“How bad are things?”
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM
GM: Celia runs into one of her mother’s cats on her way out. The calico loudly hisses at the vampire, her tail going puffed like a beaver’s, before she flees deeper into the house over Diana’s futile (and after seven years, largely half-hearted) efforts to calm her down.
“I just don’t understand why Shadow and Victor don’t like you! They’re so sweet to everyone else!” Celia’s mom exclaims, shaking her head.
The two exchange a last hug before her Ryde arrives and drops her off at the border of the French Quarter.
The little-used haven looks much as it did the last time Celia was there. She has several hours. She could spend them doing productive things, or she could just sit there and fret.
Finally, at midnight, there’s a knock against the door.
Celia: Celia spends her time wisely. She doesn’t fidget like some nerve-struck high schooler while she waits for her guest to arrive. She is not so skittish as that anymore, not when her feelings for the visiting Brujah have long since cooled. Her collar snapped the night that he put his fist through her face. Now just an echo remains, a pale imitation of what once was or could have been.
First, her face. She seats herself before the vanity in her bathroom and gets to work. Her fingers sculpt flesh, muscle, and cartilage from Celia’s face to transform it into Jade’s. She is not Celia anymore. Not for Roderick. The differences between the two faces are enough to make them distinct, and once she begins to play with the powders, liquids, and mists atop the counter there is even more that separates them. Jade’s face is narrower than Celia’s, her cheekbones cut by contour, her nose slimmer. She starts with that base color, foundation blended all the way down to her neck to avoid the horrid line that some women just forget about—your face and your neck should not be different colors, dear—though she does not truly need this step. Her complexion is pristine all on its own. A pink blush is dabbed across her cheeks, blended upward, the amount so minuscule that it’s not even there in some light. Just a hint. A hint of color across her lids, gold—not the yellow gold she’d used for Caroline earlier this evening, but a metallic color that might even be bronze depending on how you look at it. Duochrome, they call this effect, and the pigment is loose. She applies it with a wet brush. A dark brown liner across her eyes that cuts upward to suggest a wing. Highlighter in the key spots. A mauve, dusky rose color on her lips. Matte. It’s in season.
The clothes next. She strips from the borrowed clothing and pulls on a new bra and panties. Pastel pink. He’ll never see them, but knowing what she wears beneath her clothing gives her a boost of confidence.
She pulls a dress over her head, smoothing it down her body with her palms. It clings to all the right places, accentuating her slim waist. The dress itself stops halfway to her knee. Low enough that it’s not whorish, high enough that it’s suggestive. It leaves her throat and shoulders bare.
Her nails are seen to next, filed and painted and adorned with the crystals she has just for this purpose. Shades of carnation pink, gold, and white, carefully filed into points, though they lack the edge of true claws. Her sun ring is, as always, worn on one hand. On the other is a similar stone set in the shape of a flower, fire opal all around the diamond in the center.
Once her personal aesthetic is seen to she sweeps her eyes across the location.
The apartment hasn’t changed much in the past few years. Celia is still the only one who uses it; there is no hint of human presence inside, thought it seems assuredly lived-in if the closet is anything to go by. Full back then—there had barely been room for the things he’d started to move in—it’s practically overflowing now with gowns and sundresses and more heels than a person could possibly wear in their lifetime.
Good thing Celia has plenty of them ahead of her.
The bed holds the same four wooden posts he’d tied her to the one night, though the bedding itself has been upgraded. Higher quality sheets: higher thread count, softer, more luxurious, whatever the marketing teams are pushing these days. Darker, too. She’d learned the hard way that getting so much blood out of sheets is nothing like trying to remove a stain from her panties because she’d been caught without a pad (no tampons in the Flores household—wouldn’t want to risk the cherry popping).
Maybe Roderick thinks it was him who taught her that. Or maybe she’s used this place as a fuck pad since their breakup. He knows her reputation: her sire’s childe in deed as well as blood. Heard from her own lips that she’d bagged the sheriff one of her first nights. Is it so hard to think that she’s been with the others the rumors claim? Plus, look how pretty she is. Hot piece of tail, isn’t she? Who wouldn’t want to sink their teeth in.
The furniture looks similar to what she’d had before, though if her guest has a keen enough eye for that kind of thing he might notice it’s not the same pieces. Even so, they’re wrapped in slip covers as if she’s afraid of unruly children or pets or frenzying Kindred who seek to destroy her face. There had been a rug in front of the couch last time he’d been here. He’d ruined it with the gore from his attack. She’s rolled up its replacement and slid it under the couch itself to reveal the hardwood floors beneath. Easier to clean blood out of polished and protected wood than it is to get it out of an expensive rug, isn’t it?
A DVD case rests on the surface of the coffee table near the flat screen, its cover blank.
By the time midnight rolls around everything is in its proper place. The knock on her door takes only a moment to answer. She pulls it open.
GM: It’s him.
He doesn’t look much changed for the past four years. At all changed, actually, but that’s eternal youth. 31 and physically 22. He’s dressed more formally than he was during their last meeting: gray jacket and pants, white undershirt, maroon necktie. Overcoat over the suit. Winter is on its way out, but it’s still an average 56 degrees during the often-raining nights. Same leather shoes he’d usually pair with more relaxed outfits, though.
A moment passes, as though he’s thinking of what to say.
Finally: “How bad are things?”
Celia: Her eyes sweep his form. One-time boyfriend. One-time paramour. Brief, but what a mark he left on her.
Does he remember the words they’d shared, how they’d promised to always be there for each other, how she’d told him that she wasn’t afraid of him that night at the park—that she trusted him—before his fists destroyed her?
Her visage lacks any of that internal discourse. She steps back to allow him in, then closes and locks the door behind him.
For a moment she is silent, weighing her words, his question. Will this be the norm, then, this stilted conversation, these long pauses? She can play that game.
“Bad,” she says finally.
GM: He nods and follows her in. His eyes briefly sweep the familiar surroundings. Perhaps he notices the change in furnishings, but it has been four years. He probably notices the slip covers over the furniture, though.
