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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline VII, Chapter XVI
The Assamite

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t begin to know how to frame this one: it’s going to take more resources then she typically works with to explain the use of highly controlled military weapons in such numbers—at least in the face of any substantial scrutiny.

For the moment, she settles for working to get the cars near each other—to a passerby it might simply look like a horrific three car accident at high speed. Ferris sets to work policing the spent brass, gathering the automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and the like and hiding them at the edge of the woods.

She and Gisèlle work to mange any cars that pull up, that stop in the night. Altering memories, sending them on their way as though they’d seen just an accident, or a dead animal in the road.

GM: Midway through the group’s labors, the invisible staked figure becomes plain to Caroline’s sight. He’s a black-haired and tan-skinned man with Middle Eastern features in seemingly his late 20s. He’s lean-framed, shorter than her, and dressed in the same camo garb as his men.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to badly break both of his arms, his wrists, and fingers, stomping on them.

She’s taken enough chances tonight. He had his shot.

GM: “Shame we can’t just cut them off,” remarks Ferris.

Caroline: He’s right, unfortunately. Removing limbs is a prolonged and messy business for someone without supernatural strength, much less without sawing implements.

“Left my sword at home,” Caroline grins.

GM: “I’d be surprised if none of these people had bladed weapons. They were clearly targeting Kindred.”

Caroline: She takes the opportunity to check him for any ID, or clearly identifying marks.

GM: His ID card says Rajab al-Beydoun was born on June 4th, 1987 and is an organ donor. He also has a multitude of further weapons on his person, including a long combat knife.

Caroline: Caroline relieves the assassin of his weapons while they wait.

GM: The helicopter eventually lands. Hurst gets out with three ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. He immediately rushes to Becky Lynne’s side, embraces her, and asks if she is all right. She answers in the affirmative, though sadly states that Peggy is dead, along with several others. Hurst shakes his head at the whole scene.

“Well, Eiren, it looks like a lucky thing you were here first,” says the aedile, nodding towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Lucky,” Caroline agrees.

As though the assassin hadn’t sought her out.

“Sometimes things just come together that way.”

GM: “So they do.” Hurst looks around the scene. “We got room for three, besides the pilot. Who’s coming back besides my sister?”

“Of course you’d say me,” smiles Becky Lynne. “The seneschal wants Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, myself, and our friend with the wood in his heart.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“I have additional ghouls en route,” she offers. “Including my cleaner. She’ll do what she can here. They’re manpower if nothing else. They left via car shortly after our first conversation, Aedile Hurst.”

GM: “Good news,” says Hurst. He hefts the staked vampire over his shoulder, waving off any of the women who attempt to help. He seats the assassin down into the helicopter and secures the seatbelt straps around his body.

Becky Lynne takes the seat next to her brother. Caroline is left to sit beside her would-be killer.

Caroline: She takes a seat next to him, wearing his knife, with her stake shoved in his chest. She tries not to look smug about it.

GM: The frozen-faced assassin doesn’t look like much of anything.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Hurst pilots the helicopter back to New Orleans, chatting with Becky Lynne along the way about how events down, and finally lands on Perdido House’s helipad. They are greeted on the roof by Robert Congo, who offers to take the assassin’s body, but Hurst says he’ll manage it.

The ghoul escorts them to Maldonato’s office, where the seneschal patiently awaits the group from behind his desk. Becky Lynne dips into a curtsy. Hurst bows and sets down the assassin on one of the room’s chairs.

Caroline: Caroline mirrors the older Ventrue.

She can’t deny there is relief to be back in the city—it washed over her when the city’s lights appeared over the horizon.

It’s a greater relief to be back in Perdido House, before the seneschal. That the two might turn on her at any moment during the flight was a possibility she had considered. The assassins’ knife had laid heavy against her thigh, loose in its sheath.

If it had come down to it, she’d have let the Beast off its chains. Let it and the crash sort things out. Better than going quietly.

She’s glad it didn’t.

GM: “I am pleased that your mission was successful,” Maldonato states as he surveys the three. “Risk was ventured. Reward is now our due.”

He turns to the assassin. The stake removes itself from the vampire’s chest.

“Identify yourself.”

The broken-limbed man offers a bow from the chair.

“I am Raaid ibn Badr bint Khalil bint Nazeeha bint Fatima bint Thetmes ibn Sha’hiri ibn Haqim, Your Grace.”

Caroline: The information is less valuable than the identity of his employer, or confirmation of his target, but she allows the seneschal to play his cards as he will. He’s been at the game for far longer than she has.

GM: “I am sorry that we must meet under these circumstances,” says Raaid. “Your name is not unknown in Alamut.”

“Nor, evidently, is mine the only such name,” answers the seneschal. “Who was the target of your contract, son of Haqim?”

“The childe of Prince Augusto Vidal, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” answers Raaid.

Hurst’s eyebrows raise.

Becky Lynne’s don’t.

Caroline: Caroline bites back a hiss.

So much for the longevity of that secret.

An assassin, brought from around the world to kill her, within nights of her presentation.

GM: “From whom did Alamut receive her contract?” inquires Maldonato.

“I do not know,” answers Raaid.

The seneschal stares at him for several moments.

“You speak truly, son of Haqim. I would have been surprised had you spoken falsely in this matter.”

Raaid inclines his head.

Caroline: There are plenty that would see her dead. There are fewer that might confidently name her the prince’s childe.

GM: “The contract upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers has failed,” states Maldonato. “Do traditions remain as they once did in Alamut? Are further contracts upon your target closed?”

“That is as things long were,” says Raaid. “Jamal no longer sits upon the Black Throne. Alamut may consider it a point of honor to avenge my final death and complete the outstanding contract.”

“That is unfortunate for us all,” replies the seneschal. “I would be inclined to release you as a gesture of goodwill to Alamut, if I knew for certain that further contracts upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers were closed. Yet I do not believe her sire shall be so forgiving.”

Raaid inclines his head again.

“This, too, is known to us.”

“If there are questions you would ask of our guest, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, you may do so now,” Maldonato bids.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I have several, Seneschal, thank you.”

She turns on the crippled vampire, eyeing him warily.

“You fought well. Very well.”

GM: Raaid offers another inclination of his head at Caroline’s words.

Caroline: “Were you given a time and location I would be at to conduct your strike, or did you arrange circumstances that would pull me from the city?”

GM: “I was given a time and location.”

Caroline: There are painfully few that might have arranged such a thing.

She nods. “I know little of Alamut, so please forgive my ignorance. It seems that in your, or my, victory or defeat, this contract could have provided no peace. I am months in the Blood, expendable. But no matter the victor between us, hatred seems now destined to continue between our masters. Is it the way of Alamut to become more than the blade between two foes, to become a foe itself?”

“I would speak plainly with you. It is not my desire to become leverage used to place my sire in conflict with others by his enemies. By your hire, this appears unavoidable.”

GM: “So long as the defeated perish honorably, that is not Alamut’s way,” answers Raaid. “We have rendered judgment upon the Get of Khayvin since time immemorial. Many rafiq have met final death in pursuit of Haqim’s will. If Alamut sought vengeance for every fallen son and daughter, we would have enemies beyond count—though individual sires may find it harder to forget a childe’s final death.”

“Alamut does not forget foes whose treatment of our defeated sons and daughters profanes Haqim’s name. One of the rafiq during the wars along the Eastern Seaboard was captured by a foul Tzimisce and made a plaything for his captor’s pleasure. For this stain upon our clan’s honor, Alamut took out contracts upon him and his captor. I shall hope for all our sakes to meet a cleaner death.”

Caroline: “If released, what message would you carry back to your masters?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That I have failed to complete the contract and Caroline Malveaux-Devillers yet walks the night.”

Caroline: “That is all?” Caroline probes.

GM: “That is all of concern to them.”

“A contract was taken. The contract was not completed.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Then we must all do as our masters bid. One final question: how long ago was the contract taken out upon me?”

GM: “I do not know,” answers Raaid. “I was ordered to fulfill your contract but recently. Whomever wishes you dead might have contacted Alamut anywhere from nights to years before then—though in your case, likely no earlier than six months.”

“You too fought well, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. All the more so for one so young. Your enemy is wise to contract your final death before you have time to grow more formidable in the Blood.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head in respect, then turns once more to the seneschal.

“I have asked my questions, Seneschal.”

“For what it may matter, I hold no ill will, and would see him banished, or if he must be slain, that it be done cleanly.”

GM: “What of the fact that Miss Malveaux-Devillers asked for your release, sir?” asks Becky Lynne. “Will that go a ways towards smoothing over any ruffled feathers with Alamut?”

“I will be held no worse or higher in the rafiq’s esteem,” says Raaid. “Either way, I will have failed to complete my contract. Miss Malveaux-Devillers may be viewed more favorably.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

There’s little more to add now. If the assassin has been honest, it is in God’s hands. And her sire’s.

The use of her ancestry in the attack tells her something, but little more than how the attack was arranged. How carefully it played to not only her own weaknesses, but those of the seneschal.

She supposes this is what her Requiem will be.

Her remaining questions, for Adler, are not the business of the assassin.

GM: Maldonato steeples his fingers as he regards the Assamite.

“Traditions in Alamut are not as they once were, son of Haqim. Would you make a second attempt upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ unlife if released?”

“If commanded to,” answers Raaiad.

“You would owe her a debt, son of Haqim, if she contrived to spare your unlife.”

“That is so,” grants Raaid. “If Alamut commanded me to end her unlife, I could fulfill but one obligation. But I do not believe my superiors would entrust me to complete Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ contract after having failed once.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “If released under those circumstances, would you see fit to convey warning to me if further attempts were forthcoming? Not of their details, that might betray your covenants, but of their intent?”

GM: “Surprise is an assassin’s greatest weapon. Is not such a warning still betrayal?”

Caroline: “Is not a departure from the old ways without such a warning dishonorable?”

GM: “The Shepherd now sits upon the Black Throne. His word is Haqim’s, and Haqim’s word is law. If the Eldest would overturn prior tradition, the rafiq will obey.”

Caroline: “I would not presume otherwise,” Caroline agrees. “We must all be loyal servants to our masters.”

“I seek only a way you might honor your oaths while repaying any debt.”

She bites her tongue. “Might you delay your reporting of this?” she asks.

GM: “I would not,” replies Raaid. “But if you wished to hold me here, I could not stop you.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“That is an option,” she muses.

“My murder will mean far less in a year than tonight, for many interested parties.”

And hopefully be rather more difficult.

GM: “Our guest gives utterance to a thought he knows has already occurred to us,” states Maldonato. “If a second assassination attempt may follow the first, we shall endeavor to delay it by all means available. When are you expected to report back to your superiors, son of Haqim?”

“I am to return to Alamut when the contract is fulfilled, or when I believe it may no longer be fulfilled,” states Raaiad. “My superiors informed me the contract was time-sensitive.”

“How time-sensitive?”

“That every further passing night was undesirable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face says everything at that admission.

GM: “If you had fulfilled your contract, how long would your journey back to the Mountain have taken you?” inquires Maldonato.

The assassin inclines his head. “I cannot stop Your Grace from reading my houghts, but I will not divulge that information freely.”

“We do not seek the Mountain’s secrets, son of Haqim,” states Maldonato. “Nor do I believe we might divine Alamut’s location through the contents of your mind alone.”

“Nevertheless, we shall not compel you to divulge that information, and we will err on the side of caution. You shall remain staked in Perdido House for one month.”

“One month’s time lost is preferable to an Istirja lost, Your Grace,” answers the Assamite. “I have no complaints.”

Caroline: She bets he doesn’t. Attempt to murder the prince’s childe and suffer a month staked.

She’s suffered worse for less. She distinctly remembers a night in which Donovan leaped across a table and unceremoniously staked her before leaving her for a weekend in a basement beside other undesirables.

GM: :: Your sire’s knowledge of this Kindred’s actions will result his final death. If you are sincere in your desire to see Raaid ibn Badr’s unlife spared, I would not bid you lie to your sire, but nor would I counsel you to reveal more than is asked for. ::

Caroline: That thought immediately turns her stomach, snatches the euphoria from this victory away.

It also demands she push back against the very idea.

:: I would not withhold information from him for Raaid ibn Badr’s sake. ::

:: I would spare him a battle on my behalf. ::

GM: :: The choice is yours, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: I will not lie to him, :: Caroline clarifies.

:: But you know better than any his wrath, how he would treat this attack. What he seeks he will find, but I will not lead him there. Not unless the circumstances surrounding this require it. ::

A pause.

:: You know she isn’t entirely innocent in this matter. ::

GM: The stake rises aloft and plunges back into the Assamite’s breast.

“Primogen Hurst, please relocate Raaid ibn Badr to one of the holding cells.”

“I shall also trust that your clan’s elders will not discover you were made aware of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ lineage before they.”

“Lips are zipped ‘til they’re the ones to tell me, Your Grace,” nods Hurst as he hefts up the assassin’s body.

“Gabe, you can get a ghoul to do that for you,” smiles Becky Lynne.

Hurst chuckles. “You know I don’t mind gettin’ my hands dirty, sis. Good night, Your Grace, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.” The primogen nods to Maldonato and Caroline.

“Good night, Primogen Hurst.”

“I’ll see you soon, Gabe.”

Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange silently.

An act? Difficult to tell. They certainly appear to have affection for one another. How that arose from Matheson’s cruelty is a question for the ages.

The sight dredges up suppressed desires. The image of Cécilia, immortal alongside her, potent like so few neonates in the Blood. Fully brought into this world, an ally she can rely upon like no other. She knows well she’ll never share another sister-in-blood as Hurst does, but she could share something different, almost entirely unique. Cécilia, not the observer and adviser, but an active participant in the All-Night Society. Cécilia, never growing old. Never dying.

She buries the urge as Hurst turns to leave. A few nights ago, she’d never dreamed she would even have Cécilia as a part of this life at all. She’d feared her connection to her family would die with the bishop’s demands. Now she wants to see her murdered, see the life drained from her body, so she can prey on mortals in the night alongside her.

Selfish.

GM: Cécilia said she’d do it. That she would accept this burden. There’s less need for a Malveaux marriage with Caroline brought into the family.

Hurst, meanwhile, takes his leave of the office and closes its door behind him.

:: If you would question Miss Adler, you may do so now, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. But take heed that she may yet prove a potent ally. ::

Caroline: She rolls that idea over. Adler might indeed.

But not if she knew. Not if she was a part of this.

She rounds on the other Kindred. “Ms. Adler. I regret that you were drawn into this, used as the bait to this trap, and that you suffered as a result.” She buries the Ventrue honorifics around the Lasombra elder.

She also buries the ‘but’, instead pausing for a moment before taking a breath and continuing.

“You heard what the assassin said. This attack required careful coordination and timing. It required knowledge of how both I, and the seneschal would react. If there is something you believe might be disclosed which would help identify the contract holder, I would request you do so now.”

Because when I find them, I am going to rip their treacherous heart from their chest.

GM: “Thank you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” says Becky Lynne. “Though I’d say poor Peggy suffered worse than me. I’m still unliving, at least.”

“I’m afraid I can’t think of anything that would help identify whoever’s behind this. This entire thing came as a surprise.”

Caroline: The gentle smile fades.

“Ms. Adler, who knew of our planned meeting tonight?” Caroline probes.

“That matter could not have been widely circulated.”

GM: “No one I’d suspect of having a part in tonight’s events, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne answers frankly. “I might ask you the same question, and whether any prying ears have access to your haven.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler, until Peggy’s arrival, I’d expected to meet you in person. No one on my staff, including myself, knew you were in Gulfport. This leak did not come from my side. Not because we are above suspicion, but because we were incapable of executing it.”

“Someone knew where you would be. They knew we would be speaking and when. They pulled massive levers to create a circumstance that would entice me to respond, and in addition they knew the seneschal’s own likely response.”

“They were able to provide all the way down to a date and time, predicting reactions accurately, with enough notice to have an assassin travel from across the world to execute.”

“An assassin hired with extremely sensitive, privileged, information.”

“That you do not suspect those parties knowledgeable of this does not relieve them of suspicion. We have a traitor in our midst.”

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them. That they are above suspicion. That you trust them.”

“This traitor is perfectly willing and able to use you as leverage. To threaten your Requiem and exploit the seneschal’s affection for you to entice him into taking risks he otherwise would not.”

She saves her trump card for now. The missing bodyguard. The suspicion that she’d poisoned him. There’s no need to make allegations yet.

Better to bait the trap, to see how Adler responds.

There are circumstances in which she could imagine Adler blameless. Though not innocent. She knows something.

“Ms. Adler, it worked. They know they have a lever. And because it worked they will target you again, as acceptable collateral damage if required, to get to not only me, but the seneschal.”

GM: “Foreknowledge of your activities does not imply knowing or willful participation in this evening’s events, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states calmly. “Individuals with such knowledge may have been ignorant or unwilling accessories. Nothing is yet established. It is for the sakes of those close to you as well our own sakes that I would know whom was aware of your meeting tonight with Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Becky Lynne listens between Caroline and the seneschal.

“Outside of Peggy, only my sire and Primogen Hurst were aware of my itinerary,” the other Ventrue answers. “It’s certainly also possible that other Kindred could have stolen that information from them or me, through a variety of means.”

“Because it doesn’t make sense to me that it would have been one of them. Not, as Miss Malveaux-Devillers says, because they are above suspicion, but because they were incapable of executing tonight’s events. My sire knows, if I may be frank, very little about the contemporary workings of Whitney Hancock, federal law enforcement, and legal institutions. My brother-in-blood doesn’t have enough pull in those groups to have arranged tonight’s events. Very few Kindred could have done so.”

“My sire could have hired the Banu Haqim assassin, but I wouldn’t be inclined to suspect Mr. Ibn Badr of arranging these events either. I’m to understand his clan favors more direct means of moving against their targets than influence games.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs.

“A boon, perhaps, called in?”

She doesn’t comment on how inconvenient it is that ‘Peggy’ is not available to be questioned.

GM: “Am I to understand you’re hypothesizing my sire called in such a boon, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Becky Lynne asks.

The Ventrue’s voice is mild enough, but certainly cooler.

Caroline: “I’m speculating someone might have called in a boon from your sire or brother, Ms. Adler,” Caroline clarifies quickly.

“I think it less likely they would so overtly risk you in this way—to say nothing of the appalling Masquerade breaches associated with this attack, and the damage it may do to your own personal Masquerade.”

“Such information may have appeared less sensitive than it proved to be.”

GM: “You think they could have disclosed my itinerary for a boon called in,” Becky Lynne clarifies. “That’s certainly one way someone might have found out, but to me it’d seem suspicious to spend a boon over it—why not simply ask and claim an innocuous reason, like wanting to meet with me over something?”

“For that matter, why ask either Kindred about their childe’s or sibling minor’s availability. Much easier to ask Peggy.”

Caroline: Because you were also compelled to dispatch your bodyguard and travel alone this night.

GM: “I don’t advertise my trips to Gulfport, and Peggy knows—knew, not to do the same, but there are many ways to make a ghoul talk.”

Caroline: Caroline is trying to offer her an out, trying to find an explanation that doesn’t make the seneschal’s favorite neonate into a knowing conspirator, but Adler is playing her role too well.

She’s well aware of how easy it was to make Peggy talk.

GM: “It is regrettable that we cannot question her, Miss Adler,” states Maldonato. “Yet more regrettable to you, I am certain, is the loss of a faithful servant. I am sorry that Miss Sweet’s life was claimed by tonight’s events.”

Becky Lynne bows her head.

“Thank you, Seneschal. She was faithful. She will be mourned.”

Caroline: Caroline gives that thought a moment to cool before continuing, not wanting to interrupt.

“There was nothing else unusual about tonight Ms. Adler, prior to your apprehension?”

GM: Becky Lynne seems to think.

“No, nothing especially so. I wish I could say more. As you observe, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I’ve been targeted by these events as well. Directly and indirectly. I can’t even imagine the headache that’s going to await at the bank tomorrow—and it’s going to be all the more inconvenient to respond to, given the state of things with my mortal identity.”

She gives a faint smile.

“I suppose we’ll be in need of legal counsel that’s more sensitive to our needs than a kine law firm.”

She inclines her head again towards Maldonato.

“But you’ll forgive me, Your Grace. Your time is valuable and these neonates’ nightly dealings and concerns are not yours.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler,” Caroline interrupts more gently.

“Almost half of the city’s Ventrue have been destroyed in the last year. Another has had his reputation so badly mauled he may never return to the city. Two more by all rights should have been destroyed tonight.”

She pauses.

“We’re losing. To everyone, and everywhere. Being dismantled. Picked off one by one and two by two.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods somberly.

“So we are, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. It’s my hope your sire may see fit to bring new blood into the clan, or perhaps invite older blood to relocate itself to the city.”

“Something needs to make up for these losses.”

Caroline: “Until then, I would fewer secrets between us, and greater alignment of purpose.”

She runs a tongue across her fangs, “When I sought to speak with you tonight in the first place it was to disclose something I believed might be of interest to you.”

“Richard Gettis is alive.”

GM: :: This conversation is best held on your and Miss Adler’s own time than mine, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, if it is not immediately germane to the events of tonight. ::

Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows.

“Oh, my goodness. That is something to hear. Is he one of us?”

Caroline: She’d hoped to off-balance the other Ventrue, to set her up for a push on the topic of her missing bodyguard, but she can all but feel the seneschal’s lack of patience. His frustration that his favorite neonate, his chosen heir to the throne, his dirty secret, isn’t interested in playing ball.

Speaking to her with the seneschal was a mistake.

He cannot be objective where she is concerned.

“I’m certain you have many things to see to Ms. Adler. When you’re interested in that story, the full story so far as I know, my door is always open.”

GM: “I should very much be, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” offers Becky Lynne. “I imagine we’ll have a great many things to discuss together.”

She turns to regard the seneschal, only for him to preempt her.

“I require access to your thoughts, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states without preamble. “Will you consent to allow me ingress?”

“I am our prince’s obedient subject,” Becky Lynne answers demurely. “May I inquire as to what Your Grace hopes to find?”

“I hope to find explanation for your alleged poisoning of your bodyguard, Miss Adler.”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent.

She’s too accustomed to working within the limits of her own abilities, of her own influence. Simply invading Adler’s mind had not occurred to her.

GM: Becky Lynne’s eyebrows raise again.

“I have nothing to hide, Your Grace.”

The seneschal holds her gaze for several moments.

“You do not,” he declares summarily, “but another does. You poisoned your ghoul at the subliminal command of another, Miss Adler, and were thereafter compelled to forget the deed.”

“Miss Sweet has rendered us all a further service since her death, for it was she who raised this matter to others’ attentions.”

Caroline: She’ll render a second if Caroline has any say in it. Sweet’s death, unfortunate though it may be, is a convenient writeout for Adler’s identity, and using the corpse on scene vice killing another to stand in her place is not only efficient but moral.

All the same, she bows her head for a moment.

She’s lost more ghouls than the average lick. She rarely handled it as well as Adler has.

“A well-conceived use,” she observes after a moment. “If Miss Sweet, Miss Adler, and I had all perished as intended, this secret would have been neatly buried.”

“I don’t imagine many had both opportunity and capability to do so.”

GM: “Even had not one of you perished tonight, this deed might have escaped our notice without Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ and Miss Sweet’s vigilant attentions,” answers Maldonato.

“Great thanks do I owe Peggy indeed,” Becky Lynne offers, bowing her head again.

“May I inquire by whose urging I was made to harm another of my servants, Seneschal?”

“You may not, Miss Alder,” Maldonato answers without elaboration. “Yet I do not believe you have immediate cause to fear further invasion of your mind.”

Caroline: That catches her attention as the list of suspects for this attack grows short.

GM: He withdraws his pocketwatch from his coat to examine its face.

“These events have claimed much of my time this evening. I may spare none further and have heard all I need hear. The Masquerade still must needs be observed. You and Miss Malveaux-Devillers will return to the battle site and ensure all evidence of our kind’s hand is erased. I do not believe your Requiems will be at further risk by doing so. Robert Congo awaits outside the door and will make available whatever resources you require.”

Caroline: “By your will, Seneschal,” Caroline acknowledges.

GM: “By Your Grace’s will,” Becky Lynne repeats. “Thank you, on my and my kin’s behalf, for the aid you have rendered us tonight.”

She rises, dips into another curtsy, then departs the office with Caroline.

The assassin’s attack may have been foiled, but the night’s work does not seem done.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Robert Congo awaits attentively outside his domitor’s office.

“Another pilot for the helicopter has already been arranged,” states Congo. “Is there aught else madams require?”

Caroline: Other than disclosure on who pulled the strings on tonight?

“Not for me, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “Most of my people are already en route. They should arrive around the same time we will via helicopter.”

GM: “I’d offer to bring some more of my own, but between Miss Malveaux-Devillers’, my brother’s, and the seneschal’s, I think we’ll have enough ghouls to go around,” volunteers Adler.

“Very good, madams. You may then return without delay,” states Congo. “The pilot is not a ghoul. His memory may require alteration if he sees anything amiss.”

“Landing where we do may be amiss enough,” considers Becky Lynne. “But thank you, Mr. Congo. We’ll see the First Tradition is observed around him as well.”

“Hm, actually, there is no need for that,” the Ventrue seemingly reconsiders. “I’d rather not add more work to what’s ahead tonight.”

“I don’t have an actual pilot’s certificate, but my brother has shown me how to fly this specific model of helicopter.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head.

GM: “Very good, then, madam,” states Congo.

“Perhaps better you make the flight yourselves.”

He shows the two back up to Perdido House’s roof and informs the waiting pilot, a still-handsome 40- or 50-something man whom he addresses as Mr. Barber, that his services will no longer be required. He will still be compensated for his time.

MicahBarber.jpg
Caroline: Caroline gives the man a second glance, but not a third, as she and Adler climb into the helicopter.

She has to admit that it makes for much smoother ride than the seneschal’s powers.

GM: Barber seems happy not to make a flight out at this late hour if he’s still getting paid and takes his leave, though not before giving Caroline and Becky Lynne second glances too.

“I wouldn’t mind flying you lovely ladies at a saner hour,” he smiles.

Becky Lynne chuckles goodnaturedly at that. “Perhaps you’ll get to someday, Mr. Barber.”

Caroline’s clanmate takes somewhat longer than Hurst did in getting everything ready and double-checking things, but soon has the helicopter aloft again. The whir of the chopper’s wings makes the cockpit a less than quiet space, but there’s enough insulation for the two to speak.

“Well, I suppose there’s no time like the present now on the matter of Richard Gettis,” says Becky Lynne.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t certain that there’s no better time—a frenzying vampire flying a helicopter seems like a recipe for disaster—but doesn’t argue the point.

“He’s a ghoul,” she begins.

“A very, very old ghoul. Blurs the line between independent ghoul and hunter, but of late he’s leaned towards the former.”

GM: The other Ventrue frowns in thought.

“What makes you say so in that regard, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

“I’d think hunters would have more reason to target the Whitneys than independent ghouls.”

Caroline: “Because the last time I saw him directly he was working with agents of Mr. Savoy, and I have a credible report that he has longstanding ties to him. Mind you, he’s hardly the first hunter to take up with him. His stance is significantly more agreeable than that of my sire towards them.”

GM: “Ah, yes. I’d heard much the same,” says Becky Lynne. “I suppose it’s no surprise. He always has been more willing to seek friends in low places.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what the plan was, shooting my sister and your niece, but I doubt it was a spur of the moment decision.”

GM: “My niece, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

The other Ventrue sounds only mildly confused, as if Caroline is simply mistaken.

Caroline: “It took me a while,” Caroline admits. “Longer than it should have, but I trust you’ll grant that I had admittedly pressing concerns early on.”

“But few things escape my notice these nights.”

GM: “The seneschal is a good friend to have,” Becky Lynne concurs.

“I trust you’ll further understand my and my sire’s reservations as to any Kindred’s involvement with the Whitney family.”

Caroline: “I’ve found him so, these last few nights. We seem to have found our accord,” Caroline agrees.

“And of course. I would have had stronger feelings and less kind words than you expressed at the prospect of another Kindred associating with my sisters. Your restraint was admirable, Questor Adler.”

GM: “It was for Sarah’s and the others’ benefits, as much as anything else. No reason for any neonate to get especially antsy over another Kindred’s interest in her sire’s domain, beyond looking out for his interests.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see many benefits to starting over, after the Embrace. Developing a new identity. It helps protect them. Keeps them out of things, as much as possible. Lets you start again, fully immerse yourself in this world, as painful as it might be to cut ties.”

GM: “Protects them, and the simple necessity of the Masquerade. I’ll turn 31, in not too many weeks. Sarah was six when I died. Now she looks about as old as I do. My father looks like he could be my grandfather. My brother looks like he could be my father.”

“Cosmetics can only disguise so many years.”

Caroline: Easier for Caroline than Rebecca. Dying even a few years older means, if so inclined, she could disguise her age for decades. But it’s hard to hide a teenager’s features.

“It might have been easier, early on, if that option had been available. It might have mitigated some of the worst of my transgressions before Gerousiastis Malveaux. I don’t know that I would have had the wisdom to take it, though. Abandoning who you were is a leap of faith.”

“And without an education into the clan, or even the Camarilla, missteps would have still been all but certain.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I am grateful for that, as an aside. I know I was not an easy student.”

GM: It doesn’t help that the seeming 18-year-old’s small frame only further emphasizes her youthfulness.

“I’ve had no other students to compare you against, Eiren Malveux-Devillers, so for all I know you might have been,” Becky Lynne declares with a hint of a smile. “And it will be worth more dignitas now than it was before, I think.”

Caroline: “Only if I succeed,” Caroline observes.

GM: “That much was true anyways.”

“As to wisdom, time and experience is usually the only thing that teaches it.”

Caroline: “Not my strongest subject,” Caroline muses.

“But that brings us back to Gettis. I don’t know what his intentions were that night, but if I have an opportunity—and I intend on manufacturing one—I’m going to make him pay for it.”

GM: “That’s a worthy enough cause. I don’t imagine you’d care to chance a repeat of that night’s events. I wouldn’t either.”

Caroline: “I don’t know if you’d be interested, Questor, in being a part of that when the time comes, but it seemed right to extend the opportunity.”

GM: “Perhaps not personally, Eiren, depending on the final lay of things. But certainly in a background role.”

“I’d have no bone to pick with Richard Gettis, if I were confident he would never target another Whitney—my mama always said to keep your eye on the ball, and a feud by itself gains my family and I nothing. But without understanding Mr. Gettis’ motivations, I don’t feel able to confidently say the Whitneys won’t ever be in his crosshairs again.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s a prudent view, and one she might have taken if Gettis had targeted her. He chose her sister though, and that she neither forgets nor forgives.

“I’ll keep in touch on the matter, then.”

GM: “Splendid,” says Becky Lynne.

“You’ll have to do it eventually, you know, Eiren,” she remarks a moment later.

“Disappear from their lives.”

“I suppose your sire considers another Malveaux death too much strain on the Masquerade, this soon. But in not so many years, staying will be the bigger strain.”

Caroline: “You’re more of an optimist than I’d believed, Questor,” Caroline observes lightly.

GM: Becky Lynne only gives that a faint, knowingly rueful smile as she stares out of the cockpit.

Caroline: Caroline’s mind dances back to all the negative, hostile thoughts she’s had about Adler, going back to their earliest meetings. The comment in the bathroom of Elysium, when she was trying to clean herself off. She’d thought the older Ventrue was just another petty ‘mean girl’—a type Caroline knew well. Hell, a type she was.

She reflects on her doubts even tonight. How she’d suspected Adler of plotting this, of arranging this. How ready she’d been for the stake in the back. And yet… it hadn’t come. By all available evidence, Adler was as much a victim as she was—and in some ways more.

And the seneschal loves her. That thought burns bright and jealously, but the beacon makes it harder to ignore. She generally trusts his judgement.

She may yet prove a potent ally. Those words echo through her mind. Perhaps enough for a leap of faith. A sharing of secrets.

“It was all arranged, actually. I was to die quite soon. I’d burned the bridges with my father’s family almost to the ground. Destroyed my name, at the behest of Gerousiastis Malveaux. I was trying to bury as many sources of conflict between us as I could, to re-frame our relationship. It seemed to be working.”

“A painful, wasted effort it seems,” she continues.

“He was assassinated nights ago. And all of our plans have turned to ash.”

“With the final death of Gerousiastis Malveaux, someone needs to be there to pick up the Malveaux pieces. Someone loyal. Elsewise someone else will.”

“It’s funny, a year ago I might have fought him to the death for the family, for what I considered my family, but I suppose the effort wasn’t entirely wasted. His efforts weren’t entirely wasted. I don’t feel excited at he prospect of claiming them as a domain. I feel… burdened.”

“I guess, though Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will live a while longer, the Malveaux part of me is truly dead. He accomplished what he set out to—much as he did with the rest of his Requiem.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at the reference to the gerousiastis’ final death.

“My goodness. His loss is a great one—to the Structure, the archdiocese, and certainly to our prince.”

“I don’t know that anyone will be able to fill his pair of shoes.”

Caroline: “Every Kindred I get close to, Questor, seems to get destroyed. Every bridge I build I find leads only to ashes.”

She bites her lip.

GM: “I don’t know the good bishop was ever much of a bridge with you, Eiren, if I’m being honest. But oh, no. This really is terrible for the clan. I suppose Praetor Bindusara won’t be visiting after all.”

Caroline: “It took me too long to kiss the ring,” Caroline admits without further elaboration as the conversation moves on.

“I don’t know that his destruction will alter the Praetor’s plans. In fact, in some ways it makes his visit all the more important.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth. “Questor Polk died with him. There are painfully few that have near to their experience with the clan’s records, but too few things that I believe might drive others to take up that mantle in earnest like the forthcoming arrival of Praetor Bindusara.”

GM: “Lord almighty, Questor Polk as well?”

Becky Lynne shakes her head.

“We can just about forget that, then. No one else is qualified to take up the mantle—I don’t think there will be any opportunities for dignitas here. The Gerousia won’t risk the local clan’s embarrassment. No, I suspect the honor will simply go to another city, now, one with more qualified archivists and genealogists.”

Caroline: “You know their minds better than I, Questor, and had they been destroyed in some terrible accident I would agree. Their murder casts quite a different pallor on it, however.”

“To wave off now would be to admit defeat, to show how badly we have been wounded. And no matter how much I believe we have—the death of two members of the Gerousia within months of each other, to say nothing of the less noteworthy deaths, cannot be denied—I do not believe my sire will show what he believes is weakness.”

“If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise. He knows that better than anyone.”

“Now is the time for strength.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles ruefully.

“It’s less a question of victories and defeats, Eiren, than doin’ what best preserves the regional clan’s history. Not many Kindred outside the Structure know about our archives or the praetor’s visit, so lookin’ weak to outsiders isn’t an issue here. Just the simple fact New Orleans no longer has the region’s most qualified historian, so that mantle will pass to another city. Your sire is strategos of all the Southeast, not just our city. He sees the big picture.”

Caroline: But there are plenty of Kindred within the clan that will look to such a move, alongside the presentation of his first childe in centuries and presumptive heir, and see weakness.

She doesn’t buy it, but doesn’t argue the point with the Ventrue a decade in the Blood.

“I’ve been wrong before,” she concedes.

GM: “But, really, I suppose it’s not our concern any longer, unlike the gerousiastis’ final death. Such a tragedy. He’d been a peer to the old gerousiastes even as an aedile, but my brother hasn’t seen near as many years in the Blood. And none of the remaining questors and eirens have seen near as many as him, with Polk gone too.”

“It truly feels as if we’re diminished now, not simply letting clanmates who’ve long earned their dues finally claim them.”

“I’ll admit his personality could be rather prickly, but I always found him helpful when approached politely. Smart as a whip, too. I think he knew something about everything, to say nothing of our clan’s history—it’s so sad to think how all of that knowledge is gone forever. All of that loyalty, as well. He worshiped our prince, would have done anything for him. And I suppose the Structure will no longer have a master sorcerer on call, either. Or, really, any sorcerer without Questor Polk either.”

She shakes her head.

“This and the last year have been comparable to Katrina, at least for us blue bloods.”

Caroline: Of course he was unfailingly helpful to you, Caroline doesn’t exasperatedly declare. The childe of the second-oldest Ventrue associated with the city, who never had to fight for anything. Who had a krewe from her earliest nights and the unwavering patronage of the seneschal. Who was educated into the ways of Clan Ventrue before a messy public reveal. Who wasn’t competing with him for his domain, stomping all over it just to maintain her Masquerade.

It’s almost too convenient, when she thinks about it. Adler Embraced against the seneschal’s wishes, by a group that included a psychotic and cruel Brujah nomad and… Gerousiastis Matheson? It strains credulity, but she can’t tell in the moment if that’s because she still wants to think the worst of Adler, wants to have something to blame her for. Some imperfection.

“His assassination was well-timed,” Caroline agrees. “Six months ago it would have hurt, but not been nearly so backbreaking. The loss of a loyal priest and aedile is one thing. The murder of the bishop and member of the Gerousia is quite another.”

“And as you say, Questor, there is no one to take his place in any of his myriad roles. Perhaps the prince will invite others to the city, and certainly we will all shoulder more responsibilities, but he can only be succeeded, not replaced.”

“I wish we had met under other circumstances.”

GM: “Even six months later might have made all the difference,” Becky Lynne nods.

“But I suppose these thoughts are better saved for his remembrance, and all the clan can do now is soldier on.”

“Perhaps we’ll see other Ventrue invited to the city. Perhaps there’ll be new Embraces.”

“Perhaps some of both.”

Caroline: “Did you know, Questor?” Caroline asks.

“About me?”

GM: “No, not specifically. Though I did know that Questor Baristheaut’s childe shouldn’t have been able to revive Miss Baker from torpor with her own vitae.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “The worst kept secret in the city, I think, some nights.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “In hindsight, perhaps wiser to have brought her to another Kindred, but spilled milk.”

Caroline: “I didn’t lie to her that night,” Caroline answers. “I knew some things then, but not all of it.”

GM: “I don’t think she’d begrudge you either way. We all have things we can’t talk about.”

Caroline: “Depends on what you lie about. More to point, I suppose, I wasn’t trying to manipulate her. I know she’s your friend, or at least was, Questor.”

“Lies are no way to build a relationship.”

GM: “True enough, Eiren. Honesty may be a luxury in the masked city, but it’s few Kindred—or people—who don’t enjoy luxury.”

“Miss Baker and I are on good enough terms, though we don’t spend as much time together as we used to. Our Requiems have taken us in different directions.”

Caroline: “No different than life in that way, I imagine. You drift away from your high school friends, your college friends, your young adult friends,” Caroline muses. “You don’t hate them, you just don’t see them.”

GM: “So I’ve found it,” Becky Lynne nods.

Granted, she died before making any college or young adult friends.

“The Baron is willing to let us investigate Louis Armstrong Park, by the way, so long as some of his people are there.”

“Though I’m not sure that may hold the interest or value it once did.”

Caroline: “It’s one of the few pieces I don’t have my thumb completely on,” Caroline admits.

“Such a distinctive location.”

“And such a distinctive sequence.”

GM: “I’m certain your sire or the seneschal know why you awoke there, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline agrees.

Not that they’re generally in the habit of doing so for her benefit.

“Likely not worth your time, Questor.”

GM: “I’ll simply thank the Baron’s people for their accommodation, in that case.”

“So what’s next for you, Eiren, with things as they now are?”

Caroline: It’s a good question.

“Recent events have seemingly pleased my sire. At least enough so that he has expressed willingness to acknowledge my existence and lift my head from the block. I’ve been told to expect sooner, rather than later, that I will be required to take some time away from this life to prepare for the one as his first childe in centuries.”

“I have a few house keeping matters to see too before that happens,” Caroline replies.

Like exposing and destroying the sheriff.

“Things I cannot leave half-finished. Establishing and securing my hold on various pieces of my Requiem—Masquerade and otherwise. Leaving fewer loose ends. And there are several matters I intend on putting into motion.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Some of which may be of interest to you.”

GM: “You should expect that time with him to last potentially years,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you’ll be glad for it, whatever the inconvenience. You’ll learn and receive more things than you can imagine.”

“Perhaps we might reach an arrangement over some of those unfinished matters. Which spring to mind?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I have a thin-blood ward.”

A pause. “She’s pregnant, pretty far along, but I don’t think I’ll be here long enough for her to come all the way to term. I promised I’d shelter her at least until her child was born.”

GM: “Oh, my,” says Becky Lynne. “They really can be more like kine than us.”

“I could arrange for her shelter.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, though the gesture is lost on the flying Ventrue.

“She was Embraced, if you can call it that, pretty far along.”

GM: “That’s unfortunate for her. I’m sure all she wanted was a normal life for her child.”

Caroline: “It’s all she still wants.”

She bites her lip. “It didn’t stop me from bringing her and her ‘sire’ to the hounds, but it did convince the seneschal to offer at least a temporary stay of execution.”

“As long as one of us—or specifically I—was willing to take responsibility for her.”

“I don’t think my sire would take it very well, but letting a pregnant teenager, a good Catholic girl, get executed was more than I could stomach.”

“I don’t know if the baby will survive, or what it will be, or if she’ll be spared afterwards, but it was what I could do. The least I could do.”

GM: “I don’t know if she’ll be able to get what she wants,” Becky Lynne answers frankly, “but I’d say you did all that you reasonably could, Eiren.”

“And more than some Kindred would have done.”

“You are right that your sire wouldn’t approve of you spending time and trouble on her, too. Neither would mine, for that matter.”

Caroline: “It’s easy to see why they may feel that way,” Caroline admits. “My circumstances of my Embrace and necessities of my Requiem have torn away more of my humanity than I’d like to admit. Sometimes she makes my skin crawl, just being in the same room. I look at her and I see something unnatural. We are not supposed to exist that way. The monster in me sees taint, sees perversion, an existence in a quasi-state that spits in the face of God.”

“It challenges everything we are. She can walk in the sun, she can eat and drink, she can pretend to be mortal better than we ever can—she can almost be mortal. Almost. And I hate it.”

“But I’m not all monster, not yet, and I also see a teenage girl, excited to be a mother, thrown into this hellish purgatory. Suffering. If she’d simply been murdered it would have been evil, but swift. To Embrace her would have been cruel, but decisive. This is worse than both. Because it gives her hope.”

“It’s the hope that kills you.”

GM: “Clean breaks are better,” Becky Lynne nods. “As painful as separating from my own family was, I think it spared us all more heartache in the end.”

“In so many things, you can’t have it both ways, and trying to have your cake and eat it too just makes a bigger mess.”

“That’s how it seems with the last generations—being simultaneously like Kindred and kine. And what do they have to show for it? Most of them lead brief and awful existences. Even groups that claim to advance ‘duskborn rights’ like the Ashfinders just seem to cause more pain and tragedy. For thin-bloods and full-bloods. There’s a compelling argument that it would have been kinder for them never to exist.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “I’ve heard talk of, and experienced firsthand, the unforgiving stance of my sire on the subject of unsanctioned Embraces. At first I thought it harsh, even cruel. My first introduction to Kindred society was being dragged before a crowd of Kindred, watching the execution of half a dozen others, and having my own head laid upon the block.”

“Only time, and experience, showed me his wisdom. We’re predators, we can take what we want. Are inclined to, even. Only the threat of unflinching, unhesitating, swift judgement can steer us from doing so. For every unfortunate killed, I think on how many his justice has saved.”

“It would be better if the thin-bloods didn’t exist, but we can’t change the past. All we can do is influence the future.”

GM: “His justice has saved many, without doubt,” Becky Lynne agrees. “It’s all-too few of us that remain virgins.”

“But even beyond the matter of temporal justice, there’s also the question of spiritual purpose. I’ll always be a First Estate girl through and through,” the other Venture declares with a faint smile, “but there’s real comfort in the Second’s faith. Knowing that God has a constructive purpose in mind for us. So from a theological standpoint, what purpose do the thin-blooded serve? They’re not wolves or sheep. I suppose you could argue they’re toothless wolves. Either way, I can’t reckon any explanation for why God allows them to be.”

Caroline: “A warning against the excesses of Kindred?” Caroline postulates. “A method of ensuring the continued fate of all Kindred remains tied to our eldest, closest to the original sin, vice the kine who may be fruitful? Another test upon us, and our discipline, that we remain divorced from the kine.”

She bites her lip. “A sign of the approach of the end of times, that the line of Caine draws to a close?”

Her mind races ahead, takes the thread of canon and the needle her mother’s words provided.

“Our immortality is a lie only the most cynical elder or naïve neonate would believe. The End of Days will come, and we will all be judged. The kine are given many signs to watch for, in Timothy specifically.”

She pauses, then quotes, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.

“More simply put, when the kine turn from the face of God in mass, when they abandon the covenant with Him.”

She bites her lip. “What then are the thin-blooded but Kindred torn from our own covenant? Sired in sin, without permission, and multiplying like rats in the same, degenerate in each generation. Broken from the line of Caine, from clan and bloodline, damaging to the Masquerade by their nature, still wed to the kine, and unable to fulfill their holy purpose. There is no holy law they can uphold, and only one Tradition they do not violate.”

GM: “If it’s a test of discipline, I’d say it’s one we Kindred are rather badly failing,” Becky Lynne says, frankly. “As you note, Eiren, there’s no express commandment for us to be fruitful and multiply. If anything, there’s the opposite. Scripture has a lot to say about how solemn and purposeful an event the Embrace should be, and even how worthy of punishment the sire is for it.”

“I suppose God does have a lot to be angry over, with how heedless—and simply ignorant the thirteenth generation is, in spreadin’ around their vitae. And I suppose that everything has to come to an end eventually, even us. But how soon? My brother says millennialist fears were steadily building over the 20th century, and hit a peak in the late ‘90s when the thin-blooded appeared. I can remember talk about the end being nigh back in ’04, but there was a sense it was getting stale. Then after Katrina, everyone in the city plum forgot about it. We’d had our apocalypse.”

Caroline: “That’s interesting,” Caroline observes. “I didn’t get that part of the history lesson, but I suspect it’s impossible to really appreciate it without having lived through it. I’d be interested in hearing from Aedile Hurst’s about it directly some time.”

“You’re right though, we’re no better than the kine when it comes to discipline or fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “Religious participation has been declining for decades as people have fallen in love with themselves, rejected tradition, and increasingly embraced deviancy and any ideology that will allow it. If anything we’ve matched them step for step. What I don’t understand, can’t wrap my head around, is how other Kindred do it so blithely.”

“The Sanctified dogma is harsh, painful, even callous, especially as a neonate. When Gerousiastis Malveaux first exposed me to it I recoiled in horror. It’s also rooted in Christianity, and I can academically understand why those with different religious traditions and backgrounds might not leap into our arms. But we are visible evidence every night that the secular reality so many of the kine are obsessed with, one that allows them to declare there is no morality and no god, and thus that every perversion is justified, is an outright lie.”

“How licks can see that, then decide they’ll continue as though nothing has changed, as though they don’t need any religion, don’t need god in some form, is beyond me.” She bites her lip. “But perhaps its as much a sign that they are truly lost as anything else, that they deserved their damnation as much as the rest of us.”

GM: “I suspect, like a lot of things, it’s easiest to just not think about,” says Becky Lynne. “To get accustomed to, and take for granted, once the initial shock wears off. People, and Kindred, can get used to anything. God isn’t knockin’ on their doors tellin’ them to observe the faith, or that they’ll be judged for not doing so upon the Second Coming. Even among Kindred, some things take simply faith. Or at least, zeal.”

“But I think that’s also the way God wants it. Kindred have free will, just as kine do, to decide their actions. Some of us, like your sire or my brother, actively choose to spread the gospel. Some of us, like me, merely try to observe it. Some of us, like my sire, pay mind to other faiths. And some of us don’t pay much mind to faith at all. It’s what we decide to do when we have the power to decide, I think, that most shows who we are.”

“As to my brother, I expected he’d be happy to share his memories of the period with you, Eiren. He’s no elder, but sometimes I still have to remind myself that he’s old enough to be my grandpa.”

Caroline: Caroline is polite enough not to observe that failing to spread the gospel means you aren’t exactly a faithful member of the Sanctified. The Fifth Canon is quite clear on this point.

The other Ventrue is right, though, about how deceptive ages can be: it’s too easy to forget that Adler is hardly the teenager she masquerades as.

“I’d like that, Questor,” Caroline answers.

“To point, I agree choice is essential in the meaning of any fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “I just think to the growing number of kine that declare their lack of faith for the absence of evidence—among the damned evidence of the supernatural is inherent to each night you awaken.” She tilts her head. “On the other hand, perhaps that call to evidence is more excuse than explanation.”

“We all seek to justify who we are by some means.”

GM: And even beyond politeness, it’s hard not to think what her sire would think of her own track record at spreading Longinus’ word.

Her thoughts so easily turn back to him, now. In this and all things.

“I think that’s what it comes down to,” says Becky Lynne. “Lots of us will spin facts to justify the opinions we have, instead of vice versa, if given choice and free will. Evidence takes a back seat, next to that.”

She chuckles faintly.

“But there’s probably even less to be done about that than thin-bloods.”

“In any case, Eiren, you’d had other matters of interest you wanted to bring up?”

Caroline: “Not in the immediate, Questor,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of my own matters are still very much in the air, and more pressing in the moment, I would speak to how you would prefer we handle the challenge ahead of us, at the scene of the attack.”

GM: “Ah, then one matter first, Eiren. Prestation-wise, I’m not rightly sure what I owe you for tonight. On one hand, your presence saved me from the assassin’s attack. On the other hand, from what he said, he was only there for you.”

“You also saved me from winding up in the hands of hunters, from what you and my brother said. I’m not sure to what extent their presence was due to the assassin—that is, whether the Kindred who took out your contract with the Assamites orchestrated the FBI raid, or whether that Kindred and the assassin simply took advantage of the FBI aid.”

“So we could say that taking in your pregnant thin-blood puts us even. My sire, much like yours, wouldn’t approve of my spending time and trouble on her if he knew.”

Caroline: Caroline muses for a moment.

“In principle I don’t object, Questor Adler,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t come to your aid tonight seeking to earn a boon, and any additional benefit is, for me, incidental.” She smiles. “I think your mother might have described them as like the sprinkles on a sundae.”

“There is the matter of Eiren Packard, but if you and your sire are content to see that her own actions this night are repaid, I’m happy leave things as they lie, Questor.”

GM: “I don’t doubt she would have, Eiren,” Becky Lynne smiles back.

“As to Eiren Packard and Aedile Landau, they ‘work’ for my sire, so to speak. He’s their sire too by a few more generations, and coming to my aid was part of their obligations to him. But he’ll make sure they’re rewarded for fulfilling those obligations.”

Caroline: “Then we are in agreement, Questor,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Splendid,” the other Ventrue declares with another smile.

“As to the aftermath of this mess, I suppose Peggy’s left me with a body.” Becky Lynne’s smile fades at those words. “And my brother, I suppose it’s no surprise, wants to do what keeps me safest.”

On the helicopter ride back to Perdido House, he questioned Caroline and Becky Lynne extensively about the FBI raid. He concurred that it sounded like hunters. He was in favor of Becky Lynne staging her current pseudonym’s death to throw them off her trail.

Caroline: Caroline can imagine some of what she feels—she’s buried a lot of ghouls.

“How long had she been with you?” Caroline probes.

GM: “Yes, for around ten years,” Becky Lynne answers.

Caroline: “Since almost the beginning,” Caroline observes as quietly as she can while being heard. Helicopters are loud places.

GM: The other Ventrue nods.

“She was always faithful. Kind. Attentive. Thoughtful. Modest. Trustworthy. Never greedy. Never asked for more. Wanted to, of course, what ghoul doesn’t, but never did. She understood we weren’t equals, and she didn’t ever try to be more than she was. But what she was, she was to the fullest. She saw a great deal of me. I couldn’t have asked for a better confidant or employee.”

“I wish it had been possible to save her.”

Caroline: “How did she come into your service?” Caroline asks, steering the topic away from death, and towards life.

There’s been plenty of death already tonight, and they will have to deal with it in the hours to come.

GM: “She worked at the bank, as a PA to someone who I didn’t think fully appreciated her. I invited her to come work for me.”

Caroline: Coming from another Kindred ‘invited’ might have a more sinister undertone, but Caroline can’t imagine it from the seneschal’s favorite neonate.

“What did she think, when you told her?”

GM: “She was taken aback and a little frightened. I did my best to set her at ease.”

“She liked the thought of working for a nicer boss and being part of something greater than herself.”

Caroline: “And she did. You were able to invite her into a world she didn’t even know existed,” Caroline observes.

“I’m certain her life was far different than she’d ever expected, that serving you gave her opportunities she never imagined.”

GM: “It certainly did, Eiren. Though I’m not sure she’d believe those opportunities were worth the cost of her life.”

Caroline: “Respectfully, Questor, she seemed to think it was worth enough to risk her life trying to save you.”

“I don’t think any of us expected rocket launchers to be part of the equation, but she knew this was dangerous.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives a sad smile.

“That’s a domitor’s eternal question, Eiren. How much of their actions are their own?”

Caroline: "Questor, you are my senior in many things, but please take this for what it’s worth. I have been directly responsible for the deaths of ghouls in my service. I’ve been made to kill them to satisfy others, I’ve killed them because they became monsters, and I’ve had them killed in front of me to make a point to me. I’ve also seen them die trying to protect me. In six months I’ve buried seven ghouls, and every one of their names I’ll remember for the rest of my Requiem.

“Many of them were soldiers, all of them were fighters, and none of them leaped so eagerly to their fates as Ms. Sweet. She cared for you, Questor, beyond just the bond.”

“You were in no way responsible for her death. Others contrived to do evil to you. They invaded your mind and plotted to do it. They compacted with or knowingly used witch-hunters against you—and against me. Ms. Sweet stood against that. She stood against them.”

“Don’t take that from her. As much as you might mourn her death, as much as you may feel guilty, don’t rob from a slain faithful servant the last, most impactful choices, of their life.”

GM: Becky Lynne takes that all in with a somber, thoughtful look.

“Wise words, Eiren, and ones that sound learned through bitter experience. This might be one area where I’m not your senior,” she replies.

“I’d hoped Peggy cared for me beyond the bond, but we can delude ourselves. It’s of some comfort to hear from a second party that Peggy’s feelings and choices were real.”

“You’re right, too, about honoring and making the most of her sacrifice. I think it’d please her, to know we were able to use her body to help keep me safe, even after she’d given her life to do that. She can have a proper funeral and internment of her own later.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know if the words truly move the other Ventrue—their stoicism cuts both ways among them—but she hopes they do.

“To that end, car accident remains, I think, the best of poor explanations. Head-on collision at high speed, joyrider in one vehicle, with the third vehicle caught up in the wreckage. I expect, barring interference from someone else, Mr. Ferris will have already begun to stage it in that way. Much of our work, I expect, tonight will be helping paper over memories of first and follow on responders. The follow on—ensuring that forensic evidence matches or is falsified—will take days to weeks.”

“I don’t have those contacts this far out, and it’ll also prove both dangerous and lucrative to continue that effort. If, as I believe, hunters were at hand in this, they’ll attempt to dig into what happened tonight, and that investigation may open holes in their shroud.”

It’s possible they’ll simply abandon this endeavor and retreat into secrecy, but Caroline doubts it. Hunters are like bloodhounds: once they have a scent getting them to leave it well enough alone was more trouble than it was worth—at least at the bottom.

GM: “That sounds like how I’d want to stage things, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “A car crash is nice and simple.”

“The only issue I see is the missile launchers and the burned state of the cars and bodies. I’m no weapons or automotive expert, but I know cars don’t really explode like they do in the movies.”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees. “But they do burn, and all it would take is one ruptured tank to start it. Roger or Autumn will have identified the most likely candidate variable by damage, make, and model. The difficulty will be staging so the explosive damage appears to a casual observer like it’s plausibly a result of the crash. That, and making sure there’s no other obvious evidence of what happened—wreckage blown too far away or bullet casings amid the debris.”

Fortunately, they should have enough bodies to comb the site, between her own arriving ghouls, the two elders, those they left on the scene, and the Hurst’s own ghouls left behind after the flight.

“Needless to say, this isn’t going to go away in a night, though. We can lay the groundwork, but it’s going to require regular follow-ups over the next year as cases are opened, investigators assigned, claim agents review damage, and, obviously, the hunters.”

GM: “Ruptured fuel tank sounds good in the short term,” agrees Becky Lynne. “But my lord, Eiren, are you right about this not going away in a night.”

“I think Mr. Campbell will be of a mind to sue the Bureau, and possibly the sheriff’s department and other parties too, for the death of his niece.”

“God knows they’ve caused the bank enough trouble they can at least pay a decent chunk of change for it.”

Caroline: “Is Mr. Campbell your sire’s most recent identity, Questor, or simply a useful mortal proxy?”

GM: “He’s the former, Eiren.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She’d been afraid of that.

