“She got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”
Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM
GM: Gui opens the door to his BMW for Jade.
“So, beautiful, where to?”
Celia: “Such chivalry,” she says with a smile.
Jade slides into the car. She supposes she’ll need to let Alana know to pick up her Genesis and drop it at the Evergreen for her later. She sends that text to the ghoul as Gui walks around to get in on his side and deposits her phone back into her jacket pocket.
“That depends. Can you keep a secret?”
GM: “Does anyone ever answer ‘no’ to that question?” Gui replies with some amusement. He starts driving despite not having a destination from Jade.
Celia: “No,” Jade admits, “but their answers let me get a good idea on whether or not they get to learn something fun.”
GM: “There’s mine. I’ll vouch that I’m trustworthy, but don’t take my word for it. I’m a vampire.”
Celia: She laughs. “I’ll rephrase, Mr. Gui. I’d like to show you something fun. Would you like to see?”
GM: “I should think so.”
Celia: She directs him toward the Evergreen.
GM: They arrive there in short order. Fabian greets them warmly. The place looks pretty empty on a Friday night with its master and many of his followers at Elysium Primo.
Empty of Kindred, at least. There’s a live music show going on, and plenty of kine eating, drinking, and having a good time at the club.
Celia: “It’s not often people throw that word around,” Jade remarks to Gui before they head inside. “It’s quite refreshing to know I’m not the only one.”
Most evenings, Jade comes here for Savoy or his warden. This evening, though, she’s here for the ghoul. She asks after Tantal and moves to find him, her arm linked through the Ventrue’s with the same amount of familiarity she’d use with… well, anyone, really.
GM: “You haven’t heard about that trend to ‘reclaim the v-word?’ It’s all the rage in Chicago,” Gui says as he walks her upstairs.
Fabian gives the pair directions. Jade finds the ghoul-turned-hunter lookalike watching TV on a couch with one of Mel’s girls in arm, probably killing time until Jade could get around to him. He looks glad to see her.
“Time for me to get my face back, ma’am?” he asks in his deeper voice.
Celia: She hadn’t heard. She’s amused by it and happy to do her part in New Orleans, she assures him. She tells him how when she’d first met Lebeaux she’d said the word to him and he’d all but flinched.
“He made sure to tell me it was very inappropriate for everyday use.”
Jade nods to the ghoul once they find him, gesturing for him to follow after her.
“That and more, as discussed. The warden has given the green light.”
Her eyes find Gui’s as she walks the pair of them down the hall toward the Red Room, wondering if he can guess what she’s about to show him.
GM: “Still only popular with younger licks,” Gui says.
Tantal kisses the girl and tells her to wait here before accompanying the two vampires.
The Red Room isn’t too red, tonight, and there isn’t so much as a single corpse. Fridays are the Evergreen’s least busy nights, at least for Kindred.
But tomorrow will be another matter. Saturdays always leave the Red Room reddest.
Celia: Empty of corpses, anyway. But there’s Randy, faithful as ever, with the bag of body parts from Celia’s haven that she’d been debating how to get rid of. Putting them in Tantal seems like a no-brainer.
She smiles at the boy and sends him on his way with a wink.
GM: He looks less than thrilled with carrying it, but thrilled as ever to see his mistress before she sends him off.
“I know him, the bail bond family,” remarks Gui.
Celia: “Mmm,” Jade nods her head. “He’s dating one of my spa girls. Useful. Though she’s been making noise about him not popping the question, so we’ll see how long that lasts.” Amusement colors her voice.
She gestures for Tantal to lay out on the table and opens the bag of body parts, slicing through the wrappers with quick cuts of her nails. She unrolls the assorted parts and sets them aside, then pulls a vial from her purse with a pair of needles and a bottle of something that looks like sanitizer but smells like pure ethanol. She rinses her hands.
“Anesthetic, Tantal,” she warns the ghoul before finding a vein with the first needle.
Finally prepped for “surgery,” Jade glances once more at Gui.
“Ready to see something fun?” The request to keep it a secret has already been issued. He wouldn’t be here if she didn’t trust him to do that much, at least.
GM: “He won’t ever love her while he’s drinking from you,” says Gui.
Tantal looks relieved to see the anaesthetic and gives a, “Thank you, ma’am.”
Butterfly would have killed to have that.
“Thought that’s what I was already seeing,” smirks Gui, looking directly at her.
Celia: That reminds her.
“Can you get the zipper? If I get blood on this dress I’m going to be distinctly annoyed.”
GM: “With pleasure.”
He swiftly peels it away. He folds the dress up and leaves it on a chair.
Celia: He’s such a flatterer.
Jade winks at him once she’s down to her bra, having already lost her panties. She’d take the former off too, but to be honest if she’s getting blood across her breasts… well, maybe she deserves it for being bad at her job. Maybe she would take it off if Gui could lick her clean later, but that whole no saliva thing really cramps her style.
Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers. Long, sharp, deadly. She turns to her task at hand, beginning with Tantal’s face while the numbing solution does its job. That’s the part that the dolls all complain about: the face and hair. And while she’s removing from Tantal rather than adding hair, she’d rather he be comfortable. He doesn’t need the pain to sink in as a lesson, after all.
Quick cuts of her claws has the hair falling to the ground in no time, and a moment later she runs a hand across his scalp (with her claws carefully held out of the way) to smooth it all over. It’s a quicker effort than adding hair; within moments his head is as bald and shiny as he was before.
It’s not impressive. She knows that. Anyone can shave a head. She doesn’t even look over at Gui to catch his reaction. Not until her claws drag against Tantal’s face and she peels the skin back, adjusting the muscles underneath to give him that round-cheeked look he’d had before. Round but… chiseled, somehow. She manages to make it work despite the implication that fat equals round. She makes him look a little more dangerous than he had been with his baby-face to account for the new muscle she’s going to put into his body.
She closes his face with a press of her fingers, smoothing out the skin flaps until it looks like his skin had never been split.
She moves lower. Claws cut into his throat so she can rework his vocal chords. She has him speak while she works to make sure that the voice is where he wants it, whether that’s his higher falsetto or something a little more masculine. Jade doesn’t judge. His body, his choice and all that nonsense.
After that the real work begins.
She starts with his chest, cutting him open and bringing in the muscular fiber from the dead guy she’d met at the club, the one that her sire had killed for her with a boot to the throat, the one whose body Roderick had seen in her fridge and hadn’t asked about.
Adding isn’t like taking away. This isn’t fat that she just scoops out with a swipe of her finger to put into a trash bag. This is the addition of muscle to his frame, bulking him up to stay the same relative size as before while replacing fat with muscle. This is the kind of surgery that every kid who has ever been fat wants: pure replacement. It’s what body-builders wish they could do with their protein shakes and their heavy lifts and their steroids.
She checks the connections, the nerves, the bands of tissues. She makes sure that the arms work when he lifts them, that if he flexes his biceps are bigger than his head, that the cells get their required blood and oxygen and everything else that they need to survive. There are tons of tiny little connections to make to ascertain that the synapses fire correctly.
She’s not a blur, not quite, but she moves more quickly than any human surgeon would while she works on Tantal, while she cuts him open and stuffs him with the new muscle and fat and tissue from the hunter, while she sculpts and shapes and otherwise turns him into the ideal version of himself. She asks how big he wants to go and he gets it.
She chances a glance at Gui when she moves onto Tantal’s lower body, her hands bloody halfway up her forearms.
