“Every time I try to get it right, it goes wrong.”
GM: Bliss burns Celia’s lips.
It’s hot. Sweet. Rapturous. Mana. The same mana that Chase fed her, but sweeter still.
Celia hurts. She hurts everywhere. She is wantful. It soothes her. Satisfies her. Makes the pain go away. Leaves her shivering for more.
Celia: Everything hurts.
Her nerve endings are raw. She’s on fire. Burning. She has glass in her feet and she’s walking on them. There are knives in her belly, her back, her legs, her skull. She throbs. Every beat of her heart is another swing of the hammer.
Until it isn’t.
Until someone pours cool water on the wounds. Until the relief starts at her lips and slides into her mouth and down her throat, until it spreads to her hands and feet, toes and fingers, fingers she can finally wiggle, fingers she uses to clamp around the thing giving this life back to her so she can suck it down. Slurping, greedy sounds come from her mouth.
GM: Celia doesn’t know how long she sucks on that blissful, life-giving fount for. A second. A minute. An hour. A day. She knows only one thing:
It isn’t for long enough.
“Thirsty, aren’t we?” chuckles a male voice.
Her surroundings come into focus.
He’s a short, dark-haired man around Celia’s height who looks in his mid-30s. His scruffy facial hair hovers somewhere between a five-o’ clock shadow and a full beard. He’s dressed in playboy-esque finery that has a casual sense of easy luxury: a wine-colored sports coat, dark purple dress shirt without a tie, black slacks, and anaconda scale wingtip loafers. A gold signet ring set with a crown and several fleur-de-lis for its coat of arms sits on one of his fingers.
“Though I can hardly blame you, my dear. You had quite a fall!” The mirth in his eyes gives way to concern, though, as he lays a hand on her shoulder. “Give yourself a little while before you move. How do you feel?”
Celia seems to be partly lying, partly propped up against the seat of a chaise lounge. The man is seated beside her.
Celia: It’s not enough. Never enough. The offering is pulled away from her before she can quench the craving. The taste lingers on her lips even after it’s pulled away; she licks them clean.
It isn’t fair.
She wants more.
She doesn’t recognize the voice, the room, the man. But she recognizes what he is, and her fingers curl into her thighs, nails digging into flesh. Her breath catches. Her body is still but her mind moves, jumping from conclusion to conclusion. But it’s like trying to untangle a knot in her hair and the more she tugs the tighter it gets, and in the end she’s left with nothing but questions.
He dropped her.
They’d been flying. Above the city. So high up. So cold. He’d bitten her, fed from her, touched her. Had he kissed her? His lips on hers after—
She’d seen things.
It doesn’t make sense.
She swallows, throat bobbing, and keeps herself still. What predators do you play dead with? Are they on that list? No, stupid, he scraped you off the ground. Or water. Had she been drowning? She moves her eyes to look down at her body and take stock.
GM: Her skin looks wrong. It’s all but blanched of color and looks tight over her bones. She can see individual purple veins. She’s dressed in a fluffy white bathrobe.
They’re also outdoors, on a rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Classical statues of cupids, dolphins, and capering nymphs are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a gray French marble jacuzzi sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.
Celia: What. The. Heck.
She stares down at herself. Her dress—hadn’t she been wearing a dress?—is gone. When had that happened? Whose bathrobe is she in? His? Did he touch her, did he..? She stops that train before it gets any momentum. Why does she look like death incarnate?
Where is she, even? Her eyes scan the rooftop, as if looking for a human sized indentation that will make sense of this.
Had he asked her something? How do you feel, was that it? She should laugh. She wants to. The sound catches in her throat, comes out as a wheezing gasp. She doesn’t like it. Is she broken? She wiggles her toes at herself. No pain.
Lots and lots of questions.
Like if this is real, some magnanimous vision of Hell, and he her jailer. Do they have butterflies in Hell?
She tries to ask. Who, what, where, when. It comes out as a “whu” before the sound dies. She moves, against his recommendation, to touch a finger to his hand. He’s real. This is real. She swallows again, wets her lips with her tongue.
“Hi.” It’s a shy, uncertain greeting.
GM: Her toes moves at her effort. They’re also pale, purple-veined things that look just as awful as her arm. Her mouth is dry, so dry she doesn’t even feel moisture on her lips, though she isn’t thirsty.
Not after what she just drank.
“Hello.” The man faintly chuckles back. “Things might be a little blurry for you, still. Might be you don’t feel like doing too much talking right now. I can try to answer some of the questions you must have, if you’d like.”
Celia: There’s too many questions to know where to begin. What happened. Where are they. When are they. Who is he. Where is he, the other one, the one who did this. What happened to her mom, her sister, her dad, Em, Emil, Emily, Stephen…
“Did I die?” Did he kill me? Are you the devil, and this your den of hedonism?
GM: The man looks at Celia somberly.
“I’m not sure how much you remember, my dear, but you were dropped quite a ways. No one could survive a fall from that height. And I’m afraid you didn’t.”
“But this isn’t the afterlife, if you’re wondering. Or a dream. You died, but you’re a vampire now. Kindred.”
The man opens his mouth, showing two sharp fangs.
Celia: She can’t breathe. She sucks down air and it doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t get rid of the rushing in her ears, the pounding in her head, the knot in her stomach that twists.
Is that worse than death? Better?
“…killed me.” He killed her. He killed her. He killed her. She is dead and he killed her, he took her and he dropped her and she died.
Breathe. Em’s voice in her head, telling her to breathe, quelling the panic before it comes. She tries. She does. But she’s dead. Do dead people need air? She giggles, hysterical.
It takes her a moment to calm down enough to say, “can you tell me… what happened?”
GM: The man—vampire—regards Celia with that same steady, patiently somber look, but he doesn’t say anything until she asks him.
“You were turned into what you are by Donovan. He’s the Kindred who dropped you into the Gulf of Mexico. I’m still not completely sure what his reasons were.”
“My people found you and brought you back here. You’re in the French Quarter, at a club called the Evergreen Plantation.”
She’s heard of it. It’s a posh jazz club frequented by assorted rich people and society figures.
“My name is Antoine Savoy. I’m the Kindred who turned Donovan into what he is, which makes you my Kindred granddaughter—our term for that is grandchilde.”
“I’m sure all of this must be overwhelming for you. I’m sure you’re scared and confused, for yourself and your loved ones. I’m sure you have more questions than you can even think to ask right now.”
Antoine Savoy lays a hand on Celia’s shoulder. His skin is pinker than hers, less pale. Less dead.
His gaze is steady. Patient. Understanding. Even pained, for her. But resolved.
“But you are my Blood, Celia. I’ll help you however I can.”
The monster under her bed. The darkness in the hallway. The arms around her from behind, the gun in her hand, the goodnight kiss. He did this to her. Turned her. Dropped her. Killed her. Why? But he’d already said he didn’t know. Did he think the water wouldn’t kill her? That she’d drown? Did he mean to, or was it an accident?
Is he going to come back to finish her off?
Her nostrils flare. She breathes deep, hard, through her nose. It doesn’t do anything to stop her thoughts from spiraling. Too many questions, he’s right, she can’t even finish thinking of one before another jumps into her head. She doesn’t know what to ask first.
“… hates me. Him. Donovan. Broke his toy.” She pulls her knees up to her chest, wraps her arms around them. She wants her mom. She wants Stephen. Or Em. Or Emily. Or someone to put their arms around her.
She’s a thing now. A monster. Vampire. Her tongue runs across her teeth, as if searching her mouth for fangs.
GM: Her tongue brushes against two sharp points.
Breathing doesn’t feel like it used to, either. Air goes in and out of her lungs, but she doesn’t actually feel any different. Any calmer, any more rejuvenated, even as she realizes the distinct nature of the physical sensation. Quite distinct, in fact. Was she even breathing earlier?
But someone does put their arms around her.
Savoy wraps Celia in his embrace, arms around her shoulders. He smells very nice, up close. It’s a smooth and sensual woody-aromatic scent with that opens with citrus and has notes of incense, vetiver, mint, cedar, and amber. The esthetician-in-training thinks she recognizes it as a French brand, Bleu de Chanel.