“I’m here,” he answers.
Celia: What hasn’t happened? That’s the real question, isn’t it.
“Before we begin,” she says to him, “I’d like to set a ground rule. Don’t bring me to Primogen Duquette should the night go awry. The Evergreen was always more my scene.”
GM: There’s a flash of… something in his eyes. Maybe hurt.
“The Evergreen isn’t really mine either,” he answers.
There’s a pause for a moment as he seems to consider several things to say. He finally settles on,
“If that… happens. I can leave you here and call someone. One of your renfields. If they know about this place. Or drop you off at another address.”
Celia: Good. She’s glad it hurts. He should remember what he did to her. How he told her he could forgive her and then refused to do so. How he’d beaten her instead. The rage of his clan, sure, but he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t some vicious side of him that enjoyed terrorizing her, ripping apart her face, slamming his fists again and again into that pretty smile until it was nothing but a red ruin.
“The Evergreen,” she repeats.
After a brief moment of hesitation—how much would she have told him had they spent these past years together?—she adds, “I am staying there now until some matters have been cleared up. Taking me to another location is only asking for trouble.”
GM: “I can’t go to the Evergreen,” Roderick says. “I can call someone for you.”
Celia: Celia shakes her head. He has known her too long for her to pull off the gemstone-named harpy-in-training whose mask she dons around everyone else. She drops the facade, lets him see the weariness and wariness beneath. No lines mar her expression, no bags settle beneath her eyes, but she shows him in the slight rounding of her shoulders, the lips that pull downward in one corner, the eyes whose blink lag behind their ordinarily swift movement.
She opens her mouth to say something as she steps toward the couch.
“Okay. You c—”
The heel of her shoe catches on an uneven spot of wood, a groove in the floor perhaps made by her own claws those many years ago. It snaps. The sudden loss of support makes her ankle buckle sideways.
She starts to fall.
GM: There’s a gray blur, and then he’s caught her, arms around her waist.
His gaze lingers for a moment before he remarks,
Celia: Even after all this time?
The line from the book echoes through her mind. Her body stops before she so much as grazes her knees across the floor. His arms around her, like they should have been all this time. Even in heels she has to look up at him.
“Bad shoes,” she agrees. Perhaps her voice is more faint than normal.
The moment lingers. Silence stretches between them. Closer than they’ve been in years. She thinks to make her heart hammer in her rib cage, to cause a flush to appear on her cheeks, but they’ve both been dead long enough to know that these are affected, forced gestures.
She touches a hand to his cheek instead. Her skin is warm against his cool flesh. His face looms in front of her, taking up her entire field of vision. Her eyes land on his lips, on the mouth that she knows so well.
She leans in.
Just as quickly she aborts the movement. She blinks twice, gaze dropping.
GM: With her gaze averted, Celia can’t make out the expression on her former paramour’s face. There’s another pause before he answers, “You’re welcome.”
He starts to help her to the couch, then seems to realize her shoe doesn’t have a flat underside even with the heel gone. He finally just picks her up for the remaining distance, short as it is, and deposits her on the couch.
Celia: She can’t help the laugh. It bubbles up inside of her and passes her lips before she can think to press them together to trap it inside. Inside, where he can’t hurt her. The sound transforms her face, brings light to her eyes. A moment of levity in a dark, tense life.
Once the fabric slip cover concealing the couch touches the backs of her legs she kicks off both of her heels, nudging them beneath the couch with her bare feet. She tucks her legs beneath her, smoothing her skirt down her thighs where it had ridden up in the excitement of the moment.
Her eyes find his. She pats the spot beside her.
GM: He takes off his coat, hangs it at the spot by the door, and sits down on the couch.
“Seems the crappy footwear was good for a laugh, at least.”
“I guess you could’ve used one right now.”
Celia: “It’s been… rough. I had a particularly awful day.”
Day, she says. Not night. She watches his face for any sign of… anything.
GM: “I guess that’s why I’m here,” he answers. His face doesn’t look like it’s done much laughing or smiling, but it is earnest and serious.
They did promise, after that second back-together bout of lovemaking. Perhaps it’ll count for something and perhaps it’ll count for nothing, but if nothing else, he is here.
“So, what happened?”
Celia: It’s not why he’s here, despite the fact that he—she stops her thoughts before she can go down that line. She’ll tell him in a minute, anyway.
“D’you know the punishment for being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be?”
GM: “Sure. Usually a sip from the domain holder’s veins, though they can decide to go easier or harder. Cut and dry Second Tradition violation.”
Celia: Celia makes a vague gesture with her hand.
“Sure. For our kind.”
GM: “Okay, if you mean in the breather sense, trespassing has a scaling penalty. First count is a $100-500 fine, imprisonment up to 30 days, or both.”
“There’s all sorts of ways to make that go away, obviously.”
Celia: Her lips curl upward in amusement, though the motion doesn’t reach her eyes. Those are dead serious.
“Would I have called you about a $500 fine?”
GM: “By itself, probably not. If it was part of something bigger, maybe. You implied this wasn’t about lick-related trespassing.”
Celia: Celia folds her hands on her lap. She looks down at the rings on her fingers, the flower and sun. Spinning the band around and around her finger is an old, fidgety habit that tells him of her apprehension. She’d done it the night she’d confessed to cheating on him. She does it again now.
GM: “Unless you meant about a renfield being caught trespassing, in which case… well, sucks to be them. Largely up to the lick who caught them what happens.”
He looks at her ring and frowns faintly.
Celia: “I was picked up by a pair of hunters,” she says quietly.
GM: “I’m sorry. Glad you made it out.”
Celia: “Are you?”
GM: “Jesus Christ,” he mutters.
“Yeah, what you did really hurt, but I don’t wish you dead over it.”
Celia: “All I could think about,” she says to her lap, “while they had me tied and gagged and stabbed me with knives and held a lighter to my face, was that I’d die without ever actually doing anything, without fixing anything, and I had this stupid, absurd fantasy of y—someone swooping in and rescuing me, and when I got out, when I was finally safe again, I kept thinking about you.” She looks back up at him.
