“Whip ’er good, Billy.”
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline knows she only has a couple minutes before this spirals out of control. She climbs out of the car and moves from one of the fallen to the next, collecting phones, firearms, and keys.
GM: She finds the aforementioned articles on all of them. The skinheads were not so foolish as to turn guns upon one of the Damned.
Caroline: The guns go into her passenger seat. Phones have sim cards removed. The last number dialed by the last thug is also written down. Finally, she moves one of the cars blocking her in. The entire process takes less than three minutes. There’s a cold, mute efficiency to it. The horror may come later. For now she has work to do, lest this balloon into another catastrophe.
If it hasn’t already.
She pulls away from the scene, leaving broken bodies behind. It’s not the best job of dealing with the evidence. Broken window shards might somehow be tracked to make and model. The city CSIs are pretty good. But she can’t exactly stick around. Gunshots attract attention, and the last thing she needs at 4 AM is a run-in with the police.
The knives are also beside her as she goes. Better to leave as little behind. Who knows what a DNA search would come up with, but she’d rather avoid it if possible. She missed drops, she’s sure, but hopefully they’ll get lost amid the rivers from the cooling bodies.
GM: Caroline may have been the only one of the combatants to use a firearm, but killing human beings is noisy, messy business, and using guns to do it only makes it noisier. Lights flicker and cars speed in the distance. She wonders how long it will be before someone arrives at the scene.
Caroline: Caroline rolls down what’s left of the windows, the muggy night air not bothering her. Her hands start to shake, but she drives on.
GM: The young Ventrue arrives at a well-appointed three-story home after several minutes of further driving. A low hedge wall surrounds the house. The two guards who stop her are instantly alarmed by her bloody state.
Caroline: She digs an pea coat out of her backseat to cover up the injuries, even as she discards her sweater onto the floor of the passenger seat. “Calm down, boys,” she instructs the security as she covers up.
GM: The security guards do not calm down, demanding to know where the blood is from and why they should possibly let her in.
Caroline: “I said, calm down.” The bloodstains on her calves and shoes all but fade away. Not worth paying attention to. “Just a minor incident, and nothing to do with your principle.”
She herself is certainly not as calm as she appears. The Beast at least is screaming bloody murder over all the spilled vitae. Couldn’t she have stopped to lap up at least some of the skinheads’ spilled blood?
GM: The men all but fall over themselves to let Caroline into the house. It is tastefully furnished, with polished hardwood floors, expensive carpets, and tan furniture that perfectly matches the walls, interspersed with the occasional potted plant. The place feels like it belongs in an interior design catalog for moderately upscale homes.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t actually say tacky, but she certainly thinks it. Class cannot be bought. It has the look of someone trying too hard.
GM: Caroline is greeted by a prudish-looking woman past her prime whose fashion sense must have died several decades ago. Her secretarial uniform looks right out of the ’50s or ’60s. Something about her smells vaguely unpleasant, like curdled milk.
Caroline: She puts on a fake smile. “Ah, you must be Dolores. It’s a pleasure to meet you in person.”
GM: The woman’s answering smile looks as pleasant on her face as an open jug of that same spoiled milk might smell.
“Mrs. Campbell, Miss Malveaux, but think nothing of it.”
Caroline: “My apologies and thanks, then. I trust I’m not too late?”
GM: “You are precisely on time, Miss Malveaux,” the woman states, beaming another rancid smile. It looks no more natural on her face than the previous one. “The lord almoner was with his wives, but never mind, he’ll make time for you now.”
Caroline: She gestures for the woman to lead on.
GM: The woman escorts Caroline into the house’s living room. The jug of spoiled milk tips over, spilling forth its chunky, stinking contents.
Three naked women sit at the feet of the chairs. Not on them, but beside them. Like pets not allowed up on furniture. Their faces are swelled purple with bruises. Their eyes stare at the floor, downcast, and do not look up at Caroline’s presence. The youngest woman looks in her early 20s, the oldest, maybe a decade older.
Caroline: Only a lifetime of political and social experience keeps the smile on Caroline’s face. It is every bit as fake as the class the rest of the home tries to project.
GM: A short, moderately plump figure in a businessman’s suit reclines on one of the chairs. His well-to-do garb, however, is completely at odds with the abomination that is his face. It is in, in a word, hideous. Beyond hideous. It resembles nothing so much as a gigantic festering scab, as if someone had torn off the first layer of skin, shoved his head in a barbecue pit, dumped the contents of a garbage can over it, then let it grill a while longer. The figure’s teeth are yellow, chipped, and jagged. Pus oozes from dozens of smaller scabs. Stringy clumps of gray hair cling to the sides of his head, as if his hairline was already receding in life.
Caroline: Jocelyn wasn’t wrong.
GM: And yet for all the hideousness of his appearance, Caroline senses that he is more like her on some fundamental level than even her own family. He, too, is Kindred. His hideous face contorts into an even uglier snarl at Caroline’s presence. As if the invisible field she’s projecting is crashing against an invisible barrier.
Caroline: The light shining on her seems to dim all at once, as though someone is working a dimmer. The coat covers up the worst, but can’t hide the rivulets of blood that run down her legs and into her designer shoes.
“My apologies, Mr. Cartwright, your security was most bothersome.”
GM: “You will address me as Lord Almoner while you are in my home, fledgling,” he snarls. “What is the meaning of this? Where is that blood from?”
Caroline: “My further apologies, Lord Almoner,” she replies smoothly. “It was not my intent to give offense. The blood is mine, unrelated to our appointment. I would not bore you with the details of the difficulties of an unaligned fledgling.”
GM: Cartwright pulls a dumphone out from his coat pocket. “Lord Councilor, Lady Councilor? I’ve found the trespasser.”
Caroline: “Is that what we’re calling it now?”
GM: He hits another button and sets the phone on the table.
“Well, well, well,” sounds a man’s lazy Southern drawl.
“You want to tell me, girl, what’s got one o’ ma security teams cluckin’ and screamin’ like headless chickens?”
Caroline: “This is Regent McGinn, then?” she asks demurely.
Adelais: “She sounds terribly feral, Lord Pierpont, what will you do with her?” sounds a woman’s voice from the phone.
GM: “I’m of a mind ta tan her hide twice as hard for her impertinence in not answering me.”
Caroline: “I only seek to address you properly, as is your right.”
This is going swimmingly. Or maybe it’s just her head spinning.
“Your men are dead. They had the misfortune of setting upon me. I apologize for the inconvenience, and I will of course seek to make amends for it.”
GM: “Girl, you’ll play by Invictus rules while yer in Invictus domain. That’ll include addressin’ me as Lord Councilor, and the good Lady Adelais as Lady Councilor, whenever yer trap opens. Understood?”
Caroline: “Of course, lord councilor.”
Caroline says nothing further. Hatred hardens in her heart for the foul thing across the room from her.
