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Blood & Bourbon

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Celia V, Chapter II
War Plans

“Shit’s hit the fan, huh?”
Roderick Durant

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: After a quick shower and a change of clothes (she literally has clothes all over the city—it’s no wonder she’d told Roderick they need walk-in closets), Celia sits cross-legged on Randy’s bed. Lucy sits in front of her. She had joined Celia in the shower to get rid of the blood and other viscera pulled from inside her body, and Celia looks down at the doll with Jade’s face. She hadn’t done a full transformation; just her face since the rest of her is covered.

“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs to the doll. “I’m hoping that you don’t mind delivering a message for me.”

GM: The doll sits naked now, if Celia hasn’t clothed it in anything else. Its tiny dress was soaked in vitae and viscera.

It silently stares up at her with a doll’s wide glassy eyes.

One of its hands was pressed against its throat when she pulled it out of her stomach in a gory parody of childbirth.

Celia: “You saved me, you know. Last night. I was trying to find a way to revive Lady Elyse. I would have lingered too long and been turned into one of her dolls.” Celia gives the doll a sad smile. “I like dolls. But I don’t know that I would want to be a doll, not like that, not yet. Maybe someday.”

GM: A Kindred doll.

What a special doll that would be.

The prize of Elyse’s collection.

Especially one as beautiful as her.

Lucy only holds her hand to her throat.

Celia: “Can you… can you tell her something for me? If I send you to her, will you deliver a message?”

GM: The doll’s hand continues to rest against its throat.

Its eyes are so wide and glassy.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. She looks inside herself for her own doll form and brings it to the surface. She thinks Lucy might be injured, but maybe Lotus knows what to do.

GM: The Lucy doll stares at the Lotus doll. Silently and prettily, like all dolls do.

There’s nothing in their heads. Maxen said that too once, about Celia. That there was “absolutely nothing in your head.”

He’d tapped her forehead in emphasis.

“There’s nothing in here,” he’d said mockingly. “It’s a completely empty space.”

Celia: He’d called her brilliant last night at dinner.

GM: People call dolls empty-headed, too. Say they have nothing in their heads.

Celia: Lotus’ dad is Lady Elyse, though. Not Maxen.

GM: Call them, implicitly, stupid but pretty, like Paul once called Celia.

Celia: Lotus doesn’t know who Paul is.

But she knows who Lucy is.

And she hopes that Lucy can help her with a problem.

GM: Lotus is a doll.

Lotus knows.

Lotus reads Lucy like a book.

Lucy wants… to talk.

Lucy cannot talk.

Lucy needs help.

Lucy has something to say.

It was very, very, very hard for Lucy to say as much as she did, to Jade.

Just one word.

It was so, so hard.

Celia: Lotus wants to help.

How can Lotus help? The mother showed Jade how to repair dolls. She isn’t as good at it as the Lady Elyse, but maybe that’s a start?

GM: Jade can’t help Lucy to talk.

Celia: Who can help?

GM: Elyse. But she may not help. She may not like what Lucy has to say.

Elyse knows what Lucy has to say.

Celia: Is it… bad?

GM: Jade needs to find someone. Someone else who can talk to dolls like her.

It’s okay if they can’t talk to all dolls. Only Elyse can do that.

Just dolls like her.

Celia: Grace?

GM: Grace is scared of Lucy.

Grace hates Lucy.

Celia: Lotus doesn’t know anyone else who can talk to dolls, though. Lotus will find someone, but Lotus also wants to help Jade fix the relationship with Elyse.

GM: Lucy needs to talk.

Lucy needs help.

Jade has to find someone.

Find someone.

Find someone.

Celia: Lotus will help Lucy. Jade will find someone. She will.

GM: Lotus is gone. Jade’s sitting on the bed again, looking down at the Lucy doll.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Jade whispers to Lucy. “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I’ll find someone. I will.”

“Thank you. Thank you for helping me. Now it’s my turn.”

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: The conversation with Lucy took less time than Celia planned for. She’s dressed and back in her own skin moments later, a freshly written note in her hand and Lucy tucked away into a bag for the evening. She rejoins her mother on the couch to wait for the rest of her team so they can debrief before she heads out.

GM: “When can we go home, sweetie?” she asks. “Emily is only spending the weekend with Robby.”

Celia: “Another day or two. Hopefully tomorrow if I can get this straightened out.”

GM: “Missed me?” smirks Reggie’s voice, one of his hands cupping her breast.

Diana looks scandalized. “Please—there’s a child here!” she whispers.

“Sleeping child,” notes Reggie.

“Don’t worry, though. Haven’t forgotten you.” He gives her a quick peck on the lips.

He chuckles when Celia’s mom gives a startle, then gives his domitor a longer kiss on the lips.

He winks at her as if to say, Pork rind. Fillet mignon.

He then gives a quick lick of his lips, as if to say he’d still be happy to eat both.

Celia: Maybe she’d never realized the extent of his deviance, but watching him kiss her mother makes Celia bare her teeth at him in a silent snarl.

“She’s not interested. Neither is Dani.”

GM: “Oh, I think she is.” Reggie plops down between them on the couch, wrapping an arm around both women’s shoulders. Celia’s breasts get another squeeze after a moment, to her mother’s obvious consternation. “She talks like an old lady, but she’s got a young bod…” Celia worked on it recently, after all. “I can remind her what it’s like to be young… relax, hot momma…”

He cups Diana’s head up with his hands, then hungrily french kisses her mouth. She freezes up and doesn’t try to push him away. Reggie’s eyes, though, watch Celia’s the whole time, like she’s the real show. All he’s doing here is getting warmed up.

Celia: He doesn’t get to enjoy that kiss for long. Celia curls her fingers through his hair and yanks him backwards, off of her mother.

GM: Diana looks mortified as Celia pulls the ghoul away.

Reggie smirks at Celia. “The effect would be better if you both had the same hair color… but you know…”

He makes several clicking sounds with his tongue and glances salaciously between mother and daughter.

Celia: “You’re a pig,” Celia snarls at him. She flips him, pins him beneath her body, and sinks her teeth into his neck.

GM: “Whoa-!” Reggie starts, but he doesn’t try to fend her off. He gasps with pleasure under her kiss and lets the vampire have her way with him.

Diana swiftly rises with Lucy, clutching the child to her breast, and dashes off towards the bedrooms.

“Oh, my, what’s this about…?” starts Alana’s voice with a purr.

Dani looks at the man being feasted on, then sinks her teeth into the other side of his neck.

Celia: For a moment there’s a twitch of jealousy. Reggie is hers. How dare the little thin-blood bitch. But Alan’s voice cuts through her fugue, and Celia reaches out a hand to the other girl to pull her close. When she’s taken a sip from Reggie she stays seated on his lap, yanking Alana down to sink her teeth into that hot treat as well.

Distantly, she’s aware of her mother in the other room, but right now she wants this feast presented to her.

GM: Alana moans wantfully, throatily, and arches her back. Her fingers fly to the zipper of Celia’s pants. They make slow progress, but progress all the same.

Dani continues to thirstily drain Reggie. Unaccustomed to the vampires’ kiss, he just lies there and makes happy noises.

“Oh,” says Randy, a little lamely.

Celia: Celia doesn’t let it go further than that. She squirms free from Alana and reaches out to pull Dani off of Reggie.


GM: Dani licks her lips.

Reggie pants heavily.

Alana is flushed.

Randy just sort of stands there.

“You turn into such an idiot around her,” Rusty says to him shortly.

Celia: “You and I can share someone else tonight,” Celia says to Dani. “How much did you take from him?”

GM: “I wasn’t trying to kill him. Just give him a taste of what it’s like,” she glares at Reggie.

Celia: Celia smirks.

GM: “Don’t mind…” grins a paler-faced Reggie.

Celia: “Give him a hit. I need him coherent tonight.”

GM: Dani bites her wrist and holds it out to him.

Reggie raises it to drink, then spits and throws it aside.

“Fuck, that tastes awful!”

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

“I was afraid of that.”

GM: Dani glares at him.

Celia: “It’s not his fault, Dani. It’s the blood.”

GM: “Oh, so my blood’s not good enough?”

Celia: “It’s good enough for me.”

“It’s a good thing. We know more about you than we did.”

GM: “Didn’t think you’d care how I thought you tasted, girlie,” says Reggie, making some lapping effects with his tongue.

Dani makes a sound of disgust.

“You’re a pig.”

Celia: Celia presses her teeth into her wrist and shoves it into Reggie’s mouth.

Maybe that will shut him up.

GM: He drinks rapturously.

“Ah, that’s it…!”

Celia: He only gets a small hit before she pulls away.

GM: “Are we here on business?” Rusty asks shortly.

Alana contently settles down on Celia’s lap.

Celia: “Yes,” Celia finally says. She looks over to Rusty, giving him a small nod as if to thank him for the interruption.

“We have things to discuss. These next few days and nights might be challenging, and I wanted to give all of you a heads up.”

GM: “Should I get your mom?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Yes. Thank you.”

GM: “Yes, thank you,” Reggie smiles too.

Celia: “If I murder you,” she says idly, “they’ll never find the body.”

GM: Dani glares at him and heads down the hall.

“In that case, I better do something really ballsy,” says Reggie.

Celia: “Knock it off.”

“This is… actually serious.” Her tone changes.

GM: “Was kinda hot with the kid around… she got so skittish…”

“Bro, you sound like a pedophile,” says Randy.

“The kid isn’t hot. Just how skittish the kid made her. Difference,” elucidates Reggie.

Celia: “No, she’s always like that. Don’t touch her again.”

“Or Dani.”

GM: “She wouldn’t be like that if someone showed her a good time.”

“Either of ’em.”

Celia: “Reggie,” Celia turns to him, “knock it the fuck off.”

GM: Reggie just smirks, but says nothing further.

“You’re not making the mistress happy,” Alana says airily.

Celia: “Enough. All of you.”

“No petty bullshit, not tonight.”

“Not for the next few nights.”

“There’s some serious shit going on that we need to coordinate on.”

GM: “I didn’t do anything…” Randy protests.

Celia: “You and Rusty didn’t do anything, I’m aware.”

GM: “I just told him to stop displeasing you, mistress,” pouts Alana.

Celia: “Right, I’ve got like ten minutes before I need to leave, so let’s get into this.”

GM: Dani arrives back with Diana.

The two of them sit together away from Reggie.

“I put Lucy to bed,” adds Celia’s mom.

“This is… sweetie, this is not a child-appropriate environment.”

Celia: “Good,” Celia says to Diana, “thank you. And yes, I’m aware.”

“So here’s the situation. For those of you who haven’t officially met her, this is my mother. Diana. She knows about me.”

GM: “Hi, everyone!” smiles Diana, holding up her hand in a little wave.

Reggie grins and waves back, wriggling his fingers.

Celia: “For the foreseeable future, she needs one of you with her at all times. Rotating guard until I handle something that went down last night. One of you will be with me. Yes,” she says to Rusty before he can ask, “you’ll all be compensated for the additional work.”

GM: “It shouldn’t be Reggie,” says Dani.

He clasps his heart in mock hurt.

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees, “it won’t be Reggie.”

GM: He clasps it with both hands.

Celia: “Randy, Rusty, Alana, you’ll take turns with Diana. It won’t be long. Tonight, tomorrow, maybe tomorrow night. But it’s very, very important that nobody get to her.”

“There’s also somebody who may be coming after all of us.”

GM: “Got it, babe,” says Randy.

Rusty nods.

“Of course,” says Alana.

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

Celia: “So… I know we don’t always want to hang out under the same roof, but until this is solved, I need it to happen. I can’t lose any of you. You’re all very important to me.”

“Her name is Elyse. Her sire is Harlequin. Krewe of Janus leader.”

They all know about the Krewe of Janus; she’d told them about the Masquerade and those who enforce it.

“She’s hunting Diana. She wants to get her back because I beat the shit out of her last night, and she thinks that getting to Diana will hurt me. She’s right. So we’re not going to let it happen. I’m going to smooth things over, but until I do I need you to just work with me here. We haven’t had to deal with much enmity from others like me before, but this is why I’ve brought you all on. No credit cards. Don’t leave the Quarter if you can help it. Don’t go off with anyone you don’t know. Don’t accept candy from a stranger, you know the drill.”

“Reggie, those thin-bloods you met last night, those aren’t the kind of people they’ll send after you. They’ll send ghouls like you. Licks like me. People trained in combat. Call off work, or do what you can from home. The Quarter is safer, but the Krewe can go anywhere if there’s a violation. Since Diana knows, she’s joining our numbers. I’ll blood her later tonight once I’ve had a chance to properly feed. We’ll double rations for all of you until the threat has passed, keep you topped up. I’ll bring what bagged stuff I can here. Check in with each other frequently. If I blow up your phone, get back to me. It’s not because I’m being an asshole, it’s because I care about all of you and I’m not losing you over a petty grudge. Elyse is tight with an assassin, too, so… just be aware.”

“This, by the way, is Dani.” Celia gestures to her. “She’s also joining us until the threat has passed, and unofficially she’s my tenant now.”

Her first tenant. Celia had always thought it would be something grander than this. Contracts and pomp and stuff.

“She’s duskborn, but there’s a pretty high possibility that I’m going to pass her off as a renfield for a time, so get used to her being around. Once this is over she’ll have her own place, but right now it’s safer for everyone to be together. Strength in numbers, you know.”

“There’s also a chance I bring in more muscle until everything is settled. If you can vouch for any breathers, great. If not, I’ll see what I can do.”

“It’s not war. I’m hoping a boon will suffice to balance the scales. But I’m not taking chances with any of your lives.”

GM: Celia’s assorted ghouls (and near-ghouls) receive their domitor’s address somberly.

Alana nods and murmurs assent at all of Celia’s words. She adds how dangerous and well-trained the Krewe’s ghouls are. There’s a flash of jealousy in her eyes, though, when Celia announces she’s ghouling her mom.

Rusty gives a few brief nods, but has no questions.

Celia: Celia gives the girl on her lap a reassuring squeeze.

GM: Randy gives longer nods and declares how he’ll do right by his “babe.”

Dani looks worried by Celia’s words, if somewhat out of her depth, but nods along too.

Diana bears a similar expression. She gets very still every time Celia says Elyse’s name.

Reggie takes it all like a breeze.

“If you want to feed, mistress… it’s a little late for the spa, but we could pick up something for you…” brings up Alana, rubbing her bottom against Celia.

Diana looks uncomfortable at Alana’s present location.

“Courier’s gonna be here in a bit, too,” says Randy.

Celia: “No, thank you,” Celia says to Alana, “I have two errands to run and then I’m taking Dani hunting.”

GM: “Can we help, mistress?” she asks.

Dani perks up at that declaration. “I’m not too thirsty, actually, if you had other things you wanted to do tonight.”

Celia: “Help with the errands? Not these, unfortunately. Two meetings.” Celia smiles at Dani. “I’ll need to feed if I’m doubling everything for everyone else.”

GM: “You can say thanks with a BJ,” Reggie replies breezily.

Dani looks disgusted. Diana covers her ears.

Celia: Celia casually reaches over to smack Reggie in the chest.

“If you don’t stop I’m going to remove your favorite part.”

GM: “You’d lose your favorite part too,” he smirks at her.

Celia: “I’ll keep it as a trophy; you’ll never get it back.”

GM: He laughs. “I can think of worse places for it to end up.”

Celia: “Does anyone have any relevant questions, then?”

GM: “Any instructions for the spa, mistress?” asks Alana.

Celia: “Still thinking. They know I own it. Might be safer to close for a day or two. After tonight I’ll have a better idea.”

GM: “We could also give Louise a trial day as manager. If you want me away from it.”

Celia: “We can do that.”

GM: “Okay, mistress. Where do you want me during the day, when I’m not with your mother?”

Celia: “Buddy system. Here.”

GM: “Can we, ah… blood Emily too, if she wants to do that?” asks Diana.

“I feel like she’s being left out from so many important things, right now.”

Celia: “We already talked about this. No.”

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, sweetie, I guess I wasn’t clear,” her mother apologizes.

Celia: “If and when I decide to bring Emily into this, it will be on my terms. I also just… don’t have the resources to sustain that many people, and there are too many complications with her school and work.”

“I’ve had to jump through a mountain of hoops to make sure that Dani isn’t going to get nabbed off the streets, and I’m about to do the same for you.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t want to cause you trouble.”

Celia: “It’s fine. I’d rather do this than watch you go back to her.”

GM: Diana pointedly says nothing about that.

“Is there anything more I can do, while you’re out?”

Celia: “Get some sleep. Call off work tomorrow. Let one of them tell you about the society you’ve just joined.”

GM: “Okay. Lucy has school, I guess I’ll say we both came down with something.”

“I can get together some muscle,” says Reggie. “How much do you want, where do you want them, and by when?”

Celia: “Here. Soon. Two or three guys. I’d like to free up someone to be able to be with me when you need to sleep.”

GM: “What should I tell Emily?” Diana asks. “For why Lucy and I aren’t home, that is.”

Celia: “Mental health day? Needed to get out of the house? Nightmares?”

GM: “Lucy, too?”

Celia: “I mean, she’s coming with you.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll… I’ll tell her something.”

Celia: “Let me think about it.”

GM: Rusty and Randy also ask if Celia has any specific instructions for them, besides guarding her mother.

Celia: “Keep looking into those other issues we discussed, Rusty. And I have something for you to scrub from the internet, but I’ll give you the details later. Were you able to find the Lee guy?”

GM: “No luck, sorry.”

Celia: “The phones didn’t help?”

“See if you can find out what the heck a glinko is, then. It’s somehow related.”

“Randy, you’re on defenses. It’s something I’ve let go for too long. I’ve been banking on the fact that no one knew where I stayed during the day, but that’s not enough. Find me a better system. Watching the hunters get through the other day is not something I want repeated.”

GM: “They likely will,” says Rusty. “Give me a bit longer.”

“I do have another job.”

Celia: “I know, Rusty.”

“They’re just after me, and I’d prefer not to wind up dead.”

GM: “Okay, babe, I’ll see what I can come up with,” says Randy.

Celia: “Perfect. Just a few days, guys. We’ll get through this.”

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: Celia leaves the note with Randy to give to the courier. She’d expected to be able to give Lucy to him too, send more of a message, but she needs to fix the doll first.

It’s a well-worded apology to Elyse that asks for a chance to explain what happened. She promises a favor for the trouble, and another if she’ll hear her out in neutral territory. It’s coded, but she thinks the Malkavian will understand. They’d worked together for years, after all.

Celia leaves her mother with a kiss on the cheek. She tells Reggie to rest up, that after her meeting he’s shadowing her tonight, and to leave the girls alone.

If none of them have anything for her, Celia carefully makes her way across the Quarter to meet with Roderick.

GM: Her lover’s right on time, like usual, dressed in the suit he’s probably wearing to Elysium. He hugs her close when she steps inside.


She thinks of Donovan.

“Shit’s hit the fan, huh?”

Celia: She can’t remember a single time her sire ever wasted the breath or thoughts on a greeting.

Still, when Roderick opens his arms for her she steps in close, burying her face against his chest. She breathes him in.

“Real bad.”

GM: He holds her against him and runs a hand along her back.

“Tell me about it.”

Celia: “I messed up. I messed up so badly. I don’t know what to do. And I missed you all night. All day. I just kept thinking I wanted you with me, that everything would be better if I could just talk to you. I hate being away from you. I couldn’t even come back last night and talk to you, and I almost got caught by the sun, and then I did get caught by the sun, and I just kept… kept thinking that everything is about to implode.”

GM: She misses Donovan more.

Hates being away from him more.

Celia: He wouldn’t hold her while she cries.

But she wouldn’t cry around him, either.

GM: Roderick guides her to a couch where they sit down. He still holds her against his chest.

“It’s all right. I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Celia: He wasn’t there last night when she needed him.

Donovan was, though.

GM: Because he can fly.

He can be anywhere.

There’s nothing that can stop him.

“Whatever this is, we’ll fix it,” says Roderick.

“So, why don’t you start from the beginning?”

Celia: Maybe one night her wings will carry her across the sky as quickly as his do. Or maybe he’ll be her wings and she won’t need to resort to feathers and shape shifting.

She hasn’t told anyone, but she’d picked that second form because of him.

“I had a friend,” Celia says slowly, choosing her words with care while she curls on Roderick’s lap. He’s as dead as the rest of them, but warmer than her sire. Softer. She can’t help but notice the differences.

“I had a friend who… who I learned hurt my mom in a really, really bad way. Years ago. Completely altered who she was on a fundamental level. She showed me on a tape and it was… it was awful. I’d suspected, I guess, but never confirmed. She broke my mom. Broke her, Roderick. Tortured her. And I went apeshit on her. And I beat the shit out of her. I guess I don’t need to know how to throw a punch when I’ve got claws, right?”

Her attempt at humor is bleak.

“And I know how it is. Strike someone, they strike back. So I went to my mom, because I thought, well, they’re going to go after her. And they did.”

“I got to her first. Barely.”

“She was on her way to… I don’t know, turn herself over to them or something. Like twenty minutes before dawn. And I was starving. And she wouldn’t stop trying to fucking touch me.”

GM: “Jesus,” Roderick murmurs in response to all of that, but otherwise listens quietly until she’s done.

Celia: “She wouldn’t listen to me,” Celia says quietly. She tells him how it was: trying to convince her mom to come with her, to get out of the house, to stop dawdling. How her Beast kept trying to get out, first at her mom, then at the stupid cat, and then finally when the sun came through the window. And how Celia had finally revealed what she was.

It doesn’t help, she realizes.

Running to Roderick to talk about it doesn’t help.

She’s not a damsel that needs saving. She doesn’t need him to tell her that it’s okay. It is okay. She has always made sure it was okay. And yeah, things have gone off the rails for her now, and her mom knows, but… she’d accepted her. She’d accepted who Celia is, what she is, with no more than a long blink of her eyes.

“And now she knows. Everything.”

Her voice, as she speaks, gains strength and surety. She’d been unsure. Thought she was doing the wrong thing, thought that the voice in her head had been right, but it’s not right. She is right. She knows what’s right for her, for her family.

Celia tells him how she’d let her mother see her as a cat, how she had smuggled Celia into the car in Lucy’s pink unicorn backpack to hide from the sun, taken her to a safe place (though she doesn’t say where).

“She reacted well,” Celia continues. “Once she understood what was going on. She just accepted it like it was no big deal.”

GM: “Oh my god,” Roderick says when she’s done. “Celia, there’s… I think you know what three options there are for her at this point.”

“Okay. Do you need help finding someone who can fix her memories?”

Celia: “I don’t think I want to fix her memories.”

GM: “You can’t want to kill her. That leaves…”

Celia: “Ghouling. Yeah.”

GM: “Celia, that’s… that’s kind of messed up. Your mom?”

Celia: “It doesn’t have to be weird.”

GM: “You’re bringing her into this. Into this world of darkness and horror as a slave and drug addict.”

“She has a kid!

Celia: “She doesn’t have to be a slave. She can just… be my mom.”

“Plenty of them live kind of normal lives.”

GM: “What kind of a mom is she going to be to Lucy when she’s collared to the one kid she’ll now love more than she’ll ever love her others?”

Celia: “You said your sire kept you as a renfield without collaring you. Why can’t I?”

GM: “Okay, that’s something. But, Celia, can’t you see what you’re dragging her into?”

Celia: “She’s already involved. Her kid is a vampire. What am I supposed to do, mind-wipe her and kill myself? Never talk to her again? Watch her die? I can fix her leg. I know someone who can fix her, she’ll never be in pain again, she can dance again. I can stop lying about everything, I won’t have to make excuses about dinner or why I can’t babysit or why I can’t come to Lucy’s recitals or why Emily has to get married at night instead of during the day like a normal person.”

“How long until the rest of the city finds out who I really am and goes after her anyway for whatever bullshit perceived slight they can think of?”

“You know what the first thing she asked me was? ‘When can I meet your real boyfriend?’ It was just so… normal. It was so normal. Like I could actually talk to her as a person again and not a liar.”

GM: “That’s… that’s strange,” Roderick frowns. “Has she seen behind the Masquerade before?”

Celia: “…honestly, I think so. She was really, really calm about everything.”

GM: “Where do you think she did?”

Celia: “Before my friend got to her. Before she gave birth.”

GM: “Your friend seems like a pretty logical explanation. If she tortured your mom.”

“You said she altered who your mom was on a fundamental level?”

Celia: “Yeah. She… does things to people. Students at her school. Finishing school, she calls it.”

GM: “It’s disgusting. We have so much power and so little regard for normal humans’ lives.”

“I guess it would make sense if your mom saw past the Masquerade there.”

“But you think she did earlier?”

Celia: “That was before she had me.”

“But I don’t know. I assumed some things.”

GM: “I obviously don’t know as much about your mom’s history, but that seems like the logical explanation to me. Occam’s razor.”

Celia: “So then it’s… not really my fault, technically.”

GM: Roderick looks reluctant. “I don’t think you can erase memories going back that many years. I mean, maybe a lick like Vidal could.”

Celia: “Ah yeah, we should ask him.”

GM: “Good idea. We’ll just ask Maldonato to slip us into his schedule sometime.”

Celia: “I knew we’d think of something.”

GM: “Damn it, though. This is… this is fucked.

“You’re going to keep her away from as much of this as you can?”

Celia: “Sure, once I figure out how she’s going to continue working at McGehee.”

GM: Roderick thinks. “I doubt many licks would expect her there. She’s going during the day, first of all. And how many other ghouls can there be at a girl’s school, who could also find her out?”

Celia: “That’s kind of what I’m banking on.”

GM: “We don’t really bother cultivating influence over high schools, much less elementary or middle schools. Universities are where it’s at. And even if there are other ghouls at McGehee, well, how will they know she’s a ghoul too? They have to be able to scry, and they’d have to taste her blood. They’d already need to be suspicious.”

Celia: “I was going to teach her some shadow dancing, just in case.”

GM: “That seems like a good idea. I doubt many licks or scrying ghouls will be taking drinks from her, but an extra layer of security doesn’t hurt.”

Celia: “So you don’t think it’s crazy?”

GM: Roderick grimaces. “I think it’s bad. But I don’t see an alternative.”

“Can’t fix her memories. So ghoul her or kill her.”

“And I’d hope to God that second option never crossed your mind.”

Celia: “Of course it didn’t,” Celia scowls at him.

“I thought about sending her away to another city where no one would look twice at her, but not killing her.”

GM: “She’s still a Masquerade breach there. Though she might be able to just get lost in the crowd.”

“I don’t know, though. You can’t just leave loose ends and trust them not to unravel further.”

Celia: “I know. She doesn’t want to leave, anyway. Her whole life is here. Emily, Lucy, McGehee is a really good school, most of the rest of us. Her family.”

GM: “I guess you can’t force her to leave against her will, either.”

Celia: “I’ve tried before, trust me. It didn’t end well.”

GM: “Well, you could, but you’d probably have to do some pretty awful things. And Emily would be a complication. All before how she still knows too much.”

“So yeah. I wouldn’t consider that a viable option.”

Celia: “I know. Just wishful thinking. Pack her off somewhere and forget she’s a problem.”

“I think ghouling her might be the best solution.”

GM: “It’s a bad solution. But it’s the lesser evil. Like so much else.”

Celia: “Threw off my plans for the night, though.” Celia sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose as if to stave off of a nonexistent headache. Little gestures like these are what let her pass as human.

GM: “I’m sure it did. Having to explain everything to her.”

“Are you still going to Elysium tonight?”

Celia: “No, I meant more that I had to cancel dinner with your dad.”

“And… probably not. My friend and her friends are probably looking for me. Going to Elysium would be a good time to grab me.”

GM: “Who’s the friend?”

Celia: “Ah… you can’t tell anyone, no one is supposed to know.”

GM: “Lips are zipped. But you don’t have to tell me. I was only asking in case there was advice I could give or something I might be able to do.”

Celia: “Benson.”

GM: “Shit. She’s tight with the sheriff.”

Celia: Yeah, she’s already had her lashes for that.

GM: “You might be in a lot of trouble if you go outside the Quarter now.”

“On the other hand, it’s a bad look for Benson if she runs tattling that a neonate beat the shit out of her. She’ll probably try to deal with this herself.”

Celia: “Or with her sire. Which is my concern. I can obviously handle Elyse.” Celia flexes at him.

There’s no muscle.

GM: Roderick smiles anyway.

“I’m glad you did. But this underscores how much I need to actually teach you instead fucking you. The next lick you get in trouble with might not be an anorexic dollmaker.”

Celia: “But we can still fuck.”

GM: “Yes. We’ll just do other things too. As novel a notion as that seems.”

He laughs faintly. “God, we’re like a pair of horny teenagers.”

Celia: “I can’t help it that every time I see you I want to pin you down and have my way with you.”

GM: “Usually you’re asking me to have my way with you, actually.”

Donovan’s better.

Celia: “Details.” Celia waves a hand.

God, he is.

What she wouldn’t do for him to pin her against a wall sometime.

Can’t imagine he’d actually fuck her, though.

Not like that.

Shame, too. She bets he’d be good at it.

GM: He’s good at everything.

“Okay, though. I think it’s reasonable to assume Elyse has either gone to her sire or one or more younger licks who are better at fighting.” He pauses. “Or, alternatively, she might try to get at you socially. Attacks in Elysium or attacks on your mortal holdings.”

“Which, for Jade, is just Flawless.”

Celia: “I sent her a note. I don’t know if she’ll read it. An apology, offer of a boon to make up for it. I don’t want this to get ugly. Like, just… the thought of being in a shadow war or something with someone on top of everything else is… ugh.”

A second boon if she’ll meet with Jade to discuss, but she doesn’t need to tell Roderick that she’d like to preserve the friendship.

“I couldn’t send a ghoul since they might come back without a head.”

GM: “Or turned into one of those dolls of hers.”

Celia: “That too.”

GM: “I’ve seen them at Elysium. They’re pretty freaky things.”

“An apology with a boon attached seems like a fair shot at defusing things, anyway.”

“Even if it galls me to think of you owing an anorexic sociopath who tortured your mom.”

Celia: “Alternative is to let it fester and have her come after my mom again.”

GM: “Does she know about your relation? Or did you just go apeshit when you saw the tape?”

Celia: “No. She doesn’t know it’s my mom. She doesn’t know I’m Jade. And I managed to hold it in during the tape. It was after, when she called her.”

GM: “Called her?”

Celia: “Yeah. Called her in the middle of the night to remind her what she did. That’s why I lost it.”

GM: “Oh my god. What a fucking sociopath.”

“Your mom’s one of the nicest people I know, though. I don’t think Elyse managed to completely break her.”

Celia: “Apparently she used to be a real spitfire.”

GM: “That’s pretty hard to imagine.”

Celia: “Yeah, I said the same thing.”

“I keep wondering who she’d be if she hadn’t gone through that. If she’d have had kids. If she’d still love me.”

“You know, stupid shit.”

GM: “I don’t think Elyse has the capacity to imbue someone with more love.”

Celia: “Turn her into the perfect mother and wife, though. Curb her attitude.”

GM: “Sure. There’s a lot of ways you can brainwash people, and even more with the Blood. You can make someone have kids and be an obedient wife and mother if they don’t normally want to.”

“But you can’t make someone love something they secretly hate or resent deep down. You just can’t.”

Celia: “You can make them think they do, though.”

GM: “Maybe. But I think that shows. I think if you torture someone into obedience it’s inevitably going to poison everything they do. Maybe it won’t be obvious, but it’ll be there.”

Celia: “What about conditioning. That’s different.”

GM: “It’s the same thing.”

“Truth comes out. Truth always comes out.”

“She’s been your mother for almost 30 years now. Have you ever felt like she might secretly hate or resent you? Has she ever tried to sabotage things with you in little coincidental-seeming ways?”

Celia: Has she?

Celia can’t think of a time.

“No. Never.”

GM: Roderick looks satisfied. “There you have it.”

Celia: He hasn’t seen what Elyse can do, though.

GM: “I like to think that if someone, and by ‘someone’ I mean the Mafia, tortured me or my dad past all endurance, past all sanity, there’d still be a part of ourselves they could never get to.”

Celia: “But it’s more than torture. At some point you’ll do anything to make the pain stop, and then what if you’re given something good because you behaved? Then you’ll keep trying to do that to get that good thing.”

GM: “Sure. Torture can compel you to say things and do things. Torture, in the end, breaks everyone.”

“It’s not like in the movies where the hero can hold out forever. When the CIA tortured al-Qaeda terrorists with waterboarding, some of the most fanatical and hateful zealots on earth, they took less than a day to break those people.”

“And they were really impressed by how long some of those terrorists held out. For less than a day.”

“But, and this is a little of the philosophy major who loved Wittgenstein speaking, we need to consider what definitions we’re using when we say ‘break.’”

“If you dash a vase into a thousand pieces over the floor, it’s no longer the object that it once was. It can’t hold water. You can’t store flowers in it. It’s broken and no longer able to fulfill its intended purpose. You might, painstakingly, be able to glue it back together, and it’s probably going to be uglier and less functional than the original vase.”

“But you still have all of the pieces in your hands. You haven’t actually destroyed the vase, you’ve just changed its form from a single object into a thousand tiny splinters. It’s still the same amount of physical matter. The only thing you’ve destroyed is the vase’s capacity to serve its intended purpose. All of the vase itself is still there.”

“And maybe that distinction seems academic, because what good is a broken vase to anyone.”

“But there was an artist I saw at Frenchmen once who made mosaics and cobblestones from broken glass and china. They were really pretty. Bits of a broken vase would’ve been right at home on one of them.”

“My point isn’t that every broken vase can be repurposed. Sometimes all you wanted was a vase, and if it’s broken now, there is no good outcome or happy ending.”

“But, the vase still leaves behind a thousand shards, and you can see in them what it once was. You can try to repurpose the shards for other uses, but it won’t be seamless. You’ll always see that they were once a vase.”

“Breaking something isn’t the same as obliterating it, in which case there’d be no shards left at all. There’d just be empty space. You obviously can’t repurpose empty space to fulfill a function you’d intended for a broken vase.”

“It’s the same thing with torture. If you tortured me enough, I’d say or do anything to make the pain stop. If you rewarded me for doing what you wanted, I’d break even faster.”

“But I’m still the same ‘vase.’ If you command me to do actions I loathe to the core of my being, no matter how much you torture and brainwash me, the change is only surface deep—a new coat of paint over the same vase.”

Celia: “And if that is all you knew for months? Years? Decades?”

“At some point it becomes your new normal.”

GM: “If you want a vase to be a shirt, will you be able to turn china into cotton after enough decades?”

Celia: “People aren’t vases. We change all the time.”

“That’s the beauty of people. We’re capable of change.”

GM: “Vases change too. All physical matter changes. You can paint a vase new colors. You can add and remove parts if you know what you’re doing.”

“Though I think it’s also fair to observe that people usually only change so much. Just like there’s really only so far you can change the same vase.”

“If you go to a herculean enough effort, and you wanted a base to be a shirt, you could grind it into sand-sized particles and weave them into a shirt’s fibers. Which I think is a comparable analogy to torturing and brainwashing someone for years. It’s a stupendous effort that shatters their original form and turns it into something superficially unrecognizable.”

“But if you examined the shirt under a microscope you’re still going to be able to tell the truth. Torturing someone into being something they’re not, in the end, is just a lie. A lie that the torturer and the victim are both in on.”

“And truth always comes out.”

“You could torture and brainwash me into joining the Mafia and following their orders, and maybe I’d spend the rest of my life as good, by which I mean awful, wiseguy.”

“But I don’t think the process would go perfectly. Maybe someone could turn me back. Maybe I’d sabotage things in little unconscious ways. Maybe I’d just be miserable deep down and be a worse mobster than I’d otherwise be capable of.”

“There are just so many ways that could go wrong and bits of the original Roderick could peek out.”

“If anything, it seems pretty hard to believe that the torture/brainwash process could go 100% perfectly. It’s like trying to pick every last hair off the floor of a barber shop. Things go wrong in minor ways a lot more often than they go 100% right.”

Celia: “But all of your examples don’t include what the blood can do. We’re not humans. We’re licks. Kindred. Above that. We have other ways. If you remove someone’s memories are they the same person anymore? Not really, since our consciousness and personality is the sum of our experiences. And sure, sure, the argument of nature versus nurture, but most people agree that it’s not 100% one way or another. It’s a split. And it’s not… it’s not like breaking someone, not completely. It’s about changing their mindset.”

“Villains don’t do evil things because they’re angsty teenagers. I mean, some poorly written ones do. But they think what they’re doing is right. Or necessary. Or good. If I could convince you that joining the Mafia was the best possible thing you could do to get what you want, you’d probably do it. I mean sure it’s likely impossible to convince you.”

GM: “As far as the Blood, at least, all that does is increase the extent of what we can do. It has limits. I’m pretty strong, and stronger than I ever was alive, but I can’t lift an aircraft carrier.”

“There are innumerable things that are still impossible to us. It doesn’t make us God.”

“But even in your example, though, you’re not suborning my original nature. You’re just playing to it. You want me to join the Mafia because that’s the best thing for me.”

Celia: “It still gets the result that I want in the end.”

“And you do something because you think it’s right or good or whatever the case may be.”

GM: “Sure. But what is the result you want? Do you just want a vase that looks like a shirt, smells like a shirt, feels like a shirt, and can be used like a shirt, or do you actually want that vase to become a shirt on a molecular level, and not betray its original nature under a microscope?”

“Most of the time, you probably just want a shirt you can use. There is a point of diminishing returns, where investing further effort doesn’t pay practical dividends.”

“But at some point, in some way, the truth will come out and you or someone else will be reminded that your shirt was originally a vase.”

“So I think your mom’s love for you is genuine, even if she isn’t the spitfire she used to be. All before how I don’t think Elyse has the capacity to create what she doesn’t understand.”

Celia: It makes her feel a little bit better, at least.

“I think you’re probably right. I can’t imagine that she’d love Emily as fiercely as she does if that was something that was just given to her. She’s really part of the family.”

GM: “There you have it. Elyse couldn’t have planned on Emily.”

“If you want to brainwash someone into being a perfect wife and mother, adopting 20-ish-year-old college students in your late 30s probably doesn’t enter into it.”

Celia: “Neither does loving your daughter when she comes out of the coffin.”

GM: “Probably not. So what do you want to do next? I’d planned on going to Elysium and could keep an eye on Elyse there. Or I could say fuck it and stick around to protect you.”

Celia: “I’m starting to wonder if it’s just better to let her pick me up so we can have it out. Which is a terrible idea. But I’m not super interested in hiding out or having my shit destroyed.”

GM: “What do you hope will come of your message, and what do you want to do if you don’t get what you want?”

Celia: “I hope she accepts and calls in a favor from me and that’s the end of it. I’m concerned she’s going to want to know why seeing Diana like that set me off. And… I don’t know. I don’t want people coming after me. I’ve made it this long without any real enemies, and then to have someone that I used to call friend…” Celia blinks a few times. “My mom will never be safe if Elyse decides to come after her. We don’t generally take things like this laying down. You saw what happened to your brother when he didn’t retaliate.”

GM: “You do have enemies,” Roderick says quietly. “Just being Embraced by whoever we were buys us a host of them.”

“But I can agree it’s better not to make even more.”

Celia: “I don’t have anyone that’s coming after me, personally.”

“Unless you know something I don’t.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Might be she doesn’t care, but I’d plan for the worst. What are you going to tell her if she asks?”

“And yes, Micheal was a paper tiger. If you don’t stop the bully from taking your lunch money, he’ll just keep doing it.”

Celia: “I don’t know. Lie. That Diana is my ghoul. That the Flores girls are mine. That Celia is my pawn and she was stepping on my toes.”

GM: “Diana being your ghoul is true, but… I’d share that with as few people as possible.”

“Just us would probably be best, if you want to maximize her odds of a normal life.”

Celia: “Ah… Dani knows. And my other ghouls. I had to explain why they’d be around.”

GM: “Oh. That’s not ideal.”

Celia: “I’m aware.”

“I regretted it pretty much instantly. I was kind of just trying to minimize damage, and I thought maybe she’d come after one of them too, so I… yeah.”

“It was stupid. Could have done it without telling them what she is.”

GM: “How long ago did you break the news? We could still get someone to erase their memories.” He frowns. “Of course, that person would also know what they erased. That’s one of the disadvantages to not being able to do it ourselves.”


She even said it herself.

Celia: “Like an hour ago.”


She agrees. It was. She wasn’t thinking.

Or rather, she was thinking, and she was thinking of how to keep everyone alive and working together rather than preserving their secrets.

GM: “Well, there’s some licks I know who could do it, if you don’t also know any.”

“What would be ideal is a lick who already knows of the connection between you and your mother.”

Celia: “I know someone.”

GM: “Okay. Then it’s your call.”

“You said dinner was off, with my dad?”

Celia: “I was going to surprise you, bring you over tonight for dinner with your dad and Dani. My mom was going to cook. But because of the stuff with Elyse I had to call it off. Dani said your dad was mad at her about it.”

GM: “I’m not surprised. He gets very annoyed by people who don’t respect his time, and by extension, the work he does.”

Celia: “It’s not her fault, though. It’s mine.”

GM: “I presume he doesn’t know that, because he wouldn’t get angry at Dani unless he thought it was her fault.”

“But, okay, it’s done.”

“I still need to see her.”

Celia: “I know. I was trying to arrange that for tonight. Hence the dinner.”

“She really… really thinks he doesn’t like her, Roderick.”

GM: “‘Loves’ is usually the word we use with parents. But of course he loves her.”

Celia: “No. I mean like. She keeps saying that he wishes she were dead. That she’s not as good as you. That he’d trade you out in a heartbeat.”

GM: Roderick clears his throat unnecessarily.

“All right. You know what? She’s right. She is honestly probably right. Dad… probably would pick me over her.”

Celia: “Oh.”

GM: “We talked once about how parents have favorites. How your mom probably would pick you over any of her other kids. Except maybe Lucy.”

“Well, my dad has favorites too. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her. He loves her very much. It’s just… like everything, it comes in degrees.”

“On the other hand, I’m pretty sure our mom loves Dani more than me. I’m fine with that. I’ve made my peace with it. I love my dad more than my mom too, if I’m being honest. Probably by a way larger margin than my dad loves me over Dani. But we can’t let what’s going on in someone else’s head define us.”

Celia: “She hasn’t.”

GM: “Am I being an asshole?”

Celia: “For admitting that your dad loves you more than her? No. You’re being honest.”

“You can be an asshole, though.”

GM: “Okay. I can live with that too.” He gives a faint smile.

“I’d like to help Dani, obviously. But I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“Though, honestly, her self-esteem and family issues are somewhat less pressing right now than her being duskborn in a city that puts them to death.”

“I still need to see her tonight. When can you arrange that?”

Celia: “So you can get her out?”

GM: “And because I’d like to talk to the sister who’s thought I’m dead for years, yes.”

Celia: Celia winces.

GM: “I’ve waited, Celia. I’ve been patient.”

Celia: “I know. I’m sorry. Shit blew up in my Requiem. I’m not trying to put you off.”

GM: “I don’t think you are. But tonight.”

Celia: “After Elysium, then, I guess.”

