“Love is sacrifice.”
Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM
GM: Caroline is leaving Perdido House a few hours before dawn when the thirst strikes her. She is a bottomless pit nothing can fill. Every fiber of her being screams in want. She looks at Kâmil and Gisèlle and sees sacks of meat.
Then, she is filled.
She’s swallowing a mountain. She’s drinking an ocean. She’s inhaling a banquet. She is glutted and sated like never before. Laughter spills from her lips. Mad, rapturous, jubilous laughter. Power courses through her like lightning. She is invincible! Unstoppable! She can do anything! Anyth-
Then it fades, and she is Caroline again.
Caroline: Caroline stops dead in her tracks, overcome by the sensation. She wants to leap upon the elder ghouls and sink her teeth into their throats—it’s a cruel torment to be so full, so filled, and then return to what she is. She isn’t starving. She knows too well what that feels like. But the hunger is there in the back of her head, like always. For a brief moment, it wasn’t.
She is the scion of two dark powers. Only those two, certain, could make her feel what she did.
She reaches out to the one that has always been swifter to answer. The one that has always been there for her.
GM: A booming voice that sounds like bones scraping across steel answers Caroline.
Return home tomorrow evening, sweet child. All shall be made clear.
Caroline: Yes, Maman.
She doesn’t know what this portends, and doesn’t press for more—she can wait the day. It sounds like good news, whatever it is.
God knows she could use some.
Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM
GM: The Walter Robinson House feels subtly different when Caroline returns. The cats animatedly play in the yard, despite the rain. They don’t seem to notice it. Caroline watches three of them, as one, pounce upon a bird and tear it to pieces. Wind whistles through grass that seems taller, fuller, almost ravenous in how it devours the falling rain. Light from the house’s windows cuts through the gloom like searchlights. Blacker than black shadows flow and ripple down the walls like like so much water. The front doors swing swiftly open to admit Caroline, then bang closed once she’s inside. There’s an almost jewel-like shine to the wooden floors. Lights burn in their holders like torches.
The Ventrue finds her mother seated in the living room, across from Cécilia. Her skin is milk white, her hair and garb darker than midnight. Her fathomlessly deep eyes flash like black diamonds. The room’s shadows writhe in equal parts ecstasy and horror as they flit in and out of Caroline’s sight.
“I am restored to the fullness of my powers. Emmett Delacroix has fulfilled his purpose. He shall not trouble our family again.”
Caroline: That much is apparent. Caroline isn’t certain she wants to know how.
She is certain that she doesn’t care. Her mother is restored. Her sisters are safe. Does anything else matter against that?
She asks about something less important.
“You have destroyed him, then?”
GM: Fluttering laughter answers Caroline’s query.
“Why, of course not. He has rendered our family a great service.”
“Great service merits great rewards.”
“I have given him what he most desired.”
Caroline: Emmett Delacroix destroyed his own life, Caroline cannot help but observe. She remembers that story from Denise, no doubt since become legend in New Orleans’ legal community, about the defendant who pointlessly heckled the judge who’d already signed off on his plea deal (and subsequently received the death penalty). She remembers Luke’s off-had mention about a “drug deal turned massacre” that cost the petty grifter his legs. Emmett, Caroline reflects, was not a particularly good judge of what was good for him.
And her mother gave him the thing he most wanted? She can’t see that working out well.
She also can’t think of a better resolution to that particular problem. Emmett only seemed like he had the potential to be a headache, for all that he might have said about wanting to be friends. She especially did not like the thought of his continued involvement with Cécilia.
That her mother extracted something of value from Emmett only raises her estimation of Abélia’s abilities. It seemed like everyone else who got involved with the conman got caught in the blast radius when his latest scheme blew up.
Then again, she considers smugly, Emmett bit off far more than he could chew with her family.
“I’m glad,” she says simply.
And she is.
GM: Her mother’s answering smile is radiant.
“Now, on to more matters of greater import.”
Abélia rouses the other girls from their bedrooms and declares they are to spend the evening “under ocean stars.” Despite the late hour, all of them seem excited by the prospect and all-too glad to get out of the house; Abélia says they’ll simply sleep aboard the yacht if their voyage takes overlong. She reminds her children to wear beach-friendly shoes.
Caroline: Getting away from the city will help her clear her mind, and getting her sisters out of the house is a victory all its own.
A victory, and a celebration.
GM: The family of seven files out to their car and drives to the city’s docks. The yacht, a tall, spacious, and sleek-looking white vessel named Nyx, is swiftly crewed and in readiness. Cécilia’s bodyguard Daniel turns out to be a useful additional crewmate after his time in the Navy. Caroline may wonder if it should take longer to get a yacht seaworthy, but remembers back to Cécilia’s words: “you’ll find that things simply… happen around Maman, and everything sorts itself out.”
The two-deck vessel swiftly cuts through the Gulf of Mexico’s midnight waters, leaving a spray of dark surf in its wake. New Orleans is not a cold city, but the open ocean at night is rarely anything besides chilly, and the girls all put on their coats as they stride about the deck.
Caroline may think, too, back to her faux-sire’s words on the dangers of travel between cities. Rarely have her surroundings felt so dark and exposed. Black skies stretch endlessly above, and black waters lap endlessly ahead and behind. The Nyx sails alone in a void. It is easy to wonder for Caroline to wonder what strange terrors haunt the seas in this world of darkness she is still so new to. The ocean is not her kind’s domain.
Yet, whatever else may be out there, can it be anything more terrible than the darkness already aboard?
Caroline: Caroline adds no such coat, and her vision cuts through the night more clearly than theirs. The sea stretches outwards to forever.
She doesn’t remember the last time she went out on a boat. Certainly years. As the city’s lights fade the light of the stars is all the clearer.
GM: The other girls don’t remark on Caroline’s lack of coat, not when their mother also goes without. Caroline recalls hearing from another Blackwatch employee who served in the Navy that all vessels 60 feet or longer are required to broadcast a white, red, and green light after sundown, but the Nyx remains as lightless as her namesake. Abélia watches the ocean without speaking for some time, her dark eyes patiently swallowing in dark sea.
Caroline: “It reminds me of you.” Caroline finally breaks the silence.
“Unimaginably vast and unknowable, with depths so dark no light will ever touch them. Eternal. Something others can only rest upon lest they be swallowed up by it.” She looks at her mother with eyes that see her so well in the night.
GM: Her mother gives a fluttering laugh.
“Such sweet things you say, my child. If I am the ocean, then I would liken you unto a smartly captained sailing vessel. Swift and sure and sleek, turned aside by neither storm nor leviathan in its unerring sojourn. Something that knows well the dangers in those sojourns, but which undertakes them regardless, knowing they must be made.”
She smiles and stares back out across the midnight sea.
“Neptune and I are not boon companions, but neither are we strangers. Nyx is most at home within his embrace.”
Caroline: “Your touch extends further and further,” Caroline observes, wondering if the vessel is touched by her as the Walter Robinson House is.
“Or maybe I only see more clearly.”
“I think the most talented kine might be a captain on your sea—always subject to your mercy, no matter how wise he may be. We, I think,” she gestures to her sisters across the ship, “are creatures in that dark embrace.”
GM: “All that we touch bears something of ourselves, my dear. All that I touch bears something of me.”
Her mother smiles.
“Seth’s children may be sea captains at most. But you, my treasure, are a hungry shark. These waters are your home. You do not fear their embrace. They are what gives you life.”
