Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VII, Chapter XXVI
Dead Vengeance

“You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt.”
Louis Fontaine

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Just as suddenly, the light is gone. Caroline feels so desperately alone, and hungry, and hurt, and exhausted.

It feels like a lifetime ago that she fled Claire’s safehouse, her body pushed to the absolute limits of what it could endure. It feels like a lifetime ago that Donovan’s bullet splattered the casquette girl’s brains across her face. It feels like a lifetime ago they dueled the Guard in the gym, that she stood with only a ghoul beside her as the sheriff tried to devour her soul. A lifetime ago that they’d fled the gym into the nightmare that is the flame-, blood-, and trap-filled school. A lifetime ago that they pinned Donovan to the ground, that they finally turned the tide.

How many centuries has she lived tonight?

When did she fall to her knees?

It doesn’t matter. Her gaze sweeps the room.

GM: Caroline could not behold a scene scene of greater devastation.

There’s almost nothing left of the auditorium and its contents. The rows of seats are little more than slag and ash. The stage is demolished. Rents gape along the floor. The roof is caving in. The walls are collapsed.

Lou remains kneeling and bowed in prayer, hands clasped around the humble object, the relic, that delivered them. Caroline cannot see his face. What must it even look like? What can he even be thinking, this old man and weary and ready to die man who has had his prayers fulfilled, who has felt God’s(?) touch in his hour of most urgent need?

What’s left of the sheriff lies before him.

Westphal looks terrified. Absolutely terrified, like nothing has made him. His eyes are enormous and rimmed with blood. His head is curled against the lap of Roger Ferris like a frightened little boy.

Ferris is dead. That bullet hole in his neck from Camilla could only have been fatal. No heart beats from his chest. His mouth hangs faintly open, revealing two pointed fangs. The look on his face is… bewildered. Doubtful.

Mahmoud looks half-confused, half-panicking. And poisoned. Like she’s swallowed something indigestible, that’s burning her up from the inside. She looks furious, though whether at it or herself, Caroline cannot say.

Kâmil, too, is kneeling, his head bowed and his hands clasped. His deep voice mouths words of prayer in his native tongue.

The cloud of gathered wraiths looks… many things. But above all, yearning. Hope alights in their translucent eyes. Longing. Weariness. Many of them look as if they want nothing more than to pass into that now-vanished light. To simply rest.

All but for their leader.

Severed, infant-sized fists desperately pull at his ashen-hued locks. Blood and pus weeps from his furiously popping boils. For his face is furious. There is no peace writ upon it. Perhaps, for a moment, there was grim satisfaction. Or maybe it wasn’t anything, just gaping emptiness. But there is no awe. No humility. There is scorn. There is contempt. There is rage.

And there is undying, eternally burning, forever unsatisfied, hate.

Cat-quick, the old wraith suddenly blurs behind Mahmoud and drives his sword into her back.

“Epi kounyeya nou pral fini travay la, parazit!” he roars.

Caroline: Caroline is tired. She’s starving. She’s hurt. Not just physically, not just mentally, but spiritually. The brush with the divine aches in a way her vampiric regeneration does nothing for.

She wants nothing more than to lay down where she is and rest.

But there’s no rest for the wicked.


Westphal knew it before any of them. But Caroline knew it the moment she looked into the wraith’s hate-filled eye, even before he ran through the Lasombra.

A man, a ghoul, and even a Kindred might take their victory tonight and be satisfied with it. The death of the sheriff is a rare victory for the vampire-hating spirits. But Lou said it best earlier: “You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt.” Even now, at the moment of triumph. All they have left is hate, not even the promise of redemption on Judgement Day that all Kindred enjoy.

Maybe that’s why it hates them so much.

GM: The violent act shatters the spell over the group.

The remaining wraiths howl their wrath and descend upon the vampires. There are many of them. Were there this many, in that last battle against the sheriff and his childe? Lou springs to his feet, seizes his sword, and then he’s gone in a barely visible blur.

Westphal does not stick around for this battle, either. The look on his face says it all: Yeah, I didn’t sign up for this fight. Or maybe it’s more, Fuck everyone else, I’m saving my hide. Sped by Caroline’s vitae, the Lasombra turns and runs, flashing across the auditorium.

Across the now-leveled rows of seats, Caroline makes out the bloodied and battle-scarred features of Camilla Doriocourt. The hound floats into the air, and then she’s gone in a blur.

Caroline: Many things happen at once.

Caroline drops Lou’s smoking, probably ruined shotgun.

She swaps her blade to her left hand as she leaps into the teeth of death again. Into the old wraith.

She lets loose a war cry, catching his attention.

And she opens no less than three mental dialogues.

:: Fleeing alone into this maze will get all of us killed faster than the wraiths will achieve. Flee south in the path of Doriocourt.:: This she sends to everyone.

:: Roger, Wright’s shotgun was full of rock salt, please use it to keep the crowd back as we withdraw. Be judicious—I only counted six remaining rounds on his bandolier. ::

:: Raaid, I have no right to ask this of you, but that monster’s childe is fleeing to the south. She is badly mauled. She will no doubt set off every trap along the way. If you prevent her escape on our way out, I will be in your debt. ::

And then she’s there, blade in hand against the ancient wraith. Fighting another foe she knows she can’t defeat in a losing, withdrawing action. The individual spirits are a horde, dangerous, and potentially lethal. But the old monster, she knows, is something more. More, too, she knows none of the others have a hope against him. Not on their best day, and certainly not today. Not Ferris, minutes into the Blood. Not Kâmil, who can have so little left after recovering from his wounds. Not Mahmoud, who is already so badly injured.

No, she’s the only one left that might stall him as the others flee.

But their flight must be deliberate. It must be together.

GM: The one-eyed wraith doesn’t even try to block or dodge Caroline’s sword. The blade passes harmlessly through his translucent body like it’s made of air. Just like her fist did against Emmett. How did Donovan fight him?

The wraith twists the spectral blade embedded in Mahmoud’s gut. Tongues of sickly green fire dance across, blackening the Lasombra’s flesh to a crisp. She slumps to the ground, torpored before she can even scream.

Kâmil doesn’t try to fight the ghosts. Seeing Caroline’s intention, he leaps into the fray, grabs Mahmoud, and slings her over his back. The other wraiths can’t physically stop him, not with their incorporeal hands. But a hail of debris relentlessly pummels the elder ghoul as he takes off.

The horde of wraiths descends. Upon Caroline. Upon Ferris. Upon Kâmil. Smoke-like ephemera pours into mouths and nostrils. One spirit pours into Caroline. Her vision swims. Then the unfortunate wraith is spat out just like Turner was, writhing on the ground as blackened, rotting flesh melts off his bones like wax.

Another wraith descends upon Ferris. The newly-dead man, perhaps still riding the indescribable high of his Embrace, is not subverted so easily. A thin wave of shadow lashes from his hand at the ghost pouring into Kâmil’s mouth.

:: Ma’am, finding that shotgun wherever it fell is finding a needle in a haystack! We need to get out, NOW! ::

There is no immediate response from Raaid.

But the Lasombra fledgling’s attack is enough. Kâmil shakes his head and vomits out the ectoplasmic cloud. The elder ghoul waits a split second for Caroline to join him, then takes off in a blur.

Ferris runs after him.

The one-eyed wraith’s hollow laughter rings after them as he calls in French,

“Courez, parasites! Courez, sangsues! Courez, voleurs de vies! Vous n’échapperez pas si facilement…”

(“Run, parasites! Run, leeches! Run, stealers of lives! You shall not escape so easily…”)

The three flee through the building and its maze of traps and passages, the wraiths like baying hounds at their heels. The three catch up with Westphal in short enough order. Doubtless, he’d make no apologies for abandoning Mahmoud even if he was willing to spare the breath he doesn’t actually need.

Of Doriocourt, Caroline encounters no sign.

The Ventrue moves like lightning. The others can barely keep up with her. She blurs to and fro through the building, helping the stragglers, zapping ahead of them to check if the way is clear.

It’s not.

Something is wrong. No matter how far Caroline runs, she can find no way out of the building. The doors don’t seem to be where she remembers. Corridors stretch on forever. An infinitude of crossroads offers a morass of hopelessly confusing exits out of the school. Was the building always this large?

Caroline: :: There’s sorcery at work, hobbling the way out, :: she sends to the others.

GM: :: This feels wrong, :: echoes Ferris.

:: I remember the building’s layout, :: concurs Westphal. :: We should have reached an exit by now. ::

:: I believe you are correct, bayan. Supernatural interference is a probable explanation for our inability to leave, :: transmits Kâmil.

Caroline and Kâmil both ably outrun the horde of descending ghosts, the latter with Mahmoud slung over his back. Westphal and Ferris, however, soon fall behind.

Caroline might be able to grab one of them, if she’s willing to leave the other.

Caroline: She isn’t.

Instead, the Ventrue is willing, though not happy, to hang back, doing everything in her power clear obstacles for her slower allies while creating whatever impediments she can to the wraiths—mostly herself. The revelation twice over that those attempting to possess her are so badly harmed is something she uses to her ruthless advantage.

Her own perception, even aided by power stolen from others among the damned, is clearly insufficient to penetrating the eldritch maze that the school has become, but the putrefied ghosts that attempted to steal her body spark an idea.

She doesn’t need to navigate the actual maze.

No, she has a string that leads to something outside of it.

She grasps at the tie holding her to her sisters and mother, all conveniently in one place. All together, every strand pulling in the same direction.

She can’t lead from the front, but she can direct the others thanks to her blood in their veins.

:: Left up here. ::

:: Bear right. ::

GM: Unwilling to so abandon her slower allies, who cannot outrun the wraiths, it’s in the school cafeteria that the ragged band of survivors makes their final stand. Ghosts pour from the walls, howling their wrath. Clouds of ectoplasm pour into everyone’s mouths—everyone but Caroline’s. The wraiths have apparently learned from their mistakes, for they do not attempt to possess her again. Instead, they fling objects and sundry at her. Pots. Pans. Bricks. Tables. Utensils. A storm of debris relentless batters the vampires who do not succumb to possession. Westphal finds himself the only one who can effectively fight back through his shadows. The wraiths make him their primary target, for his childe’s are so much weaker. The one-eyed wraith dissolves into smoke and pours towards the boy Lasombra’s mouth.

It’s as the battle rages that a voice intrudes within Caroline’s thoughts.

Calm. Somber. Stern.


The seneschal’s.

:: What is your approximate location, Miss Malveaux-Devillers? ::

Caroline: :: Mt. Carmel High School. The cafeteria. Corner of N Galvez and Annette St. ::

She tries to keep the panic out of her voice as she slices flying objects out of the air and blurs through the clouds of ectoplasm that assail her allies, hoping to harm the ghosts with the contact.

:: The sheriff is dead and the hounds scattered. We’re losing to a sea of wraiths. Quickly. ::

GM: Caroline’s hope is swiftly dashed. Attempts at possession may have grievously harmed the wraiths, but mere physical contact with her does them no apparent injury.

:: Abel’s children may be harmed with salt. If you lack this, abjurative prayers, recited to the Almighty with great faith and conviction, may serve to hold them at bay. ::

:: I have arrived at Mt. Carmel High School with a relief force. The conclusion to your battle draws nigh. ::

Caroline: That much is no news. Sadly, they lack both.

Perhaps if Doriocourt had remained they might rally around her faith.

Perhaps even Agnello.

But she knows Roger’s faith lies in himself, and Westphal’s even more so.

And her own? She might believe in God. But she knows, knows, after the appearance of the divine here tonight, that He has no faith in her.

And salt? Surely Lou removed it, didn’t he?

Except hadn’t the old wraith reported exactly the opposite? That as they fought the hounds through his very room, the attackers had found salt to use against them?

She certainly hadn’t seen any in their hands during the fight in the gym…

Not scattered across the floor. Not in the open. But in the kitchens? How salty and disgusting is public school food? She doesn’t actually know, but she’s heard plenty.

“Kitchens!” she yells, blazing in through double doors like a lightning bolt, tearing open every cabinet and container looking for that most essential of spices since the dawn of civilization.

GM: Caroline’s search proves fruitless, but her preternatural speed at least allows her to make that assessment quickly. Wherever Wright got his rocksalt shells, it doesn’t look like the kitchen.

Ferris and Kâmil manage, at least for now, to withstand the lesser wraiths attempting to seize control of their bodies. Perhaps Ferris’ sire might too. But not against their leader. The arrogance on the boy Lasombra’s face gives way to seething hatred, and then the survivors are fighting him too.

Not for long, though, before Caroline’s stake pierces his heart.

The one-eyed wraith pours out of Westphal’s mouth and towards Ferris. Lightning-fast, a second stake pierces the fledgling’s heart next.

Caroline can’t kill the wraiths, but she can damn well deny them her allies’ bodies.

A shuddering boom reverberates through the building, as if it’s been struck by an immense battering ram.

Caroline: “Run!” she orders Kâmil, standing alone before the sea of wraiths from a position atop the staked corpses of the last of her allies.

Her blade—the one she stole from the mimic seemingly a lifetime ago—is a blur, slicing objects of every conceivable shape from the air as they’re hurled at her. Its edge is nicked and chipped—swords are not meant to split bricks or smash pots and pans out of the air—but no less swift for it.

Not that it matters. The worthlessness of all her martial skill is on full display against the ghosts. She could be the greatest swordmaster in the city—she’s not, though deaths and final deaths this evening have almost certainly elevated her several spots on that list—and it wouldn’t matter a bit.

GM: Perhaps her skills are irrelevant against the ghosts.

But not their stolen bodies.

Kâmil starts to shout something, as he grabs her in his flight. That it contravenes his domitor’s orders to abandon her—and then the one-eyed wraith pours into his mouth as the storm of rubble and steel continues unabated. The thought of the deathless swordmaster in so formidable a host should terrify anyone. Caroline’s reflexes, though, prove faster still, and perhaps Kâmil yet fights against his possessor. Two lightning-fast cuts to his legs, and the suddenly hamstrung ghoul lies bleeding on the floor. Caroline blurs away. Wrath bubbles on Kâmil’s face, and then the one-eyed wraith pours out from his third victim’s mouth.

Then it’s just him, and all his remaining ghostly followers, against the last standing Kindred.

A second boom reverberates through the building, this one even deeper and stronger than the first.

Caroline: She should run.

She might be able to get away.

Faster than all the spirits—knowledgeable enough on her own, and with her mother’s thread to guide her out, or the seneschal to achieve her relief.

But that isn’t who she is.

It’s never been who she is.

She’s loyal—to a fault. To an abusive family, an abusive father, and an abusive sire. How much pain would it have saved going over to Savoy? She could have met the sheriff with his faction behind her, instead of her own covenant stabbing her in the back. No, instead she came crawling, across a bed of broken glass, to her sire.

And that same loyalty is here. Pragmatic Ferris, pessimistic Mahmoud, even cowardly Westphal, all came here to fight with her. To fight beside her. Perhaps for their own reasons, but beside her all the same. She won’t leave them to their final deaths if she still has strength to prevent it.

Not when she’s built something with them. The beginnings of something. She’d begun laying plans the moment they agreed to journey to New Orleans, for what it might look like after. How they could fit into her vision for the prince’s bloc when the sheriff was destroyed. She was ripping out a cornerstone of the kingdom, she always knew that, but she had plans to build something in its place.

She won’t throw that away. Won’t watch it all collapse.

Too, she wants their respect. Wants them to know that whatever their failings, whatever their weakness, she was better. She fought for them even when everything told her to run. Even when they tried to abandon her. As they stare up with glassy, frozen eyes, they can see that she never broke faith. That she was worthy of their own.

And too she hates the idea of running, of admitting defeat. Not to a dead man, a memory of a miserable old shade with nothing but hatred. She hates it like she hated the idea of running from Donovan.

GM: So she doesn’t.

Caroline knows well how useless her sword is against incorporeal flesh. She doesn’t try to duel the scarred and hate-fueled wraith. It doesn’t matter which of them is better, against that fact. She just has to stay ahead of him.

The one-eyed wraith made a mistake, when he and his followers struck down Mahmoud and had the advantage of his surprise.

He didn’t try to strike Caroline down first.

It’s his loss now. She weaves a dance of steel with her sword, deflecting hurtled objects like a spinning fan would chew through paper. She races to and fro across the room in a blur of pale flesh, too fast to see, too fast to touch. She runs up walls and cartwheels across cafeteria tables. She moves like the wind. The one-eyed wraith curses her in French. He curses her as a coward, a parasite, an abomination and plague upon the city. But none of the ghosts can pin down the lightning-fast Ventrue. For all their insubstantial state, they simply cannot keep up.

A third boom rocks through the high school. The building’s halls and corridors seem to warp and fold in on themselves, like a vast pretzel being twisted, before suddenly unraveling. A fog of confusion lifts from Caroline’s mind that she had not realized was there. She remembers the way out. It seems so obvious, now.

The one-eyed wraith scowls, only for a sly look to enter his remaining eye as he raises his sword high above Kâmil and prepares to bring it down—just as the cafeteria doors burst open.

Caroline recognizes Gabriel Hurst, Charlie Harrison, Becky Lynne, the two nameless Kindred her diablerie-honed memory recalls from Rocco’s long ago party, two male vampires (one black, one white) she doesn’t recognize, Gus Elgin, and perhaps twice as many ghouls. The Hussar is there too, sword drawn. His gaze instantly fixes upon the one-eyed wraith, and the one-eyed wraith’s upon him, heedless of the gathered Kindred.

Then the wraith espies Philip Maldonato’s stern visage.

At once, he and his followers wink out like snuffed candles—the night’s third battle seemingly over before it can begin.

Caroline: Sixth battle, by Caroline’s count, if one gives credit to her stepmother’s trap. Though she doubts any histories will record that, nor the flight through the city’s streets, nor the initial battle within the gym.

She lowers her battered, ruined sword as the ghouls approach. Her gaze seeks out the seneschal’s.

Her blonde hair is no longer blonde. What’s left of it is stained as red as her pale skin from countless injuries given and received this night. At some point the tie that held it back in a ponytail was lost, and it hangs in stained wet clumps around her face.

The white arming coat is in tatters. The front is sliced to pieces and the back is literal rags pierced by countless pieces of shrapnel. Her pants and boots aren’t much better—her feet squish as she moves, blood having long ago run down her legs to fill her boots. There’s a single stake hanging from her belt, alongside three empty sheaths.

As hellish as she looks, one could be forgiven if on a casual examination she looks mostly hale. One less familiar with the Damned, at least. The wholeness of her body has come at a terrible cost in blood. The monster dancing behind her eyes looks terrifyingly alive, on the verge of escape at any moment. Her always pale skin—what little isn’t stained red or black with soot and blood—is almost porcelain-like.

She shakes her head as the ghouls get close, fangs standing out oh so clearly.

“Don’t… get close.”

It’s impossible to tell, even for her, if she’s shaking with relief or barely contained need.

GM: Many pairs of eyes fix upon Caroline. Others look towards the seneschal, who stares silently ahead as though seeing beyond the room and its confines. A few voices start to talk.

Then, as the last figure strides through the shattered doors, all fall silent.

He is tall, dark, and terrible in his purpose, the fury of heaven matched with the fire of hell. His raiment is a midnight-black suit of the finest cut. Not so much as a crease is visible, making the garment seem cut and spun from the night itself. His pristine white undershirt and and blood-red necktie bring to mind the ermine mantles worn by kings of ages past. A gold signet ring set with a ruby adorns his finger. The blood-red gem seems to pulse and glisten as he walks, hungrily devouring nearby light. His frame is tall and broad-shouldered, his features crisp, Mediterranean, and utterly still, like a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life. His slick black hair appears wet, and his mustache is trimmed into a uniformly straight Van Dyke. His gaze carries the weight of centuries and civilizations swept aside by time’s inexorable march. His eyes dominate his face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare too long feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood. The eyes are primal and inhuman and they are strong. They have seen the passing of kings. Kingdoms. Civilizations. They are older than this city, older than it and all its inhabitants, older than its streams and rivers—

And now they rest upon his childe.

They take in her state.

And they grow wroth.

They grow wroth.

“Who has done this.”

Caroline: She comes to a knee as he breaks through the crowd, bowing her head.

His fury all but stills her tongue.

All but.

She raises her voice but not her eyes. “The sheriff sought my destruction, Your Highness.”

It takes her a breath to realize it doesn’t fully answer the question. “He led the hounds, and many others, against myself and any who would stand with me this night.”

GM: Murmurs sound among the younger Kindred.

Caroline’s sire makes no immediate reply. His black gaze burns silently ahead. None attempt to meet it.

Maldonato’s voice fills the silence.

“Master Elgin, Primogen Hurst. Divide into teams and search the building for survivors.”

The other Kindred divide into two teams of four and disperse, along with most of the ghouls. They seem glad to be gone. The Hussar numbers among the few who stay, alongside the seneschal and Caroline’s sire.

Caroline: She does not rise.

GM: “It will prove expedient for our purposes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, if you grant me access to your thoughts,” states Maldonato. “The night’s events have proven long and arduous, I am certain, and shall otherwise require much time to recount.”

He strides to Kâmil, who has hauled himself to sitting position. The seneschal opens a vein with a slender knife, then bends to offer the ghoul his wrist. Kâmil drinks gratefully.

Caroline: She’s grateful for her bowed head, that she doesn’t see the vitae. Hearing it is bad enough.

The Beast is all but roaring in her mind. Only the presence of her sire keeps it at bay.

“I have no secrets from you this night, Your Grace,” Caroline answers truthfully.

She’s grateful, to be honest. She doesn’t know how she could possibly put into words the sheriff’s fate, the darkness that lurked within him.

GM: She smells it, too. The scent of the seneschal’s spilled vitae.

But she also smells a second Kindred’s.

The scent would be unmistakable. Even if he were not the only other Kindred in the room.

“Drink,” says her sire.

Caroline: Perhaps if she was less starving she would show more decorum. Would show even a measure of reservation at taking from him in any way.

But she is starving. Not in her bleakest night has she burned through vitae like she has tonight. Not since she first awoke in Louis Armstrong Park alone has the thirst raged against her mind, like it does now. How much of her blood was spilled? How much burned away to pull her savaged body back from the brink over and over again.

She doesn’t argue. She doesn’t question. She doesn’t even pause to acknowledge the command.

She falls on the offered wrist with like a dying woman and is rewarded with vitae beyond all other vitae she has ever tasted. Vitae to make all blood taste like piss.

The Beast roars up: she’s held it at bay too long. It wants. It needs.

It fails. In an alley, or in her haven, or even with a lover, she might have succumbed to it. But not here. Not in front of her sire. Not in her moment of triumph. She will not allow herself to be humiliated before him, to be weak before him, to be unworthy before him.

Nor to snatch this moment from her. This moment of intimacy. The third time her lips have touched his flesh.

GM: The draught is everything it was last time. Everything and so much more, for even the memory was faint against the reality. It washes over her like a tsunami, but leaves her whole and radiant and glorious in its wake. It leaves her feeling powerful and exalted beyond all others, a sovereign among the clan of sovereigns. Out of all the kine in the city, he chose her. Perhaps not to receive his Blood. But to retain it. To be worthy of it. To be his childe.

Even her starving Beast, howling its bottomless thirst for more, cannot compel her to show unworthiness.

Caroline: The woman and the childe wants to drink forever, to latch onto that wrist and never let go.

But a more practical part of her pushes down the impulse as the red recedes.

This is her sire, the prince, at this moment of disaster for his reign. How many of his servants lie dead? How many challenges await him this night?

How can she take from him now?

Horrible, selfish, childe.

She breaks away to look up at him, hands still cupping his own.

GM: Amidst it all, she almost doesn’t feel the foreign mind inside hers. The seneschal’s touch is light. Thoughts run through her mind’s eye like a fast-coursing but shallow river. Triumphs and terrors, trials and tribulations.

Caroline: It’s different than the last time: she’s not trying to build something for him, to resist him in any way. Instead she just puts low rails up that he can easily see over, just to keep him on track because of how much they have to cover, and starts at the safe house.

The fight through the traps. The near-destruction upon their escape. The plan to return to Perdido House and the appearance of Lou. And the dreaded certainty once the casquette girl relayed the sheriff’s and hound’s intentions that death stalked her tonight.

The bullet that ended the life of the ancient ghoul—carefully crafted to pierce the bulletproof glass. Delivered into a moving vehicle. An impossible shot for perhaps anyone else.

Their flight through the streets to the location Lou provided and urgent summoning of allies—of any that would answer her call—under fire.

The vicious fighting in the gym—late she wonders, without passion, if Jocelyn survived—and the desperation of that battle as they lost on all fronts. The sheriff’s fangs in her throat, and the reprieve offered by Lou’s arrival.

Her explanation of her first suspicions about him to the Lasombra.

Then the running battle against him. Against the hounds. Against the sheriff’s allies. Against the sheriff himself.

Finally, the confrontation bleeding into the auditorium. The nail that drove a nail in the sheriff’s coffin.

The turning of the tides… and then the hell that awaited within him. The gate to hell that threatened to swallow the entire school, and the divine intervention at the last moment.

She tries to gloss over the feeling of that white light.

And then there’s the flight from the spirits, flowing by more quickly than all the rest: he doesn’t need to see their flight, their weakest moments after the sheriff’s death.

They speed to the last moments, the hopeless fight against the spirits she couldn’t harm, right up until the doors open…

There are many nights in her Requiem she is not proud of, that she would not share.

This is not one of them.

Tonight she has no secrets, no lies: what lie could match the truth?

GM: Caroline’s sire resembles a statue. Frozen. Unmoving. His black gaze burns slowly ahead like a simmering blowtorch.

Maldonato, too, speaks not as the memories rush through Caroline’s mind.

He does not speak after the cafeteria doors again burst open.

Nor does her sire.

Silence stretches, as if the two elders are engaged in their own telepathic counsels.

It does not escape Caroline that her sire does not once look upon Maldonato’s face.

Nor does the seneschal attempt to catch his prince’s eye.

Caroline: Nor does it escape her notice that they’re both here, together. That the prince has permitted his once-lover to touch his mind. That they’re speaking at least, if only in extremis.

GM: Maldonato is the first of the two to move. His head slowly turns.

The stakes lift themselves from Westphal’s and Ferris’ chests, clattering to the floor. He approaches Mahmoud and feeds her a trickle of vitae from his wrist. The younger Lasombra comes to. Her clanmates restrain her as she howls and thrashes at the doubtlessly powerful taste until she is herself again.

“Great rewards shall await you who have aided your prince’s childe in her hour of need,” states Maldonato. “Yet greater still is his kingdom’s need. Go now, and locate Primogen Hurst. You may assist him in his present endeavors until others are assigned you.”

The three Lasombra murmur their assents. They look at the prince as they depart, but none attempt to catch his eye.

He does not glance at them. The statue-like elder’s black gaze continues to burn silently ahead.

“The sheriff was not to die in this manner,” Maldonato states once his clanmates are gone. “Events have not proceeded as they should.”

Caroline: You could hear a pin drop in the silence that greets that declaration.

Pieces slide around into new places.

GM: “Mine designs have been thwarted again. The proof is irrefutable.”

“Woe that I did not heed your counsels, Philip,” answers the prince.

He still does not look at him.

“I have erred. In my folly I have allowed a serpent to entwine itself about the foundations of mine house.”

“Even mine suspicions paled before the truth, my prince.”

Caroline: Present tense.

That’s new. She’d believed the sheriff was the serpent.

GM: “The Blood tells,” pronounces Caroline’s sire. “The Blood always tells.”

His dimming gaze slowly comes to rest upon her.

“Your vitae touched her first, my prince,” sounds the seneschal’s voice.

“Death may not conquer itself through life.”

Caroline: Disapproval?

She hadn’t expected him to be pleased this evening.

Not with the death and destruction of what were likely many loyal servants.

But is he displeased with her more directly?

GM: The prince’s gaze slowly simmers, then moves past Caroline.

“Her folly set us upon this path.”

“Her folly was but the latest in a chain of follies,” answers the seneschal. “And until but recently, her victories were greater than our own.”

Her sire’s face is as a statue’s.

“That was no victory.”

Maldonato’s gaze sweeps across the ruined building.

“As much as was this.”

Caroline: The words hurt more than the sheriff’s blade did.

Her folly?

Being set upon by the sheriff virtually the entirety of her Requiem, and all the more directly tonight?

Was she to roll over and let him kill her?

The same sheriff who had been actively hacking away at the prince’s strength from within, murdering supporters and feeding them to hunters in equal measure.

She bites her tongue.

She hadn’t expected happiness, but she’d hoped for at least… pride.

She’s spent the last three hours getting burnt, shot, stabbed, sliced and beaten in equal measure. Fighting every moment for her Requiem, to buy another second, another moment, another tortured breath. Fighting against what she thought was the foe of her sire.

GM: “Folly not to have slain her long ago,” states her sire.

“Great would have been the cost,” answers Maldonato. “And great, too, the peril risked in striking stem and not root.”

“These ruminations serve no purpose,” says the prince.

“I shall search the building for other survivors,” states the seneschal. “There are more pressing errands upon which to set what remains of our house’s strength.”

Maldonato is abruptly gone, as though he were never there. Caroline is left alone with her sire and the ghouls.

He does not look at her. He stares silently ahead.

Footsteps sound down the corridor.

Karena Cingolai, or what’s left of her, emerges. The battle’s toll looks as terrible upon her as it was on Caroline. Her clothes are shredded rags. Bloody, half-healed abrasions mar her shredded and dirtied skin. She’s missing an eye. Clumps are gone from her ragged hair. She walks as though pulled by an unseen chain.

Still she kneels before the prince, bows her head, and recites smoothly,

“Strategos Vidal. There is much of which Your Majesty should be informed.”

Caroline: Caroline watches Cingolai out of the corner of her eye as she approaches. Like she might track the approach of a candle in the night while seated beside a bonfire.

GM: “I have been informed, Lictor Cingolai,” states the prince.

“I do not doubt it, Strategos,” answers Cingolai, raising her head. “Yet not all not doings germane to this evening occurred this evening, and may contextualize much.”

The Ventrue’s cool stare rests upon Caroline as she rises.

“This eiren slew the gerousiastis.”

Caroline: “Gerousiastis Malveaux was set upon by hunters in the employ of Claire Malveaux, Lictor,” Caroline replies quietly, not rising.

“The same hunters who at the direction of the sheriff arranged the destruction of many of the archdiocese’s loyal servants.”

“I have no doubt that when the files recovered from her safehouse tonight are examined they will contain documentation to that effect, as well as detailed notes about his banes and other weaknesses. Undoubtedly, that was part of why he felt so compelled to make his move immediately upon their recovery.”

“Upon the ‘discovery’ of the bishop’s death, the sheriff immediately used it to elevate his own childe to bishop, and attempted to annex the gerousiastis’ domain into his childe’s—to say nothing of using the death as a pretense to execute any Kindred that had ever had meaningful dealings with me.”

“Had you seen fit to speak with me of the matter before taking up arms against me, Lictor, I could have directed you to the seneschal himself, who examined my memories of that night in detail.”

GM: The respected lictor ignores the ignoble neonate completely as she regards Vidal. In fact, she talks right over Caroline, after ‘loyal servants.’

“The sheriff and I have uncovered direct proof of the eiren’s guilt in the course of our joint investigation, which may be pres-”

They are the last words Cingolai ever says.

Oily darkness washes over the lictor like a thirsty tide. Its waves swim with rending talons, ink-slathered tentacles, and bogeyman’s grasping hands—a child’s night terrors given horrifying semblance and animation. Rents split open across the Ventrue’s ruined flesh. She simultaneously explodes into gore and implodes into ash, her scream as brief as it is terrible. Sizzling chunks of blackened bone and meat spatter over the floor.

Caroline: Caroline cuts off her words abruptly.

It’s unfortunate, in some ways. She’d have preferred to turn the lictor. She’d have made for a powerful ally and perhaps even teacher. Ventrue in the city are in increasingly short supply.

On the other hand, it does neatly tie off another loose end. And the satisfaction of watching her sire slaughter those speaking against her is undeniable. She wonders what evidence the sheriff could have found against her that was so compelling.

Not that it would matter with that delivery: evidently, the bishop learned his interpersonal skills from his sire.

GM: Caroline’s sire broods from his seat, which she only now observes, a throne-like thing of congealed shadows and blackness. Yet even it is not so black as the rage burning from his eyes as he stares at what’s left of Cingolai. The lictor’s remains smoke and writhe and shrivel into ash, but he does not look away. Hate pours from him in nigh-tangible waves.

Time passes.

Caroline: She tries to remain silent, but the weight of the moment builds, and finally the question escapes her lips.

“Have I failed tonight, Your Majesty?”

The ‘you’ is implied.

GM: Her sire gives no answer.

Perhaps he does not hear.

He stares at Cingolai’s remains, and Caroline feels nothing but hate.

It is then that Maldonato abruptly reappears, as though teleported into the room.

“The battle’s survivors have been accounted for or have fled the building.”

The prince slowly seems to rouse.

“Whom that raised hands against my Blood is unaccounted for?”

“Hound Doriocourt remains unaccounted.”

Vidal’s gaze burns black with that same hate.

“Destroy her.”

“Find her.”

“I shall invoke the lextalionis.”

“Pretext against the nominated bishop may prove difficult to manufacture, Your Majesty,” Maldonato states. “An explanation must needs be contrived for the sheriff’s final death—and one that does not invite further calamity upon our house.”

Caroline: There’s so much she doesn’t know—of their plans, of the levels of politics they consider. If she’s already orchestrated the sheriff’s death against their wishes, is her own suggestion valuable, much less welcome?

She bites her lip but remains on her knees.

The immediate answer that occurs to her seems painful, but also the most valuable in the long term—maybe a way to stem the bleeding from the Sanctified, to hope to stabilize.

GM: “Speak, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Perhaps your counsel will prove wise and perhaps it will not. We would turn aside none in so dire an hour.”

Caroline: “The death of the sheriff and bishop so close in proximity cannot be readily or convincingly hidden, Your Grace,” she begins.

“To paint another for the deed is to invent more foes that struck us so deeply—it makes us appear weak, crumbling. We were dealt two near mortal blows by another without response?”

“And too, to frame another is also to create new enemies we must strike down in a moment of relative weakness—to expend strength perhaps better shepherded.”

She continues, “I would propose some version of the truth of the sheriff’s treachery be revealed.”

“As bad as it may look, the truth may be the easiest way out in the now while also paying intermediate term dividends not as apparent to those the sheriff served.”

“As respected as he was among the city’s elders for the ruthlessness and diligence in the prosecution of his duties, Sheriff Donovan was a terror to many others. He chased away would be converts to the faith. Too, he used Claire’s hunters to slaughter many Kindred that to all appearances were loyal. That will come out eventually—used to flip their sires, lovers, friends at the worst moment by our foes.”

“Vilify and disavow him now, and you remove that treacherous arrow from our foe’s quiver. Too, much of the strength Donovan considered personally loyal and accessible is already here—expended. The survivors can be dealt with as their relative crimes dictate. There is no need to move against a third party and leave us more vulnerable while ding so.”

“Make this a cleaning of our house. Make it an invitation for those turned from it by his treachery to return to the fold. Pin anything you wish upon him in full and reclaim the banner of Justice the pretender in the quarter wishes to wave.”

“It still hurts, the loss of such a terrifying servant does weaken our house in the eyes of most, but presented properly… his defeat at the hands of new and loyal servants will keep the more cautious predators at bay, leave them asking ‘what new strength is present in Perdidio House that could cast him down?’”

GM: Maldonato offers Caroline’s final question a wan smile.

“Our house’s strength shall not be questioned in the coming nights, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but tested.”

Caroline: “Unavoidable, Your Grace,” Caroline agrees.

“I would reiterate, though, that all those who would loyally serve a house in which Sheriff Donovan was a dominant power already serve that house. I see little additional strength to be found by making him a martyr or victim, but believe some could be garnered by making him a villain.”

“I cannot overstate how much he was not just feared but hated by so many of the prince’s subjects.”

GM: Caroline’s sire silently broods, his black gaze silently burning ahead to some intangible horizon.

Hate is all she feels from him.

Maldonato speaks again.

“Were the world as I would have it, Sheriff Donovan would have ‘left’ our prince’s service for a justicar’s to accept a position as archon. He would have honorably discharged his duties to the archdiocese while reflecting well upon the quality of its Kindred.”

“Failing that, I would have had him perish a hero in the archdiocese’s defense. His treachery reflects upon his masters’. Every judgment he rendered, every power he was granted, flowed from your sire and I. His treachery, to many, would be evidence of our incompetence and ill judgment.”

The seneschal’s gaze sweeps across the ruined building.

“Yet, that a battle occurred at God’s vineyard will be impossible to conceal. Too many of its participants remain unaccounted for, and the bishop’s final death has already been publicly laid at the feet of hunters. Perhaps the Birds of Dis might be blamed, but such a story will ring hollow to many.”

“Your narrative may prove the least of the evils we must decide between, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

“Truth is often the most convenient narrative. That the sheriff envied the prince’s childe and sought to end her Requiem is truth.”

Caroline: “And that thing inside him, Your Grace?” she probes.

GM: Maldonato’s face is grave as his gaze fixes upon Caroline.

“Mr. Westphal’s, Miss Mahmoud’s, and Mr. Ferris’ memories of those events shall be expunged.”

“Once these immediate crises are dealt with, we may turn our attentions towards locating the surviving witnesses of Donovan’s final moments.”

“All shall be silenced or put to death.”

Caroline: “Should we fear something similar, as it relates to his childe?” Caroline probes.

GM: Caroline’s sire at least speaks, the burning gaze drawn away from its unknowable horizon.

“We do not fear.”

“The sins of the sire are the sins of the childe. No further seeds shall grow from the tainted fruit.”

“The cardinal may be informed of the sheriff’s and his childe’s disloyalty. Disloyalty alone will be cause for the withdrawal of her nomination as bishop.”

“What you witnessed in the traitor’s final moments shall be spoken of to none outside this room. None. Am I understood?”

Caroline: “Fully, Your Majesty,” Caroline agrees without hesitation.

GM: “Capitán Gaultierrez, Kâmil, look into my eyes,” orders Maldonato.

The ghouls approach him and meet his gaze. Little surprise is writ on their impassive faces, but perhaps there is some envy upon the Hussar’s. The seneschal tells them to forget Caroline’s last two questions and his and Vidal’s answers. The ghouls blink and accept this.

“The sheriff’s destruction need not be immediately explained,” states Maldonato. “Better that it initially emerge as rumor and hearsay from Mr. Savoy, and not be confirmed as fact until the trials soon to come have passed. Their outcome may greatly shape the final narrative we disclose.”

Caroline: “A believable rumor given how quickly it will originate from the sheriff’s sire,” Caroline muses.

“And were it me, I’d already have my people in motion to capitalize. He no doubt knows any conflict with the sheriff that would result in his death would attract much of our strength and attention.”

GM: “The fact of the sheriff’s final death may not be long concealed, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. But the cause of his final death is yet our purview to explain. Even the sire can know but little of how the childe was destroyed if Doriocourt does not find her way to his side.”

