Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood and Bourbon

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Story Seven, Rocco V

“Friendship is more tragic than love. It lasts far longer.”
—Harlequin


Thursday night, 25 September 2015, PM

Rocco: In the wake of René Baristheaut’s final death, Rocco sends word to and organizes a meeting with his old krewemates. The Kindred who belonged to Sol’s Grief have long since gone their separate ways, but he still remembers how their then-leader René named the coterie for Ecclesiastes 2:17:

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

A pensive look colors Rocco’s face as he stares at a collection of busts in a secluded suite within Harrah’s Hotel New Orleans.

Harrahs.jpg
The Gangrel looks like marble as he stands unnaturally still. He has instructed his servants not to disturb him until his guests have arrived.

GM: There isn’t much left of Sol’s Grief after so many years. Pablo has been missing for decades, and no one ever found out what became of him. Their benefactor has been gone for even longer. René was gone for just as long, but it’s different now.

Harlequin and Father Malveaux are the two sole Kindred to enter the hotel suite, the former trailed by several masked ghouls, the latter by himself. Neither initially speaks.

Rocco: “Can I offer any refreshments?” the hound asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “A libation for the fallen. How quaint. What is any friendly get-together between old friends without drinks!” Harlequin declares.

“His memory deserves no libation,” Father Malveaux rasps. “I do not thirst.”

That mask is false,” Harlequin titters. The Malkavian tits his head pensively. “Yes—both of them.”

Rocco: “We’re all friends here, Benjamin,” Rocco agrees, indicating a tray of martini glasses being carried by the small, child-like Simon. His eyes linger back to the busts for a second, but Rocco turns back to the group as a hand deftly grabs one of the martini glasses on the proffered tray. Its contents are deep red. “There’s no reason to hide our true thoughts on the matter. René Baristheaut is dead and this is a time of mourning. So a toast to immortality!”

GM: “To that most enchanting of all masks,” Harlequin titters again, clinking his glass against the others’. He raises it to his mouthless domino mask. Blood visibly drains.

“Come come now, Benjamin, dear!” he exclaims when he sees the Ventrue leaving his own untouched. “Drink not for the Kindred he became, but for the Kindred he ceased to be.”

The Malkavian nods slyly before the priest can respond. “Yes. That is somewhat tiresome. Drink instead, Father, for the Kindred that one us shall cease to be.”

“Cease to be,” echoes his first ghoul.
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”
“Cease to be.”

Rocco: “A nice sentiment, Harlequin,” Rocco says, casually. His glass is raised. “I have always been more romantic than sentimental, though. The sentimental person, of course, thinks things will last while the romantic in me says that they won’t.” He drinks, adding, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” bastardizing Romans 3:23.

GM: Father Malveaux stares at Harlequin intently, then takes the cup and silently upturns it in apparent libation.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Rocco: “It must be five o’clock somewhere,” Rocco quips airily, drawing from his glass until its contents are empty. He continues more somberly, “One solace we have is that Sheriff Bastien never got to see what became of René.”

GM: Harlequin tilts his head at Father Malveaux.

“Or his grandchilde,” the Malkavian declares in a smiling tone.

The priest says nothing.

“Blue bloods!” Harlequin titters. “They’ll sooner bite out their own tongues than speak ill of their own. Well, Father, the consistency of your mask at least does you some credit—even if the fledgling you would shield with it scarcely does.”

“We are not here to speak of fledglings,” Father Malveaux rasps, his pinkish eyes returning to Rocco.

Rocco: “I can’t help admiring Malveaux’s delivery into this world. It’s reminiscent of a Gangrel’s Embrace, and she has come out more or less in one piece.” A mirthful, almost-sarcastic smile etches its way across Rocco’s face. “It is with God’s grace and mercy that Bastien’s blood runs through her veins,” the hound mutters.

“What are your thoughts on the girl’s mortal mother, Benjamin?” Rocco asks, scurrilously. He intends to let Harlequin in on this latest scandal, too.

GM: “The ruttings of the kine are of little concern to me, Hound Agnello,” the Ventrue rasps. “I care not what the latest tabloids speculate concerning her mates.”

Harlequin tilts his head, then holds a gloved finger to his mask’s painted lips.

He giggles.

The priest whirls and rakes his hand through the air in a vicious, stabbing-like gesture. There’s a hideous rupturing sound, like a cork being popped, and a shower of sizzling gore. Simon falls screaming to the ground, clutching his face. In between the thrashing ghoul’s gore-slick fingers, Rocco can see smoke wafting from a black and red cavity where his left eyeball used to be. The smell of cooking flesh hangs pungently in the air.

Father Malveaux’s eyes burn like hot coals as the priest all but screams, his fangs distended and his voice livid with hate,

SHE IS MINE! MINE AND NO OTHER’S! TOUCH WHAT IS MINE AND I SHALL DESTROY WHAT IS YOURS!