“You’re not broken, Celia,” Savoy says as he holds her. The words aren’t softly murmured. They’re strong and sure.
“You’re beautiful. Your name means ‘of heaven’, doesn’t it? That’s where you’re from. You received my Blood in the heavens, fell to earth like a star, and rose from the sea like a dark Aphrodite. Strong. Clever. Ravishing. Radiant. And now, immortal.”
His smile eclipses the moon’s own radiance.
“Death itself could not possess you, my dear. Heaven help whoever thinks they can!”
Celia: Her name doesn’t mean of Heaven. If it does, her parents chose it poorly. She isn’t of Heaven. She is of Hell. She has done sick, twisted, terrible things. To her family. To her sister. She cast them all aside in her need for vengeance, let herself get caught up in the moment, took out all of her anger on the wrong target. She’ll have to go back. Fix it. Destroy the right thing. Set the entire house aflame and watch him burn, and maybe then she’ll fill this empty, aching hole inside of her.
But she leans into him, because he’s there, because he’s kind, because on some level she recognizes that he—his people—saved her from drowning in the Gulf. Or would she have saved herself, had no one pulled her out?
I’m fast, she told the detective.
Not fast enough.
Not then, but maybe now. Immortal. It has a nice ring to it, even if it comes with fangs.
“What happens now?” she asks him.
GM: “What do you want to see happen, my dear?” he asks, smooth hands rubbing along her shoulder.
Celia: Donovan dead.
My mother whole and happy.
“How long?” she asks him. “How long does this… how long am I like this? You said immortal. Is that true? Forever? There’s no… end?” She’s thinking of Donovan when she asks. His cold hands, hard eyes, unsmiling face. He’s not a man. He’s a mask. A nightmare.
But even nightmares have an end.
GM: Savoy chuckles.
“Let’s just say there are Kindred in this city who telephones are still new for, and even a few who might’ve once though the earth was flat.”
Or do they?
Celia: “Why would he do this to me? Why would he… why?” Her tongue touches the points of her newfound fangs. Do they go away? Are they always there? How does it all work?
“I’m not… he… he has my dad. In a… mind twisty thing.” She’d done it too. To Em, to her dad. Is she supposed to tell him that? Tell him about— “the woman.”
Oh. Oh no. Devil’s bargain. Is this what she’d meant? Is this what Pete meant?
Pete. The meeting. The tapes.
She stiffens, sitting upright.
“What—” day? “—time is it?”
GM: Savoy frowns. “I’m truthfully not sure, my dear. He’s Embraced once before—that’s our term for creating another Kindred—but he didn’t abandon her like he did you. My people are still looking into that.”
Celia: It’s funny. It is. It has to be. She can’t help but laugh, because that’s all she has now.
Abandoned. Rejected. By her dad. By him.
GM: The other vampire chuckles. “I suppose there’s worse ways to take it.”
“To answer your other question, it’s a little after midnight.”
Celia: Midnight. She’d missed the meeting. Part of her wants to curl into a ball and cry herself out, because now she’s trusting that Em got the letter to him, and what if he runs into trouble? And part of her is relieved, because she doesn’t think that she can deal with anything else tonight. She should call, though.
Only her phone isn’t here, is it, it’s… somewhere. Not here. Somewhere that isn’t here.
Which means she can let it go. Focus on this. Breathe, even though it’s useless.
She’s dead. She’s a vampire. Kindred. She has fangs. Donovan killed her.
Her mind keeps circling back to that. Donovan killed her. He turned her into this. Embrace. Embraced her. Is that what the flying thing was? And, what, she isn’t good enough now? He hadn’t meant to? Got caught up in the moment and then dropped her because—
the only one who can love her
the only one who can love him
they deserve each other
She should find him. Ask. Ask what’s wrong with her. Ask why he did this to her. Ask what he wants, what he wanted, why he’s… why he abandoned her. It shouldn’t sting as much as it does.
Daddy never loved me either.
“Someone told me,” she says at length, “that they… you… we? We.” That’s new. “That we…” it feels so silly to say out loud. This whole thing is ridiculous. She stammers over the words.
“How much did movies get right?” she finally asks, because she doesn’t think she can ask about drinking blood and nocturnal activity and flying with a straight face, and she doesn’t want to ask him about his… son. Childe.
Even though she does.
GM: There’s another chuckle from Savoy.
“The new ones always ask that, these nights. They get a few things wrong and a few things right…”
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM
Celia: There’s no manual for how to feel in this situation. No clear set of rules or guidelines that tell her emotions how to behave after death. By the time Savoy is done explaining things to her she has more questions, wants to know more details, asks for clarification on a few points.
Finally, she’s quiet. She thinks she gets it.
But she can’t get Donovan out of her head. It’s pathetic, really, how much she dwells on him. In the air, fangs piercing her neck, arms around her. Obsesses. Him, Chase, the woman. She tells herself her attention is evenly split, but she knows the lie for what it is. She tries to ignore it.
“How did you know? Me. My name. What… what happened. How did you know?” Sir? Mr. Savoy? Grandpa? She doesn’t know what to call him. She averts her gaze in lieu of a title, aware that there is some hierarchy she needs to familiarize herself with. “Did someone see?”
Celia: “Because if you knew that… do you know… my mom? If she’s okay? I took her… I took her to the hospital this morning.”
GM: Savoy answers some of Celia’s initial questions. However, it’s not overly long in before he declares that “Mélissaire can go over the basics with you” and summons a sultry-looking, full-lipped and caramel-skinned woman with long dark hair and bewitching honey-hued eyes. She’s dressed in a lavender top, pink skirt, and matching four-inch pink pumps. Celia can hear the other woman’s heart beating in her chest. Savoy says that she’s a “ghoul.”
The woman takes Celia downstairs on an elevator to a luxuriously appointed sitting room where she answers the fledgling’s questions, including what a ghoul is and how to address her grandsire (“Lord Savoy, though I’m sure he’ll insist on Antoine soon for a scrumptious thing like you,” the ghoul purrs). Celia gets the impression that her grandsire’s time is valuable and not to be spent lightly. She is also given real clothes. The ghoul calls people to pick up whatever Celia feels like wearing.
Celia: Celia sees the dismissal for what it is.
Asked too many questions. Demanded too many answers.
She asks the ghoul about what she’s supposed to do now. If her nights are spoken for, or if she’s free to come and go. She’ll need a place of her own, she realizes, she can’t go back to the dorms. Or her mom’s house. Or anyone’s, really. She’s alone. She can’t tell anyone what she is, Savoy made that clear. So she asks about that too, while she dresses in the clothing brought for her, a simple skirt and blouse. They hang from her emaciated frame.
“I need a phone,” she says to Mélissaire.
GM: “Of course, ma’am. We’ll have one for you soon,” the ghoul answers as she leads Celia back to the elevator. “But, please… don’t think your grandsire would leave you out in the cold, just for having questions! You two have so much to talk about, still… important things, that any old half-blood like me couldn’t answer.”
That’s what she was supposed to be, wasn’t it? What Pete said she was, what the woman did to her. Ghouled. Half-blood. Would her nights have been like this, spent serving other people? Fetching clothes and running errands and playing tutor?
Of course she would. Slave. Perhaps she should thank Donovan for keeping her from that.
“Important things,” Celia echoes, but she isn’t so sure. Her human grandmother had wanted to kill her in the womb; she doesn’t see why this one would be any different. Probably regrets fishing her out of the water.
Maybe that’s why Donovan tossed her in. He realized he’d made a mistake with her Embrace before she’d even woken up.
GM: That unspoken question, unlike Celia’s others, is left unanswered.
Mélissaire pushes the button to take them back up to the building’s open-air rooftop garden. Savoy is seated around a white iron table with a matching set of eight chairs that contently lounges at the center of the peristyle. He’s talking things over with a familiar face to Celia: Peter Lebeaux.
There’s also a third Kindred present, a pallid-looking woman with a severe expression and dirty blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyes are framed by a thick pair of glasses. She wears a conservative gray business jacket, matching skirt, white blouse, and black pumps. She’s staring into one of those new computers, but looks up as Celia approaches.