GM: Roderick doesn’t look completely sure what to say to that.
“That sounds horrible. What they did, that is. But I think your mom, Emily, Lucy, and your other brothers and sisters would disagree that you accomplished nothing of value with your life.”
Celia: He doesn’t know what to say because he doesn’t care. He still hates her. Silly to think that four years is long enough to let him forgive.
All this worrying for nothing. She’d wasted her Roderick card on Savoy’s missive.
She should have stuck with Jade.
She lets up on the gas. Lifts her shoulders in a shrug. Doesn’t say anything for a moment.
GM: “So what’s going on?” he asks. “Are you still in trouble from hunters, or is it something else?”
Celia: “Is it fucked if I say the hunters are the least of my troubles?”
An old ache throbs inside her chest. She wants to tell him. Wants to tell him everything. Wants to be able to tell him and trust that it will stay between them, that the rest of their society won’t find out.
She hates Savoy for making her do this.
“I mean. Celia might have to die. I guess that’s…” She trails off. He knows.
GM: He doesn’t say anything to that for a moment. She knows all-too well that he knows.
“I can’t say I’d recommend that, if you can avoid it.”
“So what’s going on?” he repeats.
Celia: Celia shifts in her seat, knees still bent but waist unhinging as if she is about to rise. She pauses halfway through the motion, catching his gaze. Her face is open. Earnest.
“I just wanted to get that out before I tell you this. All of that. Because I… I…”
GM: “Because you…?” he guides her along.
Celia: She bites her lip. Her eyes dart towards the floor where he had once thrown her. No bloodstains remain, but the wood itself is still gouged. She glances back at him, then at her lap, and finally looks up at him through a line of thick lashes.
“I…” she shakes her head. Makes a noise. “It doesn’t matter,” she finally murmurs.
She looks at him for a moment longer, as if wishing he just knew what she was thinking so that she doesn’t need to spell it out for him. How can he come here, make himself available, keep her from falling on her face, physically pick her up and carry her—hold her in his arms… and pretend it means nothing?
Maybe it does mean nothing. He’d probably do it for anyone. Maybe she’s reaching. Searching for something that isn’t there.
Maybe she killed it.
GM: It wouldn’t be the first time.
“All right, so what is it then?” he asks. “That you’ve been dancing around over. I presume it’s something bad. Probably also sensitive. But I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”
Celia: “What I’ve been dancing around,” Celia says as she rises to her feet, “are my own feelings, things I won’t admit to myself, let alone you. I have… so much—there’s so much—”
She cuts herself off. It doesn’t matter. She hadn’t intended to say any of this to him; the words just spill out of her mouth of their own volition.
“My mom begged me to hit her tonight.”
Her eyes flick once more toward the gouges in the ground. Maybe he doesn’t see it. Maybe he’s not watching her as closely as she’s watching him. Wary. Waiting for him to pounce.
“Begged me. She had a run-in with a stiff and it fucked with her head something fierce.”
She looks devastated. She shakes her head again, a sharp motion that dislodges a few curls from her effortlessly messy up-do and lets them spill into her face.
GM: “Wow, that’s incredibly fucked,” he says. “To do that you’d… never mind. How is she now?”
Celia: “I don’t know. Her blooper reel… she’s fucked, Roderick, someone fucked with her, and they did it at a time that I couldn’t do anything back.”
She pauses. Takes a breath. “She seemed… fine when I left.” ‘Fine’ is generous. “I would kill to keep them safe. Her, Lucy, Emily—all of them. I’d kill for them.”
“Would you do anything less for yours?”
GM: He shakes his head. “If someone did that to my dad or Danielle… I’d kill them. End of story. So it couldn’t ever happen again. I can’t do a lot for my family, these days, but I could do that.”
“Your mom’s the sweetest lady, too. I don’t know why anyone would want to fuck with her head like that.”
“There isn’t any ‘good’ reason for it. Any lick who’d do that has to be a real monster anyway.”
Celia: “Because they needed to make a scene so she’d leave Maxen and he’d attack her, possibly get arrested, lose his seat.” Her voice is bitter. She doesn’t know if her theory is true, but after tonight… after tonight, she thinks she knows who did this to her.
GM: “So you think Savoy did that to your mom, or one of his people? That’s the problem?” Roderick asks, his eyebrows raising.
Celia: “No.” She paces. “If they did anything it was… too long ago to matter. It doesn’t matter. What happened years ago doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. I’m not mad at my grandmother for telling my mom to abort me, I can hardly be mad at them for taking action against a rival’s pawn.”
But she is.
They broke her family.
She doesn’t know that it’s Savoy, but she suspects. Just like she now suspects who it was that handed her the gun and told her to kill the fucker when the story of his arrest was buried.
They lied to her.
And she can’t tell Roderick. She can’t tell anyone.
She pushes her rage down. Inside of her, where it can’t hurt anyone. Where it smolders like an ember in her gut. She can’t let him see it. She needs him to be on her side. Savoy’s side.
The rage doesn’t want to go away, though.
It’s a dark, twisted thought that she’s had. That the Kindred who offers her so much with one hand used the other to take a hammer to her family.
It comes howling to the surface. Fangs explode from between her lips. Maybe she howls, too, joins the Beast in its undulating chorus. Her claws come out, nailbeds splitting in their wake, blood dripping down her fingertips.
For a moment she’s a beast. A slavering, angry, mindless beast. The Beast.
It wants to destroy. Her arm lashes out, knocking a kitchen stool to the ground. Papers and trinkets go flying; she follows them down. Her claws rake across the ground, tearing gouges in the wood.
It isn’t the same as rending flesh. Flesh that she knows would part beneath her claws. Especially now, with that gift running through her system. She’d win. She’s sure of it. He’s on the couch. Waiting. Expectant. All she has to do is leap and tear and—
The girl’s voice in her head. Reminding her of what’s important. Reminding her of what needs to be done. The battle that she’s fighting isn’t with him; it’s with the rest of them. Tonight isn’t about her.