GM: “As for killin’ ma men and makin’ amends. There’s going to be no ‘try’ to that, girl. You damn well will.”
Caroline: Caroline precisely does not point out that she never used the word try. She neither ‘tried’ to kill his men, nor is she interested in ‘trying’ to make amends. Four cooling corpses give lie to his statement.
“As you say, Lord Councilor.”
GM: “Now. I like ta look a man in the eye when I’m talking to him. A woman too, for that matter. The lord almoner will covey you to ma home. There’ll be no funny business along the way, or yer Requiem will be over faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. Got it?”
Caroline: “If I may, I would not hold myself to be presentable to you at present, Lord Councilor. Might we reconvene tomorrow evening at a time and place of your choosing, that I might avoid compounding one sin with another?”
These people are stiffer than her father’s starched shirts. It’s worth a try, at least.
GM: Laughter barks from the phone.
“Girl, you mus’ think I’m dumber than a bag o’ rocks.”
Caroline: “Not at all, but I’ve clearly missed a joke, Lord Councilor.”
Adelais: “Killing a squad of kine is dirty work, Lord Pierpont. At least she is concerned with presentation.”
GM: “We’ll give her time ta wash up at the big house, Lady Adelais. I wouldn’t want her ta offend your refined sensibilities more than she already has.”
Caroline: “As you will. I only urge you recall it was at your preference, Lord Councilor. You wouldn’t have anything in black on hand?”
Adelais: There is a long, cold silence. “No, I am afraid not.”
GM: “Well, ain’t that a plum shame, but I always defer ta the Lady Adelais on matters of fashion.”
Caroline: “Alas that we shall not have a tragedy in black. We shall continue this in person then, my Lord and Lady Councilor, by your leave?”
GM: “Lord Almoner, you’ll convey her ta our address personally.”
“By your command, Lord Councilor,” Cartwright replies.
Adelais: “As always, a pleasure, Lord Almoner…”
GM: The Nosferatu smiles hideously. “As always, a mutual one, Lady Councilor.”
Caroline: Caroline says nothing further. All semblance of politeness is gone around the rancid Nosferatu. No smile, not even a frown. A porcelain mask has replaced it. Cold, emotionless. A killer’s mask.
It’s not been an unfamiliar one of late.
Adelais: “I would very much like to keep you company while you travel. Lord Pierpont will be away in preparation and I’m afraid it will be terribly boring in the interim.”
Caroline: “Lady Councilor, should I presume that was directed at me? And if so, should I take it to mean you would rather the conversation be between us, rather than open air?”
Adelais: “Yes, please do. The lord almoner will not have a problem removing us from speaker…”
Caroline: “Of course.” She strides forward to collect the phone, her heeled feet snapping against the wood floors. The hum of speaker fades. “I imagine boredom must be an eternal foe of distinguished Kindred. How might I alleviate the condition, Lady Councilor?”
Adelais: “To begin, I would like to know more about you and how you came into this… predicament.”
Caroline: And if it lets you know what is going on before the lord councilor hears anything of it, it only strengthens your position, does it not? She resists a smile at the casual guile of the elder Kindred. And I’ve boxed myself in, have I not?
“It began, as all conflicts I suspect, with a misunderstanding. I had believed the lord almoner would clear his meetings on his end.”
Adelais: “It could, I suppose. However, Lord Pierpont and I have no interest in outmaneuvering one another. We may, however, have an interest in you. Lord Pierpont is extremely protective of his domain, but he does not entirely lack ability to forgive.”
Caroline: “So set, the stage lent itself to a confrontation with the lord councilor’s security over a perceived invasion. They proved… overeager to personally enforce the lord’s will and sentence.”
Adelais: “So, you had good reason to protect yourself? It sounds as if this was self-defense?”
Caroline: “Lady Councilor, I find excuses to terribly trivial when offered to me. I would not offer them to you casually. Would you have me tell you they drew blood first?”
Adelais: “And you would be right not to. I do not commit actions that require excuse.”
Caroline: A slap in the face, that.
It’s like that, is it?
“It would be a truth to say they struck first, but the truth is written by those that sit in judgment.”
Adelais: “Yes. Lord Pierpont’s judgment, however, can be cushioned. While he is excellent at looking at the big picture, I prefer to stand close and observe details. And, in these details, I find you to not only to be audacious, but resourceful.”
Caroline: Those don’t sound like virtues to your kind, though.
“I would not gainsay your judgment, Lady Councilor.”
Don’t cross her. The word of Jocelyn.
“Only hope that in the future propriety and preparation take priority to them.”
Adelais: “However, my point is this: as a gentlemen, Lord Pierpont values grace and poise under fire. It is very possible for you to convince him to show clemency if you display yourself correctly. Your concern for your own presentation tells me this is possible. Talk your way out, and leave with no boon owed. That is all, my girl. Good luck to you.”
The call ends.
Caroline: Caroline mentally reviews her ledger of debts. Wouldn’t that be a coup. She returns the phone to the foul creature she travels with.
GM: By this point, Caroline is riding to her destination in a black SUV, escorted by two other guards. Cartwright sits next to her on the passenger side and accepts the phone with a hideous smile.
Caroline: She faces the window, mask back in place. Hopefully it’s not a far ride.
GM: They eventually arrive at a gigantic 4-story stone mansion with grounds enormous enough to be a public park. The house is built in the Richardson Romanesque Revival style, and even on the millionaire’s row that is St. Charles Avenue, it dwarfs its neighbors.
Caroline knows the place. She thinks she might have even been to a function or two here when she was younger. It’s the Brown Mansion, one of the most palatial homes in the city. She recalls it was built from 1901-1904 by the cotton king of New Orleans, W.P. Brown, who was one of the richest men in the South at the time. A walled perimeter surrounds the house. Guards by the iron gate wave the vehicle on through.
Caroline: Caroline’s opinion of McGinn revises up a step. She resists sinking a barb into the monstrous being beside her.
GM: Cartwright escorts Caroline inside the mansion along with two dead-faced mortal guards. The atrium is a vast, white-painted space, with two wide flights of stairs leading to the house’s upper floors. Thick maroon carpets descend down them. An 18th century crystal chandelier glitters from the ceiling.
Caroline: Her feet squish in her heels, soaked through with her blood. If she were mortal she’d worry about blisters. As is, she’s glad the carpets are red.
Not really my blood, she reflects. She distantly wonders where her trucker boyfriend is now.
GM: Caroline’s escorts lead her through the house. It has rare and expensive ‘flame’ mahogany covering the inside, antique tapestries, stained glass windows, and mantels from the mid-1700s. Caroline heard the stately home even has a bed once owned by Marie Antoinette.
