“We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
GM: Draco drops off Jade at Diana’s house. The hour must be late, as the lights inside are all off.
Jade: Jade checks the time on his dash before she gets out. She makes sure to get a time and location to meet him for the day as well and thanks him kindly for the lift.
She gets the bag out of the back of the car first and slings it over her shoulder, then leans back into the front seat to wrap the baby ghoul in the blanket before bringing the child into her arms. A bit of shadow dancing and no one will even notice the child in her arms.
GM: It’s around 2 AM.
He provides her with both.
Jade: They’d spent a decent chunk of time together this evening. She wishes him well for his evening and mentions that even Savoy told her not to trust the snakes.
GM: Draco offers a cold smile to Savoy’s secondhand advice.
“Don’t trust anyone,” he replies, then drives off.
Jade: His call. Once she’s out of the car, he’s not her problem.
Getting into the house is.
GM: No one answers from the presumably sleeping house.
Jade: There’s an unlocked window or a key hidden somewhere. No matter how many times Celia had told her mother not to, the woman just couldn’t help leaving one out for wayward children.
Jade searches for it.
GM: She finds concealed in a more clever hiding spot behind a loose brick in the gate.
It was Emily’s idea. No “under the welcome mat” for her.
Not that the porch-less and stair-elevated house has a welcome mat.
Jade lets herself in.
GM: The house is dark and silent inside.
Silent until Shadow gives a furious hiss, the calico cat’s tail immediately going as thick as a beaver’s.
Jade: Jade turns toward the noise. There’s something… familiar about it. Something that calls to her. She crouches, making a sound that isn’t quite human.
GM: The dark-faced calico stares for a moment, then blinks and settles back down on its haunches. The shrinking tail curls around its side.
Jade: …interesting. Jade plans to explore more of this later. Now, though, she asks the cat to keep her company while she moves through the house to find Celia’s mother.
GM: The cat rises and silently pads after the vampire, a literal Shadow at her side.
Diana’s bedroom sits empty, but Jade finds the woman asleep with Lucy in the latter’s room, arms wrapped around the child. Her face bears lines of grief and perhaps even age that were not present yesterday. Sleep looks as if it brings her little peace.
Lucy’s sleep, too, looks less than well. The girl’s face is buried against her stuffed lion, Aslan.
The bunny nightlight glows from the corner, as do the smiley-faced stars pressed to the walls and ceiling, their soft light all too unable to keep the monsters at bay.
Jade: Jade may not have a mother, but the sight of the two together still sends relief rippling through her. Celia has enough problems without losing the rest of her family. For the moment she lets them sleep, backing out of the door to step into Diana’s bedroom with the baby and the bag. She sets the sleeping child on the bed and rummages through Diana’s closet for something suitable. While she searches, she keeps half of her attention on Shadow. The sounds that she makes are more feline than human.
“Tell me about the women. Their actions today.”
GM: Shadow springs onto the bed and pads around on the covers.
“They were slower feeding me.”
“They didn’t come when I called.”
“Except for the little one.”
“But she doesn’t feed me.”
Jade: Amusement flickers across her face. No doubt the cat “called” when he was hungry, making a racket to their attention. She’s heard it before.
“Did they have visitors?”
GM: “The girl came back. She scratched and petted me.”
“I marked her with my scent.”
Jade: “Which girl?”
GM: “The one who smells like white flowers.”
Shadow does another lap around the bedcovers before finding a satisfactory spot to settle down.
“You may now scratch my chin.”
Jade: White flowers? There are a lot of white flowers and they all smell differently. Which white flowers?
She finds an outfit while the cat makes his laps and laughs aloud at the order. Jade takes a seat on the bed, reaching out to scratch Shadow’s chin. She can’t remember the last time she touched a cat.
“How often does White Flower Girl come by?”
GM: It’s been a very long time.
The cat’s eyes slowly blink under Jade’s scratching fingers. A purr sounds from its throat.
“Her smell is familiar. It became part of my territory. Then she left.”
Jade: Oh. Dani.
She’d said she was stopping by.
Because she can’t keep her nose out of anything, can she. ’I’m going to tell Diana that you’re all the same person.’
This. This is why Jade hadn’t told anyone.
Because none of them keep their mouths shut.
GM: A perhaps predictable reaction after she felt betrayed and manipulated by Celia.
“You may now scratch behind my ears.”
Jade: Jade moves her fingers to behind the cat’s ears.
“Is the older girl in her den?”
GM: Shadow blinks long and slow.
Jade: “I am taking the young girl and the mother away this evening. We will be back before it is time to feed you.”
Jade moves her hand.
“Will you watch over the sleeping cub?”
GM: The cat arches its back as it gets up, then rubs its head along Jade’s flank several times, marking her with its scent.
“You are now mine.”
Shadow turns and pads over to Harper, then rubs a head along the sleeping child’s back.
“It is now mine.”
The cat paces around the bedcovers again, then finds another comfortable spot to settle back down.
Jade: Cats are delightful.
Jade rises to remove her pajamas and slip into something more suitable for a lick. Diana’s fashion choices differ from hers, but Celia will be the one wearing the face and clothing this evening.
She finds Diana’s phone plugged into the wall on her nightstand and uses it to make a quick call to Alana to check in.
GM: The phone asks her to trace a pattern before it unlocks.
Jade: Diana had given it to her yesterday when she borrowed the phone. She traces the pattern.
GM: Alana answers groggily and sounds like she’s been woken up in the middle of the night. She found some paperwork in Celia’s office about transferring ownership of the spa, as well as all of Celia’s assets. What’s going on there?
Other than that, the ghoul reports things are fine.
Jade: Jade tells her not to worry about it, that it was a misunderstanding. She can shred the papers. She asks if her packages came in and if she has heard from the boys.
GM: A new phone indeed arrived for Celia. She has not heard from the boys.
Jade: They’re turning into a headache.
Jade asks where Alana is and where the packages are. She’ll swing by to get them later.
When she’s done with the work she uses her charm to calm and soothe the child in case there’s any lingering pain and asks Shadow if he’ll mind cuddling it until it falls asleep.
It. She’s referred to the child as “it” this whole time. She.
Or he. Wouldn’t that give her more anonymity? Who would suspect that Jade changed a baby’s race and sex?
Perhaps that’s a step too far.
The work didn’t take long, anyway, with so little actual body to work with.
Jade turns away from the child to pull an outfit from the closet, a soft pink skirt and ivory blouse with sensible kitten heels.
GM: Harper wakes up as Jade feeds her the pill, dumbly swallowing it down. She probably doesn’t feel anything, after that. Maybe it’s just the unfamiliar sensation under this unfamiliar woman’s strange touch in an unfamiliar place that causes the baby to suddenly start crying.
It’s distracting, especially when the baby starts weakly flailing her arms and limbs.
Jade supposes she’s had worse “patients”, though.
Like Celia’s ex.
Granted, he remained completely motionless.
Jade: He’d also had a stake in his chest.
Though he’d handled it quite well without, too.
It really is a shame the little bitch fucked it all up with her half-truths. Draco is far more interesting than who he’d been before.
And there’s so much she can do with him if he’s on her side…
Jade sighs at the child like it’s her fault things turned out the way they have. She takes a hit from the vitae they’d collected from the thin-blood and filters it through her body before biting into her wrist to give to the child.
GM: The bedroom light suddenly switches on. Celia’s mother stands at the doorway, dressed in a nightgown, and carrying a carving knife. She looks awful, for all the work Celia has done on her. Woken up at 2 AM the night after learning her daughter is dead. The same shadow Celia saw on Henry’s face is dark across Diana’s.
She looks at the baby, then looks at Jade’s face.
Her grip on the knife does not slacken.
“Explain this. Right now.”
Harper cries louder.
Jade: “Mrs. Flores,” Jade says smoothly. “Celia has asked me to handle some things for her. She will be out in a moment to speak with you.”
She looks down at the child.
“I am trying to rehabilitate this one. She has lost her mother, a despicable lick who has tormented her for years. Celia and I believe we can help her make the transition into a normal life, but—oh, sweetheart,” Jade murmurs to the child as it cries louder, pulling her up into her arms to tuck its face against her chest. She murmurs sweet nothings into the baby’s ear as she reaches out with her clan’s gift to blunt its emotions.
GM: Just like that, the baby shuts up, tears still wet on her face.
Diana’s face, though, is not nearly so placid. She continues to walk closer, carving knife gripped in hand. Her voice sounds like stone.