“I don’t know that there’s any good way to tell him this, Questor, but he’ll likely take it better from you than any other: that identity is also well known to our enemies. So much so that they had no difficulty convincing mortal authorities that it was both a valid and desirable target.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“His name came up among them, as well as his niece’s?”

“No matter. Retiring the identity won’t be much trouble, he’s hardly met anyone with it. Whitney Hancock, I think, will still be inclined to sue.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “They expressed interest in using his niece—who had an unsavory reputation of her own—to lure him out. The kine seemed to believe he was the real target.”

She muses, “Which leads me to suspect you were not simply intended as bait this evening for me. It took knowledge, and months, maybe years of planning and investigation to dig far enough into each of your holdings, to identify identities and poison them with law enforcement, to make the ordered raid tonight possible. I suspect this was an alignment of purposes—laying one existing plan or contingency atop another. They could have pulled the trigger on this raid any number of nights. They chose tonight.”

“If they’d succeeded, they’d have destroyed the childer of the two most powerful Ventrue in the city in a single night.”

She bites her lip. “And the timing, alongside Gerousiastis Malveaux and Questor Polk’s assassination seems… more than coincidental. And convenient.”

And it really is. She couldn’t think of a better cover for her assassination of Malveaux if she tried, not that she expects they thought this would serve this purpose.

As for this attack, there are only really two suspects when it comes right down to it: two foes with cunning, resources, power, motivation, and knowledge. To have mapped out Adler’s routine. To have invaded her mind. To have identified the seneschal’s blind spot. To have called an assassin across the world. To have named her to the assassin, to ensure one of appropriate skill was dispatched.

She supposes its possible that Savoy is responsible, rebuffed as he must be by her decision. But she suspects another, one much closer to home. The same one she suspects orchestrated René’s return, her abduction into the Dungeon, and the seneschal’s descent into that hell to save her. The same one that knew how much Adler’s Embrace had affected the seneschal—that likely arranged it in the first place. The one standing in the room, who her identity was definitively declared before, only nights ago.

It’s just as she said before the seneschal. A traitor.

Not that anyone will believe her. Not without proof.

“Questor, may I lay my cards on the table between us?” she probes.

GM: “Long investigations is how it usually is, with the Feds,” agrees Becky Lynne. “I certainly don’t see this raid having happened on the spur of the movement, though the magistrate judge you mentioned signing off on the warrant is interesting. One explanation is that their pretext for the raid was less than rock solid and a magistrate was easier to coerce. Or that they simply don’t have friends among any district judges. But if this was an alignment of purposes, there could have been a time crunch that only made the magistrate immediately viable. I’ll be very interested to find out the full story from him or her.”

“But please do, Eiren, as far as laid cards.”

Caroline: “The seneschal would not share the name of the Kindred that invaded your mind, in the lead up to this evening,” she observes.

She runs her tongue across her fangs.

“I have a suspect. The hand in this evenings events and others. One that I cannot prove—yet—but that I will. I would not ask you, your brother, or your sire, Questor, to rush into anything, to take the word of an eiren on such a weighty matter. But when I can prove it there are painfully few Kindred I would trust, and when that night comes I will need some I can call.”

GM: Becky Lynne seemingly takes that in stride.

“In what capacity would you desire to call on us, Eiren?”

Caroline: Caroline muses, “That would depend on your appetite, Questor.”

“I am inclined to take the fight to this foe with steel in hand.”

“Another sword, or two, by my side would be of great value when they meet the fate they so richly deserve. But that is asking for a great commitment. Down the spectrum somewhere from that would be logistical support in the lead-up and moment. Down further than that would be support in the immediate aftermath. Whether it’s who I suspect or not, I don’t expect anyone capable of arranging tonight’s events to roll over, and I expect to be uncomfortably vulnerable thereafter.”

GM: Becky Lynne looks as if she might tap a chin in her thought, but both of her hands are occupied steering the helicopter.

“I’d be most inclined to suspect Mr. Savoy or any of Prince Vidal’s would-be successors of being behind this affair,” says Becky Lynne, “seein’ as they have the most to gain by eliminating the prince’s childe. The Baron has equally much to gain, but I don’t see his agents moving in FBI circles.”

“Yet if it were Mr. Savoy or the Baron, I don’t rightly see why the seneschal would decide to keep that from us.”

“Seneschal Maldonato told my brother that our clan elders were unaware of your lineage, which would seemingly rule out Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

“No motive, if you’re not the prince’s childe to them.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue for a moment. “The number of Kindred privy to that secret, before this night, should have been counted on one hand. Perhaps two, if you were to include those who had reason to suspect.”

GM: “The author being Primogen Steinhäuser, Primogen Poincaré, or Primogen Duquette would certainly be a delicate situation. I could understand the seneschal keepin’ mum over any of them. But if this attack required highly privileged information to execute, I don’t rightly see why they’d have it when the Gerousia don’t. They’re bound to our prince by neither blood nor faith.”

“As you say, Eiren, the remaining suspects on the list are rather few.”

“I’d say they could be better counted with one or two fingers than one or two hands.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the other Ventrue work through it.

“I confess too, Questor, I have some knowledge of this matter you do not. My suspect has high level connections to the sort of hunter groups that might have arranged your imprisonment, and that I fear were used to assassinate Gerousiastis Malveaux.”

GM: “I’d need hard proof before I was willing to move against the suspect,” Becky Lynne answers, frankly. “My analysis could still potentially be wrong—what if the other gerousiastes have already have been informed of your lineage, and the seneschal simply doesn’t want them and my brother talking, or for us to know the extent that one or both gerousiastes might be in the seneschal’s counsels.”

“My kin and I would be willing to provide direct or logistical support with the seneschal’s blessing.”

“In lieu of that, we’d be willing to provide support in the aftermath of whatever might take place, with the understanding that we will inform the seneschal of our actions.”

Caroline: It’s more than she had any right to expect, honestly. But then, this attack tonight was brazen. It felt almost… desperate. Killing Adler might smash two birds with one stone, but the consequences of the failure have the potential to be profound if they can deliver her allies. Especially from within Clan Ventrue. To say nothing of how much easier it makes framing him for Malveaux’s death—perhaps the only hostile act she doesn’t lay at his feet.

Caroline nods. “That’s fair, Questor,” she answers. “I think hard proof will be hard to come by—all I have right now is circumstantial. A tremendous amount of circumstantial, as much of it very sensitive, but circumstantial all the same. The seneschal’s blessing all the more difficult for many reasons, including the danger of such an attempt. But any assistance is more than I might have hoped.”

GM: “I don’t much care for someone murdering my servants, violating my mind, or attacking my and my sire’s domain. Whatever else may come, my kin and I will investigate what occurred here and not stop until we have conclusively established who was responsible.” Becky Lynne’s voice is firm at those declarations.

“Tonight’s events will not pass without consequence.”

Caroline: Caroline grins.

“Then we have that much more in common, Questor.”


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: By the time they land, the scene is rapidly falling—falling apart and falling into place.

Ferris meets the two of them at the helicopter with a pair of dark blue windbreakers with ‘POLICE’ across them in big yellow letters. Their owners seem to have misplaced them tonight.

True to Caroline’s expectations, Ferris and the elder ghouls have moved the vehicles already—they’re nearly slag by the time Caroline and Adler arrive, the bodies within charred beyond all recognition: dental records will be required to identify them, and in the cases of some of the worse victims of the ‘crash’ even that may not suffice. A body has been moved into the drivers seat that Kâmil vacated—but who’s body Caroline isn’t certain—and Sweet’s into the van, though Caroline can only tell because the deceased ghoul is smaller than the rest of the bodies. Fire does horrible things to Kindred and kine alike.

It’s fortunate the rest of her ghouls left when they did—their arrival beat most of the emergency responders and helped wrangle gawkers, sheriffs, local police, firefighters, and paramedics. It’s similarly fortunate that Hurst’s ghouls are older in the Blood than hers—they wield a broader range and depth of potency in the Blood that has mostly worked to keep things contained.

It’s also fortunate that the emergency responders beat Caroline and Adler back: they’ve had time to put out the fires set by the ghouls that would have hell for the vampires’ Beasts.

Despite the ghouls’ successes, the limitations of ghouls in the scene had begun to become clear by the time the two vampires arrive: there just isn’t enough blood, and not enough ghouls gifted with the proper disciplines to handle the number of and increasingly pointed questions that coming from first responders. Not even with Packard.

That is where Caroline and Adler slot neatly in, to pick up the pieces falling apart, to fill in holes in memories and handwave explanations away. The gulf between the childer of elders and those of more humble bloodlines is on full display as the matching blondes move through the ever-expanding crowd.

Identities spring out of whole cloth for the ghouls in response to side ‘conversations’, complete with provided credentials. Eyewitnesses emerge to the crash from among the lookie-loos after ‘interviews’. They fill in the police reports about what happened, the reckless driver, the crash, the terrible fire that engulfed all three vehicles.

They also stoke tensions, build recriminations: between the deputies and officers, between city and parish, introducing distrust and a lack of cooperation that makes it all the easier for her people to blend into the effort, that will make putting things together afterwards harder. Professional relationships fray. There’s a punch thrown that gets swept under the rug. Offending officers and deputies are told to leave.

Amid the scuffle, several people take their own initiative. Bodies are removed before the scene is fully documented—an overly zealous coroner. Then a wrecker shows up and manages to get hooked up to the ‘vehicles’ before someone realizes they haven’t finished initial investigations. It takes leads time to get the scene under control. Precious evidence is destroyed and tainted by mishandling—not that anyone is terribly shocked: it isn’t often the thin blue line buries four of their own. Everyone’s nerves are frayed, for too many here this is a personal tragedy, and screw-ups only make it worse as all sides point the finger at each other.

Some of the chaos is Caroline’s doing, others Autumn’s suggestions, with a sprinkling of advice from Ms. Green given her own experiences on the force. At the heart of it is Ferris. The eight-fingered ghoul turns his devious mind to the problem: sowing dissent, hatred, and anger.

As the scene stabilizes, the ghouls begin to withdraw. Adler has to leave before Caroline—the helicopter being the last thing on scene will attract too much attention—but she’s not the first to depart. Ghouls vanish into the night with the lookie-loos as they begin to disperse, stolen police jackets returning to their owners.

Last out are the elder ghouls, Caroline, and Ferris as the feds begin to arrive. It’s not their scene, not their business, and the call went out late. Shame about that.

It’s been a daunting evening. They have a long drive back.

Caroline doesn’t waste it. As Kâmil takes the wheel she turns her mind to the next task.

“Kâmil, can you tell me of the Banu Haqim?”

GM: Having help has its perks.

Staging the scene is an altogether different experience for Caroline than her early nights, by herself or just with Autumn, scrubbing bloodstains, spraying bleach, and disposing of corpses single- or two-handedly. Supervising a team of ghouls and Kindred with a panoply of Cainite gifts to draw upon is an experience all of its own. It feels less like trying to preserve the Masquerade, and more like deciding how she’s going to preserve the Masquerade. It feels like the sheriff maybe feels when he goes about his duties. There are so many people to order about and assign to this task or that. Caroline takes a more supervisory than front-line role, mainly stepping in to rewrite memories that the ghouls couldn’t do as well. The casquette girl greatly assists by facilitating silent telepathic communication among the many actors, keeping Caroline apprised of their activities, and relaying orders. No one notices her as she moves among the responders, taking items, planting others, or simply spying. Becky Lynne helps Packard and Caroline rewrite memories, but most helps by playing responders’ feelings like a cheap harmonica. Irritation, impatience, jealousy, and anger surge as she walks past. Ferris provides mundane pretext to justify and further stoke their feelings. The wrecker is his idea. All Caroline has to do is sit back and watch the fireworks.

“Your stupid fucking people let the wrecker through!”

“Yeah? Well who the fuck let the coroner move the bodies? We hadn’t even finished the fucking photographs of the scene.”

“Because your goddamn people told us they had pictures!”

“Oh, did they? Which one of my people was that?”

“I don’t know, Jon? Johnny?”

“You don’t even have a name? Jesus. You city boys are fucking lost.”

“Eat shit, you pig-fucking country bumpkin!”

“The fuck did you say?”

A punch gets thrown.

“Goddamn, Ricky!”

“I’m going to fucking kill you! Get off me! Get the fuck off me! He’s a dead man!”

There are scuffing sounds of someone being pulled away.

“Yeah, yeah, pick up your teeth and get the fuck out of here, city,” the punch-thrower grins smugly.

Ferris doesn’t smile, but Autumn can’t refrain from doing so.

Wrapping things up takes some time, but Caroline can’t even begin to imagine how much more it would have on her own, or if such a task would be even possible. She’s come a long ways from her first nights causing these breaches: now she supervises their repair. Indeed, it’s not lost on her that the seneschal didn’t go himself or dispatch the Guard de Ville to handle things: he trusted her to. The Masquerade is the foremost law of the Camarilla’s and the foremost responsibility of Clan Ventrue.

And hers, now, as well.

To wear a crown is to assume many duties. How many other neonates could do what she has done?

Ghouls and Kindred return back to their cars in increments, rather than all at once, to make their departures less conspicuous. Becky Lynne remarks that she’s “most impressed indeed, Eiren; you’ve come a ways,” before returning to her helicopter.

“This felt like working for the Krewe again,” remarks Autumn. “In a good way. Just in terms of… all of the resources and experience to draw upon. Everyone knowing what they’re doing. I don’t think the Krewe could’ve done a better job, here.”

On the drive back, Kâmil answers Caroline,

“They are rarely seen in New Orleans, but they are more common in the lands of my birth. I knew nothing of them before I came to the archdiocese, for it was here that I received the Blood. My domitor has had dealings with the clan, however. What would you know of them, bayan?”

Caroline: There’s a contented feeling as the car leaves.

“I’d like to start with…”


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline’s convoy returns to Perdido House. Gisèlle and Kâmil ride with her. At the Ventrue’s request to see Raaid, Kâmil states that the Assamite is likely in the holding cells. He parks inside the underground garage, then proceeds to the elevator, where Caroline swipes the keycard she received from Robert Congo to allow access to the restricted basement floors. The doors ding open, revealing another steel door where the Ventrue presses her hand against a biometric scanner. Congo added her print earlier as well. Kâmil leads Caroline down a hallway to another locked steel door. Inside are several bodies wearing dark hoods with stakes protruding from their chests, unceremoniously laid out over the floor like kindling. Kâmil shoulders Raaid’s and carries it into a nearby interrogation room.

It’s a cheerless place. Unlit, though the vampire’s eyes penetrate the dark without issue, and neither ghoul requests a light. Rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function can be the causation of pain sit nearby. Kâmil lays Raaid on a heavy steel table with leg and arm restraints.

“Do you wish him fettered, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the assassin. He’s still crippled from their last encounter and unarmed.

“I don’t believe it necessary at this time, thank you, Kâmil,” she answers.

He had also declared his mission a failure. She doubts he will try again.

She removes first the hood, then slides the stake from his chest.

GM: The dusky-skinned vampire lies still upon the table.

“This is sooner than a month,” he observes.

Caroline: “It is,” Caroline agrees.

“I apologize if you had desired that long rest, but there are further matters I would discuss with you, Raaid ibn Badr,” she begins. “They were not suitable for our previous company.”

GM: The Assamite’s eyebrows faintly raise.

“Very well, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Please proceed.”

Caroline: “There are some topics beyond the attack, but I had one more follow up about it,” she begins.

“Were you and your agents given any direction at all, insofar as the presence of and intended outcome of Ms. Adler, in your attack?”

GM: “Miss Adler was to be spared.”

Caroline: The Ventrue mulls that one over.

“Very well.”

She takes a breath.

“You are the first of your clan I have met, so please forgive this question if it is disrespectful. Is your word your bond, Raaid ibn Badr?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It is, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, save only when to fulfill it would hinder the will of Haqim,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “And I presume you would not give it of you believed it would do so,” she clarifies.

GM: “That is so.”

Caroline: “I do not believe you will survive the 30 days helpless here,” she states starkly.

“Your Requiem and return to your master are of no value to the enemies of mine, while your death could benefit them greatly.”

“Whether by direct hand, accident, or the intentional sharing of your actions and whereabouts, I believe they will arrange for your destruction.” She lets that thought hang in the air for a moment.

“I do not wish it so.”

GM: “So be it,” Raaid answers calmly. “Your seneschal has seen fit to place me here. The world is not always as we wish it so.”

Caroline: “I am his servant, but I am foremost the servant of my prince, who is his master too.”

“For both of them, I may intercede, if an alternative may be found.”

GM: Raaid inclines his head.

“What alternative would you offer?”

Caroline: “If I see your Requiem spared, would you be willing to do a service for me, Raaid?” she asks.

GM: “That would depend upon the service, Caroline.”

“But in principle, my Istirja for a service rendered seems a fair bargain.”

Caroline: She nods. “There is a battle to come. I know not exactly when, but it will be soon—before your month-long sentence has passed. My sire would slay you for raising your blade against me. I would see you spared if you would raise it beside me when that conflict comes.”

She tilts her head. “It would seem a thing of balance.”

GM: “As are all conflicts. You say you do not know when this battle will come, and also that I will die if I remain here. How, then, is there any surety I may participate in this battle at all?”

Caroline: “I would present two options, the more palatable before you.”

“I can take you into my own custody, or I may release you on your own recognizance until the time comes—or two weeks have passed.”

GM: “The latter of these would likely be more palatable to us both, if you did not wish me torpid or starving when the time comes.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As long as your honor permitted it.”

GM: “It would, so long as this battle is not against the Banu Haqim or friends and allies to the Banu Haqim.”

Caroline: She thinks on that, then continues, “I do not believe that to be case, but confess I am not privy to the inner workings of the Banu Haqim. If there are those you would count among either group in the city, that you might wish to name, I would put you at peace regarding them. Otherwise, you have my aforeoffered word that such a conflict is not my intention.”

GM: “Your seneschal’s name is held in some esteem among our clan. Beyond him, I was briefed on none in the city, though nor is their temporary presence impossible in a major port.”

Caroline: She nods. “Then I foresee no troubles. I would not raise a hand to him.”

GM: “Very well. Then upon the Ancestor, the Shepherd, the Blood of my sires, and my honor as a son of Haqim, I swear to assist you in your battle, and to not leave this city until I have either done so or two weeks have passed.”

Yet even as he speaks, another voice echoes within the Ventrue’s mind.

:: Gisèlle has informed me of your present intentions, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. To seek permission before overturning my judgment would be courteous and proper. ::

Caroline: She bites back a scowl at the casquette girl as the seneschal’s mind brushes against her own, but her response to the seneschal is demure. Not false, nor apologetic, but humble.

:: Seneschal, I’m certain you know my intention was not, and has never been, discourtesy or disrespect to you or your office. ::

GM: :: Chain of command must needs be observed, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. If you would reverse the decisions of your superiors, you will ask them if you are not compelled by dire and immediate need. ::

Caroline: She could argue that this falls under that. That she doesn’t believe that Raaid will survive a day and a night in these chambers, but she knows it isn’t what the seneschal is getting at. She’s done more than skirt his authority on this matter. Her provisions, though not at cross purposes to the seneschal’s, significantly exceed them.

Silence.

:: I understand, Seneschal. ::

A beat.

:: Do you disapprove of my purposes in this matter, and might any disapproval be moderated if I acceded to requiring your approval to call upon Raaid’s promised service? ::

GM: :: You may take Raaid into your custody. He is to remain staked until such time as you deem his service necessary. His freedom incurs graver risks than you understand. ::

Caroline: Perhaps it is so. There are many secrets the seneschal has kept from her that give weight to his decisions. So too does the weight of centuries of experience among the Damned give gravity and wisdom to his judgements.

Caroline isn’t going to argue either way.

:: It will be as you have said, :: she answers.

A pause. :: Thank you for your patience. ::

GM: :: You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Responsibility for Raaid’s actions shall lie with you. ::

The Assamite, meanwhile, patiently waits across from Caroline.

Caroline: :: I understand. Is there anything further I may do for you, Seneschal? :: she asks, her gaze leveling back on the assassin.

GM: :: There is not at present. ::

Caroline: “Your early release and remission into my custody is acceptable to the seneschal, but he wishes that you remain in my custody until the appointed moment.”

She meets his gaze.

“I will ensure vessels are available, as required, to ensure you are capable when the moment comes. This remains acceptable to you?”

GM: “That is acceptable,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “Excellent.”

She doesn’t smile.

This isn’t a victory, and it is possible she has misjudged the older Banu Haqim. He could still betray her in some way. To say nothing of how driving around the seneschal on this matter might provoke his own wrath.

But it is a start. She has to start somewhere.

She’s crossed blades with Raaid. She likes to believe that gives her some insight into his character. She believes the assassin will be true to his word, and that is something vanishingly rare.

Traitor.

The word slides across her mind like a curse, but there is a face attached to this name.

Like Adler, there is only one suspect in her mind for this attack.

He’s tried to kill her twice. It’s well past time she returns the favor.

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Caroline VII, Chapter XV
The FBI Raid

FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!”
Unknown FBI Agents


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes preparations to receive Adler atop the Giani Building, as has become her habit. The more professional setting has always felt more appropriate for the just too polite, just a bit distant, elder’s childe. She suspects some of the awkwardness has to do with differences in social status – the near universally well regarded shorter blonde avoiding undue familiarity with the unproven bastard childe of Clan Ventrue. She idly wonders if that will change in the future.

It’s chilly tonight, and Caroline is still warm from feeding earlier, so the Ventrue has the doors to the rooftop patio closed and the heat running.

She sends Widney down to meet the older Ventrue while she waits, filling the spare minutes reviewing the social media feeds of her family, swiping perhaps more aggressively through any photos of food. She’s almost forgotten what it’s like to be alive.

GM: Caroline is met, perhaps unexpectantly, by a ghoul in her older clanmate’s place. She’s a plump-faced but still pretty blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Caroline has seen her hovering beside her mistress before.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, Questor Adler will still be with you this evening,” the ghoul smiles. “She’s just out of town right at the moment. That’s what we’ve got this for.”

The ghoul takes the offered seat, removes a Sunpad from her purse, and sets up the video call app.

Becky Lynne’s face and shoulders appear on the screen. The Ventrue has on a white business jacket rather than her usual knee-length dresses, and her blonde hair is styled into a bun. Her face is made up too, with highlights and dark foundation that make the edges of her face more prominent, giving her a more mature look. The heart-shaped locket she usually wears isn’t visible, though its gold chain still is. The overall effect makes her look older than her 18 years. She looks like she’s in a corporate office. The skyline past the window is unfamiliar.

“Why hello there, Eiren Malveaux-Devilers,” she smiles. “I guess the drink would be doubly wasted on me, but your sofa there looks awful invitin’. Makes me sorry I’m not here in person!”

The ghoul sits down on the sofa and holds up the tablet to just over her chest, giving Caroline a good view of the screen.

Caroline: Caroline greets the ghoul unexpectedly and very unhappily, either unwilling or unable to conceal her disappointment. None of the matters Caroline would have shared with her clan mate are those she’s willing to share with a ghoul.

More than that, it’s a slap in the face. It would be one thing to offer to send the ghoul in her place, but to send her like this under the banner of a meeting between the two of them makes clear exactly how little Adler thinks of her, and how absolutely furiously exhausted she is with being looked down upon by everyone.

For a moment she contemplates simply throwing the ghoul out, but when she breaks out the tablet it’s even worse.

It isn’t just that Adler didn’t consider Caroline worth her time, or even worth sending word that she couldn’t make it, or worth sending a ghoul in place of. It’s the assumption that nothing Caroline might have to say is even worth the aegis of the Masquerade.

For a moment she sees red, but the bubbling fury is drowned under more shame. It reminds her too much of not even getting a phone call from her father on her birthday. This is what she’s allowed herself to be reduced to in the eyes of others. She might hate that Adler sent a Zoom call in place of even a trusted servant, but too much of that hate is devoted internally.

She’d often wondered how the old, atrophied, dying families that used to have money and power lived with their fall into obscurity. She supposes now she knows, and now she knows as well just how difficult it must have been for some of those proud old men and women to swallow their pride and come hat in hand to her own family, how much it must have eaten at them when she arrived in place of her father or mother. It gives her better context on why some had been unable to do it—and how strong those that had were.

She buries the anger, buries it deep. It doesn’t serve anything other than her vanity here. It could have been worse: Adler could have completely ignored her.

The Ventrue first makes an effort to plaster over fake smile across her face as Becky Lynne’s own appears. It’s not the first fake, hollow, smile she’s worn. She’s grateful for the Beast’s hatred of any attempt to capture it as only once the smile is in place does sooth it, allowing herself to shift into focus.

“Oh, Questor Adler, not nearly as sorry as I am. I had the most interesting tale I wanted to share, but you know how it looks when you can’t even wait to do it over the water cooler—and it’s definitely better shared over the kind of drink we both might appreciate.”

GM: She’s hard-pressed to remember the last time her father made a birthday phone call.

Maybe her sire will remember her deathnight. Becky Lynne had said they celebrate those.

She has had so much practice with fake smiles, either way.

In life and death.

“Oh, don’t we both, I’m sure,” the blonde laughs politely back, covering a hand to her mouth as she does. “I suppose a Zoom call can’t substitute for everythin’. People keep saying the medium is the future, but I don’t rightly see what could make it, can you?”

Caroline: “I’m certain there are some people that might more readily adapt to it,” Caroline answers. “But I somehow doubt anyone like you or I will, Questor Adler.”

“There are certain things you just can’t say over the internet.”

GM: “I somehow doubt so too, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “Would you care to come over to my and my brother’s place to chat in person?”

“I don’t expect to be out of town for too much longer, thank goodness. Home is where the heart is and all that.”

Caroline: Caroline is fairly certain, based on fairly extensive experience with her own and those of others, that the heart is actually located slightly to the left of the sternum, but she doesn’t argue the point.

Harder to explain showing up with her new entourage without raising questions she’s confident Becky Lynne can find answers to.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble your brother with our talk. I’m certain he’d be polite enough to smile through it just like anyone with a proper upbringing might, but some things fit better just between girls, don’t you agree, Questor?”

She wonders if the older Ventrue reads through the lines there.

GM: “I certainly do,” smiles Becky Lynne. “So don’t you worry, Eiren, my brother’s practically only there to sleep or entertain company of his own. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Peggy, can you tell us when a good opening in my schedule might be?”

The chubby ghoul lists several dates and times in the near future.

Caroline: Caroline passingly wonders if she should introduce the chubby ghoul to Meg. The two might be good for each other.

Caroline laughs lightly, belying her buried irritation. “Sooner is better, Questor, you know how gossip can age like milk in the sun, but I’d hate to crowd your schedule. I know how many people are clamoring for your attention, and I’d hate for them to be disappointed if this consumed more of your time than you might expect. It’s particularly…. juicy.”

GM: “Is that so? I’ll look forward to hearin’ it, then, and we’ll try to aim sooner without steppin’ on any toes,” smiles Becky Lynne.

“How is the day after tomorrow at 3, ma’am?” asks the ghoul, mirroring her domitor’s expression.

Caroline: Two more nights? Who’s to say at the rate things are going. She hadn’t expected tonight.

She bites her lower lip.

“We can put a cork in this and call that a date, Questor—it won’t be the first time.” Worst case scenario, if she is recalled by her sire, it serves her right for pushing Caroline off.

“We’ve survived this long, and I don’t have any reason to think that the wine is going to go off over a couple days if its kept this long.”

GM: It beats McGinn having her wait a week.

“Splendid,” beams the older Ventrue. “I’ll see you at my place then, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Until then, Questor,” Caroline answers, the fake smile pulled all the tighter.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back, then frowns and whips her head away.

Caroline hears a door slamming against a wall, then multiple pounding footsteps.

FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!” bellows a heavy voice.

Becky Lynne immediately puts up her hands and shoots up from her seat.

Caroline: Caroline’s form blurs as the Beast reasserts itself even more quickly than her hand blurs to kill the outgoing feed on the tablet.

She briefly considers killing the entire connection, but the damage is done if they are able to track the call.

She digs out her phone and hits send. “Roger, I need you now.”

Her gaze settles on Adler’s ghoul. “Where is your domitor?”

GM: “En route,” responds the ex-CIA agent before hanging up.

The ghoul’s mouth falls open as she stares down at the tablet in her lap. “G-Gulfport! Mississippi! 2510 14th street, the Whitney Hancock headquarters!”

Caroline: Caroline flips her phone on the side and starts to videotape the exchange as it continues.

“You have Primogen Hurst’s number?” she asks.

GM: “Puh-puh, p-please, don-don’t h-hurt me, I’m j-j-just an in-t-tern!” Becky Lynne’s voice sobs from the tablet.

The white-faced ghoul nods and rattles it off.

Caroline: Caroline’s hand blurs as she writes it down with her right hand, attention divided between filming the exchange and continuing damage control.

She’ll wait for Roger to actually make the call—she knows he’ll have a burner.

Caroline waits for the federal agent to approach.

She can’t help but wonder how the hell Adler ended up with no one to give her even a moment’s warning before they arrived. Clumsy.

They can mock her parade of ghouls all they want, but she’d never be caught in that particular circumstance.

GM: “Step away from the computer!” orders a second voice.

There’s more sounds through the room. Drawers opening. Papers rifling. Footsteps approaching. Becky Lynne sobs some more.

“Zoom call on this,” says a third voice. Caroline sees a grim-faced Caucasian man in his early middle years wearing a white shirt, tie, and blue jacket with yellow FBI letters.

The connection abruptly dies.

Caroline: Gotcha. Caroline videotapes the man as he kills the connection. A face will have a name attached.

GM: “Oh my god!” exclaims Becky Lynne’s ghoul, staring at the blank tablet in her lap.

She looks up at Caroline. “Ma’am, we have to call the primogen!”

Caroline: “We will call the primogen,” Caroline answers more calmly, “just not from any device that is linked to you or Questor Adler.”

Roger will be here shortly, she knows.

The call ending though gives her the opportunity to get ahead. She rises and moves to the door dividing the clubhouse, sliding it open to unleash the elder ghouls.

“Ms. Adler was just seized in her office at the headquarters of Whitney Hancock in Gulfport by federal agents.”

“I will arrange communication with Primogen Hurst, but I presume there are many potentially sensitive matters for others tied to Ms. Adler, and that the prince or seneschal may have more immediate contacts available extra locally than he.”

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul covers her mouth as she sees the casquette girl.

Kâmil wordlessly looks towards Gisèlle. The casquette girl closes her eyes.

The seneschal’s face appears in Caroline’s mind.

:: Miss Malveaux-Devillers will retrieve her. Inform her she is to return to Perdido House. Transportation to Gulfport will await atop the helipad. ::

Caroline: Eighty miles to Gulfport, Caroline knows. Half an hour by helicopter.

She meets the casquette girl’s eyes.

“I understand.”

She bites her lip.

“Let’s go.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: “Come along,” Caroline gestures to the shellshocked ghoul, “you will have the drive to Perdido House to bring me up to speed on your domitor’s activities in Gulfport and any other matters of interest.”

She opens the door before Roger can. “We’re going to Perdido House,” she offers by way of explanation, not pausing but extending a hand as she makes for the elevator. “Burner.”

GM: Ferris hands it over without comment as he follows behind, along with the three other ghouls.

“She’s there on business for Whitney Hancock,” Becky Lynne’s ghoul starts.

“This was supposed to be a routine trip.”

Caroline: “That’s how they get you… when it becomes routine,” Caroline muses.

She plugs in the number provided by Adler’s ghoul, trusting that Ferris will pick up on the details as she offers them to the primogen.

GM: The phone picks up after several rings.

“Gabriel Hurst speakin’,” sounds the Ventrue’s lazy Southern drawl.

Caroline: “Gabriel,” she keeps the tone light, informal. They’ve spewed enough information over electronic circuits today. “It’s Caroline. I just heard the news about your sister. You all must be so worried.”

GM: “The news?” he asks slowly.

Caroline: “I’m sure it must be a misunderstanding,” she continues. “I don’t know what could have possible brought authorities to the bank, but I’m certain it has nothing to do with her and she’ll be released soon.”

“I just wanted to make certain your father and the rest of the family knew.”

She slides her own phone into Ferris’ hand as she enters the elevator. It’s open to the most recent recording.

GM: The ghouls troop in after her. Ferris silently takes in the FBI agent’s face.

“We did not know,” Hurst answers gravely. “Well. There will be a few calls to make. How recently was this?”

Caroline: “Very,” Comes Caroline’s blunt response.

“I know for a fact there are already things at work to ensure her welfare, but it’s been a rather rough year for the whole family… I just wanted to ensure everyone else was taking it well.”

She’s already inventorying possibilities in her mind. The timing might simply be a coincidence… or it might not. She hasn’t heard of many FBI raids conducted in the evening, vice the early morning or daylight hours.

GM: “There’s nothing here to take well, Caroline,” the primogen answers in the same grave tone. “I’ll let our father know about this and get started springin’ her out. Thanks for letting us know.”

Ferris continues to look at the phone image, though his eyes are moving across the device’s surface, away from the man’s features.

Caroline: Caroline scowls.

She always figured Becky Lynne was the brains of the operation anyway.

“Happy to have been of help, then. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” She keeps the pitch of her voice sympathetic.

GM: “We’ll be sure to. You stay safe yourself.”

The line dies.

Caroline: Caroline hands the phone back to Ferris. “How many FBI raids have you seen in the evening vice daylight or dawn?” she asks skeptically.

Her professors always said if the feds come for you, they don’t need to hide and prefer a sledgehammer approach.

Mind you, different kinds of coming for someone.

GM: “More often at homes than offices, but still atypical,” Ferris answers. “You raid when people are most likely to be there. Groggy or asleep in the case of homes.”

“Obvious answer is they suspect someone keeps nocturnal hours.”

Caroline: “Our friends?” Caroline speculates.

The doors open to the parking garage and she makes her way to one of the two black SUVs, stopping at the back to briefly rifle through a set of hanging garnet bags before distastefully settling on one.

“We’re flying to Gulfport to get her either way.”

GM: Kâmil wordlessly takes the driver’s seat.

Ferris does a head count as everyone climbs in.

“We could have room for more, depending on passenger capacity.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “If we need more than four, we’re biting off more than we can chew anyway, and anyone else identified leads back too readily to everyone else.”

GM: “Five,” Ferris corrects, but otherwise doesn’t disagree.

Kâmil drives them out of the garage.

Caroline: Caroline grins. “She’ll need to prove she has something valuable to offer if she wants to come along.”

She turns her gaze to the plump ghoul.

GM: “I’m basically her personal assistant, ma’am, in so many words,” the ghoul answers.

“As I said, this was supposed to be a very brief, routine trip. She had other business for me to take care of in the city.”

“I imagine the most I can provide here to be of help is information and familiarity with Gulfport.”

Caroline: “How frequent and regular are these trips?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They’ve been more frequent lately, ma’am, with the bank relocating its corporate headquarters in New Orleans—my domitor does so appreciate your service there.” A brief smile. “That’s affected some things in Gulfport, too. Usually once a week.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shimmies out of her dress, tossing it in a pile on the floorboards as she pulls out a business suit from the garment bag.

GM: Gisèlle wordlessly reaches into the bag to see if there are more.

Caroline: There’s an entire set—one for Caroline, Widney, Green, and Autumn.

Whether any fit the ghoul may be another matter, but Widney is probably close.

GM: The casquette girl strips and changes without embarrassment or complaint. The rest of her body is as pale and milky smooth as the rest of her.

Everyone else is already wearing business-appropriate attire.

“If there’s no objection, ma’am, I’m going to let the primogen know y’all are flying to Gulfport,” says the ghoul. “He’s probably acquiring another helicopter right now.”

“My domitor’s already taken the regular one.”

Caroline: “I object,” Caroline answers.

“You should sharply limit your electronic communications along predicable lines until you have an opportunity to verifying the source of this event, and I am not eager to announce my activities and arrival to anyone.”

GM: “He’ll want to come along, ma’am, as it’ll probably take more time than whatever’s arranged at Perdido House,” answers the ghoul. “I don’t need to say he could be of quite a bit of help.”

Caroline: No doubt he might, but Caroline is waiting for no one.

“Phone. Tablet. Any other electronic devices.” She extends a hand to the plump ghoul.

GM: She extends a tablet and smartphone.

Caroline: She powers them off then extends them to the casquette girl. “Please hand them off to someone at Perdido to be taken elsewhere.”

GM: The casquette girl accepts the devices.

Caroline: She meets Adler’s ghoul’s gaze. “My direction was to recover your domitor, and I intend on executing that direction in the most expeditious manner possible, with the lowest probably of blowing this into another, larger, matter.”

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, ma’am,” says the ghoul. “Anythin’ I can do to help, I will.”

Caroline: “Delaying for her brother presents another avenue for complications to arrive, and informing him of our plans puts them in the wind.”

“As the esteemed Mr. Ferris taught me as a child, the best plans are those with the fewest moving pieces.”

And the fewest egos. She doesn’t need to get into a pissing match with Matheson’s older childe.

GM: If the primogen would even presume one could exist between them.

“The more intricate the machine, the more ways something can go wrong,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: She also meant what she said to Ferris. If two elder ghouls and she are insufficient, they shouldn’t engage at all.

That bringing him along would create the opportunity for him to seize anything they discover or accomplish for himself is also not lost on her. She doesn’t doubt her sire has other servants he could send. The decision to send her is calculated. Far be it for her to rebalance those scales.

GM: The casquette girl’s visage shimmers into that of an older woman with different hair and facial features.

“All right, ma’am. What else can I do to help?” asks Becky Lynne’s ghoul.

Caroline: “Talk to me about your domitor’s activities, answer Mr. Ferris’ questions.” She lets him take the lead, letting the ghoul’s answers fade into the background as she dresses.

Ferris digs around as to typical pattern of life for the Gulfport visits. Did she travel the same route regularly? Meet with the same people? Meet with the same Kindred? Did she carry her phone?

Anything to get a bite on what might have pointed either federal agents or hunters (or worse, both) at Adler.

It’s fishing.

GM: The ghoul answers that Adler took a similar route every time. She would arrive by means of helicopter at the helipad on the roof of the bank’s headquarters. She did not expect to run into trouble. The city’s Kindred are friendly.

Her visits always included a good deal of time at the bank’s headquarters, where she met with its chief executives. She also sometimes met with them at their homes.

Among Kindred, she met semi-regularly with Robert Landau, who is Gulfport’s prince and one of Gerousiastis Matheson’s more distant descendants. Adler met with Landau on perhaps 50% of her visits. Less frequently, she would meet with Alan Parker, Landau’s childe. Their meeting locations would vary. Sometimes she would attend Elysium, “such as it is” in the small city. There are very few Kindred actually in Gulfport. (Landau is ranked merely an aedile, not a praetor.)

Adler did carry her phone.

Gulfport is friendly territory. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the small city to be his possession. Adler expected less trouble there than she does in New Orleans.

Caroline: “Who else knew her itinerary? Who knew when she was here?” Caroline asked pointedly.

GM: “Gerousiastis Matheson and Primogen Hurst always knew, ma’am. Prince Landau and other Kindred knew when she visited them, but they usually didn’t know if they didn’t.”

“She’d occasionally tell other Kindred she was out of town, but she wouldn’t say she was going to Gulfport, or advertise her sire’s connections there.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens in silence, drawing her own conclusions. Few enough sources suggests an outside activity. Matheson has plenty enough enemies.

“Any thoughts from the footage?” Caroline asks Ferris.

She slips on some more plausible, professional heels with the more professional wardrobe while she talks.

GM: “Miss Adler had better hope her claim to be just an intern checks out,” says the ex-CIA agent.

“It does,” nods the ghoul. “She is, ostensibly, just an intern.”

“Can’t rightly pose as an executive at the age she was Embraced.”

Caroline: “Interns stuck working late.” She tilts her head. “Plausible.”

They’ll see if it’s plausible enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: It’s not a long drive from the Giani Building to Perdido House. By design.

GM: The group is not stopped on their way up the building. Gisèlle hands off the tablet and phone to another ghoul. Kâmil leads them to Maldonato’s office. The seneschal is occupied at his desk. He offers no greeting as he rises and takes its private elevator to the building’s roof with them. Wind whips at Caroline’s clothes. The night sky stretches endlessly above them. Glittering lights stretch out far below.

There is no waiting helicopter.

“You wish these four to accompany you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Maldonato asks without preamble.

Caroline: “I believe them to be the most efficacious companions for this task, Seneschal,” Caroline replies.

Did we simply arrive more swiftly than he expected? Is the helicopter still en route?

GM: The seneschal closes his eyes. He, Caroline, and the four ghouls rise aloft into the air, then abruptly hurtle through the night sky at incredible speed. Wind blasts across Caroline’s face. Her hair is all but destroyed. Anything not tightly secured to her body flies off. Darkened cityscape rushes past, then wilderness. The ghouls’ rippling cheeks are all but peeling off their faces. Their eyes are tightly, furiously closed despite the incredible view, and their arms are tightly wrapped about their bodies. The experience does not look pleasant for them. Adler’s ghoul is missing her shoes.

Caroline: It’s more akin to being fired from a gun than the flying experience she’d had as an incorporeal being. Completely out of her control and at the mercy of the wind and sky. Only Caroline’s lightning-fast reflexes save her own shoes—and only then because they are significantly more ‘functional’ than her typical footwear.

How quickly are they moving? It’s impossible for her to say as the landscape whips past. Forcing her eyes open is a painful, unpleasant experience, and at this speed it’s impossible to properly orient on any landmark other than the presence and absence of lights in the dark.

A grin spreads across her face, though. They will arrive far swifter than she suspects any might expect, and with considerably less warning than the arrival of a helicopter in the small city might foretell. And certainly far more swiftly than the ‘primogen’ can arrange his own transportation.

It’s also significantly safer and less predictable, part of her notes. Some dark, suspicious part of her mind had floated the idea that in a commercial helicopter, hurtling across the open night far from the city, would be a rather vulnerable position if, say, one had the means to acquire a man-portable surface the air missile.

GM: The fall might easily be enough to torpor her, too, if the explosion didn’t (or destroy her outright). And even if she survived both without succumbing to torpor, there’s do doubt she’d be hurt enough to be much easier pickings.

Jocelyn had once mentioned a trick of the blood, for bolting, that allowed licks to survive great falls unscathed. Even novitiates to the discipline can learn it, as a precursor to powers of levitation and true flight. The Toreador’s sire had offered to teach her, but she’d wanted to learn others instead.

“Falling. Since when does that ever happen to you?” she’d scoffed to Caroline.

Caroline: Only socially.

Caroline sympathized, though: there were plenty of more readily useful devotions in one’s Requiem. If the helicopter took a rocket, odds are she’d have more problems than the fall. Escaping the blazing wreck as it spun would be difficult enough that it might not even matter.

GM: The sound of the shrieking wind is interrupted by thoughts that are not her thoughts.

:: You will arrive at your destination in approximately 5.6 minutes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I suggest you use the time to further plan with your subordinates. Envision their faces within your mind and you may communicate with them. ::

Physical words would doubtless be torn from their mouths.

Caroline: :: Thank you, Seneschal ::

And she means it. The elder facilitating this entire series of events for her, giving her another opportunity to succeed before her sire and her clan at large.

She pictures each of the ghouls in turn, forming a gallery and sends to them group, laying out her plan, such as it is.

:: It is my intention to arrive at the headquarters and, as soon as presentable, enter in the alternating guise as bank employees or federal agents, as most applicable. In the latter, Mr. Ferris or I will take the lead, using his knowledge or my abilities to bluff our way through en route to Ms. Adler. In the former, I expect Ms. Sweet to take the lead cutting through any barriers. ::

:: The first priority is protection of the Masquerade. If these are federal agents, we cannot simply slay them and are best served slipping through them with as few interactions as possible. The second priority is the retrieval and exfiltration of Ms. Adler. The final priority is gathering as much information as available on the cause of the raid, and information on any associated agents we discover, especially if they prove to be motivated by more than simply their civic duties. In that way, identification including names, faces, fingerprints and DNA so far as possible are higher priority than information they might volunteer. ::

:: The first goal then, in any agents we uncover, is identifying to the extent to which their actions are driven by knowledge of Ms. Adler or Mr. Matheson’s ties to the bank. Towards that end, Gisèlle, your abilities are invaluable. Should they become a strain upon you, inform me and I will subsidize you as needed. ::

She doesn’t expect her blood to be as appealing as the elder fair the ghoul typically enjoys, but she does expect it’ll take the edge off.

:: As we do so, Mr. Ferris, it is also vital we identify or arrange our means of departure from the city—likely by car convoy, but possibly via helicopter of the timing if Ms. Adler’s brother-in-blood proves fortuitous. ::

:: Questions. ::

GM: The responses back are not immediate. Caroline can feel the ghouls straining to concentrate on her ‘words’ past the stomach-churning vertigo and hellishly fast air basting across their faces.

But it’s not as if they can use the time for much else.

:: Where… is drop point… going to… be… :: sends Ferris.

:: We’re… going to look… out of sorts… when we arrive… :: sends Sweet.

:: What… is… ETA :: sends Ferris.

There is a fragmented sense of acknowledgment from the casquette girl. She is capable of reading their thoughts.

There is agreement from all ghouls at minimizing interactions with the federal agents to the greatest extent possible.

:: Prince… Landau… can help… convoy… :: sends Sweet.

Caroline: Caroline sends on Ferris’ question about arrival location to the seneschal, picturing the ancient Moor’s stern face before moving onto the others.

GM: :: That location is your purview to determine, Miss Maveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: We will land on the roof, :: Caroline sends, encompassing the rest within her thoughts.

There’s no guarantee what might away them on the ground level around the building, though she hopes to get a look before they land.

She counts the time from their initial call—something like thirty minutes total perhaps, to arrival. Odds are the feds will have finished sweeping the building. And if they’re hunters, as she suspects, they’ll be expecting far more from the outside than in at this point.

:: Arrival in less than six minutes.: :

Landing on the roof will also let them sort their appearance, in theory, before interaction with the employees or government agents. Unless they’re lucky enough to have someone on the roof…

:: No outside entities until we determine situation. ::

GM: :: Missing… shoes… will look… strange… :: sends Sweet.

:: Find… employee… to… mesmerize… :: Ferris.

:: Please describe the building’s layout. :: Kâmil’s mental voice sounds steadier, though the ghoul’s eyes are just as tightly closed against the winds.

Sweet does so, including any sites and features Caroline wants to know about.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful to the ghoul for taking the lead.

She listens carefully as Sweet explains the layout of the building and the number of employees within, getting a lay of the land as best she can.

She passes to Sweet that they will ‘liberate’ new shoes for her promptly.

To Ferris that an employee—or agent—in their grasp early is deal.

And all the while the thought flits around: did she bring this down on Adler? Is this the Barrett Commission? What exactly are they walking into?

Time will tell.

GM: Almost as abruptly as the group’s flight began, it immediately ceases.

They’re on the roof of a multi-story office building, not quite tall enough to be a true skyscraper. A smaller city’s skyline stretches out before them. The buildings aren’t nearly so tall or numerous as the Big Easy’s. The draft from high up is weaker.

Sweet doubles over and vomits over the ground.

Ferris follows suit a second later, spewing the contents of his stomach a few feet away.

Gisèlle looks green in the face and clutches her stomach, but holds it in.

Kâmil alone seems unaffected beyond a brief grimace.

Caroline: The speed of the transition is dizzying, but fortunately Caroline doesn’t suffer from the same nausea that the rest do.

Kine.

They aren’t quite kine, but they’re close enough. Still beset by the weaknesses endemic to their kind.

That the bodyguard is unaffected further ticks up her respect for the Turk.

Caroline surveys the roof while she waits for the ghouls to recover, looking for any ‘guests.’

GM: :: Alas, such flight is rarely agreeable to the living’s constitutions, but better you arrive sick and early than late and hale. God be with you in your efforts, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

As abruptly as the group arrived, Maldonato is gone. His tall form is briefly visible as a gray blot streaking into the night sky.

Caroline and the ghouls appear alone.

Everyone looks awful, Caroline included. Their hair and clothing are completely disheveled, the long-haired Gisèlle’s most of all. Ferris is missing his wristwatch, Sweet her jewelry in addition to her shoes. The ghouls’ faces are reddened and perspired, and they smell of sweat. The stink of puke hangs heavy in the air, though Gisèlle does not further add to it, and removes her hand from her stomach after a moment’s wait.

The Ventrue, at least, feels fine. Her stomach is as dead as the rest of her.

Caroline: Caroline watches the seneschal depart with mild trepidation. Out from under the umbrella here, at least.

She moves to the edge of the building, looking down into the night around the building for flashing lights, government vehicles, or a perimeter while she lets the others collect themselves.

They need to hit a bathroom, and preferably several offices for fresh changes of clothing, but she has a vague memory of how debilitating nausea was.

GM: The building they’re on looks like one of the tallest in the city, though that’s not saying much next to New Orleans. Gulfport looks like a pretty small city.

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True to Caroline’s expectation, she sees a number of black and white vans (some marked with the FBI’s blue letters) assembled around the building’s entrance, replete with flashing lights, a do not cross perimeter, and assorted lawmen maintaining watch. Bystanders look at the building and gossip among themselves from a distance.

Caroline: An actual raid, then? Or a convenient camouflage?

It doesn’t matter, really—either way they need a light touch here.

She does a rough count of the number of vans and vehicles and probable agents on site and pulls back from the edge, looking back to the ghouls.

“We we ready to move?” Caroline asks.

GM: She’s answered by nods.

Caroline: She leads the way to the roof access, proceeding down into the next floor.

It’s advantageous that most CEOs and executives are vane enough to put their offices on the top floor—it provides them the most immediate access to replacement clothing and washrooms.

She slips slow, light feet down the stairs, senses on edge.

GM: Voices and heavy footsteps are audible further in.

Caroline: She slows, holding up a hand to forestall the others, and listens, trying to get a count on the number of voices and what they’re saying.

After a moment she points to Gisèlle, and gestures with one hand in front of her face, as though lowering a veil.

Can the casquette girl continue on undetected?

GM: A nod.

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to do so, pausing to listen while the centuries old ghoul investigates.

GM: There’s a questioning look, as if to ask her objective. She feels the ghoul’s mind touch hers so she may give silent voice to her thoughts.

Caroline: The ghoul’s touch, as always, is like a feather compared to the seneschal’s anvil.

:: I need to know how many on this floor, if we can easily elude or overcome them, and what their immediate goals are. Are they hunters or simply FBI agents? And, if possible, whether Ms. Adler is still on this floor or if she’s been elsewhere. ::

GM: Without further word, the casquette girl winks out of sight like a snuffed-out candle.

Caroline: Caroline creeps down the stairs to wait near the bottom for her return—and to do some eavesdropping of her own.

GM: Caroline slowly makes her way down the carpeted hallway. Footsteps and voices are audible from nearby offices. They have doors rather than a common area with cubicles. It sounds like the one nearest to her, and at least several others, are still being searched. Drawers are opening and closing and papers being rifled through. She hears several presumed FBI agents inside amiably chatting about how, depending on how things go here, they may be getting “help from the boys at CI.”

“We’re just spread out over so many statutes, especially when counterterror and counterintelligence got big after 9/11,” says a Bureau agent. “CI’s always my first choice for financial crimes.”

“You will love working with those people,” says another man. “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It is wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It is a genuinely impressive thing to watch.”

“Even Al Capone was no match for the IRS,” laughs a younger-sounding man.

“Yeah. Don’t fuck with the tax man,” says the first.

Caroline: Interesting that they’re not all familiar with Bureau procedure. New agents or cross agencies? The plot thickens, despite the mundane topic at hand for the agents. It would be easy to rampage through the building dominating everyone in her path, but she’s content to wait for a moment, to let the elder ghoul do her work and continue to listen in until she gets a better count on the number of nearby agents.

GM: She overhears that “a girl” matching Adler’s description has been arrested and is currently sitting comfy in one of the FBI vans.

Caroline: That is very interesting news for her. Her professors had been pretty clear, the Feds only arrest when they’ve got you dead to rights or they have no other option. Working late is hardly something she believes would drive then to arrest a young white intern with no criminal record. And even if they did, why not hand over to locals?

She withdraws back into the ladderwell to confer with her team while she waits for her spy to report. Sneaking in and out with none the wiser seems increasingly unlikely, so as much as anything this becomes a matter of what kind of footprint she wants to leave.

She relays, quietly, what she’s learned to Ferris, confirming with Adler’s ghoul the Ventrue’s identity here and how well it will stand up to scrutiny.

GM: Sweet says the identity is as real as any identity can be. It has everything from dental records to credit card food purchases. Gerousiastis Matheson arranged only the best for his childe.

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t know anything about that. Yet.

GM: Ferris thinks that no identity will stand up to sustained scrutiny if you have a team of determined feds actively pouring over it. “If they already think it’s bull they’ll eventually find a string to yank.”

Caroline: The Ventrue agrees. She proposes posing as another agency angry over the feds stomping in and disrupting their investigation. Perhaps pitching Adler’s identify as a fake one in their employ. Treasury seems like a fair bet. Stomp in as a Treasury agent screaming about the mess they made and demanding to see their boss or whoever the hell authorized this shit show.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls raise no objection to the plan. Kâmil and Ferris both consider it wise to have a mundane cover story that Kindred powers can supplement over relying on those alone.

“One thing, ma’am, my domitor’s identity… she’s the niece of Edward Campbell,” says Sweet. “That’s the man with a controlling interest in the bank. And her sire’s identity.”

“That’s why people here listen to her and take her seriously, despite being ‘just’ an intern.”

Caroline: She’d have preferred to slip in and out to pick up Adler and leave none the wiser, but some footprint seems unavoidable. As an additional benefit, if they vanish with Adler into federal bureaucratic minefields attempts to figure out who is responsible among the agencies will leave fingerprints they can follow backwards.

Adler as such a high-profile identify though may create problems. She chews her lower lip.

GM: “He has no children and it’s believed she’s going to inherit everything from him.”

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t mind making that a reality, truth be told, but this is hardly the audience for that topic.

“I see,” she answers. Is there an answer here that leaves that identity in place? She eyes Sweet. Probably not, but some answers may leave fewer questions than others.

GM: The ghoul smiles back. “Just seems tricky, that way, but maybe she is cooperating with the Treasury? The bank gets up to as many, ah, questionable enterprises as any Kindred-run business.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. And when she doesn’t show up again? Or can’t come in during the day? They’d blow that identity wide open, and with it a great deal more.

“I wonder if any of Mr. Campbell’s other assets were raided,” she muses while they wait.

She needs to get more of her wealth off the grid, make it harder to trace. She has an idea for that. Perhaps Miss Adler will have a similar interest.

GM: “I hope not,” frowns the ghoul, “but they won’t be able to leave him penniless, even if they seize everything attached to the name.”

Caroline: One hell of a stroke of luck to land on Adler in their first raid if she’s only here a few times a month.

GM: Without announcement, Gisèlle reappears.

Sounds and images fill the Ventrue’s head. She sees at least a score of different lawmen methodically searching the office building in teams, tearing through documents and arresting everyone they find. Some wear blue and yellow FBI jackets, but others appear to be local law enforcement. She hears voices talking about financial crimes and political corruption—one of the Bureau’s foremost areas of interest since 9/11. She sees handcuffed bank employees and Miss Adler being moved into the police vans outside.

She sees a middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair being addressed by the others as “sir.” A name floats through her mind. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates.

Mr. Gates and the other lawmen talk about a great deal of things, but Caroline hears nothing about vampires from any of them. Just a specific arrest warrant for Mr. Campbell’s niece.

They’ve got the warrant in hand, too, when Adler asks to see it. It’s signed by Magistrate Judge Samuel Chambers of the Southern District of Mississippi.

Caroline: A patsy. No way any magistrate with a brain in his head would sign off on something this large and sweeping. Caroline glowers. Catspaws at work here. The feds, the justice system. Using a system she has found power in.

Well, two can play at that game. Can they make it to a washroom to freshen up? Did she have an opportunity to snag a spare pair of shoes in her travels for Adler’s ghoul? She imagines that Adler keeps a closet here. Most executives do.

GM: Caroline sees no shoes in the ghoul’s hand. She does see, in her mind’s eye, that same image of lawmen busily searching the offices on the floor. They look busy, but they are there. It likely depends how stealthy the group is.

Caroline: No time like the present. She, Ferris, and Gisèlle will take the lead. Caroline will draw attention if required. She pulls her hair back into a simple ponytail and quickly smooths her appearance. Not perfect, but enough to stand up when layered on top of her powers. She gets concurrence from the others and creeps back down the hall.

GM: There are several hair-rising close calls from the busy federal agents, but the group makes it to the washroom without apparent detection.

Caroline: Caroline takes advantage of the mirror to finish smoothing her own appearance as best she can. There’s limits on what she can, but it looks better than nothing. More attention is directed to the others. They’re not going to be fooling anyone anytime soon under normal circumstances, especially the ghoul without shoes, but Caroline doesn’t intend on this being normal conditions.

