“I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”
GM: So… I bet if anyone could help with that whole ‘souls’ thing, it’s our dear vampire girlfriend.
Emmett: Maybe. But the less she knows about what we’re up to, the better. I think it’s time we visited somebody else, anyways. Somebody I mostly forgot, until I died.
GM: Dunno, what the fuck do we have to keep secret from her?
She already knows Abélia is something spooky.
Emmett: _We don’t want her to know we’re consorting with another monster to protect us of she turns on us. Which, you might have noticed, remains a very likely possibility once she decides it’s more useful to sell us than keep us running errands.
GM: Except then we couldn’t say we need her.
She pretends to be all smart and practical, like Roberts.
But she’s really more like us.
When has she ever been able to resist gloating?
Emmett: Right, that works in the short term, but the whole point of going to Abélia was to avoid actually needing her. And the first step towards getting her to realize she needs us.
GM: Oh. True.
Like, Cécilia. We get in her pants, Sami’ll be jealous.
I bet she still hates Cici over high school. Would she really let go of a grudge?
Cici though has probably forgiven her for everything. That’d piss her off so much.
Emmett: Great minds, huh? Yeah, so I’m thinking, we find a way to destabilize her current setup, lose her a few friends—especially that ghost-seeing bitch—and then once we have Cici’s Maman treating us nice, we swoop in to help her. You know, the classic. That way she ends up owing us, not the other way around. But we have to do it smart, or she’ll figure it out.
Seems like a smart way to do it might be to find Astride again, and eventually let him know he’s being followed, except maybe we tell him the Ouija bitch sent us after him, so he takes her out. Then we warn Sami he’s coming after her and help her fuck him up to score some points with her.
We need to find out Sami’s friends and enemies. That way we can start playing with her.
Bit difficult, though, if she’s making it harder for us to pop in on her in the shower.
…which, to be fair, I actually was planning on doing.
GM: Yeah. Well, there’s oggling Cici. She has her own place.
Em had looked it up.
Totally not stalker-ish behavior.
Emmett: Only once!
Or a few times.
GM: Huh. You know, I just realized that’d be our first time seeing her naked.
That’s just… morally wrong.
Like, for real naked, instead of that freaky dream.
Emmett: Yeah, it’s a real tragedy. Probably the real reason we’re still around.
Okay, well, since her place is on the way back to the hotel, no reason not to head there. I need juice, though. Especially if I’m going to heal the booboos. So, since we’re getting along so well, you want to tell me how to score some so we can stop going in circles, and maybe we can fuck around to have some fun with her? Otherwise I’m just going to have to sleep next to her and see if I feel better after, and that’s… less fun.
C’mon, think how fun it’ll be. More juice means more ways to fuck with people, too.
GM: Ha ha, I’m you, dipshit, fuck you.
That’s what we call ‘giving someone a fat lot of nothing.’
Let’s go ahead and sleep with Cici. I don’t mind.
Emmett: You’re me. So why don’t you want me to be able to do any of the things we both find fun? Or at least tell me what you need me to do for you to share.
GM: Okay, kill Dad’s mutts.
Emmett: Sweet. Tell me how to score some juice so we can heal first. Can’t exactly do it while I’m bleeding from fifty gazillion cuts, can I? It’ll just be pathetic.
GM: Oh hey, looks like we still have ADHD.
I’m not giving you shit until I get what I want.
Emmett: Dude, you get that I can’t lie to you, so you know I’m telling the truth when I say that I just want to heal first so I don’t have a harder time doing the thing you want, right?
GM: I don’t fucking care. You don’t get any more freebies from me.
You want to know how get more juice, go kill Phil’s dogs. Or do something else that I get off to.
Emmett: All right, never mind. I guess we’ll both be unhappy.
He wanders toward Cécilia’s place, bleeding to spite himself.
GM: You being unhappy makes me happy, genius.
Emmett: You’re adorable.
GM: Located steps away from St. Louis Cathedral, the Upper Pontalba building is one of the more (though still one of many) historically and architecturally significant structures in New Orleans, even if few enough non-natives who see it in photographs know its name. Often referred to as the “oldest apartment building in the U.S.”, the residential apartments command a coveted view overlooking Jackson Square. Tenants can watch all of the fortune-tellers, psychics, artists, street performers, drag queens, tourists, homeless, gutter punks, crazies, and all of the Vieux Carre’s usual cast of characters from the leisure of their iron-terraced verandas. Rent to dwell in the cultural heart of the Crescent City is likely far from cheap.
The lower floors are a shopping and dining concourse, including such destinations as the New Orleans School of Cooking (known for their freshly-made pralines and hand-made cypress roux spoons), clothing stores that sell the usual fare plus wedding dresses (is Celia going to get hers there, or somewhere else?), several gift and souvenir shops, and a handful of restaurants, including a Creole-Cajun cafe, an oyster house, coffee shop, and fudgery. Residents of the second-story apartments would appear to have little need to ever leave the building. They can see all of the French Quarter they like from just out their window.
Here in the Shadowlands, the potted geraniums are dead and wilted. The falling-apart, rotted building looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The food in the shops is spoiled and alit with noxiously buzzing clouds of flies. The clothes in the broken-windowed shops are soiled, ragged, and covered in dust. The hour seems late, or perhaps early, as few glowing figures are visible amidst the apartments.
Em walks through the upstairs units like they’re made of smoke. He sees people asleep in their beds. He sees a woman who’s tied up and gagged with tape in someone’s bathtub. He sees a few other people getting dressed. He sees a man masturbating to pictures of naked little boys on his computer. He sees a couple having an argument. He sees a man taking a shower. He sees another couple having sex. All of their private lives are on display for him to see.
Emmett: He stops for a moment at the woman, trying to gauge if the situation there is, ah, consensual.
GM: The motionless woman’s face is covered in welts and bruises. Her skin is dirty and sweaty.
Emmett: Yeah, probably not. Hmm. He notes the number of the apartment, looks around it briefly, and carries on.
He also notes the name of the pedophile a few doors down. You never know when some blackmail will come in handy.
There’s a special, dark place in Em’s heart for pedophiles.
GM: Some of the half-burnt-looking mail on the grime-streaked kitchen counter is addressed to a one Theodore McKee.
Cécilia’s unit, meanwhile, has three glowing figures in it. Two male ones dressed in uniforms, and a young, pretty-looking female one with wavy hair who seems to be directing them.
They’re packing all of Cécilia’s broken, trashed, and decayed personal possessions into moldy-looking cardboard boxes.
One of the male ones grouses about the hour to his partner when the woman’s back is turned. His partner shrugs they’re getting paid extra. He doesn’t mind being up early.
He makes a lewd remark about the ways he wants to fuck the woman. His partner snickers along with him.
Emmett: Hmm. Movers? He listens to the men and then focuses on the woman, listening for a clue as to their purpose here.
GM: “God, I just want her to swallow my piss.”
“So do you.”
He recognizes the woman, after peering closer. Harmony. He remembers seeing her picture on his ex’s Facebook when she was hired as a PA, and then again at a local bar, and then again when he brought her home and got her to make pleasing noises. She didn’t talk as much about Cécilia as he would have liked, but Em’s always been eager for scraps.
So Cici’s moving house. Interesting. Mother keeping her baby bird close, maybe?
GM: She was a decent enough fuck. Wasn’t awful, wasn’t incredible.