It’s gone as suddenly as it appears. Caged. Back to where it belongs, inside of her. Her knees hit the floor in its sudden disappearance, a puppet whose strings have been cut. Her palms strike the floor when she doubles over, fingers settling into the new grooves she’d just carved.
She stays down for a long moment. Enough to make sure that it is well and truly locked away.
Controlled breaths do nothing to calm or focus her. She isn’t human that these bullshit meditation techniques work. She takes them anyway. They make her feel human, and that’s what staves off the Beast. Ritual. Her ring spins on her finger. Claws and fangs retreat into her flesh and gums.
Her hair came undone with the action. It’s a wild, curling, tangled mess around her head. She shoves it back from her face when her spine straightens. Pulls her dress back down her thighs, though she stays on her knees, sitting on her heels. She wouldn’t want a recently-raging lick coming any closer. Still, she makes sure that her appearance is in check. That’s ritual, too. The curls don’t care. They bounce right back to where they were.
Her gaze seeks Roderick.
Tonight has been one mistake after another. Celia’s nerves are on edge, frayed by the close call with the hunters, her sister’s execution, trespassing in Vidal’s territory, Caroline, her mother…
It could be shame in her eyes as she looks at him. Frustration at her own self for being so emotional. Longing—wishing that she could just tell him. They were supposed to be friends. Allies. Partners. Lovers. Whatever he wants to call it, they were supposed to be it. Now she only has a ghost.
She’s been spiraling for nights. She hadn’t meant to lose control.
She’d beaten it back into submission, though. Not like him, when he’d beaten her instead of the Beast, when he’d pulverized her into a bloody pile of broken bones and torn ligaments and displaced tendons. She swallows whatever lump has lodged itself inside her throat, just like she’d swallowed the (possibly misplaced) anger at her grandsire.
At least she lost her cool here rather than in front of him.
“Are you—?” Okay, she might be asking, but the question seems silly. She hadn’t touched him. Still, she asks. The old ache colors her voice; she can’t keep it out. She stops trying.
GM: Roderick is squatting on his haunches next to her. He isn’t reaching out to touch her. Maybe because they’re not there anymore, or maybe because touching a lick on the verge of apeshit is an objectively terrible idea, no matter what feelings exist between them. She can hope it’s the latter.
“Yeah,” he answers. "You didn’t go apeshit on me. Your nails might be another story, but nothing you can’t mend. "
“Things are bad though, huh?”
‘Bad’ is an understatement.
‘Bad’ makes her want to laugh.
She’s fourteen all over again and just found out her mom fucked someone else and she isn’t her dad’s kid.
She presses her lips together and nods. She hasn’t even gotten to the part she contacted him about. That’s the worst part. That she hasn’t even told him yet.
And now she’s afraid of losing control again and shattering whatever remains of the goodwill between them. Maybe, just for a minute, they can pretend.
She reaches for him.
GM: He doesn’t kiss her. But he lets her, shifting off his haunches to properly sit down.
Celia: Her body slides easily across the floor, scooching closer until her arms are around his neck and her face is pressed into the hollow between his shoulder and head and she’s, predictably, curled on his lap. It’s a familiar pose. An old pose.
Her eyes squeeze shut as she breathes him in. Wintergreen, tumeric, ginger—who had sold him this shampoo and why had they suggested it? Their kind don’t need to worry about thinning hair. It’s enough to make her exhale sharply through her nose, almost a laugh. The same kind of response she gives when she reads something funny on her Insta feed.
“Sorry,” she says to his neck, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—to…” To what? She hadn’t hurt him. Not tonight. “It’s harder to choke down a second time.” He knows that, of course; his clan is famous for their raging.
A warning, maybe.
Or a proposition.
GM: “Well, you didn’t go apeshit on me,” he repeats, rubbing her back. “Though I guess you could always say sorry to your floor, if you feel like getting more apologies out.”
It’s an intimate position Celia’s in with him, for someone just seeking comfort, but it’s far from the first come-on she’s made to her ex this evening.
“So, you said your mom ran into a lick recently. Who do you think it was, if it wasn’t Savoy?” he asks.
Celia: His haste to get back to the subject at hand tells her all she needs to know: there’s no leftover feelings here. None on his end. And maybe what she’s feeling is nothing. Not real. Just an old, familiar wanting, a desire to be close to someone she once trusted implicitly.
It’s a bitter thought, knowing that she ruined it.
“I know who it was.” The answer is given in a voice that lacks any inflection. Dull. As dead as the rest of her. “It was a fledgling. Some… girl I used to know. Lick now. She wasn’t trying to hurt my mom. I don’t think. It just… went downhill after that, my mom started freaking out, said she kept getting visions of Maxen taking away Lucy, nightmares from way back when.”
“My fault. Then. Now. Christ. I’m so fucking tired of paying for shit that I did when I was still a child. Nineteen. Fucking. Nineteen. Fucked everything up. Still paying. Years later.”
“Her. Isabel. My whole family. All of it. Logan—Logan is fucked, his whole head, he hit his girlfriend, just hit her, said she was nagging, now he wants to go overseas to blow people up. Just. Boom. Kill them all. I want to—to smack him, knock some sense into him or something. And then—then you, I messed up the only… the only good thing, I just—boom—blew it up. Self-destruction. Ruined. Everything. Just… just ruined.”
GM: Roderick’s face is sympathetic enough, for most of it.
But his hand falls when Celia brings up him.
“That wasn’t just you being 19,” he says evenly. “You also lied to me about it. I spent years thinking you’d cheated on me, which really fucking hurt, and dealing with that. Then we got back together when you said you hadn’t been cheating, and I tried to work past that, and all my guilt over cutting you out when I thought you didn’t deserve it. Then it turned out you actually had been cheating after all, and were lying about it, and were even lying about how you were cheating. And then I had to go through all of those emotions all over again, plus new ones, plus interest. And I bet that right now you’re wishing you had kept lying, because maybe if you had, we’d still be together. That wasn’t 19. I don’t feel like I can trust you not to always be lying about something.”
