perhaps,” her mother speculates. “Roger sounds as if he was offering an alliance, of sorts. What do you intend to do at this meeting?”
Caroline: “We’ll see what he as to offer. If it’d mild enough… I’ll consider it. Otherwise I have another meeting at 1 AM with another more influential Ventrue that I’ll lay out the situation with and ask to mediate. If that happens… well, I imagine it would probably go rather poorly for Roger, as a start.”
GM: “Perhaps,” her mother repeats. “Your kind have a way of always managing to do whatever’s worst for anyone.”
Caroline: “He’s the obvious out, that allows the Albino to save face about continuing this project after publicly burying the hatchet when I kowtowed to him.”
GM: Claire looks unconvinced, but brings up a number of further salient topics.
If she isn’t interested in Roger’s offer, what does she intend to do? Capture him? Wait until later?
Would acquiring harder leverage over Roger be worthwhile? He has a young daughter here in the city who they could get to.
Finally, what manner of compromise does she hope to achieve with the other leeches? If the Albino sanctioned Roger’s activities, he could simply deny them. Does Caroline have proof? If she does, and assuming the other leeches take action against the Albino, how does she expect him to react to her?
Caroline: Caroline addresses them in turn—the meeting with Roger tonight gives her the opportunity to gather direct evidence of the Albino—or at least Roger—pitching to her blackmail for events after they made ‘peace’, but also gives Roger an opportunity to have found an offer that helps to resolve this matter and perhaps keeps him in the clear.
She still feels some affection for the man she used to practice her Arabic with, among other things, and if she can keep him out of the line of fire and potentially open as an ally within the Albino’s ranks, so much the better.
As for his daughter, Caroline is shocked to hear her mother suggest that idea. She’s familiar with Roger’s family situation, but the idea of hurting innocent children to get leverage over him makes her more than a little disgusted. Is she seriously suggesting that as an option? If so, her opinion of her mother’s ruthlessness shifts several steps to the right.
GM: “I’m not suggesting we should harm a twelve-year-old girl, Caroline. Roger’s perception and our reality are two different things.”
Her mother’s eyes harden. “But if I’m ever forced to choose between destroying someone else’s family or sacrificing our own, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I should hope that you wouldn’t either.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees with both ideas.
As to her long term plan here, she sees several options. The first of which is, assuming Roger can offer a real alternative that doesn’t involve being under the Albino’s thumb forever, she might accept that, rather than start a conflict. Another is, if the other Ventrue refuse to take any position, potentially throwing in the rest of the way with the opposition power bloc in the city. The last would be to simply heighten scrutiny on that relationship in the immediate future to the point that it would be socially very difficult for the Albino to actively make a move against her, which would give her more time to build connections, allies, and influence of her own… and speaking of…
She digs out a silver coin and lays it on the table between them.
“If this is the genuine article, and contains what I hope it does, that may change the calculus on certain matters.”
GM: Claire surveys the coin warily. “I’m still not entirely certain what it will do, Caroline. It might give you more information to work with. It could also result in you missing either or both of these meetings, though that’s entirely speculation on my part.”
Caroline: “Abélia was very clear that she wanted the identity Caroline Malveaux alive, for at least a little longer. Others I’ve spoken too have the same position.” Caroline broaches.
GM: “And towards what end does she desire that, Caroline? What are her goals and allegiances?”
Caroline: “That’s a question, isn’t it?” Caroline replies. She runs her tongue over her teeth. “It’s possible that,” she gestures to the coin, “helps answer that question, to a degree.”
GM: “Perhaps. But I find it unlikely Abélia would part with any further secrets than she agreed.”
Caroline: “Perhaps, but the secrets one has can tell you a lot about your influence and potential origins,” Caroline replies. “Either way, hanging around a little long might provide the best window into that family before Luke marries into it.” She shrugs. “Something to consider.”
GM: “Certainly. The family’s background merits investigation more than ever now.”
Caroline: Caroline considers the coin. “You really believe it might take hours to resolve when used?”
GM: “I don’t have any idea how long it might take or not.”
Caroline: The heiress considers for a moment, one hand held in front of her face in a fist, her thumb against her lips. “Then I’ll use it after the meetings,” she decides. “I’d thought it might be worthwhile not to do so alone, but it’s not worth the other risks.”
GM: “If you can’t know the whole board, at least know how you can play your pieces.”
Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline arranges another meeting with her mother late into the evening after the meetings with Ferris and her fellow Ventrue, then takes her leave from the hotel. She gives Widney instructions to gather most of her ghouls for the meeting with Ferris and heads off to ‘top off’ herself as well. After months of relatively consistent feeding as she’s developed her routine, she can feel the Beast beginning to stir in the back of her mind tonight in its hunger. And in her own.
Though she’s been working to refine her victims towards those that more closely reflect the Sanctified’s vision—those that have drifted from god—those months have given her an opportunity to further develop her own routine… and to better understand the habits of her particular demographic.
For instance, she’s learned that while bars near colleges may be ideal, those away from campus often offer more limited opportunities. Coffee shops on the other hand… there always seems to be at least a few graduate students either working away on their thesis, or a few college students hacking away at homework, or a few from both working on their ‘novel’ idea.
GM: Finding a suitable location proves relatively simple for Caroline, as PJ’s Coffee is the only such establishment in Rocco’s domain. It’s a typical enough place for its kind, selling house-roasted coffee, organic teas, blended drinks, and baked goods.
Closing hours are 9 PM. This hour on a week night is slow. But there’s always someone hanging around, if only to use the place’s wifi.
Striking up conversations with strangers isn’t hard in the South, and even less hard with Caine’s gifts. The girl Caroline finds would look like a college student even if she didn’t all-too literally smell like one: brown hair, t-shirt, jeans, sneakers. She’s eating a pastry and scrolling through her phone as the Ventrue approaches her. Her seasonally inappropriate attire makes for a passable icebreaker. She laughs when Caroline asks about it.
“I was playing truth or dare with some friends. This was actually what one of them thought up, ‘dress like it’s spring for a week.’ And post pictures about it. I guess it’s better than ‘stick your arm in the trash up to your elbow’ or whatever, right?”
Caroline: “Depends on what’s in the trash,” Caroline replies with a mirth filled smile. She takes a seat with her own coffee and strikes up a conversation.
It’s easier to simply take blood from a vessel, to force them into a corner and take what she wants, but it’s something she’s tried to avoid. She doesn’t know what lies down that path, of viewing human as nothing but food, but she can guess. So instead she makes small talk, learns something about her. Sees her as a more whole person. Or at least something resembling one.
It’s not hard to worm her way in. She’s always been social, and she finds the girl readily lets her guard down with another woman. By the time the shop is closing up she offers to give her a ride back to her apartment “Lets you win your dare without freezing your butt off.” She laughs.
Once she has her alone Caroline takes what she wants from her, crushing her will then sinking her fangs into the young woman’s throat. The blood is hot and thick across her tongue. Liquid pleasure sufficient to wash away the guilt over taking advantage of her victim. Well almost. She still walks the suddenly weak feeling girl back up to her apartment.
GM: The woman, who gives her name as Joy Campbell, somewhat embarrassedly admits to still living at home. She’d like to have her own apartment but she just can’t justify spending the money on top of tuition and related expenses.
Living at home isn’t without its advantages, though. The older man who answers the door thanks Caroline profusely for “looking out for my daughter” as he helps the too-pale, half-stumbling, and even shivering girl inside as she grogs,
“I think I’m gonna… stay home t’morrow…”
Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM
GM: Caroline and her ghouls arrive at One Shell Square. New Orleans’ tallest skyscraper is due to be renamed the Whitney Hancock Center, she recalls from her conversation with Warren, after Whitney Hancock relocates its corporate headquarters to the building.
Claire suggests earlier that Caroline turn on a location-sharing app like Life with her. If the Ventrue doesn’t leave the Corner Club after long enough, or leaves without heading back to the Giani Building (and calling her as to any change of plans), she will assume her daughter has been captured or incapacitated by Ferris.
Caroline: It’s a good idea. Caroline agrees.
GM: Claire seems pleased, if not relieved when Caroline agrees to the proposition.
Autumn volunteers to scout ahead. She can veil to stay invisible in the crowd, letting her observe Ferris and whoever else he brings. When the Ventrue suggests she text back her findings, Autumn thinks that’s a good idea. The ghoul disappears into the basement club.
Green’s tension is palpable in the air. She doesn’t like this, and the mouthy ex-cop was not shy about telling Caroline so. Ericson, so newly brought over to the Blood, seems yet hesitant to venture an opinion, but comments on “testing an opponent’s guard.” Fuller does not weigh in unless asked.
Autumn’s text pings up on Caroline’s phone.
He’s here waiting at a booth.
Can’t get anything solid on him. His mind’s too tough.
If you’ve got the juice to spare I can try again.
Caroline: Caroline’s guidance to the ghouls is simple: she doesn’t like the feel when they walk in, they’ll walk. If the ghouls noticing anything unusual as they move in, they should point it out to her. If other Kindred or numerous ghouls are present, they’ll walk. She sends to Autumn not to, but asks her to poke around and see if any other potential ghouls jump out at her—or potential Kindred.
GM: Emptier crowd. Typical late weekday night I guess.
Wait. Guy here, in a ski mask.
No one’s looking at him.
Caroline: Armed? Caroline sends back.
GM: No actually. But he’s fucking big
There’s another guy here. I think he’s another who works for your family
Caroline: Caroline thinks on that one. It’s unlikely that any newly-made ghouls serving Father Malveaux would have that particular ability. And the ski mask seems to indicate he’s expecting trouble.
Get out, she sends.
GM: Ok. Leaving
Caroline and her ghouls wait from their car.
Autumn does not reappear.
Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth. “Fine. We’ll play it hard then.”
GM: Her phone rings. The ID is Ferris.
Caroline: She answers. “Roger.”
GM: “Ms. Malveaux.”
Caroline: She gives the ghoul a moment to explain the purpose of the call.
GM: “We ran into your friend.”
Caroline: “I gathered. You would do well to let her go.”
GM: “Guess we both played cautious.”
