“I love you, my sweet, precious Caroline.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: “Claire Malveaux’s death must be seen to,” Maldonato begins as the elevator doors open to his office. Caroline sees three ghouls awaiting them with expectant looks: Congo and two large, bald, exquisitely muscled black men in black suits. Their postures and demeanors seem vaguely foreign.
“Mr. Congo, you may contact Bishop Malveaux,” the seneschal continues as he proceeds towards the door. One of the ghouls opens it. All three follow him out. The building’s austere hallways seem all but vacant at this late hour. “Inform him that he is to coordinate efforts with Miss Malveaux to preserve the Masquerade in light of Claire Malveaux’s death.”
“Very good, sir,” Congo states. He removes a phone from his breast pocket. Talks into it. “The bishop is not in Perdido House.”
“At once, sir.”
One of the guards opens an elevator.
“Set your affairs in order, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states to Caroline as it begins its descent. “You may soon be absent from the city at large for some time.”
“Tell no one of whom you are. Your sire shall determine the circumstances under which to publicly disclose that information.”
The doors open to the Centurion Investment lobby. They get into another elevator. They’re joined by a ghoul who looks in her mid to late teens. Her milk-pale facial features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length raven hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. Even with her newly-sensitive hearing, Caroline can’t hear the ghoul’s footsteps.
“Your Requiem may now be in danger, Miss Malveaux. Kâmil, Gisèlle, you will see to her physical protection and attend to whatever needs she may require. Remain unobtrusive, but her security takes precedent over her secrecy.”
“Yes, effendi,” replies one of the male ghouls.
The female ghoul mutely bows her head.
“Do not engage with NOSTF,” Maldonato states as the elevator continues its descent. “Hound Doriocourt remains the most knowledgeable of our prince’s agents regarding their activities. She will coordinate efforts with you when available.”
“If you should desire, Mr. Congo may arrange secure temporary accommodations in Perdido House for you until a more permanent haven space is available. Report to my offices at 11:30 tomorrow night.”
The doors open to Perdido House’s parking garage. A large black SUV has already been readied. A driver gets out with a thick, double-breasted coat that he fits onto Maldonato’s tall frame. At Caroline’s inquiry as to why he names her mother ‘fallen one’, the seneschal replies, “We have spoken enough of the past for one night, Miss Malveaux. It is now time to prepare for the future.”
Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t argue with that. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter.
“And the two of them,” she gestures to the ghouls he’s assigned to her, “should others ask questions as to their presence?”
GM: “You may answer those queries however you deem most conductive to your and our prince’s interests, Miss Malveaux. You have my trust in this manner.”
The driver opens the SUV door.
“There are matters to which I must attend. Mr. Congo shall arrange any further resources you may require.”
Caroline: “Safe journey, seneschal,” Caroline replies.
GM: “God go with you, Miss Malveaux.” Maldonato enters the SUV along with the driver and the other dark-skinned ghoul. Caroline briefly thinks she sees another outline inside, but it’s only for a moment before the SUV drives away.
Congo offers Caroline a cellular phone number before inquiring if there is anything further she may require.
Kâmil stands silently to attention. Gisèlle awaits with her head demurely bowed.
Caroline: The Ventrue watches the vehicle leave in silence, starring after it as it leaves, then turns her attention back to the ghouls.
“No, thank you,” she replies to the ancient ghoul. “You’ll reach out when you have more information on where to begin with Claire’s death?”
She wants to choke up over it, over callously commenting on her murder of her mother, but that’s not something she can do any longer. Not if she’s going to be the prince’s childe.
Good Ventrue don’t show their emotions like that.
GM: “His Grace would seem to wish you and the bishop to begin yourselves, madam,” Congo answers. “I shall notify you when I have reached His Excellency and arrange a meeting at your soonest conveniences.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Then I shall await your call.”
She looks at the other two ghouls. “There are still some matters I need to see to back at the Giani Building while we wait. Unless that will be a problem?”
GM: “Our time is yours to allocate, bayan,” answers the deep-voiced man.
The girl silently dips her head in seeming concurrence.
The heiress left Fuller instructions to remain nearby when he dropped her off. She sends him a text that she’s ready for pickup now and turns to study the two ominous ghouls while she waits.
Her eyes settle on the pale woman in white, so pale as to almost appear to be a ghost. “You’re one of the ones they call filles à la casquette, aren’t you?” she asks.
GM: The girl dips her head in another nod.
Caroline: “Other Kindred tell stories about you. The younger ones, at least. I’m sure you know.”
GM: There is another mute dip of the head.
Caroline: She turns to the larger black man. “And you are also known to me by reputation. One of my ghouls spoke very respectfully of you.”
GM: “I am honored, bayan,” the large man answers.
Caroline: “That’s Turkish, isn’t it?” Caroline asks.
The Ventrue doesn’t speak it, but it’s relatively few languages she doesn’t speak some cousin too. Identifying them is more of a process of elimination.
GM: “It is, bayan. I had privilege to serve among the Black Eunuchs of the Exalted Ottoman State in my mortal life.”
Caroline: “Perhaps some night you might speak of it?” Caroline asks. “I know less of Ottoman history than I might wish.”
GM: The large ghoul inclines his head. “Your desire is my will, bayan.”
Caroline: It hadn’t been a focus for her, an item deemed valuable enough to spend time on. Much like Turkish. Arabic and Spanish both saw almost half a billion speakers—including influential OPEC members and a growing demographic of voters, even in Louisiana.
French was a given—one could not be a member of the Louisiana white elite without speaking it, and Italian she’d picked up during a summer in Europe, rather than through study.
But how often did you run into a Turkish speaker? Not frequently in the West, despite Turkey’s growing relevance in the region.
She knew Ferris thought it was interesting, for that reason. He’d said it was also a ‘secret’ language spoke by many Kurds. Something about immigrants to Turkey—of which there were many Kurdish refugees—having to learn the language, and many of them taking it back with them to Iraq and Iran, where the locals didn’t speak it.
GM: And he’s probably the only person in the Giani Building who might also speak it himself.
It’s not overlong before Fuller arrives in the SUV. Congo asks for a mobile number he may reach Caroline at, then takes his leave as the three enter the vehicle. Fuller silently takes stock of the two other ghouls but asks no questions besides, “The Giani Building, ma’am?”
Caroline: “Yes, Brian,” Caroline replies, sliding into the backseat. “Has there been any word from Ms. Morrow?”
GM: “No, ma’am. Ferris is on it, but has a lot else on his plate.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Have Widney take it over when we get back. Tell her to pull the security cameras and badge in and out logs.”
GM: “He’s already ordered her to, ma’am. He’s been giving a lot of orders.”
The ghoul’s tone doesn’t sound disgruntled. If anything, it’s approving.
Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth, behind the ghost of a smile. “These are Kâmil and Giselle,” she fills in to the question the ghoul is too polite to ask. “I’m uncertain as to how long they will be with us, but for the moment extend them every courtesy.”
GM: “My pleasure. Sir. Ma’am.”
Kâmil responds with a brief pleasantry. Gisèlle offers a mute inclination of her head, though shorter than the one to Caroline.
Caroline: The Ventrue wonders, passingly, if the Fille à la Cassette is mute, but it seems impolite to ask.
The rest of the journey doesn’t take long. Caroline asks questions. Fuller answers them. She gives guidance on things she wants done. About half them she learns Ferris has already started on.
It’s refreshing initiative.
GM: “I said your people needed a chain of command,” Fuller answers in response to some of Caroline’s questions. “He’s well on his way to setting one up with himself at the top. Suits me fine. I don’t want to cat-herd a bunch of whining civilians. No offense, ma’am. Knew some of his boys from my gym, too. They said good things.”
Caroline: At the Giani Building, Caroline doesn’t bring the ghouls up to her apartment. She doesn’t even bring them to her notional ‘public’ office on the roof.
Instead they head to what Green mockingly ‘christened’ ‘the war room’. Well, rooms.
Once an interior apartment with too few windows (including an awful and dreary bedroom without any), Caroline’s had the space turned into an operations center for herself and her people. The front door has quietly been replaced with a steel one behind a wood veineer. Even more, an actual steel door bar sits beside the door, ready to be slide into mounted brackets on the inside to provided added protection to those inside. The living room windows—facing a brick wall—have been similarly fitted with steel shutters inside hidden behind thick curtains.
A large table sits in the center of the room, with whiteboards installed on both opposing walls. A desk sits in front of each of the two windows, with a bank of computer screens facing into the room, away from them. About half the screens show surveillance footage from the Giani Building. Some are of the lobby, others of each of the hallways. Others still show the inside of otherwise normal seeming apartments, including one in which a heavily pregnant young Latina sits on the sofa watching TV.
Neatly printed on a corner of one of the whiteboards are a series of words in two columns. One of the columns contains many very familiar words to the ghouls. ‘Kindred. Torpor. Toreador. Ventrue. Vidal. Savoy. Kill. Masquerade.’ The list goes on. Their paring words are far more mundane.
There’s a picture of Audrey in the top-center of the opposite board, along with a timeline of events of interest in the last 48 hours.
The kitchen island is dominated by phones and other tech. The only food in clear evidence is half-full coffee pot in the corner, the Keurig beside it, and the brown-black splotches of dried coffee beside both.
The door to the bedroom is closed.
GM: “A most impressive effort for a Kindred of your years, bayan, if I may presume to speak freely,” Kâmil states as he looks the room over.
Gisèlle’s pale, slow-blinking eyes sift through the ‘war room’s’ features. The casquette girl remains silent.
Caroline: Caroline looks over to where Widney sits in front of the computers. “Show them,” she says simply. The ghoul is too smart to argue. She strikes several keys in sequence and the harsh white overhead lights go out, replaced by blues and light dark violets.
Both whiteboards are almost covered in writing, as is the desk’s surface. The contents of the columns on the board have shifted to entirely new ‘mundane’ words.
There are significant outlines for a variety of plots. “Thank you,” Caroline replies to the seneschal’s servant. “It’s a work in progress.”
The Ventrue walks over to each of the boards in series, quickly reading anything new, especially about Morrow.
Other ‘topics’ of interest on the boards include a branching series of plots related to concealing Claire’s death, lists of hunters identified by Ferris, and lists of Kindred, both in the city still and those he identified as having been destroyed, along with the dates of each destruction.
“I had hoped that I could kill most of her hunters and flip Claire into selling out the others,” she admits coldly to the seneschal’s new ghouls. “Her death was never part of the plan, and it got me off script. Even then, I’d hoped that I could conceal it for a little while longer, but with one of my people suddenly turning up missing this evening… well… I expect the cat’s out of the bag on that one to the non-kine players by now.”
“Ms. Morrow was not deeply involved in my operations, by intention. The details of what happened last night were never briefed to her beyond her own small part, but she knew enough to know that I had something major planned, that required everyone on deck and a lot of weapons, and that it was mostly successful. It’s also possible she was able to,”
She looks away from the board and towards the two, “it’s possible that she’s off being a junkie, thinking simply to sell that information to someone that offered her something good if she reported on me. It’s also possible she’s been in someone else’s pocket for some time.”
“This is not a room she notionally had access to.”
GM: After last day and the better part of this night, the projected reports are quite full.
Widney and Ferris’ people observed no unusual recent behaviors or association on Audrey’s part. Voluntary ones, at least.
Drew Harrington recently passed on a tip that Audrey has been arrested by NOPD for a variety of charges relating to her criminal activities. Somewhere down the line she doesn’t seem to have used (or received) a phone call to get in touch with Caroline’s people.
Ferris’ people couldn’t have picked a better time to start working for Caroline. Ben Chandler and Margaret Ramsey, working alongside Green, found bugs planted on a number of their peoples’ cars.
Physical bugs have not been planted in the ‘war room’ or Caroline’s or Natalia’s haven. Fuller’s armory, however, was bugged, and wiretaps have been placed on phones.
Roger Ferris personally saw to Caroline’s family. He has mixed news.
