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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXII

“I’m glad to know I’ll always love and be loved by a daughter, whatever face she has on.”
Diana Flores


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Diana’s phone buzzes. She swipes and looks down at it. “It’s Emi. She’s seen our car and wants to talk.”

The two make their way back to her carriage house. She’s put ‘Abigail’ to sleep on her bed, wrapped up in her baby blanket.

“Right, someone want to finally tell me what the story is here?” she asks.

Celia’s mother rubs her head. Between the late hour and all that’s happened, she’s no doubt fuzzy on earlier details. “Celia… found a baby who was being abused by a vampire. I think. She wasn’t being cared for.”

“You think?” asks Emily, dubiously. “She looks healthy. Physically.”

Diana rubs her head again. “No. She was being abused. Horrifically abused. She’s a ghoul. She’s drinking vampire blood and it’s stopped her from aging. She’s… I don’t remember, years old.”

“Wait, what?!” exclaims Emily.

“I thought that stuff was vampire heroin!”

“Yes. It is,” Celia’s mother answers, this time all-too knowingly. “This baby is a heroin addict.”

“Her caretaker was giving her heroin.”

“Jesus… Christ!” Emily whispers, shushing her voice so as not to wake the child.

“Well, okay. That’s incredibly fucked up, but good news is it’s easier to make a baby quit heroin than a grown-up.”

Celia’s mother looks at ‘Abigail’. Her heart has been put through a meatgrinder too many times tonight to look as if she might cry.

“No. She needs to keep taking it,” she answers heavily. “For now. Because she’ll age and die without it. She’ll grow up too fast and her body won’t be able to handle the stress.”

“So, she needs to be gradually weaned off, vice quitting cold turkey?” Emily asks dubiously, looking to Celia.

“Okay, explain this to me. Someone drinks vampire blood and they stop aging. But it catches up if they quit?”

Celia: Celia nods at the question.

“Yes. A ghoul who drinks blood stops aging. When the blood is no longer in their system the years catch up with them. For someone like Mom, who has only been on it for a week, it’s not a problem. Even for someone like Alana. Seven years, not a big deal. But Abigail is older than Lucy. She’s been trapped like this for years. There are all sorts of physical and mental complications that would occur if she just quit.”

GM: “Jesus fucking Christ,” mutters Emily.

“So, okay. She can’t get dropped off with social services.”

“Does she have anyone else?” asks Diana. “Any family? Anyone who loves her?”

“Anyone who is capable of taking care of her the way she needs?”

Celia: “No. No one who won’t take her apart, keep her like this, or simply put her down.”

“No one.”

GM: “Okay. Then I will.”

Celia: “Mom…”

“It’s… I can’t guarantee that I can even undo what was done to her. Or that she’ll ever be normal.”

GM: “Then we’ll do the best we can and trust in Jesus for the rest.”

“Some babies are born with problems. Some are born with terrible, life-altering problems.”

“Some don’t get to stay on this earth for very long.”

Celia’s mom looks at the sleeping child.

“All we can is care for them and show them love, one day at a time.”

“What else can we do?”

Celia: “What about Lucy? Seeing this child and not understanding who she is or why she’s so difficult?”

GM: “We’ll tell her the truth,” Diana says simply. “As much of the truth as we can. Abigail came from an abusive home. Her caretakers did harmful things to her. We don’t need to tell Lucy how drugs work until she’s older, but when she’s old enough we’ll explain that it was a chemical dependency.”

“And we won’t ever tell her that it was vampire blood.”

Celia: “She’ll need multiple surgeries. Bodily repairs. Blood. Alchemy. Sorcery.”

GM: “Okay,” says Celia’s mom. “Whatever she needs.”

“Whatever gets her off vampire heroin.”

Celia: “And if it’s not working?” Celia presses. “Are you going to be able to let her go if keeping her alive is doing her more harm than good?”

GM: “Celia, you are not saying you’d ever want to murder this child,” says her mom.

“Look at her.”

“She is alive.”

“She is right there.”

Celia: “One of my clients,” Celia says eventually, “has a son who is severely disabled. She confessed once to me that she’d like to put him in a home but that society will tell her she’s a terrible mother. He’s in his mid-twenties and still nonverbal, still looks five, still doesn’t use the bathroom on his own. She will spend the rest of her life taking care of him.”

“I’m not saying to murder a child. I’m saying that sometimes things aren’t realistic.”

“Are we the best chance of helping her? Yes, absolutely.”

“Does that mean it will work? I don’t know. I can’t promise that.”

GM: “I thought she was nuts,” Emily says helpfully. “He’s probably going to outlive her. He’ll need to go to a home at some point, unless another relative is willing to take over his care.”

“But okay. So we try our best to get Abigail off vampire blood. And if that works, and if she’s too much trouble to take care of, we can put her in a home. Is that realistic?”

Celia: “Provided she doesn’t become a threat to the Masquerade.”

“We don’t know what she’ll remember from her time. But if it all works out okay… yes.”

GM: “Okay. So what do we do?” asks Diana. “How do we get her off heroin?”

Celia: “Find a way to cut it.”

“Dilute its properties.”

GM: “So, just mix it with water?” says Celia’s mom. “Would that do it?”

“Wean her down, make it steadily less pure?”

Celia: “No. This is where the alchemy comes in. It’s the same thing I was looking into to make it less addictive for you.”

“It might not be possible for one or even both of those. But if it is, I’ll find a way.”

GM: “Morphine and methadone are also used to help wean addicted babies off drugs,” says Emily. “When their asshole mothers used while pregnant. But even the chemical dependency those babies have is different than… this.”

“Do you think those drugs could still help, to lessen the withdrawal symptoms?”

“I would think so, but I’ll admit to being completely out of my depth where this vampire stuff is concerned.”

Celia: “It’s worth a shot. I don’t think it will hurt. Should assist with the chemical dependency. The issue is all the rest of it. Letting her age. Teaching her. Rapid growth.”

GM: “So, if you dilute vampire heroin’s properties, that’ll fix her?” asks Emily. “I mean, it sounds like there are two issues, the… induced aging, and the actual chemical dependency. How does diluting the blood treat the first of those?”

Celia: “Mostly it’s just a theory that she’ll be able to age more slowly. As I said, I don’t know if it’s possible. This sort of thing just isn’t done. Even the worst of us don’t ghoul babies like this. There’s… a child ghoul who was allowed to age, I can see what they did there, but I imagine it will be different than what we’d need.”

GM: “What happens if your theory is wrong?” asks Emily. “Does that mean, no way to fix her, she’s stuck as a baby forever?”

Celia: “No. It just means we find another way. Let her age rapidly in short bursts.”

GM: “That sounds rough on the kid, but guess there’s no other choice.”

“Or anyone else who can give her a shot at a normal life.”

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees. “No one else. There are other night doctors, but not night doctors with loving families and mothers that have raised a brood of children and still have enough love and patience to go around. Other families, but none with three women who have spent the past seven years raising a child together to make sure that her needs are met, who are aware of the difficulties this one will face and what is and isn’t possible with the blood.”

Other licks, but none that are as eager or willing to experiment.

“The detective has offered to teach me the magic of his clan. It may be slow going, but I believe it will help. I will also make more of an effort to locate the alchemists to see what can be done in the meantime.”

“I’d ask that you not mention Abigail to him,” Celia finally says to the pair of them, “or to Dani, if you continue to associate with her.”

“Or Caroline,” Celia tacks on. “Mentioning her to them, I mean.”

GM: Emily smiles at Diana at Celia’s initial words.

“You’re sure you want to do this, Mom? You’d said earlier with Lucy that you’d had enough kids.”

“That’s what I’d thought,” says Diana. “Two nights ago I learned I’d lost a daughter. Tonight I learned how she died. Now this, that very same night? A baby showing up on our doorstep, with no one else to love her, no one else able to take care of her?” Celia’s mom looks back down at the sleeping child and lays a hand against her blanket. “I think this a sign.”

“I think this is what God wants.”

“And I think this is what Abigail would want.”

“What about money?” says Emily.

“We’re getting a settlement from Maxen, aren’t we? Honestly, Emi, I don’t need more money. We live comfortably. Lucy has money for college, a car, and a trust. I only really want Celia’s father to pay up because, well, that’s fair. The settlement can go towards Abigail. I couldn’t think of a better use for it.”

“And, yes. We’ll keep quiet about Abigail’s past around other vampires, if that’s in her best interests.”

“I can’t think of much reason it wouldn’t be.”

Celia: “It is.”

Celia runs a hand through her hair.

“I… will need to do some extra hunting or something to make sure she’s well fed, then, until this is all figured out.”

GM: “What if you give her the blood you’ve given me?”

Celia: “It’s fine,” Celia says after a moment. “Randy is dead. I don’t need to feed him anymore. The boys are missing, so if they don’t get a dose… I’ll have room for another. I don’t usually run this low. Being unable to see my clients has added stress to my unlife.”

GM: “Uh, tell me you don’t want to keep taking her blood anyway,” Emily says to their mom.

“I have been thinking about that,” says Diana.

Celia: “Before you quit,” Celia interjects, “I’d like to fix your leg.”

“You’ll need the blood to mend properly.”

GM: “Mend properly?”

Celia: “Well. Mend. I mean. It’s… I just want it as a safeguard in case anything goes wrong.”

“So there’s no downtime.”

GM: “Sorry, sweetie?”

“How is it a safeguard?”

Celia: “Complications happen in surgeries all the time. If anything were to go wrong, I’d want to make sure that it’s okay if I give you some.”

“I don’t imagine anything will go wrong. But I just… I’d feel better.”

“We can do it tomorrow.”

GM: “Right, I know that about surgeries. Just how would it make me okay?”

Celia: Celia tilts her head to one side.

“Mom, the blood has healing properties. I explained that, didn’t I?”

GM: “You might have. I don’t remember. There’s just been so much that’s happened.”

Celia: “Right. So. It lets you heal from things. That’s why when you gave too much you didn’t die.”

Perhaps she’d be more eloquent if she weren’t as weary as her mother.

GM: “Oh. Of course.”

“I remember now.”

“You’re up at 3 AM two nights after learning you lost a child, Mom,” Emily says quietly.

“I’m amazed you’re even this together.”

Celia: Celia nods in agreement.

“So… I think we could table this discussion, if you’d like, for when you’re more awake. But I have your bone. I can fix your leg as early as tomorrow. Or… I mean maybe tonight, even, if I hunt.”

“I thought Emily could help. If she wants. If that’s okay, Mom.”

Celia finally looks at the floor.

“Sorry,” she murmurs to it, “I shouldn’t be throwing so many things at you. You’re barely awake and… with everything.”

GM: “Help with… the surgery?” says Emily.

Celia: “Yes.”

“I want… I want to show you what I can do. What I meant to show you last night. I want you to see.”

“If you’re in this you might as well be all the way in.”

GM: “I feel a little compelled to point out that neither of us has an actual medical license. Like, massage is one thing, but even after I graduate, it’ll still be three years before I’m allowed to perform unsupervised surgery.”

Celia: “I have a medical license,” Celia reminds her.

“So you wouldn’t be unsupervised.”

“I can do it on my own. I’ve done other things on my own way riskier than this. I only thought you might want to see.”

GM: “Celia, please understand I only just found out you had a medical degree. I didn’t know you had a license too. You have a license to perform major surgery on Mom’s leg?”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug.

“It’s different, what I do. I wanted to show you. Celia Flores doesn’t have a degree or a license. But my teacher was very thorough. And I’ve done… a lot. On my own.”

“I don’t do surgery like you do.”

“I don’t need to cut.”

“I don’t need to use tools.”

GM: “You don’t… cut?”

“That sounds a little like massage without hands.”

Celia: Celia smiles.

“Watch,” she says, and then it happens: the change takes over. She doesn’t need to move, doesn’t need to touch her skin, doesn’t need to physically alter the muscles. Ordinarily it’s quick. This time, too, it’s quick. She goes from Celia Flores, makeup artist and dancer, to Jade Kalani, Toreador. She’s only Jade for a moment. Then she shifts again, and she strips from her clothing as her flesh warps and contorts to stand stark naked in front of them. Beneath her skin her muscles, ligaments, and tendons re-align. The transformation takes longer. She’s doing more than quick adjustments to her face. Her very build changes, the padding from buttocks and breasts moving to add mass to her biceps and quads. Everything is more defined. Brawler rather than dancer. And again, almost as soon as Ren’s face finalizes, she shifts once more. Her hair lightens and lengthens. Her skin changes from tan to porcelain. Her eyes shift from brown to blue. Same size, but there’s a youth to her that isn’t present in her other faces.

Leilani smiles at the pair of them.

“I do this,” she says, “but on people. I cut if I need to. But I can do without.”

GM: Changing her entire body takes longer. But Emily watches with boggled eyes throughout the minutes-long process.

“Oh my god,” she whispers.

“This… I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how many medical applications this could have.”

“If you can do it on people.”

Celia: “I can.”

“I do.”

GM: “What are the limits? Can you just… turn anything, into anything else?”

“Like, could you turn your feet into broccoli?”

Celia: Leilani giggles. She starts to shake her head. Then she pauses, drops onto the floor, and pulls her feet toward her. She doesn’t need to touch them to make it work, but she stares at the changes that take over. Her skin darkens to the green of the plant. Her flesh bubbles to form the tiny little florets on the end.

But it’s not a complete transformation. She shakes her head at the result, a foot-broccoli hybrid that no seven-year-old could ever be talked into eating no matter how much cheese it comes with.

“I can’t do bone,” she says, “and it’s still flesh. Touch it, see?”

GM: Emily dumbly touches it.

Celia: It’s definitely a foot.

“Wait,” Leila says.

The flesh hardens beneath Emily’s fingers.

As if someone had dried it out over years.

It becomes leathery, inflexible.

GM: “Okay, I could not ever be talked into eating this,” says Emily.

Celia: “Not even with cheeeeese?”

“Toe cheese.”

“Toe jam!”

Leila giggles.

GM: Emily makes a face.

“Gross.”

Celia: Leila lifts her foot to her mouth and gnaws on the hardened flesh with the flats of her teeth.

She makes a face.

“Gross,” she agrees.

It takes barely any time at all for her foot to become a foot again.

And for Leila to wave shyly at Diana before disappearing into the daughter she knows.

GM: Diana is leaning against Emily’s shoulder and looks like she’s half-nodded off.

Emily doesn’t look like she has the heart to wake her.

“Wow,” she repeats.

“Okay. I guess… if it’s safe, and you’ve done this sort of thing before… yeah, let’s fix Mom’s leg.”

“Or rather, ‘you fix Mom’s leg.’”

“I mean, I’ll help however I can, and definitely want to watch.”

“Just not sure how much I can do.”

Celia: “An extra set of hands is always useful.”

GM: “Okay. I’m not a real doctor yet, but I’ll do what I can.”

Celia: “Flesh work like this I don’t need to cut. But bone deep it’ll be quicker. Extra pair of eyes making sure nothing goes wrong, someone to monitor the vitals… it’s painful. I was thinking about knocking her out for it.”

“Though I’d prefer a local anesthetic.”

“Less complication.”

GM: Emily nods. “Yeah. Absolutely. This isn’t the 1800s. Way better to put her under, if there aren’t any side effects that will interfere with the operation.”

“No idea there. I’m just at a total loss to explain how this even works or what might interfere with it.”

Celia: “There’s a lot I want to show you,” Celia admits. “A lot I think we can do together. I was looking into that company you applied for, Delta, and I think you could do some good work there.”

GM: “Huh?” says Emily.

Celia: “…the, uh, the Delta Medical…?”

“I got a call that you applied.”

GM: “Er, sorry?”

Celia: “I received a call that you applied to work at Delta Medical Systems Inc. In the CBD. The biotech research company? They were asking for a reference.”

GM: “Huh. I never applied there.”

“But I’ve heard they do that.”

“Preemptively look into people they’re thinking of making offers to.”

“Heard they can also be pretty aggressive with those offers.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Celia says noncommittally. “How’s your residency coming along, anyway?”

GM: “It’s not. I haven’t finished med school yet, remember?” Emily says dryly.

“That comes after I graduate.”

“But med school’s crazy. I don’t know if I mentioned this, one of Dr. Crawford’s friends got attacked at his job.”

Celia: “What?”

“Attacked?”

GM: “Or, uh, was it an accident?”

“I’m sorry, I can barely think straight after everything lately.”

“Something happened to him and she brought it up again recently.”

Celia: “Huh. He okay?”

GM: “I don’t remember. Hope so.”

Celia: “Why would someone attack a doctor,” Celia muses.

GM: “There’s some fucked-up stories I could tell you there,” says Emily. “He’s also the parish coroner, though. Something Wilkinson. I guess people have even more reasons to get mad at him.”

Celia: “Oh. I think I heard about that. Was like… a body missing or someone died or something?”

GM: “Huh. That sounds bad.”

Celia: “Yeah. Haven’t heard much else about it. Coroner’s office is a good place to die, I guess.” A weak smile. “Hope Crawford is holding up all right.”

“You said you’re tight with her. Maybe she referred you to Delta?”

GM: Emily gives a faint smile. “She is. She’s tough.”

“But I’d be surprised there, she doesn’t like them.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “I think they’ve stolen some people from Tulane. They’re a private company and I hear they pay really, really well.”

Celia: “Is that what you want? To work there?”

GM: Emily considers that. “Hadn’t thought about it. I want to help people. And from what I hear they’re doing some pretty cutting-edge research.”

“Little surprised they’d be interested in me, honestly, given my focus.”

“I’m doing ER medicine. Not as much of a research angle.”

Celia: “What’s their research on?”

GM: “I’ve heard everything from painkillers to cancer treatment to artificial organs and anti-aging.”

Celia: “…huh. That sounds…” like something she could do. Like something the Blood could do. “…really cool,” she finishes.

GM: “Yeah. If I wanted to go into research, I’d want it to be something with practical applications.”

“I want to help people.”

Celia: “You don’t think those are practical?”

GM: “Oh, no, I absolutely do.”

