Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Celia VII, Chapter VI
Last Ditch Help

“We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Draco drops off Jade at Diana’s house. The hour must be late, as the lights inside are all off.

Jade: Jade checks the time on his dash before she gets out. She makes sure to get a time and location to meet him for the day as well and thanks him kindly for the lift.

She gets the bag out of the back of the car first and slings it over her shoulder, then leans back into the front seat to wrap the baby ghoul in the blanket before bringing the child into her arms. A bit of shadow dancing and no one will even notice the child in her arms.

GM: It’s around 2 AM.

He provides her with both.

Jade: They’d spent a decent chunk of time together this evening. She wishes him well for his evening and mentions that even Savoy told her not to trust the snakes.

GM: Draco offers a cold smile to Savoy’s secondhand advice.

“Don’t trust anyone,” he replies, then drives off.

Jade: His call. Once she’s out of the car, he’s not her problem.

Getting into the house is.

Jade knocks.

GM: No one answers from the presumably sleeping house.

Jade: There’s an unlocked window or a key hidden somewhere. No matter how many times Celia had told her mother not to, the woman just couldn’t help leaving one out for wayward children.

Jade searches for it.

GM: She finds concealed in a more clever hiding spot behind a loose brick in the gate.

It was Emily’s idea. No “under the welcome mat” for her.

Not that the porch-less and stair-elevated house has a welcome mat.

Jade: Clever.

Jade lets herself in.

GM: The house is dark and silent inside.

Silent until Shadow gives a furious hiss, the calico cat’s tail immediately going as thick as a beaver’s.

Jade: Jade turns toward the noise. There’s something… familiar about it. Something that calls to her. She crouches, making a sound that isn’t quite human.

“Easy, boy.”

GM: The dark-faced calico stares for a moment, then blinks and settles back down on its haunches. The shrinking tail curls around its side.

Jade: …interesting. Jade plans to explore more of this later. Now, though, she asks the cat to keep her company while she moves through the house to find Celia’s mother.

GM: The cat rises and silently pads after the vampire, a literal Shadow at her side.

Diana’s bedroom sits empty, but Jade finds the woman asleep with Lucy in the latter’s room, arms wrapped around the child. Her face bears lines of grief and perhaps even age that were not present yesterday. Sleep looks as if it brings her little peace.

Lucy’s sleep, too, looks less than well. The girl’s face is buried against her stuffed lion, Aslan.

The bunny nightlight glows from the corner, as do the smiley-faced stars pressed to the walls and ceiling, their soft light all too unable to keep the monsters at bay.

Jade: Jade may not have a mother, but the sight of the two together still sends relief rippling through her. Celia has enough problems without losing the rest of her family. For the moment she lets them sleep, backing out of the door to step into Diana’s bedroom with the baby and the bag. She sets the sleeping child on the bed and rummages through Diana’s closet for something suitable. While she searches, she keeps half of her attention on Shadow. The sounds that she makes are more feline than human.

“Tell me about the women. Their actions today.”

GM: Shadow springs onto the bed and pads around on the covers.

“They were slower feeding me.”

“They didn’t come when I called.”

“Except for the little one.”

“But she doesn’t feed me.”

Jade: Amusement flickers across her face. No doubt the cat “called” when he was hungry, making a racket to their attention. She’s heard it before.

“Did they have visitors?”

GM: “The girl came back. She scratched and petted me.”

“I marked her with my scent.”

Jade: “Which girl?”

GM: “The one who smells like white flowers.”

Shadow does another lap around the bedcovers before finding a satisfactory spot to settle down.

“You may now scratch my chin.”

Jade: White flowers? There are a lot of white flowers and they all smell differently. Which white flowers?

She finds an outfit while the cat makes his laps and laughs aloud at the order. Jade takes a seat on the bed, reaching out to scratch Shadow’s chin. She can’t remember the last time she touched a cat.

“How often does White Flower Girl come by?”

GM: It’s been a very long time.

The cat’s eyes slowly blink under Jade’s scratching fingers. A purr sounds from its throat.

“Her smell is familiar. It became part of my territory. Then she left.”

Jade: Oh. Dani.

She’d said she was stopping by.

Because she can’t keep her nose out of anything, can she. ’I’m going to tell Diana that you’re all the same person.’

This. This is why Jade hadn’t told anyone.

Because none of them keep their mouths shut.

GM: A perhaps predictable reaction after she felt betrayed and manipulated by Celia.

“You may now scratch behind my ears.”

Jade: Jade moves her fingers to behind the cat’s ears.

“Is the older girl in her den?”

GM: Shadow blinks long and slow.


“Scratch lower.”

Jade: “I am taking the young girl and the mother away this evening. We will be back before it is time to feed you.”

Jade moves her hand.

“Will you watch over the sleeping cub?”

GM: The cat arches its back as it gets up, then rubs its head along Jade’s flank several times, marking her with its scent.

“You are now mine.”

Shadow turns and pads over to Harper, then rubs a head along the sleeping child’s back.

“It is now mine.”

The cat paces around the bedcovers again, then finds another comfortable spot to settle back down.

Jade: Cats are delightful.

Jade rises to remove her pajamas and slip into something more suitable for a lick. Diana’s fashion choices differ from hers, but Celia will be the one wearing the face and clothing this evening.

She finds Diana’s phone plugged into the wall on her nightstand and uses it to make a quick call to Alana to check in.

GM: The phone asks her to trace a pattern before it unlocks.

Jade: Diana had given it to her yesterday when she borrowed the phone. She traces the pattern.

GM: Alana answers groggily and sounds like she’s been woken up in the middle of the night. She found some paperwork in Celia’s office about transferring ownership of the spa, as well as all of Celia’s assets. What’s going on there?

Other than that, the ghoul reports things are fine.

Jade: Jade tells her not to worry about it, that it was a misunderstanding. She can shred the papers. She asks if her packages came in and if she has heard from the boys.

GM: A new phone indeed arrived for Celia. She has not heard from the boys.

Jade: They’re turning into a headache.

Jade asks where Alana is and where the packages are. She’ll swing by to get them later.

When she’s done with the work she uses her charm to calm and soothe the child in case there’s any lingering pain and asks Shadow if he’ll mind cuddling it until it falls asleep.

It. She’s referred to the child as “it” this whole time. She.

Or he. Wouldn’t that give her more anonymity? Who would suspect that Jade changed a baby’s race and sex?

Perhaps that’s a step too far.

The work didn’t take long, anyway, with so little actual body to work with.

Jade turns away from the child to pull an outfit from the closet, a soft pink skirt and ivory blouse with sensible kitten heels.

GM: Harper wakes up as Jade feeds her the pill, dumbly swallowing it down. She probably doesn’t feel anything, after that. Maybe it’s just the unfamiliar sensation under this unfamiliar woman’s strange touch in an unfamiliar place that causes the baby to suddenly start crying.

It’s distracting, especially when the baby starts weakly flailing her arms and limbs.

Jade supposes she’s had worse “patients”, though.

Like Celia’s ex.

Granted, he remained completely motionless.

Jade: He’d also had a stake in his chest.

Though he’d handled it quite well without, too.

It really is a shame the little bitch fucked it all up with her half-truths. Draco is far more interesting than who he’d been before.

And there’s so much she can do with him if he’s on her side…

Jade sighs at the child like it’s her fault things turned out the way they have. She takes a hit from the vitae they’d collected from the thin-blood and filters it through her body before biting into her wrist to give to the child.

GM: The bedroom light suddenly switches on. Celia’s mother stands at the doorway, dressed in a nightgown, and carrying a carving knife. She looks awful, for all the work Celia has done on her. Woken up at 2 AM the night after learning her daughter is dead. The same shadow Celia saw on Henry’s face is dark across Diana’s.

She looks at the baby, then looks at Jade’s face.

Her grip on the knife does not slacken.

“Explain this. Right now.”

Harper cries louder.

Jade: “Mrs. Flores,” Jade says smoothly. “Celia has asked me to handle some things for her. She will be out in a moment to speak with you.”

She looks down at the child.

“I am trying to rehabilitate this one. She has lost her mother, a despicable lick who has tormented her for years. Celia and I believe we can help her make the transition into a normal life, but—oh, sweetheart,” Jade murmurs to the child as it cries louder, pulling her up into her arms to tuck its face against her chest. She murmurs sweet nothings into the baby’s ear as she reaches out with her clan’s gift to blunt its emotions.

GM: Just like that, the baby shuts up, tears still wet on her face.

Diana’s face, though, is not nearly so placid. She continues to walk closer, carving knife gripped in hand. Her voice sounds like stone.

“You do not have my permission to be here. To be this close to Lucy.”

The woman’s gaze is deathly intent. She has no eyes for this stranger’s baby. Only the child she has just named.

Leave. Or I will make you.”

Jade: Jade’s eyes meet Diana’s. Instinct demand that she snarl, bare her fangs, put this kine in her place. But this is Celia’s mother, and Celia has lost enough. Will continue to lose more.

Jade dips her head in deferment.

“As you wish, Mrs. Flores. My apologies for dropping in. I had not meant to violate our agreement.”

She turns, as if to leave out the window.

Celia: When she turns again it’s Celia’s face on her body, large eyes staring at her mother.

“Momma,” she says, “I’m sorry.”

GM: Diana stares ahead. Perhaps at Celia. Perhaps at the window. She grips the knife and says nothing. It is hard to say what thoughts swim in her head.

Celia: “I didn’t mean to surprise you.”

“I… I meant to come by earlier, but things went sideways, and I… I didn’t know where else to go.”

She swallows, a human reflex she no longer has need for, but it conveys her apprehension all the same.

GM: Harper suddenly starts crying again. A foul smell fills the room.

Diana dully blinks, sets down the knife, and moves to take the baby.

Celia: Celia blinks down at the child. Then she, too, starts to cry. When Diana reaches for her she hands over Harper.

She rummages through the diaper bag for a fresh diaper, assuming that’s what the girl needs.

GM: Celia’s mother carries Harper into the bathroom and proceeds to change the baby’s soiled diaper with the rote movements of a mom who’s done this in the middle of the night… probably way too many times, after six kids. She cleans Harper’s bottom under water, towels her off, applies some baby powder from the cabinet, and fixes on the clean diaper provided by Celia.

Harper cries the entire time.

Celia: “She won’t stop crying,” Celia says, wringing her hands as she follows Diana through the house. She does it again, reaching out with her gift to blunt the child’s emotions, but it always seems to be a bandaid rather than a cure.

She tries another gift, using it on herself rather than the child, letting Harper know that she can trust Celia. That she’s a friend. That she’ll help.

GM: Harper keeps crying. Celia’s latest use of star mode doesn’t seem to inspire much change there.

“Celia, what is this,” her mother says in a dully exhausted voice. She fits the baby into the crook of her arm and starts slowly rocking her back and forth.

Celia: “It’s a really bad situation,” Celia says quietly, “and I’m trying to fix it so she can have a normal life. Or any life.”

GM: “Well, that’s why she’s crying.”

“And because she’s a baby.”

“They cry.”

Celia: “Lucy didn’t cry this much.”

GM: “Celia… of course she didn’t,” Diana says in a too-tired-to-explain tone as she rocks the child.

“Where is this girl’s mother. She should be with her.”

“Mother. Caregiver. Whoever.”

Celia: “Missing,” Celia says, because that’s all she knows.

GM: “Has she eaten?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “Probably not for a while. I don’t have…” she makes a vague gesture toward her chest. “I think there’s formula in the bag, I can check.”

GM: The long-time mom shakes her head at that idea.

“She looks maybe… 18 months? That’s too old for formula. Go to the fridge, grab whatever produce is handy, and stick it in the blender with some water. Doesn’t need to be a lot.”

“18 months is old enough to handle table food, for that matter. But we’ll start her off easy. I don’t know where she’s at developmentally if she’s from a bad home.”

“Actually, go with fruit. Something sweeter might be easier to coax her into eating.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia nods, moving into the kitchen to do just that. She searches the fridge for available produce, unsure what’s best for the child, and finally finds a selection of fruit like her mother said. She cuts it into small pieces and puts it in the blender with water, then pours it into one of Lucy’s plastic cups. She brings it back to her mom.

GM: She finds some strawberries and mangoes. There’s also bananas outside the fridge. She hears her mom singing to the still-crying child in the living room when she gets back.

“We need a spoon, sweetie,” says Diana. “She might spill a cup.”

Celia: “Oh.” She leaves the cup and locates a spoon to bring back.

GM: Diana sets Harper down on the couch, swaddles her with her blanket, and coaxes her with the spoon, but she isn’t interested. She keeps crying.

Celia: Blood.

That’s what she really wants.

Diana had interrupted Jade before she could give her any.

“Here,” Celia says, biting into her wrist and extending it toward the child.

GM: Her mother’s gaze rivets to the welling blood, for just a moment, before it meets Celia’s eyes.

“Celia—are you insane?!” she whispers furiously.

Celia: Well, yes.

“She’s already an addict,” Celia says hotly. “It’s not like this is the first hit.”

GM: “And if someone’s been shot once you don’t keep shooting them. You call 911.”

Her mother shakes her head.

“Christ almighty. God in heaven almighty. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Who would do this to a baby.”

Celia: “I can’t not give it to her or she’s going to age very quickly in a very short time and die.”

GM: Harper gives a scream and lunges for the wrist. Diana presses a hand to the baby’s chest, holding her at bay.

“What!?” Celia’s mother repeats.

“This stuff is heroin! You do not give heroin to a baby!”

Celia: “She’s been stuck like that for years. I’m trying to find a way to fix it. Slow down the aging so she can have a normal life.”

“And I know, Mom, I didn’t. Someone else did and I wanted to help.”

GM: Harper keeps crying her head off.

“So what happens? If she misses a dose? You said it… stops aging, but for a baby?”

Celia: Celia nods. “She’s been frozen for years. If it wears off she’ll rapidly catch up to where she should be and the shock of it will put too much of a strain on her body for her to handle it. People aren’t meant to grow that much that quickly.”

GM: Diana looks like someone just punched her in the gut. Equal parts shock, horror, and incredulity dance across her haggard face.

Harper wails.

“God forgive us. Give her some, then. God forgive us.”

Celia’s mother closes her eyes and traces the cross.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia murmurs, but she doesn’t know who she’s apologizing to anymore. She feeds the child with the blood from her body.

GM: Just like that, faster than the softest and sweetest nursery rhyme Diana ever sang to Lucy, Harper shuts up. The baby clings to her wrist and mindlessly sucks.

It’s like a flipped switch. Lucy never calmed down that fast.

Diana looks like her heart is breaking on her face.

She finally looks away, leaning her head into her hand.

Celia: It’s like feeding any other ghoul, Celia tells herself. She’s saving her life, Celia tells herself. She’s fixing someone else’s mistake, Celia tells herself.

GM: Harper just sucks contently.



“Celia. How in God’s name does anyone fix this,” sounds her mother’s voice.

Celia: “I thought I could find a way she could age more slowly, and make sure she hit all the right milestones, and work with a psychologist or something…”

GM: “This is… this is above my department,” Diana repeats slowly, shaking her head.

“This poor, poor baby…”

“What happened to her, Celia? Who did this? Does she have anyone else?”

Diana waits until Celia is done ‘feeding’ Harper, then tries to interest the baby in another spoonful of pulped fruit. The woman’s eyes briefly flick towards her daughter’s wrist.

Celia: “I don’t think she has anyone else,” Celia says quietly while Harper sucks at her wrist. “And the person who found her thought the kindest thing to do would be to put her down gently. We don’t think she can have a normal life after this. There’s too much damage. I just… wanted to try, I guess, and now I wonder if I’m in over my head. I didn’t even know how to feed her… I don’t know if my plan will work, I don’t know if it will just be more painful.”

Celia trails off, bringing her wrist back to her mouth to lick the wound closed. She eyes her mother.

“Lucy’s memories need erased. I have someone that can do it, I just need to let her know I’m coming. The sooner the better. I don’t want her exposed to this life.”

GM: Harper doesn’t look very interested in the fruit at first, but eventually swallows a spoonful after some very patient coaxing from Diana.

“What do you mean, no normal life? What will it take to fix her?” she asks, dipping the spoon back into the cup. “But ‘putting down’ a baby, what a perfectly vile thing to say.”

Lucy’s name makes her pause in mid-action.

“And what do you mean, her memories erased?”

Celia: “I don’t know what she overheard last night between us. Then the fire. It should have been done last night but I let you two sleep instead, and I didn’t want you to wake up to see her gone. So we’ll cover her memories with something else, make her forget what she heard.”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Celia offers.

GM: “Celia, I don’t understand what you mean.”

Celia: “…which part?”

GM: “Covering her memories. Making her forget. That isn’t how it works, sweetie. She isn’t going to forget overnight.”

Celia: “There are powers that let us make people forget. I don’t know how, but I know someone who does.”

Celia pauses.

“Mom, do you remember flying across the city? Falling?”

“The morning you got sick.”

GM: “No, sweetie, I don’t.”

Lucy definitely isn’t going to forget overnight, though.

Celia hears it before she sees it. The faint intake of breathing.

She knows it before she hears the pitter-patter of little feet.

Lucy is out of bed.

Lucy has heard Harper’s unrelenting, minutes-long cries and screams.

Lucy is snooping.

Lucy is hearing things she should not hear.


Celia: The little snoop.

Celia becomes a blur of movement, out the door and down the hall to lift the child into her arms with a huff and a smile.

You,” she says to the girl in a teasing tone, “are going to give me gray hairs before my time, did you know that?”

She carries Lucy back into the bedroom with her mother.

“Guess who is up.”

GM: Lucy stares dumbly up at Celia with a minute inhalation of breath.

She’s silent as her sister scoops her up.

She looks at Harper, this crying baby who’s in their house without explanation. The subject of such pained and distraught and grim-sounding words uttered by the adults.

She looks at her mom, with her confused and wearied and pained face.

Then she starts crying.

Celia: Celia’s face crumples. She hadn’t meant to scare her.

GM: “Oh, Luce, Luce, Luce…” murmurs Diana, picking the child up onto her lap. She hugs the six-year-old and strokes her back.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay…”

“Who’s… who’s that…” sniffs Lucy.

Diana opens her mouth as if to answer, then seemingly realizes she doesn’t know.

Celia: Celia glances at her mom, then back to Lucy.

“This is my friend’s baby. My friend is sick, very sick, and she asked me to look after her for a while. I’m sorry she woke you, Goose.”

GM: Lucy sniffs some more.

Diana comforts her. She asks Celia to feed the other “her”, not knowing Harper’s name.

That goes on for a few minutes.

Celia: Celia takes Harper from her mother and sets the child down on her lap, taking over with the feeding. She has to coax her into taking each bite.

“Abigail,” she says to Lucy, “but I just call her Abi.”

GM: ‘Abigail’ seems less interested when it’s coming from Celia. She was never around for any of Lucy’s early feedings.

“We’re gonna go visit Emi, okay, Goose,” her mother says. “Celia, you can watch Abi, please.”

Diana’s gone for a few minutes, then comes back. Some of the adrenaline looks like it’s worn off. Her voice is number, or at least more tired again when she resumes feeding ‘Abigail’.

“Celia. This cannot go on.”

“Lucy seeing and hearing all of these things. Fires. Running out to stay at Randy’s. Babies in the middle of the night. Visits from Jade in the middle of the night.”

“This is not a stable home environment.”

Celia: “I know, Mom. I… honestly think it might be best for me to cut contact. I don’t know what else to do.”

GM: “No,” her mother declares dully between feeding ‘Abigail’ another spoonful of food. “I have lost one daughter. I am not losing another.”

Celia: “Then how do you want me to do this? Just not come by?”

GM: “We’ll decide something,” her mother says tiredly. “Later. This just cannot go on, the way it is.”

Celia: “I agree. We’ll figure something out and stick to that. I never meant to interrupt your life with any of this. That’s why I lied about it for so long.”

“But listen.”

“Let’s take Lucy to see my friend, she’ll alter the memories, we cover our bases there, and then we’ll figure out the rest.”

GM: “Who is the friend. Is he or she a vampire. Are there… side effects. Is there any way this could go wrong, and cause harm to Lucy.”

“Do you truly believe, this is the best option, for Lucy.”

Celia: “There are no side effects. Not unless someone rifles through her mind. But if she doesn’t know anything, there’s no reason for her to be bothered. She’s a child.”

Celia shakes her head.

“I was exposed to them young, Mom. I remembered it for years. And now I’m dead. I’m trying not to repeat the same mistakes that someone else made with me. I don’t want this for her. I want her to be happy and healthy and ignorant of this.”

“It’s a gentle process. We’ll just tell her to remember something else. And yes, my friend is a vampire, she… I, ah, I don’t know if she’d want me sharing her identity, but you know her, and you’ve had positive interactions with her.”

GM: “I do not care what your friend wants,” Diana says exhaustedly.

“This is my child.”

“I will know who we are trusting with her.”

Celia: Celia supposes she can always have the Ventrue take this memory, too.


GM: Celia’s mom just keeps feeding ‘Abigail’.

“The gay girl. Fine.”

Celia: “She’s not gay.”

“I mean I guess she is but we’re dead, gender isn’t really a thing to us anymore.”

GM: Celia just gets the exhausted, past-caring stare of a sleep-deprived woman who lost her daughter not one day ago.

Celia: It’s never the right time to explain.

GM:If you think this is best. Okay. I am out of my depth. I want a normal life for Lucy. None of this.”

“We will go to Caroline.”

“I will be there the entire time.”

“Lucy will not once leave my sight.”

Celia: “Of course, Mom. It’ll be okay. I promise.”

GM: All Celia gets at that declaration is a hollow look.

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Diana picks up ‘Abigail’ and walks outside to Emily’s room. Celia hears voices. Doubtless, her sister is full of questions and opinions, as always.

But perhaps tonight she restrains them. Perhaps tonight she accepts necessity.

Or perhaps Diana refuses to put up with her. All Celia can tell is that her mother re-enters the house with Lucy and without ‘Abigail’ or Emily. She goes to her bedroom and throws on a dress, coat, and shoes. She dresses Lucy, next. She does not fix her hair or face. She looks awful. She doesn’t look as if she cares. She gets pepper spray and a kitchen knife to stick in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owns a gun she could bring too.

Celia: Celia uses her mother’s phone to call Caroline while Diana gets ready.

You don’t just drop by unannounced.

Celia lets Diana know not to mention Jade in front of Caroline or her people before she hits the “dial” button. No one is supposed to know.

Caroline: Caroline answers: she was generous enough to provide Celia with her direct line, rather than the one to her assistant. She provides a time. She hints that her price, such as it is, remains the same.

GM: Diana holds Lucy’s hand, at first, then finally just scoops up the sleepy-looking child into her arms. She tells Celia to get the keys to the Beetle and drive for them. She sits in the back with Lucy. Rain pelts against the car’s windows. Lucy nods off. Her face does not look peaceful in sleep, even with her mother’s hand running over her head. Her mother’s face looks worse.

With ‘Abigail’ gone, and her child asleep in the dark car, driving towards another vampire, what maternal instinct seemingly animated Celia’s mother gives way to that same look as when she found Jade in her bedroom at 2 AM. She looks grim. She looks numb. She looks weary. She looks grieving.

She looks like she’s thinking about Isabel, and all of the things that could have been said and done that were not said and done. Because how could she not think about those things on a dark and rainy car ride in the middle of the night.

She’s brought pepper spray and a kitchen knife in her purse. Perhaps she wishes she owned a gun she could bring too.

She does not look away from Lucy.

She does not speak.

The drive passes in silence but for the patter of the rain.

Celia: Celia has one stop to make in the Beetle before they hit the CBD. She’s in and out in two minutes, leaving her mother in the car. She returns with a purse. Then the drive across Canal to the Giani Building, and Celia kills her aura. She doesn’t want to get picked up for trespassing before she’s had a chance to even do anything.

GM: Diana finally breaks the dark silence to ask if there are further things, for Lucy’s and their family’s safety, she should not speak of.

Celia: Emily. Dani. Stephen. That Emily knows about any of this. Celia’s DID. That’s most of it, she thinks.

Oh. Abigail. Any of the other ghouls she keeps.

Or how long Celia has been a vampire.

“Honestly maybe just keep the topic to what’s at hand and pretend you don’t know much about me or what I get up to.”

Caroline: The Giani Building isn’t a far drive from the French Quarter, the building looming just over the border from Savoy’s domain.

There are no games this evening. There’s a familiar blonde in a pantsuit waiting for them in the lobby that gets them past a smiling doorman. The blonde looking perhaps a little worse for the wear than the last time Celia saw her, though she’s tried to cover up the dark circles with heavier makeup.

Celia: Celia greets her politely, announcing herself for Caroline’s… herald? Assistant? She’s not sure which function this one serves.

Caroline: The ghoul answers in kind, welcoming her to the Giani Building.

It’s a far cry from the reception Jade and her ghouls received. She’s even polite enough not to comment on bringing a child to a vampire’s haven in the dead of night.

She swipes a badge on the elevator and presses the button for the roof when everyone is inside. The ride up is quick.

The doors opens to reveal the Ventrue seated at a table inside beside the redhead from the Walter Robinson House. They’re hunched over a folder that snaps shut rapidly as the door opens.

“That’ll be all, Autumn,” she directs.

Celia: She steps forward to greet Caroline, outpacing mother and sister.

“Thank you for seeing me. I appreciate the quick response at the inconvenient time.”

GM: “All right, see you,” Autumn nods as she gathers the folder and gets up to leave.

The vampire’s mother looks terrible. Physically and otherwise. She looks like she’s gotten out of bed after hearing some of the worst news of her life. The look on her face is not a dissimilar look to the one Caroline’s mother wore after Westley’s death. Before her own.

She was all smiles and sweetness at the Walter Robinson House.

She has no smiles tonight.

Lucy doesn’t look so alive as she did there, either. She looks sleepy and scared. She clings to her grandmother’s side.

She reminds Caroline of Simmone.

Caroline: “There’s never a convenient time in my experience,” Caroline offers gently.

She can read the room.

“Please, have a seat,” she extends the offer to all the guests with a wave of her hand.

“I know it’s late.”

GM: “Thank you,” Mrs. Flores responds tonelessly. She sits and pulls Lucy onto her lap.

The child ventures a glance up at Caroline, but doesn’t speak.

Celia: Celia watches Autumn go, then takes a seat between her family and Caroline. As if she’s decided that Caroline is a threat she needs to protect her family against and putting herself between them will amount to anything.

Her tired smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

Why, she asks herself again, did she turn to Caroline rather than Lebeaux?

Because his sire lied to you and turned you in for infernalism.


“My mom knows,” she says without preamble.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Oh.”

She turns her gaze from Celia to Diana. “I imagine that was rather quite the shock.”

GM: Mrs. Flores looks more numb than shocked.

A moment passes before she responds.

“She’s still my daughter.”

Caroline can picture the dance teacher at her mother’s house laughing and making a quip about something.

Caroline: The heiress smiles tightly. “Of course she is.”

She looks between Celia and Mrs. Flores.

Celia: “She took it well,” Celia offers. “Only it’s been a little hectic, and, ah, Lucy kind of overheard some things.”

GM: The child remains very quiet.

Mrs. Flores squeezes her hand.

Caroline: “Ah,” Caroline answers.

“Some of the things we discuss aren’t things children should hear about.” She runs her tongue across her teeth.

“I presume that’s the favor you wanted?”

GM: “We want her to have a normal life,” says Mrs. Flores.

“Monsters under the bed don’t need to be real.”

Lucy turns away and plants her head against her grandmother.

Caroline: With a vampire mother, vampire aunt, and a ghoul grandmother. I’m certain it’ll be totally normal, Caroline doesn’t say.

“I can get behind that.”

GM: Mrs. Flores wraps wraps her arms around the girl.

“Celia says you can take away the bad memories.”

Celia: “I thought it would be the best way to prevent any more of… this. Any interference. I was exposed young and I’d rather Lucy not be.”

Caroline: “I can,” Caroline answers. “Within reason. It requires some knowledge. Some planning. It doesn’t always take in the long run—it’s not quite the blunt instrument some people use it for. The more precise I can be in what I’m looking for, in where things happened, in what their emotional state was at the time, the better a job I can do with it. The more likely it is to neatly smooth over.”

“The less careful, the less information, the more likely that it becomes a sort of mental scab that they’ll pick at. It’s not actually that dissimilar to surgery in that way.”

“It’s good that Celia brought you here. There are a fair number of people that don’t use quite the same gentle touch.”

To say nothing of the fair number that would charge an arm and a leg for it.

GM: “Lucy was awake when we thought she was in bed and asleep,” says Mrs. Flores. “Can you just tell her that she was sleeping?”

Celia: “I don’t know if it works like that, Mom,” Celia says, but she looks to Caroline for confirmation. “Unless she thinks the whole thing is a weird dream or nightmare.”

Caroline: Caroline nods with Celia and turns to meet Mrs. Flores’ gaze.

“I could, Mrs. Flores, simply paper them over with bad dreams. Assuming you could tell me which dates and times we were talking about. But I suspect if I did so, it’s the sort of thing that she’d pick at for years in the back of her mind. People are good at detecting falsehoods, understanding when things don’t match with how they should have felt. Especially if you give them enough time and similar situations, if that makes sense.”

She gives a sharp smile. “It’s much better to find something that fits neatly into the context—for instance, a homophobic woman walking in on two women together.”

GM: Mrs. Flores silently follows Caroline at first, then frowns sharply.


Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into an imitation of her grandmother’s.

Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t fade. “When done properly, you align emotional state to memory, and the person in question doesn’t think twice about what they now believe they remember.”

GM: “You’ve been in my head,” Mrs. Flores states slowly. There’s no fear in her voice, though, but what sounds like growing anger.

Caroline: “Once before,” Caroline admits.

“I don’t make a habit of it, but it was better than the alternative. I use the example to illustrate the point.”

GM: Mrs. Flores’ eyes narrow.

“I see. And what was that alternative?” she asks in a low voice.

Caroline: If Caroline notices the anger, she doesn’t react to it. “The damaging of your daughter’s Masquerade, and the dragging of you and your family into this world.”

GM: Mrs. Flores doesn’t look away from her.

“Did you know and approve of this, Celia?”

Celia: “I knew of it,” Celia says quietly, “but I didn’t ask her to. You walked in on the two of us. And later that night was, ah, was when some worse stuff happened, so I thought it would be better to focus on that.”

“I got in trouble for trespassing. The sheriff threw you off the roof to make a point. I was more worried about him killing you than making you forget your daughter has lesbian tendencies.”

“Then you got sick. And Maxen came back. And everything else happened.”

GM: “You will not attempt to break inside my head again. Ever. I have had enough vampires in my head without my consent. If you do, I will know, and I will make you dearly regret it. Are we understood?” Celia’s mother tells Caroline.

Celia: …oh yeah, this was a great idea.

Her ghouled mother threatening the prince’s childe, what could go wrong?

“Mom, why don’t you let me talk to Caroline alone for a minute.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes flash, and not kindly.

Celia: Celia rises.

“Let’s take a walk, yeah? Outside? So we can discuss this.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t rise. She calls over to the blonde they arrived with, still waiting by the elevator.

“They’ll be leaving now, Widney.”

“Good luck with your granddaughter, Mrs. Flores. I’m certain your daughter can find someone else more understanding. I might suggest you move quickly—few of us can do more than a day or two into the past. I also recommend you keep a civil tongue in your head with them. Very few of us are as forgiving as I am.”

She turns to Celia. “Celia, I look forward to hearing about how you resolved this by tomorrow night. I would hate to have to report this sort of ugly Masquerade breach to the Krewe. You know how unreasonable they can be, and how seriously they take this sort of thing.”

Celia: The color drains from her face. She rounds on her own mother, hurt and anger in her eyes.

“Mom,” she hisses, “stop it. We came to her for help. She didn’t hurt you. She doesn’t know what you’ve been through or why what she did has such an impact on you. You don’t threaten people who are trying to help you. Apologize. Now. Please.”

She can’t tell the Krewe. She can’t. Lucy and Emily will both be in trouble.

Celia whirls toward Caroline.

“Caroline. Please. How many boons? I’ll pay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for her outburst. She didn’t mean to threaten you. She’s had a really rough few nights, she’s never been around other licks before. Can we just talk about this, please? Privately?”

GM: Mrs. Flores wordlessly rises from seat and picks up Lucy. Caroline’s words stiffen the dance teacher’s spine until her daughter cuts in.

The ‘please’ seems to be what finally does it.

“I will give the benefit of the doubt,” she says slowly, “that you wanted to do right. That you wanted to keep my family and I out of… this world. I’ve had other vampires abuse me. Stay out of my head and I’ll have no bone to pick with you. I learned yesterday that one of my children is dead. I don’t want anything to happen to Lucy. She’s innocent. She’s six. She’s done nothing. Please help us. I just want her to live a normal life.”

Widney looks expectantly towards Caroline, as if to see whether her orders stand.

Celia: Celia also looks to Caroline, pleading with her eyes.

“I don’t trust anyone else with them. Please. I have something you might want.”

Caroline: When did I become this way? Caroline wonders.

When did she become so imperious? When did she let the arrogance seep in so far that a demand that she not rape another person’s mind was enough to set off her temper? When did she start viewing the kine as just that, not even people? As being not worthy of respect. As being she should threaten and lord over. As being she should punish physically for speaking out of turn.

The thought is short-lived.

She is what she is, what she has become. She’s become what she has to.

The kine’s words don’t touch her heart. They don’t warm it, or stir it. She has no sympathy for her buried child or past abuses she might have suffered.

There’s similarly no love for the girl cradled in her grandmother’s arms, and no bond between them and she. The list of mortals she genuinely cares for is preciously short. It costs her nothing to throw them out. It would make her feel powerful. It would free the time she’s earmarked for this meeting, spare her the use of the precious vitae she has so little spare time to acquire these nights.

But there is something with Celia. A bond of fathers, or of sires, or of experiences. It’s not the begging of the kine that moves her. It’s the begging of the Kindred.

“Mrs. Flores, I have none of the sadistic tendencies of many of my kind. So I will not, as many of them might, break into your mind and force you to cut off your granddaughter’s fingers one by one with a kitchen knife to prove a point about how you fit into this social hierarchy. But you would do well to remember that you are not even a person where we are concerned. I would be more likely to be held accountable for allowing that sort of arrogant trespass on your part to pass without response than for harming you or any member of your family. Those are the stakes of every meeting with a Kindred for every ghoul, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: Lucy finally starts crying in Diana’s arms.

Caroline: She rises and starts towards the roof.

“Quiet the child while the adults speak.”

GM: “Stop frightening the child if you don’t want her to cry,” Mrs. Flores glares back, rocking Lucy back and forth as she rubs the girl’s head.

“As for my ‘arrogance’, I’ll tell you this, Caroline. I know too well how vampires treat their ‘ghouls’ and that is not me. Not ever again. I am not part of your hierarchy. I am not part of your society. Celia and I are equals. If that’s offensive to how other vampires think, we will be happy to stay away from them.”

Celia: Silently, Celia wonders at the woman beside her. How far she has come from the broken wretch she was only nights ago, tormented and tortured into a shell of a person rather than this marvelous thing. Telling off a vampire in their own domain. Portraying herself as an equal.

Selling the story Celia had given her.

She touches a hand to Diana’s shoulder in quiet solidarity, though when she looks back to the Ventrue there’s apprehension in her eyes. Waiting for the derision, scorn, and contempt that so many of their kind would harbor for such a statement. She opens her mouth to speak before any more venom can be spit this evening.

“Momma, I’m going to make arrangements with her, we’ll be back in a moment.” Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s head as well, leaning in to murmur that it’s going to be okay. Then she follows the Ventrue out onto the roof proper.

GM: Celia’s mother raises no objection to that. Lucy gives a sniffled, “I wanna go home…” at Celia’s touch. “I know, Luce, I know,” murmurs Diana, stroking the child’s back.

Celia: She waits until they’re outside to break the silence.

“I’m sorry,” she begins. “I thought it might be better to not bring her, but she’s not letting Lucy out of her sight right now.”

Celia shoves a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like the almost-child she died as.

“I’m in over my head,” she admits, “and I don’t trust anyone else with them. I figured since you already knew about me…” She trails off into a sigh, then finally shakes her head. “She’s been through a lot the past few nights. Please excuse her rudeness.”

Caroline: Caroline offers the ghoul no further regard as she makes her way out onto the patio. The chilly night air helps clear her head, wash away the fury the ghoul inspires.

“You need to break her of it,” she almost snaps. “Before she gets herself killed.”

Celia: “What would you have me do,” she snaps back, “beat my own mother?”

Caroline: “If necessary. I’m sure Jade would be up to the task.”

Celia: Silence.

“She was,” Celia says bitterly. “How do you think I found out she was a Malkavian’s doll?”

Caroline: “Do you think your sire would be as forgiving as I have been?” Caroline asks pointedly.

Celia: Her laugh lacks humor.

“My sire would kill me if he knew I’d come here. I have no intention of bringing Diana into Kindred society.”

“If you’re not interested, then say so. Donovan will have no trouble erasing the memories and child both.”

Caroline: “It never works.” She shakes her head. “You try to keep them half-in, or mostly out, and they’re just drawn in, like moths to the flame.”

Celia: “You have a family,” Celia points out. “Sisters. A mother.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “And they, with the exception of my mother, are not a part of this world.”

“And she is more than capable of taking care of herself.”

Celia: The soul eater. Celia has heard all about her. Has had her tongue silenced from afar by the bitch.

“No doubt. I learned long before all of this that-”

GM: Celia’s next words die in her throat as she tries to speak.

Celia: Her mouth opens. Closes. Opens again.

No words come out.

Bemused, Celia sweeps her gaze across the city.

“Powerful,” she says.

Caroline: “There are parts of her life she keeps from even me,” Caroline answers.

“But I’m not surprised. She has no more affection for the life of any Kindred or kine not of her blood than you or I might for an insect.”

A beat of silence.

“How many nights of memories, for your sister?”

Celia: “Do any of us?” Celia asks in turn.


Caroline: A nod. “Since I presume neither of them is intended to serve as a vessel, you’ve got something else to offer?”

Celia: “Does one of them do it for you?” Celia asks with some amusement. “I’ve heard blue bloods are picky eaters.”

GM: It’s impossible to say for sure without a taste, but not unless the 6-year-old girl and 40-something schoolteacher are taking college courses.

Celia: “Happy to let you sink into me if not,” Celia adds, twirling a strand of hair around her finger.

Caroline: It’s not that it isn’t tempting.

“We know how your mother feels about that,” Caroline observes.

Celia: “Shame there’s no one around to make her forget.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Shame she’s made it so firm how she feels about that. And I do so tremble at the thought of a furious schoolteacher.”

Celia: Celia giggles.

“Next time, then.” She reaches into her purse, pulling out two containers of blood. “Two hits here,” she says, “and this one is… lucky.” She indicates the second.

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.

She hasn’t had great experiences with bottled vitae.

“What does lucky mean?”

Celia: Celia can’t help but smile.

“Thought that might get your attention. Things go well for you when you drink it. I’ve seen it firsthand, and I’ve experienced it myself. I watched a man lie down in traffic and cars swerved around him. I’ve seen him get picked up by ghouls whose weapons misfired and ricocheted off the walls to strike themselves in the knee. I’ve seen handcuffs meant to constrain him pop open.”

Her smile fades.

