“It isn’t fair. It never was, never will. Poison begets poison.”
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline cruises through dark streets, ignoring the Ryde driver’s attempts at conversation. It feels so empty. Much as she does right now. She taps stars on the review without a word as she heads off the block to her destination.
Lou’s office offers her no solace, however. Locked doors and no sign of habitation.
Probably blowing through the advance on drinks and smokes, she thinks bitterly.
She sets off down the street, abandoning the office. It was childish anyway. What, did she want the filthy one-armed old man to tell her it was all right? It wasn’t, it isn’t, and it won’t be.
Louis: Lou, meanwhile, has long since abandoned his office, leaving it in literal, if partial, shambles. With a wad of rolled bills burning a hole in his pocket as fierce as the empty gnawing of his gut, he’s made his way down Canal Street, head bent low, hardly soaking in the sound of the passing streetcar chimes.
His smooth-worn gumshoes had carried him mindlessly to the intersection of Canal and North Carrollton, his harrowed mind and soul in absentia. There, in the two packed blocks of North Carrollton Avenue from Canal to Bienville, a slough of restaurants compete rapidly for the hungry or gourmand epicurean. There, one can find Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, three different styles of pizza, pupusas, tacos and menudo, boiled crawfish, a burger stuffed with mushrooms, a lemon ice, and even sweetbread risotto. A trip to this strip can satisfy nearly any hunger—or arouse nearly any gourmand curiosity. The crayon box collection of colorful facades reveals both what New Orleanians have been eating for the last half-century and how those eaters have changed.
Lou loves the tangle of bistros, diners, and cafes, as it reminds him of his own bric-a-brac lives and the jazz-step march of years. Perhaps feeling the weight of those years, his feet had hauled him to Venezia, the oldest contiguously operating restaurant in Mid-City, an Italian pizzeria and diner. Huddled with a view of the streets, he had eased into a number of dishes guaranteed to give one coronary heart disease.
His gut so sated, the old man had then trundled his way to appease his sweet tooth.
GM: Available pies tonight include apple and cherry, the weary-looking waitress informs Lou. There’s also some chocolate cake.
Louis: Lou waves off the waitress, leaving a rather generous tip for the more commonly miserly customer. Almost as if he’s saying goodbye to the old joint.
GM: The woman’s eyebrows shoot up to her bangs as she looks the dollar bills over. Who’d have guessed an old bum like him had more than two nickels to rub together?
Louis: By the time Caroline leaves his empty office, Lou is sitting at Angelo Brocato’s. He continues the Italian fare by ordering a lemon gelato.
Caroline: By providence or chance, or maybe just a desire to head towards people rather than away, Caroline’s path mirrors Lou’s. There is an almost fearful cadence to her step, as if she is afraid she is being hunted. And who is to say she isn’t? She made plenty enough enemies tonight.
Louis: Lou’s long thoughts recall all the previous owners of the iconic pastel diner. First Sehrt’s Bakery, then Long’s, owned by the brothers Larry and Bill. Finally, just before the Brocato family took over, it was Lombardino’s. Angelo Brocato’s made the move to Mid-City because after World War II the French Quarter’s Italian residents, now several generations removed from Europe, had fanned out across the city. And by then, the sweet shop had been discovered by other groups in the city. The corner of Canal and Carrollton seemed like a crossroad.
Every place has its history. Its ghosts. And tonight the phantoms are thick as the custard he slowly spoons into his mouth.
Caroline: And more than phantoms. No doubt the detective notices Caroline long before she sees him. She’s changed clothing into more muted colors. Black sweater, dark skirt. It only makes her pale face stand out all the more under dim lights in the night.
Louis: Lou scowls.
“Even the ghosts here get haunted,” he grumbles.
Caroline: She’s walking with a hint of a limp she lacked earlier, and looks haunted indeed. Her head swivels just a bit too much back and forth. Checking the street like a scarred war vet.
Louis: Damn it all to hell if I have to torch this place right here and now, Lou bitterly muses.
His face, however, is a mask as cold as marble cemetery. He makes no show of regarding the ‘wolf who thinks she’s a lost lamb.’ He just spoons another dollop of custard.
Caroline: Caroline almost wanders past him. Her attention is on the street, but the big windows and his choice of seat location is his undoing. She pauses as her eyes latch onto him, like a drowning woman spying a life preserver, and makes for the door.
Louis: As she enters, her delicate frame momentarily blocks the street lamp’s glow, slashing his face with ephemeral shadows. Like an axe being ground to a razor-sharp finish, he slides his liquor-brown gaze from his gelato to Caroline Malveaux. His gaze then motions to the other side of the candy-pink booth.