GM: “Would you feel safer if I skipped it for you? I had some things to do there, but nothing that can’t wait until Friday.”

Celia: “More duels?” Celia wiggles her brows at him.

GM: “I’ll just say they’re a good way to burn off aggression and get kudos for it,” he smirks.

Celia: “Mm, plus it gets me all hot and bothered thinking about you fighting for me.” She smirks. “But if I do ask you to stay, am I pulling you away from anything exciting?”

GM: Less hot than him.

Celia: He’s cold.

Very cold.

It’s a different way to burn.

God, what she’d give to know he’d fight for her.

Didn’t he do that last night?

Doesn’t that count?

GM: He severed some fingers. It was a brief fight. But still, technically, a fight.

“Get into a fight with someone, then, and you can name me as your champion in a duel. Or I can challenge them for trash-talking you. Happy to defend your honor anytime.”

“But like I said. There’s nothing I’m not happy to postpone until next week if you’d feel safer.”

Celia: “You don’t trust me,” she says quietly, pushing the thoughts of him (and him) fighting against some giant monster to come to her rescue from her mind.

GM: “What?” he frowns. “Why do you say that? Of course I trust you.”

“I’ve trusted you for nights with my newly-Embraced duskborn sister.”

Celia: “You didn’t have much of a choice,” Celia points out. “I already knew about her. I’m the one who told you about her. I’m the one willing to watch over her and make sure she’s fed and safe and call in favors for her.”

She forces the air from her lungs in a long exhale that’s almost a sigh.

“I know who you were, Roderick. But I don’t know who you are. It’s been years and I feel like you’re a stranger. I love you, but I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know how you spend your time or who your friends are or what you even do for work. I ask and you play coy about it, and I just… want to share things with you. I’m over here blabbing about… about everything, and when you don’t share it… it feels like you don’t trust me, like I’m just another lick to you, and that hurts. I want you to be with me. Not to half be with me.”

GM: “I do trust you,” he answers in a half-defensive and half-hurt voice. “I’ve told you stuff that would get me in an insane amount of trouble with Coco, with all of the primogen. I could find Dani, if I wanted to. But I trust you to look after her, I trusted you to be maybe the first vampire she ever met, to basically be her sire, despite how much I’ve wanted to see her! Do you have any idea how badly I have? To see she’s okay with my own eyes, to finally drop the lie that I’m dead, to actually talk to someone who cared about me when I was Stephen? That’s how much I trust you!”

“I brought you back to my haven. I killed someone for you, when I swore I’d never do that! I actually made a promise. I’d ask if you knew that, but of course you don’t. I didn’t tell anyone except Coco, because they’d laugh at me. But the first time I saw a lick leave a dead body, the first time I really understood this is what we were, I went to my grandfather’s grave and I swore before it that I would never kill. That I would continue to abide by the law, and subordinate my Beast to the institution that my family so cherishes, that we’ve spent our lives in the service of. Killing was my line in the sand, and I broke it, for you. I cut apart corpses and dumped them off the side of a boat like a mobster. I let you see how I feel about that. I let you see how much I hated being celebrated for it at Elysium. I’ve told you about my fights with my sire, I’ve told you about the things she’s done, I’ve told you how I don’t trust her with Dani. All of this, despite you working for an elder who’s only one step better than a mobster. That’s how much I trust you.”

His voice is a little stiff. “I’m sorry if you don’t feel like I share anything important with you.”

Celia: It would be easy for her to play the victim here. Easy to dig into something deeper than where he’s gone, to accuse him of deflecting, to cry into his shoulder that he thinks she’s stupid, that he’d even said as much the other night. That Dani isn’t the only one who had cared about him as Stephen.

That maybe he should have left her for the hunters if he feels so bad about it because at least then she wouldn’t fuck up everything in the rest of her Requiem.

But she’s tired of that mask, and it’s never been that effective with him anyway.

Her arms go around him at his words. She hugs him fiercely, putting every single bit of her that has ever loved him into it. She’s here, it says. She’s got him.

She never wanted this life for him. She’d thought that he’d be safe from it if she kept him away.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last, words muffled by the way she tucks her face against him. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m… exhausted. Overwhelmed. I wanted to bring you in to see them both and give you something to be happy about after all this shit and then everything got ruined. I hate disappointing you.”

GM: Celia closes her eyes and sees her sire’s face.

He doesn’t make her deal with all of this bullshit.

He fixes her problems, not causes them.

He doesn’t imply she’s stupid.

He isn’t afraid to kill when he has to.

He doesn’t need her to wear any masks or tell any lies.

He’s not in love with the memory of a girl who’s been dead for seven years.

Roderick sighs and holds her close against him, running one hand through her hair.

“It’s okay. I never had any expectation I was going to see my dad again, Celia.”

“The whole thing probably would’ve been bittersweet anyway. ’d have still been dead in his eyes.”

“And I can get how it doesn’t feel like we’ve talked about a lot of normal stuff, either. Interests, friends, mundane jobs.”

“Because honestly, we haven’t. Too many crises going on.”

Celia: Well. That’s not entirely true.

He’d called her stupid the night he’d thrown her mom off the roof.

And foolish last night.

But he’d corrected her behavior and course corrected so that it never happens again, so she forgives him.

She’ll always forgive him.

“I still thought you might have enjoyed it. Wanted to do something nice for you.” Doesn’t matter, though, since it all blew up in her face following one bad interaction. There’s a bitter taste in her mouth.

“And… yeah. Exactly. I’d, like, love to have one normal night where fifteen things don’t demand my attention and we can just go out and be normal.”

GM: “You’re right, I would’ve. But we can still reschedule dinner.”

Celia: “Is it weird with my mom being a ghoul now? He’ll be the only one not in the know.”

GM: “Emily and Lucy don’t count?” he asks with some amusement, but then it dies. “I hope you aren’t ghouling them too.”

Celia: “God, no.”

GM: “Especially Lucy, I don’t need to say what that’d do.”

Celia: “That’s… a really gross thought. I’d never do that to her.”

GM: “It is, yeah. But some licks actually do it.”

Celia: Flannagan does it.

GM: “Chastain’s herald used to look even younger than she does now.”

Celia: “Mm, I know.” She’s supposed to help fix that.

GM: “She was supposed to be only six or so. That’s just so fucked up.”

He shakes his head. “But whatever. Dinner with us, our parents, Dani, and two normals is still a nearly 1:1 ratio of breathers to night-folk.”

Celia: “The good news, y’know, is that when your dad isn’t there and it’s just my mom and I or my mom and us we don’t have to force down food anymore. Silver linings.”

GM: “Ah. Actually… don’t tell anyone this, but it doesn’t taste that bad for me.”

Celia: “Oh. Well. I’m jealous.”

GM: “I still have to throw it up. I can’t actually digest it. Which kind of takes away from the experience.”

Celia: “But it’s not a complete waste.”

GM: “Speaking of, I suppose your mom knows to stop cooking for you now, at least.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “That’s something. It had to have made dinners pretty annoying.”

Celia: “I’ve been on so many ‘fad diets’ over the years and she still managed to guilt me into it. Emily tore into me the other night about it.”

GM: “Your bad luck to have a doctor in the family. Though I actually don’t think they learn very much about nutrition in med school.”

Celia: “It’s like two classes, but yeah. She thinks she pretty much knows everything about the body because she’s almost done with school.”

As if she’s ever really torn into one to see what it’s all about.

GM: “I’d doubt that, honestly. I was only able to appreciate just how much I didn’t know about the law when I finished law school. Medicine is just as vast a field.”

“Anyway, though. I can plan a date for us, once things are settled. Something fun and normal-feeling to celebrate getting back together.”

Celia: “I’d like that.”

GM: “Me too. Tonight, I’m ready to see my sister.”

Celia: “After Elysium.”

GM: “Okay, you can text me where and when.” His voice gets abruptly bitter. “How’d Savoy take my boon?”

Celia: “Oh. Do you not want me to smuggle you in? I thought we’d meet here and I could take you.”

GM: “I’m paying to walk in, aren’t I?”

“Though I suppose hiding that I’m here is still a good idea.”

Celia: “That’s what I meant. Not from him. From… your side. And everyone else.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t look happy.


He sighs. “Anyway. You still want me to keep an eye on Benson for you at Elysium?”

Celia: “I was going to ask if you’d give her something for me, but then I thought about them coming after you instead.” Celia sighs. “I hate this.”

GM: “Me too. Maybe find another go-between. She’s in the Invictus. You tight with any of them?”

Celia: No one she’s going to mention to Roderick.

GM: “Or any Malkavians.”

Celia: “Preston and I braid each other’s hair on the regular.”

GM: “Color me surprised. I think I’ve only ever seen her with the same ponytail.”

Celia: “…I was kidding.”

GM: “I was too. I couldn’t ever see her doing that. It’d mean removing the stick from her ass.”

Celia: “Oh, no, she cemented it up there.”

GM: “We actually probably could do that,” he says with a faint chuckle. “Anyway. We both have a lot to do. Text me if you need anything, all right, or if there’s any news with Benson? I don’t want you or any of your people getting hurt in a feud with her.”

Celia: “Oh.” Celia checks the time. “I thought we could kill another twenty minutes together against that wall over there.” She nods toward the spot in question.

GM: He gives another faint laugh. “You’re insatiable.”

But then his hands are over her body, appreciatively roaming her curves and squeezing her breasts as his lips meet hers.

Celia: Insatiable or treacherous. But this, at least, she knows how to do.

How do you fuck up fucking, right?

It’s not the same as kissing her sire. Roderick is too warm, too soft, too… not what she wants. Not what she really wants. But he’s what she has, and she’s always been so good at pretending; her clothes come off and spill to the floor in a pool of fabric, then her hands are at his shirt, fingers making quick work of the buttons that keep him contained, sliding the material down his arms to reveal the broad shoulders and flat chest.

She can’t help but wonder what he looks like without clothes on. She’s only ever seen his bare arms. More muscular than this, she remembers that much.

She distracts herself with his belt, then the buttons on his pants, and finally she’s sliding down onto her knees in front of him to take him into her mouth.

GM: He’s definitely buffer than he was alive. Say what Celia may about Coco, the elder Brujah made sure her childe entered the Requiem in peak condition.

“Already owe you one…” he smiles, but he doesn’t stop her as he sinks back onto the couch.

Celia: She prefers not to think about Coco when she has Roderick laid out in front of her. Or ever, really. She might have been able to like the bitch if he’d ever shut the fuck up about her. Now that the collar has snapped, though, she feels nothing but contempt.

She’s not half as obsessed with her sire as Roderick is.

Celia has done this for him enough times that it doesn’t take long to get him where she wants him, and soon enough he stiffens under hand and mouth. It’s not quite the same as normal; or at least, everything until the end is just the same as he likes it, and only when she hears that intake of breath—he doesn’t need to breathe but they both get like this when they fuck—she finally brings her fangs to bear. They sink into his flesh, a quick nip that lets her bring his blood into her mouth. She isn’t concerned about protection anymore, but she hesitates just long enough to make him think she might be before she swallows it.

GM: It’s a comforting thought that she isn’t.

Roderick gives a sharper intake of breath as her fangs piece his manhood, but soon enough a velvety bliss superior to any cum floods Celia’s mouth. Rod say something about “taking way longer than 20 minutes if we need to shower off…” but appears all-too aroused by the thought of his lover swallowing something out of his cock, still. She’d wanted to spit it out the first time she pleased him with her mouth.

Roderick kisses her vitae-stained lips when she’s finished, then lifts her up onto the couch, hands gripping her under her elbows like she’s nothing, then busies his head between her legs. He alternates between licking, inserting fingers, nipping her pubic mound, and more licking there after the blood has time to cool. For all that Celia might prefer her sire to please her there, 20 minutes still pass all-too quickly. Roderick carefully gets her clean and sneaks in a few extra minutes enjoying that.

Celia: She gives him the chance to do it on his own. To slip up when he bites, to drink before it has a chance to cool. But whatever he does with his fingers and tongue isn’t nearly as toe-curling as it had been prior when they hadn’t needed to worry about the bond, and while she gets there—he always makes sure she gets there—it isn’t what she really wants. So in the shower she takes him again, bringing him into her body with her legs around his waist and her back pressed against the tile.

The way the shadow could have taken her if it hadn’t been busy tearing her throat and belly open. Maybe she’ll give him a second chance to get it right now that she knows what sort of kinky shit he’s into.

And while he’s buried in her, while he thrusts hard enough to make her forget her own name, she traces the points of her fangs against his skin and then finally into him, using the sensual bliss it creates to mask the way she leaks the blood from down below the way Veronica had taught her to covertly bind someone.

GM: Roderick initially protests the shower, saying the whole point of not doing too much “blood sex” was to keep clean-up simple, but he folds quickly and soon his cock is buried to the hilt inside her as the glass fogs. They both love this position. Roderck tells her to put her arms around him too, and wraps his around hers, holding her aloft and half-pressed against the tile as he pumps back and forth. Maybe he’s not Donovan, but he’s so strong, and she’s so light in his arms with her extraneous organs removed. He doesn’t notice the way her presence settles over him like a blanketing haze. He doesn’t notice the way he breathes her in through very his pores. He’s so close to her. So enraptured by her. So turned on by her. If only he knew how Veronica taught her that connection is a backdoor in. How there’s no need to shove your blood down someone’s throat if they’re hot enough for you. Everyone says Toreador are such vapid sluts, but let them laugh, Veronica had sneered. Emotions are their own pathways, she’d explained, their own veins and capillaries. The blood drains from Celia’s veins and her lover doesn’t even see it pass invisibly into this. Doesn’t see how her Beast purrs in satisfaction and doesn’t punish her for what she’s done. It likes this. It approves.

It’s what her sire would have done.

It’s what Veronica would have done. (And almost certainly has done, many times.)

It’s what so many licks she knows would have done.

Except Roderick.

Even beaming down at her, his eyes shining with affection brighter than ever before.

She’s pretty sure this is something he’d never have done.

“I really love you…” he whispers, pressing his lips to hers.

Celia: The words break her heart.

What she has done breaks her heart.

She shouldn’t have needed to do this. They’d had a special night planned, for when they took the second drink from each other without protection, and now that second drink will be tonight while he is unawares; she’ll never tell him what she’s done, how she’s slipped the noose around his neck without him knowing, but she’ll know that she allowed politics to ruin what should have been a special, intimate moment between them.

She shouldn’t need to trick him into loving her. She just wants him to love her without it. She wants someone, anyone, to love her for her.

He had. Before. When he hadn’t been bonded to her, when they were human, when they had rekindled their relationship only nights ago, he’d loved her for her.

He wouldn’t love her if he knew the truth, and her heart breaks for it. The water washes away the bloody tears on her cheeks, so easy to explain as overwhelming happiness at his declaration. She kisses him soundly, moving with him, losing herself to the rapture of their intertwined bodies to ignore the cracking of her heart.

“I love you too,” she whispers back.

She tastes the lie on her tongue.


Celia V, Chapter I
Shattered Lies

“I want us to stay a family, okay?”
Diana Flores

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

GM: The Beetle drives for a while. Lucy stops talking, perhaps having fallen asleep. Eventually, it pulls over.

“Oh, silly me, I don’t know where Randy lives,” laughs Diana. “I’ll text him now.”

She taps away into her phone.

When the ghoul doesn’t respond, they have to resort to ‘guesswork.’

“Lucy’s asleep,” Diana whispers as the car starts driving again. “I’m going to list off streets, give me one quiet mew to keep going, or two if that’s the one, okay?”

Celia: A tired meow sounds from the bag.

GM: “Okay, Esplanade… Baracks… Gov. Nichols… Ursuline…”

It takes some mewing, and some streets, until they narrow down which one Randy’s at, and then finally his address. Diana parks the car when the text arrives back from Randy.

“Oh, good, he knows we’re here, he can let us in…”

There’s movement. That cat feels itself being lifted into the air again as Diana shoulders the backpack. It’s even hotter inside now, like the car’s had its doors and windows shut for another few hours.

“Okay, Luce, let’s get on your shoes…” Diana says, bending to help the girl into them.

The trio walk towards the house, luggage rolling along with them. There’s more sounds, a door opening, and a, “Hey, Randy!” “Hey, Diana,” followed by what feels like a hug.

“Thanks for having us over on such notice.”

“Oh, well, whatever Celia wants. And hey to you too, Goose.”

“Hi, Randy,” Lucy says tiredly.

They make small talk until they make their way up to the house Randy and his brothers share. Celia helped them buy it. Rusty prefers to stay elsewhere, but they can all use the property when they need to.

“It’s, uh, a bit of a mess…”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s typical for young men,” Diana chuckles. “Can you look after Lucy for a bit? I need to unpack something.”

“Sure. You wanna watch TV a bit, Lucy?”

“This place is stinky,” says Lucy.

Celia: Inside the bag, the cat has to press its face into its paw to prevent a sound that might be a laugh.

Maybe Celia will keep Mabel on as a maid.

GM: “Oh, Luce, that’s…” Diana starts to gently chide.

“She’s, uh, right,” says Randy. “Sorry. It’s a bachelor pad.”

“What’s a bachelor pad?” asks Lucy.

“It’s where guys who aren’t married live,” answers Randy.

“Are you an’ Mommy gonna get married?” asks Lucy.

“Uh, don’t think your mom wants to marry me, kiddo,” chuckles Randy.

“I mean, Mommy Celia, duh. Are you an’ Mommy gonna get married?”

There’s a slightly too long and all-too uncomfortable pause at the child’s question.

“We’ll see,” Randy deflects. “So, you wanna watch some cartoons with me?”


“Great. What’s your favorite channel?”

“Nothing with any violence, please,” requests Diana. Maybe she tussles Lucy’s hair here. “Okay, I’ll see y’all in a bit…”

There’s more movement, then a pause. “Okay, there’s a window here…” murmurs Diana, then more movement.

“Okay, safe.”

She turns, closes a door, and then there’s the click of a lock. The cat feels itself get set down on on a hard, tub-like surface, and then the backpack unzips.

“Hey, kitty-coo,” a kneeling Diana says with a faint smile, reaching to scratch the cat’s ears.

Celia: The cat crawls out of the bag once it’s unzipped, moving to dart away from the woman who reaches for it. Her fingers still catch the tufts of her ears, and the cat flicks its tail at her as it passes. Any other day, she thinks, she’d curl up on this lap and snooze. But not today. She’s injured, she’s hungry, she’s tired. She doesn’t want to risk anything.

Her form blurs and shifts and a second later the cat is gone, Celia in its place. Her eyelids don’t droop so much as hang over her eyes, and she wears the same wet clothing she’d vanished when she’d changed forms. She gives her mother a tired smile.

“Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry about today.” Her words come slowly, slurred. “M’tired. Need sleep. R’mind Randy. Cuffs. ’Kay? Tell him, hungry.”

There’s a cabinet under the sink she can shove herself in, she thinks.

GM: The bathroom, fortunately, has no windows. Less fortunately, it’s filthy. There’s hairs, stains, and crud everywhere, and a rime of something orange in the tub. Randy does not seem to practice very much bathroom hygiene.

Celia: Oh well. One day can’t kill what’s already dead.

GM: “It’s no problem, sweetie,” her mom says, a little lamely.

It’s obviously been a problem.

“Okay, cuffs, got it. I’ll tell him you’re hungry, too.”

“Do you need… blood?”

“If… you’re really hungry… if that’s how you eat… I could…”

She opens her mouth as if to say something, can’t seem to decide what, and then just motions at her neck.

Celia: Her lips lift at the corners, wry amusement clear on her face.

She almost says no.

She should say no. She can’t feed from her mother like that. But she’s hungry. And she needs to heal herself. And if she wakes up hungry and loses it again…

“Hangry,” she says to her mom, “y’know the term? Lose control. Like a… monster.”

It’s too far into the day to explain it all, but she tries. If her mom wants to feed her she’s not going to say no; Lord knows the woman would develop a complex about it if she did. Why isn’t my blood good enough for my baby? It’s like something out of a vampire soap opera.

The thought makes her giggle. Maybe she and Ron will make that some day.

She tells her mom if she’s serious, if she does want to help, to get Randy to contain her, then she can get a cup and fill it. Her and Randy and Reggie if he’s awake, just a little bit from each of them, and they can’t bring it into the bathroom or even bleed themselves until she’s been securely contained. Cuffs. Maybe one of them pinning her down; Reggie always liked being on top (not that she shares this with her mom).

She says, too, that she can explain the details of it when she wakes up tonight to forestall any questions.

GM: “Okay,” her mom nods at the explanation, though she doesn’t know the term ‘hangry.’ “If that’s what you need, sweetie, I am here for you. I don’t want you to go hungry.”

“I’ll go to tell Randy to get things ready… I’ll go watch Lucy, then I’ll… get things ready too.”

Celia: “Thanks, Mom. I know it’s… weird.”

GM: “Well, it’s…”

Her mother starts as if to assure her otherwise, then just offers with a hapless smile,

“…it’s what it is, I guess.”

Celia: It shouldn’t hurt, the thought that her mother might not accept her. But it does. Celia forces a smile and tries not to think about the fact that it’s too late to do anything about it now.

GM: “I’ll get you some blankies and pillows too, and some PJs… this is not a good place for you to sleep,” she says, eyeing the dirty bathtub critically.

“Okay, hang tight,” she says, rising. “I’ll be back in just a bit.”

Celia: One night she’ll explain that she’s technically dead during the day and won’t even feel it. She’s just too tired to do it right now.

She settles down to wait.

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

GM: Celia’s mom walks out and closes the door behind her. Randy comes in after a moment with some handcuffs.

“Sorry it’s… dirty,” he apologizes lamely, taking one of Celia’s wrists and snapping the cuff around.

Celia: “Hey, Randy,” she says to him, voice soft. She holds out her hands so he can easily affix her with the restraints. “S’okay. Won’t even notice in a minute.”

GM: “Well, sorry anyway. Woulda cleaned it up if I knew you were gonna be spending the day here,” he says, snapping the other cuff around one of the bathtub’s faucets.

He gets out a second pair and snaps the first cuff around her other wrist.

Celia: Holding still for him now, watching him pull out the cuffs to keep her from losing her shit and ripping out someone’s throat, listening to him apologize for the state of his bathroom, as if she cares, as if any of it matters compared to the rest of what’s going on… if she had a heart left it might break. He sounds like her when she deals with her sire, apologizing for the fact that a Brujah had torn through her apartment, self-conscious about what he thinks about the state of her haven.

Is that how they all see her? Like she’s going to flip her shit over some muck in the bathroom? She appreciates cleanliness as much as the next non-Nosferatu, but she’s hardly offended or pissed off that his bathroom isn’t spotless.

“We should go out this week. Dancing. Racing. Something fun.”

GM: The second cuff goes around the bathroom’s other faucet.

“Yeah, that’d be fun,” smiles Randy. “I’ve taken you racing a bunch before, but not really clubbing. There’s a ton of clubs here in the Quarter. I mean, you know that, but there are.”

He produces a third pair and snaps its first cuff around an ankle.

Celia: “We’ll make it a wild night,” Celia agrees. There’s a pause, then, “take care of them, okay? All of them. Your brothers. ’Lana. Dani. My mom and Goose. I… I messed up last night, Randy, so just keep ’em safe.”

GM: “You bet, babe. They’re safe with me,” Randy nods, emphatically.

“Kay, this might be a bit uncomfy… I could tie your legs to the railing, or just cuff your ankles together.”

“Also, uh… someone fucked up your face, babe… lemme know who, I’ll beat the shit out of them for you?” he offers with a grin.

Celia: Celia smiles at the offer to beat someone up for her. She’s touched by it, though she doesn’t think Randy would fare very well against the person who did this to her.

“You’re a gem, Randy. Ankles together; Mom will have a cow if she sees me splayed open.”

“Gonna have you show me how to throw a better punch so this doesn’t happen.” She wiggles her fingers at her face, though cuffed as they are off to the side the effect is rather lost. Not that she thinks any number of lessons will ever keep her face intact if her sire wants to ruin it.

GM: “You bet,” Randy smiles again at the request. “You got good form. We just need to get in more practice. All it is.”

He cuffs her ankles together. Celia can still thrash and kick, but she can’t do it with separate legs.

“So, your mom knows…?”

Celia: “She, uh, she found out tonight. She’s in danger and I didn’t know how else to get her to listen to me. I… kind of panicked. I was going to give her blood so at least she’s not a breach, but I don’t… have any to spare right now. Tonight, later though.”

Until she figures something else out.

GM: “Oh,” says Randy. “Doesn’t that seem a little weird, your mom as a ghoul…?”

Celia: “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”

GM: “Well, it’s pretty…” He trails off.

“Am I still gonna be your boyfriend, if your family all knows…?”

Celia: “It’s not all my family. It’s just my mom. And… I don’t know. Do you want to be?”

GM: “Oh, yeah, I’d love to, babe!” he exclaims, eagerly. “I mean, I’d really… yeah. I’d love to be.”

He gives a wide, slightly buffoonish grin.

Celia: “Then we’ll figure it out and make it work.”

GM: He grins wider. “Great! We’ll make it work, babe.”

“We’ll, uh… we’ll have sex too, at some point?” he asks. Trying to sound casual.

Celia: If she weren’t burned, bleeding, and lying in a dirty tub she’d offer to fuck him now.

“Yes,” she says instead. “We’ll go out this week and have a real date. And sex.”

GM: “Oh, I… you’re the best, babe, just the best!” replies Randy, grinning from ear to ear.

“I’ll plan something, I’ll make it really really special.”

Celia: “I’d really like that.”

GM: “Me too! It’ll be great, you won’t forget it!” he exclaims, nodding eagerly.

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it.”

A nice human date is exactly the sort of thing she needs right now.

GM: Randy kisses her full on her bloody lips. He looks like he could stay there forever and only reluctantly takes his leave.

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

GM: A little while passes. Celia feels her head drooping as the sun rises over the sky. It’d be so easy to just konk on, until her mom comes through the door.

She isn’t carrying a cup. She’s carrying a milk jug.

Red sloshes around inside. She hasn’t completely filled it, but she’s obviously bled herself far more deeply than just a cup. Her face is pale and her movements are sluggish.

“Here you go, sweetie… I have it here, instead of a cup… harder to spill…”

She sinks to her knees by the tub.

“Wish I’d brought one of… Lucy’s old sippy cups… harder to spill, too…”

Celia: “Mom…” the word is torn from her, half a groan, exasperated but also… also hungry. Very hungry. Eyeing the feast provided.

“How much did you…?”

GM: “I’m gonna feed my baby…” Diana whispers, leaning heavily against the tub. Her eyes droop a little as she lifts up the jug.

“Open up… sweetie…”

Celia: Her mouth opens without further protest, the greedy thing inside of her eager to slurp down the offering.

GM: Celia smells it first, when her mom unscrews the jug. That telltale coppery odor. Her fangs are out before she even registers them. Her mom lifts the jug to her lips. The taste hits her tongue. Oh, that taste. Pietro always say it’s worth getting them in the mood.

He’s so right.

The taste is warm and soft and brimming with love, the secret ingredient all licks want their vessels to have but none of them do. It fills her up like her mom’s chicken soup on a cold winter night. It makes her warm and whole. It nourishes her like all of the meals Diana’s wanted to cook for her baby. It lifts her up and takes her away from this dirty bathroom and all the stress and exhaustion and fear of the past night. It rolls over her tongue, and she’s whole.

In an instant, her Beast is loose, and she sees red.

An instant later, the red haze is gone. Celia still thirsts, tortuously. It burns her up inside. Her mom’s lying on the ground with the milk jug. Some of it has spilled. Her Beast seethes at the very thought. That stupid fucking woman. An apt descriptor from her dad.

It takes Celia a moment longer to recognize that her mom’s face is white with fear.

Celia: She tasted something like this once before. The night she ended things with Roderick—Stephen then—she’d tasted his love and concern for her. But even that had paled in comparison to the fare that hits her tongue. Even that hadn’t come close to this, hadn’t begun to blossom across her tongue like this. Everything else she’s ever tasted, every morsel of it, every red drop—none of it comes close. No Alana’s lusts, not Roderick’s peppery Brujah strength, not Randy’s slavish devotion, not her sire’s ice cold control.

This is love.

This is what love tastes like.

This is what people search for all their lives and never find, and here she has it in a milk jug in a dirty bathroom being poured into her mouth by a woman who would do anything for her, who she would do anything for in turn.

Randy watches those shows sometimes, the cooking ones. They talk about the subtle nuance of flavor, how certain spices elevate and enhance dishes. Salt opens up whatever other flavors already exist. Cayenne adds heat but not a lot of flavor. Chili powder adds depth but no bite. She’s listened to them wax poetic about cleaning their palates between courses, about which vintage of wines pair well with what meats, about how a splash of citric acid can brighten up any dish.

She’d never really understood what they meant. She doesn’t eat food anymore; it all tastes like shit to her.

But this.

Oh, this.

This is heady. This is intoxicating. This is divine.

This is every luscious bite of ice cream she has ever had. This is every reverse seared medium rare steak with a dash of salt and pepper. This is the perfectly balanced chocolate cake with chocolate fudge filling and whipped chocolate frosting and none of it is too sweet, too bitter, or too much.

This is what it’s all about.

Celia drinks.

She drinks and drinks and drinks, and her Beast comes roaring to the surface so it, too, can drink down the delicious fare presented to it on a silver platter.

Beast and girl swallow the love.

But it’s a greedy thing. It wants more. It always wants more. Its claws come out and it thrashes, snarls, wrenches at the bonds that hold it to get to the source. Because this is second-hand love, and that bitch has more in her veins she knows it, she knows it, she knows—

Celia wrests back control of her Beast to view the scene before her. Spilled. She’d spilled it. That’s her dinner and she had spilled it, that stupid fucking bitch.

Just as quickly as they come the thoughts dissolve. The sight of her mother’s pale face—fright and blood loss—are enough to still her thoughts. Horror washes over her. She retracts her claws and fangs and licks her lips, worry in her eyes.


GM: She’s pressed flat against the bathroom wall as her chest anxiously heaves up and down.

“S… sweetie…?” she gets out in a whimper.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia whispers, “Mom, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t want you to see that, that’s why the cuffs—”

But also can she get the rest of that blood…?

GM: It’s there.

In the jug. Celia can tell there’s more. She can smell how much there still is.

Diana curls up against herself and makes a whimpering noise.

Truly, terrified creatures like her are what the word ‘kine’ refers to.

Celia: Celia reaches out with the gifts of her clan to take the fear from her mother. She whispers calm, soothing words to her mom, things that the woman has said to her many times over in their years: it’s okay, it’s all okay, everything is okay.

GM: Her mother’s terrified features slowly calm.

“Oh… you must still be hungry, sweetie… sorry about that…”

She picks up the jug and brings it once more to Celia’s lips.

It’s getting cooler. It’s losing taste, like all blood does when it’s not straight from the vein. Chicken soup left on the counter to cool for too long. But she can still taste the flavor. Taste the secret sauce all other Kindred want their vessels to have and never do. You can’t fake this. You can’t fake some things. You just can’t. It’s like melted butter with the fat, warm and luscious and rich, and it’s just for her. She could let that liquid love fill her mouth forever. Celia can taste it, how this woman has no loved ones in her life besides her children, and how Celia has always been her favorite one (except perhaps for Lucy). This blood is just for her. Everything this kine woman does is for her. She can taste her mother’s submissiveness and desire to please and provide.

To provide. To feed. To feed her baby.

She always said how much she wanted to do that. Celia just took seven years to specify her real diet.

Celia: It’s love.

That’s what it is.

Like when she’d fallen from the sky after being pulled out of bed and had seen to her daughter first.

Like when Donovan had taken the time to teach her a lesson this evening despite the fact that his time is worth so much more than hers.

Is this what she would taste like to him?

She tries not to think about it.

And as soon as the red stuff touches her tongue again it’s gone from her mind, and she opens her mouth wide to let it in, to swallow it down, and she tries to keep her Beast contained, mentally prodding it and telling it that if it rebels there will be more spilled, so play nice.

GM: Her mother holds the jug to her lips until finally, inevitably, but no less tortuously, it runs empty.

The jug hits the tub with a plastic clatter as her mom slumps against the tub’s rim.

“Was that enough… baby…?”

Celia: It’s gone too soon, but the hunger finally recedes.

“Mom,” Celia whispers urgently. She can’t even reach her, arms bound as they are. “Mom, are you okay? How much of that was yours? You can’t give that much, Mom.”

GM: With her head slumped forward as it is, Diana’s eyes only meet her daughter’s chest, and she looks like she’s having trouble keeping them open anyway. Celia also notices a hastily bandaged and very deep-looking cut down her forearm. The smell of blood from it is unmistakable.

“All of it… baby… was it… enough…?”

“Do you need… more…?”

Celia: Goddamnit.

“Mom.” Celia grits her teeth. “You can’t lose that much.”

GM: “I can… give you… more… if you need it…” she blearily repeats, closing her eyes.

Then she slumps off the tub and onto the floor.


Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

GM: Celia’s ghoul comes running after the shout. “Yeah, babe—oh,” he says, looking down at her mom.


There’s pause. Randy’s voice is quiet.

“Is she, uh… dead?”

Celia: “Let me up, she needs blood.”

“Let me up. Now.”

GM: “O-okay, babe,” he says, unlocking her cuffs.

“I, uh, didn’t think she’d donate that much.”

“Mine wouldn’t have.”

Celia: Celia is out of the tub in an instant.

“You were supposed to share the bloodletting,” is all Celia says. She doesn’t sound like she’s blaming him.

Fangs flash. She bites into her wrist, then presses the wound to her mother’s lips.

GM: Her mom’s eyes flare open as the blood flows, then dreamily half-close. She clutches the wrist with newfound strength and sucks, rapturously, from her daughter’s wrist. Her breathing gets heavier amidst savored exclamations of, “Mmm… mmm…”

Being ghouled on a dirty bathroom floor at least beats waking up from the Embrace in a dumpster.

Celia: It’s still not what she wanted for the woman.

But she waits for the color to appear in her cheeks.

And only then does she pull away.

GM: Payton said people rarely get the things they wish for.

Color slowly fills out Diana’s once-pale cheeks as she reflexively burns through the vitae in her system. Burns through it all. Celia can’t smell any left, and Diana still looks a bit pale, but she’s raised herself off the floor.

“Oh… oh… Celia, what was…?” her mother whispers reverentially.

Her eyes are fixed to her daughter’s wrist.

She licks her lips, searching for any last trace of the miracle draught, and gives a little shudder.

“Can I have some more…?”

“We still need a little in our systems, to keep the powers…” Randy adds, wholly unnecessarily.

Diana might not technically be a ghoul, with all of the vitae formerly in her system burned through.

But the same hunger in Randy’s and Alana’s eyes peers out from hers.

Celia: “She needed to not die,” Celia says to Randy, “not be suped up on blood.”

“It’s a drug, Mom.”

GM: “Can I have a little more, sweetie, please? My leg feels… oh, I don’t feel ANY pain!” she exclaims.

Celia: “That’s not possible,” Celia says flatly. “Your leg isn’t fixed. That’s not how it works. The injury is years old.”

GM: “Oh, but it feels so much better still! It’s been really bothering me, today, and now it isn’t!”

Celia: Celia shoots a look at Randy. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel safe in this house. Suddenly, she’s worried about not waking up tomorrow because they’ve decided to drain her in her sleep.

GM: “You want to go to sleep in my bed, babe?” he asks. “We could cover you in lots of blankets, make a vampire burrito.” He chuckles at the joke.

Celia: “Mom, can you excuse us please?”

GM: “Ah, of course, sweetie. I should go sit with Lucy… she shouldn’t be left alone.”

She looks at her daughter’s wrist for a moment longer, then gets up and exits the room.

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

Celia: “Keep her away from me today,” Celia says to Randy. “Don’t let her out of your sight.”

GM: “Huh?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Keep. Her. Away. From. Me.”

GM: “Uh, why, babe? Your mom, isn’t she?”

“I mean, I will if you want. Just, why?”

Celia: “Because I’m not interested in waking up to find out that she has gorged herself to death.”

GM: “Oh. She wouldn’t do that, I don’t think. Your mom and all.”

Celia: “Addicts are addicts.”

GM: “I’m not an addict.”

Celia: “She might be.”

GM: “But say, uh, it’s been a little while since last time…”

He eyes her wrist.

Celia: It’s been less than a week.

GM: “I think it… burns up in me, you know?”

Celia: “Find me a vessel for this evening and I’m happy to share.”

GM: “Okay, babe. I will. Just… a little bit now would calm it down, help me focus, you know…”

Celia: “Don’t make me repeat myself. I said tonight. I have nothing else to share. I have wounds to heal. I had to pick her up off the ground. I’ve had the shit kicked out of me three times tonight. I have broken bones to fix. Where, exactly, do you want me to get any extra from?”

GM: Randy’s eyes look desperate as she turns him down. Desperate and hungry.

“Oh, well, there’s Lucy…”

“She can be pretty hyper, lot of energy at that age…”

Celia: “I’m not feeding on Lucy.”

GM: He trails off.

“Ah, right. It’s wrong, yeah. Kid and all.”

He has enough sense to look ashamed of himself.

“Can I just… can I just have a really little taste, babe, to help me focus…?”

Celia: Celia reaches for him. She takes a step backward so that her backside hits the sink counter, pulling him into her. She brushes her lips against his neck.

“Randy,” she murmurs against his skin. “You know I hate it when you beg. Alana begs. Don’t be like Alana.”

GM: Randy gives a breathy sigh. He looks unsure what to do with his hands, like she once was.

“Alana has tons of sex with you, though…” he half-protests.

Celia: “She does,” Celia agrees, “and you will soon, too. If we weren’t in a dirty bathroom I’d ask you to fuck me now, but I really wanted our first time to be special.”

GM: “Ah, right, babe. Really special,” Randy nods, though he looks as if he still finds a bathroom fuck sorely tempting.

Celia: He’d turned her down last time in the bathroom.

Didn’t find it so tempting then.

And she’d come onto him even harder.

She’d given him a handjob before they arrived, even.

Had rubbed up against him, like she does now.

Had asked him to fuck her, all they had to do was be quiet.

GM: He probably regrets it now.

Really regrets it.

“I’ll keep your mom away from you. I mean, I bet she’s not an addict. She’s a nice lady.”

“But if she tries, she won’t get past me. Babe’s safe with the Randmeister,” Randy says, pointing his thumbs at his chest.

Celia: Celia lifts her eyes to his face. It’s a big gap; he’s a tall man, and she’s a little lady. She’s always enjoyed the height difference, the broad spread of his shoulders, the flat stomach.

“The Randmeister,” Celia agrees, “will always keep me safe. You’ll protect me, I know.”

GM: “Beat away all the addict ghoul moms in the world,” he grins, then adds more darkly, “And whoever messed with you.”

Celia: “I know, baby. I know. I’ve got you here. I’m never afraid when I’m with you.” She presses a kiss against his neck, then the underside of his jaw. Her hands travel up his chest to the back of his head, pulling him down toward her so she can capture his lips.

For a long moment she’s content to kiss him. Then she moves her mouth to his cheek, his neck, and nips at his flesh. Her fangs drag against his skin. She bites.

She drinks.

And after a moment, enough to get a brief taste, she licks it closed. Her lips return to his, blood hot on her tongue. Not her blood, but blood all the same.

GM: It all comes back to red with their kind. Red is the foundation of their society. It is payment, barter, sustenance. It is love and life and family ties. Red is blood. It is what binds them together.

Randy savors that binding tie. He gasps under her kiss. Kisses her hungrily back. It’s not sex. The sex he so craves. But it’s something more vital, even if he doesn’t realize it.

It is the foundation of their society. It is what everything always comes back to.

Pick a door. Pick any door. It doesn’t matter. They all lead the same place in this funhouse of horrors.

Randy hungrily kisses and embraces his domitor as the sun shines overhead, and just like that, she blacks out in his arms.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

GM: Celia awakens in someone’s bed, cocooned in blankets. Randy’s? The room looks suspiciously clean, to be his. A dresser and bookcase have been moved in front of the windows, blocking off the sun.

Celia: The bookshelves make her think Rusty to be honest; he seems like the kind of guy who keeps books in his room.

It’s a better waking than she had expected. She’s pleased that they had moved her after all, despite her earlier words.

Celia sits up slowly, casting her eyes around the room to see if she’s alone.

GM: She appears to be.

Her phone is on the bedside table.

Celia: She reaches for it to check her messages.

GM: The first one’s from Emily.

Hey you still down to play WoS with me and Robby sometime?

Btw asked him to take me to his HEMA events. Would like to know how to stab someone properly if I have to do it again._

Celia: Would love to play. Also lol, me too.

We can learn together, seems fun

GM: Oh cool, I’ll let him know you wanna go too. He said I might be the only girl there.

Celia: Don’t let them know you have a vagina, they might hit on you.

GM: Yeah he said there’s a lot of sweaty geeks. But also older guys who’ve actually had sex and dgaf

Celia: No see that’s how they get you, act like they don’t care.

GM: Ohhh drat

I guess I could pull a Mulan

Celia: There you go

GM: He did say the crowd is better in some ways than with TTRPGs though. These aren’t sedentary geeks if they’re sweaty

Celia: Hot.

Get it?

GM: Ha. Yeah actually, he said it’s incredibly incredibly hot

Because of the weather

And working up a sweat in all that equipment

He said to bring a lot of water, the sun + humidity can be just murder

Celia: oh, when is it?

GM: 3 PM Sunday

I couldn’t go to the one today, I’ve put off enough school stuff

Celia: Oh, lame. I’ve been picking up Sundays for a few clients.

GM: oh. That’s too bad

Celia: Maybe we can 1v1

GM: ah but I’ll kick your ass after Robby gives me lessons

Celia: oh bb ;)

GM: kick your ass not spank it :p

Celia: loser gets spanked

Speaking of spankings… Celia flips through her phone to see if Roderick has contacted her.

GM: that feels like what the winner should get

loser gets theirs kicked, winner spanked

something happens to all involved asses

There’s a text from him too, much more recently than Emily’s first.

How’d things go?

Celia: Well, at least he’s alive. Ish.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: Celia doesn’t respond immediately; she doesn’t have an answer for him yet. She gets out of bed to find out what has been going on in the rest of the house.

GM: It looks a lot cleaner, first of all. It’s been vacuumed. There’s no longer random crap littering the floors. The old pizza boxes, beer cans, and assorted garbage is all gone. It smells like someone has sprayed a lot of air freshener in the air. It looks like someone’s wiped down a lot of the bleach-friendly surfaces. She finds Lucy and her mom in the newly-clean living room watching a Disney movie and eating ice cream, the girl on her mother’s lap. Both look half-asleep already.

Celia: Celia holds off on saying anything to her mother yet. She waves, then holds up a finger to indicate she needs a minute. She moves past the couch to find the boys, Alana, and Dani.

GM: Her mom notices her after a moment, smiles, then silently nods as the movie plays.

She finds Dani in the dining room where it’s quieter, also clean, and working on a laptop.

Celia: Thank God.

“Dani,” Celia greets her. “Thank you for coming over.”