“Ah, and she reappears so like her namesake—a celestial light to brighten our humble gathering,” Savoy smiles. He rises at Celia’s entrance and bends theatrically to kiss her hand, his eyes never leaving hers. “Real clothes suit you better than a bathrobe, my dear, though part of me is pained to see you in ones so modest! We’ll have to get her in ones with a few more 0’s on the price tags, won’t we, Nat?” he chuckles.
“The clothes make the woman, sir,” the other Kindred agrees dispassionately.
Mélissaire pulls out Celia’s seat for her as the two sit down. The chairs are comfortable, despite being metal, and have red silk cushions lining the seats.
“Celia, this is Natasha Preston, my steward—she keeps track of all those little details I don’t have as much head for, and probably runs half the affairs in my parish. Lord knows where I’d be without her!”
“A pleasure, Miss Flores,” Preston offers in the same dispassionate tone.
“And of course you and Warden Lebeaux are already acquainted with one another.” Savoy’s humorous eyes seem to briefly soften. “He maintains my law throughout the Quarter, if Mélissaire didn’t mention that. A regent couldn’t ask for a more dedicated lawman.”
“Celia,” the Kindred detective nods.
Celia: There was a time in her life when Celia might have flushed over her grandsire’s actions, when his words might have set her cheeks ablaze and a flutter through her stomach. Now, though, she feels nothing. Less than nothing; she sees Pete and everything clicks into place, and she recognizes the honeyed trap for what it is.
Is she bait, then, or just the fly that got too close? Another pawn, anyway, something to move about the board with little regard. More games, more masks, more lies.
“Ms. Preston, good evening,” Celia infuses warmth into her voice, puts a smile on when she says it. She looks toward the detective. Her smile doesn’t fade, even though she burns with questions. “Warden Lebeaux.” She dips her chin in deferment, holds it for a second longer than he had, eyes down. Courtesy, always courtesy.
Celia crosses one leg over the other, returning her gaze and her attention to her grandsire. Lord Savoy. She doesn’t ask Pete what happened. She hopes that is what he’s here to discuss.
GM: “I’m sure you’re still full of questions, Celia,” Savoy says. “These two are here to help answer them and work out what happens next. You may speak freely, here. Nat and Pete know all my dirty laundry already.” He offers this statement with a wink.
Celia: As soon as she’s given permission the words tumble out.
“What happened?” Celia asks Pete. “Did he meet you? Did you get what you needed? Is it enough?” It has to be enough. She died for it. Literally died for it.
So much for poise.
GM: “He did,” Pete nods. “And we did. It is enough.”
“We had a lot already. This is even more fuel on the fire.”
Celia: “Then what’s next? What happens to him?”
GM: “We could ruin him,” Savoy states simply. “Is that what you want, my dear?”
He gives a faint chuckle. “My hunch would be yes. But given the significance of the question, I’d ask it all the same.”
Celia: She doesn’t want to ruin him. She wants to kill him. She wants to break his kneecaps. She wants to cut his hamstrings. She wants to rip him apart with her bare hands and ask how he feels while he’s bleeding out on the ground. She wants him to know that she won.
“Does that serve you? Ruining him? Taking away something from…” she doesn’t say his name. It’s implied. Already, though, she’s thinking of things that could go wrong.
GM: “Sheriff Donovan’s and Prince Vidal’s loss in this matter is Lord Savoy’s gain,” Preston states without inflection.
“There’s more ways than one to ruin someone, though,” says Pete.
Celia: “Is ruining him your best option, then, or is it enough to just take him away and turn him to your own cause?”
GM: “That’s another option,” muses Savoy. “But he lives smack-dab in the middle of your sire’s domain. We’d have to be subtle, if we were to turn him. It’s always possible he might be found out and killed or removed, or turned into a triple agent.”
Celia: “There’s a girl I know. We weren’t raised together, but her father, my father, they do the same things. Same side. She mentioned that they have people who… who bury this kind of stuff. Keep it from getting out. Entire teams of people. When he was arrested, no one knew. No one ran the story.”
They probably already know that. Pete said he could make sure it got out. That his boss would ensure the right people saw it. Of course they know this. Her lips purse. She ignores the voice in her head, the one that belongs to her father.
“What did you plan for him?”
“I mean if I didn’t…” she gestures vaguely to herself. Live. Die. Whatever.
GM: Savoy chuckles.
“That’s because no one was applying counter-leverage, my dear. It’s different this time around.”
“If you hadn’t been Embraced, we’d have likely removed or suborned your father. Whatever seemed most beneficial to us.”
“But you were Embraced.”
“That changes a few things.”
Celia: Is this really a choice, or is it a test? She can’t fathom that she is anything more than another tool now.
“I don’t understand,” she admits, “why it changes anything. It sounded as if you had a plan already, why would my Embrace change that? It’s just… hard to imagine that my feelings on the subject matter.”
GM: “You don’t think they should, my dear? And why ever not?” Savoy asks. There’s some amusement in tone, but only superficially. He truly sounds as if he is asking why they don’t matter in her eyes.
Celia: Because her own sire didn’t want her. Because someone else did, and he took her from that woman, and now she doesn’t know what to do about it, or if there’s anything to do, or if the woman will be mad, or if she’s just another pawn in this game and it feels, definitely, like she is, and she doesn’t know what to do or what to think or who to trust. Because she wants her mom.
Because she’s stupid.
She doesn’t say any of this. She just looks at him, trying to understand why.
Finally, she says, “Because there’s clearly a hierarchy here, and I’m at the bottom of it.” Isn’t she?
And that stings, because she wants to think that she’s important, and he clearly is trying to make her feel important, but the fact is that no one planned for this. It was happenstance. An accident. She’s just another bastard, only this time there is no “real dad” she can maybe work up the courage to find one day. She already knows what he thinks of her. It hurts more than she wants it to. More than she thinks that it should.
At least Maxen fought for her.
GM: “That may be true,” Savoy declares in a musing tone, as if the fact hadn’t occurred to him. “But you know what all hierarchies, everywhere, have in common?”
“You’ve shown yourself to be clever and resourceful. Enough that, according to Pete here, you got one of the harpies to lend you power. Enough that Donovan couldn’t prevent the truth of your father from still coming out.”
Celia: “I wanted to hurt him. Because of what he did to me. And to my mom. To my whole family. But it wasn’t him that did those things, was it? I’ve seen what’s possible for us. What we can do, what we can make other people do. And if it was him, if it was Donovan the whole time, then… he’s the one who should pay. Because my dad was nice, once. Before Donovan got to him. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe Donovan just unleashed whatever was already in there.”
She doesn’t know what they want to hear. But she knows what she wants, and it has little to do with her dad.
“I want my mom safe. I want him to never be able to hurt her again. I want her to get the kids, and the money, and just be happy. I want her feet and legs to work. I want her to forget all of this. I want Isabel to forget all of this. For them all to just… to just stop being afraid.”
When she says it out loud it all sounds so… small. Like she’s supposed to want more. Like she failed, somehow, by wanting to keep people safe.
She wants blood, but not Maxen’s. Pete had already told her once not to go after Donovan and she did. She doesn’t want to hear it again.
“So if by ruining one we hurt the other, then… yes.”
GM: “Then I think the two of us may have an understanding,” Celia’s grandsire smiles.
“Let’s start with the easiest fish to fry first. Pete, what can we can tell Celia about her family, at this point?”
“Your mom’s in the hospital,” Savoy’s warden responds. “ICU. Had surgery and likely to have more surgeries. She’s pretty out of it. Your friends have been there to keep her company.”
“They got her toes reattached.”
“But it’s a lot of surgeries. Right now she isn’t in any shape to take care of any kids.”
“Your boyfriend said he spoke to your grandmother. He got her to obtain emergency custody over your brothers and sisters.”
“I doubt your old man was too happy over that, but the evidence wasn’t in his favor and right now Donovan has bigger things to care about than whether his dog is barking.”
Celia: “My boyfriend said he spoke to my grandmother? When did you talk to him? In what capacity?” It shouldn’t concern her, but it does. She doesn’t want him mixed up in all of this. She’s realizing, for the first time, that she’s going to have to deal with him. Unless they all think she’s dead.
