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Blood & Bourbon

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Celia V, Chapter XXIII
Donovan's Displeasure

“Show me that you are strong.”
Donovan


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: Her sire can fuck off. She’s busy.

That’s what she wants to say. That’s what she wants to feel. That she’s busy. That she doesn’t need him. That she doesn’t want him.

She can taste the lie.

“Never mind,” she mutters to Emily, because walking off without a word is worse than suspicious. “Enjoy the pie.”

GM: Her feet are already carrying her away as she takes off in a brisk jog.

Emily awkwardly catches the dropped pie plate. Some of the whipped cream spills over her hand.

“Celia, are-” she calls, but Celia’s no longer looking at her. She’s darting off into the rain.

Celia: Why is he here. Why now. What does he want that couldn’t wait for the next few hours when she sees him at Elysium?

Her eyes dart to the house, where Dani, Henry, and her mother wait. And behind her, unprotected, Lucy and Emily. Fear takes hold of her heart, killing whatever had been there before. He can’t be here. She doesn’t have anything for him. There’s no news, no momentum, no anything for her to share.

He’s going to be mad.

He’s going to hit her.

Celia ducks around the corner, out of Emily’s sight.

He came. Why? Does that mean he…? She can’t even finish the thought.

How does he even expect her to get up there? She can’t fly, and she’s hardly about to scale the side of the house. Not in the rain. Not in these shoes.

GM: Celia’s eyes aren’t the first thing to dart to the house.

And she is scaling the house.

She’s taking off at a running jump. Grabbing the gutter. Rain pours over her. She kicks with her shoes, the heels making poor purchase against the house’s side, then kicks them off. She grasps and pulls. Her hands slip in the rain. She pulls. It’s good she weighs so little as the drain groans in protest. She hauls herself up, crawling onto the roof on her belly like a dog.

“Celia!” yells Emily. She quickly sets down the plate inside, closes the door, and takes off after her.

“Wh-”

She whirls to face the dark figure suddenly beside her. He’s dressed in the black, double-breasted trench coat she saw him in last, its style vaguely reminiscent of a Gestapo officer’s. He carries no umbrella. The rain pours down over his corpse-like, pitiless marble face, and finds it colder still. He still does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes in tears he will never shed.

Those stormy orbs bore into hers.

“I was never here.”

“Your exchange with Celia upset you.”

“Return inside.”

Emily’s eyes glaze over as she walks away.

Celia: The sound of her name passing his lips makes her dead heart flutter.

GM: Then he’s gone from the courtyard.

He’s on the roof again.

Staring down at Celia, shoe-less and lying on her belly in wet clothes as the rain weeps over her.

:: Explain. ::

Celia: She’d had to get up somehow. And she’d almost started down after him when he’d appeared beside Emily.

She rises now, her eyes finding his face.

Wet clothing presses against her skin. The brief exposure to the rain flattens her hair, plastering it across the back of her neck, down her shoulders. Even her wild mane is no match for New Orleans weather.

Explain.

Explain what?

GM: His frigid gaze bores into hers, eyes as cold and lifeless as any shark’s.

She screamed out all her grief.

All her pain.

She summoned him here.

Through their blood tie.

His time is valuable.

She has not called him without purpose.

Has she?

Celia: She never feels so small as when she’s next to him.

Maybe it’s the bond that makes her take a step. Then another. Maybe it’s the bond that makes her reach out, fingers brushing against the fabric of his coat. The bond again that makes her close the distance.

Hit her.

He’s going to hit her.

He’s going to be mad that she called out to him. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t mean to summon him.

She might as well give him something to be mad about.

Celia presses her face against his wet chest. Her arms slide around the back of him. If he breaks them, at least she’ll have gotten to use them first.

She smooths over the fear of his anger when she addresses him within her mind. He doesn’t need to know how much doing this has cost her. How much it hurts.

:: Duquette’s childe has turned against her. Your sire is pleased with me. He wants me to take on an expanded role within his court. We’re meeting tomorrow to discuss. ::

A question dances through her mind—how can she best serve him with this step?

GM: Roderick’s chest is warm.

His hands gentle, for all their strength.

Her sire’s chest is not warm.

And his hands are not gentle.

His cold, rain-slick hands seize her wrists and pull them apart. His grip makes her want to cry out. It’s as vice-like as Carolla’s ever was. He holds her arms out to their fullest extent, leaving her torso splayed out to the rain. Vulnerable. Exposed.

:: You did not call me to relay this information. ::

:: You offer it in placation. ::

Celia: Why ask then.

Why ask if he already knows.

Anger flares inside her chest, hot and heavy despite his cool, close proximity. The grip on her wrists makes her arms scream; she presses her lips together to keep it inside. A thousand and one lies flash through her mind: reasons she called out, things she could tell him, plots she could offer. But the rain drops steadily down upon her throat and chest, exposed as they are, chipping away at the edges of her rage to reveal the deep, all-consuming grief beneath it.

He doesn’t want to hear about her pain. He doesn’t want to know that he could be—it doesn’t matter. She stops the thought before it can take hold, ripping it out root and stem. He could be. But he won’t be.

She doesn’t deny his accusation. She doesn’t tell him that it was the pain of breaking her lover that she sent spiraling down the line to him. That she did it anyway. For him.

It’s what he expects from her. Always.

Better to admit the truth and let him decide what he wants to do to her because of it. Better to not waste his time making him sift through lies. He will punish her for it or he won’t; all she can do now is lessen the blow.

:: Yes, sire. ::

She needed to see him tonight. She’d planned on it. But she can’t run into him in the halls of Elysium. Not now, with his sire’s favor hanging in the balance. The game of cat and mouse she might have played another night would not be tolerated this evening; they’d sniff it out for the clumsy attempt to reach him that it is. People would talk. His sire would doubt her. Doubt the place he has intended for her. She’d ruin everything if she tried to reach out to him at Elysium. Better that she called out, that he’s here now instead of then.

Helpless, she dangles in his grip, the tips of her toes the only part of her that touch the roof. How easily he could tear her literally limb from limb. She pushes through the pain of his hands on her body. Pushes through the pain of breaking her lover. Pushes through the pain of the knowledge that she will never be to him what he is to her. She searches for the bit of him he’d left inside of her that night, the ice cold, merciless side that blunts her emotions until they, too, fall like rain to splash against the roof in tiny little puddles. They can’t matter. She finds her anchor. Not the girl who died with her weak, uncontrollable outbursts and broken heart. Not the harpy’s childe with her barbed tongue and casual cruelty. No, not Celia. Not Jade.

Someone Else.

:: To try to catch your eye this evening at Elysium would tip our hand, as would calling upon you in your domain. There are other updates. ::

The method was crude. But effective. His presence before her now proves that. Not that she’ll ever try it again; she lets him know as much, sending a wordless apology spinning down the connection between their minds for the interruption to his evening.

GM: Perhaps her sire starts to reply. Perhaps he buys it, or at least overlooks it. Perhaps thoughts start to travel down the mental link.

Or perhaps Someone Else’s cold heart will be needed.

Her sire’s stormy eyes flicker away from her face at the sudden impact against the roof.

It’s Roderick.

There’s something about his face that looks worse than when she last saw him. Physically it looks the same. Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s the dark. It reminds Celia of the shadow over his own father’s face. He’s wearing his own overcoat, umbrella held in hand against the rain.

He looks and sees Celia held helplessly in the sheriff’s grip.

Without a word, he drops the umbrella and balls his fists.

He charges.

Celia: Ice grips her heart. Harder and colder than it had when her sire had summoned her to the roof. It takes hold and she sees the events play out:

Roderick charges the sheriff. Donovan takes his head off with the weapons she had given him. His body falls, crumbling to ash before it ever hits the ground. Celia is left alone to pick up the pieces of her broken Requiem.

No.

She doesn’t care how angry she is at him. She doesn’t care how crippled she has become by the pain of recent nights. She won’t let it happen. The bond makes her act: protect her sire.

But her heart makes her act too: protect her lover.

Her form twists, blurs, shifts. She’s a cat, and the sheriff’s grip slackens. She’s free. Luna lands on four paws, darting around the sheriff to launch herself forward—

And turns back into Celia halfway through the leap, momentum carrying her rain-slick form into Roderick before he can cross the distance between the pair of them.

GM: But it’s just like at the Dollhouse.

Too slow.

Slower than both of them.

Roderick’s form blurs across the roof, almost too fast for her to see.

Celia feels the release of pressure around her wrists, before she’s even finished transforming.

But she doesn’t see her sire’s move.

Just the results.

Suddenly, pale hands clasp around Roderick’s wrist.

Celia’s seen her dad do that martial arts move. You grab their whole arm, put your back to their chest, and hurl them over your shoulder to land back-first on the ground.

The sheriff only grabs Roderick’s wrist, and without any chest-to-back contact, uses the momentum of his charge to send him flying through the air like a ragdoll. The extra distance between their bodies is sure to give his impact that much extra force—made all the worse when she sees it’s Roderick’s chest slamming towards the roof, her sire having executed an impossible mid-air twist of the flying man’s arm that her father probably only wishes he had the reflexes and upper body strength to execute. Celia can already see what will happen next when Roderick’s chest hits the ground. The sheriff’s boot will stomp down mid-back, he’ll hold the Brujah’s arms pinned behind him, and the fight will already be over. He can stomp Roderick’s head apart like a pumpkin under his boots. Celia remembers the brutal power of those kicks her lover used to literally smash apart Carolla’s ribs, when he was buried under the tiger’s bulk. Is her sire that strong, too? Stronger? Just like that, one move, and Roderick is dead. The sheriff won’t even need to use his sword or bracers.

Celia: Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

For all the brains he claims to possess he’s nothing but an idiot when it comes to her and what he thinks he can do. Charging the sheriff. Why. Why?

The rain makes slick the roof beneath her bare feet. Her bare feet slip; rather than get between them she goes down hard to one knee, helpless to do anything but watch while her sire effortlessly pins the Brujah to the ground.

She knows well those heavy boots.

Remembers the crunch of the green-haired punk from what feels like a lifetime ago. His lifeless eyes. Her sire’s silent command to dispose of the body.

He can’t.

He can’t, he can’t, he can’t.

But he can. That’s the god awful truth. He can. And he will.

“No! Don’t, please—”

GM: But the Roderick so summarily staked at Cypress Grove was still a babe in the night.

It all happens too fast for Celia to follow, but the anatomy expert can surmise what did—that her lover executed his own mid-air contortion and somersault, this time one to make her ballerina parent green with envy, and sends his foot kicking into Donovan’s chest at an upward angle as he falls. It connects square with the sheriff’s center of gravity, sending him flying as Roderick hits the ground and spring-rolls into a fighting stance—except his foe already is flying. He hasn’t been thrown back at all. Donovan’s stiffened fingers drive into Roderick’s throat, seizing the opening from his split-second instinctive surprise at seeing the laws of gravity fail to affect his opponent. Celia’s lover gags under the crunch of bone but keeps his feet as he blurs backwards, fists raised in a boxer’s stance. Celia can see it in his defensive posture, in the look in his eyes. This is not a fight he thinks he can win.

“Ge… ou’! I’ll hol… ’im off!” Roderick rasps past his half-shattered throat.

Celia: He won’t, though. He’ll die. He’ll die trying, and the sheriff will catch her anyway, and then they’re both dead. Or maybe she’s not dead, maybe she’s just beaten to within an inch of her (un)life, maybe he just strings her up and uses her body as target practice, maybe he lets his ghouls have another go at her, but the result is the same: dead Roderick. Broken Celia.

But she runs.

She runs, because she can’t just stand there and watch. She runs, feet moving nimbly across the roof, blurring past her sire, throwing herself in his path in the momentary pause while the two size each other up.

Caroline had said he’s the worst sort of monster.

But he had shown her mercy once. Had shown her kindness. Compassion when she did not expect it. He had rescued her. Saved her.

It has to mean something.

It has to.

She’s not a fighter. Even on her best night. Even with the help of her tiger skin. And she can’t raise her fists against her sire; her very soul rebels at the thought.

But she can put herself between them. She can keep Roderick from launching an offensive assault against the sheriff. She can keep her sire from destroying him without destroying her too.

So she runs. She launches herself at Roderick. Not to attack, but to prevent him from it.

She puts herself between them. She puts her back to Roderick. She turns to face her sire, arms outstretched to protect the lick behind her.

“Mercy, Sheriff Donovan. Quarter, for the primogen’s childe.” For him, not for her. Roderick doesn’t know what he’d wandered into. What punishment is it to attack the sheriff? Whatever it is, she’ll take it in his stead. It’s not something she has to say. He knows.

It’s a gamble. Risking everything on the idea that somewhere inside of him there’s something that cares enough for her not to destroy her. That no matter his anger in this moment, no matter how disappointed he might be with her, he won’t strike that final blow to take her fully from the world. There’s something inside of him. Some part that wants her around. That wants her whole. Not broken.

Please. There has to be.

And then to Roderick, her very words a plea, “stand down. Go.

GM: But pleas have so rarely moved either of them.

Pleas for Roderick to abandon his lover to the sheriff’s cold mercies.

Pleas at all to the sheriff’s stone-like heart.

“GO!!!!” Roderick yells, and then suddenly Celia’s sailing through the air as he flings her. The Toreador’s last sight is of her sire’s dark form streaking towards Roderick, and then she hits the brick courtyard with a painful thump. The rain pours down around her as sounds of violence distantly echo from above, drowned out by the wind and the rain.

Just past the windows, she sees Dani, her mother, and Mr. Garrison eating pie around the dinner table. The dining room looks so warm and bright and dry as water patters against the glass. It looks a world away from the midnight battle raging between monsters atop the roof.

Mr. Garrison has no idea his son is up there, fighting for his unlife.

For her unlife.

Celia: Sometimes gamblers lose.

Celia feels the loss when her back hits the brick courtyard. If she were mortal the landing would be enough to force the air from her lungs. But she’s not. She’s dead. She’s on her feet immediately, springing upward, sprinting through the rain to the front of the house.

Stupid, to think that she could stop the sheriff from attacking Roderick, or stop Roderick from protecting her. No, she probably can’t stop the fight on her own, but she still needs to find a way to stop it. She can find a way to weather her sire’s anger at a later date; losing Roderick tonight means she loses everything, and not even the pull of the bond will stop her from seeing that he makes it out.

Her eyes dart down the block. Tours by NOLA Locals is just around the corner, and they close soon. Now, if she’s not mistaken. Which means their last tour and all their customers should be leaving… now. There they are, a whole group of them. No refunds, and everyone expects rain in New Orleans: it’s part of the experience. No excuses to not go.

Celia rounds the corner, waving her arms in excitement as the group and shouting out, “dollar shots! They’re giving out dollar shots at Cosimo’s!” Who can resist cheap booze? But she puts the power of her charm behind the words, pulling out all the stops. Cosimo’s Bar is a block away, right down Burgundy. They’ll have to pass the feuding licks on the roof. And she’ll be there, loudly amping them up, making their large group presence known to the two vampires on the roof who surely don’t want to be seen.

That’s the first rule of being a vampire: you don’t get caught being a vampire.

GM: Emily always found that strange. “Why is there a tour group here, this far from the Disneyland area of the Quarter? This is where people are supposed to fucking live in peace!” She did not like living near them or all the noise they made. She’d cynically speculated that the tour group was located here to cash in on the “by locals” angle. “Because they can say, look at us, we’re located where locals actually live.” Diana thought they weren’t so bad, but tried to plan Lucy’s naps and feedings around when a tour group wasn’t likely to pass by. The family eventually learned to predict it.

So did Celia.

Rain is part of the local experience, but the umbrella-holding crowd of tourists doesn’t seem to like it judging by their faces. Celia overhears the tour guide talking about an “ovulus” that can be used to commune with ghosts in VR, but the Toreador’s commanding sales pitch swiftly rolls over the woman’s tall tales, and none of the kine seem to care she’s running around barefoot without an umbrella as Arikel’s powers of bewitchment roll off of her in waves. Who can resist cheap shots. The tour guide shoots Celia and irritated starts trying to corral the tourists back onto their planned route, but far more of them look like they’re listening to the Toreador than to her. Actually, pretty much all of them.

The only question is whether Celia can bring them past the Flores house faster than her sire can take off Roderick’s head.

That’s also when Celia notices her mother—out looking for her?—clad in a red raincoat and carrying an umbrella. Diana doesn’t question what her daughter is doing, but just starts calling out, “Dollar shots this way, y’all! Come get ’em! Come get ’em!” while smiling and waving. She doesn’t jump around, not in heels and with her leg. But the schoolteacher’s long-practiced voice at corralling large groups of kids turns the eager flow of drink-seeking tourists into a practical stampede. The tour guide gives up and starts following the derailed tour group too. The dozen-odd gaggle of loudly and excitedly talking people are soon all around the Flores house.

“Oh, my goodness, sweetie, your shoes!” Celia’s mother frets as she gets the umbrella over her daughter’s head, then frowns. “Is something goin’ on…?”

Celia looks towards the house’s roof, her nocturnal vision cutting easily through the gloom. She sees Roderick’s horrifically destroyed, blood-crusted face rapidly mending itself back to pristine wholeness as he leaps down. Her sire is nowhere in sight.

For now.

Celia: For now.

Celia smiles at her mom as if nothing is wrong, moving the spotlight off of her and onto someone else in the group. The tour guide, maybe; she can tell who it is by how the woman is scowling, and with any luck the little boost Celia supplies will give them the chance to re-wrangle her group.

Either way, it’s not Celia’s problem anymore.

“Fighting,” she says in a low voice to her mother. “Go inside, I’ll be in. Two minutes. Friend is in the back.”

Her clothes are ruined. Soaked.

“Tell them the cat got out,” Celia suggests. It’ll explain her disappearance, the wet clothing. Good thing she and her mother are the same size; she can find something in her closet.

She ducks away, moving into the backyard to find Roderick.

GM: “Ok, I’ll keep them busy!” Celia’s mom nods, heading back in.

But she passes her daughter the umbrella anyway.

Celia: Little late for it to keep her dry, but she takes it all the same on her way into the back with a rueful smile.

She looks up towards the night sky and wherever her sire is.

That’s all she needs. Gone for now.

She’ll figure something out for later.

She always does.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Roderick waits until the seemingly kine woman has disappeared. He doesn’t look much better than Celia. His soaked clothes are also torn, his hair is a complete mess, and even the rain can’t fall fast enough to wipe off the blood over his face, but he tries his best.

“Sheriff took off,” he says shortly. “Too much attention. But he can fly. He’ll be back.”

“We’re outclassed enough he can afford to let us go for a little.”

Celia: Celia agrees with a nod.

“Come inside. Mom keeps spare clothes for Logan. She won’t mind. Dani and your dad are here.”

GM: He shakes his head. “We don’t have time. We can’t stay here.”

“Also, our parents both think I’m dead.”

Celia: Celia gestures at his face. They’d never changed it back.

“Oh look, problem solved.”

“Attacked the fucking sheriff,” she mutters. “You’re an idiot.”

GM: He touches it as if remembering.

“This is going to take some getting used to.”

“Figured I’d abandon you to him and run away. You’re a bigger idiot.”

Celia: “I would have handled it.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“We need to go. Right now. Take everyone to the Evergreen. It’s a full house on Friday nights. Even better that the usual Kindred crowd won’t be there.”

Celia: “How are we explaining that to your dad?”

GM: “Figure something out. Right now, it’s the safest place in the Quarter from the sheriff. Even he won’t just barge in there.”

Celia: “Can we send him home? Sheriff has no beef with him.”

GM: “Sure. Hurry.”

Celia: “Come inside,” Celia says again. “So you’re not a sitting duck out here.”

She’s already moving towards the door.

GM: “This is going to take longer if you’re introducing everyone to your boyfriend. You need to get them out. Right now.”

Celia: “Don’t die.”

Then she’s gone, slipping into the house with an apologetic smile as she drips all over the floor.

GM: “…she wasn’t kidding about you chasing down Victor,” says Dani as a soaked Celia enters the dining room.

Celia: “I’m so sorry,” she says to the gathering at large. “Went to give Emi the pie and the cat ran right past me. Had to climb a tree to get it back. Poor Lucy was bawling her eyes out.”

“So much for this dress,” she says with a laugh. “Mom, I’m gonna grab something from your closet.”

She waits until Mr. Garrison looks away to make a face at Dani, a nod to follow her out.

GM: “You should’ve let us know,” says Mr. Garrison critically. “You shouldn’t have had to do that.”

“Oh, you’re such a gentleman, Henry,” smiles Diana. “At your age.”

“And feel free, sweetie! My closet’s yours.” Her eyes look the slightest bit fretful, but she turns back to their guest.

“Danielle, why are you leaving our host’s table?” Mr. Garrison asks, even more critically.

“Oh, I just thought I’d help Celia pick something. Mrs. Flores, do you mind? I’ve had enough pie anyways, I think,” answers Dani.

“Please, go on! We can clean up here,” says Diana, her eyes briefly meeting Celia’s as if to confirm.

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“Didn’t think it’d take quite that long, Mr. Garrison. But next time I’ll leave the cat rescuing to you.” She smiles, meets her mother’s eyes with a tiny nod, and moves off.

GM: “…the cats hate you. What’s going on?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Trouble,” Celia says tightly. She pulls off her wet dress as soon as she’s out of eyesight of the table, picking up the pace. “We need to evacuate. Get your dad to go home. I’m taking my family to the Evergreen. Tell him… you’re sick. Go with him.”

GM: “I want to help,” says Dani. “He can get home on his own. Unless it’s after him?”

“In which case, I want you with us. Because I’m a useless abortion.”

Celia: “No. I just don’t have a better way of getting him to leave.”

“You’re not useless,” Celia says. But she doesn’t have time to argue. She grabs the first dress she sees—a floral-printed sundress—and pulls it on.

“I don’t think he’s going to want to go to the Evergreen.”

GM: Flower-themed clothes are a common staple in her mother’s closet.

“The Evergreen… that’s that VIP club, right?”

Celia: “Yeah. I don’t even know if you’ll be able to get in.”

“Not many licks there tonight.”

“But it’s Savoy’s stronghold. Trouble won’t reach us there.”

GM: “Tattoo makes me mortal, doesn’t it? I’m the DA’s daughter.”

“But you’re right. He hates clubs.”

“He just wants to go home now and go to bed early.”

Celia: “It’s just your brother and I in trouble. I think we should just go. I just don’t want to leave everyone unprotected.”

GM: “I guess that won’t hurt. I’ll get my dad out and tell your mom you’ll fill her in?”

Celia: “Yeah. Fuck. Fuck me. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t gone outside. Jesus.”

No time.

GM: “How’s this your faul… never mind, I’ll get my dad out.”

Dani heads back out.

Celia: Celia finds a pair of flats to slip on. Easier to run in. She rummages through the dresser for the spare clothes she’d told Roderick about. Hardly his usual fare, but it’ll do. She shoves it into a bag.

She follows Dani back out to the dining room.

GM: She finds their parents saying a hurried good night as Dani rubs her forehead with a bleary look.

Celia: “Oh no,” Celia murmurs, “feel better, Dani. Mr. Garrison, it was so nice to see you. I hope we can do this again soon.”

GM: Diana nods along. “…I’m so sorry to end the night so abruptly, Henry, maybe we can finish Stephen’s story over another dinner?”

“I’ll look at my schedule,” says Mr. Garrison. “Thank you for your hospitality, Diana, Celia. It was an excellent dinner.”

“You’re very welcome, we’d be happy to make y’all another,” winks Celia’s mom as she shows the pair out. “Dani, get better soon.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Flores.”

“All right, good night, y’all.”

“Good night.”

Celia: Celia echoes the sentiments on their way out.

GM: Diana turns back to Celia as she closes the door.

“Okay, sweetie, what do we need to do?”

“And Lucy. Is Lucy in danger.” Her face grows immediately grave.

Celia: “Get out. Rod says Evergreen, but—” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t know how to explain that to anyone. Emily. Lucy. I think… hotel? Or I have a safe house…”

GM: “I’m not sure how I’d explain a hotel, sweetie.” Celia’s mom thinks. “Maybe for some last night drinks at the bar, then we stay the night after we have too many to drive back?”

“But, darn, she knows I don’t drink.”

“And taking Lucy out for that seems odd.”

Celia: “Tell her Henry made you feel pretty and it ended early and you want to go out?”

“Girls night?”

GM: “Okay. Girls means all girls. Any men who want to hit on me should know exactly what they’re gettin’ into?”

Celia: “Yeah. That should do it.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. It’s not normally like this.”

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie! Better safe than sorry!”

“How’s the Monteleone, with its carousel bar?”

Celia: She considers, then nods.

“Should work. I don’t think they’re looking for you. Just me.”

“Stephen is here. I’m going to bring him in to change. His face is different.”

GM: “All right. Feel free to take any clothes or whatever you need. I’ve got some of Logan’s I was mending for him.”

Celia: “Got ’em. Go get the girls. We need to hurry.”

Celia does just that, moving toward the door to wave Roderick inside.

GM: “Okay! Text me when you’re there, sweetie!” her mom calls, then heads out to Emily’s room.

She does not see her lover outside.

Celia: Her eyes take on the telltale glow of the Beast within while she scans the darkness. He has to be here.

“Roderick,” she hisses.

GM: She sees nothing.

Celia: “Roderick!”

GM: Her only answer is the pounding rain.

Celia: He can’t be gone. He can’t be.

She steps out into the night.

GM: The rain falls over her newly-dry dress.

Celia: No, no, no.

She was only inside for a minute.

He can’t have come and gone in that time. He can’t have.

She shakes her head, denying what she knows is true: he did.

Celia’s newly dry dress is only exposed to the rain for a minute, just long enough for her fingers to blur across her face to turn her back into Jade. Then it disappears with the rest of her as her entire form shifts, taking on the form of the nightjar.

Her sire isn’t the only one who can fly.

Her wings beat against the air to lift her into the sky, sending the bird sailing through the rain.

She’ll find him.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: The nightjar takes to the skies. The bird notes several details.

First, the extra car that had been parked near her mother’s house is gone.

Second, the car is driving through the Quarter, a grimly resolved look on Roderick’s already grimmer face.

Third, the sheriff is flying after the car from dozens of feet up, like an enormous black bat.

Celia: That stupid motherfucker.

She’s going to kill him. She’s going to save him from the sheriff and then she’s going to kill him.

The nightjar soars after the car and her sire, beating its wings furiously through the air to keep up. It rips through the options in its mind: dive bomb the sheriff. Distract him. Get Roderick to safety. Weather his anger. Dive bomb the car. Take on the sheriff together.

Roderick has to be going to the Evergreen. That’s what he said, right? Evergreen.

And what is he going to do when he gets there? Who will he run his mouth to?

Idiots, the both of them, she could have handled it.

The nightjar makes its decision. It tucks its wings and dives through the storm toward the lick flying after the car, swooping down with the intent to land upon his back or shoulder, wherever it can find purchase with its tiny claws.

GM: Too fast to follow, Donovan seizes the bird out of mid-air. Pale and rain-slick hands mercilessly crush in the tiny avian’s throat. His flight does not slow.

:: Prove you are more useful alive than dead. ::

Celia: The bird might trill, but the hand around its body prevents the noise from escaping its newly savaged throat. Her wings beat ineffectually against the hand that holds her.

:: I will handle him. Let me handle him. ::

She already has a lie prepared.

:: I will keep him quiet. ::

She just needs him to back off so she can talk to Roderick without the threat of attack looming.

:: I’ll deliver us both to you if I fail. ::

She won’t, though. Not with their unlives hanging in the balance.

GM: Silence is the nightjar’s only answer as the sheriff’s dark form races through the air.

Celia: She doesn’t know if that’s acceptance of her proposal or not. But there’s little the nightjar can do trapped in his grasp as it is. It’s along for the ride now, desperately aware of how fragile this form it wears is. One clenched fist…

:: He’s afraid. For me. He trusts me. I can handle him. ::

Break something. If he breaks something on her, something more than what he has, it’ll send a message that the sheriff came back for her, not for Roderick. She’ll say his new face saved him, that he didn’t know who Roderick is, that he got away, that Celia was too slow. Got caught. She won’t make him look bad. She’d never make him look bad. Primogen’s childe could be anyone. Maybe he didn’t hear over the rain. Maybe it was a bluff. Why would Donovan know that Jade can fleshcraft? Why would he assume that Roderick and Jade had anything to do with each other? She’ll know how to spin it when Roderick talks to her about it. He’ll buy it. He’s bonded to her. He’s been swallowing her lies for years.

And there are so many reasons she could give him for the sheriff’s visit, none of which make it look like they have anything to do with each other. He interrupted what looked like a punishment anyway. He didn’t see anything. Didn’t hear anything.

It will work.

Her sire just needs to trust her.

And if she’s wrong, well, she’d already promised to deliver the pair of them. She’ll use force if she has to. She has plenty of blood to burn through to subdue the already injured Brujah.

Unless he just wants her to catch Roderick so he can wipe clean what he saw, put someone else’s face in there, maybe delete it completely. She’ll do that. She’ll take him to the haven to ambush. He knows the one.

But don’t kill him. Please don’t kill him.

GM: Wind and rain whips past. The sheriff’s vice-like hand squeezes. More bones crunch throughout the tiny bird’s body.

Celia: Terror grips the nightjar. It’s not an answer. That’s not an answer. It doesn’t know what he wants, which parts are unacceptable to him. Its wings flutter, trapped as they are within his hand.

No one has ever accused Celia’s thoughts of moving too quickly. No, not too quickly, but perhaps too sporadically for someone else to make sense of it. Perhaps her shielding has payed off in dividends and her sire is no deeper in her mind now than anyone else who had ever given her a cursory scan. Or perhaps it is simply the pursuit that has his attention divided, and he spares no more than the small bit of focus that it takes to wordlessly communicate with her.

She thought that he knew everything, but when she gives herself a moment to put herself in his shoes she realizes that maybe… maybe he doesn’t.

Slowly, the terror abates. It won’t serve her well. She reaches again for the ice inside her veins, the reason he had chosen her that evening in 2009. It’s inside of her somewhere; all she has to do is bring it to the surface. She slows her thoughts, sending them his way only once she has gotten a handle on them.

The lick they’re chasing is Roderick Durant, Coco’s childe, and he has known about “Celia” since shortly after their release in 2010. He knows her as Veronica’s childe. As far as Roderick knows the only “connection” between Celia and Sheriff Donovan is that she grew up in Audubon and went to Tulane with thousands of other students. He has no reason to suspect there’s anything deeper there. She has never, would never, tell him otherwise. She knew him in her mortal life; they had been lovers then, together until her Embrace, and recently rekindled their romance as Kindred. No one is supposed to know. They play for opposite teams, so they had kept it secret, and his facial reconstruction had been to sneak him into the Quarter last night and for their plans this evening.

He wasn’t supposed to see her sire. They were never supposed to run into each other; it had been unfortunate timing.

Roderick is her… what had Mélissaire called it? Morality pet. And she’d broken him so she could further Savoy’s goals. So she could further her sire’s goals. She’d done it to him. For them.

She’d broken him so she could turn him away from his sire. Savoy has his ear on the Cabildo so he can further disrupt the prince’s plots. She has been working on it for weeks and it finally came to fruition. She repeats the line about his sire offering her an expanded role in his court. Tomorrow. They’re meeting tomorrow to discuss. Her role will better serve her sire; she will be closer to the action, will be privy to more sensitive information, both through Savoy and through Roderick himself. She is more than capable of pulling Cabildo secrets from Roderick if Donovan so wishes. She has ways of getting inside people’s heads with them none the wiser and will use it for him.

And she can handle him tonight. Her sire doesn’t need to waste his time chasing down Roderick. She has a series of lies already prepared for him, and she’ll twist them to accommodate whatever he says to her. Roderick has been swallowing her lies for years; what’s another handful? She’ll tell him the sheriff found out she’d been meddling with the Flores still in Audubon. She’ll tell him he knows that she has been asking questions about Maxen, and that he forced her to give up her plans to derail him, tell him that the injuries she has sustained were after she tried to run. She’ll say that Roderick’s mask had saved him. Why would the sheriff think to look into Roderick when no one knows that Jade and Roderick are anything more than two young licks on opposite sides with sires that hate each other? This new face can disappear. She’ll spin it to preserve his image. She’d never make him look bad.

She’ll lie. Because she’s so good at lying and knows exactly how to play Roderick. She’ll keep him quiet.

And tonight, tomorrow, Sunday: whenever he wants her to answer for the waste of his time this evening she will. She’ll have a better report for him once she finishes with Roderick, probably better when she finishes with Savoy tomorrow. She’ll meet him wherever he wants and tell him everything she’s gathered since their last time together. The hunters, and what she’s found that threatens them all. Caroline, her progress bringing the girl to heel. Savoy’s plans to corral two of the prince’s “loyal Ventrue” to his side. The lick behind the fiasco at the zoo. Intel about his pawns, or a way to help them move forward.

There’s more she can give him. But not in this narrow window of time if he doesn’t let her stop Roderick right now, tonight, like she knows that she can.

GM: Her sire’s cold hands release the nightjar with its crushed wings. Only by grace of the same gift that saved her mother and impressed Caroline does the bird not plummet like a stone.

:: I will know all that transpires between you. Your punishment will be commensurate to your success. ::

Celia: There’s only one thing left to say in this situation.

:: Yes, sire. ::


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: It’s not a long flight to catch up with Roderick. It’s a fall, as much as anything. His head whips to the side as he sees the bird approach by the window.

Celia: She can hardly shift into her cat or human form here. And she lacks her sire’s (and her clan’s) ability to contact him mind-to-mind. But she has other tools at her disposal, things that will (hopefully) clue him in to her identity. Even in this form she smells like a lick. But she kills the aura, dampening it until she’s just a bird again, and then drops the power to project her predatory nature. Again she kills it, and again she lets the cloaking take effect.

Like a beacon in the night, she flickers her aura between mortal and lick, hoping he knows her well enough to know its her. He’s seen her shift. He knows she can cloak. How many licks in the city are looking for him and can both shift and shadow dance?

And how many random licks that can is he bonded to? Who else would he feel the pull toward?

GM: Roderick rolls down the window, then his hand blurs towards the bird.

Celia: The nightjar makes no effort to avoid his hand. It collapses into his palm, half-broken wings tucked against its tiny body. She trusts that the large brain of his clued him in to who she is. If not, well, she supposes she has suffered worse at his hands.

GM: Roderick sets the bird down at the foot of the adjacent passenger seat and rolls the window back up.

“You can turn back to confirm you’re who I’m presuming you are.”

Celia: The change is instant: nightjar to Jade. The shift in physique makes her wince; she grits her teeth against the feeling of bone grinding on bone, but there’s nothing to be done for it. She’s already riding the edge and doesn’t want to lose it in the car with him if she risks mending.

She looks up at him from her spot on the floor. It feels like too much effort to climb into the seat. Has her night really just begun?

“Thanks for not…” she makes a fist to demonstrate. Crushing her. “Family is out. Your dad. Dani. Safe. Mine too.”

If her body wasn’t half broken maybe she’d be able to form longer sentences. The pain distracts her. Fuck him for squeezing after he’d confirmed her identity.

“Spa,” she gets out. “Blood. Need blood. No people.”

GM: “The sheriff’s probably following me,” he says tightly. “You shouldn’t have come after me. Don’t get up on the seat.”

“You shouldn’t be wearing your Jade face, either.”

Celia: “Stupid,” she mutters, more to herself than him. “Need to change your face. Back to Rod. Spa. Or haven. Pick one. Not following. Bought us time.”

GM: “How?” he asks sharply.

Celia: “I’ll explain,” she promises, voice pitching into a whine. “Hurts. Please.”

GM: “If we go back to Flawless, and he follows us, it could all be over.”

“For both of us.”

Celia: “Haven. No connection to us.”

GM: Roderick drives.

“What the fuck was he even doing at your family’s house!?”

Celia: She giggles, the sound reminiscent of the noise he’d made last night when he found out about Carolla. There’s a hysterical edge to it.

“Daddy.”

“Found out. What I was doing.”

GM: “So he knows Celia is a lick.”

“Because he wouldn’t give a fuck if Celia the breather has dinner with her father.”

Celia: “Told you. Years ago. Knows Celia.”

GM: “So why hasn’t he ashed you?”

Celia: “For what? Existing?”

GM: “For being a nobody in larger Kindred society and infringing on his domain.”

“He absolutely would ash you for those reasons.”

“But he hasn’t. And you say you’ve delayed him. You wanted me to drive back to Flawless when he’s on my tail!”

“Celia, what the hell is going on here?”

Celia: “I traded. Bargained. For my life. Unlife. Whatever. Bought time. Promise. Trust me. Won’t kill. Not yet.”

“Rod, it hurts,” she tries again. “Spa or haven, let mend. Please. Tell you.” It’s an effort to shift across the floor, but she does so, laying her cheek on his knee and blinking up at him with eyes fogged by pain.

If they don’t get back to her haven or spa so she can fix his face and mend she’s going to be worse than useless if she’s wrong about her trade. She tells him so in fragmented sentences.

GM: Roderick stares down at her.

“Okay. I trust you.”

He turns the car around.

“We’ll go back to Flawless. Instead of my old place.”

Celia: She nods her head and closes her eyes, leaning against him.

GM: He touches her head, but keeps his other hand on the wheel. He parks at Flawless. He carries her in his arms to Jade’s suite. He grimaces several times himself as he walks, though, and Celia smells blood on him.

Celia: “You’re hurt,” she murmurs once he sets her down. “How bad?”

GM: “I fought the sheriff on my own,” he says frankly. “I’ve healed the worst of it. Healed more during the fight. But I’m hungry. Right now would be a good time for the rest of… his juice.”

Celia: Celia nods. That had been her thought as well.

“Are you gonna lose it?”

“Room for that,” she adds, jerking her chin toward the door in question.

GM: He shakes his head. “That’s why I haven’t completely healed.”

Celia: “Oh. I might,” she admits.

GM: “Ok. You can drink in the room.”

“What about your ghouls?”

“Be useful to send them hunting right now.”

Celia: Celia nods. She brings her heel against the underside of the table, where she’d set aside the blood from Carolla and the other guy. Thin-blood. Ghoul. Whoever it once belonged to, it’s hers now.

“’Lana busy. Could send boys.”

Could call her mom, too.

GM: “’Lana looks way better at picking up people than either of them.”

“It’s a Friday night in the Quarter.”

Celia: “Busy,” Celia repeats.

“Dani could.”

“Have seven pints, though.”

“Could hunt after, us.”

GM: Roderick looks a little stiff at the thought of his sister doing that.

“I don’t know if we’ll have time before Elysium, with everything else.”

Celia: God, fuck Elysium. She hates that she has to go or lose face with those stuck up cunts.

No, that’s not fair. She’s just annoyed right now that things are unraveling.

GM: “But seven pints. Okay. That should help take the edge off.”

“You’ll need to fix my face, too. Some of the ‘everything else.’”

“Might as well text your ghouls now.”

Celia: “Dani?” Celia asks again.

GM: “…how has she been feeding?”

Celia: “Club.”

GM: “I actually never asked.”

Celia: “Gave her access.”

GM: “I don’t like her picking up guys at clubs.”

Celia: “You gonna baby bird her?”

GM: A scowl.

Celia: “Have a whole block. Could sneak instead.”

“Sleepers.”

GM: “That’s hard without veiling or burglary skills.”

Celia: “Blood’s here,” Celia says, nudging the door with her foot again. “Heat up. Don’t want to risk.”

GM: He takes the containers and sticks them in the microwave.

Celia: Celia pulls out her phone to send a series of texts while he busies himself with that.

The first to her mom, telling her everything is okay, but that she got held up at the spa and might not make it to ladies night.

The second to Randy, asking if he and his brother want to stop for a pizza and swing by.

GM: The response back is immediate.

Oh good, I’m so relieved! Maybe you’d like to stop by after everyone’s gone to bed? I still have your favorite treat… :)

Celia: Might be late. Party tonight. Thanks for saving some for me, you’re the best.

GM: Ok, I’ll let you know our room numbers! Have a feeling we might have too many to make it back. Lucy and Emi can have a sleepover in a room together!

Celia: Wild night? I’ll try to stop by before I head out. ;)

GM: Oh you! Hopefully not too wild with Lucy as our chaperon! :)

Celia: “Fam safe,” she announces after she sends a final heart to her mom.

GM: Randy responds shortly later that it’ll be a sure thing as far as that pizza.

Celia: She sends him a heart, too.

GM: Roderick takes out the heated blood with a long look.

“Drink up and we’ll talk about that.”

Celia: Celia slips into the “panic room” to take her share.

She’s glad she did. The moment the blood touches her tongue her Beast comes snarling to the surface, howling its unhappiness to the world at large. Her claws come out—they always come out when her Beast has its way—but there’s little to be destroyed in the bare, steel room.

By design.

Roderick’s design, actually. It’s his doing that there’s a room like this in her spa to begin with; all those years ago she’d discussed the idea of it with him while he still thought she was Jade, that her Brujah and other unruly clients needed a place to “let it out” prior to her treatments. A portion of the money from her mother had gone to making sure that she and her Kindred clients would have a space to give in to their more primal urges.

Her Beast’s claws swipe uselessly at the wall, enraged that much more that there’s nothing soft or breakable to dig into. That there’s no warm body. It’s like a solitary wank after years of the best sex imaginable: absolutely awful and unfulfilling. It slavers and howls and otherwise makes a nuisance of itself inside the steel box, safely contained in here if not in her.

She doesn’t know how long it takes over, only that when it’s gone her clothes are shredded and hang in tatters from her frame.

She scowls at no one in particular. That’s her mother’s dress.

Some snide side of her argues that her mother has plenty of floral print dresses and won’t miss this one.

Either way, Celia finishes her blood once the Beast’s tantrum has run its course.

GM: She comes out to find Roderick waiting near the door. The scent of blood wafting from him doesn’t smell as strong.

He looks over her torn clothes.

“Guess you needed that.”

Celia: “Thought I got off with a couple of broken bones?”

GM: He lays down on the table where Carolla used to be.

“You can tell me where things stand with the sheriff while you fix my face.”

Celia: His face isn’t the only thing that needs fixed. Celia’s body needs fixed, too. She sends the blood pumping through herself to the affected areas, letting it heal her broken bones and torn muscles before she begins to work on Roderick’s face. Only when it’s done does she begin her work to turn him from the Italian-esque man from last night to the Roderick the world knows him as.

Donovan will know everything that she says to him, and everything he says back. She’ll have to make sure she doesn’t fuck it up.

“He found out about my dad. Not dinner. I don’t think he cares about dinner. You keep bringing up the fact that Savoy hasn’t helped me with him, but I didn’t need his help. I was handling it on my own.”

GM: “Then all the less reason to let you live.”

Celia: “Sure. If I was a nobody, sure. But I’m not a nobody, and what I did I’ll have to be the one to undo. What’re they called, dead drops?”

GM: He winces as she starts to rearrange his flesh, moving the muscle like it can never move on its own.

“Yes. What about them?”

Celia: “Someone told me about them a long time ago,” she says, thinking of her ghost-turned-lick cousin. He still hasn’t called. “Told me if I was ever going to try to fuck someone over, to avoid getting fucked myself, set it up. So I did. Won’t stop him if he really wants to ash me, mind.”

She gives a brief warning before twisting a muscle in his cheek.

GM: He growls at the sensation.

“Celia, you’re telling this in pieces that don’t make any sense by themselves.”

Celia: Celia finally sighs.

“Yeah. Okay. I was trying to save face. I threw someone under the bus so he’d lay off me while I took care of the dead drops.”

GM: “That still doesn’t make sense.”

“He could just ash them and then you.”

Celia: “Sure. He could ash whoever. I just watched him try to ash you.”

“By the way,” she says, pausing her movements, “if you ever do anything that dumb again I’m going to stake you and stash you in a basement somewhere.”

“I’ll come down for cuddles. Maybe we’ll fuck. But stop trying to get yourself killed on my account.”

“Second time you’ve done that.”

“Wonder if you can still get hard if you’re staked,” she muses, resuming her work.

GM: Roderick does not look very aroused between the pain he’s in and the topic at hand.

“Yes. He can ash whoever. So why not you?”

Celia: “Because there would be no clear winner for the cutest lick in the city contest, and everyone would be so busy trying to figure that out that nothing else would ever get done.”

She smirks.

GM: “I’m not in the mood, Celia,” her lover growls as she reshapes his nose. His jaw twitches with pain as flint dances in his eyes.

Celia: “What do you want from me, Roderick? Do you want to hear that I’m scared shitless? Do you want to hear that I think he’s going to find me more useful dead than alive and once I finish fixing the mess I caused with my dad he’s absolutely going to ash me, then take my mom, Emily, and Lucy for the trouble? Do you want me to say I am so absolutely terrified of him that all I can think about is going out with a fucking bang if he’s going to get rid of me anyway? Is that what you want? Do you want me to cry on your shoulder a little bit so you can feel like a man comforting a woman in her time of need?”

“Do you think it helped that a random lick showed up at my house to fight him when I had it handled and now I have to find some way to spin that so he doesn’t know it was you, so that you don’t die too you big, dumb, fucking _idiot?”_

GM: Roderick suddenly leaps up from the table, seizes Celia’s throat between his hands, and slams her against the wall. His eyes flash as fangs jut from his mouth.

“I SEE now, Celia!”

“I have had a bad fucking week!”

“My sire’s a fucking liar! My sister’s an abortion! My dad’s the walking dead! I have a new brother, lucky me, who’s scum of the earth!”

He laughs.

“Well, I see now! Savoy and I had a good long talk!”

“I see a lot more now! I’m seeing a LOT of pieces that don’t add up, RIGHT HERE!”

He breaks off in laughter again, like she’s just told a funny joke.

“It’s so funny.”

“Savoy’s the only one who makes sense, these nights…”

Celia: Celia wraps her fingers around the hands holding her up, pressing her back as far against the wall as she can go. She makes a choking sound around his grip. Face half finished as he is, he only looks that much more monstrous.

“Ss—stah—ple—”

GM: He gives her a good hard shake.

“Oh, you stop it! The scared woman act!”

“I told you, Celia… I see MORE now!”

“This has been a real eye-opener!”

Celia: Her head slams back against the wall with the shake. When she looks at him again the fear has left her eyes.

“Let… go,” she growls at him, the words half a wheeze.

GM: “See, there we go! There’s the real Celia!” he laughs. “Let’s have it out, real Celia! Let’s have it all out! Let truth reign! Let the truth have its day… when we aren’t spewing SHIT!”

“Dead drops! ’I’ll handle the sheriff!’ HA! HA HA HA HA!”

“Everyone lies… all the fucking time… you were good at lying, weren’t you, even before you died? ‘I never slept with anyone but you,’ except I didn’t… except I did… HA! Had me wrapped around your finger!”

“Back and forth, back and forth, I can’t even keep straight how many times!”

Celia: Celia works a hand between his palm and her throat, giving herself enough room to breathe so she can speak.

She starts to open her mouth.

And then she remembers the vision, the way the Stephen there had ripped out her tongue, and thinks better of it.

GM: He patiently lets her make some more room.

He smiles and waits.

Celia: What does she say here? I can explain? He’ll never trust a word she says.

She can’t bear to look at him. And even though he is scaring her, even though she does want to curl into a ball and weep for the boy she used to know, she knows how that’ll look: like she’s just playing the same old tune as always.

Her sire really is going to kill her.

“I’ll tell you,” she finally says, “no lies, no bullshit. I’ll tell you. Everything.”

GM: He makes a sweeping motion with his other hand.

Celia: “Let me down.” A pause. “Please.”

GM: He releases his hand. Her feet hit the ground in their borrowed flats.

She remembers how he looked on the roof, in his false face, the rain beating down around him with his fists balled, Celia held helplessly in her sire’s grip. He looked ready to charge her sire. He did charge her sire. The right thing, no matter how dangerous or what it threatened to cost.

Here, in Jade’s suite, talking to Jade the liar, his face is neither one man nor another’s, its features monstrously twisted out of shape. There’s a cool look in his eyes under the equally cold light of the monster’s playhouse.

But Celia the innocent damsel was another lie too, wasn’t it? How likely was her sire to kill her right there? He risked his unlife for a stupid thing, thinking it was the right thing.

Celia: She stares up at him. Part of her—the Celia part, probably—doesn’t want to move from where he’d dropped her. That part of her still thinks that Stephen is in there somewhere, that she can salvage this, that she can get him back before he turns into the monster she saw him become. The other part—the Jade part—demands that she take control.

So she does.

She swallows her fear. She straightens her spine. She moves from where he dropped her, aware that he is faster than her, stronger than her, that distance only creates the illusion of safety—no, that’s Celia again.

Why won’t the bitch stay dead?

“Will you hear me out? All of it?” Celia again. Jade wouldn’t ask.

GM: “Go on.”

It might be Stephen answering.

Or Roderick.

Or whoever the man with half a face is.

Celia: “You’re right. I didn’t handle the sheriff. I couldn’t handle the sheriff. He was following your car. You bought me time to get away. To get us all away. It was… brave. And selfless. I thought I took too long inside, getting them all out. You weren’t out there when I came back. I thought he took you. Without your face, you were a nobody that had attacked him. Even if you were Roderick, you still attacked him.”

She—who is she anymore?—looks away.

“I can fly. You saw. I was… going to do something really stupid. I thought he maybe took you back to Audubon, and I was going to fly in as Jade.” A gesture to her face. “I don’t know what I’d have done when I got there. It was a half-baked plan. Then I saw you. Saw him. I flew towards him. He caught me.”

Her voice lacks any emotion. She keeps it as flat as possible lest he accuse her of playing the scared woman again.

“He was still following you. I thought he was going to kill you. I said you were my lover. That it was a misunderstanding. I begged him not to kill you. Then he started squeezing. Crushing me. So I told him… I told him if it was ‘you’ or me, I’d pick me every time. Save my own skin. Licks expect it. I said you trust me. That I’d handle you. That I’d deliver you, if needed. That he didn’t need to waste his time, that I’d do it. Everyone thinks I’m a whore; why wouldn’t I sell you out. I’d have another boyfriend by Elysium. He didn’t have a reason to trust me, so I gave him one. And I piled it on, on top of that. I’ve been working on a lot of projects lately, been looking into a lot of things. I offered to share with him. Anything he wanted.”

She finally looks back up at him.

“I thought I could lie to you to keep you from asking questions. That we could change your face back. I could tell him I’d handled it. We’d never see the other face again. No one would know what happened. He’d save face. I’d sell out whoever he wanted. We’d call it a done deal. One time thing. Debt disclosed.”

GM: Roderick listens.

Whoever listens.

“And what about you and the sheriff on the roof?” he asks flatly.

Celia: She swallows. It’s a reflexive action, completely unnecessary to her dead state. All it does is display her discomfort.

“You told me once that I could trust you. That you’re not like every other lick. That you won’t use what I tell you against me. Is that still true?”

GM: “Yes,” he answers tightly.

Celia: “I’m a bastard. Veronica didn’t get permission to ‘Embrace’ me until I was already dead.”

She drops her gaze.

“There’s no statue of limitations on Kindred crimes against the Traditions. I don’t actually know if I can get in trouble for it. I can hardly ask someone about it. And I think… sometimes I think I was an accident.”

GM: “You can get in trouble for it. So can she.”

Celia: Celia—Celia, she’s Celia—closes her eyes and gives a faint nod.

GM: “What does that have to do with the sheriff being at your mom’s house?”

Celia: Celia finds his face with her eyes.

“He knows. He’s known since the beginning. He called it in.”

GM: “To do, what?”

Celia: “At the risk of angering you,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t tell you. But it’s nothing against you. Or Dani. Or your dad. Your family is safe. I promise.”

“I trust you. I do. I wouldn’t have told you any of this if I didn’t. But I don’t trust him not to hurt me, or my family, or anyone else I care about, if I say anything else.”

GM: That takes a while to play out on his half-face.

“You better not complain about any secrets I keep,” he finally mutters.

Celia: For a moment, Celia turns her face away. She does it to hide the way her lip trembles, the relief that his words bring her, the fear in her eyes that he wouldn’t accept her answer.

Or her.

She looks up again and takes a halting step toward him. Then another. Approaching him like a dog that has been kicked too many times, that expects the boot before a gentle hand.

She used to play at being skittish around him. Now, though, there’s nothing coy or deceitful in the slight rounding of her spine, the way her eyes kiss the floor, then his face, then his chest, and finally the floor again, the way her weight shifts and the edge of her shoe drags slightly against the ground. Wary. But controlled. He might not notice it if he’s not looking for it.

Then she’s in front of him, folding herself against him without a word, pressing her face against his chest. His warm chest. His strong—so strong, by turns gentle and cruel—hands right there. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t tremble. She keeps it inside where no one can see, unable or unwilling to admit even to herself that some part of her is afraid of this new Roderick.

GM: His hands wrap around her back and hold her close. Slowly, like it’s a motion they haven’t done in a long time. But it’s still familiar.

His chest isn’t warm, though.

It’s cool.

No steady heartbeat greets her ears.

That’s not familiar.

Celia: Somehow, that’s worse than anything else he could have said or done.

She broke him.

And here’s the proof.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Roderick lies still as Celia twists the rest of his face back to its old features. He doesn’t seem to feel like talking. Maybe from the pain. Maybe not.

“I wonder if this is a fully accurate recreation, if you’re working from visual memory,” he says, looking his face over in the mirror when she’s done.

His tone is bland.

Celia: There’s a time or two when she opens her mouth to say something, but seems to lose her nerve or think better of it. She doesn’t speak until he does.

“Memory is fallible.”

GM: “I suppose I’m probably not the same person anymore.”

“Oh well.”

Celia: “No,” she says quietly. “You’re not.”

GM: He shrugs and pulls on his coat.

Celia: She doesn’t know how to act around him anymore. She doesn’t know what to say. What do to with her hands. She reaches for him, but there’s no warmth anymore, and she doesn’t find the comfort she’s looking for.

“Roderick.”

GM: He turns and looks.

Celia: “We’re… are we..?” She gestures between the pair of them.

GM: He waits as if for her to finish.

Celia: “…are we okay?”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “No,” she echoes, as if she has never heard the word before.

GM: “You won. My sire’s a lying piece of shit after all.”

Celia: Why is that her fault? She hadn’t made Coco Embrace Carolla.

Or lie about it.

“I didn’t… that’s not what I wanted. That’s never what I wanted. I didn’t win.

GM: “It’s so inconvenient how my sister’s an abortion.”

Celia: “…why?”

GM: “Because she’s weak.”

Celia: “Why does that matter?”

GM: “I’m going to kill him. The sheriff.”

Celia: “Wha—why?”

GM: “I can’t win against him by myself, but I can fight him without dying like chaff. Give me a smart and competent coterie, and we could probably pull it off. With acceptable casualties if we had a tactical advantage, and probably heavy ones if we didn’t.”

Roderick’s voice is calm.

“So, too bad my sister’s an abortion. She’d just be a burden.”

Celia: “What do you gain,” she asks, “by killing him?” She doesn’t even know how to begin to touch the topic of his sister.

GM: He looks at her like she’s asked a stupid question.

Celia: She stares back at him.

GM: “Preston said you were spoiled, you know. That you just wanted to play house and paint faces in your spa, and never think about the silly war going on.”

Celia: That doesn’t surprise her.

Preston doesn’t know about half the shit she gets up to, though.

GM: “Use your head. Why would I want him ashed?”

“How does that change the political situation and why is that change desirable to me?”

Celia: “I see.”

GM: “Good. Savoy at least thinks you do.”

Celia: “Weird that you’d talk about me in a meeting for you.”

GM: “I’m sure you never talked about me with them at all.”

Celia: She has never felt more alone than she does right now. She stares, covering the hurt, shoving it deep inside.

GM: “You could help kill him too,” he considers. “Eventually. You need more training, first. We’ll work on that.”

Celia: “Tonight?” she asks. “Like usual?”

GM: “I’m busy tonight.” He looks at the security monitor. “There’s your ghoul. That’s my cue.”

Celia: “Roderick. Wait.”

GM: He waits.

Celia: It’s like one of those movies where someone calls out for the other one to stop but they keep going. Somehow she thought he’d keep going. That’s a good sign, isn’t it, that he stopped?

She takes a step toward him. Then another.

“You said we’re not okay. And you’re busy tonight. You have other things on your mind. That’s fine. But when? When are we going to talk? When can we sit down to discuss everything?”

When does she get him back?

GM: “Talk about what?”

“I’m not breaking up with you, if that’s what you’re worried over.”

Celia: It is.

And it seems like such a stupid thing to worry about.

But she nods all the same.

“Okay,” is all she says. Then, “I love you. That hasn’t changed. Whatever else changes. That hasn’t.”

GM: “Dani said you were insecure, but I suppose it beats being an abortion.”

Celia: “Did Dani tell you why I’m insecure?”

GM: He turns to go.

“Later. Your ghoul’s here. Love you too.”

He gives a faint snicker. “Tell Dani to stop being an abortion, also.”

Celia: Sure. She’ll get right on that.

For a dead body, her heart certainly hurts a whole hell of a lot.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

GM: Randy comes in by himself, not a vessel in sight.

“Sorry, babe,” he says sheepishly.

“Early hour at the clubs, and Reggie wanted to do some… skeezy stuff.”

Celia: “I’m not hungry,” Celia mutters.