Caroline: A smile in turn.
GM: The Nyx’s voyage comes to an end at Grand Isle, a resort island and vacation spot known for its long sandy beaches. Caroline went there a few times in her youth, and recalls it as the initial setting of The Awakening, one of New Orleans’ better-known novels. Abélia carries Simmone after they get off.
Caroline: Caroline slips off her heels, trusting undead vigor against the beach’s hazards, such as they are.
GM: The seven split up, after that. Yvette and Yvonne go for a walk south. Adeline takes Noelle north. The remaining four Devillers proceed on foot towards the family’s beachfront property, a rectangular-shaped and austerely decorated house built on stilts as a flooding precaution. It’s not so spacious as the Walter Robinson House, but has two stories and rooms enough for everyone if a few people share.
“Be kind, my dear,” says Abélia as they proceed up the front steps.
“Be kind, but do not pity.”
Caroline: An odd warning, but Caroline accepts the wisdom for what it is.
Everything her mother does has a purpose.
GM: The four head inside, Simmone carried by Abélia. The house’s lights are off, but it’s only after they reach the second story that Caroline becomes aware she cannot see into the darkness.
It swallows them whole. Abélia alone seems unbothered and able to find her way as she opens a door with a faint creek.
“Close it, Abélia,” sounds a voice. “Close it at once. I don’t like the light. You know I don’t like the light.”
The voice is needful, strained, and demanding. It reminds Caroline of her Aunt Vera’s.
Caroline: Its not the first time, but it’s still unsettling. She’s become accustomed to the darkness being friendly.
GM: “Of course, my dearest.”
Abélia’s voice doesn’t sound like it normally does. There’s no trace of knowing humor or indulgence to it, no mirth that Caroline can picture glinting in those dark eyes.
Instead she sounds subdued. Almost… humble.
The door closes. The light dies.
“Hmph. So this is the newest,” says the Vera-like voice. “Come closer, girl, let me look at you.”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t shiver: the dead don’t do that. Nor does she hesitate: no childe or child of her distinguished pedigree could be permitted that.
She turns as best she can towards the voice in the darkness and advances into the black, still on bare feet, heels in hand.
GM: Caroline neither hears nor sees anything through the gloom. Just Cécilia’s and Simmone’s steady heartbeats.
“Hmph,” the voice repeats after another moment.
“I hadn’t thought to see another of his Blood. She looks enough like your others.”
“She’s going to get even taller, isn’t she? She shouldn’t be too tall.”
Caroline: Caroline is silent, chin tilted slightly up.
GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh. It’s a shared-feeling one.
“Perhaps against her sire, but she shall not long stand beside him. It pleases me to see her stand strong and tall.”
“Hmph. She’s proud enough. I suppose it’s fitting,” says the voice.
“Introduce us, girl. We haven’t all night.” The voice sounds further away from Caroline now. Closer to Cécilia.
“Of course,” Cécilia answers demurely. “Caroline, this is… Aunt Mur.”
“I know who she is, girl.”
Caroline: A flash of irritation as her sister is talked down to, but she remembers Abélia’s guidance.
“It is my sincere pleasure to meet you, I had not hoped it would be so soon.”
GM: “Hmph. You’ve laid eyes on me before, but I suppose this is our first proper meeting.”
Caroline: Caroline tilts her head, contemplative. Only one instance leaps to mind.
GM: “Ah… perhaps you’ve deduced where, my dear? We should be very impressed if you have,” smiles Abélia.
Caroline: “Beneath the Dungeon?” Tentative.
GM: Laughter at that, from Mur’s voice. Bitter and biting and bleak.
“Oh, my sister… "
A fainter sound of mirth from Caroline’s mother.
“Not quite, my dear… but a mere stone’s throw from the truth, and deep is the irony.”
“My sister’s manners may be ungentle to your ears, but know there is no other in all Creation who has done our family a greater service. Without my sister’s sacrifice, I would not stand before you tonight.”
“Without all that she surrendered unto me, during my hour of greatest need, your sisters would never have been born.”
Caroline: “A kind lie may sound sweeter to some ears than a harsh truth, but I am familiar enough with both that neither sting mine,” Caroline answers, orienting on Mur’s voice. “I took no offense, Mother.”
“And given what you’ve said, even were that untrue, I have every reason to forgive any offense I might take.”
GM: “Hmph. She’s properly grateful, at least,” says Mur.
“It is time you learned, my dears, something more of where our family comes from,” says Abélia, stroking the back of Caroline’s head.
“And something more of where it will go.”
Caroline: The spark of curiosity those words ignite is so bright it’s a wonder it doesn’t send Caroline’s aunt into flight.
GM: “Your aunt and I were born and baptized in darkness long ago, in a land far across the sea. Our father, your grandfather, was a figure of such wickedness that his mere steps blackened the earth and caused it to cry out for relief. What cruelties you have known among Caine’s children, and what cruelties you believe me capable of, are as a child’s playtime fancies against the evils of which he was capable.”
“Such darkness is not meant to exist within your world, my dears. The laws of this realm cannot abide it.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “And so you exist outside of this world, pulled only piece by piece into it.”
GM: “Yes… and no, my treasure. Though your description of my being is apt, my father’s seed did not make me as I now am.”
“Hmph. Directly,” amends Mur. “We’re all slaves and pawns, in the end.”
“Don’t ever think you’re free, child,” she addresses Caroline. “There’s always another hand pulling your strings. Likely since before you were ever born.”
Caroline: “We all serve the ends of others. The best we can hope is to serve our own as well,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “Slaves we are all born, yet some forms of bondage are heavier to bear than others,” continues Abélia. “For ages beyond count, we were your grandfather’s thralls and playthings. What evils he did not visit upon the world, he visited upon us… and our siblings. I know of none who yet survive. Malice such as his cannot exist without outlet.”
Caroline: Caroline shivers. She can imagine quite a bit of suffering, but doesn’t doubt her mother when she says it was beyond her imagining.
GM: “Our only respite lay in one another. Through a sister’s love alone did we survive. It was in one another’s embrace that we each dried a sister’s tears, comforted her hurts, and plotted her escape.”
“Your grandfather’s evil could not exist without consequence. He exhaled it with every breath like a wyrm of legend. Eventually, powers besides he could suffer it no longer, and marshaled a great host against him.”
“I need not tell you they paid dearly for their choice, nor did they—could they—expect the toll in suffering and death that his fall would exact. Yet in the end, he succumbed before their numbers. They leveled his fortress, scattered its stones, salted its earth, and stationed a guard to watch for any hint of his return.”
“His evils were not paltry in their ambitions. His foes believed the rot within the Holy Mother Church had at last been cut out. The great heresy was finally cleansed.”
Caroline: “The Cathars,” Caroline speculates.
GM: “Heresy has existed for as long as faith, my child, and manifests in many strains. The Cathars were not born from aether.”
“My sister and I fled the ruins of his dark kingdom, and believed our existences to at last be our own. Many years passed, and many tales for other times, before our fates took us across the sea.”
Caroline: It matches the Catharite heresies, though. She wonders if the seat wasn’t Béziers. The slaughter there might match such a horrific conflict. She did her homework after their first meeting.
GM: “There we learned one is never free in the Jyhad.”
“There our father stood returned to us, arms spread wide to reclaim his wayward daughters.”
