“You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants.”
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: Caroline’s mother takes her to the LaLaurie House at the agreed-upon time. Her only smiled response to the nature off her daughter’s business is that it’s “prudent to keep lines of conversation open.” Simmone accompanies her, like always. The half-asleep 10-year-old looks content merely to lie against their mother’s breast. The faceless driver, silent as ever, conveys them to their destination.
Abélia pays little heed to Ferris’ plans. They drive past the Garden District’s glorious old homes, through the CBD’s skyscrapers, past Canal Street, and down along Royal. They pass by hotels and tourist attractions, past the front doors of the Evergreen itself, and then finally the more residential portion of the Quarter where the LaLaurie House sits. No one attempts to waylay the Devillers’ black car.
Caroline: Caroline knew her mother would provide transportation without need for all the chaos and risk of Ferris’ own. Just as she’s confident in their ability to remove themselves from the Quarter when the time comes.
GM: The house on 1140 Royal Street, the same street as Antoine Savoy’s own center of power, stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for when it was built at three stories.
The driver parks the car and silently opens the door for his mistress. She emerges, Simmone held close to her breast, smiling widely at the sight of the house. Her dark eyes are wide and hungry as they drink it in.
The house’s iron gate silently swings open, admitting the three Devillers and their servant into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut behind them. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.
But tonight it may also feels like a place of refuge for Caroline, delineating an invisible line where her mother’s power begins—and which all other powers must overcome.
Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. The faceless man turns the knob. The door swings slowly open on silent hinges.
Caroline: The Ventrue proceeds into the damned place without fear or hesitation. In many ways it’s like being enfolded in her mother’s arms, if less fully than in their other home.
She knows of the damned history of this place and cannot help but wonder if it was once her mother’s home in the past…
GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. It smells mostly like it did last time. Clean and fresh, but now faintly of her mother’s perfume too. Violet, cool, and creamy. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.
“The living room should be sufficient for your purposes, my dear,” smiles her mother, stroking the back of her head with one hand. She carries a slumbering Simmone in her other arm against her hip.
“May Fortuna bless your endeavor.”
Caroline: “I’m happier accepting your blessing in it, Mother. I don’t know know what to expect.”
GM: “What comes will come, my dear,” her mother replies serenely. “Yet whatever comes, you may face it without fear. There is little that may harm or eavesdrop upon you within this place while I yet draw breath.”
With that final benediction, she withdraws into the gloom. Caroline settles in to wait. The living room looks much as it did last time. It’s tastefully decorated with delicate rococo furniture, persian rugs, classical artwork, and a ponderously ticking grandfather clock. Some family pictures constitute new additions. Caroline is in them. She looks around middle school, high school, and college age, respectively.
The Ventrue does not wait overlong, however, before she hears the sound of the front door closing, all-too audible to her hyper-sensitive ears. Two pairs of footsteps. One is thick, heavy, and near-silent. The other is the telltale click-click-click of a woman’s high heels.
Mélissaire Larieux rounds the corner, along with the faceless driver.
Caroline: Visit himself, eh?
Caroline is terribly amused when she hears the heels coming down the hall, long before Mélissaire comes into view. She wonders if he would have come himself, would have visited, if Caroline had invited him to the Giani Building. It amuses her to think he might be scared of her mother. That he might be right to be.
GM: The long-haired, comely-faced, and full-lipped quadroon ghoul shoots Caroline a wide smile as she bends to kiss the Ventrue’s hand.
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, it’s been far too long,” she greets in a distinctly male-sounding voice. One rather like Antoine Savoy’s.
“My sincerest congratulations upon your new family. These past months have been very hard for you. I can only imagine how much happiness your new mother and sisters have brought into your Requiem.”
‘Her’ smiling eyes don’t once leave Caroline’s.
Caroline: “Mr. Savoy, the charmer as always.”
And the deceiver. The manipulator. The plotter and conniver. How coincidental it was that Mélissaire was so quick to answer the phone when she needed her. That Lebeaux was so readily available to support her.
Many fools call her sire a tyrant and a monster as they gather close around the Lord of the French Quarter and his honeyed words. But she knows well his plots can be just as cruel, vicious, manipulative, and deadly as any justice or decree her sire might enforce.
“You truly do know how to make a girl feel welcome and desired. I was very flattered by the invitation to meet again. I hope it has not unduly inconvenienced you.”
GM: Mélissaire releases Caroline’s hand and sits down on the couch, crossing one leg over the other and casually extending her arms over the couch’s back. Despite the male voice, the ghoul’s body language still feels distinctly feminine.
“It’s an easy enough thing to make a desirable girl feel desired, my dear. She’s already done all of the heavy lifting,” Savoy winks.
“But on the contrary! Such a meeting is all-too convenient. You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants. He is, shall we say, disinclined towards dialogue.”
Caroline: Despite knowing him for the liar and flatterer that he is, it’s hard to ignore the Lord of the French Quarter’s charm. She smiles.
“I’d characterize it by your natures,” Caroline agrees. “You, raised at court amid beautiful lies and intrigue, and he on the battlefield amid ugly truths and a rather more direct answers to most problems.”