“Hold on. Was the information on my dad already leaked?” Why pretend she had a choice, then? “What day is it? How long was I..?”
GM: “I spoke to your boyfriend earlier tonight,” Pete answers. “If this wasn’t already explained to you, we’re out of commission during the day. It was pretty close to dawn when Donovan dropped you. We hadn’t yet leaked anything. Your grandmother sought custody during the day, under her own initiative. So far, nothing’s hit the papers.”
“I spoke to her and your boyfriend in non-official capacity to better understand the lay of the land. I’m on homicide. So far, no bodies.”
Celia: “Homicide? Do they think I’m… dead? Did you tell them I was dead?” What is she supposed to do if her whole family thinks she’s dead?
GM: “Non-official capacity,” he repeats. “They don’t know what’s happened to you, but they’re all wondering. I helped them file the missing persons report and said I’d look into things. They think your father might have kidnapped you.”
Celia: Oh. Stupid.
GM: “That question does need to be resolved soon, one way or another, for the Masquerade.”
Celia: “Right.” Masquerade. That had been briefly touched on. She nods. “You said before that Donovan wouldn’t want his dog barking. What’s the bigger things he’s worried about, then?”
GM: “Media scandals and the viability of your father’s political future,” Preston states.
She doesn’t say stupid.
Celia: Celia hates her.
“So if they think my dad kidnapped me, where is he? Missing?”
GM: Pete shakes his head. “He hasn’t gone anywhere. He and your grandmother had a little tiff, in fact. She threatened to go to the media and drag his name through the mud if he didn’t back down over the kids.”
“She doesn’t expect that it’s going to keep him away long-term. He wants them back.”
Celia: “Thank you. For telling me, and answering my questions. All of you. Thank you.” She looks down, smooths her skirt over her lap. “I know you have other things to be worried about, bigger pictures to see to.”
She pauses. She’s out of her element here. Clever, Savoy called her, but she doesn’t feel clever, she feels… lost. Uncertain. Like no matter which move she makes it’s the wrong one.
She’s tired of being uncertain. She’s not a little kid anymore.
“Lord Savoy, I’d like to move ahead. With your plan. With what you wanted to do, the way you want to play this. You’re right.” She closes her eyes for a brief moment, opens them again to find his face. “Thank you for giving me time to process.”
GM: She finds it there and smiling contently. “Think nothing of it, my dear. If there’s one thing we have as Kindred, it’s all the time in the world.”
“There’s another thing, sir,” Pete speaks up.
Savoy motions for him to proceed.
“I wouldn’t put it past him to kill your mother,” the Kindred cop says, turning back to Celia. “Lots of people die in hospitals. Deaths aren’t investigated as closely. He knows she’s sought and even obtained temporary custody of his kids. If you stay missing and your mom kicks it, this whole scandal and custody case dies—or so he probably figures.”
“I’ve had some cops I know, former ones or just off-duty, stick around your mom’s room in case there’s trouble. But I don’t think your old man is likely to make any himself, at least initially. This is the sort of thing people in his position prefer to go to their friends in the shadows over.”
Celia: Her mom. Her mom is in trouble because of her. She could have had a happy, quiet life if Celia hadn’t pushed for her to do something more, if Celia hadn’t made her go after custody and child support and back pay and everything else. Instinct tells her to run. To find her mom, get her to safety. She fights against it; that’s what got her into this in the first place. And if she runs, then her grandmother is a target, or Stephen, or Emily. Anyone connected to her.
“Then we keep him busy, right? Donovan. We keep him busy for the time that it takes to bury Maxen, and then if Maxen is no longer useful Donovan doesn’t have a reason to go after my mom. Right?” It sounds too easy.
She should have just killed Maxen. Maybe it isn’t too late for that. Her nails scratch against her thighs. She’s a little kid at the adult table; she wants someone to tell her what to do, but she’s afraid to ask, afraid that he’ll take back what he said about her being clever if she asks. And if he thinks she’s stupid, and Donovan thinks she’s stupid, and her dad thinks she’s stupid, then there’s… no one.
“Can we move her? Is that possible?” Private facilities or something, someone has to have something, someone has to know of a place.
GM: “If Donovan doesn’t go after your mom, your father could still well do so himself,” Pete fills in, but looks to Savoy.
The French Quarter lord looks to Preston.
“How about that, Nat?”
“The French Quarter lacks advanced medical facilities. We could arrange for doctors to periodically visit a private room. If Miss Flores’ mother requires repeated advanced surgeries, however, poorer health outcomes are likely to result. Several alternatives could include relocating her to another hospital under a pseudonym, killing Miss Flores’ father to remove the potential danger he poses, or ghouling Miss Flores’ mother to eliminate the need for further surgeries.”
Celia: It just brings up more questions. She looks back to Lord Savoy once Preston is done laying out the options.
“For all the time that you said we have, I can’t help but feel a noose tightening around my neck.” Her smile is pained and brief. She continues in a smaller voice. “She’s my family. Like you are now.” Is that too familiar?
GM: The elder Toreador only smiles. Celia does not seem to have been.
Celia: She hesitates, then presses on. “I’d do anything for my family.”
Even if it means killing her dad.
Or going up against Donovan again. Round two.
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM
Celia: It doesn’t take long for them to hash out a plan regarding her mother and Maxen. Savoy, Preston, and Pete tell her that they’ll take care of the footage she obtained—with a verbal pat on the head for getting it in the first place—and Celia is left to handle the relocation of her mother. They said it would be easier if she ghouls the woman first, but that just doesn’t sit right with Celia. She’s concerned someone will see Diana up and walking around with no visible injury signs, so even though it’s more of a hassle to find a place with a private, first floor entry that doesn’t scream ‘best place to hide from vampires,’ Celia gets it done.
She asks Pete if he’d mind flashing his badge around the hospital in case there’s resistance from the doctors to release her mom, but it doesn’t sound like the people on duty are sad to see her go; they nod knowingly at the “private care” once Celia turns on the charm, and a very helpful man even hands over a copy of the medical records.
Not that Celia has any idea what she’s doing with them.
GM: Preston says Celia should hide her mother anyplace in the French Quarter, but emphasizes that it must be in the Quarter. That’s Savoy’s territory, after all. Pete goes with her, as she’s still “new to this.” The French Quarter lord wishes her good luck—“though I have a feeling you’ll make your own!” he concludes with a sly wink. Celia is also issued a phone with several numbers on it. She is told that Kindred-sensitive matters are best discussed in person and that phones should primarily be used to arrange meetings.
There’s a couple off-duty and retired cops at the hospital, including a smelly, one-handed old man with a lantern jaw who shares a somewhat strained-feeling exchange with Pete, but whom the latter thanks for the favor.
The scene in the hospital room feels almost hauntingly like six years ago. Celia’s mother lies motionless in a hospital bed. She’s wearing a ventilator over her face and has an IV stabbing through her arm. Adjacent machinery beeps sporadically.
Just like last time, she looks horrible. Her face is a black, blue, and purple mass of bruises, and her eyes look almost too swollen to see through. Just like last time, she’s in bandages and splints. This time it’s just her feet rather than her arms and legs.
But unlike last time, someone else is already there. Emily is slumped over asleep in a chair. A small pile of textbooks and binders sits nearby.
Celia: Somehow, seeing her mom’s condition makes all of this feel more real. She should have been prepared for this. She’d been the one to walk in on them, to interrupt them. This time she’d been able to do something about it, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling like she’d still failed her mom.
And now she has Emily to deal with. It warms her to think about Emily showing up for her family like this, but the inconvenience gives her pause. What is she supposed to do with Emily?
She doesn’t have to think about it long. She crouches down next to the sleeping girl and gently nudges her awake.
“Em. Hey, Emmy.”
GM: At Celia’s touch, Emily’s eyes snap open like a giant spider just crawled up her shoulder. Her eyes dart around like a prey animal looking for an escape route, then settle on her (likely former) roommate.
“Celia! Oh my g-”
She stares ahead for a moment with a horrified expression, then whispers,
“What happened to you!?”