“You are correct that Mr. Savoy will not remain idle, however. Even we speak, his agents are surely mobilizing—as are own. There are several matters to which we must now attend.”

He stares ahead.

“Mr. Hurst and Master Elgin shall join us momentarily.”

Seconds later, the Ventrue primogen and Nosferatu priest appear, perhaps already having been summoned by the seneschal or Caroline’s sire.

“You three are our foremost remaining captains,” Maldonato states to them and Caroline. “There is much to be done.”

Caroline: It’s very far from what she wants to hear.

Not tonight.

Not after her near torpor at Claire’s safehouse, not without even a single one of her ghouls accounted for, not after the horrific injuries she endured in the repeated battles with the sheriff, and certainly not after gazing into the very pits of Hell.

She wants to inventory her losses. She wants to see her sisters. She wants to rest, for a century at least.

Instead she nods in acknowledgment, painfully tearing her gaze away from her seated sire in his furious brooding.

GM: Heavy is the head that bears the crown—and expects to bear the crown.

Maldonato begins that first, as in all times, the Masquerade must be observed. The battle at Mt. Carmel has surely already attracted attention from the sheer noise—Robert Congo, thanks to Caroline’s warning, has already set into motion what levers he could to delay the arrival of emergency responders. Maldonato states Donovan has already used his influence within the NOPD to do the same. There is no hiding there was a battle here—Maldonato is inclined to attribute it to gang conflicts—but the scene must still be staged, and evidence destroyed which does not fit this narrative or betrays the Kindred’s existence. The Krewe of Janus will soon be here to assist in the clean-up, but nor is this a duty the Sanctified may shirk. The prince cannot look as if he is prioritizing his political interests above his foremost responsibility to the Camarilla.

Secondly comes the defense of those interests. Savoy and the Baron may seek to expand their domains and seize territory in the wake of the sheriff’s death. Maldonato judges those areas of the city adjacent to Tremé and the French Quarter to be the most vulnerable. Savoy will likely strike first, given that he will likely know of the sheriff’s death first. The prince’s agents must prepare a defense.

Third, messages must be dispatched to those Kindred blocs least nominally allied to the Sanctified: the Invictus, the Tremere, and the Anarchs. Their leaders must be informed of the sheriff’s death, and their followers enlisted in the defense of Vidal’s territory. If enough aid can be mustered, Maldonato is inclined to consider an offense into the French Quarter, under the pretext of clearing out the vagrants along its borders, if only because it may be the last thing Savoy expects.

Maldonato himself will pursue a related diplomatic mission to enlist further aid, “though bitter may be its price.”

Fourth, Riverbend is now undefended. While Maldonato does not believe the parish is in danger of falling to Savoy’s or the Baron’s followers, given its geographic distance from their territories, loyal Sanctified must still be dispatched to secure any assets and sensitive materials contained within Donovan’s haven. One of Antoine Savoy’s—and Camilla Doriocourt’s—first moves may be to do the same.

Fifth, Camilla Doriocourt remains at large. She may know more of her sire’s secrets than anyone, and already knows a great deal of sensitive information pertaining to both the Lancea et Sanctum and Guard de Ville. Maldonato believes she will either flee the city or defect to Antoine Savoy. The now-renegade hound is to be staked and brought to Perdido House for interrogation. Her final death is also acceptable if she cannot be captured, and preferable to her remaining free.

Sixth, Louis Fontaine must also be apprehended and brought to Perdido House for interrogation. The elder ghoul has interfered too many times in the prince’s affairs and knows too many secrets to be allowed to walk free. While capturing Lou would normally be a task for another night, there is another factor that makes this mission far more pressing: the trove of intelligence on the city’s hunters that Caroline lost. The secrets within Claire’s files must be recovered, for Antoine Savoy has contacts and alliances among witch-hunters and may use them in upcoming offensives. Claire’s files could identify names and faces.

Maldonato states there are “many further labors to be undertaken,” but these six are of the most vital importance to accomplish tonight. He organizes what is left of the prince’s followers into four task forces. Some of these Kindreds’ help will be enlisted through corvée, others through temporary hunting rights in Riverbend’s college campuses.

Hurst will lead LaCroix and McCandles. Adler is not Sanctified, but will surely assist her brother.

Harrison will lead June, Cleo, and Pacuad.

Caroline will lead Westphal, Mahmoud, and Ferris.

Elgin will lead Benson, Huang, and Marrow.

Maldonato inquires which of the above tasks Caroline believes herself and her coterie best-suited to.

Regardless of which and how many tasks she accepts, she will accompany the seneschal on his diplomatic mission.

It is then that Caroline’s sire, silent as Maldonato architects how to preserve his crumbling power, finally speaks.

“Inform the Krewe of Janus that I shall supervise their efforts. I shall remain here.”

Neither Hurst nor Elgin ever truly looked away from the prince, but their eyes immediately fall back upon him.

“Let them bear witness. Let all my subjects bear witness. In the hour of my sheriff’s treachery and my would-be usurpers’ plotting, their sovereign upheld the First Law above all else.”

“Their sovereign remembered his duty.”

Caroline: Her initial inclination, upon her sire’s declaration, is to say first the cleanup here.

It’s not totally wrong: her gifts are well-suited to the task, and it would provide her people with an opportunity to recover. But the real reason is it would put her in proximity to him. A chance to prove herself in front of him, especially after this so-called disastrous night.

But she knows that isn’t where she can best serve. If he’s here, nothing she might offer will matter: he’s the prince. No other help is needed.

Which leaves six tasks. She cuts them to five.

“I retain copies Claire’s files, Your Grace,” she admits.

She had not intended to share that, but with her covenant pulled so dearly, the fewer resources they can waste tonight, the better.

GM: “Then six missions are made five,” replies Maldonato. “Mr. Fontaine’s capture may be accomplished at a later date.”

:: Why did Gisèlle make no report of this fact when she relayed the files had been stolen? ::

Caroline: It’s a very awkward question for him to ask. There’s a brief pause, then an honest answer.

:: It was kept from her. I believed you, and by extension she, underestimated the treachery of the sheriff, and that the most likely outcome upon their recovery was their immediate turnover to the sheriff or his childe. ::

:: I believed if that happened incriminating evidence against him would be destroyed. Evidence I hoped to use to recruit allies against him, as I knew he had directed the destruction of numerous Sanctified Kindred. ::

GM: :: Your sire and I shall address this matter later. ::

Caroline: :: Yes, Your Grace. ::

No good deed goes unpunished.

GM: “I shall presume you do not possess them upon your immediate person. See that they are swiftly tendered to Mr. Congo. Are the copies located upon a physical drive that was ever handled by Mrs. Malveaux?”

Caroline: “No, Your Grace,” she answers.

GM: A frown creases the seneschal’s face.

“Unfortunate. Encryption may require some time to break, and of that resource we possess scant little.”

“To which tasks do you believe yourself and your fellows best suited, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

Caroline: “I may yet have strength left on the border of the Quarter, Your Grace,” Caroline answers. “I know the ground, and expect my allies to be quite a rude surprise for interlopers—unknown as they are. The death of most of our ghouls though leaves us shallow in depth for that task.”

“I do not believe us incapable of presenting messages of the sheriff’s death, nor of selling the importance of honoring their oaths to their liege, but my own ambiguous position—and youth—may make that a more difficult task than for a more familiar face and invite undue speculation.”

She chews her lip. “Given the option, I think we are best used to contain those that might seek to take advantage of a moment of perceived weakness.”

“We too have Doriocourt’s scent. It may be parts of those tasks align, Your Grace.”

GM: “Very well,” states Maldonato. “If you require resources, Mr. Congo is at your disposal.”

Gabriel Hurst and his people will assist Vidal in the Masquerade clean-up, since they are already here. Their gifts are also well-suited towards such.

Gus Elgin and his people will assist Maldonato in securing aid from Sanctified allies. The master of elysium is well-suited to diplomacy.

Charlie Harrison and the other three Gangrel will be dispatched to Riverbend. Their gifts will allow them to quickly reach the parish and bypass Audubon Place’s walled perimeter. They will help muster defenses along Vidal’s borders when they are done at Riverbend.

“Time shall be of the essence in locating Doriocourt. Enough has been lost already. Begin with her.”

It’s not overlong before the other Sanctified return, bearing with them bodies. Some of the bodies may be ones deemed unsuitable or simply too numerous to be found at the scene of the crime—Caroline can only guess how many men died here tonight, and how many national headlines it will make on major news networks if the truth is not buried here.

Indeed, while one would expect some number of wounded survivors from any battle, this one had remarkably few. Whatever mystic defense prevented Caroline’s escape from the building also prevented the escapes of other survivors—who were then helpless to flee the wrathful ghosts. The vampire-hating shades could freely traverse the building’s maze-like passages in their incorporeal state. No mortal who allowed Kindred vitae to pass their lips was spared. Wounded survivors were savagely bludgeoned to death with telekinetically hurled objects, or possessed and made to kill their fellows with their bare hands. All told, the casualty rate of the Battle of Mount Carmel is horrific: over 90%. Caroline is hard-pressed to name any historic battles, which did not involve the mass execution of the defeated side’s soldiers, that compare.

Of the dead and the survivors, an accounting is made.

What’s left of Jocelyn Baker’s corpse is set down before Caroline. Held immobilized by Westphal’s command, she was helpless to flee when the gym became a battlefield. Jocelyn looks as if she was blasted into torpor beneath grenade detonations and weaponsfire—but what finally killed the Toreador was the sword stroke that separated her head from her body.

Megan Wilkins, against all odds, numbers among the battle’s few survivors. The pitiful (and badly wounded) ghoul was found mindlessly clutching (and drinking from) her domitor’s corpse, some distance away from the gym, and looks incredibly traumatized. She flinches at any touch and is incapable of coherent speech.

Alexander Wright’s torpid body is recovered.

Raaid’s destroyed body is recovered. It is yet uncertain at whose hands the Assamite met final death.

Rocco Agnello’s body is not recovered. Westphal and Mahmoud, however, report that they torpored the hound alongside Raaid. That fact, together with the escape-proof killing field the school became, causes Maldonato to deem the Gangrel’s survival unlikely.

The body of the vampire who aided Lou was not recovered, nor is her final death confirmed.

The body of the woman who attacked Wright is not recovered, nor is her death confirmed.

Cingolai, of course, has already been executed by Vidal.

Duke Elmhearst’s body is recovered. The Brujah is believed to have met final death at the ghosts’ hands after he was torpored by Raaid—or perhaps sought to flee Mt. Carmel and was unable.

Two further ghouls belonging to Karena Cingolai and Duke Elmhearst are recovered alive and badly hurt, though not so traumatized as Megan Wilkins.

Many of the recovered bodies are in terrible condition. It will require some time to identify them all, including whether there are any further surviving ghouls who fled the battle.

Louis Fontaine among them. No trace is found of the elder ghoul.

It is impossible to know, too, how deeply or recently many of the slain ghouls fed from their domitors, or whether their bodies were contaminated by any of the Kindred blood spilled during the battle. Arrangements are made for the bodies to be burned or decapitated to prevent any postmortem Embraces. This is a kindness on more than one level: many of the slain ghouls suffered such catastrophic injuries that to allow them to arise as Kindred would condemn them to an eternity of suffering.

Among those slain ghouls with largely intact bodies, Maldonato orders all who were not Donovan’s or Camilla’s ghouls to be spared burning and decapitation. It will be left in God’s hands whether any of them arise as Kindred. Any such childer already acquainted with the vagaries of the Kindred world will prove sorely needed in the nights ahead.

Caroline: It’s an unmitigated disaster, a bloodbath on the scale rarely seen in the Americas, much less the States. A Masquerade problem the likes of which she can hardly imagine: this many deaths cannot all roar in at once. No accident will explain them. Which means they have to keep some of the men and women alive, at least for a time. A Masquerade endeavor she’s never attempted individually, much less on such a scale.

The scope of that disaster perhaps overshadows the final deaths of five loyal Kindred tonight. Some she didn’t know: Elmhearst is a stranger, and she sheds no tears for Cingolai, but Rocco was a mainstay of the covenant for a century, to say nothing of Donovan and his childe.

The destruction of the treacherous sheriff was a necessity, she still believes, but she would never have initiated a conflict like this. There are no winners tonight, only the dead and survivors that must pick up the pieces. Half the covenant going to war with its own members was madness. She wants to snarl at the traitors that flocked to Donovan’s banner, to demand what manner of insanity they engaged in, but it’s a pointless exercise. All the more so because some of the deaths land closer to home. None more than Jocelyn.

Jocelyn, who was the first lick to treat her with any warmth. Jocelyn, who she found in fervent prayer at a church, who answered her questions, who asked so little. Jocelyn, whose kiss she first felt, whose embrace she first enjoyed.

Jocelyn, without whom she wouldn’t have survived after the fight with Kelford. Who begged in tears before the seneschal for Caroline’s unlife when she was forfeit.

Jocelyn, whose krewe she almost singlehandedly destroyed, who she tried to push away, and whose Requiem she’s now ended.

Caroline had told Cécilia that she had no further feelings for the Toreador. Not after the bond to her sire, not after Jocelyn’s ill-advised near-Masquerade breach before her home that put her sisters in danger. But that was not a whole truth.

Caroline might have no longer felt any burning passion for the brunette Kindred. Her affection had waned with the obsessive, self-destruction infatuation the bond inflicted on her, with her anger and frustration and shame over dominating her. But Jocelyn was her first Kindred lover. She was her first Kindred friend. Seeing her rotting body cradled by Meg is a grossly unnatural thing.

It was weeks, not months ago, that the two were shopping into the evening, blowing thousands of dollars on clothes. That they shared vessels. That Jocelyn shared her frustrations over the lack of respect and appreciation her art received. How much it hurt not to be considered an artist by older, more established licks.

Jocelyn, another lick whose Requiem she ruined, then claimed, for the crime of being kind to her.

She knows how important touching, or holding, the body of a loved one is. Remembers Fatimah’s tale of gathering her sire’s bones for internment.

The heiress feels no such urge. She doesn’t want to cradle Jocelyn’s broken, scorched, rotting, defiled body. There’s nothing left there—the rapid decay that’s set into the body makes that clear if nothing else.

Jocelyn is gone, like a candle snuffed out in the night. All light has gone out of her eyes. Clinging to her corpse would make her as pathetic as the ghoul set before her.

Does she feel grief? It’s hard to say. Perhaps guilt, perhaps sadness, perhaps remorse.

But most certainly, anger.


The word tears across her mind like a psychic scream.

The Toreador was literally no threat, would never be a threat, to the sheriff or his coterie. Even if she hadn’t been dominated. Even if she hadn’t been torpored. Her murder was senseless. It was cruel. It was petty. They destroyed her not because they needed to, not in the pitch of battle, but because they could.

There’s some savage satisfaction in the sheriff’s horrific demise, tempered by the knowledge that the same fate awaited him as did Jocelyn: they’re both in Hell, and it’s Caroline’s fault.

It was Caroline’s fault for dragging her into this. For dragging her into her own Requiem. For letting her back in. For bonding her in the first place.

She’s like some great albatross, bringing destruction everywhere she goes, and to everyone she knows.

She holds back tears.

It wouldn’t do for a Ventrue, for the prince’s childe, to show such public emotion. Instead, she digs her nails deep into her palms. She bottles it up. Another casualty of this—whatever this is. This Requiem she’s carved for herself.

She doesn’t regret the path she’s taken. There was no other path. She just wishes it less frequently ran through those she cared for, and those that cared for her in turn.

GM: This.

Little things, and great things, and perhaps in the end, all petty things.

Her request, to bring a vessel into the school.

The sheriff turning her into a weapon.

Westphal’s furious order to freeze.

The sheriff’s attack.

The resulting battle.

The game being played by him, by Caroline, by all the city’s powers.

The Jyhad.

The Requiem.

The this that claims so many lives and unlives.

So few of those gathered here tonight know who Jocelyn was to Caroline. Only the seneschal, besides Meg herself.

“I believe Miss Baker to have been a casualty of the wraiths,” he states as he examines the body.

:: I am sorry for the loss you have suffered, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. If you would do Miss Baker a final service, I believe she would desire her ghoul to be cared for until more permanent arrangements may be reached. ::

Caroline: :: I will see to it when the crisis is passed, Seneschal. ::

There’s a stoic resignation echoed in her thoughts. She has no idea what use Meg might be put to, or how to keep the already suicidal ghoul from taking her own life. Caroline will figure it out, she supposes, if she survives the night.

She doesn’t have time to worry about that problem. Not yet.

GM: Meg is ordered taken outside with the other departing Kindred.

Vidal, meanwhile, seizes control of his gathered follower’s minds without any pretense or subtlety. He orders the glassy-eyed Kindred to forget select details of what they have seen and heard tonight, then sends them along their way. Gus Elgin is made to drink from the prince’s wrist, then commanded to forget having done so.

The Lasombra are among the last to depart. Vidal commands them to forget Donovan’s final moments: the ex-sheriff never surrendered and was destroyed in a great invoking of the holy man’s religious faith. He orders all three Lasombra to drink from his wrist, then to forget having done so, evidently trusting the strength of the command to overcome even the strength of his vitae upon their tongues.

Maldonato instructs his clanmates to wait outside and states they will be well-rewarded for their efforts tonight.

A long moment passes in silence between seneschal and prince before Maldonato feeds his vitae to Alexander Wright, reviving the torpid hound.

He kneels before the prince upon seeing his liege. Maldonato questions him while Caroline’s sire watches in utter silence. The Brujah hound seems quite reserved under that black gaze, by his usual sarcastic standards, and provides simple and direct answers to the questions asked of him. He professes to have been ignorant as to Caroline’s identity, after Maldonato informs him of it. Donovan told the hounds that Baristheaut’s troublemaking childe murdered the bishop and was defecting to Savoy.

“I wouldn’t have believed that shi—who her sire was if it was anyone but you tellin’ me, sir.”

Maldonato invades the hound’s mind without pretense or subtlety. Wright’s face twitches in pain. Several moments pass before Maldonato declares, “Your words are truthful. In lieu of the present extremis, you may rejoin our prince’s service. You are acting sheriff until a permanent replacement may be found.”

Wright glances at the prince, but not does attempt to hold the Ventrue’s terrible gaze. It is hard to imagine a less congratulatory atmosphere as the acting sheriff offers a simple,

“Thanks. Your Grace. Your Majesty.”

Maldonato tells him to join Hurst, LaCroix, and McCandles on their mission. They will inform him of what has transpired since his torpor. The Hussar passes him a phone. He leaves without further word.

Caroline: Wright’s words of doubt sting her pride. Caroline stares him down as he speaks. She wonders if he’d ‘believe’ it now, a fist of ancillae smashed against no answering (surviving) vampire with a decade in the Blood.

GM: Wright meets her gaze as he leaves. The hound’s expression is uncharacteristically flat. He says nothing further.

Maldonato discusses offering temporary feeding rights in Riverbend as payment to the Sanctified who have answered the prince’s sire’s call tonight. Others, where applicable, may satisfy their corvée. It is not lost upon Caroline that many of the Kindred she has seen tonight do not appear to be her sire’s dedicated agents. They seem more akin to auxiliaries or a citizen’s militia, mustered in this hour of need, and paid for their efforts. The Sanctified’s main fighting force has been shattered. Only Wright remains.

Caroline: The cost of her actions is not lost on the Ventrue, necessary though they might have been. She may have broken the Sanctified’s back to cut out the cancer killing it. That the loss of Donovan would be a blow, she knew. She hadn’t imagined the sheriff would be able to bring so many to the fight so easily, that he would bring down so many with him. The wraiths’ betrayal made it all the worse: how many of those destroyed this night might have merely been torpored if the dead men had not sought further blood?

The damage the traitor has wrought is staggering, but the tools she wielded reaped their own butcher’s bill.

GM: You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt, said Lou.

Maldonato states he will dispatch messages to several prospective sheriffs. Perhaps if luck is with them, these Kindred may arrive by tomorrow. Slane Holland’s name is the first one floated. The former hound and Sanctified Ventrue. Vidal states he is disinclined to trust any Kindred to the post who is not bound by blood as well as faith.

Caroline: Holland, she knows, serves her sire still in another capacity. How much more damage will withdrawing his agents, recalling them in this latest crisis, do? It’s impossible for her to guess.

GM: The prince’s eyes burn into the distance. He still has not once looked upon his former lover’s face.

Finally, he states,

“Your punishment is overdue, Your Grace.”

“You have broken the Third Tradition. You have bestowed the Embrace without my leave. I have imposed no punishment save banishment from my presence. Even this judgment has now been undermined by extremis. No.”

“I have prayed long on how I might punish you without weakening the archdiocese. My vision is now clear, thanks be to God. I sentence you to the same violation of your will that you forced upon me. No oath have you sworn, but no greater punishment can I think to devise. You shall experience your crime in all of its fullness, and by your suffering you shall rebuild my weakened house. Yes. This is just.”

The prince’s voice is a near-whisper.

“You shall Embrace another.”

Caroline: The declaration steals the breath from Caroline’s dead body.

She turns to regard the seneschal more fully.

GM: Maldonato’s visage is utterly still.

It feels as if a chasm has yawned open between the two elders.

As if an iron curtain has descended.

As if the ruined cafeteria is now a tomb, thick with years of silence.

The moment feels as though it lasts a century.

It passes in a second.

“It shall be as my prince commands.”

He turns to regard Caroline.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I would have you gain experience in manipulation of kine institutions. Please arrange Adam Malveaux’s expulsion from the priesthood and his financial ruination once these immediate crises have abated. Take care to arrange avenues for his reinstatement and the reversal of his fortunes should his character prove unsuitable for our purposes.”

Caroline: Oh, Maldonato.

And, too.


Centuries-old oaths betrayed, whatever the purpose, the intent. Trust broken. And repaid in kind. Her sire lashing out at his lover. The pain between them only growing with time, with each cut they inflict on one another. It’s watching two titans carve each other apart, and to what end?

Only grief. Grief that she is at the center of. How can either of them stand her presence, the constant reminder of what has broken them?

The Ventrue barely has time to register the pain between the two, the wounds inflicted on one another, before the seneschal’s words hit her, like the next wave brought in by the tide as she tries to draw herself up over the last.

Her mouth opens, closes, then opens again as she finally finds her voice.

“It will be as you have spoken, Your Grace.”

She dares not say ‘as he wishes.’ She knows, has heard well from the seneschal’s cousin, his view of the Embrace. He does not wish this at all.

The slap in the face of his choice to Embrace her cousin, his choice over her in the first place, barely registers. The blow to the Malveaux family from the loss of a third scion this year doesn’t land. The entire matter leaves her feeling numb.

:: I’m so sorry. ::

She doesn’t know if his mind touches hers still, if it remains open or has slammed shut amid his resolve, but she means it. She wishes there were some word of comfort she could offer.

GM: Whether because his mind no longer touches hers, or whether because he chooses not to, the old Moor offers no reply.

There is little enough comfort to offer.

“The Masquerade has been imperiled by the deaths of enough Malveauxes,” he states. “Adam must retain his identity among the living.”

Without further word, the seneschal turns and departs. Caroline, too, is dismissed and told to see to her duties by her sire. Even as he orders her thus, Harlequin and masked Kindred who can only belong to the Krewe of Janus arrive, along with those Sanctified whom Vidal has commanded to remain and assist him.

Corpses and signs of battle of everywhere. The noise from so many weapons discharges was tremendous. Even in a derelict building in a poverty-blighted neighborhood, Caroline can only guess what local residents are thinking, what the police response will be, and what the Masquerade cover-up will involve. Something like this, she is sure, could make the national news if mishandled. More than a score of men did in a pitched battle with military-grade weapons.

Perhaps some of the present Kindred harbor doubts as to whether they can accomplish the labor before them. Perhaps they despair they cannot. Perhaps they merely mean to bitch and complain.

None do.

The Krewe look stunned to see their prince in the flesh. He offers no explanation for his presence. He simply issues orders in his sharp Spanish staccato. Doubt, despair, and indecision vanish like a child’s nightmares after a parent turns on the light. His presence fills the room, imbuing them with purpose and confidence. He commands them like a maestro before an orchestra, flawlessly directing each sound and instrument into a great music.

There are so many occasions where it feels Caroline’s sire terrorized his subjects, ruling through force and fear too great to oppose. Here, tonight, he does something else:

He leads them.

Caroline remembers Autumn sarcastically remarking, during a moment of self-pity, “I thought Ventrue were supposed to be take-charge types who got stuff done.” There is nothing worthy of scorn that she now sees. There is no jealousy presumed superiority like when Matheson and McGinn demanded that she bow. They demanded she debase herself to raise them high. They demanded she pay obeisance to a sovereignty that was unearned.

Here, tonight, that sovereignty is earned. The present Kindred want Caroline’s sire to lead them. She sees it in their eyes. They want him to take command. His command makes possible the impossible. They accept Ventrue sovereignty and they accept it gladly. The Kingship Clan will drive back the barbarians at the gates and hold up the sky from collapse. Right to rule is demonstrated through rightness in rule. The thousand breaches of the Masquerade before them can be repaired. The great labor before them can be undertaken. Father is here to take care of things.

Against the outline of her sire’s figure, tall and unbowed as he issues commands, Caroline feels as if she gazes upon a window into the past. She sees an older New Orleans, one that has not sunk into vice and degeneracy and Southern sloth. She sees a thriving metropolis renowned for its exquisite culture and booming trade, a city in the summer of its strength and vitality. A city from the nebulous “good old days” her father recalls in campaign speeches. A golden and glorious era when there was pride in the past, prosperity in the present, and hope for the future. For all of Savoy’s easy charm, slick deals, and byzantine schemes, Caroline knows:

This is what it is to be a prince.

Yet there is an undeniable sense of loss, too. If her sire taking command is like witnessing an aged and decorated general take to the field, it is because he lacks subordinates he might delegate to. They are dead or occupied. The Sanctified are stretched too thin. They cannot rule without their prince’s direct intercession. Like Alexander, he has founded an empire that cannot outlast its founder—and his remaining time upon the throne is limited. The Sanctified’s side of the chessboard has been swept almost completely clear of knights, bishops, and rooks. The king and queen are now active pieces in the game.

Caroline thinks, too, to a quote by C.S. Lewis, repeated by Benjamin Edwards during a sermon she attended in undergrad:

“But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.”

Caroline’s sire is not God.

But perhaps he is an author.

How soon to end is their play?

Caroline VII, Chapter XXV
The Battle of Mt. Carmel

“The prince demands justice for your crimes! And I am here to claim it in his stead!”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Caroline: The sheriff always scared her, from that first night. This ancient evil spawned into darkness long before her first breath, much less breathed her last. He has stalked the night since before the birth of her parents. Before her parents’ parents. For longer, she suspects, than any in the city know.

The palpable dread that surrounded him had cowed her more than once. She once sought to pit her Beast against him in her place, to hide behind it. The monster that emerged from behind those gray eyes cowed it utterly. Terrified it.

The Ventrue draws the long blade on her hip with her left hand.

He still scares her tonight. Old in the Blood, a practiced killer, a treacherous snake that wound its way around her sire’s kingdom and is slowly choking the life from it. If she’s correct, he orchestrated her death once already.

She draws a jitte with her right hand.

She sees no fear in his eyes: and why should he fear her? Her Requiem is a pinprick of night beside his own. How many Kindred has he destroyed in his time? How many life and death battles has he fought? Countless—and against far greater odds than she’s arrayed before him tonight.

Fearing him does not preclude facing him. Courage, her uncle Carson had told her, was not the absence of fear. She seizes those words tonight. She’s allowed to fear him. His swiftness, his skill, the merciless precision that has made him an incarnation of death.

She balances in the balls of her feet, meeting his gaze.

Fear, yes, but also resolve. Courage. She’s done ‘living’ in fear of him. Done dreading his name and presence. No matter how it ends, it ends tonight. No more running.

GM: There is no courage, too, without fear, Carson had told her.

“Take that fear,” he’d said. “Make it your strength. Take heart that you’re probably braver than whoever’s trying to scare you. Would they be able to stand up like you are, if the shoe was on the other foot?”

But courage does not come so easily to Caroline’s companions.

Perhaps it is sublimitas, the inborn gift of the Toreador clan. Perhaps it is something deeper. But as Caroline’s assembled force faces the sheriff in open battle, not merely the halls of Elysium, dread falls upon them with all the suddenness of a solar eclipse. Ghouls start screaming, sobbing, or staring dumbly ahead with enormous and bloodshot eyes. Meg, she smells, has fouled herself. No one notices. No one cares. All hope, courage, even color, drains from most of the ghouls’ faces as surely as any Kindred might drain their lifesblood. The vampires can look little paler, but Caroline sees the same mindless terror in their eyes that threatens to overpower all reason and common sense. She can see the will to fight dying before the first shot is even fired.

She can feel it welling in her breast, too, a formless and nameless dread threatening to suffocate her will and drag her screaming into an endless abyss of blackness and terror.

This was madness. Folly. Insanity. She ignored so many warnings.

He’s going to butcher them all.

She will fail her sire. Fail him, like she failed her father. Like she’s failed everything.

She was never worthy of his Blood.

Caroline: A year ago she might have collapsed into existential terror under that dread.

But a year ago he could have slaughtered her like a calf, kine that she was.

Six months ago she might have fled in terror.

But six months ago he held her Requiem in his hands, the illegitimate fledgling that she was. Literally held a sword over her neck, moments from ending her at any time.

Three months ago she might have cowered in the corner.

But three months ago she was only just out from under a death sentence, a meaningless fledgling in the night, still beset and bullied by others among the Damned. A nobody in the city whose Requiem he could have ended with marginal effort.

A month ago she might have burst into bloody tears, filled her lungs to scream in terror.

But a month ago she was Caroline Malveaux, pathetic sireless nobody and failure of a daughter—who had seen the prince only through the crowd.

Tonight she is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. She’s bathed in the dark majesty of her mother’s power. She’s stood before her sire, weathered his wrath, and tasted his blood.

Tonight he might still take her Requiem, but it will be no easy thing.

Still, she can feel the room cascading into chaos, their carefully planned defense crumbling before the first shot is fired.

She takes a deep breath and fills her lungs, but not to scream in terror.

COWARD!” she brands him.


A jitte is not an ideal weapon to for throwing—poorly balanced, but it’s what she has in hand. Some show of defiance, something to break the spell he’s cast. She flings it at him.

“The prince demands justice for your crimes! And I am here to claim it in his stead!”

GM: The small blade flies towards the sheriff. Then it’s in his hand, snatched from mid-air faster than any save Caroline might follow. The expressionless features on his still face do not change.

But the assembled ghouls and Kindred slowly blink. As one of their own—the only one of their own—finds the courage to name, curse, and pronounce sentence upon their adversary. Finds the courage to strike at him.

Kâmil and Ferris breathe haggardly for a moment.

Then they open fire at the sheriff with their subguns, scant moments before a still wide-eyed Westphal yells, “FIRE!” and Mahmoud gestures sharply.

Over half a dozen automatic weapons explode at once. Mahmound and Westphal send tendrils of living darkness flying forth. Cimpreon, sluggishly ambling to his feet, squeezes an uzi. Lead death rains against the gymnasium’s wall, punching hole after hole after hole through the drywall.

There’s nothing there.

The sheriff is gone, like a half-remembered nightmare.

Like a coward fled.

Westphal sneers, then frowns.

“The foosteps-!”

Then the bleachers explode.

Grenades, one after another, burst apart into lethal payloads of shrapnel, armed and tossed with all the speed and rote efficiency of an assembly line. Men scream, bleed, and scatter, trying to present harder individual targets, and send scattered weaponsfire through the air. Is he using a grenade launcher, or just faster by hand?

Mahmoud snarls and sends a larger wave of soupy blackness through the air. It splatters against the walls and runs down them like tar—perhaps an attempt to slow or make visible the sheriff, to turn this flying and unseen menace into something men can shoot at.

Then the barricades piled at the doors start hurtling through the air, one after another, crashing into the bleachers. Men scatter and fire in their direction. Westphal and Mahmoud send forth more tendrils of inky darkness. More windows above the bleachers shatter apart, then tiny canisters plunk in. Choking clouds of smoke fill the area where they fall, followed by heavy thuds.

Caroline: No defense can withstand a credible attacking force forever.

It’s been true throughout history.

It was true earlier tonight against Claire’s safehouse.

It’s just as true now. The sheriff can lay siege to them, can bleed them. But every minute he does is a minute longer for the counterstrike to gather. Longer for the seneschal to return. Longer for her sire to be roused into action.

The attacker controls the initiative—but only for so long. Eventually he must commit.

Caroline is a blur through the gym—flinging the gas grenades back into the night, batting the falling grenades back out through windows. So much of their strength is the ghouls—losing them so easily isn’t something they can afford.

She knows the truth, though: they have to endure this. They have to bleed. They have to lure the sheriff and his forces in for the kill.

It’s possible Lou has hung her out to dry, but she doubts it.

No, she can see the cunning old man’s plan—in many pieces. Better for the treacherous and tough vampires to take the first punch. Better to lure the sheriff in for the kill with her. It’s the same line of thought Claire used. A trap is only worth springing once you’re sure you have your target.

Left to fly into the night, the sheriff could be a terror for years.

They intend instead on finishing this tonight.

At least, she hopes it’s true. Otherwise this’ll be the shortest battle of all time.

GM: Pandemonium reigns throughout the gym as Caroline catches as many of the deadly little balls and canisters as she can and throws them away. Explosions rock the gym, some close, some distant. Clouds of gas billow forth. Kâmil is close beside her, even as he continues to squeeze off bursts from his subgun in the sheriff’s approximate direction. Desks, weights, and other barricade items continue to rapidly fly away from doors, as though flung by a poltergeist. Finally, the double doors burst open.

No offensive teams burst forth.

Instead, there’s an enormous and impossibly thick swarm of locusts, buzzing and droning discordantly—like one of the great plagues o’er Egypt. It streaks towards the ghouls on the bleachers. Thick fog rolls in from the doors, obscuring lines of fire, only then followed by the pound of footsteps—footsteps rapidly spreading out and not concentrating a press of bodies in the doorways. Someone bellows orders. Multiple people bellow orders, on both sides. Voices are swiftly lost over the roar of blazing autos. Rockets and grenades fly back and forth, rocking the gym with further detonations. Fire spills from shattered Molotovs. A huge monster of a gun that can only be Donovan’s M20 belches forth lead death as spent shall casings plunk against the ground. Plunks sound from the bleachers, too, and within the fog bank. The metallic tinkle is a nonstop rain, perhaps all but imperceptible to those with lesser senses than Caroline’s. And perhaps not. There are so many rounds being fired.

Equally devastating is the exchange of sorcery. Westphal and Mahmoud send chill waves of blackness lashing into the fog. The conjured shadow beasts mindlessly tear forth. Caroline can only guess what suffering they inflict, but suffering is returned and then some. Crackling blasts of lightning leave men on the bleachers burning and convulsing in drooling, self-shitting heaps as the locusts make everyone’s life a living hell. Caroline can barely hear anything. Can barely smell anything, past the free-flowing blood, the acrid tang of gunpowder, and horrifically charred and cooking flesh. Men and monsters alike scream in bloodlust, mania, terror, and pain.

All is chaos. All is pain. All is death.

Caroline: The Molotovs burn away flying waves of the insects, and the smoke from both the smoke grenades and the fires chokes more—bugs notoriously choke and die in smoke. It’s just as well—she has no answer for them, nor for the waves of exchanged sorcery.

It’s a nightmare hellscape that rapidly loses all sense of order. This fight will be fought, as much as anything else, among individuals.

She lingers near their sorcerers as long as she can, batting away grenades and distractions, but then come the footsteps, and Caroline is there, at the doors as the first of the sheriff’s forces finally enter the gym for the first time. A blade to stem the tide. It’s a blade that is painted crimson in short order.

GM: Caroline’s sword punctures through a man’s throat, sending streams of red leaking down his chest. He gurgles helplessly like a fish as Caroline smells his bowels release. He stares at her with an expression that looks, of all things, simply bewildered. Then terrified. He looks younger than she is. His mouth moves, as he tries to say something, but it’s lost over the sounds of battle, and then the light finally goes out in his eyes. He gasps and collapses to the ground in a heap. Piss leaks from his pants.

Cimpreon is there too, staggering as if drunk. Caroline hears something gorily crunch in as he swings a fist. Someone’s face? She can’t tell amidst the fog.

Kâmil dispenses with the subgun for his sword. The elder ghoul’s blade mercilessly swings back and forth like a grain thresher, cutting down anything that approaches Caroline. The Ventrue hears screams as steel slices through flesh and the coppery tang of blood fills her nostrils. Who dies and who merely bleeds, she cannot tell amidst the billowing fog and the rush of bodies.

Caroline: The Ventrue and the elder ghoul make a blender of death, circling each other in a ring of lethal steel. Anything that doesn’t fall before her lighting fast blows is hewed down by the mighty ghoul.

She does her best to keep them spinning around Cimpreon’s flank, to shelter the drugged vampire from the worst of the fighting, but it’s all but a lost cause in the chaos.

GM: How many does she kill? How many does she wound? She can’t tell among the chaos, only smell the ever-stronger flow of blood. People are dying and there are more still to die. Time means little amidst the raging battle—for all that enough time might mean her salvation. She’s sure she’d be exhausted by now, if she still numbered among the living, but weariness has no power over her dead muscles as they move back and forth, machine-like, doling out death.

The shadowy beasts mindlessly rampage and tear into anything their conjurer hasn’t (presumably) told them to stay away from. Nothing about this hellscape is noble or glorious, but Mahmoud’s pets feel like something else. It feels like they actively enjoy the chaos and the suffering. Like it is as native an environment to them as the sea is to fish. She can feel the hatred seething in them, too, as they refuse to stay put, as they mindlessly rip and tear into yielding flesh. Their ghastly cries as they’re destroyed—what’s doing that?—sound like some monstrous amalgam of dog and reptile dragging a full mouth of fangs across chalkboards. They smell like, oil, and things fouler still as they die. They don’t feel like they even care, as long as they can destroy others before they themselves are destroyed.

Relief does not come. But chaos at least partly recedes when the clouds of fog, smoke, and locusts eventually disperse, revealing the state of the nightmare battlefield like a shroud yanked off a mutilated corpse.

Cimpreon’s face is a bloody and shattered ruin as he fights a ferocious melee against Alexander Wright. Preternaturally sped by Caroline on one hand, and drugged by Jocelyn’s tainted vessel on the other, perhaps that boon and bane even out. Perhaps they don’t. Either way, he is clearly on the defensive—and steadily losing against the lightning rain of crushingly hard blows from the Brujah’s titanium bat. “That all you got, suit n’ tats?” Wright half-laughs, half-snarls, blood freely running down his grim face. His baseball cap is little more than burned cinders.

Mahmoud, standing atop the slagged and all but destroyed bleachers, is missing half the flesh and hair across her face. Her waves of conjured shadow dissolve against Camilla Doriocourt’s prayers and seemingly divinely answered blasts of lightning. The Toreador’s clothes are ruined, and cuts and burns mar her porcelain skin. Yet little disturbs the face of the sheriff’s childe as she impassively counters the Lasombra’s sorceries, one after another. Shadows flow away from her like water. Mahmoud, too, looks like she is fighting a defensive battle against the decades-older hound. It’s all her shadows can do to swallow up the rain of hail, flies, and bloody water—more plagues out of Egypt—that Camilla conjures forth.

