“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning.”
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
GM: Jade’s car car drives a while. It seems to be going at a fairly high speed.
Eventually, it slows down. Jade hears the sounds of traffic and falling rain.
Finally, her car stops.
The trunk opens. Rocco and Alexander Wright stare down at her, their forms superimposed against the night.
The Brujah looks over her body. The wooden stake juts out from the bare skin above her half-exposed breasts.
“Slut-kebob,” says Wright.
Celia: It’s funny. Objectively. She’d laugh if she could.
GM: Rocco laughs for her. So do some nearby men who don’t smell like Kindred.
There’s an audience.
What has she gotten into?
She’s going to die here because Roderick is an asshole.
She’d laugh at that, too, but she’s busy wondering if licks can become ghosts.
And how long it will take anyone to notice she’s missing.
GM: “Take her car,” Wright says to one man.
Another man produces a black hood and secures it around Jade’s face. She can’t see. She feels male hands lifting her out of the trunk. There’s the sound of it slamming shut, then footsteps. Jade feels motion as raindrops patter against her skin.
“Damn, she’s light,” says one nearby voice.
“Damn, she’s a fine piece of ass,” says another one. Grinning. “Toreador?”
“Keep it in your pants,” replies Wright. She can all but hear the Brujah’s eyes roll.
Celia: She’d just gotten that car.
Where’s her phone? Will Reggie think to track it? Will he know who she meant when she said deputy?
She can’t struggle, not staked as she is. Can’t do anything but listen. Appreciate them appreciating her.
There are worse ways to go, right?
When she fails to show up tomorrow at Elysium will the rest of the city know it was the hounds? Is this the price she pays to sell the story of discontent and infighting among the Hardliners?
GM: No answers make themselves immediately known.
Jade hears a trunk open. She’s dumped inside. The space feels bigger than her car’s. She has leg room.
She feels a pair of hands kneading her breasts and squeezing her ass.
“Goddamn, you are fine…” says one of the voices.
The contact abruptly cuts off.
“I said keep it in your fucking pants,” growls Wright. “That’s how they get you.”
She’d like to giggle. But she can’t. The girls inside of her wonder if she can even get wet if they try to fuck her like this. Are her nipples hard? She can’t tell.
The inane thoughts keep the panic at bay.
GM: “She’s staked.”
“If you can’t keep that goddamn thing in your goddamn pants I’m gonna rip it off,” the Brujah answers in an even lower growl.
Celia: She misses the contact, though. If she has to go she’d like to do it with someone’s arms around her. She’d always imagined it would be her sire—and what is wrong with her that she’s gotten off to thoughts of him killing her?—but she’ll take any arms at this point.
Tonight hasn’t gone as she wanted. She’ll take the comfort she can get.
Her body was made to be appreciated. She can’t even blame the guy. Hadn’t changed from her meeting with Savoy. It’s all just there for the taking. Tight clothes, tight body, perfection incarnate.
Too bad Wright is such a buzzkill.
Damn licks can’t get laid anymore so they ruin it for everyone else.
Then again, will Roderick consider it cheating if she’s molested and assaulted while staked?
Maybe she’ll thank Wright when this is all over.
GM: More footsteps sound against the rain.
There’s a weary sigh from one of the men. She feels like he’s looking at her. He must be looking at her.
There is so much to appreciate.
Finally, the trunk slams closed. Jade hears more doors opening and closing. The car takes off.
Celia: Someone had told her once that if you’re attacked and taken to a second location the odds of dying go up by a huge percentage. It might have been Pete. Or her dad, when she was young. It’s the sort of thing most young women worry about. Abductions. Rape. Et cetera.
What does it mean if they’re taking her to a third? That she’s already dead?
She doesn’t want to die.
Not like this.
She’s sorry. She’ll be good. She’ll apologize to Rocco on her knees if he needs her to. She’ll let the ghouls fuck her if they want to humiliate her. She’ll stop causing problems.
She’s just not ready to go yet.
GM: The car drives for a while. There’s more sounds of traffic and falling rain.
Celia: Can’t they just… put her on their lap for the ride? She’s staked. It won’t hurt anyone.
She shouldn’t have called Roderick. It’d been a waste of time. So much for protecting her. Reggie at least had been concerned.
What is her mom going to say? Who will take care of her? Does he care that she’d screamed into the phone? Is he tracking her?
What about him? Does he know his goons picked her up?
…is he going to let them hurt her?
She can’t ask. None of them volunteer the information, either. She’s helpless in the car’s trunk. SUV, she thinks. More room.
The knowing doesn’t help.
GM: “So, what you gonna do with her?” asks one of the voices.
“None of your goddamn business,” answers Wright.
Celia: Then why bring them along?
Are Wright and Agnello really afraid of a staked Jade Kalani?
That’s funny, too.
Maybe she’ll die laughing.
Maybe one of these guys can convince them to pass her over to his care. Turn her into a fucktoy, like the sheriff’s ghoul had so long ago threatened.
Maybe they’re taking her to him.
Would that even be a relief? He’d killed her ghoul. Thrown her mother.
Saved her. Turned her. Made her his.
He loves her, doesn’t he? He could have let her die.
It’s a small ray of light in the darkness, but she clings to it all the same.
GM: Jade’s—and Celia’s—only answer is the rain’s steady fall.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM
GM: The car drives some more. There’s more sounds of traffic. Then a heavy mechanical sound. A feeling of descent. The car comes to a stop.
The trunk opens.
Hands pick up Jade. There’s more movement underneath her.
There’s a noise like an elevator button. Mechanical doors opening.
Celia: An elevator?
Please not Perdido House.
GM: There’s another pressed button. Another noise she can’t identify. Then movement underneath her.
Celia: All she can do is lie still and listen.
And let her mind run wild with possibilities.
Trash compactor. Docks. Crematorium. Giant hole in the ground that is… mechanical for some reason.
GM: The elevator comes to a stop. The doors open. There’s heavy footfalls against a hard surface, then a pause. There’s a mechanical beeping sound. Another heavy and metallic noise. More footfalls.
Those go on for a bit. Then another stop. A pause. More mechanical beeping.
Another heavy metallic sound.
A hard metal surface slams against Jade’s body. She feels cold steel against her half-exposed skin.
Celia: Oh, god. Torture room. They’re going to carve her open and make her scream until her throat bleeds.
What other room has steel tables?
Kitchens. Butcher shops. Anywhere that tears people apart because it’s an easy surface to clean.
GM: Jade feels hands spreading her limbs into an ‘X’ position. There’s the sensation and dull clink of heavy cuffs securing her wrists and ankles in place.
Celia: It’s not an unfamiliar position.
GM: Not at all.
There’s more footsteps. Then a slammed metallic door.
Then only silence.
Jade is seemingly left alone.
Celia: They hadn’t even removed the stake.
As if cuffing her inside this fortress isn’t enough.
GM: Time passes. The steel is cold beneath Jade’s skin. Her surroundings are completely silent and still.
Celia: No one is coming for her.
Savoy has no power here. Her boyfriend doesn’t care. Her ghoul won’t get anywhere.
GM: Time passes.
There’s the heavy sound of an opening door. Footsteps. Lighter than the previous ones.
Celia: Feminine? Her long-lost sister?
She’d giggle, but she can’t.
How many hounds does it take to nail a whore?
GM: There’s a metallic rolling sound. Several more higher, still metallic sounds. Then a distinct crunch.
Jade feels heat against her face.
Growing steadily warmer.
Celia: The Beast rails against its steel prison.
The girl doesn’t try to keep it in check.
But that single piece of wood keeps it from doing anything.
GM: The warmth does not directly touch Jade’s skin, but she can feel the increasing heat. Hot. So hot. The pungent smell of smoke reaches her nostrils. Perhaps, if she were mortal, she would sweat.
The hood pulls back. Not enough to see. Gloved hands pry open her mouth, then stuff something inside. It tastes like ash. Like everything tastes. It feels light. Perhaps it would crunch.
The stake is abruptly pulled from her chest.
“Swallow,” sounds a cold female voice.
Celia: She spits.
GM: Whatever is in her mouth flies out.
The stake re-pierces her chest.
Pain suddenly stabs through her throat, cold and sharp and metallic. Flesh tears. Jade’s Beast rages against its prison, but it is impotent. The bladed edge carves open a hole in her neck. Gloves hands dispassionately feel the interior of her trachea, then stuff a foreign object inside.
There’s a click and whir. Jade feels her position rotate, her head elevating, her feet lowering. Fingers push the object down her throat. Clinically massage her neck. She feels the light, odd-textured object work its way down to her stomach.
The heat near her face intensifies. The smell of smoke grows thicker.
The stake is re-pulled from her chest.
“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning,” rings the cold female voice.
“Supply us with names and your sentence may be commuted.”
What the fuck does that even mean?
GM: Jade’s only answer is a low, malevolent crackle that leaves her Beast anxiously whining.
“You may heal your throat.”
Celia: Jade sends the required blood to the area to mend what the knife had done to her, knitting the skin and muscle and tissue back together with but a thought. Maybe it’s the heat so near her face, but the Beast rakes its claws down her insides in protest. It takes more than its fair share.
“Infernalism,” she repeats, the word unfamiliar on her tongue. There’s no rasp to her voice, not even though the blade had torn it open and something had been shoved inside. What had they put in her? A bomb? Something else that will make her explode should she get out? Another sort of chain?
All of the amusement she’d felt at Agnello and Wright needing a handful of goons to take her out falls away in the wake of this accusation. She doesn’t even know if she’s gotten it right, if it means what she thinks it means, but the root of the word is hard to ignore.
“You mean demons.” Not quite a question, but she waits a beat for confirmation.
GM: The heat continues to crackle.
“Yes,” the cool voice replies patiently.
“I mean demons.”
Celia: She’s going to die here.
She’s going to die screaming because even if people knew she was missing they wouldn’t know where to find her, and she doesn’t know that they’d care enough to try.
Even if she tells them what they want to know there’s no guarantee that they’ll let her go. May. That had been the clause in her words. May commute the sentence.
She’d gone for looking for ways to save her sire and she’s going to die in his stead. Who did she think she was trying to protect him?
“I wasn’t consorting with demons,” she says quietly to her captor, “I was only looking for information on them. There was a breather who told me that he’d been possessed and had it exorcised. I’d wanted to know if it was true. I’d wanted to know if I could protect others from the same thing. I think I might have run into one in the Quarter, but I didn’t know how to identify it. I went to the Tremere to find out more about them. Mr. Bornemann collected a handful of boons to share some information. I was going to find a priest next, but there are none in the Quarter.”