“Fire and water, really, one destroying everything in its path, the other taking whatever shape best fits.”
GM: Savoy grins.
“Poetry like that makes me think the Rose Clan lost out by not Embracing you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”
Caroline: “Many have missed the ship, I’m afraid. I’ll be very amused to watch them realize it,” Caroline answers with a very vicious grin.
GM: The French Quarter lord’s own remains just as wide.
“You and I both, my dear. You and I both.”
“But I think you’re more than content with the ship you’re on, too. The scepter suits you better than the rose.”
Caroline: “They both have their merits,” Caroline replies. “We don’t really change who were are. At least, I couldn’t. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extremely flattering bid the roses made. I cannot imagine very many have received that much attention, or seen that much effort. It was very compelling.”
Right up until it wasn’t.
GM: Another smile.
“It’s an easy thing to make compelling offers to compelling recipients, too, my dear. Or perhaps not so easy! That mine failed clearly indicates one or the other was insufficiently compelling, and I’m quite certain it wasn’t the recipient,” he winks.
“But I’m not one to dwell on the past, beyond what lessons I can take to prepare for the future.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk with you about tonight, Miss Malveaux-Devillers—the future. Your future.”
Caroline: A light laugh. “I’m grateful the Toreador bid came form someone self-assured enough not to hold a grudge.”
GM: Savoy smiles and makes a languidly waving motion, as if to bat aside a fly.
“It’s as I said when we last spoke, my dear. Politics go so much smoother, and so many more opportunities open up, when one doesn’t take things personally.”
“But as to the future and its opportunities. By my estimate, the future others intend for you is as a figurehead to Seneschal Maldonato, once your sire enters his sleep. And perhaps other elders.” Mélissaire strokes her chin in seeming thought. “Is this the future you hope to achieve?”
Caroline: It’s an interesting contrast, the feminine body language with the elder’s mannerisms.
“That would certainly be a very conventional hand-off of power,” Caroline concedes.
“It makes some very interesting assumptions about the state of the city when he goes off to his rest, however. I think so many of you misjudge him, my sire, in believing that he might be worn down, harried into exhaustion. He will not lay down his crown or his sword so long as there is work to be done. They tempt him not with rest with each provocation, but with wrath.”
GM: “A lion can be most dangerous when he is most wounded,” Savoy concurs. “Is that the future you envision, my dear, that your sire lays low his greatest threats before he takes his rest?”
Caroline: “I think it the most likely outcome along the current path,” Caroline grants.
“Though it is not yet clear to me who those threats are.”
GM: Savoy smiles.
“I’ll offer you some advice, my dear. Those of us who survive eternity don’t make gambles—or at least fair ones. We never bet on a single horse.”
Caroline: “Wisdom,” the Ventrue agrees.
“I believed, you know, for some time that the two of you might not be at such crossed purposes as many supposed.”
GM: “Classic shell game?” Savoy grins. “Pick a shell, any shell, the ball is up the confidence man’s sleeve the whole time?”
Caroline: She laughs. “Oh, that might be a New Orleans classic, but I imagined nothing so crass.”
“More that anyone who would place a crown upon their brow must know the first response, as certain as any rule in physics, must be the rise of an opposition.”
She tilts her head. “Better someone you could tolerate, perhaps with a dash of the enemy you know. Not everyone plays by the same civilized rules.”
“The piece many forget this night and others. There are as many who would flip the board as play to win.”
GM: “Better the devil you know, if the devil is unavoidable,” Savoy concurs.
“Your sire and I aren’t working together, as you’ve aptly deduced. The Sanctified are a house divided. But perhaps, once the prince takes his rest, and with the seneschal willing, we could again become one undivided.”
Caroline: Caroline gives an amused but skeptical look.
“Is that what you wish?” she asks in turn.
GM: The French Quarter lord smiles and shrugs. “It’s one of many futures I’ve turned over. It’s one of a smaller but not insignificant number I find acceptably conductive to my goals and interests.”
“Your sire’s torpor makes possible many futures that weren’t previously on the table, my dear. Perhaps you’ve turned over some in your head as well. It’s a favored pastime at Elysium these nights, though many Kindred are limited by small vision. Many Kindred lack the perspective and imagination to realize just how different the New Orleans of the future could look.”
Caroline: He’s not wrong, though she suspects few have considered the scope of the destruction they might cause, and the outside forces that would invite.
“Respectfully, I find playing second fiddle in that unified Sanctified to be a role that would ill suit you.”
GM: Savoy chuckles.
“Astutely observed, my dear. Yes, if I was content to play second fiddle, I could have kissed your sire’s ring long ago.”
Caroline: “I could see it happening, but I expect it would require some significant external force. A threat, to remind many of us how much more alike we are than different.”
Not unlike Republicans and Democrats there.
GM: “There were some Kindred who hoped Katrina might be that force. That the storm would change the game forever—wipe out the Baron and drive the Sanctified back together.” He chuckles again. “But that’s exactly the problem with threats of such magnitude. Too hard to control. Too many variables and unintended consequences to predict.”
He winks. “Too much trouble for any unity-minded Kindred to orchestrate, usually.”
