“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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: …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.
Celia: 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.”
Celia: 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.”
Celia: “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.”
Celia: 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.”
Celia: 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.”
Celia: Jade moves her fingers to behind the cat’s ears.
“Is the older girl in her den?”
GM: Shadow blinks long and slow.
Celia: “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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: 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.
Celia: “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.”
Celia: 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.
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 covers any surprise at Celia’s call and provides a time. She hints 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 school teacher, 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.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
Celia: Celia waits until they’re back in the car to let the anger fade. She doesn’t say anything as she puts the keys into the ignition and starts the car.
“Wasn’t worth continued exposure to the Garden District. Hopefully that line in the elevator throws her off.”
GM: Diana settles Lucy into the Beetle’s back seat and sits next to her. The sleepy-faced six-year-old starts crying again and clings to her mother.
Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. “I can blunt her emotions,” she finally offers.
GM: Celia’s mom doesn’t ask what’s wrong. She holds the girl close and murmurs words of comfort.
“I think that does more harm than good, Celia,” she answers. “But thank you for asking first.”
Celia: “I’m concerned she’s going to follow through on her threat,” Celia adds after a moment, “about calling the Krewe.”
GM: Diana’s eyes grow hard again.
“We will take care of this. Lucy does not need to know monsters are real. Not at six.”
Celia: Not ever, Celia hopes.
But perhaps that’s just wishful thinking.
GM: “You should make sure with her, after we do. That no more vampires will invade our lives. I just want them to leave us alone.”
Celia: “I will.”
Celia taps Pete’s number into her mother’s phone.
GM: Celia’s mother gives a weary sigh and picks up the phone.
She’s answered after a few rings with the detective’s grizzled, “Yeah, kid?”
Diana hits speaker mode and sets the phone down.
“Hi, Pete. It’s Celia’s mom, Diana. You helped us some years back, if you remember.”
Celia: He does. They’d just had a conversation about her.
“Hi, Pete,” Celia adds.
GM: “I do remember, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Hi, Celia.”
Celia: “Mom and I were hoping to borrow a moment of your time this evening, if you’re available.”
It’s not like she can ask over the phone.
GM: “I’m a little busy this evening.”
“We need your help,” Diana says, frankly. “It’s an emergency. I don’t know if there’s anyone else who can.”
There’s a pause from Pete.
“All right. Can this wait a few hours?”
Celia’s mom looks down at Lucy.
“Okay,” says Pete. “At your house?”
“Yes. Yes, please. At our house,” says Diana. “It’s 1110 Burgundy Street.”
“Okay,” repeats Pete. “Hang tight.”
“We will. Thank you.”
Celia: “Thanks, Pete. See you soon.”
GM: “Bet on it.”
The detective ends the call.
Celia: “I should eat soon,” Celia says to no one in particular once the call ends. “Do you want me to drop you off and come back, or… do you think we could… order pizza?”
“Or I can… one of the neighbors… I think we have a lot to talk about.”
GM: Her mother blinks slowly.
Celia: “And you need a hit,” Celia adds.
GM: “No,” Diana replies firmly.
Celia: “Mom, you look like hell.”
GM: “Heroin is not going to bring your sister back.”
“Heroin is not going to heal the hole in my heart.”
“Heroin is not going to make my problems better.”
Celia: “No,” she agrees, “but it will let you function at 100% instead of… this.”
“And you can better care for yourself and your daughter if you’re not jonesing for a fix.”
GM: “No,” her mother repeats. “Heroin is going to make my problems worse.”
“Do not offer again.”
“Do not tempt me.”
Celia: “Are you just not going to be a ghoul anymore?”
GM: Celia’s mother gives her a thousand yard stare. Rain patters against the car’s windows again as the wipers whisk back and forth.
“Celia, I am past exhausted,” she finally answers wearily. “I don’t want to decide anything right now. I want to protect Lucy. I want to go back to bed. I want to put Lucy back to bed. I want to take care of Abigail and figure out options for her. I want to talk to Jade about how things are going to be. I want to make it to work tomorrow. I want to stay home and mourn my daughter. I want to break the news to David, Logan, and Sophia, and even Maxen, because even he deserves the closure of finally knowing that our baby girl is never coming home.” Diana’s voice chokes a little. “I want to lay her body to rest. I want to arrange her funeral. I want to talk to you about how she died. I want to talk to you about how she lived. I want to weep for all the things left unsaid between us, and for never being able to tell her that I forgave her. I want to know if that would have made a difference in her life for the better. I want to know how God is going to judge her. I want to do something kind for someone in need, because I am so tired of there being so much darkness and misery in our world and the only way I know how to fight it is to be the light that I want to see. I want to collapse and cry into a man’s shoulders and let him take care of me. I want to stand tall and strong for the people who need me now, because maybe it was God’s will that I find the strength I’d lost during this time of need.”
“I want to talk to Natalie and make up for all the years I could have had a relationship with her. I want to help Dani land on both feet and figure her life out. I want to help Henry out of the well of grief I am drowning in. I want to stop Elyse from hurting more girls like me and destroying their lives. I want to punish the men who raped you. I want to take Alana to task for that time she kissed me. I want to talk with you about the things I remember being important and am too frazzled to even remember what they were right now. I want to learn to fight so that I can protect our family from anything that would threaten us. I want to get even for all the hurts our family has suffered. I want to forgive and move on. I want to fall to pieces. I want to be whole. I want to raise Lucy safe and happy and put the nightmares behind us. I want to go to bed and wake up to a better tomorrow. I want you to share that with us and see the sun. I want so many things. I do not expect I am going to get many of them.”
Diana lets out a long breath, closes her eyes, and leans back against the headrest.
“But since you have asked, yes. I am giving that serious thought, to not being a ghoul anymore.”
Celia: Celia and Jade had made an agreement: Celia would be the only one to cry. Celia would be the only one to show weakness. It would be easy to fall apart here. To let her mother’s words reduce her to a childish nature again, to give into the hurt that she has caused so many people and feel it for them like she has so many times before.
It hasn’t gotten her anywhere.
It hasn’t gotten her anywhere but here, sitting in the car while rain pelts against the windshield at three in the morning, driving her mother’s car with her sister in the back seat, listening to her mother’s woes. Lover lost. Friends dead. Family in mourning. Shattered. All of it broken.
All of it her fault.
No, maybe not all of it. Maybe by saying all of it’s her fault she’s becoming a martyr and not really letting the pain in. Maybe she’s just being a victim again.
