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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline IV, Chapter V

Rolling Heads

“I’ll figure something out. I always do.”
Caroline Malveaux

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: The Barbara Greenbaum House is a four- and six-story residential hall (one of the wings is raised over the others) with room for hundreds of students. Caroline’s Beast all but salivates at the thought of so many vessels lying helpless in their beds. She could drain the entire building at her leisure. She could gorge herself past all satiation.

“Okay, donating to his Patreon is a little much,” Jocelyn remarks as the two walk through the tree-lined, quad-facing courtyard. Caroline looks a few years old to be a campus-dwelling undergrad, but her equally unaging lover looks just the right age.

“I mean, autism, sure, I guess he really is too dumb to know he’s a stalker. Call it at some broken fingers you bandaged up. But he’s a seriously a…” Jocelyn trails off and then just says, “I can’t believe you’re actually giving him money. That Patreon page already got a ton of donations. God knows why.”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline replies lamely. “I felt bad, especially when the bit about his debt collector came out. I don’t want to be the reason some poor idiot autistic kid got beaten to death on campus.”

“I will say though that I don’t know how the hell he got into Tulane. I feel like he devalued my degree just breathing here.”

GM: Jocelyn hmphs. “He already got hundreds in donations though. Do you really need to make him rich? Hell, I might go back with Roxanne and take it off his hands. He shouldn’t hit payday getting arrested for stalking.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Get rich? Jocelyn, two hundred dollars doesn’t cover a single pair of shoes we bought today. It doesn’t cover half a pair. It is, however, just enough to buy him another week with that psychopath he owes money. And since he doesn’t have the use of one hand… it seemed like the least I could do.”

GM: “Yeah, but he’d already got like $1,000. It’s kinda the point we’re supposed to punish him for his sins.”

Caroline: “We did punish him,” Caroline observes. “We broke six of his fingers.”

GM: “Yeah, definitely. Absolutely. We did. I guess I’m just annoyed he didn’t get why any of it was happening.”

Caroline: “There are some people you just can’t reach.”

GM: “I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.” Jocelyn sits down on one of the wooden benches by the trees and looks up at Caroline. “You seem kinda… well, tense about it, though?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip and seems to almost pace for a moment before taking a seat beside the Toreador. “I just… Jesus, Jocelyn, we tortured someone. Like… tortured.”

GM: Jocelyn takes her hand and says earnestly, “I’ll get us someone horrible next. Really. Like a rapist or pedophile. Who hasn’t been convicted. Someone like that deserves to get punished, don’t they?”

Caroline: Caroline squirms.

“Yes,” she admits after a moment.

GM: “I mean, you’re a lawyer, you know that guilty people get off all the time, right? But God sees past that. We’re God’s wolves. Doing His will.”

Caroline: “So we’re supposed to enjoy inflicting pain on others?” she says, rather than truly asks. “Just get off on literally torturing people? Watching them suffer? That idiot might never have the use of his hand properly again, and while he’s a creep, we just shattered his life.”

There’s a passion behind her words, but also something hollow in it. Jocelyn isn’t fooled. She remembers the look on Caroline’s face early on. She did enjoy it.

GM: “Who’s the worst person you ever knew?” Jocelyn asks. “Not a lick, an ordinary breather.”

Caroline: The question catches her off-guard. “Like, knew well?” She pauses and there’s a flash of something across her face.

“Maybe my uncle Orson. Or my brother Westley. The family covered it up, but… he literally killed at least one person. Ruined god knows how many lies in his selfishness.”

GM: Jocelyn in turn looks a bit surprised. “I thought you were sad, over what happened to him?”

Caroline: Caroline looks hurt. “I can mourn my brother while admitting he did some terrible things.” She pauses, a faraway look in her eye. “I don’t think he ever meant to hurt people, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t.”

There’s a bite of her lip, a wipe of her eye before she lets something as casually Masquerade-breaking as a tear fall. “The last thing I said to him… he was on the phone. He was scared. Terrified. He asked me why this was happening to him.”

She falls silent as she relives the too-fresh memory.

GM: Jocelyn does too. “I’m sorry. It… sounds like he deserved better, whatever he did.”

Caroline: “The last thing I told him was that it was happening because he deserved it.” Caroline’s voice is very quiet.

GM: Jocelyn looks like she’s trying to think of something reassuring to say for a few moments. “I’m sorry.”

Caroline: Caroline similarly lapses into silence. She eventually leans into Jocelyn, laying her head on the Toreador’s slim shoulder.

GM: There’s the slightest growl from her Beast at the contact, but otherwise, the September night is warm and clear. Tulane’s still and familiar campus drowses around them. The gray-stoned School of Liberal Arts where she took some of her undergrad electives stands is right next to them, though she can’t recall ever visiting the vaguely church-like building at night before. She still remembers getting into arguments with West Coast-transfer liberals in Political Science 101. Professors all said how smart she was. They didn’t all agree with her views, but they all thought she was smart. The Catholic Center at Tulane University is just a little ways off from the liberal arts college. Even Uncle Orson approved of her decision to attend a real church with Father Edwards instead. The campus’ main library isn’t much further away. It’s still open—closing hours are 3:45 AM, a godsend to procrastinating students.

She’s walked the campus’ paths for close to half a decade. Rarely after dark, though. Not once since that fateful night at Decadence. The university’s grounds are at once alien and familiar, so like much of this new ‘life’.

Caroline: Does it all look different through her dead eyes, through eyes shadowed by the Beast’s hunger, or is it just the darkness? Perhaps she’ll never know. She never had much reason to stick around in the late hours of the evening. It’s like a whole new world to explore—and isn’t it? Crawling with blood-sucking monsters, sorcery behind closed doors, and grimly-resolved vampire hunters she never even dreamed existed.

She closes her eyes and leans against Jocelyn. Something within her quickens this close to the Toreador. Not her heart, that dead thing. But something. It’s comforting, however the Beast may growl at the gentle contact.

“He did deserve it,” she whispers at last. “If we weren’t related… if he wasn’t my brother… he’s exactly the sort you’d be encouraging me to hunt.”

GM: Jocelyn places her hand on top of Caroline’s and laces her fingers through the other vampire’s. “Look, don’t think any more bad things about him. You’re not gonna have to hunt your own brother. There’s a million other sinners, and probably way worse. Who’s the worst person you’ve ever seen or met and you didn’t know well?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “I don’t know.” She bites her lip. “No, I do. When I worked at Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale I had a hand in some criminal cases. Lots of them were kind of average people that did something wrong, but there was this one scumbag, Kyle Banchman.”

“He was almost bragging about the things he’d done. About how the police never seemed to catch on. Girls he’d raped. Children he’d molested. I think he got off on talking about it to people. He talked about how he’d raped his little sister when she was seven.”

GM: “Jesus,” Jocelyn frowns. “You guys weren’t actually defending him, were you?”

Caroline: “The firm was. It was crazy, you’d think someone like that would be living in a basement somewhere, but he was actually really successful. You might have even seen an advertisement for his practice—he was a ophthalmologist. Used to talk about how he had the most advanced tech in the state.” Another bite on her lip that Jocelyn can’t see. “He got under my skin. Kept coming onto me.”

GM:Jesus,” Jocelyn repeats. “He couldn’t even leave his lawyers alone?”

Caroline: “Oh, I was just an intern to him. Another pretty face he was probably fantasizing about. Anyway… as I was saying, he really got under my skin. I… might have accidentally turned over some evidence to the police. Off the books. The firm didn’t prove anything, but I think that a couple people suspected that someone helped set him up. Honestly, I think most of them were secretly relieved.”

GM: “So he got put away in the end, because of you?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “Then-Detective Rizaffi and the ADA put him away,” Caroline answers. “He did a lot of the actual work on it. I think the guy really set Marco off because he’s got daughters himself. I just pointed him in the right direction.” A hint of smile. “There was actually a time I felt guilty about that.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Good for you. Putting him away, that is. Not feeling guilty.”