“I thought to use it to prevent love from slipping through my fingers, so I suppose like all magical things it doesn’t work that way. Otherwise, though, you’ll find yourself with the advantage in most situations. Just until you use it. Or drink from another source, I assume.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. She can think of more than a few uses for something like that.

The dimming of Celia’s smile snaps her back to the moment. “We don’t live in a world of fairy tales, just of monsters.”

“I need something else as well, from your mother.”

Celia: “From my mother?”

The words make her immediately wary.


Caroline: “Simmone is in a delicate place. Your mother is one of the few people she trusts outside the family. It would be better if she didn’t go anywhere. I’m certain her introduction into this world will pull at her desires, but I want her to remain Simmone’s teacher. For at least a year.”

Celia: Silence lingers.

“Her leg needs repaired,” Celia says at length. “The old injury has flared up, which is part of why I pushed her to stop. I’m working with a night doctor to make it happen. The bone she needs will be harvested tonight.”

A brief pause.

“She won’t be harmed while in your domain. The Garden District, or your home.”

GM: Cécilia told Caroline that Mrs. Flores was canceling the lessons on account of her personal health a little while ago. She referred them to another dance teacher who she said she’d known for decades and would be a great instructor.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “We’ll extend all hospitality to her, and expect her to return it in kind. I’m certain you’ll give her no cause to seek anything more than the lessons in my mother’s home.”

Celia: Celia’s flashed smile contains fangs.

“I have no desire to tangle with your mother.”

“Or you,” she adds. “Not in that way, at least.” The smile turns sly.

“And you’ll keep her employment at McGehee to yourself. I’ve no wish for another visit from the prince’s agents.”

Caroline: “My sire has rather more important matters to see to than a ghoul with no desire to interact with Kindred society. Unless she finds herself engaged in some manner of behavior untoward, I have no reason to point them to her.”

To say nothing of how few of her sire’s agents would care for anything she had to say.

Celia: “I’d assumed,” Celia says with a nod, “but I’d rather not take the risk with her life. She’s been through more than enough.”

She’s quiet a moment, then adds, “If your sister needs a playmate, and my mother accepts, Lucy might offer some measure of companionship.”

“While I loathe the idea of offering the pair of them up on a platter, I’d prefer not to make an enemy when there could be… something else.”

“And if I ever meet the fate of my sister, I’d like to know that at least someone they know might be inclined to glance in their direction once or twice, if not look over.”

Caroline: “I’ll leave that to your mother’s discretion. I have no opposition in principle.”

That it might be the greatest protection that could be offered to Lucy from Abélia’s casual snuffing out of her young life is left unsaid. Celia need know nothing of the family’s internal politics.

Celia: Celia only nods.

“What do you need to know to set her to rights, then?”

Caroline: “Dates, times, locations. Her emotional state if you can pry it from her. If there’s a cover you’d like, I can see if I can make it work. Otherwise I’m likely to go with something that checks the appropriate boxes. Perhaps her seeing one of you with someone. That’s the sort of thing likely to create the same anxious, uncomfortable, and curious feelings she felt in the moment.”

Caroline looks out into the night.

“I can give you a few minutes to figure it out. And obviously tonight.”

She bites her lip. “Does she have a pet?”

Celia: “Seeing me with someone,” Celia echoes, amusement writ across her face. “I’d had the same idea, that she’d walked in on me with someone Diana wouldn’t approve of. It was… tense. Very tense. Maxen was there for dinner. Diana found out about Isabel.” A pause. “There was vomiting. A fire. And this evening she heard me talk about… this. Erasing her memories.”

She touches a hand to the bridge of her nose, as if pinching it does anything to stem the headache that this night has brought.

“She has two cats. Family pets. Victor and Shadow.”

Caroline: “Pet’s illness or death might cover a lot of the feelings from tonight. The foreign location, strange scary people, scary discussions.” She shrugs. “I’ll let you figure it out with your mother. If she balks, maybe Victor could spend a few nights at the ‘vet’ with another ghoul.”

Celia: If Victor is anything like Shadow, no doubt he’ll be pleased to feign injury for a few days and milk the sympathy from Lucy.

“I’ll discuss with her. I think finding out her mother is a lesbian might be enough, but I’ll see what my mother has to say.”

Celia appraises the Ventrue before her.

“Thank you,” she says at length.

Caroline: Caroline muses, “I had a similar situation, very early in my Requiem. When I went to someone for help they forced me to ghoul the mortal. To make them my servant.”

“Such a simple thing, an exertion of ones powers, and they made it an ordeal. She’s dead now. And before she died she hated and feared me.”

“I’ll give you and your mother a few minutes.”

Celia: Celia blanches.

“Thank you for not repeating that with me. I can’t think of what sort of monster would ghoul a child.”

“I’m sorry that you lost someone.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t share that it was a valuable lesson about the difference between Kindred and kine.

Celia: Was it? Or is that just what she tells herself to sleep at dawn?

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Oblivious to the thoughts and memories it might drag up, Celia returns to her mother’s side to tell her the options.

GM: Celia’s mother is sitting where she left her, still hugging and comforting a very tired- and unhappy-looking Lucy.

“Victor being sick,” she says. “He can stay with someone for a few days. We’re not getting rid of the cats.”

Celia: “He can stay with one of Jade’s friends. She’s good with animals.”

GM: Diana shakes her head. “One of my friends.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “What’s Caroline charging you?” her mom asks critically.

Celia: “Some blood.” Celia shrugs. She glances away, then back. “She’d also like you to return to teaching Simmone. She said she’d keep you safe while you’re in their home and the Garden District. No invasion of the mind, no mention of your position at McGehee, so long as I don’t use you to spy on her family.”

“Once your leg is fixed.”

“Not now.”

GM: Diana gets a stony look.

“She talked about chopping off Lucy’s fingers.” She lowers her voice so the child can’t hear.

Celia: “…no. She talked about how other licks would do that to you to prove a point. If you spoke to them like you did to her.”

“Mom…” Celia sits beside her, lowering her voice. “They’re dangerous people. Vampires. Okay? They’re dangerous. And Caroline is… has connections. And if she says that she won’t harm you, then I think she won’t harm you. But she’s also not fucking around. That’s what they’re like. I’ve kept you from the worst of them. If you really want to see what they’re like, I can show you. She’s… been tame, compared to all that.”

“I told you,” she adds in an undertone, “how the sheriff used you against me for trespassing.”

“He came to you in the middle of the night. In your home. Flew you across the city. And threw you off the roof. He told me to catch.”

“Then he made you think it was a dream.”

“That’s what they do.”

GM: Celia’s mother blinks dumbly at that latest revelation.

She looks past even asking for details at this point.

“No, Celia, to answer your question, I don’t want to see what they’re like. All of them except—you, have been vile and despicable people.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes narrow. “What did Michael do to you?” The words come out as almost a snarl.

GM: Her mom’s face softens, but only slightly.

“He didn’t do anything. I almost forgot he was one of you.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

“Yeah. If he comes around again, set him on fire.”

“Or his sister.”

GM: Her mom frowns.

“We’ll talk about that later. I just want to get Lucy out of here and back in bed.”

“So, two things.”

“First, you’re being overcharged. Blood and dance lessons for Lucy’s memories? Two for one.”

Celia: “I didn’t know if you’d be willing to resume teaching.”

GM: “Maybe. That’s how many lessons, for… two nights of memories? Doesn’t seem fair to me either.”

Celia: “A year,” Celia supplies. “Simmone is apparently in a delicate place.”

“And you’re one of the few she trusts.”

GM: “One year of lessons is not worth two nights of memories.”

“And I’m not doing those lessons again just for my normal fees. Not after how cruelly Caroline has behaved this evening.”

Celia: She tries not to smirk.

GM: “I only did those lessons as a favor to Cécilia. I don’t normally give private lessons during the school year. I haven’t done that since you were in college.”

“Let’s bring Caroline back in, though. This is a chat we should have with her.”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says quietly, “I can find someone else if the terms are unacceptable. I know a few licks.”

“My grandsire would probably do it for free. I just don’t want him to know about you.”

GM: “I don’t want Caroline to know about me either,” her mom says frankly. “But we’ll get to that later. Who else is an option?”

Celia: “The detective.”

GM: “He was a kind man. I trust him.”

“We should have gone to him.”

Celia: “Then we’ll go. Now. I’ll call him. He’ll do it.”

GM: Her mom shakes her head.

“We’re here. Caroline knows. We might as well see it through.”

“That’s good the detective is an option, though. So is Caroline wanting something from us. We have room to negotiate. We can walk away if we don’t like her terms.”

Celia: “There are others. Just no one I want around you or Lucy. No one that knows about… me.”

“But we have options.”

GM: “Pete was a kind man,” Diana repeats. “He’s our backup option. We’ll go to him if Caroline doesn’t work out.”

Celia: Celia just nods.

GM: Her mother’s gaze is hard and fierce as she cradles Lucy.

“We are not letting someone walk all over us, Celia. Not again. Not ever again.”

Celia: “Then we just go, Mom. I haven’t told her anything yet. We go and ask Pete and he’ll charge a reasonable fee.”

GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head again.

“I don’t mind giving the lessons. I also sure don’t mind not giving the lessons. We are going to negotiate with Caroline and we are going to get a good deal. And we are going to walk away and go to Pete if we don’t think we are getting a good deal.”

Celia: “The blood is lucky. The blood I’m giving her. If that helps you any.”

GM: “Lucky?”

Celia: Briefly, Celia explains.

GM: Her mom shakes her head.

“You don’t need to give that up. One year of dance lessons for two days of memories is already an uneven exchange.”

“So what else do you want to ask Caroline for? I only have one thing I want to ask for, and it’s not worth anywhere near as much as a year of lessons either.”

She glances around, as if to see whether anyone is listening. Then she whispers, “I don’t like Caroline knowing about me.”

“You kept saying how dangerous it was to get involved with other vampires. I think you were right. She does not care about our family.”

“What if I say I only drank your blood two days ago, and ask her to erase those memories?”

“Because I don’t want to do this anymore.”

“So she thinks I’m not a ‘ghoul’, just a mom.”

“Or do you think that’s just asking for more trouble, to let her inside my head? We could say we’re getting another vampire to do it.”

Celia: “This was a mistake,” Celia says just as quietly. “I thought we had… I don’t know. Something.”

That’s the problem, isn’t it. She always thinks she has “something” with others and it comes back to bite her in the ass.

“I don’t think she can help me with what I need, anyway, if I were to ask for more to make the trade even.”

GM: “There’s nothing you want from her?”

“Because there’s nothing I want from her, beyond leaving us alone.”

“I liked giving her sister dance lessons. I like the rest of her family. But she’s been so unpleasant I’ll only do those lessons if YOU are getting something out of it.”

Celia: “I thought maybe she’d know some sorcery that could help me lift a curse or like be able to instantly track down my missing ghouls, but both of those are long shots and time sensitive anyway.”

GM: “Okay, so nothing either.”

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“I might just not be thinking big enough.”

GM: “Celia, I have no idea,” her mother says tiredly. “Isabel is dead. I am exhausted. Lucy is exhausted. Lucy is terrified. I want to get this over with and go home.”

The six-year-old is still silently clinging to Diana. She’s not made a peep. Celia’s mother strokes the girl’s hair.

“If you think my giving dance lessons could help you, I’ll do them. If you don’t, I won’t.”

Celia: “If she can do those,” Celia finally says, “and if you want to do the lessons once your leg is fixed, we’ll go that route. If not, we walk.”

GM: “I only want to do the lessons if they will significantly help you, and Caroline will treat me with courtesy and respect. Those are 50-some hours I could spend with Lucy.”

“Because I sure as hell aren’t taking Lucy back to that house.”

“I do not trust that she will be safe around Caroline.”

Celia: She has a very dumb idea.

And yet… what if it works.

GM: Oblivious to her daughter’s thought, Diana then states,

“Tell me what you think of my idea. I don’t know enough to say if it’s good or bad.”

Celia: “Making her think you’re just a mom, not a ghoul?” Celia considers. “She wouldn’t know unless she tasted your blood that you’re a ghoul, but that’s what the mark is for. I could say that you don’t want this. Say it was recent. Have her erase it. I could… try to unlock it for you again. Like I did for Emily.”

GM: “Is that a guarantee? What wouldn’t I remember, if she’s not actually erasing the memories she thinks she is?”

Celia: “What she’s doing is a little tricky,” Celia says slowly, “and depends more on exactly what is said versus what she intends. So, the differences between our clans is that the stiffs essentially turn people into robots. They issue commands that leave no room for interpretation. It’s like… like a computer program. She types in a very specific set of instructions to get a very specific output, and you, the robot, have no room to deviate. Or a puppet. She pulls the strings, you dance. Whereas if I were to make you want to do the same thing, you’d have wiggle room to deviate from the cut and dry plan so long as you got the same result. A wind up doll versus a puppet.”

She pauses.

“I don’t know if that makes sense. I’m trying to keep it brief. But I don’t know what would happen if she told you to forget a memory that doesn’t exist. If she says ‘forget last night between midnight and two am and remember this other thing instead,’ that’s what you would remember. But if she said ‘forget that Celia told you she’s a vampire two nights ago,’ you’d… I mean I didn’t tell you I’m a vampire two nights ago. So it might fizzle.”

“And if not… if something happens… I could ask Pete. Or my grandsire. I’d rather he not know about you, but he’s… old. He knows more about this than I do.”

“To reverse it, I mean. If I can’t. I think I can. I did it with Emily. And I’ve done it before to someone Caroline made forget things.”

GM: Diana takes that all in.

“Ask Pete. Not your ‘grandsire’. I don’t trust other vampires.”

“Either way, they’re not here, and we are.”

“I don’t know enough about all of this. What do you think is our best option?”

“Ask Caroline to erase my memories, or tell her another vampire is doing that?”

Celia: “Asking her to do it will make her think it worked. I’m concerned she’ll find a reason to fuck with you if I say someone else is doing it. But last time she did that to you… that’s when you had the vision about Maxen and Lucy.” Celia runs a hand through her hair, looking for all the world like a scared little girl. “I just don’t want to give her a reason to mess with you further. And her mom is…”

GM: Celia trails off as her voice dies in her throat.

Nothing more comes out.

Celia: “I’d rather not tangle with her, is all,” she finishes lamely.

“Or Caroline,” Celia mutters, “she’s the prince’s kid. This was dumb to come here.”

GM: Celia’s mother does not look like a scared little girl. For all the grief and weariness that mars her darkened face, her eyes look hard. Her eyes look angry. She looks like a mother bear deliberating the best way to kill or evade the hunters threatening her cubs.

“Spilled milk. Now that we’re here, we need to pick one option or the other,” Diana says patiently. “Do you not feel like you know enough to make that judgment call?”

Celia: “One problem at a time. We’ll have her fix Lucy. I’ll tell her I need someone else to do yours. If she starts digging, we’ll take care of it then. If she can’t do anything for me that I need right now, then no lessons.”

GM: “What are you trading her for Lucy?”

“The lucky blood?”

“I want you to get a fair deal. I don’t want her to take advantage of you.”

“I don’t want her to get more than the minimum of her money’s worth. She isn’t Cécilia.”

Celia: “If I can raise this lick from torpor then I’ll have plenty of lucky blood.”

GM: “How certain is that ‘if’?”

“Because this ‘lucky blood’ sounded useful. Can you pay her anything else?”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges. “I suppose if not then we can walk there too.”

GM: “Maybe,” repeats Diana. “Be certain, Celia. People who are certain will roll over ‘maybe’.”

Celia: Celia grits her teeth. Jade would be better at this. Jade never says maybe. But Caroline can’t know about Jade.

“Sometimes they trade information. Sometimes open-ended boons that can be used on minor favors. Sometimes just blood. I’ll see what else I can tempt her with.”

GM: “Do you have any information or ‘normal’ blood? I’d rather you settle accounts here than owe her anything.”

Celia: “Stiffs have a type when feeding. If what I have on hand isn’t her type, then I guess I’ll down it and let her drink from me.”

GM: “Will that hurt you?”

Celia: “No. Just makes me hungry.”

“I can feed later.”

GM: “I can’t feed you tonight, if that impacts things.”

Celia: Celia looks her over.

“Who did you feed?” she asks.

GM: “No one,” answers her mother.

“I am not going to feed other vampires when that could go towards my daughter.”

Celia: “Dani didn’t take a hit when she came by? You weren’t in a fight I don’t know about? Pushing yourself too hard? You look… rough, Mom.”

GM: “No. Dani never asked for my blood.”

“I had terrible dreams.”

“I felt sick.”

Celia: Celia’s lips flatten into a thin line. “Tonight? Before I woke you?”

GM: “Yesterday night.”

“When you told me about Isabel.”

Celia: “Tell me more about this when we get back home. I want to know what’s going on with you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there earlier tonight for you. I meant to be.” She shakes her head. “Intentions count for little. You and I will talk.”

GM: Celia’s mother says nothing to that, for a moment.

Then she removes one arm from Lucy to pull her other daughter into a hug. She closes her eyes and savors the moment of respite.

It’s all-too brief.

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia pulls away from the whispered conversation with her mother, rising to her feet to nod to Caroline.

They’re ready.

GM: Mrs. Flores rises alongside her, hoisting up Lucy in her arms.

Caroline: The Ventrue tucks away her phone and heads back inside.

GM: Mrs. Flores directly meets the Ventrue’s gaze with head held high. Her face does not have a trace of the subservience or humility endemic to ‘broken in’ ghouls.

It reminds Caroline of Diego’s last phone call, and the way he swore at her and hanged up. He, too, never accepted his domitor as his superior.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Flores waits for Celia to speak.

Caroline: She remembers well how Diego’s story ended. On his knees in a dirty abandoned home.

She doesn’t share that.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite smile. Perhaps the pair of them aren’t intimidating to the prince’s childe: the sheriff’s bastard and the schoolteacher, neither one of them more than a handful of inches over five feet tall, neither one of them brawlers.

But together… together there’s some steel in the spine. Together they’re a united front, mother and daughter and granddaughter, a family that loves and is loved in turn.

All of this to protect a child from the truth and horror of their world. To let a young life continue in ignorance rather than subject her to what lurks in shadows.

“My mother thinks that I’m being overcharged,” Celia says baldly. “That a year of dance lessons isn’t worth two nights of memories. I’m inclined to agree. I believe there’s more that we can negotiate to make matters more even.”

Caroline: The smile behind Caroline’s eyes doesn’t fade as she settles into a chair.

“Does she now? Well, please, I’d be fascinated to hear about the dynamics of Kindred boons through the eyes of a just ghouled dance instructor.”

GM: “Certainly,” replies Mrs. Flores as she sits down across from Caroline. Lucy doesn’t turn to look at the vampire.

“One year of weekly lessons comes out to approximately 50 hours of my time.”

“Will what you are doing take 50 hours?”

Celia: “Someone did this before for me. She only asked for juice. But as I said, I’m willing to negotiate my mother’s time. There are other things I could use some assistance with that should cause you no undue stress.”

GM:We will negotiate your mother’s time,” Mrs. Flores corrects, then turns back to Caroline.

“Celia and I have discussed our options for Lucy. You are not our only one. There is another vampire we can go to for help with her memories. I have no attachment whatsoever to that vampire being you.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes at Mrs. Flores’ opening argument. “Do you use this same line of reasoning with your doctor or lawyer? Do you think they do the same with their grocery bagger?”

“Our skillsets are not equal. If there are ten Kindred in the city that could do what I do with similar proficiency, I would be very much surprised. Most of those would execute you and your daughter out of hand.”

“You are also approaching this with a shortsighted view of here and now, and failing to understand the basis for Kindred economic functions—which your lessons would allow you to facilitate for both you and your daughter.”

GM: “Actually, I think my skillset is the higher valued one here,” replies Mrs. Flores.

“Leaving aside your implicit comparison between dance and grocery bagging—because oh boy, don’t get me started—-I trust that Celia’s other vampire is just as qualified to erase Lucy’s memories as you are. I also trust that Lucy will be at least as safe in their hands as yours.”

“You, on the other hand, already have a referral for another dance teacher. Naomi is just as qualified to teach ballet as I am. You could find another ballet teacher if you don’t want her. You don’t need me if you want Simmone to learn ballet. But Simmone doesn’t like strangers.”

“I’ve taught her enough lessons by now to see, don’t pardon my bluntness, what a mess she is.”

Celia: Oh boy.

“Regardless, Caroline, there are other things I’d ask for before we barter out my mother’s time for a year. Can we discuss?”

Caroline: “Your daughter is an illegally Embraced lick. There are painfully few doors open to her.”

“If your daughter genuinely believed your other option could do the job as well, as immediately, and without risk, she would have called them first. Don’t sell her short to make your argument. There are plenty of second-rate licks on the street that can paper-mâché over a memory, but the further in the past it was, the narrower that list becomes. Doing so with a solid enough foundation that it won’t crumble if she picks at it over time becomes even narrower still.”

“If you want to go with someone else, by all means. But when they botch the job, don’t come back to me in a month and ask me to pick up the pieces.”

“But by all means, what else would you ask of me, Celia?”

Celia: Celia stares across the space at Caroline. There’s no anger on her face. Just hurt.

“Are you threatening me?” she asks quietly. “I am not my sire, Caroline. I don’t know what hatred you have for him or why, but if it is your intent to turn me in for my illegal Embrace then I ask you take my head yourself and spare me the ordeal of being dragged before the city. I’ve no wish to make him murder his own childe.”

“I thought…” she trails off, looking down at her hands. “Jade told me what happened when she came to visit. She told me that she’d recorded the… the correction, that she made you listen, and that you threatened her afterward.” She swallows, looking back up to Caroline. Pink colors her cheeks.

“I thought maybe it meant something, that you’d defended me. I apologize if I misunderstood, or my misplaced affection is an inconvenience. I wanted help. I thought of you. That’s all.”

Caroline: “Wiser not to speak of him,” Caroline answers firmly.

“But if I intended to turn you in, I’d have done so. I think your mother simply fails to understand the position you are in. She imagines some egalitarian world in which all doors are open.” She turns back to Diana. “They aren’t.”

“That I am not simply taking what I wish from you should be a clear demonstration of my affection. And that I was interested in cultivating continued connection between us—connection that would make your execution inconvenient for me—through your mother’s lessons would have been evidence enough of that.”

She should have simply let her mother do as she’d intended. Part of her would enjoy watching this arrogant ghoul shattered by the loss. Instead, she’s here trying to make it work. Taking attitude in her own haven, in her own domain, from a ghoul with even less time in the Blood than any of Caroline’s own.

No good deed goes unpunished.

GM: Diana follows the two’s conversation with increasingly narrowed eyes.

“If there is one thing I know too well, Caroline, it’s that absence of abuse is not affection.”

“If you’re threatening us, do it openly. If you’re not threatening us, then don’t. But don’t say ‘I could threaten you, but I’m not’ and expect gratitude for it.”

“I am more than willing to entrust another vampire with Lucy’s memories. Celia says this vampire can and will help us. I believe her. I do not believe we need you.”

“How much you want me as Simmone’s dance teacher and what you’re willing to pay for it is up to you. But I will not give 50 hours of lessons for two nights of altered memories. Celia, lay out the other things you want.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye. Or her mother’s. She might even squirm, if licks could do such a thing, but perhaps that’s merely a trick of the light. There’s a shine to her eyes not so often found in the faces of the dead when she finally rises, shifting seats in a quick movement to put herself next to Caroline.

She takes the Ventrue’s hand.

“Caroline,” she murmurs, “you told me once that you’d do anything for your family. I watched you with your sister. I know you’re scared for her, just as I’m scared for my daughter. I can’t be with her during the day anymore. My mother has to look over her now. She just found out I’m dead. And Isabel…” Celia trails off. Caroline can smell blood, but the Toreador looks away.

She’s quiet while her mother talks. Finally, she looks back to the Ventrue.

“There’s someone who asked me to do a favor for them. I’m having a difficult time with it. I don’t know enough about dark magic and curses to break this spell. I thought maybe you…” or your mother “…would be able to help. And there’s…”

Her jaw sets. Finally, she looks angry.

“You recall the two ghouls Jade brought with her when she visited? One of them is dead. I found out that Jade—”

Her fingers clench into fists. She breathes in sharply through her nose.

“It doesn’t matter. One is dead, the other is missing. I’d like to find him and I don’t know where to begin. Your team seemed competent.”

“It’s just a time crunch.”

Caroline: “You want me to beseech my mother to intervene on your behalf, and to meddle in the domain of another vampire, within the French Quarter, who is no doubt already on high alert following the death of one of their ghouls?” Caroline restates more flatly.

Celia: “I didn’t say anything about your mom,” Celia points out, “but if you think she could help, sure.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head.

“I have no interest in jumping in the middle of whatever fucked up games you and Jade play. I think we’re done here. Good luck with your other option.”

The Ventrue watches them go from her seat.

GM: Mrs. Flores rises from her own seat.

“I loved teaching all of your sisters,” she says. “Each one of them was and remains a delight to have in my classes. I was delighted to see and teach Simmone outside of school. I regretted canceling her dance lessons. I never did them for the money. Cécilia insisted on paying me for my time, but I got a big insurance settlement some years back. I’m very comfortable financially. The time I spent with your sister was time I could have spent with my granddaughter. I normally don’t give private lessons during the school year, either, just the summer months. I made an exception for Simmone because Cécilia asked me and because Cécilia was one of my favorite students. I also thought it was worthwhile to teach dance to a badly traumatized child, and that maybe I’d even be able to help her in some small way. I wanted to help your family because I liked them. I felt honored that Cécilia trusted me enough to do that. I felt honored that Simmone trusted me enough to do that. I thought there was friendship and goodwill between our families.”

Mrs. Flores shakes her head.

“I thought wrong.”

“I’m glad Celia and I have another option.”

“I don’t know where your mother went wrong with you, but you are the one Devillers I regret knowing. If your sisters were as heartless as you, I’d have wanted nothing to do with them. I hope you have brought less unhappiness to your family than you have brought to mine in our brief time together. Because in my experience, people who are cruel outside their families are cruel inside their families. In my experience, cruelty poisons love. And I’m sorry for your sisters, that they have such a cruel person in their lives.”

She adjusts Lucy in her arms.

“Tell Cécilia I said hello.”

Caroline: A million petty responses flow through Caroline’s mind as the schoolteacher rants. This pathetic kine that doesn’t even know Caroline has already once saved her entire life from demolition by powers she can’t even imagine, much less fight.

At its most petty she could assert her power, force Diana to jump in the pool or throw her granddaughter in to prove the point.

But there’s no need. The way she’s behaving, the way she’s interacting, tragedy will come home to her soon enough.

“One night, probably soon, you’ll look back on this night and regret that you didn’t listen to me, Mrs. Flores. Or your daughter, for that matter. When that happens, do drop me a line.”

Celia: Celia rises abruptly to her feet, anger in her eyes. But not at Caroline. Oh, no, not at Caroline at all. The budding fury is not directed at the Ventrue, is not present when Celia manages to bite out a “thanks for your time” before she stalks toward the elevator. She grabs her mother’s elbow with slightly more force than necessary on the way.

“Congratulations,” she snaps at the kine, “your stupid pride and your insistence on getting something else means we’re all dead. If we make it through this I’m having your memories wiped too.”

The door closes on that threat.

Celia VII, Chapter V
Forbidden Fruits

“This changes everything.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Draco drives for a while. They leave the French Quarter. They pass into a suburb. Draco doesn’t speak. His fangs are faintly visible in his mouth. There’s a predatory stillness to his moonlit face unlike anything Celia ever saw on Roderick’s. It reminds her of Jade’s expression when Celia’s mother, beaten and abused back into Grace, went about her assigned tasks while a hungry predator coolly watched on.

Sometimes, throughout the drive, Draco smiles. The expression does not reach his eyes.

At a few moments, he starts softly chuckling.

At one point, he starts laughing, though there’s no mirth in the sound.

He doesn’t look at or speak to Jade.

Jade: That makes two of them. Jade steadily ignores the insanity beside her.

And people think she has problems.

GM: “Turn into a cat and get on the floor,” he abruptly says, breaking the silence.

Jade: The girl’s body disappears. The cat steps silently off the seat and onto the floor, curling in on itself and killing the aura that makes it look like a threat. Green eyes stare out at Draco from the shadow beneath the dash.

GM: Draco doesn’t look at the cat. The thrum of traffic sounds in the background. It feels as if they’re driving for a decent while, though the cat can’t tell where they’re going from her new vantage point.

Draco finally stops the car.

“Turn into Jade again.”

Jade: The cat crawls from its spot and turns back into the girl.

GM: “Get out of the car,” he says as he opens the door and gets out.

Jade: Jade follows suit, eyes sweeping their surroundings.

GM: They’re in an unfamiliar suburb. Many of the houses’ lights are out. Draco walks up to the nearest lit one. Through a window, Jade sees the drooped heads of half-asleep couple watching a movie in their living room.

He knocks firmly on the door.

The two start awake. Wary suspicion colors their faces, then suddenly drains away. First from the man’s, then the woman’s.

The man opens the front door.

“It’s so good to see you again,” Draco beams at the stranger, though the expression looks almost mocking. “I know it’s late. Do you mind if we come in?”

“Sure,” smiles the man, opening the door further. He’s black and in his early middle years.

“Where are her pants…?” he starts to ask.

“Don’t worry about it,” smiles Draco.

Jade: It’s the face. Whoever he is, he’s dead. The man said it last night.

And this is… another hit, isn’t it. Two birds sort of thing.

Jade follows Draco inside.

GM: Draco closes the door behind her before the man can.

“Close the shades, will you? I’ve never liked the idea of neighbors snooping in.”

“Hmph. The Petersons next door are such snoops,” says the woman. She’s also dark-skinned and in her early middle years. She closes the shades.

“Got kids?” asks Draco.

“Er, no,” frowns the man.

“Perfect,” smiles Draco, then presses a finger to the base of the man’s neck. He hits the floor with a crash and doesn’t move.

The woman opens her mouth as if to scream, but she’s too slow. Draco’s form blurs, then she hits the floor too.

Jade’s ex-lover rolls the man over onto his back.

“Make yourself look like her. Make me look like him.”

Jade: “Need a hit,” Jade says bluntly, nodding at the bodies. “Unless you want to be here all night.”

GM: Draco gestures sardonically at the woman.

He’s already kneeling to sink his fangs into the man’s neck. A low slurp sounds as the vampire drinks his fill.

Jade: Jade crouches beside the woman, then sinks in. She takes her lead from Draco. If he’s draining his, she’ll do the same. She has no idea if he’s planning on using them for anything else.

GM: Draco drinks for several minutes, enough for a decent meal, then pulls away.

He stands and strips off his clothes.

“The likeness below my face doesn’t need to be perfect. Just make me black.”

Jade: Jade drinks her fill, slurping down the red liquid with no regard to the woman beneath her. It’s not the sort of fare she’s used to, not the sweet, lust-ridden blood that so often graces her tongue. It lacks the potency of Kindred blood. And it’s nothing like what she’d taken from Carolla or Gui.

Easy to see how too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. She’s already itching for another hit of the good stuff.

GM: Human blood next to lick blood is like water and wine.

Human blood next to diablerie is like piss and wine.

Jade: She doesn’t bother to rise once she’s done, kneeling at his feet to begin the process of changing his skin tone. It’s easier than the muscle work, a quick pass of her hands over his flesh like she’s rubbing in paint, and it reminds her of the instant way the bronzer of her spray tan solution turns the skin dark. She rises from there, moving her hands steadily up his shins, calves, thighs—

She halts at his groin, asking him how thorough he wants her to be.

GM: Draco’s lips draw back and his fangs show at the sensation, though it’s less painful than deeper work. He shrugs at her question.

“I doubt anyone will see me there. But no harm in being thorough and no point in being sloppy.”

Jade: It’s a familiar feel in her hand.

She doesn’t linger overlong, doing what needs to be done before moving on to his abdomen, across the flat (chiseled) plane of his stomach, across the broad muscles of his chest and shoulders, down his arms, his hands, his fingers. She’s sure to cover every bit of him that was once white, and once she’s done with the front she moves behind him to begin on the back, sweeping down from the back of his head to his lumbar and finally across the glutes.

“Painful part,” she warns when she steps in front of him again, fingertips gliding across his face to turn Draco into random-black-guy. The muscles shift like warm butter across toast, flexing and lengthening before she carves them into the shape of the man on the floor. She works quickly, but she pays attention to the details: the fullness of the lips, the broader nose, the wrinkle across his forehead, the crow’s feet at his eyes.

GM: His fangs lengthen at her painful handiwork. He’s still until she’s done and a stranger’s face stares back at Jade’s. He then walks into the couple’s bedroom, picks out some clothes, and pulls them on.

Jade has her pick, too.

Draco’s fangs show again in annoyance as he dresses himself. The clothes aren’t a perfect fit. The shoes take him some time and probably pinch, but that will be of little discomfort to the undead.

Jade runs into similar issues. The woman’s size is bigger than hers.

Jade: Jade’s transformation to the black woman is just as quick. Her skin darkens, hair curls and shortens, face becomes older with the suggestion of wrinkles at the corners of her eyes. She’s amused by the size of the waist and booty, padding it as much as this woman’s is.

“She’s taller than me, but heels will help. Fatter, too.” Jade peruses the closet, skipping over the selection at the front to find the spot in the back where women store their “once I lose 20 lbs” clothes. She glances at the outfit Draco has chosen for an idea of how formal or casual to go.

GM: He’s gone with mostly casual. Jeans and a button-up.

Jade: Then she goes casual too, pulling on a dress that would be right at home in a bar. Cotton-y sort of material. Matronly, with sleeves that Jade would never be caught dead in but hides the saggy underarms of this middle-aged woman. The dress hits below her knees, but it’s easier to hide that it’s not the right length than a pair of pants dragging the floor behind her, and a well-placed safety pin gathers some excess material.

“Draco,” she says as she pulls on her selection, “can I say something?”

GM: He shrugs.

Jade: “I know you don’t trust me. But if this works, if you’d like, I can add mass to you. For your Draco face. Better if he’s a different size than Roderick. Your normal doc can tuck it away when she makes the changes to you from there.”

She finds tissues to stuff into the toes of her chosen heels to accommodate for the size difference, trying not to bemoan the state of her… cankles.

She hates being ugly.

GM: “Wear practical shoes,” says Draco.

“We’ll see first if this works.”

Jade: Oh. Jade finds a less flashy heel. The ugly sort, with a square toe box and half an inch lift, barely more than what a sneaker would give. She rummages through the dresser for two pairs of ankle socks to pad for size, then finally says fuck it and pulls off the dress, reaching for a blouse and jeans to go with the seldom used (by the looks of them) running shoes that are, surprise, also at the back of the closet.

She swears every woman is the same.

“You might lose your shit. When it happens. Just be prepared for that.”

GM: “You’ll probably need to be more prepared for it than me,” says Draco.

Jade: “Yes,” she agrees.

“I was just warning you.”

“So you’re not surprised.”

GM: Draco takes out his phone again, taps into it, then puts it back away. He hefts the man and woman back into the bedroom like they weigh nothing, then finds some cable cords from another room that he uses as improvised rope to bind their hands and feet in hogtied position. He gags them too.

Jade: Jade assists where she can, but mostly she just lets him do his thing. He’s stronger than her.

“Who’s the target?”

GM: “You’ll see,” is all he answers.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Draco retrieves the couple’s keys, exits the house, and locks the door. He gets into their car with Jade and starts driving.

After a little while, he says, “Turn into a cat and get on the floor.”

Jade: Jade doesn’t push further. She can only hope it isn’t someone that she is going to miss.

They’re already in the car when she asks if he needs a mark to hide his Beast.

GM: He considers for a moment.

“It won’t hurt.”

Jade: Well. It will.

GM: “It will need to be deactivated when we’re close enough to the target.”

Jade: “Oh. You can control that. You just turn it off. This just gives you the ability to mask it. Or I can put it on your hand and just wipe it away when you say.”

GM: “The former is acceptable.”

Jade: “Permanent or temporary?”

Jade moves to the floor rather than try to do it while bending across the steering console. “Or I could make this temporary and give you a permanent one in a better spot later.”

GM: “You’re very eager to be helpful,” Draco remarks.

Jade: Jade shrugs. “Truth? I told you that I don’t want you as an enemy. I don’t want to constantly look over my shoulder for you. I don’t want Celia’s family to be hurt. You won, remember? I recognize power when I see it.”

She smiles when she reaches to roll up his pant leg so she can mark his calf.

“Plus there aren’t many licks that know I rip people apart. It’s nice to be able to share.”

GM: “All of us rip people apart, sooner or later.”

Jade: She wonders if it’s still a sore spot to him, killing those hunters. If there’s something she could say to make him feel better. If she should even bother. If she cares, really.

Celia had wanted him to remain good and pure, hadn’t wanted to taint his soul with the mention of diablerie. But Jade doesn’t give much of a fuck about his soul.

“Going to start the mark,” she says instead of anything else, warning him about the incoming pain. It’s a quick piece of art made with claws rather than a tattoo gun, mimicking the image Dicentra had given him the first time he’d gone to see her: the suggestion of a linen-covered table with a pair of eyes peering out through a hole in the sheet. It doesn’t take long.

She smooths the skin around it with a touch when she’s done, getting rid of the red, freshly-savaged skin.

GM: It’s late in the game to worry about the purity of his soul anyway.

Draco growls at the sensation of her claws etching the design into his flesh, but doesn’t move.

“Turn into a cat,” he says when she’s done.

Jade: She’s gone without a word. Luna curls on the floor, chin on her paws. She watches the boy that used to be hers, wondering at his thoughts.

GM: They look like dark ones.

They have for a while.

He doesn’t laugh or chuckle as he drives, this time. But on a few occasions he shows a fanged smile, his still face pale in the moonlight. Rain starts to patter against the windshield. The wipers go back and forth.

They drive for a while.

They stop. Draco taps into his phone.

They drive some more.

Then they stop again.

“Turn into Jade.”

Jade: She assumes he means the woman and shifts accordingly.

GM: “We’re here.”

He gets out.

Jade: She follows suit, killing her aura again, and looks around at their surroundings.

GM: Right up ahead is Edith Flannagan’s house.

Jade: She almost laughs.

In fact, she does.

Just a short burst of it that steals from her lips.

GM: “I’m so pleased this agrees with you.”

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 Tremé 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. Jade 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 eyes follow the pair.

Fewer than when it was two girls.

But still plenty on the lonely-looking middle-aged couple.

Jade: “I’d had the same thought about her,” Jade muses. She sticks close to Draco as they walk through the less-than-savory part of town. She’s not particularly worried about handling herself, but it’s better not to tempt fate, isn’t it.

GM: It’s not long before the pair are accosted by perhaps the very same unwashed half-dozen men literally screaming in their faces for money. Jade sees malformed and pathetic-looking fangs in the mouths of three, this time. Who keeps making these thin-bloods?

Jade: Probably the same someone who made Dani.

Jade tucks herself against Draco’s side like a middle-aged-wife would.

No reason to start throwing punches when all he needs to do is flash a bit of that Brujah charm, right?

GM: Draco ignores the mob at first, until they get too close. He gives a low and very dangerous-sounding snarl. Fear shudders through the mob in a palpable current.

The men falter, then slink away in search of easier prey.

“You,” he says, pointing at one of the thin-bloods, a scraggly-bearded man in maybe his 20s. “Come with us.”

Jade: And here she thought he was going to use the kid.

Is that a line he still won’t cross? Just abandon the four of them instead of outright killing?