Rocco is there. Probably. Someone yells “Agnello.” Caroline can only presume the monstrous beast caught up in its own private war is him.

The creature resembles an enormous great cat with oversized claws and fangs. It bristles everywhere with barbs, but they’re thickest around its fleshy ‘mane’ from which protrude several more horn-like pairs of claws.

It’s also bleeding like a stuck pig. Something ugly, crimson, and poison-like burns from the wounds along its flank. Raaid is dancing atop the beast’s back—did he get here recently, or was he always here?—while ducking blows from another male vampire with an arrogant face who Caroline isn’t sure if she’s seen around. Rocco looks like he is already posing the battered and bloody Assamite a substantial challenge, but being harried by a second attacker makes things that much uglier. Raaid, too, looks like he is fighting on the defense against his two opponents.

Westphal’s barked commands to the ghouls, both his side’s and the enemy’s, are answered by a cool but vice-like voice that steels their wills against his. Some of the ghouls scream and clutch their heads as contradictory orders jerk their minds back and forth like ill-used marionettes. The Lasombra’s conjured shadows flicker and melt away beneath languid waves of his foe’s hand. Karena Cingolai’s once-austere appearance is marred by blood and battle, but the Ventrue looks coolly assured as she weathers his shadows and steadily advances upon the child Lasombra with sword drawn. More than either of his clanmates, Westphal looks badly outclassed by his elder in the Blood. How old even is she who Embraced the bishop?

The battle goes even worse among the ghouls. Kâmil does not leave Caroline’s side. Gisèlle already lies dead. Raaid’s ghouls, too, are dead. Many of the Lasombra’s were already depleted in battle against Cairo’s Sabbat. Their replacements can be but weeks old in the Blood. The dozen or even score of ghouls belonging to Cingolai, this newcomer, and the Guard de Ville are not only more numerous, but older in the Blood, and further supplemented by Blackwatch mercenaries—themselves ghouled as cannon fodder?—who are steadily grinding through the remaining opposition. Bodies are strewn about on both sides, but the sheriff’s has quantity and quality to spare. Caroline espies Donovan’s mimic and the sadistic black ghoul who punched her in the face before Eight-Nine-Six, what feels like a lifetime ago.

Even as Caroline’s allies fight a losing battle, their ghouls fight an even faster-losing one. Soon the winners’ strength will be added to the Guard de Ville’s.

Caroline: It’s nothing like the fight against even the Sabbat—here they have no initiative, no surprise. Their foes fight in careful coordination, and the only hope—barring the late arrival of Lou’s strength—is to tip the balance somewhere, to start an avalanche they can roll into the rest.

It’s tempting to start with Camilla—the most certain traitor among the treacherous hounds—but she’s also the furthest away. Time is precious. Instead the death blender that is elder ghoul and Ventrue turns its attention first to Alexander Wright.

A fierce snapping announces her arrival as she races across the dead locust that cover the ground.

Snap, snap, snap, snap.

Finally a crack like thunder as her blade sweeps under the Brujah’s baseball bat wielding arm from below, aiming to take the arm and weapon with it.

She doesn’t stop to follow up—trusting Kâmil will finish what she started—as they move past and onto Camilla who she judges is the next most vulnerable target of her attentions. Cingolai is perhaps the larger immediate problem, but she remembers well how ungodly tough the elder Ventrue’s childe was. Better to hit softer targets first, just like the sheriff has.

GM: Wright’s bat all but explodes apart Cimpreon’s mouth, sending the Lasombra staggering to the ground as the Ventrue’s blade sweeps down low. Yet the hound releases his two-handed grip over the weapon, dropping his arms to his sides, then flips the bat around in one hand and brings its butt smashing up into Caroline’s throat, past her guard. The force behind the blow is incredible. Something audibly crunches and sends her staggering back.

“Not gonna be that easy, girl,” the Brujah laughs. “I been doin’ this since before you was a broke condom.”

Perhaps a quick one-two will not dispatch the hound. But two on one is another matter. Kâmil’s blows rain down even as Caroline mends her shattered throat and unleashes a blitzkrieg of strikes. Wright, soon, is the one on the defensive. Two on one is ugly odds—and three on one is even uglier as Cimpreon roars past his destroyed face and throws himself at Wright. Beset on all sides, the grunting hound does not look as if he can keep this up for long.

Once Wright’s down, the three of them plus Mahmoud can take out Camilla. Then they can finally take the pressure off Westphal, and if Raaid holds out long enough against Rocco and the newcomers, so much the easier. Knock down all the dominoes, one by one. That leaves all of them against—

Hope dawns, for a second.

Then dies.

A black shape swoops down from the air, rainwater trailing like tears from an unsheathed blade.

Straight for Caroline.

The blitz of strikes comes from all directions at once. Blinding speed, bone-crushing strength, surgical precision, and machine-like efficiency all come together in breathtaking tandem to produce the most flawless display of swordsmanship Caroline has ever witnessed—outside of the Dungeon. The Ventrue is sent reeling beneath the blitzkrieg of merciless blows. If her duel against the Hussar was a trial in staying one step ahead of disaster, here disaster is one step ahead of her. She’s slower. The sheriff does not stand still. He doesn’t stand at all. One moment, steel streaks towards her gut. The next, her back. The next, a foot above her right shoulder. The next, at her hip. The next, plunging straight down from the ceiling. It’s an incredibly unorthodox fighting style, taking full advantage of its possessor’s flight and the three-dimensional battlefield he is afforded while his foes can only confront him upon two. Stephen never taught any of his pupils how to fence against an opponent who could fly. How many Cainites even have the training to? So many rules go out the window. Blood freely wells from a panoply of horrifically deep cuts that lay open the Ventrue’s flesh to the bone—or shatter through it altogether. One stroke severs the better part of her jaw from her mouth. Another stroke shears through her ribs, another snaps her clavicle. Another punctures her dead lungs and flays them open. Guts spill from her punctured stomach. She can feel her undead body literally collapsing in on itself under the onslaught, as it’s sliced and flayed and chopped apart faster than she can repair it. There is no time to mount a counter-offense. It’s all she can do just to stay alive. The reality of things is all-too plain:

She is outclassed.


Kâmil does his utmost to delay the descending doom. Sweat beats from the elder ghoul’s brow as he throws himself at the sheriff, tying up the thresher-like blade in his own. He pays scarce heed to his own defense, pouring everything into just scoring hits against Donovan, forcing the sheriff to deal with him, taking the pressure off of Caroline. He fights like a lion. But Caroline can tell, from the reflection in her foe’s icy eyes, that Kâmil, too, is outclassed. He can but further delay the inevitable. Donovan intercepts his strikes without even attacking him back. The sheriff’s target is Caroline. His corpse-like face is utterly impassive as he duels both his foes at once, the machine-like sword in his hand a nonstop whirl as it bleeds and breaks and forces them back—every stroke bringing his triumph and ascendancy that much closer.

Caroline: The rest of the battle fades into so much background noise as she focuses entirely on her conflict with the sheriff, pairing her own attacks and defenses with the ghoul’s.

She always knew she couldn’t win against Donovan—not alone or in a fair fight. It’s why she’s brought four other Kindred to the fight tonight—and a dozen-odd ghouls. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. They were supposed to get the jump on him. To lure him into their fight.

And then Lou blew that entire plan to hell and left them high and dry. When he brought down not the sheriff, but every hound as well, and more to boot.

She’d believed the old man, but she knows the truth now: he’s left her to die. Left them all to die.

If anything, he’ll sweep up the pieces. Perhaps Donovan and the others will die beside her—but that brings her no peace.

It fills her with a cold fury as she fights, as she regenerates from gruesome wounds at a fraction of the speed with which they’re inflicted on her.

There’s nothing else to do but fight.

She knows some people shut down when confronted with impossible odds, with unwinnable situations. They cry. They hide. They freeze or cower. Perhaps they beg or pray.

That’s never been her.

No, she fights. She fights until the very last minute, because even when it’s all but decided there’s still a chance. That they could err. That something breaks just perfectly. That Donovan’s blade gets lodged in a bone, or by some riddle of steel snaps against her own. That a stray bullet takes him at the right moment. That he stumbles.

Impossible? Unwinnable? Hopeless?

Maybe. But she can’t control those things. Not now. All she has left is to fight for every single second she can.

It helps, too, that she hates him.

Hates him with every fiber of her being.

He’s not actually the root of all evil, but he is the root of so much of her misery. Of humiliation, he or his mimic treating her like she was worse than garbage in front of half the city at Elysium. Of loss. Ericson. Bishop. Polk. Deaths she lays one way or another at his feet. Of pain—his stake shoved through her chest. The fear and hunger haunting her as she waited in a cell for judgement.

Even if she didn’t fight till the last breath against others, she’d fight to the last against him, then spit it full of blood in his face for any minor inconvenience she might offer him.


Traitor to her sire, who has trusted him for centuries. Traitor to the hounds who trusted him when they came to fight her on his behalf. Traitor to the covenant he serves.

She’s fighting for her Requiem. She’s fighting for every second. But she’d fight him with every ounce of her being even if those weren’t the stakes. She’d fight him for free, just for any opportunity to hurt him.

Fuck. Him.

He’s going to kill her—again. And she hates that. But she’s going to make him work for every ounce of flesh.

GM: It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

But it’s finally happened, hasn’t it? Older Kindred have finally stopped underestimating and half-assing things with Caroline. No more contemptuous dismissal by Bishop Malveaux as he blindly walks into lethal ambushes, scornful of the idea that she would attempt such a thing. No more ill-planned assaults upon her guests by Caitlin Meadows, who thought nothing of leaping by herself into the center of Caroline’s power. Not even solo assassins from out of town hired to do away with her. No more half-measures. No more subtlety. No more wait and see. Caroline’s finally met a foe throwing everything he has at her, before she can grow into an even bigger problem—or at least everything he could assemble this quickly.

It says a lot that it’s even this much. How much planning and preparation he’s put into this. How urgent a priority it was, to kill her now, even walking into a battlefield not of his choosing. Oh, yes. The sheriff and his foes are working for every ounce of flesh. They are working like they surely must against few other threats.

The only problem is they’re winning.

“An’ STAY down!” Wright laughs over a particularly gory-sounding crunch from his bat. “What the fuck douchebag wears a suit an’ tats anyway?”

A particularly large blast of lightning briefly illuminates the battlefield. From the corner of her eye, Caroline sees that Mahmoud has been driven literally to her knees. The Lasombra’s gathered shadows weakly flicker beneath the onslaught of Doriocourt’s sorcery, and then a hail of rubble crashes down around her.

Raaid is still staying alive, dancing and flipping this way and that to avoid the huge beast’s swiping claws and his second foe’s smashing fists. Blood now wells from gouges along his side. He cannot keep up the two-on-one battle forever.

Cingolai finally closes upon Westphal. The ghouls around them all lie dead or comatose, his shadows splash harmlessly off her outstretched hand, and his barked commands do not stall her advance. Her sword flashes high, then swings low.

Caroline can’t say which of her allies are dead, torpored, or still barely hanging on. It’s all her still-newly enhanced senses can make out, in the breaks between assaults. The sheriff literally flies back and forth from the one-on-two duel, stabbing, thrusting, parrying, and retreating in a blur, then plunging down from the sky. The momentum behind the strikes is incredible. Fortuna, that ever-fickle of patrons, does not intervene. The sheriff’s blade does not lodge, nor do stray bullets hit, nor does he stumble when his feet touch not the ground—he never flies low enough to give his foes an advantage in reach or height.

Worse, he’s changing tactics. The assault on Caroline breaks off, giving her a desperately needed reprieve to regenerate her ravaged body. But Kâmil pays dearly for it as Donovan’s blade finds a new target. The ghoul staggers backwards as gouges and slashes blossom across his body, forcing him onto the defensive. Caroline presses the attack on the sheriff’s flank, anything to split his attention. Donovan’s sword shreds through Kâmil’s stomach, cutting the white-faced ghoul almost completely in half as his sword falls from limp fingers. The sheriff blurs behind him, burying his fangs into Kâmil’s neck. The ghoul smiles grimly, then a yatagan slips past the joints in his foe’s armor. Blood wells over his hand as blade plunges into armpit. Caroline’s sword pierces their foe’s flank at the same time, drawing a second and still deeper crimson gout. The sheriff’s face does not change in the slightest. A vice-like hand clamps around the ghoul’s throat, lifts him off his feet, then flings him away like a ragdoll. Perhaps dead, perhaps not. Caroline doesn’t hear a crash.

The sheriff swoops back, coming straight at Caroline. He doesn’t try to dodge. She rams her sword into his stomach next, and is rewarded with more red dripping down the blade, but there’s no time to twist the handle as Donovan’s arms clamp around her body. Then she’s soaring through the air with him, locked together like embracing lovers as the battle rages—or, perhaps, concludes—below. The gym floor races past. Something painfully explodes against Caroline’s back and head. All she sees for a second is dust and rubble before she feels herself falling. Floor crashes against her back. They’re in a derelict storage room with a body-shaped hole in the upper wall, along with dust-covered basketballs and moldering sports equipment. The sheriff’s on top of her, pinning her beneath his weight.

A short blade springs from one of the bracers along his wrists, gorily sawing through flesh and muscle and bone alike before he wrenches Caroline’s swordarm from its socket with his other hand. The pain is incredible. He tosses the severed limb aside. Her Beast screams in her head. Ceiling smashes into her head. They’re in the air again, his arms locked around her. His fangs pierce her neck. He drinks. The sensation is like ice entering her bloodstream. He drinks and drinks.

Then she realizes, with terrible certainty, that he is not ever going to stop drinking. He is going to drink past blood, past satiation, past mere physical liquid, to devour the naked soul beneath. Like she devoured the bishop’s. Here. Where none of his allies can see.

Caroline: Not like this.

Losing her arm hurts, but far more so for what it means than the actual agony of it—which is is really saying something as raw jagged flesh hangs from the bloody stump. No, it’s not the pain that really hurts her, it’s the loss of her grasp on her sword, still buried in the sheriff’s stomach. It’s the loss of the one weapon she had that was effective against him, that drew his blood this night. It’s the loss of any chance of winning. She screams in agony, but it’s as much rage as pain.

It’s rage against the dying of the light. Against the death of hope.

Then he sinks his fangs into her and the agony in her shoulder is nothing like the pain of knowing he’s going to suck down all that she is, that even in death she’ll serve his interests. That she’ll make him stronger.

She’d say they just needed a single break, but there were too many things that went sideways tonight.

Damn Cingolai for siding with the sheriff.

Damn the Guard for not second-guessing their master’s murderous intent when they saw the seneschal’s ghouls at her side.

Damn Adler’s cowardice in not wanting to get involved.

Damn Lou for not fighting beside them.

All of those things could have gone differently.

Instead she’s going to meet her end in a dilapidated storage room.

Well, that might be so. But she’ll be damned again before she lets him diablerize her. Before she gives him anything, much less the satisfaction.

And there is a chance. With the sheriff drawn so close, with the irresistible distraction associated with feeding. She can’t defeat him, but perhaps she can take him with her. She still has one hand. She can’t swing a weapon when it’s pinned at her waist by his embrace around her, but she doesn’t need to. All she has do so is pull a pin at her belt or attached to his own gear. They can join each other in death.

Her fingertips hook on the pin of a grenade along the sheriff’s bandolier.

She spits blood into his face through clenched teeth.

I’ll see you in hell!

GM: That’s when Lou emerges from another hole in the wall, hefting a sawed-off shotgun. At least a dozen grim-looking spectral figures float after him—through the wall. Many bear sores and still-bleeding wounds. At least half of them are bleeding from two fang-sized puncture marks around their necks. Hatred festers on all of their translucent faces.

But it festers no blacker, no uglier, and no hotter than it does on the shade floating beside Lou.

Jacques_Beltremieux.jpg The wraith wears his pain nakedly like an open sore. The right side of his face is a broken jigsaw of cruel scars, the most severe of which runs over the dark void of his right eye-socket. While his left bears a rheumy-yellow orb, the cheek and jaw below it are haunted by sickly bubbling boils that burn and weep like rancid, spermaceti candles. His balding pate is framed by wispy, ash-hued locks that’s being desperately pulled at by an infant-sized spectral fist. His mid-nineteenth century garb has the air of uncomfortable, anachronistic grandeur despoiled not just by time, but by the gaping stomach wounds that have only festered since his death one can only guess how many years ago.

He and Lou look like two peas of a pod. A long-dead man and a half-dead man, who’s old and been old for too long, by his own words.

Lou’s grin doesn’t make his face look sadder, this time. His watery gaze fixes on the sheriff with all the sharpness of a stake to the heart.

“Hey again, doll-face.”

The sheriff’s head whirls.

That’s when the grenade explodes. Shrapnel shreds apart Caroline’s already broken and destroyed flesh as her ears ring and she twists in mid-detonation to let her back catch the worst of the blast. She’d have preferred to shove the lethal device into the since-healed wound in his side, but the effect it achieves as she crashes to the ground is good enough. Lou’s dragonsbreath rounds belch fire where she was a second ago—and where Donovan was a second ago. He’s only just teleported away from the column of fire when the one-eyed ghost streaks towards him, brandishing an ancient-looking colichemarde. The mob of howling shades follows close behind.

Just like that, the sheriff is gone again. Heedless, the ghosts pour through the gym walls, screaming bloody murder.

Caroline: Contrary to popular belief, most grenades don’t really explode in blasts of fire and flame. They instead send razor-sharp shards of shrapnel through their targets. For that reason, they’re more lethal to mortals with their fragile organs than to vampires. The lack of fire is particularly acute in those chosen by the vampires: they were never designed to kill the other Kindred, just their servants.

She’s grateful for that.

At that close range though, caught directly between Caroline and Donovan, the concussive effects from the blast might have blown them both apart—and into pieces—much like a firecracker held in a closed fist vice open palm.

On the verge of being diablerized, that was an outcome Caroline could settle for. With the appearance of Lou, that calculation changes. She’s particularly grateful for the distraction caused by the ghoul at that last, critical moment that allows her to put a layer of the sheriff’s Kevlar between herself and the grenade—as well as twist away enough to prevent quite that catastrophic of an explosion.

Which doesn’t mean that shards of steel don’t tear through her flesh at 24,000 feet per second, but does mean that instead of ripping her in half they leave quarter-sized holes in her back despite the titanium plate sewn into her coat.

For a moment she only lays there, reeling in pain as her ears ring.

GM: It might also be the comparative silence that makes the room seem to spin, makes her wonder if her hearing is gone. The battlefield in the gym was an unending cacophony. It still is a cacophony, if the sounds outside are any indication—though it’s one that’s worryingly decreased in volume.

It’s also not even the first time in the night that the room has spun from what were probably ruptured eardrums. But those heal up too. It’s an idle thought, how many of the surviving ghouls tonight will deal with long-term hearing complications.

“He’ll be back,” Lou grunts as he reloads his shotgun. “With the rest of his people. You’re their target, so get ready to pull back. Odds are good they’ll follow you and stumble through the surprises my people and I have left.”

Caroline: She knows she looks like absolute hell. Almost every piece of exposed pale flesh is painted red with blood, viscera, vitae, and worse. The arming coat she added is in tatters—entire pieces sliced away by repeated strikes.

She doesn’t have time to catalogue the injuries. The still-open gashes from the sheriff’s blade. Her missing arm. The dozen-odd bullets she caught in the fighting at large earlier.

She doesn’t have time to lay on the ground either.

The Ventrue rolls onto her right side, using her remaining arm to prop herself up onto her knees, then hauls her reeling form to her feet. The whole room is spinning—likely, her medical background suggests, because the explosion ruptured her eyedrums as she stumbles over to recover her missing arm.

The macabre scene of holding the severed limb to the stump is lost on her as she tries to clear her head.

She takes a breath that whistles as air escapes her punctured lungs. If she were kine, she’d be dead several times over. She gets enough through to say, “I can’t leave my people here…” She has to pause as she runs out of oxygen, much of it escaping through her chest and back, before continuing, “to fight his alone.”

She lets more vitae run out of her mouth, down her chin, rather than waste the breath spitting. “If any are left.” She doesn’t try to hide the hatred, accusation, and the anger behind the words.

Lou’s late arrival may have dealt the prince’s rule a deathblow if it’s allowed her allies to all meet their final deaths tonight.

“You want…. to move venues… your people can cover…. our retreat.”

She’ll be well past damned before she’s left in a room alone with him and his ghost friends when this is said and done.

He’s fucked her twice already tonight. At least two over her quota.

GM: Lou gives a humorless smile.

He doesn’t look too upset at the thought of more dead vampires.

Not one bit.

“Your people are dead if they don’t retreat, blondie, cover or no,” he says, brushing debris off his coat sleeves. He must have dived for cover when the grenade went off. Easy to do when his friends are insubstantial.

Easier to do, too, when it’s not going off less than a foot away from him.

“None of my people are inclined to stick their necks out for leeches. Leech-related neck injuries are how a few of them wound up insubstantial, you probably noticed.”

He grins and tosses Caroline a spare sword from his belt.

“But don’t worry. There might be no love lost between your people and mine, but there’s plenty hate for the sheriff. And they know the plan. They’ll keep him occupied, long enough enough for you—and your allies, if any are left—to beat feet, so that he’ll hurt more trying to follow you.”

“You can always count on the dead to dish out more hurt.”

Caroline: Lou may not look upset over the death of more vampires, but there’s something else in how she looks at him tonight: distrust.

It was never there before. Not even less than an hour ago when he appeared without warning and set this entire fiasco in motion. Not when others in her group doubted his intentions.

Whatever monster she might have been, that monster had believed in him, on some level. Had, in the past tense. Apparently, getting left to get mauled as bait and leaving god knows how many of her servants and allies to suffer and die does that to people.

That distrust is present when the Ventrue doesn’t draw the sword he offers, instead throwing it back to him with her off hand. She doesn’t need it anyway. Where she’s going, she expects there will be plenty available on the floor.

She gasps as her left arm flares with pain, every nerve on fire as it reattaches to her shoulder. She heads back into the gym to rally what’s left of her people. She draws the second dagger from her belt—the last of the bladed weapon there—and holds it underhanded in her right hand while she waits for full functionality to return in the left.

Caroline has no further words for the old ghoul. None that are worth the ragged breaths they would cost.

GM: The bitter pill that was Pearl’s marriage offer may now seem a lesser evil.

For all that her aunt may have absolutely refused to permit further amaranth, it’s harder to see her leaving Kindred who would support her childe’s reign out to dry.

Not when they will be so badly needed.

Caroline: Or not.

Her own pitiful performance against Donovan, to say nothing of his own complete lack of hesitation in committing amaranth, only drives home what a fool’s errand it would have been to hobble herself to her current strength for what might be centuries.

Even if all the seneschal’s plots go as desired, after even a half in the Blood she might be little more than she is tonight—a princess made of spun glass left to rule a kingdom from her castle, a prisoner within that feared too many of her subjects—to say nothing of her husband she would forever be a pale shadow of.

Pearl’s ‘offer’—and later demand—was a death sentence in spirit and in fact.

GM: Pearl’s help came with strings.

Savoy’s help, no doubt, would have come with strings.

Lou’s help, as has been oh so bitterly made plain, comes with strings.

The old man shrugs as he catches the thrown sword.

“This school’s built on a land plot known as Mt. Carmel,” he remarks. “There’s an adjacent Mt. Marcel Baptist Church, too. You ever catch that name in Sunday school, blondie?”

She did. Mount Carmel. ’God’s vineyard of vengeance.’ In the Bible, it was where Elijah restored the Israelites’ faith in God and shattered their belief in Baal—long that supreme and most all-powerful of pagan deities. Then Elijah slaughtered all of Baal’s priests.

“Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.’”

Lou gives another grim smile.

“I’d say our odds tonight are better than Elijah’s, but he had Almighty God in his corner.”

The old man traces the worn-looking crucifix around his neck.

“Let’s hope we do too.”

Then he’s gone in a blur.

Caroline: It was no string of Pearls she sought to wrap around Caroline, it was a chain the Ventrue would have worn around her neck. A trap she saw through.

Savoy’s strings would have been a garrote he strangled her with. Another trap avoided.

Lou, though, the old man was cleverer than both ancient Cainites by far. He gave her no opportunity to avoid his trap. Donovan may be his target tonight, but he’s made her every bit a victim of it as any other—he spun his web far enough to trap her, and used her as nothing but unwilling bait faced with the dubious prospect of crawling further into the web to avoid the onrushing predator.

The deeper message of his parable is not lost on her: she’s just another one of Baal’s priests in his eyes. Whatever mercy or affection he once held for the mortal girl she was is long gone. Given the option, he’ll slaughter her and all of hers here alongside Donovan.

Noted, old man.

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline and Lou re-emerge in the gym. The battle between the Guard de Ville and Caroline’s allies looks largely over, and won by the former. Bodies and rubble are strewn everywhere. The bleachers have been reduced to little more than slag beneath the hail of bullets, grenades, and worse. Only a few lone figures are still holding out and trading fire.

The appearance of the ghosts, however, has turned aside the executioner’s blade. Literally. Westphal’s head looks half-severed from his neck. Mahmoud’s charred, still-smoking body looks almost unrecognizable—Caroline can only presume it’s her from the curves and the vitae she smells coursing through its veins. Both of the Lasombras’ almost-killers, instead, have been interrupted by and have their hands full with the ghosts. Cingolai and Doriocourt have become first line of offense against them. Wright, Agnello, and the unknown male vampire are fighting their own side’s ghouls—likely possessed like Caroline’s were in the car. Blade and bullet can do little against the wraiths’ incorporeal flesh, but sorcery from the two female Kindred still blasts and burns and obliterates them. The hounds and their ghouls have formed a defensive line around the blood magicians to ward off Raaid and the possessed ghouls. The Assamite looks amply pleased by the arrival of reinforcements.

High above, Donovan is locked in aerial battle with the one-eyed wraith and a handful of other spirits. The one-eyed wraith is putting up a heroic fight against the sheriff. He’s actually holding his own. But he’s also fighting defensively—not to win, just to prolong the engagement. To buy time.

Lou takes aim with his shotgun and blasts Doriocourt. Fire belches from twin barrels. The hound blurs out of the way, avoiding much of the inferno, but fire still hungrily devours her right arm. She drops and rolls to smother it. The ghosts surge forth as the pressure on them abates.

“There’s your cover, blondie. Get your people out!” shouts Lou.

Caroline: “We’re going!” she yells into the gym, taking the opportunity as she blurs towards Mahmoud’s charred body to kick up a fallen blade—from whom she isn’t even certain, into her hand. She sheathes her dagger as she throws the steaming, smaller vampire over her shoulder, almost nauseated by the horrific sticky flesh that comes away in her hands—sticking to them like the charred fatty meat that it is.

It’s pure pragmatism that drives the decision: the effect of the Guard’s own sorcerers against the ghosts gives her ample reason to want the Lasombra witch to recover. Whether she will is an open question.

GM: Ferris, who Caroline is pleased to see still alive (if looking noticeably worse for wear), doubles for Westphal and slings the half-decapitated vampire over his shoulder. Perhaps that’s motivated by pragmatism too. Of Cimpreon and Kâmil, Caroline sees no sign. The small company takes back off, doubling back for the storage room.

“Fuck… zhis…” snarls Mahmoud. Her lightning-charred and sick-smelling flesh starts to slowly regenerate from black to red. “I didn’t sign up for zhis. I’m out. Fight your own fucking pattle.”

Westphal gruesomely aligns his nearly neck back into place, hands wet and slick with his own blood. A ragged snarl issues from his throat as bone and tissue start to mend.

“There’s no… sense in doing… things by half-measures,” the Lasombra offers with a feral smile. His voice comes out with a distinct rasp. “I’d rather switch sides to the sheriff than run. Believe me, I would, if I thought it was on the table.”

“Regrettably, for him, it makes more sense just to kill us both.”

Caroline: Caroline’s tempted to drop the Lasombra for the other vampires to finish off. Instead she continues to carry her and almost snarls back, “Nor can they let anyone escape. Every single one of us has to die tonight for them to have any hope.”

“And there’s our chance… they have to chase us now. They had their chance for a knockout blow, they swung, and they missed. In case you missed it, things are suddenly looking a lot less cheery for them.”

She turns the corner into storage room from which Lou exited, and continues in a less hostile tone.

“We’re all hurt, but when you’re going through hell you keep going. Pull yourself together. The only way out is through, and it’s far from over for us. The stakes we’re playing for are worth it.”

She grins. “Besides, you’re not going to let some soft Camarilla assholes get the best of you, are you?”

GM: Lou’s already ahead of the group. His gray outline disappears down the hole in the drywall from which he emerged.

Mahmoud gives a bitter laugh as her scorched flesh continues to mend.

“He’s not Camarilla. Nozhing apout him feels Camarilla. Maype ze ozhers are.”

Caroline: “He came for me, and I’m still standing,” she offers defiantly.

“We can win.”

GM: “We’re all fucking dead,” the Lasombra says flatly as she re-takes her feet.

“Get ofer yourself. Eferyzing dies. Eferyzing falls into ze Apyss. Now it’s happening to us. Yipee.”

“Would you like a pep talk?” sneers Westphal as Ferris puts him down. “These odds look terrible, and if I’d known what they were, I’d have told our gracious host to fight her own battle. But there’s no alternative now except to play out the hand that’s been dealt—and leverage greater rewards from the prince if we survive.”

“You zhink if we delifer zhe sheriff her staked corpse we make it out of zhis?” Mahmoud asks. “Petter odds against her zhan him.”

Caroline is not sure if it’s meant as a joke.

“No, I think there’s better than even odds he still kills us,” Westphal replies mournfully. “That’s what I’d do, if I were him.”

“You’re right that he doesn’t feel Camarilla at all, though. Where did the prince find him?”

Caroline: “Allegedly the childe of his rival,” Caroline answers, ignoring the quip about staking her.

Neither is in a position to do so, and she understands their frustration. None of this has gone according to plan.

“I suspect that was a cover, though, to slip a Trojan horse into my sire’s house.”

GM: “That doesn’t make any sense as a cover. Why pose as a rival’s childe? That just makes it harder to earn trust.”

Caroline: “It does if you show up with damaging information about him and accept what appears to be a full blood bond.”

“Tell me you can’t see why an elder might appreciate the irony of stealing their rival’s childe as their own servant.”

GM: “Seems chancy. Some might like it. Some might blame the childe for the actions of the sire. Trusting to chance is stupid for a long-term plot like that.”

“How do you know zhe childe isn’t shust plood pound to zhe sire?” says Mahmoud.

“Even they might not know,” agrees Westphal.

Caroline: “Presumably they actively take hostile actions against said sire for years,” Caroline suggests. “Or you use sorcery to determine he is not so bound. Or both.”

“But this all happened a century ago, before my time. The prince was more active in that era. He had another sheriff, other hounds. Donovan was one of many—he was not simply handed the keys to the kingdom immediately.”

“Funny how the old sheriff supposedly met his final death at the hands of hunters not long after. There was some sort of cover-up associated with his death, but a mountain of women and children got executed by the prince to punish their ‘hunter’ husbands that were responsible. The event drove another senior hound from the city in disgust and paved the way for the remarkably effective, skilled, confident Donovan to take the job.”

GM: Westphal smiles. “That’s very efficient. The wives and children might turn into hunters themselves. Safer just to kill them all, if you can cover it up. I imagine that sort of mass slaughter was easier to arrange a hundred years ago.”

Caroline: “The prince thought so. Burned alive, I heard. Quite a spectacle.”

She doesn’t shiver like she did when she first heard about it.

“It would have all been opaque to me, except the wayward hound showed back up a century later after getting some kind of message from a third party my source close to him couldn’t identify. He showed up and dragged me off the street, took me to the kind of party you don’t want to be a part of as a kine. I think it was a setup for the seneschal, to assassinate him, but that went sideways on the assassins and instead I was sentenced to hunt down said hound.”

“Except Donovan later dumped me right in his lap, nearly got me killed, and nearly facilitated the ex-hound’s escape from the city. But it did give me a chance to hear some interesting things from him.”

“That was my first clue that the sheriff was dirty.”

GM: Westphal listens attentively, Mahmoud less so. Even with final death looming, the first Lasombra doesn’t turn down the chance to pick up political information. Who knows how it might come in handy, if he survives?

“Yes,” he muses, “I’m hardly in a position to know all of the facts, but what you’ve described sounds like rather too many coincidences.”

“We stop here,” says Lou, holding up a hand. “I don’t want you to get too far ahead of them, blondie. The sheriff won’t spend forever literally chasing ghosts if he’s smart.”

Caroline: “Was rather hoping they’d be doing more chasing him, old man.”

“But I guess it’s hard to do the heavy lifting without bodies.”

GM: “You and your pals have plenty more to do, too,” the old ghoul smiles.

The group have passed through two more concealed literals holes in the walls. Lou doesn’t make any effort to re-conceal them after everyone gets through. Everyone has to stoop to do so; there’s no way Donovan could fly inside unless he were to completely smash through the walls, which may not be an impossibility.

Caroline and her allies are inside a cafeteria kitchen that’s as ruined and derelict as the rest of the Katrina-ravaged school. Flour is spilled all over the floor. The actual doorway is boarded up, seemingly to force Donovan through the holes.

Lou grabs some more flour from an open sack and spills it over the group’s footprints.

Mahmoud looks around.

“No salt, huh,” the Lasombra says with a thin smile.

Salt hurts ghosts, after all.

Caroline’s known that since the fateful car ride with her mother.

“Not one grain,” Lou answers Mahmoud with an equally humorless smile. “Less sodium is good for your diet.”

“Who the fuck does he work for?” asks Westphal, not even deigning to directly address the ghoul.

Caroline: Caroline smirks at Westphal.

“He’s a free agent. Probably the oldest independent ghoul in city—if not one of the oldest on the continent.”

“I think he used to serve Maria Pascual, though,” Caroline speculates, searching the ancient ghoul’s scarred face for a reaction she doesn’t expect.

GM: True to Caroline’s expectation, Lou just offers an unassuming smile.

Caroline: “Important part for our purposes is, his friends aside, I’d bet on him alone against any of our pursuers except the sheriff. I watched him beat one of their predecessors like a rented mule.”

GM: “He was a tougher fight than a rented mule, blondie,” the old man demurs. “But I’ll take the vote of confidence for what it is. If things go our way tonight, ‘beat like a mule’ will nicely describe the rest of the Guard.”

“Is he independent?” says Westphal. “Remind me to put a leash on him if we live through this.”

The Lasombra finally stares at Lou with a very mean smile.

“I think I’d enjoy breaking you, ghoul. I’m not going to forget the servants you’ve cost me tonight. Or the Requiem you nearly cost me.”

Caroline: She wonders if this is the first time the old ghoul has heard such words.

“You’d not be the first to try, but you would join a distinguished group of Kindred that all share something else in common: they all met final death.”

GM: Lou just offers Westphal’s threat the same unassuming smile he did Caroline.

“I’m too old for the johnson-waving, kid. Too old by far. But if you’d like to settle accounts after this is over, you’re welcome to it.”

“Count on it,” sneers the Lasombra.

Caroline: It didn’t have to be this way.

Old man, I’d have kept up my end.

But it is what it is.

Apparently, she has to learn every lesson painfully.

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: Lou holds a hand to his ear. Heavy footfalls are now audible.

Spectral figures suddenly materialize through the walls. Many of them look badly scorched, torn, and mauled. Caroline isn’t so how much worse the one-eyed wraith looks; he already looked terrible to begin with.

“Right on time,” Lou murmurs. “Glad they heard us flapping our gums.”

He exchanges something with the one-eyed wraith in another language. There’s definitely a French influence, but Caroline has a hard time understanding it; it must be one of those derived languages. There is one word, though, she understands.

Sèl. Salt.

Lou grimaces when he hears it.

The old man turns away for a moment. When he turns back, he’s holding a nail smeared with blood.

“Cover me, blondie,” he murmurs. “If this works, he’ll be grounded. No more speed, no more flying around.”

Caroline: That’s something she can get behind.

Caroline double-checks the sword she picked up and draws a knife.

“That’d be a good place to start.”

GM: Grenades and canisters suddenly fly into the kitchen, one after another. Lou and Caroline react with lightning-fast reflexes, seizing the lethal tossaways and flinging them back. They get some. They miss others. If Caroline thought the cacophony earlier was deafening, it’s nothing now as god knows how many explosions rock through the close quarters environment. Wood, drywall, corroded steel, plastic, and more join the grenades’ 24,000 feet-per-second steel shards to turn the room into a slaughterhouse. Caroline’s vision warbles like she’s underwater. Her ears don’t ring so much as scream.

Caroline: Where the hell did they get so many damn explosives?

Caroline doesn’t have time to wonder. She takes some small pleasure in the fact that they gave at least as good as they got in that exchange. Perhaps that will discourage further volleys.

GM: It’s then that she sees the black figure striding through the billowing vapors, his chill presence plummeting hope to despair, sword held casually aloft in his hand.

The sheriff.

Then he’s gone.

His sword, though, is intercepted centimeters away from Caroline’s neck by the one-eyed wraith’s. Translucent, blood-spattered and ancient steel clangs against modern stainless carbon with an eerily hiss-like ring. The ghost screams something in his native tongue that would be kind to describe as a curse. It sounds more like blasphemy. Hatred seems to literally burn and seethe from his skin’s festering, popping boils, like fire against the sheriff’s ice.

Caroline lunges into the fray, stabbing and lashing at the nonstop steel whirlwind blurring about the sheriff’s face. Perhaps Lou’s ally will fare better than Kâmil. Perhaps he will not. Sorcery explodes through the already fog-choked room: blasts of lightning, waves of darkness, more swarms of locusts. People scream on both sides. Gunshots roar. Steel clangs. If the gymnasium felt like an open field of battle, here the close-quarters fighting feels downright claustrophobic. Caroline can’t tell who’s here, who’s fighting, who’s dead.

Lou, somehow alive like an indestructible cockroach, flings himself behind Donovan. The sheriff’s blade slices through his fedora but misses his head as he rolls under it. He throws the nail on the ground. Donovan’s sword flies up to sheer through Caroline’s stomach, brutally splitting through ribs. His boot descends towards Lou’s hand. The ghoul rolls away and flings the nail over his shoulder to catch with his artificial hand, only for the sheriff’s lightning-fast word to slice cleanly through the small piece of falling metal.

The old man’s lips move in a curse, the sound all but lost amidst the battle’s roar. Then he’s shouting,

“Fall back!”

Caroline: That satisfaction is short-lived as the sheriff nearly takes her head off. She immediately presses the counterattack opposite the ghost, but even together they aren’t able to distract him from Lou’s workings. She’s bleeding again to pay for the failure.

She’d thought the narrow quarters, the lack of ceiling space, the familiarity with his attacks, and the addition of the ghost would make some difference. It doesn’t.

