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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Celia XXXVIII

“More monsters are made than born.”
Camilla Doriocourt


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: Bliss floods Jade’s mouth. Strong as a howling storm and cold as ice. The vitae of her sire.

She’s lying on the passenger seat of a car. Camilla sits adjacent to her, pouring the jar of their sire’s vitae into her mouth.

“That course of action was unwise.”

Celia: She did something stupid. What else is new.

“Yeah. It was.”

She sits up, taking the glass jar in her hands so Camilla doesn’t need to hold it. Her eyes slide to the rest of the car.

GM: It looks like an SUV, but not the one in Donovan’s garage. Jamal is driving.

Celia: “Harrison.” Jade manages a smile. It fades when she looks back to her sister. “Could have saved him the trouble. I’m dead anyway.”

GM: “Our extraction from Audubon was successful,” Camilla states. “Draco and his coterie arrived to assist in the battle against the Snake Hunters. I have staged the scene of my final death.”

Celia: “Oh. Good.”

His coterie. She hates him even more now.

“We lose anyone?”

GM: “You would prefer we had been captured by the prince’s agents? They would not have interrogated and released us. They would have interrogated and slain us.”

Celia: “No?” Jade gives her a look. “I didn’t say that. I said good. Good we got out. Good we’re both here. Good he came.”

“I didn’t think he was going to.”

“So that’s why I said good.”

GM: “Our side suffered no final deaths. Neither, by my insistence, did the Snake Hunters.”

Celia: Too bad. She’d been hoping to see the mangled corpse of the redhead.

Jade twists to look into the back seat; is it just the three of them?

GM: She sees no one else.

Celia: “Shouldn’t have let him get under my skin,” she sighs. “Stupid.”

GM: “Yes. The body double you created facilitated the deception over my final death. Nor would penetrating the vault have been possible without a second Kindred capable of flight. Your presence on the mission was of benefit. But so too did many of your actions lack forethought and impose costs paid for by others.”

“Do you understand what consequences would have befallen you, our grandsire, and the city at large if I had not been present?”

Celia: Jade’s skin begins to ripple and change, almost on its own. By the time she has drawn her feet onto the seat with her and settle her chin on her knees, arms around her shins, she’s just Celia once more.

“Big Masquerade breach. Camarilla would send someone. Multiple someones. Vidal would blame Savoy, negating his victory here, even if it wasn’t actually him. Though it was. He’d look incompetent as a would-be prince. Weakens the faction.”

She doesn’t touch the question about what would happen to her. She knows: she’d be dead. Thrown to the wolves.

“Should have left me,” she says again.

She doesn’t say what she’s thinking, either. That she was going to use it as an excuse to off herself and take as many as the prince’s people down with her as she could.

GM: “A breach,” states Camilla.

“An enormous breach, for so many girls to be found dead in the home of a murdered rich man, with no perpetrator on hand to blame. A national media storm would have ensued. The eyes of all the Camarilla would have fallen upon our city. Archons would not be out of the question.”

“The Masquerade is at once more and less fragile than neonates assume. The existence of our kind would not have been revealed to the public. But all of our kind would have suffered the consequences of your actions. By my actions, disaster has been averted.”

“Someone fucked up,” laughs Jamal.

“Silence,” Camilla orders. She does not look away from Celia.

The ghoul says nothing further.

“Pietro will be eager to tell Lord Savoy of your mistakes. I would advise you to reconcile with him. A conciliatory tone is more likely to sway hearts when the fault is yours than a proud tone.”

Celia: Celia dips her head. Camilla doesn’t need to raise her voice to make Celia want to curl into a ball and sink into the floor where no one will ever find her again.

“I will,” she says quietly. “Thank you. For showing up. For helping. For… for everything.”

“Is that where we’re going? To the Evergeen?”

GM: “Yes.”

“I have done much to help you,” her sister concurs.

Her great-aunt concurs.

She hasn’t raised her voice at all. She doesn’t sound angry at all.

Her tone isn’t angry at all.

“I facilitated your escape from Perdido House. I undid a Masquerade breach of your making. I was crucial to the success of our mission. I saved you from Pietro and Draco’s coterie, who harbored ill designs upon your body. I will speak well of you to our grandsire. Some of these things were in my self-interest, but others were not.”

“I have brought many neonates to face our prince’s judgment. I have looked into the hearts of many Kindred judged criminal by our laws. Your actions were not unique in choice, only in circumstance. Many neonates would have made similar choices to yours, if placed within the same position and confronted by the same dilemmas.”

Celia: The scent of copper hits the air; Celia wipes at her eyes before it can linger.

Roderick wouldn’t have made the mistakes. But she doesn’t say that. She just quietly thanks Camilla for the words and tries to take some comfort in them.

Then again, he’d fallen hook, line, and sinker for Savoy’s plots, so who’s the real idiot.

Him.

It’s him.

Obviously.

GM: Did she fall any less surely for her own sire’s?

“Your talents are exceptional for a Kindred of your years. Yet I had, perhaps, expected another childe of my sire to be exceptional in character as well as aptitude. I had hoped for an ally in whom I might confide any secret and share any plan. One less experienced whom I might instruct, perhaps, but one able to succeed in the Camarilla even without me. Though I do not doubt your loyalty or affection towards me, Celia, I do not feel I can rely upon you to the extent I had hoped.”

Celia: The knife in her heart twists.

“I can be better. I’ll get better.”

