“You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”
Julius B. Baudoin
Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM
GM: The trombone echoes over the Mississippi’s dark waters, long, slow, and mournful.
Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets
GM: Julius’ landlord hasn’t asked him to “play for Misha Sipokni” in a little while. He hasn’t had to. The musician is perfectly happy to play for the river himself. His father and grandfather worked the shipyards. He served in the Coast Guard. So much of his present empire is water-borne. He owes much to the river, or at least the Atlantic. He is glad his landlord seemingly recognizes that fact, or at least holds his own respect for the Mississippi, and still asks Julius to demonstrate his respect for the river from time to time.
In the land of milk and honey
Its hard to understand
Them that hold the power
In the palm of their hand
It’s easier rent than his other tasks.
It’s an easier task than tonight.
And have no comprehension
Of what it means to be
Standing at the mercy
Of begging and defeat
They say music soothes the savage beast. Julius has yet to see if it can soothe the savage Beast, at least tonight.
His people had disappointing reports. The long-awaited deal with the Vietnamese Triad fell through. The promised organ shipment was seized by law enforcement agents. Now the precious, life-rich organs are who knows where—nowhere that Julius can feast upon them. And there have been no recent funerals in Algiers. The kine aren’t dying fast enough. The subject came up, once, with his other patron. The infrequency of jazz funerals. The older vampire had smiled his supple fanged smile and told Julius that the kine are like bugs as well as cattle. Sure, their lifespan is infinitesimal compared to yours. But you usually can’t wait for them to die, when their imminent deaths suit your needs. It’s not practical.
No, he’d said. When they get in your ear, when they buzz and they need to die, you need to squash them.
And when a predator hungers, they cannot hope to stumble upon prey already dead.
So all you unworthy sinners
Without a pin to your name
Looking up at someone new
Writes the rules to the game
Twice-cursed, some have called him.
Curse enough to hunger for blood.
How much greater is the curse to hunger for flesh as well? The kine will not part with that so easily.
So Julius, twice-cursed, broods before the river.
But we stand with no one among us
And watch without a tear
What’s becoming of our brothers
Every time, every time that we hear
The lyrics are from Family Dinner—Volume 2, by jazz fusion group Snarky Puppy, released only a month or so ago.
Brother I’m hungry
I can’t afford to eat
Brother it’s cold outside
Living rough on the streets
Yet, as Julius’ mighty lungs pump the trombone’s mournful music into the night air, he is not without an audience tonight.
The big cat’s tread is utterly silent. Julius does not hear the creature approach. He only sees it—and only, he is certain, because it wishes to be seen.
Qua. His landlord’s favorite servant. Perhaps more than him.
After all, the last reported sighting of a wild jaguar in Louisiana was in June 1886. Qua is quite possibly the last of his kind. A relic of the past preserved into the present through his undying master’s blood.
Caitiff, on the other hand, remain all too abundant.
The great cat silently sits down on its haunches.
Then it speaks. Its voice is soft and faint, like a ripple over the Mississippi at midnight, but with a distinctly feline undercurrent. Like a low growl.
“Therrre is a trespasserrr rrrithin my domain.”
“Rrremove him and yourrr corrrvée this rrrreek rrrill be fulfilled.”
The jaguar bares its teeth, so very long and sharp, and for a moment Julius thinks it means to attack. But the creature instead hacks a glob of blood over the ground. The coppery tang, event faint as it is, assails Julius’ nose and sends his Beast hungrily pacing behind its cage.
The cat speaks again.
“Taste it and you rrrill knorr the rrray to him.”
Julius: Behind Julius, the Mississippi sings its old familiar song, its waves a moonlit cascade of drum brushes softly caressing the snare-drum shoreline. He hears it, smells it, and feels it in his bones. But the blood before him… its notes burn brighter, louder, hotter. A soloing trumpet that cuts through city’s nighttime cacophony.
Following those notes, Julius sets down his trombone—tonight’s is a purple plastic affair he played on K&B’s ‘97 swan-song float—and approaches. At home inside “Algiers Pernt”, Julius has shed his faux-Zegna pinstripe and Uggo Vasare wingtips for a faded tee emblazoned with Circinus’ OPEC-era logo, baggy gym shorts, and knockoff Yeezy hightops. So dressed, he half-creeps, half-saunters towards the deadly, rosette-furred beast, carefully eyeing it through his counterfeit Gucci aviators. Glancing away only briefly to check the time on his Fauxlex Submariner, he then squats down before the globule and hums more to Misha Sipokni than to Qua.
