“This whole thing. It’s just… it’s just sick. It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia."
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
Celia: Bourbon Heat. It fits tonight, and despite the odd hour—later than she would have been, which only ups her odds—and odd day she pulls into a decent crowd. The Sunday night specials must be doing their fair share of work to attract the breathers, and the music spilling out into the streets is nothing but a siren song to those who wish to spend their Sunday partying rather than getting ready for work in the morning. With more than half the population of the Quarter as tourists, there are plenty of kine for her to feed from that don’t feel the pull of the nine-to-five.
Celia joins the kine, cloaking herself in shadow and mystery, and looks for Dani in the crowd even as she searches for a suitable mark. Not just a vessel, no, but someone else who will serve her purpose this evening. Another mark who will be more than just blood. Luck dances through her veins; she knows, this evening at least, that she will find exactly what she’s looking for.
GM: Dani meets her there after texting her along the way. Roderick’s sister is dressed up for a night out in a silk blouse, tight pants, heels, and dangle earrings. Sexy but not trashy.
“Hi, Celia!” she exclaims, smiling widely as she hugs her brother’s girlfriend.
“It feels like forever since I’ve seen you!”
Celia: Who had she dressed up for, Celia wonders, the lick or the breathers? She has a feeling she knows and she is unsurprised. She, too, feels the pull.
“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs into the shell of her ear, breathing in the scent of perfume, blood, excitement. Her heart goes pitter-patter in its little cage of bone and tissue, and Celia’s echoes the sentiments. Music pounds in her ears, demanding that she move her body accordingly. So she does, pulling Dani close to her so that their hips align, then using a hand at the small of her back to guide her in a series of elegant moves that end with Dani dipped, long line of her throat exposed. Flashy for a nightclub, but Celia manages to make it look effortless, to make it look as if the music had demanded such a display. Then Celia pulls Dani back in, nuzzling the neck of her lover’s little sister.
She whispers an apology for last night. Trouble, she says, and leaves it at that, content to spend a moment in the arms of someone who adores her.
GM: Dani laughs as Celia pulls her into the dance and matches her pace. Dani isn’t bad on her feet at all, but she can’t match the Toreador’s same easy grace. Music pounds in the pair’s ears as lights flash over their bodies. The smell of sweat, perfume, and tightly packed bodies is omnipresent. So many people in this club, Celia is sure, want to be young forever. To dance and drink and party their nights away over an unending eternity of earthly pleasures.
Only two of them get that wish.
Dani tries to say something as a blue light pulses over her bared throat, but it’s almost inaudible on the dance floor.
Celia: That’s okay, Celia probably doesn’t much care about it anyway. Right now she doesn’t want to talk. She’s had enough talking, enough explaining, enough being told what to do and baring her soul. Right now she wants to feel. To dance. To feed.
She twirls Dani around again, then spins the same way until her back hits Dani’s chest and her butt finds the cradle between her hips, and she shimmies for everything she’s worth when the tempo hits its peak with the thin-blood’s arms around her.
GM: Dani says something again. Celia probably cares just as little. Dani rolls with it, probably aware she can’t be heard, and just dances. She lets Celia lead. They lose themselves in the lights, the music, the undulating sway of bodies, the rhythm pulsing through the crowd. Would someone even notice if Celia fed on them here? That’s what Dani did. Celia sure noticed.
This time, though, Dani doesn’t sink her small fangs into the true-blood’s neck. This time, they are something other than (attempted) predator and prey to each other.
This time, they just dance like 20-something girls on a fun night out.
Celia: It might be important. Celia will ask her later, but no doubt she’ll forget or say it doesn’t matter. It happens. Celia has forgotten plenty of things, too. Always at the worst time.
This thought flees her mind as well, lost to the loud music and the high she rides from everything that has happened this evening. For the first time in a long time, she’s free. Her mother is safe. Lucy is safe. Emily is safe-ish. She’s decided to cut Roderick loose after this last task, and she has… a new sister. Two, if she’s not mistaken, once more spinning with Dani on the floor. She giggles, the sound lost to the strum of the bass as the music throbs overhead. It’s in her bones, in her heart, in her very soul, demanding that she move, twist, bob, weave.
It animates her like nothing else ever has. She comes alive beneath the colored lights in the midst of the throng of sweating, drinking kine. She’s the flame to the moths, a shining jewel in the center of the crowd.
She’s dazzling. Literally. The luck ignites her from the inside out, dancing across her skin and through her hair and down her legs just as she dances upon the club floor. It flutters out of her with every giggle, every stray glance, every “accidental” touch, drawing these kine further into the adoring goddess that has so humbly graced them with her presence. It lights up her brain, connecting neurons and pathways and creating a plan, the plan, to handle Randy’s disappearance.
And it starts here, right now, with Dani.
Celia casts her eye through the crowd for a likely target.
And oh, how she dazzles. A flame amidst the moths, beckoning them ever closer with stray glances and accidental touches. She uses Dani like a prop, letting her hands linger on her stomach just shy of the swell of her breasts, blowing warm air across her neck as she spins close to tease not only the girl but the boys looking as well, the boys who think, I know that face, but can’t remember where, only now that they’ve seen it they know that they want it, want her, want both of them.
The huntress has her pick of the litter; Luck’s hands guide her eyes toward a particular specimen, tall with broad shoulders and eyes that belong on a face ten years younger. A boy’s eyes. Innocent. Eager. Apprehensive even, when the huntress and her disciple traipse toward him under the guise of the crowd pushing them together. He is not so handsome that he thought to win her affection, but the doctor and esthetician inside agree that beauty, as her lover said, is only skin deep.
How fortunate for her that she can mold this one like putty.
The rest of him is right. His size, like his twin, dwarfs her. The heat of his large hands cradle her when she moves close. His chest is the perfect height for her to rest her cheek, just as she has so many times before. She sighs his name into his shirt, the two syllables lost like so many other this evening, and kisses his neck with her lips.
She doesn’t need to speak. Just promise, with eyes and smile and body, a good time if he follows.
So he does.
They always do.
GM: Luck guides Celia’s path… a bit of luck. The guy looks a bit like Randy. Tall and broad and looks as if he spends time at the gym. Tan skin. Short brown hair. Designer stubble beard. A different man with the same general description.
It’s the eyes that are the most different. Brown rather than rather than that seemingly shifting blue and green and hazel. None of the puppydog trust and devotion. The helpless, head over heels infatuation. The kind that made him spend seven years in a ‘relationship’ with a girl who never got around to physically consummating it, but were never so cruel as to take what he wanted by force, like his brother no doubt would have. The eyes of this random partying stranger are a hollow substitute for the real thing.
Then again, so was Randy.
Is a hollow substitute of a hollow substitute actually the truest one she could find?
The boy, meanwhile, laughs when Celia kisses him. He smiles and takes her arm, but unusually doesn’t reciprocate the kiss. He exclaims something that’s lost over the music’s din, then points towards the bar, where it’s marginally quieter.
“Oh my god, you’re Celia Flores!” he gushes when they get there. “I’m gay, sorry. But I love your makeup videos! I’ve been following your MeVid channel for like a year!”
Celia: Gay. Of course he is. On occasion she’d even wondered if Randy was. Strung along for years—who lets a girl do that to them?
But she smiles, pleased that he’s a fan, and takes the out he gives her. The mask laughs, cheeks reddening beneath the cool light from overhead, and her eyes dart away in an almost-nervous fashion before she looks back to him. The embarrassment is clear on her face.
“Sorry! I thought you were someone else, didn’t mean to push myself on you like that. The dark and the crowd—” she waves a hand over her shoulder to indicate the packed floor.
GM: “No, no, it’s okay!” laughs the boy. “I mean, nightclub, what do you expect, right?”
“So what are you doing here if you’re gay?” asks Dani with some amusement, having followed Celia back to the bar.
The bartender has a vaguely nonplussed look when he sees Dani sit down.
“I’m here with my boyfriend,” the boy answers. “Connor’s bi. He’s just tired of going to gay clubs all the time.”
“That’s nice of you to do for him,” smiles Dani.
“Wellll he’s gonna suck me off,” winks the boy, then turns back to Celia.
“Can I get you a drink? All my girlfriends love your videos!”
Celia: Celia laughs again, delighted at the offer. And the turn of events. Two for one, bi boyfriend? She can make that work.
She can make that work all night.
“I was just about to offer to buy you one for the mistaken identity.” She lifts a hand at the bartender. “What’re you having? And wave Connor over, I’ll get him one too. And you, Rach.” A nod to Dani.
GM: “Okay, I’ll get you one and you get me one,” smiles the boy. “I’ll have an Agent Orange Explosion. Hey! Connor!”
He waves in his boyfriend’s general direction, then when no one comes over, he places the girls’ orders, gets up, and tells them to save his seat.
“Watch the drinks here,” Dani mutters, not looking away from the bartender as he gets them ready.
Celia: Celia leans in close, murmuring to Dani that she has nothing to fear while Celia is here with her. She won’t let anything happen to her. But she, too, keeps an eye on the drinks as they’re being made after she orders—with quite a bit more subtlety than her friend.
She asks Dani in an undertone if she’ll be okay handling Connor by herself. And mentions that Stephen hates the idea of her “picking up guys at bars,” with a bit of an eye roll and “what can you do” expression.
GM: Dani smiles at Celia’s initial words.
She looks unsure how to answer the question for a moment.
“Um. I kinda don’t want to have sex. I can just feed on him?”
Celia: “Just feed,” she agrees, “and he’ll think he got lucky. You saw it with Alana.”
GM: “Okay. But you’ll stay close?”
The thin-blood sounds like she thinks mere kine could rape her.
Maybe they well could.
Celia: “I was going to take him back to the spa.” She doesn’t mention her intended murder. “I owe your brother,” she tacks on in a lower voice, “so I need to bleed him a little more than what I can safely do here.” It’s a ready excuse. True, even.
Boyfriend is a loose end, though.
“Come with. Flirt a little with the boyfriend on the way. Play with your hair. Laugh at his lame jokes.”
GM: “Okay,” nods Dani. “And we can feed on them at the spa?”
“And what do you mean you owe Stephen?”
Celia: “Mhm,” Celia says to the first question. Then, lowering her gaze for half a second, she debates the merits of turning Dani against her brother again. It’s an easy thing to do, isn’t it? Just tell the truth. She’s gotten so good at that with all of his corrections lately.
“I was injured on Friday. He told me I had to pay it back when we woke up on Saturday and I lost control.”
“Didn’t want to reward bad behavior.” A laugh. Dismissive. But how ugly that tale can get if she expands even slightly.
Not yet, though. Not just yet.
GM: “Oh. So had he loaned you blood or something?” asks Dani.
Celia: “Mm, something like that.”
GM: “Okay, I guess that’s fair.”
Celia: Perhaps. If he hadn’t been the one to wound her in the first place. But she smiles all the same.
GM: “I… didn’t mention this earlier, but I gave your mom some blood, a little while ago. She was really hungry and she’s done so much for me.”
Celia: “Usually that’s a fair trade,” Celia acknowledges. She’s given other halfbloods a hit before. Standard payment. “I don’t think yours sustains her the same. Speaking of.”