“For my part, the nights of being content with a primogen seat and recognized regency are long past. But I’ve always prided myself on my flexible thinking. The raison d’etre for the Sanctified’s present conflict, the desire for one Kindred or the other to be prince, would be defused if Maldonato and I were to simply rule together.”
Caroline: And where exactly would that leave me? Caroline doesn’t ask.
“One can hardly blame you for setting your sights higher. You’ve enjoyed uninterrupted success of late,” she instead agrees.
“There are so many of late though that would be prince. I’m afraid many are going to end up disappointed no matter the outcome.” She puts the slightest inflection on the word.
This game is, after all, played for keeps.
GM: “I imagine my childe would be most disappointed of all,” smiles Savoy. “He’s the closest to the throne, after the Baron and I, and certainly wants it rather more than Cimitière.”
Caroline: “The great enigma to everyone,” Caroline quips, “though perhaps less so to you?”
She doesn’t believe it for a moment. She smiles.
“He did not seem terribly enthusiastic to discover my lineage. Though, oddly, he did not seem especially surprised either.”
GM: “It is so much easier to spill a secret than to keep one. My childe couldn’t have picked a better time to know this one, though, with the poor bishop’s disappearance.”
“If I were him, I would pin the blame on you for the deed.”
Caroline: “What an immensely unpleasant idea,” Caroline scowls. “Surely you wouldn’t suggest that his ambition might cloud his desire for justice, would you?”
GM: “It makes sense when you think about it. I know my people aren’t why he’s disappeared. The Baron is the next-most obvious culprit, but that story rings hollow too—most recent conflicts have been between my people and your sire’s. Killing Malveaux draws the Baron back into the fray when he should be happy with the status quo of his enemies fighting each other.”
“So that leads me to believe Malveaux’s final death served an individual rather than factional purpose. Enter Caroline Malveaux-Devillers as the bishop’s killer. He was the strongest ally of her greatest rival. Her previous bad blood with him is known among the Ventrue.”
Savoy grins. “Convincing story, isn’t it? It’d be my first choice as the sheriff.”
Caroline: “Perhaps to an outsider,” Caroline smiles. “But it’s well known among the city’s Ventrue that the bishop and I buried our differences some time ago, and with my imminent acknowledge by my sire, what reason would I have to risk that, tear down my sire’s allies, and rip out the newly-growing relationship with the bishop all at once?”
GM: “I would venture ample reason, for a panoply of reasons.”
“Burying the hatchet is what I’d have done before killing him, too.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh when the Toreador elder observes it’s the same thing he would have done.
“I suppose I shall take that as a compliment.”
GM: The French Quarter lord smiles. “Don’t worry, my dear. Any accusations from me will seem like obvious smears. I have no credibility in your sire’s eyes. It’s the sheriff I’d be afraid of. He’ll surely bring evidence, real or manufactured, to back up his accusations.”
“It’s very inconvenient. I don’t think he’d be inclined to support—and has every reason to sabotage—any kind of deal between myself and Maldonato, given his desire to be prince. He has every reason to want you dead even if he’s not able to pin the bishop’s death on you. That would just be my first strategy, if I were him.”
Caroline: The laughter dies away as he continues more soberly.
Real or manufactured. He’s fishing.
“I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that I can ‘deal’ with the sheriff, but that outcome was foreseen. It’s fortunate there are such other compelling perpetrators.”
GM: “There are,” Savoy nods. “The truth of who did the deed is immaterial, next to who can tell the most compelling story, and who makes its most compelling villain. I’ve already had a few candidates in mind.”
“Perhaps we might help each other where that and the problem posed by the sheriff are concerned.”
The thought is intriguing. Dangerous, but intriguing.
“Is there another particularly compelling narrative?”
GM: “There’s always the Baron. The threat he poses grows every night.”
“Or perhaps the sheriff himself.”
Caroline: She smiles, knowing the first answer is a shallow cover for the second.
He’s always known just what to dangle in front of her.
“What an idea.” She raises an almost sultry eyebrow.
“What ever might the sheriff have to gain by the death of the bishop?”
GM: “Something practical, it would have to be,” Savoy muses, stroking Mélissaire’s chin. “Crimes of passion are out of character for him.”
“Evidence of treachery on the bishop’s behalf, and support of another would-be prince. Or the advancement of his childe’s fortunes. Someone will need to take over as bishop.”
“Do any other motivations occur to you, my dear?”
Caroline: “Oh, what of the rumors the bishop was increasingly close to Ms. Malveaux-Devillers, on the eve of her recognition by her sire?”
GM: “Mmm. Can your clanmates corroborate those?”
Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline answers.
GM: Mélissaire raises an eyebrow.
Caroline: “Better to replace the bishop than to risk him flipping. Especially when he can so powerfully influence the next choice. Someone more malleable, more reliable for him, more tied to him.”
GM: “Doriocourt, then. The basic story is plausible enough. All that’s necessary is to manufacture physical proof. So much the better if Wright or Angello are the ones to locate it. Their first loyalties are to the prince.”
“Do you still have his ashes or clothes?”