She hadn’t done anything. But she doesn’t say that. Guilty people say that.
“I wanted to find out more about the things I saw and heard. I saw a woman in the Quarter who used a spell with blood that smelled… off. Connected to the thing I thought the demon was. She hired someone to spy on me. I wanted to know what I was dealing with.”
GM: “So you have had no personal dealings with infernal powers, nor do you know the names of any individuals who have?” the cool voice asks, in that same patient tone.
The smoldering heat does not relent, though neither does it grow closer.
Celia: It’s not good enough.
Her answers aren’t good enough.
But they’re true.
“I don’t… I don’t think I’ve had any personal dealings with infernal powers. Just the breather, who I have not had contact with in seven years and who recently re-entered my Requiem with the story about the demon and exorcism, but the last I saw him was prior to my Embrace. I never spoke to the woman. I convinced the thing inside the house that might be a demon to let me go. I placed a bug in the house that was of limited value. I can collect it for you, but I did not recognize the voice, and I did not recognize her. I can show you. The memory. If you scry. Or if you permit the use of one hand I can show you another way.”
“But I’ve never… I’ve never had confirmed contact with an infernal being. Nothing that I know for sure. Just suspicions. That’s why I was looking for information about them. I didn’t know if they were or not. I didn’t know who to ask but thought the Tremere or a priest would be the best source.”
She’d only wanted to protect people. And she’s going to burn for it.
“I asked Mr. Bornemann how he collected the information on them but he did not deign to answer.”
“So I don’t know if he collected from a primary or secondary source.”
“I can give you the names of the kine, the priest he saw, the address of the house where I think one resides.”
“Mr. Bornemann said that they could test the kine to see if he’d been possessed. I hadn’t taken him up on it.”
GM: “Name these kine.”
Celia: “Father Connelly was the priest. The house is on Rampart, across from Jackson.” Jade rattles off the address. It’s fresh in her mind, all of it, because she’d been comparing notes for her boyfriend last night but never got the chance to tell him about it. He’d belittled her instead. But she remembers the story. The names are seared into her memory. “Kate Artell, Caleb Hamill, they were two in the house. Their friend, Brittney Rodriguez, and her boyfriend Bill Woke murdered another girl in a similar way. A dancer. Abigail Thompson. They’re still doing time. I checked. I was going to follow up.”
There’s a brief pause. She hadn’t yet said the name of the man possessed. They’ll want to know how she knows. Why she’s speaking to him. What he’d told her.
She takes a breath.
GM: Jade’s fears prove all-too prescient.
“Explain how you encountered the entity in the Rampart Street house, why you spoke to Maxen Flores, and why Maxen Flores told you he had been possessed by a demon.”
Celia: “My spa was bugged. Security cameras showed a thin-blood breaking into the premises to plant the bug. I had the thin-blood picked up and I questioned it. It told me that it had been hired by someone to plant the bug and take it back to them on Saturday. Tonight. I questioned it further and it admitted that if it needed an earlier meeting it had been advised it could go to a certain house on Rampart. I took a team with me to do so, with one of my ghouls disguised as the thin-blood, but when she knocked the door just opened. So I… went inside.”
To protect her ghoul. To keep Alana from getting killed if it was an ambush. She cares too much about them. She’s too embedded in the lives of those who serve her. Mel had told her that once, when she was new. That eventually she’d learn to stop caring.
“The door closed. The oven turned on. I could feel the heat. A voice told me that I had until the oven pre-heated to convince it to let me go. I was able to do so. I surmised that it was stuck inside the house as it kept repeating that it was hungry. While I was there my team placed a bug. It’s been largely useless, except for the one night when I heard a woman’s voice speaking to the thing. I went to the house and that’s when I saw the earlier mentioned woman. She did not smell Kindred. I have not been back. I started looking into what it was but I don’t have any proof of anything yet.”
A slight pause. Her secrets? Or her life?
“Maxen is… he’s my dad.”
“We had dinner. He wanted to apologize for everything he did to us when we were younger. He told me that he’d found God, and that he’d seen a priest, and the priest had done an exorcism.”
“I didn’t touch him,” she adds, though it wasn’t asked. “I didn’t use any powers on him. I didn’t feed from him. I hadn’t otherwise had any sort of relationship with him since my Embrace.”
GM: The voice patiently listens.
Then the heat draws closer. Hotter. Her Beast whines. The smoke would make Jade cough and choke were she mortal. Sweat would bead from her glistening skin were she mortal.
“Maxen Flores is not the father of Jade Kalani.”
Celia: Instinct demand she pull away from the source of the heat. She does what she can with what little movement she is allowed, but it’s not enough. The heat is stifling.
She doesn’t want to go out like this. She gives up the secret.
“Celia. Celia Flores. I am Celia, and Maxen raised me. Jade was the name I took when I joined this world.”
GM: The burning heat comes no closer.
But neither does it relent.
There’s a pause. Some faint taps.
The Beast whines as the voice impassively orders,
“Cease your occulto.”
Celia: Another secret.
This, or death?
Does she want to burn to protect something that won’t matter anyway when she’s ash?
She knows the answer.
“It’s not occulto. It’s—” what’s that old word Benson used? “—mutatio.”
GM: “Revert to your mortal form. Prove you are whom you claim.”
Celia: Prove it. How can she prove it? That’s not how morphing works. It’s not an instant transition like that.
“I will need my hands. A mirror. I will need to show you the work. It’s not instant, not this.”
How else can she prove it if she’s not allowed to do the work?
“Or I can tell you things I’d only know if I were Celia. I can tell you about my childhood. About Maxen. About growing up in Audubon. I can show you memories.”
GM: “You do not require your hands. Your fingers are capable of motion. Alter the flesh along your hand.”
Celia: Right. She hadn’t known if that would be enough.
But she does as asked, unsure if this is going to help or hurt her position here. She curls her index finger and bends it until the tip touches the backside of her thumb, then presses into the skin. It gives way at her touch, dragged this way and that with the motion of her. It looks like a cresting wave when she is done with it.
GM: Jade—Celia—cannot see her interrogator’s reaction to the fleshcrafting demonstration.
“Tell me you are Celia Flores, daughter of Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”
Celia: There’s a trap here in the wording. Some sort of truth detection, if such a thing exists. The thing in her stomach? The smoke itself? Something the hound has done to her?
“I am Celia Flores, daughter of Diana Flores, raised by Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”
GM: The burning heat withdraws. Celia can still feel it. Her Beast still whines. But it is not so close as it was before.
“Your sire will have much to answer for, Miss Flores.”
“Tell me of your alleged intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville.”
Celia: “I repeated what my sire told me.”
GM: The heat draws closer. Hotter. Pungent black smoke wafts up Celia’s nostrils.
Celia: Her Beast whines. She had only been free of the heat for a moment and now it’s back, right in her face. She can taste the soot in the back of her throat.
“I don’t know anything else about the leak except what my sire told me. I don’t speak with the hounds. I wasn’t privy to details of the investigation. I was only told there was a suspect, but when it was brought up last night I had to make it sound believable. I implied there was a leak.”
GM: Once again, the heat draws no closer, but neither does it withdraw. A low sizzle crackles in Celia’s ears.
“Repeat everything that your sire told you.”
Celia: Behind the mask, Celia closes her eyes. But only for a moment. Just long enough to bring up the conversation she’d had at Flawless after Randy’s head had come clean off his body. It is not an effort to remember the words. She and her sire speak so infrequently that everything he has ever said to her has lodged itself inside her head.
“My sire said that Caroline Malveaux-Devillers is a leading suspect in the bishop’s disappearance. I was given the time and location of the bishop’s last appearance and asked to look into Caroline’s whereabouts, as well as that of her ghouls and the others she has employed in her service. I was told that she wouldn’t suspect me if I were to look into her the same way she would suspect the Guard de Ville.”
A brief pause. She’s going to ask why Veronica would give a fuck about the bishop, Celia knows it. She continues.
“My sire told me that Savoy and his agents are otherwise the leading suspects. I was told to look into whether or not they were involved.”
GM: The questions come one after another, like steady raps against steel.
“Why did your sire suspect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers of playing a role in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”
“What time and location did your sire give you for Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”
“Why did your sire tell you to investigate the involvement of Mr. Savoy’s agents in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”
Celia: She’s going to die here. The hound will burn her for lying, or burn her because she doesn’t believe her if she tells the truth, or burn her because she does believe it. And if not her sire will take her head or find another cruel, crippling punishment to inflict upon her. Which ghoul will he take next? Which mortal in her life? Emily? Lucy?
She can’t dwell. She can only move forward, can only hope that her tale is compelling enough for clemency.
It’s a tall order. She knows well the mercy of her kind. She starts with the easiest question first, the time and date of the bishop’s last appearance.
“March 7th. Evening. I was not given more specific details other than that. No location.”
A pause. What had she said that her sire had suspected Caroline? The visit. The threat.
“I saw Caroline Malveaux-Devillers one evening at her residence in the CBD, as Jade. She is unaware that I am also Celia. I sought to disabuse her of any notion that I am both Celia and Jade and so I recorded audio of Jade hurting Celia. Miss Malveaux-Devillers became upset and threatened Jade. She said that she had ended older, more powerful licks. That she took on many of them at once and left their corpses behind. Lord Savoy and Madam Preston implied Miss Malveaux-Devillers is ‘lethal’ when we spoke of her. As Celia, she shared that she is suspicious of my sire and implied a threat. There is bad blood between them. I shared this with my sire and was told to look into it. Miss Malveaux-Devillers would not suspect Celia. We knew each other prior to our Embrace. I lied thoroughly to her about the events surrounding Celia’s and how Celia’s Requiem has gone.”
“My sire did not share why I was to investigate Lord Savoy and his agents, only that I was to do so. I did not ask why. I only said I would do it.”
Burning, scaling, screaming, pain.
Her belly feels as though it is on fire. Celia can smell her flesh cooking and burning and melting away like butter against the unyielding torment pressed to her belly.
She screams. She thrashes. The Beast breaks loose. She cannot stop it. She can only wait, and scream, and suffer, until the torment finally ends and the Beast releases its hold. The heat withdraws from her belly, which feels almost wet. She can still smell the cooked flesh.
The cold voice sounds again.
“Mr. Savoy is lord of nothing.”
“You will refer to Mr. Savoy by his proper address.”
Celia: It’s all too similar to the feeling of her broken body being pulled out of the microwave. Burning. Then cold water on her skin. She thrashes. She screams. Her throat would bleed if it could, but her undead body protects itself against that.
It’s only the flames that send signals of agony lancing through her.