GM: “Oh, Celia!” she exclaims, rising to hug the true-blood. “Yeah, no problem. It was really nice to meet your other… renfields.”

“And Lucy and your mom. She made a really nice dinner for everyone.”

“Well, except Alana.”

Celia: “Except Alana?” Celia asks as she returns the hug.

“Did she not eat or is she not here?”

GM: “Yeah. She wasn’t hungry, but I thought it was kinda rude not to at least sit down with us.”

Celia: “She’s… really, uh, into her body. She was overweight for a long time, pretty sure she’s nervous about getting back to that. What did your dad say about the change of date?”

GM: “Ah, I asked him to. And said I’d already asked you guys. He… kinda chewed me out, for ‘not honoring commitments.’”

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

“I’m sorry about that. It’s… there was an incident in Riverbend. Which is why everyone is here and I asked you to move and couldn’t meet with you last night.”

GM: “I think he’d been really looking forward to this, and he’s just so busy on weekdays. His job is pretty important, so.” Dani gives a hapless little shrug.

“Enough about my dad. What happened in Riverbend? I heard bits, just not what felt like everything.”

Celia: “Ask him if he can do tomorrow.”

GM: Dani almost winces at the request. “Uh, I can try. I think he might be pretty grumpy, though.”

Celia: “Ah. What did you hear?”

GM: “I heard that your mom’s a… renfield. So I told her I was a vampire.”

Celia: “Ah. How’d she take that? I hadn’t told her about you.”

GM: “She was surprised to see me, at first. And I think a little scared. I told her I was really new to this, and… what’d happened to me.”

“She hugged me and said a lot of really… really nice things.” Dani looks a little misty-eyed. “It felt good, to talk about it with more people.”

“She said she was really proud of you too, for helping me. And that she also missed Stephen.”

“She told me about that dinner you guys had together, where he tried so hard to help her. And how much he did, after she went to see his lawyer.”

“She said Stephen made a huge difference in all of your lives. That also felt really good to hear.”

Celia: “He did a lot for us. I don’t think that I would be the same person without him. And things would be much uglier for my mom. After my Embrace…” Celia trails off for a minute, lost in thought. “After everything happened, I couldn’t be there for them. But he was. He continued to get things moving, made sure everyone was taken care of, even though he hadn’t heard from me. He didn’t deserve to be hurt like he was by me.”

Like he continues to be hurt by her.

“I have a friend who knew him. Someone like us. I’ve spoken to him about you and he’d like to meet you. Tonight, or maybe early tomorrow evening after dinner.”

“Things kind of fell off the rails for me last night,” Celia admits after another brief pause, “so I’m trying to figure out how to juggle everything. I’m pretty close with someone who can assist with getting you into school unseen, so at some point tonight I’ll have you two meet up to get that in order. You can’t linger after dark. And you can’t feed there at all. Ever. I also spoke to the guy who runs the Quarter on your behalf, and he said he’d be happy to find you employment at a court here so that you don’t need to risk Mid-City.”

“Happy” isn’t exactly what she’d call Savoy and Preston when she brought it up, and it’s the immigration court rather than the Supreme Court (which would have given Dani and Roderick nothing to complain about as it would have been a step up), but it’s something at least.

GM: “Ah, I don’t know that my dad can do dinner tomorrow,” says Dani uncomfortably. “I can ask, but… he’s basically on duty 24/7, that’s just sort of the nature of his job.”

Celia: She’d been afraid that would be the response about moving dinner. She wonders how Savoy is going to take it. “Sorry we didn’t have dinner yet, I was busy trying to keep my family from splintering and Henry is a busy man.”

She should start charging the Maxen in her head rent.

Roderick will just have to deal with meeting Dani and then he can meet his dad. Reward for good behavior.

“Ask anyway, I guess. No harm in trying. I could charm him into accepting, I guess, but not over the phone. We could both go see him in person, if you think he’d be up for that.”

She’ll just have to dodge the fuck out of Harlequin’s friends in the meantime.

That’s not an impossible, suicidal mission or anything.

GM: “I think he might be pretty mad at me, honestly, if we didn’t have a reason this couldn’t just wait until he’s free,” says Dani. “I mean… do we?”

Celia: “Not one we can share with him. It’s fine.”

GM: “Okay. But, as far as that other stuff. I’d love to meet someone who knew Stephen, and who’s like us!”

“Are they another vampire, or a renfield?”

Celia: “Vampire.”

“My, uh, my boyfriend actually.”

GM: “Oh, congratulations! I’d love to meet him! He’s okay with duskborn?”

Celia: “He… sort of. He says he is. And he knew your brother, so he’s okay with you.”

“But he had a bad reaction when he found out. So, you remember what I told you about the clans?”

GM: “I think so. I actually explained a lot of that to your mom. Teaching is one of the best ways to make a lesson sink in, and all.”

“She thought it was silly anyone would hate me just because I can walk in the sun.”

Celia: “Kindred hate each other for all sorts of dumb reasons. I was mocked last night for having an online degree, as if being Embraced after finishing college was something the bitch who said it planned. People make fun of me for still being able to have sex. It’s… pretty dumb.”

Speaking of sex, though.

“So, uh, this boyfriend of mine. He’s a Brujah. Rage problems. He’s lost control on me a handful of times. You can’t kill us, not like that, but if you could avoid telling him we shared blood…”

“It’s kind of what passes for sex among our kind. We didn’t mean it like that, but I’d rather not be knocked around for a misunderstanding.”

GM: Dani frowns. “He should be able to understand that, if it’s not a big deal.”

“Also, he sounds like an abuser.”

Celia: “He’s… he can’t control it.”

GM: “That’s an excuse.”

“He can control his emotions. That’s part of being an adult.”

Celia: “I lost control last night. The Beast took over. I saw what they did to my mom and I lost it.”

GM: “What they did to your mom?” Dani frowns.

“But, okay, if someone hurt your mom, that’s okay to get mad over! It’s okay to be angry over injustice, that gives us fire and helps us make it right.”

“But it’s not okay to get mad at your girlfriend over something that isn’t actually a big deal. Much less hit her.”

Celia: “He’s done it a few times,” Celia says with sort of a helpless shrug. “But it’s… I just try not to set him off. He saw what happened to you and lost it.”

“But he didn’t get his hands on me that time, so it’s fine. I just don’t want to risk anything.”

GM: “Celia…” Dani holds her shoulders. “You’ve gotten into a relationship exactly like your dad.

“Do you hear what you’re saying, trying not to set him off, not take risks? He’s abusing you.”

Celia: “You’ll understand when you meet him.”

“He’s not like my dad. He’s a good person.”

GM: “Good people don’t hit their girlfriends. Or make them scared about setting them off.”

“He could be working on the cure to cancer and I’d still say that. I’d probably question, in fact, why he’s working on it if that’s how he acts in his private life.”

Celia: “He’s all I have left of your brother.”

GM: “He’s not my brother.”

“My brother would never hit you.”

Celia: Well…

GM: “Stephen wasn’t perfect. But he wasn’t an abuser. He loathed your dad for what he did to your family, and for getting away with it.”

“I’m pretty sure he’d see red if he knew this other guy was abusing you. He’d want you to break up and find someone who treated you better.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh is hollow. “Options are limited when you’re a lick.”

GM: “Well, they say no relationship is better than a bad relationship.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I don’t know if things will work out long-term anyway.”

GM: “I don’t really want to meet this guy, to be honest, unless you want to break up and want me there as support.”

“You deserve so much better than him.”

Celia: “It’s something for me to consider, anyway. But that’s a problem for another night. I have some things to fix tonight. The renfields are all here?”

GM: “Ah, maybe? They’ve been sort of in and out. I’ve mostly been here trying to study.”

Dani doesn’t look happy, but lets the matter drop.

“It’ll be okay for me to go back to my apartment if I’m going to school, right? My laptop, notes, and textbooks are all there.”

Celia: “Safer if you stay in the Quarter. We’ll get you a place here. But we’ll get your stuff.”

GM: “Oh. Rents can be pretty expensive here, I don’t make a lot.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I’ll help.”

GM: Dani looks relieved. “Okay. Thanks. Dad doesn’t pay for everything with me. Didn’t with Stephen, either.”

“Also, ah, about my job.”

“I know there’s two courts here in the Quarter, immigration and the Supreme Court, and I’m… not really Supreme Court material.”

Perhaps Celia wonders if Dani considered her brother ‘Supreme Court material.’

“I want to work for the DA’s office after I graduate. My clerkship at the criminal court is really useful there. Immigration law isn’t my area.”

“That’s really nice of your friend to get me another job, but I can’t really work in the Quarter. Could the person you know help me get to my job… unseen, too?”

“I’ll pay for it,” she adds quickly. “Owe them a ‘boon’ like you mentioned, whatever. I don’t have any problem not feeding there and leaving before dark, either.”

Celia: “The issue there isn’t that you smell like a vampire. It’s that you look like you. In Mid-City, they’ll be looking for Danielle Garrison. In Riverbend, they’re not.”

GM: “Sorry, looking for me?”

Celia: “My boyfriend thinks you’re better off in Houston or another city. He runs with people in Mid-City who might be looking for you and might try to take you out by force.”

“After you graduate, if you want to work for the DA’s office, we can get you a new identity. A lot of licks do it, and my friend can help there too. We just have to get you through school first.”

GM: “What? Why would someone want to… take me out?! Is it because of my family?”

Celia: “I meant take you out of the city by force.”

GM: “What?” Dani repeats. “Why would your boyfriend and his friends want to kidnap me?”

Celia: “He’d be doing it for Stephen, basically. Thinks that you’re less likely to run into trouble in another city with a different power structure. But I’ve seen how the duskborn live. It’s not pretty, even here. I’m doing everything I can for you so you don’t have to live like that.”

GM: “But… why does he even care about me? Why go to that much effort? I’m not his problem, right?”

Celia: “He’ll probably explain why when you meet him.”

GM: “I don’t want to meet someone who abuses you!”

Celia: “Loyalty to your brother. Guilt over the massacre. His sire was the one who set it up, and he’s the only one who would have made it out alive if the Anarchs hadn’t surrendered.”

GM: “Oh my god, Stephen is still making my life worse!”

Dani halts herself.

“Uh. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Celia: “We’ll just make it very clear that you aren’t interested in leaving. I don’t even know if he would kidnap you, he just… mentioned it. Which is why I had you come here today. That and other reasons.”

“I just want you to be safe, Dani. I know there’s a lot of… bullshit.”

Celia gives her a look almost as flat as one of Pete’s.

“You did mean it like that, and that’s okay.”

“He was always… golden child, wasn’t he?”

GM: “Yeah. He was,” Dani sighs.

“But I already told you. Dad loved him more. And wishes I was dead instead.”

Celia: Celia reaches for Dani, pulling her into a tight embrace.

“No, he doesn’t. He mourns your brother, but he doesn’t wish you were dead.”

GM: Dani sniffs and leans against Celia’s shoulder. “He doesn’t, he’d just… swap Stephen being dead for me in a heartbeat… and he’d be right.

“Stephen’s Supreme Court material. He could’ve clerked there.”

Celia: “He’s not right, Dani. He’s not. You’ve got so much to offer. Stephen was raised to be his little clone. You’re a different person and you’re going to forge your own path.”

GM: Dani sniffs again. “Like what? I’m still being a lawyer, just a worse one. Dad was so proud how… Stephen got his clerkship, all by himself. Dad had to call in a favor, told me it was nepotism, that my grades needed to rise above this…”

Celia: “Then why go into law? Is it really what you want to do, if it stresses you out so much, if you feel like you’ve already lost before you sat down to play the game? Pick something else. Do something else.”

“I didn’t follow my father’s footsteps into politics. My little brother, Logan, he feels like he’s in David’s shadow because he went into law to get into politics. He feels like he doesn’t measure up.”

“You can’t compare like that. I had to do my own thing. Maybe you do your own thing, too.”

GM: “But it is what I want to do! I want to bring the bad guys to justice, I want to carry on the family legacy, if it can’t be Stephen doing it. It’s just a simple fact I’m inferior to Stephen.” Dani dabs her eye as she breaks off the hug. “I shouldn’t be unloading onto you, I’ve made my peace with it. It’s just a fact, there’s nothing to do about it.”

Celia: “Dani,” Celia says gently, taking the girl’s hands in hers. “We’re friends, right? Friends can unload on each other.”

GM: Dani nods as she squeezes Celia’s back.

Celia: “When I met Emily in college she was a mess. She had the same sort of problems. And I pushed her through so that she could be happy. She’s about to realize her dreams of becoming a doctor.”

“Now it’s your turn. Whatever you want to do, we’ll get you there. We’ll make it happen.”

“And hey, you’re immortal now. If you want to be a lawyer now and a doctor in fifty years and a singer after that, you get to do it.”

GM: “That’s… that’s true.” Dani takes a breath. “I am a vampire, that’s the one thing I did, that he didn’t.”

“But right now it just seems like it causes more problems, I can’t lose that clerkship, I’ll be a worse ADA if I don’t complete it!”

Celia: “Once you finish school you’re going to have plenty of time to practice. I know some people in law and we can have you shadow a Kindred lawyer if you want. There are options. I know you can walk in the sun and you want to keep practicing, but it might not happen and it’s… it’s really dangerous, Dani, and if you’re dead because they came to get you…”

Celia trails off. Finally, she forces a sigh.

“Listen, why don’t you come with me tonight? I have some errands to run and I can bring you with me for some of them.”

GM: Dani nods. “Yes, please! Where I’ll meet other vampires?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I know how much you’ve said duskborn are discriminated against. Should I expect them to be pretty bad?”

Celia: Celia just nods.

GM: Dani looks grim, but nods back. “As long as you think we can handle it.”

Celia: “Finish what you’re working on. I need to talk to my mom and the boys. I’ll collect you before I leave.”

GM: “Okay. There’s only so much I can do on someone else’s laptop without my stuff, anyway.”

“But your mom told me I should spend my time on school if I don’t have anything else to do.”

Celia: “Sounds like Mom,” Celia says with a faint smile.

GM: “Well, she is a teacher,” Dani smiles back.

“It was really nice to have her here. The guys just… kept hitting on me.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“Yeah, that, uh… doesn’t surprise me.”

GM: “I’m just not interested right now,” Dani says, a little numbly.

Celia: “Just tell them to fuck off.”

GM: “I did.”

Celia: “Good.”

GM: “I just had to do it a million times.”

“Reggie kept saying I was playing hard to get.”

Celia: “Sometimes if you bare your fangs and snarl at them they get the message more clearly.”

GM: “I’ll try that, next time.”

Celia: “Just not to normal humans.”

GM: “Yeah. Just, ugh. Guys.”

Celia: Celia gives her a sympathetic smile and pat on the shoulder before moving off to find the guys in question.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

GM: Reggie is not home, but she finds Randy on his back in the exercise room lifting weights. He gives an exclaimed, “Babe!” and drops them with a crash when he sees her, then quickly sits up.

“We moved you to a real bed, you sleep all right?”

Celia: Celia finally sends a text back to Roderick as she moves through the house.

Not really. Shit hit the fan. Trying to figure it out.

Worry flits through her at Reggie’s absence. She thought she had told them to stay here for the day until they could debrief.

“I did. Thank you. Where are your brothers?”

GM: Roderick responds immediately.

Where are you and what can I bring to help?

“Oh. They, uh, said they had other stuff to do. But I wanted to be here when you woke up.”

Celia: God, she loves him. Even without the collar she loves him. Even in love with her sire there’s enough room in her heart for Roderick, too.

With Randy. I don’t know. Feels like drowning. Meet soon?

Her eyes move back to Randy.

“Ah. And Alana?”

GM: Just less room than her sire.

He wouldn’t just ask how to help. He’d fly right there, destroy whatever threatened her, and make sweet (or at least chill) love to his childe upon the ashes of the fallen.

Celia: That’s hot.

GM: Okay. Usual place in an hour?

“Oh, I think she also thought she had more important shit to do.”

Randy’s always been a terrible liar.

Celia: Yes.

“Randy.” Celia gives him another Pete-esque look.

GM: K. See you.

“Ah, she’s closing up at the spa and said she’d be here soon.”

Celia: “Get your brothers here. Now.”

GM: “Ah, they don’t really come running for me, babe, but I can try.”

Celia: “Tell them it’s for me.”

GM: “Kay, babe, I’ll try,” says Randy, firing off some texts.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: Celia closes out of the text with Roderick and dials Alana.

GM: The ghoul picks up on the first ring.

“Hello, Celia,” she says in a dreamy tone that sounds like she’s trying to say ‘mistress’ instead.

Celia: “Hello, darling. Can you come back to Randy’s, please? I need you.”

GM: Alana seems to glow at the words. “I’m already on my way, m-Celia. I’ll be there very soon.”

“They haven’t responded yet,” Randy adds helpfully.

Celia: Celia tells Alana that she will see her soon and ends the call, already worried about her.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: “Get me someone here who can deliver a message. One of those courier types,” she says to Randy.

She dials Reggie.

GM: He picks up.

“Hey, sexy.”

“Your mom and friend were hot, but it was still pork rinds next to fillet mignon.”

Celia: “Reggie, I woke up and you were gone.” Celia puts a pout into her voice. “Come back, please, I need to speak with you.”

She’s terribly amused by the comparison.

GM: “I’m at work… but work’s a lot less sexy than you are. Take back all the words between ‘need’ and ‘you,’ and I’m on my way.”

Celia: “I need you,” Celia purrs into the phone.

“Bring your brother.”

GM: “I’ll drag him there in a headlock if he says no.”

Reggie hangs up.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

Celia: Celia smiles at Randy, sliding her phone back into her pocket. She reaches for him despite the sweat that glistens on his skin.

“It’s all in how you phrase things.”

GM: “You’re great at phrasing things, babe,” he beams.

“You’re great at a lot of things.”

Celia: “I am,” she agrees. “I was going to ask you to join me in the shower but my mother is here. Why don’t you get cleaned up after you find a courier for me and meet me in the living room so we can all chat.”

GM: “Oh. Well, she’s watching a movie right now, and it’s not her house…” Randy says suggestively.

Celia: Tempting. Except she’s meeting Roderick soon, and Dani is around, and she has limited time.

“I want our first time to be special,” she sighs, pressing a kiss against his cheek.

GM: “Ah. Right,” Randy nods, glowing under the kiss.

“I, uh. Didn’t have much luck finding you a vessel anyway.”

Celia: “Mmm, I assumed. I didn’t see any strangers lounging around. Maybe you can find me another girl rolling on E again next time and we can make a night of it.”

GM: “Oh, you bet, babe. You were just… something else…” Randy grins.

He’s quiet for a moment, then adds, “Reggie was laying it on pretty thick with your friend and your mom.”

Celia: “He hit on my mom?

GM: “Yeah. I mean, she’s not as hot as you, but she’s still hot.”

Celia has worked so diligently to keep her that way.

Celia: “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.”

GM: “Oh, it’s—you’re super hot, babe! There’s no one in the world as hot as you!”

Celia: “I just meant because I work on her face, Randy.”

GM: “Ah, yeah. You’re really great at that too. She’s a MILF.”

Celia: “Thanks for watching over them today. I really needed you and you came through.”

GM: “You bet,” says Randy, his chest puffing a little. “They didn’t like the attention, but I told him to knock it out, they didn’t need that.”

“Grabbed his hand a couple times when he tried to cop some feels.”

Celia: A scowl greets those words.

“Get cleaned up. We’ll talk in a minute.”

GM: “He only touched them a couple times,” Randy adds helpfully as he gets up. “I cockblocked most of it.”

Celia: “Good to know.” Celia leaves him to shower on his own, moving back into the living room to find her mother.

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

GM: She finds her mother in the same place, watching a movie with a now fully sleeping Lucy on her lap.

“Hi, sweetie,” she whispers, her face lighting up as she sees Celia.

Celia: “Hey, Mom.” Celia smiles at the pair, though Lucy certainly can’t see it with her eyes closed. She keeps her distance, sitting on the edge of the couch rather than right next to her mother.

“You doing okay?”

GM: Diana nods and strokes Lucy’s hair for a moment.

“I met Dani,” she whispers. “It was so nice to see her here.”

“She told me all about what had happened to her, that poor thing…”

“We caught up a bit, and we talked about Stephen. I think she was really happy to hear he’d made such a difference in our lives.”

Celia: “She had a rough time of it,” Celia says with a grimace. “I don’t envy her position. I’m doing what I can for her.”

GM: “She also told me how she was, ah, a… vampire. But she was still able to eat my cooking, I thought you said you couldn’t?”

Celia: “She’s… different.”

GM: “I think you’re doing a very good thing from what she’s said, sweetie,” Diana nods.

“I felt so bad for her. I made her a lot of food.”

Celia: “I’m sure she appreciated that.”

GM: “I hope she did. She told me about all of those… vampire things you told her.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. That’ll save us some time.”

GM: “I’m… not really sure what to make of it, sweetie.”

Celia: “I’m sure you still have some questions. About me. And this life. And what it means. And what’s going on with you and Lucy.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. I tried to keep you from the worst of it.”

GM: “With Lucy?” Diana asks, concern creasing her face as she looks down at her daughter.

Celia: “Because of the phone call you received.”

“The boys and Alana are coming over so we can discuss things. Basically, I pissed off the girl who… did what she did to you.”

GM: Diana’s face turns very still again.

Celia: “So until that’s fixed, I need you to work with me on laying low. Nothing is going to happen to you. It’s me they want.”

“I was going to put you up in a hotel for a few days. Or maybe a trip out of town if you’d prefer. Tell work you’ve got the flu or something.”

GM: Diana looks down at Lucy.

“Okay,” she says meekly. “Whatever you want.”

Celia: “I’m sorry to drag you into this.”

“The other issue…” Celia pauses. “Did she, uh, explain the rules?”

GM: “I just want to be there for you, sweetie. I just want to be your mom,” she says, looking back up at her other daughter.

Celia: How much of it is that first stage of the bond, she wonders, and how much of it is Diana?

GM: “I’m glad… I’m glad we don’t have this between us, anymore.”

Celia: “Normal people, people like you, they can’t know. So there are some options there, but… maybe not ones you’ll like.”

GM: “Oh. What… sort of options, sweetie?”

Celia: “We can permanently relocate you to another city. No one will look at you because you’re not connected to me. Still risky, but less risky than you staying here. We can alter your memories so you don’t remember.”

GM: “My whole life’s here,” Diana protests, but weakly. “So’s Emily’s.”

Celia: “Or I can… do to you what I did to Randy and Alana. But there are a lot of complications that come with that.”

GM: “I love our house, I love my job, I love having most of my kids nearby, I love my friends, I love all the good things here that we have for Lucy… remember, sweetie, she goes to McGehee for free! That’s a very, very good school I’d normally have to pay $20,000 a year for.”

“And Emily’s arranged things to do her residency here, at TMC. Logan’s probably going to ship overseas, after he commissions, but David’s here, and Sophia wants to come back… everything’s all here.”

Celia: “What if Dad becomes governor? Would you move to Baton Rouge with him?”

GM: She’s silent for a moment at that question.

She looks back down at Lucy.

“Sweetie, getting that call…”

She closes her eyes.

“I was so scared for her. So scared for Lucy.”

“I want… I want to take things slow, with your father. I want to be sure he’ll be good to Lucy.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says, nodding. “I respect that. I don’t want you to rush into anything with him.”

GM: “If I was… yes. I suppose I would move with him. But that’s thinking very far ahead.”

“Even if that is where I’d like us to end up. I want my man back. I want him to be good to us again. I want Lucy to have a dad in her life.”

She strokes the sleeping child’s hair again.

“I just want her to have a good life, the best life.”

Celia: “Then I’ll work things out with the girl I pissed off. Until then, I need you to lay low.”

GM: Diana’s face grows still again at Elyse’s mention. But she nods.

Celia: “I… I saw what she did to you, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

GM: Diana just hangs her head.

Celia: “You’re stronger than me, you know. I don’t know if I could ever dance again. Or love as fiercely as you do.”

GM: “I’m weak,” she whispers, gently pressing her face against Lucy’s head. Her eyes are closed. “You’re strong.”

Celia: “No, Mom. You are strong. You are the strongest woman I know. You’ve been through Hell and back and you’re still capable of being an amazing person. You didn’t let it turn you into a bitter shrew or withdraw into a shell. You’re a wonderful mother. You only want the best for people.”

“It’s beautiful. I wish I had that much kindness in me.”

GM: Her mom looks up. “Oh, you do, sweetie… with Dani here, with Emily…”

Celia: “It’s different. I haven’t been… I haven’t been through anything like that. And I had you to show me how.”

GM: Diana looks at Celia curiously for a moment.

“Sweetie, can you…?”

She motions at the spot next to her.

Celia: Celia rises and moves to the spot next to her mom.

“I didn’t know if you’d want me close, after…”

GM: Her mom touches her belly.

She tilts her head, her eyes distant, then slowly shakes it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t…”

Celia: “You… what?”

GM: “I don’t… I don’t know… I’m sorry.”

She removes her hand.

Celia: “Oh… oh.”


“You can feel her?”

GM: “You’re… oh sweetie, you’re pregnant?” Diana exclaims in a furious whisper, a smile lighting up her face.

Celia: “Er… not exactly…”

GM: “Oh. Ah, well… it’s a bit of a yes or a no question…”

Celia: “There’s a… there’s a doll inside of me.”

GM: Diana’s face goes still again.

Celia: “She, um. She said you were her mom once. So I… took her.”

GM: Diana gives a hiss-like inhalation of breath and presses her head against Lucy’s again.

The other Lucy’s.

Celia: “Sorry. I told you I wouldn’t talk about it. I’m sorry. I just… wondered if that’s what you were feeling.”

GM: Diana doesn’t answer Celia’s statement.

Celia: “I’m not pregnant. I can’t get pregnant. I’ll never be able to give you grandkids.”

GM: It’s a little while before she looks up again.

Celia: Celia stays quiet while her mother works through her emotions, unsure of what to say.

GM: Her eyes cut to Celia’s belly again, but she swallows and pulls her daughter close into a half-hug (the most she can with Lucy on her lap), and mussels a hand through her dark hair.

“Celia, I will always, always, love you. I don’t know what God thinks of you, or how He’s going to judge you. That’s up to Him, not me. All that’s up to me is being your mom. And I’ll… I’ll always be your mom, baby… okay? I don’t want to leave you, I don’t want to forget this part of you, I want us to stay a family, okay?”

Celia: Her lip trembles at the declaration. She doesn’t know how much of it is Diana and how much of it is the blood she hadn’t mean to give her straight from the wrist earlier, but the acceptance of her—even knowing what she is—deeply touches her. Red appears in the corners of her eyes, leaking slowly down her cheeks while she hugs her mother tight.

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

GM: “I love you too, sweetie… with all my heart…” Diana murmurs back, holding her daughter close and stroking her hair.

“We’ll do… we’ll do a night wedding for Emily, and I’ve got six other kids who can give me grandbabies, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s a lot of grandbabies,” Celia says with a watery (bloody?) laugh into her mother’s shoulder.

“I’ll just have to spoil them all.”

GM: Five.

Diana’s still counting Isabel.

Celia: Celia doesn’t correct her.

Six, anyway, for Ethan.

Technically a grandkid already.

GM: “Yes. It is plenty…” Diana laughs. “You can be their cool aunt.”

She looks back down at Lucy.

“And there’s already someone who calls you mommy, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s very true,” Celia says, pulling back. She wipes at her face and smiles down at the goose. “If you and Maxen get back together, what are you going to tell him?”

GM: “Well, at that point… the truth, I think,” Diana answers. “If we are getting back together. I don’t want to rush into it, like I said…”

“Oh. Speaking of the truth, sweetie… there’s Emily.”

Celia: “She can’t know. No one can know, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks at her curiously. “But I know.”

Celia: “And that’s what we need to discuss. Because humans who know break the rules, and if I break the rules I die. Die again. For real this time.”

GM: Diana gives a faint chuckle. “That’s nonsense, we’re not hurting anyone.”

Celia: “This isn’t like human society. If anyone finds out that you know, they kill you. They kill your family. They kill me. There’s no police officers for vampires, there’s no lawyers, there are no second chances.”

“There are people out there who hunt people like me, who kill people like me. Humans like you. The night I came over for dinner and I told you about the break-in? I lied. There was a break-in, but they weren’t after money. They kidnapped me. They tortured me. They cut up Alana. They raped me.”

“That’s what they do to us. That’s why people can’t know. That’s why when someone like you finds out, you die.”

GM: Diana’s mouth falls open.

“They did what to you?!”

Celia: “They… they raped me. I was handcuffed to a bed, and they stabbed me with a knife, and they… he… he kept calling me his vampire slut, and he…”

GM: Diana hugs her close again and starts crying. “Oh, my baby… my poor baby… you’re safe here… you’re safe… I love you…”

Celia: “And that’s… that’s why, Mom, no one can know.”

GM: “My poor baby…” Diana repeats, hugging Celia tight. “It’s not your fault… it’s not your fault… I love you… you’re strong, you’ll get past this…”

Celia: “I’m past it, Mom. It’s fine.”

“But do you see?”

GM: “It’s not fine, sweetie, someone hurt you! Have you been… seeing someone, for help?”

Celia: “Yeah. I have someone that I can talk to.”

GM: Celia has to spend several minutes assuring her mother she’s fine before Diana reluctantly drops the topic.

“Okay, sweetie… we’ll keep this secret, absolutely secret… I won’t tell anyone you’re a vampire, ever…”

“We have practice at that, don’t we, with your dad and Lucy’s dad… what’s another secret.”

Celia: “It’s not like anyone is going to ask about this one,” Celia says with a wry smile.

GM: “That’s right,” Diana smiles just as wryly back.

“But I want to tell Emily, sweetie. She’s kept both of those secrets. We can trust her.”

Celia: “Mom, this isn’t like who my dad is. This is a matter of life and death. This is people coming for you in the middle of the night and killing you. I need you to understand that.”

GM: Diana is quiet for a moment.

“I have always believed your father is a matter of and death, Celia,” she answers slowly.

Celia: “You think he’d kill you for that?”

GM: “I… I don’t think, I pray not now… but that is what I always have believed,” she answers in the same slow tone.

Celia: “Why?”

GM: Her mom looks at her confusedly.

“Celia, baby, I know it’s been a while, but I told you… when you were 14, remember, in the hospital… that you couldn’t tell anyone, anyone, or he’d kill me…”

Celia: “And I never told,” Celia says, “so why are you trying to tell Emily?”

GM: “I did tell that to Emily, sweetie,” her mom says quietly.

“For seven years, I’ve trusted her with that matter of life and death. She hasn’t let us down. She’s your sister. A burden shared is a burden halved.”

Celia: “Not this burden.”

GM: “Yes, this burden! All burdens, sweetie. Just havin’ someone else next to you, who shoulders the load… that doesn’t just make it lighter, it draws you closer. Binds you together.”

“Secrets hurt.”

“I mean, you said it was hurting you, to have to eat all the food I made. Because I thought you… well, ate the same way as… the way you used to.”

Celia: “People like me can read minds. It’s not just not telling. It’s not thinking.”

GM: “Oh. You can read my mind?” Diana asks.

Celia: “No. I can’t. It’s a fairly advanced talent. But others like me can. We all do different things.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I was going to say. You saw when I delivered Lucy, so you’ve seen just about all there is to see with me,” her mom chuckles.

Celia: “Right, but you don’t understand. If someone knows you know they’ll take you and rip through your memories and find out everything about you, about me, about Lucy, about Emily.”

“And then they’ll lock me in an iron box and burn me alive. And I’d like to avoid that. You know?”

GM: Diana holds her hands to her mouth. “Okay, so… we just don’t ever talk about it, outside the house…”

Celia: “You can’t even think about it. That’s the problem. That’s what I’m saying.”

GM: “But… I am going to think about it, sweetie,” her mom says slowly.

“I can’t not think about it…”

Celia: “Right. Which is why we have one of two options. I can erase your memories. Or I can… turn you into a ghoul.”

GM: “Can you… go over what that involves for me, sweetie?”

“Dani did, a bit, but she said she was so new to this. I’d just like to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, you know?”

Celia: “You drink my blood. You stop aging. You develop powers, things sort of like what I can do. But anyone like me who tastes your blood can pick up my blood in you. They can use you against me. You’re subject to the same laws as I am, the same territory disputes. If you want to work at McGehee I’ll need to talk to a night doctor so they can mark you so you don’t taste like a ghoul, so no one can ever know what you are.”

GM: Diana looks unsure of all that.

“Do you think it’s a good idea? If they can… use me against you?”

Celia: “The other option is erasing your memories. Or you leave the city.”

GM: “But I can’t leave, my life is here. My children’s lives.”

“And I don’t want to forget this about you. This is who you are.”

Celia: “Then this is what we do.”

GM: “Plus I’d keep cooking for you, wouldn’t I?” her mom says with a chuckle. “Or trying to.”

Celia: “You would,” Celia says wryly, “and I’d invent new diets to avoid eating.”

GM: “It really does explain so much, how I almost never saw you eat…”

“That felt so bad, though. I thought you were angry at me.”

Celia: “I wasn’t. It just sits in my stomach and I have to throw it back up. And it tastes… uh, not good.”

GM: “Oh. You can’t taste it?” Diana asks.

Celia: “Dani can. It tastes like, um, garbage mostly. Ash.”


GM: “It does? All of it?” her mom asks disbelievingly.

“Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry!”

Celia: “You couldn’t have known. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“I always felt bad turning you down because I knew you were trying to be nice. Randy ate a lot of it.”

GM: “Ah. That explains where it all went.”

“I’m glad someone still got to.”

Celia: “My boyfriend asked the same thing. If you’d be upset if I brought him over for dinner and he threw it up.”

GM: “Randy, you mean? Well, so long as he enjoys it, but it doesn’t sound like he did.”

Celia: “No. My real boyfriend. He’s like me. Randy is a ghoul.”

GM: Diana looks confused.

“But I thought he was…?”

Celia: “He plays my boyfriend for my mortal cover.”

GM: “We’ve had him over for dinner and everything. We talked about how long it was taking him to slip a ring on your finger!”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: Diana blinks.

“Sweetie, that’s… that’s very strange.”

Celia: “…yeah.”

“To be fair, so is having a mortal family. Most of us don’t.”

GM: “I don’t see what’s strange about having a family. It seems strange not to. Very, very strange!”

Celia: “You saw me this morning. What I did. It’s dangerous.”

“I’ve always made sure I wasn’t hungry around you, but… I was last night.”

“If I lose control, there’s nothing to stop me.”

GM: Diana looks fearful. “Okay, so… so that won’t happen again?”

Celia: “It’s something I take every precaution I can to avoid.”

GM: “That was very scary, Celia… I don’t want to be scared of you…” she says slowly.

Celia: “I know, Mom. I don’t want you to be scared of me, either.”

GM: “But… I got over it, I guess. The fear just… I don’t know, maybe it was just a mom’s impulse to feed her baby, but poof, it was gone.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

It wasn’t.

But Celia doesn’t tell her that.

“You can’t give that much, by the way. You need some for you.”

GM: “But you were hungry.”

Celia: “But you’ll kill yourself.”

GM: “You drank it all.”

Celia: “I was hungry. I was very hungry.”

GM: “Well, there you go. I needed to feed you.”

Celia: “You can’t give that much, though. If you die, you can’t feed me. See?”

GM: “Well, I didn’t die. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but here I still am.”

Celia: “Because I had to give you my blood. If I hadn’t, you’d have died.”

GM: Her mom’s eyes glow at the subject. “Your blood tasted wonderful, Celia. Just… just wonderful.”

Celia: “Yeah? Like, ah, like what?”

GM: “Well, ah, it was very sweet. It made me think of all those racy jokes you and Emily like to make, on our girl’s nights. And tucking you in to sleep as a child. Sweet like strawberry shortcake. With makeup icing, but less gross than it sounds.”

Celia: “Yours, too. I could… it was like drinking pure love, Mom. I’ve never had anything like it. It made me warm and fuzzy inside.”

GM: “Oh, was it?” Her mom looks a little misty-eyed. “That’s all I wanted to do, sweetie, when I cooked for you, when I gave you food. I wanted to feed my baby. I wanted you to feel good. Feel loved.”

Celia: “I felt it. I really did.”

GM: “If this is how you eat now… I still want to feed you.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

She shouldn’t.

But the woman is offering.

And it was really, really good.

“Okay,” she says at length. “We can… we can do that. Not all the time. Just sometimes. Never when I’m hungry. Don’t spring blood on me, don’t just cut yourself to feed me and thrust it at me. But… if that’s what you want to do… I, I think I’d like that.”

“Can I see your arm?”

Celia nods toward where she saw the cut this morning.

GM: Her mom nods and holds it out. There’s still a bandage. It’s a long and deep cut.

“Okay. Then I’d like to do that too.”

Celia: Gently, Celia takes the offered arm in her hand. She winces at the cut once she peels the bandage back.

“You don’t need to cut yourself, either. I’ll show you once you’re recovered, but for now…” Celia leans in very slowly, and runs her tongue along the cut to seal it.

GM: Her mom raises her eyebrows. “Oh, sweetie, what are y…”

For a moment, there’s the tantalizing taste of her mother’s vitae, so full of that warm and fuzzy love. Celia’s tongue seals shut what’s left. Her vitae closed most of it already. She notes, however, that there’s still some faint scarring… the wound has had all day to heal naturally.

“Oh, my,” her mom murmurs.

“That’s some band-aid,” she chuckles.

Celia: “Well, otherwise you’d see people running around with holes in their bodies. Bit of a giveaway.”

GM: “That’s a relief I don’t need to cut myself, too… that wasn’t much fun.”

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees, “I imagine it wasn’t. I can work on the scar tissue for you before you go back to work. Not tonight, though. I still need to actually feed and I have… some things to take care of.”

Celia touches a hand to her stomach.

“If you want in on this, then I’m happy to have you. I’ll give you my blood and we’ll finalize it. But not until after I eat.”

“The boys should be here soon. I need to shower and get ready for the night. Are you going to be okay by yourself for a few? Or do you have any more questions..?”

GM: “Who’s your boyfriend?” Diana asks with a sly look.

Celia: “Ha. His name is Roderick. I’d like you to meet him.”

GM: “Good, because when I’d get to was my next question!”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

At least some things aren’t going to change.

Jean-Marc I, Chapter I
The Dead Travel Fast

“Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.”
Maledictions 12:11

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: He said his name was Mason, and that he was a member of the Dirty Throws Krewe. Like every other Kindred krewe in the Big Easy, he said the Dirty Throws was composed entirely of neonates—most of whom tried very, very hard to stay below Prince Vidal’s increasingly unforgiving radar. The kid’s story, and a remarkable one it was, went something like this:

Everyone in town knows about the recent rash of poachings. (That’s a term elders use around here; it means somebody’s been feeding in another vampire’s territory.) Well, Mason claimed that he knew who was guilty of these indiscretions, or at least the most the recent spate of them. And the reason he knew was because the culprits had been his own coterie, the Dirty Throws.

Due to various personal problems Mason had with his krewemates, however, the rest of the krewe decided their only way out was to make a scapegoat of Mason. They intended to “turn him in” to the Guard de Ville (that’s the sheriff and hounds, the prince’s chief enforcers), in the hopes that their efforts would reward them two-fold: First, in the form of choice feeding grounds (a gift of thanks from a grateful prince, once word reached him), and second, they’d get the prince’s people to dispose of Mason for them. All in all, it wasn’t a bad plan.

Too bad Mason was on to them.

Scared as he was, not to mention entirely alone, Mason figured his only move left was to beat his treacherous krewemates to the punch. So he set up a meeting between himself and Alexander Wright, one of the Guard de Ville. Wright gave Mason a place and a time where they’d meet. The Brujah would then bring Mason safely to Donovan—the city’s sheriff and the long arm of Vidal himself—at a second, as yet undisclosed location. Once with the sheriff, Mason would turn his erstwhile allies in. Another solid plan.

Too bad the rest of the Dirty Throws were on to him.

When Jean-Marc first saw him, Mason was trying desperately to figure out how he was going to get to the meeting place in one piece tonight. If the Dirty Throws caught up to him before he could turn himself in, they would never let him survive. To Mason’s way of thinking, it was either them or him. The problem was, there was only one of him… and they could be anywhere.

That’s where Jean-Marc came in.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Louis Prima’s dulcet tones from the state of the art speakers are utterly at odds with the vampire before Jean-Marc. Then again, so is the rest of Clemens’. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Back hunched forward slightly, sneakered feet pressed anxiously together, shaky hands tucked into the pockets of his black and gold sweatshirt, he hardly looks the part of an immortal Cainite and lord of the night. He looks like one of Jean-Marc’s old classmates at Clark High, just another young black kid in over his head with gangs and the law.

He is in over his head with a gang and the law.

The more things change, the more they don’t.

“…that’s, that’s the story,” Mason breaks down, seemingly from equal parts hysteria and relief as his eyes sweep the well-heeled patrons. Even seated at the veranda rather than the 13-maximum serving lounge, the kid’s appearance (and definitely affect) should be enough to draw stares (or security), but the kine all ignore him like he’s one of them.

“Look,” he goes on, “I just need an escort to the meet site. Get me there, and Wright’ll see you helped. We’ll tell the sheriff, too, how you helped. Hell, you can come with me, tell him yourself if you want.”

Jean-Marc has never met the kid before in his life.

Mason just saw him, heard another vampire’s telltale lack of heartbeat, and spilled his guts.

It would be easy to spin something about people telling the truth when the chips are down. About trial and adversity allowing truth to triumph. But that isn’t how it works, is it? People don’t ever just tell the truth. They blurt it out in a rage or panic. They do it to save their hides. They do it as part of a transaction. They do it to hurt someone. Jean-Marc can name all-too many examples. Dinah. Doyle. Mason, here. Himself. Sometimes people even tell the truth to salve a guilty conscience. It’s harder to think of examples there. But people don’t ever tell the truth just to be truthful.

“Truth is like a king we pretend to idolize, or a God we pretend to worship, but we actually lock up in a cage, so he can’t get out and disturb our lives and beloved lies.”

Jean-Marc might suppose his soliloquy to Daronté was missing a few details. Sometimes people do let the lion out. Sometimes that actually is in their self-interest—so he’ll rip apart some poor sucker who isn’t you. Sometimes they’re just too stupid to understand the consequences, like the story—always, always a “story”—about the coed who got herself killed climbing into Audubon’s tiger enclosure. (One of Daronté’s “crack pipe nutters” by another name, her.)

But you don’t ever let the lion out just to see him roam free.

“They’ll reward you,” says Mason. “I just need an escort, in case the Throws try to fucking jump me.”

Jean-Marc: “Try?” Jean-Marc replies with an almost private arsenic smirk. The tabloid writer reluctantly folds his newspaper. He had been reading Deborah Carriere’s latest piece in the Times-Picayune, a tepid, yawn-pulling editorial about Rishu Pavaghi’s T-shirt shops misappropriating Vodouisant culture for cheap sales and cheaper laughs.

