“I’ll figure something out.”
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
GM: Ayame’s phone gives a ring. The caller ID is Roderick.
Ayame: She answers on the fourth ring.
GM: “Hi, Ayame. I was calling to ask about your friends. Some things have come up on my end.”
GM: “Sooner would be better than later now, if they can swing it.”
Ayame: “I see. Is everything okay?”
GM: “For now, yes. But you know how these things can get.”
He clearly doesn’t want to go into specifics over the phone.
“If extra payment can move up their schedules, that can be arranged.”
Ayame: “I will reach out. If you are free this evening I can make time to meet with you to discuss.”
GM: “All right. What time?”
Ayame: Ayame glances at the time on her phone.
GM: “Okay. Same place as last time?”
Ayame: “That will suffice.”
GM: “All right. See you then.”
Ayame: “See you then.”
Ayame hangs up.
Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM
Ayame: An hour later Ayame arrives at Cypress Grove.
She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it as she strolls through the gates in black combat boots, their waterproofed leather exterior keeping the worst of the mud at bay from the dark jeans tucked inside. Gravel crunches beneath her feet with every step that she takes through the grounds, otherwise silent save for the footfalls that herald her approach.
She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it when she shoves her gloved fingers into the pockets of her over-sized black hoodie, its cowl drawn up to turn her into just another shadow-clad wraith in the night.
She hates this place. He could have chosen any other, but he chose here. He’d done it last time as well. Hundreds of other places to meet in the city, but he chose here. A message? A game? To remind her? To prove what’s at stake?
As if she does not know.
Every time they have a rant here she wants to ask why they can’t find another place. Why they have to be here, where everyone died, and she wonders if she’s the only one who still gives a fuck. And with just the two of them they don’t need nearly this much space. They can talk anywhere. She can only assume he doesn’t trust her enough to take her somewhere more personal. Or that he has eyes in the fog, watching to make sure she… what? Doesn’t betray him? As if she’d want to take on a Brujah.
She searches for him among the headstones.
GM: It’s Ayame’s guess why they still do. There were a few other calls not to meet here anymore, from similarly uncomfortable licks, but not much seemed to come of them. Rants have remained a regular thing as Cypress Grove for years.
In the end, most Anarchs just tried to forget.
She finds Roderick there, dressed in an overcoat and carrying an umbrella against the steadily falling rain. It’s cold and wet, but that doesn’t matter to either of them.
“Thanks for making it on short notice.”
Ayame: Hadn’t he said the last time? It seems to be a recurring theme.
Ayame inclines her head.
“Your call implied it was urgent.”
She had said that last time, too.
GM: “I think the duskborn I want to get out has been found out.”
“So, it’s that simple. If you can arrange passage out of the city by tomorrow night, I’ll owe you a boon for the rush order.”
Ayame: A grimace passes over her face at the news that his duskborn friend has been found out. There’s pity in her eyes, followed by something a little more… devastated at his request. She glances away.
“Houston has not come to fruition.”
Ayame: “The situation there is…” she trails off, her eyes finding his once again. “It is not good, Roderick. The few I know who could take your friend will not. They do not want more mouths to feed and do not have the blood to spare for half-breeds.” Bitterness colors her voice; she sounds as if she is quoting someone directly.
“Are you positive that your duskborn has been found out?”
GM: Roderick receives that news with a stony expression from under his umbrella.
“Upwards of 90%.”
“Houston is huge! They can’t be out of juice to go around.”
“You’d be hearing about Masquerade breaches and territorial fights between licks if that was the real problem.”
Ayame: “No, I would assume not. But their attitudes there are no less than ours here.”
GM: “I guess some Anarchs will always be more equal than other Anarchs.”
Ayame: “I am sorry.” Ayame bows her head. “I am sorry that I could not come through for you.”
GM: “Maybe you still can. Can you arrange simple passage to the city?”
Ayame: “Drop a duskborn in their midst without anyone to watch their back?” Skepticism colors her voice.
GM: “I’d still be going with you. I’ll do that at first.”
“I might have to stay in the city a little longer, but, fine, it’s that or someone’s life.”
“Half-life. Whatever it is with them.”
Ayame: Ayame shakes her head. Her hair spills in front of her face, hiding her shame that she cannot even do that much. Without a contact in Houston to meet them… they’ll be targeted by anyone watching the border, staked or slain before they ever set foot in the city proper.
GM: “Can’t, or won’t?” Roderick asks. He sounds like he’s trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice.
Ayame: Her head lifts, eyes flashing.
“Do not,” she snaps at him, “insinuate that I would willingly keep someone here who wishes to flee. If it were as simple as that it would be done. There are countless factors at play that—”
She cuts herself off.
She sees why they call him elder’s pet now, if this is how he acts upon hearing bad news.
GM: His grip tightens around his umbrella. “Excuse me for making sure. If it was won’t, then—”
“Never mind. It’s can’t.”
Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment.
“I know that it is not what you want to hear,” she finally says. “And I am sorry that I could not provide for you. But there is… for licks in Houston, it can seem nice. For someone like you or me. But those who are less-than are treated as less-than.”