“You remember what he used to look like?” she asks him, referring to the fat, baby-faced ghoul he’d been before. “When we took it out of him he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted it to go back in. I’m sure you’ve never stared at a garbage bag of your own fat, but it’s not very appealing.” There’s a movie with that image in it. The one with that cute guy who’d once robbed a casino. Her mom thinks he’s cute, anyway. He’s a little old for her. He plays the imaginary friend in the movie she’s referring to, though.
“So we spoke to the warden about it and he said that if Tantal wanted his old size without the fat we could make it muscle instead.” It’s a shy smile she sends his way. “That evening at Elysium, all those years ago, when you asked how a vampire—” she tries out the word and finds that she likes it after not saying it for so long"—could benefit from body work? What I said was very, very true. But there’s also this way."
She pads the ghoul’s waist while she talks, filling him in. Then lower, to his legs. His quads get reworked: bigger, thicker, padding him with the additional muscle from the dead man whose only crime had been that he was at the wrong place, wrong time.
Unless he’d been working with the hunters. Then fuck that guy.
Oh, and he had tried to drug her, so she supposes fuck that guy twice as hard.
She checks in with the ghoul when she gets to his feet, making sure that the anesthetic is still working, that he’s the right size. She flips him afterward, putting another needle into him of numbing solution so she can start the work on his back. Again, she starts at the top. Adds the muscle and fat to his neck, then his traps and lats and scalenes. She rounds out the deltoids from the side, smooths out his waist, adds a bit more to the glutes. All the glutes, not just the one that sits on top, since that won’t do him any good if the medius and minimus aren’t just as strong. Hamstrings and calves are last, and when she’s done… well, when she’s done he’s got the kind of calves that gym rats dream of, with a smoothly tapered ankle and a fat chunk of quivering gastrocs that a woman wouldn’t be able to fit into a knee-high boot.
Funny, that, how the big people want to be little and the little people want to be big. A lot of fat people complain about their calves, how they’ll never be small, while other people want to build them up. It’s obsessive. Reggie had told her about it: the guys on body building forums who purposefully gain weight to get the extra fat and muscle that comes from carrying around such a large load, then cutting so they can slim down and keep that same muscle in their lower legs.
Personally Jade thinks it’s weird, but then she doesn’t need to spend hours in the gym working on her physique because she’s already perfect.
GM: Flawless in appearance.
Flawless in deed.
Tantal looks relieved the entire time as Jade works her torturous magic on his numb flesh. Perhaps some part of the ghoul wonders if it would hurt more to have muscle mass added than taken away. Different kinds of pain, Jade supposes. She’s made herself bulkier for some of her guises, though never so bulky as she’s making Tantal. The ghoul doesn’t go so far as to relax while she works on him, but he starts to look less apprehensive and more intrigued as the minutes tick by and Jade literally makes him bigger and better.
Gui watches too with clear interest. His eyebrows raise at first, but beyond that, the Ventrue simply studiously watches what Jade’s doing, his eyes moving between her claws, Tantal’s body, and the gory chunks of muscle she grafts on. At one point he remarks how the muscle looks “pretty fresh” and asks what would happen if she was working with “older meat.” Would she need to freshen it up? Beyond that question, Gui remains silent so as not to distract her from her work. As it goes on and the Toreador’s motions become more familiar, his eyes start to wander her increasingly gore-caked body. There’s no bulge in his pants, but Jade can see his fangs protruding in his mouth, and he smiles when he sees her notice.
“Thayncth, mu’m,” Tantal slurs out through his still-numb and anesthetized mouth. “Tha fel… muth be’er thith thime.”
“You’f rilly buffed me up. Warden Lebyoo’ll be pre’y happy to thee me liy thith. I know I am.”
Celia: Fresher meat is better, Jade tells Gui, though even old body parts can be used. She can preserve things as she harvests them, or refresh them. Like rehydrating a dead flower, almost, or dried food. It’s not as simple as adding water, but it’s still something she knows how to do.
She tells him, too, that she can dry it out. She doesn’t need to tan and stretch and roll the hides to turn them into leather; there’s a whole process she looked up once, and it involves a bunch of brain matter and ash and curing and drying… and she can do the same thing in a matter of moments. Turn humans into… well, into leather.
“Leather belts, wallets, purses, shoes, jackets…”
Maybe even a pair of bracers.
She smiles at the Ventrue, wondering if he’s now thinking of every bit of leather he’s ever seen her wear and where it came from. Who it came from.
Jade finds a mirror when she’s done, holding it out for the ghoul to get a good look at his new body. She asks if he’d like any adjustments and smooths the rest of him out, giving him a once-over to make sure that all of her cuts across his skin have been sealed.
“I’m curious to see how your new body improves your work, Tantal. Be sure to keep me appraised. Rest this evening and this day. Tomorrow evening you’re cleared to return to duty. Stay hydrated.”
GM: “Yeth, mu’m,” the ghoul nods as he slowly gets up. “Thaynth again. You e’er nee’ thomethin from me, juth ask.”
“I’m pretty sure most of the leather you wear still comes from cows, but I suppose I can’t be certain,” smirks Gui after Tantal leaves. “You’re very dirty. Good thing for us there’s a shower right here.”
He starts taking off his own clothes too.
Celia: Well this had backfired spectacularly.
Maybe she shouldn’t have asked him to take her dress off for her.
Or invited him to watch.
Or asked him to leave with her with the implication that they’d fuck.
Had she implied that? It’s so hard to be certain these days. Seems like any stray glance or wink gets misunderstood by the people who want to get into her pants. Or at least her neck. Or whatever the vampire equivalent is.
What else is Veronica’s slut childe good for?
Not that she minds. She’d just thought she’d last more than two whole nights before she cheated on Roderick. Or one night? She’s not quite sure which of these evenings is their official “getting back together” night.
She’s reaching for the hooks on her bra when a phone chirps. She glances at where hers sits out on the chair where he’d draped her dress, but the screen is black. Her eyes drift back toward him and the phone ringing merrily from his jacket pocket.
GM: Fuck again.
Gui tsks when she starts to take off the bra and moves to help her out of it himself. “I’ve already helped you out of your dr…”
He picks up the phone.
“Keep a lid on things. I’ll be over soon.”
He flips the dumphone closed.
“Sorry, lush, but business before pleasure.”
Celia: Jade is pretty sure that if she’d gotten out of her bra any quicker he wouldn’t be able to tear his gaze away, and whatever fire had popped up would just go on burning without his attention.
She pouts spectacularly at him.
“You’re such a tease.”
GM: Gui pulls on his clothes and tilts up Jade’s chin to meet his gaze.
“Business pays in pleasure, beautiful. I’ll show you a time to make your toes curl once Harrah’s is ours.”
Celia: She likes the sound of that.
“It’s a date, then.” Which reminds her… “I’ll need to speak to you about that at some point, but go handle your business. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow evening to discuss.”
GM: “The Evergreen wouldn’t be what it is without me,” Savoy’s master of elysium declares. Jade is hard-pressed to think of an occasion Gui hasn’t been there on a Saturday. He brushes her cheek with his fangs, licking off some of the blood, and takes his leave.
Celia: Jade watches him go, annoyed by the little pang in her chest as he leaves. She shouldn’t want him to stay as much as she does. She reminds herself that she’s with someone. She reminds herself to keep it in her pants. She reminds herself that she’s about to get fucked six ways to Sunday when she gets home to see Roderick, with fang and cock and fingers and tongue, and that Gui wouldn’t have done that for her and she’d have only been half-satisfied. After he argues with her, of course, about letting Garcia grab her ass and then leaving with Gui and getting mad about whatever it is he’s going to get mad about, and maybe they won’t even fuck because he’s busy putting her head through a wall and then Savoy’s plan with him will definitely fall through.
