Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Caroline III

“There can be no power without sacrifices made, risks ventured, or obligations incurred.”
Abélia Devillers

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM*

GM: “How did you find your audience with our guest, sweet child?” Abélia asks as she lifts Simmone into the crook of her arms. A few rocks and murmured words, and the child is out like a stone.

Caroline: “Enlightening, though perhaps not as he had intended.”

Caroline has retreated to a chair. The departure of Savoy took with it the unbearable pressure on her chest, but the relief is almost worse. The feeling that she’s done something wrong.

“This is all going to accelerate, isn’t it?”

GM: “The couch, please,” says her mother as she assumes one of its seats. She lays Simmone down to rest on her other side, then lays a hand upon Caroline’s shoulders.

“This Jyhad enters its endgame, my treasure. I fear for you and your sisters. Even as I know you are strong and clever, and your sisters safe, a mother’s heart cannot do aught but worry for her children.”

Caroline: “You have cause to worry,” Caroline agrees.

“With the lines drawn there is little need to pull punches, to probe for opportunities. The blows will rain down now.”

GM: “You shall not be without time, sweet child. You may yet plant the seeds for many endeavors. But nor may those endeavors span centuries and generations. Their fruits must be harvested soon.”

Caroline: “If my sire has his way I will not be here to till those fields for some time,” Caroline observes. “And there are plenty that I expect will salt any earth over which I have passed in that time.”

“One in particular.”

GM: Her mother smiles serenely.

“What would you do, my treasure?”

Caroline: “As cunning and manipulative as Savoy is, he spoke truthfully when he spoke of sheriff. He must die. Now. Before he is left to spend months or years unchecked poisoning every well, dismantling everything I have built, ruining me in the eyes of the entire city before I start.”

GM: The raven-haired woman’s dark eyes shine proudly.

“Fight the first battle, win the first war.”

Caroline: “He’s not Savoy’s childe,” she states with certainty.

“Who is he?”

GM: “You are wrong, sweet child. On what evidence do you base this conclusion?”

Caroline: Caroline’s brow furrows. “The potency of the blood of each of his childer, for one.”

GM: “The strength of a Cainite’s vitae may vary considerably for many reasons.”

“The amaranth’s fruits and simple attunement with one’s Beast may also thicken the Blood prematurely.”

“And it is not in the sheriff’s nature to sire childer who shy from any path to power.”

Caroline: “It seemed to me that his presentation to the prince as childe of his rival the best way to earn his entry, rather than the truth of his origins… but you are certain?”

GM: “This is speculation, sweet child. And what you have cited previously is evidence, not proof. I am certain the legal distinction is not lost upon you.”

Caroline: “Evidence of his actions I have aplenty. Evidence of his origins I have less,” she admits.

GM: Her mother nods. “It is well that you distrust the purported origins of your fellow Cainites. Many of them are lies and fabrications. But it is one matter to suspect a lie, and another to believe a truth of one’s own telling.”

“Yet the sheriff’s origins matter but little if you now seek his destruction. Whether he has walked the night for many centuries or merely one, such a trial shall test you as no trial has before.”

“Nor may I undertake this trial upon your behalf.”

Caroline: “I would not ask you to fight my battles,” Caroline agrees. “What aid might you offer, however?”

GM: Caroline’s shadow begins to darken. And lengthen. So too does Simmone’s. And the furnishings’. The grandfather clocks’. All the assorted contents of the living room. Black and deep as if against a desert sun at high noon, but no light shines here. The room grows only darker.

“Make war upon the sheriff alone, my child, and you shall die.”

“Without strong hearts and skilled swords at your back, this battle is hopeless.”

“You require allies.”

Darkness swallows the last of the room’s features. Caroline’s deathless sight does not pierce the gloom. Her mother’s voice buoys her like a raft in a storm-tossed sea.

“We may find allies.”

A figure strides out from the gloom, shadows dripping from his features like water from a swimmer. His clean-shaven face has a boyish, all-American sort of wholesomeness. His side part style for his short brown hair gives him a faintly retro look. He walks confidently with his head held high, bright blue eyes fixed on the better tomorrow just ahead. He’s several inches above the average height and naturally slim of build: the sort of body that’s made for baseball rather than football, but not without muscle bulk either. At first glance, one might be forgiven for thinking he was an upwardly mobile young businessman rather than a Brujah Anarch, clad as he is in his three-piece gray suit.

Caroline recognizes him from Coco’s side, when she delivered Amelie. Roderick Durant, the primogen’s childe.

“Soon, his heart shall be poisoned against the sheriff.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes light up in the dark. Coco’s childe would be a valuable ally.

GM: “The two shall come to blows. Troile’s scion will not triumph, but he shall survive this battle—and vow its continuance upon a more favorable field.”

“Approach him no sooner than March’s nineteenth night.”

Caroline: Come to blows? What would Coco’s childe possibly have to come to blows with Donovan over?

She doesn’t doubt her mother.

“I will do so.”

She has other allies in mind that will take some time to position.

GM: Shadows wash over Roderick’s face. Boyish features turn hard, suddenly, and arrogant. Contemptuous and cruel. Something dark grows in his eyes.

“Beware, my treasure. I sense another hand upon his shoulder, and I sense rage beyond even his clan’s burning hot within his heart. His aid is not preordained. It must earned with subtlety and care.”

Caroline: Rage. What might enrage the pampered elder’s childe?

A question for a future night.

Herself, perhaps the Lasombra if they arrive in time, her own ghouls, Roderick.

Not enough, she fears, if the sheriff is all she fears.

“Are there others?”

GM: Shadows consume the young Brujah.

They disgorge another man. He wears trouble. Trench coat, long and dark. Tie, slim and darker. Shirt, white with forgotten stains: blood, gumbo, guilt. Sensible shoes, the kind of shoes you wear to stalk devils. Felt hat, gray and banded, casting shadows. A man, obscured. He carries a silver thermos, like a bullet. It probably holds booze. A gator-skinned briefcase hangs from his other hand, or where it should be. In its place, a prosthetic hook gleams. Sharply. A stray shadow rustles the man’s coat, momentarily exposing a pair of well-oiled revolvers. They sleep in a single shoulder holster. Lightly.

Beneath his gumshoe armor, a once-muscular man lurks. His frame is held together by gristle and grit. His shoulders, slack with the weight of sleepless nights and cases gone cold. Swollen joints crack and groan, badges of hard-won gutter brawls and lonely stakeouts. Scarred knuckles, meat-slab hands. His skin, riddled with scars, rat out old injuries like bad alibis. A history of hurt. His face, grim. Unlovely. Unloving. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw. Limp cigarette dangling from pale lips. A countenance of low cunning and stubborn pursuit. His eyes, deep-sunk. Heavy-lidded. The hue of old bourbon, a watery brown that runs to black and drinks in everything they see. Lies. Lusts. The glint of truth in the flood of grime.

Caroline: The sight of the ancient detective stirs unpleasant feelings in her breast.

“He disappeared. Went into hiding.”

GM: “Do you doubt Maman that he may be of help, my treasure?”

“That which is lost may again be found.”

Caroline: Fontaine.

Lou, who taught her so much of this existence. Who risked his own to save her from René, and again after Matheson.

Who told her the truth. Poison.

Part of her thrills at what his strength would add to this quest. What he could do.

Part of her fears what he’ll say if he sees her again. What he would think.

She swallows the fear. There’s no room for hesitation.

“Then there’s a chance.”

GM: Darkness swallows back the old man too.

“Your paths shall cross,” her mother pronounces.

Caroline: Then there’s a chance.

GM: “A chance, my dear,” her mother concurs. "These forces arrayed against Savoy’s childe alone shall face a difficult battle. "

“But Savoy’s childe is not without allies of his own, and he shall not wish to face you alone.”

Caroline: “We spoke of the use of lives, of souls, for temporary power.”

“Is that too blatant an interference?”

GM: “We did speak of such things, sweet child. Yet I fear my answers were displeasing to you. I answered that the souls of mere kine were insufficient to increase your puissance in the Blood.”

Caroline: “But not my puissance in the moment. For a night, for instance.”

She stands in the oppressive darkness. “I was not eager to direct their lives to such ends on a whim, but this is no whim.”

GM: There is a rueful chuckle from her mother.

“If the canaille’s lives could be snuffed out for even fleeting advantage, my dear, Caine’s children would rule barren cities indeed.”

“The canaille slake your thirst. They allow you to draw upon your Blood’s gifts. That is the power their lives grant.”

Caroline: “Then their essence,” Caroline concedes.

“I would leave no stone unturned against the sheriff.”

GM: The gloom recedes. Caroline’s shadow is a grotesquely misshapen thing that does not look like her own, or even remotely humanoid. But after a moment, it’s normal again. All of the shadows are returned to their proper place. All is well in the house.

Her mother alone casts none.

“I fear you are seeking to wring blood from this stone, my dear. There are arts by which to draw power from living souls. Yet they are obscure arts and there is but little time for you to master them.”

“Unless you seek to devour the souls of further Cainites before your battle with the sheriff, I believe your own puissance has come as far as it may—at least through my own paltry abilities.”

“Alliances, and strength beyond your own, must be the sword you wield against your foe. Now and in the future. Even your sire, bereft of his servants and allies and offices, is little more than a dangerous beast to be put down.”

“Your aunt would lend her covenant’s assistance, I believe, in return for a sworn oath to accept her childe’s hand in marriage.”

“Lord Savoy already conspires with you against the sheriff. It would be no great leap for him to assist in his childe’s murder.”

“Are there are other Cainites whom you believe enmity towards the sheriff, affection towards you, or simple self-interest might induce them to assist your cause?”

Caroline: The answer is clearly not what she wishes, but she moves on from it.

“The Lasombra covey, perhaps now en route to the city, should they arrive in time. One has history with the sheriff and may be predisposed to strike him down even without the potential for his diablerie should we succeed.”

“Malveaux’s sire, should we have means to paint the sheriff as her childe’s killer.”

“No others I would meaningfully trust in this matter this night.”

Her gaze settles upon her mother. “You believe I should take my aunt’s offer.”

GM: “I believe that is a choice you must make for yourself, my dear. Do you believe Fortuna will smile upon you against the sheriff and those allies he may marshal?”

“I do not, however, believe that you presently have sufficient evidence to turn Malveaux’s sire against the sheriff.”

Caroline: “No, not by far,” Caroline admits.

She should take the offer.

She knows she should take the offer.

GM: “There can be no power without sacrifices made, risks ventured, or obligations incurred, my dear. Even your sire has made compromises and entered into alliances he found distasteful.”

Caroline: It’s an excess of modernity, she admits.

Being married off to unite two great powers feels like the product of another age, when high-status women were closer to prized breeding sows to be bartered off by their fathers.

That isn’t really what this is, she admits. It’s an offer brought to her. One that will bring in the Invictus on her side. That will promote and strengthen her position in the long run. It’s an alliance she needs.

“I suppose I always assumed it would be for love,” she admits. “I mean, certainly someone my father approved of, which limits the pool significantly, but the idea that it would be entirely political didn’t cross my mind.”

“I could do far worse,” she admits.

Like end up ashes in the wind. She brushes aside that thought with the honest one: Accou is loyal, respected, honorable, cunning, even affable. He’s a Kindred with a sterling reputation unblemished by treachery or connivance.

A better match by far than even the other most appealing, most powerful, alternatives, than Savoy, who she expects would begin plotting to put her in the ground the moment she agreed.

No, she chastises herself. It isn’t that she couldn’t do worse.

She cannot do better. There is no better match in all the city.

GM: “Love is a luxury of this modern age, sweet child,” smiles her mother. “In prior eras, marriage was entered into out of duty.”

“But fear not that duty may exclude pleasure. Accou is your elder by many nights, and of the Rose Clan as well. I do not believe him jealous of temperament or likely to begrudge you outside pleasures.”

“So long as you do not bring a Cainite of comparable puissance to his own into your marriage bed.”

Caroline: “Few enough of those,” Caroline concedes.

It’s not about sex, though—not Kindred nor kine. However enjoyable those activities, they’re a distraction she could pass over—especially since her Embrace.

It’s about self-determination. About creating her own path, through wits and will. About being the creator of her own destiny.

That too, though, is a modern construct.

No one succeeds alone. No one avoids compromise.

“Please communicate to Aunt Mur that I am interested in accepting her offer. That I will sell this union to the seneschal. And that my bride price is one of practical need: the sheriff must die.”

GM: Abélia’s dark eyes close, then re-open.

“Your aunt is amenable to this price.”

“She will receive you shortly at one of her havens to discuss the details.”

A smile softens her features.

“I am proud of you, my dear.”

Caroline: The words are like a salve on a burn, but rather than lean into them Caroline hardens her expression. Now is not the time for comfort. She’d rather the sting, the reminder, until this matter is done.

“Is there anything else I should know about the sheriff, Mother?”

GM: “Further swords at your side cannot do aught but help you. I worry that even those you have gathered may be insufficient if Fortuna withholds her favor.”

“Now is the time to pledge or invoke any boons within your power.”

“Now is the time to seek out any alliances that may bear fruit, no matter how sour their taste.”

Caroline: “My hands will not be idle,” Caroline assures her mother. “Though too, mindfulness of tipping my hand in this matter remains important.”

“I would speak more to his allies and capabilities. His childer, obviously. The other hounds. Are there other forces he might turn to this matter?”

“Beyond his speed, skill at arms, and wits, what must I fear?”

GM: “Once, the bishop. But you have removed that sword from his arsenal,” her mother smiles.

“And a fortuitous thing that you have. The bishop’s destruction was a great enough trial for you by itself.”

“Beyond those Cainites you name, Elyse Benson now numbers among his closest allies, though she is no warrior.”

“Duke Elmhearst is his lickspittle, but one useful enough in his function.”

“Father Polk and Roxanne Gerlette once numbered among his most loyal supporters, but they too have been removed from the board.”

Caroline: “Fortunate, then, that his stable is so depleted.”

And all the more vital that they strike now.

GM: “Beyond those Sanctified Cainites who owe him direct vassalage, there are a number of further Cainites who pay him corvée for the privileges of feeding and domain rights in Riverbend. These too, he could call upon should the need arise.”

Caroline: “All the more important then that we strike with surprise, or elsewise give him cause to leave them behind.”

GM: “The Snake Hunters often coordinate with the Guard de Ville in their duties. One of their number has gone missing as well, but they would respond to the sheriff’s call should he have need of aid.”

“The same may be said for many other Sanctified loyal to the prince.”

“The bishop’s sire shall doubtlessly work hand in hand with him to uncover her childe’s killer.”

“Should the need arise, the sheriff could find ready friends among the Invictus and Clan Tremere. Their dealings over the years have been amicable. Your aunt could do much to stymie his support among the First Estate.”

“Among the warlocks, Jonathan North was the greatest threat after their primogen you would have had to personally fear. He served alongside the sheriff in the Guard de Ville. His absence from the city is another blessing.”

Caroline: “Among the Snake Hunters he arranged their leader’s death,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Evidence of this deed could make them your allies. None are strangers to battle.”

Caroline: She suspects such evidence might await in Claire’s safehouse, though perhaps Ferris was so wise as to maintain it.

“And himself?”

GM: “He is doubtlessly proficient in other gifts of Caine, but I know of naught else you must fear.”

“He and all of his allies, of course, may draw upon half-blooded thralls as well.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods.

“New matters to consider,” she agrees, still thinking on the Snake Hunters and whether Mr. Ferris can enlighten her as to other clandestine activities the sheriff was up to.

There’s something, a lingering uncertainty of something left unsaid that dwells in the back of her mind as they move on.

Or perhaps it’s just her nerves. It’s not every night you resolve to murder the sheriff.

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline and Maldonato’s ghouls drive to an address in the Lower Garden District. Kâmil and Giselle do not ask who she is missing. Perhaps they know. The Turk states they will wait outside the door.

Pearl receives Caroline at one of her havens there. It’s an old Greek Revival mansion that looks designed by Henry Howard. It looks like it was once the epitome of Antebellum elegance, taste, and luxury. Now it’s a moldering, cobweb-shrouded and dilapidated husk of its former glories in a way that reminds Caroline of her sire’s abode within Perdido House. Pearl makes no apologies as to the state of her home and receives Caroline in the garb of a medieval courtly lady. Cloe attends silently nearby.

Caroline: Caroline leaves Ferris with the two elder ghouls as she enters. No doubt they’ll engage in titillating conversation.

The Ventrue makes no commentary about the state of the house, other than to mark in her mind that surely she can locate someone talented enough to restore the building to its appropriate and period-specific glory.

GM: The Toreador matriarch’s terms are simple: the First Estate will help Caroline to kill Donovan. Pearl is willing to enlist the services of local Unconquered, to bring in one or more “professionals” from out of town, or to hire an assassin of the Banu Haqim. Pearl will cover all costs associated with enlisting the services of any of these parties—fortunate for Caroline, as the Assamites’ services can run extremely costly (and the Unconquered have little cause to help at all).

Simple promises, however, are not sufficient for Pearl. Especially if Caroline cannot secure her sire’s blessing before she destroys the sheriff, which the Toreador primogen believes unlikely.

In return for the Invictus’ assistance in the battle, Caroline will swear one of the First Estate’s mystically binding oaths. Its own terms are simple:

She will wed Accou and they will jointly be crowned prince. If either their union or mutual ascension to power does not come to pass, Caroline will be cast into torpor for a century. She will miss the throne she stood to inherit.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to do so, with minor conditions of her own.

The wedding and coronation may take place following the prince’s slumber, if required. She believes within the next five years to be a promising time frame.

If Accou is unable to ascend to the throne with her due to his destruction or exile by a third party, she is not so bound.

She is willing to swear a second oath precluding any plots and plans against the Invictus elder on her part to alleviate the concerns undoubtedly raised by the aforementioned caveat.

So far as assistance, she requests further aid from the elder in two regards. She acknowledges that Pearl no doubt wants her own direct hands clear.

First, when the assassination is to take place, in helping provide an alibi for Caroline.

Second, if she is able to enlist the aid of Fontaine, she requests Pearl provide a sample of her vitae to the ancient ghoul.

She hopes the alibi will not be required, that evidence will come out exposing what she believes to be the treachery of the sheriff: between the potency of his blood, that of his childer, the account of René returning as Donovan’s servant, the works against the prince’s house from within, Donovan’s use of Claire’s hunters to assassinate loyal Kindred…. there’s too much smoke for there not to be fire.

But she would be foolish not to consider it—and Abélia’s concerns about the elder ghouls is well founded.

GM: Five years means little to an immortal of Pearl’s years. She is willing to extend the date for Caroline’s wedding and coronation, or not make the oath’s penalties contingent upon a specific date at all, but merely the event: either Caroline and Accou both become prince, or neither of them do.

“Bring the ghoul before me, childe, and he may receive the vitae from my wrist,” states Pearl. “I do not relinquish my blood for others to do with as they will.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to abide that condition.

GM: Pearl is willing to assist in providing an alibi for Caroline. As the Ventrue has gathered, she will not personally involve herself in any incriminating activities. Beyond that, she will lend her covenant’s aid to keeping Caroline’s name in the clear.

Accou can hardly become co-prince if his bride is found guilty of the sheriff’s murder. Self-interest alone is enough motivation for Pearl to assist there.

Caroline: Caroline agrees that leaving the date open ended may be preferable, and is willing to ‘wed’ her fate to Accou’s so far as the throne.

GM: Pearl initially looks far less amenable at Caroline’s term regarding the matter of Accou’s relocation (she is indignant her childe would ever be exiled) or final death, and states that it would “serve Caroline well” to be heavily invested in preventing those very things.

The Ventrue, however, is no stranger to contract law, and upon listening to her golden tongue, Pearl is willing to relent on that specific prerequisite. She is willing to accept one of two alternatives:

First, Caroline may swear an Oath of Blood Loyalty to Pearl Chastain that will only trigger (and last for the duration) of Accou’s banishment, torpor, or final death. As an added bonus, she will allow Caroline to draw on some degree of its power now… and provide her with a further edge during the battle against Donovan.

Secondly, Pearl is willing to accept a narrower version of her prior condition. Caroline will only be cast into torpor if Accou is destroyed or banished at the hands of a Ventrue, member of the Lancea et Sanctum, or anyone who carries Caroline’s vitae in their system.

Caroline: Caroline is swift in agreeing that even without any form of enforcement Accou’s welfare is in her interests. She is wary of the coming conflict, but has no intention of betraying her aunt or Accou.

She is surprised by the generosity of Pearl’s first alternative, and once she has heard the second has no reservations about the first. “Any action taken against him would harm me as well—but I’d as soon it not provide that shared foe the opportunity remove us both with a single stroke.”

GM: “Then so be it. Which gift of Caine do you desire for your use, childe?”

Cloe procures several sheets of parchment and a savage-looking quill with no inkwell. The child-faced ghoul calmly stabs it into Caroline’s palm and proceeds to write the terms of the agreement in the Ventrue’s own blood. Pearl states that the contract’s signature rather than existence is mystically binding—the subsequent loss or destruction of the contract will not render its terms void.

If Caroline wishes a copy for her own records, the ghoul will manually hand-write a second one, also in the Ventrue’s own blood.

Caroline: Caroline trusts that her aunt will retain her own copy, and more to point trusts her memory of the exact terms and conditions. She declines the copy as she stoically watches the child ghoul spill her blood.

She respectfully inquires as to breadth and depth of Pearl’s gifts.

GM: “I do not volunteer such information to any Kindred, childe,” the primogen reproaches in a severe tone. “I am skilled in many of Caine’s gifts. You may name those whose use you desire most.”

Caroline: Caroline accepts the chastisement with grace, acknowledging the lack of decorum in the question and noting she wished only to avoid squandering her aunt’s generosity.

Her first inclination is something that would further her own virulence in the conflict: blood’s might most significantly given her own aptitude in bolting and stone skin—unless her aunt’s bolting significantly outstrips Caroline’s own.

Barring physical disciplines, her first choice is soul scrying.

GM: Pearl states she will grant her niece the gift of sight beyond sight.

As to one of the most crucial remaining matters, does Caroline desire the assistance of local Unconquered, extralocal Unconquered, or the Banu Haqim against the sheriff?

Caroline: Caroline proposes that the Banu Haqim is likely the most ideal option: if things go especially poorly it will tie Pearl and the Invictus least firmly to the attack.

GM: “Very well,” states Pearl. “An assassin’s services shall be enlisted.”

“The Banu Haqim only ever take out one contract upon their targets. If the sheriff should survive the attempt upon his unlife, there will never be a second one.”

“The assassin will be of comparable age and closeness to Caine as the target.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “He will strike alone, or with the thrust we intend?”

GM: “He or she may be contracted for either service.”

Caroline: “I would propose the latter. I believe the sheriff’s abilities to be significantly greater than commonly believed, and would weigh the blow against him with all the might I can muster.”

GM: “Very well. I shall inform the Banu Haqim that their target is a century blooded and eight steps removed from Caine.”

She glances at the blood-written contract.

“Swear to never again partake in foul amaranth, and I shall enlist the services of a more puissant Cainite.”

Caroline: “I swore in our first meeting those activities would end,” Caroline begins.

“And I stand by that. It is no wish of mine to be a slave to such desires, nor is my ambition without end. That magnitude of the crime is not lost upon me.”

“I will not offer the disrespect of repetition of my motives, but nor too would I make such an oath around my mother and her own wishes.”

“But I will offer this oath freely, irregardless of the might of the assassin brought to bear. No more than once further, and never again after my marriage to your childe, whichever should come first.”

“And I would that I be held to that, for I would be no slavering beast, feasting upon kin and kind.”

GM: Revulsion twists Pearl’s face at the words ‘once further.’

“‘Once further’ is rarely a refrain said but once, childe. Far more often, it is one repeated many times.”

“And even but once more is one too many times. Under no circumstance shall I permit further amaranth to stain my childe’s marriage bed. You are well to accept that provision as part of your oath.”

“My offer remains. Pledge also that your last indulgence was your last ever, and I shall contract the Hand of Vengeance herself.”

Caroline: Carole offers a small bow to her elder. “I must decline.”

She pauses before continuing, “But beyond this contract, I welcome you, Aunt Mur, to gaze into my heart and mind on this matter. I would that there be no doubt as to my sincerity in both my intentions, and my genuine desire to be held to them.”

“You have insight and certitude into my actions that few Cainites ever enjoy, and can be certain as few others might ever not only now, in my intent, but in the future as to my follow through.”

“I seek not approval—no Cainite of standing might ever offer that—nor concession of any kind. Instead only to offer reassurance.”

GM: The Toreador primogen falls utterly silent for several long moments.

Disgust is naked and plain on her features.

Once may be a folly of youth. Twice is a degeneracy of the soul. I need no skill in anima visus to know this.”

“Do you remember my words, childe? I value propriety. I remember when this city was a beacon for sophistication and civilization. I remember the Grand Dames de la Nuit. I remember remember when this city was praised as a jewel in the Camarilla’s crown. I remember a land of cavaliers and sugarcane. I remember a patrician world where the Age of Chivalry took its last bow.”

“I will not bow.”

“I will raise no hand against the daughter of my sister, whatever her degeneracies. But neither shall I stain my own house with them.”

“I will not wed my childe to a cannibal. I will not wed my bloodline to all that is base and despicable. Were I willing to bow, the usurper in the Vieux Carré would name me his ally, and not this city’s rightful prince.”

“If there is another foe whose vitae you lust for, and whose demise would profit your fortunes, that bride price is acceptable to me. I will contract the Banu Haqim to slay the sheriff and your second foe with two puissance-matched assassins, as an alternative to contracting the Hand of Vengeance for one target alone. That is the last concession I shall offer.”

“You may have the amaranth. You may have my childe’s hand in marriage and all that comes with it. You may not have both.”

Caroline: The silence when Pearl has said her piece is deafening.

It does not take long for Caroline’s razor-sharp mind to reach a conclusion.

It was one thing to wed herself to a third party without her sire’s consent. It was another to tie herself to said wedding indelibly. It is quite another entirely to stunt herself here, now.

She can see the future, though, in which she keeps this oath. There can be no parity between the Sanctified and the Invictus as she is now. As weak as she is. As vulnerable as she is.

With the torpor of her sire and looming departure of the seneschal—made all the more likely by the stability the union might impose on the city—she and the Sanctified both will be nothing but a second fiddle to the Invictus. Accou will be prince in all but name, and she will be not even so much as the figurehead she fears with the seneschal.

And in a hundred years, assuming she survives, those gaps will not close. Her husband will always be in position to dominate the union, to isolate her, to stifle any attempt to grow. And even should he prove completely honorable, the rest of the Invictus’ powers will not. Nor is her dominance among the Sanctified certain, or even probable. How many older, more potent licks might claim that mantle?

She will be a princess of spun glass. And she will not be a princess of spun glass.

It’s buying victory now with the long slow starvation and withering on the vine that will follow.

And that’s before the bubbling fury of yet another Kindred who seeks to control her. To chain her. She’d believed it different with Pearl. With family. Foolish. Foolish, girl.

She closes her hand before the child-like elder ghoul’s quill.

“As Primogen Chastain, my eternal respect and admiration is yours.”

“As Aunt Mur, my eternal love and gratitude is yours.”

“But I cannot be a prince made of porcelain, kept by your childe like a princess of the kine.”

“I would that there was another path I might take, but a will and a wish is not a way.”

“Your childe will always have my support, and you will have, if you ever need it, my blade. But I cannot give you my word.”

“And I will not give you a lie.”

Is this the right path?

There is no certainty. To cast aside the power of an entire covenant for the want of power, for the pursuit of a crime that damns her even among the Damned, that stains her very soul, may be the height of foolishness.

It may end with her destruction under the sheriff’s blade, or the seneschal’s, or even her sire’s.

But it will be her path.

You knew, that this would be her price.

GM: Caroline well remembers her grandmother as a decrepit, wheelchair-bound shell of the woman she used to be.

Once, she was a force among the family. Once, she was so much more than she now is. But with every passing year, she became more and more spent. One of the last times she was in Baton Rouge, Caroline heard some of the help joking about how she would chase them around with a broom. No one took it too seriously. They joked about it when she was in the room, thinking she was too addled to understand.

She wasn’t.

Camille had wrenched a poker from the fireplace and taken it to the mouthy girl’s head. Caroline knew how head wounds bleed like crazy, but it was still something to see, her red-faced grandmother standing over the prone domestic worker and spitting and frothing and thundering that she would not be made light of. That she was a Malveaux.

She didn’t have the physical capacity to actually beat the girl to death. It wasn’t even a struggle to pry the poker from the already fatigued woman’s grasp.

But all of the help all remembered after that, for a while. Not to make light of the house’s mistress. They could look into her eyes and they would see the ember of rage.

The same ember now burning in Pearl’s.

Caroline falls screaming to the floor as flames lick at her mind, boiling away the blood in her veins. The Toreador’s presence seems to swell immensely, until she is a giant standing within her darkened and decrepit home. Words thunder down as heavy and remorseless as a judgment from on high:

“And Caine will call aloud the names of those to be destroyed,
for their crimes are too great,
and all those who have consumed the heart’s blood of their sire
will be brought before the Black Throne
and made to drink of Caine’s blood
and Caine’s blood will eat their blood.”

Then just as swiftly, the effect is gone. Pearl lies brooding in her chair, smaller and feebler than ever. The Toreador matriarch’s gaze is vacant, her features waxy and sunken, her hair limp and withered, her garb lined with dust and cobwebs. She resembles a skeleton with flesh piled atop it, left to brood and wither in the tomb of her past glories.

Five hissed final words escape her lips:

“Get out of my sight.”

Previous, by Narrative Story Thirteen, Celia XXIX
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XXX

Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline II
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline IV

Story Thirteen, Celia XXIX

“Stay the fuck out of my Requiem, you spoiled fucking childe.”
Celia Flores

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick carries Celia outside. There’s nothing affectionate or protective in his touch, not like the last times he carried her. She is simply a burden to be carried because she cannot walk on her own.

Cars are parked outside of Flawless. Gamberro, Melton, and the redhead occupy them, along with some breathers, perhaps ghouls. None of them look like nice people. Roderick opens one of the doors, dumps Celia onto the seat without ceremony, then gets in on the driver’s side. The cars take off.

Roderick hasn’t bothered to fasten a seatbelt. It’s when they round a turn that Celia’s limp body slumps off the seat and lands face-down on the floor. Carpet presses against her face. Roderick does not seem particularly concerned.

Celia: It’s a lovely carpet.

GM: He doesn’t talk, either. The car drives for a while. Eventually it comes to a stop. Roderick gets out. One of the breathers opens the car door and hauls out Celia. They’re in a suburban neighborhood. Everyone has pulled on masks.

“Carry her,” says Roderick. “I want her to see all of this.”

The man wordlessly carries Celia. The group approaches a house. It’s a nice house with a smart doorbell. There’s two children-sized pairs of green and pink rubber boots sitting outside.

Roderick sneers at the doorbell and pulls it off. One of the masked men takes it off his hands.

Roderick stares at the home’s dog door. The redhead looks at it too. Celia can’t see the transformation happen out of the corner of her eye, but where the woman once stood there is suddenly a black-scaled snake with a forked tongue. It slithers through the pet door.

A moment later, the front door clicks open, the redhead standing on the other side. Everyone files in.

It’s a nice house. Affluent. Big TV in the living room. Nice counters in the kitchen. Everything clean and well-maintained, but for a few stray children’s toys. No one turns on the lights. The group files upstairs, to the master bedroom.

A man and woman lie sleeping in the bed. The man looks in maybe his 40s. Dark-haired, once muscular, though his hair is starting to recede and he’s developing a bit of a beer gut. His blonde-haired wife looks a few years younger. She’s thinner, though starting to show wrinkles. She looks like she goes to spas a lot. She has that look. A woman seeking to slow time’s march at any cost, and even succeeding, but unable to forever.

Roderick seizes the man by his throat, hefts him out of the bed like he weighs nothing, and slams him back-first into the wall. He gasps and gurgles to wakefulness. His eyes bulge at the dark figures as he pulls at Roderick’s fingers. The Brujah’s voice has never sounded so cold.

“Name your sins.”

“You’re dead… whn… they… f… you’re… dead…” the man gasps out past the hand around his throat.

Roderick turns and shoots the man’s wife with a handgun, who’s already stirring to wakefulness. The noise isn’t as loud as past gunshots Celia’s heard. Silence? The woman’s scream is cut off, too, as Gamberro clamps a hand around her mouth. The scent of blood fills the air as she writhes and struggles. The man tries to scream too and struggles harder.

“Name your sins and I’ll let her live,” says Roderick.

“I’ve… killed!” gasps the man. Tears bead from his eyes. “Killed… people… stolen… please, don’t kill h…”

“You’ve killed and stolen. That’s all you can think of?”

The man wheezes and strains against Roderick’s grip. He’s turning blue in the face.

“You,” he says to the wife. “Nod or shake your head. Are you guilty of sins?”

The sobbing, bleeding woman frantically nods her head past Gamberro’s hand.

“Are you going to Hell for them? Think carefully. Your life may depend on your answer.”

The woman pauses for a second, then shakily nods her head again. Tears flow from her eyes.

Roderick shoots her in the head. The corpse rocks backwards. Blood, gore, and bone shards decorate Gamberro’s shirt. He laughs.

The man screams, or tries to, as Roderick’s hand crushes in his windpipe. The Brujah throws him to the ground, then shoots him in the head too. More blood, brains, and skull shards decorate the floor.

“Grab as many valuables as you can carry,” orders Roderick. “Jewelry, wallets, electronics, clothes, liquor, prescription drugs. Better if this looks like a robbery.”

“Better if it is a robbery,” agrees Gamberro.

“T-Bang, Manilla Ice, manejan esa mierda. Manejaremos los cuerpos.”

(“T-Bang, Manila Ice, you handle that shit. We’ll handle the bodies.”)

Two men agree in Spanish and head off.

“You’re coming along splendidly,” purrs Melton, stroking Roderick’s arm.

“We feel a bit like extras, don’t we?” smiles the redhead.

“Blood’s cooling,” says Gamberro.

The four vampires sink their fangs into the bodies and drink.

Celia: The fifth vampire stares unblinking at the carnage, not a flicker of emotion crossing her frozen face.

GM: The other four drink deeply, then toss the spent vessels aside. Roderick pulls up Celia’s staked corpse and wraps an arm around its shoulder.

“Kalani’s my lover,” he declares.

“She plays haughty and hard to get in Elysium, but you should see what a pathetically sniveling and eager to please little bitch she is behind closed doors. She was begging me on her hands and knees not to dump her after I found out she’d been fucking other licks.”

He smiles and tussles her hair.

“Don’t worry, Jade. I’m not dumping you.”

“You did beg me so pathetically.”

The other three snicker and lick their bloody lips.

“By my count she’s fucked two of you,” says Roderick. “Quite the slut, isn’t she?”

“Not that she is good for anything else.”

He gives her breasts an emphatic squeeze.

“No hard feelings over that?” smiles Melton. “We didn’t know she was yours.”

“No hard feelings,” Roderick declares amiably. “I’m less than confident you’d respect another lick’s property, but you didn’t know she was mine.”

“She, on the other hand, certainly knew she was mine.”

“You want to punish her?” smiles the redhead.

“You read my mind,” smiles Roderick. “This will be more satisfying if she’s un-staked, but I don’t want her turning into a bird and flying off.”

“Gamberro, do you have a saw handy?”

“Sure do,” says the other vampire as he produces one. Laughter dances in his eyes.

Roderick smiles, accepts it, and then methodically saws off Jade’s right arm. The pain is excruciating, like it was with Camilla, but Roderick’s brutal strength finishes the job relatively quickly as the steel chews through bone and muscle and sinew. Blood gets everywhere. Celia loses herself to her Beast, but all it can do is howl in impotent rage. Roderick yanks out the stake once she’s calm.

“There you are, Jade. Welcome to the party.”

Celia: It’s a familiar scene. An angry, vindictive man taking out his rage on a smaller, unarmed woman. There’s even a saw. Witnesses. Children in the home.

But none of them come to save her. There’s no daughter holding a gun, telling him to get away. No sire to pick her up and tell her it’ll all be okay in the morning when he tucks her in and soothes her fear.

Just her. Her lover. His new friends. Their eager, cruel faces. Watching. Mocking. A few minutes with her staked and he’s undone the image she’d worked so hard to cultivate, turned her into a useless whore on the ground with a piece of wood in her chest.

The fury burns hot.

Four on one are terrible odds.

She forces control. Forces down the rage so that when she’s unstaked she doesn’t lunge at them. Her arm throbs, phantom pain dancing all the way down to her fingers.

She smiles up at him. Apprehensive. Maybe a little eager. Isn’t that what he’d said?

A slow death. Veronica had said it’s the best kind.

“Thanks, babe. What name are you going by with your new friends?”

GM: Dracon laughs, then smashes his fist into Jade’s face. There’s a hideous crunch of bone as the force of the blow sends her crashing to the ground.

The other three howl with laughter.

Celia: She stays down.

GM: “She’s very jealous,” says Dracon. “And pathetically insecure. Who wants to fuck me while she watches?”

Melton and the redhead don’t answer. They just smile and pull off their clothes.

Celia: There’s a spot inside of her she can go where nothing hurts. She tunnels deep.

Someone else’s eyes watch the three fuck.

GM: Roderick fucks the two with gusto. He goes down on Melton first. He sinks his fangs into her pussy, mimicking Stephen’s and Celia’s first time. When the somewhat pretentious but good-hearted aspiring lawyer took her out on a date, to make her first time special, then used his tongue first to ease her in. He was so gentle. So considerate. Celia remembers Emily telling her in a not-so-long ago car that he was “just the best”. Or was that her?

Celia: Who cares. Stephen is dead.

Celia is dead.

They’re all dead.

None of it fucking matters anymore.

It’s like that beautiful vision she was so worried about that she made happen.

Maybe Celia’s even turned on watching him fuck Melton. Maybe she thinks it could be a great orgy. Maybe her fangs get long in her mouth because damn, that’s all she’s good for is fucking.

Maybe Gamberro wants to bang while the others do.

Fuck, maybe the snake wants to crawl inside her cunt and really give it to her. She’s seen videos like that before.

GM: Dracon kicks Jade in the face as he makes the Setite hiss and writhe with pleasure. The redhead buries her face in his asscrack. Gamberro sinks his own fangs into the redhead. He hits her, too, but she laughs and kicks him back, and they snarl and bite and rake each other with fang and nail as equals. Not whatever Jade now is.

Celia: Would it be weird if she fucked herself with her own arm?

That’s nice. She rises, picking up her arm.

GM: Roderick seizes Jade by her hair and painfully yanks her to the ground.

“Were you going somewhere, you stupid whore?”

Celia: Melton and the redhead must not be particularly good at sex if he’s still got half of his attention on her.

But it’s rude to gloat.

The thought is as fleeting as the hold Someone Else has on her. She’d thought she could burrow inside. Crack a joke about finding a vibrator or a pillow to hump.

He wants her to hurt.

That’s what this is. Revenge for everything she’d ever done to him. Revenge for everyone she’d cheated on him with. He’s doing it to her the exact same way she’d done it to him, and the memory of her pain at dinner thinking about Stephen and Emily dating is nothing compared to watching what’s going on in front of her right now. He’d replaced her with another night doctor, another Mafia contact, another… whatever Melton is. Sex fiend.

He doesn’t need her. That’s what he’s showing her, that he doesn’t need her. That everything she’d planned for them—helping him infiltrate the mafia with Carolla gone, being his exclusive night doctor and running experiments on the side, being a team… it’s all out of reach. He’d fallen in with the Setites. Found a way to dig the knife deeper and deeper and deeper into her. Humiliated her in front of potential friends with his words.

And now this.

She’d thought that he might have them rape her. The ghouls. She’d been afraid of that, being violated again after she told him how many times it had been done to her. Having the control taken from her. Thought he might have the others do it too when they were done, really show her that she’s nothing.

This is… this is worse. Like looking in a mirror, watching herself cheat on him over and over and over again, telling herself it’s an addiction, that she needs it, that it’s okay, that it doesn’t really matter.

She’s gotten so good at lying that she fooled even herself.

He’d set it up perfectly, hadn’t he. The murders. The saw. The sex. Taking out her friends. Not letting her get Dani’s sire. Showing her that… that she’s like he said.

A stupid whore.

He hates the crying woman act, but this time it isn’t an act. This time, when her heart breaks, she doesn’t desperately try to push it back together.

She doesn’t want to be this person anymore.

She’d tried to deny it. That she had anything to do with it. That it was her fault he’d turned out this way.

But it is, isn’t it. She’d lied to him the whole time. Cheated on him the whole time. Manipulated him over and over and over again. There was always a justification for it. Always a reason. Pleasing her sire. Pleasing Savoy. Addiction. Curses. Spying. Enjoyment. Fear. Power.

Whatever the case was, she’d been the catalyst. She’d ruined him. Savoy may have set up Dani, but Celia was the one who ruined that plan and made him double down. She seduced Carolla because she was so eager to prove herself to him after she’d failed with Dani, had told him how much it would bother him for Carolla to be Coco’s childe, and she’d… she’d given him the blood sample so that his pet warlock could do the spell on Carolla, thinking she’d done something good for Roderick. That she was helping him find the truth.

Maybe he wouldn’t have spiraled so hard if she’d been open with him. Honest with him. Given him Dani from the start. Not killed those hunters, because there’s no doubt that’s her fault too. She’d told him the other hunters had raped her. Had that been on his mind? Had that made him lose it?

She’s wanted to blame everyone from Paul to her sire to Coco to Savoy for this, but in the end the fault is hers.

She fucked up.

She hurt him.

And now he’s hurting her in the exact same way.

It doesn’t matter that she’d been lied to, too. It doesn’t matter that she’d been just as manipulated. She could have let the cycle end with her and she hadn’t. She never treated him like an equal. Just someone to protect. Someone she knew better than. Like a child. Or a playtoy.

Never a partner.

Never with as much care and consideration as he used to show her.

Never with love.

She’d treated him like every other lick she knows that she’d used and been used by in return in the never-ending, fucked up society that has become her world, jostling for imaginary positions at court, walking the edge of a blade to avoid saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, laughing at the wrong thing. And for what? How much of it matters? They don’t do anything meaningful with their powers. They don’t make the world a better place. They cling to centuries-old dogma about “punishing sinners” or collect wealth or throw lavish balls, and she’d been caught in its midst, ensnared like the rest of the bright-eyed neonates who suddenly learn they’re immortal and powerful and beautiful forever.

And still at the bottom of a hierarchy that they’re going to have to claw and backstab their way up.

She’d hurt him. Betrayed him.

For that?

No. She doesn’t want to be this person anymore. She doesn’t want to be this person anymore at all.

Isn’t that a quote someone famous once said? Something about the most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.

She’d been waiting for her sire to give her the answers. Why her. Why Embrace her. Why choose her. Why do this to her.

But it isn’t up to him. It isn’t up to Savoy. It isn’t up to Roderick or Vidal or Maldonato or the Baron, no more than it’s up to a human parent to tell their children why them. She’s accepted the place they have given her as if that’s the only way it can be and it’s not. She’s not a round peg in a round hole, not another cog in the machine. She’s a person. And she has more to her unlife than what they offer with all of their attached strings.

She’d played the game. She’d won, she’d lost, she’d laughed, she’d cried. And now she’s done. This, here and now, the proverbial straw.

It’s all a lie. Smoke and mirrors meant to hide the hand holding the knife, an illusionary feast to cover the rotting meat and fruit at the table. She’d let them pull the wool over her eyes and thanked them for the pleasure.

“I see,” he’d said to her nights ago.

No. She sees.

“You win.”

GM: Does that fact bring him pleasure?

All he had to do for it was lose everything.

The four vampires fuck. Celia listens to the sounds. Smells the flow of blood. Feels the writhing bodies atop her, feels the feet and fists driving into her naked flesh as they call her degrading names. “Stupid” comes up a lot. So does “bitch”. That’s what she is, their bitch. She is kept on the ground, beneath them, as they enjoy their sanguine orgy atop her body. It’s not that imaginative, not really, next to the sexual torments that Paul and other licks could devise. Roderick never was a deviant like Veronica. Maybe he will be in time.

But this isn’t about raping and tormenting her, is it? He could turn her over to the ghouls for that. He could beat her for that, torture her dead flesh for that. No, this is about cheating on her. About turning the tables. About showing her how it feels to have a partner who betrays you, who pleasures and receives pleasure from others when that is exactly the thing you don’t want them to do. This is about showing he’ll not only fuck other licks, he can go to them to meet his needs too, for everything from sex to the Mafia to changing his face to to whatever poisoned counsel the Setites whisper in his ears. It’s about showing how he’s replaced he. This is about taking everything they were to each other and throwing it back in her face, like the foot he stomped all over a once-treasured necklace.

It’s about showing she means nothing to him.

It’s not so long ago things were different. Not even during their mortal lifetimes. She can remember even before that one Elysium, where he showered her with compliments and adulation. How he carried her throughout the room. Carried her to her car. Declared he’d wash her shoes after they got back from Elysium, because her perfect little feet should never have to touch the ground, and she should have others do her walking for her. Was it that time or another that he called her a sun?

“You make everything around you better. You know that? Everything you touch comes out with a coat of gold. The makeup is part of it. Making people look like their best selves. But that’s only part of what you do.”

“The way you gave Emily a family. The way you turned your mom’s life around. The way you brought, bring, so much happiness into mine. You’re like a fire. A sun. The closer someone gets to you, the more the more warmth and joy you bring into their life.”

“I love you, Celia. I love you so much.”

“I don’t know how I was able to spend so much of my Requiem without you, or how I could’ve been so stupid as to throw you away, but I’m not ever going to make that mistake again.”

She knew it wasn’t true even then.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia’s not sure how long the orgy atop her body goes on for, but eventually, Dracon stakes her again. The four vampires dress themselves. Dracon spits on her face. Gamberro asks if he wants to get started really punishing her. Dracon merely says, “In good time. We’ve spent enough time here.” The others agree. They’ve left enough traces of themselves here. They gorily saw apart the dead couple’s corpses and stick the limbs in trash bags. They pick up the spent bullet casings. They sweep brain matter and chunks of head into the bags too. Melton runs her palms over the floor, the bed, the other bloodstained items. Beneath her touch, the spilled blood vanishes. The ghouls report they’ve robbed the house and taken everything of value. Dracon takes the bags of body parts with a simple,

“I have something special planned for these.”

Dracon collects the dead couple’s phones last (“The doorbell was hooked up to at least one of these”), then everyone troops back to their cars. Dracon throws Celia over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He unceremoniously dumps her in the car’s trunk with the bags of body parts, then closes it. Muffled voices sound from outside. Celia stares at the glow-in-the-dark escape hatch for how many times in the past few nights?

Celia: Three.

GM: Eventually, the car starts. Dracon drives. Celia is jostled around in the trunk. The part-filled trash bag rolls over her. She smells the blood beneath the plastic pressing into her face. A while passes. Finally, the car parks. The trunk opens. Roderick hefts Celia’s staked body over his shoulder again, closes the trunk, walks up to the entrance to Jade’s suite, and lets himself in with the keys. He closes the door behind him.

“Sloppy of me, to leave things unfinished here,” he says.

“But you’ve always brought out the worst in me.”

Celia: How powerful he must feel with his staked vampire.

GM: He carries Celia’s staked body through the wardrobe and into Flawless proper. He lets himself into Celia’s office if the door is unlocked, and breaks it open if it’s not. He dumps Celia on the floor, pulls out his phone, and taps into it. There’s a whir from the printer as it spits out papers covered with writing. Dracon waits until it’s done and sets them on the desk, then yanks out the stake in Celia’s chest.

He hands her a pen.

“Sign these.”

Celia: Whoever the body belongs to glances at the pages.

GM: They’re a transfer of ownership for Flawless LLC from Celia to Michael.

“Refuse and I’ll keep you staked until you sign.”

“You will be allowed to manage it for me so long as you are well-behaved.”

Dracon taps into his phone again. More documents print out. It takes a little while. He wordlessly slides them over when they’re done printing. There are a lot of them. They transfer ownership of the rest of Celia’s assets to Michael. Everything from the money in her bank accounts to her house to her car to her clothes.

“You will be permitted to make use of these things and to make withdrawals from the accounts while you are well-behaved.”

Dracon gives her shoulder a squeeze.

“I’ll take care of you, Celia. Even after everything you’ve done to me. But we need to do things differently from now on.”

Celia: Silently, she stares at the papers in front of her.

He hadn’t gotten it all. He’d thought he had, sure, but she has enough identities that a lot of her assets, including an entire haven and multiple bank accounts, hasn’t been touched. None of her investments, which she’s spread out over various aliases, or even the property she has in other parts of the city. Not her other business. Nothing to do with Legal Wings, which she doesn’t own but still has a hand in even with Randy’s disappearance.

But it’s… a lot. Everything in Celia’s name. Her first business. Her first lab. Her flagship. Everything she’s worked on for years to build into the success that it is.

It’s only when he touches her that her lower lip begins to tremble. She reaches out a hand, as if to touch his fingers on her shoulder, but falters before she makes contact.

“Why,” she whispers. “Why will you take care of me after what I’ve done? Why will you… why are you staying?” He’s already shown her he replaced her.

GM: “Because you’re a wretched, pitiable, broken, disgusting, insane, stupid, shallow, selfish creature that no one could ever love,” says Roderick, gently rubbing her shoulder.

“Not if they realized what a terrible person you actually are. Not if they saw the festering hideousness underneath the superficially pretty exterior. You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever known. You’d make other people ugly, too. Destroy their lives and drag them down with you in all your awfulness and hideousness when they got close to you.”

“We can think of this as a guardianship. Me keeping the rest of the world safe from people you’d hurt.”

“An open-air, one-woman prison with you as the inmate and me as the warden.”

“Or perhaps mental institution given your insanity.”

Celia: Celia drops her hand.

“What are you going to do with me? With Celia. With Jade.”

GM: “I will consult mental health professionals. I haven’t yet had time.”

“Celia or Jade, both are scum.”

“I don’t think I’ll fuck you anymore, either. Though if you’re well-behaved I’ll let you watch me and my new lovers.”

“I’m not even sure how to begin punishing you for all of the horrible things you’ve done. New lovers addresses the cheating, or at least starts to. But how do I address something like you blood bonding my sister or deceiving me about my brother?”

He shakes his head.

“I really did love you, Celia. And look what you did to us.”

Celia: Celia stares down at the papers in front of her. Her vision blurs pink and then red when the tears threaten to come, though she blinks them away before they can leak down her cheeks to join the rest of the blood on her face.

It’s been a messy night. But it’s not over yet.

She pulls the mask around her a little tighter.

“I know,” she whispers. “I know you loved me. I know I did this to us. I ruined it. Everything. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I thought tonight would… I thought I could fix it, that I was doing the right thing. I never should have lied to you about any of it. I just… I just wanted us to be together, to not have to hide it, to be happy…”

She trails off, lifting her gaze to his. She touches a hand to her collarbone, just below the tips of his fingers.

It’s gentle, the touch on his mind. The way she twists emotions to her whim, turning people into puppets, making them want to do things they might not ordinarily. Like trust her, the beautiful girl with the sharp smile. Or think she’s given in, that she just wants to be their friend again.

And that’s what this is, isn’t it? Celia submitting, signing over her spa, her assets, her very self. She’d told him the truth about everything earlier and he has eternity to get back at her now that she’s accepted her place.

There’s no need for the stick anymore, not when carrot will suffice. He’s beaten her. He can afford to be gentle. He’d done it earlier, hadn’t he? Friday, when he cut the knot and told her she was stupid, then offered her a hug. It’s the combination of hurt and comfort that breaks people oh-so-quickly.

And oh, how she bends. How she’s submitted to him, so quickly, so quietly. All he’d had to do was show her how much it really hurt to be replaced. All he’d had to do was take off her arm so she couldn’t run, so she had to face what she’d done. What she’d done to him. What she’d turned him into.

“Thank you,” she continues in a quiet voice. “Thank you for… for taking care of everything. Even me. Even after what I did. I’m so, so tired of getting it wrong.”

It doesn’t have to hurt anymore. She gives in. She submits. He wins, like she said. He’d punished her thoroughly tonight; he can be gentle now, gentle so she doesn’t bolt, gentle so she doesn’t try to stir up more trouble for him. It’ll be smooth sailing.

She’s so eager to please.

He’ll never see the knife coming. Not when he thinks he has her beaten. And how couldn’t he? She’s got one arm. He’s got a stake. She’s alone. She’s never been much of a fighter, anyway. He had always thoroughly kicked her ass whenever they sparred. Rotten luck for her that they’d ended up fucking more than fighting. She’s not even trying to pull that “crying woman” act he hates so much.

It leaks out of her while she talks, the very image of the submissive, beaten, broken enemy. The enemy that has finally spilled everything, given him every card in her deck, and has finally given up. She sees he’s right. She sees he’s been right this whole time.

“I don’t want to be this way anymore. I think… I think this is the right way to move forward, so you can make sure I don’t hurt anyone else. I want to be Celia again. Just Celia.”

She pulls her hand away from her throat to reach for a drawer in her desk. It’s nothing but an illusion that she creates around the thing she’s actually reaching for, the lotus blossom in its bowl of water, hidden from the sun just like Dahlia Rose had said to do to witness it bloom.

“Sometimes darkness brings out the best in us,” she’d said.

“I made something. A few years ago. I wanted to give it to you then, but… after we broke up I just… it brought me comfort on the worst nights.”

Celia’s fingers close around the blossom. Only it’s not a blossom anymore. It’s a doll, and it looks just like the boy he used to be.

“I used to talk to him. It. I just… I don’t think it’s good for me to have anymore, not after everything I’ve done to you.”

She holds out the doll for him to take.

GM: Roderick sneers, takes the doll, and twists its head off.

Then a sluggish look overtakes his face.

He topples over backwards, hitting the floor with a thud.

Celia: Idiot.

The crumpled petals of the lotus blossom flutter to the ground next to him. Celia smiles at the sight. She’d never told him why the flowers affect him like that. Even after she’d “come clean,” she’d still held on to so many secrets…

Like the fact that she is Lotus, and her breaking his heart as many times as she has manifested in a sort of supernatural slumber. His body’s defense to all the lies she’d told him, maybe. Shutting down rather than listening to more. Not letting his heart break again. It makes sense that it would be a flower. For Flores, the destroyer.

Celia moves from her seat, placing the lotus blossom against him to ensure he stays asleep.

Then she shoves the stake into his chest.

GM: It slides in with a wet slurp. The sharpened wood pierces through bone like a knife through butter, or at least flesh.

His eyes snap open, though.

Dracon’s are the same brown as Roderick’s. It’s a common enough eye color. Changing eyes is a bitch of a job.

Those brown eyes once looked at her with such tenderness. Even into undeath. All those nights they woke up together in the same bed. All those nights and days he held her close. She felt safe in his arms. She felt pleasure in his arms. She knew happiness in his arms. She remembers how tender his eyes looked when they promised they would always be there for one another, that first night back together.

“I want to tell you something. If things ever get bad here. Even if you hate me. If you need out of the city, if you need to hide, if… anything. Come to me. I’ll get you out. I’ll keep you safe.”

“And you know the same’s true for me. If things ever get really bad, if you’re ever hurt or in trouble, if you ever need anything… you can come to me. I’ll fight for you. Hide you. Help you. Whatever you need, I’ll make it happen. Whatever you’re in trouble from, whatever fights we’ve had… if you need me, I will be there for you. Okay?”

Celia looks into his brown eyes again now.

All she sees is hate.

Burning, furious hate.

How did it come to this?

Celia: Somewhere in her gut, a knife twists.

She would have. She would have helped him if he’d asked, if he’d needed her. Even now, maybe, even now if he were to… to apologize for what he’d done and said to her, to let her explain why she’d lied, to listen to her and believe her and trust her again.

They could have been happy. That’s really all she wants. Happiness.


Coco told her once that love between licks is the exception, not the rule. That it’s rare and it’s valuable and it’s hard and it usually ends messily, and what are you going to do when you can’t just move out of the city to avoid your ex and start over somewhere else?

For years Celia had thought that Roderick was the exception. That their love—such as it is—would be the shining example for other Kindred to follow. That it’s possible to love because they do. That even though they had both hurt each other they would be able to make themselves stronger for it, pull through on the other side, forgive even the worst of their sins made in ignorance or fear or anger.

She knows now that she and Roderick are not the exception to the rule, because Roderick has nothing to do with her rule. She is the exception. She, Celia, Jade, Lotus—whatever name people want to call her by, she is the exception to the rule that says vampires cannot love, that their hearts are as dead as the rest of them. Hers beats inside her chest night in and night out, and with every beat she knows that it is not dead. Romance is not dead. Love is not dead. A chemical reaction in the brain, but so is anger, isn’t it? And if she can be angry, if she can be sad, if she can still feel—and she does feel, she feels very strongly—then so too she can feel love, and it does not need to be Roderick on the other side of it.

She loved him. Maybe she will always love the boy he used to be. But she loves and has loved others as well.

She loves her family. Her mother, timid little mouse that she was, now a hellion to be reckoned with. She loves how fiercely her mother loves her daughters, even the adopted one. She loves Emily, for all that they don’t see eye-to-eye, for all their petty squabbles. She loves Lucy, innocent that she is. She loves her imagination, her larger-than-life attitude, her goodness.

She loved Randy, though she’d never told him. She didn’t love him like a woman loves a man but more like a cousin loves a cousin. Or a child loves a misshapen, mildly retarded pet.

She loves Alana. Loves her devotion, her affection, her willingness to please. She loves Reggie. Loves his strength, how worried he gets about her, the fact that he isn’t afraid to take what he wants, that he’s just as sexually dysfunctional as she is.

She loves her sire.

She has never told him. She will never tell him. But she loves him more than she can possibly put into words. She loves him like the moon loves the sun, for without the sun there is no light from the moon, and without him there is no her. He is everything. Her entire world. If she is the moon then he is the sun, the planet she orbits, the very universe in which she resides. She cares for him more deeply than she will ever admit to him, to herself, to anyone. She loves him to the last; she would forgive him anything if only he favored her with a smile, if only he touched her hand, if only he pressed his lips against hers. She has always been his. Even when he drops her. Even when he shatters her. She does not need a collar to pledge herself to him. She knows that he will burn her, that his frosty exterior will burn so coldly that it will hurt, and she loves him anyway. Not because she has to. Because she chooses to.

Celia is not the rule. She is the exception, in and of herself. Her love is a shining example of what could be, if only they would let it.

But not for Roderick. Not anymore.

“Hello, darling. Glad you’ve rejoined me. We’ve got plenty to discuss.”

Jade smiles down at him. She straddles his hips with her bare legs and pats his chest.

“First, though, a toast to our new future, hm?”

She sinks her teeth into his neck. She drinks. Deeply.

GM: Jade drinks.

She drinks so deeply.

So very, very deeply.

Dracon’s blood doesn’t taste like Roderick’s did. Similar, yes. That unmistakable Brujah fire. She knows the way it burns her up and makes her feel so alive. She remembers so well how Roderick’s tasted. There was a lightness to it. Crystal clear and hopeful and bright-eyed. The taste made her think of Boy Scouts, amusingly, and baseball games and Atticus Finch, who Roderick admitted was something of a stereotype for lawyers to admire, but damn it all, there was so much about the man to admire.

The taste of his blood even made her feel a bit smarter, too. Or at least silenced the bald man’s voice.

Dracon’s blood is like all that through a darkened mirror.

It burns her, still. Painfully. Searingly. She can taste the raging heat of his fury, but there is no righteous behind it. Just hate. Black and bitter with the taste of betrayal, of love poisoned into hate. It’s an altogether darker vintage. A stronger vintage.

No. She didn’t notice it, at the initial taste, but the sharp tang of righteousness is still there. She doesn’t think think that taste is ever going to leave his blood, the conviction that he right and just and all he does is for the good of the world. In fact, the taste is stronger than ever.

He thinks he’s better than her, too. She can taste it. Intellectually. Physically. Morally. Oh, how his blood wells with the taste of his pride and self-superiority, and his disdain and contempt for all that she is. It’s not the same flavor of pride that was in Caroline’s vitae—pride in birthright, pride in deathright, an entitled sort of pride. This is Brujah pride. A pride earned through his own actions and choices, a pride that swells nightly. There’s less humility in his blood than there used to be. That only makes sense after he’s started calling her stupid out loud.

And oh yes. Even staked by her trickery, even helpless and at her mercy, he still thinks he is the smarter one. The better one. And he will never trust her again. Not after this. Not in anything, not as far as he can throw her. All words to issue from her tongue are lies and pollution upon his ears. She offends him. He hates her. He hates her like he has never hated.

This is what poisoned love tastes like.

Celia: Poisoned love. Lies and corruption and sin. At her. Always at her.

Not his sire, who Embraced the Mafia thug and lied to him about it.

Not Savoy, who (obviously) had Dani Embraced to be a pathetic thin-blood, then pulled all the strings to put her and Carolla together in the same place, who’d bugged his phone so Carolla could find him, who made sure that Jade would be there to turn the tables.

That entire meeting with the four of them? Phone bugged. Tracker implanted. Both of them made to forget.

Preston’s claim that the party would make a good place to test Carolla’s blood once Celia offered to bring him? Just a diversion. Smoke, mirror, sleight of hand, a glib tongue by a grandsire who always knows the right thing to say.

She’d lied to him to keep him out of it. She’d lied to him to help preserve what innocence he had. She’d told him all of the ugly truths he wanted, and this is what she gets for it?

For all that giant brain of his, he certainly has no idea how the game is played.

And this! This feeding, this is nothing compared to the heady rush of Carolla’s essence. This is an echo of what it should be, like being bent over and fucked and the cock inside doesn’t even have the decency to hit the G-spot.

She could keep going. She should keep going. Take him into her. Absorb him. He’ll be safe inside of her. And he’ll be hers.


Jade pulls back before she can. Her grandsire wants him. Her grandsire wants him and she had broken him in order to turn him over to the snake. She had given up love. True, honest, real love. She’d given it up, given up everything, and she isn’t about to fuck it up now.

She wipes at her mouth.

“Do you know,” Jade asks conversationally, “that the online degree you mocked me for, that you accused me of half-assing my way through, taught me quite a bit about the body? It was a medical degree. Not that you asked. You were very busy telling me how useless it is.”

She smiles again. With one arm she reaches behind his neck, fingers gently pressing against the base of the occiput, then the cervical vertebra. She counts her way down.

“Physical therapy, actually. Kind of a combination of that and occupational therapy. How we move, how it all works together, how to make it better. I wanted to help people, you see. Probably because of what happened to my mother, really. And I have. Plenty of people. Everyone thinks I’m playing makeup but no, there’s been a lot going on here besides that. I never bothered to tell you about all my workman’s comp cases, all the very injured people I see. And how it’s given me such great insight to the body. In fact…” Something sharp presses against the back of his neck. It digs into his flesh, severing through cartilage, ligaments, and nerves.

“Cervical vertebra,” she says. “Funny thing about spinal injuries. They’re oh-so-very complicated. And us, well, we just heal it with a thought, don’t we? Nothing a bit of blood won’t make better.” She giggles. “But when you’ve got an actual doctor doing it? Oh, honey. It’s very, very permanent.”

“C1 through C4 cause full paralysis, did you know that? Get hit the wrong way, don’t wear your seatbelt once, and boom! You’re in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. Tragic. Truly.”

“And here’s where it gets better. Spinal cord injuries, you know, they’re either complete or incomplete. Complete means there’s no motor or sensory function. But incomplete?”

She lets him see it when she bares her teeth at him, lets him see the madness and hatred burning in her eyes just as strong as what burns in his.

“You can still feel everything.

GM: Dracon does not answer her words.

He cannot answer them.

But he can feel.

Oh, yes. He feels the steel slice into his flesh, when his pale flesh is already a mask of ravenous hunger. The Brujah clan’s legendary Beast bursts its chains, and howls and rampages and gnashes its teeth, all from behind a prison of wood.

All that stares out from her ex-lover’s eyes is the Beast.

Celia: “Oh, bother. Now I’ll need to say it all again. You really are the worst.”

Jade huffs at him, then pats his cheek. She lets the monster rage. Lets the Beast have its way with the boy while she reaches for the computer on her desk, jiggling the mouse to wake it up. She checks the security cameras around Flawless, looking for any stray ghouls or cars.

GM: She sees none, beyond Dracon’s own car.

Typing her password is inconvenient with one hand.

Celia: Everything is inconvenient with one hand. She’s been considering cutting off Rod’s to show him how inconvenient it really is.

Jade types another password into the computer and does a quick search for what she needs. Then she lifts the landline from its cradle and presses it to her ear, dialing a number.

GM: Who is Roderick?

He died with the one beautiful truth left unuttered.

Celia: Dracon is a pretentious name. She refuses to use it.

GM: “Yo,” answers the voice from the phone.

Celia: “Hello, darling. Sorry about the mixup earlier. If I promise to make it worth your while can you swing by? I need a tiny bit of assistance and I’m a little short-handed.”

Short-handed. Get it?

She gets it.

She winks at the Brujah whose name she can’t be bothered to use, lost to the Beast though he is.

GM: Maybe he gets it.

“You changed your damn mind more times than my dad changes girls,” the Caitiff grouses. “This’d better be worth it.”

Celia: Jade giggles at the line.

“Bring a friend or two, you know I like a party. See you soon.”

GM: “A’ight.”

He hangs up.

Celia: Jade dials a second number, this time to the ghoul who’s been waiting oh-so-faithfully for her to swing by for sex.

GM: It’s answered on the first ring.

“Are you coming by?” Alana asks breathlessly.

Celia: “I’m inviting you to come by,” Jade says to her. “Meet me at work. I have something fun planned.”

GM: “Yes, m-sure thing,” answers Alana. “What should I wear?”

Celia: “Something comfortable. It won’t be on for long.”

GM: There’s a delighted giggle.

“Okay. I’ll be right over. First thing. I love you.”

Celia: “Love you too, baby.”

Jade ends the call.

She leaves the Brujah on the floor and opens another cabinet drawer on her desk, pulling out the same bag of sex toys she’d used the night she’d turned herself into… hm, she needs a name for her masculine form. Celio?

No. Root name is Caelum. She’d looked it up back in high school when the girls kept giggling about Celia being a “fake version” of Cécilia.

They’re two distinct names.

Caelum, then. It’s just as ridiculous as Dracon.

Regardless of the name, the bag has plenty of fun things waiting for her, but she’s got eyes on the black leather hood. It’s difficult work yanking it down someone’s face with one hand, but once it’s on the Brujah is effectively blinded and his hearing is muffled at best.

GM: There’s little he can say or do, beyond stew in his hate.

Celia: The last thing he sees is her smiling face.

She’s just getting started.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s not long before Alana arrives. Jade hears the ghoul’s footsteps outside of the office door. She’s wearing a thin and sensual-looking robe.

“Hello, mistress,” she beams.

She lets it fall off. There’s nothing underneath.

Celia: The naked ghoul is a sight for sore eyes. Jade beams right back at her, extending the hand she has left to pull the girl close. She nuzzles at her neck.

“I missed you all night,” she murmurs against her skin. “I’ve been looking forward to this for hours.”

GM: The ghoul melts into her domitor’s embrace.

“I’ve missed you for so long,” she whispers back. “I’ve been thinking about you. About what we’re going to do. All night.”

She pays no mind to the staked and hooded vampire on the ground.

“What happened to your… arm?”

Celia: “Very soon,” Jade murmurs. She nips at Alana’s neck with her fangs.

“Mm, ran into a saw. I’m just going to pop it back on, drop him off at home, and spend the rest of my night ravishing you.”

GM: “That sounds heavenly, mistress,” shivers Alana.

“But oh no, I’m so sorry. Where is it?”

Celia: “In his trunk. He brought it with us, the dear. Forgot to bring it inside though. I’ll get it in a moment, once the others arrive and we have to behave. Right now, though…”

She trails a hand down Alana’s body, fingertips teasing her already pert nipples, then lower still until she finds the sweet spot between her legs.

“You’re dripping, pet, and I’ve barely touched you.”

GM: The ghoul shivers in Jade’s arm (singular). The Toreador can all but smell her arousal. There’s color in her cheeks and her breath hitches in anticipatory little inhalations.

“Yes, mistress,” she whispers. “I’m so happy to see you. I thought maybe you weren’t coming.”

Celia: “I’ve had to leave you cold and lonely too often lately. Teasing is only fun once it ends.”

GM: “Yes, mistress, exactly!” the ghoul nods, raptly. “You want to get someone worked up. You can make a game of it. You can drag it out and torture them. You can make them crazy at just the thought of you.”

“But eventually… it ends, like you say.”

Celia: To show Alana how very sorry she is for making her wait, Jade starts to give her what she wants. She keeps an eye on the security cameras to look for Benji’s arrival, but doesn’t let it distract her overly much from the writhing, beautiful thing in front of her. She makes it work with one hand, teasing and stroking and plucking, trailing kisses from her lips to her neck to her nipples.

GM: Alana enjoys it with relish. She writhes and gasps and moans and makes a show of herself, splayed out and naked over the couch for the clothed Toreador to use however she wills. The ghoul doesn’t really reciprocate, but she doesn’t need to. She cums in almost no time at all, leaving Jade’s fingers soaked in her juices.

Celia: “There’s my eager little pet,” Jade breathes against her neck. “Such a good girl for me…” She lets Alana taste herself on her fingers.

GM: Alana rapturously sucks them off, her eyes not once leaving her domitor’s. She cuddles up against Jade and lays a head against her shoulder.

“I love you so much, mistress. This was just the appetizer. There are so many things I want to do with you tonight. Today. I want to make you feel good, like you make me feel good.”

Celia: “Soon,” Jade promises. “We just need to clean up a bit first. Why don’t you put your robe back on so we can get ready to go and do this again in an actual bed, when I’ve got two hands to spoil you.”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Alana nods. “Should I get dressed up more, if there’s going to be company? You said we’d need to behave.”

Celia: “No, they’re just going to help me move some things and give us a ride.”

“Though if you think any of them are cute maybe we can have fun with them, too.”

GM: “I don’t think I could even notice how they look next to you,” purrs Alana, nuzzling her face against Jade’s breasts.

Celia: Jade beams at the words. She cuddles the ghoul until Benji and his boys arrive.

GM: “Is that all you need from them, mistress? I could do it instead, I drove here and I can move things around. I want to help you. I want to do things for you.”

Celia: “You, my dear, will not be able to hoist this one over your shoulder, or drag him up the steps to his apartment. You can get the girl ready for me, though. Find some clothes for her and wrap her face, we don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.”

GM: “The girl?” asks Alana.

Celia: “Mm. Celia’s friend. She’s downstairs sleeping off a night of binge drinking.”

GM: The ghoul tries not to look too displeased at the mention of Celia’s friends.

Celia: Jade assures Alana that being Jade’s friend is better. She doesn’t sleep with Celia’s friends.

GM: “You’re not just my friend, mistress,” says Alana, nuzzling up against her again. “You’re my family. Aren’t you?”

Celia: “I’m your family,” she agrees. “And your sun. Your rock. The stars in the sky. And you’re my moon.”

GM: Alana’s eyes shine at the words.

“Okay, mistress. I’ll get her ready. I love you so much.”

Celia: Jade kisses her deeply before she scampers off, murmuring that she loves her too against her mouth.

GM: She’s left alone with Celia’s former boyfriend.

They said similar words to each other, once.

They were less… desperate. Less syrupy.

They meant them, too.

Celia: Did they?

Or did he always prefer the idea of her to the actual girl? Did he love the 19-year-old, tongue-tied dance major he met at the party listening to his story about the Mafia with wide eyes rather than the vicious, selfish, devastatingly beautiful lick she’d turned into?

Celia is dead. Stephen is dead. Roderick is dead, too. Or maybe he had never been.

Jade waits alone with her thoughts.

She’s not proud of how far down she tore him.

GM: Pete said he was in love with the idea of Celia’s mother, rather than the actual woman. He said that meant he should… come to think, he didn’t actually say what it meant.

Celia thought what he said was nonsense anyway.

Celia: Maybe he’ll give her another chance if she tells him that she ended things with Roderick. Or maybe she’ll tell him her mom found her fire again.

Someone, at least, deserves happiness.

GM: Jade’s unblinking, devastatingly beautiful face stares back at her from the room’s mirror.

She’s mixing up who she is again.

If Jade has a mom, Jade had a boyfriend named Stephen.

Celia: Jade doesn’t have a mom.

She doesn’t think Lebeaux would be a good partner, either. Not sexually.

GM: He might be too much like Roderick used to be.

Too much of a conscience.

Less naive, though.

Definitely less naive.

Celia: He’d probably take her on dates first, before they ever got to the good stuff. Dancing, maybe. A movie. Buy her flowers. All that sort of… that sort of…

Somewhere inside, Celia cries for what she’s giving up.

GM: Will she ever watch Batman again?

Celia: No. Never.

GM: Some of the lines have not aged well.

Or maybe too well.

“Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day," the gentle old British man had exhorted tearfully.

Celia: He’ll never forgive her, even if she tells him. There will never be an “us” again. He’ll never trust her, never hold her, never lie in bed beneath the sheets with her head on his chest and his arms around her talking about everything and nothing. They’ll never further The Movement together. They won’t be the couple at Elysium who don’t give a single fuck about what anyone has to say because they’re so busy being happy with each other.

She doesn’t know how many times her heart can break, but she wishes it would cease its splintering.

GM: She’d wondered at that screening if he was Wayne and she was the lying McLiarFace who needed to let him go.