Was an okay way to pass the evening.
Scraps are never as good as the real thing.
But they beat nothing.
And it was fun to think what Cécilia would think if she knew he’d fucked her PA.
Or what Harmony would think if she knew she’d fucked her boss’ ex.
The trio spend a while packing and moving the moldering boxes to a bust-up, half-rusted van with smashed headlights that looks like it could barely drive. Harmony tells them to leave everything by the front door, and not to come into the house. Cécilia has a younger sister who’s “very scared around strangers.”
“Lotta stuff to move,” says one of the guys.
“Well, I get paid hourly,” says Harmony.
Emmett: He waits for them to start down the hallway of the apartment with the kidnapped woman before he starts whistling.
It’a a severe, arresting tune. It’s a dirge of suspicion, and dread curiosity.
They can’t help but hear it as they pass the door that hides her.
GM: The dirge echoes in his ears. The apartment door seems to loom large within his vision, its suspiciously blank exterior hinting at unspeakable things contained within. Dust seems to blow towards it. Lights seem to flicker towards it. Everything seems to scream, GO HERE.
Yet three just walk on, boxes in tow, like they heard nothing at all. Because when do people pay attention to the awful things going on next door, he supposes.
As his 12th grade English teacher liked to quote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Emmett: And yet, they pass.
He closes his eyes for a moment.
He isn’t sure where the scream comes from until well after it’s past his own lips and pulling another behind it. He hops in front of their faces, the silent shrieks of the dead raging from his lips.
“CUNTS! Useless, inbred, daft fucking _CUNTS!”_
But they do not hear him. Nobody does.
So he goes.
GM: It’s a several minute walk from Celia’s possibly former apartment to 838 Royal Street.
This part of the Quarter starts to move away from the bars, clubs, hotels, and other tourist- and nightlife-catering establishments. It’s not the residential section just yet, but it’s on its way there.
It’s as decayed, ruined, and bombed-out as any section of the Shadowlands Em has been to. The old Spanish-style buildings look like they’ve been gutted by fire, with naught left but charred timbers. The streets are choked with garbage and filth: the Vieux Carre’s afterparty after any wild night. It stinks like fat, oil, grease, piss, vomit, and weed. There don’t seem to be many people out. The pitch-black sky overhead seems like it’s turning a cheerless dark gray.
Celia: From the outside, the building is unassuming. Like most store fronts in the French Quarter there are all sorts of rules and policies on what can and cannot be revamped. The spa owner has had to make do with what she could: flower boxes, gauzy curtains behind the floor to ceiling windows, lettering proclaiming the name in gold font across the top. It’s cute.
Inside is a different story. It’s like walking into a portal that takes Em from one place to another. Outside is the French Quarter, inside is… relaxation incarnate, maybe. There’s a set of double doors inside the outer pair that takes him to a reception area, though it’s nicer than any he’s seen. Products line the shelves. A desk sits empty along the wall by another set of doors. It’s easy to imagine a buxom blonde behind the computer with freshly painted nails tapping away at the keyboard. More doors, mood lighting, floor to ceiling curtains that offer a semblance of privacy to those who step inside. Couches, recliners, a table with refreshments waiting to be consumed, tea and cucumber water.
At least that’s what it should look like. But the exposed brick walls are crumbling, white caulk plastered on the floor. Overhead chandeliers are missing bulbs, their light guttering, casting dancing shadows across the floor. Some of them smile at Em, wicked smiles, poison laced apples waiting to be cut apart. The carpet has more charred marks than he’s seen outside of a burn unit. And the smell… all these spas pump incense into the air to relax their clients, but Celia somehow got it wrong. Raw sewage or dumpster fire, that’s what his nose tells him.
GM: Or perhaps blood.
Thick, half-dried messy wet pools of it, leaking out all across the floor.
Celia: There’s a lot of doors in this place. Doors that lead to private rooms with rotting tables and moldy blankets, with tools that look more like something he’d see in a snuff film than an upstanding place like this. Some of the bottles feature a little skull and crossbones.
That blood smell gets stronger the closer he gets to the back of the spa, though. Another set of doors, high archway, though these are locked. As if that could keep him out. He slides right through the steel.
There it is. A morgue. A stone table in the center of the room. Cuffs to keep people detained, to quit their struggles on the cold slab. The edges of it are chipped. All of it is wet. Blood, guts, sinew, a veritable butchers block smack dab in the middle of a spa. The grimy floor is coated in the viscous red stuff. He might slip in it, if he had to worry about that kind of thing.
There are no tools here. No perfumes or powders. Just the clinging scent of death and decay.
Emmett: Seems his suspicions about the person he’s here to see were right.
Every bit as much of a monster as the ones who took her.
But this place seems empty. Lifeless.
He wonders if he can find a clue as to where she’s gone.
GM: There’s also an ashen-faced woman standing over a particularly fresh pool of blood, dressed in clubbing attire for the last good time of her life. Her eyes are closed and her face is blank. She’s swaddled in a mucus, cobweb-like thing that somehow looks simultaneously and thick and hazy. Its edges slowly drift through the air on a breeze Em does not feel.
Emmett: “Convenient,” he murmurs. He tries to will himself into the caul, the way Lamarck seemed to think they could.
GM: Em’s hands sink into it as if guided by a will of their own. It’s cold to the touch. The girl, who looks around his age or maybe a bit younger, doesn’t scream like Kione did. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from her chest. He thinks he can hear voices, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of.
Em hurts. His heart is breaking. He is angry. He is sad. He is giddy. So, so giddy, and lustful. Fuck. Oh shit, he’s scared, better laugh it off. He laughs his ass off. It’s all so damn funny, and he could really use a good fuck. Distantly, some part of him becomes conscious that he’s peeling off the caul, cold layer by cold layer. It vanishes in a puff of golden haze. It fills Em up. Makes him feel full of warmth and vitality. Almost alive again.
Em sees that he is kneeling on the floor. He can see through the macabre spa’s half-translucent walls that the sky is now a lighter gray, the color of ashen smog.
The girl on the floor looks around slowly as her brow creases.
“Who… who are you?”
Emmett: It’s like the first hit of a new high, and as a lifelong hedonist he adores the flow of emotions that aren’t his, the heady mix of stolen vibes both good and bad washing away his problems for the briefest second of eternity, the smallest mercy of an afterlife full of nothing but grays and ghosts.
He would cry with wonder if he could cry. He lets his own wounds heal as he frees the girl from the prison-womb of the caul, and he’s suddenly full of so much juice that it don’t even tingle as they take his pain with them.
And then he’s holding her, the enfant, his enfant, because he knows she is his to do with as he pleases; and his heart is heavy again, because he knows what he is to do with her.
“Em,” he tells her, frankly, as he wobbles to his feet and brings her with him. “And I’m a ghost. I’m afraid something bad happened to you.”
GM: She blinks slowly as he picks her up.
Then she says it. Says it like someone would admit they were gay, in the ’80s.
“I… I’m dead.”
The word is heavy.
But not disbelieving.
Emmett: “Yep,” he agrees. “But so are most people. Including yours truly. Don’t try to think too hard about everything all at once. Let’s start with your name.”
Yes, tell me about yourself, as I prepare to do something terrible to you.
GM: “I’m… I’m Jenna,” she says in that same slow tone. “Jenna Crosby.”