His next words are bitter.
Bitter and hurt.
“Like any other lick.”
Celia: “I don’t.”
She pulls back far enough to look up at him, to meet his eyes.
“I don’t wish that I had kept lying. I hate it, I hate what happened, I hate that I did what I did, that I treated you like that, I hate it. What became of us. This. Yes. Yes, I wish we were still together, I do, I miss you, I want you, I thought I was over it and then there you were and it rekindled everything inside of me, but I don’t wish that I’d kept lying, I don’t want a relationship that’s built on lies.”
GM: Roderick looks at her.
It doesn’t feel like he’s thinking of what to say. It feels like he already knows, and is just waiting to say it.
“I wish I could believe that,” he answers heavily.
“I really, really wish that I could.”
Celia: His words are a knife to the gut. It twists inside of her. She’s glad she doesn’t need to breathe; she doesn’t think she’d be able to swallow down any air past the numbness in her chest.
It’s a bubble waiting to pop, an ache she’ll never be rid of.
She did this.
Grief colors her world. Blue, gray, exactly like the dream she’d had. The tinkle of glass shattering reaches her ears and she knows that it’s her heart.
She did this.
Pressure in the back of her jaw, burning in the corners of her eyes. Might-have-beens flash before her vision, scenes of small houses with tiny fences and moonlit gardens, the two of them hand-in-hand, a white dress and champagne flutes of red, red wine.
She did this.
She broke him.
Her dad, too. Wishes gone awry.
She doesn’t wish for things anymore. But she wished for him. Maybe that’s why she can’t have him. Penance for twenty years ago. A seven-year-old’s blunder.
GM: It’s not too many more years until Lucy celebrates that same fateful birthday.
She should probably just tell her sister not to make any wishes, given how those have turned out for the Flores family.
“Is that the reason I’m here?” Roderick asks. “Because all that other stuff… hunters you escaped, lick who accidentally freaked out your mom, your brother and sister being fucked in the head by your dad… it’s all bad, and I’m sorry for it. I wish your family was whole and that hunters only went after licks who are unrepentant murderers. But is any of it an emergency you needed my help with?”
Celia: “No.” Hollow. “I wasn’t going to tell you any of that. But then I saw you, and it just… came out.”
GM: “Well, like I said, I’m sorry for it. You didn’t deserve to get tortured by hunters, and your mom should get to live her life in peace. It probably isn’t too late for your brothers and sisters, either, once they’re out of your dad’s house.”
Celia: “Not your problem.” Celia shrugs.
GM: “I guess it’s not. But they’re good people. If there’s something I can do for them, feel free to ask.”
Celia: She wishes he would stop. She doesn’t want his thoughts and prayers and half-hearted advice. She’s not his responsibility anymore. Her family isn’t his responsibility anymore. They’d both already made their plays, she’d lost, game over.
“Okay.” That, too, lacks inflection. As dull as the rest of her is vibrant.
GM: There’s an uncomfortable silence.
“So what did you bring me here for, then? You said it was something bad.”
Celia: Is it uncomfortable? She doesn’t notice. Maybe sitting on the floor on her ex’s lap is more uncomfortable than the silence. Maybe her thoughts are spiraling too hard for her to be aware of the silence.
Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore.
“I didn’t contact you for me. I did it for you. If you end up shooting the messenger, you can call Lebeaux to clean up what’s left of me.”
Maybe he’ll put her on the cross, too.
There’s no judgment in her voice, either. Just resignation. Weary and wary. Maybe she even hopes he’ll hit her. Hadn’t Daddy always said that a firm hand is just another form of affection?
GM: He frowns.
“What do you mean, you contacted me for me?”
Celia: “There’s been talk. Since the trial. That you’re… discontent.”
GM: “I’ve always been discontent with Vidal. He’s the lesser evil to Savoy.”
Celia: “Is he? Your personal feelings of the Mafia aside, is he really?”
GM: “Please tell me you aren’t shilling for Savoy here.”
Celia: “Yes, I wasted my one ‘call Roderick for help’ card on a sales pitch. Buy in now for three easy payments of $19.99.”
GM: He glares. “It isn’t one, but it is for actually serious things.”
Celia: “It is,” she says quietly, all mirth gone from her face.
GM: “But okay, so you aren’t subbing for that ghoul of Pietro’s. So what is it?”
Celia: “It’s your sister.”
GM: He freezes.
Celia: “Please don’t hit me.”
She’s already backing away, either for safety or to finally grab the phone she’d left on the counter earlier.
GM: He lets her go.
“I won’t,” he says shortly. “Now what is it about Danielle!?”
Celia: She rises to her feet, moving swiftly to pick up the new phone Alana had purchased for her. A few taps of her fingers as she returns to his side—in striking distance, he might note—unlocks the screen. She pulls up the photo of Danielle.
Wordlessly, she hands him the phone.
GM: He looks at it.
There’s a choked half-bestial howl as he turns and smashes its face against the wall, his fangs visibly distending.
Celia: At least the smashed face hadn’t been hers.
She flinches backwards, hands lifted in front of herself as if to ward him off should he look her way.
GM: He grabs the couch, hefts it up, and hurls it against the wall with a terrific crash.
Sounds of destruction go up as he mindlessly rips and tears cushions apart.
Celia: Celia watches the destruction across her apartment. She doesn’t stand in the way. She doesn’t get involved. She instead makes herself as small as possible, moving out of his path and into the tiny kitchenette.
Maybe there’s a cabinet she can duck into until he’s done.
GM: She opens one to check. Poorly-placed pots and pans come loudly crashing out. Roderick snarls at the noise, and then suddenly the furious Brujah is coming right at her.
Celia: Celia can’t help but wonder where the fuck the pots and pans came from, considering her undead status. Maybe they’d been here when she moved in and she’d forgotten about them. It’s not like she’s in her kitchen very often—it’d be just like her to shove them haphazardly inside and leave them there.
