“Are you lost, little lamb?”
Tuesday evening, 1 September 2015
GM: “You should forget about everything for a while. Just have some fun,” Aimee had said.
The last two days have been rough. Law school has started back up. Nothing else has let up.
Caroline’s mother called her for the first time in months. She berated her daughter for “squandering the goodwill” earned with the Whitneys and Devillers. Hasn’t Caroline at least invited them to one of her father’s fundraisers? Sure, it’s well and good if they think she’s a hero. That means “absolutely nothing” if she’s not using it to advance the family’s interests. There’s so much she could be doing. Luke and her mother have been doing those things instead.
Christina Roberts, like any lawyer, only wants to stick to the letter of her agreement. She’s kept hounding Caroline over “allowed” things that can mitigate Amelie’s sentence. The Devillers seem equally un-thrilled by that sentence. They really wanted a felony on Amelie’s criminal record. They consider the topic closed and are completely uninterested in revisiting it. They just want Yvonne to get better—and for NOPD to bring in Richard Gettis, who remains at large. Caroline may take comfort in the media hurricane’s fixation on the murderous ex-detective.
Her publicity-hungry family doesn’t. Claire wanted Caroline to do a TV interview. She’s made do with having Luke and her daughter speak to reporters from assorted media outlets. They acted sympathetic. Then they hounded Caroline for as many gory details about the event as they could. Jackson Kibbe, the family’s designated media hitman, was especially relentless. He even asked if she “had any regrets” or “would’ve done anything differently.”
The Whitneys are doing terrible. Sarah remains stable in a medically induced coma. It’s anyone’s guess how much will be left of her mind when she wakes up. There’s probably brain damage. The family’s affect towards Caroline has been simultaneously mournful and grateful. Lyman, when he isn’t staring at his watch, has been talking out loud to his decade-dead daughter Rebecca. Carson said this was Gettis’ fault. But the question remains: could Caroline have done more? Maybe Sarah would be okay if Caroline had worked her first. Yvonne was the less injured of the two.
Law school’s attendance requirements, meanwhile, mean Caroline can’t skip class and stay enrolled. Not even if she maintains good grades. Carson has offered to put in a word with her professors that she’s going through some rough times. Gabriel has dared ask the unthinkable: should she take the semester off?
Caroline’s dad hasn’t called.
Aimee observed Caroline seemed to be “sleeping really badly.” She presented a solution: Southern Decadence, the so-called gay Mardi Gras. But there is no Ash Wednesday after its revels to repent one’s sins. Partygoers will simply head home, perhaps poorer, certainly exhausted. Some with stories to share. Some with secrets to keep forever.
For now, they are still writing those stories. Alcohol flows like water past a breached levee. Women shriek with laughter as they flash their breasts. Beads fly from floats and galleries like plastic snowflakes. Rainbow flags are everywhere. Throngs of bulging crotches, leering painted faces, garish feathers, exposed butt-cheeks, and tight leather go on forever. Caroline’s read a couple news articles about Decadence. She’s heard about in passing from friends and acquaintances. Her family wouldn’t have even countenanced that she experience the festivities for herself. Uncle Orson has condemned the festival for “celebrating unwholesome lifestyles.” He’s sponsored repeated initiatives over the years to shut it down. He might as well have tried to reinstate Prohibition.
This city likes to party.
Caroline: It’s taken weeks, months of working on her by her best friend. Perhaps that wouldn’t have mattered after the shooting. Caroline’s resolve was already crumbling. Already worn down. That night brought down too many walls. Between it and the backlash from it, the pressure from the family, the arrangement with Roberts, the never-ending headache of juggling school, and work, and responsibilities to the family… it’s too much. It never stops. She needs to get away. Away from who she is. From what she’s seen. She needs to block out the memory of blood pumping between her fingers. She needs to banish the nightmares where teenage girls are screaming, dying, and she feels so helpless.
Carson keeps calling, keeps telling her they should talk. He wants to talk about the shooting, wants her to talk about it, but it’s the last thing Caroline wants. She doesn’t need to talk through her feelings. Doesn’t need to explain (again) how much it all scared her. She just needs to forget it, to get away from it, to stop getting reminded of it every day and night. She’s told him she’s fine. That she’s busy. That she’ll find time later. She’s lied.