GM: Jade supposes she’ll know for sure soon enough.

The duskborn warily edges away at Draco’s demand, then suddenly smiles in relief.

“Okay, man. Uh, y’all true-bloods?”

“Yes. We are.”

He walks up to Edith’s house and raps on the door.

The property is 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. The same bars are there over the windows.

Just like last time, a shadow passes behind the windowshades.

After a moment, the door swings open.

Jade: While they wait, Jade murmurs to him beneath her breath.

“Four. Three kids. Plus the thin-blood.”

GM: “Yes, I’ve heard how despicable she is.”

Jade: Jade only nods.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: The door gets answered by ‘Cinderella’. She’s got the same cheap-looking Saturday night special tucked into her sweatpants. She looks worse than when Jade saw her last. There are bandages around her neck, bruises on her pale face, and her eyes are droopy.

“C’mon in,” she says thickly, closing the door after them.

“Edith and the kids are eating.”

She gives the homeless thin-blood a very wary-looking look.

Jade: No doubt it’ll be a relief for Cinderella to finally be free of this place. Jade idly wonders what sorts of marketable skills she has, or if she’s better served as a snack.

GM: “Your domitor should be able to just lick puncture marks away,” Draco says to the ghoul.

“Oh. This is… something else, too,” Cinderella replies, rubbing her neck.

“Hasn’t had much juice to go around…”

“Yes, she never does, does she?” says Draco.

Jade: She’d given the bitch five hits a week ago.

GM: “She creates her own problems and then bemoans them.”

“You can give her charity, but it’s like pouring water through a sieve.”

“Gone the moment it’s received.”

Jade: She doesn’t bother looking at the expression on his face. She knows who he’s talking about. Once again, Jade curses Celia for her weakness.

GM: “Yeah, man, we all fuckin’ hate her,” glares the homeless thin-blood. He smells bad indoors. He doesn’t look like he’s had a bath in a while. “She hunts, all the fuckin’ time, and y’know, there ain’t much juice on Rampart, like, no shit, there ain’t much juice, and we’re all gettin’-”

“Shut up,” says Draco.

Jade: It’s a pathetic, wretched sort of way to live. Even the Caitiff in her krewe has better feeding than this, and he’s another sort of unsavory.

She’s glad for her domain on Bourbon. Glad for the easy access to meals with her clients, the way she can just pass it off as particularly deep muscle work when they start to get woozy.

It might be what waits for her if things go poorly with her grandsire.

And Draco, by proxy.

“This,” she mutters, “is why.”

GM: Cinderella doesn’t look sure how to answer the Kindred.

“Ah, I’ll go get Edith, do you want to wait here?”

“That’s acceptable,” answers Draco.

“I’d rather not meet a brood of screaming blood-addicted brats.”

Cinderella looks even less sure how to answer that, then heads away.

Jade can hear sounds of conversation and clinking utensils. Walls are thin in the sorry-looking house.

“So, what’re we doin’ here?” asks the thin-blood.

Jade: “Party,” Jade says. The charm leaks out of her, sneaking across the floor to wrap securely around the thin-blood’s mind. “Consider this the ice breaker. How long have you been like that?”

GM: His head follows her mouth like a magnet.

“’Bout a month,” he smiles.

Jade: “You stay around here?”

GM: “Yeah, maybe a block away. It’s rough, lady. It’s real rough.”

The scraggly-bearded thin-blood’s black hair is thick and matted. He’s dressed in a stained and threadbare-looking hoodie with some holes in it.

Jade: Jade nods, managing to look sympathetic.

“You’re not one of those alchemists, are you?”

GM: He gives a bitter laugh.

“Be here if I was?”

Jade: “Where do they stay?”

GM: “Where dealers stay, lady.”

“They dealers.”

Jade: Jade smiles.

“That’s not very specific, dear. We’ve invited you to our party. Can you give me more than that?”

GM: “That answer doesn’t even make sense,” says Draco. “‘Where dealers stay.’ Drug dealers can stay in a variety of locations.”

The thin-blood shrugs.

“Can I have a hit?” he asks Jade, imploringly.

“If I give you more?”

“I’m real thirsty, we always thirsty on Rampart…”

Jade: Jade reaches for him, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear. Her lips curve upward into a smile.

“We’re about to fill your belly, sweetheart.”

GM: The thin-blood smiles down at her. Three fangs show in his mouth, but they’re pitifully thin and tiny things, like growths off his yellowed and plaque-ridden teeth.

“A’ight, well, I tell you then, okay?”

Jade: “Mm, I suppose that’ll work.”

“I’ll be very upset with you if you hold out.”

GM: The thin-blood shakes his head emphatically.

“It’s yours, I’ll tell you all I know.”

Draco smashes his fist into the back of the thin-blood’s head. He hits the floor with a crash.

“Question him later if you want. I’m sick of listening to his voice.”

Jade: Amused, Jade just shrugs. There are plenty of thin-bloods.

GM: “Our hostess is taking her time.”

Jade: “I can see what’s keeping her.”

GM: “I’d rather not let you out of my sight, actually,” says Draco as he strides into the home’s dining room.

Jade: Smirking, Jade tags along.

Maybe she can get one of those bracelets with little bells if she makes him so skittish.

Shut up, Celia.

GM: Celia doesn’t control the body.

Jade controls the body.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Rounding the corner, Jade finds no one seated around the dining room table. Lunch is out. Sandwiches and apple slices and pretzels for the girls. Piles of Lunchables, Fruit Gushers, ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies for who can only be Geraldine.

The “family” is gathered all around the floor over Lily’s motionless body. Geraldine is sucking from the ghoul’s neck. The other girls look as if they’re crying. Edith just watches with her hand on the thin-blood’s shoulder.

Jade: Jade stops short.

She’d thought they might have run. She’d thought they’d gone out a window or another door, that they’d assumed the two who walked through the front heralds their death.

Not this.

A dead child on the floor. A ghouled child, certainly, but still a child, stuck forever in her this image of youth.

She clenches her jaw.

GM: Draco grabs Geraldine by the neck and yanks her off. The thin-blood immediately starts kicking and shrieking at the top of her lungs.

“Do I even want to know the story?” he asks contemptuously.

“Put her down!” yells Edith, lunging at Draco.

The Brujah seizes her by the throat and throws her across the room like she’s nothing. She hits the floor with a crash.

The other ghouls all start in alarm, but none draw any closer. Harper cries.

Jade: Jade plucks baby Harper from the floor, bouncing her twice like she used to do with Lucy. Then she passes her to Cinderella.

“Go sit in the bedroom. Take the other one.”

GM: Cinderella takes the wailing child, then gives an uncertain look towards Edith.

The Caitiff’s fangs are distended, and her face is a mask of growing rage.

But she gives a stiff nod.

“Is the one on the floor still alive?” Draco asks Jade.

Jade: Jade crouches to check, feeling for a pulse or signs of life.

GM: There is a weak pulse. The motionless ghoul will be dead in minutes (or less) without a hit.

Jade: “Barely.”

Jade sinks her teeth into her wrist, then tilts the ghoul’s head back to let the blood fall into her mouth.

GM: Lily gives a soft, barely audible moan.

Jade: When she’s stabilized, Jade pulls the child into her arms and rises from the floor.

“I’m going to lay her down,” she says to Draco. She carries the girl into the living room and sets her on the couch, propping a pillow beneath her feet and setting a blanket across her. She returns a moment later to the kitchen.

GM: He doesn’t stop her. Geraldine continues to shriek and kick and flail in the Brujah’s grip.

Jade: Jade folds her arms, leaning a hip against the countertop. She keeps her eyes on the Caitiff.

GM: “What do you want!?” demands Edith, rising to her feet.

Jade: “You’ve been given eternal unlife and this is how you spend it? Pulling children from their families, letting this little monster murder to her heart’s content, keeping a baby as a ghoul so you can play into this delusion of motherhood?”

GM: “They had no one else!” Edith shouts back. “I give them a home, I give them a family, I give them LOVE!”

Jade: “You give them a crippling addiction to your vitae,” Jade snarls at her. “You keep them stuck forever in those bodies.”

“Was it love when you let this one attempt to murder your eldest?”

GM: “Geraldine wasn’t murdering her!”

The thin-blood screams some more from Draco’s arms. Edith’s face rivets towards the sound.

“Put her DOWN!”

“Then what was she doing, pray tell?” Draco asks with something in between indulgence and disgust.

“Geraldine wanted to make another lick,” answers Edith.

Draco looks at the shrieking thin-blood in his grip, then laughs out loud.

“Dear god.”

He laughs some more.

“I couldn’t think of a worse sire if I tried to.”

“I seriously couldn’t. I’m drawing up completely blank.”

“The homeless trash outside would be better sires than Geraldine.”

Jade: She can’t help it. She laughs. She hadn’t thought she and Draco would ever be on the same side about anything, but this? Oh, this. This makes her laugh harder than she has in a long time.

“Geraldine making a lick,” she repeats, shaking her head. “Fuck, Flannagan, what part of that sounded like a good idea?”

GM: “I’d be her grandmother. I’d take care of her. I’d always take care of her.”

Jade: Jade just looks at Draco.

“This is dumber than the shit your ex did.” She returns her gaze to Edith. “Geraldine would have saddled you with another thin-blood. Why on earth would you willingly do that to someone?”

GM: “If she didn’t just kill her,” says Draco.

Jade: “I mean great excuse, right? Takes the murder off your hands. ‘I thought I was doing the right thing.’”

GM: “What do you WANT!” Edith repeats. “Who are you to tell me what I do with MY ghouls, how I raise MY family!”

Jade: “Sit down, Flannagan. Let me tell you how this is going to go. I’m going to approach. See this?” She’s got a stake in her hands, courtesy of Draco’s pocket. “Yeah, he wasn’t just happy to see me. I’m going to shove it into you, and you’re not going to put up a fight. Because my friend here, well, he doesn’t like you very much, and he’d enjoy ripping Geraldine’s limbs from her body. What’s her kill count? Seven? Innocents, weren’t they? Tsk, tsk.”

Jade smiles. It’s a mean smile. She stole it from Draco.

“Don’t want to cooperate? That’s fine. He’ll crush her skull and take you by force. How’s that sound?”

GM: Geraldine screams even louder and intensifies her struggles, but gets nowhere.

Edith’s face looks agonized as she tears her gaze between Jade and her ‘daughter’.

“How do I know you’re not going to just hurt her anyway!”

Jade: “I saved your other kid, didn’t I?”

GM: “You called her a monster! A murderer! How do I know!?”

Jade: “She is a monster. So are you. So’s he. But, see, he’s nicer than me. I’d hurt her for the hell of it. I’m that sort of monster. And I came for you, sweetheart.”

She strides forward, stake in hand.

GM: Edith’s eyes dart between Jade, Draco, and Geraldine again.

“Promise me you’re not going to hurt her! Promise, and I’ll… cooperate!”

Jade: “Oh, that’s not up to me. That’s up to my friend Misha here. You met Misha? Nice bloke. Really great judge of character. I’m sure he’ll get to the bottom of this situation with Geraldine and decide what to do accordingly.”

Jade plunges the stake forward.

GM: Edith screams and throws herself at Jade, her eyes mad with the Beast.

The vampires collide into one another, clawing and hissing and biting as they wrestle across the floor. Draco watches with amusement as Geraldine shrieks at the top of her lungs,


The child vampire drives her foot and fists into Draco’s face with a sudden burst of unholy strength, the same strength that pushed Tinkerbell to her death. She shrieks as she lunges for his throat with bared fangs.

However, it avails her not against the primogen’s childe. Draco perfunctorily snaps her neck and drops the broken corpse to the ground.

“Good riddance.”

Yet Geraldine’s cries raise the alarm. The rest of the Caitiff’s household storms down the stairs and falls upon the invaders, slavishly compelled to rescue their ‘mother’ and domitor. Cinderella clubs Jade’s head with a baseball bat, the Saturday night special unused against the vampire. Melody stabs at Jade’s legs with a knife, trying to hinder the bigger vampire however she can. Two vicious-looking pit bulls tear into Jade too, baying and snarling in defense of their mistress as they rip the Toreador’s flesh.

Five against one is ugly odds, or would be, but Draco takes care of them all. A rain of lightning-fast and brutally hard blows to the skull drop the dogs, Melody, and Cinderella to the floor in motionless heaps.

But he does not raise hand against Edith. Instead, he watches from the sidelines.

Perhaps to see whether Jade is good enough to overcome the clanless trash on her own.

Perhaps to mock her if she is not.

Perhaps to call her dead weight and useless.

If so, he watches in vain.

Edith is little more than her Beast incarnate at this point, all wild offense and feral savagery. Fangs snap as she pins Jade to the floor and lunges for the Toreador’s throat, ripping and tearing with manic desperation. Jade turns into a cat and easily escapes Edith’s human-sized handhold. The Caitiff awkwardly lands on the floor as her foe vanishes from underneath her. The Toreador is already turning human again as she rolls aside, claws bursting from her fingertips, and it’s all-too easy to pin the prone Edith beneath her body’s full weight. Several vicious slashes across the Caitiff’s head and torso serve more to repay Jade’s hurts and punish her foe’s insolence than any practical purpose, for the long-time masseur knows human anatomy more than well enough to stake a vampire from behind. Edith goes rigid as a board as the wood pierces through her aortic arch.

Jade: It’s almost strange, ending a fight without any heavy panting to show her exertion. That’s what happens in all the movies: dripping sweat, heaving chests, blood dripping from nose or lip.

There’s none of that with Jade. None of the drawbacks of the limited, human body. No perspiration. No heavy breathing.

But she aches.


Her black skin looks darker still beneath the red spray from Edith’s body and herself. A large gash in her calf tore through her borrowed jeans to take out a chunk of flesh, and her head should still ring from being struck by the bat.

Contempt smolders in her eyes as they take in the staked lick. Pathetic. A pathetic Caitiff almost took her out. She’d have ended up torped if Draco hadn’t taken care of the others, hadn’t downed the assorted ghouls and the two snarling dogs.

Jaded bitterness surges through her. She lifts her eyes to his.


But that’s all she has time for, a single syllable passing her lips before the blood in the air hits the olfactory senses on the roof of her mouth and her Beast, content to hang back and watch the girl fight, finally slips its leash. Her lips part in a snarl, fangs distending from the roof of her mouth—

Fight. Fuck. Feed. That’s all it knows. All it wants.

Seven bodies in the room. Two stink of mutt, their blood weaker even than the child with the broken neck or the bitch with the bat and the little singer. For half of a crazed second the Beast sizes up this rival, this boy across the way, this fellow predator with the five bodies beside him, familiar blood, hot blood, strong blood—

Danger, some part of it shrieks. A savage growl rips from its throat.

The Beast claims its own kill, ripping into the side of the Caitiff’s neck.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

The housewife is empty by the time the Beast takes its fill and slips back inside its cage, leaving the lick with the stolen body on the floor. Everything still hurts. She mends it a little at a time, soothing the injuries with the freshly-claimed blood, making sure that her Beast is well and truly locked away before she drinks from these other bodies.

She pays the Brujah no mind. No doubt nothing even touched him.

The choice on who to drink from is an easy one. The dogs still stink of weak, muddied blood. She decides against bleeding the ghoul child or the princess—already wounded, she’s no desire to add complication to her life.

Some part of her wants to laugh.


As if the hadn’t just turned it upside down.

But the thin-blood is dead, neck cleanly snapped by Draco. She doesn’t even look at him when she reaches for the corpse and sucks down the foul, weak, watery blood; if regular sex is masturbating compared to the liquid gold of souls, this is like dry humping a pillow with two sets of pants covering all the good bits.

Still, she’s freshly mended by the time she finishes slurping down the red and rises to face her “partner.”

GM: Draco doesn’t touch any of the fallen.

He flips over Edith. The Beast burns in the staked Caitiff’s eyes. He waits until it recedes just enough to understand his words.

“For what it’s worth, that was probably the right call,” he says.

“Fighting back, that is.”

“We have no especially pressing reason to kill your ghouls. They don’t remember these events, I have nothing against them, and I already ate this evening. It’s clear, though, that you valued Geraldine more than any of your ghouls, and I was going to kill her whether you surrendered or not. She was a child-sized death machine and a Masquerade disaster waiting to happen.”

“Even then, I might have been able to tolerate your pet’s existence if you’d kept her on a tighter leash, but that obviously wasn’t happening.”

“It’s a good thing we arrived when we did. You were even letting it breed.”

He shakes his head.

Jade: Don’t remember. How do they not remember? And what doesn’t she remember if they don’t remember?

Her gaze sharpens.

GM: Draco smiles at her, then shakes his head at Edith.

“And we like to wonder at Elysium where the abortions keep coming from.”

“Well, this is where.”

“Ignorant trash who don’t know any better.”

“But I digress from my original point. As irrational and repugnant as I find your behavior, I hold at least some modicum of respect for someone who chooses to fight rather than capitulate when fighting is their most logical option. Even against their betters.”

He smiles down at her.

“Granted, I suppose you don’t know why we’re here, or why you’ve been marked for death.”

“But I’m inclined to allow you some closure before we kill you. I’m not a monster,” he says, his tone mocking.

He looks back up to Jade.

“We need to decide what to do with the baby. How long has she—I’m presuming it’s a she—been ghouled?”

“If it’s not been for long, I’d be inclined to leave her at a fire station, hospital, or other designated safe haven site. Safe haven laws are beautiful things, really. They didn’t exist until 1999, when Texas had 13 cases of abandoned children, 3 involving infants who were discovered dead. Safe haven laws have helped reduce the prevalence of that. They vary by state, but typically, parents can surrender custody of infants up to 30 days old without being held criminally liable. ’Edith’s’ baby looks older than 30 days, but in practice, if employees at a safe haven site find an older abandoned child, they’re not going to turn it away. The law exists for parents as much as children.”

The smile he gives looks less sardonic than his prior ones.

“But all of that is probably moot.”

“I very much doubt that Edith’s stolen baby is new to the Blood.”

Jade: Jade wonders how Celia had ever stood it, the boy’s desire to explain every single thing he knows, every law and loophole and “I’m smart” comment he felt the need to make.

Who is he trying to impress?

Jade shakes her head at the question, mouth set in a thin line.

“No,” she says flatly, “she’s not. Edith found Harper around the time of Katrina.”

The baby is older than Lucy. Over a decade spent trapped as a toddler. What sort of havoc would that do to a child?

GM: “Ten years,” says Draco.

“All of those years catching up with Harper, when she finally burns through the vitae in her system, is going to be very ugly. An adult’s body is fully developed. When it misses the blood, it just ages to the point where it’d have been at. Even that can be a shock to some ghouls’ systems. But for a body that’s going to immediately undergo all of the physical changes that accompany normal childhood development? Those aren’t supposed to happen in days. They’re supposed to happen over years. She won’t have had any of the nutritional intake that’s supposed to accompany her physical development. No milk to build up strong bones. I’d guess that her body is going to be a wreck. It could even kill her.”

“And those are only the physical consequences to her state. Neurologically, I can’t imagine what ten years on the Blood has done to an infant’s brain. The brain is an impossibly complex and delicate organ. Keeping it like this for ten years, then immediately aging it ten years, in so many words, is probably going to fuck it up. And aging it without any of the life experiences that develop its neural pathways? I can’t even begin to guess what kind of brain damage she might end up with.”

“Forget about living a normal life. Forget even about living in an institution. She’ll probably suffer immensely and be mentally incapable of comprehending any kind of existence outside of her pain, for whatever brief span remains of her life. Who even knows if she’d survive outside of a hospital setting. It seems like it’d take a miracle for doctors to give her any kind of life worth living. All before the danger to the Masquerade.”

He shakes his head.

“I don’t have any background in human biology, so tell me if my assessment seems wrong. But my thinking is that it would be kindest to euthanize her right here.”

Edith’s eyes bulge. But even paralyzed, Jade can see the Beast’s madness overtake them yet again.

Jade: Tell me if my assessment seems wrong.

Jade almost misses the words, caught up in making her own calculations with the child-ghoul. Nothing crosses her face at the ask, unexpected though it is.

“Yes and no,” she says at length. “A night doctor would be able to fix some of the body’s concerns. If it were to happen as you say, letting her age ten years instantly, then there would be little hope for her and it would be kinder to put her down now. But there are alternatives, if anyone is willing to put in the time and effort.”

“The issue, as you’ve outlined, is with her mental state. Humans learn most of their ways of functioning as children. The brain rapidly develops during early childhood. Most of its architecture and wiring takes place during those first three years. Not,” she adds, “that it simply stops at their third birthday, but it’s more of a ‘work around’ when they get into adulthood.”

“There are dozens of milestones children hit during their first few years that Harper has been unable to, beyond even the basic ‘walking’ and ‘talking.’”

Jade knows a woman who had eagerly shown her daughter each and every one of them while her decades-younger sister was still growing.

“I’d put her at a year, maybe a year and a half on the older end. She should be somewhat past the babbling phase and be able to say a handful of words, though not yet stringing sentences together. Walking on her own.” Jade pauses a moment. “I’ve never seen her do so. She’s still crawling. Either she’s younger than I think, or her development has already been stunted by the Blood. Even if so, ten years at the same age should have made her learn some of these things from the simple longevity of her existence.”

Jade shakes her head.

“There’s a reason we don’t ghoul babies. Aside from the impracticality of it, not enough study has been done to how it actually effects their physical and mental state.”

It’s research that should be done. Research that she can do. Though even that has its limited uses and would mostly serve to satisfy her curiosity.

“The child ghouls never seem to develop much beyond where they were when ghouled. They can learn new things, certainly, but without some sort of trauma or major life event their personalities are rather set. Much the same as we don’t change much without a good, hard shove. Our bodies are frozen.”

Jade finally sighs.

“She could be saved. A night doctor willing to work with her who has a ghoul or Masquerade-aware family to take her in during the days. Rather than let her age all at once it would be done a little at a time. Wait for her to hit the appropriate milestones. Let her age again. Shower her in love and affection and create an attachment to an adult caregiver. Though Flannagan’s logic is deeply, inherently flawed and her idea of love as twisted as the majority of the rest of our kind’s, she no doubt loved the child. Though perhaps not as much as she loved the thin-blood, and who knows what Geraldine has done to Harper.”

“We could also find an alchemist or magician, see if they can dilute the Blood. An associate believes they are able to make the Blood less addictive; it’s possible they can work something out to dilute other properties as well, though I imagine it would take a combination of medical work, sorcery, and the alchemy.”

“Even if that is all successful, if she were aged to her normal years, she still suffers from a chemical addiction to the Blood and any trauma or stress she has experienced will be written into her very code. Wipe her memories and the pathways will still exist. She may not know why certain things cause her to react certain ways, but her body will still respond. You’re talking about something as complicated as brain surgery. A night doc skilled in such things might be able to erase some of those pathways by physically removing them from her brain… but it’s complicated, risky, and it might not even work.”

“She’d be starting over. Relearning the big five: cognitive, social and emotional, speech and language, fine motor, and gross motor skills.”

“If someone had the time and inclination and resources to do all of that? It’s possible she could turn out normal, though the odds are certainly against her. All of this before we even begin to touch the addiction or various disciplines that have been used on her over the years."

“And,” she adds, “the practicality of what would be done with her following all of that.”

“The body work itself would also be long and complicated. It’s not a simple matter of shoving vitae down her throat. Her entire system would need to be overhauled even if she were to be allowed to age a little at a time.”

GM: Draco considers all of that.

“Flannagan’s notion of love is more twisted than even most of ours,” he says first. “I’ve never heard of any other licks with ghouled babies.”

“Granted,” he continues with a sneer, “that might just be because it’s so impractical.”

Jade: Jade had thought ghouling a functional adult without a clear purpose was impractical, let alone a child or baby.

GM: A functional adult can at least take care of themselves.

“Letting her age in the way you describe seems like it could still be hazardous,” continues Draco. “Either she has the Blood in her system or she doesn’t. So either she’s frozen where she is, or she’s rapidly aging after you put the Blood back in her system. You’d be getting ‘start and stop’ bursts of rapid physical development, rather than slower continuous development, and you’d be hoping to minimize the negative effects of that through periodic medical work, probably sorcery, and an ideal home environment.”

“As you say, it’s a lot of time and resources to invest in this project, against slim odds the child is going to turn out normal. Even assuming a best case scenario, where Flannagan and her pet thin-blood haven’t fucked up Harper in even more ways than we’ve enumerated.”

He glances down at Edith’s staked body.

“It really is amazing how few brains it takes to completely ruin a child. And so many brains to have even a chance at repairing her.”

He glances back up at Jade.

“Are you interested in taking Harper?”

“I don’t have the knowledge, resources, or inclination to give her anything beyond a painless death.”

Jade: If anyone has a chance at rehabilitating her, it’s Jade. She has the skill. She has the resources.

Admittedly, her desire to do so comes from a purely scientific curiosity about whether or not it can be done, and prep for the work North asked her about with Cloe. Waste not.

“I have some selfish, research-oriented interest, both with the body and the brain.”

“It would not be a kind or painless existence.”

GM: “Yes, that was the only other alternative that occurred to me. Turning her over to the Ordo Dracul as a curiosity and potential research avenue. The odds of a normal life are slim that way too, but slim is better than she’d get under my fangs.”

Jade: Jade nods at the mention of the covenant.

“Such is part of what I’d intended. I’ll keep her for now, then, and see what I can make of her.”

“What of the others?”

GM: “They’ve done nothing and won’t remember us. I’d normally be inclined to sell them to other domitors, but I’d rather not have my name linked to them under… these circumstances, if what you said in the car is true.”

“I’d be inclined to simply leave them here, if there aren’t any you want for yourself.”

Jade: “No,” Jade says, “I can’t think of what I’d do with them. Will the eldest recall us, or did you take care of that as well?”

GM: “She won’t after I have a moment with her.”

Jade: “My blood is in her body.”

GM: He shrugs. “Feed Flannagan. Bleed her wrist into the girl.”

Jade: Perhaps she’s overly concerned over the thought of someone looking into this nobody’s disappearance. No reason to be, is there?

She only nods, hefting Flannagan by her ankles and dragging her body to the other room to do as he suggested. She bites her wrist and shoves it into the Caitiff’s mouth, then feeds the ghoul child the hit.

“All of them are going to age rapidly if they don’t find new domitors,” she says at length.

GM: The Beast howls in rage and lust behind Flannagan’s eyes as the taste of Jade’s vitae hits her mouth.

The ghoul moans fitfully from the couch as the taste hits her lips.

“More… please… Mommy…”

Jade: Jade is no one’s mommy. She pays little mind to the begging.

GM: Draco takes out his phone again, taps into it, and starts sweeping the room. His form turns into a blur. Objects and sundry are displaced through the house before he comes to a sudden stop again.

“No bugs that I can find. I’d been concerned Duffy Gestard had this place wired.”

Jade: “What is that,” she asks, nodding to his phone, “that you sweep with?”

GM: “Don’t worry about it.”

Jade: Nothing crosses her face at the rebuff.

GM: He glances down at the ghoul child, then brings his fist down on her head. She goes motionless.


“I’d been inclined to leave our homeless friend with Flannagan’s body and cover him in some blood. Let the kids draw what conclusions they will from that.”

“It’s not a flawless cover-up, but I doubt anyone is going to look into what happened to this nobody.”

Jade: “Perhaps better if there is no body. They turn weird after the event.”

GM: “Hm,” he frowns. “Yes, better if there isn’t, if it’s distinct from ordinary deaths.”

Jade: “Very much so.”

GM: “No body, then. So all the kids know is that one night she disappeared.”

“Along with Harper and Geraldine.”

Jade: Imagine the abandonment issues that will develop as a result.

GM: “I suppose that sort of thing happens, and no one is going to care about their stories anyway.”

Jade: Paranoia gnaws at her. What if they do? What if they’re caught?

“I’d planned on framing her for something anyway,” Jade says with a shrug. “This just adds to the story.”

Not that she can do it now. The boys will want to personally see to the destruction of their brother’s murderer, and she has no desire to be linked to Edith’s disappearance.

GM: “That leaves our homeless friend. I have no further use for him.”

Jade: “I can think of several, though I’ve no desire to haul a body around at this time. More where he came from.”

“The only thing I can do with him right this very minute is get to the bottom of the alchemist’s location.”

GM: “How does that benefit me?”

Jade: “It doesn’t, which is why I haven’t asked you to bring him along. The alchemy may be of some future, limited use to either one of us depending on how it pans out, and there are things I can show you if I have time with his body, but I imagine if you were interested you’d have said.”

GM: “Well, it’s your lucky night. I don’t want to kill him or Flannagan here. Get Harper. We’re leaving.”

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

Jade: Jade takes the narrow staircase to the upper floor and finds the bedroom where the child waits. She takes half a moment to pull her out of her soiled onesie and finds another for her, pulls on an infant-sized coat, and throws a handful of other baby necessities into a diaper bag.

Her nose wrinkles at the thought of diapers.

Luckily, the child doesn’t smell as if she has soiled herself. Jade lifts her, soothing her troubles with a coo and a gentle touch of star mode to her mind, and carries the placid infant back down the stairs with the bag slung over her shoulder.

GM: The crying baby shuts up as Jade sucks away her feelings. Draco is gone, as are Flannagan’s and the thin-blood’s bodies. The car waits outside.

Jade: She steps out, locking the door behind her. No reason to let the rest of the riffraff into the home uninvited. The girls are in for a rude enough awakening as is. She takes no chances with the crowd, dancing through shadows to avoid their notice on her way to the car. The diaper bag goes in the back. Jade sits in front with the infant on her lap.

It’s not the safest way to travel with a baby, but Jade assumes that Draco’s limited patience does not involve time to find and assemble the car seat in his vehicle.

“I’ll sit on the floor with her,” she offers, recalling the way he’d asked her to hide as a feline while they drove through certain parts of town.

It’s a quick move to twist into the backseat to find the well-loved baby blanket from Harper’s crib that she’d brought with her, a pink fleece thing with white animal shapes in white. Jade rolls it into a sort of barrier to set the child in and lays Harper inside of it to sort of pen her in. Then the girl is gone and Luna looks down at her new charge, large green eyes blinking at the child. The cat rubs her cheek against the child’s.

GM: The two bodies are stowed in the car’s backseat. Draco raises no objection and lets Jade do her thing. Harper makes a cooing sound and touches the cat’s head.

The car takes off. It drives and drives and drives. Harper stares ahead with a tranquil expression, pets and touches the cat, then eventually nods off under the car’s steady motions.

Draco eventually clicks a fob. Luna hears a garage door opening. Draco drives inside and parks the car.

He cracks his fist against the thin-blood’s head again, then hauls Edith’s staked body over his shoulder. He carries her upstairs to a bathroom and dumps her in the tub. “In case this gets messy.” They’re in the house owned by the couple they’re impersonating.

Draco disappears for another few moments, then comes back.

He lets Jade made make whatever arrangements she wants for Harper, or just leave the infant in the car, then says perfunctorily, “I don’t trust you. So here’s what we’re going to do.”

“This process you’ve described. Eating her soul. You’re going to do it alongside me.”

“If anything goes wrong, you’ll suffer the consequences too.”

“And if this all goes right, you’ll be equally complicit in the crime.”

Jade: Though normally deadly, the car seems the safest place to leave the sleeping infant. She doesn’t trust either one of their Beasts not to find the easy meal once they’ve partaken in this.

Silently, Jade listens to Draco’s words. She nods when he’s done.

“She’ll need a hit or two before we begin. Sucking from a dry body will produce no results. We’ll get back whatever we give when it happens.”

“Once you hit the point where you think she’s empty, keep going. It takes a minute. You’ll think nothing is happening. But then it’ll hit you. It’s… it feels good. Very good. Better than anything I’ve ever experienced. Better than sex, better than blood, better than anything you think you like or love or need. But you’ll know her pain, too. Not physically. Up here.” Jade taps her head. “Just keep going until it’s over. The Beast will rattle around and attempt to get out. I’ll do my best to keep it inside. It’s intense, Draco, very intense.”

“I’ve no doubt you possess the control. I only wanted to forewarn you so there are no surprises.”

GM: “I see,” he says.

“We need a diversion, then, if someone loses control.”

He leads her back downstairs, grabs the thin-blood’s body, and carries it back up to the bathroom.

He dumps it on the tile floor beside the tub.

Jade: Someone else might say it’s a smart idea. Jade holds her tongue.

GM: Draco doesn’t.

“Well, correction, more like you’ll need a diversion.”

Jade: “You could pin me to the floor with one hand,” she says flatly, “I doubt I could get to you if I tried.”

GM: “That’s exactly what I meant.”

“If you lose control, I can subdue you.”

“If I lose control, you’ll have to hope I decide to go for our friend’s body instead of yours.”

Jade: Ah. He’d meant the insult in a different way than she’d taken it.

She only nods.

“You were right, by the way. What you said at the Evergreen about Gui and Carolla.”

GM: “That they were scum?”

Jade: She debates the merits of telling him what she’d been thinking: that she’d have lost to Gui and Carolla both without the benefit of tricks up her sleeve. If they’re about to embark on this diablerie journey together she’d rather not recount her failings and make her presence sound useless. Or worse, a hindrance.

Not if she wants him to do it again with her.

Does she, though? Continued exposure to his presence, continued insults and veiled threats and waiting for him to turn on her? Then again, what’s a little social discomfort compared to ripping someone’s soul out of their body. What are barbed words versus the ability to cheat the Blood and obtain power as easily as she feeds.

And if he’s a good enough fighter for the both of them then she can focus on what she does excel at. Getting close. Getting in and out without being seen. Disguises. Taking care of the bodies afterward.

His other night doctor can fulfill the same purpose.

Bitterness swells within her chest. It’s a tight, uncomfortable pressure that makes her want to clench her jaw or purse her lips or curl her fingers into a fist. Knowing that she’s been replaced. That he so easily found someone else who shares her unique skillset.

She doesn’t let the emotion show on face or body.

Corpses aren’t all she does. She’s resourceful. Quick on her feet. Adaptable to any given situation, able to blend as easily as a chameleon to what’s at hand. She has numerous friends across the covenants, extensive medical knowledge, has slept with enough licks to find good targets for their fangs. She has never seen a mask created like those she makes of flesh, has never heard of other night docs in the city able to provide the sort of imbued tattoos that she does. All this before her ability to steal secrets from the mind. To unlock hidden memories, or make someone inclined to ignore something they’d just learned, to spin fiction so wound in half-truths that none but the most savvy can pull apart the threads.

What might it have been like to tell him about this prior to the Carolla incident, to have him at her side as trusted partner and lover? How many would they have taken on together, and how high would they have risen?

Jade had no interest in Roderick. But Draco? Oh, she’s very, very interested in this new iteration of Celia’s ex. How callously he murders even children. How quickly he has attained her grandsire’s favor to be the one questioning her, to be watched over by ghouls. How commanding his presence with the other licks, leading them through the torture of his enemy, the execution of foes, the practical, calculating mind that made him desire to strip his cheating lover from all that she held so he could control it and her.

Like her sire.

The thought threatens to send a chill down her spine. How could she compare one to the other? How could she see in him what she sees in her sire?

Because it’s true. Because Coco’s childe has fallen from his ‘white knight’ status to take up a different mantle, a darker sort of presence in the city.

Perhaps Savoy had known how far he’d fall after thinking his sire betrayed him. Perhaps he’d anticipated it, had thought that Celia would benefit from this new version of him, that she could finally stop hiding and lying.

And perhaps it’s foolish to think her grandsire gave her love unlife any consideration at all when he hatched his plans. Advantageous byproduct, that’s all it is. Not that she’d managed to keep it. No, Celia had gone and fucked it all up by being a coward with a savior complex.

Jade doesn’t dwell on what-might-have-been. Only what is. What’s possible for her should he see the value she brings to their operation and assent to further murders.

Pride might have kept her from admitting to shortcomings when she was chained to the cross and at his mercy, might have stilled her tongue when she thought arrogance would see her through the ordeal with fewer humiliations at his hand. She’d have taken vicious satisfaction in knowing that he couldn’t get beneath her skin.

But here, privately, why bother lying? It’s not like he doesn’t know her limitations in a fight. He’s already said as much. He’s seen her at it. Trained her, for all that it turned from fighting to fucking most nights. He knows what she’s capable of in combat.

And he values truth. Wants to hear how big and special and strong he is.

“Yes,” she says simply. “But also that if I’d tried to go toe-to-toe they’d have beaten me without you.”

She considers the staked and starving lick in the tub.

“Perhaps you’ll be pleased when you see for yourself how painfully he died, in the end.”

GM: No doubt that bitterness and sense of replacement is exactly what he wanted her to feel.

After all, Celia had ‘replaced’ him, in a manner of speaking, with her other lovers.

Who knows, indeed, how many souls Celia and Roderick would have devoured together? Perhaps many, thanks to their boundless (at least on Roderick’s end) trust and love for one another.

Or perhaps none at all. Or only the one.

Would Roderick want to participate in so black and foul an act, for his own personal gain and pleasure, when he could simply give his foes quick and clean deaths? He’d contemplated staking and burying Carolla deep in the earth, so as not to have to kill even him.

“Ah, yes. They would have,” he answers. “Just as Edith here would have.”

The Brujah’s tone isn’t gloating, but neither is there concern for sparing Jade’s feelings. Roderick never regarded Celia with the same coolly distant look that Draco now wears.

He then bites his wrist and lets a stream of red dribble into Edith’s mouth.

“There’s no such thing for them as too painful.”

He climbs into the tub and sinks his fangs into the staked Caitiff’s neck.

Jade: Edith by herself wouldn’t have. Jade hadn’t shifted. Hadn’t let her own Beast out against the apeshit lick and still handled her. It was all the others that gummed things up. But Jade doesn’t press the issue. She could have taken the bitch out without a fight if she’d lied about sparing Geraldine too.

So much for honesty.

Jade doesn’t say a word when she clambers in beside him and bites the Caitiff’s other side.

GM: The blood, entirely Draco’s blood, is gone quickly enough. He’s already started before she sinks her fangs in. Its taste is familiar.

So, by now, is the act.

Third time in one night?

Soon enough, there’s no blood running down her throat. It’s something deeper. More vital. It’s something deeper, more vital. Jade still can’t describe the taste, the sensation, even after three times. It’s lighter than air and denser than rock. It fills her and empties her. She feels divine and depraved. Her mouth burns, her throat burns, her stomach burns, all of her burns, but it’s pain so sweet as to be pleasure, agony so piercing as to become bliss. The same sound echoes, like the tolling of a great and distant boll, like the steady weakening of Edith’s life-force as Jade draws it into herself. Dong, dong, dong,

Jade can’t see Edith’s face as readily, with Draco on her other side. But she makes out his. His eyes are huge, the features twisted into a mask of grotesquerie and ecstasy. He looks like he’s cumming after weeks without pleasure. He looks like a serial killer watching the light go out in his victim’s eyes. He looks an addict scoring his biggest ever fix. He looks like a rapist reveling in his victim’s cries, in the power he has over her. He looks like a beast. He looks like a demon.

Jade probably looks the same.