And that’ll be her fault, of course.
She heaves a sigh once she’s alone, glad for just this moment to herself where she doesn’t need to play the games around the others and watch her tongue and thoughts and body language. And then she finishes stripping and steps into the shower by herself because even though it would be more enjoyable if someone were here to share it with, she still has a list of things to do this evening for which she probably shouldn’t be covered in blood.
She lets her thoughts swirl down the drain with the blood, though she feels far from clean.
Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM
GM: The mystery number included in her mom’s group text wasn’t lost to Celia’s attentive memory, and it’s the first item on her agenda, if by dint of being the easiest to take care of. It’s easy enough to scroll back to the frantic message, copy the number, and make a call.
“Hello?” greets an unfamiliar woman’s voice after several rings.
Celia: “Mom?” Celia says into the phone. She knows it’s not her mom. But calling a random number and asking ‘who is this’ is suspect as all hell. Still, the female voice puts her at ease, if only remotely.
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number,” says the woman.
Celia: “Oh, I’m… oh my, is this Naomi?”
GM: “Why yes, how did you know?”
Celia: “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry. Your name is right next to my mother’s in my phone, my finger must have slipped. Mom talks about you all the time. Sorry to disturb you.”
GM: “Oh! No, no, it’s no disturbance at all from one of Diana’s kids!” the woman smiles. “Which of her daughters are you? You don’t sound like Emily.”
Celia: What on earth is Emily doing talking to Naomi?
“Oh no,” Celia says with a smile of her own, “it’s Celia. The… I’d say eldest, but I think Emily has a few months on me.” That’s a weird thing she hasn’t considered before.
GM: “Celia! Oh my goodness!” Naomi exclaims, audibly smiling wider. “Your mom’s told me so much about you!”
“We’ve met each other before, back when you were really little. Your mom took you to our ballet performances. I don’t know that you’d remember me, though, since we all look the same in our costumes with our faces made up.”
Celia: “She has told me plenty of stories,” Celia assures the woman. “Both from back then and more recent things.”
This is where she’d say that Diana had pointed her out in photos from the old days, but… well, she has no photos left. Maxen had seen to that. Celia had been too busy scavenging for concealer to worry about her mother’s memories.
The thought tugs at her heart.
“We were just talking about you the other day, actually. She mentioned that you were looking for something new.”
GM: Naomi gives a short laugh. “Well, new is relative. I’m finally retiring from the ballet, it’s a young woman’s game, so I’m hoping to teach dance at a local studio instead. Your mom helped me land a job interview, she was so thoughtful. She’s a really good friend.”
Celia: “She really is the best.” There’s a brief pause while the wheels turn in her head. “Say, I know this might be weird coming from me, but you don’t do private lessons at all, do you?”
GM: “Oh, well, I suppose so. I haven’t taught any yet, but your mom and I talked about those. She says it’s a good way to get some variety in your teaching and earn a little side money.”
“I can’t imagine you’re wanting to get lessons from me, though, with already having an amazing dance teacher for your mom?”
Celia: “Oh no,” Celia laughs, “not for me. A friend of mine, actually. One of the girls I went to high school with has a little sister who has been taking lessons from my mom for a while, but, well… between you and me,” Celia lowers her voice, “I think her leg is acting up, and I’m worried about the strain it’s putting on her, and I think she’s nervous about leaving them without a good teacher. But if you were to take over…”
“Is that something you’d be interested in? She teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at their house in the Garden District.”
GM: “Oh. Oh no, are things okay with your mom?” Naomi asks. “Those lessons can’t be very long, next to how long she’s on her feet at McGhee…?”
Celia: “It’s more the added strain,” Celia says with a sigh. “She’s been doing okay at McGehee because it’s not as… hands on, you know? And she can sit if she needs to, take a break.”
GM: “Are you sure? I’d think a family might be more understanding, not to mention how there’s fewer girls and… well, I suppose your mom knows what she needs better than me, though.”
“Okay, I’ll give her a call about this.”
Celia: “I’ll talk to both of them, too, just to be sure. Pick up for a random number and get a job offer, what’re the odds?” She laughs lightly.
GM: Naomi laughs too. “Well, my husband and I are thinking about adopting, so hearing a stranger call me ‘Mom’ was… well, what are the odds of that, too?”
Celia: “Oh, you should,” Celia enthuses. “Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to me. She really just… kids just change your whole world.”
GM: “Oh, yes, I’ve met her with your mom! She’s just beyond adorable. Such a sweet child.”
“I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, but I’m a bit old for it, and seeing how well adoption worked for Emily and your mom… it made me think.”
Celia: “Meeting Emily and bringing her into the family was probably the best outcome from college. She and my mom… they’re just so happy together, and I know it’s not traditional but…” She wipes at her eyes, glad that the woman can’t see the red.
GM: “I think if they’re happy, that’s what counts. Your mom’s said how Emily didn’t have a family, so good on y’all for giving her one.”
“Oh! I go to your spa, by the way, Flawless—your mom referred me years ago. I’ve had Emily as my massage therapist, that’s how I know her.”
“I’ve wanted to schedule an appointment with you, but your staff always says you’re booked up.”
Celua: “Unfortunately I do book pretty far out. I cut down on my hours to take a more managerial role while I look for a building for a second location. Buuut…” she draws the word out, “I have some evening appointments available, if you’d like? I can text you with some time slots once I check my schedule.”
“All of the building managers and bankers want to meet during my peak daytime hours,” Celia says with another sigh. “Worth it, though.”
GM: “Yes, your mom’s said evenings are usually better for you, and how that’s when all of her appointments are. Not so late in the day is usually better for me, but… all right, why don’t you text me your hours, and we can see. It wouldn’t even have to be regular, if you’re mostly a manager these days.”
“Plus I already see Piper and I like her a lot, too.”
Celia: “Everyone loves Piper,” Celia agrees readily. “I oversaw some of her training, so I’ll take that as a huge compliment. Alright, I’ll get those times over to you this weekend and get you set up with something, and I’ll talk to my mom about the dance classes. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I’m glad I was able to connect with you.”
GM: “Oh, it’s no disturbance, I’m so glad to finally meet you! Or talk with you, at least. Give your mom my love, will you?”
Celia: “Will do! Enjoy your evening.”
GM: “You too! I guess I’ll see you at the spa.”
Celia: Celia says a final goodbye and hangs up the phone.
It’s not quite how she imagined it would go when she’d dialed, but when does life ever go as expected?
Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM
Celia: Car since delivered to the Evergreen, Jade makes the trek across the Quarter and into Mid-City to the LegalWings Bail Bond offices. She’d texted the boys to let them know that she’s on her way—sometimes she meets them at their home in the Quarter, but Reggie and Rusty had said they were still downtown working on a case. Randy is… well, she thinks he’s with Mabel at their home in the Quarter, which would have been more convenient a meeting place considering she needs to talk to that ghoul too, but she’ll handle it when she handles it.
It’s not her first trip into Mid-City. Despite the hiding she had done in the back of Roderick’s car, Jade’s face isn’t an unwelcome one within the Anarch territory. She and Coco had parted on decent terms despite her childe’s penchant for splitting Jade’s face apart, and the elder had been receptive to Jade’s bid for influence within the parish. So LegalWings had been recognized as hers, and that was that. The occasional favor doesn’t much take away from being able to move relatively freely within the territory, and she hasn’t had to worry about someone else trying to edge their way into her business or getting jumped on the streets if one of the boys slips up.