She has seconds before he smashes into her. She recognizes the rage in his eyes and wants no part of it. His “I won’t hit you” promise ends the moment the Beast takes over. Maybe if she’d stayed still…
It doesn’t matter. No time for regrets.
Celia’s body shifts. Hair sprouts from her skin, a cool steel gray that covers her from head to foot. Her muscles and bone compact, ears rising higher on her head into two tufted triangles, spine lengthening as bone shoots through her skin to form a tail. Brown eyes bleed into green. Nails sprout from the tips of her shrinking fingers, thumb retracting higher onto what is now a paw. Black pads have replaced her palms, and whiskers sprout from her face. Her nose sinks into her skin, lips disappearing as finely pointed teeth replace her own.
The transformation is instant.
A moment ago she was a girl. Now she’s a cat, darting into the open cupboard and pressing herself behind the pile of pots and pans, more nimble and dexterous in this form than she is in her own. She cuts through the “terrain” and into the next cupboard, glad for the lack of dividers.
The pink dress is left behind, formless with her sudden disappearance. It falls slowly to the ground. Another distraction for the raging Brujah.
GM: Metal bangs and crashes against tile floor. Fists slam against stove and counter. Sounds of destruction echo through the apartment as the cat-transformed Toreador hides.
It’s as she’s doing so that she observes some unfamiliar-looking papers in Roderick’s handwriting, lying on the kitchen floor. They must have fallen out during his rampage.
Celia: She waits until the sound of his warpath has taken him from the kitchen. Until he’s on the other side of the apartment. Then her paw flashes out, quick as that, and slides the papers toward her. She uses her teeth to pick them up and pull them into the cupboard with her, tucking the papers and herself away behind the junk inside the cabinet while his wild destruction continues.
Her eyes scan the page.
GM: It looks like a transcript written in shorthand. Individual lines all have a M, D, O, C, P, S, or H written in front of them:
M: Vienna catastrophe. Reports pouring in. Cities being systematically cleared. Hunters hunted.
S: Pyramid stands tall.
D: Matter of time before hits city.
C: Happening again. Sit on this.
P: Have warning. Can sit on it.
O: Will come out.
M: Conclave @ Prague to address.
H: Should send rep.
O: M logical but can’t spare.
Suggestions. P, H can go. D maybe.
P can’t go.
M: Can’t spare.
_H: Gather names list. Submit @ next meeting?
Mo. suggestions. H compromise candidate. V wants Sanct._
_S: Gather names. Submit @ next meeting.
Vote_S: 3:3. M casts tie. Will submit @ next meeting.
C: Throw childer to Inq. pyres.
S: Worked last time.
D: Caused Anarch Revolt.
D: Won’t work.
P: Must have plan. Will hit city.
O: Baron + Savoy necessary on Cabildo.
M: Can’t happen.
O: Hobbles primogen.
yea: O, P, S
nay: D, C, H
3:3. M casts tie. Motion denied.
O: Would be denied anyway, nonbinding.
S: Will regret this when hits, can’t coordinate effectively. Savoy + Baron will pursue independent plans.
O: Know already if we do. Might be already.
M: Move on.
H: Prince Vitel? Host Black again?
D: Can’t hurt.
M: Are in touch.
M: Is informed.
D: Want here for this.
S: Vote request presence @ future meetings.
yea: D, O, P, S, C
M: Will pass on.
O: Haven’t seen any.
P: House divided.
D: Will ask.
S: More thin-bloods good/bad, draw attn?
D: Don’t underestimate.
C: Don’t overestimate.
O: Don’t like.
P: Some merit.
H: Wait and see?
M: Prague year+ away.
M: More thin-bloods not happening.
M: Mid-City/Quarter still problem areas.
D: Anarchs angry.
C: Exterminate all. Infestation.
C: Prophecies very clear. Doom of us all.
H: Testament doesn’t mention.
S: Exterminate, only question sheriff or SI.
O: Always be more.
P: Keep numbers more manageable.
D: Are Masquerade risk as-is, ferment discontent.
S: Anarchs always turn on own.
H: Vidal plan?
M: More sweeps coming in Mid-City.
M: Advise to make selves scarce again or lose face w/ Anarchs.
D: Can only play card so many times.
O: Did when counted.
D: How big purge?
M: Big. Wants example made.
O: Always wants example now.
The sheet ends there.
Celia: Oh my god.
This is nothing like what she’d expected. Nothing like the note she had kept inside of herself before she could read it to Isabel. This is… this is huge.
She’d thought, maybe, it was some sort of love letter to her, but this…
Her thoughts swirl too quickly for her to try to pin down. She has to get to Savoy. She has to get to Savoy right now and she’s got a raging, hulking, maniac Brujah tearing apart her apartment.
She hunkers down. Her body stretches flat against the back of the cabinet where she hides. Her paw nudges the paper beneath the bottom of a frying pan. There’s no reason for him to look there, even if he notices it’s missing. Once he calms she can shove it inside herself, maybe, like she’d done before.
Now, though, she waits. Waits until his rage ends, until it’s safe to come out.
GM: “Celia?” his voice calls.
“I’m… in control again…”
Celia: Feline ears swivel toward the sound, trying to place it.
GM: From outside the kitchen.
Celia: Cautiously, slowly, the cat that was once a girl slinks from her hiding spot.
GM: Roderick’s leaning against the tipped-over couch. Red leaks from his eyes.
He looks up at the cat.
Celia: Awkward. She’d meant to shift back before he’d seen her.
Ah, well. Maybe he’ll be nicer if he can pet her. Maybe she can lick those tears away. Maybe the sight of her as a cat will distract him from… everything else. She pads toward him, tail flicking behind her, and stops just before she reaches him. She stares up at him with large green eyes. Green, like her name now. Like Veronica’s. Smoldering.
She takes stock of the damaged apartment. Small worry, but things will need replaced.