Caroline: Caroline places a hand over her mouth in shock. “Surely you’re not suggesting that I actually had anything to do with his murder.”
GM: “I know someone who can fix them and plant psychic misimpressions. They’ll be a smoking gun to anyone’s inspection but the seneschal’s, and may fool even his.”
The French Quarter lord looks largely past innuendo.
“We’ll plant other corroborating evidence, of course. A frame-up should never rely on just one piece to come together. But like Louis at court, one object must be the sun around which all others rotate.”
Caroline: “How about you turn over the devices you seized from Claire’s room?” Caroline suggests.
“How’s this for a narrative: hunters turned over by eager loyal childe to be disposed of, used by conniving sheriff to rip out the heart of the archdiocese?”
“And to wit, weren’t we just hearing about how he was beginning to learn the basics of blood sorcery? I suspect he’ll display far more aptitude than night be expected in such a short time.”
She covers her mouth. “In fact, isn’t abnormal prowess much of his claim to success, from his first nights? Surely you chose very well your childe, that his blood is so potent and his prowess so advanced.”
GM: Savoy grins. “I’ve never been accused of choosing poorly with Donovan. Only too well.”
“But I’ll propose a trade, my dear. Your former mother’s devices in return for the bishop’s remains.”
Caroline: Which, even if she had them, would be saturated in her own aura. It would be a permanent piece he could hold on the board, a long-term card to be played against her at any time to extract a concession.
GM: “Mmm. Somehow my hunch is that’s a no. Can’t blame a Kindred for trying,” Savoy chuckles.
“Unfortunately, those pieces of evidence also are smoking guns, and at least one smoking gun will be required to make your sire remove the sheriff. He’s too useful and too important to remove based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. The frame-up job will need to be flawless. Is there another smoking gun we might plant?”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “I think you know there is.”
“But I suspect you have something else in mind for that particular piece on the board.”
GM: “I don’t, in fact, my dear. We elders don’t have every scheme plotted in advance, you know,” Savoy winks. “Eternity favors improvization as much as foresight.”
Caroline: “Certainly. I imagine too existence could be quite boring if you’d see me coming,” Caroline baits.
“But I cannot but suspect you know exactly what sorts of indiscretions your childe has gotten up to.”
GM: Savoy offers a wide grin.
Caroline: “Laying that aside, though, how about a witness that can testify to his active direction of hunters against pillars of the prince?”
GM: “Yes, that might well do it. Especially if they haven’t had their memories tampered with. That’s the first trick I’d suspect if I was him.”
Caroline: “Framing him for something he probably did. The novelty of it,” Caroline muses.
GM: The French Quarter lord’s grin remains in place.
“Warden Lebeaux will contact you to coordinate the details.”
“Your mother’s house seems as good a place as any to do that.”
Caroline: “Better than most,” Caroline laughs happily.
She lets the silence hang for a moment.
“Who is he, really?” she finally asks, having skirted the topic.
GM: “A missed opportunity, alas, in the end. He could have been the sharpest arrow in my quiver.”
“One of the reasons I think your sire was so eager to take him in was to make me experience some measure of the embarrassment and betrayal he’d suffered himself.”
Caroline: “Oh,” Caroline muses, “I think he’ll teach all of us a different kind of lesson before he’s through.”
GM: “Someone will need to fill his shoes after he’s gone.” Savoy smiles. “The sheriff’s, not just the prince’s. I’m picturing a new Guard de Ville. Doriocourt is too loyal to her sire, and Agnello is too unstable, if his recent outburst is anything to go by—those sorts of problems tend to get worse rather than better. I’m seeing a Hound Wright, Hound Lebeaux, Hound Ferris—I’m sure his Embrace isn’t a new idea—led by a Sheriff Malveaux-Devillers. Preferring cunning investigation to crude beatdowns, but more than capable of delivering those too, when necessary. They’d be underestimated at first, for their youth, but I have a feeling they’d turn that around in very short order.”
The Toreador grins.
“A new brand of law for a new age.”
Caroline: “Truly you’re an icon of your clan with the poetic symmetry to such an idea,” Caroline admits. “I’ll remember the offer, presuming it is an open one. I’m not quite ready to cash in my own chips yet, you understand.”
GM: “More earned, my dear, than open. Were you to help realize a future with a united Sanctified, and convince the seneschal of my proposal’s merits, rich rewards would be only your due.”
“Were you to be of more limited assistance in realizing one of my preferred futures, then more limited rewards would be your due. Everyone in my court gets what they earn.”
Caroline: “We’ll have to see what the future holds, then,” Caroline smirks. “I don’t think I’d be half as intriguing to you if I said yes to that idea tonight.”
GM: “A word of advice there, my dear. You have a tendency to fence-sit. It closes more doors than it leaves open,” Savoy winks.
“I am always open to making deals. For tonight, I think our business is concluded.”
Caroline: “Far be it to gainsay a distinguished guest about my character,” Caroline agrees.
“But don’t mistake me. I’m happy with the side I’m on, and tonight I’m playing to win, not for third or fourth place. Settling for sheriff feels like selling just before my stock goes up.”