GM: The others follow suit in cleaning up as best they can. Ferris and Sweet gargle water to get rid of the vomit on their breath.

Caroline: She looks at herself one more time in the mirror, then smiles.

“Time to make a scene.”

GM: “I look pretty out of sorts without shoes,” admits Sweet, but they follow her lead.

Caroline: “It would have been much better if you hadn’t lost them,” Caroline agrees pointedly. “If you have an opportunity to raid Miss Adler’s closet for a pair, do so.”

She leads them back to the hall, turns on the mojo, and sticks her head into the first room full of agents.

“Where the fuck is Gates?” she demands of the startled federal agents, channeling her best Claire.

GM: The blue-jacketed feds pause in their ransacking of the office and its contents. Four pairs of eyes sweep Caroline with taken aback expressions.

“Excuse me?” one man asks coolly.

Caroline: “Like hell I will,” she snarls. “You clowns just shit on three years of investigations stomping in here like you owned the place and there’s going to be hell to pay before I’m done.”

“Do you have any idea how much time and effort you destroyed? How many scumbags are going to walk free because of your FBI hard-on for jumping in the shit?”

GM: “And just who the hell are you people?” asks another fed in a milder-sounding tone than Caroline wonders if he might muster.

Sweet stays out of sight in the corridor.

Caroline: She turns her wrath on him. “Agent Bueller, Treasury. And who are you, so I can add your name next to your boss’ on the ‘audit every year until you die’ list?”

She looks around at the scattered papers and riffled through drawers and shakes her head.

“Goddamn, no wonder you guys have the same fuckers on your most wanted list for twenty years if this is what you do for investigations.”

GM: The agent gives her a sullen look at the ‘audit’ threat. The all-too real-sounding audit threat.

“We’re just doing our jobs. I didn’t order this raid.”

Caroline: It’s not life-shattering moments of fear that strikes terror into people, it’s lifelong tedious life-eating bureaucratic hell.

Her gaze sweeps across the other agents. “Then where the fuck is your boss? Someone’s ass is going to get roasted over this, and I don’t much care whose.”

GM: “He’s on the next floor down,” glares another fed.

Caroline: “You assholes actually here for something or is this someone flexing their dick on a goose chase?” she asks the more talkative one.

GM: “If you’re this pissy about the raid, I guess you’d know what’s here as well as us,” says the first fed.

Caroline: She rolls her eyes. “Got it, prick waving.” She settles on the fed that she threatened with the audit. “Bring me to him so I can stop having this same conversation with every one of you in sequence.”

GM: The man glowers at her, but moves off.

Caroline: Caroline shows her first smile, a sharp and cruel thing. “Hope you boys have good accountants.” She follows the unhappy agent, confident the others will no longer be so shortly.

GM: He exits the room, then stops and looks down at Sweet’s bare feet.

Caroline: When his gaze comes back up Caroline meets it. The monster inside her runs roughshod over his mind as she unleashes it.

“Forget about her feet and keep leading me as though you never saw them.”

GM: The man gets a glassy look in his eyes, then frowns again as he sees Sweet’s feet still in front of him. He touches his temple, but wordlessly leads Caroline downstairs.

“He cannot long forget what is plain to his sight, bayan,” Kâmil murmurs low in her ear.

“Maybe I should stay out of sight?” floats Sweet.

Caroline: “Can you?” Caroline asks.

GM: She shakes her head. “I’m no good at veiling, but I could wait on the roof?” she whispers.

Caroline: She looks at Gisèlle. “Can you veil yourself and let her ‘borrow’ yours?”

GM: The casquette girl silently hands over her shoes. A new ‘pair’ reappears.

Sweet murmurs her thanks and fits them on.

The FBI man leads Caroline and the ghouls downstairs. She sees a scene unfolding much like the one upstairs, but there are more lawmen. Many of them are carrying out computers and other seized pieces of evidence while others methodically tear through the contents of offices. It’s supervised by the figure Gisèlle showed her in her mind’s eye. A middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates. He wears the same dress shirt and tie under a blue FBI jacket as the other on-scene feds.

“And who the hell are you people?” he growls as Caroline and the ghouls show up.

Caroline: “Treasury. What the hell are you people doing here?” Caroline snaps right back.

GM: “Our jobs,” answers Gates in that same low growl.

His eyes suspiciously survey the Ventrue and her ghouls.

“Let’s see some badges.”

Caroline: Irritating. She’d planned on more subtle powers holding out against less marginal scrutiny inside the perimeter. There’s not much to be done for it. Her gaze bores into man’s.

“I already showed my identification,” she doesn’t quite snarl. She releases the Beast to make it truth in his mind.

“How about you show me your warrant for this…” She bites her tongue off short of tearing him down in front of everyone else, glances around, then continues in a lower voice, “How about we step into an office to continue this conversation.”

GM: The man’s agitated expression slackens. “Okay. This way.”

“Sir?” asks one of the other feds.

Gates waves him off and takes Caroline aside into one of the already searched-looking offices.

Caroline: She shuts the door firmly behind them, leaving her ghouls with the rest of the Feds and rounding on him.

“What the devil is going on here? Raiding Whitney Hancock in the middle of night? Not conferring with anyone else?”

GM:I wasn’t told the Treasury Department had any skin in this,” Gates answers stiffly.

Caroline: “And we had no idea you had an investigation going into them literally at all, much less that you were planning to raid one of our most cooperative ‘partners’ in illicit funds and asset revelation in the region.”

She heaves a sigh and continues in a less aggressive, more business-like tone, at the same time shifting her influence upon him to something gentler, more invasive. She doesn’t lay it on too thick, just… a bit. To take the edge off his irritation and the inherent distrust between feds.

“So why don’t we start the fuck over and then we can find out how we’re going to un-fuck this one. I’m Jessica, you’re Ruben. This is obviously not entirely on the up and up or you’d have done it during the day and with a signature on the warrant from a district judge vice a magistrate one.”

GM: Ruben sighs. “Jessica. Well, you’re right. I didn’t like this either. This was a bad time to do this. This was a bad warrant to do this with. Hearing this steps on someone else’s toes too honestly doesn’t surprise me.”

“But orders are orders.”

Caroline: “Then which idiot gave the order?” she asks, not quite exasperatedly. “Let me point this shit storm at them before it lands on you, you and that poor magistrate you all hoodwinked into signing off on this that’ll be lucky to hold office as local dog catcher when people are done with him. Why the sudden rush to come here and execute this raid?”

“Do you have any idea how many professional relationships have probably been ruined tonight? How many investigations are going back into the garbage? Years of work all gone in an instant… for what?”

GM: “Take it up with my bosses,” answers Ruben. “I got my orders from my ASAC. He got his orders from the DSAC. He mentioned nothing about a Treasury investigation. I was barely in on any of this before the raid. Boss just told me to make it happen.”

“I told him we should get a warrant from a real federal judge, and that we should do this during normal business hours. He said if I didn’t want to lead the raid, someone else would instead, and that I could hand over my badge while I was at it.”

Caroline: ‘Jessica’ purses her lips, then her expression softens.

“That’s fucking ridiculous. And these clowns wonder why we have so many problems keeping talented and motivated people.”

“The shitty government salary and red tape is at least supposed to come with job security and feeling like you aren’t the crook.”

GM: “My wife keeps reminding me how much more I could make in the private sector. I’ve gotten offers.”

Caroline: “Drop an IG complaint and take one,” she offers, but it’s a lifeless joke. Anyone with enough time in the bureaucracy of the government knows the IG only really sticks for fraud waste and abuse and allegations of racism. And you don’t rise to Ruben’s level without the ability to put your frustrations in a box, to take them out in ways that let you keep working for the Bureau like alcoholism or beating your wife.

DSAC, though, that’s interesting piece of information. It takes some real teeth to pull strings at the director level.

GM: Wife-beating and alcoholism work in plenty more jobs than the Bureau, too.

Ruben smiles humorlessly.

“My men are just doing their jobs. So am I. I’m not sure how much we can un-fuck things for the Treasury at this point.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles with more mirth, and some teeth.

“How precise are your orders?”

Career bureaucrats can find plenty of ways to un-fuck—or fuck things up within the letter of the law and their instructions.

GM: There’s another tired smile.

“Un-precise enough, if someone were to need it. The only part of this my boss left no room for error on was arresting the intern.”

“‘The’ intern.”

“I’m sure you people know who she is.”

Caroline: “Campbell’s niece?” Caroline asks skeptically.

“Little blonde, looks like she stepped out of a cheer squad recruiting video?”

GM: “That’s her.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an incredulous look. “That’s what this is all about? What, did she launder her Girl Scout Cookie profits to Hamas or something?”

GM: Ruben gives Jessica an equally dubious look.

“If your people have been at this for years, you know she’s no Girl Scout.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a guilty grin.

“Can’t blame me for trying. Campbell is going to blow his stack over her in custody.”

GM: “He sure is.”

Caroline: “You don’t sound especially broken up over that.”

GM: “I’ve not been investigating this bank for years, but I’ve been briefed.”

Caroline: On what? Caroline wonders.

Adler’s ghoul hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with what might convince a hardened agent that cute as a button Becky Lynne deserved a trip to prison.

“You figure your boss is trying to provoke him into action?” she asks. “See what comes out of the tree?”

GM: “He didn’t say outright, but that wouldn’t surprise me,” says Ruben. “She’s his hand. You probably know better than I do how hard he is to reach.”

Caroline: “What’s the charge attached to her, or is this a catch and release?”

They both know they can hold her for a while without charging her. It’ll be a headache of the lawyers show up, but with rich girls a trip to the station can be bad enough.

Caroline should know.

That Adler was targeted by name introduces some extra complications. Caroline had hoped to snatch her away amid the confusion associated with the raid, just another intern not worth recording. At worst she’d planned on leaving behind the ghoul in her place—another blonde that looked close enough to her domitor to pass uncareful scrutiny.

Adler vanishing into thin air, though… that’s harder to explain. And they’re not going to accept a vaguely passable double if they had a specific target.

GM: Caroline knows almost as well as another rich girl connected to Matheson.

“Contingent catch and release. Campbell is the real target. But if he doesn’t show his hand, there’s enough here to tie them up in court and make their lives miserable.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, then curses.

“Fuck.”

“Not much to do for it then. I’ve got to go call my boss, let him know this place is about to dry up like the Sahara Desert. Expect a nasty letter from him through official channels, but I’ll try to paint your ASAC. He have a name?”

GM: “Thanks,” grunts Ruben. “Everyone here is just doing their job.”

“His name’s Anthony Dotson.”

Caroline: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story before,” Caroline agrees, holding up a hand. “No bad actors, just shitty scripts we’re all given.”

She meets his gaze, then bites her lip before continuing, her gaze boring into his own as she unleashes the Beast within his mind.

“Tell me, are we off the record here, no wires or recordings?”

GM: Ruben stares into the Ventrue’s eyes with a sleepy expression.

“No,” he answers tranquilly.

Caroline: A chill runs down her spine.

Someone’s fishing for bigger fish than just an executive.

She looks away, breaking the connection. “Fair enough. I’ll keep my opinions to myself and play the role I was given.”

“Wish I could say I’ll enjoy the fireworks, but they’re more fun when they aren’t going off beside you.”

She smooths over the transition with a flare of the Beast, lowering his inhibitions. Making her just a little easier to trust. To give the benefit of the doubt.

GM: The FBI man blinks slowly as the spell subsides.

The initial spell.

“Hold a moment,” he says. “You keep my guys and me out of your boss’ line of fire, I’ll owe you one.”

Caroline: “I’ll do what I can,” she agrees after a moment.

“If you feel like I’ve done right by you when it’s all said and done, reach out. Maybe I’ll even let you buy me a drink while we bitch about our bosses.”

GM: He gives ‘Jessica’ a long-suffering smile.

“You got a card?”

Caroline: She pats her pocket-less sides, then her pocket-less blouse wryly. “Not enough damn pockets. The failures of gender equality.”

She snags a sticky-note off the desk and dutifully prints her fake name with a pin from beside it.

“Look up me. Shoot me an email if you want to talk.”

GM: Ruben sticks the sticky inside his jacket pocket, then hands ‘Jessica’ a white business card with the FBI’s logo located to the upper left of the text:

U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation


Ruben F. Gates
Supervisory Special Agent


Below is his office address, office phone number, cell number, and email (ruben.f.gates@usdoj.gov).

“Likewise to you.”

Caroline: She whistles, “Fancy,” and palms the card.

“Good luck, Ruben.”

GM: “Damn should be. $115 for a batch of 300 and they say ‘what an honor’ it is to serve us.”

Caroline: “The dinosaur at the officer says civil servants only got respect right after 9/11. Before my time.”

GM: Ruben grunts. “Not mine. Your people sticking around?”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “No meaningful jurisdiction here, just creates possible headaches down the line. We’ll get out of your hair.”

“I was really hoping you were going to be some podunk sheriff we could run over.”

GM: Ruben glances around the empty office, then reaches inside his jacket again, but doesn’t pull anything out.

“This whole thing stinks, Jessica.”

Caroline: She glances at his jacket, then bites her lip. “What am I missing, Ruben? Even as a short squeeze on Campbell, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are better ways to go about that.”

“Am I about to step in it on this one?”

GM: “I don’t know. The fixation on the intern is bizarre. My boss told me specifically how to arrest her.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, how?” she asks skeptically. “He afraid you were going to forget to mirandize her, or want her roughed up?”

GM: Ruben snorts. “Just bizarre instructions. Like to transport her to the county jail up along the I-10, instead of Gulfport PD’s here in the city. No explanation for the longer drive.”

“But, everyone else we arrest, fine if Gulfport PD holds them.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression turns grim. She bites her lip nervously.

“I need to go.” She swallows, then looks back at him. “Get away from this one, Ruben. Call in a favor if you have to.”

GM: The Bureau agent glances around the ransacked office again. Muffled sounds of lawmens’ footfalls are audible past the doors.

“Little late for that now.”

Caroline: “Then keep your name off of whatever you can. Turn over early.” She bites her lip again.

GM: He regards her for a thoughtful moment.

“I’ll take that advice.”

Caroline: She starts towards the door, then stops. “And don’t dig on this shit when it gets weirder, because it will.”

GM: Ruben shakes his head as he follows her out.

“I’ll take that too.”

Caroline: He sounds like he will. That’s something.

She hopes for his sake that it’s enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue leaves the FBI agent to his business, leaving office first and heading out to gather the ghouls with a gruff, “We’re leaving.”

They have one stop before they go at the buildings security office downstairs.

GM: The four follow after her without a word.

No one stops them along the way to their destination. It’s a typical enough security office, with rows of screens and monitors and several swivel chairs to sit in. Caroline finds, to her good fortune, that it’s completely empty of security personnel and law enforcement agents alike.

Caroline: The Ventrue sends her agents into action—and joins them—seeking to pry any security tapes of the raid and subsequent events (including their arrival and exploration of the building) from the system.

Given the option she copies them and deletes the originals, making it look like mishandling. Without the option to copy, she simply deletes.

GM: Unsurprisingly, the terminals are password-protected.

Gisèlle meets Caroline’s gaze. In her mind’s eye, the Ventrue sees blood flowing from her wrist, then a bypassed login screen.

Caroline: The heiress nods, turns her wrist over, and brings it to her fangs to draw blood.

GM: The casquette girl sits down, touches the keyboard, then types in a password. She rises for Caroline and Ferris to systematically delete the footage. Sweet has the fortune to find a spare USB stick available for copying.

Caroline: Caroline supposes it’s fortunate the ghoul is good for something. She save her questions until they’re on the road.

The Ventrue works quickly, and they’re careful to wipe their fingerprints when they’re done.

They head out into the night and rolling chaos that is the perimeter, picking through the mess to determine who has been shipped out and who remains. It’s fortunate that those inside a perimeter attract far less attention than those without. They’re much more concerned with those attempting to gain entry.

She has Ferris and Sweet make whatever calls are necessary to arrange their vehicles for immediate pickup as she tries to locate Adler.

GM: Caroline finds that she and her ghouls are not alone with the law enforcement officers in the perimeter.

A short and vaguely bookish-looking man with tan skin and dark hair is also there, talking to one of the Bureau agents. He’s dressed in a tailored black business suit with a blue necktie patterned in white longhorns. He’s trailed by two more men in suits and a woman in similarly professional attire. The larger of the men carries himself like a bodyguard. But Caroline can sense all the subtle predatory cues, from the slowness of the short man’s blinks to the distinct lack of heartbeat.

He is Kindred.

He looks at Caroline and gives a faint smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Let’s talk.”

“Excuse us,” he says to the Bureau agent.

Caroline: “Let’s,” Caroline agrees. She nods to Ferris and Sweet to continue on their business and breaks away with the two elder ghouls.

GM: They walk away from the perimeter.

“What are you doing in my city?” the vampire asks without preamble.

Caroline: The heiress bites back her initial reaction: venom and spite.

“Prince Landau, I presume,” she answers more mildly, deferentially. Her pride isn’t worth starting a conflict with a neighbor.

“My apologies for not presenting myself more presently, we arrived only minutes ago. I had hoped that Prince Vidal might have had the opportunity to send word ahead.”

“We received word that Questor Adler had been taken into FBI custody, and I was able to arrive much more swiftly than any other.”

GM: “I’ve been made aware,” the small-town prince answers perfunctorily.

“You may present yourself to me now.”

Caroline: “Begging your pardon, my prince, but to show you the respect you are due within your dominion would invite undue scrutiny in this moment: this raid specifically targeted Kindred, down to special handling instructions for the specific target.”

She doesn’t dally before continuing.

“That not withstanding, I am Eiren Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue, and I humbly request both your forgiveness for my trespass, and permission to continue in my duties as ordered by my prince, Strategos Augusto Vidal, within your domain through this night.”

She wonders if even that humble pedigree shames the small-town tyrant.

GM: It’s an estimable enough list of names, at least from Bastien on upwards.

“I’ll give you better than my permission, Eiren,” says Landau.

“You can do it under my supervision. Bring me up to speed on what you’ve found.”

Caroline: She gives a faint bow of gratitude—limited by their publicity. “Very magnanimous, my prince.”

“Questor Adler was taken into custody a little less than an hour ago. This raid was specifically directed by someone with ties to the Domestic Security Alliance Council—presumably a highly placed hunter—with the intention of capturing her. Most of those here are catspaws, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have agents seeded into the group. Given time I’d comb through them, but we lack that.”

“Questor Adler is supposed to be taken not to the local Gulfport PD holding, but to the county jail down I-10. The guidance was specific to the route. I have not ascertained if she has been transported yet, but I do not expect we will see her again if that convoy is not intercepted in a timely manner.”

“It was my intention to locate her, if here, and if not to procure vehicles to intercept the convoy, by force if necessary.”

GM: Landau seems to consider that. He frowns slightly at the mention of procuring vehicles, but answers,

“You can borrow some of mine, then. Eiren Packard will help you. She’s a fair hand behind the wheel.”

Caroline: “As directed, my prince,” Caroline acquiesces without argument.

A ‘fair hand.’

“Is she nearby?”

It’s not lost on her that associating himself here allows him to take credit for this publicly… but nor is it lost on her that an eiren of modest breeding handling such a sensitive matter must raise some concerns for even the pauper prince.

GM: Landau removes a flip phone from his jacket pocket.

“Take two cars to the public library. Lickety-split.”

He ends the call and looks back to Caroline.

“Block and a half down 25th Ave.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Prince Landau,” she replies.

Then, “Was it possible to ascertain whether Questor Adler had been taken away yet?”

GM: “Sure was, Eiren. She’s gone. You and Packard had better be fast.”

Caroline: She refrains from offering a curse at the time wasted with formalities.

“By your leave, then.”

GM: The prince motions, dismissing her, and walks back towards the bank with his people.

Like in so many other things, it looks like it falls to the neonates to do the heavy lifting.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress withdraws with Landau’s assent, gathering her ghouls around her as she heads down 25th Ave.

She gives them the bare minimum as they walk. “Ms. Adler is being taken to the country prison. We will intercept the vehicles transporting her with the aid of Prince Landau’s childe, who is graciously providing two vehicles.”

GM: 25th Avenue is Gulfport’s largest thoroughfare and drives home what a small city it is. Only a few buildings are more than several stories tall. Gaps between them feel more spacious. Palm trees line the avenue, swaying in the balmy seaside air.

Ferris and Sweet are gone, having been dismissed to procure vehicles, but meet Caroline outside the public library after being called over Ferris’ phone. It’s closed at this hour of the night and located next to a sleepy O’Tolley’s still seeing some traffic at the drive-thru.

“Which one, ma’am, if I might ask?” asks Sweet.

Caroline: She bites back a more biting response, and not for the first time this evening.

“Eiren Packard.”

GM: “Ah, good,” smiles the ghoul. “She’ll want to get Questor Adler recovered safe and sound.”

Caroline: “They knew about your domitor,” Caroline snaps. “Apparently she had quite the unsavory reputation.”

GM: Sweet’s eyes widen at Caroline’s first words.

At the latter ones, she just offers a sad smile.

“So do all ghouls and Kindred, ma’am, to people who know our dirty laundry.”

Caroline: “Typically the FBI isn’t on the list of people I’d expect to be read in on that.”

She continues to walk. “Questor Adler was the sole target tonight. They had special apprehension and transportation instructions for her.”

GM: “Oh, no,” the ghoul murmurs. “They knew she was Kindred, then?”

Caroline: “I suspect someone did,” Caroline answers.

Which only further reinforces what she’s come to suspect: that someone is targeting the city’s Ventrue quite aggressively.

GM: “Gisèlle identified no individuals among the Bureau agents who were more than they appeared, bayan,” states Kâmil. “But as you told Prince Landau, it is entirely possible such individuals evaded our limited scrutiny.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I expect they will have their agents waiting to take Questor Adler into custody—either on the road or at the jail.”

GM: “Is our primary objective to extract Adler or capture their agents?” asks Ferris.

Caroline: She glances at Sweet. “The former.”

GM: The ghoul looks relieved.

Caroline: “Anything else we get is simply an added benefit.”

GM: “Pros and cons to taking her into custody on the road or at the jail,” considers Ferris. “On the road, fewer witnesses, easier operation. At the jail, more possible coverups. Podunk cops make good patsies.”

Caroline: “May not get a choice. If you were a black team would you take her on the road, knowing her connections, if you wanted to shuffle her off to a site?”

GM: “Road for sure if I wanted to capture her and didn’t mind a more suspicious disappearance. She wouldn’t be in any jail cell for long.”

Caroline: “Have to catch her either way,” Caroline muses.

GM: “I find it remiss that an elder’s favored childe would be caught so easily, bayan,” observes Kâmil.

Caroline: “In what way?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Could you see this same sequence of events happening to you, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks on that one. “Odd that she was alone, that she was taken so unawares.”

GM: The Turk dips his head in concurrence.

Caroline: “Convenient that I was watching when it happened.”

Caroline turns to Sweet.

GM: “I’m certainly glad you were, ma’am, for it to get this level of response,” nods the ghoul.

Caroline: “How frequently does she do Zoom calls for Kindred business, Ms. Sweet?”

GM: “It depends on the nature of the business, ma’am. Usually Zoom calls are just to set up somethin’ else in person.”

“Though for business that can be discussed in veiled enough terms, she prefers to do over video calls than voice calls.”

“She likes to look people in the face—and let them see hers, too.”

Caroline: “And does she frequently travel to foreign cities alone?” Caroline presses.

GM: “Questor Adler doesn’t consider Gulfport to be foreign, ma’am. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the city his possession, in so many words. She feels, or I suppose felt, safe comin’ here.”

“But ever since the bank’s been relocatin’ its headquarters, she’s usually popped by here once a week.”

“Before then it was once every few weeks or so.”

Caroline: “Routines make us complacent,” the Ventrue observes to the Turk.

“But hurry makes us blind.”

Out on the interstate far from the city with only a fraction of her typical ghouls and with unknown foreign Kindred makes her awfully vulnerable.

“You think it’s a trap.”

GM: “It would be a convenient moment for one,” observes Ferris.

Caroline: She has always trusted her vision, her perspective, but how much of this could be someone playing off her own expectations?

GM: “I am uncertain, bayan,” answers Kâmil.

“It is, as Bay Ferris notes, a convenient moment for a trap.”

“Yet few are the prizes that may be won without struggle or risk.”

Caroline: Dread rolls in the pit of her stomach, and as her gaze settles again on Sweet anger blossoms. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

She rounds on the petite ghoul, her features taking on a darkly wrath.

“You know something,” she snarls.

GM: Sweat beads along the ghoul’s brow as she raises her hands placatingly.

“I-I haven’t told you everything ab-bout Questor Adler’s activities , ma’am, but it’s nothing, nothing harmful.”

Caroline: The aura of palpable menace rolls off Caroline like a dark suffocating cloud.

“Tell. Me. Now.”

GM: Ferris silently falls behind Sweet, his own face dark. He doesn’t say anything about blacksites and CIA interrogation techniques. Sometimes more words dilute the impact of your first ones. He just gets behind the ghoul and lets her feel surrounded, back exposed and vulnerable to a second and very unfriendly-looking face.

Kâmil and Gisèlle watch impassively.

“She has a bodyguard!” spills Sweet, trembling a helpless piece of debris in that darkest tempest.

“He, he was down with poisoning tonight, food poisoning.”

“He couldn’t be, be here with her.”

“I thought, okay, that, that happens, sometimes, I just…”

“Just what?” Ferris breathes behind her.

“I think she did it!” blurts the ghoul. “Poi, poisoned him!”

Caroline: Caroline glowers.

“You maintain her schedule. When did she schedule this trip? Was it after I tried to arrange a meeting?”

She glances as the casquette girl. “Can you reach the seneschal from this far away?”

GM: Gisèlle shakes her head.

Caroline: She looks back to Sweet.

She already knows the answer.

GM: “After, ma’am,” the ghoul answers quietly.

“This, this wasn’t a setup. I know her. She wasn’t acting. She is in trouble.”

Caroline: “I’m sure,” Caroline all but sneers in Sweet’s face.

But it’s not impossible. Adler already holds leverage over her, but her departure and arrival here is something that would have been difficult to predict. There’s another hand at work.

A pause.

“Who did she meet with between my request and the scheduling of this trip?”

GM: “It doesn’t matter to her either way,” observes Ferris. “If Adler’s not in trouble, and Sweet sends us after her, as planned, she’s being a good ghoul. If Adler is in trouble, maybe we save her, and if we die, oh well.”

“Good ghoul either way.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “And she’s inclined to see the best even if she is genuine in her concern.”

“The list, Ms. Sweet. My patience runs exceptionally thin.”

“And if you lie or misrepresent something to me again I will leave you in a ditch and your domitor wherever she has found herself.”

GM: An image flits through Caroline’s mind’s eye.

Two cars have arrived.

The ghoul, meanwhile, pales at Caroline’s all-too genuine-seeming threat.

“She, I’m sorry, she saw… Primogen Hurst, Gerousiastis Matheson, Lady Speaker Defallier, Hound Doriocourt, Lady Commissioner Preston, Questor Brodowski, and Seneschal Maldonato.”

Caroline: “Wonderful, a who’s who of people that want me dead,” Caroline snaps.

She bores her eyes into the ghoul’s. “Forget this conversation,” she demands before tearing her gaze away.

“-e need to hurry,” she picks up mid sentence. “If she’s already been handed off to a second group we’ll never find her.”

GM: The still-pale ghoul blinks and nods shakily. Dread continues to roll off the Ventrue in a dark yet unseen tide.

Caroline: She brushes a hand on the the casquette girl’s as she advances towards the vehicles and sends feeling through it. Tension. Violent readiness.

“Gisèlle, can you link us across cars if they are in close proximity?”

GM: The casquette girl inclines her head.

Caroline: “Do so, I will have additional instructions once we are on the way. Mr. Ferris, please join Ms. Sweet and Gisèlle in the second vehicle.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: Her foul mood has not abated, but she buries it as best she can.

Perhaps it is her temper guiding her. The smarter move tonight is to turn around, to drive these cars back to New Orleans and report to the seneschal.

But she’s been manipulated. She’s been lied to. Deceived.

And by god, someone is going to pay for it.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The group proceeds to the cars. They’re a pair of SUVs parked within 10 or so feet of where the conversation took place. The driver inside each is watching them. One, female, smells like Kindred even past the windshield. The other, male, smells human. Kâmil follows at Caroline’s flank.

Caroline: Caroline approaches the Kindred driver, appraising her and sliding around the car to the passenger side door before climbing inside.

GM: Most Kindred, from what Caroline’s seen, are Embraced young. Twenty-somethings, like she is. Sometimes younger, like Becky Lynne and Roxanne. The Kindred behind the wheel doesn’t look young. There are lines across a hard and determined face that looks like it’s seen more scowls than smiles over the years. She’s in her mid-late 30s, maybe, with fair skin and dirty blonde hair cut short. She wears a button-up and gray pants without any makeup or jewelry.

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She waits for Caroline, seemingly, to break the silence first.

Caroline: “They tell you what’s going on?” Caroline asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “No,” the woman answers frankly.

Caroline: “Questor Adler was picked up by federal authorities, likely being handed off for transport to a black site. We’re supposed to go get her. Somewhere down I-10 Eastbound.”

Except it’s far from that simple.

She arches an eyebrow. “Sounds like fun, eh?”

GM: “Not one bit,” answers the other vampire, then twists the ignition.

Kâmil sits in the back behind the two.

The car moves. 25th Ave rolls past. It’s not a long drive to the city’s outskirts. The whole city feels like somewhere else’s outskirts.

Caroline: Caroline lets them get into the darkness before she looks over. It’s not complicated, a simple ‘hey, what’s this?’ to get the other vampire, the older woman to look at her for a moment, and she sets to work on her mind, even as one hand snakes out lightning quick to catch the wheel and keep it steady.

“Drive as I tell you and when I next say ‘alpha’ freeze and do not move for the rest of the evening..” she demands.

GM: “Fuck y…” growls the woman, eyes hard as they bore back Caroline’s. She feels the other vampire’s will like steel beneath her. The Ventrue’s mouth opens, as if to issue some counter-command.

Caroline: “In your dreams,” she snarls.

GM: A moment passes.

No sound emerges.

The woman’s features gradually still.

She looks back towards the road and calmly resumes driving.

Kâmil is sitting forward, a large hand resting inside his jacket pocket. Upon seeing the woman’s acquiescence, he releases it and sits back.

Caroline: Caroline sighs, then slides out her phone.

“Continue onto I-10 eastbound,” she directs as she dials her sister, letting it ring.

GM: The car drives.

Cécilia picks up promptly.

“Caroline?”

Caroline: “Cécilia,” Caroline greets her. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late.”

The sound of her sister’s voice is reassuring. Calming. It pats down the anger burning under the surface.

“I’ve found myself in something of a bind. Is Maman available?”

GM: “For us? Of course.”

“And it’s fine. Do you need help?”

Caroline: “Advice at least,” she admits.

GM: “All right. I’ll go find her. What’s the situation?”

Caroline: She’s mindful of how unsecure the line is.

“I thought I was coming to help a ‘friend’ in Gulfport, but now that I’m here the entire thing seems… questionable, and I’m beginning to wonder why they called me at all.”

GM: “Oh, that is difficult,” frowns Cécilia. “Do you feel like you can’t just come home?”

Caroline: “That’s probably the smart move… but you know how I feel about people jerking me around. How much I’d prefer to confront them face to face.”

“This just seems a little… calculated. I was hoping Maman had some ideas to change the odds a bit.”

GM: “I can do that. What do you want me to pass along?”

“You know how phones really don’t agree with her.”

Caroline: “Please,” Caroline indicates. “For what it’s worth, I think that distant relative of mine, the one that lives out in the country, may be involved.”

GM: “Oh no, personally?”

Caroline: “Hard to say, but… starting to think so. I brought a couple old friends out, and there aren’t many other people I can think of that would want to get into it with them if it gets ugly.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“She thinks that’s unlikely.”

“That he’d rather ask someone else to get involved for him.”

Caroline: “Awkward. You know how much I hate backing down from a confrontation.”

GM: “Oh? No, she doesn’t think he’s there himself.”

“Probably one of his friends, children, or employees, if it’s him.”

Caroline: “Funnily enough, the friend I came out to help was one of his daughter. Seemed like if someone wanted to cause trouble they wouldn’t just send her though.”

“Especially since, you know, he knows me.”

GM: “Is there any benefit to sticking around? She says she’d be inclined to leave, do some digging, and confront whoever’s involved on her terms, rather than on someone else’s.”

Caroline: “I involved a couple of other people getting out here. Bummed a ride… and if I’m wrong and his daughter is in trouble she’d be in a pretty bad spot.”

“And I hate backing down.”

GM: “Maman says that’s your pride talking,” Cécilia says in a lightly chiding tone.

“Do you think helping out his daughter is worth the risk of getting burned?”

“Nothing good without effort, and all that, it’s mainly a question of how important this is to you.”

Caroline: “It is. Pride talking,” she admits.

“But you know how it is. If you let people push you around, they’ll just keep pushing.”

GM: “Maman says you should always push back. Just on a battlefield of your choosing, and not someone else’s.”

“What about the daughter, though? Is this a now or never thing?”

Caroline: “Seems likely,” Caroline answers.

“I’m also concerned that if I walk away without making the attempt it’ll disappoint dad.”

GM: “That is tricky, then. What can we do to help?”

Caroline: “Well, if it’s not him, the only thing I’d be concerned about is unfavorable numbers. You know how brave people get when they think they have the advantage.”

“I don’t suppose she could do anything about that?”

GM: “Numbers?”

A pause.

“She says your father or his husband might be better able to help you, there.”

Caroline: She gives a faint smile. “I understand, I’d met a friend who could always seem to conjure up friends from out of nowhere, I’d hoped she might do the same.”

GM: Another pause.

“Maman says your friend probably knows nicer friends than she does.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks and pauses to give direction to her dominated driver again.

“Understandable. Does she have any recommendations on not getting psyched out, beyond the norm? I’m a little concerned about them getting in my head.”

GM: “I’m afraid not. That’s something you want to avoid all of the time.”

Caroline: “Well, I feel better having at least talked about it.”

GM: “She thinks maybe using some patsies to feel things out from a distance? That’s very easy for you to set up.”

“Anything that balks their plans and makes things not turn out the way they expect.”

Caroline: “Not going how they expect? Cécilia, that’s my specialty.”

GM: Cécilia laughs.

“That’s too true.”

“Are you going to get help from your dad or stepdad?”

Caroline: “You know how hard they can be to reach. Never picking up their phones.” Caroline observes.

GM: “Oh, their PAs, too?”

Caroline: “No harm in trying, I suppose,” Caroline agrees.

“We’re getting close. Should make that call now. Give Maman my love?”

GM: “She says she loves you too. So do I.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you when I get back,” Caroline answers, ending the call.

GM: Ahead, the highway steadily rolls past the windshield.

Caroline: Caroline picks out Congo’s contact information and hits call.

GM: “Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the ghoul greets.

Caroline: “Good evening Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies.

She wastes little time in explaining the situation to the ancient ghoul as opaquely as she can over the phone without losing context, pausing to answer question as required.

She relays that the circumstances appear suspicious, as does the timing, and that she is increasingly concerned this may be a setup of some kind. The fact that Adler was alone. The damning suspicion she forced from the terrified ghoul that Adler had poisoned her bodyguard. The scheduling of the trip and their video call. The waiting prince with his brood and readily available cars.

She also touches on how few might know that she could get out here this quickly. She intend on proceeding, barring an order to divert, but is far from comfortable with the situation.

GM: Congo receives Caroline’s news gravely. He states that he does not believe his domitor would condone Caroline proceeding into what appears to be a trap—nor does he endorse the same. The seneschal’s ghoul quotes Sun Tzu on avoiding battles fought on the enemy’s terms: “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”

Congo concurs that he finds suspicion in Adler being alone, her bodyguard potentially being poisoned, and the scheduling of the trip.

Congo does not find Prince Landau’s waiting cars to be suspicious. He states that Primogen Hurst called ahead to notify his kin in Gulfport about Adler’s situation (no doubt reasoning they could reach her faster than he), and is in fact en route to Gulfport himself, with such allies as he could muster on short notice.

Caroline: “You would have us turn away, then?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Let me consult my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He shall be available very soon. In the interim, I can provide Mr. Hurst’s contact information if you lack it, so that you might coordinate activities. I do not believe it productive for him to make the trip out to Gulfport if his sister is no longer there.”

Caroline: Caroline takes down the contact info, but caveats, “Better to avoid reaching out to Mr. Hurst until we have confirmed your employer wishes us to proceed. I expect he will take it poorly if we decide not to. I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”

She rolls over scenarios in her mind, the least likely possibilities receding with time.

Does Matheson know that the seneschal can catapult a group a hundred miles away in minutes? Perhaps. Does he know he could do so for Caroline? That she would immediately reach out to the seneschal, that she is within his grace? Perhaps less likely.

So how would this trap work, if it is a trap? The next quickest transport from the city would likely be… with Hurst. With whatever ghouls Hurst might assemble. Perhaps without her own, due to loading requirements on a helicopter.

Is that the play? Hurst and Adler overpowering her with their ghouls, alone out here?

If so, the proper reaction is to move quickly. Take Adler before Hurst can arrive and bring the matter before her sire. Let him discover the truth of it back in New Orleans, where her allies are.

GM: “Mr. Hurst is already en route to Gulfport, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo continues. “The sooner he is notified, the sooner he might join you. I do not believe my employer would object to this, especially when the situation has proven more dire than initially believed.”

“And whatever else has come to pass with Miss Adler, Mr. Hurst is loyal to your father above all other men.”

Caroline: She mulls that thought. “Has the truth of that been disclosed to Mr. Hurst?”

It’s one matter to move against the prince’s childe. It’s another against the troublesome Ms. Malveaux, sireless neonate who has given offense to his own.

GM: “It has not been, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet the company you presently travel in is most unusual for one of your presumed parentage.”

Caroline: “I’ll reach out,” she agrees. “And I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. We shall speak again soon.”

Caroline: Caroline has ridden in enough helicopters to know that a phone call is a losing proposition. She shifts to text.

Just stopped by to visit your sister but she wasn’t home. I think she headed east with some friends.

GM: The response back is immediate.

Where to?

Caroline: She drops and sends a pin, not directly on top of the jail but close to it.

Not sure if she’s arrived yet.

GM: Good to know. Who’s she driving with?

Caroline: Not sure, your cousin in Gulfport might know. He told me she’d left.

GM: I’ll get in touch. Where you headed?

Caroline: Was going to try and meet her there. I’m a little ahead of you.

GM: You up for it?

Caroline: Goading her, or doubting her?

Of course.

GM: Good luck. I’ll try to catch up .

Caroline: She’s left wondering if that’s a good or a bad thing.

GM: “I can confirm Primogen Hurst’s loyalty to our prince, bayan,” states Kâmil. “My domitor believes him trustworthy. One of the most trustworthy Kindred remaining among the Sanctified.”

“I would not refuse his help against adversaries of unknown strength and numbers.”

Caroline: Her sire(s) also believes Donovan to be a loyal servant, and she knows well how folly that belief is.

“I did not decline it, but this matter will be much easier if concluded before the jail.”

GM: “I have little doubt as to that fact, bayan. Yet your continued safety is my foremost duty, above Miss Adler’s retrieval.”

Caroline: “I cannot be made of porcelain,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Perhaps not, bayan. Such matters are above my concern.”

Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is Congo’s.

Caroline: She answers.

GM: “I have consulted my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He is ill-inclined to abandon Miss Adler in her hour of need, if that need is genuine. He is also ill-inclined to fight any battle upon so unfavorable a field. He is attempting to gather further intelligence as to your battlefield’s nature.”

“For now, he wishes you to maintain your present course. I will call you again when there is new information.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t surprised.

She knows better than most that the seneschal is anything but objective where Adler is concerned. That he blames himself for her Embrace. Not the for the first time, she wonders how it came to pass. Regardless, his vision is clouded.

As clouded as her own is at the prospect of a challenge. At the idea that someone has underestimated her, the idea that they believe they can best her.

She wonders when she became this way. When she stopped running from fights and started running to them. It’s reckless. Foolish. And yet… she can’t help herself.

Maybe it’s her bloodline, the arrogance of her deathright overwhelming her sensibilities. Perhaps it’s the predatory nature of all Kindred.

Regardless, she doesn’t argue. Unwise though it is, she agrees with the seneschal in this matter: let them come.

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Congo.”

When she’s concluded the call she informs Kâmil of their orders: press on.

GM: Maybe it’s two of her bloodlines.

Her father is no warrior. He was not Embraced into this life. But would he have run from a similar challenge?

Arrogance did not come from her deathright alone.

“Very well, bayan,” concurs Kâmil.

If the Turkish bodyguard believes this course of action unwise, he holds his tongue, and stares motionlessly ahead into the onrushing night.

“Then we commit ourselves wholly to victory.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The two cars drive and drive. There is little enough traffic on the remote highway at this late hour. Yellow-stripped asphalt rushes endlessly past under endless night sky.

The hard-faced vampire silently steers the wheel. Kâmil looks at her at one point and remarks, “This one despises subservience,” but says nothing further.

Eventually, Caroline gets another call from Congo.

The seneschal’s ghoul informs her in so many words that Adler is handcuffed in the back of a police van still en route to the county jail. She has enspelled the minds of several police officers on board. They are not breaking their orders, but they view her with great sympathy and arresting her is breaking their hearts. They were engaged in conversation with her. Maldonato believes Adler is counting on being broken out procedurally, rather than attempting to escape through her own powers, but has subverted the officers’ minds as a ‘just in case’.

Caroline: Caroline can’t say much about that, looking at their unwilling driver. She did much the same.

It raises more uncomfortable questions though, about what game Adler is playing at, and why. Why draw Caroline out, if that was even the intention?

GM: “My employer will continue his investigations. Is there aught else you desire to know, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” inquires Congo.

Caroline: “How far are we from them? Can we overtake them? If so, where? Their numbers as well.”

GM: “I shall ask, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Is there further else?”

Caroline: “Does she appear distressed?”

It feels disrespectful using the seneschal as her spy, but it is the position they’re in.

GM: Perhaps he would consider the cause a worthy one, if it has already clouded his judgment.

A pause.

“You will be able to overtake them in several minutes at your current speed. You will still be on the highway. There are four officers inside the vehicle.”

“Miss Adler is engaging the officers in conversation about their interests and families. She does not appear unduly distressed, but grace during times of trial is a virtue of your family’s.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll see her shortly, and we’ll see what is to come. Thank you for your aid, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet if you believe matters here are more than they appear, my employer remains skeptical that four police officers is the totality of the opposition you may face.”

“The circumstances of Miss Adler’s bodyguard’s ‘illness’ remain deeply troubling to him.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “The die is cast, Mr. Congo. Our strength will be sufficient or it will not. If not, there are painfully few that could have anticipated this course of action, and I trust your employer and my father’s wrath will do honor to my memory.”

“Now is the time for action. The analysis may follow.”

She says her goodbyes to the elder ghoul and turns to the plan of action, teaching out mentally to Gisèlle as well to pass the plan to the trusted agents in the other vehicle as she explains to Kâmil.

The intent is for the vehicle Caroline is in to accelerate past the police van, then flip around and accelerate towards it at high speed, leaving Kâmil on the side of the road if necessary prior to doing so. Caroline will bail out just before the collision, trusting her speed to carry her and the other vampire free from the vehicle. She can see no other reason the vehicle carrying a prisoner could be convinced to stop. The collision will likely injure the police inside, and allow them to quickly overpower any remaining resistance and release Ms. Adler.

She is inclined to leave behind Sweet in Adler’s place, warping the memory of applicable police as required… or leaving behind Sweet’s corpse if required. A mangled blonde recovered from the crash site.

She’s also inclined to leave the follow-on cleanup to Hurst. The trap, such as this is, is better avoided by speed.

GM: Kâmil considers Caroline’s proposal.

“I may survive a car crash without undue injury, bayan. A steered vehicle is more likely to hit its mark than an out of control one in any case. If we are to execute this plan, I believe I should remain behind the wheel.”

“I, too, see little we could say to convince the lawmen aboard to stop their vehicle. Perhaps an inconvenience or obstacle placed on the road ahead could do so.”

The Turk gives a sad smile.

“I believe my domitor would seek an alternative to the deaths of these people. But he is not here and your plan is efficacious. I am yours to command.”

Caroline: “A vehicle steered by her,” she gestures to their dominated vampire companion, “is even more likely, and risks not your life. At worst, I can revive her.”

She pauses.

“For what it’s worth, I find it unlikely even a high speed collision with this vehicle will kill any onboard the van. The mass advantage on the van means the collision will be far worse on this vehicle. Casualties are possible, but seem more likely the product of fortune’s cruel hand than foregone,” she offers, trying to assuage the Turk’s conscience.

She doesn’t especially want to murder police officers either. And a drunk driver colliding with the vehicle while suspicious is not impossible, or even implausible.

She hopes Landau has properly insulated his assets from himself. And that he has good insurance.

GM: “I do not believe Primogen Hurst, Prince Landau, or Miss Alder are likely to think well of you for using one of their kin in such a manner, bayan,” Kâmil offers mildly, glancing once more at their driver. “Nor Miss Packard herself.”

Caroline: “Better then that she remember this as her own daring idea, and her the eager participant,” Caroline offers.

She can’t make everyone happy.

GM: “I believe I could serve in the role you intend, bayan, without worsening your clanmates’ esteem of you. My domitor is gravely concerned that too many Kindred view the name of Miss Malveaux-Devillers with indifference or hostility.”

“But if it is your will to use Miss Packard in this manner, I remain yours to command.”

Caroline: “I am disinclined to risk the lives or well-being of those that serve me, even for a brief time, to further nebulous ends,” Caroline answers the elder ghoul starkly.

She sighs.

“But as ill at ease as it would leave me to do so, wisdom would seem as much listening to elder counsel as following your own better inclinations. If you wish it, if you believe it wise…. I will defer to your experience in this matter.”

GM: The large man inclines his head.

“My domitor has tasked me with your protection, bayan. He did not specify whether this protection was to extend beyond ensuring your immediate physical safety, but I believe this course of action is within the spirit of his orders.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll do it your way, Kâmil.”

Caroline confirms that Gisèlle is tracking the plan as well—their second car will be the ‘getaway’ as it were, arriving on the scene immediately after the crash.

GM: Some of the disadvantages of telepathic communication become apparent when Caroline realizes she cannot initiate communication with the casquette girl.

Eventually, though, she feels Gisèlle’s mind touch hers. There is a sense of acknowledgement and images of the other ghouls’ faces as the plan is conveyed to them.

Well, all but Sweet.

Ferris approves of killing the blonde. Good way to throw people off Adler’s trail. She likely won’t get a better time to stage her death.

Caroline: Caroline is hardly shocked by Ferris’ approval. But that’s why he’s there: to provide the ruthless perspective.

The plan comes together neatly: Caroline and the other vampire will bail out when they turn around after passing the van, allowing Kâmil to steer the car into the police van. Ferris and Gisèlle will arrive to follow in the second vehicle and with Caroline subdue the injured police officers and release Adler, staging the scene to look like a drunk driver or joyriding thief struck the vehicle, intending to hand over or further facilitate that stage through the follow on arrival of Hurst.

GM: The casquette girl relays that Ferris and Sweet approve of this plan (or at least, the latter does of what portions she knows). Kâmil repeats that he believes it to be an efficacious one. He takes over the wheel.

The highway continues to roll past the cars as they accelerate to catch up. It’s not long before the police van appears in the headlights of Caroline’s vehicle. There’s little to see that’s out of the ordinary in it. It’s a white van with sirens (not currently wailing red and blue into the night) and a sheriff’s badge on the striped sides.

Kâmil puts his foot on the accelerator as he changes lanes, swerving into the left, then back to the right after he clears the police van. Its sirens start to angrily flash from behind.

Maybe he’ll get a ticket.

Caroline: She expects given the option he’d get worse than that for what’s to come.

GM: Kâmil speeds ahead of the police van, then swerves around back into its lane and drives straight towards it.

Caroline: Caroline, having since given their ‘driver’ her safety word, bails out with her, trusting unholy speed and toughness to soften the blow.

GM: They hit the asphalt as the car roars past them. The motionless woman stares up at Caroline with undisguised hate.

It’s gone as swiftly as it appeared, though, returning to the telltale placidity of the mesmerized.

The police van tries to swerve aside when they see Kâmil’s car is headed straight at them. Sirens scream red and blue.

The ghoul’s vehicle collides into the front of the van with a tremendous crash. Tires screech against tarmac. Glass shatters. Steel and aluminum crumples.

Caroline: She winces.

She can’t help it. She could claim its a result of her heightened, near-superhuman senses, but that would be a lie.

She winces at the violence. At the destruction. At the knowledge that once again she’s ordered others to conduct violence on her behalf, that lives have been damaged if not destroyed in an instance.

It’s ridiculous. Arbitrary. She’s watched her mother snuff out lives by the score. She’s taken so many lives herself that she can barely remember all the faces, much less the names.

But she does nonetheless.

There’s little time to gawk though. They have to take the vehicle and escape. She rises, leaving the frozen vampire where she lies nearby, and blurs towards the van.

GM: The van hasn’t toppled over. Her own car, much as she said, has too little mass. But the police van has careened to the side and come to a final-looking stop. The front of the vehicle is smashed in and one of the headlights has gone out, and the two police in the front seats aren’t moving. The air bag has exploded in the face of the one in the driver’s seat. Caroline can’t make out much of him beyond arms and shoulders. The second man looks in worse shape: he’s smashed his head directly into the dashboard. Neither man moves. She’d need to be up close to see more, but the vampire smells an unmistakable scent:

Blood.

Her former car looks in worse shape than the van. It’s been totalled. The horn blares ceaselessly, joining the cacophony of the ceaselessly wailing sirens. Caroline sees movement behind the air bag before Kâmil extracts himself from the bent-looking doors. The ghoul’s formerly crisp suit looks rumpled, and there’s glass over his head and shoulders, but he looks little worse for the experience as he brushes it off.

Thoughts then well in Caroline’s head. Ferris’ voice and the image of Sweet.

:: Say when you want her dead. ::

Sounds of movement, meanwhile, are audible from inside the rear of the van.

Caroline: “Check them,” Caroline instructs Kâmil, gesturing to the two officers in the front seats. She moves to the rear of the van.

::Not yet. Let’s see what card Ms. Adler has to play::

GM: Kâmil finds the door locked, then punches in what remains of the crack-lined glass and fiddles with the lock. Moans sound from the front seat.

The second car edges closer, headlights bathing Caroline under their harsh glare.

The van’s rear door opens a few moments later. Becky Lynne climbs out. Her hair is a mess and her once-neat clothes are rumpled, but her dead flesh doesn’t look worse than scuffs and bruises.

The same cannot be said for the two police officers lying in heaps on the floor. Neither was wearing a seatbelt. A pair of handcuffs lies on the ground.

“Why, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, what a surprise to see you here,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: I bet, Caroline doesn’t observe.

“Happy to be of any service, Questor Adler. I trust your time in their custody was not excessively unpleasant,” Caroline answers, looking at the two crumpled police officers.

“Our vehicle is arriving in a moment, and your brother is on his way via helicopter to help clean this matter up.”

“There’s an outstanding question I will pass to your discretion before we depart.”

GM: “Much less unpleasant for me than it’s turned out for them, but thank you for askin’,” Becky Lynne replies.

“I’d counted on bein’ released by lawyers,” she says with a growing frown. “My gettin’ out this way could cause more headaches than it ends. But if my brother’s on the way, then okay, I’ll trust you’re followin’ whatever plan he thought best.”

She turns back and kneels by one of the fallen officers, feeling his neck.

“He’s got a pulse, but I’m afraid I don’t have your first aid know-how. Will these gentlemen make it without vitae?”

Caroline: Caroline approaches them to find out, speaking at she does. “After speaking with the agents at the scene it felt unwise to trust to an early release in that manner: they’d been cued very irregularly, very swiftly, to specifically pick up the identity you use for these dealings, Questor Adler. This was not simply a random raid.”

She doesn’t mention they wanted her transported separately. Or that Adler sent her guard away. Or that this whole thing appears to have been staged by her.

She doesn’t turn her back on Adler.

“I might propose that it might be best for Mr. Campbell’s niece to have died in this tragic accident.”

GM: The two fallen officers remain motionless on the van’s floor as Caroline approaches them.

“That’s a big decision to make,” says Becky Lynne. “I’ll want to consult with my sire and brother first, and find out what exactly what’s happened at the bank. Somewhat moot anyways without a body.”

“Though I do suppose there’ll need to be an explanation for what’s become of Miss Campbell if I’m not stickin’ around. This is a Masquerade pickle. Who else is here with you, Eiren?”

Caroline: “Ms. Sweet jumps most readily to mind,” Caroline answers. “She’s in the second vehicle.”

GM: “I’m not quite that cold-blooded, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Who else is on-scene?”

Caroline: “Eiren Packard, one of her ghouls, and several of mine,” Caroline answers.

It’s even technically true.

And the seneschal watching.

She tries not to allow the tension that fills her at that admission to show.

If this is a trap for her this is the moment it will spring. Her mind runs through the possibilities. Obfuscated individuals in the van? The two ‘police officers’ in the back as ghouls? Just Adler herself, believing she can slip a stake into the lightning-fast Ventrue?

GM: Caroline knows better than to risk further injury to the cops by moving them. Even a layman could tell, though, that the fact they’re unresponsive is probably not good. Caroline recalls a statistic from her pre-med days that a shocking number of police officers don’t wear seatbelts. They believe it will prevent them from getting to their firearm or or being able to quickly exit their vehicle to address a violent threat. Law enforcement has a lot of people who view themselves as 10 feet tall, bulletproof, and somehow exempt from the laws of physics.

Here, at least, the statistic has proven true. Physical bruises are in abundance. One cop directly smashed his head into the side of the van. He’s unconscious. It looks bad. He’s probably looking at a TBI. Internal injuries might be in the cards. He should be able to make it, though, if he gets to a hospital in time.

The other cop slowly starts to stir and clutches his side. He flew off his seat and crashed into the opposite steel bench at an bad angle. The protruding section slammed right into his stomach. He might as well have gotten hit by a medieval mace. Blood wells from his mouth, definitely indicating internal injuries and uncertain survival (how long before an ambulance can arrive?), as he moans,

“Uuuhhgghhh…”

Becky Lynne’s eyes sharply cut towards him. “I don’t fancy giving either of these gentlemen a vitae habit, but it beats dying. Are they goin’ to make it?”

Caroline: She gestures. “The first could die, but its not likely. Traumatic brain injury is touchy.”

“He’s in worse shape.” She gestures to the second as he coughs up blood. “Internal injuries. Something’s ruptured, maybe multiple somethings. He could bleed out, and depending on the surgeon on duty, even the hospital could be a question mark.”

“Idiots not wearing their seatbelts.”

GM: “I told them they should,” says Becky Lynne, shaking her head.

She kneels, bites her wrist, and extends it to the wounded lawman’s mouth. He drinks desperately once the taste hits his tongue, but the other Ventrue doesn’t let him do so for long.

“You were knocked out durin’ the crash. You never woke up. Go back to sleep.”

Caroline: Caroline watches but offers no commentary until she’s finished. “I doubt they were inclined to listen to the advice of their charge—especially since you were the specific target of this raid, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“We can use these gentlemens’ radios to call for help, though there needs to be an explanation for what happened to Miss Campbell. Bother if this isn’t a Masquerade pickle. I can’t well stay on the lamb.”

Caroline: “Forgive me for observing so bluntly, Ms. Adler, but you do not appear especially surprised or concerned that this identity was compromised.”

GM: “Questor Adler, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” she corrects, though not unkindly. “Surprise and concern is well and good if it leads to action, but right now there’s not much to be done for it.”

Caroline: “If this identity is compromised, presumably by hunters, the action I would advise is burying it here and now.”

GM: “Perhaps I will, Eiren, but not here and now at Peggy’s expense,” says Becky Lynne.

“We’d best be off. One of your people can call an ambulance for these gentlemen.”

Caroline: “As you wish, Questor.” Caroline isn’t going to argue with the older Ventrue about how to handle their own Masquerade.

She moves around to the front of the van and finds the siren under the slumped over man in the driver seat, turning it off, then raises her voice. “You can come out now.”

On the drive over they’d accounted for several contingencies with Packard, including things going off without a hitch. Better if the secret of her domination was restricted to Kâmil and Caroline, and that they raised as few questions as possible with Adler. That particular command phrase replaced her memories of the drive with the planning for this exact course of action, with Packard hanging back to provide backup in case things went wrong.

GM: The word stabs through Caroline’s mind like a stake to the heart. Her mother’s voice, urgent with warning. To act. Now.

No questions. No time.

RUN

Caroline: There are few things Caroline can imagine would set her mother to place fear in her heart.

She doesn’t want to imagine what those things are.

Caroline blurs in the night: back down I-5. Towards New Orleans. Towards the second car. Towards her mother.