She looks around the room, then holds a hand to her mouth.
“Oh my… oh my god…”
Emmett: “Jenna, huh? That’s a nice name.” He follow her gaze. “Yeah, it takes some getting used to. Don’t look there. Look here.” He spreads his fingers and from his palm sprouts a bouquet of roses, reds and blues and greens and yellows that catch the light like gems but look far too alive to be mere stones. Their stalks twist around each other and weave her name in a cursive of vines.
“There’s still color in this world, if you know how to find it. Can you walk and talk? I know a safe place. With more colors, and more Caspers. That is to say, you know. Friendly ghosts. Like you and me.”
GM: Jenna smiles a bit at the theatrical display.
The blood-caked floor and the gore- and viscera-coated table, though, tug at her eye.
It’s still red. Still fresh.
“That sounds great,” she says quickly. “Let’s get out of here.”
GM: Serendipity seems to draw Em along the path to 1415 Third Street, like a train whose doors have already closed and he can’t get off. He supposes he’s seen enough of the Shadowlands to be at least somewhat jaded, at this point, because Jenna jumps at every noise, flinches at every shadow, or stares in mute fear at the things they come across.
He supposes you can get used to anything, after long enough.
She’s full of questions. What this place is. Why it is this way. Who Em is. Why they’re here. What comes next.
“Is this… is this Hell?”
“I didn’t think Hell really existed…”
Emmett: Em’s a traitor and a liar and a rapist and a killer, but he’s not dispassionate. Anything but. His compassion is the stuff of religion. He’d look fantastic nailed to a cross.
She’s only going to be so long in this afterlife. There was something hideously unambiguous about how Abélia had talked about her hunger, and he has no doubts that whatever the process of Abélia eating Jenna looks like, she won’t be around to review it later.
Her afterlife will be brief. It costs him nothing to give her hope.
Nothing, except for the look on her face when she realizes the truth.
Lamarck really did have the right way of things, didn’t he? If it had just been him he might have kept his would-be slaver around. How little he judged. And how little it actually mattered, for all the good it did at the bottom of a long, dark shaft.
He answers all her questions, lying colorfully when convenient. The place he’s taking her is clean, he says. It stands out from the others. It looks a little scary, but it’s real and it keeps predators away.
There are predators, he assures her. Better she stay close to him, and hold his hand if she wants. Things aren’t so bad in the afterlife. See how he floats, skis in midair?
GM: “My boyfriend and I got into a fight,” Jenna says as she squeezes his hand.
“A really big fight.”
“That’s why I went out, to go club without him. I think I wanted to make him jealous.”
“But it all seems… so stupid now.”
Emmett: “What was the fight about?” Em asks, squeezing her hand back. It’s with his good hand, obviously. The other he’s wrapped in a midnight cast about his shoulder. Everybody trusts a cripple.
GM: “Money. Work. Stuff that just seems completely stupid now.”
“I guess it’s like they say. You can’t take it with you…”
Emmett: “They say that,” he agrees. “And they’re right. But they’re wrong about a lot of things, too. If this is hell, well… it could be worse. It isn’t heaven, but it doesn’t have to be torture. It’s just… hard, at first.”
GM: “That sounds a lot like life.”
The pair pass those twisted, hungrily grasping oaks. Em doesn’t see it happen. He didn’t even see them reach the house. The iron gates slam shut behind the pair.
Jenna looks ahead at the home.
For a moment, she just looks.
Then she screams.
Emmett: “A lot like life,” he agrees. “More than you know.” He starts to float, steadily, still holding her hand and releasing it as his feet rise above her waist.
His voice is still so calm, warm despite the inevitable chill of this place. It should make his words steam when he talks, but he draws no breath.
“In life, and after, you can’t always trust strangers. But I wish you could. You seem nice. For what it’s worth, if you tell me your boyfriend’s name, I’ll give him a message. Or your family. Whoever.”
He sprouts batlike wings and flaps into the air above her, safe from her ability to reach him.
He does look sorry.
But not as much as he looks tired.
GM: Jenna doesn’t get to answer.
She doesn’t even get to look shocked.
The house’s doors fly open. Pseudopod-like tendrils of living darkness shoot out like ravenous, grasping tongues. They smother her in the same oily, tar-like residue leaking from the walls. It reminds Em of the salivas some amphibious species spew over insectile prey they’ve caught, perhaps to aid in digestion.
Jenna is there. Then she’s not. The doors slam closed as she’s hungrily sucked inside.
But Em can still hear her screams, from inside the house.
They sound even louder than they did from outside.
Emmett: He coughs awkwardly.
And just like that, her anguish and betrayal has no bearing on his life, no inconvenience. No weight other than the thought he chooses to dedicate to it.
He really grew into a bastard while his eyes were on all the other monsters, didn’t he?
GM: Caroline is working in Cécilia’s home office with her sister.
Our larder’s first addition has arrived.
Bring it up to my body, Caroline, if you please—the power to see Abel’s children is yours, here.
A moment passes.
Ah, it seems we have a guest, too! Say hello to him instead, my dear, if you can spare a few moments from your work. I’m afraid I’m still in little shape to suitably entertain.
Caroline: A guest? The Ventrue rises wearily. Well, it would be rude not to entertain.
GM: The front door silently swings open at his approach. There’s ‘normal’ things past it, rather than the pitch black void he entered last time.
The house’s interior is no less sumptuous than its exterior. The historic property is large enough to house all seven Devillers in comfort and privacy with seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a lavish ballroom, elevator, and foyer with an elaborate winding grand center staircase once featured in the Library of Congress. (Em recalls that tidbit from his last visit, a literal life ago.) There are also adjacent servant quarters and a stable for horses separate from the 1,500-square-foot, two bedroom, two bathroom carriage house. The home’s elaborate features include moldings with 22 carat gold leaf, 37 window trim, fine plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces, marble mantels, custom designed rugs, and 16 ft ceilings both upstairs and downstairs. All the palatial rooms are furnished with choice antiques, many the work of long-dead artisans who were America’s foremost cabinet makers in the 19th century.
The chimney piece of the living room is designed to contain a wooden eagle found at the mouth of the Mississippi after a hurricane. Carved from cypress, it is believed to be the sternboard of a pilot boat built in Charleston at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Murals are painted on the ceilings of the living room, double parlor, and dining room, all painted in 1866 and executed with great delicacy after the manner of Robert Adam. The wallpaper in the dining room is the famous Züber 1834 “Scenic America."
All of it looks perfectly normal. Perfectly solid.
There’s no trace of Jenna.
“’I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high,
Will you rest upon my little bed?’ said the Spider to the Fly.
‘There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!’”
The female voice wafts from nowhere and everywhere.
Emmett: This place is danger. But rude to leave now.
Rude, and weak, and while he isn’t intending to bully her, he suspects Abélia will not treat him more kindly of he is weak.
His wings fold politely as he enters.
“As beautiful a home as I remember, madame.”
GM: Caroline excuses herself to Cécilia and walks to the home’s atrium.
It’s him, behind the now-closed front door.
Right there at the foot of the winding grand center staircase.