Caroline: “He’ll be out in a few years. Well. Maybe four or five.”

GM: “That’s not too long.”

Caroline: “Rape has never been a popular sentencing item.”

GM: “It’s not. But okay, once he’s out… how much do you wanna bet that he’s not changed? That he’s gonna try and do it again?”

Caroline: “People don’t really change,” Caroline agrees. “Our perception might.”

GM: “Okay. Now what’s the worst thing you can think of God doing to someone in the Bible who deserved it?”

Caroline: Caroline again frowns. “Sodom and Gomorrah jump to mind. Lott’s wife. The killing of the firstborn in Egypt. Old Testament is pretty brutal. I was reading last night.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Jesus wasn’t around to save the kine yet. But it was God’s will, so that made it right, doesn’t it?”

Caroline: She’s a monster. She’s a killer. She’s responsible for the death of her brother. She’s dead herself. She’s tortured for fun and sucks the life from the living to maintain her own twisted existence. She’s beaten her best friend until her face was a ruined mess.

“It has to be,” she agrees. “Trust in God.” It makes her feel oddly better.

GM: Jocelyn nods again. “God does bad things to people who deserve it. People like Kyle Banchman. And us, Kindred, we’re not the good guys. We drink blood. We’re monsters. But why would God create us to be monsters, just because?”

“We’re part of His plan. We’re monsters—to the people who deserve it. To the people who aren’t ever gonna change, or who won’t get punished. Or who just need that push to turn back to God. That’s what we are, the fire and brimstone that burned Sodom and Gomorrah. The plague on the Egyptians.”

“God punishes people. That’s what we are.”

Caroline: Caroline nods into the Toreador’s shoulder. The words are so seductive. The whole ideology is. What else is she going to believe, that she’s here to make money or simply accumulate power? That there’s no meaning to all of this? She can’t believe that she’s just a killer. Just a sinner. Just a monster.

GM: Jocelyn runs a hand behind Caroline’s back and along her upper arm. Her Beast tenses, but just a little.

“So yeah, that autistic kid didn’t deserve to die or anything, and we didn’t kill him. But someone like Kyle Banchman… the law’s not gonna punish him, not like he deserves. But God will.”

Caroline: Can she be God’s punishment without losing herself entirely? Can she walk the line? Only time will tell. For now Jocelyn’s words are so comforting. So easy. And the Toreador has done so much for her. She can feel the tension leaving her body, her shoulders. that dagger between her shoulder blades slipping out.

Has she ever really been in love? It’s hard to be sure. Certainly she’s been in relationships. She’s enjoyed relationships. But has she ever needed someone? She takes the Toreador’s hand in her own. They’re out in public and the night has been a wreck so far. Starting with the fire and the frenzy during the day and continuing with that awful little creep. She can’t do what she really wants. Won’t do it. She promised Jocelyn a special night, and they’ll have one in the not too distant future.

But she wants to do something. Just a touch. Just a taste. She remembers how good it feels to have Jocelyn’s teeth break her skin, the soft pull. The kiss. She pulls the Toreador’s hand up to where her head still rests on her shoulder. To those too-sharp teeth near her mouth. Just a little prick on the pad of her thumb. A little taste. Something to let her know how much she cares. How much she means. How much she trusts.

GM: Caroline’s fangs brush, then push against Jocelyn’s skin—and sink through air. She hasn’t moved from her position on the bench, or even dislodged Caroline’s head, but her arm isn’t there anymore. It’s resting against the top of the bench. A frown flickers across her face for a moment, but her voice is soft as she rubs Caroline’s shoulder and entreats, “Hey. We want to have a special night first, remember?”

Caroline: “I just want you to know what you mean to me,” Caroline replies softly.

GM: “I know,” Jocelyn answers, giving her shoulder a firmer squeeze. “We just have to be careful… we can only do this one more time, without playing it safe. So let’s make it something really special.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “After Sunday. We’ve got time. And there won’t be so many secrets.”

GM: Jocelyn nods emphatically. “That’s right. You can meet Skyman on Saturday.”

Caroline: “I can’t wait.”

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: Jocelyn drops off Caroline at her house. As they walk inside, she sees Donovan’s mimic sitting on her living room couch. He stares blankly ahead at the wall, not even occupying himself with a phone to fiddle on. His expression does not change as the two vampires enter.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression shifts from confusion and even excitement to concern and disappointment when she realizes it’s the mimic and not Donovan himself. She orients herself in front of the ghoul.

“Is there something I can do for you?”

She’s still not certain what the ghoul’s name is. Or if he even has one.

GM: The mimic picks up a closed, basket-sized plastic box next to him and extends it to Caroline. She can smell the coppery odor wafting from within.

Caroline: Dread builds within her as she reaches to take the box, then opens it.

GM: The box contains Jessica White’s severed head. The red-crusted mouth hangs open dumbly. Vacant eyes stare up at the Ventrue.

Caroline: The box hits the ground as Caroline recoils in horror, backing against the wall away from the mimic. Her breath comes in shallow, unnecessary gasps as she struggles to find words. The head bounces out when the box hits the ground, rolling across the hardwood floor to stare up at Caroline. Her eyes move between the head and the double.

GM: The jaw hangs open further, making the tongue loll out. The mimic’s eyes do not follow the head’s path as he blandly intones, “The New Orleans Police Department is the sole domain of Prince Vidal and those Kindred whom he grants express access.”

Caroline: Caroline is speechless for a moment. No warning. Not a demand. Not even a request. Just… murder. The casual murder of a sweet, innocent girl who never wanted to hurt anyone.

GM: “Sheriff Donovan among them,” the mimic continues.

Caroline: A dozen excuses and replies die on her tongue. They don’t care. The severed head makes that all-too clear.

What good would it do anyway? No words are going to bring Jessica back.

GM: “Your corvée to Regent Donovan for this week is quadrupled. Four healthy vessels or equivalent amounts of preserved blood are due by Sunday. Further attempts to establish an influence base within His Majesty’s domain will result in commensurately severer penalties.”

There is no passion behind the mimic’s words. They’re just a string of syllables coming out of his mouth, bereft of any meaning but that which Caroline chooses to attach to them.

Caroline: She numbly hears herself say, “I understand.”

There is nothing behind the words. She barely understands what the mimic says. Her mind retreats from it all just as her body retreats against the wall.

GM: The mimic rises from the couch and leaves the house with neither haste nor sloth nor backwards glance.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t even watch him go. Her eyes linger on the severed head sitting in her living room.

GM: Jocelyn stares after him, then back at Caroline. Then at the head.

Caroline: She breaks down into sobs once the mimic is gone and sinks against the wall. It’s a pitiful sound, bereft of bodily fluid and any true need for the air she still habitually gasps for. She looks up at Jocelyn. “She was…” There’s cough, a gasp. “Just a friend.” Another gasp. “Someone I…” she bites back the gasp, “talked to.”

There’s something ugly bubbling up under grief and shock.

GM: Jocelyn gingerly sits down next to Caroline. Her mouth opens once, as she looks between Caroline and the head, then closes. There’s shock on her face, too, and horror, but not like Caroline’s. Fainter, admixed with something else… something almost docile. She finally manages, “Why did…?”

Caroline: “I asked her… to look up…. the stalker.”

GM: “She…” Jocelyn’s eyes look confused as her brow furrows. Her eyes flicker between Caroline and the head. “Caroline, I don’t… I don’t understand.”

Caroline: She looks back at the Toreador in her own confusion.

GM: “She was… she was a cop?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: Jocelyn look back at the head. “I’m… I can take care of it. If you don’t want to, because…”

Caroline: “I just…” Caroline starts to get control of her breathing. “I don’t understand. Why… why we have to be…. so terrible.”

GM: “I don’t know,” Jocelyn answers helplessly.

