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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline II, Chapter XIII

The Hound's Price

“For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to appreciate, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.”
Philip Maldonato

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

GM: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the CBD next to Lee Circle, the traffic circle dedicated to the eponymous Confederate general. It’s a fifteen minute drive.

The tall and looming building almost resembles a prison, with an impassive male face staring through a partial cage of iron bars. Caroline has been there for a few high society functions with parents in the past. The Ogden’s collection, she knows, consists of work by artists from or associated with fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. Since its foundation by Roger H. Ogden, the museum’s collection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, wood and crafts has grown to include more than 4,000 works donated from individuals and collectors from across the US, and constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

Despite the late hour, the museum is open for some seemingly private function. Stone-faced security guards look Caroline over and wave her through without asking for identification or an entrance fee.

If Lord Byron seduced the sister of Oscar Wilde, the result of their union could hardly be a less ostentatious creature than the first Kindred Caroline sees. His attire consists of a white domino mask with elaborate gold filigree, a black tricorn hat, purple velvet gloves, and brightly colored, almost jester-like clothes threaded with gold. His unblinking pale blue eyes have a glassy, porcelain-like quality, and almost appear part of his mask at a casual glance. He laughs gaily as he flits about the museum, trailed by an entourage of masked, preening ghouls.

Another figure draws attention like a black hole draws light. She is, quite simply, massive. She looks as if she weighs half a ton, easy, and rolling folds of flesh sag off her enormous arms as though they might splash to the floor at any moment. Her chocolate-gray skin is a sagging mass of lines and wrinkles so deep it’s a wonder she can see past them. Her already hideous face is further crisscrossed with angry purple welts and faded scars, and her jowls look large enough to swallow a cow whole. She wears a practically tent-sized black and white polka dot dress with a pearl necklace that’s almost dainty by comparison.

A tanned-skinned bearded man in another corner is dressed in an antiquated charcoal suit and white bow appropriate for the 19th century. Caroline recognizes him after a moment from history class: he served as Louisiana’s first black governor, though he does not look very black, for 24 days during Reconstruction.

A buxom, red-haired woman animatedly converses with a motionless creature who resembles nothing so much as a morbid, life-sized doll. Her already petite frame is perhaps a bit too thin, making her appear all the more fragile by way of comparison. Her pretty, youthful face has a porcelain-white complexion interspersed with a few freckles. Long honey-blonde-brown hair falls down her back in soft ringlets. No emotion flickers past her gray-blue eyes, nor does any smile upturn her cherry-painted lips: her face remains a mask of placid indifference.

An emaciated, rail-thin teenage boy in a fine tailored suit appears exceptionally gaunt even for one of the Kindred, with hollow cheeks, stick-like limbs, and dark discoloration under his watery gray-blue eyes. His neck-length brown hair is thin and wispy.

Rocco: An angelic-faced young man in a plum suit stands off to the side, admiring the artwork in quiet contemplation. His threads are reminiscent of a young gangster, but he holds himself with a dancer’s effortless grace.

GM: They come in all shapes and sizes, tall and short, hideous and angelic, striking and mundane. Not all of the faces, however, are strangers to Caroline’s. Jocelyn Baker chats with another black-haired girl. Randolph Cartwright trades words with his brother-in-deformity. Philip Maldonato, one of the few individuals in the museum taller than Caroline, contemplates “Scarlet Ibis” by John Alexander.

Caroline: Caroline surveys the landscape curiously, taking a moment to soak in the various groups. Her eyes settle on Maldonato after a moment. One of the few alone, and one she has reason to speak with, if only in brief.

She aligns to a spot several steps behind him and to his right, her heeled feet announcing her presence without the need for her voice to intrude on his consideration. She waits.

GM: The seneschal turns away from the artwork. He wears a hand-tailored, double-breasted navy suit with old-fashioned cufflinks, but gold rather than silver tonight.

“Miss Malveaux. How does the evening find you?”

Caroline: “Wiser I hope than each before it, seneschal,” comes her polite response. After a beat, “And you? I hope I am not interrupting you.”

GM: “Tonight finds me as well as may be expected, or even hoped for,” Maldonato replies. “If we are to be pedantic, Miss Malveaux, you are interrupting me. But the consequences of your interruption are minor, for Alexander’s work will remain when I return my full attentions to it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’m told, seneschal, that in another time I would have been executed on the spot when discovered. I’m also told you played a part in the decision to amend that policy.”

She pauses for a moment, fighting to strike the proper tone.

“My thanks then are in order, whatever your reasons. And my apologies for any nuisance my subsequent actions have brought to your attention, and my earlier rudeness. For what little these things may mean to you.”

GM: Maldonato observes Caroline for a moment before answering, “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux. Among my reasons is the lack of necessity to execute orphaned childer who can become non-disruptive, if not useful, members of the Camarilla without their sire’s instruction. Our kind can rarely afford mercy, but we can, perhaps, afford not to indulge needless cruelty.”

Caroline: “If I might ask, have you had many succeed in doing so?”

GM: “They have been few in number,” the seneschal answers. “But nor have they been nonexistent.”

Caroline: “And another, in those successes, is there a common thread that might be found, that I might balance upon?”

GM: “Self-reliance has been the most frequently needled thread,” Maldonato reflects, “followed closely by politesse and personal responsibility. In a similar vein, Miss Malveaux, your earlier apology to me is well-intentioned, but I fear misplaced. Sheriff Donovan and Hound Wright have had more contact with you in recent nights than I, and they have had few good things to say about your character. Actions would speak louder to me—and to them—than words.” The elder Kindred pauses. “But an apology can, perhaps, be taken as a preface to and announcement of such action.”

Caroline: Caroline can’t quite hold his gaze. The sheer frustration of the system they’ve created in which one is playing a game in which they know none of the rules is maddening. It’s even more maddening to hear it is the system functioning as intended. Still, she doubts even the youngest at this gathering would care to listen to her grievances, much less the seneschal.

She settles on a more measured response. “Wisdom is slow in coming, seneschal, but it is my hope that mistakes paid in blood should suffice to teach me my errors. The sheriff and Hound Wright have endeavored to do so at least. Certainly, one cannot blame their instruction.”

Her tone is self-deprecating rather than accusatory. That pride with which she entered his office only a week ago is little to be seen.

GM: “Another Kindred once related a filmmaker’s words to me: ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the slowest and most beautiful of all.’”

Caroline: “Disney.” The answer is off her lips.

GM: “Ah. I am unfamiliar with his works. Motion pictures hold little interest to me.”

Caroline: Caroline tries not to gawk a bit at the admission before finally composing herself. “His life had less bearing on your own existence than upon mine.”

GM: “It would appear my ignorance costs me little. The quote is memorable enough.”

Caroline: “Still, most of them lack the depth, the detail, of scenes like this.” She gestures to Alexander’s work.

GM: Maldonato’s eyes follow Caroline’s hand. “What do you make of it, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: She regards it for a moment. “I think it has a different meaning for me now than it did, perhaps a week ago. Before my Embrace I might have regarded it as a commentary upon the South. The beauty of idyllic southern creatures amid a sinking, rotten home. A commentary, perhaps, upon the beautiful elite. A criticism.”

GM: “There are few who survive the Embrace unchanged.”

Caroline: She nods. “Now… it so strikes me as our kind.”

GM: “The colors, certainly, evoke such associations.”

Caroline: “More than that. Their aloofness from each other, their distance. Their striking figures that are alien, yet your mind tells you belong. I believe if you showed the image to a child who had no concept of such bright birds, he would tell you it was a fanciful creation. The mind tells him it is wrong, and yet…” She shrugs. “But truly, it is the aloofness I never appreciated before they…” She trails off.

GM: Maldonato turns away from Caroline to more fully take in the painting.

“For some, the Embrace is a curse, a wholesale ruination of their mortal lives. For others, it opens their eyes to aspects of the human condition they have previously failed to appreciate, yet are forever barred from acting upon in their new state. It is debatable which is the more tragic.”

Caroline: She gratefully follows the words she had been prepared to let out. “You are a priest as well, seneschal?”

GM: “I am one of the laity, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “And yet you offered to take my confession.”

GM: “I am, too, a deacon, and may fulfill a priest’s functions when a priest is not present. You would have had no other opportunity to unburden your soul.”

Caroline: “I should have taken it then. Would you take a confession from me now? You seem among the only among the Kindred I have met that might carry it.”

GM: “Such is typically the province of priests, Miss Malveaux. There are a number now at your disposal. Why do you believe that I might take your confession where your many-times cousin is unable?”

Caroline: “I don’t know that he would view it as an appropriate sin, seneschal. Nor do I think he would carry it with any weight. But your last comment… I think you would understand.”

GM: The seneschal doesn’t furrow his brow, nor otherwise change his facial expression, but Caroline has an impression like she is being scrutinized more thoroughly.