They come to a stop in a luxuriously appointed living room. Richly upholstered, gold-decorated furniture, persian rugs, and classical portraits dominate the surroundings. Two crossed cavalry sabers hang over the empty fireplace, along with the portrait of a dashing, square-jawed, blond-haired man dressed in the gray uniform of a Confederate military officer.
Most prominently displayed is a family tree with names and genealogies that trace all the way back to Caine, whose birth date reads simply Genesis 4:1. It’s a shorter tree than others Caroline has seen, partly because each name only has one rather than two ‘parents’ listed above it. The genealogy of the house’s master proudly traces back, Pierpont McGinn, Troy Hansen, Alejandro Rojas y Batiz, Decimus Titus Optatus, Etewoklewes, Medon, Ventrue, Enoch, Caine.
“Don’t sit on any of the chairs,” Cartwright orders.
Caroline: “I wouldn’t dream of soiling fine furnishings.”
GM: The Nosferatu and suited security personnel depart the room without further word, closing the doors behind them. Caroline is left seemingly alone.
Caroline: In fact, Caroline is careful to stay off the rugs. She moves around the edges of the room to the wide windows, alternately studying the family tree and admiring the manicured grounds. She stands beside the piano on the high ground as she awaits her hosts.
GM: The grounds outside are very fine. Live oaks predominate instead of the palm trees so popular in the French Quarter. Water splashes from a fountain with leaping stone dolphins.
Minutes tick by. Her hosts do not arrive.
Caroline: The unholy nature of her unlife proves a continued blessing. At least it saves her feet from soreness. Still, the hour is growing late indeed.
GM: The grandfather clock ticks and ticks.
Caroline: It’s not a particularly inspired technique, so Caroline can only conclude they have another matter demanding their attention. She waits. She counts down how long it will take her to make it back to her home.
GM: Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Caroline: What is there to do but wait? She ponders her options hereafter. She’s never been out this late before. A test? Likely, but of what? Resolve? Propriety?
GM: The clock ticks. 5:30 AM.
The clock chimes. 6:00 AM.
When is sunrise… 6:40 AM?
Caroline: It’s patience she couldn’t have mastered in life, but as the hour grows late her impatience grows. She shouldn’t be here. The windows, once a distraction, are a curse.
GM: The clock ticks. 6:20 AM.
Finally, the double doors swing open. A young-looking woman wearing a knee-length white dress and pearls strides in. She’s strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, and slender-figured.
Her haughty expression detracts from her beauty, though, as she airily proclaims, “Kneel in the presence of the Good Lady Adelais Seyrès, viscountess of Magazine Street, councilor of the Prima Invicta, librettist, notary, speaker, harpy, and master of the Guild of Nemesis.”
Caroline: She does as ordered. Her skin itches. Her instincts are roaring. But this late into the night, she is well committed to this course.
Adelais: Adelais walks towards Caroline in a black sleeveless blouse and matching tulip skirt.
“I hope your travel was satisfactory.”
Caroline: “The lord almoner provided, Lady Councilor,” Caroline replies, not rising.
Adelais: “If you would be so kind as to follow our servant, she will show you to a room with many black dresses and an assortment of accessories for you to choose from.” The woman’s cold, beautiful features crack under her smile. “You will find that The First Estate is more than happy to accommodate any guest despite their reason for calling. Please, rise and make yourself presentable for Lord Pierpont if it pleases you.”
Caroline: “Thank you, Lady Councilor.” She rises. “I was told the hospitality of the First Estate was beyond reproach. My thanks for the scenic view.”
The worst of the damage to her clothing is hidden beneath the black pea coat, but the blood that stains her legs is hard to miss.
Adelais: The councilor surveys Caroline briefly, her blue eyes traveling the length of her body in a second, noting every imperfection. She glances to the ghoul and then back to Caroline.
Caroline: “By your leave, then?” She moves to withdraw.
Adelais: Adelais responds with a terse nod.
Caroline: She even curtsies on the way out.
GM: The ghoul also curtsies to the lady councilor and shows Caroline up the stairs to the aforementioned room. She does not speak a word, nor even look at the Ventrue.
Adelais: The room is a creamy white, complete with wainscotings and moldings. The furniture here, though no less opulent, looks nearly brand new and unused. Near the giant, plush bed, hang a plethora of black dresses in a variety of styles. Caroline can see that jewelry has been nearly laid out on the beds pillowy comforter that matches the heavy linens drapes that cover the rooms tall windows. To her left, a walkway leading to the room’s own bathroom, complete with porcelain and silver fixtures.
Caroline: Caroline quickly strips from her ruined clothing in the provided room. She can feel the sunrise coming. The sleep coming on. She selects something from the pile that is distinct from the viscountess, even as she takes advantage of the attached marbled bathroom and its towels to wipe off the more obvious bloodstains. Light on jewelry. Tasteful. More silver than gold. As an afterthought, she sends an image of the bloodstained clothing to her school email.
A memory floats back. A fundraiser, white bow-tie. Westley drinking as guests were led in. A slurred step, a spilled drink. It’s not so different. A lifetime of preparation for an unlife of hell.
She checks back on the ghoul, to see if she’s to be led off, even as she slips a bracelet onto a slender wrist.
GM: The haughty-looking ghoul wordlessly escorts Caroline down the stairs back to the living room, where some very thick-looking shades have been drawn. Adelais is absent, but returns after a moment with another figure.
Caroline: Caroline goes down to a knee again without prompting this time.
GM: The ghoul proclaims in an even more imperious voice,
“Kneel in the presence of the Honorable Lord Pierpont McGinn, earl and regent of Uptown, councilor of the Prima Invicta, commissioner, fellow of the Most Noble Fellowship of Artemis, gerousiastis of Clan Ventrue, gold consul of the Assembly of Colors, and knight bachelor of the Knights of the Blood.”
Pierpont McGinn is a tall, steel-jawed Southern man with dirty blond hair and chalky blue eyes. He wears an immaculate white seersucker suit and white dress shirt contrasted by a jet black necktie. His gray leather shoes look like the thousand-dollar kind worn by politicians and business executives, and a gold men’s Rolex sits snugly around his wrist. He does not walk so much as swagger, lord of all he surveys. He plops down on one of the chairs and lazily extends a fine Southern cigar, which the woman lights. Though Caroline’s Beast nervously rears back, he does not appear bothered by the flame as he takes several smoky puffs.
“So,” the lord councilor drawls, leaning back, “yer the troublemaker who killed ma men. What’s your lineage, girl?”
Caroline: Caroline claws at her memory. It wasn’t so long ago, but she’d had such bigger concerns, and no one has repeated it. She grits her teeth from her knees.
“Begging your pardon, Lord Councilor, as told to me, I am childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine.”
She cuts off with a grimace.
GM: McGinn takes another expectant puff from his cigar, as if waiting for her to continue.
Caroline: One more name slips into her mind. She saw it on the tapestry.
“Childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy. Further I cannot recall,” she admits.