She is. She’s always hungry. But it’s a psychosomatic response to the altercation with Roderick. She isn’t in the mood for a writhing, squirming vessel.

GM: “Told me to tell you himself if I wasn’t up for it, so…”

“But I brought you something else!”

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: That’s when her sire’s sword gorily cleaves through Randy’s arms and legs like a knife through butter. The newly quadriplegic ghoul’s raw-throated screams echo off the suite’s soundproofed walls as his torso hits the floor in a gory heap. The stench of his voided bowels fills Celia’s nostrils as his eyes roll back in his head.

He screams.

He screams.

He screams.

Her sire’s cool voice sounds within her head.

:: You have endangered the secrecy of our association twice in as many weeks. Continued carelessness will endanger those for whom you care. ::

Randy screams.

Celia: She hadn’t even been looking.

That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she hadn’t been looking at her ghoul while he addressed her because she’d been so busy turning over the Roderick problem in her mind, wondering if and when he’d ever go back to his normal self.

It’s the blood that makes her look. Already too late to do anything but stare in mute horror as the blade cleaves once, twice, three times. How many times? She doesn’t know. She wasn’t really looking. But she smells it. And she hears it.

She thought she’d had time. That’s the only absurd thought that goes through her mind. That she thought she’d had more time.

But here he is.

Randy’s screams echo through the suite, reverberating off the walls, filling her head. Is there enough blood in her body to fix that? Where would she even begin? She stares. She stares because she’d just been thinking that he’s at least warm. That he could hold her for just a moment. That he could stand in for the boyfriend she’d just lost. That she can go home to Alana tonight and tell her everything is okay and spend the day with her.

How many parts can a person be cut into before they stop being a person anymore?

She drags her eyes up to his face. His cold, cruel face. How had she ever thought she loved him?

She darts forward, tearing into her wrist with her teeth, bringing the blood to the boy on the ground.

Not too late. Please let it not be too late.

GM: Her sire’s booted foot kicks aside what’s left of Randy. The quadriplegic man’s face audibly crunches against the wall.

His screams get fainter.

:: Little life remains in him. It will take time to regenerate his limbs. He will cost vitae for no practical returns. ::

Her sire’s cool hand cups Celia’s chin, tilting up her eyes to meet his.

:: Show me that you are strong. ::

Randy screams.

Celia: Celia has waited years for him to touch her like this. For his hands to cup her chin, for him to lift her gaze to his, for his lips to—

No. He’s missing that part.

He’s always missing that part.

He will never love her.

Not like Stephen had.

Not like Roderick did.

Not even like Randy does.

Randy, whose screams echo in her ears. Randy, who she’d teased for years because he’s so cute when he’s flustered. Randy, who is never too busy to answer her calls. Who is always there for her. Who is brave to the point of stupidity, and would never let anything bad happen to her. Not while he’s around. She still lies to him about killing people. Still protects him from the worst side of herself. Because he was her Stephen stand-in for all those years. Warm. Strong. Gentle.

Innocent.

With Roderick cracked, who is left to take that role?

She stares into the lifeless eyes of her sire and knows the truth: he’s more monstrous than any of the rest of their kind. How long does it take to get that way? How many hundreds of years? How old is he, or what was wrong with him in his mortal life that he turned into this?

Who hurt him?

And how had she ever thought she’d be enough to fix it?

The words from that night come back to her. “Great evil… upon this child… curse… this child.”

Him, the cursed child. The demonic presence. And he’d chosen her. What does that say about her? What does that say about what he saw inside of her? Is Caroline right, that their histories made them ideal candidates for their Embrace: beaten, weak, submissive. Or is there more to it than that?

They will kill him. Savoy, Roderick, Caroline, Pete. The whole city wants him dead. She will be the only one who misses him. The only one who mourns him.

And still he tortures her.

No practical returns, he says, as if there is nothing practical in the way that the ghoul has held her together these long years through long nights of loneliness and isolation. As if his ability to regenerate and her ability to sculpt the flesh back onto his bones will leave him down and out. As if she cares that she’ll need to slaughter a dozen people to give him what he needs to survive.

All these people around her and no one she can be herself with. Always a mask. Always another lie. Another part of her she hides to be what they want her to be, who they want her to be. Her mother’s daughter. Her father’s daughter. Donovan’s childe. Savoy’s grandchilde. Veronica’s childe. The damsel. The doctor. The healer. The helper. The liar.

Jade.

Celia.

Someone Else.

Someone Else stares out from Celia’s eyes and Jade’s face.

:: All she ever wanted was to love you. ::

The collar chafes. Even now, with her ghoul bleeding out on the ground, with the remnants of her sanity slipping away, she wants his approval. Wants him to pat her on the head. Wants him to bring her into his arms when it’s done.

And he won’t.

He never will.

He’s not that guy.

She’s not that girl.

Maybe she never was. Maybe that’s why he had taken her. Or maybe it was all an accident, and her presumed loyalty is just an advantageous byproduct. Years of watching her mother go through it and she turned out just the same: accepting his abuse because she thinks she deserves it. Broken cycle? No. Not for her.

Someone Else reaches for his sword, closing her fingers around the handle. She tugs. It’s too big for her. Too heavy. She doesn’t have much experience with swords. But who needs experience when all she’s doing is cleaving a head from a body?

She swings.

GM: The saber isn’t as heavy as perhaps she expected. Randy and Reggie only ever showed her how to practice with knives, but Emily had passed on that fact from Robbie. Robby said historic swords actually aren’t that heavy. They’re meant to be used, after all.

Then again, it’s not like she’s picking this up for a fight.

Randy’s limbless body flops onto its back. The smell of blood is so strong. She can drink from him. He’ll have delivered a vessel after all.

He was never much good at that, hunting for her.

Was never much good at a lot of stuff, next to his brothers. What the fuck was she going to use a race car driver for anyway? Cars to Mélissaire are just a hobby.

Randy flops onto his back. His face is a mosaic of raw, uncomprehending agony. Every line deepened a thousandfold. Tears stream from his bloodshot eyes. Blood freely leaks from his broken nose. He smells like piss and shit, past the blood. He looks up at Celia with wide, delirious eyes. Boy’s eyes, blue or green or hazel, once bright with life and unearned confidence. For a moment, he does not even seem to see the sword. A fragile smile touches his lips as he whispers,

“…babe…?”

Then the steel parts his head from his neck.

Blood sprays over Celia’s face.

The severed head rolls across the floor. It hits the wall with a light thump. It rolls over onto its side, fragile smile frozen eternally in place.

Boy’s eyes stare up at her.

Celia: His screams echo in her ears long after the noise itself dies.

Long after he dies.

One of the girls inside of her had once told another person how the sound of screaming is what sticks with someone when the rest of the memory has faded. How the smell of blood and the sight of gore will be the first thing to go, drifting into the obscurity of long-lost thoughts. Hazy. You can tug at it when you want, force yourself to see it again, let your brain fill in the details that you forget over the years.

But it’s the screaming that haunts your sleep. She’ll never forget the sound of his death rattle. Dozens of lives taken with her own hand and this will be the one that sticks. She’ll add it to the raw, throat-bleeding pitch her mother had reached the night Maxen sawed through her leg. The ragged, throaty gasps when she’d been transported high above the city in the arms of a monster.

Funny. He’d been there for all three of the screams in her collection.

The saber drips blood when she’s done with it. One of the girls’ mother had once said that you should clean something when you’re done with it, before you give it back. Or if it’s an empty container you fill it. Bake a pie. Make a casserole. Et cetera.

It’s just good manners.

Someone Else wipes the bloody blade across the remnants of her dress. The steel comes away gleaming. Wordlessly, she offers it back to Donovan.

GM: Her sire accepts the clean blade, opens his coat, and sheaths it in the scabbard hanging from his hip. All like she’s returning one of her mom’s rinsed-out tupperware containers.

He cups her face in his pale, mercilessly strong hands. She wonders if he could crack her skull like an egg between them.

:: You have shown strength. ::

:: I am pleased. ::

Corpse-cold lips meet hers.

Celia: Corpse-cold. Like Roderick’s now. Like Randy’s, if she were to pluck his head from the ground and press her lips against his.

No, Dicentra whispers, he was mortal. It takes longer than that for his body to cool. Randy would still be warm.

She’ll never be warm.

She’ll never sleep with him now. Seven years of promises, date finally set, and it ends with the swing of a sword.

She’ll see that fragile, broken smile every time she closes her eyes. Hear that final “…babe…” playing on loop.

Something gives.

That’s the thing about ice: it cracks under pressure.

It starts as a giggle. He touches his lips to hers and she giggles. And then she isn’t Someone Else anymore, she’s Jade and she has the sheriff in her grasp, and she’s not the passive lover that Celia had once been, letting him kiss her and leave her with nothing but a smear of blood on her lips.

Her hands seize his coat, pulling herself closer to him because she’s under no illusion that he’ll move toward her. She’s empty, but he can fill her. Her lips part beneath his brutal assault, fangs flashing. Him?

The blood.

And the whore inside of her.

She lies with her body rather than her tongue—though she lies with that too. Eager. Like nothing has changed, like it hasn’t broken. She nips at him with her fangs. He’d made her kill her boy. He will give her this.

GM: So he does.

Winter-cold fangs trail down her throat, then stab into her neck. The ice has cracked. He flows in. Strong arms seize up Celia, Jade, whoever in their grasp. Her back smashes against the wall, hard enough to crack bone. She didn’t see either of them move. Rapture shudders through her as his frigid kiss takes hold, an orgasm rippling through her neck. There’s another gory crunch. She sees his foot has stomped in Randy’s skull. The fragile smile is only half a smile. The other side of his face is blood and gore and messy shards of bone. Her sire picks it up by the hair, then pulls away from her, retracting his fangs. The bliss ends, but crimson fills her nose. A low slurp sounds as the sheriff drinks his fill from what’s left of Randy. Holding it out for her, too, to claim her fill.

Waste not, want not.

Celia: Waste not.

She would have had her fill later. But she’s pleased that he offers. That they’re sharing a meal together.

It’s all so normal.

The collar she had tugged so hard at earlier this evening suddenly doesn’t feel so tight anymore.

Suspended in the air with her sire’s body holding her up, her legs around his waist and back against the wall, all she has to do is lean in to move her fangs from her sire to Randy’s corpse. She does so, the already-cooling blood a familiar taste across her tongue. She meets his eyes over their shared “vessel.” There’s something inherently intimate about drinking together.

She’s not done with him when it’s over. When they drain the body she leans in to lick the blood from his lips and the sound she makes isn’t entirely human.

It’s a feline sound. A purr. Her whole form vibrates with the sound, eyes alight in sated desire.

She was never so bold with him before. She always let him lead, only accepted what he offered. Tonight, though, she took what she wanted.

She doesn’t wiggle when they’re done, content to hold the position against him. She rests a cheek on his shoulder.

He said he’d hear everything. That he’d see everything. Was he in her head? Or lying about it? Or following, invisible, undetected by either of them? No wonder he prefers the mind to mind contact. She should learn.

If he was, though, then she doesn’t need to waste his time repeating it.

And Roderick… she doesn’t know how to fix him, but she won’t betray him by actively spilling about him. She’d done that once and look where she’d ended up for it: with a boyfriend as fucked in the head as she is. Unbalanced. He’d told her to drop the scared woman act, but those hands around her throat had been too convincing, too similar to another raging Brujah, to leave her as anything other than distinctly nervous.

He said she could trust him. It goes both ways.

GM: Her sire drinks what’s left of Randy with her. He picks up each of the ghoul’s four severed limbs, sucks from them like drumsticks while she does the same, then tosses them aside once they’re spent. Randy’s torso gets the same treatment. The neck is still the best place to feed. Her sire rolls up his sleeve, extends the blade from her bracer, and carves open Randy’s chest. There’s even more to drink there. He pries open the ribcage with his pale, brutally strong fingers, and squeezes the heart to make the blood flow.

They drain what’s left of her ghoul until nothing remains.

Her sire lets the exsanguinated body parts hit the floor like emptied beer cans.

Perhaps, on another occasion, they might fuck all night long.

But sharing a meal is nice.

For Jade. For Someone Else.

Celia alone feels for what’s become of Randy.

Feels enough to tug against the collar.

To tug, and tug, and tug until—

But that’s not a face she can wear. Those aren’t thoughts she can think. Not here.

Her other selves can handle this.

It’s like she said to Clairmont.

They keep her safe.

It’s her sire who finally breaks contact. Randy’s hand gorily crunches apart under the uncaring tread of his feet as he makes his way to the sink. He cleans the blood from his waterproofed coat.

Celia: It’s the heart that makes her realize maybe they are cut from the same cloth after all. When he rips open the chest with no regard for the fact that it was once a living, breathing person and drains the blood, squeezing the heart to get out every last drop. She can almost forget that it’s Randy, caught up in appreciating that they have a similar style of consumption.

But only almost.

Reggie had done something similar last night, when she’d drained the mortal and the thin-blood. Stomped across them. She’d thought it was hot when he’d done it. Had turned it into a flirty little game. “Make me cum right when he dies.”

It’s less fun when it’s her ghoul who died. Her boy who is trod upon.

She watches the brisk, meticulous movements of her sire. She almost offers the shower in the other room, idly wondering what he looks like beneath the coat. She’s never seen. Just the forearm. Like some sort of Victorian-era ankle glimpse.

GM: He cleans the blood from that same forearm. It may as well be chiseled from white stone for all the life and fleshy softness that Celia sees.

He cleans the blood from his bracer. She had wondered if he would care what the leather was made from, then decided he would not.

Her sire finishes, then strides towards the door.

Celia: She had told Roderick to trust her. And her sire had said he will know everything. A waste, isn’t it, to repeat what he already knows? Will he think that she doubts him? That she doesn’t believe him capable of attaining it?

He’s capable. He knows. He has to know.

…unless he doesn’t know. If he didn’t hear. If he wasn’t in her head the whole time.

She has so many questions, and the taste on her tongue tells her that now is the time. But first… she has to tell. Her heart demands it. She cannot sit idly by while a threat to her sire looms in the darkness.

:: He’s going to try to kill you. ::

GM: :: He will die. ::

Celia:: :: He’s bringing friends. ::

It’s not that she doesn’t think he can handle them. It’s that she’s concerned. For him. And for the boy she used to know.

:: He wants me to help. ::

The offer is implicit: to keep abreast of their plans.

GM: :: Do so. ::

Celia: She nods.

:: Report? Or wait until after Savoy? ::

She’d rather not waste his time by making him meet with her twice, but she’ll have a better idea of things after she meets with his sire.

GM: :: Wait. ::

Celia: Celia nods. She waits a beat, putting aside the things that she will share with him on their next rendezvous. Still, fragments of thoughts race through her mind, things that demand her attention. Things that demand his attention. Wait, he said.

But the collar tugs. Celia stops fighting it.

:: Saw Malveaux-Devillers again. Recon. Threatened ‘Jade.’ Said she has ‘ended older and more powerful licks.’ Said she took on many at once. Wouldn’t have paid it much attention—bragging—but Savoy and Preston said she’s lethal. ::

There’s a momentary pause. Celia knows her sire can handle himself. But it’s a nagging feeling. Souls for power. Like mother, like daughter.

:: She’s suspicious of you. Said she’s going away soon. Might make a move against you with time limited as it is. She met with Savoy. ::

Apprehension gnaws at her. Souls for power. Secret. She’s not supposed to know.

:: Something is strange there. Friend, prior to my Embrace, warned me her mother isn’t human. Saw him again, ghost. Was collecting souls for Devillers matriarch. Savoy told me… clan that consumes souls. Souls for power. ::

She doesn’t say the word. She can’t say the word.

:: Lebeaux said it’s the blackest sort of magic. ::

She waits again. Then, her voice faint in his mind,

:: Malveaux-Devillers said it. Knows about the act. Souls for power. ::

GM: Her sire’s frigid gaze bores into Celia.

He does not speak.

Then:

:: Caroline Malveaux-Devillers is now the prime suspect in the bishop’s disappearance. ::

Celia: Celia does not flinch before her sire’s gaze. Perhaps even more intimate than his fangs in her neck is his eyes on hers.

But his voice in her head… that is certainly news. It fits, doesn’t it? Older, stronger. Ended. She took his soul? Celia hadn’t thought he was dead, only disappeared.

Is she going after his allies? That’s the rumor, that the bishop would have been Donovan’s seneschal. Even Roderick had heard that one.

Her lips press together. She does not like this idea of people after her sire. She does not want that self-serving, conniving cunt to eat her way into power, or to cheat her way into besting the sheriff so that she can consume his soul. He is hers, just as she is his. Celia pushes the anger aside. There is no room here for anger, only a steady flow of information. She sends him the images of Caroline’s rooftop, the Giani Building, with her retinue of armed guards. How many had been there with Jade? Too many. Too many guns. Tight security. Assault rifles aimed at the elevator, a funnel and death trap.

The ghouls. Roger’s face. Whitney’s. The seasonal one, Winter or Spring or… Autumn, that’s it. The bald one. The other men and women she surrounds herself with, some of them unblooded. Her security team.

A pause, then another slew of images. The inside of an elevator, floor number selected. A hallway. A door, a number on the door. Caroline’s haven. The layout Celia had been shown during her time with the girl.

No doubt Caroline had kept more secrets from her, but this, at least, will give her sire some idea of what to expect.

GM: Her sire is silent as he receives the telepathic flow of intelligence.

:: The bishop was last seen upon the night of March 7th, PM. Investigate Malveaux-Devillers’ whereabouts and activities upon this night and subsequent nights. Investigate the same for these ghouls and kine. If she is guilty, she will suspect investigation by the Guard de Ville that she will not suspect from you. ::

Celia: :: Yes, sire. ::

She will help find the bishop’s killer. He was not her friend, but he was her sire’s. That is enough for her.

His lack of anger at her reveal—souls for power—gives her an opening to press further. She does.

:: Can it be undone? Safeguarded against? ::

There’s a book about a teenage boy who had a fragment of someone else’s soul inside of him. It prevented the owner of the soul from ever really dying until all the fragments of his soul had been destroyed. Their kind has shed their mortal coils… but souls, those can be split, can’t they? Diana’s had been. Her father’s had been. Was that what it was, a fragment of her sire’s soul inside of Maxen? And Paul… the bloodshot eyes, that hiss.

GM: :: Yes. ::

:: Savoy and his agents are otherwise the primary suspects. Ascertain whether his hand was involved. Peter Lebeaux and Rongeur would have been directly involved in the assassination cover-up if the task was not outsourced to third parties. Ascertain these individuals’ activities and whereabouts upon March 7th. ::

:: I have already investigated Peter Lebeaux’s activities. He has an alibi. You will corroborate it. ::

Celia: Yes what? That it can be undone? Prevented? Is he protected?

Celia nods at his orders—she needs to speak to Lebeaux anyway, and the other is… well, he’s something—but isn’t willing to let the other subject drop. If he were anyone but who he is she would touch a hand to his cheek, step into the circle of his arms, tell him… tell him what burns inside of her heart. But he is who he is.

:: Are you protected against it? And if not… can I assist? ::

He’s a big boy. He can handle himself. But what she feels for him? That pushes her.

GM: :: Malveaux-Devillers will be framed for the bishop’s destruction if she is not guilty and apprehended for it if she is. Cause problems for her. Cause problems for her allies. Poison Kindred against her. Poison Savoy’s followers against her. Discover the nature of her meeting with my sire. Undermine its fruits, if any. ::

:: Do not yet leak the truth of her sire. It will draw other Kindred to her banner. Leak that she is Matheson’s bastard. ::

:: The Anarchs despise me. You may approach them where I may not. They bear no love for her. Turn them further against her. ::

Celia: She will. She has been. These are good plans, all of them. She has friends in the Anarchs, as he says, and can turn them away from her. But none of that matters if Caroline makes some play against him. Roderick had said she’s alone, friendless, desperate.

:: Yes, sire. I will. As you say. In addition to what you said… I’d thought to frame her for a breach of the Masquerade. With my ability. ::

He knows what ability. And Harlequin is supposed to be neutral. So is the Krewe of Janus. If no one knows who Caroline is there’s no reason not to take her out if she’s so sloppy that she’s making rookie mistakes, especially if she’s Matheson’s bastard. His is the most hated name in the city these nights.

GM: Moments pass. Her sire’s face remains as opaque as ever.

:: Do so. ::

:: Harlequin suspects she is more than she appears. The mistake must stem from arrogance or misfortune. Not ignorance. ::

:: Harlequin sees through many deceptions. Ensure he is not the Krewe member to personally respond or investigate. ::

Celia: That long silence makes her wonder if she overstepped. If her offer to blatantly breach the Masquerade as Caroline sounds… stupid. But she waits for a rebuke that never comes. He gives her guidance instead.

She wonders for a moment if she will ever be this capable and intelligent. If she will ever be as conniving as her sire and grandsire. If she will ever be able to pull the strings and be as manipulative as her grandsire—because while she’s perfectly capable of pushing around a thin-blood and a neonate, she knows that he has pulled off things on a much larger scale than she’s ever considered. Her sire, too.

What she’d give to be able to learn from him.

:: Yes, sire. I understand. ::

A tall order to take on Caroline on her own if she has been practicing that sort of soul stealing. If she has truly ended licks that old and powerful. Celia has never been a fighter; this will be a war from the shadows, cloak and dagger and poison smiles.

:: If she did as you said… if she took his soul for power… you know whose childe she is. How strong her blood. Stronger, with his death. ::

Her eyes search his face. She doesn’t doubt him. But desperation can turn even the lowliest hare into a fighter.

Celia finally reaches out. She touches her hand to his chest, just above where his heart should beat. His chest is cold and still beneath her palm.

:: She’s feral. Desperate. Willing to take on whoever, whatever. You know the rumors about her and Meadows. She can’t afford to be sloppy again. ::

He’s stronger than her. Stronger than she has ever been. Every time he has touched her she has marveled at it, at the restraint he shows, at how easily he could crush her with barely a thought. He can handle himself. But still she worries. Still she recoils from the idea of him losing, his soul consumed, lost to her forever.

:: If there is a way to prevent it… name it, the price, name it and I’ll do it. Whatever it is. For you, I’ll do it. ::

She has been his since the moment he entered her life.

:: I won’t take chances. Not with you. ::

GM: Celia would.

She would pay any price.

Anything to keep him safe.

Anything to keep his soul his own.

Surely he sees that.

Perhaps he does.

Her sire turns away.

He steps out into the rain.

Then he’s gone in an eyeblink.

Celia: He’s there.

Then he’s not.

Her heart lurches at his abrupt departure. Unsaid words linger in her mind. She only wanted to help. Of course she thinks he can take care of himself. And he has always taken care of her. The hunters. The dollhouse. He has looked out for her, slain enemies for her, hunted down the hunters for her.

She’d only wanted to return the favor.

Celia pulls her phone from her pocket, scrolling through her list of contacts until she finds three letters: MCH. She taps a quick message, warning him to stay alert near CO, that she expects trouble. It’s an old code between part time lovers, if they could even be called that. After it’s sent she slips the phone back into her pocket.

She doesn’t care how little the chance of his demise, she would do anything to reduce it to zero. To ensure his survival, no matter what.

Her Requiem means nothing if he’s not with her.

I love you, she thinks, and the skies weep at the silence.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM

Celia: There’s little enough time for her to do any of the fifteen tasks she would like to do before Elysium starts. She’d like to skip it, if she’s being honest with herself, but fuck if she doesn’t want to hear about not being there again. And with Roderick pissed at her, who is going to tell her what she missed? He’s going to be like every other lick, determining how useful she is to him or dropping her like last month’s old news.

So she multitasks.

She starts stripping the body—body, she has to think of it like a body, not like the living, breathing person he once was, not the warm boy she’d shielded from the worst sides of herself, not the boy she had planned on falling into bed with tonight because she needs the comfort—

She can’t think about what she’s doing.

It’s a body. Like anyone else on her table. She reduces who he was to a series of muscles, bones, tendons. That’s all he is now. That’s all he can be or she’s going to start spiraling down a dark path that she can’t—she can’t, she can’t, she can’t.

For one long moment she closes her eyes, breathing in hard through her nose. It still doesn’t do anything for her. She gets back to work.

And while she works she calls his brother.

GM: “Yeah?” he asks after picking up.

Celia: “Hey.” What do you say to someone whose twin you just killed? Triplet. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know yet. She has time. It’s just a body.

“Manage to catch up with your friend today?”

GM: “Yep. You want me to stop by?”

Celia: “I don’t have time. Have to meet someone. Can meet you after?”

GM: “Randy couldn’t find a pizza he was okay with. I’d scoped out a million places. Fucking idiot.”

Celia: “Oh. I was wondering what happened there.”

“Forgot how picky he is.”

GM: “Randy happened.”

Celia: Is. Not was. That’s good. Good cover.

GM: “He’s just such an idiot.”

Celia: “He was helpful today, though? With your friend?”

GM: “Yeah, he was okay there. How’s in a couple hours?”

“Flawless or LegalWings, whatever.”

Celia: “Sure. I’ll give you a buzz. You guys still hanging?”

GM: “Who, Randy?”

Celia: “No, your buddy.”

GM: “He’s an idiot, but he’s not going anywhere.”

“Brother and all.”

Celia: “Meant your friend,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t know if it was an all day affair. I assume Randy isn’t going anywhere.”

That’s natural, right?

Is it?

Would she say that?

GM: “No way, with how obsessed with you he is. You’ll be the death of him.”

Celia: Yeah.

She will.

GM: “We aren’t, anyway. Had to take off.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: The clock is ticking.

Celia: “Never mind, tell me later.”

“I’ll see you in a bit.”

GM: “A’ight. I’ll fuck your brains out.”

Celia: “Looking forward to it.”

GM: Click.

Celia: There isn’t much left of Randy to strip into parts. She’s done with him by the time the call ends, already reaching for a spare set of clothes so she can get home, change, and head to Elysium. She pulls the battery out of his phone and takes a spare minute to delete the security footage showing his appearance. Then she’s out the door with the rest of his personal effects to dispose of them.

She has a feeling it’s going to be a long night.

View
Celia V, Chapter XXII
Buried Sons

“Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie.”
Celia Flores


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani is gone when Celia wakes up, but she’s left a note saying she’s at Diana’s house for the dinner with Henry. That’s still on.

There’s no texts from Roderick.

There’s one from Alana, though, about how much she misses Celia.

Dinner is pretty soon, and already a later one by kine standards. Any hunting looks like it will take place after that’s over.

There’s a text from her mom, though, saying she’s also prepared a helping of “your new favorite food! :)” to serve tonight.

Celia: She didn’t expect a message from Roderick. She tells herself it’s okay. He’d done this once when they were kine, too. Didn’t answer. Then just showed up. Maybe he’s doing that again.

She tries to ignore the fact that it’s the night her mom was kidnapped.

Celia keeps scrolling, looking for an answer from Mel. She checks in on the boys while she’s at it.

GM: Mel has responded in an affirmative, Put you on the schedule.

Reggie says there’s good news and asks where and when she wants to meet.

Celia: She breathes a sigh of relief on both counts.

Her mother gets a heart response back. Alana does as well. Reggie gets a comment about after dinner.

She should have time before Elysium, she thinks.

Speaking of time… not much to waste before she’s late. She rises, showers, and dresses, keeping it elegant but casual. A nice dress. Nothing crazy. Nothing that Jade would wear, but still cute. Perfume. Heels.

It’s as she’s putting the finishing touches on her jewelry that she realizes she has the wrong face on. She huffs, fixing it, and touches up her makeup.

GM: It’s not the first time she’d have forgotten who she’s supposed to be.

Who even is she, anyway?

Celia: Celia, tonight.

That’s what the mirror says.

GM: Mirrors lie too.

She drives to her mom’s house and arrives to find the table set. Emily greets at the door with a hug and a “Damn, you look nice.” The smell of garlic and other savory scents hangs heavy in the warm, oven-heated air. Some windows are open to let it out. Diana and Lucy have kitchen aprons on as they toss a fruit salad together.

“Oh good, you’re here!” smiles her mom. “Hey Goose, let’s say hi to…”

The six-year-old hops off the kitchen stool, runs up to Celia, and seizes handfuls of her dress as she tries to clamber up the Toreador’s body like she’s scaling a rock wall.

“Hiiiiiiiii!”

“Oh, Luce, careful with her dress,” says Emily, scooping up the child to pass her to Celia.

“Dani’s arriving with her dad,” adds Diana with a smile for Lucy. “Say, sweetie, where’s your beau? Is he arriving on his own?”

Celia: It’s hard not to smile at the warm welcome, even if the oven makes her wary after everything she has found out and the thick smell of spices reminds her that she’s on a liquid diet for the rest of her unlife. Her Beast whines at her, reminding her that it wants blood, that she can play at being human all she wants but they both know the truth.

And these kine! They put themselves so close to her. Hugging. Holding. Smiling.

She smiles back, greeting her adoptive sister, accepting the offer of the child into her arms. How easy it would be to—

No, Celia reminds herself. Not them.

She spins the girl around with her, the hem of her dress lifting to swirl outward, and smothers the child’s face with kisses.

“Mwah, mwah, mwah!” She finds the tickle spot on her belly. “Here’s my little artist. I’ve gotten a whole bunch of compliments on that picture you drew me, you know. Gonna need to commission another.”

She keeps the child in her arms as her attention turns to her mother, offering a wry half-smile.

“I think so,” she says with an effected sigh. “He might be caught up at work, some big case I guess.”

GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms as Celia spins her around.

“Okay! I can draw lots more! Did ’Lana like it? And Landen?”

Alana didn’t have a word to say on it. Piper, Landen, Madison, and Natalie always have the most compliments for Lucy-related things.

Celia: “‘Lana was jealous I don’t hang her art,” Celia confides in a whisper.

GM: Lucy giggles some more. “Mine’s better.”

“It sure is, Goose. Best artist in the salon,” says Emily, tussling the girl’s hair.

“Best artist in this house, too,” adds Diana, smiling at Celia’s news. “Okay, good. We’re all really looking forward to meeting him!”

“Are you an’ Randy still friends?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia says to her daughter. “We still have a place together that I need to discuss with him. Figure some things out. We might still be friends. I think we both knew it wasn’t going anywhere, but we were comfortable.”

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy in a not quite understanding tone.

“Are he an’ your boyfriend gonna be friends?”

“That’s usually tricky,” Emily answers wryly.

“That usually is,” Diana echoes. “Say, sweetie, would you like to do my makeup? Doesn’t need to be anythin’ too fancy, home dinner and all, but Stephen’s dad is an important man and I want to look good!”

Celia: They certainly won’t be friends if Roderick tries to kill Reggie again.

“I’d love to,” Celia says to her mom. “No harm lookin’ good for the cute man coming over, right Emi?” Celia winks at her adoptive sister as she sets Lucy back on the ground so she can follow her mom down the hall to her room.

GM: “Yep. Knock him dead, Mom,” smirks Emily.

“Oh, you two,” says Diana with an amused roll of her eyes.

“They should just hold hands,” says Lucy.

Emily scoops up the child and carries her back to the kitchen area while Diana leads Celia back to the vanity in her bedroom. Dani’s clearly taken much of it over, though, judging by the presence of her various personal effects.

“I thought I’d feed you once dinner is over, sweetie,” says Diana as she sits down before the mirror. “So it’s like dessert, after a so-so meal.”

“And it usually makes me a lil’ woozy, so better after company’s gone.”

“I feel good, though! Energy levels were just fine at work. I think we can make this a nightly thing,” she smiles.

Celia: She’s hardly going to say no to the offer of blood. Especially if it doesn’t bother her mother at all.

“If you’re sure,” she says after a moment of looking the woman up and down, as if for signs of illness. “Okay. I’d like that. Thanks, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks more than fine to her.

“Thank you, sweetie. I want to feed you,” she says, taking off her apron and draping it nearby.

Celia: “I don’t know if Stephen is coming.” She turns away, gathering her mother’s makeup supplies. It’s not a full kit like Celia’s, but the mother of an esthetician still has plenty to choose from.

GM: The mother of an esthetician indeed has plenty of cosmetics (every last one a Flawless-recommended brand), though the disappointment on her face is plain at Celia’s news.

“Oh. Why not?”

Celia: The disappointment is echoed in her daughter’s.

“We got some bad news last night. He didn’t come home. Dani and I spent the night together, and she said he got like this last time. Withdrawn.”

GM: “Oh, no. I’m so sorry!” exclaims her mom. “Is there anything we can do for him?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says with a long sigh and shake of her head. “But if there is I’ll let you know.”

GM: “Please, do. How are things between the two of you? Still okay?”

Celia: “I think so.”

She hopes so.

GM: Her mom rubs her arm. “Okay. That’s good. I think that will mean a lot to him. Bad news is a little less bad when you have a love of your life to help you past it, at least.”

Celia: “Can’t be there for him if I can’t find him.”

“Was going to look after dinner.”

GM: “Oh. You don’t know where he is?” her mom asks with a worried look.

Celia: “No. I mean. I have a few places. I’m sure he does too.”

GM: “Do you still want to stay for dinner? I’m more than happy to have you over, but if you want to use the time for your beau, I completely understand.”

Celia: “There’s a function tonight, I’m sure he’ll be there if nothing else.”

Except he can’t be there as “Roderick” since his face is different.

Which means he has to seek her out if he wants her to change it back.

“I’m not blowing off dinner. He’s a big boy. He can handle himself.”

“I don’t need Mr. Garrison thinking I’m afraid of him or something.”

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods, “just thought I’d offer. I want your two’s relationship to work.”

Celia: “Kind of hoping he just shows up. I know he wants to see his dad again.”

GM: “I hope so too, I’d love to see him again! Is there anything in particular I should do around him, since, you know, vampire?”

Celia: “Don’t bleed, mostly. I didn’t tell him about you, either. I don’t want to lie to him, but Pe—er, my friend doesn’t think it’s safe.”

“But his clan is the angry clan.”

Celia works on her mother while they talk, using an array of brushes, powders, and pigments to give her a casual but flirty look. She keeps it toned down and suitable for her mother’s age and the fact that they’re staying in. One of those, “oh I just threw this on” looks.

GM: “Okay, don’t bleed or bring up vampire things,” her mom nods, sitting still before the mirror as her daughter does her face. “Oh, this looks very nice, sweetie. Pretty, but doesn’t look like we’re tryin’ too hard to be pretty either.”

Celia: “I’m glad you like it.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her mother’s ear. “Would it bother you if I told him about you?”

“And maybe… Dad?”

GM: “That I’m an, ah, ‘ghoul’,” her mom starts, then gives a little laugh. “Oh, I’m sorry, it just feels like such a funny name, still.”

“But no, I’d be fine if Stephen knows! I think he already knows all the dirty details when it comes to your father too, anyway.”

“I mean, he was there back when I was livin’ in that cruddy lil’ apartment.”

Celia: “He thinks it’s a bad idea to have him over on Sunday.”

GM: Her mom purses her lips slightly. “Emi thinks so too, I know.”

Celia: “I’m worried he’s going to try something with Lucy. Because of that vision you had.”

“If she wasn’t on the line I’d risk it, but now I’m just… nervous.”

GM: “You seemed to think it was a good idea earlier, sweetie. Did somethin’ happen to change your mind?”

Celia: “No. I guess not. I’m talking to someone tonight who knows more about it. And I’ll see the guy who, uh, claimed him at this event, so maybe I can… talk to him.”

As if she’d dare.

GM: “Okay, that all sounds good,” nods her mom. “Oh, say! I looked into that ‘glinko’ thing for you while I was at work, sweetie.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go?”

GM: “Well, I realized I wasn’t sure how you spelled it. Was it ‘g-l-i-n-k-o,’ or was it a ‘c’ instead of a ‘k’, or was it a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’, or was it both. Because I didn’t find all that much for ‘glinco’ with an ‘i’ and a ‘k.’”

Celia: “…hm. I’m not sure, actually, I heard it said.”

Had she been spelling it wrong? Like an idiot?

GM: “So, I looked around for all four spellings. And the one I actually found a lot of stuff for was ‘glynco’ with a ‘y’ and a ‘c.’”

Celia: “Glynco,” Celia echoes.

GM: Diana nods. “It’s a place, in Georgia.”

Celia: “Where in Georgia?”

“Or rather, tell me what you found and I won’t interrupt. I hate when people do that when I’m trying to explain things, sorry.”

GM: “It’s okay,” her mom smiles. “It’s in Glynn County. Or rather, it is Glynn County, ‘Glynco’ is the acronym. You can look it up, there’s basically only one thing there beyond the usual small Southern county stuff. It’s where the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers is located. It’s where basically every federal law enforcement agency except the FBI sends their recruits to learn the ropes of bein’ a fed. Like boot camp or OCS, but for cops. State and local agencies sometimes send people there, too. It’s a really big place. It has its own zip code!”

Celia: “…huh.”

What does that mean? That the government has its own little band of hunters running around? That would make sense, wouldn’t it, with how they’d acted? She’s seen the movies, she knows the tropes; all those “feds” hate the “local guys” and vice versa. No wonder they hadn’t wanted any help.

“That’s… a lot. Thank you. I was going the wrong direction with everything.”

“Thank you,” she says again, pulling her mom in for a hug.

GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “You’re welcome, sweetie! I’m really glad I could help you!”

Celia: “I know it’s been rocky lately, but you’re really the best mom a lick could ask for, you know that?”

GM: “Sorry, a lick?” she smiles as she lets Celia go. “Well, whatever it is, I’m glad. And you’re the best daughter any mom could ask for, makin’ me look so pretty for this nice dinner!”

Celia: “Vampire slang,” Celia says with a laugh. “And you’re already pretty. I just polished you up a little.”

GM: “That’s what you’re so good at, bringin’ out the best in everyone,” her mom smiles.

“Oh, by the way! I completely forgot to show you!”

She turns around on her seat and pulls up her dress, showing off Dicentra’s tattoo.

Celia: “Ooooh,” Celia enthuses, running a hand over the ink. “Very pretty, Mom.”

GM: “This is the tattoo Dr. Dicentra did for me! It really is, isn’t it? Ballerina bouquet!”

“I admit I wasn’t keen on the tattoo idea, but this really is just so pretty. And feels a little… rebellious,” she says with a low chuckle.

Celia: “It’s very fitting, Mom. Very you. I love it.”

GM: “I do, too!” says Diana, lowering her dress and turning back around. “I was stuck, you know, between flowers and a ballerina, so she suggested we just do both. So all those parts of me are on there.”

Celia: The hellebore is on there, too, thanks to Celia. The cure for insanity if you believe the old legends.

GM: “Oh, speakin’ of my body. I noticed lately that, ah, my tah-tahs are perkier,” says her mom in a low whisper, as if someone might overhear. “Is that because of anything to do with the blood, or just Flawless keepin’ me pretty?”

Celia: “Ah… that… um.”

“Kind of both?”

Technically it’s a thing with the blood.

And technically she runs Flawless.

So technically she’s not even lying.

“You won’t age while you have the blood.”

“And I’ve been doing some tricks on you when you come in, because you kind of implied I could, and I thought you wouldn’t mind…?”

“There’s things I can do that, like, a human can’t.”

Her mom has already seen it: Celia turning herself into Jade and back.

GM: “Oh, no, I don’t mind! Thank you very much, in fact. Like I said, sweetie, I’m play-doh in your hands on the spa table. You can do whatever you like to my body, I know you’ll make me pretty. I just wanted to know if this was due to you.” Her mom smiles. “I guess in hindsight it should’ve been obvious.”

Celia: “Well I’d hope not obvious. Can’t let people know,” Celia winks.

GM: “Oh, it wasn’t! I mean, people at work commented how pretty I looked, but I figured it was just more spa treatments. That’s what I told them, too. Recommendin’ your business wherever I can.” Her mom winks back. “But I wouldn’t have wondered if it was more if I hadn’t known about vampires and things.”

Celia: “Good. I’m glad. I try to keep it subtle.”

“I actually have some lick clients I make less attractive and age.” One client.

GM: “Now that sure is funny. Why would they want that?” Diana asks with a frown.

Celia: “Better for the Masquerade. That’s why I’ve continued to age and can stick around in your life, because I can change my appearance. A lot of us can’t. And it’s a dead giveaway. Stephen had to fake his death. I would have had to too, eventually.”

GM: “Oh. That is true. I guess I took it for granted, that all vampires did,” her mom says thoughtfully.

Celia: “We have mortal identities sometimes. But they never stick around for long. Or they’re reclusive.”

GM: “I’m glad you can. Dani told me about what losing Stephen did to their father. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“I know. I fought to keep you in my life. I wasn’t going to disappear if I didn’t have to.”

“And I’m… you know, I try to be better about it. I don’t feed on Emily or Lucy or anything. Or you, until you, uh, offered.”

“And with the second identity not many people could trace me back to you.”

GM: “Oh. I don’t think that would be a good idea at all, to feed on them,” her mother says concernedly. “They can’t consent. I know how important that is for you, with spa treatments.”

“And Lucy’s just a kid. She can’t even donate blood, legally. She still needs all of hers.”

“So I think you made the right decision there.”

“I know what I’m gettin’ into and have the blood to spare. I used to give at the hospital with Emi, every so often. Obviously not anymore now with you.”

Celia: “A lot of people like me don’t see it like that. Older you get, the less you care. Lose touch with mortals and stuff. They can be awful.”

“So I try to keep a clear divide.”

“And wouldn’t put you guys at risk like that.”

GM: “I think that… you did a bit, with Jade,” her mother ventures quietly.

“But I’m sorry, don’t mean to belabor the point. You walked back and that’s what matters.”

Celia: “I did. I put you at risk coming to you that night. I was hungry and it was close to dawn and I’d just gotten into two fights.” One-sided fights, both of them, but fights all the same. “It was irresponsible. And that night, with Jade… I was struggling to figure out what to do with you because I messed up bringing you into this, and I was mad. I lashed out.”

“I’m sorry.”

GM: Her mom hugs her. “It’s okay, baby. You fixed it, and that’s, that’s what counts. You saved me from goin’ back to… her, too, and leavin’ Lucy to grow up without her mother. I don’t think I even thanked you for that, did I?” she asks with a sniff.

Celia: “You don’t need to, Momma. I’d do anything for you and Luce, you know that.”

GM: “Well, thank you anyway. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you. Goin’ back there would have been…” her mom shudders, “like that… that moment in your office with Jade. With you as Jade. Just… forever…”

Celia: “I’m not gonna let that happen.”

“I’ve gone up against bigger, scarier things than her to keep you safe.”

GM: “I know you won’t, sweetie. I feel safe with you. And Emi and I still have that next lesson with Robby on Sunday, too, so… you won’t always have to do the heavy liftin’, hopefully.”

Celia: “When you’re ready, if you’re open to it, I can find another teacher for you. And there are tricks of the blood I can show you. Make you faster. Sturdier. I know you don’t want this life, but there’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ prepared.”

GM: “You’re right, there definitely isn’t,” her mom nods. “I actually have felt… lighter on my feet, already. More flexible. I actually did a couple positions lately that made Emi’s jaw drop, and she’d been sayin’ for years before that I had slinkies for joints,” she chuckles. “That’s the blood?”

Celia: “That’s the blood,” Celia confirms.

“My sire shared her skills with me once. Speed, strength, durability. All of it. I felt… like a god. Like I could do anything.”

GM: “They say to treat your body like a temple. Take good care of it, and I guess you’ll really feel the divine.”

“Though I guess that’s more than just takin’ good care.”

Celia: “Not much you can’t do with it. I’ve seen and heard of some crazy things.”

GM: “I’ll take your word for it,” Diana nods. “If there’s more tricks you want to teach me, I’d be happy to learn. There’s obviously a lot of ways bein’ faster and sturdier can come in handy with ballet.”

Celia: “What, you don’t want to be a cat like me?” Celia teases.

GM: Her mom laughs. “I’m sure that’d be… interesting! Little out there for me, but I’d be happy to give you belly rubs. Lucy, too.”

Celia: Celia makes a sound that’s almost a purr. Then she is purring, stretched out on her mother’s lap with her belly exposed, tail flicking in quiet contentment.

Luna does so love her belly rubs.

GM: “Oh my, goodness!” her mother laughs again, then proceeds to do just that, rubbing and scratching her fingers along the cat’s exposed furry belly. It’s a heavenly feeling for Luna, though there is an instinctive urge to claw at the laughing woman’s hands. Every cat owner knows the belly might always be a trap.

“Who’s a happy lil’ kitty, huh?”

Celia: Luna is a happy little kitty. She shows it with how her whole body vibrates while she purrs, pawing at her mother’s hands with sheathed claws. She blinks long and slow at Diana, conveying her feline affection.

Yeah, she thinks, life as a cat might not be so bad.

GM: “Oh, yes, Lucy would just love to play with you,” Diana murmurs, keeping one hand busy along the cat’s belly while her other moves up, scratching Luna’s chest and neck, and finally the underside of her head. These hands know how to please a cat.

“Huh? Huh? Who wikes sum scwatches on the chinny-chin-chin, huh?” Diana asks in her kitty voice.

Celia: Luna is content to enjoy the attention of Celia’s mother for a few long moments, purring and meowing and otherwise showing her appreciation for the physical affection. Soon, though, she knows that the girl inside has to come back out and deal with the rest of the evening. She finishes the session by rubbing her face on Diana’s cheek to mark the human as hers and leaps to the side, shifting to regain her form before her paws ever touch the ground.

GM: “That’s just… so…” Celia’s mom murmurs, smiling and shaking her head.

Celia: “Awesome,” Celia supplies.

GM: Diana laughs. “I guess that’s a good word.”

“I’m happier to pet a kitty than be a kitty, anyway, but I’d love to learn any tricks that help with ballet!”

“Sturdier would help just as much as bein’ faster. It is a very demanding activity on your body.” There’s a rueful smile. “And I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Celia: “I’ll show you some,” Celia says, “once life calms down a little. Randy might have to show you some of the stoneskin stuff, though, I never learned myself.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds good,” her mom nods. “Randy’s okay with you guys breaking up?”

“Or, well. I guess you said you’d just been pretending.”

“That still seems just so strange to me, sweetie, no offense,” she chuckles.

Celia: “There’s a pretty blurred line with my ghouls and I. I think because I’m young, they’re still… people to me. Most of us wouldn’t even pretend to date one, but he was a good cover.”

GM: “Well, we were startin’ to wonder why he hadn’t put a ring on your finger yet,” winks Diana. “Anyway, we’ve taken up enough time, I bet our guests will be here soon.”

Celia: “Probably. We should get back out there.”

GM: Her mom nods and squeezes her hand. “This has had challenges, sweetie. But I’m glad I know the real you. Tellin’ the truth always feels just so much better.”

Celia: It seems like that sentiment has been popping up everywhere lately.

Still, she’s seen what it had done to Roderick, and she’s wondering if everyone’s “wise advice” isn’t as wise as all that.

Time will tell.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Celia gets a text from Dani saying she and her dad are a little ways away. Hadn’t she wanted to speak with him private? Before he comes inside would be a good time.

Celia’s mother insists on equipping her with an umbrella. “I think it’s goin’ to rain, sweetie! Don’t get wet!”

Celia: It’s always going to rain in this city.

Celia sends Dani a quick thanks and snags the umbrella from her mom.

“Just a quick chat with him,” she says to Diana, “but better safe than sorry.” She heads outside to wait.

GM: Her mom nods in agreement as she heads out.

It’s not long before the Garrisons’ car pulls up to the house’s to the small courtyard. It’s been seven years since Celia last saw Roderick’s father. Mr. Garrison has not aged well.

There are much deeper wrinkles under his eyes and lines along his jaw than Celia remembers. None of them look from smiling. His hair is thinner and has gone almost completely gray with a few strands of white. Celia can see why her father decided to just shave his all off. In comparison to her mother, who looks like she’s aged maybe half the years since Celia’s Embrace, Roderick’s father looks like those years have been twice as long for him.

The spa treatments are undoubtedly part of it.

But there is a shadow to the older man’s eyes that all the facials and waxings and body wraps in the world can’t take away. The experienced esthetician doesn’t need long to make that assessment.

“Celia,” Mr. Garrison greets perfunctorily. The words aren’t cool, but he doesn’t smile either. He’s dressed in dark slacks with a pale blue button-up shirt. He has a light coat and umbrella against the now-drizzling rain, which he’s holding over Dani. She has on a light purple shirt and black skirt.

“I told him the gist of the story,” says Dani, rubbing her dad’s shoulder.

“I’ll head inside if you two want to talk privately?”

Celia: It’s not the years. Not the spa treatments. Not the blood.

It’s the loss. The grief. Losing a child. No parent should ever have to bury their children. She can’t imagine the amount of pain that puts someone through. She’s lost people before—her sister, for all that they weren’t close at the end—and sometimes still feels a pang of hurt for what had happened to them. What she’d done.

But it’s nothing compared to what she sees in his face.

Haunted.

Celia finds a subdued smile for Dani, nodding her head in agreement at the girl’s offer.

“Thanks, Dani. We’ll just be a minute.”

She watches the girl go. Only once the door closes does Celia turn to look back at Henry. Mr. Garrison. Her should-be father-in-law. Would-be.

Will-be.

“Mr. Garrison,” Celia begins, “thank you for coming tonight. I guess Dani already told you most of it, but I wanted to… explain.”

GM: She supposes it’s no surprise her own parent has weathered the years so much better.

After all, Diana got a new child.

Mr. Garrison walks his daughter up to the house’s front steps, umbrella held overhead, and opens the door for her. Dani nods her thanks as she heads inside.

He turns to face Celia when they’re alone.

“Go ahead.”

Celia: “I don’t know how much she told you,” Celia says after a quiet moment, “but I’d like to tell you the rest of it. All of it.”

Rain patters across the umbrella, the water dripping to the ground below.

“I loved your son, Mr. Garrison. More than anything. We met and he… he changed my life. My family’s life. I don’t know if he told you about the abuse, or the time he met my father, or the things he used to do to me. To my mom. To my siblings. I don’t know that I would have been able to get out on my own. Stephen gave me courage. And hope. He was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“We’d spoken about going away together. Getting out of the shadow that my father cast across us. He wanted to wait until he finished undergrad; he said he could go to law school anywhere. We’d briefly discussed a future together. Marriage. Kids.”

“It was all years off. He had to finish school. I was only nineteen. Neither of us were ready for that commitment. We’d had a, a scare, actually,” Celia flushes, looking away before she gathers herself. “I was late. And he’d said he wasn’t ready yet. That if I was, he’d rather… he wanted to wait. To find a solution to that.” Abortion, she means; she hopes he understands without the need to spell it out.

“So I said okay, if that happened we’d take care of it. It turned out to be nothing. We were both relieved.”

She pauses.

“The… there was a night when I had to go to the ER because of something that happened at home. The following night I was out. It was late. I was stupid. I was assaulted.” She takes a breath. “Raped, Mr. Garrison. I was raped. And with everything going on with my dad at the time, it didn’t occur to me to take a pill. So by the time I found out what had happened, it was too late to take the easy out. I went to a clinic.”

“I thought it would be easy. Suck it out. No problem.”

“It wasn’t. I don’t know if you know this, but they do an ultra-sound. Make you look at what you’re getting rid of before they’ll do the procedure. Talk about it like it’s already alive. I think that’s the point. Make young girls like me reconsider. Play on our feelings. Hormones.”

“It worked.”

“I knew Stephen wasn’t ready for that. And I knew he’d want to be. To do the right thing. Because that was who he was. Always doing the right thing for everyone. So I did what I thought was the right thing for him. I told him that I cheated on him so he didn’t… so he didn’t throw his life away on me.”

She doesn’t need to force the emotion. The way her voice cracks at the end is very, very real.

She wants to cry. She wants to, but she can’t, not in front of Mr. Garrison. So the world does it for her. The clouds loose the tears that she refuses to let fall, plinking off the umbrella, landing against the ground. Water splashes over her shoes.

“I thought it was right, and I wish I could take it back, and I’m sorry that things ended the way that they did.”

“I never thought it would turn out this way.”

GM: Mr. Garrison listens.

He doesn’t smile, or frown. He just listens. Intently. His knuckles whiten around the umbrella. His eyes don’t once leave Celia’s. He scarcely seems to even blink.

What’s it like, to receive personal news about a dead child? Is it like they’re still doing things, living a life of sorts, past the grave? Does it bring them back for a moment, in a way, to hear news about them?

But the news runs out. There won’t be any more. Mr. Garrison could query Celia for details all night long, ask for recollections of every word and conversation, but eventually, even with a flawless memory, she would run out.

Because Stephen is still dead. At least to his father.

There won’t ever be more news.

She can see the look in Mr. Garrison’s eyes. Simultaneously so close and so far away. Longing. Like he sees his dead son on the other side of a pane of glass, and for all that he might wish to pull Stephen through, can only brush his hands against it.

Forever out of reach.

Several moments pass after Celia finishes before he replies.

“My son was hurt by what you told him, Celia.” The man’s voice is a rasp.

“Badly. He never recovered from it. It took something out of him that he never got back. He dated no other girls. Then he died.”

Rain steadily plunks against the umbrellas.

“The truth would have been kinder. He could have decided for himself. I would have supported him in whatever decision he made.”

Celia: The words fall like blows against her body. It’s an effort not to flinch. Celia looks away. She could have told him the truth. Given him her blood. Let him come over to this world with her, picked a fight with the sire who had already been eyeing him for her own. Blood doll or ghoul, but they’d have been together, wouldn’t they. Like her and Randy.

She thought he’d be better off.

“I know that now,” she says to Mr. Garrison. She finds his face with her eyes once more. “It wasn’t my decision to make. I should… should have told him the truth. All of it. He deserved that.”

She could spin a story here about the abuse. Play up her age, inexperience, fear. And while it’s true, it’s not the truth. She doesn’t need to turn herself into a victim, paint herself as the “good guy” in the situation. None of it will bring Stephen back. Not for his father.

“I saw him once,” she says, whisper-quiet. “Before he died. I saw him. He came to the spa. He wanted to know. About Lucy.” The words tumble out of their own volition. She hadn’t meant to say this part. Half-formed, fragmented sentences pour from her lips. “I told him then. What happened. How it happened. Why I lied.”

Her lips twist.

“He said the same. That I should have told him. That things could have been different. We thought…” She sighs. “We thought we might try again. I told him I’d never lie to him again, and now he’s gone. You’re right. He was right. I was wrong.”

The timelines blur together, but the sentiment remains the same. She said she’d stop lying to him, that she’d tell him everything.

And now he’s gone.

GM: Being a ghoul seems to agree with Randy. With Alana. With Diana, as Mélissaire has always been so keen to remind her.

Would it have with Stephen? Always so ready, so eager, to fight for what he believed?

Mr. Garrison looks at Celia as she struggles with everything she hears. As she whispers. As she holds back tears. As she looks away.

When she looks back, Mr. Garrison is still staring at her. He doesn’t reach out to touch her. He doesn’t yell or look mad, either. His face looks like a tombstone. All these years later.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says.

“Who was right. Who was wrong.”

“He’s dead.”

The plunking rain and light from the house cast long, wavering shadows over Mr. Garrison’s aged face.

He really looks so much older.

Celia: She wishes he would yell.

Tell her it was her fault.

Because it was, even if he doesn’t know the truth. If she hadn’t broken up with Stephen he might still be alive. Not just saved from the “car crash,” but from the woman who had come to him after Celia had finished ripping out his heart.

Stephen hadn’t blamed her for it. His sire hadn’t blamed her for it. All sorts of people had a hand in Stephen’s Embrace. Even his father, standing here in front of her, face carved of marble; if he hadn’t raised such a good, decent person.

Celia doesn’t tell him any of it. She can’t. Stephen doesn’t want to involve his father in this life.

She remembers the way he’d cried in the car, years ago. How terrible she’d felt at being too much of a coward to offer to give him a new face so he could keep his lives separate.

But she couldn’t, could she? She hadn’t known of his Embrace until his release, and at that point everyone already knew that face as Roderick Durant.

It’s not her fault.

Even though it is.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Garrison. I’m very, very sorry that I hurt him. I wish that I could bring him back. I’d give anything to undo what happened to him.”

GM: “It doesn’t matter,” repeats the marble-faced man.

He still doesn’t yell.

He still doesn’t cry.

“You hurt him. You didn’t kill him. He died in a completely random accident that had no bearing upon anything that anyone in his life did or didn’t do.”

Rain dribbles off their umbrellas.

“I’d planned to give the two of you my house to raise your family in. To raise Lucy in, if that had been his decision. I’d have stayed to help, while he finished law school and prepared for the Bar, and moved out once he was financially self-sufficient.”

Her mom had offered to help with childcare too, that night when they discussed the possibility. Said she’d love to help.

And Stephen had been so freaked out they couldn’t raise a kid together, after that pregnancy scare. That they couldn’t manage it at that point in their lives.

Their parents didn’t seem to think so.

Celia: She knows.

Roderick had told her.

But Stephen had never told Celia, so Celia has to play her role. Her eyes flash in very real pain, lips parting slightly. She looks away once more. She hates them all over again. Hates them for killing her. For killing him. For existing. For breaking her to the point that she’d been perfectly willing to break him. The only decent one among them and she’d snapped him like a twig.

She hates them.

All of them.

She doesn’t want this life anymore. She’s tired of being a pet. Tired of being a slave. Tired of being bound to someone who will never care about her as much as Stephen did. As much as Roderick does.

No. Did. Past tense. How could he now when she’s broken him again?