It rocks through her, just like last time, but no matter how many times there are, it’s never going to get old. She’s been set ablaze on her own funeral pyre. Every tissue, every cell, every molecule in her body is its own Jade Kalani, exploding in millions upon millions upon millions of simultaneous sexual climaxes. It’s unbearable. She can’t endure this. It’s torture. Never again. Always again. She’ll kill, to feel this again, this unholy impossible bliss that makes sex with the partner of her wildest fantasies into trying to masturbate with an oven mitt on. She has become empty, a vessel for pleasure, a vessel that knows naught for torturous bliss as a volcano erupts in her heart, spewing forth currents of liquid gold, making her more than she is, she’s unstoppable, she’s invincible, she’ll do this forever, she’ll become more and more and MORE with every soul she consumes—

She suddenly comes to. Draco’s pinned her face-down against the bathtub, arms twisted into a lock behind her back.

Against all odds, the Brujah looks like he’s held his Beast in, if the thin-blood’s hale body and her own non-torpid state are anything to go by.

What’s left of Edith looks like it was dipped in a vat of acid. The flesh has turned a putrescent white-yellow-green. Sections have the consistency of sludge as they ooze off the body, exposing similarly rotted and discolored muscles. Most of the hair has sloughed off. The smell is foul. It reminds Jade of spoiled baby formula.

Jade: It rocks through her. Like last time. Explosion after explosion, orgasm after orgasm until she can barely stand it, can’t stand it, no more, please—

oh god, yes, yes, more, MORE

The rest of them feel it, the girls inside, and they come rising to the surface to see, to experience—

NO, the Bitch snarls, and the Beast rises to her summons, snapping at their faces and heels and making them run, run, flee while Jade endures, while she takes it all, while she drinks it in, it’s hers, just hers, it belongs to Jade—

Laughter rings inside her head when the Beast comes back around for her and Beast and Bitch growl and snarl and snap and fuck, it’s inside of her, it’s consuming her, it’s controlling her—

Coming around to being pinned beneath the larger, stronger predator above her with the foul stench of Edith’s remains right next to her face is like every drug crash that has ever ruined someone’s high. Like finally realizing she’s reached climax only to see that the porn on her computer is a dirty, shameful sort of thing that makes her want to crawl into a hole and never see the sky again.

How the fuck had he resisted the call of the Beast? Had he not felt it? Had she taken everything and he nothing and this whole thing had been a wash?

Jade wiggles in his grasp until he loosens it, flipping onto her back to look up at him still poised above her. She searches his face with her eyes, looking for… something. Some clue as to how it was for him.

GM: Jade finds his steel grasp does not waver until she stops struggling.

He barely seems to see her.

There’s a glazed and distant look to his eyes. They stare past hers, as if drawn towards some dark and all-consumptive abyss from which there is no turning back. His face is utterly still and lifeless. Was he always so pale? Did the fangs protruding from his lips always look so at home there? They didn’t look at home on Roderick’s face. They always seemed incidental. An afterthought. They didn’t gel with the baseball-playing, Batman-watching, dog-loving college student who liked to share sausage pizza and cheesy breadsticks with his girlfriend during sleepovers and would roll up the socks in his dresser into little balls. Somehow, that’s always who he still was, even with the fangs. They didn’t define him. He was a boy, Celia’s boyfriend, before he was a vampire.

Draco doesn’t look like he could exist without his fangs.

They’re the foremost part of him. They’re the only part of him. He is a predator. He hungers. That is all this cold-eyed and pallid-faced creature of the night looks like it’s ever been, and will ever be. This vampire never had a girlfriend.

His head slowly rotates. It’s an animalistic motion, seemingly driven by predatory instinct rather than human will, as if tracking the scent of prey.

Pale lips pull back from the fangs.

It takes a moment to realize the expression is a smile, and it does not reach his eyes.

Then, suddenly, it bursts from him. Laughter. Riotous, howling, shrieking peals of laughter, bereft of mirth, bereft of life, nothing more than a cacophony of violent, booming noise. His body doesn’t move. It’s as if he’s forgotten how, or sees no need to, and it’s that little gesture that perhaps feels most inhuman of all—how he just stays still as a statue, arms motionless at his sides, head unmoving, as he laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs.

Jade: How far he has fallen.

She sees it in his face. The fangs. The dead glaze to his eyes. She’d seen parts of it before, hadn’t she: in the spa the night they’d found out about Carolla. Choking Reggie against the wall. Slamming his girlfriend against the same wall the next night. Cutting the knot. Cruelly belittling the girl he’d once loved. Cutting apart the mafioso.

Everything that happened at Edith’s. Snapping the child’s neck. Not caring one bit what reason Jade took the baby for; even admitting that he would have passed her off to the Ordo to dissect.

And now this.


Stealing the very soul from the destroyed lick next to them, sentencing her “children” to fend for themselves. With their domitor dead they’re collarless ghouls, stuck in the bodies of children for who knows how many years. Isn’t Lily somewhere near Jade’s age?

None of it matters to him. Not their fate. Not the lick beneath him. Not the lick whose ugly remains lie next to them in the tub.

Her face could be carved of stone for all that it gives away, a mask of mildly amused detachment with a sharp smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

Jade had never given much of a fuck about Roderick. Celia would weep to see him like this. But Jade? Oh, Jade likes it. Jade revels in it. Jade adores this new Roderick, this Draco with his fangs and his laughter and his predatory taint, the cold fury in his eyes, the absolute stillness of it all. Just the sound passing his lips, the heartless laughter spilling out of the hole in his face.

She remains still and silent while he lets it out. Still and silent while he realizes the secret she has given him, the direct avenue to power that he can take with no regard to training or waiting or finding a teacher to whom he’d pledge a boon for the knowledge.

This is the shortcut.

This is what the elders don’t want them to know.

This is the freedom from their games. The ability to compete on the same playing field.

Sin incarnate, and how exquisite the experience.

Hunters call them leeches, parasites living off of others. Say that they are monsters for taking the lives of others. As if it compares. As if feeding on blood comes close to what they’ve just done. This is what it means to consume.

But Jade waits. Silent and still. She builds a list in her mind of targets they can take and she waits.

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade does not wait overlong. The endlessly ringing, empty laughter eventually dies, though the stillness to his face does not. His fangs do not retract. His head mechanically tilts in her direction.

“No wonder,” he finally says.

“No wonder no one talks about this.”

“This changes everything.”

Jade: The smile still doesn’t reach her eyes, but she nods at the words.

“Everything,” she echoes. “No waiting. No training. Just what you can take.”

GM: “Years. Decades. Centuries. In an instant.”

Jade: “That’s why they hunt down those who know.”

GM: “It’s not even just mastering disciplines.”

“If this cures thin-bloodedness. That isn’t ‘effectively’ lowering a thin-blood’s generation. That is lowering their generation.”

“If thin-bloods can do it, why not true-bloods?”

Jade: “Shatter the glass ceiling.”

GM: “Why stay nine steps removed from Caine? Why wait decades, centuries, for the Blood to thicken? Why not claim power in an instant?”

His voice is a whisper.

Jade: “We’re only limited by who we can get our hands on. By how well we can cover the crime.” Jade jerks her chin a fraction of an inch toward the destroyed body.

GM: “No one saw us. We went in disguise. Took a car that isn’t ours. Took the body to a second location.”

Jade: She finally smiles.

GM: “Even ESP won’t show this happened at Edith’s house. If someone even bothers to investigate. Two unidentified licks no one’s ever seen before carried away Edith Flannagan to murder somewhere else.”

Jade: “And I can fix the body, like I did for Gui, or otherwise dispose of it.”

GM: “No. We can’t risk anyone looking at the body. Finding anything out of place. We need to destroy them both.”

“This completely recontextualizes so much of Kindred history.”

“So much of how elders treat neonates.”

“All of them. All of them have to know. All of them have to be terrified of this.”

“Terrified of younger licks coming for them.”

“I’m making several assumptions in saying that. But if I’m right.”

“If I’m right.”

Jade: “I think you are. Lebeaux mentioned it in passing. The reason for the Salubri’s destruction. The reason for the curse on the Banu Haqim.”

GM: “Lebeaux would be stupid if he breathed a word of this.”

Jade: “He didn’t. Not like you’re thinking.”

GM: “Maybe he doesn’t know.”

“What elder would ever let a neonate know about this.”

Jade: “None of them. Not a single one. They’d keep us ignorant.”

GM: “Who the hell did you learn this from?”

“This knowledge is incalculably valuable. Incalculably dangerous.”

Jade: “Yes. It is. You’ll need a way to hide it. You spend time around elders. Who knows which of them dip inside your head at what time.”

GM: “Someone else already knows that you know this. Who?”

Jade: “No. Someone else knows Celia knows and doesn’t know the connection between Celia and Jade. They believe Celia is a new Embrace, ignorant of greater Kindred society. And I took it from Celia.”

GM: “What possible motive would someone have to share this with a sheltered fledgling?”

Jade: “Digging for information on the fledgling’s sire, I believe. A trap meant to make her reveal more than she wanted.”

GM: “That’s some honey to bait a trap with.”

“He can’t ever know. Savoy. He cannot ever know that we know, or he would destroy us. Any elder would.”

“No matter how useful we are or become, it will never outweigh the potential threat we pose. It will always be more economical to destroy us.”

Jade: Jade nods her agreement.

“That’s why,” she says, “that’s why I asked you not to let Lebeaux look at it. He’d see how it was when I was done with him. Not like this. Different. But still very, very clearly an issue.”

“And no one else can know. It can’t spread beyond us or they will trace it back.”

GM: “It’s dangerous to do this in New Orleans,” Draco says slowly. “Edith was a nobody, but someone with stronger blood is exponentially more likely to be missed and investigated. Not to mention able to personally muck things up themselves.”

“It would be safer to drink licks in other cities.”

Jade: “I have an opportunity in L.A. Celia does. For a few months.”

GM: “The fewer ties, the better. Ties to Celia are bad.”

“L.A. is a good city, though,” he muses. “Anarch-held. Less centralized and nosy authorities.”

“Decently far away.”

“Lots of transients. Lots of licks to pick from, too.”

Jade: “Celia could always turn down the opportunity.” Jade shrugs. She’ll take power over money and fame.

GM: “Turn it down. Better safe than sorry.”

“This would go smoothly. Blow into town in disguise. Kill some people. Disappear. Never come back. At least with those faces.”

Jade: “And we can be anyone.”

GM: He finally smiles again. It’s a cold smile, and his fangs are long in his mouth.

“It’s as close to foolproof as there is.”

Jade: “We’ll need a cover for our disappearance here.”

GM: “I’ll think of something. We shouldn’t leave at the same time or to the same known destination.”

“This degree of caution might not be necessary. But I’d rather overdo it than underdo it.”

Jade: “Or we should. Together. Make a big show of it. Hide in plain sight.”

GM: “Roderick and Jade have no reason to go anywhere together.”

Jade: No, perhaps not now with the city as it is.

GM: He shakes his head.

“No matter. That’s for the future. Right now we need to cover up what we’ve done here. I’m going to kill the thin-blood. How thoroughly can you destroy his and Edith’s bodies?”

Jade: Jade’s answering smile is wicked.

“There’ll be nothing left when I’m done.”

GM: Draco’s fangs are long and hungry in his smiling mouth.

“Then let’s get started.”

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

GM: Draco disposes of the thin-blood quickly enough by snapping his neck too. Jade knows that’s much harder than the movies make it look, though it’s easier with an unresisting subject. Draco dumps the corpse in the bathroom outside of the tub.

He curls his lip at the still-fresh-looking corpse’s smell (“that seems more due to how he lived than how he died”) and strips off the threadbare clothes.

Jade: Jade has Draco to assist in the procedure, putting his speed and strength to good use. She asks him to bleed the thin-blood into whatever container the black couple has in their house, showing him where to cut through the chest so he can rip out the clavicles to get to the subclavian arteries.

“Their blood tastes worse than most humans,” Jade admits, “but waste not.” She shows him how to hang the thin-blood by his feet and remove the rib cage so he can get to the heart to literally pump the blood out of him and into the waiting container once it stops flowing on its own.

GM: “Their blood tastes fine by itself,” Draco says as he pries apart the thin-blood’s ribs. The gore-stained shower stall already resembles a slaughterhouse. “But it’s reminiscent of actual lick blood and that makes it worse. Like going to the O’Tolley’s playground after being promised Disneyland.”

Jade: “Not that either compares to what we just did.”

GM: “No. They don’t.”

Jade: She starts on Edith while he works on the thin-blood, using her claws like knives to peel off what’s left of her rotting skin. The putrid and decaying organs are further pulverized into liquid mush; Edith was old enough that most of her internal structure, even the muscles, liquefied once her body was stripped of its animation. Jade rips and wrenches and severs through what remains, cutting and hacking and having Draco break the bones into manageably sized pieces. She leaves the flesh in a pile to come back to later.

Then it’s the thin-blood’s turn. She’s more careful with the cuts she makes to his torso after she and Draco yank off the limbs, pulling out his stomach in one complete piece. That, too, is set aside. The rest of him is stripped down to the bones, organs and tissue set into one pile and bones in another for Draco to further break down. (“I really need to find someone to eat who can give me a boost with this part of it.”)

GM: Draco snaps apart the bones as required while he watches Jade work. Edith’s bones are fairly brittle after the state her body is in. The thin-blood’s take more time, but they’re broken apart soon enough too.

Jade: Jade rummages through the kitchen, bathroom, and hall closet for what she needs: a rubber container, hydrogen peroxide (a staple in almost every bathroom), and a spice grinder. Well, what she finds is a coffee grinder instead, but it will serve the same purpose.

She puts the assorted tissues into the rubber container, pokes a hole into the thin-blood’s stomach with her claws, and upends it over the bowl.

Almost instantly the flesh and tissue begins to sizzle and dissolve. Once she adds the hydrogen peroxide the process moves even more quickly.

“Gastric acid,” Jade says if he asks. “pH around 1. Kine have mucus lining their stomach that prevents it from eating through. Add this, though, and it’s… pretty instant.”

She smiles down at the sludge, adding more pieces of flesh as room is created in the bowl. While that works its magic she grinds the larger pieces of bone into a fine dust and tosses the smaller, thinner ones directly into the solution.

Ordinarily she’d strip them all down without the use of chemicals, but then there are still inconvenient pieces lying around that she can’t do much with without running the risk of someone finding them.

Anything that doesn’t dissolve, which isn’t much, she rubs between her hands to break into smaller and smaller particles that eventually just disappear.

There’s nothing left when she’s done.

GM: “I learned in science classes how acidic stomach acid is,” Draco remarks. “It’s something else to see firsthand.”

“Disgusting this abortion still had so much.”

“But I suppose it’s to our benefit.”

Jade: “Kidneys produce something else you can use for it, too. Ammonia.”

GM: Draco rips apart what remains of Edith’s and the thin-blood’s clothing to dump into the container of acid-dissolving body parts.

“Efficient,” he says once they’re done. “I’d be inclined to keep this to get rid of Gui’s body, if you don’t have another means of disposal in mind.”

Jade: “I might,” she hedges, “but it’s a risk we don’t need to take. This will be fine.”

GM: Draco finds a lid for the bucket, then strips off his clothes.

“You can turn us back to normal now. Give me Roderick’s face.”

Jade: Jade rinses her hands in the sink and begins the work. Once more she starts at his feet, sliding her hands up over his skin to turn the color from black to Roderick’s paler complexion. She smooths over the mark she’d carved into his skin as she goes. Up his shins and calves, across the knees, up the thigh and sides of his legs, across the groin—how little his cock interests her now, how empty it would feel compared to the heady ecstasy of a soul—and then across his abdomen and chest, neck, shoulders, arms. She spins around behind him and does the same down the back, sweeping her fingers in quick movements over his body, paying careful attention to the details.

“What are you going to tell him,” she asks as she works.

Then his face. Roderick’s face. Not Draco. She wonders at the request—surely he isn’t going to see Savoy as Roderick to collect the body—but does as asked.

She strips when she’s done, rinses again, and her skin ripples and dissolves as she retakes her normal form without ever needing to touch her own body. Jade.

GM: “It won’t be a problem,” is all he says.

He collects half the vitae harvested from the thin-blood.

Jade: There’s less than there was prior; Jade took a hit to keep the edge off when she started in on his body. She takes another when she’s done. She murmurs a quiet “thanks” when he gives her the extra that can’t be evenly divided between the pair, leaving her with more than he took. It’s an unexpectedly decent gesture.

She doesn’t press the issue on Savoy, only nods and moves into the bedroom to find a pair of pants to steal from the woman. She’d rather not walk around in panties the rest of the night. She makes sure they’re old, something that won’t be missed, and slides them on.

They’re not stylish. Not Jade’s version of stylish, anyway, and she makes a face at herself in the mirror. Still, it could be worse. They look like pajama bottoms or lounge wear, something someone could be wearing late at night with the thin cotton shirt and no bra she’d been kidnapped in, so at least it matches.

Jade finds Draco when she’s done. Questions burn inside of her, but for the moment she holds her tongue. Wary, she realizes; she’s looking for signs of their new dynamic. Balancing on the edge of the knife with him while she waits to see where they stand, walking across egg shells to avoid ticking him off. Like Celia did for her dad. Like she still does for her sire.

That’s an unacceptable state. She’s not going to accept another master who expects blind obedience and denies any sort of intel.

GM: Draco pulls back on his discarded clothes. He goes back into the bedroom, cracks the couple over their heads again, removes their bonds, then carries them back to the living room couch and turns on the TV. He returns the cords back to their proper place, picks up the container of stomach acid, then departs the house and climbs back into his car. He waits for Jade to get in, then drives.

“Turn into a cat and get on the floor.”

Jade: So much for “I’ll have time to ask on the way back.”

Jade takes her feline form and settles onto the ground near Harper.

GM: The ghouled baby has since fallen asleep. They drive for a long time.

Finally, Draco says, “Turn human again.”

Jade: So she does.

She glances at the surroundings, ready to change her face if needed.

GM: They’re in southern Gentilly and close to the city proper.

Draco climbs into the back of the car and lies down on the floor.

“Give me Draco’s face now.”

“I’ll drop you off where you want in the Quarter when you’re done.”

Jade: Jade clambers after him, flexing her fingers while she takes a spot on the seat. It’s an awkward angle to work. So she moves, straddling his hips with a knee to either side, thighs spread.

“I have a question,” she says as she starts the work.

GM: “Then ask it.”

Jade: She has several, actually. But she starts with one.

“What’s the cover? Cool indifference?”

GM: “That will serve.”

He growls as she goes about her painful ministrations.

Jade: “Are you ever leaving the Quarter with this face?” She sweeps her fingertips across his jaw.

GM: “Don’t worry about it.”

Jade: Her lips flatten into a thin line.

“I had an offer. I’m not looking to get intel on your plans.”

GM: “Make it.”

Jade: He is not her sire no matter how clipped his words. She moves from jaw to cheek.

“There’s more we can do for each other if we’re known to associate.”

GM: “Such as?”

Jade: “Status. Clout. United front. A known somebody to vouch for a new face. Less need for cloak and dagger if we’re meeting. Savoy has eyes and ears everywhere; he catches wind and he’ll want to know why we’d see each other at all. He already values you, but there’s more favor yet to be won. I’m working on two projects for him. He’ll be pleased with the result. Shared recognition.”

A pause while she alters the shape of his nose.

“There’s more I’d be willing to go out on a limb for if I know that the favor will be returned without scorn. Not free,” she clarifies before he can give her a dark look, “you want to go quid pro quo and swap boons, fine. There are things I excel at and things you excel at, and together we have most of the bases covered. But there’s a whole song and dance we’d have to do to avoid scrutiny.”

“I don’t,” she repeats, wrenching his nose into place, “want you as an enemy.”

“And I don’t want to settle for some second rate knock off bullshit just to avoid approaching you.”

GM: He growls at the sensation.

“I’ll tell Lord Savoy we don’t have an active feud with one another. There’s no point in going to extra trouble over bullshit that just makes him unhappier.”

“Anything you do to Roderick’s family, by the way, I’ll do to Celia’s. Harm Danielle and I’ll harm Emily. Harm Roderick’s father and I’ll harm Celia’s mother. Stay quiet about Dani’s trespassing and I’ll stay quiet about Diana’s. Stay quiet about Dani’s identity and I’ll stay quiet about Celia’s Masquerade breach. This will be as reciprocal as you choose to make it.”

Jade: “I have zero interest in harming anything Roderick values,” Jade says flatly. “I don’t want his secrets. I don’t want to know what he’s doing for Savoy or what he overhears at the Cabildo. I never want it stolen from my head.”

She stops her movements, looking from his cheek to his eyes.

“I don’t expect you to like me. I don’t expect you to trust me. But the shit we just pulled? That gets us both killed. And I want to know that if I call you up and say ‘Hey Draco, I need a favor,’ I can rely on you there as much as I rely on you to keep your mouth shut. Because the sheer fact of the fucking matter is that there’s not a single other lick in this city that I’d have shown that to, and we’ve already made plans to do it again.”

GM: “Depends on the favor,” he says. “If it has bearing on my self-interest, you can certainly rely on me there. If it doesn’t, I’ll consider such favors on a case-by-case basis.”

Jade: “If I haven’t royally fucked it up with Savoy,” Jade says, resuming her work, “he’s building me a lab for further experimentation and study. There’s plenty that I already think will benefit you. And your sister. She needs a new identity if ‘Hannah’ is going to be seen with someone else. And another if she becomes a true-blood. I’ll do it for her. I already know her.”

She sculpts his cheeks, giving them the sharp look of Draco’s.

“I want Gui’s old job.”

“And if you’re interested in assisting with a project, it’ll do us both good.”

GM: “That being?”

Jade: “Luring the exiled prince to his side.”

GM: Draco effects a snort. “Good luck with that.”

Jade: “Grandsire thought the idea had merit. If not bringing Guilbeau over then at least using him as cover to expand Savoy’s influence. If you’ve taken over Gui’s hold on the Mafia then it might be of personal interest to you as well.”

“And if not,” she adds, moving to the flesh around his eyes, “then I’m dead in a week and they comb through my head before they execute me, so if you need a boon for your help I’ll pay it.”

GM: “Your bringing Guilbeau over doesn’t benefit me. If you want my help, you are paying for it.”

“I’m certainly not about to take your word that I’m dead if I don’t help you with this.”

Jade: “Christ, Draco, how many times do I have to say that I know you don’t take me at my word? I said I’d pay.”

GM: “You said ‘if.’ So what help do you want to buy?”

Jade: “Guilbeau claims that Setites torped one of his playmates. He can’t wake her. You seem to be in with them and I’d rather not screw one over and piss off my grandsire.”

GM: “You’d piss them off too. They aren’t Quarter rats.”

Jade: “That too.”

“I don’t have any desire to be on their bad side.”

GM: “Who’s the playmate?”

Jade: “Marie something. Tremere. Apparently the warlocks won’t help.”

GM: “I’ll ask. No promises.”

Jade: “Thanks.”

GM: “It’s not lost on me that Guilbeau doesn’t actually need you to get what he wants, either.”

Jade: Jade’s movements slow. “No?”

“What’re you thinking?”

GM: “Nothing. Just observing.”

Jade: Jade purses her lips.

“I hate how stupid this fucking body is,” she mutters. “Your ex is a fucking idiot. He promised something valuable.”

GM: “Sometimes I wish I’d asked Celia to fill out IQ tests together for a date night.”

“That would have been funny.”

Jade: “Would it amuse you to torture her?”

GM: “I’d rather kill her.”

Jade: “The personality? Or the body?”

GM: “Either.”

Jade: “I wouldn’t mind getting rid of her,” Jade muses. “Last night I made her admit how weak she is.”

“She’s made a real mess of things.”

GM: “You’re also the same person, like it or not.”

Jade: Jade laughs.

“That’s where you’re wrong, darling. Celia and I share a body. We’ve never shared goals or ideals. Would you like to see the proof?”

GM: “You are the same person. You’re simply insane and have developed multiple personalities in response to trauma.”

Jade: “You’re no fun,” Jade pouts. “You won’t even let me show you my trick?”

GM: “If it’s of practical value.”

Jade: “Only to convince you that Celia and I are separate entities.”

“There’s not much effort on your part.”

GM: “Feel free, though I doubt I’ll believe that. Especially when you’d benefit from making me believe that.”

Jade: Jade cocks her head to one side.

“I’ll freely admit I had zero interest in Roderick Durant. Draco is another matter. But watch. Do that thing you strong types do, the one where you size me up and know just how tough I am, yeah?”

GM: “I’m watching.”

Jade: Jade lets him get a good look at her. Poised above him, thighs spread to either side, smirking with lips that belong on his. Or anyone’s.

Then she’s gone. Her flesh ripples outward like a pebble thrown into a pond, starting in the center of her face and moving toward jaw and hairline. She softens the hard lines, becomes the girl that he used to know.

Large brown eyes blink down at him, confusion and apprehension writ across her face as she takes in the deadly form of Draco beneath her.

But that’s not the interesting part.

No, the interesting part is how she reads.

How she changes on a mystical level.

GM: The Brujah’s fist smashes into Celia’s softer and fearful face. Blood spurts as the nose crunches in.

“That’s funny. You are are weaker,” he smiles.

Jade: She doesn’t seem to understand. Not if her bewildered look or yelp is any indication. Fear stares out at him for a moment before it’s gone, replaced by Jade’s self satisfied smirk. Blood runs freely from her shared nose.

“Told you.”

“Shame she fucked it up, anyhow. This new you is highly amusing.”

A few quick strokes finish his face. She tells him as much.

GM: “That was satisfying,” he says, experimentally touching his face as he gets up and re-assumes his seat. “You can expect a similar response if I see Celia’s face again.”

Jade: Jade is displaced when he moves. She follows him into the front.

“Mm,” she says, “does that mean you don’t want to rip her leg off?”

GM: “That sounds like a delightful way to spend several moments. Or however long someone could stretch them out.”

He starts driving again.

“Where do you and your weaker personality want to get off?”

Jade: “I need Celia’s femur,” Jade says idly, looking down at the child on the floor. “Let me stay the day and I’ll bring the blood to put her back together when you’ve finished tormenting her. I’ll keep the memories from her so she’ll be truly terrified.”

She smiles. It’s a mean smile.

“Her mother’s house.”

GM: That makes both of theirs.

“That does sound delightful. You’ll spend the day staked if you want to spend it with me, though. I’m not chancing a repeat of last time.”

Jade: “Naturally.”

Celia VI, Chapter IV
The Missing Mafioso

“I’m in so much trouble. So much.”
Celia Flores

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Alana comes back, to report Roderick’s car is taken care of. She’s eager as always for more sex with her domitor before the sun finally rises over the sky. She departs with an “I love you” murmured into Jade’s ear.

Kindred don’t dream, but doubtlessly Jade would savor sweet dreams indeed to imagine her ex-lover’s thoughts at her caustic words. To imagine his face, when Benji and the ghouls turned him out. Could he take them? Perhaps, one on one, but three on one is ugly odds, and the need to keep the Masquerade makes them even uglier. So too with the swift need to find shelter from the sun. Doubtless, it grated his pride to slink away. To let Jade get the last word and the last laugh.

Everyone hates to let someone else get the last laugh.

Perhaps that explains the stake that plunges into Jade’s heart during the middle of the day.

The face that stares down isn’t happy. Not at Jade. Not at the world. Might not ever have been.

Celia: And here she’d been hoping for round two with Pierre.

She’d gone to bed as Ren, flexing her new ability to become what Benji and his boys expected to see rather than confirm that she’s Kalani. The licks in the krewe know, but the ghouls don’t need to.

It had taken moments to make the change. With Sol beating down on her, trying to snake his tendrils through the cracks and crevices in their light-proofed house, Celia had practiced in front of the mirror. Same height, but the rest of her… oh, the rest of her shifts. Slimmer hips, smaller chest, more developed arms and legs and back; the rugged build of a Gangrel rather than the svelte form of the Toreador. Still pretty, but not enough to draw more attention than necessary. Brawler rather than dancer.

GM: There are three other people in Ren’s peripheral vision, but the only one she can readily make out is Tantal standing next to Princess. He’s rammed a stake into Benji’s heart. Maybe he’d look apologetic if it were Jade.

“So where the fuck’s Kalani,” he says in his high voice.

Celia: She’d giggle if she could. She’d assumed they knew. But no. Here she is, hiding in plain sight.

GM: Princess grunts.

“Got all we need.”

The ghouls throw tarps over the two vampires’ bodies.

Celia: Benji didn’t do anything, she wants to say. But she can’t. She stares up at the tarp, unblinking. She should have told him to go.

GM: The ghouls wrap the tarps around the vampires’ bodies.

“Body bags are better,” says someone’s voice.

“Just zip up. Done.”

There’s a grunt in answer.

Ren feels thick arms bearing her up. Footsteps sound. She’s carried downstairs. She hears a door opening. Horrible heat bears down on her, like she’s been shoved inside a car with the windows closed for hours on a 100-degree day.

She hears a trunk opening. She’s deposited onto a flat surface. The trunk closes. The heat gets better.

The car drives for a bit. Comes to a stop. The trunk opens. The heat gets worse again. Then it gets better. There’s a steady tromp of footsteps heading upstairs.

Ren’s deposited onto a hard surface. The tarp comes off. She’s in the interrogation room where Celia killed Isabel. The body is long gone, but the restraints remain. Princess and Tantal fasten Ren onto the same St. Andrew’s Cross.

Princess yanks out the stake. She’s tall, taller than most grown men, with long arms begging someone to give them an excuse to throw a chin-shattering punch or elbow. Probably both. Then there’s her legs. Longer still, but not the kind a man might leer at. No, they’re the kind a kickboxer would use to sweep someone’s legs or smash in their teeth. Probably both.

“Where is he, Kalani,” she says flatly.

Sometimes the black ex-felon bare-knuckle fighter doesn’t sound that different from her prissy WASP domitor.

Celia: Ren’s mouth forms a smile.

“He asked me to let him go. So I did. I imagine he went back to his haven for the day.”

“I offered to let him stay. He declined.”

GM: Princess rams the stake back into Ren’s chest. The woman’s flat, not-happy expression doesn’t once change.

Tantal gives her a vaguely apologetic look.

Celia: She’d almost called him last night, she reflects. When she needed help with Lucy. Assumed he’d be able to take the memories, but then he might tell Lebeaux, and she’s not really sure where she stands with the warden now that his sire turned her in for infernalism.

Can you still be friends with the person whose dad tried to beat you up?

GM: Technically, ratted you out.

Bornemann doesn’t much feel like the kind of man to beat someone up himself.

The ghouls leave. Ren feels the sun bear down on her even through the Evergreen’s walls. Her body yearns to sleep. To become the lifeless corpse it truly is.

Celia: My dad can beat up your dad.

Isn’t that what the kids in school say?

GM: Her dad can beat up most dads.

Celia: She has the best dad.

GM: Perhaps he’ll come for her.

Like he did at the Dollhouse.

Celia: Why, is she in danger? Are they going to kill her for “abducting” Durant and saying some strongly worded things to him?

Gosh, what a pathetic little bitch.

His feelings must be all sorts of bruised.

He’d accused her of the “weeping woman” act but she’d seen him cry plenty of times, the fragile little snowflake.

Oh no, my sire lied to me.

Oh no, my sister is a vampire.

Oh no, my girlfriend lied to me.

Oh no, I expected monogamy in a society where casual sex is the norm.

Oh no, I miss my daddy.

Oh no, Celia didn’t let me treat her like a doormat and said I’m stupid. She didn’t sign her entire unlife over to me. She beat me up with one arm. She told me it took me three people to replace her and I realized she was right, and now I’m never going to have a white wedding or do any cool science experiments or find out how to turn the abortion into a real childe.

Oh no, I can’t fight my own battles and had to run and hide behind Savoy’s skirts like I did with Coco for years.

Boo fucking hoo.

GM: Boo fucking hoo indeed.

Doubtless his own thoughts for his ex-lover are little kinder, wherever he now is.

Time stretches on and on. Ren resists it as best she can, but no one returns to the interrogation room. Darkness claims her.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, PM

GM: Daysleep recedes as quickly as it came. One eyeblink later and it’s however many hours later.

Ren isn’t sore or tired.

The undead body is a marvelous thing.

Celia: Hers is particularly marvelous.

She made it herself.

GM: So many Kindred agree.

Some time passes. The door opens. Dracon strides in. He’s wearing a black suit, not like Roderick’s preferred grays, and a maroon button-up underneath with no tie.

He smiles as he looks over Ren’s staked body.

“This rather is the way I prefer it.”

Celia: Well, fuck.

GM: “That was rather stupid of you to take my phone away, Celia,” he tsks. “I couldn’t get in contact with Savoy’s people to quite literally call them off.”

Celia: Not that he would have.

GM: “I’m glad it’s worked out this way, though.”

Celia: Yes, he needs her staked to be able to stand a chance.

GM: He pulls out the stake.

Celia: She’s still bound to a cross. Restrained. Is he into that now? It’s kind of hot. She could be into it.

Just not with him.

GM: “Where oh where should we begin,” he muses.

“I know I want to save the best for last.”

“I was always the good boy who ate my veggies before dessert.”

Celia: “Such a good boy. I suppose that hit last night was Drakey instead of Roderick, since Stephen is… well, he’s very, very dead.”

GM: “He is,” agrees Dracon. “I’d say he and Celia have that in common, but really, she was always a lie.”

“Enough of the past, though.”

“Business is a good place to start.”

“Savoy doesn’t like loose ends, Celia. Gui is supposed to be ten kinds of dead by now. Or was, after we’d interrogated him.”

“Where is he?”

Celia: Celia stares, uncomprehending.

“I have no idea. He was gone by the time I came back last night. I assumed one of your friends took him.”

GM: Dracon makes a tsk-tsk-tsk sound.

“No, none of them did.”

“And he isn’t at Flawless. That’s already been checked.”

Celia: “That’s awkward. Maybe he got up and walked away.”

GM: “No, that’s not very likely. He had a stake in his chest.”

Celia: “Could have been wearing a wire. Maybe he still had a loyal friend or ghoul.”

“Granted, I told you the spa has been broken into. Maybe someone else found him.”

GM: “Mmm. No, there wasn’t any wire. I got a pretty good look at everything he had on his body while I was taking it apart.”

“The security footage at Flawless shows no break-ins, though.”

“But we’re beating around the bush.”

Celia: “Ah, yes, we don’t show up on cameras.”

GM: “Savoy thinks you’ve helped him escape, Celia.”

Celia: “I didn’t.”

GM: “Perhaps you’d like to tell that to him.”

Celia: “Sure.”

GM: “Let him inside your head to have a look around.”

Celia: “I didn’t help him, Roderick. I knew he was marked for death. I wouldn’t have helped him.”

GM: “Savoy doesn’t think so.”

Celia: “So you’ve said.”

“He can look if he likes. I don’t know where Gui went. I thought about getting him out of the city, but I didn’t act on it. Savoy would never welcome him back, and he’d spend all his time trying to get back at you rather than doing anything else, and he’d probably jump ship to someone else’s side if he ever did come back. There was no benefit to me in helping him escape. Last night I still wanted to make things work with you.”

“So I was setting him up, like you asked.”

GM: “Mm-hm,” Dracon says thoughtfully.

“I’m afraid that any answer which doesn’t produce Gui’s body isn’t good enough, Celia. You and the clanless scum were the last licks in a proximate position to do anything with his body.”

“I suppose there’s a couple ways we can play things from here.”

He glances across the rows of instruments.

Then he smiles and brushes Ren’s face with his hand.

“But I don’t want to hurt you, Celia. I really don’t. You were my first love. You’ll always have a special place in my heart. Help me to help you. Just tell me where he is, and you’ll be out of here in no time.”

His presence washes over her. She was his first love. She can trust him. She could always trust him. She can still trust him, even here. What’s happened between them won’t come between them.

Celia: His supernatural mien washes over her, but it’s like pouring water over a rock for all the good it does. There are no cracks in her armor for him to find, nothing for him to burrow into.

She doesn’t believe a word he says.

But he expects her to. He’s trying to turn the tables on her like she did to him last night. No doubt he’ll torture her once he’s done anyway. Why not have a bit of fun with it?

Celia blinks at the touch, again at the words. Her body is mobile but her head is not, and she tilts it to one side to press her cheek against his hand.

“I thought you hated me,” she breathes, eyes wide. “You… you were… you were so angry and I was just trying to help, I just wanted to do what you asked.” Red threatens to drip down her cheeks. “I don’t want to fight. I’ll help you. I will. We’ll find him. We’ll find him and, and then… you said once he’s dead we’d…” she trails off.

“You won’t hurt me?” she asks in a small voice.

GM: “Of course not, Celia,” he smiles. “Hurting you is the last thing I’d want to do. So much hate has come between us. So much hate and distrust where there was once so much joy and love. I don’t want that to be us. I want to go back to the old us. Where we were a team. Where it was us against the world. I want to do you a good turn and help our relationship begin to heal.”

“I’m sorry I refused your help. It was my pride talking. My pride and my anger.”

“And all that did was hurt us both.”

Celia: “I know. I approached it the wrong way. I shouldn’t have threatened you. I was… I was angry too, when you wanted me to sign over everything, I wanted to hurt you back but… that’s why we’re here, isn’t it. Because I did. Because I hurt you first.”

“They came for me. Like you said. They came for me and they asked where you were and I…” she blinks and finally the tears fall. “I thought you didn’t make it home, I thought you didn’t have enough time, and I was so scared that, that we’d never… that I’d never be able to apologize for, for everything.”

“I kept, I kept thinking about that movie we saw. The Dark Knight Rises. I kept remembering what you said, that you could forgive someone like Selina because she did the right thing eventually, and I just kept imagining that… that we could…”

“I never meant to hurt you,” she whispers. “I don’t want to be your enemy. Even if we’re not lovers, there’s… there’s so much that… I’m in so much trouble. So much.”

She lets the tears fall for a moment, but only that. She doesn’t want to lay it on too thick. She doesn’t sniff, but she turns her head to the other side to wipe her cheek on her arm.

“I’ll help you. We’ll find him. He can’t have gone far, not if you took him apart.”

GM: Roderick tenderly brushes the tears from Celia’s face.

“Shhh. It’s all right, Celia,” he says softly.

“It’s all right. You’re with me. Nothing can hurt you while I’m here.”

“We were both just hurting. We were both just hurting and trying to make each other hurt. But like with Selina, I think so much of what we did to each other was rooted in fear. Fears we could have confronted and conquered together, if we’d just let our hearts remain open.”

“I don’t know what the future looks like for us, but I know this. I want to help you and I don’t want to see you hurt. I want to get you out of trouble.”

“So where is he, Celia? Where did he go?”

Celia: Celia nods along to his words. The relief is plain on her face: he doesn’t want to hurt her. He wants to help. He’s going to help.

“I am scared,” she admits in a broken voice, “I’ve been afraid that they’d… that he’d… he knows everything about me, Roderick, all this time, and then the Guard…”

She swallows.

“It’s all I can think about, all I can f-focus on, that I’m going to die here or, or in a week and I… I told you…”

Her cheeks redden. She can’t meet his eyes. Her shameful gaze rests on the floor, shoulders hunched inward as if waiting for him to laugh at or strike her.

“I just want to help, I just want to fix this, all of it, all of it… I can’t, I can’t focus, I keep… keep seeing it, but I didn’t, Roderick, I didn’t help him—”

A fresh wave of red cascades down her cheeks.

Celia spends a few moments pretending to hate herself, pretending to cry while Roderick pretends to comfort her. When she finally looks back up at him her eyes shine, lips half parted and oh-so-kissable.