Caroline: Even dressed down she is out of places. Aristocratic cheekbones and bearing don’t belong here and mark her as an outsider as surely as a neon sign. She seizes the perceived offer, walking past the rest of the late night lost souls to sink into the booth across from him. Unconsciously or consciously, every eye in the room turns on her.
Louis: Lou’s scowl deepens, as if the corners of his lips are trying to fall off his face.
Caroline: And still, she sits there, saying nothing. Drawing the silence. Her eyes delve into the craggy lines of his face, his scowl.
At last she speaks. “Don’t be angry with me.”
Louis: Lou looks away, out into the night, the neon-splattered darkness. After a while he answers,
“Maybe my anger’s at someone else tonight, Miss Malveaux. A great many someones.”
Caroline: “I hope so.” She doesn’t sound like a monster. She just sounds like a girl. “You’ll be the only one.”
Louis: He turns back to the gelato. “Quisque suos patimur manis.”
He tries to focus on the sweet, cold melange of sugar, cream, and fruit puree. He knows it just might be his last meal, after all. He tries to not focus on the fact that there is a blood-sucking undead abomination sharing his booth. He tries not to focus on her youth: the dying spoiled fragrance of mortality that has already thinned like a painting doused in turpentine since he last met her. But it’s like she’s infected him with her own inability to enjoy the flavors of life, including the taste of Brocato’s finest.
Caroline: “Virgil was a wise man.”
Louis: Lou looks up, as if not quite aware that his previous words were spoken aloud. He sets down his spoon.
Caroline: “Wiser than he knew. Hell is appropriate for this life.”
Louis: Lou nods. “Shakespeare said that ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here.’”
Caroline: “I’ve met them.” Her shoulders sag in relief as she sinks more fully into the booth. “Damnation is bad enough, but why do they make this life Hell as well? No relief, no peace, no mercy.”
Louis: Lou opens his mouth as if to ask or elaborate on her remark, but he pauses. He sets down a few bills, then a few bills more, and tucks the wad under the napkin dispenser. He groans as he rises and locks his briefcase between his prosthetic tines. He looks meaningfully to Caroline.
Caroline: She slides gracefully—too gracefully—out of the booth with a wince.
“Depends on whether you aim to follow his steps.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t immediately reply. Instead, he tips his hat to the serving girls, then hobbles out the building. He turns back momentarily, not looking to see if Caroline is following, but to regard the pastel-painted, neon-lit parlor.
How many more skins will you shed, I wonder?
Even inside his own head, it’s not clear whether he’s asking the structure or himself. He sighs and sucks in the sultry air, the tang of a nocturnal storm that may or may not come. He looks down at Caroline.
“If you want to talk, here’s not the place.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “There’s no place for us.”
Louis: Lou’s face hardens, then softens. But only a little.
“No, there isn’t.”
Caroline: “You aren’t like the rest, though. I don’t know why…”
Louis: Lou doesn’t answer. Instead, he scans the bustling street and knot of restaurants.
“But there are some places that are less yours than others. "
Caroline: “Or maybe how. How you spend more than a day without hardening, petrifying.”
Louis: “Take me to your haven.”
Louis: Lou cracks his neck, allowing the gesture to let him have a better, if only momentary, view of the nearby rooftops.
“Your dwelling place. I’m assuming it’s private and protected. If we’re going to have this talk that I know is going to hurt like a sadistic dentist trip, you’ll want both.”
Caroline: Caroline snickers. “I told you already, there’s no place for me. On the agenda. I’d hoped… but tonight went poorly.”
Louis: “Tell me about it,” Lou says dryly. His acrimony makes it hard to know whether his reply is genuine or sarcastic.
“But not here. Hail a cab, and take me to where you… sleep.” The last word is spoken like a bad-tasting morsel of food being chewed.
Caroline: She looks at him. “Are you sure?”
Louis: He shrugs. “Honestly? Not one damned bit.”
Caroline: She makes a call. They wait on the street.
Louis: He waits in silence.
Caroline: Poor choices are par for the choice.
“It wasn’t my fault.”
Louis: Lou says nothing. He just stands and waits for the cab. A silent statue on the road. Inside, however, his mind is a bloody riot of doubt and fingernail-tearing debate.
Caroline: “What happened. If anyone could spare ten minutes to tell me what I was supposed to do.” She shakes her head bitterly. A different girl than he met this morning. Less pride.