“I made a mistake. A big mistake. But I can get better. Please don’t write me off.”

She’s already lost everything else. Not this, too.

GM: “Your presence made possible our mission’s success, as well as my seeming final death. I have not discounted that. But so, too, do I believe you less capable than I had presumed.”

“I believe improvement is possible. You may prove yours through future actions.”

“You may continue to rely upon me and upon my help. But what secrets we recovered from our sire’s haven, and what existing secrets and designs I had wished to include you in, shall remain mine until I am convinced you will be a worthy steward of them.”

Celia: Celia stays silent. She only nods to show she understands and accepts what has been said.

“You can take the other memory. If you want. What I learned in there.”

GM: “Without a suitable explanation for the emotions you felt, I do not believe that possible. Nor do I believe there is a suitable explanation that will not unravel with time.”

Celia: “Okay,” she says with another nod. She glances at the floor, at the driver, and finally toward her sister. “I’m sorry I’m not what you were hoping for. And that I messed up. I know that’s not worth much. I’d still like to do anything I can to help you get situated.”

“And if you don’t want me to then I understand.”

GM: “There are some capacities in which I do not. There are others in which I do.”

Camilla looks ahead towards the road. They’re in an unfamiliar part of the city.

“You have asked many questions of me in our time together. You have asked few of our sire or the circumstances surrounding his final death. Why is this?”

Celia: “It didn’t make sense. What I felt when he died. The emotions that came through the link. I didn’t want to get distracted from what we were doing by asking you a bunch of questions about him. I thought there’d be time later.”

GM: “We have some time now, if there are things you would know. We are not taking a direct route to the Evergreen.”

Celia: Celia glances past Camilla to the driver. If she isn’t concerned…

“How old was he, really? Why was he watching my family?”

My, she says, not ours. She remembers that much at least.

“Why did he… why did he do this to me? And what did he do to my dad? And why didn’t he listen to me about her? Why did he go after her when I told him, I told him—”

Her fingers clench, nails digging into her palms. Even that tiny motion sends ripples of agony through her arm, pulling at the charred flesh.

“I told him it was dangerous.”

Celia turns in the seat to regard Camilla.

“What killed him? Who did it? What happened? Why did I… why did I get the emotions I did? Was he possessed? Split personality? Where is he from, and who is… the other thing. And what’s the situation with him and our grandsire, and is really…?”

GM: “I will erase Harrison’s memory of this conversation, but not all your questions are prudent to answer in his presence,” Camilla first answers. “Nor may I be willing to answer them all.”

“Malveaux-Devillers could not have stood against our sire on her own. Nor could her Kindred allies. We were handily defeating their coterie when other parties entered the battle on their side. By their intervention alone did Malveaux-Devillers survive the night.”

“Our sire was killed by a holy man channeling the power of his faith.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says quietly. “Is he dead?”

GM: “The holy man?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “If the others aren’t prudent,” she says at length, “I can do a mind trick thing so we can talk privately.”

“Not telepathy. It’s different.”

“I developed it. And some other things. I haven’t told anyone else about them.”

GM: “I am capable of limited telepathic communication. I will use it to answer sensitive questions.”

Celia: She’s reminded of a kindergartner seeking praise for their crayon drawings.

“Okay. So. The rest of it then. Age and why my family and Maxen and who was he and where’s he from and the other two things and what was the thing you mentioned on Saturday and the weird feelings and the possession.”

GM: “Those first questions are ones I will not answer. What feelings and thing on Saturday do you refer to?”

Celia: Oh. Those are the ones she wanted the most. She doesn’t press for them, though.

“On Saturday you said that it was going to be dangerous for you soon and requested access to my mind. About my family. And the feelings when he died. There was hate. And anger. And disappointment and darkness. But before that it was… light. Peace. Happiness. And… and love. Infinite love.”

Were she human, she’d blush. She doesn’t bother with the pretense now, but she looks away at the last words.

“He came for me once. When I was in trouble. I guess I thought maybe it meant something.”

GM: “The love you felt was the religious faith channeled by the holy man.”

“Our sire felt nothing for you.”

“Or for me.”

“He came for you because you were an asset he had invested time cultivating. He deemed the effort expended in your retrieval worth the returns in personal benefit to him. We were tools to him and nothing more.”

“His lack of feeling for others was the very quality that gave the holy man’s faith such power over him.”

Celia: All those times he’d kissed her. Kept her safe.

Nothing. It meant nothing.

How easily he’d strung her along. She, who wanted nothing more than his affection. Who worshiped him.

She was in denial before. Thought maybe there was a demon involved. But now the illusion shatters.

GM: “I knew this, intellectually, for years. Decades.”

“It was not until the bond shattered with his final death that I could fully accept its truth.”

Celia: “I loved him,” she says quietly. “I loved him. I met him when I was young. When he came for my dad. And then later, the incident with my mom.”

She swallows. A habit she doesn’t need, not physically.

“I never wavered in my devotion to him. I did everything he asked. I spent years being unable to trust anyone, lying to everyone, because of where he put me. A spy in his sire’s court. And what is he going to say now? What if I tell him and he just throws me out? All I’ve done is fuck it up lately.”

This time the coppery scent lingers in the air.

“I was in love with someone else. Someone who loved me. As breathers, then as licks. And I threw it away. For him.”

“Stupid,” she whispers. “Just fucking stupid and emotional and a waste of vitae.”

GM: Jamal doesn’t speak, but Celia sees his lip curl into a sneer.

