“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
GM: It’s once Caroline is in the car with Ferris that he gets down to the ‘real’ business. The ex-CIA agent clearly doesn’t trust the Walter Robinson House’s security personnel without having personally vetted them.
Caroline: He’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that, Caroline adds. Today was a brutally demonstrative example of how inadequate mortal security is for her needs. The charred corpse in the back of the SUV is evidence of that.
She’s made Meg ride in the second car.
The current security doesn’t need to be replaced, but she intends on shifting a significant portion of her efforts—especially if she actually leaves the city—to providing security around her family while she’s gone.
GM: Ferris questions Caroline extensively about all of them. He says he’s already started running background checks on everyone. He’s inclined to throw out all of the people who were associated with René, for a panoply of reasons.
“I’d also assume May is compromised until disproven. Could be someone’s been in his head for him to be saying the things about Gettis that he has.”
“Could be he’s even part of Gettis’ organization. He was a cop. Great shooter, too. I’d have wanted to recruit him if I were Gettis.”
“If I wanted to fake my murder, I’d have an agent I controlled be the one to kill me.”
“Casquette girl said he was clean. Could be mistaken. Could be lying.”
Caroline: “More reason to keep him close for now,” Caroline answers. But she thinks May is genuine. “His reaction to Jocelyn was real enough, and I poked around a little as well.”
The others she’ll give him the lead with. After all, he did plenty well with the family so far.
Well, minus herself, her mother, and her brother.
GM: It’s almost as bad a track record as hers.
Caroline: Mistakes were made.
GM: “Typical reason to keep a double agent close is if you know they’re a double agent and want to feed them misinformation, ma’am. We don’t know that for sure about May.”
“I’m going to dig into him more deeply. If he checks out, he’s worth keeping. Impressive shooter.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees.
GM: Widney delivers her report on how things are progressing with Audrey. NOPD, seemingly rather than contest the legal process, released the prostitute on bail. However, Caroline’s people have been unable to locate her.
Ferris also has a more ominous report to deliver. A bomb was found in one of Caroline’s cars. Her primary one, actually—this is a different vehicle they’re driving.
His people are still combing the car over for trace evidence. They have yet to link the assassination attempt to a specific perpetrator.
Caroline: “I guess we’re done being friends,” she answers that, with a quiet anger.
“Sounds like hunters,” she further elaborates after a moment.
GM: “Gettis stands a lot to gain from your death right now,” Ferris concurs. “So does Savoy. Could be they’re working together in this.”
Ferris also wants Caroline to invest in a backup haven. The Giani Building is a semi-public building with lots of tenants. It’s easy for people to get in and out, and to do things like smuggle in bombs. Caroline’s security can lock down the flow of human traffic during emergencies, but they can only do so for so long at a time. A property that’s exclusively owned and used by Caroline would be ideal. A ‘wartime haven’ she could use during periods like this.
Caroline: She nods. It’s good advice, though traditionally public attention has also been valuable in deterring less desperate attacks. At least in theory.
It’s a question of income, and assets in the moment, but one that she expects to be less pressing over time.
“Perdido House has been made available in the interim.” To say nothing of her mother’s home, or even the LaLaurie House, though she doesn’t mention them.
Better to keep it away from her sisters for now.
“There are also plans in place for a leave of absence from the city, I suspect.”
GM: “Public attention works both ways, ma’am,” Ferris says to her first statement. “Someone who does their homework can find out you don’t own the building. Enough attacks and the Pavaghis might try to force you out. Bad tactic for the Masquerade, but could leave you pretty vulnerable for a little while if they’re able to.”
Caroline: She doesn’t disagree. Securing the building is a project she’s been tending since Adler demanded she break off relations with Sarah.
GM: On Perdido House, Ferris says, “Security there seems top flight. Your stepmother had me look into it. Pretty much every vampire hunter worth the name knows what that place is. Suicide to attack head on, though.”
Caroline: “Quite,” she agrees. “For obvious reasons my preferences are more independent.”
GM: “We suspect a lot of the prince’s people have havens there, or at least backup ones. Doubt they want to be completely under his thumb, but useful to have in a pinch.”
“My preferences run the same. Secure doesn’t matter if it’s not secure we control.”
Caroline: Caroline agrees again.
“There are limits, though, to how far we can go with our current resources.”
GM: “Yes. Doesn’t need to be a nice place. If anything, better that it’s not. Not as many enemies will think to look for you somewhere ‘beneath’ you.”
Caroline: “I don’t simply mean in terms of financial,” she clarifies.
GM: “The lower cost would be easier to fit into the budget, too,” Widney adds. “I’m hopeful, ma’am, that those resources will expand as you’ve indicated.”
The cars arrive back at the Giani Building. The last matter to come up is that of Simmone and her ghouls’ various children.
Ferris, when asked, replies that his daughter Miranda no longer lives in New Orleans.
Ferris promptly moved her out of the city following Caroline’s visit and the threat she made against his family. His decision proved a prescient one. Bishop Malveaux sent agents to Ferris’ house within minutes (or so Ferris estimates) of Caroline’s meeting with Malveaux and Guilbeau aboard the Alystra, during which Caroline relayed that Ferris was less than loyal to the Malveaux family’s then-Kindred master. It’s almost certain that the bishop’s servants would have kidnapped Miranda to use against Ferris, if she were there when he wasn’t.
“It’s what I’d have done,” he remarks neutrally.
If anything, Caroline’s earlier threat might have saved the girl’s life. While Claire also told Ferris about her stepdaughter’s meeting with the bishop, that warning could have come too late.
“Though you’ll understand if I don’t thank you, ma’am. It was purely by accident on your part.”
Caroline: “Our relationship was complicated,” she agrees.
Small mercies. Miranda remains a potential liability to Ferris, but Caroline indicates that among other things, she desires ‘some’ degree of normalcy returned to his life.
GM: “I don’t have any plans to move her back, ma’am. Too many people know who I am to you. Too many aren’t trustworthy. It was already a risk keeping her in the city when I was undercover.”
Caroline: “Perhaps,” she agrees. “But distance is not the only form of protection, or always the best.”
GM: “You don’t know where she is, ma’am. I don’t know where she is either. No one can make me reveal what I don’t know.”
“It’s not perfect. I’d have preferred to raise my own flesh and blood myself.”
Caroline: Caroline scowls more at the thought of what they’ve done to him than at what he’s said.
“We can do better. We will do better.”
GM: “Ma’am, there’s nothing you could realistically do in a thousand years that’d make me want to bring her back.”
“If she were here, she would always be a liability. Enemies would use her to get to me.”
“Point me at any enemy you want to bring down. First thing I’ll do is look for their weak spots. People and things that can’t defend themselves.”
Caroline: “A thousand years is a very long time, Roger,” she answers, but doesn’t press the point for now.
GM: “One last thing I’ve picked up. Mixing personal with professional never works out.”
Autumn, when Caroline approaches her, is another story.
She says her brother Jeffrey is 13. Her sister Stephanie is 10. Same age as Simmone. They’re technically her half-siblings, as Autumn is her father’s child from a previous marriage.
Caroline: It isn’t lost on Caroline that associating with the Devillers would open many doors for the otherwise middle class family.
GM: It doesn’t seem to be lost on Autumn either. She’s game for either or both of them spending time with Caroline’s sister. She does have something to ask in return, though.
“So, look. I said the Krewe helped me with college. My dad’s a public schoolteacher and doesn’t make a lot. The charter schools all slashed teacher pay after Katrina, and they actually slashed his even more for being a humanities teacher.”
“Fun fact. Teachers get paid the same at most public schools regardless of subject.”
“And our moms… aren’t in the picture. My family’s struggled a lot to make ends meet.”
“It’s been better since I was ghouled, and even better since I started working for you. There’s a lot I’ve been able to do to help them out.”
Caroline: Caroline can see where it’s going, but she’s happy to let Autumn get there on her own.
GM: “They’re not at risk of getting utilities shut off or anything like that. That’s way in the past now.”
“Stef and Jeffrey both go to private schools. Okay ones, that we can afford, because my dad knows way better than to send them somewhere like where he works. He actually got hospitalized by a student once.”
“I’d like them to go to better schools, though. Really good ones. And I did some research, and your mom’s on the McGehee Board of Trustees… "
Caroline: “It could be arranged,” Caroline muses. “And would be rather convenient too if Stephanie attended the same school.”
GM: “Exactly! Simmone could help her make friends. It’d be rough getting pulled from her old school.”