When her Beast has disappeared she nods her head again, again, again.
“Mr. Savoy,” she repeats, desperately echoing the hound’s words. “Mr. Savoy, Mr. Savoy. It’s mister. Mister.”
She’d known better.
“I’m sorry,” she tacks on, because it can’t hurt, right?
GM: The questions resume.
“How did your sire know the time of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”
“What did Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspect about your sire?”
“Why is there animosity between Miss Malveaux-Devillers and your sire?”
“What did your sire offer you to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents?”
Celia: She’s going to slip up. She can feel it. She’s going to slip up and she’s going to die screaming and no one will know, no one will care.
All she has to do is say it. That the sheriff is her sire. That she’s been spying on Savoy this whole time. Everything will make sense to the hound then.
But it’s not her secret. She tells, she dies.
She doesn’t tell, she dies.
It’s a hopeless situation.
The echoes of pain haunt her stomach. She can’t even laugh about how at least it was already bare.
“I don’t know how my sire knew of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance. I was not told. I did not ask.” Is that enough? Or does the hound want her guesses? She keeps her tone as polite as she can when she asks. “I can offer a hypothesis, but not concrete fact.”
What had Caroline suspected? Celia has to think back to that night on the roof.
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspected that my sire was pretending to be under the sway of a blood bond that is not real. She suspected that my sire is older than claimed. She suspected that my sire is not who or what appearances suggest. I do not have the full story of the animosity between the pair. From what I understand there is a question of being blamed or responsible for Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ torture and Embrace. That my sire called in a marker from Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ sire to have it done.”
Had he offered anything to her? No. He doesn’t need to.
“My sire did not offer me anything to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents. My sire has interceded on my behalf to prevent my harm and destruction, possibly final death.” Explanation enough, isn’t it? She’d be dead without his mercy.
GM: “Offer your hypothesis.”
“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire was under an ostensible blood bond to?”
“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers suspect your sire is older than claimed?”
“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire truly is?”
“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute her Embrace to your sire?”
“What torture did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute to your sire?”
“Why did your sire seek to arrange Miss Maleaux-Devillers’ Embrace?”
Celia: “My hypothesis is that my sire saw Bishop Malveaux for the last time the night of his disappearance. My other hypothesis is that my sire heard from someone else who saw Bishop Malveaux the last day of his appearance.”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not say the name of the person who she believed my sire to be bound to. She only said it was ‘someone else.’”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire’s blood is thicker than it should be at that age.” Celia had not found it so, but she does not offer the contradiction. No doubt the hound will think it a lie.
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer an alternative to who she believes my sire is, only that my sire’s identity is a lie.”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire called in a marker with René Baristheaut. She advised I ask my sire about ‘the night they carried her into the Dungeon.’ I did not do so. She attributed the torture she received while within the confines The Dungeon to my sire. She then informed me that it is not a sex club, as I had thought, but a place of… of insanity. Paradise for sadists. Torture and agony. She did not specifically say what was done to her, though she gave some examples of things that might happen there. She said that she and my sire are connected.”
“My sire did not claim to have any hand in Miss Malveaux-Deviller’s Embrace.”
GM: “On what business do you believe your sire would have seen Bishop Malveaux?”
“Did you believe your sire was bound to another?”
“Have you found the thickness of your sire’s blood atypical?”
“Do you believe your sire’s identity a lie?”
“On what basis does Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire arranged her Embrace?”
Celia: “I do not know what business my sire would have had with Bishop Malveaux. It could have possibly been a social call, but I find it more likely that my sire heard the date from someone else.”
“I do not have reason to believe that my sire is bound to another aside from what Miss Malveaux-Devillers said to me. I admit that I had not much considered it until then.”
“I have not found the thickness of my sire’s blood atypical.”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer coherent explanation as to why my sire would arrange her Embrace. She said that my sire ‘choose poorly this kine,’ and seemed to believe that my sire sought her death rather than Embrace. My hypothesis is that she saw things that weren’t real during her time in The Dungeon and it has addled some of her memories, as she indicated a distortion between time and space and no longer knowing who she was.”
She hesitates on the question of her sire’s identity. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t have a good answer. She says as much.
“I don’t… I don’t know if my sire’s identity is a lie. I don’t have a reason to believe so other than what Miss Malveaux-Devillers claims. After I met with her I tasted my sire’s blood and paid more attention to what I was tasting. I did not detect anything off about it. I tasted the connection to my grandsire. My sire has never implied to be anyone else. I have not seen any proof of the ability to fleshcraft, as I have. I did not learn the skill from my sire.”
GM: “Why do you believe your sire would have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux?”
“Why did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire sought her death?”
“To what purpose did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire invoked a boon from her own sire?”
Celia: “I’m sorry, I don’t know. My sire has never discussed a relationship with Bishop Malveaux with me.” They both know Veronica’s reputation, though. “It could have been any number of things, including confession. I do not know the bishop well enough to speak to his tendencies otherwise and I will not slander his name or person.”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not share her reason for my sire seeking her death. Only that she suspected. I do not believe she had proof.”
“I’m sorry,” she says again, “I don’t know. I can hypothesize. Miss Malveaux-Devillers came from wealthy, relevant, important mortal families. She was an illegal Embrace who had to hunt down her own sire under penalty of final death. Though successful, she has struggled with her Requiem. It is possible that she has some delusions of grandeur or believes that her Embrace had a larger purpose than what her sire intended, though I do not know what that is or what he intended. I did not know him. I do not know if such a boon existed. I do not know my sire’s relationship with him.”
GM: The stake plunges back into Celia’s heart. She’s paralyzed.
“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux.”
The heat withdraws. Completely.
A sharp metallic whining starts.
There’s a rolling sound across the floor.
The whirring metallic whine draws closer.
“You stated your sire could have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”
Celia: With the stake in her heart she cannot open her mouth to speak. She cannot nod or otherwise indicate that she has heard or has an answer. She can only stare at the black hood that obscures her vision, desperately trying to find an answer on how to get out of this.
She doesn’t know what the whirring is. The relief she might have felt at the loss of heat does not come; anxiety and terror clutch her frozen heart. What is she moving towards?
Images fill her mind. Blades. Saws. Compactors. How much of her will be left? Is this any better than burning?
It can’t be the end. She’d told them what they wanted. She’d answered every question that they could.
GM: Pain shreds through Celia’s shoulder. Flesh tears and yields as steel saws through. The heady coppery smell of Cainite vitae fills her nostrils as the Beast screams in her ears. She hears droplets of blood lightly spattering.
But the pain does not stop. The metallic whirring does not stop.
It gets worse.
Metal saws through her shoulder bone, whining loudly as the hot steel edge cuts and cuts and cuts, god how many rotations per second. Once more, Celia’s howling Beast bursts its chains, only to find itself trapped within a wooden prison. Its rage is impotent. All it can do is suffer. All Celia can do is suffer. Pain saws and rips through her shoulder, until finally, there is a horrible cessation of all physical sensation through her arm. But the wound still weeps. The wound still screams. A mere mortal, Celia knows all too well, could well pass out from shock and/or blood loss upon losing a limb. Almost losing a limb can make someone pass out from shock and/or blood loss.
Celia knows that one from personal observation.
Celia: It’s gone.
Her arm is gone.
There’s nothing left, no bone, no tendon, no muscle. Just a stump. A bleeding stump.
White hot agony tears through her in tandem with the blade. She screams, but no one hears. She cries, but no tears come. She rages, but does not move.
She can only endure. She suffers in silence.
As she has the entirety of her life. The entirety of her Requiem.
The saw buzzes in her ear. She flinches away from the sound of it, but she cannot move, not even with only one shackle on her one wrist. What will that empty side of her do? Flop menacingly?
He said he’d protect her. He said he’d always protect her but she had told him she needed him, had asked him for help, and he hadn’t. He’d called her stupid instead.
They’d promised. Years ago. No matter what happened. No matter how angry they were at each other. If they were in trouble the other would come. They’d sealed it with a kiss, a declaration of love, and she’d felt closer to him in that moment than she had to anyone else, closer than the blood of their clans suggest. She can feel him. He can feel her. Does he feel it now? Her terror? Her pain? Does he care? Or does he think it’s well deserved?
It’s all she has. He’d heard her scream. She’d told him Agnello.
She prays to whatever god is listening, prays to the Father Above and the dark god she thinks her sire is and the Greek goddess she had been compared to that he’s coming.
GM: The cool voice sounds again.
“Your sire would not have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”
The whirring does not shut off. It does not even grow fainter.
“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux,” the voice repeats.
Perhaps in case she cannot recall past the pain.
“Explain these discrepancies in your account.”
The stake withdraws.
“Name every individual you know who has had interactions with the infernal.”
“Describe every interaction you have had with the infernal.”
“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”
“Describe the means by which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”
“Name and describe the infernal entity or entities you intended to summon.”
Tiny metallic teeth continue to run and whir against Celia’s ear.
Hungry for the rest of her.
Celia: She tries to focus on the words. What the hound wants. Anything to make the whirring stop.
Anything to end the pain.
“I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t know why my sire would… I don’t know—”
GM: At Celia’s initial answer, a horrible crawling sensation like dozens of skittering, climbing legs fills her throat, then pours out. Beetle-like clicks fill the air as the bugs crawl from her mouth. The taste is ashen and foul.
“Lies,” hisses her interrogator.
The terrible metallic whirring withdraws. Celia can hear it. There’s a lower rolling sound, against the floor. The whirring draws close again. To her other side. To her other arm. So very close. The saw whines and whirs and screams in Celia’s ear as it lowers over her other shoulder—
Celia: The legs in her throat is every horror movie she has ever seen. She tries to shriek around the bugs but nothing passes her lips except a gurgle, making them move faster, making them click quicker, louder, the saw whirs—
She’s going to die.
She’s going to die because she asked too many stupid questions.
She’s going to die because she’s a whore, because she broke the man she was supposed to love, because she’s a disappointment to everyone around her.
She doesn’t know anything about the infernal. The boons she’d paid had gotten her little in the way of information. And now they’ve gotten her here. Sold out to the hounds.
She focuses on one question at a time, pushing through the pain and terror. It’s slow going, trying to organize her thoughts, trying to figure out what to say. It comes down to denial. Not knowing anyone. Not intending to summon a demon.
It comes down to a lot of nothing.
She’d thought she could outwit the hound. That if she referred to her sire only as “my sire” for the entirety of the conversation she’d get out of this alive, if not intact.