Harlequin’s ghouls recoil in terror as their master lets out a shrill, delighted scream and claps his hands excitedly.

“The mask comes off! Oh, the mask comes off! Oh, how droll!

Rocco: A cold annoyance sets in as Rocco watches the bloody drinks hit the floor. He listens to Simon’s agonized wails with a slightly downturned expression. Such a waste of blood, he thinks idly, He will doubtlessly need to feed the boy to placate him and heal him after this mess is cleaned up. Benjamin’s screams only add more fuel to the fire as he mulls over the red-stained carpet.

GM: “Oh, Benjamin, Benjamin, you hopeless romantic!” Harlequin continues. “Oh, you still see her face, don’t you? All your life, there was never another woman for you, especially when the orderlies took your tender and weeping flesh for their own! How you longed to return to her embrace, she who made everything better when your brothers picked on you! How you did—such a regrettable loss of control! What a broken and fragile thing you were in those early years! Did you ever succeed? Did you really not find her spirit—or did you wish you had not? Did she reject you to your face, Benjamin dear? Is that how it plays out, generation after generation? Oh dear, oh dear. No wonder you’re so furious at-!”

The albino’s scream of rage goes beyond all words as his Beast snaps loose.

Rocco: Rocco feels his fangs distend, his Beast snarling to escape its own confines. Vicious, unsightly claws appear as quickly as they slash at the albino’s gut. It’s a petty retribution. But where Benjamin lets his Beast run wild, Rocco hastily beats it down. The Gangrel is in full control of his anger as his dark brown eyes almost turn black like a shark’s.

“I will not tolerate poor manners,” he declares to nobody in particular.

GM: Rocco’s hideous claws shred through the albino’s priestly vestments like tissue paper, laying opening equally hideous and gaping wounds with their passage. The spindly-framed albino is a lot tougher than he looks, but his blood still spatters the walls as he reels backwards on unsteady feet.

Harlequin abruptly vanishes into thin air. High-pitched giggles continue to manically echo through Rocco’s mind.

As one, the Malkavian’s four ghouls collapse to the floor, soundlessly clutching their masks.

Simon continues to wail and writhe, clutching his ruined face.

Father Malveauxx thrusts a stick-thin limb towards Rocco’s face. Too-pale fingers make that same vicious impaling motion. Blood-weeping stigmata erupt across the Gangrel’s hands, legs, and chest—the five holy wounds of Christ. The gory slashes across the albino’s gaunt frame begin to close and mend.

Rocco: The Gangrel growls and gnashes his teeth. He is surprised the good father is still able to utilize such esoteric powers in his frenzied state. Nonetheless, this has become a contest for dominance, and Rocco is intent on cementing his authority. This is his domain. He tackles the albino priest to the floor, rolling and grappling with him as he tries to bury his claws into his foe’s chest.

The Gangrel figures Harlequin is enjoying the show. The masked fiend’s laughter echoes in his mind.

GM: Father Malveaux stabs out his hand. A hundred pinpricks of blood-boiling agony burn through Rocco’s veins as he tackles his foe to the ground. The spindly-limbed priest’s maddened thrashings are pathetically easy for the veteran warrior to bat aside: he’s obviously had no real training in hand-to-hand combat.

He’s not needed it.

Rocco rakes his claws across the priest’s chest, leaving jaggedy red tears across solid white. The albino rips his own talon-like nails through the air. There’s no prayer to Longinus or the Black Saints. No sacred invocation. Just pain. Rocco’s skin blackens and flakes off like dandruff. The rotting flesh transforms into a pox of buzzing locusts that descend upon him with a thousand ravenous mouths. He screams past the pain, stabbing his clawed fingers into the Father Malveaux’s exposed belly like a redbone wrangling a catfish from the bayous. The Ventrue’s dead flesh feels as hard as solid cement, but the Beast Clan’s claws cut deeper still. He pulls out his catch. The priest’s century-atrophied guts dangle from his hands. The buzzing locusts vanish like blown ash under a brisk wind. Father Malveaux’s blood-caked corpse lies motionless.

Harlequin suddenly reappears in Rocco’s peripheral vision, clapping delightedly.

“The masks come off! The masks come off!

As one, the Malkavian’s four still-prostate ghouls begin clapping too.

“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”
“The masks come off!”

Simon lies motionless on the floor, his small hands still clutching the melted flesh where his eye used to be.

Rocco: The Gangrel has not forgotten Harlequin’s part in provoking Father Malveaux’s Beast.

“Why did you have to taunt him about his family, Harlequin?” he asks. He presses a claw against the blood-crusted floor, waits a few seconds, and begins to soak up the gore like a hungry sponge.