The desire flows from her like water off the edge of a cliff, splashing Roderick with its mist. It’s a gentle tug, a subtle invitation to remove the clothing from her body, an easy way to spend a handful of moments so her brain sharpens and he can pump her for all that she knows. She’s so pliant. So trusting and eager to help. And she’s pretty, even with this face. Maybe that makes it better, that he’s not looking at Celia or Jade but some random lick who he can pretend is anyone he wants.

And he can use it as an excuse to hurt her, can’t he? He’d done it before, the sweetest of hurts, but maybe this time he can go a little further, bite a little harder, make her cry out in pain before she ever receives pleasure.

He can bond her. He can make her love him. Fear him, yes, he can do that too when he pulls off his mask and reveals he’d been playing her all along, but she’ll be so obsessed with him that she won’t care. He’s seen it in her before, hasn’t he? With her father. With Diana. She grew up loving an abusive man and only stood up to him when he crossed a line. Hasn’t she been accepting of his punishments before? The microwave. Sleeping on the floor. Giving him blood.

She’d make a good housewife, wouldn’t she. No dead bedroom here, not when she’s an eager little slut and so happy to let him smack her around. She’d wanted to play house last night, too. Feed him. Protect him. Help him, even after he’d hurt her.

Here she is spilling her soul, offering to make amends. Maybe Savoy will let him keep her. He can add “Celia” to the list of things he oversees.

First, though, all he has to do is fuck.

It’s not like fucking her is a chore. She’s always made him see stars.

And he can see it already, can’t he. The appeal. The thin cotton shirt she’d slept in, lace panties, bare legs… alluring. Even here, chained and afraid: she trusts him, submits to him.

What’s the harm, right? Everything is about sex. Except sex—that’s about power. And here’s both.

Maybe that’s all she ever really wanted: to trust him. To not be afraid. To keep her heart open and know that he wouldn’t get swept into the danger or the drama, that no one would come after him because of her. To submit to someone powerful. To be claimed. He’s strong enough for that. To take her. Show her he’s in charge. He’s beaten her, hasn’t he? No tricks she can pull, not here. Maybe she’s an eager little slut for bad boys. Maybe Dracon titillates her in ways that Roderick didn’t.

Inside of her chest her Bitch and Beast both pace, watching the scene unfold. She’s going to fuck him. She’s going to fuck him by letting him fuck her, and then she’s going to force her blood down his throat and he’ll never know, he’ll have no idea. She’ll ensnare him, let him think she’s weak and eager and trusting, and he’ll let his guard down. He’ll think it’s easier, won’t he, because prisoners don’t try to escape when they don’t know that they’re in jail, and how sweet a cage he’ll give her.

It goes both ways.

He won’t leave her alone? She’ll show him exactly how she turned the tables on the hunters when she was blindfolded, gagged, and tied. How she had them eating out of the palm of her hand by the time she got herself free, how they were so eager to believe the honeyed lies dripping from her tongue, so eager to feed the vampire who doesn’t look like a monster, so willing to keep her as their little pet.

A kitten in a cage.

Only the cat isn’t a kitten at all, and when the tiger inside roars and bares its teeth the whole house shakes.

Celia and Jade had agreed that Celia will play the innocent. The wolf who guts the sheep to climb inside its skin.

Beauty has been perfectly cast.

GM: Beauty has been perfectly cast.

The words drip from her mouth like honey.

But it’s so much more than the words, too. It’s in her looks. Her expressions. Her ravishingly beautiful, eminently fuckable body. She is irresistible. Impossibly seductive. There is no stranger who wouldn’t blink before dropping his pants and fucking her and witlessly placing himself even further under her spell.

Celia, Ren, Jade, all the others—all of them are still the Beauty.

No one can resist the Beauty.

Roderick smiles back at her. She sees it in his eyes.

She is no Beauty to Roderick. No longer.

“You’re the ugliest person I’ve ever known,” he’d said.

His feelings for her are dead.

His desire for her is dead.

What they had together is dead.

She can see the words forming on his lips. The contempt in his eyes when she says she “needs” this. That she needs to have sex.

You’re such a pathetic slut, Celia.

“When Gui is retrieved, Celia,” he patiently tells her instead.

“I know where I left Gui at Flawless. Lebeaux can scan the area for psychic impressions. He will see with his own eyes who picked up our staked and limbless Ventrue. If he sees you helped move Gui to another location, and we can’t find Gui… things will go very badly for you. Savoy is assuming you’ve aided his escape until it’s disproven. He’s ordered you kept here and he’s ordered that you be interrogated, with torture and mindfucking if necessary.”

“This is no game, Celia. If Gui has defected to Vidal’s camp after his escape, or even just gone back to Chicago and turned his sire against Savoy, you will have attacked his power, and you will have made him your enemy. He will deal with you like all elders deal with enemies. By killing them.”

“The faster this is cleared up—the less trouble Savoy and his people have to go through, the less time and blood they need to spend on this—the better things will go for you. For us.”

He smiles again and strokes Celia’s cheek.

“Just tell me where Gui is, Celia. You’ll be let out of here, Savoy will welcome you back into the fold, and I’ll show you a good time upstairs. All our troubles will be behind us. We can face the future as a team again. Doesn’t that sound lovely?”

Celia: The Bitch inside watches her Beauty wither. She’d given it everything. All of her charm, all of the love she still feels in her heart for someone who doesn’t want anything to do with her, all of the hope she’d had that maybe, just maybe, they could make this work. That they don’t need to hate each other. She still has so much to offer him. Still has so much she wants to offer him, even after all of this. After everything. She’d still help. All he has to do is be nice to her and she’d still help, but he won’t. Just like Paul.

Inside the body, Beauty sobs.

Jade: Bitch rests a hand on her shoulder.

“He’s not worth your tears, love.” Soft words for the broken girl. Bitch isn’t mad at the Beauty. Kicking her while she’s down won’t do anything but make her curl into a ball of self-loathing. She’d taken the memories, and she can sort this out.

The body blinks and Celia disappears. Jade stares out at Durant or Dracon or whatever he’s going by these nights, lips curling into a smile. Her spine straightens, bloody tears drying on her cheeks.

“I haven’t moved against Lord Savoy, darling,” she says with all the arrogance of someone who is still in control, even bound and captive like this. “You left him in my spa. Finders keepers, love. Yes, I moved him. And I butchered him. I cleaned up the loose end for you.”

GM: Jade’s flesh painfully ripples and shudders as the Bitch comes out. Her hands are bound, but she doesn’t need them anymore.

No more mix-ups.

No more spillage.

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

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

Roderick quirks an eyebrow.

“So much the better for you then, Celia. Or Jade. Or whatever you’re calling yourself. I hope you won’t get offended if I don’t bother to ‘learn your pronouns.’”

Jade: Jade cocks her head to one side, like a cat observing a very tasty looking bird stupid enough to land on its perch.

“It’s hard to believe she ever saw anything in you,” Jade muses. “Wanted you to stay that white knight forever for her, I suppose. Cute, in a pathetic, fairytale kind of way; we both know you were too weak to ever be what she really needed.”

She smiles, flashing teeth.

“Does it rub you the wrong way to know that I’ve killed more mobsters than you?”

“Your whole life’s vision, the reason for your Embrace… and I’ve beaten you at it.” She laughs.

GM: “Not especially,” Dracon smiles back.

“Carolla and Gui would’ve beaten you into pulp if I wasn’t there. Some licks get angry over ‘kill stealing,’ but if you want to enjoy my leavings, I say more power to you.”

“We both know how those fights would’ve gone if you had to face them on your own.”

“We both know just how little you’re capable of without me.”

“But speaking of that, let’s have some proof. No one is taking your word that Gui is dead without a body. So where is Gui’s body, Celia-Jade-Whoever?”

Jade: “Mm,” Jade says with a nod, as if considering his view valid. “They may have, had they ever seen the knife coming. They didn’t.” She smiles. “But you know all about that, don’t you?”

“He’s at the haven. Surprised Princess missed it, really. I left his hat on my nightstand. Then again, he’s in more pieces than you left him.”

GM: “I’d say it’s the first time you’ve done something useful or worthwhile in your unlife, but, well, see that ‘enjoying my leavings’ remark.”

“So he’s at the haven. Where is he in the haven?” Dracon asks indulgently.

Jade: “Christ, Durant, you went from boy scout to bully and your lines still suck. I heard they’re casting for Taken 4; you’re a shoo-in.”

“But enough flirting, hm? He’s in the bathroom.”

When Jade had taken over last night she’d cleaned up Celia’s mess. It wouldn’t do to have the girl see the body when she woke up, to wonder why it had turned whiter than flour and why the expression on his face was one of terror and agony. She said she’d take care of Celia and she means it; poor childe will get in over her head looking into things that she simply doesn’t need to know about and then they’ll have another bout of torture at someone else’s hands because she’d said the wrong thing to the wrong person. The girl is simply too trusting by half.

So Jade took care of it.

She’d hauled his parts into the bathroom for easy cleanup and used a large hooked knife to cut him open from groin to sternum. A foul, putrid stench hit her in the nose and she saw, to her disgust, that the contents of Gui’s chest had liquefied into a mass of goo in some indistinguishable color between black and brown.

“What did you expect,” Dicentra had laughed, “bodies decompose.”

Jade rolled her eyes at the night doctor—as if she didn’t know—and simply tilted Gui’s body to the side to let the liquefied organs spill into the shower.

“Older than we thought,” she’d observed. The doctor had only nodded in agreement.

Then she’d begun to harvest him. Not all of him, no, but patches of skin from his back where the damage to his body had been minimized, first by using her palms to turn him from white-as-a-ghost to his normal, though decayed, coloring, then using the edge of the blade to sever the skin from the body.

She’d made the same color-changing pass across his face and the rest of his pieces, then combed her fingers through his hair to change that hue as well. Her movements grew more sluggish the longer she worked—that damn sun—but a burst of speed saw her through to the end. She’d tucked the skin away with her tools, washed up, and found a shirt and clean panties in Ren’s wardrobe to pull on before collapsing into bed.

“Most of him, anyway.”

GM: “Christ, Flores, you went from stupid to stupid with multiple personalities, and your strategy to not get staked for pissing off the boss still sucks. I heard they’re still casting whores in pornos; the second Flores sister is a shoe-in.”

“But a room where filth is cleaned. I suppose that’s a fitting enough place for Mr. Gui to have met his end. I hope for your sake that he’s actually there.”

Jade: Jade doesn’t bother telling him about all the porn she’s already been in. The poor boy’s head will explode.

Imagine enjoying sex. Gosh, what thing to stone someone over.

GM: The stake slides back into her chest with a wet slurk. Dracon turns and leaves the room.

Jade: It’s too much to ask for music or a TV in this kind of place, isn’t it.

GM: Jade is left to stare at the wall. She’s not sure how long passes. It feels like a moderate while.

Eventually, the door re-opens. Dracon walks back in.

He’s followed by Hannah.

Jade: What a fun little family reunion.

GM: Hannah pulls out the stake.

“Why did you do it?” she asks, bluntly.

“Why did you blood bond me a second time without my consent?”

Jade: “He’s told you how stupid Celia is, darling. It was an oversight. Poor dear was so excited about figuring out what you could do that when she shared blood she just wasn’t thinking.”

“The bond will fade. Neither of us intended to reinforce it. Made sure to give you plenty in return though, hm? All of the rules explained. Liberated from the bar where you were looking for someone you couldn’t remember. Feeding on Bourbon Street. A tattoo to let you pass as mortal. A mask to hide your identity. A visit with the oldest thin-blood in the city that I paid for, which gave us answers as to what you could do. A lick outside your family actually willing to spend time with you and test your various abilities. Kept your memories from being deleted because I knew you needed someone normal and unbiased to talk to about all this. A place to stay. Two, even.”

“Not to mention I saved your life on Thursday when Carolla planned to execute you. And again on Sunday when the dear hound wanted a sip and might have seen through the tattoo. And, oh, I suppose when we went to see Gui to find your sire and the Guard showed up there, too. Kept you outside and kept my nose clean so they didn’t have a reason to look twice at you.”

“All this time and I haven’t even asked you to pay me back for any of it. Haven’t asked you to do anything you didn’t want to do. Haven’t hurt you or taken advantage of you. In fact I went out of my way to make you comfortable when I knew you were skittish about feeding last night. Even took you to Elysium when you asked and cut a deal to find your sire for you. Granted, I suppose that boon is moot now. Imagine Durant has your sire stashed somewhere.”

“You’ve had it better than most true-blooded fledglings.”

GM: “‘Oops, I forgot,’” Dracon says in a mocking tone.

“I told you this was going to be a waste of time, Dani.”

“Then thank you for honoring my choice anyway,” says Dani. “I wanted to hear this from her.”

“Stephen, could someone actually overlook that?”

“No,” sneers Dracon. “No, sis, I’d say it’s literally like forgetting to use a condom, but it’s even dumber than that. Because all of us are ‘carrying’ condoms on hand, and we know there’s no emergency contraception. You’d have to be so fantastically stupid to ‘forget’ your blood can enslave someone that it’d be a wonder you could even put on your own clothes without step-by-step instructions.”

“All Celia would’ve had to do was wait a few seconds for her blood to cool and lose its bonding properties, and everything else you did together, you could’ve still done together.”

“You’d said,” Dani frowns.

“Speaking of that tattoo, did she tell you she’s Dr. Dicentra?” Dracon asks.

“Wait, what?” asks Dani.

“Yes, she lied to you and her mother about that too,” says Dracon. He isn’t quite smiling, but Jade can hear the pleasure in his voice at exposing another lie. “The ‘night doctor’s’ entire persona is a lie, a convenient fiction Celia uses to hide the fact that she can alter flesh the way she does.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know either until the night we killed Carolla,” Dracon says. “I’d assumed they were separate people too. The doctor actually collected favors from me—convenient, I suppose, when lovers typically don’t bother tracking owed boons.”

Jade: Amusement flickers across her face.

“Forget to use a condom, you mean like that time you and Celia fucked in the car? So sad, wasn’t it, when her sire ripped the life from her womb.”

“Do get on with it, Durant. The only thing less titillating than this is all those times we fucked.”

“And I guess last night when you showed how cool you are, murdering kine and all. Very badass.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, this isn’t about you, I’m afraid,” says Dracon. “This is about doing right by Dani. Telling her the truth she deserves.”

Jade: “Here’s your truth, Dani: I lied to your brother countless times. I cheated on him. He’s angry. He wasn’t good enough for his sire so she Embraced some mobster and now his feelings are hurt.”

GM: “Yes, he told me that,” says Dani. “And a lot more.”

“I’m not interested in what happened between you two right now. I want to clear up the lies between us.”

Jade: She laughs.

“Why? Run home with your brother, Dani. I’m the monster he wants me to be.”

GM: Dani regards Jade for a few moments.

“Are you sorry?” she finally asks. “For the lies you’ve told me?”

“Because even if you blood bound me by accident, which I can believe, people do forget to use condoms in the heat of the moment, you never said anything afterwards. To my mind, that’s the actual lie.”

Jade: “No. I’m not.” Jade shrugs. “Celia might be. But she’s always been weak.”

GM: “Well then,” says Dani. “Okay.”

“I wasn’t a virgin before I was raped,” she then says. “I was embarrassed about how I lost my virginity, so when it came up between us and you assumed, I didn’t correct you. I wondered for a while why I did that. Why I cared so much about what you thought that I’d lie.”

“The bond twisted your feelings,” says Dracon.

“I guess so,” says Dani, looking back towards Jade. “I doubt this means anything to you right now, but I don’t like telling lies to anyone. It feels good to come clean.”

Jade: Jade is quiet for a moment.

“Celia wants me to tell you that you probably weren’t, if it helps. Most licks can’t get it up anymore. She’d offer to show you, but, well.”

GM: “And why didn’t ‘Celia’ tell me that earlier, either?” asks Dani.

Jade: “Various reasons. You were still violated. Feeding is a sort of sex. Telling someone they weren’t technically raped doesn’t make it feel less awful, just like calling it date rape doesn’t make it less heinous. You still died for it. She thought perhaps your sire might have been a thin-blood and was able to get it up, or brought in a third party to have a bit of fun, so she wanted to find out first before she brought it up. Avoiding false hope and the likes. You know, real savior complex.”

“I doubt her reasoning matters to either one of you. Spilling secrets is fun and all, but I’d like to see the warden now.”

GM: Dani gets a look on her face at that, but offers no further response.

“Yes, I was thinking about seeing him too,” says Dracon.

“We found the body. It looks like Gui. But, obviously, you can change what people look like, so I’m not sure if it’s really Gui’s body. It’d be a good escape plan. If the real Gui stowed away in a body bag, he’d have had a decent window of time for a loyal ghoul to make it out of the Quarter or even the city with him.”

“I wonder what would happen if Lebeaux combed the body over with his divinations and ESP. Would he get a vision of Celia Flores sculpting someone else’s corpse into Reynaldo Gui’s?”

“Because if he would, now would be a good time for you to give up your marked-for-death lover, Celia. I’m afraid you’re just not smart enough to fool everyone.”

Jade: Is it even worth it to point out the lack of time and prep she had? Not that it would stop her if she were truly determined to smuggle Gui out of the city, but the risk isn’t worth whatever feel-good reward she’d get from it. And if she were planning on smuggling Gui out, she’d have gone with him rather than face her grandsire’s displeasure.

Pride brings half a dozen smartass remarks to mind. The desire to survive and prevent Lebeaux from looking over the corpse makes her bite her tongue.

“Ah… no. But he will see me sculpting Gui. Ugly-dead-Gui to less-ugly-and-decomposed-dead-Gui. Grandsire said I could harvest some parts and I didn’t want the decayed bits sitting in my bag. Easier to do it all at once and cut what I need.”

There’s a slight pause. Jade looks away, uncomfortable, then throws him a bone to gnaw on.

“There’s, ah… I’d prefer he not see what I did to the corpse, okay?”

GM: “Ah, and here comes the dirty laundry,” smiles Dracon.

“And why is that, Celia?”

Jade: Bend. Bend so she doesn’t break. Bend so her unlife doesn’t end. What’s a bit of laughter, a bit of humiliation, compared to ceasing to exist?

Jade squirms. She makes a good show of it, keeping her eyes diverted, pausing long enough to make it sound like she doesn’t want to say. Finally, she blurts it out.

“I fucked him. When I killed him. I made his dick hard and I rode him and when I reached climax I ripped his heart out. And he got ugly immediately and it wasn’t satisfying and ruined the O, so I fixed him up and did it again.”

GM: Dani looks disgusted.

Dracon, though, gives her a very mean smile.

“Well then. I think I’d doubly enjoy Lebeaux checking the corpse.”

“Turns it into a real win-win proposition.”

“If you helped him escape, we find out.”

“And if you didn’t, someone else sees what a disgusting slut you are.”

Jade: “You win, Dracon.”

It’s the first time she’s used his new name. Not a nickname, no hint of venom or derision, no snide comments about it being pretentious.

“I said it last night, I’ll say it again. You win. You broke Celia’s heart when you made her watch you with the two snakes. Even after that she was still willing to submit to you if it meant she got a chance to fix it. You broke it again when you wouldn’t stay the day. She was a sobbing mess. She’s still a sobbing mess. She’ll probably always be a sobbing mess over you. So you win. You have me helpless here. I got lucky last night when I took you out, and I got lucky on Thursday with Carolla and hoping you’d turn on him and not me, and I got lucky that you’d already done the work with Gui and all I had to do was finish him off. You’re stronger than me, you’re smarter than me, you have my grandsire’s favor.”

“You win.”

“So what is it going to cost me to end this between us? I don’t expect you to ever not hate Celia or I for what we’ve done, but we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other around the Quarter, and I’d rather not fight with you every time we bump into each other when there are plenty of enemies outside to focus on. You want to fuck me over after Savoy is on the throne? Fine. But right now I’m waving the white flag and I’m asking for a ceasefire. Name a price. Boons? Marks for Dani? She’s night-blind, you know, and I can fix that. I can teach her to fly. I have pages of notes I created for your new identity that I can pass off to you, or give you a new one, or give her a new one so ‘Hannah’ isn’t seen running around with Durant after being with Jade. I’ve even got an opportunity for you to hurt me by physically ripping me apart while doing something good for someone you don’t hate.”

GM: Jade or Celia, she’s always been good at mirroring.

Telling people what they want to hear.

Telling them they are the person they want to be.

Telling Roderick that he’s Dracon. Smarter and stronger and more important.

That he won.

“I’m glad you’ve finally seen reason… Jade,” he smiles.

“It’s also Draco, I’ve decided. Dani’s idea.”

Jade: It brings to mind spoiled children who hide behind their parent’s skirts and never actually get their hands dirty and cry to daddy about everything.

Perfect, really.

But Jade doesn’t say.

GM: “It warms my heart to hear Celia is suffering.”

“I hope she will suffer for a very long time.”

“Not mine,” says Dani. She looks at Jade, but she doesn’t look hateful.

Mostly just sad.

Jade: Grudgingly, Jade nods.

“She will. Every time she sees you she’s hurt all over again.”

GM: “That’s beautiful,” smiles Draco.

Jade: “Very focused on what might-have-been. Bought a dress and everything.”

GM: “Oh, that’s so sweet. I’d rip it to pieces and throw the ring at her feet, if I could.”

Jade: The words don’t bother Jade. She’d never loved a boy named Stephen.

GM: “I think I’ve heard enough,” says Dani. “I got everything I came here for.”

She still looks more sad than angry.

Draco rubs her shoulder. “That’s fine. You want to head home?”

“Yeah. School tomorrow.”

Jade: Jade turns her eyes toward the thin-blood.

“She is sorry, Dani. She was afraid. She shouldn’t have been.”

GM: Dani just looks sadder.

“Not sorry enough to tell me like she told her mom.”

Jade: “Mothers are supposed to love their children. Friends can walk away at any time.”

“She’s learned her lesson, Dani. Good luck out there.”

GM: “I’m going to let Mrs. Flores know the truth about Dicentra. There’s no reason she should think she’s made a friend who isn’t real.”

“But were we just friends? I thought we were going to be so much more than that. I’m sad, Celia, Jade, whoever. I thought I was going to have a new sister. I thought we were going to set up our parents together. That our families were going to become one. That’s really, really sad we can’t have that, because it would’ve been something beautiful.”

Dani starts to wipe her eyes.

Jade: For a moment, Jade simply stares.

Celia: Then she’s gone, skin dissolving and melting like ripples across a pond to turn into the very-familiar face of Celia Flores.

“I wanted that too, Dani.” Red rims her eyes. “I wanted that, so much. I wanted to marry your brother and set up our parents and get a place together in the Quarter. I already started calling you ‘sister’ in my head.” Her lower lip quivers.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I messed it up. I always mess it up. I was trying to be better, Dani. For you. For…” she can’t look at him, doesn’t look his way, “for Stephen. I just kept doing what you said. Treating both of you like kids.”

Sanguine tears trail down her cheeks. She shakes her head.

“It was stupid. I was stupid. And I’m sorry.”

GM: “This is how she gets you every time, Dani,” Draco says to his sister.

“So contrite.”

“So sad.”

“So sympathetic.”

“Really makes you want to just give her another chance, doesn’t it?”

He turns back to Celia.

“Take that face off or I’ll carve it off,” he says calmly.

Celia: Celia flinches at the threat. Then she’s gone.

Jade: The Bitch is back, lips quirked in amusement.

“And you thought I was taking away her choices.”

GM: Dani wipes some more at her eyes. Watery pinkish tears bead from them.

“No,” she sniffs. “I’d rather not see Celia either. Goodbye.”

She turns and leaves.

Jade: It’s an effort to resist rolling her eyes.

GM: Draco gets the door for her, then turns back to Jade.

“So, terms.”

“Let’s see, I definitely don’t want any of your personalities’ assistance with my identity.”

Jade: “It was more general ideas than assistance.”

“Things that would keep you from being found out.”

Jade shrugs. She doesn’t care.

GM: “Mm,” Draco says noncommittally.

“You spoke earlier, among other things, about curing thin-bloodedness via ‘dark magic’. That’s of interest to me.”

“I’d be a cruel brother to let my sister stay so weak and dependent.”

Jade: Jade gives a sharp shake of her head.

“Not here. Anywhere but here.”

GM: “Fine. You’re coming with me to another location.”

Jade: Jade only nods.

GM: Draco pulls out a phone and taps into it. It looks like the same one Jade removed from his person.

Jade: Phones all look the same.

Plus, it’s not like she’d hidden it. It reminds her of why she’d taken it, though.

“The couple from last night. Ring stores their data online. You took their phones, but you need to get the online stuff scrubbed.”

“You won’t show up, but your cars will.”

GM: Draco smiles at her.

“Give my big brain some credit.”

Jade: Jade inclines her head.

“My apologies, Draco.”

GM: “No, this is for something else,” he says, tapping into the phone. “I might be able to beat you in a fair fight, but after how last night went down I’m taking out some insurance.”

“We all do so hate fair fights.”

Jade: “Insurance?”

Which of her family members is he abducting?

GM: “Oh, nothing harmful to you or your interests or your loved ones, if you don’t double-cross me.”

Jade: “I’m not going to double-cross you, Draco. I’ve seen how well that went for me.”

GM: “You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word.”

Jade: “Of course. I just also hope you’re practicing discretion with the mortals in her unlife that have done no wrong.”

GM: “Don’t worry about it, Jade. If you don’t attempt to cross me, you’ll have no idea what precautions I even took.”

He tucks the phone back away, then undoes the cuffs around her limbs.

Jade: She hadn’t expected this. She thought she’d get another stake to the heart. She glances down at herself, at her lack of clothing. Panties. Shirt.

“Are we going somewhere private where this is acceptable attire, or shall I shift?”

GM: “Shift.”

Jade: Without a word, she’s a cat. Her tail curls around her legs, large green eyes steady on the lick in front of her. She doesn’t presume to wind herself around his legs or purr, doesn’t ask for scratches or roll onto her back to expose her belly. Silently, she waits.

GM: He picks up the cat and leaves the room. Some ghouls see him along the way, but no one stops him. He takes the back entrance outside to his car. The license plates isn’t the same ones Jade saw last night. He opens the door, gets in, and deposits the cat on the seat adjacent to the driver’s. His touch is neither rough nor affectionate.

Jade: The cat flicks its ear at her former boy, as if asking if he wants her to stay feline or return to a form that can speak.

GM: “You can turn human,” he says. He turns on the car’s ignition and drives.

Jade: So she does, reaching for the seatbelt to buckle herself in. Jade’s eyes look out the window.

GM: Royal Street rolls past them. No one attempts to waylay the car. Draco drives for a while up Royal, towards the more residential part of the Quarter, then stops. He taps his phone again and sweeps it over the car’s interior. He also rummages through the glove compartment, ventilators, and other hard to reach spots.

“Let’s hear it, then. Your alleged cure for thin-bloodedness.”

Jade: Jade is silent while Draco does his thing. She waits until he’s done to speak.

“You have no reason to trust what I say. So if you require proof, I can attempt to provide it. By telling you this, I assume you understand the risks. It’s the sort of knowledge that will get you killed, the reason that elders stomp on neonates, the reason that Celia chickened out last night in giving you the truth you asked for.”

“Here’s what I’m promising you, Draco. Full disclosure. If there’s something I can’t tell you for any reason, I’ll say that. This is also a two-way street. If I’m going to share something with you that will get me killed I expect something in return.”

“You’re in charge. I recognize that. I also recognize that I’m not interested in throwing away my Requiem because you mention this to the wrong person. This stays between us. And Dani, if you choose to bring her in on it.”

“Can you agree to that?”

GM: “Yes,” says Draco.

“The thing you get in return is my statement to Lebeaux that I’ve seen the body, tasted its blood, and everything was legit. Likewise to Lord Savoy.”

Jade: “You can’t let him into your head. Once you know this.”

GM: “He’s already more likely than be in your head than mine.”

Jade: “Yes,” Jade agrees, “that’s why I’ve sealed off her memories.”

GM: “Assuming he can actually read minds without other licks noticing. That’s an advanced trick. He hasn’t confirmed or denied whether he can. Neither would I, if I were him.”

Jade: “He or Preston does it. They’ve answered multiple questions I never got a chance to ask.”

GM: “And what would that gain them? Would it have been worth revealing that thoughts aren’t safe around them?”

Jade: “I don’t know their thoughts, Draco, I only remember a very specific meeting where I was thinking something in particular and they responded to it. Multiple times.”

GM: “You aren’t thinking logically. If it’s not important enough for you to even remember, it wasn’t important enough to tip their hands over. They could have just inferred what you were going to ask.”

Jade: She never said that she didn’t remember.

But she doesn’t start an argument over it.

“There’s something else I’d like to ask you.”

GM: “Elders don’t like to disclose the full extent of what powers they do or don’t have. Case in point, right now. I’ll assume Savoy can read Kindred minds without them noticing, because that’s safest. If he actually can, he still benefits from my uncertainty. If he can’t, then I might take precautions that don’t actually advance my interests and might even set them back. That’s the fog of war.”

Jade: “That’s valid,” Jade concedes.

GM: “Yes, it is. I’ve always been the smarter one.”

Jade: Not a single flicker of emotion crosses her face.

“You are. Very smart.”

GM: “Mm, another lie, at least from your lips,” he answers with a cold smile. “But the statement itself is still true. Why, you could even say that’s a philosophical construct. A true statement uttered from a position of nonbelief with intent to deceive. But still factually true.”

“From what perspectives does this make the statement false? From what perspectives is it true?”

Jade: “I never doubted that you were smarter than me, Draco.”

GM: “Hm, that statement sounds closer to true. But no matter. Ask your question, and I’ll answer with my own truths or lies or non-answers as I see fit.”

Jade: “Do you have my ghouls? The boys. Reggie and Rusty.”

“You or one of your friends.”

GM: “No.”

“If Reggie’s come to a bad end, though, I might smile.”

“He’s fortunate he lipped off to me as Roderick.”

Jade: Jade shoves a hand through her hair.

“I thought you were going to kill him. It might have been better if you had.”

GM: Draco smiles coldly again, showing his fangs.

“Feel free to bring him by, then, and I’ll rectify the error.”

Jade: “At the risk of you mocking me, I can’t find him. Neither of them are responding to their phones and they turned off their tracking. I thought if you’d taken him it would have at least been a neatly wrapped problem.”

GM: “Oh, but it is.”

“For me.”

“It’s not my problem.”

“Very neatly wrapped.”

Jade: “No. It’s not. I didn’t intend to make it your problem.”

GM: “We’re outside of the Evergreen. There are no bugs in the car. Now, our business?”

Celia: It’s the sort of truth that will get her killed, she’s certain of it. She’s also certain that if she doesn’t tell him, and prove it, he’ll have Lebeaux test the body and they’ll find out anyway. It’s a leap of faith, isn’t it? Trusting that he wants to help his sister more than he wants her dead. Trusting that he wants to torment Celia for years rather than have Jade quickly executed.

Jade unbuckles her seat belt, turning to face him fully with her legs crossed beneath her.

“In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t fuck Gui last night.”

She gives him a look.

“I ate him.”

GM: “You ate him,” repeats Draco.

Jade: “His soul.”

GM: “Is this how you explain developing another one of your multiple personalities?”

“I could care less how many of them you have or what insane explanations you contrive for their existences.”

Jade: Jade actually laughs at that.

“No. Though that certainly is a convenient excuse. I told you it’s dark magic. Which do you want first, the history lesson or the magical theory?”

GM: “Theory, then application.”

Jade: A thrill runs through her at the words.

“I’ve been doing some experiments on Kindred and thin-blood physiology,” she says. “Dani twists. All thin-bloods do. She drinks from me and she learns star mode. She drinks from you and she takes your speed. She absorbs what we have. The more she drinks, the more she gets. But our powers are set. I know what I know, you know what you know. Takes a while to learn new tricks. You need a teacher. Occasionally you find one of those sweet mortals who give you a boost, right? Aside from that, we’re limited by our age and our removal from the first lick. You explained it very well to Dani. The cup pouring into another cup.”

“So this… lets you bypass all of that. I took things that he can do. I learned things he can do. He didn’t show me. No one showed me. I ate him, and I absorbed him.”


GM: Draco raises his eyebrows.

“By what means? Drinking another lick’s blood like Dani does doesn’t typically absorb their powers.”

“It can, but when it does it’s a function of specific powers the blood serves as a conductor for, rather than as a result of any quality inherent to the blood.”

Jade: “Right, but it’s not the blood. Or rather, it’s not just the blood. You don’t just drink their blood and call it a day. You keep going. They’re empty, you keep going. It’s their soul. Their essence. Their life force. Their energy. Whatever makes them who they are. You take it for yourself.”

“You see it in other cultures all the time. Eating the remains of the dead to absorb parts of them. Heart of the lion for courage. In Papa New Guinea they used to eat the brains of their dead family members.”

“That may or may not be a real thing. But this? This is.”

GM: “Yes, those are just the barbaric superstitions of inferior cultures,” Draco concurs.

“So it lets you learn disciplines faster. How do you know it cures thin-bloodedness?”

Jade: “Because of a comment that was made when I heard about it. About the blood getting more potent. So if it works for us, it’ll work for her.”

GM: “Where did you learn of this?”

Jade: “That’s one of those things I can’t tell you.”

GM: “Did you trade something for this information?”

Jade: “Yes.”

GM: “So that’s the theory. What’s the history?”

Jade: “How familiar are you with the unicorns?”

GM: “Probably more so than you.”

Jade: “Perfect. They’re soul thieves. Ta-da.”

GM: “So the practice originated among them? Or they were the first to discover it?”

Jade: Jade shrugs.

“My contact didn’t say. Not many licks willing to talk about them, or what they do with souls. Attracts the wrong sort of attention when you go asking questions.”

GM: “So this practice doesn’t simply absorb disciplines. It also thickens the blood. That’s how a thin-blood becomes a true-blood.”

Jade: “That’s the working theory.”

GM: “You said this came from a ‘comment’ by your contact. What did your contact specifically say?”

Jade: “That my blood is thicker than it should be given my age.”

GM: “But you hadn’t eaten any souls when your contact told you this information, because you learned it from them.”

Jade: “Correct.”

GM: “Then why did they bring up your blood’s thickness at all? I’ve tasted your blood. It’s stronger than other neonates’, but not abnormally so.”

Jade: “That’s also something I can’t tell you.”

GM: “Your hypothesis—not theory—that this practice can prematurely thicken blood sounds extremely specious.”

“But no matter. It doesn’t need to.”

“Developing disciplines faster has value of its own.”

Jade: Jade gives a nod.

“Time for practical application?”

GM: “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you.”

“Actually, I trust you a good less than the distance I could throw you.”

“So you’re going to show me this is true, on someone who won’t be missed.”

Draco twists the keys and starts driving again.

Jade: Jade doesn’t object. She just turns forward again, fastening her seatbelt.

“I need clothes,” she says eventually.

GM: “You’re about to get them.”

Jade: How does such an innocuous statement sound so sinister?

Celia VII, Chapter III
Celia Meets Jade

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

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

Just for a moment.

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

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

Jade tucks a strand of hair behind his ear.

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

A sanguine drop leaks down her cheek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pauses. And then she starts over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia presses a kiss against his lips.

“Amen,” she whispers.

She bites.

GM: It’s similar to last time.

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

Celia drinks it all, then drinks deeper.

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

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

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

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

Reynaldo Gui will never see the sun again.

Reynaldo Gui will never dance again.

Reynaldo Gui has found no peace in death.

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

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

She put a pretty face on it.

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

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

Celia: Fuck Roderick.

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

She’s not thinking about it.

She’s trying not to think about it.

But she is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: She’d tried to help him.

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

She’d thought she was doing the right thing.

Fuck him.

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

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

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

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

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

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


A sneer twists the perfect lips.

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

“It was really getting quite tiresome.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You need to stop confusing things.”

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

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

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

“Is this making sense, darling?”

Celia: Celia nods her head.

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

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


“One thing at a time, Celia.”

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

“That’s sloppy.”

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

“I don’t do sloppy.”

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

“That is now at an end.”

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

“I can teach you something.”

“A little trick.”

“A power of the Blood.”

“It will ensure we keep things separate.”

“No more spillover.”

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

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


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

“You must admit it.”

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

“Can you do that, Celia?”

“For me?”

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

“For us?”

Celia: Slowly, Celia nods her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Back to Jade?”

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

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

Celia becomes Jade.

GM: It hurts, like always.

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

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


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

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

She’s always been good at that.

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

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

“Look at my face.”

“Look at our face.”

“They are one.”

Mirror me.

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

“Mirror me, pet. Just one more time.”

“No hands.”

“You can do it.”

“You saw me do it.”

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

“You already did it. This is your face, isn’t it?” asks the mouth moving on Celia’s face.

“We already did it.”

“One more time.”

“Mirror me.”

Celia: Mirror me.

She’s good at that. So good at that.

It doesn’t take hands, not anymore. It doesn’t take touch, not anymore. It doesn’t take an hour of looking into a mirror or a burst of speed or excruciating pain every time she goes through it. She simply wants to be and she is.

She mirrors.

Like water, the flesh of her face ripples and changes, pliable and flexible and moving, moving on its own, moving into position, moving from Celia to Jade with a steel spine and sharp smile, moving from Jade to Celia with a softer kind of acceptance and soulful eyes, moving like the ripples on a pond from a sudden gust of wind, like the waves in the ocean with their constant ebb and flow, like the breeze that cares not one whit for order and structure because when it blows it moves

She’s Jade.

She’s Celia.

She’s Jade.

She’s Celia.

She’s laughing, mirroring, laughing, mirroring, both of them.

GM: “Oh, this is delightful!” exclaims Jade-who-becomes-Celia-but-stops-at-Jade. Her hands meet Celia-who-becomes-Jade-but-stops-at-Celia with every shift of their faces, with every swap of identities. Like they’re playing patty cake with each other. Celia, Jade, Celia, Jade. Back and forth. The flesh is fluid. Even it now bends to their mental masks.

“See, telling you to mirror. You’re good at that. We’re good at that. And I was mirroring too, by telling you that. Playing to my audience.”

Celia: “We’re good at that,” Celia-Jade-Celia says with a laugh and toss of her hair. “We’re so very good at that. We’ll play them all, won’t we.”

GM: “Yes,” replies Jade-Celia-Jade with that steel-spined sharp smile. “Yes, we will. All of them.”

She looks at Gui’s corpse.

“We can play him, too.”

“He’s causing you such distress, isn’t he, darling? Making you feel so bad about yourself.”

Celia: “I thought we could be friends. Now I wonder what might have been.”

GM: “I don’t think about might-have-beens,” sneers Jade-Celia-Jade, steel-spined Jade. “It’s always on to the next new thing for me. So Gui’s dead. Cry me a fucking river!”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia wishes she didn’t focus on might-have-beens. Wishes she could pull off the sneer she sees in the mirror. But her lips are softer lips, fuller lips, made for kissing and whispering and smiling.

GM: “I can absolve you.”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia looks from the corpse to her mirror.

“Absolve me? How.”

GM: “Because that’s what I am, Celia. I’m the bad guy.”

“I’m the one who can eat his soul and not lose sleep over it.”

“Give him to me, honey. Give him to me and you will be absolved and blameless of this sin.”

“Whole thing will have been my idea.”

“I’ll have carried it all out.”

“His death will be on my hands alone.”

Celia: “You’d gain what we took. Not me. Like the steel.” Celia-Jade-Celia looks to Gui’s corpse, then back to Jade-Celia-Jade for confirmation.

GM: “Smart girl,” smirks Jade-Celia-Jade.

Celia: She beams at the praise.