Caroline: “A girl can’t be too careful these days, what with some of the threats you made.”
GM: “She’s not been harmed. Would you like to speak with her?”
Caroline: “We both know nothing she might say while in your custody is likely to alter my opinion,” Caroline replies reasonably.
GM: “Suppose not. This is an inconvenient place to hurt her, though. Public.”
Caroline: “It would be an ugly place for a shootout,” Caroline agrees. “And don’t expect I’d be welcome anymore after something like that.”
GM: “Suppose you’re recording this call too. I’d be if I was you.”
Caroline: “It wouldn’t really matter either way,” Caroline replies. “Obviously though, we have some trust issues between us.”
GM: Caroline’s other ghouls all listen like hawks. Green looks pissed.
Caroline: “Do you have a proposal?”
GM: “I suppose this does make being friends harder. I’d still like that, Caroline. Why don’t we start with you?”
Caroline: “You give your proposal for me to her. She comes out and delivers it to me—perhaps with one of your men. He comes back with my answer.”
GM: “Don’t think so.”
Caroline: “Why don’t you tell me what you would like then, Roger?”
GM: “You come in. Bring your backup, if you like. This meeting resolves peacefully, with us still friends, she leaves with you.”
Caroline: “I wonder, Roger, why you’d be so insistent about meeting with me in person, vice giving her the proposal she’s going to hear anyway,” Caroline replies without malice.
GM: “There’ll be offers and counteroffers, I expect. I’d rather you not have one of my men in the same position I now have your ghoul, so there’s also that.”
Caroline: “Then simply send her out, and I’ll call you with my response if I feel we need to discuss the matter further.”
Caroline can feel the tension in her other ghouls, Green more than the others. Going in is a bad reason for more than one reason.
GM: “Your ghoul’s a chip. Make me an offer.”
Caroline: “I’ll forget that you seized my ghoul in a public area she is well within her rights to be in and won’t use it to make a further scandal for the good father.”
GM: “His word against yours? Don’t think so, Ms. Malveaux. If we don’t reach an understanding here, I suppose I’ll have no choice but to tell the boss you wouldn’t play ball. I’ll have your ghoul here to show him for my trouble. Wonder what he’d do with her.”
Green’s teeth are visibly clenched.
Caroline: “I think you’d find him rather less agreeable to you abducting my ghouls without pretense,” Caroline replies. “But we could play this game all night. I’ll be in shortly.” She hangs up without further comment and pulls up another number. She relays to Mélissaire Larieux that she’s going in for a meeting with Father Malveaux’s envoy, but has concerns that it may be a trap. That if she doesn’t call this number again to report otherwise, it should be presumed that she’s been taken captive by said individuals. She relays the location at One Shell Square’s Corner Club.
GM: “Sounds like an exciting evening you’ve landed yourself into, Madame Malveaux,” remarks the quadroon ghoul’s sultry voice. “If you’re willing to cool your jets for a few, I can see if his lordship can send help… no need to risk that pasty-faced scarecrow getting his hands on you any more than we need, is there now?”
Caroline: “If Lord Savoy is so inclined,” Caroline replies. “I wouldn’t wish to be a burden upon him. I’m a little early here.”
GM: There’s a rich and purring laugh. “His lordship believes you’re a lot of things, madame, but a burden is the least among them.”
Caroline: “I can see where Lord Savoy learned the gilding around is silver tongue,” she laughs lightly. “I’ll delay as long as is practicable here.”
She instructs the ghouls to move the vehicles to a spot they can observe the entrance to the club.
GM: Minutes go by. But not many of them. Mélissaire updates Caroline soon that she should “just hold tight to her seat:” Peter Lebeaux was fortunately already in the general area.
Barely all of five minutes have passed before several cars approach Caroline’s, driven by the Brujah detective and some accompanying presumable ghouls.
Caroline: Caroline gets out to greet him.
GM: “Ms. Malveaux,” the shorter Kindred states by apparent way of that.
Caroline: She briefly updates him on the situation—tensions are high with Father Malveaux. A meeting with a ghoul emissary has been complicated by the presence of numerous other probable ghouls and mortal security in the building that her ghoul identified before she was ‘captured’, including those under cover of veiling. She’s afraid that it may turn into a grab.
GM: “That’s not a concern if they’re just renfields,” the mustachioed Kindred answers, more with a glance towards Caroline than with a glance towards the building. He then asks Caroline what she wants to accomplish here. He “isn’t so keen on” the thought of getting into any violent or Masquerade-breaching altercations within the seneschal’s domain.
Caroline: Caroline agrees utterly about avoiding violence, and hopes that his presence—along with those of others he might bring along—would be enough to make them reconsider making such an attempt. At this point she mostly wants her ghoul back. Of secondary interest is actual offer. Of tertiary is a potential count and ID on those here to attempt the smash and grab.
GM: “If these are the father’s agents in the seneschal’s domain this is their home ground,” the detective notes. The Brujah remarks that “we’re looking at a hostage negotiation, then. What do they want from you?”
Caroline: “Notionally, simply to come in and hear their terms to resolve the larger matter,” she replies. “But they’re unwilling to, for instance, share said terms by any means other than my entry. And the presence of obfuscated ghouls in ski masks does not warm my heart.”
GM: “Maybe a compromise and hand-off can be reached. Such as reconvening at another meet site, where any trap’ll be harder to spring.”
Caroline: “They’re unlikely to choose a position more neutral than this—or more public. And doing so would leave my ghoul in their hands for an unspecified length of time.” Caroline replies.
GM: “Maybe so, Miss Malveaux. But I don’t see them letting your ghoul walk for nothing either.”
Caroline: “I’d ask essentially two things of you if you’re willing, Warden. First, enter with me and remain within, and second, as we go in help point out any hidden ghouls or others you see. If the matter appears too sensitive or the odds not heavily stacked in our favor sufficient to deter any action, we can withdraw.”
GM: The Brujah doesn’t voice any opinion, but asks laconically, “And if the odds do appear too stacked, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: "The meeting happens. They’ve agreed to release Autumn following it. If they fail to do so it only further weakens their position. I’m going giving up my people though without even trying to get
GM: “I expect not,” Lebeaux nods. “Walking into the lion’s den isn’t my preferred way of finding out how big his teeth are, though. If there’s circumstances you still want to have this meeting under, and that’s also something they want, could be possible to negotiate and get them to cough up a few concessions.”
Caroline: “The expressed position is they will not release my ghoul until I come in,” Caroline replies.
GM: “That’s probably not in the cards. But there’s nothing else you’d ask of them?”
Caroline: “I’m open to suggestions,” Caroline replies, “but I see no concession they are likely to make that wins me more than it costs me leaving my ghoul in their hands.”
GM: Lebeaux shrugs. “Well then, so far as these lion’s teeth. Might be a few ways we can peg their size without sticking our feet into the den. You got any hairs of your ghoul’s, Miss Malveaux? Better yet, juice?”
“What the fuck would she have her hairs for?” Green snaps.
Lebeaux gives the ghoul a sidelong glance, but answers, “Useful things to the right hoodoo.”
Caroline: “There’s probably a stray hair in the back.” Caroline takes a few moments to check the backseat of the car before returning with one of the redhead’s very distinctive long hairs.
GM: “That’s our ticket,” Lebeaux nods.
He sits down in the nearest open car’s seat, reaches into his trench pocket, pulls out a hand mirror, and raises his wrist to his lips. There’s a flash of fangs, then red pattering over the mirror’s once clear surface. Coco’s childe plucks the hair from Caroline, smears it against the blood, and mutters a string of incantations in Latin. When he turns the mirror over, none of the blood drips from its surface.
He turns it back and stares into its red-smeared depths.
“Redhead’s sitting in a booth with a gray-bearded man. Doesn’t look hurt, but doesn’t look like too happy a camper either. Our good pal in the ski mask’s there too.”
The Brujah frowns.
The mirror abruptly shakes—writhes—in his hands, then shatters like it’s been punched in. Bloody pieces of glass rain over the asphalt.
“Should’ve brought a fresh one,” the detective mutters. “That’s as far as we’re peeking, Ms. Malveaux.”
Caroline’s ghouls all stare at the sight.
Caroline: “Does that answer your question, Green?” Caroline asks sardonically, before turning her attention back to the Brujah. “That’s a very neat trick through. Thank you. Remind me when we’re done here and we’ll settle accounts.”
GM: Lebeaux shakes his head. “Settle with Lord Savoy, if you’ve got to. I’m on his payroll. You’re welcome though.”
Caroline: The Ventrue strums her fingers on the roof of the car. “A group of ghouls isn’t enough to scare me away from reclaiming what is mine.”
GM: “Do we know a few ghouls are ‘all’ that’s in there, Ms. Malveaux?”
Caroline: “No, we don’t,” Caroline replies. “But they’re expecting me, and perhaps a ghoul or two. The unknowns cut both ways.”
GM: Lebeaux chews his lip. He looks as if he could chew on a dangling cigarette. “There’s worse creeds than doing right by your people. But whenever you can, you do smart by them too. If it were me, I’d try to get the kidnappers talking some more. But it’s your call, Ms. Malveaux. Lord Savoy wants you helped.”
Caroline: “If you keep running, they’ll never let you stop,” Caroline murmurs, perhaps more to herself than anyone else. “I’m going in. Your advice is well taken, Warden Lebeaux. If you prefer to observe and report to Lord Savoy rather than come in as well, I understand your position.”
GM: The Brujah looks as if he might sigh, but simply says, “Fools, angels, fear, tread. Let’s get a move on, Ms. Malveaux. And in. The night’s not getting any younger.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles a tight but predatory smile. “I’m glad he sent you, Warden Leneaux.”
In things go sideways, an angry Brujah can’t hurt.
Caroline lays out brief guidance to the ghouls should things turn violent. A priority is to withdraw with all of their own. If she goes down, they’re to withdraw with Lebeaux and follow his guidance. Sidearms only. They head into the club.
GM: Lebeaux sweeps up the bloodied glass shards into his pocket and mutters an incantation. The remaining red over the tarmac fades to a dull brown, then fades altogether. He instructs the three ghouls who’ve accompanied him to only exchange fire if first fired upon.