She looks down at her hands, covered by their leather gloves.
“It can be a nightmare to be a less-than.” Her fingers curl into fists. A spasm of something like pain crosses her face. “I was a renfield for some time there. The duskborn are considered less than even them. It is not an experience I would wish on anyone.”
She holds up a hand to him to forestall a response.
Her gaze lowers to her gloved hands. It is no easy thing for her to do, and she takes a moment to steady herself before she pulls at the wrap around her wrist that holds them in place. Another grimace of pain crosses her features, though whether it’s physical pain, shame, or the sight of what greets her is anyone’s guess. She pulls her glove off.
Ayame offers her hand for his perusal.
It is a nightmare. A field of angry red scars have cut deep into her flesh. One part looks as if it goes beyond all the layers of her skin. Scar tissue has built into waves of uneven lines across her palm, fingers, and the back of her hands. Her movements, without the gloves to conceal them, are stiff. The burns and scars go all the way to her wrist, with swollen knuckles and loose, ragged edges that constantly catches on any surface that isn’t 100% smooth. It is easy to imagine her tearing skin off again and again as the nights pass, leaving her wounds open. They look waxen, half melted, shiny in their hairlessness.
“This,” she says quietly, “is what happens in Houston when you are less-than.”
GM: Roderick stares at the hand. His eyes don’t widen so much as flare. There’s surprise, yes, and horror, but there’s anger too.
“Jesus Christ,” he mutters.
He looks back up at Ayame after a moment.
“There are night doctors,” he says. “I know one. Being an Anarch has some privileges. They could fix your hand.”
Ayame: She doesn’t quite flush—she’s dead, her body doesn’t do that—but something in her eyes shutters at his reaction. It flattens a moment later, face once more becoming nothing more than the austere marble it so often resembles.
“Who?” she asks, as if to distract him from the way she fumbles with the leather to tuck her hand back away.
GM: “Dr. E,” he says. Many night doctors, Ayame knows, adopt pseudonyms and only sell their services while masked.
Ayame: The “name” means little to her.
GM: “I don’t know if they’re a man or a woman, but they do good work.”
Ayame: “Where would I find them?” At last the glove goes back on. She yanks it into place; a piece of skin flakes off at the rough treatment, aging years in the blink of an eye as it falls to the ground. She keeps her eyes on her hands as she re-wraps the strap around her wrist to avoid whatever expression crosses his face. Only when she has secured the glove once more does she look up.
GM: “Graffiti. Paint your tag somewhere public with two snakes twisting around it, like the Caduceus symbol. They’ll come by your territory once they see.”
Ayame: Ayame gives that a nod and tucks it away for the future. She would like to have her hands back.
“I see someone for it now, but… the going is slow. We had to rebuild much of the nerve endings. I could not feel before. When it happened…” Her mouth turns down at the corners. “The nerves died. Prolonged exposure. You know what it is like to receive a burn and then you get it warm on accident? Like in the shower, with hot water? It was all I felt. All over my hands.”
Agony. Every time she touched something it was hell all over again, like she’d just stuck her hand back into that fire.
GM: “That’s horrific. I can understand why you choose not to take ghouls.”
“I don’t need to say that it’s an incredibly easy relationship to abuse.”
“I hope your domitor faced some measure of justice.”
Ayame: “For this?” She can’t help but laugh. It’s a cold sound, though its mockery is not directed at him; rather just the idea that a lick would be punished for how they treat their ghouls.
GM: Roderick doesn’t look surprised. Though he does look faintly angry.
“I tried to get that to extend here, you know. Before you came to the city. I tried to pass a law that would’ve made abuse of ghouls in Mid-City a punishable crime, and required they be surrendered to new domitors.”
“Obviously imperfect, but still better than the total lack of protection they have now.”
Ayame: “Noble, though I can see why they would not. No doubt they think it better to put them down than hand them off and let someone else ransack their minds for information.”
GM: “That was one of the arguments. I argued those fears were overblown. There are plenty Anarchs who don’t know how to do that, and the lesser forms of mind-reading can only find out so much.”
“The law actually got some supporters. Just not enough.”
Ayame: “Perhaps, in time, you pitch it again.”
GM: “Maybe you’d be interested in pitching it with me. It’s a different Anarch population now than it was in 2010.”
Ayame: “I would stand beside you in that, though given my lack of slaves some might say I have nothing to lose to add my voice.”
GM: “They’d also be right, but that’s immaterial next to the experiences you could tell them about.”
“I think your voice would add a lot to the debate.”
Ayame: “Consider it done.”
GM: “I’ll be in touch.” He gives a wan smile.
Ayame: “What are you going to do? With your duskborn?”
GM: Roderick’s face has as much cheer as the rain-spattered tombstones.
“I’ll figure something out.”
Ayame: Ayame nods her head at his statement and wishes him luck, a final apology for her inability to assist the last sentiment she utters before turning to leave. The night swallows her as the rain pours from above; the heavens convey her distress this evening. She has nothing else to offer him.