:: There is nothing I may say that will bring back what was lost. But your story is as mine, many chapters earlier.::

:: I, too, sacrificed for him. I sacrificed the things most precious to me in all the world. They are now gone forever. ::

:: You would only suffered further losses at his hands if he had not met final death tonight.::

Celia: Celia moves her hand just enough to take Camilla’s. She gives a gentle squeeze.

:: I’m sorry. For what you lost, and what he put you through. That’s… part of why tonight happened. The pain. I couldn’t reach him. I couldn’t reach you. Just silence. ::

:: I was rash. I let it consume me. All that pain and rage and loss. ::

A pause.

:: I know I’m not what you wanted. What you were hoping for. But I’m not… I was just desperate to hold on to what I still had. ::

There’s a longer, thoughtful pause.

:: If you get it back. What you lost. If it were possible; would you do it? Would you want to? ::

GM: :: It is not possible. And it is pointless to dwell on maybes and might-have-beens ::

:: As to what you still have, look towards your living kin. ::

:: Their lives are temporary. Do not take them for granted. ::

Celia: :: I’d like you to meet her. My mom. As my sister, who you are now. ::

GM: :: Why? ::

Celia: :: Because you’re my sister. Because we’re in this together. Because I admire and respect you and want you to know that you’re loved. That someone, multiple someones, care for you. ::

GM: :: I am touched that you want me to meet your family. But the Masquerade must come first. Your family cannot know what I am to you. ::

Celia: :: The Masquerade will remain intact. ::

:: My mother was one of Benson’s creations. I undid that work. She is aware of what I am and the First Tradition has not been violated. ::

GM: :: Then she is under the Blood? ::

Celia: :: Yes. ::

:: My mother has adopted two children that are not biologically hers. She is prepared to take a third should we find his home situation less than ideal. ::

Celia turns to face Camilla. Though small, her smile is warm.

:: She loves with her whole heart. Freely. Unapologetically. She will love you. You will have a home with us. ::

GM: :: Your offer is kind, Celia. Thank you for your kindness. But I am also Sanctified. I am God’s wolf. It is not the wolf’s place to lie with the lamb. Wisdom, not dogma, guides the Eighth Canon. ::

:: The relationship between a ghoul and their domitor is not one of equals, or of love freely given. Your relationship with your mother will end in tragedy. ::

Celia: For long moments Celia sits in silence, eyes not leaving her sister’s face. When she speaks again the words are quiet, even in the mind.

:: I do not doubt that many of our kind have had relationships with mortal family end in tragedy; I do not deny that it is not without its perils. But I do believe that Kindred often forget from where we came. We are other, but it was not always this way. We were mortal once. We trusted once. We loved once. Humans are social creatures; they, and once we, pack bond with each other, with animals, with inanimate objects. It is their nature. ::

:: Life among the Damned teaches us another way. A separate life, Kindred and kine. But Kindred and Kindred as well. There are few enough who bond as readily with each other as two unacquainted humans would. We play at being social, but we never truly let ourselves be seen. We wait for the knife in the back. I will not dismiss your faith and the purpose you find among the Sanctified, nor do I wish to offend you by offering commentary or telling you to let go of your experiences. But I will plainly state that religions are created for a reason. ::

:: Perhaps I am blinded by my the events of my unlife. Perhaps I am open where others are not. Or perhaps I have set myself on collision course. If so, I will learn from the mistake, as there is little now that can be done about my mother. Her memories are past the point of erasure. ::

:: I would like you to meet her. Whether or not you choose to remain in contact after that will be your decision. ::

:: I believe there is more to our existence than what we so often see. We have eternity, yet use it to play political games to see who can sit upon the throne, and very frequently the name that follows the title “prince” offers little change from what was. ::

:: Some may call it naivety. I call it hope. Progress. Determination for a better future for Kindred and kine alike. I would hate to spend my Requiem climbing a mountain to squat upon a plateau and squabble with others. There is more meaning in my unlife than that. ::

GM: :: We are wolves. Wolves may know affection and loyalty among their kind. Wolves may hunt in packs even as they fight tooth and fang against rival packs. Wolves may take mates. Wolves may rear offspring. Wolves are social animals. The Testament does not name us God’s wolves by mere accident. ::

:: But it is not for the wolf to lie with the lamb. We are of one kind and they another. ::

:: I do not accept that my faith was created by Kindred. My faith was revealed to Kindred through divine will. Present-day secularists and apologists make a great deal of the secular wisdom to be found within the Bible, such as the prohibition against consuming shellfish associated with greater risk of disease. They may dispute the source of that wisdom, but even they do not deny wisdom. There is wisdom, too, in prohibiting the dead from congress with the living. Wisdom that even those who do not share my faith may appreciate on its secular basis. ::

:: Yet there are some lessons that may only be learned from experience. Nor am I blind to the realities of faith within the French Quarter. Your claim upon your living kin predates mine and they are yours to do with as you please. But you will regret your choice to remain in contact with them. ::

Celia: :: You just spoke to me of cherishing my time among them, for their lives are short. ::

GM: :: I spoke of cherishing them. Not your time with them. ::

:: I, too, care for the Underwoods. It is my love for them that drives me to remain apart from them. To many newer Kindred, my faith may seem cruel. Time has taught me that it is not. ::

Celia: :: Celia still exists because of the relationship I have with my mother, because of the closeness I share with my family. Even our sire’s lessons did not break me or broaden that gap. He could not make me feel nothing, as he did. ::