Caroline: They descend into the lion’s den.
GM: Even on a week night, the large group of mostly burly men gets a very bad reception from the bouncer. Lebeaux flashes an NOPD badge and slips the man a cash-filled handshake.
The club’s interior is much as Caroline remembers from her last visit. Silhouettes of dark figures are illuminated by soft multichromatic lights. In contrast to the wildly spinning and scintillating ones at French Quarter dance clubs, the Corner Club’s are stationary and reflect a graduating color palette: yellow by the bar, orange in an adjacent corner, magenta in the one next by, and indigo at that spot’s neighbor. Faces are distinct up close but not far away. Background music is soft, relaxing, and only half-audible against the low murmur of conversation. There is no central dance floor, and most patrons (such as there are at 11 PM on a weekday night) are parked at the bar or reclining on comfortable-looking leather couches. They seem younger than than Caroline’s last visit, too. Most of the older people have gone home by now.
Roger Ferris sits in a private booth next to Autumn. They have drinks. The latter ghoul’s isn’t even completely full.
Ferris calmly looks up and makes eye contact with Caroline while Marcus Morrow greets her and makes brief small talk (including his well wishes over her brother’s engagement) before stepping aside.
There’s another man sitting next to Autumn. Like the ghoul said, he’s big. He looks around Caroline’s height in heels, maybe a little taller, but he’s more broad than tall. He’s dressed in a long coat and jeans that would be nondescript but for the black ski mask over his face. None of the patrons pay it a glance. His thick hands have worn and leathery skin like a well-used pair of work gloves.
The heiresses gaze sweeps across the room looking for other familiar faces, and she looks to Lebeaux when she finishes, reading his reaction to the room. She also recognizes Ben Chandler and Drew Harrington among the evening’s crowd.
There’s a third man Caroline doesn’t recognize who also seems out of place in the Corner Club’s usual crowd. He’s dressed appropriately, but from his thick neck, muscular build and rough features, he looks like he’d be more at home cracking skulls.
Lebeaux’s face is unreadable to the Ventrue.
Caroline: Caroline reads the room and makes a quick judgment on the danger presented by the assembled mortals and ghouls in evidence: insufficient. Insufficient to win. Insufficient to contest. Insufficient to keep her from what is hers. And insufficient to scare her. She strides towards Roger’s table.
GM: “Care for a drink, Ms. Malveaux?” he asks as she sits.
Autumn looks more than a little relieved by Caroline’s appearance, but holds her tongue.
Caroline: “Not the kind you could offer, Roger,” Caroline replies, showing teeth. She looks her ghoul up and down. “I sincerely hope you didn’t try to put anything in her head.”
GM: “If I did, you’d be an idiot to take my word.”
Ferris looks at Lebeaux.
The Brujah remains standing when Caroline sits. He looks back, but says nothing.
Caroline: “You’ll forgive me for not cluing you into my plus one after you insisted I simply must come inside.” She gestures to the larger ghoul. “But since you brought a date it seemed only fair.”
GM: “Fair isn’t the game in this life, Ms. Malveaux. Or any.”
Caroline’s and Lebeaux’s large party of ghouls have fanned out amongst the crowd.
The Brujah gives her a look as if to ask for permission.
Caroline: “Of that you’re correct, which is why I brought seven.” She gestures to Lebeaux, bidding him to take a seat at the table beside her.
GM: The ‘ghoul’ wordlessly does so.
“Seven. Thoughtful of you to confirm that for us,” Roger states.
Caroline: She appreciates the ruse for many reasons. Not the least of which is keeping his name off the recording she has going.
“Or to mislead you,” Caroline replies, again showing teeth. “You had a proposal for me? Or was this just a pretext to get me here?”
GM: “You should order something, Ms. Malveaux. Good for the Masquerade,” Roger states. He takes a sip of his own drink.
Caroline: “And if we talk for more than a few minutes I will,” Caroline replies, her tone increasingly sharp.
GM: “Suit yourself. I’ve asked you here for several proposals.”
Caroline: She gestures towards him to continue.
GM: “This first one between you and me. There were a lot of odd things about that shooting at the Eighth District police station where you were present.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression gives away nothing.
GM: “You know they’re renaming this building the Whitney Hancock Center? The bank is relocating its headquarters here. Shell is still going to remain the largest tenant by space, but the building is getting renamed all the same.”
Caroline: “You’re stalling,” Caroline declares. “Get to it or I’m walking.”
GM: Ferris shrugs. “You have a hold over several, but especially one of your clanmates you haven’t put together.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.
GM: “I’m sure you can figure which from what I’ve already said.”
Caroline: “I know who you’re speaking of, without understanding what you’re getting at,” Caroline replies.
GM: “As I said, Ms. Malveaux. You don’t understand what you have over them either. That status quo suits them just fine.”
Caroline: “But you can enlighten me, for a price,” Caroline fills in.
Caroline: “Which is?” she asks.
GM: “I’m considering that myself. What could you do for me or my boss?”
Caroline: “Let’s lay that aside and get to the meat of Father Malveaux’s demands, as a great deal hinges on that,” Caroline replies.
GM: “The files returned, and a big favor owed for his trouble,” Roger states.
Caroline: “His trouble being the investigation he initiated,” Caroline clarifies.
GM: “You’ve heard his price, Ms. Malveaux,” the gray-bearded ghoul states. “His last one, at least. His initial was a full blood bond over you. I didn’t believe that demand’s outcome was likely to benefit anyone’s interests.”
Caroline: Caroline is silent for a moment as she thinks. “That’s a far more reasonable offer than the first. What does he propose as a way forward on the significant attention this matter has brought to me—and to the difficulties it presents to the prior plans for faking my death.”
GM: “He doesn’t. It’s not his problem.”
Caroline: “So he has, for instance, no concerns about postponing it until the attention surrounding Caroline Malveaux and claims that she’s a murderer have been cleaned up?” Caroline asks bluntly.
GM: “If you think that, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.”
Caroline: “Yes, I thought that might be rather a sticking point,” Caroline replies. “And yet there’s not a better option available from the perspective of the Masquerade at this point. Not with the significantly heightened attention around ‘Carolinegate’ you’ve created.”
GM: “From the Masquerade’s standpoint, I’d agree with you, Ms. Malveaux. I already did after your brother. Better to space apart dead Malveauxes as long as possible. He doesn’t think so. He wants you gone and out of his domain. If you don’t do it soon he’ll do it for you.”
Caroline: “You had a third matter?” Caroline asks, seemingly done with the topic.
Caroline: Caroline asks a few more probing but to the point questions, only half expecting answers: presumably this is Father Malveaux’s last offer? Why the drastic change from a full blood bond to a major boon? Is there any chance he would settle (briefly) for alienating her family until this matter dies down, rather than a Masquerade damaging ‘death’? The answers are less important (and expected) than the ideas.
GM: Ferris states, essentially, that he convinced his domitor to see reason. The prince (and Gerousia) would be leery of him acquiring such great hold over another clanmate. Caroline wouldn’t agree to it anyway. Two major debts already gives him a potent hold over her. He doesn’t brag about it, but Caroline recalls her uncle Matt praising the terse and quietly-spoken man as far slyer than people gave him credit for. That suited the Malveauxes just fine.
“Depends,” Ferris says in initial answer to Caroline’s second topic. It depends on how thorough that alienation is. The father intends to completely sever all of Caroline’s contact with her family. The greater the extent to which she does that herself, the longer he will likely be content to wait before she must fake her death.
She has to eventually, after all. People will notice she’s not getting any older.
Caroline: Caroline takes the answers for what they are and rises to depart. She tells Ferris he will have her answer before sunrise, as he’d initially demanded. She turns her attention to Autumn and asks if they took any hair or blood samples from her. If so, she demands their return. Otherwise she gathers her ghouls and makes to depart.
GM: Ferris’ gaze remains steady against Caroline’s.
“We aren’t finished.”
Caroline: The Ventrue arches an eyebrow.
GM: A condition of the major boon is the immediate return of the files Caroline took from Margaret’s network. Ferris supplies a dead drop site where she will leave them. Unless Caroline wants to be ‘interviewed’ at Father Malveaux’s and the sheriff’s hands, the former also requires a reason he should trust her word that she hasn’t simply made backups.
Caroline: Caroline awaits any further demands.
GM: The ghoul voices no further ones, at least yet.
Caroline: Caroline agrees that if she accepts the deal she’ll turn over the files and asks if there is anything further.
GM: “This isn’t a deal, Ms. Malveaux. Not to the father.” To him, it’s an order. Caroline’s refusal or any attempt at ‘counteroffers’ will be taken as defiance and punished accordingly.
Caroline: The flash of anger is as sudden as it is fierce. Punished accordingly. Like a misbehaving child.
GM: Caroline is beneath him. He will not deign to negotiate with one such as her. If she will not comply with his orders, he will take what he wants, and his actions will have their clan’s and prince’s full sanction.
Caroline: “That is the second time you’ve made the threat, Roger.” Caroline’s voice is unusually low and throaty, and she towers over the table. “Whatever he has told you, whatever you believe, know this: you don’t own me.”
GM: Ferris shrugs. “Everyone’s owned, Ms. Malveaux. If we’re lucky we know by who.”
“Those files and a believable guarantee of compliance are his by nightfall, or he’s doing things his way.”
Caroline: She turns her attention to Autumn. “Get up. We’re leaving.”
GM: Autumn gets up and looks at Ferris, but the ghoul doesn’t spare her a further glance.
Caroline: She gestures in a circle with her pointer raised towards the other ghouls, a simple gesture. Wrap it up. The heiress is more than done here.
GM: They follow her out.
Caroline: As they depart Caroline lays a hand on Autumn’s chin, lifting her head up, then down, then to the side. Examining her for harm.
GM: None is apparent on the ghoul.
“I don’t think they wanted to do anything to me in public,” Autumn says. “Sorry I got… well, nabbed.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip but offers neither comfort nor criticism of that. When they make it back to the vehicles she turns her attention to her Kindred companion. “Thank you for your support, Mr. Lebeaux. It meant a great deal having you there.”