“Words once spoken, Miss Malveaux, can only be forgiven, not forgotten.”

Caroline: She is very still as she continues to look upon the painting. “I would have them not be forgotten, even if I am.” She turns to him. “That is why I would share it with you.”

“I murdered someone when I was still… kine. Knowingly, premeditated, coldly. I never confessed it. I never acknowledged it. I pretended that as I had broken no laws, I had done no wrong. I murdered, and pretended I had done no wrong. I went about my life. Another Kindred I spoke with spoke to our state as punishment by God for what we have done. Until she said that, I thought I had suffered some great wrong.”

“But now? Now I know God chose not by chance. I was not struck down by some injustice. I murdered my unborn child. I flushed them away when I was done. A child buried without a parent, without a farewell, without even acknowledgement. It seems fitting, then, that I should rise as a childe without a sire, without welcome, and without acknowledgement.”

“Whatever decision you must ultimately make as to my fate, will you carry that memory? Whatever your choice, it’s no more than I deserve. Someone should know.”

GM: The sounds of Elysium seem to dim around Caroline as she speaks, as if her confession were occurring between her and the seneschal alone. When she is finished, he begins,

“It is a matter of some debate among contemporary mortals whether the killing of unborn children should be made illegal, or whether it should be considered killing. Regardless of one’s views upon the subject, such action is regrettable—regrettable for the emotional and physical toll upon the mother, and regrettable for the circumstances that led to such action being necessary.” He pauses. “I do not claim to comprehend your pain, Miss Malveaux. But it is apparent that it weighs heavily upon your soul, such that you would confess it to another even a week after an event so personally seminal as your Embrace. Your unborn child’s death has caused you much pain and guilt, and for that I am sorry.”

“I have been dead for many years, and I have seen and remembered many things. I will remember this.”

Caroline: “You have nothing to be sorry for, seneschal. Never with me. All the same… that you would say such confirms my belief that perhaps alone in this house of wolves, you were the right one to tell.”

A bloody tear wavers at the edge of her eye, and she finally looks away. “I’m sorry.” She reaches into her bag for a tissue to wipe it away, before it stains her face.

GM: Maldonato patiently waits for Caroline to dry her eyes before resuming. “Perhaps two needless apologies, Miss Malveaux, will serve to balance the figurative scales. Your confession shall not pass to another’s ears.”

At the seneschal’s words, the background chatter and ambient noise of Elysium seems to resume.

“Your prior appraisal of my character is humbling, but I cannot claim it to be wholly or exclusively warranted. There are other Kindred with whom I would unburden my soul outside of confession’s sacrament. Perhaps you shall come to meet them and share my opinion on their characters. Perhaps you shall not. I have found over the course of my Requiem, however, that while all individuals may be unique beings, few are truly one of a kind in every facet of their personalities.”

Caroline: She smiles weakly. “Granted, seneschal. Perhaps in time I shall know them. Or perhaps not.”

GM: “Your present setting, in either event, is highly conductive to meeting new Kindred. Though the Beast may abhor rival predators, the Man retains his yearning for the company of others like him.”

Caroline: “Then I shall leave you to attend to them, seneschal. I had not… intended, to occupy you for so long. By your leave, then?”

GM: Maldonato fixes his gaze back upon Alexander’s painting, clasping his hands behind his back.

‘The only objects of practical reason are therefore those of good and evil. For by the former is meant an object necessarily desired according to a principle of reason; by the latter one necessarily shunned, also according to a principle of reason.’

“The Critique has weighed upon my mind on several recent occasions, Miss Malveaux. Perhaps it shall also weigh upon your own. By my leave.”

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: A sea of unfamiliar faces awaits ahead. Most of them look unfriendly. One falls into neither camp. It’s a logical place to start.

GM: Jocelyn Baker is somewhat more dressed up than Caroline saw her last, and wears a knee-length semiformal blue dress. Her conversational partner is a girl in her late teens with long black hair, pale skin, and hard gray eyes. She’s attired in a longer black dress with a tighter skirt.

The two are conversing near another painting that depicts a weeping woman.

Caroline: Caroline does not make a beeline for Jocelyn as she did with the seneschal. She passes close instead, offering her the ‘girl’ the opportunity to wave her off, if so desired. She doesn’t wish to cause trouble for the friendly Toreador.

GM: “Hi, Caroline.” The greeting sounds almost out of place amidst the the gala of predators.

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” The smile is anything but forced here, as unnatural as it may be, and she slides to a stop. “It’s good to see you. I had you on my list.”

GM: “Yeah, you too,” the Toreador answers, though her tone isn’t quite as warm as Caroline’s. “Your list?”

Caroline: “Of Kindred I owed amends to, of one form or another.”

GM: “This is Roxanne Gerlette,” Jocelyn states after a moment, motioning towards her companion. “She’s the Storyville Krewe’s leader.”

The dark-haired girl looks Caroline over. Not quite frowning, but not quite smiling. “Good evening.”

Caroline: “Good evening, Ms. Gerlette.” Caroline is guardedly friendly. Her smile is a bit wry as she’s studied. Black gown, long white coat. The slightest copper tint in the air. She wouldn’t look out of place attending the museum’s opening, or a new exhibit. She glances at Jocelyn for a moment. “Or am I missing a title again?”

GM: The Toreador shakes her head. “We don’t have any titles.”

Caroline: “One thing I’ve done properly, then.”

GM: “For now,” Roxanne states.

Caroline: “My reputation precedes me, I see.” Caroline looks a bit sad, but keeps the smile in place.

GM: Roxanne doesn’t blink, but she does look confused. “Your reputation, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “You meant titles. Of course.” A bit of wistfulness. “I meant only my social graces have not been well represented. The realities of the child wandering through the garden.” She frowns after a moment. “Though I suppose that metaphor is not perfect.”

GM: Roxanne seems to look Caroline over again, skeptically. “I’m sorry to hear?”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile is strained. “I’m sorry, I’m lost in my thoughts and being rude again. Caroline Malveaux, unreleased fledgling.” She dips her head to the dark-haired woman. “A pleasure to meet you.”

GM: “You too. So, Jocelyn says you owe her a boon?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes, she was kind enough to provide some direction to me. More, I think, than she realized.”

GM: Jocelyn looks mildly taken aback. “How’s that?”

Caroline: “Do you know what they tell a sireless fledgling, Jocelyn?”

GM: “Probably not a lot?” the Toreador guesses.

Caroline: “Nothing. Not even where they can hunt or rest, or that they should even ask these things.”

GM: “Well, that’s supposed to be your sire’s job,” Roxanne says.

Caroline: “I’m not complaining, Ms. Gerlette,” Caroline observes. “Merely observing the grace of someone willing to provide even the the beginnings of direction. Others were… less gentle in their instruction. It makes the kindness all the more noticeable as well then.”

GM: “She did get a boon for it. But I’m sure she’s welcome.”

Jocelyn nods. “So, did you talk to your primogen or any other krewes?”

Caroline: “I had actually hoped to do so tonight. Last night was… interesting.”

GM: “How was that?”

Caroline: “Someone else was kind enough to provide come corporal instruction when I misstepped. Sadly it consumed much of the evening.”

GM: Jocelyn and Roxanne glance at another. ‘Corporal instruction’ probably isn’t lost on anyone here.

“Well, I don’t think Hurst’s here, but you might luck out and find his sister Becky Lynne,” the Toreador says.

“Yeah, preparing for the trial’s probably keeping him busy.” Roxanne.

Caroline: “Trial?” It’s the first Caroline has heard of it.

GM: “Long story,” Jocelyn says.

“He and George Smith were both around for a huge Masquerade violation. Smith’s probably going to get ashed for it.” Roxanne.

Caroline: The subject hits shockingly close to home. “Fortunate for Hurst.”

GM: “Yeah, it’ll probably be.”

“Not as much if Smith wasn’t a blue blood,” Jocelyn ventures. “The prince might cut out his tongue then.”

Caroline: “You sound almost jealous,” Caroline ventures in turn. “I can tell you it’s no bed of roses over here, though.”

GM: “Roses are my clan’s shtick anyway. We’d sue.”

Caroline: “I’ll not argue with my elder,” Caroline replies with a hint of a smile.

GM: Roxanne actually looks mildly taken aback, but pleasantly so at Caroline’s pronouncement. “Yeah, I guess we are.”

Caroline: “Wise in all things. Or at least infinitely wiser,” she continues, first solemnly, then with a hint of humor at the end. “Wisdom being a measure of experiences.”

GM: Both neonates spare a glance around the room at Caroline’s words. Jocelyn manages a smile, while Roxanne’s lips simply quirk.

“So, are you sworn to a regent, or do they not allow that?” Jocelyn.

Caroline: “Technically I’m a serf,” Caroline responds. “Squatting seemed a poor choice. And poaching, I learned, worse. If and when I’m released, I’ll be required to swear more fully as a vassal.”