Caroline:THEY COULD HAVE JUST FUCKING TOLD ME!” she all but howls. "Jocelyn… " A pair of tears run down her face. “I didn’t… I didn’t even fucking know. And she… Jessica… she never did anything wrong. She was one of the nicest people…” She grinds her teeth. “She was good. She was innocent.”

GM: Jocelyn opens and closes her mouth again. She hasn’t reached out to touch Caroline. Not in the state the agitated vampire is in. “She… sounds like someone you’d want as a friend.”

Caroline: Grief is settling into anger behind Caroline’s eyes as her breathing becomes more regular. She says nothing to Jocelyn for a moment, then, quietly states, “No. Not anymore.”

GM: “Have wanted, I mean… I’m so sorry, Caroline.”

Caroline: “I’m just… so done with this.”

GM: “What do you mean?”

Caroline: “Just… getting everyone around me killed. Good people. Just taking it. Watching it happen. Getting kicked back down over and over again just when I start to get my feet under me.”

GM: Jocelyn searches for words. “You can learn. How all the rules work, so this won’t happen again.”

Caroline: “And how many more are going to die along the way? To say nothing of coming up with four fucking people!” she hisses. “Just… casually abduct a bunch of people.”

GM: Jocelyn gives a helpless shrug. “You could buy from a hospital. Or another lick’s herd.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to think on it, to puzzle it through. Three bags left from last time… she could get at least three more fairly…

Jessica’s dead eyes break her concentration. She looks away. “I’ll figure something out. I always do.”

GM: Jocelyn finally touches her arm. “You do. Really.”

Caroline: “It was supposed to be easier. After I caught him,” she murmurs.

GM: “The Requiem’s hard for everybody, I think. But at least you don’t have your sire hanging over you anymore.”

Caroline: It’s a small comfort, given his faceless nature for most of her Requiem, but she nods. “Will you take it?”

She can’t quite say ‘her head’ or ’Jessica’s head’.

GM: Jocelyn nods. “I think it’s pretty hard to bury bodies in New Orleans, but… I’ll do something nice for it.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline wipes the blood from her face. “It’s probably better if you go. I don’t imagine that I’ll be very good company the rest of the night.”

GM: Jocelyn turns her back to Caroline, kneels by the head and pulls over the box. The Ventrue can’t quite make out her motions, but when Jocelyn rises with the container, there’s nothing left of Jessica except a few stains on the floor.

“You sure you don’t wanna just… unwind in front of a movie or something, when I’m back?” she offers. “Stewing alone doesn’t really sound like a good idea…”

Caroline: “Not tonight.” There’s a distant look in her eye as she looks at the blood stains, but it fades as she looks up at Jocelyn. “I promise, we’ll have our night. It’s not that far off. It’s one of those things that’s keeping me going. But tonight… I don’t want to drag you down. And I have work to do if I’m going to come up with my corvée.”

That last word is almost spat. There’s a bitterness that wasn’t there when she spoke of Donovan before.

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip. “Well, okay. You have my number if you need me.”

Caroline: Caroline forces herself to stand and lay a calm hand on Jocelyn. “I know. And I’m not trying to push you away. It’s just been a rough night. And I don’t want you to see me like this.”

GM: “Well, I have,” Jocelyn counters. “But okay, I understand if you just need some time.” A coppery aroma wafts from the box in her hands as she turns to leave.

Caroline: Caroline starts to watch her go, but the sight wrenches at her.

“Wait,” she calls out.

GM: Jocelyn stops and turns around.

Caroline: “Why don’t you come back with an album of your work? I’d love to see some of it. It’s just about the only thing I think could take my mind off this.”

GM: The Toreador looks taken aback by Caroline’s request, but far from unpleasantly so. She doesn’t smile under the present circumstances, but the ghost of one haunts her lips. “Oh, well… sure! Give me a little while.”

Caroline: Caroline’s own ghost greets her. It has no teeth, just a faint upturn at the corner of her mouth. “You know where to find me.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment. “You could also just come over. You haven’t seen my place.”

Caroline: “Are you okay with that?” she asks. “I figured most Kindred were pretty private about it.”

GM: “Well, I’ve seen yours. Along with the whole city, it looks like. No offense.”

Caroline: “None taken. Moving out is high on the priority list. I’m getting awfully tired of people just dropping in like… well… you saw.”

GM: Jocelyn glances around the living room. “Yeah, I bet. Offer stands, anyway. We’re gonna have to meet somewhere still.”

Caroline: “Is it far away?” Caroline asks.

GM: The Toreador shakes her head. “Not too far. It’s in the CBD. Maldonato’s my regent, remember?”

Caroline: “Makes sense,” Caroline nods. “Sorry, I’m just a bit jumpy about visiting other people’s havens. The last time someone invited me over it didn’t end very well for me.” She hurriedly adds, “But I trust you.”

GM: “Well, glad to hear. It goes both ways.”

Caroline: “Do you want to throw that,” she gestures to the box in Jocelyn’s hands, “in the trunk? I’ll meet you downstairs in a minute.”

GM: “Yeah. You actually read my mind there.” Jocelyn makes off with the box.

Caroline: Caroline does a quick round of the house to check in on Turner.

GM: Unusually, Turner is not in her bedroom, but lying fast asleep near the foot of the stairs to the second floor.

Caroline: Caroline nudges the mercenary.

GM: Turner does not stir.

Caroline:Wake up,” Caroline demands. The force of the Beast is behind her words this time.

GM: The sleeping ghoul, whose eyes Caroline cannot see past their closed lids, does not respond.

Caroline: Caroline tries to awaken the mercenary a couple more times, then goes to fetch a blanket and a pillow for her. She knows she can’t manage Turner back into a bed on her own.

GM: Caroline’s persistence eventually wins through. Turner’s eyes snap open as she grabs at the handgun lying next to her on the stairs.

She pauses, but does not relax as she sees Caroline.

Caroline: “Hey!” Caroline snaps. “It’s all right.”

GM: Turner’s eyes warily scan their surroundings.

“Intruders here,” she growls.

Caroline: “Don’t I know it,” she replies calmly. “It’s okay. They’re all gone now.”

GM: “Four people in white masks,” the mercenary states, brow furrowing. She’s clearly trying to recall details while they’re fresh. “Short, pale guy who looks like he’s had a lobotomy.”

Caroline: “With gray eyes,” Caroline confirms.

GM: “Threats?”

Caroline: “No.” She chews her lip. “Not today. Are you all right?” she asks.

GM: Turner grunts. “Couldn’t keep them out.”

Caroline: “You didn’t need to,” Caroline answers. “Not today. Are you all right?” she asks again.

GM: There’s another grunt. “Fine.”

Caroline: “I know I’m not going to convince you this is all fine. But it’s worked out today. I need to go. Go get something to eat. Catch some sleep. Take care of your business. Tomorrow we’ve got a lot to do, and I’ll need you for it.”

GM: The wounded mercenary gives a grudging nod.

Caroline: “Please don’t mention either group of intruders to anyone. Including Leaf.”

GM: “Don’t need to tell me that second half.”

Caroline: Caroline half laughs. “You need a top off?”

GM: The ghoul stares at her with the same plaintive hunger as Autumn, Aimee, and any crack fiend. “Yeah.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t exactly thrilled to provide, but she does so for the loyal and battered ghoul. At least she can make someone happy tonight, if only for a moment.

GM: Turner visibly relishes the feeding. She doesn’t beg for more, but it’s as plain as day in her eyes.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t have it in her to give. She heads outside to meet Jocelyn.

GM: Jocelyn’s white Toyota Yaris waits outside. The trunk is closed and the plastic box missing. Her lover is in the driver’s seat.

Caroline: As Caroline slides into the cloth passenger seat, she decides the activities on ‘their’ night will include a visit to a car lot. She has little doubt she can get a car salesman to hang around late with the promise of a sale.