It’s been years since she went out on a non-official event, just to have fun. Years since she broke the unwritten rules of the family. Maybe it’s what she needs—a break from her life. An opportunity to have no concerns, no worries, and no responsibilities. And if it isn’t… well, maybe the drinks will succeed where all else fails. They did last night. “You’ll stick close?” she asked Aimee.
That was hours ago, and now she’s half lost in the crowd, just another blonde at the city-wide party. She’s not a Malveaux here. Wouldn’t be wanted as a Malveaux. There’s no pressure. No expectations. New Orleans is a party and for once she can simply enjoy it.
Her drink is in a glowing cup—a gimmick off Bourbon Street. Spirits? Something off reality TV. She’s not really paying attention to the taste, just the effect. To the blur that takes the edge off, that lets the tension out between her shoulders. That lets her laugh out of its cage.
GM: Aimee nods. Caroline’s future chief of staff wears a bright pink, circa 1860 Southern belle dress. It’s complete with coiffed hair, wide-brimmed hat, and parasol to spin around. She’s ditched the hoop skirt, though, for something still ruffled but only knee length. Like all festivals, Decadence can get pretty out of control. Sometimes it’s safer for a woman to have her legs free. Aimee carries an open red plastic cup of something alcoholic. Only in this city.
“I’ll keep my phone on. Just shoot me a text if we get separated.”
Caroline: Caroline is more conservative. Black dress, tailored but not overly tight, and sleeveless. The darkness seems to drink in her pale skin and hair. That hair is pinned up and neatly arranged. She looks out of place, insomuch as anything can look out of place in such a chaotic sea of humanity. Too perfect, too proper, too disciplined. She admits the clutch bag was a poor choice. She looks more like she’s going to the opera than out into the city-wide celebration of deviance.
She gives a haughty smile that’s skewed just a bit. She started drinking early, before they went out. How much? Not even Aimee is completely sure. Caroline is good at holding her liquor… to a point.
But she’s had a lot of cause to drink.
“Then lead on.”
GM: Aimee leads on.
Thursday at midnight is the big dick contest. Men scream, bellow, slap their rear ends, and strut their junk amidst roaring crowds and flashing blue lights. The crowd’s chosen winner, a beefy guy wearing a gold chain necklace, receives a gift basket from an outrageously attired drag queen. He comments what a shame it is that public decency laws prevent the contestants from being inspected “up close and personal.” He still loudly volunteers to “inspect” the winner once the show’s over, much to the crowd’s laughter.
Caroline: In spite of herself, Caroline is in the swing of the party by the time the show rolls around, enjoying every absurdity of it. Every excess. She laughs hard and loud. She wants to laugh. Wants those traumatic memories of the shooting, all those ‘what ifs’, to slip away, along with years of control. Not enough to leap into it, but certainly enough to laugh and observe. She floats through the shows, an observer, a part yet apart.
GM: The booze flows, and Caroline’s inhibitions with it. A few partygoers rib her for being dressed like she’s “going to the opera” or “attending a funeral.” But by and large, Decadence seems to be a campy, over-the-top festival where everyone can have a “gay old time.” Caroline hears that pun at least a dozen times. Uncle Orson made the festival sound like it would destroy her life.
Friday comes the float parade:
Caroline: Caroline has swapped out for more comfortable garb by by Friday. It sets her apart once more in its own way. White on her pale skin cuts through the crowd visually. More people may suspect this is some statement rather than a faux pas. Innocence in a crowd of debauchery, perhaps? She doesn’t drink like an innocent as the party rolls through days.
GM: Following the float parade are the boys on parade: rows and rows of shirtless, pants-less men in tight thongs and garish feathers. Most of them are probably gay, but they’re no less incredible to oggle. More than a few whistle or make humorous catcalls about what a “choir girl” like her is doing at an event like this. All the while, the drinks continue to flow. New Orleans has notoriously loose open container laws: so long as it isn’t made of glass, people can drink as much as they want in the streets.
Caroline: Caroline seems to enjoy the attention, or at least certainly wants to. Drink and yesterday’s fun loosen her inhibitions. That longing for comfort is sliding towards carelessness.