GM: Coco’s childe chews his lip. “Some free advice. Tread carefully.”
“Tread very carefully.”
Caroline: “As lightly as a butterfly on a flower pad,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Smartest butterflies use their wings. Goodnight, Ms. Malveaux.” He and his ghouls head back towards their vehicles.
Caroline: Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Caroline gathers her own ghouls and returns to their vehicles, heading back to the Giani Building as discussed with her mother. She has another meeting to prepare for.
On the way back she quizzes Autumn: does she know either of the other mystery ghouls? Was she asked anything. Who caught her? Did she observe anything of interest?
GM: Autumn says that several large men approached her and brought her over to see Ferris. She did not recognize any of their faces. Ferris, in fact, is the only one who she did. Autumn is not acquainted with the Malveaux family’s security personnel, so far as Caroline knows. She does, however, describe a number of men (and women) apparently working for Ferris who Caroline did not observe herself. Adding these men and women to the ones she did, it sounds as if Ferris’ forces outnumbered the Ventrue’s. He was evidently not taking chances.
Autumn says she doesn’t remember being asked anything—for what very little that is worth. Ferris was on his phone. Some of that time was spent talking with Caroline. The rest of it was apparently spent texting.
There was a brief conversation with the masked ghoul after his phone call with Caroline ended. They talked about whether to “call it off,” but decided no. As long as she was here, Caroline “wouldn’t be leaving.” Ferris sent a few more texts, and a few of his people left the Corner Club (including, briefly, the masked ghoul). But the bulk of his men appeared content to wait and stay put.
She snooped on the masked ghoul too, she mentioned. He wanted to stay masked specifically because of Caroline. He didn’t want her seeing his face. His emotional state was… Autumn isn’t quite sure how to put a finger on it. All business? He felt attentive without being bored, scared, overly engaged, or much of anything else. This was just ‘business’ to him.
Autumn mentions she’s “getting munchies” from having snooped on him. It’s plain what the ghoul wants.
Caroline: Caroline pointedly ignores the hint as to the ghoul’s desires. If she’d felt more comfortable in the Corner Club, less convinced that there was a slowly closing trap, she’d have liked to have pressed further on the masked ghoul, and on the intentions and desires of those at the table in her own ways.
As it was, she’s happy to have gotten out without violence.
Wednesday night, 16 December 2015, PM
GM: Caroline’s phone abruptly floods with texts and missed calls from Curtis Morris. All repeat iterations of the same thing:
The Giani Building is under attack.
Fuller sharply informs Caroline he’s getting the same thing.
Caroline: The heiress scowls and dials a different number. This was not an unforeseen eventuality. With Rocco soundly in the pocket of the sheriff the building was much more of a glass castle against forces aligned with Father Malveaux than those outside of the Sanctified. Similarly, she knowingly pulled essentially all of her security out of the building for the meeting with Malveaux, leaving only mortals.
She couldn’t stop that if she wanted to roll in force to the meeting—she simply didn’t have the security to cover two locations at once. She did, however, have the capability to do something else. She calls Widney, posted up covertly in the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel several floors up and across the street with a telescoping lens and an empty SD video card.
GM: The ghoul answers back. She tried to call Caroline several times—but she has pictures. The attackers are gone now.
Caroline: Caroline gives her directions to meet in the vicinity of the Alystra, but to part in the southern end of the French Quarter and directs Fuller to change destinations as well. She further instructs him to get in touch with Curtis—if possible—and get him to calm down and provide a better explanation for what happened. Finally she texts her mother,
Had some unexpected company at home. Going to go visit a friend and see if they go away. Still on for breakfast?
GM: Fuller does as Caroline asks, but states that he does not believe this is a good idea—especially when Curtis fails to respond to texts and calls. They should send people to check on things and secure the area.
Caroline: Caroline responds that she’s reluctant to commit people without better information on who the attackers where—which she hopes to have in hand in minutes from Widney.
GM: Widney sends Caroline the photos. They show a group of people in dark hoodies, bandannas, sunglasses, and a few Guy Fawkes masks driving away from the Giani Building in cars. There’s perhaps half a dozen or so figures. They’re armed with assault rifles and smaller sidearms, and clearly know how to use them. Their retreat from the Giani Building is executed in a disciplined rather than panicked fashion. Injured men are helped out by their fellows while others provide covering fire. Everything is directed by a central figure whom the others attackers appear to be taking orders from. All told, the group feels like a highly experienced if not professional fighting force.
It’s in the middle of Caroline’s perusal of those photos that she receives a phone call. The ID is from one of Rocco’s numbers.
Caroline: The heiress answers.
Rocco: “Hello, Miss Malveaux. It’s Hound Agnello. How are you this evening?”
Caroline: “I’m well. And yourself, Hound Agnello?” Caroline replies, painfully adopting a calm and reserved tone.
Rocco: “I could be better.” The Gangrel pauses for few seconds. “I have recently learned that SWAT are heading to the Giani Building. Are you aware of this situation?”
Caroline: “I confess, it’s news to me,” Caroline replies smoothly. “I received word of some manner of incident, but the first report I received was confused—given by a mortal. I’m afraid I don’t have any ghouls in the building at this time. Something about a raid of some kind?”
Rocco: “What can you tell me of this ‘manner of incident’, Miss Malveaux?” he asks, bristling slightly.
Caroline: “A group of armed men entered the building with masks, hoodies, and automatic weapons. Apparently they got into some manner of shootout with the building’s mortal security.”
“Can you think of any reason my haven might come under attack within your domain, Hound Agnello? If the attack was aimed at me specifically, it struck at a time when it was least likely to find me—or even any of my ghouls.”
“I would have believed few Kindred indeed would have been so bold as to attack into your domain, Hound Agnello.”
Rocco: “I was unaware of any masked gunmen. I was only aware of SWAT passing through my domain and wanted answers.” He pauses, taking on a more thoughtful tone. “This news is very troubling to me, Miss Malveaux. I take my role as your liege lord seriously, and I don’t take kindly to any trespass from those encroaching upon my domain.”
He adds, “I will lend you my help on this matter, especially as it relates to the First Tradition. What measures have you already taken to contain this situation?”
Caroline: “I have not yet taken action Hound Agnello,” Caroline replies, “I was only receiving initial reports as I received your call.” She pauses for a moment. “Unless you think it unwise it is my intention to dispatch Ms. Rabinowitz, another ghoul skilled with mesmerism, and escorts for them to the scene for initial damage control. Obviously however, I would not wish for them to overstep their bounds with the police forces—and if SWAT comes in guns blazing…. well. There’s little enough they can do.”
Rocco: “I will meet your ghouls near the scene, then. Do you have a specific rendezvous point in mind?”
Caroline: “There’s a Starbucks across the street if that pleases you, Hound Agnello,” Caroline replies.
Rocco: “It does.”
Caroline: There’s a pause. “I hope my dispatch of ghouls in my stead will not mistaken for a lack of attentiveness in this matter, Hound Agnello. The timing of this matter is particularly sensitive. I intend on making my appreciation as clear as possible at the earliest opportunity.”
Rocco: “Very well, Miss Malveaux.” His tone certainly sounds less cold now.
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline quickly gives instructions to the rest of the ghouls with her. Fuller and Ericson with go with Autumn to meet up with Agnello and his ghouls near the Giani Building. They’ll rendezvous with Widney on site. She will proceed on with Ms. Green to her meeting, and meet them on site when complete. The ghouls should not allow themselves to be separated into groups of less than two, and should keep her appraised via texts to Green as events develop at the Giani Building.
As they divide up into the two cars they’ll have from here, Caroline continues to review the evidence Widney has sent her, looking for a clue as to the source of the attackers.
GM: Judging by the gunfire that perforated the windows to Caroline’s haven, even bulletproof as it was, the attackers did make it that far into the Giani Building. They weren’t in there for long, though, before the security forces led by Curtis repulsed them—though the fighting was vicious, with more than enough rounds exchanged for SWAT to be dispatched to the scene.
One of the attackers, though, looks as if a bullet grazed his head. There’s a wet and angry red line across his ski mask. Widney’s photos depict him furiously tearing it off once he’s in the car while someone else in a Guy Fawkes mask looks the wound over. The unmasked man is a Caucasian, square-jawed, hard-nosed individual in maybe his 30s with short black hair. Neither Caroline nor Green recognize his features, at least on sight.
The Ventrue is fortunate that her ghoul spent some time learning her way around a camera with Jocelyn, who was happy to instruct a would-be photographer in its use. The composition of Widney’s shots is nothing less than stellar—and even captures the leader’s phone. The device has Life360 open and shows a green bubble marked ‘Caroline’ approaching the Giani Building, just as the attackers are making their withdrawal.
Caroline: It’s well that so much of Becky Lynne’s instruction focused on containing herself, on adopting the stoic facade of a proper Ventrue. On not letting others see the cracks in the mask. Her hands tighten around the tablet displaying the blown-up image. In that moment Caroline wants to do nothing so much as unleash her rage on anything in range—save perhaps weep.
GM: The Beast cares little for weeping.
Caroline doesn’t remember the screams. She never does. She doesn’t even remember the loss of control this time, so suddenly did it come over her.
All she sees is her ghouls—all of her ghouls, except for Green and Autumn—lying in savaged, bloody, and barely alive heaps on the car’s floor as the red haze subsides.
Caroline: She wants to run. She wants to flee from the combined scene of carnage: the shame of knowing that she’s done it those that trusted her, and from her own hurt and pain, still so blisteringly fresh over her mother’s betrayal.
The walls tumbling down on her evening—and perhaps even her Requiem—like so many dominoes. She wants to get out of the car and disappear into the night. To hide from Autumn’s and Green’s accusing gazes.
GM: Green’s is shocked. Autumn’s isn’t. It’s terrified. It’s even shocked, on an immediate, visceral level.
But it’s not surprised. It’s not surprised at all. The long-time ghoul doesn’t say anything as she cowers from her place on the car’s floor.
“What the fuck—did you—you goddamn psychopath!?” Green shouts, her gun leveled at the Ventrue’s head.