GM: It’s a wreck. He’s destroyed basically everything in the living room/kitchen area.
Roderick looks at the cat.
For a moment, it looks like he isn’t thinking of anything else.
“Why are you a cat.”
Celia: Is that a question? She can’t tell. It sounds more like an accusation than anything.
So much for belly rubs.
Her form shifts again. Hair recedes into her body. Her bones pop, growing back to their normal size, her muscles stretching with them. Nerves, blood, organs; it’s all there, rearranging inside of her as her frame shifts. Her ears slide back down her head, rounding out again, and her tail disappears back into her spine. Her fangs turn into teeth, except for those fangs, and her claws… her claws are still claws, even when she’s human, standing in front of him in her Jade skin with the rosy pink bra and panties that she’d sworn to herself he wouldn’t get to see. White lace dances across the top, some swirling pattern stitched across the sides.
She makes no move to cover herself, makes no sign that she’s embarrassed of her (lack of) clothing.
“Because,” she says simply, “you came after me, so I hid.”
Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear. Her gaze moves to the closet. Did he ruin that, too?
She could say something about it. Be as petty to him as she is to everyone else. Make a snide comment about him not having the capacity now to do more than be destroy.
She doesn’t touch him, either. She wants to. Wants to pull him into her embrace, wipe the tears from his cheeks. Even after he’d come after her. Even now, with that look on his face.
GM: He might blink right now, if he were alive. But he isn’t and doesn’t.
The closet door looks like it got punched a few times, if the cracks in it are any indication, but it’s still closed.
Celia: That is the most half-assed apology that she has ever heard in her unlife.
GM: “I’ll… pay for this.”
He numbly looks towards the shattered phone.
Celia: “Okay.” She won’t fight him on that. She reaches out, as if to touch him, but thinks better of it. Her hand falls back to her side instead.
“I’m going to get dressed. Why don’t you… find a place to sit, and we’ll talk.”
GM: He looks around for a moment. Gets up. Moves back the battered couch with its torn-apart cushions.
When Celia gets get back from changing, he’s sitting on one of them, leaning forward, his face buried in his hands.
Celia: It only takes her a moment. She abandons the idea of putting the dress back on—she thinks he’d shredded it when he couldn’t find her—and selects a pair of leggings, a loose tee, neckline so large it slips off one shoulder Comfortable, casual, nothing even remotely form-hugging, nothing that could ever be considered sexy.
Unless that’s his shirt. Did he leave that here?
No, no, that’s the name of a band. He does listen to Love & Liars.
She seats herself next to him, legs drawn up beneath her body, turning to face him.
GM: “They got her,” he says hollowly.
Celia: “They did. I’m so sorry, Roderick.” She keeps her words quiet. Concern for him—for his family—colors her voice.
“It… it looked as if she’s been this way for a while. I don’t know how long. I contacted you as soon as I found out. But she hasn’t broken the Masquerade, she knows how to feed… someone taught her that much, at least.”
GM: He looks up.
“Where’d you get this? Where is she now?”
Celia: “That was at a club. In the Quarter. Beach on Bourbon.”
GM: He takes that in.
“How’d you even get a picture. We… make them turn out wrong.”
She gets to explain that his sister is a thin-blood.
“We do. Except when we want them to turn out right. Could be that she knew the picture was being taken.” She’d thought that, initially. She hadn’t wanted to think that Danielle was a thin-blood. Having just been released from hunter captivity, her mind had jumped to all sorts of nefarious ‘bait’ plots.
“I don’t think that’s the case, though. No one wants to be caught feeding. I think… I think she might be a thin-blood.” She says it as delicately as she can. Still, there’s no good way to break that news.
GM: Horror blanches his face.
Well, not blanches. It’s not as if he gets paler.
Celia: Hopefully there’s no more red, though.
Maybe that rage stays inside this time.
GM: “Danielle’s a fucking… abortion?!”
Celia: Oh. Uh. Well. That’s… certainly one way to put it.
Celia flinches at the word.
“It’s also possible she knew she was on camera.”
GM: His face falls into his hands again.
“Oh. Oh my god. Oh, oh my god.”
Celia: “Can I…?” he can’t see her gesture, face in his hands as it is. She reaches out anyway, touching a hand to his shoulder, offering whatever comfort that might bring. If he doesn’t lash out at her she brings him in for a hug.
GM: He doesn’t lash out. Or shove her off. He doesn’t shake, either, like a living man might.
But the coppery aroma wafting up from between his hands is unmistakable. Celia can feel her fangs elongating in her mouth.
Celia: She can’t help it.
She’s not hungry, but she wants it anyway.
She’s quiet for a moment, as if to obscure the fact that she’s popping a boner, to keep it tucked neatly inside her mouth. She’d had a client pop a chub on the table; he’d made it more awkward by trying to conceal it, and when his face had turned red she’d told him, smiling, that it happens all the time.
Her body’s natural, undead response.
She rubs a hand long his back, slow strokes meant to soothe.
She doesn’t tell him it will be okay.
It might not be and she doesn’t want to lie. Not to him. Not anymore.
She doesn’t know what to say, really. Honesty comes rare these days, and she doesn’t want to make promises that she doesn’t know she can keep. She doesn’t want to remind him of the faction war. Doesn’t want to linger on anything unpleasant.
“She’s safe, Roderick,” she says finally, quietly. As safe as can be, anyway.
“I won’t let anything happen to her.”
GM: He slowly looks up, red messily splotched over his eyes.
“How… how do you know? Where is she now?”
Then, more quietly, “Who did this to her?”
There’s an undercurrent of menace to the question she hasn’t heard from her former boyfriend before.
Celia: “She’s being watched. To make sure she doesn’t draw attention. But I haven’t… I haven’t approached her yet, so I don’t know, I don’t know who did this.”
“I wanted to tell you before I tried to talk to her.”
GM: “I can’t believe it,” he says numbly. “They turned my baby sister into a fucking abortion.”
Celia: Celia makes sympathetic, soothing sounds as she rubs her hand along his back. “I’m sorry,” she says again, “I’m so sorry this happened to her.”