GM: Saturday features the outdoor music concert and and the hot ass contest. It’s easier to judge than the big dick contest. Dozens of participants drop their pants and submit to public paddlings to determine whose cheeks are tightest. Men (and women) periodically grab Caroline’s ass and shout racy comments. People didn’t touch her like that earlier. The party seems to get bolder and drunker every day. A couple women in the crowd look upset, but their friends laugh off that “tons of guys here are gay anyway.”
Caroline: Caroline is conservative, but not a prude. She takes the gropings in stride as part of the writhing mass of humanity. Every pinch keeps her mind off the last few days. Besides, she asked for it a bit…
The dress is far tighter tighter than what she’s worn on previous outings and amply shows off her athletic figure… and that lays aside the infamy of the garb in the first place. It might be a poor choice for this evening, but then Caroline couldn’t have known it was going to be a day obsessed with posteriors… could she?
GM: Whether Caroline was ignorant or aware of her chosen outfit’s likely effect, her ass smarts something fierce by the time she stumbles into bed. Aimee doesn’t dress as provocatively, but submits to the public paddling. She calls it quits after several slaps reduce her to a half-guffawing, half-shrieking drunken mess. She doesn’t press Caroline to join in. No doubt she realizes the Malveaux scion is already stepping outside her comfort zone.
Saturday comes the walking parade.
The press of humanity is tighter than ever. The city feels drunker than ever. Caroline can smell the musk of sweaty, alcohol-saturated bodies. An endless sea of laughing mouths, bulging crotches, and exposed flesh surrounds her on all sides. The sun’s final rays stretch out from the horizon. They cover the city in a haze of gold and red, illuminating the party-goers, marking the second to last day of celebrations. Then the light is gone, and only wan twilight remains. A chill creeps over Caroline, as though something other than the time of day has changed.
Then she notices Aimee is gone.
Caroline: It takes Caroline a moment to realize that she’s alone. At first it doesn’t seem to faze her when she slides through the packed crowd. She’s been drinking again—this week is a blur of liquor, color, and sweaty bodies. Her buzz distracts her from the concern that should be gnawing for several minutes. The party is winding down as much as it is nearing a climax, and only a very small part of her doesn’t want it to end. It’s been something to lose herself in.
Still, as moments turn to minutes and beyond, she grows concerned. She reaches for the phone tucked in the corner of her bra.
GM: Caroline shoots off a text. She waits. And waits. Something bumps against her. Her phone drops from her hand. “Watch where you’re going, slut!” leers a voice. Caroline turns to confront it, but sees no one. The crowd keeps moving. She is alone among the throngs. Looking about, the other people present seem alien and distant, their cheers and shouts mangled into a language she has no recollection of, their masked faces twisted by the twilight into grotesquerie.
Caroline: She blinks, trying to clear her vision. It’s the heavy drinking. What time is it? She has no idea. How many drinks has she had? Ten? Twenty? She looks back down, fighting building dread. Her phone has of course vanished in the mass of feet. Stolen, smashed, or kicked away. Another glance at the masked faces convinces her not to look for it. She tries to push away instead, to break out of the crowd into a building. She feels sick.
GM: Rough hands grope at her breasts. Taunting fingers snap her bra straps against her skin. Laughter rings in her ears. She even feels a wet tongue slurp against her hair. Everyone around her seems to be laughing. The freaks and the deviants. Leashed collars, mohawks, muzzles, spikes. SS uniforms. Nipple clamps. Masks of devils and grinning skulls. Leaking blood. Stitched-shut lips. Every face that isn’t concealed wears a sneer or lecherous grin.
Caroline: Malveauxes don’t panic. They don’t flee. But nor do they attend debauched festivals, hide from their responsibilities, and polish off bottles of Jeffersons every night for a week. Her father insisted on martial arts. Discipline, self-defense. She’s neither disciplined nor capable of self-defense right now. Not against anyone, much less a crowd. She tries to push away from the freaks, from this sudden horror show. Bile burns at the back of her throat, but she fights it down. Just get away. What was she doing here in the first place?
GM: Caroline fights against the crowd. Fights against the rising panic. She pushes and shoves, but it’s like trying to swim through molasses. Mocking laughter rings in her ears. Something wet and pungent-smelling drenches her face. The empty plastic cup hits the ground with a light plunk before it’s crushed by onrushing feet. Just as abruptly, she feels a metal chain loop around her neck and pull tight, cutting off her air.