And then the old man is calling for the retreat and she’s giving ground, her blade weaving a web of steel before her.

GM: Nothing goes how it’s supposed to go.

For anyone.

It’s at once an elaborate game of cat and mouse, randomly falling dominoes, and a savage brawl for one’s life. Lou’s plan seems to be to divide the Guard de Ville’s forces, baiting them with dragonsbreath, driving them to frenzy, and taking advantage of his allies’ insubstantiality to force Donovan’s allies to fight him scattered groups. That plan is gone halfway to hell, though, with Donovan not nailed down. The one-eyed wraith is giving everything he can just to check the sheriff’s advance, removing him as a piece usable against Donovan’s allies.

Worse, those allies can fight the ghosts. Doriocourt and Cingolai assail them with blasts of sorcery. Wright’s pump-action shotgun blows holes in incorporeal flesh. Rocco can’t seem to make any difference against them, but he has more than enough corporeal foes to keep him occupied, between the Lasombra, Caroline, and Raaid—the Ventrue isn’t sure at what point he reappeared, but the male vampire who’d been fighting him alongside Rocco is gone. Dead? Fled? Lost? It’s impossible to say. The wraiths give as good as they get, hurling objects, igniting bursts of spectral blue fire, and pouring into ghouls’ mouths like so much smoke. Doriocourt and Cingolai exorcise some of them, but not fast enough. Donovan takes off more than several of his own people’s heads just to stop them from attacking him. Caroline’s allies don’t hesitate to strike down others. The Guard de Ville’s once-substantial advantage in ghouls slowly dwindles against the incorporeal meatgrinder.

Lou has other surprises up his sleeve, too. Other allies that join the fray—perhaps when he’s counting on the Guard de Ville assuming everyone is accounted for. More ghosts, for one. Caroline can’t begin to guess how many, but their hate burns no less hot than their fellows—and seems to burn only hotter still as Donovan’s allies cut them down. Another of Lou’s surprises is an urban amazon with sharp-pointed limbs, ash-blue skin, and a sloped face alight with facile media. She’s accompanied by several large and rough-looking men. Fangs glint from her mouth as she hurls herself at Cingolai, smashing her over the head with a tire iron the Ventrue swiftly disarms, only to stab her through the gut with short sword sheathed in lacquered sugarcane. The two warrior women disappear as a classroom’s ceiling crashes down around them, blades running slick with one another’s blood.

Caroline: The heiress is seemingly everywhere, but nowhere definitively. Driving Wright back from Mahmoud in a flurry of steel and leaving a dagger embedded in bone in his back, just inside the shoulder, to cripple that arm as he fights to remove it with the other. She curses as she leaves the blade behind: all things being equal, she’d rather have kept it, but she’d have even more trouble ripping it from the furious Brujah than he will.

Reduced to one weapon, she barrels through some nearly complete ritual Doriocourt works with all the grace of a raging bull. She comes away with her left side convulsing and twitching in payment after catching part of a blast of lightning, but her sword stained in the hound’s blood and the mystic energies raging uncontrolled.

She snatches her falling sword from numb fingers in her left hand in time to fight opposite Raaid against Rocco. She pricks the beast every time it tries to press the attack on the assassin, drawing blood in shallow rivers down its flanks, but she can’t press the attack with only one hand against the beast’s wooden flesh. Feeling starts to return in her left hand and she swaps the sword…

Just as Donovan fights free of the wraith and presses his attack against her again, taking the front three inches of her sword away with a particularly savage blow. She gives ground until she’s nearly pinned against moldering drywall and takes a shallow but bloody slash across her throat that fills her mouth with blood and robs her of her voice before the fearsome spirit is able to recapture Donovan’s attention.

She knows she’s the target. She knows how tempting she is. She uses it to her advantage to disrupt the momentum of the sheriff’s war party, offering herself as bait for one attacker or another. It helps keep them from losing, but it’s definitively not winning. She never has time to press an advantage, lest she get pinned down and swallowed up herself.

And god does she suffer for it.

Claws, swords, baseball bats, sorcery, bullets.

She loses track of all the ways she’s hurt amid the fighting. Her body doesn’t.

GM: Everyone suffers.

Everyone hurts.

The battle rages nonstop through the school. Classrooms. Hallways. Storage closets. Bathrooms. Cafeterias. Lou feels like he’s at least trying to keep Caroline’s allies out of his traps at first, but whether out of desperation or misfortune, the never-ending melee and shootout carries them through rooms lit with fire and spilled blood, driving the vampires’ Beasts to frenzy. Some of them flee. Some of them run headlong into booby traps. Some of them just fight all the more savagely. The Beast is a night-constant howl in Caroline’s head, its roars louder than any grenade’s. Caroline isn’t even sure if she frenzies, of if she does, how many times, as the battle wears on. The only relief is that there’s no more grenades. Maybe Donovan’s ran out. Maybe he just doesn’t think they’re effective weapons. There’s hardly any ghouls left anyways—Caroline’s lost track of Ferris. She’s losing track of everyone.

Wright furiously repays the dagger in his back with a bat strike that feels like it shatters Caroline’s skull into chunks, only for a snap kick from the Ventrue’s feet to send the titanium weapon flying away. That’s when another adversary appears: an elderly, gray-haired and grim-faced woman with dead eyes and faintly bulging cheeks. Her blurring fists smash into the dagger wound Caroline left in Wright’s back. The Brujah roars as he drives a cement-shattering fist into her kidneys. That’s when Caroline leaps into the air at Doriocourt, driving her sword into the flying hound’s back. Sight and sound disappear beneath uncontrolled arcs of lightning from the disrupted ritual. When Caroline’s vision returns, Wright and his assailant are gone, though that’s nothing new. People appear and disappear like black spots in a mortal combatant’s beleaguered vision.

Rocco’s enormous war form proves as much hindrance as help against the ghosts in tight quarters: he’s a bigger target against foes he can’t fight. Raaid takes advantage of Caroline’s attacks to leap atop the monster’s back and bury a knife in its spine up to the hilt. A whispered invocation sees foul-smelling, steaming blood leak from the wound like poison. The great beast doesn’t go down without a fight, though: Mahmoud and Westphal both disappear in the melee, alongside the Assamite.

The whole battle feels like a game of tug-o-war. No one’s winning, or at least for long. Nothing’s going according to plan. For anyone. Lou can’t pin down Donovan. Donovan can’t just kill Caroline without finishing her defenders—plural. The one-eyed wraith doesn’t slow or tire, and fights with incredible skill and fury. But as the battle drags on, it becomes plain that he, too, cannot withstand the sheriff’s machine-like bladework forever. Lou seemingly abandons his plan to take out Camilla when Donovan’s sword threatens to part the wraith’s spectral head from neck. A second ancient-looking sword joins the fray. The sheriff’s expression does not change in the slightest as he duels both swordmasters at once. The steel in his hands a nonstop dance of death, a storm of swords only barely checked from consuming Caroline in its warpath.

The mimic is there. Caroline isn’t sure if he was always there, or if he just appeared now. He presses the attack against his domitor’s target, weaving a second lethal dance of steel. But in even this, he is but a hollow facsimile of his master. There is no ferocity, not even icy detachment in his movements. He seems almost disinterested. He might as well be mowing the lawn. He duels Caroline as Lou and the one-eyed wraith keep his domitor occupied. He slashes his sword across her knuckles, causing her to drop her blade. Ferris shoots him in the back. He staggers. Caroline delivers a snap kick that knocks his sword from slackened fingers. She catches it and stabs him straight through the heart.

The empty-eyed man stares down at the steel embedded in his chest with all the interest that a spinning laundry cycle might evince.

Like his death isn’t even worth noting.

Like his life wasn’t even worth noting.

Caroline would be lying if she said the light went out in his eyes, for she cannot say if there was any light in them to begin with. He gasps no final words. He makes no sound, not even a death rattle. But his body makes the same thump as any body when it hits the ground.

Caroline: Later, perhaps, she’ll reflect on this moment. When the ghoul that repeatedly humiliated her met his end on the edge of her sword. She’ll reflect on the moment with satisfaction.

There’s not time tonight.

Caroline pulls his sword from his chest, then kicks her own broken blade from the floor into her other hand. Then she plants it back in his chest.

She’ll take no chances of him getting up.

She flashes Ferris a grin, then she’s gone again.

GM: All that’s left of the Guard de Ville now is Donovan and Doriocourt. They’re arrayed against Caroline, Lou, Ferris, the one-eyed wraith, and perhaps a half dozen more ghosts. Hope returns. But freed now from all concern for allies save his own progeny, the sheriff seems only to grow stronger and more terrible. He brings down ceilings. He opens cavernous rents in the floor. He explodes through walls. He cannot be contained. He cannot be controlled. He cannot be stopped. His form is a nonstop blur, when it’s even visible between his seeming teleportations from place to place to place. His thresher-like blade savages apart Lou, Caroline, and the one-eyed wraith from a thousand directions at once. He’s driving them, they realize with dawning horror as they bleed and break and suffer, into the auditorium—one of the biggest and high-ceilinged rooms in the school.

It seems impossible that René could have so easily staked him.

Doriocourt keeps the ghosts off her sire’s flank with prayers and invocations that merely hold the small mob of wrathful shades at bay—it feels like she’s run out of grander, deadlier sorceries. That fact is no more evident than when she pulls a sidearm from her ruined coat and calmly shoots Roger Ferris. The bullet takes him square in the throat. He collapses behind an aisle seat and doesn’t get up.

Lou looks horrible. The blood- and dust-stained rags that used to be his clothes are sorrier than anything Caroline ever saw him wearing. His face looks like it’s been through a wood chipper. But he fights like she saw him fight René. With unrelenting purpose and conviction. With grace and skill and flawless technique that’s as startling to witness from a washed-up old bum as finding out he’s a billionaire. The old man’s sword slips past Donovan’s guard, once, twice, repeatedly, drawing deep red lines across the sheriff’s chest. Lou’s implacably set face is beaded with sweat, the battle clearly challenging him to his utmost.

The one-eyed wraith fights no less ferociously. The dead man’s hatred feels like an elemental force, an ocean of burning loathing that his man-sized frame is but vessel for. Every stroke and cut and slash that drives back the sheriff burns with hate. Caroline has no doubt that hate is what allows this man to exist past death.

But Donovan gives as good as he gets.

He gives better than he gets.

His whirring blade smashes past Lou’s guard, eviscerates his stomach, then severs his remaining hand at the wrist. The sheriff seems to all but teleport away from the one-eyed wraith’s blitz of strikes, then raises a pale hand. Foul-smelling black and blood-red fire immolates the shade’s incorporeal flesh, turning him into an unliving torch. He collapses to the ground, knees sinking through the auditorium’s solid floor. His screams still sound more hateful than pained, though, and in his wrath sends chairs and sundry hurtling towards Donovan. The sheriff’s sword whirs like a helicopter propeller as it slices them apart in mid-air. Lou impossibly rises to his feet and gruesomely re-affixes his severed hand to his wrist as he wills broken flesh to mend. He’s literally fitting his guts back into his stomach as he staggers after Donovan with another blood-smeared nail. Donovan’s foot comes down on his just-healed hand with a hideous crunch of bone.

The sheriff’s face remains utterly still. He has not once spoken during the battle. He does not speak now.

There is nothing to say. His only words are the death and destruction he rains down upon Caroline and her protectors.

Caroline: Donovan is no ancilla. Those lesser predators lie scattered about the school in pools of their own vitae.

No, this is what it’s like to fight an elder. To fight a vampire with centuries in the Blood and the know-how to use them.

She’d known it would be bad: known that he would be terrifying: known he would be powerful.

This is something else. It’s almost otherworldly. He’s as far beyond her as she is any kine, with predictable results.

Still, Caroline is no princess of spun glass. She doesn’t wait for him to destroy her protectors or hide in the keep. She levels the mimic’s blade at him, even as he cripples Lou.

Her resolve is unbroken: if she’s going to die, it’ll be with a sword in her hand.

GM: Nor will she die alone.

A shadow swells to man-sized height behind Donovan. Cimpreon, Westphal, Mahmoud, and Kâmil emerge forth.

The elder ghoul looks like death. He looks like he’s lost half his body’s blood volume. But his sword is no less sharp as he lays open Donovan’s back. Caroline seizes the opening and attacks from his flank. Mahmoud’s and Westphal’s shadows pour between them in a black tide, leaching what little color remains from the sheriff’s body.

Beset on all sides, he takes to the air. Cimpreon leaps after him, missing his shoulders but seizing his leg, arresting his flight. Donovan’s fist drives into the Lasombra’s collar bone with an audible crunch when two more blasts of writhing, grasping shadows streak towards him, along with a hurled knife from Kâmil, a flung sword from Caroline, two knives from Lou, and three auditorium seats wrenched from the floor by the one-eyed wraith.

Caroline isn’t sure which of the attacks causes him to crash back to earth, but she’s there, caught sword driving into his prone body. Cimpreon leaps atop him too, laughing as his fists smash into Donovan’s face,

“That’s for makin’ me do Jade, you cocksucker-”

Lightning-fast, a blade springs from Donovan’s bracer and stabs completely through the Lasombra’s neck, then saws through the rest. Cimpreon’s head tumbles to the floor.

“Thanks for… the assist…” Lou gurgles to the fallen Lasombra, then spits the bloody nail between his lips onto the sheriff’s bootprint, left amidst the dusty stage.

Donovan is gone in a flash. He leaps into the air.

Then he plummets.

Cat-quick, he lands on his feet as the floor slams up to meet him.

But he lands.

On his feet.

“Groun… ded…” Lou hacks, smiling.

Caroline: The final death doesn’t even have time to register: there’s so many dead already, and so many at the sheriff’s hands in particular.

Lou’s words do, though. It takes her a split second—a near-eternity for the Ventrue—to process what the ghoul means. Then it’s a lightning bolt across her mind—and she’s a lightning bolt across the auditorium.


No longer invincible.

He may still be a physical terror. He may still be tougher than nails. He’s certainly her better as a swordsman, and her elder by countless decades if not centuries in the Blood.

But he’s suddenly so slow.

She’s not. It’s the heiress’ turn to be everywhere, for her blade to sing around him. And not just an heiress to a kine fortune or family, either.

Caroline takes her blade to her sire’s enemy, to the traitor that has robbed him of so much strength, to the monster that has haunted her entire Requiem, and it feels so right.

Perhaps more to point, her surviving allies are equally swift—a the benefit of the Ventrue’s blood—and they fall upon him like a swarm of piranha upon a wounded shark. They can smell the blood in the water—and the blood finally flows from the sheriff in the rivers to match the blood they’ve shred tonight as a thousand cuts open across him.

GM: It’s not unlike fighting the Hussar was.

He’s quick enough to intercept her strikes, still. Remarkably many of them, by a mortal man’s standards. But there are so, so many of them. And he is so much slower than he used to be. He’s had to completely retool his fighting style in the middle of the battle. His sword is no longer a whirlwind of steel, it’s just a man’s sword. For all that his strikes leave gaping rents in the drywall—they’re missing. Caroline’s not. For all that she can’t afford to let him land a hit on her broken body, for all that the cuts she lands are so slow to bleed—the pace of their duel feels almost like a relief.

It’s an almost bizarre sensation when she realizes she’s still losing.

It’s like fighting the Hussar was. It doesn’t matter she’s faster. Like the Hussar, her foe stoically accepts the hits. He bleeds but he doesn’t slow. He rains down disaster through the end of his blade with staggeringly powerful and surgically precise blows. It’s like fencing against a charging bull. When it connects, it smashes right through her guard. Like the Hussar, the sheriff seems all-too capable of fighting on—and winning—without preternatural speed or flight.

But it’s also not like fighting the Hussar was.

Because she isn’t fighting alone.

Kâmil lays into Donovan, raining down blow after blow from his heavy sword. The seneschal’s still haggard-faced ghoul looks more than a little satisfied as he avenges his previous defeat. The sheriff’s blade flashes to keep up with the other swordsman, unable to commit his focus entirely upon Caroline.

Perhaps eager for a rematch, Mahmoud throws a blast of shadows at Doriocourt, whose arms are still raised as she mouths prayers to ward off the remaining ghosts. The hound jerks one hand away, catching the shadows in her palm. Mahmoud grins as the rival sorcerer is caught between hammer and anvil: her on one side of the invisible barrier, the raging ghosts on its other. Doriocourt cannot hold off both of them at once. The barrier collapses. The ghosts spill forth. The hound is gone in a blur.

Lou finishes shoveling back in his insides with a gruesome expression and flexes his reattached, mummified-looking hand. He takes up his sword. He streaks across the stage. A third rain of steel descends alongside Caroline’s and Kâmil’s.

The ghosts pour into the auditorium. They fan around their leader, smothering the evil-looking flames. He looks worse than ever—but so too does his hate seem to burn hotter than ever. As if all the heat from the sheriff’s conjured fires only fuels the inferno raging within his heart. With a bone-chilling shriek, the swarm of shades descend upon the sheriff.

Four blades now beset him, and far more incorporeal hands.

“And you’re not even bound to her…? Perfect,” sounds Westphal’s voice amidst the auditorium seats. “I did my homework, when I was looking into buying or stealing you—just the sort of background we’re looking for.”

Donovan fights on.

But he is now one man against many—and a far slower man. He cannot retreat. He cannot escape. For the first time, it is the sheriff who now fights defensively and finds himself driven steadily back. Donovan could not ask for a more loyal childe as Doriocourt flings herself at the foes menacing her sire, heedless of their numbers. Wide sweeping arcs of her blurring sword attempt to clear a path for him. She fights as zealously as she does skillfully—Caroline saw little of the hound’s bladework amidst her earlier sorceries. She tries to clear a path for her sire. She tries to grab him. She tries to rise aloft into the air with him, to blur above their foes’ heads and streak out of the auditorium, to retreat and fight another day.

But the others don’t let her. There are too many of them. Caroline. Kâmil. Lou. Mahmoud. The one-eyed wraith. His followers. Westphal, if the second blast of shadows from the auditorium seats is any indication. Through sword and sorcery and sheer numbers, they preempt all escape. The walls close in. Sire and childe fight on, but it is so much rage against the dying of the light. Blood freely runs from their ruined bodies. Caroline never needed to surpass the sheriff’s might. Not by herself. She saw it in Cairo. She sees it again here. Many can achieve what one cannot.

Donovan’s sword clatters to the floor.

He sinks to his knees.

He raises his hands.

Caroline: Surrender?

Caroline doesn’t believe it for a moment.

Nor is she inclined to accept it.

He sought no prisoners, took no quarter. He would never accept her own surrender: hell, he sought to diablerize her.

She looks down on the defeated sheriff with no pity in her eyes.

She came here with a purpose: his destruction. She will not be turned from it.

“Go to hell,” Caroline snarls.

Her blade flashes.

GM: The one-eyed wraith doesn’t even wait for Caroline to finish her curse. His sword already flashes out at their fallen adversary.

The sheriff’s head mechanically tilts up. His attackers behold his eyes.

Time hangs still.

His achromatic gaze is as still, cold, and dead as any shark’s, but something seems to stir within its frigid depths. Motion just beyond sight, imperceptible to the conscious mind, but ominously visible to some deeper instinct, to some part of oneself best kept locked away. Motion like the clouds to a troubled sky. A gathering storm.

There is a dark eye to that hurricane. Inscrutable, save that it cannot promise respite.

It beckons to Caroline, to Lou, to everyone present, like that innocuously self-destructive one sometimes feels at great heights. To just—jump.


A pulsating sound echoes in everyone’s ears, like the beating of an impossibly vast heart. The auditorium seems somehow darker than it once was, but there is no light in this long-abandoned place.

The sheriff’s assailants are blasted off their feet as he spreads his arms like a dark messiah. Hissing rivulets of tar-black blood freely pour from his ruined body. Blood-hued fires spread as droplets sizzle through the floor. The sheriff’s feet rise aloft into the air. There’s gaping pit where his heart should be. A hole, a no-space, a nothing, pitch black and fathomless. It spreads across his chest like a great beast’s yawning mouth.

And at long last, he opens his eyes.


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Caroline VII, Chapter XXIV
The Only One She Trusted

“I’ve said goodbye to too many, for too long. But I’m ready for the big goodbye.”
Louis Fontaine

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: At Lou’s sudden appearance, of Caroline’s protectors whirl on the old man at once. Ferris draws a gun. Kâmil, who’s driving with one hand, produces a knife in his other hand, perhaps to throw—the car’s tight confines are too small for swords anyway. The casquette girl draws no weapons, but her posture shifts into one of battle-readiness. Her face remains placid as ever.

Caroline and Lou can see the same thought in Kâmil’s and Ferris’ eyes:

Where the hell did he come from?

Louis: Hell indeed, the old man muses—though it’s the hell he’s going to that concerns most of his thoughts these days.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t the girl who Lou saw six months ago. She’s changed. Harder. Colder.

She’s still dressed in black, but tonight there’s nothing but function to see: pants, shirt, practical shoes. All of it singed, much like her. The bottom of the shoes are melted, and pink flesh shows through charred holes down her left side. Her strong side, he recalls.

The damage to her clothing gives lie to the modesty of her injuries now.

There’s still pink flesh and blisters across the backs of her hands and forearms, and flash burns redden her cheeks, one eyebrow is mostly ash, but the heiress is more whole and hale than the rest. More than anyone has a right to be after emerging from an inferno.

For all that, she looks like death. The blisters and burned flesh stand out all the more starkly against her oh-so-pale flesh. The genuine vulnerability of only half a year ago has been replaced with something hard and cruel, like someone pounded the girl out of her and left behind only the monster. Lou’s pulled more lifelike corpses from the Mississippi.

The shadows of vehicle hide it, but in the light he knows what he’d see, and so does she: she’s a monster.

But then, so are they all.

“I rather expect if Mr. Fontaine were here to kill me, he’d have waited to announce his presence until after he’d put bullets through most of you.”

The voice is the same. More confident, perhaps. If his appearance frightens her, she hides it well.

But then, she’s here in an armored convoy with three other ghouls with centuries in the Blood.

The other ghouls relax perhaps an inch. They’re tired. Wary. Hurt. And very alert.

GM: The other ghouls relax perhaps an inch.

Kâmil still drives, with one hand. He doesn’t lower his knife.

Ferris doesn’t lower his gun.

The tranquil-faced casquette girl doesn’t look away.

But for all that, they don’t look as if they’re about to use their weapons on him.

For now.

Caroline: Caroline turns to watch Lou in the third row of seats. He catches a flash of now-blue eyes.

“I expected a visitor this evening. But not you, Lou. I confess, I’d hoped you’d cashed in your chips, old man. Were retired on a beach somewhere.”

The Ventrue’s eyes sweep up and down him with all the humanity and compassion of a bar code scanner. Taking him in. Measuring his worth. His value. Perhaps his price.

“You look better.”

Louis: “You still look blonde,” he fires back like a shot from his Smith & Wesson.

Caroline: “Trick of the salon, don’t believe it.”

She flashes a smile that would be charming if there weren’t two sharpened points among her teeth.

“You still look alive. I was worried the sheriff had found you, hunted you, after you brought down his man.”

“You know, since you didn’t call, didn’t write.”

Louis: “Looks are like dames,” Lou replies. “Some are pretty, some ugly, but all of them can lie.”

Caroline: She might have winced last time they met.

Not tonight.

“I don’t recall many lies from me. But then, you held all the cards back then, so you might know better than I.”

Louis: Lou has enough winces for both of them. But the old man first turns briefly to the casquette girl, his bourbon-colored eyes washing over her. He scratches his rough jaw as if trying to remember her name—or what century their paths last crossed.

He settles for a shrug and an offer of the gelato.

GM: He receives a placid stare from the seeming teenager’s milk-pale face.

Louis: His eyes, however, turn back to the blonde who could make a bishop kick in stained glass windows.

Caroline: She’s done more than that to a bishop.

“Forgive my lack of hospitality—you understand there are many demands upon me these nights—but to what do I owe the pleasure of your return this night, Mr. Fontaine?”

There, he can see it. Not fear, but the darkness lurking in the shadows around her eyes. What might in a mortal be too many sleepless nights. What might manifest in gray hairs that will never trouble this ageless monster. But it’s there all the same. Pressure, the kinds that makes bombs or diamonds.

Louis: “Back then, the only cards I held were from a tarot deck, Caroline, and all of them were the Fool.”

Caroline: “You seemed to wield a fair few more: Justice, Judgment, Death even.”

Louis: Lou shrugs, but doesn’t plead ‘not guilty’ to the charges.

Caroline: “What cards do you hold tonight, old man?”

Louis: “More of the same, Caroline. I’m old, tired, and full of no coffee. But this time… this time I’m almost ready to say goodbye. The French have a phrase for it, just like they have a damned phrase for everything. ‘To say goodbye is to die a little.’ I’ve said goodbye to too many, for too long. But I’m ready for the big goodbye.”

There’s more coming, Caroline can tell. But it takes a while for the old man to draw up the hard truths from the deep, bitter-hurt well of his heart.

“I’m done with hating your old man.”

Caroline: “If you’ve come to kill me, know these nights that it is not easy.”

Louis: Lou shakes his head.

“I know you’re as blue as any blood can be, but I’m not talking about you, blondie. I’m talking about saying goodbye to New Orleans. To a city worth dying for. Living for too, though that’s a hell of a lot harder.”

“But eventually, we all gotta say goodnite.”

He pauses, and wishes for the hundredth time tonight that he had a bottle. A full one—so he could make it empty.

He scowls and tries again.

“I’m done hating your old man.”

Caroline: That makes one of us.

She loves him. She hates him.

Louis: “And I’m not talking about the senator.”

Caroline: “No, I don’t imagine you are,” Caroline answers.

Louis: “Remember what I told you?”

“About what you were, are?”

Caroline: “That and more.”

She remembers many things the old man told her. Some were more true than others.

“But if you’re turning out the light, and you’re not here for me, I’m not sure what it is to you.”

Louis: “Poison,” he coughs up the word like someone’s ripping duct-tape off his lungs.

Caroline: Poison. He’s not wrong, he didn’t lie, but it was half the story.

“It’s in deep, old man.”

It sounds like a confession, the first real one she’s given in months. The words rob the tension from her shoulders.

Louis: “It’s in all of us, but some deeper than others.”

It’s not an accusation. Not tonight, at least.

“When I was a younger, wiser man, I thought it was the deepest in your old man.”

Caroline: The city continues to move past them.

“Nothing is free.”

Louis: “But I’m not young anymore. Nor wise. Time has taught me both of those hard truths.”

Caroline: She mulls over what Savoy said about the prince.

It wasn’t something she’d expected.

“Few of us truly see one another for what we are.”

Louis: He looks like he wants to wearily run a hand through his dishwater gray hair. But he’s got one, and it’s still occupied by a melting gelato. He settles for a sigh.

“So if I gotta pick a poison…”

Caroline: “Picking a side? Late in the night for that.”

There’s a strained smile, all the same.

“I might be able to put in a word for you.”

Louis: Lou looks out the window at that. Or maybe he just looks away from that truth. He knows what it looks like anyway.

“Remember the last time we parted from my office? I told you something.”

“I thought it was true, and maybe it was back then.”

“I told you that I didn’t want to die, but that if I had to, I was gonna die last.”

“Tonight, though, I know better. I told you I’m almost ready to die. Almost. Now it’s just a matter of who dies first.”

“So I’m picking a poison, but not a side, at least not any of the unbreathing ones.”

“And this poison, I don’t plan on drinking, though it will likely kill me all the same.”

Caroline: Realization cracks across her mask like a spiderweb of cracks across a window.

“If not the old man, then who?”

“Who’s worth your life?”

Louis: “My life? My life’s not worth that much, honestly. And I’m not being modest either, blondie. Reality is, most people go through life—and beyond—using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had. No, the lives worth living and dying for are the few saints that still walk in this devil-ridden town. They’re a dwindling species, these days, but God was willing to let Sodom slide with only ten.”

The names and faces of those rare souls flit before his eyes. He’s failed them. Time and time again. Maybe he’ll fail them again. But damned it he won’t try to at least fail them better.

Caroline: She doesn’t leave him to that reminiscing.

“You really must be getting old, Lou. Your sentimentality is showing.”

There’s no gentleness in the girl these nights. It’s been beaten out of her like a blade upon an anvil. And everyone has taken a turn with the hammer.

Louis: “There you go telling another lie, blondie. I’m not getting old. I’ve been old. A long time too. Too long.”

Yet, when he looks at Caroline, Lou’s eyes are no longer watery like aged bourbon, but sharp as a smashed bottle.

“Your old man has a snake in his garden.”

Caroline: That gets her attention.

She runs her tongue across her fangs unconsciously.

“In that, at least, we can agree.”

GM: The other three ghouls remain silent throughout the pair’s conversation.

Weapons still drawn.

But it looks as if it gets theirs too.

Louis: Lou sets down the melting gelato, and pulls out the humble wooden cross that still hangs around his neck. But the words that next come out of his lips aren’t from the man who hung on Calvary’s tree, but rather the man who allegedly nailed him to it:

“‘But the Damned serve as the sign to humanity of the price of sin, and to make mortals fear and to understand that their lives are brief and full of pain, and they can only see the most pitiful reflection of the glories of Heaven, for they do not see clearly, but see as if through a blurred mirror, and the Damned do not see through the mirror at all.’”

“‘And it is the lot of the Damned to take the blood of mortals, that mortals might know that they will die, and that their only salvation is in the next life.’”

The recitation, if not resignation, hangs heavy on the man. But he trudges on. Like an old habit he can’t quit kick.

“Bringing Claire’s secrets to the House will only feed the snake.”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs again.

Pithy replies dart across her mind, like someone’s been brushing up on their Longinus, but she aborts them, lets them die, as he finishes and his latest condemnation washes over her.

A pause.

“I have to make him see. Make one of them see.”

Louis: “Maybe there’s a needle in all this haystack,” Lou says, waving his plastic spoon at the inferno-spared cache. “The Barrett Commission is, or was, well-connected, and Claire was one of their best.”

He shakes his head, as if to deflect some anticipated blame, or dislodge some inner guilt. “And no, I didn’t know who she was when we last met.”

He shakes his head again, and points again to the ‘haystack.’

“But searching for that needle, and making sure the sheriff doesn’t snatch it up is going to require time, and a safe space. A space safe from him.”

“And the snake, as I said, is already in the garden.”

“But as you also said, you assumed the sheriff had found and killed me over these many months.”

“He certainly wanted to, tried to, but he failed.”

“He doesn’t like loose threads.”

Caroline: “I’ve got threads. There’s more here.” She gestures.

Louis: “There is more,” Lou admits, laying down another one of his cards.

“Like the identities of good men and women trying to stem the poison’s tide.”

Caroline: “Trying. Failing. They’re doing more damage than they’ll ever prevent,” Caroline answers.

Louis: “Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s my price. I’m asking for that which you ultimately consider is hay. And in return, I’ll help you find the needle—and then drive it into the serpent’s heart.”

Caroline: “The individuals,” Caroline parries. “Not the big fish.”

Louis: “There are many fish,” Lou says. “Some bigger than others. Which one seems big to you?”

Caroline: “Gettis.” Caroline spits out the name like a curse.

“Anyone in bed with Savoy already.”

“And I want to know about the big picture events in the city. The government players, especially the spooks.”

“You can have the dorm room warriors, the lone wolves, the moms and pops, and the faithful. And we can parse out other individuals.”

Louis: It takes Lou a moment to catch his breath, as Caroline’s first word sucker punches him in his sclerosis-scarred gut.


That’s what she says—but he hears another name. A far older name.

Caroline: “We have a visitor.”

Louis: Lou looks out the windows, expecting it to be his ride. His other ride.

But as Twain said: assuming is good, finding out is better.

Then again, sometimes finding out is worse.

Far worse.

“Might be one of mine,” Lou admits. Reluctantly.

Caroline: The heiress has nothing further to say about that.

“I hope you have a plan, old man. Otherwise things are about to get very interesting.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth and meets his eyes.

“You’ve got the snake’s attention, but you knew that already. So I guess the only question left is where are we going?”

Louis: “To hell, I fear,” the old man quips, but with more sorrow than sarcasm. Still, there’s a hard steel behind his eyes. A grit that’s been worn down but also hardened and honed through centuries of his half-life.

“But we all have to sleep in the beds we make. Even if it’s the big sleep.”

He then trudges on, no time for self-indulgent shrugs or sighs.

“So you got a deal. You get the big fish, but I need to be there when he goes down. I know about his history with you, but I swear on Antonio’s cross that mine is longer and with a hell of a lot more pain and blood.”

He doesn’t wait for her to agree or understand. They’re fast out of time.

Instead, he continues, “But you’ll need this.”

He once more offers the gelato to Gisi, but this time with a clear sign that he will drop it in her lap if he has to. The man, after all, only has one hand.

GM: The casquette girl silently accepts the gelato without change in her serene expression.

Louis: Lou then fishes out a burner phone which he passes to Caroline. For any who look, the burner is hot pink, with knockoff Hello Kitty stickers, and a background lock-screen that seems to be an oil painting of Caroline. A damned good one too.

“Password’s the age of the Kentucky bourbon you brought to my office.”

“My old office,” he says with a sour look. He then nods to the phone. “It’ll have what you need, or well, some of what you need.”

Caroline: “We could just drive there now, together,” Caroline offers, glancing at the casquette girl.

Louis: That’s when his hand snaps. His other hand. The dead one that exists beyond the Shroud—and signals the waiting Knights of St. Balacou, or at least the Undying ones.

GM: Ferris and Kâmil remain just as silent as Giselle. The gray-bearded man’s gray eyes methodically take in every detail…

Every detail that he can see.

It happens in an instant.

A cold chill descends on the car’s occupants as translucent figures pour through the walls like smoke. One flows up Caroline’s nostrils, ears, and mouth like an inhaled mist. Suddenly, she is no longer there. She is in a distant and faraway place. She feels asleep. She feels underwater. Was something happening…?

But something stirs beneath that water.

A maelstrom bursts from the Devillers scion’s heart, black as sin and furious as a hurricane. Caroline vomits the invading spectral figure from her mouth as a scream nearly inhuman in its agony splits the air. Foul-smelling black mist pours from the writhing figure’s half-dissolved, rotted flesh in pungent streams. The ghost looks like they’ve been aged a hundred years and dipped into boiling wax at the same time. Their emaciated, fleshless limbs writhe like a drowning insect’s.

Another has already laid claim to Caroline’s soul.

Meanwhile, the Ventrue sees that Lou is rapidly absconding with every single document, laptop, and flash drive in the vehicle, his hands moving like lighting as he stuffs the treasure troves of information into his voluminous trench coat.

The ghouls aren’t doing anything.

Just staring sleepily ahead.

There’s a knife embedded in one of the seats. Gelato is running down it too. The air smells like gunpowder. There’s a gunshot against the car’s wall.

Louis: Lou gives a split second glance.

Trust me.

He’s always told her true.

The only one, from the beginning.

But he can’t help but raise a brow at the horrific display of dark magic. A chill runs up his spine, reminding him of a certain painting he’s seen…

Caroline: Ferris was quick, but not quick enough. She’s impressed.

The heiress eyes him for an instant.

It’s a lot of trust to ask.

Claire’s documents are her best chance to flip others against Donovan. The information on the hard drives is vital to dismantling her mother’s ticking bomb, to earning her sire’s favor, to cleaning up the disaster that Donovan has fostered with the city’s hunters and Savoy.

She has Lou with his pants down, perhaps for once… but how many times has he had her hopelessly vulnerable? How many times did he have need only to turn aside, to step aside, to close his eyes, for her to die?

If there’s someone in the city worth trusting… perhaps Fontaine is it.

She could stop him. Delay him, perhaps.

Their eyes meet.

You better be worth it, old man.

She dives across the front of the seat to take control the steering wheel in the sleepy-eyed elder ghoul’s hands.

Louis: If she could hear his thoughts, they’d ring like a bullet off an old, battered police badge.

I’m not. But the city is. Or at least her saints are. They’re a dying breed. But even if they were a dime a dozen, they’d still be worth it.

And with that shared thought, his ghostly hand gives another sign. An old symbol to Jacques to remember his family’s oath. The real prize awaits. Lou cannot stay to see if Jacques understands or hearkens. He too will have to trust tonight.

And so, in a supernaturally fast series of movements, the old man stows the last of the documents, laptops, and USB sticks. He unlocks the door and exists the slowed but still moving SUV, falling into a roll that prioritizes protecting the pilfered cache versus sparing him pain. He eats the latter. Just like all the nights he’s served this city. He eats the pain and keeps moving.

Caroline watches the old gumshoe run down an alley, only to disappear behind a dirty plume of sewer-vented steam. And when it clears, the old man is gone.

So too is the car with the old man’s presumed allies, having long taken off during the spectral attack and mass diversion.

They are gone. Gone without saying goodbye, yet a little deader all the same.

GM: The sleepy-eyed ghoul is still alert enough to bat Caroline away as she tries to seize the steering wheel. He doesn’t say a word. Just continues driving.

He doesn’t have to say anything.

Just the look on his face for Caroline says enough.


Raw and bloody and hideous like a picked-at pustule.

Caroline: Like she hasn’t seen that before.

Trusting that she has a moment of privacy from the ghouls, Caroline tucks the phone Lou gave her into her bra and sends a text from her own.

Tonight. Location to follow.

GM: Affirmative, reads the answering response.

Caroline: She tucks the phone back away.

She’s put her trust in Lou. The die is cast.

She’ll see soon whether she was a fool or not.

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: ‘Kâmil’ drives for a while. Suburban houses give way to cityscape. It looks like they’re now in Mid-City, the Esplanade Ridge neighborhood. The other black SUV follows along behind.

Louis: Eventually, Caroline feels a buzz from the burner.

Caroline: She checks it, plugging in the 18-year password.

Louis: It’s a text—but one that seems to contain little save for a second ‘security measure’.

Who brought your chair to my office after it was renovated.

Even via text, the last word drips with sarcasm.

Caroline: If the situation weren’t so dire, she might laugh.

Carla, after she finished throwing out all your filth.

Louis: Although the gumshoe has taken only a handful of footsteps, Papa Legba’s gift has taken him far across the city. But the distillation of distance does nothing to dilate time. The latter is vanishing like the counting-down digits of a stop-clock. The old man wishes he had time to quip back about ‘one man’s trash being another man’s treasure’. But he doesn’t. Not tonight. Maybe not ever again.

Instead, his response to Caroline is a phone-sent photo.

The burner’s photo app isn’t the best. Far from it, actually. But even a casual glance can tell it’s one of Claire’s documents. The paper kind—the electronic ones would take far too long to crack. After all, it’s only been a few minutes since the gumshoe rolled out of her SUV.

But a casual if squint-worthy read of the document makes clear the document’s content. Dirt on the sheriff.

The next text interrupts her inspection.

There’s more.

Several pictures pop up on the phone, pictures of the two laptops, drives, and the physical files. In the background, she can make out what is clearly a school. Not a living one, but one of New Orleans’ zombic collection, a Katrina-ravaged affair left to rot and fall into ruin.

One picture has a paint-peeling montage of local city legends such as Satchmo, alongside a moldy, laminated poster that reads:

Watch your habits, they become character.