Oh how the mighty art fallen? Jean-Marc sardonically muses as he lays the folded newspaper beside his melting dram of Glass Slipper, a cocktail made of Old Forester Rye, Palo Cortado sherry, Ancho Reyes Ancho chile liqueur, Benedictine, and dashes of absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. He regards the glass, and its yet untouched rim of Cajun seasoning salt.

He had come to Clemens’ to drink, or at least put up the pretense of drinking. But in truth, he had come to escape. Too long had he been trapped in his own penthouse suite atop Hibernia. Too long typing out code for Father d’Gerasene’s dark ecclesiastical dream. Too long staring at the black screen of his computer—and too long being stared at by the black, alien, ever-hungry eyes of the damned locusts that have invaded his penthouse. He swore the repulsive bugs were spying on him, for whenever he had tried to take a break from his digital labors, they had swarmed him; jumping, crawling, chirping, and chewing; till the tormented writer had returned to his assigned duties.

And so he had escaped his insectoid jailors, fleeing his erstwhile home for a slight reprieve to walk amongst the living. He knows he will have to return, at least ere the sun rose. But he had needed to clear his mind that was drowning in ghostly afterimages of terminal coding streams and scriptural passages till he could no longer tell them apart. No, he needed to taste the night. To drink in the sights and smells of the living, to remember what it was like…

Closing his eyes, he inhales, trying to breathe in the rich aromatic scents of the blended liquor.

But all he can smell is the blood of the man in front of him. Not that it’s really blood. Or a man. Regardless, it sings to him, calls to him like a private, wet, delectable sermon to his perverse soul:

Blood burns like the fire. Blood thunders like the storm.

Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.

I knew that I must become the master of the Blood or forever be its slave.

God damn it! Jean-Marc silently curses, his masquerading smirk souring at the unbidden mental recitation of the Maledictions. His Father might be proud, but Jean-Marc hates how the scriptures of the ‘Bad Book’ keep swimming in his brain like a swarm of rutting, spreading, consuming parasites.

Attempting to re-anchor himself, Jean-Marc steers his senses back to Mason. To his scent. To his words. To his story.

The tabloid journalist rolls the story’s details over his tongue as if he’s a sommelier detecting key ingredients. The Dirty Throws. A rash of poachings. The Guard de Ville. Wright. Donovan. Vidal. He was new to this scene, unfamiliar with its stage as well as its players, but the story… the story is all-too similar to countless confessions he’s heard before. A tale of thirst and desire, of haves and haves-not, of conquering temptation and sinful secrets, of betrayal and the looming shadow of threatening violence.

And like Father d’Gerasene’s unholy locusts, he can smell it. Hamas. But to the exploitive tabloid writer, there is also another scent to the story.


The arsenic smile returns.

“Mason, Mason,” he says, “you did the right thing in coming to me. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do, after all.”

Eyeing the packed veranda and the streets beyond, he subtly rolls his right arm, awakening his smartwatch. “Now, Mason,” he continues, glancing down only long enough to digitally hail a ride with his Jaunt+ app and press the record function, “let’s start with the happy ending to your sad story; you’re to meet the Guard de Ville at what location and time?”

Awaiting an answer, he folds a day’s labor of cash under the undrunk dram, then adds, “And how may I ask did you set up this kiss and tell-all meeting?”

GM: Jean-Marc supposes Mason didn’t “come to him” so much as “break down around the nearest stranger without an audible heartbeat,” but the kid doesn’t argue the point.

Besides. Jean-Marc’s version, his own spin on the story, lets Mason keep more dignity.

Who wants the truth, indeed?

Mason’s shoulders slump with relief at the journalist’s answer. He doesn’t have his own drink in hand, and not for lack of good options at the bar. Whether that lack stems from forethought, cash, or simple inclination to choke down piss, remains to seen.

“30 minutes,” he says.

“It was… getting down to the wire.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc seems surprised by the scant time. He doesn’t interrupt, but slowly rises, silently beckoning Mason to follow him. Inside, away from so many eyes and ears. He leads them into one of Clemens’ hidden stairwells, which the proprietor had installed as a surreptitious escape route in case a member’s spouse happened to walk in and otherwise see said member with an “unapproved” date.

GM: Mason hesitates for just a moment, but seems to realize he’s already cast the die.

There’s no use worrying what result it may turn up now.

“Huh. Like a secret passage…” he remarks.

“The meet site’s City Park,” he continues, following after Jean-Marc. “Figure it’s there because it’s no one’s territory, and more out of the way than the CBD.”

Jean-Marc: “City Park,” Jean-Marc repeats, “Any particular place inside the park?” His thoughts—in line with the stairwell’s intended function—are a-flutter with worry and blossoming contingency plans. He gives a nervous glance to the Jaunt app to see his ride’s current location and ETA.

GM: The ride’s some 5 minutes away. It’s not hard to find a Ryde or Jaunt in the CBD.

The distance to City Park is about 15 minutes by car.

Jean-Marc: Five minutes, he muses. Not too much time to kill…. but plenty enough time to fucking die.

GM: Too bad for the already dead.

“Yeah. The Singing Oak.”

The 1,000-acre park is one of the largest in the United States (some 1.5 times the size of Central Park), and would take considering time to travel by foot. But the Singing Oak is one of its southern-most points of interest. It looks just far enough away from the southern road to be free from prying eyes, while the Bayou St. John to the east gives some insulation from prying eyes in that direction.

“I guess not the Dueling Oak, ‘cuz, who knows if there’s any licks there fighting a duel right now, right?”

Jean-Marc: “Right, right,” Jean-Marc nods, filling away that helpful piece of information. He knows there are gaps in his education by Father d’Gerasene, but he didn’t know how large they were.

Large enough to fucking fall in…

“And how’d you set up this confessional with…” he pauses to recall the name, “Alexander Wright?”

GM: Mason nods. “I got in touch with Wright through one of his renfields,” he answers. “Let him know I had shit on the poachings. He gave me a number to text, said it was a burner. We set everything up in code.”

“Guess it’s not the ’90s anymore, right?”

NSA spying and shit.”

Jean-Marc: “Yeah…” Jean-Marc vaguely agrees, his mind sizing up other treacherous but not fully perceived holes. “This, ah, renfield,” he asks, putting together the literary reference and silently blessing his sophomore Lit instructor, “he have a name?”

GM: “Yeah, DeShawn.”

Jean-Marc: The mental datafile gets dropped into another folder in Jean-Marc’s brain.

“And what about your krewe—your former krewe responsible for the poaching? Tell me about them. Names, what they look like, and what we should be looking out for when they come calling.”

GM: Jean-Marc might idly wonder if he’s the sole member of his Clark High class to recall the minor character’s name.

But then, it’s hard to imagine even his Abramson High classmates finding the literary reference nearly so applicable to their lives.

“Ha. Yeah. Former’s right, after this.”

“There’s three of them. Barely big enough to be a real krewe now, but, fuck. I don’t want to run into them in a dark alley.”

“Darryl’s big and black. He hits like a haystack. Caitiff. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. So he takes it out on other people.”

“Jazmine’s small and black. Really messy hair. Bites her nails a lot. Always looking around. She’s a kook. Dunno exactly what kind of crazy, just… there’s no fucking talking to her, sometimes. Does, just, random shit.”

“But sometimes she knows things, that she shouldn’t. It’s her I’m worried most about.”

Jean-Marc: “Like dropping the dime to Wright’s renfield.”

GM: “Or, what if she knows where to be.”

He shakes his head. “If it comes to a fight, she’s a pushover, just… fuck. She could fuck up everything.”

“Then there’s Kiara. She’s average height, black, always wears a beanie. She’s Brujah. Also kind of our leader.”

“Well, their their leader, I guess.”

“She’s smarter than Darryl, but she doesn’t pull shit out of thin air like Jazmine does.”

“Pretty good in a fight, but worse than Darryl.”

Jean-Marc: “Yes, yes,” Jean-Marc says, not wanting to interrupt but eager not to have Mason’s mind trip down a dark rabbit hole.

GM: “She’s stronger than fast, but still pretty damn fast.”

“That’s them, anyways. My good old krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “And you?” Jean-Marc quickly asks.

GM: “What about me?”

Jean-Marc: “Any particular talents to let the tabloids know about?”

GM: “Well, I can do some veiling. How I got in here.”

“Hell, if it was just Darryl and Kiara, I’d be a lot less scared.”

“I can also take a really hard beating.”

Jean-Marc: “Well, that’s good to hear,” Jean-Marc says, “though hopefully we can avoid one needed to be taken. But you said you’d be a lot less scared if it weren’t for Kiar—Jazmine. What’s it about her that makes you wanna shit a fucking brick? Or is it more the numbers game?”

GM: “Well, like I said, she knows shit. And she’s good at ESP. Scrying. I think she could still see me. And then she’d tell the others where to swing.”

“Like, that’s all I got, man. Veiling and taking a beating.”

“That’s everything in my bag of tricks.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, trying to process it all while part of him wishes he had just stayed home with the damned locusts. He tries to latch on to something he does know, does understand. And that’s about the burden of proof in the court of muckraking, that claiming someone’s laundry is dirty is rarely enough.

“And… just in case Wright asks, what kind of proof do you have that Darryl, Jazmine, and Kiara are responsible for the poaching?”

GM: Mason pauses with his mouth half-open.

“I can give dates. Times. They all match up.”

“And they can rip inside my head, if they want to, I’m not stupid enough to lie to the sheriff about this shit.”

Jean-Marc: It’s not much, Jean-Marc knows, but he’s published front page shockers with less.

GM: “You think that’ll be enough…?” Mason asks unsurely.

“I also know where their haven is. The johnny laws could look around there. Find evidence.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc checks his watch.

Not enough tick-fucking-tock time.

GM: Indeed not. His Jaunt is about a minute away.

Jean-Marc: “Where’s their haven, Jason?” Jean-Marc asks, only peripherally looking up.

GM: “Mid-City. Prince pegged us all as Anarchs.”

“And it’s Mason.”

The ‘misremembered’ name, so similar-sounding to Mason, flows smoothly off Jean-Marc’s tongue. Mason doesn’t seem to register it until he’s already answered the reporter’s question.

Jean-Marc: “It is, isn’t it?” Jean-Marc asks. “Because that’s what regular licks do when names get mixed up. But back when I mixed up Kiara’s and Jazmine’s names, you didn’t so much as blink or swallow back a correction.”

He taps at his smartwatch. “So my ride arrives in one minute, so that’s exactly how long you have to come clean with me. Fill back in the deleted scenes from the director’s cut of your story, and that ride will be heading to the Singing Oak with further help from yours truly. Otherwise, I go back to enjoying looking at my whiskey cocktail and reading similarly cockshit, gaping whore-hole stories in The Times.”

The arsenic smile is gone—even if the arsenic remains.

GM: Mason stares at Jean-Marc for a moment.

The jittery fear slides off his face. He gets a very calm look.

“All right. There is no Dirty Throws Krewe. There are no poachings, and I’m not meeting with Wright.”

“My name isn’t Mason.”

“I’m closing a deal at City Park with the representative of someone powerful.”

“It’s illegal. But it’s profitable. More profitable than reporting it to the Guard de Ville is.”

“I do still need an escort. I wasn’t lying about that. The poachings story was in case you weren’t interested. You’d walk away and you wouldn’t know anything.”

“If we go to City Park together, I can cut you in on it.”

“If you get me there in one piece, undetected.”

“If you’re not interested, guess I’m going by myself.”

Jean-Marc: “Warmer, but your story still has a chilly draft from its holes. 30 seconds. You know, I think I might order a Butler’s Burning Orchard, as I really think the smoked apple juice and pickled jalapeño bring out the Cointreau and rye whiskey.”

GM: ‘Mason’ glares for a moment.

“I can’t tell you everything here.”

Especially if you’re not interested.”

“Something big is going down at City Park. Okay? I need an escort there.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc looks around at the stairwell empty save for the pair. “If I’m not interested, it’s because dead hookers give more arousing lap dances. ‘Something big.’ I’m not a fucking shit-pant infant you can crinkle an empty candy wrapper to and expect to giggle and coo in amazement. I’m not saying let me taste the candy, but you gotta show or tell me what it is. And we’re playing baseball rules, so lie to me a third time, and the 9th inning ends with zero runs for your team.”

He looks back down at his watch. “What’s the deal, who’s it with, and why do you need an escort, much less of mine?”

GM: ‘Mason’ glowers at him a moment longer.

“All right. Fine. I’m going to kill someone who’s meeting me there.”

“I expect to get rewarded. Pretty well, too.”

“I want you, because an extra lick will make the fight unfair, and because you’re not involved with any of the factions.”

“Which matters, and why I didn’t go to licks I knew, is because the original plan was to take you with me to the fight, win with the extra help, and then skip without owing you anything. All you’d have had was a fake name in a fake krewe and a bunch of bullshit about poaching. And because you’re not part of anyone’s club, no one would care you’d gotten stiffed. Plus you’d have been guilty too.”

“Help me kill this guy, cover it up, and you’ll get rewarded. And have an in with my club.”

“Also, in case you get the bright idea to report this to the Guard de Ville, assuming you can even get ahold of them that fast, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve that I’m pretty confident will mean you come away with jack and shit.”

“So that’s the truth. You want to get paid to kill somebody?”

Jean-Marc: At said revelation, Jean-Marc is rocked back on the heels of his suede boaters. It hits him in a way that seems to wash away his typical skepticism, accepting the third story as the Gospel truth. But which Gospel?


GM: The primordial sin.

Caine’s sin.

Jean-Marc: Tu ne tueras point.

(Thou shalt not kill.)

The sixth commandment.

GM: But it wasn’t the first sin either, was it? That was Adam and Eve disobeying. Eating of the forbidden fruit.

Then lying to God. That was the second sin.

Jean-Marc has a banquet of sin before him. To be fed lies, to kill a man (or woman? he said “guy”), for the reward of forbidden fruits.

All three of the first three greatest hits.

Jean-Marc: But the words of Bishop Timotheus also arise inside his name, words learnt not in any Catholic catechism:

Spill only the blood of the living.

The second tradition.

Yet, and yet… the fruit tempts him. He smells its aroma. Hamas. The allure of the forbidden. He’s never killed anyone before… but then he realizes that is a lie. He stares down at his tattooed inner forearm, at the stars, each one a life he snuffed out. But that was with his pen, or more actually, suicide-inducing click of his keyboard. This would be… different.

His Jaunt+ app pings, notifying that his ride has arrived. He regards the serpent before him, unclear as to whether he will taste of the fruit. But what’s the fucking harm in looking at the tree at least? He knows the rationalization is thinner than one-ply toilet paper, and just as bad at cleaning away the shit. But he takes his first step all the same. To the tree.

It might not be Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the Singing Oak of City Park might damn him all the same.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Darkened cityscape rolls past the Jaunt car’s windows. The CBD’s brutal glass and steel monoliths give way to Mid-City’s not-quite slums, not-quite respectable part of town. It’s in the middle of the city in more ways than one. The weather is pure New Orleans. Balmy with an overcast haze that threatens rain, and that distinctive low fog that rolls in off the Mississippi and settles in to the lesser trafficked areas this time of year. It seems to curl around the edges of nearby buildings as the car drives, always staying just out of reach, as though sentient and acutely aware that coming too close would be… unwise.

‘Mason,’ or whatever his name actually is, doesn’t move to talk. The kine driver doesn’t either. The Jaunt car carries Jean-Marc steadily closer to his contemplated sin.

What is it like, to kill someone, to watch the light go out in their eyes?

His ‘father,’ in blood and faith alike, surely knows.

Jean-Marc: The troubling, tempting question rests heavy on him like a suffocating blanket. He rolls down the luxury car’s window as if searching for air. The clean kind. He does not find it. But he leaves the window down, all the same, as if hopefully provides enough of a distraction and noise barrier for the driver, as Jean-Marc poses another, far more simple and less sinful question to his tempter.

“What’s the name of your date, again?”

GM: ‘Mason’ regards him for a moment. The slow-witted kid stumbling over his words from shaky, trembling anxiety feels all but gone. The other vampire’s eyes and features are cool.

Perhaps Jean-Marc wonders if he’s done this before, but it seems an almost silly question.

All of them do this at some point.

He was given the Blood so recently. That’s probably the only reason why he hasn’t. Does he pretend towards greater virtue?

Is anyone who claims greater virtue not just pretending?

“Wilson,” answers ‘Mason.’

There’s plenty gays in New Orleans.

Derivations of ‘fat’ were more common insults back in middle school, but the other kids called him ‘gay’ a few times too.

Jean-Marc: “Ah, Wilson, that’s right.” Jean-Marc says, “I recall you saying you knew each other from that, hmm, what did you call it, a ren fair? There was a baron, a prince, and, hmm, that other character. Their retainers were all jousting it out, creating quite the spectacle. But I believe you said Wilson and you were cheering for different sides. Remind me, which one was Wilson rooting for?”

GM: “Yeah. Ren fair. He couldn’t get over his hard-on for the baron.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah,” replies Jean-Marc in that same trite tone as if ‘Mason’ had just revealed what type of fabric softener he uses. “I bet he also rooted for the Detroit Lions back in ’08. And you, you were cheering for which of the other two at the fair?”

GM: “He did. Don’t remember him rooting for the Houston Texans. I’m not gonna say that’s as bad as not rooting for the Saints, but they are our neighbors.”

“Don’t remember who I did at the fair, either. Maybe we can ask after we see him.”

Jean-Marc: “Maybe,” Jean-Marc says in nonchalant agreement. After a moment, he turns back, as if he’s a bored passenger trying to kill time. “And so does Wilson know you’re coming, or is this a surprise date? I do know how you love your secrets, after all.”

GM: “Little bit of both,” ‘Mason’ answers, just as idly. “He knows I’m coming, but not what the date’s going to be.”

Jean-Marc: “Oh, I dare say the shock might well kill the chap, so we best be careful.”

Jean-Marc gives a smile as wide as a whiskey barrel.

But it’s a hollow one.

He lets the silence slip between them again, or at least the buffeting, voiceless ingress of outside air. Yet, as they approach their destination, he turns back to his co-passenger.

“So remember back when we were going to party with Darryl and Jazmine? There was that guy that sat at my table, the one I didn’t know, but you did. I don’t think I really caught his name. It wasn’t Mason or Jason… what was it again? I wouldn’t want to be rude if I saw him again and had to admit I didn’t know his name.”

GM: There’s a thin smile.

“Ah, sorry. Don’t remember the guy’s name. I bet Wilson will, though, after we see him.”

“He’s got a better head for them.”

Jean-Marc: “But not for sports team,” Jean-Marc titters back, his own hollow smile thinning. He gives his co-passenger—or is it co-conspirator now?—another look over, trying to drink and see if he tastes any new flavors.

GM: Technically, one could say it’s both.

‘Mason’ is dressed generically. Black and gold sweatshirt. Blue jeans. Dark sneakers. He stuck out at Clemens’, but it’s a getup you could wear anywhere on the streets (or to the park) without drawing much attention. He looks young. Late teens. (Though how much does that count among immortals?) Black skin. Average height. Thin build. Clean-shaven. Dark hair cut short. He looks nonthreatening, or at least did. It’s a face that looks more suited to the scared kid he was playing back at Clemens’, than the co-conspirator and fellow murderer he apparently is now.

“Mm,” he agrees noncommittally.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc takes another visual draught, a deeper pull, willing the blood within him to reveal, to pierce. He’s not looking for a vision from Amoniel, but he’ll take what he can get. Taking, after all, is one of his specialties, or at least that’s what his grand-maman would say of her candy-thieving ward.

But that memory stirs something in Jean-Marc’s otherwise calloused hamas-rotten heart. The feeling of failure, the shame of breaking his grand-mère’s trust, and losing her favor. The blood within his veins, it reminds him of another ‘parent’ whose trust and favor he does not wish to lose. He was bad at being good, bad at following the Good Book. The least he can do is be good at being bad, good at following the Bad Book. And then, as if speaking of the Devil makes him appear, the words of The 11th chapter of the Rule of Golgotha flows like a fresh wound dripping in his soul. He shall be guided by two things: the teachings of the Dark Father and the prayerful spirit of his own heart. And what had the Dark Father taught him? What had his own dark Father d’Gerasene taught him of Longinus’ teachings. Once more, another rip of his soul drips a scriptural passage to splatter onto his consciousness, this one aptly from the Teachings of Longinus: We must not slay a fellow, except to preserve the word of God.

So who is this serpent beside him? No true Wolf of God, that much is clear. But who is he? Jean-Marc has to know, had to see.

GM: And money-thieving. Grandpa might say that too. But they never caught him, did they? Grandmère left everything to him.

The Bad Book has another verse on that. Maybe not the perfect verse. Jean-Marc is still learning. But it feels applicable.

We are not so innocent as mortal man […] he will scheme and murder and bribe to gain what little earthly power he can, and then expects his comrades to hail him as a just and forthright man.

The Bad Book doesn’t mince words. Hypocritical lying murderers. Those are the innocents.

Jean-Marc is no innocent. ‘Mason’ isn’t either, he’s made that plain. The lie’s heart has already been cut out. The tabloid journalist’s incriminating photos have been snapped. The rest is mere formality.

What’s left of the lie runs off ’Mason’s’ face like so much water.

His face is different. He’s still a man, dark of skin, but he looks maybe a decade older. Maybe a decade and a half. Late 20s to mid-30s. He’s got some stubble around his lips and chin, the shadow of a beard and mustache that aren’t, and he’s bald too. His face is narrower. The eyes are further apart. It’s a different face for a different man. He’s several inches shorter and thicker of built. The clothes are different, too. He’s wearing dark rather than blue jeans, a different brand of sneakers, and a windbreaker rather than sweatshirt.

Jean-Marc supposes ‘Mason’ was telling the truth about veiling, at least.

Jean-Marc: Those always make the best lies. You don’t offer someone a glass full of arsenic. No, you give them some shit-sweet iced tea with a few drops of arsenic. That’s how you get them to drink it all up and thank you for it.

GM: ‘Mason’ is packing, too.

Semiautomatic handgun inside his windbreaker. Nasty-looking knife. Smartphone and wallet in the pockets of his jeans.

Jean-Marc supposes the former are for if they won’t take a long drink and say thanks.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc silently curses. Somehow he thought bringing his Herculean handgun would clash with Clemens’ dress code. That, and his Bermudu suit didn’t come with a holster option. He doesn’t even own a knife, save for a few to spread butter and his 19-piece Shun set he purchased last Christmas for himself from Williams-Sonoma.

Shit, he thinks, I didn’t even bring a knife to a fucking gun fight.

But there are other weapons. And like ’Mason’s’ blade, Jean-Marc’s wiles have proven just as sharp and nasty.

Here’s to hoping my wits haven’t dulled to shit.

As the ride closes in on its destination, Jean-Marc is left wondering whether or how to pray—and to whom? Somehow, the Hail Mary’s his mémère taught him just don’t seem to fit the bill. Not anymore—and maybe for Jean-Marc (if he’s being really honest—which he rarely is) they never did.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: The route to City Park is an extended chore, as ‘Mason’ insists on overshooting cross streets and then doubling back to pick them up two, sometimes three or even four blocks further down. It’s seemingly his attempt at being circuitous, in the event that the duo and their driver are being followed, but Jean-Marc is unconvinced it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot more than wasting a fair piece of time—valuable time, with how little ‘Mason’ said they had left. Maybe that’s another lie too. The only person who seems actively happy at the detours, and the fact they make the digital meter run for a while longer, is the Jaunt driver.

All the same, the drive gets Jean-Marc and ‘Mason’ to City Park, and that’s where they want to be.

Jean-Marc: Or at least, that’s where ‘Mason’ wants to be. Jean-Marc is less sure. Still, the Evangelist is sure he’s glad the ride is over. Indeed, there’s no deceit in Jean-Marc as he scowls at the rising rideshare fee—especially since the Jaunt+ service adds a premium tax. As Mason exits the car on his side, Jean-Marc egresses on his, but he leaves his rear door open and stands in its threshold. Not for long, but long enough for him to pull up the Jaunt+ app and pay the detour-inflated price. That long, and just a few seconds longer as he makes a few smooth taps and swipes to pull up his contacts and call Hound Wright’s number—only to mute the called line and hide the call from his smartwatch’s face. The recording button similarly continues in the digital background.

Closing the door, he doesn’t deign to watch the driver pull away, just waits a second before he calls out to Mason, not shouting, but in a clear voice all the same. “Okay, all right, we’re here at the Park with the Singing Oak, all because you, ‘Mason’ or whatever your real fucking name is, say there’s this lick named Wilson you want to kill, all so you can get paid. So before we go any further, before anyone pisses in the eye of Timotheus’ second tradition, I have a few final questions. And this time, can we spare the bullshit? It’s muggy as hell out here in the Park, and I don’t have the patience to hear any more phony bullshit about beanie-wearing Brujah.”

“First off, who’s paying for the hit—and how do I know you won’t stiff me like that Jaunt ride?”

“And please, please, don’t say ‘trust me’, because your balance in the trust account is in the bleeding red. You lied to me more times than Clark High got shut down for lice infections.”

GM: The car pulls off into the night.

The UMe smartwatch shakes briefly as Jean-Marc mutes it, then only silence as the call goes through.

“How much was the Jaunt ride?” asks ‘Mason,’ eyes on his co-conspirator.

Jean-Marc: “It cost enough,” Jean-Marc replies sourly, but then rattles off the real number. “Figured I needed to give him a tip too, lest my account gets dinged, and we can’t have that at all.” He then regards ‘Mason.’ “But far more important is how much are you—we—getting paid?”

GM: ‘Mason’ reaches into pocket, opens his wallet, and hands Jean-Marc the same amount of cash.

“There. You weren’t stiffed.”

But the journalist’s hungry, preternaturally truth-ferreting gaze seizes upon the opening. In the brief moment it takes ‘Mason’ to remove the cash and then close the wallet, Jean-Marc immediately catalogs everything. It’s one of those RFID-blocking wallets that make digital theft harder, though it seems redundant in ’Mason’s’ case. He keeps a lot of cash in it. And a ticket stub to a music concert at the House of Blues.

In the French Quarter.

“Happy?” asks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “Happier,” Jean-Marc answers, with an all-too genuine smile. In his past life, a ticket to a music concert in the French Quarter would be all but meaningless, but in this ‘life,’ the ticket stub speaks as loud and clear as Satchmo’s trumpet.

Sliding the bills into his lapel pocket—and thus not revealing his own RFID-blocking wallet’s interior—he says with an only slightly reduced smile, “But don’t think I didn’t see what you just did there. I asked who’s paying and how much, and gave me some Hamiltons. So how—”

GM: “I’m not giving you any names for me or my boss until the job is done and you’re in too deep to have second thoughts.”

“As far as payment, though.”

Jean-Marc: He stops, pausing and taking a look around the Park to ensure they still remain the only visible, nearby occupants. “Okay, fine, fine, no more names—for now. But first, you said you had a way to make sure the Guard de Ville isn’t on to us. How? Because I know you think Wright is a thug with his fingers up his ass, but that zigzag Jaunt won’t mean squat against Vidal’s hounds.”

Technically, ‘Mason’ said no thing, and Jean-Marc has no clue of the vamp’s opinion of the hound, but the tabloid muckraker spices it up for his true UMe audience—and an audience of one Brujah whom he hopes is still listening and is now further rilled up. Not into a frenzy, but a poke at the Beast all the same.

GM: “Two ways,” says ‘Mason.’

“The first I’m keeping to myself.”

“The second is that Singing Oak isn’t where we’re meeting Wilson. Anyone who was snooping back at the bar can have fun searching all 1,000 acres of City Park while we do the deed and get out.”

“Know what else would’ve helped?”

“If all they’d heard was a bunch of bullshit about fake poaching by a fake krewe.”

Jean-Marc: “Ah, that is fuck-all clever…” Jean-Marc says in not-untrue admiration. “So where in the Park is this midnight rendezvous really happening, then,” he gazes around, “or is it not happening in the Park at all?”

As if to confirm that last suspicion, he raises his smartwatch-donned wrist and taps the device’s screen as if he’s waking up his Jaunt+ app. “Because that would be wicked smart indeed if we then hailed a ride somewhere completely different.”

GM: ‘Mason’ gives a thin smile.

“Good guess. This way. I don’t want us getting picked up at the mouth of the park.”

Jean-Marc: “Nor do I,” Jean-Marc agrees, make one tap and swipe, as if to put his smartwatch on sleep-mode—but in reality uses the one-press function on the call to share his location with Wright (assuming and hoping the hound hasn’t hung up).

“But one last question—the most important question,” Jean-Marc says as he half-hustles to catch up—but not too quickly either. “How much?”

GM: “Domain,” says Mason. “We’re fucking killing someone here, so I asked for some posh feeding grounds. Big enough to keep a real herd and feed more ghouls.”

“Blood for blood.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a low whistle in appreciation. Even the Testament of Longinus makes clear how valuable that prize is. Yet, a few seconds later, Jean-Marc pauses again mid-step.

“So… how’s that going to benefit me? Let me guess, I help out, and I get to be, what, your tenant?”

Jean-Marc was indeed a newcomer to the All-Night-Life, but Father d’Gerasene as the new Regent of Esplanade Ridge had dutifully explained the intricacies of feeding rights among the Damned.

GM: “Yep. You get a slice of that,” says ‘Mason.’ “And an in with my club. They’ll see you can get a job done and keep your mouth shut.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, as if in thoughtful consideration. “Speaking of getting the job done, what do you know of this Wilson other than his hard-on for the Baron?” He then thrusts out a wrist—the one not wearing his smartwatch—and reveals a tattoo on its inner arm. “See these stars?”

To a mortal, the tattoo of the heraldic lion displaying a newspaper would be invisible in the dark—especially the black row of stars in the inked rag. But Jean-Marc is no mere mortal, and nor is his would-be co-murderer.

“Each of them is for someone who’s died by my hand.”

Technically, ‘by his hand’ is accurate, though he doubts Mason would appreciate the truth of how the star-symbolized mortals died by suicide in the wake of Jean-Marc’s life-ruining tabloid evangelism.

“But I typically study my marks real hard and real slow, like a good fuck. But it sounds like it’s going to be a quick and dirty bang instead. Still, tell me what you know of this lick, and I’m not talking about his attitudes towards beanies.”

GM: ‘Mason’ looks over the stars.

It’s a long ‘list.’

It’s technically accurate, but dishonest in presentation.

Perhaps that makes it more true than unvarnished truth.

“Good,” he says, then starts walking again, away from the park’s entrance and its parked cars. “Wilson works for the Baron. At this point he’s more useful to our boss dead than alive.”

“They call him Spook Wilson. He’s a Malk.”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, not yet revealing that he’s met or more technically seen Spook once, during what seemed a genuine, even amiable, conversation with an older Gangrel and fellow Crone by the name of Fayde.

“Hoping that’s not all you have, ‘Mason’,” Jean-Marc says, withdrawing his arm.

GM: “You’ve got a lot of questions,” remarks ‘Mason.’

Jean-Marc: “That’s how I got so smart—and long-lived.”

There’s a smugness to his reply. If he was a better man, it would only be an affection.

Then again, if he was a better man, he wouldn’t be here.

“But fine, enough with the questions. Just tell me how you want to do this, as this is your gig, really, and I’m just the side-act.”

He had wanted to say ‘front-page story’ and ‘back-rag piece’, but that would be showing too much of his true face.


It’s like a fucking hot black bra. We hide it, but deep down we want it to be seen. We seek it, but as soon as we find it, all we want to do is take it off and throw it to the side.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Despite (or perhaps because of) his paranoia, ‘Mason’ leads with surprising alacrity, his loose-laced Nikes scuffing first the sidewalk and then the foggy grass as he and Jean-Marc walk down City Park at its southern tip. At this hour, one normally expects the park to be dead quiet, with little activity to speak of. And for a moment, everything around the pair is silent. They stain to see or hear anything that would belie that norm tonight. Giddy wisps of dread swirl alongside the fog.

‘Mason’ is the one to hail their next ride on his phone, muttering something about “fucking Gangrel.” The pair slink down the grassy park’s wide paved roads. They steal underneath long-shadowed magnolias, Louisiana cypress, and Southern live oaks. ‘Thieves in the night’ would too kind a descriptor for this dark errand’s undertakers. They arrive at a black car. It’s a Ryde rather than Lyft. ‘Mason’ gets in without a word. He doesn’t talk. More cityscape rolls past.

Soon they’re driving through the Seventh Ward. Dinah once told him how Jude’s parents, ‘his’ paternal grandparents, used to live there. It was a good place to live if you were black. Once a quintessentally Creole neighborhood settled in the 1800s by les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) seeking to escape the overcrowded French Quarter, these darker-skinned Creoles were highly educated, skilled in the building trades, practiced Catholicism, and spoke perfect French.

Jean-Marc can’t comment on ‘his’ paternal grandparents, but he thinks Grandmere would have liked the Seventh Ward a lot.

Although Jim Crow and its “one drop rule” disenfranchised the Creoles as thoroughly as any Protestant and English-speaking former slaves (a group long held in contempt by the black Creoles), the Seventh Ward did not take things lying down. They had money. They were educated. Creole attorneys for the NAACP painstakingly fought to turn over Jim Crow laws one at a time. The neighborhood held the only high school in the city for African-Americans until 1942. As bad as Clark High might have been, Jean-Marc supposes it beats the alternative of “no school.” Culturally, the Seventh Ward’s vibrant community spawned many jazz greats like Buddie Petit, Lizzie Miles, and Barney Biggard. Financially, its affluent residents and family-owned businesses made it the most prosperous African-American business district in the country during its heyday, stretching all along Claiborne Avenue and into Tremé. Residents fondly remember the St. Bernard market at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne as well as Chez Helene at 1540 N. Robertson. Chez Helene gained national fame when “Frank’s Place,” a critically acclaimed sitcom inspired by that Seventh Ward restaurant, aired on CBS in 1988.

But what Jim Crow couldn’t do, the I-10 finally did.

Jean-Marc’s seen the old photos. Heard the old stories, too, from current and former residents. Or friends of residents, in Jim’s case. It was a topic that made his (real) grandfather angry. Once, he’d told Jean-Marc, the neighborhood had Southern live oaks just like the ones in City Park. You had this beautiful stretch of greenery bisecting Claiborne Avenue and running down the whole of the Seventh Ward. It was great for the community, Jim had said, in so many ways. He used to play baseball games with some kids there.

Then the city chopped the trees down, bulldozed over the grass, and built an interstate highway.

It destroyed the neighborhood overnight. Property values plummeted. Smog and noise and the endless thrum of traffic replaced the chirp of birds, the laughter of playing children, and the conversations of families over summer picnics. Businesses and churches no longer wanted to be there. Suddenly an area that had been prosperous was quite undesirable. Homeowners moved, and finding their homes neither saleable nor rentable, eventually abandoned them. The irony of destroying this thriving business district in order to facilitate access to the suburbs was not lost on residents, or on Jean-Marc’s grandfather.

Mardi Gras wasn’t for black people originally, he’d said. It was for white people. The Zulus and the Mardi Gras Indians used to celebrate the black Mardi Gras along Claiborne Street, not Canal Street or St. Charles Avenue.

And the trees, Jim had added—those Southern live oaks? The ones not chopped down were uprooted and placed on Harrison Avenue, a newly developed all-white neighborhood.

“Pillaging,” he’d called it.

Tonight, the Seventh Ward is a shell of what it used to be. Gunshots echo in the distance. The Ryde passes two police crime scenes replete with yellow tape and cruisers with flashing red and blue sirens. Jean-Marc looks out the window and sees a filthy-haired homeless men sitting outside threadbare camping tents. One squats over the ground as he defecates. Hollow-eyed crack fiends amble into ruined homes near the freeway, doubtless to shoot up. Gangsters cruise by in their flashy cars. The ceaseless roar of interstate traffic overhead swallows it all.

The real irony, Jim had observed, was that the whole thing came after the Civil Rights Act.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc’s face sours as he watches the change of scenery and the flood of stories it resurrects. There’s a part of him—perhaps the fourth of blood that flows from his maternal grandfather—that burns and galls at the injustice, the loss, and the resultant blight that filled the vacuum. The other part just sighs and takes it like a dog being kicked in the stomach. After all, it’s better than the face.

Along the way, he tries to fill the space, as if he’s once again making chit-chat. This time, though, he’s not prying for information, as he believes ‘that dog won’t bark no more’ as Jim used to say. Rather, he points out occasional places they pass, noting how he used to eat at such-and-such place, smoke roaches behind another, and popped a few cherries here and there. The stories are false, mingled with bits here and there of stretched truth. But his goal isn’t to monologue a veridical or fraudulent life. Rather, it’s to give some aural clues as to their travel, like digital breadcrumbs for the hound to follow. He has no reason to suspect his smartwatch isn’t transmitting their location, but it helps to have a backup. Then again… Wright could have long ago hung up.

Occasionally, he takes out his bespoke breath-mint tin and rattles the Bêtises de Cambrai spearmint candies and artisanal mint julep-flavored Tic Tacs. At one point, he opens the tin and offers one to ‘Mason’. He doesn’t expect him to accept, but one has to entertain oneself the best one can.

During such diversions, however, he does glance up to the Ryde driver’s phone to see their destination, assuming it’s the terminal one this time.

GM: The best lies are the ones seeded with truth.

Jean-Marc has a decent well to draw on. Jim might not have made his home in the Seventh Ward, but he spent enough time there that Jean-Marc thinks he’s able to talk authentically about baseball games amidst the trees, or local residents’ forlorn efforts at spray-painting tree images onto the overpass’ supports. ‘Mason’ listens without talking much, his false face making occasional sounds and expressions of acknowledgement. There’s a lot of “mm-hmms.”

He declines the candies and Tic Tacs with a vaguely annoyed look. There’s only one person to pretend for around here.

The Ryde driver’s phone, meanwhile, says they are headed to Louis Armstrong Park.

Right on the border of Savoy’s and the Baron’s territories, and technically within the latter’s.

‘Mason’ has a wary look in his eyes as he stares out the Ryde’s windows, especially at the sounds of gunfire. The driver mutters, “This city is goin’ to hell, you know that? Completely to hell.”

‘Mason’ gives a faint sneer.

“‘Going’ means it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

“That’s what you should actually say. ‘This city has gone to hell.’”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a half-smile. He doesn’t dispute the driver’s assertion, but it makes him pause and consider its implications, as it either means the Sanctified are doing really well, or really shitty at their divine mission. He’ll have to ask Father d’Gerasene the next time he sees him. That thought gives him a chill, a rush of mixed anticipation and dread.

He tries to squash that flutter of thoughts and emotions into a tight mason jar. “Louis Armstrong Park. I once bought a nice frankenbike there.”

Jean-Marc doesn’t reply. He may not have much experience against the easily provoked undead, but he knows not to poke an asset—at least when it doesn’t serve the Evangelist’s interests.

GM: The Ryde finally drops the pair off at their destination. ‘Mason’ gets out.

“You’re getting a negative review,” he snaps at the driver.

“The fuck? One star for you too, asshole,” glares the man.

“Won’t matter,” sneers ‘Mason.’ “Tah tah.” He slams the car door.

The vehicle angrily drives off with a honk.

Jean-Marc: Exiting the car, Jean-Marc raises a brow at the heated exchange, but otherwise stays silent. He places the tin back in its muffling pocket.

GM: “Fuck him,” snarls ‘Mason.’

“And your stupid tin. Who the fuck were you pretending for?”

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a teflon shrug. Maybe it’s disarming, maybe it’s infuriating. He then looks around, making sure no one else in earshot. He then adds in a much quieter voice. “Not saying I’m a Janus kid, but the Masquerade has its uses.”

He then looks around again. “Speaking of which, I hope we’re not meeting Wilson here. This isn’t the City Park; lots of eyes and ears around here. Most unfriendly.” He tries to inject a bit of fear in his eyes and stance. It’s not hard to do, given the circumstances, but he also hopes it will disarm ‘Mason’ a bit, help him to feel more in control and less in need of false bravado. Because that just gets you killed.


GM: “Keep your head,” says ‘Mason,’ his voice calming a little. “We’ll be in and out, and it’s easier street from there.”

Jean-Marc supposes it’s easier to feel safe with a fake face in fake clothes, too.

Jean-Marc: Meanwhile, Jean-Marc stands out like just like a sore thumb, but a broken one. At least, he did.

Reaching out, he silently recites an excerpt from the Rule of Golgotha:

That with the power of Damnation comes limitation. The Damned hide among those who still enjoy God’s love, making themselves known only to exemplify fear and cull the unrepentant.

He’s not sure if it’s a prayer or a headline, but he lets the silent words all the same wash over him even as he reluctantly releases some of the precious blood within him. The taste of Damnation, but also the power. As it flows through and over him, he becomes like Longinus in the sand, like Monachus and Maron in the clay jars, and Daniel in Mauritius’ chest. Hidden and overlooked.

He slides his tooth over his tongue. Is it drier now? Perhaps.

Turning back to ‘Mason’, he says, “So what’s the end-game plan? Because I sorely hope we’re not hitching another ride.”

GM: Headlines almost always get attention.

Prayers are up for debate.

“You’ll see,” says ‘Mason.’ He promptly moves off, scuffing his way to what would be a comfortable lead in more comfortable circumstances.

It feels like it’s been longer than 30 minutes.

The park’s entrance spells out the surname of the Crescent City’s jazz great in wide, bright letters. ’Mason’s’ footsteps thump against the concrete before they move onto grass, becoming softer and half-audible.

Jean-Marc: It does indeed feel like it’s been longer than 30 minutes. Then again, feelings are like orgasms. Some are real, some are fake as hell. Still, as Twain said, assuming is good, finding out is better. Thus, while Jean-Marc follows behind Mason—but not too closely, mind, as the lead here works to his favor—he wakes his smartwatch, checking not only the time, but also to see if his call or location-sharing is still active, before dowsing the latter app.

“So about that 30 minutes… I assume now that was just another pig with lipstick lie, or are we running late?”

GM: “Both,” says ‘Mason’, not turning to face him.

Jean-Marc finds the call not only still ongoing, he’s received a new text.

Bringing more guests to your boy’s party. Hope he don’t mind.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nearly chokes as he swallows down his smile. Quickly swiping the call and text to a hidden screen, he then hustles to catch up to ‘his boy’.

“Aren’t you worried about Spook bringing back-up too? I mean, he’s a Malk.” Jean-Marc gives their surrounding a meaningful look.

GM: “Shhh,” ‘Mason’ calls back, lowering his voice.’ “He’ll be up just ahead.”

The pair pass a bronze statue of the park’s namesake, trombone held in hand. ‘Mason’ doesn’t quite run, but doesn’t quite walk either as he slinks towards the Mahalia Jackson Building. He rounds the corner.

Jean-Marc catches up just in time to watch ‘Mason’ freeze. Both hands jerk up from his sides a moment before, drawing swiftly up to his face as though to cover an open mouth or panicked eyes.

Two figures await the would-be murderers.

The first is a black man wearing a green jacket and a beret covering a mop of tangled dreadlocks. He’s stepping back with raised hands and huge eyes.

Her apparel is plain and worn. A brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and poor condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with red that’s faded to black. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Any other individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Pale flesh drawn taught over bone, faintly glowing red eyes, and twitching calloused hands that end in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption.