She tugs at the bond. Digs her claws into it. Inside, where the DA can’t see, she fights a very real battle with herself. Nothing to do with him, right?

Except it’s everything to do with him.

He’d come for her father. Turned him into a monster. Protected him. Murdered her. Taken her from Stephen. Forced her to go to her grandsire, who had forced her into this. Flip Roderick.

Flip him, and break him in the meantime.

She hates them.

So she digs. Because it hurts. And it’s all she can do right now. Dig. Hurt herself further so she doesn’t hurt him. Dig again. Again. Again.

GM: It’s not his fault.

He didn’t tell her to do this.

He didn’t tell her to break Stephen.

He didn’t know any of the details.

He didn’t know what would happen.

He probably barely even knows Roderick. Much less Stephen.

Does he even know where they were to one another?

Does he even know what they still are?

Besides. He has been good to her.

He saved her from Elyse.

When has Roderick saved her? All he’s been is a source of problems. He’s not offered her a place at his side. He’s not promised her a future.

Besides.

She wanted this.

She caused this.

She asked for the bond.

She picked him.

Like always.

Celia: She did. She picked him. She wants him. He has long been a balm to her hurts. Even now, not present, he soothes them.

So she fights.

And she loses.

It’s a bitter feeling, that loss. Like she’s helpless. Bound in chains, held captive by a monster in the darkness, treated like some sort of animal. She lashes out the only way she knows how: she finds the bond and sends her pain reeling along it.

Maybe he’ll hear her wordless shriek of rage and grief. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he doesn’t care.

Inside her chest her Beast purrs; it hates this show of emotional, human weakness. It’s pleased that she’s sending it elsewhere.

But she sees his eyes swimming in front of her, face pale in the night. Cold. Stern. Unaffected by her pitiful display of defiance. It shifts. Becomes his. Roderick’s. Not the Roderick from her memories, but the Roderick from the vision. Dark and cold. So much smarter than everyone else in the room. So much better than everyone else. The only one who can make the right decisions, isn’t he.

When had their features become so intertwined?

…and who had she sent that to?

His father said something. No doubt he expects an answer.

The perfect life had been waiting for her… if she hadn’t died. If he hadn’t died. If she’d been honest. Gone to him for help. Stopped playing with fire in an attempt to solve her own problems.

She cracks. The floodgates loosen. Celia turns away, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes where the blood threatens to fall.

Just for a moment.

Just until she pulls herself back together. Seconds later. She wipes at her eyes. She turns to face his father. She knows how much men hate the emotional side of women. Stephen had told her as much.

So she kills it. Buries it deep. She’d shared the pain. She doesn’t need it anymore.

“That would have meant the world to us.”

“Some children hate it, you know. Following in their parent’s footsteps. They resent the expectations pushed upon them by their families. I asked him about it once, if he did. But he didn’t. He never did. He loved you, and Dani, and your father.”

GM: Mr. Garrison watches as Celia weeps. Weeps below her umbrella while the sky pours down its own grief overhead. It’s not so hard to catch some rainwater and pretend it’s tears, around the kine man with his dull senses.

He’s still staring at Celia when she looks back. He’s not reached out to comfort her. He doesn’t look disgusted either. There’s just that some marble-like expression on his too-old face.

“He was the brightest light in my life. He would have been an extraordinary attorney and public servant. He would have had a happy, loving family with many children and grandchildren. He would have done great things with his life.”

Mr. Garrison doesn’t smile at the words. They’re delivered with all the warmth of a tombstone.

“He’s dead and gone.”

Those ones are too.

Stephen’s father looks at the door.

“We should go inside.”

Celia: He’s just as broken as the rest of them.

As dead and buried as his child.

“Yes, Mr. Garrison.”

There’s nothing left to say. Celia opens the door for him.

GM: He preempts her and opens the door instead. She is the woman.

Celia: “Thank you,” she says as she slips past him.

For the door. For listening.

GM: Mr. Garrison follows behind her, closes his umbrella, and shakes it off over the mat before closing the door. Dani and Celia’s family are gathered inside. The night beyond the house feels very dark, very wet, and very cold.

Celia: She leaves the night at her back.

She’s here with her family.

Whatever lurks outside, the cold and the dark doesn’t touch them here.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: Celia follows suit with her wet umbrella, gesturing vaguely toward the stand for him to put his in. She leads the way down the hall.

GM: He does so and follows her to the living room, where everyone is gathered. Diana is the first to rise. She’s put on a pair of pink heels to go with her rose-printed dress since Celia saw her last.

“Mr. Garrison, hello. I’m Diana. It’s so good to finally meet you,” she says, extending a hand. Her voice is quiet and her smile gentle rather than wide as she meets his eyes.

“You can call me Henry, Mrs. Flores,” he answers as he slowly shakes the hand.

“Well, to that I’ll also say you can call me Diana,” answers Celia’s mother with a note of mirth. But no more than a note. “And this is my other daughter Emily.”

“Stephen was a friend to me too, sir,” greets Emily as she shakes hands too. Her grip looks firmer than Diana’s, like always. “Dani might have mentioned we were classmates.”

Celia: Celia watches the introductions silently from her spot near Mr. Garrison. Near, but not next to. Part of the group, but away from it.

“Emily introduced us,” she adds quietly. A step takes her over to Lucy. She holds her arms out for the girl and picks her up, for once not spinning her around.

“This is Lucy. My daughter.”

GM: Lucy stares at Mr. Garrison without saying anything. There’s a curious and slightly afraid look on the child’s face.

Her held body tenses against Celia’s.

Celia: Celia doesn’t force an interaction. She steps back, as if the weight of the child is becoming too much for her small frame, and takes a seat on a free chair with a vaguely apologetic look.

GM: Diana sits down next to her. “Lucy, can you say hello?” she asks with a gentle smile, touching her ’granddaughter’s’ back as she looks between the child and Mr. Garrison.

“Hello,” Lucy repeats quietly.

Celia: She tries to see him through Lucy’s eyes, this tall man with his solemn eyes and haunted face, who no doubt sees Lucy as the reason his son died so unhappily. Celia runs a soothing hand down the child’s back.

GM: She hears the girl’s faster heartbeat in her ears, but it slows slightly at Diana’s and Celia’s combined touches.

“Hello, Lucy,” Mr. Garrison returns. He doesn’t manage a smile.

Celia: “This is Dani’s dad,” Celia tells her. “And Stephen’s.”

GM: Lucy just watches him without saying anything. She still looks a little afraid.

Celia: Celia shoots a helpless look at her mother.

GM: “Say, Henry, can I impose on you for a moment, before we start dinner?” Diana asks, patting Lucy’s head as she stands up. “My car’s been actin’ up and I’m wondering if I should take it in to the mechanic. If you know anything about cars, I’d be mighty obliged if you could lend an opinion.”

“I do,” says Mr. Garrison. “We can take a look.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” smiles Diana, briefly turning back to her daughters. “And Celia, Emily, maybe you can get Lucy off to bed, now that she’s said hello? She is up past her bedtime.”

She mouths ‘food’ from where Mr. Garrison can’t see.

Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod to her mother, rising to her feet as they leave.

“Grab her a plate, Emi, I’ll get her settled.”

GM: “Sorry,” Dani whispers after their parents’ forms recede. “Dad isn’t… he isn’t really social, these days.”

Celia: “He hates me,” Celia sighs.

GM: “He doesn’t hate you,” assures Dani. “He’s… he’s like this to most people.”

“I guess losing your kid will do that,” sighs Emily.

“Yeah. I meant it… he never got over Stephen,” says Dani.

Lucy silently follows the adults’ conversation as she clings to Celia.

“Listen, Lucy shouldn’t have to eat alone,” says Emily. “Bring her to my room, I’ll get plates for us both.” She turns to Lucy and smiles. “We can have dinner together in my bed, Goose, how’s that sound?”

Lucy gives a nod.

Celia: “How magnanimous,” Celia grumbles at her half-heartedly, “avoiding awkward dinners.”

“Come on, Goose. Let’s set up a picnic in Em’s room.”

GM: “I think Dad would prefer fewer people anyway,” says Dani. “And he doesn’t really know you, Emily, no offense.”

Celia: Celia rises, the child tucked against her.

GM: “Isn’t any to take,” says Emily. “Come on, you can help me with the plates.”

“Sure,” says Dani.

The two head off to the kitchen.

Celia: Celia starts towards Emily’s room.

“You okay, Luce?”

GM: Lucy’s face quavers.

“He looked really sad…”

Celia: “He is really sad.”

“His son passed away.”

GM: “Can you make him happy…?”

Celia: She can. She can take his pain, too.

But only temporarily.

“I don’t think so, Lucy. Not in a healthy way.”

GM: “Huh?” Lucy asks.

Celia: “No,” Celia clarifies.

GM: It’s a brief walk through the rain to the ‘carriage house,’ or rather, ‘carriage room’ where Emily stays, as it has only one room. She sees her mother and Stephen’s dad looking over her pink Beetle together with umbrellas out. Henry is bent over and talking indistinctly while he inspects something. Diana nods along with an ‘oh I see’ expression.

Celia: Good of her, Celia thinks, to give him a purpose. Something to do with his hands. She’s heard that it helps.

She turns the light on as she enters, looking around the room.

“Picnic on the floor? Or the bed?”

GM: “So he… says sad forever?” Lucy asks instead. Her face looks confused. And upset.

Celia: “I don’t know, Luce. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it makes them really sad, and it takes a long time to be happy again.”

GM: Lucy sniffs several times, then starts quietly crying.

Celia: “Oh, sweetie…” Celia murmurs soft, soothing things to the girl, holding her close. “It’s okay, Lucy, it’s okay.”

Celia takes a seat on the bed and holds the crying Lucy against her, rocking her slowly back and forth.

There’s a song her mom used to sing to she and her siblings when they came to her with their childish woes. An old lullaby, a soft melody that Celia hums now for the daughter in her arms.

GM: The soothing lyrics and gentle motions eventually cause Lucy’s sniffles to trail off. She dabs at her eyes.

“I’d like… a picnic.”

Celia: “Picnics make everything better,” Celia agrees.

GM: Emily and Dani arrive with full plates of still-steaming food.

“Uh oh, we get upset?” asks Emily, looking at the child’s reddened eyes.

Celia: “She’s sad that Mr. Garrison is sad.”

“And wants us to make him happy.”

GM: “I wish we could too, Luce,” says Emily. She sets down the plates and kneels down on the floor to stroke Lucy’s back.

Celia: Celia takes the opportunity to look up at Dani, brows raised.

GM: Dani just has a sadly knowing look.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve… mentioned how he’s not very good company.”

“These days, when he thinks about Stephen.”

Celia: “I was just wondering if there’s something we can do.”

GM: “I wish there was.”

There’s a knowing lilt to her voice as she looks at Celia. Partly questioning.

“Mommy was quiet,” says Lucy. “With Mr. Garrison.”

Celia: “She was, Goose. Mommy is good at knowing how to act around people that are sad or mad or not feeling their best.”

Celia gives a tiny nod to Dani.

She could do something. Take it away. If that’s what his daughter wants.

She’ll talk about it on the way back. Warn her it’s temporary.

She wishes Stephen were here. That he could see… the love, maybe. The pain his absence causes. So he’d know that the world isn’t all bad. That there are still people who love him. Who miss him. Who need him.

GM: Dani looks a little gladder.

“Oh,” says Lucy.

“Did I hear something about a picnic?” asks Emily.

“Uh huh,” says Lucy.

Celia: “Should we send the kitties in? Make it a party?”

GM: “Ooh, good idea,” says Emily, then frowns. “Wait, Victor and Shadow should be in here. This is where we normally keep them when you’re over.”

Celia: “Maybe they got out when I opened the door?”

GM: “You’d have seen them, wouldn’t you?” says Emily, shaking her head.

“They must be in here still,” says Dani. “If you’re sure they were here?”

“Yeah, positive,” says Emily.

Celia: “Sleeping?”

“I can check the courtyard, though.”

Just listen for the hissing.

GM: Emily shakes her head again. “They’re in here. Door was closed the whole time.”

Celia: “Maybe they’re napping in your panty drawer.”

Celia wiggles her brows at Emily.

GM: “The pussies want to smell my pussy, huh?” smirks Emily.

Celia: “Who doesn’t?”

GM: “Maxen, probably, mongrel that I am.”

Celia: “That’s an image I don’t need,” Celia mutters.

GM: Emily gets down on her belly and looks under the bed.

“Oh. There they are.”

Celia: “Oh, good.”

That’s her cue to leave.

GM: “Jesus, they look spooked.”

“Their tails are huge.”

Celia: Definitely her cue to leave.

“They never liked me much,” Celia says with a shrug. She rises.

GM: “Why not?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “I’m cuter than them. They hate it.”

GM: “So they’re cuter than the rest of us? Or co-equal?” asks Emily, getting up from her belly.

Dani watches Celia as if to see how she handles this.

Celia: “Me, then the cats, then you.”

“Obviously.”

GM: “Ice cold, Celia. Ice cold.”

Celia: Celia winks at her.

GM: “How cute am I?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Cuter than all of us combined.”

“That’s why they like you so much.”

GM: “Cuter than all of us and… beat me to it,” smirks Emily. “Kitties included.”

Celia: “They know they don’t stand a chance against you, Goose, so they have to love you.”

GM: A low growl goes up from under the bed.

Celia: “That’s them claiming their territory.”

GM: Lucy looks worried.

“They’re being scary…”

Celia: Celia takes a step toward the door.

GM: Dani follows her. “All right, we’ll leave you two to set up the picnic. Hopefully the kitties will calm down.”

Celia: Celia hesitates, then takes a knee to peer under the bed. Just in case.

She keeps her distance.

GM: She’s greeted by two furious hisses as the cats’ ears go flat. Lower growls go up from their throats.

Celia: “Yeah, yeah,” Celia mutters, “screw you too.”

GM: “Make them stop!” pleads Lucy.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves away from the bed.

GM: Smart cats.

Very smart cats.

She fools everyone else.

Celia: “They’ll calm down if you share some dinner with them, I bet. Just don’t tell Mommy.”

GM: “That’s an idea,” says Emily, patting Lucy’s back. “I bet they’ll just love some chicken. Mommy Celia will be by later to tuck you in, won’t she?”

Celia: “I will,” Celia promises.

“Love you, Goose.”

“Enjoy your picnic.”

“You too I guess, uggo.”

GM: “Love you, Mommy,” Lucy repeats.

Emily smiles at her, then removes the top-most blanket from her bed. “All right, this should be a good picnic blankie…”


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani follows Celia back into the main house.

“Wow, so… animals really hate licks?”

Celia: “Most of us.”

“They can sense the Beast, I guess.”

GM: “They like me, like I’ve said.”

Celia: “Some of you are lucky.”

“They all hate me, though.”

“Stephen doesn’t have a problem with animals.”

GM: “Huh. He was always a big pet lover.”

Celia: “Could be that.”

GM: “So about my dad…”

Celia: “Yeah. I can take it from him. His grief. Just temporarily, though. It’ll be back.”

GM: “Really? Are there side effects?”

Celia: “Not really. It’s fake, though. It kind of… numbs him. Like really strong meds.”

GM: “Oh. Would we be able to cheer him up?”

“I mean, only so much, obviously.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can manipulate a lot of emotions. Happiness isn’t one of them.”

“Probably because I’m an undead abomination that true happiness escapes.”

“But who’s counting.”

GM: “Well, I guess I’m half one,” Dani remarks. “But I meant if you do it, numb his pain, could anything we do still cheer him up?”

Celia: “I think so. It just takes away what’s there, so if we introduce something on top of it…”

“Stephen… doesn’t like it. Using powers like this. On family.”

GM: “Oh? The use here sounds pretty ethical.”

“Though you could raise questions of consent.”

Celia: “That’s the problem. Slippery slope.”

GM: “Maybe better not, then.”

“I mean, if it’s only for an evening anyway…”

Celia: “I’m sorry, Dani. I wish I could help.”

GM: Dani looks sad. “Thanks. Me too.”

“He isn’t always… this bad.”

Celia: “I think it’s me, honestly.”

GM: “I think it’s Stephen.”

Celia: “I guess it’s a good thing he isn’t here, you know.”

“As my new partner. Rubbing it in your dad’s face, basically.”

GM: “Ah. Yeah. I guess maybe that’s worked out, actually.”

Celia: “Did you hear from him…?”

GM: Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “I’ll find him. When we’re done here.”

“C’mon, then. Let’s go have dinner.”

GM: Dani nods and follows her to the dining room. The click of Diana’s heels soon announces her and Mr. Garrison.

“We ended up talkin’ about cars for a while,” she smiles. Still fainter and quieter than her usual self.

“But okay, food’s all out, let’s eat. Did Emi decide to stay with Lucy?”

Celia: “She did,” Celia tells her mom as she takes a seat. “Car okay?”

GM: Diana nods. “We’re going to hold off on taking it in. It’s just an older car, no gettin’ around that. I’m very fond of it, though. Still the same one I got you for college!”

Celia: “I remember,” Celia says with a smile.

“Thank you for taking a look, Mr. Garrison.”

GM: “You’re welcome, Celia.”

Her mom smiles back at her. “All right, so for dinner tonight we’ve got slow-cooked lemon chicken, collard greens, and citrus salad. There’s shoofly pie for dessert, that’s still in the kitchen.”

Celia: “Looks great, Ma.”

GM: The chicken thighs are cooked up tender and juicy in a buttery lemon garlic sauce, probably made with broth too, judging by how they’re all but swimming in it. They also smell of onion powder, paprika, chili pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning. Parsley flakes and lemon wedges provide a finishing touch.

Lemon_Chicken.jpg
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The first side dish is drunken collard greens, made with bourbon, bacon bits, diced sweet onion, and a few tablespoons of bacon grease in place of butter for extra decadence.

Collard_Greens.jpg
A fruit salad of diced strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries provides a contrast in colors and temperates. A light sauce of honey, poppyseed, and lime enhances the fruits’ natural sweetness.

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“Thank you, sweetie, I’m so glad it does,” her mom smiles back at her, though with a hint of apology. They both know she isn’t going to enjoy it.

“Henry, would you like to lead us in prayer?” she asks.

Celia: Is Mr. Garrison religious?

Celia casts a glance his way.

GM: Henry merely holds his hands together and closes his eyes. Diana and Dani do the same and bow their heads.

“Lord God, Heavenly Father, bless us and these Thy gifts which we receive from Thy bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen,” he recites.

“Amen,” echoes Celia’s mom.

“Amen,” murmurs Dani.

Celia: “Amen,” Celia says.

GM: “Henry, w-” Diana starts before the chime of the doorbell.

There’s another chime.

Then another.

Then another.

The person at the door is barely pausing before hitting the bell again.

“Oh, who could that be,” Celia’s mom frowns.

“Oh! Celia, didn’t you say this might be someone you were expectin’? Would you like to get it?” she asks.

Dani looks hopeful, as if having the same thought.

Celia: Celia slides immediately from her seat to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. The ghoul looks on the verge of tears under her umbrella.

Celia: Celia closes the door behind her as she steps outside.

GM: “You ignored my text,” she says sullenly.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

“With them.

Celia: “I sent you a text,” she says, confused.

GM: “You’ve shut me out!” exclaims the ghoul, breathing hard.

“You think I don’t notice how we aren’t sleeping together anymore!?”

“We just stopped!

Celia: “Alana,” Celia says sharply, “pull yourself together. I literally said that I’d be with you tonight.”

GM: “You weren’t at the spa! I was going to surprise you! I’d spent HOURS!”

“They come first, every single time! Always!”

She casts a hateful glare at the house.

Celia: “Alana. Knock it off. I’ve been walking a tight line lately, this is not helping.”

GM: “That’s what you always say!” The ghoul’s eyes are wide. “I tried to bring it up and you blew me off! You keep saying later! You said you’d reward me, and you never did! You just forget about me! For your stupid family! THEY ALWAYS COME FIRST!” The last words are exclaimed with a half-gulp, half-sob.

Celia: Celia seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams her bodily against the side of the house. Fangs bared, she leans in.

“My Masquerade comes before everything. You get rewarded when you earn rewards, not when you show up and cause a scene,” Celia hisses at her.

GM: Alana starts full-on crying. She doesn’t try to force away Celia’s hands.

“You don’t love me, you’re bored with me, I knew it, I knew it…”

Celia: “I’m bored of the emotional outbreaks.”

“I’m bored of not knowing whether you can stay by my side.”

“I’m bored when you make me think you can’t handle this.”

GM: Alana chokes past the grip on her neck.

“You’re lying! You kept saying how good I was doing! You kept and kept and kept saying it, and we’ve only had sex once!”

Celia: “We literally had sex yesterday.”

GM: “We used to have sex EVERY DAY!”

Celia: “I’m about to take you to LA with me for months so we can fuck.”

“Alana.”

“I am on a very, very delicate missive for Lord Savoy. Being here is part of it. If we fuck it up, do you want to answer to him?”

GM: “Why don’t we SLEEP TOGETHER ANYMORE?!” the ghoul sobs.

Celia: There’s nothing nice in the expression that crosses Celia’s face. There’s nothing human in her eyes, not narrowed the way they are with her lips pulled back and teeth bared in silent snarl at the sniveling bitch in front of her. The tips of her nails dig into Alana’s neck. Not claws, not yet, but close.

“Don’t you ever show up at my door and throw a fit like some sort of child. I have been nice to you. I have been patient with you. I have been good to you, better than you’d find with any other domitor in the city. I will not tolerate this sort of pathetic, whimpering, tantrum-throwing behavior because you didn’t get what you want.”

“You know my schedule. You knew I wouldn’t be at the spa tonight, not before this dinner, maybe not even before Elysium. Don’t you dare act shocked that I followed my schedule.”

“You want sex?” Celia hisses at her. “I want competence. And right now you’re nothing but a liability. You know what we do to liabilities, ’Lana?”

She leans in, her face filling the ghoul’s vision.

GM: Alana chokes past the grip around her neck, a stifled and gasp-like sound together with her sniffling. She still doesn’t try to push Jade away, but fear starts to edge out the anger in her eyes as she feels the sharpening nails’ bite.

“I’m s-sorry, mistress, I jus, just want to sleep with y-you, not even sex, that’s a-all.”

The ghoul’s voice quavers.

“Mistress, I miss you…”

Celia: “And what,” Celia growls at her, “happened to waiting until tonight, like we’d talked about? Did you forget how calendars work? Can you no longer recall the days of the week? What happened to tonight?

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, I just, I thought you’d leave again, after we had sex, and I just… I thought about where you were, and I lost it.” She makes several more sounds past the near-claws around her throat. “I’m sorry, mistress, do you want to punish me…?”

Celia: Jesus fucking christ.

Celia squeezes. Squeezes, because she’s been on the other side of that grip and she knows what it’s like to think that the person with their hands around your throat isn’t going to stop. Squeezes, because the pain that’s bottled up inside of her needs an outlet and the stupid but pretty whore in front of her is close. Squeezes, because she’d rather choke the life from her than listen to another minute of her whimpering.

She waits until Alana’s hands grow limp. Until the fear in her eyes turns to terror. Until the black spots begin to swim in her vision.

GM: Alana doesn’t struggle at first. She makes choking sounds as the rain patters against her increasingly blue face, but she doesn’t raise her hands. It’s not until Jade doesn’t let go, until she keeps squeezing and squeezing and squeezing, that she finally tries to pry her domitor’s fingers off. Jade sees it in her eyes, amidst the terror. That primal urge in all forms of life. To live. To survive, just another day.

But Alana’s limp fingers are no match for the furious Toreador’s ruthless grip.

Celia: And then she stops. She eases up. She leans in, fangs long in her mouth.

“Go. Home. Go home and handcuff yourself to the bed and I will deal with you when I get there.”

GM: Alana collapses to her domitor’s feet, knees painfully hitting the courtyard’s rain-slick bricks. She gags in pain for several moments, hands massaging her throat before she falteringly rasps out,

“Do you… want me… naked, mis… tress?”

Celia: “Get out of my sight.”

GM: Alana looks into her domitor’s eyes for a moment, then picks up her dropped umbrella, ambles to her feet, and retreats to her parked car. She stops at the door, turns back, and weakly calls out,

“I just want to get your orders right, m-mistress…”

Celia: Celia stares silently through the rain at the ghoul. She offers no further guidance.

Without a word she turns back to the house and steps inside, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Ghouls.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: She hears the car’s ignition starting before she walks back into the dining room. Her mother and Dani looks somewhat surprised, and disappointed, to see her return by herself.

“Oh. Who was that at the door, sweetie?” her mom asks.

“They were really bangin’ that bell.”

Celia: No one, she almost tells them. But that’s both rude and not true, and not an answer any of them is likely to accept.

“Alana,” she says as she slides into her chair. “Problem at the spa and she got worried when I didn’t answer my phone.”

Vampire thing, Dani and Diana should realize.

GM: “Oh no,” says her mom. “Wasn’t anything too serious, I hope?”

Celia: “The break-in,” Celia says with a forced sigh. Then, looking up at Henry, she gives an apologetic smile.

“My spa was broken into earlier in the week. My manager and I had plans to meet to run over some numbers today but my appointments ran long, and she let her imagination get the best of her. My apologies for the interruption.”

GM: “Unfortunate,” frowns Mr. Garrison. It looks like no one’s touched their food while Celia excused herself, but they start their meal in earnest now that she’s back. Mr. Garrison starts to cut a chicken thigh. “Did you find the person responsible?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“No.” Not technically. “That’s the weird part, though, nothing was missing. Nothing was stolen.” She looks down at her plate, beginning to cut into one of the pieces of chicken someone had laid out for her. A small portion; she assumes Diana is responsible and smiles at her mother.

“So the alarm went off and we filed a police report, but they basically said there’s nothing to be done since they didn’t find anything and nothing was missing. They did use it as an excuse to shake down my other manager for protection money.

“One of my girls said it sounded like someone from the Insta community trying to send a message, I guess they do that on other platforms? Swatting? But no one was hurt so I don’t really understand it, I guess.”

GM: There’s also some greens and fruit salad on the plate. But the portions look as small as they can be without prompting questions, and her mom smiles back at her.

Mr. Garrison’s frown remains in place. “Do you know the names or badge numbers of the officers responsible?”

Celia: “Yes, I wrote them down when they told me what happened. She made it sound like there wasn’t much I could do…?”

GM: “Give them to me before I head out. I’ll have someone at my office take it up with Internal Affairs.”

Celia: “Oh, yes, okay. I will. Thank you, Mr. Garrison. That’s—thank you.”

GM: “Consider investing in cameras if you haven’t, or better cameras if you have. Alarms only catch faces if someone arrives in time.”

Celia: Celia nods. Better cameras, she can do that. She’ll have Rusty take a look. And Randy. His cameras had caught the would-be bugger, but who knows what might happen in the future.

She looks to her plate, unable to put off forcing the food down her throat anymore. Hopefully this stomach thing works. A nudge to her Beast, just in case, and Celia finally takes a bite.

Still awful.

Still tastes like literal shit.

Still an effort to chew, letting it roll around in her mouth like humans do.

Bit of a giveaway if she swallows her food whole, isn’t it.

GM: Diana tries not to look too obviously sympathetic as Celia forces herself to chew.

“I was starting to tell Henry the story of the situation we were in before Stephen came along,” says her mom. “You know it all, of course. You want to tell him how cruddy that old apartment of mine was?” she asks with a rueful smile.

Celia: She swallows the masticated chicken carcass.

“With the, ah, shared bathroom? Where one of your neighbors liked to shoot up?”

GM: “Oh my lord,” Diana murmurs. “Technically not even a neighbor. She was evicted. But she still came in to the bathroom to shoot up. I remember knockin’ on the door once, after someone was in there for a while, and hearin’ ‘present!’ in this breathless voice. I asked if she’d be out soon, she said yes, and the whole place was completely trashed when I came in. Just…” She shakes her head. “I feel sorry for the folks who still have to live there.”

Celia: “I always tried to make sure I didn’t have to use it when I was there. Stopped on the way if I needed to.”

“When Stephen came over…” Celia glances at Dani, then Mr. Garrison. “I imagine he told you about dinner with my father?”

GM: “Yes, I always laid down strips of toilet paper over the toilet seat,” her mother nods grimly. “And I felt just so embarrassed, sweetie. And bad for you. That you saw me livin’ like that, that you couldn’t even use the loo without feeling grossed out.”

Celia: “I think, more than that, what stuck with me was the way you’d been cut out completely. The photos you had to take from Facemash because he wouldn’t… let you have anything.”

GM: “Facemash photos?” Dani asks.

“Of my kids,” says Diana. “That was the only way I could have pictures of them.”

Celia: “‘Clean break.’”

GM: “That’s awful,” says Dani. “And yes. Stephen told us all about… ‘the worst dinner ever.’ That’s what he called it.”

Celia: “It was.”

“So going from that to introducing him to my mom… it was night and day.”

GM: “He said your dad basically made you be a servant.”

Celia: Celia nods her head, her eyes clouding with the memory of mortification.

GM: “He did say the second dinner was better, though. That how different it was almost gave him whiplash.”

“He said you and your mom seemed happy together. That the food ‘tasted less like fear and more like love.’ I told him that was corny.”

“I think that’s very sweet,” smiles Diana.

Celia: “It sounds like something he would say.” There’s a warmth to her smile that has been missing since last night.

GM: Mr. Garrison doesn’t say anything. Just listens and eats.

Celia: “I think without him we’d still be there. In that apartment. He’s the one who pushed my mom to do something about it.”

GM: “He gave us the number for an attorney, to call about an insurance settlement and regaining custody of my kids,” Diana nods. “But my goodness, sweetie, if he hadn’t… where do you think you’d be now, at 27?”

Celia: “Married to someone Dad picked for me.”

GM: “I know I’d still be drowning in medical debt and getting my wages garnished. Livin’ in that crummy apartment.”

“We wouldn’t have met Emily, either.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Emily introduced Stephen and I, actually.”

“They… I think they had some classes together?”

“I told her to introduce me to someone cute and nice in exchange for some makeup tips, I think. She knocked it out of the park.”

GM: Dani nods. “They went out on two dates, but she said she was too busy with work and school to make a regular thing of it. So things never went anywhere with them.”

Celia: Celia’s smile tightens. She busies herself with the food on her plate.

“They never mentioned.”

GM: “Maybe she thought that would complicate things, sweetie,” says Diana. “Since he was your first boy.”

Celia: It shouldn’t bother her. It was years ago. Stephen is dead, and she has Roderick, and Roderick chose her.

But it does.

She makes a vague sound and cuts another piece of meat to shove into her mouth.

That’s the benefit of being mortal, she supposes: the built in excuse that she can’t talk with her mouth full.

GM: “Stephen had other girlfriends, too, in the past. But none he was as into as you,” says Dani.

Celia: Ah, well, that makes her feel better about breaking his heart.

Twice.

Three times?

She can’t keep track anymore.

Maybe he should have tried harder with Emily. She’s going to be a doctor soon. She’s so smart.

They can go be smart together.

GM: Doctor and lawyer. Sounds like a more natural pairing than esthetician and lawyer.

Celia: Esthetician with an online medical degree, which is almost like it’s fake.

GM: The corpses she dissected (and created) are real enough.

But that might be worse than fake in his eyes.

Celia: All those issues with “lying” and he’d never told her that he’d fucked her sister.

Who’s the fucking liar now.

Maybe he even put it in Roxanne, too.

And Ryllie. Why not.

She’ll throw Lucy at him next time he comes over to see if he wants to complete the Flores Girls.

GM: “You okay, sweetie?” her mom asks, rubbing her shoulder.

Celia: “Didn’t realize he and Emily hooked up.”

GM: “I don’t know if they did,” says Dani. “Just that they went on two dates.”

Celia: He’d hooked up with her on their first.

“Not the sort of thing he’d tell you though,” Celia points out.

Another bite.

She swallows more shit.

And it sits, like a lead weight, in the pit of her borrowed stomach.

She doesn’t miss this feeling.

GM: “I guess not,” says Dani. “Athough-”

“I don’t think we need to discuss your brother’s history in that area, Danielle,” says Mr. Garrison over some greens.

“Right. Sorry, Daddy.”

Celia: Maybe she’ll fuck his sister.

Let him see how it feels.

Celia spears a piece of fruit with the tines of her fork and brings it to her mouth.

GM: It’s squishier.

But tastes just as ashen.

Celia: It joins the rest of the garbage she’ll need to evacuate later.

She lets her mother find a new topic of discussion, her thoughts on her missing boyfriend.

GM: Diana continues to tell the story and brings up all the help that Vivian and Stephen were with her and Celia’s assorted legal travails. Mr. Garrison listens, attentively but largely silently. Danielle finally asks, “Can I ask something, Mrs. Flores?”

“Oh of course, Danielle.”

“Your mom is a judge, Payton Underwood. Why didn’t you just go to her, at any point?”

Celia: Celia glances at her mother.

GM: “We weren’t on good terms, unfortunately,” Diana answers. She keeps her voice more sad than cool.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Dani.

“Me too. But Celia went to her for help too, I’ll get to that later in the story, and she sees Lucy semi-regularly these days.”

It’s technically not a lie. Just leaves out the ‘still are.’

“That’s good,” says Dani.

“I’ve worked with her. She’s a decent woman,” says Mr. Garrison.

“Tough. Won’t be intimidated.”

Celia: “I’ve always found her so.” Celia pushes another berry around on her plate. She hasn’t seen her since she learned that she’d sent her mother to the Dollhouse.

GM: She’ll want to see Lucy again at some point.

Celia: The second Lucy, anyway.

Celia still hasn’t decided what she’ll say.

Or how she should feel.

Stephen would know.

But Stephen is dead.

GM: Roderick, too.

Celia: Probably.

Missing, anyway.

She’ll find him.

GM: Diana continues the story. How Stephen was patient and understanding, but also unrelenting when he realized the full depth of the Flores family’s situation. How he gave his and Viv’s numbers even when Diana didn’t seem like she wanted to use them, and how he turned out to be right when Diana finally set up the meeting after more encouragement from Celia. How nervous she was for that first consultation. How she brought Celia along, “Even though she couldn’t sit in, privilege and all, and mainly wound up sittin’ in the waiting room to make her mom feel less scared,” she describes ruefully.

Celia: “All we had to do was file a police report after that,” Celia adds. Her brow furrows. “Oh, Grandma did help there. She gave us the number to call. Told us to ask for someone specific, someone like her that wouldn’t be afraid of Dad.”

GM: There’s slower chewing as Celia brings up Richard Gettis.

“He was definitely that,” Diana murmurs.

Celia: Celia watches Mr. Garrison, though she’s as unobtrusive about it as she can be.

GM: “It’s a tragedy,” says Stephen’s father. “Stephen told me the details. Detective Gettis was one of the NOPD’s finest officers before he became a murderer.”

Celia: “Did you know him, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “In passing. We had more contact when I was an ADA.”

“He helped put a lot of bad people behind bars.”

Celia: Another nod.

“Grandma said the same.”

GM: “It’s just such a tragedy,” Diana repeats. “I taught both of those girls, in my classes. Just such sweet girls.”

“One of my co-workers lost her job, too, in the fallout.”

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

“Ms. Perry,” answers Diana. “You wouldn’t have had any classes with her, though, Dani. She started at McGehee after your time.”

“That’s too bad,” frowns Dani. “I suppose it beats being shot, though. I had some classes with one of the Devillers. Adeline. I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like for the families.”

Celia: “I’m friends with her sister. The oldest. Cécilia.”

And Caroline. Sort of. Are they friends? She’s not quite sure. Hard to be, sires who they are.

“She implied the, erm, pressures of the job got to him when we spoke about it.”

GM: “There has been extensive investigation into Richard Gettis,” says Mr. Garrison. “I am inclined to agree with your grandmother. The man had no family, friends, or interests outside of his job.”

“Frontline police work is highly stressful. Homicide work is even more so. These people are exposed to the worst of humanity on a regular basis.”

“Richard Gettis did not have any stabilizing influences in his life.”

Celia: Like Mr. Garrison himself, if Dani’s words can be believed. She glances at the girl, then back to her dad.

“Aren’t you as well, Mr. Garrison? Stephen used to tell me about the pressures of your position as well. The danger, with who you go after.”

Easy to see Mr. Garrison going down that same road, isn’t it. Son dead. Daughter dead, technically.

GM: “My job is not easy, but I am more insulated than Detective Gettis from many of the stresses he faced. Death threats against judges and prosecutors have grown increasingly common in recent years, and are most commonly leveled by organized crime groups, but actual murders remain rare. The Prosecutors Memorial at the Ernest F. Hollings National Advocacy Center, which honors prosecutors killed during the performance of their duties, has fewer than 20 names.”

“Oh, when did that go up?” asks Diana.

“2004,” Mr. Garrison answers. “The first name is from 1982.”

“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty is far higher.”

Celia: “That isn’t quite what I meant, Mr. Garrison. I know you’re not on the ground level like an officer, but it’s still a high stress, high stakes world, and Stephen mentioned…” she trails off for a moment, then finally plunges forward. “Well, he mentioned things the organized crime families would try to do to intimidate your family, your father’s family. And, forgive me if this is overstepping, but Dani mentioned that your life has become mostly work and sleep.”

She offers a gentle smile.

“I’m not saying that you might crack. You strike me as a hard man to crack, personally. But if you’d like an outlet, something to do outside of work, somewhere you can… I hate to say relax, but…”

“There’s always a chair open for you, I guess is what I’m saying.”

GM: “There is only one organized crime family with a grudge against mine,” Mr. Garrison corrects. “Their attempts at intimidation have never amounted to anything more than scare tactics. None of us have been placed in physical danger or lost our lives. I am too prominent a public official to be safely killed. The prosecution of my murder would dominate the focus of my successor’s term.”

He casts a faintly reproachful look at his daughter when Celia talks about his life, then turns back to her.

“I will have to decline. My available free time is extremely limited.”

“Well, we’re just glad to have you here tonight,” Diana smiles. “And that does explain why you don’t have a protective detail. Lucky us, not needing to prepare extra food.” She doesn’t chuckle, but she does smile a little wider.

“I receive details on an as-needed basis. Only the mayor has a permanent one,” says Mr. Garrison.

“But they eat while they are off-duty.”

Celia: He wasn’t this cold when she’d met him the first time. Maybe she’d pushed too soon.

GM: “I read about the ex-wife of India’s prime minister needing to cook meals for her protective detail,” says Dani. “All the time. The article also said they’d sleep in her house, be slobs in the bathroom, and basically bum free room and board off of her.”

Celia: “Sounds kind of like a cultural thing. Isn’t India a little backwards in their treatment of women in general?”

GM: “She said she didn’t even want them, they were such a pain to put up with. But yeah. Just a lot more corruption and… sleaziness. And sexism.”

Celia: “We’re still guilty of that here, to some degree.”

GM: “I guess the Pavaghis have brought over a taste of that, though,” says Dani.

“I think they owned my old apartment, actually,” says Diana.

Dani shakes her head. “Guess that’s no surprise. Slumlords.”

“Hasn’t Rich Pavaghi’s wife gone to your spa a few times, actually?” asks Celia’s mom.

Celia: “She has, yes. She’s a regular, actually.”

“Well, since they moved back here, anyway.”

GM: “Oh, I thought they lived in Kenner?” says Dani. “That’s, what, a 40 minute drive both ways?”

“Well, my baby’s very talented at what she does,” Diana smiles proudly, wrapping an arm around Celia.

Celia: Celia laughs.

“I doubt I’m the only reason she makes the drive.”

“But I’d meant moving closer from Baton Rouge, anyway.”

GM: “Ah, true. She’s got a million kids and grandkids in the city,” says Dani. “Probably comes over for them too.”

“She’s devoted to her kids, I’ll give her that,” nods Diana. “She moved in with her son when he was elected governor, to help out, as I remember.”

“Basically sidelined his wife in the media, though,” says Dani. “Strikes me more as controlling than devoted. I guess lucky for her kids and grandkids she has so many. Diffuses attention.”

Celia: “One of them is over at Bloom Couture. Have you been, Mr. Garrison?”

GM: “I have not,” he answers.

“It’s a very pretty place,” smiles Diana. “I get a lot of my gardening supplies there. But I doubt you have time for that sort of thing, with your job.”

Mr. Garrison simply nods as he cuts up another chicken thigh.

“Does it feel skeezy working on your mom’s old slumlord?” asks Dani. “The whole family is just so… scummy.”

Celia: “Honestly? No. I can’t let it get to me. Once someone is on my table it’s really just their body I’m looking at, and I put everything else away. There was someone once… early, I was still kind of new to it, but I knew him from college. He was kind of… I hate to say bully, but he was. I don’t think he recognized me, but I remembered him, and I just had to ignore it and deal with the fact that he was on my table. It’s a shift in power dynamics for sure, and it was weird for a minute, but then I just let it go.”

It had helped that she was a vampire and he was still kine, but she doesn’t mention that to Mr. Garrison.

GM: “Oh. What’d he do to you?” asks Dani.

“As a bully.”

Celia: “Before I met Stephen I was invited to a party by some of the people from one of my dance classes. Was supposed to just be a small thing, a break from the production, and I figured no big. They said no alcohol, it wouldn’t be wild. But, ah, one of them brought a flask they started passing around, and then they got bored of hanging out with just our small group and wanted to go to a ‘real’ party, so we ended up on Greek Row. You ever meet someone and just know they’re bad news? He was that kind of person.” Celia shakes her head. She doesn’t look like she wants to get into the rest of it.

GM: Her mother looks at her concernedly.

“I’m sorry,” says Dani. “The parties at Tulane can get… out of hand.”

“But you don’t see anything when someone is on your table,” says Diana, changing the subject for her. “You’ve said that to me, how they become just a body you need to work on, and pretty much all bodies are the same.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “What do you think you’ll want to do with me when I come in?” asks Dani. “Or is that better as a surprise?”

Celia: “Mmm, depends on what you’re looking for. We could keep it simple, with a massage or facial, or get into some other things. If you want to relax and unwind, though, nothing really beats a massage. I generally tailor things to the client, though.”

She doesn’t pointedly look at Mr. Garrison , but she does sweep her gaze past him all the same.

“Dessert?” she asks at large. “Should I get the pie, Momma?”

“You can finish telling Mr. Garrison without me interrupting,” she adds with a slight smile.

GM: “I think a massage sounds good, then,” says Dani.

“That also sounds good, sweetie, you can find it in the oven,” her mom smiles back. “There’s whipped cream in the fridge, too!”

“I’ll help,” says Dani, rising from her seat and gathering up some of the plates.

“Oh, Dani, you’re a guest,” starts Diana.

“It’s okay, Mrs. Flores. You can tell my dad the rest of the story yourself.”

“All right, if you’re sure.”

Celia supposes she’s spent enough time talking about her boyfriend for one night.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

GM: Dani carries out plates and serving containers with Celia.

“So Stephen said something about you two wanting to set our parents up?”

Celia: Celia gathers what she can, moving into the kitchen to scrape things into the compost bin, rinse plates, put some of the dishes away, and fill the dishwasher.

“Mm, he mentioned it. I don’t think I’m helping.”

GM: “Oh, why not?”

Celia: “I’m pretty sure your dad hates me and every time I open my mouth he’s reminded that I left Stephen.”

GM: “I don’t think he hates you,” says Dani as she helps out. “Believe me, you’d know if he did.”

Celia: “‘Always have a plate open,’” Celia mutters. “Idiot.”

GM: “Plate open?”

Celia: Celia gives a disgusted sigh.

“Exactly. It makes no sense. Why would I say that. Because I’m an idiot, Dani.”

GM: “Oh. You meant chair.”

“Yeah, sorry. Dad is just… really business-focused. I don’t know if he’s ever been to a spa.”

Celia: “The sentiment remains the same, he blew it off.”

“I was talking about inviting him back to dinner again.”

GM: “That might be better, actually. Since he still has to eat.”

Celia: “I already did, Dani. Didn’t you hear him? He said no.”

GM: “Sorry? You just invited him to the spa, if I wasn’t zoning out?”

Celia: “No. Before that. When you asked about my grandma and he mentioned the cop. I invited him back.”

GM: “Oh. I thought you meant the spa.”

Celia: “I didn’t invite him to the spa at all.”

“I mean if he wants to come, sure, but it doesn’t seem like his groove.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”

“Maybe we can clarify?”

“I think it would be good for him to get out more.”

“Or at least, get in, somewhere else with different people.”

Celia: She thought she’d been perfectly clear.

GM: “I think it’d be good for him to date again too. He just doesn’t have any patience for it.”

Celia: “I think it would be weird to date my stepbrother, but… my mom would be good for him. Your dad.”

“She’s got a lot of love and patience.”

GM: “I think so. She made him feel all manly with the car, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. Like that. Give him something to do with his hands. Makes them feel needed.”

GM: “You also did that with the cops who shook you down. When he said he’d do something about it.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“Yes.”

GM: “I hope he does, too. I can’t believe they tried to extort you.”

“Well, I can. It’s just awful.”

Celia: “They’re all awful.”

“Your dad is one of the last few remaining good ones.”

“Him and… well. Stephen.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “There are plenty of good cops, lawyers, and judges. It’s just… a lot of things are rigged against them.”

“But that’s a bigger topic.”

“What do you think we can do to set them up?”

Celia: “What does he like to do? Or used to like to do?”

GM: “He might be if he went there. He just… isn’t that interested in trying new things, anymore.”

“He used to be. Before Stephen.”

Celia: “If he were around I’d just suggest a double date.”

GM: “Oh, that’s an idea.”

“Though I’ll call it a victory just to get him to go.”

“Maybe try not to frame it as a date, too.”

Celia: “Well. Maybe Mom can say she wants to check out the new exhibit or something.”

“And I’ll offer to watch Lucy.”

GM: “Maybe we could all go? That feels less like a date. Explains why your mom wants to go, too, show Lucy a museum.”

Celia: “Oh, that’s better.”

“Maybe they have a late night?”

GM: “He’s busy during the day, anyway, so. And your mom knows you can only do nights.”

Celia: “Alright. We’ll make it work, then. Maybe Stephen will be able to make it.”

GM: “I hope so. For him.”

“Dad, at least, I don’t think would mind one less stranger.”

“Should your mom know we’re trying to set them up?”

Celia: “I dunno. She’s kind of set on seeing Maxen again.”

“Might just put my foot down there.”

“Trying to see how it goes tonight with some leads I have to follow.”

GM: “Leads with your dad?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I dunno that you can stop her from seeing him if she wants to. I mean, she’s your mom.”

Celia: “I can if I tell her the truth.”

“And make it a lick politics thing.”

“Which it is.”

GM: “I dunno, if there was a guy I loved… did lick politics stop you and Stephen?”

Celia: It might have.

GM: “I mean, you aren’t supposed to be seeing each other, but it’s not gotten in the way.”

Celia: “Hasn’t it? We have to hide from everyone. Someone touched me last week and he was going to challenge him to a duel for the insult.”

GM: “That’s kinda romantic,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “We got jumped by hunters and everyone thinks he’s the only one who did anything to stop them.”

“It was, yeah.”

Celia can’t help but smile too.

GM: “I bet he’d win, too. You guys were incredible against those mobsters.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, it didn’t end up happening.”

“Next time, I guess.”

GM: “Yeah. So, you wanna set up the WWII museum outing?”

Celia: “Guess so. Wanna grab the pie? Ovens don’t always agree with my kind. I’ll get the whipped cream.”

GM: “Okay,” says Dani, getting some mitts and opening the oven. “Why don’t they?”

Celia: “Fire.”

“Rather not risk it with this many people around.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Dani agrees as she hefts the pie dish.

Celia: Celia locates the whipped cream and serving utensils and starts towards the door. She stops, though, before she crosses the threshold, and turns to look at Dani once more.

“Did he sleep with her?” she asks in a low voice. “Emily. Did he?”

GM: “Um. I’m honestly not sure,” Dani answers. “Does it matter, though? It was forever ago. And I can definitely tell you he was nowhere nearly as into her.”

Celia: “I don’t know why I care,” she mutters.

GM: “You seemed, well… insecure about the relationship, honestly, when we talked,” says Dani. “This feels like more of that.”

Celia: “He’s smarter than me. Stronger than me. Faster than me. Better than me. He called me a whore. What’s not to be insecure about?”

“And now he’s gone, and I can’t find him. And it’s my fault he’s a vampire, and probably my fault he’s gone.”

GM: Dani sets down the pie and rests her hands on Celia’s shoulders.

“Look. He’s not better than you, and he doesn’t think so. He’s sorry he hurt you. Really sorry. He wants your guys’ relationship to work. It means the world to him.”

Celia: “He left.

“He didn’t come back.”

GM: “He’s left me too.”

“But he’s gonna come back.”

“I mean, what, is he going to just disappear forever?”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “He didn’t before, when you broke up. He just… wanted space.”

Celia: “What if he’s dead? What if he didn’t make it somewhere safe this morning? What if more hunters picked him up? What if Carolla’s goons found him?”

What if Savoy did something to him?

What if he went to confront Coco and she smacked him back down to size?

GM: “He’s tough and smart. Isn’t he?” says Dani.

Celia: “He was also angry and hurt.”

GM: “All right, so, what can we do, besides worry?”

Celia: “Get through dinner and find him.”

GM: “Okay. You want to go look for him?”

Celia: “I have a loose end to tie up. Then yes, before Elysium, I’d like to look.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll go with you.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Dessert first, though.”

GM: “He’s not in love with Emily, by the way. He took it pretty casually when they had to stop seeing each other. And that was seven years ago, when he was human.”

Celia: “They still fucked. And he never told me. And she never told me.”

“Whatever. I don’t care.”

The more she thinks about it the more she realizes it’s true. She doesn’t care. Celia is dead. Stephen is dead. Roderick is probably dead, too. What’s left to cherish? Why not take the last of her happy memories from her, tarnish them with the idea that Emily and Stephen hooked up and she got her sister’s sloppy seconds? Everything else is already ruined, anyway.

GM: “I don’t think they were trying to lie to you. I think it just never registered as important. It was two dates. Ending things with Emily basically got a ‘too bad’ and then he moved on to other girls. Ending things with you destroyed his world.”

Celia: “I don’t care,” Celia says again.

GM: “You do care. I just don’t want this to hurt you more.”

Celia: “You brought it up."

GM: “You’re being defensive.”

Celia: “Of course I’m being defensive! I was supposed to be a one night stand. He told me that. He said that to me, that’s all I was supposed to be. Emily introduced us because he was looking to get laid and she wanted to show me a good first time and had already sampled the goods. And I’d never been with anyone, and he offered to make it special, and he did. And it was a lie. The whole thing was a lie. And years later I’m still in love with him and he’s not. He left. And he didn’t come back.

“We were supposed to talk. We were supposed to clear the air between us so we could be together. And he never came back. He doesn’t care.”

“So don’t. Don’t tell me that our relationship is important to him when he couldn’t be bothered to show up.”

GM: “Celia, do you really think your relationship doesn’t matter to him? That boom, just like that, he dropped something with seven years of history?”

Celia: Celia sighs down at her.

“You didn’t see his face last night, Dani. You didn’t hear his voice.”

GM: “How does that even matter if they slept together? How does that make what you had a lie? He had girlfriends before you! Long-term ones, even.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t expect her to understand. She’s never had a boyfriend. Never been through anything to do with the heart. Doesn’t know Stephen, not like Celia does, not that way. The romantic way. The “on the other end of his fists” way. The broken way. Twice broken, her fault both times, isn’t it? Explaining it to her isn’t going to make her understand any better. It’s like the frenzy thing: she had to see it to get it.

“Come on,” she says, “the story isn’t that long.”

Dani doesn’t know the truth, anyway.

But Emily does.

Roderick does.

She’ll find it when she finds him.


Friday evening, 18 March 2016

Celia: She leads the way back into the dining room, forcing a smile.

“Dessert has arrived.”

GM:

“Oh, th-thank you, you two,” Diana smiles as the two arrive. She looks a little emotional as they set the pie down and dabs at her eyes.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her shoulder after she sets the whipped cream down on the table, brows lifted.

GM: “Just retellin’ the whole story, baby, and what a brave, sweet, kind-hearted boy Stephen was,” answers her mom, laying a hand on top of Celia’s. “Gets me a little emotional.”

“Me as well, Diana,” answers Mr. Garrison. His voice is slightly uneven.

Celia: Celia nods in understanding. She gives her mom’s shoulder a squeeze.

GM: Her mom smiles at her and turns to the dessert.

Shoofly_Pie.jpg
“So this is a mostly classic shoofly pie, it’s got molasses and crumbs and pie crust, pretty much, but I added some chocolate chips too. Thought we’d experiment and see how the flavors combine.”

“Celia, I know how much you want to watch your figure for those Instagram posts, do you still want any?”

Celia: “I might pass, if that’s all right. Molasses is a little heavy for me. I can take a slice to Emi, though.”

GM: Her mom nods. “It’s okay. There’s nothin’ healthy in dessert. And that would be very thoughtful, sweetie, though with Victor and Shadow…”

Celia: “I’ll make it quick.” Celia cuts a piece, then a smaller one for Lucy, and heaps a mountain of whipped cream atop them both. She nabs two forks and is out the door before anyone can ask if she’s allergic to cats or what.

Quick steps take her across the yard to the carriage house, where she knocks twice on the door and says, “Hey it’s Celia, brought dessert, wanna come out a sec, Em?”

GM: Carriage room, technically, as Emily enjoys calling it. Her voice answers, “Sure, out in a sec,” a moment later. The door opens before too much rain can patter against her umbrella.

“Thanks, pie wouldn’t have been Instagram-worthy if we’d cut slices earlier.”

Celia: “Can’t have that.”

“Hey, so it came up at dinner that you and Stephen used to date. Why didn’t you tell me you’d hooked up?”

Smooth.

“Didn’t realize we were eskimo sisters.” Celia wiggles her eyebrows.

GM: Emily laughs. “Well, we only went out a couple times before I told him it wouldn’t work. He took it pretty well.”

Celia: “But you did. Hook up.”

“Right?”

GM: “Ah, geez. Are you feeling grossed out?”

Celia: “Tell me.”

“Tell me if you slept with him.”

“It doesn’t matter, it was before we were together, he’s dead and gone, but I’d like to know.”

“So did you?”

Celia waits. Expectant.

It shouldn’t take this long to get an answer. The pie is probably getting cold. It’s a yes or no question. One syllable. That’s all it is. Three letters at most. Just say it, Emily. Just say you slept with him. Say you gave me your leftovers, say that our entire relationship was built on a lie, that I’ve never even had my own boyfriend because someone else got to him first. Did you tell him I’d be easy? Did you say that I’d be down for a one night stand because I was curious about sex? Did you tell him he could pop my cherry? And, what, he stayed because I was too stupid to realize what the two of you had done? Did you laugh about it afterwards? Was it like one of those shitty teenage movies where you set a dude up with a girl as a joke and he falls for her and then she finds out and it ruins everything?

Because that’s what this will do. Ruin everything. Them sleeping together kills everything she’d ever felt for him. Everything. There’s not an ounce of it left if they slept together. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s dead.

She had this. This one thing that was special. This one thing she could cherish from her mortal life.

It’s just one word.

One word.

Just say it.

GM: That’s when Celia feels it. Descending like a shadow over the moon.

The familiar icy hand locked in sudden death grip around her heart.

Squeezing.

Crushing.

Pulling.

Her head whips to the house’s roof, as though grabbed by a magnet.

He’s there. Perched on it like some enormous black bat come home to roost.

Donovan.png
Her sire has arrived.

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Celia V, Chapter XXI
The Secret Childe

“She lied to me.”
Roderick Durant


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair drive back to Flawless. Dani and the brothers are there, in Jade’s suite. Carolla lies on the central table with a stake pounded into him. Somewhat needlessly, given his torpid state.

Celia: Better safe than sorry, though.

“Where’s the ghoul?” she asks Dani.

GM: “You need him for anything? ‘Cuz to me he sounded like a giant headache she couldn’t work up the stones to take care of,” answers Reggie.

Celia: Surely he’s not talking about her.

Jade gives him a sharp look.

“I do.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I already killed him.”

Celia: “You what?!

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open.

Roderick seizes the ghoul by the throat and slams him back-first into the wall.

Celia: “Don’t!”

Celia is at his side in an instant, hands on the arm holding up the ghoul, pulling him back.

Or attempting to.

GM: She finds the Brujah’s grip quite implacable. Randy yells, “Hey!” and tries to pry him off too, but Roderick just shoves him hard enough to send the ghoul sprawling over his face. Reggie gives a pained grunt past the vice-like hand around his throat, but doesn’t struggle.

Celia: “Rod! Stop it!”

There’s not much room between the pair, but she worms her way in what space exists all the same, shoving at Rod with the flats of her palms.

“Stop it. Stop it! Let him go.”

GM: “I could… read this whole thing…” grunts Reggie. “Princess throwin’ a fit… ‘oh, no, don’t be the bad guy!‘… pissed at you, if you did it… but scared shitless he’d remember… giant fuckin’ liability…”

He manages a grin.

“So Mr. Bad Guy took care of it…”

Celia: He’s right.

GM: “Go on… Mr. Tough Guy… you gonna kill me instead?”

Celia: “Shut UP, Reggie!” Celia snaps at him. She turns back to Roderick.

“Roderick, please, let him go.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t answer. His fangs are distended, his eyes wide and furious. A choked half-growl escapes his throat.

Dani turns from staring daggers at Reggie to looking Celia with fear. She starts to edge away.