So she keeps it in. She doesn’t start with excuses or lies. She doesn’t start blaming herself. She doesn’t start blaming everyone else, either. She just exists in the moment, listening to a mother’s grief, and letting it rock her to her core.
The wipers move back and forth across the windshield and Celia wonders, not for the first time, if this is how the rest of her Requiem will pan out. If it’s only going to be grief and more grief. If her circle of friends will slowly get smaller and smaller until she’s left alone, another jaded elder sitting in a room by themselves cursing neonates for their ability to feel anything beyond an empty bitterness.
For the first time since her death she truly understands the fact that she is Damned.
This is her Hell, slowly tearing her family apart.
For long moments the only sound in the car is Lucy’s quiet breathing and the rain against the windows, the steady swish of wipers against glass. Street and brake lights blur red in her vision. A trick of the water on the ground, perhaps, or the unshed blood that swims across her eyes.
“We’ll get through tonight,” Celia finally whispers. “We’ll get through tonight, and then tomorrow, and we’ll make it work, and I will help you however I can. Anything you need, Momma.”
What’s the point?
She wants to know.
What’s the point in all of this? What’s the point in picking a side and pledging loyalty to various patrons only to put them on the throne so they can enjoy the fruits of their labor while the rest of them… exist. Hunt. Mock each other at Elysium. Rape people for their blood. Hurt people who don’t see things the same way. It’s no different than the white man hating the black man for the color of his skin, is it? Are there really any differences in the three powers-that-be? Vidal, Baron, Savoy, they’re all the same. All the elders are.
He’s a snake. Her sire had told her the truth of him that night on the roof. It was meant to sow distrust, yes, but it was the truth as well: Savoy is a snake. He doesn’t care about her. He cares about power.
He’d used her. He’d used her and he’d lied to her just like her sire uses her and lies to her, just like she uses and lies to Alana. It’s a cycle that won’t end, a nonstop pattern of the strong preying on the weak.
And what’s the point?
She climbs her way up, stepping on licks all the while, and perches precariously atop the pyramid knowing that everyone below her wants what she has? That any night some power-hungry neonate, ancilla, or elder she pissed off at some point is going to come marching into her throne room to take everything she’s worked for?
She hoards knowledge and secrets and collects favors and boons and territory and blood for what? What do any of them actually do with it? Eternal life and they spend it playing word games and humiliating anyone who shows weakness, wearing ice masks and venom masks and never forging actual real connections.
What’s the point?
The man on top shits on the man below him who shits on the man below him who shits on the man below him, and every night they all just eat the shit they’re dealt and thank their lucky stars that they’re not even lower and hold out their hands for seconds and thirds while they sharpen their knives.
What’s the point?
Really, she wants to know. Because this, whatever it is, whatever this is that she has, it isn’t worth all the lives she’s ripped apart. She makes people pretty. That’s it. She plays house and pretends she’s part of a fairy tale, like she’s some mildly endearing protagonist in a YA series about vampires that go through high school three dozen times and fall for humans and cry sparkly diamond tears about not wanting to hurt them and how they smell so good and it’s bullshit, it’s all bullshit, because none of that is real. Whoever had written those books and movies had no idea what it’s actually like, no idea how far they spiral from idealistic boy scout to soul-stealing, brutish savage. There’s not even a word for it because “beast” and “monster” don’t do this state of being justice.
She’d killed her sister. She’d made her father rape her sister because she was angry and then she’d killed her. She’d cut the head off of her ghoul. She’d beaten her mother. Bonded one of her best friends because she’d wanted to manipulate her into staying in town.
When had she decided that being someone’s pet neonate was all she wanted out of her Requiem?
Maybe that is their curse. Solitude. Humans are pack animals. They bond with anything. They’re social creatures. But by their very nature licks are unable or unwilling to form attachments, and when they do they’re so busy trying to hold onto it with one hand and pick up more with other that they let what they do have slip through their fingers.
To stand still is to lose.
So they grasp and claw their way to the top only to realize that the tide never stops and the licks behind them are eager to seize what they have, so the bright-eyed neonates turn into jaded ancilla turn into heartless elder. Life is cheap. Roderick had told her that once. Life is cheap to them.
He makes her think she matters but she doesn’t.
Not to her grandsire. Not to her krewe. Not to her lovers. Not to her sire or allies or friends, not to Draco or Donovan or Savoy or Pietro, not to Veronica or Josua or Pete or Benji. Probably not even to Camilla, despite the fact that she’s managed to retain some level of decency even as Donovan’s childe.
And that’s the cincher, isn’t it. Celia thinks that he had chosen her for her darkness, that something in her speaks to something in him, but then why Camilla? She’s his opposite, isn’t she? Isn’t Celia?
She’s glad for the turn onto Burgundy, glad for the three houses they pass before she pulls into her mother’s drive. Glad for the rain that pelts the windows when she turns the key to shut off the ignition.
The skies must weep for her because that, like everything else, leaves only a bloody mess behind when she does it.
Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM
GM: Diana unbuckles a nodded-off Lucy from her seat and carries her inside. Victor and Shadow both look at Celia and give furious, low-throated hisses before darting out of the room. Celia’s mother just blinks dully as Lucy cries some more. She carries the girl into her bedroom, takes off her coat and shoes, and puts her to bed, quietly rocking her and singing to her until she drifts off to sleep.
She looks like she wants nothing more than to curl up alongside her daughter right then and there.
Celia: “I can wake you when he gets here,” Celia offers.
GM: Diana slowly shakes her head.
“We have some things to first take care of.”
“I can’t let Emily stay up all night looking after Abigail.”
“She has school tomorrow. Today.”
Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.
“Mom,” she says quietly, “I feel like all I’ve done is interrupt your life. Emily’s life. Lucy’s life. I don’t want to do that anymore.”
GM: “Yes, we need to set some boundaries. Come on.”
Her mom tiredly gets up, leaves Lucy’s room and closes the door, then leads Celia out of the house and into the car.
“No more vampire talk in the house.”
Celia: Celia nods. She can agree to that.
GM: “This is an older house. The walls are not soundproofed. Lucy’s door isn’t locked. If there are unusual noises, if there is anything that seems like a secret or makes her curious, she will get out of bed and listen in, because that is what kids do.”
Celia: “I was thinking about having Pete ward the house. His clan does magic. It would protect you from being spied on. Not from Lucy, but others.”
GM: “I wouldn’t say no to that, if you think it’d help.”
Her mother rubs her head.
“Please visit earlier in the evening.”