Her heels click against the pavement as she makes her way toward the large glass doors of the office building, swiping a keycard against the door to be let in. Ordinarily the door isn’t locked but this late at night they don’t need people wandering in from the outside.
Jade nods to the receptionist as she passes by. Malone, she thinks; Reggie had told her once that they keep someone at the desk 24/7 for those crazy midnight cases that are all the rage these days. He’d said it with a wink and they’d both known what he’d meant. She has a bag slung over one shoulder, the same sort of leather she and Gui had been teasing about. She doesn’t think he’d believed her when she’d made her claim, not if that smirk was any indication.
Celia: Maybe she’ll make him a new hat and let him guess what sort of animal it came from. She’s all about the gift-giving these days.
She has one with her, too. Of a sort. Roxanne’s phone is in her bag, but Rusty has always liked a challenge, hasn’t he? And he’s easier to get ahold of than the Tremere detective, or at least she doesn’t want to bother him any more than she has to, so Rusty gets to play ‘crack the phone’ while they look into the rest of everything. She should have given it to him nights ago, but… well, she’s been busy.
Jade proceeds down the hall to Rusty’s office, knocking on the door before stepping inside.
GM: Someone once said to her that every elder calls in markers eventually.
She doesn’t remember who. It seems like the sort of advice most licks who’ve been around could give. Who aren’t also elders.
LegalWings, as the city’s biggest most successful company, has its own two-story building with a giant neon sign displaying the company name and its logo of a jail suit-wearing man flying out of a birdcage on a pair of wings. LegalWings. Open 24 hours, proclaims a section of neon. Fortunate for the Kindred and fortunate for the kine with loved ones in jail.
GM: 24/7, though, doesn’t mean full staff on duty. Regina seems home getting her beauty sleep, if her lack of presence in the office is any indication, but Reggie’s head turns at Jade’s clicking shoes, and he gives the Toreador’s rear an appreciative pat. He and the receptionist (Malone seems right) are talking to a Latina woman who’s looking over a document and shaking her head as she sighs angrily. Then she signs anyway, and she’s soon on her way.
“How many fuckin’ times now?” mutters Malone.
Celia: What is it with boys and grabbing her ass?
Not that she minds. Not that she minds even a little bit. She winks at Reggie as she passes by, crooking a finger at him behind her back to summon him down the hall once he’s done with the Hispanic woman.
Still, she’s glad it happened here where there aren’t any raging Brujah to challenge him to a duel. She’s rather fond of the middle brother and doesn’t want his head thrown threw her window if her lover decides he’s threatened by the mortal.
GM: Rusty’s in his office. It’s a big enough building he gets his own, instead of one of the tables out front. He’s typing into his computer as Jade approaches and reports that he and his brother are still looking into Summer.
Jade: Jade nods at the report.
“She’s been missing since December; I don’t doubt she’ll be tricky to track down.”
She slips the phone out of her bag and sets it on the desk.
“Have a few more things I’d like to look into.”
GM: “What and how much are you paying?” the oldest brother asks perfunctorily.
“This Summer girl is already taking a while, but I suppose as long as you’re paying for her too.”
Celia: She’ll know something is wrong with the guy when he doesn’t immediately demand payment. She appreciates how little he changes between visits.
“I imagine the usual agreement is sufficient?” There’s a lilt at the end of her sentence, room for him to let her know if something has come up that he needs different or more.
GM: Rusty nods. He and Reggie have both given Jade an hourly rate. Discounted for the pretty lady who feeds them blood.
Randy mostly just begs his “girlfriend” for blood and money when he needs it.
Celia: Randy provides services his brothers don’t, like being on call whenever she needs him, so it’s a looser arrangement she has with him in regards to blood and money. She’s been thinking about just giving him an expense account with a monthly limit.
Jade smiles at the brother in front of her and gives him a handful of names to look into. The blonde haired girl and the green haired punk from the club are just a flag of sorts, in case they’re reported as missing. Jade needs to know to get ahead of that. It’s less active searching than just monitoring. She asks for the same from the hunters she’d put down, though she adds that she’d like their known associates, if any.
And finally she gets to the heart of the matter: Lee Andrin.
There’s a brief pause after she says his name. Then, finally,
“I need him located. Quickly.”
GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. He asks if she has anything besides the name, but just nods when she doesn’t.
“A name’s enough to go on.”
Celia: “It’s possible I’ll need assistance bringing him in as well.”
In fact it’s highly likely.
GM: “Won’t be a problem.”
Celia: She gives him a grateful smile. She always enjoys watching the boys in action.
“Anything from the law office?”
GM: “Few things. Ocampo still poking for dirt on the police cover-up. The PIs have their eye on an ex-cop named Jeremy May. He’s the one who killed Gettis. He works for the Devillers family now as a security guard.”
“Ocampo’s people are searching for dirt on May so they can put the squeeze on him.”
Celia: “Mmm. I don’t suppose you have anything on him.”
GM: Rusty snorts. “We’re a bail bond agency, not an intelligence agency.”
“I can tell you he hasn’t taken out any bail bonds from us.”
Celia: That response earns a wry smile.
“I assumed as much. Doesn’t hurt to ask.”
That’s good, anyway. She’d rather they avoid that whole family and anything to do with them.
“Two more things, hopefully something you can assist with tonight.” Her brows lift. He knows she pays extra for rush jobs.
GM: “Okay. What is it?”
Celia: She nudges the phone toward him.
“Can you get into that?”
GM: He takes the Solaris and holds it under the lamplight.
“Damn, won’t be that way.”
Celia: “No,” Jade agrees. She’d already had the same thought.
GM: No oil secretions from their kinds’ fingers.
Celia: And she keeps forgetting to ask Pete.
He could probably just finger wave his way in.
But she doesn’t want to keep bothering him with this kind of stuff when she has her very own Rusty to help her out.
She gives the boy in question a winning smile.
Man, she reminds herself. He’s older than she is. Hard to remember that when she deals with his brother all the time and he comes off so… young.
GM: Alana is the same age as her mother.
Jade treats her like a child, too. The Blood just seems to bring that out in them.
Celia: Reggie is still pretty manly. All those times they… well.
GM: “Depends how many digits the password has,” says Rusty. “If it’s just four, give me probably six minutes. If it’s 10, give me probably 12 years.”
“Supposing there’s no other information you can give me on whoever’s phone this is.”
Celia: But she can.
She gives him her name, middle name, birthday. The name of her son, the name of her boyfriend, the date of her release as an independent lick. Their father’s birthday, their siblings’ birthdays. Her son’s birthday.
GM: Rusty tries combinations of those numbers to no effect.
Celia: It’s probably something stupid and sappy like her first kiss with Evan. Or the night daddy showed her how much he loved her.
GM: “I can get around the incorrect password timeouts and phone wipes, but this could still take a while if I’m going to brute force it.”
“What about her Suncloud account? That would be faster to get into.”
Celia: “Could try it.” She gives him the address.
GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. “I’ll look into this and get back to you.”
Celia: “Thanks, Rusty.”
There’s more. There always is. But she’s already dumped enough on him this evening and feels a little silly about asking him to find out if this Vinny fellow is on a dating site for her when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.
As soon as she finds the time. Which is why, of course, she’d waited until this evening to come see him, because she’s been so caught up with everything else going on in her unlife that her priorities needed re-shuffled. Maybe next week she’ll be able to breathe again.
She’s also a little concerned about the downward pull on the left side of his face, the tightness around his mouth, and the white around his knuckles. Pain. When was the last time he’d gotten his work done? In the shuffle of all the chaos with Roderick and the hunters and her family she hadn’t gotten on his case about it, and when she doesn’t remind him… The silly boy will wait until he’s paralyzed by it to reach out if she lets him. She doesn’t quite frown, but she gives him a look.