“You do not have my permission to be here. To be this close to Lucy.”
The woman’s gaze is deathly intent. She has no eyes for this stranger’s baby. Only the child she has just named.
“Leave. Or I will make you.”
Jade: Jade’s eyes meet Diana’s. Instinct demand that she snarl, bare her fangs, put this kine in her place. But this is Celia’s mother, and Celia has lost enough. Will continue to lose more.
Jade dips her head in deferment.
“As you wish, Mrs. Flores. My apologies for dropping in. I had not meant to violate our agreement.”
She turns, as if to leave out the window.
Celia: When she turns again it’s Celia’s face on her body, large eyes staring at her mother.
“Momma,” she says, “I’m sorry.”
GM: Diana stares ahead. Perhaps at Celia. Perhaps at the window. She grips the knife and says nothing. It is hard to say what thoughts swim in her head.
Celia: “I didn’t mean to surprise you.”
“I… I meant to come by earlier, but things went sideways, and I… I didn’t know where else to go.”
She swallows, a human reflex she no longer has need for, but it conveys her apprehension all the same.
GM: Harper suddenly starts crying again. A foul smell fills the room.
Diana dully blinks, sets down the knife, and moves to take the baby.
Celia: Celia blinks down at the child. Then she, too, starts to cry. When Diana reaches for her she hands over Harper.
She rummages through the diaper bag for a fresh diaper, assuming that’s what the girl needs.
GM: Celia’s mother carries Harper into the bathroom and proceeds to change the baby’s soiled diaper with the rote movements of a mom who’s done this in the middle of the night… probably way too many times, after six kids. She cleans Harper’s bottom under water, towels her off, applies some baby powder from the cabinet, and fixes on the clean diaper provided by Celia.
Harper cries the entire time.
Celia: “She won’t stop crying,” Celia says, wringing her hands as she follows Diana through the house. She does it again, reaching out with her gift to blunt the child’s emotions, but it always seems to be a bandaid rather than a cure.
She tries another gift, using it on herself rather than the child, letting Harper know that she can trust Celia. That she’s a friend. That she’ll help.
GM: Harper keeps crying. Celia’s latest use of star mode doesn’t seem to inspire much change there.
“Celia, what is this,” her mother says in a dully exhausted voice. She fits the baby into the crook of her arm and starts slowly rocking her back and forth.
Celia: “It’s a really bad situation,” Celia says quietly, “and I’m trying to fix it so she can have a normal life. Or any life.”
GM: “Well, that’s why she’s crying.”
“And because she’s a baby.”
Celia: “Lucy didn’t cry this much.”
GM: “Celia… of course she didn’t,” Diana says in a too-tired-to-explain tone as she rocks the child.
“Where is this girl’s mother. She should be with her.”
“Mother. Caregiver. Whoever.”
Celia: “Missing,” Celia says, because that’s all she knows.
GM: “Has she eaten?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “Probably not for a while. I don’t have…” she makes a vague gesture toward her chest. “I think there’s formula in the bag, I can check.”
GM: The long-time mom shakes her head at that idea.
“She looks maybe… 18 months? That’s too old for formula. Go to the fridge, grab whatever produce is handy, and stick it in the blender with some water. Doesn’t need to be a lot.”
“18 months is old enough to handle table food, for that matter. But we’ll start her off easy. I don’t know where she’s at developmentally if she’s from a bad home.”
“Actually, go with fruit. Something sweeter might be easier to coax her into eating.”
Celia: “Okay,” Celia nods, moving into the kitchen to do just that. She searches the fridge for available produce, unsure what’s best for the child, and finally finds a selection of fruit like her mother said. She cuts it into small pieces and puts it in the blender with water, then pours it into one of Lucy’s plastic cups. She brings it back to her mom.
GM: She finds some strawberries and mangoes. There’s also bananas outside the fridge. She hears her mom singing to the still-crying child in the living room when she gets back.
“We need a spoon, sweetie,” says Diana. “She might spill a cup.”
Celia: “Oh.” She leaves the cup and locates a spoon to bring back.
GM: Diana sets Harper down on the couch, swaddles her with her blanket, and coaxes her with the spoon, but she isn’t interested. She keeps crying.
That’s what she really wants.
Diana had interrupted Jade before she could give her any.
“Here,” Celia says, biting into her wrist and extending it toward the child.
GM: Her mother’s gaze rivets to the welling blood, for just a moment, before it meets Celia’s eyes.
“Celia—are you insane?!” she whispers furiously.
Celia: Well, yes.
“She’s already an addict,” Celia says hotly. “It’s not like this is the first hit.”
GM: “And if someone’s been shot once you don’t keep shooting them. You call 911.”
Her mother shakes her head.
“Christ almighty. God in heaven almighty. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Who would do this to a baby.”
Celia: “I can’t not give it to her or she’s going to age very quickly in a very short time and die.”
GM: Harper gives a scream and lunges for the wrist. Diana presses a hand to the baby’s chest, holding her at bay.
“What!?” Celia’s mother repeats.
“This stuff is heroin! You do not give heroin to a baby!”
Celia: “She’s been stuck like that for years. I’m trying to find a way to fix it. Slow down the aging so she can have a normal life.”
“And I know, Mom, I didn’t. Someone else did and I wanted to help.”
GM: Harper keeps crying her head off.
“So what happens? If she misses a dose? You said it… stops aging, but for a baby?”
Celia: Celia nods. “She’s been frozen for years. If it wears off she’ll rapidly catch up to where she should be and the shock of it will put too much of a strain on her body for her to handle it. People aren’t meant to grow that much that quickly.”
GM: Diana looks like someone just punched her in the gut. Equal parts shock, horror, and incredulity dance across her haggard face.
“God forgive us. Give her some, then. God forgive us.”
Celia’s mother closes her eyes and traces the cross.
Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs, but she doesn’t know who she’s apologizing to anymore. She feeds the child with the blood from her body.
GM: Just like that, faster than the softest and sweetest nursery rhyme Diana ever sang to Lucy, Harper shuts up. The baby clings to her wrist and mindlessly sucks.
It’s like a flipped switch. Lucy never calmed down that fast.
Diana looks like her heart is breaking on her face.
She finally looks away, leaning her head into her hand.
Celia: It’s like feeding any other ghoul, Celia tells herself. She’s saving her life, Celia tells herself. She’s fixing someone else’s mistake, Celia tells herself.
GM: Harper just sucks contently.
“Celia. How in God’s name does anyone fix this,” sounds her mother’s voice.
Celia: “I thought I could find a way she could age more slowly, and make sure she hit all the right milestones, and work with a psychologist or something…”
GM: “This is… this is above my department,” Diana repeats slowly, shaking her head.
“This poor, poor baby…”
“What happened to her, Celia? Who did this? Does she have anyone else?”
Diana waits until Celia is done ‘feeding’ Harper, then tries to interest the baby in another spoonful of pulped fruit. The woman’s eyes briefly flick towards her daughter’s wrist.
Celia: “I don’t think she has anyone else,” Celia says quietly while Harper sucks at her wrist. “And the person who found her thought the kindest thing to do would be to put her down gently. We don’t think she can have a normal life after this. There’s too much damage. I just… wanted to try, I guess, and now I wonder if I’m in over my head. I didn’t even know how to feed her… I don’t know if my plan will work, I don’t know if it will just be more painful.”
Celia trails off, bringing her wrist back to her mouth to lick the wound closed. She eyes her mother.
“Lucy’s memories need erased. I have someone that can do it, I just need to let her know I’m coming. The sooner the better. I don’t want her exposed to this life.”
GM: Harper doesn’t look very interested in the fruit at first, but eventually swallows a spoonful after some very patient coaxing from Diana.
“What do you mean, no normal life? What will it take to fix her?” she asks, dipping the spoon back into the cup. “But ‘putting down’ a baby, what a perfectly vile thing to say.”
Lucy’s name makes her pause in mid-action.
“And what do you mean, her memories erased?”
Celia: “I don’t know what she overheard last night between us. Then the fire. It should have been done last night but I let you two sleep instead, and I didn’t want you to wake up to see her gone. So we’ll cover her memories with something else, make her forget what she heard.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” Celia offers.
GM: “Celia, I don’t understand what you mean.”
Celia: “…which part?”
GM: “Covering her memories. Making her forget. That isn’t how it works, sweetie. She isn’t going to forget overnight.”
Celia: “There are powers that let us make people forget. I don’t know how, but I know someone who does.”
“Mom, do you remember flying across the city? Falling?”