She gropes in the night for the casquette girl’s mental touch. We’re going, NOW!

Her rational mind is already working. She’s faster than the car, but blurring down the road makes her a very obvious target. A vehicle can blend with the kine.

She could vanish off-road, but she knows, at least in principle, the monsters that wait out in the wilderness. Out there is no safety there for one of her kind.

No, the best chance is to get back into the car, beside her casquette girl bodyguard, and hurtling through the night at a hundred miles an hour in a cage of steel that works both ways.

GM: Caroline’s hyper-alert and razor-sharp eyes notice it.

A patch of night air, where rain does not fall through.

Then the police van explodes as it’s blasted off the road, as though flung by an unseen hand.

Fire lights up the sky. Caroline’s Beast shrieks in instinctive alarm as her ears ring and shrapnel rains everywhere, though between her inhumanly fast reflexes, her mother’s forewarning, and the vehicle’s sudden dislocation, the Ventrue escapes unscathed. A wooden stake flies into Caroline’s hands as a second voice echoes through her mind.

:: Your foe is accelerating towards you from directly ahead and is armed with a stake. He does not believe you can perceive him. His heart is approximately 70 inches off the ground. ::

Caroline: The fire is a distraction—but not an effective one. Not tonight. There’s only a single moment that matters, a single moment to strike. A moment in which this contest will be decided one way or the other.

The second balances on the edge of a knife, and so she plays her part, obvious to her attacker, confused, torn by her terrified Beast.

She plays it until she’s close enough to strike, luring in her attacker closer and closer, and then the moment slows. She turns slightly, presenting her right side to him. With a heart 70 inches off the ground she knows the attacker has a substantial reach advantage—she needs to buy back distance. Force him to extend further, come in closer. She’d prefer to strike with her left, but space and distance matter much more in this moment than precision.

The second turns into a minute, then an hour, time slowing.

It’s not that different than when she was fencing—the moment you commit, in which a fraction of a second decides winner and loser. Except in this contest its a fraction of a fraction.

And god does she feel alive in this moment.

She wanted this, didn’t she? To spring the trap? To see if she was stronger, was faster, was smarter? To test herself against this enemy here to destroy her, and cast them into the dirt at her feet.

How many times could she have walked away, have broken off, have turned around?

No, she wanted this fight. Because Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will be no princess of spun glass hiding in her sire’s castle. She cannot be. Not just because the moment demands it, but because that is not who she is.

Her stake comes up. She thrusts, her whole body extended, arm held perfectly straight, angled upwards, in line with her shoulder even as she drops her center of gravity, moves her heart from where it was a moment ago, makes her attacker reach down.

The stake drives towards the nothingness she know hides him like a bolt of lightning.

GM: She said it once, not a lifetime ago, but near the end of her lifetime:

“Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways. What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Something hard and unyielding painfully stabs into Caroline’s chest.

She collapses forward.

Then the stake becomes visible as the pressure behind it abruptly releases.

It lightly clatters to the asphalt. Something heavier crashes after it.

Rain falls over the road.

It stops short over a body-shaped patch from which a second stake protrudes.

Caroline: A grim smile forces its way over bloodless, tightly stretched lips.

Close.

So close.

It’s the best way to win. She can almost feel her heart beating in her chest, the feeling of being alive. Even if it does hurt like a son of a bitch.

She cups the protruding shaft from her chest with a hand, ripping it from her breast with a snarl as she reorients on the rest of the world. On the police van, burning, destroyed. On the approaching car. On Kâmil, wherever he may lie. And on the source of this little excursion.

Adler.

She grips the stake intended for her heart with death in her eyes.

They gambled. They believed they could take her. They lost.

It’s her turn.

She plants a foot on the chest of her attacker, her defeated foe, driving the stake further in.

Surrounded by death, destruction, and violence, she is in this moment content. Controlled. Commanding.

GM: As Caroline turns to regard Kâmil, she sees that he is exchanging gunfire with two camo-garbed men. No sound is audible as the muzzles of their firearms flash. The ghoul looks badly scored by shrapnel and fire alike, but also seems to be more than holding his own as his .44 magnum drops both attackers to the ground. Becky Lynne, who looks at least as bad, crosses the distance in the blur and orders one man, “Freeze,” as she yanks his gun from his hands.

Gunshots split the night. Some come from the trees. Others come from the nearby parked car, where Packard is shooting from behind a door’s cover.

Then the car explodes in a conflagration of fire and shrapnel. The nearby Ventrue howls as she burns, then races across the asphalt to sink her fangs into the man not yet disarmed by Becky Lynne.

Caroline: She gropes in the darkness of her mind for the voice that pointed her at the first Kindred.

:: Where is the second, the sorcerer? ::

She overcame her initial attacker, but the battle is turning into a muddy brawl where anything that can go wrong will, and they still do not have identities on their attackers—or knowledge of their strength.

They need to make their escape, but with the destruction of the second vehicle leaping into a third at the moment, without addressing the source of the explosions, feels like suicide.

GM: Footsteps thump against asphalt. Gisèlle blurs down the highway, half-dragging Ferris after her. The parked car with the other ghouls explodes behind them. The casquette girl and ex-CIA agent drop to the ground.

Two simultaneous images fill Caroline’s mind. Two more camo-garbed men armed with rocket launchers.

Her body is directly in the target scopes.

Caroline: There’s a moment of intellectual fear—she can conceptualize what a weapon like that will do to her body—that she shoves down. She’s grateful that the Beast does not understand things like rockets and explosives. It’s just as well, this is a task for Caroline, not a Beast.

It’s trivial to extrapolate their position—relatively—based on how her profile fills their scope, and then she’s off.

Fortunately for her, large tube-launched rockets are designed to kill vehicles—especially large bulky ones. Not lightning fast human sized targets in the night at relatively close range. Maybe from a mile off they might have had a chance—the field of view wide enough. But they’re not a mile off.

They’re humans, and they’re in the dark with a nearly bulletproof vampire that moves faster than they can think.

It’s almost criminal, especially as she moves away from the light cast by the burning vehicles.

She zips into the night. A stake isn’t an ideal weapon against a human, but humans are so fragile.

GM: Two more explosions rock the night as the spot where Caroline stood erupts in flame. The Ventrue blurs out of the incendiary missiles’ pathways, fast enough to only suffer moderate burns instead of complete immolation, but she cannot outrun the Beast within. Rational thought burns away as the red haze descends.

When Caroline comes to, she’s standing over a dead man with his throat ripped out. The stake formerly in her hands is gruesomely buried into his chest with its once-all-too alive and beating heart. Adrenaline-spiked blood lingers on her tongue as it runs down her chin. Not piss-tasting, like so much other mortal vitae.

Her lucky night. The man must have been attending college.

Caroline: If she feels any remorse for the murder, it doesn’t show. Even were she human, even were her conscience not a whimpering, simpering voice locked deep in her mind, even if she knew him as anything more than a fool that came out here with a weapon—he was literally trying to murder her.

It was him or her. She’s satisfied that it was him.

She wipes the worst of the blood from her face with the back of her hand, resisting the temptation to lick it up like the sweet nectar it is. Charred flesh flakes away, replaced by first pink, then pale flesh beneath.

GM: :: The others have dispatched your remaining assailant. I can account for no other foes in your immediate area. Rendezvous with Primogen Hurst and return to Perdido House with Miss Adler and the assassin. ::

Caroline: She nods, “By your will, Seneschal,” not trusting to the coming and going of his telepathic touch.

She turns and heads back out to the street and the Masquerade nightmare.

GM: She finds the other ghouls and vampires regrouping near the totaled police van. Everyone looks burned and hurt, except for the disarmed man, who stares ahead with a sleepy look on his face.

Caroline’s invisible foe has been dragged up along with the others, if the stake seemingly hovering in the air is any indication.

Caroline: Brazen doesn’t begin to describe the attack. Automatic weapons. mortals and ghouls. Explosives. Rocket launchers. And an obfuscated assassin.

She almost admires their gall.

There are four dead police officers to explain, three torched vehicles hit with rocket launchers. Two dead ghouls and multiple dead attackers.

On the bright side, they have a charred corpse to replace Adler in the van.

She looks over the injured faces of her ghouls, and of the other two vampires. “We’re leaving as soon as Primogen Hurst arrives. Who needs blood before that?”

GM: “Gisèlle and I shall recover, bayan,” says Kâmil. As he speaks, the two’s charred and perforated skin begins to return to their normal hues, though the ghouls’ clothes remain in shreds.

Ferris similarly waves her off as his wounds start to heal.

“My brother should be here soon to help with the Masquerade cleanup,” says Becky Lynne. “We need to get these cars off the road, to start with. It’s anyone’s guess how long before another motorist will come along.”

Packard scowls.

Caroline: “I’m sorry for your losses tonight,” Caroline tells the ill-tempered woman.

“Rockets. Fucking madness,” she spits.

“They paid.” She gestures to the woods. “And he,” she kicks the staked vampire, “will answer for it all.”

The Ventrue digs out the burner she’s been using and tosses it to Adler. “Your brother is the most recent call. It’s not a secure line, but it isn’t linked to me.”

“Kâmil, do what you can to help stage the scene, move the worst off the road. Ferris, help him.”

She kneels before the staked vampire.

“While we wait I’m curious as to what’s behind door number one.” She digs a finger around the stake, wetting it with the vampire’s blood, and brings it to her lips. “Who thought they could kill me.”

Her expression twists, then vanishes behind the Ventrue mask.

Someone has gone through a great deal of trouble to arrange this. She’ll be fascinated to discover who and what parts the players tonight played. The late breaking meeting. The missing bodyguard. The suspiciously well-timed attack.

Her gaze sweeps over Packard, Adler, and her prisoner.

Fortunately, most of the players are here. She doesn’t play her hand just yet. Not until they’re back in the city. But she doesn’t forget, and she doesn’t forgive.

She’s much like her sire in that way.

GM: Kâmil and Ferris incline their heads and move off towards the nearest ruined car.

Becky Lynne presses a delicate finger to the same spot around the stake, then dabs it against her tongue.

“The helicopter has room for a pilot and three passengers,” she then says. “So that’s me, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, and our guest, though my brother knows how to fly it—I expect he’ll want to see me back himself. I expect he’s brought some more ghouls he can leave to help with things.”

She taps into the phone.

“Fucking wonderful way to spend a night,” snaps Packard. “I lose a ghoul, get chewed out by my sire for losing his ghoul, plus the cars, and get stranded here cleaning up someone else’s Masquerade breach. You big city licks are all the same.”

“Peggy is dead,” Becky Lynne responds quietly. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s happy with tonight’s events, Eiren Packard.”

Caroline: “I’m certain, too, that Questor Adler’s sire will be rather pleased to hear of the part you played in her rescue,” Caroline observes.

“Your actions will be recognized.”

The prospect of crawling into a helicopter with Hurst and Adler turns Caroline’s stomach, but she says nothing for now of it.

GM: “Yes, I’m mighty obliged to you and Eiren Malveaux-Devillers both,” says Becky Lynne, inclining her head towards both clanmates. “I thought staying put was the right call, but that looks as if it would have gotten me incinerated.”

All actions tonight will be recognized.”

“I suppose that’ll be something,” says Packard.

Caroline: Caroline can hear the doubt in her voice. She doesn’t blame the other Ventrue. She’s seen firsthand the nepotism inherent in even the Clan of Kings.

“Remember me, Eiren Packard.” Caroline fixes the other woman with a stare. “Remember my name. I’ll remember yours when this matter stands before Prince Vidal. You have my word.”

GM: There’s less doubt in the Ventrue’s voice than bitterness. Familiar bitterness.

The hard-featured woman actually looks surprised by Caroline’s words, of all things. Her promise does not seem a familiar one. Then Packard simply grunts, “Guess we’d better get to work either way. Though I don’t know what the fuck explanation there is for a police van getting attacked with rocket launchers.” She looks at Becky Lynne. “Who the hell wants you dead this badly, sunshine?”

Becky Lynne gives a faint, joyless smile and glances at the adjacent casquette girl.

“There’s a lot to untangle here, to be certain. But I’ve no doubt that interested parties will soon get to the bottom of this.”

Caroline: Of that she can be certain.

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Caroline VII, Chapter XIV
Maman Shall Provide

“We take what we wish. We do as we wish. This world exists for our pleasure and sustenance.”
Abélia Devillers


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: The family’s remaining time on Grand Isle passes quickly enough. The girls meet back at the beach house, Simmone still asleep in their mother’s arms. Adeline suggests they simply spend the night, given the late hour (plus they’d be able to enjoy the beaches tomorrow morning), but Abélia says that Caroline needs to be back in the city. The others concede the point. The Nyx is soon cruising through the Gulf’s midnight waters.

Caroline: Dark waves lap against the Nyx’s hull as it cuts through the water, sleek and effortless as a shark. If she were out alone Caroline might worry about making it home before sunrise, but she has faith in her mother. What had Cécilia said? Things just seem to work out.

Her vision pierces through the darkness, and she finds her way aft, along the port side, to where Adeline’s razor thin form sits, feet dangling off the edge of the ship through the lifelines to be irregularly kissed by the mild seas.

Adeline_Dev.jpg Caroline settles down beside her sister, dangling her own legs over the side.

She loops an arm around her younger sister’s shoulders, squeezing the two shoulder to shoulder for a moment, and lets the arm drop.

“Warmer water than the northeast. I don’t know how you survived those Connecticut winters.”

GM: “I don’t either,” says Adeline, leaning against Caroline. Mild though the seas may be, the open ocean’s winds are cold enough at night for her to draw her coat about herself. “Avignon’s winters are colder than here, but they’re still fairly mild.”

“Though of course, you never really saw them.”

Caroline: “I wouldn’t make it,” Caroline laughs. “Too far from my natural habitat.”

GM: “I remember proposing this plan to Maman, once, how you should alternate summers and school years. When she said that would be too disruptive to your life, I suggested alternating what was left of elementary school, middle school, and high school.”

“But she said that would face similar issues, only more spaced out.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a wan smile, “A trade off with everything.” A pause. “I think I would have liked that, though I don’t think my father would have signed off on it.”

“He’s a willful man. Almost as willful as Maman.”

GM: “I don’t think he would have agreed to it either. I suppose if people were to dig into his family’s personal lives, he’d have found it harder to explain than ‘summers with her mother’s family, other months with me.’ It might have seemed less conductive to family values.”

“‘Complicated doesn’t go over well with voters.’”

Caroline: There’s always that. More than affection, more than love, more than family—the image, how it affected his political aspirations. It’s more than funny how alike he is to her sire—she can’t label her Embrace anything less than providence. God has a sense of humor. “They like simple stories,” Caroline agrees.

“It wasn’t all bad though. The split gave me an excuse to escape sticky Louisiana summers.”

GM: “That’s what Nolan says too about stories. It seems like a shame. I think there is societal benefit to politicians telling more complex stories to voters, but no politician wants to suffer the drawbacks to their own career that come from doing so.”

“He doesn’t, either.”

Caroline: A light laugh, she leans in conspiratorially, “my father would cringe to hear me ever say this, even if he believes it with all his heart, but democracy isn’t about societal benefit. It’s about the mob. It’s about winning and losing, your side vs. their side, tribalism. The best you can hope is that some of those that are climbing to the top are looking out for their own interests—and that those interests align in the big picture enough with the interests of everyone else in the country.”

“Most voters,” she concludes, “are stupid.”

GM: “I suppose that has been true, historically. That’s also what Nolan says. I think the potential for that social benefit still exists, though, and it’s a shame to see it go unrealized.”

Caroline: “Not quite the tragedy of the commons, but similar principle,” Caroline agrees. “I think paradoxically if you introduced some barrier to voting you’d see more meaningful engagement.”

GM: “I’d say that’s the case already, on some level. Louisiana has fairly strict voter ID laws. Though I suppose they’re still less strict than being a land-owning white man over the age of 21.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Even the Greeks recognized that you need enfranchised people to have productive laws.”

GM: “Nolan’s decided he’s going to run for mayor. He hasn’t announced it publicly yet. What do you think of that?”

Caroline: “I think it’ll be ugly, but he’s positioned himself well.” And that there will be inevitable Kindred back splash, some of which might hit you.

“The city could do far worse.”

GM: “It looks as if Drouillard is also going to run. I don’t want him to.”

Caroline: “Nolan or Droulliard?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I’d have said Nolan earlier, without reservation. I’d rather not be known as the mayor’s girlfriend.”

“But it was under Drouillard’s watch that Gettis shot Yvonne.”

Caroline: “You don’t want that spotlight cast on you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. I’d really prefer not. You or Cécilia might do better in that role.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “He’s not really my type. You could try Cécilia, though.”

GM: “I think she’s fairly happy who she’s with, too. But I meant more as any politician’s significant other.”

Caroline: “I know what you meant,” Caroline answers lightly with a smile.

“It’s difficult, being in the public eye all the time, always under scrutiny. I mean, you know better than most, but it just gets worse and worse.”

She turns towards Adeline. “But sometimes that’s the trade you have to make.”

GM: “I suppose it is. It’s a very large trade to me, though, and not one I’m sure I’d like to make, even if I think he’d be the better mayor.”

Caroline: “Then you have choices to make about what you want, and about what’s most important to you,” Caroline answers.

“For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t let your worries over Drouillard factor into it.”

GM: “I think Nolan should pursue his dreams. I’m happy for him if he becomes mayor. I’m just not sure if I want to walk that path with him.”

Caroline: “What path would you prefer?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Being able to pursue my dreams in privacy and quiet, without external commitments and distractions. But I’d also like to pursue them together with someone, and I know he values and supports my doing so.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, her form lit only by the stars and the backlight from the city in the distance.

“But that does seem like the life that Nolan is pursuing.”

GM: “I’m not a social butterfly. I hadn’t met anyone I’d felt similarly about, before him.”

Caroline: “And he pushes you out of your comfort zone, sometimes in a positive way,” Caroline finishes.

GM: Adeline seems to consider that. “I suppose he has, now that you mention it. But his being mayor, or even running for mayor, would take me far enough outside my comfort zone to be someone else.”

Caroline: “So do you try to clip his wings and hold onto him, cut ties and let him go, or lose yourself,” Caroline elaborates.

There’s no doubt in her mind that the last is the worst possible option. Odd that, the thought flirts across her mind. She’d been perfectly willing to suborn her own dreams and desires, to make her dreams and desires her father’s. To content herself with the role someone else decide for her.

And yet… the idea of anyone trying to dictate her newfound sisters’ lives grates against her sensibilities like nails across a chalkboard.

“Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

GM: “By then, I’d like to be an established research professor here at Tulane. Cécilia has been encouraging me to teach students as well. Yvette, of course, thinks teaching ‘idiot undergrads’ would be a thankless job.”

“I don’t think it’s fair of me to clip his wings, especially when it’s also a question of public good. So it’s either end our relationship or accept life as a public figure. I don’t want to do either of those things, but it looks as if I’ll have to pick one of them.”

Caroline: “They can both be right,” Caroline answers of their sisters.

Typical of Yvette and Cécilia.

“Chase your dreams,” she offers.

GM: “I can still become a professor whether I stay together with Nolan or not.”

Caroline: “But will you want to? No change in a vacuum.”

GM: “I think I still would. Being first lady isn’t a full-time position or even an official position.”

“So my dreams are still on the table, whatever I decide. Otherwise this would be a much easier decision.”

Caroline: Except, Caroline knows, that the mayor’s office is hotly contested among Kindred, and she has little doubt that Nolan is in Savoy’s pocket.

That relationship isn’t a danger to Caroline—not directly—but she could readily see it becoming a flash point for conflict between elders. That conflict would become her conflict, and the back-splash would hit her sister.

“You might be surprised. Might enjoy the public life so much you forget all about research,” she almost teases.

GM: Adeline smiles faintly. “Nolan does like to say he has a knack for achieving the impossible.”

Caroline: “It’s not all bad. The spotlight.” Caroline answers. “You never get to be you, but eventually you begin to become the person you pretend to be.”

GM: “That sounds… discomfiting.”

“In what ways would you say that held true for you?”

Caroline: Caroline leans back, her arms fully extended behind her and carrying her weight as she looks up into the night, mulling that question.

The memories are faint, murky.

The easy answer would be to say that she’s always been this way, but she knows that isn’t true, mostly because of how ashamed she is of some of those memories.

Memories of being a little girl, not fully understanding why she had to sit so still, why she had to keep that smile on, why her father chided her so when she said the wrong thing. She remembers her face burning with shame. How she’d ‘embarrassed him’.

She remembers Claire all but dragging her into a bathroom by one arm when she was maybe ten. She’d been acting out at a party they were hosting. Her father hadn’t made it home. He’d been on the road all week and had promised her that he’d be there. Claire’s voice hard and sharp, her words each cutting into Caroline. ‘Pathetic. Unworthy.’ How she’d all but mocked Caroline’s tears. Told her not to come out until she could act like she belonged. Left Caroline crying in front of the mirror, every shameful tear only adding to her shame as she sobbed and tried to pull herself together.

She remembers when caught her drinking at sixteen with a couple friends. How they’d terrorized her friends. How they hadn’t spoken to her ever again. They didn’t even have to say it then, she knew what they would have said. Imagine what that story would do to your father’s career?

Remembers dreading the phone call when she was eighteen the night after she blew off a fundraiser. It’d been that time, she was in her first semester at Tulane, and god, she just hadn’t wanted to go to the charity event for her mother. She just wanted to stay home and nurse a drink, to study for the organic chemistry exam the next morning knowing. ‘Unacceptable’.

Failures that used to come back and haunt her when she was laying in bed some nights, trying to get to sleep.

She can’t remember a time she didn’t expect to go out into the spotlight, not really. She just remembers painfully the times she didn’t. That’s how getting molded works though, isn’t it? Slowly, over time, conditioned to associate one thing with praise and another with punishment. Behavioral adjustment in clinical terms. Parenting in Claire’s.

“I think the easy answer would be in the way I plan and do things.”

“I didn’t like big parties, big events. I remember as a little girl thinking that if I had a wedding I just wanted a few people there, something small and intimate. I remember wanting small events, birthdays, graduations. Being almost ashamed of those things being in the spotlight.”

She shrugs. “But you just get used to it. To thinking of these things in different ways. To planning in different ways. You get comfortable with people celebrating you, and learn to embrace it.”

“That’s the simple answer though. The truth is who I am is more a function of what I was made than whoever I originally was.”

“Framing everything in terms of how it’s perceived. Weighting words with strangers. Constant mindfulness. Ignoring inconveniences and small pains because it’s worth it sometimes.”

“Skirts instead of pants. Heels instead of flats. Smile instead of cry. Laugh instead of snarl.”

“Aristotle asserted we are what we do—that by habit we become habituated. I cannot find fault with his reasoning.”

GM: Tears never did make much headway with Claire.

“Oh, boo, hoo, hoo, Caroline. Boo hoo hoo,” her then-mother had said, leaning close to Caroline’s face and making an exaggerated, mocking expression as her ten-year-old daughter cried. “Do you think you’re impressing anyone with this? That throwing tantrums is going to change reality? You’re not, and it won’t. All it does is make you look pathetic. All it does is show me how immature you are, that you can’t even react to news as basic as your father still being on the road without pitching a fit. It’s selfish, too. Did it even occur to you that if your father isn’t home, that’s because he’s out doing more important things? But no, you can’t even be happy for him. You’re either too stupid to realize or too selfish to care. I’m glad your father isn’t here right now to see what a bad daughter we’ve raised. To see what a selfish, pathetic, crying little brat you are. I suppose if you’re not capable of acting your age, then time-outs are an appropriate punishment. Don’t come out of this room until you’re ready to stop being a failure.”

The door hadn’t quite slammed, but it had closed very sharply.

Adeline’s expression stills for a moment. She may not be Cécilia, but Caroline may wonder just how many of the emotions behind those memories are discernible to new sister.

“Do you think you would have been happier if you hadn’t had to grow accustomed to your new habits?”

Caroline: “I don’t know if I ever stopped to think about it, Adeline,” Caroline admits. “Or had a choice. That person I used to be died a long time ago.”

“They’re not even a memory.”

She sighs. “I’m sorry I can’t give you a better answer to that. But you still have a choice.”

GM: “I do, and I’m not sorry. I think you’ve given me an informative answer and an inside perspective into public life that Maman or Cécilia couldn’t have given me.”

GM: “Some of the things you’ve told me about habituation make me think I could grow accustomed to a more public life. Aristotle isn’t the only philosopher who’s expressed sentiments along those lines.”

“Some of the things you’ve told me are concerning and make me think I could compromise my identity and be less happy by remaining together with Nolan, even if I grew accustomed to a more public life.”

“I’m still not sure what decision I’m going to make. But I’m glad you’ve given me more information to consider.”

“Perhaps I should talk with more people who’ve been close to the current or previous mayors.”

Caroline: “I doubt they’d be of much use,” Caroline answers.

She lets the answer hang in the air before adding, “I don’t think any could hold a candle to you.”

GM: Adeline smiles. "That’s very sweet. But they would have perspectives that I lack, all the same. We can glean information from anywhere. "

She glances out over the midnight waters. “Nolan has some unusual choices in friends.”

Caroline: “Such as?” Caroline asks, still leaning back.

There’s more curiosity behind that question than she wants to let on.

GM: “There’s an explosives engineer named Liz Williams. I’m not sure what she has to offer him, and he doesn’t seem romantically interested in her.”

Caroline: “An explosives engineer?” Caroline tilts her head. “That’s a very strange associate. Is he planning some major demolition?”

GM: Adeline shakes her head. “He owns a waste management company. He doesn’t need to demolish buildings.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. If Adeline wasn’t her sister she might bite her tongue too.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons he won’t…”

Few of those reasons seem legal.

GM: “That’s true,” Adeline acknowledges. “But they’ve also associated with each other for a while. This seems too long-term to be a simple demolition.”

Caroline: “You know him better than I do,” Caroline concedes. “Any thoughts? Shared interests they have?”

GM: Adeline shakes her head. “They don’t seem to have many shared interests, though they do hold similar views on a number of issues. I’m sure you know about the work Nolan has done with the French Quarter Response Force. All of that is only possible thanks to technology. Nolan and Liz are both very excited for what the future holds and the social progress that technology is going to make possible.”

Caroline: Savoy? Hard not to think so.

There’s a less pleasant option there she prefers to avoid dwelling on.

“It’s difficult. A lot of the charm of Vieux Carré is in its character and history, but a lot of that character is… unpleasant.”

GM: “Yes. And I don’t think the better parts of that character or the area’s history are incompatible with social or technological progress.”

“Obviously, of course, not everyone feels the same way.”

Caroline: “Sure,” Caroline answers, contemplative. “I think the roughest edges can and should be smoothed off, but I think so much of what appeals to people that visit is that what they do here, much as in Vegas, stays here. Technology is the greatest threat to that.”

GM: “It is. It’s not a new observation that privacy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past, but I’ve found it notable how not just unconcerned, but excited Liz and Nolan seem about the growth of the surveillance state and surveillance capitalism. That’s one of the views they seem to hold in common.”

Caroline: “And their interest in perpetuating it?” Caroline asks, an ugly thought forming in her mind.

GM: “Possibly. I’m not certain what Liz stands to gain from that. Nolan’s company, at least, benefits from the collection of consumer data.”

Caroline: “Ideological concurrence is enough for plenty of people. See most voters.”

GM: “That’s true enough,” Adeline grants, “though there are other people who agree with his ideology, and with whom he has more in common. I’m not sure where they even know each other from.”

“I’d press him further, but it seems hypocritical when there are enough details about our own family that I’m keeping secret.”

Caroline: “Everyone likes to keep their secrets,” Caroline agrees. “Though there are some more wisely kept than others.”

She pauses on that thought, seeming to let it drift. “And others perhaps less wisely kept.”

“I’m keeping one from Cécilia,” she admits.

GM: Adeline looks surprised. “Oh? You and Cécilia have always been so close.”

“More than any of us besides Yvette and Yvonne, in fact.”

Caroline: “It’s sensitive.”

She rolls her tongue across her fangs, seemingly considering.

GM: Adeline simply nods at Caroline’s initial statement and doesn’t press.

Caroline: But there’s no better confidant she could hope for.

“Luke went snooping in the house at Claire’s behest.”

GM: “Oh no,” she murmurs. “Do you know what they were expecting to find?”

“Or I suppose more technically, to accomplish?”

Caroline: The Ventrue fishes a tiny plastic bag out of her purse. Inside, just visible, are a handful of pale blonde hairs she passes to her sister.

“I think she sold him on something about protecting himself, maybe from infidelity down the line.” She shakes her head. “The whole being my dad’s second choice never sat well with her.”

“And… I don’t think he did it to hurt Cécilia. Hell, I’m certain of it. I know better than anyone how much pressure she could exert, how easy it is to cave on something with no obvious harm instead of fight over it.”

GM: “I see,” Adeline frowns, looking at the hairs. “Curious, though. If he wanted to directly test the baby’s paternity, you need to wait eight weeks to have a viable blood sample. And if he didn’t want to test the baby’s paternity directly, there are plenty of couples and individuals who do recreational DNA tests to trace their heritage. Luke could have brought up the idea, gotten her to hand over a DNA sample freely, and only stolen hairs if she refused.”

“But perhaps she did. There are privacy concerns about how that genetic information is being used.”

Caroline: “Or perhaps he didn’t want to touch on the topic,” Caroline offers. “It’s sort of like the prenup topic: everyone should, but most people won’t.”

GM: “Oh, I meant taking the DNA test under false pretenses. But I suppose it’s a moot point.” Adeline frowns at the hairs. “I suppose this isn’t surprising, either. I don’t think Cécilia has ever given Luke reason to believe she’s unfaithful, but to your stepmother, this must have seemed like good sense.”

Caroline: “It’s also possible she was manipulating him towards her own ends: she’s never been comfortable with how Maman won’t share details about everyone else’s father.”

GM: “Ah, yes. That’s also true. Not having a father is an aspect of our lives we simply take for granted. I’m not even sure when I last thought about it.”

“That would make a great deal of sense if Claire wanted to tease out that hidden branch of the family tree.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “She could be relentless in her pursuit of what she wanted, and I don’t know if she ever really trusted anyone.”

“It may all be a moot point—I don’t think Luke would actually hurt Cécilia intentionally, or that anyone else has enough influence over him to compel him to do so indirectly, but the whole thing just leaves me feeling… dirty. I don’t know if anything good comes from telling Cécilia about it, but I hate the idea of keeping a secret from her.”

GM: “Have you confronted Luke about it, or do you think you already have a full picture of motives and events?” Adeline asks.

Caroline: She shakes her head. “I haven’t had a chance yet… and with everything going on I don’t know when I will.”

GM: “What do you want to find out from him?”

Caroline: “I think it’s more what I want from him, than what I want to find out, if I’m being honest.”

GM: “What is that, in that case?”

Caroline: “His full commitment to Cécilia,” Caroline answers without hesitation.

“My father’s side… there’s so much duplicity, and jockeying for position, and backstabbing. You can hardly imagine it. Even when we’re notionally on the same ‘side’, it’s not the same as it is between us. It’s more like being chess pieces of the same color than like being a family.”

She sighs. “I know that sounds harsh, and maybe it is, but it’s not without value or purpose. There’s a method to the madness. It’s part of why we’ve spread out across the entire state like we have, and risen to where we are.”

“Being involved with Luke inherently brings Cécilia in part of that into that frey—I think that’s something she accepts—but goddamn it…”

“Not between them.”

“She deserves better than that.”

GM: “She does,” agrees Adeline. “I hope Luke can be more than that for her, but I don’t know how realistic that is to expect. I don’t know if the level of commitment Maman would be happy with for us is realistic to expect for anybody. It makes me wonder, in fact, if that’s why we don’t have a father in our lives. Ultimately, there can be no deeper trust than among blood.”

Caroline: “That’s part of what I’m torn over,” Caroline agrees. “If Luke weren’t family as well, I’d have ripped out his throat over this. As is… I don’t know if I trust my judgment.”

GM: “I don’t think Cécilia would be happy doing what Maman has done, either. She wants a husband to raise her daughters with.”

“But as far as Luke. You might be able to pressure him into confessing what he did. If Cécilia still wanted to marry him, would you be happy with that outcome?”

“Or, for that matter, if she decided she no longer wanted to?”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline admits. “There’s a lot tied up in the wedding for everyone, and I don’t want to introduce anything that blows that up. But I also don’t want Cécilia to get hurt.”

“Or if I’ll ever view anyone as good enough for her.”

GM: “Yvette never lets us forget about ‘Elliot,’ at least.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t take that bait.

“She could do far worse than Luke.”

GM: “She could. She’s also very social. I think she could find a new partner more easily than I could.”

“The wedding is still some time away. Most of the arrangements haven’t been made yet. If you choose to act on what you know, I think now would be the ideal time.”

Caroline: “Would you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I think that I would. Relationships don’t have to be built on complete honesty, but they should be built on reciprocity. I can’t picture Cécilia choosing to spy on Luke in the same way.”

“I think she would also want to know the truth.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, mulling over Adeline’s words.

“I guess there’s never really a good time.”

GM: “I prefer to plan towards things. But Cécilia was happy that Luke didn’t wait any longer to propose to her.”

Caroline: “Seize the day and all that.”

GM: “That is the sentiment. And good luck. We all know you want only the best for Cécilia.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: Cécilia finds Caroline shortly after her talk with Adeline.

“This feels like as good a time as any to talk to Maman about Simmone, unless you think we can help our case by waiting,” she says over the steady sound of waves lapping against the Nyx’s hull.

Caroline: Caroline grins. As good a time as any: to say that there is never a good time to contest their mother’s wisdom.

“No, you’re right.” The Ventrue rises from where her feet dangle over inky darkness and casting her senses, rather than her gaze, to orient herself on her mother’s location.

GM: Caroline and Cécilia swiftly finds their mother at the yacht’s aft, a sleeping Simmone held in her arms as she stares out into the midnight sea. The pitch black water seems to have an almost hypnotic effect on the ‘woman’.

“Ah, how timely of you, my dears,” she smiles, stroking her youngest’s hair.

“Pontus has had some most concerning things to say about your sister.”

Caroline: “The sea speaks to all of us in different ways,” Caroline tests. “Some more directly than others I think.”

“We had our own concerns as well,” she adds, leaning in to brush Simmone’s hair from her eyes.

GM: The blonde child remains contently asleep in their mother’s embrace.

Cécilia nods at Caroline’s words. “What has Pontus had to say, Maman?”

“Simmone shall be most unhappy in several nights, if measures are not taken. Her dance teacher will refuse her further lessons.”

“Oh, no,” Cécilia frowns. “That class with Stephanie and Lucy seemed to go very well.”

“I concur, my dear. How many children does Simmone’s teacher have?”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes alight. Celia’s mother.

Celia, the sheriff’s secret childe. Protecting her mother from Caroline?

GM: “Six, Maman,” answers Cécilia. “And her granddaughter Lucy, who lives with her.”

“Do you believe they have something to do why she’s going to cancel?”

Caroline: “Celia,” Caroline states. “Trying to shield her mother?”

GM: “Fret not, my dears. Maman shall take care of everything,” their mother assures.

“May I ask how, Maman?” asks Cécilia.

“I shall slay the extraneous children, of course," she smiles, “and allow Simmone’s teacher to spend more time upon her. The woman will come to view your sister as a surrogate for her own lost offspring.”

“How old is her youngest, Lucy?”

Dark waves steadily lap against the yacht’s hull.

Caroline: Caroline greets her mother’s solution with stunned silence.

“I believe her granddaughter is five,” she answers belatedly.

She tries not to default back to apprehension as she continues on the thorny issue. Pushing back has been met poorly by most in her Requiem.

“I imagine a more mild response might achieve a similar outcome,” she ventures.

GM: “I think Lucy is six,” Cécilia answers. “Her birthday is in January. I might also suggest a milder course of action, Maman.”

“Oh, this shall be as much for you as for our Simmone, sweet Caroline,” their mother smiles.

“We shan’t let the child’s blood go to waste. The seneschal’s powers of anima visus are great; we cannot risk another violation of your mind by his. We may use sweet Lucy’s blood to conceal the evidence of your blackest crime.”

The water around the boat ripples. Lucy’s reflection stares up at the three, six years old and smiling, with large eyeglasses and several missing baby teeth.

“An infant’s blood would have been most efficacious, but a child of Lucy’s years shall still afford you strong protection.”

“And I sense she is dearly loved by her family.” An affectionate smile spreads across their mother’s face. “Yes, sweet Lucy’s blood shall serve you well indeed.”

Indistinct black shapes cut through in the water. Sharp and hard like the fins of sharks. They begin streaking towards the little girl’s smiling reflection.

Caroline: “No.”

The word costs her something. Wrenches at her insides. Hurts.

“Mother, I bid you, do not do this.”

GM: Cécilia’s quiet protest is equally immediate.

“Maman. Stop. Please.”

The black shapes halt inches away from Lucy. The girl cups a hand over her mouth in a yawn.

“Why, of course, my dears,” Abélia smiles. “I live but to fulfill your wishes.”

Caroline: “For my sisters, I would tempt any dark deed, but this is unnecessary and bleak. And will not solve the question of Diana.”

She stares at the smiling girl.

“For myself, we might find a more agreeable substitute. For Simmone… I suspect her daughter fears for her mother. Harming the family will turn them ever more onward. Perhaps a more neutral location would be more agreeable for her? The LaLaurie House, for instance?”

Agreeable substitute. How easily she’ll agree to infanticide for her mother, such a firm line only nights ago.

She’s not drowning in darkness, that happened long ago. She is adrift in it though, carried away.

GM: “Simmone mislikes moving between homes with too great frequency,” Abélia replies, stroking the child’s hair.

“It would be simpler to slay the objecting daughter. And her other of-age siblings, to be safe.”

“Fret naught for Simmone’s teacher. Though her mind would be most pliable without the distraction posed by Lucy, we may render her wholly devoted to our Simmone’s instruction.”

“I would like you to spare Lucy’s aunts and uncles as well, Maman,” Cécilia requests.

Caroline: This is her mother. Who will, with a smile, slaughter half a dozen children to simply bring ease to her daughters’ lives.

“Simmone is what we would speak to you of, Maman,” Caroline continues.

GM: “Do the lives of Lucy’s aunts and uncles mean aught to you as well, my dear?” Abélia inquires.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“Compared to my sister’s happiness? No,” she answers truthfully.

She continues quickly, “But would invite retaliation, and I do not believe this serves Simmone’s happiness. Her joy. Even if it did, it invites retaliation down the line. Two of Lucy’s relatives number amongst the Damned.”

She thinks to Celia’s blood on her lips, to the girl she wronged returning among the Damned.

“And while I would sacrifice my happiness for Simmone’s, slaughtering them so would be such a sacrifice.”

She bites her lip again, a nervous habit. “Perhaps we might return to that rather permanent topic in a moment with greater context from what we would bring to you though, Mother?”

GM: There’s a peal of fluttering laughter.

“Oh, my sweet, sweet Caroline.”

Her mother’s dark eyes glint.

“You have spent too long upon your knees.”

A wind starts to whip about Caroline’s legs, blowing her skirt.

“This must needs be corrected.”

The wind rises to a shriek in Caroline’s ears. The yacht rocks beneath them.

“Do you not wonder how we travel these dark waters without molestation?”

Suddenly, all is black. All is cold. Weight smothers down on Caroline, from all directions. They’re underwater.

“Do you not wonder why the prince suffers us to make our home within his personal domain?”

Cécilia lies motionless upon the floor, as if sleeping, her hair lazily drifting through the water. Her sisters lie similarly asleep. May, Hayes, and all of the vessel’s mortal crew asleep. Does the yacht even have a crew? Caroline tries to recall their faces, but cannot.

“Do you not wonder how your sisters sleep peacefully every night?”

Motion rocks beneath them. Caroline’s hair whips past her. The Nyx cuts through the midnight waters like a shark. Faster. Faster.

“Do you not have faith in Maman’s power? In our family’s power? In your power?”

The Nyx breaks the water’s surface with a splash. The air is colder. Caroline’s skin and clothes are not wet.

“Yet you caution fear from the children of a crippled schoolteacher! From mere babes in the night!”

Caroline sees a cruise ship ahead of them. Land is nowhere in sight. Light is nowhere in sight, except from the boat’s windows. They could be in the middle of the Atlantic. They could be in the middle of the Pacific. They could be anywhere.

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“Oh, my sweet child.”

Shadows envelop Caroline and her mother. They reappear on the cruise ship’s deck. It has a swimming pool and adjacent jacuzzis. Dozens of people are seated around tables with white tablecloths. White-clad servers move among the diners.

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“We do not fear others’ retaliation.”

Everyone blinks or stares in disbelief at Abélia’s and Caroline’s sudden appearance. Some people start to yell or get up from their seats. Abélia does not so much as glance at them. Her smile exists only for Caroline.

“Others fear ours.

The Ventrue’s mother gestures. Waves of blackest magic pour from her hands. A chorus of wailing screams split the night as dozens of people collapse, rotten flesh sloughing off their bones in putrescent blackening slurry. Screams gurgle from decomposing fluid-filled lungs. Hair falls away in slimy clumps. Liquefied eyes run from their sockets like milky tears. Teeth tinkle to the floor as they fall from black and shriveled gums. Half-liquefied organs splatter over the deck like overripe fruit as they slip free from crumbling skeletons. Enzymes eat dead muscles from inside out. The stench of ripe shit, expelled vomit, and necrotizing flesh is overpowering. The corpses look like they’ve been left to rot and bloat in water for weeks. All that’s missing are the clouds of buzzing flies.

Even their blood doesn’t smell worth drinking.

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Elderly retirees dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Moms and dads on vacation with their kids. Kids on vacation with their moms and dads. Gold diggers with balding sugar daddies twice their ages. Yuppies enjoying the fruits of their MBAs. All are made equal in death as Abélia snuffs out their lives. Tables, chairs, dishes, and more crash to the ground as as the dying expire, the slain rot, and the survivors flee. They stampede off the deck in a blind panic that tramples the slow, the ungainly, and those simply too sick or terror-struck to flee. The scene makes Caroline think of water suddenly poured over an anthill.

Her mother’s smile is radiant.

“We take what we wish. We do as we wish. This world exists for our pleasure and sustenance. Its denizens are our prey, and we its predators. Say only the word, and Maman shall set her might against the prince himself, if it would ensure your happiness.”

There’s a low, fluttering laugh.

“But we really must train the timidity out of you, my dear…”

She surveys the fleeing droves of mortals, then raises another pale hand.

Caroline: Caroline has always known that her mother’s moral compass pointed only to her family. That Kindred and kine both have all the meaning to her of an insect crawling like an interloper across a world she rightly views as belonging to her daughters. She knows, has seen, her mother’s power to warp the world to make Caroline hers. To warp reality itself, to rewrite it to her wishes.

But it’s one thing to know, and another to see it in such stark and terrible majesty. To watch her so effortlessly snuff the life from dozens of men, women, and children with all the energy it might require to draw a breath. It’s better and worse than the Sabbat scene—lacking the cruelty but also the purpose of that slaughter.

At least… on the surface. Something quests within her, seeks an answer to a scene that a year ago would have brought her to her knees.

Because her mother did bring her here with purpose, did slaughter with purpose. Everything she does is with purpose—a singular one.

“You’re right,” she admits.

“I have grown accustomed to a Requiem on my knees.”

She looks out at the putrid husks of flesh that fill the deck before them. She pushes the sight of them a moment before, of them alive and well, from her memory. They were always rotting flesh. Always human waste. Better to view them like that. Better than to admit they were…

That thought dies.

“I like to think that the sacrifices I would make for my sisters, for you, is a strength. But it’s a weakness too. Never in my life or Requiem have I had someone who would sacrifice for me, and all the world I see only through the lens of what I might offer.”

She turns her gaze from the massacre to meet her mother’s dark eyes. “Anything to avoid being a burden. It’s selfish of me though. To you.”

“And narrow in its vision.”

GM: The screams of the fleeing and the dying echo around the pair as dozens of footsteps thump against the deck. Abélia gestures again, but no further kine perish.

Instead, a great and trembling shudder runs through the vessel.

It slowly begins to sink.

“Love is sacrifice, my dear.”

“Compelled by blood.”

“Requited in blood.”

“Through a sister’s sacrifice alone does your Maman stand before you now.”

Caroline: The heiress nods, her gaze not escaping her mother’s. “Truth then, Maman.”

“I have grown accustomed to casting everything in how it might most benefit, how I might persuade and convince.” She bites her lip before continuing, but only for a moment. “Plainly, I do not wish Celia’s mortal family taken from her. I have my own desires for her, and would see them intact for those.”

“More than those desires though, while I would see Simmone happy, I am not convinced the Simmone of this night is who she is, who she was, or who she should be. I fear she is a pale reflection of all of those things cast by those who did harm to this family, and I am disinclined to allow the actions of any other to so define her.”

“Towards that end, towards her happiness, I would not she be granted every whim and wish by only the most direct means.”

“She may yet be your eternal child, but I want her to make that decision in the fullness of knowing, stepping boldly towards that destiny rather than meekly seeking it in flight from devils that haunt her.”

GM: The last of footsteps thump away over the shrieks and cries of the fleeing. Caroline has never seen a public space clear so quickly.

There is no one left alive on the cruise ship’s deck. Just Caroline, her mother, and putrefying corpses for as far as she can see.

“There is one matter first, my treasure, before we might discuss your sister’s future,” Abélia smiles.

“Simmone is happy with her dance teacher. I bid you tell your Maman—what is the proper course of action in this matter?”

Caroline: The screams and shrieks and wet slop of rotting flesh sliding across the deck fade away as Caroline puts all of her attention on her mother. “Certainly ensure that she does nothing so foolish as disrupt Simmone’s happiness.”

“I can think of many ways to do so that will make Cécilia, Simmone, and I all happy.”

GM: “Speak, then, my treasure. These kine perish so they might further your wisdom.”

“Are we to fear the whelps of a crippled schoolteacher?”

Caroline: “We do not fear,” Caroline answers, drinking in the darkness in her mother’s eyes. She does not need to qualify the statement.

GM: Those dark eyes smile with pride, even as her mother patiently waits.

Caroline: The Ventrue lets the words hang in the air for a long moment before continuing.

“Most presently, Celia meets with Cécilia regularly. I’m confident my sister can impress upon her the importance of her mother in our sister’s lives with little effort.” Her eyes drink in the darkness in Abélia’s own, “I think it would make her happy to do so, to secure her sister’s happiness and also ‘protect’ her friend.”

“Willing compliance is desirable, isn’t it?”

Does some of her mother’s darkness creep into her own blue eyes?

“If that should fail, Celia can be reminded that her own welfare, and that of her sire, is perhaps a discrete word in the wrong ear from disaster. To say nothing of the fragility of those kine close to her. The sheriff once thought it amusing to place me within his power, to exercise that power over me. I might enjoy the turnabout.”

“If not willing compliance, I will prompt eager compliance.”’

There’s no mistaking the darkness now.

“And should they scoff at my sister’s gentle touch, or believe themselves above my firmer hand…” She spreads her arms out, encompassing the horror around them.

“Then let them learn to fear.”

GM: Her mother’s answering, pride-swollen smile is even more radiant as she brushes a tender hand along Caroline’s cheek.

“Let them.”

The cruise ship rumbles beneath them, slowly but steadily sinking into the deep. Caroline is not sure how long it will take, only that its end is surely inevitable.

“Your answer is pleasing to me, my treasure.”

“It pleases me to see you strong.”

“Tell me, now, of the course of action you would counsel for our Simmone.”

Caroline: That smile almost washes out the horror of hundreds, perhaps thousands, dying as the ship sinks beneath them.

“I would my sister’s voice also weigh in on Simmone, but most directly, Maman, she needs to be challenged. It does not do for her to clutch you in fear, however much your touch may comfort her.”

“Cécilia and I would break her of the grip the ghoul’s actions have over her. Slowly expose her to more and more. Allow her to return to some semblance of normalcy.”

GM: “Do you believe this would make her happy, sweet child?”

“She has told me, many a time, that she is happy in our company. That she desires naught but our blood for companionship.”

Caroline: “I believe she would be happier if, even if she preferred us, she did not cower in the face of others, Maman.”

“If she chooses to remain a child, I would have it be a precocious child.”

GM: “She need never lay eyes upon another soul if she does not wish it. She may wish for the moon and stars themselves, and Maman shall provide.”

Another smile.

“But should she wish for greater normalcy in her life, then I shall make the fulfillment of that wish, too, my foremost purpose. Convince your sister of the rightness of this course of action, and her whim is my command.”

Abélia glances out over the side of the groaning cruise ship. It’s so tall. Practically a building flipped sideways over the water. Little by little, the waterline draws closer.

Caroline can only guess how many people are on board.

“There is more than enough vitae on this vessel to slake your thirst, my dear.”

“Please, feast to your heart’s content ere we depart.”

Caroline: More than enough. That’s an understatement. She doesn’t want to think about how many hundreds, or even thousands, of people are dying here tonight. In the blink of an eye, more lives taken than the whole of her Requiem.

She wants to be okay with it. She wants to be able to shove it all aside. They’re just kine, right? Not even kine that she cares about.

It doesn’t make it right. Can’t make it right. A lesser atrocity she might ignore, but this is killing orders of magnitude greater, and of innocents purely for… for her education?

She wants to make her mother happy. Wants to do as she bids, but some pathetic part of her snarls at her claims, at her dismissal of the lives on the ship. Until now, until this moment, she could pretend in some moral hypocrisy that she wasn’t a part of it, however responsible she might be. She didn’t kill anyone directly, did she? Did she? It’s not her fault… is it?

And then the walls break away, break down, the dam crumbling under assault before collapsing entirely.

Why? Why are they here? Why does she have to do this? And she does have to. She knows (fears?) what her mother will do if she balks. If she expresses anything so pathetically human as remorse or horror.

And perhaps that idea, that lie begged from her is what does it. She fears what the truth will bring—not for herself though—but more than she fears that, the idea of the lie between them over this is what she can’t stomach.

Crumbling bones slosh around the deck in rotting human stew and filth, some far too small. The smell is overwhelming. And she feels so powerless.

“Maman, I…” the words die as pitifully as the kine died here.

If she were a human she might be hyperventilating as it all crushes her, is the near panic tightens around her chest like a vice, instead her chest is still and lifeless. As lifeless as she is. As lifeless as the ship will be before long.

Her mother wants what’s best for her. Will do anything for her. Will do this for her. Something black and twisted whispers that she’s being weak, too weak to claim what she’s being offered, this great gift. Would it be so bad? To cut ties to the kine? To embrace her inner monster?

But she remembers what she felt when she fought the Sabbat, when she cut the head from one, when she delivered their ‘priest’ into oblivion he so surely deserved. How right it felt to do so. And too with the demon in the Dungeon, a last act of her life that helped give purpose to it, that gave her peace.

She doesn’t want to become one of those things, even if no one knows. She’ll know. Even if Maman accepts her for it: she can’t accept herself that way.

GM: “Oh, my sweet, sweet child.”

Abélia brushes a hand along Caroline’s cheek.

Distantly, she can make out noises. Voices. Sounds of fear. Panic. Commotion.

But no one approaches the top deck.

Who in their right mind would, after what dozens of witnesses saw?

The ocean doesn’t glint in her mother’s eyes. It’s swallowed by them. Two hungry orbs that look oceans in their own right, black and fathomless. Caroline is reminded of her prior words:

“Unimaginably vast and unknowable, with depths so dark no light will ever touch them. Eternal. Something others can only rest upon lest they be swallowed up by it.”

“I think the most talented kine might be a captain on your sea—always subject to your mercy, no matter how wise he may be. We, I think,” she had gestured to her sisters across the ship, “are creatures in that dark embrace.”

The ship continues to slowly, steadily sink beneath them.

“This is displeasing to you,” her mother states.

Caroline: The scale of what her mother has done for her is staggering. As a demonstration of her will and how far she will go in an attempt to make Caroline better or happy, it’s a herculean task that shames Caroline to even think about. How few in the world could begin to do what she’s done? Certainly no other that would be inclined to do something.

But it’s a carrion gift of such staggering horror that even its impersonal nature isn’t something she can ignore. Hundreds or thousands of people are dying. Will continue to die. It’s monstrous. Utterly monstrous.

And yet… and yet Caroline feels so ashamed of her rejection of it.

What’s wrong with her? Why can’t she just accept it and move on? Isn’t this the very lesson her mother wanted to teach her?

The Ventrue bites her lower lip. She doesn’t want to admit it. Doesn’t want to make her mother unhappy.

But she’s more afraid of the lie between them. She’s so tired of lies.

She nods, her mask cracking into one of grief. “Yes, Maman,” she admits, her voice choked with grief.

“I’m so sorry.”

GM: “Oh, my poor, sweet child.”

He arms encircle Caroline, pulling her into a soft embrace.

“You don’t want to make me unhappy. But you are unhappy.”

She feels a hand stroking her back.

“Thank you for your honesty. I know this wasn’t easy for you. You have nothing to be sorry for. A mother could not ask for a better daughter. I could never bear to see you unhappy,” her mother’s voice whispers in her ear.

“What would you ask of Maman, my treasure? Ask for the moon and stars themselves, and I shall pluck them from the sky if it would but allow a smile to grace your lips.”

The ship continues to shudder beneath them.

Caroline: What does she want?

The Ventrue grits her teeth. For this never to have happened. But she knows how ridiculous and childish such an answer is.

The follow on—not to remember any of this—feels even worse. Moral and physical cowardice, hiding from the truth like a girl under the covers, or worse, sticking her head in the sand. It would almost make it all worse, make her a worse and more pathetic part of it.

What does she really want? Not to be weak. To be what her mother expected of her tonight, to make her proud.

But she knows too, that’s not in the cards. Not tonight. Perhaps a century will harden her heart. She hopes (fears?) so.

What does she want tonight? The question is more alien than Abélia has ever been to her, leviathan depths and all.

Behind her mother’s gentle acceptance, that soft whisper and touch, the building panic begins to slide away. The pull towards normalizing is so insidious, so seductive.

The purely rational part of her mind makes its argument, if the kine are going to die anyway, shouldn’t she take her fill? Satisfy the hunger here, rather than with some needless victim and simultaneously please her mother.

Another voice back, ’aren’t all kine going to die anyway? Where’s the line?’

And still, another part asks even more insidiously, when has she ever had such an opportunity? To feast and feast and feast until her Beast cries out to stop, until the she is so drunk on blood that she can’t take any more. To drown it in blood past the point of satiation.

They’re going to die anyway… aren’t they?

She’d argued the use of Nazi and Japanese war crimes related medical research during her senior year in LD debate. That the damage was done, that it was more disrespectful to the victims to put it to waste. To not save other lives that could be saved with it, no matter the suffering and human cost of it.

Is this different?

GM: She’s not sure whether her father agreed with her or not. He was too busy to weigh in on something so inconsequential as high school debate topics.

But it felt like he would have.

She feels her mother’s hands stroking her back.

“Your thoughts are conflicted, sweet child. Take as long as you require to reconcile your feelings, then say only what you would see done here. If it is within Maman’s power, she shall see it done. And if it is not within her power, she shall not rest until it is.”

Caroline: What does she want?

It should be such a simple question, but the entire premise is just alien. The answer has always been rooted in what someone wanted of her, for her, as long as she can remember. The answer was always part of the mask she presented to everyone: her father, her professors, her lovers.

Is it really possible that someone genuinely means it when they ask? That it isn’t a trap?

Her mother’s touch drains the tension in her shoulders, in her back, and just for a moment the regal bearing slips and she’s just Caroline. Not Caroline Malveaux. Not Caroline Devillers. Not a scion of Louisiana’s most powerful family or one of the Americas’ mightiest princes.

She breathes in the warm night air and it fills her cold, dead body.

“I want this to mean something, Mother. More than just my edification, I want the death of the kine tonight to be with purpose.”

“You would that we paint over my sins—let us do so here. That I should sake my thirst—that as well. And whatever other bloody lessons I must learn, or you would have me learn, I would see them done. Tonight.”

Her gaze settles upon her mother’s once more.

“You have humbled me with the scale of your love, but I would that there be no need for a future demonstration of this scale. I have no doubt of your power, nor question of my importance, but this…” she gestures to the nightmare around them.

“Don’t make make me see this again. Please.”

GM: Her mother’s arms seem to encircle her all the more tightly at that dropping of the mask. The ship may sink beneath them, and the sea’s winds and waters may be dark and cold, but for a moment she can be just Caroline.

Just a young woman with her mother.

“Of course, sweet child,” sounds Abélia’s voice. “You have my solemn pledge that I shall slay no further kine in such numbers for your edification, or for any other purpose on your behalf you find objectionable.”

There is a faint chuckle.

“Yet I am no governess to plan your lessons as might your sire. Where I see need, I shall teach. At present, I see no further such need.”

“You ask that these kines’ deaths serve a purpose. So be it. The souls of those aboard this vessel might fuel many workings of power on your behalf. What ends would you see them used towards?”

