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Blood and Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Caroline VI

“Something… something horrible’s happened…”
Luke Malveaux


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: There is much to do and little time in which to do it.

Kâmil is waiting for Caroline outside of the seneschal’s office. The Moor instructed Caroline to place herself at the sheriff’s disposal in assisting with the cover-up around Claire’s death.

His number stares up at her from the phone screen.

Expected to work together.

Caroline: She still hates him. She’d thought, perhaps, when the bond to him was cut that some of the stronger emotions towards him would die with it, but they haven’t.

Donovan. A terror to her since her first nights as one of the damned. A foe that did seemingly all in his power to undermine her at every turn, with everyone, long before he had the good cause he now possesses to see her fall. Back when her fall was such a short drop—just from the gallows.

Donovan, whose lust for the throne rightfully hers to claim she can almost smell. Who she trusts like a fox in the hen house or a snake in the grass. Who has spent decades, a century, building his claim, accumulating allies, growing his strength, expanding his influence.

Donovan, a threat from within to her, to everything she wants, every bit as dangerous as any external threat. As Savoy, the Baron, or the shadowy power the seneschal sees killing off his heirs. Or the terror at the bottom of the Dungeon.

Donovan. She hits call on the phone.

Work together. Right.

GM: There’s a click as the line is answered.

There’s no greeting.

There’s not even breathing.

Caroline: Well, that makes two of them.

“How may I be of best assistance with Claire?” she asks without preamble or inflection.

Assistance. Not service.

She was his servant once. His tenant. Never again. Never again.

GM: “Report to Lafayette Square in one hour,” comes the cool reply.

“You are subordinate to the party whom you meet.”

The line clicks.

Kâmil inquires as to what Caroline would have them do during that time, and indeed, over the course of the night.

Gisèlle also awaits silently nearby, though Caroline didn’t see her there when she exited the seneschal’s office.

Caroline: Caroline stares silently ahead for a moment after the phone call.

“I need to talk to my people. There are things that must be set in motion,” Caroline answers at last, her voice as sharp as a blade.

She sends a text to Roger. Perdido House. 15 minutes.

GM: The trio do not wait by themselves. Footsteps sound the hall as Gabriel Hurst approaches the seneschal’s office, followed by his ghoul John McCullem. He greets Caroline with a, “Eiren Malveaux. Fancy seeing you here.”

Caroline: She offers a polite greeting to Clan Ventrue’s primogen. “One never truly knows one another, do they, Primogen Hurst?” she asks with a smile. “It’s always a pleasant surprise to find shared interests.”

GM: “Or themselves, some might say,” the older Ventrue offers with a chuckle. He does not linger overlong, however, on “account of bein’ expected” before knocking on the door. Maldonato’s voice bids him enter. His ghoul stands outside with a patient expression.

Caroline: She bids him enjoy his meeting, the smile on her face lingering after his departure but lacking any warmth as she turns it on John McCullem. Spy.

And an effective one at that. This meeting, the sight of her with the elder ghouls, will set things in motion. Questions in motion.

She bides the ghouls to join her as she walks towards the elevator but waits until the door closes to speak. “How was delivery of Claire’s body executed with my brother?” she asks.

GM: Gisèlle stares into McCullem’s eyes. The two ghouls do not speak, though McCullem’s features seem to sag. The casquette girl eventually turns away without a word to follow Caroline.

Caroline: She picks at their knowledge of the investigation and cover-up thus far—the integration of the Krewe, the handling of her brother’s memories, the reactions of her father and uncles. All the things she has missed in the full day she has spent with her motionless sire.

When her ghouls arrive it’s not so different. She’s in no hurry to depart Perdido House—at least she knows what manner of ears are listening here. She seeks a private meeting room from Kâmil and takes ten minutes to briefly lay out facts for Ferris.

The Malveauxes are hers, so long as she can hold them and only so long as she can show the value of her dominion. Especially as it relates to Claire’s remaining loose ends. The immediate matter is Claire’s death, any contingencies she may have had in place, and any information that might be available from what remains of her people. Whatever is left must be repurposed or destroyed.

GM: Kâmil answers that the Krewe received Claire’s medical records and has found a physician to blame for the fatal combination of improperly prescribed medications, as well as what medications to use and what terminal illness to diagnose Claire with.

Dr. Grémillon and the Krewe’s other ghouls, however, identified the body as a facsimile. They wanted the real thing, citing that even a badly mutilated corpse of the true Claire would be preferable to Caroline’s black-blooded substitute. Failing that, they want more information from Caroline on the thing, as they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The body’s delivery thus has yet to be executed, as have any alterations to Luke’s memories. Claire has now been missing for close to 48 hours. Kâmil and Gisèlle have interviewed several Malveauxes and doctored their immediate memories, but the cat can only be kept in the bag for so much longer.

Kâmil also wants Claire’s phone and other devices, as these have seemingly gone missing and could contain identifying information on further hunters associated with her. Does Caroline have these devices?

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress is not especially pleased by the report, particularly when she learns the decision was made not to stage the body. The longer they wait, the harder it is to sell anyone this is in truth an accident.

Caroline relates that she does not have the devices of interest. Many of them were lost with Claire’s body, and she did not linger in the Quarter following her stepmother’s death to search in detail for more. By the time her agents returned what was left had been cleaned it.

That body, relatedly, is not available. Nor will it be.

That the body was a fabrication was disclosed when she delivered it, and this interest in ‘where it came from’ has the appearance of a blatant grab for information rather than efforts towards preserving the Masquerade.

GM: “I do not believe their questions unreasonable, bayan, given the level of scrutiny the body is likely to receive,” Kâmil replies. “That they would also desire such information for its own sake, however, is not in doubt.”

With that much said, the Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder) has done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Ferris, meanwhile, responds to the news of the Malveauxes being Caroline’s by recommending she move immediately to secure her hold over the family. He recommends some manner of story to explain Caroline’s return to the Malveauxes’ good graces. Perhaps they should manufacture a crisis where she may swoop in and play the golden girl. A renunciation of the gay lifestyle goes without saying; someone to use as a public boyfriend would go a ways there. (“Good for your personal cover anyway, ma’am—affluent and physically attractive young women don’t stay single long.”) Depending on how long Caroline is to be away with her sire, this plan might best be executed upon her return, even if they can start laying groundwork now. It’s more believable she might return to the family after some soul-searching and time away.

Regardless of Caroline’s personal cover, however, Ferris wants him and his people reinstated to their former positions as soon as possible. “We’re obviously working with one hand tied behind our backs until then. It’d also further assuage their concerns about money to be back on the family payroll.”

GM: He also inquires, while he is here, whether she still wants Jocelyn taken care of.

The ex-CIA agent also reports that, per their earlier discussion, he had some people bribe the hotel staff at the Monteleone to point any people asking questions about Claire and her last visitors towards Caroline and the Giani Buillding. If other members of the Barrett Commission are looking for Claire (and her devices) yet, so much the better if those hunters can fall into Caroline’s hands.

The people he used weren’t his regular security team. Ferris is very leery about making any further trips into the French Quarter right now.

With Ericson out of the picture, Ferris says that he had Gerald Bishop set up Detective Hill with an interview at the law firm. “We can use him for that much before getting rid of him.”

Ferris doesn’t think the detective-turned-lawyer is worth ghouling, as the newest of the firm’s attorneys. Simply another mundane one to grow the business with.

“Though one of them is, ma’am. Reffett or Bowden. If we want to really control the firm, we’ll need a ghoul among the partners there.”

“You also might consider working there as part of your mundane identity. People expect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers to have a job. Gives us a stronger hold over the business too.”

Carla Rivera still has not returned to work. Ferris isn’t sure whether the woman’s disappearance is related to recent happenings or simply her brother Diego. Does Caroline want this looked into?

The Vatican representative is due to arrive in the city several weeks from now. As Ferris stated earlier, this is likely a power play by other clergy to wrest control of the archishopric from Orson’s hands (who has rarely left his home since the heart attack). Now that the family is hers again, does Caroline have a preference for how to play things?

“We could try to get your uncle off his ass. Or turn things over to your cousin Adam. He’s already been assuming more responsibilities.”

Finally, the two hunters in Caroline’s captivity attempted to escape. They took hostages. Fuller, Green, and the building security were able to stop them, although a maid was killed in the ensuing struggle. Autumn has taken care of the body disposal. Ferris recommends installing a dedicated holding area for future prisoners. If Caroline still wants to doctor the two’s memories into murdering their fellows, Ferris recommends doing so as soon as possible.

“They’ve all been missing for a good amount of time now.”

The police are probably already looking for them at this point. NOSTF has likely assumed they’re dead (or worse, captive) this long after the hunt on Bishop Malveaux.

Caroline: Caroline agrees fully on reinstating Ferris’ people as quickly as possible. The resources available to them and unfettered access to the family will be vital in not only securing, but also holding the family—to say nothing of how Caroline’s current currency reserves won’t hold out forever with the varied demands being placed on them.

She’s cagier about a return to the family’s graces: influence among them comes with responsibilities to them that her varied demands within the All-Night Society are likely to complicated. There’s value in keeping them are a greater personal distance.

She agrees about further trips to the French Quarter as a matter of course—that is far from friendly ground to them.

Moving more firmly into the firm is of greater interest, though a ghoul partner (for day to day operations) is also likely on the table. The imminent ‘departure’ of both Bishop and Ericson will leave the firm too open to outside influence.

She’s interested in Rivera, but less interested in hunting her down. She suggests a tip to ICE that pointed them at her—and her extended family—might do more to flush them out without direct influence from their assets.

She also largely agrees with pushing more responsibility into Adam’s hands. Orson (even if he recovers from the heart attack) isn’t getting younger, and making him a clearer succession will help resolve that problem for the long term, while also pulling power out of the hands of *her *firmest detractor among the family.

Keeping the archbishopric in the family is of the greatest interest to her among the Malveaux family at the moment.

GM: Ferris tells Caroline, when she asks, that he and his team were fired for allegedly selling family secrets to corporate rivals at Endron.

He asks how she intends to influence the family’s actions if she intends to keep a distance. “They don’t do what I tell them, ma’am. Usually, they expect that to be the other way around.”

Ferris says he’ll have someone tip off ICE about Rivera’s undocumented status. He doesn’t even bring up whether Caroline wants anything done for the woman’s U.S.-born young daughter.

As far as who holds the archishopric, Caroline is also aware that matter is not up to Orson, but the Vatican. Bishops are appointed by the pope and serve at his pleasure. As the pontiff cannot possibly visit every diocese in the church, however, it is His Holiness’ representative who effectively decides by making a recommendation the pope rubber-stamps. Thus, it is up to the visiting representative whether Orson retains his position or whether it goes to someone else (what the archdiocese’s other clergy are clearly maneuvering for, having scented weakness). The situation is further complicated by the fact Adam is 30 years of age and canon law requires bishops to be at least 35 years of age. What does she want to do?

Ferris still awaits her answers on what she wants to do with Jocelyn and the two captive hunters.

Caroline: Caroline observes that the departed bishop seemed to manage influence without being a direct part of their lives—albeit without the pariah status she currently enjoys. Still, she doesn’t completely shoot down the idea of some manner of reconciliation, simply pushes the problem forward—better to wait and see what the prince has in store.

If Rivera’s daughter even crosses Caroline’s mind, she gives no sign.

Her intentions with the archbishopric are to prop up her uncle sufficiently to allow him to conduct his duties, but to have her cousin take on more and more responsibilities—which she’s quite certain he’s doing anyway. It’s not in Adam’s nature to ignore a task that needs to be done.

She wants to showcase her cousin’s growing skill to the Vatican representative, and pave the road to the identification of him as a seamless choice for an eventual transfer of power.

Jocelyn, she answers, she will deal with more personally. She doesn’t anticipate the Toreador leaving the city as originally planned.

The hunters, similarly, she will see to this evening. Her plans for them remain unchanged, though her scorn at their involvement of a maid—and her death—is obvious. Hunting monsters indeed. It goes both ways.

It is not lost on her that turned into the police, the men may also attract attention from the very elements she’s so interested in. That they might even draw other hunters to him, to speak with them. After all—they’re the only kine that have any idea what happened.

Speaking of hunters, Claire’s safehouse is of particular interest to Caroline. Its value diminishes with each day that goes by, but it may yet be a treasure trove. The kind they dearly need.

Claire was intelligent and dedicated, but there’s simply no way that she could have maintained all of her contacts, all of her knowledge, all of her connections and plots related to the supernatural in her head alone. She’s also quite certain there’s no way she would have kept that information anywhere in the French Quarter. Caroline suspects the Outlands.

She turns her attention to Ferris on this—he was Claire’s aid in these matters and others longer than anyone. Surely he was as curious as Caroline, perhaps even more so. Even if Claire never disclosed it to him directly, he’s had enough time and inclination to have at least bracketed it. By meeting times. By turnaround. In a day or a month there’s no way he could have, not with how careful Claire was, but he had years, and now Caroline has significant resources to throw at the problem. She just needs a ballpark.

She’s also interested in any additional information he’s collected in his long association with the sheriff. Targets they killed, people he was pointed at, and the general manner of how the sheriff conducted his operations. Caroline was very in the dark about exactly how the sheriff’s and Claire’s relationship functioned—and she cannot remain so.

GM: “Bishop sent me visions and nightmares. Made me see things that weren’t real. Your stepmother and I suspect he did something similar with your uncle, though we aren’t completely certain.”

Ferris agrees with her assessment of Adam. Caroline’s cousin is reliable, pragmatic, and places the family’s interests before his own. Ferris’ only concern is that he lacks Orson’s ruthlessness and political experience. Love her uncle or hate him, the rest of the archdiocese was too afraid to challenge Orson while he appeared strong.

But experience can be gained, and there’s ruthlessness aplenty in the hands behind Adam.

“Soft hunters are more common than soft CIA people, though not by much,” Ferris remarks blandly.