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM
GM: It’s a short trip back to Hilton. The lobby is as all but empty. Caroline and Lou observe only a single receptionist pulling the graveyard shift as they enter the building. Her makeup and professional attire cannot conceal the weariness in her eyes, nor make the minimum-wage smile plastered onto her face any more sincere. She’s talking to a mustached, square-jawed man wearing a trench and fedora.
“…think long and hard, miss,” the man says quietly. “Who did he come here to see?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the receptionist answers with the same fake smile. “It’s against hotel policy to disclose information about our guests.”
The man slides a picture across the desk.
“Lisa and Rachel Paxton, ages nine and six. They’re wondering where their father is.”
The receptionist hesitates.
“He’s missing. And don’t think I’m expecting you to do it solely out of the goodness of your heart, either.” The man places some bills onto the table. “My boss knows how to express gratitude. Knows plenty of places that offer saner hours than here, too.”
The receptionist chews her lip. Eyes the cash.
“We know he was here,” the man says quietly. “And I don’t imagine he booked a room, did he?”
The receptionist shakes her head.
“Not a real guest, then,” the man nods, sliding over one of the bills towards her. “What did he do while he was here?”
“He asked about a… nother guest,” the receptionist hesitantly answers, pocketing the bill. “He’d traced her credit card here.”
The man leans forward, his gaze at once gentle and unwavering. “What room number?” he asks quietly.
Lou can observe just the faintest bit of urgency—no, excitement—to his voice. It’s the tone of an investigator asking the critical witness the critical question. The one that’ll bust the whole case wide open.
Louis: Sensing that tone, and recognizing its import, Lou cannot help but slow down, his neck craning to see if recognizes this fellow fedora- and trench-wearing investigator. The Big Sleazy is big, after all, but not that big.
GM: Lou searches his memory, but the man’s identity remains a mystery. The Big Easy is still big enough to have a multitude of those.
Louis: Lou studies the face, voice, and mannerisms of the other investigator. Currently, his identity may be currently a mystery to Lou, but the old man has a habit of dismantling mysteries like the Gulf’s penchant for spitting out hurricanes.
Caroline: The pause in Caroline’s steps tells Lou all he likely needs to know. She turns on the pair, putting a near sneer on her face.
“You’re wasting your time,” she calls to the two, perhaps ten feet away.
GM: “That so, miss?” The investigator inquires, his tone and expression remaining level at Caroline’s ugly look.
The receptionist suddenly finds a reason to be busy on her computer.
Louis: Lou turns, but hangs back, content for the moment to let the young socialite-turned-abomination handle the situation, or at least better reveal its nature.
Caroline: “The Hilton prides itself on the confidentiality of its guests. She’s not going to give you anything without a warrant. If she did they’d ruin her life.”
GM: The square-jawed man strokes his mustache and regards Caroline thoughtfully, as if putting together a new piece to the puzzle.
“Could be you’re right, miss. This place does have a reputation to think about.”
Caroline: Caroline shrugs indifferently, simply a bystander. “I’d hope so.”
GM: The man smiles. “No doubt they appreciate your confidence. I’m not keeping you from Rebecca here, am I?”
‘Rebecca’ is the name on the receptionist’s name tag. She’s still looking dutifully away from the heiress and the investigator.
Caroline: “Not even a little bit. Good luck with your search, though.” Caroline continues on.
GM: The man tips his hat. “Have a pleasant evening, miss.”
Caroline: Caroline leads Lou to the elevator. She punches a button for the floor below her room.
GM: The investigator goes back to talking with the receptionist as they leave, reproducing the photo of the two girls from his pocket.
Louis: Lou regards the exchange, noting the man’s accent. Native to Louisiana, but not to New Orleans. Baton Rouge or Shreveport are the most likely suspects, particularly the former given the Malveaux’s presence in the state capital. Definitely ex-cop.
He files away both thoughts, though, as he follows Caroline.
GM: The elevator dings at the 26th floor.
Louis: Inside the elevator, Lou regards Caroline, not saying anything, but watching everything.
Caroline: The encounter has clearly shaken her, at least under Lou’s gaze.
“So there’s that.”
Louis: He just nods, demonstrating a patience that has been honed over centuries.
“So there is.”
Caroline: “I didn’t…”
The words feel hollow in her mouth. The doors open and he leads him out of the elevator, making for the stairwell.
Louis: Nonetheless, he checks his analog watch, noting that even if his patience is unlimited (which it surely isn’t, particularly tonight), his time is most assuredly not. He tries to shelve away thoughts of his next ‘appointment’ and follows her. When they come to the stairwell, he almost nods in approval.
Caroline: She leads him up a floor to her room. The first thing that hits him as the door opens under her keycard is how cold it is. The second is he faintly off oder.