Celia turns to fix the girl with a very serious look.
“I found your sire.”
GM: “No, she thought I tasted bad and didn’t ask ag-”
Dani’s eyes widen.
Celia: “Not so loud, Dani.”
“He’s being delivered to me tonight.”
GM: The bartender glares in Dani’s direction as she raises her voice.
Dani doesn’t even look back at him. She has eyes only for Celia as she lowers her voice. Her breath is hitched.
“Who is it?”
“Why did they do this to me?”
Celia: “I don’t know yet, but that’s what I’ll discover tonight. I wanted to keep you in the loop. I know you’ve had a lot of choices ripped away.”
GM: Dani’s knuckles are white as she clutches her newly-arrived drink. Her cheeks are turning red.
“I want to be there, Celia. I want to see him. I want to ask him, to his face. I want to ask him why. I want…”
“I want justice.”
Celia: Celia understands the desire all too well. She nods slowly.
“I mentioned it to your brother last night. He said he’d like to meet him first, make sure it’s safe.” She looks away, then back at Dani, touching the side of her own glass as if the act gives her courage. “The guy dropping him off is trouble. I can hold him for tomorrow.”
GM: Dani still grips her glass, but doesn’t take a drink yet. She looks at Celia the whole time.
“So that’s it. Flawless, tomorrow. That’s when I can talk to him.”
Celia: She hadn’t thought Dani would be so accepting of the offer. She nods again.
“Yes.” A pause, then even lower, “don’t tell him I told you already, okay?”
GM: Dani frowns.
Celia: “I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. We’re… have you seen him since the other night?” The lift of her brows implies the park.
GM: “Yes. And what do you mean by ‘wrong idea’? He obviously wants to catch the guy who did this to me as much as we do.”
Celia: “When did you see him?”
GM: “Last night. What does that matter?”
Celia: “He didn’t seem off to you?” Celia presses.
GM: “Celia’s, what’s going on, and why don’t you want me to tell him this?”
Celia: “We’re in the middle of a fight,” Celia finally says. She looks away. “It’s probably my fault. But he told me he wanted to meet the guy before you and I don’t want him to think I’m disobeying. So can you just…” she looks back to Dani, gesturing between the two of them, “keep it between us, please?”
GM: “It’s not up to him if he wants to meet the guy first,” Dani says crossly. “This is about ME. What he did to ME.”
Celia: Celia the liar winces. “I know.”
GM: “And yeah, I can tell you’re in a fight, considering he also asked me some similar stuff.”
Celia: “About me?”
GM: “He asked me not to share what we talked about until the fight between you guys is resolved.”
Celia: “Is it… is it bad?” Celia asks in a small voice.
GM: Dani squeezes her hand.
“Celia, just tell the truth and it’ll be okay.”
Celia: “About what? I did! I did and he…” Moisture gathers in the corners of her eyes. “He hates me. He hates me. God, Dani, I fucked up, I fucked it all up, I’m so fucking stupid—”
She presses a hand to her face.
GM: Dani quickly hugs her.
“You’re not stupid, and he doesn’t hate you! He just hates the things that have come between you. But he loves you. He loves you and he wants your relationship to work.”
Dani pulls back after a moment.
“Just be honest. Just tell the truth, all of it. No more drama. No more lies, no more things unsaid. Just put out everything on the table and decide together what you want to do from there. Okay? It’ll be fine.”
Celia: “Did he say that?” Celia asks in a voice reminiscent of a child asking if Santa is real.
GM: “Yes, he did,” Dani nods.
“He also said, ‘The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and fear.’”
Celia: There’s little enough space for Dani to breathe after that with Celia clinging to her as she does, arms thrown around her and face buried against her neck.
GM: Dani keeps hugging her and runs her hands along Celia’s back.
“I’m going to text him that you told me about my sire. I’m also going to tell him off for wanting to talk to him first. I think less drama and more honesty is the answer here.”
Celia: “You don’t think bringing that up is more drama?”
GM: “Like I said, and like he said, I think we should all just be honest with each other.”
Celia: Maybe she’s right.
Still, Celia has the feeling she’s landed in the center of an even worse storm.
“Dani?” she asks after a quiet moment, pulling away from the girl. “What does… what does that quote mean, exactly? I mean I get the gist, but for he and I..?”
GM: Dani’s answer to that question is interrupted when the boy returns. He’s accompanied by another young man with dark skin, short hair, and a clean-shaven face. He’s the taller of the two and dressed in an unbuttoned white button-up and black jeans.
“Sorry we took so long, ladies,” smiles Connor. He plants a hand on Celia’s and Dani’s shoulders and grins between them. “We’d have hurried back if I knew how hot you were.”
“Oh, you!” laughs the boy, stroking Connor’s back.
Celia: “Smooth,” smirks Celia, instantly moving from one personae to another. She offers almost-Randy (had he introduced himself?) his drink, but holds the second out of Connor’s reach.
“Pop quiz, darling. Who’s hotter?”
GM: “Oh, you’re way hotter than me,” Connor grins as he plops down on a nearby seat with his boyfriend.
Celia: “Mm, almost a party foul, you’re supposed to say your boyfriend. But I’ll allow it.” She offers him the drink.
GM: Connor raises it in almost-toast and drinks.
“I thought you were asking which of us,” Dani remarks with some amusement.
The boy giggles and sips his drink. “It was a good save.”
Celia: “That’s the trap,” Celia says, slinging an arm around Dani’s shoulders. “Watch him sweat while he tries to decide, then hand the drink over to his poor, forgotten boyfriend who dragged himself all the way to the Quarter from… where, again?”
GM: Dani giggles next and snuggles against Celia.
“Well, smarter answer, that you’re hotter than him.”
“All the way from the Quarter,” smirks Connor. “We live here.”
He and his boyfriend look Celia and Dani up and down.
“You two together?” the boyfriend asks slyly.
Celia: Locals. That’s messy, isn’t it. Perhaps Lady Luck has other plans for her this evening.
“We’re testing the waters,” Celia says, just as slyly. “My boyfriend and I split a few weeks back, so I thought I’d see what the other side has to offer.”
GM: Lady Luck already brought her a man in Randy’s likeness.
The boyfriend giggles and sips his drink.
“She’s a bluuuushing!”
Dani is blushing.
Celia: No doubt Dani’s brother would react poorly if she were to try anything with the girl. Not that she isn’t still tempted. She nuzzles Dani’s neck, nipping at the lobe of her ear.
“She’s shy,” Celia tells the boys. “Too many eyes on her in a place like this.”
GM: “How ’bout we go someplace with less eyes?” asks Connor, not missing a beat.
Celia: Those are the magic words.
Celia smiles at the pair and rises to her feet.
GM: Everyone else takes final pulls of their drinks and gets up.
“I’m Rachel. What’s your name?” Dani asks the boyfriend.
“Ryan,” he answers as the four make their way out of the club.
Celia: “What do you do, Ryan? And you, Smooth Talker,” she adds to Connor, winding her fingers through Dani’s so the kid doesn’t get any ideas.
GM: “Usually guys, though I’m okay with girls if there’s also a guy, too,” Ryan answers breezily.
Connor smirks. “We’re in college. Xavier.”
Celia: That young? Celia glances them over again.
GM: They look old enough to be legally drinking, though bars and clubs in the Quarter are notoriously lax about checking IDs.
“Well I’m doing engineering, but Ryan’s trying to get by on Fine Arts.”
“Ouch,” says Dani.
Celia: Celia smiles.
“What’s your medium?”
GM: “Theater,” he says. “I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid, but ha ha, good luck making it in Hollywood today. But I knew I wanted to do acting and there’s less bullshit in theater. It’s just acting without any other bullshit, you know?”
Celia: “Difficult,” Celia agrees with a nod, “unless you know someone.”
Celia knows someone. The right someone, too. She gives the kid another once-over, forcing herself to look past his resemblance to Randy.
GM: He’s shorter than Randy is, and wearing tight pants she has a hard time seeing Randy in. Perhaps also makeup too, if he follows her videos. It’s hard to see Randy wearing makeup.
“Well I mean that’s everything, right?” shrugs Connor.
“Yeah, but harder in some places,” says Ryan.
“Mmm, like here?” grins Connor, feeling up his boyfriend’s crotch.
Ryan laughs and swats him.
Dani glaces towards Celia, as if asking how she wants to handle things next.
She laughs along with the pair, then asks, “You two from here?”
“Nah, Charlotte,” says Connor.
“Austin,” says Ryan.
“Austin seems like a really fun city,” remarks Dani.
“Yeah, the whole city is basically one big college campus,” says Ryan.
Celia: It’s an idle thought, whatever it is that’s crossing her mind, and she wonders if this is how most Kindred find their future puppets. At bars, walking them toward their death, musing over whether or not it’s more practical to murder them or give them a boost. It’s hard to imagine her sire or grandsire meeting people like this, though.
And really, what’s the use of a movie star pawn? What’s the benefit there? She can think of a few. More than she’d been able to list for a governor.
“Quarter can’t be too big a change, then,” Celia says with a grin, “all the parties and debauchery.”
Austin is on the way to LA, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll pop by.
“Speaking of, is your place far?”
GM: “Oh the Quarter’s better,” says Ryan.
“It’s walkable, but we can take a Ryde if you want,” says Connor.
“I’m gonna change my shoes if we’re walking,” says Dani.
It’s been seven years since shoes pained Celia.
Celia: Good thing, too. Whoever designs heels must make them uncomfortable on purpose. Celia used to wonder why until she found out it’s usually a man.
GM: Emily had a lot to say about that too. “Of course guys don’t care about comfort when they don’t have to wear them.”
Celia: Emily has a lot to say about everything.
It makes her worry about how the rest of the night is going to go, and how deeply Celia wants to involve her in this life, or if she should find someone to erase the memories.
“Extras in your purse, Rachel? Clever.”
GM: Emily learns more and more about this life with every minute Diana spends with her.
“Yeah,” she says. “I like having the option if I want it.”
“You ladies wanna head back to our place or yours?” asks Connor.
GM: “Works,” says Ryan.
Dani changes her shoes, though it’s a short enough trip back to the two’s apartment. It’s clean enough (“obviously because Ryan’s gay,” Connor says when Dani remarks) for a low-budget college student’s starter place. Rents in the Quarter aren’t the cheapest, but they’ve been able to make it work between being roommates, part-time jobs, and… “but you don’t wanna hear about that shit,” says Connor, already pulling off Celia’s dress as he pulls her onto the bed.
That says it all on which of them he thinks is hotter.
Celia: Despite herself, she does want to hear about that shit. Maybe it’s because he looks like Randy. Maybe it’s because some part of her, the part that wants to take care of her family after messing them up, thinks learning more about these two will absolve her of some of the guilt she feels over everyone she’s ever murdered. Maybe she sees it as another way to punish herself for the sins she’s committed: finally viewing these juicebags as real people with their own lives rather than just her next meal.
And maybe she just wants to make sure there aren’t any loose ends when she comes back to slaughter them.
But she doesn’t push, not when he’s already willing to bare his throat for her and let her sink in. She hadn’t planned on getting naked, not really, but the more attention paid to her the less is paid to Dani, and both huntress and girl agree that protecting the cub is worth showing a bit of skin.