GM: “Duh,” Roxanne says. “That’s stealing.”

“Doesn’t Savoy have a bunch of squatters?” Jocelyn wonders.

“Probably. He actually lets mosquitoes and abortions around the Quarter,” Roxanne answers. “That’s what happens when you don’t have a blue blood in charge.”

Caroline: “A lesson I learned the hard way,” she replies to Roxanne’s comment on stealing. “And one that did not need to be taught twice. All and all, it might have been easier if there was a PowerPoint presentation on the subject.”

GM: “There aren’t a lot of b-orphans running around outside the Quarter,” Roxanne replies. “Who’d take the time? Most are mosquitos and Meadows swats them pretty fast.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles at the mid-sentence correction. “You need not worry about offending me. I am what I am. Should I be worried about Meadows, though?”

GM: “I don’t know,” Jocelyn admits.

“Probably not, if the prince let you live,” says Roxanne, “but she attacked Gus Elgin. She’s crazy.”

Jocelyn glances around. “Careful, she might hear you…”

Caroline: “She’s here?”

GM: “She might be,” Jocelyn answers.

The other Ventrue doesn’t look around as obviously, but she feels more on guard. “She still shows up to Elysium. I don’t know if she’s at tonight’s.”

“Her childe is, though,” Jocelyn says. “Or one of them. Rocco Agnello?”

Roxanne frowns. “I thought he was a torrie.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at Jocelyn. Apparently clan lines are not quite as distinct as she suggested.

GM: “What?” Jocelyn says. “It’s not like everyone goes around wearing pins.”

Caroline: “That’s an idea you should put in writing. Is there a suggestion box?”

GM: Roxanne manages a laugh at that.

Caroline: “I’ll take that as a no. Alas for my plan to make a splash in Kindred society.”

GM: “Yeah, good luck at that if you weren’t Embraced by the prince or some other elder,” Jocelyn says.

Caroline: “Were they all?”

GM: Jocelyn looks confused. “Everyone what?”

Caroline: “The prince and the elders. Were they Embraced by elders and princes?”

GM: “I dunno about other princes, but even older elders, sure,” Jocelyn says. “You can’t be an elder if your blood’s too far away from Caine.”

Caroline: She thinks back to the tapestry at McGinn’s haven.

“So every generation is weaker?”

GM: “Yeah, basically,” Jocelyn nods.

Caroline: Caroline frowns. This was not the direction she had intended for the conversation to go, and the idea of a permanent pyramid of power that cannot be climbed is… troubling. She counts the names in her ‘childe of’ mantra.

GM: 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. That’s eight names. Caine makes nine. Maldonato said he was their race’s universal progenitor. And there was another name between Caine and Ventrue on McGinn’s tapestry.

That makes… ten?

Caroline: “What’s the last generation of elders?”

How far removed am I from power?

GM: “Eighth,” Jocelyn says. “There’s thirteen.”

Caroline: “Why thirteen?”

GM: “Because anyone past that doesn’t count,” Roxanne says.

Jocelyn gives a grimace. “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Oh?” She supposes that’s consistent with less removed blood being more esteemed.

GM: Roxanne looks somewhat impatient.

“That’s rude to talk about here.”

“We’re just lucky not to be any higher,” says Jocelyn.

Caroline: “I think normally, that would be something we’d all be drinking to.”

GM: Roxanne’s fangs briefly show. “We can still drink.”

Caroline: “I somehow doubt they manage to keep all of our vintages on hand.”

GM: “Sure they do. They’re walking around just outside the museum.”

Caroline: “I’ll pass in the seneschal’s domain.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Maldonato’s our regent. He’s pretty fair, but even he punishes poachers.”

Caroline: “Yes… I imagine he would be.” Caroline reflects for a moment on their conversation a few moments ago. “He seems to have retained something that others lost along the way.”

GM: Roxanne purses her lips. “It’s odd, not knowing his clan.”

Caroline: “Some great secret, then?”

GM: “Basically,” Jocelyn says. “He just doesn’t talk about it. And it couldn’t be anything good if he’s hiding it.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Alternative. It’s a distraction.”

GM: “From what?”

Caroline: She raises her eyebrows. “That would be the question, wouldn’t it? But that’s what I’d do in his place. Create a mystery for others to fixate on, to theorize on.”

GM: Roxanne frowns, thinking Caroline’s theory over. “That might explain some things. But it raises the question of what he’s hiding.”

Caroline: “Does it matter?” Caroline asks.

GM: Jocelyn looks surprised. “Well, sure. It’s a secret.”

Roxanne continues frowning. “He has it made, though. He’s literally in bed with the prince.”

Caroline: “I don’t know enough to say whether any clan nature would be sufficient to throw him into disgrace,” Caroline begins. “Jocelyn could tell you that… but it seems more likely to me that you wouldn’t sit on such an obvious one.”

GM: “Well, sure, he might not be from a Camarilla clan,” Jocelyn says. “That’d be pretty embarrassing, so he just doesn’t say anything about it.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I’d be more interested in what else having no clan indicates.”

GM: “He could be an Assamite. They’re assassins who have to murder other Kindred and drink their blood, because they can’t drink anything else,” Roxanne speculates.

“Or a cottonmouth. He could be Egyptian,” Jocelyn adds.

“Don’t be stupid, Jocelyn. Cottonmouths can be black too. They just don’t like to Embrace white people.”

Caroline: “Like that no one knows his background. His sire… the powers he has access to…”

GM: Roxanne frowns. “That’s true. It’s harder for enemies to plan around what they don’t know.”

“Maybe he’s just another blue blood,” Jocelyn thinks. “That’d explain why he and the prince…”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent, lets them speculate to their content.

GM: The two neonates bat about theories from him being a Toreador to a kook to a crawfish to even a mosquito. But there is little that can confirm or deny their speculation, and eventually the two Storyvilles admit as much.

Caroline: Caroline listens. “Presumably someone has simply asked him?”

GM: “I’ll pass, if an elder isn’t volunteering,” says Roxanne.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I suppose the question then is… does it really matter to any of us?”
“Whatever his secret is.”

GM: The other blue blood stares at Caroline for a moment. “Of course it does. It wouldn’t be a secret if it wasn’t important.”

Caroline: “I only mean, start here, and now, where you are. Even if he has some dark secret, even if you learn it, what would change for you? Could you manipulate him? Control him? Would you wish to, and to what end?”

GM: Roxanne keeps staring. “You’re really new, aren’t you?”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline answers evenly. “But not in that way. What I mean is… he’s the seneschal. A regent. An elder.”

GM: “I don’t know how or even if I’d use it,” Roxanne states. “It’s just better to know than to be ignorant.”

Caroline: “I’ve brought enough hell down upon myself just speaking rudely to them, or unintentionally provoking one. And you’re talking about holding a secret over the head of one of the most powerful Kindred in the city. At best it would make you a target for others. At worst… powerful people don’t like liabilities.” She shrugs.

GM: “Well, I’m not saying I’d use it,” Roxanne repeats. “It’s just better knowing something than not knowing it.”

Caroline: “And what if you owe a boon to an elder, and they instruct you to tell them of any use you may be to them?”

GM: “It could be dangerous. But guess what, so’s being Kindred at all.”

Caroline: Caroline looks away. “You’re not wrong.”

“In any case.” She looks back. “I should continue my rounds, and leave you in peace. I don’t suppose one of you two could be persuaded to describe Miss Adler for me before I go?”

GM: “Well,” Jocelyn starts, “she’s blonde, around our age—or looks like it, I think she was Embraced around Katrina—pretty short, usually wears nice dresses…”

“She doesn’t exactly stand out next to Harlequin,” Roxanne states.

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Short young blonde woman who’s well-dressed. Serviceable enough.”

GM: “She’s pretty nice, but good luck, I guess?”

Caroline: “I shall not decline it.” She looks at Roxanne. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Gerlette.”

GM: “Yours too, Miss Malveaux,” Roxanne replies.

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline politely inclines her head to the ‘elder’ Kindred and withdraws.

GM: “Caroline,” the Toreador states, mirroring the motion.

Caroline: She scans the crowd for Adler and almost moves to depart, then swings her gaze back to the two Storyvilles. “I don’t suppose we could trade numbers?”

GM: Jocelyn trades looks with Roxanne. “Well, I guess we could. What for?”

Caroline: “Good company is hard to find. And it might offer an alternative for me to pay you back… or offer something else in the future. Assuming I haven’t been too great of a bore?”

GM: Jocelyn thinks for a moment, then offers Caroline a phone number. Roxanne, after another moment, volunteers her own.

Caroline: She gives her thanks and breaks from the duo.

Trifling gifts to them. Nuggets of gold to her.

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Adler is her next focus. Try to arrange a meeting with Gabriel Hurst for the future. She doesn’t know when the next major opportunity will come out of Elysium and hopefully such a connection may at least pay off in additional contacts… or at least contact numbers.