GM: The ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is still present on the door handle. A paper note and silver tray lie on the floor. Lou can smell breakfast from under there. Something fruity.
Louis: Lou hugs his trench tight and tries to pick apart the odors, hoping that his suspicions will ring false.
GM: He’s eaten, and he has enough money to eat for some time, but his stomach remembers all-too well what it’s like to go hungry. And that food, just sitting there. It’s not as if Caroline is going to eat it. How many complimentary breakfasts have they thrown away on account of her nonexistent appetite?
Louis: Lou shakes his head, then raises a finger to his lips, motioning Caroline to be still and quiet.
Caroline: Caroline drags the meal inside all the same.
Louis: He then makes a meticulous sweep of the hotel suite, checking to make sure they are indeed alone, and unobserved.
Caroline: The second, obvious matter to Lou, are the bloodstains on the bedroom walls. Blood spatter is everywhere. It looks like several someones were murdered.
GM: The two-room executive suite is fairly cushy living. Caroline’s amenities include a spacious live area with a work desk, separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, wet bar with refrigerator and 37-inch LCD TV, complimentary WiFi, Executive Lounge access, Health Club by Hilton access, and a stunning view of the Mississippi River. A spread of cheeses, crackers, meats, fruits, and other evening hors d’oeuvres reclines on one of the tables. It’s getting a little stale. The staff clearly hasn’t been in for some time.
Blood is everywhere. Dried. There’s a crusted flowing pattern all over the floor. Lou swiftly puts together that someone crawled on their hands and knees, likely in great pain, towards the hotel door. The handle is also crusted a dull red. Further spatters in other, seemingly unconnected locations, however, would indicate that additional episodes of violence took place in the room at different times.
There’s more blood crusted over the bathroom floor tiles. Lou finds three ice cubes in the bathtub. One is as ordinary and mundane as ice cubs come. The other two are solid red. Not blood, though, he quickly identifies. Food coloring.
Caroline: Caroline follows Lou around, but stops to stare at the bathroom.
She waits for Lou to speak.
Louis: Lou dissects the bloody scenery. It’s a red picture he’s seen time and time again. His fist clenches and un-clenches. Slowly, he forces his hand not to rise, not to take out the stake in his inner trench pocket. He does not turn immediately, too afraid that his anger, disgust, and loathing might show.
GM: The bloodstains tell the loudest story. Their age. Their coloration. Their angles and spreads. There’s a great deal the blood tells.
There was a struggle, between Caroline and a man. Larger than her. Just by the closet door, where she was doubtlessly hiding during the day. Few Kindred would have willingly come out from their shelter against the sun. The man dragged her out, forcefully. He likely didn’t know what he’d gotten himself into.
Louis: Lou silently prays that he did—at least then he would have known the risks.
“Who was he?” the old man asks between gritted teeth.
Caroline: “An investigator. Works for the Archbishop. Grabbed me, tried to drag me out into the sun… I… I’d…”
GM: Lou’s prayers are in vain, if the spent bullet casings he finds are anything to go by. Any seasoned hunter knows full well those things are useless against the Damned. Still, the man appears to have landed some well-placed shots… not all the blood is his. Some of it is darker than the human norm. More syrupy. Cainite vitae.
After Caroline mauled him nearly to death, she hauled him into the bathroom. Lou finds the medical kit. The partially used supplies.
Louis: “You tried to save him.”
Lou still has not turned to face her. It.
Caroline: “Yes. When he dragged me out I lost control. It was the morning after I was ‘Embraced’. I’d tried to talk him down, tried to get him to just leave. I didn’t want to hurt him. Didn’t mean to, even.”
GM: Lou notes there’s piss in the toilet. The man was either too delirious or uncaring to flush. He was clearly there for some time, too, if he thought to empty his bladder. The piss certainly isn’t Caroline’s.
The kick marks against the door and adjacent wall would indicate the man was locked inside, if the chair lying on its flank didn’t already. A crude barricade he may well have taken hours to break down in his wounded state.
A new trail of blood starts at the doorway. It crawls several further feet. It seeps into a great, dark, wet stain. The man passed out. He lay there for some time. Then, there’s a few scattered stains. He was revived. Not by a mortal medic. You don’t just get up and walk after you pass out bleeding like a stuck pig. Lou can think of one substance that could revive an almost dead man, though.
There’s a few stains by the door out of the suite. There’s a few more stains over the door handle. The man tried to get out. He tried to escape. But he was seized from behind. There’s another bloody trail, leading back to the bathroom. And… three ice cubes.
There, the body simply vanishes.
Louis: Lou’s eyes follow the sanguine trails.