Celia: Maybe, she reflects, she should have checked a mirror before she left.
“Maxen,” she says quietly. “I can tell you more later. It got ugly. But I don’t have time now. We have to move her. The detective is here to take her into protective custody. I didn’t expect to see you, but I’m glad you’re here. With her. When I couldn’t be. It really… it means a lot, Emmy.”
GM: Emily stares at Celia for a moment longer. That look of slow-dawning horror doesn’t leave her eyes as she thickly replies,
“Celia, she can’t leave. Look at her. She needs surgery again. Multiple surgeries.”
“She could lose her toes.”
Celia: “I know. They’re providing that. Listen, Emily, do you think I don’t know that? The risks? I’m aware of them. And there’s a place where she’ll be safe, with doctors who are going to perform the surgery, and Maxen won’t be able to come after her.”
GM: “I… don’t know how much you do,” Emily says slowly. She still seems to be staring at Celia rather than truly looking at her. “This, this is really serious. The doctors reattached her toes, but that’s the easy part. We still don’t know how much use she’s going to regain. Or if she can even keep them. She might have to lose her foot, if it goes bad enough.”
Celia: “You think she’d rather lose her life than her foot?”
GM: “She’s a dancer. A dance teacher. That’s still everything she does. These cops outside… they won’t be enough?”
Celia: “Do you want to know what he did to her, Emily? I saw the footage. He raped her. He pushed her down and berated her and raped her. And then he tied her to the bed and cut off her toes one by one while she screamed. Do you think a man like that is going to be stopped by the police? Think about it. When I called them six years ago they didn’t even come. No one came. He’s in bed with the police. I’d rather she be crippled than dead.”
“I get it. I get your concern. I do. That’s why I have a doctor ready. And yeah, it’ll cost more, and fine, I’ll pay. But he doesn’t get to touch her again.”
“And, Emily, I love you, I do, but she’s my mom. And I’m getting her out of here while she’s still alive.”
GM: The graphic description seems to tear Emily’s gaze away from Celia’s face, enough, all the way to what she’s describing.
Emily just holds her hand to her mouth for a moment, looks back to Celia’s mom, then back to her.
She doesn’t say anything for a moment. But her voice is muted when she does.
“I thought you said she could… be mine too.”
Celia: “How would you prefer her, then: dead, or missing a few toes?”
GM: “It just… it just feels like this letting him win, if she loses the dancing again…”
But Emily’s shoulders slump in defeat.
“Okay. Okay. Let’s get her out.”
Celia turns on her preternatural charm on some more medical personnel. Pete, who’s waiting outside, speaks to a couple others. They have glassy-eyed, automaton-esque looks as they obey his instructions, but don’t question or backtalk or do anything but obey. Getting the hospital bed downstairs is an arduous-looking task for the staff: at Pete’s “encouragement,” they sedate Celia’s mom so she can’t wake up and feel any pain from the journey. They load the bed into a van in the parking garage and fill it with assorted medical equipment. Pete quietly tells them out of Emily’s earshot to forget they ever did this. They look as if they really do.
It’s a too-bumpy, miserable-feeling ride with Celia’s comatose and half-dead mother. She and Emily sit in the back.
“I guess she’ll need to get tested for STDs. We didn’t know he raped her,” Emily says numbly.
And a pregnancy kit. Maybe Celia can slip her some of the morning after pill so she doesn’t have to face another decision on whether or not to keep a rape baby. She hadn’t even considered that. She touches a hand to her own stomach, wondering what would have happened if she hadn’t gone after dad, if Donovan hadn’t done this to her. Would the pill have worked, or a year from now would she and Stephen be at each other’s throats over diapers and finals?
It doesn’t matter now. Mélissaire was clear on that: vampires can’t have babies.
GM: “And pregnancy,” Emily says, as if having the same thought.
Celia: Maybe she’ll just castrate him.
GM: “I’m Catholic, but… I don’t know how you could even look at a baby, from that, and not think where they were from.”
Celia: “A rape baby? Imagine growing up like that. Not knowing how you were conceived. Finding out one day. You think that ruins a person? You think your parents ever actually love you?”
“You think anyone could love you?”
GM: “Were any of your brothers and sisters…?” Emily asks, then seems to regret it.
Celia: Celia shakes her head.
“They were happy, before. I remember. Logan was a baby before it got bad. It’s possible, but I doubt it.”
GM: “Do you wanna… do makeup on her, maybe? Just so when she wakes up, she doesn’t have to really see.”
Celia: “Mom had me young, you know. She was in high school. Her mom wanted her to get an abortion. Mom might have caved, but Maxen told off my grandmother, convinced his parents to let her stay with them. Sometimes I wonder why. If it was worth it. If he blames me for… not living his dreams, or whatever, if that’s why he hates me and Mom so much. Regret. You know?”
GM: “Wow,” says Emily.
“That just makes this whole thing even more fucked.”
“How do you feel about that, him also… saving you?”
Celia: “Conflicted.” She stares out the window. “Sometimes I wonder if they’d have been happy if I hadn’t been born. Or if she’d given me up for adoption. She wanted to dance in London. Paris. San Francisco. New York. He could have played pro football. Then I came along, right, and ruined it. Maybe they’d be different people. Maybe he’d still be a piece of shit. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because it wasn’t my fault. That’s what I have to tell myself, right? That it wasn’t my fault.”
Only it was her fault. She wanted a pony. A pony she grew tired of, but not before her dad traded his soul to get it.
GM: “I think whether they’d have been happy or not, it was their choice,” says Emily. “You’re not responsible for that.”
Celia: “At least he wanted me at some point, right?” Her laugh lacks humor.
GM: “Your friend’s right,” remarks Pete from the front seat. “I’ve known some people. Blamed themselves for what other people did.”
“It’s what a lot of victims like your mom do.”
“We usually think of in the context of rape victims, battered women.”
“But it’s just as self-injurious and plain wrong a line of thinking in any context. We aren’t responsible for other people’s choices. Even when we benefit from them.”
Celia: “Even if we’re directly responsible for them? Didn’t do something we should have, done something we shouldn’t have, and it took us down the wrong path and something bad happened?”
GM: “If we actually are responsible, we’re responsible. But we’re not responsible for anything before we’re born.”
Celia: That wasn’t what she meant, and she thinks he knows that, but she nods anyway.
GM: He seems to sigh.
But he doesn’t.
He just asks, “Look.”
“How bad do you want your mom to have her toes?”
Celia: “She doesn’t deserve to lose them.”
GM: “There might be a way. There’s a doctor.”
“But he’s a sick, twisted fuck.”
Celia: “More sick and twisted than Maxen?” They both know what she’s really asking.
GM: “Debatable,” Pete grimaces.
“Sick comes in a lot of flavors.”
Celia: She’ll bite.
“Yes. Sir. I’ll see if we can work something out.”
GM: “Turn here,” says Pete.
“He’s on the wrong side of the tracks.”
Thursday night, 2 April 2009, PM
GM: Celia’s destination is a run-down building lurking in one of the most abject, squalid, poverty-brlighted corners of the Lower Ninth Ward. Gunshots, car alarms, and boom boxes sporadically scream in the distance. Knocked-over fences, wooden boards, tree branches, tires, plastic buckets, and assorted other trash lie haphazardly scattered around the house as if Hurricane Katrina struck only yesterday. Several of the structure’s windows are broken and covered up with raggedy, dirt-streaked plastic tarps.
“Welcome to the clinic,” says Pete as the car stops.
Gunshots sound in the distance.
“Cover your face with something, before we go out.”
Celia: Cover my face? With what?
She almost asks where they are, but the shots in the distance make her realize it’s not a place she’s ever been before and probably doesn’t want to come again. Then again, she’s immortal. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to get shot. Maybe she should find out. Test the limits.
Not tonight, though.
Emily, luckily, brought her bag with her to carry her textbooks, and Celia rifles through it to find a scarf. She’s reminded of the time she went out the window and she almost laughs, wondering if her dad ever found the scarves that she’d tied together. She ties it around her head and over her face, covering her nose and mouth, then follows Pete.
GM: Emily also looks very skeptical of this. Pete tells her to wait inside the car.
