“To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires.”
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
GM: Fabian shows Em back to the sitting room in his new face.
“And may I say, sir, what a handsome one it is,” the ghoul smiles.
Emmett: “Thanks, Fabian. I’m sure the guests make their share of passes at you, eh? At least the ones who don’t want to drink you. Which I suppose is its own kind of compliment.”
Em wants to drink him, for example.
GM: “Many do, sir,” Fabian beams. “If the help isn’t attractive enough to drink, after all, how much help can they truly be?”
Emmett: Parrying predatory implications with obsequious good humor. Say what you like about Savoy, his servants know their manners.
He has the vague sense that kind of thing is going to matter a lot in this kind of life.
But then, it always has.
GM: And probably always will.
Fabian sets up another movie for Em, but he doesn’t have long to wait.
Emmett: Good thing, too. It’s Gone with the Wind.
GM: Sami walks through the door. She’s dressed differently in a LBD and red pumps. She looks him over.
“Welcome to the snake cult.”
Emmett: He laughs. “Right? She made it sound like you had the same reaction I did, for the most part. How good’s the inside track, once they have you in their coils?”
He’s wearing a different dead man’s coat, long and warm and with more pockets than it looks like.
“It’s nice to see you again, Sami.” His voice has more roughness to it than it did before his death, but it’s still his voice. Odd, how Dicentra was able to pull that off. “In the flesh, and all that.”
GM: “I bet. Ghost didn’t seem like it suited you.”
“We were always vampires anyway.”
She turns. “C’mon. We’ll talk and drive.”
Emmett: “You driving, I hope. I’m in the mood to ride shotgun.”
Doubtless she’d prefer it, too.
She never was a fan of him behind the wheel, after that night.
GM: “Lucky us.”
Still, it’s hard to picture that happening again.
Or maybe not. Maybe vampires just have their own ways of fucking each other.
Either way, they make their way to Sami’s flashy sports car and get in.
“They’re basically a crime syndicate with a religious mythos,” she answers as they get in.
Emmett: “Doesn’t sound so bad.”
GM: “Or syndicate slash cult, I guess.”
She revs up the engine. “There’s a lot of lying and hoops to jump through to hide it from other licks.”
“There’s risks, if they find out.”
Emmett: “Your girlfriend the medium know the truth?”
GM: “Yep. She’s one of us.”
Emmett: “Does Astride?”
GM: “He’s one of us too.”
“He’s a fuckhead. But he’s good at killing people.”
Emmett: He nods, quiet suspicion rewarded. “I learned where he sleeps, for what that’s worth.”
GM: “Could be worth something. We might have to put him down if he lets his Beast get any more out of control.”
The Quarter rolls past.
“But you asked me how the inside track is.”
“Well, I’m fucking rich.”
“Most things I want, I get.”
“The parties are fun.”
“And Camille… understands.”
“The snake religion bit. Whatever. I never believed in God.”
“But people have been trying to keep me from what I deserved ever since McGehee.”
Emmett: Deserved, huh. But he doesn’t say that. For one thing, he can’t say he hasn’t thought the same thing.
“What does she call them? The Aeons?”
GM: “The Aeons. The people born inside the club.”
“I don’t buy that the snake cult wants to bring everyone inside.”
“But if they bring me inside, what fucking ever.”
Emmett: “It’s hard to argue with that,” Em says, placid. “I’m just wondering about the entrance free. And who pays it. What kinds of things do they ask from us?”
GM: “‘Corrupt’ other licks. Find what they need. Supply them. Get them dependent on us. Or breathers. You’ll probably be good at it.”
“That’s the entrance fee and monthly membership dues. And how we get ahead. It’s basically a pyramid scheme.”
Emmett: “Well, those are old hat, at least. Where are you driving us?”
GM: “Mm, depends. Who’s your first renfield gonna be?”
Emmett: There’s a moment of somewhat surprised silence.
Then a moment of deeper consideration.
“You ever meet Bert Villars?”
GM: “I’ve heard of him. Haven’t had the pleasure.”
Emmett: “Well, let’s fix that.” Em gives her directions to the poisonous bastard’s office. “Bit of a toss-up to see if he’s already taken. If he isn’t, he’ll be a good get for us. And besides.”