“And if I’m me, and you’re you, and you’re the one to blame, then even if I wear your face and am still me no one will know. We slip beneath the radar, trading out.”

GM: “That’s an interesting idea,” muses Jade-Celia-Jade. She taps a perfectly manicured, claw-like nail to her lip.

“Yes. I could see it.”

“You should give me the memory of it, too, if we want to be really thorough. Celia doesn’t need to know such awful things, does she?”

Celia: “I did it earlier,” Celia-Jade-Celia confesses to Jade-Celia-Jade. “Twice tonight.”

“The other mobster. I’ve taken out more of them than Durant.” She giggles.

GM: “I know, honey. I know,” says Jade-Celia-Jade, wrapping an arm around Celia-Jade-Celia’s shoulder. “I can take him off your hands too.”

“I can be the bad guy in this, that, anything.”

“I’ll still get to gloat about it to Roderick, of course. How much better we are than him at eradicating the Mob.”

“I’m better than you at gloating anyway.”

Celia: “We still need to remove Agnello,” Beauty says to the Bitch. “Imagine what we could gain from him. Pets. Bone work. Mesmerism. Perhaps we should start with his childe, the useless sack of hair and fat. Or one of the ugly ones he runs with… Or a snake, I’d love to gut that Melton bitch or redhead and gorge myself on their vitae.”

Celia-Jade-Celia trails off. Her smile is sharp, though it doesn’t compete on the same field as that of Jade-Celia-Jade’s. It’s the sharpness of a girl who gets to play a girl, the sharpness of a wolf who cuts the throat of a sheep and wears its fur to pass among the flock.

“Then Durant, when grandsire has no more use for him. We’ll take him too. Maybe we’ll tell him, right before it happens. How he was led so easily down this path, how he fell for the manipulations and strings our grandsire tugged. We’ll whisper it into his ear right before he dies, won’t we.”

“But first you take them. You take them all.”

GM: Jade-Celia-Jade laughs with delight and claps her hands.

“Oh, Celia! You aren’t half-bad at this. Not at all. I’m going to be fantasizing about that, every second I don’t control the body. The look on his face. I think I’d want to keep him staked again, after we tell him. Let it really sink in. Let him stew and agonize over it for hours, how he betrayed ‘sun shines out of her ass’ Coco for absolutely nothing. Then we’d drink his soul too—why not, after all? We could take those big brains of his. Put them to better use.”

She brushes a stray hair from Celia-Jade-Celia’s face.

“But it’s no surprise you aren’t half-bad at this. I came from you, didn’t I?”

“The blueprint was already there.”

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia giggles.

“Make him stew. Oh, yes. Perhaps we’ll take that thin-blood from him too. You know we almost offered him the secret of this, let him make her a real lick. What a waste. What a waste that would have been. Neither of them can do what we can no matter how far down the road he thinks he’s going. He’s weak.”

“But we’re not.” Beauty clasps the Bitch’s hands in her own. “We’re not. He wanted to take things from us? To cleave us in half, separate us forever, assume control of all our belongings? Oh, no. Oh no, no, no. He’ll learn.”

“Do it,” Celia-Jade-Celia says to Jade-Celia-Jade. “Do it. Take it. I’ll play the innocent, you’ll play the mastermind.”

GM: Jade-Celia-Jade doesn’t giggle like Celia-Jade-Celia does when she giggles. It’s not a coquettish sound. It’s the Bitch playing the Beauty for a moment and finding amusement in it.

“No. We’re not. And I’ll never let that happen, Celia. Not so long as I’m in control of the body. Roderick won’t ever hurt you again.” She pulls the Beauty’s hands to her breast like they’re something precious. “He’ll have to go through me. You are safe now. You are safe from him. You are safe from everything. So long as I’m here. I’ll take care of all the bad things. I’ll be the bad thing, so you can be the good girl.”

She releases Celia-Jade-Celia’s hands and spreads her arms wide.

“Give them to me, Celia. Both of them. I’ll take care of them.”

Celia: Safe. She’s safe. Safe with Jade-Celia-Jade. Safe with this part of her that protects her, that does the bad things, that looks out for their best interests. They’re not in competition anymore. They’re the same.

Celia-Jade-Celia doesn’t know how to give the alter what she’s done. How does she hide memories? How does she deny what she stole?

But it’s like another mask, isn’t it? Severing part of herself. Celia-Jade-Celia closes her eyes, searching inside of herself for the pieces and parts Jade-Celia-Jade wants. They’re easy to find, aren’t they? Things she stole from someone else. Liquid gold. Ecstasy. Diamonds in the veins. Diamonds in her chest. Diamonds in her heart. Unimaginable pleasure that made her gasp and cry and find sweet, sweet release.

Her hands sweep her body an inch above her skin. It’s energy, that’s all it is. Energy work that she’s going to give to the other part of her. Her hands move and the magic gathers beneath her fingertips, coalescing into a golden globule that pulses with alternating colors: crimson, for the rage of the Brujah; navy, for the blue-blooded Ventrue; white, for the girl who gives them up to retain her innocence, and gray for the steel from her spine.

Then green.

Green for Jade. A hundred different shades of green that writhe with the energy it contains: mint and green and emerald, Castleton and cadmium and hunter. It’s the green of grass, the green of an alligator’s scaly back, the green of the leaves in a tropical rainforest. It whirls and throbs and dances between her hands as she pours into it, giving up the memories, the knowledge, the trauma, the might-have-beens.

Celia-Jade-Celia presses the orb into Jade-Celia-Jade.

She gives it up.

GM: Gives up what?

She doesn’t remember.

There’s nothing in her hands.

No globule of energy with its shimmering colors and-

No, there’s nothing.

But she has a very good feeling about that.

She feels lighter. Like there’s a weight off her shoulders. Like she can sleep, if not soundly, then at least sounder.

She thinks she made a very good decision. Whatever it was.

Jade-Celia-Jade smiles. There’s always challenge in her smiles, fangs and steel behind the curvature of her full lips. But she looks pleased.

“Good girl,” she purrs, stroking Celia-Jade-Celia’s cheek.

Celia: Celia-Jade-Celia did good. She doesn’t know what she did, but she certainly feels like it was good. She smiles with the wide-eyed sincerity of an innocent.

GM: “That dreadful sun is already up,” Jade-Celia-Jade says with a tsk, glancing away. “I have to go now, Celia. I’ll take control of the body. Benji and his renfields can’t know Celia.”

She smirks and traces a finger along Celia-Jade-Celia’s lips.

“Don’t be a stranger.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Celia-Jade-Celia says to her counterpart. She doesn’t know what for, only that the Bitch has come to protect the Beauty.

She’s in good hands.

Celia VII, Chapter II
Jade's Revenge

“I suppose there is no us anymore."
Celia Flores

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

“Hello, mistress,” she beams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened to your… arm?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “The girl?” asks Alana.

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Alana’s eyes shine at the words.

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

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

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

They said similar words to each other, once.

They were less… desperate. Less syrupy.

They meant them, too.

Celia: Did they?

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

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

Jade waits alone with her thoughts.

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

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

Celia thought what he said was nonsense anyway.

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

Someone, at least, deserves happiness.

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

She’s mixing up who she is again.

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

Celia: Jade doesn’t have a mom.

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

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

Too much of a conscience.

Less naive, though.

Definitely less naive.

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

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

GM: Will she ever watch Batman again?

Celia: No. Never.

GM: Some of the lines have not aged well.

Or maybe too well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Celia thought she was reading too much into it.

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

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

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

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

Life isn’t fiction.

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

An old poem dances through her mind. A Betrayal:

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

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

Sometimes memories are the worst forms of torture.

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

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

Alana, meanwhile, comes back into the office.

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t touch him.”

GM: The ghoul raises her hands and backs away.

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

Celia: “No.”

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

Celia: “I’m not him.”

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

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

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

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

She disappears back outside.

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

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

She manages a smile.

“Would you like to lick me off…?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Uff. He’s heavy, mistress.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what if she’s fucking wrong.

“No. I’ve got something for him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She reports no immediate answer from the other ghoul.

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

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

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

Celia: Sometimes Celia forgets how old Alana actually is.

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

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

Celia: She dials his number.

GM: No answer.

Celia: She calls Rusty.

GM: No answer.

Celia: She calls LegalWings.

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

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


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

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

“They’re not in.”

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

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

Celia: “Oh?”

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

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

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

“Or try his mom.”

Celia: “I’ll do that. Thank you.”

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

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


Perhaps little surprise at the very late hour.

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

Jade hangs up.

GM: Maybe one that’s sleeping.

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

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

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

She’ll gut him.

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

He’ll talk. She’ll make sure of it.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How dare they.

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

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

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

He’s better than this.

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

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

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

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

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Also, who the fuck is this guy?”

“Just wondering.”

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

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

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

GM: “I’m owed one,” he smirks.

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

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

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

“So you get to have your pick.”

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

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

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

Does it matter?

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

GM: He takes it.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it has.

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

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

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

She readies her tools.

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

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

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

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

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

She’s tired.

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

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

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

She feeds him.

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

Then she speaks.

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

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

Jade shakes her head.

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

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

Jade lets out a breath.

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

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

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

“I’m going to begin.”

Soft, warm hands touch down upon his skin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not until you say it.”

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

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

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

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

She’s not the same, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not move to sit.

He folds his arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Savoy knows where I am.”

“He bugged your spa.”

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

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

“Elders do that, you know.”

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

“They keep records about those havens.”

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

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

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

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

There’s a vicious smile.

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

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

Roderick may finally be wrong there.

Hasn’t she seen that already?

Celia: Celia barks a laugh.

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

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

She shakes her head.

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

She effects a sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “What a lovely choice,” sneers Roderick. “Go back to being your ken doll boyfriend, or blackmail and mutilation.”

“How lucky for me I get to pick neither.”

“Because you’re incorrect on several counts. Savoy wasn’t listening to the bugs. A renfield was. He’s an elder, he doesn’t do that sort of grunt work himself. Besides, my friends and I were already there to carry out his interests. I doubt he was counting on either of us being foolish enough to end up where we now are. That’s the only reason you got as far as you did.”

“But if you seriously think he’s sanctioning this, you’re in for a surprise. Why the hell would he? What possible benefit is there to him in letting a rogue lick stake and make off with his precious spy?”

“And don’t kid yourself. There’s no security in the French Quarter that’ll keep his people out if he wants them inside.”

Celia: “I never said he sanctioned this.”

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

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

Celia: Celia finally sighs.

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

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

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

GM: “Or else you ‘steal every secret from my mind.’ Assuming you’re even capable of doing that—that’s not how star mode works—you’ll be signing your own death warrant.”

“You think Savoy isn’t going to interrogate you about what you did to me, about what you might have learned from me? You think he’s going to be okay with you knowing all of the Cabildo’s secrets?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sneers at her.

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

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

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

He does not want anything to do with her.

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

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

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

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

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

She leads Benji into the bathroom with the ghouls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good fucking riddance.

Celia VII, Chapter I
Roderick's Revenge

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

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

Celia: It’s a lovely carpet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Name your sins.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two men agree in Spanish and head off.

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

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

“Blood’s cooling,” says Gamberro.

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

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

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

“Kalani’s my lover,” he declares.

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

He smiles and tussles her hair.

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

“You did beg me so pathetically.”

The other three snicker and lick their bloody lips.

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

“Not that she is good for anything else.”

He gives her breasts an emphatic squeeze.

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

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

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

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

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

“Gamberro, do you have a saw handy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fury burns hot.

Four on one are terrible odds.

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

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

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

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

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

The other three howl with laughter.

Celia: She stays down.

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

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

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

Someone else’s eyes watch the three fuck.

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

Celia: Who cares. Stephen is dead.

Celia is dead.

They’re all dead.

None of it fucking matters anymore.

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

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

Maybe Gamberro wants to bang while the others do.

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

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

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

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

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

“Were you going somewhere, you stupid whore?”

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

But it’s rude to gloat.

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

He wants her to hurt.

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

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

And now this.

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

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

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

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

A stupid whore.

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

She doesn’t want to be this person anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

She fucked up.

She hurt him.

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

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

Never a partner.

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

Never with love.

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

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

She’d hurt him. Betrayed him.

For that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I see,” he’d said to her nights ago.

No. She sees.

“You win.”

GM: Does that fact bring him pleasure?

All he had to do for it was lose everything.

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

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

It’s about showing she means nothing to him.

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

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

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

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

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

She knew it wasn’t true even then.

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

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

“I have something special planned for these.”

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

Celia: Three.

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

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

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

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

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

He hands her a pen.

“Sign these.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dracon gives her shoulder a squeeze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or perhaps mental institution given your insanity.”

Celia: Celia drops her hand.

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

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

“Celia or Jade, both are scum.”

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

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

He shakes his head.

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

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

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

She pulls the mask around her a little tighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s so eager to please.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She holds out the doll for him to take.

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

Then a sluggish look overtakes his face.

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

Celia: Idiot.

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

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

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

Then she shoves the stake into his chest.

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

His eyes snap open, though.

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

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

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

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

Celia looks into his brown eyes again now.

All she sees is hate.

Burning, furious hate.

How did it come to this?

Celia: Somewhere in her gut, a knife twists.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She loves her sire.

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

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

But not for Roderick. Not anymore.

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

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

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

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

GM: Jade drinks.

She drinks so deeply.

So very, very deeply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what poisoned love tastes like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

She wipes at her mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can still feel everything.

GM: Dracon does not answer her words.

He cannot answer them.

But he can feel.

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

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

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

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

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

Typing her password is inconvenient with one hand.

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

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

GM: Who is Roderick?

He died with the one beautiful truth left unuttered.

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

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

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

Short-handed. Get it?

She gets it.

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

GM: Maybe he gets it.

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

Celia: Jade giggles at the line.

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

GM: “A’ight.”

He hangs up.

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

GM: It’s answered on the first ring.

“Are you coming by?” Alana asks breathlessly.

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

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

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

GM: There’s a delighted giggle.

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

Celia: “Love you too, baby.”

Jade ends the call.

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

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

They’re two distinct names.

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

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

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

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

She’s just getting started.

Louis III, Chapter V
Louisiana State Penitentiary

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”
Brenda Harris

Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Lou’s friend drives him back to New Orleans and pays his bus fare. Apparently, the Greyhound route to Saint Francisville is two and a half hours and $15 rather than six hours and $47 when you take the bus at New Orleans Bus Station instead of the bus closer to Kenner at Louis Armstrong Airport. The former’s route is shorter. Fewer stops.

Lou waits around at the terminal until his bus arrives. A drunk-looking man loudly complains when the driver says he can’t get on. A few menacing-looking bikers with 1%er patches also climb aboard. Lou isn’t sure what they’re doing here and why they’re not using their bikes. There’s also a sketchy-feeling girl with about twenty pieces of mismatched luggage who keeps trying to wheedle the driver into letting her bring them aboard and who keeps getting told no, her ticket does not entitle her to that many pieces of luggage. Lou doesn’t even hear her story and it smells like pure bullshit. She eventually yells, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” at the driver and storms off with her luggage.

Lou absently notes, while he waits, that Greyhound’s hours of operation are 5:30 AM to 9:30 PM. Little chance of any leeches being aboard these buses, even if the sun wasn’t already up. They might be a cheap and convenient way to travel, but at most you’d have three hours during the winter. Any layovers, delays, and cancellations could be a death sentence without a backup plan.

Once he finally gets on, he finds the intercity bus to be very comfortable next to the metro buses. The seats are cloth. There are armrests and extra leg room. There’s also wifi and power outlets. He’ll only have to get onto another bus at Baton Rouge in two hours. People continue to file in after he seats himself. He spots two moms with kids. One of the moms’ children is sniffling and looks absolutely miserable. Maybe they’re going to the same place Lou is. Another man getting on holds up an O’Tolley’s cheeseburger and loudly asks, “Hey, anybody want this?” He’s mostly ignored, apart from the passenger behind Lou who sarcastically mutters, “Um, no.”

The woman who plops down next to Lou’s seat is black, middle-aged, and obese, and dressed in jeans and battered tennis shoes. She uncorks a water bottle, takes a long glug, then turns to Lou.

“I once killed someone, you know,” she brags.

Louis: “Did they deserve it?”

The old man poses the question like the half-congealed dregs of coffee at the bottom of his silver-bullet thermos. Slow and solid.

For another man, the question might sound sarcastic.

For another, it might be sanctimonious.

For this old man, though, it’s a rarer bird. One not often gracing the Greyhound’s urban melange and motley dramatis personae.


Did they deserve it?

He’s not sure if the woman will have a satisfactory answer.

If not, he won’t blame her.

After all, he doesn’t know if he has one himself.

GM: The woman nods agreeably at Lou’s question.

“My husband. He was a real piece of shit.”

She nods again and repeats, “Real piece of shit. So one night, I picked up his hunting rifle, and I blew his head off. BOOM!”

She smacks their shared armrest.

Louis: The old man’s face tracks the woman’s movement and words like a dancer two steps behind—or ahead. Perhaps the delay is due to a slurry of resurrected images, words, and smells that slither through his mind. Such thoughts have the schizophrenic aroma of spiced rum, fish tacos, bubble-gum, cheap cigarillos, pralines, spray paint, and crack cocaine, and the glint of Louisiana gold in all its black, wet, and volatile beauty.

“I was once married,” the old man says, not quite as a reply as much as an inadvertent confession. Not to woman beside him now, but to the memory of the woman who once was.

“Real piece of shit,” he adds, his lips echoing slowly the words. It’s unclear whether he’s referring to himself as husband, his spouse, their erstwhile married, or all three.

His hand absentmindedly reaches for a cigarette. But the cigarette isn’t there. Nor is the hand. At least, not among the living, it isn’t.

How much of me is? the old man bitterly muses.

Forcing himself back to the present, to the living now, he looks her in the eyes, “A lot of folks find it hard. Not the killing. But the living with it.”

If you don’t, time to turn in your badge, That was what he had told so many of his partners about taking a life while carrying the crescent shield for their ugly, beautiful, terrible, beloved city. Justified or not, dead men are heavy, sticky burdens, at least for those with a conscience.

Today, as with so many past, the old man’s conscience is bent under the weight of so many deaths. Mama Wedo’s is just the tip of that spiritually ponderous iceberg. That weight threatens to pull him down, deep into the past, to relive the dead. Their names. Faces. Lives lived, and what was. Lives unlived, and what might have been.

His hand—the corporeal one—gently touches the humble cross beneath his shirt. It grounds him. Re-focuses his attention to the present. But also the future.

He turns back to his fellow passenger.

“You two have kids?”

GM: The ancient wood is at once rough and worn, like it was all those months ago. Perhaps like it’s been for years and years.

Whether his ex-wife is similarly unchanged since their parting is an open question.

“Yep,” says the woman. “Gettin’ on this bus to visit one of ’em. Our son. Lives in Baton Rouge.”

She grins.

“I was fuckin’ with you, man. I ain’t killed nobody. Mind you, I wish I had, sometimes. The ‘real piece of shit’ part was true.”

She takes a glug of water.

“Normally that freaks people out more. Sometimes I like to add, ‘I really liked how it made me feel. Sometimes I think about doin’ it again.’ But goddamn! You didn’t even blink. You one cold customer.”

She laughs and sets down the water.

“Guess that what I get, tryin’ to scare strangers on a Greyhound, ain’t it? Never know who you gonna run into.”

Louis: Lou smiles.

“That’s me. One cold customer. Guilty as charged.”

He then extends his hand—the one of flesh and blood—and adds, “But you can call me Luis.”

“I also respond to ‘Free Shrimp Boil’.”

GM: “Latrelle,” says the woman. Her hand’s answering grip is flabby but firm.

She laughs.

“Luis’ not so much a mouthful. Why they call you that?”

Meanwhile, the Greyhound’s doors close after the last of the passengers amble on. The bus takes off underneath the pair.

Louis: He sighs with a smile, “Sadly, nobody calls me ‘Free Shrimp Boil’, but if I hear anyone say those words, I come running all the same. Or shuffling. Joints aren’t what they used to be, what with my old friend arthritis.”

GM: The woman laughs again. “Yeah, that a shit nickname. You either gonna be on the hook for a lotta shrimp or a lotta pissed off folks who ain’t got no shrimp. You don’t wanna be Free Shrimp Boil.”

“I hear you, though. I’m fat as fuck and it’s tough on my knees.”

Louis: “Well, here’s to cloth seats, armrests, and extra leg room.”

Yet, even as he smiles and reclines his head with a genuine if light laugh, the old man cannot truly rest. The old PI’s senses swim out surreptitiously as he tries to suss out potential threats. Some, like the OMC bikers, are clear. But it’s the unseen blade that drives deepest. True, his chief nemeses are unlikely to be riding in the sun-exposed bus, but their blood-bond servitors have no such reservations. Any and all could be spies. Even the mother with the crying child. It’s a bitter truth, and one that the worm of paranoia gnaws at. It doesn’t help that his line of sight is broken by row upon rows.

The old man misses the now-departed dawn. He misses his friends. He misses the park with the tranquil ibises and serene water.

The old man misses many things.

GM: He’s exposed himself.

They were already looking for him. He called Otis. Maybe the man reported him. Last known siting (or at least hearing) of Louis Fontaine. Ghouls could have visited the man’s house. Maybe the sheriff did personally, despite the approaching dawn. He can fly, the trip doesn’t take long. Maybe the Guard de Ville did some detective work. They have so many tools. Maybe they found some sign of Lou’s ride. Maybe they followed its route. Maybe their spies and slaves are here, now, looking for him.

The worm of paranoia wriggles.

He’s a literally sitting duck in his cloth seat with its armrest and extra leg room.

The Greyhound, however, slows not for worms or paranoid old men. It’s a two hour ride from the Big Easy to Baton Rouge. About an hour in, a man starts shouting about his knife. Apparently it’s been stolen. Lou is not sure why the man has a knife on the bus.

Latrelle chats with Lou along the way, seemingly no matter how much or little Lou chooses to chat back. She mentions she served a stint in LCIW, “a ways back.” She didn’t kill her husband, but she did shoot him. “Only, it was with a Saturday night special. Them guns are pieces of shit.” She got sent to prison for it. “I was actually on TV once. Reality show called Mega Cage. They made the season at LCWIW, called it St. Gabriel’s Bitchslap! with an exclamation point at the end. I didn’t make it to the finals, though. Bitch who won it fucked me up in the yard and I went down like a punk ‘gainst this little psychopath mama who’d stabbed her kids to death. I’da kicked her ass, ‘cept for how I didn’t. Guess that’s life, innit?”

The bus comes to a stop at the Greyhound Bus Station in Baton Rouge. Latrelle gets off and offers, “You have a nice life, man,” in parting. Lou waits half an hour to catch the 0006 to Saint Francisville, or at least what’s supposed to be half an hour. Lou ends up waiting for over an hour. He hears there is some sort of delay on the other bus. When the impatient passengers finally board, Lou hears there was a drug bust and everyone had been checked out before being allowed to exit the bus.

A tall and lanky man sits plops down on the seat next to Lou. He starts talking, but does not once look at Lou. He is seemingly having a dialogue with himself, using two different voices. His pitch alternates between furtive whispers and normal volume level. Sometimes he twists his hands together with a particularly loud, “Fuck!”

One of the last passengers aboard literally runs to the back of the bus. He is loud in the bathroom. Not all of the noises sound like flatulence. He comes out looking pale, waxy, and a little greenish. The Greyhound takes off. Scenery rolls past. The man runs back two more times over the course of the trip. The back of the bus starts to smell pretty bad. The driver eventually announces they will be intercepted by an ambulance. Paramedics load the man aboard. It turns out he’s sick because his appendix burst. A passenger asks if they are going to transfer to a new bus so this one can be cleaned. It smells really bad. The driver asks, seemingly rhetorically, if they want their route delayed even later. The passengers are apparently going to tough it out until they get to Saint Francisvile.

Lou surveys the passengers. There are more women, he notes, on this bus than his last bus. More seniors, too. Perhaps girlfriends, wives, and parents visiting male relatives at Angola. Both of the mothers and their children from the New Orleans bus are still on this bus. So are a few other passengers. Perhaps they are headed to Angola too.

Good cover, if they’re spies.

The tall man next to Lou finishes a particularly furious-sounding whispered diatribe, then turns and stares at him.

“Hey man, can I use your phone?”

Louis: Lou lets the travel’s detritus roll past him. He’s not immune to the noisome effluvia, but his centuries of low living make him at least inured, if not innoculated. More than once, the bus-contained bedlam reminds him of Dante’s writing. At its best, particularly when talking with Latrelle, it’s Purgatorio. At its worst, it’s Limbo fast sliding into the lower circle’s slurry.

He has no delusions about which side of Archeon sits Angola.

The worm turns, as does his conscience, which rests uneasy as the bowels of the appendix-burst man. The closer Lou gets to the Farm, the worse his distress becomes. Inside his mind, if not soul, he feels the echo of Dante’s words upon trying to scale the very first ring of Purgatorio.

I fear much more the punishment below;
my soul is anxious, in suspense; already
I feel the heavy weights of the first terrace.

Those ponderous thoughts are interrupted, or perhaps punctuated, by the tall, lanky man’s request.

At said question, Lou turns. He regards the younger man slowly, as if he hasn’t already visually investigated the fellow passenger a dozen times. The man and his request remind Lou not so much of Dante’s cantos, but rather the more modern, New World collection of Uncle Remus’ tales, particularly that of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

The old man doesn’t immediately reach for his newest burner phone—which is turned off out of old but wary habits—or any of its dime-store burner SIMs. Instead, he casually glances to see if anyone across the aisle or in front of them have a readily visible phone.

“¿Teléfono?” is his only immediate reply, arching a tired brow.

GM: The lingering smell of the man’s ruptured appendix seemingly marks his approach towards Hell’s gates.

Perhaps if it gets bad enough, he’ll faint like Dante.

“Phone, man, PHONE,” the man repeats in an agitated voice, wringing his hands. He stares at Lou like he can compel the PI to produce and surrender one through sheer force of will.

Across the aisle, Lou sees one of the moms with a miserable-looking kid talking into a phone with an unhappy expressions. In front of them, he hears a passenger with long nails tapping against a phone screen.

The man’s eyes fall out of focus.

“Just wait ’til we get to Saint Francis, bitch,” he mutters in his ‘second’ quieter voice.

Perhaps to Lou. Perhaps to himself. Perhaps to another party.

Louis: Perhaps.

And perhaps the man is referring to the arriving before St. Francis, the Catholic patron of animals, versus St. Francisville of West Feliciana Parish. It’s unlikely, but the old man has experienced stranger things.

The small thought halts Lou from further eyeing the tall man’s jugular and contemplating how best he could lean over and use his supernaturally strong, fast fingertips to cut off the man’s nearest carotid artery, and thereby induce cerebral ischemia and unconsciousness within scant seconds.

Instead, the initially sardonic thought of St. Francis of Assasi dislodges an older, deeper memory in the elderly ghoul. To a time long past and all but drowned away by blood.

A Spanish Capuchin friar had caught him and his brother throwing rocks at a feral dog. Chastising the boys, the friar had taught them of St. Francis of Assisi, regaling them with the tales of how the saint had preached to birds and tamed the man-eating wolf of Gubbio. The mendicant had then admonished the brothers to repent and follow St. Francis, teaching them the saint’s prayer.

The words to that prayer now rise again, if not from his lips, than at least from his heart:

Señor, haz de mí un instrumento de tu paz.
Que allá donde hay odio, yo ponga el amor.
Que allá donde hay ofensa, yo ponga el perdón.
Que allá donde hay discordia, yo ponga la unión.
Que allá donde hay error, yo ponga la verdad.
Que allá donde hay duda, yo ponga la Fe.
Que allá donde desesperación, yo ponga la esperanza.
Que allá donde hay tinieblas, yo ponga la luz.
Que allá donde hay tristeza, yo ponga la alegría.

Maestro, que yo no busque tanto ser consolado, cuanto consolar,
ser comprendido, cuanto comprender,
ser amado, cuanto amar.
Porque es dándose como se recibe,
es olvidándose de sí mismo como uno se encuentra a sí mismo,
es perdonando, como se es perdonado,
es muriendo como se resucita a la vida eterna.

(Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

(_O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

So chastened, the old man slowly draws out his SIM-less burner from his trench and passes it to the younger man beside him.

“Teléfono. Aquí está mi teléfono. Mis disculpas, jovencito.”

Turning the phone on, he quickly unlocks it before connecting it to the Greyhound’s WiFi, gesturing once more for the fellow passenger to use.

GM: Saints befriending beasts is a recurring element in hagiographies.

The man is hardly a beast, and Lou may suppose he’s hardly a saint either, but the crude comparison is there.

The prayer is more broadly applicable than Gubbio’s wolf or a feral dog, in any case.

The man gives Lou a noncomprehending look at the Spanish, but takes the phone and fumbles with it with trembling fingers as he whispers, “Come on… come on…”

The man mashes his fingers against the screen, then holds it to his ear.

“Hey. Hey. I wanna say.”


The man’s face twists.

“I’m sorry. Okay? I’m sorry. Fuck. I’m sorry. Okay. I ain’t got shit, from Eric. Shit from Eric. Shit from you. Just, just… fuck! Sorry.”

“Right. You tell him. Tell him, man. Tell him!”

He presses his finger against the screen again, then looks at Lou and returns the phone.

“Thanks, man.”

As Lou inspects the device, he sees no call was ever made on it.

Perhaps the friar would be pleased, all the same.

Louis: Perhaps.

Either way, the old man graciously accepts the returned phone, sliding it away.

“De nada,” he replies with with tired, empathetic eyes that have drunk in their fair share of sorrows.

“Eres bienvenido. Lo siento por Eric.”

Regarding the mentally ill man, Lou finds that the present once again conjures ghosts from his past. This time, it’s haunting images of Chica, all but OD’d on crack and Malkavian blood.

It’s little wonder why the old man drunk so much.

GM: The man just gives a blank look at the Spanish, then turns away.

“I’m gonna kick your ass, man,” he whispers to the seat in front of him. “I’m gonna fuck you up. Gonna kick your ass!”

The rest of the bus ride proceeds uneventfully. It gets off at Saint Francisville, a middle of nowhere small town with a population under 2,000. The town isn’t known for much besides some nearby plantation homes open to the public for guided tours. It’s also the final layover on the bus route up to Angola.

The small town lacks a proper bus terminal. Lou waits outside an Endron gas station for his next ride. The tall man who sat next to Lou on the Greyhound ambles off, still muttering to himself, but a number of the Greyhound’s other passengers wait alongside the old man. Both of the mothers with accompanying kids wait with him. Most of Lou’s fellow passengers are black.

The 60-something overcast weather isn’t unpleasant to wait in, but the amount of waiting is unpleasant. The bus is late. People look increasingly impatient as they check phones and watches. One little girl complains to her mom and asks why they can’t go eat somewhere. Her mom tells her they’ll miss the bus if it arrives while they’re eating. They don’t know when it’s going to arrive. The girl heaves an exaggerated sigh and complains she’s bored. Another boy tells his mom he’s bored too. “So are we all, kid,” says an older woman.

The bus is over half an hour late when it finally arrives. Lou pays and gets on. The old man supposes it’s no worse than any other bus he’s ridden, but next to the Greyhound it’s quite uncomfortable. Seats are hard rather than cloth, there’s no armrests or extra leg room, nor is there on-bus wifi. The ride is lower to the ground and has more bumps and jostles. Somehow it seems fitting for the prison-operated bus.

The little boy who said he was bored starts crying about five minutes into the ride. Lou’s not sure what about. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” sounds over and over. His mom tries to comfort him at first. It doesn’t work. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” keeps sounding. The mom starts repeatedly hissing, “Braden, be QUIET!” but he still keeps crying. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” People shoot the family increasingly dirty looks at the unrelenting noise. “Wuh-huh-huh-huh-huh!” The mom finally pulls the boy over her knee and delivers several swats to his bottom. Lou catches “ashamed” and “big baby” among the angry-sounding words she hisses at him. The kid sniffs, rubs his eyes, and sullenly buries his face against the seat. But he quiets down.

“These fuckin’ people, man,” the young woman sitting next to Lou mutters to him. “Shouldn’t have kids.”

Louis: Does the old man nod in agreement—or is his lantern jaw just jostled by another suspension-rocked pothole?

“I wonder if that’s what the angels say about God when they look at the world and all its people. ’Shouldn’t have kids’.”

He reaches in for his crumpled pack of cigarettes and rattles the last coffin nail with a lingering, unspoken thought before slowly sliding it back into his pocket. He doesn’t exhale a plume of smoke, but his sigh is just as long.

After another moment, he turns back to the young woman. Normally, he’d remain silent, allowing the noissome cacophany roll on like the bus’ wheels without another word. But instead, he speaks. Maybe it’s the grace of the Gaudette candle still warming his old, canketerous heart. Or maybe he does it to better anchor himself in the present, versus slipping back into another bout of guilt- and sorrow-pained memories of past lives with their host of disquiet dead.

“Dad, husband, or brother?”

His old eyes regard her, slow and calm, offering her the chance to answer if she wishes.

GM: The woman is black. Most of the people on the bus are black. Plump and short-haired with a tired-looking face that looks too tired for a face that’s in maybe its late 20s. She’s dressed in jeans and a jacket and long-sleeved tee.

“Yeah, probably,” she snorts in answer to his first question, then looks at window.

“Boyfriend,” she tersely answers his second.

Then she looks back at Lou and says, in that moment of rare-seeming but perhaps actually not at all rare honesty, because she’s talking to a stranger she never expects to ever see again,

“I cheated on him and I haven’t told him and feeling guilty is half the reason I keep visiting, because there’s no future with him. Not anymore. No. Fucking. Future. And I guess I’m just a selfish bitch for wanting to leave, when we were gonna get married.”

Her lip quavers.

Louis: No future

Yet, to the old man, he increasingly feels like he has no present. That his past is too large and heavy, casting its own gravity well or too-long shadow that swallows the here and now.

But isn’t that the way with all the old?

“I was once married, miss,” the old man says with a voice that is tired but trudges on. “My old lady and me… well, we had some good times. Bad ones too. Mean. Ugly. She cheated on me, left me, cheated on me some more, left me some more. I don’t blame her. Not anymore at least. She wanted to live for the future, said I was stuck living in the past. Said it was like being married to a ghost. We made some good songs, yes, but I kept wanting to replay the old tunes versus making new ones.”

“Love is hard music.”

GM: “So she just ended it,” says the woman.

She looks as if that thought isn’t new.

“When did you stop thinking she was a scumbag for cheating on you?”

Louis: Lou laughs sardonically, but not without a gleam of sincere, if self-effacing, mirth. “Which time?”

His smile, though, fades as he replies, “One time, maybe the hardest time was when I thought she was happy. Happy with me, happy with us. I didn’t see that one coming. Hit me like a sock full of ball bearings, or like a .45 to the heart, that one. As you can imagine, drinking didn’t help clear my heart or head any sooner. Me burning down our house was more sobering. Especially since it had the rest of my booze.”

GM: “Huh,” says the woman.

She looks Lou up and down.

“You don’t look like a guy crazy enough to pull that kinda shit.”

“Can see why she cheated and left, if that came during a good spell. No offense.”

Louis: “No offense taken, miss. We all live in glass houses, just as we all got stones we shouldn’t throw.” He doesn’t quite sigh as he adds, “And to be fair, I was a younger man back then. Not necessarily better or worse. But younger.”

GM: “Guess nobody’s got a monopoly on crazy shit, but young guys do it more,” says the woman.

“There’s a reason you see so many girls with older guys, and not young guys with older women.”

“I dated so many guys my age who were just… immature. Maniacs. Got shit to prove. Unstable. You know?”

Louis: Lou nods knowingly. “Six ways to Sunday, miss, I know.”

He grunts as he shifts his weight to vainly ameliorate a stab of sciatica.

“What about your man in the pen? Lotta guys get sent to the Farm for stuff I swear they’d never even think of doing if they had arthritis.”

It’s a weak smile, but it’s a kind one all the same.

GM: The woman laughs.

It’s more a bitter sound than a weak one.

“He got in a fight. He had a gun. Dropped it, it went off, stay bullet killed the other guy. Lawyer said he shoulda gotten manslaughter, but ’cuz this is Louisiana, he got second degree murder.”

“Even though he wasn’t trying to kill nobody.”

Louis: Lou cannot help but file through his mental rolodex to see if he knows about the case. It’s a familiar one, hauntingly so, but not a personal one.

“Law is too often a piss-poor substitute for justice. I wish to God it wasn’t.”

GM: “Whole thing is just complete bullshit,” the woman says hollowly.

“What does this do, except fuck up more lives.”

Louis: The woman’s words, combined with her pain and the fast-approaching environs, conjure up another ghost and dark memories: Big Mon and his unjust incarceration. Not that such thoughts have ever been more than a breath’s distance from his heavy heart.

“Sadly, nothing that justifies the horrific costs to the men unjustly locked inside, nor to the loved ones they’re forced to leave behind.”

“I assume your friend’s tried to appeal?”

GM: “He’s serving life without parole,” says the woman. “Which is more bullshit. And yeah. We been appealing. So far no luck. Public defender barely got time for his case. I think they give the appeals even less time. Thought about gettin’ a private lawyer, but who the fuck knows if that’d work and we’re broke and him obviously losin’ his job has fucked up everything. He wants me to get the lawyer, says if I really love him I’ll spend the money, and that I’m selfish ‘cuz I haven’t. And he’s right, ‘cuz I’m cheating on him, and I barely visit anymore anyways, and we fight all the time and he always asks first about canteen money and sometimes I think he just sees me as a fuckin’ bank account, and then he says I don’t got no idea what it’s like in there and he could die without the money-”

The woman breaks off with a sniff to furiously wipe her eyes.

Louis: In a former age, or at least half-life, he would have a handkerchief to readily offer the young woman, whom no doubt would readily accept. Technically, the old man still has one, but the modern age is a more sanitary, albeit less trusting, time, such that few would accept such an anachronistic offer, particularly from a stranger.

But the old man offers all the same.

And he offers a little more too, though he’s no more sure of its acceptance either.

A name.


He coughs it up like a widow’s mite clunking into the alms-plate. It’s not much, but it’s what he has.

“Reffett,” he repeats. “Dustin Reffett. He’s a lawyer in New Orleans. I knew his father. Big shot criminal defense attorney, got someone released from Angola a ways back. His dad is long gone, but his son is cut from the same cloth, I’ve heard. Good lawyer. Even better when the stakes are high. Normally, his services would cost you an arm—”

He looks down sheepishly at his amputed arm, then continues, “but he does pro bono work. They all do, or have to, per law, but I think he’s likely to take the case. Like his old man, he’s got an itch for cases where futures are on the line. ‘Life without parole’ for what should be manslaughter versus second degree murder? That sounds right up his alley. Maybe mention how his old man got the cop Broussard out of Angola, and that’s what made you look him up. And bad as it sounds, if your ex-flame is being squeezed for canteen money or worse, that ups the stakes—and likely makes the case all the more tempting for Reffett.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll take the case, or if he does that he’ll win. But whether he does or doesn’t, you still get to decide if you want to make music with your ex-fiance.”

GM: The woman listens silently to Lou. Is there hope in her eyes? It looks almost foreign on her forlorn and embittered face.

“Pro bono,” she repeats, as if to make sure she heard him right.

“Okay, well.”

“Why not, right?”

“Miss any shot you don’t take.”

“Can I say you sent me? What’s your name?”