Celia: “Sounds like someone over there has taken an interest in what you can or want to do if they’re already headhunting.”

GM: “Yeah. Like I said, I’m just surprised they’d be after me given my focus.”

“Doesn’t hurt to keep my career options open, though. Did you say they called you about a reference?”

Celia: “Yeah. Job reference.”

GM: “Well, if you want to tell them I’m awesome, I’d be obliged. I guess they went after you because we weren’t legally related.”

“Hey, I bet I could get Mom to give me an awesome reference too.”

Celia: “Ha. Probably.”

“And I’d be happy to.”

GM: “Man, this feels like a hilarious cheat being able to use family members as job references.”

Celia: “I mean, hey, I’m technically your boss too.”

GM: “That’s riiiight. There we go. ‘Previous employer’ too.”

Celia: Which reminds her that she’s still sitting on the floor naked. She rises, pulling on her borrowed clothing.

GM: Emily snickers.

“I mean, salon, we’ve seen each other naked anyway.”

Celia: “Mm, trying to seduce the detective, won’t work if he’s seen everything I’ve got.”

“Gotta leave some to the imagination, yeah?”

GM: “Ah, yeah, gotta build up to it. Tease is better than immediate reveal. Unless you work at a salon. Then you give your boss or employees a vajacial.”

Celia: “Spread ’em open and really get to know ’em.”

GM: “So we’ve seen each other naked, and we’ve seen Mom naked. Only thing missing is Mom seeing us naked. Feels like there’s some incomplete symmetry there.”

Celia: “Let’s wake her up and flash her.”

“Though technically she’s seen me naked. Kid and all.”

GM: “Yeah, but that doesn’t count. Different body.”

Emily glances to her side. Diana is full-on asleep.

“Help me put her down gently? I don’t want to wake her right now.”

Celia: “Of course.” Celia moves to assist where she can, helping to lay Diana out on the bed with her head on the pillow.

GM: The woman is out like a stone. Celia not only lays down her mother against the pillow, she tucks her in beneath the blankets and moves Abigail to a better position too.

“Wow, you got some deft move-sleeping-people skills,” says Emily.

Celia: “Most people are asleep when I’m up,” Celia says with a wink.

GM: “Yeah. Fuck. I’m going to be a zombie at school.”

Celia: “Was just about to ask.” Celia flashes a wry smile. “Do you want to crash? I can amuse myself.”

GM: “There’s a lot I wanna talk about, but yeah. Later. I need sleep.”

Celia: “Same. I’ll be around tomorrow earlier. Hopefully.”

GM: “We should do the surgery during the weekend, by the way.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, we can do that.”

GM: “Just so Mom has time to recover.”

“Or, more time.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

“Oh.”

“Can Robby do lessons at night?”

“For sword fighting.”

GM: “You wanna learn too?”

Celia: “Might as well.”

GM: “He said it’s better to learn hand-to-hand combat or how to shoot, and that swordighting is largely a hobby these days.”

“Because it’s hard to take a sword many places.”

Celia: “I guess. I don’t really know anyone to teach me how to fight better that I’m on good terms with right now. Hand-to-hand wise, I mean.”

“I also doubt I’d be carrying a sword anywhere.”

“Just meant like a weapon in general.”

“Blades are better against us.”

GM: “Oh, how’s that?”

Celia: “Blood. Healing properties. Bullet wounds just close back over. If you cut something off it takes time to re-attach it or regrow it.”

“Plus cutting the head off kills us and shooting us in the head doesn’t.”

GM: “No? There are guns that can pretty much blow up your entire head.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia grants, “maybe those guns.”

GM: “What do you mean by a weapon, anyway? Like, knives?”

Celia: “I’m not saying we don’t take damage from them, just that the blades do more.”

“Yeah.”

“Or a stake.”

“Mostly stakes.”

GM: “Yeah, pretty sure Robby’s never used one of those.”

“I mean, I can ask if he knows, but my hunch is you won’t find much there outside of vampire hunter circles.”

Celia: “Yeah. I’d rather you not, to be honest. Wasn’t going to ask him about stakes, just thought the skill might translate.”

“But it’s no big.”

“Go get some sleep.”

GM: “Well, I can ask there too, about how well skill translates. I’m not a weapons nerd like he is.”

Celia: “If you can do it without tipping him off, sure. Otherwise I’m sure I can find a ghoul or another lick to practice with.”

Benji certainly hand’t minded rolling around on the floor with her.

GM: “Oh. Last thing. You’re gonna get Mom to quit the vampire heroin, right?”

“Because I don’t know why she said ‘thinking about it’ instead of ‘yes, I am quitting.’”

Celia: “That’s… complicated,” Celia says slowly, “and a discussion that should include her. If she wants to quit, I’m happy to help her. If she wants to stay like this, I’ll make it work. I don’t want her to get hurt because of me. And I don’t want the fact that she knows about this to get any of us into trouble if the wrong person finds out that she knows and isn’t blooded.”

“Same with you, to be honest.”

“Taking a risk here.”

“Which, uh, doesn’t feel great.”

GM: Emily rubs her shoulder. “Well, it feels pretty great to know the full and real you.”

“I felt like we were talking less for a while.”

Celia: “We were,” Celia acknowledges. “Hard to share.”

GM: “And lot of stuff not to share.”

“That thing you did with your body was beyond amazing.”

Celia: Celia smiles.

“Yeah. Not a lot of us can do that. The flesh work. It’s pretty cool. I guess I kind of thought… if you knew, you know, and wanted to learn… but you can’t do it as a mortal, is the only thing.”

GM: “I’d love to do it. I really, really, really would. I can’t even imagine all of the applications, especially now at 3 AM. But being a heroin addict is a big ‘no thanks’.”

“I’ve known addicts.”

“Saw a lot of drug abuse in the foster system and the restaurant industry.”

Celia: “I know. I… yeah. I know.”

“Maybe we can be research partners.”

GM: “And I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’m strong, but one adult I talked to when I was young, I forget who, said ‘no matter how strong you think you are, heroin is stronger than you’.”

“One of the better ‘stay off drugs’ warnings I heard.”

Celia: “There are other ways,” Celia points out.

GM: “You mean… becoming a vampire?”

Celia: “I… yes?”

GM: “How is it, all things told?”

“Net positive, net minus?”

Celia: “Mixed bag. I can do cool things. I like the idea of being able to do what I can do, and like I said, not a lot of people can. I’ve learned so much more stepping into this than I ever imagined was possible as a breather. I mean, I can turn into a cat. And a bird. I can fly. Literally fly through the air. I can tattoo people and give them powers. I don’t age. I live forever. The prince of the city is from like the 1200s. Can you imagine that? All that history, all that knowledge, everything you can learn. I’ve been to other worlds. Fairies are real. I’ve met them. So are werewolves. And other less awesome things.”

“But it’s… you know, I drink blood to survive. There are a lot of rules. Like. A lot. If I get caught in the wrong area of town I can get into trouble. People suck. Like not haha-suck-your-blood type suck, but in a ’we’re the popular kids and we don’t like you because you looked at us sideways’ suck. You can’t really trust anyone. You can’t eat. Or have sex. You have to lie to everyone you care about. Hunters are real and they’ve gotten their hands on me twice. I’ve been staked and tortured three times this weekend. There’s a monster inside of me that wants to fight, fuck, and feed. And that’s it. That’s all. Get off on the wrong foot and you’re pretty boned. Even people you thought liked you will tear you down if they’ve got an opportunity.”

“Everyone’s a liar.”

GM: “That does sound like a pretty mixed bag,” says Emily.

Celia: “And all of the older licks will push you around and expect you to take it, but only so far, and if you show too much teeth they’ll hurt you more and if you show no spine you’ll be a doormat forever so it’s a constantly balancing act.”

GM: “The 1200s, though? Geez, that’s amazing.”

Celia: “And I was objectively spoiled and I still… like it can all just be taken away, you know?”

GM: “Hm, like how, there?”

Celia: “Like what if my grandsire becomes prince and then he sires a bunch of childer and he doesn’t like me anymore and then I’m just kind of hanging out doing not much of anything.”

“Oh. Like. My domain. He gave it to me. He can take it back. Tell me I can’t feed on Bourbon. I’d have to go to like Rampart or something and there’s never enough blood to go around there.”

GM: “That sounds a little insecure. Mom didn’t love you less when she had Lucy.”

Celia: “Vampires don’t really love,” Celia says quietly.

GM: “You love.”

Celia: “Maybe that’s why I keep getting things wrong and hurting everyone.”

GM: “I don’t think loving people is getting anything wrong.”

Celia: “No? What about when that love makes me do hurtful things to other people to please someone? Or makes me do terrible things to protect someone I love, which just makes it worse?”

GM: “I haven’t known you to do anything like that.”

“But I will say lots of people are willing to do terrible things to protect the people they love.”

“If someone were trying to hurt Lucy, Mom would blow their brains out, no question.”

Celia: “Yeah, but what if it was like… someone kidnapped Lucy and told her to hurt some random person, or someone she cares for. What if someone took Lucy and said ‘break Emily’s spirit or I’ll break your daughter.’”

GM: “I don’t think Mom would take that lying down.”

“Not the new her.”

Celia: “No. But it’s more subtle than that. They’ll make you do things and then make you think it was your idea.”

“Or just pull strings.”

“So you never find out.”

“And then you wonder how much is you and how much is them and how much is the Beast and what if at heart you’re just an ugly person.”

“And you try to blame everyone else.”

“Even though it’s your fault.”

GM: “Are you speaking from experience, there?”

Celia: “…Yeah.”

GM: “That sounds pretty fucked. Also sounds like someone else was manipulating you.”

Celia: “I’d like to believe that. That it wasn’t my fault. But I ruined a perfectly decent person.” Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I lied and cheated and manipulated and didn’t trust, and that’s… that’s on me. It’s just fresh right now, I guess. Still getting over it.”

GM: “Is there any way you could make up for it?”

“To un-ruin them?”

Celia: “To what end? He hates me. He’ll never un-hate me.”

GM: “Doing the right thing.”

Celia: “And if the right thing gets me killed for acting against someone’s plans?”

GM: “Killed how? Can you do anything about that?”

Celia: “Maybe.”

“Just puts everyone I know in danger. You, Mom, Goose.”

GM: “How would it do that?”

Celia: “When we die,” Celia says, “we don’t generally use our mortal names. Some of us do, I guess, but most of us change them. Isabel went by Roxanne. Stephen goes by Roderick. I changed my face in addition to my name. But there are people who know who I am. The real me. Celia. They know about you. They know about Lucy. They know about Mom.”

Celia swallows.

“Mom has been used against me before. Thrown off the roof, remember? So… more of that. Or executed. Or bonded to someone else. Or just abused. And that’s tame. You, Mom, Lucy—you’re all kine. Cattle. You have no rights in our world. None. So long as we don’t draw undue attention from the mortal world we can pretty much do whatever to people like you and no one cares.”

“So if you piss off the wrong person and they know who you are, why wouldn’t they go after your family.”

She would.

GM: “Okay,” says Emily slowly. “So you think if messed up this manipulator’s plans by un-ruining a decent person, he’d go after us?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I think this is a conversation we should have with Mom, but I don’t like the idea of you doing bad things because you think it’ll keep us safer.”

“And I do like the idea of you fucking up some manipulative asshole’s plans by doing what sounds like the right thing.”

Celia: Maybe she should take Emily to a party or two to show her what the licks are really like.

“We need code words or something,” she says after a minute. “The three of us. Phrases. To know we’re us and that someone didn’t steal my face or something.”

GM: “Okay. How’s, off the top of my head, ‘xangdoodlemorph’.”

Celia: “I was thinking something a bit more sophisticated…”

GM: “Like?”

“This is me, being all cool with the idea someone might ‘steal your face’.”

Celia: “Like a reference we can make in our opening lines and a response to the reference. Or like certain phrasing meaning different things on the phone or via text or something. Like… when I started at Tulane, Mom told me that if I ever needed her but wasn’t in a position to say so, to make a reference to dance rehearsal. Like ‘rehearsal is running late’ or something. And she’d know that I’m in trouble but can’t outright say it. Like when we were kids if we called because we didn’t want to sleep over or play anymore with our friends it was similar.”

GM: “Okay, how’s maybe a spa thing?”

“Since we’d plausibly talk about that anyway.”

Celia: “That could work.”

“We can iron out the details with Mom,” she adds. “I just don’t want either of you to ever be approached by someone who you think is me but isn’t.”

“Or, you know, if one of us is actually in trouble and can’t say.”

GM: “How will we know if someone is… impersonating you? Are there physical tells, or just them feeling wrong?”

Celia: “Depends on how they do it.”

“Hence the codes.”

GM: “Makes sense. Just wondering what to look for.”

“This sounds pretty paranoid.”

Celia: “…yeah.”

“I guess so.”

She lets the silence linger. This is why she’s losing everyone. Because she always expects the worst and doesn’t trust anyone.

“You should go to bed,” she finally says.

“I’ll wait for the detective. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

GM: ""You’re right. I’ve said I would how many times now?" Emily asks wryly.

“Oh, call McGehee, okay? So they can find a sub. Mom shouldn’t go in.”

Celia: “Sure thing.”

GM: Emily hugs her. “All right. Night. Love you.”

Celia: “Love you too, Emi.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: About another hour passes before Celia gets a text from Pete saying he’s at the door.

Celia: She uses the time to make the call to McGehee for her mother. She leaves a polite voicemail that Diana and Lucy are both under the weather and won’t be in tomorrow (or rather later today), and leaves a note in her mother’s room to the same effect so that she doesn’t panic upon waking.

Celia checks the peep hole before she opens the door for him.

GM: It looks like him.

Celia: That doesn’t mean much.

Celia opens the door to let him in.

GM: He walks in and looks around.

“So.”

Celia: Celia closes the door behind him.

“So,” she echoes.

GM: “So, what’s the emergency?”

Celia: “Lucy overheard some things,” Celia says. “Sensitive lick things. Mom and I were hoping you could… erase it.”

GM: “What’d she hear?”

Celia: Celia gives him a brief overview. She keeps Emily’s name out of it. Abigail’s too. She mentions that she and Diana had been having a discussion and Lucy snuck up on them while they thought they were alone. It was tense. There was some chaos.

GM: “Okay,” says Pete. “I can erase this. Need a cover story if it scared or stressed her.”

Celia: “Would a sick pet work?”

GM: “You tell me. How upset has she been?”

Celia: “Very,” Celia admits.

GM: “How upset would a sick pet make her?”

Celia: “Depends on how sick. Could be maybe it got out and something happened to it. Mom was gonna have him stay with her friend a few days to ‘recover.’”

GM: “You tell me. How sick would be consistent with her emotional state?”

Celia: “It’d need to be pretty sick,” Celia says. “There was some vomiting. And a fire. A lot of crying.”

GM: Pete glances at the spot where a couch is missing.

Celia: “Need to order a new one.”

GM: “How did a couch catch on fire? I imagine your mother knows better than to have any open flames around you.”

Celia: Celia just kind of shrugs.

“Bit of a blur. I felt the heat and ran. Smoke alarm was going off. Got pretty crazy.” Celia nods toward a patch of carpet that also needs replaced.

“Maxen was here,” she adds. “Not at the time, but earlier. Lucy wanted to know why she couldn’t see him. Told her he’s not a particularly nice guy. Could… work it in, maybe, if you think it’ll help.”

GM: “Felt the heat from where?” Pete glances around. “I don’t see an apparent fire source.”

“Your mother doesn’t strike me as a smoker, either.”

“Place doesn’t smell like cigarettes anyway.”

“Much less with a kid in the house.”

Celia: Celia pauses. She’s aware of how stiff and awkward this whole thing is going between them. Aware of how high her guard is. Because of him, maybe. Or his sire. Or her grandsire.

She crosses her arms, then uncrosses them, and finally squares her shoulders.

“Your sire turned me in for infernalism,” she says bluntly, “and my grandsire thinks I’m a traitor. Where does that leave us?”

GM: “Ha. Ha ha ha,” Pete says flatly.

“You visit the interrogation room and you still don’t get it, Celia.”

“If Lord Savoy thought you were a traitor, you wouldn’t be standing here.”

“You’d be dead.”

Celia: Celia bites back a handful of retorts. She finally smiles.

GM: “You definitely fucked up, though, making a lick disappear whose death your grandsire ordered. What the fuck was he supposed to think?”

Celia: “That I tied up the loose end.”

GM: Pete looks at her incredulously.

Celia: Celia crosses her arms again.

“What,” she snaps, “I let Durant walk all over me? Continue to abuse and humiliate me? Let him torture me indefinitely because I fucked a few people? Nightly stakings and getting my arm taken off with a saw sounds great, Pete, and so does being beaten and put into a microwave when I piss him off, but I guess I just draw the line at being forced to sign over all my assets.”

GM: “No one gives a shit about your problems, Celia,” Pete snaps.

“Why the fuck are you still defending yourself after you wound up in the interrogation room? Do you think Lord Savoy was wrong and overreacting? Or that you did something boneheaded?”

Celia: He’s not the enemy.

That’s what she has to tell herself to keep the claws in. To keep her fangs in her mouth. To prevent herself from snarling in his face like she wants to do.

He’s not the enemy.

“Of course it was boneheaded,” she finally says.

GM:Roderick was ordered to take care of Gui. That was the plan. He and his friends would go to Flawless. Gui would die there. You,” Pete jabs, “messed up the plan. Lord Savoy doesn’t like his plans not going according to plan. And when he heard that his plan had not gone according to plan, and that Gui was missing and Roderick was kidnapped to boot, all without an explanation, you think he should have just assumed Celia was taking care of it? Despite not actually knowing where Gui and Roderick were? Oh, and Celia having feelings for Gui to boot?”

Celia: “Well maybe,” she snaps back, “they should have told me they were going to show up at my spa and murder someone.”

GM: “You weren’t trustworthy.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh lacks humor.

“What am I now?”

GM: “That’s partly up to me. So you tell me. How’d you fuck up?”

