“Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
Cypress Grove Cemetery motto
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 ribcage, 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 to me about something.”
His next words are bitter.
But just as much, they’re simply 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: He just 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.
Sunday night, 4 December 2011, AM
GM: “Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
So reads the motto crowning the entrance to Cypress Grove Cemetery. The cemetery, laid out with a 28-foot-wide central avenue flanked by narrower aisles, has a monumental entrance gate in the Egyptian Revival style, suggesting a triumphal passage from one world to the next. Although Mid-City’s cemeteries are not as well-known as some of the city’s other ones, most tourists are still impressed. Rows and rows of above-ground mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. Graves here could actually be sunk six feet without reaching water, Ayae heard somewhere, but the preference for above-ground tombs persisted. Old habits die hard.
Tombs are arranged in a grid formation with a broad, paved walkway, called Live Oak Avenue, forming a long, central, north-south axis from Canal Street to Banks Street. The walkway is flanked by narrower parallel and intersecting paths named after locally favored plants and trees, including myrtle and rose. Two live oaks stand on the eastern perimeter of the cemetery, their moss hanging low and grazing the tops of the graves below. Elaborate marble, granite, and cast-iron tombs populate the cemetery and serve as examples of memorial architecture. The cemetery’s irregularly shaped lot cuts diagonally across a city block, and is separated from St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1 to its east by a wall of “fours,” or stacked burial spaces.
At the dead of night, it stands silent and abandoned. Everyone from the city, and any tourist who’s done their research, knows the cemeteries are not safe places to linger after dark.
Perhaps they think it’s because of gangs and criminals.
Oftentimes it even is.
But sometimes the gangs and criminals know to stay away, too.
Some of them know there are things in the city, that emerge after dark, with which you do not fuck.
There’s at least a dozen of them, silently stealing into the cemetery. Some bound over the walls in mighty leaps. Some climb up with a swiftness and sureness no mortal hand could match. Some descend on literal dark wings. Some stride through the front entrance as if they own the place, invisible to mortal sight. Pale-faced and cool-eyed predators, most of them young among their own kind, but all of them secure in their place as apex hunters among a world of prey.
Ayame: Criminals, vagabonds, ruffians… that’s what the kine call ‘em, but Ayame knows them for what they are: Anarchs. A whole lot of them, too. Gathered together in the cemetery precisely because the rumors say it isn’t safe. Less chance of an unsuspecting breather walking in on them like this.
That thing that goes bump in the night over in Cypress Grove? High chance it’s a lick. Maybe a few of them. Playing games, tearing each other’s throats out, pumping other people full of lead. Those’re the kind of games the Anarchs play. Nothing pretty.
Nothing sweet, not like the face she’s got: heart-shaped, pale skin, big eyes. Hazel. Somewhere between green and blue and gray. Mostly they’re gray. Stormy, like the fog at sea. It’s an enchanting face… or would be, if it ever moved. White marble, hardly any inflection. A mouth that’s made for long, solemn glances. Ayame doesn’t smile. Not with her mouth, not with her eyes. She makes other people smile though. Red smiles, right across their throat.
She doesn’t walk so much as slink, long strides in leather leggings made longer yet by the thigh-high boots. Rail-thin, all hard edges and angles, the kind of predator you don’t want to run into in a dark alley. Or maybe you do, until her lips part and you see those long, sharp, glinting fangs.
Maybe she chose the clothes because they’re black on black on black. They blend so nicely with the night, don’t they, some sort of urban camouflage that lets her slip in and out of the silver moonlight that breaks through the clouds. The sweater’s hood is pulled up over her hair, its form loose on her slight frame. Black gloves—biker gloves—complete the look.
Near-silent footfalls see her through the rows of gravestones, the mausoleums, the little blocks of marble on the ground with their names and dates and whatever bullshit saying someone carved onto it because people think that it means something.
She’s killed enough people to know it doesn’t. They all die screaming.
Ayame is nothing more than a shadow that steals through the darkness as she takes the place she has carved out amongst her kind.
GM: It is not overlong before their gathered faces become plain to her:
Many of the shadowy figures dressed in leathers and studs, wifebeaters, and gang trappings. Some might say these licks play at being gangsters, but it might be more apt to say that gangsters play at being licks. Who’s better at sucking the lifeblood from a community?
Other attendees, though, are incongruently well-dressed for their present surroundings: Prada, Armani, other high-end fashion brands. Looks might not be able to kill, by themselves, but they can advertise. It’s the rare lick with money not stained by someone’s blood.
A few of the present vampires look downright pedestrian. Ordinary jeans and sweatshirts. Ordinary Johns and Janes, just out past their bedtimes. It’s getting to be an increasingly popular look as the 21st century rolls into its second decade. The wolf doesn’t want the sheep to know it’s there.
Veronica Alsten-Pirrie shows up with Pietro Silvestri, sneering and looking gorgeous doing it. The now krewe-less pair used to run in a coterie with some other Anarchs, Ayame’s heard, who didn’t survive Katrina. Now it’s just them. Immortality gets lonelier with every decade.
Two still beats one, though. Micheal Kelly’s krewe was also decimated down to just two licks, but his former krewemate Shep went off to found his own coterie. Had to have been some kind of dispute, though, because Coco’s older childe now stands alone.
Ed Zuric and Jack McCandles make up another duo. Two-fifths of the Armstrong Five who liked the Anarchs enough to join up.
The Kindred Liberation Front seems enormous next to those duos and solitary licks. The city’s oldest surviving Anarch krewe includes half a dozen Kindred: Jonah Freeman, Maxzille Babineaux, Dr. Petrowski, Laura Ravenwood, Eris D., Simon Jones. They lost people, too. Everyone did. Some clearly lost fewer.
Risen from Katrina’s ashes are the Night Axles. Isa Suarez, Marcio de la Cuz, and Bliss Jackson all follow the hulking Shep Jennings’ lead, though Ayame hears Bliss has been making noise about wanting to start her own krewe. The Brujah are not too good at being followers, sometimes.