GM: Caroline spots a Kindred who fits Jocelyn’s description after a few moments. She’s beautiful. Embraced in the flower of late adolescence, she has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. She smiles easily, which together with her slight build and short height, give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler.

She’s dressed in a knee-length sleeveless pink dress. Her jewelry is light, diamond pieces and a heart-shaped locket on a chain around her neck that complement her appearance without drawing overmuch attention to themselves. Caroline intercepts her just as she’s making her way away from Louisiana’s 24-day governor, open-toed heels clicking against the museum’s floor. Even with them on, she stands over a foot below the Ventrue.

Caroline: “Miss Adler?” she asks as she intercepts the other Kindred.

GM: “Guilty as charged, ma’am, might I ask who I have the privilege of addressin’?” the other Ventrue smiles, offering a deferential nod.

Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux.” A nod in turn. She pauses to see how the name is greeted.

GM: “Well, ain’t that the berries! I reckon that makes you related to Father Malveaux, doesn’t it?”

Caroline: “Distantly, I believe,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Really now? I can tell he takes his job very seriously. It’s a pleasure to meet another of the family.”

It would feel natural here to shake hands, but the other Ventrue doesn’t. Caroline can’t think of any Kindred who’ve offered to shake hands.

Caroline: “It doesn’t seem that uncommon. I believe your brother is also among us?” she asks. “Or is that a more colloquial statement as to siring? Of a different sort.”

GM: “Yes indeed, we both share the same sire. I didn’t have any relation to my brother when I was breathin’, but Lord knows he treats me like I did. Brother-in-blood is the technical term for it, as opposed to a brother-in-flesh, but that’s somethin’ of a mouthful to say each time, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “I imagine that must have been a pleasant surprise for you.”

GM: Becky Lynne mods. “That it was, Miss Malveaux, family’s like chocolate—when you’re breathin’, at least—that way: you can never have too much.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “So I’ve often found. It’s on a matter of that, of a sort, that I sought you out, if it isn’t impolite to say as much?”

GM: “Why certainly not—if anything, I should say it’s rather flatterin’! What can I do for you?”

Caroline: “I’m told we share something of an extended family, and I have pushed beyond the bounds of decency by not reaching out.”

GM: “Why yes, so we do,” Becky Lynne smiles. “But it’s never too late to a first impression if you haven’t made one yet. Besides, Miss Malveaux, one can hardly blame you—I gather you’re new around here, would this be your first time in Elysium too?”

Caroline: “You’re very perceptive, Miss Adler,” Caroline concedes.

GM: “Have you said hello to any of your other kin? There are a few other Alexandrites in New Orleans, I think. Mr. Guilbeau and Deacon Holland, though I don’t think Deacon Holland is in the city to stay, Lord Brodowski, Lord Interpreter Guilbeau, and Regent McGinn.”

Caroline: “Lord Councilor Pierpont and I were acquainted last night,” Caroline replies. “I regret it was not under better circumstances.”

GM: “I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Malveaux,” Becky Lynne offers. “One might never get a second chance at a first impression, but one can get plenty of chances at later ones.”

Caroline: “Certainly, and time is one thing given to us, at least in theory. In any case, I’m told that the least I should do, as a matter of clan matters, is introduce myself to the clan primogen…” She smiles politely and surveys the rest of the room. “I hope it is not too rude to speak to his sister-in-blood first?”

There’s something odd about the blonde. A veneer? Perhaps. She’s almost… perky.

GM: “Certainly not, one’s got to hitch their wagon to the horse in front of them, don’t they?” Becky Lynne smiles. “We’ve got an address at the Garden District where we’re happy to receive visitors. I wonder if you might be so kind as to do me a favor as well?”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “I suppose that would depend upon the nature of the favor, Miss Adler.” The tone is friendly enough though.

She continues to consider the elder Kindred. There’s something she can’t quite put her finger on. Looking down on Adler, she considers inviting her to sit somewhere. It seems to relax many people during one-on-one conversations with more physically imposing individuals.

On the other hand, size matters so much less among Kindred. Look at her….

GM: “Well, first things first, Miss Malveaux. Our address is at….” Becky Lynne gives Caroline one for a home in the Garden District. It isn’t too far from Orson’s house. She also gives the Ventrue a phone number for one of her brother’s ghouls. “You can tell him that Primogen Hurst’s sister passed it on, and he’ll fit you into my brother’s schedule.”

Caroline: Caroline withdraws from Becky Lynne and glances around to see if others were observing the meeting. She disguises the motion with a sweep of her pale hair.

GM: As is the nature of parties, Elysium actually seems to be over a dozen smaller parties held among various cliques. Few Kindred seem interested in what the two neonates may have been discussing amongst themselves.

Caroline: She smiles a bit at that. After a lifetime in the spotlight, there is some pleasure in not being the center of attention.

Still, Caroline has little time to enjoy it. She’s no closer to actually accomplishing anything she set out to do. She needs to find someone who can help… and anything on René. There’s one more meeting she needs to have here, and then she needs to go.

The Nosferatu. To see what her dignity bought.

GM: Caroline’s Nosferatu contact is not difficult to track down. There might be several members of the deformed clan at tonight’s Elysium, but there’s only one who fits Abellard’s nickname of ‘Gutterball.’

He has a bruised, swollen eye and rounded, hideous crushed-in head, as if a wagon ran over him. His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind Caroline of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He wears a maroon leather coat over a black shirt and pants. He moves to and fro about through the crowd, his genteel smiles and formal tone almost mockingly at odds with his deformed face.

“Miss Malveaux,” he smiles pleasantly upon observing her approach. “What may I do for you this evening?”

Caroline: Oddly, compared to Cartwright… he’s not that bad. Ugly without being hideous on its face. The gore seems almost trivial.

The fact there aren’t enslaved, beaten women worshiping at his feet helps too.

“Mr. Elgin… I was told to seek you out.”

GM: Elgin nods. “And you have found me. You desire, I presume, information on your sire.”

Caroline: “If you would be so kind.”

GM: “We will accept payment in boons or other information of like value.”

Caroline: She keeps her jaw from dropping, but closes her eyes.

GM: “Ah,” Elgin states with a slight frown. “I fear you have labored under a false impression of how transactions operate with my clan, Miss Malveaux. We subject new Kindred we deal with—and many with whom we have had previous dealings—to elaborate hazing rites. Your exchange with Mr. Abellard was one such hazing, and substituted for the more common one of requiring the supplicant Kindred to visit our clan’s domain in the sewers.” Elgin pauses, then states mildly, “We do not trade politically sensitive information for photographs of the nature Mr. Abellard requested.”

Caroline: She falls silent. Centers herself. Opens her eyes.

“My thanks, then, for the explanation.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She smiles at last. “At the risk of coming across as tasteless, might I ask how you normally conduct these things? How are prices arranged?”

GM: “That depends upon the nature of the information requested. Its difficulty to obtain—if we do do not already know it—the consequences for its release, and of course, its value to the Kindred who desires it. The greater these things, the greater the future obligation to us..”

“Information traded to us by other Kindred, of course, depends upon its own usefulness and difficulty in obtaining.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent. “Presumably you know the details of my circumstance. Might I ask, in advance, do you already have the information?”

GM: “May I inquire as to what specific information, Miss Malveaux?” Elgin asks.

Caroline: She bites her lip. “In order of interest, a profile on my sire including allies and boons credited. A less comprehensive profile would include any information related to his Embrace of myself that is not known, as well as his present haven.”

GM: Elgin nods. “I believe we may be able to answer many of your questions, Miss Malveaux. What are you prepared to offer us in exchange?”

Caroline: A smile. “Your elegance and courtesy are remarkable,” Caroline replies, “but let us not dance around the fact that you hold every card between us. I scarcely have a place at the table. Such is not a surprise to me, and it no longer hurts my feelings when such is shown.”

GM: “Honesty is a trait much-admired by my clan,” the Nosferatu remarks with a faint smile.

Caroline: “It must be difficult for you then, at these gatherings. Presumably it is why so many of you, I hear, avoid them.”

GM: Elgin’s smile dims somewhat. “Most members of my clan are long since inured, Miss Malveaux, to being called ugly.”

Caroline: “You misunderstand me.” A forced smile. “This is my first such gathering among the Kindred, but in many such as a kine, there was one constant. Truth was in short supply.”

GM: “I am quite certain. It is an amusing paradox that our society, despite being created by and sustained upon lies, is at once far more honest than the kine’s in many ways, is it not?” Another dim smile.

Caroline: She frowns. “Yes… and no. It is peculiar of a sort. Lies on the surface overlaying hard truths, perhaps.”

GM: “To those of delicate constitutions, it is sometimes kinder to tell soft lies than hard truths.”