Orson spends most of his time at home these days. As the ex-CIA agent stated, “The heart attack took a lot out of him.” He’s taken up gardening.
Father Connelly has also passed away, leaving Adam (now the sole Father Malveaux) to largely administer the archdiocese. Priests such as Father Patterson, whose reassignment Caroline well recalls confronting her uncle with, have scented weakness and are making a power play. The most eventful event in Orson’s day was talking with Adam about the Vatican representative who will be paying a visit to New Orleans. Depending on what the representative reports back to Pope Gregory, Orson may be “asked” to resign the archbishopric. As Caroline well knows from her religious upbringing, bishops serve at the pope’s pleasure.
Caroline’s father appears to still be in Washington D.C., although Ferris has obviously not been able to observe him as closely as either of his brothers.
Matthew Malveaux’s day was comparatively mundane. He went to work at the family company’s offices in the CBD, spent an afternoon golfing with some associates, had dinner at Commander’s Palace, and retired for the evening to the Roosevelt Hotel. Half a city away from the Lakeview mansion he nominally cohabits with his wife, which Caroline knows to be fairly normal for them.
Luke also went to work at Malveaux Oil’s offices. He spent the afternoon working on wedding plans with Cécilia, which has occupied much of his time. He later went out drinking with friends and canceled a planned dinner with Talal al-Saud, whose company he has been known to entertain, when Cécilia was sick. He went to bed at his apartment in the CBD.
Ferris reports with some interest that Cécilia, Adeline, Yvette, Yvonne, Noëllle, and Simmone all spent the day at their mother’s house in the Garden District. It occurs to Caroline that while she didn’t ask him to snoop on the Devillers, when she ordered him to follow the movements of “my siblings,” he took that to include Abélia’s other children.
Cécilia and Adeline dropped professional and personal commitments. The three girls enrolled at McGehee all called in sick. Simmone, of course, has not been enrolled at McGehee for most of the school year. All of the driving-age womens’ cars were parked in the driveway, and the house’s grounds were bristling with bodyguards. Somewhat suspicious, but as Caroline recalls Abélia saying, Simmone “can’t handle” being around unfamiliar men carrying guns.
If Ferris has drawn any conclusions as to why the Devillers are evidently so spooked, he does not include them.
Caroline’s youngest brother, meanwhile, is still in Baton Rouge. Due to both distance and his own severed ties with the Malveauxes, Ferris is unable to provide as complete a record of Gabriel’s daily activities.
Her final brother, as far as she knows, remains in the grave.
Autumn is still looking into suitable degenerative conditions (and physicians). None of the ones she’s gone through so far are good enough for her, “if this is supposed to explain a pretty sudden death.” Caroline did not brief any of her people on Claire’s death, and Ferris, in fairly typical fashion for the ex-CIA agent, does not seem to have told Autumn more than he thought she needed to know.
Ericson has not done any of the work Caroline assigned her, and has left a disgruntled phone message citing her extensive professional and familial commitments (even if she is grateful for the Ventrue’s help in landing her job). It is plain that Caroline’s former fencing partner does not view herself as the Ventrue’s servant.
Indeed, now that Caroline considers it, Ericson seems like she has been avoiding her ever since the engagement with Caitlin Meadows. The ghoul seemed terrified of how willing she had been to throw her life headlong into danger on Caroline’s behalf.
A mother shouldn’t have done that. Not one with young children who needed her.
Roger Ferris shows up towards the tail end of Caroline’s report-reading with further news. It does not escape the Ventrue that, much like Audrey, she had yet to tell her newest ghoul where the war room was. Ferris has to be explicitly ordered to deliver his news within the presence of Maldonato’s ghouls, who Caroline is positive the ex-CIA agent does not trust.
First, Carla Rivera has seemingly disappeared. Ferris interviewed various building staff, who testified the woman has been intensely distressed and showing up late to work (or missing it altogether) since the disappearance of her brother Diego. This recent absent stretch is long even for her.
This has alarmed Jack Kinney and Shelby Wright, who Ferris overheard talking about the disappearances of Mark Kavanaugh and Jason Dabney. Two PIs hired for a job in Abita Springs who never came back.
Ferris gave them some cash to buy their silence and quiet objections for a while longer. It’s something to deal with later, but in his eyes, not now.
He awaits Caroline’s instructions expectantly as to what that should be.
It’s midway through that report when she receives a text message from Cécilia.
Simmone having anxiety attack. Maman not feeling good. Can you come help?
Caroline: The Ventrue reads through each board and takes Ferris’ report without comment before turning her attention to the two ‘guest’ ghouls.
“If possible, I’d know if Ms. Morrow’s betrayal was engineered by agents of the prince, or if her loyalties now lie with Mr. Savoy or his agents. This is the second time she’s fled to report on my activities.”
She turns to Widney, “Either way, start liquidating assets related to her. Quietly. Cut off all access to any significant accounts.” She turns to Fuller, “if she returns I want her detained indefinitely—though I don’t think she’ll be that foolish.”
Ericson’s petulant refusal to work grates against her nerves, but she’ll deal with her later.
She plugs back a text to Cécilia.
GM: “She was arrested, ma’am,” Ferris repeats. “Not impossible she still betrayed you. But if she has, it’s not worked out for her.”
Caroline: “I suppose the bugs coincidentally appeared only in areas she had access to, and her decision to leave the building, not making a call, and her previous flight after meaningful events are unrelated?” Caroline observes.
She doesn’t seem interested in arguing the point.
GM: Ferris shrugs. “We’d need to interrogate her to get the full story. Detaining her and liquidating associated assets until then is the right call.”
“I’ll get on it, ma’am,” Widney states, drawing her fingers across a tablet.
Fuller nods at his order.
Caroline: “She was always a weak link and likely spy,” Caroline clarifies. “That was intentional—better the spy I could see coming—but she’s worn out her welcome here, which means she’s worn out her use to them.”
“If she’d resisted their temptations, that would have shown her value in the long term. In succumbing she had value too—but that always had an expiration date.”
“Loyalty and discretion valuable beyond talent.” She lets that observation hang in the air with her other ghouls.
She turns to Ferris directly. “We’re on a hold for the moment, until we hear back from the prince’s agents, regarding coordination on the family and Claire. I expect that soon. I want you here to manage the ‘body’, security here, and any other integration with their cover-up—to say nothing of further investigations into Ms. Morrow.”
“I’d like a way forward we can present on the cover-up as a whole that’s plausible and involves the minimum of interference with the family directly, and still think long term medical issue and sudden deterioration or fatal complication is… ideal. Tulane Medical is likely off-limits, but University Medical Center may be more available.”
She glances at the seneschal’s two ghouls before continuing, “Have Autumn broaden her search to include complications that might arise from treatments, especially drug combinations. There’s a lot there, so if you need to bring in a medical consultant, do so. Widney will make whatever resources are necessary available.” The last seems more for Widney’s benefit than Ferris’, though she doubts the younger ghoul would argue with the ex-CIA agent.
“If that presents a possibility of malpractice, and a patsy medically that can take a more public ‘fall’, that might even work best. I don’t expect we’ll be able to completely fool her compatriots, but if we can make the original illness convincing enough, the plausibility that a Kindred introduced a new medication could be used to point… well, every direction except ours.”
Caroline knows well enough from her own limited experience just how complicated interactions between various medications can be. Fatal complications are rarer, but hardly unknown, and sometimes people just get unlucky. Particularly severe reactions to one medication or another, and those interactions snowballing. Especially in older patients that have multiple prescriptions.
It’s somewhat terrifying—and pathetic—how fragile human beings can be.
“In the meantime… there are some affairs I need to put in order,” Caroline continues, reflecting on fragility.
“I’m bringing Green, leaving Fuller, Widney, and Autumn to coordinate. Call me if something significant changes.”
GM: “We may be of assistance, bayan, where Tulane Medical Center is concerned,” answers Kamil. “Our faces and master are known to the Krewe.”
Caroline: Caroline turns to the ancient ghoul. “It is not my preference to sully either name with this matter, if possible.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “But keep the door open, if required,” she directs Ferris.
GM: “I would counsel you, bayan, that the Krewe’s cooperation may better facilitate your plans,” Kamil states. “They monitor Tulane Medical Center the most closely, but they have agents placed within every major hospital, given the relevance of such sites to the Masquerade.”
“That is not to say carrying out such an operation without their knowledge is impossible. But it would seem to make an obstacle of what might be an asset. The preservation of the First Tradition is their foremost concern.”
Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs again in thought. “I would not look that in the face then. I shall await Mr. Congo’s call however, before I invite others into our conspiracy.”
GM: “As you say, bayan,” the deep-voiced ghoul states.
Ferris has a shrewd look in his eye, but says nothing within Kamil’s and Giselle’s presences.
He and the others repeat their acknowledgement of Caroline’s orders.
The Ventrue departs with the two elder ghouls and Green to see her sisters in a black SUV. Caroline sits in back. Green drives.
Caroline may be content to wait for many things, but her family is not among them.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s an 11-miute drive from the Giani Building to the Walter Grinnan Robinson House where the Devillers live. The 1859-65-built historic home incorporates a sophisticated blend of Greek Revival and Italianate styles with a Neoclassical cast iron fence, and is one of the largest properties in the district. Large enough to house each member the prodigious family in comfort and privacy.
True to Ferris’ earlier report, there are numerous parked cars outside. Jeremy May and Daniel Hayes, among other security personnel, are on guard. They wave Caroline’s car in without pause.
Caroline: Caroline waits for Green to park, then turns her attention to the two elder ghouls before getting out. “Several of my sisters are uncomfortable around armed men ever since one of them was shot,” she tells Kamil. “I mention it only to ask that you be mindful of your actions and inactions around them on that account.”
She turns to the casquette girl. “And I ask that you not, barring emergency, seek to use the gifts of the blood on an of them directly.”
GM: Kamil inclines his head. “I do not require weapons to fight, bayan, should the need arise.”
While all manner of firearms or blades might hide within the large folds of his dark suit, the casquette girl’s thin white dress looks as if it has little room for weapons.
She dips her head in mute acknowledgement of the order.
Caroline: “The mortal security is fair game—and in fact I would be more comfortable if you were willing to discretely verify there was no ill intent or tampering with them while we’re here.”
Her blue eyes glitter darkly in the car’s interior. “I suspect your touch with such things to be far more nuanced and elegant than my own.”
GM: The casquette girl dips her head again, then tilts it towards the car’s window as if to question ‘now?’
“Can you fucking talk or what?” Green snaps.
The casquette girl only placidly stares at Caroline.
Caroline: “When you’re three hundred years old you get certain allowances,” Caroline interrupts her own ghoul knowingly.
GM: “My parents said being old gets allowances too. They said a lot of bullshit.”
Neither of the elder ghouls reply.
Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly. “You might take notes, Ms. Green. It takes a special kind to survive centuries.”
She turns her gaze back to the elder ghoul. “As the opportunity presents itself, Gisèlle. I expect to be here until we receive the call.”
GM: The casquette girl dips her head again.
Caroline: The Ventrue slides out of the SUV and heads towards the house.
GM: Hayes and May exchange some perfunctory words with Caroline as she gets out, the latter drawlingly remarking on how he’s still waiting to show her a good time at the shooting range. The front door opens without resistance at her approach.
Caroline: She laughs passingly at May’s flirtation, trying to keep the doubts Gettis’ ‘resurrection’ has planted within her at bay, but isn’t slowed in her entry.
GM: Caroline was last inside the house several moths ago to celebrate Christmas with the Devillers. Some of the home’s exquisite features include moldings enhanced with 22 carat gold leaf, marble mantles, custom designed rugs, 19th century-painted ceiling murals, a staircase formerly in the Library of Congress, 16 ft. ceilings, and spacious, spectacular grounds with a beautiful pool and elaborate ironwork. She’s passingly acquainted with the home’s history as the original residence of an Antebellum tobacco magnate.