The newest de facto krewe hasn’t even decided on a name yet. Roderick Durant, Christopher Guilbeau, Hezekiah Santana. Ironic to see the three golden sons, the first licks Embraced in the city post-Katrina, all go Anarch. Says a lot, if you ask the Anarchs. But so does Veronica’s childe Jade not doing the same.
The Twenty-Twenties are another new one. Gerald Abellard, Arzilla Boudon, Andy Philips. Two sewer rats and a Gangrel ugly enough to pass for one. Misery must love company there.
The Lost Angels, the last krewe, have gotten thoroughly lost after Katrina. They can’t show their faces in Mid-City after what went down during the storm, though Ayame hasn’t heard exactly what. Oh well. There’s few enough angels here anyway.
All told, the gathering comes out to around two dozen licks. Two dozen blood-drinkers standing around in a cemetery. Even if it feels like there’s still a lot of empty places, God help the tourist hapless enough to wander into this midnight lions’ den.
Ayame: Ayame stands apart, close to the krewe of “golden sons” but not so close that a casual observer would think she were one of their numbers. All three of them young yet, like her, but already shining above the trash and rats. She spares a nod toward Christopher. Ayame has carved herself a place here among these Anarchs, but she has made no overtures to claim membership within one of the assembled krewes. Apart, but not alone; though no one watches her back these nights neither have any painted a target upon it, and these are the people among whom she has made her home. Her cool gaze descends upon the others assembled, unflinching in the wake of their appraisal while her own mind does the mental calculations. A group of predators who jostle and claw their way to the top, and she as a dark ghost among them.
How quickly they would descend upon an intruder, though; she has seen it happen, a handful of licks around an unsuspecting mortal who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, torn to pieces before he could even wonder at the error.
She waits, as they do, a stone statue amidst the graves. Dead men meeting in the cemetery—now there’s a funny thought.
GM: But dead men are missing something without living people to visit them.
Ayame thought bringing lots of renfields to the rants was a no-no. But they slowly trickle in, as she stands so still. Men and women who don’t smell dead, who don’t sound dead, with hearts still audibly beating in their chests. They don’t invade the cemetery like the others do, scaling or leaping over the walls like they’re no more than bothersome speed bumps, or not even that. These less-dead people simply walk in through the front gates, fully visible to Ayame’s ears and eyes.
They don’t walk the same, either. They don’t stride in like they own the place, jungle cats among a jungle of prey. Their strides are slower and less certain. Many of them are dressed worse, too, in threadbare thrift store clothes. A few look like they’ve dressed up in their Sunday bests—not dressing to kill, like the sleek urban predators in their luxury brands, but dressing to look nice. But far more of them sport the ‘dressed like an ordinary breather’ look. Plain jeans, sweatshirts, jackets. Unremarkable and unthreatening.
Some of the Anarchs give low hisses at the first ones to arrive. Eye them like mountain lions around housecats. Sure, same diet. Same fur, same tails. But not the same league.
First there’s just a few. Alone among the mass of bigger, badder predators, and all-too vulnerable-feeling.
But then there’s a few more, and there’s half as many eyes on the initial ones.
And then a few more.
And then a few more.
And then a few more.
And eventually, there’s maybe as many ‘people’ with beating hearts as there are ones with still hearts.
Some of the predators are starting to look nervous.
Sure. You might be a match for one of them.
Two of them.
But this many?
Some whispers are audible around Ayame.
“I didn’t think there were this many.”
“Where’d they come from?”
“Who the fuck is actually siring all these abortions?”
There’s some glares among the new arrivals and hisses of, “Duskborn.”
Children of the dusk. Of neither the day nor the night. Caught between two worlds. Crushed under both.
Or perhaps until now.
Try to crush this many, and you just might get crushed too.
Ayame: Ayame isn’t one of those who overtly hisses or bares hateful fangs at the half-breed mongrels. The others echo her own sentiments well enough. Bad enough that Caitiff are running around, but these? They deserve whatever knife they get. Her weight shifts from foot to foot until she is closer to those neonates she’d eyed—the golden ones—than further apart. For all their differences they, at least, are legitimate childer.
Not this mess of nobodies.
GM: “You too good to stand next to us, fat-blood?” one of them growls at Ayame. She’s a dark-skinned woman with only a single visible fang when she opens her mouth. Her other canine is just as flat as the rest of her teeth.
There’s three others of her kind standing right next to her. All looking at Ayame too.
Ayame: “Making room,” Ayame shoots back at her.
GM: “Thoughtful,” answers the guy next to her. He’s a thin and gangly-looking man with two fangs, but they’re small and dull-looking things. Ayame has to wonder how easily they can draw blood. “You can try to shut us out. But there’ll always be more of us.”
Ayame: Maybe they all carry knives. She would, if she were made of the same garbage that these people—not licks, not Kindred, just people, and that’s pretty fucking generous—were.
She makes a gesture towards the space between her and the next krewe. The shining suns—sorry, golden sons—is a welcome presence at her back. Maybe they’ll prove that they were worth it if it comes to that.
They, at least, aren’t walking accidents.
GM: “It looks like there will,” answers one of the ‘golds.’ Roderick Durant. Coco’s childe. He’s one of the Kindred who’s dressed up in a professional-looking suit under his coat.
“But that’s why we’re all here tonight. We can either keep butting heads—nonproductively when there will, as you say, always be more of you—or find some way to coexist.”
Ayame: She’d heard that he was Ventrue, like the lick next to him. Must be the suit.
Ayame doesn’t smile. Her mouth isn’t made for it; she’s got the sort of lips that are made for pouting, and maybe kissing when she still drew breath. Now, though, she dips her chin as if she agrees with his words, her eyes still on the would-bes. Appraising.
“As he says, I am sure we will find common ground.”