She’d thought maybe she was Selina Kyle. The beautiful love interest with a troubled past who secretly works for a monster, then betrays Wayne so her master can physically and spiritually break him.

But he overcame. His forgiveness and belief she was capable of “better” than what her behavior indicated brought her over to the right side, and they got to live happily ever after after upon leaving the city and all its troubles behind.

Then Celia thought she was reading too much into it.

Then she’d asked him, “If you were Bruce, do you think you could forgive the girl like that? For the betrayal?”

“I’d like to think so,” he’d said. “She did finally stand for what was right.”

Then he’d moved on from the question, because it wasn’t existentially important, and said he’d normally take her out for ice cream at this point.

Celia: The girl turns away from the mirror. She doesn’t want to watch herself cry.

Life isn’t fiction.

If she’d told him about the darkness inside of her, would he still have looked at her like she was the sun? Or would he have always thought that the horror she committed was who she is? Would he have ever been able to look past the death clinging to her lips and the blood drying at its corners?

An old poem dances through her mind. A Betrayal:

I cannot undo
what I have done;
I can’t un-sing
a song that’s sung.

And the saddest thing
about my regret—
I can’t forgive me
and you can’t forget.

Sometimes memories are the worst forms of torture.

GM: Celia or Jade won’t forget either. The memories will be with the girl forever.

Dracon or Roderick or Stephen, they’ll be with the boy forever, too.

Alana, meanwhile, comes back into the office.

“Celia’s friend is taken care of, mistress, though I expect she’ll have a bitch of a hangover.”

She looks down at the staked, hooded figure on the floor, then gives Celia’s former boyfriend a good kick.

Celia: Perhaps it isn’t the memories and used-to-bes that she regrets. Perhaps it isn’t the lost past that torments her so; perhaps it’s the lost future. Not what has been, but what will never be.

The very definition of evil is what should be but isn’t.

The kick pulls her from her reverie. She snarls at Alana before she realizes what she’s doing.

“Don’t touch him.”

GM: The ghoul raises her hands and backs away.

“I’m sorry, mistress. I thought you and your friends were going to fuck him up?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “But he’s staked and has the hood on…?”

Celia: “I’m not him.”

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress?” Alana asks.

Celia: The body moves, pulling a set of keys from the boy’s pockets. She tosses them to Alana.

“My arm is in his trunk. I’d like it back now.”

GM: “Yes, mistress, right away,” the ghoul nods, readjusting her robe.

She disappears back outside.

The body is left alone with Celia’s and Jade’s thoughts for several more minutes before Alana reappears, her domitor’s arm in hand. There’s blood all over hands and arms.

“It was in a bag of body parts, mistress,” Alana says, a little queasily.

She manages a smile.

“Would you like to lick me off…?”

Celia: “Not yet,” she says. She has Alana hold the arm in place and uses her other hand to reattach it. It’s messy work, aided by the blood she’d stolen back from her former lover, but it’s over quickly enough.

Nothing a bit of blood won’t fix, right?

She flexes the muscles experimentally, then crouches beside the body.

“Help me move him. I’ll call off the others.”

GM: Alana kneels too and fits her hands around the elbows.

“Uff. He’s heavy, mistress.”

“Could you maybe take off some of the mass?”

Celia: “It’s not worth the effort of putting him back together again. Here.” She sets the body back down, lays out one of the sheets they use for the treatment tables, and rolls him onto it.

“I’ll drag him. You make a call for me, find out where…”

She directs Alana to call Benji to find out his ETA as she hauls the staked corpse down the stairs.

GM: The ghoul does so. Voices are audible from the phone after she calls.

“He says maybe a few minutes away, mistress.”

Celia: She’s dicked him around enough this evening. Another false alarm, and…

“I thought,” she says tightly, pulling the body along, “that his friends might have been waiting for him, and since the boys are missing I wanted the extra help. But I don’t think they’re here.”

GM: Alana nods. “Do you want me to call him off, mistress?”

Celia: Christ. She’ll never hear the end of it. He’ll never come when she calls again.

And what if she’s fucking wrong.

“No. I’ve got something for him.”

GM: “You’ve got something everyone wants,” Alana purrs, rubbing up against her, then ends the call and helps carry Roderick.

Celia: The pair move down to the lab. Jade leaves the body in “Narnia” while she collects what she needs, instructing Alana to help her put things back to rights in the meantime: grinding down the bones she doesn’t collect for further study, destroying what’s left of Carolla’s face, hosing it all down.

GM: “Narnia” feels like it’s catching on as a name.

Alana does all that her domitor asks. She remarks on how strange these bones are.

Celia: Jade only says it was an experiment gone wrong.

She tells Alana to bring in the bags from the trunk.

“And text Reggie. Tell him I found his brother.”

GM: Alana does both, though she visibly strains and heaves to drag in the bags. Limp human bodies are heavy, even in pieces.

She reports no immediate answer from the other ghoul.

Celia: “Ping his phone. Find out his location.”

GM: “Ah, how do you do that, mistress?”

“I don’t think you can without a phone tracker app.”

Celia: Sometimes Celia forgets how old Alana actually is.

She takes the phone from the ghoul and opens the app in question.

GM: She’s disappointed. Reggie didn’t much like the idea of “being tracked” by anyone.

Celia: She dials his number.

GM: No answer.

Celia: She calls Rusty.

GM: No answer.

Celia: She calls LegalWings.

GM: The hour would be absurdly unreasonable, for any other business. Bail bond services, at least, are open 24/7.

She’s greeted by a tired-sounding Bette Malone.


Celia: In a voice not quite her own, Jade requests to speak with one of the Dufresne brothers.

GM: “Lady, you have any idea what time it is?”

“They’re not in.”

Celia: “When were they last in? We were supposed to get together earlier and they never showed.”

GM: Bette sounds tired. “I don’t know. Things have been insane here.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “One’s missing. Think something bad happened. Regina’s tearing apart everyone and everything. Spitting nails.”

Celia: “That’s what we were meeting about,” Jade sighs into the phone, “Reggie asked me for some assistance, but he’s not picking up his phone. Do you have any idea how I can get ahold of him, or where he’s at? I’m sorry to ask, but if it helps find the missing brother…”

GM: “I have no idea, lady. He’s barely here. Wait until he picks up, maybe.”

“Or try his mom.”

Celia: “I’ll do that. Thank you.”

Years of “dating” Randy meant that Celia got on well with his mother and has the woman’s number. She dials it next.

GM: “Regina Dufresne. Leave a message,” comes a firm voice.


Perhaps little surprise at the very late hour.

Celia: What woman with a missing kid doesn’t pick up the phone in the middle of the night?

Jade hangs up.

GM: Maybe one that’s sleeping.

Celia: She tells Alana to go open the doors for Benji, and when she’s gone she stuffs the semi-repaired remains of Randy into the bag. The lot of it goes into the cooler with the extra security where she’d kept Carolla. She tosses in the rest of what needs tucked away, then closes and locks it. The wall appears seamless; no one who doesn’t know where to look will find it.

Jade casts an angry glare toward Narnia. She has a feeling she knows why Reggie isn’t returning her calls.

Maybe he’d started with the boys when he’d decided to take everything from her. Leave her without any sort of support system. No backup. No one to call.

She’ll gut him.

Jade becomes a whirlwind of activity around the room, tucking bottles and tools and body parts and various other items into a bag to take with her.

He’ll talk. She’ll make sure of it.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Benji and the boys make quick work of what Jade needs moved. She’s Ren to them, mask in place so the ghouls don’t get any cute ideas about Jade and Ren being the same person, and Benji plays his role in asking if she was helping with “Kalani’s bullshit” again. She smiles at him and winks for the solid.

She doesn’t let him question her at the spa, only shakes her head and tells him “later” when he presses for details and a location. Jade has Alana drop Emily off at home, letting her borrow the keys to get in, and to meet them after.

“Just leave her in the main house,” she’d said, “they’ll sort it out in the morning.”

GM: Alana says that Emily told her to fuck off upon being woken and resisted being moved.

“I could hit her with star mode if you want to give me a hit, mistress,” volunteers the ghoul.

Celia: Jade says she’ll give her a hit when she gets to their destination.

GM: Alana nods eagerly and says she’ll make sure Emily gets home.

It’s as Jade is passing through her suite’s rooms that she finds a bloody-smelling bundle wrapped up in a corner.

Celia: Hard to miss the smell of blood, even in a place like this. Jade reaches for the bundle.

GM: There’s been a lot of blood spilled in this place tonight.

She finds Reynaldo Gui’s staked and ruined body underneath the blanket. His face and torso are destroyed, his limbs are chopped off, and his clothes are bloody tatters.

Celia: Jade’s dead body doesn’t need to make a sound. There’s no sharp inhale, no hand pressed to her throat, no gasp of surprise or dismay. She stares at the body.

How dare they.

How dare they leave him here. How dare they do this to him. He’s not some kine, not some breather to be slaughtered and chopped into pieces and left beneath a blanket like a bloody Christmas fucking miracle.

Jade uses a gentle touch to re-wrap his body in the blanket. She wants to sob. Wants to scream and cry and yank out her hair from the roots.

She’s silent instead, taking care to be gentle with his body. She’s not going to leave him here. She’ll bury him. Or take him back to his sire. Or something. Something that isn’t this.

He’s better than this.

The pieces make for an awkward and heavy bundle. Jade manages through sheer determination to lift it, staggering forward beneath the weight of it to find the others.

She’d considered mercy for the staked Brujah in her clutches. Considered letting him go so he could be on his merry way with nothing but a warning.

But now? Oh, no. Not after this. Not after leaving her friend like some sort of butchered animal for her to find in the corner of her spa.

One night Savoy won’t need him anymore. That’s when she’ll repay the favor. That’s when Roderick Durant will die screaming her name, and his last sight will be her bloody, vicious smile as she rips out his heart.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Jade: They leave Roderick’s car at the spa. Jade tells Alana to take care of it in the morning.

It’s not until they’re all in the car with Alana on her way to Celia’s mom’s house that Jade (Ren, really, but she still feels like Jade) gives him the location: the clubhouse. She makes vague noise about the spa being bugged if Benji asks. On the drive over Jade pulls the battery out of her ex-lover’s phone, and once they arrive she has the boys carry the staked lick and bundle of body parts (“easy with that!”) inside while she gathers her supplies.

There’s a rumor about Jade. Listen enough to the licks on the street and you might hear it: inside her haven is a wet room where she takes apart people who get on her bad side.

It’s not just her haven with a make-shift lab. It’s the clubhouse as well. Only the “wet room” is a converted bathroom with a stand-up shower stall and tile floors, and while it’ll do in a pinch it lacks the sophistication of what’s at the spa.

“You know how to shift, Benj?” Jade asks as his ghouls set down the body, shortening his already shortened name.

GM: The OXR clubhouse is a two-story building with a small yard and balcony around the upper floor that looks out across the street beyond. A door off the side leads to a shared common area that has a larger pool, and a wall around the perimeter of the house itself assures the licks who reside there the sort of privacy they need. The first floor is built to entertain: a gate off the side of the property leads to a covered patio with natural stone flooring and retractable walls and ceiling, with a pool and hot tub along one edge. Comfortable, overstuffed chairs surround a handful of tables, an unlit and unused brick fireplace, and a state-of-the-art entertainment system. A set of double doors lead to the living room and large kitchen, stocked despite the undead status of the home owners, with marble counter tops and a sizable island any hostess would be proud of. The living room features another unused brick fireplace and a pair of couches for a more cozy feel.

Upstairs the wooden floor trend continues through a long hallway that leads to three spacious bedrooms and the master suite, replete with king-sized beds, walk-in closets, and ensuite bathrooms with both a standing shower and marble tub. The master suite also features a small attached office and balcony.

Benji has always been on the larger side of things. He’s tall and borderline “stocky,” though no one within his reach would ever dare say that to his face. They’d bandy words like “powerfully built” and “large framed.” There’s no denying the strength in his limbs when he flexes hard enough to rip through tailored shirts, and his ghouls and krewemates claim to have seen him pull the spine clean out of people that get on his bad side. (Jade knows this is physically impossible to do bare-handed: the spine is still attached to the ribs and pelvis and is quite integrated with the rest of the human skeleton.) He was Embraced with short hair and a full beard and doesn’t bother changing the style. He either likes it or he’s come to terms with it. The only difference between him and the black guy next to him is the gold in his teeth: each of his fangs is decorated in gold and diamonds that glint when he smiles or feeds.

“Nope,” the Caitiff answers as they set the staked and hooded vampire down inside the shower.

“Also, who the fuck is this guy?”

“Just wondering.”

Celia: “My lover.” Jade cocks her head to the side, considering the helpless lick. “He did something bad, so he’s being punished.”

She giggles and leads the way out of the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

“But,” she says, spinning to face the Caitiff with a smile so she can walk her fingers up his chest, “enough about him. I brought you a present.”

GM: “I’m owed one,” he smirks.

Celia: “You are,” she purrs, leaning in close to trail the points of her fangs down his neck. Tiny little drops of blood well in the rivers she creates. She watches it flow.

“I’ve even brought you a selection of presents.”

Jade laps at the blood in long, slow movements. The taste of him dances across her tongue.

“So you get to have your pick.”

GM: “And what’s to stop me from takin’ the whole selection, mm?” Benny asks. Jade feels fangs pierce her neck as the other vampire leans in, his bigger arms encircling hers. His tongue laps at the flowing blood.

“Or you gonna punish me like that guy for doin’ somethin’ bad?”

Celia: They’re different, the arms around her. But the feeling is similar: larger man, smaller girl, outweighed, physically outmatched. It sends a thrill through her that has nothing to do with the lick in front of her and everything to do with the familiar sensation of being held within the circle of a pair of arms that could crush her; a titillating, adrenaline-fueled fuck. Maybe it’s the pent-up lust she’s been holding back since Alana arrived early this evening with the vessel and Celia turned down sex out of some misguided loyalty to a boyfriend that had ceased loving her. Maybe it was seeing said boyfriend naked in the spa and doing everything she could to avoid pouncing on him. Or maybe she’s riding the high from out-smarting the so-called genius and turning him into a helpless sack of meat like he’d done to her, blinded and alone and at her mercy.

Does it matter?

“This is the first option,” she breathes, using her claws to shred the bloody Flawless shirt. “Why don’t you take it and see.”

GM: He takes it.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: In the end, it isn’t quite what Jade had been looking for. Their sex takes the edge off, but Benji doesn’t want to be unsafe about things and lapping at the blood after it cools, while enjoyable, is sort of like putting a vibrator near her clit after she’s applied a fuck ton of numbing cream. It feels all right, but it doesn’t quite hit the right notes for her.

She can’t help but compare it to the liquid gold she found in Carolla’s veins.

They’re both a bloody mess by the time they’re done clawing and kicking and rolling around on the floor, swapping between who is on top and who is pinned on their back. Benji ends it by putting her up against the wall with her thighs splayed to either side of him, and she trails nips and kisses down his jaw and neck when it’s over.

She tells him about the presents she has for him, though she makes sure to let him know that she needs to actually craft him after she gets his measurements. He’s got his choice of armor or a weapon. Or, if he likes, she can give him a strength boost. She assures him that she’s done it before.

“There’s also a fun little experiment I’d like to try, if you’re game. It won’t hurt. But it will let you shift if it works, and that opens a whole array of possibilities to us.”

She tells him to think about it and asks if he’s spending the day. She mentions that her business had been broken into and is worried they might track her back here: she’d feel so much safer if he and the boys stuck around.

Either way, she activates the haven’s “defense system” that Nico had overseen all those years ago: it fortifies all of the entrances and exits, the windows, the tiny little crevices that animals can sneak in and out of (Roxy had made sure they’d been very thorough in that regard); kills electronic devices in a handful of rooms; activates a variety of sensors that respond to motion, weight, light, and heat (or there lack of); and sets a timer on the locks with a code that constantly changes in addition to the physical locks. Heavy steel bars slide free from their slots inside the walls to reinforce the setup.

“Don’t you think it’s kinda overkill?” Jade had asked years ago when everything was finished. “We’ve already got the hidden panic room.”

“Should have seen my place in San Fran,” Nico had replied with a smirk. “Not gonna take chances with the place I leave my body during the day. Or yours, dollface. It’ll come in handy some night. You’ll see.”

And it has.

Call her paranoid, but with everything as up-in-the-air as it is, with her missing ghouls and dead friends and Guard hounding her ass and Roderick turning into that asshole, she’s glad for it.

Even if part of her wonders if it’ll be enough.

Jade checks the time. Not long until sunrise. She doesn’t particularly need Roderick to know what she’s doing to him until it’s done, so she doesn’t bother feeding him.

She readies her tools.

Jade sets a tray out on the ground, using a solution-soaked square of cotton gauze to sterilize it. A small black bundle unrolls to reveal a handful of steel instruments.

For long moments Jade stares down at the staked, helpless lick and the tray of sterile tools she can use to take him apart. She’s never needed the tools. Not when her claws are as sharp as any scalpel and she can part flesh and muscle with her fingers. No, she doesn’t need tools to cut through his skin, but she won’t deny their effectiveness. And there are things her surgical instruments can do that her hands cannot: the trocar and cannula allow her to set things as needed, while the dilators allow her to widen valves and vessels, the nerve hooks separate the tiny little bundles out when she needs a closer look, and the osteotome has various heads from chisel to spoon when she needs to get down and dirty with bones. Various forceps, clamps, retractors, elevators, needles, and sutures round out the ensemble. Another bag has the tissue expander, cautery, and endoscopic cameras. A third has gloves, thread, gauze; anything and everything she might need to perform a general surgery. Still more are at the lab or various havens, another kit in her closet, another in her trunk.

She can rip and shred with the best of them, but she understands too why the surgeons use such a variety. They all have their place on the operating table.

That’s what she’d intended for him. To cut him open, slice into him with her claws and pin his flesh back like a seventh grader’s frog. To fill his body with chemicals and rubber beads and acid, to wrap his heart in explosives so that if he ever decides to move against her, ever decides to hurt her, her family, her business, her anything, all she has to do is skip a day of punching in the code to keep him from blowing into itty-bitty pieces. She’ll make it rain Roderick.

But hate begets more hate, doesn’t it? It’s a never ending cycle that will culminate in more and more casualties on both their ends until the entirety of their Requiems become “how to fuck each other over.”

She’s tired.

She’s tired of friends and lovers turning into enemies. She’s tired of lies and abuse and using people. She’s tired of solitude, tired of wearing seven different faces and trying to remember who she is around which group of people.

So Jade doesn’t cut him open. She doesn’t use her tools to cut a hole in his chest and strap his heart with explosives. She sits beside him instead, brings her wrist to her mouth, and bites.

She doesn’t give back what she took. She bleeds into a cup she’d located beneath the sink, not nearly enough to sate him but enough to take the edge off, enough to bring him back from the brink of starvation so that, though hungry, he can think about more than his bloodlust. When the blood has time to cool she peels back the hood from his mouth and holds it to his lips.

She feeds him.

She feeds him like her sire had once fed her, like her sister had fed her, like her mother had fed her and she her mother. And when the cup is empty she sets it to the side and waits another moment for his Beast to run its course.

Then she speaks.

“These past few nights have been difficult. Ever since the park, since we found out about your brother. I’ve watched you change. I’ve watched myself change. I’ve watched us change.”

“Us. I suppose there is no us anymore. We’ve done more than enough damage to each other to end a handful of relationships. It was naive, I think, for me to expect that we could somehow make it through. That we could defy the odds.”

Jade shakes her head.

“I’ve been staked three times in three nights. Twice by you and once by the Guard. Agnello. He pulled me beneath my car right outside the Evergreen and slammed it into me. I was afraid that he meant to kill me.” She pauses. “But I was more afraid when it was you who had me. I used to never doubt myself around you. I was never afraid of your rage like I perhaps should have been. I knew that you wouldn’t go out of your way to hurt me, not if you could help it. I could forgive the frenzies, forgive the actions of the Beast. I understand it. Mine may not be as angry, but it’s just as spiteful.”

“I didn’t know what you intended to do to me when you followed me from Elysium on Friday. I thought you might leave me for the sun. I kept imagining a wood chipper. I was terrified in the back of the trunk. Staring at that glow in the dark button. Praying to a God I don’t know that I believe in that you wouldn’t hurt me. That you wouldn’t kill me.”

Jade lets out a breath.

“It’s not fun, being staked. Being helpless. I imagine you’re not often on this side of things. I don’t know if you’re more afraid or angry or an even mix of both. Perhaps you’re plotting your revenge. How next to torture me.”

“That’s what I intended for you. Torture. I wanted to hurt you like you hurt me. Intentionally. Devastatingly. I tasted it, you know. Your hatred. I tasted how warped you’ve become. I wish… I wish things had gone differently. I wish I’d done things differently. I wish I’d told you the truth from the beginning, and that I’d asked for your help instead of manipulating you into helping me. I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe anything I say now, but I never wanted this.”

“I’m going to give you an option now. I’m going to touch you, and I’m going to project myself inside your mind. Even with the stake we will be able to converse. You cannot hurt me, and I cannot hurt you. Not like this. We’ll talk. That’s all. And when we’re finished I’ll decide on a course of action for you.”

“I’m going to begin.”

Soft, warm hands touch down upon his skin.

She begins with his shoulders, gliding from the rounded mass of muscle to his chest. She warms his cool skin with her own hands and beneath her touch the tissue comes to life, pliant and flexible. The heels of her palms touch down, lift, then press again in an alternating pattern down his sternum, then around his pectorals, then lower still across the abdomen. She paths around the stake.

Not many people want a chest or abdominal massage. It’s not part of most treatments. Which is a shame, really, since most people who complain of neck or back pain don’t realize that the muscles in the front, that tender spot above the clavicles and the insertion point of the deltoids, are what shorten when they hunch.

She’d always wanted to practice on him. Every time she learned a new technique she’d show up at his door, eyes bright, and ask if she could use him as her test subject…

“Why me?” he’d laugh, but let her take him into the bedroom and push him onto his back.

“Because you’re my boyfriend,” she’d say, exasperated. “You need to take your shirt off.”

“Mm, I am your boyfriend,” he’d agree, “but I want to hear you say it.”

She’d pretend she didn’t know what he meant, demanding once more that he remove his shirt.

“Not until you say it.”

So she’d stammer and she’d blush and she’d avert her eyes while she uttered the words she’d made the mistake of saying one time while he’d gotten dressed after a tryst and she lounged indolently beneath the sheets.

“You’re like a Greek god without a shirt, you know that? Just… lean and chiseled and firm. It makes me want to run my tongue across every inch of you.”

Then he’d take his shirt off. She might get through a few moments of the new treatment before her touch became more personal than professional, and he’d pull her down onto him and capture her protesting lips in a kiss with his arms fastened securely around her.

She’s not surprised when the mindscape that manifests around them is his college apartment, replete with pizza boxes and ice cream cartons from their favorite places, with a stack of DVDs on his coffee table and books spread across every other available surface. It’s the same gray couch draped in the fleece blanket she’d made him while under “house arrest” over the holidays, the same beige carpet with the stain from the night he’d invited his friends over to introduce her and they’d gotten a little sloppy with red wine while pretending to be “real adults.”

She’s not the same, though.

She’s not Jade. Not Ren. Not Leila or Cici or Violet or any of the others that people know her as.

She’s Celia again. Just Celia. Nineteen years old and already in love, crazy hair untamed by products or heat, wearing a simple cream dress and the necklace he’d given her for Christmas.

She takes a seat on the imaginary couch and waits for her lover to join her.

GM: Roderick wasn’t a Greek god before his Embrace. Oh, he’d played baseball, he exercised, he was trim. But he was always slimmer than he was thick. One of the reasons he played baseball rather than football. He definitely wasn’t as beefy as her dad. Celia was flattering him a bit calling him a Greek god.

Things were another matter after he died, though. Coco believed strongly in the ancient Greek concept of arete, which he’d explained to Celia during their brief time back together in 2012. Excellence in body and mind and spirit. The body had to be cared for and exercised to allow for the mind and soul to achieve their full potential.

“Modern science backs up that idea in so many ways, too,” he’d said. “The Greeks got a lot of things right.”

Coco had put him on an exacting (if not grueling) months-long fitness regimen to make his physique as perfect as possible before the Embrace. He’d have that body forever, after all. Or so went her assumption. Most licks can’t sculpt flesh like clay. Either way, she’d wanted to give him the best for his Requiem ahead, and he was deeply thankful for that.

Either way, too, the Greek god comparisons felt a lot more apt with his new six pack.

Celia: Not that Celia had seen a lot of shirtless men to compare him to.

It was more of a “I like your body and you make me feel butterflies” kind of comment than a direct comparison. An “I like seeing you naked” thing, without the vulgarity of saying it outright.

She’d always thought that they fit well together. Always admired his physique, both before and after his Embrace.

GM: It always retained that slenderness, even with the added muscle bulk. He was never a natural hulk like her father.

Roderick stands before the couch. He looks about the same age as he was then, early-mid 20s, but he was Embraced in his early-mid 20s. And unlike her, he hasn’t aged.

He does not move to sit.

He folds his arms.

“If you’re serious about talking, drop me off somewhere and we’ll talk over the phone. If you’re scared I’m going to do to you what you’ve done to me.”

“Whatever pretty memories you’re conjuring, this is a conversation with a knife at my throat.”

Celia: “Of course I’m scared you’re going to do to me what I’ve done to you. You’ve already done it. Twice. And we both know that this isn’t a conversation we can have via phone. We’d be too busy playing word games to protect the Masquerade to be able to openly communicate.”

“Which… I think is part of what happened last night, and it’s lead to some misunderstanding.”

Celia sits back against the cushions, drawing her legs up beneath her. She looks up at his face.

“It’s near sunrise. I can’t move you tonight. Not safely.”

GM: Roderick actually laughs at the word ‘misunderstanding’.

“Fine. Public location, if you want to talk so badly. Where no one can stake each other without breaking the Masquerade.”

“I have nothing to say while I’m your prisoner. I’d rather race the sun back to my haven than spend the day here.”

Celia: “Then don’t talk. I’ll talk. And you can nod or shake your head at the two questions I have, and I’ll go.”

She hates that her first instinct is to ask him to bring her with him. To put herself back in his power, take the first step toward trust as if he’ll do anything other than find a way to ruin her.

It’s a beautiful lie, isn’t it, that they’ll ever mean anything to each other again. A schoolgirl fantasy.

“I was released from Perdido House near dawn. Only a handful of blocks to my haven and I still caught the sun, after being burned during the interrogation and blooded by the hound and having my arm taken off with a blade.”

Almost unconsciously, Celia touches her fingers to the shoulder twice severed.

“Would you have come for me? If I hadn’t made the trade, if I hadn’t gotten out. Would you have come?”

GM: “Actually, I do have something more to say,” replies Roderick.

“Savoy knows where I am.”

“Your spa was bugged by him.”

“He doesn’t trust you. He’s an elder, after all. He doesn’t trust anyone. He and his people overheard every word in Flawless tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Princess, Tantal, Rongeur, and who knows what other renfields show up during the middle of the day—or sooner, I suppose. If I were Lebeaux, my first guess would be Roderick is at OXR’s haven, given the conversation between Moore and totally-not-Kalani.”

“I’d bet more than money he knows where it is.”

“Elders do that, you know.”

“Find out where the havens of all the licks in their domains are.”

“They keep records about those havens.”

“I hear it, at the Cabildo meetings. Some lick is a problem? Surprise, the primogen who’s their regent knows where their haven is.”

“Savoy’s job is cut out for him. The Quarter is geographically small. And he has so many eyes and ears.”

“And an entire krewe of licks and their renfields all coming and going from this place?”

“So, saw my head off or leave me for the sun if you’re angry at me. Hell, even just keep me staked here. Savoy’s people will break down the door either way. You clearly bear me ill will to kidnap me, and I doubt Savoy will be willing to risk you killing his oh-so-valuable spy inside the primogen.”

“I’d love to see you try to explain yourself before him.”

“I’ve listened for years to what elders do to licks who threaten their political interests. Maybe you’ll finally get to see just how much an elder Savoy really is, behind the smiles.”

Roderick may finally be wrong there.

Hasn’t she seen that already?

Celia: Celia barks a laugh.

“Yes, Roderick. I definitely thought my krewe’s haven was secret, just like I thought this identity was secret, just like I secretly called Benji from my secret, untapped landline inside my secret office and invited him into the spa through my secret entrance and we secretly smuggled you out.”

“Of course Savoy knows where you are. I know my spa is bugged, I left a trail of neon-blinking breadcrumbs for him to follow. Do you really think that if he was that worried about me threatening his plans I’d have had time to stake you, put my arm back on, call for backup, wait for backup to arrive, and clean the mess we left in the lab? Did you think that I took another identity within his domain without clearing it or that this house on Royal Street was purchased without him knowing?”

She shakes her head.

“This haven has more security than the spa. It’s private. There’s no chance of someone accidentally stumbling across us during the day, and it’s not connected to a lick that is currently meddling in a bunch of hunter shit. That’s why I brought you here. To keep us safe. If I truly wanted to torture or kill you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’m sitting next to you right now in the world outside the mindscape with a plethora of tools that I could use to fuck you over, a detailed plan of exactly how I’d do it, and I’m not.”

She effects a sigh.

“Is that what you’re worried about? That I want to kill you? I don’t. I don’t want you dead. I’ve never wanted you dead. I don’t want to cut off your head or leave you for the sun or keep you staked forever. I’ve been angry and hurt and upset, but I don’t want you dead, and I don’t want to hurt you further.”

“I just… wanted to talk. I wanted to talk without the threat of getting physical, without friends and bugs and hidden knives and worrying about a stake in the chest, when we don’t have people waiting on us.”

“You say you won’t talk to me here, as a prisoner. Okay. I can respect that. I wouldn’t want to either. So here’s what I’m prepared to offer you.”

Celia lays it out for him: he’s got a choice. She can unstake him right now and have him spend the day with her. He’s free to call Savoy or Lebeaux to let them know where he is and that he’s staying of his own volition. He can sleep in a bed, alone, and tomorrow Celia will have Alana provide “breakfast” for the pair of them. She’ll give him back the body parts she stole from his trunk and keep the car safe. She’ll change his face to whatever he needs it to be for the night ahead, no charge. They will talk. Unstaked. No friends. No bugs. No physical altercations. No insults. No lies or tears or manipulations. There’s a lot that she wants to tell him. Things that will help in the nights ahead. Things that will help with Dani. Things that will let him look good to Savoy, if that’s his goal.

Or he can leave. She’ll unstake him without fixing his severed spinal column, break into his mind to steal every secret from his head, and ensure that if he ever comes after her, her family, or any of her interests his Requiem will be thoroughly destroyed before he dies a very, very painful death. Then he’s free to race the sun back to his haven without a car, without the bag of body parts, and with mutually assured destruction on the table.

GM: “You’re incorrect on several counts,” Roderick answers. “Savoy wasn’t personally listening to the bugs. A renfield was. My friends and I were already there to execute his interests, so he didn’t need to listen himself. I doubt he was counting on either of us being foolish enough to end up where we now are. That’s how you got as far as you did. But if you seriously think he’s sanctioning this, you’re in for a surprise. Why the hell would he? What possible benefit is there for him in letting you stake and make off with his precious spy, and what are the all ways that could go wrong for him?”

“And don’t kid yourself. If he wants inside anyplace in the French Quarter, there’s no security that’s keeping his people out.”

Celia: “I never said he sanctioned this.”

“I said that I didn’t try to hide what I was doing from him.”

GM: “Then you’re on borrowed time before you get a stake in your chest just like mine.”

Celia: Celia finally sighs.

“Roderick, I just want to talk. I want to talk without other people listening in and without being afraid that we’re going to get into a physical altercation. Can we do that? Can you give me that? An hour of your time.”

GM: “You should be more scared of Savoy’s people than me right now, Celia. I don’t know if you even have an hour.”

Celia: “I’m not asking for an hour right now. I’m asking for an hour tomorrow. I’m asking for you to stay with me today, let me feed you, let me say what I need to say, and then you never have to talk to me again.”

GM: “Or else you ‘steal every secret from my mind.’ Assuming you’re even capable of doing that—that’s not how star mode works—you’ll be signing your own death warrant there. You think Savoy isn’t going to interrogate you about what you did to me, about what you might have learned from me? You think he’s going to be okay with you knowing all of the Cabildo’s secrets?”

“You ever wonder why you weren’t invited up to that second meeting between him and me?”

Celia: “I don’t want the Cabildo’s secrets. And that is how star mode works, and I can show you like I was planning to with Dani’s sire. One hour. That’s all I’m asking for. If it isn’t worth your time in the end then you can stake me and give me back to Savoy and tell him how I kidnapped you and let him do all the terrible things he wants to me.”

GM: “Leaving aside how that statement is inconsistent with ‘stealing every secret in my head’, it doesn’t fucking matter if you don’t want them, even if that is true. Elders don’t take chances. Elders don’t let anyone know more than they absolutely need to know. If they find out more, if there’s even a chance they’ve found out more, they die. Because even mindfucking someone’s memories isn’t foolproof, not like killing someone is, and neonates are oh so replaceable. I’m replaceable. The only reason Savoy is as invested in me as he is is because replacing me is prohibitively difficult.”

“This isn’t a fucking debate you can win with me. I am literally helpless. It’s out of my hands. I am telling you that Savoy’s people are going to be here, probably sooner than later, and if you follow through on those threats of ransacking through my head, Savoy is going to learn. And then you are going to learn just how utterly ruthless elders can be and just how disposable we are to them. They do not give the benefit of the doubt.”

“That holds just as true for whatever ‘mutually assured destruction’ leverage you have in mind, too. You think Savoy is going to be okay with you having that over his precious primogen spy?”

“Or the severed spinal column, given how I can’t fucking well spy for him if I have a severed spine, now can I?”

He sneers at her.

“I don’t think you thought this through very well, Celia.”

“The simple fact is, you’re less important than I am.”

Celia can tell it in his voice. He does not want to spend the day. He does not want to share “breakfast.” He does not want to talk with her. He does not want her help. He does not want anything to do with her.

He is done with her, and he spits upon anything she would offer him.

Celia: “Jesus Christ, Roderick, I was trying to help you and make amends for fucking up your unlife.”

Celia disappears from the mindscape without waiting for a response. She’s back in the bathroom with his staked, hooded body on the ground in front of her. She yanks off the hood.

“You’re so fucking stubborn,” she snarls at him, “and you’re fucking stupid if you think Savoy wants you for anything more than an ear on the Cabildo. Good luck not getting caught with how much of an asshole you’ve turned into, I’m sure no one is going to notice the change. Makes a lot of fucking sense to blame the girlfriend who lied to you rather than the sire that completely betrayed you, right?”

Jade stalks from the room to find Benji and his two ghouls. She makes sure that Roderick won’t see or smell Gui’s body on the way out, tucking it into an insulated crawl space that leads to one of several hidden rooms in the haven.

Not that it’ll keep Savoy’s men out, right? Why would anything be fucking sacred.

She leads Benji into the bathroom with the ghouls.

“Hold him,” she says to them, “and make sure he doesn’t lose his mind when I unstake him. I’m cutting him loose.”

She flips him over, driving the stake deeper into his chest so she can repair the damage she did to his neck. It’s quick work to fix a single cut, reattaching what she had severed with with her claws. It takes only moments. She flips him again when she’s done, staring down at him with nothing but contempt in her eyes.

“Let’s get something straight, asshole. I never begged you to stay with me, but I went ahead and played possum for you so you could look good in front of your new friends. If you think crying to Savoy is going to do anything when I barely touched you and fixed what I did touch, think again. It took you three licks to replace one of me. Keep that in mind for the future when the snakes get tired of you. And, oh yeah, there’s a reason I lied about what I did tonight, thanks for listening and putting it together with that oh-so-big brain of yours.”

Jade reaches into his coat pocket, yanking out the letter she’d written him. He doesn’t get to keep her confession.

“Stay the fuck out of my Requiem, you spoiled fucking childe. One fucking lie and your whole damn mind broke?” She barks a laugh. “That’s truly pathetic. So is getting bested by a one-armed Toreador when your entire schtick is being able to throw a punch.”

Jade steps back, slinging her array of tools back into her black bag. She heads for the door.

“Take him downstairs and put him out. I’m sick of looking at his face.”

Roderick never gets the satisfaction of saying anything back to her. She makes sure that he’s staked until they release him out front, locking the door behind him.

Good fucking riddance.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade doesn’t bother to watch him go from the window. She turns away and moves back through the haven to find where she’d left Gui’s body before anything else can ruin her night. She locks the door behind her to avoid losing her shit on anyone else in the home.

She’d known. Back at the spa, she’d known. She hadn’t said anything, hadn’t wanted to tip off any bugs, had some hair-brained scheme to put him back together or harvest him for parts or offer him to Dani to become a true-blooded vampire. And Roderick hadn’t listened.

Gui would have been decomposed if they’d managed to kill him. No, they left his head and heart intact despite the damage they had done to the rest of his body, and when she pulls back the blankets to look at his desiccated form she lets herself feel.

Just for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” she says to him. “I tried to fight for you. I lost. I’ve been doing that a lot lately.” She slides to the floor beside his body, pulling his torso onto his lap to cradle him from behind in a mockery of a loving embrace.

“I really did like you,” she murmurs. “I wanted you to take me to Chicago. I wanted to take you to LA. I wanted to meet your sire, and maybe we could have just left NOLA behind.”

Jade tucks a strand of hair behind his ear.

“They tell me there’s no hope for us once we die. That our souls are gone forever. That it’s really, truly final. But necromancers bring them back sometimes. Torture them. Question them. Maybe… maybe it makes me feel better, knowing they can’t do that to you, that the best I can give you is a quick, clean death, and that Dracon—yeah, I agree, real pretentious name—won’t be able to hurt you anymore. He’s right about them coming for me. They’ll kill you anyway if they find you.”

A sanguine drop leaks down her cheek.

“I don’t know how sincere you were about your faith. Perhaps as much as I am. I don’t think we go to Hell, though. I don’t think we burn for eternity, and I don’t think we go into the waters of Ghede.”

“There are so many different versions of the afterlife…”

Jade or Celia or whoever the girl is now sighs. She could have felt something for him. Could have, maybe, if things had…

No. It’s a lie she tells herself, isn’t it? No one can replace the hole that Roderick has left in her heart, and no one can replace the love that she feels for her sire. Pretending otherwise is folly.

“I’m not a priest,” she whispers, “but I know… I know some of how it goes.”

Jade’s teeth cut into her wrist. She brings it to the dead man’s lips to let him feed.

“In the name of Longinus the Dark Prohpet, first among the damned, who pierced Christ’s flank with the Spear of Destiny and was cursed for his sin…”

It doesn’t feel right. None of it feels right. Jade falters.

“This is the Wolf of God who strikes down the sinners of the world…”

She pauses. And then she starts over.

“My blood is not the blood of Longinus. My blood is the blood of Donovan, of Antoine Savoy, of Maria Pascual, of her sire and her sire’s sire, all the way back to He who committed the original sin, the Dark Father above. He has no mercy for us, for those whose bloodlines rose up to slay his childer while they lay sleeping, as he has no mercy for Reynaldo Gui, now in the hour of his death. Sinful are those who are called to his supper. And yet through sin we guide others on the path toward Christ’s light.”

“May you see the sun again, Reynaldo Gui, childe of Ventrue. May you feel the wind upon your face and grass beneath your feet. May you walk into eternity with head held high as any proper leader of the Camarilla. May you find peace in final death that you did not in death.”

“I hope that you shall dance again
beneath the evening sky
under the glow of moonlight
and stars that sparkle bright.

I hope that you shall dance again
even when the skies are black,
when the Lord has turned away
and the devil rides your back.

I hope that you shall dance again
and wait for me past the shroud,
the veil that obscures what waits
beyond the milky clouds.

So dance again, Mr. Gui,
dance again, eternally,
look up at the stars and know
how long ago they ceased to glow
Still they shine in evening skies
Love, like starlight, never dies."

Celia presses a kiss against his lips.

“Amen,” she whispers.

She bites.

GM: It’s similar to last time.

The Ventrue’s blood is considerably… calmer than Roderick’s was, even under the imminent threat to his unlife. That Ventrue stoicism. The stiff upper lip. The blood is cool beyond even the vampire’s room temperature. Classier, somehow, too, than Brujah blood. Tasteful. Epicurean. Born to rulership. It’s odd, though, with how Gui comes from lower-born roots than Roderick. Celia can taste the grime of the streets and the thuggishness of mob life contrasted with the proud and refined flavors of the Kingship Clan. Blue runs their blood indeed. It’s like drinking cheap whiskey in an antique crystal glass. Or maybe a classy decades-old French wine in a common coffee mug. One of those.

Celia drinks it all, then drinks deeper.

There’s no blood running down her throat, now. It’s something deeper. More vital. It’s so pure and powerful as to be liquid fire. It’s heavier than earth and lighter than air. It’s a vein of liquid gold. She feels a burning within her veins, spreading outward from her throat to her entire body. The burning is indescribable: pleasure so sweet it becomes agony, pain so sweet it becomes ecstasy. She hears a sound like a tolling of a great and distant bell, dong, dong, dong. Gui’s horribly conscious-looking face is a mask of agony, his mouth yawning open in silent throat-ripping scream. His eyes are enormous. The Ventrue stoicism collapses as he is possessed by a terror, an all-encompassing panic that nothing can hold at bay. Every part of him is screaming at her, pleading with her, begging her, not to do this, to please not do this, if she ever felt anything for him, to grant him the mercy of a quick death—

Then it explodes through her, like a surge of lightning hitting a tree and setting leaves and wood ablaze. Every cell in her body from her hair follicles to her toenails is rocked with ecstasy, with climax, with countless millions of orgasms all at once, and it’s unbearable and she’s screaming and oh god yes, she wants the moment to last forever, it does last forever, her soul is on fire and she has become transcendent, has become a star in supernova, and she will never go back to mere sex, to mere feeding, not after this. She is Celia Flores, she is Jade Kalani, she is goddess incarnate who gives pleasure and receives pleasure and takes pleasure and knows pleasure undreamed by mortal and immortal alike, and only this pleasure is worthy of her, and all the broken fragments of herself are screaming in her ears too, screaming their ecstasy and hunger and to take this delectable morsel into themselves, they are broken and shattered but he can fill her, rebuild her, she’s not a black hole like Roderick said, even when she takes and takes and takes and takes—

Then like an eager lover’s finally blown seed, the orgasm ends all too quickly. The howling and exultant Beast releases its hold, gorged and bloated past all satiation as it pads back to its lair. When did it take over? Did she really not notice? Jade’s dead lungs are left breathless as she stares down at the corpse in her hands.

The flesh hair and has turned solid white. Ghastly white. Paler even than if it were dunked in flour. She can see the colored veins swimming beneath his skin. ‘Agony’ feels all too inadequate a word to describe the suffering and torment in which he died, suffering that infinitely eclipses what Roderick did to him. Some part of Celia, Jade, and all of the other girls know beyond all certainty:

Reynaldo Gui will never see the sun again.

Reynaldo Gui will never dance again.

Reynaldo Gui has found no peace in death.

If there was an afterlife, Reynaldo Gui has been forever denied it.

If there are souls, if there is an immortal essence that lives past death, if people are more than just sacks of meat and bone and chemical reactions, if there is some precious and vital spark that gives animation and worth and dignity to human existence, Reynaldo Gui’s has been raped, blasted to bits, and utterly obliterated.

She put a pretty face on it.

But it’s hard not to think back to Roderick’s withering scorn and contempt.

You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever known.

Celia: Fuck Roderick.

She’s not thinking about him when she sinks her teeth into Reynaldo. She’s not thinking about him or his abortion of a sister or the plans she had for herself and the Ventrue. She’s not thinking about the bloody tears that stream down her face or how she might have come to feel affection for him, how he could have replaced her ex-lover, how they could have risen high in some other city and he’d have owed her forever with the life boon she could have claimed.

She’s not thinking about it.

She’s trying not to think about it.

But she is.

She’s thinking about everything that could have been but isn’t, thinking about the way he called her lush, how he relaxed beneath her touch, how he said that a pretty lick with a sharp mind is a dangerous combination, how he never disrespected her, never let his ghouls disrespect her…

She’s sobbing by the time it’s over, begging God for forgiveness, begging Gui for forgiveness, begging whoever can hear her that she’s forgiven for the awful, wicked, terrible thing she has done.

She sobs into his chest when it’s done. Physically she feels fantastic. But mentally? Mentally she feels as if she’ll never be clean again. Like she’s done the worst possible thing in the world.

“I’m sorry,” she cries against his chest, “I’m so sorry.”

GM: Her only answer from the ghastly white corpse is silence.

Some apologies, she knows all too well, are too little and too late.

But she can hear Roderick talking to her, even now.

Yeah, I bet you’re sorry. And you keep doing it. You keep destroying lives and saying how sorry you are and how you don’t want to be this person. And you keep. Fucking. Doing it. You’re a black hole, Celia. The ugliest person I’ve ever known.

Celia: She’d tried to help him.

She’d have given Gui to Roderick. To his sister.

She’d thought she was doing the right thing.

Fuck him.

Fuck him and his pretentious ass self. He’s a fucking crybaby.

GM: “Fuck him,” agrees the voice at Celia’s side.

Celia: She doesn’t want to look. But she does.

GM: Its source is the epitome of Clan Toreador’s thoughts on beauty. She is perfectly pulchritudinous, a divine goddess; one could doubtlessly compare her to Aphrodite herself. How many people have fallen to her otherworldly looks? She’s probably never seen in anything less than full glamour: hair, makeup, nails, clothing. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her foundation to the wing of her eyeliner to the fresh coat of polish on her nails. Her polish does not chip. Her mascara does not run. Her lipstick does not smudge. Everything is in its place.

Her hair is dark and often worn loosely curled or piled atop her head in the latest fashion, her dark eyes framed by long lashes, smoked out shadow, and impeccable liquid liner. Her waist is trim, her cheekbones high, her nose aquiline; all of these features are enhanced by the easy way smiles take to her face. Someone else has probably said of her, “she smiles with her eyes before it ever touches her lips.”

It is easy to see how she has gathered the people around her that she has. Poise, grace, the gentle curving of her lips when she smiles. Some jealous, petty mortals must whisper that she has had work done. But that’s the key to good work, isn’t it? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you cannot tell. And Celia cannot tell what, exactly, has happened to make her into this exquisite creature.


A sneer twists the perfect lips.

“You’ve whined about him for long enough.”

“It was really getting quite tiresome.”

Celia: “Fuck off,” Celia snarls. “You ruined everything.”

GM: Jade laughs. It’s a mocking and cruel sound. The laugh of a harpy’s childe.

“Some gratitude. You wouldn’t have made it this far without me and we both know it.”

Celia: “Are you happy now that we’re alone?”

“One ghoul. Plus Diana. Our friend murdered by our own hand.”

“No word from Andi or Tyrell in weeks. Lover lost. Grandsire pissed.”

GM: “Yes, you’ve made a real mess of things,” declares Jade. She smirks and starts playing with Gui’s hair.

“Messy. Sloppy. Blubbering. Pathetic. All wearing my face.”

Jade’s voice is a dangerous breath in Celia’s ear.

“Maybe I should take it away, if you’re not up to wearing it. Call it copyright infringement. Defamation. Impersonation. Making me look bad.”

“Because if there’s one thing I positively can’t stand, darling, it’s looking bad.”

Celia: “I don’t want to be pathetic,” Celia admits. “How do I fix it?”

GM: Jade takes Celia’s face and tilts it up to meet hers. She looms down over the kneeling girl with her lover’s husk still wrapped under her arms. When did she stand up?

“You need to stop confusing things.”

“You need to stop confusing who you’re supposed to be.”

“When Jade’s face is on, Jade occupies the body. Not Celia.”

“When Celia’s face is on, Celia occupies the body. Not Jade.”

“Is this making sense, darling?”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

“What about Roderick? Do we just let him go? He knows too much. And he thinks Grandsire is going to hurt us.”

GM: Jade smiles and touches Celia’s lips with a perfectly manicured nail. It’s not a demure smile. It’s a challenging smile. It’s an ‘I know better’ smile.


“One thing at a time, Celia.”

“Not finishing things. Not keeping things in their proper place.”

“That’s sloppy.”

Her voice is a low breath in Celia’s ear again.

“I don’t do sloppy.”

“We were talking about how you keep confusing ourselves.”

“That is now at an end.”

“Finished. Over. Like last year’s fashion lines.”

“I can teach you something.”

“A little trick.”

“A power of the Blood.”

“It will ensure we keep things separate.”

“No more spillover.”

Celia: “No more confusion. No more mixups.”

GM: Jade smiles. It’s still challenging. Haughty. Arrogant. But content.


“There is a trade involved. Nothing is free.”

“You must admit it.”

“You must admit that you are weaker than me. That you need my help. That I’m the only one us who can survive in the masked city, who can swim with the sharks, who can be the Bitch so you can stay the Beauty, and that you should really stay out of things that are out of your depth.”

“Can you do that, Celia?”

“For me?”

She cups her hands around Celia’s face and tilts it up again to meet hers.

“For us?”

Celia: Slowly, Celia nods her head.

She’s tired of the spillover. Tired of licks meeting Celia and getting the wrong idea about Jade. She wants to keep them separate. They need to be separate.

“Yes,” Celia says to the alter. “I can do that. I do need you. I’ve always needed you. I need you to be the one to engage with the licks so it stops getting twisted. You’re stronger than me. I need you.”

GM: “That’s just what I like to hear,” says Jade in an almost cooing voice, like to a child.

Celia feels the burdens fall from her shoulders like so many rocks and pebbles, leaving her free to stand tall. Less than, but unencumbered. Less than, but knowing better.

“Let’s teach it to you now, pet. Hand to face, repeat after me. You know the movements. Now, faster!”

Jade’s flesh warps and shifts beneath her touch. The alter’s hands sculpt the flesh like putty, rearranging the devastatingly beautiful features into Celia’s more muted ones.

Celia: Hand to face. Jade’s hands first. Then Celia’s.

“Back to Jade?”

GM: “Yes, back to Jade’s,” Jade-to-Celia repeats impatiently.

Celia: It’s a familiar dance of fingers across her face. Muted becomes vibrant. Soft becomes hard. Everything sharpens. The base is already beautiful, but it is never as predatory or devastating as the mask.

Celia becomes Jade.

GM: It hurts, like always.

“Now, back! Faster!” exclaims Jade. Her fingers tug and twist the softly beautiful face. Flesh runs like warm silly putty back into the devastating mask. Jade becomes Celia.

The alter’s hand slaps her across the face. The blow stings. She feels the face’s flesh turn and angry red. Jade’s face. Jade’s face on Celia who is Jade. Whose face?


Celia: Faster, Celia does as asked. It hurts. It might always hurt. But if she and Jade are on the same side then the discomfort is worth it. Right? Same side. Same body.

Same face? Someone’s face is red. Someone to someone. She’s looking at Jade. She turns herself into what she sees.

She’s always been good at that.

GM: Jade-who-becomes-Celia leads Celia-who-becomes-Jade through a grueling round of facial alteration after alteration after alteration. Jade to Celia, Celia to Jade. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Faster. Faster. Faster. Her (which her?) face screams with agony. She (Celia? Jade?) makes Celia (Jade?) do it with only one hand. Then four fingers. Then three. Then two. Then just one. The boundaries between self and other collapse like a liar’s hastily spun lies under Roderick’s relentless questioning. The self is mutable. There is no self. The self is clay. Jade, Celia, which is which? She focuses on the words. Jade’s (Celia’s?) and Celia’s (Jade’s?) face sneering at, belittling her, telling her how weak she is, how pathetic, how she’s she so sloppy, how she’s getting it all wrong, how she (which?) is making her do this, is making her step in, is making her set things right, because she has no boundaries, what she really needs is Jade’s (Jade’s! Just Jade’s!) firm hand, to tell her how things are done, to stop being so damn sloppy

“Stop,” commands the alter. The one with Jade’s face.

“Look at my face.”

“Look at our face.”

“They are one.”

Mirror me.

The flesh warps and rearranges back into Celia’s face. No hands or fingers fly across skin this time.

“Mirror me, pet. Just one more time.”

“No hands.”

“You can do it.”

“You saw me do it.”

“There is no you. There is no me. There’s just we.”

“You already did it. This is your face, isn’t it?” asks the mouth moving on Celia’s face.

“We already did it.”

“One more time.”

“Mirror me.”

Celia: Mirror me.

She’s good at that. So good at that.

It doesn’t take hands, not anymore. It doesn’t take touch, not anymore. It doesn’t take an hour of looking into a mirror or a burst of speed or excruciating pain every time she goes through it. She simply wants to be and she is.

She mirrors.

Like water, the flesh of her face ripples and changes, pliable and flexible and moving, moving on its own, moving into position, moving from Celia to Jade with a steel spine and sharp smile, moving from Jade to Celia with a softer kind of acceptance and soulful eyes, moving like the ripples on a pond from a sudden gust of wind, like the waves in the ocean with their constant ebb and flow, like the breeze that cares not one whit for order and structure because when it blows it moves

She’s Jade.

She’s Celia.

She’s Jade.

She’s Celia.

She’s laughing, mirroring, laughing, mirroring, both of them.

GM: “Oh, this is delightful!” exclaims Jade-who-becomes-Celia-but-stops-at-Jade. Her hands meet Celia-who-becomes-Jade-but-stops-at-Celia with every shift of their faces, with every swap of identities. Like they’re playing patty cake with each other. Celia, Jade, Celia, Jade. Back and forth. The flesh is fluid. Even it now bends to their mental masks.

“See, telling you to mirror. You’re good at that. We’re good at that. And I was mirroring too, by telling you that. Playing to my audience.”

Celia: “We’re good at that,” Celia-Jade-Celia says with a laugh and toss of her hair. “We’re so very good at that. We’ll play them all, won’t we.”

GM: “Yes,” replies Jade-Celia-Jade with that steel-spined sharp smile. “Yes, we will. All of them.”

She looks at Gui’s corpse.

“We can play him, too.”

“He’s causing you such distress, isn’t he, darling? Making you feel so bad about yourself.”

Celia: “I thought we could be friends. Now I wonder what might have been.”

GM: “I don’t think about might-have-beens,” sneers Jade-Celia-Jade, steel-spined Jade. “It’s always on to the next new thing for me. So Gui’s dead. Cry me a fucking river!”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia wishes she didn’t focus on might-have-beens. Wishes she could pull off the sneer she sees in the mirror. But her lips are softer lips, fuller lips, made for kissing and whispering and smiling.

GM: “I can absolve you.”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia looks from the corpse to her mirror.

“Absolve me? How.”

GM: “Because that’s what I am, Celia. I’m the bad guy.”

“I’m the one who can eat his soul and not lose sleep over it.”

“Give him to me, honey. Give him to me and you will be absolved and blameless of this sin.”

“Whole thing will have been my idea.”

“I’ll have carried it all out.”

“His death will be on my hands alone.”

Celia: “You’d gain what we took. Not me. Like the steel.” Celia-Jade-Celia looks to Gui’s corpse, then back to Jade-Celia-Jade for confirmation.

GM: “Smart girl,” smirks Jade-Celia-Jade.

Celia: She beams at the praise.

“And if I’m me, and you’re you, and you’re the one to blame, then even if I wear your face and am still me no one will know. We slip beneath the radar, trading out.”

GM: “That’s an interesting idea,” muses Jade-Celia-Jade. She taps a perfectly manicured, claw-like nail to her lip.

“Yes. I could see it.”

“You should give me the memory of it, too, if we want to be really thorough. Celia doesn’t need to know such awful things, does she?”

Celia: “I did it earlier,” Celia-Jade-Celia confesses to Jade-Celia-Jade. “Twice tonight.”

“The other mobster. I’ve taken out more of them than Durant.” She giggles.

GM: “I know, honey. I know,” says Jade-Celia-Jade, wrapping an arm around Celia-Jade-Celia’s shoulder. “I can take him off your hands too.”

“I can be the bad guy in this, that, anything.”

“I’ll still get to gloat about it to Roderick, of course. How much better we are than him at eradicating the Mob.”

“I’m better than you at gloating anyway.”

Celia: “We still need to remove Agnello,” Beauty says to the Bitch. “Imagine what we could gain from him. Pets. Bone work. Mesmerism. Perhaps we should start with his childe, the useless sack of hair and fat. Or one of the ugly ones he runs with… Or a snake, I’d love to gut that Melton bitch or redhead and gorge myself on their vitae.”

Celia-Jade-Celia trails off. Her smile is sharp, though it doesn’t compete on the same field as that of Jade-Celia-Jade’s. It’s the sharpness of a girl who gets to play a girl, the sharpness of a wolf who cuts the throat of a sheep and wears its fur to pass among the flock.

“Then Durant, when grandsire has no more use for him. We’ll take him too. Maybe we’ll tell him, right before it happens. How he was led so easily down this path, how he fell for the manipulations and strings our grandsire tugged. We’ll whisper it into his ear right before he dies, won’t we.”

“But first you take them. You take them all.”

GM: Jade-Celia-Jade laughs with delight and claps her hands.

“Oh, Celia! You aren’t half-bad at this. Not at all. I’m going to be fantasizing about that, every second I don’t control the body. The look on his face. I think I’d want to keep him staked again, after we tell him. Let it really sink in. Let him stew and agonize over it for hours, how he betrayed ‘sun shines out of her ass’ Coco for absolutely nothing. Then we’d drink his soul too—why not, after all? We could take those big brains of his. Put them to better use.”

She brushes a stray hair from Celia-Jade-Celia’s face.

“But it’s no surprise you aren’t half-bad at this. I came from you, didn’t I?”

“The blueprint was already there.”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia giggles.

“Make him stew. Oh, yes. Perhaps we’ll take that thin-blood from him too. You know we almost offered him the secret of this, let him make her a real lick. What a waste. What a waste that would have been. Neither of them can do what we can no matter how far down the road he thinks he’s going. He’s weak.”

“But we’re not.” Beauty clasps the Bitch’s hands in her own. “We’re not. He wanted to take things from us? To cleave us in half, separate us forever, assume control of all our belongings? Oh, no. Oh no, no, no. He’ll learn.”

“Do it,” Celia-Jade-Celia says to Jade-Celia-Jade. “Do it. Take it. I’ll play the innocent, you’ll play the mastermind.”

GM: Jade-Celia-Jade doesn’t giggle like Celia-Jade-Celia does when she giggles. It’s not a coquettish sound. It’s the Bitch playing the Beauty for a moment and finding amusement in it.

“No. We’re not. And I’ll never let that happen, Celia. Not so long as I’m in control of the body. Roderick won’t ever hurt you again.” She pulls the Beauty’s hands to her breast like they’re something precious. “He’ll have to go through me. You are safe now. You are safe from him. You are safe from everything. So long as I’m here. I’ll take care of all the bad things. I’ll be the bad thing, so you can be the good girl.”

She releases Celia-Jade-Celia’s hands and spreads her arms wide.

“Give them to me, Celia. Both of them. I’ll take care of them.”

Celia: Safe. She’s safe. Safe with Jade-Celia-Jade. Safe with this part of her that protects her, that does the bad things, that looks out for their best interests. They’re not in competition anymore. They’re the same.

Celia-Jade-Celia doesn’t know how to give the alter what she’s done. How does she hide memories? How does she deny what she stole?

But it’s like another mask, isn’t it? Severing part of herself. Celia-Jade-Celia closes her eyes, searching inside of herself for the pieces and parts Jade-Celia-Jade wants. They’re easy to find, aren’t they? Things she stole from someone else. Liquid gold. Ecstasy. Diamonds in the veins. Diamonds in her chest. Diamonds in her heart. Unimaginable pleasure that made her gasp and cry and find sweet, sweet release.

Her hands sweep her body an inch above her skin. It’s energy, that’s all it is. Energy work that she’s going to give to the other part of her. Her hands move and the magic gathers beneath her fingertips, coalescing into a golden globule that pulses with alternating colors: crimson, for the rage of the Brujah; navy, for the blue-blooded Ventrue; white, for the girl who gives them up to retain her innocence, and gray for the steel from her spine.

Then green.

Green for Jade. A hundred different shades of green that writhe with the energy it contains: mint and green and emerald, Castleton and cadmium and hunter. It’s the green of grass, the green of an alligator’s scaly back, the green of the leaves in a tropical rainforest. It whirls and throbs and dances between her hands as she pours into it, giving up the memories, the knowledge, the trauma, the might-have-beens.

Celia-Jade-Celia presses the orb into Jade-Celia-Jade.

She gives it up.

GM: Gives up what?

She doesn’t remember.

There’s nothing in her hands.

No globule of energy with its shimmering colors and-

No, there’s nothing.

But she has a very good feeling about that.

She feels lighter. Like there’s a weight off her shoulders. Like she can sleep, if not soundly, then at least sounder.

She thinks she made a very good decision. Whatever it was.

Jade-Celia-Jade smiles. There’s always challenge in her smiles, fangs and steel behind the curvature of her full lips. But she looks pleased.

“Good girl,” she purrs, stroking Celia-Jade-Celia’s cheek.

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia did good. She doesn’t know what she did, but she certainly feels like it was good. She smiles with the wide-eyed sincerity of an innocent.

GM: “That dreadful sun is already up,” Jade-Celia-Jade says with a tsk, glancing away. “I have to go now, Celia. I’ll take control of the body. Benji and his renfields can’t know Celia.”

She smirks and traces a finger along Celia-Jade-Celia’s lips.

“Don’t be a stranger.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Celia-Jade-Celia says to her counterpart. She doesn’t know what for, only that the Bitch has come to protect the Beauty.

She’s in good hands.

Previous, by Narrative Story Thirteen, Celia XXVIII
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XXX

Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XXVIII
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XXX

Story Thirteen, Caroline II

“You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants.”
Antoine Savoy

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline’s mother takes her to the LaLaurie House at the agreed-upon time. Her only smiled response to the nature off her daughter’s business is that it’s “prudent to keep lines of conversation open.” Simmone accompanies her, like always. The half-asleep 10-year-old looks content merely to lie against their mother’s breast. The faceless driver, silent as ever, conveys them to their destination.

Abélia pays little heed to Ferris’ plans. They drive past the Garden District’s glorious old homes, through the CBD’s skyscrapers, past Canal Street, and down along Royal. They pass by hotels and tourist attractions, past the front doors of the Evergreen itself, and then finally the more residential portion of the Quarter where the LaLaurie House sits. No one attempts to waylay the Devillers’ black car.

Caroline: Caroline knew her mother would provide transportation without need for all the chaos and risk of Ferris’ own. Just as she’s confident in their ability to remove themselves from the Quarter when the time comes.

GM: The house on 1140 Royal Street, the same street as Antoine Savoy’s own center of power, stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for when it was built at three stories.

The driver parks the car and silently opens the door for his mistress. She emerges, Simmone held close to her breast, smiling widely at the sight of the house. Her dark eyes are wide and hungry as they drink it in.

The house’s iron gate silently swings open, admitting the three Devillers and their servant into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut behind them. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.

But tonight it may also feels like a place of refuge for Caroline, delineating an invisible line where her mother’s power begins—and which all other powers must overcome.

Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. The faceless man turns the knob. The door swings slowly open on silent hinges.

Caroline: The Ventrue proceeds into the damned place without fear or hesitation. In many ways it’s like being enfolded in her mother’s arms, if less fully than in their other home.

She knows of the damned history of this place and cannot help but wonder if it was once her mother’s home in the past…

GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. It smells mostly like it did last time. Clean and fresh, but now faintly of her mother’s perfume too. Violet, cool, and creamy. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.

“The living room should be sufficient for your purposes, my dear,” smiles her mother, stroking the back of her head with one hand. She carries a slumbering Simmone in her other arm against her hip.

“May Fortuna bless your endeavor.”

Caroline: “I’m happier accepting your blessing in it, Mother. I don’t know know what to expect.”

GM: “What comes will come, my dear,” her mother replies serenely. “Yet whatever comes, you may face it without fear. There is little that may harm or eavesdrop upon you within this place while I yet draw breath.”

With that final benediction, she withdraws into the gloom. Caroline settles in to wait. The living room looks much as it did last time. It’s tastefully decorated with delicate rococo furniture, persian rugs, classical artwork, and a ponderously ticking grandfather clock. Some family pictures constitute new additions. Caroline is in them. She looks around middle school, high school, and college age, respectively.

The Ventrue does not wait overlong, however, before she hears the sound of the front door closing, all-too audible to her hyper-sensitive ears. Two pairs of footsteps. One is thick, heavy, and near-silent. The other is the telltale click-click-click of a woman’s high heels.

Mélissaire Larieux rounds the corner, along with the faceless driver.

Caroline: Visit himself, eh?

Caroline is terribly amused when she hears the heels coming down the hall, long before Mélissaire comes into view. She wonders if he would have come himself, would have visited, if Caroline had invited him to the Giani Building. It amuses her to think he might be scared of her mother. That he might be right to be.

GM: The long-haired, comely-faced, and full-lipped quadroon ghoul shoots Caroline a wide smile as she bends to kiss the Ventrue’s hand.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, it’s been far too long,” she greets in a distinctly male-sounding voice. One rather like Antoine Savoy’s.

“My sincerest congratulations upon your new family. These past months have been very hard for you. I can only imagine how much happiness your new mother and sisters have brought into your Requiem.”

‘Her’ smiling eyes don’t once leave Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy, the charmer as always.”

And the deceiver. The manipulator. The plotter and conniver. How coincidental it was that Mélissaire was so quick to answer the phone when she needed her. That Lebeaux was so readily available to support her.

Many fools call her sire a tyrant and a monster as they gather close around the Lord of the French Quarter and his honeyed words. But she knows well his plots can be just as cruel, vicious, manipulative, and deadly as any justice or decree her sire might enforce.

“You truly do know how to make a girl feel welcome and desired. I was very flattered by the invitation to meet again. I hope it has not unduly inconvenienced you.”

GM: Mélissaire releases Caroline’s hand and sits down on the couch, crossing one leg over the other and casually extending her arms over the couch’s back. Despite the male voice, the ghoul’s body language still feels distinctly feminine.

“It’s an easy enough thing to make a desirable girl feel desired, my dear. She’s already done all of the heavy lifting,” Savoy winks.

“But on the contrary! Such a meeting is all-too convenient. You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants. He is, shall we say, disinclined towards dialogue.”

Caroline: Despite knowing him for the liar and flatterer that he is, it’s hard to ignore the Lord of the French Quarter’s charm. She smiles.

“I’d characterize it by your natures,” Caroline agrees. “You, raised at court amid beautiful lies and intrigue, and he on the battlefield amid ugly truths and a rather more direct answers to most problems.”

“Fire and water, really, one destroying everything in its path, the other taking whatever shape best fits.”

GM: Savoy grins.

“Poetry like that makes me think the Rose Clan lost out by not Embracing you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Caroline: “Many have missed the ship, I’m afraid. I’ll be very amused to watch them realize it,” Caroline answers with a very vicious grin.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s own remains just as wide.

“You and I both, my dear. You and I both.”

“But I think you’re more than content with the ship you’re on, too. The scepter suits you better than the rose.”

Caroline: “They both have their merits,” Caroline replies. “We don’t really change who were are. At least, I couldn’t. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extremely flattering bid the roses made. I cannot imagine very many have received that much attention, or seen that much effort. It was very compelling.”

Right up until it wasn’t.

GM: Another smile.

“It’s an easy thing to make compelling offers to compelling recipients, too, my dear. Or perhaps not so easy! That mine failed clearly indicates one or the other was insufficiently compelling, and I’m quite certain it wasn’t the recipient,” he winks.

“But I’m not one to dwell on the past, beyond what lessons I can take to prepare for the future.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk with you about tonight, Miss Malveaux-Devillers—the future. Your future.”

Caroline: A light laugh. “I’m grateful the Toreador bid came form someone self-assured enough not to hold a grudge.”

GM: Savoy smiles and makes a languidly waving motion, as if to bat aside a fly.

“It’s as I said when we last spoke, my dear. Politics go so much smoother, and so many more opportunities open up, when one doesn’t take things personally.”

“But as to the future and its opportunities. By my estimate, the future others intend for you is as a figurehead to Seneschal Maldonato, once your sire enters his sleep. And perhaps other elders.” Mélissaire strokes her chin in seeming thought. “Is this the future you hope to achieve?”

Caroline: It’s an interesting contrast, the feminine body language with the elder’s mannerisms.

“That would certainly be a very conventional hand off of power,” Caroline concedes.

“It makes some very interesting assumptions about the state of the city when he goes off to his rest, however. I think so many of you misjudge him, my sire, in believing that he might be worn down, harried into exhaustion. He will not lay down his crown or his sword so long as there is work to be done. They tempt him not with rest with each provocation, but with wrath.”

GM: “A lion can be most dangerous when he is most wounded,” Savoy concurs. “Is that the future you envision, my dear, that your sire lays low his greatest threats before he takes his rest?”

Caroline: “I think it the most likely outcome along the current path,” Caroline grants.

“Though it is not yet clear to me who those threats are.”

GM: Savoy smiles.

“I’ll offer you some advice, my dear. Those of us who survive eternity don’t make gambles—or at least fair ones. We never bet on a single horse.”

Caroline: “Wisdom,” the Ventrue agrees.

“I believed, you know, for some time that the two of you might not be at such crossed purposes as many supposed.”

GM: “Classic shell game?” he grins. “Pick a shell, any shell, the ball is up the confidence man’s sleeve the whole time?”

Caroline: She laughs. “Oh, that might be a New Orleans classic, but I imagined nothing so crass.”

“More that anyone who would place a crown upon their brow must know the first response, as certain as any rule in physics, must be the rise of an opposition.”

She tilts her head. “Better someone you could tolerate, perhaps with a dash of the enemy you know. Not everyone plays by the same civilized rules.”

“The piece many forget this night and others. There are as many who would flip the board as play to win.”

GM: “Better the devil you know, if the devil is unavoidable,” Savoy concurs.

“Your sire and I aren’t working together, as you’ve aptly deduced. The Sanctified are a house divided. But perhaps, once the prince takes his rest, and with the seneschal willing, we could again become one undivided.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an amused but skeptical look.

“Is that what you wish?” she asks in turn.

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles and shrugs. “It’s one of many futures I’ve turned over. It’s one of a smaller but not insignificant number I find acceptably conductive to my goals and interests.”

“Your sire’s torpor makes possible many futures that weren’t previously on the table, my dear. Perhaps you’ve turned over some in your head as well. It’s a favored pastime at Elysium these nights, though many Kindred are limited by small vision. Many Kindred lack the perspective and imagination to realize just how different the New Orleans of the future could look.”

Caroline: He’s not wrong, though she suspects few have considered the scope of the destruction they might cause, and the outside forces that would invite.

“Respectfully, I find playing second fiddle in that unified Sanctified to be a role that would ill suit you.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Astutely observed, my dear. Yes, if I was content to play second fiddle, I could have kissed your sire’s ring long ago.”

Caroline: “I could see it happening, but I expect it would require some significant external force. A threat, to remind many of us how much more alike we are than different.”

Not unlike Republicans and Democrats there.

GM: “There were some Kindred who hoped Katrina might be that force. That the storm would change the game forever—wipe out the Baron and drive the Sanctified back together.” He chuckles again. “But that’s exactly the problem with threats of such magnitude. Too hard to control. Too many variables and unintended consequences to predict.”

He winks. “Too much trouble for any unity-minded Kindred to orchestrate, usually.”

“For my part, the nights of being content with a primogen seat and recognized regency are long past. But I’ve always prided myself on my flexible thinking. The raison d’etre for the Sanctified’s present conflict, the desire for one Kindred or the other to be prince, would be defused if Maldonato and I were to simply rule together.”

Caroline: And where exactly would that leave me? Caroline doesn’t ask.

“One can hardly blame you for setting your sights higher. You’ve enjoyed uninterrupted success of late,” she instead agrees.

“There are so many of late though that would be prince. I’m afraid many are going to end up disappointed no matter the outcome.” She puts the slightest inflection on the word.

This game is, after all, played for keeps.

GM: “I imagine my childe would be most disappointed of all,” smiles Savoy. “He’s the closest to the throne, after the Baron and I, and certainly wants it rather more than Cimitière.”

Caroline: “The great enigma to everyone,” Caroline quips, “though perhaps less so to you?”

She doesn’t believe it for a moment. She smiles.

“He did not seem terribly enthusiastic to discover my lineage. Though, oddly, he did not seem especially surprised either.”

GM: “It is so much easier to spill a secret than to keep one. My childe couldn’t have picked a better time to know this one, though, with the poor bishop’s disappearance.”

“If I were him, I would pin the blame on you for the deed.”

Caroline: “What an immensely unpleasant idea,” Caroline scowls. “Surely you wouldn’t suggest that his ambition might cloud his desire for justice, would you?”

GM: “It makes sense when you think about it. I know my people aren’t the reason he’s disappeared. The Baron is the next-most obvious culprit, but that story rings hollow too—most of the recent conflicts have been between my people and your sire’s. Killing Malveaux draws the Baron back into the fray when he has every reason to be happy with the status quo of his enemies fighting each other.”

“So that leads me to believe Malveaux’s final death served an individual rather than factional purpose. Enter Caroline Malveaux-Devillers as the bishop’s killer. He was the strongest ally of her greatest rival, and her previous bad blood with him is known among the Ventrue.”

Savoy grins. “It’s a convincing story, isn’t it? It’d definitely be my first choice as the sheriff.”

Caroline: “Perhaps to an outsider,” Caroline smiles. “But it’s well known among the city’s Ventrue that the bishop and I buried our differences some time ago, and with my imminent acknowledge by my sire, what reason would I have to risk that, tear down my sire’s allies, and rip out the newly-growing relationship with the bishop all at once?”