He’s considerably more handsome and better-dressed than he was at their last meeting. He looks like he’s shed a decade off his now-beardless face, and he’s dressed in a black sports coat, white button-up, and black slacks instead of a shabbily-fitting Orleans Parish Prison orange jumpsuit. Plus there’s how he has legs again, too. The insistent draft, though, distracts from the aesthetic. So does that odd faintness of his shape, the slight insubstantiality. He looks like he should evaporate when the fat Louisiana sun shows its face.
Worst is probably his arm—black and rotted and hanging around like somebody decided amputations were out of style last week—but it’s not his fault, he’s been dead.
The arm wouldn’t be so bad, anyway. If he would just stop smiling.
The guy she framed, got executed, then mind-raped to remember nightmares until he shat himself.
And maybe killed Mark Stines, but it’s like she said to her sister.
Who will ever know what the truth is with Emmett Delacroix?
Caroline: There’s a moment of shock, then a moment of anger covering shame. He’s. Fucking. Dead. She made damn sure of it.
And yet, here he is, standing in her foyer. He’s definitely dead still, but she’d thought this a problem long buried.
GM: By all present appearances, Emmett still is pretty fucking dead. Caroline doesn’t hear any sort of heartbeat from the half-translucent figure. Or smell so much as a whiff of blood. The grandfather clock seems like a more appetizing meal than he does.
Caroline: Not that she has that much room to talk about dead things wandering around.
Emmett: He looks at her, too. “Huh. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. And as beautiful as ever, Miss Malveaux. Why, I’m only happy I’m less shabby than last time we met.”
GM: The same black, stinger-lord cord stabbing into Simmone’s heart stabs into Caroline’s.
Emmett: He smiles at the look in her eyes, the embers of shock and anger simmering like mild embers. “Are you also Mrs. Devillers’ guest? This is a far prettier cage, too, than Orleans Parish. Ah, memories. But you know what I’m like when I start reminiscing, of course.”
Strangled, mad laughter echoes in the middle distance.
His, from that night when she broke him open and sucked out what she needed.
Caroline: Caroline breaks free of the shock and lets loose a peal of fluttering laughter.
“Guest? Why would I be a guest in my mother’s home?”
“You always were a flatterer, though. You look better than when we talked last time. I’m happy to see that death agrees with you.”
Emmett: He blinks, but seems more puzzled than shocked. “Mother, hmm? I didn’t know your families were that close, even with your brother marrying in. That’s very wholesome, though. Is your, ah, sister here, then? I was wondering if I’d see her.”
GM: Which sister?
There’s apparently now seven total.
Caroline: A hint of irritation crosses her brow. Interesting.
Emmett: “Cécilia, that is,” he adds happily.
Caroline: “Is that why you’re here, Mr. Delacroix? To bother my sister?” There’s an edge to her words. “I can certainly think of better uses of your time.”
Emmett: “Bother?” he makes a face like a wounded puppy. “I would no more bother her than I would be buggered—that is to say, I rather think that I’ve had my fill of either while I breathed.”
His laugh is a soft, mischievous thing, that could mean nothing or everything. “But why so tense, dear lady lick? You aren’t scared of ghosts, are you? You don’t need to be scared of this one, at any rate. I’ve often thought about our time together, and what I would say to you when I saw you again.”
Caroline: “Is it everything you ever wished for?” the blonde-haired, blue-eyed statue asks.
Emmett: “In a sense. I always wished to hear it myself.”
He steps towards her, bows, rolls a wrist and suddenly holds a white flower, bulbous and luminous so that the entire room is suffused with its warm light.
“You have my forgiveness, Miss Malveaux,” Em says simply. “From one monster to another.”
Caroline: The monster doesn’t quite recoil at the flash of light, but he can see the tension coil through her dead muscles, see the whip-tight reflexes tensed.
That tension doesn’t fade with his apology. Instead she simply stares at the ghost.
Liar. Manipulator. Con artist.
All these things. And he comes into her house and offers her forgiveness?
For a moment she isn’t sure what to say, so she falls back on a safe option. One she learned from her mother. A laugh.
“Do I now?” Her tone has more iron in it than he recalls from their meeting when he was alive.
Emmett: “You do,” he assures her, her laughter lifting the corners of his mouth. “For the framing, and my execution. For the conjugal you paid me in prison and the things you did to my mind. There are no grudges, no gripes. I understand. You are forgiven, and what might have been bitter between us is dust. Are you so surprised to be forgiven?”
He twirls the flower between his fingers, and it floats close to the chandelier, casting its warm light over the pair.
“I suppose it’s only natural. Forgiveness is all too rare for the dead, hmm?”
“But it is yours, if you’ll have it. And please. Call me Emmett. Caroline.”
Caroline: “It’s a shame, really. How little of value I got out of that,” Caroline answers. “Breaking your mind.”
“Your memories of what happened in the Dungeon were buried so deep that even when I pried them out they were unrecognizable.”
“You were such a broken thing already, though.”
Emmett: “I might remember more, now. Death does that, it’s very handy.” He tilts his head. “Anyway, my egg’s all put back together now. Like Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be.”
He narrows his eyes for a moment. “You asked why I was here. I made a delivery to your mother. I always wanted to be a pizza boy.”
“There’s more to come, I hope you’ll tell her.”
Caroline: A grim smile. “I’d be careful there, Emmett.” She pronounces his name sharply. “I may have framed you and shattered your mind, but play the games you played with me and my sister with my mother, and you’ll find yourself missing far more than your sanity or life.”
Emmett: “Oh, why ever would I? She’d always win. No, I’m her humble servant. And Cécilia’s, of course. Even yours, Caroline, if you have need of a friendly ghost.”
Caroline: “I’m fairly certain I remember Casper being a child, not a rapist and murderer in life,” she answers, contemplative.
Emmett: “Well, they didn’t play those parts up, but it was all in the subtext. I remain a child at heart, much like poor Casper. And dear Caroline, do you mean to imply that rapacious murderers are unwelcome in your home?”
Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline answers. “Only that those who would do harm to my sisters in any way will suffer for all eternity.”
There’s a predatory gleam in her gaze. “How’s your sister doing, Emmett?”
Emmett: The flower wilts above, and there’s nothing cocky or artificial about the somber expression that steals across his face.
“If you ask, you know,” he says simply. “You can threaten her, if it gives you pleasure, O host, but I am already your docile guest. Should you intervene in her woes, I would owe you personally and become an enthusiastic servant, and my forgiveness would overflow into friendship. I cannot stop you from hurting her to prove a point. I have already destroyed her life with my bluster. But the less time I must spend fretting over her, the faster I can fill your Maman’s… she used the word ‘larder.’”
Caroline: “Threaten?” Caroline rolls the word around in her mouth like it’s a favor to be appreciated.
“So you haven’t visited her in your death. That’s a shame, Emmett. Is there anything you really care about, or anyone, other than yourself?”
Emmett: “I don’t know what gave you that idea,” he corrects gently. “I have visited. Do you think I care for nobody, Caroline? If so, you truly must be confused by my presence here.”
He sighs and turns. “I came to thank Cécilia for her generosity in my final days, and for, ah, executing my dying wishes. If you would have me go, I only ask that you tell her as much, and that if she ever needs assistance of a ghostly variety, she need only ask.”
“You don’t happen to know where Lena’s kids got to, do you?”
“The mob said they’d kill them if I couldn’t pay, and obviously when I was inside it wasn’t as though I could. I don’t know if the mob did follow through, though. Knowing the Dixies, they may merely be slaves. I haven’t been able to find out yet.”