“McGehee’s only for girls, but there’s another good boys’ school I found for Jeffrey. My family and I can help pay some of the tuition, but it’s 20k a year at McGhee. Just insane how much that runs, but I guess you get what you pay for.”
“We’d apply for financial aid, too. But if your mom could help us get awarded more, or just find some way to waive or cover the rest… "
Caroline: “Let’s set up a ‘date’ for them. See if they hit it off,” Caroline answers. “If they do… well, I expect the rest will work itself out.”
“Has your sister ever taken dance lessons?”
GM: Autumn shakes her head. “We didn’t really have money for lessons in much of anything. But she’s pretty good in P.E.”
Caroline: “Do you think she’d enjoy them?”
GM: “She’s never said she wants to be a ballerina or anything, but I think she would. Kids are kids. They tend to like new stuff.”
“Plus she hasn’t gotten private lessons in anything before. Think that’d make her feel special.”
Caroline: “I’ll have my sister reach out then, to set something up,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Great!” smiles Autumn. “I’ll get you the details of the stuff for my brother.”
“Was harder finding a school for him. Pretty much all the good ones in the state are Catholic or Christian and we’re Jewish.”
Caroline: “Convert now. Repent later,” Caroline muses.
GM: “Hey, convert to our religion and you’re not going to Hell. Our God doesn’t have a Hell.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a small smile. “I rather suspect He’d make an exception.”
GM: “Even Hitler gets to enjoy eternal rewards, eventually,” Autumn answers seriously. “You’ve done a lot of bad crap, sure, but I don’t think you’ve beat Hitler there.”
Caroline: “That’s a pleasant thought,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t realize you were practicing.”
GM: “Well, I’m Reform Jewish. You ask Orthodox Jews, it’s not ‘real’ Judaism. Since we let men and women sit next to each other in pews. And my family doesn’t really keep kosher except on holidays.”
Caroline: “Well, we all have our flaws, depending on whom you ask,” Caroline reassures her.
GM: “It is a little lonely sometimes, though. My rabbi obviously doesn’t talk about licks or renfields or any of the other things that go bump in the night. You Catholics have this giant vampire religion with a social support structure and complex theology to explain your place in the world, but if you’re Jewish in this city you’re basically on your own to reconcile it with your religion.”
Caroline: “No Jewish vampires?” she asks.
GM: “Vidal doesn’t really go out of his way to welcome non-Christian licks to the city. They’ve all got to swear an oath of allegiance to him, God, and Jesus Christ.”
“There might be some, but none that are really serious about the faith. Or at least open about it.”
Caroline: “It’s because we’re all a little Jewish after our Embrace.” She grins. “Have you seen what a hard bargain we all drive for even the smallest favors?”
GM: “Ha ha ha. You know that we specifically prohibit consumption of blood?”
Caroline: “I didn’t,” she answers. “I imagine that must create a real crisis of faith for any Orthodox Jews that get turned.”
GM: “Yep. The laws of kosher prohibit using blood in cooking. If you’re really following the Torah, it has to be completely drained from the animal and buried in earth.”
“I think Orthodox Jews pretty much have to make their peace with it.”
Caroline: “We all do, one way or another.”
GM: “But in some ways it’s easier for us. They’ll just spend longer in Sheol, that’s basically Purgatory to purify their souls, before they get to enjoy their eternal reward.”
“Sanctified theology honestly seems so bleak to me. You already have the Christian notion of Hell, saying some people suffer forever for their sins, and then the giant vampire church confirms that yes, you really will suffer forever.”
“So I think even Orthodox Jews have a real hope that Sanctified don’t.”
Caroline: “It depends on how you view Hell,” Caroline answers. “Later Christian thought painted Hell in fire and brimstone, but early theology depicts it more… well, passively I guess.”
GM: “More like our theology.”
Caroline: “To disobey God and turn aside from his love in favor of sin is to turn yourself from your true calling in favor of things that will ultimately bring you misery.”
“I heard a good sermon once that compared Hell to what an alcoholic endures when he’s deeply in the throes of his addiction.”
GM: “That’s pretty in line with something my rabbi could say. To us, your sins stick with you, and Sheol is basically a spiritual washing machine. The more bad things you’ve done, the longer you have to get washed before you can move on.”
“Maximum one year for most people. Only ones who’ve committed unimaginable evil, like Hitler, have to get washed until the Messiah comes.”
Caroline: “Similar, but we don’t hold you can wash after death,” Caroline answers. “Or, within the Sanctified, at all. Our only hope is in existing in the purpose God has left for us until the return of Jesus Christ.”
GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I don’t think you deserve to suffer forever.”
Caroline: Caroline only offers a sad smile.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
GM: The next remaining matter to see to is Ramsey.
After all, if Caroline can come before the seneschal with her stepmother’s medical records, she can say that she pulled her weight. That Donovan or the Krewe didn’t have to pick up the slack.
She wonders how much the sheriff would like to say that.
And, perhaps most infuriatingly of all to any Ventrue, it’s entirely within another’s hands.
Caroline: The Ventrue does not react well to her inability to decide the outcome.
She’s come to hate being so helpless, so useless. Even attempting to make phone calls or harass the staff to distract them is off the table, as it would only leave a further trail of evidence of some kind that she’s poorly positioned to clean up.
It’s not a surprise they’ve pawned the task off on her—something that only makes her irritation grow under the surface.
It eats at her.
She paces around Ramsey, eavesdropping on her thoughts as she works, Occasionally lashing out, poking, prodding at some unspoken doubt or concern as the hacker works, giving voice to her doubts, to her questions of self-worth, pushing, on her to prove herself to her. Harder. Harder still.
She doesn’t have time for breaks. Doesn’t have time to be tired. She has to prove herself.
GM: Ramsey does not react well to the pressure. She doesn’t say anything, but that doesn’t matter when Caroline can literally read her mind. She’s already being required to do this outside of her normal workspace. There is little she dislikes more than “doing her thing” with someone huffing and puffing above her shoulders.
Well. Maybe being reminded of her rape, which Caroline does.
The hacker and sexual assault survivor looks on the verge of tears when she finally snaps at Caroline, “For fuck’s sake, I have the fucking records!”
There’s a glimmer of hope.
Except she doesn’t. Sort of.
Technically, she does have them. They just aren’t fully usable yet.
Ramsey explains that higher-end service typically begets higher-end security. However, Claire’s healthcare provider made the all-too common mistake of having fax machines in their building. Ramsey says those are “some of the most dangerous things you can have in your office,” as they are notoriously vulnerable to hacking. Caroline doesn’t fail to pick up that Ramsey hasn’t voiced aloud her normal recommendation to get rid of any fax machines she has.
She’s not being deliberately unhelpful. She’s just assuming Caroline will draw that conclusion from “most dangerous things” rather than giving the advice outright.
Medical records, in any case, go through fax machines. It wasn’t hard to break into the one in question after an initial phishing attack on a secretary’s computer to look for a fax receipt or signal.
Caroline: Caroline can read between the lines, and she’s more interested in why they aren’t available ‘yet’ than she is in critiques.
GM: The records, which Caroline can see on Ramsey’s screen, go on for pages and pages and pages. They look like medical forms stamped with gibberish. Ramsey starts to explain (though Caroline actually partly knows) how modern healthcare clearinghouses (who deal with her former stepmother’s insurance claims) have a very specific system of coding health care services. Modern versions need people to exclusively pump it through very specific programs and send it over the internet. All you really need is a copy of the code-to-service mapping and you’ll have a solid image of a person’s health history. Past issues are taken into account in the coding.
The icd-10 has over 70,000 codes. It’s medical jargon and tech coding all thrown into one incomprehensible-looking pot: Caroline is actually fortunate these records are fully digital, because sometimes terrible handwriting can get thrown in as a side dish if scanned paper records was the method of input.
Caroline: “So we need to push them through their actual software to get something legible?” she doesn’t quite demand. She’s pushed Ramsey hard enough.
GM: “We can’t really do that,” the hacker tiredly replies. She explains that to ‘decode’ the records, someone ‘just’ has to look up what they mean from the big book of codes. This obviously takes less time for a single claim than someone’s entire medical history, and the used codes themselves aren’t always ‘trustworthy’ either. Codes commonly get screwed up by insurance companies, who like to slip in extra things they can bill for and hope no one catches it. This obviously pisses off a fuckton of doctors. There’s also good old-fashioned coding screwups. So one can get a lot of similar-looking copies on record, with slight adjustments as the doctors and the insurance people essentially yell at each other through code.