“Because I’d sure like to be able to say ‘Celia learned her lesson and isn’t going to pull this dumb shit again’ over ‘Celia is a spoiled childe who’s mad at the world and thinks her grandsire is making a big fuss over nothing.’”

Celia: For long moments Celia is quiet. If she were Diana she could burn a hole through the floor with the intensity of her gaze. But she’s not. She’s not Diana or Jade or Leila. She’s not Roderick’s girlfriend or her grandsire’s favorite or Pete’s friend.

Celia finally looks up. The rage is gone from her face. The stubbornness is gone from her jaw, from the set of her shoulders, from her eyes. She uncrosses her arms and she’s just Celia again. Alone. Afraid. Waiting for judgement.

“No,” she says quietly. “He isn’t overreacting. I fucked up. I got angry and stupid and put my personal problems ahead of his goals. No explanation excuses what I did or risked. I shouldn’t have let my personal shit get in the way of what he asked of me. All of this would have been avoided. He was right to bring me in.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“Better answer.”

Celia: Celia chews on her lip.

“I don’t suppose an apology is going to smooth things over. Or that asking to explain myself to you will win me any favors or do anything but waste your time.”

GM: “Right on both counts.”

“We don’t care why you did it.”

“Don’t do it again.”

Celia: “Can I talk to you?” she asks. “As a friend rather than as the warden.”

GM: “I don’t know,” says Pete. “Can you? I’ve come here at your request to do you favors, and I’m hearing stories about fires that don’t add up.”

“Fire and demons go together like peanut butter and jelly. I wonder if I should take a closer look through magic or ESP.”

“Maybe you have figured out how to summon a demon, despite my sire wisely not telling you, and called one up in here.”

Pete glances down at the floor. “This rug could cover up a lot of physical evidence.”

Celia: “I didn’t summon a demon. I wouldn’t have summoned a demon. I just… I didn’t want someone else to get in trouble.”

“Because I think my mom did it.”

GM: Pete glowers at Celia.

“Asking about soul eaters. Spinning bullshit about North looking through your head for soul eaters. Asking about demons. Asking how to summon demons. Paying four boons to my sire. You think I’m stupid? You think he’s stupid? You think we can’t tell you’re up to something? You don’t cough up that much prestation to satisfy idle curiosity.”

“I don’t think you’re an infernalist, but only by dint of ignorance. I think you could become one, though, if someone were dumb enough to tell you how. I think you’re naive and emotionally volatile enough to summon a demon, convinced you were doing it for a good reason or being selfless or whatever bullshit ignorant excuse before the whole thing blew up in tragedy.”

Celia: “I didn’t summon a demon,” Celia says hotly. “And I wasn’t going to. I wanted to know how they came from Hell to here.”

GM: “So that’s why you only asked him twice how to summon one, and only coughed up four boons.”

“He was completely right to turn you in.”

“I’d have turned you in, if you were anyone else.”

Celia: “Pete,” Celia says quietly, desperately, “I’m not going to summon a demon. I’m not an infernalist. I’m not going to become one. I was stupid to ask, I know that, but it’s not malicious intent.”

GM: Pete bends down, pulls up the rug, and presses his palm to the floor.

Celia: “Can you let me explain please?”

GM: “Floor tells me everything,” the detective grunts after a moment.

“Congratulations, this is the second Tremere in a week you made wonder if you’re an infernalist.”

Celia: It’s not the first time that Celia finds herself at a loss. Not even the first time tonight. She doesn’t know what to say. How to fix this situation that she created by inviting Pete over.

“I’m not an infernalist,” she says again. “I didn’t summon a demon. I was going to talk to you about it, but I guess you saw.”

GM: “What was it I said after our chat about soul eaters? ‘No one cares about satisfying your curiosity, and you are going to attract the wrong kind of attention if you bring these things up with other licks.’”

“Gosh, it looks as if Pete turned out to be completely right over that one.”

Celia: Gosh, who knew, people are smarter than Celia.

Gosh, who knew, Celia is disposable.

Gosh, who knew, Celia is useless now that she’s gotten Roderick over to her grandsire’s side.

Gosh, who knew, Caroline was right when she told Jade that she could demand her head if she threw in with Savoy.

Like Roderick had with Gui.

Life is cheap.

He’d told her.

And hers is useless now.

Or had it always been?

She picks at that old scab until it bleeds. Stupid. Useless. Whore.

I want to be better.

But she’s a stupid. Useless. Whore.

There is no better. This is her existence. This is her. Her way of being. Stupid. Useless. Whore. If she can’t fuck it she can’t pull one over on it because she’s too stupid to think of a way to solve problems that doesn’t involve spreading her legs, which makes her useless as anything except a bed warmer.

Except licks don’t even like sex. Not that way. Which makes her doubly useless.

She’d laugh, but she’s barely holding on as it is.

At her side her fingers curl. Her nails dig into her palm until the voices in her head begin to retreat.

“Yes,” she says. “You were right. I should have listened.”

What else is there to say?

GM: Jade wouldn’t have these thoughts.

Jade is confident and bold and vicious, and all the things a lick needs to be to survive and thrive.

Pete grunts again.

“You going to leave these things alone?”

Celia: Jade isn’t in control. Celia is.

“Yes,” she says again. “I’m… I’m sorry, Pete. I won’t dig into them again. If you tell me to leave something alone, I will. If Lord Savoy tells me to make sure something is done, I’ll do it. No more stupid mistakes.”

“No more personal problems getting in the way.”

GM: “Good. I’m not teaching you magic.”

“I do you more than enough favors as it is.”

Celia: One by one the pillars she has come to rely on continue to fall.

“I understand,” she says quietly.

The rest of her questions die in her throat.

GM: “Now, speaking of favors. Lucy. Where is she?”

Celia: Celia leads him down the hall to Lucy’s room. Quietly, she opens the door.

GM: She finds the girl asleep in her bed. The bunny nightlight once again fails to keep out the monsters.

But there are worse monsters that could enter her room.

“When are the memories she needs removed?” Pete asks quietly.

Celia: Perhaps the unbroken line of salt they’d stepped over keeps out the worst of them. Celia doesn’t ask if that advice from his sire is accurate.

“Last night and tonight.”

GM: “That salt will raise questions from her and Emily.”

Celia: “Will it keep her safe?”

GM: “From some things, and only through this door.”

“You and I obviously have no difficulty stepping over it.”

Celia: “Mom had a vision that Maxen took her,” Celia says quietly, “so I thought if the possession thing was real it might stop him from getting in.”

GM: “Only through the door. Won’t do anything for the windows if they’re not covered.”

“And won’t do anything for her or your sister’s questions.”

Celia: “I’ll find another way to keep her safe.”

GM: “Might as well clean it up now. It’s useless if someone steps on or disturbs it.”

Celia: Celia disappears to find a broom and dustpan. She’s back with both a moment later.

“Are there wards,” she asks in a low voice as she bends to clean the salt, “that would protect from those things?”

GM: “Sure. All a question of how long they last, how big an area they cover, and how obtrusive they are.”

Celia: “Can I… pay you for one? For this house?”

GM: “Your sisters would notice a ward that covered this entire house.”

Celia: “Oh. I don’t know why I thought they’d be undetectable to breathers.” A pause. The salt line breaks as she sweeps it with the hand brush she’d found, on her knees in the doorway.

“What about just a room?”

GM: “They’re not subtle. Unless you have something to cover them with, they’re obviously occult-looking runes and symbols.”

“They’re drawn in blood, too.”

Celia: So much for her “white paint on white walls” idea.

“What if you put something like wallpaper over it? They still work?”

GM: “As long as it doesn’t disturb the integrity of the designs and disrupt their flow of energies. Paint and wallpaper is usually a no.”

Celia: “Don’t suppose they could be hidden and uncovered as needed. Like a panic button. Dormant until they’re exposed.”

GM: “They can run out of juice and be inactive that way. But if they’ve been ruined via physical disturbance, they need to be re-done and re-empowered.”

“An untrained person can’t ruin a ward and then fix it themselves. The whole thing needs to be re-done by a thaumaturge.”

Celia: Celia looks up at him. She opens her mouth, as if to ask if he’ll reconsider teaching her, but shuts it again without saying a word and returns to cleaning the salt.

GM: Pete waits until she’s done.

“If you’re wanting to protect your sister’s room against demons, I’d need to draw an uninterrupted line throughout it, and you’d need to find a way to make sure she wouldn’t ever notice or disturb that line. You would pay for the ward’s cost in juice and pay that cost again every year and a night to reinforce it.”

Celia: Celia rises, dustpan full of salt in her hand. She stares down at the white crystals that keep evil at bay.

“Am I overreacting?” she finally asks, looking back to him. “Maxen mentioned a demon, Mom mentioned a vision, now I’m four boons deep to your sire and being called an infernalist and…” She trails off.

“I want to keep her out of all this. Safe and happy. I’ll pay.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “Your father’s untrustworthy and vision from your mom sounds thin.”

Celia: “The other part of it came true.”

GM: “That being?”

Celia: “The falling.”

GM: Celia gets a blank look.

Celia: She’d told him about it already.

GM: The detective’s expression doesn’t change.

Celia: Trust. Right? That’s what she learned tonight?

“The roof,” she reminds him. “She freaked out after a dance lesson and started sobbing and clinging to me and said she had the worst feeling, like something terrible was going to happen. The first part of it was that she was falling. And she did. When she was thrown. The second part was that Maxen came to take Lucy away, that she was screaming and begging him not to but she couldn’t get to Lucy.”

GM: “Ah, that’s right,” Pete seemingly recollects. “Interesting. I’d be inclined to dismiss that if it hadn’t come partly true.”

Celia: “I thought if he was lying about the exorcism I could figure out how to defeat him,” Celia says a little lamely. “If he’s not human anymore. Your sire said they’re good at lying, and he said pretty much everything I wanted to hear, so…” She trails off.

GM: “I will say that wards aren’t guaranteed to keep out anything, won’t keep out anything the ward doesn’t specifically include—like, for instance, licks and scumbag ordinary breathers—and won’t alert you if anything happens. I’d invest in a quality home alarm system linked to your phone.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. “What about keeping sound in? Or preventing eavesdropping, rather. Lucy likes to sneak around and while there are other places that I can talk to my mom, it’d be convenient if we didn’t have to get in the car and drive every time we needed to discuss something.”

“So this doesn’t happen again with her.”

GM: “So don’t drive. Talking about lick things in a small house with two breathers is unwise.”

“How you got into this mess, isn’t it?”

Celia: “Yeah. Alarm system then. Guess it makes sense to use normal things instead of hoping magic fixes it all.”

GM: “If you have the juice to spare, and can guarantee your sister won’t see and disrupt the wards, those won’t hurt. They also may not help, and I’d not be inclined to trust anything out of your father’s mouth.”

Celia: “How much juice?”

GM: “Anywhere from around half to a full human body’s worth, renewed every year.”

Celia: “I can get it.”

“Probably not tonight, but I can get it.”

“What else?” she asks. “What else do you want for it, so I don’t keep asking you for favors?”

GM: “You paid an arm and a leg to my sire for a service that cost him nothing. I’m sure he’ll think of something.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I’m asking you, Pete. I’ve been…” She pauses, running a hand through her hair. “Selfish. And stupid. And needy. And I keep asking you things, and you’ve never really asked for anything back. I do your face, and I did the work on Tantal, and I’m not saying let’s nickel and dime each other, but I don’t want this to be a one way thing. I fucked up recently. I’d like to start fixing it. I don’t want to be a spoiled mooching childe.”

GM: “Don’t forget the bullshit spinning over everything from soul eaters to couch fires,” says Pete. “That’s part of why no magic.”

Celia: Celia looks back down at the salt she’d gathered from the floor as if expecting to find the answers to her unlife’s problems written across its surface.

Perhaps blessedly, it stays blank and still.

“You’re right,” she says. “I had a chat with my mom earlier. About lying. And not trusting people. It doesn’t really matter why I did it, just that I did. Like you said earlier about Lord Savoy. We don’t judge others by their intentions, just their actions.” She glances back toward the Tremere. “An apology probably isn’t worth anything to you, but I am sorry. For trying to lie to you. For digging into things you told me to leave alone. And for causing headaches. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, I… guess I just… wanted to be useful to you. And to him. And to stop disappointing you.”

Because she doesn’t have a dad and she never had much of a sire and he’s the closest thing she’s got to either and every time he effects a sigh or grunts at her she feels that much smaller. But she doesn’t say that. She keeps it inside where it can’t hurt.

GM: Technically, she’s had a dad.

Just not a very good one.

Her sire loves her, though, in a way Maxen never did. He does. She just needs to be worthy of it. Worthy of him.

Pete grunts.

“There any other lies and headaches I should know about while I’m here?” he asks.

Celia: Celia disappears another moment to dispose of the dustpan and broom. She tells herself she’s not running from the question, just giving herself time to decide if he means personal headaches or faction-wide headaches.

She decides to tell him both.

“I was picked up by the Guard on Saturday and questioned at Perdido House,” she says when she gets back. “I cut a deal to avoid execution. I haven’t fulfilled the terms yet. I suppose that’s a personal headache. One of my ghouls is dead and two are missing, which is another personal headache. There was a spy at Elysium on Sunday and I’ve been unable to locate him, partially due to lack of manpower with the missing ghouls.”

What else?

“Um. Mostly personal headaches, I guess. Family stuff.”

GM: Pete has closed the door to Lucy’s room by the time she’s back. He walks out to the living room with her.

“I was going to ask about that. Not much reason they’d normally let a captive Bourbon go.”

“What was the deal, who was the spy, and does this family stuff break any Traditions or cause Lord Savoy any headaches?”

Celia: “I told you about the thing with Guilbeau, the luck charm? I have to, ah, get it to them. But I have to raise Marie first for him to do the spell, and the Setite I thought I was making headway with is… well I’m not. So Draco is asking for me, otherwise I might just go to Camille, since, ah, I imagine kidnapping one of the snakes to interrogate is a no-go. Guard took my blood, I’m not really sure what the penalty is for not paying up.”

Celia pauses. She makes a gesture toward a chair if he wants to sit. She perches on the edge of the couch.

“Spy is a hunter, I believe. I have his ID and wallet, but the face he was wearing wasn’t his. Belonged to a friend of mine in another city. Found out recently he and some of his krewe were killed by hunters. I grabbed him after Elysium but Agnello was there and… yeah.”

“The, uh, family stuff…”

Celia trails off. Trust. Right? That’s what this is about? Show that she can be responsible by admitting she’d messed up? Or does messing up in the first place prove she’s not responsible?

“It… breaks a Tradition,” she says quietly.

GM: Pete sits down.

He gives a dark look at her first news.

“Don’t get tangled up with snakes. That’s a patently terrible idea.”

Celia: “I don’t know how else to break the curse.”

GM: “Then get the charm another way. Don’t get involved with snakes. It will not end well.”

Celia: Celia twists her hands on her lap.

“Durant is involved with them. That’s… I mean that’s part of why I panicked last night and things went off the rails, because there were at least two. And Camille… knows. That I’m Dicentra.”

GM: “Durant is foolish.” He glowers at her next admission. “So you both have that in common.”

Celia: “I assumed Lord Savoy set him up with them. Is that not the case?”

“He found another night doctor rather quickly, is all.”

GM: “That’s not your concern,” says Pete.

Celia: “I wasn’t trying to pry. I just…”

She considers her words.

“When I was at Perdido,” she says finally, “I thought maybe it would have been better if I’d not made the deal and let them kill me. Grandsire got Durant, and the Guard would look like it was executing licks for rumors. I reached out to him. With the blood thing. And I thought maybe he knew I was going to die and took other courses of action for Durant.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“As far as this hunter. He’s probably noticed his wallet’s missing and long gone by now, if he has a lick of sense.”

Celia: She doesn’t point out that Pete hadn’t denied it.

GM: Pete doesn’t point out that he hadn’t confirmed it either.

“Wonder if it was a plant or he was just dumb.”

Celia: “I hit him with star mode a few times.”

GM: Pete shrugs. “Look into it or not, as you prefer. If this happened at Elysium, it’s not Lord Savoy’s problem.”

“But as far as something that is. Let’s hear about this broken Tradition.”

Celia: Every instinct inside of her screams at her to lie.

She’s already fucked up. What will they do to her for this? What will Pete do? Turn her in? Put her back in the interrogation room and ask how she ended up so stupid? Execute Emily to teach her a lesson about keeping secrets? Give her to Durant and his new friends to turn into a plaything, force her into another slutty outfit with heels that don’t fit so she can serve as vessel at some party?

A thousand and one excuses, explanations, and fibs come to mind. She could spin any of them. She could spin all of them. She could fall all over herself explaining why things happened the way they did and how it’s not her fault and that she’s really not a fuckup, really, she can prove it, just give her a chance, another chance, a third or fourth or fifth or however many she’s on now, she won’t do the same dumb things again, really, she won’t, she swears it—

The tips of her nails dig into the remnants of the fabric on the couch.

“The first,” she finally says. “Mom doesn’t think she wants to be a ghoul anymore. And… Emily knows.”

This is why they don’t keep families.

GM: Pete takes that in.

He doesn’t ask how.

He doesn’t ask why.

He just asks:

“How long, now?”

Celia: “Last night.”

GM: “Okay,” says Pete.

“Your mother can only quit if she’s okay dying or becoming a lick. That’s three options.”

“Emily can have a long stare into my eyes, have a drink of your blood, become a lick, or die. Four options.”

“So. What’s it gonna be for them?”

Celia: The unsaid option is that Celia can take her family and run. Flee the city. Flee the state. Change all of their identities, uproot their lives, start over somewhere else.

And look constantly over their shoulders for knives in the dark.

“I can’t Embrace either one without breaking more Traditions,” Celia points out, voice hollow. “Mom will stay a ghoul. And… I guess Emily will too.”

GM: If they’d even be willing to.

“Oh, you certainly wouldn’t Embrace either one,” says Pete. “Lord Savoy would pick their sires. And whether they were to receive the Embrace at all. Though, granted, he rarely says no to more licks in the Quarter.”

“And yes. Either of them would be Quarter Rats.”