“I have never fully understood Benjamin’s penchant for acting the way he does about his family,” Rocco notes. His wounds vanish as blood fades from his clothes and retreats into his pores. His red-caked face is soon bereft of any blemish. His claws retract. The Gangrel leisurely strolls around the room and presses his hands against any bloody walls, decorations, furnishings, and spots on the floor. The suite is soon cleaned of any evidence of a gory fight.

“You have always been evasive in the past when I asked about his Embrace, about his sister Monique. Harlequin, what would it require for you give me the full story on why Benjamin is how he is? A boon? Another secret?”

GM: Harlequin titters and traces a gloved finger along his mask’s lips.

“You can never go home again, my dear hound. There is now but the kennel for you.”

He giggles again and approaches the torpid Ventrue, cupping his hands around the priest’s still face. “He is so much like us. Truly does he see.” Another giggle sounds from behind the domino mask. “What fun he may be! Hee hee!”

His masked ghouls throw back their heads, laughter spilling from unseen mouths.

“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”
“Hee hee!”

The Malkavian holds up a finger. The laughter dies. “Poor, poor, missing Pablo! One can never go home again. Mother’s lost her head and I couldn’t even begin to guess where she might have misplaced it. Hee hee!”

He rises from his position over the father and slowly runs his gloved hands across Rocco’s face.

“I am not a fishmonger, nor are you a fish. You can only be what you are, George. You can only be what you are.”

Rocco: Rocco smiles at the touch but casts a raised eyebrow at the masked madman. Getting straight answers out of a Malkavian is never easy.

He settles his eyes on the quivering, wounded Simon. There’s a flash of fangs as the Gangrel bites his wrist and pushes the bleeding font to his ghoul’s mouth.

“Please feed, Simon. It’s all right now. Use the vitae.”

GM: The child ghoul remains motionless. The bodies of the living are so pathetically fragile next to Rocco’s own.

Rocco: Impatience clouds Rocco’s thoughts as he callously prods at the boy’s wounded eye socket to stir him awake.

GM: Simon still does not stir.

Rocco: Rocco looks up from his ghoul at Harlequin and considers his next words. He furtively glances at Benajmin’s corpse. “Do you want to know a secret, Harlequin?”

GM: Harlequin titters and strokes his finger along Rocco’s lips.

“Remove this mask.”

Rocco: “It will cost you a mask of your own.”

GM: Harlequin’s gloved finger falls away from the Gangrel’s lips.

“Do you take me for a leper beneath this mask?” he asks tiredly.

Rocco: “You’re right, Harlequin. I am being tactless. Why don’t we make a game of it, then?”

GM: The Malkavian brushes his finger across Rocco’s cheek.

“Expound, dear hound.”

His four ghouls’ heads bob up and down as they follow the finger’s path. Words simultaneously spill from their lips.

“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”
“Expound, hound.”

Rocco: A small smile appears on the hound’s face at Harlequin’s curiosity. “Are you familiar with the Italian card game Scopa?” he asks.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands. “As one with a chance-worn mask! A delightful choice, hound. You shall play me for truths. But what shall I play you for? What price shall you pay if I sweep your cards?”

Rocco: “A secret that will be as equally useful to you or the Krewe of Janus,” Rocco replies, genuinely. “Assuming you want to play for one big secret, of course.”

GM: The Malkavian claps his hands again.

“Deal your cards.”

His ghouls’ four masked heads simultaneously rotate to face Rocco.

“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”
“Deal your cards.”

Rocco: The angel-faced fiend retrieves a standard Italian 40-card deck from a nearby desk drawer. He leads the masked harpy to a place to play. The hound originally planned to entertain his two guests with a game of scopa as they traded gossip and banter, but with Father Malveaux now indisposed, the hound figures the pair of them will suffice. The classic Italian card game is arguably best played with two players in any case.

Scopa.jpg
“It’s said that Scopa is as entertaining to watch as it is to play,” Rocco remarks coolly, removing the deck from its box and shuffling the cards with preternaturally deft speed. “I initially decided on scopa over Italians’ other favourite pastime Briscola in case Benjamin chose to sit out and simply watch as is his usual habit.” The hound gives a sideways glance as he looks at the albino’s torpid form for a fleeting a second.

GM: One of Harlequin’s ghouls gets down on his hands and knees as Rocco leads the pair to a table. The Malkavian sits on his back. Two of the other ghouls get down to just their knees, serving as armrests. One stands behind the harpy, serving as a back to the literally man-made throne.

Harlequin shrieks with laughter at the Gangrel’s flippantly dismissive barb. His ghouls shriek too. The sound discordantly echoes from the floor, the ‘armrests’, and the tall chair’s ‘head’.

The Malkavian holds up a gloved finger. The sound dies.

“You know what they say, my dear hound. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”

“I have always believed there is no such thing as good or evil. People are either charming or tedious. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Rocco: “I would sooner entertain Jack the Ripper than Mother Teresa,” Rocco flippantly agrees. “I believe the most charming people are generally the most wicked. For instance, you’re the most wicked and interesting person I know, Harlequin. What do you have to say to that, my dear friend?” His brown eyes twinkle mischievously.