She makes all the right noises when Connor touches her. She’s warm, inviting, friendly. She helps him out of his clothing, puts the attention on him rather than the newborn, brings in the boyfriend so he, too, has his memories fogged by the kiss. Celia breaks their skin with her fangs and lets Dani drink from one and then the other, and Celia does the opposite so that at all times the boys are ensnared with heady bliss, lost in the sensation of the Toreador’s well-practiced touch. And if a stray hand grazes Dani’s chest in the midst of this pretend fling, if Celia’s lips linger on her mouth after licking the blood from the corner of her lips for half a second too long, if her taut, toned, naked body presses against the girl in untamed desire and she breaks Dani’s skin with her teeth and lets the sour-sweet blood dance across her tongue (like a mortal, she thinks, pleased that Dani is practicing the shadow dancing, and even though she knows the truth she lets the lie fill her mouth)—well, that’s all just part of the experience, isn’t it?
It’s not sex. The act isn’t reciprocated. She’s only protecting Dani from feeling the full effects of the horror of being in bed with two men after suffering from a sexual assault not too long ago, clouding her mind to turn anxiety and distress to bliss. She prods her Beast as she suckles on the blonde, asking it if this blood, even disguised, will sate it beyond what a mortal can provide.
Is there a use for this plague of half-bloods or are they simply a drain on society, hoarding blood that their better-bred cousins deserve?
The thought makes her wonder about other implications. Other things she knows that she buries deep. And it makes her a generous master indeed when she recalls that Dani’s kind functions better with lick blood in their system, that it gives them access to a broad array of powers; Edith’s words float through her mind, the deeper they drink the stronger they get. With the ready availability of these two hapless kine Celia has no problem at all finishing her brief experiment on Dani’s blood to offer her own, slicing herself open so that her vitae trails in red rivulets between her—
No, no, it is sex, this is sex, this is sex with her lover’s sister, and the thought is enough to pull her from the spell, to reach for the glass of water one of the boys left on his nightstand and dump the contents onto the peace lily’s pot beside it, then bite her wrist to pour into the cup for Dani so that she does not need to lick the red from Celia’s chest.
Blood flows freely this evening. Everything Celia loses to the cub she takes back from the boys, and with Dani sated on Toreador vitae the kine are spared from the serious injury of overfeeding. The four pass time in a tangled mass of limb and lip, all of them sated when the magic ends. A wet spot on the mattress and another on the floor shows just how sated the kine are. Pale from blood loss, wounds licked shut, Celia avoids the worst of the semen-splattered stains when she arranges them neatly in bed like she would any drunk, watching their chests rise and fall in deep, even breaths after they lazily murmur their contentment with the evening.
Fast asleep, tucked in by the monster inside their home. It stirs an old memory, a dark hallway—
Celia washes the remnants of the bodily fluids from her with a quick rinse in the shower, dries, and puts her dress back on while Dani waits near the door. And if a set of keys happens to fall into Celia’s purse on the way out, well, that’s just the hazard of picking up girls in bars.
You never know who’s going to rob you blind.
Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM
“Good score,” Celia says to Dani once they’re clear of the house.
GM: “Yeah,” says Dani.
She’s quiet for a bit.
“Is there another way to do this?”
Celia: “You don’t have to go home with them. Or get naked. They won’t usually remember. But my domain includes more than the clubs. You could learn to pick locks and feed on sleepers. Develop a herd, which are just vessels that let you feed. Not that you tell them what you’re doing,” she adds.
GM: “Oh. You mean like your mom?”
“Not that I’m asking to feed on her,” the thin-blood adds. “Is that just an example of what a herd is?”
Celia: “Sort of. She’s a ghoul. We don’t always use them as part of the herd. More like, for example, my clients at the spa.”
GM: “Ah. I’d feel better about doing this consensually, if that’s what a herd involves.”
“I’d only fed a couple times when we met.”
“I just got really close to guys on the dance floor and took a drink there.”
Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah, that’s how you were found, though. Find a private corner rather than doing it out in the open. Bathroom, maybe. Herd isn’t quite consensual, it’s just not violent. Telling them what you’re doing risks people finding out about us, which will get you into trouble.”
She thinks further.
“Blood bank,” she suggests. “You could buy it bagged, just reheat it. Or, ah, there’s a scene guy who walks around in all black claiming he’s a vampire and people let him drink from them because they think it’s kinky. Pretty sure he’s mortal, but you could try something like that too.”
“I’d maybe ask Rod, though. This and the spa is my MO.”
GM: Dani cracks a smile at the guy’s description. “That sounds bad for the Masquerade.”
“That’s a good idea, though. I’ll ask Stephen.”
“I don’t think picking up guys like this is my thing.”
GM: “Thanks for… keeping them busy.”
Celia: “Mm. I figured you wouldn’t want them to touch you.”
GM: “I wonder if I could also feed on animals?”
“I don’t, but some people do.”
GM: “Oh. That makes it a lot simpler.”
“The meat industry obviously produces tons of blood.”
Celia: It hadn’t even occurred to her. She doesn’t gain much sustenance from the blood of animals.
“Mhm,” she agrees. “Or you could adopt a bunch of pets. Some outlaws hunt bigger things. Thrill of the chase and all.”
GM: Dani cracks another smile. “I’d feel bad about feeding from dogs, honestly.”
“Makes me wonder, though…”
Dani pulls out her phone from her purse, taps into it, and reads,
“Where does the blood from a slaughter house go? The quantity is vast. It is stored in huge vats until tankers come to collect it. It is taken to rendering plants with blood processing facilities, or disposed of in sewers (which lead into the nearest water body), in landfills or spread over land. Some amount is used to make human food and animal feed.”
Celia: “Find a slaughter house nearby, see if you can buy wholesale.”
“Just, y’know, file for an LLC or something with your name not attached to it and buy it through that.”
GM: Dani scrolls through her phone some more, then looks up and smiles again.
“That’s just what I was thinking. I guess you could’ve been a lawyer too.”
Celia: “Doubt it.” But Celia smiles back all the same.
GM: “Hard to explain what you’re buying a bunch of animal blood for outside a business context like that.”
Celia: “Mm. You mentioned the food. Medical stuff too, I bet. Spa products, beauty things. A lot of… well, maybe not a lot of, but some skincare products use animal parts.”
“And plants. Well. Like they try to use more plants now, like stem cells and stuff.”
GM: “Oh, that’s perfect! Maybe I could set it up so it gets delivered to Flawless? Add an extra layer of legitimacy and all.”
Celia: Celia considers the request. Bit of a tip off to get blood delivered to the spa when she’s already under suspicion, isn’t it?
“I’d, ah, ask your brother that too. Worried huge amounts of blood coming to the spa of a known lick is going to cause problems. He’ll have a better idea if we should use another cover. But if he thinks it’s not a problem then I don’t see why not.”
There you go, Rod, go on and make the hard decisions since you’re so dead-set on controlling everything. Tell your sister no.
“Sorry about last night,” she adds. “Didn’t mean to blow you off.”
GM: “Okay, I’ll do that,” Dani nods. “And it’s fine. I was wondering if I could come with you to church tonight, also? As Hannah. I want to see what that’s like.”
Celia: “That’s… dangerous,” Celia finally settles on. She stops walking, turning to Dani with a grave expression. “I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I don’t think you understand the hatred most of us have for your kind. They barely even let the clanless come, let alone half-bloods. You could pass as a servant, sure, but if you catch the wrong sort of attention? There’s no trial. Just execution.”
Celia reaches for her hand, imploring her to understand.
“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I’m… kind of in trouble with the wrong people, and that’s why I told you to stay home last night. I have a feeling they might be watching me a little more closely right now because I pissed them off, and if you’re seen with me and they take a closer look…”
She shakes her head.
“I don’t want to put you in danger.”
GM: “But I thought I was safe unless someone tasted my blood. Why would someone do that?”
“Everyone basically just ignored me at that club we went to.”
Celia: “They’re breathers.” Celia considers a moment, then, “did you share blood with another lick recently?”
GM: “You, yes.”
Celia: “Besides me. Did Rod give you any?”
GM: “Yeah, he did.”
Celia: “Hm. I don’t think he’s a shadow dancer, but I guess he could have picked it up. You weren’t cloaking, were you?” Or is Celia just that much prettier than Dani that the girl fades into the background? Rude to ask, isn’t it.
“Did he use a cup?”
GM: “No, I wasn’t.” Dani looks a little puzzled by the question. “And yes, he did.”
Celia: “What did you pick up from him? Speed?”
“I’m just curious about that,” Celia admits. “The totem twisting. Since he and I are different.”
GM: “Speed,” Dani nods. “He’s really fast.”
“Though I’m sure you know that.”
Celia: “Yeah. I was just curious if you picked up anything else. And since I gave you a few hits, if you’ve got more than the charm…” Celia trails off. “Is he still in you? The speed? Because… like, okay, I guess if he thinks it’s okay if I bring you with me, but I really, really don’t want something bad to happen to you.”
“But come on. I need to get dressed anyway. Do you have your mask? You tell him you want to go and we’ll figure it out from there.”
GM: “I think so?” Dani answers Celia’s first question. “I feel pretty light on my feet.”
“And yeah, I have my mask.”
“I don’t see why I need to ask him, though. This is something I want to do.”
Celia: “Because if he finds out I enabled you to do something reckless he’s going to kill me.”
Hard to tell if she’s kidding or not.
GM: “Okay.” Dani fishes out her phone and fires off a text. The pair have since arrived back at their cars.
Celia: Celia doesn’t like how readily Dani accepts the idea of Stephen killing her.
“Follow me, then. You can raid my closet for this.”
GM: “Oh good, I was wondering what I should wear.”
Dani gets into her car and follows after Celia’s.
Celia: She’s moving soon. That’s what she tells herself when she leads Dani to the haven on the edge of the Quarter. Too many people have seen it for her to consider it secret anymore. So she’s moving. Soon. She’ll start looking for places tomorrow.
GM: Dani parks her car when they’re there, gets out, and reads her phone.
“Stephen said it’s not without risk, but it’s up to me. Also that I should probably be more worried about renfields than licks.”
“Since they’ll be the ones I sit with and who might actually talk to me.”
“He said there should be some kind of cover story for how we met and what I do for you.”
Celia: Would he have said the same if Celia had asked?
She leads Dani inside and kicks off her shoes on her way to the closet.
“Mm. Yes, I was going to say the same. You’re new, so we can use that to cover some ignorance, but mind your manners if nothing else. Sir and ma’am. Keep your fangs hidden. No talk of Celia. Or Stephen. Or that Jade and Rod speak to each other. Or that you go to Tulane. Or work in Mid-City.”
Celia browses the racks of clothes while she rattles off other similar instruction, occasionally holding something up to Dani to see how it might look.
“You’re not secretly an artist of any sort are you?”
GM: Dani kicks off her shoes too as she enters the heaven.
She looks over the racks and racks clothes appreciatively.
“Also, wow. You have an incredible closet.”
Celia: Celia smiles at her. “Thanks. Feel free to browse. Something elegant but understated. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard. Maybe black. I’m going to do my face.”