GM: Jocelyn pulls the vehicle Caroline finds so distasteful out of the driveway. “So I noticed you don’t seem to have a car?” she conversationally asks.

Caroline: Caroline scowls as she remembers her beautiful sports car.

“Cartwright and Pierpont McGinn,” she growls. “I’ll replace it as soon as I have the tools in place to make it a long-term investment.”

GM: “…huh, how’d you lose your car to them?”

Caroline: “Cartwright invited me to visit him to trade for information on my sire. On the way over several of McGinn’s neo-Nazi thugs attacked me.” She bites her lip. “They… were not happy that I killed them. Among other things, they kept my car when they finally let me go. Junked it.” There’s a distant look in her eyes.

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip. “This might be a little soon, but… you can’t keep pissing off older licks like that. They’ll just keep hurting you.”

Caroline: “I didn’t fucking mean to!” Caroline protests. “No one told me that McGinn is super protective of his domain, or that I had to clear it with him to visit Cartwright when Cartwright invited me to do so. And then his ghouls attacked me. What was I supposed to do, stand there and let them carve me up?”

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip again as Johnson waves them through the gates to Audubon Place. “Okay, I wasn’t there for any of that, so I dunno how it went down. But… well, you probably figured it out, but they don’t care if you don’t know any better.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” The head in the trunk was just the latest lesson. “He was the worst, though. I’ve never been so humiliated, or been in so much pain.” She bites her lip. “I just want to avoid him. Not cause any more trouble. Figure out what the rules are before I do anything else wrong.”

GM: Jocelyn looks reluctant for a moment, but then says, “Well… if you wanna do that, maybe you shouldn’t avoid him.”

Caroline: “Did you miss the part where Kelford revealed that he was plotting with my sire to abduct me and set me up so he could further bond me?” Caroline asks. “How is anything good going to come of interacting with him, when they already set me up once?”

GM: “It’s just that, there aren’t a lot of licks in New Orleans. I mean, there’s supposed to be a ton next to other cities, but it’s still a drop in the bucket next to the breathers. Everyone knows each other. McGinn shows up at Elysiums pretty often… and he’s probably gonna be there for the trial and your release.”

Caroline: “They set me up, Jocelyn. Stripped me naked. Made his ghoul whip me like I was a dog or a slave until there wasn’t any skin left on my back. Until I couldn’t even grow any back.” There’s cold rage there, but more shame.

GM: “Look, I’m sorry, but… that happens to a lot of us. Never seeing McGinn isn’t really an option, unless you wanna be a total hermit.”

Caroline: She digs her fingernails into the palms of her hands.

GM: “And if you’re a hermit it’s just… probably a matter of time until you piss someone off anyway.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say anything about never seeing him.” Her tone is again defensive. “I just… don’t really want to interact with him. Am I supposed to just walk up and make small talk with him like nothing happened? Like he literally wasn’t plotting with my sire to make me his slave just because he could?”

GM: “Well, you don’t have to walk up and say hi him or anything. But if he talks to you, yeah, the harpies would… do what they do best, if you gave him the cold shoulder.”

Caroline: “So I get to pretend everything is peachy,” Caroline spits. “No, one better, I get to defer to him in public.”

GM: “He’s way older than you and a regent,” Jocelyn answers. Her face flickers a moment. “I’m sorry, I really am. That’s just how it is.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. Nor does she smile. None if it is even surprising anymore. Horrifying. Frustrating. But not surprising.

GM: “I didn’t write the rules. They’re awful. I agree. I’m just… trying to explain them so more of your friends don’t get killed.”

Caroline: “I know,” she replies. “And you’re not wrong. It’s just a bitter pill to swallow.”

GM: “How many Elysiums have you been to?” Jocelyn asks.

Caroline: “Two? Maybe three? I was on my way back to the one we were at together when… well.. you remember.”

GM: “Yeah. Well anyway, I dunno how many I’ve been to, besides way more. But maybe you should be less a hermit and just… hang out with more licks. Be less a stranger.”

Caroline: “How many Elysiums did you visit in your first eleven days?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I wasn’t like you, though. Sally spent a while explaining how it all worked before she took me out. But after I was ready, we went to a bunch.”

Caroline: “And so will I,” Caroline answers. “I don’t really think it’s fair to describe me as a hermit though.”

GM: “How many licks besides me did you talk to at that last Elysium?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Two? But I was going back to talk to more.”

GM: “Okay, how about at the one before that?”

Caroline: Another thought. “Maybe five?”

GM: “Okay, that’s a little better, did you stick around for when court got held at any? Or mass?”

Caroline: “No,” she admits. “I was going back to the last to do so when Eight-Nine-Six jumped me.”

GM: “And what about those monthly meetings or whatever your clan has, have you been to one of those?”

Caroline: “I reached out, but they want to ‘vet’ me through a ghoul first,” Caroline admits. “And it wasn’t a priority with everything else going on.”

GM: “Elders do that all the time. I’ve never even paid corvée to Maldonato, it’s always Congo.”

Caroline: “I just had other things I was worried about. Like my sire. Eight-Nine-Six…” She bites her lip. It’s a good excuse, as far as excuses go, but it’s still an excuse.

“I’m going to be more social. I didn’t want to step on toes though when I had no idea what I was doing.”

GM: “Actually, you know what—I mean… if you feel up for it, I get if you aren’t tonight, why don’t we just drop by Elysium. Or that ghoul you’re gonna meet with? Did they say when?”

Caroline: “Before midnight at Cullem’s Cuts, off Magazine Street,” Caroline replies, looking it up in her phone.

GM: “That isn’t too far. Magazine Street’s a nice area.”

Caroline: The Ventrue squirms. “If you really want,” she answers.

GM: “Well, it’s up to you. I think it’d be good for you at some point though.”

Caroline: “If we don’t do it now I’m going to keep putting it off,” Caroline admits. “But I do want to see your haven tonight, and some of your art.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “The night’s long. I doubt you’re gonna be with him until sun-up.”

Caroline: “Better not,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Jocelyn turns the car south, heading towards St. Charles Avenue. “Okay, now just read me the directions…”

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

GM: It’s a fifteen minute drive from Audubon Place to Magazine Street. The six-mile-long stretch from Riverbed to the Lower Garden District features some of the priciest antique shops, art galleries, craft shops and boutiques to be found in New Orleans. Originally named for a “magazin,” a warehouse that was built in the late 1700s to house products awaiting export, Magazine Street today features a range of historic architecture—from the large columned Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century, to the colorful Victorian cottages trimmed in gingerbread millwork. This late at night, virtually all of the restaurants, stores, and coffee shops are closed, though the occasional bar remains open.

Caroline reads her phone’s directions to Jocelyn, who drops her off at a barber shop with the iconic revolving blue, red, and white pole. White lettering on the glass window reads, “Cullem’s Cuts—Barber Shop.” Jocelyn says to call her when she’s done and drives off. The Ventrue makes her way inside, the shop bell over the door chiming as she enters. The floor inside has a checkered black and white pattern. Seats with red leather upholstery sit in a row along the mirror, flaked by an old-fashioned Coca-Cola machine.

A man is sweeping up leftover hair near one of the chairs with a broom and dustbin. Caroline can sense the vitae running through his veins, even diluted as it is from a full Kindred’s. He looks in maybe his mid-60s and has a full head of silver hair. The eyes behind his rectangular-framed glasses are round like pale green marbles. His whiskers are thick but cropped short, and carefully waxed. He wears dark slacks up to his navel (though his flat stomach doesn’t have much fat), a blue and white vertically striped shirt, gold-tipped patent leather shoes, and a black porkpie hat. A silver rosary hangs around his neck. He mouths an unlit cigar and smells of tonic. Upon hearing Caroline enter the shop, he looks up from his sweeping and smiles at the Ventrue, a motion that crinkles the crow’s feet around his mouth and eyes.

“Good evening, miss. What’s your pleasure?”