Now, though, she doesn’t think that’s the case. Doriocourt had said it last night at Elysium: they’ll question her, and it wouldn’t be too big a loss to the Camarilla if she met her end.
No one is coming for her. She’s wounded. Disoriented. Chained. Captive. Defeated.
And she still hasn’t protected her sire from the threat.
He’ll kill her for it.
But maybe it will save him.
“My sire isn’t who you think,” she frantically whispers. “Madam Alsten-Pirrie isn’t my sire.”
GM: The insects stop actively crawling. But not all of them are gone from her mouth. Celia must spit the remainder out, and she does not get them all out. Tiny carapaces crunch beneath her teeth as she talks.
The whirring saw pauses.
“Who is your sire?”
Celia: It all stops. It all stops and she can breathe again, she can suck in useless air, she can stop her eyes from rolling in panic in her head, she can answer, she can say—
She can say his name.
It falls from her lips like a plea, a prayer, an answer to a question she has asked a thousand times, her very reason for being, the only spot of light in the dark no matter how much he hurts her, no matter how many of hers he has slain, no matter how she suffers at his hands.
He’d saved her. Hunted for her. Killed for her.
She has to do this. To stop herself from dying. No one else will protect him the way she can. No one else loves him the way that she does. No one else believes her that there’s a threat to his unlife. No one else will save him. Only her.
GM: Sheriff Donovan.
There is a pause.
Then, Celia feels a sharp edge prick her wrist. Her remaining wrist.
There is another pause.
Then, the stake painfully drives back in her chest. She’s paralyzed again.
There’s another noise in the distance.
The manacle around her wrist comes off, but she cannot move. She feels hands bending her arm, so it reaches off the table. She feels her hand brushing against something. Metallic. Circular.
There’s another sharp prick against her wrist, but deeper. Longer. She feels her blood flow.
Finally, it stops. Hands lift her arm back onto the table. Re-affix the manacle.
Celia: Maybe this is worse.
Shackled again. Less blood. Staked.
Maybe she should have continued her charade.
GM: There’s chanting, in Latin. Like a liturgical prayer. Celia doesn’t know the words, but she feels the power in them as they build and repeat. She feels them call to her blood.
There is another pause.
The stake comes out. She can move again.
Celia: She doesn’t attempt to. She’s still chained. She waits. For questions. Demands. Accusations.
She waits. Silent.
GM: “Describe the circumstances of your Embrace and your subsequent interactions with the sheriff.”
The saw continues to whir and whine.
Celia: So she does.
She tells her broodmate what she can.
She starts, perhaps unnecessarily, at the beginning.
“He came for my father when I was eight. I saw him that night. He saw me, and that’s all I remember. I saw him again when I was fourteen. Maxen had won an election. I wasn’t supposed to be home. Maxen attacked my mother. I threatened him with a gun. Sheriff Donovan appeared. He smoothed things over. I think he altered my memories, but I remember his face before I fell asleep.”
“Maxen was abusive. I made a plan to move against him when I got to college. I set him up to take a political fall, for which I was hospitalized. Maxen was arrested. I met Pietro Silvestri at a bar the next night. He fed from me at his haven, where Veronica Alsten-Pirrie had killed someone. They caught me when I tried to escape, but they were distracted by each other. I got away.”
“Maxen was released from jail. He kidnapped my mother. I wasn’t there. I called the bar where I met Mr. Silvestri because he told me that he was a thief, and I thought he could steal her back. He and Madam Alsten-Pirrie tested me, fed from me, but did not agree to steal her back. They ghouled me. Gave me the power to get her myself. She wanted to Embrace me then, but he told her no. This was their solution.”
“I went to Audubon. I took my mother to the hospital. I went back to get revenge on Maxen. I was interrupted by the sheriff. He took me into the sky. He drained my body. I thought he would drop me. That I was dead.”
“He did. But he gave me his blood first. Then he let me go. I woke up the next evening at the Evergreen. Mr. Savoy told me that he had felt my Embrace through our blood connection. He said that the sheriff had abandoned me. We tried to figure out why, what he wanted. We didn’t know if he had realized what he’d done, but even at the time, not knowing him, I thought it was deliberate. He could have killed me. He didn’t.”
“I told Mr. Savoy about Madam Alsten-Pirrie. He summoned her and she agreed to cover for my Embrace. We didn’t know what the sheriff wanted, though. We thought he was watching the apartment of someone I knew, an associate that assisted with the Maxen scandal. I went there, disguised, and waited.”
“He came for me.”
“He did not tell me why he did this to me. He only asked what Mr. Savoy had planned for Maxen. I told him the plans. He told me that I was well placed to spy on Mr. Savoy. That I should rise in his favor and earn his trust. That I shouldn’t trust him myself. That I should appear genuine, so he did not suspect. That I should tell them he thought I was Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s illicit childe, that she should pretend he has leverage on her.”
“Mr. Savoy took me in. He explained the rules. Granted me domain. I became Jade Kalani and played the part of loyal grandchilde to Mr. Savoy. The sheriff and I meet infrequently for updates. I pass him information on Mr. Savoy and anyone else he asks me to, any threat that I perceive to his being.”
“He told me to never tell. He told me to never let anyone know who I am, who my real sire is. As far as I know he has not told anyone himself. He… told me that if I risked the cover he’d created for us he would risk the lives and unlives of those I care for. I have had to lie. To learn how to be Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s childe. To temper my words and actions with those that would align with her rather than him. I have tried to be careful. I have tried to prevent anyone else from finding out. I have lied and cheated and infiltrated and done everything he has asked of me. We do not trade favors. We do not trade intel. It is one way. I do things for him.”
“No one knows,” she says again. “No one knows what I do for him. No one is supposed to know. He…” Does she need to explain the sheriff to her sister-in-blood? “We were seen together. I was punished. I fear that the next will mean my death. That I can no longer serve him.”
“I tried to get through this without spilling about him. I thought I could make it. But I feared that my death here would mean he went without his plant in the Quarter. I feared that telling you would bring his wrath down upon me, not because you know, but because I told. Because the information has not been shared. Because it jeopardizes you, his acknowledged childe. Because it jeopardizes him.”
“I have tried to avoid you,” Celia continues, “to never do anything against you directly. Last night I was caught in the role the rest expect to see. I… I did not think you would be the one to speak against Madam Preston, that I would have to go toe-to-toe with you. I apologize for my words and actions last night. I can… I will back down, next time, if there is a next time.”
GM: Camilla patiently listens through Celia’s narrative. She does not interrupt with questions or remarks.
Blinded, Celia cannot say what expression crosses her sister-in-blood’s face.
What she might be thinking.
How she feels to have a sister.
Finally, she speaks again.
“Describe the intelligence leak the sheriff described among the Guard de Ville.”
“Describe the nature of your dealings with the infernal.”
“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”
“Describe the extent of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ knowledge of the sheriff.”
“Describe the sheriff’s alleged involvement in Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ Embrace.”
Celia: Celia swallows. She had thought they could have a more personal conversation than this.
Her blood might not be enough to save her.
“The sheriff did not describe a leak. He told me the information I gave to you earlier. He told me about the suspect and asked me to look into them. He knows that I can shift forms. He did not say there was a further leak of intel. He told me how to proceed with Miss Malveaux-Devillers and Mr. Savoy.”
“I have not had any dealings with any confirmed infernals. If Maxen Flores is correct about his possession then I had dealings with one as a mortal, but I was not aware of it. If the house on Rampart hosts an infernal then I dealt with that as well, unknowing.”
“I did not have any intention to summon an infernal. I only asked if it was possible. Mr. Bornemann said that they dwell in Hell. That our souls go there when we die. I wanted to know how the infernals come from Hell to here. If it’s possible for a Kindred soul to do the same. Mr. Bornemann told me it is a one-way trip. He implied it was a waste of time to look further.”
“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspects that the sheriff is not loyal to the prince. She believes he is loyal to someone else, but she has not told me who. She thinks that he is older than he says. That he is not who he says. She thought that he tried to kill her, but she did not say why. She only said something about him setting her down this path. I don’t know the entirety of their interactions. The sheriff did not say, only told me to find out if she had killed the bishop, and to otherwise avoid the Garden District.”
GM: “What purpose did you seek to effect by alleging an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville in Elysium?”
“Do you know of an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville?”
“Why did you consult Mr. Bornemann for information about infernal entities and the translocation of Kindred souls?”
“Why did the sheriff tell you to avoid the Garden District?”
Then, a moment after the other queries:
“Who is your mortal father?”
Celia: “I did not want to lose the argument last night at Elysium. I wanted to rise in Mr. Savoy’s favor. I thought that he might trust me more if he saw me publicly working toward his goals. My relationship with Madam Preston is tense, at best, and I thought she would also appreciate the support.” There is a brief pause. “I was wrong.”
“I don’t know of any intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville. I only know what I know because the sheriff told me, because he told me to assist where the Guard could not. With Miss Malveaux-Devillers. With Mr. Savoy. With the Anarchs, who he says hate him.”
“I consulted Mr. Bornemann…” Celia pauses. It is a brief pause, and she can almost hear her broodmate’s mocking response in her ear before she speaks. “The sheriff’s unlife has been threatened by multiple sources this week. I have spoken to him about it. I thought that if I could not physically protect him, I could at least protect his soul. I thought there might be a way to bring him back from final death, if he were to meet it. I did not intend to summon an infernal. Only to find out how they get from Hell to here.”
“When the sheriff learned I had been to the Garden District he punished me by risking the life of my mortal mother. He threw her from the roof. He made me catch her. He said that I had risked the cover he set up for us. That I had been careless. We do not publicly associate. He distances himself from me so that no one knows.”
Another pause at the question. She’d wondered if Doriocourt had picked up on the thing with her dad.
“My mortal father is Ronald Landrenau. He is a pawn of Mr. Savoy. He is aware he is my father. Maxen Flores is not. My mother told me when I was fourteen.”
GM: There is another pause from her interrogator.
“Do you know any individuals who have had potential dealings with the infernal besides Maxen Flores, the woman at the Rampart Street house, the slain kine who previously occupied that house, and the kine associated with them?”
“Describe any connection you have with the aforementioned individuals. Do not describe your connection to Maxen Flores.”
“Do you suspect any individuals besides the aforementioned individuals of having dealings with the infernal?”
“What was your business in the Garden District?”
Celia: “The woman at the Rampart Street house paid a thin-blood to bug my spa. I bugged the house, but did not otherwise interact with her. I have had no dealings with Father Conelly. I have had no dealings with any of the other mentioned individuals. I had planned to contact the two in prison but have not yet had an opportunity. I am unsure if the thing in the house is a demon or some other entity. I have… notes, I can show you, what Mr. Bornemann and I discussed, what I discovered while looking into the house.”