GM: “Okay. Something I’d wear to a breather church?”
Celia: “You get all sorts at Elysium, but that’s an okay bet. I’ll tell you if it looks wonky.”
Celia picks up a kit that no doubt contains a multitude of makeup brushes and products, but before she goes she peers at the top of the closet, ignoring Dani for a moment. More than one emotion wars for dominance of her face, and it takes a few seconds for the slow smile to finally appear.
“Cute.” Her expression flickers. “But perhaps preemptive.”
Celia excuses herself to make the transformation into Jade, the eyes of her dolls following her.
GM: One less pair of eyes, now. Their numbers feel diminished without her.
But also, perhaps, more unified. The remaining ones were all made by her.
“Oh,” Dani’s voice calls out, “I don’t know if your mom mentioned, when you were over there, but I decided to move back in with my dad.”
Celia: “Yeah, don’t mention that either,” Celia calls back while she sculpts her face into Jade’s. “No hints of Uptown. You live in the Quarter, if anyone asks.”
GM: “I figured, yeah.”
Celia: “R&D,” comes her voice after another minute. “That’s what you do for me. Not even technically lying. If anyone presses for more than that you just play mum. It’s none of their business.”
GM: It hurts.
Like it always does.
Celia: It centers her, though. The pain. Moving from one form to another.
It reminds her who she is.
GM: “Oh, that’s a good idea. Hannah’s face is a little less, uh, ‘fabulous’ than Alana.”
Celia: “We could make you more fabulous.”
“If you ever want.”
GM: “You mean Hannah’s face?”
GM: “I wonder if not being noticed is better.”
Celia: Or both. She doesn’t care.
“There’s a guy named Alan you could sit with. He talks enough for three people, let him fill the silences for you. You’ll know who he is by how hard you want to punch him in the face.”
GM: “I think Stephen mentioned that guy!”
“He tried to sell him a watch.”
“Wouldn’t shut up about it.”
Celia: Celia laughs.
GM: “He was just telling me some more about ghouls.”
Celia: “His domitor is a friend of mine.”
GM: “Would it help if I name-dropped you with him?”
Celia: “If he asks, just say you’re mine.”
GM: “Okay. Also, speaking of Alana. She said to talk with you about scheduling an appointment at Flawless, because you only take one or two a night and they’re important.”
Celia: “Tell him I told you that he swindled me out of twice the price for those earrings a while back, they were just too cute not to have.”
“Feeding,” she says by way of explanation. She pauses to fix her lips in the mirror.
GM: “Oh. Alana didn’t say that.”
Celia: “Wait, when did you talk to Alana?”
GM: “During the day. You know, that whole time you’re sleeping?” Danny’s voice sounds ribbing.
Celia: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I party all day.”
GM: “Ah, of course.”
“I’m amazed you pull it off with your family.”
“There’s just so much stuff that happens during the day.”
Celia: “That’s why we don’t keep families.”
GM: “Like, how do you handle birthday parties?”
Celia: “I send Alana sometimes.”
GM: “Lucy’s especially.”
Celia: “She can pass as Celia pretty well.”
GM: “That makes sense.”
“Me moving in with my dad isn’t going to cause any problems, is it?”
Celia: “Only if you get caught by McGinn’s goons.”
GM: “Who’s McGinn?”
Celia: “Regent of Uptown. Ventrue. Think he’s in the running for prince. Mm, Invictus. He’s… old school. Racist. Nazi type. Ran into his guys the other night and they’re all, uh, neonazis.”
GM: There’s a pause.
Celia: “Married my aunt-in-blood, or… great aunt-in-blood? Who is… well, we have a complicated relationship.”
GM: “I’m not gonna get caught, am I, after that tattoo?”
Celia: “Not unless they drink your blood or see you feed or connect Dani to Hannah. Still safer in the Quarter, though.”
GM: “Okay. I can do all those things.”
“I just feel like it’s been really bad for my dad to live alone.”
“Your mom thought so too.”
Celia: “Could always carry a letter with you. Something like requesting an audience with whatever regent of the territory you’re in.”
GM: “Okay, so as a backup option if I get caught?”
GM: “That sounds good, can you write me one?”
Celia: “Will do.”
“Agree about your dad, though.”
GM: “Thanks. And yeah. I couldn’t stay with your family forever, we didn’t think, I’d basically taken over your mom’s bedroom.”
“But she thought it would be good for me to live with someone else too.”
Celia: Celia finishes fixing her face in the mirror and starts on her makeup. This evening, it’s dramatic as Hell.
“I agree there too. Shame Mom didn’t have an extra room, that was probably ideal. I’m probably letting go of my other haven soon. The one you were at that one night? Some young licks share places. I know you mentioned that before.”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do, I just think you’re safer in the Quarter.”
“Then again,” she muses, “I was picked up right outside the Evergreen, so fuck me.”
GM: “I’d be happy to share a place with you, still.”
Celia: “Last night. It’s why I told you to stay put.”
“Your brother mentioned maybe getting a place together.” There’s a hesitancy at the end of her statement, a soft lilt that suggests a question.
GM: “You mean for you guys? Yeah, that makes sense to share a place.”
Celia: “Dani?” Celia’s voice. The transformation might be complete, but the dead girl is still controlling the vehicle. “Did he tell you what happened?”
GM: “Uh. Think it might be better if we don’t go into that right now?”
Celia: “Probably,” Celia sighs.
The sound of a buzzer reaches Dani’s ears.
Like something vibrating at high frequency.
GM: “Hey, what’s that?”
Celia: “Trimming my hair.”
GM: “Oh. Stephen said it grows back literally overnight.”
Celia: “Yep. Getting creative tonight.”
GM: Dani walks in, carrying several black dresses with her. She pauses for a second when she sees Jade’s face.
“Geez. I just can’t get over how different you look.”
Celia: Jade catches her eyes in the mirror and smiles at her, fangs flashing.
“That’s the idea, darling.” She holds herself differently with this face. Straighter spine. Lower voice. She wears arrogance like a perfume.
GM: “Yeah, you even feel different too.”
Celia: The smile grows. She turns to face Dani fully, unfolding from the stool in front of the mirror to rise, sliding across the floor.
“Do I scare you, newborn?”
GM: “A little, yeah.” Dani’s still just standing there with the dresses in hand. “I know you’re Celia, it’s just… such a total transformation.”
Celia: Jade stalks toward her with all the grace of the jungle cat whose form she’d stolen.
“Has to be,” she says as she circles the girl like a piece of meat. “Anything less than is sloppy. And I don’t like sloppy,” she whispers in Dani’s ear. Then she’s gone from behind her, standing still in front of the mirror with head cocked to one side. She runs her tongue across the points of her fangs as if she’s itching to sink them into the half-breed.
“Show me what you’ve chosen.”
GM: Dani’s eyes follow Jade warily.
Oh, Jade’s not actually physically striking the thin-blood, like she did Celia’s mother. Jade’s not telling this half-blood that she’s a slave who’ll be punished for getting out of line. Celia’s just changed her face and affect. It’s nothing to protest over, in of itself.
That’s how so many monsters throw their victims off-balance.
Little things. Nothing big enough to make a big deal over.
Dani holds up the dresses.
“Well, as you can see.”
Celia: Celia peruses the selection as Dani lays them out.
She shakes her head at the first three, pointing out flaws. Too imperious. Too formal. Too on-the-nose.
GM: “I guess they are a little eye-grabbing, yeah,” Dani says, acknowledging the problems.
“That’s a lot of your stuff.”
Celia: “This one, though.”
“I like this one.”
GM: “Oh. That’s a little risque.”
Celia: “There’s a sheer top you can put under it to cover the girls.”
GM: “That works. Does it have sleeves? I think they’d ruin the look.”
Celia: “No. It’s not a real shirt. Just a cover when things dip too low.”
“Open back, so you won’t ruin that, either.”
GM: “Oh good, that’s perfect.”
Celia: Jade smiles again. It’s a sharp smile, but there’s some measure of warmth to her eyes all the same.
“Your brother told me to tell you the truth,” she says in an offhand manner, looking down at her nails while Dani no doubt deliberates where to change (as if Celia hasn’t seen a naked body before).
GM: Dani gathers up the dresses in her arms but doesn’t take off her clothes yet. Perhaps intending to do so in another room.
Celia: Jade waves her hand at Dani, dismissing her to change. She doesn’t bother hiding herself when she strips once more from her own dress, selecting a new pair of panties for the evening before she reaches for her gown.
“I have DID. That’s why I feel different.”
GM: Dani leaves. Celia can faintly hear the unzip of her pants.
“You mean, multiple personality disorder?”
Celia: Was it her nudity that sent the girl scampering? Jade seems amused.
“No one calls it that anymore. But yes.”
GM: “Huh, okay. That’s good you know and can be open about it.” Celia hears Dani taking off her pants.
Celia: “It doesn’t really bother me,” Jade says, sliding the black thong up her lean legs. “But it bothers him.”
GM: “Does it interfere with your daily life?”
“I know it can be comorbid with a lot of other disorders.”
Celia: “That’s a rather complicated question. Yes and no.”
GM: “How so?”
Celia: “Celia is the base, right? The first. And Jade is the lick. And there are others, but we’ll stick with those two for now. They want different things. So it’s like being pulled in a bunch of different directions, and neither one of them ends up happy, and they don’t mean to but they tend to fuck each other over.”
GM: “That sounds like a problem, then.”
“I don’t know how this would work for licks, but DID is obviously treatable with breathers.”
Celia: “He wants me to see someone.”
“To fix it.”
“He says it’s imaginary.”
“That it’s just in my head.”
“That what they do for me isn’t real.”
GM: “What they do for you?”
Celia: “And I don’t know how I feel about that, because Jade…” The girl falters at the question. “Yes. What they do for me.”
GM: “You were saying something about Jade?”
Celia: “She plays the lick game so Celia can play the human game.”
GM: “Celia’s definitely the nicer-feeling one.”
Celia: “Only because you haven’t met Leila.”
GM: “What does Leila do for you, if Jade lets you play the lick game?”
Celia: “She’s… happy. Untouched by all of this.”
GM: “I think it would be healthier if you could integrate all of those feelings and behaviors into your, what’s the term, core personality.”
“All of us are different people in different circumstances. I’m not the same person around my dad that I am with you, or with Stephen, or at work. That’s normal. But I’m still Dani around all of those people.”
Celia: Harlequin had said no one else would understand.
“Mm,” is all she says.
GM: “You don’t agree?”
Celia: “I don’t think it’s the same.”
“And I think his insistence on fixing it is going to damage me further.”
GM: “You say Celia and Jade have been fucking each other over, though. How so?”
Celia: “Celia,” the word is accompanied by such a hard roll of the eyes that Dani can hear it, “is a sap who still believes in love.”
“Jade’s a bit of a cunt. She’s not just fucking me, she’s fucking everyone else, too.”
“Celia is mad that she’ll never get her 2.5 kids and white picket fence. She has a tendency to look—”
“Preston said Jade is pathet—”
“Because you got all weepy on Savoy’s—”
“They’re both wrong,” sighs another voice.
GM: Dani pops back out. She looks like she’s found the top. She’s got on her black sandal heels that she wore out to the club.