Their faces dance in the intervening space, conjured from shadow and soft light. Soft. Innocent. Noah has his eyes.
Staring at her, even as he turns away.
Caroline: “I had some ideas,” Caroline answers. “It’s been a low priority, and I had a concern that if she didn’t like the answer it might send her off the deep end again.”
Emmett: “I would know what my mistakes have cost me.”
Caroline: “It cost her everything,” she answers. “It might have cost them their lives, and nearly cost her the same. She’s obsessed with finding them, but… well, that’s easier said than done.”
“There’s another vampire I could ask about it, but…” She shrugs.
Emmett: “I know how to find the man who knows.”
“If you want a ghost like me to owe you.”
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.
Emmett: “Oh,” he agrees. “Bert Villars, the attorney. Ask him how to find a man called Bud. He was the shark.”
GM: Caroline has heard of the former, at least. One of the most sleazy and disreputable hucksters in the legal community. Carson held him in utter contempt. Whenever a pimp or crack king was facing criminal charges, Bertram S. Villars, esq. was there to represent him.
Caroline: “Why don’t you just hang around until you find them yourself?” she asks skeptically.
Emmett: “And whatever would you like in return, Miss Malveaux?”
“I can’t find Bud without talking to Villars, and haven’t found a way to suitably… interview him as of yet. And I have other obligations that prevent me simply watching Villars, including gathering souls for your mother. But rest assured, if you want somebody spied upon or secrets brought back to you, you could do much worse than making a friend like me.”
Caroline: The Ventrue muses for a moment.
“There’s a reason your sister isn’t in prison or dead,” Caroline says at last. “She’s already under my protection, and influence.”
Emmett: “Is she?” He turns and regards her. “Why?”
Caroline: “I had a use for a doctor. One that owed me everything, that no one else wanted.”
Emmett: He nods, satisfied by a selfish explanation. “If you are able to return her children to her, she won’t be the only one in your debt. I’ll be every bit as much your spook as I am Cécilia’s.”
Caroline: “Even if it’s in a pair of boxes. Or maybe ashtrays?” Caroline asks.
Emmett: “Obviously I have a preference. But at least if I know they’re dead, I can find their spirits.”
Em looks at her levelly. “Name your price.”
Caroline: “Leave my sister alone,” Caroline answers without hesitation.
“Cécilia has more than enough troubles in her life without a troublesome shade.”
GM: “Caroline, who are you talking to?” comes her sister’s voice.
Emmett: Her voice would quicken her pulse if he had one. Caroline can see the effect it has on him—his pupils dilating, his expression freezing slightly. It takes him a moment to shake it off before he regards the vampire with a raised eyebrow.
“If she wants me to stay away, I’m happy to. But it seems like a choice for her, doesn’t it? Will you really refuse to tell her she has a visitor? And besides, are you going to pretend I’m not a gift on a silver platter? You can’t watch her all the time, after all. But I can, if she wills it. I can guard her and warn her of threats before they come to her.”
GM: She rounds the hallway.
Looks at the door.
Cécilia frowns in puzzlement. It wasn’t that long ago that Em saw her, he supposes, but time crawled at a snail’s pace in solitary, and who knows how much has passed since he died. Cécilia still has an engagement ring on her finger that looks like it must cost someone’s mortgage, though, for what that may be worth. She’s dressed relatively casually in a white ruffled blouse, loose pale blue skirt that matches her eyes, and darker hemp ballet flats.
She’s still beautiful.
Emmett: He looks at Caroline, eyebrow raised.
GM: Cécilia just looks right past him.
Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes narrow. If Cécilia is here it isn’t by chance.
“You had a visitor,” she answers her sister.
Emmett: He inclines his head to her, smiling with encouragement. “Have, technically. Should I appear or do you want to spare her the surprise?”
GM: Cécilia looks back from Caroline to the door, then raises a hand to her mouth.
“Oh… mon dieu…”
Emmett: He blinks. “Oh, wait. Can you all see ghosts? Is that in the genes, too? Like the blonde hair and those bottomless eyes?”
GM: A panoply of emotions seem to pass over Cécilia’s face. Her hand doesn’t lower.
“Oh my… Emmett, is that you?”
Emmett: He smiles sadly. “It certainly isn’t Elliott. Hello, Cécilia. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t shake your hand.” He glances down at his gangrenous, necrotized arm.
GM: “I don’t think we could, in any case…” she manages, lowering her hand from her mouth.
She regards him for a moment. Her face looks truly sad.
“Emmett, I’m so sorry. I’d hoped death would bring you peace.”
Emmett: “I was never the peaceful type,” he says. “And I have things that need doing. Don’t fret, or mourn. There are worse things to be, than this. I came to thank you.”
He glances at Caroline, then back to her sister, those eyes becoming his world. The tremor in his voice is a crack children would avoid on a sidewalk.
“For the movies. And all of it. It made going to the chair a lot easier, knowing that somebody was…d
oing all that. Especially the environmental stuff. It must have meant a lot to my dad.”
GM: “You’re welcome,” Cécilia replies.
The tremor to her voice isn’t a crack. It’s more like a sad note on a harpsichord or some other delicate little instrument.
“I did have to change some things. The environmental stuff wasn’t able to happen,” she admits, “but I tried to honor the spirit of your wishes. I’m glad you were able to get out some screenplays, in the end.”
Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t press. “Ah, well,” he says softly. “The afterlife is long.”
He regards the two of them together. “You two make a happy pair. I wish I would be returning on more pleasant business, but I’ll take what I can get. I’ll probably see you again sooner rather than later.”
His eyes meet Caroline’s. “I hope, in time, that you really do believe me when I say that the past is the past. That you are forgiven. And that you realize that in the grand scheme of things, we have more in common than we do differences.”
Caroline: “Deeds, not words, define us,” she answers. “But by either measure there is little generous to say of us.”
Emmett: “Little,” he agrees, “but some. Give your Maman my regards, and please let her known that that was just a taste. I’ll have more, soon. Much more.”
GM: Cécilia raises an eyebrow, but says, “Are there any ways I could help you, Emmett?”
“I obviously don’t have your personal experience with the afterlife, but Maman has taught me a few things about it.”
Emmett: He hesitates. “I’m still new to it, myself. Part of why I sought out your mother was to get more answers. Do you know of… a way to the Skinlands?”
GM: “In the sense of having a physical body again, you mean?”
Emmett: “Or at least escaping this place. The Shadowlands. It might be a pipe dream, but…” he shrugs.
GM: “As I understand things, it’s easier to go down than up, in the Underworld,” Cécilia answers. “The Shadowlands is the top-most ‘layer.’ There are deeper ones.”
Emmett: “But not a way up. To the living world.”
GM: Cécilia thinks. “You have to understand that the Shadowlands isn’t just a physical place. It’s a state of being, as much as anything else. You can walk through walls, and everything you see is through a lens of decay, but you’re very much still here, in the same plane of existence of me. You’re here now, seeing me and speaking with me. By some technical definitions, the Shadowlands isn’t even part of the Underworld proper.”
“So escaping the Shadowlands is really a question of… changing yourself, which is easier said than done. There are wraiths, I understand, who can become corporeal and even experience all the joys and sorrows of being alive. But it takes practice and doesn’t last for very long. There also stories about events like the Dia di Muertos, where the souls of the departed can cross over to reunite with their loved ones, because their feelings for one another are so strong. Or even how on Judgment Day, at the end of the world, the dead will all rise from their graves and walk the lands of the living.”