“I’m Brenda.”

She looks at the handkerchief and waves it off with, “I’m good.”

Some gestures may stay in another era.

Louis: But not all names.

“Enrique,” the old man offers.

It’s not his real name, but neither is Louis Fontaine. And for all his compassion to this woman, the worm still squirms. Too many ears. Too many eyes. Too many lies.

“My name’s not worth much, but hopefully Dustin Reffett’s is.”

To punctuate the point, he undoes his bag—as his briefcase has been left back at Mariángel’s place—and rips off a corner from a stenopad, writing down the attorney’s name and a few notes with some hopefully relevant context.

GM: “Yeah,” says Brenda.

She takes the note and looks it over, then looks back up to Lou.

“I dunno if things are gonna work out with us. Even if he gets out. Just… so much shit between us now. Things just… things’ve happened. But I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

“Tell me that makes me a not shitty person.”

Louis: This time, there’s no hesitation in his answer, nor any shadow of equivocation.

“It doesn’t.”

GM: “Even though I’m a cheater?”

Louis: The old man points at himself and then vaguely at the rest of the bus’ occupants.

“Glass houses, miss. Who am I or are any of us to throw stones?”

“But if you’re asking me if you are a bad person because you’re not sure you want to live the rest of your life hooked up with your old fiance, prison or no prison? No, that’s just being a person with a living, beating heart.”

“As for the cheating, I’m no priest. But the scriptures teach us what the Great High Priest did when confronted with a woman caught in adultery. He didn’t throw a stone, either, though he was the only one without sin. He also didn’t say cheating wasn’t a sin. Instead, he said to her, once all her accusers had left, ‘Neither do I condemn thee. Go your way, and sin no more.’”

GM: The bus’ other occupants look little happier than Brenda does.

No one who cares enough to visit someone in prison is happy the person they’re visiting is behind bars.

Well, probably. Lou helped put the people he’s visiting behind bars.

But Lebeaux said he wasn’t happy for either brother to be in prison. “Just happy they’re not pushing more drugs on the streets and ruining more lives.”

“So he just said to her… yeah, you should probably stop, but I ain’t gonna shame you or pelt you with rocks for it?” asks Brenda.

Louis: “Pretty much,” the old man says with a smile that surprises his own face.

“Not sure about the ‘probably’ part.”

GM: “Yeah, guess he’s pretty sure about that,” says Brenda. The smile she returns is a little weak, but it’s there, for the first time Lou has yet seen on her face.

It’s a smile that looks out of place on the prison-bound bus.

“A’ight. Well. Thanks, Enrique. For the lawyer and… everything else.”

Louis: The old man tips the brim of his knockoff Pelicans cap.

“Same to you, Brenda.”

Inside the old man’s mind, he hears the distant echoes of a much, much younger voice, one that belonged to a boy saying St. Francis’ prayer under the watchful tutelage of a certain Capuchin friar.

I’m trying, Fray Antonio. I’m still failing. But I’m still trying.

Louis III, Chapter III
Passing the Torch

“The NOPD’s dirty. Yeah, and the Mississppi’s muddy.”
Vinny Cardona

Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Vinny and Lex say brief prayers of their own as the vampire burns. Vinny gives Lou a lift to the Greyhound terminal in Laplace, where the PI has another errand to undertake. The trio make a brief stop in Kenner, though, so Lex can use a bathroom. It’s while she’s gone that the younger detective turns to Lou and says,

“So, there was something I wanted your advice on.”

“About the paintings.”

“You remember those?”

Louis: The old man does. Then again, the old man remembers lots of things. Like 66,702: Kenner’s population as of the last census. 66,702 pairs of eyes and ears. Inadvertent eavesdroppers. Potential spies. And the census count just scratches the surface. Beyond the uncounted, there are also the uncountable. Birds. Bugs. Both kinds of bugs, actually. Thinking about it can drive a man to drink, or make him drive right off the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Hard to say which would be worse, especially as the old man’s done both.

But not thinking about it… well, that just gets you dead. And the old man’s not ready to get there yet. Almost, but not yet.

So he thinks about it, and the worm of paranoia writhes. It gnaws into his recent joy, eating away its corners and bruising what otherwise might be a simple conversation between friends. But the Big Easy doesn’t do simple, and it rarely does easy, either.

Just like when Lou went looking into Micky Zyers for Vinny, back before a blonde-haired devil walked into his office and lit his life on fire. To be fair, his life was already on fire; the dame just brought gasoline.

Regardless, the old man had looked into Zyers’ whereabouts after his explosive showdown with René and subsequent retreat into hiding. And as with so many of his investigations, the old man did not like what he found. Mickey was nowhere to be found because he had already been found—and by no less than the NOSTF.

One didn’t have to pass the NOPD’s detective exam to see why Bobby’s off-the-books gang of vampire-hunting, but vampire-controlled, vigilantes would be interested in Mickey and the nicked Masquerade-threatening paintings.

Nor did it surprise Lou when he discovered the NOSTF were ‘storing’ Mickey in the heart of their turf: the Vieux Carré.

Breaking into their cop-guarded stronghold to ‘rescue’ the grade-A sleezeball wasn’t Lou’s idea of laying low, especially not in the wake of Rampart’s blowback. He was too hot, both with the fuzz and the leeches who held the NOPD’s if not also the NOSTF’s leashes.

Explaining all of that to the Vigil-rejecting detective had proved equally problematic, and it’s unlikely to be any easier now. Still, Lou forces himself to tear his worm-gnawed attention away from every potential eavesdropper to face his friend. Once more, he wishes he had a cigarette. Once more, he pushes past his personal wishes.

“Yeah, I remember them. I dig some digging there too, but the dirt I found wasn’t good, Vinny.”

GM: “Oh, you did?” the one-time bantamweight asks, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, I’ve done some too. The dirt I’ve found has been… mushy.”

“So wanted to get a second opinion.”

“Some other cops got to Zyers before I could.”

“But he’s not at OPP.”

“Hasn’t actually been booked for anything, as far as I can tell.”

“Which seems funny, because the slimeball’s done a hundred things someone could bust him for if they wanted.”

Louis: Lou nods.

GM: “I don’t know if you already know, Lou, but there are cops who see everything that’s wrong, everything that’s dirty, about the department, and they say… no.”

“I mean, hell.”

“I’m on the take.”

“Everyone’s on the fucking take.”

Louis: Lou knows. Even now, retired and in hiding from his former colleagues, he knows. Better than most of those same cops.

GM: “There’s talk, you know, about Drouillard stepping down. After that shit show with the shooting. Running for mayor.”

“Delron replacing him.”

“And fucking Cash Money, the new district commander!”

Vinny shakes his head.

Louis: Lou can’t help but raise a brow at that, jaded and calloused as he is. That’s news to him, and it’s bad news. It doesn’t get much dirtier than Delron and Cash Money, and the latter is dirty as they can come without a lick of blood. Sure, it doesn’t take poison to make a dirty rat stink, but a promotion for either is likely to put them on Savoy or his childe’s tab. Lou doesn’t like thinking about how bad those dirty rats would smell with poison…

The old man doesn’t so shake his head so much as he shivers.

GM: “He already leap-frogged up to LT, I guess what’s skipping captain too if your uncle runs the department?”

“I hear one story, though, that he doesn’t want the job as commander.”

“Because he’d have to wear a uniform.”

Vinny shakes his head again.

“Just fucking hell, Lou.”

“And Gettis going off the deep end.”

“What the fuck is this department coming to, sometimes.”

Louis: Lou’s pretty sure the slimeball would find a way to slip that requirement, but the old man doesn’t say that out. No point in pouring salt into already sore wounds.

But he does need to say something. At least once Vinny is done explaining. Which the cop isn’t.

GM: “So, anyway.”

“The guys who are saying enough is enough. Things have gone too far.”

“They’ve asked me if I want to help out. To help cut out the cancer, too. They say I can get my hands on Zyers, if I do.”

“They were cagey when I asked about how.”

“But I know he’s not been arrested. And he’s nowhere on the streets. I’ve talked to every CI, every huckster, every grifter, crack fiend, hooker, slimeball, that I can think of, who he might have associated with. Zyers is off the streets. Has been for a while now.”

“The guys I talked to make me thing he’s been held by them somewhere.”

“But he hasn’t been arrested. This seems dirty, too.”

“But isn’t everything?”

“What the fuck is an arrest even worth these days. My dad got arrested, and you can debate whether that was right or wrong, but he had a pretty posh stay in OPP. Got deli sandwiches delivered for his meals and everything.”

“And you can debate whether that’s right or wrong, but if you think about it, it doesn’t square with someone getting arrested. Defeats the point, doesn’t it, for jail to be a hotel stay?”

“On the other hand, Dad tells me he saw several guys stab each other to death outside his cell, so you have that too. And even that is pretty light next to what a shit show that place was during Katrina.”

Vinny shakes his head again.

“I know this isn’t news to either of us.”

“The NOPD’s dirty. Yeah, and the Mississppi’s muddy.”

“But I’d be pissed if I looked out one day and it was solid mud.”

“And I want Zyers. I want to get to the bottom of these paintings. They won’t get out of my head.”

“So… what do you think, Lou?”

Louis: The old man listens to Vinny’s racing freight train of thought, no less saddened despite foreseeing its ugly terminus. But maybe he can jump on and try to steer it away from the yawning canyon. Or maybe he’ll be dragged down into the abyss.

The old man pauses as if hoping for some inspired words to fill his lips. But the only immediate sound is his growling stomach.


He gazes eastward, towards the slow-rising sun as it bathes the Gulf in rosy gold.

“There is no trap so deadly as the one you set for yourself.”

He sighs, wishing he could taste nicotine and gin on his exhaling lips.

Turning back to Vinny, he says, “If I’d had a son, I’d have hoped he became half the man you are.”

GM: Lou doesn’t think he’s ever seen Vinny look… humbled? It’s an odd expression on the bantamweight, and he gives a low laugh as if to mask it.

“For, what, being on the take and having a hard-on for some weird paintings?”

Louis: Lou’s smile is more gentle than rueful as he briefly places a paternalistic hand atop Vinny’s.

“I’m not calling for the canonization of St. Vincenzo.”

“But hearing you talk about the city, our city… she’s like our mother. She’s old now. More than a little bitter, broken, and tired too. But you sometimes get glimpses that remind you of when she was young and beautiful. Full of life and vitality. A freshness that isn’t innocence, but can feel like it to a kid. She’s never been innocent, no mother is, really, save the Virgin Mary perhaps.”

“But it doesn’t matter that mom’s no Madonna. That she’s taken on some weight here and there. Scars. Wrinkles. Varicose veins running down arthritis-swollen legs. Bags under her eyes from burning the candle at both ends. Sure, sometimes she comes home sloshed, and there was that time or two or twenty when she cuffed you for sassing her or for forgetting to take out the trash.”

“She’s still your mom, and you love her. Because if you don’t, who will? You don’t have an old man looking out for her. He’s never been in the picture. She’s raised you all herself, all her own, trying to do her best.”

“And sometimes, her best just blows your breath away. Like the time she baked that sky-high birthday cake after you thought she had forgotten all about you. Or when she took you to the beach, let you collect a bucket full of shells, and didn’t complain a bit when you dragged all that sand into her carpet. Or that summer night, when the music wafted through the window, and she danced. Danced like she was the star at the Dewdrop, her laughter like warm rain. Or the time she held you after your first bad breakup. She let you cry. And then later, when you’d become a man, and came home hurting and broken after one too many ugly cases, she still held you like her little boy. And because you couldn’t or wouldn’t cry, she cried for you.”

“You love her, Vinny. You’re not blind to the mud, the ugly. You see it, you see her. All of her. And you still love her, still want to save her.”

“How could I not love that?”

“How could any man not want that in their son?”

“Or brother.”

“She’s my mother too, after all.”

GM: Vinny takes in Lou’s words slowly. Silently. Lets them wash over him like the rising dawn. Cold around the edges, but filled with an undeniable light and warmth.

“…you make me want to give my mom a call, Lou.”

“That was… something.”

“I think you coulda been a writer, if you’d wanted.”

“That was really something.”

He clears his throat. “I’m not good with words, not like that. So I’ll just say that was, that was really something.”

He rubs the back of his head. “I guess you’re right, though.”

“I do love her.”

Louis: Lou’s smile is more pained, but no less gentle as he responds, “I’ve just had longer to think about how to describe the tune that’s playing in both our hearts and heads.”

GM: “She’s been shitty, a few times, but like you say.”

“Only get one mom.”

“And she’s been good more times than not.”

Louis: The old man nods.

“And while mom’s always had a soft spot for writers and artists, she doesn’t really need more of them. She’s got enough sons and daughters doing that. Some making it big, some starving.”

“No, what she needs, always has, are kids willing to take out the trash. Because there’s a lot of it. Too much of it. She needs those who do what the badge claims. What every cop swears. To protect and serve.”

“And she needs protection, Vinny. Not just from the likes of Ricky and Delron or the pukes they’re supposed to be busting. Sure, they kick her, hit her, and shake her down for a whole lot more than milk money. But her blackest bruises don’t come from them. Her worst abusers have always been the same culprits.”

Lou dimes those culprits not with words, but with actions as he reaches into his trench and produces the stake. He offers that holy water-annointed spike like a reverse donation plate, a gesture asking Vinny to take rather than give. But it’s ultimately the same. Consecration. Offering. Sacrifice.

GM: Vinny nods at Lou’s first words. The call to protect and serve. The one they both answered.

The one not so different from the Vigil.

The younger detective gives a soft intake of breath at the offered stake and all it represents.

It’s not his first time receiving such an offering.

It’s not his first time seeing Lou torch a vampire.

He seems to briefly fumble for words. He looks between Lou’s face, the stake, and back at Lou.

“But. Zyers. The paintings…?”

Louis: Lou’s face is calm, like the eye of a hurricane.

“It’s all the same Vinny. I can explain more, but it’s all the same. Same mud. Just a difference of how far downstream you stand.”

GM: Vinny blinks.

Then he seems to process.

“Zyers. Is he… is he one of those…?”

Louis: “It’s worse, Vinny.”

GM: The other detective’s face sets.


“Those paintings, Lou.”

“I fucking want them.”

“The artist, whoever’s behind them.”

Louis: His one hand keeps offering the stake.

“I know you do, and I’ll help in whatever way I can, no matter what you choose. But Vinny, you have to decide this first. Because it’s not about what we want.”

“It’s about what she needs.”

GM: Vinny looks back at the stake.

He looks at it for a while.

He doesn’t actually sweat, but Lou can see the signs. The way his breath gets shallower. How much more he blinks. The stiff, wooden look to his face.

Perhaps he’s re-thinking Lou’s last words.

She needs protection, Vinny.

Her worst abusers have always been the same culprits.

It’s all the same. Same mud.

Vinny looks at the stake some more.

Finally, slowly.

He reaches out a hand.

Grasps it around the handle.

And takes it.

Louis: Lou smiles. It even reaches his bourbon eyes. But it’s sad all the same. Proud. Grateful.

But sad all the same.

He looks like he might embrace Vinny, but the angles of the car are all wrong. So are the angles of the world.

The old man settles for a paternalistic squeeze of Vinny’s shoulder.

“I can’t say whether you made the best choice, kid.”

“But I know you made the right one.”

His smile remains. As does his sadness.

Particularly as his now-free hand reaches into his trench’s inner breast pocket and produces an old crinkled cigarette case. He flicks it open with his thumb, revealing one last cigarette. Untouched. Well, not untouched. It’s clear it’s been touched a lot. But unspent.

But the old man bypasses that coffin nail and uses his prosthetic hook to peel back the case’s lining, revealing a small, thin metal sheet. He stares at it for a moment as if regarding a ghost. Or perhaps he’s the ghost regarding it.

That’s when his smile finally breaks into a sigh. His next words are quiet like suppressor-shot bullets:


“He’s not.”

“Not dead.

“Not Gettis.”

“Not really.”

“Not anymore than I’m Louis Fontaine.”

He passes the object to Vinny, allowing the cop to look at it in the light. Light which reveals it as a century-plus old tintype. An antique photo of two men. Two cops. Arm in arm. Sharing twin smiles so fierce they dare no cloud cross their sunny day.

The details are a bit blurred by the tintype’s alchemy and age. The uniforms are well beyond outdated. So are the mustaches. So are the men.

Still, it doesn’t take a detective to identify the two men.

GM: “They gunned him down, Lou. Jeremy May gunned him down. A good cop gunned him down and got drummed off the force for…” Vinny starts, then tails off.

It doesn’t take a detective.

Anyone could tell they are the same men.

But they look different, too.

Maybe it’s some missed doses. Missed fixes. But they do look younger. Softer lines. Fewer lines. Kinder eyes. Fewer bags under those eyes. Fuller hair.

But some of it might not be aging. Some of it might just be hard living. Hard living from another century-plus carrying the Vigil’s torch. Some hunters burn out. Most hunters do burn out, eventually. But most get singed, too, before they do. Singed from carrying the fire so close for so long. It burns and blackens them. Ages them before their time.

Ages them even when they don’t age.

But not so much that one needs to be a detective to see past that aging.

One would think the photo shows two veteran cops early or mid-way through their respective careers. It’d be a perfectly believable photo.

If it looked taken twenty rather than 120+ years ago.

Vinny looks between Lou, the photo, and then Lou again. He frowns in consternation.

Then he holds up the photo to the light. Squints at it. Turns it over. Feels it between his fingers.

“This thing… doesn’t feel fake,” he says slowly.

He looks at Lou, brow furrowed.

“How? How is this is not fake?”

Louis: The old man closes his eyes, and rests his weary head against the seat.

“Because, kid, some truths are uglier than lies.”

He sighs.

“But that still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell them. So I’ll explain. I said I would.”

He opens his eyes, as if reflexively spotting Alejandra’s approach from the gas stop’s restroom.

“Next stop, after we drop off Lex. She shouldn’t have to bare the burden of those truths. Not here, not now, at least.”

He takes back the tintype and gently places it back in the cigarette pack and trench pocket.

GM: Lex looks like she’s already finished relieving herself, as she’s in the gas station’s adjacent convenience store. Lou sees her just as she exits with a water bottle, a bag of chips, another pack of cigarettes, and an annoyed look.

Empleado de gilipollas,” she mutters as she gets in, closing the door with more force than strictly necessary, then looks at Vinny. “Asshole clerk.”

“You want, I could sock him out for you,” the detective half-jokes.

“No. Wasn’t all his fault. They didn’t have the brand I like.”

“No Circinus.”

Louis: That confession both comforts and alarms the barely sober Ret. Det.

He can’t help but crank his eyes back to Lex’s pack.

Half of him prays it’s not another menthol. Half of him prays it is.

GM: She holds up a plainer-looking pack with a bigger warning label showing a hideous set of yellowed teeth with blackened gums.


It’s menthol.

“Wouldn’t have even bought this shit, but literally smoking vampiros always makes me smoke more,” she remarks sourly.

‘More’ is saying quite a lot for the always-smoking resident doctor.

Louis: Menthol, Lou silently notes. Thank the bloody archangels.

“Hey, Alejandra,” Lou says out loud. “Not to be a gilipollas myself, but could we leave that pack sealed till out next stop? Lottie told me she doesn’t like so much smoke in her ‘hair’.”

He points his prosthetic hook at the soft-top.

Puto dolor to get out, right Lottie?”

GM: The car rumbles beneath him.

Lex doesn’t look thrilled, but accedes with an, “All right, sure.”

“Cutting back doesn’t hurt anyway,” says Vinny.

“Mm,” says Lex.

Louis: Lou doesn’t reply. He knows the score. To Lex, you hurt either way. It’s just a matter of picking your pain.

Still, the old man doesn’t begrudge the rare break from the menthol fumes, nor the even rarer moment of accord between the doctor and green-eyed car.

Miracles never cease.

Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: Waffle House is a Louisiana staple. The food might not be good for you, but it sure is good, and it’s just the thing after smoking a vampire during the still-early dawn. Vinny, Lou, and Lex get a booth to themselves and order like it’s the Last Supper, if one ate supper for breakfast fast food. The trademarked All-Star Special consists of bacon slices, eggs over easy, waffle with butter and syrup, toast, and another item Lex isn’t initially sure of from the menu. Vinny tells her it’s hash browns. Lex thought it was sausage. Vinny says they can order sausage too. Lex says they should order the hash brown bowls too. True to their name, they’re hash browns, bacon bits, scrambled eggs, and cheese all stirred in a bowl. Vinny says they shouldn’t leave out waffles. The “starter” ones they got “don’t count.” They order chocolate chip waffles. Pecan waffles, for Lou. Extra syrup. Syrup for the waffles. Syrup for eggs and sausages, which they order more of separately, for the syrup. Should they order anything else, too?

No one orders for themselves. Everyone shares. Everyone eats some of whatever they feel like eating. Lex laughs about how bad this is for them. Vinny laughs too and says between a bite of biscuit,

“We all die anyway, don’t we? Let’s enjoy this for what it is.”

“For what it is,” repeats Lex, raising her coffee in toast.

Vinny raises his too. “For what it is.”

Louis: “For what is,” the old man says in similar salute, smile, and damn it if he can’t help it, a tear.

Saturday morning, 12 December 2015

GM: One substantial breakfast later, Lou and his younger two friends are stuffed and content. Vinny insists on footing the bill. Lex insists on splitting it. They eventually do. Neither of the two asks Lou to pay. Lex suggests they go on a walk to work off some of that breakfast. Vinny seems moderately amenable to the idea. He clearly wants to finish his earlier conversation with Lou.

He’s saved, though, when Lex checks the time, swears in Spanish, and says she needs to get in to work. Vinny says he’s not on shift today and has “some business” in Kenner, which Lou supposes is technically true.

Vinny offers to give her a lift back to Tulane Medical all the same, if Lou is amenable to another car ride before he catches his Greyhound.

Louis: “You kids go ahead,” the old man responds, massaging his truthfully sore hip but milking it a bit more than strictly necessary. “Long rides, even in a ride as fine as Miss Beauregard aggravate my sciatica.”

He gives Vinny a look. “Don’t worry about me. Might take a walk, catch a Little League game over in Larayo Park, or take a nap on the golf course.”

He winks at Alejandra as if to say he’s joking. Probably.

“But I’ll be here when you get back. I owe you some old cop stories and a whole lot more after that feast.”

The old man doesn’t take no for an answer, just like he doesn’t let them leave before giving Alejandra a fierce goodbye hug that attempts to convey the words he cannot.

Choking back tears, he gives Lottie B. a hushed admonishment to be nice…“the lady docto…”For Vinny’s sake."

The old man then departs, leaving the might-be lovers with the echoes of an old 18th century song by Palomino, Canción Picaresca.

“Mas como ya es hoy tarde,
lo haré mañana.”

(“But since it is already late today, I will do it tomorrow.”)

The old man sings it badly. But he sings it true all the same.

GM: Lex laughs. “At this hour you might get away with it. Besides. Who even plays golf anymore, anyway?”

“The superintendent does,” says Vinny. “Never had any patience for myself.”

“Me neither,” Lex concurs.

Vinny rubs his very full belly. “One of us might as well exercise this off, anyway. Catch you back around, Lou.”

Alejandra returns the hug just as fiercely.

“Take this the right way, Lou. You smell better. Look better. Everything you’ve been doing these past few months… keep it up, okay?”

Lottie B’s rumbled answer feels equivalent to Lex’s earlier “mm.”

Lou has around 40 minutes to exercise his joints. He can walk a short distance to reach a a more scenic route at Lafreniere Park, where he can walk or jog along the two-mile track to watch white ibises foraging for food in the bayou. The children’s playground sits vacant at this hour in the morning, but the Christmas lights are up and shining dimly against the mid-dawn sun. The place might be something to see at night.

Louis: Sadly, the old man has another destination tonight. Far less wholesome or idyllic, but still a place he needs to see. In the meantime, thought, he soaks up the waking rays of the December sun. He works outs his cramped joints en route to Lafreniere Park, and then winds down to watch the ibises in the bayou. The bucolic sight carries his mind back to older times. Not necessarily better, or even simpler. Just older.

GM: The sun rises steadily overhead. It’s a moderate 50-something out; the coldest Louisiana often gets, before the daytime 70 high, but fortunately there’s no rain amidst the thick morning fog. Vinny meets Lou after he’s done several laps around the park. The younger detective looks at the long-beaked avians patiently stalking the water for fish.

“Weirdly graceful, aren’t they, with those slow walks?”

Louis: The old man doesn’t initially turn, just nods.

“Yes, I suppose you could say that about the doctor’s legs, but I don’t think she’d take kindly to the ‘weirdly’ part.”

A slow smile cracks his lips, as he ruefully glances at the Black Hand-descended cop. “Oh, you were talking about the bec croche?”

GM: “There’s nothing weird about her legs, Lou,” Vinny smiles faintly back.

Louis: “Make sure you tell her that.”

A beat.

“Just not in Lottie’s earshot.”

GM: “’There’s nothing weird about your legs,’” Vinny repeats.

“Words to make any girl blush.”

Louis: The old man’s smile cracks into a guffaw. “Well, hell if I know what pickup lines get the juices flowing with your generation. About a year ago, I had this client try to repay me by setting up a… Tumblr, no Tinder account. Said she felt bad for me. That I was too lonely. Too sad. And that was coming from a ghost. She said something about life or love giving me ‘too many swipes left’. Not sure what the hell that means. Not sure I want to know.”

He chuckles again.

“But even an out of touch geezer like me can see you two have got it. The spark, chemistry, or whatever you kids call it now.”

GM: It’s Vinny’s turn to guffaw, and hard, as Lou brings up Tinder.

“Swipe left. It means, not interested. Show another possible match.”

“Thoughtful client, though.”

“Dead or not.”

Louis: Lou shrugs. But he waits, eyeing the younger cop to make it clear he noticed how Vinny is continuing to dodge the real subject at hand.

Then again, he might be dodging or delaying his own share of awkward topics.

GM: The mirth on Vinny’s face fades.

“Maybe. I know her family wouldn’t approve. I know Lottie wouldn’t approve.”

“And both of them can be fairly violent in expressing that.”

Louis: “Hmm, not sure whose’s wrath would be worse. Mexican Cartel or jealous teenager.”

GM: Vinny snorts a laugh.


“This was a good day for her, you know.”

“Only bled over the seat after Lex left.”

Louis: Lou nods. This time a bit more slowly like it might be an important crack in a long-cold case, put he has to mentally poke at it a bit to be sure.

“That’s… that’s really good to hear.”

At those words, he finally shifts to fully face his friend.

“Speaking of which…”

And that’s when he relates the conversation he just had with the Chevelle under Otis’ lodge carport. His offers. Her fears… but also hope. His hopes for her too, and fears. Ideas. When he finishes, he adds firmly but kindly:

“I think she’s ready. To at least try. Maybe more. And that’s more than she’s ever been. You did that, Vinny.”

“With kindness. Patience. Shared laughs, shared tears.”

“She was shit deep, just like you were in OPP. And you hauled her out, just like Ida did to you. I hope you see that, kid. I hope you believe it.”

“It’s up to her what she does with this second chance, but no matter what happens, what she chooses, it doesn’t change how you saved her and gave her that choice.”

GM: Vinny takes that in slowly.

“What she’s got, Lou.”

“It’s a… a half-life.”

“Isn’t something I’d want.”

“Who wants to be stuck to a car forever.”

“Not able to pig out at Waffle House, take a walk in the park, fuck a woman, hell, even take a dump.”

“Who’d want that.”

“Didn’t think there was much to do about it.”

“But if you think your friend can help… okay.”

“Guys rib me all the time for the pink coat anyway.”

Louis: Lou laughs. “I heard pink is the new red. Or maybe that’s just on Tinder.”

But behind the laughter are compassionate eyes.


GM: Vinny snorts another laugh.

“Isn’t in the NOPD.”

“But they do it less than they used to.”

“Joke’s gotten old.”

Louis: “I know a thing or two about that,” quips the old man. And just like that, he knows it’s time. No more dodging or delaying.

The laughter fades, and his face becomes serious, severe even. “You ready?”

GM: Vinny gives a grim nod.

An unsurprised nod.

They were going to circle back to this, sooner or later.

And he’s never let a ‘fake’ drop.

GM’s Note: This log is currently unfinished. Throwing it up because it may be a while before Sam’s player and I wrap it up in real life.
Louis III, Chapter II
Final Rests

“I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”
Louis Fontaine

Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

The Sonics’ lyrics blare out as a bubblegum pink ’60s Chevelle convertible drives through the night.

GM: Some folks like water
Some folks like wine
But I like the taste
Of straight strychnine
(Hey, hey)

You may think it’s funny
That I like this stuff
But once you’ve tried it
You can’t get enough

Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you

Wine is red
Poison is blue
Strychnine is good
For what’s ailin’ you

The car isn’t going fast enough to be speeding, but Vinny’s not taking his chances lingering in the area longer than they have to.

They got in. Now they’re getting out.

“So,” says the slim, olive-skinned, and stubble-faced man.

The word lingers in the air like the smell of Lex’s cigarettes. Lou’s not sure there’s much need to smoke with the staked vampire locked in the back trunk, and he’d be lying if he said it’s harmless. He’s felt so much better since he stopped swallowing smoke down his lungs.

The black-haired, dusky-skinned resident physician takes a long pull of her cigarette, as if waiting for Vinny to say anything more.

When he doesn’t, she finally fills in, “Good to have one more leech off the streets.”

She gives a sharp, phlegmy cough and pats her throat. Vinny’s eyes drift from the road and towards her.

Grating static fills the radio until she’s finished coughing and the detective looks away.

“But not sure what you needed us for, Lou,” Lex rasps.

“You seemed to have things pretty well in hand.”

Louis: Squished in the back seat of the ‘64 Chevelle, the old man almost misses the unspoken question. It’s not so much Lottie’s blaring garage punk as much as Lou’s screaming joints. Absent the adrenaline rush of the hunt, Lou’s arching, arthritic body is reminding him of every day of his multi-century existence. It’s not so bad he’d share Savoy’s hot tub, but it’s damned close.

It doesn’t help that the tall, shovel-shouldered gumshoe is rolled up into the backseat like a canned sardine. He’d have more room if they just put down the Chevelle’s powder-white soft top. It would also help with the smell.

With Alejandra puffing like the old NE&NO, the cigarette smell is strong enough to build a garage on top of it. For most, the cloud would be merely suffocating, but for the old man forced to quit cold turkey a few months ago, it’s outright drowning.

The only thing saving his coffin-nail sobriety is Lex’s recent switch to Circinus’ menthol brand, Wendigo Kiss. The old gumshoe finds the corn mint aroma obnoxiously cloying. If he didn’t, he’d have already bummed a cig, or ten, off the pathologist. Then again, being nearly asphyxiated by the menthol fumes helps to distract him from his real jonesing.

Tender mercies, Big Top Bob, tender mercies.

Still, Lou’s thoughts can’t help but drift behind him, to the sleeping bag-stuffed, staked vampire in the Chevelle’s truck. Say what you will about Lottie, but the girl’s got ample trunk space. Her patience for the Latina riding shotgun, however, is clearly in shorter supply.

Noting the ghost-car’s green eyes, Lou momentarily sidesteps Lex’s remarks and gently raps a scarred knuckle on Lottie’s soft top.

“Hey, Miss Beauregard, how about some Fats Domino?”

GM: The old man is answered with a click from the radio.

GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.

Circinus isn’t really marketed towards customers like him. It’s for the ones like Lex. Young and hip. He got a look at that cigarette pack and it was damn sleek-looking. Sleek.

Since when have cigarette packs looked sleek?

He’s a man out of time.

Him and Lottie.

“You get anything made after we were born?” Lex asks dryly.

The music plays louder.

Vinny shakes his head.


Louis: Lou can’t help but smile at the trio’s ‘conversation.’ The change in music also eases his mood, or at least distracts him from the fire in his joints. Despite the song’s melancholic lyrics and minor key undertones, the smooth blend of Fats’ buttery voice, warm sax, and gospel choir back-up soothe Lou’s soul as well as any Balm of Gilead.

Does the old man wipe away a tear at the song’s conclusion? Perhaps. But it just might be the menthol cigarette smoke that’s burning his eyes. The old man does not say.

Instead, Lou gives an appreciative tap on the Chevelle’s upholstery, as if patting Lottie on the back for a job well done. A second latter, he uses his prosthetic hook to point out an exit.

“Vinny, hit the ramp up here at the Wing Shack, past the dealers’, and jump on Route 10 towards Metairie.”

Lou doesn’t like leaving his city, especially for its western neighbors. Compared to the Big Easy, the likes of Metairie and Kenner feel like they have all the personality of a paper cup. Nevertheless, tonight is one of those rare nights that Lope leaves his city.

GM: Vinny pulls onto the I-10. The unsightly freeway cuts through the heart of the Big Easy, and Lou recalls its construction destroying a once-thriving black neighborhood around Tremé (ironically, to make access to the suburbs more convenient), but it’ll get them where they need to go. Down the CBD, through Mid-City and the Back o’ Town. Then it’s smooth sailing into the Big Easy’s suburbs. You could take those cookie-cutter houses and plop them into the suburbs of any other city in America.

Metairie even has a bigger shopping mall than anywhere in New Orleans. Lakeside Shopping Center.

Over 100 shops and eateries. Maybe Lou’s problems will all be solved by buying the right knickknack.

“Metairie could belong to any other city” isn’t something everyone says, though. Lou remembers Fat City back in the ‘70s and ’80s. Metairie’s answer to the French Quarter.

Before Vinny’s time, though.

Before Lex’s time, too.

The old man is before so many people’s times.

Louis: Once they safely merge onto the expressway, Lou finally circles back to Alejandra’s earlier remark. He coughs a bit, as if trying to cold-start his smoke-aching throat, then finally spits out:

“Common sense would’ve told me not to bother waking you three at the devil’s hour to play backup while I bag a dime-a-dozen leech. Common sense says go home and forget it, no money coming in. But common sense always speaks too late. Common sense is the guy who tells you that you ought to have had your brakes relined last week before you smashed a front end this week. Common sense is the Monday morning quarterback who could have won the ball game if he’d been on the team. But he never is. He’s high up in the stands with a flask on his hip. Common sense is the little man in a gray suit who never makes a mistake in addition. But it’s always somebody else’s money he’s adding up.”

He takes off his hat and runs his shovel hand over his scalp. “When playing with leeches, common sense is helpful as a fork paired with crab bisque.”

He looks outside the window at the night-lit urban sprawl. “Better to have backup and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

“Then again, maybe I just rang you up because I missed your mugs. Advent’s a lonely time to be alone, and it’s good to see some friendly faces before lighting the rose candle tomorrow.”

The old man’s smile slides a bit. He doesn’t like playing the sentimental card, but lately it’s like a 2-7 offsuit that keeps showing up in his hand. Maybe it’s the holiday season. Or just another burden of sobriety. Or perhaps it’s because he’s preparing to die. Again. Maybe for the last time.

At that morbid thought, the ex-drunk sucks his gums, as if reflexively hankering for some booze to drown his woes. But he knows there’s not enough sauce in the world to do that. Instead, he idly itches some track-marks beneath this trench, and forces himself to refocus on his friends in front of him, rather than ride the mental current back to the blood in the trunk.

“The Cardonas getting up for Gaudete Sunday at your dad’s place?” the old gumshoe asks, skipping the sensitive topic of the Alejandra’s family—especially with Lottie around.

GM: “Common sense never has been too common, I guess,” Vinny remarks.

“Should call it something else, honestly.”

“Uncommon sense.”

“Rare sense.”

“Common or rare, I’m glad you had some, Lou,” says Lex, taking another long drag of her smoke.

She smiles at his next words.

“You look good. You know that? Whatever you’re doing, I wish I could prescribe it to my patients.”

“You want somewhere to be on Christmas, you’re welcome to come celebrate it with my family.”

“In Houston, aren’t they?” asks Vinny.

Si. Holidays are the one thing with them I’ve not been able to get out of.”

“I feel you,” says the detective.

“I wouldn’t mind coming to yours to get out of mine.”

Louis: Lou laughs at, but not quite off, the compliment. “Who you kidding, Alejandra?”

“Last I heard, your patients are biopsied droplets pressed between glass-plates.”

It’s a good-natured jibe, given with an ugly but sincere smile.

GM: The car hits a sudden bump in the road. Vinny grasps the steering wheel tighter.

Then he coughs.

“But, ah. Can’t duck out of my family’s Christmas plans either.”

His hold on the steering wheel relaxes.

You know how families are."

Louis: Lou gives the pair—if not the trio—a slow glance.

GM:Si,” Lex repeats, before glancing back towards Lou. Her look is somewhat more somber.

“You know those aren’t my only patients, Lou.”

Doctors are always in demand among the Kappas. Among all hunters.

They can’t afford to be picky over specialties.

Louis: Lou nods in a conceding gesture. It’s a sad truth, but at least it’s a truth.

GM: Another group of people it can be hard to say no to.

Louis: “Well, if you want to give them a prescription for what I got, you can jot down a lifetime supply of cold turkey.”

“No sauce.”

“No coffin nails.”

“That, and some sleep. Not great sleep, but sleep. In a bed, not chair.”

“Oh, and a diet of four-square meals made with ingredients other than those made by Jack Daniels, Captain Morgan, or Jim Bean.”

GM: “You get hitched or something, Lou?” Vinny asks.

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’m not cruel enough to put a woman through that kind of misery.”

Not anymore, not again.

But he doesn’t say that, instead settling for, “Not at my age.”

GM: That’s technically true.

He’s older than any mortal wife he could take. Older by far.

Louis: He almost confesses right there and then that he was previously married, but that was another lifetime ago. Several actually. Before Lou, before Enrique. Technically, the Galvestons never got divorced, though technically, they also both died in the speakeasy fire. Thinking about his ‘wife’ and their last bitter parting causes the old man to inwardly sigh, as if drawing in a knife right between his ribs and straight to his scarred heart.

Outwardly, though, he forces a smile back on his face, and offers a lighter, easier confession: “But you’re right to guess that there’s a lady involved in all those healthy choices. I certainly wouldn’t have the guts to make them alone, much less keep them.”

“We all need better angels of our nature,” he adds, tapping Lottie to make sure she’s paying attention to something other than the pretty Latina riding shotgun.

GM: “It’s always a lady,” says Vinny.

Louis: Lou huffs, “Genesis 2:18. God says it’s not good for man to be alone. He could’ve given Adam some bowling buddies, but nope, God hooked him up with Eve.”

“But then, Vinny, I bet your nonna has close to branded that scripture on your backside by now.”

He doesn’t let that topic linger long though, as he once again tries to steer it to safer subjects—at least while within the Chevelle. “But how’s the rest of your family doing these days?”

“How’s retirement treating your old man?”

GM: “He’s getting out of jail soon, so there’s that,” Vinny says wryly.

“Gaudete Sunday is happening, to answer your earlier question.”

“He’s really looking forward to it.”

“Says he’s ‘had enough of being Silver Penny Sal.’”

“Lucky, Marie, and all the others will be there too. It’s kind of doubling as his ‘welcome back’ party.”

“You’d be welcome there too.”

“Ditto Christmas if you don’t want to make a trip out to Houston.”

Louis: Some currents are just too damned strong to swim against, Lou grouses, not entirely unhappily.

But he smiles at the generous invite. “Good for Boxcars, but I’ll need you to give him my love tomorrow, as I can’t attend. Christmas, maybe. Tomorrow, I promised to visit a pair of orphans. Doubt they’ll want my company, but it’s the right thing to do.”