Caroline: “Sometimes,” Caroline agrees. “But not now. Not between us. I need not tell you how important this information is to me, or how little else I can offer.”

GM: The Nosferatu raises a polite eyebrow. “A pity, Miss Malveaux, though I would not be so quick to discount what you might trade with us. Eyes and ears may observe from a great many places, and information’s value is independent of its conveyor’s. You have heard or witnessed nothing that would be of interest to other Kindred since your Embrace?”

Caroline: She bites her lip, pausing to ponder.

GM: The Nosferatu waits patiently.

Caroline: “Should I throw things at you until one sticks? It is difficult for me to know what you may have already heard.”

GM: The Nosferatu emits a light but throaty-sounding chuckle. “The alternative is that I iterate things my clan knows until one misses.”

Caroline: Her eyes show their own laughter at that. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t object. Perhaps we could start with my sire?”

GM: Elgin offers another dim smile. His bruised, puffed right eye almost makes it look as if he is chuckling.

Still, the noise of Elysium abruptly fades around the pair.

Caroline: Mirth fades gradually, leaving them in that silence.

“The altercation in Mid-City involving Eight-Nine-Six,” she offers first, questioning in her tone.

GM: “Common gossip at this point, I am afraid. Mid-City’s Anarchs have been quite vocal in spreading the tale.”

Caroline: She nods slightly, having expected little less. “Taking it harshly?”

GM: The Nosferatu raises an almost invisible eyebrow. “It was an impressive feat for a newly-sired fledgling, however disregardful for the Masquerade. An established krewe brought low by an unreleased neonate.”

Caroline: “I rather doubt they were impressed.”

GM: “Angered, and though they will be slow to admit it, fearful.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. That’s a particularly dangerous combination.

“I imagine I won’t get a Christmas card from them, then.”

GM: Another ugly smile. “One may always hope.”

Caroline: “Their punishments and mine?”

GM: “Also readily spread by them.”

Caroline: “I would call it tasteless, had I not been prepared to offer the same,” Caroline observes. “The death of Lord Councilor Pierpont’s men, I assume you heard from your fellow?” She gestures to Cartwright across the room, having marked his position in her mind earlier.

GM: “You assume correctly, Miss Malveaux,” the other Nosferatu nods.

Caroline: “Did he tell you the ghouls were specifically hostile? Quite surreal that, how quickly they turned to blades. The most foolish thing I’ve ever seen.”

GM: “I am certain it was a trying series of events to experience,” Elgin replies. “The Beast lurks close in all our hearts.”

Caroline: She smiles. “I’ll grant you that witnesses are rarely reliable, regardless of their background or vantage. We all carry our pre- and post-conceptions in a matter, and in truth I have little basis for comparison. Perhaps they imagined a Kindred would sooner let them bleed them into ‘torpor’ than raise a hand against their master’s servants. I suppose it matters little, and is valued at less in any case.”

GM: “Perhaps there are other pieces of information you may yet trade, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin ventures.

Caroline: She looks down. It was worth a shot.

“No, I very much doubt it, but thank you for entertaining the idea. Perhaps in the future. Do you have a ghoul that I might reach out to for such matters?”

GM: The Nosferatu smiles. “I do.” He gives Caroline a phone number.

Caroline: The number is plugged away, with the rest she’s gathered this evening. A veritable treasure trove for her, a pauper’s fortune so casually thrown away by others.

GM: “You may use it to tell my ghoul that you have information to trade, and to arrange meetings with a member of my clan. All such transactions are handled face-to-face.”

Caroline: “Presumably also to setting meetings that trade boons in place of information?”

She smiles at the face-to-face comment. I bet. And how can she blame him, really? Cursed with hideousness, mocked and looked down upon by other Kindred. To let others relegate them further into the shadows with electronic communications would only further marginalize them.

GM: The Nosferatu offers another ugly smile. “Whatever you have to offer us in trade, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Is it too vulgar to ask the price for the information I asked of earlier, in boons?”

GM: Elgin’s expression does not look offended, a pleasant change of pace for Caroline. “Knowledge of your sire’s past and his known associates will be worth a boon. His contemporary activities, and other information of like nature, will constitute a separate such boon.”

Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment. It’s a fair deal. More than fair. It’s something to give Wright tonight, to stave him off. Buy her time on that front. It’s not as though her other efforts have panned out… yet.

“Would you be offended if I asked the night to consider such, Master Elgin?”

GM: The Nosferatu offers another respectful incline of his head.

Caroline: “Then I shall leave you to consider it… thank you for your time, and your courtesy.”

GM: “It is both my pleasure and obligation to be of service, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin states with another ugly smile.

Caroline: An ugly smile… but not so hideous as what lies beneath the refined facades of others. She’ll settle for his misshapen head over their cruel elegance. Off she goes.

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline slips away from the Nosferatu, gliding through the event with preternatural grace on heeled feet. Amid some of the others here in all their absurdity, her stark black dress and white coat seems almost plain, though her height and pale features stand out a bit.

She moves between rooms, seeking… something. Someone. Perhaps she seems like a lost child to others. Certainly, for herself, she’s run out of friendly faces in the crowd.

Rocco: A cool, passive expression sits on Rocco’s face as he watches the fledgling move through the sea of Kindred. His angelic features hardly move before he decides to give chase after the taller woman. I know that face, he realizes, curiosity getting the better of him as he moves through the crowd.

He eventually intercepts the Ventrue as she passes through an archway. He looks at her features and attempts to place where he’s seen her before. Finally, he looks up at the tall woman’s face with a knowing smile.

“I think I almost saw you get executed a few nights ago,” he states plainly.

Caroline: The hall between galleries has dimmed lights, but their Kindred eyes see through the gloom well enough. All the same, she startles a bit when he speaks. Her expressive eyes sweep over the angel-faced young man.

After a beat, “You and many others, I recall. Or don’t, as the case may be. You’ll forgive me if my memories of the event have a different cast than your own.” A smile creeps out, small but present. “Can I be of some service to you, Mr….”

Rocco: The plum-suited man’s eyes regard her humorously as he takes a few steps back with preternatural grace and precision.

“You can call me Hound Agnello,” he says smoothly. “I do believe you have already met my associate Hound Wright. I know your face. But I am afraid I do not recall your name.”

Caroline: The smile vanishes with a start, almost before she’s realized it. Her tone remains pleasant, but with a steel spine of respect now. There’s something in her eyes. It looks very much like fear.

“Hound Agnello. The question remains then, how can I be of help to you?”

She turns her head and glances behind her, then back towards Agnello.

Rocco: “I hear you’re giving my friend a hard time.”

Caroline: Stillness. “Your friend?”

Rocco: Rocco chuckles. “Sorry,” he says casually, “you know him as Hound Wright, of course.”

The hound taps his chin a little, seemingly amused by the woman’s fearful disposition.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. You can understand my concern for my friend who’s been running himself ragged over one little fledgling, though. I assure you we’re speaking on friendly terms, so please feel free to relax… how has your night been, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: Caroline visibly tenses at his question.

“You understand I mean no disrespect when I say I’ve had better, Hound Agnello. And for Hound Wright… you’re correct that I’ve treated him disgracefully. Something I hope I have time to correct. He’s been… more patient than I deserved.”

Rocco: Rocco pauses, his confident smile turning into something kinder and more genuine.

“I appreciate your honesty, Miss Malveaux,” he replies easily, “and I appreciate your acknowledgement that you’ve treated Hound Wright very unfairly. You may not be aware of this, but he has shown you quite a lot of mercy on a number of occasions. I hear he let your dog live, for instance.”

“I hope you’re making something more yourself here tonight. Are you making many contacts?”

Caroline: She wavers, biting her lip for a moment too long. “Connections more than contacts. It’s slow going, Hound Agnello.”

Rocco: “Do you need help?” he asks.

Caroline: Now she truly freezes, struck speechless by the question.

“I…” She pauses. “I…” Something wars within her. “I wouldn’t wish to inconvenience you.”

There has to be a catch.

Rocco: “It’s no inconvenience.” Rocco’s smile grows a little. “You appear suitably contrite and respectful of your elders now. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement.” There’s a faintly condescending air to that smile.

“I only ask one favor. Next time you speak to Hound Wright, say ‘thank you.’ Now,” he continues, “tell me how I can help you.”

Caroline: Caroline has questions she wants to ask. So many questions. This is wrong. It’s too easy. It’s too normal. She bites her lower lip. He’s a hound. And he seems so… friendly… Coco’s not here.

She bites harder. The night is burning down. An olive branch? A life preserver? God, how she wants to take it.

Rocco: He simply smiles, waiting for an answer.

Caroline: Silence stretches on. “I need to find someone that will modify memories on a pair of kine.”

The admission seems to deflate her, like it alone was what kept her standing. Worry and fear burn in her eyes.

And behind it, something else.

Rocco: Rocco looks taken aback for a moment; he clearly did not expect a request of that sort.