He concurs that the captive hunters may indeed be more useful as bait. Even if their fellows think they’ve been compromised by Caroline, those other hunters will have to step forward to eliminate their former comrades-in-arms.

“That’s what I’d do. Assess whether they’ve been compromised, assume yes, and get rid of the loose ends if I’m not disproven.”

He concurs with Caroline that Claire probably kept all of that information in her safehouse, which was likely its foremost purpose. He also agrees with her that somewhere outside the usual Kindred power centers would have been the ideal location. Wherever vampires and their servants have little cause to go.

Ferris tried to keep himself ignorant of where Caroline’s stepmother kept her secrets. It was always possible he might be caught and made to divulge what he knew. But, he thinks he might be able to give Caroline some ballparks. He gets out a piece of paper and starts writing down dates and times of meetings. He asks Caroline to fill in dates and times too. Anything to build a log of Claire’s daily activities. They can ask Claire’s associates for more details. There’s also the hotel staff at the Monteleone, who would know even more. They’d also have security tapes and could track when Claire entered and left the building.

“They’ve been getting a lot of questions lately, though. Better to track them down outside of work. Outside of the Quarter. Erase any further questions about Claire Malveaux from their minds.”

Ferris seems reluctant to talk about Donovan here in Perdido House, but ultimately defers to Caroline if she wants to now.

Caroline: “Just get it all together for review later,” she answers about the matter of Donovan.

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: She checks the time. “Our next meeting is soon, but I should also clarify. Until now there was significant interest in swaying me to one side or another—I don’t believe anyone had very much interest in actually destroying me. I do not anticipate that being true going forward.”

GM: “I’d concur, ma’am. That car bomb wasn’t left as a message.”

It’s later than any reasonable mortal is going to be up, but there are enough hours in the night yet.

The Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder), Kâmil meanwhile reports, have done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t looking forward to it. To watching her brother react to his mother’s death. To having to rampage through his mind.

But the demands of the night have rarely given way to her preferences.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline gets to Lafayette Square in the CBD. She finds no one there. Her people look around for a while. It looks as if she was stood up—or, more ominously, something happened to whoever she was supposed to meet along the way.

It’s only once they leave the square that they see a black SUV approaching from the rear view mirror. Camilla Doriocourt’s impassive face is visible in one of the seats.

Caroline: Subordinate. To his childe. Caroline contains her disgust. At least, outwardly.

She doesn’t even have any particular hatred for Doriocourt—not directly. In her few interactions with the sheriff’s childe, the Toreador has been professional, cold, and distant, but not as hostile as her sire.

She’s Caroline’s elder in experience with hunters, her elder in the faith, and the next in line as bishop. Her blood is every bit as potent as the Ventrue’s own (as Caroline well knows), and her age undoubtedly gives her significant breadth of talents unavailable to Caroline.

But she cannot help the impression that the reason for this meeting, for the power structure dictated by the sheriff (and who is he to do so?) has nothing to do with those advantages, and everything to do with dominance.

She has Fuller maneuver to allow Doriocourt’s car to either take the lead or pull over.

GM: Doriocourt’s car takes the lead. She doesn’t pull over at any point to speak with Caroline. Instead, the car proceeds along a semi-familiar route to Luke’s high-rise apartment building in the CBD. Caroline isn’t a regular guest at the place, but she’s been there before. She supposes Luke will be moving out soon, if his and Cécilia’s families are getting the soon-to-be newlyweds a house.

The cars stop a moderate distance away. A ghoul from Camilla’s knocks on Caroline’s window, says the hound will speak with her inside her own car, and opens the door for the Ventrue to get in.

“Regent Harlequin is en route with the body. What obstacles to the Masquerade await inside?” Doriocourt inquires without preamble.

It’s your usual higher-income apartment building, as far as Caroline knows. She’s seen security, though nothing on the level of Blackwatch.

Caroline: “Inherent to the Masquerade? None that I am aware of, Mother Doriocourt, though it is possible that given the delay in execution that Claire’s mortal hunter associates could predict this course of action and prepare some manner of pitfall beyond the ordinary.” Caroline answers directly.

“It’s also possible there is heightened security around him due to Claire’s own actions—attempting to protect her children—beyond the ordinary. In that regard I would be more concerned with surveillance than physical threats.”

“So far as inherent obstacles to our goals, there’s electronic security cameras, on site security guards, keycard locks on the building and elevator. The locks we can bypass,” She’d asked to clone Cécilia’s card. “And the guards are easily pliable, but for this to stand up to scrutiny the camera footage needs to convincingly show Claire arriving—and no one else.”

“The latter is more easily achieved, but I can double Claire if required for the former. My people have already scouted a route up that avoids the cameras by which we can deliver the body.”

“Regent Harlequin was to arrange the emergency services handling of the body post-facto.”

GM: “Perhaps you should have considered that possibility when you killed her, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the hound coolly replies to Caroline’s first statement.

Caroline: Oh, you’re right, I should have assumed you’d all appear this incompetent in the cover-up, Caroline bites back.

GM: Donovan’s childe seems to take note of her subsequent words, but does not immediately reply. They wait in the car. Two more vehicles arrive with Harlequin and additional ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. Claire’s car also pulls up. One of the ghouls hands Caroline some clothes, shoes, jewelry, and handbag that match her deceased stepmother’s, down to the wedding ring she always wore on a chain around her neck. Caroline is invited to change into the clothes without much ceremony. Another ghoul applies makeup to the Ventrue’s face, cuts her hair down to Claire’s shorter length, and dyes it grayer. Doriocourt declares the look “serviceable.” One ghoul raises questions about camera timestamps, but falls silent upon a look from the hound.

Caroline is given the car that looks like Claire’s to drive and told to meet the others at Luke’s apartment. They’ll take the alternate way up.

Caroline: She laid the groundwork for this nights ago. That it’s dragged on is incompetent to the point of appearing genuinely suspicious. Wouldn’t it be convenient if she got killed off by Claire’s hunters? She has no doubt it would take the sheriff very little effort to drop them a hint.

She has her people interject when the ghoul approaches with the scissors. Claire’s hair was thinner than hers by the end—noticeably so—and Caroline has no interest in mimicing her for the rest of the night. Especially when she has other meetings. She has a wig ready that’s a better fit, and even a few facial prosthetics.

Because she did put thought into this and isn’t half-assing perhaps the most complex Masquerade cover-up in recent memory in New Orleans.

She hands off the handbag to Ferris, who slips a handheld RF detector into it. He indicates that it will buzz lightly.

GM: The ghouls relent when she produces the wig. Harlequin’s purple eyes silently glitter.

Caroline drives for a bit. One River Place is an exclusive high-rise condominium building (technically, Luke is renting his condo) and one of the most desirable in the city. It overlooks the Mississippi River, giving residents sweeping waterfront views from the heart of the city. Floor plans are open and expansive, while walls of glass and spacious terraces that give the area a picturesque feel. A heated swimming pool beckons from outside. “Claire” is greeted by name by on-duty staff pulling graveyard shift. They ask how she and her son are doing and offer their congratulations over his engagement. Any number of hotel-style services that she can imagine are hers to request—including, the staff perhaps takes deliberate care to mention, an all-call doctor.

They don’t say she looks ill. But they have to be thinking it.

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Caroline: It’s not difficult to affect Claire’s mannerisms. The weakness she showed in her last weeks. Caroline watched her age years in months. Saw it as well as anyone really.

GM: Her brother’s apartment awaits. At this hour of night, he has to be asleep.

Caroline: It feels like one of the longest walks of her life—gives her plenty of time to think. About how Claire forced her hand. About how she doesn’t really want to invade his mind. To inflict this trauma on him. About how everything could have been different, if Claire had trusted her, had believed in her.

Or maybe it wouldn’t have.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. Claire’s dead, and this has to happen. She’s become an expert in the art of the necessary.

She forces herself into view on cameras as she goes by, forces the Beast down.

GM: Besides. If Claire wasn’t dead, she wouldn’t have her new family.

Maybe wouldn’t even be here now.

The RF detector buzzes as she approaches Luke’s door.

Caroline: Of course it does.

Caroline isn’t surprised. The real question isn’t ‘is Luke’s apartment bugged.’ It’s ‘who has it bugged and how thoroughly.’

She can think of plenty of reasons that Claire might have done so—to keep an eye on her children. That’s arguably the least threatening outcome. She doubts Claire let anyone but herself eavesdrop on Luke, so there’s no one listening to any recordings, no matter how thoroughly she might have had the opportunity to plant spy equipment.

On the other hand, she can also readily imagine members of the Barrett Commission rushing to put bugs on Claire’s children when she went missing. One of the likely places she might turn up—or at least that others might turn up. Such an effort though would likely be less through—easier to get around once inside—but is more likely to be actively listened in on.

There’s also an array of third parties it could belong to—corporate and political rivals—but she thinks it less likely. Bugging a senator’s son, if caught, could have pretty significant political repercussions, and Luke isn’t careless enough to bring anything home from work that would be of use.

If it’s a bug planted by her mother, it likely feeds to a local receiver that then sends off the information (likely via the internet, vice RF) to an offsite location. Maybe her safehouse. That has its own opportunities.

If it’s a bug planted by a group of hunters the same could be true… but that would require pretty invasive efforts. Caroline doesn’t think they had the time. Ferris had agreed. If it’s the Barrett Commission or NOSTF, their receiver is likely on site, and it’s likely either recording and regularly checked by someone, or (more likely) actively under observation by someone on site, in the building. Someone who could observe, take a report, and then (maybe) try to find out more themselves.

The Ventrue’s grin is almost wolfish.

She pauses to take out her phone and sends a text to Ferris. I could do with a late dinner. Will let you know whether I want to dine in or eat out shortly.

Could do with dinner: there’s something here.

Dine in: if the work is a rush job, and likely has someone on site. Someone her people will find.

Eat out: if there’s evidence of more extensive surveillance within the apartment, and it’s likely her mother’s. Something they need to go get elsewhere.

GM: I’ll get things ready, comes the answering text after only a moment.

Caroline: It’s a side show to the main event, though. They still need to stage Claire’s death. She’s tempted to call things off, to reschedule this for tomorrow, earlier in the evening, when it’ll cause fewer questions. When they’ve had a chance to separately investigate the bugs.

But she knows it won’t wait, and what tomorrow will hold is an open question. Her sire won’t accept excuses for delay.

She knocks on Luke’s door.

GM: A few moments pass before the door opens. Caroline’s brother is dressed in a sweater, sweats, and socks.

“Mom?” Luke frowns. “It’s pretty late.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t trust to chance, to the late hour and the dim light inside her brother’s apartment. No, not tonight. The monster is on full display, the Beast unleashed.

Its power rolls off her in waves like a miasma, a fog that blinds his senses, a cloying scent that intoxicates him, an opiate that ply’s at his will, dulling his wits like dirt dulls a blade.

It doesn’t take much to pitch her voice, just a small adjustment. No more effort than it takes to still the Beast’s assault on attempts to capture it, to immortalize it in moment.

“I know. I should have called ahead, but I was in the area, and I heard that Cécilia was staying in. Can I come in?”

GM: Luke blinks for a moment, then steps forward to hug the china-faced predator. Caroline can feel the shorter man’s heartbeat thumping against her chest. He’s not her type, but it’s hard not to wonder how her own kin might taste. How much more… familiar the blood would be.

“Yeah. Sure,” he finally says, withdrawing to hold the door open for her. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“I’ve actually got some non-alcoholic wine if you’ll be driving. Not-so subtle gift Cécilia got from a friend of hers.”

Caroline: “Clever friend,” Caroline answers, still pitching her voice. “Rum and coke?” she requests as much as asks.

She doesn’t quite limp into Luke’s living room and finds a seat with apparent pain while he fetches drinks.

GM: That seems like it’ll wait a moment when Luke takes her by the arm and helps her to a sofa.

He frowns in concern. “You okay, Mom?”

Caroline: She waves off his concern and only grudgingly accepts his help. “It’s been a difficult year.”

When he departs to get the drink she briefly again checks the RF device to see if the signal has abated or remained steady.

GM: It’s steady.

“Yeah. It has,” Luke sighs as he heads off to the kitchen. “I’m glad you’re here, though. I wanted to get your opinion on Dad’s idea.”

Caroline: Claire’s bugs, then? Seems likely. Well… more likely.

She quickly fires off another text to Roger before tucking the phone away.

GM: Roger replies he’ll be over soon with takeout.

“I’m sure we could win, but it feels like a talking point people could dig up later. Changing a law for my specific benefit.”

“And there’s being away from Cécilia and our eventual kids, even if it would only be some of the time.”

“It’s hard to say this to his face, but I don’t want to be absent as much as he was.”

Caroline: The entire thing feels perverse. Intrusive. Here she is, not content just to invade her brother’s house and mind. She had to intrude into is relationship with his mother.

But Roger and the others need time.

“You know your father wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think it was necessary,” she replies. “Everything he does, everything he has done—including that time away from you and your brothers—was for a reason.”

GM: “I know,” he agrees. “But he isn’t as close to everything here.”

“Savannah might use it to push the idea I’m not actually interested in a corporate career. That might be enough for her to take over.”

Caroline: ‘Clairoline’ is quiet for a moment. "He’s asking a great deal of you. Expecting a great deal. He has to. This year… " She sighs. “A great deal of responsibility has fallen solely on your shoulders.”

GM: “I know. Caroline being out. I guess that was the path he expected for her.”

He returns to the living room with drinks in hand.

“Or at least was seeing if a woman could manage.”

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls as she accepts the drink.

“She made her own decisions.”

GM: Luke leaves it at that.

“I have one of the samples you asked for, by the way,” he remarks as he sips his.

Caroline: “Just one?” Her voice is expectant. Almost demanding.

GM: “I looked. Believe me. There was nothing there.”

Caroline: “You’re sure?”