GM: “I can’t believe it,” he repeats. “You know what, I’m not even going to pretend. Fuck equality. Fuck them being ‘Duskborn.’ Fuck everything the Anarchs say. They make me sick, to my stomach, and I can’t think of a… of a worse thing to happen to her. To anyone.”
Celia: She’s quiet. She pulls him close to her, letting him feel the movement of her head nodding in agreement. She lets him get it out.
“It is. It’s awful. It’s…” she trails off. “I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”
GM: “Do you think we go to Hell when we die? Do you think they do?” he asks.
Celia: “The Sanctified think that we’re all Damned. That our whole purpose here is to serve God by scaring mortals onto the straight and narrow. Taking care of the flock, so to speak. It’s implied that we do, but…” Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. “I’ll admit, I think most organized religion is kind of… I mean, cultures create religions because of things they’re afraid of. It tells us how to act, how to be. And their underworlds, their sins, their purgatory—it’s all based on their traditions.”
“We’ve adopted Catholicism pretty heavily in this city because of Vidal, but it’s true all around the world. Look at the kine. Ancient civilizations. Hell has evolved over time, like everything else, and so has what it takes to get there. You take places like Mesopotamia, Sumer, Akkad, three thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they’ve got stories of their underworld too. In Mesopotamia it was the City of the Dead. Or… well, City of Dust. A lot like the regular world, but very dreary. Darker. Like if you take a movie and watch it at a really low resolution. That’s what their version was. And in order to get there you had no control over it, none at all. There were only a handful of reasons you’d go to that underworld, and they were things like dying a violent, unavenged death, not being buried with proper rituals, not having your grave tended to properly. You literally have no control over that. So anthropologists think that it’s because of things they wanted to avoid at the time, like war. War is bad, ruins the people, they start saying that if graves aren’t tended to or deaths are violent there will be ghosts, they make their people not want to go to war.”
“There’s no individual, moral connection to where you end up.”
“Then you get into Ancient Egypt, and they rely heavily on the Nile in their civilization. It brings them life. Every year it would flood and if it floods too early or too late or not at all then it doesn’t water what it needs to and doesn’t deliver the nutrients to the soil, so their people starve. They’re obsessed with order. Look at how they mummified people: to stop the chaos of decay. Their afterlife had a whole song and dance you needed to do in order to get to it, all these gates and monsters, and then you meet the gods at the end and they weigh your heart and if you’re not perfectly balanced then they eat you. So Egypt was about some moral choices, but if you didn’t have the right ‘spells’ to fight the monsters and the right answers to the gods’ questions then you’re boned.”
“The Aenied has a whole excerpt about what happens in the underworld, and within its pages you get full-on torture scenes: do bad things and bad things happen to you. We start to get more into the personal narrative.”
“The afterlife… it’s a tool for control, really. We take what’s important. We make it sound important. Don’t do these things or you’ll go to the bad place.”
“But… that’s kine, I guess. I had a dream…” Celia trails off for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I had a dream I was visited by a ghost recently. I don’t remember all of it, but he said that he’s in this place that’s kind of between worlds. An echo of worlds. Dark. Dreary. Like the underworld I mentioned a bit ago. Said that death row is a better bargain.”
“But he was human, and he became a ghost, so… maybe we don’t go to Hell. Maybe there is no Hell. Maybe there’s just nothing. We cease to exist. Maybe Hell is the absence of God. Maybe the Buddhists have it right and we just go into nothingness.”
“That’s all the afterlife is. That’s all any religion is. Searching for meaning. You have these communities of Kindred who are searching for a purpose—because that’s all we are, ever, searching for a purpose, for a reason to exist, for the answers about why the world is the way it is, why bad things happen, why people die… And maybe, all that time ago, it started innocuously enough, but even as early as Egypt you see people making money off of it. People would sell the ‘Book of the Dead’ scrolls that had the spells and answers you needed for the gates, you could even personalize them for more money, and they made these little statues that served you in the afterlife. Their whole culture was about maintaining things exactly as they were, someone said of course it means there’s work in the afterlife, but if you buy this statue it will serve you instead.”
“So now someone comes along and unites everyone in a religion, says that these are the rules now… it started with the kine, but we do it too. The canons are really, really similar to the Traditions. Rules to follow. But no one was there, so no one can really say for sure. It’s all just passed on orally. Even if a lick is old enough to claim to have been there, how much do they really remember? How much of it is something they make up because it suits their purpose?” They’d talked about this before, with the Ventrue and the Brujah and Carthage. Everyone tells their ideal story.
“As people, we create these stories of the afterlife because we’re afraid of something. As Kindred, we just… modify them. I mean, the Sanctified story about Longinus is… is kind of a direct rip-off of Zoroaster did thousands of years ago—”
She pauses. Maybe this isn’t what he’s looking for. She runs her fingers through her mess of curls, smiling sheepishly.
“Did that, uh, answer your question?”
GM: Roderick gives a mostly blank look as Celia talks.
“Look, the theology, sociohistoric context, fascinating. Any other time. "
“Mostly I was just thinking about how likely Danielle is to get ashed and wondering what’ll happen to her.”
Celia: Right. Maybe she should have saved the history lesson. He’s the only person she ever opens up to about this kind of thing and now she knows why: no one ever really wants to hear it if it’s only tangentially related.
“I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”
GM: There’s a bitter laugh.
“What, you want to offer Meadows a manicure for her claws when she comes calling?”
Celia: I mean, would that work? Maybe she’ll try it if she ever runs into the scourge. ‘Hey babe, red would look good on you.’
“I’m not as useless as people seem to think I am, Roderick.”
Like you seem to think I am goes unsaid.
But it’s there. The judgment she feels coming off of him for her chosen profession. A long-ago fear, finally manifested.
GM: Roderick gives another bitter laugh.
“You weren’t there for it. 2011. I’ll never forget.”
Well, it’s true Celia wasn’t there personally.
But she knew someone who was.