GM: “It’s Christmas,” says Lex.

Louis: Lou shrugs.

“How about your brother?” he says, asking after Vinny’s twin.

GM: “He’s still never seen the inside of a jail cell. As an inmate, anyway.”

“Dad’s still proud he’s ‘grown up more like Accardo than Capone.’”

Louis: Lou laughs. “I’ve heard it said that all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden city is whether or not a guy knows the ‘right’ people.”

GM: Vinny snorts. “I’ll not disagree there.”

“He’s still smart. Always has been.”

“Smarter than me.”

“You think he’d have made it through OPP during Katrina?” Lex asks.

“Maybe,” says Vinny. “Maybe not. I don’t think he’d have been in that situation to begin with.”

Louis: “Smarts help,” Lou says, neither agreeing or disagreeing with Vinny’s assessment, “but life’s not chess. It also takes guts and a good heart.”

“And we don’t know the final score until St. Peter tells us at the pearly gate.”

Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

Louis: Thirty miles later, Lottie’s white-walled are soiled with the mud of Maurepas Swamp. With Kenner’s western levee behind them, the travelers can no longer see the metropolis’ night-polluting light. Winter similarly mutes the swamp’s insectile songs, making their surroundings comparatively soft and quiet. Above them, white moonlight shines cold and clear, like the justice Lou dreams of but rarely finds in the waking world. The devil’s hour has passed, but the dark still reigns.

Lou continues to lead them through that darkness, departing Route 10 for Old U.S. 51, before exiting just past Frenier Road onto a nameless, shoulder-less dirt road that has the barest hint of rainwashed gravel and old tire tracks. The group fortunately only have to travel a mile only the treacherous road before they reach their destination: the duck hunting lodge of NOPD’s Captain Otis K. Wiggons.

GM: Lou confirms the lodge’s vacancy with a call to its owner. Vinny warns the ex-detective that the NOPD is still doggedly hunting for him over the Rampart Street affair several months ago (he’s at a loss why they “still have such a big hard-on over that”), and that Lou will find few friends among the force’s top brass… though its middle to lower ranks may be another matter. Lou still has many friends on the NOPD. Officers are already well-accustomed to playing dumb and looking the other way. Vinny thinks Wiggons will be safe to contact, given his and Lou’s friendship… but when the old man decides to use a public payphone (one of the few left), Vinny doesn’t tell him he’s being too paranoid. Lex tells him he’s being smart.

Wiggons is surprised to hear from Lou but seemingly happy to invite the ex-cop over for dinner later tonight. He confirms that yes, he’s home. Carla will be happy to serve up an additional plate (“or several”) for a guest.

Lou supposes that’s no surprise… December 10th may be duck hunting season, but Wiggons has mentioned before that Carla thinks it’s “too close” to Christmas. Carla doesn’t mind her husband’s recreational hunting, but she asks him to hold off during the holidays. To remember that it’s the season of peace and goodwill, for all of God’s creatures. Even ducks.

Wiggons thinks it’s a load of nonsense, and has regaled Lou with more than one anecdote about how ducks are “fucking rapists.” Males frequently copulate with females by force. Many males won’t even deign to defend their mates and will abandon them afterwards.

But whatever. Plenty other days to hunt if holding off for now somehow makes his wife feel better. Otis clearly thinks he is humoring her.

“Ducks will be fuckin’ rapists no matter the season.”

“Merry Christmas, you flat-billed little rapists.”

Wiggons doesn’t ask Lou about anything related to Rampart Street.

Maybe he’s just being rightfully cautious over the phone.

Or maybe he’s trying to lull the ex-cop into a false sense of security, and a mob of cops—and their friends in the shadows—will be waiting for Lou at the Wiggons residence.

Too bad for him, if he’s genuine, that Lou’s skipping dinner.

Louis: Having so confirmed and doubly ensured the lodge is vacant for the weekend, Lou directs Vinny, or more accurately Lottie, to pull into the small lodge’s empty carport beside a parked ATV. Curtailing their hour-long conversation about families, holidays, and future plans, Lou bids his friends wait inside the Chevelle until the PI can do a thorough sweep of the area. Still paranoid despite his 3-month sobriety, the gumshoe ghoul makes sure Otis hasn’t installed any new cameras or security system to the small lodge or trails to its duck-stands. He also triple-checks the perimeter before picking the backdoor and casing inside to confirm the lodge is indeed empty.

Only then does he motion for Alejandra and Vinny to go inside, pointing out a path that lets them remain under the eaves of nearby trees. He doesn’t comment on suspected satellite-surveillance, but both of his mortals friends can tell the old man is on edge.

“Vinny, I need to talk to Lottie. Alone.”

He then spares a glance at Lex, adding in Spanish that he needs time and space to “no tener pelos en la lengua”, an idiom which the Texican-American pathologist readily understands indicates a tough, but honest talk that doesn’t mince words. With a salute of his hat, he elaborates:

“Antes del amanecer, es posible que todos necesitemos ese tipo de honestidad. Especialmente con nuestros propios corazones.”

(“Before dawn, we all might need that kind of honesty. Especially with our own hearts.”)

GM: Lex and Vinny either humor Lou’s paranoia, suppose it can’t hurt to sweep for bugs, or both. He finds that Wiggons has indeed set up a new camera system, but it’s simple enough for the centuries-old PI to disable and confirm the lodge has no eavesdroppers… that he can detect.

The worm of paranoia never stops wriggling.

Lex is amenable to “taking a smoke break” for Lou to “no tener pelos en la lengua.” Vinny doesn’t make the obvious crack on her not needing a specific break to smoke.

He initially says something about going with her, only for Lottie to belch a noxious-smelling black cloud of exhaust.

“Think I’ll take a walk,” he says. “Stretch my legs a bit.”

Lex doesn’t object. But her eyes linger on him for a moment.

Soon enough, Lou is left alone with the pink ’64 Chevelle.

Louis: Lou waits till the bantamweight and doctor are out of earshot and eyeshot before beginning with a soft opening. Both literal and figurative.

Gently popping open the Chevelle’s trunk, he says out loud, “You’ve done a good job taking care of him, Miss Beauregard.”

Unzipping the staked vampire and preparing the hematology supplies Alejandra brought, Lou continues, “It’s a hard line he’s walking, what with his family and the badge.”

GM: There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine.

Louis: Lou pauses as if trying to better suss out the sentiment of the ‘car’. Unlike Lottie’s well-maintained, the old man’s fluency in ghost automobile is a bit rusty. After a moment, he proceeds to hook up the IV and pump to the staked vampire, only pausing once to wave in the direction of the lodge.

GM: The staked Quarter rat stares up at him with equal parts fear and anger on her dirty face.

She looks so young.

Could’ve been a classmate of Lottie’s.

Louis: Her glare slides right off the calloused vampire hunter. Instead, Lou continues his ‘conversation’ with the car.

“Lottie, not sure if you’ve ever meet the owner of this duck lodge. He’s a fellow NOPD, like Vinny, but he’s the captain of District Investigative Unit-Person Crimes in the 1st district.”

GM: There’s silence from the engine at that.

Probably not.

Louis: Lou nods. “Thought as much. He’s a real hard case, Otis, is. Also racist as they come. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s like the old timers who considered Italians like Vinny’s families not to be white.”

He pauses the briefest of moments to let that sink in. Racial relations in the ‘60s were bad enough, but anti-miscegenation mores of that era were largely responsible for Charlotte’s traumatic death—just as her deathbed racial slurs led to her soul’s cursed binding to the Chevelle.

GM: A faint plume of noxious-smelling black trails from the car’s exhaust.

It smells even worse than the one Lex got.

Louis: Lou waves a hand to clear the odorous exhaust, even as he chuckles loudly. Not at Lottie, but rather in agreement, which he makes clear as he speaks, “My sentiments exactly, miss.”

He checks to make sure the IV pump is working, then adds with a gentle pluck of a leaf from Lottie’s soft-top: “I’m gonna tell you something I’ve never told you, something not even Vinny knows. But I was married. Long time ago. Before your parents were twinkles in their parents’ eyes. My wife, she was black.”


A frown creases his face, as he considers what ‘tense’ Chica actually is now—and what guilt he must shoulder for any change in that status.

“Salome was her name,” he says, pushing forward. “Her eyes were like pools of Louisiana gold: black, wet, and just one spark away from becoming an inferno. I loved her. Still do, I guess. But I lost her.”

He shakes his head.

“All of which is to say that Otis and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”

“You understand?”

GM: The car’s radio clicks on.

GM: I got a whole lot of loving for you
True, true love for you
I got a whole lot of loving for you

I got a whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
Whole lot of (kiss-kiss) for you
I got a whole lot of kisses for you

I got a whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
A whole lot of (clap-clap) to do
And I’m so glad to see you

Louis: The music flows into Lou, filling his face with a smile.

“That’s right, miss; a whole lot of loving, kisses and all.” He can’t help but laugh and smile again. The joy feels strange on his face. He gently pats her soft top again. “You’re getting better at that. Making people happy.”

“Vinny too. You helped save him from a dark spot.”

Another pause.

“And maybe he’s helped you.”

GM: The car’s engine rumbles faintly.

Louis: “Love does that. It’s like a light. When bright and true enough, it can push back the darkness. Even the darkness of hate.”

The Gospel of John swims through the old man’s heart. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

He doesn’t share the biblical verse, though. After all, Lottie is arguably still a 16-year-old girl. Even if her soul wasn’t bound to a car, Lou has a sense that scriptural sermons wouldn’t be the ticket.

But that doesn’t mean his words don’t include a confession or two.

“And I’m sorry, awfully sorry, that I couldn’t help you feel that light back when we first met.”

GM: There’s a grittier-sounding engine rumble. Not quite angry, but not quite forgiving either.

Louis: He raises his sole corporeal hand as if in defense, or perhaps surrender. “I’m not asking for forgiveness. I don’t deserve it. I… I had a lot of darkness in me, back then. Still do. But less I hope now.”

He shrugs.

“Still not trying to excuse what I did, just to properly explain it. Not the boot, mind. I think you properly earned that for trying to run me over.” He continues quickly, “But for leaving you in the impound.”

He struggles to compose words as he re-contemplates the horror of what those four decades must have been like for her. “I… I told you before that I didn’t mean to… not that long, not at all. I know you don’t have cause to believe me. I was living in the LaLaurie House.”

He pauses again, cocking an eye at the Chevelle. “Yeah, that one. Even girls that don’t go to fancy schools like McGehee still know about that place. Or think they do. The truth is worse than the rumors. Blackest of black darkness.” He sucks his gums again, his face blanching ever so slightly. “I thought I could drive the darkness from it, but it put more darkness in me than I light in it.”

He raises his amputated hand, “It was poisoning me, squeezing out the little light I had, leaving me even littler to give to you.”

“And I’m sorry for that.”

“Doesn’t change what I did. But I thought you should know. God knows I owe you that much. And more.”

GM: By all accounts, that house is still managing to pour out darkness uninterrupted.

Two men dead.

Two girls shot.

Another girl’s life destroyed.

Gettis cracked.

Tante told him the girl refused to heed her warning.

He should know better than anyone.

No good can come of nights slept in that house.

There’s a low rumble from the car’s engine when Lou mentions the LaLaurie House. There’s a shaking, trembling quality to it. Almost… fearful.

Perhaps she does believe him.

Louis: Lou’s face softens. It’s an odd look on him. But he wears it sincerely, if awkwardly.

GM: Lou’s kept abreast, too, even before the Rampart Street affair. The house has passed into new ownership. The mother of one of the rich girls shot in the aftermath of the disastrous sleepover.

Louis: Inwardly he grimaces at that recollection.

GM: Maybe he could have done more.

Given the other girl more than just a note.

Louis: Maybe.

Maybe he could have done more.

Should is a different matter.

He definitely should have done more.

GM: Then again, Tante said stabbing the girl in the hand and screaming prophecies of doom wasn’t enough to change her mind.

But when has anyone ever listened to Tante prophecying doom?

Louis: No prophet is accepted in his own country.

Or hers.

GM: The curse of all seers.

Lottie’s engine gives another low rumble.

It’s a quiet sound. A tired sound. A faintly restless sound.

Too tired to hate, after 40 years in the impound.

Still not wholesale forgiving.

But at least moving on.

Vinny’s given her something to move on to, at least.

Louis: It’s a sentiment Lou well understands. Knows. Feels. Deeply. Deeper than bones.

He nods. His spectral hand grabbing the echo of her door-handle like a handshake.

GM: The car’s radio clicks on again.

GM: Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’
Every night about this time
I go to sleep to keep from cryin’

After a moment it clicks off, then starts up another song.

GM: I want you to take me where I belong
Where hearts have been broken with a kiss and a song
Spend the rest of my days without any cares
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.
Soft words have been
Ev’ry one understands me in the valley of tears.

Louis: Lou listens to every word, letting them pour into him like coffee. Black. Strong. Bitter. But not without some sweetness. A few drops of sugar. And maybe a few more tears.

Weighed down by that heavy brew, the old man sinks to the ground. Joints pop, and muscles groan. Lou winces and grunts in off-key harmony. Amidst that painful melody, the old man privately wishes he had a cold bottle of Jack and a hot Marlboro. He settles for sobriety. Reluctantly. But tonight, he has bigger regrets and greater needs than sauce and smokes.

“Miss Beauregard, I’ve come to believe that getting old is one of the hardest things you can do. But not getting old—that’s even harder.”

He tries to get up, but his sore, arthritic knees and back protest a bit too louder. So he settles for waving his hook at Lottie’s truck. “Miss Beauregard, I’ve been around the block a long time. Too many laps around it, in fact. Back when we first met, you knew me as Enrique Salvador. That wasn’t my first life. I’ve had others before it.”

He starts counting on his fingers, but he runs out of them. Only one hand, after all.

“God didn’t build us to live that long. Not since the flood, I guess. Sure, hate and blood can sustain you for a long time, if you nurse it real slow. But there’s a limit. And I think I crossed it a while ago. I think I’m all but done hating, and all but done with blood. It’s time to move on. Time to let go.”

He stares out into the swamp. Past the lodge and carport and parked Chevelle. It’s pristine wilderness. Not a day different from how it looked a century ago. Or the one before it. Or the one prior to that. Sure, the individual bugs, critters, and even trees have all come and gone and come and gone again and again, but the swamp as a whole is the same. Same verdancy. Same vitality. There’s a beauty to that. Maybe even some comfort.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew what’s on the other side. I’ve seen too much to say there’s no hell. The real question is whether there’s a heaven—and whether you, I, or the ones we love get to go there. Without knowing that, it’s hard to let go of life, even for those of us living a half-life like you and me. It’s hard to let go of what you’ve got when you don’t know what you’ll get, even when what you’ve got feels like too many thorns and too few petals.”

“But there are petals. They’re different for each of us, but we both have them. Things we’d miss. Things we love. People too. People, most of all.”

He doesn’t need to stare off in Vinny’s direction or say his name.

Instead, he forces himself to rise. Grunting and wincing all over again. He checks the IV pump, seeing he’s drained the vampire dry, siphoning five vials of the precious, damnable, and damning liquid. He pockets the vials, then wraps up and stows the medical equipment. He leaves the trunk open, though, leaving the staked, now exsanguinated vampire exposed.

He checks his watch, then shuffles to the front of the car, as if to allow them to talk face-to-face.

But the old man makes sure to stand where, if necessary, he can quickly pivot away from, say, an out-of-control, murderous car. Lou has not lived so long by making the same mistakes twice.

He reaches into his trench coat and produces a manila envelope like a secretarial magic trick devoid of flourish.

“I’ve never had kids of my own. Never raised any either. Maybe if I had, I’d be better. In a lot of ways. Like helping others like yourself move on, to learn to let go and move off into the beyond, despite the uncertainties.”

He shrugs, unsure of himself.

“But I know someone who has. Good woman. No stranger to pain. Loss. Betrayal. Grief. A mother. Her son died young. Bad. So bad he couldn’t move on. He found me, but like you, I couldn’t help him move on. But I found her, and she helped him. Helped him find solace. Peace. Courage. She has a gift. For helping and healing broken things. Even ones as bad as me.”

“Maybe she can help you too. Help you more than I did or could.”

He idly slides his gumshoe over the ground, awaiting her response.

GM: The Quarter rat looks drained by this point. Her fangs are long in her mouth, her skin tighter around her face, and her bloodshot eyes oh so hungry. She’s jonesing. Bad.

One ghoul’s gain, one vampire’s loss.

Blood’s always been a zero-sum game.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, rumbles at the long-time PI’s bittersweet words.

Louis: Lou takes the rumble for a good sign. It’s a hell of a lot more articulate than most teens these days.

“All right, I’ll speak with her. Talk with Vinny too.”

Another pause.

GM: The engine’s rumble deepens at that statement. Like he’s jumped the gun.

But not by too much, either.

It’s not telling him no.

Talking, at least, can’t hurt.

The mother of a dead son can’t force the Chevelle to face her demons and let go of them, surrendering her fate to the great and terrifying unknown.

Just ask her to.

Like she’s asked others to.

It’s not as hard as you’d think it is, she said to Lou once. It’s not a matter of convincing them to trust in God or that something better waits on the other side.

The truth is, most of them are just tired.

Tired of the half-life that’s such a pale echo of what they used to know.

Tired enough to want to rest.

Even if they don’t know what they’ll wake up to, or if they will at all.

They’re just tired.

Sometimes, the old man (the too old man) may not feel so different from the restless dead.

Lottie’s engine, meanwhile, exhales another faint plume of exhaust. It wafts above the staked and ravenous-looking Quarter rat.

They look around the same age.

She has no particular grievance against the leeches.

The bokor could’ve been human or less than.

Louis: Lou, on the hand, does have grievances, as does Vinny.

As do more souls than he could name. Even sober.

He looks back at the open trunk and the plume of smoke that rises into the purpling sky of night-dawn. He then glances back at the lodge.

“The racist hard case who owns this place,” he says, half-reaching for a cigarette that isn’t there, “There’s one thing he and I do see eye-to-eye on.”

“We both hunt rapists.”

“Different species, but rapists all the same. The specimen in the back, there, is one of them. My specialty. Vampires. But they don’t typically use that name. Instead, they refer to themselves with other titles. Kindred. Cainites. Licks. Ventrue. Brujah. Nosferatu. Lasombra. Other names too. So many others.”

“But to their victims? They’re known by different names. Leeches is a common one. They suck blood, after all. But that word lets these monsters off too easily. Real leeches are just opportunistic vermin, small slimy things that feed purely through instinct. Animalistic reflex. Vampires are worse. Much worse.”

“They hide what they really are to get close. Most seduce their prey. Others just physically overpower their victims. And they feed, taking without true consent. They gratify their own lusts, and violate their victims. Sometimes, it’s just sexual violation. Other times, it’s mingled with pain. Mutilation. And that’s just the body. Some have powers. To steal and warp memories. To bend minds into whatever shape they want.”

“If that’s not a rapist, I don’t know what is, Miss Beauregard.”

He pauses again, as if his cadence is used to stopping for a pull of a cig or puff of its smoke. Or maybe he’s stalling. Swallowing some courage before saying the next hard thing.

“Those boys who raped and killed you. They once acted like your friends. A boyfriend even. But they took without consent. They violated you. Hurt you. Bled you.”

He doesn’t make eye-contact. His voice is quiet as the night. This is not the sensational headline of a muckraker. Just cold, hard facts.

“And as bad as they were, those boys are dead. You saw to one. We say to the second. War got the third. A bit slower, but it got him all the same. And even if all that hadn’t, old age eventually would have punched their tickets, with St. Peter telling them their score.”

“But that monster there,” his voice breaks with a bit of rising heat, “it doesn’t have a shelf life. They can live forever. And the longer they live, the older they get, the worse they become. They can rape forever, Charlotte.”

He looks up, seeing if she follows. Understands.

GM: Perhaps, if Charlotte Beauregard still had a face, it would redden at the old hunter’s incendiary words. At the comparisons between the vampire and the gang of delinquent youth who made her what she now is.

Perhaps she would say angry words of her own. Perhaps she would want some hand in the creature’s fate.

Perhaps she would say nothing at all, and let the older hunter do as he willed with the staked vampire.

There’s not a lot a car can say either way.

A thick plume of noxious-smelling black exhaust escapes the Chevelle’s engine.

Dawn, meanwhile, slowly steals over the night. Lou can see the first signs on the vampire as much as anything in the sky. The initial, still-faint blackening of flesh. It reminds Lou of onions left to saute in a pan for too long. Not fatal, at this juncture. Not ruined.

But all one has to do is let them burn.

The vampire’s starved, newly terror-filled eyes meet Lou’s in silent plea.

Perhaps a crap shot, after his diatribe.

But the only shot left.

Louis: Unfortunately for the vampire, her shot can’t penetrate Lou’s kevlar-clad heart. Instead, he continues his ‘conversation’ with the Chevelle.

“Vinny ever tell you about Dorthea Clermonte? About how she died?”

A pause.

“Flash a wiper if yes,” he adds.

GM: The car’s windshield wipers move back and forth, once.

Louis: He eyes the wiper, then glances at the waking sun.

Running out of time.

In more ways then one.

“Had to ask,” he replies to the car, “I could see him holding back on the details. Not to hurt you, mind, but rather to spare your feelings. You don’t exactly make it a secret that you don’t like other women in his life.”

There’s a hint of a smile on the old PI’s face. Half a frown too.

GM: Dorthea’s not much threat to Lottie anymore, at least.

Louis: It’s small comfort to know she allows room enough for another dead girl in his life.

Lou pushes past the thought.

“Point is, miss, Vinny knows what these things are: monsters. But he doesn’t know enough. Not enough to protect himself or the ones he loves.”

He looks again at the sun and the related smoke rising from the singeing ‘onion’.

“Among those of us who dedicate our lives to hunting these and similar monsters, we call it the Vigil. We stand watch over the night, holding our candles. Our light. To hold back the darkness. But the thing about light is that it grows brighter and stronger with more candles.”

“My candle’s burned bright, but it’s about to be all burned up. Others will need to take the Vigil in my place. I’m going to give Vinny another chance. Another call to that fight. If he chooses to walk away again, that’s his choice. But if not… he’s going to need all the help he can get. All the light he can gather, whether quick or dead.”

“Think on that, please. And if you can, help him—and let others help him too. Who knows? Maybe doing that will help you too.”

GM: The car does seem to think on that, if the silence is any indication.

Finally, there’s another flick of the windshield wipers.

Louis: Lou nods gravely, but gratefully, at that agreement. He steps forward, putting his spectral and corporeal hands on her hood and whispers a prayer like a priest bestowing a blessing on her head.

“Thank you,” he says, simply at the close of the short benediction. He then steps aside, walking towards the road to flag down Alejandra and Vinny. As he does so, he adds quickly, “Time’s running up, but two last things. One, watch out for the Panther that Vinny’s been hunting. My gut tells me he’s one of them.” He jerks a thumb at the smoking vampire in her trunk. “But an older one. A worse one. Even if Vinny denies the Vigil this second time, he might still be chasing the darkness—and sometimes the darkness chases back.”

“Second, I have another friend, Benoît Quebedeaux. He’s a houngan who serves the loa with the white hand. One of the good ones. You told me that the bokor who came upon you offered you help, but you refused it, so he cursed you with the black hand. Maybe accepting help from a houngan’s white hand can help you find rest. Maybe not. But I’ll let Vinny know, in case you want to try. Sorry I don’t have more time to talk, kid, but the sun doesn’t wait for old, ugly men or young, pretty girls.”

With that parting thought, he goes to collect the detective and pathologist.

He hopes they haven’t gone too far. The sun won’t wait for them either.

GM: Lou finds them in short enough order.

Alejandra is smoking. Lou’s felt so much better since he quit. And Lex doesn’t have the Blood to keep her going like she does. Cancer seems likely in her future at the rate she goes through packs.

Vinny is off walking. Both of Lou’s friends are enjoying the sunrise. Vinny remarks how it “makes the air taste like wine, outside the city.” Perhaps Lou supposes he’s enjoying it too.

He supposes the one person who isn’t won’t be around to complain for much longer.

Louis: Wine and cigs, the old gumshoe grouses mentally, Remind me not to ask either of these two to be my AA sponsor.

But outwardly he smiles. He breathes deep of the fresh air—or at least as much of the non-menthol kind he can around Lex. Either way, it’s good to walk with friends. But ultimately, it’s the dawn that is most responsible for the grin that tugs at his wrinkled lips. Dawn always makes the old man happy. And today’s dawn doubly so.

“Happy Gaudete Sunday, my friends. The sun’s volunteered to light the rose candle.”

Lottie’s trunk makes for an odd advent wreath, but it’s no stranger than Lou’s ‘candle’.

GM: The three get back just in time to watch it happen.

Lou’s seen it enough times.

First, gray plumes of smoke rise from the vampire as her skin blisters, like a sunburn. A really bad sunburn. The kind that leaves white layers of dead skin over ugly red that someone can painfully peel off.

Then the skin blackens.

Really blackens. This is no sunburn. These are no overcooked onions. This is ‘hand pressed against a lit stove.’ The smell of burning flesh is unmistakable. The ‘burning alive’ stage. The vampire’s skin takes on the texture and color of charcoal.

The smoke gets worse. Blacker. Thicker. Fouler.

The skin bursts into flames. The staked vampire’s mouth yawns in silent scream. The eyes melt into goo. Blackened, burning, half-liquefied flesh is incinerated before it can even run off the flame-licked skeleton beneath.

Then just like that, there’s nothing left but ashes. The scorched stake falls to the bottom of the trunk with a light plunk. Smoke wafts from the destroyed vampire’s empty clothes.

Raphael’s curse claims its due.

Louis: Throughout that supernatural combustion, Lou watches. And he hopes his compatriots do the same. As the flames reach their climax, the old man recites the traditional introit of Gaudete Mass:

“Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.”

(“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.”)

The Catholic church teaches that Gaudete Sunday is a time to pause from fretting over all one hasn’t yet done, to instead think of all the good things life has given them. As Lou watches the vampire become ash, he tries his best to hearken to that papal admonition. There is so much he hasn’t done during his Vigil. So much to fret and worry over. So much left to do.

But here, in this moment, surrounded by friends, he thanks God for the things life has given him.

Like a city with one less leech.

Louis III, Chapter I
Nobody Special

“Who the fuck are you!?!”
Unknown Quarter rat

Saturday night, 12 December 2015, AM

GM: Rampart Street.

It’s the gutter where Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off.

Among the kine, it’s where one can go to find (cheap) prostitutes, pushers, junkies, and other unfortunates pushed to the French Quarter’s periphery, just along the border with poverty-stricken Tremé.

Between two houses, a man moans and shifts uneasily in his sleeping bag.

He’s an old man. His face shows a lot of years—or maybe just hard years.

There’s blotches over his many wrinkles. His hand-length graying beard is stringy and unkempt. His teeth are yellowed or missing. Even inside his sleeping bag, he wears a thick raggedy coat. He looks crazy to other people when he wears it, especially during the summer, but he really is physiologically colder, not just disoriented as to the time and place.

A discarded needle lies to the side, amidst his scattered belongings. He moans again, and his dog licks his face.

The dog’s ears suddenly flatten as it looks up.

A furious growl emanates from its throat.

Then it growls no more, and a shadow falls over the sleeping man.

He’s not the best pick.

But he’ll do.

An observer would see nothing untoward. No more than usual, at least.

Just the outline of a woman, equally disheveled-seeming but indistinct in the dark, bent over a sleeping form. A motionless dog lies nearby.

But to those with ears to listen, the telltale slurp is unmistakable.

To those with eyes to see, the motionless canine is not sleeping.

To those with scars to know, the homeless man’s moaning is not solely the product of a damaged mind.

And to those in whose hearts the Vigil burns bright:

The call to action is undeniable.

Louis: Heeding that call, the alley sheds a man.

He wears trouble. Trench coat, long and dark. Tie, slim and darker. Shirt, white as a coroner’s coat. Sensible shoes, the kind you wear to stalk devils. Felt hat, banded and tugged down like a salute to the shadows. A man, obscured.

But perhaps not a man. Not really, not anymore. Not for a long time.

He’s more. And less.

But he’s here. Le Loup of Nouvelle-Orléans. The Last Knight of St. Balacou. The Wolf of Wolves. Lope.

Some say that Lope is just a myth. A made-up story hunters tell each other when dusk comes and their knuckles whiten with fear. A tall tale to make them feel like they can prevail against the horrors of the night. Others say the legends are true, but the man is long gone. Long dead, just like the scores of blood-suckers he turned to ash. And others, others say he’s more than a man, a spirit of vengeance that returns every generation as the preyed-upon souls of New Orleans summon him with their cries for aid, for justice. For blood.

The man listens to those cries. The sounds of his city. The city he loves—and that loves him back like a kiss paired with a punch to the solar plexus. Far off, the banshee wail of police and fire sirens rise and fall, never silent for very long. Twenty-four hours a day, somebody in New Orleans is running, somebody else is trying to catch them. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people are dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People are being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People are hungry, sick, bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is.

The man might claim he doesn’t have one. That he doesn’t care. That he just wants a drink and to go to bed.

But he’d be lying.

Truth is, the man’s here for blood, and he’s not asking for donations.

Beneath his gumshoe armor, the man stirs. It’s time. It’s been time, actually. Past time.

Still, he hesitates. It’s not fear that holds him back, not the fear of failure at least. He knows what he has to do. He knows how to do it. But once he steps from these shadows, he’s committing to a path that will take him to hells far worse than Rampart Street. Maybe he survives, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to.

Either way, tonight is a bottle that won’t drink itself.

That thought turns the lapsing alcoholic’s attention back to the present. To the imbibing vampire and victim down the street.

Rampart Street. A block away, she looks good. But up close, she looks like she’s made to be looked at from a block away.

Chasing that thought, the man looks down the alley, to where rests an idling ’64 Chevelle. Bubble-gum pink coat. Powder-white soft-top. A radio incapable of playing anything but Rat-Pack classics. And most importantly tonight, a spacious trunk.

The man doffs his hat, as if signaling the occupants of the Chevelle’s darkened cab. Doing so reveals his face. Grim and unlovely, but not unloving. A face riddled with scars that rat out old injuries like bad alibis. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw.

But no cigarette dangles from his lips.

It’s the first tell that something’s changed. And then there’s his stride as he finally steps from the shadowed alley. It’s faster. Stronger. As if he’s swapped his diet of Jimmy Dean and Jack Daniels for four-square meals a day. That, and his shoulders seem straighter, like he’s shed the weight of sleepless nights. Or some of them, at least.

His meat-slab hand—the only one he’s got—reaches into his trench. Past the pair of well-oiled revolvers that lightly sleep in a single shoulder-holster. Rather, his hand slips into a pocket and pulls out a switchblade. Its handle is a gaudy affair, a Mardi Gras parade of purple, yellow, and green glitter with a plastic king cake’s baby head as the pommel. Its blade, however, is all business. Sharp. Long. Hard. And most importantly to the hunter, anointed with blood. Blood that the man now smears with his forefinger into a puissant Cainite veve. At its completion, a rush of blood fills his hangdog ears. And he feels it. The blade. It’s heavier now. Hungrier. Like a jackhammer praying for concrete.

The Lope hears its cry.

It mirrors his own.

A thirst for vengeance.



Lou’s footfalls are like smoke as he slips down the alleyway. His prey is distracted. Hunched over. She never sees it coming—just like her own prey. Jacques doubtlessly delights in the irony—assuming Bloody Jack of Bourbon Street is watching. But Lou does not indulge in such idle thoughts. Rather, his mind is like the blade in his hand. Sharp. Focused. Deadly.

That veve-anointed knife descends in a lightning fast flicker. It’s no Parisian colichemarde from the Sun King’s court, but the blade allows far quicker, alley-tight strikes—especially in the hands of the supernaturally fast hunter. Lou’s ice-pick grip amplifies that speed and punching power, causing the knife to stab perhaps a dozen times into the vampire’s back before its undead psyche registers the first bright, blossom of pain that ushers in a cascade of agony. And unlike Rampart’s typical alley fighters, Lou keenly understands his prey’s peculiar anatomy. Each strike is that of an occult vivisectionist. One after another, those acupuncture-precise strikes fall on—and through—the Kindred’s winter coat, as the puffy insulation muffles the sounds of Lou’s cement-cracking blows like a suppressor. The coat’s stuffing also keeps the vampire’s punctured back from leaking everywhere. After all, the hunter has his own Masquerade to protect.

For each blow, he silently recites a name of a former friend, a fallen hunter.

The names are many.

So too are the vampire’s wounds.

And due to the blade’s veve, such wounds will not, cannot heal.

Not tonight at least—and Lou does not intend to let this monster see another.

GM: There are too many.

Too many names.

Too many friends.

But not too many blows.

Lou falls upon the Quarter rat (for what other vampire would feed upon Rampart Street’s homeless?) like a cat upon that same prey—deathly silent one moment, and then a storm of pain and steel. The expertly placed knife strikes slice through flesh and bone and coat alike. Any human would be dead. Dead before they hit the ground. His foe is already dead, but she still screams, caught completely by surprise as Lou all but vivisects her back and then tackles her off her prey. The homeless man screams too, as the warring alley fighters disturb his sleep. He doesn’t throw punches at any of them. He grabs as many of his things as he can in one motion, then bolts for his life. His sleeping bag is left behind.

But better to sleep upon hard streets than to sleep six feet under.

Or sleep in a wall, if you die in this city.

Or sleep in a hunter’s safehouse as their vitae farm, if you’re a vampire.

Lou can make out her features under the dim light of the moon. She looks young. Very young. Brown. Not brown of skin, which is white, but brown because her dirty face, matted hair, torn clothes, and tattered Doc Martens are all saturated with the color. She smells as bad as he used to. She looks barely a step above above the homeless man she tried to drain. Lou can see her warring against the Beast in her furious eyes as she snarls in his face.

Then she arches her back and howls.

Lou can hear them converging on him from all sides, even if his eyes can’t make them out in the gloom. Shapes. Low. Bestial. Four-legged. Canine growls split the air.

“You picked the wrong lick to fuck with, juicebag!” the pinned vampire snarls out.

As one, the snarling dogs leap.

Louis: But the alley is a chokehold—and the man’s squeezes his grip on it with uncanny speed, strength, and familiarity.

He knows his city’s gutters. Especially in the Quarter, their dimensions have changed little over the centuries. Nor have the monsters that inhabit them.

The old man, however, has picked up a few new tricks during the same time, and as the dogs leap, he uses both old and new to his advantage.

For all the curs’ numbers, they cannot fully surround him, not in the tight alley built for late 18th century needs. Moreover, the narrow corridor restricts the dogs’ movements, subtracting their potential strike vectors like Harrah’s draining its patrons’ bank accounts.

He further stacks the deck by hauling up the Quarter rat in a smooth, yet complex and frighteningly fast and inhumanly strong, movement that simultaneously locks one of the vamp’s arms between them as well places her in a headlock with Lou’s prosthetic-capped arm. His other arm—and sole hand—is thus left free to drop his switchblade. He doesn’t need its power anymore, not tonight at least, and besides, the power itself was only bestowed to the knife by his hand and blood. Any other weapon could suffice.

And tonight, that other weapon is a flashlight.

Unlike the bulky maglites he used while walking the beat with Lebeaux and Broussard, this flashlight is small but no less dangerous. It’s a tactical flashlight that snugly fits into his hammer grip, like a roll of quarters in a boxer’s fist, that also extends his striking distance by a few inches with its scalloped steel rim. But the PI is less interested in the weapon’s bone-shattering strength than its blinding 2,000 lumens.

As the mongrels converge, he perfectly times his thumb upon the flashlight’s back button, clicking it on and off to repeatedly blind the Kindred-summoned dogs. He waits, then shifts and sidesteps, allowing their fangs to accidentally rip into one another and the vampire that he cunningly uses as a meat shield. His strobe both gives him sight, but also denies them theirs. The intense light causes the dogs to reflexively, unwillingly blink, wince, and turn away, providing the perfect openings for cunning kicks and quick, killing jabs with the flashlight. Most of these jabs, though, are saved for the vampire in his coils.

Ultimately, the dogs are just a distraction.

The man knows his true enemy.

GM: The first blow smashes into a dog like a sledgehammer and sends the beast careening aside into the wall. There’s a whine as it hits the ground. Another blinded canine proves effortlessly easy for the already effortlessly graceful man to duck past, even in the cramped alleyway and with a headlocked vampire in one arm. The dog smashes headlong into another mutt racing down at Lou from the alley’s opposite side. Two more lightning-quick and crushingly hard blows ensure they don’t get up. A third blow takes out the first dog too for good measure.

The fourth dog, initially blocked by the others, has enough time to recover its vision and leap straight at Lou—just as the Quarter rat produces a knife with her free hand and rams it into Lou’s gut. Just as the dog’s slavering jaws reach his throat. There’s no escape, not through both of them. Stab and tear. Another man would be dead. Maybe the Lou of three months ago would be dead.

But Lou is not another man.

And he’s not the Lou of three months ago.

No, the Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his mind with liquor, and sees it all coming. The Lou of tonight hasn’t dulled his body with starvation and cigarettes. The Lou of tonight ducks low beneath the dog, releases the Quarter rat, and runs straight towards the wall.

Then he runs up the wall.

The dog and Quarter rat don’t even see it coming when the flashlight descends from above with bone-breaking force over the canine’s head, putting the beast down for the count. The Quarter rat whirls and comes at him with the knife. Steel streaks towards the falling man’s chest. He can’t dodge.

Lou doesn’t try. He seizes the vampire’s wrist hard enough to make her scream, still while he falls, and yanks her off her feet. The centuries-old detective breaks his descent with a roll as the Quarter rat crashes against the alley wall. When she hits the ground, eyes wide as her prior wounds refuse to close, the stake from Lou’s coat pocket is already descending towards her chest.

She gets out one question before the wood pierces her heart:

“Who the fuck are you!?!”

Louis: Lou’s reply is swift and sharp as the stake—or it would be if he doesn’t have to pause to catch his breath. Still, he manages to cough out a sardonic answer, more to the alley than the immobile monster at this feet.

“Nobody special. Just a man who… needs a drink, a lot of life insurance, and a vacation.”

“Too bad… you can’t help me… with the last two.”

He wants to sit down, to massage his aching joints. He wants a damned cigarette. And a bottle of bourbon. He wants a lot of things. But the sober man has learned to push past his wants. Most of them at least.

Trabaja cuando estés vivo. Descansa cuando estés muerto.

(Work when you’re alive. Rest when you’re dead.)

The old words flit against his brain like the moths trying to commit suicide with Rampart’s streetlights. They were his father’s words. Words used whenever his son tried to substitute leisure for labor. Which was often.

The ghostly words stir the old man’s callous-clogged heart. And for a moment, he remembers. Not only the words, but also the voice of his father. His face still evades Lou’s memory, but the sound of his father’s voice, even chiding, makes him want to cry.

But that’s another want he pushes past.

After all, there’s work to be done, and he’s not dead yet.

And so, with naught but a brief, sad glimpse back at the dogs, he stuffs the staked vampire into the hobo’s sleeping bag. He then retrieves his switchblade and quickly covers up any other sign of his presence, before clicking off and stowing his flashlight. Once more in the dark, he slings his bag-zipped prize over his shoulder and shuffles down the alleyway.

Once more, the alley swallows the man. But the city remains confident that when she calls her Lope again, he will answer.