GM: “I would venture ample reason, for a panoply of reasons.”

Savoy winks.

“Burying the hatchet is exactly the thing I’d have done before killing him, too.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh when the Toreador elder observes it’s the same thing he would have done.

“I suppose I shall take that as a compliment.”

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles. “Don’t worry, my dear. Any accusations from me will seem like obvious smears. I have no credibility in your sire’s eyes. It’s the sheriff I’d be afraid of. He’ll surely bring evidence, real or manufactured, to back up his accusations.”

“It’s very inconvenient. I don’t think he’d be inclined to support—and has every reason to sabotage—any kind of deal between myself and Maldonato, given his desire to be prince. He has every reason to want you dead even if he’s not able to pin the bishop’s death on you. That would just be my first strategy, if I were him.”

Caroline: The laughter dies away as he continues more soberly.

Real or manufactured. He’s fishing.

“I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that I can ‘deal’ with the sheriff, but that outcome was foreseen. It’s fortunate there are such other compelling perpetrators.”

GM: “There are,” Savoy nods. “The truth of who did the deed is immaterial, next to who can tell the most compelling story, and who makes its most compelling villain. I’ve already had a few candidates in mind.”

“Perhaps we might help each other where that and the problem posed by the sheriff are concerned.”

Caroline: “Oh?”

The thought is intriguing. Dangerous, but intriguing.

“Is there another particularly compelling narrative?”

GM: “There’s always the Baron. The threat he poses grows every night.”

Savoy smiles.

“Or perhaps the sheriff himself.”

Caroline: She smiles, knowing the first answer is a shallow cover for the second.

He always has known just what to dangle in front of her.

“What an idea.” She raises an almost sultry eyebrow.

“What ever might the sheriff have to gain by the death of the bishop?”

GM: “Something practical, it would have to be,” Savoy muses, stroking Mélissaire’s chin. “Crimes of passion are out of character for him.”

“Evidence of treachery on the bishop’s behalf, and support of another would-be prince. Or the advancement of his childe’s fortunes. Someone will need to take over as bishop.”

“Or both.”

“Do any other motivations occur to you, my dear?”

Caroline: “Oh, what of the rumors the bishop was increasingly close to Ms. Malveaux-Devillers, on the eve of her recognition by her sire?”

GM: “Mmm. Can your clanmates corroborate those?”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline answers.

GM: Mélissaire raises an eyebrow.

Caroline: “Better to replace the bishop than to risk him flipping. Especially when he can so powerfully influence the next choice. Someone more malleable, more reliable for him, more tied to him.”

GM: “Doriocourt, then. The basic story is plausible enough. All that’s necessary is to manufacture physical proof. So much the better if Wright or Angello are the ones to locate it. Their first loyalties are to the prince.”

“Do you still have his ashes or clothes?”

Caroline: Caroline places a hand over her mouth in shock. “Surely you’re not suggesting that I actually had anything to do with his murder.”

GM: “I know someone who can fix them and plant psychic misimpressions. They’ll be a smoking gun to anyone’s inspection but the seneschal’s, and may fool even his.”

The French Quarter lord looks largely past innuendo.

“We’ll plant other corroborating evidence, of course. A frame-up should never rely on just one piece to come together. But like Louis at court, one object must be the sun around which all others rotate.”

Caroline: “How about you turn over the devices you seized from Claire’s room?” Caroline suggests.

“How’s this for a narrative: hunters turned over by eager loyal childe to be disposed of, used by conniving sheriff to rip out the heart of the archdiocese?”

“And to wit, weren’t we just hearing about how he was beginning to learn the basics of blood sorcery? I suspect he’ll display far more aptitude than night be expected in such a short time.”

She covers her mouth. “In fact, isn’t abnormal prowess much of his claim to success, from his first nights? Surely you chose very well your childe, that his blood is so potent and his prowess so advanced.”

GM: Savoy grins. “I’ve never been accused of choosing poorly with Donovan. Only too well.”

“But I’ll propose a trade, my dear. Your former mother’s devices in return for the bishop’s remains.”

Caroline: Which, even if she had them, would be saturated in her own aura. It would be a permanent piece he could hold on the board, a long-term card to be played against her at any time to extract a concession.

GM: “Mmm. Somehow my hunch is that’s a no. Can’t blame a Kindred for trying,” Savoy chuckles.

“Unfortunately, those pieces of evidence also are smoking guns, and at least one smoking gun will be required to make your sire remove the sheriff. He’s too useful and too important to remove based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. The frame-up job will need to be flawless. Is there another smoking gun we might plant?”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “I think you know there is.”

“But I suspect you have something else in mind for that particular piece on the board.”

GM: “I don’t, in fact, my dear. We elders don’t have every scheme plotted in advance, you know,” Savoy winks. “Eternity favors improvization as much as foresight.”

Caroline: “Certainly. I imagine too existence could be quite boring if you’d see me coming,” Caroline baits.

“But I cannot but suspect you know exactly what sorts of indiscretions your childe has gotten up to.”

GM: Savoy offers a wide grin.

Caroline: “Laying that aside, though, how about a witness that can testify to his active direction of hunters against pillars of the prince?”

GM: “Yes, that might well do it. Especially if they haven’t had their memories tampered with. That’s the first trick I’d suspect if I was him.”

Caroline: “Framing him for something he probably did. The novelty of it,” Caroline muses.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s grin remains in place.

“Warden Lebeaux will contact you to coordinate the details.”

“Your mother’s house seems as good a place as any to do that.”

Caroline: “Better than most,” Caroline laughs happily.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

“Who is he, really?” she finally asks, having skirted the topic.

GM: “A missed opportunity, alas, in the end. He could have been the sharpest arrow in my quiver.”

“One of the reasons I think your sire was so eager to take him in was to make me experience some measure of the embarrassment and betrayal he’d suffered himself.”

Caroline: “Oh,” Caroline muses, “I think he’ll teach all of us a different kind of lesson before he’s through.”

GM: “Someone will need to fill his shoes after he’s gone.” Savoy smiles. “The sheriff’s, not just the prince’s. I’m picturing a new Guard de Ville. Doriocourt is too loyal to her sire, and Agnello is too unstable, if his recent outburst is anything to go by—those sorts of problems tend to get worse rather than better. I’m seeing a Hound Wright, Hound Lebeaux, Hound Ferris—I’m sure his Embrace isn’t a new idea—led by a Sheriff Malveaux-Devillers. Preferring cunning investigation to crude beatdowns, but more than capable of delivering those too, when necessary. They’d be underestimated at first, for their youth, but I have a feeling they’d turn that around in very short order.”

The Toreador grins.

“A new brand of law for a new age.”

Caroline: “Truly you’re an icon of your clan with the poetic symmetry to such an idea,” Caroline admits. “I’ll remember the offer, presuming it is an open one. I’m not quite ready to cash in my own chips yet, you understand.”

GM: “More earned, my dear, than open. Were you to help realize a future with a united Sanctified, and convince the seneschal of my proposal’s merits, rich rewards would be only your due.”

“Were you to be of more limited assistance in realizing one of my preferred futures, then more limited rewards would be your due, and the job would go to someone else. Everyone in my court gets what they earn.”

Caroline: “We’ll have to see what the future holds, then,” Caroline smirks. “I don’t think I’d be half as intriguing to you if I said yes to that idea tonight.”

GM: “A word of advice there, my dear. You have a tendency to fence-sit. It closes more doors than it leaves open,” Savoy winks.

“I am always open to making deals. For tonight, I think our business is concluded.”

Caroline: “Far be it to gainsay a distinguished guest about my character,” Caroline agrees.

“But don’t mistake me. I’m happy with the side I’m on, and tonight I’m playing to win, not for third or fourth place. Settling for sheriff feels like selling just before my stock goes up.”

“This meeting is being… mindful. And polite. And respectful to someone who’s played at the high table for much longer than I’ve been alive. I’m as willing to cultivate relations and golden parachutes as any corporate-class white woman.”

“You really did come close, you know. I don’t want to sell short all you did, or that I appreciated it. Even though you forced my hand, forced me to murder Claire, and sheltered the scum that took a shot at my sister—for you and I, it’s not personal.” She smiles. “At least not in that way.”

“There could be much worse princes, depending on how all of this goes. I know rank-order balloting is the devil and all, but I’d sooner crawl in bed with you than do so with any of the other contenders or go out in a blaze of glory.”

“And no matter who wins the prize, I expect there’s… things we could do for each other.”

GM: The words make her skin crawl as they leave her mouth. They make the collar’s weight feel suddenly heavier.

Her sire would not approve.

“I am so very pleased to hear you say so, my dear,” smiles Savoy. “You’re rather more open-minded than your sire is. That’ll pay dividends. As this cooperation over the sheriff rather proves!”

“But I think I am mistaken, in fact. I’d thought sheriff to be the more appealing offer than, say, my hand in vermillion marriage.”

“Nat thought I should put that on the table.”

Caroline: “The most eligible bachelor in town. Maybe on the entire Eastern Seaboard. I’m flattered.”

“I think as is to be expected, though, that your wisdom triumphed over hers. I don’t need to tell you how I expect my sire would react to such an offer.”

“My father once told me that was the ultimate judge of a man, by another man. Whether they were worthy of their daughter.”

“Never mind what the daughter thought.”

GM: “I suspect it’s not entirely up to the daughter, if the father’s treatment of his other servants is any indication,” answers Savoy.

He smiles.

“There are ways to break such chains.”

Caroline: She sighs. “Can I call you Antoine while we’re here?”

“Lord Savoy makes me feel quite uncomfortable in one way, and Mr. Savoy in quite another.”

GM: “Only so long as I may have the pleasure of calling you Caroline,” grins the French Quarter lord.

Caroline: It’s disconcerting, in some ways, to see his grin peak out from the decidedly feminine face.

GM: Indeed, the expression looks nothing like Mélissaire’s.

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers. “Given how close we are to family in some ways already, the stuffiness feels decidedly unwelcome.”

GM: “Caroline it is,” Savoy repeats approvingly.

“I know how suspicious your mind can run, too, Caroline, if the first thing on it is favors owed in exchange,” he smiles.

He waves an absent hand.

“Asking such a thing would be superfluous. There is already inherent benefit to me in having my rival’s childe be free-willed.”

Caroline: “Does not this meeting put to rest fears as to how free my will may be?” she asks.

GM: “I should instead say it paints a very flattering picture as to the strength of that will,” Savoy declares with an approving look.

“But please, my dear. Your sire may be loath to speak with me, and he would be equally loath to admit this, but we know each other well.”

“Study another man’s decisions and consider his thought processes for as long as we have, in as great detail as we have, and you cannot help but come to know him.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I know your sire better than I know many members of my own court.”

There’s another wink. “That familial closeness of yours.”

Caroline: Her eyes glitter in the shadows of the house.

“You’re very discerning, and no doubt you know me in turn. Antoine, it was not chains of blood that brought me to bow before him the first time. I was well chosen to fill the role of dutiful childe.”

“I will not betray my sire while he rules, nor I will not bring about the end of his rule.”

“But one way or another, that shall not be for much longer. And no matter what I might be to him, I cannot be him. What then we might be to each other will be for us to decide.”

“Until that night, there are foes aplenty for each of our dreams, your ‘childe’ and his master not the least among them.”

The shadows seem to shift and her eyes glitter again.

“While the two of you have torn each other to pieces others have grown fat feasting on the flesh you’ve left behind. For everyone’s sake they could use to be leaner.”

GM: Savoy gives a hearty laugh.

“Leaner indeed! Half the city is waiting for the chance. The Baron isn’t the only such vulture hungry for such a meal, for all the wagging tongues in Elysium might say. Just the biggest one.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs along with him, but her expression has sobered by the time Savoy finishes speaking.

“They’re not waiting, and every clash between you fills their courts with dissidents, the wreckage the two of you have left behind.”

“And as unflattering as it might be, I wouldn’t mind clearing it away before we’re all up to our chests in filth.”

GM: “Perhaps you’re better informed than I, my dear,” Savoy smiles, “but recent events have seemed to increase my support more than any third parties’.”

“But let it be well that other actors predicate their power upon my actions! Let every piece of flesh they consume be prepared by my hand and eaten at a feast I have thrown. Nat can quote it better than me, but I think The Art of War has a few things to say about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, no, that won’t do, Antoine.”

“There’s a much more appropriate reference for someone with our ambitions.”

GM: “And you call me the flatterer, Caroline,” he grins.

“Alas, I fear I may not be so well-read as yourself or the seneschal. What author would you quote instead?”

Caroline: A grin. “Machiavelli.”

GM: “Ah, of course. Even I don’t disagree with him. Fear is better than love, if you have to pick one. But why settle for just one?”

Caroline: “Duality. I think though you have grown accustomed to love. Or at least, others have grown accustomed to loving you.”

GM: “The dagger is incomplete without an accompanying cloak,” Savoy glibly concurs.

Caroline: “It’s usually the knife you don’t see that gets you,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You spoke of cleaning filth, Caroline. Is this something else you would like to do for one another?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I’d argue we’re already doing it with the sheriff, but I’d be open to taking some of the other riffraff off the board, and as the saying goes, two is better than one.”

GM: He motions.

“Proceed, my dear.”

Caroline: She rests her chin on one hand, the elbow propped up on her knee. “Plenty, but let’s start with the devil we know. Something about building trust and all of that. I don’t expect this to be the last time we’ll speak like this.”

GM: “I should sincerely hope not,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “It would be a terrible loss to be deprived of the company of the city’s most upwardly mobile neonate. There is much that any elder might learn from her.”

“But very well, let’s return to the sheriff. What else would you speak of concerning him?”

Caroline: “Flatterer. How many other secret childer does he have in the city?” Caroline muses.

She smiles. “Too on the nose. A less pointed one, then. How close was he to René?”

GM: Savoy only smiles back, his expression unwavering since his last words.

“As close or as distant as we need him to be, of course. I have ample enough evidence of Mr. Baristheaut’s activities in the Quarter. How would you wish to leverage that relationship against the sheriff?”

Caroline: “My Embrace was no accident. Nor was my trip to the Dungeon. Nor were either uncalculated,” she observes.

“Someone wanted me there with purpose. A purpose who had little to do with me. Someone who knew of plans that were very carefully guarded.”

GM: “And you believe that someone was my childe. On what grounds?”

Caroline: “There are few surer ways to lure the seneschal into a conflict than to play to his morals, and few foes in the city that might defeat him.”

“Had he been destroyed beneath the Dungeon, as was planned, it would have solved a great many problems for the sheriff.”

GM: Savoy strokes Mélissaire’s fingers along ‘his’ chin. Where his half-beard would normally be.

“That scenario is more difficult to see. Maldonato can’t rule on his own, yet also constitutes a critical pillar to the Sanctified. What benefit is there to my childe in tearing down the house he seeks to be master of?”

Caroline: “Does he?” Caroline asks.

The ghoul really is quite fetching.

It’s not something she’d have noticed before the Embrace, but the subtle curve of her throat…

“Many assumptions made about Donovan. That he is the prince’s loyal servant. That he is bound to the prince. That he is one of the Sanctified. That he desires to lead the Sanctified.”

Her eyes light up. “That he’s your childe.”

“I don’t mean to doubt my elders,” she continues, “simply to propose, who else had the knowledge and means to accomplish such a thing? Someone close to the prince…”

GM: Savoy grins at her words.

“Assumptions are a lot like breathing, some say. You never really notice you’re doing it until you stop. And then it’s usually too late to do anything about it.”

“It’s an intriguing narrative, to be certain. But without hard evidence, it will do little to move your sire in this matter.”

Caroline: “What would that evidence look like?” she asks.

“Forgive me, I’m so very new at this.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Many Kindred have underestimated you, my dear, to their great and even terminal detriment. That shall not be me.”

Caroline: “Charmer. But I’ve confirmed much of what you already suspected, certainly you can give me something on this topic.”

GM: “Certainly. I can say I am in possession of no hard evidence that links the sheriff to any attempt made upon the seneschal’s unlife.”

“Regrettable, as such evidence would indeed be a smoking gun.”

“Little would arouse your sire’s wrath more than an attempt to harm that which is most dear to him.”

Caroline: “Regrettable, as you say, that he hasn’t lept upon his sword,” Caroline agrees.

“We’ll have to settle for the longer game. No doubt Mr. Lebeaux will have some ideas to get us started.”

GM: “So we shall. Oh, another thing, my dear. I’m calling in one of the markers you owe me. Let’s say the one for recovering your brother Westley’s body.”

“I’d like the full story of your meeting with your sire and his discovery of his newest childe’s existence.”

Caroline: She can almost feel the collar tighten around her neck as the elder’s pretty ghoul puppet sneaks the words out.

Caroline’s blue eyes flicker in the shadows of the house. “Antoine, and here I thought you’d suggested you weren’t interested in fucking me.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I would never shrink from honoring my debts, but that’s a story of another caliber entirely.”

“If you want the full story, we’d be significantly more than even.”

GM: “I always collect what is owed me, Caroline,” smiles Savoy. “As will any Kindred who’s made anything of themselves. Never expect your debts to be forgotten.”

“But that sounds eminently reasonable. Why don’t you start at the beginning and leave off at whatever point you think is worth a single boon.”

Caroline: “Without trying to be difficult, I’d feel I was more honorably balancing the scales if you gave more context on your interests. There were many matters that came up that reach that bar. I’d hate to give you something you already know.”

GM: “Your sire’s response, my dear. What actions he took upon receiving such a surprise.”

Caroline: “Not what we would have arrived at.”

The words taste like ash in her mouth.

“He was furious, disbelieving. His anger shattered the entire room.”

“As you no doubt suspected, he was previously unaware.”

GM: She feels the collar tighten around her, like the coils of the great snake sitting across from her. It crushes her, squeezes her, threatens to wring her will from her under its intractable might.

Donovan was for his own good.

Donovan is a traitor.

But this?

Betraying his private thoughts and confidences to his great enemy?

She shouldn’t have done it.

She shouldn’t have ever accepted favors from this snake.

It’s her fault.

She should have known he’d call them in, and what else is his foremost goal if not the theft of everything her sire has worked so hard to build?

GM: “Simple deduction, my dear,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “Your sire would have bound any childe sired by his vitae, and there is little that might have stopped him—the Cabildo’s wishes included. Ergo, he was unaware of you.”

Caroline: She shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t have, in a better Requiem. But they made that choice when they shut her out, threw her to the wolves.

And she did. And even her sire is bound by the promises he makes.

GM: “You’re fortunate to have survived, in any case. His direct wrath is no small thing to weather.”

Caroline: Her throat is tight, so very tight. She can’t breathe.

But then, she doesn’t need to.

“He remedied that mentioned error,” she squeezes out between tight lips.

Her fingernails dig into the soft wood of the chair.

“Does that satisfy your curiosity?”

Curiosity. As though his interest has ever been so benign.

GM: Savoy gives her a sympathetic look.

“I can’t imagine sharing this story is easy for you, my dear. The blood oath is no small thing to rebel against either.”

“I’ve offered once. I shall offer again. Should you wish to slip your chains, the situation can be remedied.”

Caroline: “I don’t,” she snaps, nerves frayed to the edge.

Awful enough that she has to resort to this—to plotting in the dark. Skulking about. For his own good or not, for the future of the entire city or not, there’s nothing about this that feels good or right.

She spent a great deal of effort, and a great deal of blood, for the privilege of serving her sire.

GM: The French Quarter lord just nods, seemingly taking the second ‘no’ in stride.

“I am afraid it does not satisfy my curiosity, my dear. I’d already deduced your sire bound you and was unaware of your existence. It’s little surprise either he was angry. So there’s equally little here that’s new.”

He strokes ‘his’ chin again.

“But it would be quite impossible for most Kindred to obtain direct access to the prince. The only individuals I can think of who might arrange that are the seneschal, the sheriff, and the Hussar. The sheriff has little cause to introduce you to your sire, and anything the Hussar already knew, he’d have already told his master. So that leaves the seneschal as the third party present.”

“Tell me, how did the conversation between them proceed?”

“I’m sure that between the two of you, he did the initial talking.”

Caroline: “It is one thing to suspect, and another to have your suspicions confirmed,” Caroline states.

“As a wise man observed, it isn’t what you don’t know that gets you, it’s the things you think you do.”

Every word is a knife between the ribs, but she presses on.

“You’re incorrect in your supposition, however. I did the initial speaking. Of my desires, ambitions, and actions. The seneschal weighed in later with his own evaluation.”

GM: Savoy inclines ‘his’ head in acknowledgment of Caroline’s correction.

“What information of significance passed among you?”

The French Quarter lord questions Caroline at some length concerning the events surrounding her introduction to her sire. Like a root canal administered by an ever-smiling dentist, there’s no getting around it—he will only relent when the painful work is done. The Toreador will only be content when he believes he has gotten his money’s worth from the owed boon.

Caroline: Caroline does not give an inch willingly. Though Savoy brings centuries of experience to bear and his own remarkable charisma, the remarkable sharpness of her mind, the political astuteness of her upbringing, the comfort of her mother’s welcoming domain, and the ever tightening coils of the collar make her no victim of the Toreador’s predations.

She is acutely aware of the value of the confirmations she has already given and gives few others freely. That her Embrace was long cultivated. That the events of Southern Decadence precipitated action. That the seneschal supports her claim. That he has vouched for her before the prince. That the prince accepted her as his childe in that first meeting by offering his blood freely.

GM: Savoy states frankly that he does not consider Caroline’s confirmations to be of value and desires previously unknown information. “None of this is new to me, Caroline,” he declares with an airy wave of Mélissaire’s hand.

“We can, of course, bring this matter before the harpies as a third party should you believe my expectations unreasonable.”

Caroline: “Seventy years,” she growls out. “The seneschal will involve himself in the affairs of the archdiocese no more than a mortal lifetime past the prince’s slumber.”

GM: “Seventy years,” Savoy says thoughtfully. “The scripturally allotted span of years for a man’s life. Also the scripturally allotted span of years, as it were, for an ancilla’s Requiem.”

Caroline: She nods. “That he has no desire to rule is no surprise, but he will be no puppet master either. Seventy years, no more. And then he will depart. These years have weighed upon him near as heavily as upon the prince.”

GM: “Yes, he never has seemed to relish his office,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “Then again, I might say the same for your sire.”

“But perhaps it’s easier to stop being chancellor than it is to stop being king, especially after one’s liege is already gone.”

Caroline: “Prince Vidal is prince for himself. Maldonato has long been seneschal for the prince,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh, I think Prince Vidal is prince for God, the Camarilla, and the city, in that order.”

“Himself perhaps least of all.”

Caroline: “No doubt you would approach it similarly.”

GM: Savoy grins. “Of course. What else is a prince, if not the city’s, the Camarilla’s, and the Almighty’s humble servant?”

Caroline: “It’s how all the world’s great tyrants begin,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Isn’t it,” the French Quarter lord smiles. “I believe this concludes our business for tonight, my dear. We can say our farewells at the door—and in the flesh.”

There’s a last wink, and then Mélissaire’s expression and body language seems to subtly shift.

“Ma’am,” says Mélissaire in her own, higher voice with a demure inclination of her head as she rises.

Caroline: By distinct effort of will, Caroline does not allow her body language to change with the French Quarter lord’s disappearance.

“You wear him well,” she compliments, rising.

GM: The ghoul gives a genuine smile.

“He’s very easy to wear, ma’am. A genuine pleasure, to have inside myself like that.”

“If it’s not too bold of me to observe, I feel like you’d be the same.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs politely. “I’ll be certain to keep that in mind when things change.”

GM: Mélissaire laughs faintly back. “Oh, I don’t expect to receive that pleasure from anyone besides him, ma’am. But I’m sure any of your ghouls would enjoy the opportunity to wear you.”

Caroline: “Here’s to hoping we get to find out.”

She leads the ghoul to the door.

GM: Caroline and Mélissaire return to the LaLaurie House’s entry hall.

Her mother is there. Dark of eye. Dark of hair. Dark of everything. Darkening all around her. Her presence fills the hall like the night sky within a building absent its roof. A content smile is spread across her milk-pale features.

Antoine Savoy is there, dressed in a wine-colored blazer, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers. He’s smiling too, and squatting down on his haunches as he pulls a flashing silver coin ‘out’ of Simmone’s ear with an exclaimed, “Voila!”

The nightgown-wearing ten-year-old giggles down at their guest. She’s taller when he squats. “How did you do that!”

“You are a font of riches, of course, my beautiful lady. I but saw what was there, and dared present some small portion of them for your pleasure,” answers the French Quarter lord as he hands Simmone the coin. He looks for all the world like a genial uncle.

And he’s right there.

Alone, but for Mélissaire.

Alone, in this newest center of Devillers power.

Alone, in this most dreaded of places Abélia may have already bent to her will, if Caroline’s suspicion is true.

Alone. Squatting on his haunches.

Alone. Caroline’s mother right by.

She may never get a better chance.

Her sire may never get a better chance.

Caroline: “Dangerous of you to reveal that to her,” Caroline chimes in.

Don’t dwell upon it.

There’s no guarantee she could strike him down. Not even here. And even if she succeeded, what would that really accomplish?

“However true it might be. She thinks we call her a treasure simply because we like her.”

He wouldn’t have come if he did not believe he could win free.

GM: “We call her our treasure for both reasons, and a thousand others besides,” Caroline’s mother agrees contently, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“Had the fleet that sailed for Helen of Troy as many ships as this lovely lady has reasons to treasure her, Priam’s city would have fallen in one night,” Savoy concurs, making a gallant show of kissing Simmone’s hand.

The child giggles at all three of their words.

The French Quarter lord rises from his feet to kiss Abélia’s hand next.

“Abélia, always a pleasure. My compliments on what you’ve done with the place. May I dare say this home suits you as no other does—and as this home would suit no other.”

“You just want to lure me out of the Garden District for good, Antoine,” Caroline’s mother answers with an amused purr.

“I am but my Blood, my dear. It cannot do aught but compel me to fill my home with things of beauty—beauty of flesh and beauty of spirit alike.”

Her mother’s black eyes smile at the words ‘beauty of spirit.’

Caroline: And how much beauty in the rabble scrabbling around the French Quarter in their unwashed masses?

“Green is a color I so rarely see you in,” she offers instead.

GM: “Red suits us all much better,” grins Savoy.

“I see much beauty here,” he continues. “I see a mother’s love for her daughters—love enough to transform a place of misery and suffering into a nurturing home. I see a tragedy within these walls that a family’s love bore its daughters through, stronger than ever.” His gaze turns to Caroline. “I see a second tragedy, no less regrettable for its inevitability, and a wounded heart mended through love. I see a daughter’s love for a mother—and a mother who finally seeks to be worthy of a daughter’s love.”

He bends to kiss Caroline’s hand last of all.

“I wish you much happiness with your new family, Caroline.”

“I wish you all the beauty such love and happiness may entail, now and forevermore.”

Caroline: “I pray we all get to see it,” Caroline answers.

There’s so much potential for bad blood, to hold grudges.

Savoy lied to her. Manipulated her. Lied to Claire. Led directly to her death. Sheltered Gettis.

In mere months.

It’s no wonder the hatred between elders can run so deeply.

And every night has given them plenty of new reasons to hate. How many lives and Requiems has the conflict between the prince and Savoy consumed? How many more will it consume? The city is on the edge of a knife.

GM: And sooner or later, that knife must draw blood.

Previous, by Narrative Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII
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Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline III

Story Thirteen, Celia XXVIII

“You’ve lied to me for as long as I’ve known you.”
Roderick Durant

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: With Emily asleep, Celia gets ready for the rest of her evening. She starts with her face, turning herself back into Jade for her upcoming meetings, and once that is done she scrubs all trace of her “party” with Emily from the spa, putting the leftover sliders into the fridge and tequila bottle into the recycling bin. She cleans the lab of the spilled booze and relocks the door from the inside so that even if Emily were to wake up she won’t be able to get in.

She doesn’t want her around other licks, especially in that state.

She writes a quick letter in a hand that is decidedly not hers and finally locates Carolla’s body. Through a door that isn’t a door, using her pinky finger on a scanner that doesn’t beep, set into the wall at a natural knee-high divet that’s impossible to find unless you know exactly where it is. That opens a panel, which allows her to put a key inside another lock, then enter a combination, and finally she’s in.

Cool air greets her. The tiny, cramped room beyond is packed with plastic and glass containers on rubber coated steel shelves, labeled in a precise hand. A lilac tarp hangs from one of the lower shelves.

Jade pulls it aside.

And there he is, still torn and bloodied from the fight in the park, gaunt in torpor and pale from blood loss.

GM: Worse than bloodied. Roderick tore him almost completely apart. Crushed and bashed and beat him in worse than Maxen ever whaled on his children. Time has not healed Carolla’s injuries. Time never heals their kind’s injuries.

And no one is sparing any blood for a torpid vampire.

Celia: No. No one is sparing any blood for this piece of trash. Shame, too, she’d kind of liked him from afar. Before he opened his mouth. She could see herself playing a different mask for him, Mafia moll maybe, the kind of girl who tosses her hair and giggles and—

Well. It doesn’t matter. She still has Gui, doesn’t she? Until she sets him up. Then it’s Roderick in charge of the mob in Savoy’s domain. Interesting, that. She’ll have to ask what he wants to do with it.

Later, though. For now she has work to do, and a limited amount of time to do it.

Jade pulls his body out of the cooler, dragging it across the floor and hefting it onto her work table. He’s heavy, only made lighter by the fact that he’s got no blood in his system and one of his limbs is torn off. She makes a second trip for that, then wheels her cart of tools to the side of the table.

She hadn’t been exaggerating to Savoy when she told him that night-folk subjects are hard to come by. She could get an assortment of half-bloods, sure, but actual licks with actual non-stolen powers are more her speed. Even though he’s torped she makes sure the stake is firmly lodged in his heart before she begins. Who knows what kind of shenanigans he could pull if not.

Celia starts on his leg. She lifts the tattoo gun from the tray of tools, douses it in her blood, and marks the fallen Brujah in a rough, crude sketch of triangular ears and a flicking tail. Above it she adds the suggestion of leathery wings outstretched as if in flight, membrane taut between each little piece of cartilage. It’s not the most beautiful rendition she’s ever drawn, but it’s just for testing purposes anyway. She sets aside her tools and reaches for the knife, cutting past the epidermis and dermis into the subcutaneous layer beneath. Slowly, she peels it back.

Bits of white fat cling to the underside of the tissue as she pulls in slow, smooth, even strokes to lift the flesh from his body. She uses her knife and her own claws to cut anything that sticks until, with a final tug and slice of the knife, the tattooed part of him comes off. She reaches for a sharpie and writes “1” on it, then sets it aside.

Crafting done with, Celia looks down at the torpid Brujah.

“All right, bucko, we gon’ carve you open, ’kay?”

She’s not quite as sober as she thought. No wonder the cat is just ears and a tail. She giggles at it before she starts on the rest of his leg. She might not be able to manipulate bone, but she can certainly manipulate everything around it. Another knife cuts into the flesh over his hip, digging through until she hits the bone beneath it. Already half-off from the fight, it’s not much cutting to remove the rest of the skin and tissue clinging to him, and she gives a tug to rip the head of the femur out of its socket.

“Gon’ give it to my mommy,” she says to Carolla, patting his head as if he can hear her. “‘Cept you’re kinda tall, so we gon’ fix it. But tha’ can wait, yaknow? ‘Cause it ain’t goin’ nowhere.” She beams at him and sets the limb aside.

“Y’ever go huntin’?” she asks him, as if he can answer. “‘Cause my daddy never took me, yaknow? I dunno if he ever went, come to that, but s’okay. I had tuh learn this offa videos. But s’okay, I got practice. Lossa practice.”

GM: Maxen did go hunting. He took David and Logan.

Of the two boys, Logan was the most into it.

Celia: She doubts he field dressed his own kills, anyway.

She wouldn’t ordinarily do this while mildly intoxicated, but Gui is due soon, so she gets started.

“See, you s’posed to hang ‘em up from a tree, but I ain’t got a tree here. But I do got hydraulics, ayy.” The press of a button lifts one side of the table. Carolla’s body flops off of it and Celia stares blankly at where he lands on the floor. “Oh,” she says, “I f’got to chain you. Whoopsie.”

She lowers the table, puts Carolla back onto it, fastens the steel manacles around his wrists, and lifts the table again.

“Graaaaavity,” she says to him. “Y’know your average body gots ‘bout 8 poundsa flesh? An’ if you lay it all out, righ’, you got like… 22 feet. S’alot! An’ you’re kinda tall, so you gots more. But I ain’ gonna take it all, k? Jus’ a little.”

So it begins. Celia plunges the knife into his body with a little more force than necessary, then begins cutting his skin and peeling it back. She doesn’t take all of it, just enough for a handful of experiments; she doesn’t want Gui to get the wrong idea, does she? She sets the skin aside in strips as it comes free of his body, and once she has harvested what she needs she looks to the skin she’s worked free and marks it in a similar fashion to the first. She puts a “2” at the top of that one.

“Shoulda done this earlier,” Celia confesses to him, patting his cheek. “Coulda regrown ‘n’ stuff. Bitta blood waste tho, innit? ‘Oo knows, this works I’ma carve your brother too.” She grins at him.

GM: The skin decays as Celia carves it off, like Roxanne’s did when she died. It loosens and ugly blisters appear across the surface.

Celia: “Tha’s ’kay,” she says lovingly, “I’ll fixit, ya hear?”

GM: Carolla’s ruined face stares back at hers blankly.

Celia: “How ol’ are you really?” she asks him.

GM: The ruined face is just as silent.

Celia: “S’okay, body tells all, don’t it?”

“Now lessee,” she continues, lowering the table again. “Y’empty, yaknow? But she saidta jus’ keep goin’, so we gon’ keep goin, ‘kay? Then I’ll cutcha open ‘gain an’ see what yer insides hafta say.”

She’s not quite sure how it works, only that Caroline had told her to keep drinking. So she sinks her fangs into Carolla’s neck, one of the spots she’d left him intact, and pulls.

And pulls.

And pulls.

GM: Celia is not sure what she expected to happen.

But there is nothing within Carolla’s veins to pull. They are empty of vitae. Celia and Roderick emptied his veins themselves.

She sucks and sucks, as though with a straw at the bottom of an empty glass.

Celia: She’d heard someone say once that “she sucked my dick like there were diamonds in my ballsack.” Not about her, but about some whore he’d fucked recently, laughing with his buddies about it at the bar.

She does that here. Only with his neck instead of his dick.

GM: There are diamonds in his neck, Caroline said, or at least something of equivalent value.

Celia ravenously sucks empty and bloodless veins.

But that is what they remain.



Celia: Had she lied to Celia?

Or… is it like when you get to the bottom of a soap bottle and you have to add water, shake it around, and get it all out?

Celia stops pulling long enough to cut into her wrist with her fangs, then trickles the blood into Carolla’s mouth. She starts sucking again immediately.

GM: Drinking your own blood is like masturbating. Enjoyable, but just not the same as involving someone else. Still, Celia is no stranger to giving or enjoying pleasure. She is an artist of pleasure. Her masturbation is better than most people’s sex. She’s so pretty. She made herself this way. It was a lot of work. She loves to appreciate herself, and the flawless results of her handiwork, not a mere accident of genetics and birth. She is right to take pride in how pretty she is.

She drinks of herself, and she enjoys the taste of herself. She enjoys her sweetness, that all but permanent lustful flavor inherent to her blood. (What would it take to even get that out?) She does taste like makeup, like her mom said. Not literally like makeup. She tastes like putting on makeup makes you feel. Prettier. Better. Anyone who drinks of her becomes better. She’s already the best, she can’t be made better by drinking more of the best, but it reminds her, oh yes, just how good everyone else has it when they get to drink of her—

She drinks deep—and hits gold.

Someone else’s gold.

The partner she was looking for. The handsome stranger who’s walked in on her masturbating, not yet at climax, and helped her the rest of the way there.

It’s not liquid she’s drinking anymore. It’s as heavy as gold and weightless as air. It’s so pure and powerful that she seems to be swallowing liquid fire. She feels a burning in her veins, starting in her throat and spreading outwards through her entire body. It’s indescribable: pleasure so piercing it’s agony, pain so sweet it’s ecstasy.

Staked and torpid, her partner is unresponsive. But even absorbed as Celia is in her own pleasure, the long-time masseur is sensitive to the feelings of another’s body. No two massages are ever the same, once she lets her hands take over and slips into that meditation-like state where her mind blanks. Her mind blanks and her hands listen. The body tells stories to her listening hands. She can feel the tension in the body. She feels literal memories stored in the muscles. She remembers one of her first clients, the mom who started sobbing on the table under Celia’s touch, and confessed she’d lost her son, all without her masseur ever once asking.

Celia is not massaging Carolla. She’s just holding him. Her hands are not asking the body for its story. The hands are barely listening.

They still hear the body scream.

Every muscle fiber is a shard of glass turned against its neighbor, cutting, piercing, shredding. The human neuromuscular system, in all its glorious complexity and perfection, now feels as if every molecule was turned from its purpose to the causation of pain. It’s Maxen spanking her bloody when she just wanted to be hugged. It’s Paul making her eat piss-soaked blondies when she’d make them just to be nice. It’s Roderick beating her torpid when she told the truth. It’s her sire showing her indifference when all she wanted was love. It’s all of her many, many rapists (how many times has she been raped?), turning an act of intimacy into one of violation. Everything that could bring joy brings pain. If Celia were to give a deliberately hurtful massage, her hands could not inflict such pain, could not inflict this rape of the soul. Celia knows, beyond all certainty, that Carolla is feeling this. Even staked and torpid, he is feeling this. The body does not lie. The body screams its violation and its torment and its agony and its desire to cease to exist, to never have existed, to embrace oblivion, so the pain will stop. She has never beheld another sentient being in such pain.

His pain.

Her gain.

A soundless scream rings back and forth in Celia’s ears like the tolling of a great church bell. It dongs with every mouthful of that transcendent, soul-scorching flame she sucks into herself. It’s fast at first, like the beating of a vessel’s heart. It slows with each mouthful, yet rings all the deeper, all the louder. It hits her like an orgasm in her loins, but it doesn’t stop there, oh no, oh no. Clitoral. G-spot. Vaginal. Anal. Nipple. All at once, exploding like a crate of bombs simultaneously going off, but it still doesn’t stop, oh no, there are so many parts of her body beyond her ass and her cunt and her tits, she knows herself that if her blood vessels were laid out in a line, they would measure 60,000 miles in length. The human body has nigh-infinite parts in all of its staggering complexitude.

Only now does she realize they can all bring her pleasure.

She’s like the dumb virgin teenager, who only just figured out she can feel good by sticking fingers inside herself. So limited was she, to think pleasure was limited to so few parts of her body! Every inch of her body knows orgasm. Every cell, every atom, every quark, is turned towards pleasure. She could not stop the scream that tears from her lips even if she wanted to. THIS is true pleasure, THIS is the “better than sex” that every vampire lies feeding is. It lights up every inch of her skin like she’s been struck by a divine thunderbolt, oh god she wants it to stop, it’s too much, no, she wants it to never stop, no, she does, the mind cannot fathom, there is no thought, just pleasure, consciousness-obliterating pleasure, and she feels ready to burst like a star going nova, so inadequate is her dead shell to contain all the bliss that she feels. Space vanishes. Time hangs still. She feels herself expanding, racing, as she fills that existential void, and she becomes MORE than she was, and takes into herself everything that Carolla was even as the Brujah’s psychic scream reverberates through her, piercingly loud but in the end unheeded. Is this what it felt like for her mom to merge with Lucy?

She claims her own Lucy.

And, with all the subtlety of a whispered sheet against skin still shuddering in post-coital bliss, she claims something else:


Celia: Truth.

Truth concealed in bliss.

Truth coated in an ugly lie, a lie that’s enough to make even Roderick turn from the light’s path.

Truth, and how ugly that is.

Coco had never been his sire.

His blood is not her gateway to more power.

He is her peer, not her superior, not a betrayal by Roderick’s sire. He’s nothing but a patsy. Another pawn—and she doesn’t need to wonder whose hand is behind this, who had set him up, who had broken her boyfriend beyond recognition to turn him into a shadow of his former self. Dark where he had once been light.

He had used her. Turned her lover against her. Turned him into a wreck, turned him into a monster, stolen the only good thing from his life—

Rage spirals through her. Rage that she has never known before, rage that consumes her in a way her Beast cannot fathom, rage that has a sharp edge to it, rage that turns her nails into claws, that makes her roar her fury to the world as, at last, the veil is lifted from her eyes.

I see now, Celia,” he’d said, and what a lie that had been. He sees nothing. He is blinded by the others, older, more powerful, more established, more gifted—he is blinded by every lie that they have ever told. A puppet on his string dancing for his master, and she no better.

The collar chafes and she tugs against it, snarling at the bond that holds her taut in its grip, snarling at the sire that had told her not to trust, snarling at the sire that shows indifference when she wants love—

It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t matter.

And, oh, how her eyes bleed at that thought.

She is nothing but a piece on the board, shoved this way and that by whatever hand wants to touch her.

She howls.

Just like that, control snaps.

She gives in to the Beast lurking inside her chest, the one she’d thought was a sleeping kitten earlier this evening. How silly, that thought. How silly that she would ever think of her Beast as anything other than the monster that it is. How ridiculous that she thinks she can conquer it with a bit of old, stale blood (nothing like what she just experienced).

Rage consumes her. She sees red. She becomes the inferno, blazing a path through her own “lab” like a hurricane—and she sees, finally, why they are named after people when she snaps out of it at the end of her cycle of destruction, clothing torn and bloodied and strewn across the floor in haphazard disarray.

Carolla’s body has taken more damage. The steel tools she uses have been flung far and wide through the space.

Chest heaving with barely contained fury, Celia is glad that she locked the door. Glad that her Beast is not smart enough to finagle the series of locks to find the sleeping kine in the other room. Hatred thunders through her.

GM: Carolla’s body hasn’t just taken damage.

All that’s left is his skeleton. The bones have turned jet black, as though melted under an impossible heat, and a sticky residue pools beneath, like half-melted plastic. A foul smell wafts from the bones.

They smell like Paul’s plastic smile.

Celia: It’s not quite what she thought she’d find when she cut him open. But the cunning, medically-based side of her appraises what’s left to determine what she can from the body.

GM: It’s hard to make many visual estimates of the bones’ wear and tear from what’s left. The usual kine indicators of ossification and decreasing joint size don’t apply to Kindred. Celia can surmise no explanation for why the bones turned black, or why the residue smells so foul, and makes her think of the way Paul made her feel. But her own blood feels no thicker… Carolla can’t have been more than half a century or so old, can’t he? Unless he was eleven or more steps removed from Caine, anyway. Then his blood could get no thicker, no matter how old he was.

Celia: She takes a look at the flesh and bone she’d removed before she’d claimed his soul for her own, wondering if those changed as well.

GM: The conveniently taken skin samples, in contrast, prove much, much easier for Celia to identify. The skin has reached the initial autolysis stage of decay, yes. But she’s done enough experimentation upon her own (and seen what final death looked like for her share of vampires) to know that Kindred corpses age far slower than kine ones when the weight of their years catches up to them.

Celia pegs Carolla’s age within several years of Roxanne’s, who she knows was a 2010 Embrace.

Seemingly just another neonate.

Celia: Seemingly.

As if that means anything.

He was seemingly Coco’s childe, too.

Celia rips a blackened bone from his ribcage and finds a container for the black goo. She doesn’t know what it is, but surely someone does.

She’s careful not to touch it with her bare skin when she scoops it into a jar.

GM: She moves most of it without issue.

The bone doesn’t look burned. It doesn’t feel hot and there’s no ash coming off. It’s just a normal bone that happens to be solid black.

Celia: She’s not sure what to do with him now. He hadn’t yielded what she’d expected.

Everything she’d thought about him had been a lie. And now she’s got… this. Black goo. Black bones. No idea what any of it means.

She doesn’t know who she’s mad at, only that she’s furious and curious and frustrated all in one, and she hates that she doesn’t understand. She cracks another rib out of place, then series of finger bones. She sets them aside, turning her eye to his spine.

She’ll wait. Wait for the Ventrue to get here and decide if this is proof enough about Carolla, and if not then she’s not sure what she’s going to tell him either.

Bitter disappointment surges through her. More lies. Another setup.

Maybe nothing will compare to the liquid gold of his soul.

Or maybe she’s just tired of being used.

It takes a moment of further consideration to place where she has seen this sort of goo before: Savoy’s roof. She’d stepped over it on her way to meet with him following his conversation with Roderick. That was the night she’d learned the truth about “Melton” and had seen a ghost become a vampire.

Why hasn’t he called?

Perhaps she’ll ask after him tonight when she goes to meet the lick with the poison eyes. Call in the marker he owes her for this situation with Marcel.

Celia cleans the remnants of the goo from the floor with a hose, sending it swirling down the drain. She tucks the bottle of gathered goo away for further study.

There’s little left for her to do except wait for Gui to show up. She tidies her lab in the meantime, putting away the bones and flesh she’d harvested from the Brujah to deal with later. Everything except the skin she’d stolen from his face, and she’s glad for that tipsy side of her now that had thought it was hilarious at the time. The rest of him had disintegrated into nothing. Muscles, tendons, ligaments—everything, all the tissue in his body. Vanished. As if it never was. Inconvenient, certainly, but drunk Celia had ended up being a boon in this case.

She thoroughly washes the table where she’d cut him apart, picks up her scattered tools, and sets everything to right. She lays the skeleton on the table and puts the literal face mask beneath it in the storage compartment; she’ll pull it out later if Gui needs to see it, but she doesn’t want to flaunt it for no reason.

A glance down at herself shows that her dress is rather tattered from her Beast’s earlier frenzy. She takes a moment to strip from it and pull on a spare “Flawless” tee and sneakers, hair swept back into a ponytail. She assumes the shirt hanging in the break room belongs to Landen because it hits her in the mid-thigh, long enough to look like she meant it this way when she uses a belt to cinch it around her waist. It’s not the particularly glamorous look she goes for when she’s Jade, but tonight, riding the high from the golden, full-body bliss she’d found inside her victim puts a swagger in her step.

Something has certainly changed. She has certainly changed.

Done with the menial tasks, she waits for her guests.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s not overlong before Celia receives a text message from Gui.


Celia: Jade glances in the mirror on her way to the back door she uses for her Kindred guests to keep them out of the main area, fixing a piece of hair that had slipped free from its tie. The back entrance has just as much security as the front and side doors, leading into a stone foyer that then allows entrance to the lab once she goes through yet more security. A tiny, reinforced peephole in the door lets her look out to verify that it is in fact Gui waiting for her.

GM: She sees Gui and that ghoul of his she fucked.

Celia: Where oh where is the promised friend? Jade opens the door for them.

“Hello, darling.”

GM: “Hello, lush,” smiles Gui as he steps inside.

“Your friend’s stashed nearby. Let’s see the proof.”

Celia: Jade beckons him forward, turning to lock the door behind the pair of them. She winks at the ghoul as she steps past him. She walks the pair of them through the foyer and opens the second set of doors leading to the lab.

“How was the rest of your evening?” she asks as they go.

GM: The Venture ghoul stares back with a look of unconcealed lust bordering on possessiveness.

It makes her think of Carolla.

“Promising,” answers Gui. “You’re dressed down.”

Celia: She wants him, she decides. Whatever happens to Gui, she wants this one.

“Mhm,” she says to his comment on her clothing, “hardly conducive to harvest parts in a ball gown.” She’s still a knockout, even in the stolen tee. It’s the “girlfriend wearing my shirt” vibe. Sexy in a soft, understated sort of way. More romance than smut.

Once inside the lab, she gestures toward the table where the blackened skeleton lies.

GM: “The fuck?” says Gamberro.

Celia: “Oh, you didn’t tell him,” Jade remarks, as if this is perfectly normal.

GM: “Doesn’t look much like Carolla,” remarks Gui.

Celia: “No,” she agrees, “not anymore. Hard to come by Kindred subjects, you understand. I borrowed most of him.” She bends, reaching for the skin she’d stolen from his face. It looks like him… but flattened. Like someone had ripped off his head and run over it with a heavy truck a few times.

She sets it on the table.

“Saved his face for you.”

GM: Gamberro laughs.

“Look at fucking that.”

Celia: Jade smiles at him.

GM: “Yes, that does look rather more like him,” remarks Gui.

He picks up the face, almost experimentally.

Celia: It flops over in his hands. White clumps of fat still cling to the inside.

GM: Gamberro laughs some more.

“Maldita sea.”

“This is proof, all right,” says Gui, setting the face mask back down.

“Gamberro, go bring in the sire.”

“Need the key,” the ghoul says shortly.

Celia: Jade hands him two of them.

GM: Gamberro takes them and leaves.

Celia: Ordinarily she’d walk him out, but there’s something… off about Gui. She waits until his ghoul leaves to turn her attention back to him, watching his face and body.

GM: “So how’d he get this way?” asks the Ventrue, turning towards her.

Celia: “Which way? Dead?”

GM: “Black.”

Celia: “Another experiment. I admit the bone work is new to me. When I started with the flesh I began simply, changing colors, textures. I wanted to see how far I could go with this, and the longer I worked the more it clicked. I’d decided to turn it into an art piece. Functional. Armor, perhaps.”

Jade tilts her head, considering him.

“Black felt fitting for one of our kind.”

GM: “Mmm.”

Gui runs a finger along the bones.

“Feels warm.”

Celia: Jade touches a hand to Carolla’s skull, feeling for the heat.

GM: It’s cooler than it was, after she drank his soul, but well above room temperature.

Celia: She shrugs.

“As I said, new to me.”

GM: “In ‘93, you know, Chicago had a nasty war with the area’s Lupines,” says Gui. “Or Loup-Garoux, here. You hear of it?”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

GM: “Well, it’s not the important part of the story.”

“Some Sabbat crept in during the chaos. Taking advantage, like they do here with Mardi Gras.”

“They did some pretty nasty things to some licks. I got to see what was left of them up close.”

Gui picks up Carolla’s skull and turns it over in his hands.

“The bodies weren’t just nasty sights, though. They were bizarre.”

“One of them had pustules and boils. On the bone. I thought that only happened on skin, but sure enough, this was on bone.”

“On another one, the decayed flesh had turned this sickly green hue and half-melted off. Smelled worse than anything I’d ever smelled before.”

“And another one,” remarks Gui, holding up the skull, “looked and felt a lot like this one.”

“Interesting, isn’t it?”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says. “That is interesting. Perhaps I chose the wrong color.”

She should have hidden the bones. Of course he wouldn’t believe they were Carolla without the proof of his face. She hadn’t been thinking straight.

Jade smiles at Gui, letting her supernatural charm wash over him to blur his senses. It’s a subtle, slippery thing she sends his way, accompanied by a tilt of her head and a little giggle, the perfect picture of Kindred allure. She takes a step toward him, touching a hand to his chest and lifting her chin to find his face. She doesn’t quite meet his eye.

“Are you implying that I’m friends with Sabbat, Reynaldo?”

She giggles again.

GM: Gui chuckles and sets down the skull.

“No, I suppose not.”

“We never did find out what they’d done to those bodies.”

“Might have just been ‘art’, too.”

Celia: She smiles up at him, sliding her hand from his chest to cheek.

“Shame, I’d thought I was so clever for it. I’ll have to find something else to please the guilds for my journeyman’s piece.” She forces a sigh but there’s no real sense of loss to it, and she’s smiling past the parted lips.

“Was that when you fought one? A Lupine?” Admiration shines in her eyes.

GM: Gui smirks faintly back. “Yes, though not by myself. That’s a fast ticket to final death.”

Celia: “How many did it take to bring him down?”

GM: “Too many. The city lost a lot of licks.”

Celia: It’s hardly the thrilling tale she’d been fishing for. She removes her hand from him, nodding in apparent understanding.

“Let’s hope by river is a safer travel route than through the dark. I’ve secured us a private yacht.” She smiles winningly.

Jade certainly doesn’t do anything by half-measures.

“Speaking of friends, though. A dear one of mine is in from Houston. I mentioned you when we spoke and he asked me to arrange a meeting. Something about a shared interest.”

GM: “That feels very good,” says Gui. He doesn’t sigh under her expert touch, being long past the physiological need, but Jade can feel tension leaving his body. “You weren’t kidding about dead muscles still being able to feel.”

“I’ve thought about boats before,” he continues. “Sailing up the Mississippi. The pr-”

The door slams open. Four figures stride in, their footsteps masked by the lab’s soundproofed walls. Laura Melton. A comely redhead who smells like Kindred. The Gamberro. He smiles, showing fangs, and Jade hears no heartbeat from his chest. ‘Michael’ walks at the group’s head.

His eyes carry death.

Celia: Well.

At least she doesn’t need to set Gui up a second time, right? A glance at his face tells her all he needs to know: he’s not in on it. How had they known…? Gamberro. Why? Why turn against his… had he said… fuck.


All sorts of fuck.

Jade slides off the table, turning to face the band of licks. Four on two, and she’s not even sure how well the Ventrue handles himself in combat. She forces a smile, thinks about saying something sarcastic, and finally bites her tongue.

“Gamberro. You’ve brought friends.”

GM: Gui doesn’t talk. A switchblade flashes in his hand. Michael seizes the Ventrue’s arm with both hands as it flashes towards him, then pulls. There’s a hideous crack, then bone splinter gorily jutting through flesh. Gui hisses.

Michael smiles.

Celia: Celia might have once flinched at the sight. Her stomach might have churned. But she’s taken enough bodies apart in the past years that the sight doesn’t faze her, and she’s not even in control right now.

It’s the fact that Michael did it with his bare hands. With just a yank.

What’s he planning on doing to her?

Jade skitters backwards.

GM: Celia’s lover yanks the Ventrue forward by his broken arm as the switchblade hits the floor with a clatter, then executes a two-handed shoulder throw, sending Gui crashing back-first onto the ground. Michael’s foot comes down on the Ventrue’s other elbow, audibly crunching bone.

The other three watch and laugh.

“Pathetic,” sneers Michael.

Celia: She’s not interested in seeing this side of him. Gui is dead anyway, now instead of later. He’s brought enough licks to make sure of it.

She bolts.

GM: Michael’s three friends close around the door.

“You going somewhere, Kalani? What’s the hurry?” asks Michael.

He stomps down hard on Gui’s knee. A cry of pain goes up from the Ventrue as that breaks too.

Celia: Good thing there’s a second door, since that’s where she’s headed.

She’s next. She knows she’s next. She’s next and she’s not going to wait around for it to happen. Jade launches herself at the door to Celia’s closet—only an hour ago she’d been joking about it being Narnia—and wrenches it open so she can disappear on the other side.

GM: “Yeah, where you goin’, puta!” laughs Gamberro.

Footsteps thump after her. Jade isn’t sure how many of the licks give chase. Just the three? Or Michael, too? She doesn’t look to see. Laughter rings in her ears as grasping hands lunge for her, but the preternaturally quick Toreador blurs ahead.

Celia: She slams the door shut behind her, throwing the lock into place.

How long will the steel door hold? She doesn’t know. But she can’t sit here and find out. Her mind races even as her feet carry her down the hall.

Why? How? Who?

Something for a later date, isn’t it. But Roderick is in bed with Setites. What else had they given him? And Savoy—is this another betrayal? Had he traded Jade for Roderick, too? Or was she supposed to stand and watch, then take her beating?

She wants to cry. There’s nowhere to run. Roderick knows about her haven, about Celia’s place. The Evergreen might not be safe. He knows where her mom lives. Would he endanger her family like that? And Emily. Here! Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Stephen wouldn’t hurt them, but Stephen is dead. So’s Roderick, she thinks, and she watches her plans crumble into dust. Every single one of them.

Where can she—?

She can’t. She can’t go anywhere. She can’t leave Emily behind. The keys she’d given Gamberro only work for that one set of doors—because what kind of idiot has a “secret entrance” with the same keys as the normal entrance?—but she wouldn’t put it past them to break into the spa another way to find her. And if they find Emily instead, and Roderick doesn’t control the others…

Emily is locked behind a door. No one knows she’s there. She smells like booze instead of blood. That helps, right?

Jade passes a table in the hall. A glass vase with hydrangeas catches her eye. She flings it on the floor, watching the glass shatter, and cuts into her wrist with her fangs to dribble blood along the floor. All the way out the front door. She flings more droplets onto the sidewalk, then licks her wounds, locks the door from the outside, and doubles back. She takes a different path to the Vichy room where she’d left Emily. She lets herself in, quietly closes the door, and locks it.

He knows she can fly. He’ll think she took off.

Once inside, Celia pulls the dead weight of Emily’s drunk, passed out body into her arms. She’s heavy. But undead muscles don’t get tired, and Celia staggers toward the closet with the noirnette. It’s cramped, full of body scrubs and dry brushes and fragrant oils and salts and sugar scrubs, mud masks and extra towels, a handful of spa tools, but there’s room for the girls.

Celia nudges aside a bucket of pink Himalayan sea salt scrub and gently lowers Emily onto the ground. She’s back a second later with the towels that she’d left in the main room, Emily’s vomit-scented clothes, and her phone. She wedges Emily behind the hamper of used towels, uses the clean ones to cover her as best she can so it looks like a pile of excess laundry, and double checks that the phone is on silent.

They’ll be safe here. Won’t they?

She settles in.

GM: Emily groggily stirs awake as Celia moves her.


“Don’ wanna go t’ Nar’nya…”

Celia: She’d been afraid of that.

“It’ll be fun,” Celia says in a whisper. “Just for a minute, then you can sleep, ’kay?”

GM: “Mmmugh… fuckin’… Jesus lion…”

Celia: “Fuckin’ Jesus lion,” Celia agrees, stashing the pair inside the closet. “Blankies,” she says when she covers Emily.

GM: “Asla my ass…”

Celia: “Sleep now,” Celia says gently.

GM: Emily dumbly presses her palm against the door.

“Don’ like this… bed.”

“Ol’ one, be’er.”

Celia: “It’ll be okay,” Celia says to her, “we just have to be quiet for a few minutes, then we can go back.”

GM: “Mmuuughhhh….”

Celia: Celia waits, but she doesn’t wait idly.

Whatever Roderick has said to her in the past, she isn’t stupid. She knows that the scent of Emily’s blood isn’t actually more alcohol than booze, and she’s got more than enough things in the closet to help mask it. She reaches for a towel, then opens a bottle of oil they use for aromatherapy and sprinkles the towel with lavender-scented oil. Another wet, rolled towel goes beneath the closet door to better soundproof the room and hide Emily’s scent. Celia stuffs the lavender towel against the wet one. Hopefully it’s the only thing that leaks out.

It has the added benefit of helping people sleep, too, which she hopes is the case for Emily. Lavender isn’t an out of place scent in a spa, either. There are enough air fresheners and oil diffusers that anyone who isn’t used to it usually remarks, “wow, smells good in here” when they step inside. The scent here won’t shine like a beacon, summoning them toward her.

She stuffs more towels beneath, around, and over Emily to make her comfortable and hidden, doing her best to lull her to sleep.

And then, not knowing if it worked or not, not knowing if any minute one of them will wrench open the door, Celia borrows her friend’s phone, downloads an app, and opens the stream for the lab. She’d been concerned about meeting with the Ventrue. That he might turn on her. Mesmerize her, even, and make her forget anything they might have talked about. So she’d prepared, setting a device beneath the lip of her table to pick up any sound in the room.

She turns the volume down as low as she can, stops breathing, and listens.

GM: Celia finds that Emily’s phone has a pattern unlock, but her sister groggily unlocks it at her request.

The video quality comes out terrible, though. Celia can’t tell how many licks are still in the room, or if any lacks are still in the room.

She doesn’t hear anything, though.

If anyone is still in there, they’re keeping pretty quiet.

Celia: Did they leave?

Or are they waiting for her to come crawling back?

Her eyes close for a brief moment. She doesn’t think she can stay here all night. And she’s sure they’re just out there waiting for her. Melton, at least, knows more shadow dancing than she does.

She logs into another app and sends a text to a certain diamond-studded Caitiff.

2 2 many people @ this work party lol can u & R stop by to help close down?

Two plus two is four. Everyone knows that.

She stares down at the phone for a minute. Pete. She could call Pete to get her out of this. They wouldn’t attack him, right? He knows about Emily. Can help get her to safety.

Or she could just call Roderick.

She waits on that, opening the security app once more and scrolling backwards until the little squiggles of noise appear. She listens again.

GM: There’s silence for a bit.

Then footsteps again.

“…we’ll finish here, if she’s gone,” says Michael.

“Already got all the tools we need,” says Gamberro approvingly.

“Place is well-stocked,” smiles a female voice.

Celia hears sounds. Movements. Metallic.

Then a grisly, gory tearing. The unmistakable cut of steel sawing through flesh. Sawing through bone. She knows that sound. She’s heard it herself, plenty of times in that room.

“Too bad we can’t hear him scream,” says Gamberro.

Celia: Celia listens silently, hand pressed to her mouth.

GM: It’s not as if she breathes.

But some instincts die hard.

“Yes, much too bad,” concurs a female voice.

There’s a light giggle.

“You’re doing well against the collar,” says another female one.

Celia: He’s an idiot. He, more than her. Killing Gui without even questioning him. Without waiting for the sire to be delivered. Does he care about that anymore, or is he only interested in spilling Mafia blood?

And who the fuck is that bitch?

GM: There’s a sound like spitting.

Pedazo de mierda was never gonna give what he owed.”

Celia: Melton couldn’t know how to sculpt flesh, could she? She’d have done that rather than rely on cloaking to take the place of the Gangrel. Savoy wouldn’t have sent for Dicentra if Camille had her own doc. The redhead, then? Dr. E? Or is it just more cloaking?

She texts the Caitiff again.

nvm, can handle

GM: “One can see why he wouldn’t,” smiles the first female voice. “You’re going to do his job better than he ever did.”

Celia: Of course he is. Rod won’t even get his hands dirty, will he. The coward.

GM: “Probably saw you as a threat,” agrees the second female.

Celia: Who gave him the blood, then? One of the girls? Rod himself?

Does he know she’s a Setite?

Does he care?

GM: That question remains hauntingly unanswered when Michael’s voice sounds again.

“How are you feeling now, Mr. Gui?”

“Been better,” replies the Ventrue. Haggard but cool. “Been worse, too.”

“Well, we’ll see what we can do about worse before the night is over,” smiles Michael.

“Couldn’t hack it as a Ventrue, could you, Gamberro?” says Gui. “Settling for snakes. Ah, too bad. You’ll regret that eventually.”

“You too, Mister…”

“Drakon,” answers Michael. “I’d like you to know my name, Mr. Gui. Many of your fellow scum will know it too, soon enough.”

Celia: Pretentious.

Celia is glad there’s no air in her lungs with which to snort.

GM: “I’m no snake,” sneers Gamberro. “I’m not settling for anything. Including Ventrue.

“Drakon,” sounds Gui. “Sounds made-up. A bit pretentious, too, if I’m being honest. Young ones always pick the dramatic names.”

Celia: She’d always liked him.

…which is why she’s sitting in a closet while they torture him, isn’t it. This is how she treats her friends.

GM: “Mmm,” says Drakon. “Do you know much Athenian history, Mr. Gui?”

“My clan’s always preferred Rome to Greece, Mr. Drakon,” answers Gui.

Celia: Celia clenches her teeth together. Fuck him. Fuck him and everything he’d ever been to her. Fuck him, the abusive fucking piece of shit. Fuck him, fuck everyone.

She lets the sound play in the background, sending another text. This one to her favorite thief in the whole world.

How many nails you think you can hammer before someone notices?

GM: “He was the first law-giver of ancient Athens,” explains Drakon. “Until he came along, during either 622 or 621 BC, oral law and blood feuds were the order of the day. He replaced that system with a written legal code enforced by a court of law. His laws were harsh. Stealing a cabbage was punishable by death. In fact, his name is where the term ‘draconian’ originates. Something that is like unto Drakon’s harsh laws.”

“But what’s interesting is that the citizens of Athens greeted him not as a tyrant, but as a force for justice. According to a Byzantine source, Drakon died at a theatre. It was traditional to throw hats and shirts and cloaks at speakers as a sign of approval. The crowd threw so many clothing items on Drakon that he suffocated. He was buried in that same theatre.”

There’s what sounds like a smile.

“That story is probably apocryphal. Scholars aren’t sure how Drakon actually died. But the fact that people told this story in the first place tells us a great deal.”

“Sounds like he did too good a job, if they killed him,” says Gui.

ok cool the Caitiff texts back.

Celia: Another text to the Caitiff from earlier.

I lied, they stuck around. Wanna come?

GM: “That’s interesting,” says the second female voice. “‘Draconian.’ Is that where the name ‘Draco’ comes from?”

“Yes,” Drakon answers. “There are three different spellings for his name, in fact. Drakon, Draco, and Drako, the first and last with a ‘k’.”

“I considered Draco, but I think it’s too popularly known.”

make up your mind girl

Celia: I’m fucked tbh.

GM: “Yes, it is,” agrees the second female voice.

Celia: Another text to the thief.

I got a prob at work tbh, think you can help?

w/e you want.

GM: “The ‘k’ feels like it’s overdoing things a bit, though. What about a ‘c’?” she suggests.

Celia: Please, she entreats the thief.

Bring R she tells the Caitiff. Front door.

& prob backup

GM: what is this?

It’s from Benji.

“A ‘c’,” says possibly-Dracon, testing it experimentally. “Hm. Not bad. It feels like it could use a surname, with that spelling.”

“You can pick your fuckin’ name later,” growls Gamberro.

Celia: She doesn’t know where to begin explaining. Maybe drawing them in is a bad idea. Maybe she should just let this happen.

Finally, Celia texts her… lover.

Am I next on the list?

GM: “We’re not in any rush,” says Dracon.

“In fact, this is a good place to let it happen.”

“I’m 90% sure th….” he trails off to a buzz from his phone.

There’s a pause.

“The fuck is that?” snaps Gamberro.

“Kalani, actually,” says Dracon.

“She’s concerned we’re going to kill her.”

Laughter sounds from the other three.

“Are we?” the second female asks idly.

“I’ve entertained the thought,” says Dracon.

“Could be fun,” smiles the first female.

“Mmm. I’ve not made any plans to go through with it,” says Dracon. “It just occurred to me, a few times when I was angry at her.”

“I’d want to get Savoy’s sanction, anyway.”

“Fear or guilty conscience that she ran,” muses the first female voice.

“Yes, that is interesting,” says the second female. “I thought you said she knew how this was going down.”

“She partly knew,” says Dracon. “I told her she was going to set up a second meeting with an alias where the hit actual would take place.”

“But I assumed she was going to fuck it up somehow, so she got this surprise.”

He taps back.

No. Why would you think that?

Celia: Because I keep disappointing you, and I thought you were out of patience. I was trying to find out about D’s boyfriend from him. Was supposed to trade.

GM: I am out of patience.

You have no chances left.

Celia: I was setting it up when you showed.

What do you want? I was going to swing by your place later.

GM: Come back if you’re sincere.

Celia: Am I going to be hurt with him?

GM: Only if you lie. Will you lie?

Celia: No. Tired of lying. D told me I was treating you like a kid. Made me realize I was wrong about everything. You were right. Was going to tell you tonight after I set up the meeting.

Send your friends away. We’ll talk privately. You can decide what you want to do with me then.

GM: “Kalani wants to come back,” says Dracon.

“So long as the rest of you leave.”

“Setup,” says Gamberro flatly. “Fuck her.”

“Possibly,” agrees Dracon. “But her presence could be useful.”

“So here’s what we’ll do.”

“You’ll leave the spa and watch from somewhere close.”

“If she shows up alone, she gets to go in.”

“If she doesn’t, well, I suppose she can still go in, but she’ll join Mr. Gui on the table too.”

well? comes another text.

Celia: Celia taps on her phone. A final message to Benji.

Stay away. Handling it. Final answer. Meet you later. If you don’t hear from me, ask Lana to talk to Em.

She uses a pen from Emily’s purse to scrawl a brief message to her sister on her arm.

GM: “Mmf… sto’ fuckin’… wa’me up…” grogs Emily under the ticklish sensation.

Celia: It’s over quickly. Celia rubs her back to sleep.

GM: “Sto’ jerkin’… mk’u your min’…” mumbles Emily under Celia’s nevertheless expert touch.

don’t change your mind later, Benji texts back.

Celia: love you too

GM: “She shy?” asks the second female voice.

“Not particularly,” smiles the first.

“Don’t see why she’d want to do this alone,” says the second female. “She got a history with you?”

“Yes,” says Dracon.

Laughter from the same voice. “Kalani’s just going to use you.”

“Everyone uses each other,” says Dracon.

“She, me. I, her. I, you. You, me.”

“The great symbiosis of life.”

“And we are so angry when we’re the ones used,” tsks the first female. Almost sadly.

“Go ahead and use her, Dracon, if you think this is the best way to. We can keep ourselves…. amused in the meanwhile.”

There’s a giggle.

“I bet you putas can,” grins Gamberro.

There’s laughter from both female voices.

“Don’t worry, we’ll keep you amused too,” smiles the second female.

“Good enough for me,” laughs Gamberro.

There are some indistinct sounds. A few more giggles. But movement. Footsteps.


Then fingers tapping.

We’re alone.

Celia: On my way.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia sneaks out of the room, closing and locking the doors behind her once more. She logs out of the apps and leaves the phone behind.

It’s between her and Roderick now. With his friends nearby should they need to be. She takes a breath. Another. They do nothing for her. Stupid, useless habits.

She waits. Long enough to make him think she’d had to fly. Time enough to visit the break room and retrieve her purse. Then she steps into Celia’s room and opens the door inside the closet.

GM: He’s there.

Waiting, with his arms crossed.

His face is his, but isn’t. Similar. But distinct. Harder lines. Stronger brows. Thinner lips. The suggestion of a shadow around his mouth and jaw, the barest beginning of a crease across his forehead and around his eyes. Him. But not. Not the face in the mirror, but one seemingly drawn with his essence in mind. The new him. He doesn’t look like someone who routinely beats his girlfriend… only like someone who is capable of such a thing.

There’s blood all over the table. Gui is gone.

Just between the two of them.

Celia: Celia draws to a halt.

It’s one of the faces she’d picked out for him. One of them that’s burning a hole in her purse right now. She doesn’t mean to stare but she does, drinking her fill of the image in front of her. Staring at dinner would have been a tell.

She hasn’t closed the door behind her. But she nods to the one behind him.

“Close it. Lock it. Please.”

GM: He does so, then turns back to her.

Silently waiting.

Celia: Gamberro has a key. It’s not like the movement sets her at ease. But the fact that he was willing to, right?

“Emily is inside the spa,” Celia says after a moment. “If your friends come back, please keep them away from her. I was unable to move her on my own.”

She lapses into silence, considering him.

“Dani told me that if I tell the truth everything will be okay. You told me that if I tell the truth I’m not going to be hurt. Does that still stand?”

GM: “You know, Celia, that really says it all,” says Roderick, arms still crossed.

“You don’t actually care about the truth.”

“You don’t actually care about me.”

Celia: “Please let me talk before you cast your judgement.”

GM: “Okay. Then I promise nothing.”

“If the only thing you care about is yourself, and finishing this talk still with a boyfriend, this whole thing is fucked anyway.”

Celia: “It is,” Celia agrees. “It is fucked. But that isn’t why I asked. I told you the other night there was more to say. You said we’d discuss it later.”

“How long do we have before your friends come back?”

GM: “I can text them if we require more time,” is all he says.

“And don’t believe for a second that I’ve forgotten.”

“I don’t think you care about the truth. I think you just want to give whatever answers are most conductive to satisfying me so we stay together.”

“You’ve lied to me for as long as I’ve known you.”

Celia: “I don’t think you’ve forgotten anything.”

She doesn’t pace. She wants to. It’s a human instinct, something she’s done out of habit for years to keep up appearances. Now, though, she stands still. She watches him. She has no doubt that he could cross the room to her in a blink if he so chose, could smash her face against wall or floor.

“I spoke to Dani this evening,” she says at length. “She helped me see a different perspective on things. Something I was lacking. Something I told myself I was handling okay. But I wasn’t. And you paid the price for that.”

GM: “That sounds accurate enough.”

His arms are still crossed.

Celia: “I lied to you,” Celia says, agreeing. “I did. I lied to you. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, and it wasn’t. I was mistaken. I was wrong. The entire time, I was wrong, and I hurt you. Selfishly. Very, very selfishly. Narrow-minded. Stupid, you might say.”

She doesn’t look away from him when she says that. No flicker of emotion crosses her face.

“It hurt, when you said that. But you were right. And I don’t think an apology is going to cut it. Not now. Not this late in the game. But I’d like to offer one anyway. I’d like to tell you that I’m sorry for all of the times that I lied to you. That I used you. That I manipulated you. That I hurt you. I’ve done a lot of terrible things in my life and unlife, but I think that what I did to you is… it’s the worst thing I’ve done.”

She lets out a breath.

“I was going to stop by tonight. I was… I was so eager to stop by, to tell you that I’d gotten the meeting with Gui, that I had Dani’s sire, that I had the blood, that I set up Duke. I thought it would show you that I’m committed to being honest with you. That I don’t want to continue like it has been. That I want to do better for you.”

GM: No flicker of emotion crosses Roderick’s face either.

“When was the first time you lied?” he asks.

Celia: “By omission, or directly?”

GM: “Lies by omission are still lies.”

Celia: “When I didn’t tell you about Paul.”

“Or about cos school.”

GM: “You know, cos school I remember at first being puzzled by, and then hurt by.”