“The morning you got sick.”
GM: “No, sweetie, I don’t.”
Lucy definitely isn’t going to forget overnight, though.
Celia hears it before she sees it. The faint intake of breathing.
She knows it before she hears the pitter-patter of little feet.
Lucy is out of bed.
Lucy has heard Harper’s unrelenting, minutes-long cries and screams.
Lucy is snooping.
Lucy is hearing things she should not hear.
Celia: The little snoop.
Celia becomes a blur of movement, out the door and down the hall to lift the child into her arms with a huff and a smile.
“You,” she says to the girl in a teasing tone, “are going to give me gray hairs before my time, did you know that?”
She carries Lucy back into the bedroom with her mother.
“Guess who is up.”
GM: Lucy stares dumbly up at Celia with a minute inhalation of breath.
She’s silent as her sister scoops her up.
She looks at Harper, this crying baby who’s in their house without explanation. The subject of such pained and distraught and grim-sounding words uttered by the adults.
She looks at her mom, with her confused and wearied and pained face.
Then she starts crying.
Celia: Celia’s face crumples. She hadn’t meant to scare her.
GM: “Oh, Luce, Luce, Luce…” murmurs Diana, picking the child up onto her lap. She hugs the six-year-old and strokes her back.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay…”
“Who’s… who’s that…” sniffs Lucy.
Diana opens her mouth as if to answer, then seemingly realizes she doesn’t know.
Celia: Celia glances at her mom, then back to Lucy.
“This is my friend’s baby. My friend is sick, very sick, and she asked me to look after her for a while. I’m sorry she woke you, Goose.”
GM: Lucy sniffs some more.
Diana comforts her. She asks Celia to feed the other “her”, not knowing Harper’s name.
That goes on for a few minutes.
Celia: Celia takes Harper from her mother and sets the child down on her lap, taking over with the feeding. She has to coax her into taking each bite.
“Abigail,” she says to Lucy, “but I just call her Abi.”
GM: ‘Abigail’ seems less interested when it’s coming from Celia. She was never around for any of Lucy’s early feedings.
“We’re gonna go visit Emi, okay, Goose,” her mother says. “Celia, you can watch Abi, please.”
Diana’s gone for a few minutes, then comes back. Some of the adrenaline looks like it’s worn off. Her voice is number, or at least more tired again when she resumes feeding ‘Abigail’.
“Celia. This cannot go on.”
“Lucy seeing and hearing all of these things. Fires. Running out to stay at Randy’s. Babies in the middle of the night. Visits from Jade in the middle of the night.”
“This is not a stable home environment.”
Celia: “I know, Mom. I… honestly think it might be best for me to cut contact. I don’t know what else to do.”
GM: “No,” her mother declares dully between feeding ‘Abigail’ another spoonful of food. “I have lost one daughter. I am not losing another.”
Celia: “Then how do you want me to do this? Just not come by?”
GM: “We’ll decide something,” her mother says tiredly. “Later. This just cannot go on, the way it is.”
Celia: “I agree. We’ll figure something out and stick to that. I never meant to interrupt your life with any of this. That’s why I lied about it for so long.”
“Let’s take Lucy to see my friend, she’ll alter the memories, we cover our bases there, and then we’ll figure out the rest.”
GM: “Who is the friend. Is he or she a vampire. Are there… side effects. Is there any way this could go wrong, and cause harm to Lucy.”
“Do you truly believe, this is the best option, for Lucy.”
Celia: “There are no side effects. Not unless someone rifles through her mind. But if she doesn’t know anything, there’s no reason for her to be bothered. She’s a child.”
Celia shakes her head.
“I was exposed to them young, Mom. I remembered it for years. And now I’m dead. I’m trying not to repeat the same mistakes that someone else made with me. I don’t want this for her. I want her to be happy and healthy and ignorant of this.”
“It’s a gentle process. We’ll just tell her to remember something else. And yes, my friend is a vampire, she… I, ah, I don’t know if she’d want me sharing her identity, but you know her, and you’ve had positive interactions with her.”
GM: “I do not care what your friend wants,” Diana says exhaustedly.
“This is my child.”
“I will know who we are trusting with her.”
Celia: Celia supposes she can always have the Ventrue take this memory, too.
GM: Celia’s mom just keeps feeding ‘Abigail’.
“The gay girl. Fine.”
Celia: “She’s not gay.”
“I mean I guess she is but we’re dead, gender isn’t really a thing to us anymore.”
GM: Celia just gets the exhausted, past-caring stare of a sleep-deprived woman who lost her daughter not one day ago.
Celia: It’s never the right time to explain.
GM: “If you think this is best. Okay. I am out of my depth. I want a normal life for Lucy. None of this.”
“We will go to Caroline.”
“I will be there the entire time.”
“Lucy will not once leave my sight.”
Celia: “Of course, Mom. It’ll be okay. I promise.”
GM: All Celia gets at that declaration is a hollow look.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
GM: Diana picks up ‘Abigail’ and walks outside to Emily’s room. Celia hears voices. Doubtless, her sister is full of questions and opinions, as always.
But perhaps tonight she restrains them. Perhaps tonight she accepts necessity.
Or perhaps Diana refuses to put up with her. All Celia can tell is that her mother re-enters the house with Lucy and without ‘Abigail’ or Emily. She goes to her bedroom and throws on a dress, coat, and shoes. She dresses Lucy, next. She does not fix her hair or face. She looks awful. She doesn’t look as if she cares. She gets pepper spray and a kitchen knife to stick in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owns a gun she could bring too.
Celia: Celia uses her mother’s phone to call Caroline while Diana gets ready.
You don’t just drop by unannounced.
Celia lets Diana know not to mention Jade in front of Caroline or her people before she hits the “dial” button. No one is supposed to know.
Caroline: Caroline answers: she was generous enough to provide Celia with her direct line, rather than the one to her assistant. She provides a time. She hints that her price, such as it is, remains the same.
GM: Diana holds Lucy’s hand, at first, then finally just scoops up the sleepy-looking child into her arms. She tells Celia to get the keys to the Beetle and drive for them. She sits in the back with Lucy. Rain pelts against the car’s windows. Lucy nods off. Her face does not look peaceful in sleep, even with her mother’s hand running over her head. Her mother’s face looks worse.
With ‘Abigail’ gone, and her child asleep in the dark car, driving towards another vampire, what maternal instinct seemingly animated Celia’s mother gives way to that same look as when she found Jade in her bedroom at 2 AM. She looks grim. She looks numb. She looks weary. She looks grieving.
She looks like she’s thinking about Isabel, and all of the things that could have been said and done that were not said and done. Because how could she not think about those things on a dark and rainy car ride in the middle of the night.
She’s brought pepper spray and a kitchen knife in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owned a gun she could bring too.
She does not look away from Lucy.
She does not speak.
The drive passes in silence but for the patter of the rain.
Celia: Celia has one stop to make in the Beetle before they hit the CBD. She’s in and out in two minutes, leaving her mother in the car. She returns with a purse. Then the drive across Canal to the Giani Building, and Celia kills her aura. She doesn’t want to get picked up for trespassing before she’s had a chance to even do anything.
GM: Diana finally breaks the dark silence to ask if there are further things, for Lucy’s and their family’s safety, she should not speak of.
Celia: Emily. Dani. Stephen. That Emily knows about any of this. Celia’s DID. That’s most of it, she thinks.
Oh. Abigail. Any of the other ghouls she keeps.
Or how long Celia has been a vampire.
“Honestly maybe just keep the topic to what’s at hand and pretend you don’t know much about me or what I get up to.”
Caroline: The Giani Building isn’t a far drive from the French Quarter, the building looming just over the border from Savoy’s domain.
There are no games this evening. There’s a familiar blonde in a pantsuit waiting for them in the lobby that gets them past a smiling doorman. The blonde looking perhaps a little worse for the wear than the last time Celia saw her, though she’s tried to cover up the dark circles with heavier makeup.
Celia: Celia greets her politely, announcing herself for Caroline’s… herald? Assistant? She’s not sure which function this one serves.
Caroline: The ghoul answers in kind, welcoming her to the Giani Building.
It’s a far cry from the reception Jade and her ghouls received. She’s even polite enough not to comment on bringing a child to a vampire’s haven in the dead of night.
She swipes a badge on the elevator and presses the button for the roof when everyone is inside. The ride up is quick.
The doors opens to reveal the Ventrue seated at a table inside beside the redhead from the Walter Robinson House. They’re hunched over a folder that snaps shut rapidly as the door opens.