Caroline: Caroline watches Lou’s reaction.
Louis: He shakes his head.
Caroline: “I tried to save him. I was desperate to save him. I didn’t want to be a murderer.”
Louis: Lou regards the ice cubes for a long time. He takes out his thermos and dumps out the sludge in the nearby sink. He slips on a latex glove and drops both red cubes into the now empty and rinsed thermos. He seals it, as if that simple act might contain the terrible deeds that befell here. With great force of will, he compels his muscles to relax, ironing out the tensed wrinkles of flesh in his jaw and brow. Slowly, he turns.
“It’s not your fault.”
Caroline: “It is my fault. I killed him.”
Louis: He nods. Not disagreeing in the slightest. But he motions her over to a seat, taking one of the non-stained ones himself.
Caroline: “I don’t know what the ice cubes mean, though… or what happened to the body. Do you?”
Louis: He sets down his briefcase, then thermos. He then takes off his glove, then hat, and runs his single hand through his iron-brush hair and liver-spotted scalp, now prickled with gooseflesh in the chill. He nods. And then, with a calmness born of countless interviews with traumatized victims, he speaks and matches his gaze with a softness, an openness that he keeps locked away, tightly save for these times.
“I promise to explain. But first, tell me what’s happened.”
Caroline: “Since we last spoke?” She gives a sad laugh. “I tried to find a place to top off. The… it’s easier to stay in control when I’m.” She swallows, needlessly. “Full.”
She explains her inadvertent poaching, fighting off the first two, then getting dragged out by the three that followed. The beating in the alley, the police, the rescue, and her sentencing, including drinking the sheriff’s blood and the minor boon owed.
“I don’t even know what most of that means, other than that now I’ve also got a gang of vampires that want to kill me, and another powerful vampire pissed off at me as well.”
Louis: “May I call you Caroline?”
It’s normally about this time he’d hand the victim a hot cup of tea or coffee. Considering the circumstances, though, Lou declines offering the woman any libations. Even if he has it on tap. Thumping in his veins.
Caroline: She nods. Relating the tale has been cathartic.
“I don’t want sympathy, I just… want to understand. I want to know what the hell I’m doing. I’m wandering blind.”
Louis: “Caroline, much of this-” he waves his hand at the walls and then beyond, “-was not of your choice. Other choices were yours, but they were made in gross ignorance, rather than malice, despite their heinous nature.”
“I cannot erase what has happened. What you’ve done. What’s been done to you. But I can try to help make it so that the next series of choices you make are done with eyes less blind.”
He sticks a cigarette in his mouth. He then draws a gold-plated lighter, but he does not ignite it. Not yet, at least.
Caroline: She nods.
Louis: His eyes grow distant, unfocused for a moment, as he contemplates how to begin. How he could, or should, have begun with his old partner, Pete, but didn’t.
Maybe I’ll get it right this time.
Caroline: “I can play the game, but not if I don’t know what it is. And everyone I’ve asked even the simplest questions has reacted… badly.”
Louis: Her words break his silence.
“The real question is whether you choose to play the game at all.” He thick thumb rests meaningfully on the lighter. “But first…” he then begins his lengthy, patient exposition.
Caroline: Relief spreads across Caroline’s face as Lou begins to lay bare secrets she only guessed at.
Louis: “First and foremost, you have to understand, really understand, that the substance that René made you drink, the stuff that transformed you, that fills you, sustains you, is poison. Poison. They call it vitae, but it’s poison. I’m not talking about any simple physical toxin. I’m talking on a spiritual level. And there’s no antidote. None. At. All.”
“One symptom of the poison is what they call the Beast. The thing that frenzies, the thing that begs and screams for, demands blood. It’s pure, mindless evil. Without conscience, morality, or rationality. But the Beast isn’t some separate entity, some thing that possesses you. It is you. It’s the vitae. The Poison.”
“Some of your kind, they try to manage the Beast. Tame, appease, or ignore it, pretend it isn’t there, always there. Pretend that they’re the master and the Beast is their slave, shackled tight and secure. But they’re fooling themselves. There is no cure, no mastery. And it only gets worse. With each inhumane act, each time the Beast breaks free and runs wild, the Poison spreads, grows. In time, not even human blood will appease the Beast.”
“Caroline, if there’s one thing you need to remember or understand out of everything I tell you, it’s this. The only way to get rid of the Poison, the Beast, is to kill it—which means killing yourself. To die again. To die once and for all. There’s a reason they call it the final death.”
With a flick of his thumb, the lighter’s top snaps shut.