Caroline: She remembers even then being shocked by the wealth on display. The Malveaux family is wealthy by any objective or subjective measure. Unimaginably wealthy by the standards of most people. But there’d been something so impossibly elegant about the Devillers’ house. Something that almost laughed at other attempts to match it.
GM: Jocelyn had gushed about the historic property when she visited with Caroline, and the family had all happily entertained her request if she could take pictures. But the Ventrue wonders if her former lover would say that tonight. Like their one-time relationship that’s now so tinged with bitterness and regret, the house is not what it once was. Family pictures, which now include Caroline, hang askew. Furniture has been moved. Rearranged. All wrong. Tables at improper angles. Chairs facing away, or set out in the middle of nowhere. The times in none of the clocks match. Electric cords are unplugged, or crushed beneath table legs. Some of the drapes are only half-done, stretching over the windows like lolling tongues. Rugs seem too long or too short. Some of the ceilings feel taller or shorter than others. The length of the stairs up to the family bedrooms seem uneven. Everything about the house feels off.
Two white-furred persian cats stare at Caroline from the second floor. They feel like they’ve been sitting there for hours. She reads the names on their collars. ‘Mr. Shah.’ ‘Marie.’
They don’t hiss. They just open their mouths and soundlessly fling themselves from the railings.
Caroline: For a moment, but only just, Caroline wonders if someone has attacked the home, if it’s been invaded. The thought of someone rampaging their way through the home, terrorizing her sisters, stops her mid-step.
But she remembers Cécilia’s comments from earlier. About the home. About how much of their mother had sunk into the home. How much it was a reflection and expression of her.
It tells her all she needs to know about how much her actions have cost her. How much Caroline’s actions have cost her.
She sees the cats jump, remembers Simmone’s affection for them, and snatches them out of the air before they crash down almost on instinct.
GM: The taller Kamil reaches out for one of them as he sees Caroline do so. The Ventrue and ghoul both catch the cats. The felines rest in their grasps for a moment, then begin madly hissing, scratching, and biting. Caroline mostly doesn’t feel it past her dead skin. The ghoul evinces no pain either as he sets the one marked ‘Marie’ down.
There’s a loud crash. A toppled grandfather clock rests by Giselle’s feet, who isn’t where she was standing a moment ago.
She looks from the clock and to Caroline.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t try to hold the angry feline, releasing it as the crash sounds. She grits her teeth at the sight. “Cécilia!?” she shouts into the house. “Adeline?” She stalks forward.
GM: The ghouls follow her. Kamil frowns, rests his arm against the banister, and just as quickly pulls away.
Caroline: She turns her gaze back to him at the sudden motion.
GM: There’s a painful snap and crash as a broken-off section of banister hits the first floor. Kamil might have broken his neck if he’d been leaning on it for any longer.
Caroline: She pauses, bites her lip.
“You do not appear welcome here,” she says at last. “This may be rude to ask, but please wait outside. There is no harm awaiting me within.”
GM: “The same conclusion had occurred to me, bayan,” the ghoul nods.
There’s only a slight pause at Caroline’s order.
“As you wish, bayan. We shall see to the trustworthiness of the guards and await your return.”
Giselle silently dips her head and follows him out.
It’s as the ghouls leave that Caroline hears Cécilia’s voice call, “Caroline? I’m in Simmone’s room!”
Caroline: The Ventrue darts up the stairs towards it with the grace of a ballerina.
GM: Grace to far eclipse any ballerina, if she’s to be precise. Simmone’s bedroom on the second floor closely if not identically resembles the one Caroline saw in the LaLaurie House, down to the same Into the Woods and other theater posters, pink-sheeted bed with its fluffy comforter, and collection of stuffed animals. All that’s different is the bedroom view out over the home’s garden and swimming pool. Cécilia sits on the on the bed, dressed in a nightgown, sleeping robe, and slippers. She’s cradling a nightgown-clad Simmone on her lap, who is crying and wailing piteously in French,
“Je veux maman! Je veux maman! Je veux maman!”
(“I want Maman! I want Maman! I want Maman!”)
“Oh, Caroline, I’m so glad you’re here,” Cécilia says as she looks up from in between words of comfort. “She’s had a horrible nightmare. About Maman.”
“Ecoute, Simmone, Caroline est là. Tu reverras maman très bientôt, je te le promets,” Cécilia assures Simmone in a gently cooing voice, as if the ten-year-old were actually a much younger child.
(“Look, Simmone, Caroline’s here. You will see Maman again very soon, I promise.”)
Caroline: Caroline swallows her own fear about their mother and hides the bitter aftertaste behind a gentle smile. “Oh, on,” she slides into the room towards her youngest sister and finds a spot in the bed on the bed next to Cécilia. She extends a warming hand to take one of Simmone’s own.
“C’est terrible. Voulez-vous m’en parler?” she asks softly.
(“That’s terrible. Do you want to tell me about it?”)
GM: “E-elle est morte! Elle MORTE! Maman est morte!” Simmone wails, tears running down her face.
(“S-she died! She DIED! Maman DIED!”)
Cécilia dabs at her face with a tissue. The wastebin is very full.
Caroline: Caroline squeezes her sister’s hand. “Ça a dû être terrifiant! Puis tu t’es réveillé et elle n’était pas là. Je suis tellement désolé, Simmone,” she answers, her tone understanding.
(“That must have been terrifying! Then you woke up and she wasn’t here. I’m so sorry, Simmone.”)
GM: “Je veux Maman! Je veux Maman! Je veux Maman!” Caroline’s newly-youngest sibling sobs.
(“I want Maman! I want Maman! I want Maman!”)
Caroline: The Ventrue brushes hair from the girl’s tear-streaked with her free hand. “Elle ne peut pas venir tout de suite, chérie. Elle fait quelque chose pour moi.”
(“She can’t come right now, darling. She’s doing something for me.”)
She bites her lower lip in concern as Simmone sobs.
GM: Simmone tilts her head back and gives a wordless, high-pitched shriek:
“Caroline, there’s some-”
SLEEPING PILLS on the”
“-DRESSER, can you please get those?” Cécilia asks, trying to talk over the noise.
“Cécilia? Que se passe-t-il!?” comes Adeline’s voice at the scream.
(“Cécilia? What’s happening!?”)
Caroline: “Cauchemar,” Caroline’s voice cuts through the shrieks for Adeline.
She turns her attention back to Simmone, laying one cool hand on the girl’s cheek and turning her gaze towards Caroline’s own.
“Simmone, je ne veux pas partir comme ça. S’il vous plaît,” the Ventrue doesn’t quite plead.
(“Simmone, I don’t want to leave like this. Please.”)
GM: The ten-year-old’s ear-splitting shriek subsides into low sobs.
“Je… v-veux… Maman …
(“I… w-want… Maman…)
“The dresser, please, Caroline. She needs to sleep,” Cécilia says in English.
Caroline: The Ventrue instead wipes the freshest of Simmone’s tears away. “Je sais. Mais pour ce soir, juste une fois, vas-tu te contenter de moi?” she asks. (“I know. But for just tonight, just once, will you settle for me?”)
“Je vous tiendrai jusqu’à ce que vous vous endormiez, et je vous promets de ne plus laisser de mauvais rêves s’approcher,” she offers with a faint smile. (“I’ll hold you until you fall asleep, and I promise not to let any more bad dreams come near.”)
“Cécilia peut s’allonger de l’autre côté si vous le souhaitez, et nous pouvons vous entourer d’amour.” (“Cécilia can lay on the other side if you like, and we can surround you in love.”)
“Je chanterai même si tu veux. Vous souvenez-vous quand nous avons chanté ensemble pour maman?” (“I’ll even sing if you like. Do you remember when we sang together for Maman?”)
GM: “O-Oui…” Simmone sniffs.
“Cela semble être une merveilleuse idée, Caroline—entourons-la d’amour. Que devrions-nous chanter?” Cécilia says, scooting back across the bed as she pulls Simmone along with her. She smiles as she runs a hand through their sister’s hair.
(“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Caroline—let’s surround her in love. What should we sing?”)
Caroline: The Ventrue props herself up on the other side of Simmone, her long legs stretched out before her but still sitting up next to her.
“Des demandes?” she asks Simmone. (“Any requests?”)
When the younger girl expresses none Caroline begins softly, but more deeply than her typical soprano, slowly meandering through the lyrics like she’s taking a stroll through the park.
“Tiens-moi près et
Le sort magique que
C’est la vie en rose”
“Quand tu m’embrasses,
le ciel soupire
Et bien que je ferme
Je vois la vie en rose”
“Quand tu me presse
contre ton cœur
Je suis dans un
monde à part
Un monde où les
“Et quand tu parles, les
anges chantent d’en haut
Les mots de tous
les jours semblent se
cœur et votre âme
Et la vie sera toujours
La vie en rose”
(“Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose ")
(“When you kiss me, heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose ")
(“When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom”)
(“And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs”)
(“Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose”)
GM: Caroline first heard the Louis Armstrong rendition of the song from her dad’s records. But it’s one thing to hear it from the famous jazz singer’s warm, scratchy, deeper tones in English, and another to hear her higher rendition in melodious-sounding French.
Cécilia adds her voice to her new sister’s. It’s a warm voice with a bright, full timbre, but softer and less piercing than Caroline’s, which she recalls her choir instructor saying could potentially assert itself over a whole orchestra. The contrast between their voices isn’t as marked as Caroline’s song with Abélia’s was, but neither are the pair’s vocal types identical like Yvette’s and Yvonne’s. Instead, the Ventrue’s duet with Cécilia reminds her of a beach’s low-lapping waves at high tide. Each one looks similar enough, but follows steadily after the other, and slowly laps at Simmone’s distress like gentle waves washing over a sand castle.
cœur et votre âme
Et la vie sera toujours
La vie en rose.”
(“Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose.”)
“That was beautiful, Caroline,” Cécilia remarks quietly after their youngest sister’s whimpers for Maman have ceased. She looks at Simmone’s sleeping face for a moment longer, then back to Caroline’s.
“Maman told me about how you sang for Simmone after Luke proposed. But it’s one thing to hear about it, and another to hear it.”
Caroline: “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Caroline whispers back. “And gladder she did.” The Ventrue looks down at the sleeping Simmone. “I did too.”
GM: Cécilia looks back at their sister. “This isn’t Simmone’s first meltdown, as I’m sure you know. But that’s actually another plus to having you in the family now. I was just going to give her some pills, this has happened so many times. In fact, I even did, not that long ago. She still woke back up.”
Caroline: Caroline looks at the older of her sisters. “It must be difficult being so many things to so many people, Cécilia.”
GM: “It is, sometimes. But I think I have an easier time than some people.” She lays a hand on Caroline’s. “How did things go at Perdido House?”
There’s worry behind her eyes, but hope too. Even expectation. After all, Caroline is here.
Caroline: “We should talk outside,” Caroline replies quietly, gesturing towards Simmone.
GM: Cécilia glances back down at the sleeping ten-year-old. “You’re right, now that Maman isn’t here. It’s so easy to take all of the little things for granted.”
She rises, follows Caroline outside of Simmone’s bedroom, and quietly closes the door behind her.
“Well?” she asks excitedly as they walk towards the stairs.
Caroline: “He didn’t say no,” Caroline answers with barely contained excitement, like a teenager asked out by the presumptive prom king.
“The seneschal sent me off to help deal with the Claire stuff, and sent a pair of his servants to help.” Her footsteps are as silent as death. “I think things are about to change. For the better.”
“What happened here though?” she asks, gesturing to the wrecked home.
GM: “Caroline, that’s wonderful!” Cécilia exclaims, hugging her. “I’m so happy for you. I knew this day, or I suppose night, would come.”
Caroline: The Ventrue can’t keep, and doesn’t fight, the smile on her face. “It’s all coming together. Right at the edge of falling apart. I guess no change comes without pain. But it’s worth it.”
GM: “Absolutely,” Cécilia nods. “So what’s going to hap… actually, no. I’ll let you tell the full story to Maman and me.”