Too-strong arms yank her face to face with her attacker. He’s a big man. He’s completely naked save for black leather boots, crisscrossing straps of the same material, and steel nipple rings. A black executioner’s hood hides his face. It’s spattered with red that she can only pray is paint. His manhood is almost mockingly concealed underneath a tight black latex sheath. Tight enough she can see the individual veins bulging along his shaft. Pointed, hungry steel spikes jut from its length.
Caroline: Fight. Flight. Warring impulses come to a stop when her breath cuts off. Panic takes over. Her hands fight at the chain. There’s something she should be doing, some move, some technique… alone, sober, prepared, she might have a chance against the bigger man.
But she’s drunk. Hammered. Confused. It’s all she can do to fight against the chain, rather than against the man.
GM: Black-gloved hands with what look like miniature knives built into each finger tug the chain around Caroline’s neck. She’s yanked through the press of bodies. She might wonder how this is even happening. Why no one is doing anything. Why no one is stopping this freak. Why the laughter in her ears rings even louder.
Something hard slams against her back. The chain burns her neck like a red-hot brand. She chokes and gasps for air. She can’t tell where she is. She’s had so much to drink. It’s getting dark, but even that shouldn’t be making black spots blossom across her vision.
Caroline: At last, but too late, she fights back. Blind and weak kicks and punches. She’s so slow, but everything else is slowing down too… she wants to scream. She would, if she had air.
GM: A deep, heavy voice pants in Caroline’s ear:
“I’m gonna fuck your eyes out.”
The man’s spike-tipped, latex-ensconced, bulging member looms too close to her field of vision.
Caroline: The words barely process. Her brain shuts down as darkness takes her. At least he had the decency to kill her first.
At least she won’t disappoint anyone again.
GM: Sight recedes. Pain recedes. Blackness embraces her.
A heavy, animal grunt.
A deep-throated, hair-raising screech. Almost more animal than human.
A hard thud.
The fire around her neck recedes. There’s great big choking gasps of air that hurt to take. Her head pounds and swims.
Caroline: She wants to vomit, but can barely breathe. Wants to run, but can’t move. Wants to think, but everything is fuzzy.
GM: “Poor little lost lamb.” She feels a hand against her shoulder.
Caroline: Her vision starts to clear. Near-death has a remarkable sobering effect. Play weak, draw them closer. The beginnings of a plan, perhaps. Trauma comes later. For now, training is coming back. Rationality is asserting itself.
GM: Sight hazily swims back into focus. Her ‘rescuer’ is no angel. He’s quite the opposite.
He wears a blood-red vest, black leather pants, and knee-high boots of the same make. A red cape drapes from his shoulders. A horned half-mask of the same color conceals his upper face. His lips are quirked into a slight smirk.
The devil-costumed figure extends a hand to help her up.
Caroline: It takes her a moment to take her gaze off of him and examine her surroundings. She lets his hand hang for a moment while she does, but at last she takes it. At least he’s not trying to rape and murder her.
GM: Caroline registers after a moment that they are sandwiched between two buildings in a dark alleyway. The parade of costumed revelers and sounds of merriment continue mere feet away.
“This doesn’t look like your kind of party,” the costumed man remarks.
There’s another soft smirk.
“Are you lost, little lamb?”
Caroline: Her breathing is still ragged, her voice weak. “I… yes. Thank… thank you.”
GM: The man brushes a stray hair from Caroline’s face with a crimson-gloved hand.
“Why, you’re welcome.”
Caroline: She shakes her head. “I don’t know what happened. One minute…” Her shaking head stops as his hands touch her.
GM: “Mmm. One of the late-night crowd. I’m surprised you ran into him this early,” the man remarks.
“But then, parties in this city are rather like angler fish. Dangling their glowing lures of fun and booze. Then snapping the partygoers right up. Poor lost little lambs. You know that there are more missing persons reports filed in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence than any other time of year?”
Caroline: She looks at him questioningly and nods.
“Makes sense. Parties attract all kinds, people lower their guards. Lots of easy vic… tims.”
The trauma still hasn’t really set in. She remains wary and alert.
GM: “The parties had their little lambs, their fleece as white as snow. And everywhere the lambs went, the monsters were sure to go.”