“Awrite, I’ll lookit wot da cat dragged in den.”
Still, he gives the beast a respectful chin-nod before pinching the sanguine glob between his fingers.
Julius never needed his mama to tell him twice to eat his turnip greens, and he sure doesn’t need a cat to tell him twice to drink blood.
And so, without further ado, he sucks down the globule like a crawfish’s head.
GM: The taste hits him like a crawdaddy’s closing pincers.
And like a tune in a jazz musician’s heart, there’s something inside Julius that wants out.
The Caitiff forces it down with all his will, wrestling the Beast back into its cage. He cannot lose it against his landlord’s favorite pet. Whoever wins that fight, he still loses.
Like so much else that comes with being clanless.
Lose even if you win.
But the struggle is not an easy one. He feels his fangs protruding in his mouth. He hears the Beast roaring in his ears. He feels its claws raking the bars of its cage with every moment the vitae’s taste lingers on his tongue. That undeniable Brujah fire, even weak-blooded as it is. Julius hungers. His Beast hungers. He wants more.
But he doesn’t want just blood. Oh no.
No, there has only ever been one thing that can truly slake Julius’ hunger.
The jaguar, meanwhile, stares at Julius in that patiently knowing way only cats can. The beast flicks its tail once, then bounds off into the night.
But the Caitiff smells it.
From a thousand miles away.
An irresistible pull towards the rest of that blood.
Julius: Julius staggers as his tongue burns like noon-day asphalt. He grinds his jaws, as if trying to crush the itch he has to scratch. But the bruxism only makes it worse. The desire to gnash, rip, and chew. The hunger.
He steps back, and forces himself to turn towards the river. Away from where Qua sat, and away from the lingering aroma of its tantalizingly vitae-soaked organs. He knows he could follow that scent trail, or at least he could try. But his hunger hasn’t stripped him of all sanity, not yet at least. After all, he has another scent trail to follow, whose source promises a similarly visceral temptation—and one he can literally taste. He can’t deny the Beast inside his soul, but he can redirect it.
Picking up his trombone, he pauses briefly to regarding Ol’ Miss and her unceasing, yet ever-changing song. “It’s jass,” he murmurs like liquid thunder, “you don’t fight da rhythm, no. You cain’t swim ‘gainst its current, as dat don’t woik. No, yo gotta dive in, dive in all da way an’ make yo own melodic waves, make ‘em so gud an’ shugah-sweet da river cain’t help but swim wid yoself.”
The sentiment makes him smile. It’s a hungry smile. Hot and growling, but still a smile.
That smile lingers as the former Bleu Devil dimeback turns again—this time toward his quarry. His prey.
“Jass-time, it is den.”
And with that happy, hungry thought, the predator dances off into the darkness.
Thursday night, 25 February 2016, PM
GM: Julius dances through the night, and the ‘melody’ carries him along.
It’s like any dance, when good music is playing.
You just have to open your heart and let the music do the dancing for you.
Papa Juju’s sharp nose carries him through the homey pubs, small art galleries, and quaint Creole cottages of Algiers Point, until he reaches the border and its barbed wire fence. Security guards look askance when he wants to leave for the well-to-do neighborhood’s safety for the urban junglescape beyond, but they don’t stop him. It’s his funeral.
Or, if he has anything to say, someone else’s.
It’s just too bad theirs probably won’t get a jazz band.
Algiers Point is a neighborhood within a neighborhood. The divide becomes apparent the moment Julius crosses Opelousas Avenue. On one side of the six-foot wall, there are immaculately maintained 150-year-old homes. Almost every resident is white. On the other side, Julius sees boards and tarps over broken windows, graffiti ranging from gang tags to crudely-etched genitalia, trash littering the streets, and run-down homes that look like Katrina hit them yesterday. Practically everyone here is black. The occasional gunshot and car alarm provides a soundtrack.
One side is ’hood. The other is suburbs. Total opposites. Muddy and clean.