What the hell?

GM: “I’m positive. The place was completely immaculate. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, immaculate?” She grimaces as she takes a long pull from the drink.

GM: “I mean there was nothing there. I searched the bathroom and the bedroom. There wasn’t so much as a toenail clipping or stray hair.”

Caroline: “But you got a sample?”

GM: There’s a faint grimace he hides behind the drink.

“Yes. From Cécilia’s room.”

“That was easy.”

Caroline: Her family. Claire was using her brother to spy on her family. And he did it. He used his relationship with Cécilia to spy on her. The woman he ‘loves.’

At least there’s a place for the scorn in her answer.

“A poor showing, Luke. One is better than one, but this should have been easy.”

GM: Luke doesn’t glare, but his expression gets flatter.

“I take it back. Nothing about that was easy.”

Caroline: She’s seen that look before. She’s also been on the receiving end of Claire’s answer so many times that it’s easy to parrot it.

“Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.”

GM: Luke looks like he could sigh. But he doesn’t. Or disagree.

Caroline never did.

He takes another sip of his drink.

“What about Linda?” he asks. Part-accusingly.

“Gabriel has to grow up at some point. This is just continuing to baby him.”

Caroline: “Maybe it is. Are you complaining that we aren’t babying you enough?”

“You’re a grown man, Luke. Your father’s oldest and the presumptive heir to the entire family. Your uncle isn’t wrong when he quotes, ‘To those whom much is given.’ And Gabriel is much further from bringing Linda into the family than you are.”

She pauses to take another large sip of her drink. “You know it’s for the best. We can’t let anything get in your way.”

GM: Luke just doesn’t say anything to that.

“I’m complaining you’re babying him too much. Clearly, Adam’s going to grow up to become Orson. I thought I was going to grow up to become Matt, until Dad seemed less sure. What plan is there for Gabriel? He’ll be in college soon.”

Caroline: “He’ll have to grow up,” Caroline answers. “Whichever path you do not follow will become his, and when that time comes he’ll have to set childish things aside. But not yet.”

“Your brother doesn’t have your strength, Luke. He doesn’t see the full picture. He still hadn’t given up on your half-sister. So yes, I threw him a bone. Something productive to keep him occupied.”

GM: “It still wouldn’t be impossible to bring her back into the fold. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”

“And Linda is anything but productive. There’s no future with her.”

Caroline: “And what benefits are those?” Caroline answers pointedly. “Linda at least will keep your brother out of trouble until he’s matured.”

GM: “You’re the one who said she’s the most like Dad, out of us all. That speaks for itself.”

Caroline: “We all thought so, didn’t we? But your father wouldn’t have thrown away everything he worked towards for nothing. Orson might have taken personal offense to her lifestyle, but it’s her judgement that is the real concern.”

“And her fall from grace paved the way for your ascension.”

GM: “I thought we were supposed to consider the family’s interests before our own.”

“I’m not happy over her lifestyle, but she could hide it like it like Savannah does.”

Caroline: “If only she had been so considerate of the family as you are of her?” Caroline observes pointedly, shaking her head.

“Your half-sister should be grateful that excommunication from God and family was all she received. If Orson hadn’t had his heart attack it would have been far worse.”

GM: “I don’t doubt that.” A pause. “It’s risky, what you’re doing with him.”

Caroline: “How’s that?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke raises his eyebrows.

Caroline: “Your father and I haven’t gotten this far by taking risks.”

GM: “That’s exactly what my thought was. We could lose the archbishopric if this doesn’t pan out.”

Caroline: What the devil was she up to? It’s like putting together a puzzle in the dark.

“Your cousin won’t let that happen.”

GM: “We both know that’s not up to him.”

“Is this worth the goodwill of a pope thousands of miles away?”

Caroline: “Is that what you think it’s about?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke frowns. “You tell me what it is, then.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses, seemingly to consider.

“There’s blood in the water, Luke. Your brother. Your half-sister. Orson. This election cycle. Other things… "

She pauses again. She didn’t even need to fake the tremor in her voice when she mentioned Westley.

GM: “I suppose so.” Luke’s face gets a little stiller at the mention of Westley. He takes a drink.

“So what are we going to do about Gabriel and the Freneau girl, if Linda isn’t leaving the picture?”

Caroline: “There’s time for it to work itself out,” Caroline answers. “And if necessary, we can find a reason for them to split.” She sighs.

GM: Luke looks puzzled. “You’d said she was the better match.”

Caroline: “For Linda and Gabriel to split,” she clarifies. “She’d hardly be the first girl to lose her senses off at college. And that might do a good job toughening up Gabriel.”

GM: He nods. “I’d agree with that.”

He sets down his mostly finished drink and gets up. “I’ll get the sample.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: There’s a text message from Ferris.

Still hungry? Dinner’s picked up.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to double check the detector when he gets up.

GM: It says the signal is still there.

Caroline: I am. Stop by, but give me five minutes.

GM: Affirmative.

Caroline: There are still a few matters to close with her brother. She’s not about to let a ‘sample’ from her sister fall into anyone else’s hands.

GM: Luke returns shortly later with a plastic baggie containing several pale blonde hairs. He hands it to ‘Claire’ without comment.

Caroline: She looks at the hairs for a moment before tucking them away. She looks at Luke.

“I know that wasn’t easy.”

GM: “Maybe one day she’ll ask our son to do the same.”

Caroline: I wouldn’t count on that, Caroline doesn’t quite smirk.

She puts that thought out of her mind. She’s about to do something very cruel to Luke. She can, perhaps, do something to lessen the sting.

“I don’t tell you very often, but I’m very proud of you. Of the man you’ve become.”

GM: He nods. “It feels like so much is riding on Cécilia and me.”

Caroline: “There is. I don’t need to tell you there is,” Caroline answers, looking down at her nearly empty drink.

“But I’m not talking about Cécilia and you. I’m talking about you.”

“No one of consequence gets as much time as they want, to accomplish as much as they want to accomplish. The best they can hope is that someone else will be there to carry on their work.”

She looks back up at him. “I know you’ll do so.”

GM: Luke’s expression softens.

“Thanks, Mom. I know… I know you’re doing what’s best for the family. I’ve never doubted that. I don’t think anyone in this family ever has.”

Caroline: She nods. “It’ll be your family, Luke.”

GM: His smile is wan. “Eventually. I’m not in any hurry to get there. We’ve gone through enough death, with Westley.”

“It’s funny, in a way.”

“It’d been so long since there were any deaths, or births, in the family. I think we grew complacent, in a way. We just assumed everything would last forever the way it was.”

“But that’s why I proposed to Cécilia. Nothing lasts forever. I didn’t see any reason to keep waiting.”

Caroline: Caroline finishes her drink and looks down at it. “Then maybe his death has some meaning.”

GM: Luke looks wistful. “I hope so. It’d be a fitting legacy for him.”

“I’d say it’s a little early, but maybe it’s not. Cécilia and I have talked about baby names. I’ve suggested Westley, for a boy.”

Caroline: “What did she say?”

GM: “She said the baby was going to be a girl.”

Caroline: “They do seem to run in that family.”

GM: “She did say the sentiment was heartwarming.”

“She’s so kind. She told me about that time Westley knocked off the top of her sister Adeline’s dress, back when you tried letting him go to school here in the city. It was at a school dance. Boys got to see her chest.”

“He never did anything to earn her forgiveness, but she suggested the name Weslyn, if I was really set on it.”

“It’s a unique name, but not too abnormal-sounding either. I don’t know any Weslyns.”

Caroline: “You could do worse.”

GM: “I could.” He looks at his ‘mother.’ “The baby is going to be mine.”

Caroline: “I never said it wasn’t.”

GM: “You said that was possible.”

Caroline: “I don’t take chances.”

GM: “Everything is a chance. You could slip in the shower and break your neck. Get hit by a car crossing the street.”

“If Westley’s taught me anything, it’s that there are no guarantees.”

Caroline: “Then thank you all the more for humoring an old woman.” She sets down her glass on the stand next to the couch.

GM: Luke rises with his ‘mother’ to see her to the door.

Caroline: She stumbles, but catches herself on the wall on the way to the door.

GM: “Mom!” Luke exclaims, quickly moving to lend her an arm.

“That’s the second time since you got here. You’re sure you’re all right?”

Caroline: “I’m fi… I’m fine.” She grimaces between words.

GM: “You’re not fine. The building has an on-call doctor. I’ll have him take a look at you.” Luke attempts to guide her back to the couch.

Caroline: She straightens her back. “I’m perfectly capable of seeing to myself,” she declares haughtily.

GM: “Are you?” he asks, dubiously. “I haven’t said anything, Mom, but you look… strained.”

Caroline: “Of course I am.” She continues towards the door. “It’s just… it’s been a tough year.”

GM: “It looks like it’s been tougher on you than the rest of us,” says Luke, following after her. “Do you have a chauffeur tonight?”

Caroline: “One drink is not quite enough to render me helpless, Luke.”

She doesn’t stumble, but one hand traces the wall as she comes to the door. Helping with her balance.

GM: “Mom, do you have a chauffeur?” he repeats.

Caroline: “No, I don’t have a chauffeur, Luke. And I’m telling you… I’m fine.”

She puts a hand on the door and turns the lock.

GM: A voice that is not hers blossoms within her thoughts before she does. It’s almost… tittering.

:: Collapse for him, you silly girl. His horror must be genuine. ::

Caroline: She’d hoped the emotional response associated with the shock of what was waiting on the other side might be enough, and the horror could come later, with the body. She hoped to remain as detached from this charade as possible.

But he’s right.

There is no time for half-measures.

GM: When is there?

Caroline’s phone buzzes from her pocket.

Caroline: She pauses, wavering as unsteadily as a pine in a storm, as she reaches for the phone.

GM: It’s from Ferris.

Been delayed with food. Met some friends of yours who want to join you. Said they’re going on ahead.

“Let me drive you, at least,” presses Luke.

Caroline: She sways.

“I don’t… "

The phone tumbles to the ground from numb fingers.

“Need..”

The Venture staggers to the door with all the grace of a falling log. She gets out one final word as she slides down the door and hits the ground.

"Help… "

GM: “Mom!” Luke yells, dropping to her side. He pulls out his phone and shouts into it, “It’s my mother, she’s collapsed! Get the doctor up immediately!”

Caroline: There’s nothing to fake. Caroline just stops breathing. Her heart stopped beating many nights ago.

GM: Luke feels for a pulse. His face blanches. He frantically starts giving Caroline chest compressions in between breaths into her mouth.

“Mom, come on, come on… !”

It’s ironic. Caroline’s kept up to date. In 2010, the American Heart Association released new guidelines that did not recommend mouth-to-mouth when performing CPR. For most responders, anyway.

He might not be saving Claire even if his mother was still alive.

Caroline: She lays there. She can all but feel the desperation coming off him. The growing panic. The fear. The same things that caused the AHA to issue those recommended changes on how responders perform CPR. People in a panic, who aren’t up to date, struggle to get it right even without the breaths.

Luke is no different. Focusing on his flawed attempts makes it easier to disassociate from what she’s putting him through.

GM: Luke keeps trying, desperately. His hands shove up and down against Caroline’s chest between breaths into her mouth. He yells at the phone for the doctor to get here faster. He yells for the person on the other end to call 911, that his mom’s on the ground, that she’s not breathing, that she has no pulse.

“Mom, come on, come on, you’re going to be a grandma!” His voice starts to break. “You’re going, going to meet your grandson, you’re going to see me get married, you’re going to see Dad make another run, you’re, you’re going to be there, you’re going to be there…!

Caroline: Caroline’s glad the act requires only that she lay still, that she can retreat from Luke’s grief into her own thoughts.

She hardens her heart against him, remembering a collection of blonde hairs in ’Claire’s’ bag, his talk of trying to gather others. Remembers Claire trying to stake her. Remembers the fire around her so many times, Claire looking on behind hard eyes. Claire’s casual acceptance of murders towards her own goals.

She retreats back into the bond—not with her sire, but with her sisters. The tie that binds her to them, that faint awareness of them that’s always there now. Something she an focus on, that she can use to distract herself.

Anywhere and anything to get away from Luke’s grief, coward that she is.

GM: It’s like tracing the length of a flowering vine. So many of its buds are closed, but at least one is in full bloom. Caroline inhales deeply of the scent. It envelops her like a tender embrace. She feels the emotions like they’re welling from her own heart. There’s sympathy. Sadness. Resignation, that this is necessary. The only way forward.

And, amidst it all, love.

It would be easier to focus on, though, if she didn’t have to keep her eyes open.

If she didn’t feel her brother’s hands pushing against her chest, over and over, trying to start her dead heart.

If she didn’t feel his mouth pressing against hers, expelling air into her dead lungs.

If she didn’t hear him begging, pleading, entreating, for his mother not to go, not yet, not now.

If she didn’t have to see the tears running down his cheeks.

It would be so much easier if her eyes were dead too.

The doctor comes up, eventually. So do a couple building staff. Caroline isn’t sure what they expect to do. The doctor kneels down to feel Caroline’s pulse, then gives Luke the bad news with a resigned look. He closes Caroline’s eyes.

It’s easy to tune out what happens next, if she chooses to. Luke cries some more. The doctor asks Luke what happened. He marshals himself and says how his mother walked unsteadily, how she fell down. How she’d been unsteady on her feet throughout the evening, how what if… if he’d called someone sooner…

The doctor tells him there’s nothing he could have done. Maybe he’s just saying that to be nice. He hasn’t even said what Claire has. Luke mentions Claire had a rum and coke. Was there something in it? The doctor says they’ll test it and find out.

The building staff say they and the doctor will take care of this. All of this. Emergency services are on their way, but Luke won’t have to talk to anyone until… later. After he’s had some time to process things. Maybe he nods. Caroline doesn’t see what he does next. But she makes out the sound of a tapping phone, and then her brother’s voice as he shakily says,

“Cécilia… something… something horrible’s happened…”

“Oh, no… what is it, Luke… ?”