“Why do you want their memories ‘modified’?” he asks in a quieter, softer pitch.

Caroline: In for a penny. She remembers well how lying to Donovan worked out.

“It’s better than the alternatives.”

She chokes out the next words. “I thought I was being clever. I didn’t say anything about our nature, but…” Another bite of the lower lip. “It won’t happen again. I’ll cut whatever deal I need… I just need a name of someone that isn’t going to make a great example out of this.”

Rocco: The affability vanishes from Rocco’s face in an instant. His eyes become cold and unblinking.

“We’re talking about a Masquerade breach,” the hound questions coolly, “aren’t we, Caroline?”

Rocco’s posture straightens as his face turns grave. “A Masquerade breach is not merely a civil offense; it is blasphemy against the commandments of Longinus the Dark Prophet. I am afraid ‘cutting deals’ isn’t an option; however, you have done the right thing by being honest with me.”

“How long ago did the breach occur? Where are these two kine now?”

Caroline: That other thing burning behind the fear in her eyes snuffs out like a candle in the night.

“I didn’t tell them anything about us. They just…”

She cuts off abruptly, iron filling her voice now. “Tonight. They’re bound, captive. My home. Whatever you have to do to me… I understand. But it’s not their fault.”

Rocco: Rocco nods in consideration. His face softens and he looks at Caroline with a small frown.

“I admit I underestimated how utterly ignorant you are of our ways,” he says straightforwardly, “but I am going to give you some insight. The rules that govern our society, one of which you broke tonight, are sacrament.”

“I am going to give you a chance to do things properly. I want you to see a priest—one of our priests—and confess to them that you broke the Masquerade. Be sorry. Be remorseful and penitent. You fucked up and God isn’t happy. But I hope you realize how fucking merciful I am being right now.”

Rocco effects a needless sigh, then continues, “Do you have a priest you take confession with?”

Caroline: That’s why they call it gambling.

Still, his words are worse than the lash. Another cruel joke. The right thing? Not when Father Malveaux murders them to prove a point.

“I’ve taken it with Father Malveaux before.”

Rocco: “I want you to confess to him tonight about your transgression. If you do this, then I will make sure your kine are treated properly. Do you know how to get into contact with him?” he asks.

Caroline: She’s actually trembling.

“Perdido House. Hope he’s there.”

Rocco: “How did you arrive to Elysium?” he asks Caroline, pulling out his phone. He scrolls through his contacts list for one of Father Malveaux’s ghouls before dialing the number. He stares at Caroline as he waits for someone to pick up.

Caroline: “Driver.”

GM: “Greetings, hound,” sounds the high, emotionless voice of the little albino girl who serves as the priest’s herald.

Rocco isn’t sure if she even has a name. He’s never heard Father Malveaux refer to her by one.

Rocco: “Hello.” He doesn’t address her by name when she lacks one. “I was hoping to organize a confession tonight for Caroline Malveaux with Father Malveaux.”

GM: “Very well, hound,” replies the child. “I will notify the good father.”

Rocco: “Thank you. Good night.” He hangs up the phone.

Caroline: Caroline stands silent through the call.

Rocco: Rocco pauses and looks at Caroline with a frown.

“I want you to head to Perdido House. Hound Wright and I will handle your kine while you are taking confession.” He extends an open hand to Caroline. “I need your house keys.”

Caroline: “Properly.” The word seeps between them. “If you’re going to kill them, just tell me.”

Rocco: “I don’t plan to kill them.” There might be a hint of pity in Rocco’s eyes. Or maybe Caroline is just hoping to see one there. “In any case, give me your house keys, Caroline.”

Caroline: She fishes them out of her bag. Places them in the open hand.

Rocco: Rocco gives Caroline a small smile. “Thank you.” He exits the scene in strident steps.

Caroline: Caroline stands, still and silent as he leaves, until long after his footsteps have faded. She digs out her phone with shaking hands and dials Autumn’s number.

GM: “Hi, who is this?” sounds the ghoul’s voice.

Caroline: “Caroline. Autumn, you need to leave, right now. Get out of the house.”

GM: “Why? What’s happening?”

Caroline: “Hounds are coming, Autumn. Get out now.”

GM: Caroline hears a sharp intake of breath.

“I’m out.”

The line immediately disconnects.

Caroline: She tucks the phone away with shaking hands.

I’ve killed them.

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Lavine: A tsking sound comes from behind her. “A few nights in, and you already have the hounds nipping at your heels, Mademoiselle Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline turns slowly.

Lavine: The girl appears to be around Caroline’s age, maybe younger, for what appearances matter anymore. She stands more than a few heads shorter than Caroline, with a tangle of messy dark hair and black eyes that observe the Ventrue without emotion. Dressed in a denim crop top with a book bag slung over her shoulder, she might look like a student if it weren’t for Caroline’s instinct telling her otherwise. And the fangs glinting as she speaks.

Caroline: She looks the other woman up and down. “I’m sorry, miss?” There’s no heart in her words.

Lavine: “Lavine, mademoiselle. Just Lavine, I didn’t see it fit to accept a surname from your people.” Her accent, though Cajun in English, switches to perfect French when she speaks it.

“You are troubled, mademoiselle, and having trouble adjusting to what has happened, no?”

Caroline: “Je pense que la difficulté est mieux utilisé dans la société polie, Lavine,” she replies in neatly clipped French.

(“I think trouble is best used in polite company, Lavine.”)

“Etes-vous ici pour être un autre ange sur mon épaule chuchotant mensonges réconfortantes? J’ai trouvé le diable habille rarement la partie. Ou êtes-vous simplement spectating? Je pouvais à peine vous blâmer.”

(“Are you here to be another angel upon my shoulder whispering comforting lies? I’ve found the devil rarely dresses the part. Or are you simply spectating? I could hardly blame you.”)

Lavine: Lavine grins, or at least bares her teeth. “Les mensonges sont à peine un confort, madamoiselle. Ils sont une lance ou une béquille. Quant à un ange, d’après ce que je sais que je doute fort que je suis.”

(“Lies are hardly a comfort, madamoiselle. They are a spear or a crutch. As for an angel, from what I know I very much doubt I am that.”)

“Je l’ai fait regarder votre discussion avec le hound, madamoiselle, et j’entendu parler de votre, dirons-nous, la situation? Nous avons souvent orphelins infants apparaissent après ces fêtes, mais il est rare les esprits acceptent. Vous me intéressez, madamoiselle. Le me suis trouvé un étranger dans mon propre pays plus d’une fois. Vous connaissez la tribu Choctaw, non?”

(“I did watch your discussion with the hound, madamoiselle, and I heard of your, shall we say, situation? We often have orphaned childer appear after these festivals, but it is rare the spirits accept them. You interest me, madamoiselle. I have found myself a stranger in my own land more than once. You are familiar the Choctaw tribe, no?”)

Caroline: “Je ne pense pas qu’il y avait beaucoup de gauche en Louisiane.”

(“I didn’t think there were many left in Louisiana.”)

Lavine: The Choctaw, Caroline knows, were a tribe that had originally resided in the Louisiana area. Through agreements, warfare, disease and the convenient redrawing of maps, they were eventually relocated to their present day locations in more northern states.

Lavine shakes her head, hair shifting along as she does. “Non, madamoiselle, et ceux qui ne le fait pas se rappeler les enseignements de leurs ancêtres. Mais je suis ici bien avant ce soir. Nos anciens ont été respectés, madamoiselle, non pas pour leur puissance, mais parce qu’ils avaient les connaissances nécessaires pour nous tous. J’enseigne a été arraché de chez moi non pas une fois mais deux fois. Je sais combien il est difficile d’accepter cela.”

(“No, madamoiselle, and those that do don’t remember the teachings of their ancestors. But I was here long before tonight. Our elders were respected, madamoiselle, not for their power, but because they had the knowledge to teach us all. I was ripped from my home not once but twice. I know how difficult it is to accept this.”)

Caroline: Caroline is silent. After a moment, “Que pourrais-je faire pour vous, Lavine ?”

(“What might I do for you, Lavine?”)

Lavine: “Comme je l’ai dit, madamoiselle, vous me intéresse. Je voudrais pour vous de visiter, quand vous avez le temps. Et bien sûr, je peux déjà voir que vous avez appris à se méfier de toute personne qui fait une offre gratuitement.”

She stops and eyes Caroline as a wolf might watch a lamb.

(“As I said, madamoiselle, you interest me. I would like for you to visit, when you have the time. And of course, I can already see you’ve learned to distrust anyone who makes an offer for free.”)

Caroline: “Vous semblez être, en fait, faire une demande, plutôt que d’une offre,” Caroline corrects in pointed French.

(“You would seem to be, in fact, making a request, rather than an offer.”)