“I had plans for him already. Better not to ghoul people you actually like, eh?”
“We’ll have to toss his place to find out where he lives, though.”
GM: Sami shrugs. “I don’t mind some B&E, but he might also just be around tomorrow.”
Emmett: “Since we have forever. Okay, then.” He thinks a little bit harder.
Then he asks for a phone.
He hopes Miranda’s number is the same.
GM: The phones rings for a bit.
“Leave a message,” comes an annoyed-sounding nasally voice.
Em wonders how many people bother to after that.
Emmett: Not him, apparently. He hangs up.
“Forget renfields,” Em says. “I just want to find a place to call home, for tonight at least.”
GM: Sami drives.
“What’s your name now? Camille said you’d have a new one.”
“Some of us do. Some of us don’t.”
“I kept mine. Obviously. If someone wants to go after my stupid family I don’t give a rat’s ass.”
Emmett: He thinks of Lena, handcuffed and anemic in her hospital bed. God knows if she’s still there.
God, and a Malveaux.
“I’ll take a new name,” he says. “Something flashy, probably. Dramatic. You know the sort. This seems like the kind of society that appreciates enigma.”
GM: “Pretty sure at least half the elders all use fake names.”
“So what’s yours?”
Emmett: It’s a few moment of consideration before he chuckles. He doesn’t answer her, not out loud anyways.
But as she drives off, a song flitters to life through her car, haunting but enchanting at the same time. Maybe Sami looks at the radio in surprise, but it’s not on. The sound is ambient, all-encompassing.
Stuck in her head, courtesy of his.
Maybe, but Em isn’t looking at her. He’s only got eyes for the road, the night, the city.
Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM
GM: Sami and the Sandman drive until they reach a dark building in the Quarter named “Chakras.” The Sandman’s heard of it. Invite-only BDSM club.
“She explain havens yet?” asks Sami.
Emmett: “I think it’s a weird word for a home.”
GM: “They’re where we sleep during the day. We’re weak and vulnerable then. So a haven has to be exactly that. Secure against intruders and the sun.”
Emmett: “And this place is a haven?”
GM: “Anywhere can be a haven in a pinch. We don’t need to eat, shower, or shit. We won’t wake up sore if we sleep on the ground. All we really need is someplace sunproof where breathers won’t disturb us.”
“But some havens, like here, are more secure than others.”
Emmett: “Whose is it, then?” The Sandman follows her from the car.
GM: “Camille’s. She owns this club, and a few others.”
Emmett: He whistles. “Fancy. And she’s, what, the matriarch?”
Emmett: “Mama snake. Cult leader. Whatever. She’s in charge?”
GM: “Nah. She’s middle management.”
“She and Elianna.”
Emmett: “Who’s above them, then?”
GM: “That’s complicated,” says Sami. “I’ll let you make up your own mind, when you see it.”
Emmett: It, she says. Interesting.
GM: They walk up to the club’s door.
“This is the Sandman,” Sami says to the bouncer. “He wants in, he gets in.”
The large and cruel-eyed man offers a mute nod.
The inside of the club resembles a lounge and art gallery. Everything is in black and dark red. There’s modern abstract art and iron sculptures along the walls, and a fully-stocked bar. Comfortable leather seats over places to sit down and discuss the art over drinks.
The sculptures nag at Em, though, the longer he stares at them. There’s a looming, grasping quality to their distinctly alien shapes. They seem humanoid, at first, but there’s a distinctly serpentine cast to their posture and anatomy, like they might silently coil around the room’s patrons as they drink their fine drinks and discuss the meanings behind abstract art.
There aren’t many people around this late. Or this early. There’s a handsome man dressed in strategically placed black leather who looks like he’s cleaning. His too-wide smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes. He’s still smiling, even when he’s not looking at Em and Sami.
He holds up a shot glass to the light, polishes it, smiles at Em, then stares away from him, back into the glass.
“Welcome, master…” he whispers.
He touches his teeth with his fingers and gives a little giggle.
Emmett: The ‘master’ glances at his escort. “Who’s the gimp? I remember Camille had another one, way back when we met.”
He trust he doesn’t have to clarify the night he’s talking about.