:: Were it not for her I would have turned into Someone Else. Donovan’s childe in manner as well as blood. The night he came for me he took me to the edge of sanity. I felt my will succumbing to the Beast inside of us all, discarding higher thought in favor of primal instincts. It was her that allowed me to pull back so I did not lose myself completely. ::

:: I respect your wisdom, Camilla, and I thank you for sharing it with me. I will endeavor to heed it moving forward. ::

GM: :: Our sire is dead. What relationships you maintain with your living kin are now fully your choice. If you do not wish to heed the Canons, I will not stop you. That is not the reality of things in the French Quarter. But do not tell me that you will act on my advice if you do not intend to do so. ::

:: As to your mother. I will meet her upon the condition that we speak more of my faith, and that you listen to my words with an open heart. ::

:: I bear her love, as the daughter of my sister, but I do not wish her to love me. I do not wish to be part of her family. I will treat her with courtesy, but so too will I be plain as to this fact if she appears confused. ::

Celia: :: Camilla, it has not been and never will be my intent to deceive you. The warning about travesty has come too late to reverse course with my mother, but that does not mean I will continue to traipse along with other relationships, head buried in the sand. ::

:: As you say, the Quarter is limited in its faith; I have never had much opportunity to learn the Canons as closely as I should. I have made studies of religions, ancient and otherwise, but I have found few enough mentors in our own. There is always something more to learn, and I do not take lightly your willingness to teach. I will gladly speak to you of the Sanctified with open heart and open mind. ::

GM: :: Very well. We will speak further of those things later. ::

:: For now, we have some time left before we reach the Evergreen. ::

Celia: Celia nods, returning her gaze to the city outside of the window.

:: What are able to tell me about him? ::

GM: :: Our sire? ::

Celia: :: Yes. Who he was, where he came from. ::

GM: :: I am not prepared to answer those questions. ::

Celia: Celia nods. She gives her sister’s hand a gentle squeeze.

:: And of yourself, Camilla? I would like to know you. ::

GM: :: Your mother or grandmother could tell you of my mortal life. I was born and raised in the city. I attended school at McGehee. My life was sheltered and comfortable, though I did not believe it so at the time. Too few kine are happy with what they have. ::

:: I was a naive and foolish girl. I made poor decisions and squandered what I had. Our sire offered power and escape from a bad situation of my own making. I worshiped him, and would have done anything for him, even before he fed me his blood. ::

Celia: It’s a familiar story. Celia listens raptly, drinking in the details.

:: How did you meet him? ::

GM: :: Can one meet a phantom in one’s dreams? He had long haunted our family. I had seen glimpses and hints of him, but little more. We first spoke to one another in the hospital. He offered a devil’s bargain at what I believed my lowest moment. ::

Celia: :: Why our family? ::

Then,

:: What took you to the hospital? ::

GM: :: I am unprepared to answer your first question. ::

:: I was in the hospital to deliver my son. ::

Celia: :: You said that was your lowest moment. :: There’s a question behind the words.

GM: :: The birth of a child is not always a happy occasion. It was not for your sister. ::

Celia: :: No. It wasn’t. An action I took that I will rue for the rest of my Requiem. Her death, as well. ::

:: Did you grow up as she and I did, with your own Maxen? ::

GM: :: My relationship with my mortal father was unhappy, but our lives were not the same. I did not live in terror of him. ::

Celia: :: I asked once. If he knew what Maxen did to us. He said it made me strong. ::

Laughter, even in the mind.

:: Yet I failed him. I sank into comfort and excess. Hedonism. I could have been another in his image. In yours. ::

:: What for you? Why made you strong to him? ::

GM: :: That I was molded in his image gained me nothing. He believed that I, too, failed him in the end. I was unable to prevent his final death. ::

Celia: :: Would you have done it differently, then? ::

GM: :: His love was unattainable. He had none to give. ::

:: Wishing for the past to be different is useless, nor was my will my own. I am glad he is dead and that I am free of him. ::

Celia: :: Camilla, do you think it is possible for two Kindred to have affection for each other for reasons other than political gain and self interest? ::

:: I don’t mean him. ::

GM: :: Is there any other rationale for my actions towards you? ::

:: I believe it is possible, yes. Even common. But it is also common for political gain and self-interest to intrude upon that affection. ::

:: More monsters are made than born. ::

:: Affection that is never compromised by the world’s demands is rarer. ::

Celia: :: Your affection toward me, and mine toward you, is what I speak of. ::

GM: :: You ask if it is real? ::

Celia: :: No. I ask if it is rare. There are things I would tell you that I have not confessed to others. I wonder if I am alone in this, or if other Kindred share these feelings with one another. ::

GM: :: Affection is common. A depth of affection that overcomes all political demands and self-interest is rare. ::

:: Lesser degrees are correspondingly more common. ::

:: So too is affection, in all degrees, more common among the young than the old. ::

:: Even those who do not share my faith still call us the Damned. ::

Celia: :: There is more I would speak to you on this topic. A later date. You were telling me of you. The hospital. The offer of Embrace. ::

GM: :: There is little more to be said. He offered a devil’s bargain and it was not until after I agreed that I realized its price. By then, I was his. ::

:: Ask your mother or grandmother if you would hear more of a foolish dead girl. I would not have us dwell upon her past when present and future remain in motion. ::

Celia: :: Yes, Camilla. With your permission I will speak to them of Doris. ::

GM: :: You may do so. ::

:: I am aware you and Nico Cimpreon were involved with one another. He is dead. Our sire killed him. ::

Celia: Nico.