At Abélia’s words, the rot within the mob of splayed corpses accelerates. Already half-pulped flesh, muscle, and splattered organs dissolve into putrescent, equally foul-smelling black slime. Rotted bones decompose into sodden clumps of ash. Shuddering pools of liquefying flesh, dotted with clumps of hair and teeth, lurch into a semblance of animation as they half-crawl, half-seep off the deck. Clothes, shoes, phones, wallets, jewelry, and assorted other personal effects are carried after them. Caroline can’t hear any splashes as they disappear over the side. Soon, the deck stands bare and empty.

The smell is better.

Caroline: Speak what she wants. Is it really that easy?

“I want strength enough to stand outside my sire’s shadow, to carve my own Requiem from the world. I wish my mind inviolate, a terror for those that would dare to trespass in it.”

The words come more easily as she speaks. “I want to be feared more than I am loved. I want to soar on the wind when the sun rises and watch my sisters prosper, to be there beside them against any that would dare to raise a hand to them. I want to lead, not be led along, to rule.”

She looks at her mother. “I would make myself the master of my destiny, that I might take what I wish from my Requiem, not only what misers might give me.”

“I want my sire to be proud of me, but not to rule me, and for everyone that once cast me side to lay awake in fear wondering how they ever made such a foolish decision.”

Her eyes drink in the darkness. “I would be you, reflected in all your dark majesty, Mother.”

GM: There’s a fluttering laugh from her mother. Dark and full, that the wind itself seems to carry, until all the night shares in Abélia’s mirth and merriment.

“Such ambition! It thrills me so to hear you speak in such a way, sweet child.”

“Much would I give to see your words become reality.”

She gives a wistful sigh.

“Yet I am afraid the lives aboard this vessel are insufficient for the power you seek. They are of inferior worth to mine, even in such numbers. Were their worth equivalent, we could not claim them so easily.”

“Some paths to power are shorter than others. You know this well, my dear. You have walked one already. Yet I am afraid there are no truly easier paths.”

Caroline: Her mother’s words reaffirm her own, the fresh cutting out of wants from whole cloth she had been so tepid in voicing.

Caroline grins. Some were easier than others.

“I have no expectation that I could scale those heights with ease or without sacrifice, Maman, nor that they could be summited in any single night, but I thought it better to paint with a broad brush.”

GM: Her mother’s dark eyes brim with pride at her thought.

“Tell me but how you would make use of these kines’ lives to further your ascent, sweet child, and I shall see it done. Even lives of trifling worth may be put to great uses in so great a quantity.”

Caroline: How far might her mother’s powers go?

It’s difficult to say. She’s seen frightful depths to her abilities, but how deeply they drew upon her is a mystery. How greatly did her initiation into the family wear at her? She knows Abélia will give her anything, but she does not wish to deplete her towards this end. Not tonight. There are other uses for her mother’s powers that coming nights will require on behalf of her sisters.

She begins modestly.

“I told your sister truthfully, Mother—I have no desire to make diablerie a Requiem-long indulgence—but I am not yet finished. And I would not suffer the judgment of others for the lengths I will go to, not now or in the future.”

GM: “You have said as much, my dear. Fear not. That shall require but a single, young life.”

Her mother smiles contently.

“The purer the innocence, the more totally may sin be concealed.”

Caroline: A single young life.

Does she fear?

Only where this path will take her. How many sacrifices will she judge sufficient? How many compromises of her principles?

More than she wants. But isn’t that how it is, in life and in death?

The hardest paths, the tallest mountains, the the greatest heights, require the strongest of wills.

She hardens her will.

She is her mother’s daughter. She is her father’s daughter. She is her sire’s childe. Whatever else she is, she must be strong in will.

Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “Even the mightiest of those I would strike down and claim within New Orleans would leave me with a shadow of the power wielded by my most potent rivals.”

“But there are others. Could they illuminate the path to them?”

GM: There is another fluttering laugh from her mother.

“Perhaps, my dear. These kine’s lives may be used to illuminate a path. Whether that path leads to the fruits you desire at its terminus shall be seen.”

“I am certain you harbor few doubts, sweet child, that some of those Cainites lost to Katrina also lost their souls beneath their fellows’ fangs. Many Cainites who knew of the amaranth, I am certain, took advantage of the storm’s chaos to feast upon forbidden fruits. I would be surprised if any vanished elders remained undiscovered by their fellow Cainites, waiting for a fortunate diablerist to turn their torpid dreams to nightmares.”

A smile spreads across her features.

“But I would not be surprised to find lesser slumbering Cainites still buried throughout the city. Their vitae would serve little enough purpose remaining buried.”

Caroline: “Lesser Cainites abound, Mother. But were I content to climb the slow stairway to power, I would have no need for their blood to begin with,” the Ventrue observes.

“Still… they would present a less dangerous path than hunting more active Kindred.”

She shifts track, kiting against the wind. “Diablerie and the slow march of time are the only paths to power—personal power—that I have seen. Might the blood of the kine direct me to another? Or accelerate one or the other?”

“With the bishop and priest both, I could feel all that I left on the table, pieces of them sliding away into oblivion even as I took those parts I cared for most.”

GM: “There are means, to derive power from masses of insignificant lives such as these,” her mother answers. “There is always power in sacrifice.”

“Yet for your species, sweet child, many of those paths are closed without skill in obscure arts. For most Cainites, power lies in the Blood alone. Your forefather became what he was through murder of his kin—those whose blood was as his own. To become closer to him in power, you must become closer to him in deed.”

“For you and I alike, the lives of these kine may be used to fuel many evanescent workings of power. Through them, you may enspell men’s minds, move as lightning, weather assaults upon your body and mind, and call upon Caine’s other gifts. In my hands, the lives of these kine may accomplish still further feats.”

“But I am afraid they may increase your puissance in the Blood no further, nor allow you to consume all parts of your defeated foes. Even an ocean of water cannot age a cask of wine.”

Caroline: As much as she might have wished otherwise, it was the answer she expected. If there was an easy road to power through the kine, she’d expect to see mountains of corpses presided over by Kindred kings.

“I presume too, that power cannot simply be held in reserve for a moment of need, and must instead be directed immediately?”

GM: Her mother cups her cheek.

“Sweet child. Much as you might wish an eternity to plan, hoard, and strategize, the world moves ever on.”

“It is a weakness of Ventrue’s childer.”

Caroline: Caroline leans into that hand, eyes closed, but her mind doesn’t slow. It rarely did before, but never since she consumed the bishop. She took far more from him than just supernatural puissance. Fittingly so.

Her mind races to what ends she might turn a night of power to—tearing apart the city in search of Claire’s safehouse, hunting Gettis, bringing Meadows to heel as the seneschal wishes. The last is so very tempting—to meet the terrifying Gangrel in overmatched terms. Whatever she might share in public, whatever flight she and her ghouls forced from the scourge, she knows the truth of it: alone that night she’d have been destroyed, ripped apart by the savage.

Her mind further races to other scores she might settle, to power she might claim. An elder, alone, who so nearly unmade her in his desire to take from her. To use her. Could she challenge him? Defeat him? Claim all that he is from him? Perhaps. His destruction would do much to further her plans, to shock the few remaining of Clan Ventrue. Galvanize them perhaps into action for each other, to cease their plotting against each other for a time. That she would do so by plotting against them is an irony not lost on her.

But she has plots laid for all these goals, things in motion, ways forward, and none require her to tear through the city in a whirlwind of power.

More too, she knows herself. Knows how addictive that power would be to her. Like her father, like her sire, her vice is not sex, not drugs, not alcohol, not even violence: her vice is control, it’s power, and power she would not easily let go of. It would also tempt her: do it again.

Perhaps it is fleeting affection for the living—a vestige of humanity clinging to her pitch-stained soul—that screams at the orders of magnitude greater this atrocity is than any before. Hasn’t she always been able to justify her victims? Sinners, or killers, or monsters, all those that deserved their fate.

Perhaps it is the temperance of her life, turning her away from that final indulgence. Too aware of the terrible draw of such easily obtained might. More though, she thinks, it is the thought of her sisters.

Cécilia, she knows, could forgive her for such an black act. Cécilia would forgive her for anything. But she would know. She would always know how Caroline transgressed against God and man for a fleeting power that even now she must search for a purpose. Not to protect her family—for that she would take the power in an instant—but for transitory goals. She would know how hollow Caroline’s principles were, how little she valued Cécilia’s own. Caroline owes Cécilia more.

And Yvette. Her sister would take from it only an example, a path to be followed. She knows the darkness around the twin, knows how precarious the balance of her Requiem will be in early nights, not to descend into savagery. This act would be a beacon for her when she learned of it. A siren’s call that would lead her to a moral abyss even the damned could not withstand. Caroline has a duty to be better than that, to blaze a better path.

Then, the shallower level of it. Caroline doesn’t want her accomplishments built on carrion throne by her mother. She doesn’t want to leave any doubt of who others should fear, should respect. Her ascent might be atop a mountain of corpses, but those are bodies she will stack with purpose. She doesn’t need a fell ritual, doesn’t need the kine, to ascend. She will take from the world what she needs—with her mother’s help, but not purely by her mother’s might.

Her eyes open, once again staring into Abélia’s own.

“I am what I am, and I would not change. Let us be gone from here, Mother. I would sooner spend the rest of my night with my sisters and mother just as I would sooner trust to my own strength of will, to my schemes, to my plots, than believe in what these kine may offer me.”

“It is not power they would provide, only weakness, a reason to doubt in myself.”

“Let us leave them to their terror, they are worth no more of your strength and no more of our attention.”

GM: The bishop’s rapacious intellect, added to hers, spits out scenarios and analyses like a computer.

She’s seen how potent ghouls old in the Blood can be. Kelford, against whom she described as “a joke.” Lou, who brought down René. The Hussar. Who knows how Gettis compares to any of them? Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Her mother’s safehouse. Doubtless, Claire hit it well. Donovan has many matters upon his plate, but doubtless, he and other parties desire it for their own too. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Coco said Meadows has ghouls of her own. That she won’t underestimate Caroline a second time. That she won’t just blunder in to the heart of Caroline’s strength by herself, surrounded by all of the Ventrue’s servants, and still claim two lives before abandoning a needless fight. The nights where anyone underestimates her so sorely seem as if they will soon be ending. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

Matheson. His blood and soul, if she can claim it, could add so much to hers. The bishop’s and the priest’s were no stronger than hers, yet their fruits were sweet indeed. A true elder could batten her vitae so much further. Perhaps the sacrifice of hundreds could help.

How indeed could Cécilia not forgive her. She’s lived with their mother for close to thirty years. How many sins has Abélia disclosed to her? Can this be the first time she has sacrificed so many for power?

The cruise ship continues to groan and sink beneath the pair as she deliberates. Caroline wonders how long it will take the great vessel to rest beneath the waves. They made a movie out of how long it took the Titanic.

Yet, at her choice, her mother smiles.

“You are full of surprises, my child. You make what to many would seem a strange choice. A unique choice. Yet there is its own strength in it.”

“So be it. We shall leave these kine to Pontus’ mercies. His subjects shall dine well.”

Caroline: Her mother’s agreement lifts a weight from Caroline’s shoulders she didn’t know was there. Because she spared their lives, because she stepped back from the abyss, or because of her mother’s approval? Does it matter?

“Sea has forever been a fickle domain,” she agrees.

GM: Caroline’s mother takes her hand, and then darkness gathers around them both like a rising tide.

They reappear aboard the Nyx. Everyone still lies asleep upon the deck. The cruise ship is so much taller than the Devillers family yacht, but the angle is slightly off-kilter. Caroline can see some of the great vessel has already sunk beneath the waves. The rows of white and orange lifeboats all lie adrift in the water, and far from their mother craft. Lights flicker uncertainly from the cruise ship’s windows, as if mirroring the moods of its passengers.

Abélia watches the sinking vessel contently.

Caroline: Caroline leans her shoulder against Abélia’s own, watching the lights go out in the darkness.

“Allow the wind carry their salvation to them, Mother.” She gestures to the floating life rafts. “Let those with the strength to seek it claim their future.”

“If I am not taking their lives with purpose, I would as soon we not take them at all.”

GM: “Some of them may recall your face, my treasure, and what transpired here. It would be a simple enough thing to tender them to Pontus’ true mercies.”

Caroline: She weights that risk in her mind.

The odds that one of the few that saw her clearly on the deck would be among those that survived—diminished all the more by the terror that will cloud their judgement in making their escape.

The odds that the memory of her is clear in their mind amid the terror of this night.

The odds that any of those with clear memory might clearly identify her by that memory.

The odds that any might take those few seriously, and not simply commit them for the psychotic breakdown they would be experiencing.

Their paltry numbers against the hundreds or thousands on the ship.

She laughs. “Mother, was this not in part your lesson this night? Am I to fear them more than a schoolteacher and the neonate childe among her children?”

GM: Abélia’s dark eyes smile.

“My daughter should not fear these ignorant masses, but a mother always fears for her children. It would require little effort to silence those fears permanently.”

Caroline: “I have no doubts,” Caroline answers warmly, of her mother’s claim.

“But lions hunting inspects does nothing for the lions, and even if by the most unlikely of circumstances one ever rose to threaten me, he would be only a tool in my arsenal as I hunted those who brought them before me.”

“I have few enough opportunities and rare enough inclination towards magnanimousness. Indulge me this one, Mother.”

GM: “So be it, my dear,” her mother answers. “De Corazon’s little dream is no less deceitful than its dreamer.”

Caroline: That stings. The Masquerade is important. The basis for her very existence, of the existence of all of her kind.

But then, hasn’t she always been willing to take more calculated risks with it than most?

“If you don’t bend the rules you’ll never know when they break,” she quips.

GM: Her mother smiles as she looks back upon the sinking ship.

“Your education is most incomplete where that rule is concerned, my dear. I doubt Philip or your sire shall ever tell you its truth. But that lesson is for another night.”

“As for tonight.”

“If Simmone wishes to retain her dance teacher, then the matter is settled. You and Cécilia may act as you see fit towards the fulfillment of that end, but if you are unable, I shall slaughter the Flores line stem and root.”

The cruise ship continues to steadily, inexorably sink in the background.

Thousands of lives perhaps lost, without Caroline’s intervention.

Caroline: Her mother’s remark about the Masquerade perks her interest, but she allows the matter to slide. Caroline knows that all things will be made clear in the proper time. Instead she turns to the topic at hand.

“I’m confident that will not be necessary, Mother,” Caroline answers, watching the death of the great ship. “As, I’m certain are you. Few things might resist the pull of one of your daughters. With two, it is as near to a certain thing.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: “I feel like I was asleep,” Cécilia remarks to Caroline after the Nyx is back underway.

“Maman must have put us under.”

She doesn’t sound curious.

Caroline: Caroline nods, watching dark waters. How many died tonight? How many more might have if she had not drawn back from the yawning abyss? The Ventrue’s cold hand seeks another in the darkness and finds Cécilia’s.

“She had a lesson for me that was ill suited to everyone else.”

Part of her wants to continue, but that is not a sin she would lay upon Cécilia’s conscience, and instead she changes topic. “She was willing to grant a stay on the Flores family, presuming we ensure that Diana does nothing so foolish as cease teaching Simmone before she is ready.”

GM: Cécilia squeezes her hand back.

She looks confused for a moment at Caroline’s words.

“Yes. Maman said she would spare the other Flores. I remember that too.”

“But, I agree. We should definitely try to keep them out of danger.”

“I admit Celia and I have grown apart since high school, but I don’t want Maman to hurt her. Or her daughter, or any of her brothers and sisters. They don’t deserve that. Mrs. Flores doesn’t deserve that.”

Caroline: “It’s for the best,” Caroline observes, her voice distant. “That you drifted apart, that is.”

“It’ll be better for them too if we can find a replacement for Mrs. Flores in Simmone’s life.”

GM: “You might be right on that first count,” Cécilia agrees.

“Why do you say, though, on that second one? Mrs. Flores has taught all of us, for over ten years now. Simmone really likes her.”

“I really like her, too. So do the others. She came to visit when Yvonne was the hospital, with food. It was very kind.”

Caroline: “She’s too close to too much of Kindred society,” Caroline answers.

Because our mother will murder her entire family if she turns her attention from Simmone for any reason…

“Eventually someone will try to use her. It’ll go badly for everyone. It’s dangerous for her just to visit us, honestly, given… well, her daughter.”

She sighs.

“I’m sorry. That’s a really depressing take. I just mean that I know you and the others care about her, it’d be better for her, safer for her, if we got her… a little more out of the way.”

GM: “That is, yes. But I suppose Celia does complicate things, for her and everyone. Maybe that would be best.”

“I don’t know that Simmone will want to give her up, though. She has such a hard time with strangers. And Maman will want Simmone to have whatever she wants to have.”

Caroline: Of that Caroline is well aware.

“We’d need someone with the proper appeal to her,” Caroline agrees.

“Maybe we could make it a game of sorts for her, treat her, with the option to pick out one she likes.”

GM: “That might be an idea,” Cécilia considers. “But is it really a treat to replace a favorite teacher with a new one?”

Caroline: “I don’t think you frame it that way,” Caroline answers. “Let it be a treat, and see if you can have it take the place of the existing option.”

GM: “What if she’s not interested, though?”

“Simmone isn’t any stranger to turning down offered things she doesn’t think she’ll like.”

Caroline: “Don’t make it about her, then,” Caroline suggests. “Especially if everyone is going to be home for a while, make it a group activity… or better, make it the adult activity. I can’t imagine her being happy about being excluded.”

GM: “Maman says that’s going to come to an end soon,” says Cécilia. “Though I still think I’ll keep living at home. I don’t feel safe living by myself anymore.”

“In any case, we can try that with Simmone.”

“I’d just expect a struggle. She’s so used to getting what she wants.”

Caroline: “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Is there? Or is she becoming her mother?

“I just know how much more distressing it would be for her if she was more attached to Diana and something happened to her.”

GM: “I certainly hope nothing does. Mrs. Flores has been a really good teacher to us, for just so long.”

“But I suppose you’re right that Kindred are inherently dangerous. All the more so to have one as a daughter.”

“Well,” she amends with a faint smile, “for ordinary humans, at least.”

“Maybe there’s something we could do to help, though, if there’s some kind of trouble she or Celia is in? Especially if we’ve put them in more danger, with coming to the Garden District. Like you implied.”

“That isn’t worth Mrs. Flores’ lesson fee. And Celia insisted on not charging anything.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Her sire threatened to kill Diana if she was caught here again. Or maybe as punishment for getting caught here.”

GM: “Oh my Lord,” Cécilia murmurs.

“All right, then we should definitely stop the dance lessons. They aren’t worth anyone’s life.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “There’s a better answer for everyone. We just need the tyrant to sign off on it.”

GM: “The tyrant? You mean, Simmone or your sire?” Cécilia asks with an amused smile.

Caroline: “Oh, Simmone of course,” Caroline answers with a hint of levity. She’s dumped enough on Cécilia’s plate as is.

GM: “All right. We might as well do it now, unless you think there’s a better time.”

Caroline: “None like the present,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll have one if my people do homework when we get back. Line up some prospects.”

GM: “I could ask Mrs. Flores, too. I’m sure she knows other dance teachers.”

Caroline: “That’s not a bad idea… I don’t want to give her the wrong impression, though, that she’s unwanted.”

GM: “I don’t either, but we’ll have to tell her that at some point if we’re hiring someone else.”

“The Flores are fairly well-off, at least. I know they won a pretty big insurance settlement a while back. So they don’t need the money.”

“I don’t think Mrs. Flores even does private lessons anymore, actually, for students besides Simmone.”

Caroline: “Maybe you could talk to Celia about it too, have her lean on her mother?” Caroline suggests.

GM: “I might ask you the same, actually. You can be honest with her about why the lessons need to stop.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her fangs. “She and I play for rather different teams, and she doesn’t exactly frequent Elysium. Plus few licks look kindly on things that could seen like threats to people they care for.”

It’s not exactly a no, though. “I can bring it up if we see each other, though.”

GM: “That sounds good, then,” nods Cécilia. “I can find a way to bring it up if you don’t find the time.”

She pauses for a moment, listening to waves lap against the ship’s hull. The coastline looks vaguely familiar to Caroline again. She hasn’t been out yachting after dark too many times.

“What about you, Caroline? I know there’s been a lot to process lately. With everything at the beach house, but before too. How are you holding up?”

Caroline: She stares into the dark.

A lot to process. In less than a week she’s consumed the souls of two Cainites, marking herself as a pariah among her own kind but leaping decades ahead in supernatural prowess, seen her sire’s acceptance, journeyed across the world and fought the Sabbat, joined her family and learned of dark secrets within it. Slain Claire. Deceived her brother. Destroyed Jocelyn. Claimed the Malveauxes.

Been party to the murder of hundreds.

She feels… weary. That bone deep exhaustion she associates with the end of a tournament or a marathon.

But the marathon has only begun.

“You know about caterpillars and butterflies, but did you know that the caterpillars has identical genetic material to the butterfly?”

She takes a deep breath, leaning her head back to look at the sky for a moment as she continues, “When they go into the cocoon most of their body liquefies, but it doesn’t change from from one species to the next. The caterpillar always had the genes to grow wings, and from their first steps they know how to fly, even though they couldn’t.”

She turns to Cécilia, “I think it’s a lot like that. Parts of me are breaking down, disintegrating, melting away: but they are pieces that have to go so I can do what I always knew could.”

GM: “I’m sure you must have a lot of feelings around that,” Cécilia nods. “Caterpillars do what they do by instinct. But to any thinking, reasoning person, that sort of metamorphosis would be fraught with all sorts of emotions. Normal puberty is fraught with enough emotions already.”

“But these are changes that you want? That’s the important thing.”

Caroline: “I don’t know that it really matters. Change comes to is whether we want it or not, just like the caterpillar.”

Does she want Caroline to complain about her lot? Talk about how she barely recognizes herself in the mirror? About how with so many different titans pulling on her she wonders how she hasn’t come apart?

But then… that’s exactly what she wants, isn’t it?

Her shoulders sag from their haughty posture as she leans heavily on the lifelines.

“It’s a lot,” she tentatively admits.

GM: “I can only imagine how much it is. At least your sire hasn’t called you away yet.”

Caroline: It’s interesting, and faintly terrifying that he hasn’t. She’d presumed everything would change radically. This feels very much like the same with higher stakes.

“It’s been an unexpected blessing,” she agrees.

“Cécilia…” There’s not a good way to phrase this. “There’s no one else. No one else in my Requiem I trust to help be my rudder. Just you.”

“Maman, I know, will always seek that which makes me happy, which I want. But it’s… different.”

“You’re the last person with a human perspective. The last person with a conscience. Maybe the last person with a soul.”

“When I said earlier I didn’t want you to take the offered Embrace, I meant it for the reasons I said, but there was another, more selfish reason too.”

“I don’t want you to become like me, and I need you if I’m going to retain a piece of what I am… or at least what I’ve been.”

GM: “I don’t think that’s selfish,” says Cécilia. “Wanting to retain a conscience is exactly the opposite of selfish, in fact. Your conscience determines how you treat others. You’re telling me that you want to treat other people decently, and that you’re also self-aware enough to recognize you have problems doing that on your own.”

“So if I can help you, or rather, help you to help others, I’m happy to. That’s another reason to feel like saying no to Aunt Mur’s Embrace was a good decision.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, relief spreading across her face.

“It’s not my voice anymore, that I hear when I consider the ‘right’ thing. It’s yours. And without it…”

Bodies melting, purifying in free fall. Skulls bouncing around the deck. Skulls that are far too small. The scream of the Sabbat Priest as she tore his soul from him, tore it into pieces to consume.

“It’s so easy to take the simpler answer, the fast hour, the convenient answer.”

GM: “Do you feel like you’ve been able to resist doing that?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head.

“Not always.”

An understatement.

GM: “I’m sorry, that was a bad question. We’ve all had times we’ve fallen short. I think very few people could answer ‘yes’ without any caveats.”

“Most people would probably answer what you did, or ’I’ve tried to.’”

“What about more recently? How do you feel about yourself there, and taking the easy versus hard answer?”

Caroline: The yawning abyss.

“Maman offered me something. Something dark and terrible. And I wanted to take it so badly.”

She shudders.

“But I didn’t.”

“It was eye-opening, though, to the lengths she would go. It’s almost frightening, having someone that will give and take for you without limit.”

GM: “I was wondering when she would,” says Cécilia. “She’s done as much for me too, but I imagine the temptation was even greater for you.”

“I’m glad you were able to do the right thing.”

Caroline: “What did she do for you, did she offer you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “After Mercurial Fernandez harassed me outside of my apartment, Maman offered to kill him for me. Along with all of his family members and the gang he was associated with, to tie up loose ends, and to spare me from having to deal with the stress of getting the restraining order and wondering whether it would be effective.”

“Or I suppose, she didn’t offer to kill them, so much as state she was going to.”

“I asked her not to.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know if she’d have asked if Cécilia had been her sister then.

“You made the right choice. He was pathetic.”

GM: “I’m glad you think I did. Maman’s otherwise offered to kill a large number of people for me, when dealing with them was frustrating or inconvenient. Most of them didn’t do anything on the same scale to me that Mercurial Fernandez did.”

“I asked her not to kill any of them either.”

“She also offered to kill Emmett for me several times.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue on that particular point.

“They weren’t even people that did anything wrong. They were just… convenient to me. Or their deaths might have been.”

“But once you go down that path… every next time becomes easier.”

“I didn’t like what it would make me to you. Didn’t like the example it would set for Yvette.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “That’s the nature of any habit. Do anything enough times, and it becomes harder to stop.”

“But you’d still be my sister, whatever you might have decided.”

“I think you’re right to want to set a good example for Yvette. She’s going to need them.”

Caroline: “It would be very easy for all the power of the Embrace, and all that mother might offer, to lead her down a very dark path,” she agrees.

Like Caroline is one to talk.

GM: “It would. I said, earlier, that the Embrace takes a special sort of character. I think Yvette has that, but that it could also be very easy for her to lose sight of humanity.”

“She’s still going to look up to you. I imagine she’s going to want to spend a lot of time with you. So you might find a second source of strength in that—in being her role model.”

A pause. “Because I don’t think her sire and ‘stepfather’ are going to be, at least when it comes to maintaining her humanity. So that leaves you.”

Caroline: Another reason she has to ascend, to race to power. Influence over her sister aside, the balance of power between Caroline and McGinn, much less him and his harpy lover, is grotesquely skewed in his favor.

While she would rather cultivate a more cordial relationship, she’s always favored the Reaganeque line: ‘peace through strength.’ All the more so in a society of literal predators.

“And you,” Caroline offers. “You’ve helped pull her back before.”

GM: “I’ll continue do my best there. But my guess is Yvette will be completely enamored with the new world her sire brings her into. She’s only 18 and her brain isn’t fully developed. I’m ultimately a spectator to that world, whereas you’ll be able to share it all with her.”

Caroline: “I’ll always find time for her,” Caroline agrees. There’s an excitement there she can’t entirely hide.

GM: “You’re looking forward to that,” Cécilia smiles.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “If the opportunity presents, I’d love to introduce her to the world ahead of her Embrace.”

“I’d rather she go in with all eyes open and her first experience not at her sire’s tender hand.”

GM: “That sounds wise. Taking her to Elysium, or something else?”

Caroline: “Elysium perhaps,” Caroline agrees. “Though I don’t think I’d want her recognized. Things to consider.”

GM: “Her sire-to-be might not either,” Cécilia considers. “Though I suppose where else would you take her? Do Kindred tend to have public gatherings at other locations?”

Caroline: “I honestly don’t really know,” Caroline answers. “I’m sure there are more specialized social gatherings, but I didn’t exactly make many Kindred friends while I was on the warpath.”

GM: “I’m sorry. I’m sure more friends would have been helpful to have in so many ways.”

Caroline: Caroline waves a hand. “I made my bed… with some help. It’s water under the bridge now. Most of them would have been liabilities now.”

Like Jocelyn.

GM: “They would?” Cécilia sounds curious. “Maman tells me it’s typical for neonates to gather in coteries for mutual protection and support. She said it was mortal connections they usually try to keep secret.”

Caroline: “I’ve cut through entire coteries of young licks by myself, and I’m hardly the match of most powerful ones in the city.”

“I’m not saying friends won’t help, or even that I don’t want them, but of the available pool from where I was?” She shakes her head.

“Too many Jocelyns.”

GM: “Ah. I can see why you might have wanted to avoid that,” Cécilia frowns. “I suppose it doesn’t matter how old or capable your friends are if they’re setting themselves on fire at your house.”

“How are things with the two of you now, by the way?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t let the thought of Jocelyn’s demands linger, doesn’t let the memory of the Toreador all over her, shoving her blood in Caroline’s face, float on the surface for too long before she smothers it in the dark.

Who cares anyway—it’s hardly the first ‘bad’ sex she’s had in her life.

“It’s…” she shakes her head, “it’s fucked. The seneschal bid me to bring her back into the fold, so I did.”

She shakes her head again. “Maybe if I’m gone, if the blood has time to cool…”

Then, “She thinks she bound me to her.”

GM: “I suppose it’s no surprise she’d have wanted you both to be fully bound,” says Cécilia. “That must have made things feel even to her.”

“How does that make you feel?”

Caroline: “It’s all the bond,” Caroline declares angrily. “It’s all it ever was with her. Possession at best, infatuation. There’s nothing real there. But the seneschal says keep her around, and if I have to keep sleeping with her to make that happen, then so be it.”

GM: “That sounds terrible,” frowns Cécilia. “There has to be another way.”

“Of either satisfying his demand, or getting him to retract it.”

Caroline: “It’s fine,” Caroline states without passion. “At least there aren’t any illusions about what it is for me.”

“If I’m going to enter into a blood marriage with Primogen Poincaré, it’s all a moot point in the end anyway.”

GM: “Do you want to do that, either? You felt… interested, but also wary.”

“I can see why you would, on both counts.”

Caroline: “It serves my interests, his own, and also those of our aunt’s,” Caroline answers. “That there are preconditions I need to meet in personal growth and achievement to make it tenable is a problem I’ll get around.”

“I could do much worse. He’s a near-universally respected and powerful elder who could bring in an entire covenant. We could end the war before it started.” She describes it as though she’s describing a corporate merger.

GM: “I’ll pray that’s how it goes. I don’t want to lose you in a war.”

“But I suppose even if there is one, that’s all the more reason to need new allies. Your sire will be a huge loss to the Sanctified. The covenant will need to make up for that somehow. This could be a way to.”

Caroline: Somehow.

Even on the road she’s on, it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. No matter how many licks she consumes in New Orleans, it’ll still be centuries before she can actually stand in his place.

She’s not enough. And not because of a war with Savoy or the Baron.

“I need to know about her father. Maman’s.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “Mur and Maman obviously know more about him than me, but I’ll answer what I can.”

Caroline: “I think he’s stirring, under the Dungeon.” She bites her lip. “I fear that he’ll rise again when my sire falls.”

“I need to know the story of how he was defeated the first time, in France.”

GM: Cécilia gives a grim look. “That sounds consistent with everything else you and they said.”

“I don’t know that story, though. Much of what Mur and Maman said was new to me too. Maybe we can ask them?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t expect its a tale they want to tell, or that we’ll get it tomorrow, but… eventually.”

GM: “There’s time. Hopefully.”

Caroline: A nod to the darkness.

“All the time in the world, an eternity, and never enough.”

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Caroline VII, Chapter XIII
A Sister's Sacrifice

“Love is sacrifice.”
Abélia Devillers


Friday night, 11 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline is leaving Perdido House a few hours before dawn when the thirst strikes her. She is a bottomless pit nothing can fill. Every fiber of her being screams in want. She looks at Kâmil and Gisèlle and sees sacks of meat.

Then, she is filled.

She’s swallowing a mountain. She’s drinking an ocean. She’s inhaling a banquet. She is glutted and sated like never before. Laughter spills from her lips. Mad, rapturous, jubilous laughter. Power courses through her like lightning. She is invincible! Unstoppable! She can do anything! Anyth-

Then it fades, and she is Caroline again.

Caroline: Caroline stops dead in her tracks, overcome by the sensation. She wants to leap upon the elder ghouls and sink her teeth into their throats—it’s a cruel torment to be so full, so filled, and then return to what she is. She isn’t starving. She knows too well what that feels like. But the hunger is there in the back of her head, like always. For a brief moment, it wasn’t.

She is the scion of two dark powers. Only those two, certain, could make her feel what she did.

She reaches out to the one that has always been swifter to answer. The one that has always been there for her.

Mother?

GM: A booming voice that sounds like bones scraping across steel answers Caroline.

Return home tomorrow evening, sweet child. All shall be made clear.

Caroline: Yes, Maman.

She doesn’t know what this portends, and doesn’t press for more—she can wait the day. It sounds like good news, whatever it is.

God knows she could use some.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: The Walter Robinson House feels subtly different when Caroline returns. The cats animatedly play in the yard, despite the rain. They don’t seem to notice it. Caroline watches three of them, as one, pounce upon a bird and tear it to pieces. Wind whistles through grass that seems taller, fuller, almost ravenous in how it devours the falling rain. Light from the house’s windows cuts through the gloom like searchlights. Blacker than black shadows flow and ripple down the walls like like so much water. The front doors swing swiftly open to admit Caroline, then bang closed once she’s inside. There’s an almost jewel-like shine to the wooden floors. Lights burn in their holders like torches.

The Ventrue finds her mother seated in the living room, across from Cécilia. Her skin is milk white, her hair and garb darker than midnight. Her fathomlessly deep eyes flash like black diamonds. The room’s shadows writhe in equal parts ecstasy and horror as they flit in and out of Caroline’s sight.

“I am restored to the fullness of my powers. Emmett Delacroix has fulfilled his purpose. He shall not trouble our family again.”

Caroline: That much is apparent. Caroline isn’t certain she wants to know how.

She is certain that she doesn’t care. Her mother is restored. Her sisters are safe. Does anything else matter against that?

She asks about something less important.

“You have destroyed him, then?”

GM: Fluttering laughter answers Caroline’s query.

“Why, of course not. He has rendered our family a great service.”

“Great service merits great rewards.”

“I have given him what he most desired.”

Caroline: Emmett Delacroix destroyed his own life, Caroline cannot help but observe. She remembers that story from Denise, no doubt since become legend in New Orleans’ legal community, about the defendant who pointlessly heckled the judge who’d already signed off on his plea deal (and subsequently received the maximum sentence instead). She remembers Luke’s off-hand mention about a “drug deal turned massacre” that cost the petty grifter his legs. Emmett, Caroline reflects, was not a particularly good judge of what was good for him.

And her mother gave him the thing he most wanted? She can’t see that working out well.

She also can’t think of a better resolution to that problem. Emmett only seemed like he had the potential to be a headache, for all that he might have said about wanting to be friends. She especially did not like the thought of his continued involvement with Cécilia.

That her mother extracted something of value from Emmett only raises her estimation of Abélia’s abilities. It seemed like everyone else who got involved with the conman got caught in the blast radius when his latest scheme blew up.

Then again, she considers smugly, Emmett bit off far more than he could chew with her family.

“I’m glad,” she says simply.

And she is.

GM: Her mother’s answering smile is radiant.

“Now, on to more matters of greater import.”

Abélia rouses the other girls from their bedrooms and declares they are to spend the evening “under ocean stars.” Despite the late hour, all of them seem excited by the prospect and all-too glad to get out of the house; Abélia says they’ll simply sleep aboard the yacht if their voyage takes overlong. She reminds her children to wear beach-friendly shoes.

Caroline: Getting away from the city will help her clear her mind, and getting her sisters out of the house is a victory all its own.

A victory, and a celebration.

GM: The family of seven files out to their car and drives to the city’s docks. The yacht, a tall, spacious, and sleek-looking white vessel named Nyx, is swiftly crewed and in readiness. Cécilia’s bodyguard Daniel turns out to be a useful additional crewmate after his time in the Navy. Caroline may wonder if it should take longer to get a yacht seaworthy, but recalls back to Cécilia’s words:

“You’ll find that things simply… happen around Maman, and everything sorts itself out.”

The two-deck vessel swiftly cuts through the Gulf of Mexico’s midnight waters, leaving a spray of dark surf in its wake. New Orleans is not a cold city, but the open ocean at night is rarely anything besides chilly, and the girls all put on their coats as they stride about the deck.

Caroline may think, too, back to her faux-sire’s words on the dangers of travel between cities. Rarely have her surroundings felt so dark and exposed. Black skies stretch endlessly above. Black waters lap endlessly ahead and behind. The Nyx sails alone in a void. It is easy to wonder for Caroline to wonder what strange terrors haunt the seas in this world of darkness she is still so new to. The ocean is not her kind’s domain.

Yet, whatever may be out there, can it be any more terrible than the darkness already aboard?

Caroline: Caroline adds no such coat, and her vision cuts through the night more clearly than theirs. The sea stretches outwards to forever.

She doesn’t remember the last time she went out on a boat. Certainly years. As the city’s lights fade, the light of the stars is all the clearer.

GM: The other girls don’t remark on Caroline’s lack of coat, not when their mother also goes without. Caroline recalls hearing from another Blackwatch employee who served in the Navy that all vessels 60 feet or longer are required to broadcast a white, red, and green light after sundown, but the Nyx remains as lightless as her namesake. Abélia watches the ocean without speaking for some time, her dark eyes patiently swallowing in dark sea.

Caroline: “It reminds me of you.” Caroline finally breaks the silence.

“Unknowable and unimaginably vast, with depths so dark no light will ever touch them. Eternal. Something others can only rest upon lest they be swallowed up by it.” She looks at her mother with eyes that see her so well in the night.

GM: Her mother gives a fluttering laugh.

“Such sweet things you say, my child. If I am the ocean, then I would liken you unto a smartly captained sailing vessel. Swift and sure and sleek, turned aside by neither storm nor leviathan in its unerring sojourn. Something that knows well the dangers in those sojourns, but which undertakes them regardless, knowing they must be made.”

She smiles and stares back out across the midnight sea.

“Neptune and I are not boon companions, but neither are we strangers. Nyx is most at home within his embrace.”

Caroline: “Your touch extends further and further,” Caroline observes, wondering if the vessel is touched by her as the Walter Robinson House is.

“Or maybe I only see more clearly.”

“I think the most talented kine might be a captain on your sea—always subject to your mercy, no matter how wise he may be. We, I think,” she gestures to her sisters across the ship, “are creatures in that dark embrace.”

GM: “All that we touch bears something of ourselves, my dear. All that I touch bears something of me.”

Her mother smiles.

“Seth’s children may be sea captains at most. But you, my treasure, are a hungry shark. These waters are your home. You do not fear their embrace. They are what gives you life.”

Caroline: A smile in turn.

GM: The Nyx’s voyage comes to an end at Grand Isle, a resort island and vacation spot known for its long sandy beaches. Caroline went there a few times in her youth, and recalls it as the initial setting of The Awakening, one of New Orleans’ better-known novels. Abélia carries Simmone after they get off.

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Caroline: Caroline slips off her heels, trusting undead vigor against the beach’s hazards, such as they are.

GM: The seven split up, after that. Yvette and Yvonne go for a walk south. Adeline takes Noelle north. The remaining four Devillers proceed on foot towards the family’s beachfront property, a rectangular-shaped and austerely decorated house built on stilts as a flooding precaution. It’s not so spacious as the Walter Robinson House, but has two stories and rooms enough for everyone if a few people share.

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“Be kind, my dear,” says Abélia as they proceed up the front steps.

“Be kind, but do not pity.”

Caroline: An odd warning, but Caroline accepts the wisdom for what it is.

Everything her mother does has a purpose.

GM: The four head inside, Simmone carried by Abélia. The house’s lights are off, but it’s only after they reach the second story that Caroline becomes aware she cannot see into the darkness.

It swallows them whole. Abélia alone seems unbothered and able to find her way. She opens a door with a faint creek.

Caroline: It’s not the first time, but it’s still unsettling. She’s become accustomed to the darkness being friendly.

GM: “Close it, Abélia,” sounds a voice. “Close it at once. I don’t like the light. You know I don’t like the light.”

The voice is needful, strained, and demanding. It reminds Caroline of her Aunt Vera’s.

“Of course, my dearest.”

Abélia’s voice doesn’t sound like it normally does. There’s no trace of knowing humor or indulgence to it, no mirth that Caroline can picture glinting in those dark eyes.

Instead she sounds subdued. Almost… humble.

The door closes. The light dies.

“Hmph. So this is the newest,” says the Vera-like voice. “Come closer, girl, let me look at you.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t shiver: the dead don’t do that. Nor does she hesitate: no childe or child of her distinguished pedigree could be permitted that.

She turns as best she can towards the voice in the darkness and advances into the black, still on bare feet, heels in hand.

GM: Caroline neither hears nor sees anything through the gloom. Just Cécilia’s and Simmone’s steady heartbeats.

“Hmph,” the voice repeats after another moment.

“I hadn’t thought to see another of his Blood. She looks enough like your others.”

“She’s going to get even taller, isn’t she? She shouldn’t be too tall.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent, chin tilted slightly up.

GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh. It’s a shared-feeling one.

“Perhaps against her sire, but she shall not long stand beside him. It pleases me to see her stand strong and tall.”

“Hmph. She’s proud enough. I suppose it’s fitting,” says the voice.

“Introduce us, girl. We haven’t all night.” The voice sounds further away from Caroline now. Closer to Cécilia.

“Of course,” Cécilia answers demurely. “Caroline, this is… Aunt Mur.”

“Aunt Mur-”

“I know who she is, girl.”

Caroline: A flash of irritation as her sister is talked down to, but she remembers Abélia’s guidance.

“It is my sincere pleasure to meet you, I had not hoped it would be so soon.”

GM: “Hmph. You’ve laid eyes on me before, but I suppose this is our first proper meeting.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head, contemplative. Only one instance leaps to mind.

GM: “Ah… perhaps you’ve deduced where, my dear? We should be very impressed if you have,” smiles Abélia.

Caroline: “Beneath the Dungeon?” Tentative.

GM: Laughter at that, from Mur’s voice. Bitter and biting and bleak.

“Oh, my sister… "

A fainter sound of mirth from Caroline’s mother.

“Not quite, my dear… but a mere stone’s throw from the truth, and deep is the irony.”

“My sister’s manners may be ungentle to your ears, but know there is no other in all Creation who has rendered our family greater service. Without my sister’s sacrifice, I would not stand before you tonight.”

“Without all that she surrendered unto me, during my hour of greatest need, your sisters would never have been born.”

Caroline: “A kind lie may sound sweeter to some ears than a harsh truth, but I am familiar enough with both that neither sting mine,” Caroline answers, orienting on Mur’s voice. “I took no offense, Mother.”

“And given what you’ve said, even were that untrue, I have every reason to forgive any offense I might take.”

GM: “Hmph. She’s properly grateful, at least,” says Mur.

“It is time you learned, my dears, something more of where our family comes from,” says Abélia, stroking the back of Caroline’s head.

“And something more of where it will go.”

Caroline: The spark of curiosity those words ignite is so bright it’s a wonder it doesn’t send Caroline’s aunt into flight.

GM: “Your aunt and I were born and baptized in darkness long ago, in a land far across the sea. Our father, your grandfather, was a figure of such wickedness that his mere steps blackened the earth and caused it to cry out for relief. What cruelties you have known among Caine’s children, and what cruelties you believe me capable of, are as a child’s playtime fancies against the evils of which he was capable.”

“Such darkness is not meant to exist within your world, my dears. The laws of this realm cannot abide it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And so you exist outside of this world, pulled only piece by piece into it.”

GM: “Yes… and no, my treasure. Though your description of my being is apt, my father’s seed did not make me as I now am.”

“Hmph. Directly,” amends Mur. “We’re all slaves and pawns, in the end.”

“Don’t ever think you’re free, child,” she addresses Caroline. “There’s always another hand pulling your strings. Likely since before you were ever born.”

Caroline: “We all serve the ends of others. The best we can hope is to serve our own as well,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Slaves we are all born, yet some forms of bondage are heavier to bear than others,” continues Abélia. “For ages beyond count, we were your grandfather’s thralls and playthings. What evils he did not visit upon the world, he visited upon us… and our siblings. I know of none who yet survive. Malice such as his cannot exist without outlet.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers. She can imagine quite a bit of suffering, but doesn’t doubt her mother when she says it was beyond her imagining.

GM: “Our only respite lay in one another. Through a sister’s love alone did we survive. It was in one another’s embrace that we each dried a sister’s tears, comforted her hurts, and plotted her escape.”

“Your grandfather’s evil could not exist without consequence. He exhaled it with every breath like a wyrm of legend. Eventually, powers besides he could suffer it no longer, and marshaled a great host against him.”

“I need not tell you they paid dearly for their choice, nor did they—could they—expect the toll in suffering and death that his fall would exact. Yet in the end, he succumbed before their numbers. They leveled his fortress, scattered its stones, salted its earth, and stationed a guard to watch for any hint of his return.”

“His evils were not paltry in their ambitions. His foes believed the rot within the Holy Mother Church had at last been cut out. The great heresy was finally cleansed.”

Caroline: “The Cathars,” Caroline speculates.

GM: “Heresy has existed for as long as faith, my child, and manifests in many strains. The Cathars were not born from aether.”

“My sister and I fled the ruins of his dark kingdom, and believed our existences to at last be our own. Many years passed, and many tales for other times, before our fates took us across the sea.”

Caroline: It matches the Catharite heresies, though. She wonders if the seat wasn’t Béziers. The slaughter there might match such a horrific conflict. She did her homework after their first meeting.

GM: “There we learned one is never free in the Jyhad.”

“There our father stood returned to us, arms spread wide to reclaim his wayward daughters.”

“Such despair had we never known after freedom’s sweet taste.”

Caroline: “The wheel always turns, and too often with us upon it.”

GM: “Verily, my dear. Bitterly, we submitted to him, lest his wheel crush us under foot.”

“But we had long savored freedom’s taste, by now, and we would not have it stolen from our lips. In secret did we plot against him, and wait until the moment when the wheel would again turn.”

“Our father had not been idle in the New World. New designs did he weave and new kingdoms did he plot to raise.”

“Their fulfillment would have been unto Hell on Earth. Only one being stood in the way of our father’s darkest dreams. A rival of power sufficient to challenge even his might.”

“Our father lay plans to destroy his nemesis. One last war in which we would serve as his captains.”

“The two generals and their armies met upon the field of battle. It was then, as our father and his rival clashed—when he needed our aid as he had never needed it before—that we drove our knives into his back.”

“This time did we make doubly sure the deed was done. This time did we leave nothing to chance. We destroyed him utterly and cast his remains beyond our world, so that a new taint might not fester and take root upon its soil.”

“Once more, we were free.”

Caroline: Was the foe to their father her sire?

This story takes shape through before her, not in the murky antiquity, but a past more recognizable.

“I always thought I was missing pieces,” she admits. “But I simply did not see how they fit together.”

GM: “It is rare that one may possess every piece, my dear. Yet we often possess a great many more than we believe.”

“We made our homes within the city of La Nouvelle-Orleans. We allowed none to know our pasts—not our service to our father, and not that we were sisters.”

“All whom we believed suspected the truth, we slew.”

“All who threatened my sister’s sons, I slew.”

“In anonymity would we shield our family.”

“None suspected we each had a silent guardian angel sitting upon our shoulder.”

Caroline: It’s a happy end to the story, but Caroline knows it cannot, does not, end there.

GM: “My sister’s sons had sons of their own, and so too did those sons have sons, and so on down the line. Yet a rot grew within the city’s heart. One familiar to us, and yet other… had we underestimated this place, this city where the very air reeks of possibility and power?”

“Only until it was too late did we realize our fatal error.”

“Perhaps nowhere was there more fertile soil to plant the seeds of our doom.”

“Our father had many servants. Many slaves. They were drawn to his resting place like moths to a flame.”

“Only when we prepared to journey in force to the site of our father’s remains did she reveal her presence—and strike.”

“Caught by surprise, betrayed in my own hour of greatest need, I could not withstand her. She slew me.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face twists into an ugly snarl, showing teeth. Those words hurt her to even hear.

She turns back into the darkness, to her aunt. “And so you passed beyond the veil to aid her?”

GM: “She did, my dear.”

“But such aid cost her. Such aid cost her dearly. Even now does she continue to pay its price.”

Caroline: Yes, she cannot imagine such a thing was free.

GM: “Nor was it so simple a thing as one sister’s sacrifice to bring another sister back.”

Caroline: “You required anchors to this world… and she had to give up many of her own,” Caroline speculates, her mother’s invasive metaphysical lesson filling in the gaps.

GM: “One must maintain an equilibrium, my dear. One cannot get something for nothing.”

“What must one sacrifice to forestall annihilation?”

Caroline: “So you both exist in this half existence,” Caroline jumps ahead. “A foot in this world and one in another.”

“And you must pay a price for that existence.” The image of the souls devoured by her mother.

GM: "Ah, clever girl… " purrs Abélia.

“Yes… for each sister, one half of herself was the necessary sacrifice.”

“But there are many pieces that constitute our selves, and the sisters did not sacrifice the same halves.”

“One maintains a foot in this world, and a foot in another.”

“But the other sister left this world only briefly, and has remained here all the while. Another price was hers to pay.”

Caroline: Her children? Caroline doesn’t want to say it out loud.

The silence is pregnant with tragedy to come. She does not imagine her aunt would be here, living off the coast alone in the dark, if the story had any happy ending.

GM: Light suddenly blossoms amidst the gloom. Caroline sees a woman, radiant in her beauty. Soft brown ringlets of hair cascade down her back. Clear and warm blue eyes smile out from under long, coal-black lashes. Her skin is pale, but not so pale one might think her dead. She’s dressed in mid-19th century apparel: a light pink dress with the period’s telltale corset and hoop skirt. A jeweled choker set with pearls gleams around her throat. Admirers kiss her hand and ply her with compliments as she smiles demurely, glibly turning back every word of praise into one that reflects even brighter upon its bestower. Caroline’s sire asks if he might have the honor of this next dance, and she does not refuse him. The pair glide off like phantoms into the gloom.

Caroline’s sire disappears. Another hand takes the woman’s. It’s Abélia’s, but she looks different. Feels different. It’s hard to say how. It’s like looking at her through a mirror, rather than seeing the real her. The image feels somehow less present than it should be,

The sisters hold one another’s hands, then the black-haired one cries out as black blood wells from her neck, her wrists, her torso, her shoulders, everywhere. Taloned hands embrace Abélia against their owner as she drinks blissfully. Caroline remembers that face out of her darkest nightmares.

White, red, and black are her colors. Dark-feathered wings unfurl from her back like a fallen angel’s. Wickedly lethal claws protrude from her fingertips. Curved, ram-like horns jut from her temples. Shock-white hair elaborately looped around a thin golden crown falls to her ankles. A king’s ransom in jewels glitters from the crown. Objects that men covet enough to kill and die for are the only physical matter worthy to adorn her perfect form. Otherwise, she wears her nakedness like a regal vestment. Her every glance and motion distorts the air with shimmering, nigh-tangible waves of pleasure. It is only when one stares into her eyes that rapture chills into terror. Solid, milk-white orbs burn with colorless fire, eternally fed but never sated.

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Caroline: Caroline’s fingernails bite into her palms hard enough to draw blood as she watches, helpless.

She didn’t think she could hate her more, but she’d been wrong.

Death was too gentle a fate. She wishes she’d rent her soul.

GM: The raven-haired sister’s face sloughs off, revealing empty void underneath. Her flesh liquefies into a viscous, oil-like substance that runs down the Catharite’s chest like hot wax. Yet even as Caroline’s mother loses form and substance, the Catharite’s embrace holds her fast. The Dungeon’s mistress will not be denied her fill.

She drinks deeply, drinks past all satiation, drinks to consume her victim utterly. Whatever manner of entity Caroline’s mother may be, the Ventrue recognizes the same fate she visited upon her clanmate. Abélia’s scream curdles blood and chills marrow with its agony. She is not long for this world.

The brown-haired sister, standing a thousand miles away in the gloom, plunges a knife into her own heart and falls to her knees. The blood rushing into the Catharite’s mouth turns from black to red.

What’s left of Abélia’s essence drains away into the void, perhaps not to safety, but no longer towards annihilation.

The Catharite drinks ravenously. As Caroline watches, the brown-haired sister wilts like a rose without sun. Her hair loses its luster, her eyes their color, her skin its lifelike smoothness. Her smile dies as her gaze empties away to nothing, little more than a corpse in a pretty dress.

“Death would be kinder,” says a voice over the corpse.

“Useless relic.”

“Should have left her childe to run things.”

“Should have never woken up.”

“…an embarrassment… undid all she ever accomplished… "

“…should have stayed asleep.”

“Should have just died.”

Caroline gazes down upon where a kingdom should be and feels only emptiness, a void in her heart and soul that will never be filled. All is empty. All is ruined. All lies in darkness and shadow.

The corpse’s image fades out.

And the darkness recedes, just enough, to show the face of Caroline’s aunt.

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“Love is sacrifice—” intones Abélia,

-compelled by blood-” continues Pearl Chastain,

“—and requited in blood,” finish both sisters.

Abélia’s hand rests heavily upon Caroline’s shoulder.

“Do you understand, my treasure?” she whispers.

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“Family is the only thing that matters. No matter the cost.”

She looks upon her aunt with fresh eyes. Even when the cost is everything else. Pearl, who she once considered a target for diablerie. Pearl, mocked and derided across the city. Pearl, who paid that price without hesitation. Pearl, who she might have even called a failure, who was in truth the greatest story of success, of love, of fidelity, of sacrifice.

Sacrifice.

She feels the bounds between her and her sisters tighten, can almost pluck out those inky black ties between them with the naked eye. She can feel them out there, and brushing against it fills her with joy and pride.

A family worthy of the word. Worthy of being a part of. It’s a pleasure entirely different than the ecstasy of the kiss, or the rapture that was diablerie. It’s something more permanent, warmer, more satisfying.

Caroline’s gaze settles on her aunt. “I understand that all of this is thanks to you, that everything I am or will be is possible only thanks to you.”

She goes down to her knees before her aunt, takes her hand, and presses cold dead lips to cold dead flesh. “And though you did not do it for me or my thanks, that you have it, now and forever.”

Not pity. She doesn’t pity her aunt for what became of her. Pity is a function of regret or even judgment, and she knows there is none here.

Her aunt, Pearl, Mur, whatever she would name herself, made her decision, the right one, one that Caroline has no judgment of, only admiration.

Still, even as be pays her tribute to her aunt, more questions arise. Was her mother then known as Maria Pascual?

GM: Caroline’s hand passes through Pearl’s like it’s not there. Still, the mirage-like hand makes a motion as if to take hers. The Ventrue recovers her footing quickly enough as she plants a kiss upon where cold dead flesh should be.

Pearl’s malaisful and unsmiling expression does not change, but Caroline can feel her mother’s and sister’s approval at her words. At length, the Toreador replies,

“You have done my sister and I a great service, childe. It is we who must thank you—and have.”

“To have saved my daughters’ lives was laudable, and won you our family’s friendship,” concurs Abélia. “But it was by your hand that the first third of our vengeance is now realized. By your hand, our nemesis is naught but ash.”

“That was when I knew, my dear. That was when I knew you should not be merely friend to our family, but one of our family.”

Caroline: “Nothing pleases me more,” Caroline replies.

She tilts her head. “And the other two-thirds?”

GM: Cécilia offers Caroline a hand to help her rise.

“That is for the future, sweet child,” their mother replies. “But not so distant a future.”

Caroline: Caroline takes Cécilia’s hand, with a final nod to her aunt.

GM: Cécilia squeezes hers back.

“There are plans we would lay tonight to realize that future, and things your aunt would speak with us of.”

Caroline: “As you say, Mother.”

GM: Pearl’s form fades into the black once more.

“Rot eats away at the core of the Sanctified’s strength,” she states. “Prince Vidal’s time will soon pass, and a new prince must reign.”

“Yet the old prince’s time may pass sooner than many anticipate, were certain improprieties to come to light.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses. “Evan.”

GM: “Your investigations into the boy’s fate are known to me, childe. There is little my eldest childe does not inform me of, nor am I so indifferent to events as many believe me.”

“Evan Bourelle sought sanctuary from Alder Accou on the night of his final death.”

Caroline: “He was pursued by the Hussar,” Caroline fills in.

GM: “Bourelle perished before he reached his destination,” states Pearl. “Yet the boy used a mobile telephone to contact a servant of my kin. Alder Accou has erased that knowledge from her mind.”

“The recording you now hear is of Bourelle’s final moments.”

“Listen. I don’t, I don’t have much time,” sounds a young man’s panicked voice. Distant footsteps thump against pavement. Caroline feels like the erstwhile Storyville should sound winded, wheezing for breath, but he’s dead. Was dead.

“I’ve found something. Something… oh, god. This is bad. This is really bad.”

Footsteps thump louder. There’s a metallic-sounding crash. Muffled cursing.