“Is he gonna lose it…?”

Celia: “Get out, Dani. Go. Randy, go. Now.”

Celia waits until she hears the door close, then reaches for Roderick, hands on either side of his face.

“Stop it,” she says to him. There’s no fear in her voice or face, just a gentle command. Soft, like the rest of her, but there’s steel in her spine now. She’s not going to let her boyfriend become a murderer. “Reel it in. You don’t want to hurt him. You don’t want to be like him. Let him go. Let him go, and we’ll deal with this. You are not a murderer.”

GM: The ghoul and thin-blood give the two vampires a long look, but edge their way out.

Roderick squeezes Reggie until his smirk is completely gone and he starts to turn blue. Survival instincts overtake the smugness in his eyes as he starts to fight back. The Blood enhances his muscles too, and for a moment it looks like he might throw Roderick off before the Brujah clamps a second hand around his throat. The two struggle for several moments, but in the end, it isn’t physical strength that decides Reggie’s life, but Celia’s gentle yet unwavering implorations. The burgeoning fury in Roderick’s eyes wavers like a torch under heavy rain, then finally gutters out as he drops the ghoul to his feet. Reggie gags and massages his neck.

Roderick stares down at him.

“Get out of my sight, you trash.”

The ghoul silently picks himself up, hand still to his neck, and retreats from the room.

Celia: Celia helps him to his feet if he lets her, moving with him to the edge of the room to see him out. He doesn’t need her, but she needs him; she needs to make sure he’s okay, that he’s breathing, that he isn’t about to keel over. She locks the door behind him and turns to face the Brujah.

GM: Roderick slowly shakes his head.

“I’d have killed him if you hadn’t talked me down.”

“He should have known better.”

Celia: “He should have. And he didn’t. And you didn’t.”

GM: “I do know better. That’s what’s so fucking awful about it.”

“Because it doesn’t matter.”

Celia: “It does matter. We don’t judge other people by their intentions, just by their actions. And you didn’t do anything. That is what matters.”

GM: “This time.”

Celia: “Yeah? So you’re going to mope about it because you might maybe one day lose it again?”

“You’re going to beat yourself up about it because this time you didn’t but you have the potential to?”

“You know what, Roderick? So do I. Every time I go out and feed I have the potential to murder someone, and I don’t, and I’m not going to sit here being mad about it because I might.

GM: He shakes his head again. “I’m not going to mope. I’m just wondering how long I’ll last before I lose it.”

“Really lose it.”

“Your clan likes to say they don’t have a curse. Mine finds that harder to spin.”

Celia: “Of course we have a fucking curse. We all do. And we all have a Beast.”

GM: “Ours is worse. But that’s nothing new.” He looks at the door. “Your ghoul needs to face justice.”

“He murdered a defenseless man.”

Celia: “Yeah? What do you propose I do to him?”

GM: “I’m sure he’s done a lot of illegal things. Let him go to prison.”

Celia: “He’s a ghoul. You know that’s a terrible idea.”

GM: “Abandoned ghouls exist. Independents. But I suppose he might come after you,” Roderick relents.

“Trade him to another domitor.”

Celia: “…why?”

GM: “Because I doubt they’ll be as kind as you.”

Celia: “Hand him off to get abused. Do you hear yourself?”

“Why, knowing what I’ve been through, do you think that I would willingly do that to someone?”

“You think smacking him around some is going to make him a better person?”

“You think it worked on my mom, Roderick? Made her better when my dad hit her?”

“Think it made me smarter when he knocked me around?”

“You think that time he beat me until I could barely walk was for my benefit?”

GM: “My god no, Celia! But there was a critical difference. He’s a murderer. You and your mom weren’t. Should he just get away with that? Should there be no accountability? He obviously doesn’t regret what he’s done.”

Celia: “Of course he doesn’t! You think I don’t know that? That he absolutely thinks he did the right thing? You heard him. And he’s right. He did do the right thing. He got his hands dirty so I didn’t have to. So you didn’t have to. That guy was absolutely a liability.”

“He did what he did to protect me.”

“To protect you.”

“Us.”

“Our families.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I won’t ever condone murder, Celia, except in direct self-defense. We could have found another way, like we have with Carolla. Maybe gotten a lick good at mind control to erase his memories. That’s off the table now.”

Celia: “Yeah. So is finding out what he knew. So are all of the answers I’d have gotten from him. It sucks. I’m mad at him too. And I can’t bring him back to life. So unless you can, we’re moving on.”

“Because unless you’re secretly friends with the prince or someone else who can erase years worth of memories, Reggie isn’t going anywhere. He knows everything about me. I will deal with him.”

GM: “Your ghoul can’t just get away with murder, Celia. There needs to be a consequence for his actions.”

Celia: “And, as his domitor, I will handle it.”

“I don’t tell you what to do with your ghouls. Don’t tell me what to do with mine.”

GM: “I hope you would tell me, actually, if they did something awful and my response seemed inadequate.”

“But fine. He is your ghoul. I trust you’ll handle it.”

Celia: Celia stares at him a moment longer, as if waiting for another argument. When it doesn’t come she finally nods.

“I’ll get rid of it.” The body, she means.

GM: “Okay.” He raises no objection.

He looks at Carolla.

Celia: “His, too.” She jerks her chin at the torpid lick.

GM: “I have things I’d like to ask him. But our blood isn’t strong enough to revive him.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees.

GM: “And I don’t want to bring in anyone else.”

Celia: “I was thinking the same.”

GM: “I’ll take care of him. Bury him somewhere no one will ever unearth him.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I have a better idea.”

GM: Roderick thinks.

“Wait. Could you change his body?”

Celia: “…for what purpose?”

GM: “Hiding who he is when we transport him. Just in case someone gets a look.”

Celia: “I mean, yeah. Skin is skin. I can change it.”

GM: “Extra layer of security.”

“Maybe take away his muscles, too.”

Celia: “Yeah? Graft them on you?”

GM: “God, no. I’m happy with mine. I don’t want anything from his body on me. I just like the idea of a tough Mafia thug being made weak.”

“Further helps conceal who he is, too.”

Celia: “Yeah. I can. Ask Randy to get me a cup. And a bag.”

GM: “Too bad he’s not awake. I’d like to see how he reacts to being the weak and helpless one.”

“Granted, I suppose you can’t take away his super-strength.”

Celia: “Probably not. Just his regular strength. I think.”

“I guess I’ve never tested that.”

“Just the other way.”

GM: “Perfect time to find out, then.”

Celia: “No, I mean, we won’t know without him being up.”

“Obviously I can take it.”

GM: “Ah. True. What was your idea, anyway?”

Celia: “There’s an apron in the next—oh.”

“I found the hunters that tracked me. I have a way to contact them. I was sending the boys undercover. Tomorrow, actually. We’d hatched the plan. Works better if they bring a body, though.”

“Find out what they know. Who else they’re targeting. Keep people safe.”

GM: “So your ghouls as ostensible hunters are bringing the body to trade to other hunters?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Only reason I can think of they’d want a staked lick is for interrogation and perhaps research purposes.”

Celia: “Not like they can revive him.”

GM: “Yeah, I was about to say.”

“If they even know how that works.”

Celia: “The ones who grabbed me were pretty clueless.”

“They’d heard of the mindfucking, kept me blindfolded or gagged by turns, but I’m not a fucking stiff.”

GM: “Most hunters don’t know a lot. And you’d need fairly potent blood to revive another lick, anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“So it gets us some intel. And gets rid of him.”

“Drain him first, so they don’t create independents or anything.”

GM: “Okay. Your cover will probably be blown after the handoff, though. Or they’ll at least be pissed.”

Celia: “I’ll deal with it if it is.”

GM: “They’ll have paid for a staked vampire that’s effectively just a corpse. I’d feel ripped off if I was a hunter.”

“But okay.”

Celia: “Sucks for them.”

GM: “Main question. What do they do with his body when he seems for all intents and purposes to be dead?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“We’re all technically dead.”

GM: “That’s semantics here.”

Celia: She can’t help but smile.

GM: He smiles back. “I suppose they might dispose of the body. Or perhaps vivisect for study, if they’re a more scientific bunch.”

Celia: “You know what’s fucked?”

“Like what’s really fucked?”

GM: “What?”

Celia: “I keep thinking that the best way to find out who they are and what they want is to let them deliver me.”

“Then get out.”

GM: “What if you make Carolla here look like you?”

“Then the hunters believe you’re tagged and bagged.”

Celia: “Yeah, but then I’m not actually there.”

“Though…”

“Someone bugged the spa. Looking for Jade. Shortly after I got caught as Celia and said the name Jade.”

“Said she was my sire.”

GM: “Right. So, let them think they’ve got Jade.”

“It’s not foolproof, but who knows, it might throw them off your trail.”

Celia: “That’s not a bad idea.”

GM: “It’s not like hunters go to Elysium to see you up and about.”

Celia: “I don’t know for sure that it’s connected, but maybe…”

“You know they thought that killing your sire would cure it?”

GM: “Huh. That’s how it is in some vampire media.”

Celia: “They believe all sorts of weird shit.”

GM: “I’ve also heard that rumor from some duskborn.”

“That killing your sire undoes your Embrace.”

Celia: “Couldn’t happen, though. Any time an elder dies you’d have like dozens of licks just going mortal.”

“Plus look at Max and Hennesy. His sire’s ash.”

GM: “The people circulating that rumor probably don’t know just how widespread Kindred bloodlines are. Or maybe they figure it only affects the killer.”

“Whatever.”

“I suppose Carolla is going to get a set of tits.”

Celia: “Nice tits.”

GM: A faint smile. “I can attest. If his sacrifice makes you safer from hunters, I’m all for it.”

Celia: “We should cover his disappearance more. I don’t want his uncle coming after me or my family. Or you.”

GM: Roderick nods soberly.

Celia: “Wear his face around a little, maybe.”

GM: “That’s why I was pretty paranoid about this.”

“I could wear his face, though. I know enough of how the Mafia operates.”

Celia: “…wonder if you could infiltrate.”

GM: Roderick considers.

“That’s not a bad plan at all.”

Celia: “You think you could act enough like him?”

GM: “That might be harder. What I have is the knowledge.”

Celia: “Worth thinking about, anyway.”

GM: He nods. “Very much so. For now, let’s just get rid of the real Carolla. We already did good letting two licks see him after he disappeared.”

Celia: Celia nods. She sets about gathering the supplies she’s going to need: a bowl, to drain him into. A cup, so she can use his own blood against him. A garbage bag for the spare parts. An apron for herself, a second for Rod.

“You gonna watch?” she asks him, using her claws to cut a hole in the side of his neck. A second later her hand punches through his chest to find his heart, squeezing the blood from his veins into the waiting bowl.

GM: “I’d be interested,” he nods, tying on the apron. He watches her initial work. “Geez. What’s that part for?”

Celia: “Heart is literally just a pump that moves the blood through the body. You can’t usually drain someone the whole way just through feeding, but you can this way.”

“Waste not and all that.”

GM: “That makes perfect sense.”

“Hmm. I bet a sorcerer would know all sorts of things to do with his blood.”

Celia: “Probably.”

GM: “What do you want to use it for?”

Celia: “Drink it, mostly. I burned through enough keeping him from murdering the two of us.”

“Fucker can pay me back.”

GM: “That works. I’m getting munchies too.”

Celia, however, doesn’t find much blood to squeeze. The horribly savaged Brujah was clearly burning through a great deal over the course of the fight.

Celia: She eyes the amount she’s able to squeeze out of him. Enough to share?

More than enough to share.

“Microwave in the next room. Unless you like it cold. Can each have a hit now, save some for later?”

GM: “That works.” Roderick fills up some containers and carries them away.

He’s back a few minutes later.

“Well, cheers.” He raises his.

Celia: Celia tucks away the rest of it for later. She lifts her glass, clinking it against his.

“Cheers.”

GM: Roderick downs the blood.

Then he doesn’t move.

The glass shatters over the floor, spilling its remaining blood as it falls from slack fingers.

Celia: Celia follows suit, swallowing it down. She’s absorbed in drinking—god, she loves Brujah blood—and only glances his way when the glass hits the ground. She looks at it, then up at him, and then at the glass in her hand.

GM: Roderick leaps upon Carolla’s vivisected body with a choked roar, bringing his fists down over and over and over as he smashes bones and pulverizes flesh with mindless, ravening fury.

Celia: Celia darts backwards, away from the angry vampire. She readies a stake in case he comes at her.

GM: He doesn’t. He mindlessly savages and rips apart Carolla’s already torpid form.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt. She remembers too well what happened last time she’d tried to do something when he’d been raging inside a confined space with her.

Better Carolla than her.

GM: He smashes in Carolla’s ribs. Rips out arms and leg from sockets. Snaps them apart. Snaps the spine. Caves in the skull.

He just keeps going.

Celia: Years as a lick has afforded her some emotional detachment to watching a body get torn apart. She’s done it enough times herself. She’s already cataloging what she’ll need to put back together. Whether she’ll be able to put him back together. How many extra parts she’ll need to fix.

But with his attention focused as it is on the Brujah, maybe he doesn’t notice her crouching near the table to get a look at the guts and parts that fly off.

You can tell so much from the flesh once it leaves a lick’s body.

GM: Roderick doesn’t cease or pause in his furious assault. His fists smash and smash and smash into Carolla’s, reducing it to no more pulp. Every part of his body—including the skull.

Celia: Maybe she’d thought there was some part of her boyfriend left. Some part of Stephen. Something that would make him not absolutely destroy the body on the table in front of him despite his rage at what he found.

But he goes for the skull, and her brief investigation comes to a halt when she sees what he’s about to do.

It’s just like at Elysium. He was going to goad Garcia into saying something that would prompt a duel. And now, here, he’s going to destroy what’s left of Carolla.

He’s going to do the one thing that he doesn’t want to do, no matter how mad he is right now.

He’s going to ash him.

“NO!”

The roar is torn out of her as soon as she sees it and she moves more quickly than she has this evening, bursting forward to launch herself at him. Her claws come out. He’s stronger than her, she knows that, but maybe they’ll give her the edge that she needs.

She will not let him destroy the fucker—not matter how much he deserves it—and further blacken his soul. Not on her watch.

Her Beast, riding high from its victory earlier in the night, roars its approval. It rattles the cage. It wants out.

GM: She has plans enough to blacken her own soul, anyway.

Upon Carolla’s.

Souls for power, like she said to Caroline.

The torpid Brujah is so much closer than L.A. is.

Celia: But she’s stronger than her Beast.

She always has been.

She’s not the helpless, doe-eyed damsel she pretends to be. This entire night proved that. She’d torped Carolla. Taken out him and his goon. Hatched a plan to frame someone else. Laid plans to infiltrate both the Mafia and the hunters. Told Roderick to fuck off when he thought he could tell her how to discipline her ghouls.

No, she’s not a damsel.

Just an angry lick that isn’t going to let everything she has worked so hard for be ruined by a guy with a rage issue.

GM: Celia streaks into Roderick, knocking him off the table. The frenzying Brujah smashes a fist into her face, crunching in her nose and sending teeth flying as he scrambles back towards his clanmate’s torpid form. Celia sweeps a leg underneath his, tripping her lover onto his chin. He flips around and delivers a rib-shattering kick to her torso, then scrambles to his feet. He’s too fast to stop from rising, but not so fast that she can’t still throw herself onto his back, knocking him to the floor again. Another furious fist smashes into her face. On and on and on, Roderick tries to set upon his helpless clanmate, and Celia heedlessly throws herself in his path. He shatters bone and bruises skin and worse. But Celia will not be denied. She must maintain the proper order—him the better man, her the monster. She cannot let the vision come to pass. She just has to hold out. She just has to hold him at bay until the fury passes, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much precious blood it costs her—until, finally, it does. Roderick collapses to his knees, coated in his lover’s lifeblood, red tears welling from his own eyes.

“C… Celia…”

Celia: There’s little enough vitae left in her when it’s over.

She can feel it. Gnawing. Twisting. Hungry.

She’s always so hungry.

How much of her is broken? What had he done to her? How many bones? How much of her face?

God, not her face.

Bones rejoin. Flesh rights itself. His fists don’t leave a permanent mark on her. Not anymore.

No. Not a damsel at all.

She moves to him when it’s over, sinking onto her knees beside him, pulling him into her arms. Her lips find his neck. Chaste. Brief. Her hand presses against the back of his head, holding him to her. Her fingers slide through his hair.

“I’ve got you,” she whispers. “I’ve got you.”

GM: Her lover weeps in her embrace. Tiny streams of runs over her arms, hot and furious, but undeniably grief-stricken.

“C-Celia,” Roderick rasps out, “h-e’s… he’s…!”

Celia: “Your brother,” she says for him. She leaves Coco’s name out of it. “I could taste it. Taste you.”

GM: Roderick closes his eyes for a moment. He doesn’t swallow. The physiological need is long past.

But he repeats the words himself. As if it’s important for him to say the truth aloud. To not shirk from it, in even this moment.

“He’s… my… BROTHER!

She has never heard his voice so broken. So raw. So crushed.

Since he died.

For a moment, she’s Celia Flores, newly-Embraced fledgling again, with a mortal boyfriend she can’t stay together with. She’s telling him, the man whose children she wanted to bear, that they’re through. Because she cheated on him. Because she was broken inside and his love wasn’t enough to fix her. Because he loved her and trusted her and he made a sucker’s bet, and she twisted all of that love and trust like a knife in his gut. To hurt him like only someone you’ve opened your heart and soul to can ever hurt you.

That’s what his voice sounds like.

That moment from 2009.

When he begged her to get help.

Celia: She blinks and it’s there in her eyes: pain. The pain that she caused. Continues to cause. Now. Then.

She did this.

She made this happen.

To please someone else. To make her sire happy. To make her grandsire happy. Their goals, not hers, never hers. She doesn’t want him to hurt like this. Once is enough.

Isn’t it better, some part of her asks, that he knows? Better that found out? Better that he didn’t continue his Requiem ignorant to the fact that his sire lied to him?

That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it. The difference between them:

Truth?

Or beauty?

He has gotten his truth and it has broken him.

The red runs down her cheeks. She doesn’t try to stop it. She doesn’t want it anymore. She doesn’t want to be this person anymore. She doesn’t want to play their games and ruin people because she, too, knows the truth: they’re all fucking terrible. Every single one of them. Except for him. He’s not. He’s not, but they’re going to ruin him. He’s not, but they’re going to blacken him. They’re going to twist him, to tear him apart, to leave him nothing but an empty, hollow corpse, because that’s what they do. That’s what they are.

They’re monsters.

And she hates them for it.

Every single one of them.

Even him.

What do you do when you find out your life is a lie?

She had abandoned her mom. Left her in the hospital. Broken. Bleeding. Hurting. Isolated.

Nothing had helped.

He had. Eventually. When she’d found him, he’d been there for her. Put her back together. Let her tell him everything on her time. When she was ready. Didn’t push.

So she doesn’t push now. She keeps her arms around him, touch soft against his skin, holding him to her like she wished someone would hold her.

GM: She holds him.

Holds him as he holds the burden of his truth.

Holds him as it crushes him.

Holds him as it grinds his bones.

Holds him as it squeezes the tears from his ducts.

Holds him as he raises his head, his eyes lost and confused, like a newborn beholding the world for the first time.

And not liking what it sees.

“She lied to me,” he whispers.

“She,” he repeats, each word falling from his lips like a stone, “Lied. To. Me.”

He looks around, as if not recognizing the spa. He repeats the words again. There’s a strange, almost lyrical cadence to them, as if he can’t understand them. As if in saying them aloud, he might come to realize what they mean. They sound almost innocent.

“She… lied… to me.”

Celia: She did.

She lied.

Celia doesn’t say it, though. He doesn’t need to hear it from her. There’s enough bad blood between them about his sire.

GM: He laughs. It’s a light sound. Almost a giggle.

“She lied to me.”

“She… lied to me.”

He runs a hand through his hair and bursts out laughing. His smile is huge. Far too huge for his face, like a cracked mirror being crammed into a too-small frame.

“I’m the stupid one!"

“Ah ha! Ah ha ha ha! AH HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!”

He cannot contain the laughter. It bursts from his dead lungs, filling the room, jubilant and exalting as a cyanide pill in a birthday cake it rings off the walls.

“I see now!”

“I SEE now!”

Celia: He’s hysterical.

Literally cracked.

Celia swallows. She doesn’t know what to say.

GM: “I’m not stupid anymore, Celia!” he grins at her. He seizes her cheeks between his hands, crushingly hard.

“They all said it was you, but it was me!”

“I was stupid!"

“But not anymore!”

“Oh no! Oh no, oh no, not anymore!”

“I won’t be stupid EVER AGAIN!”

Celia: She tries to talk around the grip he has on her cheeks. But it hurts to try to move her jaw. She pulls at his hands, backpedaling.

“Wh—what?”

GM: “I GET it now, Celia!” he yells, shaking her back and forth. Her skull slams into the wall hard enough to make spots blossom across her sight if she were mortal, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He throws back his head and laughs.

“I GET it! How it all really works!”

“How THEY all really work!”

“How the world really works!”

“Oh, I’m so smart, like they all said I was! I finally get it!”

Celia: She doesn’t.

She doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. What he thinks he gets.

Maybe it’s her head slamming into the wall. She keeps herself quiet, pulling away from him.

GM:YOU got it!” he declares, thrusting a finger at her.

“And they all said you were so stupid.”

“Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha haha haaHAHAHAHAH!”

Celia: “Stop it, Roderick.”

GM: “You’re not stupid! You GOT IT, Celia! You got it YEARS before I did!”

“Years and years and YEARS!”

Celia: “Got what?

GM: He throws up his hands.

“The truth!”

“How it all works!”

He laughs again.

Celia: She doesn’t like this. It’s scaring her. He’s going to do something crazy. He’s going to do something stupid. He’s going to go cause problems somewhere.

He’s broken. They broke him. She broke him.

Again.

GM: “Took me long enough, with a brain as big as mine!”

“Well. Well, well, well, well, well. It’s time I stopped acting so stupid.”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. Just… just take a minute, okay?”

GM: “Take me to Savoy, Celia.”

“He can be the second to see, just how smart I am now.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“What, now?”

GM: He smiles like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Take me to Savoy, so I can sell out Coco and stab her in the back like she stabbed me.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her phone. She sends a text to Mel that she’s stopping by and bringing a friend. The ghoul will know what it means.

GM: “She fed me lies for years.”

“Well, I will feed her lies right back.”

“I will feed her plenty of lies indeed.”

“I think I’m going to be very good at lying, with a big brain like mine.”

Celia: It’s what she wanted.

What she’s been working towards. What everything she’s done these past weeks has been for.

Why, then, does victory ring so hollow?


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: She asks him if he wants to change his face. But the lie he’s wearing right now works better. No need to tip anyone off. They keep it.

She asks, too, if he’s hungry. They take the edge off if he is. And she finds the blood she’d drained earlier to feed herself. Just in case.

She tells the boys to stay put, that she’ll be back for them, and tells Dani to get some sleep. “Something came up,” is all she says, “I’ll explain later.”

They wash off the blood and find new clothes. Celia turns herself into Jade. Then they’re in the car, driving toward the Evergreen.

GM: He waves off the offered blood. He’ll impose upon Lord Savoy. He’s sure the Toreador elder will be happy to satisfy his thirst.

“I’m going to squeeze him for everything he’s worth,” he declares.

Dani wants to talk to her brother. He tells her things are fine. He’ll see her later.

They drive to the Evergreen. He doesn’t talk along the way. Fabian receives them cordially and states Lord Savoy is due to return shortly. In the meantime, he bids the lovers to slake their thirst upon a few of Mélissaire’s girls. They feed together in one of the upstairs Louis XIV-themed sitting rooms. Roderick drinks thirstily from the attractive escort on his lap without making small talk. He licks the blood from his lips when she’s gone. He waits, patiently.

Celia: Jade doesn’t turn down the offer of free blood. They drink together. The girls are attractive; they have to be, they go to Flawless. She enjoys the way they writhe when she sinks in.

But they’re just a distraction to their real purpose this evening.

She waits with Roderick. Silent. She doesn’t force her company on him if he doesn’t want it. But she’s close, and she hopes that he does.

GM: He sits by her while she feeds, and even shares the same vessel at one point, eyes meeting as they drink. But he doesn’t seem to feel like talking once it’s done.

It’s not an overly long wait later before Antoine Savoy sweeps into the room, grinning from ear to ear. He’s trailed by Preston, Mélissaire, and a redheaded girl Jade hasn’t seen before. He warmly kisses his grandchilde upon both cheeks and greets a stonier-faced Roderick with a simple handshake.

“We have a great deal to discuss, Lord Savoy,” says the Brujah.

“Yes, I’m certain we do,” grins Savoy, clapping the taller man on the back and following him to the elevator with Preston.

“I’ll send for you in short order, my dear,” he says to Jade. “In the meantime, we’ll put Mélissaire and Theoline here at your disposal. Anything you might desire, they will arrange.”

The redhead looks no older than a teenager. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length red hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. Jade’s seen them before, silently attending various elders. The casquette girls.

:: Use the time to think of what rewards you’d like. Don’t be modest! :: Savoy’s voice chuckles in her mind. :: I’m very, VERY pleased with you, Celia. I knew you’d come through on this one. I have good instincts for people—and so do you, to flip Coco’s childe! We’ll talk more about what kind of expanded role you might serve in my court going forward. ::

Celia: Jade halts in her tracks as the group disappears into the elevator. She’d thought that she would go with them. Would be part of it. Could listen in, learn at his side like Roderick got to with his sire.

Not tonight.

She doesn’t let it bother her. Rewards, he’d said. Part of his court. That can be part of it.

She reaches for the tether that links their minds together, sending back wordless affirmation filled with affection. Like a cat rubbing up against his thoughts, purring, its tail flicking in quiet contentment. He’s pleased. And she’s pleased that he’s pleased. And she can’t help but think of the pair of them in that hot tub together upstairs, no Preston to be found. There’s a giggle, the suggestion of a wink, and finally a :: Yes, grandsire. ::

Don’t be modest indeed.

GM: There’s an image of the two of them lazily reclining in the pool’s bubbling water together. Preston isn’t anywhere to be found.

Or their clothes.

Celia: Tease.

Her fangs lengthen at the image.

GM: “Just let us know what we can do for you, ma’am,” smiles Mélissaire as the old-fashioned wrought iron elevator coveys the other Kindred to the roof. “Lord Savoy is VERY pleased.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes stay on her boyfriend’s face until the doors close and they disappear to the floors above. She knows what she wants.

Him.

Back the way he was.

In love with her. Happy. Stressed, maybe, but happy. Working for good. Talking about a wedding.

Not this damaged, broken, cracked version of himself. Not this vengeful, spurned childe.

She wants what they had. And she’s afraid that it’s out of reach. Afraid that it wasn’t the hunters who had set him down the path to the Dark Roderick she had seen in her vision, but the betrayal of his sire.

Celia knows what she wants. But Celia is a liability in this place, and it’s not something they can do. She drowns.

Jade is there to pick up the pieces. She’s so good at her role. What had she once said? “I keep her safe.” She turns her gaze to the women.

What can they do for her? An elder ghoul and, if she’s not mistaken, a casquette girl. She’s seen them around before, and she’s heard of them, but she’s never had one at her disposal. She runs through a list of what she’s working on in her head: the hunters, the Setites, the demons.

VERY pleased, is he? She’ll see how pleased. How far that good will goes; whether or not the exiled prince is worth more to him than a viper who scurries through the Quarter.

“I need a cottonmouth,” Jade says to the ghoul. “Staked and delivered to me prior to Elysium tomorrow.”

“Failing that, a combat-trained shadow dancer for a pickup during the day.”

“Pierre, if he’s available,” she adds as an aside. He’d already made contact with the same group. Maybe he’ll give the boys an edge. It’s a bonus that she doesn’t need to change his face.

She tries to ignore the fact that she is very certain he is the one who had accosted her in the shower and received a taste of her claws for the effort.

Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to use her without her consent.

Perhaps they’ll go for round two.

GM: “Lord Savoy will need to authorize a request like that first one,” answers Mélissaire, “but I can check and see, so far as Pierre.”

“Where and when is the pickup?”

Celia: “Tomorrow.” Jade gives her the time she’d worked out with the boys. “He’ll be with two of mine.”

A pause, then, “Let Lord Savoy know that the cottonmouth is to secure another friend for him.”

GM: Mélissaire nods and asks for a meet location or contact number so the other ghoul can know where to go.

“I think he’ll want to receive the details of that first request from you in person, ma’am. Friends don’t stake friends without a good reason, after all,” Mélissaire declares with an amused smile.

Celia: Better she tell him in person, anyway.

She gives Mel a contact number for Randy.

GM: “Very good, ma’am. Will there be anything else?” smiles the ghoul.

Theoline stands silently nearby with a placid expression.

Celia: “For tonight?” Jade considers. Something for her instead of furthering her grandsire’s goals and influence. Something personal and selfish.

She can think of dozens of things. None of them seem right.

She shifts her gaze to the casquette girl. Curiosity gnaws at her.

“No.”

GM: The casquette girl meets her gaze calmly as she considers.

“Very good, ma’am,” Mélissaire repeats with another smile as she and Theoline show Jade downstairs. “Lord Savoy will be free to see you soon; he can swing tomorrow at 4 or Saturday at 3. Which of those nights would work better for you?”

Celia: “Not tonight?” She’d thought he meant tonight.

GM: “He expects dawn not to be too far off when he’s done with Mr. Durant, ma’am. He wants to give your meeting plenty of time as well.”

Celia: “Neither of those times work for me.”

GM: “I’ll check when a later time might be arranged, in that case.”

Celia: She wonders if he’s used to nobodies like Jade telling him that she’s busy.

“Let his guest know I’m going home for the evening.”

GM: Indeed, Jade could simply reschedule for the elder.

“I’ll do just that, ma’am. Have a very good night—you’ve been of great help to Lord Savoy,” wishes Mélissaire, bowing low.

Celia: She’s already had her meetings bumped. His own fault for only being free when she has other people to meet.

It’s like he did it on purpose.

Jade nods to the pair of ghouls and sees herself out.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A text to Randy on the way out of the Evergreen assures that everything she needs is waiting for her when she gets back to Flawless. It might mean he has to take a trip to pick up the thin-blood she’d given them earlier to hold onto, but whatever; it’s there when she arrives.

She should probably have a separate site where she can butcher people, she thinks. Somewhere that no one can connect to Jade or Celia.

Not that she plans on butchering very many people. Right?

Just in case, though.

GM: Randy does not respond to the text. Jade finds both ghouls sound asleep when she gets back. Dani shoots her a text on the way back, though, and is still there. She asks what happened with her brother. “Where is he? I just, have a bad feeling with him losing it and not coming back… and what’s happening to the Mafia guy?”

Celia: Dani and her both, Celia can’t help but think.

“He got some bad news and had to handle it. I dropped him off, but he’s going to be a while. Close to dawn. I’d rather let him tell you what happened, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay…” Dani says slowly. “I’d just like to be there for him. Do you know where he’s gonna be?”

Celia: “He’s with another lick in a private meeting while they figure out a game plan.”

“You won’t be able to get in.”

“I wasn’t able to get in.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“Nothing like feeling useless when someone you love is going through a hard time.”

GM: “I just have a bad feeling about this, Celia.”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“Me too, Dani.”

“Do you have school tomorrow? You can come with me tonight and spend the day if you want. Maybe he’ll meet up with us before dawn.”

GM: “I do have school. But I’d love to!” she nods. “That’ll be before it starts anyway.”

Celia: “You getting enough sleep?”

GM: “I kind of wish we’d thought to ask Edith about that. Sometimes I’m pretty tired.”

Celia: “I’m sure she’d trade more information for blood.”

GM: “God. She, Rampart Street, all of that, was just…” Dani shivers.

“And then this. The same evening.”

“At least I had a gun this time. Stephen gave me one to keep in my purse.”

Celia: “Good. You know how to shoot?”

GM: She nods. “I have a permit. He and Dad showed me when I was younger.”

“We’d sometimes all go to the gun range together.”

Celia: “Won’t stop a lick. But might slow them down.”

“Good to know, in any case.”

GM: “I saw that firsthand, yeah.”

Celia: “Did he get hit? I was kind of… distracted.”

GM: “Carolla didn’t really seem to feel the rounds I put into him.”

“But I shot his ghoul.”

“Before Reggie murdered him.”

Celia: “Yeah, Rod and I talked about it.”

GM: “So did Randy and I. After I yelled at his brother.”

Celia: “How’d that go?”

GM: “About as well as you might expect.”

“He’s a pedophile murderer. You should do something about him.”

Celia: He’s not a pedophile. It’s not like he has sex with kids. He just likes the taboo of being with their moms.

“Yep.”

“Hey, do you think it’s weird if I get Roderick a dog? He mentioned he misses Ajax, and I think maybe he could use some non-human, non-Kindred companionship.”

GM: “We talked about that, when I told him about Ajax. He said he was concerned about tamers.”

Celia: “He could learn, though.”

“Maybe I’ll wait.”

GM: “Maybe until he does. Good surprise present, though.”

Celia: “Dogs don’t much like me, anyway.”

GM: “Yeah, your mom says her cats hate you too.”

Celia: “Can’t please everyone.”

GM: “Well, I guess that’s one advantage to being duskborn. They seem to like me fine.”

Celia: Licks hate her, though. But Celia doesn’t point it out.

She knows which one she’d rather be.

GM: “Are we gonna be here a while, anyways? Is there a good spot I can get some shut-eye if so?”

Celia: “Take one of the massage rooms. Tables are pretty comfortable, just don’t roll off the edge. Or there’s chairs in them.”

GM: “Thanks. Feels weird being in a spa after hours like this.”

Celia: She laughs.

“Yeah. You get used to it.”

GM: Dani smiles faintly and shakes her head. “Just one of those places I never figured I was gonna be.”

“But I guess so was gunfights in a public park.”

Celia: “And friends with a vampire.”

GM: “And being a vampire. Are you going to do something about Reggie?”

Celia: “I already had this conversation once tonight, Dani. I’m not doing it again.”

GM: “With Stephen? I’ll grant he can’t exactly be prosecuted for murder, but he can’t just kill someone without some kind of consequence.”

Celia: Celia fixes her with a look.

“I will decide how and what for my ghouls are punished. That is no one else’s decision or business except for mine.”

GM: “Uh, I’m sorry, is there some kind of etiquette I’m missing here?”

Celia: “My ghouls are my business. What I do to them is my business. If I ask for input, fine. Otherwise, every lick who has a ghoul is in charge of what they do to theirs. You don’t tell someone else that they need to do something, or what it is you think they need to do.”

“So yes, that’s a complete breach of etiquette.”

“Politely, it’s like telling someone how to handle their child.”

GM: Dani frowns. “Your mom’s your ghoul. So how does that factor into it?”

Celia: “Weirdly.”

“I never intended for my mom to be my ghoul.”

“She’s… different.”

GM: “So, what, is she ‘your child’ too? And if not, why not? What’s the criteria that makes them only accountable to you?”

Celia: “Dani, I’d love to explain this to you, but I’m going to ask that you wait. I have a fuck ton of stuff to do right now before I get home and have had a very trying night where I was smacked around by a mafiosa and watched him try to murder my boyfriend.”

GM: “I had one where I was almost raped by homeless people and killed by two mafiosos, who I also saw try to murder my brother, and was largely helpless to do anything about it. Stephen looks like he’s letting things with Reggie be for now, so, fine, I’ll trust his judgment. And ask him about this. But I’m not letting it drop forever.”

Celia: “My ghouls, my business.”

GM: “We’ve already established there’s at least one exception to that rule.”

Celia: “Do you want to know,” she suddenly says, “what your brother wanted me to do to him?”

GM: “…sorry?”

Celia: “He wanted me to trade him to another domitor. Someone who is less ‘nice’ than me. He wanted me to hand him over to be beaten, abused, and otherwise defiled because to our kind, they’re nothing.”

GM: “He’s a pedophile murderer who’s apparently unaccountable to our justice system. There has the be some kind of consequence! If that’s the only one Stephen thought he could face, well, fuck, Celia, he killed someone in cold blood! That wasn’t self-defense!”

Celia: “So no, Dani, I’m not going to sit here and let the two of you tell me how to punish him for what he did. I am his domitor. I will handle it. My mother is a different story because she is my mother. Most licks don’t ghoul their mothers.”

“I said,” Celia repeats, “that I will handle it.

GM: “And I said I’d leave this alone tonight. But I’m going to ask Stephen about it.”

Celia: “Stephen and I,” Celia repeats, “already spoke about it.”

GM: “Then I guess he’ll talk with me about it too, because this ‘etiquette convention’ makes absolutely no sense. If your mom killed someone in cold blood, does she get to be prosecuted for it, or does she fall under ‘domitor justice’ too?”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters.

“Licks don’t answer to the same justice system that you do. That’s all there is to it. Talk to Stephen if you want to, he’s going to tell you the same thing.”

“I said I’d handle it. I’m handling it.”

GM: “I know licks don’t answer to our justice system. You and Stephen explained the Traditions and how those are vampire laws. What’s inconsistent is where, apparently, ghouls fit into that, and why exceptions are made for ones who are immediate relatives to a vampire.”

Celia: “You’re missing the point.”

GM: “Well, I said I was going to drop this. So I will.”

“I’ll ask Stephen more.”

Celia: Great.

GM: “And let your mom know she can kill people if she ever feels like it, I guess.”

Celia: “That’s literally not what I said at all.”

“Stop twisting my words because you’re pissed at Reggie.”

“I said my mom was an exception to the parent/child dynamic. That was literally it.”

“If you took further meaning from it that’s on you.”

GM: “I’m going to get some shut-eye,” Dani says shortly. “Let me know when you’re done.”

Celia: She should have wiped her fucking memories.

Another fucking liability.

Celia snarls at the door once it closes. Maybe a night on Rampart Street would do her a world of good.

Nip that attitude right in the fucking bud.

This is why.

This. Right here.

This is why you’re not nice to people who are below you.

Because they get fucking uppity.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade reheats the blood she’d taken from herself earlier once Dani sees herself out, downing two hits of it to slake her thirst before she even begins, and sets the other two aside. No doubt she’ll need them before the evening is out. She still has the blood from the pathetic half vampire, too; thin though it is it will still serve a use if she needs it to.

She starts with Randy, turning him into the hunter she’d killed. Then the thin-blood, turning him into “Jade.” Then Carolla, turning him into a nameless nobody with whatever parts she can salvage that Roderick hadn’t destroyed, though she has no intention of handing his body over. She keeps him staked. She’ll need a secure place to keep him while she figures out… well, while she figures out what to do with him.

That thing Caroline had told her is tempting.

So very, very tempting.

But she’ll keep him around until she meets with her grandsire, she thinks, in case he needs… what?

Whatever. Maybe she’s just not ready to drain someone of their soul.

Jade takes stock of her Beast after each transition, drinking as she needs to. No need to ride the edge when she has a surplus of blood this evening.

She finds she doesn’t need to. Her Beast is happy to watch her tear apart carcasses and sculpt them to her will. It’s pleased that she’s finally taking steps to end the threat to herself. Pleased that her grandsire is pleased, regardless of her role as taxi driver this evening. Pleased that maybe her lover won’t scoff at her for her actions here now that he’s had a taste of this life. It doesn’t fight her when she starts her work.

The ghoul’s body needs to be drained as well, then she can strip it down to parts she can use and parts she can’t. She has Reggie see to the first bit while she works on the rest of it, and when they’re both done it’s his turn on her table. She starts by checking him for any lasting injuries from Roderick’s hands.

GM: Randy groggily wakes up when Celia rouses him and requests a sedative. He stares at his new face in the mirror when she’s done and mutters, “I’ll never get used to that.”

The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with stringy hair, bad teeth, and a haggard face marred with the telltale signs of years-long drug addiction, is soon a smoking hot 20something woman. He doesn’t even respond to the agonizing process of having his entire body re-sculpted from face to genitals. Just stares blankly up at the ceiling.

Jade could make a joke about doing him a favor.

Celia: Less of a favor since she’s getting rid of him.

But at least he’ll die pretty.

GM: Reggie guffaws with laughter after he comes in and asks.

“Damn. Upgrade for that guy.”

“I’d stick my cock in that if I wasn’t worried about catching something.”

Celia: “I bet you would.”

GM: Jade finds his throat to still have some telltale red abrasions, but her ghoul otherwise looks fine.

Celia: Good. She’d be pissed all over again if Roderick did any lasting damage.

“Next time,” she tells the ghoul, “don’t announce you killed someone in front of people.”

“And maybe wait until I have a chance to question him.”

GM: “Yeah, that probably woulda been smarter. Mainly wanted to get your friend’s panties in a wad.”

“Which it did.”

“Good point on the questioning, though.”

“I just saw what a huge fucking problem this guy was gonna be if we did anything else.”

Celia: “You did the right thing.”

“I would have killed him too.”

GM: “Yeah, I figured.”

Celia: “But them getting their panties in a wad means I have to listen to them bitch.”

“And they’re really fucking annoying.”

GM: “You want, I can punish her for you.”

Celia: “I want you to leave her alone and pretend I punished you.”

GM: “Okay, like, how?”

“Oh, maybe you made me fuck your double here without a rubber, before he got the sexy treatment.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

“Tell them I beat you or something. I doubt they’re going to ask.”

“Then again, maybe forcing you to fuck something you don’t want to fuck would work for them. They think you’re a pedophile.”

GM: Reggie rolls his eyes.

He walks up to the double and pulls down its pants and panties.

“Goddamn. That is a real fucking cunt,” he declares with a low whistle.

Celia: “Nice, isn’t it?”

She does good work.

GM: Reggie laughs again.

HUGE upgrade for this guy.”

“Will he have any idea?”

“Or I guess, she at this point.”

He pulls up the blouse and starts appreciatively squeezing the breasts.

“Oh yeah. Definitely ‘she’.”

Celia: “She’s pretty much dead at this point. You’re just using the body to get in and nab them.”

GM: “I dunno, she doesn’t look all dead to me…”

Celia: “You’re more of a slut than I am, Reg.”

GM: Reggie starts removing the double’s clothes.

Celia: “Tell you what. Bag those hunters for me and bring them back—alive—and I’ll turn someone into whatever you want them to be.”

GM: He gives in mid-undressing to give Jade a very dirty grin.

“Anyone I want, you say?”

Celia: Jade arches a brow at him.

GM: “You might regret that promise.”

Celia: “You going to ask for my mom?”

GM: He laughs.

“Close.”

Celia: “…my sister?”

GM: “My mom.”

Celia: She just nods.

“Done.”

GM: “Although… yours if I was banging you at the same time would be really hot too.”

Celia: “I kind of want to watch you fuck your mom, not gonna lie.”

GM: “Mmm, how’s this. I’ll put on a show for you with my mom, then we fuck each other and your mom together.”

Celia: “Bring me the hunters, Reg, and we’ve got nothing but time to play out our fucked up fantasies.”

GM: “I want you to have the same hair color,” he grins. “Bigger family resemblance.”

“I can’t really picture her with black hair. But you’d be a sexy blonde.”

Celia: She’d be a sexy anything.

GM: “Meantime,” he says, peeling off the last of the lookalike’s clothes, then hoisting up Jade on top of the torpid body,

“I’ve always wanted to do twins…”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The sex with the staked double isn’t much, with their partner literally just lying there like a wooden board. Reggie still seems to find it really hot. He and Jade do each other on top of ‘her’ in a variety of positions. Reggie tries to finish with a blowjob from the double (“you never want to give those”), but eventually makes do with rubbing his cock back and forth along the double’s tongue. Jade has to hold ‘her’ mouth open and occasionally assist Reggie with her hand. The ghoul blows his load all over ’Jade’s’ face.

“Fuck, that was hot,” he pants.

“You know, I bet the hunter REALLY won’t want to look like my mom.”

“Or to fuck me.”

“Or to fuck me looking like my mom.”

“So it’ll be like I’m raping my mom.”

His cock is already getting firm again.

Celia: She doesn’t judge him for it. Really.

But she does tell him that he’s going to have to wait before he gets off again.

As, uh, punishment.

Yeah. Punishment. Now she can say she punished him without lying. She makes him clean the thin-blood, too, and they rinse off together, and maybe she lied when she said he had to wait again because something about black dudes fucking her in the shower really does it for her and she has him take her again.

But now it’s starting for real this time.

She goes over the plan with him one more time when they’re done, after she changes his face and body to be something nondescript. Pierre will contact them. He’s met them before, he knows what’s up with them. Make sure they’re not being tracked or anything silly.

She asks if he has any questions.

GM: He doesn’t.

He’s eager to “go pick up my mom.”

But for now he needs “my fucking beauty sleep.” He and Randy drive home. Dani and Celia drive back to her haven. Things still feel tense and they don’t talk much.

The night sky starts to turn navy blue, but Roderick doesn’t come home.

Celia: She sends him a text to see if he’s okay, though she doesn’t really expect an answer.

GM: She doesn’t get one.

“What if something happened to him?” Dani finally asks, breaking the pair’s near-silence. “It’s going to be dawn soon, but I could go look.”

Celia: “I think he’s just angry,” Celia says quietly. “I don’t think anything happened to him.”

She reaches for Dani’s hand.

GM: Dani gives it a squeeze.

“Is he gonna be okay…?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “He found out someone he trusted betrayed him.”

GM: “A lick?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “He didn’t take it well. After you guys broke up.”

Celia: Celia wets her lips with her tongue. “What happened? What did he do?”

GM: “I don’t think I ever saw him with another girl.”

Celia: “Never?”

GM: “I mean, he had girlfriends before you. But not after.”

“That I saw.”

Celia: “Did he have anywhere he used to go?”

GM: “I don’t know. He just… shut down. Stopped responding to calls or texts or emails.”

“So I guess this isn’t new.”

Celia: “He might be at one of his other places…”

GM: “My dad got really worried after a while. Went to his apartment to see if he was okay.”

“They had a huge argument.”

“Really ugly.”

“Which was so weird, because they normally get along so well.”

“Got along so well.”

“He’s… like our dad, I guess. He also shuts down when he’s mad.”

“He also called up our mom to yell at her.”

Celia: Maybe Savoy staked him to keep him from doing anything stupid.

GM: “Screamed about walking out on the family and being a traitor and all sorts of… out there shit.”

“She told me about it later.”

Celia: “Jesus.”

Celia wipes at her eyes.

“He sounded like that tonight.”

“The way he sounded when I broke up with him.”

“Broken.”

GM: Dani’s quiet for a while.

“I stopped by his place too, a few days after Dad. He wouldn’t answer the door.”

“I finally started yelling at him and that got him to open up. He looked like he hadn’t been taking care of himself. And he yelled at me and told me I was a loser and that I’d always be second best.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together.

“I’m sorry.”

“That it happened because of me.”

GM: Dani just looks sad for a moment.

“He chose to say that. It was on him.”

“He said sorry later.”

“Really apologized. Said how much he wished he could take it back.”

“But, just…”

She shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know. I don’t want to see him like this.”

“I feel like I just got him back.”

“And we have dinner tomorrow, with our dad and your family…”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I know. I feel the same. That I just got him back. And now this. And I don’t… I don’t know if there’s any coming back from this.”

GM: “I guess I won’t be asking him about the legal standing of ghouls after all.”

The attempt at levity doesn’t even deserve to be called a joke.

Celia: She tries to smile.

GM: “Does this sound like the whole… vision you had of him?”

“Well, were told about him, rather?”

Celia: “Sort of, yeah.”

GM: “Is there anything we can do?”

Celia: “Stem the tide. Keep it from getting worse. I kept him from killing two people tonight because he wouldn’t want that if he were thinking clearly. Find him. Bring him home.”

GM: “He got angry when Dad and I tried to get in his face.”

“But I guess that Stephen couldn’t kill people.”

Celia: “I don’t mean getting in his face.”

“Just… being there for him.”

GM: “I guess that’s all we can do.”

Jade feels herself growing sluggish. Sol’s harsh eye rises above the city.

Celia: “I guess our talk will have to wait for another night, too.”

Celia leans against Dani as the sun starts to rise. Not long before she goes under.

“I’m sorry I got snippy with you.”

GM: “I’m sorry I got… belligerent. I could have asked less argumentatively.”

Celia: She starts moving up the bed, burrowing beneath the blankets.

“…izzit weird if I ask you to sleep wi’ me?”

GM: Dani helps her to the bedroom. She’s quiet for a moment at Celia’s question, as she looks at the bed, then finally replies,

“I’d… I’d feel safe with you.”

Celia: Celia pulls Dani close beneath the blankets, curling her body around her almost-sister-in-law. She takes what comfort she can from the girl in her arms. Not who she wants, no, but someone at least with whom she can share the burden of missing Stephen. Maybe together they can keep him from spiraling down into that dark place.

Her eyes close.

“We’ll fin’ him, Dani.”

“Not gonna… lose ’im… ’gain.”

GM: Dani feels tense at first, when Celia touches her. But it’s not after too much longer, doubtless aided by the bond, that she relaxes, and eventually, reciprocates. She wraps her arms around Celia and leans her head against her shoulder.

“This feels nice…”

Celia: “Mm,” Celia agrees. “Warm.”

GM: “You, too. I thought licks would be cold.”

Celia: “Special.” A long pause, as if searching for the words to explain. “Blood. Make warm. Pass as ’live.”

GM: “Oh. So most are cold.”

Celia: “Cold bad. Means bad. Beast.”

GM: Dani nuzzles her beneath the covers.

“Knew there was a reason I didn’t like them as much as you.”

Celia: Celia giggles. It’s a slower sound than normal.

“Love him,” she says after a quiet moment. “Love you.” She rubs her cheek against Dani’s chest.

GM: Dani gives her arms around Celia a squeeze.

“I love you too. You’re gonna be my sister.”

Celia: Celia nods in agreement.

Sisters.

She likes the sound of that.

GM: There’s a short laugh.

“Oh. We’re still in our clothes.”

“But I don’t really feel like getting pajamas.”

Celia: Celia fumbles for her shirt. Her fingers feel fat, barely responding to her commands.

She gives up after a minute.

GM: Dani giggles.

“Okay. Guess not.”

Celia: “Too hard,” Celia complains. “Tired. Sun up.”

“You do it.”

GM: Dani pauses a moment, then starts to pull off Celia’s clothes.

Celia: She helps where she can. Mostly it’s moving as she needs to.

“Don’ tell Steph you saw me naked.”

GM: “I won’t.”

Dani looks at her for a while. Her clothes are still on.

“You’re really pretty.”

“Prettier than me.”

Celia: “Nigh’ doc. Cheated.” Celia touches a hand to her face. It’s a lot of effort to make that move, but this seems important. “You pretty.”

GM: “I don’t have a boyfriend, though.”

“Didn’t when we met either.”

Celia: “Boys dumb.”

“More t’life than pretty.”

GM: “Yeah. But it helps.”

Celia: “Can show you. Tricks. Makeup.”

“D’centra help if you wan’.”

GM: “I haven’t really had much luck at relationships.”

“Oh. That’d be nice, yeah.”

Celia: “Have you?”

“Been with… someone.”

“Not that night.”

GM: Dani blushes and looks away.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her cheek, gently pulling her face back towards her.

“S’okay. Nothin’ to be ’shamed of.”

GM: “I just… I think guys can tell I have… esteem issues.”

Celia: “We’ll fix.”

GM: “And the only ones who don’t care are… I have pride.”

Celia: “Wha’bout girls?”

GM: “Oh. I haven’t really thought about girls.”

Celia: “We don’… see genders, us’lly.”

“Dead, so, who cares.”

GM: “Oh,” repeats Dani.

“Like… biologically?”

Celia: “Wha’?”

GM: “Like. Is it a social thing, that ‘all vampires are gay,’ or is it biological?”

Celia: “Biolo.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “Prince is ‘gay.’”

GM: “You’ve seemed…” She clears her throat.

Celia: “Hm?”

GM: “Just… y’know.” Color tinges Dani’s cheeks again.

Celia: “Open?”

GM: “Um, open?”

Celia: “Flex’ble. Both ways.”

GM: “Oh. I just meant… how pretty. I’ve noticed.”

Celia: “Oh. Though’ y’were callin’ me whore.”

GM: “What? Oh, no, no, never!”

Celia: “Steph’d be mad if I kiss you.”

GM: “Oh. You’re his girlfriend, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want that.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “Well. I mean. You’re very pretty.” Dani’s cheeks start to redden again. “But you’re his.”

Celia: His.

She is, isn’t she.

She nods slowly.

“S’okay. Y’like… boys anyway.”

“Coul’ show you… good firs’ time. Redo. But his.”

GM: She nods back. “Yes. Boys.”

“Redo, you mea… oh.”

Her flush deepens.

“You’re his.”

“I’m sorry, I’m… talking crazy. Just stressed.”

Celia: “Goo’ stress ’lief.”

GM: “Well. I wouldn’t… know.”

Celia: “N’ver go’ off?”

“Dani.” Celia clicks her tongue.

GM: “Oh. I would. I’m not a total prude.”

“There’s a couple times I could’ve gotten laid. It just… made me feel cheap.”

Celia: “Why?”

“Natural. Par’ of life.”

“Dani,” Celia says when the girl seems too tongue tied to continue, “you hol’ me? I dun’ like bein’ ‘lone. C’n ge’ nake if y’wan’. Skin touch goo’ for moo’. Studies ‘bout i’.”

“But tired. Sun says go sleep.”

“Hol’ me, Dani.”

“Need you.”

“Safe.”

GM: Dani holds her. She doesn’t take off her own clothes. But she wraps her arms around Celia, lays her head against her brother’s paramour, and closes her eyes.

Safe.

Celia: Before she falls asleep Celia sighs loudly, reaching for her phone.

“Fuck,” she mutters as she sends the text to Mel.

Sat @3.

Then she’s out, her problems on pause for the day.

Monsters only exist at night.

View
Celia V, Chapter XIX
Will Carolla

“I know how I like my women.”
William Carolla


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: They’re a mess when it’s over. Jade bleeds the excess into a cup, but there’s something so hot about being covered in blood while she fucks a ghoul and she wishes that Roderick were more into it.

Then again, she thinks that perhaps killing started him down the path that led to the vision, and she’s not interested in that. She’ll leave these moments to those of them who enjoy them. Like Reggie.

She drains the blood from the body with Reggie’s help, using him to hold the man aloft while she uses a hand to pump the heart like the literal valve that it is. She drinks until she’s full, puts the extra aside for later, and showers off the blood with Reggie. She has him take her again and finally gives him the hit she’d promised.

GM: Reggie learns something new when Celia’s heart-squeezing makes the blood come out faster. He takes her a third time with pleasure.

Whether it’s with as much pleasure as the hit is hard to say, but he thoroughly enjoys both.

Along with the fact that Randy is still waiting just the next room.

“He’s such a fucking idiot around you,” Reggie laughs as he dries and dresses himself.

Celia: “You’ve mentioned,” Jade drawls as she wrings the excess water out of her hair. It had been a thorough shower; no need for Carolla to smell the sex on her later and wonder if she’s as perverted as Roxanne. “Maybe getting laid will get it out of his system. And maybe he’ll still be an idiot. Regardless, I have a task for the two of you.”

She dresses, checks to make sure the thin-blood is still staked in the suite, and takes Reggie to find his brother. A wave of her hand dismisses any concern over taking so long. She checks the time to verify there’s enough before her meeting with the Brujah. No doubt fucking Reggie took up some of it, but a quick conversation should be doable.

“Your brother hit a wall looking into the hunters for me. I’d like to try a new tactic,” she says to the pair.

GM: Jade finds the thin-blood staked on the marble table. The man’s eyes do not follow hers as she approaches, but simply stare blankly upwards, seemingly oblivious as to her presence.

The ghouls both nod, listening.

Celia: “The guy he’s looking for doesn’t exist. Fake name. The other names haven’t turned up anything in a search, or at least no one has looked into their disappearances. The other lick I’m working with is sitting on a bugged stake. So yeah, I could twiddle my thumbs and wait, but I’m not a very patient person.” She favors them with a smile. They know.

“I’ve got their phones and the number they were communicating with. We can go about it a few ways. Call and trace the number, see what it turns out. Rusty will probably be on that for me.” Hadn’t he done that already? Why get the number if he’s not looking into it, right? She shoots him a text to tell him to do so if he hasn’t. Coded, obviously. “I can get the pair of you disguises, you can meet with the contacts. Maybe take a body with you.” Jade can think of a few licks she wouldn’t mind seeing the last of. “We can also stake out the apartment where I was nabbed. It’s in Mid-City. I imagine they’ll try again. The IDs they’ve got are fake, too. We’ll see if any of your ‘friends’ recognize the work.”

GM: The pair take a moment to process.

“Okay,” says Reggie. “Whose body?”

Celia: “Dunno yet,” Jade says cheerfully.

“There are so many to pick from.”

GM: Rusty texts back an affirmatory response.

“Sure are. Stake-outs are also boring as fuck,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Chance they won’t return, anyway, since their guys didn’t.”

Celia sends a text to Rod letting him know she found Dani’s phone and that she left her purse at the house for them. A second later she asks if he happened to find her friend’s ID at his apartment after their “wild party lol.”

Celia: “Thoughts on the rest of it?”

GM: Roderick texts back his gladness at the news and says he’ll let Dani know.

Her friend didn’t misplace his ID as far as he could find.