Her good humor seems to fade as she looks down the staircase over the disordered home.
“Simmone wasn’t wrong. Maman died. We all had nightmares when it happened. Though she told me it almost certainly would. Philip wouldn’t abide her presence in Perdido House.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression tightens like string suddenly pulled taunt. “He hurt her?” Then, a moment later, “She came knowing he’d hurt her?”
GM: “She knew you would need her,” Cécilia nods. “You’d know better than me exactly how it happened, but all of us felt it when she died. It’s why the house is the way it is. It’s why Simmone is the way she was. Maman is part of the house, part of us, and we are part of her.”
“You are part of her, too. It’s almost finished.”
Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth. “I did need her.” Without the distraction, to say nothing of the memory games…
Still, she didn’t want this. Hadn’t expected this cost.
“What does that mean for her? For us?”
GM: “It means a lot,” Cécilia says slowly. “I’ll explain everything in a bit. Everything that I understand, at least. But first… we need to bring her back.”
Caroline: “How?” Caroline’s answer is immediate, unhesitant.
GM: “Let me show you.” Cécilia starts down the stairs.
Caroline: The Ventrue follows tensely.
GM: “I could have started hours ago. But it’s important that you be here for this. So you can learn how to do it, too.”
Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “This has happened before?”
GM: Cécilia nods. “Yes. Maman doesn’t put all of herself into her bodies. They aren’t exceptionally hard to destroy, if she isn’t trying to keep them intact—which I don’t imagine she was in Perdido House. That wasn’t a battle worth fighting, or perhaps even possible to win.”
Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly. “I’d argue in this, as with many things, she won that battle before she walked through the door.”
GM: Cécilia only smiles. “Yes.”
“None of her bodies are great losses, in of themselves. She’s only sad for the pain their destruction can cause us. Maman is so much more than the vessels you’ve seen. Those are more like, I suppose you could say hand puppets, than what she truly is.”
Caroline: “I’m sorry it hurt you all,” Caroline replies. “I had no idea he’d react thusly. Or that they had history.”
GM: Cécilia shakes her head. “Oh, you don’t need to be, and I hope you don’t blame yourself. Maman knew you needed her help. And you couldn’t have known about their history.”
Caroline: She doesn’t argue the point. Not with Cécilia. That battle, much like Abélia’s, was won and lost long ago.
GM: “In any case,” Caroline’s new sister continues, “her bodies hold only a small portion of her. More of it is in the house,” Cécilia gestures at their surroundings, “and in… us.”
Caroline: Caroline listens attentively.
“She wasn’t gone. I think… I don’t think the seneschal realized she was always there with me, even after he… well, made his point.”
There’s some grim satisfaction in getting the better of him.
GM: “She is in all of us,” Cécilia nods. “Our lives are her lives. And her life is ours.”
“It’s harder for her to act through us than it is through her body, though. All seven of us would need to be present for her to be capable of the same things, if her body wasn’t available.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods in understanding as she continues to follow her oldest sister.
GM: “Her body can channel more of her, but not all of her. The house can contain more still, and is especially useful because we can all spend time here without it being suspicious. It’s our home, after all.”
Caroline: Caroline pointedly doesn’t ask the obvious question. The one that should be burning.
What is she.
She’s Caroline’s mother, and that’s enough.
GM: “There’s nothing wrong with being curious.”
Cécilia smiles at her.
“I’ve said our lives are one. With a little time and effort, you can learn to, I suppose open yourself, to me and the others, too.”
Caroline: “I just…” Caroline shivers, “don’t want to appear ungrateful.”
GM: Cécilia stops in mid-stride to take Caroline’s hands in hers. “Oh, no! There’s nothing wrong with questions. Whatever makes you happy, Caroline. Maman wants us to be happy. I want you to be happy.”
Caroline: There are words Caroline wants to say, but bites back. About how happy the family has already made her. About how this was what she always wanted. A family that genuinely wanted her to be happy, that she genuinely wanted to be happy, and that she didn’t have to hide from.
She bites them back almost out of reflex. Silence reigns for a moment after Cécilia’s declaration.
Finally, she battles through the walls between the truth and the open air and finds her voice. “I know, Cécilia.” She squeezes those holding hands. “I know. Old habits die hard though, even harder than Mother, and this is all… it’s so new that it seems like a dream. I don’t want the dream to end.”
GM: Cécilia smiles beatifically at her new sister as they continue to hold hands.
“You don’t need to be scared anymore, Caroline. Not while you’re here. You are home, and you are loved.”
Caroline: “I know,” she answers.
GM: “Say,” Cécilia continues with a more playful look, “if all of this feels too heavy, what do you think sounds better after I get married to your brother: Cécilia Devillers-Malveaux, or Cécilia Malveaux-Devillers? I want to take his name, but I couldn’t bear to give up our family’s either, so that seems like a good compromise.”
Caroline: Caroline’s serious expression cracks, then collapses into a smile, and finally explodes into genuine laughter.
“I think it sounds like you’re going to curse your children terribly when they’re learning to spell their names. Or, I suppose, they’ll curse you.”
GM: Cécilia softly laughs back. “They’ll have you to help them learn to spell. You’re so smart, it’ll be as easy for them as tying shoes.”
Caroline: “Oh, of course, it’ll be my problem.” Caroline rolls her eyes in mock irritation, then gives another little laugh.
“I really can’t wait to meet them, Cécilia, and to see what the future holds.” Her gaze sweeps back towards the direction they were headed. “But that future requires some works yet now to buy it.”
GM: “I can’t wait for us to meet them either,” Cécilia smiles back. Her gaze follows Caroline’s deeper into the house, then returns.
“But tell me first, I really would like your opinion: which name do you think sounds better?”
Caroline: “Malveaux-Devillers,” Caroline answers. “It lets him have primacy will always reminding everyone of who you are. And it rolls off the tongue more easily.”
GM: “Mal-Dev. Dev-Mal,” Cécilia says experimentally. “Yes, I think you’re right. It starts more softly. Yvette liked Devillers-Malveaux more, I suppose that’s no surprise.”
Caroline: “She’s possessive,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Yes, she is,” Cécilia nods. “There’s a bit of Maman in each of us.”
Caroline: “In more ways than one?” Caroline observes. There’s a twinkle in her eye.
GM: “In many ways,” her new sister smiles. “You included. You have her dutifulness, I think, most of all.”
Caroline: “The seneschal named her fallen,” Caroline abruptly slips out.
GM: Cécilia looks confused. “That’s strange. I suppose the logical question to ask is by what metric?”
Caroline: “He wouldn’t speak of it, he simply labeled her ‘the fallen one.’”
GM: “I’m not sure why he’d call her that. But then, as you’ve deduced, they have history together. Maman has said she knew him in the Old World.”
Caroline: “More games, maybe,” Caroline speculates. “His plots run deeply. I didn’t want to keep it secret, the ideas he set spinning.”
Caroline: Cécilia nods. “We can ask Maman if you’re curious. Now, so far as-”
She trails off as she and Caroline see Giselle through the front door’s paned glass. The casquette girl is standing on the front porch. She wordlessly points at several of the guards.
Caroline: Caroline nods, and mouths as very clear ‘later’ to the elder ghoul.
“Several of your people and I are going to be having very pointed conversations,” Caroline explains for Cécilia’s benefit.
GM: “Is someone there?” Cécilia asks, looking through the door’s glass.
Caroline: “One of the seneschal’s people. I asked her to examine the security people.”
GM: Cécilia looks directly at Giselle.
“I don’t see anyone. She must be hiding herself.”
“I’m so glad you thought to investigate the guards, in any case. Security isn’t really my or Maman’s area. If you don’t think they’re trustworthy, then by all means, do whatever you think is best to keep everyone safe.”
Caroline: “I have no intention of letting anyone harm any of you,” Caroline answers firmly. “We’ll see what she found. We should see to matters here, though… I don’t know how much longer I’ll have tonight.”
GM: Cécilia nods as they start off again into the house. “Yes, of course. Do you have any idea when it’ll be safe enough for the girls to go back to school?”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “One of my people, whose opinion I greatly respect, once said all protection, all physical security, was ultimately not a question of whether you could make someone perfectly safe, but whether you could make it so costly to harm them as to make it prohibitive.”
“I don’t think I could ever be comfortable with the idea that someone, anyone, could hurt any of them… or you,” she admits.
GM: “We’re safe as long as we’re here, Caroline,” Cécilia states emphatically. “I don’t want to see any of the girls hurt either. If you think the world is still too dangerous outside the house, we’ll withdraw them from school. We can get everything we need delivered here, and there’s obviously plenty of room. It’d be only a little inconvenient. There’s things they’d be sad to miss out on, of course. But they’ll accept it if Maman says it’s to keep us safe.”
Caroline: “I can’t hide all of you here forever,” Caroline answers firmly. “And even if I could, I will not fight this far and further to rob my sisters of their lives and lock them in a cage like glass dolls.”
She looks at Cécilia. “I can’t promise that no harm will come to them—or you—beyond these walls—but I know that harm will come if they never leave. Even more, it’ll attract attention, which will only tighten the noose.”
“For now, I’m going through the existing people. Anyone that I don’t like the look of we’ll get rid of, and I’m going to move some of my people over to fill the gaps. People I trust, and that have a little more idea of what to look out for.”
“After that… I want them to return to their lives. And if anyone tries to touch them… well, they’re already hard targets, ones of mostly vindictive value, and ones that whether someone hits or misses will have bring down an ungodly firestorm on whoever does it.”
“That’s more than they had yesterday. Or any day in the past.”
Cécilia nods. “I think Maman would be very pleased to hear those words from you.”
“Let’s see that she does.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s not a far walk to the house’s library. Cécilia pulls out one of the books. The shelf ponderously swings open, revealing a stairwell that descends underground—a notably unusual feature given that most houses in New Orleans lack conventional basements.
The steps appear to be made from a dark, solid material Caroline cannot identify—stone, rock, or tightly-packed soil. There’s no design or ornamentation to them. They seem raised from the living earth itself.
The bookshelf swings shut behind Caroline as she follows her sister in. There are no lights, but Cécilia doesn’t stumble or lose her way. Caroline’s eyes cannot pierce more than several feet into the gloom. The tunnel-like stairwell is utterly silent save for the soft pad of Cécilia’s slippered feet and the sharper click of Caroline’s heeled ones down the steps.
Caroline: It’s unnerving not being able to pierce the gloom for the vampire with perfect nightvision, but Caroline continues down behind Cécilia.
GM: The pair emerge into a yawning, hollowed-out chamber bereft of ornamentation or decor. It’s at least as large as the house’s atrium, but Caroline cannot say how far it goes on. She can’t see walls or ceilings. Just more gloom.
A pentagram is drawn across the floor, not with any marker or extraneous material, but dug into the ground itself. The scent of long-dried blood from within the grooves is impossible for the vampire to miss.
It stands out less, though, than the recently-dried black blood smeared over the outside floor. Abélia’s severed head lies on the ground, along with her headless body. The former grins macabrely up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes.
Caroline: Caroline looks away from the corpse. Not because she hasn’t seen plenty, but because seeing Abélia—or at least what she perceives as Abélia—in that state is a sharp stab equally humbling and shameful.
That she had to suffer to help Caroline… and that she would.
She knows the body shouldn’t be here. But then, where should it be? She knows it vanished, and all such things go somewhere.
GM: This has happened before? Caroline had asked.
Cécilia said it had happened before.
And ‘it’ did go somewhere.
All of those ‘its.’
Caroline has read accounts of how Joseph Stalin would cram scores, even hundreds of people into cells meant for only a handful, packing humans in like sardines until so much as moving their hands was impossible. He didn’t need to torture them. Not actively. He just left them alone, to thirst and starve and shit. Inevitably, one person in the immobile mass couldn’t take it anymore and would start screaming. Then the people next to him would scream. Then the people next to them. Then everyone in the entire cell, all those dozens, all screaming. People could supposedly hear them from miles beyond the prison. They described it as the most ghastly, soul-chilling sound they’d ever heard.