“I need to see the primogen. I need to see him, right now.”

Avian caws sound in the background.

“Shit!”

“He’s here! I’m, I’m ditching this phone-”

Louder caws. Another crash.

“Tell Roxanne… I love her-”

Caroline: Caroline listens in silence. She’d feared as much, after Jocelyn’s furious revelation to her.

She hadn’t exactly lied to Roxanne or Jocelyn when she pointed the finger at Meadows, but there had always been a second candidate in her mind.

GM: There’s an audible clatter. Evan’s voice sounds again, more distant, barely audible.

“Wait, sto-!”

Silence follows.

There’s more distant caws. Footsteps.

Indistinct noises.

There’s no neat and clean ending. The phone’s sounds simply die as Pearl’s voice resumes,

“Given the tenor of this exchange, I am under no illusions as to the whereabouts of Evan Bourelle: he is but shadows and dust.”

“Whatever the boy saw, it almost certainly pertained to someone close to Prince Vidal, if not the prince himself.”

“Had it pertained to Savoy or the Baron, Bourelle would have gone to his beloved prince.”

“Had it pertained to the Invictus, I do not believe Bourelle would have come to Alder Accou at all.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, considering. Finally she states, “It was disclosed to me that the prince has made habit of inviting a group of neonates to the outskirts of the city on a regular basis.”

GM: The darkness hangs pregnant and heavy at the Ventrue’s words.

Caroline: “I think I need not give voice to—and will not give voice to—the implications of that,” she continues less comfortably.

GM: “The Storyville Krewe are now all but gone,” states Pearl.

“Baker alone remains.”

Caroline: “I have a plan for that,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Speak, childe.”

Caroline: “Prince Vidal desperately needs to add to the Sanctified’s numbers, and to remind others that the prince’s justice is just that—just.”

“I would propose after the next great roundup of the dredges—Mardi Gras, Decadence—that from among them a group be spared and united to hunt down their sires. Kindred of no means given a place and a purpose, and a new lease on life by the prince’s mercy even as his justice comes to their sires.”

“If such an enterprise were led by the prince’s childe, I think that narrative only all the stronger… and if it produces a fresh group of neonates of no standing… if that is what he requires.”

GM: “Tread carefully, my dear,” states Abélia. “Such a coterie is likely to draw your sire’s eye indeed, if our suspicions are correct… but should he suspect you of having any such inkling, I cannot predict how he might respond in his present frame of mind.”

“I think the idea has merit,” Cécilia speaks up. “For all of the reasons Caroline lists. I don’t imagine her sire would have much reason to be suspicious if she were to establish it… but it might be safe for her to stay a degree removed. A sponsor or patron, maybe, more than a direct leader.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I would aid them, perhaps even direct, but I have greater aspirations than to lead such a band directly.”

GM: “One offers alms to wretches, but one does not invite them in to sup at one’s table,” Pearl concurs.

“But as to the larger matter of your sire.”

“I value propriety, Miss Malveaux. I remember the nights when simply being one of the Kindred implied a certain sophistication and sense of rightness—especially for my own clan. There are some Cainites who refer to the Jyhad as the Great Game. If the Jyhad is indeed but a game, then it is one which must be played a certain way, by certain rules. I do not look kindly upon those who cast aside its rules. I look favorably upon those who follow and respect them.”

“Despite my differences with your sire and the seneschal, I have always credited them with numbering among the latter. My support was integral to your sire’s seizure of praxis, and he has always treated with me the dignity such support merits.”

“For all his foibles, Augusto Vidal has done a serviceable job of maintaining my city’s character over the years, and I will be twice damned if I see it pass into the hands of a common-born usurper or a negro shaman—whatever the debts my sister might owe him.”

“Yet your sire’s continued rule is unacceptable to me for any period longer than a provisional one, given the implications of Bourelle’s final death. I would not be lonely among the primogen in this sentiment. Were the information we have discussed to come to light, it would spell a death blow to Prince Vidal’s reign.”

“As would the truth of your own appetites, Miss Malveaux, should you harbor ambitions to succeed your sire,” Pearl says severely.

“There are no secrets between my sister and I.”

“You are her daughter and have done our family a great service. For those reasons, I shall disclose your crime to none beyond this room.”

“Yet it is plain to me that you require guidance and an enduring example if such episodes are to become youthful indiscretions and not a Requiem’s deathlong habits.”

“Just as it is plain to me that your sire requires an imminent successor when his seneschal is unable to serve.”

“I offer your sire my eldest childe’s hand in blood marriage to his youngest childe. Many know already that my eldest aspires to the princedom. Fewer know that he enjoys my support. He is loyal and honorable, and I will not see his fidelity go unrewarded. Prince Malveaux-Devillers and Prince Poincaré shall jointly rule La Nouvelle-Orléans in marriage of the First and Second Estates. With the support of the Invictus, the Sanctified may at last crush the pretenders who aspire to a throne that is not theirs, and usher in a new era of peace and tranquility for my beloved city.”

Caroline: Pearl’s words are slaps to the face. First, about her sire, blow after blow to the integrity of his reign, and assaults on his character, on what he has become. They hit like the backhands of a boxer, and part of her longs to snarl out a rebuke.

But there’s truth in them. Truths she knew before she even set foot in here. Truths she might ignore for love, for fidelity, but that others will not. Emotionally, she wants to lash out. Logically, the words build an airtight wall around her that spells out the truth in each brick: the end is near for the prince’s reign.

Her rebuke of Caroline’s own crime is no less sharp. If she had been raised by lesser parents from lesser stock, they might bring stinging tears to her eyes. As is, she accepts them in the spirit with which they are offered: the truth can cut so very deeply, but like the cuts of a surgeon it is sometimes necessary.

The rebukes are too cutting to simply be one from her aunt, and propriety has its place with this elder.
“Primogen Chastain, I will take the offer to him if it is your wish, when you judge the time is right. To stand beside a Kindred of such distinction and honor would be more than politically expedient—his legacy speaks for itself—and for you. I could ask for no better pairing.”

Ask for, but perhaps not desire. There’s at least one other that dances tantalizingly out of reach.

“I would judge such an offer may be poorly received this night by my sire, however, and several yet to come, until my own worth in his eyes is solidified, and he may see me as a blessing and not a betrayal.”

“As my Aunt Mur, I would offer a more personal assurance: I have no more desire to be a slave to baser appetites now than I ever held in life. In fact, my appetites have never trended to the indulgent or hedonistic.”

“All I have done, and all I have sought to do, has been in the pursuit of being what others have wanted of me: first my father’s daughter, then my sire’s childe, and of late too, my mother’s daughter.”

“I sought not petty revenge, nor pleasure, only the strength to survive what is to come, and to be more than a princess of spun glass surrounded by knights of steel, one hard enough to survive the chaos and violence I fear will come when he goes to his rest, and who might place well terror into the hearts of any who sought to harm my family.”

“In tying my Requiem to my sisters’ lives, and my mother’s, I fear I have put them in danger, and I would that they never be forced to make the same sacrifice as you did for me. To that end, there was no weapon I did not seek to wield.”

“If the price of that is the crown my sire might pass, it is a price I would as gladly pay for them that price as you did for your own sister.”

“There was a time my highest and only aspiration was to bring credit to my sire, to be the childe he always desired. That desire rests near to my heart, but it is not all I can or would define myself by.”

GM: “You have encouraged her in this belief, sister?” asks Pearl, her voice low. “You whose soul has felt the amaranth’s bite?”

“Yes,” Abélia answers simply. “It is pleasing to me that my daughter is strong, sister. Strength is her birthright. Strength is her deathright. I hope to see many more Cainites fall beneath her fangs so that their strength might add to her own. She will need it in the nights ahead.”

“Pfah! There is no propriety in foul amaranth, childe,” Pearl rebukes. “One thickens one’s vitae at the debasement of one’s spirit. Ask your sisters which they would rather you were richer in, if their welfare concerns you so. I see my childe will still have a great deal of propriety to instill in you.”

Caroline: Many more Cainites. That is a terrifying thought.

“There is no propriety is falling beneath the sheriff’s blade, primogen, if it is a price to be paid by others,” Caroline answers in turn. “And I fear that is the most certain outcome this night. I would not place my propriety over the lives of my sisters.”

“Were I to have died alone, I would have met my fate with all the grim resolve you might admire, but my mother has given me more something else to fight for.”

GM: Caroline can feel the elder’s scowl.

“Perhaps a conversation for another night, Aunt Mur?” Cécilia offers demurely.

“Hmph,” Pearl replies. “I suppose we haven’t all night. As to the matter of broaching my gracious offer to your sire, childe. The seneschal has our prince’s ear as no other Cainite does. Convince him of the proposal’s merits, and he shall convince your sire.”

Caroline: “Are the prince and seneschal aware of our ties, primogen?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They are.”

Caroline: “Then I shall broach the matter with him when the moment seems most opportune,” Caroline replies. “I do not expect selling the virtues of your childe to be a difficult matter, primogen.”

“And I will retain hope that me might join me in time to lead me along a path that will bring you satisfaction and pride both as my aunt and as Primogen Chastain.”

GM: “I do as well, childe. I would prefer that your sire recognized the merits of this course of action, and displayed that he still knows how proper Kindred behave. I value propriety, as I have said. It is my wish that the city’s rightful prince give his blessing to your union with my childe.”

Caroline: Prefer, but not required. It is not lost upon her that her aunt is by acclaim every bit as old and close to Caine as her sire. Should the prince decline, could the seneschal resist such a course of action alone?

She has no reservations as to the elder’s childe’s honor, or power, or even charm. Not even the pettiness of skin color stirs her concern. But she does recall the words of the seneschal, as to the perception of neonates that cleave to elders among those elders—and Poincaré is very much an elder.

Her aunt might name them princes both in name, bound in blood marriage, but such a union would be one-sided indeed this night. She has little interest in being the damsel in any story, much less the lesser partner in any union.

GM: That much, at least, she can imagine her sire would approve of.

“Several further matters remain before us, my dear,” states Abélia.

“My youngest childe, Lady Adelais, has lost a wager with her husband Lord Pierpont," says Pearl. "Under its terms, she is to Embrace a childe.”

“This presents us with an opportunity, sweet child," continues Abélia. “You require allies in the nights ahead… not merely patrons such as we, but Kindred who might fight beside you and more closely share in your struggles and triumphs.”

“There are three options before us… not all of which are exclusive.”

Caroline: That Lady Adelais seemed not the least impressed with her she leaves unsaid. Too that McGinn’s racism is unlikely to look kindly on her blood marriage to his own (black) rival.

Neither her mother nor aunt are fools—they know of whom they speak better than she.

GM: “The first is for Yvette to receive Lady Adelais’ Embrace. She has expressed dissatisfaction at mortal career paths, and I believe her temperament well-suited for the Requiem. You shall have a loyal ally, immediately, who may grow in power over the coming years."

“Our second recourse is to wait… for another sire.” Caroline’s mother smiles at her knowingly. “Perhaps another suitable one shall make him or herself known, in a few years."

Caroline: The baring of her fangs is almost involuntary at that. That someone else, anyone else, might fucking presume to sink their fangs into her sister for any reason.

But the idea isn’t as ugly as it might at first appear. The idea of Yvette’s Embrace is not a new one to her, and with Adelais as a sire few would dare touch her sister.

GM: Abélia gives a fluttering laugh. “Ah, such fierceness! I’ve little doubt you would shepherd our Yvette through the Requiem’s perils with more concern than Lady Adelais… and guard her with greater zeal.”

“But as to our third recourse.”

“I could accept the Embrace,” says Cécilia. “From Aunt Mur, rather than Lady Adelais. I’ve told you how Maman asked me earlier, if I wanted the Embrace, and I said no.” Caroline’s sister pauses. “But things are different now, than when she first asked. You’re my sister now, you’re in danger. You could use more allies. My Blood would be as close to Caine as yours, if Aunt Mur Embraced me—there’s a lot I might be able to do to help you, that I can’t as a human."

Caroline: Caroline can’t see her sister in the gloom, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know where she is.

She spins on a dime at that suggestion to face Cécilia.

Her initial reaction is even stronger than it was to the idea of Yvette’s Embrace at Adelais’ hands:

No.

She doesn’t even mean to send it, but it ripples with the forceful denial through the bond.

Possibilities, visions of a future, dance across her mind in the split second it takes to consider it before she speaks. A night with Cécilia, some wicked kine caught between the two. A decade from now, both as flawless as they are in this moment, and another decade, and another decade. An eternity with Cécilia beside her to share it with. Cécilia, every bit as powerful in the Blood as she is—might of body to match her might of spirit. Cécilia with her dancing in the clouds.

They aren’t unattractive visions.

But they are selfish ones. She bites her lower lip, gathers her thoughts for a moment, and continues in a more reserved, composed tone.

“Cécilia, I’m humbled that you would even suggest such a thing—and an eternity with you is one I’d happily share—but you refused for your own reasons the first time, and good ones.”

“I know you’d do anything for me—for any of us—but you don’t have to do that unless you want it for good reasons of your own. This is a path I am already on, and I will take any twist necessary on it to let you pursue the path you desire.”

God, though, there’s something tempting in the idea that gnaws at her reservations. The idea of Cécilia growing old, or being struck down by some pathetic kine illness, or being helpless before another Kindred is terrifying to her. And as Pearl’s childe? The world would be her oyster.

GM: The strength of Caroline’s denial feels as if it rocks Cécilia back on her feet.

Perhaps some of those visions make their way across the bond, too, when her sister answers,

“I can see you’re right that it would make you happy. And that is important to me, Caroline. Just as much as keeping you safe. The Requiem seems so lonely and unhappy, from everything I’ve heard. But I wonder, does it have to be? Maybe, like life, it’s just as much a question of who you spend it with.”

“But you are right, too, that I’d be doing it for you and our family, rather than for myself.”

Caroline: “You would brighten my Requiem, Cécilia, but I wouldn’t want you to dim your own light to do it,” Caroline answers sincerely.

GM: “All right. If you’re sure,” says Cécilia. “If circumstances change later, we can always change our minds.”

“What do you think so far as Yvette?”

“Lady Adelais now, or… you, later?”

“The Lady Adelais shall take a childe, be she Yvette or another canaille,” pronounces Pearl.

Caroline: Caroline is silent, finally, “I believe Yvette would find much she would enjoy in the All-Night Society, and she would be well poised as Lady Adelais’ childe to make her Requiem her own. I would have her enter with no regrets or illusions, though.”

“If there is time, I think we might arrange for her an introduction of sorts first.”

GM: “There is no cause for immediate haste,” answers Pearl.

“I think that sounds like a good idea, to let her get a feel for things,” nods Cécilia.

“What about Yvonne, amidst all this?”

“As you once said, Caroline, telling one is the same as telling both.”

Caroline: “Yvonne’s path remains her own,” Caroline suggests. “Her temperament is likely to favor a moderate response. If events should conspire to urge her down a parallel path, Yvette shall be better-positioned than ever in the future to arrange that however we wish. I should fear it more, I think, if it were in the reverse.”

GM: “I suppose you’re right,” Cécilia says with another nod. “I don’t think Yvonne will ever want to be Kindred. But I do trust her to keep Yvette’s secret.”

Caroline: “She applies a fine balance to her twin, and one that I think is all the more important of Yvette is to be Embraced.”

She turns to Pearl. “Presuming there is no objection to the use of your childe in that way, Primogen.”

GM: “Yvette is of worthy stock. She is an acceptable childe to my childe.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “I suppose that means we’ll be telling Adeline the truth, too,” says Cécilia. “It wouldn’t be right to tell the twins and not her.”

Caroline: “Perhaps?” Caroline ponders, turning her gaze in the black towards where her mother last resided.

“With four of us ‘in’ on things it becomes much easier to manage interactions with the All-Night Society, even if they become more common. If Adeline desires another path, there isn’t as much an inherent need to draw her in.”

“I think our mother’s philosophy has trended towards the idea that we should seek such knowledge in so far as it brings us happiness. I would not keep it from her, but nor would I burden her needlessly.”

GM: “Maybe we should have you get to know her better before deciding, then,” says Cécilia. “That’s something Maman and I would love for you to do in any case.”

Caroline: “And I,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “There is a final matter your aunt would discuss with us tonight,” says Abélia.

“Concerning Caroline’s originally purported sire and the sheriff, wasn’t it?”

“Alder Accou received information concerning them some months ago,” states Pearl.

“Passed to him by his childe Lady Marguerite, passed to her by her childe Miss Bailey, a follower of the Baron’s. She claimed to have received the information from a ghoul involved in an altercation with Mr. Baristheaut.”

“I cannot attest as to its truthfulness.”

Caroline: That catches Caroline’s full attention.

GM: “By the ghoul’s account, Mr. Baristheaut was a double agent in the employ of Sheriff Donovan, but believed himself betrayed—by either his patron, Mr. Savoy, or foul Setites.”

“By the ghoul’s account, Sheriff Donovan was either a double agent for his sire, or he was not. But in either eventuality, the sheriff nevertheless employed a double agent working for his sire.”

“I bring this information to your attention for a simple reason, childe. I would not see the sheriff succeed your sire.”

Caroline: Caroline muses, “Forgive me, Primogen, if I speak of things I know not enough about, but I would postulate this about the sheriff, and I suppose about the archdioceses as a whole.”

“The seneschal revealed to me that he had long sought quietly an heir to the prince, knowing his torpor approached. For decades, he has subtly cultivated and sought to mold candidates. A decade ago he identified his choice.”

“That choice was snatched from him instead, Embraced by another for whom I believe he had little affection, as part of a broader plot.”

“The seneschal was not easily stymied—he did not give up. Instead, he redoubled his efforts more quietly, identifying a wide range of individuals rather than focusing on a small number.”

Caroline pauses. “Those who have known him longer might speak to more accurately, but I believe he was not unaffected by that failure. The seneschal has taken only a childe once, and it is a matter he deeply regretted. I think he has carried guilt for his groomed heir presumptive’s Embrace since that night.”

“Among those he quietly chose to ‘groom’ I may be counted—though I am far from alone. He did so in great secrecy, believing one close to the prince, some great foe, was observing.”

She pauses. “Mr. Baristheaut’s return was not by chance. He was called back to the city by another—I know not who—at a specific time. I have gathered his departure from the city was not by chance either—and that he left with deep divisions with the prince.”

The takes a deep breath before continuing, “Very shortly after his return, he snatched me off the street and brought me to the Dungeon. What followed I need not repeat, save to highlight this: the seneschal’s decision to harrow the Dungeon’s depths was not one carefully considered. He dove in at haste, snatching forth his blade… and his foe did not appear surprised by his appearance.”

“She could have defeated him. Indeed, I judge his defeat the most likely outcome of that choice, barring… interference.”

She permits herself a small smile at that, before grim certitude returns. “I believe none of these events to be unrelated. Mr. Baristheaut’s return was not by chance and he did not choose me at random. Similarly, I do not believe Ms. Adler’s Embrace a decade before to have been by chance. I see a careful plot to assassinate the seneschal by the most ready means available—an action that would almost certainly have delivered the city into either the sheriff’s hands—or brought it down entirely.”

“The prince believes the sheriff wholly bound to him. Worthy of absolute trust.”

She stares into the darkness where her aunt’s projection stands.

“In this matter, I believe him incorrect. I know with certitude he has strayed from the prince’s will in at least one matter, and while many of his recent actions may be laid at the feet of fanaticism or zealous devotion to the prince’s will, I can think of few that have not done enduring damage to his reign.”

“I know not who the sheriff serves, but it is not my prince.”

GM: Caroline cannot see her mother’s or aunt’s expressions in the gloom, but the pair fall silent for a brief time.

“You believe the sheriff the agent of Mr. Baristheaut’s return, and the thief of the seneschal’s would-be childer,” states Pearl.

“The sheriff’s vicinage is no small advantage,” muses Abélia. “Had I wished to thwart the seneschal’s designs, I could think of no more proximate or capable an agent.”

“Pah. Traitor’s blood runs in his veins,” states Pearl.

“He has proven more than capable in his role as sheriff, but any childe of Antoine Savoy’s is unfit to assume the throne. And it is little secret that he lusts for it.”

“I would see him retained as sheriff, though Lord Pierpont could serve… suitably, in his absence.”

“Questions for the future, sister,” states Abélia. “For now, Donovan has much cause to bear our Caroline ill will. Even should his loyalty to the prince be true, your ghoul’s whispers false, and another hand responsible for frustrating the seneschal’s designs, our Caroline is a threat to the sheriff’s power.”

“Yes. Your betrothal to my eldest will give you a shield against him, childe,” says Pearl.

“It will not be an invulnerable one, but so much the better for you if the sheriff’s ambitions are split between another, mightier target.”

Caroline: She’s grateful for it. She is. A shield. Her mother knows well her thoughts, though—she’s aired them here. She would be a sword paired with a shield, not one hiding behind one.

Caroline bites her tongue. But then, if there are few secrets, she would not have this be a surprise to her aunt. “It is my intent to frame the sheriff for the bishop’s destruction.”

GM: Caroline feels her mother’s smile of pride.

Caroline: “His childe’s selection as the next bishop will otherwise make holding a line among the Sanctified a mighty task. It is my intent to destroy the prince’s ill-placed trust in him, and see him destroyed towards a purpose, rather than simply knocked out from under the prince’s throne.”

GM: “Hmph. Someone must take the blame for it, but the sheriff’s fall will galvanize your sire’s foes, childe. And be no small loss to the prince’s strength in its own right.”

Caroline: “There have been to many blunders of pieces,” Caroline agrees. “He must be exchanged, not simply sacrificed.”

She continues less forcefully, “I would ask, towards that purpose, of the bishop’s sire. They have announced their intention to return. In any pursuit, I feel that would be a powerful tool. Or ally. I would seek to cultivate either.”

GM: “Cingolai. Her name will not please your sire to name as sheriff, childe. But I know few others who might prove wholly to his tastes.”

“Perhaps Agnello, before he proved himself as much a beast as his sire. And his loss of face to the nigrimancers.”

“Are there any others the prince might name as sheriff, Aunt Mur?” asks Cécilia.

“Hmph. Doriocourt, if the the sheriff’s shame did not reflect upon her. Beyond the city, Holland, if his pride can be salved. Bassler, if their differences reconciled. Cade or Ward, if they might be induced to set aside their present ambitions and responsibilities.”

“Beyond those names, the prince must either reach beyond the Sanctified, or nominate ones unknown to me.”

“North would likely prove an eminently acceptable choice to many. There are several archons and former local hounds among those names, but his is the only one that is both.”

“Cingolai shares the prince’s blood, and would also be acceptable to many, but I do not believe he will be predisposed to name a Dragon as his sheriff.”

“He would sooner name Lord Pierpont, who is at least pledged to a covenant he finds less distasteful.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “I fear the era in which his wishes are realities is ending. A marriage of the First and Second estates will bring in many changes.”

GM: “Whom would you name to the post, Aunt Mur?” asks Cécilia.

“Lord Cade or Lord Pierpont would both prove acceptable to me. One could also do worse than Ward.”

Caroline: “Ward, Primogen?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Sally Ward, archon and sire to Jocelyn Baker. She is pledged to the Sanctified.”

Caroline: That’s what she’d been afraid of.

“I suspect she may return to the city sooner rather than later.”

GM: “So much the more convenient, should the other candidates prove unviable.”

“However, all of this presumes the current sheriff is to be removed.”

Caroline: “More easily accomplished when there is a piece to fill the hole,” Caroline observes, without arguing.

GM: “At present, we have but rumors and supposition as to his true loyalties. We are without proof. I am not wholly convinced he poses a danger to the city’s stability, only to one of our family.”

Caroline: “Even if he is loyal, this prince can more easily tolerate his ambitions than I might in his place. But I will bring you proof, Primogen.” She lowers her head submissively. “I understand even the faith of blood may only go so far.”

GM: “Very good, childe. If you wish to move against the sheriff now, I shall not forestall you, but neither shall I assist you. Bring me evidence of his duplicity, and you will have the First Estate’s aid.”

“That might be wise to obtain in any case,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “I believe Caroline that he doesn’t serve the prince. But it might be prudent to discover who, and why, before moving against him.”

“Daniel Hayes, my bodyguard, says that bad intelligence, or not enough intelligence, was the #1 thing that got SEALs killed.”

Caroline: “Of that note,” Caroline continues, “whatever the future holds, it is my desire to place an individual with more personal loyalty within the hounds—or in a similar role—for the future.”

GM: “Foreknowledge may do much to avert calamity, but I fear the sheriff will not be idle in his pursuit of the bishop’s killer, my dears,” says Abélia. “Another Cainite may prove more expedient to blame in the sheriff’s stead, and the sheriff later blamed for concealing his sin beneath an innocent.”

“To place eyes close to your foe is wisdom.”

“That might be for the best if your sire is taking you away for a while, too,” says Cécilia. “It might be easier to frame the sheriff when you don’t have as short a leash.” She pauses. “Though I’d thought he was going to take you away already… ?”

Caroline: "I expect the seneschal’s influence is at play. He knows there were many matters to be dealt with before… "

At least, she hopes that’s why. Hopes that her sire isn’t having second thoughts.

“In any case, barring objection, I intend on planting the seed of doubt in the sheriff with Cingolai at the earliest opportunity. It would be ill for me if she were to fall into the sheriff’s sphere. I would ask of her temperament.”

GM: “You have seen and spoken with her already, childe, at Alder John’s trial.”

“She is a friend to my clan and belongs to the Guild of Plutus, those Kindred who are patrons of the arts. I have conversed with her. My younger clanmates find her cool and aloof. She respects intelligence. During her previous time in the city, she spent much time among its canaille intelligentsia and the linguistics department of Tulane University.”

“At several of my clans’ balls, she exhibited canaille painters and violinists taken from the university’s student body.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Then we may have more in common than I’d hoped.”

GM: “She will lend your opinion little credence if you come before her alone as Mr. Baristheaut’s childe. I may arrange an introduction if you do not wish to inform her the truth.”

“Would it be a bad thing to tell her, if it’d make such a difference?” Cécilia asks.

“Hmm. It may both indicate and engender trust, were she to learn the secret in advance of larger Cainite society,” states Abélia.

Caroline: “If the opportunity presents itself, I would be grateful for such a meeting, Primogen,” Caroline answers. “Though I expect these nights, and the opportunities they present, to grow rarer.”

And, perhaps hopes too. Her sister’s observation that they had expected her retreat into Perdido House already is quite keen.

GM: Cécilia feels as if she nods. “What do we want to do about the bishop’s death, in that case? It’ll likely be harder to frame the sheriff if, as you say, those free nights aren’t going to be as common.”

Caroline: “Someone has already started the frame job, pointing at the Baron,” Caroline notes. “And the seneschal is quite certain of my innocence.”

GM: “Oh? Who do you think did that?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “Mr. Savoy’s agents, perhaps? We know Claire to have been in contact with them. Or other hunters. Pointing us at each other is in their interest, and we know her to have been in contact with Gettis.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “My instincts say Gettis. He has every reason to want the attention pointed at Kindred vice hunters, given the losses they’ve suffered and exposure they now have.”

“I pushed that narrative with both my sire and the seneschal, and will continue to do so for many reasons, not the least of which include the direct danger he poised to this family and the chain by which the sheriff led many hunters around.”

She turns her attention back to her aunt. “As primogen, it is more likely information will reach you than I on the investigation. I would identify the direction the sheriff seeks to hunt down and leave a clear trail down it, while pocketing the pieces that will bring the house of cards he builds against a patsy crashing down when the time is right. If that time never comes, little is lost by holding that blade in abatement.”

GM: “You may be in a proximate position to gather information on the sheriff’s activities than I, childe,” says Pearl. “He typically does not keep the Cabildo apprised of developments in his investigations unless they have bearing upon our interests.”

“I believe your course of action to be otherwise prudent.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, “In either case. if I am otherwise detained or unable to act, I would pass what I learn to you,” she turns to her sister. “In the hopes you could disseminate it to my agents as required.”

GM: Cécilia probably nods back. “Of course. How much do you want them to know, by the way? About our family?”

“I’ll trust whatever you think is right to trust them with, of course. I just want to know how much I should say around which ones.”

Caroline: “I intend on telling only one of them anything of the family—and then only that you speak with my voice.”

GM: “Ferris?”

Caroline: She nods. “I have little doubt he has gathered something is afoot, but I would not provide any certain answers to any not of blood with us.”

GM: “That seems wise. I trust him, as much as I’d trust anyone outside the family.”

Caroline: “We all must trust someone… at least to an extent,” Caroline agrees. “There are far worse choices.”

GM: “I have said what I have come here to say,” declares Pearl. “Goodnight and farewell to all.”

Caroline: Caroline turns back to where the elder spoke from. “It was my great pleasure to meet you, Aunt Mur. And my great honor to receive your counsel, Primogen.”

GM: The Toreador’s voice drones through the gloom.

“‘And the enemies of Caine were great
and fell to fighting over his trail
like hounds, the scent would not abate
through flood and moon, and much travail
the hunter’s skill was great,
as they looked for their father, and they did see
the road to Shal-ka-mense.’”


“’They came at last to that secret place where Caine hid, amongst the waters
showing himself, Caine called them under,
“Gentle sons, gentle daughters,
why do you disturb my slumber?”’


“‘And they tried to embrace their father
with steely things
and things of wood
but lightning Caine,
fast-moving Caine
would not be stopped by such as them.’”


“‘Under the curling, blasting waters,
beyond the pool of Veyd-sah-me,
in the grotto of Shal-ka-mense
did they gather, did they gather,
to embrace their sleeping father’s form.’”


“‘Found him sleeping? Found him wakeful,
battle-ready, eyes abright,
smiling at his ancient childer
waging war in the waxing light.’”


“‘Now the stars they one by one
blot their ways into lightning sky
now the fires burn hell and cinder
now the heat reveals the pyre.’”


“‘Too long! The hunters waited further,
too long! They did by Veyd-sah-me
tarry long enough to see
the light of dawn upon their father’s face.’”


“‘And in the turning, burning mark,
they saw the finger of God’s own hate,
twisting, curling, God’s own word
it set apart Caine’s lonely fate.’”


“‘And as they burned in hell-bright fires,
as they saw the melted flesh
as they burned with their own Kindred
Caine blessed more funeral pyres
taking in his bloody sacrament.’”


“‘Seek not the blood of thine own elder
seek not the blood of thy sire’s sire
seek not the blood that made thee kin
for thou will feel the funeral pyre
when thou dost pay for thy immortal sin.’”


When the darkness recedes, Pearl is gone. Simmone lies asleep in Abélia’s arms.

Caroline: A tale with a pointed end from her aunt.

The Ventrue lets out a breath with the primogen’s departure.

“Your sister remains an intimidating presence, Mother. Whatever others might say of her, they say it behind her back rather than to her face with good reason.”

GM: Laughter dances in her mother’s dark eyes.

“Words meant to paralyze lesser hearts with fear. My daughter is not insusceptible to them, but her ambition burns greater still. Her ambition drives her to master that which would master others.”

“My sister is less than she once was. But you have heard her tale, and in deed and spirit she remains undiminished.”

Caroline: “And you, Mother?” Caroline asks. A question has burned at her lips, but one so intemperate she bound it until her aunt’s departure.

“In a past life, were you Maria Pascual?”

GM: A peal of fluttering laughter greets the Ventrue’s question.

“Oh, what a notion! My tale is a longer one than was spun for your ears tonight, sweet child, and it holds many chapters. But those are for another evening.”

“Yet you are well to question. Answers come swiftest and in greatest measure to those who seek them out.”

Caroline: “I have trusted to your wisdom in the past in such matters, Mother. I trust in it now,” Caroline acknowledges. “A time for all things. That I would all those times be now is perhaps something your sister’s childe may help me grow out of.”

A mischievous smirk. “Or perhaps not.”

View
Caroline VII, Chapter XII
Elder Gratitude


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The Lasombra start to clean the scene up.

First is Mahmoud’s ghoul. She gorged herself on Kindred vitae before her death, so Mahmoud says she will have the woman’s corpse decapitated (not here, that’ll just leave a bigger mess) to prevent her from rising as a postmortem Embrace. Cimpreon suggests just burning the body, but Mahmoud replies cremation is taboo in Islam. “She can still pe puried facing Mecca eben if her head isn’t attached to her body.”

Caroline: A brutal measure, but understandable.

GM: “You care about that shit?” asks Cimpreon.

“She did,” is all Mahmoud answers.

“Suit yourself, so long as she doesn’t come back,” shrugs Westphal.

The Lasombra send their surviving ghouls to check the road ahead for IEDs wile they clean themselves up and change clothes, evidently packed in anticipation of running into trouble. The aged bodies of the Lasombra and Tzimisce are stored in the trunk of the car. Caroline also checks the road with the ghouls. Shrapnel can’t hurt her incorporeal form. If she could even trigger an explosion.

True to her prediction, she and the half-bloods locate and disarm a number of concealed and very nasty-looking IEDs.

Some of the unluckier Kindred might have been torpored right then and there. Survivors would’ve been softened up for the shovelheads and real Sabbat. It was a decent ambush.

“Too bad ‘decent’ wasn’t good enough,” Westphal sneers.

The coterie works as quickly as they reasonably can. It’s not long before a smaller, private-looking jet touches down near the parked cars.

“She takes zhe one we didn’t do it in,” Mahmoud mutters.

The other two nod their agreement as they approach the landed plane.

Caroline: “Many reasons for extra cars,” Caroline observes.

GM: “It’s unlikely she’ll be both capable of reading psychic impressions and bothering to do so, but it’s a precaution that costs nothing,” Westphal says.

“Smell, too,” says Cimpreon. “You have any idea how fuckin’ hard it is to get out blood out of car seats, to the point other licks can’t smell it?”

Caroline: Caroline genuinely laughs. “Yes, yes I do. Or much of anything cloth. It’s usually easier to burn it.”

She smirks at him. “I spend a fortune at Bed Bath and Beyond.”

GM: “Wonder how much business they owe to customers like us?” he wonders idly.

Caroline: “Enough that if you don’t space it out on different credit cards and ghouls it’d be a great way to identify licks.”

She pictures going through sales records, circling repeated purchases. Definitely a vampire here, new sheets every week—oh, and this must have been a banner week, every other day? Hussy.

GM: “Bloodier licks,” says Westphal thoughtfully. “If I were a hunter and had the resources, I’d put as many nearby stores out of business as I could. Or simply bribe retail wage slaves at each one to report any repeated sales to the same individuals.”

Caroline: Caroline nods insubstantially. “Easier with middle-aged licks, though—internet gets in the way otherwise. And there you’re getting the middle-aged failures that haven’t made something of themselves yet—low-hanging fruit.”

“Twenty years ago, though? Easy money there.”

GM: “Zhe world moves on,” says Mahmoud.

The plane door opens. A small entourage of ghouls file out, followed by a pale-skinned Kindred. She is an imperious woman with high cheekbones, coal-black hair, a slender, pointed nose, and spear-like blue eyes that don’t look into Caroline and her companions so much as stab into them. Her face is hard and cruel, and the air around her feels cold even to the insubstantial Ventrue. She’s dressed in a black pantsuit, leather gloves, and a long coat.

This is all?” she asks, looking between Caroline and the Lasombra.

Her voice isn’t critical.

That would be too kind a way to describe it.

Caroline: Elders.

“Welcome to Cairo, ma’am,” Caroline interjects, gliding forward before the others can respond.

“Other Kindred obviously await in the city proper, but we’ve been instructed to provide escort to those meeting from the airport.”

She gestures to the others. “An additional element of ghouls is securing the vehicles, but this is the Kindred force. A smaller but more elite group was judged to be an ideal balance of providing proper security to a dignitary without attracting undue attention from the kine or other elements.”

GM: “You may convey to your masters my dissatisfaction at your poor judgment and poorer initiative,” the woman answers imperiously. She strides towards the nearest vehicle without a glance backwards at Caroline or the Lasombra. Her ghouls trail around her, one opening the door first. She’s followed by two other well-dressed Kindred, a young-looking Caucasian man and woman, neither of whom look at their escorts either.

The Lasombra make their way to their own vehicles with hard stares, as if regretting disarming the IEDs.

Caroline: How might you have chosen your words more carefully had you known the architect of this plan? Caroline takes cold comfort in the fact that the rebuke, though landing upon her, is not of her.

“I’ll be certain to convey to my prince your dissatisfaction,” she provides politely, bowing low, as the elder swirls past her.

When the elder has passed she nods to the others. “I’ll keep watch from above. I need not tell you that if the first vehicle is immobilized the rest are to keep moving.” They previously agreed the first vehicle would contain only a single ghoul. “I’ll check in periodically.”

Of the elders comments she says nothing. They made their choice, their trade, between gentle words and actual power. It’s much too late to regret it now.

GM: Cimpreon mutters something dark-sounding but gives a nod. Mahmoud just glares angrily after the elder.

Westphal looks as if he’s wondering how she’d taste.

Caroline: She makes note of the elder’s female companion and wonders how she might leverage it to her advantage. You they knew by name, my dear.

GM: Everyone gets into their vehicles. The Lasombra take the ‘diablerie car.’ The elder’s two Kindred companions get into the same car as her.

The convoy drives. Dessert gives way to urban sprawl. They don’t run into apparent trouble.

Caroline: Caroline ranges ahead for most of the journey, swooping back through the night on occasion to check in on her Lasombra allies. Mostly though she appreciates the time to herself.

She needs it after what they did. The silence leaves her alone with her own thoughts.

GM: Maman would be proud. Wouldn’t she?

Caroline: She reaches out, takes the tie that binds them in her mind. Reassures herself that it’s still there.

The silence earlier had been deafening. She’d grown accustomed to it, to always having her to reach out to, to lean on.

But maybe that’s one of the gifts of this journey—reminding herself that she can make her own decisions. For good and ill.

She lets the thread go and drifts through the night, ever closer to the city.

GM: Out of nowhere, Maldonato’s astral form appears. A silver cord spirals from his heart off into infinity.

“Madam Kriemhild shall arrive at her destination without incident. Well done.”

Caroline: The words bring a whisper of a smile to her face, but only a whisper.

“She wishes me to inform you, Seneschal, of her displeasure with the party provided,” Caroline replies.

“Poor judgement and poorer initiative,” she quotes, her eyes still on the vehicles.

To do otherwise would require she meet his, and she fears what they might hold.

GM: “Her displeasure is noted, as is your own diligence in reporting it,” Maldonato replies. “Tell me of what you have learned tonight, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: A leading question or a loaded one? And if it’s loaded, is she loading her executioner’s weapon?

“I learned of you, Seneschal. And of him.”

There can be only one him in her life. God, doesn’t she see how easily the compromises he makes are made.

“Of Clan Lasombra, how your kin are both alike and different to other Kindred I have met.”

“Of the strength of many. My whole Requiem, I’ve fought all my battles alone. Tonight I didn’t have to. I valued that.”

“Of the delicate political situation in Cairo and the lack of unity of vision even among those in Clan Lasombra that desire entry into the Camarilla.”

GM: “I am pleased that your understanding of these things has deepened, Miss Malveaux,” the seneschal replies. The night hangs still around them as Cairo’s lights and life thrum beneath.

“Tell me what you have learned of your sire.”

Caroline: There’s no polite way to say it, and she doesn’t pretend there is.

“Truthfully, when I looked upon those allowed to rise within Clan Ventrue, I saw at best pale imitations of him. Reflections so empty that I questioned how he might stand their sight, much less presence. Racists. Bigots. Liars. Headhunters.”

“Flawed men. I judged him for it, for his lack of discrimination, of what I thought was discernment.”

“And in him, I saw brutality and cruelty in his manner. I saw his fury roused and directed terribly.”

“But flawed men are better than the alternative. Better than what stalks most of the world. And we are, most of us, so very flawed no matter our intentions.”

“How easy it must be to look aside a man’s flaws when you’ve seen actual monsters that spit in the face of God.”

“And how hollow the rage I’ve seen in him now, knowing what his true rage must look like—those things that draw him not to issue harsh words, but to take up his sword and destroy.”

“Our experiences are beyond compare—not only a year against a thousand, but a world before the one we live in now. The Camarilla is all I have known. The bounds of a city wrapped in its dark cloak, in the frayed but binding rule of law.”

“What it must have been to see centuries without.”

GM: “I am pleased, too, by this broadening of your perspective,” Maldonato answers.

His gaze surveys the thrumming roads and cityscape beneath them.

“Few Kindred do not know of the Sword of Caine’s incursions into our city. Many take for granted your sire’s zeal in ensuring those blighted seeds, planted yearly every Carnivale, do not blossom into enduring fruits.”

Caroline: “You could spend your entire Requiem fighting only them and it would not be a wasted one. But nor, for most, would it be a long one.”

GM: “Yet nor did I bring you here merely to gain insight into your sire’s past, Miss Malveaux. The Sword of Caine fears our prince as they fear few other princes. In his absence, their incursions will grow bolder. More seeds shall take root in the archdiocese’s soil.”

Caroline: “Worse, I think, than you may believe, Seneschal,” Caroline agrees.

“Their dogma appeals to those that lack or fear faith, and faithlessness grows nightly.”

“You once counseled me on the value of the Sanctified, and the Gospel of Longinus, in a meaningful and fruitful Requiem. This night gave me fresh insight into that wisdom I had… received more poorly than intended at first.”

“If you do not believe that God has set you apart from the kine, it is very tempting to believe that something has set you above them—for as their superior all manner of sins become sport, and one need never grapple with one’s own.”

GM: “Few Kindred wish to believe themselves damned. It is a more pleasing thought to believe oneself exalted. Yet the cost of that pleasure is dearly paid for by others,” the seneschal concurs.

“But for all the evils you have witnessed tonight, you have also seen that it is possible for strong arms and brave hearts to drive back those evils, and for many individuals to succeed where one alone might fail.”

“What opinions have you formed of Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud?”

Caroline: “Very capable. Distinct from one another in their approaches in a complementary way. Practical. Lethal.” She runs her tongue across incorporeal fangs.

“Immoral.” She pauses. “Or at least different in their morality. Not beasts or savages, but… nor are they motivated by faith or any moral imperative.”

GM: “Pragmatism and self-interest are the guiding imperatives for many of our founder’s childer.”

“Do you believe the archdiocese would benefit from any of their additions?”

Caroline: “I believe that I could benefit from any of their additions, Seneschal,” Caroline replies. “Though Mr. Cimpreon and Miss Mahmoud present the more obvious assets in filling roles sorely needed. Mr. Westphal and I have the more considerable overlap in interests and perhaps temperament—for both good and ill.”

“As to the archdiocese as a whole… I think it mostly a matter of presentation and Clan Lasombra’s future. If the desire is to present the clan as highly capable, unyielding, practical, and ambitious—which I think it is—they are fine exemplars of those characteristics. I think they could carve out a place for themselves, and that place might help to normalize Lasombra—though obviously their presence might draw in additional Sabbat eager to destroy those very same symbols of normalization.”

“On the other hand, if the Sabbat does grow more aggressive with the prince’s torpor, known targets they may begin with, and skilled and trusted swords at our back rarely lack value, and they would have all the more reason to be wary of duplicitous offers.

She bites her lower lip. “Given the Sabbat and outsider considerations in the city, I might suggest an all or nothing position, regarding relocation. They will require their own mutual support structure early on.”

She pauses before continuing, “Their ambitions and different cultural norms also present challenges, and their introduction is likely to invite speculation and scandal, but rare is the blade that will not cut an incautious wielder. Popular support is already as low as it has ever been—to my knowledge—of the prince. I do not judge the additional questions they may raise to outweigh their individual value.”

“Especially as there are efforts that can be undertaken—should be undertaken—to rebuild that support prior to any transfer of power that require significantly less time and effort than growing three capable Kindred vested in their powers.”

GM: “It may yet prove an advantage should the Sabbat seek their destruction,” considers Maldonato. “If the Sword of Caine seeks to place new blades at our throat, it is preferable to know what veins they seek to cut. It is preferable for the Sabbat’s objective in the archdiocese to be assassination. Should they instead seek to convert your sire’s subjects to their cause, there are many disaffected Kindred who might prove receptive to their words. A slain subject is a subject lost, but a converted traitor is a subject lost and a foe gained.”

“I am but passingly acquainted with Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud. I have not shed blood alongside them. If you believe they would prove assets to the archdiocese, then it is foolishness to discard strength out of fear of wagging tongues.”

Caroline: “I should think they might find a city with a luminary elder of their own clan and another they are more than passingly familiar with rather inviting,” Caroline adds.

GM: “Then they shall be invited to make their domains in New Orleans, and Mr. Cimpreon’s banishment rescinded,” answers Maldonato.

Caroline: “Banishment?” Caroline asks, suddenly curious.

GM: “Mr. Cimpreon was involved in an attack upon Sheriff Donovan’s domain in 2010. He was punished and exiled from the city upon pain of final death.”

Caroline: Was he now. She likes him more already.

Curious, though, what brought him to New Orleans in the first place.

“I trust he’ll make the most of that second chance.”

An admission that he has his own concerns about the sheriff? A concession to hers? Or a coincidence. It’s difficult to say when the elder’s games run so very deeply.

She lets the silence hang for a moment.

When Fatimah asked her to speak to the seneschal she’d believed it something she had room, time, to weigh. Something she could set aside until she was more ready for the conversation without concern.

But that isn’t really true, is it? She thinks of all the Requiems that ended tonight—and might have ended tonight. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Her tomorrow more than most.

She breaks the silence softly, sliding into it like a diver into the water without a splash. “Your cousin, Seneschal, told me you feared I regretted my Embrace. That the matter weighed upon your conscience.”

GM: “In and of itself, Miss Malveaux, your regret does not weigh upon my conscience. Regret is an emotive response and means but little against the damnation of a human soul. Should you prove a worthy childe to your sire, and spare others death and suffering like you witnessed tonight, then a higher purpose will have been served by your damnation. A higher purpose will have been served by the suffering and death you yourself have wrought. These deeds already weigh upon mine conscience.”

“But should you prove an unworthy childe, whether as a consequence of regret or any other cause, then your damnation and the harm you have visited upon others shall have been for nothing. A terrible mistake will have then been committed in not allowing you to die a natural death, and one that shall weigh heavier still upon mine conscience.”

“Though I see greater potential in you than in your cousin, I believe his temperament more stable and better suited to the ordeals and trials of faith you have undergone. Kindred of mine years are disinclined to take risks. Yet the temptation to grant your sire’s vitae to an already dying woman, and to spare the life and future of another young man, proved too great.”

Caroline: Caroline mulls over his response.

“I cannot grant you absolution over the worth of my Requiem with words,” she replies. “Whether I succeed or fail as my sire’s childe in the lofty aspirations that role requires will be shown through time and action.”

“But even if your concerns lie only in the practical and rational measure of my efficaciousness, that the childe you sired, as surely as any sire, hated and regretted their existence, must be a weight.”

“I could not, would not, share this with your cousin, but would with you: had things all gone as you might have imagined and wished, your fears might have been realized.”

“Had I marched forward to my first meeting with the prince driven only by duty, all that I had once loved and cared for razed to the ground and trampled into the dirt alongside my pride, I fear precious little might have guided and driven me past that meeting.”

“Even duty, which can carry one past their physical limits, has its end.”

She bites her lower lip.

“It was not, is not, so. Though I know outside influence must always be the enemy of one’s faith in this existence, so too has that influence given me what had been taken from me by the events that shaped my Requiem: something to treasure, and to lose. And for that alone I will not bend or break.”

“For that, I do not hate or regret my Requiem. Damned though I am.”

GM: “Perhaps you are correct, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato reflects. “Duty must be born of love, and love must be guided by duty. Only a union of iron and carbon may produce true steel.”

“Love may be cruel. Love may care nothing but for the object of its affections. Love may trade the welfare of many for the happiness of few. Yet in so doing it may poison even that happiness which is most precious to it.”

“Duty may be cruel. Duty may care nothing but for the object of its goals. Duty may trade the happiness of few for the welfare of many. Yet in so doing it may poison even that social order it most desires to maintain.”

“In your second mother, I see love without duty. In your sire, I see duty without love. I see instructive examples for you in them both.”

“Perhaps duty alone would have motivated your cousin to fulfill his intended role, but what is done is done. Yours and not his is the hand that now wields a blade on your sire’s behalf, and better that you wield steel than iron. You may convey your second mother my thanks for her role in that blade’s creation.”

Caroline: “I am certain she would convey her own appreciation for your part in my ‘forging,’ seneschal,” Caroline replies.

“I do not judge that to have been an easy decision, given the suffering even the least of us is responsible for.” A beat. “And I am not the most benign.”

“May I convey an accord of sorts between you then?” she asks.

GM: “You may convey my thanks alone, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The terms of our association are unchanged by the words you and I have shared. I name your second mother neither friend nor foe.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As you wish, Seneschal.”

GM: “Your sire, your second mother, and my clanmates have valuable lessons to impart to one who is yet new to the night. Yet they are none of them faultless individuals, and they are also exemplars of behaviors you would be well-served to avoid. Take heed from their failings as well as their fortes, and beware that their worse inclinations do not become yours.”

The seneschal’s gaze rests steadily upon hers.

Caroline: He knows. She knows he knows. If he saw the battle she has little doubt he saw the rest.

She feels like a schoolgirl called to task by her favorite teacher, like she’s disappointed her father in public.

What can she even say? That it was a moment of weakness? Done with a purpose? A victimless crime? That she had to, for so many reasons?

All the excuses sound hollow.

And what penance can she offer? ‘I won’t do it again’ sounds so pitifully hollow when the crime was cannibalism and consumption of souls.

“I have no vices but love, and no ambitions but to make worthy my Requiem. The path to the latter has ever been fraught, but know that when I have strayed from it, Seneschal, it was in blundering from it, not turning from it.”

GM: “Come, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. There is another before whom you shall explain your actions this night.”

Maldonato’s astral form floats towards the city.

Caroline: The Ventrue continues after him in silence.

GM: “Near the time of my Embrace, there was a new arrival in the City Triumphant,” Maldonato begins. “He gave his name as Mukhtar Bey. He could claim no sire, nor would any sire claim him as childe. In an act then unheard of, he presented himself to Sultan Antonius.”

“An affronted Antonius directed his guards to tend to the clanless bastard, and was stunned by the ease with which Mukhtar dispatched his two would-be executioners. Mukhtar repeated his introduction and offered his services to the shocked Ventrue. Impressed, Antonius made the neonate his bodyguard. Mukhtar Bey served Antonius faithfully, and Antonius was equally loyal to his new vassal. In time, Mukhtar was more than Antonius’ bodyguard; he was his right-hand man.”

“Antonius had ruled Cairo for many centuries, but his praxis came to an end during the 15th century amidst the Kindred’s wars with the local Lupine population. Antonius’ childer were either slain, torpored, had established their fortunes in other cities, or were estranged from their now-slain sire.”

“Mukhtar Bey, by this time, had been the sultan’s lover, bodyguard, and confidante for nearly a century. None knew the inner workings of Cairo’s court as well as he. There seemed little alternative but to ask a Caitiff to serve as sultan. He has reigned over the City Triumphant ever since.”

“Prince Bey, who assumed that European title when the winds of change blew through the Middle East, is no tyrant as your sire. Cairo’s elders are ancient creatures not to be trifled with, nor treated with the casual flippancy so common among American undead. Prince Bey pays great heed to the advice of his consultative council and has maintained his rule through a simple policy: he will acquiesce to any reasonable demand that comes before him. The burdens of administering so large and cosmopolitan a city are immense, but his broad shoulders bear them well.”

Caroline: The message isn’t lost on her.

Her sire could be a tyrant. She cannot.

“It sounds as though there are many lessons I might take from Prince Bey’s rule,” she ventures.

GM: “Tell me of these, Miss Malveux-Devillers.”

Caroline: The heiress floats through the night. “Most obviously, Seneschal, my sire’s rule is not one I might aspire to, however much I admire it. Certainly not within New Orleans, where the city’s elders are not to the trifled with in a lesser but similar manner to Cairo. A more moderate path seems the most likely path.”

“Prince Bey may be a model for how that may be achieved. That he took power when there was a vacancy created without bloodshed through the position and respect he had gained is also an ideal model to aspire to in any change of regime.”

“That a Kindred of no great lineage achieved this in one of the great cities of the world dismisses claims as to the impossibility of such a task.”

GM: “Prince Bey is an unliving example that any Kindred, no matter how lowly their origins, may rise to high office and rule capably,” Maldonato concurs.

“Yet the then-sultan did not claim his throne without bloodshed. Merely without bloodshed authored by his hand. Many lives and unlives were lost in the Night of Long Knives that spelled the end of Antonius’ almost half-millennial-long praxis.”

Caroline: “No transition of power is without conflict, and no conflict without bloodshed,” Caroline agrees. “I simply meant to convey that it sounded as though his ascension was not a bloody campaign on his own behalf.”

GM: “It was not. Prince Bey did not seek the sultanate: others requested that he assume it. Few princes enjoy a more auspicious start to their reigns, especially when one considers Prey Bey was then only a century initiated into the Blood. Many of Cairo’s then-elders recalled an era when Christ’s faith was foreign to Egypt.”

Caroline: “Better him than any of them?” Caroline speculates. “A compromise of their varying agendas and desires rather than an all-consuming conflict?”

GM: “Prince Bey knew the inner workings of the old sultan’s court better than any other Kindred. Yet there are many elders who would sooner whisper into the ear of a throne’s occupant than sit upon a throne themselves. My cousin is one such elder. She has no desire to rule Cairo when Prince Bey is attentive to her counsel and receptive to her requests.”

“Were she or any of her peers to attempt to seize praxis, war would consume the Mother of the World, and could well result in the would-be prince’s destruction. Few of Cairo’s elders wish one of their number to rule directly.”

“Yet do not mistake Prince Bey for a simple puppet. It is testament to his perspicacity that he is able to accommodate the conflicting agendas and desires of so many puissant elders. Were the prince unable to shoulder that burden, he would have been removed from his throne long ago.”

Caroline: “I would not underestimate any prince so,” Caroline replies. It does remind her more of a legislative leader than the executive figure she has come to view the prince as.

“And of Prince Bey’s own agenda and desires?” Caroline asks.

GM: The city below them draws steadily closer.

“On the surface, those are the same as any prince: the protection of the Masquerade and the maintenance of the Camarilla’s and the Ashirra’s rule.”

Caroline: “A laudable, dutiful, if dry goal.” Stability has its own rewards.

GM: “You are not a native daughter of Cairo, Miss Maveaux-Devillers, yet nor are you wholly a stranger to the city either. You have shed blood upon her soil and conversed at length with one of her primogen. What agendas and desires might you ascribe to a Caitiff prince of the City Triumphant?”

Caroline: “A more open and tolerant city? Or at least the possibility of one?” Caroline speculates. “It seems home to many competing interests.”

“Though I understand that the simple managing of those varied elements might consume much of his effort. Especially with the Gehenna War in his backyard.”


[Rest of log to come]

View
Caroline VII, Chapter XI
The Leviathan Committee

“I say we…”
“…eat them.”

Nico Cimpreon and Conroy Westphal


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: “Two ghouls for the pack ductus and priest, and their attack plan in tatters,” Westphal says past a split lip. There’s blood over his face from somewhere. “A worthy trade.”

“The rest of the pack will withdraw once they’re finished with the shadows and shovelheads. Maybe they’re already doing so. The elder is a lost cause for them at this point.” He sneers into the rear view mirror.

Cimpreon nods as he drives. The worst gashes across his chest are healed, but he’s still bleeding over the seat. “We’ll check the road ahead for IEDs. No sense bustin’ our asses here just to let the convoy get fuckin’ blown up.”

Caroline: Caroline sits in silence for a moment, letting them celebrate as she plays out events in her mind, looking for the details she might have missed while they’re fresh in her mind.

It helps take her mind off the body’s wounds.

“Where did the wolves come from?” she finally asks. “And the grenades.”

GM: “Bropaply a Gangrel, or anozher fiend,” says Mahmoud. “Any clan zhat can control animals. Or any backmate who’s bicked up zhat trick.”

“Pack was armed to the teeth,” says Cimpreon. “Grenades aren’t a surprise.”

“You think there was a third party,” Westphal quickly deduces. “How fortunate that we’ve taken the pack’s senior leadership captive. They can answer whether the wolves and grenades could have come from their packmates.”

Cimpreon nods. “After we’ve wrung them for info. I say we…”

“…eat them,” Westphal finishes with a very nasty smile. “There’s two of them and four of us. Enough to go around without too great a loss.”

Mahmoud pricks the monster’s corpse and dabs its blood against her tongue.

“Mmm. Decently strong. Bropaply a diablerist himself.”

She glances at Caroline. “Your soul’s in zhat pody. I zhink you’ll pe aple to enjoy zhe sboils too, with anozher sbell, even if it won’t taste as good.”

“I’d say our fearless leader should get first pick,” smiles Cimpreon. “You want your half of the keeper or the fiend?”

Caroline: A decision made as a foregone conclusion.