“Tout de même, il est celui que je crains que je ne peux pas répondre maintenant, et je ne pense être en mesure de le faire. La Nouvelle-Orléans est maintenant ma prison, et je crois que bientôt mon bûcher.”

(“All the same, it is one I fear I cannot now answer, nor do I expect to be in a position to do so. New Orleans is now my prison, and I believe soon my pyre.”)

Believe, not fear.

Lavine: “Ce monde est une prison pour nous tous, madamoiselle,” Lavine replies, grinning.

(“This world is a prison for us all, madamoiselle.”)

“Nous devons en faire ce que nous voulons. Pour vous, je pense, il y a plus à venir. Je suppose que vous ferez remplacer votre père devraient-ils échapper à la punition. J’ai des amis où vous et les chiens ne peuvent pas, et je pourrais apporter mon aide. La chance de chasser un esprit Kindred est aussi rare que est passionnant.”

(“We must make of it what we will. For you, I think, there is more to come. I imagine you shall replace your sire should they escape punishment. I have friends where you and the hounds may not, and I could lend my assistance. The chance to hunt a Kindred spirit is as rare as is exciting.”)

Another flash of fangs.

Caroline: “Remplacer sur le billot.”

(“Replace upon the chopping block.”)

Lavine: She nods slowly. “Quel était son nom?”

(“What was their name?”)

Caroline: Caroline is silent. Her eyes gleam dangerously in the murky light of the hall.

“Vous offrez pour me aider à trouver mon père, et le capturer, parce que vous voulez que je vous visite après. Est-ce que je vous comprends bien?”

(“You’re offering to help me find my sire, and capture him, because you want me to visit you afterwards. Do I understand you properly?”)

Lavine: Lavine’s eyes remain as deep and murky as ever.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Malveaux, vous semblez heureux de cette affaire.”

(“Ah, Mademoiselle Malveaux, you seem pleased by this deal.”)

Caroline: It’s so tempting. Another life preserver she could cling to. It’s not as though Lou has done anything for her. She’s no closer. A powerful outside ally?

And if Lavine had pitched the offer ten minutes before, Caroline might have said yes. But no hope burns behind her eyes now. No possibility. No trust. Rocco has burned it out. Snuffed out the last of her optimism, of her belief, of her soul like a cheap menthol burned down t,o the filter. All that’s left is a smoking caustic thing of no use to anyone. Especially herself.

“Good evening, Lavine.” The words are in English as Caroline turns away, making for the exit.

These cruel beings. These savages that play with their prey like a cat with a mouse. Every possibility only another avenue for barbarism. No. She won’t play their game anymore. She won’t play the fool anymore. She won’t believe anymore. If they want to torturer her, to hurt her, to destroy her, they’ll have to be more direct.

If eyes are windows to the soul, then Caroline is truly empty.

Lavine: The only emotion that leaves Lavine’s face is a worried frown. “A shame, mademoiselle. I hope you change your mind before you are lost. I do not believe you were chosen simply to die for your sire.”

The petite form watches Caroline depart before drifting back into the crowd.

Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Rocco: Rocco sits in his black Lincoln and starts the motor. He drives for Audubon Place. The guards there know to let him through. Thoughts of the timid, lost neonate cloud his mind.

I am not a bully, he admonishes himself.

He speeds a little as he drives on, trying to let the revving of the motor drown out his thoughts.

GM: Audubon Place is a fortress neighborhood and gated community with some of the most expensive residences in the city. It’s home to John Dyer, the richest man in the state, the president of Tulane University, several politicians, Capo Ernie Marchesi (whom Rocco is passingly acquainted with), and other business and civic leaders who don’t want to associate with “the riffraff” that is the district’s middle-class homeowners and the Tulane and Loyola student bodies… to say nothing of the elements that prey on those students after dark.

Rocco knows tat Donovan prefers to conduct business pertaining to his office as sheriff in Perdido House, and business pertaining to his regency over Riverbend at Audubon Place. Still, the Gangrel has been to his superior’s Audubon haven on a number of prior occasions.

The neighborhood is well-fortified. Donovan has seen to that. High concrete walls tipped with barbed wire declare the neighborhood’s desire to divorce itself from the rest of the world. A grilled iron gate and adjacent guard house control vehicle access. Masked Blackwatch mercenaries (“security contractors”) patrol the perimeter with leashed attack dogs, bored and tense for action. Their growls pause as Rocco pulls up in his car, though, and tensely back away. The animals recognize a superior predator in the Gangrel.

The masked guards check Rocco’s ID, more to make sure he’s not being impersonated by another vampire (or at least not one who forgot the hound’s mortal ID) than out of actual adherence to Audubon Place’s mortal security protocols. His face is long familiar to them. They also ask him for a password before waving the Lincoln on through.

Rocco: Rocco barely acknowledges the faceless men as he drives into the gated community. He heads to Caroline’s home, eyeing the multimillion dollar properties with a little bit of curiosity.

GM: Caroline’s home at 18 Audubon Place is a three-story, turn-of-the-century mansion that sits on a large 100×200-foot lot with a swimming pool and private backyard oasis. The house retains many of the design details created by its early 20th century architect, including custom cabinetry, high ceilings, leaded-glass windows, intricate crown moulding, original millwork, grand staircases, marbled mantled fireplaces, and gloriously sunny spaces. All Audubon Place homes feature breathtaking views of the private park, but one step onto the grand veranda and the Beaux Arts mansion immediately impresses. A soaring entry, decorative trim, and softly curved staircase welcome guests and homeowners alike. The home flows gracefully from room-to-room, with natural light streaming through (at least during the day), warming up the oak and walnut inlaid hardwood floors.

Rocco doubts even Caroline’s family would be inclined to buy such an expensive property if she was only going to live there while she attended college. Perhaps there’s a further story.

The entryway gives way to a sprawling floor given way to entertaining, though it appears strangely bare for such an expensive property. There’s almost no art or furniture to speak of. The space is paneled in rich dark wood with a full bar against one wall, though it’s missing any drinks.

The dominating feature at the moment, however, is the massive dog staring at Rocco. The beast is nearly three feet tall and probably weighs more than most humans. Thick rolls of skin hang loosely off it throughout, including off its massive, almost sad face—all the more sad-looking for the white bandages it’s half-wrapped under, giving the dog an almost mummy-like appearance.

The animal emits a dangerous snarl and half-races, half-lumbers towards Rocco, clearly favoring one leg. Its eyes are mad with fury.

Rocco: “Stay. Down, boy.” Rocco’s voice is a sharp, commanding hiss. His eyes are slitted with annoyance.

GM: The dog immediately plops down, its massive hindquarters making an audible thump against the wood floor. It prostrates its wrinkled head before Rocco in a gesture of submission.

(“I am sorry, great cat. You smelled like an intruder,”) the animal woofs. Its voice is low, thick, and almost muffled, as if it’s speaking through its own rolls of wrinkled flesh.

Rocco: Rocco squats down to level his eyes at the large dog. He sniffs the creature like a fellow canine and tilts his head slightly to the side.

(“You are forgiven. What is your name?”)

GM: (“I am Caesar,”) the dog answers, head still bowed.

Rocco: (“Where is your owner now?”) he asks, curious to get an insight into Caroline’s home life.

GM: (“I do not know. I do not smell her stench.”)

Rocco: (“I see.”) Rocco pauses. (“Are there any other people in this home?”)

GM: (“My owner has a beta and littermate.”)

Rocco: (“Can you take me to them?”) he asks.

GM: The dog nods his massive head and rises to his paws.

(“There was another intruder who is gone now,”) Caesar woofs as his nails click against the wood floor. (“She smelled of blood and sickly need. She stank. I am glad she is gone.”)

Rocco: (“Thank you, Caesar.”) Rocco rubs his chin and muses over this new piece of information. (“What else can you tell me about this stinky woman?”)

GM: (“She did not stink as bad as my owner, but she still stank. She smelled of blood. And fear. My owner bit her. Then she smelled of my owner’s blood, and stank worse. My owner left. She stayed. Then she smelled of fear and ran away.”)

Rocco: (“Did she leave anything behind?”) Rocco asks, hoping for a clue as to her identity.

GM: (“I still smell her stink.”)

Rocco: Rocco’s nostrils flare, trying to seek out the blood that Caesar keeps referencing and pinpoint its exact location.

Caroline: The second floor, where Rocco has wandered, still shows the signs of Wrights’ thugs’ rampage. Less broken furniture and more simple emptiness. The open spaces make it all the more obvious. The stairs to the third floor are a different story. Pictures line the wall of the staircase—mostly of Caroline and an attractive brown-haired girl. That staircase is also splattered with blood on the mid-turn landing in long arcs. More blood has soaked into various stairs. There’s a scorch mark on one wall that smells electrical. Several of the picture frames are cracked or askew.

Rocco: (“There was a struggle,”) Rocco observes, investigating the scene. A cool expression remains on the hound’s face as he bends down to get a closer look at the splattering of blood. He gets back up and ventures further into the house, looking for the kine.