“My mom’s… my mom’s dead…!

There’s a fresh wave of crying.

Cécilia’s muffled voice gasps through the phone. "_Mon dieu…_ oh, Luke… Luke… I’m so sorry… "

She sounds as if she might be crying too, or close to it, but her voice remains steady. “I’ll be over, as fast as I can… are you at your apartment, or her hotel?”

“My… my apartment… "

“Okay… okay, I’ll be there. I’m getting Adeline to drive… I’ll stay on the phone with you the whole time, okay?”

“O… okay… "

“Luke… I’m so sorry… I’m so, so sorry… "

Caroline: It’s not like watching a car wreck, not the casual cruel curiosity of a lookie loo examining the mangled bodies on the side of the road. It’s like being in the car as it collides with the semitruck—an emotional crash that destroys things as fragile as creatures of flesh and bone without mercy or hesitation. Even Caroline’s dead flesh is not exempt.

Claire was her stepmother (and shut up, that stupid voice in the back of her head that whispers something else, like the scratching of a rat in the walls at night), and whatever else she was—a complex figure who could murder and condemn without hesitation or remorse—Caroline’s memories of her are not entirely without fondness. Days and nights in which the hardest, most prickly parts of the dead woman’s personality softened. Not the least of which was the day Claire signed her own death warrant. The day she spared Caroline. In a very real way that night, and many nights thereafter, Claire knew she was marching inexorably towards her death, but she did so seemingly without reservation.

It’s not something Caroline’s taken the time to—had the time to—process. Claire might have betrayed her in the end, but it was towards ends she believed right. Ends she believed in the furtherance of Caroline’s wellbeing. She was controlling, distrustful, manipulative, and oh so cold, but there was still a bond between them. One Caroline brutally severed just as it began to grow. She personally killed Claire, and no claims of self-defense are enough to completely relieve her of that guilt. Everything that’s happened to the family since her Embrace is her own doing. This is only the latest, most personal, most wrenching evidence of it.

Watching Luke, who she was once so close to, before the demands of adulthood got in the way. Before competition for her father’s limited time and affection got in the way. Luke, who is through it all still her brother. Luke who was so much closer to Claire. Who has not had nights to accept Claire’s death. Who does not have Abélia filling that place in his heart. Watching him suffer hits far harder than her own feelings over Claire’s death.

Watching him suffer, watching him wrestle with the grief if something no child should have to experience—the death of a parent in their arms—is a dagger to her heart.

And she’s at the center of his grief. Ultimately, this plan, framing Claire’s death around him, using him to protect the Masquerade, was her idea. It wasn’t enough to murder her brother’s mother, no, she had to make him live through that death. She had to lie to him and deceive him for her own ends. She had to put him through so much pain. To protect the Masquerade. To protect herself. To make it look good. To who? Who was she trying to impress, that Luke had to have his mother die in front of him?

She knows the answer. It’s there. It’s always been there, but never stronger than tonight. She’s seen his face every night since the first she laid eyes on him, but it’s been burned into her mind since she last bowed before him, lowered her lips to his pale flesh, and let the fire burn through her.

Pic.jpg
Luke has to suffer so she can impress him. So she can be a good heir to him. So he might look on her with eyes filled with something other than hate. So she can become his heir and watch over his kingdom while he rests, when he finally is allowed to rest.

Even here, at the center of her own grief, at the heart of her guilt, he’s the one that comes to her mind.

It’ll be worth it though, won’t it? All of this will be worth it, if it improves her standing in his eyes.

Destroying her brother like this, ripping out his heart?

Murdering Claire for him.

Burying her own heart.

For him?

She knows the answer.

But it won’t stop her from trying.

That’s what she is, isn’t she? The dutiful daughter? The dutiful childe?

She listens to her brother’s sobbing. Listens to the grief that fills his voice, the raw red anguish.

It’s right that she should be here, that she should have to experience it first hand. That she should see what she’s wrought.

But she’d do it again.

It’s what a dutiful daughter should do.

GM: And whatever else she might be, she has always been the dutiful daughter.

Daughter.

Not sister.

Luke and Cécilia talk for a while. His voice gets fainter, as though he’s walking away, but Caroline still hears it. Still hears the anguish, raw and red and fresh as he sobs. Cécilia cries too as she offers what comfort she can. It can’t be enough. She repeats how many minutes she’s away. How soon she’ll get there.

Caroline said so herself, to Maldonato. She wanted to find some way to fix things, to reach an accommodation. Claire wasn’t so naive. She knew how this would end.

Yet it seems unlikely that Caroline’s (step)mother could have anticipated this. Her daughter lying on the floor, impersonating her own corpse.

Maybe she’d have approved, in a twisted way, by her own twisted standards. For Caroline doing what was necessary.

It’s as she herself said to Luke:

Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.

Claire and Luke both said she was the most like him, out of any of them.

Caroline feels someone draping a sheet over her body. Who wants to look at a corpse when they don’t have to. Caroline hears footsteps all around her, people talking, and finally a door opening. There’s more footsteps. Some sniffs. A croaked, "Cécilia… " and then silence, except for the pair’s heavy breathing, wet with tears. She can picture Luke shaking in her sister’s arms.

Some time passes.

“Come home with me,” says Cécilia. "Spend the night. You shouldn’t have to wake up here, by yourself… where she… "

She doesn’t finish that thought.

“Let me… let me hold you… "

Maybe Luke nods. Caroline doesn’t see.

“I need… to call… rest of the family… " he gets out.

“Luke, let me… "

“No… no, it should… Dad’d want me… "

“Okay… we’ll call him first… will he be awake?”

“I… guess we’ll… "

The phone dials.

“What is it, Luke?” comes their father’s crisp voice. Slightly duller, like an axe that’s not been run over a whetstone in some time, but could all-too easily regain that lethal edge.

Luke takes a steadying breath. “Dad… Mom’s dead.”

And just like that, it does.

“What?”

“She… she came to my apartment. She fell. She stopped breathing. I gave CPR. The doctor… said she’s dead. There’s no… there’s no pulse… " Luke keeps his voice mostly steady.

“She fell? She stopped breathing? Why?” The word stabs from the phone like a knife.

“I don’t… we don’t know… there’ll be an aut-”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You tell me my wife is dead, and you dare say you don’t even know why?!” Nathan spits.

Caroline can feel the heat rising in his voice.

Luke’s voice starts to rise too. “Dad, there hasn-”

Caroline: It’s like listening to an echo of her sire. The ruthlessness. The will to power. The demand for recognition and consideration. The natural authority.

But only an echo.

GM: “There hasn’t? There hasn’t what, Luke? There never is, is there, you sniveling incompetent! I have to do everything myself!” The mortal man’s voice is livid with fury.

THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING AUTOPSY!” Luke yells, his own voice no less furious. “God-”

“That is YOUR failure to inform me past your sniveling, you crying little boy!” his father’s voice snarls over his. It’s not as loud, but it cuts through Luke’s words like a lumber axe—and sounds no less furious.

“I see now that you are too emotional to deliver a rational account of what happened to your mother. I will oversee the autopsy. I will oversee everything, like I always do, when someone in this family gets killed through their own or someone else’s stupidity. Perhaps it’s your fault, this time, if your mother died in your_ apartment? I will find out. I will solve everything. Like I always do. Expect me back in the city before sunrise, Luke. I am very disappointed in you.”

The line hangs up.

Luke gives a choked scream of half-fury, half-grief. There’s the sound of something small and hard crashing against a wall.

“That… FUCKING… !”

“Oh, Luke… " Cécilia doesn’t say anything for a bit. Maybe she’s hugging him.

“You’re doing everything right… he’s just angry, angry and taking it out on you… "

“There hasn’t even been time for an autopsy!” Luke snarls. “That… fucking… !”

“He’s not thinking straight, either… he’s just angry… you did nothing wrong… " his fiancée comforts him.

“I don’t know why. I don’t know why I even bother,” Luke says flatly. “He always wished Caroline had been born with a penis, then I could just be another Westley.”

“That’s literally the only reason I’m the, whatever the fuck you want to call it, and she’s not.”

“And I guess being gay.”

Caroline: She knows that isn’t quite true. She might have been his ‘favorite’ in life, but her father always wanted each of his children to be successful. Wanted them all to be something. And recognized, as Luke so pointedly observes, the limitations Caroline would always face.

It’s funny hearing him speak, though. Hearing her father rage. What seems like a lifetime ago, that would have set her on edge, set her scrambling to meet whatever demand he set, filled her with shame when she failed. Now…

It’s like listening through a pane of glass, like nothing he says is real, like it doesn’t matter. Not compared to… well…

Still, she knows what her brother needs to hear.

You should tell him Dad always knew that he’d be the heir, and that time has proved him right. That his steadiness, his steadfastness, was always what would see him through, and that it’s what dad always saw in him: a bedrock. That he has to be that bedrock now.

GM: There’s a pause, but not for overlong.

“Luke, your father always knew. He always knew you would be the one to follow in his footsteps and rule the family. Time has proved him right—and you right. It’s your steadiness, your reliability, your loyalty, that was always what would see you through. That’s what your father always saw you as. A bedrock.”

“The time is now, for you to be that bedrock. Your father said he was disappointed in you. Prove him wrong. Prove you are everything he could want from a son.”

There is another pause.

But also not for overlong.

“I’m going to call the others. Starting with Matt. Orson, probably not, since the heart attack.”

Wouldn’t that have been unthinkable a few short months ago.

“Adam, though. Carson. He’s always had a level head. I’ll ride with the ambulance and oversee the autopsy personally.”

Luke’s voice is hoarse, and still a little numb, but there’s a steadiness to it there wasn’t before.

“Luke, are you sure that’s allowed… ?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m a Malveaux. There’s nothing they won’t allow me.”

“Damn not having Ferris. I’ll bring Alphonse, and some of the new people. It’s not impossible this was an assassination. Mom had enemies. We’ll put the family security on high alert.”

“All of that sounds like a smart plan,” Cécilia nods. “I think it may be a while, though, before there’s an autopsy… ?”

“I’ll stay with the body until there is,” says Luke. “And push the coroners to perform one, as soon as possible. I want results by yesterday.”

“Just don’t be too mad if they can’t, Luke. Neither of us are doctors. I’m not sure how it all works.”

“But I’m very proud of you,” Cécilia smiles. “You are the family’s bedrock.”

Caroline? Is there anything else you’d like me to suggest?

Caroline: Him being with the body is going to result in him getting… they’re going to invade his mind over and over again. It’d be better if that didn’t happen.

She pauses. Ask him what he thinks she would actually want, the ‘why’ and ‘what’ or the ‘what now’ direction of things. How she died and why is much less important than what the family does about it. Being there pulls him out of position, and he knows many of the plots she had better than most.

GM: “Luke, what do you think your mom would want?” Cécilia asks. “The why and the what, or the what now?”

Luke seems to frown. “You don’t think she’d want me with her body.”

“As cold as it feels to say… what’s done is done. What do you think she’d care about most right now?”

“What happens next,” Luke answers. “How this impacts the family.”

He’s silent for a moment.

“We need to stop this from leaking to the press until the autopsy is complete. How she died ultimately doesn’t matter. It needs to be either a tragic accident or something enemies of the family can be publicly blamed for. She would want to leverage this to advance the family’s position.”

“That’s a bit grim, but it does sound like what she’d have wanted,” says Cécilia. “Do you still want to be there with the body?”

“No. But we’ll put people on it.”

“I have… other things I need to do.”

“Can I help?” asks Cécilia.

“Yes. Help spread the news. Be there for the others. Help keep an eye on things. Whatever comes up. I’m sure there’ll be a million things to do, soon, and there’s only so many people the family can really trust.”

“Okay. I can do all of that,” says Cécilia. “You’ll be okay?”

“I’ll have to be. But… she told me to expect this day.”

Caroline: That catches Caroline’s attention. She did seem to know the end was inevitable… interesting that she told him, though.

GM: I wonder why. Is there anything you’d like me to say?

Caroline: What he means by expecting the day. Claire knew her days were numbered, but I didn’t think she would be so overt about it.

GM: "You mean she expected to die, soon? That might be very relevant, going forward… "

“I didn’t take her completely seriously,” answers Luke. “I guess I should have. She was very serious about how that day might come, and what I’d need to do.”

Caroline: If she laid plans with him, those might be especially meaningful in what’s to come.

Which doesn’t make her feel better about listening in.

A moment later, I’m sorry to eavesdrop like this, Cécilia… and that you have to be a part of this.

GM: It’s okay. Those plans could hurt you. I’d do anything to prevent that.

I’m sorry you have to go through this at all.

And that I haven’t even be able to hug you yet. I could feel how much all of this has hurt you.

Caroline: She doesn’t deserve Cécilia, and it makes her all the more grateful for her.

She thinks to the collection of pale blonde hairs in the handbag next to her corpse. Neither does Luke, come to think of it, but she’ll do nothing tonight to damage that. To hurt Cécilia. There’s still hope for him.

I made my bed here.

She truly has no one else to blame.

But that you care means more than you know, Cécilia. Helps more than you can imagine.

GM: Then that’s what counts.

Caroline: Cécilia is what counts, so far as Caroline is concerned. At least so far as Luke. It’s as simple as that. Her brother’s proximity to Cécilia is what will save him from the worst of her wrath. From her excesses.

He may be her brother, and she’ll always have affection for him, but there’s no question as to what she fits into her heart around the dominating presence that is her sire.

As it turns out, there’s room for seven.

What was it her mother had said? Seven is the perfect number.

GM: “Are those things I can help you with, Luke?” Cécilia asks aloud.

Caroline gets the impression of her brother shaking his head. “Like I said. Be there for the others. Help them with things as they come up. There’s going to be more than enough to stay busy with, in a bit.”