“I don’t know of any individuals who have had dealings with the infernal beings. I thought Mr. Bornemann might have studied them himself, but he did not confirm. Miss Grey told me that Mr. Bornemann was the local expert on infernal beings, but Mr. Bornemann downplayed his knowledge during our chat.”
“My business in the Garden District was to protect my personal Masquerade. I maintain the Celia Flores identity to go where Jade cannot, to better serve the sheriff’s goals. The ability to sculpt flesh has kept the risk of discovery to a minimum. I am careful to keep the two identities separate.”
GM: “Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between the sheriff and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”
“Do not describe the sheriff’s dealings and interactions with Maxen Flores.”
“Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between current and former members of the New Orleans Police Department with yourself and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”
Celia: “As far as I am aware, the sheriff has not had many interactions with my immediate or extended kine family. I spoke of his appearance during the altercation between Maxen and Diana Flores. When he learned that I had been in the Garden District, he used my mother to punish me. He threw her from the roof of my haven. He told me to catch her. Last night he came to me in the Quarter and made my adopted sister forget that she saw him. He sent her inside.”
A brief pause.
“My sister Isabel might have seen him when he came for our father in 1997. I believe he may have altered her memories following the incident in 2009. I do not believe that he had contact with my other kine siblings. I also suspect that he had Maxen’s parents killed, as their will had changed just before their death to make him the sole inheritor, and he used the money to move to Audubon. I suspect that the sheriff has altered the memories of my kine mother multiple times. I do not believe he has had interactions with my kine father.”
“I… I don’t know of many police dealings between the NOPD and my kine family. My maternal kine grandmother is a criminal judge who has had experiences with them over the course of her career, but I only know of one specific. When I set up Maxen prior to my Embrace she gave me the number to call of a man named Gettis, or his partner. She said they would help. I called him the night Maxen was arrested. The Kindred Peter Lebeaux showed up following Maxen’s arrest to question Diana and I while we were at the hospital. He offered her a ride home following the incident and helped her collect my siblings from CPS. He assisted me when I moved her out of the hospital following her abduction by Maxen, but has otherwise not spoken to or interacted with her.”
“I am unaware of other dealings my kine family has or has had with the police dep… ah, Emmett. My cousin. Was arrested in 2009 by Peter Lebeaux. He had the proof of Maxen’s assault. I was unaware that he and I were related at the time. His memories were wiped. He thought he was arrested for drug charges.”
GM: “What memories of your mother’s do you believe the sheriff altered?”
“Name your maternal kine grandmother and describe her relationship with Richard Gettis.”
Celia: “I believe he altered the memories of what happened the night of the altercation between her and Maxen, when he tried to saw off her leg. I also believe he altered her memories following the events of my Embrace, but I have no proof. He altered her memories following the punishment he levied against me on the roof, he told her to think it was a dream and to not wake up until she was back in bed.”
“My maternal kine grandmother is Payton Underwood. I spoke to her following the shooting at the station by Richard Gettis about him, but she did not say that they were friends, only that she knew him. That he was a hard man, that the job and made him unhinged, that he had no friends or family. I am unaware of any other personal relationship between her or other NOPD officers.”
“Maxen’s father is not who he claims, either. His biological father is Jim Jameson.”
“I am unaware if he has any dealings with the police department.”
GM: There is a pause.
“Describe your feelings towards the sheriff and the nature of your relationship.”
Celia: “He is…”
How can she explain? How does she put the depth of her emotions into words?
“I… I have strong feelings for him. I have strong, intimate feelings for him. I would lay down my unlife for his. I would do whatever he asked of me. I have suffered abuse and punishment at his hands and I have never turned against him. He has beaten me. Threatened people close to me. Made me kill people for him. To show strength. Loyalty. He pushes me to be better. He makes me stronger. He does not coddle me. He punishes mistakes. He corrects the wrong course of action. Until very recently he was more distant. I showed him something recently that… that I think made him value me more, but I…”
“He will never care for me the same way as I care for him. I grew up knowing him. His ghoul used me, groomed me, broke me. He let my father abuse me. My family. I’m… I pretend there’s more there, but he’s… he’s practical. He has never said why he Embraced me. I imagine it is because I grew up in the house I did, the way I did. Advantageous byproduct, he said. I was ruthless. He came to kill me that night and I laughed in his face. I was happy to trade my life for my mother’s.”
“I love him,” she whispers it like a dirty secret, “I’m sorry, I love him, I know he isn’t mine, I know he will never be mine, I know that I can only pretend. I want what’s best for him. Whatever that means. Whatever role that puts me in. Whatever danger I have to face or lies I have to tell or people I have to break. He need only ask. I don’t expect anything from him. I wish. I hope. But I don’t expect. I know what I am to him. Tool. Pawn. Hidden dagger. I know. I don’t ask for more than he’s willing to give. I am his spy. I would never willingly harm his interests, never harm you, you’re the… the childe, the chosen, the acknowledged, and I’m… bastard born twice over, secret shame. I’ll never be his equal. I’ll never be your equal. I belong in shadows.”
GM: Camilla listens.
Suddenly, Celia feels the hood withdraw. She can see again. She’s shackled to a steel table. She’s in an unlit torture room, though her eyes penetrate the dark without issue. There are rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function is the causation of pain.
Celia sees her own arm, too, lying at her side. It looks blistered and rotting, like it’s been dead for several days.
Camilla picks up the arm and holds it to Celia’s stump.
Celia: She had expected the stake again for her confession. Not this. Not sight. Not the hood withdrawn. Not… the arm, held against her so she can… can she mend, can she…
“I… I can’t… I lost too much blood, if I try it will… I might lose control.”
Shame in her voice. Her eyes. Weak.
GM: Camilla raises her wrist to her mouth. Celia smells it before she sees it, the coppery flow of red.
The hound holds her wrist to Celia’s mouth.
Celia: She does not question it. She drinks what her sister gives her. She opens her mouth to let it flow down her throat, to nourish her, to give back what was taken. However much Camilla gives, Celia accepts.
GM: Celia gets to drink for a very long time.
Celia: She takes it all. Every drop. Every hit of blood, so close to her sire’s. It’s almost like drinking from him. Her body mends itself while she drinks, flesh and sinew knitting back together while Camilla holds the arm to her severed stump.
She drinks, and she accepts this new family.
She drinks, and she accepts that Camilla is the sister she deserves, that they are the sheriff’s childer, that they serve him.
She drinks, wishing there was a bond, something tangible to tie them together so that she knows this one always has her back.
She drinks and the wounds on her body and soul heal.
GM: The arm looks fresh and hale again, when she’s done. There’s some dried blood over it. But the rot and decay is gone, like it was never severed from her.
Camilla finally retracts her wrist, then walks around the table. She undoes each of the shackles around Celia’s wrists and feet.
Celia: She waits patiently while Camilla goes through the motions. She does not struggle. She does not speak. Only sits up slowly once she is free, looking to her newly acknowledged sister.
GM: Camilla lifts herself onto the table and sits next to Celia. She’s dressed in the same trench Celia has so often seen her in outside of Elysium. A felt hat casts long shadows across her porcelain-pale and utterly still, expressionless face. Her features are attractive enough, even beautiful, but no one could ever love such a face. It’s nothing but stone and shadows.
Celia: She has loved such a face. Her sire’s is cut from the same marble and ice. It is not so different.
GM: The hound removes her hat and sets it down. She undoes the clasp around her hair, letting it fall down to her shoulders. She turns to look at Celia.
Then she smiles.
It’s like seeing one of those pictures of Antarctic tundra during summer.
The landscape’s basic shapes and forms are consistent.
But you never realized there could be green.
“You know, Celia, I was once where you are now, many years ago,” says Camilla.
Celia: Celia is struck by the beauty of Camilla when she smiles. She doesn’t realize she’s lifting her hand to the hound’s cheek until she sees the motion. She freezes before her fingers ever touch the woman before her and drops them back to her side, listening to her speak.
“You were?” A question that’s more a breath, it slips out of her before she can stop it.
GM: Camilla’s eyes crinkle as Celia’s hand drops.
“You can touch me, if you like. I’m not made of glass.”
“But yes, I was.”
“I think that if we’d been Embraced at the same time, I’d have been jealous of you.”
“I think I would’ve wanted what you have, what you get to be, more than anything.”
Celia: Celia lifts her hand again once the permission is given, touching the smooth planes of her cheek. She is beautiful. Even if no one gets to see. Even if she hides behind the hat and coat.
“I am jealous,” she finds herself saying. “I wish he acknowledged me. I wish I did not dance upon this delicate knife’s edge, afraid of accidentally blowing my cover, his cover.”
She pauses only a moment, looking deep into the hound’s eyes.
“What do you want to be?”
GM: The woman’s pale and unblemished skin is smooth against Celia’s touch.
“I am what I want to be.”
“But I didn’t always want to be what I am.”
“There was a time, early in my Requiem, when Rocco Agnello and I were lovers. He was a lot older. I thought I was special and important.”
“Then I found out he’d been sharing blood with Veronica Alsten-Pirrie, and that I was just a diversion.”
“I confronted him. I frenzied. He beat me into torpor. He called our sire to revive me.”
The smile drops slightly.
“That ended up hurting worse than the beating. Than the betrayal.”
Celia: “His disappointment,” she says quietly.
GM: “He revived me with his blood. He was disappointed by my weakness, my naivete, and my loss of control. Then he beat, tortured, and humiliated me. While Rocco watched.”
Celia: She hadn’t known.
No one had ever told her this story.
Celia cannot help the way that her lips flatten into a thin line. The way her heart goes out to this older Kindred who has faced their sire’s sense of “justice.”
GM: “Things never really got better.”
“No matter much I accomplished, no matter how many years went by.”
“One error. One mistake. And I was the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”
“I’m going to be the bishop tomorrow. To replace Malveaux. It’s going to be announced at Elysium.”
“I don’t think it means anything to him.”
“It benefits him, yes, and he’s partly responsible for my being named bishop. He wants it to happen.”
“But he hasn’t congratulated me. Said he’s proud. Said anything, beyond telling me I’m going to be the bishop.”
“One error. One mistake. And I’ll be the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”
Camilla’s voice isn’t bitter. It’s barely even sad.
Celia: The circumstances are different, but the experiences are the same. Her face shows her understanding: open rather than shuttered. She has shared so much of herself these past few nights that even if she wanted to hold it back she couldn’t, not here, not now that her mask has started to splinter and crack in front of the only other Kindred in the city who completely understands, who had granted mercy because of that understanding.