GM: “One should choose one’s friends by their authenticity, my dear hound. One may fake intelligence, interest, and even sincerity—but one cannot fake wit,” the Malkavian blithely answers as he deals out the first three cards to each of them.

“Saucy Jack is one of ours.”

Rocco: “We haven’t even started this game and it’s already proving quite educational,” the hound remarks, intrigued by the knowledge that Jack the Ripper is Kindred. “I never found authenticity to be an interesting trait in a person. What’s so interesting about the truth, anyway? We all become what we pretend to be, so we best choose our masks well.”

It’s ironic that Rocco should say as much while the two play for truths.

GM: Rocco also knows full well that most Kindred claims regarding Embraced historical personages are patently false. The Malkavians are especially notorious for it, as the lunatics may even genuinely believe their own claims. New Orleans alone has seen at least several Napoleons and Robert E. Lees. One rumor last year claimed Donovan was John Wilkes Booth. The sheriff did not deign to respond. One of Rocco’s clanmates since perished in Katrina, Terrence Oswald, claimed to have offered Charles Darwin the Embrace, only for the famed naturist to decline his offer. Embracing and associating with famous personalities is just another thing for Rocco’s kind to spread lies about.

It only further muddles the waters that some of those claims are true.

Harlequin, meanwhile, places four cards face up on the table, then deals himself one of the table cards.

They say scopa is a game of equal parts luck and skill. This game’s players have both in spades. Few spectators could rightly call them anything but lucky to have survived a century of unlife, and equally few spectators could malign their skill. Harlequin brings a harpy’s wit and the Moon Clan’s propensity for baffling leaps in logic. Rocco brings a century of practice at his people’s game, and the same grim tenacity that turned them from Ellis Island’s huddled masses into masters of their adopted country’s criminal underworld.

Coins, clubs, swords, and batons flip back and forth as the two Kindred play and capture one another’s cards. Scores fly up and down as each vampire claims sweep after sweep. Both of them win multiple scopas: the removal of all cards from the table, for which the winner receives an extra point. Harlequin’s velvet-gloved hands ceaselessly shuffle and deal pit more cards.

Rocco idly wonders if the Malkavian is cheating at cards. He could also be cheating by reading his host’s thoughts. But, the Gangrel ponders, where is the fun for him in that?

Harlequin is playing for idle fun. But Rocco is playing to win.

The Moon Clan may be notorious for their uncanny powers of insight. Many are afraid to challenge them at games of chance. But the Beast Clan are hunters. They pursue their quarry as tenaciously as any poor and downtrodden dago wanting to carve out their bloody slice of the American Dream. Rocco has done both. His will cannot be denied.

The last of the cards leave Harlequin’s gloved hands. Both Kindred consider their respective scores. The Malkavian titters.

“Sometimes I am so clever, my dear hound, I don’t understand a single word I say. Sometimes I am so clever I don’t understand a single thing I do! The game is yours—skillfully played and fairly won.”

Words emptily spill from his ghouls’ lips.

“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”
“Skilfully played. Fairly won.”

“The story of dear Benjamin’s past is yours, too,” Harlequin adds with a droll glance towards the torpid vampire’s corpse. “You are certain you still wish it? It’s dreadfully florid, full of unrequited love and tediously unoriginal tragedy. I dare say he could win friends among Toreador circles if someone put it to ink.”

Rocco: “I am still the curious cat, Harlequin,” Rocco responds a kittenish smile, “and we both know that once I set my mind on the hunt, little can divert my interest.”

GM: Harlequin effects a dramatic sigh, pumping needless air through his dead lungs, and drums his gloved fingers against one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Well! It’s a trite and sad tale with a trite and sad beginning. He was a virgin when the orderlies dragged him to his padded cell in the asylum, I’m sure, still shrieking for his dear sister. How he must have shrieked for her still as they sodomized his tender and quivering flesh!”

Harlequin effects another needless sigh.

“I did tell you it was a trite and sad tale, my dear hound, though less sad than trite. Why, I have been made a trite and hackneyed character myself merely for speaking such platitudinous words aloud. This mask must be discarded.”

Words spill from his ghouls’ lips.

“Discarded.”
“Discarded.”
“Discarded.”
“Discarded.”

“The youngest of your litter is incorrect,” the Malkavian titters, patting one of his ghouls’ heads. “Tell him as much the next time you are gnawing bones together in the kennel! That one entered his Requiem as no virgin.”

“How do those bones taste these nights, my dear hound? Lots of meat on them still, I should hope?”

The Malkavian tilts his head. Four other masked heads tilts with him, making his ‘chair’ seem to sway in an unfelt wind.

Rocco: “You’re such an incorrigible flirt, Harlequin,” Rocco answers the masked fiend, allowing the smile to reach his eyes. “I will be sure to let Wright know the next time I see him.”