“But… I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you, so far as how to do that now, and for good,” Cécilia admits with an apologetic look. “I’m to understand that’s simply one of the great tragedies of being a ghost… being so close to the world you left behind, yet forever apart from it.”
Emmett: He is silent, for a moment.
Then he laughs. It’s a sad noise, resigned but not bitter.
“I had thought as much already. But I heard a rumor. Better no hope than false hope. Thank you for the book learning.”
“Hmmm. Does the term ‘sandman’ mean anything to you?”
GM: Cécilia seems to think. “It doesn’t, I’m afraid.”
“Maman says, though, that very few cosmic laws are truly immutable. There are always ways around them. Bargains, back doors, escape clauses, whatever name you might use. It’s just a matter of having the proper knowledge… and being able to pay the price.”
There’s caution in her tone, but also some measure of… hope?
Caroline: “You hope she can do it,” Caroline cuts in. “That she can give you that way forward.”
GM: “I suppose that’s also worth asking,” says Cécilia. “What do you ultimately want out of your afterlife, Em? Would you like to pass on?”
Emmett: “Everybody wants to pass on eventually,” he shrugs. “I want to ensure my family is safe, restored to a semblance of comfort, and my enemies thoroughly haunted. Maybe get some movies produced, too. I’m taking things one at a time.”
He regards her frankly. “I also don’t think I’ll be able to go until I’ve repaid you, properly.”
Caroline: “There are other ways,” Caroline observes. “To interact with the world in the flesh. Possession, for instance.”
Emmett: “I haven’t learned that trick yet,” he says. “I’m game, though.”
He eyes her. “For now, though, I rely on friends.”
GM: “That’s kind of you to say, Emmett, but you don’t need to repay me,” Cécilia answers. “Even if you think I deserve it, I’m very happy with my life. But you’ve been around. You’ve seen people in all sorts of situations I haven’t. I’m sure you can think of someone needier to help.”
Emmett: “It’s not about deserves,” Em says simply. “I owe you for kindness shown to me. Some part of me doesn’t want to go until I see my debts paid. All of them, kind and ugly alike.”
GM: “All right. If you want to repay me, I know there’s a man named D’angelo Turcotte who’s serving a sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary for the murder of Mark Stines. Was he responsible for it?”
Emmett: “Yes,” Em says plainly.
“Though that’s no reason for him not to walk out early, if you wish it. Stines having been a brute, a rapist, and an attempted murderer himself.”
“I’m not sure how much faith you have in the legitimacy of our great state’s justice system, though. Although I stand before you a man executed for crimes that I suspect your sister can testify were not my own.”
GM: “Was D’angelo solely responsible for Mark’s death?” Cécilia asks. “Yvette said you’d both been complicit in it. I wasn’t sure how much of the story to believe when I heard it thirdhand, until you asked me to help you make restitution to Mark’s family.”
Emmett: “He pulled the trigger, but it was my plan,” Em says in that same plain straightforward tone. “Figure his family deserves something, though I regret nothing about the murder itself. What would you see done?”
GM: “All right. I suppose that is justice, if D’angelo did the crime and is doing the time. Maybe not perfect justice, but at least the same justice to which everyone else is held.”
Emmett: He smiles sadly. “Would you have me speak frankly, or nod in agreement?”
GM: “Frankly, please.”
“I know many people think our criminal justice system is less than perfect.”
Emmett: “The opinion of a dead man isn’t worth much,” he allows. “Maybe especially one who died as I did. But it’s not simply an imperfect system, Cécilia. It’s one that does what the people behind the scenes want it to do, and it’s built around filling prisons with bodies, whether the people they belong to are innocent or not.”
He shrugs. “It’s not a polite opinion, or one that most people would say is moral. But if you ask me, D’angelo’s misfortune is just that. Not the consequences of his actions, which were guided by my own, or the good of society. I walked free because I had secrets to sit on about Stines that the Malveaux family wanted to stay that way.”
He nods to Caroline. “I’m not saying a guy who called himself Murda-Cent proudly deserves to walk free. And unless I have a good reason, I’m not going to help him. But where he is is just where he is. Justice never really came into it, and if his own choices did, it’s only because he was unlucky enough to be caught.”
He shrugs, and the shadows of a prison cell cross the spectre’s face for a moment. “I don’t pity him. But I don’t have it in me to judge him, either. What that says about me, I don’t know.”
“Maybe just because I know where we end up, anyways.”
GM: “I don’t think it’s that unpopular an opinion, actually,” Cécilia states. “There are many activists, civil rights groups, public figures, private individuals, you name it, who believe our criminal justice system is badly broken and in need of reform. We could spend all day talking about the myriad of ways. All of those demonstrations around the killing of Mercurial Fernandez go to show that our prisons can’t even guarantee a right as basic as life to their inmate populations.” She frowns briefly at his name.
“At the same time, D’angelo did kill a man. Even if the process of his sentencing wasn’t perfect, or the sentence itself disproportionately harsh to what it would be if someone like me was charged with Mark’s murder, I think D’angelo is where he belongs. Any improvement in prison conditions or clemency in sentencing he should receive are the same that any other incarcerated person should receive.”
“As far as what it says about you, I think it’s simply reflective of a broader loss of faith in our institutions. Many people don’t believe they serve the public good anymore, or perhaps even ever. That’s a serious problem and not one that’s easily fixable.”
Emmett: “Ah, but I am not a good man,” the sandman replies easily. “Even less than I am an activist, or any of the other concerned citizens you mentioned. I simply observe that D’angelo, much like everybody else, is not where he is because he should be there, but because forces beyond his power have placed him there. His actual guilt is circumstantial more than it is…” he waves a hand and smiles sadly.
“My vocabulary ain’t what it could be. Maybe Caroline knows the right word. We assume, growing up, that things are the way that they are for a reason. Our society structures itself around that belief. But I’m telling you that things are what they are because people, and not-quite people, make them that way.” He turns his gaze to Caroline. “Would you disagree?”
Caroline: “The system is exactly what it was designed to be,” Caroline answers. “One in which the most dedicated, most intelligent, most willing to do anything rise to the top, where they compete with each other. The founders understood human nature as keenly as any of us—the best they could do was structure a society in which it played against itself, in which the oligarchs fought instead of collaborated. If you want to see the alternative, look at Russia.”
Emmett: He inclines his head. “Eloquently put. Tad political, bit academic, but it comes to the same thing. Our circumstances are determined not by what we deserve, but by power. Carlin put it best.” His voice changes, becomes cracked and passionate, oratory. “’It’s a big club, and you’re not in it!’”
“Except, you know.” He winks at Cécilia. “You are. You ask what I would accomplish in my afterlife? Maybe I’ll join.”
Caroline: “That’s where we disagree,” Caroline answers. “We deserve what we get. What was the Churchill quote? Democracy is the worst system… except for every other one?”
Emmett: He smiles at her. “Interesting. Do you have what you deserve, Caroline?”
GM: “Yes,” Cécilia immediately says.
Emmett: He tilts his head and awaits her answer.
Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers just as quickly, then glances at her sister.
After a second she continues, “Equal parts prince and pauper. But my wealth, where it matters, is beyond compare.”