There’s wariness on her features. But seemingly more for Celia than at Celia this time.
“Can I ask who just said that?” she asks slowly.
Celia: “Me,” the girl says, as if that explains everything. After a brief second of hesitation she points at herself.
GM: “What’s your name?” Dani asks.
Celia: “Leila.” She smiles, eyes sparkling in delight. “You’re Dani. I know you. You spilled peas once an’ Celia told you how she spilled salad and Daddy was mad. Grampa said she’s… um, he said she’s from the heavens, an’ she’s a flower, so that’s why I’m Leila. Leilani. Star flower. But don’t call me ‘Lani ’cause Joshy does an’ that’s our special thing, ’kay?” The girl sits back on the stool in front of the mirror, kicking her feet while she looks around the haven.
“Didju see the closet? It’s real big. Chase gave her lotsa shinies. Are you gonna wear a shiny? Ceels has, um, she has a—” The voice cuts off in a giggle. “—secret!” she finishes loudly.
GM: “Hi, Leila. It’s nice to meet you,” Dani ventures.
She pauses for a second, then seems to roll with it.
“I probably won’t wear a shiny. I don’t want to stand out too much.”
Celia: “Yeah ‘cause I was gonna say that you can’t wear a necklace ‘cause too much goin’ on up top, but you could do a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Do you have your ears pierced? Did it hurt?”
GM: “I might wear some small earrings. And I do. And it wasn’t too bad. Being scared was worse. I actually chickened out the first time and my mom had to drive me in twice.”
Celia: Leila nods solemnly, eyes wide.
“Mine are clip-ons,” she says in a loud whisper, then presses a finger to her lips.
Dani can see that the earrings dangling from her lobes are in no way clip-ons.
GM: Dani looks at them, then finally nods and gives a wide ‘definitely rolling with this’ smile.
“Smart,” she says.
GM: “Those are some really pretty clip-ons.”
Celia: “Thanks! Chase gave me them. He’s my best friend. Don’t tell him I said that. Don’t tell Alan, either or he’ll tell Chase and then Joshy might find out and I think he thinks he’s my best friend and he’s okay but— oh! Tell Alan, yeah, tell Alan that you need a phone. No, two phones. No, THREE! And one of them has to be pink!” Leila picks up Celia’s purse to rifle through the contents. She finds a stack of bills and pulls them out, waving them at Dani.
“She’s got a lotta money in here, that’s a lotta phones, did you know she has a gun?” Leila looks at Dani, eyes wide. “She dunno how to shoot, though, maybe it’s—oh, Steve was gonna show her, but then also he didn’t, and also I got a book from the liberry do you think he’ll read it to me? Oh! Did he tell you about the bat? It flies.” She flaps her arms to demonstrate. “And he’s got a leash. Two! Two leashes. Are you ready? We gotta go soon. Can you drive? I don’t have a license. Don’t tell Alan I said he’s a butthead when you ask for the phones because I like him even though he talks a lot and I don’t really think he’s a butthead he’s actually kinda nice even though he likes Clem have you met her she’s kind of mean and…”
On she goes.
GM: “She doesn’t?” Dani asks with a frown, but is swiftly drowned out by the childlike alter’s torrent of speech.
She regards it with something between puzzlement and amusement, then glances at her phone.
“Uh, can I talk to Celia, please?” Dani asks, looking up.
“Or Jade? ’Cuz we need to get going pretty soon.”
Celia: “No one ever wants to talk to me,” Leila mutters, crossing her arms.
A moment later they uncross, and the girl rises to her feet.
“We should head out.”
GM: “Uh. So, that was a change,” says Dani, following after Celia.
Celia: “She’s easily excitable,” Celia says by way of explanation. She does have Dani drive, stating that it would be weird for Hannah to show up by herself.
“The burners from Alan aren’t a bad idea, either.”
GM: “Oh. Almost forgot.” Dani fits on the mask and double-checks herself in the mirror.
“You think so? She seemed pretty, uh, excitable, like you say.”
“I wasn’t sure if the idea was from her or you.”
Celia: “Lost my phone last night. The one before that was broken a week ago.” Celia shrugs. “Never hurts to have extras.”
Celia asks if she can borrow Dani’s phone in the meantime, navigating to Cadabra to have a new Solaris shipped overnight to her.
She throws in a few burners while she’s at it, nixing the idea of asking Alan.
All this business with the hunters and the Guard made her realize that, though convenient, a smartphone is only going to get her into trouble.
GM: Dani hands it over.
“Oh, I’m sorry. If you’re losing them often, might just order two.”
“Regular phones, that is, on top of the burners.”
Celia: Celia laughs. “Yeah, I did last time and I’m still down to zero.”
But she adds an extra Solaris to the order.
GM: Dani follows her out to Celia’s car.
“So, does she interfere with your life? Leila, that is?”
Celia: “Not really.”
“She talks a lot.”
A little too much, but Dani hadn’t seemed to realize.
GM: “Well, I guess that’s harmless next to the fight you and Jade sounded like you were having.” She gets in on the driver’s side after Celia unlocks the vehicle.
Celia: Celia hands over the keys and gives her the address. She shrugs, eyes turning to the window.
“We don’t need to talk about it.”
GM: “No, I’m okay! If there’s a problem, I want to help you fix it.”
Celia: “Jade’s a manipulative cunt that ruins everything and Celia is a spineless doormat that thinks she’s in love.”
GM: “I think Celia’s right. You are in love.”
“Celia definitely feels nicer, too.”
Celia: “In love with someone who abuses her,” she says shortly, crossing her arms, “who thinks she’s stupid, who has said she’s stupid, so why—why? Why cling to that. It’s like being Diana.”
GM: The old Diana, anyways.
Celia: All Celia needs is to merge herself with a doll, too.
GM: There’s a pause for a moment.
“Oh,” Dani says.
Celia: Yeah. Oh.
GM: “That’s not how he said it was.”
Celia: She effects a snort, unsurprised that he’d paint himself as some sort of hero.
“No. I bet not.”
“He told you I cheated. That I lied. That I’m a whore. That we’re taking a break until I fix it.”
“That I’m desperate for attention and paint myself as a victim.”
“That I’m a black hole and ruin everything I touch.”
“That about right?”
GM: Dani opens her mouth, holds it open for a bit, then finally says,
“Celia, is there any way I can help you two? Or do you just want to end things?”
“Because, whatever else, ending a relationship isn’t abusive.”
Celia: “Why, am I right? Is that what he said?”
GM: “I think I’m just going to make things worse jumping in and that maybe you should talk to each other.”
Celia: Bitter laughter fills the car.
“Yeah. That’s gone well the last few times. Ask him how dinner went tonight. Ask him what he did last night when I called him for help because I was scared because I was being followed and he said he’d always protect me. Ask him what that promise meant last night when I begged him to meet me so I wasn’t alone. Ask him,” she snarls, “if he gave me a second thought when I was abducted and tortured while I was on the phone with him.”
GM: “Wait, you got tortured? What happened?!”
Celia: “Nothing,” Celia mutters, looking out the window again. “I survived. Nothing a little blood won’t fix. Why don’t you ask him about that, too.”
GM: “Well… okay, look. Things between you and Stephen feel really toxic, and it feels like you’ve had a lot of baggage for a while now.”
“I guess, do you still want to be in a relationship with him, or do you not?”
Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything.
GM: “I still want you in my life either way.”
Celia: Not for long moments.
“I bought a dress, you know. Years ago. When we got back together.”
“He said he wanted to get married, and I bought a stupid dress.”
GM: “I don’t think that was stupid.”
“I bet it’s a great dress.”
Celia: “It doesn’t matter now. He only wants to marry ‘Celia’ to get close to my dad so he can wield some political power.”
“And if I wanted to be with someone who calls me stupid I could date any other lick in the city.”
“You know the Mafioso your brother hates so much treats me better than he has?”
GM: “…how well do you know that mafioso next to Stephen?”
“Because those people are monsters, Celia, just the worst of the worst.”
Celia: “Then what does it say that he’s never been unkind to me but your brother has?”
GM: “How much time have you actually spent with him? How well do you actually know him?”
“And why are you even spending time with a mobster to begin with?”
Celia: “So I could find your sire.”
GM: “Oh,” says Dani.
“I’m grateful for that, Celia.”
“I’m sorry I made you have to deal with a mobster.”
Celia: It’s not like Roderick is any better at this point.
Celia doesn’t bother saying it again.
GM: “But I’d ask again, how well do you actually know this guy.”
Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters, “about as well as I know the asshole that took over for your brother on Thursday.”
“Actually, never mind. So do you want to break up, if he calls you stupid and only cares about political power, and stay together if he doesn’t?”
Celia: “I don’t know,” she finally admits. “There’s… it’s complicated, and now that he knows everything I told him it’s more complicated, and I’m not interested in being blackmailed or pushed around for the rest of my unlife, so fuck me for telling the truth when he asked.”
GM: “I think your guys’ problems go back a lot earlier than this, Celia, and that it’s dishonesty that caused them in the first place.”
Celia: “And if he says something to the wrong person I’m the one who’s going to lose for it.”
“I didn’t lie to him because I wanted to. I lied to him because I had to, because him knowing the full story would get him killed.”
GM: “If you break up neither of you should do that. You should just leave each other alone.”
“And I don’t agree about lying because you had to. That’s what is getting him off so much. He feels like you always defend and justify the lying, and don’t see it as wrong, and that’s why he feels like he can never be sure if you’re going to keep lying, because you don’t see a problem with it.”
Celia: “Okay, Dani. I tell you that someone threw my mother off the roof to teach me a lesson. What’s your response?”
Celia: “I tell you that this same person broke every bone in my body to teach me another lesson. What’s your response?”
GM: “Fuck them.”
Celia: “Yeah. Fuck them. Now let’s say they’re a big scary bad guy. Then what?”
GM: “Get help.”
Celia: “Now say you’re Stephen, and you’ve got a boner for justice and morality, and you hear the girl you love is being abused and that her family is in danger. You’re fast and strong and immortal. What do you do?”
GM: “You take out the bad guy.”
Celia: “That’s the fucking problem, Dani, that’s why I fucking lied to him, because he can’t. Because he’d want to and he can’t because he’d fucking lose.”
“And it would be my fault for telling him.”
“But hey, maybe that’s shitty justification.”
GM: “So, why didn’t you tell him that? Why not just tell him what the situation was and decide what to do together?”
Celia: “Maybe not wanting him to die is a terrible fucking thing.”
“Because he’d want to know why I was dealing with the bad guy, and why I can’t walk away, and oops, if I tell him that he dies again.”
GM: “You’re lying to him and treating him like a child, though. He can make decisions about his own safety. What gives you the right to decide he can’t?”
Celia: “Losing him broke me. Even knowing he was out there, just unreachable, that was devastating. How do you think it’s going to feel if something I say to him gets him killed because he misjudged?”
GM: “It’s not about you, though.”
“It’s about him.”
“You owe it to him to be honest about that stuff.”
“Just like he’d owe it to you to be honest if he was in the same situation.”