They’re almost licks, anyway.
GM: “We’ll see,” answers the woman.
There’s a sharp whistle from another space in the roughly ring-shaped gathering that’s formed.
“All right, y’all, thanks fah comin’ ’ere tonight,” calls out Maxzille. She’s a caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with long blonde hair. She’s dressed in a camo-patterned jacket, blue jeans, a brown cowboy hat, and matching boots. A necklace with a silver peace sign and an ankh dangles from her neck.
“Big mama an’ big sistah ain’ here tonight, so looks like us kids are hostin’ all y’all first-timers.”
“And why aren’t they here?” calls one of the thin-bloods.
“They too good to share a cemetery with us?” asks another.
Rumblings go up from the crowd.
“Dey ain’ here ‘cuz dere’s a conclave up noahth in Atlanta,” answers Max. “One das’ aimed at addressin’ y’all Duskborn’s issues, ‘mong other things. Dey thought it was important for da Big Easy ta have a voice when a justicar’s makin’ noise ‘bout y’all, an’ Ah agree with ’em.”
“We do things heah in Mid-City by majority vote, fer those of y’all who ain’ familiar. One lick, one vote. Ah like havin’ two moah voices ta listen to much as da rest o’ y’all do, but missin’ two voices ain’ gonna slow us down too much.”
She looks around at the thin-bloods.
“And by mah count, we got a lot more dan two new voices ‘ere ta make up fer da missin’ ones.”
There’s some murmurings from the crowd.
“Order o’ business a lot o’ us want ta bring up tonaht’s pretty simple, Ah think. How we all gonna get along.”
“For dose of y’all who ain’ heard yet, dere’s word ferm on high, at da Venice conclave this year. Buncha princes, justicars, an’ assorted Camarilla bigwigs all say, time fer nightborn licks ta stop comin’ down so hard on da duskborn ones.”
“Is that what they said?” calls a thin-blood from the crowd. “I heard they told the princes ‘good job’ and gave them a slap on the back for ten years of genocide.”
“That wasn’t genocide-” scoffs another voice.
“The deliberate and systematic extermination of an entire group of people,” cuts in the thin-blood next to Ayame. “The institution of a political office in Camarilla cities solely responsible for carrying out duskborn killings. That sounds plenty like genocide to me.”
“It was genocide,” Roderick answers. Heads turn towards him. “Some licks here might deny it, but I won’t, and that’s why I’m here. Because the Camarilla’s period of sanctioned genocide is over and I want to help figure out what the future between nightborn and duskborn Kindred is going to look like.”
“And you’re right,” he says as someone else starts to interject, “the Camarilla didn’t say the genocide was over, or call it genocide, or apologize for it. They said the threat posed by duskborn Kindred was contained and called on princes to ‘direct their energies to the 21st century’s other challenges.’”
“It’s the same tactic as when they said ‘mission accomplished’ over the Red Question,” speaks up Jonah Freeman. He’s a thick-bearded black man in jeans and a leather jacket. A necklace with a tiny quartz heart pierced by a fingerbone dangles over his chest. “They realized the quote-unquote ‘problem’ was too big for them to deal with. That they couldn’t destroy every single text asking ‘why do you obey?’ that every single Anarch had. So rather than acknowledge they’d lost, they just said they won. That they were taking their toys and going home. When they say ‘this threat’s contained,’ they’re saying ’it’s too big for us to contain.’”
“Remember that?” guffaws Andy Philips. “Vidal said we’d be in soooo much trouble if we had any of the Red Question’s stuff! Well who here does?”
Ayame: “The difference,” Ayame cuts in with barely a look towards the rat-faced Philips, “is that the duskborn did not ask to be created this way, just as you did not ask to be black, you did not ask to be white, and I did not ask to be Asian. So if the genocide is over then let it be over. We can hem and haw all we want over definitions and unrelated instances of ‘justice,’ or we can learn from it, better ourselves, and find a way to coexist. Which I believe,” she glances at Max, “is the purpose of this evening.”
GM: “Is he black? I can’t tell past all the hair,” shoots Bliss Jackson.
There’s some snickers.
Ayame: No wonder they never get anything done.
GM: “Is she not a slut? I can’t tell past all the cleavage,” leers Gerald Abellard.
There’s some more laughs. Hardest from Andy.
“I’ll beat your fuckin’ ass, sewer rat!” Bliss shouts back, taking a step forward.
Ayame: Ayame hopes she does. The rats are hardly a step up from the abortions in their midst.
“Easy,” she says instead. They don’t need infighting with all these unknowns.
GM: Shep and her krewemates clamp hands over her shoulders.
Andy Philips flips his middle fingers.
Abellard mimes a handjob with his mouth open.
“Cut dat shit, y’all!” Max interjects with a pointed glare between the three. “Dis how we gonna conduct ahselves when da big mama an’ big sistah ah away? Sure proves dem eldahs righ’, don’ it, dat da Anarchs are just a buncha unruly kids good fah nothin’ but fightin’ an’ fuckin’? Too immature ta make deir own decisions, better leave dat ta da older an’ wiser heads?”
Bliss just glares.
“This sure fills me with a whole lot of faith,” comes one thin-blood’s voice.
“We’re all less than perfect,” answers Jonah Freeman. “Just like the Camarilla is a hell of a lot less than perfect. That’s the world. We’ve got a common oppressor and we can learn to coexist, like Ayame says, or else… what? What’s the alternative?”
Ayame: “Tear each other apart,” Ayame finishes for him, “like the others think we eventually will. Prove them right that we need a firm hand.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I do not know about the lot of you, but I am not interested in my Requiem being scripted for me by the ‘powers that be.’”
GM: “I think it’s problematic to phrase things like that,” interjects Laura Ravenwood, a gothic-looking and wavy-haired young woman in black and red silk. “We share a common oppressor, but the duskborn have it so much worse than we do. The Camarilla tried t-”
“-we can speak for ourselves, thanks,” interrupts the one-fanged thin-blood next to Ayame. “And we’ll thank any nightborn here not to speak for us about how bad we have it.”