“Come see me tomorrow night.”
No mention of treatment, illness, or the pain; they both know what she means.
She slides an envelope across the desk for him, their agreed upon sum for his work, and finally rises to her feet.
“Always a pleasure, Rusty.”
Then she’s gone, gliding down the hall to find Reggie’s desk. He doesn’t have an office, not like Rusty, but then he’s never here. More often than not he’s out and about the city, collecting people and running errands and… well, doing whatever the rest of what being a bounty hunter entails. She’s sure it’s not as glamorous as she envisions in her mind (she usually pictures motorcycles, leather jackets, and back-alley knife fights). She even knows it’s not that glamorous, having gone with him more than a few times to pick someone up when he needed a distraction, but there’s still a vague sense of danger that radiates off of him that she has seen cow plenty of people. It passes harmlessly by her… but fuck if it isn’t a bit of a turn on.
She won’t admit to the amount of times they’ve roleplayed the dangerous bounty hunter and his target angle.
She doesn’t need to lean over to whisper in his ear, but it lets him get a nice view down the front of her dress and, well, he’s a man who appreciates the finer things in life. Like that view down her dress and everything it lets him see.
She winks at him as she goes, off to find the final brother to complete the trifecta of Dufresne visits this evening.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM
Celia: The tightness in her shoulders disappears the moment she passes back into Savoy’s territory. It’s not that she’s worried about being jumped in the streets, just that, well, sometimes she’s worried about being jumped in the streets. Or picked up for any variety of reasons, like running her mouth at Elysium, which is less likely to happen here, though still not impossible.
Her sire had proven that to her.
Hadn’t she needed to speak to him about something? And someone else, too.
Ah, well, must have gotten lost in the shuffle of everything else going on this evening. Next time.
She pulls into the driveway of the home she’d helped purchase for the brothers years and years ago, bypasses the security with keys and cards and codes, and finally lets herself in.
Like a twist on the quintessential bachelor pad, everything is done up in mahogany and chrome and marble. Exposed brick in the kitchen adds some character (Reggie, of all people, had been the one to say that), and they’d been oddly taken by the stuffed rhino head that the prior owner had left behind in the attic. They’d opted to keep it and now it sits on their wall watching over the living room.
And the woman currently taking up space in the living room, the captive ghoul of Roxanne’s. Or Evan’s. The MILF, anyway, and now that Jade is seeing her without the stress and terror of serving Roxanne she definitely understands what all the fuss is about: she’s hot.
She spies Randy in the kitchen with Diana’s leftover cake and a glass of milk and gives a little finger wave to her “boyfriend” before turning her attention to the ghoul.
GM: Jade’s ass still smarts from how hard Reggie pinched it on her way out of Legalwings.
The ghoul is hot, for an older woman. Or because she’s an older woman, depending on one’s tastes. Evan was known to like them older. She’s a long-haired blonde with a full and curvy figure, full lips, good skin, and tight but non-trashy clothes that show off her curves. Definitely a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type.
Or at least, she looks as if she used to be. Probably only an eye for beauty as discerning as Jade’s could spot that truth.
The ghoul hasn’t applied any makeup, her clothes have a rumpled, slept-in look, she doesn’t look as if she’s washed her hair recently, and her eyes are red and puffy as if from crying. She doesn’t smell as if she’s showered in a while either. Her hands are tied behind her back. There’s bruise marks on her face, too.
She doesn’t even look scared by the Toreador. She just offers a bleak look, like her life has gotten even worse.
Or as if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.
Celia: Jade has no doubt that Roxanne wasn’t the gentlest of domitors, if that bruising is any indication. She’d told the boys to lay off any physical violence against the woman. No touching. She’d been very clear.
At least she doesn’t quite smell yet, despite the unwashed hair and rumpled clothing. Nothing some baby powder won’t fix to suck up that oil spill on the top of her head.
Or, y’know, an actual shower and change of clothes.
Jade pulls a chair up in front of her, muting the TV in the background with the press of a button on the remote. She doesn’t even wince when she puts weight on the recently pinched cheek. Maybe it’s the cushion.
She gives the ghoul a long look and finally smiles.
“Good evening. It’s Mabel, isn’t it?”
GM: “Yes,” the ghoul answers without enthusiasm.
Celia: "And you were with the Storyvilles? Gerlette?
If it’s even possible, Mabel looks even more miserable at his name.
Celia: Evan. Right. Roxanne’s boyfriend. The nice one, isn’t that what she had said? Jade hadn’t been particularly close to him despite their shared clan, and he’s been missing for almost a year now.
“I doubt it’s been easy with him gone,” Jade says softly. She looks again at the bruise. No doubt he kept her more gently than her former sister had.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Mabel. I’m sorry that he’s gone. I know it hurts to lose someone that you care deeply for. I’d like to help you find out what happened to him, and then maybe find a new place for you where you can be happy.”
GM: The Toreador’s consoling words bring on a wave of relieved-feeling tears.
“Please. I just want to find him. He isn’t dead, he’s my boy, I know he’s not, he’s just… in torpor, or staked somewhere…”
Celia: Maybe that’s even true. Wouldn’t that be a blessing.
Jade nods her head. She leans forward, keeping her movements slow, and unties the woman’s hands from behind her back. She takes one of them into her own. Her skin is warm; maybe that helps Mabel feel less like she’s in the presence of a monster.
“Can you tell me about him? The last time you saw him. The things you did together? I bet there’s something I can look into.”
GM: The ghoul sniffs and squeezes Jade’s hand. “He’s a wonderful boy. Just such a good boy. We pretend to be a mother and son, living together in the apartment where his haven is, but it’s not pretend. He calls me Mom anyways, even when no’s listening…” The ghoul gives a happy, broken smile. “He likes to pamper me, draw up baths for me, and wash my hair with his hands… and when he holds me in his arms, I feel like there’s no one in the world but us…”
Celia: “Evan sounds like a real sweetheart.”
GM: “He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”
“He lets me drink from him, as much as I want, then he drinks it back, and I just feel so loved, so safe, so good, like I never have with anyone else… God knows not my husband.”
Well there’s a loose end. She should have looked into that before she’d just… scooped her up.
“Is your husband still in the picture? I imagine hiding this life from him was pretty difficult.”
GM: Mabel shakes her head. “We divorced a while ago. Evan helped me leave him.”
“He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”
Celia: “I’ll help you find him,” Jade says again, giving the ghoul’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “But I need to know what you know so I can start looking. Anything you did together, anything out of the ordinary, anything he might have said in front of you?” Licks treat their servants like they’re less than a lot of the time. She’s seen it. They get complacent and let things slip and don’t imagine that the ghouls hold onto that knowledge. She tries not to, but she’s probably done it herself. It’s why she thinks the Harrah’s business will be so successful. It’s why the maid business has netted so much for her as well. She’s banking on the fact that Evan, Roxanne, and the rest of the Storyvilles sometimes forgot that Mabel is a person and not just a ghoul.
GM: “Well… the last couple nights before he disappeared, he was on edge,” Mabel sniffs. “He was scared, I could tell, but he tried to look brave around me. He said I didn’t need to worry, and we fed on each other. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t all there.”
She sniffs again.
“I wanted to hep him, with what was wrong. He’s my boy.”
“He did go to see a fortune-teller, in the Quarter. Yellow Sidra. That was very unusual, because he never went to the Quarter, and said I should never go there. He said all of the licks there would try to hurt us…”
Mabel sniffs and warily looks between Jade and Randy.