The hound does not specify whether he means to tell Wright about Benjamin’s lost virginity or Harlequin’s own deviousness. Instead his brown eyes bore into the space where Harlequin’s own eyes should be. A predatory, oddly flirtatious gleam touches his features.

GM: But Harlequin’s eyes are there, Rocco observes. Every mask needs eye-holes to see through, after all.

The Malkavian’s eyes are as green as the second of Mardi Gras’ official colors. The long-dead vampire recalls the 1892 Rex Parade establishing green as symbolizing faith. Yet, those eyes laugh. They laugh—in the same way the daring and discrete, pious yet blasphemous city itself seems to laugh at its own faith. Looking into those mocking green eyes, it is all-too easy to see how the greatest debauch in the world can precede a day meant for prayer and fasting.

But Harlequin’s eyes don’t look just green, either. Rocco could swear they become purple when the angle is just right. Carnival’s first color, representing justice. The laughter dancing in the harpy’s eyes seems all the more appropriate.

They seem to be gold, too, when he tilts his head just so. Carnival’s third color. For power. When haven’t those with power laughed at others?

The Malkavian, meanwhile, resumes his tale.

“But he would not remain an eromenos forever, would he? Few masks endure forever. I am certain his violators’ pain was exquisite to behold when that one came off!”

Rocco: Fitting colors, one and all.

“So it’s a tale of vengeance, as well?” the hound asks approvingly.

GM: Harlequin laughs shrilly.

His ghouls’ mouths sequentially open. More laughter spills out.

“Oh, my dear hound, their fates are hardly a footnote! None survived to regret slaking their lusts on his quivering flesh. Why, at least…”

The harpy trails off in further titters.

“Well, perhaps! Perhaps after all. It’s hardly as if he had many other oulets, at least there…”

Rocco: “There is nothing purer in this world than a vengeful heart, Harlequin,” Rocco adds, cheerfully.

GM: “To grant one’s loyalty to a man is foolish, my dear hound. They surprise you. They waver. But give your soul to hate, and you will grow and gain in strength.”

The harpy gives another shriek of laughter. His four ghouls clap their hands.

“Where have I heard that!” he wonders airily, drumming his fingers along one’s head.

His gold-hued eyes glint as they rest upon the Gangrel.

Rocco: “I haven’t a clue, Harlequin,” Rocco answers honestly.

GM: “No one does, these nights,” the Malkavian declares, almost sadly. “Mother’s dashed out of the house and left the children all by themselves to play. They’re already twisting knobs on the kitchen stove for fun.”

Rocco: “Who’s going to light the match?”

GM: “It’s gas-powered. No one needs to. But one of the little brothers or sisters are going to anyway. This is what happens when you have a permissive parenting style, Rocco. Papa wasn’t a good father either, and big sister and big brother aren’t papas at all. So the children giggle and play tag with steak knives. Whoever bleeds first is it.”

The Malkavian presses both gloved hands to the painted mouth on his domino mask and giggles.
The four ghouls’ masked heads swivel towards Rocco.

“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”
“You’re it!”

Rocco: “The only memorable thing my parents did is bring me to New Orleans,” Rocco says offhandedly, resting a hand thoughtfully beneath his chin.

GM: Harlequin claps his hands.

“Silence, my pretties. It’s story time right now. He’ll be it, later,” the harpy leers, green eyes glinting.

He tilts his head at Rocco.

“My parents died. I found that memorable. Did someone steal yours? Our memories don’t belong to us, not really.”

Rocco: “I can only suppose they died a long time ago. I never got along with my parents, of course,” Rocco admits with a smirk. “I can’t rightfully recall whether I abandoned them or they abandoned me. Perhaps the only thing stolen at that time was my innocence.”

GM: “The Bible says we are conceived and born in sin. In such a world, my dear hound, who is innocent? I’ll tell you who. Adulterers. Nothing looks so like innocence as an indiscretion!”

The Malkavian claps his hands.

“The story grows dreadfully trite again here. Benjamin won the tag match against his rapists and merrily skipped back to his dear sister’s doorstep. What was he hoping to do? Profess his love? Vent his fury over her betrayal? Break down in tears and bare his damned soul to her? She had let another man touch her, and where was she when they hauled him away to the asylum? For that matter, was he even merry when he skipped back? Did he even skip? It doesn’t matter what was said, though. Or perhaps it does matter. Perhaps, in fact, it was everything, to poor Monique Malveaux, and certainly to dear Benjamin through her. But that doesn’t matter right now. Nothing matters now, until it matters later, and it’s too late to do anything right now. Benjamin ended his Requiem’s first night cradling his dear sister’s pale and lifeless corpse in his arms, weeping bloody tears.”

Harlequin leans back in his ‘chair’. His purple eyes look utterly bored.