Caroline: She wants to run. Instead she grits her teeth—her bloodstained teeth—and sets about picking up the pieces. Again. The pieces she’s broken. Pieces that used to be people.
Vitae goes out to each half-dead ghoul. It’s not enough to bring them anywhere near to where they were—that would require weeks of hunting—but it’s enough to pull the three from death’s door. For now.
She sends Autumn away to meet with Agnello. There’s nothing she can do for it now, though it galls her to send the ghoul alone. Green will take the half-dead ghouls back to a secondary location and do her best to patch them up. Caroline changes into extra clothing stored in the back of the SUV and proceeds on alone to the meeting.
GM: The Alystra is much as it was during Caroline’s last visit: bright, colorful, and raucous. People mindlessly feed money into the slot machines as lights blink, sirens whir, and tokens clatter into metal payout drawers. Rowdy jazz music plays from speakers and a live band. Crowds of clapping, exclaiming, shouting people cluster around the gaming tables as they make (and more frequently, lose) money. They’re smaller than the last time the Ventrue was here, though, likely due to the late weekday night.
The handsome ghoul who last received Caroline asks her to appear normally before the cameras, like last time, and leads her upstairs to the baccarat lounge. Unlike last time, he leads her past the tables, bar, and restaurant to a smaller series of rooms at the rear of the boat, only to then apologize that Prince Guilbeau’s present business is unfortunately not yet concluded. He offers to deal Caroline in at the baccarat tables, if she’d care for a diversion while she waits.
The young Ventrue, however, may have other topics on her mind—such as the contents of Widney’s photos.
Caroline: She politely passes upon the baccarat—it would be unseemly to divide her attention at the tables—in favor of continuing consideration of the evidence her ghoul has sent her. An identity for the attackers would go a long way in solidifying together their motives and goals—though she can guess those well enough she’s learned the dangers of assumptions.
GM: Eventually, Marcel’s ghoul announces that the prince will see her.
Randolph Cartwright is leaving the baccarat lounge, along with a second, tall and gaunt Kindred who Caroline does not recognize. His pointed ears, overlarge teeth, and wart-crusted, leather-like skin can only mark him as a fellow sufferer of Absimiliard’s curse. Neither Nosferatu looks pleased. At all. Neither speaks to Caroline, though both seem to take note of her presence.
Caroline: The heiress is haggard by the evening, though she tries her best to avoid showing it—aided by her dead state of being. She’s just as happy not to engage the two Nosferatu.
GM: Marcel’s ghoul, meanwhile, ushers her into an office that practically oozes money. Warm woods are accented by soft yellow lights from torch-like metal holders. Luxurious red and gold-patterned carpets accent the floors. Crystal gleams from the room’s chandelier and (needless) ashtray on the teakwood desk. Tastefully arranged white, purple, and blue magnolias peak from hand-painted china vases. Paintings, too, adorn the walls. The one that occupies the place of greatest prominence behind the manager’s desk, however, is of a Neo-Gothic, castle-like turreted building surrounded by a grove of trees and cast iron fence. A young couple wearing a dark 19th century suit and pink dress survey the building from beyond the fence, arms linked.
A wide window on the room’s right side overlooks the Mississippi. Bright lights, lively music, and sounds of laughing, carousing patrons spill out from the boat’s lower decks, but are comfortably muffled into low murmurs and soft glows. The office seems to almost bask in the afterglow of it all, as if to say, “this is where the money all flows.”
Marcel Guilbeau is seated in a high-backed leather chair as he greets Caroline and indicates she seat herself. The ex-prince is dressed tonight in a dark navy suit with a pale green necktie. Two same two golden crucifix earrings hang from his ears. Though he smiles when he receives her, the Ventrue spends little time on small talk. It’s apparent, between that and their audience’s delay, that Brodowski wasn’t exaggerating his sire’s busy schedule when Marcel inquires as to Caroline’s business this evening.
“My childe said the matter was one of some importance to you, eiren.”
Caroline: The heiress moves right to the point. She’s rather embarrassed to report she discovered mortals snooping around her publicly identified ‘home.’ Investigation led back to her family—not itself surprising—but even a cursory follow-up revealed a massive investigation headed not by a mortal, but rather by a ghoul in the service of Gerousiastis Malveaux.
The investigation is quite messy and has substantially muddied her own plans to fake her death—as the prince no doubt recalls was a precondition to her previous apology to her elder.
A confrontation with the ghoul resulted in the ghoul making several claims—including that Gerousiastis Malveaux expected essentially unlimited service from her in order to squash the investigation, and that he desired her fully blood bound to him, but may ‘settle’ for a major boon.
She of course would not attribute such words to Gerousiastis Malveaux directly—but the entire matter has her more than moderately distressed. She does not wish to cause further strife so soon after her acceptance into the clan, but the entire matter seems rather… unusual. She thought it best to seek the counsel of one of Gerousiastis Malveaux’s peers—and perhaps the member of the Genousia in the city most accustomed to helping advise and mediate such conflicts within Clan Ventrue, given his standing as a prince in his own right.
GM: “This is a serious accusation for you to make, Eiren Malveaux, even if this ghoul were acting under his own initiative,” Marcel replies calmly. He asks if Caroline has any proof to substantiate these allegations.
Caroline: She produces a folder full of information on the investigation and a clip from a recording on her phone, time stamped for this evening (for what that means to the older Kindred). It begins with her voice: “Let’s lay that aside and get to the meat of Father Malveaux’s demands, as a great deal hinges on that.”
The tape plays for several minutes, concluding with Ferris’ conclusions summed up in brief: Caroline is beneath Father Malveaux. He will not deign to negotiate with one such as her. If she will not comply with his orders, he will take what he wants, and his actions will have their clan’s and prince’s full sanction.
She lets the words hang in the air. “Obviously I would not level such an accusation lightly—nor would I ask that these be taken as gospel—these things can be altered, or I could have dominated him into saying these things. But I have very little to gain, Gerousiastis Guilbeau by provoking and testing Gerousiastis Malveaux in that way, and everything to lose.”
GM: Marcel listens patiently as the tape plays, his expression unreadable. He finally asks Caroline what files Roger Ferris is referencing as to being in her possession.
Caroline: “The backup of the hard drive that contained the investigation into me—along with everything else on the drive. Numerous clandestine operations that could be rather damaging to the Malveaux family if released. Extracting them from one another at the time was not feasible.”
GM: “Is it your desire to extract them, Eiren Malveaux?”
Caroline: “It is not my desire to further provoke or give offense to Gerousiastis Malveaux, Gerousiastis Guilbeau. In the immediate they provided a some leverage against more brazen action by Mr. Ferris and his many associates, but threatening or destroying the influence or domain of a member of the Gerousia is not, and has never been my intention,” she replies. “Put more simply, I was not overtly disappointed to have them available at the time, but my intention is not to seek to retain them.”
GM: The older Ventrue seems to take this in stride, then asks Caroline as to what manner of resolution she seeks “regarding this whole affair.”
Caroline: She is contrite. She regrets that this matter has come up at all, and only the egregiousness of it has led her to his door. She would not presume to make demands of a member of the Board, but she wishes to be free from the threat of reprisal from her elder clanmate and to bury the matter. She wishes the investigation scuttled, and ample time given for the dust to settle before she is forced to fake a Masquerade damaging death.
She’s willing to, in the interest of mitigating friction, take significant steps to distance herself until that time from Father Malveaux’s domain, even effectively excommunicating herself from her family.
Marcel spends the next few minutes paging through Caroline’s provided folder on the investigation.
GM: “Then these are my figurative two pennies’ worth, Eiren Malveaux. You bear significant ill will for Gerousiastis Malveaux, and he does not look favorably upon you. Everyone in the clan knows this.”
“Cui bono, eiren. You stand to gain a great deal from these allegations—or I should say, Gerousiastis Malveaux stands to lose a great deal, which the Structure is inclined to believe you would still view as your own gain. Gerousiastis Malveaux would call for a thorough investigation into the truthfulness of your claims—since you have produced evidence,” he gestures towards the folder, “that cannot be dismissed out of hand as hearsay or an application of the sanguine voice. But as you say, any man could be commanded to say these things into a recording device.”
“I would be inclined to vote yea in favor of any motion for a Board-sanctioned investigation, for reasons I’m sure you can guess. Yet if Gerousiastis Malveaux is exonerated of wrongdoing, for his ghouls’ actions are his responsibility, your dignitas is tarnished for leveling unfounded allegations. If there is merit to them, his own dignitas will be tarnished—and the gamblers in the floors below would kill to have odds as good as knowing who he’ll blame. Rumors will likely circulate that you had a hand in his loss of dignitas.”
“I don’t see either of these outcomes as being good for you, for him, or for our clan at large.”
“There’s wise quote that Prince de Vega, my predecessor, would sometimes say around my sire and me. ‘Let honor be your shield, your sword, and your cloak: let Ventrue save face, and you will go far.’”
“This, then, I would propose. The good father isn’t due back for a few more nights. You corroborate this evidence with my people and gather up everything you have on his ghoul’s wrongdoing—as well as the damaging information you have on your mortal family. We turn it all over to him. He takes care of his own ghoul and sweeps everything under the rug, to stay our little secret. Gerousiastis Malveaux saves face, you show us both that you’re sincere about burying the hatchet, and no scandal need mire the clan.”
The ex-prince smiles contently.
Caroline: Caroline considers the older Ventrue’s proposition. “In principle, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, I have no objection to allowing the matter to be swept up neatly, especially in the interest of once again demonstrating my lack of ill will towards Gerousiastis Malveaux.”
“I would raise three concerns, however. First, that my experience has been—and I trust it is understood that I can only express this in my own terms—when twice confronted with this, the reaction I received was not at all one of contrition, but instead one of demands made of me, and threats of near imminent violence from third parties should I fail to comply immediately.”
“Second, that such threats exist at present, and still cast a shadow over the otherwise excellent proposal for handling the turn over of material to him. Threats I consider quite credible, given past experiences, to say nothing of the smash and grab raid upon my haven this very night.”