Julius: Julius breathes in the muddy scent. It smells like home—because it is. He would love to carouse in this jungle, his jungle, but his tongue still burns with the siren-hot tang of the Brujah’s blood. And then there’s the Hunger.
It’s like an old school phone constantly ringing in his head. He doesn’t dare pick up, not here, not now, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t rip the cord out of its jack. It just keeps ringing. And ringing. And ringing.
“Damn gooks,” he grouses at the organ-belated Triad.
GM: Julius traipses through the familiar urban jungle. Few people are visible on the streets at this late hour, and few of them for any good purpose.
His own included.
He follows his nose like a broke musician chasing his promised pay.
But unlike a musician, his payday soon materializes.
He’s a Latino man in maybe his late 20s with a shaved head. He looks awful. His throat has a mass of uneven, savage scars, like it was torn apart by a wild animal, and there’s a deep-looking gash on one side of his neck. His wifebeater and pants are spattered with dried blood, but they do nothing to detract from his bulging biceps, ripped chest, and full-sleeve tattoos of a skull-faced woman with chains for hair. A gold cross glints from around his neck, along with a necklace threaded through two vampire-sized fangs. His knuckles are thick and scarred.
And, Julius can tell at a glance, they are Kindred.
Rage and pain waft off him like the Mississippi’s stench off a foolish swimmer. His eyes are enormous and bloodshot, and his fangs distended. But he does not move rashly. He’s creeping behind a one-story single-family house. Getting a look through the windows.
Julius: The sight of the trespasser caught mid-poaching in his hood enrages the already hunger-grated Caitiff. And the bloody scent of him… it just makes matters worse. Far worse.
Julius almost charges like it’s 4th down in Dillard Stadium, and the Latino just caught the pigskin. But the taste on Julius’ tongue reminds him of the trespasser’s clan: Brujah. If the tattooed thug knows the secrets of velocitas, then a blitz by the Caitiff likely won’t lead to a sack. Or a meal. And Julius—and his Beast—wants that meal ticket. Badly.
Thus, the hunter uses his damned blood to transform into a far smaller, stealthier predator, hoping to slink up and ambush the distracted Brujah.
Bones shrink. Skin follows with it, hardening to leathery scales. Limbs twist and contort, joints bending at new angles, and a tail sprouts. Only the fanged smile remains, though its number of fangs have multipled.
So transformed into a baby alligator, Julius hungrily creeps across the dog-piss-stained grass, using whatever foliage exists to conceal his approach.
GM: And so distracted by his own hunger, the tattooed Brujah appears not to notice the nearby and stealthily concealed young alligator.
That’s when he finishes jimmying with the window and lifts it up to slip inside.
Julius: And that’s when the cute but unseen baby gator transforms in the blink of an eye, not only rapidly accelerating in a fully grown bull, but also making a species-lateral metamorphosis from a Alligator mississippiensis into a Crocodylus acutus. The massive 15-foot American crocodile—seldom seen along the northern Gulf Coast—weighs close to a ton and has a 3,700 psi bite strength—the strongest of any living animal.
But this croc isn’t living.
But he’s hungry all the same.
Hungrier, actually, especially now that he is so very, very close to his already bloodied prey.
The phone’s ring is deafening now. So loud and demanding that it rings itself right off the receiving and pours out its salivating music. It’s hot, like when Julius finally directs his funeral band to cease its sombre melodies and “cut loose the corpse”. Except in this case, he’s the corpse. Or maybe the Brujah is. Either way, the Beast is free, and it enjoys its superhumanly strong, inhumanly large puppet.
So possessed, the 1-ton croc bull lunges at the unsuspecting Brujah with a wide-open maw. He half-hisses, half-growls as that maw frighteningly bites down with steel-shattering strength, fangs clamping onto and into the Brujah’s organ-rich torso.
GM: The crocodile feels something beneath it. Hard. Painful. But not debilitating. It doesn’t matter. It moves like a ghost.
One moment it’s crawling towards its prey. The next, its great jaws are clamping onto flesh. Bliss floods its mouth, hot and red and so much more of it, than the mere taste the juzz musician got. The crocodile will not settle for a mere taste. It’ll have it all.