“We are not nocturnal. We need uninterrupted sleep. Lucy especially.”
Celia: “I… I will, Mom. I’m sorry about tonight. I won’t bore you with the details, I just… couldn’t.”
“So if it happens again, I’ll just wait until the next night.”
GM: “If you could’ve made other temporary arrangements for Abigail, I think that would have been best. But I’m not about to categorically say no. Simply call me ahead of time. So I can get things ready.”
“Like moving the cats to another room.”
“It’s bad for them to get so upset after seeing you.”
Celia: “Sure. I can do that.”
GM: “I’d also like to visit you or come in to Flawless to talk about vampire things. Or we may be spending a lot of time in the car.”
Celia: “The, ah, the spa is bugged.”
“But I’ll have it swept.”
GM: “Who bugged it?”
Celia: Celia effects a snort.
“My grandsire. Some weird demon lady. Stephen, probably.”
GM: Her mom just takes that in with another dull look.
“Okay. Forget the spa. Your place, then, if it’s not bugged too.”
Celia: It probably is. But Celia only nods. She’ll have that swept, too.
GM: “The spa would be convenient. But if you remove the bugs, no reason they won’t just put more back, is there?”
Celia: “Why would anyone ever leave me alone,” Celia mutters bitterly.
“There’s something Stephen did tonight that swept for them in a pinch. And I might know someone who makes electronics not work. I’ll look into it.”
“That being said, only trust Pete so far, Mom. He works for my grandsire. And the Tremere.”
GM: “What shouldn’t I say around him?”
Celia: “Anything sensitive. Abigail. Emily knowing about all this.”
GM: “What is anything sensitive. Lucy hearing what she did is sensitive.”
Celia: “Everything is sensitive. Everything can be used against people.” Celia sighs, rubbing a hand across her face again. “My specific plans, I guess. Travel. Abigail. I’ll… tell you what not to repeat as it comes up, I guess. If you’re not part of Kindred society I guess you can’t really let things slip, but Pete is… I don’t know how I feel about him anymore.”
GM: Her mom mirrors the motion, rubbing her own head again.
“I’ll just let you talk.”
“About anything to do with vampires.”
Celia: “Do you want me to just have him wipe your memories, Mom?”
GM: “What memories?”
Celia: “All of them. All of this. We can go back to what we had before.”
GM: “I feel like that’s wishful thinking, Celia.”
Celia: “I’m tired of causing problems for the people I love.”
GM: “And I wish Isabel was still alive.”
“But we don’t always get what we want.”
Celia: “No? Because walking out of your life seems like it would solve a fuck ton of problems for you, Lucy, and Emily.”
GM: Her mom’s eyes are hard.
“I am not losing another daughter, Celia.”
“We will keep Lucy out of this. No more vampire talk in the house.”
“No more surprises in the middle of the night.”
Celia: “You don’t have a choice, Mom. I’m dead. Celia is dead. I’m dead and I’m fucking insane with seventeen personalities inside of me who all want different things, and all I do is ruin people, so why would you want me around?”
“Because I sure as fuck can’t handle watching you and Emily and Lucy lose everything because of me.”
GM: “Because you’re my daughter.”
“Because you’re the reason I have Lucy, Emily, this house, and my old self back.”
Celia: “Then I should walk now while you’re ahead.”
GM: “I am not having this debate, Celia,” her mother says tiredly.
“Stephen, Dani, Caroline, and soon Pete will all know about me anyway. It’s too late to walk back from this.”
Celia: “Pete already knows about you.”
“He erased some memories for me so no one else did.”
“And like an idiot I let Dani keep hers, and then I told Stephen.”
“So I fucked up your life, congratulations.”
GM: “You did not make a mistake with Dani.”
“Well. That time.”
“She needed us.”
“She also told me that you ‘bonded’ her twice.”
Celia: “Yeah. I fucked up. That’s the theme of these past few weeks. Celia fucked up.”
“I lied and cheated and am a whore, too. Welcome to the club of people who know.”
GM: Her mom wearily rubs her head again.
“I’m not getting into Dani. Not here. Not now.”
“She told me Dr. Dicentra was a lie.”
“I thought she was going to operate on me.”
Celia: “Dicentra exists. She’s just me.”
GM: “Yes. Dani said. I like to know who is going to cut me open, Celia.”
Celia: “That’s the point of a secret identity. It’s secret.”
“What I do isn’t something most licks do. Best case scenario they never leave me alone. Worst case they fry me for being a fiend or something stupid.”
“Why didn’t I tell Dani? Because she can’t keep her fucking mouth shut. Because Stephen can’t keep his fucking mouth shut. Oh no, what a lie, you wanted to preserve the anonymity of the night doctor, how fucking terrible of me.”
“As if that’s anything compared to what most of them lie about.”
GM: “I like to know who is going to cut me open, Celia,” her mom repeats.
“I am honest with you. I choose to trust you. Please return the favor.”
“I do not like feeling as if you are dishonest with me and do not trust me.”
Celia: “It’s not you, it’s everyone else.”
GM: “It is me, Celia. You lied to me about who I was going to trust with my body.”
Celia: “Didn’t Dani and Stephen tell you? I’m a liar, Mom. That’s what I do. Not an honest bone in my body. Black hole spinning through space ruining everything she touches. That’s me. Loved someone? Nah, let me fuck it up. Someone loved me? Nah, let me fuck that up too. Made a friend? Nah, bonding her is a great idea, let’s make sure neither one of them ever trust me again. Can keep Maxen away from the family? What? Why would I do that when I can invite him in because he told me what I wanted to hear at dinner, because I’m too fucking curious to leave well enough alone with him.”
“That’s what I do, Mom,” she says again. “I put everyone else in danger because I’m a selfish bitch. This is your daughter. I hope you’re happy knowing her.”
GM: Diana gives another long look at her daughter’s furious and despairing words. Part of her looks like she wants to snap back. Another part looks like she wants to just crash into exhausted sleep right here in the car and let all problems that aren’t Lucy sort themselves out.
She looks at Celia for a moment, then pulls her into an embrace. It feels like a childhood blanket, worn and threadbare from the years, and perhaps now more than ever. But still warm and familiar as it envelops her and holds the night’s chill at bay.
Her mother’s voice is soft when she speaks again.
“Celia, it’s your choice who you want to be. Every night when you wake up. From this night until whenever your time runs out. It’s your choice.”
“Some choices may make you happier than others. But I will always love you, and you will always be my baby, no matter who you decide to be.”
“Who do you want to be?”