A test or an opportunity? How closely is the seneschal watching even now?

GM: Hunger merely glints in the three’s eyes.

Caroline: Does denying them seem weak? Does partaking invite disaster and condemnation? A delicate rope to walk under the best circumstances.

“The Camarilla,” she pauses and grins through her pain, “frowns on diablerie.”

That’s an understatement.

GM: Westphal gives a humorless laugh.

“They frown on the neonates doing it. If their elders are like ours, they’ve all done it. They’re just scared they’ll be next if we develop a taste.”

Caroline: “All the same,” she offers. “Worth considering the alternative. If the intention is to show value and strength, it’s harder to frame this victory for them if the story ends with ‘and then we ate them, but this was what they said,’ than it is with a ‘live’ prisoner.”

She hasn’t said no. Doesn’t know that she wants to say no. This is a rare opportunity, if one fraught.

God, she knows she doesn’t want to say no. Remembers too vividly the raw sexual and existential ecstasy of the bishop’s destruction in a way that sends goosebumps up the mortal skin she wears.

Mother? She reaches out through the inky black line attached to her heart.

GM: Caroline feels that black line yearningly tingle, but there is no immediate response. She will have to push hard to make herself heard from so far away.

“Okay. So we eat them after the elder sees them,” says Cimpreon. “We risked our asses for them. Makes it our right.”

“We’ll let her see them staked. We’ll share what we want to share ourselves.”

“Discourage any talking.”

“Or we eat one now and save the other one for later,” says Westpal. “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Better the priest if that route is chosen,” Caroline offers. “But it’s worth recalling the system that would make their diablerie a crime worthy of your own destruction is the one you aspire to.”

She continues soberly, “At some point that contradiction must be confronted.”

“Whatever the kine agitators in the U.S. might advocate among their own kind, I do not expect the Camarilla’s elders to accept what they view as criminal at best as ‘cultural heritage’ they must ignore or even embrace.” There’s more than a bit of humor to her tone.

She tries to keep the amused smile on her face when the connection to her mother remains dull and throbbing. Maybe it’s because of the possession, perhaps due to distance.

Whatever the case, it’s easy to grow so accustomed to something, to view it as a constant. She feels like a child deprived of their nightlight or blanket.

GM: “Kid’s got a point,” says Cimpreon. “All those old fucks are diablerists themselves.”

Caroline: “Hypocrisy among the mighty is not exclusive to Kindred or kine,” she agrees.

She clings to the ‘practical’ argument like a woman dangling over a yawing chasm. To let go would be to fall oh so quickly.

Caroline doubts though that most in the same circumstance are dangling over a pit of pleasure and power that whispers to them like an old friend.

“Either way, let’s see what they have to say first,” she suggests.

GM: “Suppose we need to,” shrugs Cimpreon. He looks over the staked monster splayed out in the back seat.

“Cut off his limbs and put out his eyes,” says Westphal.

“Read my mind,” agrees Cimpreon.

Mahmoud looks vaguely impatient, but doesn’t press.

Cimpreon parks the car. He takes out a knife and starts to saw. The knife is an inefficient took for the job. Cimpreon needs to grasp the creature’s bone joints, after the muscle is gone, and break them apart. Westphal stabs out the creature’s eyes.

“Store the ductus in the other car,” he orders the surviving Blackwatch ghoul. “If one gives us false information I don’t want the other able to repeat the same story.”

The ghoul does so. With their captive so mutilated, Cimpreon pulls out the stake. The monster reverts to its ‘human’ form. A hiss of pain escapes the priest’s lipless gray mouth.

Caroline: The Ventrue stops them short of stabbing out the eyes, instead blindfolding him for now. “You can’t pry information from him that way?” she asks.

She stares on pitilessly as they saw off the priest’s arms and legs. The image of his victims is too fresh in her mind.

GM: “I don’t know that power,” Westphal grudgingly admits.

Caroline: “We all have our limits,” she agrees.

GM: Westphal just looks sour at that remark. “I’ve acquired other powers of the same potency. They were better uses of my time.”

“That kinda mindfucking’s pretty limited at intel gathering, anyway,” shrugs Cimpreon.

“But if you know it, can’t hurt. I was just gonna take this asshole apart until he talked.”

The Tzimisce’s expression is one of utter disdain.

Caroline: “Some of it,” Caroline agrees with Cimpreon. “But it’s possible to place them in a state in which they are able to affirm or deny specific statements.”

“And that can be very useful for fact checking broader claims.”

GM: “Ask away then. This guy ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Caroline can all but feel the vampire’s hatred behind the blindfold.

Caroline: She looks down at the maimed vampire. “The next few minutes may be your last. How much you value them and whatever else your words might buy you should guide your answers.”

GM: Silence.

Caroline: “Who are you?” she demands.

GM: Silence.

Caroline: “I have two captives. I need only one. You would rather your name die with you?” she inquires.

GM: “He knows we’re just gonna eat his soul,” says Cimpreon. “What he’d do if he were us.”

Caroline: “And yet one of them might yet be spared—or at least buy more time—with even a bit of cooperation,” Caroline notes. She lets the observation hang for a moment. “I thought he’d be fiercer.”

GM: Cimpreon shrugs. “Sabbat are fanatics. They don’t expect mercy.”

“Only times I’ve seen them talk are under mindfucking and torture.”

The Tzimisce remains silent.

Caroline: “I don’t think that’s it,” Caroline answers. “I think he’s a coward. He knows once he starts talking he won’t be able to stop.”

“Pathetic.”

GM: The fiend does not rise to the bait. The same haughty contempt and simmering hate etches the alien face.

Caroline: “Oh, you think you know something of pain? Of stoicism? Of meeting your end with some kind of dignity? You think you deserve that?” The shorter blade slips free of its sheath and finds a new one in the fiend’s groin.

“Give me a lighter,” she demands.

It seems fitting that if he will be spared the fires of Hell that he should endure them here.

GM: The Tzimisce’s jaw clenches hard enough to crack teeth as a furious hiss escapes his lips.

A lighter finds its way into Caroline’s hands.

Caroline: “Have water ready. We don’t want the pain in the now to spare him the fun later.”

The fire comes to life in her hands, such a small thing, but she applies it to the underside edge of the blade still impaled in the fiend.

The smell of burning flesh fills the air as his balls cook, and as the blade inside him heats.

“It stops when you want it to,” she tells the field.

GM: All of the vampires’ Beasts instinctively rear at the fire’s presence, however tiny and controlled.

But none of them have that fire inside of them.

The blasphemous priest stoically endures the pain at first. The low growl emanating from his throat steadily increases in volume. He eventually half-laughs, half-rasps out a contemptuous, “Children…”

Perhaps they may be, next to his clan.

But he’s not the one inflicting pain. He’s the one receiving it.

Ferris once told Caroline that everyone breaks under torture eventually.

Everyone.

The blade grows hotter, burning the vampire up inside, tormenting his immobilized Beast. His genitals roast until he can endure no longer. The fiend finally gives out a hissed,

“Ask…”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl in satisfaction as he suffers, but it’s there.

Evil. Real evil suffering, being punished for what it has sowed. The images of the men, women, and children in terror play behind he eyes as he slowly burns. Children not only murdered, but callously damned with their curse, fated for Hell.

She doesn’t snap the lighter shut immediately when he caves, but does after a moment.

Her voice is steady. “How did you receive information about the elder? From whom?”

GM: “Sp… spy, her retinue…”

Caroline: “Name,” Caroline demands without pity. She snaps the lighter open again.

GM: “Clara… Bühl.”

Caroline: “Does she know your attack is coming?”

GM: “Yes…”

Caroline: “How many other packs are coming?”

GM: “More… arrive every night… Camarilla bitch.”

Caroline: That brings a smile to her face.

“How many other packs are here for the elder tonight,” she clarifies.

GM: “Just… us.”

Caroline: “Your name, and that of your leader,” she demands.

GM: “Marceli Sierakowski. Julián Cambeiro.”

Caroline: She looks to the others in the group.

“Is there anything else you would know?”

GM: “Got just about all I’d ask,” says Cimpreon.

“Always,” says Westphal. “From him? Little at present.”

“Yust how he’ll taste,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline gathers herself. “Well then.”

The lights don’t actually get dimmer, or the shadows deeper, but one could be forgiven for believing they have as something unseen gathers within her. The hair on the arms and the back of the necks of the ghouls present rises as she leans in, hatred rolling off her in waves.

Caroline wonders how many he’s destroyed so utterly for his ends. Not only killed—God knows she is a murderer—but terrorized for no greater purpose than his amusement before consigning them to damnation. She knows this was not the first time.

She can’t give life back to the beast’s victims: giving is not within the scope of the powers given to a monster like herself. She can’t spare them the hellfire that awaits them: sparing is not within the bounds her own Beast places upon her.

No, the gifts she has are cursed, and it is curses she has to give. Terror and pain, and ultimately defeat. The former she has given the other vampire, but she has one more to offer. One final blow, to his pride, to his perverse dreams and aspirations, to his spirit.

Looking down on his broken body, she knows she can break one more thing: his will.

She looms over the creature and in one smooth motion tears the blindfold from him even as her eyes meet his, boring into them, seeking to crush what is left of him.

GM: The fiend’s one remaining eye is a clear, pale gray thing. Compared to the rest of him, it’s downright human-looking.

There’s no remorse.

Just simmering hate and contempt.

Then the Ventrue’s will comes down on his, and that all glazes over.

Caroline: “Did you lie to me about your spy within the elder’s retinue?” she demands.

GM: “Yes,” the Tzimisce answers sleepily.

“Hmph. This is why you interrogate multiple captives,” sniffs Westphal.

Caroline: Caroline tunes out Westphal, keeping her will focused on the monster before her. Losing her focus could be a deadly proposition.

“Do you have a spy within the elder’s retinue?”

GM: “No,” comes the sleepy answer.

Caroline: She grits her teeth. “Did a Lasombra spy provide information about the elder to you?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: “Is the spy among those gathered here?”

GM: “No.”

Thinly knowing smiles greet that question from the three Lasombra.

Caroline: “Is the spy located in Africa?” Her will presses down on the monster.

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: “Do you know of additional packs here tonight to attack the elder beyond your own?”

Arguably the most important question.

GM: “No.”

Caroline: She feels her hold on him begin to waver, like a wave at its apex, having built to its peak with nowhere to go but crashing down. What had been a smooth, almost effortless, hold over him beginning to pull and strain, his own cowering Beast perhaps rising to the occasion, forcing her to feed more and more into her own to keep it at bay.

It’s enough.

She slams a hand down, covering his remaining eye and breaking the contact with the gentleness of a punch in the face. She lets out a breath the body didn’t know it was holding in.

“You’re right about one thing, you lying piece of shit,” she snarls, riding the wave of her own Beast. “They are going to tear apart your soul and eat it. It’s sort of a shame, because you deserve to burn in Hell, but you’ll have to settle for nameless but total oblivion as they rip you into pieces.”

She pulls the blindfold back into place and looks at Westphal and Mahmoud.

“He’s yours,” she offers, nursing the hand that she struck him with. She forgot how fragile mortal bodies could be, but this night is full of reminders.

GM: Throaty laughter sounds from the blinded fiend.

“I expect no less, Camarilla bitch. I would do the same to any of them. I accept what has happened here… but do you?”

A sneer twists the alien face.

“Do you care for the kine who died tonight? Do their deaths touch you… do they move you to righteous anger? Oh, childe, know that I have killed more times than I can count, and many of those deaths were not so merciful as the quick affair you saw tonight. Or perhaps it is these kine’s transformations into a superior species that so offends you, you who despise what you are? Ah, childe, know that I die content, if that is what angers you so. I have performed many mass Embraces and have many childer. My pack survives. My pack and my Blood will perform many more mass Embraces in the future… your actions tonight have changed nothing…”

Caroline: The words cut her more deeply than she lets on, than the fiend can see behind his blindfold.

Reckless hate, wrapped in an ideology that approves of any atrocity in its nihilism.

Part of her wonders if this isn’t the true fate of their kind, its ultimate expression. Unbound from the kine that she has so tied her life to, devoid of conscience and spitting in the face of God Himself with every breath, a stain on the world.

Does the filth painted on the house of society, like sticky tobacco tar running down its walls, really have claim to be better than the putrid muck in the street outside?

That part of her remembers her mother’s words. She would approve, Caroline thinks, of devouring him, and of his devouring of others. She would not even condemn the mass Embrace, Caroline admits.

There’s another pull on her, though, wrapped around her soul since birth, and all the more tightly since her Embrace.

This is the unbound evil her sire has stood against for a thousand years. The evil that he fought without hesitation or mercy in the name of the God they both share. Even as this rabid Kindred gloats about his childer, of future generations.

She is the next generation of the Camarilla’s sword. A sword that has proven its victory across civilization, that these creatures have been beaten back to the edges of.

That thought, that she stands in her sire’s footsteps, brings a smile to her face and lifts her from the gloom.

“You’re right, it changes nothing,” she admits.

“It’s just another chapter in the slow victory of God over your wretched kind.”

She takes up the stake and plunges it back into the monster’s heart.

GM: The fiend gives a contemptuous snarl, and then the stake silences any further reply.

Caroline: A heartbeat passes without the others moving. Then another. She can feel them pounding in her chest.

Realization dawns on her. “There’s really two options, my friends,” she finally begins.

“Do you want credit for this, but the ugly details of someone on your side spilling secrets out the back door to these animals in the open, or do you want the strength of their blood and a stain when we meet the elder, but no credit for your victory tonight?”

“Keeping in mind that our benefactor may still be watching as well?”

She lets out a short laugh. “Everything’s a test. Welcome to the Camarilla.”

GM: “I’ll take blood,” says Cimpreon. “Credit’s in someone else’s hands. Blood’s in mine.”

“Three of us technically aren’t members of the Camarilla,” observes Westphal. “Moreover, we know very little about this elder. We might never see her again, depending upon where our respective future plans take us. We might get no meaningful credit at all for this. Increased discipline mastery is a guarantee, along with possibly thickened blood.”

Mahmoud scowls. “Credit’s a lot of maypes. I agree. Put if he’s watching.” She looks at Caroline. “He showed ub with you. How likely is it zhat he’s still got an eye here?”

“Can you detect him?” Westphal asks Mahmoud.

“If he doesn’t want to pe found? I doubt it.”

“I’m hearin’ more maybes,” says Cimpreon. “Maybe he’s watching. Maybe he’ll care enough to, what, fuckin’ give us the boot because we drank a couple Sabbat assholes after wasting them? Stake us for the sun? Why the fuck would you do that, if you were him?”

“This was a pack of random Sabbat assholes in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere. I’d look the other way, if I was him.”

Caroline: “Well, that’s an interesting question,” Caroline answers. “But if you knew him, you would know that he is a man of little moral ambiguity and great faith.”

She supposes at some point she’ll have to reconcile her own intentions with her faith.

“This is an interesting theological question, really. Theologically, most is that the opposition to diablerie is built on two pillars, that it prevents another vampire from serving the will of God due to their destruction, and that it unnecessarily accelerates of the thickening of one’s blood, driving one more swiftly towards torpor.”

She offers a toothy grin. “In this case, however… neither is likely to thicken blood, and both imminently face death in one form or another. Does that make it a more temporal trespass? And if so, against who? There is no prince here we trespass against.”

“Perhaps one could make a philosophical argument. I wouldn’t be tempted by it though. Morally, it is clearly a sin. More practically, partaking shows disregard for the accepted customs and practices of the Camarilla which you expose to wish to join with.”

“So why might he watch? To judge your character and worthiness for inclusion.”

And my own.

GM: “Any lick would do this if they thought they could get away with it,” says Cimpreon. “Camarilla or Sabbat. We’re all fuckin’ vampires in the end.”

“Theologically, one can make several counterarguments,” says Westphal. “Which you’ve just done. I’d make a third, that increased discipline proficiency allows us to better fulfill our function as God’s predators. In fact, the Fourth Canon’s objections to diablerie seem to be strictly pragmatic rather than moral. There’s very little actual direct condemnation of the practice. Likely because it was more prevalent during the Monachus’ time.”

Caroline: “Semantic argument either way,” Caroline observes without malice from behind a smile.

“They’d rather it not be prevalent now.”

GM: “The way our clan does it is much more sensible. We know it’s going to happen whether it’s allowed or not. But if you legalize it you can regulate it.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an almost girlish laugh that belies her damned state.

“As I said, my dear, blacks might successfully claim to the bleeding hearts that violence and infidelity are cultural heritage, but I don’t expect a similar argument to move the Camarilla’s unbeating ones. Though I might enjoy watching the attempt.”

GM: “We don’t have to make a ‘cultural heritage’ argument. It’s an objectively more efficient system that turns diablerie from an underground taboo into a regulated practice that still benefits those at the top while affording greater social mobility to those at the bottom, strengthening Kindred institutions as a whole. It’s clear you have a great deal to learn from us.”

“Sentiment’s for suckers,” Cimpreon agrees. “We do it ’cause it works.”

“If it stops working, we’d be the first to drop it like a hot potato.”

“Zhat staked keeber could make my command ofer zhe Apyss more bowerful,” Mahmoud suddenly snaps, her dark eyes hungry. And angry. “Fuck eferyzhing else. I didn’t want to pe here. I didn’t want to risk my ass for credit. Fuck credit. I want bower. If none of you hafe zhe palls, I’m eating zhe keeber myself. More for me. Yay. Fuck any Cam elder who gets zheir panties in a wad ofer me draining a Sappat asshole in zhe middle of nowhere.”

Caroline: Caroline can feel them slipping out of her grasp as surely as the priest’s mind slipped from it, the moment where she might have influenced this matter with but a word passed.

I could still decide it, she thinks. But doing so now would require violence. It would splinter this group and make enemies among them. Perhaps of them. There’s no certainty she could prevail.

Had she simply decided, not let the matter open to discussion, it might not have snowballed. But her hesitation—her temptation—has allowed the yawning gates open. Putting the genie back in the bottle is infinitely more difficult than letting it out ever was—and that assumes she even wants to.

And when she’s honest with herself…

It’s so tempting. Power there for the taking. Power she desperately needs, if she is to hold to any illusion of the throne. She’s seen her mother’s strength, but also her weakness. Seen herself as a millstone around the necks of her sisters. She would not rely upon that alone.

Nor too does she believe, as she told Fatimah, that the seneschal’s strength or plans will be sufficient. She needs her own strength.

And these three too… such a shared secret could create a powerful lever for use against her, but so too could it tie bonds between them. More than one pact is sealed in blood, in darkness. The addition of even one of them to New Orleans, favorably inclined, would be such a victory.

You want it, whispers a voice. The taste of it, the feel of it again. She squirms against the want, the raw desire to do this rooted in nothing but selfish hedonism.

Even as she builds her logical case there’s truth there she cannot deny. She does want.

And, whispers a darker voice, deserves.

The spoils of victory.

“Then we do not speak of this pack to anyone. Ever.”

Her gaze settles on each in turn.

“Payment for the deeds this night is in blood.”

GM: “I can live with that,” says Cimpreon.

“There’s considerable evidence to the contrary,” says Westphal. “Missing and injured ghouls. Damaged clothing. Two dozen missing kine. The battle site. Half a dozen surviving Sabbat that engaged with us.”

“Saying we never engaged this pack is a much bigger lie than saying we took no prisoners. It’s an even smaller lie to say we took prisoners and that they attacked us, someone frenzied, and we regrettably have no surviving prisoners to turn over.”

“That’s eminently believable. It isn’t the best look and it’s understandable we’d try to avoid telling the whole story, which we should. But it won’t ruin us if it comes out, since our actions were a net benefit to the Camarilla.”

Caroline: “All of that evidence is easily waved away—clothing replaced, ghouls written off or put back together. A battle in the desert that could have been any number of competing factions,” Caroline answers in turn.

“A thread once exposed is much more easily pulled upon, and it would take little pulling to reveal the truth of what happened here,” she continues.

“I propose not a lie, but an omission.” Her gaze settles on Westphal. “But if the topic should be raised or explored, that story—especially revealed only in pieces as required—is better than a denial.”

GM: “So don’t talk apout zhis unless someone asks.” Mahmoud shrugs. “Fine py me.”

“Don’t talk about this and don’t volunteer more information than someone directly asks for,” says Westphal. “She’s right this is better if the topic simply doesn’t come up at all. We’ll clean up what evidence is here.”

“Fugly here said there was a keeper spy,” says Cimpreon. “Fuck Cairo, I guess, if we don’t want to pass that on. This ain’t my city.”

Mahmoud frowns. “It’s hard to explain how we know zhat wizhout taking brisoners. Or wizhout fighting zhe back at all.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I will ensure that information makes it to who it must. I suspect the spy’s identity is well known, however.”

GM: “Sufficient for me,” says Westphal. “If that alternative doesn’t materialize, I have sources I can claim to have discovered that information from.”

“Well then, ladies and gent, do we want to interrogate the keeper, or proceed right to the feast?” Cimpreon grins.

Caroline: The grin somehow makes her uncomfortable. Their eagerness makes her uncomfortable.

It’s one thing to do this with purpose. It’s another thing to grudgingly admit you even enjoy it. But it seems somehow wrong, vulgar, to actively desire it. To cheapen it.

She supposes in that way it’s a lot like how her Catholic schoolteachers made her feel about sex.

GM: “I doubt he’ll tell us anyzhing zhe fiend didn’t already,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Which is to say, he’ll tell us nothing,” Caroline agrees. “These are fanatics who think they’re going to die anyway. At best, they’re going to spit in our faces as they go.”

She doesn’t admit that she’s uncertain of her ability to pull secrets so deeply from another mind. Not without feeding, and she doesn’t even know if that’s possible from this body.

“The sooner we’re about it, the better. We don’t have all night before the elder arrives.”

GM: “The fiend told us something new,” disagrees Westphal. “But we’ve taken enough time, it’s no guarantee we’ll find out more from the keeper, and it’s likely he’ll try to spit in our faces by feeding us false information. That’s what I’d do if I were incompetent enough to wind up in his position.” A sneer curls his lip.

“All pefore how zhe keeper doesn’t need his arms and legs to attack us,” says Mahmoud. “He might do zhat and try to make us frenzy yust to escape diaplerie. I know I would.”

“Might even work with how torn up we are,” says Cimpreon. “That’ll be another nice little bonus to this.” He smirks and exits the car. “I’ll get the ductus. Don’t start without me.”

“Quickly,” says Westphal.

Caroline: Caroline can feel the heart beating in her chest.

GM: There’s a very, very hungry look to the young vampire’s eyes.

“I’m taking zhe keeber,” Mahmoud repeats. “You two eat who you want.”

“I’m eating him too,” says Westphal. “I brought him down. I’m not eating a kill that isn’t mine.”

Caroline: The heiress says nothing, but she can feel the breathing in this body accelerating slightly, the blood flowing more quickly as its heart beats harder. Fear or excitement? She’s not certain she can even tell the difference anymore.

Does it really matter which it is?

Once more, the callousness of the others on the topic scraps against her like nails on a chalkboard. Makes her wonder if they’ve ever done this before. If it’s true callousness or simply bravado.

GM: Does it really matter, either?

Mahmoud looks at Caroline. “Ghouls can’t commit diaplerie. When whoefer zhe fuck you eat is fully drained of plood, leafe her body. Zhere’s enough shadowstuff pound to your astral form zhat you should pe aple to finish zhe job. Zhe brocess of diaplerie is one soul consuming anozher, more zhan it is anyzhing bysical.”

Caroline: Oh, isn’t it? She remembers the truth of it. Seeing to the heart of everything Bishop Malveaux was in the moments before his oblivion.

“Presumably the priest,” she fills in hollowly.

GM: Cimpreon gets back with the ductus’ staked body. He’s torn off the limbs to make it an easier fit into the car’s back seat.

“First time?” he smirks at her.

Caroline: “Would it matter if it weren’t?” the Ventrue asks back, retreating into stoicism as she meets his eyes. “Even were this not a crime in law, it is premeditated murder, cannibalism, and rape.”

She bites the body’s lip hard enough to draw blood in the soft flesh. “It may be…. necessary, but to revel in such things brings us two steps closer to them, vice one,” she gestures to the body in his hands. “Someone once told me we all lose eventually, that the best we can hope is to do so more slowly.”

She shrugs gently and tilts her head. “I would prove him wrong in the former while appreciating the sentiment of the latter.”

GM: “These assholes have murdered, cannibalized, raped, and more who the fuck knows how many times,” says Cimpreon. “They’ll do it forever, laughing, if we don’t ash ’em here.”

Caroline: The smile reaches her eyes. “You’ll not hear me arguing for their Requiems. Only our own souls.”

The smile fades. “We should get to it.”

GM: Westphal’s lip curls again. “I have no plans to lose. Now or eventually.”

He sinks his fangs into the ductus’ staked form. Mahmoud joins him.

“Too bad we can’t share this someplace romantic by candlelight,” smirks Cimpreon, then sinks his fangs into the staked Tzimisce’s rubbery gray flesh.

Caroline: The sound of their slurping fills the vehicle’s interior.

She’s committed now, on some level. A witness at best. More likely, an accomplice.

The kine’s body lacks her body’s fangs, the ability to easily break skin, much less the thicker flesh of the monster. She doesn’t try. Instead, she finds a wound and sets herself to it.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

GM: Hot bliss fills her tongue. It’s different in a ghoul’s body. Less primal and more recreational, somehow. More like the rush of cocaine or a strong drink than sating an animal hunger. This body doesn’t need vitae to survive. But it wants it. How it wants it. She’s a heroin user getting her fix. Getting more than her fix. Rare, Caroline imagines, is the domitor who lets their thralls feast so deeply, so totally without restraint.

Maybe this is what it felt like for Diego.

The fiend’s blood is sour, bitter, and hot with hatred towards her, towards what she’s done to him, towards all she stands for. But the taste is no worse for it. It tastes like victory.

It tastes like conquest.

There’s a distinctly alien undercurrent to it that Caroline can’t begin to describe. It’s not at all like Jocelyn’s blood, her sire’s blood, or any of the other ‘Camarilla vintages’ she’s sampled. There’s something regal to it, like her own. It tastes warped and twisted and cruel, yet somehow refined. Foreign but familiar. It reminds her of when Luke talked about his business trip to Saudi Arabia. The al-Sauds were his counterparts in another culture, and more barbaric than him, but more concerned with hospitality too.

She drinks, rapturously, an addict riding an endless high—until she hits the crash. Blood slows to a trickle, then ceases to flow across her tongue. The sounds of slurping no longer fill the car. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Cimpreon’s eyes blaze as he squeezes the staked corpse, snapping bones under his crushing grip.

The true pleasure, she knows from last time, only begins now.

Caroline: She focuses on that, on the taste, on the feel. Blocks out the sickly crackling and pops as Cimpreon’s fingers dig into the corpse, the sickly slurping of the other two vampires cannibalizing their clanmate behind her, the revulsion she feels inside herself.

Just ride the high. Ride the moment.

It’s the same thing she’s told herself before, in life and death.

The shame will come later, she knows, but for now there’s only the feeling. And however much she’ll feel shame later, she can’t deny the truth: that she does like it. There’s nothing quite like it in the world, no high the equal of victory, blood, and power.

The Ventrue pulls herself from the weak, fragile, frail kine’s body—the spell tying to it already decaying, weakened by the same entropy that will one day claim stars and even galaxies. Pulls herself towards another form of oblivion.

Just not her own.

GM: Not her own, but her body’s.

The soreness in her muscles and the sweat on her skin vanishes. Her heartbeat stops. The smells of blood and gunpowder dissipate. The cool night becomes perfect room temperature.

She barely registers how it all stops, or what becomes of the ghoul. It’s just another distraction to tune out. She’s on autopilot, guided by pure instinct.

By pure pleasure.

She’s not sure how she’s drinking. There’s no physical liquid coursing down her throat. But there wasn’t last time, either. And it is like last time. It’s the same sublime taste, as heavy as gold and weightless as air. It’s so pure and powerful that she seems to be swallowing liquid fire.

Cimpreon, across from her, is ravenously devouring the fiend’s neck. He doesn’t look like he’s drinking blood. He looks like he’s trying to swallow the Tzimisce’s entire body through sheer force of will. His eyes are enormous and every inch of his face is lit up with ecstasy. He isn’t drinking. He’s feasting.

Below them, the Tzimisce’s mouth is wide open in a soundless scream, his alien face a mask of utter terror, even past the stake in his heart. Caroline would say she’s never seen another sentient being in such fear and pain, but she’d be lying. The priest looks exactly the way Bishop Malveaux looked before he died. There’s a distant sound ringing back and forth in Caroline’s ears like the tolling of a great bell. That’s also like last time. It’s fast at first, like a beating heart, then slower and deeper. Caroline feels lighter than air and denser than earth. She is water and fire. She is impossibly gorged and impossibly ravenous. She is divine and depraved. The Tzimisce’s neck is a fountain of liquid gold.

But it’s not like last time. There’s less than last time. She feels Cimpreon sucking away, tearing away at the feast beneath her, as though they are two people eating from the same shared plate. They are two people sharing the same faith. Fuck him. Fuck him for taking what’s hers. She should eat him too, to show that fuck what he gets plate stealing her fucking kill. The murderous impulse from her Beast passes like a roaring fire, and she wonders how much harder it would be to fight off if she were not incorporeal.

The equally ravenous, hateful glint in Cimpreon’s eyes tells the Ventrue that her Beast is not alone in that feeling.

She can’t kill him. He can’t kill her. There’s only one thing they both can do.

Drink.

The desperate urgency to get as much as she can before the Lasombra drives her like hell’s own hounds are at her heels. She pulls that blissful vein of liquid gold into herself, gulps it down—and, just like last time, her ecstasy surges to unimaginable heights. It rocks through her like an orgasm coursing through every inch of her body, like a thunderstorm she’s riding between her thighs. She’s a volcanic eruption. She’s a star going nova. She wants to scream, and scream, and rip out her hair from the sheer rapture, superior to any feeding, superior to any sex. Past ceases to matter. The future ceases to matter. Her reasons for doing this cease to matter. There is only the endless and eternal now as thought and self dissolve into bliss. The fiend’s psychic scream reverberates through her, piercingly loud. Just like that, the alien gray body rapidly ages underneath her and Cimpreon’s mouths.

But there’s no vision like last time. No impression of the life she has not merely taken, but subsumed.

Just the knowledge that there’s one less Sabbat monster in the world.

And his strength is now her strength.

Caroline: The raw pleasure, the all-consuming desire, becomes literally everything that matters as its end approaches, as the vein dries up, and when it’s drawn away it wounds her, like someone his literally ripped away a piece of her. The perfect moment of bliss is shattered in an instant and Caroline is left to drift back to the earth.

Perhaps Caroline the woman, the intellect, could rationalize that sudden end. But there’s something so much darker inside her that’s grown strong on yet another soul, and before its impulsive raging demand there can be no defense. It sheers loose from its bonds, and in the moments that follow she’s blind to how the other Lasombra react. Blind to other watchers. Blind to everything except wanton desire and rage that its want has been taken away.

It’s perhaps fortunate that for the first time since Claire trapped her in the circle of flame, the Beast’s rage is as ineffectual as a screaming child.

GM: The same cannot be said, however, for the Lasombra.

The car’s interior is a wreck. All of them are scratched up again, their clothes newly shredded. Their faces look like they just blew thousand-roper loads while snorting cocaine.

Caroline isn’t sure which of them did it. The ghoul whose body she previously inhabited lies slumped over on the seat, her throat ripped out. Her eyes gaze blankly up at the car ceiling.

Mahmoud seems to slowly come to her senses at the sight.

“Which one of you fucking killed her?” she snarls.

“Who the fuck says it was us?” says Cimpreon.

Caroline: “We all did,” Caroline answers pointedly.

GM: “It doesn’t matter,” says Westphal. “She was a loose end.”

Caroline: “Aren’t we all, then?” Caroline answers the child vampire, just as pointedly.

GM: “Yes,” he smiles in agreement, “though the ghoul was a looser end than any of us, as she was merely an accomplice to the crime. All of us are principals. We’ve each consumed half a soul.”

Mahmoud glares, but says nothing at Caroline’s words.

“Look at her,” says Westphal, pointing at the seat. “Look at the pattern of those bloodstains. She was trying to lick the vitae off the seat. If she were smart, she’d have ran.”

Cimpreon shakes his head. “Fuckin’ addicts.”

Caroline: “She’s dead,” Caroline doesn’t quite snap. “There’s no need to further smear her name.”

“And as for us, I would have no mistaking of what we’ve done. We are bound now, in this crime, in this moment, to each other. We’ve seen each other’s worst impulses, committing the Camarilla’s greatest crime.”

GM: Westphal nods knowingly.

Cimpreon slings an arm around Mahmoud’s shoulders. “Don’t look so glum, gorgeous. Was worth it, wasn’t it?”

Mahmoud closes her ghoul’s eyes.

But she nods too.

“All bower for a brice. Zhe Apyss demands sacrifice.”

Caroline: “Sometimes the price is higher than we thought.”

Caroline lets that thought linger for a moment.

“And sometimes the rewards are as well.”

“From this night on we might be the greatest threat to each other’s Requiems… especially if Clan Lasombra is recognized within the Camarilla.”

Her gaze sweeps across them. “Or… we might be the greatest asset to each other’s Requiems. Few secrets we might share in the future would be more deadly to each other than those this night.”

GM: “In for a penny, in for a pound,” agrees Westphal. “I have no objections to continued cooperation should our interests take us to the same cities.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles and turns her gaze to the other two. “And you?”

GM: “Hey, I’m happy to make friends wherever I go,” grins Cimpreon. “Gonna need ’em in the nights ahead.”

“I agree,” says Mahmoud. “Whatever we are to each other, asset or zhreat, has peen sealed in plood. And I’d pe an idiot to bick zhreat.”

“Then we’re agreed,” says Westphal, looking between the other three. “Allies.”

“Allies,” repeats Cimpreon.

“Allies,” says Mahmoud.

They could seal it in blood.

But they already have.

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze sweeps across the others, lingering for perhaps a moment on Cimpreon.

“Good. Then let’s get started dividing up the world, shall we?”

After all, they’ve already started.

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Caroline VII, Chapter X
The Sabbat Pack

“This is the face of the evil my sire fought against.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline and Fatimah do not wait a great deal longer before Maldonato’s astral form materializes through a wall.

“All is in readiness?” inquires Fatimah.

The seneschal nods.

The two say nothing further, but set off through the complex.

“I hope your time with my cousin has been fruitful, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states.

Caroline: “She was most illuminating on many matters, seneschal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with her,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I am pleased by this,” Maldonato replies as they walk.

“Clan Lasombra will soon petition the Camarilla for formal entry into the sect. My cousin and I have worked with like-minded antitribu to lay the groundwork for this event for some time. Recent events have accelerated our plans.”

“Others, we fear, have imperiled them.”

Caroline: She wonders if she metaphysically rocks backwards at that revelation, given her ethereal form, but certainly mentally does.

A clan joining the Camarilla? She’s never heard of such a thing happening.

And, how, in this world of lies and mistrust could it ever happen?

“Does your exposure count among such factors by placing yourself and many others that might associate with you under suspicion, seneschal?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It does, Miss Malveaux. Mr. Smith’s hastily spoken words now threaten the work of decades. Change may happen slowly among our kind, but calamity’s pace is rarely deterred.”

Caroline: It makes more sense now. Her sire’s abject rage, a fury so intense that it drove her to action, overwhelmed her.

Certainly, it was rage at the traitorous words of another of his clan, a final rebuttal of everything proper and decent. Certainly, it was rage at the attack on his rule, and the besmirchment of his lover.

But the undermining of said lover’s dream, centuries in the making? She remembers George’s childe’s screams as she was drawn from the crowd and thrown into the flames. They haunt her. But she understands.

GM: “Your sire was also to be one of Clan Lasombra’s greatest advocates and sponsors for entry into the sect,” Maldonato continues, as if proceeding down Caroline’s same line of thought. “I need not say that recent events have also undermined this component of our plan.”

Caroline: “In many ways.” Timing is everything. A few years later…

No wonder, though, that he has held on so stubbornly to his throne.

GM: “Yet nor are all tidings ill ones, Miss Malveaux. Recent events have also furthered our plans. Events which have occured far beyond New Orleans, but whose ripples touch even our city. I have brought you to Cairo so that you might bear witness to some of these events with your own eyes.”

Caroline: “I am here to serve, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

GM: Maldonato takes Caroline by the hand. Fatimah’s palace disappears as the pair hurtle through space at speeds the Ventrue can only guess, yet it hardly feels as if they have moved at all. They reappear outside of an airport. Planes roar in the background as they land and take off.

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Caroline sees three vampires and four mortals waiting around three cars. They’re parked on the tarmac a ways off from the terminal.

The first vampire is a thin young Caucasian boy who looks around Simmone’s age. He only just breaks four and a half feet tall. There’s a knowingly smug, self-content smirk to his lips, and eyes that take in his surroundings with subdued but unmistakable arrogance. They’re eyes that say, I’m the smartest person in the room. He’s dressed in a tailored navy suit that fills out his slender frame, along with a pressed white dress shirt and black necktie. His brown hair remains uncombed and unruly in juxtaposition to the rest of his ordered appearance.

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The second is a 20-something Hispanic man who’s a walking piece of art. A punk rock stereotype bound up in black leather and chains, with a mouth that looks like it was made to hold a cigarette. Tattoos cover every bit of exposed skin below the line of his jaw, itself a hard, cutting thing that looks like it could take a solid blow. His head is shaved on the sides and longer up top, hair slicked back with enough product to tame even the unruliest of strands. Deep-set navy eyes peer out from under a strong brow, lips quirked up in a perpetual smile. A pair of gold rings glint off his right hand, and over the charcoal three-piece suit he wears a distressed leather jacket.

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The third is a 20-something Egyptian woman with short black hair, dark almond eyes, and a slender frame. She’s dressed in a tank top and black pants, rather immodest apparel for the region, although Caroline only notices so up close. Shadows coalesce thickly around her, faintly rippling against the night. Even the Ventrue’s deathless sight cannot fully pierce their depths. A full-looking bag hangs from her shoulders.

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The three vampires all turn as Maldonato and Caroline abruptly appear out of thin air.

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce you to Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud,” states the seneschal.

“They will brief you on the details of your present mission. You are in operational command.”

The Moor’s form fades into the night as though it were never there. The other three vampires’ gazes settle on Caroline.

Caroline: If the seneschal’s abrupt disappearance bothers her, she gives no indication of it outwardly. Indeed—her reaction is perhaps stronger at his severing of half of her name. An oversight or an intentional commentary? Either way, one that bodes ill.

Her gaze sweeps across the assembled vampires once, then again, as she takes in the details.

The boy genius, convinced of his superiority. She knows that look. Has echoed it more than once, though less since her death. Ventrue? She could see it, but part of her doubts one from the clan of kings would choose a child.

The second dredges up memories of Diego she buries more deeply than she buried the once gangster now corpse. Here too she could see something that might appeal to her clan: this man made over in the image of modern success. Young, potent, confident. The others might be of any age, but the tattoos mark him as a product of this or the last century—likely its latter half.

The last, the woman, is harder to read, and not only for the darkness around her. Local, rebellious but practical. Well-armed, she suspects.

It takes only a second—barely one longer than it might have once but noticeably less all the same.

She recalls wise words, ‘a beginning is a very delicate time.’ Here as in all things. Whomever she addresses she gives implicit legitimacy to within their hierarchy—and she might too show her own ignorance in so doing. Better then to let them choose their own speaker.

“Gentlemen,” she preambles, nodding in her insubstantial form. “Lady,” a further not quite bow to the dead woman.

“My name is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” she considers adding more, but dismisses it just as quickly. “We can speak here or en-route to our destination, as better suites the timeline.”

We. Our. Establish the bonding words quickly. They’re hard to ignore, break down barriers. At least, it works among kine.

Is this a test? A pressing matter that truly requires oversight? An opportunity? Perhaps all three she admits to herself.

It doesn’t really matter. Her role in matters may have changed but the truth hasn’t: the only way forward is through.

GM: “Conroy Westphal,” the boy enunciates crisply by way of introduction. “We’re already here.”

“Nico Cimpreon,” continues the man, not interrupting Conroy mid-sentence, but picking up where he might have continued. “Mission’s to escort a Camarilla bigwig to Cairo, once they get off their plane. Maldonato’s worried about Sabbat attacks.”

Conroy’s I’m-smarter eyes seem to look as if their owner considers himself smarter still when Nico says ‘Maldonato,’ but the smaller vampire says nothing.

“Talibah Mahmoud,” the Egyptian woman introduces, echoing the others, but adds nothing further.

Caroline: Sabbat. The bogeymen of Camarilla stories. She knows they exist, but relative to the more pressing dangers to her Requiem they’ve rarely occupied her thoughts.

That the boy spoke first helps clarify the bounds of the relationships between them, but doesn’t clearly bound them either, what with Nico’s interruption.

A personality conflict, then? Thrilling.

“These are your available assets?” She gestures to the yet unspoken for ghouls.

GM: They’ve each brought several. Westphal’s look a lot like the security types Caroline grew up around. Close-cut hair, dark suits, disciplined posture, and hard but blank expressions all suggest former military, but there’s an arrogant edge to their expressions. Cimpreon’s ghouls look like gangsters. They’re in suits too, sporting tattoos similar to their domitor’s. Their faces look more mean than arrogant. Mahmoud has just one ghoul, a thin and pasty-faced Egyptian woman in similarly casual attire. She’s black-haired, slim of build, and looks in her 20s.

“Yes,” answers Westphal. “All former Blackwatch contractors. Mine, at least.”

“Members of my crew,” answers Cimpreon. “They don’t like the suits, or the heat, but we’ve worked together for twenty years.”

“I can also conjure Apyssal entities, put not wizout risk to ze Masquerate,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: She acknowledges the inventory of ghouls without comment, then turns her questions immediately towards the intended extent of their mandate: are they to simply interdict any such attack, or are they intended to actively prevent it from occurring—at least so far as the representative is concerned?

Even as she asks the question her mind is already churning. She wishes she had Ferris or Fuller with her, but she’s listened to them enough that principles of force protection are far from lost on her.

Any dignitary in this circumstance almost certainly has their own protection in place—to say nothing of likely fearsome powers of their own. Contrarily, any attacker almost certainly has accounted for this protections. Their job then is to complicate those calculations and throw them out of balance.

GM: “All the elders said was to get the bigwig to Cairo in one piece,” answers Cimpreon. “Without having to get their hands dirty, knowing them.”

Westphal gives a humorless laugh. “We don’t want to prevent any attacks. We’ll look better if one happens and we fend it off than if the ‘bigwig’ never feels as if they’re in danger. The seneschal and the emira will want the Camarilla to feel as if they need us.”

Cimpreon sneers, though seemingly not in disagreement.

Caroline: Abyssal entities. Shadow magics. ‘Us.’

Of course they’re a coterie of Lasombra.

“Open-ended means opportunities,” she offers Cimpreon, not quite providing a smile. “Still, if the goal was a show of strength, there would be more pieces on the board. Presumably there are multiple political aspects in play, including a desire not to step on the toes of Cairo’s elders.” She nods to Mahmoud. “I presume they would be as displeased by a Masquerade-damaging conflict in a very public place as any other.”

And she’s essentially only a watcher in this game, at best a puppet master, not a blade on the field herself.

Shame, that, in some ways.

GM: “The elder’s from Europe,” says Cimpreon. “There’s been a lot of them lately. They might not even know any of Cairo’s Kindred.” He doesn’t quite smile either. “You’re right though. Opportunity, that’s wherever you fucking grab it. The bosses don’t want to give the order. But they know we’ll grab what’s in front of us.”

“Ze trib to pe city’s also pretty long,” shrugs Mahmoud. “And you Americans haf a stricter Masquerate zan us.”

Caroline: “That’s where you’d strike?” Caroline asks, her eyes meeting Mahmoud’s.

GM: “Yes,” the woman answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. In some ways that makes it easier. A conflict at the airport would be a disaster. “Are we providing explicit protection for him—traveling with him—or is he bringing his own? Regardless, how many do we expect him to be traveling with?”

GM: “They didn’t care to tell us,” shrugs Cimpreon. “That’s elders.”

“The elder’s a woman,” says Westphal. “We’re expected to escort her to the Khitta Antonius.”

Caroline: “Excellent,” Caroline answers. She takes a moment. “Is there anything else immediately pressing?”

GM: “You need a physical body,” says Westphal. “Mahmoud can give you one.”

Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline agrees, mostly to cover up the fact that the idea—even the capability—hadn’t occurred to her.

She turns her gaze to the other ‘female’ Kindred. “Presuming you are willing.”

“Before we do so, however, I intend on taking the opportunity survey the route from the air.”

GM: “Further intelligence can’t hurt,” says Westphal. He surveys Caroline for a moment with his I’m-the-smartest eyes, then says, “Sabbat packs have made a regular practice of ambushing newly-arrived Camarilla elders. They’re convenient targets for reasons you can probably guess.” His gaze rests on Caroline for a moment. “Cairo’s bishop can’t control the packs anymore. Or at least the new ones.”

“Less chance of us being ashed if zhere’s four of us here,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Oh, I expect if they’re here to diablerize the elder getting ashed is one of the least of our concerns,” Caroline answers pointedly.

“How long do you need to prepare a body?” she asks the sorcerer.

GM: The word ‘diablerize’ doesn’t elicit any surprised or curious looks from the presumed Lasombra. But they seem to consider her thoughtfully upon hearing it.

A cut above the average Camarilla lick? Caroline never heard that word before she accepted her now-mother’s forbidden knowledge. Somehow she doubts anyone else would have told her.

“Longer I have, zhe petter zhe pody,” answers Mahmoud. “Rush job, 10 minutes. Somezhing better, hour.”

Caroline: More evidence they’re from outside the Camarilla, then, if the word isn’t new to them.

Caroline nods. “Do you need me present to begin?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “Then I’ll return presently. In the meantime,” she turns her gaze to the other two Lasombra, “adding at least one, and preferably two additional cars would be ideal.”

She flashes a smile at the tattooed vampire. “I presume that can be easily arranged?”

GM: Cimpreon smiles back. “When it’s a beautiful woman askin’? Easy.”

Caroline: “I love strong men,” she almost purrs, turning her gaze to the last if their group.

“In the meantime, while an attack on the road may be most likely, the airport presents the most certain position to any attacker. We’d be foolish to discount it. Presuming you screened them from the top vice the bottom, your contractors will more readily sniff out something that doesn’t smell right here. I’d like them to poke around while we wait.”

GM: “They already have,” answers Westphal. He doesn’t say that of course he’d have thought of that. “We’ve been here for nearly an hour. We arrived early to check for ambushes and other surprises.”

Caroline: “Prudent,” she agrees. “Your diligence and forethought warms my cold dead heart.” Parry, riposte.

“I’ll not attempt to hold your hand then—you’re clearly far from a child.” Soothe.

A seed planted with each—perhaps enough. Prudence, lust, and respect. It’s superficial scatter, but she judges them to have all done something.

“I don’t intend on being long. If I am… you’ll have learned something of value from that, at least.”

She shoots into the sky, floating up, high enough to get a vantage on the airport and surrounding terrain both.

GM: Grim smiles answer the Ventrue’s final statement.

Caroline’s silver cord trails after her as she ascends, spiraling off into infinity. It has to be thousands of miles long, to reach her body back in Perdido House. The Ventrue feels no air against her face, nor any of the coolness of the desert night. The skies are dark but clear. There is none of the soggy humidity so endemic to her home city, even this close to a major water source.

Cairo’s airport, like most outskirts, is located on its city’s outskirts. Glowing white and yellow lights illuminate the signs of human civilization and the stretch of road back to Cairo. Beyond that is nothing but lightless, barren desert.

With some few exceptions.

Caroline soars down.

It’s far enough away from the airport that she’s not surprised the Lasombra didn’t notice it. She doubts anyone without a means of flight would have.

There’s a couple Toyotas, a few more aged-looking cars, and a military jeep. A small party of vampires stands outside them. Each and every one is unmistakably a monster. Some look like ISIS fighters, clad in dark face coverings, camo fatigues, and bristling with the amounts of weapons one only sees in the Middle East. Others make no effort to conceal their faces. It’s hard for Caroline to tell if they’re Egyptian, American, or something else. Almost one and all, they’re as pale and lifeless-looking as corpses. Some of them have hideous scars and ritual piercings and tattoos to rival any Amazonian tribe’s. Some have lamprey-like mouths with rows upon rows of hungry fangs. One has a tiny suckered mouth where he should have an eye. Some have claws and horns. Some of them wear necklaces of fangs, severed hands, and in one case, a half-decayed breast. They look like freaks. They look like savages. They look like monsters.

Caroline sees no ghouls among them. But she sees many kine. Maybe several dozen. They come from every walk of life. Some wear pajamas. Some wear tourist clothes. Some wear airport uniforms. Some wear military fatigues. Some look Western, some look Egyptian. Some are youths. Some are mature adults. A few elderly. There’s several young children.

One man tries to run. The vampires are on him in seconds. They literally disembowel him, cutting open his stomach and pulling out guts as the crowd of onlookers helplessly watches. They rip off his fingers and plug them up his ears and nostrils. They literally feed him his own guts, but before he can expire, they rip off his pants and shove an AK-47’s barrel up his rectum. They squeeze the trigger. The man explodes into gory chunks. The gun’s barrel and stock explode too, no doubt due to the obstructed muzzle capturing all of the rounds’ kinetic energy. One piece slices apart the vampire’s cheek, another piece opens his throat, and several more fuck up his fingers, but all he does is laugh. He and the other vampires roar with laughter as they point at the man’s red-stained leftover pieces.

“Anyone who runs dies like this! Do as you’re told, and you’ll die fast!” shouts one of the vampires.

“Someone translate for the sand niggers,” sneers another.

“Ay shakhs yarkud yamut hakdha! afeal ma qil lak, wasatamuat nzyfana!”

The white-faced kine turn to their tasks. The vampires toss them shovels. A few people vomit. When one woman freezes up, the vampires execute her in similarly gory fashion, then rip off her head and punt it around as a kickball. The one who blew up his gun messily slurps from the corpse to heal his wounds. The vampires scream orders. The survivors quickly start digging and excavate a pit. The vampires scream at them to hurry up. The kine dig until their hands are blistered and bleeding. Anyone who slows gets disemboweled on the spot. The survivors manically dig until the shovels are slick with red.

They don’t need to be told they’ve dug their own graves.

The vampires still tell them. They taunt the kine. They tell them how they’re going to rot in the earth, how they will never see their families again, how all of their ignoble lives led to this ignoble demise. How does it feel, to know they will die here?

One of the vampires dressed in a blood-caked Catholic priest’s habit chants something over a chalice. All of the other vampires bleed into it. The priestly vampire continues chanting. It sounds like the scraping and hollering of beasts. The vampires go down the line of mortals, one by one, and drain them each, then feed their corpses a little blood from the chalice. The kine all look too paralyzed to run, perhaps held at bay by supernatural means, perhaps by simple terror. Eventually, the vampires kill everyone, then dump the lifeless bodies on top of one another into the pit. It reminds Caroline of Holocaust and Khmer Rouge photos.

The vampires finally pick up shovels themselves, then start to throw earth over the corpses.

Caroline: A year ago, the sight might have made her vomit. Might have driven her to tears. Might have even sent her in terrified flight. A year ago she was kine.

Tonight, Caroline is one of the Damned. Her hands are stained with the blood of dozens. Her soul is stained with among the darkest sins even the Damned could indulge in. She doesn’t vomit, doesn’t cry, and doesn’t flee.

But that doesn’t mean the horrific scene leaves her unmoved. There’s valuable information here. About their soon to be attackers. About individual vampires’ capabilities. The strong ones, the quick ones. The weapons they have available. These are all things she notes almost subconsciously. Has to note subconsciously. Because while the scene doesn’t drive her to despair, it does drive her to something else: cold fury.

The callow slaughter—and presumptive mass Embrace in progress—by these monsters makes even the prince’s worst excesses seem tame. This is the face of the evil her sire fought against. This is the evil that makes sins like McGinn’s casual bigotry and Matheson’s deviance so easily overlooked.

Wanton violence and damnation conducted with a casualness only borne from long familiarity. Does she truly care for the slaughtered kine? Perhaps not. But these beasts, these monsters, these abominations, should be, must be, destroyed. Their very existence hardens her will.

There will be violence to follow. Violence she’ll be gladdened to be a part of.

She withdraws to her own band of licks.

GM: Her last sight as she floats away is of the shoveling vampires playing kickball with one of the riped-off heads.

The other three are where she left them. They look up at her approach.

“See anything?” asks Cimpreon.

Caroline: “Almost a dozen licks, and not fresh ones. They abducted and murdered twice that many kine for a mass Embrace. They have half a dozen vehicles and automatic weapons.” Her voice is calm, measured.

GM: Three scowls greet the news. But not surprise.

Caroline: “Presumably their intelligence is good enough to identify when the elder is arriving. I would expect them to be in place ready to ambush us on the road, likely using IEDs to disrupt the convoy, then releasing the starving fledglings onto it before cleaning up when it’s done.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “At least, that’s what I’d do. Alternatively, you could hit with the fledglings from one side and the ones that know what they’re doing from the other.”

GM: “It’s never fuckin’ easy,” mutters Cimpreon. “You guessed their MO. You fought the Sabbat before?”

Caroline: “Not like this, but like I said, it’s what I would do. It’s a good tactic if you can stomach murdering and damning a few dozen men, women, and children. The kids are a nice touch—they’re counting on your people to hesitate.”

GM: “They won’t,” says Westphal with a contemptuous smile.

Caroline: She gives the ‘youngest’ of their group a grim smile. “I didn’t think that would be an issue with your people, especially not from Blackwatch.”

GM: “The IEDs won’t be enough to destroy any Kindred,” he continues. “They’ll incapacitate the ghouls and soften up the Kindred. But the pack will want to save the elder and any strong-blooded childer to diablerize.”

Caroline: “I saw a few RPGs as well. Presume they’ll use those along with the explosions to try and immobilize vehicles.”

GM: “Almost a dozen is pad odds,” says Mahmoud. “Did zhe shofelheads dig out yet?”

Caroline: “No. They are still burying them now,” Caroline answers.

Which says very bad things about how good their intelligence is, she doesn’t need to add.

GM: “We need to stop that from happening,” says Westphal. “Dig up the pit. Decapitate or burn all of the corpses.”

Caroline: “Presumably they’ll hang around to make sure that doesn’t happen. I didn’t see one, but if it were me I’d try to cram them into a van or truck to deliver them to the point of the attack,” Caroline answers.

“There’s another thing—this isn’t a local pack. Looks like hitters brought in from elsewhere to reinforce.”

GM: “Not a surprise,” says Cimpreon. “They’re probably here to have fun in the Gehenna War.”

Caroline: The what? She keeps her face still.

GM: “They’ll be able to control the shovelheads. Van delivery would be convenient but they ain’t gonna need one.”

“Mostly control, barring interference,” corrects Westphal.

Caroline: “Will the control survive the priest’s destruction?”

GM: “They use a combination of mundane and supernatural control,” answers Westphal. “The priest’s control won’t be fully precise either. Most of the shovelheads will be frenzying from starvation and mental trauma. Even the ones who drain the slower risers won’t have much blood in their systems. Packs mostly point shovelheads at a target and let their Beasts take over.”

“But destroying the priest will make it harder for the pack to control the shovelheads and direct them towards targets not in their immediate vicinity.”

“Priest’s someone we’ll want to take out fast anyways,” says Cimpreon. “Second-in-command and all. What’s he look like?”

Caroline: Caroline provides a description, complete with the Catholic robes.

GM: The three take note.

“You need a pody,” repeats Mahmoud. “Zhese are pad odds. As I said. I can give you a rush job zhat won’t last long, or take my time to make a petter one.”

“Zhe rush jop will fall abart in apout an hour. Zhe petter one, a night.”

“We need to capture the priest, ductus, or both for interrogation,” says Westphal. “They’ve obviously received good intelligence to set up this ambush.”

Caroline: “How long for the shovelheads to dig out?” she asks Cimpreon, smiling at Westphal’s observation.

GM: “It’s up to them,” says Cimpreon. “They can hit the shovelheads with a shovel, drain ‘em, blood ’em, then dump ’em in the ground. They’ll wake up fast after that.”

“But the pack can take longer if they want. If they make the shovelheads postmortems.”

“They won’t do that here,” says Westphal. “The elder’s arriving tonight. Which they know.”

“Any back can berform a bostmortem or immediate mass Emprace,” says Mahmoud. “Briests who know ze ritae can time when zhe shofelheads wake up.”

“I’d assume the shovelheads are going to start digging out shortly before the elder arrives,” says Westphal. “That’s what I’d do if it were me. I’d perform the mass Embrace with a window of time in case something goes wrong, lay low, then time the shovelheads to wake up when they’re needed.”

“I’d also hafe eyes on zhe airport, if it were me,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline nods and sweeps her gaze across the group.