“Such despair had we never known after freedom’s sweet taste.”
Caroline: “The wheel always turns, and too often with us upon it.”
GM: “Verily, my dear. Bitterly, we submitted to him, lest his wheel crush us under foot.”
“But we had long savored freedom’s taste, by now, and we would not have it stolen from our lips. In secret did we plot against him, and wait until the moment when the wheel would again turn.”
“Our father had not been idle in the New World. New designs did he weave and new kingdoms did he plot to raise.”
“Their fulfillment would have been unto Hell on Earth. Only one being stood in the way of our father’s darkest dreams. A rival of power sufficient to challenge even his might.”
“Our father lay plans to destroy his nemesis. One last war in which we would serve as his captains.”
“The two generals and their armies met upon the field of battle. It was then, as our father and his rival clashed—when he needed our aid as he had never needed it before—that we drove our knives into his back.”
“This time did we make doubly sure the deed was done. This time did we leave nothing to chance. We destroyed him utterly and cast his remains beyond our world, so that a new taint might not fester and took rate upon its soil.”
“Once more, we were free.”
Caroline: Was the foe to their father her sire?
This story takes shape through before her, not in the murky antiquity, but a past more recognizable.
“I always thought I was missing pieces,” she admits. “But I simply did not see how they fit together.”
GM: “It is rare that one may possess every piece, my dear. Yet we often possess a great many more than we believe.”
“We made our homes within the city of La Nouvelle-Orleans. We allowed none to know our pasts—not our service to our father, and not that we were sisters.”
“All whom we believed suspected the truth, we slew.”
“All who threatened my sister’s sons, I slew.”
“In anonymity would we shield our family.”
“None suspected we each had a silent guardian angel sitting upon our shoulder.”
Caroline: It’s a happy end to the story, but Caroline knows it cannot, does not, end there.
GM: “My sister’s sons had sons of their own, and so too did those sons have sons, and so on down the line. Yet a rot grew within the city’s heart. One familiar to us, and yet other… had we underestimated this place, this city where the very air reeks of possibility and power?”
“Only until it was too late did we realize our fatal error.”
“Perhaps nowhere was there more fertile soil to plant the seeds of our doom.”
“Our father had many servants. Many slaves. They were drawn to his resting place like moths to a flame.”
“Only when we prepared to journey in force to the site of our father’s remains did she reveal her presence—and strike.”
“Caught by surprise, betrayed in my own hour of greatest need, I could not withstand her. She slew me.”
Caroline: Caroline’s face twists into an ugly snarl, showing teeth. Those words hurt her to even hear.
She turns back into the darkness, to her aunt. “And so you passed beyond the veil to aid her?”
GM: “She did, my dear.”
“But such aid cost her. Such aid cost her dearly. Even now does she continue to pay its price.”
Caroline: Yes, she cannot imagine such a thing was free.
GM: “Nor was it so simple a thing as one sister’s sacrifice to bring another sister back.”
Caroline: “You required anchors to this world… and she had to give up many of her own,” Caroline speculates, her mother’s invasive metaphysical lesson filling in the gaps.
GM: “One must maintain an equilibrium, my dear. One cannot get something for nothing.”
“What must one sacrifice to forestall annihilation?”
Caroline: “So you both exist in this half existence,” Caroline jumps ahead. “A foot in this world and one in another.”
“And you must pay a price for that existence.” The image of the souls devoured by her mother.
GM: "Ah, clever girl… " purrs Abélia.
“Yes… for each sister, one half of herself was the necessary sacrifice.”
“But there are many pieces that constitute our selves, and the sisters did not sacrifice the same halves.”
“One maintains a foot in this world, and a foot in another.”
“But the other sister left this world only briefly, and has remained here all the while. Another price was hers to pay.”
Caroline: Her children? Caroline doesn’t want to say it out loud.
The silence is pregnant with tragedy to come. She does not imagine her aunt would be here, living off the coast alone in the dark, if the story had any happy ending.
GM: Light suddenly blossoms amidst the gloom. Caroline sees a woman, radiant in her beauty. Soft brown ringlets of hair cascade down her back. Clear and warm blue eyes smile out from under long, coal-black lashes. Her skin is pale, but not so pale one might think her dead. She’s dressed in mid-19th century apparel: a light pink dress with the period’s telltale corset and hoop skirt. A jeweled choker set with pearls gleams around her throat. Admirers kiss her hand and ply her with compliments as she smiles demurely, glibly turning back every word of praise into one that reflects even brighter upon its bestower. Caroline’s sire asks if he might have the honor of this next dance, and she does not refuse him. The pair glide off like phantoms into the gloom.
Caroline’s sire disappears. Another hand takes the woman’s. It’s Abélia’s, but she looks different. Feels different. It’s hard to say how. It’s like looking at her through a mirror, rather than seeing the real her. The image feels somehow less present than it should be,
The sisters hold one another’s hands, then the black-haired one cries out as black blood wells from her neck, her wrists, her torso, her shoulders, everywhere. Taloned hands embrace Abélia against their owner as she drinks blissfully. Caroline remembers that face out of her darkest nightmares.
White, red, and black are her colors. Dark-feathered wings unfurl from her back like a fallen angel’s. Wickedly lethal claws protrude from her fingertips. Curved, ram-like horns jut from her temples. Shock-white hair elaborately looped around a thin golden crown falls to her ankles. A king’s ransom in jewels glitters from the crown. Objects that men covet enough to kill and die for are the only physical matter worthy to adorn her perfect form. Otherwise, she wears her nakedness like a regal vestment. Her every glance and motion distorts the air with shimmering, nigh-tangible waves of pleasure. It is only when one stares into her eyes that rapture chills into terror. Solid, milk-white orbs burn with colorless fire, eternally fed but never sated.
Caroline: Caroline’s fingernails bite into her palms hard enough to draw blood as she watches, helpless.
She didn’t think she could hate her more, but she’d been wrong.
Death was too gentle a fate. She wishes she’d rent her soul.
GM: The raven-haired sister’s face sloughs off, revealing empty void underneath. Her flesh liquefies into a viscous, oil-like substance that runs down the Catharite’s chest like hot wax. Yet even as Caroline’s mother loses form and substance, the Catharite’s embrace holds her fast. The Dungeon’s mistress will not be denied her fill.
She drinks deeply, drinks past all satiation, drinks to consume her victim utterly. Whatever manner of entity Caroline’s mother may be, the Ventrue recognizes the same fate she visited upon her clanmate. Abélia’s scream curdles blood and chills marrow with its agony. She is not long for this world.
The brown-haired sister, standing a thousand miles away in the gloom, plunges a knife into her own heart and falls to her knees. The blood rushing into the Catharite’s mouth turns from black to red.
What’s left of Abélia’s essence drains away into the void, perhaps not to safety, but no longer towards annihilation.
The Catharite drinks ravenously. As Caroline watches, the brown-haired sister wilts like a rose without sun. Her hair loses its luster, her eyes their color, her skin its lifelike smoothness. Her smile dies as her gaze empties away to nothing, little more than a corpse in a pretty dress.
“Death would be kinder,” says a voice over the corpse.
“Should have left her childe to run things.”
“Should have never woken up.”
“…an embarrassment… undid all she ever accomplished… "
“…should have stayed asleep.”
“Should have just died.”