The other ‘its’ don’t scream.
They’re well past that state.
Some have had their guts and heads split open. Others have that their limbs or faces gnawed off. Some have their throats slit. Some look like they were exploded from within. Some look like they’ve simply rotted apart. Some are thin. Others have grotesquely swollen, pregnant bellies burst open like gory pustules.
There are tens.
More than Caroline can even see.
Black, tar-like residue coats the corpses everywhere like a morning dew. Omnipresent. They’re haphazardly stacked and piled high like so many logs of kindling. They don’t make Caroline think of sardines, though. More like shed exoskeletons—or half-devoured insects wrapped in the sticky folds of a spider’s web. The closest thing she’s seen to it are pictures of the Holocaust or German massacres on the Eastern Front.
The oddest thing is the smell.
The Ventrue would expect it to be overpowering. To send Cécilia retching on her knees, and Caroline to perhaps even long for the physical catharsis. The corpses don’t smell awful, though. They smell like her new mother’s perfume. Violet, creamy, and faintly cool.
Caroline: Caroline reaches out, but doesn’t quite touch them. Instead she covers her mouth with her other hand. “My God…” she whispers.
GM: Cécilia lays a hand on Caroline’s shoulder.
“Maman’s bodies aren’t very durable. They burn out, or simply give out. This is where they all go.”
She looks between Caroline and the piles of corpses.
“Obviously, none of the others know about this place. They’d be scarred for life, if they saw.”
She considers her new sister concernedly.
Caroline: “She’s suffered…” The Ventrue touches one of the husks. “So much.”
She looks back to Cécilia. “I won’t tell them.”
GM: The husk’s skin feels thin and brittle, like old clay. It crumbles apart beneath Caroline’s touch, even light as that is.
“She tells me it doesn’t hurt that badly, most of the time. I hope she isn’t only saying so to comfort me.”
Caroline: The Ventrue has had her own experiences with agony. With wounds that should have killed her. With bullets and blades and whips and fists. With unspeakable agony both alive and dead.
“It’s different,” Caroline reflects. “When it can’t really do more than hurt you. Pain is… manageable. The terror associated with it isn’t there. I’m sure what she goes through has its own flavor, but it isn’t quite the same as when I was human.”
Which doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
GM: Cécilia squeezes her shoulder.
“I’m sorry you’ve hurt.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a reassuring smile. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I just mean… it probably does hurt her… but not in the same way it might hurt you. Still… so many times.”
She looks away from the husks.
“How do we bring her back?”
GM: “Blood,” Cécilia answers somberly.
She reaches among the husks and withdraws a dark-hued, ancient-looking ceremonial dagger.
“I’ve said our lives are one, Caroline. That connection works both ways—for good and ill.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods.
GM: Cécilia draws the blade’s edge over her palm. She squares her jaw as red wells from the cut, then turns her hand over and lets blood dribble into the pentagram’s grooves.
“There are advantages to this, but there are drawbacks too.”
Caroline: “You should have let me,” Caroline protests as the scent of her sister’s coppery blood fills the room.
GM: Cécilia shakes her head as red continues to well from her palm. “I know being cut doesn’t mean as much to you, Caroline. But the transformation isn’t finished yet. I’m not sure your blood would satisfy.”
Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip, but doesn’t argue.
GM: “Did you notice, how Adeline didn’t come running when you said Simmone had a nightmare?”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “They don’t all know yet.”
GM: “Yes. They’re still growing to accept you as part of our lives. Simmone was so out of it already, I don’t think she questioned what you were doing here. Not to mention you’ve gotten to know her better than Adeline. She wouldn’t have wanted to cuddle up with someone who wasn’t family.”
Cécilia winces as she digs the knife’s edge in deeper and walks to the pentagram’s next point. She lets more blood dribble into the grooves.
Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth as she watches Cécilia bleed.
GM: “The…” she starts, “largest advantage to our connection with Maman is that she’s all but indestructible, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t matter how the seneschal, or anyone else, kills her bodies. She will always return.”
Caroline: “What did she do before you?” Caroline asks.
GM: Cécilia kneels to paint her blood in the space between the two points.
“I think she simply had to make do without. That’s why we’re doing this, tonight. So she can come back. If we didn’t, she would take longer. Much longer. I’m not sure how long. Years. Maybe centuries.”
“She might have been able to circumvent that restriction by putting less of herself into her bodies. That would probably give them a longer lifespan, too. But she wouldn’t be able to do as much through them. Prices to all things.”
Caroline: Nothing is ever really free. Sometimes it simply isn’t you paying the price.
GM: Cécilia walks to the pentagram’s next point. She grimaces again as she slices the blade across her uncut hand, then lets the blood pool.
“Maman…” she starts falteringly, “might also have been permanently diminished, if she’d been destroyed then. Or perhaps banished from our world. I’m not sure what would have happened.”
She sets the knife down for a moment to apply pressure to her cut hand, but winces at that.
“We are her anchors. We focus her power and keep her essence tied to the physical world. It doesn’t matter how many of her bodies get destroyed, so long as we live. Or exist, in your case. She will always return.”
“But as I’ve said, that connection cuts both ways.”
Cécilia then tells Caroline their mother’s weakness.
Her true weakness.
“It might, maybe even probably would, be enough to permanently destroy her. Without any chance of coming back.”
Caroline: Caroline listens gravely, but shakes her head.
“That won’t happen.”
GM: “I hope you’re right.”
Caroline: “Me too.” The talk was even bleaker than Cécilia bleeding herself.
“All the pentagram has to be filled?” she asks.
GM: Cécilia nods with a faint wince. There’s eight major points left.
Caroline: “How many times have you done this?” Caroline asks her sister.
GM: “More than I can remember, honestly,” Cécilia answers.
“Maman doesn’t let me scar, and it normally doesn’t take very much blood.”
Caroline: “It just hurts,” Caroline answers.
GM: Cécilia nods.
“It’s worth it, of course.”
Caroline: “Do you want help?” Caroline asks.
She knows well how much self-control it takes to bite into your flesh, to draw blood. It’s the difference between waiting for the nurse to give you a shot and jamming the needle into your flesh. That natural aversion that’s so hard to overcome.
GM: “I… yes,” Cécilia nods, gratefully. “It’s going to take a lot of blood, this time. Maman can’t make do with a lesser body, not with Gettis on the loose.”
“A lot of blood.”
“The more that’s shed, the faster she can come back, and the stronger the body.”
Caroline: “Does she heal these, when she comes back?” Caroline asks. “Can she?”
GM: There’s uncertainty across Cécilia’s face for a moment.
“I hope so. I don’t usually cut myself very deeply. Maman normally has some sense of when a body is going to break down.”
Caroline: “You start rebuilding the next early.”
GM: Cécilia nods. “Yes. Sometimes, I can space it out over time.”
“Other times, actually most of the time, there’s a component to the ritual she hasn’t told me. She says she wants to keep my hands clean. My soul clean.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. With their mother.
She takes the knife from Cécilia and lightly tests its edge.
GM: It’s quite sharp, despite its apparent age.
Caroline: “If it doesn’t have to be this blade, a needle would be far more effective in the future. And less painful,” Caroline observes. “And less dangerous to you.”
“If it has to be a blade, sharper is better. A razor is best. It cuts deeper, further into the blood vessels. A scalpel would work best, but even a straight razor, box cutter, or hobby knife might work better.”
Not that she intends on letting Cécilia do much more of this.
“You won’t scar?” Caroline asks again, just to be sure.
GM: “I don’t know,” Cécilia admits. “Maman isn’t a healer. I’ve not needed to cut myself that deeply, in the past.” She gives a faint smile. “Clearly you know much more about this sort of thing than I do.”
Caroline: “Does it need to be the knife?” Caroline asks instead, at that answer.
GM: Cécilia considers. “I don’t think so. We don’t have any scalpels in the house, but we have plenty of shaving razors.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I don’t want to risk scars.”
GM: “There’s always scar revision surgery, if it comes down to it. We did that for Yvonne.”
Caroline: “What happened there?” she asks, pointing to one of the nearby bodies.
GM: Cécilia looks away. “What hap-”
Caroline: Caroline raises the woman’s wrist to her mouth and opens two perfect little holes with the blades as sharp as any razor where she used to have eyeteeth. Blades specifically designed to create deep bleeding wounds.
“Cup your hand?” she directs without hesitation orienting Cécilia’s wrist so the blood runs down and pools into her palm.
GM: “Oh!” Cécilia exclaims, giving a little start as Caroline’s fangs penetrate her. It’s a milder reaction by far, though, next to when she used the knife.
But what’s comparatively gentle for Cécilia is less so for Caroline.
It’s only the faintest of tastes. The inevitable contact between canine and blood without any effort to suck the latter.
The Ventrue almost doubles over from the nightshade-like whiff of poison she scents running through her sister’s veins.
Caroline: She spits the poisonous residue in her mouth into the darkness away from them in a very unladylike manner.
GM: Cécilia examines the already welling wound appreciatively. “Oh, I see. Thank you, Caroline. I suppose it’s no s… are you all right?” she questions as the Ventrue spits.
Caroline: “It’s fine,” Caroline answers, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
GM: Cécilia’s face shows realization.
“You almost tasted my blood. I’m so sorry I didn’t warn you.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a weak smile. “I didn’t warn you either. But I don’t think you’ll be winning any prizes at a vintage club.”
GM: “True. I suppose that makes us even enough,” Cécilia smiles back. Her face grows graver though as she explains, “Maman doesn’t want any Kindred using us as vessels. Our blood is poison. They’ll be killing themselves if they try.”
Caroline: “Good,” comes Caroline’s smug response. If she’d had any intention of drinking from Cécilia—if she hadn’t specifically been trying to avoid doing so—there’s no way she could have avoided at least one mouthful of poison.
She doesn’t imagine most of the family’s dangers are from other vampires specifically, but it’s good to know any foolish lick that stops one of her sisters on the street will get… far more than they expect, even if it is everything they deserve.
GM: “Maman’s laid protections on us against common attacks. Feeding, disciplines, ghouling… I don’t know that they’ll apply to you, though, given that you’re already Kindred.”
Caroline: “I keep a sword for most of those problems,” comes Caroline’s dry reply.
GM: Cécilia gives a faint laugh. “Yes, I suppose you wouldn’t need them as much anyway.”
Caroline: She guides Cécilia’s blood-filling hand around to each point in sequence.
“They’re still dangers. I’ve had vampires that wanted to feed on me, even after I was Embraced, and enjoyed the non-too-subtle touch of more than one discipline. But no lick on the street is likely to get the better of me in that way.” Especially not now, with the power she’s ripped from the bishop’s blood, and with her sire’s protection.
She remembers the last group that tried jumping her on the street. Remembers them getting burned at the trial like the trash they were. After she beat them into torpor.
GM: Kindred fangs can leave very, very deep punctures. They have to, after all. Caroline can well attest as to her (and any Kindred’s, except maybe thin-bloods’) ability to totally exsanguinate a vessel through those two points and some slowly determined sucking.
Cécilia doesn’t make do with a cursory drop. She lets a lot of blood flow. A lot of blood. She starts to look woozy, almost inebriated, and very, very pale. She eventually forgoes standing altogether and gets down on her knees.
“Maybe… Maman could help there… if you could still… find it… use…”
She gestures as if to finish the sentence.
Cécilia slowly runs her hands over the lines between each of the points. She gets it everywhere. The punctures are deep, but not very wide. It takes a long time.
Caroline: The Ventrue carefully monitors Cécilia as she bleeds. Most licks, she imagines, get pretty good at judging blood loss. She likes to think her background gives her a further leg up. They hit a point after which she looks at her sister and simply declares, “Enough.”
GM: Cécilia dully shakes her head.
“I don’t know… this is enough… for a… good body…”
She slowly rolls back the sleeve of her sleeping robe, fumbles for the knife, and starts searching for an artery.