GM: “She has a lot of them. Their names don’t really matter.”
“There’s always more.”
Emmett: “I figured. Are all renfields kinksters? Or does she just like them that way?”
GM: “The Blood tends to twist them all, to some degree. Some of them eat rats. Some of them get stutters or hair-trigger tempers.”
“I’m not sure if she naturally draws kinksters or just twists them into that.”
“Probably some of both.”
Emmett: “How’d she find you?” he asks this one.
GM: “I heard about her club, master,” answers the smiling man, inclining his head. “I heard about the things that went on here, but it was by invitation only. I tried so hard to get in. Some of the members told stories about me. She decided to let me in, to see how far I would go.”
His grin widens, to the point it looks like his face is half-paralyzed.
“I have not disappointed her.”
Emmett: Well, this is turning out to be as wholesome as I thought it would be.
“Yeah? What kind of things do go on here, beyond getting tugged off with your hands behind your neck and a gag in your mouth?”
GM: “Revelation, master. The loss of illusion. The shattering of the old self. We experience ecstasy, terror, desire, satiety, despair, ignorance, and chaos, all to unwrap our true souls beneath layers of self-deception and social conditioning.”
Emmett: “And you feel wiser, now? Revealed to? Enlightened?”
GM: “I do, master, though I still have far to go.”
Emmett: “And what have you learned? Since I’m just starting.”
Ah, high school again. Telling Ren to explain why there were suddenly letters to deal with in math.
GM: The ghoul smiles.
“We are a visceral religion, master. Damaballah’s revelations must be experienced to be understood. But if you are here as you are, you have experienced some of them already.”
Emmett: Em eyes the leather-clad cultist. “What do I call you?”
GM: “Bitch or toy, if you like,” he grins.
“Also pet, gimp, slave, ghoul…”
Emmett: “…please tell me they’re not all like this,” he directs to Sami.
GM: “The ones here mostly are,” says Sami. “I guess your own will depend.”
Emmett: “Nothing personal, ah, bitch,” the Sandman says to the ghoul.
GM: The man just grins at him. “Let me know if I can ever be of service, master.”
Emmett: “Who else did you want me to meet?” the Sandman asks Sami.
GM: “Right now there’s no licks here but us and Camille. There’s a bigger cult meeting tomorrow.”
Emmett: “What does the cult believe, exactly?”
GM: “She didn’t give you the shpheel?”
Emmett: “It was loose on details. What do the ones who aren’t bloodsuckers believe, is the point.”
GM: “That varies. It’s a mystery religion. Which means, the more you pay in and do things for the cult, the more about its beliefs you actually get to learn.”
“Like Scientology. Except we don’t directly bill people.”
“The initiates think we’re just a Vodouisant cult. Worship some loa and get things in return.”
“Here, they’re people who come to Camille’s clubs for a good time and get promised an even better one if they’ll participate in some rituals. Or they’re just outright looking to be bondage slaves, because it’s a bondage club. Or to do things to slaves if they’re tops.”
“She shows them a better time than they’ll find anywhere else. Sex, drugs, kinks, whatever. The people who succumb and can’t live without her she just uses. There are a lot of well-connected people who show up for her sex parties. To a lot of them she isn’t a vampire.”
“The ones who impress her she brings into the next ring of the cult. They get to know more about what she is, the Aeons, and our origins. They get tested harder. They undergo more of the revelations. Which are like bitch over there describes. They’re expected to do more for the cult, and Camille does more for them. The more revelations they undergo, the more they learn about us, and the deeper in they get.”
“A lot of us have our own self-contained little mystery cults like this. We trade favors and contacts and whatevers with each other. To get cultists and prospective cultists the things that hook them.”
Emmett: “What about you? Keep some believers on the side?”
“I figure you will too. They’re pretty useful.”
Emmett: There are people in this city who would kill for a break from their nightmares, the Sandman thinks but does not say.
“Might be,” he agrees. “What do you tell yours? And how many of ‘us’ are there?”
GM: “I mostly don’t bother with the religion angle.”
“You have to at least partly believe it to really sell it.”
Emmett: Especially snake oil.
GM: “There’s a lot of us. More than the Camarilla realizes.”