“I thought it was different with you and him. I was… I was so jealous of what I thought you had with him, I thought I could get there too. But we’re tools, aren’t we?”
Her lips twist. Her eyes search her sister’s face, looking for another answer.
“That’s all, isn’t it. Ways for him to get ahead. To get what he wants, regardless of what we want.”
She wants to share. Her own hurt. Her own pain. The things he has done to her, the things he has let others do to her, the words he has used that have wounded her more deeply than any of the bones he has ever broken.
But it’s not her time.
Her fingers moves from the hound’s cheek to her hand.
“I’m proud of you,” she says instead. “I’m proud of you for being what you want to be. For wanting to be what you are. I’m proud of you for becoming bishop. I am sister rather than sire, but I am proud. I wear the mask in public, but this evening I would offer you my congratulations.”
Maybe Celia’s words means something to Camilla. Maybe they don’t.
But Camilla’s words mean something to Celia.
GM: At Celia’s touch, her broodmate smiles again.
“Thank you. That does mean something.”
Her gaze sweeps across the torture room. The smell of Celia’s spilled, now-dried vitae hangs heavy in the air.
“It’s rare that I get to take the mask off. Everyone assumes I am a copy of him. An extension of him. They look upon me and see only the sheriff, writ small.”
“I’d have envied your freedom, when I was your age. Your ability to be what you choose to be.”
Celia: Is it freedom? Had she donned the masks she chose? Or had they been decided for her through her upbringing? Whore. Stupid. Spoiled. Victim. She’d thought the same of Camilla. Mini-Donovan, ice queen. The older Toreador wears her mask well.
She follows the hound’s gaze through the room. How long has she been missing? How long until the sun scorches the earth?
Celia returns her eyes to Camilla.
“There are so many things I want to say to you. Want to ask you. Tell you. Confide. I…”
She falters, unused to this feeling bubbling inside of her. She’d tried to shut it down so hard recently that its reappearance tonight has disoriented her.
“I’d like to see you again. If this isn’t my end, I mean—” blurted, rushed words, because what if it is? “—if I’m released. I’d like to meet with you. I’d like to get to know you. Not as Jade. But as me. To allow us both to take off the masks.” She adds, almost shyly, “If that’s something you’re amenable to.”
GM: “That is something I’m amenable to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remove the mask. There are things I want to tell you, Celia. About him. About myself. About you. About your family. About so much else. There are things I want to ask you, as well. So many things. There are so many secrets and we all have so few pieces of the puzzle. It’s so rare that we find this many pieces at once.”
Celia almost doesn’t notice the fading of her broodmate’s smile, like sunset passing into night.
“But circumstance may not allow us to share those things.”
Celia: She wants that. She wants all of that. Sharing. A sister. Someone else with whom she can be true, be herself, take off the mask and let her hair down like Camilla has literally just done.
But reality knocks, and Celia sets her jaw as the smile fades from Camilla’s face.
“We will navigate the circumstances, or we will create new ones. I can come to you. I can change my face. A new identity. For me. Or you. I can shift. I can pass as mortal. Whatever needs to happen. No one has to know.”
“He doesn’t need to know.”
Keeping secrets from her sire for the first time in her Requiem. The collar chafes.
Unless Camilla means something else. Unless she will burn anyway, and this was just a momentary reprieve. Her fingers tighten around the hound’s hand. Not quite clutching, but seeking… something. Comfort. Reassurance.
“Am I to die tonight,” she asks in a whisper.
GM: “The plan was for you to die Sunday,” Camilla answers, her eyes once more sweeping the torture chamber.
“I would have interrogated you for everything you knew. You would then have been publicly executed as an accomplice in Bishop Malveaux’s murder.”
“I can report, and truthfully, that you aren’t an infernalist and the rumor about an intelligence leak had no basis in fact. But we still have no reason to release a captive Bourbon.”
“You can’t disappear from here without an explanation, either. The rest of the Guard would investigate how you escaped. He would investigate how you escaped.”
“Does anyone outside know you are here?”
Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She breathes. She wants to ask if it was his idea to execute her. Or if it was just… just convenient. If he knew. It shouldn’t hurt.
But it does.
“Durant,” she says, looking back to Camilla. “Roderick Durant. Primogen Duquette’s childe. We were lovers in our mortal life,” she explains. “My ghoul. I saw Rocco tailing me. I told him. Security at the Evergreen, maybe, but I think Hound Agnello distracted them, but if there are cameras… I can try to reach my grandsire with the… the bond.” Savoy has no power here, though.
GM: “Cameras can’t be counted on with Kindred,” says Camilla, shaking her head.
“Durant may be your best option. Trying to reach Savoy also can’t hurt.”
Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod. Cameras. That’s right. They don’t work. She’s not on her game, not now. Not with final death on the line. But Camilla hadn’t called her stupid. Hadn’t mocked her. And for that… for that she’s grateful.
How had someone so decent ended up as Donovan’s childe?
“Durant knows I was grabbed. He heard me scream. I just don’t know if he cares. It’s been rocky this week. He wouldn’t fight his way in. His sire knows who I am, but he’d have had to go to her, and she’d have to find some value in involving herself.” And why would she? Because she’s decent?
“Did Bornemann turn me in? Does my… does our sire know I’m here?”
GM: “Bornemann reported you to the Guard de Ville as a potential infernalist.”
“Donovan is away on business, but he will know soon.”
Celia: She wonders how Bornemann planned to collect his boons if Jade is dead. How much he had lied to her because he thought it wouldn’t matter.
Whether or not she owes him anything now, or if turning her in nullifies her debts. Veronica would know.
“He won’t care,” she says. It’s not a question. He’ll tell her that she’s stupid for getting caught. For asking questions. For digging into something that hadn’t concerned him.
She lets that pain rush through her. The pain of her sire not caring. Giving her up to die. Turned in for being stupid. Roderick’s last words to her. About how she’s stupid. He’s not coming. No one is coming.
It builds inside of her. The emotional pain. The spiritual pain. The lack of love, of self love, the disconnection when she tries so hard to throw a tether onto anyone else to see what lands and how she blames them for not understanding when she holds so much of herself back, the walls so high around her heart that even though she thinks she’s pouring it into other people she’s pouring from an empty cup and there’s nothing but resentment and poison because she lies so well that she’s convinced herself, the victim story she has been stuck in since she was eight years old, the blame and guilt and self-loathing that set her on this path, the martyr mindset, the need to fix everything and everyone around her rather than herself because it’s easier to focus out than focus in—
It thrums through her, a secret superpower of self-blame and self-hatred and self-loathing, of feeling so disconnected that she disconnected, the feeling of not feeling, the feeling of numbness and what that brings up inside of her and how many masks she has created and how hard she has fought for every bit of sanity that she clings to—
It coils and bunches inside of her like a well-used muscle because it is a well-used muscle—
She unleashes it. Reaching not for her sire, but for her grandsire. Calling on the bond between them, the pull between them, the satisfaction and pride she has brought him, not giving in to the idea that she had failed him, not letting herself believe that he is done with her, that she is just another pawn.
She reaches. She throws the life line.
She sends her desperation. The terror. The need for assistance. She digs deep, letting it fill her, letting it spiral down the line to her grandsire. Her location. Her terror and impotence and rage, her grief and fear and agony. She sends it all, the strongest she can muster, she sends it to him.
She doesn’t know if it’s enough.
She doesn’t know if he will help.
She doesn’t know if he cares.
How had she ended up here? How had she thought that anyone would ever come for her? How had she let herself become such a victim that she needs someone else to save her?
Steel resolve makes rigid her spine. She turns her eyes to her sister.
“I reached for him. I don’t know if he’s coming. I don’t know if Durant is coming. I can give you a body. If you get me out of here, I can give you a Jade to execute. I will disappear. I have other identities, ones he does not know about.”
She will lose everything she has created.
But that is better than losing her unlife, isn’t it?
GM: “Will the body be able to walk and talk?” asks Camilla.
Celia: “It could. It won’t know the right things to say, if it’s questioned. But I can… I can get you an animated body, yes.”
GM: “Tell me more. It may serve. It also may not.”
Celia: “Fleshcraft. I can find another lick. Or a thin-blood. Or a… something illegal,” she admits.
GM: “A thin-blood won’t work. They’d be executed in front of the entire city.”
Celia: “The illegal thing, then. Unless even suggesting it damns me.” Celia hesitates. The urge to swallow overwhelms her. When she continues, it’s in a whisper.
“I could turn someone.”
GM: “Hold that thought for now,” Camilla says mildly.
“When I am finished with Jade Kalani, she may be interrogated by the sheriff. A priest will offer to take her last confession. I can ensure the duplicate is subsequently kept mesmerized, as well as cursed to be incapable of speech. Punishment for too much backtalk. She won’t have to do anything at Elysium beyond face execution in front of a crowd.”
“The primary difficulties I foresee are getting the duplicate inside without notice, as well as getting you out if you can’t transform into something small.”
“You can fleshcraft. Can you take the form of a small enough animal to hide inside a coat or container?”
Celia: “Cat. Or bird, if it’s a small container. I can also gift the ability to transform to someone temporarily, if they can be commanded to do so. It’s temporary, the mark will fade after use.”
GM: “How small is the bird?”
Celia: “Nightjar. Rather small.”
GM: “A nightjar could be concealed*Celia:* in one of my pockets.”
Celia: “Cloaking, as well. No one should be able to detect me if I hide the aura.”
GM: “There are cameras outside of these cells. Authorized Kindred know to make themselves visible. If a prisoner escapes, the recordings can be reviewed for anomalies to determine when and possibly how.”
“I could bring a patsy into this room and purge the footage from the camera recordings. They are not frequently reviewed.”
“Prisoners not under active interrogation are kept staked. Escapes are rare. If there is an escape, the recordings will be reviewed, and the missing footage potentially noticed.”
Camilla seems to think further.
“No. The solution is simple. Prior footage could simply be spliced and re-used.”
Celia: “Ghoul.” Celia twists her lips. “One of the ones in the car copped a feel. Do they have access down here? Could they be blamed for missing footage? Say they snuck in here to take advantage of the staked lick?”
GM: “The footage can be taken care of without involving one of Wright’s ghouls. Whatever plan involves the fewest moving parts and individuals outside of our direct control is the least likely to go wrong.”
Celia: Celia nods.
“You’re very… patient.”
GM: “I am,” Camilla agrees.
“A Quarter rat would be the most convenient Kindred to capture and use as a substitute for Jade Kalani.”
The Toreador glances down at her wristwatch.