“Need… to keep the others… safe…”
Caroline: Caroline snatches the knife from her sister’s hand with all the effort it would take to snatch it from a child’s.
“It’s enough, Cécilia,” she says more forcefully. “I’d sooner array all my ghouls around the family in a ring of steel than let you spill another drop.”
“You’ve done enough,” she continues more softly, as she reaches and cuts away a strip of her sister’s nightgown sleeve.
GM: Cécilia weakly shakes her head again.
“I… know you don’t… want me… but it won’t… be enough… this… is worth it… to have… Maman… full strength…”
Caroline: Caroline uses one hand to lift Cécilia’s gaze to her own.
“Not with you in trade,” she answers. “I wouldn’t let any vessel give this much if I wasn’t trying to hurt them.”
GM: “Carol… they, we need her…” Cécilia protests. “I don’t know how long… the house’s… will last…”
She dumbly reaches for the knife.
Caroline: “Far less long than it will without you,” Caroline almost snaps.
She bites her lip as she eyes Cécilia’s still-bleeding wrist. She doesn’t know how much longer they have down here, and doesn’t trust an improvised bandage given the depth of the wound.
She takes Cécilia’s wounded wrist in one hand, tucking the knife behind her and out of Cécilia’s reach, then mentally prepares herself for a moment. This is going to hurt. But what had she told her sister? Pain is different when it isn’t going to inflict permanent wounds.
The Ventrue swipes the scrap of robe across Cécilia’s wrist to wipe the wound as clean as she can, and immediately, cobra-quick, leans in to lick the wound closed.
GM: Caroline is fast enough to not only get the two punctures, but the knife slashes across Cécilia’s hands as well. Kindred ‘saliva’ truly does possess miraculous properties, though when she considers it next to what vitae can already do, she supposes its relative efficacy is consistent.
“Oh, Caroline… you didn’t have…” Cécilia starts. “Thank you… but we need… I don’t keep the others safe… like Maman…”
Caroline: The Ventrue spits again, hacking up the poison even as it burns. Poison born in the darkness. But then, she’s no petty creature of darkness either, is she? The strength of two ancient evils runs within her. She’s stained her soul black enough as it is.
Let the poison have what it can take. She’s a creature of poison in a way few Kindred ever are.
Besides, whispers the poison, isn’t it your fault Cécilia is here doing this tonight in the first place? Your fault Simmone woke up in terror. Your fault Abélia ‘died.’ And you can’t even make it right. Cécilia has to. She has to suffer for you.
Caroline tries to ignore the voice in her head keeping score with her mother and sisters. The ways they’ve saved her already. How poorly she’s repaid them in turn. She tries, but the voice cuts through all the same. Claire’s voice always did.
She looks back up at her sister. “Don’t you?” she asks without irony.
“You’re the only one who knows the truth, about everything. You’re the bridge between her, me, them, and everything else in the night. You’re the one here tonight when she can’t be, and the one who’s taken care of them for years. Who kept them here, safe through the day.”
“They need you every bit as much as they need her, now as much as ever.”
The I need you goes unsaid.
GM: Cécilia looks at Caroline for a moment with drooping eyes, then slumps against her sister’s shoulder.
“You’re… you’re right… I’m just scared for them, if… Gettis… or… other… Maman has enemies…”
Caroline: “I know,” Caroline replies, laying a hand on the back of Cécilia’s head to hold her. “But you don’t have to be afraid. He does.”
“Because he’s not in the shadows anymore. He’s not safe. The sheriff and the hounds will hunt him. The prince will hunt him. And we will hunt him.”
GM: “But what… if he… if something… comes for us…?”
Caroline: Caroline looks around the basement. “Looks like there’s plenty of space to stack their bodies down here.”
GM: Cécilia gives a faint laugh. “That’s… morbid…”
Caroline: “I mean it, Cécilia. Anyone who comes for any of you, anyone who even tries, anyone who even thinks about it. I’ll bury them in a shallow grave just like I’m going to bury Gettis. But not before I pry a scream from him to match every one he ever inflicted on Simmone in kind.”
GM: Cécilia gives another faint, half-coughed laugh.
“It’s no wonder… Yvette looks up… to you. There a lot of… Maman in you… both of you…”
Caroline: “In all of us, Cécilia,” Caroline answers.
GM: “You’re such a… good sister… Caroline. I feel like… you were just waiting… to be…”
Caroline: “Maybe I was. But I am now.”
GM: “It’s nice… having someone I can be… open with… about everything…”
Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline agrees. “Yes, it is.”
GM: Cécilia weakly motions at the pentagram.
“Let’s… try now…”
Caroline: Caroline props up her sister from the side, letting Cécilia lean on her. “What do we do next?” she asks.
GM: “Trid… eka… gramm,” Cécilia murmurs. She leans heavily on Caroline. “Draw… extra lines… no blood…”
Caroline: Caroline takes the knife from where she put it and studies the pentagram for a moment, outlining in her head where to put the next lines before she accidentally defaces the oh-so-costly pentagram.
GM: It takes some time to carefully draw the extra points, but Caroline’s hand is nothing if not steady. Cécilia waits patiently, tells Caroline to “say the words as I say them,” and then crawls up to the pentagram’s edge as her sister finishes.
“Mater… autem diligunt te. Mater… venerit ad nos.”
(“Maman… we love you. Maman… come back to us.”)
Caroline: Caroline kneels beside her sister and does as she instructs, her own voice steady beside Cécilia’s wavering one.
“Mater… autem diligunt te. Mater… venerit ad nos.”
(“Maman… we love you. Maman… come back to us.”)
GM: The response is immediate.
The red blood turns black and rolls across the extraneous indentations, filling all thirteen. The pentagram’s center space turns pitch black too. Then the other spaces do, seeming to fall away into a starless void one by one.
But that void is not empty.
A shape slowly approaches from within. Huge like a lunar eclipse drawn impossibly close to earth, and swollen like the abdomen of some monstrously bloated spider. The chamber plunges into near-darkness as sight warps, sound shudders, and wetly dripping rents open in the air behind the pentagram, as if reality is bleeding from the presence’s arrival. Its grotesque bulk seems at once behind, below, above, and adjacent to those rents, impossible for Caroline to perceive in its true size and dimensions, yet hedged in by the pentagram. Enormous tendrils like a spider’s disjointed legs or a kraken’s tentacles swim against the barrier.
Cécilia reaches forward to rub her hand over the blood-inscribed pentagram—a catastrophic decision if there is also a binding circle in place, Caroline knows, that would ruin the binding and allow a summoned entity free reign to do as it pleased.
Caroline: Caroline received only brief but all-too terrifying glimpses of Abélia’s might in the past. Of course calling her forth would be a summoning. Hasn’t she ever seemed to exist halfway in another world? Still, to see the ritual of her return so nakedly exposed for what it is plants questions.
Questions about where it is they call her from. Where she came from. Even what she is. This warper of time and space, rewritter of history, implanter of forbidden lore.
Questions aplenty, but no doubts. Abélia is less than—or more than—human, but then isn’t Caroline? Does it make her less capable of genuine affection? Less caring of those she loves?
Caroline doesn’t think so, and she doesn’t stop her sister from shattering the binding. Cécilia doesn’t bind Abélia. She releases her.
Caroline does not desire to change that.
GM: An earthquake-like shudder wracks the earth beneath Caroline’s knees, the air around her ears, as if the very elements are moaning in protest against the presence’s arrival. Color leeches from Cécilia’s blonde hair, pale skin, blue eyes, rose sleeping robe, leaving only muted grays. The Ventrue looks down at her own hands and sees a shot out of a black and white film. Caroline’s, her sister’s, and all the room’s shadows flicker like guttering flames, then tear themselves free, racing towards the omnidimensional heart of darkness at the center of the pentagram. The churning, whirpool-like maw swallows them greedily, seems to swell vaster still, vaster than even the boundary-less chamber can contain, and then explodes. Darkness seeps over everything like a foul black tide. It seeps into Caroline’s clothing, her hair, her orifices, the pores of her skin, and deeper still. She can’t see anymore. There’s just black.
But still, somehow, there is another blackness. Even deeper.
It rises from the pentagramaic grooves, swelling into an amorphous, gelatin-like shape and form. But the process is not like it was in Maldonato’s office. The shape jerkingly shudders, twists, explodes, and collapses as if it’s being run through a meat grinder. Pale skin grows, stretches, pops, and runs like melted wax. Bones snap, crunch, and shatter. Organs wetly burst like overripe fruits. Eyes pop. Matted black hair blossoms from lymph nodes heart vessels like rapacious weeds, then sizzles away beneath running stomach acids. Suffering flesh weeps red. But there is no red and there is no flesh. Maman wouldn’t have any of them if Caroline were to cut her open, and she can’t see anything anyway, just a writhing, even blacker shape in the gloom, a roaring midnight tide downpouring into a too-small, too-brittle vessel.
The Caroline opens her eyes, and it’s all gone. The room and its occupants have color and shadows and all those things that everything is supposed to have again.
Caroline’s new mother, garbed in the same navy-midnight dress, strides out from the pentagram. Her expression melts as she looks upon the two sisters.
“Oh, my poor, sweet Caroline,” she croons. “Oh, my poor, dear Cécilia.”
She sinks to her knees and cradles the pair’s heads against her bosom.
“You have hurt, for me. You have feared, for me. You have suffered, for me.”
Soft hands stroke Caroline’s and Cécilia’s hair.
“My precious, darling daughters. No treasures among Solomon’s riches or the Templars’ hoards could be as priceless to me as you.”
Cécilia, still so pale from her bleeding, all but melts into Abélia’s embrace. Caroline can see the relief in her still-drooped eyes, the childlike instinct to curl up against someone older, someone wiser, someone who loves you, and to let them simply take care of you.
“Maman… you’re back…”
“Of course I am, sweet child,” their mother purrs. “No force within creation may keep me apart from you who are my blood.”
Cécilia offers no reply. She simply lies against Abélia and lets their mother hold her.
Caroline: Coming from someone else, perhaps anyone else, Abélia’s words might seem patronizing. Mocking. Even ridiculous.
They don’t from Abélia.
Perhaps because it’s been so long—if ever—since Caroline heard unadulterated praise. Perhaps because she’s so tired of being worthless in the eyes of others. Perhaps because it’s Abélia, because the monster clad in her sister’s dark blood, has been so good to her, has given her no reason to doubt her genuine affection.
Because she walked into Perdido House with her, knowing what would happen. Because she was her shield against the seneschal’s rape of her mind. Because she showed Caroline the truth when everyone else cloaked everything in only lies. Because she adopted Caroline when she had literally nothing else, and has given her a family that loves her.
And maybe because the dark cynical voice in her head, that whispers not to trust, not to believe, and not to hope in Claire’s most patronizing voice is nowhere to be found around her.
She doesn’t melt into her mother’s arms. She’s not weak, not hurting, not afraid, in the same way that her sister is. Not now. But she does glow under her attention, under the soft touch of this otherworldly entity of ineffable size and darkness that she calls simply:
GM: “Adoption?” Abélia chuckles, running her hand through Caroline’s hair.
“No, my dear. I do not believe in adoption. I find it piteous, even tragic, that mortals would willingly accept a figurative cuckoo’s egg into their nest and raise the chickling as their own.”
Caroline: “Metaphorically,” Caroline clarifies, with a hint of a smile.
GM: “A mother cannot adopt her own blood, dear child. The very notion is superfluous. You are of my blood. Our blood. Your sister has told you thusly: your life is my life. My life is your life. No cuckoo’s chickling may share what we share.”
“You have joined our family later than your sisters—but then, has not Simmone after you? She is no less our blood than Cécilia.”
Caroline: “I didn’t mean to convey any doubts as to that,” Caroline defends. “Only my gratitude that you were there when I was at my worst. Regardless of the circumstances.”
GM: Abélia chuckles again.
“You do not doubt, my dear. You have doubted many things, and rightly. But this I know you do not.”