“But I don’t care about that. I just… I just want to find him…”
“He went to the Lower Garden District, too, before he disappeared. He said he talked with Accou, the… primogen, was what Evan called him. He said he admired Accou, because he also looked after his mom.”
Mabel manages a smile and gives another sniff. It’s an earnest smile, but a sad one too.
“I’m glad he talked with Accou, because it seemed to make him feel better. After he talked to Sidra, he was… oh, I wish he hadn’t, he was scared and miserable after he came back…”
Celia: Jade nods encouragingly as Mabel speaks. She gives her a wry smile at the announcement of not going into the Quarter; it’s a lesson she has instilled in her own ghouls, where and when they can travel so nothing untoward happens to them.
“It shows how much you care about him that you were willing to come here anyway. I’m glad we found each other. That kind of loyalty is admirable, and I think I can help.”
Jade waves Randy over with a plate of food and beverage for the ghoul.
“You might not want to eat with how upset you are, but keep your strength up so we can get through this, okay? His girlfriend’s mom made it and she’s a great cook.”
“I know Accou. He’s my grandsire, actually. And Evan is right, he does look after his mom. It’s really sweet, like Evan is to you. I’m happy to follow up with him about this. Do you know where he came from when he got this way, anyone he was speaking to before he got so on edge? Anything he might have said to his krewe?”
Convenient, really, that both of the people Mabel had spoken of are people that Jade has a decent enough relationship with. And Sidra still owes her that boon. Could be worth calling in.
GM: Well, “willing” was probably relative with the tied and bound woman.
Mabel looks at the casserole. “There was another lick, who asked about Evan. But she didn’t tell me that… you think Accou can help? You really think he can, that he can find Evan…?”
There’s hope in the ghoul’s voice, for what sounds like the first time in a long time.
She swallows after a moment, though, to answer the vampire’s questions, mindful she must still do that.
“Evan got worse right when he came back from Sidra. He’d seemed on edge before, but it really got a lot worse after they saw each other.”
“Before that it was a… a gradual thing, I guess. Things seemed a little more strained between him and Roxanne. I tried to help, because they were both so sweet, both so good for each other.”
The ghoul dabs at her eyes. “Roxanne took it really badly… she misses him, so much…”
Celia: “The other lick, was she tall and blonde, rather pretty?” Roxanne had said that Caroline worked for her before Jade had ripped her heart right out of her chest.
“I think she might have a reason to cover up what happened with Evan,” Jade says with an effected sigh. “And she doesn’t know Accou, not like I do. She’s new to all of this. If Accou knows something I’ll do my best to get it out of him.”
She says nothing about Roxanne being sweet. The girl was a heinous bitch, she doesn’t think the lick was any better.
“Were they fighting at all? Did they say anything about in front of you?”
GM: Mabel nods at Jade’s first question. “Yes, she had a lot of questions like yours.”
Celia: Of course she did.
Caroline is showing up all over her Requiem these nights.
Jade gestures Randy over, telling him to call Alana and get her to set up a meeting with Accou via his herald. Might as well get that ball rolling now. Who knows how far out that will be.
GM: Randy nods and gets out his phone.
“They don’t really fight much,” Mabel answers the second one. “She can be a little high-strung, sometimes, but Evan always talks her down. Then she gets sorry and they cuddle. Or feed.”
“She comes from an abusive family, but Evan is so good to her. She feels safe when they’re together. He’s so good to us…”
Mabel dabs at her eyes again.
Celia: “Did she tell you that she comes from an abusive family?” Jade sounds surprised. It’s not the kind of thing she expected her sister to spill. A little off topic, but she’s curious.
GM: “Well, Evan did. She didn’t talk about it much, at first, but after they were together a while, she started to. I don’t think she’d told anyone before, because she really broke down after she did, about how much they all hated her and how she’d ruined things and wished she could do things over again. And Evan just held her and said all the right things, like he alw…”
Mabel gives another sniff.
Celia: Well that’s a gut punch she doesn’t need. She swallows, blinking back something that might be emotion.
GM: “She would talk to me, sometimes. She doesn’t let her guard down easily. She can be really stiff and prickly. But underneath I think she’s just really, really lonely, feeling like she made her family all hate her. And that’s why Evan really touched her, why she cares about him so much, because he’s the one person who really sees her and accepts her. She’s been… losing him has been really, really hard on her, but I know she’ll stop at nothing to get him back…”
Celia: She would have. She did. Went after Meadows by herself, the idiot.
Maybe if Celia hadn’t hidden who she was from her. Maybe if she’d reached out as herself instead of hiding behind her mask. Maybe if she’d talked to her that day after Dad was arrested, or hadn’t made him fuck her, or hadn’t just left her there like a piece of garbage.
What ifs and maybes are useless, she knows. Just a trip down pain lane.
She doesn’t know if she’s ever hated herself more.
GM: “He had this idea, that after a while, he’d ask her if she wanted to call me Mom, too. So we could be a… be a family… he’s just such a sweet boy…”
Tears bead in the ghoul’s eyes.
Celia: “That’s… that’s really something,” Jade says, voice thick. “I think she’d like that.”
GM: “I, I need to see her, please. She needs me…”
Celia: “I’ll see what I can do.”
GM: “Her and Jocelyn, they’ve been fighting… they’ve all been fighting, since Evan…”
Celia: “The lick you mentioned, though. Like I said, I think she has a reason to hide what happened. So with your permission, Mabel, I have a trick I can use to undo anything she might have hidden after she asked you these questions, anything she might not have wanted other people to know. It’s possible she made you forget, and I’d like to unlock them for you.”
“So we can get Evan back.”
GM: The ghoul looks apprehensive, but nods. “O… okay, what trick…?”
Celia: Jade directs her to sit on the floor in front of her with her back to Jade. It’s less ideal than having a massage table handy, but will be better than if she lays out on the couch. At least for Mabel. It doesn’t make much of a difference for Jade.
She tells the ghoul she’s going to touch her. To just focus on the movements and let her mind and body go heavy. She starts lightly at the scalp, her fingertips brushing through Mabel’s hair. Some women think that the best part of going to a salon is when they wash your hair for you, and those are the motions that Jade does now. She’s quiet while she works, focusing her attention on the ghoul. Her hands move down the back of her neck, pressing against the tension she finds there, then lower, into her shoulders and upper back. She works above the clothing, kneading rather than gliding. Seated or chair massage like this is nothing new to her.
While she works she drifts inward. Her mind opens, consciousness projecting along the unbroken line of energy that stretches between the bodies of the two women. One moment she is Jade, the next she is Mabel.
Seven colored disks spin before her eyes. She’s not surprised that the green burns so brightly; the woman has a lot of love to give. It’s covered in dead leaves and dirt, but Jade brushes it away with a touch of her hand. It winks at her, glad to be free, but its spin is sluggish, and when it pulses she can see the effort that it takes. Like a pair of blackened lungs struggling to breathe.
Her attention drifts upward, to the combination of three that she needs to unlock to get into her memories. Vissudha, Ajna, Sahasrara. The throat, the third eye, and the crown. Jade dives in.
The world shifts around her. She’s in her seat, but she’s inside of Mabel too, and in here… in here she can see the effect that various abilities have had on her. The ecstasy of the kiss. The heady sweetness of charm. And something… blacker. Something meant to conceal. Jade follows the trail through the ghoul’s aura like she would a forest path. She whispers while she moves, telling the woman that she’s safe, that she’s a friend, that this will help heal her heart. And she’s rewarded by a different path appearing before her, one that was obscured by overgrown vines, one that holds the secrets of her mind behind a wrought iron gate. Darkness reigns here, holding in the truth. Jade presses her hands against it. Her fingertips glow. Warm, healing energy. Safety. Trust.