“Stephen isn’t an idiot, either. He’s smart. Yeah, I know, we hear it a lot, but he is. If something is as suicidal as you’re making out, I think he’d be smart enough to recognize that and come at the problem from another angle.”
“I mean, doesn’t that sound so much healthier to just be honest and decide what to do together, than get caught in a bunch of lies that destroy your trust?”
Celia: “It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it.”
GM: “Yeah, the milk is spilled, but ultimately, do you think the lying was okay, or do you not?”
“Because if you do think it was okay, then I think you should break up. It’s just too big a thing not to see eye to eye on.”
GM: “So, is that a yes or a no?”
“Because if you don’t think it was okay, then I think you need to apologize for it, really sincerely apologize, and be honest going forward. No more lies.”
Celia: “It was an okay, as in okay I hear you, as in okay I understand what you’re saying, okay I need to think about it, okay I need to decide if I’m fine with what he did in response.”
“Not,” she adds bitterly, “that it’s even going to matter after next week.”
Celia: “I have a task to complete. I’m pretty sure I only get a week. And if not, I die. Mom dies. Emily and Lucy die. The boys die. Alana dies. They’ll probably kill everyone at Flawless just to be thorough.”
She’s not sure if it’s an exaggeration. If they’ll drag her back in. If she can extend the time. If she can give them something else should she fail at her task.
“So, you know,” she continues, “just vampire things.”
GM: Dani’s mouth falls open, but before she can respond, Celia sees the pair have arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They look as if they are barely on time. The last attendees are already making their way inside.
Celia: “Oh look. We’re here. Mask up, Hannah. It’s showtime.”
GM: “Uh, gimme a bit to find a parking space, first.”
There’s no time. Rocco and Wright are both standing outside the cathedral doors. It looks like seconds until they close.
Celia: “No time.” Jade jerks the wheel into a handicapped space and throws it into park, then yanks the keys out of the ignition.
Let them ticket or tow her. She could use a mundane problem after the shitshow her Requiem has become.
She hauls Dani out of the car and throws her bodily over her shoulder, nudging the door shut with her heel before she takes off in a sprint, her clan’s preternatural speed turning her into a blur. Shadow obscures her face as she runs, natural darkness hiding her body, and any eyes peeking outside or down the block are strangely captivated by the large purple hat someone had drawn onto the side of a building, wondering what—
Well, it doesn’t matter what they wonder, by the time the thought finishes occurring Jade has cleared the doors and set Hannah down inside, pleased to deny the Guard a chance to slam them in her face.
Mask up, she reminds herself as they move forward. It’s showtime.
GM: Dani makes a surprised yelp as Jade hoists her up like a sack of potatoes.
The two hounds promptly seize the Toreador and her ‘ghoul’ and hold them fast as she blurs inside the cathedral, pinning their arms to their sides.
Celia: Were she less durable, being snatched out of her headlong flight might steal the breath from her lungs or leave her with a handful of broken bones and bruises. Captured by two of the Guard before she can even enter the building leaves her breathless for a different sort of reason, and this evening she’s glad for the mask wrapped so tightly against her skin.
“Good evening, Hound Agnello, Hound Wright.” Polite. Respectful. Deferential even, and not in the grudging way, the words accompanied by a dip of her head to both of them (even the baby-faced Gangrel that holds her arms to her sides, awkward though the motion is with him behind her).
GM: “Hey, turbo-racing inside church, that’s nice,” says Wright. He’s the one holding Hannah, who remains very still in the Brujah’s grip.
“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” says Rocco, who’s holding Jade, with a very mean-looking smile.
“Oh, you’re kidding! Kalani just broke the Masquerade!” exclaims Amaryllis, clearly relishing the chance to take a pot shot against Jade.
“Off with her head!” smiles Katherine Beaumont, no doubt equally relishing the chance to pounce on Veronica’s childe. “Right here in church, the gall! Really, what was she even thinking?”
“She wasn’t, obviously, the poor dear,” piles on Marguerite Defallier. “Really, Veronica, we’d expect yours to know better…”
The crowd ripples with predatory smiles and furious whispers.
Blood is scented in the air.
Celia: She wonders if, when she dies, it’ll be just her mortal life that flashes before her eyes, or if snippets of her Requiem will make the highlight reel as well. Her eyes sweep past the murder (as well they can given Beaumont’s bulk) to search the sea of sharks for a friendly-ish face.
GM: It’s a full house. The pews are packed with Kindred. All of Elysium’s regulars look as if they are there, and some non-regulars as well to boot.
Celia: Not that any of them will put their necks on the line for her. They’re not that sort. Even if they wanted to—why would they?—their own masks of cruelty or loyalty keep them firmly glued to their seats. She can hardly call on sire or grandsire to bail her out in front of the congregation.
Jade glances back toward the decidedly empty street in front of the church. Midnight on a Sunday, who do they really think she broke the Masquerade in front of? Especially with the streetlights out as they are.
Masks, though. There’s a thought.
Her eyes find Ryllie’s, lips pulling up at the corners in some amusement at the thought of the blood-bound trollop crying Masquerade breach.
Celia: “Darling, it’s dark outside, or didn’t you notice the streetlights are out? We might be able to see in pitch black, but the poor kine can’t. Hard to expose myself if I’m dancing through darkness isn’t it?” Her smile shows teeth. “Bit above your paygrade to cry foul on the Masquerade when there’s a regent to do it for you. Unless you’re implying you’re part of his krewe? But, ah, given your collar…” She trails off with a shrug.
Maybe she wouldn’t have noticed if Behemoth—er, Beaumont—hadn’t converged on her, but Jade’s eyes lock onto the form skulking behind the opera singer and the wheels in her head begin to turn.
“Regardless,” Jade says, returning her attention to the pair of hounds, “I’d wanted to warn you privately, since so many already heard about those holes in your condom, but since you’ve denied me the opportunity… there’s a spy in your midst.”
Jade smiles winningly at the congregation.
“Hope no one has said anything particularly scandalous.”
GM: As soon as the words ‘Masquerade breach’ are out, they’re like blood in the water. All eyes within the cathedral hungrily rest upon the newest two entrants. For a moment, Jade wonders if she will be in the unenviable position of attempting to defend herself against the social onslaught. It is so much harder to prove innocence than guilt.
But this is why Jade Kalani and not Celia Flores wears the girl’s face. The Toreador’s confident smugness and assured demeanor, even manhandled as she is by the hounds, seems to give pause to the would-be shot-takers—pause enough for a second voice to interject.
“Hard indeed,” chuckles Antoine Savoy, rising from his seat. The elder Toreador is dressed tonight in a white leisure suit as he inclines his head towards the front of the cathedral. “I can attest as to Miss Kalani’s proficiency in occulto. I’m quite confident no kine saw her, and that Bishop Timotheus’ first tradition remains faithfully observed.”
“In the future, Miss Kalani, mindfulness of the hour would better facilitate your punctuality than Caine’s gifts,” rings an answering voice from the front of the cathedral.
Philip Maldonato stands behind the preacher’s pulpit, dressed for this evening in a double-breasted gray suit. Jade has rarely had cause to speak with the seneschal before, and according to Veronica, that state of affairs should suit her more than fine. The elder Cainite is a slender and exceedingly tall individual who stands around a head over most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. The Moor’s grave features could be carved from stone at Jade’s last words. Though his gaze initially meets Antoine Savoy’s, it finally turns to regard the younger Toreador.
“Mindfulness and piety would both have minimized your disruption to the evening’s proceedings, young one. You stand within a house of God. Comport your tongue appropriately if you wish to remain within His house.”
Celia: Maybe, she reflects as Savoy himself literally rises to her defense, maybe he likes her more than she’d feared after… well, after everything. Particularly after last night.
Any relief that thought brings is short-lived when the seneschal himself addresses her. Jade bows her head, eyes on the floor in a suitably subdued manner at the reprimand.
“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. I apologize for the vulgarity of my statement.”
GM: The hounds release Jade and Hannah. The ‘ghoul’ masks it well enough if she’s afraid of the hounds, but still glances after her ‘domitor’.
Savoy, meanwhile, resumes his seat among the front-most pews, which also include Coco, Opal, Chastain, Accou, and Sundown. The Baron would doubtless have a place if he attended Elysium, and Gabriel Hurst enjoys one too, albeit by dint of his position than his own merit.
Jade’s sire stands behind the seneschal, cold and dark, along with the other priests—Elgin, Doriocourt, Morrow, d’Gerasene.
As ever, no recognition alights his frigid eyes.
The rows behind Savoy and his fellows include the harpies, regents, and other high-climbing ancillae. Behind them are the Natasha Prestons, Randolph Cartwrights, and Peter Lebeauxes—the Kindred at the middle of the pack. The rows behind them hold the more indolent ancillae and the neonates who’ve achieved something of worth with their Requiems—where Jade is expected to sit. The rows behind them, last of all among Kindred, are the nobodies and the nothings with nothing to their names. The ghouls sit behind these youngest of all vampires, divided into their own pecking order their masters care nothing for.
Celia: Her sire pretending not to know her? There’s a shock.
Licks who care more about preserving their delicate sensibilities over the word “condom” than a spy because a Bourbon pointed it out? Another shock. Christ, what a world they inhabit. It’s like the elders and ancillae who get their panties in a wad over being called “Ms.”
Jade nudges Hannah toward the man in the stolen mask, himself sitting at what she assumes to be the lower end of the pile of ghouls. The place where no Kindred would even bother to look because it’s so far beneath their purview.
Which, of course, makes it perfect for a spy.
She’s pleased with Hannah’s composure in the face of adversity, anyway. So far she’s been quick on the uptake. No doubt she’ll understand the role Jade intends for her by directing her toward the spy, who has a decidedly un-punchable face and thus can’t be Alan.
It’s a subtle gesture, the one she gives Hannah. A quick brush of her hand against the ghoul’s as if quite by accident, a tap, a second, a third on the center of her palm. It’s no Morse code, but it’s a signal all the same: three seats deep, that’s who he is.
Jade herself moves past the rows of ghouls and nobodies and takes the open seat next to the most indolent ancilla of them all, her favorite art thief in the whole wide world. She winks at him as she slides onto the pew beside him, then turns her eyes forward.
It’s going to be a very interesting Elysium.
Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM
GM: Donovan delivers the evening’s sermon. The sheriff is a powerful and resonant speaker, whose dark presence seems to fill the entire cathedral. The crowd hushes as though outside under a falling snow. Though Jade’s sire speaks at length, his words are clipped and his sentences are short. It feels like there is so much more he could say, making his chill words all the more precious for their seeming scarceness.
There is perhaps no one to whom they are more precious than Jade. She catches them like falling snowflakes, yet they chill her hands and are gone forever as soon as she does.
Donovan’s sermon chiefly concerns witch-hunters and the threat they pose to the Sanctified’s holy mission. The recently ordained father’s message centers around a passage from the Rule of Golgotha:
“Each one of us is but one starving wolf, culling sheep in the dead of night; through the fellowship of lance and of chapel are we brought together to serve a higher Purpose. Remember that one wolf may be bested by a single youth, but a pack of wolves strikes fear into even the strongest of warriors.”
Communion is administered to the faithful from a bled vessel with much pomp and ritual. No expression passes the face of Jade’s sire when he lets a droplet of transubstantiated vitae fall upon her tongue.