GM: “I’m sorry, Eiren Malveaux, but you’d led me to believe you considered these alleged misdeeds the work of an overzealous ghoul,” Marcel half-inquires, half-observes.
Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies. “I wouldn’t dream of impugning the dignitas of Gerousiastis Malveaux with such an accusation.”
At least, she wouldn’t out and out say as much. What the other Ventrue may read into her comments, she cannot say.
“But a ghoul that has all but pledged to resolve the matter by force without a response to his demands within the night, and whom was able to marshal a dozen or perhaps more armed men and ghouls towards the matter. Ghouls with not insignificant and varied gifts available to them,” Caroline observes in turn.
GM: Marcel’s smile has faded.
“Eiren Malveaux, I would choose your next words with great care.”
Caroline: Caroline can read those stormy waters as well as anyone. She frowns and bites her lip before she continues, “I hope you’ll forgive me for being so forthright, Gerousiastis Guilbeau. The truth is, given the significant dignitas which Gerousiastis Malveaux holds, his not inconsiderable resources, his absence from the city, and the expressed almost desperate timeline by the ghoul in question, I simply have a concern that the matter might escalate before his return and any meeting that might be arranged.”
GM: “If you fear for your physical safety at his ghoul’s hands, eiren, there are arrangements that may be made.”
Caroline: “Rather more so at present than I might typically be,” Caroline admits. “I suddenly find my own stable rather thin. And while at night I have few fears, many a more powerful Kindred than myself has been undone during the day by a canny hunter, much less a ghoul with his own resources and knowledge. There are others I might broach such a matter with, but from without the clan it would raise certain questions.”
GM: “Fortunately, you’d be wasting your breath in any case,” Marcel smiles. “Perdido House usually has room to spare. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more secure haven in the city, except maybe the Tremere chantry.”
Caroline: Right into the lion’s den.
Caroline played a dangerous game with a member of the Gerousia once before that led her to the heart of the prince’s bloc’s power. The circumstances here are different, but no less threatening in their own way. Perhaps even more so. She might easily never emerge from Perdido House if she descended into that pit for even an evening.
GM: “There’s also Houston, if you’re more concerned with secrecy than security,” Marcel continues. “Questor Becker and his cousin might be persuaded to make their trip home early.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees in principle with the elder Ventrue’s proposal and expresses a willingness to turn over the information she’s gathered to him, if he so wishes. She expresses gratitude and interest in the idea of shelter in Perdido House during the day, and feels it would be more than sufficient—and better than involving others from out of town that might have questions of their own. Besides, she has some matters she must still attend to in New Orleans.
GM: “Very good,” Marcel smiles at Caroline’s agreement. He then addresses a number of further topics with her.
First, he states that he will arrange an audience with Gerousiastis Malveaux, once the other Ventrue is back in the city.
He will accept the information Caroline has gathered took over during the next few nights.
His people will put her in touch with the Hussar to arrange an overday stay in Perdido House. The prince’s herald will not extend such aid freely.
He also volunteers to send a security team, led by Aedile Hurst, to investigate the scene of Caroline’s attacked domain for evidence and to secure it against further intruders.
He raises his own and Pierpont McGinn’s domains as locations where Caroline might make her temporary haven. Neither is as secure as Perdido House, though neither are they sand castles. He raises them simply to “lay out all the cards” on the table.
He finally states that he believes her proposal to immediately distance herself from Gerousiastis Malveaux’s domain is an “intelligently considered one.” It could do much to convince him of her goodwill.
Caroline: Caroline latches onto the idea of making use of his domain—for a boon of course—as a temporary haven, rather than bringing in additional individuals. If the intention is, after all, to keep the matter as discrete as possible, then taking a request to make use of Perdido House to the Hussar would seem at odds with it. In any case, while she could see a rogue ghoul making a run at her own haven, she doubts he would be so brazen as to attack a member of the Gerousia’s. It’s not even clear that he would know how or where to strike there—she admits that he seemed quite ignorant about more nuanced Kindred matters.
She further relates that Hound Agnello has generously agreed, as her landlord, to assist in the immediate cleanup and investigation of the attack on her domain. She’s dispatched her own available ghouls and will assist further at the conclusion of this audience. She’s grateful for the offer, but would hate to give offense to Hound Agnello by giving him cause to doubt in her confidence in him by bringing in a third party. The thoughtfulness of the gesture is appreciated, however.
With regard to the distancing herself, she raises the idea of a revelation that might make her something of a social pariah to them in the immediate term. She would make sure not to publicly damage their position or endanger the Masquerade with something like a highly convenient death in the middle of a significant murder investigation. She floats the idea of perhaps ‘leaving’ the Catholic faith, taking up with a ‘lover’ they might find unacceptable, or even confessing some manner of social ‘degeneracy’—for instance, coming out of the closet to them as ideas that would significantly fray those ties more immediately in a way. She wonders if that might satisfy Gerousiastis Malveaux as to her immediate commitment to her pledge to disentangle herself from his domain.
The two discuss the last matter briefly, with the elder Ventrue’s guidance being that doing so before Gerousiastis Malveaux returns is preferable. The idea of further concessions—in addition to the boons she’s paying out already—amid this move against her is like a slap in the face, but the younger Ventrue sees no better option in the moment.
Like in so many things.
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
GM: The Giani Building is in chaos when Rocco arrives shortly after his two ghouls. Camilla has diverted SWAT from the scene under pretext of a false alarm: scrubbing the scene and stopping any further reports and odd stories from leaking to NOPD (and the general public) will be up to him… as well as ascertaining to what extent Caroline Malveaux is at fault for any breach of the Masquerade.
The apartment building has evidently been the site of an intense shoot-out between the numerous, well-armed on-site security forces and masked attackers who appeared to have been equally well-armed. One member of the building’s security is dead. Another, Curtis Matlock, took a bullet to his lung and is urgent need of hospital care.
Resident bystanders were caught in the crossfire. None, fortunately for the Masquerade, are dead. A woman who was evidently returning from the grocery store had the misfortune to be caught in the hallway when fighting broke out. She took a bullet to her shoulder before staggering into her unit and locking fast the door. Cracked eggs, now-stinking fish, now-thawed frozen fruit, and other food purchases lie strewn across the hallway in silent testament to firefight’s violence.
A man who was watching TV in his unit was grazed across the temple when a bullet penetrated the wall. His TV’s shattered screen took the full force of the gunfire.
The childcare center was blessedly closed for the day when fighting broke out. The cleaning woman who was tidying up barricaded herself in a closet and is a nervous wreck.
One man wasn’t hit by any gunfire, but was doing some late-night cooking and dicing sweet potatoes when the gunfire began. He was so startled that he sliced his finger to the bone with the kitchen knife.
Most people in the units seem to have literally hunkered down, hid under their beds, and called 911. A few of the more educated tenants also turned off their lights, drew their shades, and barricaded their doors. Gun owners loaded their weapons. Some people fled the building’s fire escapes. Skid marks in the garage indicate a few cars tried to flee.
The fighting between the attackers and on-site security was savage, with each side giving as good as they got. Property damage is more extensive than physical injuries—and mental wounds more extensive than physical ones. Tenants are still terrified for their lives. Many haven’t left their units, but have been calling 911, over and over. SWAT’s failure to appear will need an explanation. It won’t be much longer before knowledge of the shooting spreads like a bloodstain over clothes and more people get involved. In the age of the smartphone, anyone can be a reporter, a responder, a photographer, a filmer.
This task remains the hound’s to clean up—with help from Autumn, the unwanted ghoul of Harlequin’s he remembers nearly shooting. She looks equally shellshocked as she volunteers her help and knowledge of the building.
“I… think it’s gonna be impossible to cover up there was a shooting here. Just… how it played out.”
Caroline: Caroline arrives late to the scene and sets to work—with Agnello’s permission and direction—in working to patch up the potential damage to the Masquerade. She has a lean and hungry look to her that the hound has not seen for some months, since her earliest nights as his tenant, and arrives for the first time he can recall without other ghouls. If he has not already settled on a narrative she proposes a domestic dispute: an attack by a disturbed or disgruntled man upon his ex, interrupted by heroic security guards who subsequently were able to wave off the need for SWAT in favor of a more moderate police presence to clean up the mess.
She aggressively sees to altering memories of those affected by the shooting to change their perceptions to fit the narrative Agnello has crafted—whether her own or otherwise—and calls in—with promises of significant bonuses and overtime given the unusual timing—various contractors as needed to help clean up the worse evidence of the massive shootout. Drywallers flush with drywall putty to cover up bullet holes, painters to cover up and match colors as needed.
She provides vitae to Curtis—under spell if needed—to keep him alive in the immediate and on scene. She interviews him briefly about the attackers—and does her own cursory examination of her invaded haven to see what the attackers were after—though she has her own ideas as to what might have been.
It’s far from a ‘perfect’ clean up as Masquerade matters go, at least by her own standards. But Caroline yet hopes that it might stitch up the fraying enough this night, especially as she also works to wipe the memories of the contractors as they finish their work of the exact nature of their efforts here.
Rocco: As Caroline soon learns, the hound is receptive to some help and for the most part seems to be delegating from the sidelines. He is flanked by three ghouls upon her arrival: a raven-haired beauty, an older gentleman with a creeping, unnerving smile, and Caroline’s own ghoul Autumn. A cell phone is pressed against his ear as he allows the ghouls to search for any eyewitnesses, put them in a more agreeable state, and escort them to a van with black-tinted windows to be ‘reprogrammed’.
On the phone, Rocco is trying to get in contact with Abraham Garcia to hopefully quell any media attention. The hound has police lights flashing over the scene to give the impression that authorities have already arrived and to stop any more 911 calls from frightened locals. A police badge hangs around the hound’s neck, and when Caroline arrives, he offers her one to wear, as well. It’s clearly fake after closer inspection, but from a distance, the hound explains that the appearance of police investigating will do a lot for the Masquerade. Rocco, simply lacking a better alternative, agrees with Caroline’s cover-up story. He notes that any CCTV footage and online activity should be monitored, too.