Caroline: “Not you,” Caroline answers.
GM: Her hand brushes the Ventrue’s cheek as her dark eyes meet Caroline’s pale blue ones. Then she says the three words Caroline had yet to hear:
“I love you, Caroline.”
“I love you with all of my heart and all of my soul. I love you for all that you have been and all that you now are. It gladdens me that you are of Caine’s blood as well as mine own. If the world burnt to preserve our family’s lives, then creation would be so much the better. Let the kine die in droves to slake your thirst. If their blood makes you strong, then the trade is a worthy one! To know you are strong is pleasing to me.”
“I love you, my sweet, precious Caroline. There is so much about you that is so worthy of love.”
Caroline: Caroline glows under Abélia’s words.
Her mother’s praise is better than presents under the tree on Christmas morning. It’s better than her acceptance into Clan Ventrue. It’s better than her sire’s taciturn acknowledgement of her.
It’s her heart’s desire.
It’s an unfamiliar feeling that swells in her breast and nearly brings bloody tears to her eyes.
“Thank you,” she replies, her voice choked with emotion. She leans into the hand cupping her cheek. “I love you too, Maman.”
And I will make you proud.
GM: Abélia smiles benignly as if to say Caroline already has.
“You are one of us now, my dear. One of us in every way. My rebirth has completed your transfiguration.”
The raven-haired woman’s eyes shine.
“You can feel it, can’t you? I hope your new name is pleasing to your ears.”
Caroline: The heiress smiles. “I feel… better than I have in… ever,” she admits.
And she does. Like she can be who she really is.
No. That’s not quite right.
Like she actually is who she always has been.
“Malveaux-Devillers.” She runs the name over her tongue slowly. “Yes, I rather like it.” Her blue eyes glitter. “I mean, I’ve been using it my entire life, so I’d hope so.”
GM: Abélia’s dark ones twinkle.
“Some things never fail to bring us joy, when we but pause to think of them.”
The content smile spreads.
“Daughters chiefly among such.”
Soft yet heavy footsteps sound from the stairs.
Abélia looks down at Cécilia, silent but for the steady intake of her breath. Her eyes are closed.
“Your sister has given so much of herself for us, I suppose it is no surprise Hypnos has claimed her. Come, let us see her to bed.”
The faceless servant emerges from the gloom. It silently bends to pick up Cécilia’s sleeping form between its arms.
Caroline: “I’m worried about her,” Caroline answers, watching carefully as the faceless servant takes up her sister. “She takes on too much.”
GM: “You and she are the responsible ones in the family,” her mother smiles, brushing a hair from Cécilia’s face as they proceed up the steps. “It is little wonder you are so close. I am gladdened that you shall now be able to alleviate her labors—and she your own.”
“But burdens shared are not always burdens halved. Is there a course with your sister you might counsel, Caroline, to ease those burdens’ weight?”
Caroline: “Only caution, Maman,” Caroline replies. “Left to her own devices this night, she might have bled herself dry, might still be bleeding, in her desire to protect her sisters.”
GM: “Yes, we must see to it that such a thing cannot occur again,” Abélia concurs. “There are components to the ritual I have withheld from her, in a decision that was perhaps selfish and unwise. But they are components you, perhaps, may be better-suited to perform.”
Caroline espies it out of the corner of her eye just as the cold chamber recedes into the gloom.
Claire’s last clothes.
On one of Abélia’s husks.
Caroline: “Even without, if my blood can substitute, that is a far better option,” Caroline answers. “She…”
The Ventrue’s voice dies as she spots the clothing.
GM: Abélia and the faceless man pause in their ascent.
“What is it, sweet child?”
Caroline: She looks back to where she saw Claire’s clothing.
“I thought I saw something,” Caroline answers, turning back to face Abélia. “But it wasn’t anything that mattered.”
GM: Caroline’s new mother smiles as she lays a hand upon her shoulder.
“All that matters, my dear, stands before us here.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: It’s not a long walk to Cécilia’s bedroom, even in the large house. Abélia resumes as they make their way,
“I fear that this body, for all the selflessness of your sister’s sacrifice, is less than my prior ones. It shall not last for a great many workings, nor withstand my greatest workings without equally great harm. I shall confine myself to the house to better conserve its strength.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Could I make a stronger one? With enough of my blood? I can give far more than she ever will.”
GM: “Yes and no, my dear.”
“Your blood shall suffice as well as Cécilia’s to create future receptacles for my essence. Better, in fact, for the reasons you have observed.”
“You could pay the price to create another body for me now, were you inclined. However, it would avail us but little. Much of my essence is housed within this body. For that essence to be released, this body must be destroyed.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “Something for the future, then… can your current body be fortified?”
GM: Abélia smiles at Caroline’s quick grasp of the consequences. “Clever girl. The bishop’s soul has only further expanded your mind, has it not? He was always a bright one.”
Caroline: “And honed my senses. It was necessary,” Caroline echoes her previous comment on the matter. “The seneschal’s plan alone will fail.”
The Ventrue looks at her mother. “But you knew that.”
GM: Abélia smiles contently.
“It fills me with pride how you continue to increase your powers, my dear. Adeline shall not rest so easily upon her laurels as the family’s ‘smartest’, now.”
Caroline: “I don’t expect he will be the last,” Caroline concedes.
GM: “Whom shall you sup upon next? It is never too early to start laying one’s plans.”
Caroline: “Someone mightier,” Caroline answers. “The bishop helped, but he wasn’t enough. Not for what I need.”
GM: “Hmm,” Abélia says thoughtfully, “a true elder, perhaps. By this city’s reckoning, at least. Whom among their ranks have most displeased you?”
Caroline: “She already met her end,” Caroline replies savagely.
GM: “Yes, it is a shame her Blood could not have been put to better use. I know of but few Cainites who might have brought you closer to the Dark Father.”
“Utham would never conceive of such a thing, of course, even though her soul might have strengthened his.”
Caroline: “Of the remaining…” Caroline muses. “Much depends on how the cards lay when the seneschal and the prince have cast them. There are only so many pieces I can pull from the tower before it crumbles.”
GM: “Indeed, my dear. Better that we push it ourselves so you might seize the choicest pieces ere the tower crumbles.”
Caroline: “I would sooner remake it in my image than tear it down. Chaos breeds violence.”
GM: “All succumbs to ruin in due course, dear child. Chaos is ineluctable.”
“Alder John occurs to me as an elder who dwells in comparative isolation from that tower, nevertheless. You are not overly fond of him, are you?”
Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees. “I am not.”
“But if I were to choose a name from those in the city—that I know of… Opal has made herself the prince’s foe, and Chastain seems poorly of use of her blood these nights.”
GM: Abélia halts immediately.
Caroline: Caroline pauses. “Or have I misjudged things?”
GM: Her mother’s dark eyes silently roam hers.
“You know not what you say, dear child,” she finally states. “There are truths concerning one of the Cainites whom you name that must, and shall, be made clear to you.”
Caroline: “I am a humble vessel for such truths,” Caroline replies.
GM: Her mother’s smile returns.
“There is little in you that is humble. Your pride gives me much to take pride in.”
Caroline: The Ventrue’s grin is positively wolfish.
GM: “It has been starved for so long, hasn’t it, like a radiant flower denied sun and water? Starved and denied by those who presume themselves your betters. It shall pleasure me immeasurably to see that pride blossom in more verdurous conditions.”
Caroline: “They’re coming. Perhaps even here,” Caroline answers. “I can feel it, like the first drops of rain from a summer storm. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long.”
GM: “You have eternity, my dear,” her mother replies contently. “Take heed from this: an immortal’s ambitions may never outlive her.”
Caroline: “Will they?” she asks in sudden concern. “Get old? Die?”
GM: “Of course not, sweet child,” Abélia answers consolingly. “I would not have your sisters face so ignoble a thing as old age. We love them with all of our hearts. Why should we ever wish to let them go?”
“Why should so distasteful a thing as death spell an end to our family?”
Caroline: The Ventrue lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.
“It shouldn’t,” she replies firmly. Perhaps selfishly. Gratefully.
GM: “Some of their futures pose a greater dilemma to me than others. Simmone has told me many times that she does not wish to grow up, and I do not wish to be without a child upon my knee.”
Caroline: A forever child. Not a fate Caroline would ever wish, but she can see it in Simmone. She recalls Pearl’s herald in a similar role and distantly wonders how the ‘girl’ feels about that.
GM: “Cécilia and I discussed, what did she call them, ‘hormone blockers’ to delay the onset of womanhood pursuant to more permanent recourses. ‘Blockers’, however, are apparently unable to prevent further height growth. More is the pity. Simmone’s time to remain a child is swiftly elapsing.”
“Cécilia told me you once studied to become a physician. Are you aware of any medicines that might forestall further growth?”
Caroline: “The opposite,” Caroline answers quietly. “High hormone doses have had success in stopping growth, but brings on the onset of puberty more quickly.”
GM: “Your sister mentioned hormone blockers accelerated growth for girls. It appears we shall have to turn elsewhere than the sciences of mankind.”
Caroline: “Not only accelerates, but perpetuates. The longer she’s on them, the taller she’ll grow.”
GM: “Simmone’s continued childhood remains a pressing matter, to be certain, yet not one so pressing we need it address tonight,” Abélia states as the four enter Cécilia’s bedroom. It’s a clean and neatly organized space, with family pictures (that include Caroline) and a few pieces of art to liven up the walls. The faceless man lies Cécilia down upon the bed. Abélia sits and strokes her forehead.
“She is such a role model to your sisters. So responsible. I must not forget she is still a child, too.”
Caroline: “And vulnerable,” Caroline answers. “Or, perhaps, fragile is a better word.”
GM: Abélia smiles down at her daughter wistfully as the faceless man silently withdraws from the room.
“As to your prior question, my dear.”
“Much of my essence is bound within the house, your sisters, and you. My present vessel’s rate of decay may be postponed by remaining close to those things. Less puissant and less frequent workings of power may also prolong its lifespan.”
Caroline: Caroline muses, “Would it be better then if I slept here, during the day?”
GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh. “Such a quick mind. Your sister and I had intended to ask you that very same thing, sweet child, though the extension of my present body’s lifespan was not among our reasons.”
Caroline: “But it would help extend its lifespan,” Caroline presses.
She pauses. “I had not intended to—I didn’t want to draw more attention to the family, but…”
GM: Abélia cups Caroline’s chin beneath her hand and raises it to meet her eyes.
“Blood defends its own, Caroline. There is no truer demonstration of love than sacrifice. I dare any power that names you foe to assail you within these walls. This body is less than I am wont to inhabit. But my power here remains strong, and I shall defend my young with ferocity to match any lioness.”
“No force shall harm you here while I yet draw breath to seek its annihilation. This I swear.”
Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on her mother’s arm. “I have—had—no doubt of my safety. But I would bring no others to the doorstep of my mother or sisters without cause.”
GM: Abélia’s dark eyes glint.
“Blood defends its own, my child. Your battles are our battles.”
“Now,” she continues as if the matter is settled, “as to interrupted matters.”
“This body shall join the husks below the house in due course. A gradual death is kinder upon your sisters than a sudden death, as are less frequent ones. Most of my vessels’ deaths go unnoticed, save within the darkest and most slumbering corners of your dreams.”
“What I have perhaps erred in not telling your sister,” she strokes Cécilia’s head, “is that blood alone is a paltry sacrifice before other offerings. I must be fed, my dear. In lives. Almost any mortal’s or night-folk’s shall do. A handful of blood from you or your sisters may then restore me to my full puissance in a new body.”
“The sacrifice must be slain within the circle you saw below and dedicated specifically to my name. Any other corpse is of limited but not nonexistent use. I require less blood to reshape an existing body than to fashion a new one from nothing—or to be precise, from the blood shed in my name.”
“The blood shed by your sister is the whole of my present body. For that reason, it is a poor vessel. Blood is a lesser sacrifice than a life.”