Caroline gazes down upon where a kingdom should be and feels only emptiness, a void in her heart and soul that will never be filled. All is empty. All is ruined. All lies in darkness and shadow.
The corpse’s image fades out.
And the darkness recedes, just enough, to show the face of Caroline’s aunt.
“Love is sacrifice-” intones Abélia,
compelled by blood” continues Pearl Chastain,
“-and requited in blood,” finish both sisters.
Abélia’s hand rests heavily upon Caroline’s shoulder.
“Do you understand, my treasure?” she whispers.
Caroline: Caroline nods.
“Family is the only thing that matters. No matter the cost.”
She looks upon her aunt with fresh eyes. Even when the cost is everything else. Pearl, who she once considered a target for diablerie. Pearl, mocked and derided across the city. Pearl, who paid that price without hesitation. Pearl, who she might have even called a failure, who was in truth the greatest story of success, of love, of fidelity, of sacrifice.
She feels the bounds between her and her sisters tighten, can almost pluck out those inky black ties between them with the naked eye. She can feel them out there, and brushing against it fills her with joy and pride.
A family worthy of the word. Worthy of being a part of. It’s a pleasure entirely different than the ecstasy of the kiss, or the rapture that was diablerie. It’s something more permanent, warmer, more satisfying.
Caroline’s gaze settles on her aunt. “I understand that all of this is thanks to you, that everything I am or will be is possible only thanks to you.”
She goes down to her knees before her aunt, takes her hand, and presses cold dead lips to cold dead flesh. “And though you did not do it for me or my thanks, that you have it, now and forever.”
Not pity. She doesn’t pity her aunt for what became of her. Pity is a function of regret or even judgment, and she knows there is none here.
Her aunt, Pearl, Mur, whatever she would name herself, made her decision, the right one, one that Caroline has no judgment of, only admiration.
Still, even as be pays her tribute to her aunt, more questions arise. Was her mother then known as Maria Pascual?
GM: Caroline’s hand passes through Pearl’s like it’s not there. Still, the mirage-like hand makes a motion as if to take hers. The Ventrue recovers her footing quickly enough as she plants a kiss upon where cold dead flesh should be.
Pearl’s malaisful and unsmiling expression does not change, but Caroline can feel her mother’s and sister’s approval at her words. At length, the Toreador replies,
“You have done my sister and I a great service, childe. It is we who must thank you—and have.”
“To have saved my daughters’ lives was laudable, and won you our family’s friendship,” concurs Abélia. “But it was by your hand that the first third of our vengeance is now realized. By your hand, our nemesis is naught but ash.”
“That was when I knew, my dear. That was when I knew you should not be merely friend to our family, but one of our family.”
Caroline: “Nothing pleases me more,” Caroline replies.
She tilts her head. “And the other two-thirds?”
GM: Cécilia offers Caroline a hand to help her rise.
“That is for the future, sweet child,” their mother replies. “But not so distant a future.”
Caroline: Caroline takes Cécilia’s hand, with a final nod to her aunt.
GM: Cécilia squeezes hers back.
“There are plans we would lay tonight to realize that future, and things your aunt would speak with us of.”
Caroline: “As you say, Mother.”
GM: Pearl’s form fades into the black once more.
“Rot eats away at the core of the Sanctified’s strength,” she states. “Prince Vidal’s time will soon pass, and a new prince must reign.”
“Yet the old prince’s time may pass sooner than many anticipate, were certain improprieties to come to light.”
Caroline: Caroline pauses. “Evan.”
GM: “Your investigations into the boy’s fate are known to me, childe. There is little my eldest childe does not inform me of, nor am I so indifferent to events as many believe me.”
“Evan Bourelle sought sanctuary from Alder Accou on the night of his final death.”
Caroline: “He was pursued by the Hussar,” Caroline fills in.
GM: “Bourelle perished before he reached his destination,” states Pearl. “Yet the boy used a mobile telephone to contact a servant of my kin. Alder Accou has erased that knowledge from her mind.”
“The recording you now hear is of Bourelle’s final moments.”
“Listen. I don’t, I don’t have much time,” sounds a young man’s panicked voice. Distant footsteps thump against pavement. Caroline feels like the erstwhile Storyville should sound winded, wheezing for breath, but he’s dead. Was dead.
“I’ve found something. Something… oh, god. This is bad. This is really bad.”
Footsteps thump louder. There’s a metallic-sounding crash. Muffled cursing.
“I need to see the primogen. I need to see him, right now.”
Avian caws sound in the background.
“He’s here! I’m, I’m ditching this phone-”
Louder caws. Another crash.
“Tell Roxanne… I love her-”
Caroline: Caroline listens in silence. She’d feared as much, after Jocelyn’s furious revelation to her.
She hadn’t exactly lied to Roxanne or Jocelyn when she pointed the finger at Meadows, but there had always been a second candidate in her mind.
GM: There’s an audible clatter. Evan’s voice sounds again, more distant, barely audible.
There’s more distant caws. Footsteps.
There’s no neat and clean ending. The phone’s sounds simply die as Pearl’s voice resumes,
“Given the tenor of this exchange, I am under no illusions as to the whereabouts of Evan Bourelle: he is but shadows and dust.”
“Whatever the boy saw, it almost certainly pertained to someone close to Prince Vidal, if not the prince himself.”
“Had it pertained to Savoy or the Baron, Bourelle would have gone to his beloved prince.”
“Had it pertained to the Invictus, I do not believe Bourelle would have come to Alder Accou at all.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, considering. Finally she states, “It was disclosed to me that the prince has made habit of inviting a group of neonates to the outskirts of the city on a regular basis.”
GM: The darkness hangs pregnant and heavy at the Ventrue’s words.
Caroline: “I think I need not give voice to—and will not give voice to—the implications of that,” she continues less comfortably.
GM: “The Storyville Krewe are now all but gone,” states Pearl.
“Baker alone remains.”
Caroline: “I have a plan for that,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Speak, childe.”
Caroline: “Prince Vidal desperately needs to add to the Sanctified’s numbers, and to remind others that the prince’s justice is just that—just.”
“I would propose after the next great roundup of the dredges—Mardi Gras, Decadence—that from among them a group be spared and united to hunt down their sires. Kindred of no means given a place and a purpose, and a new lease on life by the prince’s mercy even as his justice comes to their sires.”
“If such an enterprise were led by the prince’s childe, I think that narrative only all the stronger… and if it produces a fresh group of neonates of no standing… if that is what he requires.”
GM: “Tread carefully, my dear,” states Abélia. “Such a coterie is likely to draw your sire’s eye indeed, if our suspicions are correct… but should he suspect you of having any such inkling, I cannot predict how he might respond in his present frame of mind.”
“I think the idea has merit,” Cécilia speaks up. “For all of the reasons Caroline lists. I don’t imagine her sire would have much reason to be suspicious if she were to establish it… but it might be safe for her to stay a degree removed. A sponsor or patron, maybe, more than a direct leader.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I would aid them, perhaps even direct, but I have greater aspirations than to lead such a band directly.”
GM: “One offers alms to wretches, but one does not invite them in to sup at one’s table,” Pearl concurs.
“But as to the larger matter of your sire.”
“I value propriety, Miss Malveaux. I remember the nights when simply being one of the Kindred implied a certain sophistication and sense of rightness—especially for my own clan. There are some Cainites who refer to the Jyhad as the Great Game. If the Jyhad is indeed but a game, then it is one which must be played a certain way, by certain rules. I do not look kindly upon those who cast aside its rules. I look favorably upon those who follow and respect them.”