He opens the back of the van, disconnects Celia’s mom from the mask and IV, then gingerly picks her up in his arms.
The rotted steps seem ready to collapse under Celia’s feet. Pete tells her to knock.
“Who’s there?” comes a deep voice from the other side.
“Lebeaux,” answers Pete.
There’s low, rumbling laughter.
“Come on in… detective.”
Celia: This isn’t sketchy at all.
Then again, she guesses not every Kindred can have a rooftop garden with butterflies and a jacuzzi. She’s suddenly much more grateful for landing on the lap of the lord of the French Quarter. She’ll have to appropriately thank him after this.
Celia reaches ahead of Pete to open the door so he can step inside.
GM: Pete steps inside once Celia does. The floor inside the ‘clinic’ is packed with grime, dirt, and crusted operational fluids. Water drips from a rotting ceiling streaked with black mold. There is not even a proper waiting room: just one large space that looks as if the owner simply tore down the house’s interior walls with a sledgehammer. The space such as it is, consists of a fluid-crusted operating table, a few battered-looking medical machines and IVs, various half-opened cardboard boxes, a large refrigerator, and bulky black bags that look like they’re read to be packed up and hauled away at a moment’s notice.
Then there’s the ‘doctor.’
He’s a stocky, mixed-race man built like a wrestler with broad shoulders and a thick, full beard. Although looks well over six feet in height, he walks with a slight stoop that makes him appear a bit shorter than he is. He’s dressed in a plain shirt and pair of pants that are spattered with blood and other, less identifiable fluids. His bones just hard against pallid, lifeless flesh, his eyes are deeply sunken in their pits, red veins sickly bulge against his too-thick muscles, and he does not once, ever, blink. He looks like a walking, grinning corpse. Celia hardly need register the absence of a heartbeat to observe that he is… Kindred.
He’s currently stitching up a shifty, twitching-eyed black man who’s repeatedly muttering, “Shit!” under his breath at Pete’s presence.
But he doesn’t get off the operating table. He is completely, paralytically still. Celia can smell the sweat dripping from his back as the smiling ‘doctor’ snips the thread, finishes up with some gauze and bandages, then coos at him to “Take it easy, now,” with patiently glinting eyes.
The man can’t get out of there fast enough.
“What do we have here, mmm…” the deep-voiced man smiles. His unblinking eyes slowly roam Celia and her mother. They feel like they’re sizing up the latter like a piece of meat.
Celia: Celia doesn’t do anything as overt as step in front of her mother. She doesn’t twitch, or shift, or let her face display the wariness that makes her wonder what the hell Pete has gotten her into—not that he’d be able to see it anyway, given the scarf over her face. Maybe that was the point of it. Huh.
“Ran afoul of a saw,” Celia says without preamble. “Heard you might be able to fix it up, Doc.” Doctor seems too formal for whatever this man is.
GM: The ‘doc’ extends an open, mock-inviting towards the fluid-crusted operating table.
“That isn’t sanitary,” Pete says tightly. “Good god, at least wipe it down first.”
“$1,000,” says the doc.
“Some markup,” observes Pete.
“If you could’ve gone to anyone but me. You would’ve,” rumbles the doc.
Laughter dances in his unblinking eyes.
“Wallet’s in my right pocket,” Pete says to Celia. He doesn’t set down her mother.
Celia: Celia reaches for the indicated pocket and pulls out the wallet. She, like many people who have cash to burn in a city like this, is good at only taking out what she needs and keeping the rest tucked safely away. She holds the money in her hand, looking at the dirty table.
GM: The doc smilingly pockets the money. Celia’s fast enough to see his blurring form work. He sprays cleaner. Wipes it down with paper towels taken from unopened plastic packaging. A second later, the table is immaculate.
“The deluxe treatment,” he purrs.
Pete sets down Celia’s mom. He’s wrapped a scarf around her face too.
“It’s her toes. They were sawed off. Doctors reattached them. Need them fully functional.”
The ‘doc’ looks over her mother’s bandaged foot.
“Doable,” he says.
“You’ll owe me.”
He looks at Celia, though.
“Take off the scarf.”
“Can’t do,” says Pete.
“Can’t do either,” the doc mockingly parrots back.
He looks back at Celia.
“Name. Face. So I can come after you if you default.”
There’s a wide, rictus-like grin under his beard at that statement.
“Not an option,” says Pete.
The doc just stares.
Celia: She still has the wallet in her hand. She taps a finger against it, raises her brows at the doc. “Double deluxe cover your burning curiosity?”
GM: There’s a low, rumbling laugh.
“You want cash for this. Lot more than double.”
Celia: “If I’m new I’ve got nothing to offer you anyway.” Celia jerks her chin at Pete. “His deal. His debt.”
GM: Pete shakes his head.
Celia: Helpful. Thanks, Pete.
GM: “How much money you got?” the Kindred cop asks Celia.
Celia: She slides her eyes across the room.
“No ATM? Five.”
GM: “We’ll wait for an ATM,” purrs the doc.
Celia: “Need to know how much to withdraw,” Celia points out.
GM: “$100,000,” says the doc.
“Opening high,” says Pete. “Forget it.”
Celia: “For three toes?” She laughs. Shakes her head. “No dice. Detective says you’re good. Nobody’s that good.”
GM: “So offer what they’re worth to you,” purrs the doc.
They negotiate back and forth. His final price isn’t $100,000, but it’s still astronomical—for Celia. It’s almost all of the money she got from whoring herself to Paul, her salon tips, her regular allowance—what’s left in her bank account will leave her as poor as Emily. Pete is expected to pony up quite a bit too.
All for her dance teacher mother’s toes.
It’s hard to say, that simple word, but she can’t justify it. Not that she doesn’t love her mom, but her whole world just ended, there’s no telling what she’ll need the money for.
GM: “I’ll pay,” comes a voice from behind Celia.
Celia: She turns.
GM: It’s Emily.
Celia isn’t sure when she showed up. How much she heard. But her friend’s eyes past her also scarf-masked face are plaintive. Desperate.
They’re the eyes of someone who didn’t have any family in the world. Until Celia said she did.
“I have scholarship money,” she says, but she’s looking at the doc rather than Celia. In fact, she very pointedly seems to be looking away from Celia.
“That goes to my tuition. I can…. put it towards this.”
Pete had told her to stay in the goddamned car. She had planned on doing everything, everything, that she could to keep Emily away from this, to keep her safe and happy.
She can’t give up college. For toes.
She’s failing anyway.
“You heard her,” Celia says to the doc.
GM: There’s low, rumbling laughter from the doc.
“Got it on you?”
“No,” Emily admits.
“Just give me some time.”
He just stares.
And smiles that wide rictus grin.
“Do you have a… payment plan?” she ventures.
That too-toothy grin spreads wider.
GM: He holds up an empty plastic blood bag.
“You’ll fill this.”
“Often as I want.”
“Until I have the money.”
Celia: Celia takes the bag from him. She doesn’t say a word. She grabs hold of Emily’s wrist, shoves the bag into her hands, and hauls her to the door.
GM: “No,” says Emily.
Celia: Celia doesn’t give her a choice. She physically drags Emily from the house.
“Listen to me,” she says very slowly, very carefully. “You are going to go sit in the car. You are going to wait until we are done here. You are not going to question me again. Got it?”
GM: Emily yells and struggles. But she isn’t any match for Celia. Not after the pact she made.
“I fucking AM going to question you!” she spits. “How could you DO that! She’s your MOM! Fucking MONEY!?”
Celia: Celia claps a hand over Emily’s mouth. She’s strong. Stronger than the college student.
“Shut up,” she growls, “you have no idea what you’re dealing with. Calm the fuck down, get in the fucking car, and sit on your fucking hands until I tell you not to.” There’s an edge to her voice, a command she hadn’t wanted to use but does now.
GM: Emily calms the fuck down as the weight of Celia’s supernal presence crashes into her. She silently lowers her eyes.
“Let her go,” comes a voice from behind the fledgling.
It’s Pete’s. It’s tight. Hard.
“I don’t see it being anyone’s business but hers who she wants to spend her money on.”
Celia: Celia lets her go. She spins to face the detective.