The woman herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in their wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her brown-gray eyes burn with slow-simmering anger. Not the controlled aggression of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the ferality of a wild bear staring out from behind its cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tamed.

Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc similarly freezes. He recognizes the black man with the dreadlocks and beret as Spook Wilson, but the feral woman—or monster that barely resembles such—is unknown to him. The fear she evokes, though, is all too easy to discern.

In the wake of that blatant fright, a scriptural passage from the Teaching of Longinus pierces his mind:

We are Heaven’s wolves, and in our presence only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. In the places where we walk, evil is destroyed. In the places where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.

As Jean-Marc trembles, he knows he is neither faithful nor worthy of God’s love.

He remains similarly convinced that this monster before him is not one of Wright’s ‘guests’ brought to the ‘party’.

Holy mother of God lightning, why didn’t I just fucking stay home with the locusts…

GM: Before anyone can react, the woman’s hands explode through the torso of the man standing next to her, punching out completely through his back. The tips of her gore-soaked fingers end in knife-sized claws, black and utterly inhuman. The man gives a crisp wheeze and lurches forward onto the woman’s forearms. Red dribbles from his lips. The woman roars in his face, displaying rows of saw-like fangs.

Then, with impossible, inhuman strength, she pulls her hands free horizontally. The man all but explodes open as she rips through layers of muscle, fat, and bone. Apart from his spinal cord, he’s been torn completely in half. Blood froths from his mouth before he topples backwards. His head grotesquely swings towards his buttocks, his spine no longer able to support the weight of his upper torso.

His beret slips from the side of his head, falling limp to the gore-spattered ground.

His body hits the grass next with a heavy thump. His bloated, clammy features look like they’ve been dead for days.

Blood and shredded bits of meat coat the woman from head to toe. She throws back her head and roars again, a ghastly sound like a rabid bear with far too many chunks of meat lodged in its throat. Burning, hateful red eyes meet ’Mason’s’ and Jean-Marc’s, and then she’s gone as if she were never there.

Yet Jean-Marc strains his wide, horror-struck eyes.

Shadows gather about the woman, drawing her into the night, making her one with it. But he sees past them.

He watches—he hears the gory crunch as her body collapses in on itself, flesh and bone hideously realigning. The woman’s face splits in half, her eyes swelling to enormous size and turning pis-yellow. White, quill-like points explode from every inch of her flesh, then sprout feathers.

What’s left is the biggest, ugliest bird of prey he’s ever laid eyes on. Molasses-brown feathers, almost pitch black against the moon’s obscured glow, are torn and ragged like the bird was swallowed by the Devil, chewed up, and spat back out. Jagged scars crisscross its legs and beak. Where its pupils should be black, they are instead a hellish red, and burn into Jean-Marc’s gaze like smoldering coals. The bird knows he can see it.

The raptor give a final nails-on-chalkboard screech, flaps its wings, and soars into the night sky.

‘Mason’ looks wildly around, his face bone-white.

“Oh. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!”

His wide, wild eyes look at Jean-Marc, then suddenly narrow.

‘Mason’ takes a single step back, regards Jean-Marc for another moment, and then takes off in a bolt. His legs move grotesquely, preternaturally fast, like a centipede’s, but the tabloid journalist’s unerring sight proves sharper still. He watches as the would-be murderer flees the scene in a literal blur. Flees Louis Armstrong Park and all its terrors.

Then, all that remains is quiet.

As Jean-Marc stands there, watching the blood pool on the ground beneath the clump of ash that used to be a dead man, a low, familiar rumble begins somewhere in the distance. This peal will soon be followed by a sharp crack, and then by hard, driving rain. He knows this because he know the city’s voice. This is one of her favorite songs, and he’s heard it many times before. He knows how she lives, breathes, communicates. And what she is trying to tell him now is simplicity itself. It’s the headline of his latest story:

There’s a storm coming.

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

Jean-Marc: Before the night-black heavens break, the storm within Jean-Marc unleashes its own torrent. As he wretches, the bitter odor of vomit mingles with the copper-heady scent of blood. Against that visceral backdrop, Jean-Marc’s harrowed mind similarly pukes up an intrusive verse from the befittingly named Torments:

“Nearly satisfied, I walk through the corridors where the stench of death is sharp and all-encompassing.”

The muckracker winces and shakes his head, as if trying to dislodge the unbidden scripture as well as the gory after-images of what he has just beheld.

But both torments remain—as does the blood. He stares at the latter, knees buckled, as the the following verse of the 29th chapter of the Torments falls from his mouth like the emesis on his bearded chin:

“…wrath of God…”

He barely hears his own recitation, but the blood beckons him, grounds him, and brings him back to his visceral senses. His nostrils and tongue all but reach out for the bloodied grass, but his eyes, however, catch glance at his smartwatch. To his call, his audience, and his purpose. This time, the latter half of Torments 29:2 spills silently, but intentionally from his lips:

My work is almost done.

With that pseudo-benediction, he forces his still watery knees to hold his weight before backing away from the the simultaneously gory yet scene. After ensuring his call to Hound Wright is still live, he then swipes to another app. A GPS-tracking app, one specifically tied to a series of Bluetooth tracking tiles. He lingers the slightest of seconds to note where Leslie is before zooming in on the map-racing dot of his latest tile. A tile he had expertly slipped into ’Mason’s’ pocket of when he had offered the twice-distracted Kindred a mint. Having previously scanned his clothing like a TSA agent, Jean-Marc had noticed his tempter’s left pocket had a hole leading to a lining-pressed pouch filled with lint, some loose chain, and an old streetcar ticket. In other words, the perfect hiding spot for Jean-Marc’s tile.

Regarding the tile’s GPS-precise dot on his digital map, the Evangelist smiles, thin and long as a Christian Louboutin stiletto. Who the fuck, indeed, was I pretending for, ‘Mason’? he sardonically purrs.

The song of a cricket haunts the humid air, causing Jean-Marc’s indulgent schadenfreude to pass. After all, Hound Wright and his ‘guests’ are on their way. He will wait for them, still supernaturally unseen or unnoticed, but he needs to spend his remaining time preparing the story he will tell Hound Wright. Duplicity isn’t the issue, not when the truth is far more damning to the would-be-violator of Timotheus’ second tradition. Rather, the muckraker well knows the issue is how to best play to his audience. Which juicy details to squeeze till their last drop, and which to gloss over. To come clean, but come off clean too. Moreover, the Brujah hound is not known for his patience, so the tale will need to be punchy but pithy, a quick jab versus a long haymaker. Assembling the story in his mind, he mentally takes out the bleeding-red pen of an editor. It’s a tight deadline, but he’s had worse.

My work is almost done.

Jean-Marc I, Prologue II
Caged Lions

Thursday afternoon, 25 February 2016

Jean-Marc: The beast regarded the man with an indolent rage. Its silent expression clearly said it would gladly bite the man’s head off if not for the drizzling rain and arthritis in its aged legs. Of course, there were also the metal bars that separated them, but Jean-Marc wasn’t so gauche as to point out that banal truth. After all, even tabloid journalists have their limits.


“How’s it going, Mel?”

The lion didn’t respond, save for a slow, fang-exposing yawn.

“Fucking doldrums again, eh?” Jean-Marc remarked, then added, “But cheer up, Detective, it’s almost feeding time.”

And we both know how much we love feeding time. Especially since—

His thoughts were interrupted as Audubon’s big cat zookeeper entered, a middle-aged black man wearing plastic overalls. He hefted a heavy bucket filled with bloody meat. The sanguine aroma made both man and beast salivate. Jean-Marc had to stop himself from licking his chops like the caged lion.

“Marc,” the zookeeper said with an evasive eye, “I can’t be doing this no more. My boss, he… he wouldn’t like it none if he found out I was lettin’ non-staff back ‘ere, ‘specially wit it bein’ after hours. So… this is the last time, a’ight?”

Jean-Marc smiled. The zookeeper, Daronté Du Pleiss, was like most sinners: all-too quick to disavow the Devil in public, but oh so coy in private…

“I believe what you meant to say was that this is the last time. Unless I brought you another set of courtside Pelican tickets. Which, I did.”

Jean-Marc slowly fanned out the basketball tickets as if he was the Sanhedrin counting out Judas’ thirty coins. He had scored the season tickets from the Pelicans’ star player, Jacaubré Brion, after Jean-Marc had done a ‘catch and kill’ for the professional athlete. According to his accusers, the ‘player’ had gotten indecently rough with a few of his girlfriends—which was doubly damning since Jacaubré was married. With all of the witnesses gag-ordered by NDAs, the athlete’s reputation—and lucrative endorsement’s—were safe, but only so long as Jean-Marc sat on the story. And so long as he did, Jacaubré’s ‘gifts’ continued to trickle in. Personally, Jean-Marc wasn’t the most avid of basketball fans, but he was never one to let a good thing, or bad, go to waste.

He waved the tickets in Daronté’s direction, then watched as the zookeeper had his own turn to salivate. Still, the zookeeper hesitated, setting down his slaughterhouse-bucket to nervously pace, one hand absent-mindedly grabbing the cross necklace tucked beneath his zoo uniform.

“I… I dunno, it’s risky…”

“Come on, Daronté,” Jean-Marc whispered, “we both know how much your son loves going to the games, how he brags to all his schoolmates and neighborhood friends, telling them about how his dad is a ‘front-row friend’ of the famous Jacaubré Brion. C’mon, Daronté, we wouldn’t want to disappoint the kid…”

“Fine, but you watch, and then you’s go,” the zookeeper said, letting go of his cross to grab the tickets and hastily hide them in his pocket.

Jean-Marc swallowed his private smile, savoring how he had used one sin’s ‘wages’ to purchase another. He had become especially attuned to those ironies ever since his ‘conversion.’ His thoughts, though, were once again interrupted by the visceral sloshing of blood, as the zookeeper re-hefted the bucket and began the lion’s feeding regimen. Jean-Marc watched with delight as the beast tore into the sluiced hunks of bloody horse meat, raw bones, and rabbit carcasses.

Even before his ‘conversion,’ Jean-Marc had always loved watching ‘Private Eye Mel’ eat. Officially, the zoo-trapped lion was named Richard, after the English king. But Jean-Marc didn’t approve of the trite name, so he came up with his own, inspired by the metal plaque that announced the beast’s abbreviated scientific species: P.l. Mel., short for Panthera leo melanochaita. Initially, he hadn’t decided what ‘Mel’ was short for, but as of late, Jean-Marc was leaning towards Melech, after the idolatrous god-king of the biblical Ammonites, whose ‘crown’ was taken by King David. In medieval times, Melech was considered the wage boss of Hell.

“For the wages of sin is death.”

“Whassat?” the zookeeper called back, his attention foremost fixed upon his grisly job.

“Nothing,” Jean-Marc lied, shaking his head with a worried frown. He hadn’t meant to say anything, but he had found himself doing that increasingly. Reciting scriptures. Most of the time, he didn’t even know their sources in the ‘Good Book’—or whether they were instead in the ‘Bad Book’ he had been learning so much about lately. He had never been a scriptural scholar, even before he became a severely lapsed Catholic. But ever since being ‘born again’ by Father d’Gerasene’s blood, he found his thoughts frequently drifting to scriptures and biblical stories like a lovestruck teen daydreaming of their first crush. He knew it should have bothered him—but all he could muster was a mild unease mingled with an ineffable awe and masochistic desire for more.

For a moment, Jean-Marc considered attacking Daronté. The zookeeper’s back was to him, and he was distracted. It would be relatively easy to stalk up to the man and knock him out with a well-executed chiến lược. From there, it would be child’s play to take the man’s key, and toss him into Mel’s feeding cage. The satiated beast probably wouldn’t eat Daronté, not at first, but Melech would likely kill the intruder for trespassing on his sovereign prison.

Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…

Before Jean-Marc realized what he was doing, he started creeping up on the unsuspecting zookeeper. He halted himself, though, his head fuzzy as if he’s been drinking too much. Which, in a manner of speaking, he had.

“Why you do it?” Daronté asked, turning around to face Jean-Marc now that his task was done. If he noticed that that tabloid writer had stealthily closed the difference between them, he didn’t seem to care.

“What’s that?” the journalist asked, refocusing his attention.

“Why you come ‘ere, and watch Lil’ Richard eat his supper?”

“Little Richard?" Jean-Marc asked somewhat incredulously. To underscore the question, his gaze drifted to the quarter-ton male lion who was casually licking the blood from a paw that could easily shatter a human skull.

Daronté shrugged. “We in N’walins, ain’t we? Lil’ Richard actually came ‘ere, played Club Tiajuana, recorded at Cosimo’s studio, and riffed Tutti Frutti just across Lake Pontcartrain at the Dew Drop. But I ain’t never seen no royal Brit highness come down to N’walins.”

“Touché,” conceded Jean-Marc.

“A what now?”

“Never mind,” the journalist replied, his interest in the conversation waning as swiftly as it had waxed. He checked his smartwatch, the latest UMe model and replacement to his smashed Solaris, and looked for any interesting push-notifications. The zookeeper, however, didn’t take the hint, but posed again his earlier query:

“So, why you do it? I mean, you don’t seem no perv tryin’ to get off on it. And you ain’t never asked to feed ‘im or try to release Lil’ Richard like a crack pipe nutter. And I know these tickets ain’t no cheap seats, so why you do it? What’s in it for you?”

Jean-Marc paused and looked up from his newsfeed. He contemplated spinning a yarn for the curious, gullible zookeeper, but he decided the truth was sometimes far crueler than any lie:

“Every man has his private peccadillos, Daronté. One of mine’s a penchant—that means hobby—for collecting defunct or bellied-up newspaper prints. My pièce de résistance is a series of articles from 1884, published by L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans and its fiercest rival, Le Courrier de la Nouvelle Orleans.These papers were like the Celtics and Lakers of New Orleans’ journalism—they absolutely hated each other, as did their respective readers. Anyways, during the 1884 World’s Fair, a Frenchmen from Julia Street temporarily donated a lion allegedly from Paris’ Jeadin des Plantes to Audubon’s first animal exhibits. Even amongst the fair’s other exotic splendors, the lion drew particularly large crowds and widespread renown, as it was supposedly the last living Cape Lion on Earth. Most scholars had thought the subspecies had kicked the bucket a decade or two earlier. But there it was, a giant-ass lion with the Cape’s telltale black mane. The lion was dubbed Lézaire by L’Abeille, since it, like the biblical figure of Lazarus, had seemingly come back from the dead. Le Courrier tried to retort with its own sobriquet for the beast, but it never stuck. Anyways, Lézaire became something of a locally disputed symbol.”

“For some of, uh… your people, the color of the beast’s mane as well as its African origins meant Lézaire represented them. Also, they figured the Confederacy had tried to make them extinct as a ‘subspecies’ of people rather than property, but had ultimately failed. After all, they were still riding Reconstruction’s coattails. The more cynical colored folks, like those from the New Orleans Tribune, took the symbolism even farther, noting how the lion escaped extinction but still remained locked up in a cage, just like how former slaves had survived the Civil War, but had become ‘locked up’ by the fast-spawning Jim Crow laws.”

“Not to be outdone, the local Bourbon Democrats claimed Lézaire as their own symbol, as the ex-slave owning plantation farmers, businessmen, and professionals—or at least their power, authority, and riches—had been hunted to near-extinction by Union occupation, Reconstruction, and Radical Republican carpetbaggers. Yet, almost two decades after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the ‘Redeemers’ were back, once more as the true ‘kings of the south.’ Also, the Bourbon Democrats, or their sympathetic journalists in Le Courrier used Lézaire’s South African connections to draw a comparison between the Redeemers’ post-Reconstruction victory and ousting of Yankee and Republican carpetbaggers to recent events in the Boer Republics, where the local white, but black slave-owning Boers successfully ousted the British’s ‘northern aggressions and encroachments’ during the First Boer War.”

Now it was Daronté’s turn to look disinterestedly at his watch: a fake Rolex that looked like it came out of a cheap toy capsule vending machine.

Noting he had lost his audience’s attention, Jean-Marc cursed silently. Not that he cared much for Daronté’s opinion, or expected the ill-educated zookeeper to understand, but rather, he realized he had unintentionally slipped into a de facto history lecture. That wasn’t the tabloid journalist’s traditionally pithy style, but it was like someone else he had come to intimately know, someone who had a penchant for pedantic catechisms.

Hell, most men became like their fathers, but fuck if I want to become my new one…

As if to prove he still retained his own identity, he tried to reengage Daronté with a tabloid headline:

“But Lézaire was a phony-ass fake.”

“Whussat?” the zookeeper said, looking up, perhaps drawn more by the cursing than anything else.

“The lion—he was as fake as a Tinder profile pic. But they only found out after the World’s Fair, after a bidding war between some Bourbon Democrats and a bunch of local black Buffalo Soldiers from the 9th Calvary Regiment. Pooling their resources together, the black soldiers won the bid, with the support of the Audubon Nature Institute. In fact, Daronté, the man who formally represented the Buffalo Soldiers, officially bought the lion, and gave Lézaire to the zoo was a Lt. Du Pleiss. Probably one of your relatives.”

“Oh, shit, really?” the zookeeper said with renewed interest and a slight puff of his chest. Of course, Jean-Marc had no clue if the zookeeper was related to any Buffalo Soldiers, much less the ones involved in the lion’s late 19th-century purchase.

But sometimes a story needs some fucking spice, a little lie or two to leaven the loaf.

“But you’s said the lion was a fake?”

“Hell, yes. No sooner did the zookeepers let the beast bathe, did they discover that Lézaire’s mane wasn’t really black. He was a natural blonde, but had been given a dye job good enough to fool folks from a distance. After all, how many people had seen a real Cape Lion to tell the difference? Oops. Obviously, the hoodwinked soldiers, zoo, and scientific community were livid. The scandal only thickened when they discovered that the French conman from Julia Street had vanished. Muck-racking reporters from the Tribune accused the Bourbon Democrats of being part of the scam. Allegedly, their bidding war had been but a ruse to bilk the black soldiers of their war-won life savings, further disenfranchising the former slaves. Not sure if that was true, but it made for a hell of a hot story.”

Jean-Marc looked with private satisfaction as the story seemed to ignite some anger in the usually placid zookeeper.

“So what, you’s like a fuckin’ sheet-wearing KKK white boy who gets off to watching a poor-ass black man take care of a lemon lion your people fucked some niggers into buyin’?”

Jean-Marc quickly extended two placating palms. Shaking his head, he replied, “Not at all. From my experience, white supremacy is even faker than Lézaire’s dye job. God made us all equal, just as the Devil made us all equal sinners. And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be invited to Kevin King’s dinner parties, as I’m what the old folks would call a quadroon or quarteron.”

“A what now?”

“Means I’ve got one-fourth African ancestry. Can’t really tell, and most folks just figure I’ve got Arabic blood. These days, it’s hard to know which ancestry, false or true, lands me in worse water.”

The zookeeper gave the journalist a disbelieving look-over, then shrugged. Glancing back at the lion, he asked:

“So what’s all this got’s to do wit Lil’ Richard?”

Jean-Marc smiled, this time sharing it with Daronté, or at least the lounging lion:

“Melech—or Little Richard as you call him—is descended from Lézaire. He’s like his great-great-great-grandson or something close. Doesn’t matter how many ‘greats,’ because here’s the fucking rub. A few years ago, a group of zoologists from all over the world did a bunch of genetic and phylogeographic studies—don’t ask me what the fuck those are exactly—with lions from southern and eastern African. But their results caused them to redo how lions are classified, with a bunch of lions living in Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa all being genetically close enough to be lumped together as Panthera leo melanochaita. This didn’t exactly make anybody’s primetime headline, but it did inspire some researchers at Tulane to collaborate with folks from here, the Transvaal Museum, and the Paris Museum of Natural History. They compared genetic assays from Cape lion skulls in the museums with DNA from this lion right here—and surprise, they found out he’s a quarteron Cape Lion. So, it looks like Lézaire was the real deal, after all. He was just one of the rare Cape lions who had tawny manes. Pretty fucking hilarious, right?”

“I… guess…” Daronté said, as if not entirely getting or caring for the punchline.

“That’s exactly it!” Jean-Marc exclaimed, walking closer to the cage and its now-pacing beast. “No one really gave a fuck! People were far more excited and interested in a story that looked like the truth than one that actually was. It doesn’t matter if Lézaire or this lion actually are Cape lions—people only care if they look like them, or look like what we fucking expect them to look like. It’s all about the masquerade! And the best, or worst, part of it all was that that the stories that got the most ink weren’t about revelations of truth, but rather the ones that covered the fucking scandals and lies!”

“I guess so, but—” the zookeeper said, as if to object to Jean-Marc’s story, or at least its damning implications for humanity.

“But nothing, Daronté,” the journalist interrupted, taking another step closer to the lion’s cage. “Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me that most people care more about the hard truths versus the comforting lies, that they don’t prefer news that tears down other people’s glass houses so you don’t have to look your own in the eye and see all its cracks. If I’m wrong, then surely you’ll run home to your boy and tell him the truth—that Jacaubré Brion doesn’t know you from Adam, and you only scored the tickets by abusing the trust your boss has in you. But you and I both know you aren’t going to do that…”

So accused, the shame-faced zookeeper hung his head. Staring down, he fished out the Pelicans’ tickets. Once more, his other hand reflexively gripped his half-hidden cross necklace. So engrossed in his own thoughts, if not guilt, Daronté didn’t notice Jean-Marc’s continued approach to the lion’s cage, especially as the man resumed his ‘sermon’:

“Truth is like a king we pretend to idolize, or a God we pretend to worship, but we actually lock up in a cage, so he can’t get out and disturb our lives and beloved lies.”

Jean-Marc placed his glass-pierced palm around one of the cage’s metal bars, provoking the beast within to violently pounce against its prison, slashing and roaring with hungry, murderous fury. Jean-Marc well understood the emotion, and wisely retracted his hand, but did not step back.

In the background, Daronté looked up with shocked alarm, and shouted at Jean-Marc to get away.

The Evangelist paid him no mind, but rather whispered to the roaring lion mere inches away:

“But we know the truth, don’t we, Detective Melech? You’ve cracked the case. God is real, and so is the Devil. And the bars that mortals place between themselves and the Damned have no power, for we’re all locked inside the same prison. And the wardens, the Sanctified children of Caine, secretly walk among Adam’s children, devouring whomever God wills. Forever and ever, until the end.”

The Evangelist finished his benediction with the Sign of the Inverted Cross, then stepped away from the still-raging lion. Outside, the rain had finally stopped, but a larger, darker storm was brewing in the night sky. Jean-Marc tipped his hat at the still-stunned, half-rambling, half-shouting zookeeper, and gave his parting ‘blessing’:

“See you next time, Daronté, and make sure you say ‘hi’ to the kid and Jacaubré for me. Unless you tell them the truth, but we both know you’d never do something so honest—or so cruel…”

Adán I, Chapter IX
Gator Johnson

“Whatever man may take by violence can be restored by the grace and charity that flows from God.”
Adán St. Cypren

Months ago

True to Adán’s fears, the Black Hand–particularly with the Giovannini’s backing–had long ago expanded their search for not only for the priest, but any of his friends.

Fortunately for Adán, he had few living companions. Father Fontenot was dead, and his fellow clergy at Immaculate, Notre Dame, and Loyola had no clue where the man had vanished. Fortunately for Father Malveaux, he was well-protected, both by mortal and immortal guardians. Notwithstanding, those same clergy were able to share Adán’s close association with Madeleine. Thus, as the mob put out feelers for Madeleine’s whereabouts, their Giovannini benefactors did the same, with their nigramancers sending their enslaved wraiths to hunt the Shadowlands for any who knew the woman or priest, as they still hoped to reclaim St. Columba’s relic.

Beyond the Shroud, those wraiths’ search came to the attention of Gator Johnson. After being purged from Madeleine’s body and then banished back to the Shadowlands with the hound’s death, he had wandered the Shadowlands, his hatred of the mob was only exceeded by his fear of the allied Giovannini. Still, he had neither forgotten nor forgiven Adán, so the wraith decided to hunt down the priest down himself and not only gain his own vengeance, but deny the mob theirs. Ironically, it had been the mob’s decision to drown the heavyweight boxer that gave him some power over water–a power that he slowly learned to use to detect souls’ spiritual ‘runoff.’ And given his half-decade possession of Madeleine, he found her spiritual essence the easiest to detect.

Thus, he had tracked her across Lake Pontchartrain to the Jeansonne’s house.

Thursday night, 31 October 1946, PM

Perhaps most frighteningly, the Shroud was exceedingly thin on All Hallow’s Eve, allowing Gator Johnson’s spirit to possess the storms’ rainwater. With that ‘corporeal’ form, he half-walked, half-sloshed into the Jeansonnes’ home. His drowned voice roared incoherently like a crashing wave. His watery punches broke the Jeansonnes’ kitchen table, hurling children and chairs left and right.

His rampage, halted however, when he beheld–or sensed–Absalom. The water of his soul was familiar, and the wraith laughed long and cruel. He surged forward to claim, or perhaps kill the child, but Madeleine interceded:

“Take me instead! Spare the boy, please, please, Jesus, I beg you!”

Her selfless plea awakened an old, tortured memory in the wraith, a recollection from his mortal life.

A Mother’s Sacrifice

He had been a young child, of similar age as Absalom. The New Orleans hurricane of 1915 had also hammered Mandeville with unexpected fury. The 125 mile per hour winds had flattened his family’s shoreside shotgun house, trapping him and his mother under the rubble. As the storm surge forced Lake Pontchartrain’s water to swell, their collapsed house had begun to flood.

Eventually, neighbors heard their panicked cries. By the time those neighbors dug out enough of the house to see the timber-trapped family, his mother had been barely able to keep her head afloat, and she had to hold up her young child with her fast failing strength. Her last words had been screams–not for her own rescue, but for the toddler she had desperately thrust out to them:

“Take him instead! Spare the boy, please, please, Jesus, I beg you!”

First saving the child from her arms, the neighbors had then tried to move the timbers pinning the woman under the floodwaters–but they were too late. Such was Gator Johnson’s last memories of his mother–living nightmares he had all but forgotten as a man, that is, until the Black Hand had dropped him in the Gulf. As he drowned, those memories came flooding back, and his last mortal thought was how his mother’s sacrifice had been in vain, just as his had been for his own child.

Back in the Shadowlands’ reflection of the Jeansonne’s house, the wraith’s long-dormant eidolon manifested as a vision of his drowned mother, a shard of his soul that had long whispered to him to “be a man worthy of his mother’s sacrifice.” But his Shadow was strong, a twisted phantasmagorical version of Dalila Petit, an ex-lover who contemptuously berated him as “never going to be good enough, never gonna amount to anything but a failure, a waste, a boy who should have been allowed to drown, so at least his mother had a fighting chance.”

His soul so torn, Gator Johnson screamed and blindly swung a powerful, ghostly haymaker. He had meant to strike his Shadow, but it had goaded him into carelessly striking Madeleine in the Skinlands. As his water-possessed fist connected with her face, the plasm-tainted water rushed into her mouth and lungs. Instantly, Madeleine began to drown–right in front of Absalom. Horrified, Gator Johnson fled into the storm. His Shadow followed, cruelly reminding him that it was just as she had “told him so”: “he would never amount to anything more than a mother killer.”

Inside, Madeleine tried to vomit up the ectoplasmic water, but she soon lost consciousness. Acting on instinctual faith, Pierre’s wife grabbed a vial of holy water blessed by Adán and poured it down the dying woman’s mouth, and pronounced the related prayer of cleansing and protection from evil:

“By dis Holy water and by yer Precious Blood, wash away all der sins, O’ Lord!"

Making a sign of the cross, the Jeansonne matriarch then began to pound Madeleine’s back as if brutally punching out the ‘evil.’

And it worked.

Thursday night, 31 October 1946, PM

Madeleine coughed, then violently expelled the ectoplasmic water from her lungs, replacing the drowning fluid with blessed air. Cradling Absalom in her arms, she cried tears of gratitude. Her child had been spared–and so had she. Yet, some part of Gator Johnson’s spirit or memories lingered within the former energumen. Physically, this condition manifested as a persistent, watery cough and tiredness, akin to pneumonia water inside her lungs. Spiritually, though, this condition granted her a connection with the Shroud, and specifically the dead boxer and his projected eidolon of his mother, Rebe Célestin.

Because of that connection, she surprised all, including Adán upon his arrival with the Jeansonne men, that she did not wish to banish or retaliate against the boxer. Instead, she wished to find him and help him “transcend his purgatory”, and achieve the peace of God. Moreover, she expressed a strong premonition of where they would find him:

“He doesn’t even know it yet, but his guilt is going to drive him back to Mandeville, where his mama died–and on All Souls’ Day, he’ll be drawn to her grave as sure as the sun will rise.”

Adán did not doubt Madeleine’s revelation, but he was unsure of the doctrinal implications of mortals assisting a spiritus immundus transcend Purgatory. Consequently, he spent the next day–which was providentially Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day–to study the question.

Friday night, 1 November 1946, PM

Ultimately, Adán decided that such a thing was not only possible, but also God’s will. For just as the Church Triumphant helped the mortal members of the Church Militant attain Heaven, so too were the Church Militant able to help those in Purgatory via prayers, indulgences, and acts of service. Unlike the demonic pneumata plana like El Taumaturgo, Gator Johnson had clearly been a mortal, and thus his ghost had to be a Purgatorial spirit in the eyes of the Catholic priest.

Saturday night, 2 November 1946, PM

On the next day, he spent his time in meditation, study, and prayer. Any last doubts were dispelled when his daily scripture study took him to the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord proclaimed:

“But I say unto you, that ye resist not the one who is evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Although Adán still had no recollection of his ‘rematch’ with Gator Johnson in the Mahogany Hall, he keenly remembered his first boxing match against the heavy weight, and the right molar he had lost from a vicious left cross before Gator Johnson took his third-round fall.

Sunday morning, 3 November 1946

Thus, on the morrow, Adán and Madeleine left Madisonville to search for the wraith in Mandeville. Although Adán could have piloted the boat himself, Pierre demanded he accompany them, as he was worried for “his priest’s” safety. His wife, meanwhile, agreed to watch Absalom in their absence.

True to Madeleine’s prophecy, they found Gator Johnson at his mother’s grave. To Madeleine, the wraith was visible as a faint outline against the softly falling rain. His plasmic tears further wetted the simple engravings of Reba’s tombstone:




Seeing the ghost, Madeleine called out to him. However, rather than using his boxing nom de guerre, she called him by his birth name, Tiego Célestin.

Early Years

Tiego’s mother, Rebe had eloped with Oscar “Papa” Celestin, back when the famed jazz trumpeter played under the name of Sonny Celestin; alongside the likes of Buddy Petit, George Lewis, and Kid Ory; at Mandeville’s Dew Drop Social and Benevolent Hall. Oscar, however, had swiftly dropped Rebe and his stage name of “Sonny” in 1910, and left Mandeville for New Orleans to lead the Tuxedo Dance Hall’s house band as “Papa” Celestin. The next year, the estranged Rebe had a brief, but scandalous affair with another famed jazz trumpeter who frequented the Dew Drop: Bunk Johnson. Nine months later, Tiego ‘Johnson’ Célestin had been born, but Bunk was long gone on a tour with a circus band. Bunk, however, never showed, as he had learned that krewe members intended to do him bodily harm. Unbeknowst to Rebe, Tiego, or the Mandeville neighbors who ended up raising him, Bunk had fled to eventually settle in New Iberia.

In the years that followed, Tiego grew up on jazz and stories of its early legends. On that diet, as well as a childhood full of manual labor, he became tall and muscular, looking far beyond his years. When Mandeville’s famous Ruby Roadhouse opened up in the 1920s, he first worked as an errand boy (back when it was Buck’s Brown Derby) and later as a scullery boy and dish rat (when it became known as Ruby’s Rendezvous). When he turned 20, he tired of cleaning other people’s plates and soaking greasy plates, so he left the Roadhouse and Mandeville in search of his father. In 1932, he found Bunk in Rayne, Louisiana. Much to his chagrin, the previously famous musician had become a drunkard and hobo, who had no interest in teaching his alleged son how to play jazz. Instead, he related how, only a year prior, he had gotten into a fight, during which he had gotten his trumpet stolen and his front teeth knocked out. The theft of the first was bad enough, but the latter loss stole his ability to play. Consequently, he had been reduced to working for scraps, doing manual labor only fit for a beast. Thus, he had told his son:

“You don’t wanna learn no music another man can take away from you, so if I was you, I’d learn how to fight. Hell, become a boxer, and then you can worry about becoming a musician.”


Disheartened, but still taking the advice to heart, Tiego started boxing. However, finding a trainer and gym, and especially the money to pay for them, had been hard in the sparsely populated Acadia and Iberia parishes. Thus, like Adán, Tiego had ‘returned’ to New Orleans to find employ. He tried to get a job in the recently rechristened New Orleans Athletic Club, but the Great Depression meant that all the worthwhile jobs went to the experienced, connected, and white. Being none of those things, Tiego had nonetheless volunteered his time; helping to wipe down equipment, empty out spit buckets, and clean bathrooms; all in exchange for after-hours access to the boxing bags, ring, ropes, and other equipment that was otherwise only accessible to its club-members. His volunteer work had also allowed him to watch the ‘real members’ box and train–and he especially the ‘vicarious’ training regimen and advice dispensed by the club’s Hall of Fame trainer, Tad Gormley. This had continued for over six years, during which time, Tiego’s boxing skills blossomed to be the NOAC’s best boxer. If he had been born thirty years prior, he no doubt would have been put into the Olympic Club and fought before crowds of 10,000 fans. However, he hadn’t, and the Olympic Club had long burned to the ground in 1897. Moreover, Great Depression meant there was little chance of a black man from Mandeville supporting himself through boxing alone.

Thus, Tiego had picked up whatever menial job he could. Yet, when the Gulf Coast longshoremen’s strike began in the fall of 1935, Tiego had been able to get a job from Mr. A. E. Harris, head of the local “negro” longshoremen, as part of the New Orleans Steamship Association, or NOSA. Mr. Harris had hired Tiego for muscle as much as stevedore work, since his union was unaffiliated with both the International Longshoremen’s Association and International Seamen Union. Harris’ union worked through the 10-week strike. During this time, Tiego’s size and boxing skills had helped prevent Mr. Harris’ union from suffering the lethal fates of Henry Jones, Will Ballinger, and the twelve other strike fatalities, which had disproportionately affected black stevedores. True to Mr. Harris’ prediction and stratagem, the strike ultimately failed “all at once and nothing first–just as bubbles do when they burst”. In its wake, Mr. Harris’ had kept Tiego on, providing him with regular, though often part-time, contracts.

Notwithstanding, Tiego’s boxing prowess had not gone unnoticed–or unchallenged. When several ILA ex-strikers attempted to “even the score” after one of Tiego’s shifts, the black man had soundly trounced them, further drawing the attention of the mob-backed illegal boxing circuit. Knowing that plenty of other former strikers and white stevedores would pay good money to see the black man’s blood spilt, those ringmasters had enticed Tiego with a hefty purse. Tiego had readily accepted, as he had been eager for the money and even more eager to finally box in a formal ring. While he would be disappointed by his ‘ring’ (which was nothing more than a stacked-together crates in a warehouse), the money had been all he had hoped for–at first.

After his first few fights–during which time his ‘managers’ had made him adopt the more fearsome fighting name of Gator Johnson–Tiego had found himself with more money than he had ever seen, much less owned. Moreover, as his victories had begun to pile up, he garnered a growing level of local notoriety, if not fame. To the man who had grown up washing dirty dishes in the Ruby Roadhouse, the attention had been intoxicating. Indeed, it had made him feel like he was one of his idolized jazz musicians, whom woman wanted and men wanted to be. He had particularly reveled in his “career” choice when he discovered that his mother’s ex-husband, Papa Celestin, had been forced to disband his Tuxedo Orchestra for lack of gigs and take up work in New Orleans’ shipyards. The ‘fall’ of other Ruby Roadhouse idols–such as Kid Ory hanging up his trombone to raise chickens–only enflamed Tiego’s pride.


As if to further prove he was superior to his former heroes, he wooed Dalila Petit, the daughter of Joseph Crawford, better known by his stage-name of Buddy Petit. Dalila had been initially raised in LA, after Jelly Roll Morton and Bill Johnson had briefly lured Buddy in 1917 to perform in LA. When her father abandoned LA’s “sunny straitjacket” to return to New Orleans, Dalila and her mother had followed, though her mother would eventually return to LA. For Dalila, her LA heritage meant she was a “movie star just waiting to be found”, but when no casting calls came, the beautiful but shallow woman had decided she would “settle” for a movie star’s lifestyle. Initially, she had hitched those hopes on marrying an up and coming musician, and had found her most likely candidate in Chester Zardis.

Though nearly two decades Dalila’s senior, Chester had joined her father’s orchestra at age 16. During the 1920s, he had played New Orleans’ nightclubs as a bassist and tubist, alongside Kid Rena, Punch Miller, Fate Marable, and Duke Dejan. During the 1930s, Chester had played with Count Basie in New York City, performed with Fats Pichon’s band aboard the riverboat, S. S. Capital, and recorded music with George Lewis and even Tiego’s father before Bunk’s brawl-related ‘retirement.’ Chester himself had a history of fighting, which as a youth had landed in the Jones Waif Home.

That penchant once again reared its ugly head while Chester and Dalila were drinking at Noir Cherise, a local speakeasy turned nightclub. The couple’s carousing had developed into spats about Chester’s low-paying gigs and Dalila lamenting how Chester’s peer, Louis Armstrong, had already been in five movies, including his most recent cinema alongside Bing Crosby. The last straw, however, had come when Dalila had made a disparaging innuendo about the bassist’s “lackluster fingering skills”. So provoked, Chester began to physically assault Dalila, shouting that she made a better “dried up sponge than a jelly roll”. The short-statured man had slapped her hard, then balled up his fist as if to punch her face, but Tiego stepped in. The resultant scuffle was short, one-sided, and very painful–for Chester.

When the burly boxer casually threw down a wad of cash to the nightclub’s owner in “apology for the disturbance”, Dalila was smitten. What had followed was a torrid love affair, and within a year, she had become pregnant and delivered their baby boy, Rupén Zebulon Célestin-Petit. Initially, the couple and then family of three had been happy–but only so long as Tiego kept bringing home an ample winner’s purse.


But as Tiego’s cut became smaller and smaller, Dalila’s shrewish, belittling ways resurfaced. In an effort to please his wife, or at least escape her cutting contempt, Tiego had dared to complain to his ‘ringmasters.’ Affronted at the man’s gumption, they had callously replied that the crowds had lost interest in repeatedly seeing their Irish or Italian favorites be brutally, easily beat down by a black man. As a consequence, Tiego was given fewer and fewer opportunities to fight, with smaller and smaller cuts, earning him crueler and crueler harangues by his wife. Back into a corner by non-boxing opponents he could not simply out-punch, Tiego vented his frustration in the ring. At first, his more savage style had earned him some renewed interest and a meagre bump in pay, but it ultimately faded, leaving Tiego even more volatile and enraged. After a particularly scathing diatribe from his wife, he unleashed the full measure of his rage upon an unwitting opponent, one Seán ‘The Banshee’ Sheehan, before unintentionally beating the Irish heavyweight to a bloody, dead pulp. The boxing ‘ringmasters’ covered up the murder, but they took all of Tiego’s winnings and half of his monthly dockyard salary to cover all the ‘hush money’ and related police bribes. To make matters worse, Tiego’s boxing opportunities evaporated, as no one wanted to go up against the “Man-Killing Gator”.

Near destitute and guilt-sickened, Tiego had been thrown further off balance when he returned home one day from a dock-shift to find Dalila and Rupén gone. Dalila’s note had derisively told her former lover that she was leaving him and New Orleans, and sarcastically told him the only way she would consider returning was if his “gloves turned to gold”. Moreover, she had cruelly related that they were heading to LA, where Rupén could escape “his washed-up father” before he could ruin his life, just as he had “ruined” the life of both Rupén’s and Tiego’s mothers. Devasted, Tiego had tried to drown himself–with booze.

He almost succeeded too, save that he eventually ran out of money. Later evicted from his home, he slept on the streets until he sobered up enough to beg his old ringmasters for a fight:

“Any fight, I don’t care if I win or lose, live or die, I just need to be back in the ring. Boxing is the only thing that makes sense anymore… the only thing I have left…”

His ‘managers’ had found it all-too easy to convince the desperate man to agree to the rigged match against the bantamweight Bruno. His promised cut had been substantial, so much so that the drunken man had thought it would be enough to “buy back” Dalila’s love and his daughter. He had been mistaken, of course, and about so many things.

Dalila did not return. He was given some money, but it wasn’t half of what he was promised. Moreover, his loss had utterly ruined his hard-earned boxing reputation–just as it had drowned any meagre self-respect he had once had for himself. Thus, thinking he had nothing left to lose, he drunkenly demanded the rest of the money he had been promised, threatening to otherwise reveal how the match had been rigged. It was the last poor decision of his life–at least as a mortal.

Eight years later, the wraith of Tiego Célestin was ready to abandon himself to Oblivion. Yet, when he heard his name–his real name–from Madeleine’s lips, the tortured, guilt-sick ghost paused. Initially, he thought she too had become a wraith at his murderous hands, but then he recognized that she was somehow alive–even if ‘tainted’ with plasm. He was further confused by her promised help to guide him through the “expiatory purification of Purgatory.” Her desire to save him, to help him “make things right” and “choose the higher road” keenly reminded him of his mother–or at least his eidolon of her. With the barriers between the dead and living still thin on the last day of Allhallowtide’s triduum, Tiego approached her penitently, as if to accept her aid.

He stopped, however, when he sensed the presence of his old nemesis. His Shadow immediately manifested, as the false Dalila was all-too aware of how close Tiego had come to ‘rejecting’ her. She viciously lied, claiming that Adán was responsible for them being apart, as she claimed that she had returned to New Orleans, looking for him and hoping to reunite their family–but that it had all been spoiled and ruined by Adán, the scrawny bantamweight who had stolen his pride, his champion’s belt, his money, his love, and his life.

So enraged, as well as empowered by that dark Shadow, Tiego vented his hate and fury into the Skinlands, sucking up rain to form powerful fists that began to pummel and punch the priest.

Initially, Adán tried to defend himself, but his boxing skills were no match against the mortal heavyweight, much less in his immortal, inhuman form. Thus, to Tiego’s surprise, the priest dropped his guard, knelt on the rain-drenched grass, and began to pray:

“Exorcizo te, creatura aquæ, in nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in nomine Jesu Christi, Filii ejus Domini nostri, et in virtute Spiritus Sancti: ut fias aqua exorcizata ad effugandam omnem potestatem inimici, et ipsum inimicum eradicare et explantare valeas cum angelis suis apostaticis, per virtutem ejusdem Domini nostri Jesu Christi: qui venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos et sæculum per ignem.”

(“I exorcise thee, creature of water, in the name of God the Almighty Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that you may put to flight all the power of the enemy, and to root out that enemy along with his fallen angels through the power of Jesus Christ, who shall come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire.”)