Caroline: Don’t get comfortable.

Louis: Been so long since I have, I can’t remember what that would even feel like.

He follows up that indulgent if true quip with an address.

1901 N. Galvez

Caroline: Keep the phone in the evidence you snagged. Smashing this one, she sends.

Sending friends ahead to meet you.

She forwards the images to her own phone.

GM: Incorporeal figures pour from the mouths of the three ghouls, then abruptly vanish. So too does what’s left of the fourth one on the floor.

It’s been a long time.

And she looks uglier than ever.

But Caroline can still recognize the face.

Caroline: Caroline takes that particular punch in the gut and rolls with it. She’d hoped the woman had gone on to whatever awaited her. But what awaits most of them, she has to admit, is probably none too pleasant.

Plus Turner was too pissed to die the right way.

She’s happier than ever for her mother’s influence that so violently ejected her. Caroline doesn’t imagine Turner had anything pleasant to say to her.

The Ventrue drops and steps on the tiny pink phone and steps on it while she waits for the ghouls to come to. Her gaze fixes on the casquette girl.

GM: Gisèlle’s head gorily explodes as the car’s window shatters under a bullet’s unmistakable crack. The corpse slumps forward off its seat.

Caroline: Caroline remembers, even early in her Requiem, the question that came up with uncomfortable frequency: could she react more quickly than a shooter? Could she stop a bullet? Could she throw herself in the way of Wright, for instance, if he took a shot at Aimee? Could she shove the co-ed out of the way or take the bullet herself?

Hindsight will tell her that given the amount of energy required to punch through Mr. Ferris’ armored vehicles, the round was moving at a fraction of the speed it started at. That in the open air there’s no way she’d be faster than the supersonic high velocity round that her people can explain cut through the window. The slow down that maybe, just maybe, let the animistic portion of her brain react to the sound of the shot, the sound of the shattering glass.

That will all come later.

For now, instinct bounces Gisèlle’s face off of Mr. Ferris’ headrest as Caroline herself violently dives for the floor, putting the significantly more armored doors between the two and any further fire.

Her voice cuts into the night. “Kâmil, drive!!”

She pulls the other woman down on top of her.

GM: Tires squeal as the car speeds. Ferris shouts something and dives for cover too.

But Caroline smells it before she even looks at it.

The blood.

Before she feels it.

The body’s limpness against her own.

Before she sees it.

The gory remains of a head, red blood and gray brains and white skull shards over black hair, messily spattered across the car’s floor.

The casquette girl is dead.

“We are returning to Perdido House, bayan!” shouts the other ghoul as the wheel spins in his hands.

Caroline: “No!”

He’s reacting, not thinking.

There is only one group that knew their location. Only one group that knew where they were going. That could set up an ambush with the resources available. One group that would take out the casquette girl first, over herself or the heavily armed men in front.

They killed Gisèlle with purpose. To blind them. To cut them off from the seneschal. To make the rest of their deaths an unfortunate cost of their current operation.

She knows who’s coming next, and she knows they’ll never make it to Perdido House.

“1901 N. Galvez, Kâmil! Or we’re all dead!”

She rolls over, the ghoul’s bloody corpse on top of her and digs out her phone rather than glance into the night to give the shooter another chance.

“They knew we were going to Perdidio House. They can’t let that happen. We won’t make it.”

Her fingers work over the phone, sending the address to her allies.

1901 N. Galvez. Tonight. As soon as possible. He’s coming.

She sends another to her sister.

Wake him now. The phone with him will have all the answers he needs.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, but you play the hand you are dealt.

GM: The response from Cécilia is immediate.

Ok. He’ll be there soon.

“It’s a setup! Exactly what they expect!” snarls the ex-CIA agent, already pulling out his own phone.

Caroline: “The sheriff,” Caroline snarls.

No one could make that shot, through the passenger window of a speeding vehicle. Through bulletproof glass. A head shot like that? Not humanly possible.

But then, he’s not human.

GM: Ferris pulls the casquette girl’s corpse over Caroline’s body as grisly cover. There’s not the faintest semblance of respect for the dead.

“We need to get off the road, ma’am! That shot won’t be the last!”

Caroline: “The school, Kâmil. 1901 N. Galvez. Drive like hell.”

She punches in the number for her phone to Mr. Congo.

GM: The Turkish ghoul hesitates for only a moment.

Then he drives.

“Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” greets the seneschal’s other ghoul.

Caroline: She doesn’t sugarcoat things.

“Mr. Congo, Gisèlle is dead and I may join her shortly.”

The screeching of tires in the night punctuates the comment.

“She was in contact with the seneschal when a sniper killed her.”

“They targeted her first because they knew she was in contact with him. The list of people that knew that as well as our current location is pitifully short.”

GM: There is a grave pause.

“The seneschal has already left Perdido House, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, on a matter of some urgency.”

Caroline: And perhaps wandering into a trap of his own.

“Can you contact the Hussar? This message must reach the prince. There’s a traitor in Perdido House. I have the evidence, but I can’t reach him and may not live to deliver it.”

GM: “Yes, madam. I will do so as soon as possible. What is your present location?”

Caroline: “We are en route to 1901 N. Galvez. If we can make it there, it is where we will make our stand.”

A pause.

“Mr. Congo, trust no one but the Hussar.”

“The traitor is Sheriff Donovan. It always has been.”

GM: “Grave findings, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I will attempt to dispatch aid to your location.”

Caroline: “The message is more important than my Requiem. Guard your life carefully. You may be the only one with this truth before the night is over.”

Another pause behind squealing tires.

“God go with you.”

GM: “God go with you as well, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I shall ensure your message is delivered to my domitor and the Hussar.”

Caroline: She lets the line go dead.

GM: Another ear-splitting crack sounds as glass shatters. Caroline can’t see the damage from her position on the floor, but she smells the unmistakable tang of blood over a wetly gurgled gasp.

Caroline: “Ferris?!” she demands, seeking an update.

She makes a decision in a heartbeat as she waits and sinks her fangs into the warm body atop her.

They’re all hurt. They’re all going to be hurt worse before this is done. And Gisèlle doesn’t need it anymore…

GM: “Notified the others to meet us there, ma’am!” he shouts.

“I… live, bayan,” rasps the Turk’s voice from the front seat.

The blood is odd. Most of it tastes like piss. Gisèlle was evidently not enrolled in college.

But there’s a strong undercurrent of something far headier. It’s quality seasoning on top of cheap food.

But to a starving man, even the latter by itself will do.

Caroline: It feels disrespectful, but there’s little room to worry about that now. The sheriff is coming to kill them all, and she expects that Gisèlle would offer up freely if it meant bringing down her killer.

She sucks down the blood as quickly as she can, all too aware of the other ghoul that may be bleeding out in the front seat. As it turns out, that’s quite quickly.

GM: There’s another shark crack through the glass. Caroline can smell the blood wafting from the front seat. Kâmil drives like mad. Caroline can only guess what state the elder ghoul is in, beyond ‘alive’ and ‘hurt.’

“We… are being… followed, bayan! More cars!” Kâmil gets out.

Caroline: Caroline shoves the empty body off of her and leans forward across the center console between Ferris and the elder ghoul. She holds a bleeding wrist before him.

“Drink, if you pass out and crash we’re dead.”

She takes the opportunity to look back at the pursuing vehicles.

GM: The ghoul is bleeding from his chest, but drinks thirstily from Caroline when she offers. The Ventrue sees several black cars that look much like her own.

With preternaturally fast reflexes, she whips her head out just in time for the next sniper’s bullet to demolish a chunk of nearby seat. It leaves an angry red trail from its graze along her head.

“Get down, ma’am! You’re the primary target!” calls Ferris.

Caroline: She lets the ghoul drink until she feels her hunger begin to cloud her thoughts, even as the last of her own wounds molt way.

Not quite the primary, her mind retorts. But she can’t deny she’s the most desirable one remaining.

Mind, also a rather hard target.

She can do something about that.

She offers the same bleeding wrist to Ferris with a, “You’ll need this,” even as she keeps her head moving. Looking, searching, for the next shot while she’s exposed.

She seizes a dark thread too at her heart and pours her emotions into it. Danger. Anxiety. Violence. Worry.

GM: The seat’s headrest explodes just after Caroline pulls her head away.

“Get down, ma’am!” Ferris yells after quickly imbibing.

Caroline: Two fewer rounds in Ferris and Kâmil are a win for her.

GM: She looks in the mirror.

The car with the other ghouls is nowhere in sight.

Caroline: Stopping will get them killed.

The others weren’t the target.

She grits her teeth.

Hopefully that’s enough.

“I’m a lot closer to bulletproof than you are!” she snaps at Ferris, more out of frustration than anger.

Fish in a barrel.

They’ve done everything right. Changed direction. Changed route. Varied speeds. They’ve prepared for this—bulletproof glass, tinted windows, multiple vehicles….

And yet all they can do now is to drive. Dodge. Run.

GM: The dark thread is answered by feelings of love. Warmth. Equally grave worry. Desire to help.

And, above all:

Willingness to endure.

Desire to endure. For her.

Where… are you…?

Caroline: Fighting… sheriff… wake… Raaid.

She’s grateful she’s already confirmed her sisters are safely within their mother’s embrace tonight.

GM: The connection dies with that final word—just as Kâmil pulls into the parking lot of an abandoned, decrepit school that looks as if it was wrecked by Katrina only yesterday. Caroline recognizes it from Lou’s images. Cars roar behind them as the school’s intercom system blares to life. An unfamiliar man’s voice starts directing “proper guests” down the hallway route inside.

Kâmil all but crashes the car as close to the school as possible. He gets the door for Caroline and leaps out in front of her, shielding the Ventrue with his much larger body.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t extend Kâmil’s time in the line of fire by arguing with him. Instead she races into the building, putting solid walls between them and their pursuers.

GM: Caroline’s velocitas-imbued blood proves a great boon yet again to her servants as Ferris blurs towards the building alongside her. Bullets whiz and crack past the trio. Kâmil staggers as he catches one in the thigh. It is perhaps a testament to the mighty ghoul’s endurance that it doesn’t blow off his limb wholesale.

Tires squeal as the black cars come to a stop. Figures pour out from the doors. Camilla Doriocourt’s cold and haughty face is among them, but Caroline can’t make out much more before they open fire, belching hot columns of lead after the swiftly retreating trio.

A bird of prey silently divebombs. Its form shifts in mid-flight, the avian features becoming those of a roaring puma. The great cat tackles Caroline to the ground, roaring, biting, and shredding her flesh before the Ventrue blurs away like lightning and delivers a savage kick to its flank. She staggers as another sniper’s bullet takes her in her hip. Kâmil and Ferris catch several more bullets before the group makes good their retreat into the building.

Caroline: Caroline looks at Ferris once they’re inside with a savage and blood-splattered snarl.

“Do it.”

GM: The bloodied, raggedy-bearded man doesn’t say a word in response. He just pulls out and hits the detonator.

Caroline: They’d talked about this early on—which isn’t to say long ago.

Really there were two arguments in favor. First, that it was highly probable that the vehicle might have significantly incriminating materials in it, and that they might have to abandon it. Her blood. Their blood. Another lick. Whatever it might be. Plenty of reasons the vehicle couldn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Second, more pointedly, Caroline had no interest in ever becoming someone’s prisoner. After Ferris’ experiences in the Middle East he wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.

Which is why wrapped around the giant SUV’s massive American gas tank is a sharped charge. Another reason Ferris always rode with her, given he held the detonator.

The time it takes for Ferris to draw out the detonator is enough—more than enough—to draw in the men, the ghouls, the vampires pursuing them, smelling their blood. Rushing in for the kill.

Caroline can’t see the explosion, but she can feel it through the building as the bomb goes off and turns two tons of steel into two tons of flaming shrapnel.

She just hopes someone, anyone, stopped to stick their head inside and look around the vehicle.

Plaster shakes around them and dust rains from crumbling ceiling tiles.

Because fuck them, that’s why.

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

Louis: A few miles away in the Seventh Ward, Lou receives Caroline’s last texted reply inside the rotted bowels of the century-old, now decade-abandoned Velena C. Jones Elementary. He looks outside, peering through a gunshot peephole in one of the school’s boarded-up windows. Across the street, the white steeple of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church points to the night-black heavens.

He’s chosen the abandoned school for a variety of strategic reasons, including its location, extant utility, labyrinthine interior, evacuation, and planned demolition. But it was ultimately the name of its neighbor that sealed the deal.

Mount Carmel.


The Vineyard of God.

In the days of the prophet Amos, Mount Carmel had become a haunt of criminals and sinners, a place where apostates, blasphemers, and infidels thought they were safely hid from God’s sight and wrath. But the Lord told Amos the truth: He could still see them, and His justice would not be denied.

Even more famously though, Mount Carmel was the renowned location of the epic showdown of Elijah versus the 850 priests of Baal to determine whose deity was the true god of Israel. That biblical battle involved bloody sacrifices, a deluge, and a great slaughter of the wicked by blade and fire. God’s fire. So much so that in Islam, the location became known as El-Muhraqa.

The Burning.

The Big Easy is a far cry from the Holy Land, but tonight, Lou prays that its Mount Carmel sees a similar miracle. The bloodletting sinners are coming. They, like those in Amos’ time, are confident in their safety from God’s sight and wrath. Lou, like, Elijah, is outnumbered. Outmanned. Outmatched.


Unless God hears his cry.

And so he prays. He pours out his heart like four large jars of water Elijah used to baptize his altar.

And so he prays. He pours out his heart like four large jars of water Elijah used to thrice baptize his altar. He prays for God to fulfill His promise made to Amos. To once more use His power to save Israel. Not that Israel deserves God’s mercy. Nor does Lou, after all. The gumshoe ghoul has no delusions that he’s a holy man like Elijah.

But he still prays. He still pours. Some of that pouring is with words. Others with tears.

He clutches Antonio’s humble cross between his hard-boiled fingers, and he pleads. Pleads that God might know his heart—and not hate him too much.

After all his centuries, despite all the darkness and sin and depravity, the old man still believes. He doesn’t need faith to know that devils are real; he’s been fighting them for centuries. Compared to those devils, saints are scarce. But Lou has met them. Loved them. And perhaps most piercingly, they have loved him back. And so Lou believes. He believes that God and His angels are real, and so too is the forgiveness that He offers.

Perhaps even to a half-damned sinner like Lou.

Not that Lou deserves it. At all. His hands are unclean, and the blood that runs through his veins is even uncleaner. But that’s it. No man deserves forgiveness. No man earned Christ hanging on the cross for him. No man is worthy of His blood. But the blood was still shed all the same.

So he confesses his sins. It takes a long time. His throat burns, and his face is drenched, but he keeps on praying. Pleading for God’s mercy. Like the red-robed woman shown to Longinus by the Angel Amoniel, the old man begs God for forgiveness, begs that Christ accept him, and vows that he will “drink no more of any blood save the Blood of Christ.”

Yet, when the old man finishes his prayer, no sky opens. No fire descends. No light receives him to Heaven.

But the old man still believes. Still dares to hope. He will wait for God to do His work.

In the meantime, he has his own to do.

Much of that work has already been done. For like Elijah of old, Lou has toiled long to prepare his ‘altar.’ However, Lou’s preparations do not involve twelve stones, cut wood, a trench, and a sacrificed ox.

Rather, the old man has made the defunct elementary school into a trap as deceptive as it’s deadly—at least to his foes, or so he hopes. Certain doors have been strategically locked and blocked by tipped over lockers. Others have been left unlocked. In certain places, drywall has been cutout and covered with classroom posters or rotting backpack cubbies to create secret passages. The effect is a maze within a maze.

Cafeteria supplies have been ransacked, with seemingly harmless if rancid flour and sugar packets spread across strategic corridors and thresholds. Such ‘spills’ blend seamlessly with the other detritus left behind by the schools’ former students, teachers, staff, and subsequent squatters. Rubbish and ruin is everywhere, giving the place a post-apocalyptical look that distracts the eyes with too many details and too many places to hide. At least for those unfamiliar with the ‘renovated’ school.

Further adding to the death-trap is its placements of burning candles. Enough rooms are completely bare of such Kindred-feared flames, but others are full of them. If you looked at each of these flame-lit rooms, which most vampires wouldn’t, you might even find a moldy birthday cake that had been left in the staff fridge, and repurposed with lit candles and ‘fresh’ strawberry jam icing that roughly spells out:


Less obvious—but far more lethal—are the school’s new supernatural defenses.

Blood-painted veves adorn the walls of multiple rooms, alongside Cainite and Voudun fetishes, some in rooms with flames, other without. In the locker-lined corridors and metal doors, spray-painted dogs mingle with older gang graffiti. There is magic here. Waiting like a web for flies.

And at its center sits Lou, an old spider.

Patient, but no less deadly.

Wednesday night, 23 March 2016, AM

GM: The silence in the explosion’s aftermath is literally deafening.

“Let us make haste, bayan,” says Kâmil, taking off down the hallway in a jog.

Ferris grunts and moves after him.

“Should buy us some time. This is a good place to set up an ambush.”

“Take a right at the end of the hall,” sounds the crackly intercom voice.

Caroline: Caroline follows the voice, burning away more blood as she goes against the gaping rents in her body.

If she had time to put the others back together, she would. But at some point she has to trust to their own abilities: they don’t have time to stop and ghouls are hard to kill.

GM: Not hard enough, in Gisèlle’s case.

The intercom voice continues to issue directions. It’s a large building. Ferris voices his suspicions. He isn’t sure they should play along—the old man who sent them here has already fucked them over once.

“Might be he decides to cut a deal with the sheriff, ma’am. Right now I’d give better odds to Donovan’s side than ours.”

Kâmil silently pounds the keys of a dumbphone as he runs.

“I am summoning aid, bayan, but I cannot say whether it shall arrive in time.”

Caroline: Caroline looks to the blood-splattered spy and the blood-soaked elder ghoul. She knows she’s covered in blood, brains, and worse. Her clothing charred away. They’re a pathetic sight.

“We started the night with seven, Roger. More than half are already dead or missing.”

She wipes blood off her face with the back of a sleeve and gives a grim smile. “If that’s what he decides, it’s all over but the crying. But I think the old man will play it square. He hates Donovan more than us.”

She digs out her phone to send another message, this time to Adler. He made his move. It’s happening now. 1901 N. Galvez. Either victor will appreciate your presence.

“Tell them to group up,” she advises Kâmil. “Anyone rushing in alone is going to get mowed down.”

Well, almost anyone. There’s still one hope that stirs something fierce in her breast, unlikely though it is.

Only twice before has she felt him through their blood—once at the trial, again at her reveal. Both times in anger, in hate. She’d felt his unbound fury such that the first time it overwhelmed her. She wonders if he’s ever felt the same from her. Felt a stirring in his blood at the dangers she has faced.

Surely he’d feel it now. She can almost feel her dead heart roaring in her chest. The odds stacked against them are… frightful, but it’s not fear she feels. It’s anger. It’s hate. The same hate she felt through him.

Traitor… Donovan… fighting…

Snakes in the garden.

She’ll kill them all.

GM: The first response she receives is a text on her phone. Not from Adler, but Westphal’s number.

Where are you and where is he?

Caroline: She looks down at it as they set off into the building, following behind Roger.

We just entered the building through the north entrance, on Miro St. He was right behind us—and brought friends.

She sends it out to Raaid (via the phone her sister should have supplied), Jocelyn, and the three Lasombra—the allies she’s arrayed for this battle.

Not that she intends on using Jocelyn in battle. No, she instead asks the Toreador to bring her a vessel. They’ll need one, and badly.

GM: All four of them, besides Lou.

All too few against the sheriff and the forces he might bring to bear.

Caroline: It’s not so bleak an accounting as she might have feared weeks ago.

Five vampires—each of them battle-tested, punching well above their weight and age. None of them individually may be a match for the sheriff, but none of them have reason to fear the others among his traitorous pact individually—save perhaps the bishop’s sire. None of hers have grown fat and soft. They’re all bloodied, tough, and battle-tested.

Two elder ghouls—Lou and Kâmil both. She knows well how fearsome both are individually. She has seen Lou cut down a vampire the match of any in the sheriff’s gang.

The parade of lesser ghouls each might bring to this battle—and the strength she can give them through both her blood and the frightful weapons the sheriff so inadvertently placed in her hand with his last assassination attempt.

Whatever strength Lou might bring to bear in this battle—she does not imagine he leaped into it blindly or alone. The centuries-old ghoul has a plan, an agenda. He’s laid his trap, and while she may be the bait used to spring it, she’d rather be the bait than the target of the cunning cruelty of the old man in a profession most die young in.

Then there is the crushing weight of time bearing down on the sheriff—not upon her. The longer this conflict goes on, the more chance another will intervene. Two specific others that leap readily to mind: sire and seneschal, the great pieces that might sweep the board before them clear.

And the cards in her hand she has yet to play, few though they are.

It’s far from hopeless—the strongest hand she could hope to play for this confrontation, barring her trump cards.

GM: That same hope looks as if it weighs upon the minds of both ghouls. Or at least Kâmil.

Just prolong this.

Just hold out.

“Right,” sounds the intercom again.

“Don’t like this,” growls Ferris.

“Whomever is here has anticipated this confrontation,” says Kâmil. “That gives me hope.”

But Caroline is the first to hear it. Distant crashes.

“Second classroom on the left, through the poster,” sounds the voice on the intercom.

The thump of footsteps, of many footsteps, echoes loudly off floors. The preternaturally sped ghouls burst from jogs into sprints as gunfire explodes behind them, shredding apart drywall and blowing chunks in floors and paneled ceilings. Ferris swears profusely and stumbles. Caroline smells the fresh of aroma of blood. Kâmil seizes the other ghoul, slings him over his shoulder, and takes off in a blur with the Ventrue for the second door on the left. The dusty classroom inside is completely trashed, but there’s still a moldering poster of a cat hanging onto a tree with the caption ‘hang in there’. Gunfire continues to echo as Kâmil shoves aside a turned-over desk and peels away the poster, revealing a crudely excavated hole in the drywall that one must crawl to enter through. The ghoul regards it approvingly as he waits for Caroline and Ferris to get through first, then crawls after them, doing his best to right the desk and poster after he’s through.

“I fear this may do little more than delay the sheriff, but in delay too is hope,” he murmurs.

Caroline: “I knew this night was coming,” Caroline agrees, shoving a desk in front of the hole as soon as the elder ghoul clears it.

“We will not face him alone, even here.”

GM: “Alone’s best. If it were me, I’d let him break his strength against us and any booby traps, then swoop in for the mop-up after we’re dead,” Ferris blackly observes. The ghoul is pale-faced and sweating as he pushes several bullets out of his bleeding legs, regenerating the chewed flesh.

Caroline: “That’s why you make certain most of your ‘allies’ value you more alive than dead,” Caroline answers wryly.

“I don’t trust anyone else Lou brought farther than I can throw them, but I’m not relying on him alone.”

GM: “Right, left hole, then third door on the right,” says Kâmil, holding up a note on the floor as he takes off in a jog. “Our ‘allies’ are prudent not to use the intercom alone.”

“Fuller and Green haven’t gotten back to me,” says Ferris as he takes off in a jog. “Or the others. Would assume they’re compromised or dead.”

“Chandler and Graves are making their way over.”

Caroline: Caroline grimaces. She doesn’t like Fuller and Autumn’s odds against the forces that were pursuing them, if even a fraction broke off to finish them off, and she’s missing Ericson’s blade tonight—exactly as the sheriff had intended when he named her.

“Widney had other directions that are likely consuming her attention tonight,” the Ventrue offers.

The administratively focused ghoul was the most ready attaché she could attach to her Lasombra allies—the one least missed in the safehouse raid and fighting. She’s hopeful that will pay dividends tonight—her charred clothing and lack of weapons leave her feeling distinctively naked in the moment.

GM: If Ericson’s blade could even be counted on. The mother of two was not eager to risk her life again in Caroline’s service after the clash with Meadows. The Olympic athlete had never actually fought to kill someone before.

Perhaps some hidden blessing that the sheriff didn’t know that.

“Or she’s been taken out or compromised too,” says Ferris as he stoops through the next hole in the wall.

Caroline: Caroline gives a bloody grin. “Your cynicism is inspiring, Roger.”

She wishes she could have shared more with him—about her ties to the newly-arrived Lasombra and other countermeasures she has in place—but there were some secrets she’s kept very close to the vest. At least until Donovan was removed, and especially after learning about the brazen invasion of Adler’s mind.

GM: The next few harrowing minutes can only be described as navigating a maze—one of musty corridors and derelict classrooms filled with concealed drywall holes and secret passageways, all of them ensconced amidst squalor, detritus, and filth. Sometimes the voice over the intercom tells them where to go. Sometimes there are notes left on the floor. That measure is clearly intended to throw off pursuers—anyone who followed the intercom’s directions without also following the ones on the notes would be hopelessly misdirected. All throughout the Katrina-ravaged school, rancid flour and sugar is spilled across floors and doorways at random points. In other locales, tiny pinpricks of fire wheedle at Caroline’s badly aggravated and on edge Beast.

For there is another source making it whine and snarl.


Sometimes the noises of many, many footsteps behind them die off. Sometimes they start again. Sometimes there are tremendous crashes and explosion-like booms as Caroline’s hunters rip and tear and brute force their way through the maze-like school. Caroline isn’t sure how he’s following them. Sorcery. Preternatural senses. Simple if uncanny powers of deduction. Other methods. Perhaps several of them, or all of them. Like with Claire’s security, like with any security system, the most Lou’s precautions and defenses can hope to accomplish against a truly committed force is delay and resource taxation. Caroline’s foe has committed himself to this gamble and cannot back out now. Not without risking all coming to ruin.

So the Ventrue and her ghouls run, the hounds almost literally nipping at their heels—and finally duck through another drywall hole and emerge inside the gymnasium.

But Lou’s countermeasures have succeeded in one of their purposes.


Mahmoud, Westphal, and Cimpreon are gathered there. Of Raaid, Caroline sees no sign. Barricades close off the entrances. Around half a dozen ghouls with shotguns, assault rifles, swords, molotov cocktails, and—most deadly—Raaid’s several rocket launchers are lined up in rows at the top of the bleachers, the highest ground available, behind more barricades. Shadowy presences with vaguely demonic features lurk in the room’s darkest corners, their presences radiating malice and hate. None of the ghouls look eager to stand any closer to them.

Caroline: It’s a sight that brings a genuine smile to the Ventrue’s soot-, drywall dust-, and blood-stained face.

Not seeing Raaid doesn’t immediately concern her—he had further to come—and might be present all the same.

She observes with satisfaction that the Lasombra have set up a textbook L-shaped ambush. The ghouls can pour heavy weapons fire—to say nothing of actual fire—into the forces advancing through the double doors. It will be a killing field for any ghouls with Donovan’s party, and one that will bleed its vampires as well. She’d noticed the distinct lack of cover in the hall leading into the gym.

Any attackers that make it into the gym itself can be contained by Caroline, the Lasombra, and Kâmil—a ‘security’ force that will hold either side of the entrance to prevent breakouts—to allow the shooters to continue to pour fire into the kill zone as long as possible to maximum effect.

With the Molotovs and rockets there’s the hope, too, of spreading fire in the hall—sowing chaos in the vampires pursuing them—and if the ghouls can place the fire only in the hall, at least to start, it may allow the defenders to avoid its effects.

If they can set them into flight through the school, she has little doubt it’ll prove a death trap for them—full of traps designed specifically to catch, destroy, or incapacitate frenzying vampires.

Against almost any other force she could imagine arrayed against them, it’d be a slaughter.

But against the sheriff she knows it’s not enough. Knows it in her bones. She remembers well her duel with the Hussar, the gap in skill, in strength, in brutality. She expects the sheriff will prove all the more frightful—none of them can stand against him if he comes through the doors.

Too, there’s sorcery aplenty on the other side—perhaps enough to control the fires, to raise barriers, to shape this battle.

Their initial strike will maul the sheriff’s party badly. If they’re lucky, it’ll torpor or destroy vampires and kill most of their ghouls. But it won’t be enough. The sheriff and his remaining Kindred supporters will carve through them.

She hopes this isn’t what Lou has in mind.

The absence of other figures concern her as well. Jocelyn was supposed to arrive with a vessel. It shouldn’t be a surprise that there was an answer in place to remove her from the board—she’s been one of Caroline’s most well known ‘supporters’, but it still stings—and justifies her decision to drain the slain casquette girl.

She doesn’t let the concerns show on her face as she approaches the Lasombra.

“I’m glad you could make it. Sorry about the late notice—he decided to start the party early.”

GM: “His funeral, and my payday,” sneers Westphal.

“I been waitin’ a long time for this,” smiles Cimpreon.

“But he ain’t gonna go down easy, even with this setup, if he’s brought friends.”

Caroline: “He did.”

Caroline briefly elaborates on those she saw.

“They’re not far behind us—but I’m expecting additional company still.”

She looks into the openness of the gym.

“You hear me, old man?”

GM: Ferris and Kâmil, meanwhile, move amidst the other ghouls to procure extra weapons. Both of Caroline’s protectors (though just as often this evening, protectees) already bear sidearms, but Kâmil gladly avails himself of a proper sword. The group’s hasty flight from their vehicle forced him to abandon the blade he’d stored there. Ferris accepts a heavier submachine gun. As weakened as individual bullets might be against the undead, massed automatic weaponsfire is no laughing matter even to them.

No response from the old hunter answers Caroline.

“You look like shit,” says Mahmoud.

“What forces did you see and what backup can we expect?” Westphal asks crisply.

“Do zhey haf any sorcerers?” asks Mahmoud. Faintly contemptuously. It’s clear who she considers the real threats.

Caroline: “At least two sorcerers of equal or superior skill,” Caroline offers Mahmoud as she breaks open the trunk she’d left with the Lasombra for tonight and peels offs the tattered and charred remains of her clothing.

“And at least one other Kindred—a shapeshifter. Multiple ghouls. Maybe more. I counted at least three vehicles total. Minus whatever losses they took here.”

She belts on a sword and dagger, then loosens the sword in it scabbard.

“I’d expect four or five Kindred, plus Donovan, and call it an even dozen ghouls.”

GM: “Donovan… Doriocourt, Agnello, Wright,” counts off Cimpreon. “Who’s our other pals?”

He regards Caroline appreciatively as she changes.

Caroline: She raises an eyebrow at the Lasombra as she pulls a fresh long-sleeved turtleneck on, then shimmies into pants.

“Kâmil has a couple centuries in the blood.” She gestures towards him to as she pulls a hand through a sleeve. “I had a casquette girl, but she was their first target. Most of my other ghouls are dead or missing, but I’ve got half a dozen kine that can use an automatic weapon on the way.”

“We’ve got a Banu Haqim with what I’d wager is about a century as well.”

“The old man—ghoul—and whoever else he’s brought to the party. I’d stack him even against anyone but Donovan, and he has friends.”

She gives a savage grin.

“And the prince knows.”

GM: “Damn, they plugged a caskie?” Cimpreon lets out a whistle. “These guys really want you dead.”

Caroline: “Me more than anyone in the city,” Caroline answers with another grin as she fits a gorget under the turtleneck.

“But don’t get any ideas, love. If I don’t walk out of here, the prince will kill everyone involved, and probably everyone they’ve ever known. But just as surely, the rewards for those that survive standing with me will be just as large.”

GM: “That’s precisely what I was counting on,” says Westphal with a thin smile.

“Though I’m sure there’ll be a story for your final death, if they manage to pull that off. I doubt that Donovan or anyone on his team is as smart as me, of course, but I’ll give someone who’s wound up sheriff some credit. He has to know how the prince thinks to get and hold the job.”

“Yeah, and doubt they’re as modest, either,” Cimpreon smirks at the off-hand boast.

Caroline: There was no winning if they weren’t all brought in. She couldn’t spend this fight wondering if a knife in the back is coming, if someone offered Westphal a better deal, or if they’ll turn if things look grim. Even if there’s an immediate cost.

“Maybe with any other lick in the city it could be an unfortunate accident in the broader fight,” Caroline answers. “But I have a rather direct line to him, and my message my sire to was unequivocal.”

GM: “Good, we’ll cause a broplem efen if we lose,” says Mahmoud. “One last ‘fuck you.’”

“I have no plans on losing,” sneers Westphal.

“How long do you estimate we have and what further preparations would be most efficacious?”

Caroline: “Minutes at best, probably less,” she answers, pulling on a tailored Kevlar arming coat and buttoning it tightly at one wrist and at the throat, leaving the other wrist loose for now.

Whether it’ll stop any of the higher-caliber bullets being used tonight is an open question. She doubts it. Similarly, she doesn’t expect it to hold up to any weapon wielded with inhuman strength or speed. What it does offer is a significant degree of protection against that most feared of banes, fire. She can’t imagine a stake surviving impact against the small titanium plate sown into the back over her heart, either.

She looks at the ghouls. “Pull the least effective shooter off and give him a fire extinguisher. Hold the shadow beasts back around the ghouls to intercept anything that gets past us.”

Caroline brings her exposed wrist to her fangs and draws blood. “Who else is getting fast?”

GM: “Someone get a container,” calls Westphal. “All three of us, and whatever else you have to spare for the half-bloods.”

One of the Lasombra’s ghouls produces one and approaches.

“Lot of security contractors going to be dead after tonight, I expect,” he observes.

“Inconvenient. The market here can’t be anywhere nearly as good as Saudi Arabia’s.”

Caroline: “If each of you hit me back we can make it go further,” she suggests.

GM: Westphal empties the ghoul’s water bottle. The three Kindred drink their fill after Caroline bleeds herself, then bleed themselves and pass it back.

“Zhe Apyssal entities work best swarming enemies,” says Mahmoud. “Zhey hate life and lofe killing, and I don’t care if zhey die. Zhere’s always more to call up.” She smirks faintly at Westphal. “Unlike your mercenaries.”

Caroline: “You know better than I do—but they’d make ideal catchers for those that make it out of the kill zone, because while they’re fighting the ghouls don’t have to worry about where their bullets and Molotov’s go.”

She checks her phone as she swigs down the other Kindred’s vitae.

GM: It tastes dark and hard and smoldering with ambition. There’s a refined flavor to it, even a nobility of sorts, but it’s… got a more direct kick to it, Caroline can only say, than the vitae of her own clan.

“Pullets won’t do much to zhem, put as creatures off incarnate darkness zhey’re still hurt py fire.”

Caroline: “That makes all of us.”

GM: Two of the ghouls, one of Cimpreon’s gangsters and one of Westphal’s security contractors, imbibe from the water bottle after Caroline bleeds herself.

Caroline’s phone has one new message.

Adler still has not responded, but there is a text from Jocelyn:

Hey I’m here with the juicebag where are you

Caroline: She bites back a curse.

Jocelyn’s timing isn’t actually the worst, but it’s not great either. Too late to sneak in with the Lasombra, too early to help with cleanup, and just in time to cause a problem with Lou and any hunter friends he brought.

Running late here. Can you park a street over? I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done.

GM: No I don’t want to wait around

I’m already being your maid bringing over food on demand

Caroline: Petulant child.

Her patience for the Toreador is at an all-time low amid a fight for her life against the sheriff.

Do not approach the building, Jocelyn. Things are about to get very violent. I’ll let you know when it’s safe.

She swaps to texting Cécilia.

I may need you again tonight, she sends, feeling guilty even as she taps out the words. I may need everyone. Things not going as planned—he made his move early. Things are about to get bad.

She hates the idea of shifting her pain to her sisters, hates to even ask. But the alternative may be dying on them—and she knows that would hurt them in more than one way more.

It easier, in some ways, when she was the only one she was going to hurt if she failed.

GM: Too late I’m doing it, Jocelyn texts back.

Fuck you ordering me around when I’m already doing you a favor

A moment later:

I’m inside now :)

The smiley face feels more than a little passive-aggressive.

Caroline: She stops responding to the Toreador, looking up to the Lasombra and her ghouls. “Any word, Kâmil?”

GM: “Aid is en route to our location, bayan,” he responds. “I am told the seneschal has already taken some portion of the covenant’s strength with him upon another errand, however. And with the Guard de Ville accounted for, our prince’s remaining forces are now spread thin between two fronts.”

“Good time for Savoy or the B-man to make a move,” Cimpreon observes.

“If they know the prince is so besought,” muses Westphal.

Ok. We’ll be here for you, Cécilia texts back. Thanks for the heads up.

Actually I’m gonna try the gym, texts Jocelyn.

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs, thinking of a certain other Toreador.

“I laid a false trail with Savoy’s side, but if we succeed tonight obviously there’s going to be a pretty large red flag going up for Savoy pretty immediately. We need to be ready to dip as soon as the sheriff goes down for good. And if the seneschal is gone with additional forces as is, pretty good odds whatever have left is going to divert to counter their thrust.”

She looks at Westphal, then the other Lasombra.

“Obviously that goes beyond our deal, and assumes a lot of things, so we can cross that bridge when we get there.”

GM: Already thought of a couple ways you can pay me back, hint hint ;) texts Jocelyn.

Caroline: “I’ve got a friend coming in,” she adds for the other licks.

GM: “More the merrier,” smirks Cimpreon.

“What would I do if I were Savoy and felt my childe die?” considers Westphal. “An attack on Perdido House is probably too risky, without clearer intelligence and advance planning. But I’d hit secondary targets, knowing there’s going to be a delayed and/or less effectual Hardliner response with their most effective field agent out of commission.”

“Yes, zhat’s fucking great and all, put right now I care a lot more apout zhis pattle,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Eyes on the prize, not on the horizon.”

GM: Westphal shrugs. “We’ve made as many preparations as we can. There’s little else to do now except wait.”

“If I lose enough of my people, I may let you and your sire off the hook for some of your promises in return for that CIA agent of yours,” says the Lasombra. “If he survives tonight.”

Westphal had already offered to buy Ferris from Caroline. The man’s background in the Middle East very much drew his interest.

Caroline: Caroline grins. “It’s possible we could find some manner of agreement about his future, assuming all of us survive tonight.”

She imagines her suggestion is less than aligned with Westphal’s own ideas.

“If I die and he doesn’t tonight, feel free to extend your job offer—I expect you’ll both be looking for a speedy departure from the city.”

GM: “You hear that, ghoul? You have a backup option,” smirks Westphal.

“Glad for it, sir,” answers Ferris. “I’d rather not be left high and dry if she dies tonight and I don’t.”

There’s a banging against the gym doors.


Caroline: Caroline’s grin becomes a smile at Ferris’ diplomatic answer.

Both fade with the banging at the doors.

Jocelyn is no fighter. It’s possible that the sheriff made no accounting for her when he accounted for so many of her ghouls and allies.

It’s possible, but that doesn’t mean she thinks it likely. If she’d been on the other side, Caroline would have had forces outside to account for late arriving forces—to pick off everyone they could.

Jocelyn sauntering up doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t smell right.

She approaches the door. “Be ready,” she murmurs to those around the doors, indicating they should not remove the barricades just yet.

Instead she calls on the blood, on the connection between her blood and Jocelyn’s, the Toreador completely in her thrall, to bend her will and ask the question with the Beast’s voice.