“I told you, didn’t I? That this part was trite and hackneyed? You did believe me, didn’t you?”

Rocco: “I had no reason to ever doubt you, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, chuckling a little to himself.

GM: “That’s good. I needed to know you believed me. We can’t make any progress in this relationship if we don’t trust each other, or at least that’s what the doctors always say.”

Rocco: “What’s more trustworthy than someone who asks you to trust them?”

GM: “Someone who’s dead. Three can keep a secret, if you take away two.”

Rocco: “But the worst lies do come out upon someone’s death, Harlequin,” Rocco muses.

GM: “What is a lie, my dear hound? ‘Why, what is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’”

Harlequin giggles. “Let us all say a pretty prayer for Pilate!”

Here is where the story gets better, my darling. Dear distraught Benjamin could only think: he must have his sister back! And why shouldn’t he have thought so? The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city.”

“Spiritualism was in vogue at the time. It’ll always be, of course, just like messily smeared red all over a black suit or dress. Young Miss Adler still likes to wear whites, though. And pinks, lemons, and baby blues. I’ve found it charming, and delicious, given her sire. Haven’t you?” The Malkavian’s yellow eyes glint with mirth.

Rocco: Rocco’s eyes share that mirth, but he decides that that’s a matter better left unsaid.

GM: The harpy pats one of his ghouls’ heads.

“Benjamin consulted with them all. Priests. Mediums. Psychics. Charlatans. Kindred and kine. Kindred of dubious standing and repute. Kindred and… cousins. It was very naughty of him. Our prince should have given him a good paddling for being so naughty! The Bible names divination a sin, and I can come up with a new sin every time I stand on my head, but what is another sin to monsters such as we? We can resist everything except temptation.”

“Poor lost Benjamin looked high and low, through every cupboard and hard-to-reach place in the house, and in every one of the last places you’d think to look. Those are always the first places you should look. But try as he might, he could not find his dear, dead sister. Anywhere!”

“What would you do then, my dear hound? If you hoped to find your dear, dead, sweet sister’s spirit in the afterworlds, and she wouldn’t show her pretty face?”

Rocco: “I would move on, Harlequin,” Rocco answers, “but that would make for a very boring story, I suppose.”

GM: “What if you wanted to fuck your dead sister? Could you still move on?”

Rocco: “I feel like that’s ever the more reason to move on, friend,” Rocco replies, laughing earnestly.

GM: “Everything in the world is about sex, you know. Except for sex. Sex is about power.”

Rocco: “Do you still enjoy sex, Harlequin?” he asks, curiously.

GM: It’s hard to discern the Malkavian’s expression past his domino mask, but the furrowed shape to his eyes seems disgusted.

Rocco: “The apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree, I see,” Rocco notes, nodding.

GM: “The apple could roll all the way to the opposite end of the orchard,” the harpy opines disgustedly. “Is this Gangrel humor? Remind me to leave a bowl of kibbles at your clan’s next gather, if you all miss being alive so dearly.” Few Kindred, after all, take pleasure in forcing dead and unresponsive sexual organs into a semblance of life.

Rocco: “I never took you to be such a prude, Harlequin,” the Gangrel comments, smirking at the masked fiend. “Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past trysts?”

GM: “I never took you to be such a sentimentalist, Rocco. Don’t you ever find yourself reminiscing over past bowel movements?”

Rocco: “Sentimentality has always been my gravest sin, Harlequin,” Rocco declares with a laugh. “Why, it’s my sentimentality that brings us here tonight. It’s my sentimentality that lets me enjoy playing scopa with an old friend.”

He adds, “I suppose sentimentality is Benjamin’s gravest sin, too.”

GM: “Friendship is more tragic than love,” the harpy declares wistfully. “It lasts far longer.”

Rocco: Rocco nods, agreeing. “What of Benjamin’s tragedy, Harlequin? How ever did he escape his predicament?”

GM: Laughter concurrently spills from five lips.

“Why, my dear hound—he never did. He still hasn’t.”

A smirk crinkles the edges of his purple eyes as he glances towards the albino’s motionless corpse.

“No man is rich enough to buy back his past. But here is where the story gets good!”

His four ghouls excitedly clap their hands. The ones who are kneeling clap too, for that briefest of seconds, before clamping their hands back down on the floor. None of the ‘chair’ even falls down.

“Ever-hopeful, ever-faithful Benjamin searched the afterworlds for her spirit for decades, but couldn’t find it. So what was he to believe?”

Rocco can all but hear the Malkavian’s wide smile as his gold eyes flicker.

“Why, if she wasn’t in the next world, she must still be in this one.”

“Everyone knows the Hindus believe in reincarnation. But so did many of the era’s spiritualists. So does dear Madam Defallier, sweet, mothering Marguerite, even now! Why, she fancies… ah, but that is another story.”