Ignorant of Latin and most Catholic rites, Tiego thought the priest was trying once again to banish him, so he increased his furious attacks. Pierre rushed into the fray, to save his friend, but the big fisherman was easily knocked back, his head striking a nearby tombstone.

As Pierre fell unconscious, Tiego resumed his attack against Adán. His watery jabs, crosses, and hooks brutally punished the priest’s body, breaking ribs, re-shattering his nose, and bashing in his right brow. True to the Lord’s scriptural injunction, Adán did not resist, but rather ‘turned his check’ and continued his invocation, albeit one broken but grunts of agony:

“Deus, qui ad salutem humani generis maxima quæque sacramenta in aquarum substantia condidisti: adesto propitius invocationibus nostris, et elemento huic, multimodis purificationibus præparato, virtutem tuæ benedictionis infunde; ut creatura tua, mysteriis tuis serviens, ad abigendos dæmones morbosque pellendos divinæ gratiæ sumat effectum; ut quidquid in domibus vel in locis fidelium hæc unda resperserit careat omni immunditia, liberetur a noxa.”

(“O God, who for the salvation of the human race has built Thy greatest mysteries in the substance, in Your kindness hear our prayers, and with the element to this, for many kinds of purifications of His well-prepared, the power of Thy blessing, Serve it; the creation of Thy mysteries, serving as an agent of divine grace; is sprinkled with this water in their houses or in the buildings of the faithful, that whatever might be free from all uncleanness, he is freed from every harm.”)

As Adán refused to fight back, much of Tiego’s fury evaporated. After all, he could not prove how much of a boxer he was if the priest did not fight back. Also, he realized that if he continued, he would surely kill the priest. Initially, this had given him–and his Shadow–great satisfaction, but Adán’s pacifism in the face of Tiego’s tempest-like rage haunted him as surely as Dalila’s Shadow screaming at him to “cut out his lights–just like they said he did to you!” Over that din, he finally recognized the other shouting that he, in his murderous rage, had ignored. It was Madeleine, pleading for Tiego to stop:

“Spare him, please, please, I beg you!”

The plea once more resurrected his mother’s private martyrdom. He then saw her, his manifested eidolon superimposed over Madeleine. Both women were crying, and Rebe’s voice was especially raw and sorrowful as she spoke to her son:

“I didn’t save your life for you to take others.”

The eidolon-imposed Madeleine then threw herself over the savagely injured, barely conscious, but still praying priest. Yet, to Tiego, the woman appeared like a heavenly glowing white towel thrown over the body of not ‘Bruno,’ but Seán Sheehan, the last and only man he had murdered in blind rage. Horrified, he ignored Dalila’s undead diatribes. Sinking down to his knees, as if praying with Adán across the Shroud, he stared down at his glove-tied hands. They were red, stained with his murderous blood.

But then, Adán reached forward–and through the Shroud–to lay a hand upon those gloves, and completing the Latin rite for purifying water and making it holy:

“Non illic resideat spiritus pestilens, non aura corrumpens: discedant omnes insidiæ latentis inimici; et si quid est quod aut incolumitati habitantium invidet aut quieti, aspersione hujus aquæ effugiat: ut salubritas, per invocationem sancti tui nominis expetita, ab omnibus sit impugnationibus defensa. Per Dominum, amen.”

(“Against pestilent spirit or taint of corruption; all the wiles of the lurking enemy; provide for the safety and peace of the inhabitants of that which is, and if there be any, by the sprinkling of this water, so that health, through the invocation of Thy holy name, made secure against all attacks. Through the end–amen.”)

Miraculously, Tiego’s his murder-red, soul-fettering gloves loosened, falling from his hands, then transforming into a celestial white hue. Meanwhile, the Shadow of Dalila screamed and vanished in a silver-screen flash, as if exorcised by the ritual and Tiego’s decision to stay his hand. That hand now reached forward, and with an instinct and power that he did not think he possessed, he touched the dying priest and prayed, echoing Madeleine’s pleas as well as his mother’s last words:

“Take me instead… spare him… please… Jesus, I beg you…”

Upon that benediction, Adán’s wounds began to miraculously heal, bleeding off as Tiego willingly accepted those wounds into his own spiritual ‘flesh.’ The priest still lost his right eyesight, as his retina had been snapped by Tiego’s blows, but the ghost’s sacrifice saved the life of the priest he had just long desired to kill.

Madeleine, in turn, ministered to both of the injured men as best as she could. Cradling Adán’s head in her lap, she heard Pierre moan as he groggily regained consciousness. She called out to the big fisherman. Pierre, upon seeing Adán bloodied and injured (though no longer mortally so), leapt up and lifted his priestly friend, vowing to get him medical aid.

Thus, Madeleine had been left with Tiego’s wounded, soul-weary shade. As the last evening of Allhallowtide came to an end, he shared his life’s sad story and related shames, in a manner similar to how she had shared hers with Adán in Charity Hospital a little more than two years prior.

November 1946

In the last months of 1946, Adán recovered in the Southern Baptist Hospital in Uptown New Orleans. He never regained sight in his right eye, but his once-lost memories slowly trickled back.

He recalled being abducted by the Order of the Garter when he had entered Mahogany Hall, just as he came to recall performing the Vade Retro Satana on Madeleine and shunting the unclean spirits into the hounds that were savaging the ‘undercover’ detective. Initially, he had no clue who that man was, until Madeleine explained.

Notwithstanding, memory gaps still remained, and Madeleine was in no hurry to fill them. Adán initially thought her evasiveness was benign, a result of her being focused on helping TIego. Indeed, he too soon ceased trying to fill the blank spots when he returned to Madisonville and joined Madeleine in her mission to help Tiego transcend Purgatory.

November 1946

During Adán’s time away, Madeleine had learned much of Tiego and his unresolved passions and regrets. For even past Allhallowtide, she had retained her special ability to perceive and commune with the ghost, courtesy of her faith and unique case of ‘walking pneumonia.’ The exorcist-priest also found that his prayers and faith occasionally allowed his ‘dead’ eye to perceive Tiego as well as other beings beyond the veil of death. Drawing upon his theological as well as pastoral training, Adán assisted Madeleine’s ministry to the purgatorial spirit.

As part of this process, the trio revisited Tiego’s old Mandeville haunts, including the site of the Célestin’s hurricane-destroyed home. It and the surrounding lots had been purchased as part of Ernest M. Loeb’s budding plan for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. In contrast, the Ruby Roadhouse and Dew Drop still stood and remained in operation. Although Adán vastly preferred liturgical hymns to jazz, Madeleine had grown up in Storyville during the genre’s birth, and its music had been a sole bright spot of her early years.

Tiego’s emotions were more mixed. On one hand, witnessing the resurgent post-war jazz scene made him happy, as he had feared the Great Depression had killed the music of his childhood and bloodline. At the same time, listening to the Roadhouse’s lively music and watching smiling couples dance at the Dew Drop made his morose. It not only reminded him that he was dead and unable to partake in such mortal pleasures, but also that he had forsaken his dream of becoming a musician to instead become a boxer, a path that ultimately made him a murderer.

To resolve the wraith’s conflicted emotions, Madeleine began ‘taking’ Tiego to Mandeville’s dance hall. There, she would dance ‘with’ the wraith, teaching him new songs and dance-steps while also learning to let go of the old. After all, letting go of a past life, and coming to peace with one’s past sins and poor choices, was something the sexually abused, former prostitute, and ex-demoniac was well acquainted with.

December 1946

Meanwhile, Adán used his scholarly, investigative abilities to discover that both of Tiego’s ‘fathers’ had resumed their musical careers. Namely, after WWII’s conclusion, Papa Celestin had reformed his Tuxedo Brass Band and found renewed fame. Far more surprising and heartening to Tiego was the news of Bunk’s return to jazz.

As the priest shared with the ghost, Bunk’s early compatriots–such as Louis Armstong, Sidney Bechet, and Clarence Williams–had been interviewed by the authors of an early book of jazz history, Jazzmen, during which time they had spoken highly of Bunk’s musical contributions in New Orleans. Those same authors had then tracked down Bunk, and after hearing of his plight, started up a collection among writers and artists. They had raised enough money to gift Bunk a new trumpet as well as a set of dentures fitted for him by Sidney Bechet’s brother, who happened to be a dentist.

“Whatever man may take by violence,” Adán preached to the wraith, “can be restored by the grace and charity that flows from God.” The priest then read the last Parts of the Apocalypse to the ghost, sharing how God would restore all good things lost and how the glories of Heaven surpassed that of Earth:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea… Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away… I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Summer 1947

The priest’s testimony and biblical readings gave Tiego a measure of peace and hope–as well as a warning, particularly the passages that seemed to be speak of the Tempest’s end for the righteous, while the wicked would join the ‘lake’ which to him clearly seem an Oblivion-tainted maelstrom. The wraith had quickly learned to fear the Tempest–and particularly its maelstroms–as he had fallen through a nihil shortly after emerging from his caul (in wraith parlance, accepted his death and “awoken” as a ghost) and being lured into the Gulf of Mexico by spectres. And while he had since learned significant power over water, both natural and spiritual, the already terrifying Tempest reminded him of the hurricane of 1935 that made him an orphan. Moreover, since the Fifth Great Maelstrom, the Tempest had become even more fearful and furious.

Notwithstanding, Tiego was further soothed by another gladsome discovery shared by Adán: a record. It contained Bunk’s first recordings, made and sold by Jazz Man Records in 1942. Tiego wept ghostly tears when Madeleine played it on the Jeansonnes’ gramophone, amazed at his father’s musical imagination, subtlety, and beauty. With Adán’s and Madelein’s aid, he learned that his father had gained a resurgent cult of fans and had been touring in San Franciso, Boston, and New York City, alongside musical luminaries like George Lewis and Lead Belly.

When they discovered that this tour was coming to New Orleans, Tiego found a way to attend–at least vicariously through the Shadowlands. ‘Shadowing’ his father, the ghost was once again awed by the man’s talents–nor did his joy significantly diminish when he witnessed how his father had remained a temperamental, passive-aggressive, and often drunken man. To Tiego, it suggested that a man might transcend his faults through using his divine-given gifts.

Fall 1947

Tiego’s own gifts, much to his chagrin, were neither musical nor creative. Instead, his chief talent was pugilism.

To Madeleine, he repeatedly shared that he sorely wished he could have competed in an official tournament, rather than solely in the mob’s illicit warehouse circuit. Indeed, the ghost had slowly come to believe in Dalila’s parting promise that he would be reunited with his family if his “gloves turned to gold.” For the boxer, this meant winning a Golden Gloves competition, a task that seemed impossible after his death.

Yet, after his exorcism in 1944, Tiego had been finally free to wander the ghostly Shadowlands of New Orleans–where to his delight, he discovered that the Olympic Club, despite being burned down in 1897, remained. Moreover, he found its interior ‘haunted’ with wraiths trying to rival the great deeds of John Sullivan, James Corbett, Andy Bowen, and Jack Burke. Racism, however, seemed to transcend the grave, and he was once again ostracized and unable to join their ghostly bouts. Ironically, it had been his lingering in the Club’s shadows that had alerted him to the Giovannini-enslaved wraiths looking for Madeleine and Adán.

Given these frustrations, Madeleine thought that Tiego would need to learn a musical instrument to transcend his regretted career of violence over music. Adán, in contrast, believed that expiatory purification did not entail finishing a ‘bucket list’ of unfulfilled wishes, but rather relinquishing unrighteous desires, fears, and doubts that had led one in life to reject the divine for the venial. To that end, he tried to convince Tiego that that he had chosen the boxing ring over the musician’s stage ultimately out of fear and pride, specifically the prideful desire to be better, stronger, and more powerful than his fellow man–and that this was the foremost thing for which he needed to repent.

That same pride made it difficult for Tiego to accept the priest’s counsel, especially since the gentle but still stinging rebuke came from the man whom he had long considered his nemesis. Adán of course had long ago tried to convince Tiego of the error of that past view, explaining how he had been an unwitting pawn in the rigged match. At the same time, Tiego found it galling that Adán’s participation in the dock’s boxing ring was in no way motivated by a love of the sport, or even its monetary prizes. Somehow, that admission seemed to further cheapen Tiego’s ‘fall’–something which his diminished but still-extant Shadow pointed out with cruel relish. Notwithstanding, Tiego eventually accepted that Adán was never his true nemesis. After all, despite the ringmaster’s lies, it was they, not Adán, that gave Gator Johnson his concrete shoes and last ‘swim.’

December 1947

That truth reared its ugly head, near the end of Christmastide of 1947, when the Jeansonne’s received an unpleasant gift: a nutria rat nailed to their door. The mob, or specifically a crew of picciotti or low-level ‘soldiers,’ had finally found them. True to Dr. Bristow’s word, the mob never learned of Adán’s treatment at Southern Baptist Hospital. Instead, Madeleine had been spotted during one of her increasingly frequent trips to Mandeville. Ironically, the mobsters had been looking for Louis Armstrong, as the Black Hand was intent on running Satchmo out of the Greater New Orleans area.

The picciotto that spotted Madeleine was a mulatto Italian named Malchus Vattali. Vattali and his would-be capo, Guiseppe “Pino” Barreca, decided not to inform their superiors back in New Orleans. This was partly for fear that they were incorrect, but also because the Black Hand was undergoing an unexpected transition in power. Silvestro’s luck had finally run out, as Congressman Jimmy Morrison’s bill had been exposed, and the godfather was in the process of being deported.

Meanwhile, Underboss Marcello had been called to the Commission’s Havana Conference for the first full-scale meeting of the American mafia leaders since their Chicago rendezvous in 1932. Marcello had not yet returned, as he had left Cuba for New York to further cement his alliances. In the momentary power vacuum, the local mobsters had become embroiled in a lukewarm war against each other as capos viewed for supremacy, in hopes of becoming the new underboss, or even don if they played their cards right.

Malchus and Pino wanted to make sure they alerted the right superiors down in New Orleans, as the former hoped to finally take the omerta (something long denied him due to his Africian blood on his mother’s side) become a true soldato, while the latter wished to be officially appointed the caporegime of his Mandeville crew.

Monday night, 2 February 1948, PM

On Candlemass night, Pino gathered his group of callow picciotti and surrounded the Jeansonne’s home. Inside, Adán, Madeleine, Pierre, and Andre were discussing what they should do about the mob’s ominous warning. Pierre wanted to fight, and he emphasized his point by stabbing the air with one of his boning knives. The more city-savvy Madeleine warned against “bringing a knife to a gunfight”, as she, like Adán, had become very fond of their adoptive family and could not bear the thought of them being injured, or worse. However, she vehemently disagreed with Adán’s proposed plan of turning himself in to the mob.

“Madeleine,” he contended, “they are ultimately hunting for me. If not for my life, then for the relic they believe I have. They’re only going after you to get to me.”

“I disagree, St. Cyprien,” she retorted quickly, “the Black Hand’s not forgotten nor forgiven the Order of the Garter.”

“Da what?” Pierre asked, as neither Adán nor Madeleine had thought it appropriate to share that portion of Madeleine’s sordid past with the fisherman.

Before any either of them could answer, Pino’s crew unleashed a full magazine of a tommy gun as a ‘warning shot’ into the Jeansonne’s remote house. The spray of bullets shattered windows and wood, while also splattering and knocking over the family’s collection of burning Candlemas candles. Miraculously, none of the house’s inhabitants were harmed, though they had to rush to put out fast-spreading fires. To avert further violence and spare his friends, Adán loudly shouted to the mobsters, announcing his presence and peaceful intention to exit the house. He then exhorted the gunmen to hold their fire “lest innocent blood be on your hands.”

Hearing the long-sought priest was inside and about to surrender, Pino thought he had hit the jackpot, as the Giovannini were offering a filthy rich reward for the priest, so long as he was alive. Thus, Pino ordered his crew to lower their guns, but whispered to his men to be ready to mow down the others, “since its’s harder to snitch to the cops when your guts are full of lead.”

Despite Madeleine’s shouted protests, Adán walked out, but hovered near the door, as if his proximity would shield the house’s inhabitants. On Pino’s orders, Vattali and another of his men approached and began to roughly apprehend the priest. However, the tempestuous, protective Pierre rushed out, and stabbed Vattali with his boning knife, impaling the man’s ear and trapping the picciotto against his front door’s jamb. Vattali screamed, and in his pain, he unthinkingly tore free–and thus tore off most of his ear. The other mobsters began to panic, with some a hair trigger away from showering everyone in bullets.

Adán, however, reached down to hold Vattali’s ravaged ear in his stigmata-marked hand, and uttered a brief intercessory prayer of healing to Saint Jude and the Blessed Virgin Mary. To Vattali’s awe, his sliced-off ear suddenly became hale and hole–even as his ‘old’ ear remained impaled to the Jeansonne’s door. The still-kneeling mobster stared up at the miracle worker in speechless shock. Meanwhile, Adán gently rebuked his old friend:

“Sheath your blade, Pierre. Christ did not reject Calvary’s infinite grail of torment. How then can I call myself His disciple if I refuse my own paltry cup of suffering.”

“You’s surrenderin’?” the big fisherman asked, dumbfounded and close to tears.

“As God wills it,” was the priest’s reply as he walked towards the other mobsters, raising his bloodied palm in surrender. Madeleine tried to rush out, to impossibly fight off the armed picciotti, but she was physically restrained by the now freely crying Pierre. Meanwhile, the young mobsters tossed the priest into the trunk of one of two mobster’s cars, a ’41 Pontiac Streamliner. The still dumbstruck Vattali, however, slowly rose, as if in a dream, and ‘freed’ his old earlobe. He cradled it in disbelief of his disbelief.

Ignoring the mulatto and his miraculous healing, Pino nodded to the rest of his picciotti:

“Grab the girl and the kid. They’ll give us the juice in case we need to really squeeze the priest.”

“And the rest?”

Pino just laughed, stepped into the Pontiac, and signaled his driver to depart.

Monday night, 2 February 1948, PM

The remaining mobsters approached, pushing past Vattali, and into the Jeansonnes’ house, where the inhabitants had finally quelled the knocked-over flames. When one of the men snatched Absalom, Madeleine snapped, charging and furiously punching. Initially, both Black Hand and the Jeansonnes were too stunned to act. So unchecked, she screamed and cursed, venting all her rage on the piciotto. When she picked up the nearby gramophone and tried to brain the now shouting, screaming mobster, the young man finally drew his handgun, a M1911.

“L-look, lady, I… I don’t, don’t w-wanna shoot you!” he cried out.

Yet, when the rage-deafened woman still hurled the heavy object at his skull, he reflexively fired. However, much like Enrique’s fated shot on February 26th of 1944, the bullet went high and wide. The .45 caliber projectile blasted apart the gramophone’s vinyl: a 1925 Okeh Records featuring the first recording of “Sonny” Celestin and his Tuxedo Brass Band.

As a young adolescent orphan in Mandeville, the record had been Tiego’s favorite. Not that he had ever owned it legitimately. But he had listened to it routinely when far richer folks played it at the Dew Drop and danced inside the hall, while he hauled garbage and scrubbed pavement stones. One day, he stole it, but to his foolish dismay he hadn’t realized that a record by itself couldn’t play. Still, he had imagined the music coming out of the vinyl record, just as he had imagined himself leading his own Tuxedo Brass Band. He kept imagining those dreams even after the Dew Drop owners caught up to him, took back the record, and beat the snot out of the boy for his theft. The injuries eventually healed, but the music, both imagined and real, continued to play within his dreams, transcending even death’s door.

Consequently, the destruction of the object, as well as Madeleine’s murderous pugilism, summoned Tiego more surely than one of Rosa Bale’s seances. He found himself drawn to–and into–the woman’s tears, sweat, and Shroud-tainted pneumonia. Yet, unlike the last time he possessed Madeleine, Tiego found himself fighting to protect, rather than violently oppress, the weak. And this time, the ‘weak’ included a mother fighting for her child against the Black Hand. Thus, in a rare moment of convergence, his eidolon and Shadow both urged him to fight. The former pleaded for Tiego to fight in order to “spare the boy.” The latter screamed at him to attack the picciotti, to gain some vengeance against the Black Hand and all the woe they had caused ‘them.’

Thus, with the projections of Reba and Dalila spurring on the reunited energumen, Tiego ‘coached’ Madeleine on how to fight off her attackers. She delivered a spine-cracking rabbit punch to a man seizing Absalom. She then unleashed a flurry of fast jabs, driving back one of her own attackers, giving her the space to land a knock-out cross. She then closed in fast as the last invader tried to raise his tommy gun and mow down the entire crowd. Madeleine’s quick duck, then uppercut to the man’s chin, followed by a swinging hook took him down before another salvo could be fired.

Caught up in the ‘blood sport,’ she advanced on Vattali, but the ‘three-eared’ mobster once more fell to his knees, surrendering and pleading for forgiveness. The shocked Jeansonne brothers barely held her back before Vattali blurted out something that stayed her and Tiego’s pugilistic fury:

“I-I can help! I k-know where, w-where they’re taking him! I can help you save him, please, please!”

Initially, Dalila’s Shadow screamed at Tiego to bash in the skull of the repentant picciotto, but she eventually relented. After all, Vattali could lead them to far more ‘boxing opponents,’ and if–or when–Tiego failed, she would be there to cruelly point out his inadequacies and put Tiego back on the path to Oblivion.

Thus, while Pierre’s wife shepherded all the children to one of the family’s bayou-hid hunting cabins for safety, Vattali, Pierre, Andre, and the still Tiego-rid Madeleine all piled into the mobsters’ ’33 Ford Vicky.

The race to rescue Father St. Cyprien had begun.

Adán I, Chapter VIII
Kiss of Death

“Make sure you get your Last Rites read before leaving St. Patrick’s, because as soon as you step out of this church, the whole family’s gonna be waiting for you.”
Tito Matranga

June 1945

For Adán, the five months before Ava’s wedding passed like a rushing freight train–and felt just as heavy. Fortunately, the Freneau and Giacona families took care of the copious wedding preparations, including obtaining Adán’s permission to marry outside his parish. Meanwhile, Adán retreated into his work for the Society of Leopold. Frankly, the horrors he researched and spied upon for the Order of St. Ambrose were easier to handle than the horrors within his own heart.

Madeleine was all-too happy to have more time with “her saint.” Their closeness also grew when Jupp was finally able to enlist in the waning months of WWII, as his German-Italian blood was less of a black mark with the only remaining war front being against Japan. In Jupp’s absence, Adán became Absalom’s de facto godfather, and the child was a singular source of joy for the man.

September 1945

That joy–and Madeleine’s and Adán’s bond–became all the more important to the priest when Father Fontenot passed away in late September. The Jesuit was one of the rare cases of a Leopoldite ending his Vigil peacefully in his sleep.

Yet, with the Jesuit’s passing, Adán inherited not only several of the man’s religious relics, but also his place as head of the archdiocese’s Order of St. Ambrose. The role’s responsibilities were many, but Adán was delighted to more fully devote his days and nights to the Church Militant. It also distracted him from Ava’s imminent wedding.

November 1945

Thus, when the day of the wedding arrived in November of 1945, Adán was bone-weary and numb with exhaustion. That numbness seemed to become increasingly mental and emotional as he was called upon to lead the marital ceremony. He said his lines and played his part, as if he was a hollow puppet being pulled by strings. During the ceremony itself, he kept his eyes focused on the church’s Gothic Revival architecture, and hardly looked at Ava, her brother, or her new husband.

Immediately after the wedding, his only direct interaction with Ava was brief, but pained. He expressed his sincere wish that she have the “full measure of marital happiness and love.” Seeing her tear up, he tenderly passed her his handkerchief–the very same one she had gifted him 21 months prior.

When she tried to return it, he took her hand in his and gently squeezed, but he refused to take back the cloth. Before she could protest or say anything else, Cesare swept in, vigorously shaking Adán’s hand and thanking him for performing the ceremony. He then wheeled away his new wife into the throng of wealthy, influential guests who had come to give their congratulations to the couple.

November 1945

As if distancing himself from that marital celebration, Adán turned his back on the crowd and attentively gazed up at the fan vaulting of the 85-foot-tall, as well as its sixteen stained glass windows. Thus, while he was regarding the painting of Christ pulling St. Peter from the sea, he was unprepared for the sudden, but heavy thump of a hand upon his shoulder:

“Father!” shouted the voice that accompanied the forceful gesture, “I just wanted to give my thanks, and look you in the eye, face to face and man to man.”

So startled, it took Adán a moment to place the voice and its owner: his old dock boss, Tito. No sooner had he made that connection, then did Tito give him a crushing side-embrace, during which Tito leaned in and whispered:

“You’re a hard man to find, Bruno Legaré. And as Christ is my witness, I wasn’t really sure it was you up there, with me way back in the pews, so I just had to see for myself.”

“Think carefully, Tito, about what you do in the House of God,” the priest said firmly, his eyes reflexively darting back to Ava.

“Oh, don’t you worry, Bruno–or should I say Father Cyprien–about me causing no scene, not here. Why, I wouldn’t dream of it. After all, the groom’s a giovane d’onore, son of the consigliere.”

To Adán, the revelation was like a slap with a tire iron. Seeing the priest’s reaction, Tito laughed loudly, playing his part by giving the priest another hard ‘congratulatory’ pat on the back.

“Why, you didn’t know?! Ah, that’s rich, that is.”

Pretending to wipe a tear from his eye, Tito continued, “Oh sure, the whole family’s here. And not just the Giaconas, no, I mean the family. Carlos and Catfish Freddy–I’m sure you remember them, right? Why, even Don Carollo’s here. Oh, you probably didn’t hear about how his deportation got cancelled on account of the war. Why, old Silver Dollar Sam, he’s got Congressman Jimmy Morrison drafting a bill to award Silvestro with American citizenship. Ain’t democracy great!”

“What do you want, Tito?” the priest asked, as he tried to further turn and scan the crowd.

“Oh, me?” Tito replied with a light, cruel laugh. “I just came to see your old mug nice and close. That, and to give you a little present, courtesy of the family, from one Judas to another.”

The dock boss and capo then leaned in and gave Adán an il bacio della morte, a kiss of death. Laughing, Tito provided some parting advice as a cruel lagniappe, “So if I was you, Father–and boy oh boy am I sure glad I ain’t–I would make sure you get your Last Rites read before leaving St. Patrick’s, because as soon as you step out of this church, the whole family’s gonna be waiting for you, and no amount of fancy boxing moves or sweet-talking is gonna save your collared neck.”

‘Patting’ the priest on his back again, Tito departed with a final shout: “Thanks again, Father, for all your service. I hope to see you real soon!”

November 1945

True to Tito’s word, the Mafia was present in force. They ‘behaved’ themselves while the couple remained inside St. Patrick’s, but more than one soldato had been posted at each of the church’s exits, preventing his escape. By the time the wedding couple and party left, the number of mafioso tripled. Adán was trapped.

Furthermore, and to Adán’s shock and disgust, the other clergy of St. Patrick’s parish seemed to be fully in the Black Hand’s pocket, such that they rendered him no aid, or seemed to feign disbelief. Attempts to use the archpriest’s office phone were similarly blocked on account of the phone allegedly being “out of commission.”

Surrounded by his enemies like unto Elisha at Dothan, Adán prayed. Like Elisha, he petitioned the Lord to help him see that “they that be with us” were still more than “they that be with them.” Yet, unlike the seraphic host that delivered Elisha from the Aramean army, Adán’s rescue came from a single, elderly man.

“Well, Cœur de Lion, you seem to have gotten yourself in quite the bloody clanger.”

“Jamesie?” Adán exclaimed, excited but surprised to see the nominal Anglican inside a Catholic church.

As if guessing the priest’s surprise, he replied, “Oh, don’t get too cheeky with your hopes, lad. I didn’t take a page from Mary Stuart and embrace the Roman Rite. After all, look where it got her. No, I am here for more secular reasons, or at least, so I had thought before seeing you from the pews.”

“You were a wedding guest?”

Sir Gallier nodded as he leaned upon his cane. “On the bride’s side, though my heart wasn’t truly in it, as I have only the faintest of acquaintances with the Freneaus. Though, to be honest, my old friend, it didn’t seem like your heart was in it either.”

Adán could only nod.

The knight raised a brow, but then continued, “Though I do have to say the post-ceremony entertainment was far more rousing. It’s not often I get to see the Mafia give the kiss of death to a priest inside my proto-cathedral.”

“Your proto-cathedral?” Adán asked, with both surprise and some hint of rebuke.

“Forgive my license, but we Galliers do get a touch possessive over things we build.”

“I thought James Dakin designed St. Patrick’s?”

“Ah, ever the knight of history–but let me rectify a gap in your armor of knowledge. You are right that my family had no part in the original design, but Dakin’s crew bungled the execution on account of the lamentably high water table. Consequently, my great-grandfather was called in to take over construction of this marvelous edifice.”

Always a rapt student of ecclesiastical architecture, Adán’s interest suddenly became intensely personal:

“Jamesie… you wouldn’t happen to know of any clandestine exits from St. Patrick’s, would you?”

“Why, my boy, I thought you would never ask. The answer of course is a resolute ‘yes.’ Secrets are in the Galliers’ blood, after all. My great-grandfather could no more resist adding secrets to Dakin’s designs than a fish could refuse to swim or a lion refuse to roar. Though, if the rumors are true, the secret passageway is used today mostly by a group of Catholic vampires who perform Black Mass blood rituals, which for whatever reason, are not considered witchcraft by my fellow Anglican knights. What is your doctrinal opinion on the matter?”

Adán wasn’t sure if the Knight of St. George was speaking truly or teasing his Catholic counterpart, but he put aside that question to refocus the discussion:

“Jamesie, can you show the secret passageway?”

“Well, there’s the rub, Cœur de Lion. Last time I did something like that, you cast my pearls before the swine you call the Brotherhood of St. Athanasius. And we both know how well that turned out, don’t we?”

“Jamesie, I told you I had no notion of what the Brotherhood was planning, or how they would use that information.”

“Did you? Still, loose lips sink ships, as they say.”

“Jamesie, please, I do not have time for another one of your gauntlets. The mobsters outside will eventually bore of their blockade. I worry they, now knowing my identity, might strike out at my friends and loved ones. Please, Jamesie, I have a godson. If they were to harm him…”

“A godson? Well then, as one father to another, or sorts, I can empathize with your plight. How about this, I help your family out of this dog’s dinner, but then you help me out with a little jam of my own that all started around–”

“Jamesie,” interrupted the increasingly exasperated priest, “I do not have time for another history lesson now, however interesting and erudite it might be. I need your help now. Are we not friends?”

“Oh, we are, Cœur de Lion, we are. I thought my last little parcel to you proved that, even though you’ve still never apologized for all of the dreadful things you said about my automobile.”

“An honest man should not have to apologize for speaking the truth.”

“Perhaps, though he still may feel sorry for speaking it.”

“Please, Jamesie,” the priest begged.

“Oh, very well…”

With the help of the Knight of St. George, Adán stealthily escaped St. Patrick’s. In doing so, he slipped the Black Hand’s noose–at least for that night.

November 1945

Much like the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from King Herod’s wrath, Adán convinced Madeleine, and thus Absalom, to join him as he went into hiding from the murderous Black Hand. Their Egypt, however, was the Jeansonnes’ home along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Namely, the fishermen’s families had both moved from the largely deforested Eden Isle to Madisonville, where they fished the Lake, Bayou des Mats, and Tchefuncte River when not otherwise ferrying individuals and cargo to and from Mandeville and New Orleans. The Jeansonnes readily embraced the return of Adán–though they made him promise, somewhat jokingly, not to take any more of their boats out into hurricanes.

Initially, Pierre and Andre were reticent about taking in the quadroon woman “their priest” brought back with him. Part of that reservation was undoubtedly the ingrained racism of the time, and part of it, ironically, was that they were not used to sharing “their priest” with outsiders. Pierre in particular disliked the direct, if not too intimate way she spoke with and sat near Adán. Ultimately, both fishermen came to begrudgingly accept her, in large part as their wives embraced the woman as their own.

Their love, acceptance, and compassion were unexpected treasures for Madeleine, as she had never known healthy female companionship. Indeed, Pierre’s wife, more than any other person, taught Madeleine how to actually be a mother and care for Absalom–lessons that her own mother had certainly never supplied. In turn, Madeleine surprised and delighted the Jeansonne women with her “priestly” knowledge of Catholic doctrine and scriptures. In short, it was the happiest time of Madeleine’s life, as she had not only Adán and Absalom, but her first ‘extended family,’ not to mention one that loved and respected her.

When not fishing with Pierre, Andre, and their sons, Adán spent his time writing clandestine ‘epistles’ to the archdiocese’s Society of Leopold’s, assisting their operations as best he could, while also doing much to codify their protocols and clarify doctrinal issues the Shadow Congregation often faced. He also sent a similarly secret set of missives to Thaddeus. In them, Adán did not disclose his location, but he did explain the purpose behind his flight as well as his concerns for St. Patrick’s clergy–and the potential threat of wider Mafia influence within the archdiocese. Although nothing was done about the “Mammon-tainted priests of St. Patrick”, Father Malveaux’s political influence helped shield the in absentia priest from immediate suspension or worse ecclesiastical punishments.

October 1946

A year passed in relative peace. As October of 1946 came and nearly went, Adán became increasingly desirous to return to New Orleans. He believed he needed to confront his accusers within the archdiocese, as well as the Black Hand. Pierre and Madeleine argued against the plan, as both were sure the mob would kill him, especially as Adán seemed all-too willing, if not eager, to die a martyr. Madeleine begged Adán to stay, and when that did not deter him, she swore that if Adán returned, so too would she and the two-year-old Absalom. That alone made the priest stay, but he was increasingly thinking of a way to return to New Orleans like a “thief in the night.”

New Orleans, however, came to him–or at least a part of it.

A part that refused to die.

Thursday evening, 31 October 1946

On Hallow’s Eve, Adán went into the nearby bayou to hold his private Vigil of All Saints, where he fasted and prayed for the Church Triumphant to aid him in his righteous endeavors. Meanwhile, the Dorleans spent the evening at Pierre’s home, where his wife lead Madeleine, Absalom, and the Jeansonne children in making soul cakes for Allhallowtide. Outside, a thunderstorm began to fall on Tchefuncte River.

Driven home by the storm, Pierre entered the domestic scene, where he loudly complaining that his nets were “good fer catchin’ rain.” When he heard that Adán had not returned, the fisherman grew concerned and summoned his brother and their sons to go hunt for the priest–”lest dat priest done try to drown himself ‘gain to study da archemtecture of St. Peter’s pearly gates!”

Pierre’s wife, however, just laughed and accused her husband of wanting to go hunting since he couldn’t go fishing. “He jus’ worries, him do,” she said to Madeleine once they left, “as he loves yer man mightily.”

“My man?” the shocked Madeleine repeated, as she had never heard another use those words. “But he is not… he can’t… he’s a priest,” she found herself surprisingly saying out loud.

Pierre’s wife just shrugged. “My man’s done named after St. Peter himself, the first bishop and pope, and da Bible says clear as day dat he was married. Besides, wont it da Almighty himself who done said dat it’s not good fer man to live alone? Who is I to done argue with da Good Book?”

With Madeleine left speechless, the Jeansonne matriarch led the children in an Allhallowtide song:

“A soul! a soul! a soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One fer Peter, two fer Paul
Three fer Him who done made us all.”

The matriarch then sprinkled the children with flour to “make them ghosts” and led them in another round of the song’s chorus. Yet, they only got to through the first four words, “A soul! a soul!” before the front door blew open. Outside, a bolt of lightning revealed the shape of a hulking, drenched black man.

Gator Johnson had found them.

Adán I, Chapter VII
Sin's Bride

“Love for another is never a sin, so long as it does not diminish our love for God.”
Adán St. Cypren

Monday afternoon, 24 April 1944

During the second week of Paschaltide, the newly ordained priest was serving in Immaculate’s confessional when he heard a familiar voice. Ava’s words pierced his heart like Longinus’ lance:

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one day since my last confession.”

There was a long pause in the confessional, as both man and woman, priest and petitioner were holding their breaths. Eventually, Adán broke the silence, reciting the Gospel of John:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As if compelled by that promise, Ava spoke:

“Father, forgive me, for I know not which sin to confess first.”

“Completeness of confession is paramount, but you may begin with the most grievous mortal sins, proceeding to the least venial ones.”

“But that is the problem, Father, for I do not know which is more grievous in God’s eyes: my love or my hate.”

Adán once more hesitated, as his words seemed to stick in his throat:

“Love of God and one’s fellow man constitute the two great commandments. Hate is antithetical to God’s love.”

“Well then, Father, which is worse: hate for one’s own brother or a priest of the Church?”

There was another pause.

“It depends on how and why we harbor the hatred and how we may have acted upon it,” the priest answered, his analytical mind nearly dissociating from the awakened sea of emotions inside his chest.

As if reconciling her own mind and heart, Ava was silent for some time before she spoke again. When she did, her ‘confession’ was painfully personal for both priest and petitioner.

Winter 1944

Ava related how she had, shortly after their Twelfth Night discussion, pressured Saul to fulfill his vow to help ‘Marie.’ Their discussion had become quite heated, with each of them saying things that she regretted–and thought Saul would too. Instead, he became harsh and cruel. He had accused her of “untoward desires” towards Adán. Although he claimed he was only concerned for her “safety and health”, he had all but posted guards to make sure she didn’t “sneak off into the night like a crippled bitch in heat.”

Ava’s hurt, confusion, and growing anger had only compounded when she had written to Adán, seeking comfort and guidance, but had received uncharacteristic silence. At first, she had accused her brother and the family servants of circumventing her mail, but Saul had just laughed at another of her “imaginative delusions.” Worried that her brother or his Mafia ‘friends’ might have hurt Adán or worse, she had tried to ‘escape’ her home to check on him, but had been repeatedly thwarted by the Freneau servants loyal to Saul. Eventually, she had convinced one of her sympathetic maids to look in on the then-deacon. When the maid returned, she had reported that Adán was not at home, nor had any of his Iberville neighbors seen him in days. Ava’s fears and accusations against her brother reached a fever pitch.

In one act of desperation, she had gotten hold of their father’s revolver and threatened to shoot her brother if he didn’t tell her what he’d done to Adán. She had been bluffing, as the gun was unloaded, but she was unprepared for Saul’s frank confession of how he hadn’t done anything to Adán, save for their ‘deal.’ That her brother extorted Adán into such a bargain galled her bitterly–but her sorrow and confusion were greater at Adán’s betrayal for agreeing to the ‘deal.’ Throwing the gun into a fireplace, she had broken down into tears and once again accused her brother of lying.

Later, Saul had taken great pleasure in making sure she had watched as Adán left the mansion with the dossier. In that moment, she knew that for all her brother’s cruelty and pettiness, that he had told the truth–precisely because it was more painful. In the weeks that followed, she had fallen into a dark depression.

Even when Saul had entered her room to gloat that, per Thaddeus’ report, Adán had become “quite the bosom companion of the long-sought whore”, Ava had made no visible response. Inside, the news felt like a dagger slipped between her ribs, but externally she had become all but catatonic. She had refused to eat, not out of any active spite but due an emotional numbness more paralytic than polio.

Eventually, even Saul had become gravely concerned for her well-being, and had called a doctor. The physician had confirmed her good physical health, apart from her pre-existing palsy and recent malnourishment, but diagnosed her as having “clinical ennui” due to a lack of “reinforcing occupation or stimulating avocations.” When the physician had asked Saul if his sister had any pre-morbid hobbies, the Freneau patriarch had snorted derisively but said, “Church.” In reply, the doctor had remarked that, regardless of the man’s concern for Ava’s afterlife, he should allow her to resume her “Church hobbies” if he cared to save her mortal life.

Begrudgingly, Saul had allowed his sister to attend local parish services at St. Patrick’s. As Lent transitioned to Holy Week, so too had Ava’s spirits seemed to lift. Yet, as the catatonic depression dissipated, her shame and guilt at her actions, thoughts, and feelings had reawakened. Further introspection and counsel with St. Patrick’s clergy had provided her a measure of comfort, but also self-condemnation. Eager for forgiveness and greater clarity, she had convinced her house staff to help her attend another Sacrament of Penance at Immaculate. There, she hoped to confess her ‘sins’ to a man she felt she had wronged–and from whom she felt wronged.

Monday afternoon, 24 April 1944

“So you see, Father, " Ava finished, "I have sinned by hating two men I had loved.”

“Had?” the priest dared to ask, conflicted as to his question’s motive–and hoped-for answer.

As if sensing that conflict, she reached a hand towards the confessional screen, only to withdraw it:

“I suppose I still do love my brother, even after all he has done to me. I am trying to, at least. After all, how can I expect to accept God’s love, despite how I have slighted him, if I do not in turn strive to love those who have slighted me.”

Adán’s voice was genuinely happy as he replied:

“As Paul taught to the Ephesians, we are to be ‘kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.’ The Lord does not teach us that this injunction applies only to those who ask for forgiveness.”

“Yes, Father.”

“And what of the priest?” Adán asked, his heart skipping a beat.

“What do you mean, Father?”

“Do you still love him?”

“That depends, Father.”


“On whether it was a sin to love him in the first place.”

Adán wrestled with the question with the same fervor of Jacob against the angel, before reciting the Gospel of John:

“’God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ Thus, love for another is never a sin, so long as it does not diminish our love for God, for that is the first and great commandment.”

“Well then, Father, I suppose I do not need to confess whether or not I still love him, for either answer would not be a confession of sin.”

At her ‘answer,’ Adán felt a certain tightness in his chest, even as he had to smile at her logic. He then pronounced her necessary Acts of Contrition for her venial sins of animosity, before completing the Sacrament of Penance:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Performing the Sign of the Cross, he dismissed with a final benediction of, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God,” she replied as the rite dictated.

He contemplated leaving the confessional to see her depart, but he ultimately chose to remain inside his booth, listening as one of Ava’s servants lifted her from her booth and returned her to her wheelchair. Long after she left and he performed the day’s last Sacrament of Penance, Adán pondered their conversation. He contemplated whether he should speak with his parish superior or dean about his confessional “conflict of interest”; however, he did not know how to do so without effectively breaking the sacred Confessional Seal. Ultimately, he rationalized that the exceptional circumstance was a one-time event.

It wasn’t.

Winter 1944

Over the next year, Ava periodically visited Immaculate while Adán was officiating its confessional. Each time, her ‘confessions’ seemed sincere, though venial. They included minor disagreements with house staff and struggles to forgive her brother for some new slight or unrepentant sin. Yet, threaded through these mild, if penitent confessions were questions about how she might better serve God’s will.

Over time, these questions became focused on whether she could, or should become a nun–and inquiries as to whether her physical disability prevented her from joining certain orders, such as the Sisters of the Order of Saint Ursula. Although common social mores and Ava’s physical condition had prevented her from attending public schooling, much less college, her family had paid handsomely for Ava’s private tutors. Thus, when her infirmities prevented her from joining the local monastic order operating Ursuline Academy, Adán helped her consider joining the Ursulines’ associated secular institute, as the Angelines or Company of Saint Ursula also were focused on educating women and girls.