“That’ll be all, Autumn,” she directs.
Celia: She steps forward to greet Caroline, outpacing mother and sister.
“Thank you for seeing me. I appreciate the quick response at the inconvenient time.”
GM: “All right, see you,” Autumn nods as she gathers the folder and gets up to leave.
The vampire’s mother looks terrible. Physically and otherwise. She looks like she’s gotten out of bed after hearing some of the worst news of her life. The look on her face is not a dissimilar look to the one Caroline’s mother wore after Westley’s death. Before her own.
She was all smiles and sweetness at the Walter Robinson House.
She has no smiles tonight.
Lucy doesn’t look so alive as she did there, either. She looks sleepy and scared. She clings to her grandmother’s side.
She reminds Caroline of Simmone.
Caroline: “There’s never a convenient time in my experience,” Caroline offers gently.
She can read the room.
“Please, have a seat,” she extends the offer to all the guests with a wave of her hand.
“I know it’s late.”
GM: “Thank you,” Mrs. Flores responds tonelessly. She sits and pulls Lucy onto her lap.
The child ventures a glance up at Caroline, but doesn’t speak.
Celia: Celia watches Autumn go, then takes a seat between her family and Caroline. As if she’s decided that Caroline is a threat she needs to protect her family against and putting herself between them will amount to anything.
Her tired smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
Why, she asks herself again, did she turn to Caroline rather than Lebeaux?
Because his sire lied to you and turned you in for infernalism.
“My mom knows,” she says without preamble.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Oh.”
She turns her gaze from Celia to Diana. “I imagine that was rather quite the shock.”
GM: Mrs. Flores looks more numb than shocked.
A moment passes before she responds.
“She’s still my daughter.”
Caroline can picture the dance teacher at her mother’s house laughing and making a quip about something.
Caroline: The heiress smiles tightly. “Of course she is.”
She looks between Celia and Mrs. Flores.
Celia: “She took it well,” Celia offers. “Only it’s been a little hectic, and, ah, Lucy kind of overheard some things.”
GM: The child remains very quiet.
Mrs. Flores squeezes her hand.
Caroline: “Ah,” Caroline answers.
“Some of the things we discuss aren’t things children should hear about.” She runs her tongue across her teeth.
“I presume that’s the favor you wanted?”
GM: “We want her to have a normal life,” says Mrs. Flores.
“Monsters under the bed don’t need to be real.”
Lucy turns away and plants her head against her grandmother.
Caroline: With a vampire mother, vampire aunt, and a ghoul grandmother. I’m certain it’ll be totally normal, Caroline doesn’t say.
“I can get behind that.”
GM: Mrs. Flores wraps wraps her arms around the girl.
“Celia says you can take away the bad memories.”
Celia: “I thought it would be the best way to prevent any more of… this. Any interference. I was exposed young and I’d rather Lucy not be.”
Caroline: “I can,” Caroline answers. “Within reason. It requires some knowledge. Some planning. It doesn’t always take in the long run—it’s not quite the blunt instrument some people use it for. The more precise I can be in what I’m looking for, in where things happened, in what their emotional state was at the time, the better a job I can do with it. The more likely it is to neatly smooth over.”
“The less careful, the less information, the more likely that it becomes a sort of mental scab that they’ll pick at. It’s not actually that dissimilar to surgery in that way.”
“It’s good that Celia brought you here. There are a fair number of people that don’t use quite the same gentle touch.”
To say nothing of the fair number that would charge an arm and a leg for it.
GM: “Lucy was awake when we thought she was in bed and asleep,” says Mrs. Flores. “Can you just tell her that she was sleeping?”
Celia: “I don’t know if it works like that, Mom,” Celia says, but she looks to Caroline for confirmation. “Unless she thinks the whole thing is a weird dream or nightmare.”
Caroline: Caroline nods with Celia and turns to meet Mrs. Flores’ gaze.
“I could, Mrs. Flores, simply paper them over with bad dreams. Assuming you could tell me which dates and times we were talking about. But I suspect if I did so, it’s the sort of thing that she’d pick at for years in the back of her mind. People are good at detecting falsehoods, understanding when things don’t match with how they should have felt. Especially if you give them enough time and similar situations, if that makes sense.”
She gives a sharp smile. “It’s much better to find something that fits neatly into the context—for instance, a homophobic woman walking in on two women together.”
GM: Mrs. Flores silently follows Caroline at first, then frowns sharply.
Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into an imitation of her grandmother’s.
Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t fade. “When done properly, you align emotional state to memory, and the person in question doesn’t think twice about what they now believe they remember.”
GM: “You’ve been in my head,” Mrs. Flores states slowly. There’s no fear in her voice, though, but what sounds like growing anger.
Caroline: “Once before,” Caroline admits.
“I don’t make a habit of it, but it was better than the alternative. I use the example to illustrate the point.”
GM: Mrs. Flores’ eyes narrow.
“I see. And what was that alternative?” she asks in a low voice.
Caroline: If Caroline notices the anger, she doesn’t react to it. “The damaging of your daughter’s Masquerade, and the dragging of you and your family into this world.”
GM: Mrs. Flores doesn’t look away from her.
“Did you know and approve of this, Celia?”
Celia: “I knew of it,” Celia says quietly, “but I didn’t ask her to. You walked in on the two of us. And later that night was, ah, was when some worse stuff happened, so I thought it would be better to focus on that.”
“I got in trouble for trespassing. The sheriff threw you off the roof to make a point. I was more worried about him killing you than making you forget your daughter has lesbian tendencies.”
“Then you got sick. And Maxen came back. And everything else happened.”
GM: “You will not attempt to break inside my head again. Ever. I have had enough vampires in my head without my consent. If you do, I will know, and I will make you dearly regret it. Are we understood?” Celia’s mother tells Caroline.
Celia: …oh yeah, this was a great idea.
Her ghouled mother threatening the prince’s childe, what could go wrong?
“Mom, why don’t you let me talk to Caroline alone for a minute.”
Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes flash, and not kindly.
Celia: Celia rises.
“Let’s take a walk, yeah? Outside? So we can discuss this.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t rise. She calls over to the blonde they arrived with, still waiting by the elevator.
“They’ll be leaving now, Widney.”
“Good luck with your granddaughter, Mrs. Flores. I’m certain your daughter can find someone else more understanding. I might suggest you move quickly—few of us can do more than a day or two into the past. I also recommend you keep a civil tongue in your head with them. Very few of us are as forgiving as I am.”
She turns to Celia. “Celia, I look forward to hearing about how you resolved this by tomorrow night. I would hate to have to report this sort of ugly Masquerade breach to the Krewe. You know how unreasonable they can be, and how seriously they take this sort of thing.”
Celia: The color drains from her face. She rounds on her own mother, hurt and anger in her eyes.
“Mom,” she hisses, “stop it. We came to her for help. She didn’t hurt you. She doesn’t know what you’ve been through or why what she did has such an impact on you. You don’t threaten people who are trying to help you. Apologize. Now. Please.”
She can’t tell the Krewe. She can’t. Lucy and Emily will both be in trouble.
Celia whirls toward Caroline.
“Caroline. Please. How many boons? I’ll pay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for her outburst. She didn’t mean to threaten you. She’s had a really rough few nights, she’s never been around other licks before. Can we just talk about this, please? Privately?”
GM: Mrs. Flores wordlessly rises from seat and picks up Lucy. Caroline’s words stiffen the dance teacher’s spine until her daughter cuts in.
The ‘please’ seems to be what finally does it.
“I will give the benefit of the doubt,” she says slowly, “that you wanted to do right. That you wanted to keep my family and I out of… this world. I’ve had other vampires abuse me. Stay out of my head and I’ll have no bone to pick with you. I learned yesterday that one of my children is dead. I don’t want anything to happen to Lucy. She’s innocent. She’s six. She’s done nothing. Please help us. I just want her to live a normal life.”
Widney looks expectantly towards Caroline, as if to see whether her orders stand.
Celia: Celia also looks to Caroline, pleading with her eyes.
“I don’t trust anyone else with them. Please. I have something you might want.”
Caroline: When did I become this way? Caroline wonders.
When did she become so imperious? When did she let the arrogance seep in so far that a demand that she not rape another person’s mind was enough to set off her temper? When did she start viewing the kine as just that, not even people? As being not worthy of respect. As being she should threaten and lord over. As being she should punish physically for speaking out of turn.
The thought is short-lived.
