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Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline IV, Chapter I
Kelford's Flight

“We’ve got forever ahead of us. Eternity. And whatever else might be shitty, that’s… pretty great.”
Jocelyn Baker

Wednesday evening, 16 September 2015

GM: 7:40 PM, the clock’s hands read.

A low drizzle sounds outside Caroline’s window. Pulling back the curtains reveals overcast skies blotting out the moon and stars. The night engulfs Audubon Place’s expensive homes. It chokes their lit windows into quiescence with hungrily grasping shadows that are all-too at home in the thickly-foliaged gardens.

Caroline will never see the sun again, that much is true. But for the first time since her Embrace, the night that awaits beyond her home is truly hers.

Turner is still awake and relays Autumn’s request to be buzzed in. The other ghoul shows up with the items her domitor requested: Solaris, two Sunpads, handcuffs, and various other electronics to replace the ones stolen by Wright’s thugs. Turner adds that Kelford’s “probably pissed himself in that closet by now.” She doesn’t sound upset. She adds that he’s “probably hungry too. And thirsty.” She doesn’t sound upset at all.

There’s also a message on Caroline’s new phone. It’s from Neil:

Sarah is awake! Recovering well, if you haven’t heard. Family not yet taking visitors. We’re all hoping for the best.

There’s also a voice mail from Lyman Whitney to the same effect. The old man’s voice sounds hoarse, and like he’s been crying, but Caroline can hear his smile when he thanks her for saving his granddaughter. He says that he and Warren will have to take her out to dinner sometime. Later. Right now they’re spending all of their time with Sarah.

“We won’t forget what you did, Caroline,” Lyman says as he ends the call.

A second voice mail from Carson bears the same news. He tells her how well she did saving both girls and asks if she wants to come over for dinner sometime. He doesn’t say it, but they both know he’s not heard much from her lately.

Caroline: Caroline pauses and re-reads Neil’s message several times.

Recovering well.

She suppresses a cry of relief, but not the smile that spreads across her face. She didn’t get Sarah killed. As good as killed. The girl’s recovering. Maybe she’ll even have a normal life, time in therapy likely notwithstanding.

Caroline’s own misjudgment notwithstanding. Her smile dims at that, and vanishes altogether upon listening to Lyman’s and Carson’s voicemails. She should still have worked Sarah first. Spared the Whitneys god only knows how many sleepless nights of grief and agony. It’s Neil and TMC’s other doctors who saved the girl and stopped Caroline’s fuck-up from leaving the teenager a vegetable.

She texts back her thanks and relief at the good news to Neil. She leaves Lyman and Carson with similar voicemails—it’s only polite—but doesn’t commit to any dinner dates. She’s grateful they don’t pick up. Grateful she doesn’t have to listen to them heaping on even more undeserved praise and thanks.

She doesn’t have time tonight, anyway. Her new ‘life’ calls.

She plugs in the phone to begin syncing with her Sunbook Air upstairs and heads downstairs with Turner to check in on René’s creature. She lets the Beast out of its cage before they open the closet, directing it away from her ghoul and towards her captive.

She’s lovely. Wonderful. Everything is fine.

GM: The elder ghoul is still blindfolded and hogtied in the closet. Contrary to Turner’s prediction, he hasn’t pissed himself, though Caroline imagines that’s probably a tempting thought now. He grunts as the Ventrue’s supernal mien washes over him.

Caroline: “How are you feeling?” the Ventrue asks.

GM: The ghoul manages an almost-shrug that’s arrested by his bonds. “Been worse.”

Caroline: “I’m sure. Your domitor is in the hands of the prince. I imagine he’ll face execution before the week is out.”

GM: The ghoul says nothing.

Caroline: “I thought you should know.”

GM: No response.

Caroline: “I’m sorry. I imagine that isn’t easy to hear.”

GM: The ghoul’s face twitches several times against the preternatural force of Caroline’s presence, but he remains silent.