Caroline: With her brother she can agree on that at least. There’s never enough hours for all there is to do. There will be more than ever after tonight.

It’s funny, though, how differences in perspective affect how a given moment is seen.

So far as her brother is concerned, this is an end.

But for Caroline, it’s only a beginning.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Luke and Cécilia talk for a little while longer. Caroline doesn’t hear anything from the doctor or building staff. They seem like they’ve been gone for a little while. She hears another man’s voice, who addresses Cécilia as “ma’am,” and Adeline’s too.

Eventually, there’s heavier footsteps, and a low rolling sound. Caroline feels someone continuing compressions before she’s lifted into the air, then there’s canvas against her back. She feels her clothes getting cut away, then a gelled surface against her chest and plastic against her face. There’s rough movement underneath her, more voices, then the ding of elevator doors. There’s more movement downwards, another ding of the doors, and rolling underneath her. There’s more voices.

She eventually feels night air against her skin, movement upward, and slamming doors. Sirens wail as the ground speeds beneath her.

“You can open your eyes now, ma’am,” comes Fuller’s voice.

Caroline: The Venture’s eyes snap open, and she rises to a sitting position.

GM: She’s in the back of an ambulance. Fuller wears an EMT’s uniform. There’s another ghoul she doesn’t recognize, along with the facsimile of Claire’s corpse. Fuller hands her the clothes she had on prior to Claire’s.

“The others are still on site helping with things there.”

Caroline: Helping. She feels a surge of jealousy. Around her family. Especially her sisters. She understands well why Becky Lynne was so irritated by her proximity to Sarah.

She has questions, but not in front of a stranger. “No issues with dinner?”

GM: “Didn’t get the food we’d ordered. Still got food.”

Caroline: “Better than nothing.”

She has no intention of sharing.

GM: The other ghoul, a dark-haired and nondescript man dressed in an EMT’s uniform, doesn’t speak. The ambulance speeds closer to the hospital.

When they get there, he motions with a hand. Cloak-like shadows coalesce around Caroline. People don’t look at her as the doors open and he and Fuller heft the body out on its stretcher. There’s all the usual sounds of bedlam and suffering inherent to a late-night hospital ER. The body gets whisked away, hospital personnel still continuing resuscitative efforts. Fuller eventually reappears in his own clothes.

“Seems they’re taking it from here, ma’am. Didn’t feel like they especially wanted us.”

He says there’s a car brought over by one of Caroline’s (non-initiated) people, waiting outside to convey them to wherever the Ventrue wants to go next. If Caroline has no orders to the contrary, Ferris and her other ghouls are going to rendezvous back at the Giani Building when they’re done at Luke’s apartment.

Caroline: The Ventrue carefully removes Cécilia’s hairs from ’Claire’s’ bag before they arrive, tucking the tiny plastic bag in her bra.

She waits until they get to the car to ask about who they captured and where they are, as well as what they have on the bugs in Luke’s house if they didn’t belong to their prey.

GM: The ghoul watches Caroline as she does so, but does not attempt to stop her.

“Harlequin detected the bugs, ma’am. He and Doriocourt took them,” Fuller answers as he drives.

Caroline: Of course they did. Caroline might have hoped that the two older vampires might have overlooked them entirely, but she hadn’t bet on it. Instead she had her own plan in motion.

The first step was clearly identifying whether the bugs extend into the apartment—something she checked and reported once inside easily. Not only did it tip them off as to whether they were higher-quality more embedded spyware across the apartment (likely Claire’s work) or slapdash quick work by someone in a hurry (perhaps another hunter) hoping that Claire might show up, it also helped them determine where to concentrate their efforts.

That mattered really only insofar as how her ghouls and employees proceeded on the next step, whether they proceed in pairs or can split up more fully. Slapdash work was more likely to have a body on site monitoring, and she’ll have not split her people up if that’s the case. Requiring they work in groups would have slowed the process, but slower would have been preferable to potentially letting someone get away or (worse) overcome one of her people. As it turned out, it wasn’t required. Bugs across the apartment pointed at Claire, and she’d tipped off her people appropriately. All of it fed into just how long she needed to keep Luke occupied.

Ramsey had explained at Ferris’ prompting that no matter the bug, the signal from any source can only go so far—that’s explicitly what the RF detector measured—and the further it went, the larger, the more obtrusive, and the shorter-lasting any device. That made it likely that for any given device, the signal would only go as far as is absolutely necessary to reach the receiver. Several of her people worked the floor to figure out the exact range of that signal with their own more sensitive monitors, working up and down the hall to measure where it cut off. Her people were then to quickly identify all other rooms (janitorial closets, halls, staff only areas, and other apartments) which fell into the edge of that range and work their way through them, working from the outside in.

Luke’s expensive apartment choice was likely to aid them in that significantly—in a cheaper placer the floors and ceilings might be thin enough that the signal might cover multiple floors, but neither her brother nor the other residents would likely tolerate hearing their neighbors beaten wives scream or big screen TVs with surround sound blare through the floor and walls. No, every apartment has soundproofing, and that same soundproofing works well on any radio signal as well. They didn’t expect to be clearing multiple floors or even an entire one.

Not that it was supposed come to that. Residents, if necessary, were to be roused and dominated by ghouls, but common spaces are where they had been instructed to start first: it seemed much more likely they sneak whatever receiver they’re using somewhere they could easily access, and somewhere that required less setup than renting an entire apartment well in advance.

After common and staff spaces they were to move to empty apartments—identified by distant observers looking in on rooms with high quality binoculars—the keycard locks were unlikely to stand up to the tools available to Ramsey and Ferris. Only after examining them though, and as a last resort, were they to move onto occupied apartments. For that purpose they had fake badges available to go with the dominate.

Amateurs, or those that don’t really understand what they’re dealing with, Ferris had explained might get hung up on the bugs themselves. They might provide some insight, he admits, if they have prints on them, or serial numbers that can be tracked back to purchasers at great cost and effort. What he (and Caroline) were focused on is the much juicier prize: either the receiver that’s forwarding the signal on from the building to an offsite location (likely a computer wired into a network access point) or a similar receiver with someone monitoring it live.

Caroline had worried that a receiver could be stashed somewhere less conspicuous—on the ceiling, on a ceiling tile—but Ferris and Ramsey had an answer for that concern as well. Any kind of work that had to split off power and network connectivity would have raised attention and alarm. It might be stashed, but if so it’s not too carefully hidden: it still needs a power outlet. Any power plugs leading off somewhere were briefed as immediate points of interest.

Which begs the question: what did they catch?

GM: The short version, Fuller answers, is they have a lead on an offsite location. Caroline’s people did not pick up an on-site monitor, so Fuller assumes Luke’s apartment was under surveillance by Caroline’s stepmother rather than other hunters.

Ferris withheld the full details from Caroline’s older ghoul, at least for now. The ex-CIA agent was (in Fuller’s view, rightfully) concerned over being able to keep their findings secret in a building so inundated with simultaneous activity by the Krewe of Janus and the sheriff’s agents. He will brief his domitor upon their return to the Giani Building.

Caroline: She gestures for Fuller to lead the way to the car. There’s little to be gained from hanging around where she isn’t wanted.

She has Fuller drive. She has the kine servant call a Ryde for themselves. She has a stop to make, and it’s better without the questions it might raise in an employee.

After all, her choice of code phrases with Ferris hadn’t been entirely chosen by accident: she could really go for some takeout.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline had wanted someone as fast as possible, no bullshit.

Like all things, there’s an app for that.

Caroline may or may not remember the specifics of her tryst with Nathaniel Hite, or even the young man’s name until she saw his Tinder profile, but his face was a familiar one. He was happy to swing by again for a late-night hookup upon being reminded of their last one.

“They ended up not expelling me over that whole ‘renting out my dorm thing,’” he mentions. “There was a ton of bullshit over it, though. Just an absolute ton of bullshit. Dealing with it was punishment enough.”

“I think they cut me some slack because my parents were partly ‘complicit.’ They both had to spend hours on the phone with a bunch of bureaucrats saying that yes, they knew I was doing this, they’d set a bad example.”

Caroline: The Ventrue genuinely couldn’t care less about the kine’s problems.

She puts on a fake smile and meets him in the lobby, listening to his complaints with the sort of vacant agreement she’d long practiced with would be suiters long before her Embrace. Lots of ‘oh wow’ and ‘really’ that invites him to continue while requiring marginal actual mental engagement as she suffers through his complaints on the too long elevator ride to her seventh floor apartment.

She drops the facade as soon as the door to her apartment closes.

GM: He looks around at it as they step inside. "This is a really nice place, by the w… "

Caroline: “Sit down, shut up, and stay put until I come back for you,” she orders.

This is a chore that needs doing, but damned if she feels like doing it right now.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline does not hesitate in beginning her investigation into and securing of her new domain following the confirmation of the bishop’s destruction. She knows from experience, and the advice of Ferris, that too many secrets will follow the bishop in the grave never to be seen again if not exhumed swiftly. If the halflife of a mission person is 24 hours, that of a secret is no order of magnitude greater.

Many Malveaux secrets are not new to her – and even more peel away with Ferris by her side. If she’s shocked by the tales he brings of the lengths the family has gone to over his decade of employment to advance in the state’s cutthroat politics she shows no sign off it. Similarly, she had no reaction to tales of outright depravity among family members he’d worked to conceal. Violence, substance abuse, illegitimate children, sexual assault. The list goes on without so much of a flinch from her. She wonders ideally if it’s because it’s her family, or because of all the awful things she’s done. Would she have always justified it, or is it simply so much easier to do now? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, especially as they’re not what she’s after.

No, there’s one secret however that’s puzzled her for years – even before her Requiem – that she wants. Her cousin Susan’s abrupt choice to take to the cloth in her teen years had been shocking, even terrifying for Caroline at the time. An almost threat about what happened to disappointing or disobedient daughters. Almost a decade later through the lens of the bishop’s dominion over the family, the topic is of far greater interest to her. She cannot help but believe there’s some secret buried here, and secrets she has need of.

It’s thusly that she finds herself mere nights after his destruction plotting the invasion of another’s domain to tear into that secret. Like a footpad searching over the still steaming corpse of a victim, the lesser crime of meddling is of little concern to her next to when it comes to capturing all the spoils of the bishop’s murder. She fully intends to dig through each of his ‘pockets’ for something of value.

As simple as her reasons are, the process of getting there was not so simple. Trespassing—so much as one can against a usurper—in the domain of another Kindred is dangerous under the best circumstances. For the unacknowledged heir apparent to the prince trespassing into the heavily fortified domain of a rival it’s another matter entirely.

She well knows she’s under surveillance from many interested parties. Most of her Requiem it was easier to work within that surveillance than try to avoid it, accepting it as a constriction on her freedom of action because she must—she’s not practiced at eluding it. Not she, already accustomed to the spotlight. Better to be the magician on the stage fooling her audience through slight of hand. That option is not available tonight, and perhaps any other. Though the two elder ghouls that shadow her are no doubt in part for her protection these nights, she has no doubt too they will dutifully report on her activities to the seneschal. More subtly is required.

Fortunately for her Roger Ferris’ very particular set of skills encompass all manner of subterfuge, and she leans heavily on the operative. The Walter Robinson House is perhaps the only place she is safe from outside observation, but the Giani Building will do. She calls the ghoul to lay their plans, asking him to bring whatever information he has on her cousin, already plotting in her mind an incursion into the French Quarter to raid the Ursuline Convent.

GM: Ferris arrives at the Giani Building with the requested items. He reports that Orson expressly ordered him not to involve himself in what became of Susan.

Claire expressly ordered him to do exactly that, but discretely. Both of them believed the bishop had a hand in what became of Caroline’s cousin.

Ferris hired a PI to do the legwork. The man reported Susan was quiet and subdued in her new life. He suspected she was not there by her own will. Ferris and Claire concurred. They could find no apparent reason the bishop sent Susan to the convent.

“He was cracked in the head, ma’am. There are times he would do sadistic things to Malveauxes without rhyme or reason. He preferred to kill family members or ruin their lives when milder measures would have sufficed. Your stepmother believed he hated the family, for all that he might have used them towards his ends.”

The ex-CIA agent also reports that Susan is not at the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter. The Ursulines have multiple convents in the city. Susan is at the one located in Riverbend.

“Why stash her at the nunnery in enemy territory.”

The address is 2734 Nashville Ave. Caroline has the options of taking a detour through Mid-City and a longer drive through Riverbend, or a shorter drive through Uptown and a still-shorter drive through Riverbend.

Getting caught by Donovan or McGinn might be better in some ways, Ferris assesses, and worse in others. He has an alternative strategy to propose while they’re getting ready.

“As you note, ma’am, you’re under considerable surveillance. If all you want is the girl, I’d subcontract getting her out to someone with fewer eyes on them. Someone who doesn’t directly work for you, and isn’t Kindred or a ghoul either. Fewer consequences if they get caught. May or Hayes could both do the job.”

It makes perfect sense that Susan would be in Donovan’s domain given his association with the bishop, but it doesn’t make it easier to stomach than her being in the French Quarter.

The Ventrue spares a none-too-patient glance at one of the windows as Ferris suggests using a third party. She knows the elder ghouls are out there. Waiting. Watching. But for them she’d go herself, but sneaking away from her minders will invite all manner of uncomfortable speculation. She wants to visit Susan herself, slip into her cage and find what lies within. But it is unwise.

Its one thing to vanish from under the nose of her enemies’ spies, another to arouse questions from among her notional allies, mentors…. master. That word, even unspoken, sends a shiver through her. She knows how sparing his trust.

Caroline: It’s a shame, because she knows that the sheriff’s attention is quite split at the moment—there might never be a better time in many ways. Unless she rips his domain from him.

“And what if it’s not that simple? The bishop’s secrecy makes me extremely suspicious Roger. No pawn did he secret away so carefully.” And what happens in the family when she pulls Susan out?