Celia: Maybe she’d wanted her mother to snap back at her. Maybe being yelled at and told to suck it up would have jolted her out of this pity party of one where she looks at all the choices she has made in her Requiem and regrets every single one of them.
But the harsh words don’t come. Diana doesn’t yell at her daughter. Half on her lap, the snugness of her arms pushes the rest of the world away and leaves Celia alone at the center of the storm. Anger, grief, and fear—those mangy mutts—snap and snarl at her heels while insecurity and doubt whip through the air around her.
She’s enclosed in a whirlwind of her own making, brought to her knees by the force of her own failures on a desolate patch of rock that had once bloomed with light and love. Now it’s barren and empty and Celia sees what’s left on the ground: withered plants, fallen petals black with decay, bloody thorns where leaves once grew. Dead, all of them, ripped out root and stem. And beside them, carved into stone, the evidence of betrayal.
Her nails fit perfectly into the grooves left behind by razor sharp claws.
She weeps for what she had, what she’s lost, what she’s done. She tried so hard to protect this little garden of hers, tucked it away and out of sight and thought that would keep it safe, but the lack of light only hastened its annihilation. She weeps for the lives that she has taken and she weeps for the lives that she has ruined and she weeps for the lives that have been touched by her damnation. She weeps for what might have been, could have been, should have been. She weeps for every angry decision, every lie spun from fear, every venomous barb hurled in hatred.
She weeps for the dead girl and the woman she never was. She weeps for the beauty plucked in its prime, the bitch forced to play the villain, the innocent whose flame was snuffed before it ever had a chance to burn.
But she doesn’t weep alone.
There, sitting across from her, the blonde woman. The mother who lost a daughter. The dancer who lost a leg. The wife whose husband turned savage before her very eyes. Tired, those eyes. Tired and weary and wary, but still they shine. Not with tears, no, but with something else, something better.
“You’ll always be my baby,” the woman says, and so the girl is. The rock and thorns cut her palms and leave bloody trails behind her, but she crawls her way to her mother and curls herself on her lap where the mangy mutts can’t reach her because her mother snaps and snarls back at them and the whispers on the wind are eclipsed by the beat of the heart within her chest.
Who do you want to be?
“Better,” she says, eyes squeezed shut against the laughter that echoes in her ears from long-dead bodies that can’t understand. “I want to be better. I want to be safe. I want to be fearless. I want to go to sleep without worrying that someone will die while I’m out or that I’ll wake to another pair of hunters or stake. I want to make a schedule and be able to stick to it because I’m not abducted. I want to go a weekend without being staked and tortured every night. I want to be honest with you instead of twisting words around to avoid spilling the truth because I’m paranoid someone will rip it from your mind. I want to be honest with you because I’m not afraid of how you’ll react. I want to be honest with you because I accept that I have made mistakes and not search for excuses for my behavior. I want to stop trying to control everything and worrying about every little thing that could possibly go wrong to the point that I’m paralyzed from terror. I want to be whole again. I want to be sane, not broken into little pieces from trauma.”
“Who is that? Who is that person? Because I don’t know her. But I’d like to.”
“Do you want to know why I lie?” she asks. “It’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of telling the truth. I’m afraid of what you’ll say. How you’ll react. I’m afraid you’ll mention it to someone. I’m afraid it will be stolen from your mind and you’ll never know. I’m afraid that someone will torture you. I’m afraid that anyone who knows I’m a lick will use you against me. I’m afraid my sire will come for you in the middle of the night and execute you to punish me. I’m afraid Lucy and Emily will be used against me. I’m afraid David and Logan don’t understand why I’m never around and they think it’s because I don’t like them when the truth is that I’m just trying to limit the amount of people who will be hurt because of me. I’m afraid when Sophia comes home she’ll be another target. I’m afraid that even people I like and respect will use you against me. I’m afraid Pete will turn against me and threaten you. I’m afraid my grandsire already knows about you. I’m afraid he’ll use you to punish me. I’m afraid if I tell you something you’ll tell Dani and Dani will tell Stephen. I’m afraid Stephen is going to kill me. I’m afraid that he’s right, that I am stupid, that I am weak, that I haven’t done anything worthy with my Requiem.”
“I’m afraid,” she says bitterly, “that this entire existence doesn’t mean anything, that I was just an accident, that the best thing I could do tonight to help everyone I know is to walk into the sun.”
“I have been staked and tortured every night for the past three nights. Twice by someone who used to love me. I was staked again tonight. Not tortured, no, but the threat was there, and I was held inside an interrogation room, and my tormentor tried to get into my head and warp my emotions and the only thing that kept it from working is the fact that I’m intimately familiar with that same technique.”
“Randy is dead. His brothers are missing. Even if they haven’t turned against me they’re a Masquerade breach waiting to happen, and if they haven’t turned against me why would they not answer my calls? I’m neck deep in hunter plots that they were working with me on and one of the masks I made for someone in Houston just showed up at Elysium last night and the lick it belonged to, someone I deeply cared for, was killed by hunters. Instead of following up on it last night I got drunk with Emily and was ambushed at my spa when I met with my friend to solve a problem for someone else. I ran. I left him. I abandoned him. And I listened to them torture him while I hid in a closet with Emily, hoping they wouldn’t find us, too.”
“My spa is bugged. Emily and I discussed vampire stuff there. Openly. Whoever was listening will know she knows. I didn’t even get to show her what I wanted to before she passed out, but I said enough to get us both killed. I have the hunter’s ID from Elysium but I guarantee that he’s already left his house if he realized it’s missing, and I don’t have any backup to go after a hunter anyway because the only way I win a fight is if I resort to cheap tricks, have someone else with me, or turn into a tiger and go apeshit. Reggie is supposed to be my bodyguard and he’s missing.”
“Not to mention all the other things I’m working on that have been put on hold because I’m running around trying to put out fires that I started because I’m an idiot and I have no one anymore. I have no one. I’m not willing to risk you. Alana just wants sex. The others are dead or missing. Dani hates me. Stephen has turned into an abuser worse than Maxen. My grandsire and his secretary think I’m a traitorous idiot. And my sire is just waiting for me to fuck up again so he can kill someone else I love or break every single bone in my body and call it a lesson.”
“That’s what we’re up against, Mom. That’s why my life is so messy. That’s why I lie and cheat and steal and show up in the middle of the night, and that’s why, right now, I’m trying to understand that I’m not the only one drowning here but all I can think about is how badly I have fucked everything up and how much I’ve hurt you and our family and how do I come back from that? How do I come back from that, Mom? How do I undo a decade of mistakes that have lead to pain and misery for everyone around me?”