Moreover, such a vow could allow her to remain incardinated inside New Orleans’ archdiocese and work within its diocesan framework. Consequently, she could serve directly alongside Adan, as his Jesuit duties aligned well with the Angelines.’ Although neither spoke aloud this possibility during Ava’s ‘confessions,’ this prospect was not lost on either of them–or, much to their chagrin, Saul.

This time, however, Saul was more devious and subtle in his opposition. Rather than directly confront Ava, lambast her desire to become a nun, or try to outright forbid it, he tried to ‘tempt’ her with the one thing she had most wanted but always thought would be denied her: marriage and children.

Winter 1944

For over a year, the Black Hand’s consigliere, Corrado Giacona had been pressuring Saul to give his blessing for Corrado’s son, Cesare, to court and marry Ava. Corrado’s mother, Crocifissa Pitta, had convinced him that he and his family were going to Purgatory (at best) for their Prohibition-era bootlegging, related murders, and other sins.

As such, Corrado and Cesare were looking for a “good Catholic gal who knew her way ‘round the Rosary and nothing much else, if you know what I mean.” They hoped that such a woman, if married into their family, would perform the necessary indulgences and prayers to ease their sufferings in Purgatory. As Corrado saw it, Ava Freneau perfectly fit the bill. Consequently, he promised to square the Freneau’s debt with the mafia if Saul agreed to the ‘arranged’ marriage.

Cesare Plotius Giacona himself was ‘only’ a giovane d’onore, a “man of honor” or associate of the Black Hand versus a soldato or capo with direct ties to the mob. Rather, much like his grandfather Pietro Giacona, Cesare ran his family’s wine importation business, and still used the same sign from their former Beauregard residence: C. Giacona & Co., Wholesale Liquor Dealers, 1113 Chartres St.

Since that business’ Vieux Carre origins and mafia-protected Prohibition dealings, Cesare’s company and profits had grown significantly. Indeed, as part of the Giacona’s largesse and attempt to gain Catholic indulgences (i.e., “God’s protection racket”), Cesare freely supplied all of the sacramental wine for New Orleans’ parishes, including St. Patrick’s and Immaculate. As such, the Giaconas were well-known and publicly lauded by the local archdiocesan and deaneries’ leadership. Moreover, Cesare was known for attending St. Patrick’s services with fervent zeal, including copious use of its confessional.

After all, Cesare had many sins. Yet, unlike his immediate kin and extended ‘family,’ Cesare’s sins did not involve murder, extortion, drunkenness, whoring, robberies, or the like. To most, Cesare seemed to live an exceptionally chaste, nonviolent, sober, and honest life. Few outside the Confessional Seal, however, knew his dark secret: Cesare was a serial necrophiliac.

Adolescent Fumblings

It had begun with his cousin, Ornella Mannino. Ornella had been his slightly older cousin, born of Giovanina Giacona and Antonino Mannino. Ornella, or Ella as most Americans called her, had always been a precocious flirt. She stole and broke the hearts of countless boys in Little Italy, collecting them like some children collected coins. She took particularly delight in teasing her younger cousin, Cesare, constantly asking for a kiss on her lips. When the shy boy demurred, Ornella and the other neighborhood kids and family would laugh, only to laugh harder as Cesare turned beet red and ran away.

As the cousins became adolescents, Ornella’s ‘teasing’ became more forceful and sexual. During a trip to the Gulf, the pair had floated on inflated tire tubes, far away from adult eyes. She took off her swimsuit, grabbed Cesare’s “little cazzo”, and dared him to touch her farfallina or “little butterfly.” Cesare was mortified, fell out of his tube, and nearly drowned trying to swim back to the shore. When his mother asked him what was wrong, he lied and said he saw a shark. The lie only caused his family to heckle him for being a coward or codardo for leaving behind his cousin. That heckling only grew worse when the redressed Ornella returned and claimed she scared away the shark with a sharp kick to its head.

One week later, the family mockery had barely died down when Ornella was gunned down while sitting on the Beauregard porch. Her murder was the latest casualty in the old blood feud between the Giaconas and the Vattalis, Cusimanos, and Barrecas. While Ornella’s corpse was temporarily laid on a wine cellar table in preparation for her viewing and funeral, the Mannino and Giacona left to repay blood with blood. Cesare “the Codardo” was left behind to guard Ornella’s body.

First Times

As the hours passed, Cesare sipped more and more from the nearby wine, till light-headed and drunk, his thoughts turned dark.

“Oh, Ornella, what did you say? You’re asking for a kiss, now? Well, fine, I am no codardo, here is how a maschio kisses.”

The kiss was drunken, awkward, incestuous, and necrophiliac, but it was his first. After several more and another bottle of wine, he whispered to Ornella’s corpse, “Oh, now you want me to touch your farfallina? Well, fine, I am no codardo…”

To his surprise and disgust, the act titillated him, arousing his long-dormant libido. Initially, he fought off the temptation to do more, even turning to a nearby Bible for strength. As he opened it to a random page, his eyes fell upon the 21st verse of the 22nd Part of Mathew, and to his surprise, he saw his own name:


Reading onward, he saw:

…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s…

Sadly, the drunken teen did not finish the verse and see Christ’s second injunction. Instead, he became fixated upon the first. He spoke aloud his drunken, carnal mind, as if seeing if Ornella would ‘object’:

“Well, everyone knows they were talking about a gold coin. Gold… goes to Caesar. Cesare… that’s me… and your name… means ‘gold…’ you told me so yourself… so… if God’s okay with it…”

It was drunken, awkward, incestuous, and necrophiliac ‘sex,’ but it was his first.

Many Sins

When the wine eventually wore off, Cesare was overcome with guilt. His family just thought he was grieving for his cousin, but his confessional priest learned otherwise. When the priest told him to perform 10 Hail Marys and volunteer in a local church morgue to learn “proper respect for the dead”, Cesare tried to perform his penance, but the access to new ‘temptations’ was just too much for the young man. As before, he returned to confess his sin and sincerely promised never to repeat it.

That pattern would continue for years. As an adult, Cesare’s “lapses” only increased as he could use his money and influence to illicitly procure ‘gold’ from Tulane’s medical school and related cadaver labs. Notwithstanding, his guilt and self-disgust only grew, as did his belief that, despite the priests’ absolution, he would burn in Purgatory for a very, very long time.

Thus, the otherwise celibate man was all too eager to follow his grandmother’s and father’s “insurance” plan to marry Ava-Michèl Freneau. After all, he had seen her many times at St. Patrick’s, where he had been impressed by her Catholic piety. It also didn’t hurt that she was half-Italian on her mother’s side.

Winter 1944

The courtship was subtle and slow, if not all but imperceptible. Saul relayed to Cesare whenever Ava left to attend St. Patrick’s, and Cesare made sure he was there. He offered to help her to and from the confessional–saying such was part of his own Acts of Contrition–and made sure to have St. Patrick’s priests vouch for him. They shared pews, and between and after services they would engage in doctrinal discussions, most of which centered around familial sins, forgiveness, and the afterlife. Eventually, he offered to show her how his business did the pre-ecclesiastical preparations for the sacramental wine. That ‘date’ led to a related discussion of oenology, Cesare’s prime intellectual passion.

That knowledge, as well as the way he seemed to enjoy wine’s historicity more than its consumption, further earned him Ava’s esteem. She also grew to pity him for the way many “godly folk” shunned him for his family’s ill reputation–something the Freneau descendant knew all too well. Indeed, he claimed that it was this ill repute that had foiled his hopes of marriage, as the only women who had wanted to marry him were “Catholics in name only, or not even that.”

As the months passed, her pity and sympathy for Cesare bloomed, not into true love, but at least into a protective, empathic affection. His own feelings also developed during this time, as he found her presence as “soothing as the Balm of Gilead”, and his lust for “gold” diminished.

May 1945

Thus, in mid-May of 1945, in the fresh wake of Nazi Germany’s surrender and on the last week of Eastertide, Cesare proposed. At the conclusion of the Feast of Our Lady, he knelt down on the steps of St. Patrick’s and presented her a bouquet of Paschal roses and a Boudreaux’s engagement ring shaped like her rosary, with a main 3-carat cross-chiseled diamond surrounded by 10 smaller round-cut diamonds. Ava was shocked by the marital offer, as neither of them had ever discussed it. Nor had she considered them a couple–or thought Cesare had, as he had never so much as made any romantic gesture or attempt at physical intimacy.

Still, she did not tell him ‘no’–but nor did she tell him ‘yes.’ When she informed Saul of the proposal, he concealed his mirth, and instead sulked. Part of him truly loathed to see his sister married off–especially to secretly pay-off a debt to the mob. But he hid his true feelings and machinations, and instead loudly proclaimed that he did not approve of her marrying a “new money wino” and would not pay for her dowry “just so the mob could swallow more of the Freneau wealth.” True to his calculation, Saul’s bluster and threats only made her more inclined to accept Cesare’s offer.

Nevertheless, she remained uncertain. She desperately wanted to speak with Adán, but she hesitated, concerned that her new ‘confession’ would break his heart–or perhaps break hers if it did not. Ultimately, she told Cesare that she needed further time to pray and fast. When he pressed her again, she told him she would have an answer after the Feast of Pentecost.

Sunday afternoon, 20 May 1945

Yet, when the day of Pentecost arrived, she still struggled to divine God’s will. Thus, in her desperation–or perhaps motivated by her heart’s true longing–she sought guidance from the priest she “had loved.”

She found him dressed in Pentecost’s liturgical red, kneeling before Immaculate’s golden altar and its fresh arrangements of similarly red hydrangeas, lilies, irises, and geraniums. Eventually rising from his prayer, he saw her and beamed like a Louisiana sunrise. After all, the last time they had seen each other was from afar, when they had locked gazes as he left her home in search of Madeleine–and the time before that was in his apartment on Epiphany’s Eve more than a year past.

The experience of seeing Adán made her temporally forget her visit’s purpose. She barely could speak when he approached and greeted her, and she all but shooed away the house servant pushing her wheelchair when the priest offered to give her a tour of the church’s liturgical bouquets.

“If a priest is allowed to have favorites amongst his parish blossoms, the copper irises are mine.”

“Copper?” she asked, still struggling to regain her voice–though the effulgent priest seemed oblivious to her nerves.

“Iris fulva,” the priest replied. “Their scientific names hails from the Latin for ‘tawny orange.’”

“But red is the color of Pentecost?” she asked distractedly, her heart still half-stuck in her throat.

“Precisely,” he beamed again, “and that is why the copper lilies are my favorite. True red irises do not exist in nature, no more than natural blue roses do. Many botanists have tried, but all have failed. The Louisiana irises come the closest, though, but even then, they are more russet, maroon, or copper than truly red. It reminds me of how, no matter how hard we try, we are inherently flawed. No matter how many good deeds we render, prayers we offer, sermons we hear, or scriptural passages we study, we remain an imperfect ‘red.’ Only in the pure red blood of Christ are we truly perfected. Transfigured. Seeing the copper irises reminds me to be both humble and awed at the miracles that God offers all of us.”

“Like its first name?” Ava posited, her own mind settled, or at least fully distracted, by the private homily.

“How so?” Adán asked, not following her remark, but curious, like any Jesuit would be.

“Iris, as in rainbow. God’s token of his covenant after the Flood.”

“Ah, yes, of course!” Adán exclaimed, beaming like a child who was just offered candy after he thought it had all been eaten. Chuckling, he added, “My poor Greek instructors would doubtlessly shake their heads and remind me that the Roman Rite does not mean that Latin is always right.”

When his mirth subsided, a look of tender joy overcame him, causing him to pause and place an affectionate palm upon her shoulder:

“Sister Freneau, you will make a most miraculous of Angelines.”

His touch and praise were simply too much for her. She burst into tears like a microcosm of the Great Flood itself, and it took her what seemed like forty days and nights to recompose herself. Unsure what was wrong, Adán came around her wheelchair and kneeled to face her. The gesture, however, only reminded Ava of Cesare’s genuflection, and her tears redoubled. She tried to answer his gentle inquires as to the nature of her distress, as well as wave off his meek apologies for any offense given by his remark. Eventually, he took her hands–both the hale and the palsied–and offered a simple prayer of peace. In that embrace of hands, she felt a wave of calm flood over her–even as she felt a tremble in her long-paralyzed hand.

The moment, however, passed when a quadroon woman approached, holding a 6-month-old infant in her arms. The latter was dressed in a white gown.

“St. Cyprien,” Madeleine spoke, her voice tremulous yet hard.

Sunday afternoon, 20 May 1945

Madeleine had disappeared for roughly eight months after Easter Eve of 1944. Adán had thought about searching for her, concerned that she had fallen back into prostitution and drug use–or worse, fallen prey to repossession. He had been comforted, though, when Father Fontenot shared that he had been in sporadic contact with Madeleine, informing him that she had joined the Society of Leopold, largely in gratitude of her rescue as well as emulation of her rescuer. Adán was concerned she had joined the Brotherhood of St. Athanasius, but Father Fontenot informed him that she was primarily doing volunteer work in Charity Hospital, where she worked to identify injuries consistent with supernatural victimization.

And then, just as suddenly as she had disappeared, she had reappeared on Ash Wednesday of 1945, intent on having her and her infant child’s foreheads painted with ash by “her saint.” Adán had been pleased to see her, though shocked by the child’s presence, as he had come to believe that she had lied about her pregnancy, particularly since Father Fontenot had never mentioned her either being with or having a child.

Over the next three months, Madeleine and Adán–under Father Fontenot’s direction–had begun working together as mutual members of the Society of Leopold. Typically, this had entailed Madeleine ‘procuring’ certain rare tomes or archives for Adán to study, or her spying on certain suspects identified by Adán’s more esoteric investigations. When Madeleine was called away on these ‘field missions,’ Adán most commonly cared for her child, a boy she had named Absalom Josué Dorleans (although Adán preferred the boy’s middle name as the first had infamous connotations).

Their work for the Society of Leopold meant Adán and Madeleine spent increasing time together, which also came to include midnight boxing practice, advanced post-seminarian studies, and recording their investigation outcomes via Ampex acetate audio tapes–as Father Fontenot’s progressive cataracts had finally stolen his ability to read.

Given this increased contact, Madeleine had tried to once again convince Adán to let her and Absalom move in with him. Much to her sorrow, Adán had once again rejected that proposal. So spurned, she and the infant had moved in with Joseph ‘Jupp’ Zimmermann, a German-Italian member of the Brotherhood who had been denied US military service due to his bloodline. Adán had firmly disapproved of that ‘cover family’ on multiple levels.

In the subsequent months, Adán’s and Madeleine’s conjoint missions had diminished, but they had remained in some contact, particularly when Madeleine requested that Adán christen Absalom during the upcoming day of Pentecost.

Sunday afternoon, 20 May 1945

Thus, Madeleine had arrived to interrupt Adán speaking with a wheelchair-bound woman she did not know–though one who seemed rather intimate with “her saint.” Stepping forward, she extended the fussing infant to Adán:

“Your child’s christening, it’s time.”

Your child?” Ava asked, her bewilderment temporarily holding her sorrow at bay.

“An affectation,” Adán replied, rising to approach and hold Absalom, “on Sister Dorleans’ part. She argues that since I am called the ‘Father’ of the parish, so too should all the parish children, particularly the fatherless, be referred to as mine.”

Ava nodded at the explanation, but she was concerned by the look she saw on Madeleine’s face as she regarded the priest holding ‘his’ child. It was one of pained, fervent longing and fierce pride. She understood it well, yet when Madeleine noticed Ava’s gaze, the former’s features took on a hard, possessive edge. She all but stepped between Adán and Ava, and then half-turned, placing a firm hand on the priest’s shoulder:

“Come, St. Cyprien, both father and child are needed at the font.”

Adán arched a brow in silent rebuke at her forward touch and continued failure to use his ecclesiastical title, but he still nodded in agreement, turning towards the font. Before the priest could dismiss himself, Ava all but blurted out:

“I–I need you for the Sacrament of Penance!”

“Find another priest,” Madeleine said with an edge that Adán missed, but Ava did not.

“No, I…” Ava said, unable to face the woman’s fierce stare, and unable to so publicly explain her plight. Fortunately, Adán intervened. He passed the child back to Madeleine, then spoke:

“All is well. Take the child to the font–I will be there in just a moment. Please, you know I keep my word,” he added with a gentle implore that made the hardened mother soften. Turning back to the palsied woman, he then said, “After the christenings, we can speak, so please stay, Ava.”

“Ava–as in Ava Freneau?!” Madeleine asked with a hiss akin to an unsheathed dagger. The private look she gave Ava was not fit for a church. With Adán’s back to her, he had been unable to see that look. Thus, he mistook Madeleine’s aghast, if not unpleasant tone to be due to discomfort at being reminded of Saul–the man who helped cause her six-year possession.

“Peace,” Adán breathed, “remember the blood that has redeemed you. You are here, and you are safe.”

Taking Ava’s wheelchair, Adán ushered both women and child to the font. The journey was short, but painfully awkward. Trying to defuse the tension, Adán turned to Madeleine:

“You know, Ava would make a wonderful godmother to the baby. She is a godly woman, full of wisdom and knowledge of the Lord and His church. She has always wanted to be a mother, but has never had the chance to marry. So in lieu of the sacrament of matrimony, she plans to take her vows in the Company of Saint Ursula, which, like the Jesuits, is dedicated to imparting the gift of education. She and I could serve as Josué’s godparents.”

Adán’s innocently intended words were like scissor blades running the lengths of Ava’s and Madeleine’s souls. Ava could only look down, biting back a new bout of tears. Madeleine, meanwhile, tensed, till her tightened lips became a knife slit.

“No, Father,” she said tersely, “That won’t be necessary, and after speaking with Father Fontenot, I learned that you cannot serve as Absalom’s godfather. Brother Zimmerman will serve in that role.”

Adán was shocked and disappointed by Madeleine’s double rejection. Yet, even as his heart felt bruised, his mind struggled to fathom why his Jesuit mentor would say he could not serve as the child’s godfather as he and Madeleine had long planned. Canon law did not forbid a priest from serving as a godparent; indeed, they were ideal candidates, as they amply met all of the church’s requirements: being at least 16 years of age, a confirmed Catholic who has received the Eucharist, and not being under any canonical penalty.

Can’t? Why? Madeleine, I… I don’t understand…”

Then it was Ava’s turn to interrupt with her own unsettling epiphany, as she regarded the quadroon woman with an awakened scrutiny:

“Madeleine? As in the same Marie, or Marie Délicieux? The woman you have, or had, been searching for, for so many years? The woman who was a… with my brother… the one who was…”

Madeleine interrupted the clearly stumbling Ava with a venomous harshness that made her own infant cry, “I believe the words you are looking for are ‘whore’ and ‘possessed.’ ‘Demoniac,’ ‘prostitute,’ ‘energumen,’ and ‘harlot’ would also fit the bill. But yes, that’s me–or was me. But thank you for throwing that painful, shameful past into my face just before my son is going to be christened. Make sure to add ‘associating with my brother’s past whore’ to your list of sins to confess today.”

Ava was mortified, raising up her one un-palsied hand as if in surrender or to ward off the woman’s hate. “I… I am so, so sorry, I didn’t know you had… I shouldn’t have said…”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Madeleine said stonily, as she tried to soothe her child, but not before spitefully adding, “And maybe you didn’t know because it wasn’t your business to know, maybe St. Cyprien doesn’t tell you everything, maybe he and I have lives with secrets you couldn’t even begin to fathom–”

“Enough!” Adán all but shouted in his church. “This is the holy day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit descending upon the resurrected Christ’s apostles and followers, to empower the Church Militant with knowledge and power to do His will. I will not have that same Spirit driven from this house of the Lord by contentious malice and mean-spirited words. Here, we serve the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Strife.”

Turning to firmly face Madeleine and the still crying Absalom, he added, “If you wish to have another priest perform Josué’s paedobaptism, I can make the arrangements. Otherwise, please go to the font and wait for me there. Now.”

Fearing the priest’s loss more than his rebuke, Madeleine murmured an apology, then left as she was bidden.

Once she left, Ava immediately tried to share her own apology. “I am sorry, Adán–”

“Please,” the priest interrupted with a strained tone while pinching his temples, “at very least here, please call me ‘Father Cyprien.’”

“Yes, of course, my apologies, Father Cyprien,” she answered meekly. “And I am sorry, I didn’t mean to cause offense. In hindsight… I see that my intemperate and indiscrete words could be taken no other way. I should have held my tongue, waited for a more opportune moment and used more delicate words.”

Adán sighed. “I too bear the blame, but now is not a time for either of us to confess our failings. If you still seek the Sacrament of Penance, I can serve you after the scheduled christenings. Now I must go and serve the children and their families.”

Sunday afternoon, 20 May 1945

With the aid of her recalled house servant, Ava watched Absalom’s baptism. True to the Roman Rite, the christening began with Adán pronouncing an exorcism over the child:

“Almighty and ever-living God, you sent your only Son into the world to cast out the power of Satan, spirit of evil, to rescue man from the kingdom of darkness and bring him into the splendor of your kingdom of light. We pray for this child: set him free from original sin, make him a temple of your glory, and send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him. Through Christ our Lord.”

As the sacramental ritual continued, Ava could not help but feel a pang of longing. She watched with yearning, both maternal and matrimonial, as Madeleine held her infant over the font, with Jupp placing a supportive hand on her shoulder. She could not help but imagine herself holding a long-desired child of her own, with a supportive hand upon her own shoulder. A family. Her own family. And with Cesare’s proposal, she had an opportunity to obtain that righteous desire.

Then she beheld Adán pouring the baptismal waters over Absalom’s head, with the former proclaiming:

“The servant of God, Absalom Josué Dorleans is baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

There was a joyful celebration among the baby’s kin and friends, but Ava did not watch them as they left the church. Rather, she continued her vigil over her devoutly beloved priest, who had to quickly move on to the next christening, this time for another “servant of God” named Miloud Delacroix.

Watching Adán, Ava knew she did not love Cesare–that choice place in her heart belonged to another. Notwithstanding, the baptismal sacraments reminded her that matrimony, ultimately for a Catholic, was not about romantic love, but rather religious service. After all, matrimony was one of the two Catholic sacraments of service, alongside joining the Holy Orders. This notion was reinforced as she turned to Immaculate’s altar and regarded the statue of Mary–both Virgin and Mother. With a prayer upon her lips, Ava’s heart pondered which would be a greater service to her God: the solemn rite of Consecratio Virginum or subsuming her private desires to become a mother, thereby delivering the fruit of her womb as new servants of God?

By the time Adán had finished with Absalom’s baptism, Ava had made her decision. When he approached her, saying he was now able to take her confession, the woman shook her head:

“I need to speak with you, Father Cyprien, but we may converse here among the pews. Of my sins, there is but one I feel the need now to confess, and it does not require a booth, least not the one here at Immaculate. Namely, I have come to believe I have taken advantage of you and the Sacrament of Penance, and from now on, I will turn to my parish confessor at St. Patrick’s.”

The ‘confession’ pained Adán. He could not, and did not, contend against its truth, for he had experienced similar concerns, but the loss of their ‘confessional’ discussions would grieve him. Still, he took heart in the belief that her becoming an Angeline would allow their relationship to continue, if not further blossom through mutual consecrated service. Those hopes, though, were dashed by the next turn in their conversation:

“Father Cyprien,” she began, steeling herself to look the priest in the eye, “I have a great favor to ask of you.”

“Ava-Michèl Freneau, if it is in my power and authority to perform, I will gladly do it.”

“Will you marry me?”

Adán’s heart almost exploded with confusion, delight, and growing dread.

“Ava, if I could… I–”

She shook her head, momentarily covering her tear-tortured face with her un-palsied hand. Saying a silent prayer to Mother Mary, she pressed forward, not quite able to look Adán in the eye:

“No… I know your vows. I meant… or mean, will you perform the sacrament of matrimony for me? A man of the Catholic faith has proposed to me, and I intend to accept.”

A legion of thoughts and emotions immediately warred inside Adán, but his lips, if not torn mind, could only recite from Proverbs:

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

“So… you… you will do it!?” Ava asked, delightedly grasping Adán’s stigmata-scarred hand in gratitude.

“As God wills it,” was all Adán could answer, though his words seemed to come from a dark, hollow pit at the bottom of his pierced soul.

Adán I, Chapter VI
Madeleine's Story

“I just want to be with you…”
Madeleine Dorleans

Wednesday morning, 23 February 1944

When Adán awoke, he was clothed and bandaged–as was Madeleine, who was devotedly tending to the slowly rousing deacon. She related that Enrique had taken them to Charity Hospital, which he had archaically referred to as San Carlos Hospital. After advising discretion when speaking with medical staff, he had then left to allegedly “take care of the paperwork.”

With Madeleine’s aid, Adán discovered the extent of his injuries: three broken ribs, a fractured jaw, a shattered septum, internal bleeding, his bullet-pierced palm, and a concussion with a related epidural hematoma and partial paralysis. The latter condition had required a craniotomy or burr hole, as well as a related morphine drip.

Due to that opioid analgesic and his neurological injury, Adán’s memories were fogged. He remembered searching for Madeleine–years searching for her–and a dim, muddled recollection of Mahogany Hall’s doorstep. After that, he could recall nothing till waking up in Charity Hospital. He assumed that he had simply saved her, though he could not recall how he obtained his injuries.

Wracked by guilt and shame, Madeleine was reticent to fill in those details. Indeed, her serial possession had stolen her control of her body for six tortured years, but El Taumaturgo had made sure she was aware of her many forced-upon sins, particularly against the man who had been trying to save her for more than half a decade. Her answers were evasive, and the first of many half-truths she would tell Adán:

“You… you fought off my captors… the Order of the Garter, they tried to… they fought back, but you… won…”

Adán accepted her explanations, only to slip back out of consciousness.

Wednesday evening, 23 February 1944

For most of the day, his grasp of the world around him was tenuous. He had half-remembered morphine dreams, some beatific and others like visions of hell itself. The latter included falling into a millennia-long pit, where phantasmagoric swarms of locusts invaded every orifice of his body; his nose, ears, mouth, nethers, and eyes; where they devoured him from the inside until he was naught but hollow skin like a bag of leather filled with dead cypress leaves. In another, he found himself overlooking a black sea that extended forever, filled with vast waves crashing on rocks that screamed for mercy but were unheard, not even by the host of sleeping cavalry that rested upon them, tending to their dead mounts. Upon spotting Adán, those knights had surrounded him and pierced him seven times seventy with their spears.

When he cried out, Madeleine would take his hand, and in his fevered delirium, he would hold hers like a drowning man clutching an extended sword. Sometimes he would call out names, the names of his dead kin, his past teachers, more ancient saints–and sometimes, he would call out for Ava, confessing his love with an anguish worse that his bodily wounds. It was in those moments that Madeleine first learned to hate the name–and the woman she had not yet met.

Still, Madeleine tried to comfort Adán, as she was well-acquainted with being a victim of both hellish ‘visions’ and morphine. Indeed, she relayed, her first exposure to morphine had been in utero.

April 1917

Madeleine’s Storyville prostitute-mother, Jessebelle Dorleans, had been introduced to the drug by some of her clients. Chief among them had been Madeleine’s alleged father, Gomer du Luc, a Navy physician who rigorously enjoyed his time in Storyville while his WWI ship harbored in New Orleans. After the horrors of treating so many war wounds, Gomer had nostalgically returned to New Orleans after the war, only to find Storyville’s legal prostitution had ended. He nonetheless started up a small medical practice, and he made a decent (if indecent) stream of income performing abortions for Storyville’s underground prostitutes. During one of these operations, Gomer had been reunited with Jess, who by then had become thoroughly addicted to morphine.

She had claimed Madeleine was Gomer’s daughter–though in truth, she was not sure given her vast number of clients and heavy drug use. Still, she had used the possibility to milk the man for money to “raise their child.” This pattern persisted, with the young Madeleine being made to visit her ‘father.’ Initially, those visits had been relatively happy, as he would buy her candy and take her on ferry rides to Algiers or the Gulf Coast.

Yet, when some of Jess’ ‘competitors’ told Gomer that Jess was only spending the money on morphine and bragged about how Madeleine wasn’t even Gomer’s child, the morally damaged doctor snapped. As if to test Jess’ intentions, he started making his ‘child support’ payments directly in morphine–and much to his ire, she hadn’t batted an eye. Eager for more drugs, she ‘adopted’ an orphaned guttersnipe and blatantly tried to trick Gomer into thinking the boy was also theirs–and in need of more “support.” Yet, unlike Madeleine, the boy looked rather nothing like Gomer or his mother. After ascertaining the boy’s age, Gomer had bitterly declared that he could not have been the father, as he had been away for two years in France at the time of the boy’s conception. Jess had tried to suggest that the boy was confused as to his birthday, but she did not press the matter anymore.

Gomer, however, had been less willing to forget or forgive. The next time Jess needled him for “medicine to deal with all the stress of raising Madeleine”, the seething Gomer gave her a hot shot, a mixture of morphine and rat poison. When the toxin started to take effect, he had grimly watched her die, explaining what he had done and how he was happy to “exterminate such a pest.” He had then taken Madeleine into his own care, and initially, her life had improved.

A few years later, though, Gomer married a woman from Carrolton. She disdained Madeleine and continually inflamed Gomer’s doubts as to whether the girl was truly his or just another drug-hungry lie. Eventually, he became convinced she wasn’t his blood, and that decision, coupled with his hidden, but far from extinguished whoring and drinking, doomed her.

One night, Gomer had come back from another tour of Storyville’s illegal speakeasies and brothels. Drunkenly, he had awoken the barely pubescent Madeleine and said they needed to go to his office. She had followed cautiously, but her ill ease had turned to dread and horror when he forced her to strip in order to do a “physical exam.” When he began to fondle her, she had shouted and kicked him in his face. He had drunkenly screamed back, tried to hit her, and accused her of being a “whore just like her junkie harlot mother.” He had threatened to poison her just like Jess if she ever told anyone about her “exam.” Disgusted and terrified, Madeleine had snatched a metal tool tray and bashed the drunk doctor over the skull, knocking him out cold. Unsure what to do, she had raided his wallet and medical supplies–as Jess had well taught her that certain ‘medicines’ were worth a lot of money. With that stash, she had fled his office and returned to the only other home she had known: Storyville.

For a while, she did fairly well by frugally using her money and carefully selling small batches of the painkillers to her mother’s ‘friends.’ But Storyville’s sins soon sucked her in like a whirlpool. She had to repeatedly flee and fight off would-be rapists and pimps. Most of the time, she succeeded. She kept a wary eye for her supposed father, who correctly surmised that she had stolen his supplies and fled to Jess’ old haunts. As she slowly sold off that stash, she frugally hid and stockpiled her monies. Yet, one day, she had returned home to find her money-stuffed mattress cut open and emptied. Despondent, she had turned to the one thing that always seemed to make her mother ‘happy’ or at least carefree: morphine. After that, it did not take long before she had adopted both her mother’s addiction and her former profession. A few years later, she no longer even cared that her most frequent customer was her alleged father.

Nevertheless, that oldest of professions led her to Saul Freneau–and their fateful night with Rosa Bale.

Wednesday night, 23 February 1944, PM

Six years later, Madeleine was free of Alcide and the other unclean spirits. Yet, to her surprise, she discovered that Adán had banished not one, but two, devils: her body was utterly purged of morphine’s decade-long chemical enslavement. When Adán finally roused again in a mostly coherent state, she poured out all her personal and familial sins–all save those of the prior night–to the deacon. He spoke of penance, forgiveness, and grace. He spoke of the atoning, cleansing power of Christ’s blood, or how His infinite suffering could subsume all others.

She had heard others speak of such things, but never had she heard them from someone who seemed to so undeniably believe. It made her want to believe. When she confessed as much, the deacon said that even that mustard seed of faith was sufficient to begin her discipleship and attain God’s grace. Thus, in the last hour of Ash Wednesday, Madeleine burned the physical symbol of her former, sinful life: a Storyville blue book. Adán took those ashes and anointed her forehead with the symbol of the Cross, intoning:

“Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”

(“Remember, woman, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”)

In return, she pronounced her Lenten sacrifice: abstinence from morphine, fornication, and the many sins of what she proclaimed was her past life.

“As God wills it,” Adán spoke in approval, then slipped back into morphine dreams.

Wednesday morning, 24 February 1944

Adán spent most of Lent in the hospital. After Adán entrusted Madeleine with discretely contacting Father Fontenot, the Society of Leopold provided a cover story of the deacon being in a car accident, with the archdiocese postponing his ordination till his most severe injuries fully recovered.

For Adán’s own Lenten sacrifice, he convinced his medical staff to help him ‘fast’ from analgesics, at least from sunrise to sunset, consistent with the Black Fast’s traditional time frame. During the evenings, he broke his fast, not only from morphine, but with Lent’s traditional single meal. Often, this meal was with Madeleine, who brought him mussels, pretzels, and waffles. As they ate, he would answer her questions of doctrine and faith, teaching her the Catechisms and scriptures. She in turn would confess how she had faced and resisted certain temptations. Even addled by pain and opioids, Adán began to intuit that Madeleine’s confessions were sometimes incomplete, such as when he pressed her on how she was routinely obtaining the Lenten fare:

“It would be sinful of me to partake in a meal purchased carnally by your flesh.”

“St. Cyprien!” she cried, as she was wont to only use his surname after he forbade her from using his given name. “No, never, never again!”

“Then how did you purchase this meal, as you have not spoken of gaining honest employ. If you have, then speak plainly of it, that we might rejoice together.”

“Yes, I… I got a job, um… working as a… streetcar driver…”

Adán needed no divine aid to see through the lie. Instead, he simply held her gaze. As shame slowly stole over Madeleine’s face, she burst into tears, confessing how she was sincere in her vow to avoid her past sins, and rather than whore herself, she had stolen the food.

“Beloved daughter,” Adán replied gently, but firmly, “was not theft also one of your past sins? Your theft of your father’s medical supplies ultimately led you to your diabolic addiction. Indirectly, yes, but the Devil helps us pave our paths to Hell, brick by brick. With eternal damnation, he can afford to be patient, so we must be vigilant against his subtle deceits–including those we tell ourselves.”

“Yes, St. Cyprien,” she conceded, wiping her tears with the long, shape-concealing Lenten robe she had ‘found.’

“So let us not disparage the cost of Christ’s precious blood for an earthly meal that only satisfies the flesh for a fleeting moment. With each sin, we sell our souls to Hell, like Essau giving away his spiritual birthright for a mere bowl of porridge. Yet, even then, the Lord of Host offers His blood to purchase you, me, and all his children back from Hell. Let us not reject that blood price.”

Madeleine pondered Adán’s short sermon, but her thoughts became snagged like a log-caught fishing lure:

“You said that God offers His blood to purchase me, but also you from Hell?”

“Assuredly so.”

“But… what sins did you commit that would condemn you to Hell?”

“Madeleine, though you call me your saint, I am just a man, and like all men, am fallen save but by the grace of God.”

“Yes, but you taught me that only mortal, not venial, sins could condemn a soul to Hell. So… what were your mortal sins?”

Adán laughed gently, “I wasn’t aware, Sister Dorleans, that you were taking confessions.” He then attempted to explain how without Christ’s atonement, all sins, even venial ones would condemn everyone to Hell. However, his explanation was interrupted by Madeleine, whose face had turned darkly curious and less than innocent look:

“Was it with Ava?”

“What?!” Adán exclaimed with shock, for they had never spoken of Saul’s sister, at least not of his conscious recollection.

“Did you fornicate with her? Before taking on the collar, is that why you–”

“No more, Madeleine,” the injured cleric said in stern rebuke that transcended his injured body. “I will not have you speak her name or make such accusations. Not here or ever again.”

The former prostitute-addict bowed her head, though her dark curiosity and gnawing jealously only grew at his adamant reaction. “Yes, St. Cyprien… I did not mean to upset you. Please, forgive me.”

Adán closed his eyes and rode out a wave of bodily pain. Exhaling in its aftermath, his voice was strained but soft:

“You will ever have my forgiveness. But… let us return to the original subject of discussion. It is true that man does not live by bread alone, but daily bread is still necessary to live.”

He then proceeded to tell her of several local charity houses and soup kitchens–places where she could not only receive meals, but also perform honest labor and avoid the temptations of “lucre.”

March 1944

So Lent progressed. Thaddeus occasionally came by to visit, as did a few of Adán’s peers from Immaculate and students from Jesuit High. Most of the time, however, Madeleine had Adán to herself.

But eventually, Adán’s cranial surgery, related paralysis, and broken bones healed well enough to discharge him from Charity, just in time for Holy Week.

Sunday morning, 2 April 1944

Adán’s parish was delighted to have him back, just as his peers and superiors were glad to have his assistance with the week’s many liturgical ceremonies and duties. Adán too was happy to immerse himself in those rituals and related acts of service.

Madeleine, however, was less than pleased. She was not used to “sharing her saint.” And though Adán continued to help her with her Catechisms, it was not in the intimate one on one way they had spent their time in Charity. As if sensing the woman’s improper possessiveness, many of Adán’s peers started to block her from seeing him, especially when they discovered she lived in another parish.

Saturday evening, 8 April 1944

Adán was initially unaware of this growing conflict, and so was shocked when after the week’s Black Saturday and Easter Vigil services, he walked home to the Iberville Projects and discovered Madeleine inside his apartment. He was particularly alarmed since he had never shared his address with her.

The almost-priest did not take kindly to her confession that she had been trailing him to and from his home. Initially, she said it was because she had been having terrible dreams about the Order of the Garter and how it was going to harm Adán. When he inquired why she had not talked to him at Immaculate, she accused his peers of stonewalling her, which she attributed to them persecuting her for her past. She pled with Adán to let her stay with him. She accused several shelter leaders, upon learning of her past, of trying to pressure her into sexual acts for extra food and a place to sleep. Although some of these accusations were true, Madeleine had told too many half-truths and lies to Adán, causing him to think she was once again lying. Seeing he disbelieved her, Madeleine’s begging became even more pitched, saying that she not only needed his protection, but he needed hers.

When he still denied her request, she broke down and claimed she was pregnant and feared for the child’s safety. As if reading Adán’s thoughts, she loudly shouted that she had kept her Lenten vow, that despite “all the Devil’s temptations” she had “remained chaste and faithful.” Confused and increasingly alarmed by the woman’s histrionics, Adán asked her how then the child had been conceived. The question drove the woman to frantic, desperate tears and moans of despair. She looked at him longingly as if desperate to share some secret, then proclaimed that her conception was a miracle, something like Mary’s virginal pregnancy, that it was “God’s will.” These claims as well as her hysterical fervor made Adán think she had relapsed. She did not take his inquiries about such kindly, but began to smash his sole chair and throw his books, screaming how she would never poison her child like her own mother did, nor would she break her promise to Adán.

Unsure what to do, Adán tried to pacify the overcome woman. To prevent any more violence, he embraced her, causing her to sink into his arms and sob hot tears upon his collar. As soon as she seemed to regain some measure of composure, Adán released her, stepped back, and then tried to calmly, patiently explain that he would help her as best as he could. However, he insisted that she could not stay with him. It was the night before his already delayed ordination as a priest, and if any found out about her staying with him, it could jeopardize his entire life’s labor to become a priest and all the godly service he might thereafter render.

“But we… we would not be sinning. I just want to be with you…” she said with another sob and imploring look.

As if finally recognizing the emotion behind her gaze, he stepped back further, shaking his head:

“No, that is not God’s will. As a cleric of the Church, I especially must be mindful of Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to ‘abstain from all appearance of evil.’ As should you, Madeleine,” he added with a tone that tried to be compassionate, yet firm, “For you are right that men will be particularly likely to see or think evil of you if they discover your past. The world does not see things as we do, nor understand the mystery of God’s mercies.”

Disappointed at Adán’s rejection, but placated or at least no longer hysterical, Madeleine nodded slowly, wiping her tears. “I… understand. I would never want to hurt you.”

“Nor I you,” Adán said. He then offered what little money he had to help her pay for a motel room “where she could feel safer.” Seeing her off, he then expressed his hope of seeing her at Immaculate’s Paschal services and his subsequent ordination.

He did not.

Indeed, he did not see Madeleine for several months–though sometimes he thought he glimpsed her in crowded streets or services, only to vanish. Similarly vanished were several of his letters–including the unopened ones–from Ava. While their absence bothered him on more than one level, he accepted their loss, and indeed discarded the rest, believing that as a fully ordained priest, he needed to put such “worldly things away.”

But the world is hard to escape.

Adán I, Chapter V
The Hunt for Marie

“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”
St. Teresa of Avila

January 1944

The next day, no handkerchief was needed for Adán’s thesis’ defense. Yet, its completion and that of his Licentiate of Sacred Theology meant it was finally time for the post-seminarian to surrender himself to the presbyterium. His ordination was scheduled for what would have been the end of Mardi Gras (if WWII had not canceled it), on the following Ash Wednesday. Although Adán had wished his ordination to be a purely spiritual event, Thaddeus insisted that he allow his old friend to organize a celebration, with Adán eventually capitulating, so long as the celebration was the day before his ordination, on Shrove Tuesday.

“Very well, we shall throw a going-away party to Belteshazzar!”

“I am being ordained a priest, not an anchorite.”

“For you, Adán, I expect there will be little difference. All the same, invite whomever you wish, and I will take care of the venue, catering, and decorations.”

“Decorations?” Adán asked skeptically.

“Yes, Adán,” Thaddeus patiently replied. “Parties do tend to have them. Perhaps it’s time to reread Mark 16:15, specifically the first line of the Lord’s command to his disciples.”

“You mean ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’?”

“Yes, namely the first half: going into the world.”

“I believe the Lord was advocating evangelism, not party attendance.”

“If you’re going to teach others about God’s grace, sometimes you have to go to places where other people actually are. Regardless, my soon-to-be Father St. Cyprien, call your friends and let them know about the party–or feast, if you would rather call it that. I hear we Catholics are fans of those.”

Chuckling, Thaddeus ended the call, leaving Adán to ponder what mortal friends he could invite.

January 1944

Frankly, most of Adán’s ‘closest’ companions were long dead, and he doubted the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Polycarp, and Aurelius Ambrosius would condescend to a Shrove Tuesday ‘party.’ Still, he eventually contacted a few of his former Notre Dame and Loyola teachers, such as Father Fontenot, as well as some star pupils at Jesuit High. He also invited Pierre Jeansonne, his brother Andre, and their families.

Notwithstanding, he delayed calling the one person he wanted the most to see, as he felt some degree of impropriety, if not in the invitation, then in his feelings behind it.

Sunday afternoon, 4 February 1944

Perhaps it was a venial temptation–but eventually, the otherwise stalwart man succumbed.

Yet, when he tried calling Ava, he was ‘greeted’ on the phone by her brother:

“Thad tells me you’re finally becoming a priest. Good for you. Although I wonder if I should call up the archbishop and tell him all about how you’re unfit to be a priest.”

“My interest in Marie is pure, Saul; I also wish to set her free as we swore to do so.”

“Oh, I’m not talking about her, Adán–but thank you very much for telling my sister all about that Mardi Gras trollop. She hasn’t stopped hounding, needling, and nagging me about it since she snuck back into the house on Epiphany’s Eve. No, Adán, I’m talking about how you’re clearly unfit to be a priest. Why, you don’t even have the decency to pretend to molest little boys. Rather, your attention seems unnaturally fixated on a young crippled woman.”