“I’m not trying to speak for you. I’m Caitiff, I understand what it’s like to be-” replies Laura.
“-you don’t understand,” interrupts another thin-blood, an overweight black man in a navy sweatshirt.
“This isn’t productive,” speaks up Dr. Petrowski, a bookish-looking older man in glasses and a tweed jacket. “Can we simply acknowledge that-”
“Did you obtain tenure?” asks the thin-blood by Ayame.
Petrowski’s brow furrows. “What in the world does-”
“You were a professor at Tulane. Did you or did you not obtain tenure?”
“Yes, I obtained tenure. How di-”
“Because I remember your face from Tulane, though I’m sure you don’t remember mine. I was also a professor there. But I was an adjunct. I worked my ass off for years to be treated like barely more than a slave. I told a nightborn she shouldn’t speak for duskborn, because she hasn’t experienced our some level of oppression, and you’re telling everyone it’s nonproductive for me to correct her. It presumes a position of superiority to judge what is and is not productive, and makes talk of equality between us seem like a lie.”
Petrowski’s brow remains furrowed. “Miss, what in the world does my tenure have to do to with those points of contention?”
“Because you’re talking down to me from twice the position of privilege, and that pisses me off!” the thin-blood yells angrily.
There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the others.
Ayame: Annoyance shoots through her.
“We all have unique experiences and trials. There is no reason to turn this into a pissing contest about who has it worse and how the other side either does or does not understand. Trying to make other people see eye-to-eye with you is a futile waste of time, and while we say it is unlimited for us now, I can think of plenty of other things I would rather do than sit around and compare dick lengths.”
“We do not have to be friends. We do not have to even like each other. We only have to exist in the same space without resorting to squabbling.”
GM: “And what about when nightborn presume to tell us what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about?” asks another thin-blood, a black man with dreadlocks in a cotton zip jacket. “We ask to be treated as equals, nothing more or less. Is that a pipe dream?”
Veronica rolls her eyes as Pietro smirks.
Ayame: “I literally just agreed with you. Are you looking for an argument?”
GM: “You said we should stop comparing dick lengths about who has it worse,” answers the man. “Okay. I agree with that. Do you agree it was wrong for glasses guy over there to judge what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about, because it presumes nightborn are better than duskborn?”
Ayame: “I think this whole conversation is unproductive,” Ayame says flatly, “and we are all just looking to claw our way to the top and somehow be above someone else for whatever reasons we think we should be. We can all find a reason to hate each other and think we know best. But are all here for the same purpose, are we not? Survival, certainly, but beyond that we seek to thrive. So let us thrive.”
GM: “We are better than you,” says Christopher Guilbeau. “I’ll say the quiet part out loud.”
Shouts of outrage erupt from the thin-bloods.
Ayame: God damnit.
GM: The Ventrue’s voice booms over the yelling throngs like he’s speaking into a megaphone.
“We’re. Better. Than. You. Let that sink in. But guess what? Just because we’re better doesn’t mean you don’t have a place here. I think you’d all make great Anarchs. We’ll give you a better deal than the Camarilla ever will. I won’t lie to you about what that means, though. Anyone who says you’re equals is just telling you what you want to hear.”
Roderick slaps his palm over his forehead.
The shouts of outrage continue unabated. Some of them are coming from true-blooded Kindred.
“That is such a Ventrue thing to say!”
“Take him down!”
“Fuck you! He’s right! We are better!”
“Go back to China, you stupid chink!” someone yells at Ayame.
Ayame: “I’m from fucking Texas, you shit-for-brains.” She doesn’t even know who she’s talking to at this point. The voices of outrage are too many to keep up with. Her gaze cuts towards Max and Jonah, then Veronica and Pietro, as if one of them is going to step in and fucking do something in lieu of Opal and Coco.
It’s not even worth it to point out that she’s Korean, besides.
GM: “No you’re not! You’re fucking Chinese, rice-for-brains!” shouts back Bliss Jackson.
“Ching chong chinagirl, go do math!” yells a white male thin-blood.
It looks like they’ve found something to agree on.
Ayame: Bully for them.
GM: Veronica and Pietro sneer and laugh to themselves at the uproar. It doesn’t look as if much action is going to come from either.
“Everyone, JUST BE QUIET!” Roderick shouts over the noise, or at least tries. When it doesn’t stop, Maxzille sticks two fingers in her mouth and gives a shrill, ear-piercingly loud whistle.
“All right, Y’ALL JUST COOL IT!”
“Chris here maht think he’s better’n some licks, an’ das’ his right ta buhlieve whatevuh da fuck he wants ta believe, but it sure ain’t what Ah believe. Who else ‘ere don’ buhlieve what Chris buhlieves?”
“I don’t believe what he believes,” says Jonah. “We’re all Bondye’s children.”
“I sure don’t,” says Roderick. “Believing nightborn are better than duskborn is the logical extension of the Camarilla’s belief system. It’s to buy in to elders’ rhetoric that someone’s generation counts for more than character. It’s to accept that someone’s worth as an individual is determined by an accident of death: by what sire happened to slit a wrist over their mouth, rather than how by how they’ve actually lived their Requiem. I thought we all agreed that was bullshit.”
Ayame: Smaller words, Durant, you’ve lost half of them.
Ayame crosses her arms. She gives a curt nod of assent.
“They keep us divided to keep us small. If we let it work, they win.”
GM: “There are no rules anywhere,” giggles Eris D, a green-haired girl in a leather jacket. “The goddess prevails. Curb your dogma. The enlightened take things lightly. Reality is the original Rorschach.”
“Fucking Malks,” someone ‘mutters.’