“Are there other Kindred with you?”

GM: “No,” Jocelyn answers in a sleepy voice.

Caroline: “Did you meet other Kindred or ghouls on your way in?” she persists.

GM: “No,” she answers again.

GM: Cimpreon frowns. “If you don’t trust her, I say leave her out for the De Villes.”

“What value does she bring to our force?” asks Westphal.

“Not a strong will, zhat’s opvious,” remarks Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Let her in,” Caroline answers.

There’s a risk here, but she’s mitigated the worst of it if Jocelyn hasn’t seen or interacted with other Kindred, and doesn’t present a Trojan horse for them in that way.

GM: Westphal motions. Two of the ghouls climb down the bleachers and move aside the barricades. Jocelyn’s standing outside, casually dressed in jeans, raincoat, and backpack. Meg is there too, similarly dressed. Both of them are half-carrying a half-conscious-looking man around college age. He’s dark skinned and dressed in jeans and a hoodie.

“Finally,” Jocelyn mutters, letting go of the man shoving him off towards the ghouls. They catch him before he hits the ground. Meg gives a squeak.

Jocelyn takes off her wet coat and shoves it into the ghouls’ hands, then smiles, straddles up to Caroline, and wraps her arms around the Ventrue. She plants a kiss on her lover’s lips.

“Seeee, wasn’t dangerous at all.”

She looks over the three Lasombra. Her gaze passes off Mahmoud and Westphal, but settles on Cimpreon.

“You’re cute. I like the suit and tats. You wanna fuck my carmilla here with me?”

Cimpreon looks amused.

“Maybe after this is all over. Killing always gets me worked up for fucking.”

“Somehow I’m guessing Toreador,” Westphal sneers to Mahmoud, who rolls her eyes.

The ghouls hand Jocelyn’s coat to Meg and lay down the man. They close the doors and start re-assembling the barricade.

Caroline: Caroline slides out of Jocelyn’s embrace.

“The sheriff is coming, Jocelyn. And we’re going to kill him.”

GM: “Uh, wait, what?”

“You eating him?” asks Cimpreon, nodding towards the man.

Caroline: She gestures across the room for Jocelyn, to the rows of heavily armed men and ghouls. To Kâmil and Ferris.

“I didn’t wave you off for giggles.”

She turns to Cimpreon. “That was the idea—either before or after. Didn’t expect that I’d show up as full as I did after my earlier activities.”

GM: “Uh, you have a death wish, or just some other reason you wanna pick a fight with the De Villes?” says Jocelyn.

“Well if you’re not going to eat him now, I will. I sbent some plood calling up zhe Apyssal peasts,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: She nods to Mahmoud. “Split him if necessary—we’re all going to need it. Alternatively, I could use the blood to speed up all the remaining ghouls.”

She turns to Jocelyn. “He’s a traitor. He tried to kill me—three times.”

GM: “Okay, this is completely nuts. You should leave,” says Jocelyn.

“Fuck ’em,” says Cimpreon, and sinks his fangs into the man.

He drinks for a bit, then stops and licks his lips. “Mm. Funny flavor.” He hefts the man up by his shirt and casually throws him across the gym. He lands at Caroline’s feet with a crash.

“Drink up, ladies.”

Caroline: “Funny how?” Caroline asks, planting a foot in his chest to stop the others.

GM: “Relaxed, I guess.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Maybe better to wait, then, if there’s anything unusual.”

“And I don’t know that our other associates would appreciate us killing him.”

GM: “Squeamish?” Westphal sneers.

“So far I’ve seen a fat lot from these associates beyond an intercom voice. This feels like us being used to do someone else’s dirty work.”

Caroline: “Wouldn’t have been able to group up without their prep—you didn’t see that the rest of the school is a deathtrap and maze.” She licks her lips.

GM: “No, we saw,” says Mahmoud. “Zhere’s wardings on zhese walls. And zhe ceiling.”

“No effect on anyzhing coming in. Going out’s bropably anozher matter.”

“Dirty work,” repeats Westphal.

Cimpreon abruptly collapses to his feet.

“Wha’… the…” he slurs.

“Don’t move,” Westphal snarls at Jocelyn, who halts in mid-step.

“What the fuck!” she exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression twists into anger as she rounds on Jocelyn. “Where’d you get the vessel, Jocelyn?”

“Mahmoud, is there anything you can do for him?” she asks.

GM: “Fuck you! Tell short stack here to let me-”

“Freeze,” Westphal hisses next at Meg.

The ghoul cowers in place.

Mahmoud stares daggers at Jocelyn. “No, I’m not a fucking healer. Who wants to kill zhis cunt?”

Kâmil draws close to Caroline, hand on his weapon. The other ghouls instantly move into positions of readiness.

Caroline: “Toss the backpack through one of the windows,” she tells Kâmil.

She turns back to Jocelyn.

“One job, and you fucked it up.”

GM: Caroline’s order is exactly when the pack explodes.

The sound is beyond deafening, shredding ears as surely as the shrapnel shreds their bodies. The concussive shockwave rocks everyone off their feet, but deadlier still is the fire as the room turns into an inferno. Napalm burns and clings to everything through the cloud of dust. Caroline can only guess how many explosives were crammed into the backpack.

She can guess, because her screaming Beast does not claim her as the others burn and suffer and scream and succumb to frenzy. The Ventrue is there one second, right by the backpack. The next she’s gone, seemingly teleported across space if not time. Did she merely run at incredible speed, dodging shrapnel, napalm, dust—solid, liquid, gas—alike? Did she soar through the air, unbound by laws of gravity, like unto the sheriff and seneschal? There is no witness quick-eyed enough to say. They can but observe that the prince’s childe is now perched atop one of the back-most bleachers, pale flesh hale, clothes intact, even her hair scarcely disturbed.

Caroline: Too slow.

She knows it before the words leave her mouth.

Whether they’re listening in with a bug on Jocelyn, some discipline, or sorcery, she knows what’ll happen the second the words leave her mouth—and she knows exactly how devastating it’ll be.

Too slow, and bringing Jocelyn in at all was her decision, her fault.

The others can’t say afterwards exactly what happened—even with her blood in their veins, she doesn’t so much move as simply teleport to their eyes—one second standing beside Jocelyn, the next stumbling away, having flung the Toreador’s bag with all the speed and strength that is her vampiric deathright.

She narrowly avoids an outright fall only with the same inhuman speed and grace that lets her catch herself mid-fall with half a dozen lightning-fast steps to regain her balance.

GM: The backpack explodes.

That still happens.

Shrapnel flies everywhere. Fire blossoms as napalm flies everywhere, riding the cloud of dust. The shockwave sends people staggering and stumbling—those too slow or unawares (or held frozen by the sanguine voice) to throw themselves on the ground for cover. The sound leaves even Caroline’s dead ears ringing, and she cannot imagine how much worse it is for the living. The floor is completely wrecked and gutted. Groans rock through the structure. Rubble and dust fall from the ceiling.

But where it happens is another matter.

It happens, instead, at the far opposite corner of the gym. Kâmil, Jocelyn, Meg, Westphal, Cimpreon, and the motionless man are caught at the outer edge of the blast, rather than ground zero. Flames cling and burn to clothes. Blood wells from abrasions. The vampires howl their rage as Kâmil throws them to the floor and stamps on them to put out fires. The other ghouls leap down from the bleachers with fire extinguishers. But no one looks too badly hurt. No one looks dead—or looks like an unrecognizable mess of charred and scattered bits of meat.

“Put a round in her fucking head!” Westphal screams at his ghouls, his face livid.

Caroline: Caroline draws a stake out of her belt and drives it into Jocelyn’s breast.

GM: Even as wood pierces the heart of Caroline’s already paralyzed lover, the Lasombra’s servants have little chance to obey.

A rumble doesn’t build—it’s been building, hardly perceptible over the explosive detonation, but audible now to Caroline’s sensitive ears. The thump of onrushing feet. Many feet.

Then the window above the bleachers shatters.

Outside, rain and wind howl. Glass spills like falling tears as rainwater whips inside—

And Caroline’s foe comes forth.

He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.

He’s dressed for war, too, beneath his coat, in full Kevlar body armor. Does he even need it? It’s some protection against fire, Caroline knows. He’s armed to the teeth. A heavy-looking sniper rifle is strapped across his back—surely the weapon that slew Gisèlle—along with an M16A4, that 20-lb monster of a gun most soldiers fire either prone or mounted, and an AK-47. Hardware enough to weigh down a lesser man. Sword and machete hang from his hip. Bandoliers of ammunition crisscross his chest. His coat pockets are full with what can only be further devices and instruments of destruction.

There is no mistaking the mission of this black-garbed templar.

There is no mistaking what lurks in his inscrutable, storm-colored eyes, those empty eyes that chillingly pierce through to the very soul, and threaten to make them as empty as their possessor. The thing that lurks in those icy eyes is same thing that has stared at Caroline since she first saw the sheriff in Perdido House, what feels like a lifetime ago.

It was always there.

She always knew it was there.

The seneschal delayed it for as long as he could. Kept her ignorant of her heritage. Kept him ignorant of her heritage. Gave her time to grow from a frightened and ignorant fledgling into the prince’s rightful childe and heir. Gave her time to grow into something that could meet this nemesis—and perhaps cannot, if the forces she has assembled tonight are inadequate. But Philip Maldonato can shield her from her destiny no longer. Can delay this confrontation no longer. The seneschal is so conveniently occupied tonight upon another “matter of urgency,” and the would-be usurper who surely lusts for her sire’s throne is here. Here to remove this threat to his ascendancy, once and for all. Before her sire can spirit her away. Before her strength can further wax. Late is his coming—doubtlessly he wishes he had done this long ago (and was it truly so long ago?) in Perdido House, when she was a babe in the night and would have been helpless to withstand him. He, too, can delay this confrontation no further. He sought to preempt it with Raaid, she suspects. Do the deed without dirtying his own hands. But the assassin’s mission failed and now he must handle the job himself.

She is out of time.

He is out of time.

Her doom, that archaic word for ‘destiny’ that now carries such sinister connotations, has arrived upon dark wings amidst a miserable and storm-lashed night. The nameless and dreadful thing lurking in the sheriff’s empty eyes has come forth. That thing she glimpsed a terrible preview of, when she met his gaze in Perdido House, and all masks and lies were finally stripped away from them both.


Caroline VII, Chapter XXIII
Into the Fire

“Defense just lets you lose more slowly.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline draws heavily upon her ghouls to find a lead on Claire’s safehouse, especially when Ferris relates that he cannot directly tie Donovan to any of their murders. She proposes a solution of her own, trying to catch a break.

As Claire’s stepdaughter, it’s no great challenge to acquire a copy of her death certificate. She turns that, her legal knowledge, and the tech savvy of Ferris’ team to the matter of Claire’s missing phone.

She has no doubt the phone is encrypted. She has no doubt she’ll never see it again. It also doesn’t matter: with the death certificate in hand (and perhaps a few hundred dollars) they’re able to convince a worker to clone Claire’s last backup—either via the cloud or from the last time she upgraded her phone—onto a new phone. A new phone without the same security features.

It’s not even something uncouth: the frequent death of individuals with their passwords going to ground with them has made the business of providing access to accounts after death a common matter for tech companies.

There are certain things the phone doesn’t have: access to all of Claire’s more sensitive documents or accounts hidden behind their own passwords, for one. But it does have access to a few items of note, most notably an application she once made Caroline download for herself. An application that ran in the background on Claire’s own phone thereafter.

Find my phone.

Complete with data on where the senator’s wife spent the last month of her life.

Caroline doesn’t expect that Claire was so foolish as to bring the phone into her ‘safehouse’ but she also knows that she couldn’t be away from it for long.

No, she had to leave it stashed nearby—in a car perhaps. And that, combined with Ferris’ knowledge of her routine, is far more than just a start.

Caroline has them pull additional resources to narrow things down: various satellite and local mapping sites available publicly are updated irregularly, but the brief time investment to look over the last several clips from various locations rules out some, and more importantly might give them a break: the right car parked on the street, the right flash of color as a blonde goes by at the same time as the mapping vehicles.

GM: Ferris’ people already had a lead via the bug transmitter in Luke’s apartment, and were working that, but the ex-CIA agent directs them to follow up on the phone’s lead as well. Several nights later, he has an address for Caroline in Gentilly. It’s a middle-class suburb northeast of the CBD. Satellite imagery shows Claire’s safehouse to be an unremarkable-looking single-family house, invisible amidst its many neighbors.

Caroline: Harrington and Graves keep the building under surveillance through the day.

The early following night, Caroline packs Ferris, Fuller, Autumn, and Goodman into two vehicles alongside herself, the two elder ghouls, and a fair amount of equipment related to breaking and entering.

She articulates two concerns to Ferris, seeking his concurrence or input.

First, that the building is almost certainly conventionally booby trapped.

Second, that those booby traps are likely aligned against supernatural beings specifically.

Her intentions are to push Goodman forward first, with herself, the casquette girl, and Ferris behind him, in that order. Autumn and Fuller will follow behind them, while Kami will ensure the perimeter is not disturbed.

Autumn and Fuller will be responsible for bagging anything they encounter as quickly as possible for removal—she thinks it likely that her mother’s choice of trap would be set on a delay and/or designed to destroy any evidence within.

She judges Goodman the least likely to set off any supernatural traps, herself and the casquette girl the most likely to notice them or others in time to react, and Ferris’ familiarity with Claire’s method to be vitally important.

If Mahmoud is in town, Caroline inquires as to her ability at foretelling, if any. If she answers in the affirmative with regard to such abilities, Caroline offers her a debt to meet them on site and provide short term insights.

If not, she and her ghouls proceed alone.

GM: Mahmoud is not in town.

Ferris concurs the site likely has mundane and supernatural defenses. There’s no reason not to give it any. Especially without any guards.

He agrees that traps to destroy evidence would accomplish an objective just as important (if not more so) as killing any intruders. Not to mention, it’s easier to rig a trap to destroy some hard drives or paper files than it is to kill a vampire.

Caroline: If Ferris has no further inputs, she has them move forward.

To their advantage, she judges that an especially complex system is unlikely—mystically, it’s likely to have been too power-consumptive, and conventionally difficult to install and likely to attract attention.

Beyond the obvious, she’s leaning heavily upon her own broad and deep knowledge of Claire personally, and Ferris’ specific knowledge of her stepmother’s operating pattern as a hunter.

Her inclinations, her pattern of thought, her habits, the things that would constrain her action.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

GM: Ferris helps as he can. He and Autumn both identify some concealed cameras and sensor alarms—“almost certainly not infrared,” both ghouls observe. Claire would obviously want ones to detect vampires.

Goodman wonders why not infrared—“it’s the most available on the market”—but Ferris brushes him off. Goodman seems fine with that and comes on to a somewhat annoyed-looking Autumn.

“I don’t see your stepmother sharing this place’s location with anyone, though, or wanting any alarms that summon a police response,” Ferris muses as he ignores the two, “so fat lot of help they can summon with her dead.”

“Unless third parties already await us inside,” Kâmil observes. “Your stepmother’s secrets could be a useful bait to draw out those who meant harm to her and her allies.”

Ferris considers that. “Not impossible. But if Claire’s friends are in that house, then her files are already gone.”

GM: Kâmil nods. “Leaving any third parties waiting in ambush our best lead to recover Mrs. Malveaux’s files—or in absence of any third parties, then any trace they have left behind. Gisèlle’s abilities may prove useful in discerning their identities.”

Caroline: The heiress nods, “I think it more likely they would have destroyed this place, than risked it, unless they were fanatics.”

“Typically those raiding a place like this are foot soldiers, expendable types, not the fish they’re after.”

More than summoning help, Caroline is afraid that the safehouse will have a self destruct system of some kind. That would be a problem for a variety of reasons.

“I want everything photographed before it’s moved, and each room photographed as we enter.” This place is a treasure drove—any minor detail they can recover if something goes wrong is worth the effort.

“You can put it on the cloud for now.” Her father once told her the NSA and associated alphabet agencies essentially collect everything in the US, but that photographs were a lot harder to sort through for the algorithms that helped flag items of interest than text was.

That typically required individual personnel to look through each one—something they deemed not worth it unless they’d already flagged the source for special interest. The downside of collecting everything has always been sorting the wheat from the chaff.

“If there is anyone inside, apprehension is the goal. No firearms.”

GM: “Expendable foot soldier,” grins Brett. “You just call me raunchier names every time, ma’am.”

Autumn rolls her eyes.

“I can handle the photos,” she says.

Ferris and Kâmil both concur with Caroline’s order against firearms. Gunshots risk a police response even if their goal wasn’t to take any waiting parties alive.

GM: The group takes several further moments to prepare. Caroline and Goodman take point in inspecting and unlocking the front door.

The safehouse’s interior proves a death trap filled with just about every booby trap they can imagine—and a good deal more. The first one Caroline spots an narrowly disarms is a shotgun blast from a spring gun—loaded, she observes after disarming the weapon, two dragonsbreath rounds. Ferris is glad there’s no ruckus from a firearms discharge. Goodman narrowly spots and de-rigs a trip wire that would’ve activated some further nasty surprise that isn’t immediately apparent. The group’s luck, however, cannot hold out forever. Proceeding into the dining room triggers an elaborate series of traps that seal the doors and fill the room with tear gas and thick, foul-smelling smoke. The group’s living members cough and gag as the awful stuff gets in their eyes, burns their throats, and panic starts to set in. When Goodman throws his weight against the door out, against Kâmil’s warning, the scent of blood fills Caroline’s nostrils as something slices open his cheek. Indeed, though Caroline’s dead lungs are unaffected by the smoke and gas, she still finds they severely restrict her vision.

Most of the group shows their quality, though: only Autumn and Goodman seriously panic. Ferris, Kâmil, and Fuller all maintain discipline and cognizance of the fact that the sealed room is doubtlessly full of trip wires and other booby traps designed to be carelessly triggered by blinded, suffocating, and panicking intruders. Everyone except Caroline and Kâmil looks on the verge of unconsciousness by the time they’ve located and disarmed the booby traps before forcing open the door out. They take a few minutes to rest and recover, but the rest of the house is no kinder. There are spring gun traps, IEDs, stake-launching traps, and traps that threaten to spill gasoline and ignite fires. Caroline and Goodman disarm many of them, and likely save a number of the team’s lives. They suffer the worst for it; Goodman’s thigh gets sliced open and leaves him bleeding like a stuck pig. Caroline inadvertently triggers an occult ward hidden underneath a rug that causes her blood to boil beneath her skin. Gisèlle alone makes it through without suffering visible injury.

Eventually, everyone makes it to a concealed room hidden behind a bookcase. Ferris thinks that it’s “potentially where the files are hidden.” He gets to work combing through it with Autumn, Kâmil, and Gisèlle.

“Who the fuck booby-traps a house like this,” Goodman grouses from the floor as Fuller improvises a tourniquet for his leg. “Who the fuck is this paranoid.”

“Someone who’s right to be,” Ferris deadpans.

Caroline: “Someone who expects the level of opposition they’ve faced?” Caroline adds on. She’s grateful Goodman isn’t her type.

The larger question is who else Claire might have thought could penetrate such a death trap: a mortal team would have taken far more casualties than her own. Even if Claire had a dead-switch that would turn over the house’s secrets to another, she can’t imagine she’d also give them all the keys to it.

Only one name jumps immediately to mind: Gettis.

An elder ghoul, centuries old, might be able to do so.

GM: “Guess she was right to be this paranoid if we made it this far, anyway,” says Autumn.

“You could even make the argument she wasn’t paranoid enough.”

GM: Ferris shakes his head. “She did everything that was tenable and practical under the constraints she faced. No amount of home booby traps will keep out a determined enough force.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Defense just lets you lose more slowly.”

GM: The group turns the room upside down and disarms some further traps before finding another concealed door. The room on the other side contains a staked and hooded woman’s body in a circle similar to the one that Caroline recalls entrapping her. This one, though, is bereft of any fire. There is a nearby lighter, along with a USB stick and paper note in Claire’s handwriting that reads, “Read the information contained here before you do anything else.”

Caroline: The staked and hooded vampire trapped within the circle brings up unpleasant memories of how her own Requiem could have ended quite quickly at Claire’s hands more than once.

She lets the ghouls and kine go about the business of documenting the room, including the staked vampire and the circle entrapping her, and heads outside to get a tablet from the cars to examine the USB stick on.

GM: Autumn has a tablet in her bag she lets Caroline borrow.

Caroline: She plugs the USB into it.

Who might Claire have left a message for? She imagines Gettis would be more comfortable with had written than with an electronic. For her?

GM: The USB stick is encrypted and asks for several passwords, including “the name of your first crush”, “your favorite book”, and “your favorite menu item at Galatoire’s”.

Caroline: She provides them, answering for herself.

GM: The USB stick promptly erases itself.

Kâmil frowns as he observes.

“Regrettable, but perhaps little surprise.”

Caroline: It was stupid, she realizes, the moment she hits send. She could have had the casquette girl break the passwords: she’s seen her do it before.

Perhaps she’d hoped there was something here for her, that Claire had left something for Caroline. She’d wanted Claire to care for her, to have trusted her. Perhaps it was arrogance—the desire to break in herself. Regardless, an opportunity lost.

Stupid. Sentimental. Weak.

She blasts herself silently.

“Better to know.”

Even even as she says it, she knows it’s not true. Knowing the desired passwords though would have been quite helpful in identifying who exactly Claire had hoped would breach her safehouse, perhaps as much so as the actual information within.

GM: Claire didn’t trust her, that much is plain.

And she was right to, wasn’t she? She died at Caroline’s hand. Even if that hand was forced by Claire’s own actions, Caroline had said to Maldonato:

I suppose it was very foolish, to get closer. To believe there might be an ending other than tragedy. To hope. She wasn’t so blind.

Caroline: The past has always haunted her, the memories of her past mistakes surfacing as she lay in bed, both as kine and one of the Damned. She’ll save the reminiscing for that time: there’s still work to do here, even with the ghouls hard at work searching the room for hidden materials and documenting everything they find.

She turns her attention to the hooded and staked vampire.

GM: The vampire looks Caucasian and female, judging by the hands and body shape. She rests undisturbed in the center of the circle.

Autumn snaps pictures from her phone.

“Why keep a lick here if this place is supposed to be so secret?”

The ghoul keeps her voice low, mindful of Brett in the other room.

“That’s what I don’t get, vice a headquarters she and her other hunter friends used.”

Caroline: “The blood is valuable. We know she was working with Gettis. Possible her people wouldn’t have approved—or would have wanted to take them off to some other site.”

It’s a fair question.

“Claire always wanted to be in control.”

But that answer still doesn’t feel right. Not complete. Bringing the vampire here was a risk.

“We’ll interrogate her later—maybe she’ll have answers for us.”

GM: Ferris frowns in thought.

“No need for an intact Kindred if all you want is their blood. Bag it and stick in a fridge.”

Caroline: “It’s possible she was experimenting on them,” she postulates.

GM: “Possible. She’ll be able to tell us that much.”

“What do you want us to do with her for now?” asks Autumn.

Caroline: “We’ll take her with us,” Caroline answers. “Need to finish poking around, though, before we start disturbing things.”

GM: “All right.”

The ghouls leave the staked vampire in the circle and get back to their search. Gisèlle is the first to eventually locate a well-hidden cache of documents, two encrypted laptops, and several more encrypted USB sticks. Autumn reports there’s no internet connection originating in the house, and upon pulling open the laptops, finds they don’t have wireless network cards. The devices are physically incapable of connecting to the internet.

“Jackpot,” says Ferris.

Caroline: Caroline nods. They’ve discussed this eventuality.

The seneschal will know of their findings shortly, if he doesn’t already with Gisèlle spying for him. She doesn’t expect the seneschal will allow them to retain the laptops, the USBs, or the documents, and for her purposes whether they vanish into the elder’s possession or are handed over to the sheriff and his progeny is irrelevant. She needs to know what’s here for herself.

“Fifteen minutes, people. We’ve been here a while as is.”

“Autumn, same rules apply. Document everything as it is including how we found it. Kâmil can you help Brett to the cars? Then I’d like you to help Ms. Rabinowitz with staging and removing any material she finishes with. Roger, you knew her better than most: keep an eye out for any further fail safes while Autumn works. Gisèlle, can you check the perimeter? We’ve been here a while, and the last thing I want is uninvited guests.”

The invisible ghoul’s powers of perception eclipse all of theirs—and she’s likely to notice anyone sneaking up far before anyone else in the group.

GM: “I believe Mr. Fuller may suffice for that purpose, bayan. I do not believe it wise for me to leave your side in this place,” Kâmil answers.

Autumn is already snapping pictures of the laptops, USB devices, and contents of the manila folders.

Caroline: “Very well,” Caroline answers. “I’m going to examine our guest.”

GM: Gisèlle is already gone as the words leave Caroline’s mouth. Ferris continues to scan the perimeter. Kâmil tells Fuller to get Goodman back to the cars.

Caroline: Caroline surveys the hooded Kindred from every available angle, making note of any distinguishing marks that might reveal their identity, before finally breaking the circle that holds her and laying heads on the dead woman.

She removes the hood, studying the revealed features.

GM: The staked, pale-skinned vampire is around five and half feet tall and slim of build, with small breasts and narrow hips. Two decades ago, she’d have been a trendy heroin chic. She’s casually dressed in jeans, a dark windbreaker, rebellious-looking shirt with a skull face, and sneakers. Caroline makes note of no distinguishing marks.

With the hood removed, the vampire appears around 16 or so, with a smattering of freckles to complete the teenage and draw out the creeps. It’s her build together with her features and long black hair that really sells her age. She looks like she never quite grew into her body and now never will. Her apparent youth, combined with her slight frame and large eyes, gives her a seemingly harmless if not naive appearance that Caroline imagines has fooled more than one kine into mistaking this predator for prey.

Obviously, it was wasted on Claire.

Her eyes are blank and nonresponsive, seemingly making no note of Caroline’s presence.

“Fortuitous,” states Kâmil, waving an experimental hand over her eyes. “I would not have this stranger know of our activities here.”

“You don’t recognize her from anywhere?” asks Autumn.

“I do not,” replies Kâmil. “There are many Kindred in the city who are unpresented and unknown to our prince, alas.”

GM: “Looks like a greenfang, if the clothes are anything to go by,” says Autumn. “Obviously had the bad luck to run into hunters.”

She glances at Ferris, but the ex-CIA agent doesn’t return the look.

Caroline: “She’d remember what we desired if it came to the point,” Caroline observes, bringing the girl’s wrist to her lips and drawing a whisker of blood from a puncture that she gathers on one finger before gently testing it.

GM: The vampire’s blood has a rosy, velvety undercurrent like Jocelyn’s. Like Josua’s. Like Celia’s. It’s sensuous blood, that stirs some memory of life in Caroline’s dead loins. Blood that makes her appreciate the girl’s pretty features and sets her mind to ways that pretty could be made beautiful. Maybe if Celia had a few minutes to work magic with her paints and brushes.

Definitely Toreador blood.

It’s weak blood, too, like Jocelyn’s. ‘Greenfang’ seems even more likely.

Caroline: “A rose,” Caroline agrees. “Recently bloomed. And late blooming.”

GM: “She doesn’t look like she’s been harmed,” frowns Autumn. “So, maybe not any physical experiments by your stepmom. And she’s out of it.”

“Torpor, probably.”

“Why keep her here like this?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Hard to say. A message?”

GM: “I guess we’ll see if she has any answers once she’s up.”

Caroline: “That’ll wait. Better if she doesn’t wake here.”

And that they’re not caught in company of an unknown, unpresented, and likely illegal fledgling.

“Proof of the supernatural, perhaps?” she muses.

GM: “Whom do you believe she would be proof to?” inquires Kâmil.

“Certainly, any individual to whom the existence of Kindred was new information would likely be a poor custodian for Mrs. Malveaux’s secrets.”

Caroline: “The sheriff alluded to a failsafe she’d threatened him with,” Caroline observes. “Exposure, shattering of the Masquerade.”

GM: “I wouldn’t assume we’ve taken care of that without proof, ma’am,” Ferris offers darkly.

“It has been some time since her death now,” Kâmil concurs.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Perhaps proof for her chosen successor—I feel she’d have wanted someone from the family.”

Stupid. Not getting the casquette girl to open the USB. Knowing who it was intended for would have been extremely valuable.

GM: “That’d be consistent with the questions on the USB stick,” considers Ferris.

Caroline: “Could have demonstrated the blood, and if he had her in the circle, shown the monstrousness of frenzy with the fire.”

“Hard to imagine many of them could have gotten inside though. Not without help.”

GM: “She’d have been their first kill,” says Ferris.

“Don’t need her anymore after she’s proven vampires are real.”

“Lets them get their hands dirty in a safe environment. See what it’s like.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She wonders who Claire had earmarked. Her brother, perhaps. Or her cousin Adam. It fits into place—feels right.

“I think that’s the answer.”

GM: Ferris considers. “If it were me, I’d have left blood somewhere to revive our friend. I’d want my successor’s first kill to be a walking, talking, responsive vampire. Especially if they’d never killed a person before. Better learning experience. The warding circle, the lighter, some gasoline—that lets them do it all with training wheels.”

He strokes his beard.

“Think you’re on to something. This explanation feels right.”

“What was on the USB stick, then, you think?” asks Autumn. “Instructions on how to kill a lick?”

Caroline: “Not worth dwelling on,” Caroline doesn’t quite snap.

“Let’s move her to the entrance—we can have Gisèlle veil when we’re ready to move her to the vehicles.”

GM: “All right. Least she looks pretty light,” says Autumn.

Kâmil slings the staked vampire over his shoulder.

“Veil her against Mr. Goodman, bayan? She would attract little enough notice stored in the trunk.”

Caroline: “Veil her against being carried out into the residential neighborhood,” Caroline clarifies. “As you say, little enough notice in the trunk.”

GM: Kâmil considers.

“The hour is late, the night is dark, and our vehicles nearby. But if you wish to veil her, bayan, there is no harm and potential good.”

“I would sooner not leave a staked Kindred unattended or further split our group. Gisèlle and Mr. Fuller should return soon.”

Caroline: “We can wait for them with her,” Caroline agrees.

GM: They don’t wait long. Gisèlle and Fuller eventually return, by which time Autumn has finished documenting everything. The casquette girl veils the staked vampire’s body in shadow at Caroline’s request. Ferris and Autumn carry the laptops, USB sticks, and documents.

GM: The group moves to depart.

The Ventrue is the first one to feel it.

Before the soft ‘whoosh’.

Before the heat at their backs.

Before the pungent smell of rising smoke.

Before the telltale hissing and crackling.

But not before her Beast’s instinctive, soul-deep panic.


Everywhere. Fire behind them. Fire beside them. Fire before them. Fire between them and the exit from the sudden death trap the safehouse has become.

“Shigh-!” exclaims Autumn, coughing as she shouts.

Caroline: Of course Claire wouldn’t let them go that easily.

Of course she’d use her knowledge of magic to rig the house.

And of course it would be fire. Fire, which will destroy all evidence of this place: including Caroline if given the opportunity.

In the earliest nights of her Requiem, she fled at the sight of fire. She remembers being forced into howling, terrified frenzy by Claire when she invaded her haven during the day and built a circle of flame around her. Remembers how the very sight of it, even bound by the circle, had driven her Beast into a whimpering but powerful thing that controlled her.

She remembers that, and she knows very well that if she does so now this trap will consume her ghouls, consume the evidence they desperately need, and consume every trace of her.

Caroline is ready when the Beast comes charging out of her breast, when its frantic rage boils over. She’s just as ready to violently clamp down on it in that moment with all of her will, bottling up its useless—and likely lethal—terror response like a pressure cooker.

She wins that first battle, and as she does the rest of it slides into laser focus.

This is the actual trap. All the blades and wires and even explosives before were window dressing: at best, they kept out the riffraff. This is intended to be the lethal one: it’s not lost on her that it triggered when she attempted to leave the building.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity, actually: let the vampire send in their people, let them clear out the traps and suffer, and then report it clear. Trigger the actual trap when they are inside. When you’ve lured in the bigger fish.

And it could easily kill her, or any other lick. A moment of frenzy and it’d all be over—lost in the burning building, all obvious exits blocked. She’s certain there’s a path clear of flames—but it’s one that will lead back further into the house. The kind of path the Beast might take while fleeing the immediate threat, oblivious to the real one.

She’s just as certain plunging through the door they came in will be suicide: that’s where she’d concentrate her own efforts.

No, the answer, she concludes at the speed of thought, is somewhere else. Somewhere the inherent logistics of the house work in their favor.

The kitchen window. It was large enough for them to escape through, and the tile and stone countertops will retard the spread of the flame—as will the piping. She’s certain it’ll be trapped. And she’s just as certain that she will be the one who has to ensure the bite of those traps.

It’s tempting to send Kâmil through first—the tough old ghoul might even shrug it off (whatever it is)—but he’s the only one capable of handling their torpid lick and anyone else that goes down in the smoke. The rest of the ghouls are too soft—too fragile. She, on the other hand, might beat it outright. If she doesn’t, recovery is much less painful for her. Hasn’t she become accustomed to pain anyway? She needs the other ghouls to carry out the goods in any case—escaping is not enough tonight.

It’s not a happy thought, the prospect of braving whatever pain her wicked stepmother has in store for her, but there’s little in her Requiem that has been pleasant where the older woman was concerned.

She takes a breath, the hot air searing her lungs in a way that would no doubt deal internal injuries to a kine, and yells into the fire, “Follow me! Kitchen window!” She gestures to Kâmil. “Carry her!”

She’s just grateful they got Brett out first: she wouldn’t like the lamed kine’s chances.

And then she’s blazing a path through the heat and smoke.

She could move more quickly on her own, but she can’t leave them behind. Won’t leave them behind. It’s not in her nature. They battle their way through the burning building, through a living room choked with fire, the ceiling full of billowing smoke ready to ignite and roll over at any moment. She can feel her skin blistering as they go, feels her cloths smoke and start to melt: too much plastic in them.

Then there’s the window.

She knows, especially with a running start, that she could dive through a single pane—perhaps too fast for any remaining traps to go off. But that wouldn’t help the others—and hauling their ill gotten take they need her to blaze the way—to tear a hole the softer ghouls can get through.

No—this is going to hurt. It’s going to hurt a great deal. But that’s something her Requiem has prepared her for. The whippings, the beatings, the knives. the duels, and bullets. She can suffer. If that she’s certain.

She snatches up a small chair from the table in the kitchen as she goes past. She’d dearly like to hit the window with that first, to save her pale flesh, but the others need something to step up to onto the counter, then into the sink, on their way out the window. She leaves it behind with a deftness she could never have managed in life as she vaults into the counter and through the still closed window, arms held before, bent with her elbows and forearms out to make first contact as quickly as a speeding car.

The collision is cataclysmic—Einstein’s equation for energy is brutal at that speed for a human body, even a dead one, when colliding with a much firmer object. She feels something pierce her chest—though not her heart. Feels the glass slice bloody tears into her arms and torso as she goes past. And she feels a dreadful blossom of heat as her momentum carries her through the window frame. Sorcery? Another dragonsbreath round? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t see it, and the effects are the same.

Flesh smokes and crackles, blackening beneath it. Hair turns to ash and fingers swell, the flesh bursting like swollen sausages to let vitae drip out. She hits the grass outside in a smoking blur leaking crimson from half a dozen wounds and rolls.

Out. Free.

One hand painfully plants in the grass to force herself up, to look back, but her body betrays her. She teeters, falling as darkness rushes up like it never has in her Requiem.

She’s put her body through horrific ordeals, but this is something else. Everything hurts. Everything is on fire—and she can’t tell if it’s physically or figuratively. The darkness rises to engulf her in blissful nothingness.

She slams into the darkness like she slammed into the window, like a car hits a brick wall at seventy miles per hour. There’s no fall into oblivion, into the nothingness sleep that she knows awaits every vampire that pushes their corpse too far. Instead she careens off the the inky depths at the same moment she feels something else—like a pinprick through her heart—a yank upon a black thread wrapped around her unbeating heart as that energy that should have carried her into torpor travels through it into something else. Then, a moment later, she realizes, with a sinking and growing sickness, into someone else.

GM: Caroline feels the blistering, flesh-roasting heat evaporate from her body like steam released from a fogged bathroom. But energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. The black thread spins towards its terminus. She suddenly feels lightheaded and vaguely nauseous, like she’s having a heat stroke-induced headache. She feels ‘her’ body pushing out sweat to cool itself as the air absorbs the moisture and the heat with it—a crap shoot outdoors in New Orleans’ humid weather. She feels footsteps beneath her, the sound of water running from a faucet, and then water running down her throat.

She feels awareness, too. ‘She’ knows ‘she’ isn’t having a random heat stroke. She feels Cécilia trying to talk to her, trying to communicate thoughts as words, but words are lost against the burning pain. Both of their pain.

But for all that, she feels no resentment. She feels fear, worry, concern, desire to know what’s happening—and thankfulness.

Thankfulness, that Caroline is being spared pain.

Caroline: The heiress burns vitae at a terrifying rate when she realizes with a sickening feeling who her pain went to, who paid the price to keep her from slipping into torpor. How could she? How could she be so reckless? Doesn’t she know how important she is now, as a member of the family? She should have let everything else burn. The evidence, the ghouls, the torpid vampire.

Caroline stomps down on that line of thinking. It’s small—shallow, narrow in its vision in a way she cannot afford.

She had to. It was objectively the right choice. The information in the files might save her Requiem from the most terrifying foe she has known. He isn’t going to stop trying to destroy her just because she sisters now.

She made the right choice—even if it feels so wrong.

Singed skin falls away, molting as fresh unblemished pale flesh grows beneath it. Some of it flakes away, other badly damaged pieces slough off in rapidly putrefying fashion. There’s a sickening crunch as her broken wrists snap back into place. It’s not even about the pain or damage tonight, it’s about not putting her sister in that position again. Where she has to suffer in Caroline’s place.

The Ventrue looks up to see how the others are faring.

She can call Cécilia when they’re on the road. Right now they still need to make their escape.

GM: Thumps sound against the lawn behind Caroline. The others are following her out. It hurts to roll around, even on the soft grass. Her Beast’s never-ending whine is not far from her ears, like a baying dog constantly tugging at its leash. Behind her, the house has gone up in flames.

The first out is Gisèlle. The casquette girl’s once-immaculate white dress and face are singed, stained, and burning. Flames enshroud her long black hair, now so clearly a terrible fire hazard. The unmistakable scent of cooking flesh and burning hair assaults Caroline’s nostrils. Gisèlle flings aside a laptop and folder of documents—seemingly liberated from the clearly slower Autumn and Ferris—to stop, drop, and roll over the grass. Her white form blurs to and fro, quickly smothering the flames. She gracefully springs to her feet and disappears around the house.

The next out are Autumn and the staked vampire, both bodily flung out the window if the latter is any indication, Autumn still clutching a laptop against her chest. The screaming ghoul’s red hair has never looked so red as it does now, burning and smoking along with her peeling, grotesquely orange-brown flesh. She’s lost her glasses.