GM: McGinn trades looks with Adelais as if Caroline just confessed that her mother ruts with dogs.
“Childer these nights.”
Caroline: She offers no excuse and does not look up. If she could blush, she might be burning with shame at the judgment.
GM: “Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue,” McGinn loftily finishes. “Now do it over. Proper this time.”
Caroline: She secrets the words away like the bricks of gold they are, laying them down alongside the others in her mind, and does as instructed.
“I am Caroline Malveaux, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue.”
GM: “Now, girl,” McGinn drawls, “we’ll do how the rest o’ this was supposed to go, all nice and proper. What’s your business in ma domain?”
Caroline: “I was to meet with the lord almoner, Lord Councilor.” Her knees burn, though not with pain.
GM: “On what business?” McGinn continues with another puff. He does not ask Caroline to rise.
Caroline: “I had hoped he might possess information about my sire, that might lead me to him. Alternatively, I had hoped to leverage the meeting into others, or at least contact information, for others.”
GM: “That so, now?” McGinn sets down the cigar in a crystal ashtray and removes a cell from his jacket’s inside pocket.
“Lord Almoner. For your corvée this week, you ain’t to speak so much as a peep to Caroline Malveaux. Yer lips are zipped ’til I done tell ya otherwise.”
He flips the phone off and tucks it back into his pocket.
Caroline: Frustration rips through her, but she holds the breath in, not breathing at all. Motionless. A statue.
Integrity sold for nothing. For less than nothing. Boons owed in exchange for a kick in the teeth.
GM: “Now, as fer ma men,” McGinn continues as the woman lights him another cigar.
Caroline: A crack in the mask here could be fatal.
GM: “I’m yet undecided how ya should pay me back fer that.”
Caroline: Words unspoken dance behind Caroline’s eyes, she bites her tongue. She has, noticeably, not been asked for her opinion. She has the further sense that he is not asking her opinion in the matter.
This is a man who gives you your opinion, when he wants it.
GM: McGinn smiles at Caroline’s silence. “Why don’t ya take a gander at a few ideas, girl.”
Caroline: “It would depend on how you perceived your loses, Lord Councilor. Whether to face, property, or influence.” She bites her tongue for a moment.
“Damages appear to be answered with services, insults with injury, and indignity with excommunication, of a sort. Of the three, from my outside position, the loss on its face seems to be of property. I cannot imagine their deaths to be any more damaging to your reputation than their lives were.”
GM: “Well, bless your heart. Yer concerned for ma reputation,” McGinn declares with a wide smile.
Caroline: Continued silence greets the declaration. She has not been bidden to speak.
GM: McGinn snubs out a second cigar on the ashtray and removes his phone again.
“Billy? Git over here. Bring a tarp.”
He snaps the phone shut.
“Take off your dress. That thing belongs to the Lady Adelais. The jewels, too.”
Caroline: “If it pleases you, I must rise to do so, Lord Councilor.”
She carefully slides off the bracelet, ring, and simple stud earrings first.
GM: “You have ma permission,” McGinn grants magnanimously.
Caroline: Caroline stands, and towers over the seated man for just a moment. The black dress falls away.
GM: ‘Billy’ arrives. He’s another skinhead, built like a haystack, and so covered in tattoos and metal studs and piercings that Caroline almost thinks he’s full clothed, when he’s merely wearing a pair of cargo pants and black combat boots. He carries a plastic tarp that he unfurls at the far end of the wall.
“Git over there,” McGinn states, jabbing towards the spot with another cigar.
Caroline: She does as directed. In life, adrenaline would be pounding in her veins. In undeath, her her heart is still. There is nothing to give lie to the instincts screaming in her head. Nothing to give life.
GM: Billy produces a massive leather bullwhip, with a handle nearly as long as his bulging forearm. The many tails have an almost dull sheen. It does not look like a novelty item.
McGinn smiles, showing two fangs. “Whip ’er good, Billy.”
Caroline: She flinches, knowing the order is coming before it’s given. It’s a momentary thing, though, and her eyes close. She pictures the man’s slain brothers, gunned down and left laying in the street like rabid dogs. She pictures them in Billy’s place. She focuses on the memory of gunshots, blades, and her unmarred flesh in response. Whatever it takes to get through this.
What else can she do? Fight? Flail like a child? She’s faced worse. Faced an executioner’s sword. Faced Kindred in back alleys. If he’s hoping to get a reaction, he’s mistaken. This thug. This petty tyrant. The whip. They’re all distractions. It fades away. And yet…
“A question, Lord Councilor?”
GM: “You have ma permission to ask,” McGinn amusedly drawls.
Caroline: She gestures to the whip. “To be clear, you would have be what lies between us in this matter?”
GM: “I maht. If I care enough for the sight o’ yer tanned hide.”
Caroline: “Your intent is then to make up terms as you go? Lord Councilor. I seek only clarity. Misunderstandings are, after all, how I arrived here.”
GM: McGinn laughs. “Girl, you could start an argument in an empty house.”
He motions with his cigar. Billy grabs Caroline’s head and shoves her against the wall.
Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t so much stumble as she does tiptoe at the assault. Her eyes watch the group of Kindred more than the bestial ghoul.
Adelais: Adelais watches the lashing apathetically with folded arms. She brings a manicured finger to her lips, tapping them gently and looking expectantly to Caroline.
GM: The bullwhip’s crack splits the air. The first stroke sends a rivulet of blood down Caroline’s pale back, igniting a sharp spark of pain.
The spark blossoms into a fire.
The third chucks in a log.
The fourth tosses in another.
Crack. Crack. Crack.
The flame spreads, burns, and screams. Billy gleefully whips until Caroline’s flesh is a bloody shredded canvas. Strips of red-soaked skin peel off her back like a sickly bark. The wounds burn. They are caustic. Has Billy has rubbed salt over the whip’s tongues?
Crack. Crack. Crack.
Caroline: The Ventrue fights the pain. Fights the building fury. Fights the Beast. It is what this life has become. The links in the Beast’s chain crack, separating as it pulls at them. She can’t do this to it. She visibly trembles in fury even as she fights with all her will against it, trying to soothe its bruised ego. Not here. Not now.
Flesh regrows. More lashes lay atop it. It’s skin… it’ll grow back, she tries to convince the ravening monster inside her. A hand grips the tarp, and the crackle of plastic cloth in her clenched fist is audible between each strike of the lash. Blood runs down her back like a river. Don’t give them the satisfaction, she screams internally.
She’s running on empty here. The fight with the skinheads took too much out of her. The fight with the Beast all but breaks her will. It’s all she can do to contain it. The lashes fade out, fade from thought, from memory. There’s pain, and there’s the Beast, and the rest of it’s irrelevant. She doesn’t even notice that they’ve stopped. The Beast doesn’t understand why she can’t rip his throat out, put him in a zippered bag like the rest of his filthy kind.