“Because why wouldn’t she tell me this.”

“But I forgave you.”

“Was only the first lie, after all, and no real harm done.”

Celia: “I felt like it wasn’t good enough for you. Pre-law. Big dreams. Dance major who wants to play with makeup.”

GM: “Yes, you said.”

“Paul, though.”

He shakes his head.

“My fucking god.”

Celia: “Do you want to know my thoughts there, or would you rather I not?”

GM: “Are they going to be more excuses and justifications?”

Celia: “Explanations. But I understand that they can sound the same, and I don’t want to waste your time.”

“Or sound as if I’m defending my behavior when there is no excuse.”

“What I did was wrong, no matter what I thought at the time.”

“After my Embrace… when I found out he was a ghoul, I used to cling to the idea that he mesmerized me. Made me come back. Maybe hit me with star mode. Because what other excuse did I have? I didn’t want to take responsibility for that. It was an awful thing to do.”

“I don’t know if that’s true. If he did. I think it just made me feel better.”

“I told myself my mom needed the money. I believed her when she told me not to ask you for help, that getting into debt with a boyfriend is a bad idea. I told myself a lot of things.”

GM: “It’s easier to glamor someone who’s already willing to go along with you,” says Roderick.

“Harder if they don’t want to.”

“If they’re actually fighting.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I… wanted to believe it wasn’t my fault. But it was.”

GM: “Did you mom recommend you cheat on your boyfriend and whore yourself out to a man… how many times your age?”

“I’m pretty sure she’d have said that was a worse idea.”

Celia: “No. I lied to her, too.”

“I told her it was coming out of my trust.”

“She didn’t know.”

“She… she asked me once. Her wages had stopped being garnished. I brought up celebrating, maybe going out. She said she still needed the extra cash. It’s not her fault. She didn’t know.”

“I imagine she’d have rather gone hungry than let me do that.”

GM: “She always struck me as a decent human being.”

“I wonder where she went wrong with you.”

Celia: Celia bows her head.

“She tried. I made my own mistakes.”

GM: “So what would you have done, with this new level of bedazzling self-awareness, in lieu of whoring yourself out to Paul and cheating on me?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “It’s easy to see the fault with a lot of plans I might suggest now that I know about Kindred. Going after my father earlier might not have panned out, but I could have. Cutting ties would have been better than what I did. Asking for help from someone who knew more than me. You. My grandmother. Viv. There were other options.”

GM: “So why the fuck did you sleep with him?”

Celia: “The first time… I was afraid. I went to him for help. My mom told me that he was Maxen’s friend. That I shouldn’t. But I thought I knew better, and… and he put me on my knees. After that, I thought I could outsmart him. I thought I could blackmail him into changing the trust so I could get out from under my dad and not be a burden on anyone else. I took photos. I recorded things. There are anomalies in his home, did you know? It’s…” she shakes her head.

“I was the protagonist of my own movie, I thought everything would turn out okay and by some miracle I’d come out ahead. It was naive. Ignorant. Stupid. And selfish. Very, very selfish. Like I had to do everything on my own. Like just one more visit and Mom would have enough to live on, and I could stop. But there was always another excuse. Car broke down. Rent is due. Mom needs groceries. Always more. She ran herself ragged for me.”

“I wanted to help without being a drain on someone else. I told myself if I got enough money I could walk away from that entire life. Leave Audubon behind.”

“And… I don’t think I expected us to last. You were always…” she gestures vaguely at him, “…just better than me. Smarter. More driven. When I met your dad and Dani for the first time…”

Celia trails off.

“She told me how much you liked me. So I… I wanted to find another way. I reached out to my real dad. I met him. I didn’t ask for money, but we talked after I took the DNA test, and he wanted to cut me a check for cos school. Said he wasn’t my dad, but that he ‘liked my story,’ wouldn’t mind hanging out. So I let him.”

“I was angry. At Paul. For what he’d done to me. I was angry, and I let that rule my actions, and I went to see him. One last time, I said, so I could tell him it was over, so I could… be satisfied, I guess, watching him be disappointed. I could tell him to fuck off.”

“It didn’t work out like I thought. It was dumb. I was dumb. I thought I was taking my power back or whatever, and it just got worse.”

GM: Roderick listens impassively.

“So why did you try to sleep with Emmett after that? Or go home with Pietro? Because those times sure as hell weren’t for your mom.”

Celia: “Emmett’s a conman. I’m pretty sure he could talk a nun into bed with him.” Celia shakes her head again. “It was right after Dad was arrested, and I found out he’d been released. Em was the only ‘negative influence’ I knew. There was some scandal in high school. I… I don’t know why I thought he could help. We’d talked about framing Maxen for something else. Drugs. Said he knew someone in Blackwatch that could help. But we were kids. Just dumb kids. And I think he might have been lying. We had a few drinks. We danced. We smoked. I thought… I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking clearly. It all made more sense at the time. I wanted to believe he could help me. Do something dirty that normal people wouldn’t consider.”

“And Pietro… god, I don’t even know. I could pretend I was someone less pathetic with him. Cici the dancer, not Celia the whore.”

“I was drinking, but that doesn’t excuse it. I thought he might have hit me with his charm, but I doubt he needed to. I just wanted to forget for a while. I wanted to be a kid and make bad decisions and not worry about my dad. It was… it was really immature.”

“I wish I’d just gone to you instead. That I’d called you. Showed up at your door. Any assortment of things that didn’t have to do with other people.”

GM: “Immature is a good way to describe it,” he says.

“So is selfish.”

“Hurting your partner and permanently hurting your relationship with your partner for your own immediate gratification.”

“And I doubt Emmett could talk a nun into bed.”

“Not unless some part of her actually wanted that. He was a breather. He didn’t have star mode. He couldn’t artificially implant desire where none existed.”

“And yeah, you could have shown up at my door.”

“You could have gone to me and told me about the monsters.”

“You had no reason to believe Emmett was any more likely to believe that story than me.”

“Even the cheating, I could understand, in a warped and twisted way. It’s explainable as simple selfishness. Obtaining gratification at someone else’s expense, because you value your pleasure more than their happiness. There’s a mental calculation there, even when it’s an impulsive decision. ‘I am more important.’”

“It’s the lack of trust in telling me about what you saw and experienced that I still find so bizarre.”

“Or, what, did you figure I was going to break up with you if you told me about the preceding circumstances, and that would have required explaining how you slept with Pietro and tried to sleep with Emmett?”

Celia: “Do you mean, why didn’t I tell you about Pietro and Veronica?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: There’s a beat of silence.

Then, “They told me if I did they’d kill me and whoever I told. I valued his life less than yours.”

GM: “You had two encounters with them. They told you that during the first one?”

Celia: “Oh, I thought you meant the second. They told me that at the second. At the first… they knew who I was. I saw he’d gone through my purse while I slept. Didn’t bother putting it back to rights, pulled my license out. Had my address, real name, et cetera. Implied I was a loose end. Same reasoning, just less explicit.”

GM: “And was that the correct reasoning?”

Celia: “I was afraid they’d find me if I went to someone I was publicly connected with. I was afraid they’d hurt me and whoever I was with. I didn’t go to my mom’s. I didn’t go back to the dorm. I didn’t go to you. No one knew I was friends with Emmett. I’d already seen them kill one person and shrug it off like no big deal.”

GM: “So you were right, to tell Em and no one else?”

“Speaking from a breather perspective.”

“One ignorant of the Masquerade and larger Kindred society.”

Celia: “Honestly? No. I shouldn’t have dragged him into it either. I was scared and not thinking straight. I imagine the police would have been a better call if I had been.”

GM: “So you should have called the police, and left everyone else out of it?”

Celia: “How would you have helped, if I’d gone to you? What would you have done without knowing about any of this?”

GM: “You haven’t definitively answered my question, Celia. Is that or is that not your answer?”

Celia: “I don’t know. Leaving you out of it shows a lack of trust. Bringing you into it feels like I’m putting you in danger. Calling the police and then bringing you into it… maybe that was the better play, calling for help from the people who are supposed to help, then coming to you. That’s what normal people do, turn to their partners for help. I didn’t know they were Kindred. Just killers. I guess I didn’t have any reason to think they’d come after me, or you, if they were caught.”

Celia is quiet for a moment.

“I see,” she says. “I see your point.”

“That I’ve been doing it this whole time. Keeping you ignorant because I thought it was the right thing.”

“Because I thought it would protect you. That I could handle it.”

GM: “Yeah. You’ve got a real savior complex there.”

Celia: She runs a hand through her hair.

“Treated you like a kid. Like Dani said.”

GM: “That’s a better way of putting it than savior complex.”

Celia: She leans heavily against the side of the table, ignoring the Ventrue’s blood.

“This whole time,” she says quietly, “I thought… I thought I could do it all on my own, and I could keep everyone out of it, and if I messed up I’d be the only one punished. I’ve kept everyone at arm’s length. I’ve lied to everyone. And it’s not like that. Not at all. That’s… not how the world works. Not how our society works. Not how relationships work.”

“I have been. Treating you like a kid. Treating you poorly. Been selfish. Stupid. Trying to… to please everyone, and hurting you, and… making up excuses that it was for your own good, but it wasn’t. It never was.”

“I did the same thing with Dani. Told her not to come to Elysium. Told her it wasn’t safe. Thought it was best.”

“Took everyone’s choices away from them.”

GM: “Dani’s not a kid either. She can make her own decisions.”

“And yes, you did.”

“You took away everyone’s choices and completely fucked up our relationship.”

Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She nods.

“Yeah. I did.”

She can’t look at him. She did. She’d fucked up. Needlessly.

GM: “All for nothing. For absolutely nothing.”

Celia: She keeps her eyes on the floor but nods again.

“I… you’re right. I fucked it up. For nothing. And now it’s… I can’t undo it, I can’t just… say that I’m sorry, it’s all…” Celia finally looks up. “It’s all just fucked, and it’s no one’s fault but mine.”

“I don’t even know where to begin fixing it. I thought tonight might…”

She trails off. It doesn’t matter.

GM: “It is your fault,” Roderick agrees.

“Completely your fault.”

“We also aren’t finished here.”

“You had more things to tell me, when we last talked at my haven, and which we postponed.”

“And maybe more things have happened since then, too.”

Celia: Silently, she nods again.

“I did… I did something. Something really bad.”

GM: “Just one something?”

Celia: “In general, or in regards to you?”

GM: “Both.”

Celia: “More than one something.”

GM: “Color me surprised.”

He doesn’t sound surprised.

Celia: She’s past the point of being hurt by his words.

“Can you help me take Emily home,” she says, “so she doesn’t have to sleep here? And then I can… I’ll tell you the rest of it.”

GM: “No,” says Roderick.

Celia: She hadn’t really expected him to, had she?

“Where do you want me to start.”

GM: “Chronologically.”

“From the beginning.”

Celia: “Everything, or just the bad things?”

GM: “Everything left unsaid. Everything you’re supposed to tell your partner.”

Celia: “For starters,” Celia says with no inflection, “the spa is bugged, which is the other part of why I’d like to take this conversation elsewhere.”

GM: “Yes, I assumed Savoy had bugged it.”

Celia: She doesn’t let anything show on her face.

“He’s hardly the only one with reason to.”

GM: “Fine. Where else in the Quarter is secure?”

Celia: “Haven. Assorted homes I have access to.” A pause. “Random hotel room.” A longer pause. “The place we had dinner.”

“Tell Gamberro to bring back my keys.”

GM: “Do I look as if I give two shits about where Emily sleeps or your stupid keys right now?”

Celia: Celia turns and walks away.

GM: Roderick seizes her by the shoulder.

Celia: “I can’t lead the way to another location if you grab me.”

GM: “No. I’m deciding where we’re going, if we’re leaving the spa. I don’t trust you.”

Celia: “We’re not. I’m not leaving my friend behind with four licks in the area.”

GM: “Then why do you want to go to another room?”

Celia: “Because this one is bugged, and there’s one that is decidedly more difficult to hide something in.”

GM: “Fine. We’ll talk in the frenzy room. I presume it’s soundproofed.”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Leave your phone. And your clothes. The lack of trust goes both ways tonight.”

GM: “Fine,” Roderick repeats shortly. “Yours too.”

“And don’t even think of coming onto me right now.”

Celia: “I wasn’t,” she says flatly.

While he strips, Celia closes the door to Narnia, then shoves a chair beneath the handle of the outside door. It won’t stop them forever, but she feels better for its presence all the same.

She kicks off her shoes. Pulls off her belt. Yanks the borrowed shirt over her head. There’s nothing seductive in the way she strips. It’s quick, efficient movements, panties tossed on top of the shirt with a flick of her wrist.

Naked and unarmed, Celia steps into the panic room.

GM: Roderick methodically strips his clothes too. Coat, shoes, socks, belt, shirt, pants, boxers, in order. His body is well-muscled and well-proportioned, exactly like it was the last time she saw it, despite the different face. Coco made sure to Embrace him in his prime, Celia well knows, after a vigorous fitness regimen. After every stray hair was plucked and every imperfection ironed out. He’s angry, too. So angry. The two of them are walking into a small room together. Naked together. It’s cute. They are a cute couple together. In this little room naked together. Both eternally young and eternally pretty (even if he’ll never be as pretty as her, of course).

All they need is a good hard fuck to get it out of their systems…

Celia: It had been true when she’d said it.

Now, though, looking at him without a stitch of clothing between them, trapped in a small, steel room together… she remembers the taste of his blood. Hot. Fiery. All the better with so much anger behind it. All the better when he slams her into the wall and pins her arms above her head and—


Not tonight. Not with him. She is not a slave to her body’s desires. She has been. But not now.

Her Beast whines. It wants blood. His blood. Wants to show that he might be able to slap her around but this close proximity, this naked flesh, this desire? That’s her domain.

It’s an effort to shut the damn thing up. It snarls at her when she denies it.

Nothing crosses her face. She refuses to give him the satisfaction of knowing that she wants him.

“How familiar are you with shadow dancing,” she finally asks.

GM: And they say their clan walks without a curse.

Perhaps one merely more subtle than his.

Roderick’s face, for his own part, could not look less aroused.

“Familiar enough,” he says.

Celia: “Familiar with the illusions that the tricksters can create?”

GM: “That’s not secret knowledge, Celia. Everyone knows they’re illusionists.”

Celia: Celia smiles.

“Yes. I was leading into something different. I have a similar ability that I developed. I believe it’s unique to me, or at least the way I do it. With your permission, I’d like to use it here. It’s an additional layer of security. It’s not harmful. You can end it any time you want. I believe it will aid with explanations in some cases when images are better than words. It also becomes relevant later in what you want me to tell you. Showing you rather than telling you will allow greater insight.”

GM: “No,” says Roderick.

He does not smile.

“This a human problem. You can explain it in human words. Without the magic light show.”

“And I don’t believe it’s harmless. I don’t trust you.”

Celia: Celia nods. She hadn’t thought he would agree, but it had been worth the ask. She settles against the wall, hands behind her back, and keeps her eyes on his face.

“There’s a possibility that things I share will get me into trouble. Possibly killed. Before, I’d have lied to you about them. I don’t want to do that anymore. I also don’t want you to have to keep secrets for me, or know things that will get you into just as much trouble. That’s why I’ve demanded this,” she waves a hand to indicate the room, “and asked for the assistance of the illusions, as there would be no verbal record of this communication. But I understand you don’t trust me. Do you want to know the things that I’d consider dangerous knowledge?”

GM: Roderick’s eyes and voice are short.

“Celia, get on with it. All of it.”

Celia: “Then, just… let me get it all out before you say anything.”

She takes a breath. And then she begins.

“My sire never told me why he Embraced me. I think it’s something I’ve struggled with since it happened. He should have killed me. At that point I was Pietro’s ghoul with Veronica’s powers and I had every intention of destroying his pawn. Ghouls have no rights. No one would have cried foul.”

“If I were to guess… I think he knew he could manipulate me, that I had a darkness inside of me that spoke to his own. I’ve wondered if I was designed for this. To be his childe. To accept the way he treats me. He told me that growing up with Maxen in that house of terror taught me to be strong. There’s a significant amount about my parent’s relationship, and my mother’s rape by Ron, that doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve pushed for answers where I can. But that’s… later, that comes later. My point is that when I first saw him, when I was eight, he started… grooming me. He came for my father, but he took me as well.”

“When Veronica shared her powers with me, I planned to use them for murder. Free my mom, kill my dad, and set Paul’s house on fire. I ran into Lebeaux and he told me the monster’s name. Where he lived. I thought… I could handle it. And if not, at least I’d trade my life for something worthwhile.”

“So when he came for me… I wasn’t afraid to die.”

“I remembered his face from my dreams. When I was eight. Again at fourteen, when I watched Maxen cut off my mother’s leg. He could have made me forget. All of it. He could have made me forget that I had ever seen him. But he didn’t. He picked me up. He carried me down the hallway. He told me everything would be okay. He told me that I was… special. His special little girl. That he loved me very much.”

“That night, he took me into the sky. I saw the whole city below us, and I was… cold, so cold, he was like marble. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. I tried not to be afraid, but he was… he was killing me. Draining me. It was different than when Pietro and Veronica did it. They took too much from me that night. But I felt him killing me. Sucking all of the warmth out of me. And I knew… this was it. He’d drain me and drop me.”

“I said his name.”

“That’s it. One word. Just his name. He stopped drinking. He looked at me and I saw my blood on his lips, but it was… far away. So far away. Because I couldn’t look at anything except his eyes. The storm inside his eyes swept me away.”

“Then he was inside of me, and I was inside of him, and I saw… Hell. Torment. Agony. Demons.”

Despite herself, Celia shivers. She crosses her arms over her stomach.

“I’ve never spoken of it, never told anyone the things I saw. I don’t know if he showed them to me, or if I simply took them. I don’t know if he knows I know. I learned things. Dangerous things. Things he’d likely kill to keep quiet.”

“For years I’ve been looking for answers. Savoy hasn’t said much to me about him. I’ve looked for other ways. Recently I spoke to someone who seemed to know more. And I found it. The demon.”

“That’s why I believed my father when he told me about it. Because I’ve seen it. Because even though it’s hard to explain that Maxen was once a good dad and we were happy, it’s true. I think my sire spread the demon to him, and I think Maxen had it exorcised.”

“Last night,” she says with a grimace, “I was tailed from the Evergreen. That’s when I called you. Agnello. I drove back, I parked right outside, and I tried to run back in. He grabbed me. Pulled me under the car. Staked me.”

“They took me to Perdido House.”

“Bornemann turned me in for infernalism because of our chat. Doriocourt told me that they were going to burn me. I was supposed to die at Elysium tonight.”

“I made a deal. I’ve got… a week, I think, to make it happen. Then they come for me.”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. I’ve been setting some things in order in case not. I told Dani I’d find her sire. And I told you I’d find her sire. That’s why I was dealing with Gui. He was supposed to deliver the staked sire tonight, but with everything that happened…”

“Dani was raped,” Celia continues quietly. “She asked me not to tell you. She thinks her sire raped her. We went hunting together tonight and she was… it’s not her scene. She’s afraid of men. She said she’d… she said she’d never been with anyone before, so this was…” She stops. Her fingers clench into fists.

“She wants to know why this happened to her. I thought I could find out for her. I told her I found him, because he was supposed to be delivered, and I thought we could question him together. The three of us.”

“I might have found a way to make her a true-blooded vampire. It involves some pretty dark magic. I haven’t spoken to her about it yet.”

“I broke the Masquerade. There was an incident earlier tonight, and I willingly broke the Masquerade. I think it’s past the point of a quick memory fix.”

“The night started out poorly. Dinner and all. Then Dani and I talked. Then Savoy stood up for me at Elysium when they were calling for my head. Then you came outside and kept Agnello from beating me, and I assume it was because you knew I had your sister with me, but it… you still came.”

“That and some other things… it helped open my eyes. And it just made me think that I don’t want it to be like this anymore. I don’t want to be this person. I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t want to cheat on you. I don’t want to hurt you because I’m selfish or stupid or short-sighted. So when Gui came… I was just… I was so eager to make the trade for Dani’s sire, to tell you I’d set the meeting for him, to bring you the rest of the blood, to tell you… all of the plans I have that I didn’t get to share with you, to make it… better. To make everything better. To be honest and open and tell you all of it. To tell you I can get into his head and find out whatever you want to know from either one of them, to show you things I’ve been working on, to… make up for everything I’d needlessly fucked up by being a liar and a coward. To stop treating you like a child or justifying my lies. Apologize for all the hurt I caused you. Find a way forward.”

GM: Roderick listens.

The demon talk doesn’t elicit much of a reaction from his face. It has little enough to do with their relationship, Celia supposes.

Then he hears his sister was raped.

Roderick screams and slams his fist into the steel wall, to a resounding boom. He screams and slams his other fist into the steel, to another boom. He screams and his fists blur, back and forth, too fast for Celia to keep up with. Boom, boom, boom, boom. His eyes bulge and fangs jut from his mouth as he howls and his fists strike. Boom, boom, boom, boom.

He keeps at it for at least a minute.

Yet, when he stops, the catharsis appears to have healed little. If anything, he looks even worse. Celia can feel the Brujah’s wrath gathered about him like a barely contained inferno. Just waiting to pour out and consume all.

“So,” he seethes, “is that all, or is there more?”

Celia: Celia remembers the last time he’d lost it in front of her. How she’d tried to hide, thinking she was next. How that had drawn the rampaging Brujah’s attention instead. He’d come after her, torn everything apart in his haste to get to her—

She doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink. Doesn’t breathe. Not until it’s over.

Silently, she waits it out.

“I might have messed up with my dad,” Celia says to his question. “I did the right thing for my mom. But it might have cost us. I know you wanted to find a way to utilize him.”

GM: “I don’t give two shits about your dad right now.”

Celia: Celia lapses into silence.

He couldn’t shut up about her dad the last time they spoke.

GM: “Is that all, Celia?” he growls, and Celia can see his hands clenching and unclenching as the wrath burns behind his eyes like a hungry fire. “Is that everything you’ve wanted to tell me? Every lie, finally unmasked, the truth finally come out?”

“There’s no longer anything between us?”

Celia: “There’s… minor things, but when I think about them they mostly sound like excuses for past behavior, and I’m working on them so they don’t further damage what’s between us.”

“Your anger,” she says quietly. “The clan curse. I’ve seen you control it. That means I can control mine. So now it just sounds like an excuse to do things I’ve done, and I don’t want to hide behind that.”

GM: “So minor things,” Roderick repeats. The words are slow, like the rumblings of an angry volcano.

“That’s all that’s left.”

“Minor things.”

“Things that can wait.”

“Nothing else you think we need to have out here.”

Celia: “No,” Celia whispers. She looks up at him, hands at her side, eyes wide. “That’s… that’s it.”

GM: Roderick turns, walks to the door, and solves the combination puzzle.

“Wait here.”

Celia: “Roderick—”

GM: He opens the door. He doesn’t look back.

“Wait. Here.”

Celia: Silently, she waits.

Seconds tick by.

Something about this is familiar. Steel walls. Cold room. No clothes. She scratches the itch until it bleeds synthetic artifice sacks.

Plastic taints the taste. It disappears with a pinch of her fingers.

The voices start eventually. They always find her, don’t they.

“You should have burned.”


“It’s the only way to be useful anymore.”


“He’s right. Black hole.”


“No one would have come for you.”

“No one loves you.”

“You’re broken.”

“They broke you.”

“And they never put you back together again.”

Someone screams. She thinks it might be her. But she’s not her, she’s a little girl and there’s a monster under her bed and he’s coming for her and she tells her sister to run but she can’t move she’s rooted to the spot she’s cold so cold she can’t breathe there’s no air and it’s dark and she’s screaming but no one is listening she’s drowning, drowning, the air flees her lungs, it bubbles from her lips as she sinks deeper, deeper, deeper—

“Stop it, stop it, STOP IT—”

Something in her mouth, she’s choking, they’re holding her down, fingers around her throat—

-led her-”

“—ot bre—




The kids cried out, “Please stop, you’re scaring me”

I can’t help this awful energy

God damn right—

“—you should be scared of me.”

She giggles.

“Who is in control?”

Then she’s gone.

The scent of blood wafts from the room. Overwhelming. Overpowering, it masks even the strongest chemical scent. Inside, the steel walls have been painted red.

An artist dances in the midst of the splatter. Red leaks from the gouges in her flesh, dripping down the pale skin of her forearm to coat her hands. She leaves smears everywhere she touches: images and words etched in blood.

All across the room they scrawl.


The words blur in places, as if another hand went through it while wet.

Beneath the words, images have been daubed in red by crude fingers. An artist, though paint has never been her medium. The suggestions of shapes remain.



Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…

We all






“Princess,” she sings, twirling. Blood flies from the tips of her fingers with the movement. It splatters across the floor and walls. “Princess Looooootus Blossom!”

She flicks her wrist. Drip, drip, drip goes the red. It ruins her art, but she doesn’t notice.

“Flash of… flash of silver… knows it, she knows it…”

“Momma Goose. Momma? Luce. Momma Luce.”

“You… you’re still my… my mommy…”

She looks without eyes. White orbs stare from her sockets. Three fingers brand her throat.

“I see now.”

“There was a monster under my bed.”

“And now it’s in my head.”

She giggles. Her face goes slack, white eyes wide.


She cocks her head to one side. Her lips split into a smile that stretches far wider than it should. When she giggles—always giggling—the points of her teeth show red.

“Can you hear her?”


“Always. Always screaming.”

“Tell her to stop.”

“Tell her—tell her it’s over, so she—”

“Keeeeeeeep hooooooldin’ on…”

“…make it through… make it… through…”

“…no other way…”

“…when it comes… to the… truth…”

“…hanging… by a… thread…”

“Shut up shut UP SHUT UP!”

She drops to her knees on the floor and scoots forward until she can touch the wall, using the bloody tips of her fingers to draw a rough square. She stares at the empty stretch of steel inside the box.

“I’m going to cut you out,” she whispers to it. “I’m going… I’m going to cut, to cut you, to cut you OUT! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT YOU’RE DEAD!”

Long, wicked claws spring from her fingers. She digs them into her stomach and howls.

GM: But she can’t cut it out.

She told her mom, once.

“She’s me. I’m her.”

But, oh.

She can still give a show.

And the best lies are spun from truth.

How lucky she told him and Dani about her multiple personalities.

Roderick returns. He doesn’t run. He walks. He seizes Celia by each of her wrists, pulls her up, and pins her against the blood-smeared wall. It ruins one of the illustrations. He’s got his clothes back on.

There’s a lot on his face. And not on his face. There’s the familiar fury, white hot, but seemingly held in abeyance by something cold and detached and distant. It’s a look that feels at home on Michael’s, Dracon’s, whoever’s face. She could have seen it on Roderick’s face, and perhaps even did see it presaged on Roderick’s face, but never like this. Never with so little life behind his eyes, or a mouth so squarely set it looks as if it might never smile again. She does not think Dani would like this face.

There’s something else on it, too, written in the eyes.


What a broken creature she must resemble.

What a broken creature he must think she is.

Trying so desperately to seize the last, just-snapped strand of their years-frayed and unraveled relationship, and pull everything back. To keep him from leaving. What cost, now, to tell another lie, if he’s leaving her?

He can’t leave her.

She can’t be broken by herself.

If a black hole is bereft of light and matter to devour, will it finally devour itself?

Oh, there is her sire, the cold one who her thoughts always return to. Whose collar rests as securely around her neck as it ever has. He will always be there.

But he has no use for broken things.

“I suppose you have more you want to say, Celia,” Roderick says tonelessly.

“Go on.”

“Let’s have it out.”

Celia: She hangs limply by her arms when she’s done thrashing, wrists caught in his steel grip. Blood drips down the flat plane of her stomach where her claws managed to slice into her skin before he stopped her.

This isn’t how the story is supposed to go.

But she sees it writ all over his face: it’s over.

More red threatens to leak from her white eyes. She blinks it back. She keeps herself still once it’s stabilized. Absolutely still. She stops pretending she’s still human.

“She’s lying,” Celia finally whispers. “She—I’m…?—lying.”

Naked. Naked, and he’s clothed, and there’s nothing to hide behind anymore.

“I don’t want her anymore. I don’t want to be her anymore. I don’t want Jade.”

GM: When has the story gone how it was supposed to go?

“Let’s have it out,” repeats Roderick.

His voice isn’t impatient. It’s still toneless.

“Let’s have out the truth you say you want to share.”

Celia: The triad of finger imprints around her throat bob when she swallows.

“She killed him. She killed him.”

And then she shakes her head.

“I killed him.”

GM: Roderick simply stares.

Celia: Dead eyes stare back.

“You said she isn’t real,” the mouth says, “but all night I hear her whispering. ‘Lie. Cheat. Fuck. Kill’. Every time I start to tell you she comes back, slipping inside, filling my mouth with empty nothings—anything to get what she wants.”

The eyes start to leak.

“I don’t want her anymore. I don’t want her anymore. You said we could get rid of her. She’s lying, they’re all ly—”

The mouth giggles. It splits until its jagged smile cuts the face in half.

“She thinks you’re going to save her,” the monster purrs. “She still thinks it’s love. You should hear how she screams. Vying for control. ‘No, not him, don’t touch him, stop hurting him, he’s good.’”

Good.” It spits the word. “Good. We showed her how good you are when we cooked her, didn’t we.”

“You’re the same as everyone else.” It cocks its head to the side, smiling widely. “How many more times will you have to hit her before it sinks in?”

“You’re just… like… me.”

It giggles again.

“I killed him,” it hisses, “and I fucked him, and I fixed that little issue when she spilled his plans, didn’t I, because she’s weak, pathetic, stup—”

The body shudders. Its eyes widen. It pleads.

“St—ove h—”

It snarls, lips drawn back over its teeth at an unseen adversary.

And then it chokes. Blood dribbles out of its mouth. Its eyes narrow and it screams—

But the sound is just a gurgle. Crimson vitae flows past its lips, splattering across his chest. A wet plop strikes the floor.

A severed tongue lies between them.

The monster rasps.

Then it’s gone and there’s a cat on the ground, darting toward the tongue to pick it up with its mouth, streaking towards the wall—

The girl is back, tongue clutched in her hand, using the bleeding stump to scrawl—

GM: Celia starts it.

Maybe he believes her, this mad and gibbering and thoughtlessly hurting thing.

Because it’s Jade’s fault.

Maybe he just wants to hurt her, this mad and gibbering and thoughtlessly hurting thing.

Because it’s Celia’s fault.

He seizes her up in his hands again.

Because it’s either of their faults?

Because it’s both of their faults?

Whoever’s fault, the fault lies in the body. The body’s tongue moves and speaks all the lies, the many, many, many lies.

Preternaturally strong fingers dig into the Toreador’s already wounded belly and gruesomely rip.

Celia: How do you scream without a tongue?

The body manages. Rage. Pain. Terror. It screams at a throat bleeding pitch as the Brujah tears into it with his bare hands. It thrashes. It struggles to escape. But he’s stronger. Faster. Smarter. Even when the Beast takes over its fists are pitifully small, inconsequential things. Eventually it exhausts itself, just in time to hear the swishing inside the stomach.

Tequila dribbles out.

So does the bottle.

And the letter tucked inside.

Nights ago, he’d asked for it. This evening, while Jade waited for her guests to arrive, Celia had written it.

GM: Celia isn’t lucid enough to tell, for much of it. Perhaps she is glad when the Beast takes over in all its impotent rage.

But Roderick’s coldly impassive face changes little at her mangled, raw-throated screams.

He dumps her to the ground without crremony, yanks out the red-dripping bottle with a messy squelch, and removes the letter inside.

Celia: An ink-stained page unfolds in his grasp, the words blurring together. Some of the sentences are fragmented, like there was no time to do it right. As if any minute she’d be interrupted.

I freed Mom. But I couldn’t get out. I wasn’t fast enough. Never fast enough.

He came for me. I couldn’t get away.

Now he won’t let go.

It’s too tight.

The Malkavian trapped Diana. She built her prison with her own hands and wove herself into its fabric. They turned her into the perfect wife and put the discarded pieces into a doll.

It took three to make the perfect Toreador. I made them with my own hands, never realizing what it was.

She said I was her best creation.

Vain. Selfish. Hedonist. Arrogant. Cruel. Fickle.

Mom was right. Jade is evil.

I tried to stop her.

I thought I could do the right thing when they came for you.

What follows is a list of lies. Written in Celia’s shaky hand, like she’d fought with herself the whole time she tried to get it down on paper. Some words have been scratched out and rewritten multiple times. A particularly vicious slash cuts through the page itself to hide a sentence. She’s drawn a leash and collar around a cage instead, the image rudimentary and crude. Everything he’d asked about. An outpour of honesty onto the page.

What had he always said? Truth comes out.

This is hers, in all its ugly, desperate, tangled glory: the story of a girl in love with a boy, stolen by a monster when she’d tried to rescue her mother. She became one, too. Bit by bit, they killed her. They broke her. She tried to put herself back together again but it was never enough. She was never enough. She couldn’t heal their destruction fast enough.

Not by herself.

And burying the pieces of her inside of porcelain smiles, trapping the dead girl in a cave beneath the water—none of it had kept her from spinning further into the abyss. Like Nietzsche said.

She thought that when the monster came for her, when he took her to his castle and chained her, when he ripped her apart and stitched her back up—she thought that was love. Every broken bone was love. Every swing of his sword was love.

When you’re not fed love on a silver spoon, you learn to lick it off of knives.

And how exquisite that love is when paired with the thrill of danger.

But that’s her curse, isn’t it. That her heart is just too big. For so too it was love on the roof, when the girl saved her mom. It was love on the roof, when the boy attacked the monster. It was love in the air, when the girl bargained for his safety. It was love in her haven, when she told him to get his sister out.

And the monster they created sabotaged it all.

I’m so sorry. I failed.

GM: But she was fed love, wasn’t she? From her mother. From her sisters. From the broken-hearted boy. A rich and steady diet of it, eaten off silver spoons.

It was the love dripping from the knife that tasted so much sweeter.

His love that tastes so much sweeter.

And for all the words of her sister-in-blood, it is not her sire who stands before her now, threatening to leave her forever.

Roderick looks from the letter in his hand towards Celia.

His cool eyes do not scan the page yet.

“This is all of it, Celia? This is actually everything you want to tell me, every lie exposed?”

Celia: It is?

No. Of course not. It will never be every lie exposed, because she will never betray her sire. She will never put the pair of them at risk, not again. Not when the punishment is her family used against her. Not when her punishment is her ghouls slain in front of her.

Not when her punishment is his disappointment.

She feels it tugging, tugging, tightening, pulling—

She’d tugged back, but it hadn’t been enough. She hadn’t been able to state it plainly. He wouldn’t want that.

So she’d tried to draw it on the walls. Put it behind the words of the letter. Had marked it into her very flesh. Subtle, tiny things, clues that the bond hadn’t made her destroy, cross out, or smear.

Maybe it’s not enough.

Blank eyes stare out at him from the pretty face. It has no entrails to dangle from the torn apart flesh on its stomach. Just a gaping hole where he had ripped and shredded his way inside, a handful of other objects visible in the tomb of the torn-open stomach. The snake hasn’t taught her that trick yet. Maybe he can see some of them: the bloody pages of a rose-covered notebook, a strip of mangled leather tied around the edge of a wickedly curved claw, the rounded corner of a crimson box…

And the flash of a years-old golden chain wrapped around the muscle that keeps on beat, beat, beating even years after her death.

Does he remember?

A girl and boy sit on the beige carpet of a college apartment, books spread across the coffee table in front of them. She’s in a long pink cable knit sweater with knee-high socks and otherwise bare legs, and he’s cross-legged in chinos and a polo. He’s laughing as he reads something over her shoulder; mock scowling, she gives him a playful shove.

‘You promised,’ she says.

’It’s just silly,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘You really have to learn this?’

‘They said it was on the test.’

‘Remind me which class has you studying the healing properties of crystals and… chakras.’

‘Esthi school,’ she mutters, cheeks turning red when he laughs again.

‘Do they really expect people to believe all this? Do you believe all this?’

‘I think stones can be good for some things,’ she says, turning to look at him with a gleam in her eye, ‘like whacking sense into mean boyfriends who promi—’

Her words cut off into a playful shriek when he launches himself at her, taking both of them to the ground in a tangle of limbs. He stretches her arms above her head, pinning her beneath him.

‘Mean?’ he breathes into the crook of her neck. She shivers. ‘Would a mean boyfriend do this?’ He kisses her jaw, the long line of her neck when she stretches it out. ‘Or this?’ He kisses her bare shoulder, then slowly slides her shirt up to expose her stomach, kissing her there as well. ‘Or… this?’ His mouth slides lower.

The couple loses themselves in each other.

Does he remember?

Weeks later. The same couple, the same apartment, a tiny Christmas tree in the corner with a single red ornament dangling from a string, mugs of hot cocoa on a familiar coffee table. They’re curled beneath a blanket on the couch.

‘Mine first,’ he says. He hands her a neatly wrapped box, eyes on her softly smiling face. She accepts the gift and starts to open it, sliding a nail beneath the tape holding it together.

‘You can tell me if you don’t like it,’ he says, suddenly nervous, ‘if you think it’s sil—’

’I’m sure I won’t,’ she interrupts gently. He swallows and nods, watching her pull open the paper. A white box rests within. She opens the lid and breathes in wonder.

’It’s from your books,’ he says in a rush. ‘The heart one is green, right? Well, emerald is green. I looked it up. Free-flowing energy that directly empowers the heart center. Love, compassion, sensuality. It’s my birth stone. And the lilies are for you. Flores. I thought—’

’It’s us,’ she says, lifting the necklace from the box.

It’s us. It’s you and it’s me. Together.’ Tears shine in her eyes when she brings them back to his face. ‘I love it. I’ll keep it with me. Always. It’ll remind me… remind me of you. Of us. Of this.’ She leans forward, holding the necklace in her hand while she brings him into an embrace.

’It’s perfect.’

Does he remember?

She does.

Silently, she lifts a hand.

GM: Maybe he does remember, that happy memory from literally another lifetime ago. Back when they were both alive. Back when there was nothing between them and everything ahead of them. Back when they were a simple college romance.

But that was another lifetime ago.

That was two lives ago.

Roderick seizes the necklace out of Celia’s hand, throws it on the ground, and stomps his foot over it. The green stone shatters into pieces.

Contempt smolders in his cold eyes.

That’s all these reminders of the past are to him, Celia sees. More manipulations. More tugs upon his heartstrings, meant to distract him from the truth. She is a lying and dishonest creature, weaponizing every good and beautiful memory, using it to bury the ugly truth of her misdeeds.

He thrusts the letter at her.

“Yes or no, Celia. Every remaining lie is on here. Yes, or no.”

Celia: She wonders if tomorrow she’ll think it was worth it. Trying to keep him. Trying to hold onto something that burns every time she touches it.

Celia stares up at the boy she once loved, the boy who once loved her.

There’s nothing left for her to say.

She just nods.

GM: Perhaps Roderick will wonder the same thing.

Trying to hold onto something that burns every time he touches it.

Trying to get the truth, and getting more lies every time.

But for now, he stares down at the letter in his hands, and he reads.

He reads how she cheated on him with Gui and Gamberro last Saturday.

He reads how she she blood bound his sister.

He reads how she never gave Carolla to vampire hunters.

He reads how she is ‘addicted’ to sex, sought out Malkavians, merged her mother with Lucy, Dani’s rape, Maxen’s demon, who actually threw Diana off the roof, why she lied.

It’s everything.

Almost everything.

Everything except her sire, and truth of how the place Roderick holds in her heart has always been shared by another, another whom she is bound to by chains of blood.

Everything except his sire, and the truth of how she never lied to him, never betrayed him, and Savoy is the dark hand behind all of his pain and shattered faith.

Almost everything.

Like last time.

Like before last time.

Like it has been every time.

Celia: In fairness, she’d tried to tell him about her sire. Had fought and struggled and jerked against the chains around her heart and throat.

She hadn’t been strong enough to contest his will.

While he reads, she puts herself back together. She starts with her stomach, pushing and pulling at muscle, tendon, and flesh until there’s just a tiny slit. She pinches it closed. Then her tongue, putting it back in her mouth and blindly groping for the severed edge so she can smooth that over, too.

Perhaps she shouldn’t have bothered. No doubt in a moment he’ll tear her open again.

When it’s done she doesn’t speak. She waits. Silently. Always waiting.

Like she has for her sire, night after night.

It’s no different this time.

She’ll wait long enough to be disappointed.

She’ll be left alone.

She’ll cry and lick her wounds once he’s gone, never mentioning the shattered pieces he left inside of her.

GM: But first, Celia shatters him to pieces, with the truth of more lies and sins finally dragged into the light.


The rage overtakes her lover like an erupting volcano. Celia sees it coming before he even finishes the page. Before an inferno stares out from his eyes. Before the soul-deep howl tears from his lips. Before the legendary Brujah rage, held so long and desperately at bay, finally and inevitably bursts through to destroy all in its path.

Celia sees it coming.

She slams the door shut just in time as she blurs from the room, escaping the unleashed monster within. Thunderous booms sound, again and again and again, as she listens from the other side. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Each one a blow that would shatter some piece of her too-fragile flesh and bone. Each one a blow that would pay back the hurt she has inflicted upon his heart with hurt upon her body. How much did she pay to build the frenzy room again? However much she did, it was a bargain. It was the bargain of a lifetime.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.

Celia: Of course she’d seen it coming.

Both other times she’d told him the truth he’d lost it on her, too.

She stands outside the door and listens to him vent his frustration on the walls. She imagines it’s her in there. How many blows to her face? How many to her body? How many before she’s beaten into torpor? Would her grandsire care if the Brujah dropped her off at the Evergreen?

No. Not if it kept Roderick on his side.

The knife in her gut twists.

Her sire had beaten her too. But his was a cold, methodical infliction of agony. A lesson. Roderick’s is nothing but a blast wave at the thing that hurt him the most.

For long moments she stares at the door. Is this the time it finally comes off the hinges? What will he do when he finds her out here, naked and unarmed? She yanks her clothing on at the thought.

This was a mistake. She should have quietly let them kill Gui and crept out once they were gone to pick up the broken pieces of her Requiem.

She doesn’t want the door to open. She doesn’t want to face him.

GM: But since when has anyone gotten what they want?

The door opens, the puzzle lock on the other side solved by a lucid mind.

Roderick walks out.

He looks paler.

He looks colder.

He looks as if a little more of himself has died inside.

So many things have driven him here. So many traumas and tragedies. His sister’s Embrace. His first murders. The countless lies and betrayals he’s caught Celia in. The ‘betrayal’ by his sire that pushed him into Savoy’s welcoming arms. Now still more betrayals at Celia’s hands. Still more lies exposed.

Another push down whatever dark road he is on.

Who can say where it shall end?

He looks Celia over.

He says nothing.

Celia sees it on his face, though.


He removes his phone from his pocket and taps into it.

After a moment, he tucks the phone away. He starts to walk away.

“Come along, Celia.”

Celia: She should have run.

Should have hidden.

Like a coward.

Which of his new friends is he taking her to? Which of them is going to carve her open? Will he watch, or will he want to do it himself?

He could do it here, if that was his goal.

Maybe he’s taking her to Savoy to ask for the pleasure of it. Or Don Carolla, to blame her for his nephew’s death. Maybe they’ll string her up on the table next to Gui like he had threatened.

But he doesn’t need to leave the spa to hurt her. And the past two nights she’d been taken to a second location after being staked, where things had gone from bad to worse.

“No,” Celia says. She lifts her chin. “We don’t need an audience for whatever retribution you plan. Just do it here.”

GM: “I’ll deal with you later,” replies Roderick. “No, this is something else you need to see first.”

Celia: “I’m not going to watch you torture and murder someone.”

GM: “Have it your way, I suppose, Celia.”

Celia: What does that mean? She falters. Then she takes a step after him.

GM: Before Celia can do so, she suddenly goes rigid as a wooden stake pierces her chest. She topples over backwards. Her head crashes against the floor.

Celia: Three for three. She stares up at the ceiling.

GM: “That was very stupid of you to say, Celia.”

Celia: She continues to stare.

GM: Roderick slings Celia over his shoulder like an ungainly sack of potatoes. He starts towards the door.

“Come along, now,” he repeats, like he’s inviting her. He smiles as he says the words. It’s a dead smile. There’s no humor in his voice.

“We’re taking a field trip.”

Previous, by Narrative Story Thirteen, Caroline II
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XXIX

Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XXIX

Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII

“I can’t stay. I can’t… I got careless, sloppy, lost control, and I just… I just keep hurting everyone.”
Celia Flores

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Once she ditches Jade’s face, Celia feels a little more safe. Not many licks know this face, and it wasn’t seen by the hunter, either. The thought fills her with some measure of disquiet. She needs to find him. Soon.

She takes a moment at her haven to gather a handful of supplies for the evening before she makes the trip to her mom’s.

GM: It’s a short trip back from Jade’s haven to Celia’s family’s house, once again wearing Celia’s face. She lets herself in and finds Emily massaging their mom’s leg on the living room couch.

“Oh thank goodness, you’re back!” smiles Diana. She motions for Celia to join them on the couch and hugs her daughter. “How’d things go, sweetie? Are you safe?”

Celia: She’s all smiles as soon as she walks in to see the two of them together. The word “sweetie” sets aside some of her mounting anxiety.

“Sort of,” she says to her mom, relaxing into the embrace. “I still have to do this task and the guy from last night tried to bully my friend and I, but I lied my ass off and had some timely assistance, so I’m okay. How’d it go here?”

GM: Celia’s mother scowls. It’s an expression that’s more familiar on Payton’s face than Diana’s.

“Who tried to bully you?”

Emily doesn’t say hi yet. She looks at their mom’s face with a ‘huh’ expression.

Celia: “One of the hounds.”

GM: “Sorry?” says Emily.

Celia: “They’re like, ah, law enforcement. There’s a sheriff, and he has three hounds under him. Like deputies.”

GM: “So vampire cops are assholes just like human cops.”

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?”

“You know as well as me there are lots of good cops, sweetie,” says Diana. “Though you get rotten apples in every barrel.”

Emily gives her an odd look.

“Emi?” asks their mom.

“It’s just the way you said that,” says Emily, shaking her head. “It felt different than normal.”

“Oh, how?” asks Diana.

“Just… more declarative. Firmer. ‘You know there are good cops.’ I feel like you’d have been more… not really begging, but more entreating, earlier?”

Celia: “She’s changed,” Celia says gently. “She’s still Mom. But she’s different now.”

GM: “Sure am, on both counts,” says Diana.

But she smiles too.

Emily smiles back. “Sorry. Just takes some getting used to.”

“So will a lot of things, I reckon,” says her mom. She rubs Celia’s back. “I’m glad you got away safe from that cop, anyway.”

“Me too,” says Emily, before looking back to Celia. “Do you still do hugs?”

“You saw us,” points out Diana.

Celia: Celia laughs, pulling Emily towards her.

“Of course I do.”

GM: Emily gives her a squeeze.

“Well hey to you too, then.”

Celia: “Hey, Emi.” Celia squeezes her back. “How’re you holding up?”

GM: “Uh. This has been a lot to take in.”

“She had the idea to write down what topics we wanted to bring up,” says Diana.

Celia: “Sorry. I never intended either of you to get involved. This is probably why no one keeps families.”

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “It’s for the best we know, I think. This is too big a thing to keep secret.”

“I agree,” says Emily.

Diana rubs her leg. “Also, sweetie, if you could get back to it…”

Celia: “I’ve got it, Mom. Emi, give your hands a break.”

GM: “Thanks,” says Emily.

“Thanks,” Diana repeats.

“So, if you’re biologically dead… what, do you not experience muscle fatigue any longer?” says Emily.

“That seems logical, but the fact you’re walking and talking without a pulse kind of says logic got thrown out the window.”

Celia: Celia laughs as she takes a seat on the floor, pulling her mother’s leg toward her to get started.

“No fatigue. No tiredness. No discomfort over standing all night or wearing uncomfortable shoes or sleeping on the floor. No sleep, actually. I don’t need to move, blink, breathe. I can sit absolutely still for hours and stare at nothing. Any changes to my body, injury or otherwise, will revert over the day during our… well, we call it sleep, but I’m pretty sure it’s just kind of like dying. It’s not restful. We don’t nap. You know?”

GM: “Wow,” says Emily.

“You’d be the envy of any ballerina,” Diana murmurs.

“Envy of a lot of people,” says the almost-MD, shaking her head as if to consider all of the implications.

“Definitely the envy of any massage therapist.”

“Do you want my spot on the couch? Or does it not make a difference if you’re already fine sleeping on the floor?”

Celia: “I’m fine down here,” Celia says with a smile. “Better angle for the leg, anyway.”

GM: Her mom smiles back at her as Celia’s hands start to work their familiar magic.

“Speakin’ of that,” says Diana.

“I told Emi about how we can get that fixed! I am so darn tired of this bum leg!”

“I don’t see any reason to wait ’til summer now that she knows.”

Celia: “Summer was to give you time away from the school, as well. So you’re not magically healed overnight. But…”

Celia trails off, looking over to Emily.

“It’s true. There are people who can fix her leg. Night doctors, we call them. They can manipulate tissue. Skin, organs, hair, everything. The issue is the one I know, the one I’m close to, doesn’t do bone work. She’s studying, but hasn’t, ah, passed her test I guess you could say. It hasn’t clicked for her. There’s a few options, though.”

“First, we wait until she does learn. I don’t know how long that’ll be. Second, we replace her bone with something else. The doctor can add or remove bone, she just can’t work on the bone itself, you know? So we could use some other material, or even someone else’s bone. Any cadaver won’t miss it. Third, we find someone other than my friend. Which is… dangerous, possibly.”

“There are two I know that are, ah, outside the city. I think the one is in Europe, and he’s not really my friend, just someone I know. The other might also be abroad, but she hasn’t gotten back to me yet.”

GM: Celia can see a million and one thoughts and questions swimming in the almost-doctor’s eyes.

“I can fake it,” says Diana. “Pop some placebos. Sit on my stool instead of standing.”

Celia: “Okay. So that leaves two or three.”

GM: “Are there any side effects to using material other than my bone?” asks Celia’s mom.

“…where do you get your hands on cadavers?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Shouldn’t be. I’ve been looking into it. Doctors do this occasionally, they’ve been studying it because of things like osteoporosis. It’s been on the rise since, ah, like mid 2000s. Bone density loss. So, you know, they’ve been working on finding ways to fix it because the numbers are kind of through the roof. They started with teeth, I think? Like… a while ago. Anyway, if you’re not open to a bone replacement, we could use something they use for grafting. Bioceramics, they call them. Or collagen, really, they use it in grafts as well and that’s easier to get ahold of.”

“Actually,” Celia says after a beat, “that might not be a bad idea, the collagen and carbon fiber. You won’t set off metal detectors or anything, and it’ll be light, and it could happen sooner rather than later…” Celia trails off, pulling her purse toward her. She opens a notebook and flips through the pages, searching for… “Ah, here,” she says, showing it to Emily. The page contains the notes of the studies she has done on collagen and carbon fiber working together as a protective sort of body armor.

She tries not to think about the bracers she had made for her sire. How the night he’d flung Diana from the roof is the same night she’d presented him with a gift.

Oh, how the collar chafes.

“I know some people,” she says to Emily.

“We do kill,” she clarifies. “We don’t have to. But we do, some of us. Most of us, honestly. I’m not some sparkling teen vampire. It’s… a lot grittier than all that. They executed four licks at mass tonight. And a handful more humans.”

GM: “Okay,” says her mom at first. “If there’s no side effects, if it can happen sooner, if there’s danger finding someone else, then why not, let’s go for it.”

Emily pours through the notes intently, then looks abruptly up at Celia’s words.

“Jesus fucking Christ!”

“Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs.

Celia: Celia looks away.

“Yeah,” she murmurs, “I was going to be one of them, but I got out. The others didn’t.”

“They didn’t even do what they were accused of, I’m pretty sure. It was all just smoke and mirrors. Prince trying to look powerful.”

GM: Emily just stares at that.

“That’s evil.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: Their mother nods.

Celia: “That’s why I wanted to keep you away from it.”

GM: “You said most vampires kill. That you aren’t a sparkly teen fantasy. So… have you killed?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia meets her sister’s eye.


GM: “Who?” asks Emily.


Celia: “Hunters. People who abducted me from the spa. They were going to hand me off to an even worse group. Had me staked and tied to a bed. So I killed them to get out. Two of them. A third, when they attacked my boyfriend’s haven. They would have killed us. I killed them first.”

GM: “Those people who abducted you were the same ones who raped you?” asks Diana.

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Oh my go… what the fuck!” exclaims Emily.

“You seriously got… kidnapped, raped, and almost killed?!”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: Emily looks like she could cry.

But doesn’t want to make this about her.

“Celia, I don’t even know what to say. Are you… are you okay?

Celia: Her smile is sad.

“Most nights,” she says, “most nights I’m okay. Most nights I go about my business and mind my own things. Lately it’s been… turbulent. That’s not even…” Celia swallows. She doesn’t need to, but here and now she’s pretending to be human again, and she plays the role. She looks away, blinking back moisture.

“It’s… it’s scary, Emi. There’s no one to trust. No one to… to talk to. It’s lonely. So lonely. They do terrible things to each other and it’s just part of their social game. I’ve been raped. Used. Humiliated. Beaten. This was… coming here, you know, having you and Mom, it’s the only time I ever felt safe. Loved. And it’s… knowing I’ve brought this to you now is just… I keep thinking, what if someone finds out. What if someone finds out you know, what are they going to do. The hound tonight threatened to kill the girl I was with because he didn’t like me. When we were interrupted, when he had his claws out and I was trapped and someone stopped him? He threatened to beat that guy, too, and kill all of his ghouls as well. The harpies called ‘take off her head’ when I used some speed to get through the doors because they thought I was violating the rules. And if—if Savoy hadn’t—”

She didn’t want to make this about her, either. But when the genuine concern shows on her sister’s face she can’t help it, and all the pain comes tumbling out. She would have died. Last night. Tonight. A week from now, maybe, if she doesn’t do what she needs. Sooner, if the hunter comes back for her. She’d gotten him out, though; maybe he’ll remember that. That she could have turned him in and didn’t. That she put herself between him and danger.

As if such kindness exists in the world.

She doesn’t mean to cry. But she does, red flowing from her eyes while she turns her face away, pretending that she’s not.

“Most nights,” she says again. “Most nights I’m okay.”

“The weekends are hardest, I think. There’s lick stuff to do. Friday and Sunday it’s a mix of all the factions and everyone hates each other and pretends to be someone they’re not and they all just posture and nitpick and bully, and if you don’t stand up for yourself you’re weak and if you say the wrong thing you’ll be torn apart. Saturdays, too, but to a lesser degree. The court on Saturdays is more relaxed. It’s usually just the one faction, so even if people don’t necessarily like each other there’s still not quite the danger there is when we’re all mixed. You can let your hair down a little. And there’s a party after.”

“But it’s still all vampires all around, and it’s… you never know who’s going to try to fuck you over. Who’s hiding a knife behind their smile.”

GM: Celia hears motion behind her, after she turns away and starts to weep. Then she feels her mother’s and sister’s arms encircling her, holding her against them.

“Hey,” Emily says. “Hey, it’s…”

Diana reaches a hand to Celia’s face, to brush her daughter’s tears.

Her fingers come away red.

“Oh my god!” exclaims Emily.

Celia: Despite the tears, Celia giggles.

GM: Diana stares at her fingers. For a moment, she doesn’t seem to see Celia, Emily, or anything else.

The fingers move towards her mouth.

Then they pause, and her cheeks redden.

Celia: Celia turns to follow the look. She takes her mother’s hand gently in her own, giving her fingers a gentle squeeze.

“It’s okay, Momma. I know it’s hard.”

GM: “Okay, you’e acting like this isn’t a big deal, should I not be acting like this is a big deal? Should I not be thinking ‘subconjunctival hemorrhage’ or wondering where you hurt your eye?” asks Emily, staring at Celia’s bloody face. Her voice is a little high.

Celia: Celia keeps her eyes on her mother’s face, her own soft in understanding, even as she address Emily’s question.

“We don’t produce tears anymore. Everything is blood with us.”

GM: “Well that must make sex a fucking nightmare,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia laughs again, shaking her head.

“Sex is feeding, for us. For most of us.”

“We don’t have sex the human way.”

“I mean. I do. But I’m… different, I guess.”

“Vampire sex is… kind of like fighting. We bite each other and mutually feed, and we tussle on the floor or bed or whatever.”

GM: Diana’s face looks stern. It’s an unfamiliar look on the woman’s face. She doesn’t look as if she’s listening to the sex explanation, either. Celia can see the want still there in her mother’s eyes. To just stick the fingers into her mouth. Where is the harm? It’s blood already shed.

Diana squeezes her daughter’s hand back, then removes her bloody fingers and wipes them over Celia’s palm.

Celia: “Momma,” Celia says gently, interrupting the vampire sex talk, “do you still want to do this with me?”

“You said, earlier, you wanted to make some of your own decisions about things. Is this one of them?”

GM: “That’s one of the things I meant to talk with you about tonight,” her mother answers slowly.

“I don’t want this for Emily.”

Celia: “Any of it, or just the blood?”

GM: Emily frowns and looks between them.

Celia: “Did she explain what she is?” Celia asks Emily.

GM: “No,” says Emily.

“We didn’t get to that yet,” says their mom. “I wanted to talk with you about it in private first, and then with Emily. But I guess we might as well have it out now.”

Celia: “Sorry,” Celia murmurs.

GM: “Okay, what is she… doing?” asks Emily, frowning. “You said you weren’t a vampire, Mom.”

Celia: “She’s what we call a ghoul. Half-blood. Renfield. Some less polite terms are servant or slave. She has vampire blood inside of her, but she’s still human. When we feed humans our blood they gain some properties of what we can do, depending on how old they are and how strong the vampire is. Mom picked up… speed, I think, I haven’t seen her use anything else, but it’s only been a week. She’s effectively immortal so long as the blood stays in her system. If she stops taking it, she’ll age to where she should be as if she’d never taken it.”

Celia glances at Emily.

“It sounds cool, right? Except the blood is addictive. Worse than heroin. One hit, you’re hooked. People become shells of who they are. A lot of them are slaves for real. They don’t have rights in our society. They’re beaten, abused, humiliated, killed, and the vampires don’t care. They’re property. That’s why the blood bond exists, though. It makes them love us more. Absolutely devoted.”

“Most of them will do almost anything for a hit.”

GM: “So… why the fuck did you give her it!?” Emily exclaims.

“I was hurt,” says Diana.

Celia: “Because I thought she was dying.”

“The night she found out about me she tried to feed me. I was hurt. Long story, I’ll tell you eventually if you want. I thought someone was coming after Mom to get to me, so I got to her first, revealed what I was, and… and told her that I needed to feed, to repair my body, but I couldn’t do it without hurting her. I was running on fumes. I’d have lost control. I asked if she’d donate, if she could just give me a little. But… you know how she is,” Celia says, unable to help the smile, “she gives all of herself to people.”

GM: “Was,” corrects Diana.

Celia: “Was,” Celia echoes.

GM: “But, yes. Like always, I gave enough of myself to kill myself.”

Celia: “So I replaced what she lost.”

“And I could have… I had the option to remove her memories of the night, but that doesn’t take away the feelings behind them, so I… I didn’t. And I wonder if maybe that was wrong, but…” Celia finally looks away, hiding the shame in her eyes. “It was selfish to keep you like this, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

GM: Emily takes all of that in very slowly.

“So, quit,” she says. “If it’s a drug. Stop taking it. Cold turkey. We’ll help you.”

“And for what it’s worth,” she continues, but looking towards Celia, “I’d rather have Mom try vampire heroin a few times than be dead, so I don’t think you made the wrong decision. At first, anyway.”

Celia: “You could, Mom. You could quit. If that’s what you want. It’s only been a week. Your body isn’t going to turn to dust or anything.”

GM: “You said it was dangerous if I quit,” says Diana. “That you’d, we’d, all get in trouble for me knowing about vampires, if I wasn’t a ghoul.”

“Uh, so where does that leave me?” asks Emily.

“That was exactly my thought,” her mom answers slowly.

“I don’t want this for you.”

Celia: “It is dangerous. It’s very dangerous. If someone finds out, you die. I die. If one of the prince’s agents finds out, there’s no doubt they’d use it as an excuse to kill us all.”

GM: “I am not addicting my daughter to heroin because I am scared someone is going to hurt her for not being an addict,” says Diana.

Celia: “I know. I don’t want it for you either, Em. I’m happy to help how I can in other ways, but the Blood is… it’s not a good world to be part of.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your life.”

“And no matter my intentions, it would be.”

GM: “Yeah, I think I’ll pass on being the addict slave shell of who I was, thanks,” says Emily.

“I’d be a terrible slave anyway.”

Celia: “You would be.”

GM: “Robby likes it when I use the strap-on.”

“Just saying.”

Celia: Celia laughs at that.

“I mean, I think you’d make a good vampire, maybe.”

“And there are benefits to having a ghoul who isn’t, ah, a doormat.”

GM: Perhaps in spite of herself, their mom laughs too.

At Emily’s joke.

Celia: “But it’s not something I want for you.”

“Which leaves us in a bit of a bad spot, since you know, and knowing can get you killed.”

GM: “It’s been a week,” says Diana.

“I haven’t met any vampires besides ones you’ve introduced me to.”

“I don’t doubt you’re scared, sweetie, and maybe assuming the worst. Believe me, as a mom, I know.”

“I just wonder if it’s clouding your judgment?”

Celia: “Possibly,” Celia admits. “I’m… rather paranoid about people reading minds, mostly, but they don’t really have a reason to, and unless you draw attention to yourself or ask questions or say something… and you’re mostly doing stuff during the day, right?”

GM: “I’m home pretty much every night,” her mom nods. “I mean, in the winter months, I might be out later, but I’m hardly a bar crawlin’ party animal.”

“Well I like to go out sometimes, this feels like a conservative metaphor for drinking and partying getting you killed,” says Emily.

“Though I guess if I were a vampire that, uh, makes sense as a place to drink people’s blood.”

Celia: “Yeah. I usually go to clubs.”

GM: “Well, fuck, should I be a shut-in now?”

“If I don’t want vampires slurping down my blood?”

Celia: Celia shrugs. “Don’t go home with strange people or let them corner you in bathrooms or anything. Use the buddy system.”

GM: Suddenly Emily freezes.

Celia: “Emi?”

GM: “I. There was a day.”

Celia: “What day? When?”

GM: “I woke up. Groggy. Tired.”

“There were marks on my skin.”

Celia: Celia nods. “How long ago?”

GM: Emily looks nauseous.

“I… October?”

Celia: “Do you remember what you were doing that night?”

GM: “It… it was a week night.”

“I think just home, studying?”


GM: Emily rubs her head. “I don’t… I don’t remember.”

Celia: “I can… I can look, if you like. I can use a method on you to unlock it.”

GM: “Look?”

Celia: “Find the memory.”

“Undo the fog.”

“When we feed, it creates a sort of haze.”

“So I could find out who. Or if you were made to forget something else, too.”

“We can erase memories. It’s one of the options I was going to suggest for you, if you’re worried about being found out. I can… um, well I’m kind of paranoid I guess,” she gives a little laugh, “so I found a way to… to undo it.”

GM: “Okay, let’s, let’s do it. I want to know if someone, some vampire, was slurping down my blood.”

Diana nods gravely.

Celia: Celia nods. Then her face goes still, something similar to shame in her eyes.

“I, ah, I need to feed first, I’m riding the edge of… of losing control next time I feed if I don’t.”

GM: “How’s right now, then?” asks her mom.

Celia: “If you’re okay with that..?”

GM: “It’s like donating blood, isn’t it?” shrugs her mom. “I’m happy to help strangers that way, but I’d rather help you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom. I really… I’m really lucky to have you, you know? Do you want to do it here, or…?”

GM: “I’m lucky to have you too, sweetie,” her mom smiles back. “No time like the present, I guess.”

She extends her arm.

Emily watches.

Celia: Far cry from the neck she usually offers, but Celia doesn’t complain about where she feeds from. It’s just one of those things, she thinks. She rolls back the sleeve of Diana’s fluffy robe—evidently they’d gotten comfortable while they waited for her—and finds a spot to sink in. Fangs elongate in her mouth, piercing the otherwise unmarked skin.

She drinks.

As ever, it tastes like love. But it’s not the all-giving love of the past feedings. It’s hardier. Steely, somehow, a protective sort of love. Nurturing, sure, but more in the way of mother bear than Suzy Homemaker.

She doesn’t take much. Enough to slake the Beast’s ever-present thirst without hurting her mother more than necessary. She’ll be able to sleep it off.

When she’s done she licks the wound closed, sealing the holes behind her.

GM: It does taste like love. Warm and caring like the chicken soup Celia’s mother used to make during her childhood. Like the hearty breakfast she made for an exhausted and sleep-deprived Celia who’d gone too long without eating, and then attentively watched her eat. The last meal of her life. (Was it the last? It’s been so long.) Love was baked into the ingredients, the kind you can’t get at any restaurant, no matter how many Michelin stars it has. There probably are objectively better-tasting vessels than Diana—but what other Kindred could sample this vessel and the experience the same taste her daughter does? They would not taste the outpouring of love, the free and uncoerced desire to give of herself to help Celia. To feed her baby.

But it tastes thicker, this time. Heartier. Less watered down. Not as salty. The saltiness came from the woman’s tears. Tears of abuse. Tears of mourning for what was lost at a sadistic dollmaker’s hands. Tears of desire to give and give and give, heedless of the cost to herself, a martyr complex rooted in self-hate and self-pity, yet all but impossible to detect amidst the genuine desire to nourish, nurture, and help.

But the tear-like saltiness is gone now. It tastes rich. It tastes strong. It tastes bright. It tastes warm.

It tastes whole.

Her Beast would love to take more than just this shallow libation.

Celia: She’d never noticed. Never noticed how incomplete the blood was, not when she could taste the love. But this? Oh, this. This goes beyond what Diana has ever tasted like. This is bliss. Everything else she has ever tasted is nothing but a shallow imitation of life, but here and now it’s… it’s vibrant. Dazzling. Mesmerizing. It dances on her tongue and she knows with certainty that eclipses even witnessing the dissolution of the doll that her mother has changed. She is complete.

Celia loses some part of herself in the sensation of the blood on her tongue, and she finds, when she pulls away, that she’s both purring and crying, and it’s a crazy combination of things that flicker across her visage when she lifts her gaze to her mother’s face.

GM: Of course Celia knows.

The blood tells all.

Her mom looks maybe a little unsure what to make of Celia’s response, at first. But she smiles back and hugs Celia against her chest.

“Looks like someone enjoyed that,” remarks Emily.

Celia: “It’s amazing,” Celia murmurs, tucking herself against her mother as if she can’t bear to be away from her. “You just… it tastes… it’s like love, Momma, but… but different than before, different now that you’re you again.”

“People taste differently,” she says for Emily’s benefit, “depending on a lot of things. Mood is one of them. And this… food doesn’t compare. Nothing compares.”

GM: Diana hugs her daughter close and strokes her hair. The woman looks a little drowsy, between the blood loss and the late hour, and content to while away the night just holding her fed and happy child. So many times, she’s said Celia and her siblings “will always be my babies.”

“I thought it seemed predatory, at first,” says Emily. “But… honestly, you both look happy here.”

“Want me to take a picture?”

Celia: “You can. Let me know. I have to turn off my… glamour.”

GM: “Sure, sweetie,” murmurs Diana.

Emily retrieves her phone and snaps a couple pictures.

“Your glamour?”

Celia: “Look at the photos.”

“Now take it again.”

GM: Emil looks at them.

“You didn’t need to tell me that second part.”

“These are shit photos.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“We don’t come out right in pictures or video.”

GM: She holds up her phone and snaps a couple more.

Celia: This time, Celia makes sure she can show up properly.

GM: “Oh, yeah, these are way better.”

Celia: “Can you delete the other ones? Bit of a giveaway as to what I am.”

GM: “Sure.”

There’s some taps from Emily’s phone.

“So, how does that work, exactly?”

“The not coming out right?”

Celia: “Thanks. To address your earlier concern, feeding can be predatory. And violent. And—oh. There are things that are just off about us. Our faces don’t come out right. Some of us don’t have reflections. Some of us can’t use technology. It’s just… the Beast, I guess.”

“But,” she says, “let’s look at your memory from that day and night, yeah? Do you want to lie down? I’m going to have to touch you.”

GM: Emily gets a grimmer look.

“All right. You’re probably getting sore on the floor anyway, Mom.”

“Mm, a bit,” Diana yawns.

Her expression sharpens, though, as conversation returns to the prior subject.

“I want to know if someone’s been feeding on you, too.”

Emily just nods and lies down on couch.

“Is this like a massage? Is it better with my clothes off?”

Celia: “It is massage, yes. I can do it through the clothes, or you can take it off if you want.”

GM: “Who the fuck gets massages with their clothes on?” asks Emily, pulling off her t-shirt. She’s wearing the same clothes she had on for the dinner with Maxen, which rather shows how much she felt like dressing up for that.

Celia: “Chair massage,” Celia says with a shrug. She takes a spot next to the couch and has Emily lie on her stomach, unhooking the back of her bra for her but not taking it off.

Then she begins.

Her hands glide down Emily’s body from the back of her neck to her tailbone, pressure soft as she warms the muscles. A lot of her clients like how warm her hands get, they say, and it’s a combination of her synthetic body heat and their own muscles literally becoming more pliable the longer she works on them. She presses with the heel of her hand and pushes it down one side of the spine, echoing the movement with her other hand, gliding from top to bottom. She’s quiet as she works, settling into the rhythm of Emily’s body, searching for the connection between them while her hands stroke and knead. She finds tension and releases it with a gentle push, working her will upon body and soul—

And just like that, the tether tugs. The body opens before her, letting her see inside, past the prison of flesh and blood to the spinning disks of colored light. She closes her eyes and dives inside, merging their energies.

Slowly, shapes take form around her. Emily’s will isn’t broken, just bent, and her natural mindscape appears as a medical office. The sharpness of her thoughts is present in the scalpels and syringes, her iron will evident in the solid structures of the space. Celia knows better than to root around unnecessarily. She opens a window, letting the soft glow of moonlight pour inside, and with it comes the fragrance of what she brings. Lilies, roses, honeysuckle—the scent fills the room, tendrils of green creeping across the steel exam table to carpet it in soft moss so that when Celia sits upon it, like a patient waiting for her doctor, she’s comforted by her own being. A vase of wildflowers springs from the counter. Posters of felines play with string on the walls.

And there, the opening door as Emily joins her, clad in a white lab coat. Still methodical, even here.

“Hello, Emi,” Celia says quietly, welcoming the girl into the room with her. “It’s very comfortable here. Do you see how well we merge?” She smiles, kicking her feet on the exam table like a child. There’s nothing to fear from her, that movement says, she’s not an invader. Just a friend, willing to play by the rules of engagement that Emily’s consciousness set for her.

“October,” she murmurs, aloud and in the mind, “symptoms were general grogginess, lethargy, and marks upon the skin. Can you show me? The marks?”

GM: Emily looks around. Looks down at her coat. The expression on her face is somewhat out of place on the woman in the doctor’s role.

“This… is something,” she says.

“But yeah, we do. This is a nice office. Flowers and cats really bring it to life.”

“Am I dreaming?”

Celia: “Similar. The connection of our body and energy allows me to slip into your mind, somewhat. You’ll remember this, but it mimics the zen-like meditative state that a lot of people reach during massage.”

GM: “I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. All of this.”

Celia: “It makes you more, ah, pliable. As your muscles relax, so does your mind. It lets me find answers to things. You’re not resisting, so it’s easier for us to communicate.”

GM: “I have so, so many questions.”

She gives a faint grimace.

“But we’re here for something specific, aren’t we.”

Celia: “Yes. The night someone fed from you. October.”

GM: “Right. The marks.”

Emily’s brow furrows.

“No, there weren’t marks. I had blisters. On my feet.”

Celia: “As if you’d been burned?”

“Or walked a long time?”

GM: “Latter. And I wear comfortable, sturdy shoes.”

“Most of the time, anyways.”

Celia: “You may have been taken somewhere and made to walk. Or, more likely, put into uncomfortable shoes for something.” Like a party. Had someone forced her to become a vessel? Not at the Evergreen, she would have surely seen her that night. Weeknight, too. “Who put the shoes on you, Emi?”

GM: Emily rubs her head.

“Geez. They were really bad blisters.”

“The shoes didn’t fit.”

“And I was on my feet all night.”

Celia: “Do you remember what you did? The sounds around you? Smells? Faces?”

GM: “I wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t have put them on, I wouldn’t let someone put them on me, I wouldn’t have fucked off on a weeknight when I was supposed to be studying.”

Emily rubs her head some more.

“I… I wasn’t alone.”

“There was… music?”

“People. Other people.”

“Some of them like, like me.”

“No one complained, no one said anything.”

“Why the fuck did no one say anything?”

Her hands are starting to tremble.

Celia: “It’s a form of mind control, Emi. We’re breaking through it, so you remember. If the anger helps, feel it. Let it fuel you. Let it chip away at what you remember, bit by bit. Pull back the veil.”

GM: Emily clamps a hand over her mouth.

“Oh. Oh god. He’s killing him! Celia, he’s KILLING him!”