Most the true-blooded Anarchs take turns voicing similar sentiments. Some are more enthusiastic than others. Some give speeches. Others just nod. Christopher walks back on his words, a little, in a way that sounds like it’s being apologetic without actually apologizing. Veronica and Pietro make caustic remarks about their grandsire without saying a word on thin-bloods. Perhaps little surprise, when they’re the closest vampires to Caine out of any here.
Ayame: Her eyes follow the speakers, and once the Anarchs are done they settle on the single-fanged thin-blood next to her, and the dulled bite beside that one.
She is distinctly unsurprised when the exiled prince’s childe minces his words as hard as he does, or that the two older Toreador make vague noises while getting in a dig at Chastain. Their exemplary packages contain nothing but rot.
GM: “Okay, you’re all willing to pay at least lip service to equality. I’m not going to say that’s everything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than we’ve been getting from the Camarilla. It’s a start and it leaves me hopeful for the future. Maybe we all can get along,” answers the single-fanged thin-blood.
Murmurs of assent go up from the two or so dozen others.
“That brings us to the point of this meeting,” says the dull-fanged man next to her. “The Camarilla says its policy of genocide towards us is over. Okay. I’ll take that, even if they aren’t saying it openly. What do we want to do from here? Should we have a place among the Anarchs? If so, what would that look like?”
“To start off with, I’d say that should look the same as any nightborn’s place,” says Roderick. “Equal voting rights in all decisions that affect Mid-City. The same privilege we all enjoy. One Anarch, one vote.”
“Do we want to vote on that now?” asks Laura.
Support: “Hold up,” says the tattooed man in a minister’s garb. “I’m not sold that most of us actually want to do the right thing by our weaker cousins. If we were saints, most of us wouldn’t be here.”
He looks to the Duskborn professor who called out Petrowski. “May I know your name, ma’am?”
GM: “Patricia Stratton,” answers the single-fanged vampire.
Support: He inclines his head to the dead educator. His voice rises in volume as he talks, his tone firm and unapologetic but also devoid of cruelty, of spite.
“I don’t hate you, Patricia. I don’t think most Kindred hate the Duskborn, even if it is our nature to disdain them. That’s really what Christopher was saying, even if he said it like a blue blood. We’re stronger than you, and that’s why any resolution to treat you the same is just that, a promise that’s on us to keep. And if things were different, I would be honored to fight for you. But things aren’t different. We are rapists and killers. Thieves and adulterers. Whores and liars. Monsters, not men and women and children. Some of us recognize that, and others deny it. But we know it is true when we hide from the sun. You are not a proud woman fighting for the right to life. You are a proud monster fighting for the right to talk to other monsters, and even if you get it most of them will not treat you as equals except in these meetings. What would you use your power here for? What do you want, besides to see the next night? That is what will draw my vote or lose it. Everything else is just talk, and most of us don’t really come here for that.” Fangs flash. “I don’t.”
GM: Murmurs sound throughout the crowd of Anarchs. Some angry, especially from the thin-bloods. But some also agreeing.
“So you would judge our right to political representation on the basis of our moral worth as individuals,” Patricia answers. She gives a shrug. “That’s a fairer shake than the Camarilla gives us. Than many Anarchs give us.”
“To that I’ll say that we duskborn are better people than nightborn are. Or worse monsters, depending on how you look at it.”
“On average, at least.”
“Our Beasts are silent. We don’t lose control.”
Support: Hez raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t heard that.
The Brujah seems almost wistful, for a moment.
GM: “When we kill, it is always premeditated, and when we are sound of mind. We can continue to live among our friends and loved ones without recklessly endangering them.”
“I’ve never killed. I don’t ever plan to, except in self-defense. How many other nightborn here can say that? How can you judge my moral worth next to licks who’ve left behind trails of bodies, and find mine anything but superior?”
Shouted opinions go up from both sides.
“That’s bullshit! You duskborn go apeshit just like we do!”
“Who the fuck are you to say you’re better than us!?”
“I haven’t gone apeshit, not even once!”
“I’ve never killed!”
“I’m a virgin too!”
“Yeah, you and half the city, right?”
“I knew a duskborn who went apeshit! Saw it with my own eyes!”
“Yeah, it’s just harder for them!”
“They’re telling the truth! I’ve never seen one lose it, not like we do!”
“Bullshit bullshit bullshit!”
Ayame: “Anecdotes are not evidence. Further, why judge on morality at all? We don’t sneer at the lion who slaughters the lamb.”
Support: Hez smiles faintly at her. “We are monsters of conscience. I believe in a God, and I believe that if we have the capacity to feel guilt for our crimes, it is for a reason. But I only give sermons on Sundays.” His laugh is a battle-scarred, violently merry thing. “I know how I’m voting.”
GM: “Only because the lion lacks sufficient intelligence to judge the morality and consequences of its actions,” Patricia answers Ayame before turning to Hez. “If our political representation is decided on the basis of our demonstrated moral worth, I’d say you should get more votes than her, at least.”
“Say we do vote ta gave y’all equal votin’ rahts ta us nahtborn,” says Maxzille. “Dat it? Dere ain’ anythin’ else y’all think we oughta suss out?”
“Hunting territory,” says the overweight black man in the sweatshirt. “I don’t wanna starve. I’m sick of going hungry.”
“Yeah, you look like you’d hate going hungry!” jeers Andy Philips.
“You look like shit scraped off my shoe, sewer rat!” the thin-blood yells back.
“What, you make a habit of stepping in shit? Even we don’t do that…” leers Gerald Abellard.
“Can we please just stop taunting each other like middle schoolers?” Roderick glowers. “Feeding territory. That’s a legitimate issue to discuss.”
“One block per duskborn krewe,” declares Shep Jennings. “You don’t need as much as we do. You don’t get as much as we do.”
“One block’s ridiculous!” counters the dreadlocked thin-blood in the cotton jacket. “Who are any of you to presume how much juice we do and don’t use?”