Caroline: “With any luck, your company. And eventually perhaps that of Primogen Hurst,” Caroline responds amicably.

The shop brings back memories of her father, who for a time frequented a local barber as part of a public image campaign. Back when she was young enough to tag along with him. When he had the time to bring her along. They aren’t unpleasant memories.

GM: “I hope so, ma’am, on both counts,” the barber answers. His change in address is noticeable. He motions to one of the red leather seats in the waiting area, but doesn’t sit down himself. “Don’t think we’ve seen each other around before. I’m John McCullem, one of Primogen Hurst’s.”

He doesn’t move to shake or kiss her hand.

Caroline: Caroline slides too gracefully into the seat.

“Malveaux. Caroline Malveaux.”

GM: “Ah, the clan’s newest addition,” McCullem nods as he sits down after her. He sets down his porkpie hat. “I heard about your sire, Eiren Malveaux. Congratulations.”

Caroline: A look of uncertainty passes over her face at the title, but she says nothing of it.

“And here I thought only bad news traveled quickly.”

GM: The ghoul chuckles. “All news travels through barbers, eiren.”

Caroline: “I do suppose you get a lot of high-frequency clients,” she observes, recalling how her own body never changes. “A daily touch-up. There has to be something to discuss.”

GM: “The three most important people in anyone’s life are their butcher, their lover, and their barber. If they need their barber every day, it’s no contest.”

Caroline: “I feel as though I’ve probably heard that before,” Caroline chuckles.

GM: The old man’s eyes crinkle. “You’ve caught me red-handed, eiren. I saw it on the sign outside a competitor’s shop.”

Caroline: “That’s just good business, especially if you put him out of business,” Caroline observes. “It’s funny, they taught me all the way through undergraduate school that plagiarizing was awful, wrong, and despicable. Then in law school that it was our goal.”

GM: “Really?” McCullem asks, interested. “Actually taking someone else’s work to use in papers, or d’you mean in a more general sense?”

Caroline: “It depends on what you’re writing, and for whom, but at the very least you should usually be echoing someone who’s already won a case with the same argument—lifting work they did and key phrases, if not entire pages of work.”

GM: “Pads out the page count of any papers, I bet. Never went to college myself,” he then chuckles, “back in my day that was for a lot less people, but a barber hears it all. Or is page count less important when you’re in law school?”

Caroline: “Well, as with judges, it’s all about knowing your audience. There are entire websites set up to describing what a given instructor wants to hear, how he wants to hear it, and things to avoid.”

GM: “Oh, my. I suppose there’s just about everything on the internets these nights.” The ghoul doesn’t sound as if he’s trying to use the term humorously. He laughs. “Some of my Kindred customers, you know, say they have their own internets they can use. I wonder if they have any websites like that for their elders?”

Caroline: She makes no effort to point it out: Orson does the same thing.

“I’d imagine it’s possible, though the stricter handle on information in Kindred society makes me doubt it’s free.”

GM: “Well, old man like me isn’t the one to know. There’s limits to what even a barber can pick up.”

He taps his chin thoughtfully. “You say you’re a lawyer, though, eiren? That’d make you the first in the clan since Katrina.”

Caroline: “Well, hopefully soon to be,” Caroline replies. “I need to finish out one more semester at Tulane once I get a handle on… well,” she smiles, “All of this.”

GM: “I bet it’s been a pickle to swallow without a sire to explain things,” McCullem nods. “All the more for your clan, eiren. Kaintucks certainly have it easier.”

“Then again,” he adds more quietly, “they aren’t kings.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyebrows come together for a moment. They relax, along with some of the tension in her shoulders.

“I confess, it’s been challenging trying to steer a course. On the other hand, one thing that’s remained constant from kine to Kindred society is that few are interested in excuses or sob stories.”

GM: “Well, eiren, you know how the saying goes. More things change, more they stay the same. There’s a lot of young blue bloods who don’t find the Requiem too different from their mortal life once they’re all settled in.”

Caroline: “I can hope that is the case,” Caroline replies evenly. The title is like a mosquito bite that she refuses to scratch. “But I suspect time will tell.”

GM: “Eiren’s the first rank in your clan, eiren,” the ghoul explains. “Comes from ancient Sparta. Where it means a youth who’s a leader among the other nobles’ youths.”

Caroline: Caroline has a brief image of a whole new list of vocabulary words, but she forces it away.

“Thank you,” she replies. “I’m not… I’m still adjusting to not knowing all the angles before I step into a room.”

GM: “There’s plenty others, too.” There’ a faint chuckle. “Your clan loves its ranks and titles. Awards, too. Loves ‘em. I can go over a few, if you’re not yet familiar.”

Caroline: “I cannot imagine that it would be typical or polite to impose on you in that way.”

GM: The old man laughs. “I’m the primogen’s ghoul, aren’t I? Got to have something his clanmates can use me for besides haircuts.”

Caroline: “I’ve heard that you have plenty more on your plate than haircuts.”

GM: The ghoul nods, gumming his unlit cigar. “That trial’s on everyone’s. Out of my hands how that’ll play out, but Prince Vidal will do what’s best.”

Caroline: “I actually meant with regard to simpler matters, more proximate to us, like vetting unknown neonates.”

GM: McCullem smiles. “Not so unknown now, Eiren Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Simply unknowing.” There’s a hint of a smile, but it’s forced in front of her next statement, “I don’t actually know what being a Ventrue should mean to me, in relation to… well, you, and Primogen Hurst, and others.”

GM: The smile on the ghoul’s face subsides, becoming very serious. He gums the cigar some more as he seems to think on his next words.

“Well, Eiren Malveaux, how to sum this up… it means you are part of a very important, very exclusive, and very noble extended family. Your blood’s bluer than the Queen of England’s, the kaiser’s, and every Louis in France put together. Your clan’s leadership over the other twelve—and their responsibilities—goes as far back as Noah and Moses.”

Caroline: Caroline listens.

GM: “Prince Vidal is of your clan. Most other princes are too. Grandfather Caine charged you with overseeing the other twelve. You’re the central pillar of the Camarilla. Keepers of the Masquerade. Lords. Royals. Kings.”

The ghoul bows his head. “It shouldn’t be me who explains your full legacy, eiren. Dollars to donuts, I’ll bet you I won’t—I’m just a ghoul. Your clan built the Camarilla. Our society exists because of you.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t really know what to say to the ghoul’s sheer pride and admiration. She lets his words wash over her. Some of the ones he uses are familiar. Others are not. Some are only familiar without true understanding, the product of brief and muddied explanations by Lou or Autumn. Still, it’s not hard to gather the broader meaning.

“The prince is a Ventrue?” she asks. Not so much surprised as intrigued. “Does that mean that the seneschal is as well?”

GM: McCullem shakes his head. “No one’s sure what clan Seneschal Maldonato is, eiren. Well, the prince knows, I’m sure, but he’s not telling. Prince Vidal is of your clan, and from one of its noblest lines.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “If you’re not worthy to speak to full legacy of the clan, can you speak to the state of it, and of relations within it?”

GM: “I’ll do my best, Eiren Malveaux,” McCullem nodds. “What can I clear up?”

Caroline: “You’ve spoken of history, and mentioned titles. Presumably there’s a hierarchy, and obligations that go along with that.”

GM: The ghoul nods again. “Sure is, Eiren Malveaux. Eiren’s the junior-most title, and doesn’t have too many responsibilities.”

“Above ‘em are questors. Mostly young Ventrue still who’ve been recognized for good service to the clan.”

“Over ’em, you have the aediles. Ventrue who supervise the younger ones and keep things running smoothly night-to-night.”

“The local clan’s run by the Gerousia, a council of elders chaired by a praetor. He’s usually also the prince.”

“There’s a hierarchy above that, but most clanmates won’t ever interact with it. We’re just honored to have a praetor who’s also a strategos. Which means all the Gerousia from Charleston to El Paso report to our city’s own prince.”