Celia: “They deserve better than that. Better than… this.” She gestures vaguely.

“Are you going to tell him,” she asks.

GM: “No.”

“I will, if he directly asks me. I’m not going to lie to him. But I doubt your breather family weighs upon his mind.”

Celia: “I thought I had a handle on all of this,” Celia says numbly. “Years without any incidents. And then in the span of two weeks…” She runs one fist into the other and flexes her fingers, making explosion noises with her mouth.

She wants comfort. She wants him to tell her it’s okay. That she’s not a fuckup. That she’s not stupid. That her grandsire doesn’t think she’s be better suited to just playing with makeup and leaving all the heavy thinking to the licks like Durant with college degrees from real schools. She wants her boyfriend back. She wants Pete to pat her on the head and call her champ and go back to sitting in his office teasing him about dating her mom. She wants her ghouls. She wants to feel like she matters.

She stares across the living room at him but doesn’t say any of it. He’s not going to give her what she wants. No one is. Not anymore.

“Thanks,” is all she says.

GM: “Was it years?” says Pete. “Car crashes don’t happen in seconds. The vehicle has to build up speed first. But everything is fine until the collision.”

He rises from his seat.

“Let’s fix your younger sister’s memories.”

Celia: “Is your intent to make me feel like a colossal fuckup that will never be able to do anything right,” she asks, “because I’d love to be able to put this behind me and move forward and make something better of myself in my grandsire’s service.”

GM: Pete turns an angry glare on her.

“This kind of Masquerade breach can get licks executed in Vidal’s territory.”

“I just said I wasn’t even going to tell your grandsire.”

“Oh, and after giving you home security advice—by the way, get something with a motion sensor, but cameras are good too for the psychological value—and showing up on request to fix your sister’s memories. And volunteering to ward her room. At no cost beyond the blood it costs me. After catching you spinning more bullshit.”

“You’re going to complain I’m making you feel bad?

“Fucking apologize.”

Celia: “That’s not—” Celia cuts herself off. How had this gone so far off the rails? When had she decided that every time she opened her mouth she’d say something dumber than before and alienate everyone instead of just most people?

The monster inside of her gnashes its teeth at the demand. But the girl—and she’s the girl now, there’s no denying that—knows she’s wrong. That she has been wrong this whole time. And if it were anyone but Pete she wouldn’t back down, not in her own home.

But it is Pete.

And she is wrong.

Celia dips her head, eyes on the floor. Excuses and explanations come to mind. The desire to make him see how bad she has it, how dark this hole is that she’s in, how she didn’t mean to. But that’s all they are. Stories. Excuses. Ways to foist off the blame onto someone else rather than take responsibility for herself.

Is she a lick or not?

Is she Savoy’s grandchilde or not?

Is she worthy of the blood or is she not?

Celia looks up. The anger and righteousness in her eyes has been swept away, the chaotic storm calmed. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan, grandchilde of Lord Antione Savoy, and she will not embarrass her bloodline further.

She will not give Warden Lebeaux a reason to write her off as a waste.

“Pete,” she says quietly, “I’m sorry. You are absolutely right, and I am wrong. I apologize for lashing out at you. I was angry and afraid and let that rule my tongue when you have been nothing but lenient and merciful with me. Thank you for your help. For tonight and for everything else you’ve done. You’ve always been willing to assist and I am grateful that I have you. I’m sorry for my behavior tonight. For the past few weeks. Please allow me to make amends for the disrespect in whichever way you deem necessary. I promise that this will not happen again. I will not be a source of trouble for you or Lord Savoy.”

GM: “That’s what we hope,” says Pete, seemingly placated.

“As far as amends, you can start right now. Go talk to your sister. The older one. Tell her the way things are going to be.”

“Well, do more than tell, I suppose.”

“If it goes badly, I’ll be on hand for Plan B.”

Celia: “Yes, sir. Thank you.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia does not delay further. She leaves the room, trusting that Pete is going to do right by Lucy with what they talked about, and slips into the night to cross the tiny courtyard and knock on Emily’s door.

GM: Pete takes out his phone, but looks like he’s staying where he is in the living room.

A very groggy-looking Emily opens her door a few moments after Celia knocks.

“Whuzzit?”

“Tryin’a sleep.”

Celia: “I’m sorry for keeping you up,” Celia says, “but we need to speak. It’s urgent. Can I come in?”

GM: Emily rubs her head and steps aside. “’Kay. Sure.”

“Should we wake up Mom?”

Celia: She’ll be mad if she wakes up and Emily is a ghoul. Mad if she wakes up and Emily is dead. Mad if she wakes up and Emily is Embraced.

“Probably,” Celia sighs, “but there’s company here and I’m on thin ice.”

What kind of lick can’t make their own decisions and has to ask their mom for help? All the same, she wants it. Their situation is highly unusual, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just different.

“I’d prefer to let her sleep. She’s been through enough tonight.”

GM: Emily takes that all in.

“Okay, what’s the situation?”

Celia: Celia steps inside and closes the door behind her. She gestures for Emily to have a seat.

“The warden is here to alter Lucy’s memories of the past two nights. He is doing me a huge favor at no cost. But he knows about you. And he has agreed to keep it to himself so long as I do the right thing. I am going to offer you my blood so that you become a ghoul, like Mom. I will tell absolutely no one what you are, and you will tell absolutely no one what you are. I can give you a mark to hide it.”

Celia paces.

“I will teach you what I know. I will show you how to shift. I will share my knowledge of the body with you and allow you to do the things that I can do. I will not treat you as a ghoul, but as my sister. I will not ask anything of you that you are not willing to do. I will protect you. Your life will not be interrupted or put in further danger. If you decide you want to see what vampire society is like, I will create a new identity and cover for you. If you don’t, I will not force it on you.”

“Tomorrow evening I will search for the alchemists and learn how to dilute the addictive properties of the blood so that there are no complications to your life or chosen path.”

She halts, turning toward her sister.

“Emily,” she says softly, “this isn’t an ideal situation. The alternative is death or memory loss.”

GM: “Wait a second,” Emily says slowly.

“We had a whole conversation about this. About blood being vampire heroin. About not wanting to be a drug addict.”

“I don’t know a lot about all of… this, Celia. Your whole world. But I saw the way Mom looked at that blood.”

Celia: “In any other domain I would already be on my way to the executioner’s block and you would be put down. He has given me a chance to do right by you.”

GM: “Don’t care,” Emily answers stubbornly. “Let’s find another option.”

“What’s behind door #3, memory loss?”

Celia: “He’d make you forget all of this. You wouldn’t know why Mom suddenly found her spine. You wouldn’t know why I’m never around. I’d resume lying to you about my activities. I’d distance myself from you to avoid anything like this happening again.”

GM: “But I thought you told me all this because there was just so much weirdness and you figured I’d put something together…?”

“I didn’t fucking believe it when Mom found her spine. People don’t just change like that on a dime.”

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how exactly that happened.”

Celia: “I’d like to be able to share that with you. All of it. Everything. Which is why I’m offering you the blood instead of asking him to erase it. But you’re right. You might figure it out again. So I’d… I’d probably stop coming around. In a few months or years I might fake my death. You wouldn’t have anything to question after that.”

“It’s what most of us do. What I should have done.”

GM: “…Celia, that is incredibly fucked up to ask me to pick between losing you and starting a drug habit,” says Emily.

“Like. Seriously one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever heard.”

Celia: “My other option is to watch them kill you,” Celia says quietly.

GM: “Then maybe we can come up with some other options.”

“Like, okay, the warden very thoughtfully wants me to get started on vampire heroin.”

“Why not just lie to him?”

Celia: “Because he’s a warlock and has ways of ferreting out the truth.”

GM: “Does he want me to take a drug test? Piss in a cup and see if if it pings yes for vampire heroin?”

Celia: “No, Emily. He won’t need to. He’ll read your mind. He’ll take your blood. He’ll read the psychic impressions in this room to see that we’d talked about lying to him.”

GM: “Do we know for sure he’s gonna do all those things?”

Celia: “Ordinarily, I’d say no. But this time? Yes. He’ll make sure I’ve done it.”

GM: “So can we fool him?”

“Because you can fool drug tests.”

“And I’ll admit there’s a lot here I don’t know, but is he seriously going to do three separate tests on me?”

“Like, is it much time or hassle or money to do them all?”

“Even a $30 drug test is a pain in the ass if you’re shelling out $90 and collecting extra piss samples for three tests.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “He won’t need to do all three. Even one of them will suffice.”

GM: “Okay, so can we fool one?”

“Like, give him Mom’s blood or something else?”

Celia: Lie to the warden. Lie to her grandsire. Lie again. Pick her kine family over her blood family. Pick breathers over her covenant. Show them that they’re right not to trust her.

Betray her family.

Again.

“Emily,” Celia says gently, “I know you’re scared about becoming addicted. I will do everything I am capable of doing and look into every avenue and path and pay anything I need to pay in order to prevent that from happening. I won’t let this interrupt your life.”

Celia squeezes her hand.

“My grandsire has a claim to the throne,” she continues in a quiet voice. “Once he becomes prince he’ll be in charge of the entire city. If you want to join me as a lick I will ask for permission and do it the right way. We’ll find you the proper sire and you won’t need to worry about being hunted down as a bastard. And if you don’t want that, we won’t.”

“I love you, Emi. I’m asking you to trust me. Please.”

GM: “Celia…” Emily says slowly, “I do trust you. I love you, too. But you didn’t actually answer my question.”

Can we fool a drug test?”

“Or, that thing you did earlier. Where you found out my memories had been… fucked with, and got them back.”

“Could we just do that again?”

Celia: They could. She hasn’t told anyone about the memory manipulation she can do. Pete has no reason to suspect that she’s able to bypass his ability to steal memories.

She’s thought about telling him. About offering her services as interrogator should they ever need it. Another useful trick in her grandsire’s arsenal.

So far she hasn’t mentioned it. Just to Durant, who blew her off and hadn’t believed her anyway.

“It is possible to fool a drug test,” Celia says hesitantly, “but it’s not guaranteed and there will be no second chance. I’m unwilling to risk your life on a chance. But I have… another idea. A compromise, of sorts.”

GM: “Okay, what’s your idea?”

“And what would happen if we failed to fool the drug test?”

Celia: “You’d be killed or forced into becoming a ghoul anyway.”

“Probably someone else’s.”

“Who would use and abuse you as they saw fit.”

GM: “Wow, fuck that.”

“Fuck this warden guy, too.”

Celia: “If there was no risk of addiction, would you consent to becoming a ghoul?”

GM: “Uh, sure, but you said this stuff was stronger than heroin.”

“And you can’t use heroin recreationally. It’s just too addictive.”

“The line between recreational drug use and drug addiction can be really blurry anyways.”

Celia: “He’s actually one of the nice ones,” Celia says, “and has helped me out of plenty of terrible situations in the past. If I hadn’t…” Celia cuts herself off before she accepts another invitation to a pity party. “It’s my fault we’re in this mess. Not his. He’s just doing his job, and he’s being more lenient and merciful than I deserve.”

GM: “Yeah, well, you’ll forgive if I don’t share your glowing assessment right now.”

“’Cuz he could always just choose not to do his job.”

Celia: “He might have once. But I created this problem.”

“I’m going to have him remove your memories with the caveat that I will unlock them if I can find a way to make the blood not addictive. I will find a way to stay in your life even if you don’t know about me being a lick. Is that fair to you?”

GM: “Uh, how likely is it that you could make the blood non-addictive?”

“But, okay, you don’t want to fake your death even if I forget all of this?”

Celia: “Same probability that vampires are real and I can turn into a cat and others can fly.” Celia shrugs. “Anything is possible.”

“But I won’t fake my death even if you forget.”

“If I can’t make it work, if I can’t make you a ghoul without the risk of addiction, I’ll stick around anyway and just be extra careful.”

GM: Perhaps another’s eyes and ears would be fooled.

Celia’s are not.

Her mother might be pretending otherwise, but she is awake and listening.

Celia: Celia could pretend, too. Say she hadn’t realized. Lie again, let this fester, try to hide it.

Or stop running like a coward at the first sign of dissension and face things head on.

“That sound okay to you, Mom?”

GM: Celia’s mother slowly gets up.

“Oh, Mom, we didn’t want to wake y…” starts Emily.

“This was worth waking for,” Diana says heavily.

“We are not putting Emily on the blood. Not unless you find a proven way to make it non-addictive. I don’t know if that’s possible or not.”

“Right, that was my thought too,” says Emily.

“I don’t know if this is going to just be as easy as telling Emily to forget,” says their mother.

“I listened good with Caroline.”

“She said the things vampires can do, to erase memories, can’t erase feelings.”

“That was why we needed a story about the cats getting sick with Lucy.”

Celia: “I had a cover for Emily planned.”

GM: “What’s that?”

“Because, sweetie, Emily has been on an absolute rollercoaster of feelings.”

Celia: “We got into an argument on Friday night when Henry came over for dinner. I found out that she and Stephen slept together. I got mad, accused her of being a whore, then fired her.”

GM: “Uh, that’d definitely inspire some… strong feelings,” says Emily.

“I’d have probably said fuck you, I’m graduating in a couple months anyway, I’m gonna start my residency this summer.”

“Is that the best you got?”

Celia: “It will damage our relationship. You’ll think I’m a drama queen and better not to be around. I’ll keep my distance. Lucy will be safe. You’ll be safe. In a few months we’ll move past it. You’ll have used it as an excuse to drink heavily and blur the past few nights. Mom’s change is explained by watching us fight.”

GM: “Nah, I wouldn’t get smashed over that. I’d want to rub in your face how little it meant to get fired from a job I’d have had to leave anyway.”

“Girls, do not start a fight over a pretend fight,” their mother says dryly.

Celia: “Did you?” Celia asks, head canted to one side. “Did you sleep with him?”

GM: “Girls,” Diana repeats.

“Have that out later if you want to.”

Celia: “We broke up. He put me in a microwave. Cut my arm off. Tried to make me sign over my assets. Called me stupid. Made me watch him fuck someone else.” Celia shrugs. “So I’m just curious now.”

GM: “Wait, what?!” says Emily.

Diana stares at those words with a very stern look.

“Wow,” says Emily. “Jesus. I’m sorry I introduced you to him. I really thought he was a decent guy.”

Celia: “He was. I loved him. He loved me. But I cheated on and lied to him, among other things going wrong.” Celia shrugs. “Long story, I’ll tell you some night. Right now we need to figure out you.”

GM: “He is no longer welcome in this house,” says Diana.

“And yes. As horrific as all that sounds, right now we need to work out how to stop something horrific from happening to Emi.”

“I am not an expert on… what do you even call this. How vampires invade people’s heads and change their memories.”

Celia: “Stiffs call it the lordly voice. Since, you know, they run the circles and all, makes them feel powerful and in charge. Mesmerism. Domination. I mostly just call it mindfucking or mind control.”

GM: “Okay. Mind control. I am not an expert on mind control-”

“I prefer mindfucking,” says Emily.

“-so, do you think that story would work? Stop it from being ‘a scab’ Emily would keep picking at?”

Celia: “Probably. I’ll say some hurtful things, like that I seduced Robby or something, things that are obvious lies. So the disbelief she’s been feeling will have some basis.”

GM: “Well, having a bad fight with you doesn’t sound fun,” says Emily. “And… so does forgetting all of this, honestly. This side of you. Everything you’ve told me. I want to remember it. The shit you did with your body, yeah, and the fact that vampires and god knows what else is real, but also just… this side of you, like I said. It felt like we were growing apart and didn’t really talk anymore. You were never around, except for work or family dinners, and we weren’t really just hanging out. I thought you were purging and not telling me about it. I mean, things were good between us, it just… felt like we were moving apart. Not being sisters who could tell each other anything. Getting drunk with you and prank-calling Stephen together was just really fun and I don’t want to lose that.”

Emily looks a bit sad at that.

Maybe more than a bit.

No, definitely more than a bit.

“But going back to how things used to be sounds better than developing a heroin habit.”

“Or dying.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I… I messed up, Emily. Mom. I messed up big. I wish I hadn’t messed up and that you could keep your memories and stay human. I’m sorry that you’re paying for my mistakes.”

GM: Her mom rubs her back. “We’re making the best of a bad situation, sweetie. However we can.”

“Though what if we just tell this warden ‘no’?”

“Fair point,” says Emily. “I mean, we could just tell him to pound sand. What happens?”

Celia: “The warden is Pete, Mom.”

GM: “Doesn’t change a thing.”

“I liked him, when we met him, and I appreciate what he did for us, but Emi will always come first.”

“I bet that’s where you’d say ‘I did not give birth to him’, but you can’t say that about me, can you?” smirks Emily, slinging an arm around her mom.

“Lookit me, ruining all your good lines being adopted.”

Celia: “Best case scenario? He does it anyway. Worst case, he brings me in, locks me up, executes Emily, turns you over to a new domitor, I die… you know, fun things.”

“I’ve become a headache,” she says bleakly, “you don’t generally give them the benefit of the doubt after they mess up.”

GM: Whatever smile Diana might have managed at Emily’s words dies utterly with Celia’s.

“So what if we stop him?”

“You said these vampire groups were like gangs, though,” says Emily. “Does he have many buddies?”

Celia: “Yes. He does. He works for my grandsire. My grandsire controls the Quarter.”

“If we stop him, if I use lethal force, then we’re all dead.”

“They hunt us down.”

“He knows who I am. He knows my other identities. He knows I can shift.”

“If I weren’t blood, I have no doubt my grandsire would have put me down for messing up already.”

GM: “All right, that kinda sounds like a lot to bite off and I’ll admit I have no idea what we’d be getting into,” says Emily.

Diana’s eyes just look flinty. Her spine looks tall and stiff.

“Mom. You can back down or fight another day without being a doormat again,” Emily tells her quietly.

Celia: “I just need to show them they can trust me again. Things will go back to normal. They’ll get better. I won’t… won’t be afraid of constantly making mistakes anymore.”

GM: “I don’t like backing down from anything,” says their mom, frankly. “But if both of you think that is for the best… I will relent. And not stand up to the warden.”