But she does. For now.
Adelais: Adelais watches raptly as the leather licks at Caroline’s skin, leaving bloody slits in its wake. The Ventrue’s skin desperately tries to knit itself back together after each of the lash’s greedy licks, but it takes too much. Adelais’ head tilts slightly, watching the thrashing of leather, flesh and blood; a beautiful, entrancing dance of pain.
GM: “That’ll do, Billy, that’ll do,” McGinn smiles from his chair.
Caroline: There are no words for Caroline to say. Her clenched fist doesn’t release the tarp. She barely registers McGinn’s words. Hatred hardens around her heart. It’s the only way to recover. The only way to save face, to herself.
GM: “That,” the older Ventrue drawls, “makes up fer the insult o’ trespassin’ on ma land. The first o’ yer three offenses.”
His smile widens.
“Seein’ as yer of good stock, we’ll leave off here, with a light whoopin’. Billy won’t even bring out the lemon juice. Right generous of me, isn’t that?”
Caroline: The words echo inside her skull, but she can barely hear them over the Beast’s screams. And not only for vengeance. It’s starving, the sun is rising. Everything is wrong. It’s a campfire burning low on the beach as the surf rolls in. It can sense its own oblivion.
“Yes, Lord Councilor,” she answers dully.
GM: “Still some murders I got to cover up,” McGinn continues, puffing rings of smoke into the air. “Still a frayin’ Masquerade I got ta sew back whole.”
Caroline: Lies. Feeble justifications for yet more petty tyranny. No one will miss those men, and their deaths are so very mortal. So mundane. A group of thugs too near to the wrong side of the tracks, their tattoos blaring their bigotry. Between that and the drug bust no one will question a hint of a gang-war. No one has asked her to speak. And just as well. The fist finally unclenches.
GM: McGinn slashes his wrist with a gold-hilted bowie knife.
The female ghoul holds a goblet underneath the font of blood and passes it Caroline.
Caroline: She makes no move to take it.
GM: McGinn smiles between another puff of smoke. “Girl, you want to do this easy or hard?”
Caroline: “You want a blood bond for the effort of sweeping up some garbage no one will notice out of the street?”
GM: “Drink up,” McGinn drawls, snubbing out the cigar on the diamond ashtray. His words are heavy to Caroline’s ears, like sinking weights.
Caroline: She can’t fight the Beast and the other Kindred at the same time. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and nor can her will. She snatches up the goblet mechanically, before she’s even realized what has happened. Vitae flows down her throat, soothing the Beast and suffocating her mind beneath an insidious will. Hatred melts beneath thoughts not her own. The tiny voice inside that cries out is drowned in blood. Its cries are reduced from screams of fury and resistance to a pitiful moan.
And just like that she can feel her affinity for this petty tyrant grow, a dull lump in the back of her mind she cannot get rid of. Like a burn on the roof of her mouth, her thoughts cannot help but rub against it involuntarily.
GM: McGinn gives a pleased smile.
“Good girl. That makes up fer yer second offense.”
He turns to his paramour.
“Well, Lady Adelais, there nary else you can think ta ask from our fine guest?”
Adelais: Adelais saunters towards the Ventrue, her eyes on the riddle of lashes upon her skin. She blinks, dispelling her entrancement and stands before Caroline.
“You may keep the dress,” she says flatly and returns to Pierpont’s side.
Caroline: Hollow words. Hollow people.
GM: McGinn blows a ring of smoke in Caroline’s face.
“Now git out o’ ma house. And git from ma land.”
Adelais: Adelais places delicate hand on the regent’s lapel. “Now, Lord Councilor, the neonate has received your punishment and, since she is no longer faces further judgment, I would very much like to invite her as a guest for the day.” Adelais turns to Pierpoint, bringing both her hands up to the man’s chest, straightening his jacket and looking into his eyes. “That is, of course, if it pleases you.”
She turns, looking beyond the Ventrue, towards the windows. “The hour is late, and, being the gracious hostess you know me to be, I could not send her out in her time of need.” Her words are those of a concerned altruist, but her tone is oddly apathetic.
GM: The Ventrue grins at Adelais’ request, tweaking his cigar. “Well, ain’t that just the berries, Lady Adelais. You know how I carry on when it’s you askin’.”
“I’m assumin’, o’course, you’ll ask our fine guest ta reciprocate this show of generosity? Racin’ the sun back to whatever hole she crawled out of was goin’ to be her punishment fer killin’ ma men.”
Adelais: A smile forms on Adelais’ full lips. “I trust she understands how those gears turn. If not…” She turns from Pierpont, looking down upon Caroline. “She will be educated—I do not mind playing au pair for the evening.”
GM: McGinn’s own smile hasn’t wavered. “Almoner too, at that. Yer gonna put Lord Randolph and Lady Marguerite out o’ their jobs.”
Caroline: Wander out in to the sun. Offer a boon. The second doesn’t really preclude the first when it comes down to it. Is the mask still in place? She can’t tell. Or doesn’t care. She sways with pain, weakness, and exhaustion.
“I would of course offer the lady councilor a boon for such renowned Invictus hospitality until nightfall.”
Adelais: The impromptu au pair smiles at the half-naked Venture. “Perfect. Then follow me.” She casually looks over Caroline’s shoulder. “And do not concern yourself with the mess, we will take care of it, too.”
GM: McGinn barks a laugh. “The lady councilor’s feelin’ mighty generous tonight.”
Adelais: Adelais turns, leans in to Pierpont’s ear, and whispers something. She continues further across the big room, “Come, Miss Caroline, we do not have much time left to plan for your busy day tomorrow.”
Caroline: Caroline distantly wonders what makes the elder Kindred think she’ll wield any power over her when she leaves the domain. Ruin her reputation? What reputation. Her social standing? She’s a doormat.
Nonetheless, she follows. Blood flows down her back, legs, and calves like a tiny river before bleeding off from her heels in a steady stream. As must be clear to the more experienced Kindred, she’s at the edge of her physical endurance, and if her reaction to the whipping is any indication, perhaps her mental endurance as well.
Still, she turns and curtsies to the lord counselor as she departs with the lady councilor.
GM: McGinn makes a dismissive motion, as if permitting her to leave.
“Yer payin’ for any furnishings ya ruin.” He tweaks his cigar. “Good daysleep, Miss Caroline.”
Adelais: Adelais pauses, turning to Caroline and looks at her expectantly with a harsh stare.
GM: Despite his words of farewell, McGinn’s expression is no less expectant.
Caroline: It would take a crowbar less effort to pry the words from her jaw.
“Thank you, Lord Councilor, for your hospitality. My apologies for bleeding all over your floor.”
Adelais: Adelais nods to Caroline, her expression loosening.