Caroline: It faintly reminds Caroline of the mob structures she’s studied in the past.

“Fewest responsibilities. But presumably responsibilities still.”

GM: "McCullem nods. “I remember back when my domitor and Questor Adler were eirens. Mainly showing up for the monthly meetings and keeping their noses clean.”

Caroline: A nod. “And what goes on at the meetings?” she asks.

GM: “What doesn’t?” the ghoul chuckles. “Most any business that matters to the clan, really. Could be the Gerousia arbitrating disputes, sorting out what domain’s available to who, financing other blue bloods’ projects, recognizing clanmates for achievements… they talk about anything they think is worth talking about.”

Caroline: “What do I do next?”

GM: McCullem looks slightly confused. “I’m sorry, eiren?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, what I mean is, now that I’ve met with you, what is the next step for me, with regard to fulfilling my duties and responsibilities? Is there someone I should speak to?”

GM: “Ah, well, there’s also your agoge, and test, eiren.” McCullem gums his unlit cigar again. “But truth is, I’m not sure how your next step’ll go. I haven’t ever seen a Ventrue without a sire before.” He bows his head. “If you’ll pardon my bluntness.”

Caroline: “There’s little point in dancing around the subject,” Caroline agrees politely. “What’s agoge, and the test? Presumably education or training of some kind, given the origins of the word.”

GM: McCullem nods again. “It also takes a leaf from the Spartans. Normally, sires take a while to train their childer in the clan’s whole history, customs, and jobs in the Camarilla. That can take years, sometimes. The agoge starts when a neonate’s released by the prince.” The ghoul smiles. “The other clans are faster about it. Yours likes to make sure they’ll get things right.”

“The agoge’s over once a neonate finishes their test—setting up a domain or doing some service that makes the clan stronger. That’s when they’re finally accepted into the club for real.” McCullem chuckles. “Truth is, I shouldn’t really be calling you eiren yet, eiren. Haven’t seen a blue blood in a place like yours before, though.”

Caroline: “So, wait and see for now? Don’t call you, you’ll call me?” There’s a hint of a smile, but only a hint.

GM: McCullem chuckles again. “Well, I don’t know what the Gerousia will want in your case, but I know they like initiative. You could have a sit-down with the aedile, Father Malveaux. Relative of yours, isn’t he?” the ghoul asks conversationally, gumming his cigar. “Won’t be the aedile for too much longer, likely. There’ll be an opening on the Gerousia when the trial’s over, one way or another.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Gerousiastis Smith is facing some pretty serious charges. Breaking the Masquerade with that bomb in Slidell. Need to pull to pull a rabbit out of his hat to duck those—terrible shame. This is all coming out in public before the other clans, too. It’s not a good look.” The ghoul looks serious. “Or a good example for young blue bloods like you. Always show a united front, eiren. Keep disagreements in-house.”

Caroline: Caroline’s stomach does a barrel-roll. It seems all of her favorite people are coming up tonight.

“How many gerousiastis are there in the city?” she asks.

GM: “Gerousiastes,” McCullem corrects. “That’s the plural. Gerousiastis is when you’re talking about just one. But for now it’s His Majesty, who’s also the praetor and strategos. Then there’s Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis Smith, Gerousiastis Guilbeau, and Gerousiastis McGinn. Though I’ll bet my whiskers that’s going to change, come the trial.”

Caroline: And push McGinn further up. The thought is not a pleasant one as it skips across her mind. It’s been a fairly miserable night all around.

“I’ve kept you late already, is there anything else I should know right now?”

GM: “It’s always late hours for us, eiren,” the ghoul winks.

Caroline: “That it is. Should I leave you contact information?”

GM: McCullem inclines his silver-haired head. “If you think it best, eiren. That said, I’m a questor’s ghoul, not the aedile’s. He’s the Kindred to meet, if you want to sort out what’s what with your test and agoge. I can also set up a meeting with my domitor, Questor Hurst, if you have any business you’d like to chat over with him.”

Caroline: “It sounds as though there’s little to do until Sunday, and until I speak with the aedile, but I’ll leave my phone number so you—or he—can reach me at your convenience should something change or be decided.”

GM: He nods. “All right then, eiren. Oh, two more things. Clan Ventrue doesn’t discuss its business outside the clan. It simply isn’t done.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what business I’d have to discuss,” Caroline replies mildly.

GM: “A good bit, if I can beg your pardon, eiren. Things like who’s shaping up to be on the Gerousia after the trial. What an agoge and test are. The clan keeps to its own affairs.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Ah, even those details.”

GM: “Clan Ventrue’s business is Clan Ventrue’s business,” McCullem repeats, nodding. He gums his cigar. “In fact, if I had to guess, was it another Kindred who referred you to Questor Hurst, eiren?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Though they weren’t certain.”

GM: McCullem nods in seeming satisfaction. “Mm-hmm. Well, eiren, your primogen mostly functions as a point of contact to the other clans. It’s the Gerousia that runs things from the inside. But that’s good they weren’t sure.”

Caroline: “And the second matter?”

GM: McCullem nods again. “Ah, that. Gerousiastis Matheson would be pleased to make the acquaintance of a promising young neonate like yourself, eiren. If you’re amenable, it’d be his privilege to receive you at his house sometime soon.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to keep her first thought from her face and deflects.

“I’d heard he lived outside the city.”

GM: “He has, eiren. For a pretty long time. He’s returned on account of the trial, and staying in town as the prince’s guest.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t really certain where to go with it. “Is there a particular time he’d like to receive me, or is it an open invitation?”

GM: “An open one, eiren, before the trial rolls around.”

Caroline: “Is that another matter I should keep private?” Caroline asks.

GM: The ghoul gums his cigar thoughtfully. “If you’ll pardon me answering your question with a question, eiren, have you heard why he’s in town for the trial?”

Caroline: Caroline nods slowly.

GM: McCullem does too. “There’s been lots of finger-pointing, but nothing’s been proven. Prince Vidal will clear up what’s what at the trial. Gerousiastis Matheson won’t soon forget any neonates who can personally testify as to his good character.”

Caroline: “Meaning that he’d actually prefer knowledge of such visits be public.”

GM: McCullem smiles. “You’ve a sharp mind, Eiren Malveaux.”

Caroline: “If I were to visit him,” Caroline lets the words drip off slowly, “Gerousiastis Matheson would be a proper form of address?”

GM: “You’ve a sharp mind, Eiren Malveaux,” the ghoul repeats with another smile.

Caroline: “And I’m certain that Gerousiastis Matheson’s invite was to me, specifically.” Her eyes give lie to those words.

GM: “He’ll be grateful to any neonates who can further establish his good character,” McCullem nods again.

Caroline: “Do you have the address for his home in the city?”

GM: The ghoul gums his cigar. “Elders tend to like scheduled visits more than drop-bys, eiren. I can get in touch with a ghoul of his to set up a date. Or give you the number, if you’d rather.”

Caroline: “The latter, I think, would be better,” Caroline answers.

GM: McCullem provides her with a phone number.

Caroline: “I couldn’t bear to stand him up, if something were to occur, and no doubt you’ve heard how chaotic my schedule has been of late.”

GM: The silver-haired ghoul chuckles. “Everyone’s a ship afloat in a sea of chaos these nights, eiren. But that’s awfully kind of you.”

Caroline: Caroline provides the ghoul with her own number. “Might I ask two more matters of you, if you’re willing to let me impose upon your already generous hospitality?”

GM: The crow’s-feet around McCullem’s eyes crinkle. “You’ve got to lose something to be generous, eiren, and I don’t reckon I’ve lost much at all. What might those matters be?”

Caroline: “Relate to Primogen Hurst my great appreciation for the information you’ve provided, including the invitation to visit such an honored elder. Along with my gratitude for the trouble, if he’ll relate to his sister my apologies for my rudeness two nights ago.”