“Because I don’t want this for you or Lucy or Emily. I want Lucy to grow up and be happy and have no idea there are monsters in the world or that she’s known one since birth. I want Emily to marry Robby and work at Delta and do amazing things in healthcare. I want to apologize to Isabel for all the fucked up shit that happened between us, for not being her sister when she needed me, for leaving her alone with Dad all those years when I should have protected her, for failing to keep her alive. And I want you to find someone who makes you happy and treats you well and takes care of you. Not because you need it. Because you want it.”
“I just want all of you to be happy and healthy and safe.”
“So who do I have to be for that? Who do I need to be for the world to leave the lot of you alone? That’s what I want. That’s who I want to be.”
GM: Diana cradles Celia in her arms as her daughter crawls onto her lap, seeking comfort and assurance. Far from Caroline’s haven, and perhaps not even there, they are not Kindred and kine, not ghoul and domitor. Here together on the car seat, with the rain pattering against their tiny sanctuary’s windows, they can simply be mother and daughter.
Celia’s mother holds her and listens her. To all of her fears and insecurities and regrets and self-recriminations as they come tumbling out.
She has never given Celia much advice. Or at least not much good advice. They both know that. But she was not the woman then that she is now. So she listens, eyes not moving from Celia’s, then tries her best to answer her daughter’s question.
“Celia, I don’t think there’s anybody you can be, to guarantee that. We could get hit by cars crossing the street, or crash a car we’re in, or slip and break our necks in the shower, or get attacked by hungry vampires in a dark alleyway, or have a fatal reaction to eating unpasteurized dairy—I had a friend’s husband who passed that way—or ten million and one other tragedies. Yes, we can all do our best to reduce the odds of bad things happening, and we should. But in the end, you can’t guarantee it, not 100%. We can’t control what other people think and feel and do. The only thing that’s 100% in your hands is who you, Celia Adelaide Flores, choose to be for yourself.”
“But you asked me who a better you would be.”
“I think you do know who that person,” says her mom. “Maybe not the full details. But I think that’s the point, too. You don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Whether it’s going to be smooth sailing or stormy waters or what. But you know where she lives, and where to find her, and at this point it’s just a matter of openin’ the door, and taking a leap of faith.”
“Because I think you’re right, Celia… it does feel to me like you’re scared.”
“I know a thing or two about being scared.”
“I spent my marriage to your father being scared. I spent so much of my life being scared. I’m not proud of the things I did. I failed you and your brothers and sisters in so many ways. I let your father beat and belittle and abuse us all, and ruin your lives in so many ways, and I always justified it. It will hurt less this way than the other way. I will just make things worse by standing up. I am making the best of a bad situation for our family. I lied to myself, and I turned myself into a martyr, and I threw an endless pity party, for poor lil’ old me. But I never took ownership for the wrong thing I was doin’, and what it was doing to you and your brothers and sisters.”
“Cowardice is a sin. Up there with pride and wrath and greed and all the others. And I think that’s how all sin works. Whether it’s being cowardly or lying or whatever else. We justify it. Find reasons it’s okay.”
“But it catches up with us. Being a coward just hurt you and the others, and made me miserable. Even after your father divorced me and you were visiting again, and I couldn’t hide behind the excuse that ‘oh your father will beat us’. I saw myself for what I was and I hated it. And, yes, maybe it was… Benson’s fault, that I was as weak as I was. But was it? I remember, after I got you and your brothers and sisters back, how I was starting to stand tall again. And then your father cut me back down. That was… too great a test for my strength, that soon, and I failed it. I became the person I didn’t want to be again, and for years I justified it. That was easy to do, with Lucy and Emily and our life so much better.”
“But sooner or later, I had to face the music. Sin caught up with me. Jade… you… beat me and abused me and I was prepared to take it, like a coward. And it would have destroyed our family, because I was a coward.”
Her mom smiles.
“But you were my strength. You didn’t just stand up for me, you believed in me, and helped me stand up for me. There’s a lot I don’t understand about vampires, but I do understand how things are between them and ‘ghouls’—that still feels like such a silly word. They’re the cowardly Dianas and the vampires are the Maxens, and that’s the way things are. You took a leap of faith, that we could defy the odds and be something different. Because someone who beat her mom wasn’t the person you wanted to be.”
“Then you took a second leap of faith, with Lucy. The doll Lucy. I was finding all sorts of reasons to doubt and be scared, but you were patient with me and gave me the strength, again, to be the person I want to be. You were scared too, of what would happen. But that good thing wouldn’t have happened, unless we chose to open that door, not knowin’ what was on the other side.”
Celia’s mother shakes her head.
“Maybe I’m not makin’ sense. My point is… I think you, me, we all know, who we want to be, and we’re just scared it’s not going to work out. That we’re going to get hurt, or get others hurt, and that’s how we justify sin and not being the person we want to be.”
“But I think when we do that, all we do is hurt ourselves more. Hurt others more.”
“Dani said, when we talked, that truth always comes out. But I think that’s maybe a little oversimplified. I don’t think God sweats the details of who knows what truths. He thinks bigger than that. I think, instead, that our decisions eventually catch up with us. Good and ill. Which it sounds like maybe they did for you with the Garrisons. Dani said telling the truth was your white whale, but I wonder if it’s actually trusting people.”
“I think back to that time in your old loft spa, when we talked about sharing the truth of your dad with Emi, and you didn’t want to. But I insisted, which was pretty darn rare comin’ from me, and six years later, she’s not let us down. Because she feels like she can trust you. Stephen and Dani didn’t feel like they could trust you anymore, so they spilled Dr. Dicentra’s secret. In my experience, if people feel they can’t trust you, they will be untrustworthy. And if they feel they can trust you, they will be trustworthy. Just the golden rule. Unless they’re saints or devils, people treat us the way we treat them. There’s no coupon or secret handshake to get around that. Eventually, it catches up.”
“I mean, even if you hadn’t told Stephen you’d ‘bonded’ Dani and he’d told her, she could have found out anyway. It could’ve come up between them in another conversation, or she could’ve found out from another vampire, or, heck, even I could have mentioned it to her, we talk pretty often. I feel like the cat was eventually going to claw out of the bag, and if you had a whole… what’s that word for a group of cats… a clowder?” Diana manages a smile. “Yes, it’s a very silly word. Well, a clowder’s just gonna scratch and bite and hiss even worse when it finally gets out.”