Caroline: “I don’t know what fate is in store for you. It’s possible, maybe even likely that the sheriff or his men will come to collect you. If not, I don’t intend on offering you up to them. Whatever fate you deserve after you tried to murder Turner, tried to shoot me in the head, and did god only knows how many other crimes, I don’t wish what they’re probably doing on anyone. Well…” She pauses. “Except him.”

GM: The ghoul still offers no response.

Turner grunts. “Doubt he believes you. Interrogators say stuff like that all the time to fuck with prisoners’ heads.”

Caroline: It’s a thought that hadn’t occurred to Caroline. “You’re probably right. It doesn’t really matter.”

She looks back to the bound ghoul. “I haven’t decided what to do with you, but you should know if it comes to that, it’ll be clean.”

GM: “Won’t beg you for a quick end, but I’ll thank you for one.” The ghoul’s teeth clench as the words spill out… some part of him is fighting against saying even that much.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “When was your last dose?” It’s a nod he can’t see, but the action is more subconscious anyway.

GM: “Doesn’t matter. Empty now.”

It’s hard to make out many of the ghoul’s features past his blindfold. But there are lines along his mouth and a gauntness to his cheeks that wasn’t there before. Even his closely-cropped hair looks grayer than it did yesterday.

Caroline: “If I give you a drop will you keep it until your fate is decided?”

GM: The man hesitates for a moment. But he’s been a ghoul far longer than he’s been a man.

“Y… yes…” he chokes out.

His voice doesn’t sound twenty years older. It sounds a hundred years older.

Caroline: She bites her wrist and lets a precious bit of vitae run down her arm into her cupped palm before pouring it into his mouth.

GM: The ghoul ravenously sucks it down. A long shudder goes through his body.

Caroline: “Don’t do anything foolish.”

GM: “Not… much I can,” he pants.

Caroline: “I’ll see to it you get some water, maybe a bedpan to relieve yourself. I do appreciate you not making a mess.”

GM: Silence answers Caroline’s statement.

Caroline: “Let me know if he passes, will you?”

GM: The ghoul’s age-lined jaw clenches.

Caroline: She frowns. “You’re welcome, by the way. It’s better than he treated me last night.”

GM: No response.

Caroline: She slams the closet door closed.

GM: “Could have Leaf Two wipe up his piss. Not like she’s good for anything else,” Turner suggests.

Caroline: “She’s out right now, I think. Autumn bled her last night.”

GM: “Can’t be useful for more than one thing at once, then,” the mercenary says in a not-surprised tone.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees, “she can’t.”

GM: “Leaf One can mop up the piss.”

Caroline: “You two didn’t bond last night?”

GM: Turner shrugs. “Knew some stuff about vampires, give her that.”

Caroline: “Be careful with that word around others.”

GM: “Yeah, she yammered about that too.”

Caroline: “I get the feeling most of them regard it like a black man regards the word nigger.”

GM: “Sure then, Kindred it is. Sounds like some New Age hippie bullshit though.”

Caroline: “Makes them feel better.”

GM: “Leaf One’s hopeless with a gun. Tried to show her how to fire one and she went all California on me.”

Caroline: She chuckles. “Don’t hurt their feelings too badly. Remember they bruise like peaches if you breathe too hard.”

GM: “Thinks the military’s ‘imperialistic’ or some shit too. You said not to plug her, so I was pretty tempted to plug myself. Fucking college kids.”

Caroline: Caroline stifles a genuine laugh.

GM: “Shut up pretty fast though when I said I’d listen to her crap if she went through Parris Island.”

Caroline: “That would be… something.”

GM: “Yeah, would probably give the girls there something to tell jokes about for a while.”

Caroline: “I need to run some errands. Do some… things. Are you good here? Can you get him a pot to sit on and a glass of water? You don’t have to be nice.”

GM: Turner grunts. “I could. Blackwatch lets them shit and starve.”

Caroline: “Thanks, Amanda.” She lays a hand on the mercenary’s shoulder as she goes to check her new phone.

GM: Autumn has set up the basic features for Caroline already. The other ghoul has a very different perspective if asked about her conversation with Turner.