“Yeah, nightborn are always coming after us! We have to mend up all the time!” shouts a thin-blood who looks barely old enough to be in high school.
Ayame: Ayame might say something here, but every time she opens her fucking mouth she gets shot down by both sides, so she doesn’t. She wonders if they realize how hypocritical the preacher sounds. How he’d called them all monsters—rapists and murderers and whores and liars—and then backtracked when she’d said maybe they shouldn’t judge each other for it.
Far be it from her to bring rhetoric to a former professor. No wonder she was an adjunct.
She simmers. She doesn’t speak. She lets the others have it out, another instance of devolving into a bullshit argument that is unproductive, but God forbid she fucking say that because, apparently, they all care about each other’s feelings now.
She waits for a minute. Silent. Until no one else points out what she thinks is fairly obvious.
“If you are throwing in with us, does it not stand to reason you should add that to the discussion? No random attacks between the nightborn and duskborn from either direction?”
There, bitch. Take your fucking morality and shove it up your asshole.
“The goal is to coexist with minimal conflict, is it not?”
GM: “Absolutely,” says Roderick. “Violence between Anarchs isn’t tolerated. That should fully extend towards duskborn.”
“I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be continued violence,” says Patricia. “Between duskborn. Between duskborn and Anarch nightborn. Between non-Anarch nightborn and Anarchs born during any time of day.”
“So yes, we’ll need to spend juice to heal injuries we sustain, the same as the rest of you do.”
“That’s one reason we should receive equal hunting territory.”
Ayame: “No one should go hungry. Perhaps territory by krewe size?”
GM: There’s grumblings from some of the true-blooded Kindred, but the thin-bloods vocally agree—“Same size as a nightborn krewe would get!”
Ayame: “I suppose it is another thing to vote on.”
GM: “Feel free not to vote if you don’t like doing it,” calls one thin-blood.
Ayame: Why, she wonders, is it always an argument when she is literally on their side? Her comment was only to the effect of, “add it to the ballot.”
These fucking people will get offended over a sideways look. Thin-blood? Try thin-skin.
She’d roll her eyes but she’s made the motion so many times this evening that she’s pretty sure she’s got muscle strain. Correcting them is a waste of breath, too.
GM: “So equal rep’sentation an’ equal territorah,” says Max. “What else y’all dink we oughta suss out?”
Ayame: Ayame’s shoulders lift in a shrug as her gaze sweeps the assembled licks. She’s got nothin’. Nothin’ that needs to be brought to light tonight.
Maybe whether or not any of this conversation matters if they’re missing the two regents, but she supposes that this is a test of their democracy.
GM: “There’s our future,” says another thin-blood, an older-looking black man who’s actually walking with a cane. “Supposin’ we join the Anarchs. Y’all give us equal representation and feeding territory. Okay. That’s a good deal. What happens after?”
“What do you mean, what happens after?” asks another thin-blood, a short white man with acne-splotched skin.
“What I mean, young man, is we’re still second-class citizens. Or I suppose third-class, next to the Caitiff. Mid-City ain’t the whole city, isn’t it? Prince still gonna treat us bad. So what are we gonna do about that?”
“The prince treats all Anarchs bad, grandpa,” leers Arzilla. “Welcome to the club.”
“Prince Vidal has shown he can be negotiated with and evolve with the times,” says Roderick. “We take the democratic rule we have over Mid-City for granted, but my sire, Miss Opal, and earlier Anarchs like Annie Pope had to fight tooth and nail to make those gains possible. Ditto for their Cabilo seats.”
“Yes, he’s an overbearing hardass, but he can be budged and positive change can be effected. I think that’s a worthwhile line of-”
“-yeah, with respect, stuff it,” interjects Christopher.
“You want to know how our Ventrue prince thinks? Well look further than yours truly, since like I bet you all remember, I’m a Ventrue too. And he’s not going to do shit for duskborn, Anarchs, or anyone besides the Sanctified, unless someone makes him.”
“Sure. He gave us Mid-City. Well, we Ventrue study our history, and it was close to worthless land when he did. Go ask the big mama and the big sister about that, sometime. Vidal only did that as a bribe to keep the Anarchs from falling in with Savoy.”
“He doesn’t give a shit about the Anarchs. He’d lop off all our heads if he thought it was more convenient.”
There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Thin-blooded and true-blooded.
“So to our new duskborn pals, I say prepare to get shat on forever by the prince. The end.”
Ayame: Someone should start a slow clap for Chris. Not her, but someone. She waits a beat, then says,
“Perhaps it is time we all work toward a better future, then, unless we are content with our position. Push for more.”
GM: The crowd looks angrier at Chris’ words. But there is no slow clap. Most of them look like they agree with his conclusion.
“So how do you suggest we push for more? What’s the best way when he holds all the power?” asks Patricia.
Ayame: “If I am not mistaken,” Ayame’s eyes slide toward the primogen’s childe, “your sire does not believe in violence. She wants to work within the system, yes? So we work within the system. They expect us to be angry, violent. We can be angry. But violent? No. We show them a better way. Our numbers have doubled,” she gestures toward the thin-bloods that have joined them, “but our space remains the same. It is logical, is it not, for a territory that has expanded in numbers to expand in size? Else we risk a breach of the Masquerade simply by existing, simply by slaking our hunger.”
GM: “An apt assessment,” rings a low and powerful voice.
The crowd’s collective eyes turn towards its source.
Donovan strides into the cemetery, garbed in black with a sheathed blade at his hip. He’s flanked by Camilla Doriocourt and Father Malveaux, both pale-faced and pitiless, and several ghouls.
A heavy thump sounds as Alexander Wright vaults over the wall and lands on the grass, titanium bat in hand. Several more ghouls land after him.
One moment there’s empty air. The next, Caitlin Meadows’ snarling visage is visible. The nearest Anarchs flinch back.