Silence meets the words. A long silence, one rife with conflicting emotions. For long moments she forgets to feel.

:: How did it happen? ::

GM: :: He and a coterie of Lasombra were among the coalition that brought down our sire. I can only presume he was involved to seek revenge for the events that resulted in his banishment. ::

Celia: :: I saved his life once. I took a punishment in his stead. What for him was final death turned into fourteen nights of lashings. Jamal kept me company. ::

:: I had always thought I would meet him again. I plan a trip outside the city; it was him who I intended to find. ::

:: Fitting, isn’t it, that his death was by our sire’s hands when prior I had denied him thus. ::

GM: :: He tackled our sire when the latter attempted to retreat during the battle’s final stage. Donovan removed his head. His last words were to call our sire a cocksucker for ‘making me do Jade.’ His sacrifice bought time for the holy man to complete a spell that stripped our sire of his speed and flight. ::

Celia: :: Making him do Jade? ::

GM: :: I am uncertain what he meant. ::

:: I am glad for his presence and sacrifice. Our sire would not have lost the battle if he retained his full powers. ::

Celia: :: He whipped me. At our sire’s behest. ::

Jade turns her face away. Red colors her cheeks, red for the boy she lost long ago and thought to find again. Would that it stain her cheeks to show the world all that has been lost. A great gash upon her, a scar across face or back for every life that she has ruined. So too for the rest of their kind, that they might find what once made their hearts beat inside their cold chests.

:: I don’t have words. I want to honor him, but I grieve all the same for what once was, and what could have been. ::

:: Thank you for telling me. ::

GM: :: I am sorry for your loss. I was unaware you had remained close. ::

Celia: :: Too much to give from one heart. Like my mother. ::

:: May I ask you something pertaining to my family? ::

GM: :: You may. ::

Celia: :: The mural revealed many family secrets, such as Lucy’s true parents, though it read “presumed” on my connection to hers. Both Maxen and Ron are listed as presumed, beneath the words “Generation Seven.” I’m curious as to what that means. If you cannot answer, then I wish to know if Ron is not my biological father any more than Maxen is. ::

:: I’d also like to know how Payton knew to send her rebellious child to the dollhouse for reconstruction. ::

GM: :: I do not believe Ronald Landreneau to be your biological father. I will answer no further. ::

:: The Dollhouse is known to many kine among old and wealthy families. They are aware the headmistress may reform even the most recalcitrant wayward daughter, though they are unaware as to her true nature. ::

Celia: :: Is the question of my father one that you will speak of in time? ::

:: Or is this something I am to discover on my own? ::

GM: :: In time, when and if I believe you may be trusted with that information.. ::

:: I cannot stop you from investigating it elsewhere, but I do not believe you will find it from another source. ::

Celia: It’s Celia who looks back to her sister.

:: Then I thank you, and look forward to how I may yet redeem myself for my recent actions. ::

:: One further query. I no longer wish to rely on others to fight my battles, both figuratively as well as literally. I have been coddled and spoiled and it is time that I rise to my feet. Will you teach me to wield a blade? Or will you permit me to borrow or pay for Harrison to give lessons in combat when he is not otherwise occupied? ::

GM: :: Harrison would attempt to rape you. He is a mad dog on a leash. He has no interest in helping those weaker than he, only exploiting them. I suspect he will require further lessons before he is completely broken in to my service. The shattered blood bond will exacerbate his mental instability. ::

Celia: :: It is not being raped by he or his ilk that I fear; my body has thus been used for years. It means nothing to me. ::

Wry amusement colors the mental words. At this moment she feels little for what once was.

GM: :: I learned bladework from our sire. His lessons were harsh but instructive. I will teach you. ::

Celia: :: Thank you. I look forward to these lessons. If there is some skill I have you do not yet master I would like to offer the same. ::

GM: :: I will likely have little spare time in the coming nights. But I will consider the offer. ::

:: I would also warn you to beware ghosts and to keep salt nearby. A large force of wraiths was part of the coalition that destroyed our sire. I do not know what they sought to gain from his final death, but if they targeted him they may target us. Your sire and I caused great pain to many of them. They may pursue revenge. ::

Celia: :: I will do so. Thank you for the warning. ::

GM: That’s what sisters are for, isn’t it?

To look out for one another.

To be there for one another.

Celia may have lost a sire, but perhaps she has still come out ahead.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The car eventually reaches the Evergreen along its circuitous route. Camilla requests that Celia tender the remaining $50,000 to Jamal before they get out—“For I am uncertain what will await us inside.”

Jamal laughs darkly and licks his lips, eyeing Celia like he might a piece of meat. She need not have her sister’s powers of ESP to recognize the equally dark desires in his eyes. It is fortunate, perhaps, that violation no longer fears her.

“Someone’s gonna get it…”

A knife appears in Camilla’s hands, flaying open the ghoul’s cheek to the bone. He hisses and clutches his face. Donovan’s elder childe regards him coolly, ice mask back in place.

“Your thoughts are plain to me, half-blood. Mind your place.”

The Evergreen is a hive of activity when they step inside, Camilla still disguised. It feels like everyone is either there or away on some errand that is the subject of much speculation and gossip—though none nearly so much as the fact that Donovan is dead. The sheriff is fallen! Savoy is going to make a move. A big move. It’s on everyone’s lips. The only question is how.