Her eyes do not look pleased at the concession.

Emily rubs her shoulder.

“Sometimes it’s enough to know you have the guts to stand up. Even if you choose not to.”

Her mom makes a noncommittal sound at that.

“So, okay. It sounds like this… mindfucking thing will work,” says Emily. “And that it’s a better option than, you know, heroin or dying.”

“Just, two more other options I’m mulling over.”

“One, could you just do that… whatever you did earlier, and un-fuck my head later?”

Celia: “If we give it enough time to blow over, yes.”

GM: “Okay,” says Emily. “That sounds to me like a good option.”

She looks at Celia.

“Are you okay with it, though? Do you want to share this side of yourself with me?”

Celia: “I’d love to share this side of myself with you. I’d love to be able to tell you everything. I’m scared you’ll get hurt and that I’ll ruin your life and that I’ll die because I can’t keep my mouth shut, but… I imagine a future where we… maybe you become a lick with me and we do amazing things together, or maybe you become a ghoul and we still do amazing things and when you decide to move on you do. Or maybe you just stay human and you have a million kids and you know that someone will always be looking out for them. That Aunt Celia will pull strings and keep them safe.”

“Yes. Of course. Of course I want you to know me.”

GM: Emily rubs her back. “Yeah. I know I want kids with Robby. Lucy’s been a joy.”

“Though… between her and maybe now Abigail,” she adds with a glance to the sleeping infant, “I could go without popping out any of my own.”

“Sweetie, I don’t want to deter you from having children if that’s your goal,” says Diana.

“I don’t blame Robby at all if he wants kids of his own, and having them will make the two of you closer.”

“In fact, I’d be worried about your two’s relationship if you choose to give up having kids with him. All of this is already a huge secret you’re keeping.”

“What will you have that’s yours?”

Emily frowns in thought.

Celia: “Licks can’t have kids,” Celia supplies. “Nor can ghouls without some tampering.”

She’s quiet a moment.

“The last time Stephen and I had sex we didn’t use protection. I’ve always wondered if…” She touches a hand to her abdomen.

GM: “Oh…” says Emily.

Celia’s mother embraces her.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she murmurs.

Celia: “Better this way,” Celia says into her mother’s shoulder. “He turned into an abuser.”

GM: Did she, too?

Celia: “And me,” she adds. “I’d have ruined him, too.”

“And a kid.”

“So.”

GM: “Oh, baby, you’d have been a wonderful mother,” consoles her mom, rubbing her back. “Whatever his faults, whatever he turned into.”

Celia: “I’m the reason he turned out like this,” Celia says. “But we can… later, we can talk.”

GM: “Yes. Later. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that you are a mother, to someone who calls you Mom every time she sees you.”

“And you might have just made all the difference in little Abigail’s life.”

“I’d think it only fair for her to call you Mom, too.”

Celia: Celia’s smile is subdued.

GM: “Sweetie, there is no halfway option when you take a child in,” says Diana. “If I’m going to be her mom, that’s that. She gets the same ‘other’ moms and aunts and uncles as Lucy does. And a sister, too, in Lucy.”

“You can’t exclude a child you take in. They can’t be made to think, in any way, they are less loved or less a part of the family. It has to be all in or all out.”

Celia: “No, that’s not it. I’m just wondering if I made a mistake with her. If this is another headache waiting to happen. If I won’t be able to adequately provide. And I wonder how we’re going to explain her to Emily now.”

GM: “What is the alternative?” asks her mom, plainly.

“You said she had no one else.”

“Can’t go into the foster system or be put up for adoption.”

Celia: “I don’t need the warden breathing down my neck because of her is all. But we’ll figure it out.”

GM: Her mom rubs her back. “I think you are doing a good thing with her, sweetie. I think God will notice that.”

“Emi, are you nodding off?”

Emily blinks awake.

“Mmf. Sorry.”

“You been through way more shit than I have.”

“I also didn’t drink myself silly,” says her mom.

Emily rubs her head. “Yeah. That hangover wasn’t fun.”

“Glad I didn’t get hammered on an empty stomach.”

“I threw up in the spa.”

Celia: “Did you?” Had Celia forgotten?

GM: “Yeah. After you left.”

“When Alana wake me up. She was telling me I had to leave and coming on really strong.”

“Gave me a real glare of death after I tossed my cookies.”

Celia: “Oh. She didn’t mention.”

“There were a lot of licks around that night. I just wanted you to be home safe.”

GM: “There’s a lot she doesn’t mention,” says Celia’s mom.

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“Tell me. Once this is resolved. Let me go get Pete so Emily can get back to bed. Or… I guess Emily can come with me so he doesn’t see Abi.”

GM: “It’s fine, sweetie. We have more than enough on our minds,” says her mom. “And yes, that sounds best. For all of us to go to Pete. I will be there when he is… mind controlling one of my children.”

“Wait a sec, did something happen with Alana?” asks Emily, frowning.

“‘Cuz I know she doesn’t like you. Or me.”

Celia: “Wait. You said she kissed you.”

GM: Celia’s mother sighs. “Yes. She did. It was a while ago.”

“Did you consent?” asks Emily.

“No.”

Celia: “Why did she kiss you?”

GM: “I have no idea,” says her mother. “I was disgusted. Mortified. I couldn’t look her in the eye after that.”

“Well maybe that’s what she wanted,” says Emily.

Celia: “How long ago?”

GM: “A while. Maybe a year after you hired her. I didn’t want to cause waves.”

“So I didn’t say anything.”

Celia: “How did that even happen?”

GM: “I was at Flawless. Though I suppose, where else. I’d tried to give her some food.”

“She never seemed interested. I offered less often, but never really stopped.”

“She gave me a very cool look, said ‘I don’t want your slop’, then gave me a french kiss, abrupt as you please.”

Celia: Celia just kind of gapes.

“That… doesn’t even… that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Not that I don’t believe you, just that it’s so… weird.”

GM: “Why’s that?” says Emily.

Celia: “Because why would she do that? Like Reggie I know has a thing for moms, he’s wanted to get with you, but Alana? She’s… yeah like a hornball, but it just… why?”

GM: “Yeah, well, sexual assault is about power, not sex.”

“Think she just wanted to bully Mom.”

“‘Cuz what’d you do about it?”

“I didn’t do anything,” says Diana. “Just stammered and hurried away.”

“I didn’t really offer her more food after that. Tried to avoid her, or avoid being alone with her.”

Celia: “That just… really doesn’t sound like her is all,” Celia says slowly. “She didn’t do anything else? Say anything else? You didn’t feel woozy at all?”

GM: “Woozy?”

Celia: “Like when I feed from you.”

GM: “No, not that I recall.”

Celia: “And you…” Celia trails off. “Can I take a look at that memory?”

GM: Her mother gives her a tired look. “We have a thousand other things on our minds, Celia. Why do you want to spend time on this?”

Celia: “I didn’t mean now.”

GM: “If she tries it again, it will not go well for her.”

Celia: “I just meant in general.”

“Because it’s super out of character for her to randomly kiss you like that and I don’t think it was her.”

“And now I’m wondering who it was and what they did.”

GM: “If you’d like to. All right.”

“Why would someone else make her kiss Mom?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia shrugs. “It might not have been that at all. Could have been someone said or did something to her that made her disgusted, covered it with a kiss.”

“No idea.”

“Maybe it’s nothing.”

“Maybe I’m jumping at shadows.”

“Anyway, let me get Pete so you two can sleep.”

GM: “You mean we’ll go to see Pete,” says her mom.

“So he doesn’t see Abigail.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Is this a bad time to bring up how Celia’s brought up turning me into a vampire… three-ish times and I’ve been kinda thinking about it?” says Emily.

Her mother gives her a long look.

Celia: Celia goes quiet. “I can’t turn you. Not yet. Not until my grandsire takes the throne. You’ll be a Quarter Rat. That’s worse than being a ghoul.”

GM: “What’s a Quarter Rat?”

Celia: Celia does her best to explain.

“They’re basically the illegal immigrants of Kindred society. They’re bastards. Caitiff without a clan or those Embraced without permission. They’re considered scum by most. They don’t get domain, they go hungry, they have to fight for every scrap they do get. They’re nobodies. They can’t leave the Quarter because they’re not legal, so they’re stuck here forever. If they leave they risk getting caught and then executed.”

“It’s uh… it’s like being a poor black woman in a society of rich white dudes.”

GM: “Well, that sounds like it fucking sucks.”

“Being a vampire sounded like it was more of a mixed bag than… that.”

“Is that what Dani is?”

Celia: “No. Dani is a thin-blood. The only thing the rats can look down on.”

“Being a legally Embraced vampire is better than that. Having a powerful patron is better. Having someone in your corner makes it easier. But the way it would be done for you right now isn’t the way to do it.”

GM: “How would it be done for me?”

“That way? Or I’d be a thin-blood?”

Celia: “If you want to be Embraced, I’d rather wait until my grandsire is prince or find another way. Because right now you’d just be a rat. And that’s… worse.”

“It’s a death sentence to Embrace without permission.”

“For sire and childe.”

GM: “I don’t know if I want it, I’m just thinking about it. You’ve brought it up a couple times now.”

“Emily…” her mom says slowly.

“I don’t think that is something you should want.”

Celia: “It’s a big change. Life changes. It’s… I never got to explain it all to you, but it can be bad. It can be great. But it can be bad. Consider it for the future, maybe, but it’s not an option tonight.”

GM: “Okay. That’s reasonable. I have to be up for school anyway.”

“It does sound like there’s a lot of awesome stuff and a lot of terrible stuff.”

“Is there more I could see, to get a better sense of what it’s like?”

Celia: “If you become a ghoul I can bring you places to show you, yeah.”

GM: “We couldn’t just fake it? Are all vampires gonna give ‘urine tests’ like the warden?”

Celia: “Can you please stop pushing me into things that are going to get us in trouble or killed? If I can swing it I will.”

GM: “Not trying to push you. Just asking whether it’s possible.”

Celia: “It’s possible.”

GM: “Well, possible and practical.”

“’Cuz, again, not pushing.”

Celia: “It’s not practical.”

“You get caught, you die.”

“That’s it.”

“You get tortured and die.”

GM: “How would I get caught?”

Celia: “Emily. Stop. The warden is waiting.”

GM: “Girls, this is a discussion you should have later,” their mom says tiredly.

“Hmph. Read my mind.”

“I will say this, Emily. You have a life ahead of you. You have a family, a career, and a likely husband you want children with.”

“Everything I’ve seen about vampires makes me think it’s humans who are getting the better deal.”

“You’d be giving up all of that except your current family.”

“And even then, you’d be giving up everything to do with us during the day.”

“You’re right that is a lot, Mom.” Emily rubs her head. “But like you say. Better discussion for another time.”

Celia: “So. Memory erasure. We got into a fight over dumb shit. It’ll explain the last few nights and we can make up in a week or two.”

GM: “All right. Sounds good.”

“I am looking forward to… remembering this, and talking about it with you, and seeing the stuff you wanted to show me.”

Celia: Celia smiles. “Me too, Emi.”


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: The trio walk back to the main house. Pete is waiting in the living room and occupied on his phone. He looks up as they arrive.

Celia: She should have gone ahead. Spoken to him alone. Told him what she plans so he doesn’t think she’s lying to him again.

She catches his eye.

GM: He meets it, and the other two’s.

“Hello Mrs. Flores, Miss Rosure.”

“Hi, sir,” says Emily.

“Hi, Detective Pete,” says Diana. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your last name.”

“Lebeaux,” he answers. “Pete or Detective Pete is fine.”

Celia: “Thank you for your patience, Warden. I did not intend to take up so much of your time this evening.”

Celia glances at her family, then looks back to Pete.

“We went over our options,” Celia says, “and I think it might be best if we erase her memories with Lucy’s. There was an incident a few nights ago that we can build from to provide explanation for the turbulence in emotions, and the same story can be used with Lucy so that there are no hiccups.”

Celia pauses.

“I’ve heard of licks using this with additional clauses built in, and we wanted to know if you’re willing to do such for us with Emily. To remember the events as they were should she become a ghoul or lick in the future. I am looking into a way to negate the addictive properties of the vitae with the alchemists, as you suggested prior.”

GM: Pete effects a sigh.

“To be honest, Celia, that’s probably a thin hope. Meth is addictive. Crack is addictive. Vitae is addictive. Just what it is.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says, finally aware of how much hope she had been pinning on that idea.

“Maybe they just didn’t find a way yet,” she continues in a quiet voice. “Maybe no one combined the right things yet. Maybe it takes alchemy and biology and sorcery and the secret is just waiting to be revealed to the person who keeps looking.”

GM: Pete just grunts.

“It’s bad to keep talking about these things if you’re sincere about wiping your sister’s memories.”

“I also would not count on discovering non-addictive crack.”

Celia: So much for hope. So much for possibility. So much for having her family and her covenant both.

“Then I guess we just… take her memories, Pete.”

GM: “For what it’s worth, you’re making the better decision.”

He seemingly addresses Celia’s mother and sister as much as her.

Celia: “She deserves better than being an addict or a Rat,” Celia agrees.

GM: “I don’t want my daughter to be an addict,” her mom echoes.

“All right,” he says. “What’s the story you want her to remember?”

Celia: “On Friday, Henry Garrison came by for dinner. At dinner the fact that Emily and Stephen had dated came up. I confronted Emily. We argued. Nothing from that night needs changed. Nothing from Saturday needs changed. That all happened. So… Sunday, we escalate. Boyfriend comes over for dinner, Maxen comes over, everyone is already in a bad mood because of that. I get insecure when the boyfriend laughs at Emily’s quip, accuse her of being a whore and trying to steal my new boyfriend, start a fight, wine glass breaks, more fighting, Maxen mentions missing Isabel, I leave to reach out to my detective friend—that’s you, Pete—and come back to see Mom and Maxen cuddling on the couch, Emily glowering. She and I get into it about inviting him over, then Mom snaps and says something like ‘I have one missing child already I will not tolerate your infighting now,’ kicks Maxen out. Emily and I call a truce to celebrate getting rid of Maxen, we both get drunk, we start fighting again. I demand to know if she slept with Stephen. She says yes. I slap her. Maybe she slaps me. This is probably where Lucy walks in and sees us all upset and fighting, vomiting from alcohol, not sure how to explain the fire, and, uh… yeah I guess I storm out and she’s hungover all day today and night.”

GM: “That’s some family drama,” Pete says mildly.

“Are you actually mad at her?” he asks Emily.

“Uh, not really,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia’s face falls.

She thought it had been a good cover: based in reality, dramatic, doesn’t need to make vast alterations.

GM: “Feelings need to be real,” says Pete.

“You say someone was mad, they don’t actually feel mad, that’s a hole.”

“For that matter, why does your mother kick out her ex because her daughters are fighting?”

Celia: She doesn’t think Pete will appreciate her “movies have plot holes all the time and they still make millions” quip, so she keeps it to herself.

Emily would think it’s funny.

GM: She probably would.

Celia: “How were you feeling?”

GM: “How was I feeling when?” asks Emily.

“That night with Maxen?”

“Mix of nauseous dread and angry as hell.”

Celia: “I could… side with Maxen. Publicly. And… I guess that still… doesn’t help the emotions towards me.”

GM: “Nope,” says Pete.

“So if she wasn’t mad at you, that part needs a rewrite.”

Celia: “Don’t suppose you could just ward her head against intruders and pretend you saw nothing.”

GM: “No,” he says flatly.

Celia: “No,” she echoes, “I assumed not. I, ah, I wasn’t serious about that, Pete.”

Celia pinches the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. Solution. She needs a solution. Not more problems.

Celia: “I guess we just leave the angry-at-me part out. Tell you I broke up with Randy and came out as a lesbian. You probably wouldn’t care, but you’d have all sorts of feelings over me hiding that from you that might echo what really happened. Explains the tension with you and I and Mom when Lucy found us. Doesn’t explain kicking Maxen out. Maybe he… called me a dyke, and Mom got all, ‘God will judge you, but I’ll always love you’ on him.”

GM: “Will that work?” Celia’s mother asks Pete.

The Tremere chews his lip.

“I suppose we’ll find out.”

“Miss Rosure, I’d like you to relax and look into my eyes.”

“Well… bye,” says Emily, then meets Pete’s gaze.

Celia’s mom takes her hand.

Pete slowly recites what happened and when, faithfully following Celia’s describe narrative. Emily stares into his eyes with a sleepy look. The Tremere finally tells her to go back to her room, take off her shoes, go to bed, and fall asleep.

Emily turns and walks away as though she’s sleepwalking. She does not close the door behind her.

Celia: Celia does for her. She makes sure Emily’s door is shut, too.

GM: “This is one of the patchier jobs that I’ve done,” Pete says frankly when she returns.

“I don’t know if it’s going to last.”

Celia: “Then I’d better be quick with the addiction thing or find her a sire.”

GM: “You aren’t going to find anything there,” Pete snaps. “You don’t know a thing about magic, Celia. You don’t get something for nothing. Ever. There is no addiction-free variety of juice out there. You think it wouldn’t be widespread, if there was? That a greenfang who can barely keep her own Requiem together will not only somehow find it, but find it quick?”

Celia: “If the alternative is watching my mother lose another daughter or subjecting my sister to a life of addiction and slavery, then I will look, and I will consider every viable path and option that don’t involve a miracle cure while I look. I am not burying my head in the sand and hoping the patch job holds, Pete.”

She doesn’t raise her voice. She doesn’t snap back at him. She just looks at him, determination in her eyes.

“I won’t sit idly by while my family pays for my mistakes. People used to think space travel was impossible and we’ve been to the moon. I don’t have the resources or the training of the Pyramid, no, but that doesn’t mean that I am useless or that I have created nothing with my Requiem. Everyone thinks star mode can’t get inside people’s heads and I made that happen too.”

“If the memories come back and I’ve found no other solution I will immediately tell you and follow your mandate. But I can’t just not do anything, Pete.”

GM: Pete grunts.

“I won’t fault your logic in not wanting to sit on your hands.”