“And that just sounds like such a stressful and miserable way to live, balancing a thousand lies and hoping they don’t come tumbling down like a house of cards. Kind of like being a coward and hoping your husband will beat you and your kids less if you don’t stand up to him is a miserable way to live. Because, in the end… that’s what happened, isn’t it? The lies still came out and your father still beat us.”
Celia’s mom gives her a squeeze.
“I’m not saying this to blame you, sweetie. I’m on your side. I’ll always be on your side against the world. I just want to help you realize where things went wrong with Dani—Stephen’s his own can of worms—so you don’t have to go through that again with other people. Because that’s the beautiful thing, about life. Every day, or night I guess in your case, you wake up and can be whatever person you want to be. It’s never too late to change. You can turn over a new leaf, with people who’ll give you another chance, and you can even meet new friends and new loves and new family, with people who’ll know the new you.”
“I waited… your entire lifetime, almost 30 years, to turn over a new leaf and be the person I wanted to be. And I can rue all the hurts and pains I caused our family by waiting that long, and say that everything which happened to you is partly my fault because you never had a mom to protect you and fight for you. And I am sorry for that. More sorry than I can ever say. But in the end, ‘sorry’ doesn’t do much. All I can do is start being the mom I want you to have… and you can give me a chance to be that mom.”
“So, that’s where it is with you, too. I think it starts with you trusting people more, and being open with them about things you’re scared to be open about. And I think that starts here in this car, with me.”
Celia’s mom gives her a long and thoughtful look.
“You said, in the spa, as Jade, that you’ve done terrible things. You said you’ve hurt people. You said you did the makeup for Benson’s… victims, is the only word I can call them. Maybe you’ve done things like Caroline said, cut off little girls’ fingers to prove some cruel point. Or killed some people, or killed a lot of people, Dani told me about how people were murdered at that vampire church. And maybe you think I’d reject you, and you’re scared, because you don’t want to ruin things between us, just like you were scared of telling the truth to Dani and Stephen. Sweetie, I can only imagine how you feel to have lost Stephen right now, like someone has ripped your heart out of your chest and stomped all over it. I’m so sorry I didn’t talk to you about that and give you a shoulder to cry on, there’s just been… so much else. If you want to cry right now, go ahead. If you want to tell me things, because it’s hurting you to keep them bottled up inside but you’re scared of what I might think of you, scared that it might destroy our relationship, go ahead. I will be your strength right now, like you were mine. I will be your bridge across that leap of faith. I will always love you, unconditionally, no matter what you’ve done or who you’ve been. Even if you abused me again like Jade, even if you abused your brothers and sisters, even if you abused Lucy. I’d try to keep us safe from you, but I would never stop loving you. Even if you were Hitler and killed millions of people, even if you didn’t love me back, I would love you. You don’t get to turn that instinct off, when you’re a mom. You just don’t. God will judge your sins, but He made me to be your mom. That is the person I want to be. Your mom.”
Celia: “I’m insane,” Celia whispers to her mom while the rain patters against the windshield.
The words aren’t new. She’d said them only moments ago. But she’d said them angrily, said them because she doesn’t want to believe them, said them because they’re a convenient excuse for her behavior. Blame Jade. Blame Jade for being a bitch. Blame Jade for all the bad behavior. Blame Jade for every lie, every lay, every act.
Jade is the villain so Celia can be the princess.
“I blame everyone else for my problems,” she continues, wiping at the red that hasn’t ceased streaming from her eyes, “because it’s easier than accepting I’ve been an awful person. I have a whole different identity I try to hide behind. But it’s me. Even if she’s real, she came from me. She’s what I’m capable of. I’m what she’s capable of.”
“I don’t trust,” she admits, nodding to the words that her mother said. “I don’t trust. I don’t trust people to keep secrets. I don’t trust people to not hurt me. I don’t trust people to not take advantage of me. Even… even people I love.” Eyes the color of a storm swim in her vision. “Absence of abuse doesn’t denote affection. That’s what you said.”
She falls silent, turning her eyes to the dark sky. Thoughts tumble through her head as thunder rumbles above.
Who hasn’t she lied to? Who hasn’t she hurt? Who does she trust?
She trusts no one.
She has kept things even from her sire for all that she has given him her heart.
How could Stephen compare to that? How could he compete against the dark man that has been with her her whole life, the cool hands that held her aloft, the strong arms that have cradled her so gently? He set the world on fire and never let the flames touch her.
But he’d abused her as well. Beaten her when she failed him. Broken her when she’d disappointed him. Saved her, yes, spared her, yes… but punished her for her failings. Meticulously. Coldly. Even their sex three nights ago had been methodical rather than passionate. He has been in control of their relationship since the night he murdered her. Even before then. He has always been in control. Has never shared with her the way she shares with him.
And now Draco does the same. No sharing. In control. Because he doesn’t trust her. Because she’d broken his trust. Does her sire…?
She can’t bring herself to say the words. That he’s a monster. That she loves him anyway.
Celia finds her mother’s eyes.
“I broke them,” Celia says hollowly. “The other dolls. I did their makeup, yes, but I broke them. Until I beat her into torpor for what she did to you, I considered Elyse one of my closest friends. I watched her train them. Countless dolls. Countless victims. I never asked who they were before, only wanted to know who they became after. How I could make use of them. I inflicted physical, emotional, and mental anguish on them because she asked me to. Because I was happy that someone admired my skills. Because it was nice to be wanted. So I watched, I learned, and I helped.”
“I met Lucy there. The first time. I made dolls of my own. The porcelain kind… and the human kind. When Elyse wouldn’t take a client, I would instead. The training was different. But just as terrible.”
“I broke into your mind once. You wouldn’t tell me what I wanted so I used my gifts on you and made you open up. After that you stopped taking your pain meds. I promised myself I would never do it again.”
“I’ve killed. Multiple times. People who have hurt me. People who haven’t hurt me. I’ve set up people to take the fall for my crimes. I meant to do the same last night, but I… didn’t have a convenient moment to do so.”
“I betrayed Stephen. Utterly. I lied to him. I cheated on him. I used him.” Red rims her eyes. She doesn’t try to blink it back again. “And now he’s gone. He’ll never be Stephen again. He’ll never trust me again. He’ll never love me again. Because I ruined it. Me. Not him. Just me. Because it’s what someone else wanted. I bonded Dani so she wouldn’t leave. So she’d stay here instead of flee the city to be safe like he wanted. I thought I could take care of her.”