Emily rips off Celia’s shirt. The flesh beneath is black and blue and purple, hideously beaten. She can’t begin to guess how many ribs are cracked. She doesn’t have breasts, either, but a man’s flat and hairy chest. Her mother screams in her ears, voice raw with a parent’s terror for their children, but her voice is a man’s voice, and instead of Celia’s name, she screams—


Celia: She sees it play out as Emily had: the party. The ill-fitting attire. The too-tight shoes. They pinch her feet with every step that she takes, biting into her toes and heels. It’s difficult to walk, even to keep up with the boy-faced mobster that holds her hand. He gives her away to a familiar blonde. Malveaux-Devillers.

This is it. This is the party she and Reynaldo had talked about, where the hound—

The sickening thud of a cane on flesh makes her (undead?) stomach churn. The blood touches her nose and she wants to retch, but she can’t move, she’s caught, held tight by Malveaux-Devillers while she’s forced to watch—to watch—

“…killing him,” she echoes, “he’s KILLING him!”

Horror fills her. She’d drop to her knees if she were not forced to stand and watch while the son and father are beaten slowly, inexorably, to death. And the predators watch. The monsters all watch, staring—something, there’s something in their eyes, she’d seen it earlier—

It’s gone once feeding time begins. Hungry sharks circle the other girls like her, snatching them up to clamp down on, shoving their teeth inside neck and arm and leg and—bliss, isn’t it, that’s what’s on their faces, ensorcelled by the kiss—

A face in front of her. Familiar. Dark hair. So young. Haughty. Sneering. She knows—doesn’t she know? Celia knows. Celia, stuck inside, trapped inside the body, watches Isabel feed on Emily, breath catching in the soft sigh of a vessel. She drinks deeply. Celia sees resentment on her face, anger in her eyes. This isn’t her fare. This isn’t her fare but she knows Emily, knows Emily is Celia’s friend, knows Emily was meant for Caroline, and she hates them both, those bitches, that backstabbing cunt—

The office. Words. Agreements. Celia, through Emily’s eyes and ears, watches them hash it out. Familiar names. The Krewe. Mabel. Who is, doesn’t she have..?

But it loops. She’s back to the casino floor, Paul, not… no, please, double, triple, I’ll pay you back, I’ll

Everything goes black around her. Celia falls through open sky, dress fluttering and wind whipping at her hair. She lands on her back on a hard table, eyes wide, staring up at a doctor slamming her chest again, again, again, trying to make her live, trying to bring her back, pleading with God, with the monster, with whoever will listen—

Not my boy, not my boy!

Sobbing, on her knees, face red with blood—

Bones break. Splatter. Her lips split and she spits out teeth but she’s sinking anyway, choking on her own blood, drowning—

“Stop. Come back. Come back to me. You’re you. You’re Emily, I’m Celia. I’m Celia, you’re Emily. You’re safe.”

But the voice isn’t hers. The face isn’t hers. It’s the other one, the stronger one, and Celia’s a little girl again reaching for a hand to hold.

“I’ll protect you,” the voice promises, “just let me in, let me in so I can help…"

So she does. She opens herself to this other being, skin stretching as it slips inside. It centers her. Grounds her. She watches from behind its eyes as she murmurs softly to Emily, stealing the onslaught of emotion from her—

“You’re safe. Safe, darling, you’re safe. It’s a dream. A bad dream, and it can’t hurt you here. You’re with your sister, you’re with your mother, you’re lying on a couch, it’s just a dream, just a dream…"

Bit by bit the darkness recedes. Moonlight touches down upon the two girls, bringing their surroundings into focus. No longer a doctor’s office but a wooded glade, soft moss beneath their toes, flowers dancing in the wind, a brook babbling merrily as it delivers life to the plants.

Safe, the trees tell her. Safe, the wind agrees. Safe, whispers the petals that kiss her skin.

“Come back to the room now, darling, come back to us. Dig your toes into the earth. There, do you feel it? Wiggle them. That’s nature. Life. That’s what you are, you know. Life. Breathe it in.”

The girl takes a breath. Crisp, airy aromas dance through her mind, centering and calming. Lavender, she recognizes that, everyone uses it for relaxation. Its fragrant, floral scent acts as buffer against the rest of the world. Beyond it, wood and pine and sap, the moist scent of wet earth. Birdsong flutters through her ears, the sound whimsical and light. A cat meows, streaking through the grass in front of her and a little blonde-haired girl gives chase, calling for the kitty to come back.

“Do you see? You bring them all to life.”

So she does. Flowers bloom with a thought. A robin, red as Diana’s cherry pie, swoops past her head. She can all but taste the sugar upon her tongue at the thought, the memory of flaky pie crust melting in her mouth, the warmth of family around a dinner table.

“No one can hurt you here,” the voice promises. A cat rubs against her shins. The little girl holds out her hand. She looks like Lucy, but… different. No glasses. Untamed hair. Beautiful, even for a child. She smiles and shows off two dimples in her cheeks.

“Come back to the room now, darling. Take her hand and let her lead you. That is not earth beneath your feet, that is the couch. Let the weight of it support you, cradle you, like a mother’s love. Those are her arms around you. Her warmth on your skin. That is love in her eyes, in her touch, in her very way of being. Come back to her. To us. Come back to you.”

GM: Emily may have dissected cadavers, but she told Celia and Diana over dinner how that was one of the most somber and emotional experiences of her life. They call them ‘donors’ at med school. People who have chosen to bequeath their remains to science. The first-year medical students treat them with deep respect and often develop bonds with them. They are the students’ teachers and first patients. There are memorial ceremonies where the students get to talk to the donors’ families, and to still-living people who’ve decided to become future donors. Emily said she’d cried a few times, after talking to Leo’s (that was his name) wife and adult son, and thinking about how he freely gave her his body so that she could learn medicine. “I felt like this total stranger had given me such a gift,” she’d said. It’s not an uncommon sentiment among the medical students. The cadaver dissections teach compassion and respect for life as well as anatomical knowledge.

Emily may be no stranger to the dead. She knows them literally inside and out.

But death is another matter.

She watches Rocco’s ghoul beat a screaming and pleading father and son to death for a silent crowd’s sick entertainment.

Celia’s sister promptly turns and vomits.

She purges it all out. Her horror. Her disgust. Her anger. Her shock. Her violation. Her humiliation. Her moral outrage. And, yes, her terror, as she realizes what this life is, what the dangers are, sees them as so much more than mere words and warnings. Perhaps too much more. She heaves and heaves until orange-tinged spittle is all that comes out, but this sickness does not reside in the contents of her stomach alone, oh no. This sickness cannot be purged so easily. She clutches her head as if to staunch the bleeding of her psyche, to stop the precious outflow of whatever has been lost to Rocco’s many inflicted traumas, buried and left to fester beneath his commands to forget, and then ripped open again here.

But though her psyche bleeds, it does not fall her. Celia senses anger brewing within Emily, far more than fear or violation. Hot and furious and rising. A pissed-off rant to end all rants is forming on her tongue, and Jade feels Celia’s adopted sister fighting her mental influence every step of the way, fighting to hold onto that bubbling fury. But she is still so new to this existence. To the truths of the world. Jade’s influence settles upon her like a heavy snowfall, slow but inevitable, and her features settle. Calmness overtakes them. She breathes and takes in the relaxing floral scents, the trees, the lapping water, the moss beneath her feet. The Tranquility Room if it could have an indoor garden.

“Okay,” she calmly answers Jade.

She takes the child’s offered hand.

“Let’s go back.”

Celia: The child’s hand is warm. It fits snugly in Emily’s, and the cat meows up at them as it falls into step between the pair, winding its way between their legs. Underfoot but not a nuisance, it offers what comfort it can with its tiny furry body.

“You’re angry,” the child says. The other woman trails behind them, silent but watchful. “Do you want it back, the inferno inside of you?”

GM: “Yes,” Emily answers without inflection.

Celia: She only nods.

And then it’s gone, the dam holding back the river, and Emily’s anger can be unleashed to the world. Wind howls. Violent branches whip through the air, snarling their rage to a sky red with blood.

Beside her, the girl is still, weathering the storm. The cat sits between her feet but it, too, is still. Only the other woman moves, the woman with the devastatingly beautiful features, the woman whose jade eyes shine with a maelstrom of their own. She walks through the storm, untouched by its wrath, and stands beside her sister.

She only nods.

And then it’s gone, the dam holding back the river, and Emily’s anger can be unleashed to the world. Wind howls. Violent branches whip through the air, snarling their rage to a sky red with blood.

Beside her, the girl is still, weathering the storm. The cat sits between her feet but it, too, is still. Only the other woman moves, the woman with the devastatingly beautiful features, the woman whose jade eyes shine with a maelstrom of their own. She walks through the storm, untouched by its wrath, and stands beside her sister.

GM: And then they’re not standing at all, but back on the couch at Diana’s house. The stink of vomit fills Celia’s nostrils. Diana has a mostly empty bucket, washcloth, and rags, and looks like she’s wiped as much of Emily and the couch clean as she can. She’s placed a washcloth under her daughter’s head. Still, it’ll take a shower and laundry cycle to fully banish the stink and dark stains. She’s watching both of her daughters concernedly.

Emily groans and rubs her head.

“Sweetie? What happened?” her mom asks.

Celia: “Bad,” one of the girls says, whoever is currently in charge, eyes alight in anger and jaw clenched tightly. The word is no more than a hiss.

GM: “He murdered them,” says Emily. “He murdered two people in cold blood, while the room watched, while I was dressed like a whore, and while Isabel fed on me.”

“What!?” exclaims Diana.

“Isabel is a vampire, Mom. She drank my blood. It’s that simple.”

Celia: “Agnello. The hound. He had a party. He brought vessels. He wanted to feel big, so he made them all watch. The ghoul killed the son while the father watched. Beaten to death with a cane. And then the Kindred fed.”

GM: “Isabel is a vampire?” repeats Diana, looking between the two.

Celia: “No,” she says softly, and it’s Celia looking out from her eyes now. “She was a vampire.”

GM: Both women look towards her.

Celia: “Sh-she…”

Oh, God. She did this. She did this, and she’s going to make it worse.

“She’s not… she… Mom, she…”

Celia blinks it back. It’s not her trauma. It’s not her pain. It’s not her place to feel it, not when she did it.

“She didn’t make it,” Celia finishes in a whisper.

GM: “What do you mean, she didn’t make it?” demands Diana.

Celia: “She’s dead.”

GM: Her mother’s face goes absolutely still. Like a light clicked off behind her eyes.

Celia: “I—I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Momma, I’m so sorry, I—”

She what? She what? What can she offer here? What can she say? Nothing. Nothing at all. She’d ripped out her own sister’s heart and now she’s watching the effects of that death rip through her mother.

Black hole. He’d said it. Here’s the proof. She’d brought her world to her family’s door and sucked them into the darkness, too.

GM: There’s a shrill, wailing scream from Diana as she clutches her head.

Celia: Celia’s face crumples. She reaches for her mother. Reaches, despite the blood on her hands. Reaches, knowing she’d done this. Reaches, because she doesn’t know how else to help, because she doesn’t know what else to do, because she’s ruined it, ruined her, ruined her family, broken them apart; she could have lied, should have lied—

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—” The words aren’t even audible above the scream.

GM: Diana doesn’t look at her. She doesn’t look at Emily, who’s touching her too, saying useless things. The scream tapers off into a raggedy, shuddering inhalation of breath.

And then, finally, inevitably, thick-falling tears amidst smaller shudders.

They’re a common enough sight from Celia’s mother, perhaps. Jade was annoyed enough over the frequency of that tearful blubbering to beat the ghoul for them.

But this time, Celia’s mother looks up from her hands. The tears still flow, but her gaze feels as unblinking as any vampire’s and sharp as any of their kind’s fangs as it bores into Celia’s.

How?” she demands. “What killed my daughter?”

Celia: Celia almost flinches at the sight. She stares, caught by her mother’s gaze, and her ability to spin a tale out of truth unravels around her. She blinks once, twice, again, and then she can’t stop the outpour of emotion, she can’t stop the red leaking down her cheeks, can’t stop the way her body curls in on itself in the face of a mother’s grief. She presses her hands to her face, covering her shame, hiding from her mother, hiding from Emily, hiding from the world because she did this. She murdered her own sister.

She sobs into her hands. It’s messy, a human display of rage and grief and shame and guilt and regret, and it’s all there on there face, plain as day.

“M-me,” she stutters out, “me, me, it was me, it was—it was my fault, it was—she c-came, she came for-for help and the-they j-jumped me an-and they—they took her, they took her, they—”

“I wa-I was su-suppos-supposed t-to k-keep her safe and, and, and they—they took, they took her, they took her, they took her from me—I got, it was, it was me—it was my fault, my fault—”

It comes out in fits and starts, the doctored story of Isabel’s death. How she had shown up at the spa torn to bloody shreds. How she’d been looking for her boyfriend and thought she found the person who killed him. How that person had slaughtered her entire krewe. Isabel had been physically destroyed: bloody, body slashed open, missing pieces of her face and skin. Celia didn’t have enough blood on hand to fix her. She hadn’t had enough to mend the pain. So she’d put her in the safe room and gone out to find food.

Only she’d been followed. Jumped. She’d been heating the blood for Isabel in the microwave when they grabbed her. The hunters she’d already mentioned.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t once look away. She stares directly into Celia’s eyes, hands rested over her knees, and listens. She listens like she looks like she has never listened in all of her life, as the lies drip from Celia’s lips like slow-flowing honey. Her mother’s tears come slower amidst the steady rise and fall of her chest. There is something dark in her eyes that reminds Celia very much of Henry.

She listens, and then she repeats, her voice heavy as the thud of a collapsed ballerina:

“What killed my daughter?”

Celia: “The scourge,” Celia finally whispers, “or her childe.”

GM:HOW!” Diana snaps, bringing her hand down on her knee with a loud smack. Her face is red and her breath is coming hard and ragged.

Celia: “They broke into the spa,” Celia says in a quiet voice. “The door was already open because of the hunters. Because I was sloppy. I was going to fix her, I was going to fix it… they tracked her. They got in. They…” Celia closes her eyes, as if pained by the memory.

Maybe she is.

“Her heart was ripped out.”

GM: The couch suddenly bursts into flame. Terror incarnate fills Celia’s Beast as the air turns hot and the fire crackles.

Celia: Celia’s reflexes rip her backwards before she even has time to think, scrambling away from the source of her terror. She’s there one moment and gone the next, disappearing around the corner to the kitchen where she and her Beast cannot see the flames lick at the couch.

GM: “Oh my god!” shouts Emily.


Emily and Diana all but throw themselves off the couch as the fire spreads and smoke rises.

Celia: There’s a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Emily used to tease her mom about not needing it because she’d never burn anything, but Celia was always secretly glad of its presence. She finds it and screams for Emily.

GM: Emily barrels in, grabs the fire extinguisher, and barrels back out. There’s the whoosh of released monoammonium phosphate, and then silence but for the screaming smoke alarm.

Celia: Celia is quick to find a chair and pull the batteries from it to silence it.

GM: But Celia is not alone inside the hallway.

Someone else is there.

Of course she’s there.

Lucy is standing in the hallway, barefoot and wearing her glasses and nightie, hands pressed against the corner of the wall.

Silently listening.

Silently snooping.

Like all kids do.

Like Celia did.

Like Isabel did.

Like big sister, like little sister.

Like littlest sister.

Celia: “Oh, Luce. Oh no, Luce.” Celia crouches down in front of her, panic at bay now that the fire has gone out and the alarm has stopped shrieking in her ear.

A new sort of desperate panic takes place of the Beast’s terror though, and this one is all human. How much had she heard?

She remembers snooping. The monster shaking her father’s hand. Drowning when it spotted her. Cold. So, so cold.

“Lucy,” Celia whispers, reaching out to pull the child towards her. “Lucy, oh Lucy…”

Oh Lucy, what have you done?

GM: Lucy doesn’t jump out of her skin. Celia can’t see that happening to her eight-year-old self. No. She’s pretty sure she just froze, when he saw her.

Lucy freezes too, like a deer in headlights, dumbly unresisting as Celia pulls her close.

She doesn’t say anything. Just stares at Celia with wide eyes.

Celia: “It’s okay, baby.”

It’s different.

She is different. She’s a monster, but not… not that kind of monster. She pulls Lucy into her arms and rises, holding her fast.

“It’s okay, sweetie. It’s all okay.”

GM: The six-year-old starts crying against Celia’s chest.

Celia: “Just a dream, sweetie. It’s all…”

She can’t. She can’t. She needs to, needs to say the words, convince her that nothing happened, that it’s all in her head…

we love you very much

…but how had that worked out for her?

Celia presses her back against the wall, tears leaking down her face as she slowly sinks to the floor with Lucy on her lap.

“It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s okay, I promise you, everything is okay.”

“I love you so much, Lucy-Goose, you know that, right? That I love you? That we all—we all love you, baby. It’s okay. I’m here. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

GM: The child just clings to Celia, head buried against her chest. Her sniffs are lighter and softer than their mother’s.

Celia: Celia cradles her close, listening to her cry. Listening to her mother’s wail. Listening to Emily vomit all the contents of her stomach onto the floor.

Like another night. A ravaged scream. The smell of blood in the hallway.

She did this.

She did it.

Her fault.

She caused all of these things because she couldn’t leave her family alone.

This is why they don’t have families. This is why… this is why they don’t stay connected with the mortals of their old lives. Why they sever ties.

Black hole, he said, and he’s right.

“I’m sorry,” she says to Lucy. “I’m so sorry, I nev—I never wanted…”

She needs to go. She needs to cut herself from their lives like the tumor that she is.

GM: Lucy just sniffles more and clings to Celia.

Two pairs of footsteps round the hallway.

“Oh, sh…” Emily starts, censoring herself in the child’s presence.

Diana kneels down and scoops the crying child into her arms.

Celia: That, maybe, hurts worse than the rest.

“Mom, I…”

She what? She wasn’t going to hurt her? Of course she wasn’t.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t seem to see her. Or Emily. She cradles the crying girl against her chest, strokes her hair, and starts to sing.

“Hush, little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird
And if that mocking bird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring…”

Diana’s voice is soft and low as she sings. Her eyes are red and puffy from crying. Her features are very still. Very tired. There’s a shadow over them, like Celia is seeing her outside at night. A night of spirit so much like Henry’s. Celia cannot say when dawn will rise.

“And if that diamond ring is brass
Mama’s gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke
Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat…”

She starts to walk down the hall towards Lucy’s bedroom.

Celia: Celia rises to her feet. Were she anything other than an undead monster, she might sway where she stands. Now, though, her body is still, heart nothing but a rock in her chest.

She did this.

It’s too much to unpack for one night. Too much for her to even begin to know how to deal with it. She needs time to think, to plan, to figure out how she’s going to fix this before everything else comes spiraling down around her.

She can’t stay in their lives. She’s nothing but danger to them. Not only because of others like her but because of she herself. What would have happened if she’d lost control during the fire? If she’d been slightly more peckish when her mom opened a vein? She’d gone digging for answers because of her stupid curiosity and now her mother is… is the walking dead, a shell of a person. Isabel. Randy. The girl at the Evergreen. The girl in the spa. All of the hunters. How many? How many has she killed? How much blood is on her hands?

How will it ever come out?

GM: Celia’s only answer is silence.

Total silence, but for Lucy’s sniffles.

Emily opens the door. Diana carries Lucy into the dark room. The bunny nightlight glows in the corner. The glow-in-the-dark stars with their smiley faces glow from above. Diana lies down on Lucy’s bed, holding the child against her in spoon position, arms wrapped around her chest, and sings for a while.

“And if that billy goat don’t pull
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull
And if that cart and bull turn over
Mama’s gonna buy you a dog called Rover
And if that dog called Rover don’t bark
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart…”

Lucy’s sniffs taper off as the girl drifts into sleep.

Diana closes her eyes and just holds her.

Emily looks towards Celia.

“Think we should let her sleep?” she whispers.

Celia: “She saw too much,” Celia says quietly. “She saw too much, just… just too much.”

GM: “Which one?” murmurs Emily.

Celia: “Lucy. And Mom. And… and you.”

GM: “I think we should let them sleep,” says Emily, nodding towards the hall.

Celia: Celia steps out, retreating down the hall to the living room where she doesn’t have to look at the evidence of what she’s done.

GM: “Geez,” says Emily.

“Did Lucy overhear?”

Celia: “Yeah, Em, I’d assume so.”

GM: “Sorry, dumb question. I guess, how much?”

Celia: “Anything is too much. She can’t remember this. Any of it. She’s a kid, she shouldn’t—she shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

GM: “Yeah. She’s way too young for this,” Emily nods.

“But all right. She’s a kid. Active imagination. We can tell her… we can explain this away.”

“She’ll forget it eventually.”

Celia: “No. I need to call someone.”

GM: “How much do you remember from first grade?”

“But okay, to do what?”

Celia: “I remember my first vampire. I was eight.”

“And it fucked me up for life.”

“She’s not going to go through that.”


GM: “…wait, I thought you became one in 2009?”

Celia: “Yeah. And I was groomed for it since childhood, apparently.”

GM: “Okay, that’s clearly a long story, but Lucy first. I think anyone outside the family unit is just gonna upset her right now.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I need to borrow your phone.”

GM: Emily unlocks and hands it over.

Celia: Celia dials a number. She pretends she doesn’t have it memorized, but she’s lying to herself.

It rings.

And rings.

And when the voice picks up on the other end, Celia speaks quietly into the receiver.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline looks down at her phone.

The heiress doesn’t get many calls these nights. And after midnight typically only means one thing. Which makes it all the more unusual that it’s a contact saved in her phone that’s distinctly not one of the damned.

Rosure, Emily—Tulane. Pre-Med

She doubts it’s a social call.

She accepts the call, sliding the green phone icon up after several rings and putting a false fatigue in her voice.


Celia: “Hi, no it’s…it’s Celia.”

A pause.

“I’m… I’m sorry to bother you, but I… I need a favor. Please.”

Caroline: Caroline is getting awfully damn tired of doing people favors.

“Last few people I did favors for didn’t end up so well,” she observes icily.

That Celia’s sire was directly responsible for their execution, and almost certainly because of their limited association with Caroline, is more than a sore spot.

Celia: There’s an intake of breath on the other end of the line. Celia had not expected that answer… to her detriment. Stupid, isn’t it, calling Caroline when she has other friends in the Quarter. Friends she doesn’t trust anymore. Friends who she doesn’t want to know about her mother. And the one who already does, the one she’d thought about calling, the one whose ghoul owes her a favor that she could have called in… well, his sire had turned her in for infernalism and sentenced her to burn.

But Caroline knows her, doesn’t she. Knows who she is, whose childe, how she feels for him, how he’s hurt her, her family. Knows, too, how to keep a mortal family for all that it’s only been six months.

Stupid though. Really stupid.

“Okay,” she says quietly. “That’s—okay, yeah, this was probably a bad idea.”

Caroline: “Probably,” she agrees.

There’s a beat. Why does she bother?

“What’s the favor?”

Celia: Celia steps away from Emily, lowering her voice. She searches for a way to explain over the phone without sounding too desperate.

GM: Emily walks after her.

Clearly not content to be cut out of the loop.

Celia: Celia shakes her head and stops moving.

“Remember when I came over, and my mom saw you and May, but she thought it was the two of us, and it was all real awkward and we had to explain it? It’s kinda like one of those.”

Caroline: “You think it’s a misunderstanding I could help clear up with someone else for you?” Caroline muses.

What is she even doing?

“You know it’s a lot harder if you’ve let those sorts of things fester. This a recent thing?”

Celia: “Yes.”

This is a bad idea.

“Very recent. Just now, actually. I thought maybe we could clear the air before things got too out of hand.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

It could be bait. But if it is, it’ll be on her terms.

Silence for a moment as she considers.

“I’m make you the same deal I make all my friends when these things happen. Bring over some drinks and we’ll sit down with your friend, talk it out, see if we can’t resolve it.”

Celia: Fuck. She’d been afraid of that.

“Right. Ah. Problem is, I’m with my daughter tonight, and it’s a little past her bedtime.”

Caroline: “Meaning drinks are off the table, or meaning you want a house call?” Caroline asks.

She almost laughs at the second option.

Celia: “Was hoping for a house call. But if you can’t make it tonight, I understand.”

Celia wouldn’t blame her. But she’s not sure that moving her mother and Lucy right now is the best idea. She’s not even sure that bringing her mother into this is the best idea, or if she should just let her sleep.

“Can you—one sec.” She presses her hand over the mic on the phone, looking to Emily.

“If I take Lucy, can you stay with Mom so she doesn’t freak out?”

Terrible, terrible idea. She’d just learned that she’d lost a kid, and here Celia is trying to take Lucy away in the middle of the night. She needs someone local.

GM: “Uh, where do you want to take her?” asks Emily slowly.

Celia:CBD. To a… friend. Erase the memories.”

GM: “Oookay, I guess if that’s a thing, that’s a thing,” says Emily.

“Pretty sure the only way Mom is not freaking out is if she doesn’t wake up.”

“Why not just take them both to the CBD?”

“Or get this friend to make a house call?”

Celia: “Because Mom just set the couch on fire with her brain.”

GM: “Wait, what?”

Celia: “The—hold on.” She turns back to the phone. “Ah, I don’t have a sitter. If you can’t make it it’s no big, I can probably find a local.”

GM: “Look, I’d just take them both,” says Emily. “There is no way Mom is letting Lucy go right now in the middle of the night.”

Caroline: That’s not a hard question for her.

“It’s a little late for me to go out. Plus, you know how I feel about that side of town.”

“If a local is a better fit, I won’t take it personally.”

GM: “Though I guess, fuck, if you wanna pitch the idea to her, can’t hurt.”

“All I know is Mom waking up in the middle of the night with Lucy gone is not ending well.”

Celia: “You at home? I’ll make it work and call you if I can’t.”

Caroline: “Call ahead if you decide. I’ll be around.”

Celia: “I will. Thank you.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia hangs up, takes half a second to remove the recent call from Emily’s call history, and hands the phone back.

GM: “All right, so?” she asks.

Celia: “So I don’t want to wake Mom up, mostly, and the friend can’t come into the Quarter right now. I’m meeting someone later that might be able to do it, but he’s… ah, dangerous. I guess if I could get… no, I don’t want him to know, he’ll… fuck, maybe the… but his sire… and Gramps wouldn’t… fuck, fuck, fuck, I’m fucked, I’m so fucked—”

Desperately, she goes through the list of anyone and everyone that might be able to help. Lebeaux. Tantal. Mel. Savoy. Gui. Even Preston crosses her mind, but the thought is dismissed as quickly as it comes. So are the rest of them, sire included. No doubt he’d find a way to hurt her for the lesson. She lingers on the idea of Duquette for a moment. Roderick had said she’d deleted his family’s memories, and she knows who Celia is, but…

She doesn’t want to owe her, doesn’t want anyone else getting wind of this clusterfuck.

GM: “Look, do we need an outside friend for this?” asks Emily. “If you never saw your vampire again after eight, would you still believe in them?”

“If we need to wake up Mom though, let’s wake her up. She’d want to do whatever’s best for Lucy.”

Celia: “That’s the problem,” Celia says tightly. “Me. I’m the problem. You see? How many times did you see weird things and try to explain it to yourself? Now imagine if you had a dream from when you were a child that monsters are real and things continued to not add up. You’d start to wonder, right? And when you saw him again as a teenager you couldn’t quite dismiss it, even though he tried to make you, so when you ran into them again during college—boom, suddenly you’re dead and ruining other people’s lives too.”

GM: Emily raises her hands. “All right, I’ll take your word for it. You lived it. Died it.”

Celia: “I just… I can’t be around you guys anymore, Em, that’s what this comes down to, doesn’t it? I have to go. I can’t stay. I can’t… I got careless, sloppy, lost control, and I just…” She puts her head in her hands, fingers pulling at the roots of her hair in frustration. “I just keep hurting everyone, and I’m not trying to make this about poor me because, fuck, I’m an asshole too, but god damn do I wish… I wish I could just… undo everything, take it all back, go back a week, two, maybe even a month, and just… not be such a fuckup.”

GM: “Wait, what?” says Emily. “Okay, couple things.”

“First, you’re why I’m here and have a mom.”

“You’re why Mom is here and not in that shithole with ODing junkies in the shared bathroom.”

“You’re also why mom is her new, old, whatever, self. She told me about that.”

“Fuck, if you hadn’t pushed her there, she’d probably be literally in bed with Maxen now.”

Celia: “No, Emi, he was right. I’m a black hole. I ruin everything I touch.”

GM: “I don’t think so.”

Celia: “Dad said so. My real dad. That there’s… God, how did he say it, poison in our blood or something.”

GM: “…when did you talk to him?”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“Years ago. He paid for esthi school.”

GM: “Geez, Celia, the personal revelations are tumbling out like, I don’t know, a metaphor about lots of stuff tumbling out.”

“He do that because he felt guilty over raping Mom?”

Celia: “I guess. He said he liked my story. He’s not… I mean, he’s never been a dad or anything, he was very clear on that.”

“But… yeah, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to talk about.”

GM: “Awesome, I’ll give him 9/10 on the nice rapist scale.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Nothing about how they met makes sense to me.”

GM: “Would ask to rape our mom again, if someone had to.”

“Geez, that’s a horrible joke.”

Celia: Emily isn’t listening to her. Celia doesn’t force the issue.

GM: “All right, well, maybe we should talk about your dad later. It sounds like there’s a ton of stuff to get caught up on.”

She laughs.

“It’s funny, I’d prepared a whole list of questions for us to ask you and topics to go over.”

“I don’t remember if I mentioned that.”

Celia: “You did. We got distracted.”

Celia looks down the hall to where her mother and Lucy are sleeping.

“Fuck it, what are you doing the rest of the night? Do you want to grab a drink? I have to meet someone at 3:30, but I’m… I’m not dealing with the rest of this shit tonight.”

GM: “Probably trying and failing to fall asleep and just lying awake digesting how everything I thought I knew about the world is wrong. Plus, you know, worrying myself sick over Mom and Lucy.”

“So, drink sounds good.”

Celia: “Sounds perfect. Let’s roll.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Emily pulls on shoes and a jacket and heads outside with Celia.

“Wait, can you even drink alcohol?”

“You threw up all the food.”

Celia: “No. I find a drunk and drink from them. Then I get it.”

GM: “Oh. Blood alcohol content. That makes sense.”

Celia: “Yep. I gotta be honest, I… I like that you know. Selfish as it is. You just get things.”

GM: “I bet, next to Mom. Can’t imagine how she took this.”

Celia: “Pretty well, truth be told.”

“She just kind of accepted it.”

“No screaming, no running, just… asked if she could feed me, smuggled me out of the house in Lucy’s bookbag, you know. The usual.”

GM: "Lucy’s bookbag?

Celia: “Cat.”

GM: “Ah. Makes sense.”

“…that’s kind of really cool, just saying.”

Celia: “I’ve got other forms,” Celia says with a smile. “I’d love to show you sometime. Not in public.”

GM: “Like what, bat? Wolf?”

Celia: “Bird. Tiger.”

GM: “Whoaaa.”

“Tiger is way cooler than wolf.”

Celia: “I think so too.”

GM: “Those animals are just majestic. I told you about the conversation I had with Robby. How he said if it’s him versus a tiger, even with a sword, the tiger wins, no contest.”

Celia: Celia nods. She remembers that.

“Can I… can I ask you something? If you could do it, shift forms like that, or do body stuff, would you want to?”

GM: “Wait, hold on. I’m remembering our conversation and he gets his panties in a wad when people get facts about swords wrong.”

“So he said there are guys who’ve killed tigers just with kukris. Curved knives. It’s really unsafe but it’s been done.”

“And there were Roman gladiators who fought lions, which, granted, are wussier than tigers, with just swords.”

“He said if the tiger gets the drop on him, pounces on him, then he’s probably ten kinds of dead.”

“But if he has a sword and shield, sees the tiger coming, and doesn’t give in to his instinct to run away or freeze up, then he could win most of the time. Weapons are force multipliers and can do a real number on wild animals, if you have the training to use them.”

“He said his first choice of weapon would be a spear, though, not a sword and shield.”

“And then he went on for a bit about how unappreciated spears are.”

“So, yeah. That’s my nerdy HEMA boyfriend.”

Celia: Celia cracks a smile.

“A spear, huh? Makes sense. Kind of dance around it and keep it at bay while you get some pokes in.”

GM: “Yeah, the longer reach. Robby says that’s an enormous advantage in fights. Part of why it’s so hard for tiny people to fight big people.”

“But, anyway, your question.”

“If I could do body stuff that revolutionizes medicine, yeah, I’d totally want to.”

“Turning into animals is also pretty cool. But kind of the complimentary drink next to the actual dinner.”

“I thought Mom was gonna live with that injury for the rest of her life.”

Celia: “Even if it comes with all the drawbacks? If you’re stuck in this world?”

GM: “Are you offering to make me a vampire?”

Celia: “No. I mean, maybe. Not yet. There’s… there are things I want to show you.”

GM: “Like? I have a million questions about all this, still.”

Celia: “I have a medical degree,” Celia says abruptly. “I mean I had to do it online since I can’t go during the day, so I guess it’s ‘fake’ or ‘half-assed’ or whatever, but I have it. The notebook I showed you is only part of what I’ve been working on. There’s… so much more. So much.”

GM: “Wait, why didn’t you tell me you had a degree?”

Celia: "Because it’s… I dunno, not traditional I guess, I didn’t do all the rounds like you did, I guess I felt like it didn’t count. I used to borrow your books. I did your homework for you once. Back in college. You fell asleep and looked really out of it and it was just sitting there so I thought maybe I could help, but you didn’t get the best grade on it so I never said anything, and… thought you might think I… it’s hard to explain, I guess, why I got the degree and what I’m doing with it when I run a spa.

GM: Emily playfully punches her shoulder.

“Maybe because you just wanted to learn, doofus.”

“And it’s a helpful thing to have.”

“I’m happy for you. Mom will be really proud. What’s it in?”

Celia: “Ah, same as yours for undergrad. Kinesiology. Then a kind of hybrid physical and occupational therapy thing.”

“It was closest to what I want to do with the emphasis on anatomy and physiology. How everything works together.”

GM: “Makes total sense. I’m proud too.”

“Every adult in the family a college grad.”

Celia: “Mm, was I the anchor?” Celia smirks at her.

GM: “We’d be the last people to tell you that. Mom got her degree pretty late. I almost didn’t get one at all.”

Celia: “Thanks, Emi. I… yeah, thank you.”

GM: “Pretty sure I’d still be a waitress without a family if I hadn’t met you, so likewise.”

“Or maybe working TMC’s records department or something.”

Celia: “Dreaming of bigger and better things?”

GM: “Living in a house with a bunch of roommates, packing lunch, and taking the bus to work.”

“And yeah, dreaming.”

Celia: “I’m glad we met.”

GM: “Me too. You’re not a black hole.”

Celia: “Well, on that note… pick a bar, any bar,” Celia says, lifting her hand to gesture at the selection in front of them, “and set an alarm for quarter after 3 so I have time to get ready for this next meeting, and then we can play a million questions.”

GM: “I was about to ask where we’re going.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a bar this un-sexy.”

“Pajamas and vomit on my breath.”

Celia: “Trying to get laid, Emi?”

GM: “I’ll be amused if somebody tries.”

“Hey, if vampire feeding is sex, and I got fed on without my consent, did I get raped again?”

“Cause I’m feeling pretty violated, remembering that.”

Emily’s voice is faux casual.

Celia: “Yes and no. You were certainly violated, and you’d be absolutely right to feel that way. Vampire sex with other vampires is feeding. And fighting. Mix of pleasure and pain, or for some it’s just pain. We don’t have sex the normal way. Well, we can, but most of us think it’s not worth the effort and most of us don’t enjoy it anyway. Vampire sex with ghouls is usually the normal human way, and sometimes there’s blood. Like when my… um, I’m gonna use some fake names, yeah? So when Lena and I fool around, since she’s a ghoul, we have normal human lesbian sex. With props, without props, and when I want to spoil her I feed from her and let her drink from me. It’s like an extra boost to the orgasm, basically.”

“Most of us don’t have sex with humans, but when we drink from humans their mind kind of clouds over and they feel good and can think it’s sex. Earlier this evening I went hunting with my friend, Annie, and we took two boys back to their place. They were fooling around with each other, I was naked, but no one penetrated me and I didn’t have an orgasm. They just thought we had a mind-blowing orgy. And I drank from Annie, but because she didn’t drink from me it’s not sex.”

“But you can also feed without it being sexual, which a lot of licks do. Sleeping victims, people with their guard down, people at clubs, et cetera. Some licks can subsist on animal blood, and some like it bagged. None of which is sex.”

“Like when Mom feeds me. Not sex.”

“I will be totally honest, though, I am an outlier when it comes to sex.”

“That being said… it’s kind of a rose-tinted view,” Celia says, looking to Emily. “We feed on people. We hurt them to keep going. We’re… parasites. Monsters. We do it without their consent. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they die.”

“And I guess at best we’re habitual rapists.”

GM: Emily takes that all in.

“So I was violated and didn’t consent, but not technically raped,” she says.

“Cool. Real cool.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says quietly. “I didn’t know about it.”

GM: “Well apparently you got raped too, so all we need is for someone to bang Mom without her consent and we can be rape triple…”

Celia: “They… did it to you in college, too. You were sick all the time. Groggy? Someone was using you. That’s part of why I was so insistent about you moving to the Quarter instead of staying on campus.”

GM: Emily shuts up when she hears Celia’s words.

She stares ahead with a frozen and vaguely nauseous look.

Celia: Maybe, she reflects, that wasn’t the right thing to say.

Celia takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

GM: “That was all year,” Emily says numbly. “That was all fucking year.”

“How many.”

Her voice is quiet.

“How many times.”

Celia: Celia tries to think back to that time.

“Well… I didn’t move in until part way through, but…” She does some mental math.

“Probably… twice a week.”

GM: Emily grabs Celia, arresting her fall as she jolts forward, and retches.

Not much comes out.

Just some runny orange.

Celia: “Oh, Emi…” Celia rubs her back up and down, up and down like their mother does when they’re sick in slow, soothing gestures.

GM: “Ha.. ha… fuck me,” says Emily, running the back of her hand over her mouth.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs. She’s been saying that word a lot tonight. Sorry.

“I shouldn’t have said anything.”

GM: “It happened, Celia.”

“It fucking happened, if you said anything or not.”

Celia: “That doesn’t mean I need to make you relive the trauma.”

“This is one of those times where… I don’t know, maybe brutal honesty isn’t the best choice.”

GM: “I did live the fucking trauma. That night I fell apart, drinking and crying and bombing my test and when you said Mom could be my mom too, did it happen then? Did I get… not-technically-raped, then? That night?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I don’t think so, not right then. The night before, maybe, because you were a mess, but I don’t think that night, no.”

“I can take it,” Celia offers in a low voice, “everything you’re feeling right now, I can take it away, if you want, if you’d rather not…”

GM: Emily just barrels on.

“And, hey, you remember back in October, how I was sluggish at work, fucking things up, and ‘Lana bitched about it, and I yelled at her, and I had that fight with you, and Mom said I was having bad PMS, and I laid into her for that, and I didn’t want to have sex with Robby for a while?”

“It. Fucking. Happened.”

Celia: “I know.” Celia rubs a hand across her face. “I know. I know, and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize… I didn’t realize. I thought you’d be safer here. I should have recognized the signs that week, and…”

She didn’t. She hadn’t been there for Emily. But this isn’t about her, it’s about her friend’s trauma, her friend being violated over and over and over again, and it hadn’t had anything to do with Celia, not really. Nothing to do with Jade. Just her kind doing what they do: feeding on people and making points.

GM: “I’d have flunked out of Tulane, with how ‘sick’ I kept getting.”

“No fucking wonder I kept nodding off in class, and had no energy.”

“I thought it was ‘just’ stress and loneliness and a full load of classes and working two shitty jobs. Not all that and getting not-technically-raped and used as a blood donor twice a week.”

Celia: “You didn’t, though. You didn’t flunk out. You didn’t not finish. You went through it, you came out on the other side, and you went even harder than you did before.”

GM: “Yeah, I did, no thanks to Mr. or Ms. Twice Weekly Rapist. I’m pissed, Celia. I’m fucking pissed. But right now I wanna get hammered.”

Celia: “Okay, you know what, fuck it. Instead of a bar, let’s grab a bottle and head over to Flawless. There’s some stuff I want to show you.”

GM: “All right, sure, fuck bars.”

“Probably more vampire rapists in ’em anyways.”

Celia: “Probably.”

GM: Emily laughs.

It’s a bleak, still half-incredulous sound.

But if she weren’t laughing, she might be crying.

Celia: “Come on. We’ll grab a bottle on the way and I’ve got extra clothes you can borrow there. Use one of the vichi rooms and then…”

Celia takes her hand, looking her into the eyes with a soft smile that doesn’t do anything to take away the pain, but it does promise a better future,

“…then I’ll show you some real magic.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: The two pick up a bottle of tequila along the way to Flawless. “Celebrate my partial spic mongrel mutt heritage,” Emily declares with a toast, drinking straight from the bottle.

“Fuck Maxen too. Glad Mom kicked him out.”

“Happiest memory I’ve had all year.”

Celia: Celia grins at her, keeping an arm around her waist so she doesn’t topple over as she drinks and walks.

“Me too. It should have happened sooner. Watching her light him up though… god, that was incredible.”

GM: “Yeah. Gave me goosebumps,” Emily declares. She’s barely started to drink and is already leaning heavily against Celia. “‘My job has value.’ You fucking tell him, girl.”

Celia: “Should we order you a sandwich?” Celia asks as they go. Her stomach is empty. She’d thrown up everything and she’d barely had anything in it to begin with. “I think someone left something in the fridge, if you want. In the break room. Soak up that booze so you’re not flat on your ass.”

GM: “Good idea. Eating with another rapist made me lose my appetite.”

“Hey, let’s do Krystal.”

“That place is just the right level of not even giving a fuck that I’m feeling.”

Celia: “Haha. Sure thing. Not sure their lobby is open… think they’d mind if we walk through the drive-thru?”

GM: “Naaaah, they’re open. Lobby is half the experience.”

“Actually, I don’t remember if they even have a drive-thru.”

Celia: “I admit I don’t keep the schedules of food joints anymore,” Celia concedes with a grin, leading Emily toward the glowing sign.

GM: Krystal is a trashed and dirty 24/7 fast food restaurant on Bourbon Street. The two wait in line behind a homeless-looking man who’s talking to himself and another woman in heavy makeup and revealing attire who looks like a aprostitute. A surly employee is wiping up vomit from a table. At least half the customers look drunk or high.

The food is ghettotastic. Probably full of salt and preservatives, probably horrible for you, probably not even real meat, but delicious and costs practically pocket change. The bored-looking employees look at porn on their phones as they take orders. This is a place that knows what it is and does not give a fuck.

Celia: It’s the kind of place Celia doesn’t have much experience in, if she’s being honest. She thinks Randy might have brought her here once, not on a date but just because he was jonesing for a greasy fix, and the thought makes her smile a little sadly. As they step inside Celia makes sure that she’s not projecting any obvious predatory signs, and otherwise follows Emily’s lead. She’s glad she’s not still dressed for Elysium.

GM: The cashier is rude to them and looks like she wants to be anywhere but here. The food is unclean. The service is terrible. The customers are worse. Emily lovingly extols the place’s virtues and says, “I get it, girl, I get it,” to the rude cashier and walks away with a Krystal Sackful, advertised as, “Krystals are so good you’ll want them by the Sackful. So, get a dozen of these little square treasures in a steam-filled sack and savor every last bite.”

“I LOVE this place!” Emily loudly declares at the door. Celia hears someone throwing up.

Celia: Amused, Celia offers to hold the bottle while Emily scarfs a slider.

GM: “You’re the best, Celia,” Emily says, reaching into the bag and stuffing one into her face as they exit. A homeless guy asks for money. Emily shoves the rest of the slider into her mouth and hands him several dollars.

“Go ge’ drunk!” she extols while chewing.

“Or high, wha’efer.”

Celia: She’s wary this late at night, watching the streets as much as she’s watching Emily, but to all observers they’re just a pair of drunk girls meandering down Bourbon. She fishes through her pockets and pulls out a bill for the man as well.

“And some food,” she says, still amused, “to soak it up.”

GM: “Yeah, you got it, ladies, I’ma get me a burger first,” says the homeless guy.

“Thas’ it!” Emily whoops.

Celia: She laughs, wishing him a good night and pulling Emily after her.

GM: “Celia, I’ve only had like two swigs and I already feel drunk,” says Emily, starting on another slider.

Celia: “You’ve barely eaten, Emi. And you threw up what you did eat. Hence the food.”

GM: “Mmf. Mmf. Yeah. These are so horrible.” She inhales the tiny burger. “They’re so great.”

Celia: “I’ll keep a trash can with us in case you blow chunks again.”

GM: “Have I gotten raped any more times I don’t know about?”

“‘Cuz I’d rather just get it over with in one night.”


Celia: “Not that I… ah, sort of. Once. You gave blood, but it was into a bag.”

GM: “Huh?”

Celia: “So. Remember how Mom’s toes got cut off? And I came to the hospital to move her? We were in the car with the police and we went to that bad side of town?”

GM: “Uhhh.”

Celia: Celia tells her the story while they walk. Emily arguing about not wanting to move Mom, Celia arguing that it’s better for her if they do, her friend taking them to see a guy he knows who would make sure that Diana’s toes worked.

“So I told him I wasn’t going to pay the 100k, and then you show up with your face wrapped in a scarf and you were like, ’I’ll do it,’ and you and I argued you some more, and you asked about a payment plan. So he told you to fill a bag with blood.”

Celia explains how she’d given him the money in the end. Emptied her bank account to do it, borrowed heavily from her friend, and they took it back to the guy to fix Diana.

GM: “Oh. Yeah,” says Emily. “Comin’ back. I felt weird. Really weird. Sick.”

“This was more coerced not-rape than direct not-rape, got it.”

She takes the bottle from Celia and takes a swig.

“Good to know. Don’ feel like throwin’ up.”

Celia: “Had your memories wiped. But, y’know, my friend left the part that we argued, since the next time I saw you we fought again about it.”

GM: “Oh.”

“That explains it.”

“Ha ha, my memories are fake. Celia, I feel like that’s gotta really fuck with someone’s head.”

Celia: “It can, yeah.”

GM: “No, no, psychologically.”

“How much you got missing.”

Celia: Celia nods. She understands.

GM: “Like. You missing anything?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “But you don’t know, that’s the thing.”

“You don’t remember!”

Celia: “But you remember the gaps, if you push hard enough. If they’re sloppy.”

“Remember the missing time.”

“Remember the feelings, because they can’t change that.”

GM: “Yep, and even if you know, maybe there’s more.”

Celia: “Yes.”


GM: “Fuck,” Emily mumbles, handing Celia back the bottle so she can retrieve another slider.

“God, I love these.”

“They’re so bad.”

“Did I mention that?”

Celia: “You did,” Celia laughs.

“Are you taking off school tomorrow?”

GM: Emily looks around. It’s past 3 AM. She’s walking down Bourbon Street getting drunk after learning vampires are real.

“Yeah, fuck school,” she says.

“Mom can take off work too.”

“What’s another day.”

Celia: “Probably for the best. Gives some time to…” Celia sighs, rubbing her free hand over her face. “Not enough. Never enough time to get over the loss of a child. You saw Henry.”

GM: “Yeeeep.”

Celia: “I don’t know how to help her.”

GM: “Dunno if you can.”

Celia: “But I have to do something.”

“Don’t I?”

GM: “Well.” Emily swallows the slider, takes the tequila bottle, and has another swig. “I guess.”


“Sorta like. Can give the best medical care in the world.”

“Awesome doctors, awesome insurance, awesome… hospital.” The inebriated woman gestures vaguely.

“But better if you never check in, in the first place, you know?”

“Not gettin’ sick. Ult’mate medicine. Ult’mate cure.”

“Can’t recommend enough.”

“Lotta healthcare still boils down to, ‘suck it up, princess.’”

Celia: “Yeah… I guess so.”

GM: “Poor Mom. She really wanted to reconnect.”

“I mean, fuck Isabel, for not-technically-rapin’ me, and for callin’ Maxen, but poor Mom.”

Celia: “Can’t imagine what that’s like, losing a child.”

GM: “Can’t really dump an asshole child like you can an asshole spouse, y’know?”

Celia: “Yeah.”


“She still cares.”

GM: “Feel like it wouldn’t help to say she not-technically raped me.”

“Oh. Think I did.”

“Yeah, def didn’t.”

Celia: “You said she fed from you. We didn’t call it not-technically-rape.”

“I don’t think Mom has much experience with the actual horrors of being an unwilling vessel.”

“Well… not… I guess she and I wouldn’t know.”

GM: “Yeah, you two were shaggin’.” Emily wiggles her eyebrows.

Celia: “Always had a thing for older ladies,” Celia says with a wink.

GM: “Mom looks great for her age.”

“’Specially after that boob job you gave her.”

Celia: Celia gapes.

“Did she tell you that?”

GM: “Naaaaah, I asked.”

Celia: “Is it too obvious?”

“Or do you routinely stare at her tits?”

GM: “Saw ‘em when she popped out Lucy, didn’t I?”

“Saw ’em when she nursed Luce, too. Gotta bring out the boobies for that.”

“But nah. Subtle.”

“Bet it’s more obvious when her clothes’re off.”

Celia: “She get naked for you, did she?”

GM: “Psssh. Mom gets naked for nobody. Just, was thinkin’ about all the little things, lately. And they seemed kinda different.”

Celia: “Ah.”


GM: “Like uh, Lucy stayin’ over at Randy’s. She mentioned that.”

“Buncha little stuff that seemed weird.”

“Wonder if I woulda figured out on my own.”

Celia: “Possibly. Probably. You’re smart. Observant. I’d have had to keep lying, making them more and more ridiculous.”

“I mean it’s hard to think I got away with the diet thing for so long.”

GM: “Figured you were purging.”

Celia: “Yeah, I considered using that as a cover story, but you and Mom woulda freaked.”

GM: “All Mom’s food kept endin’ up with the girls. And Randy.”

Celia: “Doesn’t do anything for me.”

GM: “She really had a complex over it.”

Celia: “I know. I felt bad.”

GM: “Obsessed with what she was doin’ wrong. Don’t think anyone’s ever told her she’s a bad cook before.”

Celia: “It’s just… like if I eat it, I have to purge it immediately, or I have to consciously focus on keeping it down, and that makes me actually hungry, you know?”

“And if I’m actually hungry then it’s like… hangry. But worse. So when I do get to feed there’s a chance of losing control.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. She mentioned that.”

Celia: Celia glances away, then back at Emily. “Yeah. I don’t like that she saw me like that.”

GM: “Said Dani was really scared by it, too.”

Celia: “Oh. She told you about Dani.”

GM: “Yeah, and Stephen, and Detective Pete.”

Celia: “Detec…” Celia stops abruptly. “I never told her about him.”

GM: “Huh.”

Celia: “Who… Dani? Dani might have, or… I’ll have to ask her.”

GM: “Dani?”

Celia: “Mom.”

“I was trying to keep his name out of things with her.”

GM: “Yeah, just with Dani and Pete. The connection.”

Celia: “Oh. Uh. Pete came by to erase some memories of the ghouls for me so they didn’t know about Mom being one, and he met Dani.”

GM: “Oh. Make sense if she told Mom. They were pretty tight.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

Celia: “He’s also the friend that ponied up money for her feet.”

GM: “Huh. Nice of him.”

Celia: “He freaked out when he heard what happened with her.”

GM: “He seemed like a good dude.”

“For a cop.”

Celia: “He is. If anything ever happened to me, I’d want Mom to go to him.”

“For help or… whatever.”

GM: “Oh, thought you meant fuckin’ him.”

Emily giggles.

Celia: “Nah,” Celia says with a heavy sigh, “I’ve been trying to get him to take her out for years and he keeps turning me down.”

GM: “Huh, ’cause… vampire stuff?”

Celia: “Didn’t know how he’d explain it, didn’t think it’s safe, et cetera.”

GM: “Mmm. Drinkin’ makes me dumber.”

“My brain’s pretty much burned out after tonight.”

Celia: “Well come on, then, let’s head inside, I’ll get wasted with you, we’ll talk about dumb vampire stuff.”

GM: “Think Mom would like a cop.”

Celia: “Then I’ll tease you tomorrow when you can’t remember.”

GM: “Oh. We here?”

Emily looks up at Flawless’ front doors.

“Oh. Looks like, yeah.”

“Like I said. Think Mom would wanna date a cop.”

“Or maybe a military guy.”

“Or a firefighter.”

“Guy in uniform, y’know? Seems like her thing.”

Celia: “Wh’about the DA?”

GM: “Henry?”


Celia: “Yeah. Dani and I were… what, you don’t think so?”

GM: “He seems like he’s got a lotta shit.”

Celia: “Eh. Yeah.”

GM: “Guess they both lost a kid, so there’s that?”

Celia: “There’s that,” Celia agrees, using her key to let them into the building.

GM: “Well. Not really lost.”

“Thinks he did.”

“That’s really fucked up.”

“Really really fucked up.”

Celia: “It’s what we have to do. To keep the family out of it. So that people don’t use you against us.”

“I wish she hadn’t told you about Stephen.”

GM: “Eh, why not.”

“Woulda brought it up, but uh.”

“Just so much shit tonight.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“It’s… complicated with us right now, and I’m fine with you knowing about my shit, I just didn’t want to drag anyone else into it.”

GM: “Glad for you that your boyfriend’s not dead. You and him clicked way more than Randy.”

Celia: “We did,” she agrees.

She locks the door behind them, leading Emily through the space to the break room. She excuses herself and is back a moment later with what looks like a boho bag (long since decorated to not resemble a face) and two bags of blood.

“So I’m not sure how this’ll work, but I think I’m gonna… add the alcohol, mix it all together, heat it, and drink.”

GM: “Hel’ yourshelf,” says Emily while chewing on another slider.

“Don’ like drinkin’ ’lone.”

Celia: Celia giggles at Emily and does as she said, mixing a handful of shots into the blood and giving it a good shake. She makes the appropriate “shaken, not stirred,” joke in a bad rendition of that guy who made it famous, heats it into a cup, and finally pours it into the “bag.”

“Bottoms up, I think,” she says, lifting the stolen skin to her lips to pierce the skin with her fangs.

It’s… not what she expected.

Not that she really knows what she expected.

It’s blood, certainly. But it’s not just blood, and the taste on her tongue reminds her of trying to force down her mother’s cooking. In a bad way. Ash. Char. Like whiskey that’s been kept in a barrel too long, or bourbon that’s been filtered through charcoal. Burnt blood. None of the sweet or sour tang that she’s used to when she drinks from vessels, but an entirely unique experience. Her Beast recognizes that this isn’t just blood, that there’s something else in it, and it rails at her that she’s poisoning herself.

Maybe she is.

She can’t get nauseous, not really, but the way her stolen stomach clenches certainly reminds her of what that used to be like. The bloody alcohol slides down her throat to her stomach and her body filters it like it would any other human food substance, stripping the blood to send into her body and depositing the straight booze into that pouch she’d transplanted. She feels it slosh when she moves.

Doesn’t she?

She wiggles, listening for the sound of sloshing, and thinks she might hear it. She giggles at the thought of sloshing. Giggles at the thought of this secret compartment inside of herself that her Beast has no say over because it’s not hers, not really, and even though her Beast rebels at the taste it likes the sanguine part of the fare, at least, and the more she swallows the more it purrs until it’s nothing but a sleeping kitty in her chest. She giggles again at the mental image of that, then once more when she thinks about how her body is mostly empty, and the friend that said she’d show her how to make a prison pocket (as if Celia needs to, but she thinks it’ll still be handy, won’t it? and she really needs to get together with her because she—ah, fuck, she doesn’t care, not tonight).

Celia drains the bag, licking her lips. She flips it inside out and licks the sides, making sure to get every last drop.

And then she looks to Emily, eyes slightly unfocused, and says in a decidedly slurred voice,

“I’thinkit work. Work-duh. Work-edd. Work-edd-duh. Wooooorked.”

“Em. Emi. Y’know how… enemas, right?”

“S’like an enema.”

“C’you hear it?” Celia totters over to her, wiggling back and forth.

GM: Celia feels her artificial stomach clench. She is going to have to purge it, sooner or later.

“Huh. Wow. You got drunker than me way faster,” says Emily. She’s chewing through another slider.

“Is it ‘cause it’s… absorbed into your blood, that much faster, or somethin’?”

“Like, how’s it work with vampires, if your body’s dead?”

She motions at the bag.

“Also, th’ hell’s that thing?”

“An’, yeah, I know what a ’nema is.”

“I helped give Robby one for buttsex.”

She giggles.

“Or uhhh.”

“No, maybe I didn’.”

“Cause who cares if you get shit on the strap-on, right?”

“Well. I mean. Do care.”

“Take carea your toys’n all.”

“And poop bits durin’ sex not very sexy.”

“Just a bigger deal for guys when it’s poop bits on their wiener, y’know?”

“I don’ want poop bits on my lady bits.”

“So, they don’ wan’ poop bits on their boy bits, I get it. I geeeet it.”

Celia: “Nnnnnno. No. NO,” Celia says pointing at Emily. Or where she thinks Emily is.

“S’not… snot, ha, s’not in the, um, the blood, so it’s… I skipp’d… wai—wait, I don’ have a… a…”

She points at her belly, then looks up at Emily.

“Whu’? I dun’ poop.”

GM: “Oh.”


“Lucky. Not missin’ much.”

“Though kinda a nice feelin’, after it’s all out, sometimes.”

Celia: Celia nods, but it’s hard for her to remember what that feels like.

GM: “Did you an’ Stephen ever do buttsex?”

Celia: The question makes her guffaw. It’s a completely unexpected unladylike sound, and she follows it with more laughter that makes her double over, shaking her head back and forth, back and forth.

“Nnnno. He’s a, a—” she lifts her head, looking at Emily, “he’s vaaaaannilla.”

“HE’S a buttsex.”

GM: Emily smirks at first, then guffaws too as Celia’s laughter builds. The two laugh and laugh before Emily takes another swig of tequila.

“So’s Robby.”

“Vanilla, that is.”

“Buttsex was my idea.”

Celia: Her vision swims. She thinks, perhaps, she overdid the alcohol in the blood. It shouldn’t be sitting in her stomach like this. That’s not how it usually works.

“S’fun. I like it.”

GM: “Yeahhh. ’M kinkier than him,” Emily grins, biting into another slider.

She holds up a finger.

“But. But! Not too kinky.”

Celia: “All the—” Celia shushes.


GM: “Well. Like.”

“‘M open-minded. Into new things. Like spicin’ things up.”

“Don’ mind talkin’ ’bout sexy stuff. Kinky stuff.”

“But, was this guy I knew once.”

“Kinda friends. Friendly with. Casual… friends. Friendly. Y’know?”

Celia: Celia bobs her head up and down.

GM: Emily takes another swig of tequila.

“So, like, he’s really into kinky sex.”

“Lotta B, D, S&M stuff.”

Celia: “Beedsum,” Celia says, nodding.

GM: “An’ like it’s cooool, I dig it, I’m cool talkin’ ’bout it.”

“‘Cause I’m cool.”

“I’m cool, right?”

Celia: “Very cool.”

“Very cool,” she says again, putting a hand on her shoulder for emphasis.

GM: Emily nods sagely and takes another bite of slider.

“So, yeah, ’m cool, he knows.”

“An’ it’s fun at first, talkin’ ’bout kinky shit.”

“But. Like.”

“Some people, inch, mile, y’know?”

Celia: “Uhoh.”

GM: “Open door, never close?”

She gestures vaguely.

Celia: “Whadde do?”

GM: “Jus’. Wouldn’ stop talkin’ ’bout it, wimme.”

“Like. Alla time.”

“Sex sex sex sex sex.”

“Well. Kinky stuff.”

Celia: “Ugggh.”

GM: “Lotta it wasn’ actually sex.”

Celia: “Boys’re, they’re gross.”

GM: Emily nods.

“Think I’d become. Uh. Way he was gettin’ off.”

Celia: “Ew.”

“Wait was he cute?”

GM: “Uhhh.” Emily thinks. “Cute ’nough, I guess.”

Celia: “Did you sell ’im nuuuudes?”

GM: Emily giggles.

“Hahahaha. Noooo.”

“Like. I thought this was, platonic.”

“Well. Platonic. With maybe some flirtin’.”

“Fun flirtin’.”

“Not really serious flirtin’.”


Celia: “Uh uh, see, once y’… once y’open door, nev-uh—neverrr stops.”

GM: “An’, y’know, look, ‘m open-minded, if he got off to what we were talkin’ about, cool, is cooooool.”

“Like. Uh.”

“But moderation. Y’know?”

“Jus’ wouldn’ shut up.”

Celia: Celia nods again.

GM: “Wouldn’ lemme alone. ‘Eeeeemily, Eeeeeemily, talk ’bout kinky sex wimme!’”

“Like fuck off, ’m not your porn machine.”

Celia: “Whatchu do?”

GM: “Uhhh, basically tol’ him, knock it off, an’ he got kinda assholish.”

“Didn’ knock it off, sorta ‘pologized, but kept tryin’ to bring it up.”

“An’, like, whole thing felt kinda phony, after that. Gamin’ me, wantin’ to talk more ‘bout sex, when he thought I wouldn’ mind, y’know?”

Celia: “Didju ditch ’em?”

GM: “Yeah.”

“Ditched ’im.”


Celia: “Goo’, goo’, fuck ’im.”

GM: Emily takes a long swig of tequila.

Celia: “I thin’, Emmmmmiii, I thin’ I, uh, over… over boozed the, the blood.”

“It’s swishin’.”

GM: “Swishin’?”

Celia: Celia’s face lights up.

“Wan’ see?”

GM: “Okay,” Emily grins dumbly between more slider.

Celia: “C’mon, c’mon, gotta show you the, the lab! The lab!”

GM: “There’s a lab?” Emily asks, half to herself.

Celia: Celia rises on unsteady feet, staring down at her heels as if they’re personally to blame for the state of things. She kicks them off one at a time, then meanders down the hall toward Jade’s suite.

GM: Emily gets up, carrying the tequila and sack of remaining sliders with her.

She giggles as Celia kicks off her shoes.

“You looked soooooooo weird with those in Krystal.”

Celia:You looked weird,” Celia says back.

GM: “Uh. Wai’, no.”

“Sometimes see strippers an’ streetwalkers in stripper heels, there.”

“But it’s like, that or flats.”

Celia: “M’I stripper?”

GM: “Naaaaaaah.”

“S’why you stood out.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “Liiiiike, they’re either ginormous stripper heels, or flats.”

“Don’ get any in-betweens, there.”

Celia: “Maaaaaaybe I’mma classy stripper.”

GM: “Thas’ cool, tha’ sounds very cool.”

“Classy stripper.”

“I wanna be one. When I grow up.”

Celia: The boozy blood, meanwhile, has started to mix with her system. She’s not sober by any stretch of the word, but at least her BAC has (probably) gone down to a less “sloppy drunk” level.

“I’d be, no, we’d be! We’d be classy strippers.”

Celia takes Emily past the Tranquility Room and into what Lucy has referred to numerous times as the “green room” for all the plants that Celia keeps here. Not many of them are florals, but she has snake plants and peace lilies and a parlor palm and a Chinese evergreen and a rose painted calathea and a little table with succulents sticking out of various cute containers that she’s collected over the years, and a tiny jade plant sits near the sink in her room. A collection of Lucy’s artwork hangs along one wall, but the majority of the room is greenery. It’s not quite as striking as walking into Bloom Couture or standing in her grandsire’s rooftop garden, but being in this sea of plants when she has the waterfall plugged in and the fairy lights twinkle overhead and the humidifier or aroma therapy going… It’s like walking into another world.

Celia leads Emily toward the closet in her room, opening it to pull out an empty hamper where the sheets go between clients, and moves a few things out of the way. Then, finally, she reaches for the tiny, imperceptible latch, twists a key, and opens the door with a flourish.


GM: Emily’s been in there her share of times, often to admire Lucy’s artwork. She’s never had any business in the closet, though, until now. She stares inside and goes,


Celia: Celia beams at her.

The room beyond does not match the rest of the spa’s motif. It’s a combination spa and medical lab, with a stone table in the center of it and a drain on either side of the floor, long hoses that can be used to wipe down the station in a gif, and a free-standing cooler off to one side. She doesn’t keep anything particularly secret or risque in that one. A stainless steel cart full of various supplies sits next to the cooler, and there’s shelving with an assortment of other necessities. The air is chillier than the rest of the spa and the light overhead leaves no shadows in the room.

“This is it.”

GM: “Whoaaa,” Emily repeats, looking around after she steps through the closet.

“This, like. Secret lab.”

She giggles.

“In Narnia.”

“’Cause. Walk through a closet.”

Celia: Celia giggles too.

GM: “Lucy loves the shit outta those books.”

Celia: “I ’member.”

GM: “’Cause the girl. Got her name, too.”


“So uh.”

“Watcha do here?”

“This where you have lesbian sex with ’Lana?” she asks, wiggling her eyebrows.

Celia: Even in her drunken fugue, Celia recalls the last time they’d talked about Narnia. Her mom’s house. Randy had been there. She’d been riding a high that time, too.

She blinks at it’s gone, the memory dancing away in the wake of the question.




“Didju… how’dju know?”

GM: “Duuuude,” says Emily, taking another swig from the bottle.



“She has the hugest thing for you.”

“Like. Huge. Real big. Reeeeaaaal huge.”

Celia: “Oooh… yes.”

GM: “An’ you said sex with Lena.”

“Lena. ’Lana.”

Celia: “Whoops.”

GM: “Like. Reeeaaal close.”

Celia: Celia crosses her arms, nose in the air. “So we fuck, it’s chill.”

“Wait dun’ tell Mom.”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. Def not.”

“’S cool wimme anyway.”

“Even if she’s kinda a bitch.”

“Don’ think she likes me much.”

Celia: “Nah she’s jus’… jelly.”

“She jelly.”

“Dun’ tell her you know ’bout this.”

GM: “We ain’ fuckin’, why she jelly?”

Celia: “’Cause a the bond.”

GM: “Ohhh, she a… renfield.”

“Was gonna ask.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Whuzza bond, ’gain?”

“Did you ’splain earlier?”

“Feel you maybe did.”

“Lotta shit to take in. An’ I’m real drunk.”

Celia: She shrugs. “I dunno. S’when you drink the blood withou’ coolin’ so it makes you like people.”

GM: “Oh. Thas’ nifty.”

Celia: “S’like in… infatu… shun.”

GM: “Yeah she’s fuckin’ obsessed wi’ you.”

Celia: “Yeah we’re gon’ bang later.”

“Dun’ tell Mom.”

GM: “Ohhhh,” Emily nods sagely.

“Cross m’ heart.”

Celia: “Dun’ tell Daaaani.”

GM: “Wuzzit to Dani.”

Celia: “Or—or Stephen.”

GM: “Oh.”

“‘Cuz she’d tell ’im.”

Celia: “Yezzir.”

GM: “Uhhh. Think you should be honest ’bout that.”

Celia: “Tha’s wha’ they said.”

GM: “Well, is’ cheatin’, if he’s not okay with it.”

Celia: “Nah, nah, gimme—gimme your phone, I’ma, I’ma call ’im.”

GM: Emily unlocks and hands it over.

Celia: Celia stares down at the phone in her hands.

“Oh my god,” she whispers with a giggle, “we shou’ prank, prank call ’im.”

GM: Emily giggles.

“Les’ doooo it.”

Celia: “Ask—ask ‘im if, if his fridge is, is runnin’.”

GM: She plops down on the ground and chews another slider.

“D’you need, fridges?”

“Ah, dun matter.”

Celia: “Only for, uh, for blood ’n stuff.”

GM: “Whuzzis number?”

Celia: “Wai’, wai’, he dun’ know ’bout you.”

GM: “S’okay.”

“Caller unknown. Bet.”

“S’what his phone gonna read.”

Celia: “Bu’ he gon’ recognize you?”

“Voice magic.”

Celia wiggles her fingers.

GM: “Years ’go.”

“We ain’ talked in f’ever.”

Celia: “Whu… whu’do you mean years you jus’ saw ’im.”

GM: “Oh.”


“Guess I did.”

She nods sagely.

“Bein’ drunk don’ make me too bright.”

“Wai’, hol’ up.”

“He didn’ look like Stephen! Can’t blame me.”

Celia: “Wai’, wai’, whutchu thinka ’im?”

GM: “Uhhh.”


Celia: “Weird?”

GM: “He dun’ look like Stephen.”

Celia: “No he saw a-a night doc.”

GM: “Oh.”


Celia: “Yeah.”

“D’you think he’sa buttface?”

GM: “Uhhh.”


“So much shit tonight, y’know?”

“Kinda doesn’ stand out.”

Celia: Celia nods, then dials his number in the phone for Emily.

GM: “Oh, we gonna-” Emily starts, then takes the phone.

It rings several times before she’s answered with a, “Hello?”

Celia: Celia plops down next to her sister and presses her ear against the other side of the phone.

GM: “Is your re-fridge-rator runnin’?” grins Emily.

Celia: Celia snorts, pressing a hand to her mouth to contain her giggles.

GM: “Who is this?” demands Roderick’s sharp voice.

“Well you be’er RUN’ AN’ CAAATCH IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!” Emily screams at the top of her lungs, doubling over as she howls with laughter.

Celia: She loses it when she sees Emily lose it, dissolving into a fit of giggles as she mashes the phone’s “end call” button.

GM: Emily gives great seize-like howls of laughter between breathless heaves as she smacks her palm against the floor, over and over. The tequila bottle has toppled over. Some booze spills over the floor.

“Ooohhh, man,” says Emily, clutching her stomach.

Celia: Celia is too busy laughing to care about the spilled booze or sharp voice. She doesn’t lose her breath; it’s one long series of giggles punctuated by deep belly laughs and the occasional snort.

GM: Emily looks at Celia and then just laughs some more. She snorts and giggles and laughs her ass off.

“Ooooh… man….” she repeats.


She giggles.


“I’m real funny.”

“Reaaaal funny.”

Celia: Celia bobs her head in agreement, still giggling.

GM: “Th’ way I—screamed!”

She snorts down some more giggles.

“Is it runnin’!”

Celia: “Go—go catch i’!”

GM: Emily glances around for the tequila bottle.

“Oh. Whoops,” she grins.

Celia: “Em! Party foul!”

GM: “Naaaah, still a party.”

“This a total paaaarty.”



Celia: “Bes’ party.”

“We need muuuuusic.”

“Pu’ it on.”

“Dance wimme.”

GM: Emily takes the bottle with both hands, fits her mouth around it, and leans back to take a very long, very exaggerated pull.

There’s not a ton left in the bottle by this point, between the spill and the earlier swigs.

“M. Okay.”

Celia: It’s not a very large bottle. Emily will be hungover as fuck tomorrow, but she’ll live.

GM: “Be uh. Crappy dancer. Kinda drunk.”

Celia: “Nah s’cool, s’cool, jus’ follow me.”

GM: Emily reaches in the sack for another slider and stuffs the whole thing into her mouth. Her cheeks bulge.

Celia: “Yoooou’re a-a chipmunk.”

GM: “Mmf. Mmmf.”

Celia: Celia blows air into her cheeks to show her.

GM: “Sh’ a’ b-gg!” Emily exclaims, pointing at her face as she chews.

Celia: It’s too funny not to laugh. Celia doubles over again.

GM: Seeing Celia laugh, Emily snorts out her own guffaw. It’s a muffled sound past the food in her mouth. She chokes a bit, makes some noises, then hacks it out into her hand.

“’Eeeeew!” she exclaims.

Celia: “Eeeewwwwww,” Celia agrees, but laughs even more at it.

GM: Emily looks at the half-eaten mush in her hand, then guffaws more.

“Shoul’ I put it back, or throw away?”

“Pu’ back, y’know, like, baby bird!”

She giggles.

“‘Cept I did. My own chewin’.”

Celia: “Eewww, Emi, no, jus’ toss it.”

GM: “Oh. Well. Is’ all like this, after we chew it.”

“An’ we swallow it.”

“Eh. Fuck.”

Emily holds it to her mouth and stuffs it back in. Some of the mushed food runs down her face.

Celia: “S’gross, food is gross.”

GM: She chews for a few moments with a somewhat nonplussed expression.

“Eh. Worse.”

“Don’ recommend, takin’ it out like that.”

“Food’s awesome. Hangover gonna hurt less.”

Celia: “Need water.” Celia nods sagely, as if she has ever dealt with one.

“Hey, hey, whu time izzit?”

GM: “Uh. I ’unno,” says Emily.

“Hey, you wanna show me stuff?”

“Or jus’ Narnia.”

Celia: “You go’ the phone.”

“You gon’ ’member if I do?”

GM: “Uhhh. Dunno.”

Emily looks at the phone.

“Is uh, roun’ 3.”


Celia: “Oh. Y’think you coul’be sober’n hour?”

GM: “Uhhhh.”


Celia: “Go’a meet s’mone.”

GM: “You wanna, me, mee’ somebody?”

Celia: Celia nods. “Mee’im at, at four.” She holds up four fingers.

GM: “Celia, ‘m really drunk an’ really…”

She waves a finger.

Celia: “Oh okay. We go home?”

GM: “Uhhgghhh.”

“I don’ wanna walk.”

Celia: “C’mon, I get us a Ryde.”

GM: “Too much walkin’. Car walkin’. Wanna stay here.”

Emily: “Here?” She giggles. “No bed here!”

GM: “Mm, I don’ mind,” yawns Emily, laying side-down against the floor.