“Don’t forget what I said. The Beast, the poison, it’s going to try to make you forget or ignore what I just said, to latch on to everything else I tell you and try so desperately to reject or forget the most important and ultimate truth shared here tonight.”
Lou flicks open the lighter again, his thumb perched on the igniter. He then expounds on many of the inner workings of the Kindred, the Camarilla, the Masquerade, and how all three of the above operate in the Big Sleazy. Notably, he gently but firmly explains how Caroline has not only been grossly, but understandably ignorant of Kindred society, but severely, if reasonably, interpreting Kindred society through a modern mortal perspective.
“You can’t try to understand the culture of an immortal monster through the lens of a contemporary mortal.”
In particular, he explains how Kindred society is a gerontocracy. There isn’t even a pretense of Kindred equality. He describes the ladder: fledglings, neonates, ancillae, elders. Serfs, tenants, eqsuires, regents, princes. He tries to use her father, her mortal father, as an illustrative example.
“Look, your pop is a U.S. senator, right? Senators are like elders, and just like senators, more seniority generally means more authority and power. But you’re not an elder. Not. At. All. Fledglings are the equivalent of hobo children. Hobo kids don’t waltz onto the Senate floor and try to legislate or negotiate the law. They have no say. They do not act upon the law. The law acts upon them.”
He shakes his head. “This may sound harsh, but you’re lucky it was Coco. You walked in and tried to negotiate with a primogen about the terms of her debt—an elder, a regent in her own domain, owed a boon by an unreleased fledgling who’d trespassed in that domain. Any other primogen would have likely have destroyed, maimed, or done far worse to you. Continuing to openly defy the elders’ will only continue to bring down harsh reprisals until you fall in line. It’s like that quip: ‘Beatings will continue until morale improves.’ Except, via blood bonds and other powers, they can literally dictate your morale.”
“Along the same lines, I know you were born with a whole utensil drawer of silver spoons in your mouth. Your whole-damned generation was raised on the teat of entitlement and few are ever weaned. Being a pretty white girl, the world was your oyster, and being a Malveaux, well, I’m sure that oyster was manically coughing up pearls for you day and night.”
“But Kindred aren’t like that. Among the Kindred, you are entitled to nothing. There are no inalienable rights. You have no rights. Only the elders are entitled, if you will, and only so long as they can hold on to their crowns. The Camarilla isn’t a democracy, but a fascist monarchial dictatorship. In the case of New Orleans, which is ruled by the Lancea et Sanctum, you can also add ‘theocracy’ to that list. The Camarilla doesn’t exist to protect the well-being of its ‘citizens’ as ours purportedly does, but exists to maintain and perpetuate the power of a small ruling elite, namely the princes and other elders. Which all-too often comes at the direct expense of younger Kindred, but them even less so than the ‘kine.’ The Camarilla and most of its ruling elders belong more to a time and culture of monarchs that ruled by divine right.”
“It isn’t fair. It never was, never will. Poison begets poison.”
He checks his watch. “Normally, it’s your sire’s job to explain how Kindred laws and customs work. But your ‘sire’ bailed, though I’m working on rectifying that. But having no sire, that means it’s nobody’s job to look after you. There’s no such thing as ‘wards of the state’ for orphaned childer in the Camarilla—you’re thrown to the wolves. You sink or swim. To them, it doesn’t matter which. Either you survive and prove yourself another useful pawn in their parade who can join their society at no time or effect to them, or you die, no skin off their teeth.”
Lou goes on to describe the Traditions, but clarifies that “the laws aren’t based on established legal frameworks. The Six Traditions are loose, subject to the arbitrary whims of princes.”
GM: Of particular note is the fact that killing other Kindred is punishable by final death.
Louis: “And those whims are only constrained by the political repercussions of acting on those whims. Which means, in short, that it’s okay for them to oppress neonates and ancillae, but oppressing other elders can get them overthrown—unless it actually weakens those same rivals.”
He briefly explains how the Big Sleazy is a piece of meat long being warred over by Vidal, Savoy, and Cimitière. “The only reason the prince hasn’t or isn’t lopping off Savoy’s and Cimitière’s heads on trumped-up charges is because they’re powerful enough to stand up to him.”
Lou reaches down and picks up his thermos, spinning the ice cubes inside so they rattle like dice. He explains the Masquerade, briefly laying out how and why it is kept by the Camarilla. More specifically, he tells her about the Krewe of Janus.
“They were here, Caroline. In this apartment. The body was a threat to their beloved Masquerade, so they disposed of it. They left these-,” he says once again shaking the thermos, “-as a warning that if you continue to be a threat to the Masquerade, that they will so dispose of you.”