“But none of that… none of that even comes close to what else I’ve done. What I’m still afraid to say.”
GM: Diana cannot stop her eyes from flicking to the red streaming from Celia’s. Just for a moment.
So she does not reach to brush away Celia’s tears. She looks back into her daughter’s eyes and listens to her confession.
Her gaze turns hollow too, when she hears about the dolls. For a moment, she does not look there, but back in the Dollhouse. Back in the video, accepting her new name. Perhaps she thinks to what names Celia has given other dolls.
“Those are terrible, terrible things, Celia,” she answers slowly. “I condemn them. I hope you will never do them again. I hope you will do what you can to make up for them. I will push you to make up for them.”
Then she embraces her daughter again, holding her close in the car’s tiny confines, and softly strokes her hair.
“But I love you. I love you whatever you decide and whatever else you’ve done. My love for you has no conditions. Thank you for trusting me. I think you need, more than anything else, someone you know you can trust. I cannot imagine what it must have been like, to not have that. How lonely and scared you must have felt. So I will be that person for you. That is who I want to be.”
“What are you afraid to say?”
Celia: The words should mean something to her. She should believe her mother.
But she doesn’t. She’s had too much experience with people asking her to trust them.
“Stephen told me once,” she whispers, “that if I told him the truth he’d forgive me. That we would get through it. That he’d always love me. He said what you said.”
She blinks. She touches a hand to her chest where her heart used to function. It’s dead now, just like the rest of her.
“Then he beat me. He tortured me. He used my body as an outlet for his anger.”
Celia shakes her head.
“You won’t love me if I tell you. You won’t forgive me.”
GM: “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” her mom murmurs, hand still stroking her hair. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like, after you bared your soul to him. It’s no wonder trusting people is so hard for you. I don’t know if I could’ve come back from that, either.”
“There’s something I want to tell you. Maybe it’ll help.”
“Do you wonder why I named Lucy, what I named her? After the doll?”
“I’m sure that must have seemed pretty disturbed, when you found out.”
Celia: Silently, Celia nods her head. It has never made sense to her why her mother would name her daughter after a nightmare.
GM: “So, there’s a bit of history to it. Lucy was a name I always really liked. I got it from your grandfather. Who was a man with a gentle, lovely soul I’ll always wish you’d known. He’d wanted to name me Lucy, but your grandmother didn’t approve. She wanted ‘stronger names’, for me and your aunt. So I decided, if I had a baby girl, I was going to name her Lucy. To stick it to my mom.”
She smiles ruefully. “That isn’t why I picked it, by the way. That’s just the initial history.”
Diana’s smile is already a weak one, a dim candle against the night. After a moment, it’s gone.
“Well, when I was in the Dollhouse. Benson found out, what the name meant to me. She finds out all of those little things, about us. And she uses them to get to us.”
Celia’s mother doesn’t bring up that she probably knows that.
“So, she made me use the name for my doll. She thought it was fitting. Turning something I wanted to defy my mom with into… another way I was submitting. Finding something else in me to ruin, to grind down.”
“After I was pregnant with you, I mentioned the name to your father. And its history. I didn’t say we should use it. He immediately said we shouldn’t, anyway. He liked Celia more and I liked it a lot too.”
“Then we had Isabel and Sophia, between David and Logan, and it just didn’t seem fitting for them.”
“And I doubt your father would’ve wanted to use it anyway.”
Celia: “Why?” Celia asks quietly. “I thought he was a decent man back then.”
GM: “Because I’d have been naming our daughter a nightmare, Celia, like you said,” her mother answers, just as quietly. “Your father knew about the Dollhouse. He didn’t want any of our little girls’ names to be a reminder of that.”
“And I don’t blame him. It’s how most people would have felt.”
Celia: “Then why give it to Lucy?”
GM: Her mother rubs her back. “Well, that’s what we’re getting to. Then I got pregnant again, many years later, after your father raped me. After he kidnapped and humiliated and tortured and mutilated me, on one of the most terrible nights of my life. And you and Emily both thought I shouldn’t carry a rape baby to term.”
“I could have ended her life and murdered her in the womb. I know you and Emily didn’t see it that way, and thought she was just a clump of cells, but that wasn’t how I saw it. To me, she was alive.”
“And I knew she was innocent and blameless and just needed a mother’s love, and I thought about how much joy my other children had brought me. About how much joy I gave Emily, by being her mother.”
“So that’s why I picked Lucy. I decided to take something wonderful, that had been made terrible, and make it wonderful again. Because I thought your grandfather would smile, knowing we’d finally used the name. Because I wasn’t going to let Benson ruin that. Because it showed my love was stronger than what she and your father did to me. Lucy would be my reminder, every time I heard and spoke her name, that I could answer hate with love. That I could turn one of the worst things to ever happen to me into one of the best things to ever happen to me.”
Celia’s mother gives a sniff and wipes at her eye.
“And, yes, also because it means ‘born at dawn’ and all of the meaning there.”
She brushes her daughter’s hair again.
“I can’t undo whatever you’ve done, Celia. Whatever blood and whatever evil you have on your hands. All I can do is decide whether I am going to answer it, whether I am going to answer you, with hate or with love. Because that is the person I have always wanted to be, and not Benson or your father or anyone else has ever managed to take that away.”
Celia: “What if I do?” Celia whispers desperately. “What if I’m finally the one to make you respond with hate instead of love? What if I’m the one to finally break you?”
GM: “Oh, Celia, baby,” her mom murmurs, pulling her close again. Diana’s hand continues to stroke along her daughter’s hair.
“You’re scared. You’re so scared.”
“I don’t want you to be scared anymore.”
“I want you to feel safe knowing there’s one place on God’s earth you will always be accepted and always be loved, no matter who you decide to be. I want you to know my love for you isn’t conditional, you don’t have to earn it, and under no circumstance is it goin’ away. The love I have for you comes from God, it defies all other reason and explanation, and is truly unconditional.”
“Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful thing to know you have?”
Celia: Of course it does. Which is why she won’t get it.
“Isabel and I never got along after the divorce,” Celia says hollowly. “The day after you left she eagerly said how much she hated you. She took his side on everything. We fought all the time and it never really got better.”
“She hit me once. When I brought someone over from school who trashed the place to get me into trouble, she saw me getting rid of it. She screamed at me for being a liar. And she slapped me. So I told Dad. And he beat her for it while I… I watched.”
“The night he hit me, she was… pleased. And the next night when he came for you… when I came back from Tulane to find the house empty… I saw her phone beneath her bed. The text she’d sent him. That my friends and I were gone. That it was just you and the kids. To come get them. The address.”