In short, Ramsey has the data. She just needs to translate it into plain English. This is actually something Caroline realizes she could assist with, because in order to get potentially unstated past health issues, a lot of information can be found in the coding itself. The coding refers to conditions which almost always are comorbid with others and is actually very specific, for the most part, if one understands the medical jargon. Ramsey can handle the tech code, but admits she doesn’t have the medical background to decipher the jargon.
So that’s what’s left to do. Sifting through pages and pages and pages of Excel spreadsheets to distill them into them a concise and actually accurate medical history.
Caroline: It’s a paperwork nightmare, but one Caroline is particularly well-suited to slog through. She has them print the records and starts tearing through them as quickly as she can in the next room, as quickly as they come off the Xerox business-class printer (with built-in fax capability).
Caroline doesn’t really understand the code side of things, but the medical specific terms and tests do stand out to her, and she can move through them quickly. She highlights anything of interest that stands out, pulling the wheat from the chaff and tossing away the garbage. Her hands move like the scything blades of a harvester as she tears through page after page.
While she does so, she brings in Fuller and his years of experience dealing with medical records (he’s told her the Navy is notoriously obnoxious about medical readiness) and medical background to help Ramsey with the next step in the refining process. He provides answers to questions on demand as the hacker works through what Caroline identifies as meaningful.
It’s slow going, especially relying on Fuller and Ramsey on the other end. Even with the lion’s share of the data being messy or meaningless, she tears through it far faster than they do.
She even has time to go back over sheets twice to make sure she didn’t miss something in her haste.
GM: Caroline has more than physical speed helping her, too. She recalls Thomas’ description of the Albino. “He was said to have a sharp mind, though—the sharpest in his family’s generation. He devoured books, read everything in the family library five times over.”
The old man was more accurate than he knew. Caroline recalls his words exactly. She recalls the tidbit about ‘the Albino’ keeping up with Paul Morphy, the greatest chess master of his generation in the world. She recalls Paul Morphy’s birth date as June 22nd, 1837, and the date of his death as July 10, 1884, which would have made him 47 years old—he died of a stroke. She read all of those things once, somewhere, but she remembers them now.
The Ventrue’s pale hands are a blur as they tear through page after page, but her mind doesn’t feel that much slower. It shoulders the mindlessly repetitive work with ease, pulling up terms she hasn’t used in years like a diver retrieving precious pearls from the distant sea floor.
It would be one thing to do this work with all the time in the world, but Caroline doesn’t have all the time in the world. The clock’s hands are slower than hers, but they tick no less inexorably past. The room’s very lights seem to glare down at her like miniature suns, the same sun she saw such a terrible preview of early today, promising a death no less swift or agonizing if she disappoints her sire, makes any misstep around his closest servants.
Her head pounds. Even her hands feel cramped. But the fruits of her labors finally sit before her.
An unobtrusive stack of paper documents written in plain English.
She glances back up at the clock. A little while remains before she is due at Perdido House, though it is a little enough little while.
Caroline: She pointedly unplugs the printer-fax machine on her way out with a wry grin towards Ramsey and takes her leave from the ghouls, retiring back to her rooms upstairs where they’ve stashed Jocelyn.
Business accomplished for the moment. As always, she carves out pleasure where she can around it…
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
Caroline: The room is dark and cold, as always. The familiar articles are all there, the low king-sized bed, the soft black silk sheets, the low blue lighting with its rich shadows, the faint sound of running water from the tiny fountain at the head of the bed.
There are new additions as well, not for the better. The pile of laundry piled around one of the dividers in the room (and atop it) the unmade bed, the shattered remains of the other divider exposing a bathroom (all she truly uses it for) and its counters piled with cosmetics used to hide the worst of her death from the world.
It’s a familiar scene for Jocelyn to awaken to, if in an utterly unfamiliar (and painful) way, chained to the bed, Caroline’s still bleeding wrist drawn away from her ravenous, monstrous maw.
Her face is tight, drawn. The Beast didn’t like that, didn’t enjoy letting someone else take what was rightfully its own, even if it was this submissive lesser at its mercy.
GM: That’s not technically true.
It is her second time being chained to a bed by Caroline.
Caroline: Not that she remembers the first.
GM: Jocelyn ravenously sucks and gulps until the wrist is withdrawn. She licks her lips, pink and hale once again, getting every last drop.
She eyes Caroline’s wrist for a moment.
It’s never enough.
Caroline: Despite everything else, it warms her dead heart to watch the worst of the wounds fade. She tenderly brushes Jocelyn’s hair out of her face, behind her ear.
GM: Jocelyn smiles up at her. There’s not a trace of anger or alarm like there was last time.
“You and a mouthful of juice. What two better things to wake up to?”
Caroline: “How do you feel?” Caroline asks, seated on the edge of the bed near Jocelyn’s head.
GM: The Toreador pulls her handcuffed wrists.
“Kinky,” she smirks.
Caroline: “You were hurt. God, you were horribly hurt.”
Her flesh still smells of it.
“You’re lucky you didn’t ash yourself.”
GM: “You saved me,” Jocelyn beams.
“You always do.”
“You’re always there.”
Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Barely.”
“Jocelyn, you can’t keep doing this. Can’t put yourself in danger like this, can’t hurt yourself.” Her expression breaks. “You’re hurting me.”
GM: Jocelyn looks mournful at Caroline’s expression. Truly mournful. It’s like staring into a mirror of her own hurt.
“Caroline, I had to do it. After you said… "
Her face falls a moment as if in recollection of the words, then she continues,
“…that was the only way to see. To show you, to show us, that you still cared.”
She beams again.
“And you did. You do. I won’t ever have to do anything like that ever again. Because we love each other.”
She stares up at Caroline, wide-eyed and smiling, seemingly heedless of her literal chains.
“Come on, let’s have makeup sex. That’s always the best.”
She adds, “You can keep me like this. It’s kinky.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a gentle smile. “We don’t have time. I have to go soon. Well, too soon for that.”
GM: "Awwww… "
Caroline: “You know I’ve always had responsibilities, but things are changing, finally. For the better I think.”
GM: “Suck me off, at least. Just a quickie.”
Caroline: It’s tempting, but something practical holds her back.
“We need to talk before I go.”
She retrieves the handcuffs’ keys from where she left them.
GM: Jocelyn looks disappointed.
“Okay, what about?”
Caroline: “I may be leaving for a while. The city, I mean.”
GM: Jocelyn looks like someone’s told her that a beloved family pet needs to be put to sleep.
Caroline: “I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe weeks, maybe more. It isn’t really my decision.”
“And when I get back… well… some things will be different.”
GM: “Well… like what?”
Caroline: “Someone’s interested. Very interested. Finally interested. Someone… that can change my entire Requiem for the better.”
“But it’ll be different, too. More structured, I think.”
GM: "Okay… "
Caroline: “Less forgiving, in some ways.”
GM: “So, who?”
Caroline: Caroline, having unlocked one of Jocelyn’s hands, leaves the key to the remaining cuffs in it and stretches languidly like a cat.
“You know how they are,” she answers defensively.
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t unlock herself.
“So someone I don’t know is gonna take you away for you dunno how long.”
Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to shy away from how awful that sounds. Wants to whine pitifully at Jocelyn. She knows it’s the part bound to her.
She’s better than that.
“Yes,” she answers instead, matter-of-factly. “Though you do know them.”
GM: “This is the worst makeup sex.”
Caroline: “I know,” Caroline answers. “And I’m sorry for that, but this… this is… I can’t wait to tell you everything, when it’s time. It’s been so long in coming.”
“You have no idea what it cost… "
GM: “Yeah, no makeup sex.” She pauses. “Look, I’m happy for you and all, you deserve it, but… you seriously have no idea how long you’re gonna be gone?” Jocelyn doesn’t try to hide the pain in her voice. “Right when we got each other back?”
“Can’t I come with you?” she adds. “The Storyvilles pretty much imploded after I told Roxanne about Evan. Stick a fork in ‘em. I don’t really have anything here anymore.”
Caroline: “I can ask, but… you know how elders are. I’d expect… maybe a few weeks. Maybe a couple months. When I know I’ll send a message.”
She bites her lip. “On the other hand, without the Storyvilles, maybe it’s time to take your sire up on the idea of getting out of town for a bit, seeing a bit more of the world, and how she does that.”