He snorts. “They treat it like baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. Except it’s forever. No more innings. First offense, like that other, uncolored ice cube, is allowed to slide. The cube melts, leaves a little water, but no harm, no stain left. Second offense, and they go after someone or something you love. And it may be subtle, but it isn’t pretty.”
“Third,” he says setting down the thermos, “and the ump throws you out of the game.” Lou shrugs, almost apologizing to himself for the next words out of his mouth. “Altogether, the Krewe of Janus aren’t that bad. In fact, you might even call them selfless or even fair, if it weren’t for the fact that their vitae poisons everything they are and do.” His hand rests once more upon the open lighter. “So now, after hearing all that, you have a choice, Miss Caroline.”
“What are you going to do?” His gaze, while patient and calm, are grave.
Caroline: Caroline chews on the words, on the explanations, and particularly on Lou’s tone in all of this. The seemingly hopeless picture he’s painted.
“You think I should kill myself. Now, before it gets any worse.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t confirm or deny the interpretation. “What do you think?”
Caroline: “Before I get people I care about hurt, before I turn into a greater monster than I already am.” Her hands tremble a bit. She takes a deep breath—habit. “I think you may be right. But I think there are better ways to go out than with a whimper.”
Louis: Lou is still for a while, his expression like an old death mask taking on even older vitality. Is there a hint of a smile? Perhaps. It’s hard to imagine what the perpetually scowling man’s face might look like with a genuine smile. At the very least, she’s sure his look is neither mocking nor disparaging her words.
“What kind of bang would you have in mind?”
Caroline: “I don’t know yet. But this… this is wrong. All of it. Their psycho religion, the casual disregard of life and liberty, and the monstrous slave system for all the world. And monsters like René wandering about, inflicting the worst of this on innocent people.”
GM: “I think we live in a hideous, twisted world bogged so down by the weight of our sins, that 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,” Caroline recalls her sire blithely declaring. “If he isn’t evil himself. Maybe all creation is simply a twisted joke he’s telling for his own sick amusement.”
Louis: Lou nods, his expression somewhere hidden between acknowledgement and agreement. Softly, he takes out the ancient cross dangling from his neck. Rough fingers tracing soft wood. Both old. Both worn.
Caroline: The sight of it twists Caroline’s face with grief. “Put it away please, Mr. Fontaine.” She looks away.
Louis: Lou complies.
Caroline: She doesn’t meet his eyes until he does.
“Do you think there’s forgiveness enough for the monster I’ve become?”
Louis: Lou looks down. His sagging shoulders bowed like a defeated prizefighter’s.
Caroline: Emotions war in her. Grief, shame, hate. They play across her face. Once more, this is a far cry from the woman that hired him only hours ago. Not the Kindred, not the heiress. Just a girl.
Louis: “I don’t know,” he says heavily. Mournfully. “I wear the cross, but I can’t say I truly bear it.”
Caroline: “They made me take ‘confession’. Congratulated me on sins, demanded I give more.” She shakes her head. “His body, I was supposed to stage it somewhere.”
Louis: “The wolves of God.” Lou doesn’t look up.
Caroline: “The poor girl I attacked first, when I first woke up. They wanted me to attack her again.” She shakes her head. Lou gets the impression that if she could, she could cry. “I thought I was going to have a chance to unburden my soul. But they just put their boot on it.”
Louis: He looks out, through, the curtain-drawn window. Out, into the darkness, and the heavy weight of years and unspoken secrets, shames, and dreams.
Caroline: “And if I don’t, they’ll punish me further. If I don’t go back to her room and attack her again, they’ll find something terrible to do to me.”
Louis: “Give yourself, the Beast, enough time, and they won’t need to pressure you. They, you, won’t be able to hold yourself back. I don’t know how long ‘enough’ is though.” He looks back. “You seem strong. Penitent.”
But you’re also a Malveaux, the old man considers silently. If your sire had Embraced you and then guided you into Kindred society, accepted you, would you be so penitent, so humble?
He scowls, inwardly chiding himself. And if she didn’t appear so young, so lost, so innocent, would you feel so torn, so conflicted, so willing to dance the razor’s edge, to speak aloud so many words so close to your house of cards?
Caroline: “You’re not religious, in truth, are you? Were you ever?”
Louis: “I don’t know,” Lou whispers in reply to all four questions. He looks up. “But I believe.” He touches the cross beneath his yellowed shirt. “I have walked with saints as well as devils. I have broken bread and taken salt with our ancestors, with those who linger. But do I know what God thinks of us. If forgiveness exists for those drink the blood of Caine.”
Caroline: She nods. “Ghoul. You’re older than you look, aren’t you?”