“Despite my differences with your sire and the seneschal, I have always credited them with numbering among the latter. My support was integral to your sire’s seizure of praxis, and he has always treated with me the dignity such support merits.”
“For all his foibles, Augusto Vidal has done a serviceable job of maintaining my city’s character over the years, and I will be twice damned if I see it pass into the hands of a common-born usurper or a negro shaman—whatever the debts my sister might owe him.”
“Yet your sire’s continued rule is unacceptable to me for any period longer than a provisional one, given the implications of Bourelle’s final death. I would not be lonely among the primogen in this sentiment. Were the information we have discussed to come to light, it would spell a death blow to Prince Vidal’s reign.”
“As would the truth of your own appetites, Miss Malveaux, should you harbor ambitions to succeed your sire,” Pearl says severely.
“There are no secrets between my sister and I.”
“You are her daughter and have done our family a great service. For those reasons, I shall disclose your crime to none beyond this room.”
“Yet it is plain to me that you require guidance and an enduring example if such episodes are to become youthful indiscretions and not a Requiem’s deathlong habits.”
“Just as it is plain to me that your sire requires an imminent successor when his seneschal is unable to serve.”
“I offer your sire my eldest childe’s hand in blood marriage to his youngest childe. Many know already that my eldest aspires to the princedom. Fewer know that he enjoys my support. He is loyal and honorable, and I will not see his fidelity go unrewarded. Prince Malveaux-Devillers and Prince Poincaré shall jointly rule La Nouvelle-Orléans in marriage of the First and Second Estates. With the support of the Invictus, the Sanctified may at last crush the pretenders who aspire to a throne that is not theirs, and usher in a new era of peace and tranquility for my beloved city.”
Caroline: Pearl’s words are slaps to the face. First, about her sire, blow after blow to the integrity of his reign, and assaults on his character, on what he has become. They hit like the backhands of a boxer, and part of her longs to snarl out a rebuke.
But there’s truth in them. Truths she knew before she even set foot in here. Truths she might ignore for love, for fidelity, but that others will not. Emotionally, she wants to lash out. Logically, the words build an airtight wall around her that spells out the truth in each brick: the end is near for the prince’s reign.
Her rebuke of Caroline’s own crime is no less sharp. If she had been raised by lesser parents from lesser stock, they might bring stinging tears to her eyes. As is, she accepts them in the spirit with which they are offered: the truth can cut so very deeply, but like the cuts of a surgeon it is sometimes necessary.
The rebukes are too cutting to simply be one from her aunt, and propriety has its place with this elder.
“Primogen Chastain, I will take the offer to him if it is your wish, when you judge the time is right. To stand beside a Kindred of such distinction and honor would be more than politically expedient—his legacy speaks for itself—and for you. I could ask for no better pairing.”
Ask for, but perhaps not desire. There’s at least one other that dances tantalizingly out of reach.
“I would judge such an offer may be poorly received this night by my sire, however, and several yet to come, until my own worth in his eyes is solidified, and he may see me as a blessing and not a betrayal.”
“As my aunt, Mur, I would offer a more personal assurance: I have no more desire to be a slave to baser appetites now than I ever held in life. In fact, my appetites have never trended to the indulgent or hedonistic.”
“All I have done, and all I have sought to do, has been in the pursuit of being what others have wanted of me: first my father’s daughter, then my sire’s childe, and of late too, my mother’s daughter.”
“I sought not petty revenge, nor pleasure, only the strength to survive what is to come, and to be more than a princess of spun glass surrounded by knights of steel, one hard enough to survive the chaos and violence I fear will come when he goes to his rest, and who might place well terror into the hearts of any who sought to harm my family.”
“In tying my Requiem to my sisters’ lives, and my mother’s, I fear I have put them in danger, and I would that they never be forced to make the same sacrifice as you did for me. To that end, there was no weapon I did not seek to wield.”
“If the price of that is the crown my sire might pass, it is a price I would as gladly pay for them that price as you did for your own sister.”
“There was a time my highest and only aspiration was to bring credit to my sire, to be the childe he always desired. That desire rests near to my heart, but it is not all I can or would define myself by.”
GM: “You have encouraged her in this belief, sister?” asks Pearl, her voice low. “You whose soul has felt the amaranth’s bite?”
“Yes,” Abélia answers simply. “It is pleasing to me that my daughter is strong, sister. Strength is her birthright. Strength is her deathright. I hope to see many more Cainites fall beneath her fangs so that their strength might add to her own. She will need it in the nights ahead.”
“Pfah! There is no propriety in foul amaranth, childe,” Pearl rebukes. “One thickens one’s vitae at the debasement of one’s spirit. Ask your sisters which they would rather you were richer in, if their welfare concerns you so. I see my childe will still have a great deal of propriety to instill in you.”
Caroline: Many more Cainites. That is a terrifying thought.
“There is no propriety is falling beneath the sheriff’s blade, primogen, if it is a price to be paid by others,” Caroline answers in turn. “And I fear that is the most certain outcome this night. I would not place my propriety over the lives of my sisters.”
“Were I to have died alone, I would have met my fate with all the grim resolve you might admire, but my mother has given me more something else to fight for.”
GM: Caroline can feel the elder’s scowl.
“Perhaps a conversation for another night, Aunt Mur?” Cécilia offers demurely.
“Hmph,” Pearl replies. “I suppose we haven’t all night. As to the matter of broaching my gracious offer to your sire, childe. The seneschal has our prince’s ear as no other Cainite does. Convince him of the proposal’s merits, and he shall convince your sire.”
Caroline: “Are the prince and seneschal aware of our ties, primogen?” Caroline asks.
GM: “They are.”
Caroline: “Then I shall broach the matter with him when the moment seems most opportune,” Caroline replies. “I do not expect selling the virtues of your childe to be a difficult matter, primogen.”
“And I will retain hope that me might join me in time to lead me along a path that will bring you satisfaction and pride both as my aunt and as Primogen Chastain.”
GM: “I do as well, childe. I would prefer that your sire recognized the merits of this course of action, and displayed that he still knows how proper Kindred behave. I value propriety, as I have said. It is my wish that the city’s rightful prince give his blessing to your union with my childe.”
Caroline: Prefer, but not required. It is not lost upon her that her aunt is by acclaim every bit as old and close to Caine as her sire. Should the prince decline, could the seneschal might resist such a course of action alone?
She has no reservations as to the elder’s childe’s honor, or power, or even charm. Not even the pettiness of skin color stirs her concern. But she does recall the words of the seneschal, as to the perception of neonates that cleave to elders among those elders—and Poincaré is very much an elder.
Her aunt might name them princes both in name, bound in blood marriage, but such a union would be one-sided indeed this night. She has little interest in being the damsel in any story, much less the lesser partner in any union.
GM: That much, at least, she can imagine her sire would approve of.
“Several further matters remain before us, my dear,” states Abélia.
“My youngest childe, Lady Adelais, has lost a wager with her husband Lord Pierpont," says Pearl. "Under its terms, she is to Embrace a childe.”
“This presents us with an opportunity, sweet child," continues Abélia. “You require allies in the nights ahead… not merely patrons such as we, but Kindred who might fight beside you and more closely share in your struggles and triumphs.”
“There are three options before us… not all of which are exclusive.”