GM: The ghoul inclines his silvery brow. “It’d be my privilege to, eiren. If I might also offer some unsolicited advice, and begging your pardon if it’s unwelcome, I’ve found apologies tend to go over best when you make them personally.”

Caroline: “Granted,” Caroline agrees. “But I’ve also found that wounds left to fester grow poisonous. Sometimes triage is the best option until you can provide real treatment.”

GM: Another incline of the ghoul’s head. “Of course, eiren. Questor Adler’s usually around at Elysium, too.”

Caroline: “Then perhaps I shall see her there before my words reach her,” Caroline admits. “In any case, thank you for your time.”

GM: “My pleasure, Eiren Malveux.” McCullem glances away from the waiting chairs towards the barbers’ ones and laughs. “Even if I’ve forgotten to offer you the complimentary trim!”

Caroline: “Perhaps next time,” she smiles.

GM: “It rolls around sooner or later, when you have forever,” the ghoul says with another smile that crinkles his eyes. “Good night, eiren.”

Caroline: “Good night.” Caroline rises too smoothly and pulls out her phone once she clears the door.

Friday night, 18 September 2015, AM

Caroline: “It was interesting.” Caroline shifts her long legs in the tiny car. “Speaking of, you’ll never guess who I was invited to visit.”

GM: “Oh yeah, who was that?” Jocelyn asks as the vehicle continues down Magazine Street.

Caroline: “Matheson.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at that. “Oh geez, you’re kidding.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Serious as a heart attack.”

GM: “Well, uh. Nothing’s been proven, but that seems kinda risky.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yeah… I tried to keep my options open, but declining feels kind of risky as well, given that I’ve already gotten on the bad side of a couple elder Ventrue already.”

GM: Jocelyn looks ahead. “Well, that’s true. Ignoring any elder is really bad…”

Caroline: Caroline seems to think on it. “I think I have to go.”

GM: “Well, I… I guess so. Did he say when?”

Caroline: “Tomorrow. Or Saturday. With a call ahead first.”

GM: “Well, Saturday is the meeting with Skyman. So I guess… tomorrow.”

Caroline: “Can you vet it past him? Just make sure I’m not stepping on his toes by going? There so many different political angles here I don’t even know that Caleb could unravel them.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Sure, I can give a call. Who’s Caleb?”

Caroline: “My dad’s chief of staff. Been around forever.” She gives a little laugh. “I thought this week, the lead-up after capturing my sire, would be more relaxed.”

GM: Her lover looks off. “It kinda never is…”

Caroline: “Never a dull moment?”

GM: “Not really. Though I guess things are pretty hectic with the trial.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And I still need to come up with three people for the sheriff.”

GM: “I thought he said four?”

Caroline: “I can come up with enough bagged blood to cover the fourth,” Caroline answers.

GM: “What do you think you’re gonna do for the others, then?”

Caroline: “Honestly? Homeless are probably the best bet,” Caroline replies. “But I’m not totally sure. It’s… a pretty tall order to come up with that many people in that short a time.”

GM: “Could always buy blood from another lick.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “If I can’t make any progress tomorrow, but that feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

GM: “Well, good luck.”

Caroline: It sickens her to think on how she’s already more focused on how she’s going to come up with three human beings to be murdered by the sheriff than she is on mourning Jessica.

“Is that the same kind of corvée that the seneschal usually wants? Blood?” She quickly adds, “Unless that’s too personal a question.”

GM: “He mixes it up, honestly. Sometimes he wants juice, sometimes information, sometimes random tasks and jobs.”

Caroline: “The kind of stuff that usually takes a night to work through?”

GM: “Yeah, usually. A night of work if it’s nothing too hard or risky.”

Caroline: “What kinds of other things keep you busy then?”

GM: “Sorry?”

Caroline: Caroline looks over. “You mentioned that it’s always sort of like this. I was just curious as to what the average week in a life is like.”

GM: “Well, just more stuff like this, I guess. Me and the Storyvilles got attacked by an inky a weekish ago.”

Caroline: “Inky?”

GM: “A hunter.”

Caroline: “Like… a mortal?”

GM: “Yeah, he tried to stake us. Well, Roxanne. Wasn’t much good, though. She mindscrewed him and then… well, we all had a drink.”

Caroline: “Just like attacked you on the street?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “No, we were indoors. But he did try to jump us. Well, Roxanne. He wasn’t anything dangerous.”

Caroline: “Wow. What did he think was going to happen?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Dunno. Guess he didn’t know what we could do. I mean, not all of us were in the room, so maybe he got cocky. Or maybe he was just dumb.”

Caroline: “How common is that kind of thing? Hunters, I mean.”

GM: “I dunno. I’ve seen… maybe a couple? My sire says to make sure any mortal who knows about us can’t ever talk about it. She says they’re dangerous, but I haven’t seen any.”

Caroline: “Fire,” Caroline offers. “Especially during the day.”

GM: “Well they need to know what you are, and to find your haven first. My sire also says hunters are what happen to licks who get stupid about the Masquerade.”

Caroline: “Or just those with fewer resources,” Caroline offers. “I can’t imagine that some of them don’t know about Perdido House, but that’s not exactly the kind of place that anyone short of an army could attack.” She bites her lip. “Makes you wonder about 9/11, though…”

GM: “Yeah, there mighta been some Kindred who had havens there…” Jocelyn says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Can you think of a better place that blue bloods would want to make their center of operations?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I guess that’s us, victims of terrorism too.”

Caroline: “Or 9/11 was a plot to take out some high profile Kindred,” Caroline offers. “And the entire War on Terror is a giant Masquerade cover-up.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “Okay, that seems a little far-fetched even for us.”

Caroline: “Does it? How else would you explain away planes crashing into a major landmark?” Caroline smirks.

GM: “Vidal killed JFK too,” Jocelyn smirks back. “The New Orleans Mafia was supposed to be involved, and he could’ve mindscrewed them.”

Caroline: “That’s a good one,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh and we broke the levees for Katrina too.”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger on her lip. “That I’d actually believe.”

GM: “No way. Katrina was supposed to be horrible for us.”

Caroline: “I don’t know anything about all of that, but I have to imagine it was worst on the poorer Kindred than it was on the establishment.”

“If you wanted to purge the city of the… let’s politely say more ‘urban’ members of Kindred society, you can’t tell me that flooding the Ninth Ward and throwing it into chaos wouldn’t be good place to start.”

GM: “Well… sure, but still. It was horrible. It destroyed so much of the city, displaced pretty much everyone living there. Hunting would’ve been… I dunno about impossible, but really hard.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles grimly. “Can you think of a better way to wreck the upstart youth of the city, or those living in squalor?”

“Not like the elders, who have resources to bunker up in high ground with herds or piles of blood would be that affected.”

GM: “I dunno, I can’t see the prince doing that,” Jocelyn slowly says. “It’s not just a hit against rivals, it’s killing the whole city.”

Caroline: “Well,” Caroline says just as slowly and carefully," Like I said, I don’t know, and I wouldn’t accuse him of anything. I’m just observing that it’s the kind of thing that isn’t as crazy as some conspiracy theories. Doesn’t mean it’s true."

GM: “There was plenty crazy stuff that happened during Katrina, I guess,” Jocelyn admits. “I heard something about the Baron disappearing for a while during the storm. Everyone thought he was dead.”

Caroline: “Either way, I’m happy to have dodged that particular mess.”

GM: “Yeah, me too. I wasn’t Embraced for a while later. I don’t think there’s really that many neonates left who were Embraced in the early 2000s.”

Caroline: “Makes sense.”

Caroline’s mind shifts to how that impacts power dynamics.

GM: Jocelyn looks back to the street. Closed, unlit shops and galleries roll by. “So, I think Sunday for our big night, when all… this isn’t hanging over us, might be a better time for you to see my art.”

“We could still do something tonight though. Like go hunting.”