Julius: Consumed by that sanguine fixation, the undead croc’s rational brain is clocked off, leaving dumb instinct to drive the cockpit. That instinct—which is part gridiron and part crocodilian—attempts to sweep the Brujah off his feet. But takedowns require arms, and death-rolls need water. All in all, it’s an awkward, ungainly set of reptilian movements that devolves into sod, tearing thrashing. Throughout it all though, the massive croc never releases its jaws, but merely continues to savagely bite down with cement-crushing force. More and more. Drinking, swallowing. More and more. Caring not what abuse it receives, only what gore it can gorge on. It closes its eyes, shielding its orbs underneath hard scales and just savors each swallow. More and more. It’s what the Beast wants. More and more. And that’s all that matters now. And maybe all that ever did. Or will.
GM: Abuse it receives—and dispenses—in spades.
To witness the death roll of a crocodile is to witness sheer power and force. Julius saw that firsthand, when he drained the beast and consumed its life to steal its shape. Crocodiles will “build up” before the roll; almost like the way sprinters tense up before bounding off into the race. He remembers how he could actually feel the crocodile as it tensed up. And when it exploded, like his mawla told him, he either wanted to be very far away from it—or on top of it. Preferably with other people piled up on it.
And being far away wasn’t an option.
It isn’t for the Brujah, either.
Massive jaws seize and tear as the crocodile tucks its legs in and rolls as best it can on dry land, shredding through muscle and bone. Flesh as well as blood vanishes down the great reptile’s gullet. Distantly, the crocodile registers blows raining down upon it, crushingly hard and brutally fast, one after another after another. Bones snap. The crocodile knows pain.
But it does not care. It just holds fast onto with its great jaws, tucks its legs, and rolls. Death roll is aptly named, for the crocodile’s roll can only end in one death—predator’s or prey’s.
No. That’s not true.
It can’t only end in one death.
The red haze eventually recedes, like it always does. The Man wins out over the Beast, like it always does—until the Beast returns.
Everything hurts. Everywhere. Everything is broken. Agony screams through the crocodile’s shattered bones as it tries to move. Knocked-out fangs litter the floor.
Agony screams through the crocodile’s jaws as it tries to open them. It can’t. It hurts too much. The Brujah snapped its upper jaw clean in half. It might never use it again, if the crocodile’s blood ran merely cold, and not room temperature.
The beast might never leave this place alive, if only it lived.
But it does not live.
And for all its pains and torments, its adversary has fared worse.
What’s left is barely recognizable as the Latino man it once was—there’s nothing left but shredded meat and equally shattered bone. The crocodile cannot even make out the face. Even the full sleeve tattoos on the bulging muscles are gone, sent to fill the beast’s hungry gullet. Only the pungent scent of the meat’s blood indicates it was once more (or less) than human.
But something is amiss.
Maybe it’s the coppery scent of the blood spattering the bedroom’s when did they get inside?) walls. The weak, piss-like stuff against the liquid fire that flows in the veins of Troile’s childer.
But more obvious is the extra leg—a dark-skinned leg, not a Latino man’s paler leg—lying in a grisly, silent heap at the food of a bed. There’s a sock on the leg. A simple white sock with a black stripe around the top.
Around where calf should connect to thigh is shredded flesh and naked bone lying in a pool of steadily spreading red.
The crocodile feels heavy.
And very, very full.
Julius: The croc bull gives a gluttonous belch that sours into a pain-wracked hiss. With the Beast sated—for now—Julius wills his gore-fed vitae to flow through his undead flesh in a restorative torrent that heals him and makes the agony recede in one scarlet wave.
As the red fog of Beast and pain twice-over wane, the croc regards anew his surroundings. And his victims, both intended and not.
He also scents the air, scanning for survivors and witnesses. As hellish as his home is, Julius knows that the screams of the crocodile-slaughtered are not regular contributors to Algiers’ night-track.
GM: Julius knows his people well… but not enough to identify them by just their feet. There is so little of his meal left.
He looks like he is in a bedroom. Or at least what’s left of one.
Everything has been completely trashed by the two vampires’ midnight battle.