She is what she is, what she has become. She’s become what she has to.
The kine’s words don’t touch her heart. They don’t warm it, or stir it. She has no sympathy for her buried child or past abuses she might have suffered.
There’s similarly no love for the girl cradled in her grandmother’s arms, and no bond between them and she. The list of mortals she genuinely cares for is preciously short. It costs her nothing to throw them out. It would make her feel powerful. It would free the time she’s earmarked for this meeting, spare her the use of the precious vitae she has so little spare time to acquire these nights.
But there is something with Celia. A bond of fathers, or of sires, or of experiences. It’s not the begging of the kine that moves her. It’s the begging of the Kindred.
“Mrs. Flores, I have none of the sadistic tendencies of many of my kind. So I will not, as many of them might, break into your mind and force you to cut off your granddaughter’s fingers one by one with a kitchen knife to prove a point about how you fit into this social hierarchy. But you would do well to remember that you are not even a person where we are concerned. I would be more likely to be held accountable for allowing that sort of arrogant trespass on your part to pass without response than for harming you or any member of your family. Those are the stakes of every meeting with a Kindred for every ghoul, Mrs. Flores.”
GM: Lucy finally starts crying in Diana’s arms.
Caroline: She rises and starts towards the roof.
“Quiet the child while the adults speak.”
GM: “Stop frightening the child if you don’t want her to cry,” Mrs. Flores glares back, rocking Lucy back and forth as she rubs the girl’s head.
“As for my ‘arrogance’, I’ll tell you this, Caroline. I know too well how vampires treat their ‘ghouls’ and that is not me. Not ever again. I am not part of your hierarchy. I am not part of your society. Celia and I are equals. If that’s offensive to how other vampires think, we will be happy to stay away from them.”
Celia: Silently, Celia wonders at the woman beside her. How far she has come from the broken wretch she was only nights ago, tormented and tortured into a shell of a person rather than this marvelous thing. Telling off a vampire in their own domain. Portraying herself as an equal.
Selling the story Celia had given her.
She touches a hand to Diana’s shoulder in quiet solidarity, though when she looks back to the Ventrue there’s apprehension in her eyes. Waiting for the derision, scorn, and contempt that so many of their kind would harbor for such a statement. She opens her mouth to speak before any more venom can be spit this evening.
“Momma, I’m going to make arrangements with her, we’ll be back in a moment.” Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s head as well, leaning in to murmur that it’s going to be okay. Then she follows the Ventrue out onto the roof proper.
GM: Celia’s mother raises no objection to that. Lucy gives a sniffled, “I wanna go home…” at Celia’s touch. “I know, Luce, I know,” murmurs Diana, stroking the child’s back.
Celia: She waits until they’re outside to break the silence.
“I’m sorry,” she begins. “I thought it might be better to not bring her, but she’s not letting Lucy out of her sight right now.”
Celia shoves a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like the almost-child she died as.
“I’m in over my head,” she admits, “and I don’t trust anyone else with them. I figured since you already knew about me…” She trails off into a sigh, then finally shakes her head. “She’s been through a lot the past few nights. Please excuse her rudeness.”
Caroline: Caroline offers the ghoul no further regard as she makes her way out onto the patio. The chilly night air helps clear her head, wash away the fury the ghoul inspires.
“You need to break her of it,” she almost snaps. “Before she gets herself killed.”
Celia: “What would you have me do,” she snaps back, “beat my own mother?”
Caroline: “If necessary. I’m sure Jade would be up to the task.”
“She was,” Celia says bitterly. “How do you think I found out she was a Malkavian’s doll?”
Caroline: “Do you think your sire would be as forgiving as I have been?” Caroline asks pointedly.
Celia: Her laugh lacks humor.
“My sire would kill me if he knew I’d come here. I have no intention of bringing Diana into Kindred society.”
“If you’re not interested, then say so. Donovan will have no trouble erasing the memories and child both.”
Caroline: “It never works.” She shakes her head. “You try to keep them half-in, or mostly out, and they’re just drawn in, like moths to the flame.”
Celia: “You have a family,” Celia points out. “Sisters. A mother.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “And they, with the exception of my mother, are not a part of this world.”
“And she is more than capable of taking care of herself.”
Celia: The soul eater. Celia has heard all about her. Has had her tongue silenced from afar by the bitch.
“No doubt. I learned long before all of this that-”
GM: Celia’s next words die in her throat as she tries to speak.
Celia: Her mouth opens. Closes. Opens again.
No words come out.
Bemused, Celia sweeps her gaze across the city.
“Powerful,” she says.
Caroline: “There are parts of her life she keeps from even me,” Caroline answers.
“But I’m not surprised. She has no more affection for the life of any Kindred or kine not of her blood than you or I might for an insect.”
A beat of silence.
“How many nights of memories, for your sister?”
Celia: “Do any of us?” Celia asks in turn.
Caroline: A nod. “Since I presume neither of them is intended to serve as a vessel, you’ve got something else to offer?”
Celia: “Does one of them do it for you?” Celia asks with some amusement. “I’ve heard blue bloods are picky eaters.”
GM: It’s impossible to say for sure without a taste, but not unless the 6-year-old girl and 40-something schoolteacher are taking college courses.
Celia: “Happy to let you sink into me if not,” Celia adds, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.
Caroline: It’s not that it isn’t tempting.
“We know how your mother feels about that,” Caroline observes.
Celia: “Shame there’s no one around to make her forget.”
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Shame she’s made it so firm how she feels about that. And I do so tremble at the thought of a furious schoolteacher.”
Celia: Celia giggles.
“Next time, then.” She reaches into her purse, pulling out two containers of blood. “Two hits here,” she says, “and this one is… lucky.” She indicates the second.
Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.
She hasn’t had great experiences with bottled vitae.
“What does lucky mean?”
Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.
“Thought that might get your attention. Things go well for you when you drink it. I’ve seen it firsthand, and I’ve experienced it myself. I watched a man lie down in traffic and cars swerved around him. I’ve seen him get picked up by ghouls whose weapons misfired and ricocheted off the walls to strike themselves in the knee. I’ve seen handcuffs meant to constrain him pop open.”
Her smile fades.
“I thought to use it to prevent love from slipping through my fingers, so I suppose like all magical things it doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, though, you’ll find yourself with the advantage in most situations. Just until you use it. Or drink from another source, I assume.”
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. She can think of more than a few uses for something like that.
The dimming of Celia’s smile snaps her back to the moment. “We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”
“I need something else as well, from your mother.”
Celia: “From my mother?”
The words make her immediately wary.
Caroline: “Simmone is in a delicate place. Your mother is one of the few people she trusts outside the family. It would be better if she didn’t go anywhere. I’m certain her introduction into this world will pull at her desires, but I want her to remain Simmone’s teacher. For at least a year.”
Celia: Silence lingers.
“Her leg needs repaired,” Celia says at length. “The old injury has flared up, which is part of why I pushed her to stop. I’m working with a night doctor to make it happen. The bone she needs will be harvested tonight.”
A brief pause.
“She won’t be harmed while in your domain. The Garden District, or your home.”
GM: Cécilia told Caroline that Mrs. Flores was canceling the lessons on account of her personal health a little while ago. She referred them to another dance teacher who she said she’d known for decades and would be a great instructor.
Caroline: Caroline nods. “We’ll extend all hospitality to her, and expect her to return it in kind. I’m certain you’ll give her no cause to seek anything more than the lessons in my mother’s home.”
Celia: Celia’s flashed smile contains fangs.
“I have no desire to tangle with your mother.”
“Or you,” she adds. “Not in that way, at least.” The smile turns sly.
“And you’ll keep her employment at McGehee to yourself. I’ve no wish for another visit from the prince’s agents.”
Caroline: “My sire has rather more important matters to see to than a ghoul with no desire to interact with Kindred society. Unless she finds herself engaged in some manner of behavior untoward, I have no reason to point them to her.”
To say nothing of how few of her sire’s agents would care for anything she had to say.
Celia: “I’d assumed,” Celia says with a nod, “but I’d rather not take the risk with her life. She’s been through more than enough.”
She’s quiet a moment, then adds, “If your sister needs a playmate, and my mother accepts, Lucy might offer some measure of companionship.”
“While I loathe the idea of offering the pair of them up on a platter, I’d prefer not to make an enemy when there could be… something else.”
“And if I ever meet the fate of my sister, I’d like to know that at least someone they know might be inclined to glance in their direction once or twice, if not look over.”
Caroline: “I’ll leave that to your mother’s discretion. I have no opposition in principle.”