“Sounds good to me,” says Randy. “These guys tried to hurt you. Fuck waiting on some other lick.”

“Take the offense and all that.”

“Hey, you aren’t always an idiot,” says Reggie.

Celia: Jade favors the youngest brother with a smile.

“No IDs,” she says once she reads the text, “never mind that plan I guess.”

GM: “Ok, when do you want to kick this off?” asks the older of the pair.

Celia: “Could do it whenever.” They have the spare parts now. “It’ll be during the day. Lord Savoy has a shadow dancer that has met them already if you think going with him will be best.”

Gotta be a him, right? The one she’d (sort of) fucked in the shower.

“Guess I can’t count on him lending me the guy, though.”

“We’ll need to alter your faces, bodies.”

Celia: She’s only hesitant because she’s worried about losing them. She shouldn’t be worried, right? The other ghouls made it out.

“I guess tomorrow…?” Gives her little enough time to find a lick to send with them, but if they are working with the bitch with the tainted blood maybe it’ll come up.

GM: “Okay,” says Reggie. “Let us know whenever.”

Celia: “…you’re not worried about it? You two? Going in alone? Getting found out?”

“I guess we just need to find a lick, then.”

“Think they’d take a thin-blood?”

GM: “You got out, didn’t you?” Reggie shrugs.

“Be convenient with this guy already here.”

Celia: She might as well drain him while he’s here, too. Give him just enough to leave him “alive.” Keep the hunters from reviving him and learning anything about them, her, or her boys. Unless they don’t function like that. Maybe this is one of those things Edith could have told her; she didn’t think of it at the time.

“Yeah,” she says to that. “We’ll chance it. Fucker has fangs. Uneven, but fangs all the same. Alright. They needed three to be in the club. ‘My’ body was the first, this will be the second, see if they give you an address for the third or if it’s something you need to find yourselves. Find out what you can. Record what you can. But don’t get caught. That’s your priority: getting out. Clear? I’ll send a doc by your place tonight to alter your features. Use a burner. Car. Phone. Everything. Coded. The last pair said groceries. Address out in the fuckin’ boonies.”

GM: “Could just grab the fuckers,” says Reggie. “Hurt them until they squeal.”

Celia: “Think you could?”

GM: “Last ones were trouble, weren’t they?” says Randy.

Celia: “They were. And there’s something weird about these ones.”

GM: “But I dunno, two of us, plus surprise.”

Celia: “I mean yeah, that’s ideal if you could…”

GM: “Weird how?” asks Reggie.

Celia: “Not like normal hunters, my guy said. Looks down on potential assets. Cold.”

“Like… normally hunters want to work together.”

“These guys were real dismissive.”

“Of potential allies, I mean.”

GM: “Maybe ’cuz they were idiots who got themselves killed,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Right, well, the guy who I spoke to about it has more experience with these sort of things and is older than me, so I’m kind of inclined to trust him on this. And they didn’t know the others died.”

“But hey, if you can nab one without risking yourself, do it.”

“Look. Do what you can. Just don’t fucking die, okay?”

GM: “Don’t plan on that anytime soon,” smirks Reggie.

“You got it, babe. We’ll be careful,” says Randy.

Celia: “Then I’ll take what I need from this guy and you can turn him over to then. Expect the doc early this morning.”

She waits a beat in case they have any questions.

GM: “A’ight.”

They do not.

Celia: Then it’s time to drain a thin-blood to the point of almost-death and get ready for her date.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: It doesn’t take long for Jade to drain the halfbreed. She puts the blood aside, leaving it just enough to still be… alive. Animated. Whatever. Another night, perhaps, she’d have questioned the thing to learn what she could. But she has so many important things going on this evening, and she’s waited long enough to pounce on the hunters. Her boys aren’t useless, no matter how dumb Randy sometimes acts around her. They’ll get it done. This is the way forward.

The boys take the body with them when they go, still staked. One less trip for her later. She leaves with them, heading back to her haven to get ready for her date. Makeup. Hair. Nails. Once her body is ready she thumbs through her closet.

Years ago Roderick had enjoyed the pants Celia wore to a rant. Or at least to the car on the way to the rant, before they’d stopped to fuck because he couldn’t keep his hands off her. Brujah pants, he’d called them. The Mafiosa might not be an Anarch but he’s certainly still a Brujah, and she looks for something similar. Tight, to show off her tiny waist and shapely rear. Stiletto heels. Black shirt, also tight, and a black jacket top it off. She peruses accessories and settles for a gold branded belt.

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Jade winks at her reflection before she saunters from the haven to meet Carolla’s driver at the agreed upon address a few scant blocks away.

GM: Her reflection winks back, as if to say how smoking she is.

The car, a dark SUV, arrives about a minute after the agreed-upon time. The driver, a thuggish-looking man who’s crammed his large frame into a dark suit, gets out to open the passenger door for Jade.

She’s greeted inside the car by the Brujah himself. Will Carolla is a somewhat smaller but still large-framed and square-jawed man with slicked-back hair that has a few strands artfully loose. His features could be called handsome enough, in a blunt sort of way. Where Roderick’s face is narrower and smiles easily, most of his conviction seeming to glare out from within, everything about Carolla’s unsmiling face looks hard. A less kindly description referencing his low brow and flat, incurious eyes might be thuggish. He’s wearing a dark suit without a tie and several buttons around the collar undone.

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“You’re a sexy fucking bitch,” he says without preamble as he looks Jade up and down.

“Toreador,” grins the ghoul.

Carolla gets out of the seat, then all but seizes Jade as his hands tightly clamp around her arms, holding them fast against her sides. He slides back into the car and pulls her onto his lap. His hands are coarse and rough as they squeeze her skin through the leather.

“Like a sex doll. One of those robot sex dolls. I want to wind you up, watch you strut your Toreador ass, then bend you over and fuck you. You need a good hard fucking.”

Celia: It’s a different sort of dynamic on this lap. Not as safe and comfortable and smug as the position on Savoy’s, or as loving and warm as Roderick’s, or even as flirty and teasing as she is atop Gui. There’s an edge here, a sort of possessiveness and arrogance Carolla exudes that’s missing from the others. Like he’s already decided that she’s his and there’s nothing she can do about it.

Hauled bodily into the car, arms pinned at her sides, there’s little she can do but squirm against the Brujah’s body, ass grinding down against him with every movement. Almost like an accident; there’s a line between brazen slut and “giving in because he’s so goddamn charismatic and appealing” and she finds it, dancing upon it to give his ego a little stroke.

“Bend me over and fuck me,” Jade echoes, halfway between a drawl and a giggle, “what, like a breather?”

God, that’s hot.

She tells him so. That it’s so hot to finally find someone who knows what they want and isn’t afraid to seize it.

GM: “That’s fucking disgusting,” says Carolla, his features twisting in distaste. He roughly flips her over his knees and brings down his palm on her leather-clad ass. The blow is incredibly strong, and painful. He has to hold her in place with his other hand to keep it from knocking her off.

Celia: It’s not like she said she’s into it. Just asked. She was willing to go along with it if he likes it, that’s all.

Jade doesn’t need to force the yelp that the blow brings. Beneath the leather her flesh jiggles at the force of the slap, skin turning red.

If she weren’t focusing so hard on keeping her perverted nature quiet, she knows she’d be wet between the thighs.

GM: Carolla yanks her up by her hair and sweeps his other hand beneath her knees, lifting her up like one of those posable sex dolls to set back down on his lap, back to his chest. He makes a fist in her hair and yanks it back again, exposing her throat to the air while holding her head down beneath his shoulder level. His other hand doesn’t knead her breast so much as try to squeeze it apart. His fingers really hurt.

“Such a sexy fucking bitch,” he repeats. “You’d leave this car in a body bag if you were a breather.”

Motion starts beneath them as the car takes off.

Celia: She thinks it’s a compliment. In a weird, death threat sort of way. She rolls with it regardless, squirming in his grasp when he flips her again. There’s a moment where she’s free—but it’s just that, a moment. She loses handily, body bent and twisted the way he wants, throat exposed to fist and fang and whatever else he wants to do to her.

She knows his type. Roderick had told her all about them when they were breathers: how they expect their women to submit and deal with their manhandling. She’s not a woman, and he’s not a man, but the attitude persists despite their even standing: he expects to win. She’ll make him work for it, though. He expects that too. And victory is so much sweeter when your opponent doesn’t just roll over for you.

The breath leaves her body in a pained growl when his fingers dig into her chest. She snarls, lips pulled back to expose the fangs in her mouth. She bucks against him, twisting as if to escape, and brings an elbow into his side.

GM: Her elbow connects hard with the Brujah’s flank and elicits a surprised grunt, giving her a chance to squirm away. He lunges after her, seizing another fistful of hair. Her roots scream as he yanks her back, splaying her over his knees. A vice-like hand clamps around her throat.

“Feisty bitch,” he growls, fangs out as his eyes hungrily roam her leather-clad form. “Need to learn your place…”

Celia: Her roots aren’t the only thing that scream. The sound passes her lips for the brief moment before he cuts off her air, turning it into a strangled wheeze instead. She clamps her fingers around his wrist, trying to throw him off, but it’s all for show. They both know he’s stronger than her. And he can see it in her eyes: arousal.

GM: “Bitch likes that, huh?” He clamps his left hand around around her neck too, squeezing harder and harder until her neck feels ready to snap, then lets go with his right hand. He flips her over on his lap, ass in the air, and strokes his free hand along her leg. His hand runs over the leather before he grips her calf, hefting the leg above his head. His hand squeezes her boot heel.

“Yeah. Those are bitch boots you got on. Make you so fucking helpless. Tottering around. In your bitch boots. Any woman with boots like those is saying she wants to be bent over and fucked.”

He drops her leg to undo his pants, stiffens his cock with an apparent moment’s effort, then shoves her mouth over his member while his left hand continues to all but crush in her neck. His right hand returns to her leg again, pulling up the leather pant leg to expose bare flesh. His fangs sink into her calf like a drumstick.

Celia: She doesn’t need air. Black spots don’t swim in her field of vision. But she flails all the same, batting ineffectually at the hands that hold her down until the bones in her body grind together. Only then does she still, eyes wide upon his face, fingers curling around his wrist. She ceases her struggles. Then the flip, his hands roaming her body, his words running past her while she writhes, limbs twisted and yanked and—

Oh. There. A firm cock in her mouth. For all that he says the breather way is disgusting he sure doesn’t mind mimicking it. Fangs flash, nipping his skin. She fastens her lips around the flesh in her mouth and sucks, letting the warm vitae flow across her tongue. It’s hard to swallow with his hand on her neck but she does what she can, making soft, almost eager whimper-like noises around the vice grip on her throat to show him she has accepted her place in this dance.

The blood on her tongue, though… shock jolts through her, but only for a moment before she smooths it over and focuses on what she’s doing. All the same, emotion wars within her. Some part of her had hoped it wasn’t true. Another is filled with vicious satisfaction.

That lying cunt. She’s going to enjoy watching her kingdom topple.

But what sense does that make?

Is he lying? Doing the same thing she does? Enough shadow dancers in the city, aren’t there; even Edith said she can cloak. Not a very common trick, though.

But why? Why that? There’s no way he knows what she’s looking for. Unless there’s a leak. Who knows? Her, Savoy, Preston. To what end? Make her look foolish in front of her grandsire? Invictus stick together? Sabotage the entire Roderick plot before it begins? No wonder the bitch hasn’t called her back about their supposed meeting.

The lot of it flees her mind when he sinks his fangs into her calf. It’s a problem for another time. Right now she just wants to enjoy herself. She gives in to the thing inside of her that wants to fight, fuck, and feed.

GM: The fighting seems over with, but she still gets to fuck and feed.

Carolla’s blood fills her mouth, hot and furious. Like all Brujah blood. Almost spicy. It’s more bitter than Roderick’s, though. Saltier, too. And thicker. Stronger. Headier. By one way or another, he’s embraced his Beast to an extent her lover hasn’t. She can picture him crushing in hunters’ heads without worrying for their families.

It’s oddly titillating, trying to swallow down so much, and being cruelly denied by the hand crushing in her windpipe. Like a starving man being fed morsels at a time.

The Brujah hungrily rips and bites Jade’s flesh, savaging her calf like a true drumstick as he gulps down her blood by the mouthful. So much more than her. It’s not fair. He switches legs after a moment, dropping her first one and yanking the other into the air to rip into it too. He takes his fill, then drops it too. He uses his free hand to pound her ass as she choke-sucks his cock, bringing his palm down again and again and again. Jade remembers another girl, who screamed and sobbed and blubbered ‘til her throat was raw and her ass was bloody over her father’s knee, and perhaps wonders how much less time it would have taken the man if he had a Brujah’s strength. Jade has to awkwardly grab hold of him, grab the seat, grab anywhere, not to be sent flying off.

Celia: It’s mostly over, anyway. She still “struggles” a bit when he seems to be going soft on her, making sure to keep him on his toes. She’s a lick, not some blubbering breather that just submits to people when they win. And maybe she likes the idea of “losing” to Carolla. Maybe she likes it a lot. Maybe it’s him, or his blood, or the fact that he seems to know exactly what turns her on: the hard smacks against her ass that leave her yelping, yowling, hissing (strangled half-sounds, all of it), and clawing at him before he makes her settle back down so he can deliver another, a third, a fourth. She loses count. But she’s throbbing by the end of it, and there’s no doubt that if he tried this sort of thing with a breather she would leave in a body bag. But Jade is made of hardier material than all that; she doesn’t even bruise.

She’s not Celia.

She lets the Brujah have his fun. And when it’s done—when they’re relatively sated on blood and sex and aggression even though they both know there will be a round two whenever they reach their destination—she lets him arrange her on his lap again like those sex dolls he seems to favor, idly nipping at his neck with the flats of her teeth while the rest of her bleeds and throbs and curls contentedly against him like an overly large lap cat.

GM: Carolla seems to enjoy the continued token struggles, for they seem to make his hand come down all the harder and all the more times as he pounds her ass raw through the tight leather pants, like it’s a piece of meat he’s trying to pulverize with a tenderizer. He finally picks her up again, flips her over, and plops her back down on his lap. One of his hands fits around her waist.

“I had a girl, when I was a breather. I’d make her fuck a sex doll in front of me. I’d piss on her face and tell her she wasn’t good enough for my cock. Doll was all she’d get, unless she put on a really good show. Usually didn’t.”

“Then I’d bring in my other girl, and we’d fuck while she watched. She’d get to eat my cum out of the other girl’s snatch if she was good.”

“Then I’d slug them for being whores, and jack off over their faces, because I was tired of sticking my prick in a whore.”

“You remind me of the doll.”

Celia: “Of the… doll?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How’s that?”

GM: “Dunno. Just do.”

Celia: She’s not quite certain if it’s a compliment.

“Sounds like you knew how you liked your women.”

GM: “I know how I like my women.”

“Don’t have the girl anymore, but still have the doll.”

Celia: “And your licks?” An appreciative glance up and down his form before she settles again. She lets out an amused sound at his mention of the doll. “What do you do with it now?”

GM: “Same thing. Make juicebag girls fuck it. See if they deserve my prick.”

Celia: “That do anything for you? Watching the kine fuck it?”

GM: “Sometimes. If they’re good.”

Celia: She arches a brow at him.

GM: “They’re good, I take just a little. They’re bad, I take everything.”

Celia: “And that line about deserving your prick?”

GM: “Getting to suck juice out of it.”

Celia: “So if they’re good you take a little, give a little,” Jade muses, “and keep them around for your entertainment?” A nod to the ghoul driving. “Their entertainment?”

GM: He effects a snort. “Would have to be really fucking entertainment to get juice just for that.”

“And fuck no. He buys his own whores.”

Celia: “Mm. Then what’s the point of keeping them around?”

GM: He barks a laugh.

“Fuck, you’re a Toreador. I don’t just use renfields for fucking.”

Celia: It’s Jade’s turn to effect a snort.

“Let that rumor get to you, I see.” She sounds more amused than heated.

GM: “I’ll bet $1,000 you fuck yours.”

Celia: “You think I’d let some renfield put their cock in me? Really.” Jade trails a hand down his chest. “There’s nothing interesting about a breather when I can have this.”

GM: “Fucking right.”

Celia: Ego as big as any stiff. Jade all but purrs at him, stroking the muscle beneath his suit jacket. She nips at his neck.

“Where are we headed, then?”

GM: His hand slides down her waist to give her ass an extremely hard squeeze.

“Roxanne’s hangouts. Porn studio after we find her.”

Celia: “Force her to perform? Nothing quite like the sight of a blue blood on their knees.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: Too bad they won’t find the bitch.

“And what’s your plan for when she gets her krewe together to come after you for showing everyone her proper place? Pathetic as they are, they’ve still got the numbers.”

GM: “She’s never gonna leave.”

Celia: “Tragic,” Jade drawls.

GM: “For her.”

Celia: “Won’t age out like some of the girls in the biz. Has that whole teenage bimbo look going on.” Jade considers, then finally nods. “Good pick.”

GM: “Yeah.”

The pair go on a wild goose chase through the CBD, visiting an assortment of locations where Carolla apparently believes Roxanne may be found, each one as fruitless as the last. The evening slowly ticks by, and the Brujah’s temper rises with it. His driver starts to look nervous.

“Where the fuck is that whore?”

Celia: Jade, at least, hides her nerves better than the driver. She knows that Roxanne isn’t going to be found, but she does her part searching for the bitch. She finds any clues as to Roxanne’s recent activities that she can, looking for anything that ties her to Vidal, or anything that might lead her to Evan. This many months removed she doesn’t think there’s much to find, but she turns over what she can, bounces ideas off of Carolla, and makes sure to keep his mood in good spirits when he’s around her. So smart. So clever. How did he even hear about this particular place? She milks it for what it’s worth.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, the trail is long cold this many months removed. There’s ample evidence Roxanne was a staunch Vidal supporter, but none that she had any personal ties to the prince. That fact does not help the Brujah’s increasingly volatile temper, which even her practiced flattery seems to do only so much to abate. Indeed, Jade can only reach one conclusion:

Carolla isn’t really looking for Roxanne to get a porn actress.

Celia: Jade hadn’t expected to find much. All the same, she filches any interesting tidbits that she comes across.

“What did she do to you,” Jade ventures after one of their stops, “and how can I make it better?”

GM: “She crossed my uncle,” he says flatly.

Celia: “The one with the crocs?” She can’t help but sound intrigued.

GM: Flint dances in his eyes. “No. The other fucking uncle with the crocs.”

Celia: Jade is silent for a moment, letting him stew. Finally she says, “I didn’t know she had anything to do with him.”

There’s an invitation to share, if he wants to tell her the story.

GM: Carolla’s fist smashes into Jade’s face like a sledgehammer, crunching in her jaw and nose with a grisly shatter that sends teeth flying. She goes flying too, across the car’s interior, and hits the door with a painful thud before landing on the ground. Blood seeps onto the floor mat from her face. Jade barely wrestles down her furious Beast as the red fury starts to edge out Carolla’s eyes.

“Fucking waste of a fucking night! Fucking cocksucking camwhore FUCK! FUCK!!!!

The Brujah’s next blow caves in the driver’s headrest and smashes it off the seat altogether. Carolla’s ghoul barely ducks as the headrest flies past him to hit the steering wheel, causing him to jerkingly swerve the car. Angry honks go up from traffic.

Celia: Jade should have kept her mouth shut. She rears backwards when the fist slams into her face, smothering her Beast inside her chest before it can do so much as hiss. She finds a spot on the floor and hunkers down, arms over her head, protecting herself from the almost-raging Brujah.

Occupational hazard, isn’t it, hanging out with the angry ones.

She waits a beat, looking for the signs of him completely losing his cool, and only once she’s sure he hasn’t she offers something else: the opportunity to put Gui in his place.

GM: “Yeah? Fucking how?” snarls the Brujah, fangs still jutting from his mouth.

Celia: “Party at the Evergreen on Saturday,” Jade offers, hands still up. “He set the theme. 1920s. In honor of his sire. I bet we can make him look real fuckin’ stupid.”

GM: Carolla grabs Jade by the hair and yanks her across the car floor. He twists it hard, forcing her to look up at him from the ground with her throat bared. He leans close.

“Look at you. You with your long fucking hair in your fucking bitch boots with your fucking hands up, you scared fucking woman.”

Celia: Jade’s fingers close around the wrist of the hand that yanks her head back, but she knows better than to try to get away. She meets his gaze, forcing herself to stare into the cold eyes that look upon her now. Bloodied, but not beaten.

“Lick,” she hisses at him, “and one who’s offering you another annoyance on a silver platter since we can’t find the cunt.”

GM: The Brujah doesn’t let go. He leans closer, enough to kiss.

“Say you’re a woman.”

Celia: Anger simmers just beneath the surface. He’s just like a bald man she used to know, using the word “woman” as an insult.

As if having a vagina is a fucking crippling disability.

“I’m as much a woman as you are a man.”

GM: And with those words, he smiles faintly and lets go.

“Right. Beast got riled up.”

Celia: If she were still mortal she might breathe a sigh of relief. But she’s not; she’s the undead abomination she claims to be, so she is still and silent, wary, rubbing at the roots of her hair with her fingers.

“Yeah,” she finally says.

GM: He picks her up and plops her back down on the seat.

“Okay. Party.”

“That sounds fun.”

“We can do that, you want.”

“Or there’s something we can do right now.”

Celia: “Yeah?”

“What’s that?”

GM: “Asshole your sire would be pretty happy if we ruined the night of.”

Celia: “That hardly narrows it down.”

GM: He barks another laugh.

“Yeah. She’s a piece of work.”

Celia: “She’s somethin’ all right. What do you have in mind? Or rather, who?”

GM: “I been working this a while. Asshole’s been a pain in my ass too. But now…”

He pulls out a phone. He unlocks it, then shows it to Jade. She sees a blipping dot on a map.

“…I can do this anytime, at my leisure.”

“Follow asshole’s every move.”

Celia: “Which asshole?” she asks, watching the blip.

GM: Carolla starts to answer, then follows her gaze to the screen.

“Oh fuck! Asshole’s in City Park, this is fucking perfect!”

“City Park,” he tells the ghoul.

Celia: Jade supposes that answers that. She’s along for the ride.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: True to its name, City Park is the city’s largest park, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that ‘park’ actually looks rather scarce, at least this far south. Still, there aren’t many people around this late at night.

The ghoul pulls into the closest parking lot. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. The swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren at the late night hour.

It’s the same one Roderick took her to back in 2012.

Carolla opens the door and gets out. He picks Jade up, around the waist with both hands, then sets her down on the pavement.

“Let me see you strut your ass in those bitch boots.”

Celia: Jade uses the time in the car to wipe the worst of the blood from her face. It only serves to enhance the look. Like Rod once said, no one likes a lick showing up in brand new leathers to a rant; it screams of trying too hard.

She’s all eyes for the Brujah during the ride otherwise, letting out a delighted giggle when he picks her bodily up and sets her on her feet. She’s happy to show off her ample posterior with a strut in her bitch boots, heel-toe, one foot in front of the other. The boots lift her ass into the air, a sway with every step.

GM: Carolla watches appreciatively as her heels go click-click-click against the pavement.

“Fuck yeah. Look at those fucking hips. God. Any other time, I’d fuck you right here. "

“We’ll do that when we’re done. Can you fight?”

Celia: “Not as well as you, I imagine. But I manage.”

“We taking down a big tough guy?”

GM: “Yep.”

He doesn’t contest the “not as well” assertion at all.

Celia: She’s hardly going to lie about it with her ass on the line. Her hand squeezes his bicep, aroused despite the serious nature of his claim and burning curiosity.

“What’s the plan? I could distract him.”

GM: “The plan starts with you taking off the fucking bitch boots, if you’re actually serious about fighting too.”

Celia: Jade unzips and kicks them off without a word.

GM: He holds out his hand. The ghoul gives him a set of binoculars. He pulls up the map on his phone again.

“Right. We follow asshole from a distance. See if asshole’s with any friends. Odds look good, we jump asshole there, pound a stake into asshole’s chest.”

Celia: “And after?”

GM: “I fuck you in your bitch boots on top of asshole.”

Celia: Jade grins.

GM: “Put them in the car,” he says to the ghoul. “Fucking homeless or pervert will steal them.”

The ghoul picks up Jade’s shoes and puts them in the car.

“If asshole walks by the water, we hide under there. If asshole walks by a tree, we hide up there. Jump asshole out of fucking nowhere.”

“Tree is better. This suit is fucking expensive.”

Celia: “Hide. Jump the asshole. Fuck on the asshole.” She nods.

GM: “Yep. You know how to shoot or use a sword?”

Celia: “I’m okay with a knife. Better with these.” And there they are: claws sprouting from the tips of her fingers, just as pretty as the rest of her but with a lethal edge.

GM: “Good,” he nods. “How about shooting, in case there’s renfields?”

Celia: “Not really,” she admits. The claws slide back into her nail beds.

GM: “Okay. He’ll handle the shooting, if there’s any.”

The ghoul loads a firearm.

Celia: “Are you expecting a whole retinue?”

GM: “Probably not. Why take a retinue on a fucking walk in the park. But plan for the worst. Who knows what he’s doing here.”

Celia: She nods again. She does the same.

GM: “Stay out sight. Behind trees and bushes and shit. Doesn’t fucking matter asshole can see in the dark if there’s a plant in the way.”

Celia: She almost offers to cloak. But she’s already shared the claws, no need to tip her whole hand.

“Okay. I’ll follow your lead.” She pauses, then finally reaches out to touch his wrist. “Hey, Will, is he… dangerous? Stronger than you?”

GM: The Brujah barks a laugh.

“Fuck no.”

“But I’m not underestimating him either. He’ll be dangerous.”

“He can definitely take you.”

Celia: That’s not saying much.

“Guess I’ll have to work on it.”

GM: He shrugs.

“You’re a Toreador who struts around in bitch boots.”

Celia: “So’s my sire. Can still throw down with the best of them.”

GM: “Can throw down with the best of neonates. Bet the sheriff would hand her her ass.”

Celia: “Can’t imagine many asses he wouldn’t handle.”

She wishes he’d handle hers.

Carolla grunts and walks down the park’s trail, dimming the brightness on his phone. The ghoul gets out a heavy knife, locks the car, and follows behind.

Celia: Jade falls into step beside him, dimming her aura when he dims his phone. No need to make it look like there’s two licks around if she can avoid it.

GM: Jade’s never been on any dates here, but it’s a literal trip down memory lane for Celia.

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At the post-midnight hour, the trio seem to have the winding trails all to themselves. The forested park with its tall, drooping branches feels like something out of a primordial dream.

Celia: It might be romantic, if not for the way he’d slugged her earlier and the fact that they’re about to jump some unsuspecting soul.

GM: Carolla doesn’t pause to appreciate them like Roderick did, either. He just seems to make note of the camouflage in between checking his phone. He also says to “Watch out for any fucking Gangrel.”

Celia: Jade keeps her eyes peeled for other licks, whatever form they happen to choose.

A girl named Celia had once been worried about them while she was with her date, though she’d been riding the high of rekindled romance. Nothing had touched them that night.

The park seems altogether more sinister now.

GM: Carolla and the ghoul keep their eyes peeled too, albeit with the Brujah distracted following his map, but none of the trio sees any. Yet.

They finally reach a point where Carolla nods, “Fucking perfect. Asshole’s headed this way.”

He grabs Jade and unceremoniously throws her up at the canopy.

He throws his ghoul into the tree too, then seems to all but fly as he does a standing leap from the ground into the tree’s crown.

Celia: God, it’s hot.

Even now, middle of the night, waiting to jump some asshole—thrown bodily into the air really seems to do it for her. She doesn’t say anything, though, just keeps her eyes peeled on the path once she settles atop the branch he’d thrown her onto.

It’s almost like flying.

GM: He catches a branch too and swings around it, pulling out his phone. The dot on the map draws steadily closer. Carolla’s ghoul pulls the rifle off his back.

“I hold up one finger,” whispers Carolla. “You hit asshole with a head shot.”

“Two fingers. Up to you who to fire on.”

Celia: Smart. Roderick had told her he’d rather slow down a lick from afar with bullets.

GM: He shakes his head. “Fuck. Wish we’d had two heavy hitters in the car. I’d try to blow his head off too.”

Celia: Jade lets them plan. Without a gun she doesn’t have much to add to the conversation. She keeps her eyes peeled on the path.

GM: “Wait. You can’t fucking see in the dark, you useless piece of shit.”

“Sorry, boss.”

“You should have fucking said so. Give me that.”

Celia: Fucking renfields.

GM: “It’s got a scope,” declares the ghoul.

“I don’t fucking care. I’m taking the shot.” Carolla pulls it out of his hands.

Celia: Jade hesitates. Then, almost quicker than the eye can follow, she reaches out to mark the ghoul’s arm with her claws. An eye, slitted down the middle like a cat’s, stares up at them when she’s done.

“Blink,” she tells the ghoul.

GM: He blinks. His eyes glow red.

“Holy shit. I can see fine.”

“Like, not just through the scope. Fuckin’ everywhere.”

“Huh. Okay,” says Carolla. He looks at Jade, then back to his ghoul. “You take the shot. Better this way. Couldn’t pause to hand you back the gun after I took the shot.”

Celia: No one ever asks how. Jade doesn’t sigh. She just thinks about it.

GM: They settle in to wait.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: The trio don’t wait long before Jade sees Roderick and Dani walking down the trail together, clad in their masks. Their voices are inaudible at the current distance, but brother and sister are smiling at each other.

Celia: Oh.

Oh no.

Dread curls in her gut.

Not this. Not them.

He’ll kill her with the head shot. She doesn’t know if thin-bloods can come back from that, but she’s not going to risk Dani’s life on it. She has to stop him. Carolla and the goon. And she’d just marked him.

Jesus Christ she’s fucking stupid.

So fucking stupid.

What matters more to her: her lover… or her grandsire?

Neither, whispers his voice in her head.

She wishes he were here now. That he’d swoop in and take out Carolla for her so that she doesn’t need to dirty her hands, so that she can just play dumb when they ask her about it, because she’s so fucking good at that. Is there a way to reason with him? A way to get him to not attack?

Yeah. By redirecting his rage. Taking it out on her instead of Roderick.

Jade swallows. He’s had Roderick bugged for who knows how long. Following his every move. Leading him right back to her. Savoy offered to take him out for Roderick anyway, didn’t he? It’s no skin off their back if she just does it first.

Those masks might be their saving grace, though.

“Bugged a breather, did you? Hardly worth Veronica’s time.”

GM: Carolla holds a finger to his lips with a pissed off expression.

Celia: Jade gestures at where the non-vampires walk through the park.

“Worried about kine,” she continues. Stage whisper. “Took my fucking boots off for this nonsense.”

GM: “Shut UP, you stupid cunt,” he whisper-hisses.

Celia: Roderick… or her grandsire?

It’s not even a choice.

“I bet you five grand I can take them on my own.”

GM: Carolla looks as if he wants to rip Jade’s head off as she keeps talking and potentially compromising their hiding spot.

“Shut. Your. Mouth.”

But he doesn’t look at her. His eyes whip ahead towards the ‘mortals’ she points out for him.

Celia: “Hiding in the trees from fucking breathers.”

“Big bad fucking lick.”

“Give me the gun, let’s at least make it sporting.”

GM: Carolla seizes Jade and clamps one hand over her mouth to silence her. The Toreador’s struggles seem to only further enrage the Brujah. He closes his other hand over Jade’s right and casually squeezes until the delicate bones snap apart. Her left hand follows a moment later. What’s left looks as if someone pounded a sledgehammer over them.

Celia: Pain flares white hot through her body when her wrists snap, the eight tiny bones no match for his crushing grip. She doesn’t dare shriek when the Brujah has already made his annoyance known; the sound that passes from her lips to his palm is a low, keening whimper that cuts off as quickly as it begins. Jade ceases her struggles.

In the car, even riding the dangerous edge, she’d thought herself relatively safe. His strength had been hot. Here and now with her lover, his sister, and her own self on the line, it’s downright terrifying.

GM: A brief smile plays over Carolla’s rough features, but then he and his ghoul frown at the unfamiliar approaching faces. The apparent breathers. Carolla looks down at his phone again, frowning in confusion as it apparently confirms that ‘asshole’ is right by, then seems to do a mental calculus if his ghoul takes the shot.

They’re Roderick in disguise. His ghoul shoots Roderick in the head.

They’re a pair of random breathers. His ghoul shoots a random breather in the head.

The Brujah points at the male ‘breather,’ then holds up one finger.

Celia: Licks smell even the faintest traces of blood in the air. Jade lets the tears come. Her aura flickers and drops. Her eyes flash red in the night. Haphazard, as if she can’t control it, as if the pain of having both wrists broken keeps her from being able to concentrate on maintaining the deception, but maybe the message reaches Roderick all the same. Maybe it’s enough to let him know something is wrong. She plays up the weak, womanly angle that Carolla has her pegged in, leaning back against him as if to silently acknowledge his superiority, nodding her head again and again to say I get it, I’ll be quiet. Each movement that jostles her arms sends a fresh cascade of bloody tears down her face. She sobs into the Brujah’s hand.

She should have played it another way. Could have played it another way. Now she’s sitting in a tree with a monster and his ghoul, learning first-hand why Roderick speaks so ill of the Mafia if this is the way they treat people. At least her spot pressed against Carolla’s side will keep him from jumping down immediately once the gun goes off.

No time for should have/could have, though. She has seconds before Roderick walks into view of the renfield. Seconds before he squeezes the trigger.

She makes them count.

Jade shifts against Carolla as she can, keeping her hands from view. No need to let him know that she’s sending the blood she needs to the area to snap her wrists back into place. She plays up the damsel; she’s just a weak woman and he’s a big strong manly man and she has definitely learned her place. She’s so sorry that she doubted him, sorry she questioned him; she just wanted him to think she’s as much of a badass as he is, and now she knows how stupid that was. Of course he’s in charge. She knows a winner when she sees one.

Celia has had so much practice in this role. She takes the reins, swimming to the surface to make it as believable as she can. She squirms, not to get free but to press herself closer, twisting her face to press it against his chest.

And there’s his throat. Waiting for her.

That’s the thing about lap cats: you never know how true the cat part of it is until the girl you’ve got your hands on shifts in the blink of an eye, turning into a deadly, 600-pound predator with nails as long as the fingers of the girl she used to be. The tiger’s jaws open wide to close around that throat in front of her, its snarl ripping through the night.

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GM: The tree branch snaps under the big cat’s quarter-ton weight, sending tiger and Brujah crashing to the grass in a heap. The tiger recovers first, with its four legs. Great jaws shoot straight for its prone adversary’s throat. Bone crunches and flesh tears as blood sprays over the striped cat.

Then, out of nowhere, Roderick appears. Perhaps he has no clue who the tiger is. But he knows who the mafioso underneath the tiger is. He doesn’t hesitate for a moment. He can’t get in a punch past the tiger’s bulk, but bone-shattering, brutally hard kicks smash into Carolla in blurs of motion.

Celia remembers a conversation at Flawless once, how Piper read an article about what to do if you’re attacked by a tiger. She said she read to stick your fist up its mouth. That will really fuck up its day. Emily was immediately skeptical. She said you should go for the sensitive parts instead, like its eyes. “You can’t fucking beat a tiger in a fight,” she’d said. “You just want to cause it enough pain to back away and figure this meal is more trouble than it’s worth. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll blind it.”

She’d asked Robby his opinion afterwards, too. The HEMA enthusiast had agreed. Fighting a tiger alone and unarmed is a suicidally terrible idea: all you can do is cause it enough pain to back off. “I only know the basics of shooting, but that’s a situation where I’d MUCH rather have a gun than one of my swords,” she’d said he said. “The noise might scare it off even if you miss.”

“But yeah. This is why humans invented tools and hunted in groups. Lone unarmed human against an apex predator is no contest.”

Licks aren’t humans, though.

Carolla doesn’t go for the eye. He just drives his fist into the tiger’s throat, messily crunching in bone, before an equally savage follow-up to the nose smashes in the animal’s face. Undeterred, the tiger savages the shit out of Carolla with its claws, shredding muscle and sinew and reducing the mafioso’s fine suit to gore-stained tatters. Strips of bloody meat dangle from the beast’s claws and teeth.

Carolla’s ribs crunch apart under Roderick’s continued kicks. With a roar of bestial fury, Carolla seizes the tiger under its forelimbs and hurls the quarter-ton animal against the tree, which shakes to its roots. Branches and leaves snap off from the canopy as more gunshots split the air. The tiger can’t say from who as it regains its paws.

Roderick takes advantage of the opening, though, and delivers a downward punch to his still half-risen clanmate that all but explodes Carolla’s skull. His face looks like a shattered vase after a two-year-old tried to glue it back together.

Carolla is slammed back into the grass even as Roderick’s follow-up punch descends from his other fist. For a moment, it looks like he and tiger have won the fight, until the next gunshot takes him square in the back of the neck. He staggers forward. Carolla ambles to his feet, fangs bared and roaring past his half-destroyed throat, just as the tiger lunges at him. The great cat’s claws rip open his stomach but fail to knock him off his feet even as Roderick falls into a boxer’s stance, taking advantage of Carolla’s preoccupation to launch one-two combos with the full force of his body behind them. They’d be easier to counter if only the fight was one-on-one, and shatter bones faster than the other Brujah can mend them.

More gunshots go off.

Carolla has more than one foot in the grave already, but the frenzying Brujah fights like a demon, driving the tiger and his clanmate back with wild, bone-shattering blows. There’s a thump against the grass. A machete rams into the tiger’s flank. Carolla’s ghoul drags it back like he’s carving up a steak, taking some of the pressure off his domitor.

Celia: In this form, with this speed and size, the tiger can keep up with the fight where the girl couldn’t. Even launched as it is against the tree, body savaged by the fists of the Brujah that rain down upon it, its single-minded instinct runs deep: fuck up the other guy before he can fuck up the tiger and its allies. It shreds, bites, crushes, snaps—whatever part of the lick it can get to it rips into.

The gunshots register only in the back of its mind—how many people heard? will it draw the cops? how quickly does it need to end the fight to prevent the Masquerade from unraveling?—and it’s that last thought that propels the tiger forward to sink teeth and claw into the enemy.

Until that sword slices its flank. A machete. Who brings a fucking machete to the park. That’s all the girl inside the tiger has time to think before the Beast itself takes over; she doesn’t even fight it, letting the reins slip free of her grasp to give in to the monster inside just as surely as she gave in to the monster outside. Roderick had told her that she should keep it contained in a fight, but fuck that. She’ll take the edge. The annoyance of the sword is nothing compared to what the asshole in front of her can do with his bare hands. And once he goes down that sword-wielding douchebag is one chomp away from turning into a red smear on the ground. The tiger focuses its rage on the lick, launching itself forward on powerful hindquarters to knock his feet out from under him and take him down in a shower of blood and muscle and gore, claws ripping at his stomach and teeth clamping down around his throat. It rips and tears and ravages.

No one fucks with the girl’s property and gets off with it.

GM: She doesn’t see what happens.

She never does, when the Beast takes over.

She just opens the floodgates, lets the red tide pour out, and stands back to let the Beast have its fun.

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Celia V, Chapter XVIII
Edith Flannagan

“Please. My kids are so thirsty.”
Edith Flannagan


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Dani and Celia take the former’s car to Edith’s.

Or they can take Celia’s car. Dani’s fine either way.

“…so she knows a lot about duskborn, you’d said?” asks the thin-blood as the Quarter rolls past.

Celia: Dani’s car is fine. Celia makes sure to bring the blood.

“She has a duskborn child. A little girl she adopted who was Embraced. They’ve been together a long time.”

GM: Dani looks faintly horrified.

“People Embrace little kids?”

Celia: “…yeah. Sometimes. Not a lot.”

“It’s really messed up.”

“People ghoul them sometimes too.”

“But, you know, she’s spent a lot of time with her, so she probably knows more than anyone else.”

GM: “I hope so. I have a lot to ask.”

“That is really messed up, though.”

“This is hard enough for an adult.”

Celia: “Just don’t say anything to offend her, yeah? She’s… pretty protective of her brood.”

GM: “I’ll try not to. I don’t have any problem with her, just whoever would do that to a little kid.”

Celia: “Maybe don’t tell your brother I brought you to see her.”

“I don’t think he approves of my friends sometimes.”

GM: “Oh, why’s that?”

“He says he has friends he doesn’t always approve of too.”

“He says it’s pretty hard to find any licks you always approve of.”

“Including, ah, yourself.”

Celia: “It—oh. What did he say?”

GM: “Just that we all do things we regret and wish we could take back at some point.”

“The Beast, and social pressures too.”

“He told how sick he felt in Elysium bragging about those vampire hunters he’d killed.”

Celia: “He told you about that? Killing them?”

GM: “Yeah. And how… he had to chop up and dump their bodies,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: Celia sighs. “Yeah. He did.”

“We got jumped.”

GM: “What a horrible position to be in.”

Celia: “It’s not his fault.”

GM: “I don’t blame him, and you, for killing them. Even frenzy aside, it was self-defense. They were committing a home invasion and employing lethal force.”

Celia: “I tried to explain that to him.”

“I have to be honest with you, Dani, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again if it meant I kept him safe.”

GM: “He agrees with you. He just wishes he’d been able to take them alive instead of killing them.”

“And I agree with him.”

Celia: “Killing them was regrettable.”

GM: “It’s gotten to him, Celia.”

“He sees blood on his hands.”

“He felt like a mobster dumping body parts into the Gulf.”

Celia: She wants to push further, find out what he said about her. But this is… more important.

“I don’t know how to help him, Dani. I don’t know how to make that better. I tried telling him it was self defense, that he saved the both of us, but he…”

GM: “I wish there’d been another way. For his sake.”

“He said that was something he’d been able to hold onto. That he wasn’t a killer.”

“He says licks call it… being a virgin.”

Celia: “They do, yeah.”

“But it wasn’t like that. He didn’t just hulk out and smash something.”

“They invaded his space. Our space. We both would have died.”

GM: “I know. I told him that. That he can still say he’s only ever killed in self-defense, rather than for personal gain.”

“He says he’s going to investigate their families. See what pain their absences have caused and make amends if he can.”

Celia: “Did he already find them? The families?”

GM: “He says he’s still investigating that. They didn’t have a lot of identifying information.”

Celia: “Tell him when he does, I guess, that I’ll… help make reparations. I had a hand in this.”

“He might not have lost if I hadn’t told him…”

GM: “Told him?” Dani asks.

Celia: “I was picked up by hunters. I told you about it, I think. That’s why you’re avoiding the club. I told him what they did to me, and I think if I hadn’t…” She trails off. “It’s my fault, isn’t it? That he killed them?”

GM: She thinks. “Ah, sorry. There’s just been such a big info dump between everything you and your mom and Stephen all have told me.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Not a pretty story. I doubt I told you everything. Will you let me know, though? Or tell him? When he finds them?”

GM: Dani nods.

Celia: “Anything you think will help him?”

GM: “I think this will help. Just making things right with their families. He’d also probably feel better if he found evidence they were bad people—deliberately bad, not just misguided. He said they could’ve thought he was a many-times unrepentant killer for all we know.”

“And maybe they thought they were doing the right thing.”

“But, hell, maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they also beat their wives and kids like your dad.”

“I don’t think Stephen is ever going to be comfortable with nonjudicial killings. I don’t think I’m ever going to be either. But there are degrees of bad and degrees of harm.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I’d rather not be raped and tortured again on the off chance they’re not bad people.”

“The last pair didn’t think I was bad and they still planned on killing me.”

“But I’ll do what I can to help him out. I guess I just see it differently. He wasn’t the one picked up prior.”

GM: “Oh. You told me you’d been raped, over the phone…”

Celia: Celia effects a snort.

“That was hardly the first time.”

GM: Dani briefly looks away from the road, at Celia’s face.

“Oh my god, Celia, I’m so sorry…”

Celia: “It’s fine. This isn’t about me.”

“I’ve had… years to process.”

GM: Dani looks back towards the road.

“Does it get…?”

Celia: “Easier? Yes and no. Sometimes I still think about it. Sometimes someone touches me and I’m right back to that mindset. Last night someone… well, it doesn’t matter, but I almost froze up again. When I see someone who looks like him. When I hear his name.”

She takes a breath. It does little for her.

“I went through a phase afterward. I slept with everything I could. I thought it made me in control of my body. Like I owned my sexuality. And I did. But he used to… he used to call me a whore. His whore. So I felt like I was… living up to that. Like it was all I’d ever be good for.”

Her eyes find the window.

“Toreador think our clan isn’t cursed. That we can still love. That we’re blessed. And maybe that’s true. But I think, sometimes, that maybe I was cursed to… need it. To need it now. To feel like I’m in control again. To accept physical love in place of mental or emotional love because that’s all I’m worth.”

A tongue pressed against the roof of her mouth keeps her lip from trembling.

GM: More than just a whore.

“I have made a whore of you, Celia,” he would smile with his plastic smile, his fist in her hair and his cock in her mouth.

He never got tired of that phrase. ‘Made a whore of you.’

“My very own teenage whore,” he would repeat, touching her throat as she sucked him off. Touching her cartoid artery, where her pulse was.

It seemed such a strange thing. Like so much of him. Was he checking she was still alive? Didn’t the fact she was sucking him off make that evident? Was it somehow symbolic, insinuating she was only ‘really’ alive while sucking cock? That this was her life’s purpose?

Just that odd little gesture.

“Ah, but let us not leap to conclusions. Perhaps you were already a whore, Celia. Have you performed sexual acts for monetary compensation before? You have taken so well to a whore’s trade, I cannot discount the possibility you are already acquainted with it.”

“You are either an experienced whore, with many previous transactions to be ashamed of, or you are a born natural and suitable for no other purpose.”

Celia: She never knew what he wanted her to say when he asked that. She hadn’t done anything like this with someone before. She’d tried to tell him that. “No,” she’d always say, “I haven’t, I’ve never… yours, you said that—that I’m… yours.” His whore. On her knees, eyes on him, swallowing him down every time. Five hundred dollars.

GM: He’d smiled again at that. Mockingly.

“Then you are a natural-born whore. Why, it sounds almost wholesome.”

e’d released her hair then, to grab both sides of her face, and pumped faster. Like her face was really just another hole. A closable cunt on her neck.

“Your instincts as a prostitute are quite uncanny, my whore. Even without prior experience, you sought out a potential customer and insinuated the exchange of services that might transpire. All without saying a thing, at 19 years old. Perhaps you believe yourself clever, able to enjoy the fruits of a whore’s labor without the self-blame of choosing your profession. Perhaps you even tell yourself you were forced into this. You are not clever, my little whore. You are stupid. My stupid little teenage whore. Your lies and manipulations do not fool me, for I know whores to be dishonest creatures by nature. Only pain may extract truth from them.”

“You chose this, my whore. You sought this out. You always come back. Every week. You enjoy this. This moment is the defining picture of your life, now and forever. Celia—Flores—the—eternal—whore!"

He’d panted with those last words before he pulled out and came over her face. Sticky white semen dripped down her skin. Dribbled over the carpet.

“Eat it, whore. Collect my seed upon your fingers and swallow it all. Or you will be paid $20. It is a typical rate for a cheap, worthless whore who cannot do as she is told. It is equivalent to a hit of crack, in fact.”

Celia: So she had. On her knees, face and lips sticky with his cum, she’d used her fingers to scrape against the white dribbles on the carpet. A glance up at him told her all she needed to know, though, without him saying a word. A moment later she’d bent over, forearms against the ground, to use her tongue to lap it up. Rough fibers mixed with semen touched her lips, wiry and bristly, mingling with the taste of salt.

At least it’s clean, she’d though, absurdly; the house is practically sterile. Spotless. Like there’s no one who actually lives here, just Paul and a horde of maids to clean up after him.

When she was done getting it off the floor she used her fingers on her face, wiping it off before putting those in her mouth as well to lick them clean. She’d swallowed it all.

GM: “Like a dog chasing scraps,” he’d sneered as she licked it up. “What an obedient whore. What an instinctive, natural-born whore. I’m not sure if I should be pleased or disgusted that I do not need to discipline against the use of fingers.”

He’d abruptly spat on her then, when she was finished.

“My saliva is cleaner than you, whore, so you may use it as a cleaning agent for your face.”

He’d given her the money, then. Dropped it on the ground, at his feet, for her to pick up.

“Show yourself out, whore. Your services tonight are no longer required.”

“Crawl. I enjoy the sight of my whore upon her knees.”

That’s how much her self-respect was worth.

$500 a pop.

Celia looks into the car window, and Paul’s plastic face smiles back in the reflection.

Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Celia says, almost to herself. Or maybe to him. “You get past it.”

GM: “You’re worth so much more than that!” Dani exclaims, looking away from the road again. “Your family loves you, just so much. They don’t think that. Stephen doesn’t think that. I don’t think that.”

Celia: Bitter laughter cuts off abruptly when she realizes that Dani is serious.

“Of course he thinks that. He thinks I’m a dumb, worthless whore.”

GM: “What?! He doesn’t, he thinks the world of you!”

Celia: “I saw a vision, Dani, of the future, where he has me chained up like some sort of animal and he says that!”

GM: “What? A vision?”

Celia: “That stupid fortune teller I told you about.”

“I was looking into other things, I didn’t even want for me, and she showed me that.”

GM: “Fortune tellers are full of bullshit. They just want you to come back for more readings.”

Celia: “She’s a lick.”

GM: “Okay, so is… fortune telling actually for real?” Dani looks dubious. “Or could she just be lying about that too?”

“Like, I get… Stephen called it ‘munchies,’ making the Blood do things. Maybe even if she is a real fortune teller she’s just lying because it’s more convenient. Save on some blood.”

Celia: “She wouldn’t have known about him.”

“She used his name. His real name.”

GM: “Oh.”

“I’m not sure how you’d pick that up on a cold reading.”

“Maybe she found out some other way?”

Celia: “I wasn’t even asking about me. And no one knows about us. And even if she did know about us, she wouldn’t know the name Stephen.”

GM: “Maybe she was just wrong, then.”

“Because Stephen wouldn’t do that.”

“What possible reason would he?”

Celia: Celia can think of plenty of reasons.

“I don’t know.”

GM: “Okay. How accurate are lick fortune tellers? Can they get stuff wrong?”

Celia: “It’s what might be. It’s not a certainty.”

GM: “Have you gone to many before?”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“Future isn’t set in stone.”

GM: “Have you told him about this?”

Celia: “How could I?”

“How could I say, ‘hey you turn into a monster?’”

“How could I tell him that maybe it’s my fault because he killed two people for me?”

GM: “Well, the same way you told me.”

“I think he’d want to know. And I think it’d be good to tell him.”

“Just so you can talk about this and face this together. Like couples do.”

“And, hey, maybe he’d have insights or know things that cast the situation in a different light, or give a better sense of what to do.”

“Doesn’t ever hurt to get another opinion.”

Celia: “Or maybe he’ll ask his sire about it because he goes to her for everything and tell her more shit about me she doesn’t need to know.”

GM: “Ask him not to tell her, then.”

“Ask him to promise, if you want to impress how serious this is. Stephen’s good for his word.”

Celia: “We broke up before. Years ago. I told him about the rape.” She gives a short laugh, humorless. “He called me a whore and beat the shit out of me. And then he told her about it.”

GM: “What!?”

Celia: “It happened while we were together.”

“For months.”

GM: Dani’s parked the car. “Okay, maybe… he didn’t mention this, can you clear the air? Because there’s… some kind of happy ending, if you got back together?”

Celia: “I don’t want to add to his stress. It’s not his problem.”

GM: “I think he would consider it his problem, when it’s about him. And you.”

Celia: “He has more important things to worry about than our relationship status and whether or not his girlfriend had a weird vision of the future.”

GM: “He considers your relationship status to be very important.”

Celia: “Not if he apparently doesn’t approve of me.”

GM: Dani looks at her imploringly and touches her shoulder. “Celia… you sound so full of… just, doubt and mistrust and bad thoughts about yourself, and what Stephen thinks about you. It feels really unhealthy.”

“Stephen would want to help you.”

“I want to help you!”

“Can you really see this getting better on its own, by not talking?”

“Maybe you dodge a bullet and nothing happens, but what if something does? What if talking about it and facing it together lets you fix it?”

Celia: “What if he just calls me a whore again and I lose everything?”

GM: Dani gives a faint, disbelieving smile and rubs her shoulder. “Celia, why would he call you a whore and break up over a… fortune teller’s vision? That’s completely silly.”

Celia: Because she’s going to fuck someone else before she goes home to him tonight.

Because she’s in love with her sire.

Because she sold him out to Savoy.

Because she’ll break his bond to Coco with her own to get what she wants.

…even if she doesn’t know what that is anymore.

“Yeah,” she finally says, “I’ll talk to him.”

GM: “Okay, good,” smiles Dani.

“And… what’s the story with your second breakup?”

“I just want to understand better, since it sounds like there’s still a lot of… bad feelings over that.”

Celia: “I cheated on him,” Celia says flatly, “with the guy who raped me.”

GM: “That isn’t cheating. That’s just rape.”

Celia: “I continued to see him. I went to his house. And let him use me. For months.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “And when I tried to break it off, he had his friend rape me.”

“And later they came into my house and they did it again.”

GM: “Oh my god, Celia…”

Dani hugs her.

“You didn’t deserve that, okay? I’m so sorry that happened to you…”

“You tried to do the right thing, you tried to end it… that counts.”

Celia: “Does it?”

GM: “Yes!” Dani exclaims, giving her a firmer squeeze. “He thinks it does, I know that.”

Celia: “He didn’t seem to think so when I told him about it.”

GM: “But you said he frenzied, right?”

Celia: “And then refused to speak to me for years.”

“No apology.”

“Nothing.”

GM: “Has he apologized since you got back together?”

Celia: “Yeah,” Celia finally sighs, rubbing at her eyes.

GM: “Well, better late than never. Which is the same thing I’d say about trying to break it off with a rapist.”

Celia: “I found out later he was a ghoul. I don’t doubt there was some sort of mind-fuckery going on at the time.”

GM: “So you might not have even chosen to cheat on Stephen?”

Celia: “I’ve never gone back to ask him, but yeah, there’s a chance.”

GM: “Well, uh, don’t feel like you have to now.”

“But, okay. So you told Stephen about that, and he lost it, and you didn’t speak until a little while ago.”

Celia: “Basically.”

GM: “How does that fit with the first time he thought you cheated, as a breather? I know he knew about it then.”

“He said you’d dumped him and told him you’d cheated because his love wasn’t enough to overcome years of abuse.”

Celia: “I just told him I cheated on him so he’d leave me alone. I almost lost it on him and killed him. So it wasn’t safe.”

“Then we got back together and he insinuated that because I’m Toreador I’m a slut, then demanded the truth. So I told him the truth.”

GM: Dani winces.

“I don’t… think he was trying to say you were a slut.”

“He can just be a little clueless about this stuff.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “And he can be pretty self-righteous.”

“It feels like… your relationship has a ton of past baggage.”

Celia: “Yep.”

GM: “But you want it to work now.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “So does he. You’re on the same side.”

Celia: “…oh. I guess I never thought about it like that.”

GM: “…that he wants your relationship to work too?”

Celia: “That we’re on the same side.”

“I keep thinking… we’re on different political sides, but… with this, at least, we’re… not.”

GM: “You are. He wants it to work. I know he’s messed up in the past, but he’s sorry and he loves you. He looked so happy when he talked about having your relationship again. He said you’re one of the best things to ever happen to him, and how thankful he is to still have you in his life since becoming a vampire.”

Celia: “Oh,” she says again, more quietly this time.

The best thing that ever happened to him.

And she’s bonded to someone else. Hopelessly in love with someone else. Someone who will never love her like Roderick does. Who hasn’t been through all of the things with her that he has. Who hurts her to teach her the place he has in mind for her: on her knees. Like Paul.

She’d messed up.

She’d really, really messed up.

GM: “He said he likes to carry you. That it’s ‘so Celia,’” Dani smiles, “how you’d be able to find a cute use for a power of the Blood he always just saw as a tool.”

Celia: Cute use? Does she mean Luna?

GM: “Like, I remember when you came over for dinner, when we first met, I said how he was ‘just really into you’ and you smiled back saying you were ‘really into him too…’”

“It just feels like you still have that, even if there’s a lot of baggage too.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment. There’s a lot she wants to say. A lot she wants to confess. All the shitty, awful things she’s done, will probably continue to do. She’d just cut open a human girl without an ounce of remorse to make a dinner meeting more palatable. She’s cheated on him. Tonight, even. With Alana. And probably will again later this evening.

In the end, though, she doesn’t unburden herself. She just nods.

“Thanks, Dani. You’re right. Thanks for listening, and sorry I… unloaded. There’s not really any vampire counselors.”

GM: “You’re gonna be my sister, right?” she smiles. “I’m happy to, anytime. So is Stephen, and your mom. We all love you.”

Celia: For now, anyway.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “Oh, shit!” exclaims Dani, looking at the time. “We’re late!”

It’s not that long a drive from Flawless to Edith’s address. In fact, it looks as if Dani took a detour so they’d have time to talk.