A hawk soars over the other wall. It lands and shifts into a grim-faced Charlie Harrison.
More ghouls clamber after their master. Duke Elmhearst hits the ground with another thump and cocky smirk. A satisfied-looking Roxanne Gerlette, not wearing a skirt or dress for the first time Ayame can recall, brings up the rear with several more renfields.
All are armed.
Predatory hisses go up from the gathered Anarchs. Some draw weapons or sprout claws. Other look towards the nearest exits.
The thin-bloods, most of all, look terrified. But just as many of their faces set in anger.
Ayame: Her gaze snaps towards the sheriff and his assembled squad. Two tiny steps take her backwards, falling in beside Roderick, Christopher, and Hez. A primogen’s childe, a hound’s childe, and the childe of an exiled prince. Perhaps here, at least, there will be less attention, less ire, from those who have come. She is glad that she stilled her tongue before suggesting anything more.
GM: Two more birds land, shifting into the forms of Rocco Agnello and Joshua Pacuad. More ghouls file in through the cemetery’s front entrance.
Pierpont McGinn is the last to swagger in, along with Joseph Doyle and a larger contingent of ghouls than anyone’s except Donovan’s.
About a dozen Kindred. Two or three times as many ghouls.
Ayame: Hadn’t she just been thinking earlier about the man who’d been ripped apart by licks because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Now she’s him. Wrong place. Wrong time. Her eyes search for a weak spot in the line of those assembled, desperately looking for any escape. The absence of Opal and Coco makes so much more sense. This is nothing short of an execution squad.
GM: Maxzille is the first of the Anarchs to speak. Her tone is faux-casual.
“Can’t say we were expectin’ guests. Y’all fellas-”
Donovan interrupts. The words are cool and emotionless, but roll over her voice like thunder.
“True-blooded Kindred who do not interfere will not be harmed.”
Ayame: They’re going to make us watch.
They’re going to make us watch them slaughter the thin-bloods.
They can’t win. There’s no chance. This isn’t a fight. It’s…
A message. To the thin-bloods. To the Anarchs who would treat with them. Ayame blinks back the horror. Brilliant. Despicable, but brilliant.
What nightborn would lay down their life for their lesser-bred cousins? None. None of them. Her nails dig into the leather covering her thighs. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved and she’ll be fine. Don’t scream, don’t run, don’t speak, don’t even think too loudly. She doesn’t dare draw breath less they think that she, too, is one of them. A target to be annihilated.
GM: “They’re trying to divide us!” shouts Roderick. “Look at this! We’re the ones who outnumber them. We’ve got two dozen nightborn, two dozen duskborn, against a dozen nightborn and two dozen ren-”
Coco’s childe topples over as a stake plunges through his chest.
There’s a black blur, almost invisible against the night, and then his corpse is lying at Donovan’s feet.
“For his sire’s Blood, he shall be spared,” the sheriff impassively intones.
“I promise no such mercy to Kindred of lowlier stock.”
There’s a few angry looks at Roderick’s ‘privilege.’
But there’s a lot more scared ones.
Ayame: Her elbow is halfway towards Roderick when his form crumples. A warning, too late, to shut his mouth. She thinks to reach for him but he is gone before she can begin the motion, halfway across the cemetery in a pile at the feet of that cold, merciless thing.
She is still. Her eyes do not meet the sheriff’s, but stay on the form at his feet. A message indeed: Durant was the most vocal of those who stood with the duskborn. Without him, there is no hope of rallying together, no hope of unity. Without him, the wall that she had built around herself of important childer is down to two, and she is left exposed. An unimportant lick, no important name to drop to save her should she make the wrong move.
Not my fight, she thinks, over and over again, to prevent herself from doing something stupid.
They don’t stand a chance. Outnumbered or not, they don’t stand a chance. The sheriff or the scourge themselves could take out all two dozen duskborn without so much as a scratch.
GM: The execution squad marches closer, forming a wide circle around the smaller circle of Anarchs.
“Any Kindred who would be spared have ten seconds to relocate behind Sanctified lines,” Donovan continues coolly.
“Y’all can do as y’all like, but Ah ain’t goin’ along with this,” declares Maxzille, crossing her arms.
Ayame: Ayame might not be the first to move. But perhaps she is the first to move towards Max. She doesn’t touch the other lick, but she stops to speak with her.
“Do not test him, Max,” she whispers, though she has no doubt the others can hear. She cannot say more. Cannot say what she is thinking: that this entire evening is a set-up. “There is more yet that you can do if you get out.”
GM: “Nine,” sounds the sheriff’s voice.
Ayame: Sanctioned, she mouths at the Toreador. She has to know. Has to suspect. There is nothing they can do. They will throw away their own eternity—and for what? To prove a point? There is no point to be proved. They are at Vidal’s mercy within this city. If he sends his hounds to do his bidding, they will do it, and gladly. Max will be just another slaughtered Anarch who died for nothing.
GM: The Toreador gives Ayame a sad, rueful look, seemingly between them.
“Dey don’t got da balls ta slaughter all o’ us!” Maxzille answers loudly. “Oh, no! Dey-”
“Eight,” sounds the sheriff.
“-know dat’ll drive all Anarchs, ever, right ta Savoy, make him a bonafide hero!”
Jonah stands next to his krewemate, arms wordlessly crossed.
“Seven,” sounds the sheriff.
The crowd is sweating. Many of the Anarchs’ eyes are cutting between Ayame, Max, the sheriff, and the thin-bloods. Some with fear. Some with guilt. Some who just don’t look like they want to be labeled the ‘first deserter.’ The thin-bloods are howling and drawing what paltry weapons they have.
“Think, y’all—dis ain’t cost-effective!” Max bellows. “Less y’all pussy out! Grow-”
“Six,” sounds the sheriff.
“-some balls, see if da prince really willin’ ta go dat far! Watcha bet Rod gonna be da sole Anarch not ta get ashed, huh!?”