“Savoy’s happy for us to make ourselves at home.”
Emmett: “I like the sound of that. When do we get together? If we do.”
GM: “I just said. Tomorrow.”
Emmett: “Oh. The entire clan?”
GM: “Probably not all of us, but a lot of us. Wholesome family get-together.”
Emmett: “Wholesome,” he repeats, looking at “bitch” and pacing amongst the serpentine statuary. Not how he’d decorate, but that’s okay.
It has… potential.
“Okay, sure. I’m excited to meet the cousins. Did you bring me here just to meet the help, or was there something else we’re here for?”
GM: “Remember that talk we had about havens?”
Emmett: “Ah, so this is where you’re sticking me for the day? I thought we might come to another arrangement. Like maybe you could take me back to yours.”
GM: “Camille thought we’d all sleep together today. More wholesome family time.”
Emmett: “Oh. Well, you should have said. Lead the way.”
GM: The pair head through another door. The room resembles nothing so much as a medieval torture chamber, replete with stone walls and floors, an iron maiden with a screaming metallic face, racks, wheels, and several other metallic devices whose function Em cannot identify. Some of them look almost like the abstract sculptures in the previous room. Whips, chains, scourges, and assorted leather and metallic implements hang from the walls, along with several gagged and blindfolded men and women bent into extreme positions, naked but for leather gloves and boots. The scent of blood hangs heavy in the air. Em cannot say where it is from, but his fangs lengthen in his mouth. At the sound of Em’s and Sami’s footsteps, some of them start screaming and shaking their restraints. The gagged sounds are raw, desperate, and filled with terror. Others shiver with rapture, the men growing noticeably firm and the women wet.
Most do some amount of both.
“You can practice on them,” mentions Sami. “Any disciplines you’re trying to learn.”
Emmett: “Disciplines… those are the superpowers, right?”
Emmett: Em does so. His squeamishness over using human beings as things is made much easier to bear by the opportunity to test out his cool new vampire powers. He asks Sami for suggestions of things to try.
He cannot, it turns out, turn into a snake. Nor can he turn invisible, no matter how unmoving and boring he tries to be. He’s just too remarkable.
He can, however, use the same special effects he’s become accustomed to. At a whim, strange noises and sensations dance among the assembled kine. Lights flicker in otherworldly arrays.
One of the women whimpers in confusion at the unreality.
“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Em tells her, instinctively, and for a moment, the air is charged.
Somehow, when her eyes meet his, there’s trust in them. Faith. Belief.
All completely unearned, and like most lies, it’ll make the truth hurt more.
But for the moment, her faith belongs to him.
GM: He feels another woman’s hands upon his shoulders. They’re cold hands, and something seems to almost shudder beneath the palms.
Shudder, or slither.
“Sami said you’d be good at this,” Camille’s voice purrs into his ear. Her cold smile meets his.
He could swear she wasn’t there a moment ago.
“Don’t think of it as hiding. Think of it as telling them who you are. You’re reaching into their heads and telling them what to see, what to believe.”
The woman’s eyes meet his. Sami’s already removed her blindfold. They’re manic eyes, wide and sleep-deprived, hovering on that knife’s edge between suffering and pleasure.
Support: And for all that, there’s something familiar in the shade of blue that stares up at him. Cerulean, he recalls, like the tropical seas he had once told her that he’d take her to, the whispered promises of a new life together away from the desperately degenerate city. He remembers the way those eyes had sparkled at the vision he created for her, the trembling fingers that had finally fumbled at the buttons of her blouse, her nervous stutters that she had “never done this type of thing before.”
The name rings in his mind. He remembers the way she had tasted like strawberries and cream, the delicate floral scent of her perfume, how she had called fifteen times the night her husband disappeared and left increasingly frantic voice-mails. But before all that she had looked at him the way she looks at him now, transfixed by the illusions he creates.
Suffering and pleasure. He’d brought her both.
Emmett: “Eileen,” he murmurs. “Your name is Eileen.” He blinks and looks at Camille, somehow less startled at her sudden appearance than he might expect. “She’s… do you know who she is?”
He’s more surprised, anyways, by the realization that he does.
Not like him to remember a pretty face. They come and go. Or at least, he does.
