“Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were?”
GM: It’s in color.
Caramel-brown skin. Darker, almost black, but brown-tinted hair. Red lips. Gold earrings. Green eyes. Even poisonous as they are, even for all the awful memories they conjure up, they’re in color.
It’s all in color.
There’s a low breeze against his skin. There’s birds chirping in his ears, and pleasantly muted sounds of traffic, cars with living people behind the wheel, thrumming along towards their destinations.
He can smell again. Oh, he could smell in the Shadowlands, but the only smells there were of death and rot. They were all bed smells. Here he smells recently-cut grass and sweet floral scents.
And, above all, a coppery red that he knows is the most luscious scent he will ever take in, from now ’til eternity.
He feels no heartbeat in his chest. Some things haven’t changed since dying.
But he does feel the monster. He feels it in the fangs in his mouth. He feels it clawing and pacing inside his chest, sated only by blood, and only, he knows, temporarily. Monsters must feed. Monsters must kill.
“It’s not on your side…” Gasper had said, before it devoured him.
He’s lying on the ground. The Poison-Eyed Lady pulls back from him, licks closed a bloody gash along her wrist, and offers him a hand up.
It’d feel like clasping the Devil’s hand to make a pact, if he hadn’t already done that.
Emmett: Em blinks. Squeezes his eyes shut. And opens them slowly.
Color. All the colors in the world. Even the ones that make him nervous, like that poisonous shade of green.
The colors are still there the second time he opens his eyes. And, Em realizes, they’ll be there the third, too.
They’ll be there forever.
And when you’ve got forever, what’s a few seconds to take in the view?
It doesn’t take him very long to take her hand, though. Some things don’t take much thinking.
Nor does he break the silence. He simply gazes, at her, at the surroundings, at everything that isn’t rot.
Gorgeous, mute, and with something new Emmett’s never had before. Not in the flesh.
He waits for her to speak.
GM: Em’s hand is a black man’s. It’s a bit thicker than his old one.
Emmett: Okay, that’s strange.
Bit ironic to start complaining about color now, though.
GM: He looks around and takes in his surroundings.
They’re a bit different from last time.
GM: They’re outdoors, on the same rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.
The stacks of corpses are gone. The blood and gore is gone. The rot and rust is gone. Everything is polished and fresh and bright with color. It’s night out, and Em feels like it’s going to night out for some time, but next to the Shadowlands’ endless gloom he might as well be attending a gay pride on a Miami beach at noon.
“I told you I’d have my eye on you,” winks the Poison-Eyed Lady .
It feels almost friendly.
“Both of them, even,” Em manages. “I’m a little confused. I think I was having a dream. I was dead, you see.”
Are they alone?
GM: Savoy is there. So is Preston. Both are seated by the table. Bale stares at him appraisingly with her glass eye. A dark-skinned woman in a cotton gown, who somehow feels… less than them, is packing away some unlit candles, chalk, bottles, an animal carcass, and assorted other Vodoun trappings. She’s also removing a veve inscribed on the floor round Em. He can hear a heartbeat thumping inside her chest.
All of the others’ cavities are still.
Savoy motions towards the iron table. The chairs around it have cushions. Intact, red cushions, not the hole-ridden and slimy bits of shredded gray cloth they did in the Shadowlands.
“Have a seat, Mr. Delacroix. I’m sure you’ve got questions.”
The Poison-Eyed Lady assumes a place by the table.
GM: The woman in the cotton dress finishes cleaning up. Bale looks away and back towards the French Quarter lord, though her gaze seems to only half rest upon him.
“I am called elsewhere,” she says.
Savoy inclines his head.
“Of course, Madam Bale. Thank you as ever for your services.”
Emmett: He sits down next to her, if such a space is available. “Many,” he says. “But I’m sure you know better where to start than I do.”
His gaze flickers to Bale at her statement.
“A pleasure to meet you, Madam Bale.”
GM: Such a space is available.
“Is his memory intact?” Preston inquires of Bale.
The glass-eyed woman does not look at or respond to either of them. She stares out over the city, offers a deep inclination her head, then slowly walks backwards with lesser-feeling woman.
She only looks away when she reaches the elevator, gives a murmured, “Lord Savoy,” and then takes it down.
Savoy offers Em an indulgent smile.
“Madam Bale can seem a little strange to Kindred who meet her for the first time, but she’s that way to everyone. It’s the price for the powers she commands, I think.”
“At least she is more coherent than Curry,” replies Preston.
“She is that,” grants Savoy.
“But as to Mr. Delacroix’s questions….”
He smiles towards the Poison-Eyed Lady.
“You were dead, and you are still dead,” she says to Emmett.
Emmett: “Not all afterlives are equal.”
GM: “They are not,” she agrees. “My name is Camille Richelieu. Madam Bale and I brought you from that afterlife to this one.”
“You are Kindred now. What mortals call a vampire.”
“For as long as you drink the blood of the living, you are immortal.”