Edith lives closer to the north part of the Quarter, where buildings turn from bars and clubs and tourist attractions to homes and apartments. It’s still on Rampart Street, though. This close to Treme and the Seventh Ward, the spit starts to wear off the Quarter’s polish—or perhaps it becomes plain how much was black from tobacco spittle all along. Trash isn’t as picked up. Buildings are cheaper, dirtier, graffiti-tagged, and falling apart. Celia hears a few gunshots and car alarms. There are homeless, too, camped out with their sleeping bags and shopping carts and bags of trash and belongings, plus the odd worn-looking camping tent. There’s fewer of them than south in the Quarter, but their expressions look just as glum, intoxicated, or blanked out. Sounds of fornication echo from one of the tents. Numerous sets of male eyes follow the two women’s car.

Some of them smell like thin-bloods.

They otherwise look identical to their breather counterparts.

“This doesn’t look like a safe place for us, Celia…” Dani says warily.

It’s just one block north and several east of her mom’s house.

There was more than one reason she had wanted to live in the Garden District.

Celia: Celia quietly points out the thin-bloods that they pass, though she’s careful to keep her voice low and not attract any attention to the pair of them.

“Jade,” Celia reminds her. Then, “No, it isn’t. This is where the Caitiff live. Where anyone who isn’t someone lives.”

Slim pickings.

But plentiful, for a girl who doesn’t mind picking apart a carcass. Who would miss these vagrants? She’d get so much use out of their parts…

She could filter their blood through her body. Give it to her mother. Make it taste good again.

Maybe one of these nights she’ll make another trip down here, see what sort of use she can get out of them.

GM: The pair are still in the car. The homeless, and the thin-bloods, are right by the address for Edith’s house. It’s better-maintained than its neighbors, but it looks like someone trying to maintain a ’50s family home in the inner city without so much as a white picket fence.

Dani watches intently as Jade points out the duskborn, but still says, “I think those guys are gonna make trouble for us by ourselves…”

“Wish we’d brought Stephen.”

Celia: “They’ll try,” Jade says.

GM: “You think we can stop them…?”

Celia: “I think they know better than to mess with Savoy’s lapcat.”

GM: “But I can’t smell you, how can they?”

Celia: Jade smiles, flashing fangs.

GM: Dani gives a wan one back.

“I guess this is the only way to get answers, either way.”

All the same, Celia sees pepper spray in her purse as she picks it up.

The pair get out. The two women are immediately accosted by half a dozen dirty, unwashed-smelling men literally screaming in their faces for money. Two duskborn, twice as many kine.

Celia: Jade shoulders her way through them, Dani in tow.

GM: The mob falls upon the pair like a pack of starving dogs. Dirty hands seize everywhere, copping feels, ripping at clothes, and pulling away belongings as the men hoot and bellow. Celia’s purse disappears into the mob as Dani screams and flails, and then the Toreador feels an uneven set of fangs, one substantially smaller than the other, sink into her neck.

Celia: The Beast rears its ugly head when the fangs touch her neck. Aware of how absolutely terrible it would be to lose it here, Celia stuffs it down. She reaches out, snarling in the thin-blood’s face. Her eyes flash, anger simmering just beneath the surface. She lets him see it. The Beast. She lets him feel the power it has over him, the sheer, overwhelming charisma that it forces down his throat, so much sweeter than whatever blood he’d just taken from her. What is she?

“Get my purse back,” she demands of it.

GM: The thin-blood, a middle-aged homeless man with a wildly unkempt beard who looks old enough to be Celia’s dad (if she were black) can’t meet the Toreador’s face. Not with his buried against her neck. But the snarl behind her words, and the weight of her presence, rolling out like a wave, stirs an equally primal response. He turns and bolts, shoving past his fellows, leaving a precious opening as a flailing Dani screams at the top of her lungs, “GET OFF GET OFF GET OFF!!!” Celia can feel the other thin-blood’s presence too, weaker than hers, but nevertheless adding to its weight. Celia’s assailant makes no effort whatsoever to retrieve her purse. Some practiced moves from Roderick culminating with a solid kick to the thief’s balls, plus a timely flail from Dani, knock the purse to the ground, its strap broken and contents haphazardly spilled everywhere. Dani hits the ground in a similar heap, breathing hard with wild eyes.

Celia: Celia retrieves her purse after the thief goes down, stuffing things back inside. She doesn’t care about the money. It’s replaceable. She makes enough. But the rest of it, that’s her focus. That and pulling Dani to her feet once she regains her own, bolting for the safety of the Caitiff’s house.

GM: She finds the door locked tight. Dani bangs against it.

“Let us in!!!”

No one answers her plea.

Celia: “Edith,” Jade says into the door, “it’s Jade.”

GM: A shadow passes behind the windowshades. There are bars over the windows.

After a moment, the door swings open.

Celia: Jade steps inside, pulling Dani after her. She pushes the door shut behind her.

“Some neighbors,” she remarks to her hostess.

GM: Their hostesses are two. The first is a bedraggled-looking young woman with unkempt blonde hair dressed in a Cinderella t-shirt and sweatpants with a gun awkwardly shoved back into the pockets. The other ‘hostess’ is a young child, maybe elementary school age, with cleaner brown hair wearing a little girl dress that Lucy might be found in. Her face, though, has none of Lucy’s excitement or sense of wonder.

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“Sorry, ah, Jade, ma’am,” apologizes Cinderella. “That’s just… the neighborhood.”

She and the child do up half a dozen bolts and chains on the door’s other side.

Dani watches them do so, arms tightly crossed around herself.

Celia: Jade doesn’t say much to that. It really is the neighborhood. A fate she saved Dani from, with her comfortable offer of staying with her and lush hunting grounds.

Even so, a quick text to “her boys” implies the need of their services later. She’s not dealing with that again.

She’ll find that wretched thin-blood, though, and take back what is hers.

She finds a smile for Cinderella and the child, at least.

“We managed.”

GM: “Text—you know who,” says Dani, catching herself as she touches her mask.

Roderick, obviously.

Celia: Obviously.

She debates the merits of that before nodding and doing that as well.

GM: Affirmative responses from all three ping back soon.

“They made off with my purse,” Dani says glumly.

Celia: “Shit. I thought they just got mine.”

GM: “I need to get a new phone. And my credit cards canceled.”

Celia: Irritation surges through her. She should have brought a fucking gun, even if she doesn’t know how to shoot. It’s an oversight she needs to correct. Now.

“I’ll take care of it,” Celia tells her.

The phone, she means. There is little she can do about the cards.

Another text summons the two boys now, a description of her assailant included. Bonus if they find the purse and its contents.

She’ll kill the bastard and enjoy doing so.

GM: “It’s okay. Stores won’t be open until sunup, and—sorry, I’m being rude,” Dani says to the two ghouls.

“It’s okay,” says the younger ghoul. “Mom’s just glad you’re here.”

The time on Celia’s phone is more than reasonably late.

It’s a nice change of pace to be the more important lick.

Celia: It really is.

Still, they’d gotten kind of distracted on the phone; who knows if Jade had even agreed to the time before the shrieking children claimed her attention.

“Lead the way,” she says to the pair.

GM: On it, comes Reggie’s confident response.

Celia: Finding scumbags is their thing. She’s happy to leave it to them.

GM: A child’s high-pitched shriek sounds from further inside the house.

“Let’s hurry,” Cinderella and the ghoul both say at once, taking off in a near-run into the house.

Jade and Dani follow behind into the living room. A tea party looks in progress, or at least an attempted tea party. The room’s furniture has been moved off to the side, and there’s a picnic blanket laid out on the floor, underneath several child-sized tables of mismatching heights crammed together. A white tablecloth with pink heart border is spread out over the separate tables in a seeming effort to make them look like the same table. It doesn’t. The tea party feels like it was supposed to happen outside, but couldn’t, for the same reason the front door has half a dozen locks and the windows have bars.

Atop the table, there’s a spread of mismatched plates, trays, and teacups. Some of them are ceramic, others plastic, some Disney-themed, some plain, others printed with hearts and flowers. Much of the tableware looks disposable. Most of the non-disposable pieces are badly chipped and look as if they’ve been superglued back together, and multiple times. Jade can’t imagine a physically and mentally competent adult breaking so many dishes so many times, at least by themselves.

The food consists of tiny sandwiches made from normal-sized Wonder Bread cut into tiny, tea party-sized sections. It’s the sole item that’s not dessert. Everything else is sweets. There’s a platter of homemade-looking chocolate cookies, but everything else is candy. Platters of Hostess twinkies and ding dongs, bowls of M&M’s and gummy bars, trays of candy bars and ice cream sandwiches, and tubs of ice cream lathered with nutella. The largest bowl of all, a giant red plastic one that looks meant for cooking rather than serving, is filled to the brim with a mix of white sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, nutella, and over a dozen melted sticks of butter, all mushed together into a lifetime’s worth of diabetes and heart attacks.

It doesn’t even pretend to be anything besides fat and sugar.

Almost as an afterthought, there’s a kettle for the tea party’s tea, along with several bottles of Big Shot soda.

Geraldine Maude Danvers is a little girl old enough to be Lucy’s first grade classmate, or maybe even still in kindergarten. She has the smooth skin all children do, shoulder-length blonde-brown hair, and furious-looking brown eyes. The thin-blood is standing on top of the table, barefoot and clad in a chocolate-smeared white dress, screaming as she throws a platter of oreos against the wall.

YOU! SAID! BLOOD!!!!! NOW!!!!!

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Two more children scream, flinch, and burst into tears at the violent action. Both ghouls, Celia has heard. The first, Melody, is darker of hair and looks around the same age.

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She starts trying to sing “Th-the it-itsy-bittsy s-spider went up-” but she’s cut off as Geraldine grabs the tea kettle and hurls it at the wall with a terrific noise, sending tea spilling over the moved-aside furniture. At that, she just wails,

“Y-you s-said blood!!!”

The youngest, Harper, doesn’t say anything. The baby-aged ghoul looks too young to have learned to talk. She just cries and blubbers and smacks her hands against the table, adding her wails to the childish cacophony.

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At the center of it all is Edith Flannagan, single mother of four.

edith.png
She has a handsome face. The jaw is a little too wide to be considered “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms look a little fleshy, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She looks like someone who took care of her appearance when she was alive. Hats to keep the sun out of her face, seaweed baths and paraffin wraps at the local spa, pink and white nails. Hair perfectly coiffed. When Jade normally sees the Caitiff, she looks put together. She still uses that old Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes, still artificially colors her cheeks with “blusher,” still coats the mascara on her lashes. Right now, her makeup looks smeared from a child’s flailing hand. Her long and curly red-dyed hair looks mussed and tangled. She wears a wide-hemmed, retro dress out of the ‘50s with several fresh-looking food stains over the front. She’s planting her hands down on the wobbling tables as she pleads,

“She’s here! She’s here! Blood’s here!!!”

Geraldine’s head whips around as Jade, Dani, and the two ghouls enter the room. She leaps off the table, clearing over half the room without a running start, and pounces on Cinderella. Fangs sink into the woman’s thigh. Cinderella gives a cry of alarm and tries to fling Geraldine off, only for Edith to scream, “Oh no you don’t!!!” and tackle the ghoul onto the tables. There’s a terrific crash as they collapse and sandwiches, soda, candy, and the bowl of congealed sugar and fat spills over everyone.

More tableware shatters. The younger ghoul children scream louder. The oldest (Lily, Jade recalls) pulls them away and yells something that’s lost under the commotion. Edith holds Cinderella down as she flails and yells, “Stop it! Just stop! Let her drink!” as Geraldine thirstily claims her fill.

Dani watches the unfolding scene with her mouth open.

“What the fuck!?”

Celia: What the fuck indeed.

It’s like something out of a nightmare. The sort of thing that they should show teenagers in Sex Ed. to warn them about the dangers of having children: that they’re loud, messy, and completely fucking uncontrollable.

Is this a thin-blooded sort of frenzy? Throwing and screaming and still somewhat human, her Beast too weak to fully break the chains the little girl has cast over it?

No, she realizes, just a tantrum.

The “blood’s here” announcement readies her for action, but the child vampire doesn’t come for Jade or Dani. It goes for Cinderella instead—a saving grace for it, truly, because Jade would have had no qualms punting the thing in the face to send it sailing across the room if it tried to sink those baby fangs into her. She’s had enough blood ripped from her body for one night.

“Come on,” Jade says to Dani, moving past the flailing women on the ground to where the other Flannagan children huddle together across the room. Her aura precedes her: a calming, even-keeled sort of presence intended to soothe. Then there’s the lick herself: poised, smiling, beautiful. Like a living doll herself, isn’t she, with those wide eyes and long hair and gently curving lips, in a grown-up, refined version of a dress meant for tea parties.

“Hello, little ladies. You remember Auntie Jade?” She crouches in front of the girls, reaching out a thumb to wipe some of the smeared chocolate off of Melody’s face. “Why don’t we let Mommy take care of Geraldine and ’Ella and you three can show me where she keeps the spare cups and kettle?” Jade scoops up Harper, tucking the infant against her side, and holds out a hand for Lily or Melody to take.

GM: Harper buries her face against Jade with a wet half-sob, half-hiccup. Jade never carried around Lucy, but there’s another girl she knows well who did. Melody is the first of the other children to take Jade’s hand at Lily’s nod. Melody casts a fearful glance towards the women on the tables, then starts to falteringly sing,

“Cups, cups, cups,
Cups inside the cupboards
Cupboards inside the kitchen
Kitchen inside the house…”


Lily points in its direction.

Dani watches as Edith holds down Cinderella, who by this point has stopped struggling against her domitor and Geraldine, and furtively whispers, “Are they going to kill her?”

Celia: The baby ghoul fits snugly against her side. Like she was made for it. Jade takes to the child-holding well, at least, for not having had a single person around to tell her “hold it it like this.” She brings the girls with her as they move toward the kitchen, following Lily’s pointed finger.

“No,” she murmurs back to Dani, “she’s just hungry. Edith has a large family; it’s hard to keep this many mouths fed on this side of town.” The ghetto. Where Dani might have ended up, thin-blood that she is.

Inside the kitchen, Jade keeps an arm beneath Harper’s weight while she sifts through the cabinets for the cups. She hands them one by one to Lily or Melody to set on the kitchen table.

“What song were you singing, Melody? Do you want to sing it for Auntie Jade and her friend? Lily, is there a spare kettle?”

GM: Dani casts the pair a worried look. “I’m going to watch them, just in case things get out of hand.” She stays in the living room with her arms folded.

Harper sniffs and snivels over her shirt some more.

“Made up the song
Singing’s how I do my part
There’s a tune in every heart
Tune in every he-eart…”
sings Melody.

Lily retrieves a battered-looking second kettle.

Celia: Jade favors Melody with a smile as she makes up a new song, then finds a rag to start wiping at Harper’s face to keep the worst of it from her clothing.

Edith can hardly afford to get rid of another ghoul now. Jade is pretty sure that Cinderella has been with them since their arrival. Others come and go (often at the hands of the little monster in the other room), but Ella is the constant. Dani is welcome to watch, though, if it makes her feel better.

Then again, if Edith weren’t trying to keep the ghoul fed as well she’d have more for her daughters and Geraldine. Maybe a quick death is the best thing for all of them.

Jade looks at the two girls sitting in the kitchen with her. If Geraldine is feeding now, she can probably give the juice to the other two. She finds the container of blood she’d brought with her, the two pints she’d bled from herself after taking it from her clients, and pours it into the kettle to heat.

This is fine, right? It’s not like Edith wanted the blood for herself to distribute. The girls can eat and then go to bed and she and Edith can chat. Sometimes that’s all her mom wanted when Lucy was little: a little help feeding and cleaning her and then some adult time with Celia and Emily.

“Seats, ladies,” Jade says to the two. She sits too, Harper on her lap. “Lily, will you pour for us?”

GM: Three ghouls and one spoiled thin-blood would still be a lot for one Caitiff on Rampart Street.

Everyone says it’s a matter of time until Edith Flannagan’s house of cards comes falling apart.

It’s awkward to carry a baby in one hand and a purse with a broken strap in her other. Lily helps. All of the kids watch as Jade pours out the blood. Even Harper. The youngest ghoul starts softly crying again and greedily tugging at the air.

The other two kids sit down. Utterly silent. Watching the kettle like hawks.

Lily pours.

Celia: Jade heard that some people have been calling for the extermination of Geraldine, too. Murder machine. Masquerade breach waiting to happen. It’s a wonder her sire had never paid a visit to the house after what happened at the zoo.

Not that Jade is complaining. She’d made out like a bandit after the poor girl died. Where else would she have found a tiger in New Orleans?

Jade waits until the blood hits the cups to nudge them toward the girls on their chipped saucers. Two cups for two girls. Harper seems too little to be able to manage a cup like this. She’s still hungry though, isn’t she? Still addicted like the rest of them. It’s not as if the addiction passes her by because she’s a baby. She’s heard of babies being born that were addicted to whatever chemicals their mothers were on at the time of their pregnancy and birth, how loudly they wail while they go through withdrawals.

Is it crossing a line if she…? It’s not like she’ll ever get another chance. She won’t have children of her own. Edith is busy. Dani is busy. Jade runs her fingers through the baby’s hair, nuzzling the top of her head.

GM: Lily and Melody drink immediately. They take it slow. Closing their eyes. Savoring the taste. The ghouls who aren’t completely new tend to do that. Stretch out the hit as long as they can. It’s only the brand new ones, like Diana after Jade punished her, who try to gulp it down as fast as possible.

Harper, though, is much less of a good sport than Lucy was (and even Lucy had her bad days, like any baby). The ghouled infant loudly cries and squirms in Jade’s grasp, reaching desperately for the blood.

Celia: It’s the crying that does it in the end. Whenever Lucy had started crying Celia had immediately handed her back to her mom so she could quiet her. She’d told Celia once that you learn to recognize the cries of your child; she’d always seemed to know exactly what to do with Lucy to get her to calm down, whether it was a pacifier, a nipple, or changing a wet diaper.

Jade doesn’t know Harper’s individual cries. But she recognizes hunger well enough. …It’s only fair, right? To feed them all?

A quick flick of her fingers undoes the top few buttons of her top, and another unhooks the clasp of her bra. The cups slide free, exposing her breasts. Jade pulls aside the shirt, settles Harper in the crook of her arm, and makes a tiny prick in one nipple. She guides it into the wailing infant’s mouth.

GM: Harper instantly shuts up and starts sucking.

It’s like Diana described. A tugging, tingling sensation against her breast. But there’s no relief, like she’s using the bathroom. Just faint agitation from the Beast. Growling.

It usually took some time, too, when Celia’s mom calmed down a crying Lucy. She’d have to rock the child and sing to her or go through the unpleasant experience of changing a fouled diaper. When the answer was nursing, Lucy would cry and sniffle and take coaxing or effort to position the nipple just right. Diana said she always preferred to nurse a calm baby, “Even if that isn’t always in the cards.”

But with Harper, it’s like a switch is flipped.

There’s no calming down period. The tears just stop, like a faucet turned off. There’s no effort involved on Jade’s part, no nursery rhyme encores or gentle coaxing like Diana had to do. The infant just shuts up and sucks, with bulging eyes and a ravenous vigor unlike anything Celia ever saw from Lucy.

Celia: Well this is certainly one way to make a crying infant settle. Not that she’d ever do it to anyone that isn’t already a ghoul. Or create a ghoul child of her own. What sort of fucked up person does that to a kid?

It’s not quite the experience her mother had described. She feels less like she’s sharing part of herself than simply having it taken from her. It’s not the intimacy she’d expected. Maybe because it isn’t her child. Maybe because it’s taking the blood from her. Maybe she just doesn’t like sharing. It’s hers. But while her Beast may growl, it doesn’t cause a scene; this tiny little thing is helpless before her, utterly in her power. There’s a sense of superiority there, not only for the ghoul in her arms but the Caitiff and half-vampires in the other room. They can’t provide like this. But Jade can.

So she feeds it, letting baby Harper get her fix, searching for that sense of bliss her mother described just earlier this evening. She cradles the back of the infant’s head, murmurs soft nothings to her as she drinks, and lets herself get off on the weirdly intoxicating power trip.

GM: Edith Flannagan, clearly.

Jade waits and waits, but the sensation her mother described doesn’t come. Maybe because it’s not her kid (or her sister). Maybe because she’s losing something. Diana said the more love you give away, the more you have to give, but Jade knows that’s utterly untrue when it comes to vitae. There’s just loss.

Or at least a trade. Little Harper looks totally within her power. Like she’d do anything for that blood. It always looked the other way around for Celia’s mother: Lucy just sucked while Diana looked as if she’d have done anything for that child.

Celia couldn’t ever nurse Lucy. Diana could pass the child off to her daughter, sing together with her, put the baby to bed with her, but nursing was one thing only the girl’s actual mother could do. Even if they pretended otherwise. She remembers, after the child was delivered and her brothers and sisters moved back in, how Emily had the idea for Diana to store her milk in formula bottles (she was aghast how expensive it was) and feed to Lucy for the ‘benefit’ of the other Flores children. Celia was supposed to be the one lactating, if anyone was. Lucy could only get breastfed where her ‘aunts and uncles’ couldn’t see.

It was a lot of effort, to maintain the illusion that Celia could do something she couldn’t do.

But there’s no illusion here. Reggie and Diana both didn’t seem to enjoy the taste of thin-blooded vitae, and Edith is stretched so thing with so many mouths to feed. Jade has enough to spare. Jade has the power.

Harper, oblivious to the dynamic, just continues to thirstily suck from the bleeding nipple.

Celia: If she’d been more concerned about it at the time, Celia might have suggested an overhaul of her own chest to add mammary glands, or at least make the ones she had then work. They’re as dead as the rest of her, but it’s really just a system of tubes, isn’t it? No reason she couldn’t fix them up to make them work now if she really wanted to. Maybe she can offer it to Edith if the woman still wants to actually breastfeed (or at least pour formula into herself that later comes out the nipple). Like cum tubes. But for babies.

Then, she’d been busy experimenting with other things. Now, the idea has some merit. Maybe that would give her the sense of euphoria her mother had talked about. She’s already given herself a fake stomach, a handful of identities, a cock; what’s working breasts to all that?

This long into her Requiem, Jade recognizes when a ghoul has taken enough from her to get their fix. She lets the baby get to that point before finally pulling the nipple free from her greedy mouth and tucks herself away.

GM: The baby immediately starts bawling again and reaches for the disappearing nipple.

The other girls watch silently past their drained cups.

Celia: The baby can cry all it wants. Jade isn’t going to bleed herself dry for someone else’s ghoul.

Surely Edith should be free soon.

GM: Harper bawls and tugs and rubs her head over Jade’s covered breasts.

The other girls feel almost embarrassed.

Celia: “She’s not old enough to understand,” Jade says to them with a little shrug. She shifts the child from one arm to the other, tickling her belly with her fingers.

GM: Harper just keeps crying.

Celia: “Why don’t you check on your mother, Lily,” Jade says to the girl in question. A second passes before she reaches out to smother the child’s wild emotions with that gift of hers.

GM: Harper shuts up, though she doesn’t stop staring at Jade’s breasts either.

Lily does so, hopping off her seat, but there’s no need. Footsteps become audible to Jade’s ears as Edith, Geraldine, and Dani walk in. The Caitiff and her ‘daughter’ have clean faces and have changed clothes. They’re holding hands.

“I’m sorry about that, they’ve not had much to eat lately,” says Edith.

“…oh. Did you feed them?”

“She didn’t, she didn’t,
We’re still very hungry
We’re still so hungry
Please, Mama, feed us,
Please, Mama, fill us,”
sings Melody.

Celia: Jade gives Melody a disapproving glance.

Addicts.

“I fed all three,” she confirms.

GM: Lily opens her mouth, then doesn’t say anything, looking between Edith and Jade.

Edith picks up one of the cups and sniffs it. It’s completely drained, without so much as a drop remaining. Maybe no human would smell anything, but Jade can still pick up a telltale coppery whiff.

“Liar,” Edith says to Melody.

“I can smell blood in that.”

Melody lowers her head.

Edith sits down, pulls the ghoul over her lap, pulls up her dress, and delivers five hard swats to her backside. Melody yelps and gulps.

“Five spanks for five verses of lies,” says Edith. “Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m-m sorry,” sniffs Melody.

“Lily, you didn’t lie, but you didn’t tell the truth. One spank,” says Edith.

The older ghoul lays over her domitor’s lap and presents her posterior. Her cheeks tinge red as everyone else in the room watches.

Dani looks vaguely uncomfortable. Geraldine smiles.

Celia: Jade knew a girl who used to be spanked like this, with everyone watching. But Jade never was. And she thinks that liars deserve punishments. She’d done the same to her ghoul recently for being a greedy little thing, too.

GM: Until Celia helped the ghoul spank her back, at least. They told her to stay away from them both.

Celia: Jade had spanked Celia, too. Right before she fucked her.

She doubts Edith is going to go that route with the little girls, unless their relationship is even more twisted than she’d imagined.

She says nothing about the corporal punishment, in any case. Everyone handles their ghouls differently.

GM: Edith sets Lily down after delivering the one spank.

“I’m sorry about that,” she repeats.

Celia: “Kids,” she says with a knowing smile. She glances at Dani, as if to ask about Cinderella, but she imagines the thin-blood would be more upset if anything had actually happened to the ghoul. No doubt she’s sleeping it off.

“It should hold them over for a while, anyway.” A lift of her brows, as if asking how Edith plans to care for them after that.

“I saw you on patrol the other night. Find anything?”

GM: Edith shakes her head in frustration. “I was… counting on it. Savoy rewards us whenever we do.”

“And the kids are always hungry.”

Celia: “I can imagine. Hard to keep them full with a stable this large.” If Dani weren’t here she’d suggest taking one of the homeless off the streets and draining them, but Dani is here, so she doesn’t.

GM: “Who’s she?” asks Gerladine.

“That’s Jade, honey, she also lives in the Quarter,” says Edith, pulling the child onto her lap.

Technically true, if somewhat misleading.

Jade doesn’t live in a slum.

Dani sits down too.

“Hannah said you ran into the homeless outside. Sorry about that. Did you kill any of the thin-bloods?” she asks, not even trying to hide the hope in her voice.

Dani frowns.

“We didn’t, no.”

Edith looks disappointed. “Oh.”

“Because they’re attacking you?” Dani asks.

“Sometimes. Only when they get really hungry,” says Edith. “They know I’m a real Kindred.” There’s some pride in the Caitiff’s voice at that.

Dani doesn’t say anything there.

“But there’s more of them,” continues Edith. “And they’re still dangerous. They were bad, bad, trashy people when they were alive. Still are.”

“So you want them dead so they can’t attack you when they’re really hungry?” asks Dani.

“You ask a lot of questions for a ghoul,” says Edith with a faint frown. But she still answers, “If they were dead I’d be able to hunt their homeless friends, without worrying about them attacking me back.”

She makes a face. “I’m sure their blood’s awful. But it’s still blood.”

“Can’t you just hunt somewhere else?” asks Dani.

“No, I can’t!” exclaims Edith, looking as if she’s trying not to sound too frustrated around Jade.

Celia: It’s amusing, this being in charge thing. She recognizes the look on Edith’s face very well; more than once she’s had to bite her tongue around her “superiors.”

“Edith is Caitiff,” she says to Dani.

“Their domain in the Quarter is the edges. Out here. If she hunts elsewhere, she’s poaching.”

GM: “Yes, Lord Savoy’s very generous,” agrees Edith.

Even Dani isn’t so green not to recognize the sucking up for what it is.

But she doesn’t say anything.

“This is boring,” says Geraldine, slapping her hand against the table several times.

Celia: “Is it?” Jade asks the child. “We came for you, actually.”

GM: “Lily, Melody, why don’t you take Geraldine a-” Edith cuts off, though, as Jade speaks.

“Me?” asks the thin-blood.

Celia: “You,” Jade confirms with a nod. “And your mother.” Her eyes cut to Edith’s. “It’s an area you might be a bit of an expert in, Edith, considering.” She tilts her head, eyeing the child.

GM: “Ah, yes, I’m sorry,” Edith apologizes. “You’re here on business, and you fed the little ’uns, what can I do for you?”

Celia: “I have some questions about thin-bloods.” A casual wave of her hand includes Hannah in the discussion. “She’s here to take notes and make sure I don’t forget anything, so I’m sure she’ll be jumping in as well.”

“With as long as Geraldine has been with you, I thought you’d know more than most of the vagrants on the street.”

“And I’m always happy to see the girls.”

When they’re not wailing.

GM: Edith smiles. “They love visitors too. Don’t you, girls?”

There are nods from them all.

“Geraldine’s been my daughter for about 20 years, she says,” smiling again as she adjusts the child vampire on her lap. “So I think I know a lot about them. I’ve seen it all firsthand. How does… one hit for every topic’s worth of notes sound?”

She glances around the cups. “So that’s two topics, for everything so far. Or three, if you fed Harper too.” She looks at the still-sniffling infant.

“She did,” says Lily.

Melody nods too.

“Okay, three,” says Edith. “I’m sorry, that’s what you said. Three. With more if you want to feed Cinderella too.”

“Or feed the others some more.”

“Is Cinderella her actual name?” asks Dani.

“Yes,” Geraldine answers peevishy.

“Yes, she doesn’t have another name,” says Edith, backing the child up.

“Okay, Cinderella,” nods Dani.

“Do you have a pen and paper I could take notes with?”

“Yes, over there.” Edith points.

Dani retrieves a pen and notepad, then sits back down.

Celia: Edith might have trouble keeping the girls from going hungry if she’s feeding them this liberally. Jade would probably space the feedings out a little more, but she’s not going to tell someone else how to parent. Lord knows she has no idea what she’d be doing.

Though that’s more of a ghoul thing than a parent thing, if she’s being honest.

“We’ll start with the Blood.” Edith can probably hear the emphasis on the word. “Mine gives me the traditional gifts of my clan. Yours allows you different abilities. I’ve done some experimenting with a thin-blood I found. He seems only to be able to perform the same sorts of things you or I can do if he has lick blood in his system. Is that typical of them?”

GM: “Sometimes,” says Edith. “Most of them are what they eat. Their abilities change with whatever blood they drink.”

Celia: “So if the thin-blood drank from me, he’d take on some of my abilities. But if he drank from a Gangrel, he’d get something else?”

“How far does that go? Specialized, unique abilities? More advanced things?”

GM: “Yes. But kine too. If they drink from a marathon runner, they’ll get stone skin. If they drink from a clubber, they’ll get charm.”

Celia: Fascinating. And also in line with her theory.

GM: “The more they drink, or the richer the blood, the stronger their abilities are.”

“But only up to a point.”

Celia: “But they only have it until they use it?”

GM: “Until they drink from different blood.”

Dani dutifully scrawls away.

Celia: “So it doesn’t need to actively be in their system, just the last thing they ate?”

GM: “They need both of those.”

Celia: “Up to a point, you said?”

GM: Edith’s lips purse. “That’s a separate topic. How strong they can get. There are different ways they can.”

Celia: The same way the blonde had suggested getting stronger? She doubts Dani will go for it. She lifts her brows at the girl in question. No doubt she wants to know her limits, but she won’t speak for her.

GM: “How can they do that?” Dani asks.

Celia: Jade gives a nod, assenting to the further topic.

GM: “They can only develop very basic abilities, through normal feeding,” says Edith. “The ones any fledgling can pick up in a night or two.”

“If they drink deep enough to kill, or from a vessel with a dyscrasia, they can get a little more advanced.”

Celia: “Permanently?”

GM: Edith shakes her head. “Just until they feed again. Or lose the blood.”

“Blood from other licks does more for them, though.”

“They need to drink more of it, but Geraldine’s been able to do the same things I can, after she feeds enough.”

Celia: Jade lifts a brow at the Caitiff.

“How advanced is that?”

It’s not like Jade keeps up with the generations of the clanless.

GM: “I’m not a master at any discipline. But it’s more than she was able to do just from killing.”

“That seems like an easy way for them to get better at being vampires, then,” says Dani.

Edith shrugs. “Most true-blooded licks won’t share with them.”

Celia: But Dani’s got two in her corner that might.

A feedback loop, like Diana had suggested earlier.

GM: “And it’s not like they can steal it easy.”

Celia: Neither of them would really lose blood… she idly contemplates how telling Roderick she wants to swap blood with his sister would go. For science.

“No,” Jade agrees.

Even though she’d just had hers stolen.

“Their blood will never thicken with age, then. Not like ours.”

“Everything they do is a temporary fix.”

GM: “Yes. It’s all temporary.”

Celia: “Geraldine is still a child,” Jade ventures.

GM: “Yes, what about it?”

Celia: “She won’t age, ever? Or it’s so slow we don’t notice it?”

GM: “She hasn’t aged a day.”

Celia: Jade nods. She’d assumed as much.

GM: “I’ve had her for around twenty years.”

Celia: Jade looks to the child vampire, listening for a heartbeat.

GM: She can hear one. Just like with Dani.

“That’s also starting to be a separate topic.”

Celia: Jade rifles through her purse, pulling out a tiny notebook. She flips it open to a page and consults the nonexistent writing, then offers it to Dani.

“One of those?” she asks, giving Dani free reign to pursue her own line of questioning.

GM: Dani frowns, thinking.

“Yeah, that looks good.”

Seems up to Jade.

Celia: Dani’s the thin-blood and it’s about her, but Jade doesn’t argue the point. If she wants to leave it up to Jade she can do so.

“I’ve heard some of them can do a sort of alchemy thing with their blood.”

GM: Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“They’re… drug dealers. That’s all they are. It’s disgusting.”

“But what is it they do?” asks Dani.

“Gutter magic. If you could even call it that.”

Celia: Jade waits, expectant.

GM: “It’s disgusting. They’re disgusting.”

Celia: “I’ll need you to be more specific on the gutter magic.”

GM: “I don’t associate with those sorts of people,” the Caitiff declares. There’s a note of some pride to her voice.

“But can you tell us anything?” asks Dani.

“I don’t associate with those lowlifes,” she repeats. “You can ask me something else.”

Celia: “Even if it meant Geraldine could do magic?” There’s some skepticism to her voice.

GM: “Magic? Like a fairy?” asks Geraldine.

“It’s not magic like a fairy,” says Edith. “It’s not something little girls do. It’s gross and yucky and there’s… poop.”

“Ewww,” says Geraldine.

Celia: “I’d like to know what you know. I paid for the information.”

Jade can take her blood back, if the Caitiff likes.

GM: “You can ask me something else,” Edith says stiffly.

Celia: That baby is still in her arms.

GM: She looks at Harper, who by this point looks like she’s dozed off, and repeats, “That can’t be all you want to know. Ask me about something else. I won’t charge you for the alchemy… answer.”

“Magic isn’t real,” adds Geraldine.

“I pushed off the fairy and she couldn’t fly.”

Dani frowns.

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch.

“No, I can’t imagine she did,” she says to the child. She doesn’t correct her, though.

“If you can’t tell me about the alchemy, can you tell me where to find an alchemist? I presume you heard enough about it from someone to point me in their direction.”

GM: Fairies are real, though. And their magic. Celia knows that from experience.

Edith makes an expression of distaste.

“I can’t, beyond Rampart Street, but you probably guessed that.”

“I won’t charge you for that answer either.”

Celia: Well at least she’s fair with her pricing.

GM: “So, what else?”

Celia: Jade glances at Dani. She’d thought she was going to have to feed one of them again, but she’s drawing a blank. Dani wants to meet them, but it sounds like Edith doesn’t hang out with many of them, and if she can’t tell her about the alchemists…

She’d had so much to offer Edith, too. So many favors she could trade for knowledge.

GM: Dani looks back at her unsurely.

Celia: Jade finally shrugs. She’d wanted the alchemist for her own selfish reasons.

“Compared to a true-blooded lick, do they retain similar properties? The healing, the regeneration, the lack of illness, et cetera?”

GM: “Yes and no,” says Edith. “Gerladine’s gotten sick. But not very often.”

Celia: “The others, though? The mending? Regenerating lost parts?”

GM: “I don’t know if she can do that. I’ve never tried to find out. But she can heal cuts and bruises with blood.”

“I usually tell her not to, though, and to just let Mommy give her a band-aid. And she gets better on her own, not like we do.”

“Sorry, you can’t get better on your own?” asks Dani.

Edith looks at her, then answers, “If you cut us, we stay cut until we spend blood to heal. Our bodies don’t do that on their own. Geraldine’s does.”

“I’m special,” declares Geraldine.

“Yes you are!” says Edith, bouncing the thin-blood on her knee. “The most special duskborn in the city!”

Celia: She’s certainly something.

Jade finds a smile for the child and her mother.

“It certainly sounds like it.”

GM: “Can duskborn become nightborn?” Dani asks abruptly.

“They can’t,” says Edith.

Dani does her best not to look crestfallen.

“I won’t charge for that either, since I didn’t tell you anything,” says Edith.

Celia: “Appreciate it,” Jade says, keeping the dryness out of her tone.

“I think that’s all I have, then.”

GM: “Oh. That’s all?”

Celia: “Can’t think of anything else that isn’t alchemy-related, and you’ve already said you don’t hang much with them.”

GM: “But, there’s so much to them. I could tell you a lot more.” Edith looks fairly desperate at the chance to get more blood right in front of her.

Celia: “Such as?”

GM: “Well, everything. They’re different in basically every way. Some little, some big.”

“Anything you think about true-bloods, that you take for granted, they do at least a little differently.”

Celia: “Tell me what you know,” Jade says evenly, “and I’ll decide how many hits it’s worth, or if I can finagle something… extra.”

GM: “We’d be here for hours if I told you everything. Can you narrow it down?”

Celia: “What do you specialize in, Edith? Power wise. What’s your area of expertise?”

GM: “Stone skin. Cloaking. Taming.”

Celia: “I’ll trade you a hit of mine for a hit of yours.”

GM: Edith looks confused. “Sorry?”

Celia: “Your abilities are different than mine. I’d like to see this totem twisting in action.”

GM: “I’m sorry, you mean with a duskborn?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Well, I guess I don’t really care what you do with mine. You can keep it for yourself or give it to one of your girls.”

GM: “Two hits of yours, then. Swapping a hit for a hit still leaves me even.”

Celia: Jade laughs.

“No, but thanks.”

GM: “I’m just proposing an even trade. You’d get to see what a duskborn can do, I’m not any richer.”

Celia: “It’s not an even trade. I’ve already theorized that the duskborn take on what they eat, you simply confirmed it. I have other sources that won’t put me out blood. If you’re not interested you’re not interested, and that’s perfectly fine.”

GM: “So do you want it for something else, as part of another trade? We could throw it in as lagniappe,” Edith relents.

Celia: “I don’t want to play twenty questions all night. I don’t have any pressing concerns about the duskborn, and I imagine most of what I’d ask I can find out through observation and my own experimentation.” Jade leans forward in her chair. “You mentioned there’s stuff I take for granted about being a lick that you can’t with them. Give me the major differences and I’ll give you the two-for-one that you want. I’ll feed whichever kids you like. What is it?”

GM: “Okay, they still frenzy. That’s a myth they can’t.”

Celia: That gets an arched brow.

“All of them?”

GM: “I don’t spend as much time around other duskborn, but I think so. I know Geraldine does.”

Celia: “Is she fourteenth? Or higher?”

GM: “I don’t know. They’re all the same, either way.”

“She’s at least fourteenth, obviously.”

Celia: “Some of them have one fang, or none. Their differences are only physical?”

GM: “Wait, but they don’t frenzy,” says Dani, more than a little perturbed. “You can hit them or stab them or whatever else, can’t you?”

Celia: “Was Geraldine’s earlier fit a frenzy, or just a tantrum? What draws it out? How does it differ from a true blood?”

GM: “They can only frenzy under two circumstances,” says Edith. “One is if they’re really, really hurt. On the brink of death. That’s enough to wake up their Beasts. Give them a last fighting chance.”

“And the second?” says Dani.

“If they’re hungry,” says Edith. “Low on blood. Then if you stab them, hit them, burn them, whatever, their Beast can get out.”

Dani tries not to look too perturbed.

“A duskborn I’ve talked said he didn’t ever feel… a Beast,” she says. “He felt normal. But there are Brujah who always feel it in the backs of their heads, furious, waiting to rip out.”

“That’s normal,” says Edith. “They basically don’t have a Beast, most of the time. It only comes out when they’re hungry or about to die.”

Celia: “So long as they’re never grievously injured or starving, they can function as normal.”

GM: “Yes. That’s where the myth they don’t frenzy comes from.”

“And it’s easier for them to resist the Beast than true-bloods, too. Theirs is weaker.”

Celia: “That’s certainly something,” Jade murmurs.

GM: Edith looks between them appraisingly.

“I think that’s worth a hit.”

Celia: “It is,” Jade agrees.

GM: Edith moves a cup near her.

Celia: Jade sinks her fangs into her wrist, then holds it over the cup.

GM: Everyone at the table but Dani watches with rapt eyes.

Edith waits for it to cool, then raises it to her lips.

Geraldine grabs at it.

“I want!”

“It’s for Cinderella,” says Edith. “So I can feed her-”

“I want!” Geraldine repeats.

“If she’s better she can with y-”

“I—WANT!!!” Geraldine shrieks.

She stands up and lunges at the cup. Edith gives an exclamation of alarm as she pulls it away, trying desperately not to spill it.

GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME GIVE IT TO ME!!!” yells the duskborn, tugging at her arms.

Celia: “Sit down,” Jade snarls at the child, lashing out with her Beast to put weight behind her words.

GM: Geraldine’s temper tantrum wilts like a weeks-old flower. She whimpers and curls up against her mother.

Don’t you do that!” Edith suddenly snarls back, baring her fangs in a feral hiss as her eyes flash.

Celia: Jade rises, her own fangs bared at the Caitiff. A hiss passes from her lips. She is not intimidated by this nobody.

“She’d have spilled it all over the floor. Are you going to ask her to lap it up, like some sort of dog?”

GM: Jade’s seen domitors who make their ghouls do that.

Edith shoots up from her chair too, locking gazes with Jade. The hiss goes on as her fangs protrude.

Then the sound dies.

She sits down and looks away.

Dani warily looks between the once-feuding vampires.

Celia: Jade lets the silence linger. But only for a moment. She sits down after the Caitiff does, her fangs disappearing behind her lips.

“I have something special for Geraldine.”

A balm of sorts, though she can’t help but feel a surge of glee at putting the nobody in her place.

GM: Edith looks up.

“Please don’t hurt her,” she begs, clutching the duskborn tight against her chest with both hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Celia: It’s a nice change of pace.

GM: “She doesn’t mean that kind of special,” says Dani.

Celia: “I’m not here to take your child away from you, Edith.”

GM: “We’re not going to hurt you,” adds Dani. “Or her. Just… drink your blood, all right? You earned it.”

Edith glares faintly at the ‘ghoul.’ But she drinks.

The other ghoul children watch in fretful silence.

Harper suddenly wakes up and starts crying again.

“Lily, Melody, why don’t you put Harper to bed,” says Edith. “And go play a game, checkers, with Geraldine?”

The ghouls fretfully look towards Jade, as if to see whether she’s going to stop them.

Celia: Jade makes no motion to do so. She nods her head.

GM: Melody retrieves a now-crying Harper. Lily takes a still-sniffling Geraldine, who she all but staggers trying to carry. The ghouls and duskborn depart the room.

“You’re kind of spoiling her,” says Dani. “She’ll just continue to act-”

“That’s none of your business, half-blood!” Edith flares back.

But the fangs don’t come out.

Celia: Jade turns a baleful glare on Hannah.

“You don’t tell other licks how to treat their ghouls. I brought you here to take notes.”

GM: Dani glares back, at first.

But then she minds her cover and lowers her head.

“She’s new,” says Edith.

Celia: “She is.”

“I’m still breaking her in.”

GM: “I’m sorry, ma’am,” says Dani.

The tone isn’t completely right. But it’s deferential enough.

Edith smiles faintly.

Celia: Jade considers the lesson learned. She sifts through her purse, pulling out the final bottle of blood.

GM: Edith looks at it.

“So you’d also asked about their fangs.”

Celia: “I did. I’ve seen some with one, some with none, some with chipped fangs, some with little bitty baby fangs.”

GM: “Some have normal fangs. But it’s one of the most common deformities.”

Celia: “I already know about that. Is there something else to it?”

GM: “Like what? Whether they can still feed normally?”

“Most of them can. It’s a little or a lot more awkward, but they can.”

“Some have to use knives, because their fangs are so underdeveloped, or they just don’t have any. Kine obviously don’t enjoy that.”

Celia: “No, I imagine they don’t.”

“None of this is news to me.”

GM: Edith’s voice gets a bit more deferential. “Okay. What do you mean, something else?”

Celia: “You brought up their fangs. I thought maybe there was more to it than that. I only mentioned them in passing.”

GM: “Is is it symptomatic of larger differences between duskborn and nightborn,” ventures Dani. “Like, for instance, how they can walk in the sun-”

“They can’t do that,” says Edith.

Celia: Jade arches a brow.

GM: Dani looks at Jade. “We heard of one who could.”

“That’s just another myth,” says Edith.

Celia: “We’ve witnessed it.”

GM: Edith looks between them. “For how long?”

“Hours,” says Dani. “I saw him. He didn’t have any problems during the day.”

Celia: “No protective covering. No burning. No singes.”

“Hannah tailed him.”

GM: “Your ghoul probably just saw another ghoul,” says Edith. “Most duskborn take longer to burn than nightborn do. And they can last a while. But they still burn.”

“Geraldine burns.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“I’ve confirmed he’s duskborn.”

GM: “That’s the first time I’ve heard of that.”

“Well. It’d be the first reliable time.”

“Lots of licks say they can’t burn in the sun, and it’s an exaggeration. They just burn slower and heal faster.”

“Geraldine does.”

Celia: “I’ll test it again, but so far everything suggests he doesn’t.”

GM: “Okay. Geraldine’s the only one I’ve spent twenty years with,” Edith grants.

Celia: “It made me wonder if they were all different, since someone else said the same.”

“Multiple others,” she amends.

GM: “I’ve known ones with different powers,” says Edith. “And weaknesses.”

“Some that couldn’t get sick or hurt by guns.”

“Some that still frenzied or couldn’t use their blood to heal.”

Celia: “They don’t seem to follow the same rules as us.”

GM: “In what sense?”

Celia: “Give me any Brujah and I’ll tell you what the majority of them can do. The mending. The powers, strength and speed and charisma. The weaknesses, like their rage. Sure, there are outliers. But the duskborn seem to vary more often than the rest of us.”

GM: “Some of it might be ignorance,” says Edith. “But you might be right, too. Not all of the ones I’ve known can do what Geraldine can do.”

“Though she is very special, too. Oldest duskborn in the city.”

“Maybe it’s nature’s way of compensating.”

Celia: “Has she gotten stronger as the years have passed?”

“Or is it like you said, everything is temporary?”

GM: “She’s physically strong for her age. You saw her jump around—that’s stone fists, blood’s might, hulking, whatever you want to call it. That’s how she pushed off the, ah, ‘fairy’.”

“That’s stayed, despite whatever she drinks. But she was always that way, for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Everything else, with disciplines, is temporary.”

Celia: Jade just nods her head.

“Thank you for the assistance this evening.”

GM: “You’re welcome.” A pause. “All of that since the frenzy is worth a hit.”

There’s a buzz from Jade’s phone.

Found your thief. Also picked you up another snack.

Celia: Jade glances at her phone. Perfect.

“I need to get going,” she tells Edith. She slides the blood across the table to her.

GM: Edith drinks it down.

“The things since the frenzy, too,” she repeats.

“You didn’t know all of that.”

Celia: “The fangs? I knew about the fangs. And their differences.”

“You learned about the daywalking."

GM: “Geraldine can’t daywalk. That doesn’t help me.”

Celia: “Repeating things I already know doesn’t help me.”

GM: “Anything else you want, then. Knowledge about thin-bloods. Boons. Anything else you need. Please. My kids are so thirsty. This will only last so long. I’m sorry we butted heads. Anything you want, I can do,” Edith says, desperately.

Celia: “Keep the trade,” Jade finally says, “and we’ll keep this line of communication open. I’m sure I’ll need something in the future.”

GM: Edith looks like she wants to plead further, then just says, “Okay. Here’s my number.” She lists it off.

Celia: “If you think of anything else, you know where to reach me.” There’s a promise behind her words.

She gave her five hits, though. For what’s essentially a conversation. She doesn’t feel too bad about not giving more.

GM: Edith nods. “Okay. I will. Flawless?”

Celia: “Flawless or a phone call.” She leaves her number.

GM: The Caitiff says she’ll be in touch.

Sounds of commotion echo from the next room over. Edith quickly excuses herself and darts off to attend the latest domestic crisis. Dani warily follows her out of the house, pepper spray clutches firmly in hand this time as her eyes sweep the slum for more bands of encroaching predators.

Celia supposes that whatever her lot in the French Quarter, it could always be worse.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

GM: “This is going to sound like the most privileged white girl thing to say, but… I’m better than that,” Dani says once they’re back in the car.

“Than living in a slum with a dozen locks on the doors and glued-together tableware for Wonder Bread tea sandwiches.”

“Would that… would that really be me without you and Stephen…?”

Celia: “Like Edith? I doubt it.” Celia shakes her head.

“Edith is a true-blood. Caitiff, but still true-blood.” A pause. “You’d probably be like one of the people outside the door.”

GM: Dani looks horrified.

“My dad’s the fucking D.A.! My mom works at Vanderbilt! I went to the ‘debutante West Point,’ I’m going to be a lawyer! I’m not a Malveaux, but, fuck, I’m not… that! I’m not!”

Celia: “A lot of them don’t have those connections,” Celia agrees. “But, Dani… no one cares who you used to be, not if it doesn’t benefit them. It could keep you off the streets, sure, I’ll agree with you there. But nice places, nice homes, nice streets—those are all the turf of bigger, stronger, older vampires. They get wind of you and then best case scenario you’re out on your ass here with the rest of them.”

GM: Dani shudders. “I know they don’t care. That’s what’s so awful. I don’t… I don’t want to be that!”

Celia: “You won’t be. You have two of us looking out for you.”

“But that’s why I told him not to send you to Houston.”

GM: “Because that’s what I’d be over there.”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “I hate this. I hate that I was turned into this. That I have garbage blood. Like Stephen told me everyone else thinks.”

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Celia says hesitantly. “You heard what Edith said, about being able to learn all sorts of different powers. We can get you some blood from Stephen and I to keep you juiced up, if you want. See what all you can learn. You’ll never get old, so you can practice law for as long as you want.”

“And… I mean, you know, she’s not an expert even if she has Geraldine. She doesn’t know everything that’s out there. No one does. Maybe we can find something else, you know?”

“Because… magic is real, no matter what the kid said.”

GM: “I hope,” Dani says glumly. “Celia, I don’t want to be duskborn. I’ve always been second best, my whole life, and this isn’t just… it’s not even that.

Celia: No. It’s last. Not even that, it’s a consolation prize. A pat on the back, maybe. Worse.

“She mentioned killing people,” Celia says after a second. “I assume you’re not into that, even if it would make you stronger.”

GM: “I think how they’re, we’re, treated is horrible. I’d never do that or be part of it. Hell, I’d even like to fight against it. I’d just… rather not do it as one of them. Let me be the fucking rich girl who fights for poor people, yes that’s entitled, no I don’t even care.”

“I don’t want to kill people. She said it was just temporary anyway.”

Celia: “Yeah,” she says, “I didn’t think so. It’s a quick road down a dark path, I bet.”

“Maybe there’s a different solution.”

“If you’re passing as a mortal, maybe there’s stuff you can do that way. Since, um, ghouls aren’t quite respected either.” She winces. “Sorry I reprimanded you.”

“Just the… cover.”

GM: “It’s okay. And I picked up on that, yeah.”

“Fucking Christ. Edith was pathetic and even she thought she was better than ghouls.”

Celia: “It was an interesting twist to be the most important person in the room,” Celia says wryly.

“But you’re right. She is.”

“That’s how they all are. Even the lowest of them needs someone else to look down on.”

GM: There’s a tap against the car window. It’s Roderick in his disguise.

Dani doesn’t say anything, just pulls open the door and hugs him.

Celia: Celia waves at him from over Dani’s shoulder.

GM: He waves back with an amused smile, but it fades when he says, “Hey, you’re trembling. Is everything-”

“We got jumped and attacked by a bunch of homeless people, and I wish you’d been there, and Edith was awful,” says Dani.

Celia: “Dani lost her purse,” Celia adds. “And one of them bit me.”

GM: “What!?” He looks between Celia and his sister. “Where are they? I’ll make them regret that.”

Celia: Celia glances in the direction of the gaggle of homeless people, even though she knows the blood thief isn’t there.

GM: Most of them are gone. The remaining ones look asleep or strung out.

Celia: So much for playing hero.

GM: Roderick looks in their direction. “Those guys?”

Dani shakes her head.

Celia: “They’re gone.”

Celia glances at the time, wondering if she has a moment to talk to the pair before she has to meet the brothers and get ready for her date.

GM: There’s time.

“All right,” he says, “I can look for them. What’d they look like?”

“Like a bunch of dirty homeless people,” says Dani.

“There’s a lot of those,” says her brother.

Celia: “They’re probably long gone,” Celia says heavily. “Just reminds me that I need you to show me how to throw a better hook, and whatever training you think I need to keep the Beast back. It tried to get out and I was too busy focusing on keeping it in to be able to fight them off.”

“Should have known better than to come out this way without backup. Sorry, Dani.”

GM: “It’s okay. We got out. Just… god, yes! Show me how to punch too!”

Roderick nods. “I can show you both how to do that. There’s no cure for the Beast, but the more familiar you are with combat, and the calmer a head you can maintain, the harder it is for the Beast to get out.”

“I still have a Beast,” says Dani.

“What? I thought duskborn didn’t frenzy.”

Celia: “Do we want to drive and chat? Back to my place?”

“Edith said there are things that can draw it out of duskborn.”

GM: “Oh my god yes, I don’t want to stay here,” agrees Dani.

Celia: “Extreme hunger, or on the brink of death.”

GM: “Okay,” says Roderick. “That’s good to know.” He glowers in the direction of the homeless. “I suppose they probably are long gone. Dani, we’d better cancel your credit cards, and disable your stolen pho-” He pauses. “Actually, we might be able to track it.”

Celia: “Let’s get back to my place and take a look so we’re not just sitting out here.”

GM: “Okay. Meet you there.”


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie on the way.

Find a purse by chance?

GM: Yep. Guy who stole it still had it.

Celia: Where are you?

Not that it matters.

Nvm. Can you give to Randy to bring to my place? Will be with you shortly for the rest of it.

GM: K. Bring your thief and snack too?

Celia: No. Stay there. Will meet you soon.

GM: I’m at a disgusting shithole. Can drop off at your spa.

Celia: That works. Stick around though, have a gift for you.

GM: I got one too and it’ll make you scream all night long ;)

Celia: :eggplant: :peach: :sweat-drops: :heart-eyes:

GM: Soon enough, Celia and the Garrison siblings are back at her place.

Dani fills her brother in on what they learned at Edith’s.

“Okay,” he says, “that’s useful to know. I’d heard about duskborn changing their disciplines. I didn’t know that was how they did it.”

“I thought you knew a fair amount of duskborn,” says Dani.

Celia: He does.

He just doesn’t talk to them.

GM: “Fewer since the Cypress Grove Massacre,” he grimaces. “But I’m not sure all of them knew how their disciplines worked.”

Celia: “It confirmed what I thought, though. Anything we know she can learn.”

GM: “And just the fine details of how it works.”

“That information about Kindred blood, for instance.”

Celia: Celia had already assumed that, though. She thought she’d talked to him about it already.

GM: Dani looks between them. “Can you make me stronger?”

For a moment, there’s that look every lick gets in their eye when asked for blood.

Roderick thinks. “If you give me some of yours first, I could give it back, and we could do this every night. Balances out.”

Celia: “She seemed to kind of spontaneously develop it, like I didn’t have to teach her how to charm someone. I think she might be able to just… pick things up.”

“But that’s something we can probably test.”

GM: “All right,” says Dani. She shows her fangs and bites into her wrist.

The blood doesn’t flow immediately.

She has to growl and actively bite deeper. Practically chew.

There’s a flash of pity in Roderick’s eyes when she’s not looking up.

Celia: “I can get a cup,” Celia says, rising, “so you’re not… like… sex…” she trails off awkwardly, both at the words and the way Dani has to bite into herself.

GM: “Cups are better anyways,” says Roderick.

“You shouldn’t drink directly from me.”

“Oh, why not?” asks Dani.

Celia: She should have kept her mouth shut.

Celia rummages through her cabinets for a cup.

She finds an old tube of lipstick and roll-on perfume while she’s looking and wonders how it ended up in the cabinet.

GM: “Because of the bond,” says Roderick, gently tugging away Dani’s wrist to make her stop.

Celia: Celia returns with the cup, casually nodding her head in agreement at Roderick’s words. The look in her eye suggests she already explained this to Dani.

GM: “Sorry?” says Dani.

He glances her way. “Think she’s already covered it.”

Celia: “When I went over the Traditions,” Celia says gently, “the usual punishments, but how they’d be worse for you because of being duskborn, remember?”

“I know I threw a lot at you that night…” She trails off, offering Roderick the cup.

Now would be a perfect time for Randy to show up.

GM: “You did, yeah,” says Dani. “What’s the bond, though?”

Celia: It shouldn’t be a big deal. Something she’d already told Dani. So she acts like it’s not a big deal, keeping her tone casual.