“You, however, could shed such a degree of blood without lasting harm, were you unable or unwilling to sacrifice a life in my name. What is death to the kine is starvation and torpor to you.”
Caroline: Caroline considers for only a moment. “You were wise not to tell her. Cécilia would do anything for her sisters. For you. I don’t think she’d even hesitate, if it came down to it.”
The Ventrue looks down at her sleeping, oh so pale sister. “But that’s not a burden she should carry.” She looks back at their mother. “Not when I’m here.”
GM: Abélia smiles that same serenely content smile as she strokes Cécilia’s and then Caroline’s cheeks.
“No treasure among Solomon’s riches or the Templars’ hoards would enrich me as greatly,” she repeats.
Caroline: What’s another murder? Nothing, for her family. She can think of plenty of people that need killing, and no better reason.
Part of her quakes at how readily that decision is made, but here, now, in this house, it’s a very small part indeed. Like an ant trying to make itself heard before an elephant.
“Speaking of,” Caroline continues after a moment, “the seneschal instructed me to put affairs here in the city in order, for a period. I don’t know how long.”
GM: “Perhaps that is little surprise,” her mother reflects. “What affairs would you see to here, dear child—and which ones might your sisters and I aid you in?”
Caroline: Caroline muses for a moment. “Large items are managing the cover-up of Claire’s death, especially the transition between the seneschal directing my ‘coordination’ with the bishop and handing off the effort entirely.”
“Cleaning house here with the physical security. I’ve already set one of the seneschal’s agents to investigate them. I’m going to shift some of my people over to take the lead on overall security. It’ll also provide an opportunity to fold in some recent assets I’ve acquired since Claire’s death and keep them engaged if I’m gone any extended period.”
She muses a moment longer, her fist before her face, “Inserting tendrils and control over the Malveauxes. I don’t know that there will be immediate interest in conceding that domain to me, but when I win that battle I’d be ready to take action immediately.”
GM: Abélia nods. “Yes, my dear. After the bishop is found to have met final death, to be certain—and you may invite scrutiny as someone who sought to gain from the crime if you appear too interested in his holdings too quickly.”
She smiles proudly as she cups her hand along Caroline’s cheek.
“But nor is my daughter one to wait upon the beneficence of another. She will claim what is hers, and allow others to think it was bestowed by their hands.”
“The security means naught to me while our family is gathered in this place. They are there for your sisters’ peace of mind. Do as you will with them.”
Caroline: “I don’t fear for them here,” the Ventrue replies. “Nor can I truly protect them out there if someone is willing to die for it. But I can make the cost of doing so high. Make them force themselves in the open. Perhaps buy time for them to get away.”
GM: “Little may turn aside a determined will,” Abélia concurs. “Take whatever measures you see fit.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “As for the Malveauxes, I think another making a move on them—or being thought to—may encourage them properly.”
GM: “What a splendid thought, my dear. What Cainites would you strike a blow against who might also harbor plausible interest in the family?”
Caroline: “Pierpont McGinn’s growing interest in kine politics is well known, and he is not a piece simply removed by the prince in response,” Caroline offers. She does not comment on the many slights she’s endured at his hand.
“The same might be true of Marcel Guilbeau, eager to sink his teeth back into the state’s politics.” She doesn’t use either Kindred’s titles with her mother.
“A would-be prince—but not obvious foe to the prince—is an ideal candidate, I think, since it makes it less simple to simply harm them for him,” Caroline muses.
GM: “Plausible motives, my dear. What gain would you seek by sowing discord between either of these Cainites and the prince?”
Abélia seems content to leave prolonged discussion on that matter to the future, however, before bringing up others.
“Why, I see you’ve brought a fille à la casquette with you! They are such precious things. Do take care of her, Caroline. If you must sacrifice one of Philip’s servants, sacrifice the Nubian.”
“I shall prepare a secure haven in anticipation of your return. I can hardly wait for you to meet your other sisters as their sister—Yvette and Yvonne have been so distraught over that unfortunate business with Sarah. But there is little they will not forgive among family.”
She strokes Cécilia’s hair, then states, “There is one final matter before you leave us, dear child.”
Abélia bares a smooth, milk-pale breast. Black blood wells from the nipple.
“Do you thirst?”
Caroline: The truth is she always thirsts. It’s always there, lurking in the background. She can feel the Beast stir at the sight of the blood, feel it scenting the air, its senses—her senses—sharpening even past the razor’s edge they already at.
She shoves back at it, jerks the choke chain tight around the monster’s throat as she keeps her hold on the slavering Beast, lest she become one.
“Constantly,” she admits, her eyes fixated on the leaking blood despite her efforts, her teeth coming to points. “But not such that I’d harm you.”
“You need your strength, the others need your strength.”
GM: Abélia runs a finger along Caroline’s protruding fangs, her face as tender as when she stroked Cécilia’s hair. She lifts her new daughter’s chin to meet her gaze.
“What is every child’s foremost need? What is every mother’s foremost wish, but to place food on the table by the sweat of her brow?”
“I shall suffer none of my daughters to go hungry. Let me provide for you, sweet child. Let me sustain you.”
She cups a hand around Caroline’s neck, encouraging but not forcing the Ventrue’s lips closer towards the sanguine welling.
“Let me feed you.”
Caroline: Abélia wants to do it. Caroline wants the blood. Down to her bones, she wants the blood. Why am I resisting?
Because she doesn’t want to appear weak? Because this idea that she shouldn’t be ashamed of a want is so new? Because she doesn’t want to hurt the people she cares for? Because it’s an act of intimate vulnerability she’s so accustomed to hiding?
But then, would she hesitate to offer anything to her child, if she had one? Wouldn’t it hurt her more if they turned from what she offered? Doesn’t she want to be close to Abélia? She already knows she wants the blood.
The Ventrue bends her neck and drinks.
GM: It’s not like any prior feeding Caroline has experienced. There’s no penetration or horizontal suction: she need merely wrap her lips around the breast’s tip and suck. Gravity aids the natural flow, and Abélia cushions her hand around the back of Caroline’s head to keep her close and the breast snugly in place. It feels less like she’s taking and more like she’s receiving.
Taste floods her mouth.
Where her sire’s blood made her all but gag at the burning strength, as if she were unworthy, her mother’s as the inverse: a whirlpool that irresistibly drags everything in. It tastes like midnight. It tastes like the ocean’s deepest, blackest depths: bone-crushingly heavy, and yet welcoming, as if she were a diver in a suit. It’s sweet like honey, thick like molasses, and fast-flowing like water. It rolls down Caroline’s gullet in a thick, warm stream, and the Ventrue has the sudden, id-driven thought that it’s been months since she ate anything this solid. That she should be starving to death. Abélia runs her other hand through Caroline’s hair and whispers,
“Fill yourself, my child… my sweet, precious child… Maman is here. You are safe, you are loved, and you shall not go hungry…”
Caroline: At Abélia’s urging, she doesn’t. The blood—if it even blood—flows, a seemingly unending stream of bliss, an inky darkness that is satisfying like no other vitae or blood ever has been. Satisfying in a way that makes everything else less satisfying just for its existence.
She has no doubt that Abélia would let her drink her fill, and part of her wants to. But not all of her. Not as much as part of her wants Abélia strong. Needs Abélia to be strong.
There are limits to her own desires, her own needs.
She pulls away, savoring the last drops, and looks up at her mother.
GM: Abélia gently dabs Caroline’s lips and wipes her fingers against the vampire’s tongue, ensuring she gets every last drop.
“There, sweet child… you are sated? You are strong?”
Caroline: “Yes, Mother,” the Ventrue answers, the darkness still fresh on her tongue. “Strong enough, for what is to come. Strong enough to make you proud.”
GM: “You already have, my dear,” Caroline’s new mother smiles beatifically, cupping her cheek.
“You already have—and do.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM
GM: At the Ventrue’s behest, Abélia answers and discusses several remaining matters before she takes her leave.
The ritual to summon her, she clarifies, must be performed within the Walter Robinson House. It doesn’t have to be performed within the specific chamber where Caroline and Cécilia did so, but that room is preferable for obvious reasons.
“Your younger sisters are not yet ready to know of such things.”
Caroline: “Will they, eventually?” Caroline asks.
GM: “That shall depend upon them, my dear,” her mother answers.
“If Simmone is to remain a child forever, she shall not. If I believe the knowledge would unduly burden the others’ souls, they shall not.”
“Cécilia has always been the responsible one. The role model. The eldest. I have inducted her alone into the truth thus far.”
Caroline: “Yvette.” Caroline speaks her sister’s name as half-question, half-suggestion.
GM: Abélia smiles proudly. “Her temperament is well-suited to such knowledge, is it not?”
Caroline: “It could be, and might temper her more… reckless impulses,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Yet to tell her, as you have observed, is to tell Yvonne. No secrets exist between them. Do you believe your other sister ready for such knowledge?”
Caroline: The heiress reflects for a moment. “Not certainly. And I’m not certain she ever will be. She seems to be other side of the coin from her twin, at a glance.”
GM: Caroline’s new mother pats her hand.
“We need not decide such things at once, dear child. We have all the time in the world.”
Leaving the matter of the twins be for now (“I should also value our Cécilia’s counsel”), Abélia continues that the ritual to reconstitute her body may also be performed upon the Walter Robinson House’s exterior grounds (“not that I expect you or Cécilia shall have cause to do so, my dear… but as a matter of academic interest”)—and within the LaLaurie House.
“Our home away from home,” she smiles.
When Caroline asks if the sacrifice needs to die at a specific point, her mother answers that they do not. The sacrifice must merely be killed within the circle and their life specifically dedicated to Abélia’s.
“There is truthfully no need to even say any words aloud… they merely aid in focusing the spirit.”
Caroline’s sisters are not returning to their normal routines. They have already taken the rest of the week off from school and work.
“They shall remain here until I am at the height of my powers once more.”
“But it shall hardly be a joyless time for them… and I can hardly wait for you to spend the day with us, my dear. Such delights do I have in store for you all.”
Caroline: “I’m rather poor company during the day,” Caroline observes.
GM: Abélia only smiles and strokes Caroline’s cheek.
“Trust Maman, dear child.”
Caroline: “Always,” she agrees.
GM: Her mother’s face is radiant.
“I love you, my sweet Caroline. Being loved agrees with you. I’m only sad it couldn’t have happened sooner.”
Abélia then lifts Cécilia’s sleeping head, presses her daughter’s mouth to her breast, and nurses her on the same midnight blood. Color starts to return to Cécilia’s too-white cheeks.
Caroline: The Ventrue watches with interest, watches the life return to Cécilia with evident relief.
GM: Yet even as it does, Abélia’s breast visibly rots, cracks, and blackens before Caroline’s eyes. Her mother makes a tsking sound and tucks the corpse-like breast away, then tucks Cécilia beneath her bed covers.
Caroline: Caroline needed little more incentive to restore her mother to her full strength. But she has it.
GM: It’s a short walk to Simmone’s room. Abélia lies upon the bed and pulls Simmone into the crook of her arm.
“I shall have this body slumber now, to further slow its decay. Simmone shall awaken in Maman’s arms to find her nightmares long banished.”
Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “How long does it have?”
GM: “Potentially a great deal of time, my dear, if it were to perform no other workings and slumber continuously with you and your sisters by my side. But circumstances are unlikely to be so forgiving.”
“Much awaits for you to do now. If you have need of me before dawn rises, return here. The house shall know.”
Abélia draws Caroline close and plants a tender kiss upon her forehead.
“Go… and know your Maman loves you. Know you have always made me proud.”
There’s no transition from wakefulness to sleep. With those words, Abélia’s body abruptly goes as inert as a discarded puppet. Even its expression is still frozen in the same tranquil smile as it slumps back onto the pillow. When Caroline looks down, she sees no shoes or feet protruding below the hem of her mother’s dress.
Caroline: Caroline lingers for a moment to watch Abélia with Simmone. But only a moment.
The night waits for no one.
Not even her family.