“And I’m working on the rest.”
Emmett: Em inclines his head. “As we all must. But I’m happy to be shown I’m wrong, you know.”
Two children stand behind him, suddenly. Caroline knows them. They stare ahead, blankly, corpse-attentive. He drapes an arm over his nephew and niece.
“Give them what they deserve, what their mother deserves, and I’ll be the happiest fool in the city.”
The children melt into shadow when she meets their eyes.
“And your fool, at that.”
GM: Yeah, I can’t wait to see you hurt them.
Caroline: “Finding out what you want to know will cost me something,” Caroline answers at last. “Bring me something valuable to offset it.”
Emmett: He bows. “What would you find valuable?”
Caroline: “My stepmother,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She’s recently deceased.”
GM: Oh, you don’t need to worry about her, if you think she might try to hurt you, thinks Cécilia.
Maman doesn’t leave… loose ends.
Caroline: I’m more interested in what else she might have left behind, Caroline answers. She had a safehouse in the city.
Emmett: “Step? You mean Nate’s wife?”
Caroline: She doesn’t quite scowl at the questioning. “Claire Malveaux,” she clarifies more sharply than she intends. “She was a hunter. She had a safehouse in the city. I want to know where it is, and what’s inside.”
Emmett: “Er. Hunter?”
Caroline: “Hunter. She killed my kind. And, I suspect, yours too when she could.”
Emmett: “Bit redundant in our case,” he says affably. “And that sounds awkward. How’d she die? And how long ago?”
Caroline: “I killed her,” Caroline answers. “A few nights ago.”
Emmett: He blinks, then shrugs. “I didn’t get along with my parents, either.”
He inquires as to any other details she can share that might help him find her house. The places she frequented. People who knew her movements. That sort of thing.
Caroline: Caroline relates that her stepmother spent much of her time in the French Quarter, but also had associations with the Pi Alpha Kappas that could tie into any such safehouse. She provides the hotel and room number where her stepmother died.
“She was a powerful figure,” she finishes.
Emmett: Hey, you wanna haunt some sorority girls?
“Sounds like a place to start,” Em agrees. “Are there lots where she came from? Hunters, that is.”
Caroline: A dark smile. “Fewer tonight than a few nights ago.”
GM: You know, I think I’m gonna make you have a harrowing every day you don’t make progress finding our dear niece and nephew.
Emmett: Where’s that coming from? We’re literally making progress right now.
GM: Or maybe just blast a bunch of cum in Cécilia’s hair. Like, from a big illusory dick. What do you think she’d do?
Emmett: Probably get her mother to eat us.
GM: She wouldn’t.
But don’t worry. I’m pretty happy with what you’ve done here.
Emmett: Well, we definitely wouldn’t be able to wrap her around our finger.
GM: Just reminding you to keep it up, buttercup. We get juvenile when we get bored, after all.
And if it takes too long to find those brats, or you blow it off or half-ass it like a homework assignment along the way, and go ‘but progress!’, I’m gonna get bored real fast.
Like, I wonder what Cécilia would do if we made a giant dick appear in her mouth, and made it look like she was sucking whenever she talked. Or spelled out some floating letters in cum that said ‘WHORE’ and followed her wherever she went.
Emmett: “My Shadow’s whining at me,” he says suddenly, glancing at Cécilia. “Excuse me for a moment.”
Harrowing, you whiny, angsty bitch. Unless you’re scared of getting spanked. Tired of your complaining.
GM: What are you getting your panties in a wad about? I haven’t even done anything.
Emmett: Too bad. Harrowing. Now.
GM: Uh, fuck you, I decide when you have those.
Emmett: Aw, is widdle Gasper scared of getting his immaterial ass kicked?
I’d go easy on you. Sing you a lullaby. It’d go, poor little Gasper, no ideas of his own. Doesn’t know how to do shit but groan.
He can feel his other side boiling, flexing, ready to pounce.
But he’s tired of it. And he’s done being pushed around.
GM: Huh. Someone’s in a mood.
Here’s the thing though.
You’ve made me really fucking strong.
Emmett clamps down on his Shadow’s obnoxiousness like a bear trap over a hapless idiot’s leg.
Huh. You really are pissed off!
Here’s the thing though… I’ve got a lot of ammo to burn, all thanks to you.
And I’ll just keep burning it… until…
Caroline watches as enormous, hairy, stinky, sweaty penis shoots a full load of jizz all over Cécilia’s face. The salty-smelling cum dribbles down her cheeks and nose, spelling out the still-dripping words WHORE over her breasts.
Caroline: Fury flashes in Caroline’s eyes and suddenly she’s there, right in front of Em. She throws a fist at his face.
GM: Her fist passes through the ghost like he’s not even there.
Caroline: She looks down at her fist and scowls.
GM: Cécilia says nothing. Her face is very, very still.
After several moments, she speaks.
“You said your Shadow was whining, Emmett?”
Emmett: His silence speaks volumes. So does the expression on his face. The shame, the fury, and worst of all, the helplessness.
He turns, voice cracking. “I should go.”
GM: “Wait,” says Cécilia.
“That was your Shadow. Wasn’t it, seizing control?”
“I’d sooner we denied it any kind of victory, because that’s exactly what it wants. To drive wedges between you and other people.”
“Caroline also knows something of what it’s like to lose control. Don’t you?”
Sticky wet cum continues to dribble down her face as she talks.
Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t quite snarl, but her lip curls.
GM: The jizz-spelled word over her breasts morphs into two further ones:
Emmett: “That’s not an excuse,” he spits, and he sprouts bat-like wings as he walks. “If I can’t control it, I can’t be trusted. And I clearly can’t.”
GM: “There are ways to control it, and to beat it. How much do you know about Shadows, Em?”
“Have you had anyone to explain these things to you?”
Emmett: He stops at the door, wings twitching. He still doesn’t look at her. Denies himself the sight of his cruel prank.
“No,” he says, quietly.
GM: Em can’t see it.
But he can smell it.
Hear the sticky drip-drips.
“I think that would also frustrate your Shadow more than anything else, then,” Cécilia replies. “People who are ignorant are always easier to take advantage of.”
“That must be like… playing a sport without knowing any of the rules, while the rival team has also deputized themselves as the umpires. The whole thing would feel grossly unfair. Be grossly unfair.”
“Caroline, do you have any idea of what that would be like to experience?”
Caroline: Caroline fixes her gaze on her semen-splattered sister. Thinks on how that must feel. How it must smell. And here she is, calmly, rationally, comforting the shade of the man who lied to her, manipulated her. Of a murderer and a rapist.
She’s too good for Em. Too good for her.
Her knuckles pop around her clinched fist. “You know I do,” she answers. And when she loses control it results in dead bodies, not dirty jokes.
GM: The words have shifted again.
“I do. But perhaps it’s worth something to Em to know that someone else does.”
Caroline: “I have a suddenly keen awareness for my kind’s lack of patience with it,” she replies.
But she knows that’s unfair. How many times has her will not risen to the challenge of the Beast? How many lives has she shattered for it?
“When we’re hungry, or hurt, or even just pissed off, our own monster comes out.”
“That’s was how I maimed and killed, mostly, in those first nights.”