“What if she’s not just a kine?” She asks. Caroline remembers getting burned by Summer.

On the other hand, that would be all the more reason to rip her free before someone else interferes.

GM: Ferris seems to give a verbal shrug. “What else would she be? The bishop kept no ghouls besides a little albino girl that your stepmother and I were aware of.”

“I’m not certain what’s become of her either, for that matter.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of other things that go bump in the night.” She remembers well her Uber driver puking up human flesh. “Speak with Autumn and Ms. Green about Summer Greer when you have time.”

GM: “I’ll do so, ma’am. I’m also aware. Your stepmother didn’t induct me into this world.”

Caroline: She doesn’t waste his time or insult his intelligence by pausing to explain how valuable those types of beings can be for Kindred. “At least two agents. It would be better if they could pull her out in a way that would allow is to return her without notice, but with Orson in the hospital and the bishop dead, I expect few will actually bother to follow up with her if we cannot.”

“And obviously, it is best if she comes willingly.” Best, but not required.

GM: “I’d be surprised if your cousin was something other than human, in any case. The PI who investigated her didn’t think she seemed happy, as I said. Thought she was being held against her will. If she’s not human, that would either suggest she was weak enough for the Albino to keep imprisoned in the nunnery, or that she was there of her own accord. Both of which would beg the question as to why.”

“Why stay holed away for years in a nunnery.”

Caroline: “We’ll find out.”

GM: “Goodman would be better than Hayes or May at convincing her to leave. On the other hand, his face is more likely to be known by the sheriff’s people.”

Caroline: “Put him in a dress.” Caroline suggests with a casualness that belies how sharp her eyes are at the suggestion.

GM: “Prudent. I doubt anyone will think to look for him in that disguise,” comes Ferris’ humorless reply.

Caroline: “A woman, or women, would also attract less attention at a convent.” Caroline agrees prudently. “Either way, sooner is better, for everyone’s sake. I know you’d prefer more detailed planning, but everyone is swinging without a net right now. Most of them have more cases to cover than we do.”

GM: “Planning time is a luxury. We can get by without if the other side doesn’t have it either,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: “If Autumn would help, she is available as well. More likely to pick up things out of the ordinary and avoid notice than the others.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent considers. “Everyone knows she works for you, but she knows enough veiling to avoid patrols. Female. Knows what she’s getting into if Susan isn’t human.”

“I’ll have her accompany Brett.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, “Do you need anything further?”

GM: “Widney saw to it that my people got some paychecks to tide them over. That’s helped. Brett won’t mind the dress as much.”

“I’d like to tell them that they’ll be working for the Malveauxes again soon.”

Caroline: “In point of fact, they are working for a Malveaux.” Caroline observes dryly.

“The rest of the family may take longer to get in line, but they will in time.” She rolls her tongue across her teeth, “Savannah for the company, Luke in our father’s footsteps, and Adam shepherding Orson.”

“Sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Savannah has the ruthlessness and experience to succeed,” Ferris considers. “Adam has the experience. His ruthlessness is untested. Orson handled the more unsavory aspects of running the church. Adam’s never had to get his hands dirty.”

“Luke may have the ruthlessness, but not the experience. This will be his first foray into politics.”

“I’d guide him most, Adam next, and Savannah least.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

The Ventrue nods. “I expect to have the most hands on with the Church no matter how it plays out. Adam is years away from ready, and Orson is in no condition to continue to manage all he must.”

“Savannah, in contrast requires less oversight, and more containment, but has levers that can be pulled upon quite easily. Luke…” She shows fangs, “It’s fortunate our father will be around for a while yet.”

“Regardless, without the bishop’s cruelty and erratic moods this generation should be rather more successful.”

GM: “I’m not sure if success was ever his goal for the family,” muses Ferris. “Or at least his sole goal.”

“Your stepmother informed me of the incident with Orson.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s ash now.”

Caroline: A predatory grin at that.

“In any case, I’ll plant the idea in Luke’s head for your team next time we speak.”

Sooner than be plans, if she has her way. While he’s unbalanced by Claire’s death. Emotionally reeling and drawn all the more tightly to what he has left. To Cécilia.

“Draw up some evidence he can wave under their nose of how your dismissal was a frame job. It’s an easy enough sell.”

GM: “I’ll do as much, though Luke’s opinion counts less than Matt’s. He controls the purse strings.”

Caroline: “The collar on Matt will take longer, but give Luke something to take to our father. If you tie it to a threat to the family, perhaps even to Claire’s death, he’ll do our work for us with his brother.”

She meets his eyes, “Anyone other than Gabriel, Savannah, and Luke are on the table to make that point more felt if required.”

“Given the damage of the last six months that sell should not be difficult.”

She runs her hand through her hair.

GM: “I’d suggest Adam is more valuable than Gabriel, while we’re picking targets,” the ex-CIA agent offers mildly. “Could be useful to do regardless, to have my people deter an apparent threat from the family to establish why they need us.”

Caroline: “Adam needs the toughening up more though, his eyes opened.” Caroline agrees.

“If…”

The trail-off is momentary. If she had just waited a little longer, if she had trusted me a little more.

“…necessary, depicting you as in my employee since your firing is required to explain your interest, do so. Someone will follow the money eventually anyway.”

If Claire was still alive it would be easier. Caroline’s involvement will draw her back in more openly.

GM: If Claire was still alive she’d still be Caroline’s mother.

“Prudent,” agrees Ferris. “Some of them may be suspicious if you’d seemed to be idle anyways.”

Caroline: She shoves that thought away. Claire brought it on herself. She plotted against Caroline behind her back. Used her even.

Would it have mattered if Caroline had told her the whole story? About being the childe of the prince? No. she decides.

And it doesn’t matter. She didn’t believe in sacrificing, only at best trading. She accepted Caroline’s death only so far as it opened the doors to new opportunities. How many times did Claire lie to her? Work around her? Manipulate her?

Claire. Not her mother. Claire. A return to her rightful place.

As usual, her mother took nothing from her, she simply helped illustrate the truth more clearly: who they were, always were, to each other.

“Doing the devil’s work.”

GM: “You and the rest of the world,” Ferris remarks.

“Speaking of your stepmother, ma’am. We recovered the receiver for the bugs she left in Luke’s apartment. It was in the gym.”

“Fairly big and long-range one hidden inside some exercise equipment.”

Caroline: Leave it to Claire not to do things in half-measures.

“That gives us a lot of distance to cover.” The exercise equipment also provided a convenient excuse to do regular maintenance, replace batteries, maybe even jack into the 60hz in a wall socket.

“What’s the next step there?”

GM: “That’s your call, ma’am. There’s a variety of ways we could follow up on this. And associated opportunity costs.”

“The sheriff’s people have the bugs themselves. I’m sure they’ll want to run down Claire’s safehouse too, though as you’ve observed, they also have full plates right now.”

Caroline: “The bugs are far less useful than the transceiver,” Caroline observes, “and you have the lead of being able to isolate it down to a smaller geography area with your knowledge of her movements.”

“Depending on what’s mirrored in her safehouse, the information there could be lethal to us. I expect tasking to fall off in the next day or two. Put this at the top of the list.”

“Cross reference Claire’s known disappearances and furthest on circles.”

An idea occurs to her. “Check her car too. I’m sure she disabled GPS, but many of the luxury cars track fuel economy, which cross-reference might help point is in the right direction.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent nods.

“We’ll get on it, ma’am. You’re right we have the lead in two significant respects.”

“I wouldn’t count on the car, though. That would’ve been parked at the Monteleone when she died.”

In the Quarter.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Beyond that, you can start grooming Ramsey for the blood.”

GM: “Prudent choice.”

Caroline: “Advantages where we can get them.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: She returns to the captive kine in her apartment. “Drink until I tell you to stop,” she orders, producing an unopened bottle from a cabinet.

Punishment enough? Not hardly. Not yet.

GM: The glassy-eyed young man starts chugging.

Caroline: It doesn’t take long for the man (what’s his name? Hate? Hit? Something with an ‘H’) to accelerate right past drunk into the stage affectionately referred to as ‘hammered.’ Caroline should know: she directed him to go there. Quickly. The more than half-empty bottle in front of him, Grey Goose, was one of her favorites in life.

Mind, she typically mixed it with something, vice chugging it straight from the bottle. Tonight she can’t be bothered, not for him. It isn’t like she can taste a mixer in his blood, and she could care less what 80 proof spirit going straight down tastes like for him. He isn’t even really a person to her. Half-sprawled across the kitchen counter and barely coherent, he’s a means to an end.

Waiting for the alcohol to hit his blood is an exercise in patience, but gives her time to touch base with her ghouls. Ferris begs off an immediate meeting, claiming he wants to run down some loose ends before he briefs her. Just as well. She has another meeting she needs to fit in tonight.

Jocelyn still looks awful. The effects of her half-completed self-immolation are only the start. Her clothing is soiled with blood, ash, and unmentionable filth. Much of her hair is burned away. Then there’s the sharpened wooden shaft hideously jutting out from her chest. Caroline is glad to take a sip from the man while they bring up the Toreador’s mangled body. Something to take the edge off of the and razor-sharp memory.

She reflects without mirth that it’s Jocelyn who first suggested this to her: getting a vessel drunk, or high, or whatever her poison was in life. They’ve never had time to try it.

Technically, she’s only responsible for the stake, but it’s hard not to blame herself for everything marring the Toreador’s once-beautiful form. She might not have set Jocelyn on fire herself, but she definitely pushed her lover to do it.

She contemplates another drink from her ‘guest,’ but decides it’s just cowardice speaking. An excuse to delay this even longer. She instead firmly plants her elbow on the still-handcuffed Toreador’s chest and grasps the stake with her other hand, then draws it out of the brunette with a sickening slurp.

GM: The light sip of the inebriated man’s blood gives Caroline a pleasantly buzzed feeling, like she’s had a stiff drink or two. It helps take the edge off.

Jocelyn’s face is still frozen in mid-crying, mid-scream. Dried red tears are crusted around her eyes. She looks better than she did the first time Caroline saw her, after her attempted immolation, but that isn’t saying a lot.

When the stake comes out, she just stares at her (former?) lover for a moment, mouth still hanging open.

Then she screams and starts flailing at Caroline, shoving and slapping and hitting the larger Ventrue in an uncoordinated mess of shrieking pain.

Caroline supposes it’s something she’s not frenzying.

All those hours spent staked to cool off.

Caroline: Jocelyn isn’t half a match for Caroline on her best night. Half-dead and handcuffed, she isn’t even that. It’s a lot like a child throwing a tantrum. She straddles the seated Toreador and holds her as she flails.

She tolerates it for a moment. The moment passes.

She pins Jocelyn’s hands. “Do you want to fight me or do you want to fuck me?”

GM: Her lover’s eyes flash with simultaneous hurt, want, and fury.

“That’s all I am to you,” she croaks.

“Just shove a stake in me when you’re not horny.”

She tries to kick instead.

Caroline: The Ventrue is off her just as suddenly, sitting across from her.

“Your choice. I thought it’d be a more fun way for both of us to help put you back together.”

GM: Jocelyn gives her a burning stare.

“What the fuck do you even want with me.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the hurt of that show.

“You think just because I was angry with you that I didn’t care about you?”

GM: Simultaneous satisfaction and regret play across the Toreador’s face.

“Yeah. It might’ve crossed my mind. What do you even want with me?!”

Caroline: “I murdered my stepmother. Did I tell you?” Caroline asks, mindful.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“No.”

Caroline: “She was a hunter. A big deal hunter. One others reported to. She and her people killed a bunch of licks in the city. I’m pretty certain she killed Emily Thurmon.”

The Ventrue licks her lips.

“I sold her out, to the seneschal. Back when… you know. She discovered what I was and spared me, and I sold her out. Setting her up, tracking down her hunters, and killing her was one of the conditions he had.”

GM: “Yay you didn’t kill your actual mom, I guess.” Jocelyn crosses her arms.

Or at least, tries to. She’s still handcuffed.

Caroline: That’s right, Caroline. You didn’t kill your actual mom, right? Asks a voice rhetorically in her head. Only a real monster would do that, right?

She tries to block it out.

You can lie to everyone else, but we both know I didn’t teach you to lie to yourself.

“Oh yeah, I’m a real saint like that. I hear they’ve got canonization planned any night now,” she answers with bitter amusement.

“I didn’t bring it up though because I wanted pity. I brought it up because that’s what I’ve been doing. For months, with the threat of final death on either side hanging over me and anyone close to me. Because that’s who I am, the lick who sold out the woman that helped raise her and spared her life to protect myself and get ahead.”

“When we had our,” there’s a beat, as if the word is so unfamiliar or uncomfortable to her that it takes her a moment to arrive at it, “breakup, though, that’s what was going through my mind.”

“That I was that person who sold out those close to them to get ahead, and doomed the people that cared about them, and was probably going to get destroyed by one faction or another long before I pulled off bringing down the hunters anyway.”

“And that kind lick didn’t deserve other people in their Requiem.”

“And that you didn’t deserve that kind of person in your Requiem either.”

“So I shoved you away, as hard as I could.”

She knows the words that should come next. The ones that most people would say. But they’re not words she can give up easily. They remain unsaid.

GM: But it’s there. Everything leading up to them.

The explanation. The reason why it all happened. The bared hurt. The show of vulnerability. The open window to offer forgiveness and comfort.

Jocelyn stares up at her past red-crusted eyes. Her voice comes out thick when she speaks.

“So. So what’s… changed your mind. After you had to stake me and… run off.”

Caroline: Caroline starts to raise a hand, to reach out to Jocelyn, but her eyes cut to the gore-covered stake on the table and she pulls back.

“I thought I was still doing what was best for you. Trying to get you to run away. It’s still dangerous to be around me. Going to be dangerous to be around me.”

She pauses.