Fabian smilingly sees the pair up to one of the third floor’s Louis XIV-style sitting rooms. Pietro, Draco, Gamberro, and the redhead join them. Pietro wastes no time in trash-talking Jade, regaling the other three Kindred with all the sordid details of how she messed up. He says he is never taking her on another burglary job again—not if she paid him.

The other three Kindred laugh and exclaim at his stories. Draco laughs hardest of all. The pale-faced vampire looks like just another smiling, cruel face in Elysium now. Relishing pain, kicking people while they’re down, and right at home among the monsters he once so deplored.

They don’t wait long before Antoine Savoy and Natasha Preston come to see them, though. They wait barely any time at all.

“Ah, the returning heroes of the hour!” the French Quarter lord exclaims with a wide grin. He lavishes praise upon Pietro and Camilla (the latter not by name) for cracking the vault and retrieving the sheriff’s secrets. He extols Draco and his coterie for arriving in the nick of time to help defeat the prince’s agents. He sings praises and overflows with compliments. He looks immeasurably pleased. He declares what a glorious future awaits and what high places they have secured for themselves within it. He promises rich rewards for their faithful service—“Rewards you shall claim very, very soon!” he declares with a knowing wink.

He does not once reference, speak to, or even look at Jade.

He acts for all the world as if she is invisible.

Peter Lebeaux appears, too. He accepts the briefcase from Camilla and states that he’ll “get right on this.” Savoy fetes, flatters, and warmly receives his elder grandchilde like she’s a long-lost daughter finally returned home. “I have been so looking forward to discussing your future with us, my dear,” he declares with a wide a smile.

“As for you, Mr. Draco, I want to see you next,” he nods towards Celia’s one-time lover. “There’s much work to be done, and no rest for the wicked—or one of my newly top-most agents!” he grins. “I think your talents are going to make you just the right man for this assignment.”

“Of course, my lord,” Draco smiles in response.

:: I will ensure he knows of the help you were to our mission, :: echoes Camilla’s telepathic voice before she heads into the elevator with Savoy and Preston. Pietro, Draco, Gamberro, and the redhead depart the sitting room after some last words of praise and direction from the French Quarter lord.

Jade is once again ignored. No one even tells her to leave.

Celia: They do not need to. Long have her thoughts been distant to this room, words and taunts and pointed ignorance but a buzz in the back of her mind. Stoic as it is, her face could be carved of marble.

Only one receives any sign that she remains aware of their physical surroundings: the answering warmth of her smile bridges the mental link between Donovan’s childer before the elder of them disappears behind the doors.

The others depart. For long moments Celia sits alone with her thoughts. Gently, the darkness comes for her. It draws her into its embrace: a hand on her back, another on her cheek, it tilts her face upward and smiles at her, a new forever friend. It swallows her whole.

In the sanctity behind the shadowy veil, she dances.

Outside the moon hangs low in the sky and stars greet her with twinkling, far away lights. Some say the future is in the stars, but how could it be? Their light is a thing of the past, thousands of years in the making.

No, the future is not written in the stars; the stars are from whence she came. Celia, of the Heavens. It is her past. Not her destiny.

The social snubbing was meant to wound. But the blade missed its mark; for the first time in her existence she is not slave to another. No domineering male figure pushes his will upon her to bend her to his needs. No patron forces her into actions she must abide less she face the consequences of lethargy. She has no master to answer to. She is nothing, beholden to no one.

Wings unfurl from her body; a spring in her step lifts her into the air. The nightjar trills its serenity to the skies.

They are free.


Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Ayame: Later, a Toreador Anarch slips through the streets of Mid-City until she reaches the apartment building she had been to with another face, as another girl. She is not one of the multiples; she is something different, something other. This mask is just a mask.

Perception is reality.

Clad in leather leggings, combat boots, a distressed tank and a hooded sweater made for someone three inches taller, Ayame Seong-Jin nestles within the shadows’ embrace to make her trek. Leather gloves cover the disfigured skin on her hands, and over it all she wears a black, shapeless coat that reaches her knees. A skullcap keeps her hair out of her face, and a stake burns a hole in her pocket.

Just in case.

Unseen, she moves through the halls of the apartment building, up the flights of stairs, and to the door a girl named Celia had once been carried through with a piece of wood in her chest. She carries a white envelope in her hand with the name “Durant” scrawled across it. Unless the girl is much mistaken, the recipient should be returning home soon with the face of Coco’s childe. She waits until she hears the familiar pattern of his footsteps around the corner to step out of the shadows and deposit the letter between the bottom of door and hallway carpet, lodged halfway through.

GM: Ayame waits and waits until the sun is nearly up.

Roderick does not return to the apartment unit.

Ayame: Ayame becomes Celia and returns to her haven.

She’s not giving up so easily.


Wednesday evening, 23 March 2016

GM: Celia receives a text message from Mélissaire when she awakens at her haven the next evening, saying to stop by the Evergreen.

Celia: She gives the ghoul a call.

GM: “Hello, Miss Kalani, what can I do for you?” greets the ghoul. Indistinct noises are audible in the background. Voices? Footsteps?

“We’ll have to make this quick, if you please—I’m a little stretched for time right now.”

Celia: Politely, Celia inquires as to when she’s requested to stop by the Evergreen. She puts a note of concern in her voice; is everything okay? She says, in a round about way, that she’d thought Lord Savoy might not want her around for a while considering the events of last night.