Celia’s hand clenches.
“Then I saw the tape. Security footage. His car, her in the back watching you. Heard what she said when he parked. Her offer to torture you with him to show you your place.”
“I watched what he did to you. Making you cook for him. Eating off the floor. The plate on your head. Raping you on the couch, then making you clean it. And the bedroom. My bed. The saw.”
“So when I got there… after I made the trade for those powers… I wanted to make him suffer. And I wanted to make her suffer. So I… I made him do to her what he did to you. He took her toe. And then he raped her.”
Silence. But only for a moment.
“I never went back for her,” she whispers. “I never checked on her. I thought about it. I thought about it many times. But I never did. And then I saw her when I was released as a vampire. She was there too. And I hated her all over again for taking this one thing from me. I never told her who I was. I already had the other face. She didn’t know. And she was… she was the enemy. Opposite factions. I mostly ignored her.”
“Then one night she showed up at my spa.”
“She’d been in a fight. Torn to pieces. Shredded by claws. The scourge, I later learned. She came to my spa because her krewe was butchered and she wanted to Embrace me. She attacked me. I staked her.”
“I was hunting for her when the hunters found me. I brought someone back to feed her and I was attacked. I was… I don’t know. I was going to question her. I thought about giving her a new identity. Making her leave the city. Fixing what was between us.”
“Then I was given the option. And when I met with her she was just… full of hatred for me. Mocking. Derisive. She repeated things Dad said. And I hated her all over again.”
“It wasn’t the scourge who killed her. It was me.”
GM: Celia’s mother does not talk throughout her daughter’s tale.
Yet, at that confession, it feels as if she falls silent.
Her face becomes a blank slate. Tabula rasa. Everything else slides off. For a moment, it feels as if Celia’s mother is not even there any more. Just a body bereft of animation, with empty eyes that stare endlessly past her child’s killer.
Celia: She waits for it. The anger. The grief. The tears. The rage. The fire. The beating.
She’s gotten so used to being hurt that maybe this time she welcomes it. Maybe she thinks she deserves it.
Instead there’s nothing.
Nothing at all.
The need to break the silence overwhelms her, building inside her chest until she finally opens her mouth.
“I’ll wait outside for Pete. Once he’s done you won’t have to see me again.”
GM: Diana’s head bows forward, as though of its own violation.
She clasps her hands.
Like she is praying.
Her lips move. No words sound. Her eyes are closed as she bares her soul to whatever God, if any, now hears her. Celia has never seen a look of concentration so total upon a living or unliving soul.
Then, at Celia’s voice, Diana finally looks up. Her face remains utterly still. But something dawns within her eyes, as though her prayer has been answered, and she knows now what to do.
She throws her arms around her daughter’s shoulders.
Then she weeps, voice ragged as hot tears flow down her cheeks:
“I l-love y-you… I w-will al-w-ways l-ove-ve y-you…”
Celia: Her mother’s loss of control, the words that she finally utters, are enough to break what’s left of Celia’s resolve. She clings to Diana as she weeps, not even bothering to try to stem the flood of bloody tears that leak from her eyes and stain her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she says, over and over and over again, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry I took her, I’m so sorry…”
Eventually, Celia runs out of apologies. She just holds her mother while she cries, wondering if she’ll ever not hurt the people around her.
One night at a time. That’s all she can do. One night at a time.
GM: Mother and daughter hold one another as they weep. Perhaps there won’t ever be enough apologies, for what Celia has done, but perhaps she does not need that many. Perhaps she did not even need one. My love for you is not conditional, her mother said. And at this moment, as she embraces and weeps and declares her love for her child’s killer, it feels impossible to deny the truth of those words.
Celia: “She has a child,” Celia finally whispers, wiping at her face. “A son.”
GM: “A… son?” her mom asks.
She pulls away enough to look Celia in the eye, but still clings to her with both arms, as though Celia is her rock in a furious tempest.
“Wh… where? Your father’s…?”
Celia: A look of distaste crosses her face, but she nods.
“Ethan,” she says quietly. “Maxen’s son. He’s… the same age as Lucy. Aunt Mary adopted him. I don’t… I don’t know if Dad remembers what he did. If he knows that it’s his child.”
GM: Celia’s mother stares into her eyes at that look.
“He did not ask for the parents he got.”
“Whatever they did. Whatever you did. He is innocent. Blameless.”
“Just like Lucy.”
Celia: “That wasn’t for him,” Celia says, eyes averted. “It was for what I did. What I created in anger.”
GM: “Celia, you have a new responsibility. Maybe the most important one of your life.”
“You created him. In hate.”
“Now is your moment to take something terrible and make of it something wonderful.”
“Protect him. Provide for him. Ensure he wants for nothing. Teach him, what is good and what is bad. Love him. Help him grow up to become a kind, decent, honest, brave, loving man who is everything you wished Isabel was. Give him the love you wish you had given Isabel. That is your atonement. Everything you did wrong with your sister. Do it right with her son.”
“I will help you in this, however I can.”
Celia: “How,” she asks bleakly, “how can I do that for him if I don’t know him, if I’ve never met him, if I’m never around during the day?”
GM: “You meet him.”
“You get to know him.”
“And you do it during the night.”
“You do everything you can for him.”
Celia: Slowly, Celia nods. She can do that. She will do that. For herself. For her mother. For Ethan.
And for Isabel.
GM: “I don’t think it’s practical to expect you to raise him. We will look into his living situation. What kind of a caretaker, what kind of a mom, your Aunt Mary has been to him. If there is love between them, they should stay together. If there isn’t, I will take him into our home.”
“And you will be the best aunt, godmother, whatever you want to call it, that that little boy could ask for. You will take something terrible and make it something wonderful.”
“That is your cross to bear.”
Celia: “I will,” she promises. “Anything he needs. Everything he needs. I’ll do that. I will. I swear it.”
GM: Celia’s mom takes her hand in hers.
“You’re not as bad a person as you think, Celia.”
“A bad person would not promise that.”
“God will judge you for all the bad things you have done, when you stand before His throne.”
“And He will judge you for this, too.”
Celia: “A good person wouldn’t have murdered her sister.”
GM: “We all make mistakes, Celia. Some more terrible than others. God judges our hearts for what we do about them. Whether we do our best to fix them or whether we don’t. Who do you want to be?”
Celia: “Better,” Celia says again. “I want to be better.”
GM: “Then it starts with Ethan.”
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