Caroline: Caroline swallows uncomfortably, that dread returning.
“You’ve been watching me.”
GM: The devil-masked man chuckles.
“Oh, I’m sorry. That really isn’t the best thing to say to a woman in your position, I suppose.”
He glances over his shoulder.
Caroline: A chill.
It’s as much statement as question. A challenge, maybe?
GM: Another soft chuckle. “A morsel nearly gobbled up by the angler fish, my dear. In any case. I’d advise getting off the streets. The party’s only going to get wilder from here.”
Caroline: “I was trying, when he grabbed me. Speaking of… where did he, they, go?”
GM: The man shrugs. “Where do wolves go when lambs leave the pasture? Somewhere, out there, where he’ll wait for his next chance to strike.”
Caroline: She swallows. “Against me?”
GM: Another shrug. “Maybe. Some wolves like to finish their meals. Others will take whatever falls into their jaws.”
Caroline: “And what are you? Some kind of sheep dog?” It’s an analogy she’s heard many times before.
GM: The man throws back his head and laughs. His diabolical mask glints with dull light from a distant street lamp.
“A sheep dog. Well, why not.”
Caroline: Bizarre, freak, weirdo. Some damaged soul, maybe. He could be former military, hiding from some trauma? Thoughts begin to organize themselves in her mind.
Still, if he’s dangerous, he doesn’t seem dangerous towards her. No more dangerous than whatever else might be lurking out there.
“Would you be willing to walk me home then, Mr. Sheep Dog?”
GM: A smile touches the corners of the devil’s mask. Caroline starts to pick up details as her mind comes together. He’s lean. Slightly taller than average for a man. Around the same height as her in heels. Not exceptionally muscled. No excess body fat, though. Lean and languid.
“I’d be honored, Miss Lamb.”
Caroline: Her mind fits those pieces into a matrix. Special forces, maybe. He fits the build. She moves out towards the street with him.
“Do you have a real name, Mr. Sheep Dog?”
GM: “You can call me René. I can keep calling you Lamb, unless there’s another name you’d prefer.” He extends a lean arm for her to take, if she desires.
Caroline: She takes the arm. “Caroline.” Her voice is still weak.
GM: “Caroline.” René smiles as she links her limb through his. “The original meaning is ‘song of happiness’, isn’t it?”
Caroline: She nods. “And René is ‘reborn.’ You’re an educated man, René. Mostly people don’t immediately go that direction.”
In spite of the casual talk, her hand has the slightest tremor against his arm.
GM: There’s another chuckle as René leads them away. “Not to sound boastful, but I hope that I’ve helped your song to be… preserved, to bring happiness to a great many. Reborn, in its own way.”
Caroline: “Reborn is one way to put it… he’d have killed me, left my body in the alley. You saved my life.” The tremor in her hand is more noticeable as she talks about it.
GM: The pair emerge from the alleyway. The city isn’t just sloshed at this point. It’s having an orgy—and committing rape.
Revelers who’ve had too much to drink, or perhaps too much else, openly wretch onto the ground. Masked, sweaty couples fornicate against walls behind the flimsiest pretensions of cover.
Some of the screams sound pleasurable, or at least wantful. Others are raw and pained. Some people don’t make any sounds at all. Their eyes are dead, or they just look too out of it to comprehend what is happening to them. They are nevertheless the subject of multiple partners’ hungry affections. The smell of sweat, piss, and booze is thick in Caroline’s nostrils. Revelers drunkenly stagger through the streets. They spill drink as often as they swig it, as if they might share the liquid sin with the earth itself. As if they might cause the very city to join in their revelry, swallow them up, and never let the party end.
Caroline: Caroline looks away, horrified. Her uncle was right, this is a blight on the city at best. An affront to God. She focuses on René, trying to ignore what is going on around them.
“I had no idea…”
GM: “Don’t blame it on the gays,” René remarks idly.
A shirtless young man screams as three masked revelers smash a glass bottle over his head, laughing. They drag him by his feet into an alleyway.
“Mardi Gras sees at least as much excess.”
Caroline: “As this?”
GM: “As this,” her companion echoes. “If not more. It gets more attendees, after all.”
Caroline: “But this is… violent. Bloody. Deviant… It’s horrifying.”