GM: “I don’t wanna be with Sally. I wanna be with you.”
Caroline has to wonder if she’d have said that before the third drink.
“And I can’t just call her up to say ‘hey come pick me up’ anyway. She’s only in town for Mardi Gras, usually. I have no idea where she even is. I used up my one call with her, if you remember.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “I know, and I don’t want to leave you.” It’s not a lie. “But I no longer have a choice.”
Jocelyn getting out of town for a while would be better for her as well.
“I’m just trying to make the best of the situation.”
GM: “I’m stuck here. Without anyone or anything.”
Caroline: “What if I could get a message to Sally?” Caroline asks. “I know I’d feel better if you were out of the city for a little while. I don’t just want you sitting here miserable without me.”
GM: Jocelyn looks at her dully.
Caroline: “It means the world that I mean the world to you,” Caroline continues, gently cupping Jocelyn’s chin, “but I can’t be the world to you.”
GM: “You didn’t mind earlier.”
Caroline: “No. You had the Storyvilles. You had your art. You had other things you cared about.” Caroline answers. “And I had other things too, things that demanded my time.”
GM: “Why don’t you say no?” asks Jocelyn. “If I can’t come.”
Caroline: “I’d die,” Caroline answers bluntly.
GM: “Let’s make a run for it. Be nomads. We can have hot makeup sex in your car.”
“You’re smart. You’re tough. We could pull it off.”
Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline’s tone is not amused.
“I might be happy with you, but do you think I’d ever be truly happy as some nomad drifter? That I’d be happy leaving my family behind? Having nothing to call my own? Eking out an existence?”
“I considered it. When things were at their worst. And I decided then that a small chance was better than that. Because it wouldn’t be a life.”
“Now, after everything I’ve done, everything I’ve given up to get this chance to be who I really am, who I was meant to be, you want me to abandon it?”
She pauses before continuing. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t wait?”
GM: Jocelyn is quiet at first, but then protests, “But you haven’t even said what that’s gonna be! Or how long you want me to wait when there’s fuck-all for me here!”
Caroline: “Then make something!” Caroline answers angrily. “You don’t know what you asked of me.”
GM: “I DO make things!” Jocelyn retorts. “I make my art, which all the torries here hate!”
Caroline: “Is it all Savoy has? Or Primogin Poincaré? Or Donovan? Or the harpies?” Caroline asks pointedly.
GM: “Well I’m not Savoy, or Primogen Poincaré, or Donovan, or any of the harpies! And half of them are poseurs who don’t even do any art!”
Caroline: “You don’t have to be them. I can’t even tell you what you have to be. But you can’t just be my lover,” Caroline answers back, pain evident in her voice.
“Because I can’t just be yours. I have to be something else.”
GM: “I’m not just your lover! I’m an artist too, that everyone shits on, and a krewemate in a krewe that fucking imploded the moment it met you!”
Caroline: That hits like a slap in the face, and Caroline’s face shows it.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t find Evan,” she answers quietly. “And that other licks are so cruel to you about your art.”
GM: “I’m plenty of things. Everyone just shits on them,” Jocelyn declares morosely. “And now you’re leaving too.”
Caroline: Caroline’s first inclination is to apologize. But she doesn’t, because she’s not actually sorry.
GM: “Call my sire, I guess,” Jocelyn says glumly.
Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I have a lot of problems, Jocelyn. Other licks trying to kill me. Century-old ghouls hurting my family. A thin-blood I’m still babysitting. Traitorous ghouls. Dozens of bodies to dispose of.”
GM: “I said you could call my sire,” Jocelyn scowls back. “What, do you want me smile about it and say that’s not like going to the O’Tolley’s PlayPlace when I thought we had tickets to Disneyland?”
Caroline: “You nearly blew the Masquerade with my family this morning,” Caroline continues. “And you don’t know how much blood it took to bring you back.”
GM: “And you made me want to walk out into the sun if you didn’t want to make up. You were the one who said you never wanted to see me again!” The Toreador’s eyes are full of hurt.
Caroline: “For your own good!” Caroline snaps back, equally pained.
GM: “Oh, that’s so like you, deciding ‘for my own good’! Guess Jocelyn doesn’t get a vote, cuz you’re so much better than her!”
Caroline: “Other licks are going to try to hurt me now, Jocelyn. Like they never have before. They already are. And I don’t want them to go through you to get to me!”
GM: “I don’t CARE!” Jocelyn shouts, her eyes wide. “I’d rather walk out into the FUCKING SUN!”
“So if you wanna break up with me again, great! I’ll take a suntan so you don’t have to deal with the headache!”
Caroline: “I don’t want to break up with you,” Caroline snarls, rising in fury. “I want to take care of you! I want you to be safe, and happy, and yes with me, but I can’t do all those things at once.”
GM: “Great. Dump me off at the PlayPlace then while you go to Disneyland,” Jocelyn says flatly.
“I even said you could call my sire. Then you had to go and lecture me too. Because that’s just so you, you can’t just win, I have to say I love losing too.”
Caroline: “Goddamn it!” Caroline shoves over the remaining divider with a crash. “I’m just trying to do right by you, and you’re making me the asshole for it.” There’s obvious hurt in her eyes.
“I’m sorry I want more than to watch television and shop in my Requiem, but that was never an option, not from the moment I was Embraced. It’s not my fault.”
GM: “Fine!” Jocelyn shouts back, finally removing the cuffs and rising to her feet as the divider hits the floor. “You’re leaving, nothing I can do! Call Sally! You win! What the hell else do you want from me!?”
Caroline: “I want to make you not miserable!” Caroline snaps, the twisting of the bond competing with her anger over Jocelyn’s earlier actions and her inability to make it better.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. How she’s accustomed to it being. She’s never been in such a tumultuous relationship, never had to deal with someone else being the needy and demanding one.
“I don’t want to worry about you stepping into the sun or starving yourself or getting snatched off the street by someone out to hurt you to hurt me. I don’t want to feel like I ruined your whole Requiem just because I care about you but also have other goals in my own.”
“I want a future for us where you can be strong and independent.”
“I care about you.” She taps Jocelyn on the chest. “I want you in my Requiem. I’m willing to put in effort to make you part of my Requiem.”
“But this? This isn’t you wanting to make things work. It doesn’t feel like you thinking about how we can best make that happen.” She doesn’t seem like she can stop herself, now that she’s gotten started. “This is you seeming to just want me, and damn everything else. And that’s not how love works, Jocelyn!”
“You throwing yourself into the sunlight in front of my family to get my attention didn’t make me want to take you back. All it did was hurt me. All it did was make me so angry I wanted to rip Meg’s face off then throw you out on my lawn to finish what you started.”
“But I didn’t. Instead I brought you in, and I mind screwed everyone—people I cared about—during the day and hid you and brought you here and got enough juice to wake you up so we could have a goodbye before I left. And I tried to bury how much you hurt me today, and tried to come up with ways to make the time I was away better, tried to make this bitter sweet moment at least a little better, better than a note left or nothing at all. Better than waking up in pain and starving. And all I got was guilt for pursuing my dreams.”
“That’s not love,” she snarls. “Right now this doesn’t seem like love.”
“I didn’t take you back Jocelyn because you braved the sun. I took you back in spite of it, because even though you made me so damn angry it still cut me deeper than a knife to see you in so much pain. That’s love. It’s the same reason I tried to push you away—because I loved you more than I wanted you. Because you could blame me to your krewe for Gwen so you wouldn’t be alone.”
“Love is sacrificing and caring more about someone else than yourself. This is… abuse. It’s psycho ex territory, some crazy guy slitting his wrists in front of your house because he needs you, threatening to hurt himself whenever you’re mad at him… the stuff you’ve done is the kind of stuff I’d report a guy to the police for when I was a breather.”
“You want to show me how much you love me? Build a life. I don’t need you to be my mirror but I need you to be something. I could blame it on my s—my patron, could say that you have to grow up so impress them, but that’s a lie. You need to step up for me, because I need you to be someone who can challenge me, and support me, and grow with me. I need you to be someone that cares about my welfare, and how you can help me, as much as I care about yours. And that isn’t as simple as just being together every night.”
The Ventrue seems to be running out of steam as she continues tiredly. “I want a partner. I want things that last. Someone that can know about my plots and plans and secrets without being endangered by them. And if you can’t be that, you’ll still always be important to me, but… things aren’t simple. They’ll never be simple with me. I’m never going to be like the Storyvilles, where the times are easy and the nights ours to fill as we like.”