Julius: The croc quickly scans the rest of the room, and the area outside it. He waddles, searching for portraits on the walls, nightstands, or otherwise, even as he tries to recall the home’s owners by its address. The rising guilt isn’t like the raging Beast’s hunger, but it’s gnawing on him all the same. Time is fleeting, but his half-dead conscious compels him to look. He doesn’t expect he’ll like any answer he finds—which is why he has to know.
Yet, even at the same time, the croc’s mind touches all it sees, gauging whether he thinks he could reasonably pass off the slaughter and destruction on a real, living croc. A bizarre, freak tragedy, yes, but a ‘natural’ one all the same. After all, Dashonte had told his cut-krewe plenty of tales of loose anacondas slithering into Floridian homes and swallowing whole families. Then again, maybe those were just urban legends—or Masquerade cover-ups…
GM: That’s when the door bursts open.
The crocodile lurches to the side as the baseball bat smashes down against the carpeted floor with a resounding crack. The holder is a man. Black. Middle-aged. Dressed in pajamas. His face is a mask of shock, incredulity, and horror—but above all, it’s two things.
The man bellows another wordless scream and swings the bat back towards the croc’s head.
Julius: Inside that croc’s head, Julius’ psyche recognizes the man. Yes, he’s the electrician who just finished wiring up one of Julius’ newest local businesses, an Algereen po’ boy bistro called The Sandwich Machine. Which definitely makes this Lamarque St, and the man… Townes, something Townes. Chaquille? Darius? Lamonte? Perhaps it would be easier to remember if the man wasn’t presently trying to brain Julius with a bat—just as it might be easier if most of the the man’s family wasn’t inside Julius’ belly.
Either way, it’s past time for Julius to leave. And not just to protect the Masquerade, but to avoid his neighbor from waking the now slumbering Beast inside the croc and subsequently buying a one-way ticket to see his family—or what’s left of them.
Grief sits heavy in the croc’s soul, almost as heavy as the bloody organs in his gut, but he quickly turns, away from Townes and towards Carlos. Or what remains of the Brujah. Julius snatches that hunk in his crocodilian maw and then attempts to flee.
GM: What’s left of Carlos is like a rag doll in the crocodile’s massive jaws. The beast rapidly clambers up the windowsill, dives through, and flees into the night. The crack of a baseball bat echoes behind him, along with Townes’ raw cries. The bereaved electrician chases after the crocodile, barefoot and clad only sleepwear as he runs down the street with his brandished bat. He screams and curses for his neighbors to come help him. To “stop the gator!” He sounds like a lunatic.
But Townes is but a man. He cannot keep up. Even normal crocodiles can out-sprint healthy human males by around 5 mph, and Julius knows this is no ordinary crocodile. Perhaps, in some part of his soul, Townes does too.
Townes shouts after the beast, a raw-throated and wordless sound bereft of any meaning save pain—and challenge. But the monster is gone like a half-remembered nightmare. Townes is but a barefoot man in pajamas, screaming into the night at the top of his lungs.
For a long moment, he just stares ahead.
Then he collapses to his knees.
And he weeps.
Clanless Julius may be.
But for all that his own kind might scorn his vitae, he is still a child of Caine.
He is still a lord of the night.
He is still a predator.
And these kine shall ever be his prey.
Julius: These kine
These people. His people.
Clanless, Julius may be, but he is not without a community. He knows from whence he’s come. More saliently, his relationship with the mortals in his domain is very different than that of most Kindred’s. And that difference has naught to do with Julius’ clanlessness, but rather all to do with his diet.
Namely, Julius’ peculiar appetites mean that he, by and large, does not feed from those within his domain. Thus, he does not look upon the mortals in his community as kine, or cattle being maintained for the slaughter. A mortal man might eat his cat and derive sustenance, but a sane one does not keep and maintain a cat for such a purpose. Ergo, he wouldn’t regard one as food, but rather as a source of affection, idle amusement, and perhaps even companionship and love. As such, the creature would be viewed as worthy of protection and care—not the same afforded to oneself or one’s kin, but a relationship invoking duty and responsibility all the same. And should a sane man by unfortunate accident or urgency kill and eat such a ‘pet’…
And so, as Julius flees westward along Lamarque, passing Teche and Brooklyn on his way to the river, such thoughts sit uneasily in his soul.
The gore inside his crocodilian stomach, however, rests just fine.
Which makes Julius not just a predator—but a monster.