“But things went better than I’d hoped.”

“And maybe it’s not a death sentence.”

“And maybe it doesn’t matter what I deserve in my Requiem.”

“And maybe you get to decide what you want in yours.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she could swallow, even with the physiological need long past.

She doesn’t. But fresh red starts to well from her eyes again as her lip quavers.

“But I. But I don’t. Do I? The part of me that wants to just. To just… fall in your arms and forget everything and go back to the way things were. I don’t even know if that’s me or the blood you made me drink.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then sighs defeatedly.

“I didn’t.”

GM: “Yes, you did!” Jocelyn cries. More red wells from her eyes.

Caroline: “I wanted you to hate me.” Caroline explains quietly. “I thought it would help cut at the bond. If you blamed me for it I mean.”

“I just wanted to help you get away.”

GM: “Well,” she croaks. “Here I am. Either way. And I don’t know what the fuck is me and what’s the collar.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks more than a little hurt, but doesn’t say anything for a moment, seemingly letting the thought settle.

Finally she asks, “Does it matter?”

GM: Jocelyn raises her cuffed wrists to her mouth, bites one, and holds it forward. Blood wells from the pale skin.

“Why don’t you show me.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at the proffered wrist. “Would that make you happy?”

GM: Jocelyn stares back at her.

“Dunno. But it’d feel fair.”

Except it won’t be fair.

That’s the joke.

Her sire already saw to that.

Caroline: “Tell me, Jocelyn, what do you want? To get back at me, or to get back with me?” Caroline asks.

GM: More red wells from her eyes.

“If you want me, take the damn collar!

Caroline: “Is that what you really want?” Caroline asks one more time, her eyes locked on Jocelyn’s.

There’s no reluctance in her voice.

GM: Jocelyn only thrusts the wrist against her former lover’s face.

Caroline’s Beast can’t take it. The sip she took from that college kine was so shallow. She needs the blood.

Caroline: The vitae smears against her lip and Caroline needs no further invitation. She doesn’t simply set her lips against the wound, she sinks her teeth in.

GM: Maybe she still feels something for Jocelyn, even without the bond, even after all they’ve been through.

Maybe she’s just furious.

Maybe she wants to recapture what they used to have.

Maybe the Toreador is just a substitute for the sire she can’t have.

Maybe she’s just hungry.

By the time the too-familiar red haze clears, her former lover is a motionless corpse, empty and dry at her knees.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t immediately react. She stares down at Jocelyn’s motionless form, searches.

She doesn’t come up empty. Instead she finds plenty. Anger. Shame. Self-loathing. The same feelings she always has after a frenzy. But any feelings she has left for the photographer are buried far deeper than the imminently shallow artist can find.

For Jocelyn, she feels nothing.

She stiffly disengages herself from the motionless Toreador and stalks towards her bedroom.

It’s not long after she returns, holding up a pair of skirts to Jocelyn, then setting one down beside her, along with a top and a pair of heels.

She finally gets to what’s required.

Caroline bites her own wrist and holds it to the drained Toreador’s desiccated lips.

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes snap open. The Beast stares out.

A second doesn’t pass before her fangs stab into Caroline as she falls on her former lover’s wrist.

She drinks ravenously.

She doesn’t let go.

Caroline: Caroline lets her take. More than she needs, even, but her patience is not without limit.

Handcuffed, still maimed, and half the fighter she is, even Jocelyn’s Beast is able to do little when Caroline draws back the proffered wrist and holds the furious Toreador down until she stops slavering.

What burns in her eyes when Jocelyn’s red-rimmed ones meet them again isn’t hate. It isn’t even loathing. It’s bitterness.

“Well. You got what you wanted.”

GM: It takes a while before the screaming and furiously thrashing vampire calms down, and even that is relative. There’s no hurt or bitterness in Jocelyn’s still-bulging, red-crusted eyes.

There’s just hunger.

“I’M… THIRSTY…!

Caroline: The Ventrue holds her at arm’s reach, hand clamped around Jocelyn’s throat and elbow extended to keep at bay her slavering jaws. She turns the Toreador’s attention to the insensate kine with all the disgust of an owner turning their dog’s nose away from the dinner table and towards their food bowl.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t even register her disgust. She just pounces on the mesmerized coed and drinks ravenously. He doesn’t moan under her touch. He screams. He tries to throw her off as the frenzying vampire rips and tears his throat, but it’s futile.

He tries to gasp out something about having a family. Maybe to get her to stop. His words are only a little slurred, even if they are only partly coherent. The Toreador’s attack seems to do wonders for his sobriety.

It’s just as futile.

It takes about a minute before the pale corpse hits the floor with a thump. Its eyes stare blankly up at the ceiling.

Jocelyn looks up at Caroline with pristine skin and hair. There’s a glazed look to her eyes as she closes her mouth, concealing her fangs.

She giggles.

Drunkenly.

“Oh. Oops,” she slurs. “Looks like… ’m a horrible person. Murderer. Reeealll bad.”

There’s another giggle.

She sways up to Caroline, grabs her lover’s breasts, and grins.

“Mm, les’ fuck.”

Caroline: The Ventrue pulls away. “I’m suddenly not in the mood.”

Is it hate? Anger? Disappointment? Shame? There’s something unpleasant written across her face as she disentangles herself from her lover’s arms.

“There’s a change of clothes.” She gestures to the items she’s laid out. “Meg’s waiting in the lobby.”

GM: Jocelyn giggles. "Like you really mean that, you big, you big blonde… "

She giggles.

“‘Kay, if you aren’t fuckin’ me, I’m fuckin’ you. Two girls in loooove!”

She starts pulling off Caroline’s clothes.

Caroline: “Is that what this is? What we are?” Caroline answers stiffly, her arms crossed firmly across her chest.

“You were miserable and going to walk out until you forced me suck you off five minutes ago, now everything is fine?”

There’s anger there, in her voice, not entirely feigned.

GM: “Yeeeep! Now you know what ish like!” Jocelyn nods emphatically. She reaches under Caroline’s skirt and starts tugging off her panties instead.

“Party time! No pantiesh time!” she giggles. "You big, busty blonde… "

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t laugh or crack a smile. She doesn’t look happy at all, in fact.

“You’re right, I do,” she answers. “Now we’re even.”

GM: Jocelyn just kneels and sinks her fangs into Caroline’s inner thigh. A too-familiar bliss starts to shudder up through the Ventrue.

Caroline: She lets out an involuntary moan, suddenly weak in the knees. It doesn’t mater how angry she is, how much she doesn’t want this: the kiss is every bit as strong as the first time.

Her hands go to Jocelyn’s head, perhaps to push her away, but she just doesn’t have it in her. They dig into Jocelyn’s hair instead. She finds herself pulling instead of pushing.

“Stop,” she groans.

“Jocelyn… st… op…”

GM: Jocelyn pushes Caroline onto the bed. She does stop, but only long enough to pierce her wrists and smear the blood over the Ventrue’s face. Then her fangs sink into Caroline’s neck.

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger, hate even, as Jocelyn forces herself on Caroline. As the Toreador tries to rape her.

This isn’t what she wanted. Hell, she didn’t even fucking want Jocelyn in the city. She just wanted her to go away. She wanted Jocelyn to be someone else’s problem, to continue her Requiem blissfully safe from Caroline. Here she is instead, thinking she’s forced a collar on Caroline, thinking it would somehow make everything all right instead of much fucking worse.

She knows the truth: if she were actually bound to Jocelyn, her sire wouldn’t hesitate to execute the nothing Toreador to stake his own claim on her. But that doesn’t mater next to just how wrong it is that Jocelyn tried to force the bond on her. Worse, that she only forced her way back into Caroline’s Requiem by endangering her sisters.

And yet here she is, the Toreador’s blood all over her, the brunette sucking on her throat in her bubbly drunkenness. She’d hoped to put Jocelyn back together, to find some way to manipulate her into something of purpose while Caroline was occupied with her sire’s demands. She’d hoped to offer her former lover a nice night, something to lead her on with the thought that something still existed between them. That it isn’t someone else whose face occupies her every waking moment.

Jocelyn’s ruined everything, instead. Sought to enslave her. Murdered a man in her kitchen. Wanted to fuck her against her will.

She can claim it’s the Beast that takes over. An animal reaction to the Toreador’s assault. She could claim she doesn’t want this. But some part of her, some very human part, both wants and drives what follows.

Caroline sinks her fangs back into Jocelyn in turn, riding the bliss of the simultaneous kisses and the feeling of the Toreador’s vitae running into her. She waits for her moment, for Jocelyn to break from the kiss to shift positions. When she does, the Ventrue strikes.

Jocelyn might be more eager, but Caroline is bigger. She’s stronger. She’s faster. Oh, and Jocelyn remains handcuffed too. She grabbed the Toreador by her hair and throws her off the sofa onto the floor.

The heiress is on her in a flash, pinning her face-down with her arms trapped under her. She uses a full hand of Jocelyn’s hair to he jerk her head back, exposing the side of her throat. Caroline rips two gaping holes and latches on, never letting go of her hold on the artist’s hair, pulling her head back and denying her a bite of her own. She uses her other hand to rake Jocelyn’s back, marking her as Caroline’s.

She wants to fuck? She should be careful what she wishes for.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t try to resist. She moans throatily beneath the puncture of her lover’s fangs, beneath the cruel caress of her nails. The coppery scent of vitae hangs heady in the air. Jocelyn’s blood is like water next to the liquid gold that was her sire’s, but her sire would never let her do this to him. Even if they were to consummate her feelings, she’d never be on top. It’d probably feel a lot like her first time did. And she knows how that worked out.

And hasn’t she always wanted to be in charge?

Jocelyn starts struggling, after a bit, trying to throw Caroline off. The Ventrue yanks her hair and shoves her face-down into the sofa. The handcuffs clink as Jocelyn tries to move her arms. She bucks and kicks. Caroline digs her nails deeper, climbs on top of the Toreador, pins her under the weight of her body. Jocelyn struggles more, but giggles too, in between moans. She’s enjoying this. Being manhandled, feeling her lover on top of her, breasts pressed against her back, drinking straight from the source. None of that ‘licking it up’ bullshit. No protection.

Caroline’s Beast is already so full. She doesn’t have to drink much. She draws it out, takes from her lover slowly, until they lie spent and sated. Not in one another’s arms. But with Jocelyn still pinned under Caroline’s weight, handcuffed arms pressed against her chest, barely able to move. Her voice wafts up from under the Ventrue.

“I love you, Caroline… "

Caroline: It would be easier, perhaps, if Caroline felt the same way.

She doesn’t.

The Ventrue climbs off her, the heat coming off her temper. If she were alive, she might be breathing heavily. She’s almost heady as it is, slightly buzzed by the alcohol in Jocelyn’s blood.

She runs a hand across her face and through her hair, pulling it out of the way as she looks down at Jocelyn.

Those words are foreign to her, not ones she was comfortable with even when she was alive. She doesn’t repeat them. Instead. she speaks the same language of affection she’s always known.

“I need you to help look after this place.”

GM: Jocelyn snuggles up against her. The handcuffs around her wrist faintly clink.

“What do you mean?”

Caroline: Caroline wraps a lazy arm around the Toreador. Her response quiet but serious.

“I have to leave the city for a while. A few weeks. A few months. Seneschal’s business.”

GM: “Oh,” says Jocelyn.

“But you’ll be back?”

Caroline: Caroline nods, letting the motion travel through them both.

“And things will be different. Better.”

A heartbeat.

“Will you be here when I come back?”

GM: There’s another beat.

Or there would be, if their hearts still pumped.

“I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline remembers the last time Jocelyn asked that.

In her family’s house, after the Toreador nearly immolated herself.

Caroline: Those words have long been a stranger her: she’s heard them more from her mother in the last few nights than she can remember ever hearing them from Claire. Of her father, the less said the better.

Neil was the first non-family member she said it to. He said it first. Didn’t pressure her about it. Told her he wanted it on her own time, when she was comfortable. When she meant it. She wonders if it was true when she finally did. It seemed to make him happy.

Strange thoughts come to her now, as her mind wanders somewhere away from this moment.

But just for a moment. This isn’t about love.

She squeezes Jocelyn lightly and bites her lip.

“I’m happy you’re back. I missed you.”

A pause, then another squeeze. What’s a lie beside her other sins?

“I love you.”

What’s love anyway?

GM: If Neil is anything to go by, heartbreak despite all the best intentions in the world.

If her first mother or stepmother is, not enough to save her.

If her father is, less important than his work.

If Jocelyn is, perhaps the less said the better, too.

Love rarely seems like it’s ever enough.

But her paramour’s face lights up.

She doesn’t answer immediately. Jut lays her head against Caroline’s neck. Curls her body up against the Ventrue’s.

Caroline’s eyes can’t help but settle on the cuffs.

“So like… look after this place how?”

“Or do you mean you want me to move in?”

She smiles at the second question.

Caroline: The hint of a smile, the lie, comes more easily for Caroline this time.

“If that’s easier. There’s a place for you here,” Caroline answers. The Giani Building’s purpose is already shifting in her mind. Less headquarters or home, more border keep. It’s not quite inviting Jocelyn into her home. Not really.

“There are things here that would do better with someone looking after them, and if I’m gone there are others that may try to exert influence. The ghouls can deal with a lot of it, but if things stretch long with the seneschal… they might need juice. An actual Kindred that can get involved. Someone that other licks would respect, and that understands things.”

“I want someone I trust.”

That’s a short list.

That it might also allow Jocelyn to develop additional skills, give her a purpose, and keep her under Caroline’s thumb goes unsaid.

There’s enough ugly lies. No need for ugly truths too.

GM: “Okay. I guess I can feed them if they get thirsty. There’s… your Krewe cleaner, the really serious one, two GI joes… ?”

“GI Joe and GI Jane.”

“Sorry, I don’t really remember them all.”