While the cover-up is ongoing and the Gangrel welcomes any help in regard to upholding the Masquerade, Rocco refuses Caroline’s help when it comes to the broader investigation into who was behind this attack.
GM: The police sirens start to draw some people out of their apartments. They are confused by the small number of ‘cops’ and the absence of any uniformed officers. The two Kindred and three ghouls spend some initial time ‘correcting’ witness impressions, but it is not overlong before the flood of 911 calls finally draws an actual police presence—minus SWAT, on account of the ‘gunman’ already being dead.
Rocco and his ghouls know the drill where cops are concerned. Donovan does not like to rely on mesmerism to alter respondents’ memories of what happened, or to otherwise make use of blatant supernatural tampering. It’s better if the police arrive upon an already ‘sanitized’ crime scene and can go about their business normally, writing up mundane reports that do nothing to threaten the Masquerade.
The first step is the shooter. The dead security officer is decided as the violent ex: it even explains why he’s in uniform and spares the need to change his corpse into street clothes that weren’t worn during the violence, and which would be another step to properly falsify on a limited schedule.
The body is left where it is so as to spare the need to tamper with scenes. Excess shell casings are swept up, bloodstains scrubbed, and bullet-riddled walls painted over. Rocco’s ghouls mesmerize some nearby tenants into helping with that drudge work before the contractors can arrive.
Corbin and Autumn stay to supervise the clean-up of the actual crime scene while everyone else goes door to door and deals with witnesses. This isn’t Rocco’s first time dealing with Masquerade cover-ups in apartment buildings full of witnesses, but to Caroline it proves a learning experience. Mesmerism, which requires eye contact with the victim, is frustrated by peepholes and rendered useless when the person on the other side doesn’t even want to get that close. It’s the discipline’s “little brother,” enthrallment, that proves its worth by washing people’s fears away and getting them to open their doors.
Few witness accounts directly contradict the narrative Caroline and Rocco are working to establish. After all, no one wanted to be close enough to the gunman to actually see shots exchanged. Most of Annabelle’s and the two Kindred’s work is downplaying recalled noise levels to something witnesses might expect from half a dozen fewer gunmen, making note of too-extensive property damage that needs to be covered up, and instructing people to limit their contact with police.
Uniformed officers eventually arrive on-scene. Rocco sends Caroline and her ghoul away at this point. His people will see to the police while she further attends to her own domain.
That response, at least, is one surprise this evening hasn’t carried.
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
Caroline: Amid her efforts to patch up the Masquerade at the Giani Building, Caroline is alert for an opportunity to ‘top off’ if a victim presents themselves. Perhaps by product of her distraction this evening, or perhaps due to her focus on the Masquerade, she find no such opportunity. At least not until Autumn points out a twentysomething young man whose textbooks she spies through his (briefly) open door.
GM: Or perhaps Caroline’s initial failure is simply due to a lack of suitable victims within the small hunting grounds she permits herself. Rent isn’t cheap in a brand new building located in the middle of downtown. The atrium’s pillared entrance and faux-gold chairs all point towards a lifestyle that most teen- and twenty-something college students can’t afford.
Many people are still scared and keeping their doors closed. The ones who don’t are leaving the building. Autumn points out the open unit with its visible textbooks only seconds before a young man dressed wearing a winter coat, backpack, and carrying several bags steps out. He’s talking into his phone as he goes.
“Mom, it’s fine. The cops are here-” He goes on about not being able to live without his laptops, tablet, and other electronic toys. There’s a sharp (but also worried) sounding voice from the other end of the line. The young man grouses that if his trust fund were bigger, he’d be able to leave the apartment without thinking about his stuff.
Caroline: The heiress all but licks her lips. She gives him a few moments to see if he ends the call, but failing that unleashes the overwhelming influence of the Beast upon his mind, first drawing his attention, then lowering his guard, before finally luring him in close. Would he mind walking her back to her apartment? This whole affair is so terrifying.
Of course, once she has him alone it’s her that most might consider terrifying.
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline surveys the breached remains of her ‘haven’. The door is propped closed and the windows—least facing the door— still have bullet holes them them. Latin dry wallers and painters may be willing to get out of bed in the middle of the night, and wood putty might put together conventional doors that have been kicked in, but repairing the industrial steel door and its damaged wood facade is the work of actual craftsmen that won’t even answer their phones until tomorrow at the earliest and replacing the bullet-resistant glass is similarly not quickly done.
She mentally puts it on the list of tasks Widney needs to see to, before quickly striking it from the list with a recollection of broken bodies and blood splattered windows—the ghoul will be in no shape to do much of anything tomorrow, or for some days to come, even if Caroline is able to turn her attention aggressively towards diverting vitae to the stricken ghouls.
Nor is she likely to trust her haven again until that can be seen to, at the least. She’d thought herself if not invincible then certainly a harder nut to crack than this. She feels vulnerable again.
It’s with a scowl that she dials her mother.
GM: Her mother picks up after the first ring. “Did you make it back safely, Caroline?” she asks without preamble, but with plain concern.
Caroline: Caroline buries the very pointed questions she has.
“I’m all right,” she replies. “There was some kind of shooting here when I was on my way home, but it was all over before I made it back.”
GM: “A shooting, in the CBD?” Claire asks with an audible frown.
Caroline: “I know,” Caroline replies, her own tone faintly distressed, “I’d hoped to get away from that craziness by living downtown. Rumor is it was some kind of domestic dispute. Guy couldn’t let go of a girl and decided to shoot up the place trying to get her.” She sighs. “You know how it can get people people that care for each other. Sometimes that uglier than the random violence on the street.”
GM: “This was where you live?” Claire asks with another audible frown. She asks a number of almost mom-typical follow-up questions concerning Caroline’s safety and the security of her building. Could this happen again? Would she feel safe?
Caroline: Caroline fields each very typically. When she gets to the last, she pauses.
“Honestly, I’m a little freaked out tonight. I think I might go stay with a friend. I know that affects our plans.”
GM: “That’s completely fine, Caroline. You’re sure it’s someone you trust, who you want to stay with?”
Caroline: Caroline pauses again at the question.
Trust. She’d trusted her mother in so far as she trusted anyone. She needs only look around to see how far that’s gone.
“It’s safer than here,” she evades. “My date didn’t go very well this evening.”
GM: Her mother asks more about that. She asks whether she’s packed everything she needs for her “overnight” stay. She asks if she’ll still be able to “eat” well. She asks if Caroline would feel comfortable keeping Life on. She wishes she’d thought of that with Westley. He went to his share of sketchy places. If she, anyone, could’ve known where he was, maybe…
She leaves that thought unspoken and even offers to put Caroline up in her hotel suite, “If you’ve only just met this friend. I know you’re particular about a lot of things, and I know you might remember the time I barged in… but you can feel safe with me, Caroline. You… you can…”
Her mother eventually breaks down over the line. She doesn’t say it. But Caroline can tell.
Caroline: Bitter, angry, and bloody tears fill Caroline’s eyes as what she’s known crystallizes amid her mother’s questions into something that she knows. Widney’s photos had been damning, but there’s a difference between them and hearing her mother’s voice on the phone.
The first tip off is about ‘eating well.’ Her mother has never given any consideration beyond scorn to the need for blood, to the fact that she has to hurt people every night to sustain her existence. It’s not something she wants to know, or has ever asked about. It’s something too raw, and her follow-on words only confirm it. The trauma of Westley’s bleeding over into her words, of her inability to save him. The loss of one child totally and the fear of losing another even more completely.
She could be more cynical, and part of her still is, with her mother’s request to leave the tracking app on. But there’s something else here. Something deeper than her mother’s own cynicism as a decades-old hunter. Something more human.
Fat heavy drops of blood rain on her expensive counter top as Caroline tries to keep her own feelings together, to keep her voice level, to answer her mother’s questions without giving away the bitter truth.
She can read the conflict, the raging emotions inside her mother even over the phone. Her regret over further hurting Caroline that seems too real to be feigned. The guilt that all but convinces her that her mother’s fingerprints, rather than those of another, are all over the decision to launch the ‘attack.’
Really, though, there’s only one question that matters. At least to the rational part of her brain that swims for the surface like drowning man caught in a hurricane.
GM: “You can… you can feel safe with me, Caroline,” her mother repeats, her voice raw and pained. Perhaps as much to convince herself as Caroline. There’s not a few “Westleys” that also bob like sad bits of flotsam amidst the fast-flowing current of tears.
But their headwaters, at least, sound safe.
They may not be so forever. They may not even be so tomorrow. Distrust, betrayal, and the simple distance of years lurk amidst that current like treacherous rocks, ready to dash apart any too-small and too-fragile craft that dares raise hope’s flag.
But for tonight—today—at least, it flies unassailed.
Caroline: “You sound really worried, Mom.” Caroline doesn’t quite laugh through her tears. “If it’ll make you feel better I’ll swing by tonight. Tell you more about my bad date.”
GM: Her mother’s answer might instantly quell any such mirth.
“I am worried, Caroline. I didn’t… your brother…”
She doesn’t finish the thought.
“I’ll see you soon.”
Thursday night, 17 December 2015, AM
GM: Rocco, in a perhaps surprising turn of a character for the one-time hound, shares much of his findings with Caroline as she asks to leave. Some of the findings are redundant with Caroline’s own and were already discovered by the Ventrue in her own investigations.
Others are new. Three of the attackers were shot: one was also mauled by one of Caroline’s attack dogs. His torn-away clothing revealed a tattoo depicting a blindfolded Lady Justice whose scales bore a handgun and donut. What blood the hound sampled did not taste like a Kindred’s or ghoul’s. At least some of the attackers were ordinary mortals.
His greatest finding of all, however, is a make and model for one of their cars—along with a license plate number. The attackers clearly attempted to cover their tracks. They shot out many of the building’s CCTV cameras. They even raided the camera control room and indiscriminately smashed and shot up everything there. But the hound’s people were able to salvage and restore just enough film fragments.
Rocco finally adds that the attackers included five men and two women, then grants Caroline his leave to depart the scene. He expects her to keep him apprised of her own investigations into the attack. The Giani Building’s defense is her own responsibility.