GM: “I know every slave here,” Camille smiles, stroking the woman’s face. Tenderly.
Emmett: Em nods, satisfied. He reaches for the woman, fingers stopping inches from her flesh. Hesitant.
He’s already touched her, of course. But he was just a human monster then.
GM: “Hesitance is a limit to overcome. A chain placed on you by the Aeons. There are no limits and no chains here.”
Camille turns the woman by her chin to face the Sandman.
“Be all that you would be, Sandman.”
The Sandman doesn’t recall telling her his name.
Emmett: She’s been listening. Natural enough.
But all that he would be? That’s an easy enough prompt.
After all, what does a vampire actually do?
And Em is very thirsty. He doesn’t will his fangs to come out, or so much as remember that he has them. They lead him. Seek her jugular like a freshwater well in the sweltering swamp.
Once, she tasted of strawberries. But now?
Now her taste is more than it ever could have been, before.
Support: A delicate shudder travels down the slave’s spine at her mistress’ touch. She leans into the hand on her cheek, but her eyes don’t leave the Sandman’s.
Even when he leans in.
Even when his fangs grow long in his mouth.
Even when he bites.
Her eyes finally close, cerulean hue disappearing beneath the flutter of her lids. Her lips part and she sighs softly, the same sort of sound he used to get her to make.
GM: Strawberry bliss floods the Sandman’s tongue. It’s not like it was, the first time. The hunger was an inferno within his chest during his dark rebirth. His every vein sang with unholy bliss. This isn’t that. But it’s familiar. It’s the high of cocaine, the orgasm between a girl’s legs, the bite of something delicious and Nutella-lathered. It runs down his throat like red velvet, cooling the heat within his breast, assuaging the monster.
It’s a better hit than any coke he ever did.
He didn’t, he realize as he pulls away, think how to do it. It just comes naturally. As naturally as breathing. As eating. He looks down at her, rolling over the last droplets of coppery bliss in his tongue, and sees there’s a flush to her paler cheeks. A needful shudder running down her body. She looks like she’s enjoyed this almost as much as him.
That’s like last time.
And also not.
But compared to last time, it’s almost refreshingly honest.
“Lick her neck,” says Camille, “and you’ll seal up the fang marks.”
“Always lick a vessel after you feed. Or everyone will know that you did.”
Emmett: The Sandman licks her neck. Feels her hair in his fingers. Tastes the last notes of her vitae on his tongue.
Hears the noises his drinking coaxes from her. Her pains. Her pleasures.
Where do they end? And where do they start?
“Can I keep her?” The questions comes unbidden. He isn’t thinking. He isn’t even being sarcastic. It just seems like the right thing to say, the correct way to word it.
He almost promises to feed her and take her out for walks while he’s at it.
GM: Camille laughs.
“Go on, then. Feed her some of your blood.”
Apparently, ‘feed her’ is part of it.
Emmett: He almost asks for a knife before he remembers the equipment he’s got in his mouth. A flash of fang, the strange flavor of his own vitae—what is that flavor? Hot milk? Chocolate? It’s gone— and his wrist is pressed to Eileen’s lips, his slashed vein an unholy nipple for a blasphemous feeding.
Support: Eileen falls upon his wrist without prompting, her lips closing around the offered flesh to bring the blood into her mouth. She sucks eagerly, like a child at a teat, and he hears the same sort of pleased noises from her that he had given her a moment ago. Her body shudders in want as his blood flows through her.
Emmett: Later, he’ll wonder what it was about her that made him choose that moment, that instant before his marriage to the snakes was consummated. Maybe it was that when he saw the woman whose life he had destroyed, something like regret flashed through the Sandman’s unbeating heart. Something like trepidation. What could she be but a bad men? No matter where he goes, Emmett will be damned to look into the eyes of the people he’s destroyed, and maybe destroy them a little bit harder.
Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe seeing her is like feeling somebody walk on the grave of his conscience, dead and buried and haunting him since that night he threw somebody who had hurt him to monsters, and become a monster himself. Maybe that ghost of a thing that might never have lived in the first place whispers to him, haunting the gaps between Eileen’s gasps:
It is not too late to make this right.