“But okay. I guess Meg’ll enjoy the time off from cleaning and running errands.”

“Actually not sure what I’m gonna do with her. She’s been such a mess recently. She said you made her eat vomit.”

She grins. “But I don’t care. ‘Cause you’re my carmilla.”

Caroline’s heard Jocelyn use the slang term a few times. Because licks don’t like to say ‘girlfriend.’

Caroline: It’s an unfortunately apt title.

“I told her not to do that disgusting sticking her fingers down her throat. She should have known there would be consequences. I bet she’ll think twice next time.”

Caroline doesn’t add that she didn’t actually force Meg to do it. She doesn’t know that she could stomach the sight. Plus part of her likes the idea that Meg might have tried to puke it up later and been frantically unable.

GM: Jocelyn giggles and nuzzles her neck.

“You’re so hot when you get all ruthless and in charge.”

Caroline: “You’ll get to see a lot more of it.”

She settles her hand on Jocelyn’s upper hip.

“I’m going places, Jocelyn, and I’m not simply saying that. This is different. This being a nobody is at an end—it’s never who I was and everyone will know it.”

How to so lightly plant this idea.

“But going there always has costs. I have to be strong. And the people around me have to be strong too. I wanted to send you away to protect you, but I’d rather have you by my side when I get back.”

GM: “Okay, I want that too,” Jocelyn nods. “I want to be strong.”

Caroline: “They can help teach you,” Caroline continues. “If you’ll let them.”

GM: “Okay, I can do that.”

“Like, the GI joe ones?”

Caroline: “And the others. The cleaner, the financial specialist. There are a lot of ways to be strong.”

“I know you’re an artist, and your art is your passion, but a lot of licks are dying. Half the city is preparing for war. No one is going to be able to sit this one out if it comes to that, and the losers are going to die whether they fight or not.”

She faces Jocelyn and brushes the hair back out of her face.

“I don’t want to see you die.”

GM: Worry flickers over the Toreador’s face.

“We could run, if that seems like it’s gonna happen. Go away with my sire.”

“You’d really like her.”

Caroline: “It’s not in my nature,” Caroline answers. “Not when I can instead.”

She’ll do almost anything to win. Someday Jocelyn will realize that too.

She wonders if she’ll still love her then.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett V
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia V

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline V
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI

Comments

Claire Death Cover-Up

GM: “Perhaps you should have considered that possibility when you killed her, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the hound coolly replies to Caroline’s first statement.

Caroline: Oh, you’re right, I should have assumed you’d all appear this incompetent in the cover-up, Caroline bites back.

There will come a time when Caroline gets to say shit like this out loud, and I am so ready for it.

Luke spying on Celia was an unpleasant surprise, but one that (as noted) I hope to take advantage of in the long run.

I reread an older log of Caroline’s (post trial, when Claire visited and chewed her out for not calling the family, etc), and after doing so I have to say that I think Caroline put on a convincing performance in tone for Claire—just bake the bitchiest answer possible to every single question or answer. Trying to give him a happier final memory there at the end was a nice gesture though I thought for Caroline, who didn’t get the same with Claire.

GM: “I don’t doubt that.” A pause. “It’s risky, what you’re doing with him.”

Something here I’d forgotten about and need to follow up on. Makes sense that Claire is playing part of the Orson game. Caroline needs to pick up those pieces (another reason she needs that safe house and Claire’s plots).

Liked seeing the impact of all of this on Luke—did a lot to humanize what had been the clinical death of Claire in a lot of ways. Dealing with their father’s response, his own feelings of inadequacy, etc. Let it not be said that awfulness and wickedness doesn’t cut deeply in the game.

“Damn not having Ferris.”

Feel you buddy. Best ghoul. Don’t worry though, Caroline’s going to give you a reason to bring him back into the fold.

“I’ll have to be. But… she told me to expect this day.”

Something to follow up on as Caroline later.

Ferris

Shoe horning in the talk about Susan doesn’t really fit great here in my opinion, given where it happens with Caroline stashing the lick at the Giani Building, then going back to the Walter Robinson. Maybe shift the venue of this talk to the Giani, since they didn’t end up leaving Walter Robinson to head out—the original idea behind it?

Claire

And it doesn’t matter. She didn’t believe in sacrificing, only at best trading. She accepted Caroline’s death only so far as it opened the doors to new opportunities. How many times did Claire lie to her? Work around her? Manipulate her?

Claire. Not her mother. Claire. A return to her rightful place.

As usual, her mother took nothing from her, she simply helped illustrate the truth more clearly: who they were, always were, to each other.

Enjoyed this bit of justification by Caroline on the follow up. Claire was the enemy. Claire was the devil. Abelia did nothing wrong… nevermind that Abelia might have killed her beforehand and taken her place… we know she has ties to Savoy. So many plots within plots here.

Jocelyn

Jocelyn scene is just awful. How far the Toreador has fallen in Caroline’s eyes, how clinical and bitter Caroline is. Someone she cared for not long ago and it’s just burned away like Jocelyn nearly burned herself away.

And Caroline refusing to become a “victim.” Jocelyn didn’t rape her. It was just bad sex. Sex she didn’t want. That’s fine, right? Happens to everyone…

Story Twelve, Caroline VI
 

Calder: Caroline VI
Made some formatting changes to your feedback post
The ~ tags only apply to IC logs
Luke’s spying also probably not so surprising in hindsight

Pete: I figured, but it didn’t list code options in the feedback window, and didn’t want to load it into another wiki page just to get formating right.

Calder: Claire trusted no one
The comments are pretty limited code-wise

Pete: Caroline, as an aside, was quite a bitch back to Claire at their peak
Claire talked mad shit to her and Caroline spat it back in a way that Luke didn’t dare, which is interesting.

Calder: Like mother, like daughter…
Or like father, like daughter
Luke himself said he though Nathan wished Caroline was born with a cock

Pete: GM: Her mother’s arms are crossed as Caroline hauls herself out of the floor. Looking up, Claire’s face looks extremely irritated.

Caroline: “What?” Caroline asks stiffly. Defensively.

GM: “Do you remember what I said last night? To touch base with the rest of the family?”

Caroline: “Do you remember that we were talking until after 10 and most of them don’t keep my same hours and that midnight messages on a Tuesday don’t go over well?” her daughter responds.
“I’d planned to do it tonight.”


GM: “Messages at midnight don’t go over well? Well, as it turns out, what goes over even worse is displaying no reaction to news of your brother’s death for a whole of two days. Especially after I’ve already played the ‘misplaced phone’ excuse for you.”

Caroline: “I didn’t have a good answer,” Caroline replies. “‘Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, let’s meet in 20 hours and I won’t respond all day again because my schedule is too full without a job or school?’ seemed in poor taste.”

Calder: They had a lot of fond memories
Caroline did talk back to an extent Luke didn’t
I was inordinately amused by this exchange

GM: “I have one of the samples you asked for, by the way,” he remarks as he sips his.

Caroline: “Just one?” Her voice is expectant. Almost demanding.

GM: “I looked. Believe me. There was nothing there.”

Pete: As I said, how to best pretend to be Claire? Just be a bitch about everything

Calder: “I have no idea what he is talking about, so I will just tell him he wasn’t good enough.”
“Oh, look.”
“It worked.”

Pete: lmao

Calder: I also enjoyed the scene as a chance to show Claire had been up to stuff not involving Caroline
And which Caroline had to puzzle out

Pete: Mhmmm. There’s good in these scenes. I didn’t especially enjoy (most of) them in the moment, but they aren’t objectively bad scenes.

Calder: You got a setback on the big roll, which means some kind of complication going forward, but clearly wasn’t “plot hits a dead end”
Which is a design philosophy change in many RPGs that I’ve enjoyed

Pete: Mhmm
I remain deeply skeptical of that set of rolls / roll given the timing / proximity, but I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

Calder: You’re probably right. It’s within the range of probability, and big pools can turn up low results, but if he could boost Emil’s and Em’s rolls there’s no reason he couldn’t lower Caroline’s

Pete: What makes me specifically suspicious of that roll is it came right on the heels of the absolutely massive roll by Em that we know he cheated on, and given the increasing sophistication of his cheating, it seems very plausible that he’d have the next set of dice produce significantly worse results to balance the scales

[…]

Calder: There absolutely fucking was cheating on those rolls, given the incredible results Lam pulled off to escape Abelia
Struck those from canon though
He’s now digesting in whatever she has for a stomach

[…]

Calder: Izzy was so bitter his giant roll didn’t insta-win the encounter

Pete: I’ve hit bad rolls before – the botch by Fuller & Company against Caroline jumps to mind, but that set of rolls… I donno. It’s so suspicious to me.

Calder: Just like Navy was bitter his 4S (like 6S under Decanter) didn’t save him from getting demoted
Funny, isn’t it, how a number of cheated rolls didn’t amount to much even before the cheating publicly came out
Almost like the cheaters were dumb people whose dumb tactics played at least as big a part in their relative success as their dice rolls

Pete: I think they had the potential to, in the Tower especially

Calder: Eh, Emil’s horrible judgment to trust Abelia completely fucked his PC

Pete: Blatant metagaming about true names and what he thought they could do you mean?
;)

Calder: In fairness, there are no published rules for what true names do
But he was clearly banking on them being an instant win button
Which TVTropes can tell you isn’t how they work in fiction
Big edge, but not “eternal slave who has to obey everything you say”
He was so fixated with giving Abelia highly legalistic orders that left no room for loopholes he ignored the possibility she was lying to him about being compelled to obey his ridiculously enormous demands

Pete: Ah well, all’s well that ends with his PC dead in a ditch

Calder: Did enjoy how manipulative the scene showed her to be though. She was careful to make it seem like she was running into external roadblocks trying to fulfill his orders
So sailing didn’t seem too smooth
But not too rough either that he didn’t think his plan was working
And stroking his ego calling him “master”

Pete: Anyway…

Calder: “Claire was the devil. Abelia did nothing wrong… nevermind that Abelia might have killed her beforehand and taken her place…”
This theory is new
When do you think Claire died?

Pete: Hard to say, but you’ve got a body of Abelia’s in the same clothing Claire ‘died’ in buried under the house with the rest
which sort of suggests that Caroline was dealing with Abelia there more than Claire

Calder: Oof

Pete: It’s not something I’m likely to ever dig into, because that’s the sort of thing that would break Caroline, and she’s not in the habit of doing that to herself
She’s very happy with her mother, and fuck Claire thank you very much.

Calder: She already told Abelia she didn’t see anything important down there
Jocelyn scene is pretty awful
Amazing how far those two fell
They used to be so much to each other

Pete: Yeah, and very quickly too
Easier for Caroline to tell herself now it was always just the bond.

Calder: A new bond helps too

Pete: Absolutely, something else to fixate. She certainly did when she was breaking Luke
But it’s a lot easier to say ‘it was always artifical’ than to admit that she might have genuinely cared for Jocelyn.

Calder: It’s pretty similar thinking with Claire
Helps insulate her from the loss

Pete: I mean, people don’t just go through the shit Caroline has unscathed
She’s not Celia ‘I have 3 personalities’ fucked in the head, but she’s her own brand of broken.

Calder: Celia has so many more than three
Though three are the main ones
Well, arguably two
Lani’s still new
But yes, even Caroline’s behavior hasn’t been entirely sane
Denial to the point of near-delusion

Pete: Mhmm.
Absolutely, but more than that.
Realistically, the first time I think you’d find Caroline saying ‘I want’ that wasn’t purely a reflection of someone else’s desires for her was the recent scene with Abelia
and even then you can see that her wants and desires have been pretty twisted to this dark, hurt, vulnerable thing that’s so tired of being hurt and wants to lash out at everything. Her fucked up sense of obligation and duty – essentially living her entire life according to what someone else wanted of her – is the only thing that got her this far, but it also means that the only thing that fills the rest of the space in her life that most people put hopes and dreams in is the expectations of others and… the pain that she’s had to deal with.

Calder: I think she’s said “I want” (for herself) before, but never around a loved one
She’s happy to abuse strangers or enemies for her pleasure
But she never wants to “fail” someone like Abelia by being “selfish”
There’s also how, as you note, she can’t exactly let go of those expectations either
Or the house of cards will truly come tumbling down
And she might wind up even crazier than Celia

Pete: If Abelia and Vidal vanished tomorrow
Caroline would be absolutely fucking lost

Calder: Hey, she’d have Maldy
And her sisters
I think she’d go on
It’d just be an enormous blow

Pete: And her sisters

More this than Maldy.
But even then, she’s super accustomed to having her life path driven by others, to high expectations. I legitimately don’t think she’d know what to do without them – and similarly, i think those same expectations are mostly what’s kept her together throughout the horrific events that have happened to her, abandonment of principles, etc.
Does she actually want to be the best, or does she want to be the best to impress others? Hard to say.

Calder: Yeah, that’s why I cited Maldy, as he at least still foists expectations on her
Her sisters don’t really
Though, granted, expectations can be self-imposed too

[…]

Pete: Just to further clarify again, you had a roll that was like 1 in 100,000 good, and another that was like 3 in 1000 bad, back to back. Just seemed… extremely fishy with everything else we knew. One or the other wouldn’t have sparked my interest, but the immediate proximity did.

Calder: I suppose that’s another thing we can thank our dearly departed cheater for, casting doubt on the veracity of other players’ rolls
Just such a shitbag
I can’t believe he would do that again after getting kicked out for cheating once, going through agony over it, and getting a second chance
Just who the fuck does that

https://anydice.com/program/22ece

Fun bit of math though
I asked someone to make that script and used it when I was auditing Emil’s rolls
The 10s double 1s subtract impacts probabilities a fair bit
You have 4.8% odds (1 in ~21) of getting 9S or better on 9 dice
And 10.44% odds (1 in ~10) of getting a 2S or worse on 12 dice

Story Twelve, Caroline VI
False_Epiphany False_Epiphany

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