“Isn’t that a quaint notion, my dear hound? That you can use re-old souls like bottle caps, twist them onto new bottles, shove them into new bodies, all without needing to make a whole new person? I should like to be a reincarnated soul! Certainly, we’d be doing the world a favor by shunting out the insipid souls and reusing the better ones. Don’t you think so, my dear hound?”

“What souls would you displace and with whom would you see them replaced? Pretend you’re God. That shouldn’t be hard with an ego like yours.”

Rocco: The hound looks at Harlequin’s ghouls. “It would not surprise me if you’ve already tried to play this game many times before, dear Harlequin,” Rocco muses, using the comment to stall as he thinks of those he’s lost and those he would do away with.

“My initial thoughts are drab, wanting to bring back Robert, Maria, and even your sire Clarice. I suppose some ghouls who’ve since died during my Requiem also spring to mind, but the name that sings loudest would have to be David Hennessy.” He asks, “Who would you bring back?”

GM: “Ah-ah-ah, my dear hound,” Harlequin tsks.

Five sets of fingers simultaneously wag.

“There is a preponderance of souls, but you’re not God enough to fashion further bodies. There’s a patent on those, and you don’t have the rights. Who must surrender their lives to grant new lives to the individuals you treasure so dearly?”

Rocco: “My enemies,” Rocco answers quickly.

GM: “And you have four of those? Exactly as many enemies as souls you would see given another spin on the karmic wheel? Another ride on the marvelous merry-go-round we call life? How fortunate for you! I dare say you’ll be twice as fortunate as anyone else who should happen to wake up one night and realize they’re God!”

Laughter spills from behind five mouthless masks.

Rocco: “Do you have less enemies, Harlequin?” he asks. “How fortunate of you, I dare say!”

GM: The harpy gives another shrill, gay laugh. “Dear hound, that’s so easy it doesn’t even feel sporting. Go have Annabelle read you some more picture books and maybe one night you’ll hit a fourth grade reading level.”

Rocco: “I’ll give you that one, Harlequin,” he replies, biting back his teeth, impressed by the needling barb.

GM: “I have many enemies,” the harpy proclaims airily, “for I always forgive them. Nothing annoys them quite so much.”

Rocco: A pause. “I am guessing Benjamin currently seeks to reincarnate his sister,” Rocco idly thinks aloud.

GM: The harpy seems to smile. “The supplicant gets the words wrong but the prayer right. ‘A’ for effort, my dear hound. Certainly, Benjamin would like his dear dead sister back—but how is he to reincarnate that dear dead sister when he doesn’t even have her soul? He isn’t God, after all. Thank Caine for that. He cannot decree that her soul simply waltz, tango, or foxtrot back into his bony and so-possessive hands… so what is one to do? How does one compel a lost soul to make itself un-lost?”

Rocco: “This sounds like the lead-up to a Faustian pact, or a deal with the devil,” Rocco observes, chuckling.

GM: Five masked heads shriek with laughter.

“If only, my dear hound! I wouldn’t put an infernal bargain past him. Or anyone, I suppose, but he’d have certainly come out the poorer for this one. This, this, this,” the Malkavian’s tone drops to a theatrically low whisper, “is how he shall get his dead sister back…”

The four ghouls exaggeratedly crane their ears.

“Benjamin is settled that his sister’s soul has flown back home to roost. So where should it reincarnate? Why, in a like vessel, of course. In one’s blood relations.”

Harlequin giggles. “Infringe upon them at your own peril, dear hound. They are all to him. Any who interfere with what is his shall earn his undying hate. Who knows which Malveaux might have a dearly dead sister hiding inside their fleshy shell? Even the ones who don’t have holes between their legs might someday father a suitable vessel for dear Monique. And the ones who are too old for all that—well, habits are old too, and they die rather hard, now don’t they? We are all of us creatures of habit!”

“They’re his brother’s children, of course, the main line. That’s another habit which must die hard. You know how dear Benjamin can get! Can you picture the hatred he must feel, dear hound? After all, he has ten thousand and one plus an infinitude of reasons to hate his big brother, and no matter how much time he took exacting his revenge for all those years of mistreatment, he couldn’t have taken equally many years. Not unless he was very creative, anyway, which he isn’t. So the sins of the father must be visited upon the children, but they can’t be fully visited, now can they? He needs them to survive and prosper if he is to get his sister back.”

“He’s helped them do that, managed and minded them like a fretful mother hen for all those decades, in the hopes that one might finally lay his golden egg. Perhaps he pokes holes in their condoms! The more Malveauxes there are in the world, the more chances that one of those cereal boxes will contain the plastic decoder ring. Is there anything to such a notion? I don’t know, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. And so the world fills up with Malveauxes!”