She stares down Jocelyn. “I think spending time with your sire would help you. I didn’t just suggest it on a whim to get you out of my way. I think she could teach you a lot. Things you’ll need if we’re going to stay together. Or, alternatively, she’ll open your eyes to other things you may care about more. There are easier cities to settle in than New Orleans, cities where your very real artistic talents will be respected by the harpies. Places where your Requiem won’t be complicated by mine.” There’s a sad resignation to the end of her statement.
GM: Caroline pours out her heart into her words, to make her lover see. To understand.
But Jocelyn just gives a sullen look when she’s done.
“Well if you didn’t want a psycho ex I guess you shouldn’t have fucking collared me after you killed my friend.”
Caroline: Caroline takes the slap for what it is.
GM: “Couldn’t even be from a glass. Had to be straight from the wrist.”
Her eyes flash.
“And then you actually fucking lecture me about moving on?”
Caroline: “Go ahead,” Caroline tells her in bitter pain. “Say it. Say everything you want to say. Hurt me.”
GM: Jocelyn looks like she’s thinking of something to say. She really does. Her face wars and boils with so many of the hurtful things she could say, about all the ways she’s been hurt.
Then she just screams, shoves Caroline onto the bed, raises her wrist to her mouth, and thrusts the bleeding font at the Ventrue’s mouth.
“WHY DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE! TO WANNA THROW YOURSELF IN THE SUN WHEN SOMEONE DUMPS YOU!”
Caroline: Caroline catches the wrist and shoves it away, even as she grabs Jocelyn as a whole, pins her down.
“Because my collars are part of my price,” she doesn’t quite spit.
GM: “Oh, just ANOTHER fucking way you’re better than me!” the Toreador wails. She kicks and thrashes, red running from her eyes as she stares venom up at Caroline.
“I don’t GET to move on! I don’t GET to find someone new! I don’t GET to not always, fucking, want you!”
“WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT TO ME!?!?” she screams.
Caroline: Caroline accepts the venom in silence. She wants to spit the truth into Jocelyn’s face. Wants to hurl the hurt back at her. You did.
But it’s better for Jocelyn to hate her, to blame her, than to blame herself.
She leans down and kisses Jocelyn on the cheek. So she tells a half-truth.
“Because I didn’t want you to hate me, couldn’t bear for you to hate me, because of what Gwen did.”
It’s a shameful admission.
GM: “So that’s why you DUMPED me,” the Toreador stares.
“Why the fuck would you do that!? Why the FUCK would you collar someone, then dump them!?!”
There’s a knock against the door.
“Ma’am, it’s time for us to go,” sounds Widney’s voice.
Caroline: “It wasn’t to hurt you,” Caroline tells her, climbing off Jocelyn.
GM: “Well it fucking DID! How could y-”
“Ma’am, we’ll be late,” the ghoul interrupts.
“Oh shut the FUCK up!” Jocelyn screeches.
Caroline: “I have to go.” Caroline rises and goes to the door.
“I’ll see if we can reach out to your sire.”
“I’m sorry for hurting you, Jocelyn.”
GM: Jocelyn stares like she’s been punched.
“No you don’t. NO YOU DON’T! YOU’RE NOT DUMPING ME AGAIN!!!” she shrieks, slamming her fists fist into the wall, over and over and over. The blows leave deep, all-too visible gouges. Jocelyn isn’t that strong. She’s clearly burning through all of the blood Caroline fed her, and rapidly.
Caroline: “Goddamn it, stop!” Caroline shrieks. “I didn’t say that!”
GM: Jocelyn just gives a strangled half-scream, half-cry, and keeps slamming her fists into the wall’s still-deepening gouge. Red freely leaks from her furiously scrunched eyes.
“Ma’am? Should Ferris and Fuller handle this?” comes Widney’s voice.
Caroline: “No,” Caroline snarls in obvious grief. There’s a stake available in her equipment box in the hall. She snatches it up and blurs at Jocelyn.
GM: It almost feels redundant to say it pierces her lover’s heart.
Caroline already did that.
Jocelyn’s frozen face still looks like it’s crying.
There’s still red around the wide-open eyes.
“Ma’am, we can take her with us and discuss what to do in the car. We will be late for your appointment if we don’t leave immediately,” Widney states.
Caroline: She’s not the only one. Lonely tears run down her pale cheeks as she looks down at what she’s wrought. Her hands shake.
She doesn’t have time to grieve. “I’ll send someone for you. To take care of you,” she tells her paralyzed lover.
She’s sorry. She really is. She leans in and plants another kiss on Jocelyn’s cheek before closing her eyes with one hand.
She looks back at Widney. It’s time to go.
GM: Widney volunteers (as they make their way to the garage) that she, Ferris, or both could accompany Caroline on the drive to Perdido House. It’s six minutes one way. Twelve minutes total isn’t a great deal of time to be away from their duties if their domitor wants to discuss options for Jocelyn.
Caroline: She’ll discuss it with Ferris, but there’s painfully little to discuss. She knows what she wants to do.
What she has to do.
GM: There’s a feeling. One foreign to Caroline’s mind, but not unwelcome. It feels like a sister’s hand brushing against her face, loving and concerned. Aware of her pain.
Caroline: She’d hoped it would be easy. Hoped she could make things better.
GM: Ferris joins her in the car as it takes off.
“We can let her sit a few nights. Run out of blood. She’ll be in torpor until you get back.”
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “It won’t be safe for her here, her ghoul will lose her mind, and the seneschal will begrudge the treatment of his tenant.”
GM: “The others briefed me on Jocelyn. So did your stepmother.”
“Seems no one cared too much when her friend went missing.”
Caroline: “I intend on speaking on the matter tonight with the seneschal. If that goes well, one of his agents will call upon you to collect her. If not, bundle her carefully—inconspicuously—and deliver her to my mother. Do not disclose what it is you are delivering. She’ll take care of the matter from there.”
The gentle touch of Cécilia’s mind on hers is the soothing balm she needs to keep her composure.
GM: There’s that feeling again, like a ghostly hand against Caroline’s cheek. If she’s all right. If her family can help.
“She’s unstable, ma’am. She’s a weak spot for you that’s caused nothing but trouble,” says Ferris.
Caroline: She works to find her calm, to send her resignation in the face of Jocelyn to her concerned sister.
It hurt. It wounded her more deeply than a blade. But it only hurt.
“It’s done,” Caroline agrees. Her voice is hard, distant, detached.
GM: “I’ve never seen it end well when leaders think with their pants.”
Caroline: “One way or another, we are done. I simply would not see her undone by it.”
She was a fool, to think she could have her cake and eat it too. Selfish. As always, someone else has suffered for it.
“She deserves better than that… and her sire is not one I would senselessly court as a foe. We have enough of those.”
GM: “I’m not informed of the sire’s identity.”
Caroline: “An archon, Roger. Her sire is a vampire that kills other vampires for the Camarilla.”
“Even if I cared nothing for Jocelyn, I would not explain to her sire why her childe suffered at my hands, should she come to call. A more… nuanced solution is required.”
GM: “Handing her off to the sire would be one way to remove her without killing her. Don’t see the sire being happy, but more happy than you killing her. And she’s not going to leave you alone.”
Caroline: “It’s an option… and the bond will fade with time.”
For both of them. She doesn’t know the pain of the third stage of the bond, the raw power of it, but the raw wound of her own bond aches still.
GM: “Could keep her in torpor, revive her when you’re back, and rewrite her memories. If the sire won’t notice she’s missing before then.”
Caroline: “I would pass that task to more skilled hands than mine,” Caroline answers. "Or at least less personal ones.
GM: “As you say, ma’am.”
“Jocelyn doesn’t seem like she ever had a great deal to offer you.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are hard. “Be careful there, Roger. It’s done, there is no need to dig at that wound.”
GM: “As you say, ma’am,” he tonelessly repeats.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
GM: Pleasure proves all-too fleeting, but a prince’s childe has higher duties. Ferris does not accompany Caroline to Perdido House: he has enough work to see to already. The last order of business he brings up with his domitor is Ericson, since spared in a crisis (or perhaps remembrance) of conscience.
If Caroline is to be absent for long enough, they may benefit from deciding now. Do they wish to ‘break her in’ at a specialist’s hands, try to do things themselves, or cut her loose?