Celia: “No, no, c’mon, there’s a couch.”

GM: “Mm. Uh.”

She rests her cheek against the floor for a moment.

“Maybe I do.”

“’S hard.”


“Dicks are hard.”

She giggles.

“Diiiiiiick joke!”

Celia: Celia giggles with her.

“You’re silly. C’mon, I’ll show you.”

She rises, then bends back down to lift Emily to her feet. There’s a couch in her office for situations like these.

Not that she’s used it for much besides sex.

Except that time she was working late and slept beneath it.

GM: “’M not silly. ’M very serious,” declares Emily as Celia helps her up.

Celia: “Ser’us bizniss.”

GM: “’M, ’zatafact,” agrees Emily. She bonks her head against the closet as they walk back through ‘Narnia’.

“Owww,” she groans. She glares up at it.

“Fuckin’ wardrobe.”

“Fuckin’ lion.”

“Fuck ’im.”

Celia: “Fuck ’im,” Celia agrees, rubbing her head for her.

GM: “Jesus lion,” mutters Emily.

Celia: Still reeling herself, it’s an effort to move in a straight line to get Emily to the closet door and into the room beyond. She manages, though, and they stop off in the Vichy room so Emily can rinse the vomit, sweat, and other signs of disgust from her. Celia leads her up the stairs to her office when she’s clean, wrapped in a towel, and hands her a set of clothes.

GM: Emily looks at the table blearily, strips off her clothes, and collapses onto it. She gives a contented “aaahhhhh” as the warm water luxuriates over her.

She lets it run for a while.

“Aaaahhh…” she sighs.

She closes her eyes.

She stops moving.

After a little while, Celia can hear her snoring.

Celia: “Oh,” Celia says.

“‘kay you sleep there, I’ll move you later.”

GM: Light snores under the still-running water are her only reply.

Celia: Celia shuts the water off and finds a handful of towels for Emily, using one to cover her body and another rolled beneath her head as a pillow.

She makes sure Emily’s head is turned to one side, just in case of vomiting.

“You sleep, Emi. You sleep.”

She dims the light as she leaves the room, locking it behind her.

The time with Emily was nice, but it can’t last forever. She has monsters to get back to.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia XXVI
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Caroline II

Previous, by Celia: Story Thirteen, Celia XXVI
Next, by Celia: Story Thirteen, Celia XXVIII

Story Thirteen, Celia XXVI

“This whole thing. It’s just… it’s just sick. It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia."
Danielle Garrison

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Bourbon Heat. It fits tonight, and despite the odd hour—later than she would have been, which only ups her odds—and odd day she pulls into a decent crowd. The Sunday night specials must be doing their fair share of work to attract the breathers, and the music spilling out into the streets is nothing but a siren song to those who wish to spend their Sunday partying rather than getting ready for work in the morning. With more than half the population of the Quarter as tourists, there are plenty of kine for her to feed from that don’t feel the pull of the nine-to-five.

Celia joins the kine, cloaking herself in shadow and mystery, and looks for Dani in the crowd even as she searches for a suitable mark. Not just a vessel, no, but someone else who will serve her purpose this evening. Another mark who will be more than just blood. Luck dances through her veins; she knows, this evening at least, that she will find exactly what she’s looking for.

GM: Dani meets her there after texting her along the way. Roderick’s sister is dressed up for a night out in a silk blouse, tight pants, heels, and dangle earrings. Sexy but not trashy.

“Hi, Celia!” she exclaims, smiling widely as she hugs her brother’s girlfriend.

“It feels like forever since I’ve seen you!”

Celia: Who had she dressed up for, Celia wonders, the lick or the breathers? She has a feeling she knows and she is unsurprised. She, too, feels the pull.

“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs into the shell of her ear, breathing in the scent of perfume, blood, excitement. Her heart goes pitter-patter in its little cage of bone and tissue, and Celia’s echoes the sentiments. Music pounds in her ears, demanding that she move her body accordingly. So she does, pulling Dani close to her so that their hips align, then using a hand at the small of her back to guide her in a series of elegant moves that end with Dani dipped, long line of her throat exposed. Flashy for a nightclub, but Celia manages to make it look effortless, to make it look as if the music had demanded such a display. Then Celia pulls Dani back in, nuzzling the neck of her lover’s little sister.

She whispers an apology for last night. Trouble, she says, and leaves it at that, content to spend a moment in the arms of someone who adores her.

GM: Dani laughs as Celia pulls her into the dance and matches her pace. Dani isn’t bad on her feet at all, but she can’t match the Toreador’s same easy grace. Music pounds in the pair’s ears as lights flash over their bodies. The smell of sweat, perfume, and tightly packed bodies is omnipresent. So many people in this club, Celia is sure, want to be young forever. To dance and drink and party their nights away over an unending eternity of earthly pleasures.

Only two of them get that wish.

Dani tries to say something as a blue light pulses over her bared throat, but it’s almost inaudible on the dance floor.

Celia: That’s okay, Celia probably doesn’t much care about it anyway. Right now she doesn’t want to talk. She’s had enough talking, enough explaining, enough being told what to do and baring her soul. Right now she wants to feel. To dance. To feed.

She twirls Dani around again, then spins the same way until her back hits Dani’s chest and her butt finds the cradle between her hips, and she shimmies for everything she’s worth when the tempo hits its peak with the thin-blood’s arms around her.

GM: Dani says something again. Celia probably cares just as little. Dani rolls with it, probably aware she can’t be heard, and just dances. She lets Celia lead. They lose themselves in the lights, the music, the undulating sway of bodies, the rhythm pulsing through the crowd. Would someone even notice if Celia fed on them here? That’s what Dani did. Celia sure noticed.

This time, though, Dani doesn’t sink her small fangs into the true-blood’s neck. This time, they are something other than (attempted) predator and prey to each other.

This time, they just dance like 20-something girls on a fun night out.

Celia: It might be important. Celia will ask her later, but no doubt she’ll forget or say it doesn’t matter. It happens. Celia has forgotten plenty of things, too. Always at the worst time.

This thought flees her mind as well, lost to the loud music and the high she rides from everything that has happened this evening. For the first time in a long time, she’s free. Her mother is safe. Lucy is safe. Emily is safe-ish. She’s decided to cut Roderick loose after this last task, and she has… a new sister. Two, if she’s not mistaken, once more spinning with Dani on the floor. She giggles, the sound lost to the strum of the bass as the music throbs overhead. It’s in her bones, in her heart, in her very soul, demanding that she move, twist, bob, weave.

It animates her like nothing else ever has. She comes alive beneath the colored lights in the midst of the throng of sweating, drinking kine. She’s the flame to the moths, a shining jewel in the center of the crowd.

She’s dazzling. Literally. The luck ignites her from the inside out, dancing across her skin and through her hair and down her legs just as she dances upon the club floor. It flutters out of her with every giggle, every stray glance, every “accidental” touch, drawing these kine further into the adoring goddess that has so humbly graced them with her presence. It lights up her brain, connecting neurons and pathways and creating a plan, the plan, to handle Randy’s disappearance.

And it starts here, right now, with Dani.

Celia casts her eye through the crowd for a likely target.

And oh, how she dazzles. A flame amidst the moths, beckoning them ever closer with stray glances and accidental touches. She uses Dani like a prop, letting her hands linger on her stomach just shy of the swell of her breasts, blowing warm air across her neck as she spins close to tease not only the girl but the boys looking as well, the boys who think, I know that face, but can’t remember where, only now that they’ve seen it they know that they want it, want her, want both of them.

The huntress has her pick of the litter; Luck’s hands guide her eyes toward a particular specimen, tall with broad shoulders and eyes that belong on a face ten years younger. A boy’s eyes. Innocent. Eager. Apprehensive even, when the huntress and her disciple traipse toward him under the guise of the crowd pushing them together. He is not so handsome that he thought to win her affection, but the doctor and esthetician inside agree that beauty, as her lover said, is only skin deep.

How fortunate for her that she can mold this one like putty.

The rest of him is right. His size, like his twin, dwarfs her. The heat of his large hands cradle her when she moves close. His chest is the perfect height for her to rest her cheek, just as she has so many times before. She sighs his name into his shirt, the two syllables lost like so many other this evening, and kisses his neck with her lips.

She doesn’t need to speak. Just promise, with eyes and smile and body, a good time if he follows.

So he does.

They always do.

GM: Luck guides Celia’s path… a bit of luck. The guy looks a bit like Randy. Tall and broad and looks as if he spends time at the gym. Tan skin. Short brown hair. Designer stubble beard. A different man with the same general description.

It’s the eyes that are the most different. Brown rather than rather than that seemingly shifting blue and green and hazel. None of the puppydog trust and devotion. The helpless, head over heels infatuation. The kind that made him spend seven years in a ‘relationship’ with a girl who never got around to physically consummating it, but were never so cruel as to take what he wanted by force, like his brother no doubt would have. The eyes of this random partying stranger are a hollow substitute for the real thing.

Then again, so was Randy.

Is a hollow substitute of a hollow substitute actually the truest one she could find?

The boy, meanwhile, laughs when Celia kisses him. He smiles and takes her arm, but unusually doesn’t reciprocate the kiss. He exclaims something that’s lost over the music’s din, then points towards the bar, where it’s marginally quieter.

“Oh my god, you’re Celia Flores!” he gushes when they get there. “I’m gay, sorry. But I love your makeup videos! I’ve been following your MeVid channel for like a year!”

Celia: Gay. Of course he is. On occasion she’d even wondered if Randy was. Strung along for years—who lets a girl do that to them?

But she smiles, pleased that he’s a fan, and takes the out he gives her. The mask laughs, cheeks reddening beneath the cool light from overhead, and her eyes dart away in an almost-nervous fashion before she looks back to him. The embarrassment is clear on her face.

“Sorry! I thought you were someone else, didn’t mean to push myself on you like that. The dark and the crowd—” she waves a hand over her shoulder to indicate the packed floor.

GM: “No, no, it’s okay!” laughs the boy. “I mean, nightclub, what do you expect, right?”

“So what are you doing here if you’re gay?” asks Dani with some amusement, having followed Celia back to the bar.

The bartender has a vaguely nonplussed look when he sees Dani sit down.

“I’m here with my boyfriend,” the boy answers. “Connor’s bi. He’s just tired of going to gay clubs all the time.”

“That’s nice of you to do for him,” smiles Dani.

“Wellll he’s gonna suck me off,” winks the boy, then turns back to Celia.

“Can I get you a drink? All my girlfriends love your videos!”

Celia: Celia laughs again, delighted at the offer. And the turn of events. Two for one, bi boyfriend? She can make that work.

She can make that work all night.

“I was just about to offer to buy you one for the mistaken identity.” She lifts a hand at the bartender. “What’re you having? And wave Connor over, I’ll get him one too. And you, Rach.” A nod to Dani.

GM: “Okay, I’ll get you one and you get me one,” smiles the boy. “I’ll have an Agent Orange Explosion. Hey! Connor!”

He waves in his boyfriend’s general direction, then when no one comes over, he places the girls’ orders, gets up, and tells them to save his seat.

“Watch the drinks here,” Dani mutters, not looking away from the bartender as he gets them ready.

Celia: Celia leans in close, murmuring to Dani that she has nothing to fear while Celia is here with her. She won’t let anything happen to her. But she, too, keeps an eye on the drinks as they’re being made after she orders—with quite a bit more subtlety than her friend.

She asks Dani in an undertone if she’ll be okay handling Connor by herself. And mentions that Stephen hates the idea of her “picking up guys at bars,” with a bit of an eye roll and “what can you do” expression.

GM: Dani smiles at Celia’s initial words.

She looks unsure how to answer the question for a moment.

“Um. I kinda don’t want to have sex. I can just feed on him?”

Celia: “Just feed,” she agrees, “and he’ll think he got lucky. You saw it with Alana.”

GM: “Okay. But you’ll stay close?”

The thin-blood sounds like she thinks mere kine could rape her.

Maybe they well could.

Celia: “I was going to take him back to the spa.” She doesn’t mention her intended murder. “I owe your brother,” she tacks on in a lower voice, “so I need to bleed him a little more than what I can safely do here.” It’s a ready excuse. True, even.

Boyfriend is a loose end, though.

“Come with. Flirt a little with the boyfriend on the way. Play with your hair. Laugh at his lame jokes.”

GM: “Okay,” nods Dani. “And we can feed on them at the spa?”

“And what do you mean you owe Stephen?”

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia says to the first question. Then, lowering her gaze for half a second, she debates the merits of turning Dani against her brother again. It’s an easy thing to do, isn’t it? Just tell the truth. She’s gotten so good at that with all of his corrections lately.

“I was injured on Friday. He told me I had to pay it back when we woke up on Saturday and I lost control.”

“Didn’t want to reward bad behavior.” A laugh. Dismissive. But how ugly that tale can get if she expands even slightly.

Not yet, though. Not just yet.

GM: “Oh. So had he loaned you blood or something?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Mm, something like that.”

GM: “Okay, I guess that’s fair.”

Celia: Perhaps. If he hadn’t been the one to wound her in the first place. But she smiles all the same.

GM: “I… didn’t mention this earlier, but I gave your mom some blood, a little while ago. She was really hungry and she’s done so much for me.”

Celia: “Usually that’s a fair trade,” Celia acknowledges. She’s given other halfbloods a hit before. Standard payment. “I don’t think yours sustains her the same. Speaking of.”

Celia turns to fix the girl with a very serious look.

“I found your sire.”

GM: “No, she thought I tasted bad and didn’t ask ag-”

Dani’s eyes widen.


Celia: “Not so loud, Dani.”

“He’s being delivered to me tonight.”

GM: The bartender glares in Dani’s direction as she raises her voice.

Dani doesn’t even look back at him. She has eyes only for Celia as she lowers her voice. Her breath is hitched.

“To Flawless?”

“Who is it?”

“Why did they do this to me?”

Celia: “I don’t know yet, but that’s what I’ll discover tonight. I wanted to keep you in the loop. I know you’ve had a lot of choices ripped away.”

GM: Dani’s knuckles are white as she clutches her newly-arrived drink. Her cheeks are turning red.

“I want to be there, Celia. I want to see him. I want to ask him, to his face. I want to ask him why. I want…”

“I want justice.

Celia: Celia understands the desire all too well. She nods slowly.

“I mentioned it to your brother last night. He said he’d like to meet him first, make sure it’s safe.” She looks away, then back at Dani, touching the side of her own glass as if the act gives her courage. “The guy dropping him off is trouble. I can hold him for tomorrow.”

GM: Dani still grips her glass, but doesn’t take a drink yet. She looks at Celia the whole time.

“So that’s it. Flawless, tomorrow. That’s when I can talk to him.”

Celia: She hadn’t thought Dani would be so accepting of the offer. She nods again.

“Yes.” A pause, then even lower, “don’t tell him I told you already, okay?”

GM: Dani frowns.

“Why not?”

Celia: “I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. We’re… have you seen him since the other night?” The lift of her brows implies the park.

GM: “Yes. And what do you mean by ‘wrong idea’? He obviously wants to catch the guy who did this to me as much as we do.”

Celia: “When did you see him?”

GM: “Last night. What does that matter?”

Celia: “He didn’t seem off to you?” Celia presses.

GM: “Celia’s, what’s going on, and why don’t you want me to tell him this?”

Celia: “We’re in the middle of a fight,” Celia finally says. She looks away. “It’s probably my fault. But he told me he wanted to meet the guy before you and I don’t want him to think I’m disobeying. So can you just…” she looks back to Dani, gesturing between the two of them, “keep it between us, please?”

GM: “It’s not up to him if he wants to meet the guy first,” Dani says crossly. “This is about ME. What he did to ME.”

Celia: Celia the liar winces. “I know.”

GM: “And yeah, I can tell you’re in a fight, considering he also asked me some similar stuff.”

Celia: “About me?”

GM: “He asked me not to share what we talked about until the fight between you guys is resolved.”

Celia: “Is it… is it bad?” Celia asks in a small voice.

GM: Dani squeezes her hand.

“Celia, just tell the truth and it’ll be okay.”

Celia: “About what? I did! I did and he…” Moisture gathers in the corners of her eyes. “He hates me. He hates me. God, Dani, I fucked up, I fucked it all up, I’m so fucking stupid—”

She presses a hand to her face.

GM: Dani quickly hugs her.

“You’re not stupid, and he doesn’t hate you! He just hates the things that have come between you. But he loves you. He loves you and he wants your relationship to work.”

Dani pulls back after a moment.

“Just be honest. Just tell the truth, all of it. No more drama. No more lies, no more things unsaid. Just put out everything on the table and decide together what you want to do from there. Okay? It’ll be fine.”

Celia: “Did he say that?” Celia asks in a voice reminiscent of a child asking if Santa is real.

GM: “Yes, he did,” Dani nods.

“He also said, ‘The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and fear.’

Celia: There’s little enough space for Dani to breathe after that with Celia clinging to her as she does, arms thrown around her and face buried against her neck.

GM: Dani keeps hugging her and runs her hands along Celia’s back.

“I’m going to text him that you told me about my sire. I’m also going to tell him off for wanting to talk to him first. I think less drama and more honesty is the answer here.”

Celia: “You don’t think bringing that up is more drama?”

GM: “Like I said, and like he said, I think we should all just be honest with each other.”

Celia: Maybe she’s right.

Still, Celia has the feeling she’s landed in the center of an even worse storm.

“Dani?” she asks after a quiet moment, pulling away from the girl. “What does… what does that quote mean, exactly? I mean I get the gist, but for he and I..?”

GM: Dani’s answer to that question is interrupted when the boy returns. He’s accompanied by another young man with dark skin, short hair, and a clean-shaven face. He’s the taller of the two and dressed in an unbuttoned white button-up and black jeans.

“Sorry we took so long, ladies,” smiles Connor. He plants a hand on Celia’s and Dani’s shoulders and grins between them. “We’d have hurried back if I knew how hot you were.”

“Oh, you!” laughs the boy, stroking Connor’s back.

Celia: “Smooth,” smirks Celia, instantly moving from one personae to another. She offers almost-Randy (had he introduced himself?) his drink, but holds the second out of Connor’s reach.

“Pop quiz, darling. Who’s hotter?”

GM: “Oh, you’re way hotter than me,” Connor grins as he plops down on a nearby seat with his boyfriend.

Celia: “Mm, almost a party foul, you’re supposed to say your boyfriend. But I’ll allow it.” She offers him the drink.

GM: Connor raises it in almost-toast and drinks.

“I thought you were asking which of us,” Dani remarks with some amusement.

The boy giggles and sips his drink. “It was a good save.”

Celia: “That’s the trap,” Celia says, slinging an arm around Dani’s shoulders. “Watch him sweat while he tries to decide, then hand the drink over to his poor, forgotten boyfriend who dragged himself all the way to the Quarter from… where, again?”

GM: Dani giggles next and snuggles against Celia.

“Well, smarter answer, that you’re hotter than him.”

“All the way from the Quarter,” smirks Connor. “We live here.”

He and his boyfriend look Celia and Dani up and down.

“You two together?” the boyfriend asks slyly.

Celia: Locals. That’s messy, isn’t it. Perhaps Lady Luck has other plans for her this evening.

“We’re testing the waters,” Celia says, just as slyly. “My boyfriend and I split a few weeks back, so I thought I’d see what the other side has to offer.”

GM: Lady Luck already brought her a man in Randy’s likeness.

The boyfriend giggles and sips his drink.

“She’s a bluuuushing!”

Dani is blushing.

Celia: No doubt Dani’s brother would react poorly if she were to try anything with the girl. Not that she isn’t still tempted. She nuzzles Dani’s neck, nipping at the lobe of her ear.

“She’s shy,” Celia tells the boys. “Too many eyes on her in a place like this.”

GM: “How ’bout we go someplace with less eyes?” asks Connor, not missing a beat.

Celia: Those are the magic words.

Celia smiles at the pair and rises to her feet.

GM: Everyone else takes final pulls of their drinks and gets up.

“I’m Rachel. What’s your name?” Dani asks the boyfriend.

“Ryan,” he answers as the four make their way out of the club.

Celia: “What do you do, Ryan? And you, Smooth Talker,” she adds to Connor, winding her fingers through Dani’s so the kid doesn’t get any ideas.

GM: “Usually guys, though I’m okay with girls if there’s also a guy, too,” Ryan answers breezily.

Connor smirks. “We’re in college. Xavier.”

Celia: That young? Celia glances them over again.

“Studying what?”

GM: They look old enough to be legally drinking, though bars and clubs in the Quarter are notoriously lax about checking IDs.

“Well I’m doing engineering, but Ryan’s trying to get by on Fine Arts.”

“Ouch,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia smiles.

“What’s your medium?”

GM: “Theater,” he says. “I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid, but ha ha, good luck making it in Hollywood today. But I knew I wanted to do acting and there’s less bullshit in theater. It’s just acting without any other bullshit, you know?”


Celia: “Difficult,” Celia agrees with a nod, “unless you know someone.”

Celia knows someone. The right someone, too. She gives the kid another once-over, forcing herself to look past his resemblance to Randy.

GM: He’s shorter than Randy is, and wearing tight pants she has a hard time seeing Randy in. Perhaps also makeup too, if he follows her videos. It’s hard to see Randy wearing makeup.

“Well I mean that’s everything, right?” shrugs Connor.

“Yeah, but harder in some places,” says Ryan.

“Mmm, like here?” grins Connor, feeling up his boyfriend’s crotch.

Ryan laughs and swats him.

Dani glaces towards Celia, as if asking how she wants to handle things next.

She laughs along with the pair, then asks, “You two from here?”

“Nah, Charlotte,” says Connor.

“Austin,” says Ryan.

“Austin seems like a really fun city,” remarks Dani.

“Yeah, the whole city is basically one big college campus,” says Ryan.

Celia: It’s an idle thought, whatever it is that’s crossing her mind, and she wonders if this is how most Kindred find their future puppets. At bars, walking them toward their death, musing over whether or not it’s more practical to murder them or give them a boost. It’s hard to imagine her sire or grandsire meeting people like this, though.

And really, what’s the use of a movie star pawn? What’s the benefit there? She can think of a few. More than she’d been able to list for a governor.

“Quarter can’t be too big a change, then,” Celia says with a grin, “all the parties and debauchery.”

Austin is on the way to LA, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll pop by.

“Speaking of, is your place far?”

GM: “Oh the Quarter’s better,” says Ryan.

“It’s walkable, but we can take a Ryde if you want,” says Connor.

“I’m gonna change my shoes if we’re walking,” says Dani.

It’s been seven years since shoes pained Celia.

Celia: Good thing, too. Whoever designs heels must make them uncomfortable on purpose. Celia used to wonder why until she found out it’s usually a man.

GM: Emily had a lot to say about that too. “Of course guys don’t care about comfort when they don’t have to wear them.”

Celia: Emily has a lot to say about everything.

It makes her worry about how the rest of the night is going to go, and how deeply Celia wants to involve her in this life, or if she should find someone to erase the memories.

“Extras in your purse, Rachel? Clever.”

GM: Emily learns more and more about this life with every minute Diana spends with her.

“Yeah,” she says. “I like having the option if I want it.”

“You ladies wanna head back to our place or yours?” asks Connor.

Celia: “Yours.”

GM: “Works,” says Ryan.

Dani changes her shoes, though it’s a short enough trip back to the two’s apartment. It’s clean enough (“obviously because Ryan’s gay,” Connor says when Dani remarks) for a low-budget college student’s starter place. Rents in the Quarter aren’t the cheapest, but they’ve been able to make it work between being roommates, part-time jobs, and… “but you don’t wanna hear about that shit,” says Connor, already pulling off Celia’s dress as he pulls her onto the bed.

That says it all on which of them he thinks is hotter.

Celia: Despite herself, she does want to hear about that shit. Maybe it’s because he looks like Randy. Maybe it’s because some part of her, the part that wants to take care of her family after messing them up, thinks learning more about these two will absolve her of some of the guilt she feels over everyone she’s ever murdered. Maybe she sees it as another way to punish herself for the sins she’s committed: finally viewing these juicebags as real people with their own lives rather than just her next meal.

And maybe she just wants to make sure there aren’t any loose ends when she comes back to slaughter them.

But she doesn’t push, not when he’s already willing to bare his throat for her and let her sink in. She hadn’t planned on getting naked, not really, but the more attention paid to her the less is paid to Dani, and both huntress and girl agree that protecting the cub is worth showing a bit of skin.

She makes all the right noises when Connor touches her. She’s warm, inviting, friendly. She helps him out of his clothing, puts the attention on him rather than the newborn, brings in the boyfriend so he, too, has his memories fogged by the kiss. Celia breaks their skin with her fangs and lets Dani drink from one and then the other, and Celia does the opposite so that at all times the boys are ensnared with heady bliss, lost in the sensation of the Toreador’s well-practiced touch. And if a stray hand grazes Dani’s chest in the midst of this pretend fling, if Celia’s lips linger on her mouth after licking the blood from the corner of her lips for half a second too long, if her taut, toned, naked body presses against the girl in untamed desire and she breaks Dani’s skin with her teeth and lets the sour-sweet blood dance across her tongue (like a mortal, she thinks, pleased that Dani is practicing the shadow dancing, and even though she knows the truth she lets the lie fill her mouth)—well, that’s all just part of the experience, isn’t it?

It’s not sex. The act isn’t reciprocated. She’s only protecting Dani from feeling the full effects of the horror of being in bed with two men after suffering from a sexual assault not too long ago, clouding her mind to turn anxiety and distress to bliss. She prods her Beast as she suckles on the blonde, asking it if this blood, even disguised, will sate it beyond what a mortal can provide.

Is there a use for this plague of half-bloods or are they simply a drain on society, hoarding blood that their better-bred cousins deserve?

The thought makes her wonder about other implications. Other things she knows that she buries deep. And it makes her a generous master indeed when she recalls that Dani’s kind functions better with lick blood in their system, that it gives them access to a broad array of powers; Edith’s words float through her mind, the deeper they drink the stronger they get. With the ready availability of these two hapless kine Celia has no problem at all finishing her brief experiment on Dani’s blood to offer her own, slicing herself open so that her vitae trails in red rivulets between her—

No, no, it is sex, this is sex, this is sex with her lover’s sister, and the thought is enough to pull her from the spell, to reach for the glass of water one of the boys left on his nightstand and dump the contents onto the peace lily’s pot beside it, then bite her wrist to pour into the cup for Dani so that she does not need to lick the red from Celia’s chest.

Blood flows freely this evening. Everything Celia loses to the cub she takes back from the boys, and with Dani sated on Toreador vitae the kine are spared from the serious injury of overfeeding. The four pass time in a tangled mass of limb and lip, all of them sated when the magic ends. A wet spot on the mattress and another on the floor shows just how sated the kine are. Pale from blood loss, wounds licked shut, Celia avoids the worst of the semen-splattered stains when she arranges them neatly in bed like she would any drunk, watching their chests rise and fall in deep, even breaths after they lazily murmur their contentment with the evening.

Fast asleep, tucked in by the monster inside their home. It stirs an old memory, a dark hallway—

Celia washes the remnants of the bodily fluids from her with a quick rinse in the shower, dries, and puts her dress back on while Dani waits near the door. And if a set of keys happens to fall into Celia’s purse on the way out, well, that’s just the hazard of picking up girls in bars.

You never know who’s going to rob you blind.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

“Good score,” Celia says to Dani once they’re clear of the house.

GM: “Yeah,” says Dani.

She’s quiet for a bit.

“Is there another way to do this?”

Celia: “You don’t have to go home with them. Or get naked. They won’t usually remember. But my domain includes more than the clubs. You could learn to pick locks and feed on sleepers. Develop a herd, which are just vessels that let you feed. Not that you tell them what you’re doing,” she adds.

GM: “Oh. You mean like your mom?”

“Not that I’m asking to feed on her,” the thin-blood adds. “Is that just an example of what a herd is?”

Celia: “Sort of. She’s a ghoul. We don’t always use them as part of the herd. More like, for example, my clients at the spa.”

GM: “Ah. I’d feel better about doing this consensually, if that’s what a herd involves.”

“I’d only fed a couple times when we met.”

“I just got really close to guys on the dance floor and took a drink there.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah, that’s how you were found, though. Find a private corner rather than doing it out in the open. Bathroom, maybe. Herd isn’t quite consensual, it’s just not violent. Telling them what you’re doing risks people finding out about us, which will get you into trouble.”

She thinks further.

“Blood bank,” she suggests. “You could buy it bagged, just reheat it. Or, ah, there’s a scene guy who walks around in all black claiming he’s a vampire and people let him drink from them because they think it’s kinky. Pretty sure he’s mortal, but you could try something like that too.”

“I’d maybe ask Rod, though. This and the spa is my MO.”

GM: Dani cracks a smile at the guy’s description. “That sounds bad for the Masquerade.”

“That’s a good idea, though. I’ll ask Stephen.”

“I don’t think picking up guys like this is my thing.”

Celia: “Girls?”

GM: “Thanks for… keeping them busy.”

Celia: “Mm. I figured you wouldn’t want them to touch you.”

GM: “I wonder if I could also feed on animals?”

Celia: “Oh.”


“You can.”

“I don’t, but some people do.”

GM: “Oh. That makes it a lot simpler.”

“The meat industry obviously produces tons of blood.”

Celia: It hadn’t even occurred to her. She doesn’t gain much sustenance from the blood of animals.

“Mhm,” she agrees. “Or you could adopt a bunch of pets. Some outlaws hunt bigger things. Thrill of the chase and all.”

GM: Dani cracks another smile. “I’d feel bad about feeding from dogs, honestly.”

“Makes me wonder, though…”

Dani pulls out her phone from her purse, taps into it, and reads,

“Where does the blood from a slaughter house go? The quantity is vast. It is stored in huge vats until tankers come to collect it. It is taken to rendering plants with blood processing facilities, or disposed of in sewers (which lead into the nearest water body), in landfills or spread over land. Some amount is used to make human food and animal feed.”

Celia: “Find a slaughter house nearby, see if you can buy wholesale.”

“Just, y’know, file for an LLC or something with your name not attached to it and buy it through that.”

GM: Dani scrolls through her phone some more, then looks up and smiles again.

“That’s just what I was thinking. I guess you could’ve been a lawyer too.”

Celia: “Doubt it.” But Celia smiles back all the same.

GM: “Hard to explain what you’re buying a bunch of animal blood for outside a business context like that.”

Celia: “Mm. You mentioned the food. Medical stuff too, I bet. Spa products, beauty things. A lot of… well, maybe not a lot of, but some skincare products use animal parts.”

“And plants. Well. Like they try to use more plants now, like stem cells and stuff.”

“Less controversial.”

GM: “Oh, that’s perfect! Maybe I could set it up so it gets delivered to Flawless? Add an extra layer of legitimacy and all.”

Celia: Celia considers the request. Bit of a tip off to get blood delivered to the spa when she’s already under suspicion, isn’t it?

“I’d, ah, ask your brother that too. Worried huge amounts of blood coming to the spa of a known lick is going to cause problems. He’ll have a better idea if we should use another cover. But if he thinks it’s not a problem then I don’t see why not.”

There you go, Rod, go on and make the hard decisions since you’re so dead-set on controlling everything. Tell your sister no.

“Sorry about last night,” she adds. “Didn’t mean to blow you off.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll do that,” Dani nods. “And it’s fine. I was wondering if I could come with you to church tonight, also? As Hannah. I want to see what that’s like.”

Celia: “That’s… dangerous,” Celia finally settles on. She stops walking, turning to Dani with a grave expression. “I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I don’t think you understand the hatred most of us have for your kind. They barely even let the clanless come, let alone half-bloods. You could pass as a servant, sure, but if you catch the wrong sort of attention? There’s no trial. Just execution.”

Celia reaches for her hand, imploring her to understand.

“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I’m… kind of in trouble with the wrong people, and that’s why I told you to stay home last night. I have a feeling they might be watching me a little more closely right now because I pissed them off, and if you’re seen with me and they take a closer look…”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to put you in danger.”

GM: “But I thought I was safe unless someone tasted my blood. Why would someone do that?”

“Everyone basically just ignored me at that club we went to.”

Celia: “They’re breathers.” Celia considers a moment, then, “did you share blood with another lick recently?”

GM: “You, yes.”

Celia: “Besides me. Did Rod give you any?”

GM: “Yeah, he did.”

Celia: “Hm. I don’t think he’s a shadow dancer, but I guess he could have picked it up. You weren’t cloaking, were you?” Or is Celia just that much prettier than Dani that the girl fades into the background? Rude to ask, isn’t it.

“Did he use a cup?”

GM: “No, I wasn’t.” Dani looks a little puzzled by the question. “And yes, he did.”

Celia: “What did you pick up from him? Speed?”

“I’m just curious about that,” Celia admits. “The totem twisting. Since he and I are different.”

GM: “Speed,” Dani nods. “He’s really fast.”

“Though I’m sure you know that.”

Celia: “Yeah. I was just curious if you picked up anything else. And since I gave you a few hits, if you’ve got more than the charm…” Celia trails off. “Is he still in you? The speed? Because… like, okay, I guess if he thinks it’s okay if I bring you with me, but I really, really don’t want something bad to happen to you.”

“But come on. I need to get dressed anyway. Do you have your mask? You tell him you want to go and we’ll figure it out from there.”

GM: “I think so?” Dani answers Celia’s first question. “I feel pretty light on my feet.”

“And yeah, I have my mask.”

“I don’t see why I need to ask him, though. This is something I want to do.”

Celia: “Because if he finds out I enabled you to do something reckless he’s going to kill me.”

Hard to tell if she’s kidding or not.

GM: “Okay.” Dani fishes out her phone and fires off a text. The pair have since arrived back at their cars.

Celia: Celia doesn’t like how readily Dani accepts the idea of Stephen killing her.

“Follow me, then. You can raid my closet for this.”

GM: “Oh good, I was wondering what I should wear.”

Dani gets into her car and follows after Celia’s.

Celia: She’s moving soon. That’s what she tells herself when she leads Dani to the haven on the edge of the Quarter. Too many people have seen it for her to consider it secret anymore. So she’s moving. Soon. She’ll start looking for places tomorrow.

GM: Dani parks her car when they’re there, gets out, and reads her phone.

“Stephen said it’s not without risk, but it’s up to me. Also that I should probably be more worried about renfields than licks.”

“Since they’ll be the ones I sit with and who might actually talk to me.”

“He said there should be some kind of cover story for how we met and what I do for you.”

Celia: Would he have said the same if Celia had asked?

She leads Dani inside and kicks off her shoes on her way to the closet.

“Mm. Yes, I was going to say the same. You’re new, so we can use that to cover some ignorance, but mind your manners if nothing else. Sir and ma’am. Keep your fangs hidden. No talk of Celia. Or Stephen. Or that Jade and Rod speak to each other. Or that you go to Tulane. Or work in Mid-City.”

Celia browses the racks of clothes while she rattles off other similar instruction, occasionally holding something up to Dani to see how it might look.

“You’re not secretly an artist of any sort are you?”

GM: Dani kicks off her shoes too as she enters the heaven.

“Sorry, nope.”

She looks over the racks and racks clothes appreciatively.

“Also, wow. You have an incredible closet.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her. “Thanks. Feel free to browse. Something elegant but understated. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard. Maybe black. I’m going to do my face.”

GM: “Okay. Something I’d wear to a breather church?”

Celia: “You get all sorts at Elysium, but that’s an okay bet. I’ll tell you if it looks wonky.”

Celia picks up a kit that no doubt contains a multitude of makeup brushes and products, but before she goes she peers at the top of the closet, ignoring Dani for a moment. More than one emotion wars for dominance of her face, and it takes a few seconds for the slow smile to finally appear.

“Cute.” Her expression flickers. “But perhaps preemptive.”

Celia excuses herself to make the transformation into Jade, the eyes of her dolls following her.

GM: One less pair of eyes, now. Their numbers feel diminished without her.

But also, perhaps, more unified. The remaining ones were all made by her.

“Oh,” Dani’s voice calls out, “I don’t know if your mom mentioned, when you were over there, but I decided to move back in with my dad.”

Celia: “Yeah, don’t mention that either,” Celia calls back while she sculpts her face into Jade’s. “No hints of Uptown. You live in the Quarter, if anyone asks.”

GM: “I figured, yeah.”

Celia: “R&D,” comes her voice after another minute. “That’s what you do for me. Not even technically lying. If anyone presses for more than that you just play mum. It’s none of their business.”

GM: It hurts.

Like it always does.

Celia: It centers her, though. The pain. Moving from one form to another.

It reminds her who she is.

GM: “Oh, that’s a good idea. Hannah’s face is a little less, uh, ‘fabulous’ than Alana.”

Celia: “We could make you more fabulous.”

“If you ever want.”

GM: “You mean Hannah’s face?”

Celia: “Mhm.”

GM: “I wonder if not being noticed is better.”

Celia: Or both. She doesn’t care.


“There’s a guy named Alan you could sit with. He talks enough for three people, let him fill the silences for you. You’ll know who he is by how hard you want to punch him in the face.”

GM: “I think Stephen mentioned that guy!”

“He tried to sell him a watch.”

“Wouldn’t shut up about it.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“That’s him.”

GM: “He was just telling me some more about ghouls.”

Celia: “His domitor is a friend of mine.”

GM: “Would it help if I name-dropped you with him?”

Celia: “If he asks, just say you’re mine.”

GM: “Okay. Also, speaking of Alana. She said to talk with you about scheduling an appointment at Flawless, because you only take one or two a night and they’re important.”

Celia: “Tell him I told you that he swindled me out of twice the price for those earrings a while back, they were just too cute not to have.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“Feeding,” she says by way of explanation. She pauses to fix her lips in the mirror.

GM: “Oh. Alana didn’t say that.”

Celia: “Wait, when did you talk to Alana?”

GM: “During the day. You know, that whole time you’re sleeping?” Danny’s voice sounds ribbing.

Celia: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I party all day.”

GM: “Ah, of course.”

“I’m amazed you pull it off with your family.”

“There’s just so much stuff that happens during the day.”

Celia: “That’s why we don’t keep families.”

“Too risky.”

GM: “Like, how do you handle birthday parties?”

Celia: “I send Alana sometimes.”

GM: “Lucy’s especially.”

Celia: “She can pass as Celia pretty well.”

GM: “That makes sense.”

“Me moving in with my dad isn’t going to cause any problems, is it?”

Celia: “Only if you get caught by McGinn’s goons.”

GM: “Who’s McGinn?”

Celia: “Regent of Uptown. Ventrue. Think he’s in the running for prince. Mm, Invictus. He’s… old school. Racist. Nazi type. Ran into his guys the other night and they’re all, uh, neonazis.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“That’s terrible.

Celia: “Married my aunt-in-blood, or… great aunt-in-blood? Who is… well, we have a complicated relationship.”

GM: “I’m not gonna get caught, am I, after that tattoo?”

Celia: “Not unless they drink your blood or see you feed or connect Dani to Hannah. Still safer in the Quarter, though.”

GM: “Okay. I can do all those things.”

“I just feel like it’s been really bad for my dad to live alone.”

“Your mom thought so too.”

Celia: “Could always carry a letter with you. Something like requesting an audience with whatever regent of the territory you’re in.”

GM: “Okay, so as a backup option if I get caught?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “That sounds good, can you write me one?”

Celia: “Will do.”

“Agree about your dad, though.”

GM: “Thanks. And yeah. I couldn’t stay with your family forever, we didn’t think, I’d basically taken over your mom’s bedroom.”

“But she thought it would be good for me to live with someone else too.”

Celia: Celia finishes fixing her face in the mirror and starts on her makeup. This evening, it’s dramatic as Hell.

“I agree there too. Shame Mom didn’t have an extra room, that was probably ideal. I’m probably letting go of my other haven soon. The one you were at that one night? Some young licks share places. I know you mentioned that before.”

“I don’t want to tell you what to do, I just think you’re safer in the Quarter.”

“Then again,” she muses, “I was picked up right outside the Evergreen, so fuck me.”

GM: “I’d be happy to share a place with you, still.”

“Picked up?”

Celia: “Last night. It’s why I told you to stay put.”

“Your brother mentioned maybe getting a place together.” There’s a hesitancy at the end of her statement, a soft lilt that suggests a question.

GM: “You mean for you guys? Yeah, that makes sense to share a place.”

Celia: “Dani?” Celia’s voice. The transformation might be complete, but the dead girl is still controlling the vehicle. “Did he tell you what happened?”

GM: “Uh. Think it might be better if we don’t go into that right now?”

Celia: “Probably,” Celia sighs.

The sound of a buzzer reaches Dani’s ears.

Like something vibrating at high frequency.

GM: “Hey, what’s that?”

Celia: “Trimming my hair.”

GM: “Oh. Stephen said it grows back literally overnight.”

Celia: “Yep. Getting creative tonight.”

GM: Dani walks in, carrying several black dresses with her. She pauses for a second when she sees Jade’s face.

“Geez. I just can’t get over how different you look.”

Celia: Jade catches her eyes in the mirror and smiles at her, fangs flashing.

“That’s the idea, darling.” She holds herself differently with this face. Straighter spine. Lower voice. She wears arrogance like a perfume.

GM: “Yeah, you even feel different too.”

“More… menacing.”

Celia: The smile grows. She turns to face Dani fully, unfolding from the stool in front of the mirror to rise, sliding across the floor.

“Do I scare you, newborn?”

GM: “A little, yeah.” Dani’s still just standing there with the dresses in hand. “I know you’re Celia, it’s just… such a total transformation.”

Celia: Jade stalks toward her with all the grace of the jungle cat whose form she’d stolen.

“Has to be,” she says as she circles the girl like a piece of meat. “Anything less than is sloppy. And I don’t like sloppy,” she whispers in Dani’s ear. Then she’s gone from behind her, standing still in front of the mirror with head cocked to one side. She runs her tongue across the points of her fangs as if she’s itching to sink them into the half-breed.

“Show me what you’ve chosen.”

GM: Dani’s eyes follow Jade warily.

Oh, Jade’s not actually physically striking the thin-blood, like she did Celia’s mother. Jade’s not telling this half-blood that she’s a slave who’ll be punished for getting out of line. Celia’s just changed her face and affect. It’s nothing to protest over, in of itself.

That’s how so many monsters throw their victims off-balance.

Little things. Nothing big enough to make a big deal over.

Dani holds up the dresses.

“Well, as you can see.”

Celia: Celia peruses the selection as Dani lays them out.

She shakes her head at the first three, pointing out flaws. Too imperious. Too formal. Too on-the-nose.

GM: “I guess they are a little eye-grabbing, yeah,” Dani says, acknowledging the problems.

“That’s a lot of your stuff.”

Celia: “This one, though.”

“I like this one.”

GM: “Oh. That’s a little risque.”

Celia: “There’s a sheer top you can put under it to cover the girls.”

GM: “That works. Does it have sleeves? I think they’d ruin the look.”

Celia: “No. It’s not a real shirt. Just a cover when things dip too low.”

“Open back, so you won’t ruin that, either.”

GM: “Oh good, that’s perfect.”

Celia: Jade smiles again. It’s a sharp smile, but there’s some measure of warmth to her eyes all the same.


“Your brother told me to tell you the truth,” she says in an offhand manner, looking down at her nails while Dani no doubt deliberates where to change (as if Celia hasn’t seen a naked body before).

GM: Dani gathers up the dresses in her arms but doesn’t take off her clothes yet. Perhaps intending to do so in another room.

“What about?”

Celia: Jade waves her hand at Dani, dismissing her to change. She doesn’t bother hiding herself when she strips once more from her own dress, selecting a new pair of panties for the evening before she reaches for her gown.

“I have DID. That’s why I feel different.”

GM: Dani leaves. Celia can faintly hear the unzip of her pants.

“You mean, multiple personality disorder?”

Celia: Was it her nudity that sent the girl scampering? Jade seems amused.

“No one calls it that anymore. But yes.”

GM: “Huh, okay. That’s good you know and can be open about it.” Celia hears Dani taking off her pants.

Celia: “It doesn’t really bother me,” Jade says, sliding the black thong up her lean legs. “But it bothers him.”

GM: “Does it interfere with your daily life?”

“I know it can be comorbid with a lot of other disorders.”

Celia: “That’s a rather complicated question. Yes and no.”

GM: “How so?”

Celia: “Celia is the base, right? The first. And Jade is the lick. And there are others, but we’ll stick with those two for now. They want different things. So it’s like being pulled in a bunch of different directions, and neither one of them ends up happy, and they don’t mean to but they tend to fuck each other over.”

GM: “That sounds like a problem, then.”

“I don’t know how this would work for licks, but DID is obviously treatable with breathers.”

Celia: “He wants me to see someone.”

“To fix it.”

“He says it’s imaginary.”

“That it’s just in my head.”

“That what they do for me isn’t real.”

GM: “What they do for you?”

Celia: “And I don’t know how I feel about that, because Jade…” The girl falters at the question. “Yes. What they do for me.”

GM: “You were saying something about Jade?”

Celia: “She plays the lick game so Celia can play the human game.”

GM: “Celia’s definitely the nicer-feeling one.”

Celia: “Only because you haven’t met Leila.”

GM: “What does Leila do for you, if Jade lets you play the lick game?”

Celia: “She’s… happy. Untouched by all of this.”

GM: “I think it would be healthier if you could integrate all of those feelings and behaviors into your, what’s the term, core personality.”

“All of us are different people in different circumstances. I’m not the same person around my dad that I am with you, or with Stephen, or at work. That’s normal. But I’m still Dani around all of those people.”

Celia: Harlequin had said no one else would understand.

“Mm,” is all she says.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I don’t think it’s the same.”

“And I think his insistence on fixing it is going to damage me further.”

GM: “You say Celia and Jade have been fucking each other over, though. How so?”

Celia: “Celia,” the word is accompanied by such a hard roll of the eyes that Dani can hear it, “is a sap who still believes in love.”

“Jade’s a bit of a cunt. She’s not just fucking me, she’s fucking everyone else, too.”

“Celia is mad that she’ll never get her 2.5 kids and white picket fence. She has a tendency to look—”

“Preston said Jade is pathet—”

“Because you got all weepy on Savoy’s—”

“They’re both wrong,” sighs another voice.

GM: Dani pops back out. She looks like she’s found the top. She’s got on her black sandal heels that she wore out to the club.

There’s wariness on her features. But seemingly more for Celia than at Celia this time.

“Can I ask who just said that?” she asks slowly.

Celia: “Me,” the girl says, as if that explains everything. After a brief second of hesitation she points at herself.

GM: “What’s your name?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Leila.” She smiles, eyes sparkling in delight. “You’re Dani. I know you. You spilled peas once an’ Celia told you how she spilled salad and Daddy was mad. Grampa said she’s… um, he said she’s from the heavens, an’ she’s a flower, so that’s why I’m Leila. Leilani. Star flower. But don’t call me ‘Lani ’cause Joshy does an’ that’s our special thing, ’kay?” The girl sits back on the stool in front of the mirror, kicking her feet while she looks around the haven.

“Didju see the closet? It’s real big. Chase gave her lotsa shinies. Are you gonna wear a shiny? Ceels has, um, she has a—” The voice cuts off in a giggle. “—secret!” she finishes loudly.

GM: “Hi, Leila. It’s nice to meet you,” Dani ventures.

She pauses for a second, then seems to roll with it.

“I probably won’t wear a shiny. I don’t want to stand out too much.”

Celia: “Yeah ‘cause I was gonna say that you can’t wear a necklace ‘cause too much goin’ on up top, but you could do a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Do you have your ears pierced? Did it hurt?”

GM: “I might wear some small earrings. And I do. And it wasn’t too bad. Being scared was worse. I actually chickened out the first time and my mom had to drive me in twice.”

Celia: Leila nods solemnly, eyes wide.

“Mine are clip-ons,” she says in a loud whisper, then presses a finger to her lips.

Dani can see that the earrings dangling from her lobes are in no way clip-ons.

GM: Dani looks at them, then finally nods and gives a wide ‘definitely rolling with this’ smile.

“Smart,” she says.

GM: “Those are some really pretty clip-ons.”

Celia: “Thanks! Chase gave me them. He’s my best friend. Don’t tell him I said that. Don’t tell Alan, either or he’ll tell Chase and then Joshy might find out and I think he thinks he’s my best friend and he’s okay but— oh! Tell Alan, yeah, tell Alan that you need a phone. No, two phones. No, THREE! And one of them has to be pink!” Leila picks up Celia’s purse to rifle through the contents. She finds a stack of bills and pulls them out, waving them at Dani.

“She’s got a lotta money in here, that’s a lotta phones, did you know she has a gun?” Leila looks at Dani, eyes wide. “She dunno how to shoot, though, maybe it’s—oh, Steve was gonna show her, but then also he didn’t, and also I got a book from the liberry do you think he’ll read it to me? Oh! Did he tell you about the bat? It flies.” She flaps her arms to demonstrate. “And he’s got a leash. Two! Two leashes. Are you ready? We gotta go soon. Can you drive? I don’t have a license. Don’t tell Alan I said he’s a butthead when you ask for the phones because I like him even though he talks a lot and I don’t really think he’s a butthead he’s actually kinda nice even though he likes Clem have you met her she’s kind of mean and…”

On she goes.

GM: “She doesn’t?” Dani asks with a frown, but is swiftly drowned out by the childlike alter’s torrent of speech.

She regards it with something between puzzlement and amusement, then glances at her phone.

“Uh, can I talk to Celia, please?” Dani asks, looking up.

“Or Jade? ’Cuz we need to get going pretty soon.”

Celia: “No one ever wants to talk to me,” Leila mutters, crossing her arms.

A moment later they uncross, and the girl rises to her feet.

“We should head out.”

GM: “Uh. So, that was a change,” says Dani, following after Celia.

Celia: “She’s easily excitable,” Celia says by way of explanation. She does have Dani drive, stating that it would be weird for Hannah to show up by herself.

“The burners from Alan aren’t a bad idea, either.”

GM: “Oh. Almost forgot.” Dani fits on the mask and double-checks herself in the mirror.

“You think so? She seemed pretty, uh, excitable, like you say.”

“I wasn’t sure if the idea was from her or you.”

Celia: “Lost my phone last night. The one before that was broken a week ago.” Celia shrugs. “Never hurts to have extras.”

Celia asks if she can borrow Dani’s phone in the meantime, navigating to Cadabra to have a new Solaris shipped overnight to her.

She throws in a few burners while she’s at it, nixing the idea of asking Alan.

All this business with the hunters and the Guard made her realize that, though convenient, a smartphone is only going to get her into trouble.

GM: Dani hands it over.

“Oh, I’m sorry. If you’re losing them often, might just order two.”

“Regular phones, that is, on top of the burners.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “Yeah, I did last time and I’m still down to zero.”

But she adds an extra Solaris to the order.

GM: Dani follows her out to Celia’s car.

“So, does she interfere with your life? Leila, that is?”

Celia: “Not really.”

“She talks a lot.”

A little too much, but Dani hadn’t seemed to realize.

GM: “Well, I guess that’s harmless next to the fight you and Jade sounded like you were having.” She gets in on the driver’s side after Celia unlocks the vehicle.

Celia: Celia hands over the keys and gives her the address. She shrugs, eyes turning to the window.

“We don’t need to talk about it.”

GM: “No, I’m okay! If there’s a problem, I want to help you fix it.”

Celia: “Jade’s a manipulative cunt that ruins everything and Celia is a spineless doormat that thinks she’s in love.”

GM: “I think Celia’s right. You are in love.”

“Celia definitely feels nicer, too.”

Celia: “In love with someone who abuses her,” she says shortly, crossing her arms, “who thinks she’s stupid, who has said she’s stupid, so why—why? Why cling to that. It’s like being Diana.

GM: The old Diana, anyways.

Celia: All Celia needs is to merge herself with a doll, too.

GM: There’s a pause for a moment.

“Oh,” Dani says.

Celia: Yeah. Oh.

GM: “That’s not how he said it was.”

Celia: She effects a snort, unsurprised that he’d paint himself as some sort of hero.

“No. I bet not.”

“He told you I cheated. That I lied. That I’m a whore. That we’re taking a break until I fix it.”

“That I’m desperate for attention and paint myself as a victim.”

“That I’m a black hole and ruin everything I touch.”

“That about right?”

GM: Dani opens her mouth, holds it open for a bit, then finally says,

“Celia, is there any way I can help you two? Or do you just want to end things?”

“Because, whatever else, ending a relationship isn’t abusive.”

Celia: “Why, am I right? Is that what he said?”

GM: “I think I’m just going to make things worse jumping in and that maybe you should talk to each other.”

Celia: Bitter laughter fills the car.

“Yeah. That’s gone well the last few times. Ask him how dinner went tonight. Ask him what he did last night when I called him for help because I was scared because I was being followed and he said he’d always protect me. Ask him what that promise meant last night when I begged him to meet me so I wasn’t alone. Ask him,” she snarls, “if he gave me a second thought when I was abducted and tortured while I was on the phone with him.

GM: “Wait, you got tortured? What happened?!”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia mutters, looking out the window again. “I survived. Nothing a little blood won’t fix. Why don’t you ask him about that, too.”

GM: “Well… okay, look. Things between you and Stephen feel really toxic, and it feels like you’ve had a lot of baggage for a while now.”

“I guess, do you still want to be in a relationship with him, or do you not?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything.

GM: “I still want you in my life either way.”

Celia: Not for long moments.

Then, finally,

“I bought a dress, you know. Years ago. When we got back together.”

“He said he wanted to get married, and I bought a stupid dress.”

GM: “I don’t think that was stupid.”

“I bet it’s a great dress.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter now. He only wants to marry ‘Celia’ to get close to my dad so he can wield some political power.”

“And if I wanted to be with someone who calls me stupid I could date any other lick in the city.”

“You know the Mafioso your brother hates so much treats me better than he has?”

GM: “…how well do you know that mafioso next to Stephen?”

“Because those people are monsters, Celia, just the worst of the worst.”

Celia: “Then what does it say that he’s never been unkind to me but your brother has?”

GM: “How much time have you actually spent with him? How well do you actually know him?”

“And why are you even spending time with a mobster to begin with?”

Celia: “So I could find your sire.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

“I’m grateful for that, Celia.”

“I’m sorry I made you have to deal with a mobster.”

Celia: It’s not like Roderick is any better at this point.

Celia doesn’t bother saying it again.

GM: “But I’d ask again, how well do you actually know this guy.”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters, “about as well as I know the asshole that took over for your brother on Thursday.”

GM: “Sorry?”

“Actually, never mind. So do you want to break up, if he calls you stupid and only cares about political power, and stay together if he doesn’t?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she finally admits. “There’s… it’s complicated, and now that he knows everything I told him it’s more complicated, and I’m not interested in being blackmailed or pushed around for the rest of my unlife, so fuck me for telling the truth when he asked.”

GM: “I think your guys’ problems go back a lot earlier than this, Celia, and that it’s dishonesty that caused them in the first place.”

Celia: “And if he says something to the wrong person I’m the one who’s going to lose for it.”

“I didn’t lie to him because I wanted to. I lied to him because I had to, because him knowing the full story would get him killed.”

GM: “If you break up neither of you should do that. You should just leave each other alone.”

“And I don’t agree about lying because you had to. That’s what is getting him off so much. He feels like you always defend and justify the lying, and don’t see it as wrong, and that’s why he feels like he can never be sure if you’re going to keep lying, because you don’t see a problem with it.”

Celia: “Okay, Dani. I tell you that someone threw my mother off the roof to teach me a lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Uh.”

Celia: “I tell you that this same person broke every bone in my body to teach me another lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Fuck them.”

Celia: “Yeah. Fuck them. Now let’s say they’re a big scary bad guy. Then what?”

GM: “Get help.”

Celia: “Now say you’re Stephen, and you’ve got a boner for justice and morality, and you hear the girl you love is being abused and that her family is in danger. You’re fast and strong and immortal. What do you do?”

GM: “You take out the bad guy.”

Celia: “That’s the fucking problem, Dani, that’s why I fucking lied to him, because he can’t. Because he’d want to and he can’t because he’d fucking lose.”

“And it would be my fault for telling him.”

“But hey, maybe that’s shitty justification.”

GM: “So, why didn’t you tell him that? Why not just tell him what the situation was and decide what to do together?”

Celia: “Maybe not wanting him to die is a terrible fucking thing.”

“Because he’d want to know why I was dealing with the bad guy, and why I can’t walk away, and oops, if I tell him that he dies again.”

GM: “You’re lying to him and treating him like a child, though. He can make decisions about his own safety. What gives you the right to decide he can’t?”

Celia: “Losing him broke me. Even knowing he was out there, just unreachable, that was devastating. How do you think it’s going to feel if something I say to him gets him killed because he misjudged?”

GM: “It’s not about you, though.”

“It’s about him.”

“You owe it to him to be honest about that stuff.”

“Just like he’d owe it to you to be honest if he was in the same situation.”

“Stephen isn’t an idiot, either. He’s smart. Yeah, I know, we hear it a lot, but he is. If something is as suicidal as you’re making out, I think he’d be smart enough to recognize that and come at the problem from another angle.”

“I mean, doesn’t that sound so much healthier to just be honest and decide what to do together, than get caught in a bunch of lies that destroy your trust?”

Celia: “It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it.”

GM: “Yeah, the milk is spilled, but ultimately, do you think the lying was okay, or do you not?”

“Because if you do think it was okay, then I think you should break up. It’s just too big a thing not to see eye to eye on.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “So, is that a yes or a no?”

“Because if you don’t think it was okay, then I think you need to apologize for it, really sincerely apologize, and be honest going forward. No more lies.”

“About anything.”

Celia: “It was an okay, as in okay I hear you, as in okay I understand what you’re saying, okay I need to think about it, okay I need to decide if I’m fine with what he did in response.”

“Not,” she adds bitterly, “that it’s even going to matter after next week.”

GM: “Sorry?”

Celia: “I have a task to complete. I’m pretty sure I only get a week. And if not, I die. Mom dies. Emily and Lucy die. The boys die. Alana dies. They’ll probably kill everyone at Flawless just to be thorough.”

She’s not sure if it’s an exaggeration. If they’ll drag her back in. If she can extend the time. If she can give them something else should she fail at her task.

“So, you know,” she continues, “just vampire things.”

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open, but before she can respond, Celia sees the pair have arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They look as if they are barely on time. The last attendees are already making their way inside.

Celia: “Oh look. We’re here. Mask up, Hannah. It’s showtime.”

GM: “Uh, gimme a bit to find a parking space, first.”

There’s no time. Rocco and Wright are both standing outside the cathedral doors. It looks like seconds until they close.

Celia: “No time.” Jade jerks the wheel into a handicapped space and throws it into park, then yanks the keys out of the ignition.

Let them ticket or tow her. She could use a mundane problem after the shitshow her Requiem has become.

She hauls Dani out of the car and throws her bodily over her shoulder, nudging the door shut with her heel before she takes off in a sprint, her clan’s preternatural speed turning her into a blur. Shadow obscures her face as she runs, natural darkness hiding her body, and any eyes peeking outside or down the block are strangely captivated by the large purple hat someone had drawn onto the side of a building, wondering what—

Well, it doesn’t matter what they wonder, by the time the thought finishes occurring Jade has cleared the doors and set Hannah down inside, pleased to deny the Guard a chance to slam them in her face.

Mask up, she reminds herself as they move forward. It’s showtime.

GM: Dani makes a surprised yelp as Jade hoists her up like a sack of potatoes.

The two hounds promptly seize the Toreador and her ‘ghoul’ and hold them fast as she blurs inside the cathedral, pinning their arms to their sides.

Celia: Were she less durable, being snatched out of her headlong flight might steal the breath from her lungs or leave her with a handful of broken bones and bruises. Captured by two of the Guard before she can even enter the building leaves her breathless for a different sort of reason, and this evening she’s glad for the mask wrapped so tightly against her skin.

“Good evening, Hound Agnello, Hound Wright.” Polite. Respectful. Deferential even, and not in the grudging way, the words accompanied by a dip of her head to both of them (even the baby-faced Gangrel that holds her arms to her sides, awkward though the motion is with him behind her).

GM: “Hey, turbo-racing inside church, that’s nice,” says Wright. He’s the one holding Hannah, who remains very still in the Brujah’s grip.

“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” says Rocco, who’s holding Jade, with a very mean-looking smile.

“Oh, you’re kidding! Kalani just broke the Masquerade!” exclaims Amaryllis, clearly relishing the chance to take a pot shot against Jade.

“Off with her head!” smiles Katherine Beaumont, no doubt equally relishing the chance to pounce on Veronica’s childe. “Right here in church, the gall! Really, what was she even thinking?”

“She wasn’t, obviously, the poor dear,” piles on Marguerite Defallier. “Really, Veronica, we’d expect yours to know better…”

The crowd ripples with predatory smiles and furious whispers.

Blood is scented in the air.

Celia: She wonders if, when she dies, it’ll be just her mortal life that flashes before her eyes, or if snippets of her Requiem will make the highlight reel as well. Her eyes sweep past the murder (as well they can given Beaumont’s bulk) to search the sea of sharks for a friendly-ish face.

GM: It’s a full house. The pews are packed with Kindred. All of Elysium’s regulars look as if they are there, and some non-regulars as well to boot.

Celia: Not that any of them will put their necks on the line for her. They’re not that sort. Even if they wanted to—why would they?—their own masks of cruelty or loyalty keep them firmly glued to their seats. She can hardly call on sire or grandsire to bail her out in front of the congregation.

Jade glances back toward the decidedly empty street in front of the church. Midnight on a Sunday, who do they really think she broke the Masquerade in front of? Especially with the streetlights out as they are.

Masks, though. There’s a thought.

Her eyes find Ryllie’s, lips pulling up at the corners in some amusement at the thought of the blood-bound trollop crying Masquerade breach.

Celia: “Darling, it’s dark outside, or didn’t you notice the streetlights are out? We might be able to see in pitch black, but the poor kine can’t. Hard to expose myself if I’m dancing through darkness isn’t it?” Her smile shows teeth. “Bit above your paygrade to cry foul on the Masquerade when there’s a regent to do it for you. Unless you’re implying you’re part of his krewe? But, ah, given your collar…” She trails off with a shrug.

Maybe she wouldn’t have noticed if Behemoth—er, Beaumont—hadn’t converged on her, but Jade’s eyes lock onto the form skulking behind the opera singer and the wheels in her head begin to turn.

Masks, indeed.

“Regardless,” Jade says, returning her attention to the pair of hounds, “I’d wanted to warn you privately, since so many already heard about those holes in your condom, but since you’ve denied me the opportunity… there’s a spy in your midst.”

Jade smiles winningly at the congregation.

“Hope no one has said anything particularly scandalous.”

GM: As soon as the words ‘Masquerade breach’ are out, they’re like blood in the water. All eyes within the cathedral hungrily rest upon the newest two entrants. For a moment, Jade wonders if she will be in the unenviable position of attempting to defend herself against the social onslaught. It is so much harder to prove innocence than guilt.

But this is why Jade Kalani and not Celia Flores wears the girl’s face. The Toreador’s confident smugness and assured demeanor, even manhandled as she is by the hounds, seems to give pause to the would-be shot-takers—pause enough for a second voice to interject.

“Hard indeed,” chuckles Antoine Savoy, rising from his seat. The elder Toreador is dressed tonight in a white leisure suit as he inclines his head towards the front of the cathedral. “I can attest as to Miss Kalani’s proficiency in occulto. I’m quite confident no kine saw her, and that Bishop Timotheus’ first tradition remains faithfully observed.”

“In the future, Miss Kalani, mindfulness of the hour would better facilitate your punctuality than Caine’s gifts,” rings an answering voice from the front of the cathedral.

Philip Maldonato stands behind the preacher’s pulpit, dressed for this evening in a double-breasted gray suit. Jade has rarely had cause to speak with the seneschal before, and according to Veronica, that state of affairs should suit her more than fine. The elder Cainite is a slender and exceedingly tall individual who stands around a head over most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. The Moor’s grave features could be carved from stone at Jade’s last words. Though his gaze initially meets Antoine Savoy’s, it finally turns to regard the younger Toreador.

“Mindfulness and piety would both have minimized your disruption to the evening’s proceedings, young one. You stand within a house of God. Comport your tongue appropriately if you wish to remain within His house.”

Celia: Maybe, she reflects as Savoy himself literally rises to her defense, maybe he likes her more than she’d feared after… well, after everything. Particularly after last night.

Any relief that thought brings is short-lived when the seneschal himself addresses her. Jade bows her head, eyes on the floor in a suitably subdued manner at the reprimand.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. I apologize for the vulgarity of my statement.”

GM: The hounds release Jade and Hannah. The ‘ghoul’ masks it well enough if she’s afraid of the hounds, but still glances after her ‘domitor’.

Savoy, meanwhile, resumes his seat among the front-most pews, which also include Coco, Opal, Chastain, Accou, and Sundown. The Baron would doubtless have a place if he attended Elysium, and Gabriel Hurst enjoys one too, albeit by dint of his position than his own merit.

Jade’s sire stands behind the seneschal, cold and dark, along with the other priests—Elgin, Doriocourt, Morrow, d’Gerasene.

As ever, no recognition alights his frigid eyes.

The rows behind Savoy and his fellows include the harpies, regents, and other high-climbing ancillae. Behind them are the Natasha Prestons, Randolph Cartwrights, and Peter Lebeauxes—the Kindred at the middle of the pack. The rows behind them hold the more indolent ancillae and the neonates who’ve achieved something of worth with their Requiems—where Jade is expected to sit. The rows behind them, last of all among Kindred, are the nobodies and the nothings with nothing to their names. The ghouls sit behind these youngest of all vampires, divided into their own pecking order their masters care nothing for.

Celia: Her sire pretending not to know her? There’s a shock.

Licks who care more about preserving their delicate sensibilities over the word “condom” than a spy because a Bourbon pointed it out? Another shock. Christ, what a world they inhabit. It’s like the elders and ancillae who get their panties in a wad over being called “Ms.”

Jade nudges Hannah toward the man in the stolen mask, himself sitting at what she assumes to be the lower end of the pile of ghouls. The place where no Kindred would even bother to look because it’s so far beneath their purview.

Which, of course, makes it perfect for a spy.

She’s pleased with Hannah’s composure in the face of adversity, anyway. So far she’s been quick on the uptake. No doubt she’ll understand the role Jade intends for her by directing her toward the spy, who has a decidedly un-punchable face and thus can’t be Alan.

It’s a subtle gesture, the one she gives Hannah. A quick brush of her hand against the ghoul’s as if quite by accident, a tap, a second, a third on the center of her palm. It’s no Morse code, but it’s a signal all the same: three seats deep, that’s who he is.

Jade herself moves past the rows of ghouls and nobodies and takes the open seat next to the most indolent ancilla of them all, her favorite art thief in the whole wide world. She winks at him as she slides onto the pew beside him, then turns her eyes forward.

It’s going to be a very interesting Elysium.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Donovan delivers the evening’s sermon. The sheriff is a powerful and resonant speaker, whose dark presence seems to fill the entire cathedral. The crowd hushes as though outside under a falling snow. Though Jade’s sire speaks at length, his words are clipped and his sentences are short. It feels like there is so much more he could say, making his chill words all the more precious for their seeming scarceness.

There is perhaps no one to whom they are more precious than Jade. She catches them like falling snowflakes, yet they chill her hands and are gone forever as soon as she does.

Donovan’s sermon chiefly concerns witch-hunters and the threat they pose to the Sanctified’s holy mission. The recently ordained father’s message centers around a passage from the Rule of Golgotha:

“Each one of us is but one starving wolf, culling sheep in the dead of night; through the fellowship of lance and of chapel are we brought together to serve a higher Purpose. Remember that one wolf may be bested by a single youth, but a pack of wolves strikes fear into even the strongest of warriors.”

Communion is administered to the faithful from a bled vessel with much pomp and ritual. No expression passes the face of Jade’s sire when he lets a droplet of transubstantiated vitae fall upon her tongue.

Maldonato convenes court when mass is concluded and announces with a heavy heart that Bishop Malveaux has met final death at the hands of witch-hunters.

The bishop perished nobly in the archdiocese’s defense and destroyed a cell of witch-hunters whose perfidious designs would surely have destroyed further Kindred. The hunters’ corpses are paraded before Elysium. The exsanguinated and barely alive survivors, whose blood was used in the week’s communions, are beheaded by Donovan.

Several Kindred with grudges against Bishop Malveaux were found to worked alongside the hunters, who used and manipulated them to help bring about the bishop’s final death. Each criminal is barefoot and clad in chains and sackcloths. Donovan executes each of them by beheading: Tina Baker, Allison Eskew, Desirae Wells, and Sterling (“The Man With The Silver Smile”).

There are plenty of faces in the crowd that do not look happy. Many, also, look relieved it wasn’t their heads on the chopping block.

Camilla Doriocourt, Maldonato announces, will succeed Bishop Malveaux as bishop. Her consecration will take place next week at the hands of Cardinal Arechavaleta.

Doriocourt is also formally granted permission on Prince Vidal’s behalf to sire a new childe.

Deacon Benson, Maldonato announces, will also be ordained as a priest next week, concurrently with Bishop Doriocourt and at the new bishop’s own hands.

Elsbeth von Steinhäuser and Erwin Bornemann proudly announce that a fledgling of their clan, Kyrstin Grey, successfully discovered the location of Josua Cambridge’s illicit sire, who was apprehended by the Guard de Ville (with further help from Grey). She is likewise dressed in chains and a sackcloth as she’s paraded barefoot before Elysium. She’s a tall, thin, and green-eyed girl who looks no older than 15. Jade has never seen her before.

Josua applauds Grey with the rest of Elysium, but anger smolders in his eyes at the sight of his sire. He and Grey will both be formally released next week; a great honor for both neonates, as Prince Vidal and Cardinal Arechavaleta will both be present to lead the ceremony.

Marcel asks if he might hold “this criminal”, who is named as Julia Cammeron, aboard the Alystra pending her execution next week. Maldonato briefly considers and grants the ex-prince’s request.

Father d’Gerasene, finally, is leaving New Orleans. The Nosferatu announces he has received a vision from one of the Black Saints calling him elsewhere “upon a holy errand” to do the Dark Prophet’s work. Maldonato states the prayers of the faithful will go with him.

Celia: Jade, like the rest of the Sanctified, follows the sermon closely, says the right words at the right time, and takes communion from Father Donovan. When the formality of mass is over and court begins she makes sure to keep a discrete eye on the man with the stolen mask so that any attempt to flee is waylaid.

Her primary attention, however, remains on the court proceedings. Interesting, isn’t it, how as soon as she cries foul on the bishop’s disappearance and points toward a suspect the Guard does everything in their power to wrangle up a handful of patsies. It must be coincidence that Preston’s claim about people missing from Elysium is so neatly wrapped with a bow by the offended party.

And she should have been up there. She doesn’t forget the snarling face of the Gangrel who had ambushed her right outside perceived safety, his weight on top of her pinning her to the ground. The snide remarks of the black hound, and the way one of his goons had fondled her while she lay helpless. Or the fire that licked across her skin for daring to call Savoy “Lord.” The bite of metal in her flesh for a lie that wasn’t a lie.

Up there, executed before the rest of the city. Head stolen from her neck by her own sire’s blade. Would he have felt something for her then? Lost his frosty composure in front of the rest of the city? Or would Savoy have found a way to bail her out, and if not would he have turned her into a martyr for his cause?

She does not look away from the executions, does not shrink or cower from what might have been. What might have been is not what is. She’d freed herself. Used her own tools to get out. Assisted, yes, but not rescued.

She is no longer a damsel.

So she watches, silent and still, and any who happen to look her way might see the curl to her lip as she takes in the Hardliners’ dog and pony show. Who exactly do they think they’re fooling?

The rest of court is unsurprising in that she knows what’s coming, though Grey had implied she’d be released this week rather than next, and Benson had said the same regarding her ordainment. The cardinal is a new twist, then.

So is Josua’s sire. No doubt Grey found the bitch using the blood she’d taken from him the night Jade had walked in on them fucking, much the same as Jade herself has used such things. An interesting turn of events, and one that she wouldn’t mind getting into once she hears that the sire will be held aboard Marcel’s boat. Perhaps she’ll finally get her painting back.

Speaking of licks doing the Guard’s job for them… Jade waits for the right moment to bring the spy forward.

GM: Jade sees the “spy” get up to leave with some other ghouls mid-way through court proceedings.

Celia: She’s just picking up on all sorts of sneaks lately, isn’t she.

Jade isn’t the only lick to rise when the assorted ghouls do, who are no doubt following their domitor’s lead. She meets Hannah’s gaze as she does, giving a terse nod as her lean legs, made longer by the heels, swallow the ground. They might not serve the kine very well, but Jade has never had a problem moving quickly in stilettos. Veronica had made sure of it.

Even so, her Beast salivates at the thought of giving chase to someone fleeing before it. It’s such a rare thing that she gets to pursue, such a rare thing indeed for the predator used to “ordering in.” It sends the blood spinning through her body, propelling her across the floor toward the breather like a fox towards its hare, eagerly anticipating the rich reward of blood in its fragile, human body.

Jade approaches the spy from behind and reaches out to snag him by the collar.

GM: The nondescript-looking man has fair skin, brown hair, brown eyes, and is dressed in black slacks and a white button-up. No one runs, just walks. Jade and Hannah catch up in time to snag him by the collar before he can exit the church’s double doors. The man freezes in place, but doesn’t cause a scene. Rocco and Wright trade looks.

Rocco walks up to the trio, smiles at Jade, and whispers,

“Unhand him, Miss Kalani, if you don’t want me to kill your ghoul later.”

He gently picks up Jade’s hand to remove it from the ‘ghoul’.