“This meeting is being… mindful. And polite. And respectful to someone who’s played at the high table for much longer than I’ve been alive. I’m as willing to cultivate relations and golden parachutes as any corporate-class white woman.”
“You really did come close, you know. I don’t want to sell short all you did, or that I appreciated it. Even though you forced my hand, forced me to murder Claire, and sheltered the scum that took a shot at my sister—for you and I, it’s not personal.” She smiles. “At least not in that way.”
“There could be much worse princes, depending on how all of this goes. I know rank-order balloting is the devil and all, but I’d sooner crawl in bed with you than do so with any of the other contenders or go out in a blaze of glory.”
“And no matter who wins the prize, I expect there’s… things we could do for each other.”
GM: The words make her skin crawl as they leave her mouth. They make the collar’s weight feel suddenly heavier.
Her sire would not approve.
“I am so very pleased to hear you say so, my dear,” smiles Savoy. “You’re rather more open-minded than your sire is. That’ll pay dividends. As this cooperation over the sheriff rather proves!”
“But I think I am mistaken, in fact. I’d thought sheriff to be the more appealing offer than, say, my hand in vermillion marriage.”
“Nat thought I should put that on the table.”
Caroline: “The most eligible bachelor in town. Maybe on the entire Eastern Seaboard. I’m flattered.”
“I think as is to be expected, though, that your wisdom triumphed over hers. I don’t need to tell you how I expect my sire would react to such an offer.”
“My father once told me that was the ultimate judge of a man, by another man. Whether they were worthy of their daughter.”
“Never mind what the daughter thought.”
GM: “I suspect it’s not entirely up to the daughter, if the father’s treatment of his other servants is any indication,” answers Savoy.
“There are ways to break such chains.”
Caroline: She sighs. “Can I call you Antoine while we’re here?”
“Lord Savoy makes me feel quite uncomfortable in one way, and Mr. Savoy in quite another.”
GM: “Only so long as I may have the pleasure of calling you Caroline,” grins the French Quarter lord.
Caroline: It’s disconcerting, in some ways, to see his grin peak out from the decidedly feminine face.
GM: Indeed, the expression looks nothing like Mélissaire’s.
Caroline: “Of course,” she answers. “Given how close we are to family in some ways already, the stuffiness feels decidedly unwelcome.”
GM: “Caroline it is,” Savoy repeats approvingly.
“I know how suspicious your mind can run, too, Caroline, if the first thing on it is favors owed in exchange,” he smiles.
He waves an absent hand.
“Asking such a thing would be superfluous. There is inherent benefit to me in having my rival’s childe be free-willed.”
Caroline: “Does not this meeting put to rest fears as to how free my will may be?” she asks.
GM: “I should instead say it paints a flattering picture as to the strength of that will,” Savoy declares with an approving look.
“But please, my dear. Your sire may be loath to speak with me, and he would be equally loath to admit this, but we know each other well.”
“Study another man’s decisions and consider his thoughts for as long as we have, and you cannot help but come to know him.”
“Sometimes I feel as if I know your sire better than I know many members of my own court.”
There’s another wink. “That familial closeness of yours.”
Caroline: Her eyes glitter in the shadows of the house.
“You’re very discerning, and no doubt you know me in turn. Antoine, it was not chains of blood that brought me to bow before him the first time. I was well chosen to fill the role of dutiful childe.”
“I will not betray my sire while he rules, nor I will not bring about the end of his rule.”
“But one way or another, that shall not be for much longer. And no matter what I might be to him, I cannot be him. What then we might be to each other will be for us to decide.”
“Until that night, there are foes aplenty for each of our dreams, your ‘childe’ and his master not the least among them.”
The shadows seem to shift and her eyes glitter again.
“While the two of you have torn each other to pieces, others have grown fat feasting on the flesh you’ve left behind. For everyone’s sake they could use to be leaner.”
GM: Savoy laughs with good humor.
“Leaner indeed! Half the city is waiting for the chance. The Baron isn’t the only vulture hungry for such a meal, for all the wagging tongues in Elysium might say. Just the biggest one.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs along with him, but her expression has sobered by the time Savoy finishes speaking.
“They’re not waiting, and every clash between you fills their courts with dissidents, the wreckage the two of you have left behind.”
“And as unflattering as it might be, I wouldn’t mind clearing it away before we’re all up to our chests in filth.”
GM: “Perhaps you’re better informed than me, my dear,” Savoy smiles, “but recent events have seemed to increase my support more than any third parties’.”
“But let it be well that other actors predicate their power upon my actions! Let every piece of flesh they consume be prepared by my hand and eaten at a feast I have thrown. Nat can quote it better than me, but I think The Art of War has a few things to say about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself?”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, no, that won’t do, Antoine.”
“There’s a much more appropriate reference for someone with our ambitions.”
GM: “And you call me the flatterer, Caroline,” he grins.
“Alas, I fear I may not be so well-read as yourself or the seneschal. What author would you quote instead?”
Caroline: A grin. “Machiavelli.”
GM: “Ah, of course. Even I don’t disagree with him. Fear is better than love, if you have to pick one. But why settle for one?”