Caroline: If she is unable to contact them directly (something she does not expect) she would have them expose her to the world, and, failing that, find a gentler method of breaking her loose than Caroline had planned. With her not currently fully bound, she doesn’t trust Ericson in the hands of another.
GM: “A ghoul trainer would be unable to bond her to themselves, ma’am,” Ferris points out, but otherwise seems to hold no preference as to how to proceed.
Caroline: “Give her the choice I’d meant to.”
GM: “As you say, ma’am.”
Caroline already knows how he’d have proceeded. It’s comforting to be the lesser monster.
Then again, as far as she knows, he hasn’t killed his own mother.
Maldonato’s two ghouls accompany Caroline on the drive back to Perdido House. Fuller drives. Gisèlle maintains her same tranquil silence while Kâmil makes inquiries as to her stepmother’s medical records.
Caroline: Caroline indicates the several folders beside her, big, thick things. “I have electronic copies as well.”
GM: The elder ghoul pages through them and says his master will be pleased Caroline has these. If the amount of time he reads through them is any indication, he seems to understand at least the medical jargon.
When he hears how they were obtained, he remarks, “Cybersecurity is an area our prince’s agents are less proficient in than we should desire, alas.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip for a moment, then offers, “One of several, I fear. It has the look to me that those agents have grown few indeed over time.”
“That fresh blood might be of value.”
GM: “My usta has long desired that I obtain a computer science degree from Tulane, but the hours in the night are few.”
“And perhaps such pursuits are better-suited to fresher blood.”
Caroline: “His nights might have more value spent elsewhere,” Caroline chimes in as well. “Though I would not presume to offer him such counsel directly.”
GM: “I spoke in reference to myself, bayan, though my usta has obtained degrees in numerous fields from Tulane. I am certain he shall advise you to do the same in time. He believes one of the Requiem’s too-few yet greatest blessings is an infinitude of time to further one’s learning.”
Caroline: “I pray I find it so. It has seemed among the most precious of commodities in my Requiem to date. The night’s hours are never long enough, and its demands many.”
GM: The elder ghoul inclines his head in concurrence. The casquette girl remains silent and still. It’s not a long drive to Perdido House. They take some elevators up. Kâmil takes the folders and says he will deliver them to Regent Harlequin. Gisèlle escorts Caroline to her master’s office and knocks once against the door. It’s a soft sound, more a brush than a proper knock, but it’s greeted with a familiar “Enter.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t mind the silence on the walk. Most people talk too much.
Perdido House lacks the same terror it always has.
GM: Maldonato waits on the other side behind his desk. The office and its occupant are changed little from the previous night, though the seneschl is now garbed in a navy suit instead of a gray one.
“Miss Malveaux. How does the evening find you?” he inquires.
Caroline: “Well, Seneschal,” she answers precisely. “The assistance your ghouls provided has been greatly appreciated. I’ve found these nights… eventful.”
GM: “I am pleased their service has been of use.”
The casquette girl is already gone, though Caroline neither saw her leave nor heard the door close.
Caroline: “It was prudent,” Caroline answers.
“The assassination attempts have started,” she continues nonchalantly. “Car bomb, ghouls found it.”
She pauses. “Quicker than I’d expected.”
GM: The seneschal appears little surprised. Somber, perhaps, but little surprised.
“Has a perpetrator been identified?”
Caroline: “No, Seneschal. My ghouls are investigating, I expect it was hunters though. It’s a safer move for them than anyone else off-hand, and the method feels more hunter to me.”
“If it were me, I’d use a pawn to set the bomb—and given that it was discovered without exploding… well, it feels less professional.”
GM: Maldonato summarily questions Caroline as to her activities since their last meeting, the success of efforts to conceal the cause of Claire’s death, and any further information she has discovered concerning the attempt upon her unlife.
“Come,” he states at the conclusion of her brief narrative. “It is time we saw your sire again.”
Caroline: She rises with unnatural speed at the prospect. There’s an unnatural thrill that goes through her at those words once again. That quickening in her blood that all but sings at the prospect of seeing him, of perhaps even pleasing him.
She can’t tell how much is the blood, that second sip, and how much is genuine, but it doesn’t really matter.
She prays they find him in better temper tonight.
Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM
GM: The journey to Perdido House’s penthouse takes no longer than it did last night.
It still feels as if it takes a thousand years.
Maldonato gives utterance to no further words as the elevator doors sweep open to the same cavernous chamber of ruin and neglect. Caroline can make out their footsteps from yesterday in the dust.
Caroline: The filth still tears at her. Why hasn’t someone taken care of this? Why have they allowed him to suffer in this. It’s not fit for him.
She says nothing.
GM: The pair’s echoing footsteps still feel like the only sound for miles around. They proceed down the same barren hallway to the same set of double doors. Maldonato does not knock. They swing ponderously open with the same low squeak.
The executive boardroom looks the same as it did last night. The destroyed table hasn’t been replaced. The ruined sword lies where it last did.
Caroline’s sire looks equally unchanged.
He wears the same midnight suit, seemingly cut and spun from the night itself. The same blood-red tie. The white dress shirt, bringing vaguely to mind the ermine mantles of kings long past. The same ring set with the same hungrily gleaming red gem. The same shadows haunt his motionless, marble-white face.
He broods from the same throne-like chair. Rain silently screams against the tall window overlooking the city. His city. He doesn’t look like he’s once moved.
Caroline: The excitement of the moment is muted by the vision of decay, of stagnation. She resists it as best she can, even if it makes her want to wrap, to beat his chest, to demand he rise up as he deserves.
GM: Maldonato waits silently with Caroline. The throne-like chair slowly turns. Her sire’s black gaze burns into hers. The eyes dominate the shadow-cragged face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare into them overlong feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood.
After a moment, that black fire slowly recedes.
“I have considered the crimes before me and shall now render judgment,” he pronounces in his thick, crisp Spaniard’s staccato.
Caroline: The excitement at a sign of life is muted again by his grim pronunciation.
“I am prepared to accept the prince’s justice,” she answers, coming to a knee before him.
She doesn’t shake under that hard baleful glare, meeting his gaze as he demands with all the softness that she can muster.
She says nothing further. If he has made a decision, there’s nothing further to say.
GM: “Thou shall only sire another with the permission of thine elder.
If thou createst another without thine elder’s leave, both thou and thy progeny shall be slain.”
“Those thou create are thine own children.
Until thy progeny shall be released, thou shall command them in all things.
Their sins are thine to endure.”
“I find you both guilty of violations of the Third and Fourth Tradition. Yet you have confessed your crimes, which are themselves especial in their transgression, for the progeny was sired by one other than the sire.”
“Furthermore, I find myself guilty of violations of the Fourth Tradition. The childe was Embraced by another without the prince’s leave, but the childe’s blood remains the sire’s blood, and their sins the sire’s sins.”
Caroline: His initial condemnation of them almost buckles her resolve, to be vilified by her sire for crimes she had no say in, but she tightens her jaw and listens through it.
GM: “My punishment is required, Seneschal. No other in this city is fit to raise hand against me.”
Vidal rises from his seat and strips off his jacket, necktie, and dress shirt. The exquisitely muscled flesh beneath resembles a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life: almost completely stark-white, darkened only by ancient glare of a cruel Andalusian sun, and utterly unmistakable for a human being’s.
He turns his back.
Maldonato raises a scimitar that Caroline did not see in his hands.
Caroline: It makes Caroline want to object, that he did nothing wrong, that he should not suffer for the betrayal of his trust, for her errors.
But that, she judges, is not his way. Nor her kind’s, as she explained to Natalia, not so long ago.
Their laws are harsh. By necessity. And so is her sire.
GM: Caroline does not see the blade come down. But she hears its results. Hears the ear-rending scrape that’s like steel against steel. She soon comprehends why her sire’s lover does not use a whip as the sword comes down, again and again and again and again, a nonstop blur of gray lightning in his hands.
The air whines with an unrelenting metalline scrape as lines crisscross her sire’s back. Thin and pale at first, then thicker and deeper. Blood eventually wells forth.
Maldonato does not slow. More lines open. Red eventually flows from them all in a seemingly all-too literal fulfillment of the phrase ‘squeezing blood from a stone’.
The cuts grow more surgical, or perhaps always were. The prince’s back is eventually flayed open as the sword continues to chew through raw, red muscle and sinew like a grain thresher. Skin and flesh disintegrates into ash as it flies off. The metalline hum slowly decreases in volume, punctuated by the occasional resurgent scrape against rib and spine. Blood pools and spreads at their feet.