“If the patch job fails and her memories come back, you’ll let me know. At that point, she’ll need to be ghouled or Embraced for real.”

“There’s some element of risk in choosing to do things this way. I don’t know what memories could come back first or how she could react.”

“But she deserved a shot at a normal life.”

Celia: “Thank you for your help in giving her that shot.”

GM: “Thank you, Pete,” Diana says quietly.

“If I might ask, what made this such a patchy job?”

GM: The detective regards Celia’s mother for a moment.

“Too many and too strong emotions,” he answers, shaking his head. “Learning vampires are real and that your sister is a vampire is enough to rock someone’s world. Anyone’s world. There is no equivalent experience. Not in the big picture, not down to all of the little nuances. This is like stuffing a too-big lady into a too-small dress, made from too-thin fabric. Something is likely going to rip. It doesn’t help either that I wasn’t here when Celia told her about Kindred. I can’t custom-tailor the new memories as thoroughly as I might otherwise. It’s always better to have an eyewitness to the real memories handle a memory job than a second party, for the really involved jobs.”

“Consider, as a counter-example, the midwife who was there for Lucy’s birth. I swapped your face with Celia’s, so in that woman’s head, Celia was the one giving birth while her mother watched. Just a single alteration that re-purposed the memory’s existing details, and in a self-consistent manner that the subject wasn’t ever likely to question. She had no emotions associated with the mother being you versus Celia. Even if someone questioned her at length about what she remembered, and made her re-examine and go over every little thing, I’d fully expect the memory job to hold up. It was, if I may say, one of my best ever jobs.”

Pete shakes his head again.

“That was tight, light, and subtle. This job was not. There are too many ways it could unravel, and I’ll count us as lucky if it holds. So it’ll be incumbent on you to make sure it does. Don’t press Emily about what she remembers. Don’t talk about it. Keep her mind on other things. Let it fade into her subconscious.”

“The fact it will be hard for you to do that, and that she will want to talk about what she remembers, is part of why this is such a patchy job.”

“Just don’t feed her imagination. Try to distract her with other things.”

“Would be a good time for another family crisis, if you were waiting to spring one.”

Celia: Celia glances at her mother, brows slightly lifted.

She can think of several.

GM: Celia’s mother listens attentively like Pete is a doctor prescribing how she should administer her child’s medication.

“Perhaps Isabel,” she says. “Better if that comes out anyway.”

“And better, too, if they know something of the truth.”

Pete raises his eyebrows and looks at Celia.

He knows what happened to Isabel.

Celia: Celia meets his gaze.

“I told her what I did.”

GM: “Hm. Perhaps no surprise,” says Pete after a moment.

“I’m not under a ‘blood bond’ to her,” says Celia’s mother. “I know what she did. I know she murdered her sister.”

“I choose to forgive her. I choose to love rather than hate my daughter.”

Pete’s thick eyebrows raise still higher.

“I’m very impressed, Mrs. Flores.”

“Your daughter enjoys a rare and precious love that not many licks get to. Not many at all.”

He glances sidelong at Celia. “I’ll do her another favor and overlook the fact you haven’t been properly collared.”

“I advise you not to mention this fact around other Kindred.”

“Thank you,” says Celia’s mother. Not quite earnestly, but at least politely. “I don’t have any interest in meeting further vampires, from what Celia tells me, but I’ll make a note not to.”

“Good,” says Pete.

“What would happen if one found out?” asks Diana.

“At best? Force the collar on you,” answers Pete. “At worst, ask Celia to use her imagination. A ghoul without a collar is a dog without a leash.”

“I am not a dog,” declares Celia’s mother.

“You aren’t, but our society sees you that way,” says Pete.

“Do you see me that way?” asks Celia’s mom. “She’s told me stories. Will you chop off Lucy’s fingers if I backtalk you? Should I be grateful if you don’t?”

“No, no, and no,” says Pete.

Celia’s mom pauses. “I didn’t know you knew I was her mother.”

“Celia enlisted my help to make sure the midwife couldn’t tell anyone,” says Pete.

“Thank you,” Diana repeats, more sincerely. “Thank you. You saw what… my former husband did to Celia. At the hospital. I didn’t want that to ever happen to Lucy.”

“I don’t blame you,” says Pete. “Making Celia the mom on her birth certificate was one of the smartest ways you could have kept her safe.”

“Yes, it was,” agrees Celia’s mom. She manages a weary smile. “It was Celia’s idea.”

“Inviting your ex-husband over for dinner was damn foolish of you, though,” says Pete.

The smile dies on Celia’s mom.

“Yes, it was,” she agrees again.

“He won’t be back. He is not welcome in this house.”

“I will die before he, or anyone, touches Lucy.”

GM: Pete regards Celia’s mom thoughtfully.

“You seem less the shrinking violet than your daughter made you out to be.”

Celia: “I found the way to undo what Benson did to her,” Celia says to him.

GM: “Good timing,” Pete remarks.

Celia: It went quickly enough once Celia realized what she was. What Benson had done to her. Maybe undoing the work of a Malkavian isn’t the same as finding a cure for vitae addiction, but she’s not the stupid whore society makes her out to be.

“Yes,” she agrees. “He offered a ward for Lucy’s room, Mom. To keep out demons. And advised a better home security system for everything else.”

GM: “A ward against… demons?” she asks.

“Yes. Potentially keeps them from entering the warded site, or hurts them if they do enter,” says Pete. “I have no idea if it’ll help or not, as I don’t know whether your ex-husband is actually possessed by a demon, but it won’t hurt.”

“Okay. I’d rather be safe than sorry. Thank you, Detective, very much.”

Celia: “Your sire said there’s a way to test that,” Celia mentions. “Though I imagine doing so will create a problem with Maxen’s friend.”

GM: “More likely any demon itself than his friend. It might be strong enough to take you.”

“Best fight is one you don’t have. I gave you that advice seven years ago.”

“Just keep him away from your family.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “That’s sound advice whether there’s a demon or not,” Diana nods.

“What should we do about home security?”

“Get an alarm,” says Pete. “One with a motion sensor linked to your phones. Someone breaks in, you get an alert.”

“Don’t get one that detects changes in infrared radiation. They’re the most common, but they don’t work against licks.”

“Infrared alarms look for changes in body heat, which trigger the sensor. Licks are usually room temperature.”

Celia: “What about shadow dancers? They’ll still be picked up with motion sensors?”

GM: “Cloaking fools the mind. It’s a purely mental phenomenon. Literally all in your head. It doesn’t physically affect the environment, or fool sensory devices that observe physical phenomena.”

Celia: Then how the fuck did the ghouls get into the clubhouse? The alarm would have woken her.

Celia doesn’t ask. Better that they hadn’t been deterred. Less effort spent bringing her in.

Celia: “Ways around everything,” Celia says eventually, looking to her mom, “but it’ll deter the most likely scenarios.”

GM: “So what kind of alarm should we get?” asks Celia’s mom.

“Well, there’s a number of alarms that don’t use infrared technology,” says Pete. “There are hidden cameras, electrical field sensors, signal emitters, and ultrasonic detectors. Each one has its own pros and cons, and what I’d recommend for a family home like yours isn’t necessarily what I’d recommend elsewhere.”

“But for this house, I’d go with an electrical field sensor. They operate like the touchscreen of your phone, except no contact is needed. If there’s motion, even from a room temperature source, the alarm picks it up.”

Celia: Maybe she should hire Pete to overhaul the security at her various havens.

She cants her head to one side, wondering if he’d be into it if she pays.

Probably not. Seems like more favors. She’ll do it herself. After she moves, now that the entire city knows where she sleeps.

GM: “Okay, an electrical field sensor alarm,” says Diana.

“You can also get ones that turn on lights or emit a recording of barking dogs,” says Pete. “Those further help deter intruders.”

Celia: Or get a dog. A hellhound for Lucy. Roxy and Nova both have that certain touch with animals to help her out if she asks.

GM: “Cameras are a good idea too,” says Pete. “They’re piss poor at capturing licks’ faces, but they can potentially alert you there were licks, and they can capture other intruders’ faces.”

“You can also get alarms that call the police, the Quarter Response Force—the latter’s faster if you’re paying them—and the fire department.”

“Okay, that’s a lot to think about,” says Diana. “Excuse me for a moment, I want to write this down.”

She disappears into the kitchen and comes back with a notepad, then writes down what Pete says.

“Is there a specific alarm model you’d recommend I get?” she asks.

“There’s a bunch on the market,” says Pete. “Some better and some worse, like anything. Some cheap and some expensive. Do your research and see what fits your needs. Run whatever you find past me and I’ll weigh in. Celia has my number.”

Celia: Celia nods to show that she’s listening and taking it all in. She lets them sort it out, and only once the warden mentions his number does she speak up.

“I’ve got a question,” she says at length, “about magic. The ward. Would it be more powerful if you use the blood of someone close to her, someone who loves her, or does it not matter?”

GM: “Doesn’t matter,” says Pete.

Celia: Celia just nods again.

GM: “Probably could with some magic. Doesn’t with mine.”

Celia: “I’ll get that soon for you. Fix up your leg,” a nod to her mother. “Should rest easier after all this.”

Now would be a good time for her mother to ask about the magic lessons. To see what Celia is going to learn to do. Is it too much to hope she knows how to read her daughter’s thoughts?

GM: “Thank you, both,” says Celia’s mom, with a further nod towards Pete. “You’ve been extremely helpful, Detective. This will make me feel very safe about Lucy.”

For all the woman’s love, it does not appear to grant her knowledge of Celia’s thoughts.

Celia: Ah, well, no doubt he’d have been angry at her and accused her of using her mother against him.

“Thank you, Pete. For everything.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Let’s see Lucy.”

Celia: Celia leads the trio down the hall and opens the door to Lucy’s bedroom.

GM: She finds the girl asleep under her blankets. Diana sits down on her bed and touches her shoulder. “Hey, Goose…” she murmurs softly.

Lucy whimpers as she slowly starts awake. Her eyes are bleary and out of focus. “Mommy…?”

“I’m sorry to wake you up again, sweetie… there’s a nice man here, who I’d like you to meet. I know things have been very sad and very scary lately, but he’s going to make them better, okay?”

Celia: Celia takes a seat on Lucy’s other side, touching a gentle hand to her back.

“Hey, baby Goose,” she murmurs, “just a little longer and then you can snuggle under the blankies as long as you want. Shall I fetch Mr. Owl for you? I think he’d like to sleep in too.”

Mr. Owl is not an owl, but a stuffed rabbit. He’d taken the name Owl to swallow his fear of being scooped up and gobbled.

GM: “Okay…” Lucy answers sleepily, seemingly to both women.

“Good idea, with Mr. Owl,” says Diana. “Aslan can keep him company.”

“Keep him extra safe from any mean ol’ owls.”

Celia: Celia rises to hunt down the stuffed animal. Aslan is already tucked against Lucy’s side, but Mr. Owl is wearing a white bow tie at a table set for tea. Celia pulls out the chair for him and lifts him into her arms. She walks him over to Lucy, giving him a pep talk on the way about bad dreams and Queen Lucy needing some good beauty rest. She extols a promise from both of them to look after her while she sleeps.

“Mr. Owl and Aslan are ready for duty,” Celia says to Lucy, handing over the bunny.

GM: Mr. Owl seems receptive enough to the pep talk, and he hasn’t failed yet to remain by the side of his sleeping queen.

“Mmf,” Lucy answers tiredly as she hugs Mr. Owl in her arms. She lays her head against the stuffed animal (he’s bigger than many owls) and looks almost ready to fall back asleep right there. Diana lightly jostles her back awake.

“You can go back to sleep in just a moment, Goose. You’re being very patient for us. This is the nice man who’s going to make things better.”

Pete steps up to the bed, squats down on his haunches, and catches the child’s gaze.

“Hi, Lucy. Those are some mighty big stuffed animals you got there. Just look into my eyes now. That’s it. You’re already falling back asleep…

“Just focus on my voice. You remember last night? It was pretty scary, I bet, but it’s gonna be all right. What happened was that…”

Pete goes on to repeat the narrative that Celia and Diana arrived at. There was a family fight, the same one he filled Emily’s head with. Celia broke up with Randy and came out as gay. Maxen called Celia names. Mommy made him leave. There were angry discussions. It was all very confusing and frightening for a child, but things will be better now.

Diana whispers something in Pete’s ear, as if unsure whether her voice will interfere with what he’s doing. The Tremere frowns, then continues they also had a scare with Victor getting hurt. They took him to see a vet friend in the middle of the night. Lucy got out of bed for that. It was very scary, especially after everything else, but the cat turned out to be fine.

The six-year-old dumbly follows Pete’s voice and takes that all in with a glazed expression.

“Lie your head down on your pillow and go back to sleep, Lucy. Get a full night of z’s,” Pete finishes.

Lucy lays down her head and is out like a light.

Diana tenderly strokes the girl’s hair, then pulls up her covers and props up Aslan and Mr. Owl around her.

She gets up, nods for everyone else to follow her out, then closes the bedroom door behind her.

“Thank you,” she whispers to Pete, earnestly. “Thank you, so much, Detective.”

“You’re welcome,” he answers. “It’s not my best memory job, but I’d say it’s more likely to hold than Emily’s.”

“Reinforce it. Say you’re glad things turned out okay with Victor. Maybe have a brief talk about the events of last night, staying light on specific details. Away from Emily. Not good for her to be re-examining those memories.”

Celia’s mom nods. “I can do that. We’ll be sure to.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Celia quietly adds when all is said and done. She’s said it a lot this night, but she means it a lot too: he could have turned her down. Turned her in. Done any number of things to her worse than harsh words and demanding an apology. But he’d shown up for her. Even if he does now think she’s a moron.

“I’ll get extra for the ward,” she continues, “so you’re not out anything. Mom and I will figure out how to disguise it and… hopefully that and the upkeep is all you’ll be back here for.”

It might not be the time to wiggle her eyebrows at the warden, but she does. Just a tiny wiggle. The mere suggestion of movement. She could even pass it off as a trick of the light if she were really inclined to, his mind playing tricks on him.

GM: “Hopefully less, as you can do the upkeep yourself,” responds Pete. “Doesn’t take anything except blood.”

“And that’s a good thing for us all, Lucy especially. The less often licks come here, the better.”

Celia: “Oh. I thought I needed to…” she trails off, deciding not to get into it, and nods.

GM: “We aren’t ever going to talk about vampire things in the house again,” nods Diana. “I don’t know if I mentioned that. We’ll keep Lucy away from all of this.”

“Wise,” says Pete. “I hope you do.”

“Is there any way I can repay you, Detective?” asks Celia’s mom. “This is the second time you’ve helped my family out of a jam. Or, really, the third time.”

“Keep taking your daughter’s blood, Mrs. Flores,” says Pete. “You can be as involved or uninvolved with the masked city—that’s Kindred society—as the two of you like, but mortals don’t get to know about us.”

“And you’ve been through far too much for a memory job at this point.”

Diana’s face slowly sinks at that request.

She takes a step forward and places a hand on Pete’s arm.

“Detective. Pete,” she says softly. “I don’t want to lie to you, after all you’ve done for my family. I don’t ever want this,” she gestures, “for Emily. I’m not even sure if I want this for me. If the patch job fails, what’s the harm in us knowing? We won’t tell a soul. We just want to live our lives without being drug addicts.”

Celia: There’s a twinge in her chest at the expression on her mother’s face. She quietly adds her voice to the discussion.

“Emily and my mother have kept things between the three of us for years. They know the dangers of life and death situations. We’ve been through them before.” She glances away, then back. “They’re good people. They deserve some semblance of normalcy after everything.”

GM: “Blame yourself, blame them, blame even me. But whoever’s fault it is, normalcy is not in the cards anymore,” says Pete.

He looks from Celia back down the hall to Lucy’s room.

“And I have done more than enough to help this family already.”

He turns around.

“Drink your juice, Mrs. Flores. That’s how you can pay me back.”

The Tremere waits for no goodbyes, after that. He strides out the door and closes it behind him.


Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: “I don’t think he likes me anymore,” Celia says to her mom.

GM: Celia’s mom wearily sits down and rubs her head.

Celia: She should have stayed out of it. Watching him go without a word is almost as bad as watching Roderick turn into Draco. She doesn’t like this desolate rock she has found herself on.

“He won’t teach me magic,” she says, as if it matters, “because he thinks I’m irresponsible and emotionally volatile and he’s tired of doing me favors. I’ve offered things to him. Every time. I’ve offered. And he always says no.”

Celia sits on the floor where the burnt couch used to be, pulling her legs against her chest.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

GM: Diana does not look as if she thinks Celia learning magic particularly matters.

“I am not addicting my daughter to heroin,” she says. “No one has the right to ask me that.”

She closes her eyes.

“But for what he has done for our family. Then and now. And for the other reasons. I will stay a… ghoul.”

Celia: “Great. An unwilling ghoul and a sister whose memories will unravel any night now. That’s a good family dynamic.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks up and casts a dark stare her way.

“A mother who loves you unconditionally. A sister who accepts you for what you are. Yes. That is a good family dynamic.”

“Many people do not have what you have, Celia. Be grateful for what you do.”

Celia: “Why,” she asks bleakly. “Why would you still love me after what I did.”

“How can you forgive me for that.”

“For Isabel. And Ethan. And bringing Maxen back into our lives. And putting you, Emily, and Lucy in danger.”

GM: “I told you.”

“Because I am your mom and don’t get to stop loving my kids.”

“Because God gives moms strength beyond their own.”

“Because that is the person I want to be.”

Celia: “We can run,” Celia says quietly. “We can run. And change our identities. And live somewhere else.”

GM: “Running away somewhere else is just running away from ourselves, Celia.”

“We have a life here. You and I and Emily and Lucy. I’m not abandoning it.”

“Nothing has changed from earlier. Emily is going to get back her memories, soon. She wants that and I want that. Lucy is safe from all this.”

Celia: “I imagine he’s going to check in on Emily, knowing that we don’t want this for her. If I fail to tell him when it happens…”

“It can get ugly, Mom.”