GM: McGinn taps his cigar over the ashtray. “Accepted, Miss Caroline. Now thank the Lady Adelais for her hospitality and consideration as well. ‘Tis her room she’s ponyin’ up.”
Caroline: “Of course.” Caroline turns her attention back to the harpy. “Your hospitality is most welcome and appreciated, Lady Councilor, given the circumstances.”
Hollow words. Hollow people.
But is she thinking of herself, or her tormentors this night?
Adelais: As Adelais waits for Caroline at her side, she looks to Pierpont. “I am her au pair for the rest of evening, Lord Pierpont. Of course, any further infractions committed tonight will be my responsibility,” she says, with a levity in her voice.
“You are welcome to punish me later, " she adds matter-of-factly.
GM: McGinn’s fangs protrude.
“Don’t think I won’t take ya up on that, Lady Adelais.”
Adelais: As Caroline ends her approach, Adelais turns to her. “It is my pleasure. Now…” she says, continuing her through the mansion, “…it is imperative when your betters offer a pleasantry, that you acknowledge in kind. This applies when you are also speaking with your lessers, of course.”
Caroline: Hollow, but not empty, for a monster rages inside. She’s a shell of a woman, her soul and virtue fled, and something very dark has occupied the shell in their stead. It screams of violence, of hatred, of the darkest desires of men’s hearts. And for the life of her, she cannot shut out the voice.
“Of course, Lady Councilor,” she replies numbly. “My thanks for your correction. I do not wish to continue to give offense unknowingly.”
Adelais: Adelais pauses again in the middle of her stride down one of the mansion’s opulent hallways. She turns to Caroline, under the pale light of a golden sconce, scanning the shell before her and peering into its brooding insides.
“Honestly, childe, stop your sulking. You committed an infraction. You were punished. You survived. Move on. This angst-infused self-pity is for kine. Not only is it disenchanting, it’s awfully boring.”
Caroline: “Respectfully, Lady Councilor, it has been made painfully clear that I am no childe.”
Adelais: “Certainly not in the manner in which mortals treat them, no. You will be held accountable for all your actions amongst our kind, Invictus or not. However, as Kindred, you are but a childe.”
Caroline: “A childe has a sire to hide behind,” Caroline states, with kindled embers. “I have little enough to my name m’lady, please do not take the primacy of my missteps from me. My errors are the heirs to none.”
Adelais: Adelais recoils, her eyes narrowing into serpentine slits, she spits acid, “I am not YOUR lady, Miss Caroline. I belong to one other, and he even shows me respect by keeping this address to himself.” She stares at Caroline. “Again.”
Caroline: “I beg your pardon, Lady Councilor, for my misunderstanding.”
Adelais: Adelais nods to her student, her stare still icy and critical. “And what of your moping?”
Caroline: Moping. The word cuts like every other that awaits behind that forked tongue. The devil in this woman. Her body is a tortured wreck, her spirit splintered by the battle with the Beast, and her words chained by the harsh protocol of this mausoleum. This crypt of dead feelings and flesh. Agony within every step, and without. She just wants to give up.
To die? She could invite it easily enough. But why suffer through all of this, only to surrender the last of her to them? Why give them the satisfaction of breaking her? It’s pride, that beaten thing all but whipped into the corner that keeps her going.
“Lady Councilor, you shock me with how your tastes align. It must be so difficult for you.”
Adelais: The harpy chuckles lightly, walking passed the Ventrue. “Is this the part where I ask you, ‘What do you mean it must so difficult for me?’” She continues down the hall, stopping before a white door. “Then you respond with some witticism or anecdotal bit of wisdom that puts me in my place and gives me pause to think, ‘Hm, may she _isn’t_ just some self-loathing brat with fangs…’”
She places a key inside the lock and turns it with a click. She turns to face Caroline and pauses to consider the fledgling.
“And now you are scrambling to think of another reason why you made that ‘innocuous’ comment because you, like every other childe I have had the displeasure of conversing with, desperately wants to prove to themselves that they are not as easy to read as they know they are.” She twists the knob and presses against the door.
“I have lived several lifetimes without the aid of your insight. When I meet my final death under the light of the sun, through a lover’s betrayal, or perhaps even by your hand, I will never remember this moment in time and regret that I did not allow you to speak because the fact is, and will always remain, that I simply do not care, Miss Caroline.”
The door opens with a slight whine, giving way to a plush bedroom, and Adelais gestures for the Ventrue to enter.
Caroline: Caroline says nothing as the harpy justifies her actions. She shows no indication that the elder Kindred’s words cut her any more than she allowed the bite of the whip itself to force a scream from her. Her green eyes glitter.
“I would not gainsay you, Lady Councilor. Thank you again for your hospitality.” She curtsies and enters the room at her urging.
Adelais: Adelais nods. “There will, of course, be someone to tend to you after sundown, escort you out and drive to wherever you wish.” The Toreador closes the door and continues down the hall.
Caroline: What was it she’d said?
Legendary Invictus hospitality.
Thursday evening, 10 September 2015
GM: One of Caroline’s phones rings from her blood-stained pea coat as she emerges from the shower.
Caroline: Her skin is still a raw and torn—with no vitae to speak of it took an effort of will to keep it that way—and her Beast roars its furious hunger on a sharp and strained leash. Still, she answers.
GM: “Miss me, sugar tits?” a familiar voice rasp-hacks.
Caroline: “Don’t worry, I won’t miss.”
GM: “Malo sure didn’t. Right over your pink perky nipples.”
Caroline: “Then we have one singular thing in common. Presumably you want something?”
GM: Something like a gigantic zit being popped sounds over the line.
“The Hidden Clan keeps its bargains. Your contact’s Gutterball Elgin now. At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.”
Caroline: The venom in her voice diminishes. “What time?”
GM: A phlegmy hack. “Hour, give or take.”
Caroline: “Can you push it back?”
GM: More phlegmy hacking. “No. The Vieux Carré opening isn’t waiting on some fledgling. But he’ll be there all night, so don’t get your sweet scented panties scrunched.”
Caroline: Silence for a beat. “Thank you.”
GM: “The hidden clan keeps its bargains,” the phlegmy voice repeats.
“Also, your tits are getting a ton of likes.”
Caroline: “What?” Back with the edge of a razor.
GM: “Twenty-three,” sounds a phlegmy chortle. “Not as many users on Fangbook as Facebook though.”
Caroline: “I’m glad you managed to amuse yourself,” she grinds out.
GM: “Glad you managed to degrade yourself. Me and twenty-three others.”
Caroline: “And your monkey.” She closes the flip phone.
GM: Caroline hears the start of what sounds like “chimpanzee” as the line dies.
Caroline: She checks the other phones for an anticipated text even as she shrugs—painfully—into the dress Adelais so generously let her have. She’ll burn it in effigy later. For a moment, Caroline isn’t sure whether to regret or appreciate its backless nature. It should be an interesting night first night on the job for Ms. Turner.