Vidal clasps his hands and hisses something in an archaic tongue that sounds partly like Spanish. Caroline makes out some of the words.
“Lloramos a ti, oh Señor, ¿tú: Ten misericordia de nosotros y conceder el perdón. Oh Rey del cielo, y el Señor eterno, recibir las oraciones que nos infunda: y conceder el perdón. Visita a los enfermos-traer cautivos, ayudar a la viuda y el huérfano: y conceder el perdón. Hemos pecado y han salido de ti, ¿tú quien eres el Redentor de todos, a salvarnos: y conceder el perdón. Tenga misericordia sobre el penitente, y lavar las manchas del pecado: y conceder el perdón.”
(“We cry to Thee, O Lord, do Thou have mercy upon us:
And grant forgiveness.
O King of heaven, and everlasting Lord, receive the prayers which we pour forth:
And grant forgiveness.
Visit the sick—bring forth captives, help the widow and the orphan:
And grant forgiveness.
We have sinned and have departed from Thee, do Thou, who art the Redeemer of all, save us:
And grant forgiveness.
Have mercy on the penitent, and wash away the stains of sin:
And grant forgiveness.”)
“Girar lejos, oh Jehová, el ardor de tu ira, y lástima de repuesto: tu pueblo y tenga misericordia. Conceder una favorable y pronta respuesta a las oraciones de todos, estamos implorarte: y tenga misericordia. ¿Tú, oh Cristo, mira a nuestros gemidos, suelta las bandas de la muerte, y nos conceda la vida: y tenga misericordia. He aquí nuestras lágrimas a examinar nuestros suspiros, y ahora extensamente en lástima perdonar nuestros pecados: y tenga misericordia. Aunque ninguno de nosotros ser digno de ser escuchado, ¿tú, oh Cristo, por tu propio auto ayudarnos: y tenga misericordia. Amén.”
(“Turn away, O Lord, the fierceness of Thy wrath, and in pity spare Thy people:
And have mercy.
Grant a favorable and speedy answer to the prayers of all, we beseech Thee:
And have mercy.
Do Thou, O Christ, look upon our groanings, loose the bands of death, and grant us life:
And have mercy.
Behold our tears—consider our sighs, and now at length in pity forgive our sins:
And have mercy.
Though none of us be worthy to be heard, do Thou, O Christ, for Thine own self help us:
And have mercy. Amen.”)
“Escucha nuestra oración, oh Jehová, y escuchar a nuestros gemidos, porque reconocemos nuestras iniquidades y sentar abrir nuestros pecados delante de ti. Contra ti, oh Dios, hemos pecado; Te hacemos nuestra confesión, e implorar perdón. Girar tu rostro, oh Señor, a tus siervos, a quien tú has redimido con tu sangre. Repuesto de nosotros, te ruego, y vouchsafe perdón de nuestros pecados, y estará encantado de brindarnos tu amorosa bondad y Tu misericordia. Amén.”
(“Hear our prayer, O Lord, and listen to our groanings, for we acknowledge our iniquities, and lay open our sins before Thee. Against Thee, O God, have we sinned; to Thee we make our confession, and implore forgiveness. Turn Thy face again, O Lord, upon Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thine own blood. Spare us, we pray Thee, and vouchsafe pardon to our sins, and be pleased to extend to us Thy loving kindness and Thy mercy. Amen.”)
Caroline: It’s like watching a god. She knows better than most how deadly that blade is in the seneschal’s hands, and to see it so blunted begs the question: is the seneschal the only one ‘worthy’ to punish the prince, or the only one able?
She too knows the pain of the lash, knows the agony of it. How her Beast roared and raged in the face of it, but how death did nothing to blunt the pain. And her own lashing went none so deep as this. Watching him suffer for her sins is like watching Christ on the cross.
GM: Yet where Christ died upon that cross, so close to his father’s heavenly embrace, the Cainite who suffers for Caroline’s sins meets his end upon a lowlier place. Vidal collapses to his knees, then falls flat upon his face, unable to weather the continued assault. The sound he makes is less like a human scream than a dragon’s roar. The room’s shadows abruptly rear to horrid life like baying hounds, tearing free from their ‘owners.’ They hold the prince down and smother him beneath their blackness as his Beast screams and thrashes, even calling upon shadows of its own.
But this battle is already forfeited. The sword only continues its grisly descent. Flesh, muscle, and organs seem to vanish into the air like smoke. Soon, Vidal’s body is picked surgically clean of flesh. Little remains but a ravaged skeleton set with two furious eyes, a tongue, and an incongruently intact heart. Red has soaked everywhere across the floor.
Caroline: Caroline can only watch in mute horror.
GM: The scimitar finally ceases its blur.
Caroline: Why doesn’t he stop… why didn’t he stop…
She stares at the gruesome and ravaged thing that was, not so long ago, her sire.
GM: Silence reigns. The skeleton ceases its struggles.
Its next words sound like broken glass being chewed.
“You are unfinished, Seneschal!”
“I can safely visit no further harm upon you, my liege,” Maldonato answers.
“I must suffer!”
Caroline: Caroline blurs, her body laid across her sire’s.
“No more!” she cries out at last. “Please, no more,” she begs the seneschal.
GM: Pity moves in the Moor’s thoughtful brown eyes.
“Your filiality does you credit, Miss Malveaux, but I am your sire’s to command in this and all things. He has heard my counsel and enjoined that I proceed.”
Caroline: Her dead heart doesn’t pound, but she can hear her blood pounding in her ears.
“I am the prince’s blood, can it not be shed in place of his own, Seneschal?” she implores.
GM: “Thine sins are his to endure. As is mine own for your creation and abandonment.”
Caroline: She looks between the two elders, her dress smeared with her sire’s vitae. Between two pitiless pair of eyes, hoping for a moment one might relent.
Finally, she moves. “It is not my place to gainsay the prince. I would only all alternatives be considered.”
GM: She thinks back to her mother’s words:
The ill-informed see him as the velvet glove to soften Augusto’s iron fist, don’t they? Ah, they are but different faces to the same coin, my dear. Men of duty, resolved to do what needs to be done… men unwavering in their convictions, who would sooner break than bend…
“If there is further counsel you would offer, Miss Malveaux, I do not believe that its rendition would contravene our prince’s will.”
There is no reply from her sire.
Caroline: She gathers herself, as if reluctant to speak, but does so, her voice ragged, trying and failing to hide the pain she feels.
“Only that the prince has duties too, beyond those to justice, that cannot wait as it might. To the city, so carefully balanced. To his loyal subjects, who serve him even now, and to his childe, who has had no sire in her Requiem.”
To me, she rages internally, darkly. Only a night after learning of her and he’s leaping into the arms of death or torpor. Bitter black pitch weeps inside. It’s too familiar. All too familiar. Not good enough. Not worth his time. Not as important as other so-pressing demands of office.
She continues, that decades old pain all to obvious. “The prince’s love of justice is well spoken of, but to face torpor or final death is to lay down a duty and a burden, not to face one this night. To do this justice now is to permit another crime. That is not the prince of whom I have only heard spoken.”
Only the father whom she’s known her entire life. Why shouldn’t her father into the Embrace be the same. Why would he view her any differently.
“We will all face justice. Not all might first face their duties.”
GM: Silence reigns.
It feels like someone has walked over a grave when the double doors creak open. It’s the Hussar. Caroline hasn’t ever seen anything but haughty contempt on his burned, hideous face, but there’s a look of all-too genuine distress as he sees his master.
He holds his tongue, however, and passes the glass in right hand to Maldonato, who bleeds into it and holds it to the skeleton’s desiccated mouth. Flesh, muscle, and then skin regrow as the vitae steadily flows.
The Hussar opens the suitcase in his other hand, then proceeds to dress his master in the collared shirt and two-piece suit contained within as the Ventrue drinks. He kneels to his feet to fit the prince’s socks and lace up his leather shoes.
“Your judgments yet remain to be rendered,” Vidal pronounces from his chair as the hoary ghoul finishes his necktie.
“Miss Malveaux, I find the punishment previously levied by Seneschal Maldonato to be proportionate to your crimes.”
More than just the Beast blanches at that thought. She has so much to lose now that she did not when the sentence was first leveled.
GM: His baleful gaze turns upon his lover. He raises his hand for the flow of blood to cease. His marble-like face truly does appear a statue’s. Every chiseled line is etched with barely-constrained fury.