Caroline leaves Autumn behind in the Giani Building with instructions to check in with Green and help make sure her fellows are patched up. The ghoul does not seem entirely unrelieved to be away from Caroline’s presence—if simultaneously ill at ease from the still-lingering hound’s.
Caroline: The heiress is grateful towards the hound for his decision to share his own findings, for his decision to aid her in the cleanup, and for his patience with her late arrival to the scene. She offers a major boon for his assistance and troubles, and by way of apology for the breach of the peace in such a dramatic way within his domain.
She has additional guidance for Autumn—mostly related to the ongoing cleanup of the Giani Building. She needs someone on site in the morning to help coordinate with contractors and the building’s management. With Widney and Fuller out of play, that leaves her. It’ll make for a long night, but there’s no helping it, and Caroline assures her that she’ll make it up to her on the other end in a form the ghoul can well predict.
It’s a strange experience traveling alone, after having grown accustomed to at least a small entourage of ghouls. The freedom from prying eyes has its advantages as the mental fatigue of the evening hits her, but all things being equal she vastly prefers to have her servants with her, and the particular reasons for their absence spread across her conscience like spilled glass of red wine across white (who is she kidding) tablecloth, and she has to remind herself to be alert for anyone following her from the building.
GM: No tails are visible to Caroline’s eyes—but, as her earlier meeting with Ferris reminded her, there is much her eyes may not see.
It’s been said that the French Quarter begins in the lobby of Hotel Monteleone. This venerable New Orleans hotel sits majestically at the foot of Royal Street and proffers a point of departure for all things New Orleans, including Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, the French Market, and the Riverwalk, where steamboats still glide along the Mississippi River. The only high-rise building in the interior of the French Quarter, the hotel boasts the eclectic flair of Beaux-Arts architecture that has made it a historic landmark, acknowledged by the Historic Hotels of America as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Comprised of 600 guests, including 50 suites, two restaurants, including the Criollo Restaurant, the Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge, boutique shops, a heated rooftop swimming pool, spa and exercise facilities, and a business center that features over two dozen reception and meeting rooms.
Beyond such physical attractions, Hotel Monteleone is renowned for being the favored place of stay for many Southern authors, such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner (not to mention Anne Rice, Stephen Ambrose, and John Grisham), and has been featured in myriad literary works, such as The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Band of Brothers, A Piece of My Heart, A Curtain of Green, Owls Don’t Blink, Night Before Battle, and Voice of the Seven Sparrows. The hotel has similarly attracted the attention and use of numerous film producers as well.
Often featuring prominently in the hotel’s literary as well cinematic depictions is its Carousel Bar & Lounge. The city’s only revolving bar, the twenty-five seat, bright circus-clad Merry-Go-Round turns on 2,000 large steel rollers, pulled by a chain powered by a one-quarter horsepower motor at a constant rate of one revolution every 15 minutes. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Carousel Bar was also the site of a popular nightclub, the Swan Room, where musicians such as Liberace and Louis Prima performed. The bar celebrated its 60th anniversary in July 2009, having been originally installed in 1949. Renovated in 1992, the current carousel top features fiber optics that create the appearance of stars in the night sky, complete with a regular shooting star that races across the ceiling. One shooting star crosses the room at regular intervals. Notably, the Carousel’s bartenders created Vieux Carré Cocktail and the The Goody. The sum of all these features has made the ironic bar, and its hotel, a favorite spot in the Big Easy for both its locals and tourists alike.
Claire comes down in short enough to bring Caroline up to her suite. Her eyes look a bit red, but like the Ventrue, she seems to have cleaned herself up in the interim. She talks about idle things as they ride the elevator up to her suite. Caroline’s birthday is in three days. It’s gotten overlooked, admittedly, next to her brother’s engagement and “everything else that’s been going on.” Cécilia was actually the one to remember it. Has she thought about what she wants to do?
“You only turn 26 once.”
Kindred do not celebrate birthdays, Caroline learned from Becky Lynne. It’s an embarrassing and puerile thing to wish to do. They do, however, honor deathnights.
Caroline: “I thought I might try to do something with the Devillers girls,” Caroline replies. “At least that had been the plan. Obviously things are complicated now.”
GM: “I’m sure they’d be thrilled by that. Luke told me one of the middle ones was scared she’d put you off, or something like that.”
Yvette sent Caroline several texts in the two-odd weeks since the dinner. So did her sisters Yvonne and Simmone, who the Ventrue doesn’t recall supplying her phone number to.
Caroline: Caroline had replied, but the schedules have not aligned neatly—the girls often wanted to do things in the afternoon or early evening. She’d promised they’d do something for her birthday though.
“I know. She wants…” Caroline shakes her head. “I’d like to arrange something more regular with them. This week hit me like a freight train.”
GM: Claire just looks tired. “Don’t they all, now.”
Caroline: Caroline puts on a smile. “Some more than others. There have been better weeks.”
GM: The pair reach Claire’s their destination in short enough order. Claire is staying in the FJ Monteleone Suit at the 15th story of the high-rise hotel. It opens into a vast parlor with a panoramic view of the Mississippi River, a sofa bed, plasma TV, wet bar, and other amenities. Doors lead into three further rooms within the suite.
Caroline: Once they’re behind closed doors Caroline almost physically sets aside the mundane. She finds a seat on a comfortable couch and sets her gaze on her mother. “We have a lot to talk about,” she begins, before pausing for a moment.
Her expression is more pained than severe as she continues, “Before we do though, there are some things you should know. Things I haven’t been able to—that I can’t tell you directly. Does that make any sense?”
GM: Her mother assumes her own seat on an adjacent chair.
“It makes rather too much sense, actually. But go on, Caroline.”
Caroline: She digs out the silver coin and holds it between them. “I don’t know exactly what this will do, but I need to know. And maybe when it tells me, it’ll also allow you to see, or hear, the truth.”
“Because I want you to know, I want you to understand, I need you to help. Because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to trust, or what to trust.” The heiress’s hand closes tightly over the coin. “But I have to trust someone. And if I’m going to trust one of them… I’d rather trust you too.”
GM: “Trusting others, trusting anyone, is dangerous, Caroline,” her mother responds slowly. “But not as much as trusting no one. I am glad you are willing to trust me.”
Caroline: “I’m already trusting you with my life,” Caroline answers. “What’s a little more.”
GM: Claire doesn’t correct that she has no life. At least this time.
Caroline: “I don’t know exactly how I’ll respond to what the coin might reveal, but I don’t want to risk hurting you.”
She reaches into her bag and produces two pairs of handcuffs. “Before we do this, I think it would be wise to secure me to something… solid. Just in case.”
The implicit trust in such a suggestion goes unstated.
GM: Her mother looks at them. “We can do better than that, Caroline, if you’re willing. Another protective circle would hold you more securely than any cuffs.”
Caroline: “Whatever makes you more comfortable, Mom,” Caroline replies.
GM: Claire seems to think a moment, then shakes her head. “Never mind. Fire’s bad for the room, and I suppose for you. We can secure you to the bed.”
Caroline: The relief at that decision is visible on Caroline’s face.
GM: She leads Caroline into the suite’s attached bedroom, but produces another two sets of cuffs that she uses to tie down Caroline in a spread-eagle position to each of the bed’s four posts. She doesn’t otherwise appear to arm or ward herself, however, as she places the coin on the pillow next to her daughter’s chin.
Caroline: “Some people would have some real questions if they walked in right now,” Caroline quips, trying to break the mounting tension and her own unease over being so helpless.
GM: Claire sits down on a nearby chair, but offers no response to the levity. Her face is grave as she states, “The time is now to invoke it, Caroline.”
Caroline: The heiress turns her head towards the coin, taking a breath by force and all but shivering with anticipation, excitement, and more than a little fear.
The knowledge in the coin—laying aside the potential dangers of the coin itself—is potentially as dangerous as the Matheson tape. Maybe even more so. It may well be plutonium—something that’s deadly just to handle, let alone try to harness. Yet here she is with the coin. Seemingly unable to resist the temptation.
She’s wanted to know since she was Embraced—why. The answers may lie inches away. She hesitates, only for a moment, before she speaks. There’s no turning back once she’s used the coin.
But there’s nowhere to go without using it either. At least, nowhere she wants to go.
“Tell me of my Embrace,” she whispers to the coin, her breath passing over the cold silver.
They’re simple words, but the truth is far weightier. Tell her of her Embrace, yes, but there’s much more to the question’s meaning than that. She hopes that answer will tell her of far more than her past, of her life and her death. Of her murderer and her maker. Of her past and, more importantly, of her future.
GM: Caroline’s dead breath flows over the coin. The aged silver turns black.
The coin rises aloft into the air. The room’s furniture bucks and shakes as a high-pitched, discordant whining fills Caroline’s ears. Claire looks up sharply as the room’s lamps fly from their tables, loudly shattering. The chandelier crashes to the floor, plunging the once-lit room into darkness.
Caroline: Were she living Caroline’s heart rate might quicken, her breathing might accelerate, and her blood pressure spike at the sudden reaction. Instead she can only watch, every muscle as taunt as a wire and her attention fixated on the floating coin as the room falls into chaos. She asked for this.
GM: Claire has risen to her feet and is saying something, but she can’t make out what. It’s too late. The tiny coin rotates in place as if spun by unseen hands. The air around it seems to shimmer like a heat-induced mirage, but it’s more than that. The Ventrue can feel the sucking pressure as objects chaotically smash and splinter against the bedroom walls. Caroline’s body is yanked violently upwards, only for her wrists and ankles to snap taut against their handcuffs. Claire collapses to her feet as the Ventrue feels something wet running from her nose and ears. Her head throbs with hurt.
Caroline: The heiress grits her teeth and focuses her attention on the coin. She asked for this. She wanted this. Terror creeps at the edge of her mind but she resists its tantalizing escape from responsibility.
GM: The room’s tension builds—and explodes with a thunder-like clap. Caroline twists and contorts in place like a greased eel as the coin’s shrapnel-like fragments go wide, raking the walls instead of her helpless body. Roaring fills her ears as a great dam bursts—and awareness rushes forth.
The Ventrue is swept away.
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