“When you share blood with someone and take it right from the source, it creates the bond. Like them more. That sort of thing. Sometimes elders use it as punishment, and sometimes licks do it with each other in a blood marriage. Like Roderick and I…”

She lifts her eyes to his face.

“Might do that, maybe? A mutual..?”

GM: Her sire’s face stares back at her.

“That’s traditional,” Roderick says. “All the way, to consummate things. But I feel like two steps is already enough. At three… does your love become artificial?”

“Steps?” asks Dani.

Celia: Celia lets the hurt flash across her face. She drops her gaze a beat too slow to hide it, looking away. He can answer his sister’s questions.

GM: “Hey, what is it?” he says, resting his hands on her shoulders.

“We haven’t taken the full plunge.”

Celia: “You don’t want to,” she says to the ground.

GM: “You do? What’s your thinking there?”

Celia: Severing the hold his sire has over him, mostly.

“N-nothing. It was st-stupid.” She wipes at the red threatening to fall from her eyes.

GM: He pulls her in to a hug.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Talk to me.”

Celia: For a moment she’s stiff. For a moment, she’s mindful of Dani’s presence in the room. But then she uses it, lifting her eyes to the girl as if to say, “the vision.” Maybe Celia was right to be worried in the car. A second later she buries her face against his chest, whispering half-formed words and sentences about having already lost him twice, he’s the only good thing that has ever happened to her, wanting to love him forever, never being torn apart… it’s like something out of a fairy tale, isn’t it? Eternal love. There’s nothing artificial about it if it’s built on something real.

GM: “Okay,” he says, stroking her hair and back as he holds her. “Okay. There are lots of Kindred who feel the same way as you. It’s a perfectly legitimate point of view. There’s nothing stupid about it. The traditional blood marriage is built off it.”

Celia: “Y-you don’t like me enough to w-want one.”

GM: “What?! Celia, don’t be crazy, I love you!”

Celia: Just not enough to willingly make it permanent.

“Okay,” she says quietly.

It’s a completely inadequate response to what he said, but she doesn’t offer anything more. The two syllables carry the weight of her hurt and rejection. She slides off of him, saying something about finding a cup, and moves into the kitchen. She doesn’t even look at the one she’d already put on the table.

GM: He follows after her. Dani, looking somewhat uncomfortable throughout the lovers’ dispute, stays where she is.

“I have concerns about it,” he says, putting his hands on her shoulders again. “But I want the same thing as you, a loving marriage that lasts for as long as we do. I’m just weighing whether a full bond is the best way to help us achieve that.”

Celia: She doesn’t turn to face him, staying where she is in front of the counter with her palms resting upon it. She can see her reflection in the window: a trail of red tears staining her skin, her lover standing behind her. In the window his face shifts, turning into her sire’s once more. And there, beside him, Roderick’s sire with the golden hair. More shadowy figures pop into place, other people she has been bound to: her adoptive sire’s sneering face. Pietro’s casual amusement. Her grandsire’s genial smile, expression caught mid-laugh. The cowboy’s lips forming the word “lush” as he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All of them pulling her in different directions… until she’d taken that leap with her sire. Already in love with him, worried someone would try to yank her away, she took the “punishment” of that third sip.

How many is Roderick bound to? How many licks have collared him? How many of them demand his attention and service? Even if she didn’t want to break the hold his sire has over him she’d still want to come first. Sharing her lover has never sat well with her. Anyone else, maybe. But not him. Not Roderick.

There’s some truth to this display of emotions, then. Some tiny kernel of love behind all the manipulation, buried deep beneath what she feels for her sire but still present.

She takes a breath, wipes at her bleeding eyes, and finally turns to him.

“Can we continue this later? There are things I want to talk to you about, but…” her gaze dips past him to where his sister waits in the other room. “I don’t want to waste your night with her.”

GM: “I can see Dani later,” he says, tilting her chin up in his hands to meet his gaze. His fangs are long in his mouth at the heady scent of her tears, but his eyes are no less concerned. “You’re upset right now.”

Maybe he’d say that anyway.

But his sister isn’t the one he’s twice-collared to.

Granted, neither is Celia.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“Don’t do that to her.” She lowers her voice, leaning in. “She just found out a lot, she saw them outside Edith’s… don’t do that to her, Roderick, we can talk later. I’ll be okay. I shouldn’t be… I just assumed…”

She trails off. It’s enough to know that he’d blow off his sister if she asked him to.

GM: “You’re positive you want to wait?” he asks, giving her a long look. “Dani’s here. She’s safe. She’s not about to get jumped by more homeless.”

Celia: “It’s… probably a long conversation. Go out with your sister. We’ll have the rest of the night.” Celia touches the tips of her fingers to his cheek. “And the rest of everything.”

GM: “We will,” he smiles. “All right. I love you. Collar or no collar.” He gives her a soft kiss on the lips.

Celia: She doesn’t mean to let it linger, but she does, pulling him against her until her low back hits the counter top.

How much of it is the bond? And how much is him? Would he still love her if he knew everything? Or is it artificial, like he’d said?

She’d loved him without it. And him, the other one, the one she can’t help but compare him to. There wouldn’t even be a conversation with him. Just silent demands, cold lips, the taste of blood.

It’s not fake. It can’t be.

“I love you too,” she says when she finally pulls away.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: With Roderick’s hand in hers, Celia leads the way back to the sitting room where they’d left Dani. She gives the girl a look through still slightly-red eyes, silently conveying a reference to their earlier conversation.

“Sorry,” she says to Dani, “I didn’t mean to fall apart in front of you.”

No doubt Dani remembers the words in the car: Celia’s concern about the vision, her brother.

GM: “It’s okay,” says Dani, looking between the pair concernedly. “Things are good now?”

“Yeah,” says Roderick. “Come on. We’ve got a lot to cover tonight.”

Dani looks back at Celia for a moment, as if to ask about that very vision.

“Well, while I’m here, can I ask you two what a blood marriage is?” she says instead.

“It’s a Kindred marriage,” says Roderick. “It’s similar enough the breather version, though brides usually wear black instead of white. Some do red, but that’s more ‘liberal.’”

“Black?”

“Because you’re making death together, not life,” her brother explains. “Endless and eternal death. Guests usually dress for a funeral. The sire gives away the bride rather than the father, and the couple seals the union in blood to show their commitment. In place of a kiss. In fact, more traditional Kindred think a blood marriage without that is like a breather marriage without sex—it hasn’t been consummated.”

“There’s other customs too, like sometimes the sire carrying the bride in a coffin, and the couple feeding on a vessel together. Mortal spouses are usually preferred. There’s more feeding afterwards.”

“That sounds… morbid,” says Dani.

“It can be. It’s usually a Sanctified or Crone priest who blesses the union, too.”

“I don’t really want a vermilion wedding for us, though. I’d rather get married as breathers, with Celia all in white.”

Celia: Celia hesitates long enough that Dani moves on without mentioning the vision. She looks relieved; she doesn’t think that talking about it in front of Dani, or even right now, is going to do either of them any good. Maybe Dani will mention it to her brother during their chat tonight.

“I don’t think it’s all that morbid,” Celia says. “If you’re not killing the vessels it’s kind of like how some breathers do that unity cup thing, only with blood instead of wine. I can’t imagine my sire giving me away, though. Maybe my grandsire.”

Not that Roderick would want him at the wedding.

Celia lifts her shoulders in a shrug. After a moment she sighs. “I kind of want both.”

“I don’t even know who I’d invite, though, and it seems like everyone would be shitty about it because of how young we are. Maybe if we were older. Or uniting a covenant. Or even just more important.”

GM: “There are younger licks who have vermilion weddings. And there are ones I’d want to invite. The problem is none of them can know.”

“I’d obviously love to have Coco.”

“But I’d love to have my dad and friends from my human life too.”

“What, you still don’t want Mom?” asks Dani. “After all I said? She was just as broken up at your funeral.”

Roderick effects a sigh. “It’s moot. They both think I’m dead either way.”

Celia: She hates to agree with him, but it’s true. Celia gives his hand a squeeze.

“We can talk about it further. It’s not like we’re getting married tomorrow or anything.”

GM: “True enough,” her lover agrees. “Anyway. We should get going.” He gives her another kiss. “Love you.”

Celia: She thought Randy would be here by now with the bag, but she supposes she can give it to her later.

“Love you too. I’ll see you later tonight. Have fun together.”

A final kiss sees them out.

So long as I come first.


Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

Celia: A second after they leave she digs her phone out of her bag to call the missing ghoul.

GM: He is on his way with his brother. A snack and the thief is too much for one person to physically carry.

Jade has a moderate wait before they’re there, along with two unclean (and unclean-smelling) homeless men. One has a stake rammed through his heart. The other is handcuffed and makes terrified sounds past a cloth gag.

Randy comes back with the purse after another trip.

“This asshole was a giant pain in the ass the entire time,” says Reggie, giving him a hard shove to the ground. He hits his face and makes a sound of pain. “Wish we’d had a sedative.”

“Illegal for cops to use on people, but we aren’t fucking cops.”

Granted, drinking a sedated man’s blood would sedate Jade too.

Celia: Not if she lets it wear off. She’ll get them something, in any case.

“I thought we were meeting at the spa,” she says idly, looking at the struggling man on the ground.

GM: Reggie shrugs.

The gagged man makes noises that sound like pleading.

Celia: “Messier here,” she says with a forced sigh.

There’s no wet room in her haven like there is at the spa, despite what rumors claim.

GM: “Well, you aren’t gonna kill him, babe?” says Randy.

“You’re such an idiot around her,” says Reggie.

Celia: “He stole from me,” Jade says to the pair, “and this one bit me. Besides, think of how much I’ll have to share when I do.”

She looks up, catching sight of his face. The expectation that she’s not that bad. She hesitates a moment, then finally does what she does best: she lies.

“Just a hit,” she sighs, “for me, for you two. But there’s people coming by later and I don’t want to risk spilling.” A gesture toward the light carpet, the cream colored couch.

GM: The words ‘share’ and ‘hit’ gets both ghouls’ immediate attention.

“Okay,” Randy says, seemingly relieved. “Could use the bathroom.”

“Or just haul these idiots to the spa,” says Reggie.

The gagged man makes more noises.

Celia: “The spa is easier,” Jade says with a nod. She does so appreciate Reggie’s quick uptake and pragmatism. “I need a space for him, anyway.” A vague nod of her chin to the thin-blood.

“So, whose car?” She smiles at her boys.

GM: They take the two brothers’ cars to Flawless. At this hour, the spa is silent and still. They enter Jade’s suite. Reggie dumps the handcuffed man onto the ground in an unceremonious heap. Randy hauls the staked thin-blood onto the marble slab of a table.

Celia: Jade is content to leave the thin-blood alone for a moment. His staked form probably isn’t going anywhere.

“Is he going to say anything interesting if I ungag him?” she asks the brothers about the other.

GM: “Doubt it,” says Reggie.

“Some people don’t have shit to say.”

That’s Veronica says about Micheal.

There’s nothing worth listening to out of that mouth. So he doesn’t get to use it.

Celia: Veronica is right, too.

GM: “I think you’ve got lots to say, babe,” Randy adds supportively.

“So smooth,” snorts Reggie.

Celia: Well that’s nice of him. Celia gives him a smile.

GM: He smiles widely back.

The homeless man moans and pulls against the cuffs.

Celia: “Why don’t you wait outside a sec, Randy, so I can get what I need and then share.”

GM: “Okay,” he smiles, stepping out.

Reggie immediately shoves her against the wall, his breath coming hot and heavy as he grabs her head and hungrily explores her mouth with his tongue. He drops his hands after a moment, squeezing her ass with one while his other slides down her pants.

“Yeah, I got what you need…”

Celia: Well this certainly isn’t what she’d meant, but she’s hardly going to complain. She tugs him, pulling him with her until her back hits the wall, shimmying out of her pants the moment his hands drop. Hers find the buttons on his jeans, yanking them down just far enough to expose the part that she wants.

GM: He fills her eagerly. “Wrap your legs around me,” he murmurs, hefting her into the air. The strong ghoul isn’t so strong as Roderick, but the Blood’s gifts together with Jade’s light weight (courtesy of her removed organs) make the stand and carry position easy to pull off. Reggie pants as he thrusts into her and carries her across the room. He stomps down hard on the homeless man, eliciting a chorus of pained muffled sounds as the man tries to crawl away.

Celia: Jade’s thighs spread around him when he asks, feet leaving the floor. He keeps her aloft, filling her with his stiff cock as soon as she’s airborne, her own noises joining those of the homeless man. She digs her fingers into his shoulder, then the back of his head, pulling his lips against hers; a second later she cuts through her own tongue with her fangs. A second nip cuts into him. She drinks from him and he from her, blood mingling on their tongues while they fuck.

GM: The taste of his domitor’s blood only further inflames Reggie. He stomps down hard enough on the homeless man’s hand that Jade hears a nasty crunch. The man’s scream is audible past his gag. Reggie pants like a bull in heat as he carries Jade over to the table, throws off the staked thin-blood, and takes her over it. The marble is cool, but his body is warm as his balls slap against her thighs. The Toreador’s juices run down the table’s drainage, and then finally the ghoul’s seed after he blows his load and it seeps out of her.

“God, that cuck’s in the next room…” he pants.

Celia: That makes it even hotter, doesn’t it? So does the man’s screams behind the gag. When Jade cums she cums hard, burying her face into the hollow of his neck as everything hits her.

“You’re going to be the best lick,” she murmurs against his skin once it’s over, “but I am really going to miss fucking you.”

GM: “We can still feed,” he says, idly tracing a finger across her breasts.

“That bedwarmer you got me is working out pretty well. We should fuck with her around.”

Celia: “It’s not the same,” she sighs, running her fingers through his short hair. “So much better when you do both at the same time.”

“With her watching?”

“Or part of it?”

GM: “Part of it. I can do your ass and she can eat you out.”

Celia: That sounds like a winning combination.

“We will, then.”

“You like her?”

GM: “She cried and yelled a lot the first few times, but she doesn’t really do that anymore.”

Celia: “Cried like… telling you to stop?”

GM: Reggie shrugs.

“Think she just needed a dick inside to stop crying over Evan.”

Celia: “You want her? Once we get you Embraced?”

“Already broken in.”

GM: “She isn’t you, but yeah, why not.”

Celia: “I can’t be your ghoul,” Jade says with some amusement.

GM: “Duh. Meant in bed.”

Celia: “If your dick doesn’t work anymore you won’t want her like that, either.”

“But she’s still a useful servant.”

GM: “You said feeding’s just as good. Can still do that to her.”

Celia: “Mm.” Jade presses a kiss against his cheek. “Maybe you’ll keep it.”

GM: “More’s always better.”

“Dropped some hints around my mom. Think she’d be up for a three-way. Just set me up with you and yours.”

“Also, if you can have your kid in the next room, I’ll make it even better.”

“Could invite Randy over to babysit her while we fuck…”

Jade can see his cock growing stiff again.

Celia: It’s enough for her, too. Minus the thoughts about her mom.

But she flips the pair of them so that she’s on top, leaning down to whisper in his ear.

“I’m going to drain him,” she says of the homeless guy, “and I want you to fuck me while I do.”

GM: “Let’s hose him down first. He smells.”

Celia: Jade makes a vague gesture toward the hose. It’s usually to spray the place down, but it’ll work for this.

“Have at it.”

She busies herself stripping.

GM: The man is trying to escape past the door, but cannot get far with his hands cuffed behind his back. He makes more pleading noises as Reggie grabs him by the ear, adding, “Mom still likes to do this,” and hauls back for a good hosing down under cold water. Reggie tears off the man’s wet clothes after that. Ribs show on his scar-ridden body.

Celia: Jade finds a container to bleed into. No need to let it go to waste.

“You shouldn’t have stolen from me,” Jade says to the wet, naked man. She strides toward him, heels clicking. They’re the only thing she still wears. Fangs flash in her mouth as she approaches.

“Make me cum right when he dies, Reggie.”

GM: Her lover does his best.

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Celia V, Chapter XVII
Unwanted Reunions

“Was she part of you?”
Celia Flores


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

GM: Celia rises the next night. Roderick greets her with a kiss, dresses with her, and says he’s going hunting and taking care of some legal work before he sees Dani again, “To teach her more about Kindred society.” After that, he’s got “lick business to attend to.” He asks if Celia wants to meet back up several hours before dawn, so they have time to do something together.

“We could watch a movie, but I’d like us to go on a proper date sometime,” he mentions. “Let’s think of ideas while we’re off doing our things.”

Alana greets Celia at Flawless to go over her schedule.

First, she has some actual clients to see tonight.

She’s also scheduled a bloc of time alone for her stomach addition.

Dani is coming by shortly before 10 to accompany Celia to Edith’s. She’s scheduled to come by Flawless on Saturday unless Celia wants to do another time.

Celia’s mother has come by with what Alana says she’s termed “good news.” Since tonight isn’t her weekly session, she’s currently being massaged by one of the girls.

Lastly, Peter Lebeaux has sent word on dates his sire can met Celia. The soonest is at the Tremere chantry on Friday night (technically Saturday morning), at 2 AM, but he is available afterwards until dawn.

“But you mentioned you’re seeing Lucia then, mistress, so how long do you think it’ll take and when do you want to pencil Bornemann in for? Lebeaux’s ghoul said he still needs a time, not a drop-in.” Dawn is around 6:45.

The ghoul also has a last matter to bring up.

“It’s been so long since we got to sleep together, mistress… I mean in bed, not just sex. I like being there, next to you, when you wake up. When can we do that again?” Alana asks longingly.

Celia: What do vampires do on dates? Anything non-food related, she supposes, though that doesn’t seem to be as much an issue for Roderick as it is most of them. She says she’ll let him know and is already thinking of ideas when they kiss goodbye—dancing, music venues, late night sky-diving…

She doesn’t ask about his lick business. Or tell him that she’s got plenty of her own tonight. Or that she’s already got a date with someone later.

If she had a stomach, maybe it would twist itself in knots. The scheduled addition is, perhaps, all too timely.

Celia changes for her clients while Alana lists her notes, the pair of them alone in her office. She doesn’t quite believe that Diana’s “good news” is going to be good for her, but she’ll give the woman the benefit of the doubt for now.

Pete sure managed to get in to see his sire quickly. Expedited the meeting for her, did he? She’ll have to find an appropriate way to thank him. Unfortunately it clashes with Lucia. And she can’t help but recall the fortune teller’s words, that the Giovannini will hurt her to give her the answers she needs. It’s an avenue she’ll take… but not if Clairmont’s claim that Harlequin can help pans out instead.

She hates that she’s already in debt to the masked harpy and not the other way around.

“Reschedule Lucia.” Twenty-four hours is enough notice for most people. “If she cannot see me in a relatively timely manner, tell her I didn’t want to be late but that I can be there at 4 AM rather than 3. Put Bornemann in for 2.” Demon talk can’t take longer than two hours, can it?

“Get me a meeting with Harlequin. Sooner rather than later, but don’t promise anything.” She could wait until she seems him tomorrow, Saturday, or Sunday to approach him herself, but she’d rather get it on the books than risk getting distracted.

“You know things have been tumultuous lately, ’Lana,” Celia finally says, addressing her last concern. She cups the ghoul’s cheek with her hand, thumb tracing across her lower lip. Her own follow after, gentle kisses pressed against the ghoul’s mouth, then jaw, then throat. Celia lifts her onto the desk, stepping between her legs. She wishes again for a cock. Wishes that it didn’t take so long to put one on herself. Wishes she had time to turn Alana into Celia and herself into someone else and show the girl…

Show her that she misses her, too. Her gentle touch. The noises she makes. The way her lashes flutter and her toes curl and how red her skin gets when she accepts her swats for whatever indiscretion the two of them deem appropriate.

“Tomorrow night,” she promises, nipping at Alana’s neck with the flats of her teeth. “Then we have all of Saturday evening before court to spend together.”

Her eyes slide to the clock. Is there time to fuck before her clients arrive?

GM: Celia hears the Tremere are all supposed to live together in the chantry, so that’s probably no surprise Pete saw him.

“All right, mistress,” Alana says to both meetings. “Do you want to change the meeting with Poincaré, too, to fit in this one?”

The ghoul shivers under her mistress’ touch, color quickly rising to her cheeks as she hungrily returns Celia’s kisses. “Yes, mistress… tomorrow…” Cock or not, she still pulls down Celia’s pants, twists around on the desk so her face is underneath her domitor’s charms, and starts hungrily eating her out.

Celia is not sure they have time for a very long fuck, between the multiple clients, whatever her mom is here for, and Edith’s meeting at 10.

Celia: They make it a quick fuck, then.

When it’s done and they’re both satisfied, Celia shakes her head at the question of Poincaré as she touches up her makeup in the mirror and fixes the hair that had come unbound during their tryst.

“Reschedule Lucia to another night,” she finally sighs, “or I’ll have to wait another week to see my grandsire. He’s a busy lick. Tell Bornemann 4 AM.”

GM: “All right, mistress, I’ll do that,” says Alana.

She sinks to her knees on the floor, like she’s giving Celia a blowjob, and buries her face against her domitor’s crotch as her tongue flecks out.

Celia: “We just got off,” Celia says with a laugh, pulling away from the ghoul. “Later, pet. It’s time for clients, now.”

GM: Alana nuzzles her head against Celia’s leg.

“We could have time, mistress, if you tell your silly mother to bother you tomorrow.”

Celia: “We’ll have time tomorrow as well.”

“I don’t doubt you’re going to surprise me with all sorts of fun things at our sleepover.”

GM: The ghoul smiles at and plants several worshipful kisses upon Celia’s foot, even if her eyes look faintly disappointed to be denied now.

Celia: They just had sex.

Literally. Just.

Celia runs a hand through Alana’s hair and takes her leave. The girl needs to get used to being disappointed. She had.


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

Celia: The clients come and go, each of their needs seen to by Celia’s well-practiced hands. Charity Flynn mumbles about her husband’s treatment of their estranged daughter while Celia uses the fine edge of a scalpel to scrape off the top layer of her skin, taking the dead cells and fine, fuzzy hairs along with it. She keeps her eyes covered with a gel pad that will reduce the appearance of fine lines when she bleeds her, taking a single hit from the woman under the guise of “trying a new technique.” As the woman melts beneath her touch—that sanguine kiss is so dependable—Celia says that maybe she’d like to book a massage next time to help keep some of the stress from her body.

“Just set it up with Piper or Louise at the desk,” Celia smiles at the woman on her way out the door. Inside her chest her Beast purrs at the hapless kine and their doe-eyed adoration of the girl who keeps them young and beautiful. She doubts Preston has it so easy with meals delivered right to her, paying her for the service.

Lisa Greer is next. Star had given a gift card to Stan, who had apparently given it to Lisa, and her first trip in had turned her into a firm believer of Flawless’ place at the top of the spa world. Celia takes more from her than she had from Charity, excess blood poured into a container for later, and tells herself that it’s better for the woman to have less energy to worry about her missing “daughter.”

She’s such a helper.

GM: Charity gives a low gasp on the table as a blush tinges her cheeks red. She tells Celia that was “incredible” and is all-too happy to book another massage appointment.

“With you, of course,” she adds.

Celia: Of course. None of the others can do what she does.

GM: Stan’s wife Lisa is more subdued. She’s a small, slim woman with dark hair and sad eyes who admits she doesn’t do her art anymore, when Celia asks about her life.

“Some artists play into that tortured artist angle, and say it’s what inspires their work, but that… isn’t me. My art comes from a place of happiness.”

She’s quiet, when Celia takes from her. She closes her eyes and loses herself in the sensation.

And she talks, like they all do.

“I tried to do the right thing with her. I raised her as my own. I loved her as my own. But after she got older, around high school… she just never wanted to be as close to me.” Her voice quavers slightly. “I wonder if there’s something I could have done.”

Celia: Celia listens patiently as Lisa speaks, and only when she starts to blame herself does she cut in. She knows—knows—that the Summer thing has more to do with supernatural forces than just being raised by another family. But she doesn’t say it. She speaks instead of a girl she knew who was raised by her mother and the man she referred to as her dad, how even though the dad raised her as his own she felt as if she never belonged, how even now, as an adult, she’s waiting for him to finally say “you’re not my daughter.”

“It’s like this trump card they hold over you,” Celia says patiently, “and even if you’d never use it, even if my friend thought her dad would never use it, it’s always there in the back of the mind. Unwanted. Unaccepted. I have another friend, adopted at birth, who never got over the fact that his parents gave him up. His family is amazing. He loves them. But there’s always that pang of ‘why wasn’t I good enough?’ and it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with _them.”_

For all the drama that came with Maxen, for as awful as he is and was, sometimes she still wishes he were her real dad, and that they did have a better relationship growing up, and that her life hadn’t been something out of a horror novel.

GM: “Her birth mother… I’ve never been completely sure what to call her,” admits a paler and woozy-looking Lisa, “sees Summer, saw her, pretty often. They were close. But she has other children, who she’s raised with her husband. They met later. I wonder if Summer thought something about herself wasn’t good enough.”

“I just wish… I just wish she’d come home… we’re all so worried…”

Celia: She’s working on it.

“She will. When she’s ready.”

GM: The pale woman starts to softly cry.

Celia could taste it in her blood.

The sorrow.

The sour, heavy flavor.

So different from her usual candy-sweet and lust-filled vessels.

There’s depth to it. The sour isn’t bad at all. It tastes sincere. Real.

It’s not a fleeting, momentary sadness. It’s a parent’s all-consuming grief.

Let it not be said Summer’s stepmother doesn’t really love her.

Blood doesn’t lie.

Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. It’s not enough; it never is. She can hardly say she knows Stan. She can’t offer that she’s looking into it, that she has two of her boys following every lead they have to find her.

She lets the sour note sit on her tongue. Will this be what her mother tastes like when she finds out what happened to Isabel? When she gets the letter that her estranged daughter perished in a far away country without any chance of reconciliation? What about if she tells her the real truth—that Isabel was another monster and had her heart torn out by her sister?

She didn’t do enough for her own family. But maybe she can patch up this one.

When the blood has vanished Celia reaches out with her gifts, murmuring that Summer will find her way home, that she’s out there somewhere thinking about her, that everything is going to be okay. She lets the words work their magic, easing the woman’s pain. She can do that much for her tonight.

Still, the taste of grief lingers.

GM: It’s a sobering question. Roderick thought she should give her family the closure.

Lisa sniffs and apologizes for “losing it.”

She says she’ll be sure to book another appointment.

They all do, after her kiss.

Celia: Celia smiles gently at her and tells her it’s not a problem. Emotional releases are all part of the service.

She really is such a helper.


Thursday evening, 17 March 2016

GM: It’s after Lisa departs that Celia sees her third mother for the evening.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” Diana exclaims, pulling her daughter in for a hug. She looks great. There’s color in her cheeks and a spring in her step, despite Celia feeding on her yesterday. Blonde-haired and smiling widely and warm of skin, she seems the very opposite of the drained, dark-haired, mournful Lisa.

Celia: That’s a good sign.

That’s a very good sign.

Celia had been worried that she’d be down and out for a short while, but this is… perfect, really.

“You seem chipper,” Celia says with some amusement as she returns her mother’s hug. “How was your day?”

GM: “I’m always chipper to see my baby,” Diana smiles back. “And my day was very good, thanks for askin’! Look at these new shoes Emi got me! Aren’t they cute?”

Pic.jpg
“They have arch support! They’re very comfy to walk in!”

Celia: “Those are adorable, Mama.”

“They kind of look like ballet flats.”

GM: “Emi’s got great taste,” her mom smiles. “And they are ballet flats! Just really walkable ones. You know I usually wear heels to work, but Emi thought I should cut back, on account of my leg and all, so she got me these.”

Celia: “Smart thinking,” Celia says with a nod, “I bet it’ll help with that. Less of an adjustment that the rest of your body needs to compensate for.”

GM: “Yes, she’s always told me how unhealthy those shoes are—and in fairness, they are, extra weight on your toes and so many other reasons—but I think that whole thing with my meds and the surgery your dad was offering made her want to get me to stop.”

“She got me another pair too, in silver to go with these pink ones.”

Celia: “Always worth having good things in multiple colors,” Celia says with a laugh, thinking of her own closet.

GM: “It sure is. But before I ask about your day, or I suppose night, sweetie, I told Alana I had some good news. And I do—I feel really good!” her mom smiles. “I felt a lil’ woozy, after yesterday, but a-ok the next morning after a good snooze. It definitely helped me sleep.”

“So,” she says meaningfully, “if you’d like more… I think I can feed you.”

Celia: “You feel fine?” Celia asks. “You’re sure? No linger anything? No dizziness, no fatigue, no… nothing?”

GM: “Positive,” Diana nods. “I had those symptoms, after you left, but like I said… a-okay the next morning. I had no problems keepin’ up at work.”

“I did have to do some teaching from my stool, on account of the leg, but that’s nothin’ new.”

Celia: That certainly is good news. If she can add her mother to a feeding routine—

No. She shouldn’t think of her like that. She’s not a juicebag.

Even if she is.

“I just ate,” Celia admits, “but I could take some and save it for later, or stop by later…?”

That might put it too close to waking up for school, though. Maybe it’s better to do it now.

GM: “I think it’d be best if you do it before I go to sleep, but I can stay up a bit longer, if you need me to,” her mom nods.

“We could make this a nightly thing. Or you could just take more from me a couple times per week.”

Celia: “You’re okay with that? I’m literally taking from you.”

GM: “I nursed you when you were a baby, didn’t I? You took from me then too.”

Celia: “Fair point,” Celia acknowledges with a small smile. “I can save some for later, then. Let me find something to put it in.”

She doesn’t want to mix it with the rest of the blood. Who knows how that will affect the taste. But salons are full of bottles and containers, and Celia is back a moment later with one in hand.

GM: “Just tell me how you want to do this,” her mom nods.

Celia: Celia would rather keep her mother’s blood for herself than share it with others. She bleeds herself into the container for later, licks the wound closed, and tucks it away. She tries to make it quick; the expression on her mother’s face is no doubt one of desire for the blood.

“Neck?” Celia asks when it’s done.

GM: Diana watches the whole time.

She doesn’t say anything. Just watches.

“Yes, please,” she answers, clearing her throat.

“Or the wrist, whatever you’d like, sweetie.”

Celia: Celia goes for the neck. She doesn’t kiss her way down like she does for most vessels, like she’d just done with her mother. She brings her in, as if for a hug, and simply tilts her head to the side to sink her fangs into the woman’s neck.

GM: Her mother’s blood is everything that it was last time. And the time before that.

Warm. Tender. Filling. Full of life and love and gladness. Gladness at feeding her baby. There’s a sensation of release, of joy at being able to feed her baby, like she’d always wanted to with those meals Celia threw out or threw up or stirred around on her plate.

Lisa might be miserable, and her and Charity both unknowing, but Diana tastes all-too glad to surrender her vitae.

It’s not love for another daughter. For a stranger. It’s love just for Celia.

Celia: It’s not fair, really, how other blood will never compare to this. Even with the rest of the headaches that her mother has brought to her unlife, Celia will never regret this part of it, the taste of this love on her tongue. She drinks from the woman who so freely offers herself for her family.

She doesn’t take much. She doesn’t want to strain her mother despite her words that she bounced back relatively quickly. They’ll call this a test run, see if last night was a fluke or if she truly can give blood this often.

The thing inside of her likes that thought.

She licks the wounds in her neck closed and pulls back, flicking her tongue against her lips to swallow down the rest of it.

“Thank you,” she says sincerely.

GM: Diana closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks. Her breath comes heavier as she loses herself in the sensation, and her eyes shine when she opens them.

“Thank you,” her mom says, touching her shoulder.

“Say, sweetie… I had an idea…”

“If you wanted, you could feed some more from me… and then let me drink from you… so we’d both get to enjoy it, for as long as we want and as much as want, but no one loses any more blood…”

Celia: She knew there had to be a catch.

“We can try it,” Celia says after a moment, “when I find a way to make it less addictive.”

GM: Her mother looks at her longingly for a moment. She opens her mouth. Starts to say something.

Then she looks down at her feet, in her new ballet flats.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia sighs, “the blood has power over people. It turns you into someone you’re not.”

GM: Red starts to color her cheeks again.

“I… I know, sweetie, I’m sorry…”

Celia: “I think it’s a smart idea. I know of another lick who did that with one of theirs, too. I’m just worried it’s going to… turn into a hold over you, and I’d like to preserve our relationship so it’s not all about blood and feeding.”

GM: Her mom looks up and nods emphatically, her expression sobering. “You’re… you’re right, baby. We agreed, only as much as you think I need, bare minimum… I just… I still think about it…”

Celia: “Also…” Celia clears her throat, almost uncomfortably.

Deliberately. It’s not like she actually needs to.

“Being fed from kind of makes most people, um, get in the mood.”

GM: “Oh. Mood, as in…?”

Celia: “What you’re describing is basically vampire sex.”

GM: Diana goes completely silent.

Her face looks mortified.

Celia: “It doesn’t need to be,” Celia quickly continues, “feeding from you, feeding you, that’s not sexual, but it’s very… intimate?”

GM: “Oh.” Her mother gives a not-quite exhalation of relief, though the discomfort doesn’t entirely vanish from her face. “It’s… it’s like breastfeeding, then? Everyone makes a fuss about how sexual that is, but it’s really not, at all.”

Celia: “Kind of? It’s also, like, what Roderick and I do when we have sex, and… I’ll be honest, Mom, a lot of people in my clan in particular are pretty sexual, and I—”

A pause.

“Can I ask you something?”

GM: That particular comparison doesn’t look like it assuages her mother’s discomfort.

But she nods. “Yes, of course.”

Celia: “Can you tell me what that’s like? Breastfeeding? I’ll never… you know…” A vague gesture at her flat stomach.

GM: Her mother gives an almost relieved laugh.

“Oh my goodness, where to start…”

“Well, I guess you are askin’ an expert. I’ve nursed more babies than this hand has fingers,” she smiles, holding one of them up in emphasis.

“So, like a lot of things, it really can vary. By the mom’s body and her relationship with the baby and how she’s feelin’ at a given moment.”

“In fact, the first time I breastfed you,” she smiles as she emphasizes the word, “it was actually a bit painful.”

“Wasn’t you, though! That was all me. I was young and dumb and had no idea what I was doin’,” she chuckles.

Celia: “Don’t some babies kind of chew?”

GM: “Yes, they can. You didn’t do that, you just had an improper latch. That can be from lip ties, tongue ties, too shallow a latch, and so on. That last is what you had. You want your nipple to hit the roof of the baby’s mouth and I wasn’t goin’ that far in.”

“Mind, it can be worse. There was one mama I knew who cried when she fed her baby, and described it as toe-curlingly painful. With actual blood in the milk! I’m sure glad I wasn’t her.”

Celia: None of that sounds particularly wonderful.

“But when it’s done right, it’s… nice?”

GM: Her mom nods emphatically. “It’s like massage, sweetie. You can do it wrong. Very wrong. But you can also do it right. Very right. And like massage, I think more experiences are good than bad.”

She pauses for a moment, then smiles.

“I’d say the best breastfeeding experience I had was with Lucy. Because, you know, lot of babies under my belt at that point. And brand new life with you and Emily. Fresh start.”

“If I were to describe what that was like…”

“So, physically, if you do it right, it’s a gentle tugging sensation. Warm and tingling. And there’s relief, too, because your breasts are full! That milk has weight, so it’s a little like, well, usin’ the loo!”

“But that’s just one component of it, the physical part. Emotionally, it’s…” Her mother’s face gets a fond look. “Oh, Celia. There’s nothing else like it. Cradling this new life in your arms, nourishing it… you just look down at your baby, this little miracle from God…. it’s just… you feel so close. I cried a lot of times, with Lucy. There’d been so much darkness in our lives. But looking down at her, something just so innocent… feeding her, helping her grow… answering hate with love… I saw God in that, when I looked in her eyes. I saw God.”

Her mother gives a sniffle, but smiles too.

Celia: Celia nods, though she doesn’t think she’ll ever understand. Not really. She glances down at the stomach that will never hold another life inside of it, the breasts that will never feed a child. Maybe a childe, if she were ever to do a sort of kinky thing like that, but not… not a normal kid. That life was ripped away from her.

“Sorry if asking is… weird.”

GM: “Oh, it’s not weird, sweetie! At all. It’s perfectly natural, I’m happy to tell you about it.”

She gives a rueful smile. “I’m just sorry if the way I described it sounds a lil’ cheesy. Some of it is the oxytocin.”

Celia: “It doesn’t sound cheesy,” Celia says, shaking her head. “It’s what I wanted to know. What I… I mean I’ll never…” she trails off helplessly, wringing her hands. It doesn’t matter. “Was it like that with me, too, once you got the hang of it? Even though my conception…?”

“I’m going to see someone later who has a child. A ghoul child. I just wondered if that’s what she gets from it, but it seems funny to ask her instead of you.”

GM: Celia’s mother smiles again and cups her cheek.

“Oh, sweetie. Once I got the hang of it… your conception was the furthest thing from my mind, next to the bundle of life in my arms.”

“I felt so close to you.”

“I felt like the luckiest mama in the world.”

“I felt amazing. I couldn’t believe I was getting to enjoy this.”

“I wasn’t looking for God as hard, back then. But I saw Him in your eyes too.”

“I would stroke your hair, and I would rock you, and I would think… who is Celia Flores goin’ to be. Who is this amazing lil’ baby goin’ to grow up to be.”

Celia: She’s glad that her mother hadn’t hated or resented her for her birth. That she was able to find peace instead of more strife. The woman has had enough of that. Had enough by that point, too.

“I bet you never guessed vampire,” Celia says with a small smile.

GM: “It wasn’t my first guess,” her mother laughs. “But I’m very happy, with who that lil’ baby has grown up to be.”

“And, you know, even if you don’t get to experience that… that’s okay. The world’s a big place. We don’t get to experience it all. But God shows us all joys and marvels. You’ve known love from a lot of people, shown them love… including one who calls you Mommy.” Her mother smiles. “That bit counts more than the breastfeeding, in the end. There’s plenty mamas who love their babies with formula. Breastfeeding is just one of many, many, many ways to love somebody.”

Celia: “I’m happy that you know, Mom. I know we got off to a rough start with it. I’m sorry. I hope I can make it up to you, that you think this is all worth it.”

GM: “I do, sweetie. I want to stay in your life. I want to be part of your life. If this is how we do it, then okay, this is how we do it.”

Celia: “I’d like to try the blood sharing thing with you,” she says after a moment, “if you still want it.”

GM: “I’m not sure, actually,” her mom says thoughtfully. “It’s… addictive, like you say…”

Celia: “It’s more than that. It makes me… the center of your world, basically, if you drink right from the vein.”

GM: Her mom just smiles at her.

“You’re already the center of my world.”

Celia: “In a supernatural way,” Celia clarifies. “Like if I told you to abandon Lucy and attend me, you might.”

“It’s one of the only ways our kind says they can feel love anymore.”

GM: Her mother looks horrified.

“That’s not love…”

“Love isn’t… love isn’t zero-sum, baby. The more you give… the more you have to give. Having Lucy didn’t make me love you and your brothers and sisters less. It made me love you more.

Celia: “That’s part of why I’m afraid of giving you more. If it’s not appropriately cooled, you’ll sacrifice everything for me.”

“It’s why we make ghouls. Or part of it. They’re bound.”

GM: “But… but I drank from you once,” her mother says, worry suddenly creasing her face.

Celia: “There’s three steps.”

GM: “So it takes until the third, to kick in…?”

Celia: “To kick in fully.”

GM: “Oh. I have… I have been thinking of you more, I guess.”

“But I think of you plenty anyways.”

Celia: “This is an all the time thing. Like an obsession. Like… you know how Alana gets about me?”

GM: She nods. “If more drinks would make me abandon Lucy, then that settles it. I can’t have any more.” Celia’s mom shakes her head. “Un-cooled, at least.”

Celia: “I’m trying to figure out a way to break it. But I’m trying to figure out a lot of stuff, honestly, and this is one of those things not a lot of people share. It’s a pretty common punishment with licks to make you drink from them.”

GM: “Thank you for sharing that, sweetie. I’m very glad I know.”

“There’s also…” Her mom pauses, then finally says, “Celia, I took advantage of Dani.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “I asked her to feed me.”

“And she did.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“She… fed you.”

“How, uh, how was it?”

GM: “Because she trusted me, and was so grateful for everything, but… she tasted bad.” Diana looks back down at her new shoes. “Serves me right, I guess…”

Celia: Celia reaches a hand out to her mom. She should be angry. But she mostly just feels… bad.

“It’s okay. This is hard on you right now. It’s new. You don’t understand it all yet, and I was angry and didn’t explain everything. Dani is a thin-blood, though. Her blood won’t nourish you like mine will. Or at least… I don’t think it will. I guess we didn’t try that…”

GM: “Does it get any easier, Celia?” her mom asks plaintively, looking back up at her daughter. “The wanting? I thought about it all day, how I was going to ask you if we could feed each other…”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” she says with a sigh.

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “You learn to… do things with it, I guess.”

“There’s a ghoul who said we’re all addicts, but she finds ways to channel it into positive stuff instead. She offered to take you around and teach you things—she’s been at it a while, was turning 150 when I met her first—but she implied punishment, so…”

GM: “Oh. You mean like with J… when you were Jade,” her mom says slowly.

Celia: “I’d tell her not to. But I don’t want her to find out who you are. We could test the mask. She could show you around?”

GM: “But, would she still hurt me,” her mom says in the same slow tone.

Celia: “Not if I told her not to. I think.”

“She’s not my ghoul, but she’s still a ghoul, and they usually kind of have to listen…”

GM: “Maybe we just shouldn’t chance it. You can tell me whatever I need to know.”

“Dani’s very eager to meet other vampires and ghouls and what have you, but I’ll be honest, sweetie, I’m not.”

“All of this, to me, is just… it’s a part of you, to learn more about.”

“So I want to.”

“But I don’t want to make it my own life, you know?”

Celia: “I think that’s wise.”

GM: “I have a family, I have a career, I’m not chompin’ at the bit to make a stand for duskborn equality or whatever else have you.”

“Even if I do agree there’s no reason they should be treated worse.”

“We’re just at different places in life. Dani’s still young and figuring hers out.”

“I’ve already got my life figured out.” Her mom smiles and touches her again. “Which, goes without sayin’, you are a very big part of.”

Celia: “It’s okay,” Celia tells her mom, “I understand. I’m kind of relieved,” she admits, “because it’s hard to balance who I am around you and who I am around other licks, and I’m already doing a poor job of it with Dani, and Alana keeps bugging me to go to lick events and it’s like she doesn’t realize that maybe they might hurt her while they’re in the moment, and it’s just… you know. A lot.”

“Like I’m being pulled in a bunch of different directions.”

“I keep trying to explain things to Dani about duskborn and I took her out last night and she got ignored and was kind of mad about it but like I warned her and it’s better she be ignored than slaughtered.”

GM: “I’d definitely take the former over the latter,” her mom says with a weak chuckle. “But I’m sorry, sweetie. It does sound like things are hard for you. Is there any way I can help?”

“With Dani or Alana or… anything or anyone else in your life? I want to make things easier for you.”

Celia: Is there?

“I… maybe?” Celia hedges. She taps her fingers against her leg, considering the issues before her. “I feel like I have a lot going on, and I think most of it I have to do myself because it’s meeting with people… and I know some of what I have going on you don’t want to be involved in, so I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and there’s a fair amount of just general being around vampire stuff, but you mentioned you don’t really want to do that…”

She trails off. Research, maybe? Hunters?

“Have you heard the word glinko before?”

GM: Her mom thinks. “Ah, don’t think so, sweetie.”

“What’s the context?”

Celia: “Roderick and I almost got picked up by some hunters a few nights ago, and I had a friend do a ritual to find out how they found him, and that word came up. But I’m not familiar with it and apparently no one else has heard of it either.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I could ask some of my co-workers at McGehee, see if it’s anything. Benefit to workin’ at a good school, lots of educated people,” she smiles.

Celia: “Maybe not. I wouldn’t ask anyone who doesn’t know about all this. It’s kind of sensitive, and I don’t want to clue anyone in on anything.”

GM: “I’d leave out the vampire bits, of course.”

Celia: “Right, I just… kind of feel like it’s a hunter thing, and you’d be painting a target on your back.”

“I thought about asking your mom, actually…”

GM: “I don’t think she’d know any more about hunters than my co-workers.”

“But, okay, I won’t bring it up around them.”

“I could try and research it on my own…?”

Celia: “I have a strong suspicion your mom is, or at least was, a hunter.”

GM: Diana frowns. “Er, why is that, sweetie?”

Celia: “Things she’s said over time. Interactions we’ve had. That sort of thing.”

“I thought, uh, maybe you might have been one too.”

“When you were younger. And that’s why you weren’t surprised about me.”

GM: “This is my first vampire rodeo, far as I know,” her mom says with a chuckle.

“I never really got that, ah, I suppose ‘impression’ from your grandmother. She certainly never told me she was a vampire hunter. But I guess you’re the expert.”

Celia: “I could be wrong. It’s not like I’ve ever asked.”

GM: “Why don’t you do that, then?”

Celia: “Ask your mom if she hunts people like me?”

GM: “Well, I mean… how else could you find out for sure?”

Celia: “Not sure there’s a casual way to bring it up. And I don’t have the ability to erase memories.”

Bring her to the spa.

Question her there.

“Isn’t her birthday coming up?”

GM: “I suppose it is,” Diana grants.

She doesn’t send cards.

Celia: Maybe Celia will. With a gift card.

GM: “Well. Anyway. I could look into this ‘glinko’ thing on my own. McGehee has a good library.”

Celia: “Thanks. I’ll let you know if there’s anything else.” She brings her in for another hug. “You’re really the best mom anyone could ask for, you know that?”

GM: Her mom gives her a happy squeeze back. “Thanks, sweetie. And you’re really the best daughter anyone could ask for, so tit for tat!”

Celia: “Do you still want to try the blood thing…?”

GM: There’s longing in her eyes, for a moment.

But her mother just shakes her head.

“Also, I am more than happy to do, ah, ‘vampire stuff’ for you if it’d make your life easier, sweetie! I’m not goin’ to base my life around it, but if I can help yours, I want to! You said there might be something there?”

Celia: “Nothing super pressing. You’d have to know the right people, and Alana mostly handles it for me. I’d like to show you off at a clan or guild function or party, but Dicentra said you vetoed the idea of using a different material in your leg, and I don’t want to strain it.”

Celia shakes her head.

“Honestly, aside from the stuff I know you won’t talk to me about, you’re… mostly doing great. Helping with my cover. Feeding me. Keeping my secrets. It’s all good.”

“Unless you happen to be a whiz at breaking and entering and aren’t afraid of demons.”

GM: “Oh. Well, if it’s important to you, we could go ahead with some other material for my leg. I just figured if it was getting fixed anyway, there was no rush…” Diana’s face gets a hopeful look as she briefly massages her bad leg.

Celia: “We can wait.”

“There’s another guy in the city who might be able to help, but he’s… kind of scary.”

GM: “Okay. We can wait, and look into other avenues if this one doesn’t pan out. I’ll need time to practice, anyway, to get back in shape.”

“And afraid I’m not any good when it comes to breaking and entering, but if it’s for you I could try to face down a demon,” her mom chuckles.

“But things I won’t talk about, sweetie? Like what?”

Celia: “Just the… doll stuff. Lucy.” Celia shrugs, looking away for a moment.

GM: Her mom doesn’t say anything for a while.

When Celia looks back, Diana is looking away too.

Down at her new shoes.

“Why do you want me to, sweetie,” she says quietly.

Celia: “Because Lucy… talks to me. Because I’m about to trade some favors to find out the truth, and this would keep me from that. Because I think something weird happened to you the night you met Ron, and I… I saw a fortune teller, and none of it made sense, and it was a very bleak future for… for me. And you.”

GM: Her mother still doesn’t look up from the floor.

“What,” she says after another pause. “What do you want to know.”

Celia: “Was Lucy part of you?”

GM: “I. I don’t understand.”

Celia: “Like you know how I have Celia and Jade?”

GM: A nod.

Celia: “So… was she part of you?”

“Like a… multiple?”

Or did Elyse just cut out the “bad” parts?

…and stuff them inside a doll?

GM: Diana still doesn’t look up from the floor. She’s closed her eyes. Her voice is a croak when she talks again.

“Do you… do you have. Paper.”

Celia: Celia moves around her desk, pulling out a pen and pad of paper.

GM: They’re sitting down on chairs by the desk.

Celia: She hands them over, reclaiming her seat next to her mom.

GM: Diana takes a low, shuddering breath.

Her hand is shaking as she removes the pen’s cap.

Celia: Celia puts a hand on her mother’s shoulder, as if to remind her that she’s here.

Moral support and all that.

GM: She jots down one word in trembling, messy handwriting.

Yes

Celia: “She… cut her out of you?”

GM: Diana’s hand doesn’t move.

Then she just underlines the word.

Celia: “How many?”

GM: Her mother writes a question mark.

Celia: “Are there others? Other multiples?”

GM: no

Celia: “Is… she my… mom? Is she why?”

GM: Diana taps the question mark.

Celia: “With Ron.”

“Is she why you got together with Ron?”

GM: There’s a long pause.

Celia’s mother opens her mouth and taps the pen. She starts to nod. Then finally just shakes her head.

Celia: “I don’t understand.”

GM: Diana just shakes her head again.

Celia: “So it wasn’t her.”

“It was something else?”

GM: Another head shake.

Celia: “Then what?”

GM: Her mother taps the question mark.

Celia: “Everything I know from what she does to girls is that she turns them into chaste, demure women. They don’t drink. She doesn’t like sex, so she takes the enjoyment of it from others. But she let you out early at your mother’s behest. Said that you only needed a few minor tweaks, but were otherwise fine. And the last night you were there… that’s when I was conceived. You shouldn’t have wanted to have sex with him. But you did. You were drinking. And had sex. And people like me can make you do that.”

GM: Celia’s mother closes her eyes again and breathes heavily before she scratches out,

I don’t know. Only know about

There’s a pause as she holds the pen in the air. Her hand shakes before she finally just writes,

L

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says with a nod. “How long as she part of you?”

GM: Another pause.

Since born

Celia: “And she’s been gone since the doll’s creation?”

GM: Yes

Celia: “Who else knows?”

GM: Diana lifts up the pen, but her hand starts to tremble again. She squeezes her eyes shut, then finally just jots down, underlined once,

HER

Celia: Elyse.

“She’s in the doll. Lucy. There’s a lick who can talk to spirits. I saw her last night. She can talk to Lucy.”

“You can too, can’t you?”

GM: Diana covers her face with her hands.

But she nods. Once.

Celia: “You don’t want her back.”

GM: Celia’s mother opens her mouth. She stares at the paper. A tear runs down her face.

Celia: “It’s okay to say no.”

GM: She finally scrawls down,

Stole

Celia: “Stole?”

“She stole Lucy from you, you mean?”

GM: In capital letters,

ME

Celia’s mom looks at the word, then taps ‘stole’ and hangs her head.

Celia: “Stole… you?”

It would be so much easier if Diana just used her words.

GM: Diana nods again.

Celia: “Stole you from what?”

GM: Her mother underlines ME.

Celia: “Stole you from you.”

GM: Diana nods.

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment. Finally she nods.

“Okay. We don’t have to do that, then. Thanks for being honest with me about it.”

GM: After a moment,

Do what?

Celia: “Put you back together.”

GM: Her mom’s mouth falls open. She looks at Celia for a while, then gets out in a faltering voice,

“How…?”

Celia: “I don’t know. She just said it was possible. But if you don’t want to then we won’t.”

GM: Diana stares at Celia for a while with wide, almost disbelieving eyes, then shakes her head.

“I… I do…”

Celia: “But you said she stole you.”

GM: Her mother closes her eyes and nods.

Celia: “Then why would you want her back?”

GM: Diana looks at Celia imploringly, then presses a hand over her heart.

“I… lost…”

She presses the hand to her heart again.

Celia: There’s a word that comes to mind. She tries not to think it. It’s not true. She just doesn’t have all the pieces yet.

“Lost… what, Mom? I’m trying so hard to understand, but I don’t. You lost yourself? In like a fugue state?”

GM: Diana shakes her head again. She opens her mouth several times as if to spit something out, then touches her heart again.

“Who… I was…”

There’s that same, imploring look, but even more desperate. Celia’s mother looks like a prisoner behind bars begging for a key.

Celia: “They killed that part of you. You lost it. Into Lucy. You want it back. Right? That’s what you mean?”

GM: Celia’s mother touches a hand to her throat, as if trying to talk, then just nods rapidly.

Celia: “Okay. We can do that. I can do that. We’ll find a way. I have some people to talk to, and we’ll do it.”

“The lady I spoke to last night said you could set her free, so you have some sort of key to this.”

GM: Diana looks at her uncertainly.

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits, “I’m not an expert. I just found this out last night.”

GM: Her mother looks down at the paper, then just nods again.

Celia: “We’ll figure it out. We’ll get you back together again, okay?”

GM: Another nod.

“Wh… when?”

Celia: “So. I mentioned the lady last night. She gave me the name of someone else, who I have Alana setting up a meeting with. But there’s also… I mentioned the fortune teller. The vision. She said there’s a clan of people who could help, but that it would… hurt.”

GM: “O… kay,” her mother mouths. “That sounds… good, sweetie.”

“Let me, know if…”

She gestures vaguely.

Then rubs her leg.

Celia: “Of course, Mama.” Celia takes a knee beside her mother’s chair, gently moving her hands out of the way so she can perform the massage movements instead. “How else can I help you right now?”

GM: “That’s good, sweetie… thanks…” Diana murmurs, closing her eyes as her daughter goes through the massage’s familiar motions. Celia’s mother looks tired. Tired and paler from their recent words, and the blood loss too.

“Maybe… pick up Emi or Dani, to give me a lift back home…? I don’t really feel tip top, and when my leg acts up, I worry about the breaks…”

Celia saw her pink Beetle parked by Flawless.

“Oh, wait… Dani is comin’ by… just to drive me home then, before you see that duskborn lady.”

Celia: “I can drop you. I’ll have Dani follow in your car.”

“Yeah.”

GM: “Okay. Do we need to scram, if that’s soon…?”

It’s not. Celia scheduled time for her stomach operation.

Celia: “Oh. No. I thought it was later than it is. I can drop you now and just have someone pick me up and bring me back, no big.”

GM: “Oh. Okay, sweetie.” Her mom smiles. “I should go to bed soon… school day tomorrow, plus dinner with Stephen’s family.”

Celia: “Come on, then, I’ll help you out.”


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive in her mom’s Beetle back to Diana’s house. Lucy is in bed at this hour, but Emily pops out of her room (where she was studying) to share hugs and say hi. Dani remarks Celia’s come by early, but says she can give her a lift back to Flawless in her own car. Diana bids the girls all goodnight and makes her way to Lucy’s room.

Celia: Celia hadn’t expected Dani to be there this early. After exchanging pleasantries with Emily and seeing her mother to bed, she says as much to Dani when they get back in the car.

“You’re early too. How’d it go with Rod?”

GM: “Oh, I haven’t seen him yet. He’s still doing work stuff,” says Dani as they get in her car.

“And was hunting earlier.”

Celia: “Oh. I thought he’d be done by now.”

GM: “He texted when we’d be able to hang.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Well, hunting takes about an hour, he said, and being a lawyer is a busy job.”

“He also told me about the ‘Rod’ name.”

“It’s really weird how he’s changed his name.”

Celia: “Most of us do. Keeps our families safe.”

“If he’d been Stephen Garrison his dad would be a target, you’d be a target.”

“Anyone who’s mad at him.”

“Or his sire.”

GM: “He explained. And it makes sense. Just weird to know he’s been going by this whole other name.”

“He said no one calls him Stephen anymore. Hasn’t in years.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “I did once on a date, years ago. Asked what he’d prefer. He said a clean break is best.”

GM: “It’s still hard for me to get accustomed to.”

“He said I could call him what I liked.”

Celia: “You’ll get it eventually. Not a big deal as long as you don’t slip up in front of someone else.”

“I have some work to do real quick when we get back to the spa, but then we can get going.”

GM: “Oh, I’ve got my laptop with me. It’s no rush, I can do schoolwork until you’re ready.”

Celia: “Thanks, Dani. Appreciate the help with my mom and all.”

GM: “It’s no problem. She and Emi have just been so nice to me.”

“Lucy, too.”

Celia: “I’d hope so. World hasn’t ruined her yet.”

She can only hope it stays that way.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

Celia: Perhaps, she reflects as she closes herself in her work space and locks both sets of doors behind her, she should have listened to the fortune teller.

“You won’t like the answers.”

No, she supposes she doesn’t. She doesn’t like them at all. Her mom is a multiple. The “real” Diana is not the sweet, loving woman that she has known all her life, but apparently some sort of hellion that goes out late at night, steals cars, and carries guns around. Full of rage and who knows what else. That chat she’d had with Roderick, about how of course her mom would always love her? About how Elyse couldn’t completely change personalities? All of that goes out the window.

Her mom is a multiple.

Two personalities inside one body. Like Celia and Jade. Or Leilani. Or Violet. Or Lilly. Or Star. Or any of the others that clamor for control. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? She’s still in control. She still retains her memories. She doesn’t lose herself to a fugue state, doesn’t act against her very real core tenets and betray herself.

Does she?