“You have broken my trust. You have violated my laws. You have betrayed my oath.”
“You have forced me to betray my own oath. By your actions, I have violated my own laws and blasphemed against God Himself.”
“You. You alone, Philip, whom I have trusted. You alone.”
The prince doesn’t shake like a man might. He is simply still. Utterly still. His flesh does not act upon his fury. The world does. All seems drawn to that baleful gaze, sucked in, incinerated by the black inferno silently raging behind those dead eyes.
“You have confessed your sins to me,” he whispers. “Per my laws, that fact alone mitigates their severity,.”
“I banish you from my person. I shall no longer look upon your face. Sheriff Donovan and our heralds will conduct all communications between us.”
“I now walk my Requiem alone.”
Caroline: Don’t we all.
The grim similarly with her last encounters with her own lover are not lost on Caroline.
She knows, in her bones, it is as much a punishment of himself as the seneschal.
GM: “As my prince commands,” Maldonato replies, bowing low.
“في هذا الأمر وفي كل شيء ، ما زلت خادمًا مطيعًا لجلالتك”
(“In this and all things, I remain Your Majesty’s obedient servant.”)
The seneschal turns and departs.
No further words pass between them.
The prince stares after him until the double doors softly close.
Caroline: She feels suddenly naked before the prince.
GM: Caroline’s sire doesn’t even look at her. He stares silently upon those doors.
He stares. And stares.
He doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink.
The Hussar only stands at silent attention.
Caroline: She is silent. Patient, even as the seconds tick by like hours. She wants to cry out for him to say something. But she knows that he wishes her quiet obedience. Her reserved calm.
GM: Minutes tick by.
Then more minutes.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Caroline: The pressure speak is overwhelming. She fights it as fiercely as she ever fought the Beast.
GM: The prince does not once look away from those doors. He feels like a statue.
Caroline’s senses feel so muted. There’s not even the wetness of his blood against her shoes. It’s dried.
Caroline: She can well imagine what might pass through his mind in the moment. The self-loathing and pain. The anger. The frustration.
GM: Completely dried.
There is only the oppressive silence.
And that uninterrupted, endless, motionless, million-yard stare.
Time passes and passes and passes.
Caroline: She reflects on the loss of a relationship of months, and how it must feel to sever one of centuries.
She waits. She wishes she might offer some comfort, to this elder she barely knows, but there is nothing to say.
GM: If the seconds pass like hours, it feels as if she is watching centuries crawl by.
The only indication she has of the time is when the Hussar silently clicks the shades to cover the window.
Caroline: It provides plenty of time to think on her own decisions. They are not happy thoughts.
GM: Maybe too much time.
It feels like hours before the weariness hits her, and for a second, the younger Ventrue knows oblivion.
Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM
GM: The dead don’t sleep for long. Caroline opens her eyes. She’s on the floor. It’s eight (or more) hours later than it was a second ago.
Caroline: She stirs. Rises to take in her surroundings.
GM: The Hussar still stands at attention by the window. The shades are gone. It’s raining out again.
Her sire is still seated upon his throne-like chair. He doesn’t stare after the door. His head is drooped forward in apparent slumber.
Caroline: She takes in the Hussar, her sire. Debates breaking the silence with him to ask when the prince might stir and decides against it.
GM: The Hussar doesn’t look at her. Just stares forward at silent attention.
Caroline: It’s not a long debate.
GM: Time passes. Her sire’s drooped head remains motionless.
Caroline: She remains silent. Stoicism is a Ventrue virtue.
GM: His lower face is covered in hair too, she notices. Days’ worth of stubble only halfway grown into a beard. Like Savoy’s, but messy, scraggly, and unkempt.
Caroline: Not everyone meets the Embrace as they might wish.
GM: Time passes.
It’s just as slow with her sire motionless. But perhaps less oppressive.
Finally, it happens. He doesn’t yawn or stretch. Or look around. The downturned head simply slowly tilts up. It almost reminds Caroline of one of those robotic dog pets that were popular when she was a kid. After the battery ran out and it stopped making sounds. It’d dip back to its natural resting position, cold hard plastic without any joy or life.
The Hussar, however, drapes a barber’s cape over his master’s shoulders and carefully begins to trim away the unkempt hair with a pair of scissors. Caroline didn’t see him with either object last night. The hair dissolves into ash as it falls away. There’s little clean-up.
Her sire gives no response for several moments.
Then he looks at Caroline.
At least a full minute passes, punctuated only by the scissors’ steady clipping.
“Summon the sheriff.”
The Hussar pauses and removes an old-fashioned dumbphone.
He dials a number.
“Your presence is desired.”
There’s an indistinct, curt response. The Hussar closes the phone.
He resumes cutting his master’s hair.
Caroline’s sire still stares at her.
Then he says:
“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”
Caroline: Caroline startles as he finally speaks to her.
“I can ask for nothing more, Your Majesty.”
GM: The prince extends a marble-like wrist. Raises it to fanged lips.
Lowers it down. Red wells forth.
Caroline: There’s a moment of spiraling terror at that demand. She knows what the third drink looks like. She’s seen it in Jocelyn’s eyes.
A moment of doubts.
She swallows them down, then advances to swallow down something more potent. What else is there to do?
She is her father’s daughter. Her sire’s childe.
The idea of centuries in thrall to a torpid sire burns in her mind. Centuries like Jocelyn.
That terrified part lashes out. Asks what more she has to do to prove herself to him. Her devotion. Her desire. Her loyalty.
But he’s answered that question already.
He did not make a request.
GM: Her sire’s blood fills her. For the third time. It washes over all in its path like an unstoppable tide. A tsunami of bliss. All else shatters before its path.
No more doubts. No more fears. No more uncertainties. No more questions.
He is her all. Her prince. Her sire. Her father. Her everything.
She couldn’t be happier.
Caroline: She drinks until he commands her to cease, drinking in this opportunity to be close to him. To touch the face of God.
She doesn’t know where the bond begins and the truth ends, but she knows she was foolish for even considering any path but this one.
What could Savoy have offered compared to her sire? How could he be anything but a pale shadow.
She’s right where she belongs.
GM: That sanguine bliss feels like it lasts forever.
And it feels like it lasted far too short.
“Capitán Gaultierrez will make the arrangements to relocate you and your personal effects to my haven,” her sire states crisply as the ghoul applies shaving cream over his face and produces a straight razor.
“You shall be educated in faith, statecraft, history, warfare, and all disciplines and bodies of knowledge appropriate to your new station. You shall be privately introduced to those Kindred whom Seneschal Maldonato and I distrust least, then announced before the Camarilla at large. Honor our faith and bring dignitas to our bloodline, and you may be of great service to God, church, and clan. Prove yourself unworthy of my Blood and I shall reclaim it.”
Caroline: Caroline listens, drinking in every word.
GM: “I shall expect the highest performance to meet the highest expectations in fulfillment of the highest responsibilities. This I swear to you, Caroline Malveaux, childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear by my Requiem and dignitas as a childe of our founder: by Longinus the Dark Prophet: by the Virgin Mary, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and by Almighty God:”
“I shall accept from you, and offer to you, only the utmost best in all things.”
Caroline: The declaration is everything Caroline could have asked for, everything she’s been waiting what seems like centuries for.
Acknowledgement, recognition, opportunity—all these things, and from her sire. Not some pretender to the throne out to use her towards his own end. Not from some elder desiring a pawn. From her sire. So long ignorant of her existence. So long kept from her. So long imagined, even fantasized about.
In life, she might have killed for such a declaration from her father. In death, she’s done far for more the same. It still feels like a dream. Like at any moment she might wake up to find the spell broken.
The desire to bask in the moment wars with the urge from deep inside her to declare her fidelity. That urge wins out, after so long in silence, so long apart.
She still kneels before the prince, where she was when she took that third blissful drink from his wrist.
Her voice is soft, like a caress, but firm as she replies in the language of his birth with a comfort and ease brought on only by long practice.
“Su Majestad, seré digno de todo lo que usted ofrezca, y seré todo lo que usted desea de mí. Seré digno de los nombres de mi linaje, para ser llamado el childe de Augusto Vidal, childe de Urcalida, childe de Tiamat, childe de Ventrue. Esto te lo jurote lo juro, Su Majestad.”
(“Your Majesty, I shall be worthy of all that you offer, and shall be all that you desire of me. I shall be worthy of the names of my lineage, to be called the childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear to you, Your Majesty.”)