GM: Mélissaire chuckles with amusement at Celia’s question.

“Have you been paying attention to the news, my dear?”

Lord Savoy is not summoning Celia for a personal audience, Mélissaire states. Many of the French Quarter’s tenants are being summoned to the Evergreen. They are advised to arrive as soon as possible—the early bird will get the worm.

“It’s time for you all to earn your keeps!” the ghoul exclaims brightly. “Rent is due tonight.”

More noises are audible in the background. Many voices are talking, some at high volume. Mélissaire briefly breaks off from the call to talk to someone else. The ghoul sounds very busy. All of the Evergreen sounds very busy.

Celia: She says she’ll be by soon.

GM: “I’m so very pleased to hear,” beams Mélissaire. “Be sure you dress and pack for some rough and tumble! Things could get pretty hairy.”

The ghoul ends the call after a last goodbye.

Celia: They’re going to war.

This is what Roderick had been talking about all those weeks ago. This is it, isn’t it. And he was wrong about Savoy not putting her in the field. Maybe last week he wouldn’t have, but now that she’s lost his favor? No reason to spare her.

She digs out another phone. Ayame calls Roderick.

GM: The phone rings and rings without anyone picking up. Roderick finally sends a short text:

Yes?

Ayame: Need to see you. Urgent.

GM: Can’t.

Ayame: It’s about your sire.

GM: Busy. Text it.

Ayame: Carolla is not your brother. They set you up.

GM: A few moments pass.

Where are you?

Ayame: Can meet you. Easton Park.

GM: St. Louis Cemetery #3. Ten minutes.

Ayame: She strips and changes her clothing, then her face, and finally her form. She’s out the window and on her way to the cemetery, invisible in the dark night, flying across the city faster than any bird should be.

Two miles to the cemetery? She’s there in a little over two minutes. The bird lands upon the nearby apartment building, Espalande at City Park. Still veiled in shadows, she returns to her assumed identity with her typical clothing: leather leggings, combat boots, a hooded sweater made for someone three inches taller, and a skullcap. Gloves cover her disfigured hands.

The perch gives her an unrivaled vantage point of the cemetery’s entrances and exists; she keeps an eye out for Durant and anyone he might have chosen to bring with him.

Once she arrives she texts back a confirmation that she’ll meet him in ten.

GM: It’s not long at all before Roderick arrived. So do four other cars, surrounding the cemetery. Nevertheless, he gets out and walks in on his own. He’s dressed in sturdy clothes that look as if they can take a beating.

His face looks grim, hard, and unsmiling.

Silently, he waits.

Ayame: He receives a text message in short order.

Send your friends back to the Quarter.

GM: Roderick finally smiles.

It does not reach his eyes as he taps out:

Hello, Celia.

Ayame: Wrong thread.

GM: We both know that even on my worst night, with one hand tied behind my back, I still could take you by myself.

They won’t disturb us. But they will stay outside as insurance against any traps or ambushes you might be or have been planning.

If you are not planning anything, you have no greater reason to fear for your safety. You’re already unsafe around me.

Ayame: Top of the Espalande.

GM: No. You’ll come down here.

By the way, only someone with Celia’s skillset could have made it there so fast.

Ayame: And yet he made it in ten. She hadn’t told him she’d arrived, only that she would see him in ten.

Anyone with a car could make it in ten. Anyone with speed could make it in ten.

GM: Her former lover offers no further response as he awaits hers.

Ayame: Top of the Espalande. You are bound to him with no reason to believe me. I will not so willingly turn myself in for moving against him.

GM: Roderick chuckles.

Have it your way, Celia.

He turns to leave the cemetery.

Celia: Silent wings carry her through the cemetery to land atop a nearby mausoleum. She returns to her bipedal form. Her features blur and she becomes Celia once more. She is under no illusion that she is safe here; a single bound can take him to her. Wary, she poises herself to flee should things go south.

“Here,” she says. For he alone, the shadows part.

GM: Roderick turns around.

“Explain,” he says without preamble.

His face looks as lifeless as the stone graves around them.

But it’s not the same dead expression on Henry Garrison’s face. No, there’s still life on his son’s, even dead as he is.

There’s just no life around her.

Celia: “I did to him what we did to Flannagan. And Gui. In the moment of his final death the spell work that was used on him came undone and I found his real print. Blood only as strong as mine. Four steps removed from you. He was Brujah, but he was not Coco’s childe.”

“You were set up and made to believe he was, as Savoy knew this was one of the few things that would pull you away from your sire.”

“There were multiple hands involved. Lebeaux did the spell work. He had a sample of your blood, and if for any reason that wasn’t enough he had Micheal’s to work with. I know he has done this work before because he has done it for me when Savoy summons me as Dicentra. Preston and Savoy put a tracker on your phone when we went to see them on Sunday. I believe they also implanted a command into your mind that night with an activation clause for finding out about Carolla. Veronica convinced Carolla to take you out and gave him the way to track you. Preston and Savoy knew that I planned to meet him on Thursday, though they told me that we would move on him Saturday.”

“I believe there was also some spell work done on you Sunday, or on Thursday when you met them alone, but that’s only a guess. Lebeaux made a big deal about you needing to be the one to kill Gui. I believe one of the serpents present would finish the spell when you took his unlife.”