Caroline: Caroline’s Beast licks its lips at the thought. Salivates. It’s far from satisfied tonight.

Then something occurs to her. “Has something changed? I’d thought I wasn’t going to meet him until Sunday, after joining the Sanctified officially,” she asks.

GM: “Skyman says Saturday. That’s all I know,” Jocelyn answers.

Caroline: A nod. “Early or late?” she asks.

GM: “I’ll pick you up sometime around 11, like I said. I’m not sure how long it’s gonna take. Maybe an hour, leaving out the car trip?”

Caroline: It doesn’t give her a great deal of time, but she’ll make it work. “Hunting sounds interesting… how does that work though, given permissions required if we’re both doing it?”

GM: “Well, we could do it in Storyville, where anyone can hunt.”

Caroline: Caroline readily agrees.

GM: The CBD’s Thursday night bar scene isn’t what it is on weekends, but it’s almost exciting hunting in tandem. Like a pack of wolves circling a wary elk. There’s a sense of belonging and superiority in numbers, yet also a no less present sense of competition that spurs Caroline to new heights.

The two Kindred eventually find a late-drinking grad student who’s all-too amenable to the idea of a threesome with the young women. Caroline’s thirst is great, and Jocelyn seems put off at the casually floated idea that she should accept a lesser share of their prey. (“Hello, I have to drink too.”) In short order, the naked vampires are staring down at a motionless thirty-something man in the hotel room’s bed. His face is blanched nearly as white as the sheets.

Jocelyn blinks. “Oh… crap.” She feels for a pulse, then lets out a needless breath. “Okay, he’s still alive. What do you think we should do?” she asks, licking a few last droplets of blood from her lips.

Caroline: The sight of the blood on the Toreador’s lips is so very distracting, and only when the last of it vanishes does she register the words. She looks down at the unmoving man. “I could hook him up an IV—I have a couple pints left.”

GM: “That sounds good,” Jocelyn nods. “You can just mindscrew him into not remembering.”

Caroline: Caroline calls Autumn to pick up some of the left over blood, along with some other supplies from her house: it’s just as well, she needs a ride ‘home’ anyway, and has other directions to give the ghoul for the night.

GM: Autumn texts back she’s on her way. Some ten minutes later there’s a rap on the hotel door. Caroline lets Autumn in, who pulls a blood bag out of a backpack.

She gives the passed-out naked man a ‘business as usual’ look.

Caroline: Caroline takes the bag. Even knowing how unlikely it is to be in any way satisfying, it’s tempting, just as the passed out grad student is. Just as Autumn herself is… she snags the medical kit the ghoul brought and calls her over to ‘assist.’

GM: Autumn doesn’t know much about medicine beyond basic household remedies. Caroline uses the opportunity to instruct her: sometimes it’s useful to know how to give blood back.

Caroline: It also gives her something to focus on other than the needle entering the man’s arm, or the blood flowing into him. “Reactions are pretty rare as long as you match blood types properly, though if we were in a real medical environment we’d want to keep him under observation,” she explains.

GM: Autumn asks, among other questions, how much o-neg blood costs next to the other blood types. “A lot more, I’m guessing?” Eventually the two’s work is done. The ghoul removes and disposes of the needle, rinses out the plastic bag, and sticks it back in the backpack. Caroline’s and Jocelyn’s victim sleeps obliviously until the Ventrue wakes him, commands him to forget, then tells him to sleep again.

Jocelyn looks the three over. “Okay, Masquerade cleaned up, I’m taking off. I’ll see you on Saturday, or maybe earlier.” She pauses. “Be careful around Matheson… okay?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll shoot you a text when I leave.”

GM: “Before you arrive, too. Tell me how full you are… just in case he wipes your memory, after he…”

Caroline: The Ventrue lays a hand on Jocelyn’s. “I’ll be okay.”

GM: “I hope so,” Jocelyn answers, but she still looks worried. She runs her fangs over Caroline’s cheek in an almost-peck, then departs.

Caroline: Caroline leaves with Autumn, leaving the man to his sweet dreams and only ‘near’ death experience.

GM: As the two get into Autumn’s minicooper, the ghoul rattles off the things she’s looked into for Caroline.

First, she bought as much blood from the Krewe at TMC as she could. Caroline is out $6,300.

Caroline: Caroline listens to her describe her activities sine she departed with Jocelyn, and planned events for tomorrow. She interrupts, “What do you know about Matheson?”

GM: “Matheson? As much as anyone else, I guess. Exiled Ventrue elder who’s supposedly been luring out neonates and feeding on them. Was around for a Masquerade breach involving George Smith.”

Caroline: “Anything else? How long ago he was exiled? Theories as to why? Ghouls he keeps?”

GM: “Well, feeding on neonates is the obvious one. I mean, everyone now figures Vidal wanted him gone because being a headhunter would’ve made the Ventrue look bad. But so would admitting he was a headhunter.”

“I dunno how the prince is gonna spin it at the trial, but they’ll need some other story to explain his exile if he’s gonna get off. I mean, how else would they?”

Caroline: “So what were the theories? There had to be some, or people wouldn’t have ignored it until now, and neonates wouldn’t have gone to visit him.”

GM: “Honestly, I don’t think most of the masked city even knew he existed until this whole mess came up. Probably even fewer people knew he’d been exiled. I mean, I’d never heard of him until pretty recently. It’s not like he was the Krewe of Janus’ concern, living outside New Orleans.”

Caroline: Caroline nods her head back and forth. “I guess that makes sense. I’d just assumed that being an elder there’d be all kinds of juicy theories.”

GM: “Well, most licks don’t really travel much, and he didn’t live in New Orleans. Could be a million Mathesons out in rural Louisiana for all I know.”

Caroline: “René mentioned that as well. That Kindred don’t travel outside of the city very often. Is there a particular reason?”

GM: “Loup-Garoux, I guess? I haven’t been outside the city much either. Since getting on the juice, anyway. The Krewe doesn’t care what happens outside New Orleans.”

Caroline: “Like… werewolves? Those are real?”

GM: Autumn nods. “I’ve never seen one, but… I’ve heard the stories. Horror stories. That just looking at them can drive you insane, break your mind. That they’re impossible to kill, can rip apart whole coteries singlehanded. That they rule the country as absolutely as you rule the cities… and hate licks.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no comment to that. Entire coteries indeed.

GM: “I don’t mean of just fledglings.”

Caroline: A smile creeps across Caroline’s face. “Interesting. How does someone like Matheson survive out there then, one must wonder?”

GM: “Beats me. Loops aren’t even supposed to be the only things out there.”

Caroline: “One of these night we’re going to have a nice sit down about all these little details you know. Or at least some of them,” Caroline promises.

GM: “Honestly, it’s not a lot. The only thing I really do for sure is that it’s the tip of the iceberg.” Autumn’s tone is quiet.

Caroline: “That tip of the iceberg might save my life one day. Probably already has.”

GM: The ghoul shifts uncomfortably. “Sometimes ignorance is bliss.”

Caroline: “No.” The word is sharp, in contrast to her earlier reassurance and lighthearted commentary. “Ignorance is never an acceptable state. Pretending the world doesn’t exist and burying your head in the sand is how you end up like I did. Helpless. Powerless. Doomed. Tortured. Dragging everyone around you down into the dirt with you.”

GM: “Look, just… all the licks I’ve heard of who are supposed to be experts on the weird shit that goes bump in the night, not just Camarilla politics… they’re creepy, even for Kindred. Knowing that stuff… I think it changes you. I mean, you had to get Embraced to know about the Camarilla in New Orleans, right?”

Caroline: Caroline nods after a moment.

GM: “So I’m just saying, the licks and ghouls who know even more… I think they’ve gotta give up more too, for the scales to balance.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns but says nothing. She just doesn’t know enough to comment on it.

If Autumn’s right, maybe it’s better she doesn’t.


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