GM: The sound of a woman’s retching assaults Caroline’s ears. The stink of vomit wafts up her nostrils.
“Oh, this is just what they can get away with in public,” René continues. “You should see the private parties. Sin is refined into an art form.”
Caroline: The smell is too much. Caroline pauses, doubling over. She dives for the side of the street and vomits into a gutter.
GM: René waits silently. Caroline can see two unconscious figures lying face-down in their own waste not far from her. Spilled cups lie by their sides. Two teenage boys in skull masks pass by, laugh, and drop their flies. Piss rains over the unconscious pair.
Caroline: The sight brings on another bout of vomiting. She dry heaves until she has nothing left. She looks away from the scene when she stands and moves back towards René.
“I… how does this go on?”
GM: Caroline can see a woman huddled by a bar’s entrance. She’s crying, black mascara tears running down her cheeks, and clutching her stomach. A glaring, muscled bouncer rams his foot into her back and literally kicks her to the curb. She’s barely smashed face-first into ground when a giggling masked reveler snatches her purse and takes off running. Does he want money? Or does he just think it’s funny? Dozens more scenes of cruelty and excess repeat themselves around her. The city drinks up their misery like an alcoholic promised a night of free drinks.
René shrugs. “How does the world go on?”
Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline asks, assaulted by all this horror.
GM: “Maybe I should call you Rapunzel instead.”
Caroline: “You’ve freed me from my cage?”
GM: “Perhaps shown you the world at the foot of your high tower. The drink and the atmosphere makes these people less mindful of the consequences of their actions, but it doesn’t change who they are. Not really.”
Caroline: She wants to deny it, but can’t.
GM: “It just lets their true selves out.”
Caroline: “A tower I appreciate much more.”
GM: “I’ve heard the Catholic Church, among other groups, has been trying to get Decadence banned. But that’s simply cutting off one of the hydra’s heads. People are what they are.”
René gestures about them.
“And this is what they are.”
Caroline: “You’re quite a student of human nature.”
GM: “Humans are fascinating creatures. Their emotions are so… real.”
Caroline: “You’re not quite what I expected out of a man that ran off a dozen others.”
GM: René chuckles. “One other. The remainder were still enjoying themselves, but only through watching. Sloth often wins out over the other six sins.”
Caroline: “One, then. Still, it’s a brave man to step in. If there’s something I can do to repay you…”
GM: René raises an intrigued eyebrow at the suggestion. “And how would you propose to repay me, Caroline?”
Caroline: “My family is powerful, if it’s money, or some favor…”
GM: “I don’t have much use for money, to be quite honest. As the song goes, it can’t buy you love.”
Caroline: The tremor. “What is it you want then?”
GM: “I might even be doing you a disfavor, come to think. How would your family feel knowing you were out here amidst all… this?” René gestures towards the distance.
Caroline can see a masked man—masked in a black’s executioner’s hood—brutalizing some victim against a wall. For a moment, she fears it’s her assailant. But there’s another man garbed in the same executioner’s hood, too. He’s laughing and kicking a motionless body. After a moment, she spots a third hood. Evil seems as common and unremarkable as weeds.
Caroline: “Not well. But they don’t need to know.”
GM: “Show me someone without secrets and I’ll show you a liar.”
Caroline: She nods in agreement. “But you’ll keep mine, won’t you?”
GM: “I don’t even know your full name, Caroline. How could I give it away?”
GM: Her rescuer’s eyebrows raise under his diabolic mask. “Ah. Malveaux. An old family. Your… uncle, if I’m not missing my guess, is the archbishop.”
Caroline: She nods. “You’re Catholic, then?”
GM: A low chuckle.
“I suppose one could say.”
Caroline: Lapsed. It happens.
“I thought you should know, since you saved my life.”
GM: “Tell me, Caroline Malveaux, daughter of the church, do you believe that people are inherently evil?”
Caroline: “Sinful, but not evil.”
GM: “Well, I think they are. I think we live in a hideous, twisted world so bogged down by the weight of our sins, the only reason God hasn’t cleansed it with a second Great Flood is that he’s given up on the potential of intelligent life to be anything but evil,” René declares blithely.
“If he isn’t evil himself. Maybe all creation is simply a joke he’s telling for his own twisted amusement.”