Maybe. But really, who knows why the vampire previously known as Emmett Delacroix did anything? Certainly most of the people who sentenced him to death must have been perplexed. When he was alive, he chased his death like he was allergic to life, only to find death so wanting he clawed his way back to… well, to this.
And now that he’s neither, perhaps because now that he is neither, he finds himself inclined to think of third options.
His eyes find Camille’s. For a moment, just a moment, they seem a tad vertical.
“We need to talk.”
GM: The Setite strokes Eileen’s face. Smiles. Motions for him to proceed.
The eyes are the same shade of poison as nine years ago.
But they’re a familiar devil, now.
Emmett: The short of it is he’s still processing this. That’s his main sell, anyways. It’s not a malicious deception, but one of convenience. Come to think of it, he’s not actually sure it’s a lie. He’s stopped differentiating between reality and illusion recently.
Between dying, being a ghost, confronting his worse half, committing mass ectocide, and becoming a vampire, he’s gotten a little lost. He needs time, you see.
Time, and space.
He’s very apologetic about the whole thing. He won’t be able to stay away forever, he knows, but still. If high schoolers are entitled to a gap year, reincarnated monsters sure as shit are, too.
That said, he explains he doesn’t know when he might be back, either. There’s a bunch of places he wants to see, cities he hasn’t been to in years.
“You said things were interesting in L.A. these days, right?” he asks.
He doesn’t want Camille to feel like he’s taking advantage of her generosity.
“The truth is I don’t know yet what this existence is like, and my curiosity and natural distrust of authority would taint my usefulness to you. And besides, if I’m not smart enough to survive on my own, I doubt you’d get much value out of me anyways.”
He wouldn’t even need much to be on his way. A little money, a good vehicle, maybe some drugs to make more money, and company.
“She’ll do,” he says, gesturing to Eileen.
GM: Camille listens patiently. Sami glances her way, once or twice. But their mutual sire just smiles.
“I asked what greatness lay within you, Sandman. What purpose you believed yourself intended for.”
“Some call our clan tempters. Corruptors. Pushers. Whatever one calls us, we provide people with what they want.”
Her hand slowly pets the new ghoul.
“You aren’t sure what you want. Are you?”
Emmett: “No,” he says. “I’m not.”
GM: “To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires. To master others, one must master oneself. I told you the truth, Sandman. If you want to walk away, walk away. We only desire willing believers.”
“That’s how they get you,” says Sami.
She might or might not be joking.
“Eternity is a long time. Find your purpose,” says Camille. “We will be here when and if you return.”
“Think a motorbike feels more your style than a car, though,” remarks Sami. “You can be that asshole who doesn’t wear a helmet.”
Emmett: “Covering this face would be the biggest accident,” Em agrees, deadpan.
GM: And he doesn’t need to, does he? He can get into a fatal crash and bounce right back up. And if he actually gets hurt, that’s nothing a little blood can’t fix. He can eat someone else to make them eat the bill.
Emmett Delacroix was always good at making other people pay for his mistakes.
And hey. Maybe after feeding his worse half to a monster, he’ll make fewer this time around.
“You don’t need our money,” says Camille. “Our needs are few. Use your new gifts, and kine will open their wallets to you without hesitation. Their trust and admiration is already yours.”
“You have no idea how easy it is for us to get money,” Sami agrees. “You’d have killed for star mode when we were alive.”
“You’ll learn from experience, too, how far you can push them. Warnings never did a lot for you.”
Camille snaps her fingers. ‘Bitch’ appears, then at a glance, starts unfastening Eileen’s restraints.
“It’s funny,” says Sami as the other ghoul goes about his work. “I always knew this was what I wanted.”
“Thought it’d be what you wanted, too. We were already vampires when we were alive.”
She tilts her head.
“But I guess you’ve never really done things any way but your own way, have you?”
“Get her some clothes,” says Camille. ‘Bitch’ disappears again and comes back with something dark and leather.
“He is your master now,” she tells the new ghoul. “You will follow him and obey him.”
“Yes, mistress,” Eileen answers, bowing her head.
“See you around, Sandman,” says Sami as the ghoul dresses. “Watch your back. It’s dangerous out there.”
Is that concern in her voice?
“So is existing, my childe,” smiles Camille. “So is existing.”