Maldonato convenes court when mass is concluded and announces with a heavy heart that Bishop Malveaux has met final death at the hands of witch-hunters.
The bishop perished nobly in the archdiocese’s defense and destroyed a cell of witch-hunters whose perfidious designs would surely have destroyed further Kindred. The hunters’ corpses are paraded before Elysium. The exsanguinated and barely alive survivors, whose blood was used in the week’s communions, are beheaded by Donovan.
Several Kindred with grudges against Bishop Malveaux were found to worked alongside the hunters, who used and manipulated them to help bring about the bishop’s final death. Each criminal is barefoot and clad in chains and sackcloths. Donovan executes each of them by beheading: Tina Baker, Allison Eskew, Desirae Wells, and Sterling (“The Man With The Silver Smile”).
There are plenty of faces in the crowd that do not look happy. Many, also, look relieved it wasn’t their heads on the chopping block.
Camilla Doriocourt, Maldonato announces, will succeed Bishop Malveaux as bishop. Her consecration will take place next week at the hands of Cardinal Arechavaleta.
Doriocourt is also formally granted permission on Prince Vidal’s behalf to sire a new childe.
Deacon Benson, Maldonato announces, will also be ordained as a priest next week, concurrently with Bishop Doriocourt and at the new bishop’s own hands.
Elsbeth von Steinhäuser and Erwin Bornemann proudly announce that a fledgling of their clan, Kyrstin Grey, successfully discovered the location of Josua Cambridge’s illicit sire, who was apprehended by the Guard de Ville (with further help from Grey). She is likewise dressed in chains and a sackcloth as she’s paraded barefoot before Elysium. She’s a tall, thin, and green-eyed girl who looks no older than 15. Jade has never seen her before.
Josua applauds Grey with the rest of Elysium, but anger smolders in his eyes at the sight of his sire. He and Grey will both be formally released next week; a great honor for both neonates, as Prince Vidal and Cardinal Arechavaleta will both be present to lead the ceremony.
Marcel asks if he might hold “this criminal”, who is named as Julia Cammeron, aboard the Alystra pending her execution next week. Maldonato briefly considers and grants the ex-prince’s request.
Father d’Gerasene, finally, is leaving New Orleans. The Nosferatu announces he has received a vision from one of the Black Saints calling him elsewhere “upon a holy errand” to do the Dark Prophet’s work. Maldonato states the prayers of the faithful will go with him.
Celia: Jade, like the rest of the Sanctified, follows the sermon closely, says the right words at the right time, and takes communion from Father Donovan. When the formality of mass is over and court begins she makes sure to keep a discrete eye on the man with the stolen mask so that any attempt to flee is waylaid.
Her primary attention, however, remains on the court proceedings. Interesting, isn’t it, how as soon as she cries foul on the bishop’s disappearance and points toward a suspect the Guard does everything in their power to wrangle up a handful of patsies. It must be coincidence that Preston’s claim about people missing from Elysium is so neatly wrapped with a bow by the offended party.
And she should have been up there. She doesn’t forget the snarling face of the Gangrel who had ambushed her right outside perceived safety, his weight on top of her pinning her to the ground. The snide remarks of the black hound, and the way one of his goons had fondled her while she lay helpless. Or the fire that licked across her skin for daring to call Savoy “Lord.” The bite of metal in her flesh for a lie that wasn’t a lie.
Up there, executed before the rest of the city. Head stolen from her neck by her own sire’s blade. Would he have felt something for her then? Lost his frosty composure in front of the rest of the city? Or would Savoy have found a way to bail her out, and if not would he have turned her into a martyr for his cause?
She does not look away from the executions, does not shrink or cower from what might have been. What might have been is not what is. She’d freed herself. Used her own tools to get out. Assisted, yes, but not rescued.
She is no longer a damsel.
So she watches, silent and still, and any who happen to look her way might see the curl to her lip as she takes in the Hardliners’ dog and pony show. Who exactly do they think they’re fooling?
The rest of court is unsurprising in that she knows what’s coming, though Grey had implied she’d be released this week rather than next, and Benson had said the same regarding her ordainment. The cardinal is a new twist, then.
So is Josua’s sire. No doubt Grey found the bitch using the blood she’d taken from him the night Jade had walked in on them fucking, much the same as Jade herself has used such things. An interesting turn of events, and one that she wouldn’t mind getting into once she hears that the sire will be held aboard Marcel’s boat. Perhaps she’ll finally get her painting back.
Speaking of licks doing the Guard’s job for them… Jade waits for the right moment to bring the spy forward.
GM: Jade sees the “spy” get up to leave with some other ghouls mid-way through court proceedings.
Celia: She’s just picking up on all sorts of sneaks lately, isn’t she.
Jade isn’t the only lick to rise when the assorted ghouls do, who are no doubt following their domitor’s lead. She meets Hannah’s gaze as she does, giving a terse nod as her lean legs, made longer by the heels, swallow the ground. They might not serve the kine very well, but Jade has never had a problem moving quickly in stilettos. Veronica had made sure of it.
Even so, her Beast salivates at the thought of giving chase to someone fleeing before it. It’s such a rare thing that she gets to pursue, such a rare thing indeed for the predator used to “ordering in.” It sends the blood spinning through her body, propelling her across the floor toward the breather like a fox towards its hare, eagerly anticipating the rich reward of blood in its fragile, human body.
Jade approaches the spy from behind and reaches out to snag him by the collar.
GM: The nondescript-looking man has fair skin, brown hair, brown eyes, and is dressed in black slacks and a white button-up. No one runs, just walks. Jade and Hannah catch up in time to snag him by the collar before he can exit the church’s double doors. The man freezes in place, but doesn’t cause a scene. Rocco and Wright trade looks.
Rocco walks up to the trio, smiles at Jade, and whispers,
“Unhand him, Miss Kalani, if you don’t want me to kill your ghoul later.”
He gently picks up Jade’s hand to remove it from the ‘ghoul’.
Celia: Slowly, Jade uncurls her fingers. For a brief moment it just looks like the pair are holding hands. She wonders if anyone sees. What they think, if they do. What rumors will spread from this.
“I’d wondered where he’s gotten to,” she says in a whisper, her smile positively feral. “Let me know if you’re swinging by, darling, I’ll leave the window open so we can have another tussle on the floor. Bring that big piece of wood again, hm? I’ll show you how to use it.” She winks. Then she’s gone, disappearing into the night with Dani at her heels to find the hunter on her own terms.
GM: “Oh, I think you’ll see me sooner rather than later, Miss Kalani,” smiles the hound as she makes good her exit.
Hannah follows after her ‘domitor’.
Celia: She waits until the doors close behind them to sigh at Hannah, linking her arm through the ghoul’s.
“He’s such a tease, sniffing after my panties like that. Stay with your brother tonight incase he’s decided to sack up. Now, let’s find our friend. He’s got a whole five second lead.”
GM: Hannah squints ahead as she follows after Jade.
“I can’t make out much.”
Apparently her kind can’t even see in the dark.
Celia: That’s inconvenient.
GM: The Toreador, however, hears footsteps coming from behind the cathedral.
Celia: “This way,” she murmurs, pulling Dani with her.
GM: Celia not only swiftly outpaces Dani and her quarry, but she blurs ahead of him in the building’s alleyway, largely ensconced from passersby.
The masked man looks her up and down.
Celia: “Friends nearby, right?”
GM: “Walk away and you won’t get hurt.”
Celia: Jade’s eyes take in the shadows behind him. Unlike the kine, her kind can see perfectly in the dark. How many of them are there? How many waiting just around the corner? What is he going to do to her if she doesn’t back off? Saws? Fire? Another date with four sets of handcuffs, spread open on the bed for whoever wants to use her?
Jade bites her lip, playing the girl. Wide eyes fix on his face.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to corner you. I just—I had a question.”
For just a moment there’s a flicker of uncertainty on her face. For just a moment the hunter can see the girl hiding behind the monster, the young face of someone who was stolen from her prime. He’d heard the boy inside bully her, hadn’t he? How low on the food chain must she be that she’d slunk off with barely a response? How humane must she be to back off over the threat of that boy killing her companion?
Maybe she’s just looking for a friend. It’s not like she’d called him out when she’d had the chance. Maybe she thinks he’s someone else.
GM: The masked man’s impassive facade cracks. Doubt and sympathy swims in his eyes as his features soften.
“All right, but we can’t stay here. Come on.”
Celia: Jade nods, falling into step beside him. She casts a glance over her shoulder for Hannah.
“Sorry for grabbing you back there,” she murmurs, “I, um—you caught my eye when I came in, and—” she breaks off, looking down at the ground, cheeks flushing. “Sorry, this is really stupid. Can you—one sec, please, my friend’s not used to walking in heels—”
She peers through the darkness for Hannah.
GM: The ghoul is briskly making her way up to the two, heels clicking against the ground.
A small gray bird swoops past her head.
Jade slides her fingers through the hunter’s, smiling at him in a decidedly friendly manner. She gives him a “work with me” sort of warning look with her eyes, squeezing his hand.
“Found you,” she says to Hannah. “You were right. He said we can ride back with him. I told him how they were gonna slam the doors in our face if we didn’t park in the street, whoops.” She giggles. Hopefully he gets it.
GM: The bird lands and transforms into Rocco.
Hannah does her best not gawk.
The man’s body immediately tenses.
The hound smiles at Jade and her new friend.
“I don’t like you, Miss Kalani. I think I am going to hurt you,” he says cheerfully.
“Why don’t you grovel a bit if you want me to reconsider?”
Celia: Jade draws up short. Her fingers stiffen in the hunter’s hand.
“Hound Agnello. You did say you’d see me soon.” She forces a smile. “You took me from right outside the Evergreen last night. Silly of me to try to run for safety now, isn’t it?”
She takes a step forward, putting herself between the two “ghouls” and Rocco.
GM: “Very silly,” Rocco agrees, still smiling.
Celia: “If I get down on my knees for you, will you leave them alone?”
Celia: “Darren,” she says over her shoulder, giving the hunter a name as fake as her own, “please ensure that Hannah arrives safely to the Quarter for me. Hannah, if the good hound here detains me this evening and you don’t hear anything further…” she glances at the girl, eyes swimming with… something, “will you tell him that I’m sorry? And that I still love him.”
Jade returns her gaze to the hound. She takes another step forward, arms at her sides and slightly away from her body, palms facing him. It’s a submissive, unarmed pose.
“Your companion burned me last night. Took my arm off with a saw. I had to confess that I had lied about the leak. Just like I lied about the spy.” She makes a sound that might be a laugh. It’s bitter. Maybe even nervous. “Of course no one fell for it. I can’t win against you, can I? And I’m so very, very tired of hurting.”
She sounds tired. Beaten. Defeated, even, and all he had to do was threaten her.
“I’m sorry I lied. It was dumb. Of course no one paid it any mind.”
Jade takes another step forward. Not so close that Agnello can touch her, not yet, but enough that she can lower her voice.
“Can I remove my dress, at least? Getting blood out of it is… well, you know.”
GM: The thin-blood looks between Jade and Rocco.