But doubtless her companion’s cries would make Autumn’s sound as a sleeping baby’s troubled whimpers. The staked vampire cannot stop, drop, and roll like the ghoul—the ghoul who is also spared Michael’s dread curse. The vampire has gone up like a torch. Nothing remains of her hair, and almost nothing of her clothes, but for a moment Caroline thinks she’s clothed. Her blackened, roasted flesh looks almost as dark as her jacket did. Skin literally melts from her body like a foul wax. Perhaps it’s a mercy that she lies in torpor. It is a mercy that she lies in torpor.

Gisèlle abruptly reappears with a garden hose to spray down them both.

The laptop-clutching ghoul gets the water first.

Caroline: It’ll be a bitter awakening back to the Damned, assuming the girl gets one. If Caroline had sympathy to spare, she’d have it for the girl. In the moment, she doesn’t.

Caroline’s attention fixates on Autumn, assessing: not life-threatening. Still, Caroline doesn’t disagree with the application of water—and applauds the casquette girl’s quick thinking on it.

GM: Ferris hits the ground next, wheezing and hacking past smoke-filled lungs. He’s already rolling over the grass to put out his burning clothes, hands shielding his face, when Gisèlle sprays him down.

After him comes Fuller. Caroline rapidly identifies a pattern emerging. After Gisèlle, who was seemingly fastest and clutching as many of Claire’s materials as she could, came the most vulnerable among them. Autumn, the least in shape, and carrying more documents. The helpless vampire, all-too vulnerable to the house’s last and deadliest trap. Then Ferris. Then the ex-Corpsman who runs a gym. Fuller’s peeling skin is no less hideous a shade of orange-brown as he hits the grass, trailing smoke and embers, before Gisèlle turns the garden hose on him.

The last to fling himself from the burning building is Kâmil. The large-framed man could’ve been first, or at least second, if he wanted to. He clearly waited behind to get out the others first. He’s coughing the least of anyone, and as with Fuller, no hair burns atop his bald head. What’s left of his suit and dress shirt are little more than burning rags. He drops and rolls as Gisèlle sprays him down.

Ferris staggers to his feet, still coughing, and seizes up the fallen laptop and documents.

Behind them, increasingly thick and pungent smoke wafts from the burning house. Caroline can feel the air growing hotter and hotter as fire hungrily consumes wood. Her Beast will burst its chains if it must face the flames.

Goodman’s voice swears and shouts behind them as he hobbles up.

Caroline: It’s a remarkably orderly exit from the building, some part of her mind reports, though her admiration is buried behind the still hovering shame and throbbing pain.

There’s a surge of relief as the last of them exits: out, safe, with everyone. And the files..

She doesn’t test her luck with the Beast and the roaring inferno behind them further. She held on through sheer need, through force of will, when inside. She has no illusions that she’ll be able to do so again. Instead she stays turned away.

“We need to go, now.”

The weariness hits her like a tsunami—the sheer bone-deep exhaustion brought on by agony and the high of the discover, then escape, but she fights through it.

They need to make good their escape, with their prizes. Now, much more than before the fire. With so many wounded and such a treasure trove they’re a prime target.

She forces her way to her feet and marches towards the vehicles.

GM: No one disagrees.

The burned, now-soaking wet ghouls stagger into the waiting vehicles with their precious findings. Kâmil, Gisèlle, and Ferris take the car with Caroline. Fuller, Autumn, and Goodman pile into the other vehicle with the staked and half-incinerated vampire. Kâmil starts driving.

Caroline doesn’t look back to confirm. Her Beast still whines anxiously in her ears. Doubtless, the conflagration behind them is spreading and consuming the house.

Caroline: Caroline settles into the backseat.

There’s some symbolism in the conflagration that is Claire’s legacy—one that nearly consumed Caroline. There’s symbolism, too, in her refusal to look back upon it as she speeds away. Both are lost on the Ventrue tonight.

Her thoughts are focused on the future. On the opportunities tonight may offer. On the challenges the next nights will hold.

The past can burn. She has no past.

It’s up to her to determine if she’ll have a future.

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, PM

GM: The SUV speeds into the night. The ghouls, or at least Ferris, look wet, burned, and miserable. Gisèlle’s once-beautiful mane of waist-length black hair is unevenly burned away, resembling nothing so much as a ragged and hole-lined old blanket, and interspersed with bits of lawn grass. Ferris’ badly singed beard and hair look in an equally sorry state. The ghouls’ horrid skin burns, though, fade away before Caroline’s eyes. Orange-brown reverts to sensitive-looking pink, though ugly splotches of yellow-white dead skin still mar their hands and faces. They’re technically growing -_new__ skin, not undoing the damage to the old.

They’re a sight prettier than any mortals, though. Neil told her about the horrors of TMC’s burn unit.

Burning is a horrible way to get hurt, even for the living.

When Caroline brings up the subject of the fire’s origin, Ferris nods grimly.

“Didn’t see or smell any accelerants. Had to be magical.”

“With how fast it spread, and from so many points.”

“Didn’t know your stepmother could create fire. There was a lot about her capabilities she didn’t tell me, at my recommendation.”

Caroline: “She was always extremely cagey about it,” Caroline agrees.

It’s a lesson Caroline could stand to learn.

“I’d call it a miracle that everyone made it out, but I think it has rather more to do with sublime execution. That place was a very expertly crafted death trap.”

“It took some very clear heads to get everyone, as well as the majority of the documents and materials, out.”

GM: “Not expert enough for us to get out without fatalities,” remarks Ferris.

“But if she wasn’t dead, it’d have still done its job softening us up. I’m sure we tripped a dozen alarms.”

Caroline: “Do we know for sure that Claire laid the fire trap, and not a Kindred?”

GM: Ferris strokes what’s left of his beard.


“Could’ve been her. Could’ve been someone else.”

Kâmil observes that if another Kindred laid such a booby trap they’d have probably taken all the documents and devices by now.

“Mrs. Malveaux has been dead for long enough. And to one who laid her safehouse’s defenses, it would be child’s play to retrieve the secrets contained therein.”

“Unless the files we have are all fakes,” Ferris muses.

“Gisèlle—and the seneschal—may psychically examine them to verify their authenticity,” states Kâmil.

Caroline: “Better the seneschal,” Caroline muses. “Anyone powerful enough to breach the home and set those traps almost certainly had the power to lay false impressions. I would.”

“Even if someone didn’t have reason to suspect they were false, reading is something I’d want to do.”

She stretches. “Not many licks I can think of that are known for wielding flame, if one did set the trap.” The heiress inclines her head to the two elder ghouls. “Any names jump to mind?”

GM: “A rarer skill, but I would nevertheless concur in having the seneschal examine them,” agrees Kâmil. “To command fire, too, is an infrequently seen skill among Kindred.”

Images silently fill Caroline’s head upon her question.

Grunewald’s pale and blonde face, that she saw at the trial.

Faces she senses as Steinhäuser’s and the Baron’s, for they are largely unknown to hers.

Then, with greater uncertainty:

The archon Caroline glimpsed at one Elysium.

Erwin Bornemann.

The seneschal himself.

Bishop Malveaux.

Eliza Curry, another near-unknown.

Symbols of a jackal-headed god of Egypt and a stylized “G”.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Few enough.”

GM: “An uncommon skill,” Kâmil repeats, “though there may be others who keep their talents even more closely hidden.”

Caroline: “We’ve foes aplenty without seeking them out in every shadow,” Caroline states.

GM: “Could also have been other hunters,” considers Ferris.

“Speculation gets us nowhere, though.”

He’s already reading through the paper documents.

He scowls at their half-burned state.

“Fortunate you had Rabinowitz take pictures.”

Caroline: “Half the evidence without the paper,” Caroline answers with a scowl.

“But better than nothing.”

GM: “The authenticity of electronic images’ contents cannot be psychically verified,” concurs Kâmil. “But as you say, bayan, preferable to have those contents than not.”

Caroline: “Better to get them to him sooner than later.” She turns to the casquette girl. “I presume the further into the past an event, and the more damage and changes of hands it’s seen, the harder it is to get accurate impressions?”

GM: Gisèlle dips and then raises her head in confirmation.

Caroline: “Perdido House, then. Better not to waste time.”

It’s also not lost on her that injured and tired as they are, they make a fat target with their prize in hand.

She digs out her phone and sends a text to Cécilia.

Are you ok? I had a hot flash while looking at a property, but am feeling better now.

GM: “Gisèlle has already alerted the seneschal,” states Kâmil. “He has dispatched emergency services to the site of the fire. As well as our own people, in the event the Masquerade is still at risk.”

The phone’s casing is partly melted and the screen painfully hot to the touch.

Caroline finds several texts from Cécilia already asking if she is all right.

Yes, nothing too serious. Had some water and wet a washcloth to cool down. You’re sure you’re feeling better?

Caroline: Worst I’ve felt in a while, but I’m ok now. You know I bounce back.

GM: I do. Do you want to come over?

Caroline: Always. But I have to visit my father first about the house I looked at.

She pauses, then adds,

May be big moves tonight. Might be a good idea to keep a handle on where everyone is.

GM: It’s a school night, thankfully, so we’re all at home. I’d been thinking of taking a walk, but I’ll maybe get some more work done instead. Unless you need me? How did things go at the house?

Caroline: Not a fun experience, but outcome looks good so far. Need to talk to my father about it.

Caroline then tells Kâmil that she desires to bring the materials to Perdido House, but intends on conveying them directly to the seneschal. She does not outright state that her intention is to keep them from the sheriff, but there is little doubt as to what other motive she could have, and she leave little ambiguity.

She intends on sending either him or Gisèlle—whichever needs the elder’s potent blood more after the death trap they braved—to deliver that message directly or to Mr. Congo.

GM: “That is acceptable, bayan,” states Kâmil. “Gisèlle has alerted His Grace as to our mission’s success. She will inform him now as to your imminent arrival.”

The casquette girl closes her eyes.

She re-opens them and stares at Caroline. The Ventrue sees Maldonato’s face.

:: Tell Miss Malveaux-Devillers she has done well. Bring the materials to my office in Perdido House. I will be available to receive them. ::

:: Tell her to remain on her guard. Many parties sought Claire Malveaux’s secrets—and seek them yet. ::

Caroline: She can think of one off-hand.

Louis: Those thoughts are interrupted by a loud slurp.

As heads whip back to the sound, Caroline and her entourage finally notice the old man sitting in the back of the SUV. How long has he been there?

Too long.

He’s been around far too long. And he’d be the first to tell you.

Presently though, his mouth is occupied. Slurping down another spoonful of Brocato’s lemon gelato. He swallows, but lets the plastic spoon dangle from his sour lips and lantern jaw like his old cancer-sticks.

A half-heartbeat later—at least for the SUV’s half-living passengers—Lou removes the spoon and gives a smile that somehow makes his face look sadder. His watery gaze drinks Caroline in. Slowly.

“Hey, dollface.”


Caroline VII, Chapter XXII
Tired of Favors

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

Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline’s phone rings. The hour is late. The caller ID reads,

Rosure, Emily—Tulane. Pre-Med

Caroline: Caroline looks down at her phone.

The heiress doesn’t get many calls these nights. And after midnight typically only means one thing. Which makes it all the more unusual that it’s a contact saved in her phone that’s distinctly not one of the damned.

She doubts it’s a social call.

She accepts the call, sliding the green phone icon up after several rings and putting a false fatigue in her voice.


Support: “Hi, no, it’s… it’s Celia.”

A pause.

“I’m… I’m sorry to bother you, but I… I need a favor. Please.”

Caroline: Caroline is getting awfully damn tired of doing people favors.

“Last few people I did favors for didn’t end up so well,” she observes icily.

That Celia’s sire was directly responsible for their execution, and almost certainly because of their limited association with Caroline, is more than a sore spot.

Support: There’s an intake of breath on the other end of the line.

“Okay,” she says quietly. “That’s—okay, yeah, this was probably a bad idea.”

Caroline: “Probably,” she agrees.

There’s a beat. Why does she bother?

“What’s the favor?”

Support: A pause.

“Remember when I came over, and my mom saw you and May, but she thought it was the two of us, and it was all real awkward and we had to explain it? It’s kinda like one of those.”

Caroline: “You think it’s a misunderstanding I could help clear up with someone else for you?” Caroline muses.

What is she even doing?

“You know it’s a lot harder if you’ve let those sorts of things fester. This a recent thing?”

Support: “Yes.”

“Very recent. Just now, actually. I thought maybe we could clear the air before things got too out of hand.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

It could be bait. But if it is, it’ll be on her terms.

Silence for a moment as she considers.

“I’m make you the same deal I make all my friends when these things happen. Bring over some drinks and we’ll sit down with your friend, talk it out, see if we can’t resolve it.”

Support: “Right. Ah. Problem is, I’m with my daughter tonight, and it’s a little past her bedtime.”

Caroline: “Meaning drinks are off the table, or meaning you want a house call?” Caroline asks.

She almost laughs at the second option.

Support: “Was hoping for a house call. But if you can’t make it tonight, I understand.”

“Can you—one sec.”

There’s a brief wait.

“Ah, I don’t have a sitter. If you can’t make it it’s no big, I can probably find a local.”

Caroline: That’s not a hard question for her.

“It’s a little late for me to go out. Plus, you know how I feel about that side of town.”

“If a local is a better fit, I won’t take it personally.”

Support: “You at home? I’ll make it work and call you if I can’t.”

Caroline: “Call ahead if you decide. I’ll be around.”

Support: “I will. Thank you.”

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

Support: The next night, Celia calls to confirm that she’s still coming over.

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

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

Support: Celia greets her politely, announcing herself to Caroline’s ghoul. She arrives with Lucy and her mother, the latter carrying the former.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has no smiles tonight.

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

She reminds Caroline of Simmone.

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

She can read the room.

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

“I know it’s late.”

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

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

Support: Celia watches Autumn go, then takes a seat between her family and Caroline.

Her tired smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

“My mom knows,” she says without preamble.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Oh.”

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

GM: Mrs. Flores looks more numb than shocked.

A moment passes before she responds.

“She’s still my daughter.”

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

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

She looks between Celia and Mrs. Flores.

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

GM: The child remains very quiet.

Mrs. Flores squeezes her hand.

Caroline: “Ah,” Caroline answers.

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

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

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

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

Lucy turns away and plants her head against her grandmother.

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

“I can get behind that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Support: Celia’s lips flatten.

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

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

Caroline: “Once before,” Caroline admits.

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

GM: Mrs. Flores’ eyes narrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: “Mom, why don’t you let me talk to Caroline alone for a minute,” Celia says quietly.

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

Support: Celia rises.

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

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

“They’ll be leaving now, Widney.”

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

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

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

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

Celia whirls toward Caroline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thought is short-lived.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: She rises and starts towards the roof.

“Quiet the child while the adults speak.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: Silence.

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

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

Support: Her laugh lacks humor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: Her mouth opens. Closes. Opens again.

No words come out.

Celia sweeps her gaze across the city.

“Powerful,” she says.

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

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

A beat of silence.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: Celia giggles.

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

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow.

She hasn’t had great experiences with bottled vitae.

“What does lucky mean?”

Support: Celia can’t help but smile.

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

Her smile fades.

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

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

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

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

Support: “From my mother?”

She pauses.


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

Support: Silence lingers.

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

A brief pause.

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

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

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

Support: Celia’s flashed smile contains fangs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: Celia only nods.

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

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

Caroline looks out into the night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia appraises the Ventrue before her.

“Thank you,” she says at length.

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

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

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

Support: Celia blanches.

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

“I’m sorry that you lost someone.”

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

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

Tuesday night, 22 March 2016, AM

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

They’re ready.

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, Mrs. Flores waits for Celia to speak.

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

She doesn’t share that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will what you are doing take 50 hours?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No good deed goes unpunished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She takes the Ventrue’s hand.

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

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

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

Her jaw sets. Finally, she looks angry.

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

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

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

“It’s just a time crunch.”

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

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

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head.

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

The Ventrue watches them go from her seat.

GM: Mrs. Flores rises from her own seat.

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

Mrs. Flores shakes her head.

“I thought wrong.”

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

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

She adjusts Lucy in her arms.

“Tell Cécilia I said hello.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The door closes on that threat.

Caroline VII, Chapter XXI
The Old Boy

“Only in fire can steel be forged.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Friday night, March 18 2016, PM

GM: In the aftermath of Caroline’s return from Cairo, and her audience at the LaLaurie House with Antoine Savoy, a number of events take place:

Anthony Brodowski sends notice to Caroline that he has sold her debt to Sheriff Donovan.

Rocco is also calling in his debt from Caroline to purchase the debt he pledged her, leaving the slate clean between them.

Yellow Sidra notifies Caroline that she has sold the Ventrue’s boon to Rocco Agnello.

The Hussar meets Caroline at the Giani Building in the company of Autumn and Widney, both of whom are visibly straining under the weight of two body bags. The Hussar orders Autumn to unzip the first, dumping out the decapitated and badly maimed corpse of Nerea Ericson. The prince’s herald haughtily informs Caroline that it is her prerogative to dispose of “your elders’ squandered gift” and explain what has become of Ericson to her family and work associates. The scarred ghoul is faintly smiling. The wounds on Ericon’s body still smell fresh and look as if they came from a sword. The Hussar clearly enjoyed killing the Olympian.

Widney is ordered to dump out Gerald Bishop’s corpse in similar fashion. Explaining what has become of the firm’s second deceased partner is likewise Caroline’s responsibility.

After the prince’s ghoul has left, Widney blandly suggests changing the law firm’s name to one without any of the individual partners’ names on it.

To save on overhead costs.

Caroline: Ericson died badly. Caroline had considered disposing of her, but not like this. Not this butchery.

Caroline meets the ancient ghoul’s eyes as he gloats.

She knows who to lay the murder on, and it isn’t the scarred ghoul. No, that was Donovan, who so eagerly removed two of her weapons from her arsenal when she might have needed them most.

That doesn’t mean the death leaves her unmoved.

She can practically read the signs of the fight, the way the elder ghoul picked apart the barely ghoul. For all her skill, too slow and to soft to defeat him. She can almost imagine the terror in Ericson as her blade slid off iron-like flesh.

Her eyes harden.

“Let me know if you ever want a real bout,” she challenges.

GM: “We have had one, Eiren Malveax-Devillers, if you failed to recall,” the ghoul answers haughtily as he turns to depart.

Caroline: “You bested me,” Caroline does not deny.

“But I was thinking one in which I was awake, facing you, and armed.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “There are no mortal swordsmen that can take me further, and few immortal. But I would do honor to his name.” She doesn’t need to explain who. “You are one of the few.”

GM: Caroline’s entreaty seems to give the hoary ghoul some measure of pause, when he realizes she does not desire a rematch for its own sake.

Doubtless, many neonates have assumed they could best a “mere” ghoul. But she well recalls how Kelford and Fontaine compared to Kindred opponents.

“Prepare yourself to suffer, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers. Skill only improves with pain and blood.”

Caroline: “I’m not afraid of pain or suffering,” Caroline answers squarely.

GM: “We shall see, Eiren.” The hole in the ghoul’s jaw shows too many teeth amidst the burned and blackened leathery skin. “You may take me to a suitable sparring room.”

Caroline: She looks into that maimed face without hesitation.

Perhaps once, a lifetime ago, his horrific visage would have made her turn from him. Might have scared her, or disgusted her. But she’s seen many things since then, and his face is hardly the worst.

“Notify Mr. Ferris these have arrived. He is expecting them,” she tells the two ghouls.

And he is. They knew it was coming. In some ways, it’s more convenient that they were delivered together, died together. Helpful too that they knew the bodies would be in poor condition. Two members of the firm dying in a single horrible accident is much more plausible than their deaths sequentially. Two members driving together to an event, break failure, a horrific crash.

The Ericsons’ car is already ready, rigged to go up in flames and consume the evidence of the damage to the bodies in a gruesome combination of inferno and twisted metal. These nights, for Caroline, bodies are more easily explained than disappearances.

It’ll even have a hefty payday for Caroline—or at least the firm. She’d buried enough ghouls that a ‘dead peasant’ policy was one of the first things she took out on each of the firm’s founders—not uncommon for partners, CEOs, and CFOs. With the death of both, it’ll more than offset the cost of their deaths to the firm by more than an order of magnitude. And with the accidental death riders they had on them there will be… a great deal of firm assets available in the nights to come. To say nothing of enough to help ensure Ericson’s children are looked after, that their future is assured.

It’ll get better over the next year when the suit against the company that recently serviced Ericson’s vehicle is settled. Caroline is confident they’ll find negligence was to blame for the accident, and that payday for both the firm and the family will take the sting—if not the pain—out of the loss. Waste not, want not.

She’ll pay final respects to the two ghouls later, in private. She got them killed, after all.

She turns back to the Hussar. “The clubhouse should suffice.”

The Ventrue has had neither time, nor opportunity to set up a dedicated room towards this purpose, but she can quickly clear away tables and chairs, and there is plenty of space and high ceilings available. And weapons.

Caroline leads the ancient ghoul to the elevator, then the roof.

GM: It helps to be expecting one’s employees to die. Especially in a white collar field where employees aren’t actually expected to die.

Widney, though perhaps mildly disturbed at the two being disposable enough to plan around their premature deaths, approved from a financial standpoint.

Waste not.

Autumn thought it was genius to sue the auto maintenance company. As much from the Masquerade standpoint as the financial standpoint.

“Filing a lawsuit against someone else isn’t really what anyone expects an, ah, ‘involved party’ in the deaths to do.”

Caroline: Caroline had wryly commented to that, “You might be surprised, my dear.”

She’d learned the trick from someone, after all.

GM: Autumn and Widney see to the bodies as the Hussar follows Caroline upstairs. He regards the improvised sparring room disapprovingly, then selects one of the longer available swords, having not worn his own into the haven.

Then he attacks.

The ghoul does not hold back. He attacks Caroline with the non-blunted weapon as though they are upon a battlefield. He gives no pointers or instruction: Caroline is left simply to defend herself against his onslaught. She learns the way she always has: brutal, firsthand experience.

At first, the Ventrue seems to have the upper hand: she easily dances past the Hussar’s blows and even gets past his guard to land in hits. But the ancient ghoul’s skin is like iron, and he seems to have accounted for this fact in his fighting style. As he takes Caroline’s measure, he adjusts to all offense, trusting in the Blood to keep him hale, with frequent feints to slip past her hummingbird-like defense. It soon becomes apparent that the ghoul’s centuries of practice make him Caroline’s significant better in skill and technique, and his answering blows are brutally strong. His eyebrows raise, though, at how many Caroline deflects or simply blurs past… she has grown since their last encounter.

After her experience in Cairo, Caroline finds much to appreciate about her undead body that she once took for granted. She doesn’t slow. She doesn’t tire. Her dead muscles don’t ache and her dead lungs don’t gasp for air. She could keep this up forever. In fact, she reflects, that’s probably the best way to deal with a living duelist who’s her better in skill: just prolong the fight for as long as possible, until they’re exhausted enough to beat.

The only problem is the Hussar doesn’t seem to get tired either. One might almost think the hoary Ventrue ghoul a vampire himself: he neither pants nor sweats nor slows as the match wears on. He does not adjust his mode of attack to attempt to quickly end the duel, despite his foe’s deathless stamina. He simply rains down brutal blow after brutal blow, seemingly confident that he will eventually land a hit which finishes Caroline.

Caroline: His confidence is not misplaced.

She’s inhumanly fast and doesn’t tire, but she’s always one mistake away from disaster. She dances, parries, slides, even runs up and off of walls in a blur of undead flesh, but for all the elegance of her technique it’s much like fighting a freight train.

It doesn’t stop her.

These are the fights she will have her entire Requiem: against tougher, stronger, older opponents. These are the fights she has to find ways to win. And for all the violence of the Hussar, she knows this is the time to figure it out. He might maim her, might hurt her indiscriminately, but unlike her foes, she has every confidence he does not aim to destroy her.

Better to suffer here.

She’s certain too that whatever she might aim, killing him is not within her power tonight. Not like this, with weapons of this low caliber. There’s a release them to it—fighting without holding back, without fear, pushed to her limits.

Caroline had told Cécilia that there was no one in the city that she could practice with—other Kindred would be a risk to each other and ghouls could not withstand her, but that wasn’t entirely true, was it?

There is at least one.

So she fights on, blade a blur of steel, knowing with certainty one thing about how this fight will end: it’s going to hurt.

But some part of her wants that, too. Wants the pain, wants the thrashing she’s no doubt going to receive from the Hussar before this is all done. Two ghouls lie dead, rotting in bags, downstairs because of her. Two ghouls that were her servants, that died because of her actions, because of her choices.

Knowing the outcome wouldn’t have changed her decisions. Se did what had to be done in the way that it had to be done. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t suffer for it. Doesn’t mean that she should be able to brush off their deaths to casually—like they weren’t people, just flesh constructs waiting to be reduced to their constituent parts.

Their deaths didn’t move her, though.

She won’t be kept up into the morning with visions of Ericson’s children, nor will she shed a tear for the lost brilliance of half a century in the legal profession that vanished with the light in Bishop’s eyes.

Instead here, tonight, she’ll pay another penance with Hussar. One with purpose. With value. But one in blood all the same.

GM: Penance she pays.

Caroline moves like the wind to avoid the Hussar’s strikes, but she can’t keep it up forever. They both know it. Finally, the dam brakes around the boy’s finger. The Hussar’s blade crashes down, gorily slicing into Caroline’s thigh. Then through. Blood sprays as the Beast howls its pain and Caroline crashes to the ground, for even she cannot run with one leg.

Or would. The play goes through her head in an instant. The Hussar knows her first play will be to grab the leg back, re-join it to her thigh, send vitae knitting together the separated bone. She’s fast enough, lithe enough, to still do it. If he doesn’t stop her and grab after the leg like a dog after a bone.

The Ventrue catches her fall one-handed and turns it into a cartwheel. Her other hand comes up, driving her sword at the Hussar’s gut (not “into”, his skin’s hard enough to deflect it), before her remaining foot comes up next. The kick smashes into his face. The Ventrue’s already dropped her sword—she’s more than fast enough to grab it back if this works—as her second hand comes down to complete the cartwheel, then her sole foot after it, then her hands again, then her foot again, and then she’s behind the Hussar before he can even tell. They’d give medals for this, executing cartwheels with one leg in a combat situation. She’s already dropped to the floor, remaining leg striking out like a serpent to sweep the Hussar’s legs out from under him. He hits the floor with a crash. Caroline rapidly logrolls across the ground to seize back her severed leg—

Only to find the ghoul’s hand still clutched around it, eyes never wavering from the prize.

His foot connects with her face, smashing in bone and cartilage. She flies into the wall with a crash. The Hussar soars after her, flying through the air like a great bird of prey. He lands atop her prone body, pinning her torso beneath his full weight, and at that point Caroline knows the fight is over. She jabs at his eyes with cobra-fast fingers, a last-ditch maneuver to distract him with pain, but the ancient ghoul stoically accepts it before methodically snapping each of her arms, hard enough to make splintered bone jut from pale flesh. He breaks her hands next, cradling each one between his palms and pressing them together until delicate bones snap. It’s only when he’s completely disabled her upper limbs with several more bone-shattering blows to the elbows and shoulders that he gets to work on her face. The ghoul’s mace-like fists smash down, again and again and again, all but caving in Caroline’s head and painting the floor red with vitae.

Against all odds, the Ventrue wrestles down her screaming and pain-maddened Beast. She will not repeat the mistakes of the past. She will not permit herself so easy an escape from her self-imposed penance. She will suffer as she has decreed she will suffer.

The Hussar wasn’t her only foe, in their last match.

This time, at least, she’s only lost to one of them.

Caroline: It’s utter agony, but more than agony. Agony, as she explained to her sister, is more easily ignored. Her shattered body can heal—she can put it back together in minutes. Maiming holds none of the fear that it did as one of the living. Injury is only pain. Pain she can manage. She has before.

It’s more than the agony the Hussar inflicts in her body that drives her so close to frenzy, it’s humiliation. The knowledge that she’s been so totally dominated again. She prides herself as a skilled fighter, even among the Damned. She’s faced down more life and death fights than licks decades her senior. In life she was exceptional. And none of that mattered at all, even for a moment.

This weakness is something more. It’s humiliating. It’s disgraceful. The pain she can hide in is almost a mercy beside that.

It’s why she keeps fighting, right up until her broken body literally cannot resist. Because she can do no less. The screams that escape her blood filled broken face are not the screams of the the Beast, nor too are they streams of pain. They’re screams of anger, frustration. She didn’t expect to win, but she thought she was better than this.

But she wasn’t.

The Ventrue can almost hear her sire’s disappointed words echoing in her ears. They sound remarkably like her father’s.

Weak. Slow. Soft. Pathetic.


She doesn’t argue as she forces her broken and defeated body back into shape.

After all, she deserves it. All of it.

GM: The Hussar’s still-descending fists initially provide little chance to—until a second body abruptly collides into his, knocking the prince’s ghoul off Caroline.

“Enough,” says Kâmil.

The Hussar rises to his feet. Blood still wells from the thousand shallow cuts across his body, and deepest from where Caroline’s sword drove into his belly. He turns a baleful stare upon the other ghoul.

“My domitor has commanded that I safeguard Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ person,” Kâmil states calmly. “I cannot guarantee he will be available to revive her from torpor. In such a state, her safety is compromised.”

Caroline: She can’t immediately respond—not with her jaw shattered into a dozen pieces and both arms crippled.

Bone snaps gorily through flesh, accompanied with wet tearing sounds, as it re-knits itself into place. She props herself up on the first elbow, then her broken hands, wrestling down the searing pain.

She tries to spit shattered fragments of teeth, but there’s no force behind it. Instead the bloody stew of flesh, blood, and broken teeth runs down her chin. She raises her head to look at both ghouls through one blood-filled eye as the other messily splattered one slowly grows back around the shifting, reforming, orbital.

“Egh ahkshed for hish,” she grinds out, her jaw still in pieces.

GM: “So we observed, bayan,” acknowledges Kâmil. “Nevertheless, I fear that allowing the match to continue runs contrary to our domitor’s orders.”

Caroline: She wants to argue. They’re not done. She hasn’t suffered enough, hasn’t learned. But the Turk is right.

Her remaining functional eye, half shut by the swelling of pulped flesh around it, settles on the Hussar for a long moment.

Finally, she nods.

“He han henish this waiter. Ey’ll hind hime,” she promises.

GM: The Hussar sneers faintly at Kâmil, but says nothing further.

He turns to Caroline.

“I shall remain at your disposal, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, to complete your lesson in humility.”

Her sire’s herald turns to depart.

Caroline: “Ish hat hut he would haunt?” she demands of the ghoul that knows her sire like so few others.

“Ah um… ble hilde?” The heiress still can’t move her jaw and her face is a mass of bruises and hamburger meat, but there’s no longer bone showing, except on her chin where sledgehammer fists tore away the flesh.

There’s a genuine desperation to the question as she quivers, trying to force her still broken body into motion. If she were a kine she’d be unconscious and grateful for it. But she’s not just a kine, and not even just a Ventrue. She’s the childe of one of their ‘living’ mightiest scions, and tonight she feels deeply unworthy of that legacy.

GM: The Hussar’s lip curls again as he stares down at Caroline’s prone body.

“Before I entered his service, my sword belonged to Spain. I knew innumerable barbilampiños,” Caroline recognizes the disparaging-sounding word as meaning ‘beardless ones’, “in her army whose families obtained their commissions though royal favor. They believed their fathers’ wealth, and the games they played at Avila, meant they knew more of war than a blooded veteran of the Guerra del Asiento and Guerra de los siete años.

The old ghoul’s eyes glint.

“I took pleasure in seeing them cut down like wheat upon the field of battle. The survivors learned to heed the mozos viejos,” Caroline recognizes that as ‘old boys’, “in their units and recant their pride.”

The thousand cuts crisscrossing the Hussar’s skin continue to slowly fade away.

“No neonate may best me, whomever her sire. It is pride to believe months in the Blood may overcomes centuries receiving the Blood. Pride is sin. Pride is weakness. Weakness is unworthy of him.

“Cuando llega el orgullo, sigue la deshonra, pero con la humildad viene la sabiduría.”

(“When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.”)

Caroline: The muscles around her jaw writhe around the bone, bonding to it, and she’s finally able to spit out the blood and putrefying flesh floating within.

“Ser humilde es reconocer todo lo que Dios te ha dado sin falsa modestia,” she answers, finally able to speak again.

(“To be humble is to acknowledge all that God has given you without false modesty.”)

She continues, “All that we all flows from God, to deny it is to deny Him.”

She swaps back to Spanish, shaking her head. At least the pain brings clarity. “No pensé que podría derrotarte. Ni entonces ni esta noche. Pero quisiera que el sirviente más fiel de mi padre me conociera por lo que soy.”

(“I did not think I could defeat you. Not then and not tonight. But I would have my sire’s most faithful servant know me for who I am.”)

“Si no soy digno, será solo a través de otros que podría llegar a serlo.”

(“If I am not worthy, it will be only through others that I might become so.”)

A pause by the heiress sitting in a pool of her own blood.

“Me ayudarás de nuevo? Serás una de mis mozos viejos?”

(“Will you help me again? Will you be one of my ‘old boys’.”)

GM: The Hussar only stares silently for several moments. His dark and hooded eyes lack the soul-piercing intensity of her sire’s, but its echo is there. Like smoke after a fire.

Caroline cannot imagine he is pleased by her existence. To see another given the honor denied him after centuries of faithful service. The honor that Caroline well knows her sire swore he would never bestow upon another. The honor his servant believed would never be his, through no failing of his own.

He enjoyed this fight, she well knows. Just as he enjoyed killing her ghoul in prelude to it. Even beyond what enjoyment he surely already takes from putting other ‘barbilampiño’ neonates in their place.

She doubts any of them ask him for his help.

She could be the brat princess instead, if she wished. Flaunting the honor she has received, still and forever denied him. Disdaining the ‘help’ for his presumptions of superiority.

“I will help him,” the Hussar answers. “If that must be through you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, so be it.”

“Como Dios quiere.”

(“As God wills it.”)

“Steel your pride and prepare to lose many further matches within the training room, if you would succeed upon the battlefield.”

Caroline: Part of her wants to tell him—to share that his master’s covenant was not broken, that he was not passed over. But that is not a secret for these halls or for this night. Perhaps someday he will know. Perhaps someday he will care.

For now it’s enough to have found an accord for him, and not only for what he might offer her.

The Hussar has been her sire’s servant for centuries. He might be the last truly loyal one. He is deserving of her respect.

She recalls, too, a reading from one of many Sunday services. […] It is impossible to gain humility without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility. As long as we only desire this virtue of humility, but are not willing to accept the means thereto, not even are we on the true road to acquiring it.

He humiliated her tonight. Savaged her. Beat her within an inch of torpor—and would have gone further without the actions of a third party. As it was, he left her in a pool of her own blood, one of her limbs out of reach, and the others broken ruins.

It was humbling. She knew he was stronger, tougher, and more skilled, that his victory in their first battle had not been a fluke. It was something else to know how thoroughly he might deconstruct her.

She had been arrogant. Certain that the gulf was, if present, within reach. After all, hadn’t she fought Kelford? Hadn’t she beaten other neonates into the dirt?

Only that long fall brought her back to reality. She is weak, and she cannot afford to be.

She meets his horrifically scarred visage with her own, one in which her second eye is still reforming in its socket, in which her face is a mass of purple bruises buried under a sea of blood.

“Solo en el fuego se puede forjar el acero.” she agrees.

(“Only in fire can steel be forged.”)

Caroline VII, Chapter XX
Bride Price

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

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One in particular.”

GM: Her mother smiles serenely.

“What would you do, my treasure?”

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

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

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

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

“Who is he?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You require strong hearts and skilled swords. You require allies.”

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

“We may find allies.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She doesn’t doubt her mother.

“I will do so.”

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

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

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

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

A question for a future night.

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

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

“Are there others?”

GM: Shadows consume the young Brujah.

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

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

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

“He disappeared. Went into hiding.”

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

“That which is lost may be found.”

Caroline: Fontaine.

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

Who told her the truth. Poison.

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

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

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

“Then there’s a chance.”

GM: Darkness swallows back the old man too.

“Your paths shall cross,” her mother pronounces.

Caroline: Then there’s a chance.

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

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

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

“Is that too blatant an interference?”

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

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

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

GM: There is a rueful chuckle from her mother.

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

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

Caroline: “Then their essence,” Caroline concedes.

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

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

Her mother alone casts none.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She should take the offer.

She knows she should take the offer.

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

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

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

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

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

“I could do far worse,” she admits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That too, though, is a modern construct.

No one succeeds alone. No one avoids compromise.

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

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

“Your aunt is amenable to this price.”

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

A smile softens her features.

“I am proud of you, my dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all the more vital that they strike now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And himself?”

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

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

Caroline: The Ventrue nods.

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

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

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

Friday night, 18 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: Caroline is happy to abide that condition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barring physical disciplines, her first choice is soul scrying.

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

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

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

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

“The Banu Haqim only ever take out one contract upon their targets. If the sheriff should survive the attempt upon his unlife, there will not be a second one.”

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

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

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

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

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

She glances at the blood-written contract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disgust is naked and plain on her features.

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

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

“I will not bow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I will not give you a lie.”

Is this the right path?

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

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

But it will be her path.

You knew, that this would be her price.

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

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

She wasn’t.

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

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

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

The same ember now burning in Pearl’s.

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

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

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

Five hissed final words escape her lips:

“Get out of my sight.”

Caroline VII, Chapter XIX
Savoy's Frame Job

“You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants.”
Antoine Savoy

Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline’s mother takes her to the LaLaurie House at the agreed-upon time. Her only smiled response to the nature off her daughter’s business is that it’s “prudent to keep lines of conversation open.” Simmone accompanies her, like always. The half-asleep 10-year-old looks content merely to lie against their mother’s breast. The faceless driver, silent as ever, conveys them to their destination.

Abélia pays little heed to Ferris’ plans. They drive past the Garden District’s glorious old homes, through the CBD’s skyscrapers, past Canal Street, and down along Royal. They pass by hotels and tourist attractions, past the front doors of the Evergreen itself, and then finally the more residential portion of the Quarter where the LaLaurie House sits. No one attempts to waylay the Devillers’ black car.

Caroline: Caroline knew her mother would provide transportation without need for all the chaos and risk of Ferris’ own. Just as she’s confident in their ability to remove themselves from the Quarter when the time comes.

GM: The house on 1140 Royal Street, the same street as Antoine Savoy’s own center of power, stands out little amidst its neighbors. Second-generation Creole architecture. Plain gray gray walls. Delicate iron work along the gallery’s (balcony’s) railings. Potted green plants there, like every gallery in the Quarter seems to have. Tall for when it was built at three stories.

The driver parks the car and silently opens the door for his mistress. She emerges, Simmone held close to her breast, smiling widely at the sight of the house. Her dark eyes are wide and hungry as they drink it in.

The house’s iron gate silently swings open, admitting the three Devillers and their servant into a deep, white portal that leads to the front door. Rain dully patters against iron as the gilded bars clang ominously shut behind them. The feeling is not unlike stepping inside an airlock—entering a source of contamination that must be quarantined from the outside world.