“She doesn’t know what she’s getting into. They’re already taking from her. She’s not -” it’s not fair, she wants to tell him, it’s not fair that it’s so much, that she has to choose, again, between her mom and her friend.
GM: “She’s not what?”
The detective’s glare is hard.
“Seems to me your loved ones are losing either way.”
“Least you can do is let them decide how.”
Celia: “I don’t want them to lose! I’m supposed to be able to do something, to keep them all safe from this, and I can’t. I did this, I messed up, and they’re the ones paying for it. And she’s in there—” Celia points at the decrepit building, “and…”
She moves past Pete into the house.
GM: The doc is sniffing her mother’s hair. His pale, so-thick hands rest almost tenderly on her slender shoulders. He looks like he could snap the unresponsive woman in half.
He smiles another wide, too-toothy smile at Celia. He doesn’t look in the least bit startled or ashamed at her ‘catching’ him.
Celia: “Yeah. She’s paying.”
She’ll get it back somehow. She’ll fix this too.
GM: The doc rolls his eyes. Celia can see their veined undersides.
“Then send the bitch in.”
Celia: Celia takes half a step toward the door, opens it to call out for Pete.
“She can’t watch,” Celia says to the detective, “she doesn’t know.” That’s why Celia had sent her outside in the first place. To fill the bag. Stay ignorant. Don’t you have to kill them if they know? That had been the threat hanging over her head.
GM: “That’s thoughtful of you to be so concerned,” responds the detective.
“Don’t worry, though. Hospitals collect blood all the time for transfusions. Sell it, too. It’s a lucrative market.”
Celia: “He said he needs her inside now.”
GM: “So what are you waiting for? You’ve both made your choices. College for toes.”
Celia: Celia’s jaw clenches. She calls out for Em, tells her to come inside. She avoids looking at Pete again.
GM: “You can pull your claws out of her head, too. She is choosing to do this.”
Celia: She does as he says. Her shoulders hunch, eyes shifting to the ground. She’d rather he just hit her. At least that heals.
GM: Emily walks in. She doesn’t look at Celia.
Some time passes.
She staggers out, barely upright. Her face is white as a sheet.
She lets Pete rather than Celia catch her.
“…said… be a… bit…”
Pete just nods. He helps Emily back into the van. She lies down.
He waits outside the ‘clinic’ with Celia.
He doesn’t talk.
Celia: It’s a very uncomfortable silence. She opens her mouth half a dozen times to say something, but the words never make it out.
GM: Pete looks at her when her mouth opens.
He doesn’t say anything.
Just looks disappointed.
Celia: That hurts worse than him saying something, too. She wants to cry. Her lip might even tremble a little bit.
“I don’t know what I’m doing.” Her voice is as small as she’s made herself.
GM: “Don’t you? Because to me it seems perfectly obvious.”
Celia: She presses her palms against her eyes.
“Every time I try to get it right, it goes wrong.”
GM: “You want to get it right? Go tell your friend that your mom’s toes are coming out of your piggy bank instead of her scholarship money.”
Celia: “I was going to. I wasn’t going to let her do that. To give up on that. I just needed a minute to think.” She doesn’t expect him to believe her.
GM: “By my count you’ve now had a lot more than one.”
Celia: “I guess they just move slowly through my head.”
GM: Just like her dad said they did.
Celia: “I didn’t want you to have to pay too.” She pushes off from the wall and heads toward the van.
GM: Emily is lying face-down in the backseat. She looks worse than ever.
Celia: Celia doesn’t know if her heart can break if she’s dead, but it does. It cracks and crumbles at the sight of Emily stretched out in the back. She slides into the van, reaching out to touch her friend. Her hand pauses before she does, though, stilled by shame and guilt.
“I’m sorry, Em. I’m so sorry.” The words pour out. She’s not giving up her scholarship. Celia is going to take care of it. She’ll take care of everything. It’ll be okay.
GM: Emily mostly just makes some inarticulate moans. She looks (and sounds) completely spent.
Some of her textbooks are strewn about the car’s floor.
Celia: “Yeah. We’ll talk tomorrow.” Celia still doesn’t touch her. She gathers her books together, though, and puts them back into her bag for her.
Then she waits, even though she feels like she should be with her mom. Only there’s a single one of her, and two people she needs to be with, and this is what she meant when she told Pete she doesn’t know what she’s doing. How is she supposed to keep them all safe?
GM: Pete still waits outside the ‘clinic.’ Eventually, the door opens. It’s the doc. Pete goes in. He comes out with her mom. The bandages over her foot are gone.
Celia: Celia gets out to open the door for him, hovering nearby in case he needs help loading her mom in. She doesn’t mean to stare, but she can’t help herself. Her eyes are drawn toward the foot. When Pete had said that he knew someone who could make sure her toes were in working order, Celia wasn’t quite sure that she’d believed it could be done, especially after watching the doctor bandage up the last guy. But this. This is… perfection, really. She helps Pete load her mother into the van, her eyes transfixed to the formerly sawed off toes. There’s no mark. No stitches. No thread. No scars. Her skin is smooth and clear and unblemished, pretty and pink and pliable. When Celia reaches out a hand to touch the toes bend without complaint. The tissue does not catch, the bones do not grind, her mother does not stir. Then Celia has the whole foot in her hand, and she does stare, transfixed by the craftsmanship.
How did he do that?
It’s beautiful. Pristine. So at odds with the clinic and the man himself.
She lets go after a moment, can vaguely hear herself ask Pete if they can find an ATM, with a promise to pay him back for everything.
GM: Her mother’s toes are everything and more that Celia expects them to be. Flawless, even.
There’s something else she sees too, as Pete loads her still-insensate mom into the car and the hospital gown slips. There’s an ugly, ugly mass of scar tissue along her right thigh. It’s deep and full of ridges and gouges, like shark teeth or cracked and dry earth, with tiny folds and wrinkles that further darken the whole thing.
Celia: “Wait a minute.” She catches the edge of the gown and pulls it to the side, though she’s careful to preserve her mother’s modesty as best she can. “What is that?”
GM: “Looks like a scar,” says Pete.
Celia: “I know that. I mean from… what?”
GM: “You tell me. Looks like an older one. There aren’t any signs of recent injury.”
The flesh is a normal pink, same as the rest of the leg.
Celia: “Saw,” she says faintly. “I thought he… I thought it was lower…” That night is a blur.
GM: She supposes that explains why her mom always wore over-the-knee dresses with thicker tights.
Celia: She lets the gown drop back into place, hugging her arms around herself as if that will keep the blame from knocking at her door again.
“Is that the kind of thing he can fix, too?” Not that she has anymore money. “Would… ghouling..?”
GM: “You’d have to ask him,” says Pete as they drive. “And no, it wouldn’t. The injury’s long healed.”
Celia: “How did he do it?”
GM: “Calls it a trade secret. Doesn’t let anyone watch him work.”
Celia: “But what he did… that’s not something we could have done, right? When my arm was broken, they made me drink, and it was fixed.”
“So if we hadn’t… she’d have not healed right? Because they were taken off?”
GM: “Maybe and maybe not,” says Pete. “I don’t know a lot about medicine beyond first aid, but depends on how well they were reattached. If you break someone’s arm, set it wrong, then feed them some juice, sure. It’d heal instantly. But it’d heal wrong, and you’d have to break their arm again to set it right. And you’d have to be pretty careful with how you did that, or you might just mess them up even worse the second time. Comminuted fractures especially aren’t anything to laugh at.”
“So with your mom’s toes, it really depends on how they were reattached. How likely she already was to regain their use. I’m sure you’ve already heard this, but the actual reattachment is easy. It’s regaining full use that’s the tricky part. Some patients actually have to get their body parts amputated again even after the surgeon reattaches them.”
“Juice, vitae, doesn’t do precise work like that. It just makes the flesh instantly knit.”
“It’s easy for us to delude ourselves into thinking we’re doctors. Better than doctors. That we can do all these things they can’t, and don’t need them anymore.”
Celia: “We just fix surface issues. Not the deeper stuff.”
Where else does that show up in her life?