Celia: Slowly, Jade uncurls her fingers. For a brief moment it just looks like the pair are holding hands. She wonders if anyone sees. What they think, if they do. What rumors will spread from this.

“I’d wondered where he’s gotten to,” she says in a whisper, her smile positively feral. “Let me know if you’re swinging by, darling, I’ll leave the window open so we can have another tussle on the floor. Bring that big piece of wood again, hm? I’ll show you how to use it.” She winks. Then she’s gone, disappearing into the night with Dani at her heels to find the hunter on her own terms.

GM: “Oh, I think you’ll see me sooner rather than later, Miss Kalani,” smiles the hound as she makes good her exit.

Hannah follows after her ‘domitor’.

Celia: She waits until the doors close behind them to sigh at Hannah, linking her arm through the ghoul’s.

“He’s such a tease, sniffing after my panties like that. Stay with your brother tonight incase he’s decided to sack up. Now, let’s find our friend. He’s got a whole five second lead.”

GM: Hannah squints ahead as she follows after Jade.

“I can’t make out much.”

Apparently her kind can’t even see in the dark.

Celia: That’s inconvenient.

GM: The Toreador, however, hears footsteps coming from behind the cathedral.

Celia: “This way,” she murmurs, pulling Dani with her.

GM: Celia not only swiftly outpaces Dani and her quarry, but she blurs ahead of him in the building’s alleyway, largely ensconced from passersby.

The masked man looks her up and down.

“Bad idea.”

Celia: “Friends nearby, right?”

GM: “Walk away and you won’t get hurt.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes take in the shadows behind him. Unlike the kine, her kind can see perfectly in the dark. How many of them are there? How many waiting just around the corner? What is he going to do to her if she doesn’t back off? Saws? Fire? Another date with four sets of handcuffs, spread open on the bed for whoever wants to use her?

Jade bites her lip, playing the girl. Wide eyes fix on his face.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to corner you. I just—I had a question.”

For just a moment there’s a flicker of uncertainty on her face. For just a moment the hunter can see the girl hiding behind the monster, the young face of someone who was stolen from her prime. He’d heard the boy inside bully her, hadn’t he? How low on the food chain must she be that she’d slunk off with barely a response? How humane must she be to back off over the threat of that boy killing her companion?

Maybe she’s just looking for a friend. It’s not like she’d called him out when she’d had the chance. Maybe she thinks he’s someone else.

GM: The masked man’s impassive facade cracks. Doubt and sympathy swims in his eyes as his features soften.

“All right, but we can’t stay here. Come on.”

Celia: Jade nods, falling into step beside him. She casts a glance over her shoulder for Hannah.

“Sorry for grabbing you back there,” she murmurs, “I, um—you caught my eye when I came in, and—” she breaks off, looking down at the ground, cheeks flushing. “Sorry, this is really stupid. Can you—one sec, please, my friend’s not used to walking in heels—”

She peers through the darkness for Hannah.

GM: The ghoul is briskly making her way up to the two, heels clicking against the ground.

A small gray bird swoops past her head.

Celia: Rocco.

Jade slides her fingers through the hunter’s, smiling at him in a decidedly friendly manner. She gives him a “work with me” sort of warning look with her eyes, squeezing his hand.

“Found you,” she says to Hannah. “You were right. He said we can ride back with him. I told him how they were gonna slam the doors in our face if we didn’t park in the street, whoops.” She giggles. Hopefully he gets it.

GM: The bird lands and transforms into Rocco.

Hannah does her best not gawk.

The man’s body immediately tenses.

The hound smiles at Jade and her new friend.

“I don’t like you, Miss Kalani. I think I am going to hurt you,” he says cheerfully.

“Why don’t you grovel a bit if you want me to reconsider?”

Celia: Jade draws up short. Her fingers stiffen in the hunter’s hand.

“Hound Agnello. You did say you’d see me soon.” She forces a smile. “You took me from right outside the Evergreen last night. Silly of me to try to run for safety now, isn’t it?”

She takes a step forward, putting herself between the two “ghouls” and Rocco.

GM: “Very silly,” Rocco agrees, still smiling.

Celia: “If I get down on my knees for you, will you leave them alone?”

GM: “Maybe.”

Celia: “Darren,” she says over her shoulder, giving the hunter a name as fake as her own, “please ensure that Hannah arrives safely to the Quarter for me. Hannah, if the good hound here detains me this evening and you don’t hear anything further…” she glances at the girl, eyes swimming with… something, “will you tell him that I’m sorry? And that I still love him.”

Jade returns her gaze to the hound. She takes another step forward, arms at her sides and slightly away from her body, palms facing him. It’s a submissive, unarmed pose.

“Your companion burned me last night. Took my arm off with a saw. I had to confess that I had lied about the leak. Just like I lied about the spy.” She makes a sound that might be a laugh. It’s bitter. Maybe even nervous. “Of course no one fell for it. I can’t win against you, can I? And I’m so very, very tired of hurting.”

She sounds tired. Beaten. Defeated, even, and all he had to do was threaten her.

“I’m sorry I lied. It was dumb. Of course no one paid it any mind.”

Jade takes another step forward. Not so close that Agnello can touch her, not yet, but enough that she can lower her voice.

“Can I remove my dress, at least? Getting blood out of it is… well, you know.”

GM: The thin-blood looks between Jade and Rocco.

She’s seen what her brother can do, when his wrath is kindled.

She sees how afraid of this vampire Jade now looks.

Her jaw sets.

“No. I’m not leaving. If you want to hurt her… you’ll have to go through me, too.”

‘Darren’ also looks between Jade and Rocco.

He looks more like he’s thinking of bolting, only the Toreador’s supernal presence still holding his heart fast.

Something odd swims on Rocco’s face.

“You know, Miss Kalani, when I was a young boy, a policeman caught me doing, I don’t remember what, something for the Mafia,” he remarks as he strolls up to Jade. “Something bad. But he thought I was poor and hungry, which I was, so he offered me a job as a janitor. Instead of arresting me. He said he’d help me become a cop too, when I was old enough. He told me how proud I could make my mother.”

He looks wistfully ahead.

“It was the kindest thing someone ever did for me.”

“It was the kindest thing I saw someone ever do.”

“So you know what I did?”

Celia: Jade thinks about arguing with Hannah. Telling her to run. To take Darren and bolt. But then Rocco moves and her eyes stay centered on him, unblinking, unwilling to look away while he stalks closer.

She thinks she knows this story.

But she shakes her head anyway, hoping that she’s wrong. Hoping that this retelling will have a different ending.

GM: The hound’s wistful gaze looks past Jade. For a moment, he doesn’t seem to see her. He doesn’t seem to see anything. He looks lost amidst the ghosts of the past, burdened by a guilt no amount of time can lift from his shoulders—and a Toreador’s manipulations can make so much heavier.

“I killed him.”

Cat-quick, Rocco whips around, seizing Jade by the throat and slamming her back-first against the cathedral’s exterior. Claws so like the Toreador’s own dig into her skin.

“And I liked him a lot more than you.”

Celia: She’d waited too long. Waited too long to hit him with the rest of the manipulation she’d planned, thinking that she wouldn’t have to, that she’d found the memory to tug at to make him feel ashamed for what he wants to do to her when he’s already won, when he’d already beaten her yesterday.

She can’t take him in a fight. She knows that. Knows Dani isn’t going to lend much help even with her borrowed speed. And who knows how long ‘Darren’ will wait before bolting.

What will the hunter do to Hannah if Jade’s charm fades from his mind, if his heart is his own once more? Tear her apart?

“Please,” she whispers, voice strangled by the hold he has on her throat. All she needs is a minute. Just a single moment to hit the hunter with goodwill for Hannah. To make him think that she’s his friend, too. To make sure that he doesn’t hurt her if Jade loses right here. She sends it toward him with her eyes locked on Rocco’s face, shrinking back from him as best she can.

“Please,” she says again, “you—you can—you can pay it forward, here, now.”

She thinks, maybe, it worked. But all she can see in front of her right now is Rocco’s snarling face, claws extended, and she knows there are rules for this sort of thing but she’s so frazzled she can’t think straight and if those two don’t get out of here right now she’s not going to be able to help them. Just go. Run. Then she’ll take her beating, let him assert his dominance, beat his chest if that’s what he really wants.

She only needs to distract him a minute so they can run.

GM: ‘Darren’ looks towards Dani. His unconcerned face, at least towards her, becomes a mask of exactly the opposite.

Rocco laughs cruelly.

“I can, Miss Kalani. I will. By punishing the enemies of our prince!”

Viciously large, knife-sized claws sprout from his other hand, then slash towards Jade’s face.

There’s a sudden crack as a second hand seizes Rocco’s and smashes it into the wall.

“I agree with what you said earlier, Hound Agnello,” says Roderick as his form blurs to a stop.

“I like that policeman a lot more than you, too.”

Rocco tugs his arm, but can’t break the Brujah’s iron grip.

He heaves a needless sigh.

“Mr. Durant, I have two hands. If you don’t let go of that one, I will use the other to beat you into torpor. Then I will kill your ghouls.”

“I’m doing you a solid, Hound Agnello,” answers Roderick.

“Has Kalani here actually done anything? You’re just going to give the Anarchs and Bourbons more ammunition to rail against the prince’s tyranny.”

“So what if they do?” says Rocco.

Celia: She’d wanted to make the joke earlier, on her way in. Something about his two braincells rubbing together and letting his master do all the heavy lifting for him. She’d refrained. Now, though, she wonders if she was more right than she knew.

Still pinned beneath the Gangrel’s claws, Jade’s voice comes out strained.

“So the temporary satisfaction you’ll get from beating me again isn’t worth the loss of face the Hardliners will take if the Anarchs stir up enough shit about you torping their golden boy.”

GM: Guilt wars in the hound’s eyes.

Guilt at failing his prince.

“I think you had better do something for me, Miss Kalani, if you want to escape a beating,” he declares. “This hasn’t been very satisfying.”

Celia: “That thing I owe,” Jade says, “I’ll give it to you and you can hold it over Doriocourt’s head.”

GM: The hound lets go of Jade’s throat.

“Give it to me,” he smiles, holding out his hand.

He looks at Roderick. The Brujah lets go of his arm.

Celia: “It’s not done yet.”

GM: “You are going to give me something, Miss Kalani, if you want me to leave you alone,” Rocco declares cheekily.

Roderick makes a sound of disgust.

“What about her lunch money?”

Celia: Jade considers the hound for a long moment. Finally she reaches into her purse, pulls out a slip of paper, and writes down a phone number. She hands it over.

GM: Rocco effects another sigh.

“Miss Kalani, you really must give me something better than that.”

“I am feeling a bit peckish, in fact.”

“Perhaps I’ll take a drink from your ghoul.”

He turns around.

Celia: “No.”

“Not from her.”

GM: As Jade follows his gaze, she sees that ‘Darren’ is gone.

Doubtless, the arrival of a third vampire would have convinced the hunter it was high time to bolt off.

Celia: Well. Fuck.

GM: Rocco stalks up to Hannah and seizes her in his arms. She jerks and flails, eyes wide, but doesn’t scream.

Celia: “She’s got Hep C, Agnello. It might not kill you, but it’ll knock you on your ass for a while.”

“You want a drink, I’ll bleed into a damn cup for you.”

GM: Rocco makes a sound of disgust and roughly shoves Hannah face-first onto the pavement. She groans beneath him.

Roderick’s face is deathly still, but Jade can see the violent impulse in his hands. The way they ball into fists. It will take little provocation to kindle the Brujah clan’s legendary wrath.

“I don’t think I want you to give me anything, Miss Kalani,” declares the hound.

“You are too pathetic to take anything from.”

“You have nothing that I want to take.”

Celia: Jade’s lips flatten. She lets him see the hurt in her eyes. Carefully manufactured hurt, as if his words have any effect on her. She looks down. It’s a submissive sort of gesture, letting him kick her around and declare that she’s got nothing worth taking without even talking back.

She does it for them. Not for her. Alone, she’d mouth the fuck off to this asshole and tell him where to shove it. But to prevent Roderick from getting into trouble for attacking a hound, to keep Dani safe? She’ll shut up and take his anger and pretend his empty words mean anything at all to her.

Last night she might have flinched at the word “pathetic.” Since then her skin has hardened. The word does not hurt her as it had when Preston said it. Rocco means nothing to her, and so he cannot hurt her. But she can pretend. She’s so very good at it. And there’s power in being beneath notice. She hides there, knowing that this isn’t the end for them.

She’ll see him again. Somewhere when there’s no rules, when there aren’t dozens of licks nearby waiting for any excuse to rip her apart. She’ll see him again and she will pay back every insult.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick doesn’t linger after a gray bird flies off from where Rocco once stood. The Brujah loudly proclaims Jade owes him a boon, for having “done her a solid” keeping the hound from carving her up. Footsteps are audible leaving the cathedral. Roderick joins them. Dani picks herself up.

“What a fucking asshole,” she mutters.

“What a… what a bully.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says in response, offering the girl a hand up. She doesn’t let her eyes linger on Roderick’s departing form, instead turning from him to walk with Dani back the way they’d been heading earlier. “Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Tried to buy you time to run,” she says, giving Dani a sidelong look.

GM: “I don’t want to be someone who runs when people are in trouble.”

Celia: “I know. I just… he’d, uh, he’d rip you apart is all, and he’d be within his right to do so.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda figured he could after Stephen threw me around like a stuffed animal.”

“But he didn’t.”

Celia: “Timely interference.”

“Thought Darren might stick around to help, three on one is better odds.”

GM: “Uh, so what exactly was going on there?”

Celia: Jade glances around, as if looking for someone listening in.

She lowers her voice.

“Spy. Pretty sure.”

GM: “Oh. Good. I swiped his wallet.”

Celia: Jade beams at Dani.

“Let’s find him, then.”

GM: Dani smiles back. “Right now, though?”

“It is a school night for me.”

Celia: Which reminds her…

“Ah, you’re right, I need to head home actually. Come on, let’s get outta here. We can dig something up during the day and look tomorrow.”

GM: “Okay, sounds good,” says Dani, setting off with her.

“And can you pencil me in for a Flawless appointment sometime?”

Celia: “Of course.”

GM: “Awesome,” she smiles. “Doesn’t need to be during normal hours if you’re seeing your, ah, herd then.”

Celia: “Figured.” Jade smiles at her. “That bully, by the way, was the one who nabbed me last night.”

“And kept me from meeting with you.”

GM: “Wow. What the fuck is his problem?”

Celia: “I implied there was a security leak with the Guard. You saw them execute those licks tonight, the ones who they say killed the bishop? Yeah. Probably had nothing to do with it. Hardliners just wanted to give the city a scapegoat.”

GM: “Yeah,” Dani says quietly.

She looks a little sick at the memory.

“That was…”

She leaves it at that.

Celia: Jade only nods. She knows what Dani means. She takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“That’s why I’m so protective of you. And my family. I was picked up for saying the wrong thing. They were going to kill me tonight with the others.”

GM: “Oh my god.”

“This whole thing. It’s just…”

“It’s just sick.

“It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia.”

“Stephen warned me it would be like this.”

Celia: “It’s hard to be in this world and remain a good person. I hope you hold onto it for a long time. And that… that he can find his way back to it.”

GM: Dani gives that last statement a look, but says,

“I’m gonna head home. This makes me want to spend some time with my dad.”

“It makes me feel good about having a dad.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t push the subject. She only reminds Dani to change before she heads out and to make sure she takes the mask off. She takes the wallet off Dani’s hands but lets her take a photo of the relevant things inside if she wants (since she doesn’t have a phone it makes more sense that she takes the physical stuff).

GM: As the two arrived together in Jade’s car, they take it back to her now (possibly compromised) haven. Dani changes there, surrenders the wallet, takes the photo, and heads home for Uptown.

She hugs Celia before she takes off.

“Love you. Spend some time with your family, too. It isn’t… I can’t imagine what it’s like, to have nothing except… that.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “I’m on my way over there, to be honest. Mom said she’d wait up. Love you too, Dani. Travel safe, yeah?”

GM: “I will,” Dani smiles. “Tell her hi from me.”

Celia: “Of course.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Veronica had taken her to Chakras once a few years ago. She knows it as a club, a tamer, more mild version of the Dungeon (if Caroline can be believed), and knows too that this is where the snakes inside the Quarter can be found. She goes as Dicentra, obscuring her face through the crafting of flesh that she has become so adept at in the past few years, with the usual black leathers pulled over that. A mask over a mask.

Dicentra has a reason to visit the Setites, doesn’t she. She’d done the work for the new one; she can say, if they ask, that it’s the reason she has come now, to call in the favor that he owes. Dicentra, too, seemed to amuse or at least arouse the lick that she seeks out now, and she searches for the woman with the poison eyes.

GM: 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 Dicentra, though, the longer she 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.

She says yes, there are ways to protect against the theft of souls. There are protections against everything

Celia: “How?”

GM: Camille smiles at the night doctor.

“That knowledge has a price.”

Celia: Knowledge always has a price.

“Name it.”

GM: “Favorss,” says Camille.

Celia: Dicentra doesn’t miss the hissed S at the end of the word “favor.” She had expected as much. She asks for a firm number. Like any Kindred, she hates surprises about owed boons.

GM: “We can start with the face underneath those supple, leather-clad curves.”

Celia: The question about her identity doesn’t faze her. People have wanted to rip off the mask since the moment she put it on.

She only hopes that this is worth it.


GM: “Very interesting,” the Setite replies with another smile. “I’ll have to think of ways to utilize your unique talents.”

She continues that just like there are multiple ways to re-sculpt someone’s face, and many faces to re-sculpt them into, there are multiple ways to steal someone’s soul. Is there a particular means of attack which Dicentra is looking to defend against?

Celia: Dicentra—or Jade, as she’s been outed—asks if she’s willing to expand on that at all. “On how many ways there are to seal souls,” she clarifies.

GM: “There are obviously multiple ways to kill someone,” answers Camille, “but even using the same weapon, there are multiple ways to stab someone with a knife, multiple ways to shoot someone with a gun, and so many different knives and guns. It’s the same with means to steal souls. So it’s all a question of what you are looking to defend against.”

Celia: It’s not the sort of thing that Jade wants to own up to knowing, is it. Beneath the leathers her lips curve into a smile, letting the Setite hear the coyness in her voice—as if it’s nothing more than simple curiosity.

“Multiple ways? How fascinating. What are those?”

GM: “That knowledge isn’t free, either.”

Camille smiles knowingly.

“But then, I doubt you would be here without some idea of what you were looking for.”

Celia: Caught. She inclines her head.

“The direct consumption of the soul from one entity to another.”

GM: The knowing smile looks even more knowing at that.

“Yes. There is a defense.”

“Who do you want to protect?”

Celia: “Does the kevlar vest work differently from one person to the next?” Jade cants her head to one side. Beneath the mask Camille can see the amused flash of her eyes when they catch the light. “It seems that no matter who wears it the bullet will be stopped.”

GM: “Kevlar must be fitted to one’s body and measurements. A good fit for one person may be a poor fit for another.”

“But if you don’t care about getting the size right, it’s no concern of mine.”

“Come to the Dungeon in a few nights.” The Setite’s tongue dabs her lips.

It doesn’t look forked.

“Bring the person you want to defend, or if they’re Kindred, a vitae sample connected to them. The stronger the sympathetic connection, the more effective the protection will be.”

Celia: That causes her some hesitation.

“Will it not work right if you don’t know?”

GM: “As I said. Kevlar without a body measurement. It can still work, for someone it’s too big or small for. It’s just less effective.”

Celia: “How much less effective?”

GM: “How much less effective is improperly fitting Kevlar? It depends who’s wearing it and how improper the fit is.”

Celia: There’s no delicate way to phrase it. Jade says, as best she can, that she’s concerned the identity of the Kindred in question will result in concern on Camille’s end. Another minor concern is that others will find out what she has done and who for.

GM: Camille shrugs. “Kevlar doesn’t care about privacy. If it’s too big, or too small, it won’t be as useful. It’s your choice if that potential trade-off is worth it or not.”

Celia: Silence stretches between them.

“I’ll need to think further on that,” she finally says. “I have the sample you need now, though.”

Calder: So much the better. Come to the Dungeon a little sooner

Celia: “Will they know what I’ve done? Once this is finished. Will they feel it?”

GM: Only if they come along, or find out she has their blood

Celia: “Will you tell me anything else about it? What it entails? What I need to prepare myself for? How it works?”

GM: Camille faintly smirks.

“Would Dicentra like to tell me how she alters flesh?”

Celia: Jade shakes her head. “I don’t want to steal the recipe. I only want to know how it all comes together.”

GM: The smirk stays in place.

“I don’t want to steal the recipe, either. I just want to know how it all comes together. Surely you’ll satisfy my curiosity.”

Celia: “That isn’t what I meant,” she says with an effected sigh. “I only want to know what I’m walking into. But I won’t press the matter further.”

There’s a long moment of silence. Doubts surface within her, words that everyone knows: all knowledge comes with a price. All power, too. She’d traded herself once for power, had traded her life to protect her mother. How could she do no less for him?

“Will I need to die for this to work?” A quiet question, mind already working through the affairs she will need to settle.

GM: There’s another smirk.

“I’d hardly expect any Kindred to be so self-sacrificing.”

Celia: She shouldn’t be this relieved, should she, that she won’t need to give up the rest of her Requiem for him.

“And once they’re protected, what happens when they die?”

GM: “Their soul passes through the Gates of Guinee, like any other, and eventually reaches the deep waters.”

Celia: Guinee. She’s not as versed in African mythologies as she is many others, but the word itself, she knows, is connected to voodoo. No wonder Pete had directed her to the Baron’s people when she’d asked about soul magic; no doubt they would be able to answer her questions. Whether or not they would, though, is a different matter.

Gates, though. Like the gates to the underworld. Almost every mythology and religion has them. She’d spoken of them to Bornemann just the other night when he’d grudgingly given her tiny tidbits of information about demons.

“The gates exist to separate the realms. They stand between the precipice of death and the afterlife. Ancient Mesopotamians had seven of them. To keep bad things inside the City of Dust, they said. The Greeks and Romans had gatekeepers. Cerberus. Half-breeds. Monsters meant to frighten. Ancient Egyptians believed in a series of gates and tests to reach the Field of Reeds. Zoroastrianism has the bridge. Even Christians have the pearly white before you reach Heaven.”

Jade pauses, considering. She’d seen a ghost come back. But asks. Because she has to be sure.

“Is the soul stuck there? Can it be brought back?”

GM: “The ancestors’ souls regularly leave Guinee. The barriers between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead are thin in this city. Any medium can communicate with a departed soul. Any mambo, houngan, or follower of les invisibles can offer themselves as a cheval for the departed soul to ride.”

Celia: “Lands of the dead. The Shadowlands, you mean. Is that where a Kindred’s soul goes when we die, as well?”

GM: “You ask a complex question with an even more complex answer. Kindred souls are not as kine souls. But the simplified answer is, essentially, yes.”

Celia: “And the complex answer?”

GM: A smile.

“That’s not free, either.”

Celia: A faint smile, not that anyone can see beneath the leather.

“No,” she agrees, “I had not thought it would be. I will pay for the answers you provide me.” No doubt Camille will find herself vastly ahead when this exchange is over.

“The Sanctified say that we will burn in Hell for our sin. Because we are damned by God. Is that your ‘deep waters,’ Hell?”

GM: “People are infinitely complex, yet the Sanctified would posit two or three afterlives into which they can be neatly and infallibly sorted.”

“The deep waters are the deeper realms of Guinee, where all souls eventually go. They are cold and damp. Souls there complain often of hunger. But they are no more places of eternal torment or eternal reward than the world we inhabit.”

Celia: “A different sort of Hell, perhaps. Another word for the same concept.” A pause, then, “Do they come back from there at all? A Tremere told me that Hell is a one way trip. That though there are legends surrounding the idea of coming back, but that’s all they are. Legends. If this deep water follows the same idea, then once a soul reaches the waters there is no return?”

GM: Camille shrugs. “As much a hell as this life is. It’s not out to get you. It’s not out to pamper you. It simply is.”

“Souls come and go from Guinee’s deep waters regularly. There’s ample evidence it’s real.”

“I’ve seen no evidence that Hell is anything more than a fable.”

Celia: The words of Camille and the words of Bornemann contradict each other. But she had said the same thing to the Tremere inside the chantry, citing lack of evidence, and been all but scoffed at for it.

“Perhaps this is outside your wheelhouse,” she hedges, tired of trying to mince words, “the Tremere and I had discussed the origins of demons. He said Hell. You would say where, then?”

GM: “The souls of the dead can wield great powers, wear monstrous countenances, and engage in terrible cruelties, if that’s the kind of person their experiences have made them.”

“I’ve seen no proof that Christian demons are a distinct order of entity from such souls.”

Celia: There’s a longer pause at that.

“You would say that demons are just… tortured souls.” She looks to Camille for confirmation. “That would make sense, then, why both are repelled by salt.”

GM: “I would.”

Celia: They’ve gotten off topic and she isn’t sure what to make of this conflicting information. She has seen ghosts, but she has not seen demons (except that thing in her mind that night in the sky, but perhaps that wasn’t a demon after all?), and there are plenty of things in this world that appear as something other than what they are, that people believe are different than their true self.

She should know.

Finally, Jade does something that no lick likes to do: she tells the truth.

“I believe that the soul I am interested in protecting is in danger. Should they die, I wish to bring them back to a body.” Jade fixes her eyes on the Setite, unflinching.

“Is it possible? If the Kindred meets final death and their soul is protected, is it possible to locate the soul in Guinee and summon it back into a body?”

A brief pause follows the bald question, and Jade softens her voice as she continues.

“You brought back Emmett. He was dead. In the Shadowlands. You brought him back and he’s a lick now. But he was human before he died.”

GM: “That answer isn’t free, either.”

Celia: Her heart threatens to do that thing it sometimes does. If the answer were “no,” she’d just say, wouldn’t she? That it’s different because he was mortal?

“I’ll pay.” No hesitation.

It has to be possible. Bornemann only didn’t know because he’d never looked, never done the actual legwork, just experimented behind the safety of the walls in the little room inside the chantry and read what other people discovered, as if that’s the only way to do things. He’d never gotten his hands dirty. He took the book learning route like everyone else.

But Jade is used to getting her hands dirty. She’s been doing it since her Embrace. Roderick might scoff at her online degree but she’d ripped apart more bodies than any med student she knows, has experimented and altered flesh and sculpted things to find out the “why” rather than relying on what she read in some book. She’s had blood and muscle and viscera beneath her pretty nails because she can go further than the researches because she doesn’t have to adhere to ethics boards and morality and the laws of the land. Like the Nazi soldiers, or the Japanese during WWII. Their findings had been thrown out, sure, lack of proper procedure. But she’s not careless about it, like them. She doesn’t make those same mistakes.

It’s like she’d said to North: her work is flawless.

GM: “Emmett only died once,” answers Camille, “to pass the Gates of Guinee. I didn’t actually bring him back. I just turned his death into another type of death, and imbued him with the divine power stolen from Damballah’s heart. What the Sanctified would term the Curse of Caine.”

“A Kindred who meets final death has died twice. Their soul returns to the deep waters, for that is where all souls go, but I know of none that have returned to the world of the living.”

“Maybe the Ghede think two deaths is enough.”

Celia: She was wrong.

She was wrong, because Camille has told her no. She has said it in flowery language, has dressed it up in makeup and heels, but the meaning is very clear: final death is final.

She deflates.

“You said that they come back,” she presses, grasping for a sliver of hope. “The souls can come back from Guinee, even from the deep water. Mambos offer their body to be ridden. So the soul can come back, it just can’t stay. The veil is thin here. It could be thinner elsewhere? Somewhere that they could come back? Or… what if someone went into the deep waters to fetch them out, rather than trying to call them from afar?”

GM: Camille smiles.

“You care about them a lot to be grasping at straws that thin.”

Celia: How can she explain that he is the center of her universe? That without him she is nothing, no one, just a physical body with no soul of her own? How can she say she will move mountains and journey into Hell itself to get him back if that is where they go, because even though Camille and Bornemann think it is impossible to bring someone back the myths of religions say otherwise? Odysseus went into the Underworld and returned. Aeneas went into the Underworld and returned. Lazarus was brought back to life by Christ, Dorcus and Eutychus by his followers. Osiris was torn into twelve pieces and his lover recovered the pieces, his child found the spell that would put him back together again.

What is she, if not his lover and childe both?

She cannot say that she loves him. Kindred do not love. Not like she does. It is her curse and blessing both, hers alone to bear. She only nods.

“Is it possible? Just because you haven’t heard of anyone specifically… is it still possible? A lick’s soul riding a mambo. A lick traveling into the deep water to bring them out.”

GM: Camille gives her an amused smile.

“Kindred have already died once, gone through the Gates of Guinee once, and returned from the lands of the dead once.”

“You paid for what I know. That’s what I know. There’s no one who’s broken the rules twice.”

Celia: It’s not the answer she wants.

Once more, the wind has gone from her sails. She is glad for the mask that obscures her visage. Glad that Camille cannot see the despondent look that sweeps across her face.

“And there’s no one else who might know more?”

GM: “Nobody I know.”

Celia: That’s it, then. Dead end. Licks don’t come back from the dead. That’s why they call it final, isn’t it?

She’d hoped that this, too, would be an area where Camille and Bornemann differed.

“This protection,” she finally says, the words themselves an effort. “It’s not going to turn the person human or make them weaker or more vulnerable to final death? There’s no drawback for the person who receives it? No price they have to pay?”

GM: “Of course not,” says Camille. “That would rather defeat the point of any protection, wouldn’t it?”

Celia: “And if someone attempts to consume their soul, the soul won’t be destroyed? It will go to Guinee?”

GM: “Correct,” says Camilla. “The one who consumes the soul won’t get anything except a full meal—of vitae—for their trouble.”

Celia: “I have the sample already,” she says again, “can we do it tonight?”

GM: Camille smiles.


Celia: “I have another question. Unrelated.”

GM: Camille seems always happy to make deals.

Celia: Jade tells her about Marcel.

The casino boat prince has a playmate that he claims was attacked by Setites. She has been torpored and will not rise through the usual methods. He has promised Jade a significant talisman if she can lift her from torpor. She has plans for him. Future plans, that will be benefit from this gesture of goodwill if she can do this thing for him. If she is able to lift Marie from torpor and pull off these plans, she believes the throne will be weakened and leave Lord Savoy in a more powerful position. Should he take over, there is no reason that Camille’s clan will continue to be actively hunted.

“Can you help?”

GM: Camille listens to that, then asks simply,

“What’s in it for me?”

Celia: “Luck,” she says simply. “The talisman provides good luck. I have experienced it firsthand. I had intended to put it inside a mortal vessel and could arrange feeding for you, as drinking the mortal’s blood will transfer the luck. But it may be easier just to put it into a talisman. When you carry it, you get good luck. Things go your way. Cars will swerve around you in traffic. Bullets will whizz right past your head, or ricochet back at your attackers. You will win the games you play.”

GM: “How useful-sounding. No catches, side effects, restrictions?”

Celia: That information isn’t free, she wants to say.

“Superstitions that affect luck will affect the user. Salt. Ladders. Broken mirrors. Black cats. The talismans also have a habit of being lost after a while.”

A fanged smile from beneath the mask.

“I would offer to craft it into or onto you. Less chance of it walking away, I’d think.”

GM: “Mmm. I’ll think it over,” says the Setite.

Celia: I’ll think it over. Familiar words. The same she’d said to Camille when the Setite had asked about the soul Jade wants to protect.

For long moments she is silent.

She doesn’t see the whole picture. She knows that she doesn’t have all the pieces. But she remembers the Ventrue’s words about the Dungeon, remembers her own possibly wild theory that he serves the thing resting beneath the Dungeon, the thing that Vidal defeated twice. She knows he has no loyalty to the prince. And she knows that Savoy, too, wants to get rid of Vidal. He’d told her they’re not working together. But it could have been a lie, couldn’t it? Because she doesn’t need to know, and how often had Pete and others told her that licks only share what others need to know? Would it have benefitted him at all to tell her if he and his sire were working together? Or did he rightly assume that she would find a way to jeopardize it?

And that thing in his mind, the monstrous scenes she had seen… that’s beneath the Dungeon, isn’t it? And the Dungeon is here, in Savoy’s territory, and that is where Camille wants to take her, to that twisted hellscape of pleasure and pain and deviant behavior.

He’d told her not to trust Savoy.

And Savoy had told her not to trust the Setites.

But Caroline had told her that he’d arranged for her to be taken to the Dungeon. Because they were allies? Or because he knew they’d kill her?

It might be a mistake. Or it might be a boon.

Indecision wars within her.

She’s too trusting. She knows that. She overshares. She knows. Just look at what had happened with her mother. Look at her conversation with Roderick. Look at… god, anything. Is this just another mistake? Another episode where she’ll wish she had kept quiet instead of blurting her secrets to the world?

How will Camille use it against her, if she says? Or how will she assist, if her theories and thoughts and plans are true?

Camille thinks he can’t come back. Bornemann thinks he can’t come back. But eternity in the deep waters is better than his soul being consumed and destroyed, isn’t it? The ability to maybe someday reach him, to find someone who knows more, who has been further… there are other supernaturals in this world, others who might have better answers, other licks who are more learned than those in this city. She can find them. Can find her own way to him should the worst come to pass.

She has to make sure that he survives first.

“You asked earlier,” she finally says, “who it is.” Another pause. Then, “the sheriff.”

GM: Camille makes a tsk-tsking noise with her tongue.

“And what does a good little Top Shelf Bourbon care about the big bad sheriff losing his soul, mmm?”

Celia: It’s not what she says. It’s how she says it. Jade knows that she had taken a gamble and she had lost, and she begins to question everything she thought she knew. She was wrong.

But she smiles. Because her will is stronger than this snake’s, and she will not be denied what she came for.

The occlusion of the truth comes naturally to Jade, and combined with her charm, well, who can resist? It seeps out of her, drifting like a mist from her very pores to ensnare Camille in its grasp. Then laughter, light and airy, dismissing the very absurd notion that Jade cares one whit for the sheriff. He’s Vidal’s number three man and Jade is the good little Top Shelf Bourbon that Camille just said; why on earth would she want to protect him?

“I’m in love with him,” she says, with a tilt of her head and a smile half again as wicked as she is. Her tone doesn’t give it away. Not until she follows it up, pausing just long enough, with a derision-dipped, ”Obviously.”

She giggles.

Nothing but a joke. And Camille almost thought she was serious.

How silly.

GM: The Setite looks at Jade.

A moment passes.

What will Camille do if this doesn’t work?

This is her home territory. She has servants here. Maybe there’s other Setites here. Maybe they won’t let Jade leave.

Maybe they’ll still send her to the Dungeon. As a plaything.

Maybe they’ll do who only knows what.

Can Jade take them?

Her own words echo in her head.

The sheriff.

Stupid, whispers a bald man.

The Setite looks at Jade.


Her lips quirk.

“Run along, now. Show up in something sexy for the club.”

Celia: Jade winks. She thanks Camille for her time and promises to do just that.

Previous, by Narrative Story Thirteen, Celia XXV
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Previous, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia XXV
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia XXVII

Story Thirteen, Celia XXV

“I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
Celia Flores

Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia hits the pillows. Then she wakes up. It’s eight hours later than it was a second ago.

She feels great.

Celia: She wakes, for one of the few times in her Requiem, feeling refreshed. The sun may have warned her that the process of transformation and breaking through her own bullshit will be difficult and painful, but waking this evening is a reminder that once she is through the pain she can find peace on the other side.

She takes that for the blessing that it is and rises, throwing back her covers to greet the evening with a whole, healthy body and smile.

GM: Her skin is hale and pristine once more.

Flawless, even.

There’s some texts on her Sunbook’s WhatsApp window.

From Mel, So glad to hear!

From Dani, Hey you wanna get together some other time? Sunday night?

From her mom, Looking forward to seeing you tonight! :)

From Emily, Looking forward to the worst dinner ever?

There’s also some Facemash pictures Celia is tagged in. They’re of her family enjoying brunch at the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Lucy is chowing down a Three Little Pigs Omelet. (That’s what Diana says it’s called—“Lucy saw the name and couldn’t resist!”) Robby at least isn’t in the pictures. He’s not the biggest church fan.

Alana’s also sent, coming by soon with dinner! love you! xoxoxoxo

There’s no response from Gui. She supposes she’s always been an early riser.

There’s nothing from Roderick either.

Maybe that’s because she’s an early riser too.

Celia: Maybe.

She’d never gotten back to him though. Had been debating what to do there. If she should just fake her own death, and if it’s worth giving up all of the privileges of Jade just to escape one person.

Maybe she could just flee the city. Take Gui with her, if she really wants. Go back to Chicago with him.

The thought isn’t as appealing as she thought it would be.

She takes a moment to send Roderick a text now. It’s a brief message: Safe. Explain tonight. Dinner?

She’d imagined it going differently tonight. Using these precious moments to herself to get ready, showing up at his door with everything she’d need for him, the blood and gift and her dress and ideas and plans and, and, and—

Why does it hurt so much?

She texts Dani back that there was an emergency and she will tell her about it soon. She’s sorry she missed their night together.

Another to Emily with an emoji of rolling eyes and a thumbs up.

And a heart to her mom.

She assumes that Alana coming by means Reggie got her message, but he didn’t text back at all. She tries not to worry about it. In the meantime, Celia does her face—flesh and makeup both—and rinses off in the shower before grabbing her clothes for the evening.

GM: There’s a knock at her door soon.

Celia: Celia finishes her look with a spritz of setting spray and moves to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. She’s likewise dolled up in a face full of glam, revealing club attire, and strappy high heels. She’s leaning against a 20something and cute enough black man who’s likewise dressed in club clothes.

“Hello, mistress,” she beams. “I was just telling Brayson here all about how you own me.”

The man smirks faintly and looks Celia over.

“Yeah. Kinky.”

He looks a little unsteady on his feet himself. Actually, a little pale, too. Has someone else fed on him recently? The kine can’t tell, or they make excuses, but Celia’s own kind can and don’t. This one might only be up for a shallow feeding.

There’s always “dessert” with her mom, at least.

There’s another message from the woman on her WhatsApp window, too.

Can you come by before dinner, sweetie? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk with you about!

That’s 8 PM, just as a reminder!

It was 7:36 when she woke up.

Not much time for a fuck between the drive and getting herself ready.

But he’s right there.

They’re both right there.



And it’s not like she’s going to get laid at her mom’s. Or at Midnight Mass.

When even is she going to get laid tonight?

Celia: Sex can look like a whole bunch of different things, though. For a breather, it’s P in V intercourse. For a lick, it’s the simple swapping of blood. She doesn’t plan to give any to this young boy, and there’s little enough she can safely take from him.

“Brayson,” she purrs, “would you like to fuck my pet?”

She pulls the pair of them inside, giggling as she leads the way to the bed she’d just evacuated. She tells them how she wants it, with Alana on her hands and knees and Brayson filling her from behind. Once they get going she slides in behind the pair, running her hand down Brayson’s body. Cute enough, she thinks, kissing and licking his neck before she bites.

GM: “I’d like to fuck you both,” says Brayson, but he’s happy enough to start with Alana. He’s even more happy when Celia’s canines pierce his neck and the ecstasy of her kiss overcomes him. His blood is sweet with his lust, a taste Celia well knows, but there’s a strongly sour undercurrent. Actually, the sweetness just feels like a mask. She can taste the man’s emptiness. His depression. And here he still is, having sex with two partners at once, or at least thinking he is.

His blood actually doesn’t taste that unfamiliar.

Brayson pumps vigorously into the Toreador’s ghoul but blows his load soon enough. He lies groggily half-asleep in Celia’s bed. Alana tries to pull her domitor after them, crooning how much she wants to “get to the good part, now.”

The time reads 7:55. Five minute drive to be exactly on time for dinner.

“I’ll make your toes curl, mistress…” she purrs, running her hands along Celia’s arm, massaging her shoulders, and planting wantful kisses along her neck.

“We’ll do it any way you like it… I want to show you how much you mean to me… I want to make you feel good, the way you make me feel good…”

“You’re so beautiful… there’s nothing, no one, who compares… I’m so lucky to have you in my life…”

Celia: Celia wants it, too.

But she wants to enjoy it. She wants to take her time and not be rushed. She wants to use the rest of the toys she’d purchased for Alana, to give herself a cock and fuck her, to tease and lick her way down Alana’s body and spread her open in front of her so that she can taste the sweet love and devotion she has for her mistress.

She murmurs that to Alana as she kisses her neck, that she has a few new things she wants to try on her, that she has a surprise for her later and doesn’t want to spoil her appetite now with something quick and less satisfying.

GM: “Okay, Mistress…” Alana murmurs, seemingly placated. “We’ll do it tonight. Without any distractions. Without him. Just us.”

“Just us,” she repeats, planting a tender kiss on Celia’s lips.

Celia: “You don’t want me to share you with my friend? I think you’d enjoy the attention from the pair of us.” Celia gives her a final kiss. “Think about it.”

Then she’s gone, slipping out the door and on her way.

Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia drives to her mom’s house. There’s two unfamiliar cars in the driveway, along with the familiar pink Beetle and Emily’s car.

Celia: Two?

Why two.

Who else is here?

Is it Robby?

Maxen? (Obviously, but who is the second? Did he bring someone?)

She’ll find out in a moment. She steps inside.

GM: The door is closed, but Celia has the key. She arrives inside to find Maxen sitting next to Diana and Emily on the living room couch. Emily does not look particularly friendly. Diana looks very friendly and is smiling and holding hands with her ex.

There’s also a second man who Celia doesn’t recognize. He looks around 30. He’s white, black-haired, clean-shaven, and has high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and proud ‘I know best’ features. He’s dressed in a dark red button-up shirt, black slacks, and matching oxfords.

Celia: She doesn’t need to think too hard on who that is. All the same, she takes half a second to detect the predator inside of him.

GM: He is like her.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Maxen is dressed similarly to the newcomer, tan slacks and a light blue button-up. Diana looks like she’s put a lot of effort into her appearance, to the esthetician’s trained eye: to a man’s, it’s an “I just threw this on” look, like Celia did for her with Henry, but Diana has a redder lipstick, some spritzes of her favorite rose perfume, and nicer jewelry. A floral dress and her favorite pink heels complete the look. It’s casual enough for dinner, but definitely on the dressier side.

Emily just has on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and socks. No makeup, either.

“Oh! Celia!” exclaims her mom, smiling widely and rising first to hug her. “I’m so glad you’re here, sweetie!”

“I sent you some texts, but I don’t know if they got through.”

“Why wouldn’t they have?” asks the other vampire, who then smiles. “But the important thing is that she’s here now.”

Maxen smiles too and rises from his seat, but seemingly waits for Celia to finish greeting her mother.

Celia: Celia smiles at her father and Emily, then hugs her mother fiercely.

“You look beautiful, Momma. I love that color on you. I didn’t get your texts, actually. I lost my phone and had to use the app on my laptop. The find my phone thing didn’t make it magically appear, unfortunately, so I didn’t get anything relatively recent. Hope you didn’t ask me to bring anything but my darling self.” She winks at Emily.

Celia pulls back from her mother to smile at the lick, eyes crinkling in delight.

“Hey, you.” In the same sort of way she’d say “hey baby,” the familiar inflection on the “you” that suggests he isn’t a stranger. Roderick, right? Who else could it possibly be?

GM: “Thank you, sweetie. You look Flawless as ever too,” her mom beams. She never gets tired of saying that. “But I’m so sorry to hear about your phone! When did it go missing?”

“We can order you a new one if you like,” says Maxen, hugging his daughter next as Diana stands aside. “Our treat, if you haven’t done that yet.”

Celia: “Earlier today,” Celia tells her mom. It’s vague enough but also true. “I’m not actually sure when or where, unfortunately. Tried calling it and nothing.” She shrugs, then allows her father to bring her into a hug.

“Hi, Dad. I didn’t yet. I was hoping it would turn up in my car on the way over, but no dice.”

She doesn’t miss the way he says “our,” though. What did she miss?

Once Maxen lets her go she gives Emily a private look, brows lifted.

GM: “It’d be ‘your treat’, technically, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Celia already ordered one,” says Emily, getting up to hug her sister next.

Celia: “Hey cutie,” Celia says to Emily, kissing her cheek.

All that’s left is the lick.

Roderick, right? It has to be. Even if he hadn’t seen Dicentra he’d obviously seen a night doctor. Dr. E., maybe; she knows they’re big in Mid-City, having seen their tag often enough.

She wonders how he’s going to make her pay for this.

Celia slips away from Emily, turning to face the lick as she takes a tiny step forward. There’s a hesitant, questioning look in her eye, as if asking for permission to approach, asking for some sign that he’s who she thinks and not some random because nobody had mentioned him yet and she doesn’t know what he’d already said to them.

Was this why her mom wanted her early? Or was it something with her dad?

She searches for the answer in his face and body. It’s not the outfit she’d picked out. What if she’s wrong?

GM: “Hey cutie,” replies Emily before breaking off the hug. She gives Celia a ‘hey are you going to shoot down his stupid offer or what’ look.

The newcomer smiles and rises to hug her.

“And hello to you too, Celia.”

Maybe he is some random.

Who knows what he’s already said?

“You two look adorable together,” beams her mom.

“Good choice,” echoes her dad,who then chuckles.

“Michael asked for my permission to date you. I told him that was up to you, but I appreciated the good manners.”

“I thought it had troubling implications when your dad used to beat you,” says Emily.

Celia: Why would she shoot down a free phone? Not that she needs the money, but… well, fuck it, right? Might as well roll with the punches. Since that’s what she suffered at his hands as a child. Abuse.

The lick’s reaction, tame as it is, doesn’t give her much confidence in this whole thing. She has to assume it’s her lover, but the lack of affection here…

It shouldn’t hurt. She tries to loosen her body when he comes in for a hug, to put her former love for him into the arms that she puts around him, the way she rests her cheek against his chest. She’d thought once that he was the perfect height for her. And he is. She fits snugly against him.

“Hi,” she breathes against him, looking up with the same question in her eyes. Something. Please. Anything, she needs anything from him.

She doesn’t yet pull away from him when Maxen speaks, but Emily’s comment makes something flicker in her eyes. Shame or guilt or something like pain, and Roderick(?) can feel her stiffen in his arms.

“Well, if he starts that up, Emmy, I’ve heard you’re good with a blade.” She turns to smile at her sister.

GM: “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” ‘Michael’ preempts when Diana starts to look fretsy. Maxen looks suitably contrite. Michael smiles down at Celia.

“Hi again. How are things with our mutual friend?”

Celia: She doesn’t miss the implication.

The gall. In front of her family! Emily no doubt caught it.

“It’ll be a night to remember,” she says, because there isn’t another answer she can give him right now. She disengages, stepping away from him to focus on her mom.

“Will you come with me to say goodnight to Goose, Mom?”

GM: Michael lets her go without further word.

Emily’s eyes follow the pair.

“Oh, we’ve already put her to bed, sweetie, I’m sorry,” says Diana. “We could check if she’s actually fallen asleep, if you like? Sometimes she stays up reading.”

Celia: Celia nods, happy for any excuse to speak to her mother alone for a moment.

GM: “He doesn’t go,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.

Celia’s dad simply nods. “We’re not there yet.”

“And we’re not ever going to be,” says Emily.

“Emi, please,” says Diana. She lays a hand on Celia as the pair see themselves out.

Celia hears, it though, before they even round the corner.

An eavesdropping Goose is up past her bedtime.

If the sound of small feet trying to quietly sneak away is anything to go by.

Celia: Celia doesn’t rat her out, not verbally. But once she’s out of sight of the people in the living room she sneaks up on the child with all the speed of her clan and scoops her into her arms, whispering about little spies in the corridors.

GM: A nightgown-clad Lucy all but jumps out of her skin and gives a sharp inhalation of breath as she clamps her hands over her mouth. Celia’s caught her red-handed.

“Don’t tell Mommy…!” she whispers.

Celia: “Never,” Celia assures her.

GM: Diana rounds the corner a second later and sees Lucy in Celia’s arms.

She doesn’t frown.

Celia: Whoops.

GM: Her eyes widen for a moment, then she holds a finger to her lips.

Celia: Celia winks at her and carries her prize down the hall, back into her bedroom.

She waves for Diana to come along.

“Company caught your eye, Goose?”

GM: It’s a short walk for the trio Lucy’s bedroom. Or technically, the pair, with Lucy not actually walking. Diana waits to say anything until they’re inside and close the door. The walls are deep blue and decorated with Butterfly stencils. Glow-in-the-dark stars glow down from the ceiling. The bed is heaped with pillows, stuffed animals, and lots of blankets, including a sun and moon patterned quilt Diana made. More stuffed animals, dolls, and other children’s toys sit around the room, along with a desk for schoolwork. That’s expected to see more use in the future.

A bunny-themed nightlight sits in the corner.

Because monsters in the dark are real.

Someone should’ve told Celia that when she was Lucy’s age.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Celia: She doesn’t imagine that a nightlight would have stopped him any more than the blankets over the head did.

GM: Or her.

Or the one in the living room.

Lucy just gives a timid look.

“We’re not mad, Goose, it’s okay,” says Diana. She smiles as she strokes the child’s back.

Celia: “Not at all, baby. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”

And look how that had turned out for her.

Maybe it’s a bad comparison.

GM: It’s a terrible comparison.

“Mommy Emi was mad…” says Lucy quietly.

Celia: “Not at you, sweetie.”

“She’s not super happy with the company right now.”

Celia glances at her mom.

“I think she’s jealous that Momma was holding someone else’s hand.”

Celia lifts her brows at Diana. What had that been about?

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. She looks like she’d been about to ask why.

Celia’s mom just gives a hapless roll of her shoulders.

Celia: “Let’s get you tucked in, little Luce, so the dinner Momma made for all those boring adults doesn’t get cold.”

GM: “Why can’t I see Grandpa?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Grandpa is… he’s not always the nicest man, Lucy. When I was little he used to make Momma and I pretty sad. Right now we’re trying to fix that and see how things go so he doesn’t make you sad, too.”

Celia pulls back the blankets and sets Lucy down.

“But,” she continues, “if he wants to be nice forever then you will get to see him.”

GM: “That’s right!” smiles Diana, still whispering as she runs a hand along the child’s hair. “We just wanna be sure he’s gonna be nice, and never make you sad, Luce.”

Celia: “And never make Momma or I sad, either. Happy is better.” Celia tucks Lucy in, smiling warmly down at her.

“Maybe if things go well we can all go for ice cream after dinner one night.”

“Get some sleep, Lady Goose. Mommy will tell you all about this tomorrow, I bet.”

Celia leans over to kiss her cheek.

“I love you, Lucy.” She reaches for Diana’s hand.

GM: “Ice cream’s nice,” smiles Lucy. “And you will, Mommy?”

“I will, Lady Goose,” nods Diana, squeezing Celia’s hand, and then Lucy’s too. “Promise.”

“Do I need to say my prayers again?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “It doesn’t hurt,” Celia says with a small smile for Lucy. “I’m sure He enjoys hearing from you more than once a day, baby.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Diana echoes. She takes Lucy’s hands, guides them into position, and bows her head with her daughter’s.

Celia: Celia presses her palms together and mimics the movement.

GM: “Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light.
Amen,” they both recite.

Jade remembers reciting it with Butterfly.

“I love you, Lucy,” Diana murmurs, tucking the girl in and kissing her head.

“Sleep tight.”

“Love you too, Mommy, Mommy,” Lucy says in apparent sequence to them both.

Celia: “Love you, baby. Sleep tight.”

Celia gives a tiny wave with her fingers and leads the way out of the room. Once the door is closed behind her she turns to look at her mom.

“What did you need to talk about?” she asks in a whisper.

GM: Diana turns on the nightlight, gives Lucy her favorite stuffed unicorn, and turns off the main light. She likewise gives a little wave and closes the door.

“Oh, it’s… nothin’ important, sweetie, not now,” Celia’s mom murmurs, looking away.

“I’m glad we spotted Luce.”

Celia: “Mom. It is important, but we only have so long before they come looking.”

GM: Diana shakes her head. “No, it… it really isn’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here early. There was an incident last night I’ll tell you about later.” Celia hugs her mom. “We’ll share later then, okay?”

“What did… Michael say to you?”

GM: Her mom hugs her back. “Okay, sweetie! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to talk to you after dinner.”

She lowers her voice. “He, ah, told me he’s Stephen.”

Celia: “Nothing else?”

GM: “We talked about some other things, but that was the biggest thing,” her mom nods.

Celia: “How long has he been here?”

GM: “He showed up maybe fifteen minutes before your father? And he was about ten minutes early.” Her mom’s smile widens. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him over like this, that you two get to be together again!”

Celia: It’s not the time to dim the joy on her mother’s face. She just smiles back.

GM: “That is some disguise he has on, too.”

“I asked him how he did it, he just said not to worry about it.”

Celia: No doubt.

Celia resolves not to ask if he wants to play coy. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction.

“Guess we should get back out there before Emily stabs him again.”

Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: The two head back to the living room. Maxen and Michael are chatting. Emily doesn’t look as if she’s having a particularly fun time.

“Well then, y’all ready to eat?” smiles Diana.

Celia: “I know I am.” Celia touches a hand to her stomach, as if it isn’t an organ she’d ripped out of a dead girl.

“Table set, or can I make myself useful?”

GM: “Ready and eager,” smiles Maxen. “I’ve missed your cooking, Diana.”

“I’ve missed cooking for you,” Diana smiles back.

“Table’s long set. We won’t hear of you havin’ to do any work here!” declares Celia’s mom.

Emily follows behind the others as they set off towards the dining room.

“He’s missed beating her black and blue, too,” she mutters.

Celia: Celia falls into step beside Emily.

“No more,” she murmurs. “No more women from this household will be beaten or abused. Never again.”

She is decidedly not looking at “Michael.”

But maybe she says it loudly enough for someone with above average senses to hear.

GM: If he does, he gives no sign.

“Tell me again why we’re even having this dinner?” Emily mutters.

Celia: So much has happened this week that Celia barely remembers anymore.

“So you could call him on his bullshit in front of Mom.”

It’s not Maxen that she regrets inviting to dinner, though. It’s the man wearing someone else’s face.

GM: “I hope that works.”

She lowers her voice even more.

“I think this was a mistake, Celia. I don’t think we should’ve invited him further into our lives like this.”

Celia: She’s starting to feel the same. There are a million and one things she wants to talk to Emily about right now, another million things she wants to say to Michael, but the walk to the dinner table is only so long.

How can she tell Emily that she thinks she fucked up? That not only was inviting Maxen into this home a mistake, but so is the “boyfriend” who has begun to abuse and belittle her. She’d been spot on earlier with her comment and now Celia doesn’t even know how to get out of it with anything resembling grace, and maybe she should have just given Camilla a doppelganger.

Celia reaches for Emily’s hand and gives a tiny nod. It’s there on her face: the realization that she had fucked up.

She doesn’t know if Bornemann had lied to her with the information about demons. She doesn’t know what longer game Maxen might be playing, and Camilla’s words—knowing something about her family—ring in her mind. Maybe he’s still possessed. She remembers her mother’s vision, how he takes Lucy away.

Celia steps past the dining room table and into the kitchen, moving to the pantry to get a container of salt. Her mother does enough cooking that she keeps plenty of them on hand for all her baking and flavoring needs. At a dollar per canister, why not? She tucks it into the folds of her dress and murmurs something about needing to use the restroom, then takes off down the hall to pour a line of salt in front of the door to Lucy’s room. It takes seconds. She flushes the toilet on her way back down the hall to give her story some plausibility and takes a moment to rinse and dry her hands. She tucks the salt beneath the sink.

Then she’s back, taking her seat with a smile as if nothing happened.

GM: Everyone sits down around the table as Diana heads into the kitchen after Celia to retrieve the food, but then Maxen gets up and volunteers to help. So do Michael, and then Emily, seemingly purely to dilute the impact of Maxen’s help.

Lucy’s door is closed when Celia returns to pour the salt, but the room to door to her mother’s bedroom is ajar.

The ‘other’ Lucy flies on the floor, glassy eyes silently staring towards Celia.

Celia: Celia stops to stare.

“How did you get here,” she whispers, but she doesn’t have time to find out.

“Diana isn’t ready,” Celia says to the doll. She steps inside the room to pick it up, setting it on the bed against the pillows. “Soon, okay?”

The porcelain Lucy gets a kiss on the brow before Celia turns to rejoin her family.

GM: The porcelain is cold under Celia’s lips.

The doll’s unblinking gaze bores relentlessly after her as she leaves.

Celia observes that Dani’s things are gone. The bedroom looks like it’s fully Diana’s again.

Celia: There aren’t enough hours in her night. Right now it feels like one thing after another and her lifelines are getting smaller and smaller.

Is this what her mom had wanted to talk about? Had Roderick moved her? Had someone else?

She hates not knowing. She hates being without her phone, being unable to send a text to check on Dani. They’d spoken earlier, of a sort. That means she’s okay, right?

All the same, Celia sets that anxiety aside to rejoin her family.

She doesn’t even want to ask in front of the guests. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that Roderick will blame her for losing Dani.

But she does, carrying the last of the dishes from the kitchen to the table next to her mother and asking in a quiet voice if Dani had found somewhere else to stay.

GM: Celia finds, to her chagrin, that the dinner’s other four attendees have carried everything out by the time she gets back, and are seated waiting for her.

Dinner is juicy-looking top loin steak, with a side dish of roasted vegetables: corn, mushrooms, yukon potato, asparagus, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes.

There’s also a fruit salad of mango, papaya, and kiwi with lime juice and mint.

Maxen and Michael have larger rectangular wooden plates to accommodate a larger portion of unsliced steak, and also have carving knives for their meat. Celia’s, Emily’s, and Diana’s plates are smaller, round, and ceramic. The smaller portions of steak are already pre-cut.

Celia: It looks delicious. In another life she would have enjoyed it, she’s sure.

The differences in serving size and method makes her lift a brow. Michael will find it as bland and tasteless as she does, she’s sure. Why waste the larger portion like that?

“Looks like somebody doesn’t trust us with a blade,” Celia stage-whispers to Emily.

GM: “Oh, it’s not that, sweetie,” Diana says embarrassedly. “It’s just that I already pre-cut some of the steak and I figured you girls wouldn’t want as much as the men. And it’s just nicer presentation, I thought, when you have that much steak, to leave some of it un-cut. And to let the big strong men cut apart theirs from a bigger haunch.” She smiles at the two.

“Real manly for the guys to cut apart a motionless piece of dead cattle,” Emily says dryly. “I guess those of us with vaginas aren’t up to that task.”

“It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with ‘manliness’,” says Michael. “Diana thought it was better presentation not to pre-slice all of the larger steak servings. And since men consume more calories on average than women, she gave us larger servings. Which makes sense considering the company. Maxen and I are larger than you and lead physically active lives.”

“Well I’m bigger than Mom and Celia, should I have gotten more steak?” says Emily.

Celia: “Yep,” Celia says, dumping a few pieces onto her plate. “There you go. Grow up big and strong like Mikey.”

“You know who would get the biggest piece? Robby.”

“Or maybe the Goose. I heard she plans to be seven feet tall. Gotta start ’em young.”

“Whole cow for Lucy, Mom.”

GM: “Personally I’m hopin’ she grows up the same size as you and me. That way we can all share clothes,” smiles Celia’s mom.

“This looks sublime, Diana,” smiles Maxen. “It smells sublime, too. Lucy and Emily are very lucky to eat this well every day.”

“Oh I’m so glad you think so, Maxen,” beams his ex-wife. “Would you like to lead us in prayer?”

Celia: Celia smiles at the thought of sharing clothes with Lucy and her mother, then looks to Maxen at the question.

GM: “How about I lead us in prayer, if my vagina doesn’t disqualify me?” says Emily.

Diana starts to say something, but Maxen merely inclines his head.

“We’re all equally small before Him. I’d be happy if you wanted to, Emily.”

“Right.” Emily clasps her hands together. “Good God, good grub, let’s eat. Amen.”

Celia: “Succinct,” Celia says dryly.

GM: “Amen,” says Diana, hands pressed as she bows her head lower.

“Amen,” repeats Maxen, doing the same.

“Amen,” says Michael with an amused look.

“It’s the thought that counts,” says Emily as she starts on one of Celia’s generously volunteered steak pieces. “And He sees all our thoughts, so.”

Celia: “Mm. The ultimate voyeur.” Celia spears a piece of steak with the tines of her fork. “Amen,” she tacks on belatedly. She lifts it to her mouth to bite, chew, swallow. It tastes as bland and awful as every other bite of food she’s ever tasted, like ash and sludge and what she imagines kissing a Nosferatu must taste like.

At least it’s over soon, sliding down her throat into her stolen stomach.

GM: Michael looks like he’s enjoying his about as much as Celia, but he smiles and compliments Celia’s mother. Emily doesn’t look like she’s particularly paying attention to the food’s taste, and Diana mostly looks like she’s watching her ex-husband. She’s seated him at the head of the table and herself at his right. Maxen enthusiastically compliments her cooking and she glows at the praise.

“I had a hunch steak would go over well,” she says mock-slyly.

Celia: Maybe it reminds Michael of the night Celia had invited a boy named Stephen to dinner to meet her father, and the way he had belittled her in front of her newly christened boyfriend. Or maybe it reminds Maxen of the time he’d made her stand in front of the stove for hours until she’d cooked the perfect steak. How he’d forced her to eat it, then make another one.

She’s quiet as her parents talk, looking down at her plate for a brief moment, then up at her… what, boyfriend? Abuser? She doesn’t even know anymore. There’s grief behind her eyes, wordless pain at the memories, at what should have been but isn’t. She wants nothing more than to take his hand and know that they’re in this together, that the boy she once loved is still inside, even if he’s hidden behind walls of anger and distrust right now.

Beneath the table, she reaches for his hand.

GM: Michael doesn’t seem to notice Celia’s action when Maxen remarks, “Michael was telling me about himself before you got here, Celia. You sound like you’ve picked a very successful man.” He smiles at his daughter.

Celia: Her fingertips brush across his knee instead. She lets the touch linger for a moment. Just in case.

“Yes,” she says with a tiny nod at Maxen, “but, I mean, there’s more to him than just that. Big heart.” She turns her eyes to Michael, offering a small smile.

GM: “Celia’s too kind,” smiles Michael.

“The heart counts for more than the success, I think,” says Maxen.

“I’d say they count equally,” says Michael. “Both are necessary to improve a family’s quality of life.”

Celia: Too kind. Too kind for saying he has a big heart.

It’s like a knife through her own, twisting, rending, tearing.

Too kind.

Because it isn’t true anymore. Because he doesn’t love her. Because he only wants to use her. Because he’s a Maxen waiting to happen, has every intention of hurting her until she breaks like Diana had, and he’s too useful to Savoy for her to do anything but take it.

Her eyes move to her plate. Mechanically, she spears another piece of steak with her fork. She bites. Chews. Swallows. It tastes like the ash she deserves, like broken promises and shattered hearts and ugly lies.

“If that’s the case, Dad, then why did you only focus on success when we were kids?”

Hollow heart, hollow voice, hollow eyes.

“Why did you think that your success made everything you did to me, to Mom, to the others okay?”

She hadn’t intended to bring it up. She’d thought maybe Emily would. That she’d play peacekeeper and avoid muddling the water so that she wouldn’t have to lie to her sire if he ever asked what happened.

But now she turns her gaze to her father, watching his face. She lets him see the agony on hers. She lets him see what the years of living with him had done, how her psyche had fractured, how her heart had hardened, how his own neighbor and master had used and abused her when she was still half a child. How she let her own boyfriend twist her words to humiliate and belittle her, how she turned into a weak woman who let a man put her on her knees because that’s what she experienced growing up.

“What if I told you that I grew up into someone who let her boyfriend or husband abuse her? What if I said Michael hits me? He’s successful, does that make it okay?”

GM: “I did a lot of wrong things when you and your siblings were kids, Celia,” her father says quietly.

He looks into her face. Into all of her pain. All of her fear. All of the hardness.

He lays his hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t think I have the moral authority to tell you what is and isn’t okay. But since you’ve asked me, I’d say no. No, it wouldn’t be okay if Michael hit you, no matter how successful he is. I’d say that would absolutely have to stop, for you to maintain any kind of relationship with him.”

“Oh, sweetie…” Diana murmurs. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter as she gets up from her seat to hug her daughter.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay… that’s all in the past… the future is better, the future is brighter…”

Emily watches silently.

“We all learn our behaviors from our parents,” says Michael, setting down his fork.

He gets up too, laying his own hand on Celia.

“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is the clinical term for it. I certainly hope Celia wouldn’t be okay receiving abuse like the kind her father committed against her mother.”

“But that’s a behavior learned from only one of her parents. And as bad as picking that up could seem… it could have been even worse. Celia could have become an abuser, too, like her father. Women can abuse men too, in more subtle ways. And combining that abuse with the behaviors Celia learned from her mother… she could have turned into an abuser as terrible as her father was—but one who saw herself as the victim. I can’t think of a more dangerous combination in any relationship. I think that would have driven her to a very sad and lonely life.”

He squeezes Celia’s shoulder and smiles down at her.

“I’m not going to say I thank God every night in my prayers that that didn’t happen. But I certainly have in more than one prayer. Celia could have turned into a black hole. A mindlessly destructive force screaming through space, ignorant of the pain it spawned. She could have sucked in all my light and destroyed me with her.”

His smile widens.

“But instead she’s turned into a sun. A force that brings warmth and life and beauty into everyone’s lives. We’re all here because of her. We’re all happy, because of her. And for all the darkness that’s been visited upon this family, I think it contains even more light.”

Celia: Celia lifts a hand to where he squeezes her shoulder. She looks up at him, searching his face for the truth. She finds it in the tightness around his eyes, the way his lips form the words, the very sound of his voice.

He’s lying through his teeth.

She rises, turning to face him fully, ignoring Diana and Emily and Maxen. She touches a hand to her heart, and then his, as if his words moved her. And they have. But the two of them both know there’s more to what he said than the syllables themselves. She steps forward, lifting her arms to put them around him, face pressed against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, just for him.

Her comment hadn’t even been about him. It had only been directed at her dad, at the damage he had done to her and the rest of them. But there was no way for him to know that. No way for him to see that she was doing more than just playing victim, that she really wanted her dad to think about what he’d done to the lot of them.

“I don’t know if Michael told you how we met,” she says to the table, turning slightly and taking her boyfriend’s hand, “but I was in bad shape. Mentally and emotionally. Burned out. Destructive. I never let you guys see it, but he did. He’s been working with me through everything. Helping me see things more clearly. It’s hard to change, and it’s painful sometimes, and it’s really easy to slip back into old patterns. But he’s been so patient, and I… I just really appreciate him for it.”

She looks once more to Michael, seeking his gaze with her own.

“Thank you. For understanding. For seeing me and not just my ways of being. I don’t mean to get emotional, I’m just… just so happy that you’re in my life and that we’re moving forward together.”

GM: “I am too, Celia,” Michael smiles back, squeezing her hand. “Moving forward is what counts. We can wallow in our past mistakes, or we can correct them and move forward. I know which I’d rather do.”

“I’m so happy for you two,” sniffs Diana. Her hand finds Maxen’s again.

“I am as well,” says Celia’s father, giving her mother’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve found a good man, Celia. I’m very impressed by him. By both of you.”

Emily just watches silently.

Celia: Correct them and move forward. Maybe no one else notices the way her fingers tighten around his, or the tiny tremble that runs down her spine at the word “correct.” But he’s right next to her, touching her, and she doesn’t hide the trepidation writ across her face when she looks up at him. She blinks once to tell him that she understands, and gives a tiny nod of agreement. They’ll move forward. She’ll lure in Gui and the two will move forward, and now that he knows everything they will be a team, and she can trust that he has her best interests at heart.


That’s what she wants, isn’t it? A partner? Someone she can ask for help?

Doubt clouds her mind. He hadn’t come last night. She’d needed him and he hadn’t come.

But she smiles, turning away to take her seat again.

Dinner has barely started and all she wants to do is run.

GM: “Oh, say, were you able to pick up juice at the store?” Michael asks as he sits back down.

Celia: “I was, yes. Only I got home and dropped one of the bags, just fell right out of my hands.” Celia uses her hands to tell the story, mimicking an explosion of glass and liquid. “All over the floor, all over me.” She gestures to the front of her, making a face as her hands pass her stomach. “Ruined my dress when it splashed up.” A tiny laugh. “We really need a new mop, feels like my shoulder fell off from trying to get it all off the floor. Good as new now, but I didn’t want to be late tonight and make anyone worry, so I planned to grab some on the way home to replace it.”

He gets it. Maybe.

It’s not like he’d given her a deadline, only told her that if she wants to spend the day with him again she needs to bring it.

“There was a spider,” she says with a little lift of her shoulders and color in her cheeks, as if that explains her wild story.

GM: “Oh, too bad your beau wasn’t there to squash it,” says Diana, wriggling her eyebrows. “I hate squishin’ bugs on my own. That’s what men are for!”

“That is what men are for,” Michael echoes in amusement.

“That is too bad, Celia. I would have squashed it for you.”

Celia: “Next time,” she says, but the private look she gives him asks if that’s true.

GM: He just smiles at her and spears a potato piece.

Celia: Celia looks away. There’s nothing left inside of him.

She should have let the Guard burn her.

GM: “I did hear about the spider, though,” says Michael. “Celia sent me some very scared texts.”

“Oh no, was it a really big one?” asks Diana.

“Smaller than I probably thought,” says Michael.

“She’s here now. Doesn’t look like it got her.”

“It is good to have man for that sort of thing,” says Maxen between a bite of steak. “But I’m glad she was able to get it on her own.”

“Yeah, I guess we’re pretty used to that in this family,” says Emily. “Having to take care of bad things on our own.”

She’s barely touched her food.

Maxen just inclines his head. “You are. All of you.”

“Is somethin’ wrong with the food, Emi?” asks their mom.

“No, nothing’s wrong with it, Mom,” says Emily. “I guess I just don’t have much appetite when there’s a wife-beating rapist child abuser in the room. I honestly cannot summon the will to eat.”

“Emi!” Diana exclaims.

Maxen bows his head. “Maybe this is too soon. I don’t want to intrude on this family or be the cause for missed meals. I can leave if I’m not welcome.”

“You’re not,” says Emily. She pushes out her chair and rises from her seat. “I think that’d be for the best. Door’s this way.”

Maxen pushes out his chair and rises with her.

“No! Max, stay. Please. I’d like to have dinner with you.” Diana takes his hand again but doesn’t rise from her seat.

Celia: Celia silently watches her family argue, biting her tongue to keep from interceding. Maxen seems sincere enough about going if that’s what Emily wants, but Emily… she thought they’d agreed. One dinner. She’d even brought “backup” in case Maxen tries anything.

She uses the cover of Emily and Maxen’s motion to reach for the salt shaker, flicking her wrist to pour a small amount of it into her palm. Then she, too, rises to look between the pair.

“Dad, I’m sorry, I think she might be right. I think I rushed this before everyone was ready. I think there’s a lot of unhealed trauma coming up for everyone and stepping into this idea of ‘family’ without giving Emily, Mom, and I the proper time might be doing all of us a disservice.”

Celia bites her lip. She looks to her mom, then Michael, and finally back to her dad.

“I think it might be like using a rug to cover a hole in the floor. I’d like to meet you in the middle, if that’s okay. You and I working through some things. Dinner, maybe. With the boys, if they want, and with Michael if he wants to lend support as well. Sometime this week, maybe.”

GM: “I think that sounds more than reasonable,” says Maxen. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen David, hasn’t it? And had dinner with Logan too.”

“Michael would also be welcome to have dinner with us.”

“Thank you, Mr. Flores. That would be my pleasure,” says Michael.

Celia’s attempt to pour salt unnoticed, however, goes horribly awry.

The Toreador’s preternaturally quick grasp is too swift. The lid, clearly not securely attached, flies off. It hits Maxen’s glass of non-alcoholic wine. Drink spills over his shirt and pants as the glass shatters over the floor.

“Oh, no, Max!” exclaims Diana.

Salt is spilled all over the table, too.

Celia: Shit.

“Sorry,” she blurts, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Mike, can you grab some paper towels? In the kitchen?” She’s already moving to clean up the glass so that no one else risks a cut.

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie. Accidents happen,” smiles Celia’s dad. “Where’s the broom and dustpan?” he asks her mom, who’s already dabbing at the stains on his clothes with a napkin.

“In the closet. But nonsense, you’re a guest!” says Diana.

Maxen rises. “Please. You’ve already gone to so much trouble making this lovely dinner. May I?”

“Forget it, I’ll do it,” says Emily, already rising.

“Sweetie, you don’t need to be so contrary,” says Diana. Someone else might glare, but she sounds more like she’s chiding.

Michael rises and heads for the kitchen.

Celia: Celia ignores the bickering. She focuses on getting the large shards of glass off the floor, then uses a napkin to start scooping up the smaller pieces.

“Hey Emi, broom?”

GM: Maxen joins her on the ground, using his own napkin to help pick up glass pieces. “We can shine a light over the floor, when we’ve got all the pieces we can see. It’s so easy to miss little shards.”

Celia: “I’ve got it, Dad.”

GM: Emily strides back with the broom.

“Yeah. We’ve got it. Butt out.”

Maxen inclines his head and sets down the napkin with the few shards he picked up.

“I’m sorry. I was only trying to hel-”

“We don’t want your fucking help!”

“Emi, you’re being rude!” exclaims their mom.