“It’s been so long. Since he first began, we’ve seen, why, an Irish novelist shatter the Masquerade, an iceberg sink the Titanic, the war to end all wars, peace for our time, the war that would really end all wars, man split the atom, Camelot end under an assassin’s bullet, disco balls, pet rocks make a man a millionaire, platform shoes, morning in America, blowjobs in the Oval Office, cellphone cameras, the Mayan doomsday, the legalization of homosexual marriages, and a national rise in counts of jaywalking. Through it all, Benjamin has watched, waited, and toiled!”

“Where is Monique? Where is Waldo, too? I can never find him, not without cheating. I’m not a cheat. Just because I’m cheating you right now doesn’t make me a cheat. There’s a very important distinction.”

Harlequin looks at his ghouls. “Did I say that out loud, that I was cheating him?”

All four nod.

The Malkavian tilts his head in a shrug-like motion. “Oops.”

“There is an easy answer, of course,” he continues, “where Monique is. Beware easy answers and the men who offer them, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt in your vitae. Take what I have to say with many grains of salt, actually. Even when I sound lucid, and reasonable, and like I’m saying something with actual basis in reality, I’m really not. Half the time I’m just making it all up.”

“I might be doing that right here. Just making it all up. Everything that I told you. I think telling lies is funny. It doesn’t even matter what they’re about, sometimes I lie about the most trivial of things, like telling someone I arrived in Elysium six minutes later than I really did. I think it’s funny when people believe my lies.”

“Do you believe I might do something like that, Rocco? Make up everything I just told you, and lie to you because I thought it would be funny? You can be honest with me. I value honesty in others. I don’t value it from myself, and I don’t really care if others would value it from me, because my continued amusement is the second most important thing in all Creation, but I would value honesty from you. Truly, I would!”

Rocco: “It’s no concern to me, Harlequin. I have an ear for lies and the only truths that matter are the truths that matter to me,” he replies jestfully. “I am able to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

GM: “You would name yourself a farmer, my dear hound? You are quite sure?” Harlequin asks, his gold eyes glinting with mirth.

Rocco: “Why not? I have many masks,” he answers, calmly.

GM: “’_And I, first-born Caine, I, with sharp things, planted the dark seeds. Wet them in earth. Tended them, watched them grow. And Abel, second-born Abel, tended the animals. Aided their bloody births. Fed them, watched them grow.”_

“Tell me then, dear hound, if you share our Dark Father’s vocation—who is your Abel?”

Rocco: “Why not you, dear Harlequin?” He casts a furtive glance at the fiend’s ghouls. “You already have the well tended herd, and you were our father’s favorite when we were only neonates.”

GM: Harlequin and his ‘herd’ laugh uproariously.

“Well-played, my dear hound. Well-played, at my expense. After all, if I am Abel, I should go to heaven after you kill me. I shouldn’t like that. None of my friends are there.”

Rocco: “You’ll be glad to know we’re all damned, then.”

GM: “Are we? The things no one tells me.”

Rocco: Rocco laughs, all-too amused.

“You mentioned that there’s an easy answer where Monique is, Harlequin,” he thinks aloud. “I admit my facetious heart wants me to say she’s quite easy to find, in her grave.”

GM: The harpy laughs again. But there’s a hard, cruel edge to the sound this time.

“The best lies are the ones we tell ourselves, Rocco,” Harlequin smiles. His voice is almost soft. “The masks whose gilded frames are so soft, so weightless, we never realize we are wearing them. A mask to both wearer and onlooker. The perfect mask.”

He forces air through dead lungs with a dramatic sigh.

“The dead are not very good at staying dead in this city. Everyone knows that. But some of the dead still manage to stay dead just fine. Maybe even most of them. I don’t know. I’m not a census taker, of the quick or the dead. Just consider—and Benjamin certainly has considered: what if Monique’s soul… simply passed on?”

The smile in the Malkavian’s eyes seems to spread. His rapt ghouls still even their breathing.

“Monique would be very easy to find, as you say—in her grave. But the part of her that her brother really wants would lie forever beyond his reach. Poor Benjamin, so lost and hurt and confused on the first night of his Requiem, would have murdered his dear sweet sister in a loss of control that’s impossible to ever undo or take back. He would never see her pretty face or feel her gentle caress again.”

Cruel mirth brims from Harlequin’s silently laughing, faith-green eyes.

“But what manner of notion is that to go through eternity with!”

He can no longer contain his jubilation. The Malkavian and his masked entourage throw back their heads and scream with high-pitched, shrieking gales of laughter. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh, and sound as if they could go on laughing forever.

Rocco: Rocco, in comparison, only chuckles a little. Naturally, he has no desire to use the information he’s gleaned from Harlequin tonight for any nefarious or manipulative purpose. He’s simply content to have satisfied his curiosity—good gossip is the next most tasty thing there is after blood. Benjamin’s torpid corpse might be lying several feed away, but he is still a friend, after all. As Rocco continues to chuckle along with Harlequin, he takes another sip from his red glass and idly wonders:

What am I to do with Benjamin’s corpse after this party ends?


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