Caroline: “Duality. I think though you have grown accustomed to love. Or at least, others have grown accustomed to loving you.”
GM: “The dagger is incomplete without an accompanying cloak,” Savoy glibly concurs.
Caroline: “It’s usually the knife you don’t see that gets you,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “You spoke of cleaning filth, Caroline. Is this something else you would like to do for one another?”
Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I’d argue we’re already doing it with the sheriff, but I’d be open to taking some of the other riffraff off the board, and as the saying goes, two is better than one.”
GM: He motions.
“Proceed, my dear.”
Caroline: She rests her chin on one hand, the elbow propped up on her knee. “Plenty, but let’s start with the devil we know. Something about building trust and all of that. I don’t expect this to be the last time we’ll speak like this.”
GM: “I should sincerely hope not,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “It would be a terrible loss to be deprived of the company of the city’s most upwardly mobile neonate. There is much that any elder might learn from her.”
“But very well, let’s return to the sheriff. What else would you speak of concerning him?”
Caroline: “Flatterer. How many other secret childer does he have in the city?” Caroline muses.
GM: Savoy only smiles, expression unwavering since his last words.
Caroline: She smiles back. “Too on the nose. A less pointed one, then. How close was he to René?”
GM: “As close or as distant as we need him to be, of course. I have ample enough evidence of Mr. Baristheaut’s activities in the Quarter. How would you wish to leverage that relationship against the sheriff?”
Caroline: “My Embrace was no accident. Nor was my trip to the Dungeon. Nor were either uncalculated,” she observes.
“Someone wanted me there with purpose. A purpose who had little to do with me. Someone who knew of plans that were very carefully guarded.”
GM: “And you believe that someone was my childe. On what grounds?”
Caroline: “There are few surer ways to lure the seneschal into a conflict than to play to his morals, and few foes in the city that might defeat him.”
“Had he been destroyed beneath the Dungeon, as was planned, it would have solved a great many problems for the sheriff.”
GM: Savoy strokes Mélissaire’s fingers along ‘his’ chin. Where his half-beard would normally be.
“That scenario is more difficult to see. Maldonato can’t rule on his own, yet also constitutes a critical pillar to the Sanctified. What benefit is there to my childe in tearing down the house he seeks to be master of?”
Caroline: “Does he?” Caroline asks.
The ghoul really is quite fetching.
It’s not something she’d have noticed before the Embrace, but the subtle curve of her throat…
“Many assumptions made about Donovan. That he is the prince’s loyal servant. That he is bound to the prince. That he is one of the Sanctified. That he desires to lead the Sanctified.”
Her eyes light up. “That he’s your childe.”
“I don’t mean to doubt my elders,” she continues, “simply to propose, who else had the knowledge and means to accomplish such a thing? Someone close to the prince…”
GM: Savoy grins at her words.
“Assumptions are a lot like breathing, some say. You never really notice you’re doing it until you stop. And then it’s usually too late to do anything.”
“It’s an intriguing narrative, to be certain. But without hard evidence, it will do little to move your sire in this matter.”
Caroline: “What would that evidence look like?” she asks.
“Forgive me, I’m so very new at this.”
GM: Savoy chuckles.
“Many Kindred have underestimated you, my dear, to their great and even terminal detriment. That shall not be me.”
Caroline: “Charmer. But I’ve confirmed much of what you already suspected, certainly you can give me something on this topic.”
GM: “Certainly. I can say I am in possession of no hard evidence that links the sheriff to any attempt made upon the seneschal’s unlife.”
“Regrettable, as such evidence would indeed be a smoking gun.”
“Little would arouse your sire’s wrath more than an attempt to harm that which is dearest to him.”
Caroline: “Regrettable, as you say, that he hasn’t lept upon his sword,” Caroline agrees.
“We’ll have to settle for the longer game. No doubt Mr. Lebeaux will have some ideas to get us started.”
GM: “So we shall. Oh, another thing, my dear. I’m calling in one of the markers you owe me. Let’s say the one for recovering your brother Westley’s body.”
“I’d like the full story of your meeting with your sire and his discovery of his newest childe’s existence.”
Caroline: She can almost feel the collar tighten around her neck as the elder’s pretty ghoul puppet sneaks the words out.
Caroline’s blue eyes flicker in the shadows of the house. “Antoine, and here I thought you’d suggested you weren’t interested in fucking me.”
She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I would never shrink from honoring my debts, but that’s a story of another caliber entirely.”
“If you want the full story, we’d be significantly more than even.”
GM: “I always collect what is owed me, Caroline,” smiles Savoy. “As will any Kindred who’s made anything of themselves. Never expect your debts to be forgotten.”
“But that sounds eminently reasonable. Why don’t you start at the beginning and leave off at whatever point you think is worth a single boon.”
Caroline: “Without trying to be difficult, I’d feel I was more honorably balancing the scales if you gave more context on your interests. There were many matters that came up that reach that bar. I’d hate to give you something you already know.”
GM: “Your sire’s response, my dear. What actions he took upon receiving such a surprise.”
Caroline: “Not what we would have arrived at.”
The words taste like ash in her mouth.