That it might be the greatest protection that could be offered to Lucy from Abélia’s casual snuffing out of her young life is left unsaid. Celia need know nothing of the family’s internal politics.
Celia: Celia only nods.
“What do you need to know to set her to rights, then?”
Caroline: “Dates, times, locations. Her emotional state if you can pry it from her. If there’s a cover you’d like, I can see if I can make it work. Otherwise I’m likely to go with something that checks the appropriate boxes. Perhaps her seeing one of you with someone. That’s the sort of thing likely to create the same anxious, uncomfortable, and curious feelings she felt in the moment.”
Caroline looks out into the night.
“I can give you a few minutes to figure it out. And obviously tonight.”
She bites her lip. “Does she have a pet?”
Celia: “Seeing me with someone,” Celia echoes, amusement writ across her face. “I’d had the same idea, that she’d walked in on me with someone Diana wouldn’t approve of. It was… tense. Very tense. Maxen was there for dinner. Diana found out about Isabel.” A pause. “There was vomiting. A fire. And this evening she heard me talk about… this. Erasing her memories.”
She touches a hand to the bridge of her nose, as if pinching it does anything to stem the headache that this night has brought.
“She has two cats. Family pets. Victor and Shadow.”
Caroline: “Pet’s illness or death might cover a lot of the feelings from tonight. The foreign location, strange scary people, scary discussions.” She shrugs. “I’ll let you figure it out with your mother. If she balks, maybe Victor could spend a few nights at the ‘vet’ with another ghoul.”
Celia: If Victor is anything like Shadow, no doubt he’ll be pleased to feign injury for a few days and milk the sympathy from Lucy.
“I’ll discuss with her. I think finding out her mother is a lesbian might be enough, but I’ll see what my mother has to say.”
Celia appraises the Ventrue before her.
“Thank you,” she says at length.
Caroline: Caroline muses, “I had a similar situation, very early in my Requiem. When I went to someone for help they forced me to ghoul the mortal. To make them my servant.”
“Such a simple thing, an exertion of ones powers, and they made it an ordeal. She’s dead now. And before she died she hated and feared me.”
“I’ll give you and your mother a few minutes.”
Celia: Celia blanches.
“Thank you for not repeating that with me. I can’t think of what sort of monster would ghoul a child.”
“I’m sorry that you lost someone.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t share that it was a valuable lesson about the difference between Kindred and kine.
Celia: Was it? Or is that just what she tells herself to sleep at dawn?
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: Oblivious to the thoughts and memories it might drag up, Celia returns to her mother’s side to tell her the options.
GM: Celia’s mother is sitting where she left her, still hugging and comforting a very tired- and unhappy-looking Lucy.
“Victor being sick,” she says. “He can stay with someone for a few days. We’re not getting rid of the cats.”
Celia: “He can stay with one of Jade’s friends. She’s good with animals.”
GM: Diana shakes her head. “One of my friends.”
Celia: Celia nods.
GM: “What’s Caroline charging you?” her mom asks critically.
Celia: “Some blood.” Celia shrugs. She glances away, then back. “She’d also like you to return to teaching Simmone. She said she’d keep you safe while you’re in their home and the Garden District. No invasion of the mind, no mention of your position at McGehee, so long as I don’t use you to spy on her family.”
“Once your leg is fixed.”
GM: Diana gets a stony look.
“She talked about chopping off Lucy’s fingers.” She lowers her voice so the child can’t hear.
Celia: “…no. She talked about how other licks would do that to you to prove a point. If you spoke to them like you did to her.”
“Mom…” Celia sits beside her, lowering her voice. “They’re dangerous people. Vampires. Okay? They’re dangerous. And Caroline is… has connections. And if she says that she won’t harm you, then I think she won’t harm you. But she’s also not fucking around. That’s what they’re like. I’ve kept you from the worst of them. If you really want to see what they’re like, I can show you. She’s… been tame, compared to all that.”
“I told you,” she adds in an undertone, “how the sheriff used you against me for trespassing.”
“He came to you in the middle of the night. In your home. Flew you across the city. And threw you off the roof. He told me to catch.”
“Then he made you think it was a dream.”
“That’s what they do.”
GM: Celia’s mother blinks dumbly at that latest revelation.
She looks past even asking for details at this point.
“No, Celia, to answer your question, I don’t want to see what they’re like. All of them except—you, have been vile and despicable people.”
Celia: Celia’s eyes narrow. “What did Michael do to you?” The words come out as almost a snarl.
GM: Her mom’s face softens, but only slightly.
“He didn’t do anything. I almost forgot he was one of you.”
Celia: Her lips flatten into a thin line.
“Yeah. If he comes around again, set him on fire.”
“Or his sister.”
GM: Her mom frowns.
“We’ll talk about that later. I just want to get Lucy out of here and back in bed.”
“So, two things.”
“First, you’re being overcharged. Blood and dance lessons for Lucy’s memories? Two for one.”
Celia: “I didn’t know if you’d be willing to resume teaching.”
GM: “Maybe. That’s how many lessons, for… two nights of memories? Doesn’t seem fair to me either.”
Celia: “A year,” Celia supplies. “Simmone is apparently in a delicate place.”
“And you’re one of the few she trusts.”
GM: “One year of lessons is not worth two nights of memories.”
“And I’m not doing those lessons again just for my normal fees. Not after how cruelly Caroline has behaved this evening.”
Celia: She tries not to smirk.
GM: “I only did those lessons as a favor to Cécilia. I don’t normally give private lessons during the school year. I haven’t done that since you were in college.”
“Let’s bring Caroline back in, though. This is a chat we should have with her.”
Celia: “Mom,” Celia says quietly, “I can find someone else if the terms are unacceptable. I know a few licks.”
“My grandsire would probably do it for free. I just don’t want him to know about you.”
GM: “I don’t want Caroline to know about me either,” her mom says frankly. “But we’ll get to that later. Who else is an option?”
Celia: “The detective.”
GM: “He was a kind man. I trust him.”
“We should have gone to him.”
Celia: “Then we’ll go. Now. I’ll call him. He’ll do it.”
GM: Her mom shakes her head.
“We’re here. Caroline knows. We might as well see it through.”
“That’s good the detective is an option, though. So is Caroline wanting something from us. We have room to negotiate. We can walk away if we don’t like her terms.”
Celia: “There are others. Just no one I want around you or Lucy. No one that knows about… me.”
“But we have options.”
GM: “Pete was a kind man,” Diana repeats. “He’s our backup option. We’ll go to him if Caroline doesn’t work out.”
Celia: Celia just nods.
GM: Her mother’s gaze is hard and fierce as she cradles Lucy.
“We are not letting someone walk all over us, Celia. Not again. Not ever again.”
Celia: “Then we just go, Mom. I haven’t told her anything yet. We go and ask Pete and he’ll charge a reasonable fee.”
GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head again.
“I don’t mind giving the lessons. I also sure don’t mind not giving the lessons. We are going to negotiate with Caroline and we are going to get a good deal. And we are going to walk away and go to Pete if we don’t think we are getting a good deal.”
Celia: “The blood is lucky. The blood I’m giving her. If that helps you any.”
Celia: Briefly, Celia explains.
GM: Her mom shakes her head.
“You don’t need to give that up. One year of dance lessons for two days of memories is already an uneven exchange.”
“So what else do you want to ask Caroline for? I only have one thing I want to ask for, and it’s not worth anywhere near as much as a year of lessons either.”
She glances around, as if to see whether anyone is listening. Then she whispers, “I don’t like Caroline knowing about me.”
“You kept saying how dangerous it was to get involved with other vampires. I think you were right. She does not care about our family.”
“What if I say I only drank your blood two days ago, and ask her to erase those memories?”
“Because I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“So she thinks I’m not a ‘ghoul’, just a mom.”
“Or do you think that’s just asking for more trouble, to let her inside my head? We could say we’re getting another vampire to do it.”
Celia: “This was a mistake,” Celia says just as quietly. “I thought we had… I don’t know. Something.”
That’s the problem, isn’t it. She always thinks she has “something” with others and it comes back to bite her in the ass.
“I don’t think she can help me with what I need, anyway, if I were to ask for more to make the trade even.”
GM: “There’s nothing you want from her?”
“Because there’s nothing I want from her, beyond leaving us alone.”
“I liked giving her sister dance lessons. I like the rest of her family. But she’s been so unpleasant I’ll only do those lessons if YOU are getting something out of it.”