“My friendship with your sister is purely platonic,” Adán replied with a growing heat in his face.

“Oh, spare me another one of your delusions, I’ve read your ‘love letters’ that she keeps tucked under her mattress–as well as a few of her discarded drafts to you. Jesus fucking Christ, man, Adoro te devote!

“It’s a Eucharistic hymn, Saul, that’s–”

“Don’t try shoveling your bullshit into my lap, Adán. I didn’t skip that many Latin classes–so let me spell out its translation in case you’ve forgotten, which I know you haven’t: Adoro te devote means ‘I DEVOUTLY ADORE YOU’!”

“Thomas Aquinas was writing about his love for Christ!” Adán protested, though the defense somehow rung hollow in his all-too hot ears.

“Belteshazzar, you play the cloistered zealot pretty well, but you fucking stink at playing dumb, so I’m just going to cut straight to the brass tax. Here’s the deal: you care so much about us keeping our word, right? Fine, I’ll hold my end of the bargain. I’ll help you find Marie.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Adán said, his face still burning like it had gotten slapped by an iron.

“Do you want my help or not?!”

Adán hesitated, but eventually swallowed his pride, “Yes, Saul. I want us to keep our vow and find Marie. She needs help.”

“Fine, I’ll help you find the prostitute. But in return, you have to swear to me that you will NEVER come see my sister, NEVER write to her, and NEVER call her EVER again.”

“Saul, that’s not–”

“Or admit that you LOVE her and tear off that slave collar around your neck! Admit that for all your sanctimonious, holier-than-thou bullshit that you’ve developed feelings for her–feelings that are FORBIDDEN by your precious church and its damned canon laws! Go on, Belteshazzar, show me how important it is to keep your word! Show me how much you care about poor, poor Mademoiselle Marie Délicieux! I mean, if she was really possessed by an unclean spirit, then surely finding her should be more important than sending letters to your ‘purely platonic’ pen pal!”

Adán’s face felt like it had been dunked in a gasoline-soaked fire barrel. In his apartment, he could only stare at his nearly blank walls. As his gaze slide off those barren walls, it fell upon the remains of Ava’s handmade king cake–and the infant porcelain figurine she had hid inside the cake. The figure reminded him of his family’s centuries-old porcelain heirloom. For the first time in his adult life, he wondered whatever had happened to the priceless saint-touched relic.

Dimly, he heard his voice finally give Saul an answer:

“Very well, Saul, if keep your word, I give you mine.”

“Not good enough, Belteshazzar. You need to swear it.”

Adán was quite for a long time before he finally spoke–perhaps more to drown out Father Fontenot’s old admonition than to appease Saul:

“If you help me find the woman we call Marie, I promise to never contact your sister again. This I swear on the Lance of Longinus that pierced the Lord’s side when he hung upon Golgotha’s holy tree.”

“Excellent,” the eldest Freneau said with the sharp satisfaction of a man biting the tip of a cigar. That tone, however, became black as midnight as Saul added, “But if you break your word, Belteshazzar, I swear to you that I will find out–and then I’ll find you and throw you in a den of lions so fucking hungry and vicious that not even your precious church and all its fake saints will be able to save you.”

Adán could almost feel Saul smash the phone’s receiver into its cradle. Hanging up his own phone, Adán was not sure which he feared more: Saul once again breaking his vow and Adán never finding Marie, or Saul keeping his word and making Adán keep his.

The fact that he was unsure made him all the more fearful.

Saturday morning, 5 February 1944

So troubled, he spent the next week in cloistered prayer and meditation. When Ava’s letters started pouring daily through his front door’s mail slot, he left his apartment and sought asylum inside his parish church. It was as if all of the tumult of the cancelled Mardi Gras was trapped inside his heart. His conflicted thoughts raged like the hurricane-beset Lake Pontchartrain that nearly killed him. This time, though, it was his spirit, not body, that was in jeopardy, as he was forced to confront not only his undeniable feelings for Ava–but also their equally undeniable prohibition by canon law.

If he had been but a seminarian, he likely would have abandoned his ecclesiastical path, but he had already been ordained as a deacon. He knew his catechisms and canon law all too well; the sacrament of the Holy Orders had conferred upon him an “indelible spiritual character”–he could never again become a layman. True, he could be released from the duties and responsibilities connected to the clerical state. He could no longer engage in ministry within his diocese, no longer celebrate Mass or confer the sacraments, no longer be called “Father” or wear clerical clothing, and no longer be supported financially by the Church. To the world, he would appear to be a layman, working at an ordinary job and living the normal life of the laity.

Yet, loss of the clerical state would not carry with it an automatic dispensation from the requirement to stay celibate, and any marriage, whether inside or outside the church, would be invalid by canon law and incur excommunication. Canon law was clear; he had to either deny his love for Ava or deny his faith. Even if Saul failed to keep his vow, Adán had to keep his.

It was a dark night of his soul, though one that lasted nearly ten days. The other clergy of the parish believed the fervency of his prayers and fast was simply a more extreme, if otherwise mundane preparation for his ordination as a priest. He was extolled for his virtue and zeal, as he ate and drank nothing save his daily sacramental wafer and wine. He was near delirious and starved when Thaddeus eventually found him praying and weeping to Mother Mary’s statute–her marble face so very much like Ava’s.

Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944

Father Malveaux was shocked at his friend’s emaciated state. He immediately decided to call off the ‘party’, and he tried to convince Adán to break his fast and eat. Adán stubbornly refused, until Thaddeus told him that their old friend, ‘Mishach’, or Michel “Michael” Montobon had returned home from the war. That alone convinced Adán to leave Immaculate Conception—“at least for a little while.

Thaddeus took Adán to a local restaurant and ordered three meals and drinks, with Adán assuming the third was for the soon-to-be-arriving Michael. Thaddeus then convinced the near starving man to break his fast and eat, though he himself seemed too somber to initially eat himself. Eventually, Thaddeus spoke:

“I had planned to tell you about Michael after your ordination.”

“I can see why, but I am glad you told me now. Where is he by the way?” said Adán, looking up each time the restaurant’s door opened.

Father Malveaux closed his eyes. “I told you the truth, Adán. Michael did return home today, but… but not in the way we hoped. I received a call today from his mother. The 141st Infantry–Michael’s army unit–as well as the rest of the 36th Infantry Division has been fighting in Italy. They tried to break through the German defenses on the 20th, yet after crossing the Gari River, Michael and his men were cut off from reinforcements and took heavy fire from German Panzergrenadiers. They… suffered heavy losses. After two days of hard fighting, they had to retreat. Michael and more than a thousand of our boys never made it back…”

Adán’s heart and head reeled. He had been the closest to ‘Mishach’ out of all of his Loyola friends, in part because the typically gentle young man had treated Adán as his personal confessor. Indeed, shortly before their graduation in 1939, Michael had painfully confessed to Adán that he struggled with “homoerotic temptations” and thus doubted not only the appropriateness of him becoming a seminarian, but also the eternal welfare of his soul. Michael had taken comfort in Adán’s reply, namely that a man’s soul was defined not by his temptations, but by how he responded to them–a message which he had borrowed from Saints Teresa of Ávila and Francis de Sales:

“Let the enemy rage at the gate; let him knock, pound, scream, howl; let him do his worst. We know for certain that he cannot enter our soul except by the door of our consent.”

“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”

With that news of Michael’s death, that old sermon resurfaced keenly inside Adán’s soul. In that moment, he felt he finally had his answer. He might undeniably love Ava, but it was how he resisted the temptation of that love and heeded his vows which would define his discipleship. Yet, even as that theological epiphany pierced his heart, his mind detected an anomaly in Thad’s story.

“But, Shadrach, you said Michel returned home? Even… even if he died in the first day of fighting, today is only the 22nd… they couldn’t have shipped his body back… not so soon.”

Father Malveaux grimly nodded. “Yes… his mother, she claims she saw Michael’s spirit appear to her in a dream. She thought it only a nightmare, the worries of a mother with three sons fighting on the front lines. But then… then she received the notice from the Army today of Michael’s death. She called me to let me know, but also to minister to her. She was beset with grief, but also horrified and worried about her son’s immortal soul. In her dream, or vision as she became convinced, Michael was in terrible pain–not just of body, but of spirit. He said things to her… not all of which she chose to repeat. But there was something she shared. She claimed that Michael had made her promise to let you know that he had ‘tried to resist the enemy at the gate, but he did not expect him to howl so sweetly…’ I did not understand the reference. His division never made it to the city gates of Cassino. Do you know what that might signify?”

Adán did, but he felt the privacy of Michael’s admission–even if not under the confessional seal–should be honored. Instead, he posed his own question:

“Was there anything else she shared?”

Thaddeus nodded. “Yes, there was, although she was not sure she understood it either. He allegedly told her that he would ‘try to make things right’, that he was going to go after ‘the one who got away’ and ‘free the woman from the other cursed fornicator.’”

“Alcide,” Adán immediately declared. “He’s going after Alcide, in hopes of achieving penance.”

Thaddeus shook his head. “But… that’s… that’s not…”

Adán merely quoted Paul’s words to the Corinthians about death:

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep…”

The almost priest then stood up, only to have his enervated legs try to give way. Steadying himself upon the restaurant table, he bade for Thaddeus to help him, saying they needed to speak with Saul immediately. The priest initially hesitated, thinking that Adán was in no condition to do anything save rest, or else he would be ordained tomorrow in a hospital. Eventually though, he relented, paying their bill and assisting Adán outside. There, the streets were fortunately clear of what otherwise would have been throngs of Fat Tuesday celebrants. The hailed a taxi, and rode to the Freneau estate.

Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944

During that drive, Adán tried to push away thoughts about whether he would see Ava or what he might say to her. Yet, when they arrived, Saul was ready for them, or specifically for Adán. With no sight of Ava, ‘Shadrach and Belteshazzar’ were swiftly escorted to Saul’s parlor, though only the latter was permitted entry. Much to Thaddeus’ displeasure, Saul made the priest wait outside the room so he could “talk of private matters and promises” with Adán.

Inside, Saul waved an envelope with the smug gusto of a man who has just won a one-way ticket to Heaven, or at least one out of Hell. He told Adán that after their call, he had hired a private detective, one Enrique Salvador, to track down the prostitute. Much to Saul’s surprise, it had taken Enrique less than two weeks to find the woman and tail her for a few days, locating her residence, all with photos as proof.

Saul waved the envelope in Adán’s direction. “I called several times, even sent one of my men to your two-dollar apartment. But here you are finally. I must admit, I was beginning to worry that old Belteshazzar was going to break his word…”

“I keep my vows,” Adán replied, with a bruised but unbroken conviction.

“How very nice for you–and for me,” Saul said, tossing the dossier into the near-priest’s lap.

As Adán looked over its content, he confirmed Saul’s claims. He also was shocked by the PI’s level of detail and scope of discoveries–discoveries that had eluded Adán for years. As Adán read over those details, Saul provided his own smug summary:

“Her real name’s evidently Madeleine Dorleans, though she always spells it differently–Madelin, Madelynn, Mattilyn, Madilynne, and so forth–as if she hasn’t made up how her own name is spelt. Amongst the low-caliber class she associates with, she’s more commonly known as Mad Ellen, Elynn, Helen, or the like. She’s definitely a few eggs short of a dozen–so I’m sure you two will get along fine. She constantly talks to herself–with some ‘conversations’ reportedly turning quite violent. She’s a leader of a prostitution ring, cult, or secret society, called the Order of the Garter. Which it is depends on who you ask, or whatever Madeleine’s current mood is. Its members signify themselves by carrying the old Storyville blue-books, as well the Latin pass-phrase that used to emblazon them:_ Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense,_ ‘Shame on Him Who Thinks Evil of It.’ Word on the street is that she knows you’ve been looking for you. It sounds like she used to fear you. Used to.”

Saul sat down behind his desk, a more serious and almost compassionate look crossing his face as he added:

“After the PI dropped off the dossier, I asked some of my business partners about her–the ones who gave me a ‘loan.’ I’ve been forced to launder a lot of their money, but the deal seems to benefit both of us, most of the times. When I asked my contact about Madeleine, he warned me to be careful and not to underestimate her. Seeing my disbelief, he shared that the Black Hand hasn’t taken kindly to her muscling in on their prostitution business. When they sent a few of their ‘blackjack negotiators’ to convince her to fold or join them, she allegedly beat them to a bloody pulp with all the skill and ferocity of a Golden Gloves’ champion. So… for what it’s worth, Belteshazzar, good luck and be careful.”

“You’re not coming?” Adán asked with open surprise. “But don’t you care if–”

“No, Belteshazzar, I don’t care. I promised to help you find the whore–and that’s it. That was the deal. She’s holed up at 235 Basin Street, in Lulu White’s old Mahogany Hall that some charity group converted into a poor house. Oh, how the mighty have fallen…”

“Indeed,” Adán agreed, though as he looked at Saul, he was contemplating not a place but a person that had fallen from grace.

Adán’s exit from the Freneau estate was more sorrowful than the last. True, he had gained Marie’s, or Madeleine’s, long-sought location. Yet, as he glanced back at the Freneau estate, he saw Ava staring at him mournfully from her second-story window. In that moment, he felt a far greater loss.

Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944

Still, Adán pressed onward, his spirit aflame with zeal even as his body was sorely depleted by his recent fast. Thaddeus pleaded with Adán to wait and recover his strength, or better yet, allow the police to intervene, given that Madeleine was involved in an illegal prostitution ring. Indeed, when Adán rejected that proposal to seek out Father Fontenot, Thaddeus left him to contact his families’ NOPD allies.

Tuesday evening, 22 February 1944

Meanwhile, Adán petitioned the now-aged Father Fontenot for the Society of Leopold’s aid. Father Fontenot, however, advised a more temperate response. Namely, he suggested that Adán–having shared the information on Madeleine’s location and activities–had already performed his duties as a member of the Order of St. Ambrose, and should allow the local Brotherhood to carry out the more “exoteric” aspects of the Society’s work. Adán, however, was unwilling to leave Madeleine’s fate to the Brotherhood:

“Father Fontenot, if I had let the Brotherhood ‘handle things’ back at the Boston Club, many more would have died, and St. Columba’s relic would have remained in nefarious hands.”

“Perhaps,” the elderly priest conceded, before adding, “but beware, my favored pupil, let you suffer the same fate of Uzzah of Gibeah as he tried to steady the Ark of the Covenant.”

“Uzzah was of the lineage of Abinadab, not of Kohath. Only the latter had the ecclesiastical authority to transport the ark. You yourself ordained me an exorcist–and charged me to impose hands on energumens. Now I have discovered one in my parish, and I ask for your blessing.”

Father Fontenot sighed. “Ultimately, it is not my blessing you need. Remember your Greek: what does hamartia signify?”

“It is the word for sin.”

“Yes, but what is its etymology?”

Adán pondered the question for a moment, then answered, “It is an archery term, which means to ‘miss the mark.’”

“Correct again, Adán, so be careful, lest in your will to do God’s, you do only the former.”

Tuesday night, 22 February 1944, PM

Thus twice-warned, but reluctantly blessed, Adán left Loyola to fulfill his vow. As he traveled from Riverbend to Storyville’s remnants, the streets of New Orleans were eerily empty for a Shrove Tuesday night. When he reached Mahogany Hall, he halted before the four-story marble edifice and its entrance’s stained glass fan window. There, he closed his eyes and invoked Mother Mary’s protection:

“Sub tuum praesidium
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.”

(“We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.”)

With that besought aegis, Adán openly entered the lion’s den.

Tuesday night, 22 February 1944, PM

Inside, the lions were waiting for him–and hungry. No sooner had Adán crossed the Hall’s threshold, then he was seized by several cultist thugs, gagged, and hauled to the ex-brothel’s fourth-floor parlor. There, he was cuffed and strung from the room’s giant chandelier, his toes barely scrapping the floor.

Madeleine Dorleans then entered. She laughed, caressing her hand over his face and collar. She ‘welcomed’ him to her establishment and home of the reborn Order of the Garter. Her voice had the cultured, archaic dialect of a 19th century gigolo that Adán suspected was Alcide’s.

Yet, to Adán’s surprise, Madeleine’s entire mien soon changed, her posture becoming more masculine, even muscular, with a dockside, gladiatorial saunter. His shock then turned to bright agony as Madeleine hit him with a brutal jab and then cross that shattered his nose. Adán barely had time to register the pain before he took a vicious rear uppercut to his gut, followed by a lead hook to his head. The savage, expertly thrown blows nearly killed Adán, leaving him concussed, half-conscious, and bleeding, both internally and externally.

Yet, even as Adán struggled to stay awake, his broken body if not addled mind recognized the specific boxing moves. It was Gator Johnson’s trademark ‘death roll’ combo.

Gator Johnson

Unbeknownst to Adán, the Giovannini had found Gator Johnson’s shade, as it was trying to get vengeance against their Mafia allies. Recognizing they had a common enemy in the still at large Bruno, they had bound the dead boxer’s ghost to aid their search for Bruno and St. Columba’s relic. Yet, before he could find the man, Gator Johnson had ran afoul of the Alcide-possessed Madeleine, who enticed the wraith to become an energumenic ménages à trois.

Back at Mahogany Hall, Adán tried to focus his blurry, double vision on his attacker. Whether by virtue of that double vision or Leopoldite-taught benediction, he saw Gator Johnson’s ghost–the huge black man’s drowned frame superimposed over Madeleine. Seeing ‘he’ was recognized, Madeleine cruelly smiled. Spectral gulf water oozed from the boxer’s mirrored smile.

The smile–or smiles–soon faded, however, as Madeleine seemed to once again ‘transform.’ This time it was a thick, feminine voice–that of the Vodou witch from the asylum. That voice soon began to spit and curse–though not at Adán, not at first:

“Agwé-damned imbecile! Ya almost done killed ‘im–we be wantin’ to savor our revenge, nice ‘n slow as one of Damballa’s seed swallowin’ his supper…”

As Adán slipped in and out of consciousness, so too did Madeleine’s ‘identities’ war against one another for control of their host. As they bickered amongst ‘themselves’, Adán recognized not only Alcide, Gator Johnson, and the witch–who had evidently committed suicide after Adán had exorcised her demonic lover–but the demon itself. Whether by Alcide’s invitation or his former lover’s master, El Taumaturgo had buried deep in Madeleine’s soul like a tick, growing fat by feeding upon the other spirits’ dark desires.

Ahab Argabrite

One of those other spirits was Ahab Argabrite, the maternal grandson of the 19th century Alderman Sidney Story, who had spearheaded Storyville’s past regelation, if not legalization, of prostitution. Ahab had died in the Boston Club, poisoned by the Black Hand and then inadvertently trampled by the Brotherhood–though not before losing a wager against Percy J. Parker–or more accurately the wraith of Earl Beardie. Prior to the tournament, Ahab had all but bankrupted his family due to his speculative investing, gambling with his club peers, and penchant for expensive whores. Ahab had hoped the tournament would allow him to recoup some of his losses.

Yet, he had lost his table’s game against Earl Beardie when the devil-cursed ghost goaded Ahab into betting the “peace of the grave”, as the Ahad had otherwise lacked any other ante. When Ahab had ‘awoken’ as a wraith, he eventually followed his penniless family as they became tenants of the ex-brothel poor house. There, he had fallen under the sway of El Taumaturgo, who promised the man a way to restore Storyville’s once-lucrative Order of the Garter.

Phineas Constantin

Shortly thereafter, the demon had enticed another wraith to join the ghostly orgy inside Madeleine’s body: Phineas Constantin. Prior to the events of Boston Club ‘riot’, Brother Constantin had been a devout, if brutally zealous, Catholic. Yet, being ghouled by Rhett Carver had broken his spirit and faith, especially as the blood bond had compelled him to spy on and sabotage the Shadow Congregation. When the Brotherhood detected his duplicity and inhuman corruption, they had hunted him down like a rabid dog fit only for destruction. In doing so, they had finally broke what little remained of the ghoul’s ruptured faith, and his last words had been ones of blasphemy and hate.

When he arose as a wraith, he had been easily tempted by El Taumaturgo, as the demon convinced him that the Order of the Garter would not only fulfill his thirst for vengeance but also create a ‘communal order’ where all things, even flesh, were shared fully and without limits amongst its members. As a consequence, the Order of the Garter had become not only a prostitution ring, but an anarchist-communist cult, where every member shared their resources and bodies in a “carnal communion” that mirrored the legion of spirits sharing Madeleine’s body.

Those spirits also shared enmity for Adán, and as part of that collective malice, they had been all too happy to corrupt the guilt-tortured wraith of Michel Montobon. The war-slain Michel had hoped to confront Alcide and free Madeleine, and thus redeem himself in God’s eyes for his ‘sins of the flesh.’ However, the nascent wraith had been utterly unprepared for the combined might of the other shades, as well as the demon’s devious seduction.

True to the fiend’s prediction, Mishach’s ‘revelation’ hurt Adán far worse than Gator Johnson’s blows:

“I’m free now, Adán,” the former seminarian-turned-soldier said with Madeleine’s lips and the expression of a morphine-delirious addict. “I am no longer trapped in a man’s body. I no longer hear the devil howling at my door. Rather, in this woman’s body, I am finally free of my unnatural temptations, for I am no longer a man. I can finally ‘know’ the man I love–you, Adán, it’s always been you! I can be your Eve. I can bear the fruit of your womb. It is finally as God wills!”

Adán could barely speak above his tears, half-dislodged gag, and dislocated jaw:

“Michel… the devil no longer howls… because you have let him in… you have given him the keys… to your soul’s door. You must… resist!”

“No more resisting!” Michel’s wraith angrily, lustfully proclaimed. With the demon, witch, and Alcide all goading Michel, their mortal puppet violently striped the deacon bare and began to consummate the wraiths’ death-warped desire. Emaciated, strung up, concussed, and bleeding, Adán was physically spent like the water in Hagar’s bottle in Beersheba’s desert.

Wednesday night, 23 February 1944, AM

Yet, just as with Hagar, Adán’s tears and prayers were answered. Unlike Hagar, Adán was saved not by an angel, but by Enrique Salvador.

After investigating Madeleine and the Order of the Garter, the detective had been staking out Mahogany Hall. He had watched as the deacon walked into that den of iniquity, only to be swiftly bound. Yet, the deacon’s entrance and captivity provided Enrique the perfect opportunity to sneak into the manor.

Stealthily subduing several distracted guards, Enrique was able to find Lulu White’s hidden safe in which the recently deceased woman had kept ledgers with secrets about her rivals, including Marguerite Defallier and her Invictus allies. These were Enrique’s true prize, but the detective’s conscience got the better of him when he overheard Adán’s cries of pain and torment.

Thus, Enrique rushed up the stairs, blackjacking several more of Madeleine’s goons. He broke into the bedroom and drew his revolver, intent on putting a bullet in Madeleine’s skull. His aim, however, was spoiled, not only by a pack of released hounds that attempted to savage him, but also by the tortured deacon’s cry for clemency–for Madeleine.

The errant bullet fired high, piercing Adán’s palm. As the blood ran down the deacon’s cuffed hand and wrist, Adán found a hidden reservoir of power. He slipped his blood-slick hand free, his broken body barely registering the fresh pain. He yanked hard with his other wrist, causing the already damaged chandelier to break off from its ceiling rose. The latter crashed directly upon the unsuspecting Madeleine, knocking her to the ground and momentarily unconscious.

While Enrique fended off the cultists’ attack dogs, Adán staggered to Madeleine’s prone body. Reaching forward with his injured hand, he used his stigmata-welled blood to paint the medieval Catholic formula for exorcism, reciting the accompanying benediction of the Vade Retro Satana:

“Crux Sacra sit mihi lux,
Non Draco sit mihi dux.
Vade retro Satana!
Nunquam suade mihi vana.
Sunt mala quae libas,
Ipse venena bibas.”

(“May the Holy Cross be my light,
May the Dragon never be my guide.
Begone, Satan!
Never tempt me with your vanities.
What you offer me is evil,
Drink the poison yourself.”

So rebuked, the seven unclean spirits screamed as one. It took all of Adán’s spiritual puissance and faith to tear the incorporeal parasites from their host, and with a potent prayer to God, he shunted their spirits into the seven dogs savaging the detective. So disoriented and afflicted, the beasts turned and fled, crashing through the parlor’s Tiffany glass windows. The canines plummeted four stories to their mortal deaths.

Only then did Madeleine regain her own voice. She stared at Adán as if was Christ himself, naked and baptized with blood, suffering, power, and mercy. So awed, she exclaimed:

“I am free! Sweet Jesus, I never believed I would be free!”

In answer, Adán humbly repeated Christ’s words to the father of the demon-possessed child, as related by the Gospels:

“All things are possible to those that believe.”

Whether recognizing the scriptural passage or simply being moved by that father’s same desperate faith, she knelt before him and pled:

“I believe, I believe–help my unbelief!”

“As God wills it,” Adán proclaimed, then promptly passed out from his injuries.

Adán I, Chapter IV
The Faithful Invalid

“Ultimately, all of us surrender–it is merely a question of to whom.”
Ava-Michèl Freneau

Tuesday morning, 16 August 1938

When sleep’s embrace ended, the hurricane had passed. So too had Adán’s indecision. He returned to Father Fontenot and relinquished the relic to the Society of Leopold. Having successfully completed his ‘two-fold restitution’ to the Jesuit and regained the Shadow Congregation’s favor, Adán was accepted to the archdiocese’s Notre Dame Seminary and ordained a subdeacon of the Church Militant.

Fall 1938

In comparison to his last year at Loyola and time as Bruno Legaré, the three years of his magister divinitatis program were relatively placid. With the Black Hand and Rhett Carver still looking for ‘Bruno’ and St. Columba’s relic, Adán was fortunate enough to complete his major seminary in Lafayette’s diocese. As he did at Our Lady of Lourdes and Loyola, Adán excelled in his academic coursework. He especially gained mastery in ecclesiology, systematic theology, liturgy, canon law, and patristics. Additionally, the seminary’s curriculum deepened his fluency in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Moreover, his formal induction into the Order of St. Ambrose meant that most of his Leopoldite duties entailed performing research in church archives, civic records, and university libraries versus fieldwork. Once again, he was able to safely immerse himself in esoterica, and his erudition and dedicated scholarship earned him esteem among his teachers and peers.

December 1941

Chief among these was Father Joseph Verbis Lafleur. Joseph was the very antithesis of Adán’s ill-devoted peers at Loyola. When World War II broke out, Father Lafleur valiantly joined the Military Ordinate of the United States. As part of that pastoral organization, he would serve in the Pacific Theatre, before he and 749 other Americans were held as prisoners of war aboard the SS Shinyo Maru. When the USS Paddle tragically sank the infamous hellship, Father Lafleur died to help 82 Americans survive. Adán very well may have become a martyr alongside Father Lafleur, as he almost joined the Military Ordinate.

One thing alone held him back: a long-delayed, but not forgotten, vow to free Marie from Alcide’s possession. Thus, contrary to his seminarian peers’ expectations, Adán neither joined the Ordinate nor transitioned from his scholarly research to pastoral service as a presbyteratus. Instead, in the fall of 1941, he postponed that long-sought honor to continue his academic education, obtaining the bishop’s approval to seek a Sacrae Theologiae Licentiatus, or Licentiate of Sacred Theology, back in New Orleans.

Most of his Leopoldite superiors lauded the decision, as the additional education would make Adán a more useful member of the Order of St. Ambrose. Father Fontenot, however, opposed the plan, noting that it increased the risk of Adán being recognized by the Black Hand. Additionally, the few surviving members of New Orleans’ Brotherhood still blamed the now-ordained deacon for their failure at the Boston Club.

Winter 1942

Still, Father Fontenot helped his stubborn pupil secure a position at the recently reconstructed Jesuit Church of Immaculate Conception on Baronne Street in the Central Business District. Of all the archdiocese’s churches, Immaculate Conception had always been Adán’s favorite, at least from an architectural perspective. Beyond its historicity, he adored the aesthetics and engineering involved in its Neo-Venetian Gothic style and Moorish and Byzantine Revival elements, including its enormous nave, niches with archangel statues, Solomonic column, stained glass windows, gold-plated altar from Lyons, 32-feet Open Diapason pipes with Moorish Revival stenciling, and marble statue of Mother Mary with its gilded, lit background. He also loved the church’s unique cast iron pews with Moorish tracery, rosettes, and cryptic icons and scriptural symbols.

The latter became the focus of Adán’s master’s thesis, specifically a certain pew that–according to Adán’s hypothesis–depicted the origins of Longinus’ predestined spearhead, including its antediluvian crafting by Tubal-Cain, use by Lamech, loss in the Great Flood, and meridian discovery by Phaecus the merchant, who gave it in corrupt tribute to Pontius Pilate, who in turn bestowed it to Longinus. Adán’s thesis led him to Lamech’s Song of the Sword, research into the lost Book of the Wars of the Lord, archaeological treatises on the tomb of Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera, and repeated, if unexplained references to an archangel with tripartite heads of a calf, serpent, and wolf.

When not conducting this research or engaged in other graduate studies, Adán served as Immaculate Conception’s deacon; bearing the paten, Book of Gospels, and processional cross during services. Additionally, his labors for Immaculate Conception–for which he was provided a stipend–had him work in the church’s associated Jesuit High School, a prestigious all-male, college preparatory secondary school in Mid-City. There, Adán was reunited with one of his old Loyola friends: Thaddeus ‘Teddy’ Malveaux, known formerly as “Shadrach” and most recently as Father Malveaux.

Winter 1943

Also a recent graduate of Notre Dame seminary, Thaddeus had, true to his family’s expectations, become the next ‘Father Malveaux.’ The grandson of Édouard Malveaux, Thaddeus was assigned to the archdiocese’ cathedral, but he also had been tasked by his family to assess whether James Malveaux, his third cousin once removed and student of Jesuit High School, might have the proper qualities to be Thaddeus’ own eventual replacement.

Upon Adán and Thaddeus’ reunion, both filled in the other as to their past activities (though Adán was clearly discrete on certain details). Thaddeus also shared the state of their other college friends, with whom Adán had lost contact. Namely, ‘Meshach and Abednego’ had gone off to fight the ‘heathen’ Japanese imperialists, but Saul Freneau had remained behind to run his family’s estate after his father’s death during the recent “Boston Club riot.”

Adán shared that he was still trying to find Saul’s escort from two years past, but had run into a dead end, as most of Storyville was razed during his time in Lafayette to build the new Iberville Projects. When asked to help, Thaddeus uncomfortably demurred, saying that “visits to a former red light district and asking around about a prostitute would be most unbecoming for a man of the presbyterium–or one trying to join it.”

Adán thanked his old friend for the warning, and the two parted, though they would remain in correspondence over the years and meet during gatherings of the archdiocese’s clergy.

Spring 1943

Unbeknownst to Thaddeus, Adán continued his search for Marie whenever he could. And though ‘Shadrach’ had denied him any intentional aid, he had given him Saul’s contact information. When Adán phoned Saul, seeking his help in honoring their mutual vow, Saul refused to speak to him. After listening to Saul’s servants provide an increasingly thin set of excuses as to why their master could not speak, Adán went to the man’s house. Saul’s servants would have turned away the deacon, if not for the intercession of Saul’s younger sister, Ava-Michèl Freneau.

An invalid, Ava, or Evita as her brother was wont to call her, was always happy to entertain. Furthermore, she was intrigued as to why a Catholic deacon would be visiting her brother–as Saul had swiftly fallen back into the life of hellrake.

“If you’ve come seeking a donation from my brother,” she said, as a servant pushed her wheelchair-bound body, “I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed, Father, as Saul claims our family’s accounts are redder than the fields of Saint-Mihiel.”

“I am but a humble deacon, mademoiselle,” Adán replied. “And I come not on official church business, but rather for a personal matter: an old promise that Saul and I made while at Loyola to help a young woman in need.”

With that answer, Ava’s interest was doubly piqued, and part of her wondered whether she was that “young woman in need.” Thus, she escorted Adán–or more technically had him escort her, by pushing her wheelchair and managing the mansion’s elevator–to see Saul.

En route, the two talked, and both found the other an articulate, attentive, and thoughtful conversation partner. Adán also could not help but notice that the young woman was beautiful. After all, the deacon was celibate, not blind. Indeed, Saul’s sister was attractive, but not in the sultry, voluptuous manner lusted after by Bruno’s ‘peers.’ Rather, Ava’s soft, symmetrical, and pale features reminded Adán of Immaculate’s marble statue of Mother Mary. Suddenly aware of how intently he was regarding her face, he forced his eyes to look away, only then noting the Basque rosary ring she wore upon her finger. Its shape was the same of Sister Jolicoeur’s, but it was carved from a single piece of jet.

Following the deacon’s gaze, Ava laughed demurely, “Contrary to popular opinion, not all of the Freneaus are godless reprobates.” Raising the rosary ring with her sole non-paralyzed limb, she added, “It’s made from the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela. Saul gave it to me on my First Communion, in hopes that I would follow after its last bearer and became a nun.”

Hearing such a tale about ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, Adán was momentarily speechless. As if reading the deacon’s thoughts, Ava’s smile faded as she spoke:

“Yes, believe it or not, but my brother used to be exceptionally devout.”

“What… what happened?” Adán asked, his sheer surprise overcoming any sense of propriety.

“Polio,” she said, casting her eyes down to her lap. “When I caught it, Saul believed that if we–which really meant, he–just prayed long and hard enough that I would be healed. He read and reread and read again the biblical stories of Jesus healing the paralyzed men at Capernaum and Bethesda. While our parents hired physicians, Saul persuaded them to make exorbitant donations to the local churches. Though just a teenager, he petitioned local priests to heal me. Some tried. None succeeded, at least, not the way Saul hoped. I tried to lift his spirits–maybe the prayers and blessings had ameliorated or at least halted my palsy? After all, I still have control of one of my limbs, and I can breathe and swallow all on my own. Not all polio victims are so blessed. But Saul… he took it hard. It broke him. His heart… his faith…”

At such revelations, pity and shame filled Adán’s spirit–pity for the palsied girl and her faith-shaken brother, but also shame that Adán had never bothered to learn why Saul was so antagonistic towards the Church and those that believed in it. Overcome by such emotions, he reached down to grasp the young woman’s hand, then spoke the only words he could before tears choked his voice completely.

“I’m sorry… sorry that I was… that the Church… could not, did not heal you…”

The smile returned to Ava’s face as she replied:

“There is no need to feel sorry–not for me. Even if you could call upon the Almighty right here and now and command my legs to walk, I would not have you do it. My condition has been a blessing. Yes, it has been, to quote St. Paul, a ‘thorn in the flesh’, and as a younger girl, I did beseech the Lord to have it ‘depart from me.’ But I have learned to take comfort in the Lord’s reply to Paul: His grace is sufficient for me, and His ‘strength is made perfect in weakness.’ ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ If only I could make Saul understand: polio didn’t ruin my life–it protected and purified it. True, I am an invalid, unable to walk or run, and unlikely ever to marry or bear children, but my condition has kept me from all manner of temptations. And ultimately, my condition–like all of our mortal lives–will be but a mote of dust compared to the eternities to come, and if I am faithful, I shall not only walk and run, but fly with the angels. No, the one who needs healing is my brother, and not from any physical infirmity.”

Awed by the private homily, Adán reverently knelt and proclaimed:

“Solomon must surely have seen your day when he said a virtuous woman is far more precious than rubies.”

At Adán’s gesture and praise, Ava blushed like a rose.

Spring 1943

Yet, before either could respond, both were startled by the sound of Saul shouting–for he had been summoned by his servants, only to find Adán kneeling and holding his sister’s hand:


Shocked by Saul’s presence, volume, and mistaken accusation, Adán released Ava’s hand, stood up, and tried to stammer a reply. Ava’s response was more coherent, and far sterner:

“Saul, there is no need to yell–my ears, unlike my legs, work perfectly. And we have spoken about you using those kind of names.” Gesturing to Adán, she then added, “And Deacon St. Cyprien was merely expressing his sympathy for my palsy, though I would hope, dear brother, that should a man as fine as the deacon ever propose to me, that you will find a more temperate response.”

Still flustered, Adán watched as the siblings glared at one another, till eventually, Saul glanced away as if losing a hand of Boston de Fontainebleau. Gesturing to Adán, he strode off to a parlor:

“Come on then, Belteshazzar, let’s get this over with; I can only deal with only one religious fanatic at a time.”

Once inside the parlor, Saul all but filibustered his old dorm-mate, contending that he simply could not afford to make a donation to pay for the Church’s “newest gold-leafed balustrade, ten-foot candle, or imported teak paddle for spanking wayward war orphans.” Rather than inheriting a wealthy estate, Saul claimed that what the Great Depression didn’t take, his father had squandered with spurious investments.

Worse, the deceased Freneau patriarch had racked up numerous gambling debts to his fellow club members on lost card games and horse races. With those club members all calling in their debts, Saul simply didn’t have enough money to cover it all, unless he sold the Freneau mansion. Rather than lose face with New Orleans’ high society or make his sister homeless, Saul had desperately turned to the mob for a ‘loan.’ While that allowed him to cover things with the Boston Club, the Black Hand’s ‘interest rate’ was steep, and Saul was well aware of what the mob would do if he failed to pay them back.

When Adán was able finally to explain that he had come not for a donation but for assistance in their vow to free Marie, Saul was first confused, then angry:

“That was over four years ago, Adán! Why can’t you just let it go?! The others have, even Thad.”

We made a vow, Saul; they did not,” the deacon said with warring ire and disappointment. “We swore on the same cross that cleansed you of the unclean spirit.”

Saul walked to a window, unable to stare Adán in the eye as he spoke his next words:

“So you say. I was drunk, all but passed out. The charlatan probably just drugged me, hoping to rob me. The girl was likely in on the con. But it was fine, nothing that sleep wouldn’t, or didn’t, cure. You just saw what you wanted to see, just another of the many religious fantasies that you, my sister, and the rest of your lot like to delude yourself with.”

Saul’s denial cut Adán like a knife in the dark, but the deacon found his heart pierced more with sadness than anger. He was silent for some time before he arose and escorted himself out–though not before reiterating St. Peter’s pronouncement to Ananias:

“Thou hast not lied unto men, but God.”

Adán all but shook the dust off his clothes as he left Saul’s home, believing that his work with the impenitent Freneau had come to an end.

Spring 1943

Yet, within a few days, he received a letter from Saul’s younger sister. In it, Ava apologized for her brother’s “calloused heart”, but also expressed gratitude for Adán’s visit and his kind words to her. It was a letter he could have left unrequited, but he penned a brief reply thanking her in turn for her hospitality and “beatific heart.” He mailed it, thinking their correspondence finished, only to receive a new missive from Ava the following day.

This time, her letter was much longer. Most of its content was naturalistic observations colored by whimsical fancy, such as her noting how the oak-hung Spanish moss outside her window recently swayed “like a line of Oriental dancers dressed in celadon veils”, or how a pelican had alighted atop her gabled roof, bringing to mind St. Aquinas’ hymn, Adoro te devote. Yet, the letter also contained more weighty matters, chief of these being her worries that her father’s soul had been consigned to Purgatory’s fires for his unpaid gambling debts and the plight it created for his children.

The tenderness of this last subject prompted Adán to pen a comforting reply, rationalizing that it was his duty as a deacon to preach and evangelize. He shared St. Catherine of Genoa’s presentation of purgatory in opposition to Tertullian dogma or the speculative presentation of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii. He also reiterated church catechisms that, because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.

More letters followed. Their correspondence always had a theological element, be it a shared homily, scriptural inquiry, or doctrinal discussion. Yet, as time went on, their exchanges increasingly included more personal, if quotidian topics, such as a particularly striking sunset, a humorous response on a high school student’s exam, or a perplexing riddle from the Times Picayune. Each shared details of their personal and familial pasts. Some of these stories were happy, like Sister Jolicoeur giving Adán and the other children sweet bread treats during Paschal week. Others were sad or somber, such as their mutual adjustment to being orphans. Ava shared her thoughts on the war’s progress, and Adán provided updates on his seminary research on the spear of Longinus.

Winter 1944

Yet, on the eve before Adán defended that thesis in the late winter of 1944, Ava visited him at his small apartment in the Iberville Projects. Unbeknownst to Saul, she had booked a taxi, whose driver had then pushed her to Adán’s thankfully first floor door. When Adán responded to her gentle knock at his door, he was shocked by her presence. Despite all their correspondence, he had not seen her since their first meeting.

“It’s a little early for Pascal bread,” she said, opening the pastry box in her lap and revealing a handmade king cake, “and it’s not penia like Sister Jolicoeur used to make for you back in Eden, but I thought, with it being Epiphany’s Eve…”

Adán was truly touched by the gift, especially as he had spent most of the day searching for Marie in the Lafitte projects, Iberville’s black-segregated counterpart in nearby Tremé. Like so many other days, his efforts had proved unsuccessful, as his skin color and ecclesiastical collar made most of the Lafitte residents wary, especially since Adán had little to go on, save for the woman’s presumably fake name, ignoble career, and vague, second-hand reports of her quadroon features.

Feeling somewhat despondent of ever finding Marie, and not wanting to leave the crippled woman unattended, he invited Ava inside. While revelers outside loudly proclaimed the arrival of Carnival season, Adán and Ava shared the petite king cake in his austere apartment that had more books than furniture. Indeed, never having ‘entertained’ a guest before, the flustered deacon tried to find a non-existent pair of chairs for them to use.

“I already brought my seat,” the wheelchair-bound Ava teased good-naturedly.

“Oh, I… yes, of course,“ he stammered, absent-mindedly running a hand through his hair. “It’s… it’s been a taxing day.”

“Well, I can imagine it’s quite usual to feel nerves before defending your thesis. A bit like wedding day jitters, perhaps?”

Further flustered by her matrimonial reference, Adán took a moment before he shook his head. “No… not the thesis. After all, writing the final manuscript was the most laborious part of the process. It was–It’s just that…”

Ava put down her plate and fixed her “bleu ciel” eyes on Adán; her petition for him to confide his woes silent, but undeniable. His reservations dissipated like the dew before dawn. He shared his half-decade-long search for Marie, as well as his lack of progress. He did not explicitly name Saul’s involvement, but she astutely guessed it all the same.

Though she had no immediate counsel, her kind ear provided Adán some measure of renewed hope. After finishing the cake together, Adán saw her to a cab, though not before she left him with a final gift: a white handkerchief embroidered with a vulning pelican and the first line of Adoro te devote.

“In case I need to wave surrender during the thesis defense?” he quipped with a gentle smile.

“Ultimately, all of us surrender–it is merely a question of to whom.”

“Too true,” Adán nodded, then tilted his head in thought. “Who penned that maxim, by the way? It seems familiar–was it St. Jerome of Stridon–or no, St. Thérèse of Lisieux?”

“Ava-Michèl Freneau of New Orleans,” the young woman replied with a winsome smile. “Her canonization is still in question.”

As God wills it, was the deacon’s parting thought as he watched Ava’s taxi disappear into the Twelfth Night.