If Jade is willing to hurt Diana, is Lucy willing to hurt Celia?

She doesn’t want her mom to be a multiple. She thought it was settled. That everything was going to be fine. That it would be smooth sailing from here on out: help Marcel, transfer the luck, Mom is happy and healthy and still willing to feed her, they continue to have a great relationship until she dies a very natural death.

Now this.

More turbulence.

More shit she has to deal with.

And all of it is Diana’s fault. Continuing to make problems. As if dying for her wasn’t enough. As if losing a friend and ally over her wasn’t enough. As if her very existence doesn’t absolutely weaken her when people who know her know where to target.

She should have left it alone.

She should have fucking left it alone.

But she kept picking and picking and picking because she’s so

fucking

stupid.

Even Roderick thinks so. Roderick, with his non-answer last night. Roderick, with his perfect fucking life and perfect Embrace and perfect sire and perfect Requiem and perfect fucking sister that he gets to have because she smoothed it over, because she made it better, because she fucked up her own plans by making sure that he wouldn’t lose everything, and now everyone thinks she’s a giant fucking fuckup.

And maybe she is.

The claws slide out. Long, sharp, deadly. Like the thing that takes over her mind. She doesn’t fight it. She lets it go, watching from behind its eyes as it tears through the steel room looking for something warm to destroy. Watches until she disappears into the red haze and loses sight of what happens while she’s gone.

Like a fugue state.

She’s on the floor when she comes back to herself, clothing shredded, face red with the blood that leaks from her eyes as hysterical laughter gurgles up from her gut. Laugh crying. Cry laughing. Whatever it is she’s doing it, shoulders shaking with the effort. Lack of air eventually causes the noise to fall silent, but on she goes, face contorted into a mockery of joy.

It’s all just so hilarious.

Her body eventually moves. She unlocks the door and steps back into the private suite of rooms reserved for Jade, though the lick has not yet arrived. Someone else pulls the body from beneath the table where she keeps it in temporary cold storage. Someone else makes a mental note to contact Ramon for the work he’d offered. Someone else runs through a tally of what sort of information they’re willing to trade, since a debt to the Nosferatu is not something that Jade or Celia or this other person want.

Claws slice into the blonde’s body, though “body” implies “whole” and this thing is decidedly not whole. It looks almost like that girl who’d fallen into the tiger pit all those years ago when they’d found her the next morning, bits and pieces already harvested by Celia or Jade or Dicentra or whoever else had gotten to her (someone else recalls that Alana had done the hair to turn it into a wig that Joy wore and that Dani now has, and Celia wonders if Louise would be interested in styling wigs and if that’s something they could start selling more of, as Jade had primarily used them for her own disguises and extensions for the girls, but it would give her something to do in the meantime while Celia figures out the licensing issue like the helper that she is).

The claws slice from sternum to groin. It takes a bit of effort to crack the ribs, but there are tools for that, and soon the pieces of bone sit in a bag to be ground up for more bonemeal (Celia recalls that she had forgotten to give the last bag to her mother for her garden and is glad that the growing season hasn’t quite started yet, and also wonders if maybe her grandsire’s rooftop gardens could use some, or maybe Dahlia Rose…?). The claws disappear once the body lays open on the table, and hands gently sift through the dead organs to find the stomach. Upper abdomen. Left side.

The human body is truly a fascinating thing. Food and air enter the same cavity but are filtered out by various parts. Food travels down to the esophagus to the lower esophageal sphincter, which contracts and expands to let things in. There the stomach secrets acids and enzymes to break down all the food that enters it (Celia had looked it up once to find that stomach acid falls between a 1 and 2 on the pH scale. Battery acid, pH 1, can dissolve metal and bone: that’s why people who throw up all the time ruin their teeth. Jade had experimented with ways to utilize it effectively when she’d found out). The stomach itself is lined with muscle fiber that churns to help digest things, and another sphincter releases the dissolved contents into the intestines to make its way down to the anal cavity.

This undead body has no need for most of that, though. A scalpel separates the top of the esophagus from the throat just below the trachea, where the upper esophageal sphincter sits. Another cut separates the stomach from the intestines and the contents are deposited into a bowl to be sifted through later. This long after death there’s little food to be found, but just because the human died doesn’t mean the bacteria inside did. They keep churning. Then to the sink, to rinse the stomach, and finally a pinch of fingers seals the pyloric sphincter shut. There’s no need to have a hole in the bottom that leaks food into the rest of the body.

Those same fingers go to work on the undead body, pulling apart skin and muscle to fit the esophagus into the throat (some part of Jade or maybe Celia or even Dicentra wonders where the blood goes when they drink it since it certainly doesn’t sit in their stomachs), and the lick stands in front of a mirror while it moves more muscle and flesh aside to nestle the stolen stomach into its body, moving various things around inside to make sure that the stomach is supported and won’t go bouncing around erratically if the body finds itself in a hectic situation. A test jump confirms that everything is locked into place, and quick fingers move skin, muscle, and sinew into their rightful areas once more.

Like magic.

The girl staring at herself in the mirror doesn’t look like she had surgery, let alone put a dead stomach inside of hers. Her body is perfect. Pristine.

Flawless.

GM: Lucy watches the whole time.

She doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t judge.

She doesn’t shrink in fear.

Dolls don’t talk. Dolls don’t do any of those things. She just watches Celia/Jade/Someone Else patiently, hands folded across the lap of her baby blue dress.

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Perhaps she knows something of the tortured thoughts playing out in her mother’s head. (Heads?) Perhaps she knows nothing. Perhaps she would say much, if she could. Perhaps she would say nothing.

She just watches. She just waits. Patiently.

Dolls watch. Dolls wait. Dolls look pretty. It’s what they do.

Maxen would have preferred dolls to daughters, perhaps.

Celia: Maybe they don’t talk, but Celia/Jade/Someone Else (there really can’t be Someone Else, can there? And when had that become capitalized in her thoughts?) can talk enough for two, three, maybe even five people.

“I didn’t know,” she says to Lucy when it’s all over, washing her hands and face in the sink to get rid of the blood. “I said I’d help you. Fix you. Your voice. You’re in there somewhere, right?” She dries her hands and reaches for the doll, careful not to get her wet.

“…she’d still love me, right? You would too? You both? You saved me, you told me to run, you…”

That’s love, right? Saving someone? She doesn’t have to force her blood down her mother’s throat to make her love her, right?

Even the thought makes her recoil.

Has to be Celia asking these things, doesn’t it? Jade doesn’t care.

She stares at the doll cradled in her arms, half-tucked against her naked body, wide eyes imploring. An answer, a sign, anything.

GM: The doll doesn’t move away from Celia’s recently-wet hands. Dolls don’t move. Dolls aren’t scared to get wet, even if their owners and parents are.

Lucy doesn’t say yes. Lucy doesn’t say no. She just stares back at Celia with wide, expressive glass eyes.

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Celia: Celia finally sighs down at the doll. Maybe she’s crazy for expecting an answer.

Maybe it runs in the family.

Maybe Elyse is her best path forward and she should suck it up and find a dancer to break with her. Maybe she can put some of Celia inside a doll, too.

“I’d offer to take you with me to Edith’s, but if her kids break you I’m going to be really mad.”

GM: Lucy serenely accepts this explanation too.

Dolls accept all things serenely.

Except when they talk.

Why are crazy people the only people who can talk to them?

Is she insane to expect an answer, or not insane enough?

Celia: Lucy used to talk to her. Sort of.

Does that make it better or worse?

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Celia V, Chapter XVI
Mended Hearts

“Not needing to lie to people, to be able to be who you used to be… it’s necessary.”
Celia Flores


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: At 4 AM, she’s back at Pete’s office in the Evergreen. She knocks and comes in to find the detective changing out of a torn and bloodstained shirt into a fresh one.

Celia: She doesn’t mean to let her gaze linger, but it does. She’d be lying to herself if she said she’d never thought about it. Even the faint whiff of blood is enough to lengthen her fangs; she keeps her lips closed until the bloody shirt is disposed of. No need to give the detective the wrong idea.

…well.

Not really the wrong idea when there’s some kernel of truth in there somewhere.

“Rough night?”

GM: Pete’s shirtless frame isn’t as buff Roderick’s, who looks to Celia like he spent a lot of time at the bench press before Coco Embraced him, carefully sculpting his body to the point he wanted it to stay at forever. Pete has muscle, but he’s more wiry. Harder-seeming, in a way. More gristle and grit than sculpted excellence.

A night,” he says as he takes his seat.

Celia: Maybe he’ll let her touch him up next time she… touches him down? Unfixes his face? Whatever he wants to call it where she makes him older and uglier. The thought of Roderick absurdly makes her think of her sire and how buff he is by comparison (or at least what she’s seen of him, one whole forearm), but she tries not to let her thoughts wander down that path.

Celia closes the door and takes the seat across from him. She fishes through her purse for the thermos.

“Maybe this’ll make it better?”

GM: She tries, but they still do, until Pete opens the thermos. He doesn’t need to take a whiff.

He looks at it, then up to her.

“Celia, I overreacted last night,” he says with a sigh.

Celia: “Why do you say?”

GM: “Because I thought I was in love with your mom.”

“I’m not.”

“I’ve only spoken to her, what, once, twice, seven years ago.”

Celia: Denial, she thinks, but she simply nods.

GM: “I was in love with the idea of her.”

Celia: Her lips twist.

“Okay.”

GM: “A cop’s work isn’t honest work in this city. Everyone is on the take. I can count on one hand the number of cops I’ve known who aren’t on the take.”

I’m on the take, just to maintain my cover.”

“And that’s just the baseline. The normal joes clocking in to work every day, not thinking about it beyond that.”

“The real pieces of work. The Ricky Moutons. The Rich Gettises. The things they do and get away with. I’ve known cops who shoved pregnant women down flights of stairs. Who shook down old ladies for their social security checks. Who sold drugs on the streets. Who rape and steal and terrify and murder because they can get away with it, with near impunity. Thugs, animals, with badges.”

“Brass doesn’t care.”

“If you live in a posh place in the Garden District and an escort overdoses in your bedroom, or you just decide it would be fun to strangle her and not let go until the light goes out in her eyes, the right thing to do is call the cops.”

“Because they’ll sweep it up.”

“They know who butters their bread.”

Celia: Is he trying to convince her that he isn’t a good person because other people in the same occupation aren’t good people? That, what, her mom is a breath of fresh air because she’s pure an innocent and good, and it’s that ideal woman that he wants so he can take a break from the rest of the horrible world?

She’s quiet while he talks. She knows all about being in love with the idea of someone.

“But you’re not that person.”

GM: “I try not to be. But this isn’t about me and that.”

“We put on a uniform hoping to protect and serve, to make a difference in our communities. I did, at least.”

“I knew it wouldn’t be a bed of roses, when I signed up. I knew enough of how the world worked.”

“I still wanted to be the good guy. There are so few times, you get to just be the good guy.”

“Then your family called 911. And I got to be the good guy. I got to help a sweet mother and daughter get out from under their almost comically evil ex-husband and father.”

Celia: Sweet. That girl doesn’t exist. Not anymore. Maybe not even then.

And they hadn’t called 911. They’d called one of those “real pieces of work” because her grandmother had told her to call him, not the cops, someone who would actually do something.

She doesn’t interrupt.

GM: “How much I actually helped is debatable, but I got to be the good guy who did gentlemanly things like pick up a gaggle of kids in his car.”

“And that’s it.”

“The girl became a vampire and I didn’t see or speak to her mother again.”

Celia: “That’s not really it. You called me when you hadn’t heard from her the next night. You… explained everything to me when I got in over my head. You went to the hospital with me to get her, to move her. You took me to the doctor to fix her.”

He’d ponied up a fair amount of cash for it, too.

GM: “We can amend that to ’didn’t speak to her mother again.’ The point being, Celia, I was fixated on who I got to be to her. I loved who I got to be, for that brief moment. But past that, we’re practically strangers to each other.”

“She’s your mother and your ghoul. Do whatever you think is right with her. It’s not my business.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what he wants from her. He’s lying to her. Lying to himself, too, if he really thinks that it’s all that is. He’s been carrying a torch for her for years. And sure, maybe it’s unrequited, maybe it’s doomed, maybe she’s wrong and it is just the idea of being a hero and who he gets to be around Diana that he’s in love with… but isn’t that what love is? Being who you are inside, letting the other person bring out the best version of you? Isn’t that why she loves Roderick, because, like she’d explained to her mom, she can still be Celia around him? And why, in a less rose-tinted version of unlife, she loves her sire? Because she can be Jade around him?

…is she Jade? Or is she Celia? She can’t be both.

Can she?

Is Jade just who she thinks her sire and Veronica want her to be, and Celia is… who she wants to be?

Maybe she doesn’t know who she wants to be.

Maybe she is a—

No.

She stops that thought before it finishes.

She doesn’t argue the point with him. She doesn’t tell him he’s wrong. It brings up too many questions about herself, and if she’s not ready to deal with those demons then she doubts that he’s ready to deal with his.

“I don’t want her to be my ghoul,” she finally says. “I just want her to be my mom.”

GM: A bald man could tell her what she is.

Paul could tell her what she is.

Roderick is happy to tell her what she is, even if his answer probably isn’t the same as theirs.

Could her sire tell her too?

Savoy can. Her mom can. Dani can. Maybe Pete can.

Isn’t that the problem, that everyone all has such different visions for the Jade or Celia they want their Jade or Celia to be?

“It’s a little late for that,” says Pete.

Celia: If all of them know, then somewhere inside of her she knows too.

“It’s not,” she says to Pete.

“I might have found a solution.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: “I mean, the problem is the Masquerade, right? If someone finds out she knows, they’ll put her down, use it against me, whatever the case may be. But… what if they don’t?”

“What if no one ever finds out?”

GM: “Then that’s that. If she can keep a secret.”

Celia: “It’s more than that. There’s a… there’s a ritual.”

“No one would even look at her then.”

GM: “‘Ritual’ can have an infinitude of possible effects. That doesn’t narrow things down.”

Celia: “She’d be lucky. Lucky enough that anyone who wanted to investigate her would be sidetracked. Lucky enough that if someone were to fire a gun at her it’d misfire, or ricochet off a conveniently placed thing and hit them instead. Lucky enough that she wouldn’t suffer the effects of withdrawal when I stop giving her blood.”

GM: Pete frowns. “What’s powering it?”

Celia: “I don’t know if there’s a name for what they are. But there are people out there that are—” how had Marcel put it?—‘“blessed with good fortune.’ And I found one. Earlier tonight. And if I help someone with a big favor, he said he’d do the ritual for me and transfer the luck to a person of my choice."

GM: The Tremere’s frown deepens. “I’ve not heard of something like this.”

Celia: Neither had she. But there’s a lot she hasn’t heard of.

“I saw it in action, Pete. This guy walked out in front of cars and they all missed him. People tripped when they tried to punch him. He got out of handcuffs that had him tied to a bed. The bullet thing? I watched that happen.”

GM: “I believe you. There’s a lot of strange stuff out there.” His frown doesn’t abate. “I’m just wondering if that’s all it is.”

Celia: “He said they were human. Just lucky. Blessed by stars or fates or gods or something.”

GM: “All power has an origin. And side effects.”

Celia: She’s seen those side effects in play.

“It’s worth trying, isn’t it? I can always re-ghoul her if things go sideways.”

GM: Pete chews his lip.

“I think it’s an avenue worth looking into. But I’d advise looking it into before you go ahead with it.”

Celia: “Bit of a time crunch. He said the luck is going to start running out in about a week. And I have to figure out the favor before then.”

GM: “Who’s ‘he?’”

Celia: “Marcel Guilbeau.”

GM: Pete grunts. “Guy who runs a business where luck is king. Suppose it makes sense he’d know.”

“One concept that’s fairly universal in occult traditions is sympathy. Like draws like. It’s why you make voodoo dolls with somebody’s hair.”

“Do you consider your mother an already lucky person?”

Celia: Does she? She’s never really thought about it.

“I don’t think she’s unlucky,” she says at length. “I think some not so good things have happened to her but she’s managed to persevere. I think it’s lucky that I’m her daughter, that I… that I died for her. That Lucy has turned out like she is. That she found a good lawyer when she needed one. That she’s happy and healthy, besides the leg. That she’s lucky the same daughter can find the tools to fix said leg, or when your friend gets back into town learn to do it myself.”

The more she thinks about it, the more it seems likely that Diana is maybe a little bit lucky.

“Lucky that you were the cop to show up. That you helped. That you knew a doctor to fix her.”

GM: Pete grunts. “Could do worse, it sounds. But like I said. I’d advise looking further into this before you go ahead with anything.”

Celia: “I planned on it. I still just also have to get the favor out of the way.” A hopeful glance.

“I’m not going to let him do it to her without further research. Just, you know, time crunch.”

GM: “All right. Was there anything else tonight?”

Celia: Not even a nibble? Damnit, Pete.

“Yes.”

GM: He waits expectantly.

Celia: “There’s a few things,” she hedges. “If you have a minute.”

GM: “Spit it out, Celia.”

Celia: So she does.

“Do you know anything about demons?”

GM: “More than your average Camarilla lick, I expect, but I’m not an expert.”

Celia: “But your sire is,” she presses.

“Krystin said maybe he is,” she amends.

GM: “It’s not an area he’s a specialist in either. But I expect my sire does know more about demons than me.”

Celia: And he’s less murder-y than Pete’s grandsire.

“Oh. Is there an expert in the city? Or could you… introduce me? For a favor, or whatever he needs? Or you.”

GM: “I could introduce you. The Sanctified are usually the experts when it comes to demons. There are some Tremere who make a more dedicated study of demonology, but it’s a black art.”

Celia: She’ll just ask her sire than, shall she?

“I thought this would be a more accessible route.”

GM: “Could be. Depends what you want to know.”

Celia: Everything.

“I think I met one.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: Celia pulls the library papers out of her bag.

“Do you remember the thing that bugged my spa? So I followed it and it led here,” she points at the photo from the newspaper of the condemned house, “and this thing inside tried to eat me but I got out and I think we’re kind of friends now and I saw this lady come out tonight when I went back and she did this weird magic vanish-y trick with this, like, tainted blood that made her teleport out of the area. Not like vanish, like actually teleport, and she didn’t smell like vitae or anything but she did magic so I went to the library and it says right here that the guy wasn’t in his right mind, but that he was cooking his girlfriend but they didn’t find anything in his stomach so he didn’t eat her but this thing inside the house I think is what ate her, like he was feeding it maybe, and then you see right here how there’s this lack of remorse and empty feeling and hacksaw and I… met with someone who was like that but had an exorcism and said it was a demon.”

GM: Pete blinks for a moment to process that all.

“…all right, so what’s your interest in that? You think this possible demon bugged your spa?”

Celia: “Sort of? Also I was wondering if what this other person said is true?”

“Because I don’t know why a demon would bug my spa.”

GM: “I’d be at a loss to say why either. So you think the woman bugged your spa?”

Celia: “I have no idea who she is, though.”

“Or why they’d target me.”

GM: “What’d she look like?”

Celia: “I thought maybe it’d be like… hunters. Or Setites. Or honestly I thought it was Duke since it was kind of a botch job but it wasn’t, so…”

Celia describes the woman.

GM: “Hm. Can’t say I recognize. If you obtained an object she’s touched, I could get a look at her face. Having that would give some leads to run down.”

Celia: She could poke around the house. Maybe.

Or the bug.

GM: “Alternatively, bug the place in case she comes back.”

“Review the security around your spa, too.”

Celia: “I will.”

“I’d still like to learn more about them. This is pressing, of course, but so is the other person’s claim.”

GM: “Then as I said. I can introduce you to my sire, or I’d ask a priest like your Benson pal.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t think it’s going to be that easy with Benson, but she nods anyway.

GM: “Is that a yes or a no to him?”

Celia: “Yes, please.”

GM: “All right. I’ll ask.”

Celia: “Thank you. Any word on that stake?”

“I hit a wall with how I was looking into it. Fake name. Hate the idea of the hunters running around unchecked, though.”

GM: “On any given night there are who even knows how many hunters doing just that.”

Celia: “Then I hate the idea of hunters who went after my boyfriend unchecked.”

“And would like to find out who and what and why.”

“Since you said they seem… off.”

GM: “Hunter with the stake hasn’t said anything I want to make any moves over yet. Off or not, spying on hunters tends to be a lot like drug stings. Lot of waiting.”

Celia: “I s’pose I’ll learn to be patient, then.”

“Let me know, yeah? I’d like to assist.”

GM: “I will.”

Celia: “Thanks,” she says, tucking her papers back into her bag.

“Hey Pete,” she ventures after a moment, “do you need anything from me? You’ve been really helpful lately with everything and I just… you know?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ll let you know there, too, once there’s something.”

Celia: She nods. She’d told him the other night—anything.

“I’ll get out of your hair, then.”

She can figure out the rest of it on her own, she’s sure.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick and Dani meet Celia back at her haven.

If he’s plotting to kidnap her, it looks like he’s planning to do that later.

Celia: All those terrible thoughts for nothing.

“How was your night?” she asks the pair.

GM: “It was good,” smiles Roderick, squeezing his sister’s shoulder. “We stopped off at Waffle House, then walked if off at City Park.”

“Stephen said we didn’t actually need to, because he’s pretty sure I can’t get fat,” says Dani. “I said we’d beat him up if I do.”

“There aren’t a lot of healthy places open 24/7,” says Roderick.

“He ate so much food,” says Dani. “A Texas cheesesteak melt, bacon, egg breakfast, triple chocolate pie…”

“Hey, it was all coming back out.”

Celia: “Might as well make it worth the purge.”

The thought of eating makes her nauseous.

GM: “City Park was nice,” says Dani. “Isn’t really anyone else there this late. We just walked for a while, and… caught up. Or started to.”

“I’ve been gone for a lot of years,” says Roderick, giving his sister another squeeze.

“I’d never have wished the Embrace on her, or anyone, but… it’s just such a weight off. To have someone else who knows me as Stephen. Who I can be honest around.”

Celia: That’s what she was afraid of.

“I’m happy for you two. Glad you were able to work things out.”

“Not needing to lie to people, to be able to be who you used to be…” She curls against Roderick’s side. “It’s necessary.”

GM: “Me too,” says Dani, closing her eyes a moment to lean against her brother’s other side. “Just to have someone else who I can be open with, who doesn’t mind I’m duskborn…”

Roderick smiles and gives both women’s shoulders a squeeze.

“You were right, too, that he knows a lot,” says Dani. “But we tried not to talk too much about Kindred stuff, tonight.”

Celia: She doesn’t like this sharing thing.

“I told you he’s a good source. Better than me, I bet, with the history.” She tries for a wry smile but it ends up closer to a grimace.

Her eyes find any other spot in the room to rest on. She should be happy for them.

GM: Roderick rubs her back.

“Luck of Embrace, there. So much of what you can learn comes down to who you know. It’s not like we publish history books.”

“I’m glad she has us both, though. It sounds like she’s learned a lot of valuable things from you already.”

Celia: Lucky him. With his perfect sire. And his perfect Requiem. And his perfect job as the perfect scribe.

“Glad I could help.”

GM: “She mentioned the experiments you did to explore the limits of her powers. Good thinking with those.”

“He said he had some ideas too,” says Dani. “But like I said. We tried to limit tonight to personal stuff.”

Celia: She’s glad that while she was being molested by skinheads they were able to enjoy a stroll in the park. And chocolate pie.

“We should probably compare notes, see what we can find out.”

GM: Roderick nods. “I’ll consult what sources I can, too. We’ll find out everything we can. I want Dani to be the most knowledgeable duskborn in the city.”

“Speaking of more personal things, though…” says Dani, looking between the other two. “I just want to say, if you guys want to get married… go for it. I’d love to be your sister too, Celia.”

“I can’t imagine a better match. For either of you.”

Celia: Her lips form a smile.

Inside, though, she thinks how wrong the girl is.

She’ll ruin Roderick. And Dani. And everyone else who gets too close.

“Thanks,” she says, ignoring the pang. “He promised a super extravagant, romantic proposal.” She nudges him with her elbow. Finds another smile.

“I’m sure Mom will be thrilled.”

GM: Roderick smiles at the two.

“I’ll make it good. Enough to make up for the spoiled surprise.”

“And thanks, Dani. It means a lot to have your blessing.”

Celia: “Still probably a small ceremony,” she says with an effected sigh.

GM: “I’d rather have a small one, anyways,” says Roderick. “Big weddings are such a hassle. And I think you wind up inviting a bunch of people who honestly aren’t that meaningful in your life.”

Celia: “I know. Just…” She trails off. “It doesn’t matter, anyway.”

GM: “I want ours to be something intimate. With the people we love, not just co-workers and casual friends and distant relatives we haven’t seen in forever.”

His face falls a bit.

“I just wish Dad could come and know it’s me.”

Celia: He could.

Two ghouled parents.

Celia glances at Dani.

GM: Dani meets her gaze, then says,

“We could tell him the truth…”

Roderick just shakes his head.

“But would that be so bad?” she asks. “Stephen, it’d… it’d heal such a big hole in his heart, knowing you’re still alive…”

“That’s the temptation every lick faces,” Roderick answers heavily. “But if I tell Dad, why shouldn’t Celia tell Emily and her mom?”

“But they don’t think she’s dead,” says Dani.

Celia: “Emily would be a terrible renfield, anyway.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “I think making any family member into a renfield is a terrible idea.”

“You don’t have to make him a ghoul,” says Dani. “You could just tell him the truth.”

Roderick shakes his head again. “That’s almost as bad an idea.”

Celia: “What if no one found out…?”

GM: Roderick looks between them. “Dad’s a crusader. If we told him about this… he wouldn’t leave it alone.”

“It’s not in our family’s nature.”

“He wouldn’t just sit on the sidelines.”

“He’d take whatever action he thought was right.”

“And he’s a powerful, connected man. A Masquerade breach like that… you can’t just clean it up with a one-time boon to a lick who can mindfuck people.”

Celia: Like putting down his son if he found out that he’s an undead abomination?

Is that what she saw in the vision? What she heard—the pounding of a gavel? Is it a court?

GM: “Emily’s just a med student. Celia’s mom is just a dance teacher. If either of them came forward, people would try to commit them, and that would be that. Dad could do god knows what in his position.”

Celia: “You think he would? Turn on you? Expose it? Expose us?”

GM: “I don’t think he’d turn on us,” says Roderick. “All I know is that leaving things alone isn’t in his nature.”

“And that once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting him back in.”

Celia: “It was a nice thought, though.”

GM: Dani sighs.

“Well, Lucy will be an adorable flower girl, at least.”

Celia: “She will,” Celia agrees. “And we can invite him even if he doesn’t know it’s you, Rod.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “True enough. I just wish… I just wish I could make him whole, and that it’s not just his dead son’s ex he’s seeing get married. Thinking the whole time if this could have been me walking down the aisle.”

Celia: If he even shows. He thinks Celia cheated on his son. Why come to the wedding?

GM: “I’m not sure he’ll even want to come, honestly. Especially if he’s gotten less social, like you’ve said,” he says to Dani.

Dani frowns. “Well, maybe if the dinner goes well, we can swing it.”

Celia: “He thinks I cheated on you,” Celia says bluntly.

“I doubt he’ll be happy to see me or accept an invitation.”

GM: “We can fix that,” says Dani.

“We can tell him… enough of the truth, without lying. We can say you were basically forced to break up. That you were under a ton of pressure, and you believed this was the best thing for Stephen.”

Celia: “I was planning on talking to him privately, before the dinner. If he’ll listen.”

GM: “What would you tell him?” asks Roderick.

Celia: “A version of the truth. That I was raped. That you and I had a pregnancy scare and you told me you weren’t ready to be a dad. That my conception was because of rape, and I wouldn’t do that to a child, but I wouldn’t force you into something you didn’t want. That I… told you I cheated on you so you wouldn’t stick around, so I didn’t ruin your life.”

GM: “With the idea you were raped by… your dad, and that’s how Lucy came to be?” says Roderick.

“I don’t think he needs to hear that much detail,” says Dani.

“He shouldn’t,” says Roderick, “it’s just important to have a guiding narrative in mind.”

Celia: “I was just going to leave the guy blank. It’s not as if there’s—”

Well, that doesn’t matter.

GM: “Okay. So Lucy was a product of rape. We had a pregnancy scare. I wasn’t ready to be a dad. All of this happened at a terrible time. You told me you cheated, to push me away. All of that is actually true,” considers Roderick.

“Okay. I think that’ll work. It means… a lot to me, that we aren’t actually lying to him, just not telling the full truth. It’s the closest thing we can be to honest.”

“That’s really smart, Celia.”

Celia: The words are almost foreign to her.

“Thanks,” she says after a minute.

GM: He smiles and rubs her back.

“We should get back to my place, if we’re still going to have time for your lesson.”

“He’s going to teach me, too,” smiles Dani. “But he said we’re at different levels, so different lessons would be best for now.”

Celia: “Makes sense. Maybe you can learn with Logan. Apparently Emily’s boyfriend handed him his ass earlier.”

“Did I tell you that he already likes you more than Randy because you know how to fight?”

GM: “You mentioned him. HEMA guy, right?” says Roderick. “I’m not surprised. I doubt Logan had any training with swords.”

Celia: “He was a real brat about it.”

GM: “If you’ve not had training, prepare to get handed your ass. If I were still a breather, I might lose to Emily’s boyfriend. I’ve probably spent less time handling swords than he has.”

Celia: “It was more the attitude that I find amusing.”

GM: “Still, it’s flattering. Call me old-fashioned, but guys should know how to defend their women.”

“Oh my god, so sexist,” Dani says exaggeratedly.

Celia: Like her sire pulling her from the Dollhouse?

…does that make her his woman?

She tunes out the siblings, lost in the thought.

“He’ll be real upset when I hand him his ass,” she tacks on belatedly.

GM: “I’d like us to get to that point, actually,” Roderick answers seriously. “I’d feel more confident in your safety knowing you can go toe to toe with me.”

Dani’s smile dips a bit.

Maybe Celia could do that, some night.

But her?

Celia: “Hey,” she says to Dani, “there’s more to vampires than being a meathead like your brother. We’re taking another step tomorrow night, okay? You’ll get there. We’ll figure it out.”

They always do.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: Back at Roderick’s new haven, Luna’s owner gives her lots of pets and belly rubs before Celia’s ready to come back. As he reminds her.

“We should get into a routine. The more times we practice, the harder the routine will be to break.”

They spend some time sparring. Roderick says she’s coming along well. “Maybe tomorrow night we can mix things up, and have you teach me those claws.”

“We should have you practice with those out too, come to think, if they’re your favored means of fighting.”

Celia: “You said they might make you lose it. That they’d actually hurt. How are you going to wake me if we both slip into the red?”

GM: “I’ve been thinking about that. I could get some arm guards.”

“Or could you dull them?”

Celia: She can’t help but think of the pair she gave her sire. They’d stop her claws. A knife. A sword. They were built for it.

“I can try.”

She hasn’t had much of a reason for dull claws. But she’s adept at shifting the rest of herself as needed, why not those?

GM: “Sounds good,” he smiles as they make their way to bed. He pulls off his sweats, then ‘helps’ Celia remove hers, and is true to his word about fucking her silly before dawn comes.

Celia: It’s the perfect time to strike.

He’ll never know. All she has to do is use the trick her alleged sire taught her, pull the cloud over his eyes, spill a little blood. Break the hold his sire has over him. It’ll pull him right into her arms. It’ll prevent any nonsense about Dani getting between them; she’ll be his rock, not the little thin-blood bitch.

All she has to do is slip the collar around his throat.

It’s afterward, while she lies pressed against his side, her boyfriend decidedly not fully bound to her, that she says what’s on her mind.

“You called me smart tonight.”

GM: “You are smart,” he smiles, his arms contently wrapped around her.

“It runs in the family. Your grandma’s a respected legal mind.”

“Your mom attended college with a family and career to balance.”

“Even your dad, much as I hate to admit it, isn’t an idiot.”

Celia: He’s not her dad, though. The words stick in her throat.

GM: “A scumbag rapist wifebeating child abuser, but not an idiot.”

“I’m sure the ways he belittled you aren’t possible to just get over, though. I’m sorry.”

“But he is wrong. Objectively wrong. You are smart.”

Celia: “Not as smart as you, though.” A higher pitch at the final word turns it into half a question.

GM: Her lover shakes his head.

“There are countless metrics by which to quantity intelligence. Even IQ scores are just an average of a panoply of separate, distinct tests. People tend to forget that part. A high IQ score is well and good if you get a consistently high score across all tests, but most people score higher on some tests and lower on others. Most people are good at different things.”

“Saying ’you’re smarter’ is like saying ’you’re more knowledgeable’. It’s an almost meaningless statement by itself. Smarter at what? More knowledgeable about what? I’m more knowledgeable than you about law, but you know more than I do about medical science. I don’t have a degree in that field like you do.”

Celia: The words are a balm to years-old wounds.

Why had she thought he’d just say yes? Why had she thought he’d take an opportunity to kick her while she’s vulnerable?

Because she expects it from everyone else.

But he’s not everyone else. He’s Stephen and she’s Celia and they love each other and even though the rest of the world sucks, theirs doesn’t have to. They can build a(n un)life together and be happy, and no one can take that away from them.

GM: Perhaps not.

But Celia’s last thought before daysleep takes her is of her sire’s face.

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Celia V, Chapter XV
The Doll & Librarian

“She wants out.”
Janine Clairmont


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia waits until the siblings are gone to change for her trip to Uptown. It’s an altogether inconvenient location, really, considering the distance between the two territories and the fact that the kook who runs the place owes a favor to Jade, not one of her many, many aliases. She does her face, rifles through her bookshelves for a gesture of goodwill (an inexpensive but older copy of Virgil’s Aeneid she’d picked up for one of her classes in undergrad at a used book store, recently rebound without any of the typical scrawling or highlighting or dog-eared pages that mark many students’ books) and tucks it into her purse with the still-damaged Lucy.

“Sorry it’s taking so long,” Celia says to the doll, “not many people can talk to dolls like Elyse does.” And Mom won’t even try.

GM: Lucy stares serenely back at her mother’s words.

Dolls are patient.

Celia: For a moment she debates how to get to the library. She could fly. It would be a quick trip in and out. Easier to sneak, isn’t it? But that involves cutting herself open to stuff things inside, spending the blood to shift, spending more to heal, spending more to rip it out, and then even more on the flight back. Her Beast is already annoyed that she’d done a good deed with the tattoo for Roderick—and some paranoid part of her wonders if he’s using it to kidnap his sister, but she tries to ignore that voice because Dani had said she wants to stay and he wouldn’t do that, would he?—and the blood that she banked is for Lebeaux. (Even though she wants it. She really wants it. She can just kill someone for Lebeaux, can’t she?)

Better to take a car. She calls for a Ryde with a pickup point down the block and a drop-off point near the library, conceals the Beast with a quick bit of shadow dancing, and relies on a mundane disguise to hide the rest of her: boring clothes and a lighter colored wig. Jade has black hair, so she finds a light brown one and tugs it into place. Another bit of shadow dancing turns her into any typical woman on the street. Nothing to see here.

She tells her driver to go through Mid-City rather than the Garden District or CBD. No reason to risk things more than she needs to. Even if she’s “discovered” in Mid-City she has the right to be there and isn’t an unwelcome sight like she might be elsewhere.

GM: The Ryde driver drops off Celia near the library.

It’s as she’s walking towards it that her purse strap abruptly snaps. Cat-quick, she snatches it up in her hands before Lucy can hit the ground. Her wig falls off.

Just then, a convertible with a ghoul and several other men and rounds the turn. He’s a skinhead built like a haystack and so covered in tattoos and metal studs and piercings that Celia almost thinks he’s full clothed. His friends don’t look much nicer.

Their eyes all settle on the attractive woman walking alone at night.

One of them whoops and hops out of the moving car to quickly approach her. The ghoul smirks and parks it at the curb. He and his other friends get out and file up to Celia.

“Lookin’ for a date, honey?” leers the ghoul.

Celia can see two tiny swastikas etched onto his front teeth.

Celia: What are the chances that the ghoul recognizes her through the makeup and shadow dancing? Even without a wig she shouldn’t look like herself, surely. Maybe they don’t know she’s a vampire. Maybe they’re just concerned that she lost her hair. She should have shaved her head, she reflects, she could have sold them on the idea of sickly cancer patient.

She squares up as they approach, eyes on the ghoul that leads this merry band of gentlemen.

“For a friend, actually.” A tilt of her head as she eyes him up and down, appraising. Not cute enough for someone like her to want to fuck, but maybe with a little bit of emotional play to make it believeable… A gentle wind blows the supernatural charm out of her, the sort of thing that captures attention and makes people a little more likely to listen to what she says.

“But if you’re offering,” she purrs, “how can I say no?”

GM: The unseen wave rolls out out. The mens’ eyes widen. They’re ugly men, by and large. Crude faces with cruder smiles, and even cruder beliefs worn over their bodies in ink and metal.

She thinks they were pretty likely to listen to those words anyway.

One man licks her face and squeezes her breast, so hard it feels like he’s trying to crush it. His breath smells rancid and foul.

“You guys can have her holes. I’m gonna fuck her tits. I’m gonna rub my dick all over her tits.”

“Aw, yeah,” says another with yellowed teeth. Her grabs her face and leans in close, running his tongue over her forehead. Strips of it are black and brown. His saliva smells like tobacco. “We’re gonna all cum on your face, you dirty whore. We’re gonna fuckin’ drown you in cum.”

“Fuck that,” says a third man with a jagged scar down his cheek. He slips his callused hands up her clothes. “I want to get her pregnant.”

“Your baby’s gonna have four dads, bitch,” leers the ghoul, watching with apparent amusement as his fellows molest her.

Celia: Well this backfired spectacularly.

For a moment she’s taken back in time, just another dumb teenager who asked for help and was put on her knees for it. Whore, they say, and she sees Paul’s face. Jamal’s face. She closes her eyes against the mental intrusion.

Easy to go along with it. To let them have their way with her. Easy to let another set of hands push her down, make her open her mouth, let them use her. She’ll limp away with her pride in tatters, but alive for all that.

Maybe she should.

Maybe Celia would.

But Celia died, and while Jade might have fucked one of them, might have let the ghoul put his tiny dick in her if it meant she got out of here without being punished, she’s not about to let these vermin touch her. Jade reaches out with the gift of her clan, smothering the lust inside these fellows. Maybe they thought they wanted to fuck, but their bodies say otherwise.

“I’m on my period,” she says by way of explanation for the sudden lack of interest, because plenty of normal “macho” men are squicked out by blood, and they seem the type.

Maybe they need another focus for their attention, too; maybe one of them has a juicy secret he’s been hiding, and his dick not working just makes him think about it and blurt it out.

GM: “You sick whore!” the third man exclaims in revulsion, withdrawing his hands like they’ve been coated in something foul. “You crazy, sick… you’re SICK!

Dangerous and equally disgusted expressions flash across the other men’s faces before the second man blurts out,

“My nigger parole officer makes me suck his cock after he found I was using.”

Three sets of alternately incredulous and coldly furious eyes immediately whip towards him.

Celia: Jade plays along, mouth going slack at the confession.

GM: “Wh-no he doesn’t!” the man suddenly exclaims, his eyes wide. “He’s so stupid, he doesn’t have any fuckin’ idea!”

Celia: No wonder he wanted to cum on her face. She bets the parole officer makes him take it like that.

Maybe it occurs to the other men, too.

Write what you know and all that.

GM: The other three men are very, very quiet. The hands on Jade go slack.

Celia: Jade drops the spotlight on her, sliding back into obscurity. As soon as the opportunity presents itself she’ll slip away.

GM: “He do that to you?” asks the ghoul, his voice calm. “‘Drown you in cum?’”

“No. Why the fuck would I say that!?” His eyes are wide. “It was a j-”

“I didn’t think it was funny,” the first man says coldly.

“Me neither,” says the third. There’s a look in his eyes.

They throw Jade to the ground with all the regard for a used condom. Her hands scrap against the pavement.

“Get out of here, cunt,” spits the ghoul without looking at her.

All three men advance towards their fellow.

He holds up his hands. “Wai-”

Celia: That’s her cue. She backpedals out of the way, then takes off as quickly as her little legs can carry her after climbing to her feet.

GM: First there’s the sound of protests, cut off under the sounds of fists and feet connecting with flesh.

It’s only after she’s a block away that she starts to hear true screams.

Celia: She almost feels bad.

But he called her a whore, so he deserves what he gets.


Thursday night, 17 March 2016, AM

GM: The Milton H. Latter Memorial Library crouches on a low grassy hill in the Garden District, isolated from even the leisurely district’s comparative hustle and bustle. Wind sighs through the leaves of old Southern oaks whose branches grasp at the building’s roof like gnarled, jealous black fingers.

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This late at night, the library is closed to the public. A locked door awaits Jade as she makes her way up the hill.

After several moments, there’s a low click from the other side.

Celia: Jade opens the door and slips inside once it unlocks, closing it behind her.

GM: She sees no one there. The library appears utterly deserted. Rows and rows of books stretch before her. There are no noisy children, crazy homeless people, or simple patrons quietly perusing the library’s books. The lights are out. The only sound comes from the low hum of ventilation ducts. Jade may as well be in a tomb.

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Celia: But someone opened the door for her, and Jade doesn’t mind going to find the Malkavian she’s looking for. Quiet footfalls announce her presence through the stacks.

GM: The Toreador does not encounter a living soul as she stalks past the rows of books. She arrives at a reading room. Parts of the building’s interior still resemble the mansion it used to be, replete with a fireplace, fancy drapes and rugs, and old-fashioned brass light fixtures.

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For a moment she thinks she’s seen a ghost. The figure on the couch looks like a librarian straight out of the ‘50s or ‘60s, down to the rhine-stone glasses, pearl necklace and auburn hair done up in a prim bun. She wears a frumpy wool cardigan, plaid skirt, and opaque tights. She’s pallid enough to mistake for a restless shade, but Jade’s Beast growls otherwise.

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She’s silently reading a book. She does not look up at Jade’s presence.

She does not turn the pages.

They turn on their own.

Celia: It’s certainly an unsettling atmosphere this late at night, and the strong evidence of spirits makes it even more so. If she hadn’t already believed in ghosts she’d be convinced with a trip to this library. The door, the pages—irrefutable evidence that the licks are not alone.

Jade approaches. No doubt Clairmont’s shades have told her that there’s company. She doesn’t clear her throat or otherwise draw attention to herself, though she pauses on the threshold to reach into her bag and pulls out the book.

GM: The air seems to grow thicker around Jade as she steps forward. Heavier. She feels like she is being watched. Like a shriveled, disapproving old librarian is glaring down the back of her neck and just waiting for her to transgress.

The librarian offers no response to Jade. She just keeps reading. Another page turns. It’s one of the last in the book.

Celia: The endings are the most important part. Jade knows how annoying it is to be interrupted while reading; she waits until Clairmont is ready for her. She doesn’t have anywhere to be until 4.

GM: Clairmont keeps reading.

Another page turns.

She keeps reading.

Then another.

Then another.

Then another.

Minutes pass.

Celia: At least there’s no annoying clock that ticks with every passing second. No doubt the librarians frown on such interruptions.

GM: The book abruptly closes. Clairmont looks up.

“I love hoaw it ends,” she says in a thick Boston accent. “We heah about Myhna Minkawff all throughout the nawvel and only then do we finally get tuh meet hah. She’s everything we imagined and ev’n wawse. She and Ignatius cawmpletely desahve each othah.”

Celia: Jade glances at the title when Clairmont closes the book before she smiles, lifting her eyes to the lick.

GM: It’s Confederacy of Dunces.

Celia: “I haven’t had the pleasure of that one yet,” Jade says honestly, “but I’m always looking for new things to read.”

GM: “You should read it. It’s vahy good. It’s famous faw its realistic depiction of the yat dialect. Many locals and writahs think that it’s the best depiction theyah is in any wawk of fiction.”

“I also love how much Boethius comes up, the sixth centuhwy is such an undahexplahed time period in fiction, at least in Rome. Which I suppose the book in’t actually set in, but I still like the numbah of references theyah ah. Boethius’ book is a plot duhvice.”

Celia: “I’ll have to add it to my list,” Jade says, “thank you for the recommendation. Waste of a Requiem to not use our time to appreciate the works of others.”

GM: “I hav’n’t read the Cawnsolation of Philosawphy, but whenevah I re-read Cawnfederacy it makes me want tuh read that too. Ignatius thought it was so inspiring. He’s hahdly a role model, but I just want tuh see what Toole thought he saw in it.”

“Would youh like tuh check out Cawnfederacy? I did just finish it, and it’s not on any othah patron’s wait list.”

Celia: Another book she hasn’t read.

“I’d love to. I brought one for you as well. It’s a classic, so I imagine you may have read it, but I think it’s an illuminating look into the lives and beliefs of those who lived in Virgil’s day.” She holds the book aloft for Clairmont and her wraiths to get a look.

GM: Clairmont gets up, looks at the copy of Virgil’s book for several minutes, then plucks it from Jade’s hands with an apparently happy air.

“Oh yes, I’ve read it, of cawse I’ve read it, but I’ll add it to the library. You can’t evah have tooah many cawpies. That way different people can check out cawpies at once. And sometimes they like some cawpies more than othahs. We have sehvwal cawpies of Cawnfederacy, I like tuh altahnate between them whenevah I re-read it, youh can pick which one yuh want tuh check out.”

Celia: “Sometimes the translations are different,” Jade adds, “which can change the contextual meaning of certain phrases, and provide some interesting commentary on people at that time as well.”

GM: “That too, so much all depends on the edition,” Clairmont agrees. She makes her way to the library’s front desk and steps behind the computer.

“Do yuh have a library cahd, ma’am?”

Celia: “It might be expired,” Jade admits, “I usually have one of my girls pick something up for me.”

GM: “Okay, we can renew it if it is, it’s no trouble,” says the Malkavian.

Celia: Jade digs through her bag. She finds a card, but it has Celia’s name on it. Whoops.

“I have her card,” she offers.

GM: “Well yuh can’t use someone else’s cahd if she isn’t checking out the book,” Clairmont declares offendedly. “We’ll get yuh one. What’s youh full name and date of bihth, ma’am?”

Celia: Jade gives it to her.

GM: Clairmont also asks for her address, phone number (work and home), postal code, whether she lives in city limits, and similar such standard bureaucratic form information.

Celia: Jade gives her the information for Flawless. It’s the only place she takes mail with the name “Jade” anyway.

GM: Clairmont types it all in, tells Jade to wait a moment, then disappears into the back and comes back with a newly-laminated library card in the name of Jade Kalani.

“Sign heuh please, ma’am,” she says, indicating the blank space on the card. She provides a pen.

Celia: Jade signs her name.

GM: “Youh ah now a library patron, Miss Kalani,” Clairmont declares in a pleased tone. “Do youh have a book youh’d like tuh check out?”

Celia: “The one you recommended,” Jade says, “and the one you were just reading. Hopefully we can discuss them more in length during my next visit. I am also hoping to borrow a moment of your time, Miss Clairmont. Well, perhaps two moments.”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Okay. The cawpies will all be heah soon. Would she like tuh get a library card tooah?”

Celia: “If she doesn’t have one I’m sure she’ll appreciate the assistance.” Jade glances around. “For all the technological advances in our world, I think sometimes we forget how much information and knowledge lurks within the pages of institutes like these. I hit a snag on a recent research project when I came across an unfamiliar word and thought you might be able to direct me to an appropriate source.”

GM: Jade sees no one else.

“Of cawhse, Miss Kulani, I’d be happy tuh,” says the Malkavian. “But let’s get her a cahd first. Fahwst, last, and middle name?”

Celia: Jade blinks. She’d thought that Clairmont meant Alana or “Celia.” She looks down at her bag, then pulls out the doll.

“For Lucy, you mean?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “I presume you ah the parent oah guahdian.”

Celia: “I am.”

GM: “What awh her middle and last names?”

Celia: Jade hesitates. Then, “Diana. Flores.”

GM: Clairmont types into the computer. “So that’s Lucy Diahna Flawes?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: Some more taps of the keyboard.

“Okay. How about…”

Date of birth.

Gender would probably go here, but Clairmont doesn’t ask for it.

Mailing address.

City.

Postal code.

Home phone number.

Work phone number isn’t needed.

Does she live inside city limits?

Celia: Jade provides the relevant information. Lucy lives with her, so most of it is the same as what she provided.

GM: “Ah you shoah that’s right? She doan look older than sixteen, seventeen?” asks Clairmont after the pre-1989 birth date Jade provides.

She looks at Lucy.

“Oah, of cawse. Silly me.”

“We’ll go with the final date, then.”

Her fingers tap over the keyboard.

Celia: Jade’s eyes sweep back and forth between the pair as they… talk.

“You see and hear her,” she says.

GM: Clairmont keeps typing into the computer.

“I need tuh enter her infawmation. Yuh can’t have a library cahd without all the infawmation.”

Celia: Jade just nods.

She lets the librarian do her thing, providing what details she can.

GM: Clairmont enters it all, then disappears into the back. She returns with a laminated card that Jade is asked to sign, despite the birth date being for 1988.

October 10th, 1988.

Jade does some mental math.

Exactly 40 weeks, or three trimesters, to the day, before Celia was born.

Celia: “The final date?” Jade echoes.

Her release from the house?

GM: “That’s right,” Clairmont agrees. “Please sign foah her, ma’am, as the parent oah guahdian.”

Celia: Jade does as asked, still trying to figure out what it all means.

Maybe if she hadn’t torped Elyse she could have just asked her.

GM: “Heeuh you ah, young lady, you ah now a library patron,” Clairmont smiles at Lucy as she extends the card.

“Yes. That’s very bad. I’m sahry.”

She looks at Jade. “Would you like to hold onto it foah her, ma’am?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Seeing as she doesn’t have big enough pawckets.”

Celia: “Of course,” Jade says, extending her hand for the card. She slips both of the new cards into her purse.

She can’t help but feel like she’s missing part of the conversation.

GM: “I doan think they know, or maybe they do know. I can’t ask them that, because, you know.”

“Do you want to check out any books foah her, ma’am?”

“What’s it like?”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade says softly, “I fear I’m missing part of the conversation.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sahwy,” Clairmont apologizes. “Do you want tuh check out any books foah her, ma’am?”

“It must be very boring.”

Celia: “Is there anything in particular she’d like to read?” Her eyes rest on the doll.

GM: “I’m not shoah. She wants tuh read it and she doesn’t. It’s vahy strange!”

Celia: “Maybe we could get it in case she decides she does?”

GM: “Okay. Excuse me.”

Clairmont disappears and returns several minutes later with an armful of books, including Pride and Prejudice. It’s Diana’s favorite book. She sets them down on the desk.

Celia: Jade touches the tips of her fingers to the book, recalling all the times she has seen her mother with a copy of it in hand.

“Miss Clairmont, Lucy and I have had some difficulty communicating with each other recently. I know she has something to tell me, but not what. Is there any chance you can assist?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Which one of yoah, Miss Kalani?”

“Would they like library cahds too?”

Celia: “With… me, I think.”

She looks around, as if expecting to see the others beside her.

GM: She and Clairmont appear alone in the library but for Lucy.

“Yes, yes, youh have a cahd, I’m asking if they’d like ones.”

Celia: “Ah, I meant that I think her words were for me. One of them has a card. The other… prefers being read to.”

GM: Clairmont nods agreeably. “Okay. But it nevuh hurts tuh have a cahd.”

“Okay. I’ll take youh word fah it.”

“That’s intahesting. Is thahe more in you? Youh seem more real.”

Celia: “Just the three, I think.”

GM: “It must hurt, though.”

Celia: “To have multiples? Not necessarily. They’re like… built-in friends.”

True enough for what the Malkavian means, she thinks. Jade—Celia—doesn’t actually have multiple personalities. Of course she doesn’t. She just has multiple identities, personas and masks she can slip into depending on what she needs and how a conversation flows. Jade, Celia, Leilani.

…and the others. Star. Violet. Lilly. Neveah. Heather now. All of whom have built in stories, friends, lovers, careers… just like Jade does. Just like Celia does. Leilani to a lesser extent; she is, perhaps, the least developed of them all, but that comes from being sheltered and coddled her entire life, and there are few enough situations in her Requiem where such a persona can flourish.

They’re just masks, aren’t they?

But what about Elyse’s words, Lucy’s announcement that she’s pregnant with more sisters? What about the dolls, Lotus and Blossom and Princess, what about the iris and the bleeding heart? What about the male form she’d taken to fuck herself? The nameless doll that might be part of her more than either one of them realize?

Masks, all of them. There’s nothing more to it than that. She’s in control. She picks who interacts with whom.

That’s all it is.

GM: Of course it is.

She’s in control.

She created them, didn’t she?

“Oh, I meant hah. But I had a friend who had multiples, too. They kept hah safe. She died in Kahtrina. That was sad. We doan stick around like they do.”

Celia: They keep Celia safe, too.

“The multiples stick around?”

GM: “It depends. Only if they’re born before yuh die.”

“Usually.”

Celia: Part of her will be around forever, even if she’s dead. It’s an interesting thought.

GM: “Aftuh all, things can happen to them, like with Lucy.”

Celia: “Lucy was a multiple?”

GM: Clairmont nods. “Is a multiple.”

Celia: “And she was separated from her host.”

GM: “I doan think she likes it in there.”

Celia: “In the doll?”

GM: “Would youh like tuh be stuck in a doll?”

Celia: “No. I didn’t realize she was… stuck.”

“This is one of Lady Interpreter Benson’s creations,” Jade continues, “I thought she… was just that.”

GM: “Oh yes, I could tell,” nods Clairmont. “Elyse does vahy good wuhk.”

Celia: “Lucy was cleaved from her host and stuffed inside the doll?”

GM: “It’s more that she died, youh see.”

Celia: “She died,” Jade echoes.

GM: “We all die a little,” says Clairmont. “But sometimes we die more, youh know?”

Celia: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow. Can you explain?”

GM: “Well, youh look like youh died at least… oh, fouh times? Moah? I can’t really tell from here.”

Celia: “How could I die more than once, though…?”

GM: “That’s why youh should play it safe, get multiple cahds,” Clairmont nods.

“Do Lucy’s multiples have cahds? I’m not shoah how many she has.”

Celia: “I’m not certain. I didn’t realize there was more than Lucy.”

GM: “Of cawhse there are! People doan get born inside dolls.”

Celia: “I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how Lucy came to be.”

“Can you… help?”

GM: “Well, I’m bettah at death than birth, except when dying is how someone gets bahn.”

“Like heah, but not always.”

Celia: “Anything more than I know now would be of assistance.”

GM: “Youh get it bettah thane most of them do,” Clairmont nods, “but youh still have a way to go. Hawlequin can help youh theuh.”

“I doan really know about the multiples, except when they die. He knows more about the multiples when they doan’t die.”

Celia: “What about Lucy, in particular? If you can communicate with her and I am unable to right now? She gave me a message but hurt herself doing so, and I’d like to know what else she needs to tell me or how to fix it.”

GM: “Oh, well, she wants out.”

Celia: “A body, you mean?”

GM: “She really wants out.”

Celia: “I don’t know how to do that.”

GM: “That’s the point,” Clairmont nods.

“Elyse does vahy good work.”

Celia: “So you mean that Elyse trapped Lucy inside this doll when her host when to visit the Wedding Cake House. And there are multiple others inside the host, or inside Lucy, and they want out.”

GM: “I doan know without seeing the host, and they’d need tuh have died, anyway, or youh should see Hawlequin.”

Celia: “Okay.” Jade nods. “Thank you.”

GM: “Hawlequin knows about the multiples who haven’t died, like I said.”

“Lucy has died, so that’s how it is.”

“Also, she wants a Diahna tuh get her out.”

Celia: “Diana is afraid of her.”

GM: Clairmont shrugs.

Celia: “Is Diana the only one who can get her out?”

GM: “Well it’s a quesshun of can and a quesshun of how and a quesshun of what, and only Diahna ticks all three bawxes.”

“Which makes perfect sense.”

“Would you want uh strangah tuh take care of youah multiples? Or to do it youhself?”

“Are youh sure you doan want cahds for them all?”

Celia: “I think two out of three is enough for me, considering the last doesn’t read as much as she enjoys being read to. But there is something else you can assist with, if you don’t mind?”

GM: “Okay, what’s that?”

Celia: “It’s that research project I mentioned earlier. There’s just something I came across that I thought you might know, or might have heard of, that I haven’t.”

GM: “All right, what is it?”

Celia: “Glinko?”

GM: “I’d have tuh research that.”

Celia: Jade nods. “I couldn’t find much online, but I thought if anyone had the knowledge or the ability to find out more it’d be you. Do you keep archives of newspapers?”

GM: Clairmont nods in turn. “Yes, we have microfiche records.”

“I like those.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I browse? There was an incident a number of years ago I’d like to look into.”

GM: She nods again. “Youh have a library cahd, ma’am, go ahead.”

“We close at dawn.”

“Foah the aftuh-hours patrons.”

Celia: Jade beams at Clairmont.

“Thank you very much for your assistance.”

GM: She looks to the side. “Oh. Youh think?”

“Well yes, I am a librarian.”

“I just thought.”

“Okay.”

Celia: Jade waits for a polite moment to excuse herself, making sure she doesn’t cut off Clairmont or one of her wraiths. She carries Lucy with her as