She’s seen what her brother can do, when his wrath is kindled.
She sees how afraid of this vampire Jade now looks.
Her jaw sets.
“No. I’m not leaving. If you want to hurt her… you’ll have to go through me, too.”
‘Darren’ also looks between Jade and Rocco.
He looks more like he’s thinking of bolting, only the Toreador’s supernal presence still holding his heart fast.
Something odd swims on Rocco’s face.
“You know, Miss Kalani, when I was a young boy, a policeman caught me doing, I don’t remember what, something for the Mafia,” he remarks as he strolls up to Jade. “Something bad. But he thought I was poor and hungry, which I was, so he offered me a job as a janitor. Instead of arresting me. He said he’d help me become a cop too, when I was old enough. He told me how proud I could make my mother.”
He looks wistfully ahead.
“It was the kindest thing someone ever did for me.”
“It was the kindest thing I saw someone ever do.”
“So you know what I did?”
Celia: Jade thinks about arguing with Hannah. Telling her to run. To take Darren and bolt. But then Rocco moves and her eyes stay centered on him, unblinking, unwilling to look away while he stalks closer.
She thinks she knows this story.
But she shakes her head anyway, hoping that she’s wrong. Hoping that this retelling will have a different ending.
GM: The hound’s wistful gaze looks past Jade. For a moment, he doesn’t seem to see her. He doesn’t seem to see anything. He looks lost amidst the ghosts of the past, burdened by a guilt no amount of time can lift from his shoulders—and a Toreador’s manipulations can make so much heavier.
“I killed him.”
Cat-quick, Rocco whips around, seizing Jade by the throat and slamming her back-first against the cathedral’s exterior. Claws so like the Toreador’s own dig into her skin.
“And I liked him a lot more than you.”
Celia: She’d waited too long. Waited too long to hit him with the rest of the manipulation she’d planned, thinking that she wouldn’t have to, that she’d found the memory to tug at to make him feel ashamed for what he wants to do to her when he’s already won, when he’d already beaten her yesterday.
She can’t take him in a fight. She knows that. Knows Dani isn’t going to lend much help even with her borrowed speed. And who knows how long ‘Darren’ will wait before bolting.
What will the hunter do to Hannah if Jade’s charm fades from his mind, if his heart is his own once more? Tear her apart?
“Please,” she whispers, voice strangled by the hold he has on her throat. All she needs is a minute. Just a single moment to hit the hunter with goodwill for Hannah. To make him think that she’s his friend, too. To make sure that he doesn’t hurt her if Jade loses right here. She sends it toward him with her eyes locked on Rocco’s face, shrinking back from him as best she can.
“Please,” she says again, “you—you can—you can pay it forward, here, now.”
She thinks, maybe, it worked. But all she can see in front of her right now is Rocco’s snarling face, claws extended, and she knows there are rules for this sort of thing but she’s so frazzled she can’t think straight and if those two don’t get out of here right now she’s not going to be able to help them. Just go. Run. Then she’ll take her beating, let him assert his dominance, beat his chest if that’s what he really wants.
She only needs to distract him a minute so they can run.
GM: ‘Darren’ looks towards Dani. His unconcerned face, at least towards her, becomes a mask of exactly the opposite.
Rocco laughs cruelly.
“I can, Miss Kalani. I will. By punishing the enemies of our prince!”
Viciously large, knife-sized claws sprout from his other hand, then slash towards Jade’s face.
There’s a sudden crack as a second hand seizes Rocco’s and smashes it into the wall.
“I agree with what you said earlier, Hound Agnello,” says Roderick as his form blurs to a stop.
“I like that policeman a lot more than you, too.”
Rocco tugs his arm, but can’t break the Brujah’s iron grip.
He heaves a needless sigh.
“Mr. Durant, I have two hands. If you don’t let go of that one, I will use the other to beat you into torpor. Then I will kill your ghouls.”
“I’m doing you a solid, Hound Agnello,” answers Roderick.
“Has Kalani here actually done anything? You’re just going to give the Anarchs and Bourbons more ammunition to rail against the prince’s tyranny.”
“So what if they do?” says Rocco.
Celia: She’d wanted to make the joke earlier, on her way in. Something about his two braincells rubbing together and letting his master do all the heavy lifting for him. She’d refrained. Now, though, she wonders if she was more right than she knew.
Still pinned beneath the Gangrel’s claws, Jade’s voice comes out strained.
“So the temporary satisfaction you’ll get from beating me again isn’t worth the loss of face the Hardliners will take if the Anarchs stir up enough shit about you torping their golden boy.”
GM: Guilt wars in the hound’s eyes.
Guilt at failing his prince.
“I think you had better do something for me, Miss Kalani, if you want to escape a beating,” he declares. “This hasn’t been very satisfying.”
Celia: “That thing I owe,” Jade says, “I’ll give it to you and you can hold it over Doriocourt’s head.”
GM: The hound lets go of Jade’s throat.
“Give it to me,” he smiles, holding out his hand.
He looks at Roderick. The Brujah lets go of his arm.
Celia: “It’s not done yet.”
GM: “You are going to give me something, Miss Kalani, if you want me to leave you alone,” Rocco declares cheekily.
Roderick makes a sound of disgust.
“What about her lunch money?”
Celia: Jade considers the hound for a long moment. Finally she reaches into her purse, pulls out a slip of paper, and writes down a phone number. She hands it over.
GM: Rocco effects another sigh.
“Miss Kalani, you really must give me something better than that.”
“I am feeling a bit peckish, in fact.”
“Perhaps I’ll take a drink from your ghoul.”
He turns around.
“Not from her.”
GM: As Jade follows his gaze, she sees that ‘Darren’ is gone.
Doubtless, the arrival of a third vampire would have convinced the hunter it was high time to bolt off.
Celia: Well. Fuck.
GM: Rocco stalks up to Hannah and seizes her in his arms. She jerks and flails, eyes wide, but doesn’t scream.
Celia: “She’s got Hep C, Agnello. It might not kill you, but it’ll knock you on your ass for a while.”
“You want a drink, I’ll bleed into a damn cup for you.”
GM: Rocco makes a sound of disgust and roughly shoves Hannah face-first onto the pavement. She groans beneath him.
Roderick’s face is deathly still, but Jade can see the violent impulse in his hands. The way they ball into fists. It will take little provocation to kindle the Brujah clan’s legendary wrath.
“I don’t think I want you to give me anything, Miss Kalani,” declares the hound.
“You are too pathetic to take anything from.”
“You have nothing that I want to take.”
Celia: Jade’s lips flatten. She lets him see the hurt in her eyes. Carefully manufactured hurt, as if his words have any effect on her. She looks down. It’s a submissive sort of gesture, letting him kick her around and declare that she’s got nothing worth taking without even talking back.
She does it for them. Not for her. Alone, she’d mouth the fuck off to this asshole and tell him where to shove it. But to prevent Roderick from getting into trouble for attacking a hound, to keep Dani safe? She’ll shut up and take his anger and pretend his empty words mean anything at all to her.
Last night she might have flinched at the word “pathetic.” Since then her skin has hardened. The word does not hurt her as it had when Preston said it. Rocco means nothing to her, and so he cannot hurt her. But she can pretend. She’s so very good at it. And there’s power in being beneath notice. She hides there, knowing that this isn’t the end for them.
She’ll see him again. Somewhere when there’s no rules, when there aren’t dozens of licks nearby waiting for any excuse to rip her apart. She’ll see him again and she will pay back every insult.
Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM
GM: Roderick doesn’t linger after a gray bird flies off from where Rocco once stood. The Brujah loudly proclaims Jade owes him a boon, for having “done her a solid” keeping the hound from carving her up. Footsteps are audible leaving the cathedral. Roderick joins them. Dani picks herself up.
“What a fucking asshole,” she mutters.
“What a… what a bully.”
Celia: “Mm,” Jade says in response, offering the girl a hand up. She doesn’t let her eyes linger on Roderick’s departing form, instead turning from him to walk with Dani back the way they’d been heading earlier. “Yeah. It’s like that.”
“Tried to buy you time to run,” she says, giving Dani a sidelong look.
GM: “I don’t want to be someone who runs when people are in trouble.”
Celia: “I know. I just… he’d, uh, he’d rip you apart is all, and he’d be within his right to do so.”
GM: “Yeah, I kinda figured he could after Stephen threw me around like a stuffed animal.”
“But he didn’t.”
Celia: “Timely interference.”
“Thought Darren might stick around to help, three on one is better odds.”
GM: “Uh, so what exactly was going on there?”
Celia: Jade glances around, as if looking for someone listening in.
She lowers her voice.
“Spy. Pretty sure.”
GM: “Oh. Good. I swiped his wallet.”
Celia: Jade beams at Dani.
“Let’s find him, then.”
GM: Dani smiles back. “Right now, though?”
“It is a school night for me.”
Celia: Which reminds her…
“Ah, you’re right, I need to head home actually. Come on, let’s get outta here. We can dig something up during the day and look tomorrow.”
GM: “Okay, sounds good,” says Dani, setting off with her.
“And can you pencil me in for a Flawless appointment sometime?”
Celia: “Of course.”
GM: “Awesome,” she smiles. “Doesn’t need to be during normal hours if you’re seeing your, ah, herd then.”
Celia: “Figured.” Jade smiles at her. “That bully, by the way, was the one who nabbed me last night.”
“And kept me from meeting with you.”
GM: “Wow. What the fuck is his problem?”
Celia: “I implied there was a security leak with the Guard. You saw them execute those licks tonight, the ones who they say killed the bishop? Yeah. Probably had nothing to do with it. Hardliners just wanted to give the city a scapegoat.”
GM: “Yeah,” Dani says quietly.
She looks a little sick at the memory.
She leaves it at that.
Celia: Jade only nods. She knows what Dani means. She takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.
“That’s why I’m so protective of you. And my family. I was picked up for saying the wrong thing. They were going to kill me tonight with the others.”
GM: “Oh my god.”
“This whole thing. It’s just…”
“It’s just sick.”
“It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia.”
“Stephen warned me it would be like this.”
Celia: “It’s hard to be in this world and remain a good person. I hope you hold onto it for a long time. And that… that he can find his way back to it.”
GM: Dani gives that last statement a look, but says,
“I’m gonna head home. This makes me want to spend some time with my dad.”
“It makes me feel good about having a dad.”
Celia: Jade doesn’t push the subject. She only reminds Dani to change before she heads out and to make sure she takes the mask off. She takes the wallet off Dani’s hands but lets her take a photo of the relevant things inside if she wants (since she doesn’t have a phone it makes more sense that she takes the physical stuff).
GM: As the two arrived together in Jade’s car, they take it back to her now (possibly compromised) haven. Dani changes there, surrenders the wallet, takes the photo, and heads home for Uptown.
She hugs Celia before she takes off.
“Love you. Spend some time with your family, too. It isn’t… I can’t imagine what it’s like, to have nothing except… that.”
Celia: Celia nods her head. “I’m on my way over there, to be honest. Mom said she’d wait up. Love you too, Dani. Travel safe, yeah?”
GM: “I will,” Dani smiles. “Tell her hi from me.”
Celia: “Of course.”
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