Out loud, she speaks. She probes further into Evan’s period of anxiety, focusing on anything he might have said after visiting Sidra or Accou. She wants to know what had him upset. Who had him upset. Maybe he said something. Maybe Mabel herself saw something. Didn’t she keep his schedule? Doesn’t she know where he was when he came back upset?
GM: Mabel becomes as putty in the Toreador’s capable hands. A massage table might be nicer, but that hardly slows Jade down, and the ghoul falls apart as she unwinds. There’s so much tension in her muscles. So much stress. Jade kneads it all out as Mabel comes apart. She cries, a little, but she feels like she’s cried so much of late that her tears are wrung dry. She moans softly, little low sounds of pleasure, and says how good this feels. How much she needed this. Jade has little doubt the ghoul might fall asleep soon, without her influence, but that will not pass while there is truth she yet seeks. Visuddha, the chakra for communication, pulses blue. There are truths Mabel must speak.
“Evan was seeing another lick on the side,” Mabel murmurs slowly. “Amandine. A Crone girl.”
“He didn’t want Roxanne to know… he loved her, he did, he gave her all his love… but he had enough for other people, too, and it would’ve just hurt her to know… she wanted him all to herself…”
“It was better this way… she got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”
Celia: It’s a familiar story. One that she’s been debating playing herself.
But how much would it have hurt her sister to find out that her lover is cheating?
Maybe that’s their real clan curse, that they have too much love to give. That not one single person will ever be enough. That she can love Roderick with her whole heart but still have room for Gui and Savoy and Pietro and Donovan and that blonde beauty in the Garden District. Even the ghouls. She can love them too, can’t she, can show them the depths of her affection with physical touch. And Star’s lover, the lawyer with the missing daughter; she helps him forget his pain for a night.
No one ever tells a rose to stop growing. Why, then, should they pluck her from her garden to put her behind a glass case, tell people they can only look but not touch? Who walks through a rose garden and doesn’t want to feel the soft caress of petals against their skin, breathe in the deep floral fragrance?
It takes a moment to re-center after her thoughts threaten to spin away. She breathes in, reminding herself who she is, where she is, her purpose of the evening.
Amandine. She sends the pulse of thought down that line between them, searching for information. How long? When? How soon before he disappeared did he start seeing her?
GM: She’s heard from more than one clanmate that their curse isn’t a curse, not truly. It’s a blessing, that they might appreciate the world’s beauty even as other Kindreds’ hearts turn hard and cold.
“A few months… they kept it secret, very secret…” Mabel recites tranquilly. “The prince wouldn’t have understood, Evan was scared the scourge would come from them both…”
Celia: Why would the prince care who Evan was seeing? She sends the curiosity along their tether, picturing his face. She had seen it so clearly last night in Caroline’s office.
GM: Confusion meets Jade’s curiosity. “Amandine’s one of the Baron’s followers… a Vodouisant… sleeping with the enemy…”
“Evan and the Storyvilles all work so hard to impress the prince, win his favor…”
Celia: How close are they, she asks, that the prince would know who Evan is sleeping with?
GM: “That’s what Evan thought too… it’s not like the prince watches in the bedroom… but he said, Amandine said… if they were seen together, by other Kindred… they’d report it, or use it as blackmail… too much risk, not to play it safe… Evan always says how smart she is….”
Stupid, whispers Maxen’s voice in her head.
“They’d go to out of the way places… places other licks couldn’t see them… take walks together, look at the stars… love each other, where it was just them…”
Celia: She doesn’t recognize that voice in her head.
Jade doesn’t have a father.
She brushes it aside, focusing on the words that the ghoul spills to her. Secret lover. Another familiar story. She and Roderick are secret lovers too.
Amandine, though. Another name to look into.
Is it enough for him to speak to Accou about? She… doesn’t think so. Why would Evan speak to Accou about a Crone lover? Why tip his hand like that?
Why would he speak to Accou about her?
GM: “I don’t know what they talked about… it might’ve been that… but he wouldn’t tell me…”
Celia: She presses further here, watching the spinning disks in front of her, looking for signs of black or gray against their brightness. Like rot in a garden, it discolors everything in its path, and she searches for evidence of its passing now. Snippets of altered memories that she can grab onto and unravel.
GM: The garden’s rot is well-hidden, but Jade will not be denied in her search. It’s there, black and ugly and festering. Perhaps Dahlia has given her something of a green thumb.
Yet, Jade senses, Mabel’s psyche is fragile, and this garden has long been starved for water and sun. To raze away its rot may be to raze the few remaining healthy plants too.
Celia: Tending gardens has always been delicate work. Roots tangle beneath the soil, weed and plant alike, and infestations of bugs spread so easily from one leaf to another. Gardens can be temperamental things; a touch of frost can kill flowers before they ever bloom, a stray rabbit or bird can eat the leaves clean, too much water or sun can be just as damaging as not enough.
Jade stops pushing. She sits in the garden Mabel’s mind has yielded, her legs folded beneath her. Damp grass brushes against her bare skin. The circles spin around her, thick and sluggish and blackened by decay. One by one Jade calls them over, gently tugging on the tether of energy between their forms. She’s no plant whisperer, but from the ground she calls up a green stalk. Green, like the heart chakra, the one that Mabel has in spades. Green, like the dress she had chosen this evening. And green, like her name.
It’s a sign, isn’t it?
She weaves the stalks of the green plant around the orbs to hold them still. She’ll chase the rot away with Mabel’s own love. She sets it in motion, letting it work slow magic on the altered memories.
GM: Jade has little doubt that the Ventrue’s gifts could discern Mabel’s hidden truth. They’d bulldoze over everything else in the process, crude and blunt as they are.
Yet Jade’s own clan would likely fare little better. Their gifts are subtle things, and their province is feelings, not memories.
But Jade is more than her clan. She’s an esthetician. She’s seen how much comes out on the spa table. All those traumas and secrets and gossip that dumbfound people outside the industry. People never do have any idea how much their massage therapists and hairdressers and makeup artists hear from them.
All Jade has to do is coax Mabel along. Work her familiar magic with her hands, and let her Beast fill in the gaps.
“I once heard Evan and Roxanne, talking about the Storyvilles’ secret meetings with Vidal,” murmurs the ghoul. “Roxanne told me to forget it.”
“So I did.”
Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal.
The words echo through her. The whole krewe was meeting with him. And Roxanne had tried to cover it up, to prevent the truth from coming out. It could be nothing. Or it could be everything. Suddenly her plan to disseminate the information no longer seems like the lie she’d planned to tell.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it?
Inside the garden of Mabel’s mind, Jade strokes her fingers across the slowly blooming flowers growing from the orbs. With each word the black rot recedes, giving room to the light inside. She coaxes further truth from the woman with a gentle nudge of silent energy.
What did she hear?
The wind carries the question through Mabel’s garden with the floral scent of roses and greenery and golden sunshine.
GM: “Evan thought their sex hadn’t been as good,” murmurs Mabel. “She called him the prince’s name.”
“They had an argument, and Evan said they should wait to feed on each other until a while after they’d seen Vidal.”
“He’s such a sweet boy. Always trying to keep everyone happy. It had to have hurt him, but he didn’t even say that, just how to make it not happen again.”
“Then they heard me, and Roxanne panicked, saying how they needed to keep this absolutely secret. How the Hussar would kill them, and me, if they didn’t keep this secret.”