GM: “Those were very terrifying and lonely nights, I’m sure, before you came into contact with larger Kindred society. Which offered horrors, traumas, and indignities of its own for you, I know, but at least other people who understood you and could provide context and meaning to your experiences. I’d guess that Em hasn’t come across larger Stygian society yet, or other wraiths would have either explained this to him or taken… measures to ensure his Shadow couldn’t cause further problems.”
“The latter perhaps being more likely than the former. I’m to understand many newly-risen wraiths get taken as slaves by older ones.”
Emmett: “There are pardoners,” he says. Still looking at the door. “I don’t know what to do without one. And every time I get close to doing something, or even tell the prick no… well.”
The mess on her face says it all.
GM: “I understand that it’s possible to get by without one, from what Maman has told me. Your Shadow can’t just take over whenever it wants. There are rules it has to follow.”
Emmett: “What rules?” He turns his head ninety degrees, still only looking at her from the corner of his eye.
GM: “Your Shadow has to expend some portion of itself when it tries to take over, or to use its other abilities. If it does so enough times, it’ll be starved and impotent. Just an angry voice in your head.”
“It grows stronger whenever you give in to the worst parts of yourself. Whenever you do the things it wants. Or whenever you draw on it for power.”
“Maman tells me the Underworld is a harsh place, and that even wraiths who know they’re making their Shadows stronger often feel it’s the lesser of two evils.”
Emmett: “How do I weaken it?”
GM: “You already did, here. Your Shadow used some of its strength, maybe a lot of its strength, purely to play a juvenile prank. I’m sure it could have used that on something much more actively malevolent.”
Emmett: “Still. It has to have some weakness. Some way to bring the fight to it.”
GM: “Maman hasn’t explained as much to me there. But if giving in to the worst parts of yourself strengthens your Shadow… living up to the best parts of yourself seems like it could only help.”
Emmett: “I’m feeding your mother souls,” Em says bluntly.
“My only way forward is through the darkness.”
GM: “Forward to where?”
Emmett: “Somewhere that isn’t here. Somewhere that…” he tries for words, and fails. “I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”
He’s wasted enough of her time. He turns to go, ready to kick off the ground, take to the air, and soar into the night.
Caroline: The Ventrue moves like she did before. Lightning quick, this time entirely through him to the other side of him. Positioning herself between the wraith and the door.
Can you give me a moment with him, Cécilia?
GM: Of course.
With his face turned away from Cécilia’s, Emmett can’t say what the expression on his ex-girlfriend’s looks like. Or how much of his Shadow’s ‘handiwork’ yet remains. But her voice sounds simultaneously sad and hopeful as she replies,
“I hope you find out what you want. And I hope that you do get it. If you want to talk again, I’ll be here.”
She turns to go, the light tap of her shoes sounding against the wood floor.
Caroline: Caroline eyes the dead man. The killer. The rapist. The monster. And also her patsy. Her shared survivor—such as it is—of the Dungeon. Survivor, that’s a joke.
She’s silent for a moment, running her tongue across her teeth. Her fangs, really, he can tell. There’s something monstrous inside her. Hard and cruel. When she finally speaks it’s with steel.
“Most of us never change,” she admits. “We are what we are, and not even death will change that.”
“I am no different, so I give you this warning, once. Whether you succeed or fail in any task laid before you is immaterial. Spend your afterlife as you wish. If you wish to tie your fate to ours, you’re the wiser for it. If you wish to seek your own, I wish you peace.”
There’s a pause. He can almost feel the ‘but’ coming.
“But, if this is a con, if this is an attempt to manipulate my sister’s better nature, if you seek to hurt any of my sisters or my mother, do not think you are beyond my reach simply because I cannot touch you.” She waves a hand through the shade for effect.
The monster inside her is so close to the surface now he wonders how others don’t see it. How she doesn’t send her family running in terror. The monster fills her voice with hate.
“Hurt my sisters and I will kill everyone you have ever known. I will kill your family down to the last living descendant, and I will make it painful, knowing you will watch. I will burn everything you might have ever loved if you seek to take that which I love from me. This I swear to God.”
Emmett: His wings flutter impatiently, his eyes on hers. Both gazes dead, yet so very different. His doesn’t flicker as she plunges a hand through his corpus, even as it parts like shadow and smoke to accommodate her posturing.
“You can swear it to me,” he simply says. “You are heard, Malveaux. But you need not exert yourself so. Your Maman scares me more than you could hope to. As for destroying all I have ever loved…” he smiles sadly. “I think even a girl who killed her mother might balk at hurting Cécilia. Farewell, lick. Until next time.”
She cannot stop him from leaving. This he knows, and it amuses him to have the last word, if only because he suspects her lack of power over him disturbs her. He leaves shadow and and the sound of laughter behind him, lingering past the beating of his wings.
GM: Yet though Caroline may lack that power, another force all-too plainly does not. The house’s front door, solid and impenetrable to the wraith’s sight, its pristine oak surface unmarred by the decay of the Shadowlands, holds fast before him.
Caroline: The heiress stares at him, unsmiling. “If you fear her, you would do well to be less flippant in her home. Her protectiveness towards her daughters is mirrored in mine, and you’ll find patience may be the only quality in which I outstrip her.”
Emmett: He sighs, and turns to face her. “What would you have me say, Caroline? I can be polite, as can you, but we have made our terms clear. I will not cross your Maman, even leaving aside her charming hospitality and our current bargain; and I will not see Cécilia harmed for reasons I should think I’ve made clear. I have no reason to take an interest in the rest of your sisters. What else do we have to discuss, beyond my flippancy, a subject you will most assuredly find exhausting, even if only because I can discuss it until sunrise.”
“Indeed, the longer I linger, the greater the chance my Shadow resurfaces and leads me to say something truly uncouth, which neither of us wants. I aim only to be a pleasing guest, and yet already I have allowed my worse half to get the better of me.” He wrings his hands in consternation as his wings open and close impatiently, his feet lifting steadily off the ground.
Caroline: “Save the indignation and take this for what it is, Emmett. In life you were a murder. A liar. A rapist. A manipulator. You fed on human suffering in a way as depraved as any lick, and without the same holy purpose. In your travels you sought to victimize me, and did victimize my sister. Your entire life was built on whatever lie was most convenient and advantageous to you in the moment, and upon playing on others’ emotions. You were a monster, just like I am. And death has done nothing for my temperament.”
She pauses. “That Cecilia is willing to overlook all of that out of her genuine desire that you find peace and purpose and perhaps even happiness is a gift you are wholly undeserving of. I do not presume to dictate how my sister spends her time or affections, or suggest she is wrong in offering them.”
“But I know what you always were. If you wish to be better, be better. Prove her right. I would only you know whatever she may hope, I will always be there to protect her so she may continue to. And I don’t take chances.”
She walks through him, her heels clicking on the floor as she moves away from the door, towards the hall Cecilia disappeared down. Her voice trails over her shoulder as she departs.
“I wouldn’t hold out, too, for the rising sun. It’s been up for hours.”
Emmett: Well. Through his crotch.
“Oh, well that’s just…” he trails off as she walks away. “Kind of impressive, actually.”
He dips a toe against the door, trying to get through.
GM: It remains solid against his foot.
Only when Caroline has left does it swing open.
Endless gray and gloom stretches outside.
Emmett: “As ever, madame, a pleasure,” he demurs as his wings beat again.
“Until next time, and your next feeding.”
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