GM: “We do a damn good job fixing those. Vitae is still any surgeon’s wildest dream in a bottle. Or a vein, I suppose. Miracle medicine. I’ve seen it save ghouls from injuries that could’ve left them dead on an operating table or crippled for life, and have them back on their feet fast as you could blink.”
“That’s precisely why it’s so easy to think we’re better than doctors. But I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to consider juice a healing accelerant, rather than a miracle cure-all, and to only use it on injuries I’m confident I could already diagnose and treat myself. For the complex stuff, like toe reattachment, it’s better to go to a lick who actually knows something about medicine.”
“All of this is a fairly niche subject in the eyes of most licks, though, since it mostly applies to breathers and half-bloods. We can recover from just about anything. It’s not often we need to talk to doctors.”
“That’s why there aren’t a whole lot of Kindred ones, despite how violent the all-night society is. Xola there is the only doc I know currently in town.”
“Which is a damn shame. My clan has another doctor. Friend of my sire’s, who says he’s a genius at surgery. If it were up to me, we’d have gone to him instead.”
Celia: “Why isn’t it? Up to you, I mean. If you know him. If he’s better.” Not that she’s complaining about going to the doc. Xola, apparently.
GM: “He hasn’t lived in the city for a while.”
Celia: “Oh. We can’t go outside the city?”
GM: “We can, though it’s dangerous and inadvisable to do without a good reason. Which this qualifies as, but his job makes him hard to contact. Pretty slim hope we could’ve reached him in time, with your mom needing periodic further surgeries.”
“He’s sometimes back in the city for Mardi Gras. You should talk with him then if you’re interested in this stuff.”
Celia: “I will. Thanks, detective. Warden.” There’s half a second of hesitation between the correction; she doesn’t know quite what to call him in this setting, and Pete seems too informal.
“Am I allowed to ask who your sire is? Were you a detective before you were, um, Embraced?” She hadn’t thought to ask earlier. Now she’s curious.
GM: “My sire’s a college professor named Erwin Bornemann. And I was.”
“I met him when I was taking one of his classes. He thought a detective would bring some fresh perspective to our clan.”
Celia: “What clan? How long’ve you been…?”
“Are these rude questions?” she tacks on.
GM: “I don’t find them so, though the older a Kindred gets, the less willing they generally are to entertain questions. I’ve been working exclusive night shifts for six years now.”
“I’m not old, as far as Kindred go. Not by a long shot, next to ones like your grandsire.”
“My clan is Tremere.”
The wizards, Mélissaire had said ominously. You can never trust them. The clan owns their souls. They will, always, always, be loyal to the clan over you. Over anything else. It controls them completely.
It’s unclear where, exactly, their magic comes from, too. The clan as a whole has a sinister reputation. The Camarilla accepts them as a necessary evil.
Celia: Celia sits with that for a minute. Tremere. Chase said he had magic, but she doesn’t think it’s like Mélissaire said the Tremere have.
“He’s who you meant, the other night? Lord Savoy. The one you’re working for.” Somehow it’s still a question, as if what Mélissaire said had gotten to her. Can she trust him? She treads cautiously. “The ghoul said you have magic. Is that how you knew about the deal? Chase said he did too. He did a thing with the drinks, but I think it was more sleight-of-hand. Like a… like a street performer.” She raises her brows at him.
GM: “He is. I work for your grandsire and my clan,” Pete answers.
The Tremere just gives an enigmatic smile at the question about magic.
Celia: She thinks better about questioning him further on his clan and retreats to a safer topic.
“Can I ask you something? You were… very adamant about me not showing my face. Is it because… was I a mistake?” Another rape baby, another bastard, another story of abandoned and unwanted by her daddy.
GM: “It’s because it’s better safe than sorry. How to handle this is very delicate. Your grandsire will suss out exactly how.”
Celia: He didn’t really answer her question, she notes, but she just nods.
GM: “I don’t know if you were a mistake or not. I don’t know what compelled Donovan to Embrace you. The way it’s panned out so far hasn’t seemed to benefit him at all.”
“Could be a deeper game I’m not seeing the angles to. Could be something went wrong. Could be an accident. Could be god only knows what.”
“Your sire’s always played things close to the vest. Opaque. Most Kindred have very little sense of what makes him tick.”
Celia: “What if I just ask him?”
GM: Pete doesn’t say it.
But she sees it on his face.
Hears her dad’s voice.
Celia: She crosses her arms. Looks out the window.
She knew before she asked.
Friday night, 3 April 2009, AM
GM: Conversation doesn’t flow after that. But Pete stops outside an ATM once they’re in a nicer neighborhood.
Celia: She gets out of the van without a word.
She fishes through the pocket in her skirt for her debit card, slides it into the ATM, and withdraws… everything. Every dollar. It goes back into the pocket with her plastic. But it’s spilling out, bulging, and she looks… weird. She transfers it to Emily’s backpack once she’s back in the van.
GM: The ATM has a daily limit. Pete drives her to some other ones. He also withdraws money. He finally drives her back to the ‘clinic.’
She gets out. Knocks.
“Come on in,” Xola rumbles.
Celia: Celia makes sure the scarf is still in place before she steps inside with the bag.
GM: There’s another car that quickly pulls away as Pete’s and Celia’s van pulls in. Inside, the operating table is stained with blood again. Fresh blood. She can smell it. The doc is licking it off as she approaches. His unblinking eyes steadily follow hers.
Celia: Her nose twitches. She eyes the blood, watches the doc lick it off the table. Some part of her wants to join him, bend over the steel table and lap it up. She stops breathing instead. Just stops. Stays near the door, ready to get outside so she doesn’t do something crazy, like ask for a taste.
Still, though, she sees the benefit in him doing this. Working this way. Smart, even. Meals delivered right to him. Like delivery, only they pay him too.
“Brought your money.” She hefts the bag.
GM: He plucks it from her grasp, dumps out the bills, and holds several up to the light.
“Guess your friend’s off the hook.”
He licks his lips. Smiles that wide rictus smile.
“She tasted great.”
Celia: “I bet she does.”
Celia wonders what it will be like living with the girl now, knowing that she’s right there, that any moment Celia can just… sink her teeth in. Maybe getting a place together is a bad idea. In fact, it’s a terrible idea. Not that she can afford it now anyway. She takes the backpack back from him.
“Can I ask you something? You fix old scar tissue, too? Old injuries?”
GM: “Scars. Sure,” he rumbles.
Celia: “Busted leg,” she tells him. “Loss of motion, of flexibility.”
GM: “Fixable. Probably. Show me the leg.”
There’s that same warmthless smile.
“Seems you’re pretty broke, though.”
Celia: “Seems you’re interested in more than cash.”
GM: “You are new.”
There’s a rumbling note of thunder-like laughter.
Celia: She shrugs. “Have to learn somehow. Might as well dive in. My mistake.”
GM: “I take favors.”
Celia: “How about an apprentice?”
GM: Another rumble of laughter.
“Got half-bloods. What do I need you for?”
Celia: “I’m good at makin’ ‘em pretty. Could add that service to your menu. Happen to know a few who’d appreciate it. Make it permanent?” She whistles. “Could be big.”
GM: Xola seems to consider her.
“Lose the mask. If you’re serious.”
Celia: “Mmm, love to. Babysitter outside, though. I’d be happy to come back once I lose him.”
GM: There’s a ding from a microwave behind the doc.
“Better not keep your sitter waiting then, little baby,” he purrs.
He turns around and opens it. Pulls out the thing inside.
He sinks his fangs into the soft cranium and sucks thoughtfully.
Celia can smell the coppery tang. But it’s so different from Emily’s blood, or the blood on the table.
It’s like how… a tadpole must smell. Or amniotic fluid.
The glistening little legs flop as Xola hefts the fetus up, leaving streaks of fluid along his thick beard.
“You want to work for me though.”
He rips the head off and pops it into his mouth. He sloshes it around, then spits brains and pulped, colorless fetus-flesh onto the floor.
“You’ll need stones.”
Celia: “I trust you’ll give me what I’m lacking in that department.” She makes a vulgar gesture toward her skirt, winks at him.
“Good evening, Doc.” She turns to go.