“So Evan told me not to be scared, and then Roxanne told me to forget. So I did.”
Celia: Petals spread as the truth comes out.
This is it, though. Secret meetings with the prince. Something worth killing over. Because it can’t be the sex. Calling someone the wrong name during sex is hardly something they’d be killed over, even if it was Vidal. Lord knows she’s done worse, called out…
She snips that thought before it can take root.
Jade watches the rot leech from the orbs, the colors slowly returning to their vibrant selves. She lingers on this memory, waiting to see if there’s something more. A snippet of conversation between the pair. More about the meetings. Anything that will give her what she needs: proof. Proof of her wild accusation. Proof that Vidal was using them like she thinks he was.
GM: “That’s all they said,” Mabel murmurs.
“That’s all I heard.”
Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal, though. That’s something.
The blooming petals wither and scatter across the garden’s carpeting. Jade sits quietly with the orbs, pleased by their revelations. Still, though, it would be remiss of her to not probe further into these meetings.
Gentle fingertips caress the fallen petals as the orbs break free from their green stalks. She plucks one from the ground, focusing her intention on the soft remnants of the flower in her hand.
Meetings. Other mentions of meetings. Vidal.
She lets the wind take it from her grasp.
Perhaps there’s nothing else. Perhaps this had been the only mention. But if the krewe were meeting regularly with the prince, no doubt they might have made some other offhand remark.
GM: “I don’t remember any other times,” murmurs Mabel. “They’d all go places together without me, but they did that all the time.”
Celia: It’s enough.
As quietly as she had come, Jade withdraws from Mabel’s mind. She rises to her feet within the garden of memories, sending the orbs back to their respective havens with a gentle touch of her fingers. She retreats from the garden, pulls closed the gate behind her—white now instead of black—and skips down the forest path.
It takes her no time at all to find the familiar pull of energy directing her into her own body. Her consciousness spins along it, severing the tether between them as she goes.
Jade’s eyes open.
Her hands continue to work on the ghoul, easing the aches and pains she finds in her back.
“Thank you, Mabel.”
GM: Mabel’s face blanches with horror.
Celia: She can’t see it. But she can feel it, the sudden tightness in her neck and shoulders.
“Don’t be alarmed. You did well.”
GM: The ghoul starts weeping.
“Evan, I’m sorry…!”
Celia: “Why, Mabel? Why are you sorry? This helps us find him. This helps bring him back to you.” Jade lowers herself from the seat. Her arms slide around the crying woman like they would if it were her mother. “It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s going to be okay.”
GM: It doesn’t hurt that she’s had her share of practice comforting her own crying mother.
Mabel continues to weep.
“Vidal, he’s going to kill my boy, now…!”
Celia: Well. He might have already done so.
That’s what Jade had planned to say, anyway. Now she wonders at how close she’d been to the truth with her carefully concocted lie. Telling, isn’t it, that the only Stroyville who isn’t missing or dead is his childe’s lover. Meadows makes a good cover. She’d planned to use it herself to explain Roxanne’s disappearance.
“He won’t,” Jade says to her. Her words are whisper-quiet, barely a puff of breath against the woman’s neck. “You did nothing wrong. Everything you told me will help. I promise you that.”
Jade lets the woman cry herself out. She pulls Mabel onto her lap, such as it is while seated on the floor, and rubs her hands up and down her back in a slow, soothing gesture. The tears will stop coming eventually. They always do. And Jade is here for her until that time. Jade has her. Jade will make everything better.
After a time the tears do stop. And Jade, conscious of the things she has left to do tonight, conscious of her need for blood and the dwindling hours she has left to find it, takes the meal that is right in front of her. A hand winds through the woman’s hair, tilting her head to the side. Jade trails kisses down her neck until she finds the perfect spot. Her fangs grow long in her mouth, sharp as ever as they pierce the ghoul’s skin.
GM: Mabel cries for a while as she lets it all out. What she just said. Her fears for Evan. How much she misses him, and just wants “her boy” to “come home.”
The ghoul’s blood is sour against Jade’s tongue. It’s very different from the usual sweetness she’s accustomed to, but it’s not an unpleasant sourness, no more than salt or lemon or sour cream is. Mabel’s grief is soul-deep and haunts her every thought, Jade can tell. The ghoul truly loves and mourns her domitor as a surrogate son (and lover), even beyond the collar’s pull. Jade is hard-pressed to name the last occasion she tasted such grief, and the powerful taste lingers on her tongue, and makes her think of how Emily or Diana or Lucy would react, if she never come home one night. Such tears they would weep.
Mabel gives a last whispered, “Evan…” as her eyelids flutter. She looks very pale and does not move when the Toreador is done.
“You want me to put her to bed, babe?” Randy asks.
He looks at Mabel’s untouched plate of casserole, then starts eating from it.
Celia: Undoing the work of Roxanne had taxed her more than she’d thought it would. Manipulating Mabel’s memories left her Beast hungry. She drinks deeply, sour though it is, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of hot, red blood. It sates the Beast inside of her and leaves it all but purring in her chest when she’s done. Her tongue laps the final drops of blood from Mabel’s neck and the wound closes.
She thinks it every time.
She does the woman a final kindness, reaching out with her clan’s gift at warping emotions. She takes away her pain. She takes away her sadness, her grief, her misery. She removes it for this night, at least, so that she may sleep untroubled.
GM: Mabel does not respond, but the grief lines ease around her face.
Celia: Her eyes find Randy when she’s done. She rises, reaching for him, but the forkful of casserole he has shoved in his mouth halts her actions.
GM: He immediately sets it down and swallows.
Hard. He looks like he actually struggles not to choke, from how much he’s swallowed at once.
Celia: He’s not who she wants.
The thought crosses her mind and stills the flame inside of her that had wanted something more after this paltry mortal fare. She’d wanted…
It doesn’t matter, does it, because he’s not who she wants. His touch isn’t the touch that she craves. And bringing him into her arms now… it won’t turn him into that person.
She sees his eyes when she closes her own. They haunt her, even now, miles away from his influence.
But she reaches for him all the same, stepping closer so that her cheek can rest upon his chest. Maybe it was the grief she had brought into herself. Maybe it was the memories, or the mention of her sister, how she’d wanted to make it right. Maybe it was the fear, the cloying taste and scent of it, the tears that Mabel had wept.
For one moment she just wants to be close to someone. She wants to know that he will miss her if she’s gone. If, like Evan, her unlife is snatched away by a more powerful predator. Silly, maybe, to cling to the kine like this. He has no reason to love her. For seven years she has promised sex, dangled it over his head like a toy on a string, and not once had she let him have it.
And now… Christ, now it’s too late. Now she’s with someone else, someone who wouldn’t understand if she were to say she’d lain with her ghoul.
GM: Randy seems almost surprised by the motion, at first, but he wraps his arms around her and runs a hand through her hair, like she’s any mortal girlfriend seeking comfort in his arms.
“Hey. It’s okay, babe. It’s okay. I got you.”
Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe so her shoulders don’t shake. She makes no noise. But red rims her eyes all the same.
Would they miss her? Any of them, would they miss her if she died? Or is it just the collar that keeps them loyal? She’d tasted it herself, the love that Mabel has for Evan, the way she mourns for him. Real love. Twisted by the blood maybe, but there all the same. And here she is playing games with people. Breaking hearts. Toying with their emotions like… like she’s Veronica with a new plaything.
Happy noises, little toy.
She’s a terrible person.
But she takes the comfort that he offers her, even if it can’t go any further. Perhaps because it can’t go any further. Maybe, for just this moment, they can lie to each other. Maybe they can pretend that this is enough.