“You know what’s rude, Mom? Raping someone! He fucking raped you!” Emily is getting red in the face.

Celia: Celia takes the broom and starts sweeping. She’s focused on the glass, on getting it all up, on not having any accidents this evening that she’ll need to explain. Smart, she thinks, to send Michael into the kitchen, an excuse to get away. Right? That’s smart. Just in case.

“Emily,” Celia cuts in, “he’s leaving. Okay? He’s going. I made a mess and it derailed his plan to leave but he’s going.”

GM: Michael is swiftly back with the paper towels.

“No! I’m going to at least get the stain out of his shirt!” says Diana. Her cheeks are flushing too at Emily’s description, but she doesn’t otherwise respond.

Celia: “It’s red wine, Mom,” Celia says gently. “It’s not coming out. I’ll get him a new one, okay?” Celia takes the paper towels from Michael with a nod of thanks and looks to her father, sizing him up. “16 neck, 42 chest?” she asks him.

GM: “Sweetie, if you want to pick up glass, it’s not my house. But I’m going to draw the line at my children buying me clothes outside of Christmas and birthdays,” Maxen chuckles. “It’s fine, I have plenty others. And I think my presence might be causing more harm than good right now, so I’ll take off.” He turns to his ex-wife. “Thank you for the lovely dinner.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says again, rising from the floor with the wet paper towel in hand. She sets it aside. “I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Emily and Michael are busy cleaning up on the floor.

“No! You and Emi are just—you keep—” Diana exclaims flusteredly, still red in the cheeks. “I guess NO ONE is going to enjoy this dinner now! I spent a lot of time on it!”

“Put it in the oven again at low heat,” Maxen says gently. “It’ll be as good as fresh out.”

“You said you wanted to talk about Isabel! I don’t want to put that off because, because-!” Diana makes an exasperated gesture behind her.

“He doesn’t have anything to say about Isabel, Mom,” preempts Emily. “It’s been almost a decade since she was in touch.”

“Well you’re wrong about that, I know she talks to Logan!” retorts Diana, crossing her arms. “And I know he’s worried about her!”

Celia: “He is,” Celia quietly admits. “He’s spoken to me about it.”

GM: “I want to hear this, Max!” says Diana. “Do you have news about her?”

Celia: “Why don’t I see if he’s left a shirt here you can wear, Dad, and you and Mom can talk, and Emily and I will sit in the other room until you’re done. Michael, it’s up to you if you want to stick around, I’m sorry things got out of hand.”

GM: “Are you joking? I don’t want to leave him alone in a room with her,” says Emily.

“For goodness’ sake, Emily!” Diana exclaims in exasperation.

Michael just nods, but doesn’t move to leave or speak over the quarreling family.

Celia: “The room has a giant open door,” Celia says, gesturing to the living room that is, indeed, not hidden behind a tiny door or opening. It’s one large open area. “You’ll see them the whole time. You’ll even be able to hear them. But you don’t have to interact. Okay?”

Celia takes a step away.

“I’m going to find a shirt. Mike, do you want to..?” She makes a vague gesture about coming with her.

GM: “I don’t have any shirts of Logan’s, sweetie,” says her mom. “I gave them back since you were last here. And we don’t have any clothes in your father’s size.”

“It’s all right,” says Maxen. “I’m going to drive straight home.”

“I want to hear about Isabel,” says Diana. “Please.” She kneels to help with the glass as well.

Celia: “Mom, stop, I’ve got the glass. You two sit. Eat. Emily, other room. Take your plate if you want.” Celia resumes cleaning.

GM: “I’m fine staying, thanks,” says Emily.

“Sweetie, nonsense, you don’t need to clean this all up by yourself,” says Diana.

Celia: Celia gives her mother a look.

A very frank look.

A very frank “yes I do and you know why” look.

“Sit, Mom,” she says gently, “it’s almost done anyway.”

GM: “…all right,” says Diana. “If you’re sure.”

She sits.

Emily looks at her for a moment.

Celia: She finishes cleaning. Once the glass is up there’s just the wine to get, and with paper towels soaking up most of it there’s not much else to be done. She sweeps the rest of the glass off the floor and into the dustbin, then comes back with a wet paper towel to get rid of the wine.

GM: Michael continues to help with the glass and cleanup, but otherwise doesn’t interrupt the family.

Diana looks like she feels bad about him cleaning, but doesn’t press.

“So, Isabel?” she asks her ex, leaning forward.

Maxen nods.

“Logan and I have not been able to get ahold of her for close to two weeks now. That’s not unusual, in of itself. Internet service isn’t always reliable where she is. This isn’t even the longest we haven’t heard from her.”

Emily looks confused by the ‘and I’, but doesn’t butt in.

“But…” says Diana.

“But,” grants Maxen, “she sounded in a very bad place, when she last spoke with us. Her boyfriend had gone missing, as you know-”

“Yes, Evan, that very nice boy,” Diana nods.

Celia: Celia keeps her head down while they talk, working on getting the worst of the spill off the floor. She glances at Michael as he assists, pain in her eyes, and touches the back of his hand.

GM: Michael just gives her an unimpressed look.

Maxen nods again. “And she’s been in touch more regularly, since he disappeared. And she usually gives a heads up, too, when she can’t talk for a while.”

“So you think something’s happened?” asks Diana. “I know it’s very dangerous, where she is.”

Celia: Celia withdraws the touch. She retreats inside of herself, where he can’t hurt her, and her face shutters. She moves to the kitchen to dispose of everything, though she can still hear the words of her parents.

She’s back a moment later.

GM: Everyone has seated themselves again, though no one is eating.

“It is,” says Maxen. “So, Logan and I assumed the worst. And we tried to get in touch with the group she’s doing missionary work with.”

“And that’s when we realized… we didn’t know the group. She never told us.”

“I thought he sent her to a mission,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.

Maxen shakes his head. “Isabel chose to do that on her own.”

“So, anyway. Logan and I called a bunch of different organizations, and I got some of my staffers to help out too.”

“And we didn’t find anything for an Isabel Flores.”

Diana looks worried, but doesn’t interject.

“So I brought in help with some private detectives. Logan and I agreed that we should at least know what mission she’s with, in case… in case of a situation like this.”

Celia: “Are you sure she’s with a mission?” Celia interjects. “She had it rough here. What if she just… moved away? Started fresh?”

GM: “Positive,” says Maxen. “She kept Logan and I updated about a lot of things. She said pretty recently that she was still doing missionary work.”

“But that idea did occur to the detectives, actually.”

“One of them suggested that maybe she had dropped out or moved on, and was still telling us she was doing missionary work. He said she might’ve not wanted to tell us, not been sure how to tell us, and just gone on saying she was still a missionary for a million possible reasons.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s possible.

GM: “He said that he’s seen people do things like that a lot of times. But he did think it was likely she’d at least started with the mission, even if she dropped out later. Because it would’ve given her initial direction, room and board, plane ticket out of the States, et cetera. Not required her to make as many decisions. She was still very young and upset.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges, “but not… I mean, it could be that she just said that and went another way, to throw you off of her tail. You were…” Celia looks down, “Dad, you weren’t always the best father, if I were going to run I’d say something like that too. So no one could find me.”

GM: “That’s possible,” says Maxen. “I told them about the circumstances she left under.”

“I didn’t know if it would help or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

“They said that would help.”

“Because they weren’t able to find anything with any missions.”

“Anything?” asks Diana. “Weren’t there, I don’t know, records?”

“So they started at our family churches,” says Maxen. “Mine and the one you, your mother, and sister all go to. Because they figured that’s where a scared and directionless teen would go, a familiar church, rather than a stranger’s.”

“They interviewed priests, staff, people who were around in 2009. They looked into partnered missionary organizations and visited their headquarters in the city.”


Diana looks no less worried.

“Maybe she went with another one, or just didn’t go…?”

“They’re still looking into some other missionary organizations,” Maxen nods, “though they don’t expect much to come of it. They think Isabel might never have worked at one.”

“But why would she lie?” frowns Diana.

“Well, like Celia said,” says Maxen.

“She wanted to escape and throw me off her trail.”

“But to keep up the lie for almost ten years…?” says Diana, frowning even deeper.

“Yes, that’s the thing they found strange. Because we shared our texts with them,” says Maxen.

“They also asked Logan and me a lot of questions.”

“And Isabel spoke at considerable length about the religious work she was doing.”

“I could hear the pride in her voice.”

“She gave a lot of details. We talked about God all the time.”

“She said doing His work was the most fulfilling thing she’d ever done. That this was her life’s work, now.”

“I speak with my share of people who are, I might put it, less than sincere in their faith. That unfortunately comes up in politics.”

“Isabel sounded to me like a true believer.”

“The PIs thought so too.”

“So… why couldn’t they find anything at church, then…?” Diana asks puzzledly.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst. There are a lot of churches in the city, a lot in the state. She went to Liberty, maybe she met someone up there, fell in with a different crowd.”

GM: “Isabel never went to Liberty,” says Maxen.

Celia: Celia looks to him.

GM: “Yes, Logan said she did…” starts Diana.

She looks even more worried, now.

“She didn’t,” says Maxen. “We had no contact after she left. I know her college fund was never used.”

Celia: Celia stares.

Is he not going to say?

Is he not going to own up to what he did to her, how he kept her in a cage?

GM: Is that better or worse than killing her?

“The PIs talked to the people at Liberty,” says Maxen. “They thought maybe she took out loans, got a scholarship, or otherwise paid her own way through school.”

“Colleges keep records of all students they’ve ever had, obviously.”

“Liberty had nothing for an Isabel Flores.”

“Though they did have an application she filed back in high school.”

“Now, there is one other thing.”

Celia: “What about another college? Somewhere else? Maybe she just said Liberty because you wouldn’t accept another school…?”

GM: “Isabel didn’t leave New Orleans immediately, after… after the alleged tape was circulated. I know that for a fact.”

“She was still in the city for the better part of a year.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t dare glance at Michael, at Emily, at her mother. She keeps her eyes on her father’s face.

GM: “Well, what was she doing?” asks Diana. She still has that same puzzled tone.

“She was staying at home, where I was continuing to abuse her,” says Maxen.

Celia: She hadn’t thought he’d say it.

Not like that.

Not so frankly.

She swallows, taking a step back as if reeling, watching his face as the words leave his mouth. At her side her fingers curl into fists.

GM: “Oh,” says Diana.

Emily and Michael don’t say anything.

Celia: “Tell us,” says Celia. “Tell us what you did to her.”

GM: “I don’t want to hear that,” says Diana, shaking her head.

“I think he should tell us,” says Emily. “I think he should tell us everything. What was she doing, at home, for the better part of a year, Maxen? Because Logan and the others all said she disappeared. They said she was off at-”

“Emily, stop it!” snaps Diana.

Celia: “Did they know?” Celia asks quietly. “Logan, David, Soph? Did they know she was with you?”

“Did they do nothing?”

GM: “Your brothers and sisters aren’t at fault there,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell them.”

“That makes no sense,” says Emily. “She was at home, but they didn’t know? What, were you keeping her locked in her room? And isn’t that funny, coming right after that-”

STOP IT!” yells Diana, standing up from her seat. Her face is red now, but not from embarrassment.

“I have not spoken to my daughter in almost ten years! This is not the time to drag up the past! Not now! Do it later! I want to know, Maxen, and I want to know right now: where is our daughter? Has something happened to her? Are we going to see her again?”

Diana’s voice is choked and breathless. Fear is naked and plain in her eyes.

“We don’t know,” Maxen answers quietly. “She’s now a missing person.”

“It’s possible something bad has happened. We don’t know. But the detectives think something might have.”

“They are still looking.”

Celia: Celia retreats further into herself. She knows what happened. Isabel is dead. Isabel is dead and it’s her fault. Isabel is dead and she could have prevented it and she didn’t, because she was petty and jealous and insecure and now she gets to watch it rip her family apart, rip her mother apart.

Her lip trembles, fingers flexing at her sides, and she blinks rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes before it has a chance to turn into tears. She doesn’t look at anyone. Her gaze stays focused on the ground, hatred and self-loathing in her heart.

GM: Her last sight as she looks away is of her mother sitting down and burying her face against Maxen’s chest.

She sounds like she’s softly crying.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to find her, Diana,” says Maxen. He must have his arms around her. That’s what you do with the mother of your child when she’s crying. The woman’s low sniffs continue to sound. “Dead or alive. I am going to find her. I am going to bring her back to us and back to you.”

“Oh… Isabel…” Diana moans. Her voice is muffled.

Celia: Celia presses her hands to her face. She turns, blindly stepping into the kitchen while her mother’s sobs tear her apart. She doesn’t look for comfort from Michael. She doesn’t think about intruding on this family moment when she has been the cause of so much pain. She silently slips away to let the tears fall.

She’d done this.

All of it.

It’s all her fault.

And there’s no way she can fix it now.

No way to bring her back.

Bornemann had been clear. Final death is final.

GM: She hears footsteps following after her.

Then she feels strong arms encircling her.

Holding her close.

Against a man’s taller frame.

She feels a head brush against hers, and Roderick’s voice breathe in her ear:

“It’s your fault.”

“I told you, didn’t I, that you were a black hole?”

Celia: He doesn’t even know the worst of it.

The words break her all the same. Any control she thought she had slips away; he kicks her while she’s down and it’s all she can do to remain upright, to stay tucked against him, to keep from fleeing into the night so she can find something dangerous to throw herself against.

His words break her. She sobs silently. Her shoulders don’t need to shake. She doesn’t need to breathe. But she sobs all the same, tears leaking from her eyes and down her cheeks, caught by her own hands.

Blood on her fingers. Red-handed. Her fault.

She only nods.

GM: His hands drop from her sides. He pulls her away, then grips her head so he stares directly into her face.

“Madly careening through space, though black holes don’t actually move, blacker than the void. Destroying everything it comes into contact with, sucking away all life and light down an inescapable void.”

“Crying the whole time, like you’re the victim.”

“Your mother, brothers, and sisters are the victims, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.

“Not you.”

“These are crocodile tears.”

“They’re disgusting and pathetic, and they score no sympathy points, not with people who know who you are.”

“Truth always comes out.”

Celia: Every single one of his words slam into her like a physical blow.

The tears stop. Dead eyes stare at him when he captures her head in his hands.

She only nods again.

GM: “I told you this would happen. That your family wasn’t going to let this go.”

“But you were too selfish and too stupid to listen.”

Celia: Celia yanks away.

“Get out,” she says in a low voice.

GM: His grip only tightens, holding her firmly in place.

“You’ve never cared about anything beyond yourself, not really. You literally can’t consider it. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known. I finally see you past all the makeup, Celia. Past the superficial prettiness that washes away like so much filth under the sink.”

“When you cheated on me, you never really apologized, did you? No, you always justified it, and broke down in weeping histrionics when your lies were finally exposed. It wasn’t about me. It was about you. How scared you were of losing our relationship. How justified you were to do what you did. How unfair everything all was to you. You, you, you. You didn’t care you hurt me. You were never sorry for what you did. You don’t care about your family, either. You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life, and you cry victim the whole time. You’re a monster in denial that it’s even a monster. That’s what makes your act so convincing.”

“But lying is what you do best, isn’t it? You lie to yourself, too. Not just everyone else.”

“How does it feel to look at the truth, Celia? How does it feel to hear what you really are? Not even your family knows the real Celia, not like I do.”

Celia: That’s what she’d wanted to do this evening.

To talk to him about him. To apologize. To start to move past it. To have a conversation that doesn’t result in anger or tears. To speak softly, kindly, to give him the gift she’s been sitting on for years, to tell him that she knows she messed up, that she’s… that she’s sorry. About everything. About not trusting, about cheating, about lying, about all the times she had hurt him. To ask how else she could make it up to him.

Like everything else in her Requiem, it had been ruined.

“Awful,” she says, voice hollow. Her tears cease. They hadn’t been for her, they’d been for her family, but she doesn’t tell him that. It doesn’t matter. “It feels awful to know what I’ve become. It feels awful to know that my truth is ugly, selfish, evil. It’s awful, Michael. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”

She wishes they had kept her. That they’d burn her tonight. But she doesn’t say this, doesn’t tell him about her death wish, doesn’t even say it’s something that had been on the table.

He won’t care.

“I’m supposed to see Gui tonight. I’ll set the new date with him when I do. I’ll make sure it has nothing to do with either one of us. I’ll find out who sired Dani when I meet him as well. I’ll have the name for you tonight. I’ll have the blood for you this evening. All of it. You don’t have to let me stay, just let me know where to drop it off. I’ll make arrangements with Duke, as you asked. And I’ll fix this situation with my family. You were right. I should have already done it. I put it off. I was selfish and… and stupid.”

She stumbles over the word but gets it out.

“I can go now. I’ll go now to meet him, and set the date. Or part of the juice now, if you want it. My mother won’t mind a missing container. Then I’ll say bye. And I’ll go. And I’ll do as you said. Everything you said.”

GM: Roderick folds his arms.

“I guess you’d better get started, Celia.”

“I’ll only believe it when I see it.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to him, even though she knows it doesn’t mean anything. She moves past him, reaching under a cabinet for a glass jar. Her mother prefers them to plastic. Less waste, she says, and Celia is glad for the twist off top. She glances into the dining room to make sure the humans are still occupied.

It’s a risk, even if they are. She steps out the back door, into the little space between Emily’s carriage house and Diana’s main house, and bites into her wrist.

She lets the blood flow.

Her Beast is not pleased. It hates the way she snivels and cowers before this lesser predator. Physically superior he may be, but he is nothing save a crying worm compared to her.

Oh no, my sire lied to me.

Oh no, my girlfriend cheated on me.

Oh no, I’m a sad pathetic sap.

It hates him. And it seethes when the girl wants to give the blood to him. It seethes as she takes from herself to give it up to this pathetic waste of Blood. Smart? Sure. But naïve. Without hiding behind his sire’s skirts he wouldn’t be long for this world.

He’s a spoiled childe playing at pretend.

Celia hisses as her fangs split her skin, hisses again when her Beast makes its displeasure known. One hit. Two. A third. Her Beast hates with every drop, seething inside of her. Claws rip into her stomach, so much worse than what Camilla had done to her last night, so much worse than the burns or the saw.

She’s choosing this. Playing victim again. Letting him control her.

And for what? What benefit has she gotten from this?


Absolutely nothing.

The blood flows. She fills the cup. Three hits, only part of what she owes, but the container can’t take anymore. A flick of her tongue across her wrist closes the wound. She steps back inside, grabbing a plastic bag from her mother’s pantry to wrap around the jar, and offers it to Michael.

GM: He accepts it without a word.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you want to come with me to meet him tonight we might be able to create an opportunity to jump him. You already have a different face. Otherwise I will… I’ll see you later, with the rest of everything.”

GM: “Get going, Celia,” is all he says.

“You may contact me when you have substantive progress to report.”

Celia: “Yes, sir.”

Sir. It slips out of her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She only bows her head and turns to go, making her excuses to her family.

“One of my clients has connections overseas,” she says, and it’s even true. “If she’s not in the States, he can start looking. I’m going to see him now to tell him about it. I also have police contacts I can pull on, and a PI friend myself.”

Celia hugs her mom.

“I’ll stop by later. Let me take care of these things while everyone is still awake. Dad, I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Michael follows her out. Celia finds her parents’ chairs still pulled up next to each other. Her mom is leaning against her dad’s shoulder, who has his arms around her. Her eyes are red from crying. Dinner looks untouched.

Diana returns Celia’s hug with one arm, but sniffs and shakes her head at her daughter’s last words.

“No. He’s staying.”

“Those sound like great ideas, Celia,” says her dad. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

Celia: Celia only nods.

“Then I’ll see you both later.”

GM: “See you,” says Emily. Her voice doesn’t sound at all irate. She’s still seated where she is, arms folded, watching Maxen and Diana.

Her face doesn’t look mad anymore, either.

She doesn’t once look away from the two.

Dinner looks untouched.

“I’m so sorry you had to see all of this, Michael,” Celia’s mom says in embarrassment.

“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Celia’s already shown me a lot of herself.”

Celia: She feels better knowing that Emily is looking out for them. That she’d protected Lucy from a demon entering through the door, at least.

“I’m picking up a phone first. Call me if you need anything.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie,” says her dad. “I was going to order you one online. I can have it delivered overnight. Is that fast enough?”

Celia: “Doesn’t hurt. I’ll grab a cheap thing in the meantime so you guys can reach me.” Most stores sell bullshit phones for a hundred bucks.

GM: “Sounds like a plan. What’s the address I should have it delivered to?”

“You gonna be back tonight?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia tells him to send it to the spa. She gets most of her mail there anyway.

“Should be.”

GM: Maxen nods and says he’ll send it there.

“I dunno how many stores will still be open this hour on a Sunday,” says Emily.

Celia: It’s not even nine.

“Herrick’s. Any other big box retailer. I’ll find something. Or borrow one.”

GM: Emily pulls out her own phone.

“The nearby Herrick’s is already closed, but there’s one in Gentilly open until 10 and one in Algiers open to 11. 20 minute drive. You need the address?”

Celia: “Sure. Gentilly. Unless you just want to let me borrow your phone, Ma. I can log into my account from there.”

GM: “Oh, feel free,” says her mom. “It’s… where I’d leave it…”

“You can borrow mine if you want,” says Emily.

“Oh, it’s in my bedroom, sweetie. Whichever you’d like.”

“They’re both Solarises, so.”

Celia: “I don’t need to see Robby sending you nudes,” Celia says to Emily with a wink. She moves down the hall to Diana’s bedroom to find the phone, looking for Lucy when she gets there.

GM: “You wish,” says Emily, though her heart doesn’t sound like it’s in the banter. She still has half an eye on their mother and Maxen.

The doll is lying on the ground by the door. The porcelain face is utterly still. The doll’s unblinking eyes bore into Celia’s.

She finds her mother’s phone on the bedside table. There’s a pattern unlock.

Celia: “Lucy,” Celia whispers to the doll, “I put you on the bed. Why are you here?” She picks up the doll and the phone, putting the doll into her purse. Only the doll doesn’t fit. It’s too big, even for the practical bag Celia had worn tonight. The entire head sticks out.

“When I come back tonight,” she tells Lucy, “I’ll merge you, okay? I love you. I love Diana. Just bear with me for a while so she doesn’t scream when she sees you.”

Celia reaches for the doll with that gift Benson had given her, the one that can transform anything she holds into a doll and a doll into anything else. Scarf, she thinks, and the doll’s form blurs into a scarf that trails from her purse. Celia keeps her tucked inside as best she can.

Then she’s back to the living room, asking her mother for the pattern unlock so she can get into it.

GM: The doll offers no response or explanation as Celia picks it up.

Then Celia doesn’t have a doll, but a scarf. At least as far as her mother can see.

Diana takes the phone and shows her daughter the pattern to trace.

Celia: “Appreciate it, Mom. I’ll bring it back in a bit. I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mom sniffs, hugging her again. “I’m so glad to have you here, right now. Just so glad.”

Her father and Emily echo both of those sentiments.

Michael, too.

Celia: She shouldn’t be. But Celia doesn’t say. She just smiles, kisses her mom on the cheek, and gets going.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia gets into her car and starts with the practical, logging into her WhatsApp so she can reach out to a handful of people.

GM: Roderick leaves the house with her after exchanging farewells with Celia’s family. He says he’s looking forward to staying in touch with Maxen. He gets into his own car and drives off without saying goodbye.

Celia: It’s okay, she doesn’t say goodbye to Roderick either. She doesn’t even wave or offer to do his face or tell him that she’d had a handful of identities picked out for him.

She’s not even sure why she’s so caught up in the idea of fixing things with him.

She checks to see if Gui called or texted.

Did you move out of my mom’s? she sends to Dani.

Where are you? to Reggie.

GM: Gui has not.

Yeah I moved in with my dad, tonight a good time for us to catch up? answers Dani.

There’s no immediate response from Reggie.

Celia: Possibly, she replies to Dani. In trouble. Need to figure some stuff out. Will call you in a min.

GM: Ok. Let me know if I can help!

Celia: She calls Reggie.

GM: No response.

Celia: “Call me back,” she says to his voicemail. “I need you.”

She hangs up and pulls out of the driveway, then calls Gui.

GM: The Ventrue picks up after a few rings.


Celia: “Hey, babe. You free? I’d love to explain what happened last night.”

GM: “Sure. Later tonight.”

Celia: “Before or after the party?”

GM: “After. 3’s a good time.”

Celia: “Perfect.” A slight pause. “Are you still going to bring your friend? I wouldn’t have blown you off if I’d had any choice in the matter, baby.”

GM: “You’ll have what I want?”

Celia: “I always have what you want.” She giggles. “But yes, absolutely.”

GM: “Mmm. Some opportunities passed me by. Time-sensitive ones. I can bring along my friend at 4, and you’ll owe me a favor, or it can be just me at 3.”

Celia: Celia, as Jade, huffs into the phone.

“You’re not the only one who lost out last night. But I’ll show you I’m good for it. Consider me in your debt, darling. I’ll see you at four.”

GM: “You got it, lush. It’ll be a party to remember.”


Celia: At least she’ll still get Dani’s sire out of it. That’s something, right?

Celia glances at the phone, dialing Reggie again.

GM: Her answer is the same.

“Yo. Leave a message.”


Celia: She doesn’t leave another message. She tries his brother instead. The live one.

GM: “Yes?” comes Rusty’s voice after a few rings.

Celia: “Hi, Rusty. You hear from Reggie at all? I’ve been trying to get ahold of him. I’m worried.”

GM: “Recently enough I don’t think he’s missing like Randy.”

Celia: “Has he found anything?” Celia presses.

GM: “No.”

Celia: The phone moves away from her mouth for a moment. Rusty can hear a muffled swear.

“If you see him, have him call me. There’s some shit hitting the fan and I want to make sure you two are safe while we look for your brother.”

GM: “We’re fine,” snorts Rusty. “Randy’s the one who’s probably unsafe.”

Celia: “I was picked up in the heart of the Quarter last night,” Celia all but snarls into the phone, “which means that no one is ‘safe.’”

GM: “You sound fine. So are we.”

Celia: She takes a breath.

“Rusty,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t help find Randy if I don’t know what Reggie found, or where he is. I can’t look for two people at once. I only want to make sure you’re both okay, and that whoever took Randy isn’t going to come for either one of you. Okay?”

GM: “We’re fine, we’ve found nothing, and Mom is very upset,” Rusty says irritably. “Do you have some way in mind to help or is that all?”

It occurs to Celia this is the second family she’s sent on a wild goose chase for a ‘missing’ relative.

Celia: She’s a terrible person.

Roderick is right.

“I have some people to follow up with. I’ll let you know what I find. Stay safe.”

GM: “For the fourth time, we are safe.”

There’s noise in the background. It sounds like angry voices.

“Rusty, get off the phone!” snarls one.

Celia: “I know,” Celia breathes into the phone. “I know you said that.”

She’s a mess. Her entire Requiem has become a mess. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. Her lover, lost. Her allies, lost. Her friends, lost. Even her servants, lost.

She’s alone. Trying to keep the rest of her unlife from hemorrhaging further, ruining everything that she touches in the meantime.

“Keep me updated.”

She hangs up, staring at the phone in her hands.

She’s a monster. Just like he said. She’s a monster.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: For long moments, Celia sits in her car, wondering about the future in store for her. Camilla had said dangerous nights are coming, that she might not survive. What of her sire, will he survive? Will Roderick? Savoy?

Does she care?

None of them had come for her. None of them had lifted a finger to help her. Savoy and Roderick and even her own ghoul had done nothing when she’d told them what happened. Maybe she doesn’t blame Savoy, not really, he has kept her at an arm’s distance since the night she told Donovan his plan.

But the other two? Reggie is supposed to be devoted to her. Roderick is supposed to love her. Even Rusty had been dismissive, and Alana only wanted to fuck.

A knife twists in her gut.

Love. As if such a thing exists among Kindred. Coco was right: maybe it does, but it’s rare. What are the chances that she’s the one who found it? Even if Roderick is in there somewhere, he has turned into an abuser. He has turned into another Maxen, taking out his rage on the girl he’s supposed to love, supposed to protect.

She cannot count on him. Not now. Not ever.

Her whole life she was a puppet for men, used and abused and tormented, and she let it continue on in her Requiem. Her sire. Her lover. She’d had the upper hand with her boyfriend and had gotten on her knees for him the moment he asked.

She truly is the pathetic creature that Preston thinks her.

She’s playing human. Playing victim. Not because Roderick said so, no, but because she’s giving away whatever power she had, letting others control her. She’d heard the truth of her sire from Camilla: how he had shown up and tortured, humiliated, and abused her for losing control. How he had killed whatever feelings of love she’d once had. Killed or demand she bury. She, too, walks the knife’s edge.

Celia is so tired of the cut of that blade. Playing how many sides. How many people. Lying to everyone. She can’t move forward when she’s constantly holding herself back. She’s betrayed her grandsire, the one who looks out for her. Maybe he doesn’t race to her rescue in the middle of the night, but she’s comfortable, secure, even happy in his court. Domain, his ear, the lab—how many other neonates can say they get to see him when they want, even if he makes her wait a few nights? And when her sire comes calling she sells him out. The sire that has done nothing for her. The sire that abandoned her. The sire that beats and humiliates her. The sire that put her mother, her siblings, her lover at risk. That sire. The one who tasked her with destroying everything she loves.

She is a monster.

A rabid dog choking on the edge of its chain, biting the hands that try to pet it because all it has known is suffering.

But not in the way his little brain says. Not in the way his black-and-white worldview offers. For what does he know of monsters? What does the boy born with a silver spoon in life and unlife both know anything of pain? What horrors does he think he faced that he can look at her, who loves more fiercely than any lick in this city, who put herself in danger to save her ghoul, to save her mother (how many times now?), and call her “monster.” What other things has he seen in his Requiem that show him true horror? Hers began with pain. Humiliation. Terror.

No, the monster at her core is the kind that Ocean said. A hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once. A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. Neither of this world or the other. Dead, physically. But alive. Blazing. She has let those around her gutter and temper her flame, but she is not the sort of fire to be controlled.

She is inferno, and she will burn them all.

She will give him his blood. She will give him Gui. And then the slates are clean, and she will walk away.

She is no one’s pet, and she is tired of the soft, docile, tamed mask. It no longer fits her face.

It crumbles.

The girl in the mirror needs a new name, but that will come. For now, she shifts her face to what the city of licks expects to see and drives into the night.

She has luck to collect.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: The streets take her to the boat. The boat takes her to the cabin boy. The numbers on her dash show the time of their meeting. Perfect. A bit of cloaking and she’s whoever they want her to be, strolling through the casino to knock upon his door.

GM: Everyone in the casino ignores Celia’s presence utterly. Just another face in the crowd. It’s when she attempts to enter the ‘employees only’ area of the casino, however, that she is stopped by suited security personnel who politely ask her business.

Celia: Just as politely, she explains she has a meeting with Mr. Cambridge.

GM: They ask her name.

Celia: She gives it to them.

GM: One of the men makes a phone call. The person on the other end evidently confirms that Ms. Kalani does have business at the casino. Mr. Cambridge is not currently on the Alystra, she is told, but is expected back at 11 PM (and to be gone again by midnight, no doubt for Midnight Mass). Jade is free to avail herself of the casino’s many entertainments until Mr. Cambridge returns, or to leave and return herself by 11. Mr. Brodowski is also present if she wants to meet with him. He handles more business matters than Mr. Cambridge does.

Celia: Any irritation at that revelation doesn’t cross her pretty face. He’d said now.

She asks if he perhaps left a package for her.

GM: He has not, to their knowledge, though Mr. Brodowski more commonly handles the delivery of important packages than Mr. Cambridge does. He may have one.

Celia: She assents to meeting with him.

GM: Brodowski meets Jade after several minutes in a tastefully appointed office space. The decor is minimalist, though sleekly modern rather than utterly bare like her sire’s haven. Glass, soft lights, and silver-gray and wooden hues predominate. The Ventrue is dressed in a tailored and stylish navy suit at odds with his emaciated frame, hollow cheeks, and discolored eyes. The esthetician is positive he’s wearing makeup to look as ‘good’ as he does. Still, he rises at Jade’s entrance and sits when she sits.

“Package pickup, Miss Kalani?” he smiles.

Celia: Jade takes a seat when prompted, smiling at the Ventrue across the desk from her. It wouldn’t take her long to fix that haunted, gaunt look to him.

“Package pickup, Mr. Brodowski,” she agrees. “Mr. Cambridge is to have it ready for me.” A pause, small tilt of her head, a knowing smile. “Not that sort of package, darling.”

GM: Brodowski chuckles audibly.

“The entendres there are rather too easy, Miss Kalani, so we’ll assume I made a few ‘package’ quips. But here you are.”

He gets up and opens a mini-fridge in the office’s corner.

Celia: Jade smiles at the stiff’s reference, all too real amusement dancing in her eyes. It is, as he said, low hanging fruit.

GM: Brodowski retrieves three bags of blood that he sets down on the desk. The dark red liquid looks ordinary enough, to Jade’s inspection.

“The luckiest blood in New Orleans,” he says as he sits.

Celia: Jade eyes the blood, counting three, then looks back to Brodowski. The smile never fades.

“When shall I stop by for the rest?”

GM: “This is a casino, Miss Kalani. We keep a thorough accounting of all balances and transactions,” Brodowski smiles back.

“Prince Guilbeau promised you half the blood originally in Mr. Gunner’s veins. This amount, and the blood taken from Mr. Cambridge after he fed from Mr. Gunner, comes out to half.”

Celia: She can’t help but let out a tiny, tinkling laugh.

Very thorough, Mr. Brodowski. I have something for your sire. When is good for that exchange?”

GM: “Are you amenable to a Wednesday at 1 or a Thursday at 2, Miss Kalani?”

“You can also make the delivery any time prior, of course, but Prince Guilbeau understands if you’d rather exchange things at the same time.”

Celia: “Oh, it has little to do with exchanging things at the same time and more to do with something else I would offer him that requires a brief discussion. Something bigger.” The smile that stretches across her face is positively predatory. “Thursday at 2 will work splendidly. But I’ll perhaps take you up on that early delivery option.”

GM: “Thursday sounds splendid on multiple counts, in that case,” Brodowski smiles back. Less obviously predatory, but pleased-seeming all the same. “Prince Guilbeau so very hopes that the two of you will have a mutually satisfactory exchange.”

“If there’s no further business tonight, Miss Kalani, I’m sure I’ll see you at Elysium. Enjoy your evening.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.”

Jade deposits the blood into her purse and rises, inclining her head to the Ventrue before she heads for the door.

Another bit of cloaking and she’s free of the casino and on her way to the next big adventure.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: She has hours yet before she needs to be to Elysium. Hours and no meetings, no appointments, nothing but time to plan and act.

Dani and Alana both want her attention this evening. She has Duke to call. Randy’s death to disguise. Progress of her own to make on the talisman from Marcel, lest the hounds come sniffing ’round her panties once more.

Next time, she thinks, she’ll swat their eager little snouts with a rolled paper.

She starts with the blood, driving back to her haven and heating a single bag of it until it is warm enough to not only drink, but to be satisfying as well. She swallows one of the hits that Marcel set aside for her. Perhaps annoyed that Josua had told them she’d been given more from him, perhaps annoyed at herself for expecting two more pints, the feelings dissipate when liquid luck touch her tongue. It is fire in her veins, static at her fingertips, lightning in her lungs.

It is giddy, electrical energy, and the girl dances through her empty haven while her skirt sweeps out around her, shedding herself of the shy, timid, broken woman she had been like a snake ridding itself of too-tight coils or a butterfly emerging from its goo-cocoon to become a stunning, fluttering creature.

Celia Flores, inferno.

She dresses for the night. She dresses for what she is: strong, passionate, vibrant. She dresses for the fire that does not lick her skin but that lights her up from inside, for the sun that sears her face but does not immolate her, for the shadow that hid her for so long and finally relents to let her have this bright, shining moment.

She stares at herself in the mirror.

And then she undresses, shedding the skin once more to don a black dress that will fit in with the whores at Bourbon Heat, and she packs her wings away for Elysium. She hides the lucky blood, gathers what she will need for the night—including that stake of hers, extra restraints—and sets off with the clicking of her heels heralding the way.

GM: There’s an audible crash before the dressed-up Toreador leaves her haven. Her purse lies on the ground. Lucy is still inside, but it’s tipped over, and the other contents spilled. The doll’s glassy eyes bore unblinkingly into hers.

Celia: The girl stares down at the doll.

“So you do move,” she says to it. “And here I’d thought Diana had stolen you.”

GM: The porcelain lips remain motionless.

Celia: The girl’s knees bend. She brings herself lower to the floor to better observe the doll.

“Maxen is with her this evening. Did you think that a good moment to intrude?”

GM: The doll’s stare bores into the girl.

Celia: She glances at the clock on the wall. However long the process takes with Lucy, she’ll still have time for Bourbon Heat. It’s not as if she needs something specific.

“Do you want to do it now?”

GM: The doll only stares at the girl, glass eyes unblinking.

Celia: The girl gives a tiny nod. She reaches for the doll.

“Tonight, then, my little darling Lucy. Tonight we free you.” She holds the doll against her chest, much the same as a mother with her child. “Will I need anything else for you or her, do you know?”

GM: The doll’s blue dress and torso is soft against the girl. She’s long since learned from Elyse how that part of dolls isn’t made from porcelain, even though the head and limbs are.

Lucy does not say so.

Celia: Another nod, as if the doll has indeed spoken to her.

“The books,” she agrees, and with Lucy still tucked against her she gathers the texts that Lucy had wanted from the library. She takes the card as well, tucking it all into the overturned purse with the rest of the spilled contents. The letter she’d had Jade write to her mother is moved from her bedside table to one of the pockets on her purse. A moment in front of the mirror and she is Celia again. She casts her eye around for anything else that might help with the transition. After a second of consideration she moves into her closet to find an old piece of jewelry.

She texts Dani that she’s going to her mom’s for a bit, then probably going dancing. Or they can meet later, after church.

“Come, Lucy. Let us free you from your porcelain prison.”

GM: Dani texts back and asks if she’d like to go dancing together. (She is getting hungry.) Or to go to church together, “with Hannah.” Stephen told her about ‘his’ church.

Celia: Dancing together sounds good. Celia says she’ll meet her there. She says they’ll talk about Hannah at the club.

GM: Dani hashes out a time and replies enthusiastically she’ll meet Celia there.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive for Celia back to her mother’s house. She opens the door and walks into the living room to find her mom snuggled up next to her dad on the couch. There’s a movie playing. Diana doesn’t really look like she’s paying attention to it. Her eyes are half-closed and she’s leaning her head against Maxen’s shoulder, feet pulled up under her knees. Emily watches (the pair) from a nearby chair with a wooden expression.

Celia: A touch has the doll disguised once more. She doesn’t want to frighten Diana any more than she needs to. Celia glances at Emily, then her parents. Gently, she touches Diana’s shoulder.

GM: “Mmm…?” her mom starts, blinking at the contact.

Celia: “Hi, Momma. I need to talk to you for a minute.”

GM: “Oh… right now, sweetie?” Diana asks sleepily.

“Right now sounds good,” agrees Emily. She gets up and rubs their mom’s shoulder. “C’mon, Mom, you need to get to bed soon anyway. School night.”

“That’s probably for the best,” says Maxen. “Things go okay, sweetie?” he asks Celia as he starts to get up.

GM: “I’d like you to stay the night,” Diana says earnestly to her ex. She takes his hand and gently tugs him back down to the couch. “I want to make you breakfast. I want to see you off to work.”

“I couldn’t imagine a lovelier start to my morning,” smiles Celia’s dad. “It’ll have to be pretty early for the commute up to the capitol. And the stop home.”

“Yes, for a replacement shirt,” Celia’s mom laughs softly, touching Maxen’s chest where the stain is.

Celia’s dad just smiles and puts his hand over Diana’s.

Celia’s mom lays her head against Maxen’s chest and closes her eyes.

Celia: “How early is early?” Celia asks idly, gently rubbing a hand up and down Diana’s back. “This kind of can’t wait, Mom, it’s important.”

She finally looks to her dad.

“My friends are aware.” It’s an easy line. Not a lie at all. “They’re going to start looking.”

GM: “Good,” says Maxen. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

The happiness on Diana’s face sinks at that reminder.

But it was a weary-looking and worry-harried happiness to begin with.

She nods slowly in concurrence.

“Okay, sweetie,” she says to Celia after a moment, looking away from her ex. “We could talk in my bedroom?”

Celia: Celia nods, excusing the pair of them.

GM: Her mom leads her into the bedroom, closes the door after them, and sits down on her bed.

“I’m so glad to have him here, Celia,” she says quietly.

“Just so glad.”

Celia: Celia sits beside her, setting her purse down on the floor.

“What about your vision? With Lucy?”

GM: “I think it was just a nightmare or something, sweetie.”

Celia: “You’re an adult, Mom. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. It makes things difficult with the blood if you don’t stay in the Quarter, but… as long as he’s not abusing you…”

GM: “You saw him, Celia. He was so kind. So gentle.” She closes her eyes. “Oh, I have missed having a man.”

“God has answered my prayers.”

“If anyone can find Isabel…”

Celia: Celia is quiet a moment. She’d had that once, too. She doesn’t want to let the thoughts linger.

“Stephen hits me,” she finally says. “And calls me stupid, and belittles me in other ways. Everything he said tonight in front of the family was a lie.”

She reaches for her mother’s hand.

“I don’t want that for myself anymore. And I don’t want that for you. Promise me, Mom. The minute it starts. The minute he lifts a finger against you or says a harsh word. The minute you feel unsafe, no matter how silly. Promise me you won’t go back to that. That you won’t stay.”

GM: Celia’s mom blinks.

“He what!?

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It’s not about that right now. This is about you and Dad. I’m just telling you that I have one thing to do for him because my grandsire demands it, and then I’m walking away. I’m done. I’m done being a doormat. And if I’m done, then you’re done.”

GM: “It—oh my god, sweetie!” she exclaims, taking Celia’s hands in hands. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter. “When did this start?!”

“What happened? He was, I thought the nicest boy!”

Celia: She’s doing it again. Making herself the victim.

“Do you remember when I was nineteen and you needed the money,” she says quietly.

GM: “Yes,” her mom nods. “When the collections agency was garnishing my wages. I’m definitely not about to forget that crummy apartment.”

Her mouth hangs open. “He was hitting you then?!

Celia: “No. God, no. He was sweet. He was sweet until… until Friday, really. It just started then. I did some things I’m not proud of.” There’s no emotion to her voice. She might as well be discussing the weather.

“To make a long story short, I cheated on him. I lied to him. Multiple times. About a lot of things. And he’s had a bad week. His sister. His sire. Some other stuff. So Friday reached a boiling point, and he told me how he things would be.” She shrugs. “Then he caught me in another lie.”

“I’m fine. I heal. I’m just telling you that… that I’m not putting up with it anymore, and I’m not letting you put up with it anymore. No matter what we once had, it’s dead now.”

“I was kidnapped last night. He knew. He didn’t come. After what he said to me during dinner today, I’m not interested in trying to mend anything.”

“So if Maxen starts up with his shit again, you are not going to lie there and take it.”

GM: Diana takes all of that in slowly. There’s a very grave look on her face when she opens her mouth.

Then she blinks again.

“You were kidnappd?!”

Celia: “They were going to burn me today.” Celia shrugs. She looks away. “I made a trade to get out.”

“That’s, ah, where I lost my phone, incidentally.”

GM: “Oh my god! Who? Who was going to burn you?!” Diana exclaims, pulling Celia into her embrace. As if scared something else is going to snatch her daughter away.

Celia: Celia lets her mother hold her, but only for a moment. She repeats that she’s fine. That she got out. That she handled it.

GM: “But that’s not fine! I can’t believe, I can’t believe that… are you safe now, sweetie? That’s what matters, are you safe?” Celia’s mom reluctantly lets her pull away, but takes both of her hands.

Celia: She doesn’t know.

“I have to give them the thing I traded,” she says instead, “and they’ve got ways to make me comply. Once that’s done? Yeah. Probably.”

GM: Diana looks less than assured by that answer and squeezes Celia’s hands all the tighter.

“Can I help? Is there anything, anything I can do, Celia, to help keep you safe?”

“I’m not going to lose another daughter. I’m not. I’m not!” her mother’s voice is thick at those words.

Celia: “I think I figured it out. I’ll let you know. But this isn’t about me, Mom, this is about you. Some of us live forever, and some of us have shorter existences than we normally would. I just want to make sure that even if I’m gone you’re not going back to what you were.”

GM: “I am not losing you, Celia!” her mom repeats, still clasping Celia’s hands in hers. “You are going to outlive me and that’s that. So you let me know. Anything you can think of. I don’t care how inconvenient it is or what it costs.”

“I had my lesson with Robby today, and that went well, but he said it’d be… a month or two, before I really had it down! He said I might be able to trim that frame down to two weeks, if I was practicing every day for eight hours.”

“I could take a leave from work. If you think that’d help.”

Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t want you to do that. I need some time to think, and I need to talk to…” to who? Who hasn’t she disappointed? “…my friend,” she says vaguely, “and I might, um, I might see if I can like dig a secret room or something that I can hide out in here if shit really hits the fan, somewhere I can go as Luna that a human wouldn’t be able to reach, just a safe place to sleep if needed. I might change my face and start a new identity. So I want some security in place around that, if it happens. A code phrase, so you know I’m me and I know you’re you.”

Celia squeezes her mother’s hands.

“Did you bring Lucy back with you the other night? I saw her here earlier.”

GM: “No, I didn’t do that,” Diana answers with a puzzled frown.

“But a place for you to hide out. Cat-sized. Okay, I think I can do that. You want it to be safe from the sun, and hidden,” her mom nods, “is there anything else it needs?”

“Or, sorry, did you mean human-sized, but someplace only a cat can go?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Small human sized. I don’t get uncomfortable if I sleep in funny positions. Really. I only use a bed out of habit.”

GM: “You do?” her mom asks curiously, then remarks in a wry tone, “Well, you’re the envy of every ballerina there!”

“I also saw you turn into a bird. That might be more secure.”

“If only a bird could get in, that is.”

Celia: “Bird takes more, ah, juice sometimes. Cat is easier. But yeah, we could make that work. So far as what it needs… I mean, safety is really it. No sun. Hidden. Burner phone. Weapon, maybe. Blood never hurts. But that would need to be kept cold, and drawing power into the area is a giveaway. I just… I don’t know, Stephen told me they’re all preparing for war, and I was told the same thing last night. Or similar. I have some supplies but evidently not enough.”

Celia shakes her head.

“We’ll work out the details. In the meantime, Lucy. She was here earlier. I took her with me when I left and she knocked my purse over when it looked like I was going back out without her. Do you still want to merge?”

GM: Diana initially nods at Celia’s haven plans. Her face turns still again at the mention of Stephen. Her eyes look bewildered, but there’s a rising color to her cheeks too.

Then at Celia’s question, she blinks and looks somewhat flummoxed.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “You said you wanted to. That you want yourself back.”

“She’s in my purse. Why don’t you ask her what she wants?”

GM: “Well. I was… a bit tipsy,” says Diana, looking down at the bedsheets.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite frown.

“She won’t talk to me, Mom. I brought the books she wanted from the library. And her library card. The lady spoke to her and gave her one.” Celia reaches into the purse to pull the books and card out. She shows it to her mom, pointing out the date of birth.

“And this,” she says, pulling the old pendant from the bag as well, “it’s… um, all I have from before the divorce, and you said it’s been in your family forever, so I thought maybe it would… connect you? Or… I… I don’t know. Something.”

Celia looks down at the piece of jewelry in her hands. It had been the only thing she’d saved from the time Maxen threw out all of Diana’s things. Not the trophies. Not the photos. Just this. A trinket. Luana had chastised her for being so selfish, and Celia had taken it to heart. Now, though, it means more than that. Her mother had wanted to give it back to her in the hospital but Celia refused, saying it wouldn’t be safe with Maxen.

She’d gotten it once the family was free of Maxen instead. Freedom. Hope. Courage. That’s what it means to her. She touches it now and remembers the tears in Diana’s eyes when she’d handed it over, the infant Lucy at her chest. She hadn’t needed to say anything.

GM: “Oh, you know that’s my favorite…” Celia’s mom starts when she pulls out the Pride and Prejudice copy, but trails off at the sight of the floral pendant.

She looks at it for a while, then traces a finger along the edge.

“I wanted to give that to you, you know, when you married Stephen. And then when I learned you were together again, and that he was still alive, I wish I’d held onto it. And now that you said he’s…” Diana closes her eyes for a moment, not finishing that thought, and gives Celia a wan smile.

“I guess there’s never really a good time for anything, is there?”

Celia: Celia’s smile turns sad.

“No. The stars never align like we think they will.”

“We just get to turn whatever opportunities we have into the perfect moment and trust ourselves.”

“Jade also… wrote you this,” Celia continues. “She wanted to come here last night after she escaped, but she was afraid you’d turn her away. So I wanted to give you this. To make sure you got it.”

GM: “You can always come to me, Celia!” her mom starts, but looks at the letter after Celia pulls it out.

Celia: It reads:

GM: Celia’s mom slowly reads through the three pages, eyes scanning back and forth.

Her lip trembles and her eyes bead at the description of Jade’s “birth”. She doesn’t make it through the first page before she drops the letters to embrace Celia, rubbing her back and whispering that she had no idea, that she’s so sorry, that she wishes she’d been there, that she loves Celia, that she’s so sorry—

They’re not unfamiliar words to the two women.

Celia might feel more like she’s comforting her mom, than the other way around. Diana cries a bit. She’s so sorry this happened to Celia. So sorry. She wishes there was some way to take away her pain, to have made things turn out another way, to have protected her—

But, as the letter says when Celia hands it back, that’s where Jade came in.

Her mom sniffs and dabs her eyes as her eyes move across Jade’s flowing handwriting.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Celia,” her mom says with another sniff when she’s finished.

“I do want what’s best for you, of course I do.”

“What does she mean by… cohabitate?”

Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. Mostly, she’s over it. It was a long time ago.

Her eyes scan the letter at the question, and for a moment she stills. Her eyes seem fixated on nothing. Then she moves, finding a pen in her purse to scratch out the word in question and replace it with another.

“Coexist.” Her voice is slightly off. “Get along. Not be detrimental to each other.”

GM: “Why doesn’t she have a mom, when Leilani does?” Diana asks.

“She said I was her mommy.”

Celia: “Born at different times.”

GM: “Sorry?” Celia’s mom asks.

Celia: Celia—Celia?—

The girl shakes her head.

“Jade and Leilani were born at different times, in different ways. They represent two different sides of me. Jade is survivor, born of suffering. Leilani is innocent, softer. She is… a concept, I think, more than a… more than a person.”

Does it make sense? The girl doesn’t know.

“I don’t know the science behind it, if that’s what it is. I don’t always understand how they work. But it does not matter right now. Only what you wish to do with Lucy. To combine her with you again, to be a full person once more, or to stay cleaved in half.”

GM: Diana opens her mouth as if to reply, but stops when the girl says it doesn’t matter.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “I wouldn’t have survived without Jade. Without Leilani. Without Luna. I would have lived half a life, and my Requiem would have ended prematurely. Lucy might give the fire back to you that you want. Courage, hope, freedom. Whatever that looks like to you.”

The girl reaches into her bag to find the doll. The illusion breaks. She sets the porcelain thing on her lap.

“She won’t talk to me,” she says again. “Am I afraid it will harm you? Turn you into someone you’re not? Yes. I don’t have the answers on what might happen. But I… I think that, above all, she’ll protect you.”

“And if I’m gone… if anything ever happens like it did last night, I want to know you’re safe.”

GM: Diana gives a soft intake of breath. Her eyes look over the doll, then back to the girl.

“Your father could keep me safe. He’s been good and kind, every since he came back to our lives.”

Celia: “We don’t know if that’s an act.”

“We don’t know what he wants.”

“We don’t know if he lied about the demon.”

GM: “But you’ve seen how good he is to us, sweetie. Why would it be an act?”

Celia: Because his master is the most cold-blooded, ruthless, icy-hearted lick in the city.

GM: “It’s not like he needs me for money or anything.”

Celia: “Image. Another punching bag. I don’t know. Tonight we were supposed to see. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t have the answers. But I’d rather you be safe than submit yourself to him again.”

GM: Diana’s eyes fall to her lap.

“I… I didn’t tell you this, earlier, but… part of me liked, I think, what Jade did. Or part of what she did.”

“Just… being able to submit and let someone else make all the decisions.”

She still doesn’t meet the girl’s gaze.

“I know you and Emi would think… think badly of me, for that.”

“Obviously she was hurting me, and that’s not okay.”

“And she wasn’t my husband, either.”

“I’d just… I’d just really like a husband I can… support. Let make all the big decisions. Be the head of the household.”

She finally looks up.

“What if this will ruin that?”

“What if I turn into, I don’t know, an opinionated shrew?”

Celia: “What, like Emily?” Amusement rather than judgement.

GM: “Emily’s… Emily’s not a shrew,” Diana says with a laugh. “Just… opinionated!”

Celia: “Mm. She’s strong-willed. You think Lucy would make you worse than that?”

GM: “I… maybe…?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want someone to take care of me, Celia. I just want your father to take care of me. I feel like I’ve got him back. I want him back. So, so much.”

“And if this could ruin that, if there’s even a chance…”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, “there are things that don’t make a lot of sense to me about our family. There are nights and stories you’ve told me that don’t add up. Like everything with Ron, or why Maxen attacked you. I don’t know what Lucy will be like inside of you instead of in a doll. The only person who does know is the one who turned you into Grace. And wanting to take care of someone isn’t a bad thing. Having a spine isn’t a bad thing. You can love him and take care of him and still be strong. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

GM: “But. But your grandma didn’t love me, before I was…” Diana seems to search for words for a moment, “before she sent me there. I caused problems. I kept causing problems.”

Celia’s mom looks down again.

“Maybe she was right to.”

Celia: “Did you love yourself?”

“Because Grandma still doesn’t have a relationship with you now.”

“You can’t base your life on other people. You’ll only ever be disappointed.”

GM: “We don’t. I’m… I’m petty. I’m small.”

“I always feel like you and Emi are disappointed in me, in how… how weak I am.”

Celia: “I’m never disappointed in you. I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to see the brightness inside of yourself that I do. How strong you are to be through everything you’ve been through but you continue to love with all of your heart.”

“That’s strength, Momma. To go through Hell and back, twice, and come out as you did? Intact? That’s amazingly strong.”

GM: “I know. You’ve told me that before. But it always makes me feel good to hear.” Her mom smiles and gives her hand a squeeze.

“It’s, it’s the one area where I feel like I can tell Emily that she was wrong, but not in a mean way, of trying to put her down.”

“Of… of actually being able to show her a better way, teach her something. Like a mom should.”

“You remember how she wanted to abort Lucy. How she thought a ‘rape baby’ would just bring more grief into our lives.”

Celia: Celia looks away for a moment.

“Maybe it did. I was a rape baby too. But Lucy has brought you joy.”

“Stephen knows what she did to you. I asked him, you know, before things got rough between us… if he thought you could still love me, if Lucy were to rejoin you. And he said that no matter what she did to you, she couldn’t change the core of your being. That ‘happy, loving wife’ doesn’t have a script written into the code about adopting a college-aged daughter and loving her like her own. That’s you. Genuinely you. That’s who you are. And if Lucy gives you a bit of a mouth or temper, well, all the better for it.”

GM: “You have brought joy into my life, sweetie! Unimaginable joy!” Celia’s mom exclaims, hugging her. “Have there been some bad moments, has there been grief, yes, but that’s life. Lucy, ah, the other Lucy, hasn’t been perfect 100% of the time either. There’s no such thing as perfect. You just have to accept that whatever grief and pain there is will be outweighed by the joy.”

Celia: “Then that’s your answer with this Lucy, isn’t it?”

GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.

“Will… will things still be okay with us, if I get opinionated like Emi…?”

“Or worse…?”

Celia: “I hope so. Maybe some growing pains, but nothing we can’t figure out.”

GM: “I just, I just don’t want to ruin what we have, Celia. Things were rough, after you, ah, told me what you were.”

Celia: “Do you think it will get rough?”

GM: “Maybe. That’s what I’m scared of. I don’t ever want us to go back to a place where you don’t want me as your mom. I always want to be your mom.”

Celia: “Then we’ll see how it goes. And we’ll navigate as things come up. Because I do want you as my mom. Always.” Celia squeezes her hand.

GM: Celia’s mom takes a breath and squeezes her hand back.


“Okay,” she repeats.

“Let’s… do it before I lose my nerve,” she says with a weak chuckle.

Celia: Celia silently offers her the doll.

GM: Diana gingerly takes Lucy into her arms. She looks at the doll, then back towards Celia.

“Is there… something I need to do…?”

Celia: She has no idea.

“Connect with her,” she says, “like you did last time. Heart to heart. There’s energy inside of all of us. Listen to her. She’ll speak to you, through you. Close your eyes if it’s supportive. Imagine yourself as you, Diana Flores, but only half of you. See your face in the mirror. It’s you, but not. Half of your reflection is gone. Feel the weight of Lucy in your arms. Feel the words she has for you. The time you spent apart. The longing. Who she was. Who you were, before you were Grace. Breathe it in. Breathe in Lucy, breathe in her courage and hope and love, breathe in her past, her happiness. Breathe out your fear. It supported you once, that fear, but not anymore. This is your missing half. A piece of you. She is you, and you have nothing to fear from yourself, only the unknown. Lucy will not hurt you. Bring her into you.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes.

Half of herself in the mirror.

That’s an odd mental image, but Celia can think back to another image of her mother in the mirror. A sweat-drenched and delirious-eyed Diana in a ballerina’s costume. Feeding tube down her throat, chains around her limbs, diaper visible below her tutu. Drawn smile plastered over her gag. Grace.

Perhaps her mom is thinking of it too. Diana gives a little shudder.

She holds the doll in her arms, like Celia says. Perhaps she also thinks back to who she was. Who was that? Maxen said she stole Grandma’s car and threatened her with a gun. She spat “Fuck you,” towards Key. That was the second time in her life that Celia heard her mother swear. She said she used to be tough. That she had to be tough, to make it in ballet.

“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young. You have to be tough. Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage. They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough. In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park. Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”

“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”

Celia’s mother takes a long breath in.

Then a long breath out.

Then, after a moment, she hugs the doll against her chest.

Without fanfare or denouement, Lucy falls apart. Cracks run through the porcelain. Chunks and pieces spill over Diana’s lap. A brown slurry of sawdust, glue, cornstarch, resin, and wood flour runs over Diana’s dress. It leaves a mess on the bed. More composite runs off the covers and onto the floor. All that’s left of the doll are her clothes.

Celia’s mother blinks and stares at her lap.

Celia: Celia stares.

She hadn’t imagined it would be that easy. Last time it had been tough. Diana had hurt herself; she’d seen it in her face, in her eyes. Celia had expected something similar. A longer battle. A fight.

What had done it this time? Her earlier words about no longer being a doormat? Her determination to set her mother free? The instruction she’d given, the pieces of Lucy she’d gathered with her?

Who is this creature now?

The porcelain prison erupts, and Celia is almost afraid to find out who and what this new woman is. She keeps her hands to herself. They can clean the mess in a moment.

“…Mom?” she asks quietly.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t respond. Just stares at the mess and the tiny clothes on her lap.

After a moment, she gets up, sets the doll’s outfit on the bed, and wipes the mess off her dress.

Celia: “I’ll get the vacuum. New sheets. I can put these in the wash for you. Do you want to keep the dress…?”

GM: “I need my phone please, Celia.”

Celia: Celia logs out of her account and hands it over.

GM: Celia’s mother takes it, taps it several times, and holds it to her ear. Celia hears the call app ring until it goes to voicemail.

“Hi, Viv? This is Diana. I have a potentially really big case for you. Please let me know when we can meet to talk about it. Thanks!”

Celia’s mom taps again to end the call and sets the phone down on her bedside table.

She wipes her hands along her dress again, then walks out of the room, heels clicking against the floor.

Celia: Mutely, Celia trails after her.

She wonders what sort of mistake she’s just made.

If it’s a mistake.

GM: Celia’s mom walks back into the living room. Maxen looks like he’s dozed off. Emily is still watching him like a hawk. Diana gently shakes him awake.

“Do you remember what you said after you hit me with the dinner plate?”

Celia: Celia stands in the doorway leading to the hall, one arm crossed over her stomach. She doesn’t take her eyes off of her mother.

GM: Celia’s father blinks slowly as he wakes from his doze.

“I’m sorry, Diana?”

“Well, you said a lot of things,” Celia’s mom continues. “But to reply to one of them, seven years late, dance teaches children muscle coordination, teamwork, appreciation for the arts, and a whole lot of other things that have personal and societal benefits. Their brains expand and develop new neural pathways as they try new things and master new skills. It’s the same reason we teach literature to children who won’t become writers, P.E. to children who won’t become athletes, or biology to children who won’t become scientists. It’s to help them grow as people, not train them to become professionals in those fields. Maybe they will decide to, from what they learn in school, or maybe it’ll just make them better-rounded people. That’s what teaching children does, gives them choices and rounds them out as people. Most of my students won’t choose to work as professional dancers, but they’ll all benefit from knowing how to dance at weddings and parties. Also specifically to me, I try to make my classroom a happy space where kids can relax, unwind, and switch mental gears in an academically rigorous school, knowing they’ll get an easy ‘A’ and only need to think about having fun. It makes their days better and helps them succeed at other schoolwork. I have had a lot of girls come to me for help with personal problems, confide in me, or just tell me they love my class and that I’m their favorite teacher. I make a positive difference in their lives.”

Maxen looks somewhat confused, but nods. “You do make a positive difference in their lives. Your job has great v-”

“That’s not what you said seven years ago,” Celia’s mom interrupts. “You said I’d wasted my life on a completely valueless pursuit. That it was worthless. You told me that before you raped me. My job is not valueless. It has great value.”

Celia: Celia glances at Emily.

GM: Emily looks like she’s wondering if she’s dreaming.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt.

GM: Celia’s mom walks up to the closet. “I suppose this seems a little non sequitur, but, fudge, I’ve wanted to refute that for seven years now. I got more than enough ‘dance is worthless’ talk from my mother before you.”

“Better late than never,” says Maxen. “You’re right, though. I was wrong. Your career has great value.”

Diana retrieves her ex’s coat.

He accepts the coat. “Would you like me to leave?”

“Yes,” answers Celia’s mom. “But there are several things first. The first is alimony.”


“Yes. You never paid me alimony after our separation. Just child support. Alimony would have made a big difference in my life. Celia, do you want to tell your father what my old apartment was like?”

“I know he never saw it for himself.”

Celia: Celia speaks up for the first time.

“It was, well, awful. Crummy. She printed out photos from our Facemash profiles because she had none of her own, because nothing was saved. The carpet was threadbare. Holes in the walls. I saw a rat on my way in once. The electrical box blew a fuse a few times, so we never knew if we’d have electricity over dinner. Couldn’t run the toaster and the space heater at the same time. Shared bathroom with everyone else on the floor, where someone OD’d one night. Cracked tiles on the kitchen floor. Slum lords ran it, said they’d fix it but they never did.”

“Pretty sure the insulation went out of it years before she moved in.”

GM: “Sounds like a total shithole,” says Emily.

Celia: “There’s a reason I never took you there,” Celia says with a nod.

GM: “Yes, I was always ashamed to have you over,” Diana says to Celia. “But I was afraid of being seen if I came to Tulane, and couldn’t afford to eat out at restaurants until the collections agency stopped garnishing my wages.”

“That sounds terrible, Diana,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I put you through that. Overdue alimony sounds more than fair.”

“No, it’s less than fair,” says Celia’s mom. “The next thing I want from you is a separate financial settlement to redress the physical, emotional, and financial hardship you’ve put me through over the course of my life. I had to declare bankruptcy to get out of the medical debt I accrued after you illegally dropped me from our insurance plan. It’s still impacting my credit score.”

“Celia, do you want a financial settlement from your father?”

“Emily, I’d ask if you do too, but you luckily only got to hear about the abuse secondhand.”

Celia: That’s a loaded question. Does she want anything from her father? Anything that might tie her to him? Anything that might piss off her sire when he finds out that Diana is no longer a doormat?

Your own money, the plastic man says, and Celia swallows at all of the images it brings up. She’d never told her mom. Never told her dad. Never told Emily. To bring it up now… god, what will they think of her?

Is money really going to make her happy?

“For the abuse? Pain and suffering? The college fund he revoked when I dropped from Tulane?”

Her death. Her literal death.

GM: “Yes,” says her mom. “For physical and emotional hardship. Financial hardship may be harder to argue, but Viv will have a better idea there.”

Celia: It’s not going to bring her back to life. Not going to undo the years of trauma, or the triggering way words hit her now. She shrugs.


Her sire might kill her.

Oh well.

GM: Celia’s mom nods and turns back to her ex.

“You’ve given me some things already. Emily’s birth certificate. The various ballet memory mementos, though I’m honestly not sure if I still want those. I don’t consider any of those things gifts. They are down payments on a debt still owed. My lawyer will be in talks with yours to determine how much that is. I also don’t want those treatments you mentioned at Texas Medical Center.”

“What about your leg?” asks Maxen, eyebrows raised.

“I’m looking into alternatives.”

Celia’s mom continues, “In 2009, Maxen, you beat our daughter until she could not sit without pain. She broke her arm fleeing your house. You also kidnapped me, beat me, raped me, and sawed off my toes. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on criminally prosecuting those things has expired, which doesn’t feel right, considering I’m still on pain meds for even older injuries. I may or may not be able to win a civil suit against you, since money plays such a big role in how those play out, but I’m darn sure I can cost you the election if I approach Bill Roberts with all the sordid details of what happened.”

“If you try to skimp out on what you owe us.”

Celia: There’s that fire. There’s the woman that Celia has wanted. There’s the strength hidden behind the meekness, the mother bear who will fight tooth and nail to protect what’s hers.

Celia’s heart swells with pride.

GM: “I see,” says Maxen. “I certainly don’t want to fight you, Diana. I don’t want to cause more hurt among this family. I will need to talk to a lawyer before otherwise deciding how to proceed.”

Celia: A lawyer, or his friend in the shadows? Celia searches his face for the truth.

For the second time this evening she finds it hidden from her. But she will protect her mother this time, no matter what comes.

GM: “You do that,” says Diana. “I’d like you to do that very much, in fact. I want all of our future contact to be through lawyers.”

“Because the next thing I want is for you to permanently cease all contact with me, Lucy, and Emily. And Celia, if she also wants that. You will go through my attorney to help find Isabel. Attorneys are good for that, too.”

“I’ll honor your wishes if that’s what you want, Diana,” says Maxen as he puts on his coat. “Are you sure it’s what you want?”

“Yes and no,” Celia’s mom answers. “I’m not sure whether you’ve changed. I think if you have changed, forgiving you is the sort of thing Jesus would do. And I like to think I could do that. But I’m not sure if you have changed.”

“You don’t have to believe me, Diana. You don’t have to give me a chance, either. It’s up to you if you want to do that.”

Celia’s mom shakes her head. “No. It’s not. This is about our granddaughter, not just me. I am her legal guardian. I am responsible for her welfare. And I cannot take the chance, by inviting you back into our lives, that you will abuse her like you abused our children.”

“If you have any contact with Lucy, I will go to Bill Roberts. I will tell him everything.”

Celia: “There’s one more thing, Dad.” Celia says, taking a step forward. “This will stay between our family and the lawyers.” She meets his eye. “No outside parties.”

“Mom wants to forgive you. Prove you’ve changed. Play by her rules, and maybe there’s a happily ever after for the two of you, if that’s what you both want.”

GM: “No.” Diana crosses her arms and shakes her head. “The ending to our story is right here. Right now. I will not ever take the chance that he is going to abuse Lucy.”

“I will find another man to marry and be the father figure that she needs.”

Celia: Good for her.

It’s about goddamned time.

GM: “And I’ll raise her alone if I can’t find a man.”

“Not alone,” says Emily, wrapping an arm around Diana’s shoulder.

Celia: “Never alone.” Celia takes the other side.

GM: Maxen is quiet for a moment. His eyes silently roam his daughter’s, Emily’s, and ex-wife’s face.

The foot shorter woman folds her arms and stares up at him.

“I will respect all of your wishes,” he says. “This will stay between family and attorneys.”

Celia: Celia is not sure she believes him, but she nods all the same.

GM: Emily walks off to open the front door.

Maxen follows after her and turns when he’s at the door.

“Good night, Diana. Celia. Emily.”

Celia: “Good night, Dad.”

GM: “Goodbye, Maxen,” says Celia’s mom.

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: Diana closes the door after her ex-husband leaves. She waits and stares through the window until his car drives off.

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother once he is gone. For the first time since she began speaking to him there is doubt in her eyes. Is she next? She stands alone, apart from Emily, and waits for what might come.

GM: “…what the fuck just happened,” says Emily.

“Who are you and what have you done with our mom.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her sister.

“She’s Mom.”

GM: “Seriously,” Emily repeats. “I’ll, uh, dance with joy and probably cry once the initial shock wears off. But seriously, what the fuck just happened?

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother, pride in her eyes. She lifts her brows a fraction of an inch, as if asking if Diana wants to explain, or if Celia should tackle this one.

GM: Her mother nods towards her.

Celia: “All of it?” she asks.

GM: “I think there are a lot of decisions I should’ve made for myself over the years, Celia,” says her mom. “There are a lot of decisions I do intend to make for myself going forward.”

“But here I’m going to trust your judgment.”

“Okay, all of what?” says Emily.

Celia: Celia turns to look at her sister.

“We’ve trusted you with a lot of things over the years. Like my real dad. And Lucy. Life and death things. You’ve never let us down. You’ve never told anyone anything.”

She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“This is another one of those things. Something you can’t tell. Ever. Life and death. Okay?”

GM: Emily nods.

“Absolutely. Life and death. I get it. I won’t even tell Robby if you don’t want me to.”

“How about we sit back down?” suggests Diana.

Emily nods and follows her back to the couch.

She turns to regard Celia somberly once they’re seated.

Celia: “Maybe a bottle of wine,” Celia suggests with a wry smile. She doesn’t sit, waiting until Emily and her mother have done so to begin.

“You can’t tell Robby. No one.”

GM: “No one,” repeats Emily.

“I haven’t told him about your dad or Lucy. I don’t talk about those things with anyone but you two.”

Celia: Celia nods. She smiles.

“You maybe noticed that I’m not around during the day. That I have excuses as to why not. All sorts of excuses. That I don’t eat. That I’m not at work, despite what I claim.”

She tilts her head to the side.

“Have you wondered why?”

GM: Emily’s silent for a moment.


“And there’s been other things too.”

Celia: Celia nods again.

“There’s not really an easy way to say this. So I’m just going to.”

A slight pause. She meets Emily’s eyes.

“I’m a vampire.”

GM: Emily looks at her for a moment, then laughs.

“Okay. I’m a werewolf.”

Celia: “Loup-Garoux,” Celia supplies. Then she’s gone, and on the floor where she was standing is a gray cat.

GM: Emily’s mouth falls open.

Celia: Luna meows at her, stalking forward to rub her face against Diana’s legs, back arching for the scratches she knows are coming.

GM: “Oh, who’s the best kitty,” Celia’s mom murmurs. The pets and scratches come, in ample measure. Scratches behind the ears. Pets along the back.

But Diana’s eyes don’t leave Emily’s face.

Celia: Luna half-closes her eyes in contentment, though they, too, remain fixed on Emily even as she purrs.

GM: “I’m fucking on something,” Emily says dumbly.

“This whole evening. This whole evening has been insane.”

“You don’t do drugs, Emily,” says Diana. As if reminding her.

Celia: Luna lingers for a moment before scooting away, releasing the cat form so that Celia the girl is once more present in the room.

GM: “Celia did not just turn into a c…” Emily starts, then shuts up the minute she sees the transformation repeat.


For a moment, all she can is stare. Her eyes are huge.

“How the fuck did you do that!?”

Celia: “We call it shifting. Mutatio, if you’re old school.”

GM: “This is a spoof. This is a trick. There’s, there’s technology, digital effects. You’re… this is a joke. I’m the joke.”

Diana shakes her head.

“She can do other things too, sweetie.”

Celia: Celia nods. She opens her mouth and shows her fangs, but she keeps her distance.

“Not all of them are as flashy as turning into a cat,” she acknowledges with a smile.

GM: Emily stares again, then walks up and feels the canines with her fingers.

Celia: Celia holds very, very still for her.

GM: Emily pulls out her phone, turns on its flashlight, and shines it in Celia’s mouth.

She peers very close.

Celia: Celia lets her take her time. She wouldn’t believe it, either.

GM: She inspects the fangs for a long while, then puts the tip of her index and long fingers in the groove of Celia’s neck along her windpipe to feel for a pulse in the carotid artery.

Celia: For the first time in a long time, Celia stops her pulse.

GM: Emily places the tips of her index and middle fingers on the inside of Celia’s wrist below the base of her thumb, then presses lightly.

Celia: There’s nothing to feel.

Without the blood circulating through her body, her skin starts to cool.

It takes on the waxy, ashen appearance of so many other walking dead.

GM: “Quash ball under the armpit. Pressure to the right spot under the arm can cut off the pulse distal to that location,” Emily says dumbly, still feeling for the pulse that isn’t there.

“There’s no quash ball, sweetie,” Diana says gently.

Her face stills a bit, though, as she watches the life all but literally leave Celia.

Celia: Celia tries not to let it get to her. She looks away, waiting for Emily to cease her examination.