Louis: He looks down. “Right now, I feel the weight of every year.” He then recites scripture, hearing them echoing in his mind from Antonio’s voice:
“‘And if any among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. So whoever consumes blood will be cut off.’”
Caroline: “That’s what you do then. You drink our blood. It makes sense. Taste of monster. Taste of damnation.”
Louis: He grimaces, sick to his soul.
Caroline: “That’s what I did to him, wasn’t it? I made him into a monster like you. God, I was such a fool. Forgive me…” The words aren’t meant for Lou. “Thank you. At least that’s one mistake I can avoid repeating.”
She looks back to the detective. “You’ve somewhere you have to be.” Her eyes glance to his wrist, as his own have frequently. “Some other case.”
Louis: “Others are suffering, and I have to try.”
Caroline: She nods. “A martyr’s path for you then, Lou? Perhaps we shall see each other on the road.”
“Is there something I can do to help?”
Louis: He looks up. “I’d invite you, Caroline, but you’re too… white. Rich. Catholic, even.” He half-grins.
Caroline: She smiles half-heartedly. “The least of my sins.”
Louis: “What will you do?” His half-grins dies into a far more grave expression.
Caroline: She gestures around them. “One of many weighty questions. For a start, I need to clean this up.” She gestures to the room around them. “If the Krewe really does punish those who endanger the Masquerade, letting the other investigator find all these bloodstains is likely bad for business. To say nothing of the headache it would make for my family normally. I don’t want anyone close to me getting hurt because of this.”
“Then, presumably, I need to find a new place to sleep. That was a given I guess, but at least for the night. And then… we see where this path takes us. I’ve some ideas, plans, thoughts. But it’s better if you don’t know about them. You have a place, and a purpose. I’ve endangered that enough already.”
Louis: “I could tell you how to clean it up. Hang around Homicide long enough, and you’ll pick up how to cover up a murder: whether the criminals or cops are better or worse at it is a matter of debate.” He shrugs.
Caroline: “Any advice would be appreciated,” she grants.
Louis: He looks back up. “I said I could. I’m not convinced I should, though. You killed a man. He did not deserve death.”
Caroline: “Sins are sins, Lou. The important part of penitence is in trying to make amends and not repeat.” Still, his words hit her like a slap. “In this case, it’s not repeating reprisal against other innocent people for my mistake.”
Louis: “But does not that man deserve justice?” He takes off his hat and runs his hand once more through his hoary scalp.
Caroline: She smiles sadly. “I’m pretty sure he’ll get it, sooner rather than later.”
Louis: “That PI downstairs, he flashed that photo of the two girls, claimed they were the man’s daughters.”
Caroline: “They’ll be taken care of, if it is the case. Even if my uncle doesn’t take care of it.”
Louis: He pops open his wallet and draws a similar photo. Different kids, sure, but the similar nature is evident.
“They’re stock photos, they came with a frame I bought on a MegaMart special. PIs use these to grease people all the time.” He puts the photo and his wallet away.
Caroline: “That’s awfully cynical of you.”
Louis: “Doesn’t mean that the guy’s photo was fake, though. It could have been legit. As for sins, cynicism is my least. Particularly if I use that photo to help track down rapists, murderers, and inhuman monsters.”
Caroline: She waits. “So what’s the word, then?”
Louis: “Word?” Lou looks perplexed by her colloquial expression.
Caroline: “Which weighs more for you, Lou? My judgment in this matter or my ease?”
Louis: “Depends on which judgment we’re talking about,” he answers, his tone lacking humor or notable malice. Just weariness.
Caroline: “I’ll make do, then, and spare you the conflict.” She gestures to the bloodstained room.
Louis: If she only knew the true conflict, he muses bitterly.
Caroline: On the other hand, Lou is likely well aware of the life expectancy of a sireless fledgling. It seems likely the problem will resolve itself.
Louis: “See me before dawn,” he says. “If you want help. Of either kind.”
He snaps shut the lighter and stows it in his pocket. It takes him a while to stand, his legs almost numb as a PCP-addict’s after sitting for so long. He gathers his things, careful not to leave any trace of his presence. As he puts his hat back on, he tips it towards Caroline’s direction. He pauses at the door, and takes one last, careful look at the room. At the carnage-splattered walls, and the ‘girl’ responsible for them.
“Mierda,” he breathes.
Caroline: “Mr. Fontaine,” Caroline calls, still seated. “Leave me your number. When you go.”
Louis: “We’re not there. Yet.”
And with that, the old man departs.
Caroline: “Will we ever be?” Caroline wonders once he is gone.
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