GM: “We could see him. Let him know I’m on the blood.”

“Show that we’re complying.”

Celia: Celia effects a snort. “Yeah. He loves seeing me these nights.”

GM: “Sweetie… buck up,” Diana says shortly.

Celia: Even her mother is telling her to stop whining.

Celia is quiet a moment. She uncurls her body, straightens her spine, and lifts her chin to find her mother’s eyes.

“You set the couch on fire with your mind, didn’t you?”

GM: Her mother frowns.

“I’m sorry?”

Celia: “Last night. The fire.”

GM: Celia’s mom looks at the empty spot in the living room.

“I don’t know how that happened.”

Celia: “You got angry. And you lit it up. There’s no other explanation for that. I don’t start fires with my brain. I certainly don’t hang out with smokers or lighters or open flames.”

GM: “I don’t know… what to say there.”

“Why would that happen?”

Celia: “Why do licks and loops happen?”

GM: “I don’t know. God sees fit to allow it.”

Celia: “Also haven’t you seen, like, any superhero movies? Origin stories are always full of high-intensity emotions that bring out powers.”

“You learned that a lick killed your daughter. It wasn’t the right lick, but it was still a lick, so you developed something to use against licks.”

“Makes sense to me.”

GM: “…if you say so, sweetie.”

Celia: “Do you have a better explanation?”

“I mean I told you what I thought about your mom.”

“Maybe it’s hereditary.”

“Call her up and ask if she’s lit anything on fire lately.”

GM: Her mom rubs her head. “I don’t remember what that was right now.”

“What you thought about your grandmother.”

Celia: “Hunter.”

GM: Celia’s mom blinks slowly as if to recall what that is.

Then she seemingly does, if her darkened expression is any indication. Celia said that ‘hunters’ raped her.

“No, I don’t have a better explanation.”

Celia: In fairness, who hasn’t raped Celia? The girl is a walking magnet for perverts.

GM: “What of it, anyways?”

Celia: Celia shrugs. “Nothing. I just wondered if it’s something you can do at will. Which would be pretty sick. ‘Oh you’re an evil lick and you came to take my daughter? Not tonight. Pewpewpew.’” She makes the “whoosh” sound of a fire with accompanying hand gestures.

GM: On another night, Celia could see her mom laughing and smiling back with her.

She has seen few smiles and no laughter since Diana learned of her daughter’s death.

Celia: “Just… trying to find some levity, I guess. Speaking of paranoia and wild theories, though, I’d like to let you know now that I will never, ever, ever send another lick or ghoul here that isn’t Pete or Alana, and if I do there’ll be a code word. Don’t ever leave with anyone else. Not even Dani.”

“Feel free to practice the fire thing on Stephen if he shows his face.”

GM: “Okay. All of that sounds reasonable,” says her mom.

Celia: “We could get a dog.”

“A hellhound, maybe. To protect Lucy.”

GM: “What is a hellhound?”

Celia: “Just a nickname for a ghouled dog.”

“Although I could do some experiments and see if there’s a way to give it a boost…”

GM: “Okay. If you think that would keep her safe.”

“Yes, probably.”

“The cats can’t well protect the house.”

Celia: “A bigger cat could. Like a tiger.”

GM: “I don’t think the local humane society stocks any of those.”

Celia: “Internet,” Celia says wisely.

GM: “One of the reasons I am continuing with this is to keep all of you safer. You and Lucy and Emily. It isn’t just to repay Pete.”

Celia: “We’ll need to find a solution for Emily. In case he checks in.”

“One that doesn’t involve knocking him out and keeping him in a basement somewhere. Because I definitely thought about it.”

GM: “Could you do anything with those tattoos?”

“Like the ones you gave Dani and me?”

Celia: “I’ve been thinking about it. Giving her a fake tattoo to pass as a normal breather. Giving her fake blood that won’t actually turn her into a ghoul in front of him. That sort of thing.”

GM: “Fake blood sounds like one idea. You’re smart. You’ll pull it off.”

“And there’s always just fibbing the patch job is holding up.”

Celia: “Or finding the cure that I mentioned.”

GM: “I certainly wouldn’t say no to that.”

Celia: “Plenty of reasons people wouldn’t share that if they found the answer.”

“And some licks have blood like that anyway. Sterile. Can’t make childer. Or ghouls. Or bond people.”

“So it’s… just finding the right stuff to work with.”

GM: Celia’s mom nods. “He seemed close-minded.” She stands up. “I know Pete put Lucy to sleep. But we should get in the habit of talking in the car.”

“We can keep it parked where it is. Just no more vampire talk in the house.”

Celia: Celia follows her out. “Sometimes the smartest people are the least creative. There are plenty of things I can do that they think ’don’t work that way.’ Cool, maybe not for them, but they do for me.”

GM: Celia’s mom sits down in the Beetle with her. Rain still patters against the windshield.

“I believe in you. You’ll find a way.”

“I’d also like to talk to Jade, please.”

Celia: “What, now?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: Celia’s skin ripples and dissolves, moving across her face like a wave crests upon sand. She doesn’t lift a hand to assist the movements, and it takes only seconds before Jade lounges indolently in the front seat.

“Mrs. Flores.”


GM: “I read your letter,” Diana says. More calmly than when she had the carving knife in hand. “I appreciated the apology. There are some ground rules to establish going forward, if I’m staying on the blood.”

Celia: Jade runs a tongue across her fangs, smile as sharp as their points. Her eyes dance in the ambient streetlight.

“Naturally.”

GM: “We’re equals in this arrangement,” Diana says simply. “I’m Celia’s mother. I’m not a servant or slave. I don’t follow orders. I’ll consider requests, because I am Celia’s mother and will do everything in my power to help her and fight for her. I’ll listen to advice, because both of you know more about vampires than I do. But that’s all. I make all final decisions about myself, for myself. As well as all decisions for Lucy, until she turns 18.”

“I don’t care that you’re vampire. I don’t care what’s normal for vampire society, or what the rules are, because they don’t apply to us. The only rules that’ll ever matter are that I am Celia’s mother, she is my adult child, and you are one of her alters. And for all that I might be the older partner in this relationship, we’re equal ones. You and Celia are adults and I don’t get to tell you what to do or make decisions for you either.”

“I’m glad that you regret your actions at Flawless. That’s why we’re talking. I hope, as you said, we can peacefully cohabit. But if you ever abuse me or my family again, I will cut you out of our lives. If you do not leave us alone, I will do whatever is necessary to protect my family. I will kill, and I will die, before I let another Maxen abuse us. Are we on the same page?”

Celia: Jade tilts her head to one side, listening to the breather’s words as she utters them. By the time she’s done Jade’s lips have curled into an approximation of a smile that does not quite reach her eyes. She looks for all the world as if she gazes upon a particularly interesting oddity of nature. A dog walking on its hind legs, perhaps, or a pig that has decided it can fly.

“She certainly did a number on you,” Jade murmurs, almost in admiration. “Perhaps if you’d shown this fire from the start you and I would have never gotten off on the wrong foot.”

The smile sharpens. But at least it finally reaches her eyes.

“I can agree to your terms, Mrs. Flores, so long as you agree to mine. If you are ever to accompany me to an event among the Damned you will act according to your role as ghoul. You will not backtalk or embarrass me in front of any Kindred. You will cease telling the half-blood anything about Celia’s actions now that her relationship has been terminated. I don’t care if you amuse yourself with her, but she will not be allowed to become a spy for her brother. You will tell no one that I am Celia, or that Celia is Dicentra, or that we can shift our flesh as we do.”

She waves a hand.

“I say this not to order you about or reduce you to the mutt that the All-Night Society sees you as, dear, it’s simply about keeping your daughter and my body safe. There are those who pounce upon perceived weakness and her recent slipups have tarnished my reputation. Without the good detective’s favor and our grandsire’s approval, we risk being eliminated from within. Should the detective find we’ve lied about your daughter, well, the results won’t be pretty for any of us.”

“Now… as far as requests…”

“Learn to fight. Not just with a blade but fists and stakes. They keep us down. Aim for the heart. Your daughter has a medical experiment she’d like to run that will benefit you as well as your family. Allow her to try it. And that trick with the fire. That’s so very, very clever. Train in it. Learn to control it. That will keep your family safe from any of the monsters that come crawling through the door. You feed us, so I suppose I won’t begrudge you your monthly allowance, but right now we’re down three ghouls. We would appreciate your assistance in finding the missing brothers so that undue burden does not fall upon you or the spa girl.”

GM: Diana considers all of that.

“Those terms all sound reasonable.”

“I’m happy to keep Celia’s secrets. Keeping her safe will always be my #1 priority. I don’t want to turn my relationship with Dani into either of us trying to use each other, either.”

“As far as requests, I’m happy to learn that ‘fire trick’ and how to fight. Whatever keeps my kids safe.”

“I’m happy to help with any experiments Celia thinks will help our family.”

“I don’t have time right now to go looking for any brothers. Or much interest in looking for the one who sexually harassed me. I have one daughter to bury, a new one to raise, and more than enough on my plate.”

“I don’t have any interest in meeting more vampires. Much less going to an event of Bensons and Carolines. Not without a very good reason. But I suppose I don’t have any objection to pretending to be a ‘normal ghoul’ around other vampires. Lord knows I’ve had the practice to pull it off. Just act like a doormat.”

Celia: “You want revenge on those who have done you wrong,” Jade says after a moment. “On those who have hurt your daughters, as well. Is that correct?”

GM: “That’s incorrect,” says Diana.

“I thought about it, at first, after hearing how I thought Isabel died.”

“But then I heard how she really died, and I forgave Celia for that.”

“If my kids are in danger, yes, I want to do everything in my power to keep them safe. Whatever it takes.”

“But if there’s no danger to them, I don’t want to risk Lucy losing her mother if something happens to me. Or any of her brothers and sisters, even if they need a mom less. I don’t want to throw away my family on revenge.”

“My first priority will always be my kids. Always has been. Always will be.”

Celia: “How utterly boring,” Jade sighs at the woman’s insistence on turning her cheek. “If you won’t serve in the field to dish out revenge, then my request is that you learn the politics of the city and serve as advisor. Lord knows your daughter has lost enough friends lately. And you did well with the Ventrue bitch and the cost of favors, even if she’d have been right to slap you for it.”

GM: “If I couldn’t look past terrible things someone has done to my family and me, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Diana says calmly.

“If Celia thinks she’s in danger, she will always be able to count on me to protect her. I will fight tooth and nail to keep her safe.”

“But help with revenge, no. Not if all that’s doing is putting our family in avoidable danger.”

“As far as politics, I can do my best there. I always want Celia to feel like she can go to her mom for advice.”

Celia: “You’ll work with Alana. Masked. When she has no more to teach you we shall hire you a tutor.”

Jade inspects her nails.

“That boy meant the world to her,” she says idly. “He means nothing to me. But her grandsire and the warden do. They mean everything to me. Their good opinion keep us safe.”

She does not mention the sire who means more to her than any other. This breather does not need to know the depths of her affection for the dark god who killed her and then gifted her his own blood to bring her back from the other side.

“If Emily’s memories do not hold and we have not found a viable solution, we will gauge the risk in allowing her to remember. The warden turned us down twice. He will not be so lenient if he needs to come back again because we tried to flout the rules.”

GM: “We’ll find a viable solution,” says Diana. “I’ll help however I can. We’ll deal with things as they come up.”

“And as we bring them up. We’ll have time to plan and prepare what we tell and show him, so that favors us.”

“What is it you think Alana can teach me, politics?”

Celia: “That’s the plan.”

Jade fixes the woman with a look.

“If any of them come here again, burn them. They do not get free reign in my domain. I don’t care what they say or who they represent. Burn them.”

GM: “Any of who, other vampires?”

“And be mindful, Jade. I like ‘will you pleases’ and ’I’d like you tos’ more than ‘you wills’.”

Celia: “Your comment as to my verbiage is unnecessary, Mrs. Flores. I have not said anything to that effect after framing my initial requests as just that—requests.”

She arches one expertly sculpted brow at the teacher’s desire to split hairs and be seen at the big kids table.

“Yes, I mean vampires. The half-breed’s brother. Anyone in his company. Anyone the dog barks at. Lebeaux, if he shows up without us.”

“The thing I’d ask you to understand, Mrs. Flores, is that if they get close enough to speak with you they are too close. They will warp and shred your mind until it seems like a good idea to do as they say. My intention is for you to avoid that, and for your daughter and family to avoid the pain of what that may bring.”

GM: Diana frowns.

“I don’t know how to burn them. Is there any way I can defend against that? Or tell from a distance that they’re vampires?”

“And it’s not unnecessary, as far as verbiage. It’s the same as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Just being polite. I know Celia wouldn’t mean ‘pass the salt’ as an order at the dinner table, but I still taught her to say ‘please pass the salt’ or ‘could you pass the salt’ instead.”

Celia: “Celia wouldn’t need the salt passed at the dinner table. She has never had anything but positive things to say about your cooking. It is… unfortunate that the rest of us will never experience that.”

It seems as much a bone as Jade is willing to throw her, accompanied by a small, brief smile as it is.

“Stoneskin can help protect against it. So can the steel spine you’ve recently found. There are tells, with licks. Stillness. Forgetting to fidget, to breathe, to blink. Some look truly dead. Temperature. You could invest in an infrared camera. Handheld. To use when you suspect but aren’t sure. Licks rarely show up, as the warden said.” A brief pause.

“Animals react poorly to most of us. We react poorly to fire. I believe there are some powers that allow you to tell at a glance, as we do, when another is Kindred. And yes, Mrs. Flores, we know you don’t know how to burn them yet. That’s why you said you’d be willing to learn. To keep your family safe.”

GM: Jade is not sure if Diana has smiled at all since the news of Isabel’s death. But at the Toreador’s expression, she manages a smile back. The same shadow that hung over Henry hangs over it.

But however faint, the smile is there.

Then she rubs Jade’s hand.

“I’m sorry too, or I’d cook you something. A meal is a good thing to mark new beginnings with.”

“But okay. I can get an infrared scanner and keep the cats handy around visitors, to see if they get agitated.”

“And yes, I do want to learn how to… burn, to keep my family safe. I just don’t know where to begin.”

Celia: Jade takes Diana’s hand in her own.

“Then we’ll figure it out. Together.”

GM: Celia’s mom nods.

“Do you consider yourself and Celia separate people?” she asks.

Celia: “That’s… complicated. And depends entirely on your definition of what makes a person. We share a body. A brain. A heart. I know what she knows. But I know more than what she knows. And I don’t know enough about souls to say if there are multiple inside this body. Outside of the host, would I survive on my own? I’m uncertain. Does that make us the same person… or simply a parasite?”

GM: “I think it makes you the same person,” says Diana. “I did a little research into DID, earlier, and there obviously are plenty other people with it. I don’t think God would place more than one soul in one body. I don’t think He’d change the rules.”

“Most people develop DID in response to trauma, as a coping mechanism. So I don’t think it makes you a parasite either. It serves a purpose, to keep the… host, safe.”

Celia: “Then her ex is right. We are simply insane.”

“I thought,” Jade says at some length, “that I had survived what would break most people. That I had bent so I could keep going. But maybe this is just another way of being broken.”

GM: “Or maybe this is its own way of bending. Maybe, if you hadn’t bent like this, you would’ve broken, and Celia would be much worse off.”

“Because I think a better way to look at your, I guess, situation, is what good it accomplishes. Celia says you’ve done bad things, but also that you help her and protect her.”

“That you deal with other vampires, the Bensons and the Carolines, so she doesn’t have to.”

Celia: “Celia will never grow up. She’s stuck as the child who saw the monster shake her daddy’s hand and let him tuck her in. She still believes in love and fairytales and thinks the half-blood will forgive her and the brother can be good again, that her grandpa will welcome her back with open arms after this fiasco.”

GM: “Is she right?” Diana asks, simply.

“I believe in love.”

“I don’t know her vampire grandfather—I presume that’s who, the vampire one—enough to comment on him, but think Dani would like to forgive her and trust her again. Dani was much more sad than angry when we last talked.”

“Stephen abusing her is a big thing to overcome. I don’t know if there’s a way with him or not. But I do know that you, or Celia as you, abused me once, but we’re here and talking now.”

“I believe love can overcome a lot.”

“Or, anything, really. So long as it’s there in both people’s hearts, and they believe it’s there in the other person’s.”

Celia: “You’re kine,” Jade says with an effected sigh, waving a hand. “Love does not exist among the Dammed.”

A beat of silence.

“We love someone. Your daughter and I. We love someone. We love. But the rest of them? No. You don’t get to the top by loving. My grandsire’s affection for us is but a ruse meant to cultivate our loyalty.”

Jade fixes the breather with a look.

“Celia and I messed up. We are on thin ice. Had we not fixed the situation we’d have been put to death. Even now the warden scurries back to his master to tell him of our chat, that I’m an ungrateful, spoiled, emotionally volatile childe.”

“You forgave. Kindred do not.”

GM: “I don’t think you came across to Pete that way,” says Diana. “I’ll take your word that your grandsire doesn’t love you. Some people don’t have much to go around.”

“But I think if you’re capable of love, there’s no reason other vampires couldn’t also be.”

Celia: “We’re just pawns,” Jade says, “to elders like them. We don’t matter, not really.”

GM: “So you’re not an ‘elder’, then?”

Celia: “No. Elders are hundreds of years old.”

GM: Diana nods. “Well, regardless. Celia said you were like a kicked puppy that had only ever been kicked, so you grew up into a mean dog. That no one is good to you. That sounds like it’s been your experience.”

Celia: “A kicked puppy?” Jade flattens her lips.

GM: “That’s since grown up, yes. Grown up hard and used to abuse.”

“I think you are Celia, too, like she and I said. Just another side of her, and maybe one she’s needed. But maybe also one that has needs of her own. Maybe one that’s not had an easy time always being hard and keeping Celia safe. Maybe you’d like someone else you can be less hard around, and know you’ll always be loved and safe with. So I don’t want to be Mrs. Flores when you’re around.”