GM: There’s another voicemail from Aimee, wondering where she’s been all day. It comes with a veiled suggestion that maybe she should “see someone” over what happened.
Caroline: She sends off a text saying she’ll be late for dinner, and suggesting Aimee go ahead, with them meeting for coffee after in a few hours. She’d love to get away from this part of her unlife, but she’s in no condition to meet anyone. Pain and hunger war with splintered will. No, agony and starvation. She’s ravenous. She needs to feed, and in more than one way.
GM: Caroline’s back is still raw, bloody, and burning from Billy’s whipping. The wounds haven’t so much as scabbed over. There is some small blessing in that no injuries mar her face, but the pea coat’s fabric is all-too rough as it cruelly rubs against her ravaged flesh.
Caroline: She sends a text to Wright, politely informing him that she plans on checking in later in the evening, when she has something to report. She throws on the blood-stained coat. At least it is black. It’s agony to stand and walk. It’s agony to do anything really. She slowly makes her way out. She tries not to grimace. Tries, through gritted teeth.
GM: McGinn is not present to see Caroline out, but Billy and two mortal security personnel inform Caroline that she is to leave with them. They drive her out of McGinn’s territory in a black SUV. They leave her at the border with Riverbend.
Caroline goes hunting in Black Pearl, a neighborhood south of Tulane and cozed up against the Mississippi. Through the 1960s, Caroline heard somewhere, the local African-American population referred to the area as “Niggatown.” Evidence of the old moniker can be occasionally seen today in the form of “N-Town” graffiti. The name “Black Pearl” was introduced in the 1970s, being derived from the historically majority black population and the name of “Pearl Street.”
Caroline comes upon a blue-roofed, middle-income house with two cars parked outside the nonexistent garage. A cursory search indicates no burglar alarms. Not everyone can afford them like her.
Caroline: The community college parking sticker is like a neon sign.
GM: Caroline silently creeps through the one-story house. It is modest, but neat and well-maintained, with the usual fridge in the kitchen, TV set in the living room, and other accouterments of modern life. The kitchen’s walls by the sink are a mosaic of orange, red, and green titles. A clock with Roman numerals quietly ticks above the window.
Smiling portraits of a frazzle-haired, middle-aged black woman and a younger man she has her arm around hang from the walls.
Caroline: If the Beast weren’t driving her, when it’s not driving her, those images will be needles in her heart. For now, they are distractions.
GM: The kid’s room is a mess. Clothes lie haphazardly scattered across the floor or slung over furniture. As do textbooks, cords for various electronic devices, dirty dishes, binders, what looks like a few medication bottles…. like many teenagers, it looks as if a bomb’s gone off. The kid sleeps contentedly in the wreckage, absently turning over in his bed. Glancing towards the door, Caroline can see a sarcastically placed “hazardous materials” sign with an attached note that reads, Please clean this up, sweetie. —Mom.
But it only takes a few whiffs of the sleeping teen to know… he isn’t who she’s here for. High schooler, probably. It’s the mom.
Caroline: The Beast examines the terrain with the eye of a predator, looking for threats, not sentiment, and Caroline lets it run on auto pilot. She doesn’t want to remember this. She wants to be detached from this shameful thing. She turns away from the boy.
GM: Caroline only finds it necessary to try the next door down. Doubtful many boys want their rooms right next to their mom’s (where all their phone conversations can be overheard), but it’s a small house.
The mother’s room isn’t immaculate, with a few scattered cushions and stacks of papers, but it’s neater than the kid’s. Several further pictures hang from the walls, including a much younger one of him riding a carousel and dressed up as a jelly bean while holding a plastic pumpkin trick-or-treat container, which is perhaps the dorkiest-looking Halloween costume Caroline has ever seen. One portrait to the far right shows the woman holding a baby next to a smiling, broad-shouldered man wearing half-rimmed glasses.
The bed is only large enough for one though. The woman sleeps on her side, chest steadily rising and falling. A blindfold covers her face. An alarm with its face turned to face the wall quietly ticks. And Caroline can just smell it.
Caroline: Early to bed, early to rise. Fortunate for her. Less for them. She stalks forward to the woman. She needs what she has. Needs it so badly. And just a touch, just a small nip with her fangs. She’ll only take a bit, she tells herself. Only enough to ease the pain.
GM: Caroline sinks her fangs into the woman’s neck. She stiffens at first, but then relaxes. Color fills her cheeks as her breath quickens. A soft murmur escapes her sleeping lips.
Caroline: Caroline draws on the woman. Draws her deeply into the embrace, even as the monster inside takes hold, promises to send her to her John.
GM: Caroline is a careful feeder. The Beast is even more careful. She doesn’t let so much as a droplet of red go patter-pattern over the bed’s white sheets. The woman’s blood reminds Caroline of the aged wines from her father’s cellar… she’s older than the Ventrue’s usual fare. The mature taste to her blood is a pleasant change.
Caroline: She loses herself in the sensation, in the blood rolling over her tongue. It sweeps the chain out of her hands, and for a moment the Beast runs wild. When she feels the woman’s heart begin to strain however, there’s a moment of clarity. She wrestles with the monster for control, a brief, brutal, and silent struggle. At last, she draws away from the woman.
GM: The woman initially moans and sighs beneath the vampire’s kiss, her blood lazily flowing like honey.
But the Beast is not so gentle.
Caroline doesn’t even register it happening. Doesn’t, until the taste of more blood floods her mouth, warm and filling, exactly what she needs. The woman chokes, her eyes snapping open as Caroline’s fangs gnash and rip her flesh, messily spattering blood over the bed. She screams and tries to turn around, tries to throw the monster off, but Caroline’s grip is like iron.
The Ventrue fights to regain control even as the woman grabs the alarm clock and clumsily smashes it over Caroline’s head. Gears fall out like spilled guts, tinking as they hit the bedroom walls.
“BRAAAANDOOOON! GET OUT!” the woman screams, pushing at the Ventrue. “GET OOOOOUUTTT!”
“Mom?” grogs a voice.
“BRAAAAAN-DOOOOON! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!” the woman wails hysterically, thrashing and kicking at the home invader.
Caroline: Caroline tightens her arms around the older woman, like steel cables around her throat. Just stop screaming. Part of her moans even as she contracts around the woman’s carotid artery.
GM: “BRAAAAAAAAN-D-” the woman chokes as Caroline applies pressure to her already torn and savaged neck. She gives several guttural hacks and half-hearted “Bran-d-!”s as blood messily flows and spurts under Caroline’s grip.
Caroline: “Shut up or I’ll kill you both,” she breathes.
GM: The woman is simply too terrified to understand Caroline’s words. She gives several further gurgly wails as she thrashes against her attacker. Blood spatters over the already ruined sheets.