“Dawn is in approximately one hour.”
“The switch between you and the duplicate could be made tonight or tomorrow night, but should be made at least an hour prior to Midnight Mass.”
“How long would it take you to alter the duplicate’s body?”
Celia: For a moment she wonders what it would be like to have been Camilla’s childe rather than sister. To have someone willing to explain, to be patient, to understand.
She lets the thought to before long. She isn’t. Dwelling won’t make it so.
“Once I get it, not long. Proper burst of speed, a few minutes at most. Need blood for the work, for the speed. For the bird.” She’s already going through targets in her mind.
GM: “Then it is that or wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant to come through. I would wait no longer than two hours before Midnight Mass.”
Camilla considers further.
“There is a third alternative. You could trade us something. Something valuable or apparently valuable enough to be worth your release and which we could not conveniently claim by force.”
Celia: “You mean you wouldn’t release me to take care of it tonight. You’d do it tomorrow.” She looks around the sparse room. Her mother is waiting for her tomorrow. What will they say when they haven’t heard from her?
What will her dad do to them? What will Reggie do, losing his brother and his domitor both? And Alana? Dani? Something reckless?
“What is valuable enough? Information? Skills? Secrets?”
GM: “Two hours before Midnight Mass is the maximum time frame I would wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant before presuming they are unwilling or unable to help. Whether you wish to wait for them is your decision.”
“Assume you are the prince. What could Jade Kalani offer that you would consider worth releasing her for?”
Celia: “That someone I rely on is false. That my regime is in danger. Plan of attack. Enemies in the city. Allies under attack. Ways to weaken my enemies.”
Celia looks down at her hands.
“Will they know I told? Will I be known as a traitor? The whole city? Or just… just you? The Guard?”
GM: “That depends upon the information,” answers Camilla. “If it is worthwhile information, it will be acted upon.”
Celia: “Does anyone else know that I am here? Just you, the Guard, Donovan tomorrow?”
“Anyone you told. Prince. Seneschal. Whoever.”
GM: “That fact likely makes little difference. All of them will know by tomorrow’s mass.”
Celia: “That’s what I was afraid of,” she tells her hands.
GM: A feeble hope, given the seneschal’s presence at every Midnight Mass.
Stupid, whispers a bald man, to expect he wouldn’t know before then about Jade’s captivity.
Celia: Stupid, whispers the bald man, but Celia doesn’t let it sink in. That’s not what she’d meant.
“The rest of the city won’t know, though. That I was here. Only a few of you, those involved or the witnesses. The average lick in the city won’t?”
GM: “If Jade Kalani is executed before the city, and you were an average Kindred, would you presume she was previously held in Perdido House?”
“We have not otherwise disseminated news of your capture. That serves no purpose.”
Celia: “So if the information is enough to get out of here tonight, no one else will know it was me.”
GM: “Immediately, yes.”
Celia: Celia is silent only for a moment.
“The prince has a childe. I can tell you who it is and who knows. I can tell you what I learned from the childe that will harm his regime. I can tell you… I can… I can get in to, to where it is, the thing.”
GM: “What ‘thing’?” asks Camilla.
She evinces no reaction to the news of the prince’s childe.
Celia: “It’s… I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it. It’s something that he’s defeated before. Twice. In France.” Celia looks at the ground, then up at Camilla. “I think it’s what Donovan serves,” she says in a quiet voice, “and if it’s not time yet then…” she trails off.
“I don’t know how you’d spin to them you let me go for it, not without betraying him. Unless I can… I don’t know, move it, or… set a trap.”
GM: “I am uncertain what you are proposing.”
Celia: That makes two of them.
“Something overly complicated that I wouldn’t be able to pull off anyway.”
GM: “What do you wish to do?”
Celia: “Survive,” she sighs, “I’m trying to figure out what’s worth letting a Bourbon go that will be valuable enough for you to sell to them while also not completely blowing my cover that doesn’t have a dozen moving parts and doesn’t rely on someone coming to ‘rescue’ me.”
GM: “And something the prince still needs you alive for.”
Celia: “That too. It’s… messy. Playing multiple sides.” Maybe it’s better if they just burn her. Who will be outraged enough to jump ship?
GM: “There is a reason more Kindred play a single side.”
Camilla checks her watch again.
“Our time to consider courses of action is not unlimited.”
Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I’m panicking. I want to get out tonight, there are personal and political issues I need to resolve this evening and early tomorrow evening. If I betray Savoy he’ll never let me in again and then I’m useless to Donovan, if I don’t give you something useful then there’s no reason to let me go, if I betray Donovan then I’m dead anyway.”
She stares once more at her hands.
“I don’t think Durant is coming,” she says to her fingers, and something resembling emotion tugs at her heart. She’d tried to hide it with anger, had tried to disconnect, but mostly right now she just feels… lonely. Isolated. Disconnected. She’d always kept one foot out the door with him because of the way things had ended twice before. Because she’d thought she was unworthy of someone like him.
“He was supposed to be my forever,” she says, almost to herself, “but I think he hates me now, and that’s my fault. He’s… he’s like you. Or he was. Until I broke him. I saw Rocco tailing me and I called him and he just… just told me I’m stupid.” Her laugh is watery. “So I can’t wait on him to save me.”
Breathe, she thinks, as if it ever does anything for her. As if she’s still human. As if she can actually feel and love and live like she used to as a mortal. As if this unlife is a fairy tale and she’s the main character, the princess who grows up to be a queen, the little girl that marries the prince, the ass-kicking spy that infiltrates compounds and never gets caught and has no flaws.
And if she messes this up she might die.
“An associate of mine has a breather blessed with luck. Five of the pints in his body belong to me for assisting with his capture. It’s possible he only gives me three considering I took two from his lover. If I complete a task for my associate there will be a ritual that allows the breather’s luck to be transferred to a talisman or vessel of my choice. I was going to use it for another purpose, to gift it to a vessel that I could then use over and over again, which I intended to use to accomplish a few major goals: investigating the potential infernal being, finding a way to protect the soul of our sire should any of the thieves in the city seek to claim it, and infiltrating a ring of hunters.”
Celia lifts her gaze to Camilla’s face.
“Are any of those worthy, or the talisman itself?”
GM: “On what basis do you believe that ‘thieves’ seek to claim our sire’s soul?”
Celia: Celia lets out a huff of air.
“I told him about it,” she says, “and he didn’t believe me. There’s a thing in the Garden District that eats souls.”
GM: “On what basis do you believe this entity poses a specific threat to our sire?”
Celia: “Her daughter is the one who thinks that Donovan was responsible for her Embrace. She thinks that he’s in service to another and is fully bonded to her sire.”
GM: The words die in Celia’s throat as she tries to speak.
Celia: Celia touches a hand to her throat.
She tries another word. Any word.
GM: “I,” sounds her voice.
Celia: She can speak, but she doesn’t. For a moment she is silent, mind racing as she considers the possibilities.
“I can’t say,” she finally says. “I don’t know.”
GM: “Then it is immaterial to his or our concerns,” says Camilla.
Celia: Celia nods.
GM: “How swiftly can you retrieve this ‘lucky’ blood or obtain the talisman?”
Celia: “I have to finish a task for the talisman. A week, maybe. I don’t imagine it will take longer than that. The blood… I thought I could get part of it before Elysium tomorrow, but I’d need to touch base with my associate.”
GM: Camilla checks her watch again.
“Describe their nature and beneficial properties. Quickly.”
Celia: Celia does so. She keeps it brief, but she gives the examples that she witnessed in Gunner. The money, the cars, the bullets.
GM: “Are you willing to gamble our sire’s wrath and the lives of your family upon successfully completing this task?”
GM: “Very well. The Sanctified will require collateral to ensure you fulfill your end of the deal.”
“Samples of your blood would suffice for this purpose.”
Celia: Celia looks at the blood she’s already lost, the arm that was just reattached, the stomach where she’d had to mend her burns.
“Okay,” is all she says. Then, “I’m running on fumes. I have a supply in my haven, if it’s possible to collect your sample outside of this cell.”
GM: “No. The blood must be taken from you directly. If you renege on your obligations, the blood may be used to lay curses and cast other spells upon you from across any distance.”
Celia: “I get that. I meant that if I lose more right now I might lose complete control.”
GM: “Then supply us another form of collateral if blood is impractical.”
“Blood taken from your haven is of no use if the blood is not yours.”
Celia: “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m inviting you to come back to my haven so I can feed, take the edge off, and then give you a sample directly from myself so that if you take it from me here I don’t go apeshit.”
GM: “Is that something a loyal agent of our prince would do for a captive Bourbon?”
“Release her from Perdido House, follow her back to her haven in the French Quarter, and then expect to leave with the desired blood sample?”
Celia: She’d blame the panic and hysteria at the thought of losing her family to the Guard, but the excuse sticks in her throat, its way blocked by shame and insecurity.
“No. I don’t have other collateral.”
Celia holds out her arm.
GM: Camilla re-checks her watch.
“I have given you as much as I can spare from my own veins. I may use the remaining time before dawn to hunt, but you will likely race the sun back to your haven.”
Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I don’t see another way, unless you’d like to stake me and drop me somewhere, which I don’t imagine a loyal agent of the prince would do, unless you were to say it was somewhere inconvenient to hurt me further.”
GM: “I can already hurt you here.”
“Do you wish to risk hunger or the sun?”
Celia: Hunger or the sun. Both are deadly in their own right, either for her or someone else. Hunger might be a bigger mess to clean up, though. What are the odds she makes it out of Perdido without attacking someone? Makes it through the streets without slaughtering a pedestrian?
GM: Camilla reaches into her coat and produces Celia’s phone.
“Delete everything you do not wish the prince’s agents to have access to.”
“Given the circumstances your device was obtained under, they are unlikely to have technicians attempt to recover missing data.”
Celia: “Thank you.” Celia takes the phone, wondering if it’s too much to hope that it works in this cell.
“I want you to know that if there’s ever anything I can do for you, whatever danger you’re in, whatever impossible task you face, I’m on your side. Come to me. I’ll help however I can.”
GM: “Let us first ensure you survive tonight. Do not call or respond to any of the individuals who have attempted to contact you until you leave Perdido House.”
Camilla looks at her watch again.
“How long will it take you to delete everything?”
Celia: “Not long. It’s new. Haven’t had a chance to do much with it.”
The hound does her hair back up and re-dons her hat while Celia occupies herself on the device.
She sees there are new text messages from Roderick, Reggie, and Gui, though her phone says they’ve already been read.