Celia: “I thought maybe she’d know some sorcery that could help me lift a curse or like be able to instantly track down my missing ghouls, but both of those are long shots and time sensitive anyway.”
GM: “Okay, so nothing either.”
Celia: Celia shrugs.
“I might just not be thinking big enough.”
GM: “Celia, I have no idea,” her mother says tiredly. “Isabel is dead. I am exhausted. Lucy is exhausted. Lucy is terrified. I want to get this over with and go home.”
The six-year-old is still silently clinging to Diana. She’s not made a peep. Celia’s mother strokes the girl’s hair.
“If you think my giving dance lessons could help you, I’ll do them. If you don’t, I won’t.”
Celia: “If she can do those,” Celia finally says, “and if you want to do the lessons once your leg is fixed, we’ll go that route. If not, we walk.”
GM: “I only want to do the lessons if they will significantly help you, and Caroline will treat me with courtesy and respect. Those are 50-some hours I could spend with Lucy.”
“Because I sure as hell aren’t taking Lucy back to that house.”
“I do not trust that she will be safe around Caroline.”
Celia: She has a very dumb idea.
And yet… what if it works.
GM: Oblivious to her daughter’s thought, Diana then states,
“Tell me what you think of my idea. I don’t know enough to say if it’s good or bad.”
Celia: “Making her think you’re just a mom, not a ghoul?” Celia considers. “She wouldn’t know unless she tasted your blood that you’re a ghoul, but that’s what the mark is for. I could say that you don’t want this. Say it was recent. Have her erase it. I could… try to unlock it for you again. Like I did for Emily.”
GM: “Is that a guarantee? What wouldn’t I remember, if she’s not actually erasing the memories she thinks she is?”
Celia: “What she’s doing is a little tricky,” Celia says slowly, “and depends more on exactly what is said versus what she intends. So, the differences between our clans is that the stiffs essentially turn people into robots. They issue commands that leave no room for interpretation. It’s like… like a computer program. She types in a very specific set of instructions to get a very specific output, and you, the robot, have no room to deviate. Or a puppet. She pulls the strings, you dance. Whereas if I were to make you want to do the same thing, you’d have wiggle room to deviate from the cut and dry plan so long as you got the same result. A wind up doll versus a puppet.”
“I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m trying to keep it brief. But I don’t know what would happen if she told you to forget a memory that doesn’t exist. If she says ‘forget last night between midnight and two am and remember this other thing instead,’ that’s what you would remember. But if she said ‘forget that Celia told you she’s a vampire two nights ago,’ you’d… I mean I didn’t tell you I’m a vampire two nights ago. So it might fizzle.”
“And if not… if something happens… I could ask Pete. Or my grandsire. I’d rather he not know about you, but he’s… old. He knows more about this than I do.”
“To reverse it, I mean. If I can’t. I think I can. I did it with Emily. And I’ve done it before to someone Caroline made forget things.”
GM: Diana takes that all in.
“Ask Pete. Not your ‘grandsire’. I don’t trust other vampires.”
“Either way, they’re not here, and we are.”
“I don’t know enough about all of this. What do you think is our best option?”
“Ask Caroline to erase my memories, or tell her another vampire is doing that?”
Celia: “Asking her to do it will make her think it worked. I’m concerned she’ll find a reason to fuck with you if I say someone else is doing it. But last time she did that to you… that’s when you had the vision about Maxen and Lucy.” Celia runs a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like a scared little girl. “I just don’t want to give her a reason to mess with you further. And her mom is…”
GM: Celia trails off as her voice dies in her throat.
Nothing more comes out.
Celia: “I’d rather not tangle with her, is all,” she finishes lamely.
“Or Caroline,” Celia mutters, “she’s the prince’s kid. This was dumb to come here.”
GM: Celia’s mother does not look like a scared little girl. For all the grief and weariness that mars her darkened face, her eyes look hard. Her eyes look angry. She looks like a mother bear deliberating the best way to kill or evade the hunters threatening her cubs.
“Spilled milk. Now that we’re here, we need to pick one option or the other,” Diana says patiently. “Do you not feel like you know enough to make that judgment call?”
Celia: “One problem at a time. We’ll have her fix Lucy. I’ll tell her I need someone else to do yours. If she starts digging, we’ll take care of it then. If she can’t do anything for me that I need right now, then no lessons.”
GM: “What are you trading her for Lucy?”
“The lucky blood?”
“I want you to get a fair deal. I don’t want her to take advantage of you.”
“I don’t want her to get more than the minimum of her money’s worth. She isn’t Cécilia.”
Celia: “If I can raise this lick from torpor then I’ll have plenty of lucky blood.”
GM: “How certain is that ‘if’?”
“Because this ‘lucky blood’ sounded useful. Can you pay her anything else?”
Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges. “I suppose if not then we can walk there too.”
GM: “Maybe,” repeats Diana. “Be certain, Celia. People who are certain will roll over ‘maybe’.”
Celia: Celia grits her teeth. Jade would be better at this. Jade never says maybe. But Caroline can’t know about Jade.
“Sometimes they trade information. Sometimes open-ended boons that can be used on minor favors. Sometimes just blood. I’ll see what else I can tempt her with.”
GM: “Do you have any information or ‘normal’ blood? I’d rather you settle accounts here than owe her anything.”
Celia: “Stiffs have a type when feeding. If what I have on hand isn’t her type, then I guess I’ll down it and let her drink from me.”
GM: “Will that hurt you?”
Celia: “No. Just makes me hungry.”
“I can feed later.”
GM: “I can’t feed you tonight, if that impacts things.”
Celia: Celia looks her over.
“Who did you feed?” she asks.
GM: “No one,” answers her mother.
“I am not going to feed other vampires when that could go towards my daughter.”
Celia: “Dani didn’t take a hit when she came by? You weren’t in a fight I don’t know about? Pushing yourself too hard? You look… rough, Mom.”
GM: “No. Dani never asked for my blood.”
“I had terrible dreams.”
“I felt sick.”
Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line. “Tonight? Before I woke you?”
GM: “Yesterday night.”
“When you told me about Isabel.”
Celia: “Tell me more about this when we get back home. I want to know what’s going on with you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there earlier tonight for you. I meant to be.” She shakes her head. “Intentions count for little. You and I will talk.”
GM: Celia’s mother says nothing to that, for a moment.
Then she removes one arm from Lucy to pull her other daughter into a hug. She closes her eyes and savors the moment of respite.
It’s all-too brief.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia pulls away from the whispered conversation with her mother, rising to her feet to nod to Caroline.
GM: Mrs. Flores rises alongside her, hoisting up Lucy in her arms.
Caroline: The Ventrue tucks away her phone and heads back inside.
GM: Mrs. Flores directly meets the Ventrue’s gaze with head held high. Her face does not have a trace of the subservience or humility endemic to ‘broken in’ ghouls.
It reminds Caroline of Diego’s last phone call, and the way he swore at her and hanged up. He, too, never accepted his domitor as his superior.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Flores waits for Celia to speak.
Caroline: She remembers well how Diego’s story ended. On his knees in a dirty abandoned home.
She doesn’t share that.
Celia: Celia doesn’t quite smile. Perhaps the pair of them aren’t intimidating to the prince’s childe: the sheriff’s bastard and the schoolteacher, neither one of them more than a handful of inches over five feet tall, neither one of them brawlers.
But together… together there’s some steel in the spine. Together they’re a united front, mother and daughter and granddaughter, a family that loves and is loved in turn.
All of this to protect a child from the truth and horror of their world. To let a young life continue in ignorance rather than subject her to what lurks in shadows.
“My mother thinks that I’m being overcharged,” Celia says baldly. “That a year of dance lessons isn’t worth two nights of memories. I’m inclined to agree. I believe there’s more that we can negotiate to make matters more even.”
Caroline: The smile behind Caroline’s eyes doesn’t fade as she settles into a chair.
“Does she now? Well, please, I’d be fascinated to hear about the dynamics of Kindred boons through the eyes of a just ghouled dance instructor.”
GM: “Certainly,” replies Mrs. Flores as she sits down across from Caroline. Lucy doesn’t turn to look at the vampire.
“One year of weekly lessons comes out to approximately 50 hours of my time.”
“Will what you are doing take 50 hours?”
Celia: “Someone did this before for me. She only asked for juice. But as I said, I’m willing to negotiate my mother’s time. There are other things I could use some assistance with that should cause you no undue stress.”
GM: “We will negotiate your mother’s time,” Mrs. Flores corrects, then turns back to Caroline.