Caroline: The third floor is less touched by the destruction. There’s a table askew where someone rushed past. The first door opens into a homely bedroom, fabrics, thick but brightly colored drapes. A laptop closed on a desk. An array of women’s clothing is scattered around the floor. The second bedroom proves more fruitful. Bound and gagged on a king-sized bed with white linens are two kine. The first is the girl form the photos on the wall.

She’s not truly beautiful, but not unattractive, and short. One wrist is bandaged, and she’s far too pale. There’s a hint of bruising to come around her throat and a small scorch mark on her clothing, likely from a taser or stun gun. The second is a young man close to Rocco’s apparent age. A shock of brown hair, lean but athletic. Rocco recognizes him from one of the photos on the staircase wall. His clothing is also slightly scorched.

The room is stark, but not in the destroyed way of the second floor. Rather, the furniture is simply cool and cold. Metals, stones, and glass in abundance, and a noticeable lack of any warm woods. Several pieces of tasteful art abound, but no pictures.

Rocco: Rocco steps into the dim room, his eyes falling on the bed’s two human lumps. He stirs his blood and broadcasts an aura of majesty and importance as he enters.

“Are you two awake?” he asks. “I am a neighbor. I heard everything outside. I am here to help you guys.”

The Gangrel’s voice sounds younger as he easily falls into the act. He gets closer to the bed, letting the two kine get a view of his youthful face.

GM: The woman does not stir or respond to Rocco’s words. The young man’s eyes, however, widen as he muffles something indistinct through his gag. “Mm-mmf-hmm! G-mmf-mmm!” He strains against his bonds and almost manages to sit up." HMMFFF!!!"

Rocco: Rocco feigns alarm, quickly removing the the gag a little clumsily, pretending to be nervous and a little frightened. “Holy fuck!” he whispers. “What happened?” He stares at the woman with concern. “What’s wrong with her?”

GM: Gabriel’s chest heaves as he takes several breaths. “I don’t know, some psycho tasered me! Get us untied!” His eyes wildly dart across the room.

Rocco: Rocco purposely fumbles uselessly with the bonds to buy more time to ask questions. His hands shake. “Did you get that psycho’s name?” he asks.

GM: “Just ‘Autumn,’ get us out!” Gabriel strains.

Rocco: “Fuck!” Rocco swears. “These knots won’t budge. Maybe I should go look for some scissors or a knife.” He gives Gabriel an apologetic look. “What did she want anyway?” he asks, trying to assemble a picture of events. Caroline didn’t tell him about an ‘Autumn.’ “Where is Caroline?”

GM: “I don’t know, that psycho tasered me out and I woke up h-” Gabriel double-takes, his eyes bulging as he realizes Caroline isn’t trussed up on the bed with him. “She’s not—GET SOME SCISSORS!” he yells.

Rocco: Rocco focuses the full force of his supernal presence on Gabriel, supplementing it with outright mind control.


He continues soothingly, “Calm down. Everything is perfectly fine. Nothing is wrong.” He waits for the young man to calm down. “Say your full name.”

GM: Gabriel’s eyelids droop as if he’s falling asleep. “Gabriel Houston Malveaux,” he slurs out.

Rocco: Rocco nods. The boy looks similar enough to his tall, svelte relative.

“Be silent,” he orders, then tries to stir the girl awake.

GM: Gabriel shuts up. The young woman doesn’t stir. She seems really out of it.

Rocco: Rocco pull out his phone and takes a photograph of Gabriel. He then takes a photograph of the woman. He sends the photos to Wright via text.

Do you know these two kine? he asks, adding after a second, I am at Caroline Malveaux’s house. The young man says he is Gabriel Houston Malveaux. I am unable to wake the woman. Call me.

GM: “Girl’s gonna be the one responsible for Malveaux’s attitude improvement,” Wright says without preamble when Rocco picks up.

Rocco: “I met Malveaux tonight at the Ogden Museum,” Rocco responds, “and despite making a positive impression to begin with, I have to admit I was disappointed to find out that she told these two kine about us. She did the right thing by telling me and should be confessing her crime to Father Malveaux later tonight. In any case, I am at her house now. I spoke to her dog, the one that attacked you, and apparently another kine that Malveaux failed to mention escaped. The kine’s name was Autumn. Does that name ring any bells to you?”

GM: “Nope,” says Wright. “Only other girl when I went there was th’ brunette. Malveaux sure was pissin’ herself over anythin’ happenin’ to her.”

Rocco: “Why do you think?” he asks, genuinely interested. “She seemed pretty adamant about me not killing either of them. Are they lovers, friends, living together?”

GM: “Dunno. Ain’t seen the boy, but the girl had her own bedroom. Wasn’t sharin’ one with Malveaux, so they prob’ly ain’t muff divers. Not like they can get it on anymore either way.”

Rocco: “I don’t think Malveaux appreciates that she’s not kine any longer,” Rocco muses aloud, “She hasn’t even ghouled these friends of hers.”

He looks at the girl thoughtfully.

“Fuck it,” Rocco exclaims, sounding a little annoyed. “I hate making kine disappear. Especially rich kids with rich parents. How do you think she’d like being forced to ghoul the girl, Wright?”

Wright. Never Alexander.

GM: Rocco hears a snort. Forced.

“Rocco, I wouldn’t trust Malveaux to feed that girl regular without setting them both on fire. I wouldn’t trust her to hunt without callin’ the cops on the licks she poached from. Oh, wait, she did do that! A renfield is way too much fuckin’ responsibility for that girl.”

Rocco: Rocco chuckles. “True. I will have to speak to Father Malveaux in any case. I won’t be able to make them completely forget this night without some help. Last thing, though: what’s the girl’s name? I plan to get the boy to help me carry her to my car.”

GM: “Dunno. Bet the boy does.”

Rocco: “Thanks. Arrivederci, Wright.”


Friday night, 11 September 2015, AM

Rocco: Rocco meets Gabriel’s eyes as he pockets his phone. He points at the unconscious girl. “What’s her name?” he asks smoothly, projecting waves of soothing calm.

GM: “Aimee Rosler,” Gabriel answers sleepily.

Rocco: Rocco pulls his phone back out and texts to Wright:

Sending this for the sake of posterity. The boy’s name is Gabriel Houston Malveaux. The girl’s name is Aimee Rosler. The escaped unknown kine, suspecting it is a ghoul at this stage, goes by the name Autumn. Thanks Wright.

He pockets the device once again.

GM: Rocco photographs and cases Caroline’s wrecked house. The hound has a great many matters weighing upon his mind, however: taking care of the Masquerade breach is more important than sussing out exactly what happened. It’s the ‘what’ that matters, not the ‘why.’ Still, the Gangrel’s efforts aren’t entirely without fruit.

Autumn’s dried blood doesn’t smell (or taste) of any single clan’s. Further questioning of Gabriel reveals that she was evidently quite preoccupied with trying to patch up the Masquerade that Caroline was unraveling.

A Masquerade-concerned ghoul not bound to any single domitor… that fits the profile for the Krewe of Janus. Their ghouls, Rocco well knows, are under second-stage bonds to every Kindred member of the coterie, rather than full bonds to a single domitor. Such helps prevent the Krewe from being used as a tool by any single Kindred, for the ghouls are equally loyal to all of its members.

Rocco: Rocco reviews his photographs and theories, then sends everything to Wright and Camilla. It pays to make sure there are no loose ends. The Krewe’s presence is a concern, however; the apparent struggle begs more questions as of now. Caroline will need to provide a more her explanation. Knowing the Krewe ghoul’s name helps, though. He’s confident that dropping the name alone will be enough to rattle the neonate.

Rocco locks up the place as he susses out the home’s garage, then drives his Lincoln inside for better privacy.

GM: Caesar asks if he is going to come back. The Gangrel’s scent is much nicer than his owner’s.

Rocco: Rocco scratches the dog behind one of his floppy ears as a gesture of thanks. (“I will be back, possibly in a different form. But remember my scent.”)

(“Keep an eye on this place. You did well by filling me in on your owner’s activities.”)

He gives Caesar one last pat. (“Good boy.”)

GM: The dog woofs and wags his tail.

Rocco: Rocco then goes to untie Gabriel and Aimee. He orders Gabriel, still under his mental control, to carry Aimee to his car’s back seat. He’s thoughtful enough to open the car’s doors before fetching the two kine. He then tells Gabriel to sit in the front passenger seat alongside him.

GM: Caroline’s brother sleepily opens, sets Aimee in the back seat, and gets in.

Rocco: Rocco closes and locks up everything, then pulls out of the garage with a last cursory look around the place.

It’s a loose end tied up for him.

He’d spare the two kine a pitying glance if his heart wasn’t long since hardened.

For them, this just might be the worst night of their lives.

All in a night’s work.


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