Diana’s face softens as she spreads her arms.

“I want to be Mom, if you’ll let me.”

Celia: “You want to be my mom,” Jade repeats, like she’s never heard the words before.

GM: “I do,” Diana answers, arms still held out.

“Everyone should get to have a mom.”

Celia: Jade is quiet for a moment. A mom. Diana is offering to be her mom. Is that so unusual, she wonders, when the woman has adopted Emily and Abigail and only waits to meet Ethan before she brings him into her brood as well?

Jade doesn’t have a mom. She doesn’t need a mom. She doesn’t need anyone. She’s fine on her own. She’s doing just swell, thank you very much—

Except she’s not. She’s been hemorrhaging friends and allies left and right the past few weeks, looking every gift horse in the mouth for signs of betrayal, keeping everyone at arm’s length so that she can spring her trap before they spring theirs.

Perhaps that’s not the way.

Slowly, hesitantly, Jade nods. Her eyes dart back and forth across the dim interior of the Beetle as if waiting for someone to jump out and laugh. When it doesn’t happen she moves forward inch by inch until Diana’s arms can wrap snugly around her.

“Mom.”

GM: Technically, Celia’s mom only said she’d bring in Ethan if he didn’t love Mary.

But she did say she was prepared to.

It’s easy to imagine Veronica sneering or Pietro laughing or Preston rolling her eyes. But they aren’t there in the Beetle, and Celia’s mother is, with her outstretched arms patiently waiting. The woman’s weary and grief-wrought features seem to ease at Jade’s acceptance, as Celia’s protector lets down her armor. Perhaps Diana thinks back to Jade’s words at Flawless, when they first met. She told Celia they were the most hurtful things someone ever said to her.

“Jade isn’t your daughter.” “Right now, Diana, I am not your sweetie. I am your master. “I am its domitor, not its daughter.” "I am the master. Grace is the slave.”

Perhaps that single word, “Mom”, and reciprocated embrace does more to heal those hurts than all of the words in Jade’s three-page letter.

“I love you,” Diana murmurs, voice as soft as the hand stroking Jade’s back.

Celia: For long moments her body is tense, waiting for a knife in the dark. A stake in the back. Revenge for the pain.

She’s ready to go. Ready to fight her way out of this with fang and claw, ready to shred whoever seeks to end her.

But it doesn’t come. So bit by bit, Jade’s muscles relax into the embrace offered to her while the soft patter of rainfall plinks off the windshield.

“I… love you too.”

GM: Diana holds her close for a while. Jade can sense the woman’s steady breathing in the dark, feel the warmth of her skin as the rain falls outside.

Eventually, she pulls away, enough to look the Toreador in the eye.

“Celia said people only want to use you. That they only want to… butter the biscuit with you.”

“I’d like to get to know you,” she says softly. “This side of you. Tell me about yourself.”

Celia: Jade doubts very much that Celia used the term ‘butter the biscuit,’ but she doesn’t press the issue. No matter which way you slice it, the girl is right.

“I don’t know,” Jade says quietly, “no one has ever asked me that. They just use me. For sex, mostly. Sleep with this person. Lure in that person. Seduce and entrap this one.”

GM: “What do you like to do on your own time?” her mom asks, curiously.

Celia: Jade considers the question.

“Sex,” she says after a moment, with a lilt to the end of the word as if she doesn’t know if that’s the right answer or even an answer at all. “I like it when she has sex. To be in control. It makes me feel… powerful. Like dancing—I like when she dances. Everyone looks. Wants to touch. Wants to be there on the floor with me, hopes that I’ll favor them with a smile. Even people who don’t like me. The frat guy wouldn’t have become a friend if I weren’t a pretty package.”

There’s a pause.

“‘Naldo used to say I was smart and pretty. I liked that, I liked when he said that. But he’s dead now.”

A longer pause.

“Art,” she says eventually. “Parties. Hosting. Entertaining. Socializing. All the trivial things that being a Toreador means. I’m good at them. At lying to people. At being what they want me to be. But… surprising them, too, I enjoy. Showing the depths they don’t get to see. Research for the medical experiments. Research on old religions and mythologies. Research on… everything, I guess. Taking things apart and putting them back together again, but doing it better than before.”

“And flying.” She smiles, looking past Diana toward where the clouds shed their tears. “Flying is wonderful. If I could leave everything behind and live as a bird I think I would. I’d just go. Be free.”

GM: “Birds get a lot to be envious of, there,” says her mom. “What I find so romantic is how they also mate for life.”

“Swans, geese, bald eagles, California condors. They all spend their lives soaring the skies with their partners.”

Celia: “Mm. Is it? Or is it tying yourself to someone who will never allow you to grow into the person you’re meant to become because at eighteen you decided ‘this is it, this is my person’?”

GM: “I think it’s different for birds, there, than it is for people. They just want to soar, and they’ll do it anyway with or without a mate. But a partner makes everything better.”

Celia: “They’re also biologically wired to reproduce. Kindred are not. We have the urge to fight, to fuck, to feed, but not to mate. Not like the kine do. Not like animals. We don’t need a partner to perform that function. And there’s nothing but the pull of blood keeping us together once we’ve done that. Some sires don’t even stick around long enough to explain the rules to their bastard progeny.”

GM: “That’s very sad,” says Diana. “There obviously are animals that reproduce without partners. But they’re wired for it, from day one. Not like vampires are. You’ve been, well, human all your lives, before becoming vampires. I don’t think you’re meant to just… give up husbands and wives and children, psychologically, even if that’s how your bodies are wired now.”

She shakes her head.

“But never mind that. I want to talk about you, and the things that interest you and make you happy. So you like art, parties, medical research, old religion and mythology, and flying. And buttering biscuits. And dancing?”

Celia: “No,” Jade says slowly, “I think you’re right, and I’ve raised that point before. That the reason we’re all such horrible cocks to each other is because we’re isolated, because we see ourselves as separate and alone instead of the pack-minded, bonding animals that we came from.”

GM: “Maybe the answer is to just make an effort, there,” says her mom. “I could introduce you to Emi, if you like.”

“Because humans become worse people, too, when they’re isolated. Or maybe I should say, they become hurt when they’re isolated, and that makes it easier to hurt others. That isn’t just vampires.”

Celia: “So we gather all the licks of the city into a hug line?” Jade muses.

GM: “Back in the ‘80s, you know, there was an event, I forget what it was called, where a whole bunch of people all tried to hold hands across the entire country. They used it to raise money for charity. There’s been sillier ideas.”

“I was in, oh, I think middle school when it happened. It actually didn’t reach across New Orleans, so some people organized a local chain. It was sweet and fun, coming together with a bunch of strangers for a good cause.”

Celia: “That doesn’t make sense. Unless you had to pay to be part of the line you weren’t really raising money. How did it raise money?”

GM: “People were encouraged to donate, what was it, $10 to reserve their spot in the line. You didn’t have to, you could hold hands without it, but lots of people did anyway. I remember turning over a Thomas Jefferson. It raised a lot of money.”

Celia: “My sister is nice,” Jade says abruptly. “She pretends she isn’t. But she is. Very nice. I like her a lot. I wish I’d… I had seven years to get to know her and I didn’t, and now she’s talking about something dangerous coming. And I wonder how many are like her. Hiding behind their ice masks.”

GM: “Emi?” asks Diana.

“I don’t think she has much of an ice mask, sweetie.”

Celia: “No. My blood sister.”

“My sire’s other childe.”

“I hated her. I used to be jealous that she… that he wanted her, but not me.”

GM: “What changed that?”

Celia: “I met her.”

“As her.”

“She tortured me. Us.”

“But once she found out who we were…”

GM: It’s telling that ‘she tortured us’ doesn’t immediately elicit more than a deep frown at this point.

“She didn’t know she was your sister?”

Celia: “No. No one’s supposed to know who we are.”

“That’s why he threw you off the roof.”

GM: It’s also telling that all Diana does in immediate answer is rub her head.

“At this point I almost don’t care, as long as it’s not going to happen again.”

“I have enough else on my mind. I have enough other things to deal with.”

She manages another tired smile and rubs Jade’s hand again.

“Including you. Not all of those things are bad.”

“I’m glad you’ve gotten to know your vampire sister, and found out she’s a nice person.”

“I think you raise a good question, on how many more might be like her, hiding under ice masks.”

“Some of those masks, I’m sure, are real. Like Benson’s. But with other vampires, maybe all they need is someone else to make the first move, and show them the masks can come off.”

“Maybe they’re just scared to be vulnerable until someone shows them it’s possible.”

Celia: “And you think I should be the one to do that?”

GM: “Yes. I think everyone should be the change they want to see.”

Celia: “I… don’t know about that. Even Pete told me no one cares about my problems.”

GM: “Pete seemed like he had a bug up his butt.”

Celia: “He’s in love with you. Or the ‘idea’ of you.”

“Or I dunno maybe it’s something else.”

GM: Diana slowly shakes her head.

“I am not thinking about finding a man right now.”

Celia: “Dunno what else he’d be upset about. Happy enough to tell me I’m useless.”

GM: “What happened to Isabel’s body?” Jade’s mom asks. Not accusingly, but the pain is there in her voice.

“I want to lay her to rest.”

“I want Ethan to be there for it.”

Celia: Funny how Diana assumes it was Jade rather than Celia who ripped the heart out of her sister.

“I have it. I preserved it.”

GM: “Thank you.”

“I’ll think about… arrangements later. Tomorrow. I just wanted to know she was still there.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade offers. “About your daughter. Both of them.”

GM: “Thank you,” her mom repeats, squeezing her hand,

“I’m glad to have you with me in this time of grief.”

“I’m glad to know I’ll always love and be loved by a daughter, whatever face she has on.”

Celia: “Mom?” Jade asks after a moment, the single syllable foreign on her tongue. “…are we insane?”

GM: Diana smiles as she hears her daughter call her Mom again. For all the grief that might beset their family, it looks as if there’s no sound that brings the woman greater happiness.

“What is insane? There is a spectrum with these things.”

“Are you a danger to yourself, or other people? Can you distinguish reality?”

“Because I think those are the really important things.”

“There are girls in my classes with ADHD, or anxiety disorders, or eating disorders, or OCD, and others from the DSM. You could call them ‘insane’, but I think that’s a very hurtful and overly simplistic way to look at them.”

“And that the actually important things are, are they dangers to anybody, and do they know what’s real and not real.”

Celia: “I’m a vampire. Of course I’m dangerous.”

GM: “Sure, but because you have DID? Or just because all vampires are?”

Celia: “We all are.”

GM: Jade’s mom rubs her shoulder. “Well, there you go then. I don’t think you’re insane.”

She looks into Jade’s face for a moment.

“You’re very pretty, you know. Your eyes especially. Did you, or Celia, decide how you looked?”

Jade’s heard innumerable iterations of such words, but rarely ones whose admiration sounds as chaste as Diana’s.

Celia: Jade’s smile lights up those eyes her mother so admires.

“I did. She has a good base. I just improved upon it.”

“I’m the prettiest. In the whole city.” The haughtiness she’s known for returns with a toss of her head. “Of all the licks, none of them look better than me. Beauty is subjective, certainly, you’ll have those who point it out… while their partners and lovers crawl after me.”

GM: Jade could see her mother chuckling, earlier. Diana doesn’t do that, but she does smile at the Toreador’s response.

“You look a lot like her, in some, I’d put it, ‘indirect’ ways. You’re right. You also talk like she does, about some things. I can see how you’re ‘related’.”

“It’s not obvious, don’t worry about that. I know you don’t want it to be. I’m saying this as your, both of your, honest-to-goodness mother.”

“More the sort of thing that makes me go ‘aha’ in hindsight.”

Celia: “We’ve been less careful with this face,” Jade concedes.

GM: Diana shakes her head. “You’re more than different enough, on the surface. Like I said. Only saying this as the woman who gave birth to you.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Jade says at length. “For… this.”

“If you get a dog, I can start working with it.”

GM: “You’re welcome.” Jade’s mother touches her cheek. “And thank you, too. I’d rather love you than hate and fear you.”

Celia: Jade slowly nods.

“Me too,” she says.


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Comments

NPC Characterization

Think you did a good job in this opening scene with Emily’s horror as to finding out about the baby. She’s just as horrified as Diana was, but her mind immediately jumps to “okay we can fix it and this is how” versus falling into an emotional tirade. Not that Diana really fell apart, but it’s a cool moment of characterization between the two of them that, while I’ve noticed before, I didn’t give much credit to. It’s cool on the re-read, though. Very distinct voices. You do NPCs well, is my point.

Abigail

There’s some back and forth here about the best way to do it. Problem is we don’t really want to like expose Abigail to drugs if she doesn’t need them, but she can’t just be allowed to quit cold turkey. So the addiction itself is a problem, yes, but it’s a minor problem compared to the fact that getting her off the blood will mean she ages rapidly and create all the health issues that Jade told Draco about earlier. Who knows, maybe diluting it with water like Diana said will cut it, but I doubt it. This is one of those trial-and-error things that Celia is gonna have to dig into, and I think this is where the alchemy is going to help (as she said). Also where the sorcery is going to help, but uh… I guess she will need to find a new teacher.

I’m glad Diana is willing to help, though. And I like the connection she makes between losing Isabel and finding a baby the same night. Poetic.

Diana and Emily Stuff

Didn’t expect so much pushback from Emily about helping with the surgery. “I’m not licensed. You’re not licensed.” Thought it was funny. Don’t need her help so much as just wanted to show her what Celia can do.

Amusing moment of levity with Emily and the fleshcrafting. Foot broccoli. Gross.

Glad I got to talk to her more about the Delta stuff. It does sound very cool, looking forward to getting into some of it with her. Dunno if I put it in the log but Celia was definitely thinking “I could make a new identity and work there. 100%.” Hadn’t thought about making a biotech company as a vampire, but it makes sense. Maybe Emily will be the public face of a new company for Celia. She’s set up to be a pretty solid pawn (though I prefer her as a friend).

Line missing here:

Celia: Which reminds her that she’s still sitting on the floor naked. She rises, pulling on her borrowed clothing.

GM: Emily snickers.

“I mean, salon, we’ve seen each other naked anyway.”

Celia: “Mm, trying to seduce the detective, won’t work if he’s seen everything I’ve got.”

“Gotta leave some to the imagination, yeah?”

[HERE, I THINK]

Celia: “Let’s wake her up and flash her.”

“Though technically she’s seen me naked. Kid and all.”

Some decent back and forth here with Emily about doing the right thing. Hard to know what to really say to them. Celia’s doing that thing again where she doesn’t say the full truth because she doesn’t trust other people not to do their mind reading bullshit.

Pete’s Visit

Man I fucking hate Auspex.

Conversation here with Pete is real forced and awkward. Honestly don’t really want to reread it. The whole rest of this log is… meh.

Celia’s thoughts kind of echo my own here. Fucked up again. Feels bad. Pity party for herself. Pete telling her he isn’t going to teach her magic was a real punch in the gut. I’m sure she can find someone else, but his “I do you enough favors” excuse felt really thin. She does things for him too. She goes to him because he’s available and makes time for her, because she respects and trusts him, and if he ever asked her to do anything she would in a heartbeat. Feels real bad that he “does her enough favors.” Doubly annoyed the Caroline scene went down this way because of it. Hated having to ask him. Rude of him to just ESP the place instead of letting Celia say what she needs to.

Also “you weren’t trustworthy” like dude Celia has done literally everything Savoy has asked her to.

Honestly fuck him, fuck Pete, fuck Roderick, fuck the whole fucking Bourbon faction.

Thought Pete was being weirdly insistent about the salt and cleaning it up. Had wondered if there was a sort of setup going on and Lucy was going to be snatched. Also wondered if it wasn’t really Pete.

Had thought of a few ways to fool Pete about Emily not taking Celia’s blood but wasn’t really interested in continuing to lie to him about it. Figure he’d find out soon enough anyway. Truth comes out or whatever Douchebag used to say.

Wonder if Alana kissing Diana was actually the Nossie bitch that makes a habit of kissing people. The fuck is her name. Abellard’s sister.

Good advice from Pete about security, anyway. Been meaning to upgrade it at Celia’s various havens (after she moves, mind).

Bummer about the lack of successes on Diana’s Persuasion roll.

Some dry humor here with Celia and Diana that was fun to write. Shame it didn’t cheer her up any. Then again, not much does when you lose a kid. Speaking of, suppose it was nice of Pete not to spill the beans about what happened with Isabel.

Diana Conversation

The split with Jade / Celia is pretty clear at first. Gets a little murky the more I played, though. I think I got sick right in the middle of this scene? Wasn’t my best writing ever. Hopefully it didn’t come off too bad. Thought it was sweet that Diana offered to be Jade’s mom. Jade wasn’t very emotional about it (she’s not Celia) but it was touching. Maybe worth a Stain reduction? I dunno. Just a thought. Kind of dig the way you wrap the text around the photo instead of centering it like normal. Also good photo choice for Jade.

I think they both make some solid points with their agreements, and they’re not really things that I/Jade/Celia disagree on. Jade has her own “demands” for Diana, but those also don’t seem to be things they disagree on. Hopefully Diana is able to turn into a political help of sorts. Think Celia could use advice more often than not. Since asking Rod is off the table now and all.

Huh. Maybe she can hire Dani as advisor. Patch things up with her. Wonder how well that would go over. Let Rod teach Dani, Dani teaches Diana. Or teaches both of them. Could… maybe find a way to make it work.

I think I mentioned that I drew a blank when Diana asked Jade about herself, but man I really did. “Who is she?” I kept thinking, “what makes her her? What does she do when she’s not scurrying around doing favors for people and breaking hearts?” I think her answer here is pretty accurate. She does enjoy most Toreador things. She does enjoy sex. But she wants to be smart and pretty, not just pretty.

Wonder what Pete had a bug up his butt about. I bet it was Celia’s fault.

Think the ending could have been stronger. Seems kind of bittersweet, which is a good thing, but not strong. Meh.

Log gave me some ideas on some things so that’s good.

Story Thirteen, Celia XXXII
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany

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