“MOM!” yells a male voice. Caroline hears footsteps thumping down the hall.
Caroline: This is getting too messy, but at least the Beast has done the work of one. She needs to get away, get out of here, before it gets any worse. Before she has to hurt the woman any further, or worse, her son.
She waits for the door to open. Waits for the opportunity to break free past them.
GM: It slams open. The teenage son stands in the doorway, wearing a pair of sweats, no shirt, and carrying a baseball bat in both hands. His mouth falls even as his eyes bulge, his expression trapped between horror, rage, and terror at the sight of Caroline throttling the horribly bleeding woman.
“GET OFF MMYY MMOOOOOOM!” he screams, charging the Ventrue.
Caroline: The shadowy figure pounces, not at him, but past him with the grace of a world-class athlete.
GM: The baseball bat swings past Caroline, smashing into the portrait of the man holding an arm around the new mother. The frame hits the ground with a thud. The kid yells and whirls to face the home invader, but finds Caroline already gone like a half-remembered nightmare.
Caroline: She flees, but lingers in the shadows at the end of the street until she hears sirens.
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM
GM: “It’s-it’s my mom, she’s, she’s bleeding, some-someone broke in, she’s bleeding, she’s, she’s, she’s bleeding…” the teenager babbles into the phone, his face fighting tears as he cradles the three-fourths unconscious woman’s groaning form.
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM
GM: It takes a few minutes, as it always does. Minutes that could make the difference between life and death. Eventually, Caroline can hear the tell-tale wail of police sirens.
Caroline: And hopefully ambulances. Still, she can’t afford to hang around and find out for certain. Not only does she have too much to do, she has too much at stake. Her small comfort is the knowledge that a dedicated healer like Neil will be there for the woman whenever she arrives, wherever she arrives. She’ll be ok. Probably. She spares only a touch of the woman’s precious blood for her wounds, closing the worst of them, the rawest and most open. Deep tears remain, lacerations that touch bone. It’s agony to walk, bloodstained coat rubbing against the open wounds. It’s no less than she deserves.
Thursday night, 10 September 2015, PM
Caroline: She leaves the scene, but not her memories, far behind. She hates herself for it. The boy’s face, struck with horror, replays again and again. Their tiny, modest home. Poison, whispers one voice. Wolves of God, whispers another, more feminine one. Both taunt Caroline for her assault. She stuffs her hands in her pockets and walks. She can feel the two bonds to the elder Kindred in the back of her mind, like an itching scab, but it’s the voice of an old man and a young girl that follow her around. That haunt her. Two paths, and here she is tearing through the brush, ripping apart lives as she goes, a bulldozer in a jungle. The path of greatest resistance, and she feels it. Feels every briar, every switch, every bite, claw, and sting along the way. It can’t keep on this way. And she’s made no progress for it. She’s beaten her head bloody against the brick wall, left strips of flesh and pints of blood, and is making no progress for it.
And that damn sword hanging over her throat. She half wishes it would fall, would put her out of her misery. Would put others out of her misery. She trudges on, too proud to just lay down and die. The worst part about it is that the Beast feels… satisfied. So contented in its feast. Angry at the interruption, but it ran free, if only for a moment, it feasted. It terrorized. That contention tells her more than she needs to know about her actions. It’s her dark shadow gloating. Still, its withdrawal opens the door to other, less violent means. She sighs, a meaningless action, as she seeks out another victim this night. Some carouser, dirty bathroom rapist, adulterer. Wolves of God, that innocent voice. She’s not convinced. But at least her conscience will be cleaner than if she attacks some poor sleeping mother in her bed. No one deserves what she does to them, what she steals from them. But some deserve it more than others.
GM: Caroline’s next hunt, by comparison, is a balm upon her conscience but a blister upon her tongue. Forgoing the opportunity to feed from drunken coeds, her search for sinners and wrongdoers takes her to Robert’s Bar and Liquor Store, a grungy little bar that makes do with beat-up jukeboxes and ping-pong tables over live bands.
The best she can find is a silver-haired man who looks like he could be a professor half-carrying a drunk college girl back to his car. His stale, sour blood spatters over an alley’s brick wall as she savages him, and tastes even worse than the businessmen at the Victory. She could tell herself she did it for the girl’s sake, as she regards him passed out in a heap of his own vomit, but she’d be lying.
Caroline: It was all to easy to lure him into her embrace. A too wide smile. Slurred word here. Such a pretty young fiend she is. She looks down on him even as the girl slumps into a drunken haze. Her Beast isn’t satisfied. She isn’t. The audacity of going out for a night. Of being a victim. A thin excuse, but her will is worn so very ragged. An excuse is all she needs to take a taste from the girl. Not too deeply, just enough to wash the taste out of her mouth. And a bit more.
She throws the man in his car. He’ll recover, probably. Caroline can’t feel that badly for him. Ravaged flesh screams at the effort, but she’s not going to leave a mess. Just another drunk passed out in his car. The girl… well, there are no guardian angels, but this night the Beast with her blood on its tongue is close enough. Body screaming, she half-carries the girl from the alley, even as she fumbles for the girl’s phone.
GM: Caroline’s phone buzzes. Again. She’s gotten three texts from Aimee over the course of the evening. The first says Sara’s is now closed and asks where she wants to meet. The other, a half hour later, gives a coffee shop address where she’s at. The final one reads,
Coffee shop’s closing. Meet us at home?
Caroline: Will be a bit, she sends.
‘Us.’ Another headache. More lies she doesn’t want to tell at best. And who has Aimee roped in now? She’s just tired. So tired. The girl’s phone surrenders under a cursory examination. Why girls bother with the silly pattern locks is beyond her. She digs up the girl’s contacts and finds a recently texted friend with a local number.
This guy is really creeping me out at the bar. Can you give me a ride home?
While she waits for a response she digs up the “If you see something, say something!” line for New Orleans. She also calls a Ryde. Not the most glamorous transportation, but as she learns, the rest won’t be available until later in the evening.
GM: Caroline finds the phone number for another apparent friend named “Becca” and shoots off a text. The other girl responds she’ll be there in a few… as will the cops. Whether the savaged old man will be prosecuted is another matter.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t obsess overly long on that. He’s suffered his own kind of penance. She does turn his car on for him though and take a picture of his driver’s license for later. Likewise with the girl. She watches from across the street to make certain the friend arrives, and departs to meet her ride. Off to her home. To Aimee, to whatever hell awaits her. No rest for the wicked. She can’t manage self-pity here. She has been wicked.
GM: A sport sedan arrives after perhaps ten minutes with another college-age girl and presumed boyfriend. They are horrified to find the twice-victimized, nearly unconscious young woman in the state she’s in, and frantically exclaim they’ll drive her right to Tulane Medical Center. The sedan speeds off.
If Caroline really tries, she might even be able to justify tonight as a good deed.
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