But tonight it may also feels like a place of refuge for Caroline, delineating an invisible line where her mother’s power begins—and which all other powers must overcome.

Two urns sit by the front door, along with a panel carving of Apollo in his chariot. The faceless man turns the knob. The door swings slowly open on silent hinges.

Caroline: The Ventrue proceeds into the damned place without fear or hesitation. In many ways it’s like being enfolded in her mother’s arms, if less fully than in their other home.

She knows of the damned history of this place and cannot help but wonder if it was once her mother’s home in the past…

GM: The house’s interior is almost pitch dark. It smells mostly like it did last time. Clean and fresh, but now faintly of her mother’s perfume too. Violet, cool, and creamy. An iron-railed, winding stair (“said the spider to the fly”) ascends from the checkered marble floor to the house’s second story. Two further doors on the staircase’s left and right lead deeper into the home’s unseen recesses.

“The living room should be sufficient for your purposes, my dear,” smiles her mother, stroking the back of her head with one hand. She carries a slumbering Simmone in her other arm against her hip.

“May Fortuna bless your endeavor.”

Caroline: “I’m happier accepting your blessing in it, Mother. I don’t know know what to expect.”

GM: “What comes will come, my dear,” her mother replies serenely. “Yet whatever comes, you may face it without fear. There is little that may harm or eavesdrop upon you within this place while I yet draw breath.”

With that final benediction, she withdraws into the gloom. Caroline settles in to wait. The living room looks much as it did last time. It’s tastefully decorated with delicate rococo furniture, persian rugs, classical artwork, and a ponderously ticking grandfather clock. Some family pictures constitute new additions. Caroline is in them. She looks around middle school, high school, and college age, respectively.

The Ventrue does not wait overlong, however, before she hears the sound of the front door closing, all-too audible to her hyper-sensitive ears. Two pairs of footsteps. One is thick, heavy, and near-silent. The other is the telltale click-click-click of a woman’s high heels.

Mélissaire Larieux rounds the corner, along with the faceless driver.

Caroline: Visit himself, eh?

Caroline is terribly amused when she hears the heels coming down the hall, long before Mélissaire comes into view. She wonders if he would have come himself, would have visited, if Caroline had invited him to the Giani Building. It amuses her to think he might be scared of her mother. That he might be right to be.

GM: The long-haired, comely-faced, and full-lipped quadroon ghoul shoots Caroline a wide smile as she bends to kiss the Ventrue’s hand.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers, it’s been far too long,” she greets in a distinctly male-sounding voice. One rather like Antoine Savoy’s.

“My sincerest congratulations upon your new family. These past months have been very hard for you. I can only imagine how much happiness your new mother and sisters have brought into your Requiem.”

‘Her’ smiling eyes don’t once leave Caroline’s.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy, the charmer as always.”

And the deceiver. The manipulator. The plotter and conniver. How coincidental it was that Mélissaire was so quick to answer the phone when she needed her. That Lebeaux was so readily available to support her.

Many fools call her sire a tyrant and a monster as they gather close around the Lord of the French Quarter and his honeyed words. But she knows well his plots can be just as cruel, vicious, manipulative, and deadly as any justice or decree her sire might enforce.

“You truly do know how to make a girl feel welcome and desired. I was very flattered by the invitation to meet again. I hope it has not unduly inconvenienced you.”

GM: Mélissaire releases Caroline’s hand and sits down on the couch, crossing one leg over the other and casually extending her arms over the couch’s back. Despite the male voice, the ghoul’s body language still feels distinctly feminine.

“It’s an easy enough thing to make a desirable girl feel desired, my dear. She’s already done all of the heavy lifting,” Savoy winks.

“But on the contrary! Such a meeting is all-too convenient. You have no idea how long it’s been since I was able to have a reasonable discussion with your sire and his confidants. He is, shall we say, disinclined towards dialogue.”

Caroline: Despite knowing him for the liar and flatterer that he is, it’s hard to ignore the Lord of the French Quarter’s charm. She smiles.

“I’d characterize it by your natures,” Caroline agrees. “You, raised at court amid beautiful lies and intrigue, and he on the battlefield amid ugly truths and a rather more direct answers to most problems.”

“Fire and water, really, one destroying everything in its path, the other taking whatever shape best fits.”

GM: Savoy grins.

“Poetry like that makes me think the Rose Clan lost out by not Embracing you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Caroline: “Many have missed the ship, I’m afraid. I’ll be very amused to watch them realize it,” Caroline answers with a very vicious grin.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s own remains just as wide.

“You and I both, my dear. You and I both.”

“But I think you’re more than content with the ship you’re on, too. The scepter suits you better than the rose.”

Caroline: “They both have their merits,” Caroline replies. “We don’t really change who were are. At least, I couldn’t. Not that I didn’t appreciate the extremely flattering bid the roses made. I cannot imagine very many have received that much attention, or seen that much effort. It was very compelling.”

Right up until it wasn’t.

GM: Another smile.

“It’s an easy thing to make compelling offers to compelling recipients, too, my dear. Or perhaps not so easy! That mine failed clearly indicates one or the other was insufficiently compelling, and I’m quite certain it wasn’t the recipient,” he winks.

“But I’m not one to dwell on the past, beyond what lessons I can take to prepare for the future.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk with you about tonight, Miss Malveaux-Devillers—the future. Your future.”

Caroline: A light laugh. “I’m grateful the Toreador bid came form someone self-assured enough not to hold a grudge.”

GM: Savoy smiles and makes a languidly waving motion, as if to bat aside a fly.

“It’s as I said when we last spoke, my dear. Politics go so much smoother, and so many more opportunities open up, when one doesn’t take things personally.”

“But as to the future and its opportunities. By my estimate, the future others intend for you is as a figurehead to Seneschal Maldonato, once your sire enters his sleep. And perhaps other elders.” Mélissaire strokes her chin in seeming thought. “Is this the future you hope to achieve?”

Caroline: It’s an interesting contrast, the feminine body language with the elder’s mannerisms.

“That would certainly be a very conventional hand-off of power,” Caroline concedes.

“It makes some very interesting assumptions about the state of the city when he goes off to his rest, however. I think so many of you misjudge him, my sire, in believing that he might be worn down, harried into exhaustion. He will not lay down his crown or his sword so long as there is work to be done. They tempt him not with rest with each provocation, but with wrath.”

GM: “A lion can be most dangerous when he is most wounded,” Savoy concurs. “Is that the future you envision, my dear, that your sire lays low his greatest threats before he takes his rest?”

Caroline: “I think it the most likely outcome along the current path,” Caroline grants.

“Though it is not yet clear to me who those threats are.”

GM: Savoy smiles.

“I’ll offer you some advice, my dear. Those of us who survive eternity don’t make gambles—or at least fair ones. We never bet on a single horse.”

Caroline: “Wisdom,” the Ventrue agrees.

“I believed, you know, for some time that the two of you might not be at such crossed purposes as many supposed.”

GM: “Classic shell game?” Savoy grins. “Pick a shell, any shell, the ball is up the confidence man’s sleeve the whole time?”

Caroline: She laughs. “Oh, that might be a New Orleans classic, but I imagined nothing so crass.”

“More that anyone who would place a crown upon their brow must know the first response, as certain as any rule in physics, must be the rise of an opposition.”

She tilts her head. “Better someone you could tolerate, perhaps with a dash of the enemy you know. Not everyone plays by the same civilized rules.”

“The piece many forget this night and others. There are as many who would flip the board as play to win.”

GM: “Better the devil you know, if the devil is unavoidable,” Savoy concurs.

“Your sire and I aren’t working together, as you’ve aptly deduced. The Sanctified are a house divided. But perhaps, once the prince takes his rest, and with the seneschal willing, we could again become one undivided.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an amused but skeptical look.

“Is that what you wish?” she asks in turn.

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles and shrugs. “It’s one of many futures I’ve turned over. It’s one of a smaller but not insignificant number I find acceptably conductive to my goals and interests.”

“Your sire’s torpor makes possible many futures that weren’t previously on the table, my dear. Perhaps you’ve turned over some in your head as well. It’s a favored pastime at Elysium these nights, though many Kindred are limited by small vision. Many Kindred lack the perspective and imagination to realize just how different the New Orleans of the future could look.”

Caroline: He’s not wrong, though she suspects few have considered the scope of the destruction they might cause, and the outside forces that would invite.

“Respectfully, I find playing second fiddle in that unified Sanctified to be a role that would ill suit you.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Astutely observed, my dear. Yes, if I was content to play second fiddle, I could have kissed your sire’s ring long ago.”

Caroline: “I could see it happening, but I expect it would require some significant external force. A threat, to remind many of us how much more alike we are than different.”

Not unlike Republicans and Democrats there.

GM: “There were some Kindred who hoped Katrina might be that force. That the storm would change the game forever—wipe out the Baron and drive the Sanctified back together.” He chuckles again. “But that’s exactly the problem with threats of such magnitude. Too hard to control. Too many variables and unintended consequences to predict.”

He winks. “Too much trouble for any unity-minded Kindred to orchestrate, usually.”

“For my part, the nights of being content with a primogen seat and recognized regency are long past. But I’ve always prided myself on my flexible thinking. The raison d’etre for the Sanctified’s present conflict, the desire for one Kindred or the other to be prince, would be defused if Maldonato and I were to simply rule together.”

Caroline: And where exactly would that leave me? Caroline doesn’t ask.

“One can hardly blame you for setting your sights higher. You’ve enjoyed uninterrupted success of late,” she instead agrees.

“There are so many of late though that would be prince. I’m afraid many are going to end up disappointed no matter the outcome.” She puts the slightest inflection on the word.

This game is, after all, played for keeps.

GM: “I imagine my childe would be most disappointed of all,” smiles Savoy. “He’s the closest to the throne, after the Baron and I, and certainly wants it rather more than Cimitière.”

Caroline: “The great enigma to everyone,” Caroline quips, “though perhaps less so to you?”

She doesn’t believe it for a moment. She smiles.

“He did not seem terribly enthusiastic to discover my lineage. Though, oddly, he did not seem especially surprised either.”

GM: “It is so much easier to spill a secret than to keep one. My childe couldn’t have picked a better time to know this one, though, with the poor bishop’s disappearance.”

“If I were him, I would pin the blame on you for the deed.”

Caroline: “What an immensely unpleasant idea,” Caroline scowls. “Surely you wouldn’t suggest that his ambition might cloud his desire for justice, would you?”

GM: “It makes sense when you think about it. I know my people aren’t why he’s disappeared. The Baron is the next-most obvious culprit, but that story rings hollow too—most recent conflicts have been between my people and your sire’s. Killing Malveaux draws the Baron back into the fray when he should be happy with the status quo of his enemies fighting each other.”

“So that leads me to believe Malveaux’s final death served an individual rather than factional purpose. Enter Caroline Malveaux-Devillers as the bishop’s killer. He was the strongest ally of her greatest rival. Her previous bad blood with him is known among the Ventrue.”

Savoy grins. “Convincing story, isn’t it? It’d be my first choice as the sheriff.”

Caroline: “Perhaps to an outsider,” Caroline smiles. “But it’s well known among the city’s Ventrue that the bishop and I buried our differences some time ago, and with my imminent acknowledge by my sire, what reason would I have to risk that, tear down my sire’s allies, and rip out the newly-growing relationship with the bishop all at once?”

GM: “I would venture ample reason, for a panoply of reasons.”

Savoy winks.

“Burying the hatchet is what I’d have done before killing him, too.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh when the Toreador elder observes it’s the same thing he would have done.

“I suppose I shall take that as a compliment.”

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles. “Don’t worry, my dear. Any accusations from me will seem like obvious smears. I have no credibility in your sire’s eyes. It’s the sheriff I’d be afraid of. He’ll surely bring evidence, real or manufactured, to back up his accusations.”

“It’s very inconvenient. I don’t think he’d be inclined to support—and has every reason to sabotage—any kind of deal between myself and Maldonato, given his desire to be prince. He has every reason to want you dead even if he’s not able to pin the bishop’s death on you. That would just be my first strategy, if I were him.”

Caroline: The laughter dies away as he continues more soberly.

Real or manufactured. He’s fishing.

“I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim that I can ‘deal’ with the sheriff, but that outcome was foreseen. It’s fortunate there are such other compelling perpetrators.”

GM: “There are,” Savoy nods. “The truth of who did the deed is immaterial, next to who can tell the most compelling story, and who makes its most compelling villain. I’ve already had a few candidates in mind.”

“Perhaps we might help each other where that and the problem posed by the sheriff are concerned.”

Caroline: “Oh?”

The thought is intriguing. Dangerous, but intriguing.

“Is there another particularly compelling narrative?”

GM: “There’s always the Baron. The threat he poses grows every night.”

Savoy smiles.

“Or perhaps the sheriff himself.”

Caroline: She smiles, knowing the first answer is a shallow cover for the second.

He’s always known just what to dangle in front of her.

“What an idea.” She raises an almost sultry eyebrow.

“What ever might the sheriff have to gain by the death of the bishop?”

GM: “Something practical, it would have to be,” Savoy muses, stroking Mélissaire’s chin. “Crimes of passion are out of character for him.”

“Evidence of treachery on the bishop’s behalf, and support of another would-be prince. Or the advancement of his childe’s fortunes. Someone will need to take over as bishop.”

“Or both.”

“Do any other motivations occur to you, my dear?”

Caroline: “Oh, what of the rumors the bishop was increasingly close to Ms. Malveaux-Devillers, on the eve of her recognition by her sire?”

GM: “Mmm. Can your clanmates corroborate those?”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline answers.

GM: Mélissaire raises an eyebrow.

Caroline: “Better to replace the bishop than to risk him flipping. Especially when he can so powerfully influence the next choice. Someone more malleable, more reliable for him, more tied to him.”

GM: “Doriocourt, then. The basic story is plausible enough. All that’s necessary is to manufacture physical proof. So much the better if Wright or Angello are the ones to locate it. Their first loyalties are to the prince.”

“Do you still have his ashes or clothes?”

Caroline: Caroline places a hand over her mouth in shock. “Surely you’re not suggesting that I actually had anything to do with his murder.”

GM: “I know someone who can fix them and plant psychic misimpressions. They’ll be a smoking gun to anyone’s inspection but the seneschal’s, and may fool even his.”

The French Quarter lord looks largely past innuendo.

“We’ll plant other corroborating evidence, of course. A frame-up should never rely on just one piece to come together. But like Louis at court, one object must be the sun around which all others rotate.”

Caroline: “How about you turn over the devices you seized from Claire’s room?” Caroline suggests.

“How’s this for a narrative: hunters turned over by eager loyal childe to be disposed of, used by conniving sheriff to rip out the heart of the archdiocese?”

“And to wit, weren’t we just hearing about how he was beginning to learn the basics of blood sorcery? I suspect he’ll display far more aptitude than night be expected in such a short time.”

She covers her mouth. “In fact, isn’t abnormal prowess much of his claim to success, from his first nights? Surely you chose very well your childe, that his blood is so potent and his prowess so advanced.”

GM: Savoy grins. “I’ve never been accused of choosing poorly with Donovan. Only too well.”

“But I’ll propose a trade, my dear. Your former mother’s devices in return for the bishop’s remains.”

Caroline: Which, even if she had them, would be saturated in her own aura. It would be a permanent piece he could hold on the board, a long-term card to be played against her at any time to extract a concession.

GM: “Mmm. Somehow my hunch is that’s a no. Can’t blame a Kindred for trying,” Savoy chuckles.

“Unfortunately, those pieces of evidence also are smoking guns, and at least one smoking gun will be required to make your sire remove the sheriff. He’s too useful and too important to remove based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence. The frame-up job will need to be flawless. Is there another smoking gun we might plant?”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter. “I think you know there is.”

“But I suspect you have something else in mind for that particular piece on the board.”

GM: “I don’t, in fact, my dear. We elders don’t have every scheme plotted in advance, you know,” Savoy winks. “Eternity favors improvization as much as foresight.”

Caroline: “Certainly. I imagine too existence could be quite boring if you’d see me coming,” Caroline baits.

“But I cannot but suspect you know exactly what sorts of indiscretions your childe has gotten up to.”

GM: Savoy offers a wide grin.

Caroline: “Laying that aside, though, how about a witness that can testify to his active direction of hunters against pillars of the prince?”

GM: “Yes, that might well do it. Especially if they haven’t had their memories tampered with. That’s the first trick I’d suspect if I was him.”

Caroline: “Framing him for something he probably did. The novelty of it,” Caroline muses.

GM: The French Quarter lord’s grin remains in place.

“Warden Lebeaux will contact you to coordinate the details.”

“Your mother’s house seems as good a place as any to do that.”

Caroline: “Better than most,” Caroline laughs happily.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

“Who is he, really?” she finally asks, having skirted the topic.

GM: “A missed opportunity, alas, in the end. He could have been the sharpest arrow in my quiver.”

“One of the reasons I think your sire was so eager to take him in was to make me experience some measure of the embarrassment and betrayal he’d suffered himself.”

Caroline: “Oh,” Caroline muses, “I think he’ll teach all of us a different kind of lesson before he’s through.”

GM: “Someone will need to fill his shoes after he’s gone.” Savoy smiles. “The sheriff’s, not just the prince’s. I’m picturing a new Guard de Ville. Doriocourt is too loyal to her sire, and Agnello is too unstable, if his recent outburst is anything to go by—those sorts of problems tend to get worse rather than better. I’m seeing a Hound Wright, Hound Lebeaux, Hound Ferris—I’m sure his Embrace isn’t a new idea—led by a Sheriff Malveaux-Devillers. Preferring cunning investigation to crude beatdowns, but more than capable of delivering those too, when necessary. They’d be underestimated at first, for their youth, but I have a feeling they’d turn that around in very short order.”

The Toreador grins.

“A new brand of law for a new age.”

Caroline: “Truly you’re an icon of your clan with the poetic symmetry to such an idea,” Caroline admits. “I’ll remember the offer, presuming it is an open one. I’m not quite ready to cash in my own chips yet, you understand.”

GM: “More earned, my dear, than open. Were you to help realize a future with a united Sanctified, and convince the seneschal of my proposal’s merits, rich rewards would be only your due.”

“Were you to be of more limited assistance in realizing one of my preferred futures, then more limited rewards would be your due. Everyone in my court gets what they earn.”

Caroline: “We’ll have to see what the future holds, then,” Caroline smirks. “I don’t think I’d be half as intriguing to you if I said yes to that idea tonight.”

GM: “A word of advice there, my dear. You have a tendency to fence-sit. It closes more doors than it leaves open,” Savoy winks.

“I am always open to making deals. For tonight, I think our business is concluded.”

Caroline: “Far be it to gainsay a distinguished guest about my character,” Caroline agrees.

“But don’t mistake me. I’m happy with the side I’m on, and tonight I’m playing to win, not for third or fourth place. Settling for sheriff feels like selling just before my stock goes up.”

“This meeting is being… mindful. And polite. And respectful to someone who’s played at the high table for much longer than I’ve been alive. I’m as willing to cultivate relations and golden parachutes as any corporate-class white woman.”

“You really did come close, you know. I don’t want to sell short all you did, or that I appreciated it. Even though you forced my hand, forced me to murder Claire, and sheltered the scum that took a shot at my sister—for you and I, it’s not personal.” She smiles. “At least not in that way.”

“There could be much worse princes, depending on how all of this goes. I know rank-order balloting is the devil and all, but I’d sooner crawl in bed with you than do so with any of the other contenders or go out in a blaze of glory.”

“And no matter who wins the prize, I expect there’s… things we could do for each other.”

GM: The words make her skin crawl as they leave her mouth. They make the collar’s weight feel suddenly heavier.

Her sire would not approve.

“I am so very pleased to hear you say so, my dear,” smiles Savoy. “You’re rather more open-minded than your sire is. That’ll pay dividends. As this cooperation over the sheriff rather proves!”

“But I think I am mistaken, in fact. I’d thought sheriff to be the more appealing offer than, say, my hand in vermillion marriage.”

“Nat thought I should put that on the table.”

Caroline: “The most eligible bachelor in town. Maybe on the entire Eastern Seaboard. I’m flattered.”

“I think as is to be expected, though, that your wisdom triumphed over hers. I don’t need to tell you how I expect my sire would react to such an offer.”

“My father once told me that was the ultimate judge of a man, by another man. Whether they were worthy of their daughter.”

“Never mind what the daughter thought.”

GM: “I suspect it’s not entirely up to the daughter, if the father’s treatment of his other servants is any indication,” answers Savoy.

He smiles.

“There are ways to break such chains.”

Caroline: She sighs. “Can I call you Antoine while we’re here?”

“Lord Savoy makes me feel quite uncomfortable in one way, and Mr. Savoy in quite another.”

GM: “Only so long as I may have the pleasure of calling you Caroline,” grins the French Quarter lord.

Caroline: It’s disconcerting, in some ways, to see his grin peak out from the decidedly feminine face.

GM: Indeed, the expression looks nothing like Mélissaire’s.

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers. “Given how close we are to family in some ways already, the stuffiness feels decidedly unwelcome.”

GM: “Caroline it is,” Savoy repeats approvingly.

“I know how suspicious your mind can run, too, Caroline, if the first thing on it is favors owed in exchange,” he smiles.

He waves an absent hand.

“Asking such a thing would be superfluous. There is inherent benefit to me in having my rival’s childe be free-willed.”

Caroline: “Does not this meeting put to rest fears as to how free my will may be?” she asks.

GM: “I should instead say it paints a flattering picture as to the strength of that will,” Savoy declares with an approving look.

“But please, my dear. Your sire may be loath to speak with me, and he would be equally loath to admit this, but we know each other well.”

“Study another man’s decisions and consider his thoughts for as long as we have, and you cannot help but come to know him.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I know your sire better than I know many members of my own court.”

There’s another wink. “That familial closeness of yours.”

Caroline: Her eyes glitter in the shadows of the house.

“You’re very discerning, and no doubt you know me in turn. Antoine, it was not chains of blood that brought me to bow before him the first time. I was well chosen to fill the role of dutiful childe.”

“I will not betray my sire while he rules, nor I will not bring about the end of his rule.”

“But one way or another, that shall not be for much longer. And no matter what I might be to him, I cannot be him. What then we might be to each other will be for us to decide.”

“Until that night, there are foes aplenty for each of our dreams, your ‘childe’ and his master not the least among them.”

The shadows seem to shift and her eyes glitter again.

“While the two of you have torn each other to pieces, others have grown fat feasting on the flesh you’ve left behind. For everyone’s sake they could use to be leaner.”

GM: Savoy laughs with good humor.

“Leaner indeed! Half the city is waiting for the chance. The Baron isn’t the only vulture hungry for such a meal, for all the wagging tongues in Elysium might say. Just the biggest one.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs along with him, but her expression has sobered by the time Savoy finishes speaking.

“They’re not waiting, and every clash between you fills their courts with dissidents, the wreckage the two of you have left behind.”

“And as unflattering as it might be, I wouldn’t mind clearing it away before we’re all up to our chests in filth.”

GM: “Perhaps you’re better informed than me, my dear,” Savoy smiles, “but recent events have seemed to increase my support more than any third parties’.”

“But let it be well that other actors predicate their power upon my actions! Let every piece of flesh they consume be prepared by my hand and eaten at a feast I have thrown. Nat can quote it better than me, but I think The Art of War has a few things to say about knowing your enemies and knowing yourself?”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “No, no, that won’t do, Antoine.”

“There’s a much more appropriate reference for someone with our ambitions.”

GM: “And you call me the flatterer, Caroline,” he grins.

“Alas, I fear I may not be so well-read as yourself or the seneschal. What author would you quote instead?”

Caroline: A grin. “Machiavelli.”

GM: “Ah, of course. Even I don’t disagree with him. Fear is better than love, if you have to pick one. But why settle for one?”

Caroline: “Duality. I think though you have grown accustomed to love. Or at least, others have grown accustomed to loving you.”

GM: “The dagger is incomplete without an accompanying cloak,” Savoy glibly concurs.

Caroline: “It’s usually the knife you don’t see that gets you,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You spoke of cleaning filth, Caroline. Is this something else you would like to do for one another?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I’d argue we’re already doing it with the sheriff, but I’d be open to taking some of the other riffraff off the board, and as the saying goes, two is better than one.”

GM: He motions.

“Proceed, my dear.”

Caroline: She rests her chin on one hand, the elbow propped up on her knee. “Plenty, but let’s start with the devil we know. Something about building trust and all of that. I don’t expect this to be the last time we’ll speak like this.”

GM: “I should sincerely hope not,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “It would be a terrible loss to be deprived of the company of the city’s most upwardly mobile neonate. There is much that any elder might learn from her.”

“But very well, let’s return to the sheriff. What else would you speak of concerning him?”

Caroline: “Flatterer. How many other secret childer does he have in the city?” Caroline muses.

GM: Savoy only smiles, expression unwavering since his last words.

Caroline: She smiles back. “Too on the nose. A less pointed one, then. How close was he to René?”

GM: “As close or as distant as we need him to be, of course. I have ample enough evidence of Mr. Baristheaut’s activities in the Quarter. How would you wish to leverage that relationship against the sheriff?”

Caroline: “My Embrace was no accident. Nor was my trip to the Dungeon. Nor were either uncalculated,” she observes.

“Someone wanted me there with purpose. A purpose who had little to do with me. Someone who knew of plans that were very carefully guarded.”

GM: “And you believe that someone was my childe. On what grounds?”

Caroline: “There are few surer ways to lure the seneschal into a conflict than to play to his morals, and few foes in the city that might defeat him.”

“Had he been destroyed beneath the Dungeon, as was planned, it would have solved a great many problems for the sheriff.”

GM: Savoy strokes Mélissaire’s fingers along ‘his’ chin. Where his half-beard would normally be.

“That scenario is more difficult to see. Maldonato can’t rule on his own, yet also constitutes a critical pillar to the Sanctified. What benefit is there to my childe in tearing down the house he seeks to be master of?”

Caroline: “Does he?” Caroline asks.

The ghoul really is quite fetching.

It’s not something she’d have noticed before the Embrace, but the subtle curve of her throat…

“Many assumptions made about Donovan. That he is the prince’s loyal servant. That he is bound to the prince. That he is one of the Sanctified. That he desires to lead the Sanctified.”

Her eyes light up. “That he’s your childe.”

“I don’t mean to doubt my elders,” she continues, “simply to propose, who else had the knowledge and means to accomplish such a thing? Someone close to the prince…”

GM: Savoy grins at her words.

“Assumptions are a lot like breathing, some say. You never really notice you’re doing it until you stop. And then it’s usually too late to do anything.”

“It’s an intriguing narrative, to be certain. But without hard evidence, it will do little to move your sire in this matter.”

Caroline: “What would that evidence look like?” she asks.

“Forgive me, I’m so very new at this.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“Many Kindred have underestimated you, my dear, to their great and even terminal detriment. That shall not be me.”

Caroline: “Charmer. But I’ve confirmed much of what you already suspected, certainly you can give me something on this topic.”

GM: “Certainly. I can say I am in possession of no hard evidence that links the sheriff to any attempt made upon the seneschal’s unlife.”

“Regrettable, as such evidence would indeed be a smoking gun.”

“Little would arouse your sire’s wrath more than an attempt to harm that which is dearest to him.”

Caroline: “Regrettable, as you say, that he hasn’t lept upon his sword,” Caroline agrees.

“We’ll have to settle for the longer game. No doubt Mr. Lebeaux will have some ideas to get us started.”

GM: “So we shall. Oh, another thing, my dear. I’m calling in one of the markers you owe me. Let’s say the one for recovering your brother Westley’s body.”

“I’d like the full story of your meeting with your sire and his discovery of his newest childe’s existence.”

Caroline: She can almost feel the collar tighten around her neck as the elder’s pretty ghoul puppet sneaks the words out.

Caroline’s blue eyes flicker in the shadows of the house. “Antoine, and here I thought you’d suggested you weren’t interested in fucking me.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I would never shrink from honoring my debts, but that’s a story of another caliber entirely.”

“If you want the full story, we’d be significantly more than even.”

GM: “I always collect what is owed me, Caroline,” smiles Savoy. “As will any Kindred who’s made anything of themselves. Never expect your debts to be forgotten.”

“But that sounds eminently reasonable. Why don’t you start at the beginning and leave off at whatever point you think is worth a single boon.”

Caroline: “Without trying to be difficult, I’d feel I was more honorably balancing the scales if you gave more context on your interests. There were many matters that came up that reach that bar. I’d hate to give you something you already know.”

GM: “Your sire’s response, my dear. What actions he took upon receiving such a surprise.”

Caroline: “Not what we would have arrived at.”

The words taste like ash in her mouth.

“He was furious, disbelieving. His anger shattered the entire room.”

“As you no doubt suspected, he was previously unaware.”

GM: She feels the collar tighten around her, like the coils of the great snake sitting across from her. It crushes her, squeezes her, threatens to wring her will from her under its intractable might.

Donovan was for his own good.

Donovan is a traitor.

But this?

Betraying his private thoughts and confidences to his great enemy?

She shouldn’t have done it.

She shouldn’t have ever accepted favors from this snake.

It’s her fault.

She should have known he’d call them in, and what else is his foremost goal if not the theft of everything her sire has worked so hard to build?

“Simple deduction, my dear,” smiles the French Quarter lord. “Your sire would have bound any childe sired by his vitae, and there is little that might have stopped him—the Cabildo’s wishes included. Ergo, he was unaware of you.”

Caroline: She shouldn’t have. Wouldn’t have, in a better Requiem. But they made that choice when they shut her out, threw her to the wolves.

And she did. And even her sire is bound by the promises he makes.

GM: “You’re fortunate to have survived, in any case. His direct wrath is no small thing to weather.”

Caroline: Her throat is tight, so very tight. She can’t breathe.

But then, she doesn’t need to.

“He remedied that mentioned error,” she squeezes out between tight lips.

Her fingernails dig into the soft wood of the chair.

“Does that satisfy your curiosity?”

Curiosity. As though his interest has ever been so benign.

GM: Savoy gives her a sympathetic look.

“I can’t imagine sharing this story is easy for you, my dear. The blood oath is no small thing to rebel against, either.”

“I’ve offered once. I shall offer again. Should you wish to slip your chains, there are avenues available.”

Caroline: “I don’t,” she snaps, nerves frayed to the edge.

Awful enough that she has to resort to this—to plotting in the dark. Skulking about. For his own good or not, for the future of the entire city or not, there’s nothing about this that feels good or right.

She spent a great deal of effort, and a great deal of blood, for the privilege of serving her sire.

GM: The French Quarter lord just nods, seemingly taking the second ‘no’ in stride.

“I’m afraid it does not satisfy my curiosity, my dear. I’d already deduced your sire bound you and was unaware of your existence. It’s little surprise, either, that he was angry. So there’s equally little here that’s new.”

He strokes ‘his’ chin again.

“But it would be quite impossible for most Kindred to obtain direct access to the prince. The only individuals I can think of who might arrange that are the seneschal, the sheriff, and the Hussar. The sheriff has little cause to introduce you to your sire, and anything the Hussar already knew, he’d have already told his master. So that leaves the seneschal as the third party present.”

“Tell me, how did the conversation between them proceed?”

“I’m sure that between the two of you, he did the initial talking.”

Caroline: “It is one thing to suspect, and another to have your suspicions confirmed,” Caroline states.

“As a wise man observed, it isn’t what you don’t know that gets you, it’s the things you think you do.”

Every word is a knife between the ribs, but she presses on.

“You’re incorrect in your supposition, however. I did the initial speaking. Of my desires, ambitions, and actions. The seneschal weighed in later with his own evaluation.”

GM: Savoy inclines ‘his’ head in acknowledgment of Caroline’s correction.

“What information of significance passed among you?”

The French Quarter lord questions Caroline at some length concerning the events surrounding her introduction to her sire. Like a root canal administered by a smiling dentist, there’s no getting around it, no matter how wide his smiles—he will only relent when the painful work is done. The Toreador will only be content when he believes he has gotten his money’s worth from the owed boon.

Caroline: Caroline does not give an inch willingly. Though Savoy brings centuries of experience to bear and his own remarkable charisma, the remarkable sharpness of her mind, the political astuteness of her upbringing, the comfort of her mother’s welcoming domain, and the ever tightening coils of the collar make her no victim of the Toreador’s predations.

She is acutely aware of the value of the confirmations she has already given and gives few others freely. That her Embrace was long cultivated. That the events of Southern Decadence precipitated action. That the seneschal supports her claim. That he has vouched for her before the prince. That the prince accepted her as his childe in that first meeting by offering his blood freely.

GM: Savoy states frankly that he does not consider Caroline’s confirmations to be of value and desires previously unknown information. “None of this is new to me, Caroline,” he declares with an airy wave of Mélissaire’s hand.

“We can, of course, bring this matter before the harpies as a third party should you believe my expectations unreasonable.”

Caroline: “Seventy years,” she growls out. “The seneschal will involve himself in the affairs of the archdiocese no more than a mortal lifetime past the prince’s slumber.”

GM: “Seventy years,” Savoy says thoughtfully. “The scripturally allotted span of years for a man’s life. Also the scripturally allotted span of years, as it were, for an ancilla’s Requiem.”

Caroline: She nods. “That he has no desire to rule is no surprise, but he will be no puppet master either. Seventy years, no more. And then he will depart. These years have weighed upon him near as heavily as upon the prince.”

GM: “Yes, he never has seemed to relish his office,” the French Quarter lord agrees. “Then again, I might say the same for your sire.”

“But perhaps it’s easier to stop being chancellor than it is to stop being king, especially after one’s liege is already gone.”

Caroline: “Prince Vidal is prince for himself. Maldonato has long been seneschal for the prince,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh, I think Prince Vidal is prince for God, the Camarilla, and the city, in that order.”

“Himself least of all.”

Caroline: “No doubt you would approach it similarly.”

GM: Savoy grins. “Of course. What is a prince, if not the city’s, the Camarilla’s, and the Almighty’s humble servant?”

Caroline: “It’s how all the world’s great tyrants begin,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Isn’t it,” the French Quarter lord smiles. “I believe this concludes our business for tonight, my dear. We can say our farewells at the door—and in the flesh.”

There’s a last wink, and then Mélissaire’s expression and body language seems to subtly shift.

“Ma’am,” says Mélissaire in her own, higher voice. She offers a demure inclination of her head as she rises.

Caroline: By distinct effort of will, Caroline does not allow her body language to change with the French Quarter lord’s disappearance.

“You wear him well,” she compliments, rising.

GM: The ghoul flashes a genuine smile.

“He’s very easy to wear, ma’am. A genuine pleasure, to have inside myself like that.”

“If it’s not too bold of me to observe, I feel like you’d be the same.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs politely. “I’ll be certain to keep that in mind when things change.”

GM: Mélissaire laughs faintly back. “Oh, I don’t expect to receive that pleasure from anyone besides him, ma’am. But I’m sure any of your ghouls would enjoy the opportunity to wear you.”

Caroline: “Here’s to hoping we get to find out.”

She leads the ghoul to the door.

GM: Caroline and Mélissaire return to the LaLaurie House’s entry hall.

Her mother is there. Dark of eye. Dark of hair. Dark of everything. Darkening all around her. Her presence fills the hall like the night sky within a building absent its roof. A content smile is spread across her milk-pale features.

Antoine Savoy is there, dressed in a wine-colored blazer, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers. He’s smiling too, and squatting down on his haunches as he pulls a flashing silver coin ‘out’ of Simmone’s ear with an exclaimed, “Voila!”

The nightgown-wearing 10-year-old giggles down at their guest. She’s taller when he squats. “How did you do that!”

“You are a font of riches, of course, my beautiful lady. I but saw what was there, and dared present some small portion of them for your pleasure,” answers the French Quarter lord as he hands Simmone the coin. He looks for all the world like a genial uncle.

And he’s right there.

Alone, but for Mélissaire.

Alone, in this newest center of Devillers power.

Alone, in this most dreaded of places Abélia may have already bent to her will, if Caroline’s suspicion is true.

Alone. Squatting on his haunches.

Alone. Caroline’s mother right by.

She may never get a better chance.

Her sire may never get a better chance.

Caroline: “Dangerous of you to reveal that to her,” Caroline chimes in.

Don’t dwell upon it.

There’s no guarantee she could strike him down. Not even here. And even if she succeeded, what would that really accomplish?

“However true it might be. She thinks we call her a treasure simply because we like her.”

He wouldn’t have come if he did not believe he could win free.

GM: “We call her our treasure for both reasons, and a thousand others besides,” Caroline’s mother agrees contently, stroking her daughter’s hair.

“Had the fleet that sailed for Helen of Troy as many ships as this lovely lady has reasons to treasure her, Priam’s city would have fallen in one night,” Savoy concurs, making a gallant show of kissing Simmone’s hand.

The child giggles at all three of their words.

The French Quarter lord rises from his feet to kiss Abélia’s hand next.

“Abélia, always a pleasure. My compliments on what you’ve done with the place. May I dare say this home suits you as no other does—and that this home would suit no other.”

“You just want to lure me out of the Garden District for good, Antoine,” Caroline’s mother answers with an amused purr.

“I am but my Blood, my dear. It cannot do aught but compel me to fill my home with things of beauty—beauty of flesh and beauty of spirit alike.”

Her mother’s black eyes smile at the words ‘beauty of spirit.’

Caroline: And how much beauty in the rabble scrabbling around the French Quarter in their unwashed masses?

“Green is a color I so rarely see you in,” she offers instead.

GM: “Red suits us all much better,” grins Savoy.

“I see much beauty here,” he continues. “I see a mother’s love for her daughters—love enough to transform a place of misery and suffering into a nurturing home. I see a tragedy within these walls that a family’s love bore its daughters through, stronger than ever.” His gaze turns to Caroline. “I see a second tragedy, no less regrettable for its inevitability, and a wounded heart mended through love. I see a daughter’s love for a mother—and a mother who finally seeks to be worthy of a daughter’s love.”

He bends to kiss Caroline’s hand last of all.

“I wish you much happiness with your new family, Caroline.”

“I wish you all the beauty such love and happiness may entail, now and forevermore.”

Caroline: “I pray we all get to see it,” Caroline answers.

There’s so much potential for bad blood, to hold grudges.

Savoy lied to her. Manipulated her. Lied to Claire. Led directly to her death. Sheltered Gettis.

In mere months.

It’s no wonder the hatred between elders can run so deeply.

And every night has given them plenty of new reasons to hate. How many lives and Requiems has the conflict between the prince and Savoy consumed? How many more will it consume? The city is on the edge of a knife.

GM: And sooner or later, that knife must draw blood.

Caroline VII, Chapter XVIII
The Bitch is Mine

“Miss Flores’ company would be vastly preferable to your own.”
Caroline Malveaux

This log is posted at: Caroline VII, Chapter XVIII; Celia IV, Chapter VIII.

Caroline VII, Chapter XVII
Forbidden Dalliances

“Most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

This full log is posted at: Caroline VII, Chapter XVII; Celia III, Chapter XXVI.