Celia: Celia takes a half second to read them before deleting the texts from Roderick and Gui. She scrubs any trace of her mortal family (including Maxen) from her phone, clears the location data, and removes any contact with those she doesn’t want the prince’s agents to know of. Duke. Josua. Dani. Roderick. Caroline. Any of the rest of the Hardliners she has contact with. There isn’t much to delete; she’s never been so glad that Roderick destroyed her phone. She deletes a handful of apps rather than wasting the time logging out of them individually; even if they’re redownloaded they need to log in again. Finally, she logs out of her Suncloud account.
It’s enough to make it look like she uses the phone without condemning herself or any of the rest of the friends and allies she isn’t supposed to have. Handing over a completely blank phone is more suspicious than only clearing the sensitive files.
GM: Roderick and Reggie are wondering where she is and want her to text them back ASAP. Gui says they’re doing things tomorrow since she no-showed.
Celia: Yeah, that’s the text of a boy in love that’s worried about his girlfriend.
GM: Camilla takes the device back and sticks it in her coat.
“Lie back down. I’m going to stake and restrain you.”
Celia: Celia does as asked.
GM: Camilla does so, then leaves and closes the door behind her.
Celia is left alone with her thoughts.
Celia: They’re negative, spiraling things. Wondering if Roderick really didn’t care enough to look for her. If she’s making a mistake trusting Camilla. If she’ll make it out of Perdido at all, and if she does if she can beat the sun back to her haven. If Roderick’s haven is closer, and whether or not he’d punish her for showing up.
Odds are yes.
She’ll have to explain to Gui tomorrow. Hopefully he won’t be too upset.
What if she doesn’t finish the task? What if her sire shows up for her? Her mom, her daughter, her sister. She can imagine Lucy in his cold hands. Given to Paul to groom.
It’s a downward spiral from there.
GM: Would Paul be into fucking little girls?
Maybe he’s fucked dozens of them, for all she knows.
Though she read somewhere that educated male pedophiles tend to be more into little boys.
Or maybe Donovan will just throw her off a roof.
Or maybe not, after how he saw Celia catch her mom.
Who knows what he’ll do with her family.
Finally, the door re-opens. Camilla enters, un-stakes Celia, and removes her restraints.
“I encountered the seneschal. There was insufficient remaining time to hunt after we finished.”
“He has approved the deal.”
She produces a glass container and knife, then slashes Celia’s wrist.
Celia: It’s more blood than she’d thought would be taken, but tonight, at least, her Beast minds its manners. It must know that it has a desperate flight ahead of it.
She nods at Camilla’s words.
“Thank you. What now? I go?”
GM: “No. You are removed. I will stake you again.”
Celia: Celia touches her hand to Camilla’s. She gives her sister a look of gratitude and acceptance, then a tiny nod.
“Thank you,” she says again.
GM: Camilla glances towards the door. With her hair up, her hat down, and her porcelain-pale face unsmiling, Donovan’s elder childe looks the part of the stone-hearted hound again. The mask is back on. Stone and shadow hide her once more.
“The nights ahead are dangerous. I do not know if I am going to survive them. There is something I would leave you with if I do not.”
“It’s better if you don’t remember what. Not until then. I require access to your mind.”
There isn’t time to ask what’s coming. Something, though. Everyone has been on edge. She can feel it.
Another nod. She opens her mind to Camilla.
GM: “It is done,” says Camilla. Then she plunges the stake into Celia’s heart.
She pulls the black hood back over Celia’s face.
After a few moments, the door opens. Celia hears heavy footsteps. She feels hands picking up her body.
The steel door closes behind her. There’s more footsteps. A pause. Beeping. A heavy metallic sound. Footsteps. Heavy doors opening. Another beep. A button pressed. Movement underneath her.
There’s some indistinct sounds.
Celia is abruptly, unceremoniously, and painfully dropped to the floor. Someone pulls her hood away. Camilla stares coldly down at her alongside two men in dark suits and glasses.
Camilla wordlessly removes the stake from Jade’s chest.
The elevator stops. Doors ding open. They’re in an underground parking garage. Jade is escorted to her car.
Camilla returns her keys.
No one says anything.
Celia: Celia becomes Jade as soon as the stake comes out. She doesn’t say anything to Camilla or the men, letting her mask slip firmly into place. Unlike Camilla’s, it’s not a mask made of ice.
It’s one of fire.
She smirks at the three of them as if she hasn’t been bothered by this experience one bit, gets into her car, and takes off.
Sunday morning, 20 March 2016
GM: Jade drives.
It’s not that far from Perdido House to the Quarter.
But it’s far enough, and late enough, that Jade can see the night sky’s black slowly giving way to deep blue.
The sun will rise soon.
Celia: It’s not that far to the Quarter. And if Jade were headed any deeper into it than she is she’d be worried about catching the sun. But her haven is close enough to the border that she only has a handful of blocks to go. Less than a mile.
She’d wanted to go to Reggie’s. She would feel safer there, with someone nearby. But there’s a phone in her haven she can use to call him so he can come to her. She wants to crawl into bed with him and know that he’ll watch over her during the day, rest her head on his chest and wonder how her Requiem had become so empty and loveless that she’s looking for comfort from a ghoul rather than her own boyfriend. Early last night Roderick would have come for her, had fought the sheriff for her without knowing what was going on, had planned to kill him because of how much he cared about her.
Tonight she’d been called stupid. Gotten a text demanding a call back. She hadn’t expected him to fight his way into the middle of Perdido House, but… something.
Celia pushes the thought from her mind. She’ll figure something out, will either fix it or just… let him go. The manipulative part of her wonders how he’d react if she doesn’t show up to Elysium tomorrow. If she gives Camilla a body to execute in front of them all. If she’d tugged him toward her and he’d found her chained and staked to the table with blackened, crackling skin and an arm on the ground. She’d had half a mind to ask Camilla to drop her at his door like that.
God damn, though, is she tired of playing victim. She can love and be compassionate and care deeply for others without being weak or a doormat.
Celia tightens her grip on the wheel as she heads home.
It’s a new day. A new her.
She’s got this.
GM: Celia drives like mad. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when cop cars are in sight. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when they’re not in sight. Skyscrapers roll past the window. It’s not that far to Canal Street and her ‘secret’ haven.
Overhead, the sky slowly turns from black to navy as the sun continues its inexorable rise. The sleeping city begins to stir. Even the wildest party animals who reveled all Saturday night are finally stumbling into bed. The party is over. God’s day begins. Her family will probably be up soon, if they aren’t already, getting ready for church. What is their daily routine like on Sundays? She’s never been part of it, even though her mom asked her many times (and has long since stopped asking) if she wants to join them for church.
The sun at this hour is weak. The night has not wholly yielded to the day. Has barely yielded to the day.
But the day is still strong enough to scorch Celia’s unholy flesh. It feels like the worst sunburn ever. Celia remembers a time from her childhood when the family vacationed to Miami during the summer and she didn’t wear enough sunscreen outdoors. The feeling was awful. Her skin turned completely red, dead patches came off in ugly white strips, and no amount of baths and kisses and comforts from her mom returned her skin to its normal fair hue, or eased the pain when she touched it. She doesn’t remember if her dad punished her or not. Maybe he thought that was punishment enough.
This is like that but worse.
It’s her hands that suffer worst, and her face after them. Unsightly rashes, angry red with just tinges of black, mar her perfect skin. Slender columns of wispy gray smoke waft from her hands. The smell of cooking flesh fills her nostrils. It’s fainter than at Camilla’s hands, but only for now.
For all her insistence of a fresh start, Sol’s unforgiving eye burns her no less harshly.
Perhaps there’s symbolism there.
Celia: People can’t change.
That’s something she’s heard many times in her life and unlife, that people can’t or won’t or just don’t change. Not that they don’t want to, not that they don’t try, but that who they are is rooted so deep inside themselves that even if they move through their pain or guilt or shame or whatever it is that’s holding them down they still find comfort in the habits they used to have: hiding out, playing small, not trusting, being angry, disconnecting.
Maybe that’s why she’s so adamant about “fixing” Roderick, because for all that he’s an angry jerk right now, the real him is still in there somewhere. Covered by armor and wearing shackles and letting the pain of the past hold him down, yes, but still there. The boy she used to love is still in there.
Sol’s harsh light—beautiful, in a deadly sort of way—reminds her that people can’t change. It burns. She grits her teeth but carries on, knowing that transformation isn’t a destination, it’s a process. So even though it burns, even though her skin reddens and blackens and wafts smoke into her face and she can smell the dead, sizzling skin, she knows that it’s part of the process. Change is uncomfortable. It hurts. That’s the lesson.
It’s going to hurt.
The trip to her haven is a blur, but before the sun can sink its claws into her she’s at her door, stumbling inside in a decidedly ungraceful way. She shuts the door and locks it behind her.
Celia sweeps her gaze across her empty apartment, heart sinking in bitter disappointment.
She’d thought he might be here.
Stupid, she thinks, not about herself or her own intellect but about the idea that he’d have thought to or cared enough to come here.
The siren song of daysleep calls to her, but Celia bares her teeth in a silent snarl as if to ward off a physical being. She kicks off her heels on the way to her computer and pops open the lid; it takes half a second for the screen to wake. Solid state drive, Rusty had suggested, and she’s glad for it. She opens the WhatsApp window and sends a message to Reggie with her current address.
Safe but hurt. Need you. Bring breakfast, Lana help.
A second message goes out to Gui.
Didn’t blow you off. Explain tomorrow before church. Call me.
Sun reaches for her again. Not yet, she tells it. Not yet.
Mel isn’t her ghoul, but she can give the message to Savoy that she doesn’t need saved.
Messages sent, Celia checks the time. She imagines her mother standing at the stove cooking breakfast, flipping pancakes or scrambled eggs for Lucy, pouring a cup of coffee for Emily and pretending that Robby’s early arrival isn’t because he slept over, that his car hasn’t been outside all night.
Celia pictures them sitting at the table while she finds the blood she’d told Camilla she has, warming it in the microwave until it’s warm enough to drink. What would they say if she drank her meal in front of them. If she told them that she’d gambled their lives on a trinket. Is this their last Sunday getting ready for church? What if it takes longer? What if she can’t do it at all?
She didn’t have time to ask. She’ll need to get a message to Camilla at some point. Tail her from Elysium, maybe. And what had she hidden inside Celia’s head? What does she know about Celia’s family?
The microwave dings and Celia pulls the warm blood free. She drinks.
It’s enough to sate her for now, anyway. Hopefully her ghouls will come through with the rest.
Celia strips on her way to bed and crawls beneath the covers, finally succumbing to sleep.
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