“Celia and I have discussed our options for Lucy. You are not our only one. There is another vampire we can go to for help with her memories. I have no attachment whatsoever to that vampire being you.”
Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at Mrs. Flores’ opening argument. “Do you use this same line of reasoning with your doctor or lawyer? Do you think they do the same with their grocery bagger?”
“Our skillsets are not equal. If there are ten Kindred in the city that could do what I do with similar proficiency, I would be very much surprised. Most of those would execute you and your daughter out of hand.”
“You are also approaching this with a shortsighted view of here and now, and failing to understand the basis for Kindred economic functions—which your lessons would allow you to facilitate for both you and your daughter.”
GM: “Actually, I think my skillset is the higher valued one here,” replies Mrs. Flores.
“Leaving aside your implicit comparison between dance and grocery bagging—because oh boy, don’t get me started—-I trust that Celia’s other vampire is just as qualified to erase Lucy’s memories as you are. I also trust that Lucy will be at least as safe in their hands as yours.”
“You, on the other hand, already have a referral for another dance teacher. Naomi is just as qualified to teach ballet as I am. You could find another ballet teacher if you don’t want her. You don’t need me if you want Simmone to learn ballet. But Simmone doesn’t like strangers.”
“I’ve taught her enough lessons by now to see, don’t pardon my bluntness, what a mess she is.”
Celia: Oh boy.
“Regardless, Caroline, there are other things I’d ask for before we barter out my mother’s time for a year. Can we discuss?”
Caroline: “Your daughter is an illegally Embraced lick. There are painfully few doors open to her.”
“If your daughter genuinely believed your other option could do the job as well, as immediately, and without risk, she would have called them first. Don’t sell her short to make your argument. There are plenty of second-rate licks on the street that can paper-mâché over a memory, but the further in the past it was, the narrower that list becomes. Doing so with a solid enough foundation that it won’t crumble if she picks at it over time becomes even narrower still.”
“If you want to go with someone else, by all means. But when they botch the job, don’t come back to me in a month and ask me to pick up the pieces.”
“But by all means, what else would you ask of me, Celia?”
Celia: Celia stares across the space at Caroline. There’s no anger on her face. Just hurt.
“Are you threatening me?” she asks quietly. “I am not my sire, Caroline. I don’t know what hatred you have for him or why, but if it is your intent to turn me in for my illegal Embrace then I ask you take my head yourself and spare me the ordeal of being dragged before the city. I’ve no wish to make him murder his own childe.”
“I thought…” she trails off, looking down at her hands. “Jade told me what happened when she came to visit. She told me that she’d recorded the… the correction, that she made you listen, and that you threatened her afterward.” She swallows, looking back up to Caroline. Pink colors her cheeks.
“I thought maybe it meant something, that you’d defended me. I apologize if I misunderstood, or my misplaced affection is an inconvenience. I wanted help. I thought of you. That’s all.”
Caroline: “Wiser not to speak of him,” Caroline answers firmly.
“But if I intended to turn you in, I’d have done so. I think your mother simply fails to understand the position you are in. She imagines some egalitarian world in which all doors are open.” She turns back to Diana. “They aren’t.”
“That I am not simply taking what I wish from you should be a clear demonstration of my affection. And that I was interested in cultivating continued connection between us—connection that would make your execution inconvenient for me—through your mother’s lessons would have been evidence enough of that.”
She should have simply let her mother do as she’d intended. Part of her would enjoy watching this arrogant ghoul shattered by the loss. Instead, she’s here trying to make it work. Taking attitude in her own haven, in her own domain, from a ghoul with even less time in the Blood than any of Caroline’s own.
No good deed goes unpunished.
GM: Diana follows the two’s conversation with increasingly narrowed eyes.
“If there is one thing I know too well, Caroline, it’s that absence of abuse is not affection.”
“If you’re threatening us, do it openly. If you’re not threatening us, then don’t. But don’t say ‘I could threaten you, but I’m not’ and expect gratitude for it.”
“I am more than willing to entrust another vampire with Lucy’s memories. Celia says this vampire can and will help us. I believe her. I do not believe we need you.”
“How much you want me as Simmone’s dance teacher and what you’re willing to pay for it is up to you. But I will not give 50 hours of lessons for two nights of altered memories. Celia, lay out the other things you want.”
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye. Or her mother’s. She might even squirm, if licks could do such a thing, but perhaps that’s merely a trick of the light. There’s a shine to her eyes not so often found in the faces of the dead when she finally rises, shifting seats in a quick movement to put herself next to Caroline.
She takes the Ventrue’s hand.
“Caroline,” she murmurs, “you told me once that you’d do anything for your family. I watched you with your sister. I know you’re scared for her, just as I’m scared for my daughter. I can’t be with her during the day anymore. My mother has to look over her now. She just found out I’m dead. And Isabel…” Celia trails off. Caroline can smell blood, but the Toreador looks away.
She’s quiet while her mother talks. Finally, she looks back to the Ventrue.
“There’s someone who asked me to do a favor for them. I’m having a difficult time with it. I don’t know enough about dark magic and curses to break this spell. I thought maybe you…” or your mother “…would be able to help. And there’s…”
Her jaw sets. Finally, she looks angry.
“You recall the two ghouls Jade brought with her when she visited? One of them is dead. I found out that Jade—”
Her fingers clench into fists. She breathes in sharply through her nose.
“It doesn’t matter. One is dead, the other is missing. I’d like to find him and I don’t know where to begin. Your team seemed competent.”
“It’s just a time crunch.”
Caroline: “You want me to beseech my mother to intervene on your behalf, and to meddle in the domain of another vampire, within the French Quarter, who is no doubt already on high alert following the death of one of their ghouls?” Caroline restates more flatly.
Celia: “I didn’t say anything about your mom,” Celia points out, “but if you think she could help, sure.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head.
“I have no interest in jumping in the middle of whatever fucked up games you and Jade play. I think we’re done here. Good luck with your other option.”
The Ventrue watches them go from her seat.
GM: Mrs. Flores rises from her own seat.
“I loved teaching all of your sisters,” she says. “Each one of them was and remains a delight to have in my classes. I was delighted to see and teach Simmone outside of school. I regretted canceling her dance lessons. I never did them for the money. Cécilia insisted on paying me for my time, but I got a big insurance settlement some years back. I’m very comfortable financially. The time I spent with your sister was time I could have spent with my granddaughter. I normally don’t give private lessons during the school year, either, just the summer months. I made an exception for Simmone because Cécilia asked me and because Cécilia was one of my favorite students. I also thought it was worthwhile to teach dance to a badly traumatized child, and that maybe I’d even be able to help her in some small way. I wanted to help your family because I liked them. I felt honored that Cécilia trusted me enough to do that. I felt honored that Simmone trusted me enough to do that. I thought there was friendship and goodwill between our families.”
Mrs. Flores shakes her head.
“I thought wrong.”
“I’m glad Celia and I have another option.”
“I don’t know where your mother went wrong with you, but you are the one Devillers I regret knowing. If your sisters were as heartless as you, I’d have wanted nothing to do with them. I hope you have brought less unhappiness to your family than you have brought to mine in our brief time together. Because in my experience, people who are cruel outside their families are cruel inside their families. In my experience, cruelty poisons love. And I’m sorry for your sisters, that they have such a cruel person in their lives.”
She adjusts Lucy in her arms.
“Tell Cécilia I said hello.”
Caroline: A million petty responses flow through Caroline’s mind as the schoolteacher rants. This pathetic kine that doesn’t even know Caroline has already once saved her entire life from demolition by powers she can’t even imagine, much less fight.
At its most petty she could assert her power, force Diana to jump in the pool or throw her granddaughter in to prove the point.
But there’s no need. The way she’s behaving, the way she’s interacting, tragedy will come home to her soon enough.
“One night, probably soon, you’ll look back on this night and regret that you didn’t listen to me, Mrs. Flores. Or your daughter, for that matter. When that happens, do drop me a line.”
Celia: Celia rises abruptly to her feet, anger in her eyes. But not at Caroline. Oh, no, not at Caroline at all. The budding fury is not directed at the Ventrue, is not present when Celia manages to bite out a “thanks for your time” before she stalks toward the elevator. She grabs her mother’s elbow with slightly more force than necessary on the way.
“Congratulations,” she snaps at the kine, “your stupid pride and your insistence on getting something else means we’re all dead. If we make it through this I’m having your memories wiped too.”
The door closes on that threat.