Emmett: He nods, still patient. “That sounds better than my dream. In that one, I was a ghost, and I couldn’t drink anything.”
GM: “You were not dreaming.”
Emmett: “May I see a mirror, please?”
GM: “Nat?” asks Savoy.
Preston taps the tablet in her hands, then turns it around. It reflects the rest of his surrounding’s, though Em’s features are indistinct. The lighting is terrible.
“We’re what you might call camera-shy by nature,” smiles the French Quarter lord.
“Focus,” says Camille.
“Will yourself to appear. Look for your features. They’re there.”
Em concentrates. His face slowly swims into view. The lighting isn’t that bad after all.
It’s also not his face. He sees a moderately handsome, goateed African-American man with short hair in maybe his late 20s.
“I’m afraid your original body is buried over 100 miles away, Mr. Delacroix, so we had to get you a new one,” says Savoy. “If you’d prefer your old face back, we have an associate who can alter your appearance.”
Emmett: “I’ve seen worse,” En replies gamely, and lifts a hand to his goatee. “Whose body is this, and how did I wind up in it? And why?”
He glances over his shoulder. “I must seem terribly rude, having my existential transition right at the beginning of our acquaintance, Lord Savoy.”
GM: Preston sets down her tablet.
The French Quarter lord chuckles. “I think we’re both entering new territory here, Mr. Delacroix. There certainly aren’t many Kindred who enter their Requiems as you have!”
Emmett: “Not many,” Em echoes, “But more than one?”
GM: “If there are others, I can’t profess to have heard of them. As far as I’m aware, Mr. Delacroix, you are one of a kind.”
“If it can happen here, it could have happened elsewhere,” Camille says contemplatively.
“As to your body, I can’t say I know who it belonged to either. We wind up with a lot of bodies at the Evergreen, let’s just say,” Savoy winks.
“Though Nat can have someone look into it if you’re curious.”
Emmett: “That seems like it might end up being relevant. What was that about a…surgeon, you said? Somebody who could make me look like my old dead self?”
GM: “It unlikely to be relevant if your face changes,” states Preston. She looks towards Savoy. “Nevertheless, sir, I will see it done.”
“Very good, Nat,” he smiles, then turns back towards Em.
“Oh yes, her name’s Dr. Dicentra. She’s quite talented. She can make you look like your old self down to your nose hairs.”
GM: “How do dead souls live on as ghosts?” asks Camille.
Emmett: “Fair enough,” Em agrees amiably. “I suppose I would like to know the name of this body anyhow, just in case somebody comes looking for it.”
GM: “It will be looked into,” Preston states.
“It’s a trade secret exactly how she does it,” Savoy winks at Em’s earlier question. “I don’t know the exact process either, only the results. But the Blood carries many gifts.”
Emmett: “Gifts,” Em echoes. “I suppose I’m confused as to how you come into this,” he directs to Camille. “Did you know I was a ghost?”
GM: “Yes,” she answers. “Madam Bale helped your spirit cross over into our world and was your midwife into the Requiem. She informed Lord Savoy that a Kindred’s vitae would be necessary to complete your transformation. In so many words, a sire.”
“He thought about who to call and asked around.”
Emmett: “And your name arose?”
GM: “He asked Sami first.”
GM: “She thought she would be a better sister than sire to Emmett Delacroix. She knew I’d had my eye on you, after all.”
The woman’s poisonous eyes simmer as she smiles.
Emmett: “So you turned her as well.”
GM: “She received her first taste of my vitae after you asked me to bring her back.”
“She received the full thing after she struck it rich and proved what an asset she was to our clan.”
Em remembers that. When she told him she was ‘happy,’ and he concluded she no longer needed him to survive.
Emmett: But there’s a more interesting word in that sentence.
No ‘K’ in front of that one, he’s pretty sure.
GM: “In the time before time, there was Gran Maître, the supreme god, alone and apart.”
“Gran Maître created Damballah, the great white serpent and primordial creator of all further life. Damballah created the cosmos by using his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth.”
“Damballah created many further gods; his wife Aïda-Wedo, goddess of the rainbow; Ogoun, god of war and metal; Zarabanda, the messenger-god; Cristo Negro, the king of the dead; and all the saints and mystéres and loa and whatever you want to call them.”
“Long ago, a mortal king stole divine power by cutting out and eating Damballah’s heart. This was not actually fatal to the god, but it made him and his consort terribly angry. Aïda’s curse banished the king from life and the day, while Damballah’s curse banished him from the peace of the grave, but the two gods could not take back the stolen power. The king, however, could share it with others who accepted the curse as its price.”
“The king’s brothers and sisters persuaded him to share his stolen power, and in turn passed it on to others.”
“For all its curses, this power was a great blessing. After death, the worthy may become gods; but those who inherit the king’s stolen power may do so in the flesh rather than as spirits. They may live forever and command fantastic powers as living gods.”