Ayame sees it. Perhaps the only one to see it. Veronica starting towards Max from behind, violence in her smoldering eyes.
Ayame: She’s seen that look before. Of all of them, only Veronica and Pietro weren’t surprised at this reveal. Is she looking to make a move, then? Up her status by taking out the competition?
Ayame cuts in front of the green-eyed, gorgeous lick. Steps right up to her, not so much blocking her path as simply slowing her down.
“You can be a hero.” The words are barely a breath, an almost-silent plea from Ayame to Veronica. There doesn’t need to be more violence. They don’t all need to die. Veronica can drag the girl out and the others will follow. She has that much clout, at least, and the Anarchs will owe her for saving them all. She doesn’t need to say that; certainly Veronica realizes it.
GM: The Toreador smirks.
“Five,” sounds the sheriff.
Veronica’s gone, then she’s thrusting the stake into the air where Max was standing. The younger Toreador backflips away cat-quick, her sprouted claws slashing wet red lines across Veronica’s perfect face. The harpy snarls as another stake plunges into Max’s chest from behind. Pietro, smirking, stands over the fallen Anarch—and doesn’t seem to see it coming as Jonah barrels towards him like a speeding freight train.
Ayame: Ohfuck. Ayame is quick to dart out of the way of both claw and stake as Veronica, Max, and Pietro duke it out. She backpedals away from Jonah’s charging form. Her wrists flick and the steel inserts inside of her leather gloves are released, springing forward to become cat-like claws on her fingers.
She drops into a crouch over Max’s form as Jonah flies past her. She’s not going to let the bitch die on a technicality. She slides her fingers under Max’s arms and starts to drag her out of the circle.
GM: Ayame has ample distraction. Pietro goes down hard under Jonah, whose blurring fists smash his face bloody. Veronica blurs away from Max and plunges her stake through the Brujah’s heart.
“Four,” sounds the sheriff.
Support: Hez doesn’t try to stand up to the sheriff. Doing so is foolish and probably pointless.
He does, however, derive some satisfaction from hooking a hand under Stratton’s arm while attention is occupied on the nightborn, and throwing her to an undisclosed location.
He locks eyes with his sire and coughs, looking abashed.
GM: Stratton might start to say something. Yell something.
Then she’s barely audible as her thrown form hurls through the night sky.
When Ayame is the first Anarch to cross the Sanctified line with the Movement’s staked leader, a fatal crack seems to run through everyone else’s resolve. Christopher is the next Anarch to make a jog towards the Sanctified.
Veronica hefts Jonah’s corpse over her shoulder and blurs ahead of him, her slashed face already hale again.
“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she calls back. She doesn’t look back.
Pietro is next.
After him, Andy—“I’m not dying for a bunch of abortions!”
And just like that, the Movement deserts its thinner-blooded ‘comrades.’
Support: Hez stays where he is.
GM: All but one, at least.
Support: “Never should have Embraced a man with a conscience, Alex,” Hez murmurs.
GM: “Three,” sounds the sheriff.
Ayame: She had to. They would have slaughtered everyone. Everyone. She’s heard what sort of “mercy” the sheriff has: none.
Ayame drops Max as soon as she passes the line. Her eyes turn toward the sole remaining lick inside.
Support: He shrugs, sad but resigned.
“Somebody needs to.”
GM: “Two,” sounds the sheriff.
“Get the fuck outta there, you dumb motherfucker!” yells his sire.
Support: Hez seizes two more and launches them in opposite directions. Let the sheriff work for his slaughter.
He looks his sire in the eye. “You knew what you were getting into, Al. I wish you saw what you looked like now.”
He steps in front of another Duskborn, and folds his arms.
“One,” he finishes.
GM: The first (or, at rather, second) thrown duskborn, the man with dreadlocks, doesn’t make it past Caitlin Meadows. The scourge soars into the air with a stupendous leap. There’s a manic scream that abruptly cuts off, and when the Gangrel lands, her face and claws are caked with blood. Shredded gore half-wrapped in clothing hits the grass after her with soft thumps.
The next duskborn, the elderly man, hurls through the sky with a startled yell that just as abruptly cuts off. Camilla Doriocourt fires a bolt of crackling lightning after the thin-blood, but all it hits is his metal cane. It thuds against the grass with a low sizzle.
Support: “Kinda like skeet shooting, I think,” Hez says helpfully. “Not everybody’s cut out for it.”
He never liked that bitch.
GM: The enraged and terrified thin-bloods, even as this all transpires, fall upon their treacherous ‘comrades.’ Or at least try to. Some of the pitiful half-vampires tackle a few of the true-bloods, only for their nightborn fellows to kick and shove them off as they scramble towards the Sanctified lines. A few thin-bloods with guns try to fire them, then look puzzled when bullets don’t come out.
But all that stops with Hez’s actions.
They swarm around him like moths to a flame, pushing and shoving and screaming to get as close as they can. They clamor about the Brujah like he is the messiah, weeping watery red fluid that resembles neither blood nor tears, but some wretched thing in between.
“Me! Me! Throw me!” “Please! Me! I have a daughter!” “Please, me! me!” “I have a son!” “A baby girl!” “Please! Please!” “I can pay you back!” “My grandma has no one-” “My family needs me-” “My wife’s pregnant-” “I have-”
Support: He saves as many as he can. He knows it will not be enough.
But it will be everything for them.
GM: He’s also forestalled by the stake that plunges into his heart from the dark-clad blur that speeds back behind Sanctified lines just as Donovan utters, “Zero.”
“It’s Wright, you stupid motherfucker,” the hound glares down at him, then picks back up his titanium bat.
The sheriff thrusts his sword forward.
As one, the prince’s executioners charge the encircled thin-bloods.
As one, two dozen raw and terrified screams go up from the huddled mass of half-vampires as the prince’s blades raise over them.
Then as one:
The blades fall.
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