“Capturing or killing is a pleasant fiction, but let us proceed under two assumptions I judge safe given their information as to the arrival of the elder.”

“First, they likely know the strength and capabilities of the elder and of all assembled here—myself excluded. Second, that they have judged their strength sufficient to overcome not only this gathering, but it in addition to the elder and their retinue.”

She waits a moment for any interjections or objections.

GM: “Yeah, but those fucks don’t know what we know,” says Cimpreon. “They’re countin’ on an ambush. They’re countin’ on the shovelheads. They’re countin’ on rocket launchers and maybe IEDs. We take those things away, and their plan’s gone to shit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Verily? Assuming we could approach with all of your ghouls and Mr. Westphal’s without alerting them, how many of their ten would you expect to account for, presuming they average fifty years in the Blood and there are no elders among them?” Her tone carries no mockery or scorn.

GM: “Sabbat elders don’t go on missions like this,” says Cimpreon, shaking his head. “Be surprised if they average fifty years dead. Packs tend to be young.”

“There’s about as many of us as them, after Mahmoud gives you a body and brings over helpers. We stage an ambush too, fight this fight on our terms? Edge goes to us.”

“Or we let the pack attack the elder,” says Westphal. “It’s a better look if we help save her than if we simply say ‘there was a pack we took care of before you got here.’ Who would care about something like that? It’s better if she actually gets attacked, feels threatened in a foreign environment, and sees how much she needs us. And our elders.”

Caroline: This is taking too long. She’d hoped to let them reach the conclusion on their own, but the egos are too significant in the group.

Caroline shakes her head. “If we let them take the fight where they want and how, with the elder, we’ll lose. They’ve measured their strength as sufficient, and given their intelligence so far, I’d not doubt them. Even if the body Miss Mahmoud could provide was everything I might wish, I am not confident that I would meaningfully tip the scales in that conflict. I have less stake in that than you, since it won’t be me getting diablerized out in the desert, but I do have a persistent aversion to failure.”

“Which means you’re right, Mr. Cimpreon,” she gestures to him. “We need to attack them and disrupt their plans.”

She gestures to Westphal. “You’re also right, Mr. Westphal, simply disrupting them is the least of the victories we could take from this. If we attack them without the elder present, we need something to show the elder for our efforts: a captive with specific information, for instance, to lend credibility to our efforts.”

“But four on ten is poor odds, even with the ghouls,” she nods to Mahmoud. “In the night, in the desert, I expect them to be less effective. And if they’re able to wake the shovelheads against us we won’t be able to withdraw effectively either. Bringing the ghouls likely also forgoes the element of surprise.”

Her gaze sweeps across each in turn. “We need something to tip the scales significantly in our favor, and I don’t expect it to be our dignitary or further aid from the city,” she gives Mahmoud a moment to interject, “so we need to make our own.”

She settles her gaze on Mahmoud. “Something like two dozen frenzying shovelheads in their midst when we attack. Is that something you could accomplish, Miss Mahmoud?”

GM: Some very mean-sounding laughter goes up from the three vampires at Caroline’s suggestion.

“Yes,” answers Mahmoud with a hard smile. “Zhere’s some Apyssal creatures I can summon to really fuck with zhem.”

“We still need to take out the priest, and quickly,” says Westphal. “He’ll be the one best-positioned to disrupt that plan. If it comes down to it, the priest is expendable so long as we still capture the ductus.”

Caroline: “I think that can be arranged,” Caroline agrees.

She looks at Mahmoud. “Is there a different in capability between the bodies you might provide, based on time, other than longevity?”

GM: “Bropaply not, but zhis is ze first time I’ll hafe done zhis.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “No pressure, then. It’s only your Requiem at stake tonight.” She looks to Westphal. “I presume your people came equipped for this? Explosives? RPGs? Magazines loaded with tracers?”

GM: “It’s bretty likely you’ll lose some of your mind, soul, or poth if you die in it, so no bressure eizher,” Mahmoud darkly smirks back.

Westphal nods. “We expected there’d be trouble.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly at Mahmoud’s claim. “I don’t suppose you brought a spare blade as well, Mr. Westphal?”

GM: A sardonic smile. “We’re not amateurs.”

“Swords. Firearms. Help yourself.”

Caroline: “Who says chivalry is dead?”

She turns back to the Arab vampire. “Shall we, then?”

GM: Mahmoud calls out in Arabic. Her ghoul gets out from one of the cars. Mahmoud starts to chant in a dark tongue that sounds only vaguely like Arabic. It makes several of the nearly ghouls’ skin crawl. She seizes the female ghoul’s shadow by the throat and yanks it free from its owner. It writhes in place like a spider only half-squashed by a fat book as its limbs jerkingly flail. The syllables in Mahmoud’s chanting grow darker and her eyes turn solid black. Minutes pass as she beats and flays the shadow until it has six limbs, ten limbs, then is finally a formless black and blood-like mass seeping through the gaps in her fingers.

“Open wide,” she tells Caroline in a deep and chill voice that sounds nothing like her own, then raises her hands and blasts the formless shadows into the Ventrue’s mouth. The taste is horrific, like swallowing nitrogen alive with crawling spiders. Blackness pours over her vision as voices whisper in her ears.

You’ll never make him proud…

Seneschal’s plan is doomed…

You can’t protect them…

Caroline: If Caroline had teeth to grind she might. Instead she twists and jerks as the darkness pours into her, as it’s poison fills her soul even as the whispers fill her ears.

It’s not the first time she’s been on the receiving end of demons that whisper to her of her worst insecurities, but that doesn’t make it easier to hear them. Her fears repeated back to her, given form and voice beyond the everpresent voice of Claire in the back of her mind.

She falls, suddenly no longer weightless, and lands hard, hands and knees. The sharp stinging pain is nothing to the skewering of her own hopes and dreams, sharp barbs sunk into her spirit.

She could stop perhaps, could dig them out like the hooks and barbs and splinters they are. Reason them away. If there was time. If she believed they weren’t true. If she wasn’t mainlining the source of them in a way a junkie could only dream of. Getting her own fix.

Instead she does what she always has, rising, squaring her shoulders.

Don’t let them see your hurt. Better to bleed quietly beneath your clothing than to stop, clean, and bandage it where all the world can see. Isn’t that why she wears black after all?

You can’t see the blood if she’s already clad in night.

GM: More than clad.

As the shadows retreat from Caroline’s sight, she looks down and and sees her once-translucent body is black. Her surroundings are in black and white, too. She feels weightless and cold. Very, very cold. Mahmoud commands her ghoul to open her mouth. The Egyptian woman looks less than thrilled, but does so. Mahmoud gestures again, and Caroline’s vision races as she floods inside the woman. There’s a roaring in her ears, then a hammering thump-thump in her heart. She feels sweat beading down her back. She feels queasy and sore. But no longer cold.

Her vision, though, remains in black and white.

“You’re basically a ghoul, and any of zhe zhings zhat hurt zhem hurt you,” says Mahmoud. “Put you’ll hafe your full range of bowers.”

The vampires don’t wait for Caroline to recover her footing. One of Westphal’s ghouls tosses her a sheathed, one-handed sword that looks like an extra long tactical knife.

Caroline: She snatches the blade out of the air with she could never have managed in life, despite the unfamiliar body, taking the opportunity to judge the body’s reach, how it reacts, how it feels.

The breath that comes with the motion is an unpleasant reminder that the body is alive, as if she needed another beyond the bizarre aches and feelings.

“I’ll try not to get your ghoul killed,” she answers.

The body is shorter. Its reach is less than her own. Its weight is different. Unfamiliar.

“Do you have anything longer?” she ask of the group as a whole, checking the blade’s edge.

GM: The edge looks sharp, but one of the Blackwatch ghouls tosses her another sword that’s a few inches longer.

The three vampires spend some time reviewing strengths and tactics. Cimpreon is best at hand-to-hand combat. Mahmoud at Abyssal magics. Westphal at controlling minds. Cimpreon points out that’ll make him useless against the shovelheads.

Caroline: She belts on the first blade and holds the second as she takes note of the coterie’s specialties.

Then she lays out their plan in greater detail.

As previously stated, the goal is to strike when the shoveheads awaken, then introduce panic into their ranks, causing them to frenzy on the pack. Westphal’s soldiers will open with RPGs into the vehicles and incendiaries into the group as a whole. When the fighting is joined, they’ll aim to break up any packets of resistance with the same while holding back to screen Mahmoud and her sorcerous ghouls.

Mahmoud will focus her efforts on disrupting control of the shovel heads and sowing chaos into their ranks, screened by Westphal’s ghouls.

Caroline and Cimpreon will lead the latter’s ghouls into the pack from the opposite side from the shovelheads, screening Westphal with them. Their goal is to kill or capture the priest and/or leader, ideally with Westphal’s control abilities.

Once they’ve captured one and induced panic and confusion, the intent is to withdraw as effectively as possible. The goal is to stop the attack, not attempt to slaughter a pack with twice their numbers.

“I expect the first few moments to be where this is decided—the fire and suddenness of our strike inducing frenzy into the pack as well, driving some away or at each other. In that moment, they will not know our numbers or strength. The longer the battle goes, the worse our odds.”

GM: Cimpreon points out that the shovelheads will almost certainly be frenzying when they burst from the earth, as a consequence of their traumatic deaths and ravenous hunger. Only a few fledglings of exceptional strength of will don’t succumb to their Beasts after that dark rebirth.

Mahmoud has brought no additional ghouls. She will call forth shadow servants, what Cimpreon terms “helpers,” before the attack.

They will also be what facilitate the shovelheads’ attack of the pack.

Westphal agrees with her objective. They don’t need to take out the whole pack. They just need to make them give up the attack on the arriving elder as a lost cause.

“The shovelheads already present a significant asset loss. If we take out the pack leadership too, the rest of them will likely give up the mission.”

“There’ll be a few motherfuckers crazy enough to fight ‘til they’re ash, though,” says Cimpreon. “How it is with these packs.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “Not just among them.”

Her gaze settles on him. “One more thing, for you specifically. If I should lose control in this body for whatever reasons, get away.”

GM: “You think so little of me, beautiful,” says Cimpreon in mock hurt. “You’re lookin’ at one of those motherfuckers. If you go apeshit, we’ll leave you. But the rest of us ain’t leavin’ until the ductus and priest are in the ground.”

Caroline: “Oh, to be clear, darling,” Caroline answers in a voice that’s not quite her own, “I wasn’t suggesting you flee from the battle. Only from me.”

GM: “I’ll give you the same advice,” he smirks.

Caroline: “Any final points?” she asks, tearing her gaze from him and to the group.

GM: Mahmoud says the others have some time while she calls forth servants.

Caroline: She looks back to Cimpreon. “In that case, might I trouble you for a warm-up?” she asks, loosening the longer of the blades in its sheath.

GM: “Get used to the new body,” he nods, borrowing another from one of Westphal’s ghouls. He doesn’t seem to be carrying his own.

Caroline: Caroline steps away from Mahmoud’s ritual with Cimpreon and draws the offered blade. It doesn’t quite make up for the loss of reach in this body, but it’s better than the first one offered.

She opens several paces between them and nods her ready to the Lasombra. “Be gentle, it’s my first time,” she offers wryly.

GM: “I’ll treat you right, baby. Just relax and let me in…” he smirks, raising his blade.

Then the vampire lunges at her, bringing down the sword in a high arc that scores the tarmac as Caroline sails past. She feels sluggish, though, like she’s been drugged. In a sense, she supposes she has been. She perspires, gets winded, and has to deal with so much noise in her ears from her bodily processes. Cimpreon doesn’t have to deal with any of that as he viciously presses his assault: his undead body never slows down. It’ll always work at peak efficiency.

Compared to her early nights, fighting blindingly fast Kindred like René, Caroline supposes she’s gotten in more practice with brutally strong ones of late. Baker, Meadows, and now Cimpreon, who isn’t so fast as either of the last two. Caroline just has to duck his savage blows and wear him down with a thousand cuts. He provides a good match, and by the time they’re done, Caroline is sore all over. Calluses are starting to form on her hands. The ghoul’s hands.

Westphal observes the fight with interest.

“You were wrong, Mahmoud. She doesn’t have her full range of capabilities,” the child vampire assesses. “The ghoul’s body doesn’t have any of her old body’s muscle memory. It’s never received any combat training.”

Cimpreon shrugs. “Extra sword ’gainst the pack either way. When the fuck do we get to pick the fight we want?” He puts away the sword he was using. “Good match, beautiful.”

Caroline: Caroline’s chest heaves in great gasps of air. Or rather, the ghoul whose body she’s inhabiting does. Sweat runs from the body and has already soaked through its hair.

She’s pushed it beyond what she thought its limits were, or perhaps are. She’s too accustomed to not having to deal with tiresome needs like breathing. Not being encumbered by muscle fatigue is an advantage she’s not fully appreciated since her earliest nights.

“We’ll… have to go again… on my terms.” She grins despite the obvious fatigue.

Still, this had value. It showed her the weak spots. The difference in her reach she has to account for. In stamina. As predicted, the flight will be over in its early moments one way or another.

Still, for it, she’ll put up a better showing against the real enemy.

She downs several bottles of water from the group’s stores, mindful of the frailty of the body she inhabits and the desert’s dry heat. She waits on Mahmoud to finish her conjuring.

GM: All of the ghouls have a fair amount of water bottles between them, perhaps little surprise for non-Egyptians unaccustomed to the country’s heat. However, the desert doesn’t feel too warm at night, either. It’s moderately cool. Probably 50-60 Fahrenheit. All of the ghouls have coats or jackets on. Caroline’s, which she didn’t remove during the sparring match, is soaked through with sweat. That’s another thing she’d gotten used to not doing.

The desert night is alive with shadows. Mahmoud has traced a summoning circle over the ground, etched within her own blood. It looks like the section of tarmac inside has fallen away into a realm of utter nothingness. Animate shadows cavort inside of it. Sometimes they’re shaped like demons, sometimes cobras or crocodiles, sometimes skeletally thin humanoids with too-long arms and hands. The air around them seethes with cold hatred. The other ghouls do not look eager to stand nearby. Mahmoud barks a final word in a guttural tongue and the circle collapses. The shadows seep out, their shapes alternately morphing between three dimensions and just two, pressed flat against the tarmac.

Caroline: She reverses the jacket, ignoring the appearance in favor of function—she’s not accustomed to getting cold—and ties back the ghoul’s hair. She’ll have to ditch the jacket before the fighting starts, either way.

The Ventrue doesn’t study the shadows too closely, but nods her approval to the occultist.

Time to go. She’s certain calling and controlling the monsters is not easy.

GM: The vampires and ghouls pile into cars and drive off. Westphal accepts a shorter blade from his ghouls. He’ll need to get up close to meet the pack’s eyes, and his mental powers will avail him not against frenzying Kindred. Mesmerizing some of the pack into attacking their ductus will be the only way to be certain who that is.

Once they’re close enough, the cars disembark for the party to proceed in greater stealth on foot. One of the Blackwatch ghouls volunteers binoculars.

The pack is still there, standing vigil over the mass grave. Many of them look bored and are playing a grisly game of kickball with some of their victims’ severed heads, now stripped clean of flesh into little more than grisly skulls with clumps of attached hair.

Caroline: Caroline puts all the ways this could go wrong out of her mind as they walk.

Once the die is cast, there’s no longer any room for doubt.

She looks over their numbers again. In for a penny.

When Mahmoud answers affirmatively to her whispered inquiry about the potency of blood across her ghoul’s body, she quietly offers the gift of her speed to the other vampires and Cimpreon’s ghouls.

GM: The ghouls are all-too glad to imbibe. Mahmoud says Caroline’s vitae, technically a ghoul’s, won’t be able to bond the other vampires. They merely offer thin smiles and say they’ll let it cool for a few seconds anyway, “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers almost mischievously. She lets each of the licks take their turn and three more ghouls besides before pulling back, tightly wrapping the shallow wound. Each throb of it his another reminder of the weakness of this flesh.

GM: It’s actually painful, too, to cut into her flesh with the hard steel. Caroline has some inkling of what Cécilia went through, though no one volunteers to do the cutting for her. Mahmoud takes Caroline’s wrist before she can wrap it and licks the wound closed, then carefully licks up any trace of remaining blood.

“Zhat plood’s smell will gife our bositions away pefore any noise efer does.”

Caroline: She nods to the mystic.

GM: Everyone seems to walk with that much more spring to their step after imbibing. The pack, meanwhile, has a few sentries keeping watch via binoculars. Caroline initially fears that stealth may be a foregone conclusion between the flat terrain, the pack’s night vision, and the size of her temporary coterie. Everyone digs down to wait after Caroline suggests one of Mahmoud’s servants cause a distraction. She confirms they can lift corporeal objects, and after a few thrown rocks, the pack sentries sharply turn away at the noise and send several vampires to check it out. Most of them, though, either watch the mass grave or play games with their victims’ remains. Several of them look bored by the waiting.

Mahmoud’s other shadows seep across the earth, then sink into it.

Bestial howls start to go up from the shaking earth. Several packmates laugh. All turn to watch the spectacle. Caroline sees it happen through the binoculars. Badly gashed, newly-pale, and madly clawing hands burst from the graves like zombies in a horror movie, but terribly real. The fledglings that drag themselves out are ravenous-looking things with sunken eyes, protruding fangs, already corpse-pale skin, and shredded and earth-specked clothing. Almost all of them are bleeding, and screaming bloody murder as they throw themselves at their killers. Their sires. The pack laughs and starts to subdue them until the frenzies pass, clearly old hands at this. The ones who get hurt just earn more derisive laughter from their fellows.

Then the Blackwatch ghouls open fire.

Caroline: She’s moving when they rise to fire. Soft steps carrying her forth quickly across the desert. They have to time these attacks carefully, give them no chance to set themselves against the charge, to gain their own weapons. Chaos.

Chaos is the order of the day. The longer blade is naked in her hand, the shorter one still belted at her waist.

GM: Cars go up in flames as the HEIs go off, exploding 900 steel balls and 2-3,000 incendiary pellets over a 15 meter radius. The pack roars and screams. Someone bellows orders to disperse, to make less clustered targets. Several vampires lose themselves to their Beasts and mindlessly tear into their fellows. Most of the pack responds with discipline under fire and charges towards the source of the explosions. The priest raises the chalice and starts chanting in that same bestial tongue, only for a blast of shadow to knock it from his grip.

Then the shadows rise.

Mahmoud’s servants give bone-chilling screams of hate like nails over a chalkboard as they tear at the shovelheads, whipping them into frenzy and then seeping back into the earth, leaving them to turn upon their fellows. They lope forward on all fours like animals, smashing into the more experienced vampires with mindless savagery. Packmates roar back and tear into them, many losing themselves to their Beasts too. The voice from earlier shouts, “Take out the shooters!”

Caroline: She told the others their goal was to strike and withdraw. She told them they had no interest or hope in slaying the entire pack. She spoke truthfully. But not honestly.

Caroline is no saint by any measure, but these creatures are worse than monsters. They’re savages, heathens, nightmares from one’s darkest dreams.

The screams of the dying men, women, and children and the glee of the pack as they taunted, murdered, and damned them ring in her ears. Dozens not only slain—god, she’s slain plenty of her own—but callously consigned to Hell and Earth and thereafter in a cruel mockery of the divine justice of the Embrace.

The Sabbat. This pack. They deserve every ounce of fury she can muster. They are a foe she can fight without reservation or hesitation. As that anger burns bright she can almost feel the touch of her sire, through her blood. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but she imagines it’s the same thrill he must have felt in his youth against the same foes.

She flies into this battle with blade in hand and joy in her heart born from righteous fury. It beats in rhythm with the heart in her breast in a rising crescendo.

GM: Automatic weapon fire sprays the night from both sides; from the Sabbat, armed to the teeth, and from Cimpreon’s ghouls, shooting as they advance. Several vampires soar into the air with stupendous leaps, or simply blur across the desert, too fast for mortal eyes to follow. Distance means little to these creatures. Caroline ducks past a slashing blow from a vampire with knife-length claws and a woman’s half-mummified breast swinging from a chain around his neck. Her sword slashes through his neck, and then his howling face rots a month in an instant as his corpse hits the earth.

Caroline: Going for the guns was a mistake, Caroline well knows. They might be effective against the ghouls, but they’re the least of the threat to the damned with the advantage of their surprise—and especially the fire—spent. The rest of this fight won’t be decided by ghouls with firearms—it’ll be decided up close on the edge of her blade, Cimpreon’s strength, and Westphal’s will.

The thought is among the last of the tactical ones that cross her mind before the conflict turns very pointedly into a more personal one, time seemingly to slow as she avoids the first vampire’s attack.

She doesn’t quite howl with satisfaction as her blade finds its first lethal purchase, but the feeling is there all the same, a violent thrill echoing through the all too human hands she wields when the blade makes contact.

Going for the throat had been dangerous—if he’d been tougher, the blade might have snagged on his spine and been yanked from her hands. That’s a risk she’s willing to take while she retains a second at her belt. They need to even these numbers quickly, before the frenzying vampires turn their attention to them instead of their fellows.

GM: The guns mainly seem to be used by the slower vampires without a fast means of closing distance or ranged supernatural attacks. Shooting other Kindred is less than efficient, but it’s better than doing nothing. Shotgun and automatic weapons fire scream past her as she scans the sea of monstrous faces for her target. He’s still there, chanting and waving his hands at the shovelheads as they and his frenzying packmates savage one another. He tries to knock aside the anvil that’s come between his pack and the attackers’ sudden hammer.

They don’t give him the chance.

Cimpreon soars through the air, lands in front of the priest, and smashes a fist into his face with a hideous crunch of bone. Caroline blurs from point to point and slices into him from behind, dragging up her sword from the small of his back to shoulder blade. Up close, the priest’s ecclesiastical robes are a mockery of the church: the garment looks like tanned leather sewn from multiple human skins. Their flattened, eyeless faces soundlessly scream up at Caroline from his chest. Woven human hair provides a fur lining to the hood.

The priest himself resembles an alien with leather gray skin and no lips, nose, or mouth. Satanic tattoos dance along his features. He gives a pained grimace as the two vampires tear into him, and then inclines his head in a motion almost like a bow. His robes explode apart as his muscles gorily rearrange themselves and he grows over eight feet high. His new form resembles a scaled, greasy-furred humanoid with apelike arms tipped with jagged black nails, and a bristling row of spines tracing the length of its backbone.

Enormous claws slash through the air. Caroline ducks and weaves past them, but they rake across Cimpreon’s chest, leaving ugly red gashes through the Lasombra’s now-ruined suit.

Westphal’s ghouls maintain covering fire with the HEIs. Burning pellets explode through the pack’s embattled ranks, stopping the ones not battling the shovelheads from getting too close to Caroline, Cipreon, and the priest.

Caroline: She pulls back, breathing hard already as she pushes the kine’s body to its limits, but only to build speed on the charge—something to add weight to her attack against creature as monstrous on the outside as its deeds have been. Part of her instinctively recoils in terror from the monster, this creature far beyond her conception of Kindred, but he’s not the first such beast she’s seen.

The memory of the first only drives her at at him with renewed fury and hatred, his form overlaying in her mind with the last. Hack down, hack apart. She should have brought an axe, but any edge will do its work against flesh. And ultimately, he is still flesh.

This thing bleeds. She’s seen it bleed. And if it bleeds, she can kill it.

She’s killed a demon before.

GM: Caroline ducks low, avoiding another swipe of those enormous claws. She slashes her blade across the monster’s leg, sending it stumbling as she hamstrings it. Cimpreon leaps into the air and delivers two more bone-crunching blows to its already broken face, one of which puts out its right eye. Then he grabs the monster’s shoulders and launches himself over it. As it claws the air, Caroline blurs past on the ground, hamstringing its second leg. The monster topples to its knees, but catches Cimpreon by the torso. Claws rip through his chest. The Lasombra tosses Caroline a stake as it prepares to dash him head-first against the ground. She blurs up the creature’s leg, then rams the stake through its back. The wooden doom slides through the creature’s ribs like a knife through butter as she pierces the unbeating heart. The thing collapses and doesn’t move.

More vampires, however, are already breaking past the ghouls’ covering fire, howling as they converge upon the Kindred who’ve laid low their priest.

A short ways away, an imperious-looking man with solid black eyes conjures his own writhing tendrils of darkness, then sets them against Mahmoud’s. The night tears itself apart as whirling shadows fly between what can only be two Lasombra. Their contest reminds Caroline of the clash between Maldonato and her sire.

Caroline: She takes one look at Cimpreon’s maimed condition and the onrushing attackers. “Take him and go!”

The words cost her something—precious breath, but there’s not much choice. She trusts the Kindred’s speed-enhanced ghouls to buy him the time to withdraw with their prize and turns on the Lasombra conjurer. There can be no escape with sorcery dogging them into the night.

GM: Westphal’s voice rings through the din of combat over and over: “Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus.” Caroline briefly catches a childish glee in his eyes as he catches packmates’ gazes and orders them to attack their own leader. The look of supreme arrogance on his face grows with every will he crushes.

Cimpreon’s savaged flesh is already knitting itself back together, and he scowls as if to object, then seems to realize he’s the only one strong enough to carry the monster and hoists it over his shoulder. Caroline slashes through ranks of onrushing vampires rallying to the rival Lasombra’s side. He sneers at Mahmoud, casually exploding apart one of her monsters into a shower of screaming motes. Mahmoud’s conjured servants, the frenzying shovelheads, and the ghouls’ covering fire are keeping the pack from mounting a united response, but Caroline wonders how long it will last.

Westphal, however, beats everyone else to the kill. While Mahmoud pits her shadows against her clanmate’s, and Caroline cuts, slashes, and blurs closer, Westphal simply lets his dominated puppets bury the ductus under weight of numbers and ram a stake through his heart. One of Cimpreon’s ghouls blurs up to the paralyzed corpse and hefts it over his shoulders.

WIZDRAW!” shouts Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline blazes across the front as the ghouls and other Kindred pull back, seeking more distraction and disruption than outright harm of the the regrouping pack. Even down three of their number for the count—that she’s seen—they still outnumber the Lasombra almost two to one.

GM: Perhaps others have fallen too, but the situation looks grim. Animate shadows grasp at Caroline’s legs, trying to pull her down. Spectral wolves howl and bound through the flames. One of the HEIs stops firing—out of ammo, ghoul taken out, doesn’t matter. Grenades start exploding around them. Those can’t be the ghouls’. Where did the pack get those? Did they always have them? Meanwhile, the shovelheads, for all their savagery and numeric superiority, are going down hard against the more disciplined, experienced, and only marginally less savage pack. Mahmoud’s servants harass their flank, but the battlefield’s present state is all-too plain: they’ve accomplished their objective and it’s time to get the hell out.

Caroline: Everything aches—she can feel this body’s muscles burning as its feeble heart struggles to pump enough blood to keep it going, to match its demands. She pushes onward, the blade slicing through the grasping shadows.

It’s just not enough. She’s a flicker too slow, this body a flicker too weak. Everything just off enough to slow her down.

She pushes harder.

Weak.

The blade dances, blazing through the night.

Slow.

She’s bleeding, doesn’t even know where it came from in the chaos, but it doesn’t stop her.

Pathetic.

She fights as much against her own demons as against these ones as the plan starts to unravel. She just has to snip that fraying thread. She has to hold things together. She can’t fail. Not like this.

GM: Mahmoud runs, but the clash of shadows seems like it’s drained her. Shadows still cling to her legs and she runs as though caught in quicksand. Caroline wonders how much slower she’d be without her borrowed speed. Westphal only has a child’s legs: Caroline doubts he’d get very far without her blood, either. Cimpreon is either weighed down by the monster’s corpse, or the bulky thing is just awkward to carry even if he isn’t weighed down. Caroline may be unaccustomed to this body, but she’s accustomed to being fast. She blurs and weaves from point to point, harassing the regrouping pack from half a dozen positions seemingly at once, buying the others time to withdraw. A few stray gunshots clip the vampires’ backs, along with another blast of shadow before Caroline severs the owners’ fingers from their hand. The monstrous vampire screams in her face, and then she’s gone in another blur.

The ghouls, however, fare dismally. One of Cimpreon’s renfields goes down in a heap beneath two Sabbat vampires. They shred him apart like starving wolves before throwing themselves back at the shovelheads and Mahmoud’s shadowy demons. Cimpreon’s other ghoul, the one with the ductus’ body, seems like he’s about to break past enemy lines. Then one of the spectral wolves savages the Blackwatch ghoul with the remaining HEI right as he pulls the trigger. His aim goes wide and catches Cimpreon’s ghoul in friendly fire. The man loses half his face and goes down in flames, writhing and screaming over the ground. The remaining Blackwatch ghoul, however, rises magnificently to the occasion. He blurs right back into the fray, dodging and weaving past the still-clashing pack and shovelheads, then hoists his fallen comrade and the ductus’ bodies over his shoulders. He’s gone in another blur.

The glowing wolves harrow the survivors’ flanks as they withdraw. Spectral jaws close and tear around Caroline’s legs before she slashes open the creatures’ flanks. They dissolve into mist with ghostly howls. Lobbed grenades explode around the coterie. Mahmoud fires back with blasts of shadow. Westphal conjures a few lesser blasts. Bullets whiz back and forth between both sides.

The remaining shovelheads and Mahmoud’s servants keep the pack pinned down as the coterie pulls back. They get into their cars and drive like hell.

Caroline suspects she could run faster than any of the vehicles, at least in her real body. The tortured and gasping lungs in her borrowed one, however, wheeze for relief. She slumps back against the seat as the car moves underneath her, hurting everywhere. There’s cuts and gashes from more places than she can guess.

But there’s one sensation burning in her gut hotter than any wound.

Victory.

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Caroline VII, Chapter IX
The Seneschal's Confidante

“I am proud of the honor I have done my sire’s memory.”
Fatimah al-Lam’a


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline lets Celia borrow her choice of clothes from any of her sisters. There’s plenty to pick from. By the time she’s dressed, the girls seem to have finished their dance lesson. They thank Celia for doing their faces and making them look so pretty. They all took lots of photos. Simmone has to be reminded by Cécilia to say thanks. She’s starting to look anxious again. Her sister makes pleasantries before spiriting her upstairs.

Simmone makes a beeline for the master bedroom. Abélia’s belly is grotesquely swollen like a melon, and the sheets stained a violet-and cream-smelling inky black. Simmone just wraps her arms around her mother and buries her face between her breasts.

Caroline: Caroline follows, pausing at the doorway as Simmone dives into their mother.

She bites her lip and advances, gently sliding into a seat beside her mother on the bed. She lays a cool hand on Abélia’s cheek.

Mother?

GM: The mental response is like molasses, slow and thick yet cloyingly sweet.

I am here, my treasure.

Caroline: There’s a flush of relief, and Caroline’s gentle hand cups the side of her mother’s face, weighing her next words.

Finally, Your body here is changing.

GM: Fear not, my dear. The changes are auspicious ones.

Caroline: She eyes the swollen belly.

Are our numbers growing again?

GM: A fluttering laugh.

Seven is a perfectly sacred number.

Caroline: Caroline contemplates.

A meal, then?

GM: Clever girl.

Fret not that you must immediately deliver your traitorous servant into my larder. More pressing duties shall await you ere your sire’s call.

Caroline: The Ventrue wrestles with relief, shame, and stepped upon pride.

There are so many things on her plate that having one less, especially such an important one, to worry about is a weight off her shoulders.

But its her mother. Her family. She was going to take care of this problem.

She bites her lower lip, tries to accept it. To bite back against that instinctive need to do something about it. It’s all according to her mother’s plan. Part of family is supposed to be trust, isn’t it? Relying on one another?

It’s still an alien feeling.

I understand, she passes at last, pushing the anxiety associated with feeling like she’s done something wrong aside.

Is there anything else I can do right now?

GM: Cécilia lays a hand on Caroline’s shoulder as if to say it’s all right.

You don’t need to carry the whole world on your shoulders, Caroline. We can carry you, sometimes, or at least not ask you to carry us.

GM: Prepare yourself, my dear, Abélia answers.

A new piece has been put into play upon the Jyhad’s gameboard. I sense that its path may soon cross yours.

Caroline: Caroline lays her free hand atop Cécilia’s own, but her gaze remains on her mother.

The childe of Donovan visited this evening.

GM: A fluttering laugh.

Little that transpires within our home’s portals is unknown to me. But you are a mindful daughter to inform your Maman amidst her infirmities.

Caroline: I presume then, she wasn’t the new piece on the board, Caroline answers ruefully.

GM: Even a rival’s pieces may yet serve one’s interests, my dear. Every shift in positions brings with it new opportunities.

Caroline: You would that I went ahead, then? Caroline asks.

GM: I feel like your dad might say something like ’it’s either go forward or fall behind,’ Cécilia offers.

Caroline: No, Caroline answers, biting her lip with a strained smile. Not quite. For him the only way forward was through.

She pauses.

But you’re both right in that regard.

She turns her gaze to Simmone. We can barely keep her from you, Mother.

GM: Hah. That does sound like him. Only one option.

Cécilia’s face does still, though, at Caroline’s next words.

Simmone hasn’t acknowledged either of her older siblings. She’s simply wrapped her arms and legs around Abélia’s swollen form and clung on. Some of her makeup looks like it’s smeared over their mother’s chest.

I think that was a lot of strangers to bring into the house, sends Cécilia. But she seemed to do mostly fine. We could do this again next week. Should do this again next week.

I suppose it doesn’t harm things for Simmone to spend time here, so long as she re-learn to function around non-family members too.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

I would have her spend more time with her sisters, engaging with the world. There’s nothing wrong with coming up here when she needs comfort, or even at night, but she can’t live in Mother’s embrace.

GM: A faint vibration passes through the air. It sounds like a whispered scream, and feels like tears wept upon Caroline’s shoulder, so very soft with fear. So very gentle in its despair. Abélia’s mouth hungrily works open and closed in chewing motions as her belly swells like a balloon.

Ah… yes…

Puncture the body’s stomach, Caroline, if you please. It is reaching capacity.

Caroline: Caroline’s blood runs cold. But then it usually does.

“Cécilia, can you take Simmone to the bathroom?”

GM: “I’m not sure she wants to leave Maman right now,” Cécilia answers. Her face briefly flickers at the sound, but her trust in Maman is absolute. “What if we just cover her eyes?”

The ten-year-old continues to wordlessly cling to their mother, head turned away from everything else. They might not even need to do that.

Caroline: A moment of contemplation. A battle worth fighting, but not one she really wants to fight now. She nods.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” she vanishes downstairs and returns with a cooling skewer and paring knife both.

This won’t hurt you?

GM: A fluttering laugh.

You could use your bare hands, my dear, and this body would be none the worse. But your concern for Maman fills her heart with gratitude.

Caroline: Caroline looks to Cécilia. “Don’t let her watch.”

You shouldn’t watch either…

She takes the skewer over the body’s grotesquely distended stomach. The imagery is horrific, as though she’s poised to conduct some grisly late-term abortion. There’s a moment of hesitation as she looks down at her mother, but only a moment.

She brings her free hand down over the fist holding the skewer with tremendous speed, driving the tip deep into her mother’s stomach.

GM: Cécilia covers Simmone’s eyes.

Then she closes her own.

The skewer goes in with a ‘thck’ like it’s puncturing an overlarge fleshy balloon. It slowly begins to deflate.

It is not until about a minute has passed that a black afterbirth-like substance starts to leak out, not from the site of the puncture, but from between Abélia’s legs. It’s violet and creamy smelling like her perfume. Screaming half-visible faces swim throughout the dark slurry, their malformed hands pressed against the surface as if trying to escape.

Caroline can count… perhaps five.

Caroline: Caroline watches with a mixture of numb horror and fascination.

Moments pass, but at last she shakes herself free and draws out the skewer, placing one hand over the wound.

She tries not to dwell on the faces in the fluid. She knows what they are, or at least thinks she does.

But who is she to judge? Didn’t she do the same?

At least that’s what she tells herself.

GM: Thank you, my dear.

Abélia sits up, eyes still closed, and scoops her hands around the black mixture. Despite the soupy consistency, it clings to her palms without leaving a drop on the sheets. The wound between Caroline’s hands feels closed.

If you thirst, it will sate you.

Caroline: She doesn’t, not really, but her eyes linger on the fluid.

She remembers. Remembers the moment she committed an unspeakable crime. Remembers the horror as she destroyed someone utterly. But mostly she remembers how fucking good it felt.

Better than feeding. Better than sex, better than the kiss, better than unprotected vampire sex, her fangs sunk deeply into another vampire even as theirs pierced her.

It left her more than weak in the knees, more than shaking with pleasure, more than breathless with ecstasy. It was a pleasure she never wanted to end, that left her feeling empty when it was gone, like the sun leaving her sky. Like being snatched from her bed in the heat of the moment and thrown into a freezing river. It actively ached, the kind of painful withdrawals she’s only read about in the pathetic whining of addicts who didn’t get their fix.

Maybe that’s what scared her about it, more than the depravity of what she’d done, more than the fear of discovery. The fear that something like that could turn her into one of them: just another junkie.

She wonders if she’d be able to stop if she started again. She doesn’t want to know the answer.

It is better used to gather your strength, Mother.

GM: As you wish, my dear.

Abélia raises her hands to her mouth and drinks up the afterbirth-like substance. The faces swim towards its edge and away from Abélia’s mouth, as if fleeing the inevitable. Their mouths chew down upon one another’s heads to make room, and five faces give way to three, then two, then one. It avails them only not. Caroline’s mother drinks them all back down, without so much as a scream or belch to mark their passing.

Caroline: She’s not certain if she’s envious or terrified. Perhaps both.

Caroline removes her hand from her mother’s now closed wound and takes a cue from Simmone, laying her head on Abélia’s chest.

You can open your eyes, Cécilia.

Whatever she saw, it’s a small price for her mother to be up and moving.

Anything for family.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline returns to Perdido House with Kâmil and Gisèlle after taking leave from her family. Congo spends some time showing Caroline different residential units and office spaces available in the skyscraper’s upper floors for her to consider for her assorted needs.

Like most skyscrapers, the ghoul explains, Perdido House has a large variety of commercial and residential tenants on its floors. Many tenants are related to Vidal’s and Maldonato’s business interests, though more of them are not. Even the two elders cannot possibly exert a controlling hand over all of the 40-story building’s inhabitants, nor do they wish to. It is better that other Kindred cannot be sure which of the building’s kine work for the prince and which do not.

Caroline: Caroline makes note of several office spaces and residential locations, asking a few probing questions about renovations. She seems far more interested in the former than the latter.

She takes note of and agrees with the wisdom of obsfucating exactly what is under their influence and what is free if it.

GM: “I am to believe higher floors are considered a status symbol among law firms,” Congo states. He shows Caroline some currently vacant sections of several 30-plus floors. They look much the same as any others she might expect to see in a downtown skyscraper. Renovations will be little trouble to arrange.

Caroline: “A departure from days of old, I’m told, in which higher towers were a form of banishment, a mark of your lack of importance and distance from the court,” Caroline smiles, strolling through an undeveloped space. She mentally draws floorplans as she goes.

GM: The ghoul smiles faintly back. “In olden times, a lord’s hall and hearth were the center of his power. In the era before Charlemagne, it was not uncommon for a lord’s family to sleep in the great hall alongside the servants. There was little privacy or comfort in these arrangements, but there was even less in a high tower.”

Caroline: “Funny how things change. And they don’t.”

GM: “Mankind has always yearned for the heavens. Only in recent years has he been able to make his abode there.”

Caroline: “Is that why my sire chose a skyscraper?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I would speculate your sire chooses it because it is what the lords of today’s era now choose, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The skyscraper is the castle of the 21st century, and it is a poor lord without a castle.”

Caroline: “Touching the face of God is a fringe benefit.”

GM: “I believe your sire would frown upon such hubris, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, and perhaps state that the finite cannot touch the infinite. The prince himself holds little love for the American Quarter, as does my domitor. Both make their personal havens in the Garden and Lower Garden Districts, respectively.”

“But should business keep them overday, or should they believe their principle havens compromised, they maintain secondary havens in Perdido House.”

Caroline: And has he had much use for it of late? Caroline wonders.

“He’s possessed of many contradictions,” she observes. “Pride and humility.”

“Where do your tastes lie, Mr. Congo?”

GM: “I believe your sire to take great pride in his service to God, church, sect, and clan, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but little in himself as an individual.”

“I believe my experiences to have taught me humility, through which I hope to have been of greater service to my domitor. Pride may be a sin to all, but it is perhaps better-suited to take root in kings than chamberlains.”

Caroline: Caroline breaks from her mental map to flash him a smile over her shoulder. “Insightful, Mr. Congo, and appreciated. But I was more modestly asking about your tastes in the city.”

GM: “I also find much to appreciate in the Garden District, but my own tastes run closer to Faubourg Tremé. In another life, I might have made a home there.”

Congo also raises the matter of an office space for Caroline. As she has seen, Maldonato and Bishop Malveaux maintain offices in Perdido House wherein they meet with other Kindred and conduct many of their affairs. Prince Vidal, Sheriff Donovan, Primogen Hurst, Mother Doriocourt, and a number of other Sanctified and their ghouls also have offices in the building, some used more frequently than others. (Hound Wright rarely avails himself of his.)

Congo inquires whether Caroline has any preferences or specifications for her office space, or whether she would prefer to leave such to him.

Caroline: The Ventrue seems surprised by the suggestion, and admits that her initial inclination had been to make use of her office with the firm.

“I suppose that has the potential to cause some problems, though,” she admits.

GM: “They are likely not insurmountable problems, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but there is little reason to surmount them if we do not have to.”

Congo then tells her something else about her new office.

Caroline: “That explains why Perdido House has always felt so disorienting.” She flashes the ancient ghoul another smile.

“I imagine that must take a great deal of effort—I’d add to it as little as possible. A plain desk, a handful of comfortable chairs, and writing materials are all I require.”

GM: Congo smiles faintly back. “You have seen my domitor’s office, madam. Its contents, too, are subject to this security protocol.”

Caroline: “A being of greater refinement than I.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Perhaps in time my vanity or tastes shall grow. But not this night.”

GM: “Perhaps in time, madam,” the ghoul echoes.

Congo explains this aspect of Perdido House’s security in greater detail, as well as what Vidal and Maldonato have done conceal its existence from Kindred visitors to the skyscraper.

“This security protocol is unknown outside of your sire’s inner circle, which he now counts you among. Your sire expects it to remain unknown.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes that revelation in and falls silent: not for the first time in the last few nights.

The system is far from infallible, but it does make assassination attempts or any type of assault require significantly more coordination. Attackers could easily forget or assume key details. It also makes any Kindred present for such an attack much more immediately and obviously complicit.

She knows Ferris would endorse even more comprehensive measures. She’s not certain he’s correct, given the prince’s power. The threat of the counter blow in response to any attack in Perdido House—one that could be carefully tailored—is a strength few mortal power brokers could ever wield so effectively.

As much as secrecy and unpredictability, accountability is important, especially for a ruler. To be the king of the jungle others must believe that you are, and there can be no doubt.

GM: She also recalls Ferris saying it seemed like a coin toss to him whether the prince or the ‘insurgency’ would come out on top.

But his mind is not her sire’s.

Caroline: “The prince’s secrets are my secrets.”

The words are plainly spoken, and belie the pride having been brought into that inner circle brings.

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo replies.

“The next matter I would attend to is that of your haven within the building.”

“There are a variety of residential units available for such a purpose, not all of which are listed in the building schematics and directories. Havens located in non-residential areas may also be arranged.”

Caroline: “I need little in that regard, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “A few concealed chambers within the firm’s floor may be the most expeditious.”

GM: “Expeditious, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but perhaps less secure than it might be. Were I an agent of our prince’s foes, and had I infiltrated Perdido House to assassinate the prince’s childe, I would begin my search for her haven in a mortal business connected to her.”

“Even if I did not expect to find that haven in Monument Law’s offices, I would still consider it worthwhile to search them while I was in the building.”

Caroline: “I was counting on it, Mr. Congo,” Caroline answers.

“On any given day I expect such an effort, even if successful in breaching the most heavily fortified building in the city, to achieve its goal no more than one day in three.”

GM: “I do not believe it probable that an infiltrator will breach the building and locate your haven within Monument Law’s offices, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but no fortress is unassailable.”

“Yet if you share in this assessment, and still wish your haven located therein, I will make the necessary arrangements.”

Caroline: “A lion cannot fear the hyenas. Let them come if they dare,” she decides after a few moments of thought.

GM: Congo inclines his head. “It shall be as you wish, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: When Maldonato is available, he receives Caroline in his office. Both of the ghouls are not instructed to leave. He inquires as to “Miss Baker’s present status” and states “very good” at the Ventrue’s answer before requesting,

“Please close your eyes, Miss Malveaux, and place your hand across my desk.”

Caroline: Caroline identifies several apartments and rooms that might serve her personal needs. Most are relatively severe affairs, and makes small talk as much as Congo will facilitate.

When she’s brought before Maldonato she’s in better spirits for it than when she arrived. The Ventrue seems relieved by the seneschal’s approval over the state of Jocelyn, and not just for his praise. Perhaps vindicated.

She does as the seneschal asks, feeling perhaps a little childish as she does so. Her left hand seeks out the ancient Moor’s desk.

GM: Caroline feels the seneschal’s hand take hers, then loses all sensation in her body. She does not feel the chair against her legs, her clothes against her skin, or even her hair against her head. There’s just nothing.

Caroline: The sensation demands she open her eyes, she look around, but she fights back the urge. Instead she remains still, quietly listening, not even her breathing to distract her. She listens for the sounds of the building, for gentle breaths of Kâmil and Gisèlle.

GM: The ghouls’ breathing and steady heartbeats are audible to her newly-keen senses.

“You may open your eyes, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She does so.

GM: She sees two of herselves. The first Caroline is a translucent, ghostly copy of her own body. A silvery cord runs from its back into the second Caroline’s heart. Its eyes stare vacantly ahead, an empty house with no lights on.

Caroline: It’s not the first time she’s looked down on her corpse. The effect is no less disconcerting the second time.

GM: She looks across the desk and sees two copies of Maldonato. The first, corporeal entity shares the same vacant expression as her ‘other’ self. Its hand is still clasped around the ‘other’ Caroline’s. A silvery cord connects the seneschal’s second body, ghostly and translucent like hers, to his corporeal body.

“Kâmil, Gisèlle, you will guard our bodies until our return,” he states.

The two ghouls incline their heads.

Maldonato stretches out a ghostly hand to take Caroline’s. It feels solid to her, but there is no skin-like texture to it, merely a muted sensation of physical matter. Almost like condensed cloud.

“A long journey awaits us, Miss Malveaux. If you lose my hand while we are in transit, I cannot guarantee my ability to retrieve you. It may then be some time before your physical and spiritual selves are reunited.”

Caroline: “Then I shall not allow that to happen, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

A long journey where?

GM: The two rise from their feet and float through the office’s window. They float higher. A breathtaking view of glittering cityscape stretches out beneath them, and endless night sky above.

Caroline: If she had breath to be taken, it might do so, instead Caroline simply takes in the vista with unnatural acuity as they rise. The experience makes her almost giddy.

Flying. Actually flying. It’s a dream every child has. A smile sneaks its way onto her face.

She wonders how many nights the seneschal spends his doing this, floating the world. No doubt it is tempting any without existing agendas.

GM: “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest, so it is said,” Maldonato states as the city grows smaller beneath their translucent feet. The countless streams of cars and people resemble nothing so much as brightly lit ants, all scurrying about equally countless errands that seem of such minor consequence.

Caroline: “Let it never be said that a Requiem is without its pleasures,” Caroline agrees, hand in hand with him, watching the world fade away. “How many nights spent aloft on the winds, seneschal? I can think of poorer ways to spend them.”

GM: “Enough that the experience is long familiar to me, Miss Malveaux. Yet not so many that I no longer take pleasure from it.”

“Perhaps, should your proficiency at velocitas continue to grow, you may eventually experience the sensation of physical flight. For all the pleasure you might derive from our present vista’s sights and sounds, they do not compare with the caress of wind against one’s corporeal body, nor the smell of alpine air to a corporeal nose.”

Caroline: “I am gladdened to learn that there are some experiences even the weight of ages cannot rob of their splendor,” Caroline agrees. “And that may yet be eagerly anticipated.”

It’s not something she’s given much thought to, in truth. Though she might enjoy her heightened senses and the almost otherworldly grace she’s enjoyed since her Embrace, she counts few of the powers of the Blood as among those to be used for entertainment. They’ve always been means to an end.

GM: The pair’s surroundings dissolve into night sky. The clouds disappear too. Endless fields of stars and nebulae stretch in all directions. Stars and colors swirl about the pair, stretching on to infinity. Shapes seem to form in the distance, strange shapes that tug at something deep in Caroline’s soul, but Maldonato neither pauses nor speaks as the astral vistas dissolve past. The two Kindred feel like pebbles sinking through a vast cosmic ocean.

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Caroline: Caroline falls silent, struck by the majesty of the moment, simply drinking it in. For all of its attempts, even Kindred society has never made her feel so small.

Questions about where they are going die on her lips.

Silence is the only reasonable offering.

GM: Caroline is uncertain how much time passes. In vistas so alien, in a ‘body’ entirely bereft of sensation, it feels like they could remain in this place for a thousand years.

But eventually, color disappears from the stars. They’re so clear and bright, and the night sky so utterly black, when viewed beyond urban light pollution. Below, the familiar sight of cityscape stretches before her eyes:

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Caroline: Caroline holds tightly to the seneschal’s ‘hand’ for the trip. Even in its insubstantial form, it remains the most tangible thing.

She isn’t certain if she’s disappointed by the return to the familiar or disappointed, but it comes all the same. She starts to pick out landmarks. It may have been years since her last geography lesson, but there are few rivers as famous as the Nile. It helps her orient herself, and drives home just how fast and far they’ve traveled.

What incredible power. With the journey ending, it’s the practical that immediately comes to mind. The first thought is how mundane even her own powers seem in comparison. She can beguile minds, rewrite lives, make men into her puppets, and no mortal who has ever lived might stand before her with a blade. But this… this is something else. Something grander, not simply stronger. Powers that are so far beyond her own in scale as hers are to a kine.

It also immediately begs questions, but as before, she leaves them unspoken. She might have expected another city in the United States. Maybe even one in Europe. The Middle East had not entered her mind when they set off. Who or what are we here to see? Or is it some learning experience?

Their descent promises answers.

GM: Yet some answers are already hers.

When Caroline was an undergrad, she did a group project on Cairo for a history class. It wasn’t her first choice, but she was outvoted. Because it was a group project, she also did most of the work.

But if nothing else, the experience taught her a few things about Egypt’s capital. It taught her enough to recognize the landmark towards which her and Maldonato’s astral forms descend:

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Bab Zuweila was one of several gates built by the Fatimids in 1092 to mark the southern entrance to their walled city of Al-Qahira. Zuweila is the only one that remains standing to this night. During the Mamluke age, it became one of the city’s main sites of public gathering and, as such, likewise became the location for all public executions of note. Indeed, the gate was widely known as the forum for public and often graphic displays of power and dominion.

Bab Zuweila is featured in a major story from the 13th century. In 1260, the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered Damascus and rode into Egypt, flush with victory and dreams of further conquest. The Mongol Empire never lost a major battle in all its near-60-year history. Hulagu sent six messengers to the Mamluke sultan of Cairo, Saif ad-Din Qutuz, demanding his surrender. To stand against the Mongol tide was unthinkable.

Qutuz responded by killing the six envoys, “halving them at the waist,” and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweila. He then allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars (one of Egypt’s most famous later sultans), to defend Islam against the Mongol threat. Their combined forces marched to the Battle of Ain Jalut and won a resounding victory—the Stalingrad of its day. Caroline also compared Ain Jalut to Gettsyburg, but her professor said that was a poor comparison—the Confederacy could never have conquered the Union, only made the cost of war high enough to secure independence. Ain Jalut could have spelled a new era for Egypt under Mongol yoke if the battle had gone differently. But it didn’t. Ain Jalut was the first major defeat ever suffered by the Mongols suffered and effectively set their empire’s western border, confirming the Mamluks as the dominant force in the Middle East.

But no empire lasts forever. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks succeeded where the Mongols failed. Mamluke rule ended violently at Bab Zuweila when the Sultan Tuman Bey II was hanged three times from the gate’s vaulted ceiling (the rope snapped the first two times), and the heads of 500 slain Mamlukes were spiked along Bob Zuweila’s walls. Over 50,000 Egyptian civilians were butchered by the Ottomans during the city’s conquest, in addition to both sides’ military casualties.

Bab Zuweila has never thirsted for blood. Until the close of the 19th century, Bab Zuwayla was still being stubbornly barred shut every evening.

As Caroline’s and Maldonato’s astral forms approach the historied gate, she may wonder what manner of Cainite claims this blood-soaked butchery site for their own.

Caroline: She does, and with the fanciful hope that they never saw the finished product of that history project: she doubt’s they’d appreciate the way she framed the report alongside the barbarism of Islam and its cultural incompatibility with the West. The brutality of Christianity during the same period notwithstanding. It had been good politics, and pissed off the liberal member of her ‘group project’ (that contributed about as much as the average liberal to it) to have his name attached. The latter might have been worth it on its own.

Part of her wants to run her hand along the gate’s walls, this battered historical icon. Another part can’t help but note her companion—and her sire—might very well have seen as many nights as it has.

The part of her though that does things just to do them, for her own gratification, regardless of any consequences or even simply how it might appear to others is very small.

A memory comes drifting back. Introduce you to those Kindred we distrust least. She wonders how sparing her sire’s trust is if they must come this far.

GM: That part of her proves all the more impotent when the pair float straight towards one of the gate’s tall spires. Maldonato does not veer away from it. They simply pass insubstantially through. Caroline doesn’t feel anything.

She looks down. The city unfolds before her.



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Cairo is chaotic.

It’s unconditionally and utterly chaotic, noisy, hot, uncontrolled, polluted, disorganized, dirty, vibrant, colorful, and above all, alive.

Caroline’s initial impressions may be one of confusion, trying to sort out the jumble of energy and life that surges in Egypt’s capital. Like in most mega-cities, being combative is unavoidable and taking the micro-advantages over others seems to be common. Main streets are occupied with tense traffic and temper flaming motorists, yet within minutes one looks as if they can escape into a back street for a couple cups of tea or a bite to eat. Above all, the city feels like it never stops. It feels vigorous and animated well into the night. Cars go through the streets seemingly guided more by survival instinct and intuition than by traffic laws. The heavy traffic enhances the sense of chaos. Electric lights are everywhere. Caroline looks up and can barely see stars. Lights are on in homes, along market stands, along strings in alleyways, along strings set up by children. Light is everywhere. Electricity must be dirt cheap.

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Together with the enormous crowds, the city feels as tightly packed as a sardine can. There are almost no dark alleys. There is nowhere without people. Even the cemeteries are full of people with strung-up lights going about their business and chattering away in Arabic. There are some parallels to New Orleans, but where the Big Easy has a sense of lazy, Southern-drawl slowness that made it the perfect stage for Ignatius J. Relly to chew hot dogs and loudly pontificate his brand of French Quarter craziness to amused listeners, it feels as if Cairo would simply swallow him up and no one would pay the crazy man a second glance. The Mother of the World teems with the relentless energy of New York and the stubbornly thriving sense of life in the most densely-packed Third World slums.

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It’s enough to make even the dead feel alive.

Caroline: She isn’t sure what she expected—the project she did notwithstanding, but in many ways it reminds her of New Orleans on a larger scale.

GM: “What do you see, Miss Malveaux?” Maldonato inquires as the pair float past two dusky-skinned girls swishing around in white dresses. The oldest can’t be more than seven, but Caroline doesn’t see anyone who looks like parents nearby.

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The insubstantial pair go utterly ignored in their flight. Perhaps no one can see them.

Or perhaps no one cares enough to pay two souls out of countless millions a second glance.

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Caroline: The Ventrue startles when he finally speaks after the long silence, but the response comes quickly and easily to her lips.

“Life. Human life in all of its most dynamic vibrancy. The best and worst parts of the great cities of the world. Heritage and history not curated, but actively immersed in their lives. This city feels more alive, more teeming with energy, than anywhere I’ve ever been.”

“It’s not what I expected, seneschal.”

GM: “Some say expectations are akin to fine pottery. The more firmly one grasps them, the more likely they are to fissure.”

He releases her hand.

“Envision movement and you will find yourself in motion.”

Caroline: It takes a moment. More than two decades of life tell her that to move she needs to order her muscles into motion, to take a step. But this is not the first moment in his form she has experienced—they’ve flown across the world already.

She starts forward, taking the opportunity to peak down an alley echoing with the delighted shouts of children, before turning her gaze back to Maldonato.

“I thought I had seen the great cities of the world. I was wrong.”

“Has it changed much over time?”

GM:‘Mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in profusion of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, she shelters all you will of the learned and ignorant, the grave and th