“But the king’s brothers and sisters became greedy and wished to be the only gods. They used their powers to oppress and subjugate mankind, to destroy their spirits and prevent them from achieving their potential, denying them the chance to become gods upon their deaths. The king’s brothers and sisters would only allow further gods to exist by their permission: whomever they chose to pass on the king’s stolen power to.”
“The king’s son also received the stolen power from his father, but he did not grow jealous and greedy. He did not seek to oppress and command mortals, but to liberate them from their self-imposed chains and to see them all become gods upon their deaths. He passed on his stolen power to his own children, whom he considered worthy to aid him in this goal. They passed on the stolen power to their own children, who passed it eventually to me, and I to you and Samantha.”
Camille smiles at him knowingly. It’s almost comforting, if he can look past the glimmer of that awful night in her simmering eyes.
“Samantha believes none of this. She said you would believe none of it either.”
“Your belief is not necessary.”
“I would instead ask: Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were? Have you ever felt as if the world was stacked against you, and full of rules and power structures that benefited a small group of people who didn’t want to let you in to their club? Have you ever felt as if idiots enjoyed nice things they didn’t want you to enjoy too? Have you ever felt as if the only way to get what you wanted was to lie and steal? Have you ever felt as if the world would grind you down to a banal existence of 9 to 5 mediocrity if you didn’t cheat to get ahead? Have you ever felt as if you had an extraordinary vision, potential, or destiny that the world wanted to destroy before you could achieve it?”
Emmett: Em says nothing to her question. But he does not need to. The distance in his eyes is a soliloquy. Even the staring statues of the garden know what he knows.
Some stories are truer than the myths they’re made of.
“And what do you ask of me, in exchange for this blessing?”
GM: The poison-eyed woman’s smile turns content at the look in his eyes.
“That depends, partly, how you want to spend eternity.”
“Sami says you ran confidence schemes and wanted to make movies.”
“Do that. Do something else. It doesn’t matter what. Only that you fulfill your purpose.”
Emmett: “What purpose?”
GM: “What you felt everyone in your old life tried to stop you from achieving. The greatness that you knew lay within you.”
“What was that?”
Emmett: Em is silent for a time. But now the look in his eyes is less certain.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says finally. “But you said I have eternity. Do you need an answer now?”
GM: “What is ‘now’ to one who has forever?” smiles Camille.
“You asked who we were. Our clan goes by many names. We call ourselves the Timoun nan Damballah, the Children of Damballah, we in whose veins runs the blood of gods, we whose forefather alone sought to uplift mankind to its full potential.”
“Ignorant Kindred call us the Followers of Set, but you will find no clanmate in the city who worships a jackal-headed god of Egypt.”
“Ignorant Kindred call us tempters and corruptors. They call us fixers, dealers, and purveyors of vices, and believe we ‘corrupt’ others simply to gain power over them.”
“But we seek only to do as our forefather has done, to break the chains imposed on humanity by the Aeons—our name for the forces that kept you from achieving greatness in your old life. Vice only holds what power one allows it. Sin is only sin because the Aeons say it is sin. One must transgress against taboos to overcome them.”
“Only the small-minded are ‘corrupted’ by us and enslaved by us. They are only trapped within our coils if they cannot see past them.”
Camille pauses briefly.
“You asked what we would ask of you.”
“We would ask to help you prosper, and that you help us to prosper.”
“We would ask you to help lead others to truth, and to use those who cannot find it—those you ‘corrupt’—as you see fit.”
“We would ask you to enjoy immortality’s pleasures alongside us.”
“We would ask that you allow us to help you achieve purpose and greatness.”
“We would ask to protect you from our enemies, and that you help us against our enemies, Kindred who hate us for the crime of our blood.”
“We would ask you to defy the Aeons, and that you help us to defy the Aeons.”
“We would ask that you do these things and accept these things only willingly.”
Emmett: “Only willingly? What would happen if I refused?” His tone indicates he has no intention of doing so.
GM: “Then we would part ways here. You could remain in the city, or establish a new unlife somewhere else. We don’t have any use for unwilling converts, and trying to harm you is effort expended for no gain.”
The woman extends a slender hand for him to shake. She smiles more fully, and Emmett notices that her eyes have vertically slit pupils. Like a snake’s.
Preston continues to work on her tablet.
Savoy, seemingly content to let Emmett’s sire handle things with him, grins with the pleasure that comes from watching a sealed deal.
“So what do you say, Emmett Delacroix?” asks Camille. “Are you one of us?”
Emmett: It’s a good sell. One of the best he’s ever heard. Here he is, naked and helpless and young, and all she has to do is make vague promises with vaguer obligations. It’s a winning formula for a scam: all carrot, and the only stick is how obviously ill-footed he’ll be without them. Em’s disoriented, but he’s not so out of it that “vampire snake cult” sounds like a winning proposition for eternity.
And yet. At least with a cult, you know where you stand.
“I’m one of you,” he says, as truthfully as that goes.
Just one more sucker trying to be a snake.
His hand is cold against hers, but so much more real than a wraith’s.