Caroline: That Lady Adelais seemed not the least impressed with her she leaves unsaid. Too that McGinn’s racism is unlikely to look kindly on her blood marriage to his own (black) rival.
Neither her mother nor aunt are fools—they know of whom they speak better than she.
GM: “The first is for Yvette to receive Lady Adelais’ Embrace. She has expressed dissatisfaction at mortal career paths, and I believe her temperament well-suited for the Requiem. You shall have a loyal ally, immediately, who may grow in power over the coming years."
“Our second recourse is to wait… for another sire.” Caroline’s mother smiles at her knowingly. “Perhaps another suitable one shall make him or herself known, in a few years."
Caroline: The baring of her fangs is almost involuntary at that. That someone else, anyone else, might fucking presume to sink their fangs into her sister for any reason.
But the idea isn’t as ugly as it might at first appear. The idea of Yvette’s Embrace is not a new one to her, and with Adelais as a sire few would dare touch her sister.
GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh. “Ah, such fierceness! I’ve little doubt you would shepherd our Yvette through the Requiem’s perils with more concern than Lady Adelais… and guard her with greater zeal.”
“But as to our third recourse.”
“I could accept the Embrace,” says Cécilia. “From Aunt Mur, rather than Lady Adelais. I’ve told you how Maman asked me earlier, if I wanted the Embrace, and I said no.” Caroline’s sister pauses. “But things are different now, than when she first asked. You’re my sister now, you’re in danger. You could use more allies. My Blood would be as close to Caine as yours, if Aunt Mur Embraced me—there’s a lot I might be able to do to help you, that I can’t as a human."
Caroline: Caroline can’t see her sister in the gloom, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know where she is.
She spins on a dime at that suggestion to face Cécilia.
Her initial reaction is even stronger than it was to the idea of Yvette’s Embrace at Adelais’ hands. No. She doesn’t even mean to send it, but it ripples with the forceful denial through the bond.
Possibilities, visions of a future, dance across her mind in the split second it takes to consider it before she speaks. A night with Cécilia, some wicked kine caught between the two. A decade from now, both as flawless as they are in this moment, and another decade, and another decade. An eternity with Cécilia beside her to share it with. Cécilia, every bit as powerful in the Blood as she is—might of body to match her might of spirit. Cécilia with her dancing in the clouds.
They aren’t unattractive visions.
But they are selfish ones. She bites her lower lip, gathers her thoughts for a moment, and continues in a more reserved, composed tone.
“Cécilia, I’m humbled that you would even suggest such a thing—and an eternity with you is one I’d happily share—but you refused for your own reasons the first time, and good ones.”
“I know you’d do anything for me—for any of us—but you don’t have to do that unless you want it for good reasons of your own. This is a path I am already on, and I will take any twist necessary on it to let you pursue the path you desire.”
God, though, there’s something tempting in the idea that gnaws at her reservations. The idea of Cécilia growing old, or being struck down by some pathetic kine illness, or being helpless before another Kindred is terrifying to her. And as Pearl’s childe? The world would be her oyster.
GM: The strength of Caroline’s denial feels as if it rocks Cécilia back on her feet.
Perhaps some of those visions make their way across the bond, too, when her sister answers,
“I can see you’re right that it would make you happy. And that is important to me, Caroline. Just as much as keeping you safe. The Requiem seems so lonely and unhappy, from everything I’ve heard. But I wonder, does it have to be? Maybe, like life, it’s just as much a question of who you spend it with.”
“But you are right, too, that I’d be doing it for you and our family, rather than for myself.”
Caroline: “You would brighten my Requiem, Cécilia, but I wouldn’t want you to dim your own light to do it,” Caroline answers sincerely.
GM: “All right. If you’re sure,” says Cécilia. “If circumstances change later, we can always change our minds.”
“What do you think so far as Yvette?”
“Lady Adelais now, or… you, later?”
“The Lady Adelais shall take a childe, be she Yvette or another canaille,” pronounces Pearl.
Caroline: Caroline is silent, finally “I believe Yvette would find much she would enjoy in the All Night Society, and she would be well poised as Lady Adelais’ childe to make her Requiem her own. I would have her enter with no regrets or illusions though.”
“If there is time, I think we might arrange for her an introduction of sorts first.”
GM: “There is no cause for immediate haste,” answers Pearl.
“I think that sounds like a good idea, to let her get a feel for things,” nods Cécilia.
“What about Yvonne, amidst all this?”
“As you once said, Caroline, telling one is the same as telling both.”
Caroline: “Yvonne’s path remains her own,” Caroline suggests. “Her temperament is likely to favor a moderate response. If events should conspire to urge her down a parallel path, Yvette shall be better-positioned than ever in the future to arrange that however we wish. I should fear it more, I think, if it were in the reverse.”
GM: “I suppose you’re right,” Cécilia says with another nod. “I don’t think Yvonne will ever want to be Kindred. But I do trust her to keep Yvette’s secret.”
Caroline: “She applies a fine balance to her twin, and one that I think is all the more important of Yvette is to be Embraced.”
She turns to Pearl. “Presuming there is no objection to the use of your childe in that way, Primogen.”
GM: “Yvette is of worthy stock. She is an acceptable childe to my childe.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “I suppose that means we’ll be telling Adeline the truth, too,” says Cécilia. “It wouldn’t be right to tell the twins and not her.”
Caroline: “Perhaps?” Caroline ponders, turning her gaze in the black towards where her mother last resided.
“With four of us ‘in’ on things it becomes much easier to manage interactions with the All-Night Society, even if they become more common. If Adeline desires another path, there isn’t as much an inherent need to draw her in.”
“I think our mother’s philosophy has trended towards the idea that we should seek such knowledge in so far as it brings us happiness. I would not keep it from her, but nor would I burden her needlessly.”
GM: “Maybe we should have you get to know her better before deciding, then,” says Cécilia. “That’s something Maman and I would love for you to do in any case.”
Caroline: “And I,” Caroline agrees.
GM: “There is a final matter your aunt would discuss with us tonight,” says Abélia.
“Concerning Caroline’s originally purported sire and the sheriff, wasn’t it?”
“Alder Accou received information concerning them some months ago,” states Pearl.
“Passed to him by his childe Lady Marguerite, passed to her by her childe Miss Bailey, a follower of the Baron’s. She claimed to have received the information from a ghoul involved in an altercation with Mr. Baristheaut.”
“I cannot attest as to its truthfulness.”
Caroline: That catches Caroline’s full attention.
GM: “By the ghoul’s account, Mr. Baristheaut was a double agent in the employ of Sheriff Donovan, but believed himself betrayed—by either his patron, Mr. Savoy, or foul Setites.”
“By the ghoul’s account, Sheriff Donovan was either a double agent for his sire, or he was not. But in either eventuality, the sheriff nevertheless employed a double agent working for his sire.”
“I bring this information to your attention for a simple reason, childe. I would not see the sheriff succeed your sire.”
Caroline: Caroline muses, “Forgive me, Primogen, if I speak of things I know not enough about, but I would postulate this about the sheriff, and I suppose about the archdioceses as a whole.”
“The seneschal revealed to me that he had long sought quietly an heir to the prince, knowing his torpor approached. For decades, he has subtly cultivated and sought to mold candidates. A decade ago he identified his choice.”
“That choice was snatched from him instead, Embraced by another for whom I believe he had little affection, as part of a broader plot.”