“He was furious, disbelieving. His anger shattered the entire room.”
“As you no doubt suspected, he was previously unaware.”
GM: She feels the collar tighten around her, like the coils of the great snake sitting across from her. It crushes her, squeezes her, threatens to wring her will from her under its intractable might.
Donovan was for his own good.
Donovan is a traitor.
Betraying his private thoughts and confidences to his great enemy?
She shouldn’t have done it.
She shouldn’t have ever accepted favors from this snake.
It’s her fault.
She should have known he’d call them in, and what else is his foremost goal if not the theft of everything her sire has worked so hard to build?
“Simple deduction, my dear,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “Your sire would have bound any childe sired by his vitae, and there is little that might have stopped him—the Cabildo’s wishes included. Ergo, he was unaware of you.”
Caroline: She shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t have, in a better Requiem. But they made that choice when they shut her out, threw her to the wolves.
And she did. And even her sire is bound by the promises he makes.
GM: “You’re fortunate to have survived, in any case. His direct wrath is no small thing to weather.”
Caroline: Her throat is tight, so very tight. She can’t breathe.
But then, she doesn’t need to.
“He remedied that mentioned error,” she squeezes out between tight lips.
Her fingernails dig into the soft wood of the chair.
“Does that satisfy your curiosity?”
Curiosity. As though his interest has ever been so benign.
GM: Savoy gives her a sympathetic look.
“I can’t imagine sharing this story is easy for you, my dear. The blood oath is no small thing to rebel against, either.”
“I’ve offered once. I shall offer again. Should you wish to slip your chains, there are avenues available.”
Caroline: “I don’t,” she snaps, nerves frayed to the edge.
Awful enough that she has to resort to this—to plotting in the dark. Skulking about. For his own good or not, for the future of the entire city or not, there’s nothing about this that feels good or right.
She spent a great deal of effort, and a great deal of blood, for the privilege of serving her sire.
GM: The French Quarter lord just nods, seemingly taking the second ‘no’ in stride.
“I’m afraid it does not satisfy my curiosity, my dear. I’d already deduced your sire bound you and was unaware of your existence. It’s little surprise, either, that he was angry. So there’s equally little here that’s new.”
He strokes ‘his’ chin again.
“But it would be quite impossible for most Kindred to obtain direct access to the prince. The only individuals I can think of who might arrange that are the seneschal, the sheriff, and the Hussar. The sheriff has little cause to introduce you to your sire, and anything the Hussar already knew, he’d have already told his master. So that leaves the seneschal as the third party present.”
“Tell me, how did the conversation between them proceed?”
“I’m sure that between the two of you, he did the initial talking.”
Caroline: “It is one thing to suspect, and another to have your suspicions confirmed,” Caroline states.
“As a wise man observed, it isn’t what you don’t know that gets you, it’s the things you think you do.”
Every word is a knife between the ribs, but she presses on.
“You’re incorrect in your supposition, however. I did the initial speaking. Of my desires, ambitions, and actions. The seneschal weighed in later with his own evaluation.”
GM: Savoy inclines ‘his’ head in acknowledgment of Caroline’s correction.
“What information of significance passed among you?”
The French Quarter lord questions Caroline at some length concerning the events surrounding her introduction to her sire. Like a root canal administered by a smiling dentist, there’s no getting around it, no matter how wide his smiles—he will only relent when the painful work is done. The Toreador will only be content when he believes he has gotten his money’s worth from the owed boon.
Caroline: Caroline does not give an inch willingly. Though Savoy brings centuries of experience to bear and his own remarkable charisma, the remarkable sharpness of her mind, the political astuteness of her upbringing, the comfort of her mother’s welcoming domain, and the ever tightening coils of the collar make her no victim of the Toreador’s predations.
She is acutely aware of the value of the confirmations she has already given and gives few others freely. That her Embrace was long cultivated. That the events of Southern Decadence precipitated action. That the seneschal supports her claim. That he has vouched for her before the prince. That the prince accepted her as his childe in that first meeting by offering his blood freely.
GM: Savoy states frankly that he does not consider Caroline’s confirmations to be of value and desires previously unknown information. “None of this is new to me, Caroline,” he declares with an airy wave of Mélissaire’s hand.
“We can, of course, bring this matter before the harpies as a third party should you believe my expectations unreasonable.”
Caroline: “Seventy years,” she growls out. “The seneschal will involve himself in the affairs of the archdiocese no more than a mortal lifetime past the prince’s slumber.”
GM: “Seventy years,” Savoy says thoughtfully. “The scripturally allotted span of years for a man’s life. Also the scripturally allotted span of years, as it were, for an ancilla’s Requiem.”
Caroline: She nods. “That he has no desire to rule is no surprise, but he will be no puppet master either. Seventy years, no more. And then he will depart. These years have weighed upon him near as heavily as upon the prince.”
GM: “Yes, he never has seemed to relish his office,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “Then again, I might say the same for your sire.”
“But perhaps it’s easier to stop being chancellor than it is to stop being king, especially after one’s liege is already gone.”
Caroline: “Prince Vidal is prince for himself. Maldonato has long been seneschal for the prince,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Oh, I think Prince Vidal is prince for God, the Camarilla, and the city, in that order.”