“The spa was bugged. When I took Carolla apart to find out his age—no older than us—I said I was going to take his brother apart as well to find out all his secrets. I’d mentioned to Silvestri that I wanted Micheal at Saturday’s party. No doubt the word got back to Savoy, or someone merely listened to the exchange at the spa, and Preston won Micheal during last night’s fight.”

“I suspect Savoy also had your sister Embraced. When he found out that I told you he knew about her he changed plans. When I moved Dani away from Beach on Bourbon, Gui reported it to Preston. I asked Gui for assistance finding her sire and he later mentioned he’d needed to check with Savoy about it. That Saturday I met with him and Gamberro to tempt him with Carolla’s corpse. We set a time for later that evening.”

“The moment I left the Evergreen that night I was tailed. I drove back to the Evergreen and was abducted right outside the doors. You were immediately set up with a new night doctor and new friends. I suspect Savoy tipped off the Guard about my departure time. I wasn’t supposed to survive.”

“I missed the meeting with Gui. We arranged to meet on Sunday instead and he would bring Dani’s sire. He and Gamberro came inside the spa to check it was Carolla, then Gamberro left and brought you back with him, no sire in sight. I suspect that the sire has been disposed of by now, if not as soon as it happened, as Savoy would not want his hand in this revealed should you question the sire.”

“You saw what happened with Flannagan’s corpse when we were done with her. The same happened to Carolla; they were his blackened bones on the table at my spa. If Carolla’s blood had the potency we expected then mine would have thickened when I consumed him. It did not. I learned two skills from him, one from Gui. Flannagan’s blood was equivalent to Carolla’s but I only learned one from her; I suspect that the strength of their blood determines what you can learn from them, and sharing her split that between us. It is no wonder that elders hide this: they are tempting targets to those who know.”

“Somewhat relatedly, I also suspect that it was Savoy who sent the hunters after us the day we spent at your haven. Their deaths weighed heavily on your mind. That plus your sister’s Embrace plus Coco’s supposed Mafia child was enough to drive you into darkness.”

“Setites are charmers. They bring you in and you never realize they have you until it’s too late. It is why he surrounds you with them.”

“I suspect that Will Carolla was the childe of Don Carolla. He mentioned wanting to find Roxanne Gerlette because she had crossed his uncle, and I don’t imagine Roxanne had any reason to interact with him under a mortal guise. He also knew taming. While hardly rare, it does require a teacher, and the rumors about Don Carolla involve the pet alligators. Ghouls presumably, and Will Carolla learned the skill from Don Carolla so that he might speak to them and avoid the aggression our kind faces from animals.”

GM: Roderick listens.

He doesn’t interrupt. He doesn’t question. He doesn’t frown, or give an indication of surprise, or of much of anything else.

It’s only towards the end, finally, that he snickers.

Charmers. They bring you in and you never realize they have you until it’s too late.

He chortles, grinning from ear to ear. Quietly at first, then louder. He cannot contain his mirth. The cemetery rings with peals of his laughter. Dark and bleak and booming, brimming with poison, with contempt, with mockery, with mad, wild glee. There’s only one man laughing, but he laughs like he’s listening to the funniest thing in all the world. He laughs like he did in the car, on the way to Edith’s diablerie, when Jade thought he was surely cracked. It’s the laugh of a dead man. The laugh of the Damned.

He finally stops.

Then smiles at Celia.

Then he holds up his phone.

“I’ve audio recorded this treasonous little story of yours, Celia.”

It’s a poisonous smile. The kind they wear in Elysium.

“I think Lord Savoy would be very interested to hear it. Don’t you?”

He tucks the phone back away.

“Don’t worry, though. There’s a few things you can do for me if you want it to stay buried forever.”

Celia: No, she hadn’t thought that would work.

But now her conscience is clear.

No expression flickers across her face. Not at the laughter. Not at the recording. Not at the threat. She lifts her shoulders and spreads her hands in a way that suggests she’s taken what action she could and now she’s done. She offers no rebuttal. No insistence. No pleas that he believe her, no swearing to God or upon a grave, no demand that he give her a chance to find proof.

“What things?”

GM: “Let’s see,” he says thoughtfully, “there’s sharing that little shifting trick of yours, to change faces. That would be awfully convenient to know.”

He grins.

“I’ve always thought it was so poetic, how you knew that. Being literally two-faced. Sometimes the Blood really does tell.”

Celia: “What else?”

GM: “I’ll think on it.”

Celia: “If I make it through the fighting tonight I will teach you.”

GM: He sneers at her.

“Don’t count on my help.”

Celia: Celia levels a stare at him.

“I hadn’t.”

She looks past him to the entrance of the cemetery, where his friends and his car wait. Her face changes. Jade looks right at home in the leather and boots. She’s the one who finally smiles, though it does not meet the eyes she named herself for.

“On to the Evergreen.”

GM: Roderick’s—Draco’s?—sneer doesn’t abate.

It looks so at home on him, now.

The sneers.

The contempt.

The threats.

The lies.

He wasn’t even mad, over the Ayame lie. Over the other ‘lies’ he caught her in. Just business as usual between them. Just business as usual between two vampires. Two liars and predators and backstabbers who only deal with one another on a comparative power basis, and who never share anything real.

He sneers at her, this pale-faced and fanged predator in the graveyard, and he looks like just another cruel face in Elysium.

A low rain has already started to fall.

“No. You’re on your own.”

With those last words, the boy who once loved Celia turns and leaves.


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