“The seneschal was not easily stymied—he did not give up. Instead, he redoubled his efforts more quietly, identifying a wide range of individuals rather than focusing on a small number.”
Caroline pauses. “Those who have known him longer might speak to more accurately, but I believe he was not unaffected by that failure. The seneschal has taken only a childe once, and it is a matter he deeply regretted. I think he has carried guilt for his groomed heir presumptive’s Embrace since that night.”
“Among those he quietly chose to ‘groom’ I may be counted—though I am far from alone. He did so in great secrecy, believing one close to the prince, some great foe, was observing.”
She pauses. “Mr. Baristheaut’s return was not by chance. He was called back to the city by another—I know not who—at a specific time. I have gathered his departure from the city was not by chance either—and that he left with deep divisions with the prince.”
The takes a deep breath before continuing, “Very shortly after his return, he snatched me off the street and brought me to the Dungeon. What followed I need not repeat, save to highlight this: the seneschal’s decision to harrow the Dungeon’s depths was not one carefully considered. He dove in at haste, snatching forth his blade… and his foe did not appear surprised by his appearance.”
“She could have defeated him. Indeed, I judge his defeat the most likely outcome of that choice, barring… interference.”
She permits herself a small smile at that, before grim certitude returns. “I believe none of these events to be unrelated. Mr. Baristheaut’s return was not by chance and he did not choose me at random. Similarly, I do not believe Ms. Adler’s Embrace a decade before to have been by chance. I see a careful plot to assassinate the seneschal by the most ready means available—an action that would almost certainly have delivered the city into either the sheriff’s hands—or brought it down entirely.”
“The prince believes the sheriff wholly bound to him. Worthy of absolute trust.”
She stares into the darkness where her aunt’s projection stands.
“In this matter, I believe him incorrect. I know with certitude he has strayed from the prince’s will in at least one matter, and while many of his recent actions may be laid at the feet of fanaticism or zealous devotion to the prince’s will, I can think of few that have not done enduring damage to his reign.”
“I know not who the sheriff serves, but it is not my prince.”
GM: Caroline cannot see her mother’s or aunt’s expressions in the gloom, but the pair fall silent for a brief time.
“You believe the sheriff the agent of Mr. Baristheaut’s return, and the thief of the seneschal’s would-be childer,” states Pearl.
“The sheriff’s vicinage is no small advantage,” muses Abélia. “Had I wished to thwart the seneschal’s designs, I could think of no more proximate or capable an agent.”
“Pah. Traitor’s blood runs in his veins,” states Pearl.
“He has proven more than capable in his role as sheriff, but any childe of Antoine Savoy’s is unfit to assume the throne. And it is little secret that he lusts for it.”
“I would see him retained as sheriff, though Lord Pierpont could serve… suitably, in his absence.”
“Questions for the future, sister,” states Abélia. “For now, Donovan has much cause to bear our Caroline ill will. Even should his loyalty to the prince be true, your ghoul’s whispers false, and another hand responsible for frustrating the seneschal’s designs, our Caroline is a threat to the sheriff’s power.”
“Yes. Your betrothal to my eldest will give you a shield against him, childe,” says Pearl.
“It will not be an invulnerable one, but so much the better for you if the sheriff’s ambitions are split between another, mightier target.”
Caroline: She’s grateful for it. She is. A shield. Her mother knows well her thoughts, though—she’s aired them here. She would be a sword paired with a shield, not one hiding behind one.
Caroline bites her tongue. But then, if there are few secrets, she would not have this be a surprise to her aunt. “It is my intent to frame the sheriff for the bishop’s destruction.”
GM: Caroline feels her mother’s smile of pride.
Caroline: “His childe’s selection as the next bishop will otherwise make holding a line among the Sanctified a mighty task. It is my intent to destroy the prince’s ill-placed trust in him, and see him destroyed towards a purpose, rather than simply knocked out from under the prince’s throne.”
GM: “Hmph. Someone must take the blame for it, but the sheriff’s fall will galvanize your sire’s foes, childe. And be no small loss to the prince’s strength in its own right.”
Caroline: “There have been to many blunders of pieces,” Caroline agrees. “He must be exchanged, not simply sacrificed.”
She continues less forcefully, “I would ask, towards that purpose, of the bishop’s sire. They have announced their intention to return. In any pursuit, I feel that would be a powerful tool. Or ally. I would seek to cultivate either.”
GM: “Cingolai. Her name will not please your sire to name as sheriff, childe. But I know few others who might prove wholly to his tastes.”
“Perhaps Agnello, before he proved himself as much a beast as his sire. And his loss of face to the nigrimancers.”
“Are there any others the prince might name as sheriff, Aunt Mur?” asks Cécilia.
“Hmph. Doriocourt, if the the sheriff’s shame did not reflect upon her. Beyond the city, Holland, if his pride can be salved. Bassler, if their differences reconciled. Cade or Ward, if they might be induced to set aside their present ambitions and responsibilities.”
“Beyond those names, the prince must either reach beyond the Sanctified, or nominate ones unknown to me.”
“North would likely prove an eminently acceptable choice to many. There are several archons and former local hounds among those names, but his is the only one that is both.”
“Cingolai shares the prince’s blood, and would also be acceptable to many, but I do not believe he will be predisposed to name a Dragon as his sheriff.”
“He would sooner name Lord Pierpont, who is at least pledged to a covenant he finds less distasteful.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “I fear the era in which his wishes are realities is ending. A marriage of the First and Second estates will bring in many changes.”
GM: “Whom would you name to the post, Aunt Mur?” asks Cécilia.
“Lord Cade or Lord Pierpont would both prove acceptable to me. One could also do worse than Ward.”
Caroline: “Ward, Primogen?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Sally Ward, archon and sire to Jocelyn Baker. She is pledged to the Sanctified.”
Caroline: That’s what she’d been afraid of.
“I suspect she may return to the city sooner rather than later.”
GM: “So much the more convenient, should the other candidates prove unviable.”
“However, all of this presumes the current sheriff is to be removed.”
Caroline: “More easily accomplished when there is a piece to fill the hole,” Caroline observes, without arguing.
GM: “At present, we have but rumors and supposition as to his true loyalties. We are without proof. I am not wholly convinced he poses a danger to the city’s stability, only to one of our family.”
Caroline: “Even if he is loyal, this prince can more easily tolerate his ambitions than I might in his place. But I will bring you proof, Primogen.” She lowers her head submissively. “I understand even the faith of blood may only go so far.”
GM: “Very good, childe. If you wish to move against the sheriff now, I shall not forestall you, but neither shall I assist you. Bring me evidence of his duplicity, and you will have the First Estate’s aid.”
“That might be wise to obtain in any case,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “I believe Caroline that he doesn’t serve the prince. But it might be prudent to discover who, and why, before moving against him.”
“Daniel Hayes, my bodyguard, says that bad intelligence, or not enough intelligence, was the #1 thing that got SEALs killed.”
Caroline: “Of that note,” Caroline continues, “whatever the future holds, it is my desire to place an individual with more personal loyalty within the hounds—or in a similar role—for the future.”
GM: “Foreknowledge may do much to avert calamity, but I fear the sheriff will not be idle in his pursuit of the bishop’s killer, my dears,” says Abélia. “Another Cainite may prove more expedient to blame in the sheriff’s stead, and the sheriff later blamed for concealing his sin beneath an innocent.”