“Himself least of all.”
Caroline: “No doubt you would approach it similarly.”
GM: Savoy grins. “Of course. What is a prince, if not the city’s, the Camarilla’s, and the Almighty’s humble servant?”
Caroline: “It’s how all the world’s great tyrants begin,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Isn’t it,” the French Quarter lord smiles. “I believe this concludes our business for tonight, my dear. We can say our farewells at the door—and in the flesh.”
There’s a last wink, and then Mélissaire’s expression and body language seems to subtly shift.
“Ma’am,” says Mélissaire in her own, higher voice. She offers a demure inclination of her head as she rises.
Caroline: By distinct effort of will, Caroline does not allow her body language to change with the French Quarter lord’s disappearance.
“You wear him well,” she compliments, rising.
GM: The ghoul flashes a genuine smile.
“He’s very easy to wear, ma’am. A genuine pleasure, to have inside myself like that.”
“If it’s not too bold of me to observe, I feel like you’d be the same.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs politely. “I’ll be certain to keep that in mind when things change.”
GM: Mélissaire laughs faintly back. “Oh, I don’t expect to receive that pleasure from anyone besides him, ma’am. But I’m sure any of your ghouls would enjoy the opportunity to wear you.”
Caroline: “Here’s to hoping we get to find out.”
She leads the ghoul to the door.
GM: Caroline and Mélissaire return to the LaLaurie House’s entry hall.
Her mother is there. Dark of eye. Dark of hair. Dark of everything. Darkening all around her. Her presence fills the hall like the night sky within a building absent its roof. A content smile is spread across her milk-pale features.
Antoine Savoy is there, dressed in a wine-colored blazer, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers. He’s smiling too, and squatting down on his haunches as he pulls a flashing silver coin ‘out’ of Simmone’s ear with an exclaimed, “Voila!”
The nightgown-wearing 10-year-old giggles down at their guest. She’s taller when he squats. “How did you do that!”
“You are a font of riches, of course, my beautiful lady. I but saw what was there, and dared present some small portion of them for your pleasure,” answers the French Quarter lord as he hands Simmone the coin. He looks for all the world like a genial uncle.
And he’s right there.
Alone, but for Mélissaire.
Alone, in this newest center of Devillers power.
Alone, in this most dreaded of places Abélia may have already bent to her will, if Caroline’s suspicion is true.
Alone. Squatting on his haunches.
Alone. Caroline’s mother right by.
She may never get a better chance.
Her sire may never get a better chance.
Caroline: “Dangerous of you to reveal that to her,” Caroline chimes in.
Don’t dwell upon it.
There’s no guarantee she could strike him down. Not even here. And even if she succeeded, what would that really accomplish?
“However true it might be. She thinks we call her a treasure simply because we like her.”
He wouldn’t have come if he did not believe he could win free.
GM: “We call her our treasure for both reasons, and a thousand others besides,” Caroline’s mother agrees contently, stroking her daughter’s hair.
“Had the fleet that sailed for Helen of Troy as many ships as this lovely lady has reasons to treasure her, Priam’s city would have fallen in one night,” Savoy concurs, making a gallant show of kissing Simmone’s hand.
The child giggles at all three of their words.
The French Quarter lord rises from his feet to kiss Abélia’s hand next.
“Abélia, always a pleasure. My compliments on what you’ve done with the place. May I dare say this home suits you as no other does—and that this home would suit no other.”
“You just want to lure me out of the Garden District for good, Antoine,” Caroline’s mother answers with an amused purr.
“I am but my Blood, my dear. It cannot do aught but compel me to fill my home with things of beauty—beauty of flesh and beauty of spirit alike.”
Her mother’s black eyes smile at the words ‘beauty of spirit.’
Caroline: And how much beauty in the rabble scrabbling around the French Quarter in their unwashed masses?
“Green is a color I so rarely see you in,” she offers instead.
GM: “Red suits us all much better,” grins Savoy.
“I see much beauty here,” he continues. “I see a mother’s love for her daughters—love enough to transform a place of misery and suffering into a nurturing home. I see a tragedy within these walls that a family’s love bore its daughters through, stronger than ever.” His gaze turns to Caroline. “I see a second tragedy, no less regrettable for its inevitability, and a wounded heart mended through love. I see a daughter’s love for a mother—and a mother who finally seeks to be worthy of a daughter’s love.”
He bends to kiss Caroline’s hand last of all.
“I wish you much happiness with your new family, Caroline.”
“I wish you all the beauty such love and happiness may entail, now and forevermore.”
Caroline: “I pray we all get to see it,” Caroline answers.
There’s so much potential for bad blood, to hold grudges.
Savoy lied to her. Manipulated her. Lied to Claire. Led directly to her death. Sheltered Gettis.
In mere months.
It’s no wonder the hatred between elders can run so deeply.
And every night has given them plenty of new reasons to hate. How many lives and Requiems has the conflict between the prince and Savoy consumed? How many more will it consume? The city is on the edge of a knife.
GM: And sooner or later, that knife must draw blood.