Caroline: If she’d been sober, the talk might have shocked Caroline. As it is…
“I can see why you would think that, if this is what you see.”
GM: “Isn’t this what I see?” Her rescuer’s voice is suddenly sharp. “Do you see something different, pray tell? Are there diamonds I am overlooking among the rough?”
Caroline: “Free will, the capacity for good and evil, is implicit in God’s promise to us. You yourself are the surest example I could provide. Would an evil man rush to the defense of someone he didn’t know? Risk his life?”
GM: René chuckles darkly. “Maybe I took no risk. Maybe I wasn’t saving you. I could have just bee absconding with this little lost lamb for myself.”
Caroline: “You could have done that in the alley.”
GM: “Maybe the alley wasn’t the opportune time.” René’s devil-mask glows like hellfire under the Quarter’s jeering lights. He smirks as he strokes Caroline’s cheek and whispers, “I can show you evil, Caroline Malveaux.”
Caroline: “Just because you’ve done evil does not mean you are evil.”
GM: “I can show you evil to make these… festivities seem like a children’s tea party.”
Caroline: “I’m sure you saw it overseas.”
PTSD? Seems likely. Haunted by the wars, perhaps. Not uncommon. She’s seen enough haunted eyes on hardened men. Her father is a Republican senator, after all.
GM: “I can show such evil to you less than five minutes from here,” René continues. His blue eyes are cold, hungry, and… longing. So very longing.
“You see, I do not possess free will like you do. I have forfeited that, along with what was left of my soul.” His tone is deadly serious.
“I don’t have a soul, Caroline,” he exclaims, his eyes widening as his voice rises in pitch. “I can remember when I did, but remembering isn’t the same as having.”
Caroline: A chill runs through her.
“There’s always room for all of God’s children, there is always forgiveness. No matter what you’ve done.”
Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to give him her name…
GM: René’s fist sharply cuffs Caroline across the jaw. Her heads snaps back from the impact as she tastes blood in her mouth. Black pinpricks blossom across her vision.
“It’s not what I’ve done, you stupid bitch,” he hisses.
“It’s what I am.”
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Day ? Month ? Year?
GM: Caroline’s surroundings blur into focus. She’s lying on a green field, the grass damp against her back. Weeping willows’ boughs droop over her comatose form. The French Quarter’s multicolored lights swim and shimmer in the distance. She can make out sounds of revelry. New Orleans never stops partying. That’s just who she is. The sounds are distant, though; Caroline might not be in the Quarter. The late summer night is warm, and she feels a breeze flow over her from the north. It should cool her, but she does not feel any perspiration.
Caroline: She tries to rise.
GM: Caroline ambles to her feet. The light from the street lamps seems distant and hollow. Her clothes feel cold and rough against her skin. A grassy expanse of trees intersected by a snaking river unfolds before her.
Caroline: She was just on Bourbon Street, or somewhere in the Quarter. Walking with René when he… hit her. Hard.
The images come forth, but she pushes them away. He must have left her here. She’s been in the city for years, and visited all her life. She looks around and starts to walk. She’ll see a landmark somewhere.
GM: She soon spots a suited man with a trombone. She recognizes that statue even before reading the plaque underneath. She is in Louis Armstrong Park, a short ways off from the Quarter.
Her ears perk. People are approaching. Two of them. She can tell by their slurred mumbles and by the way their footsteps fall that they are drunk.
Caroline: She slides towards a shadow.
GM: Caroline is still groggy from whatever happened to her. She’s too slow before the footsteps catch up. The two people, one man and one woman, are obviously college students. Neither of them looks older than 21. Both are clearly drunk, leaning on each other for support and as they stumble through the dark. The man clutches a whiskey bottle with a few swallows left in it. The woman’s shirt is partially unbuttoned. The partygoers look at Caroline and begin giggling as only inebriated people having fun can. Their jugular veins throb in the lamplight, their chests heaving up and down as they breathe. She feels the warmth of their bodies, and it only reminds her of how cold the night feels.
That’s when the hunger blazes to life in her chest like a roaring bonfire. Her teeth feel so large in her mouth, and oh so sharp. Caroline doesn’t know what it is about the pair. She doesn’t know what happened to her. But she knows one thing:
She is a predator, and these people are her prey.