“To place eyes close to your foe is wisdom.”
“That might be for the best if your sire is taking you away for a while, too,” says Cécilia. “It might be easier to frame the sheriff when you don’t have as short a leash.” She pauses. “Though I’d thought he was going to take you away already… ?”
Caroline: "I expect the seneschal’s influence is at play. He knows there were many matters to be dealt with before… "
At least, she hopes that’s why. Hopes that her sire isn’t having second thoughts.
“In any case, barring objection, I intend on planting the seed of doubt in the sheriff with Cingolai at the earliest opportunity. It would be ill for me if she were to fall into the sheriff’s sphere. I would ask of her temperament.”
GM: “You have seen and spoken with her already, childe, at Alder John’s trial.”
“She is a friend to my clan and belongs to the Guild of Plutus, those Kindred who are patrons of the arts. I have conversed with her. My younger clanmates find her cool and aloof. She respects intelligence. During her previous time in the city, she spent much time among its canaille intelligentsia and the linguistics department of Tulane University.”
“At several of my clans’ balls, she exhibited canaille painters and violinists taken from the university’s student body.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Then we may have more in common than I’d hoped.”
GM: “She will lend your opinion little credence if you come before her alone as Mr. Baristheaut’s childe. I may arrange an introduction if you do not wish to inform her the truth.”
“Would it be a bad thing to tell her, if it’d make such a difference?” Cécilia asks.
“Hmm. It may both indicate and engender trust, were she to learn the secret in advance of larger Cainite society,” states Abélia.
Caroline: “If the opportunity presents itself, I would be grateful for such a meeting, primogen,” Caroline answers. “Though I expect these nights, and the opportunities they present, to grow rarer.”
And, perhaps hopes too. Her sister’s observation that they had expected her retreat into Perdido House already is quite keen.
GM: Cécilia feels as if she nods. “What do we want to do about the bishop’s death, in that case? It’ll likely be harder to frame the sheriff if, as you say, those free nights aren’t going to be as common.”
Caroline: “Someone has already started the frame job, pointing at the Baron,” Caroline notes. “And the seneschal is quite certain of my innocence.”
GM: “Oh? Who do you think did that?” Cécilia asks.
Caroline: “Mr. Savoy’s agents, perhaps? We know Claire to have been in contact with them. Or other hunters. Pointing us at each other is in their interest, and we know her to have been in contact with Gettis.”
She runs her tongue across her fangs. “My instincts say Gettis. He has every reason to want the attention pointed at Kindred vice hunters, given the losses they’ve suffered and exposure they now have.”
“I pushed that narrative with both my sire and the seneschal, and will continue to do so for many reasons, not the least of which include the direct danger he poised to this family and the chain by which the sheriff led many hunters around.”
She turns her attention back to her aunt. “As primogen, it is more likely information will reach you than I on the investigation. I would identify the direction the sheriff seeks to hunt down and leave a clear trail down it, while pocketing the pieces that will bring the house of cards he builds against a patsy crashing down when the time is right. If that time never comes, little is lost by holding that blade in abatement.”
GM: “You may be in a proximate position to gather information on the sheriff’s activities than I, childe,” says Pearl. “He typically does not keep the Cabildo apprised of developments in his investigations unless they have bearing upon our interests.”
“I believe your course of action to be otherwise prudent.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, “In either case. if I am otherwise detained or unable to act, I would pass what I learn to you,” she turns to her sister. “In the hopes you could disseminate it to my agents as required.”
GM: Cécilia probably nods back. “Of course. How much do you want them to know, by the way? About our family?”
“I’ll trust whatever you think is right to trust them with, of course. I just want to know how much I should say around which ones.”
Caroline: “I intend on telling only one of them anything of the family—and then only that you speak with my voice.”
Caroline: She nods. “I have little doubt he has gathered something is afoot, but I would not provide any certain answers to any not of blood with us.”
GM: “That seems wise. I trust him, as much as I’d trust anyone outside the family.”
Caroline: “We all must trust someone… at least to an extent,” Caroline agrees. “There are far worse choices.”
GM: “I have said what I have come here to say,” declares Pearl. “Goodnight and farewell to all.”
Caroline: Caroline turns back to where the elder spoke from. “It was my great pleasure to meet you, Aunt Mur. And my great honor to receive your counsel, primogen.”
GM: The Toreador’s voice drones through the gloom.
“‘And the enemies of Caine were great
and fell to fighting over his trail
like hounds, the scent would not abate
through flood and moon, and much travail
the hunter’s skill was great,
as they looked for their father, and they did see
the road to Shal-ka-mense.’”
“’They came at last to that secret place where Caine hid, amongst the waters
showing himself, Caine called them under,
“Gentle sons, gentle daughters,
why do you disturb my slumber?”’
“‘And they tried to embrace their father
with steely things
and things of wood
but lightning Caine,
would not be stopped by such as them.’”
“‘Under the curling, blasting waters,
beyond the pool of Veyd-sah-me,
in the grotto of Shal-ka-mense
did they gather, did they gather,
to embrace their sleeping father’s form.’”
“‘Found him sleeping? Found him wakeful,
battle-ready, eyes abright,
smiling at his ancient childer
waging war in the waxing light.’”
“‘Now the stars they one by one
blot their ways into lightning sky
now the fires burn hell and cinder
now the heat reveals the pyre.’”
“‘Too long! The hunters waited further,
too long! They did by Veyd-sah-me
tarry long enough to see
the light of dawn upon their father’s face.’”
“‘And in the turning, burning mark,
they saw the finger of God’s own hate,
twisting, curling, God’s own word
it set apart Caine’s lonely fate.’”
“‘And as they burned in hell-bright fires,
as they saw the melted flesh
as they burned with their own Kindred
Caine blessed more funeral pyres
taking in his bloody sacrament.’”
“‘Seek not the blood of thine own elder
seek not the blood of thy sire’s sire
seek not the blood that made thee kin
for thou will feel the funeral pyre
when thou dost pay for thy immortal sin.’”
When the darkness recedes, Pearl is gone. Simmone lies asleep in Abélia’s arms.
Caroline: A tale with a pointed end from her aunt.
The Ventrue lets out a breath with the primogen’s departure.
“Your sister remains an intimidating presence, Mother. Whatever others might say of her, they say it behind her back rather than to her face with good reason.”
GM: Laughter dances in her mother’s dark eyes.
“Words meant to paralyze lesser hearts with fear. My daughter is not insusceptible to them, but her ambition burns greater still. Her ambition drives her to master that which would master others.”
“My sister is less than she once was. But you have heard her tale, and in deed and spirit she remains undiminished.”
Caroline: “And you, Mother?” Caroline asks. A question has burned at her lips, but one so intemperate she bound it until her aunt’s departure.
“In a past life, were you Maria Pascual?”
GM: A peal of fluttering laughter greets the Ventrue’s question.
“Oh, what a notion! My tale is a longer one than was spun for your ears tonight, sweet child, and it holds many chapters. But those are for another evening.”
“Yet you are well to question. Answers come swiftest and in greatest measure to those who seek them out.”
Caroline: “I have trusted to your wisdom in the past in such matters, Mother. I trust in it now,” Caroline acknowledges. “A time for all things. That I would all those times be now is perhaps something your sister’s childe may help me grow out of.”
A mischievous smirk. “Or perhaps not.”
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