“Turner’s uninformed. I’ll thank her for her service any day, but she doesn’t actually know anything about US history or foreign policy. You tell her we’ve overthrown democratically elected governments and started illegal wars, she just shrugs and says she’ll listen if you’ve been through boot camp. That’s… not an argument.”

Caroline: “I’m fairly certain she does most of her arguing with her fists,” Caroline quips as she checks for messages and glances at the local news sites.

GM: Caroline’s media feed has the usual national news stories. Senate Republicans, her father among them, have attempted to stop the Iran nuclear deal by pushing through a resolution rejecting it. Senate Democrats have blocked it just as they did last week. Australia has also elected a new prime minister.

Locally, there was a shooting in New Orleans East involving police. Four people were shot and two were killed. There was another recent shooting at Central City. No police. Five people were shot and three were killed.

At Tulane University, inams attempted to give a presentation on the faith and traditions of Islam to the student body. Archbishop Orson Malveaux managed to have the event blocked.

A “Goat in the Road” fundraiser is being held at the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, 514 Chartres St.. Food, games, theater and acrobatic performances highlight this event for the upcoming production of “Uncle Vayna: Quarter Life Crisis,” inspired by Anton Chekhov. Admission is $20 and at 7 PM, shortly before sunset.

On Friday, Downtown NOLA awards are being held at 11 AM, Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, 739 Canal St. Downtown Development District honors projects and businesses. The state treasurer will keynote. Caroline’s family wants someone present. There is a group email to all of her local relatives asking who is available to attend.

Her brother Westley has also gone missing. There are numerous texts, emails, and missed calls from various family members, all asking if Caroline knows anything about where he is. It is apparent that the family is on edge and fearing the worst after Caroline’s own still-recent disappearance. Particularly when it’s Westley who’s gone AWOL.

The tones of the various messages grow increasingly annoyed by Caroline’s lack of timely response.

Caroline: She stares darkly at those messages before sending a text back to her mother.

Talked briefly last night. Said he was in the Quarter.

GM: Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is ‘Claire.’ Caroline still calls her ‘Mom’, but that’s in person.

Caroline: She curses under her breath and slides the accept key.

GM: Her mother’s voice sounds in her ear. It’s calm enough, but there’s a note of restrained urgency to it. “Caroline, what took you so long? When and where did you last see Westley?”

Caroline: Well Mom, I went and got myself killed. She bites back the response and a dozen other equally caustic ones.

“He called me at nine? Maybe ten. Said he was down in the Quarter. Wanted me to join him down there. I declined.”

GM: “Did he say what club he was at?” Claire asks. “Or anything at all else that you can remember?”

Caroline: “It’s the Quarter, Mom, the entire place is a playground to him. You know he’s not inclined to stay in one place for long.”

GM: Her mother sighs. “Damn it.”

Caroline: “What did he actually do?” she asks.

GM: “He missed one of his appointments with Dr. McMillian. Attending those is one of the conditions if he wants to keep his trust fund. I thought at first he’d been… enjoying the playground, like you say. He’s now been missing for two days. He’s not been at his apartment or any of his usual haunts. No response trying his phone.”

Caroline: “I stopped by and talked to him a few days ago, nothing seemed that out of the ordinary… I mean, he was drinking pretty heavily, but that’s normal.”

GM: Caroline’s mother gives a long-suffering sigh.

Caroline: “Are you in town?”

GM: “Yes, I arrived just this afternoon. Where were you all day, Caroline?”

Caroline: “Dropped my phone last night. Screen shattered. Wasn’t able to pick up a new one and get it set up until a few minutes ago.”

GM: “Westley doesn’t miss his appointments. I have a very bad feeling about this.”

Caroline: “Let me reach out to some friends at the hospital, with the police, and elsewhere. See if anyone’s seen anything. Where are you staying?”

GM: “The Hotel Monteleone. Why don’t I meet you at the lobby there in a few hours, after you’ve had time to get in touch with your friends. Will 10 or 11 PM be long enough?”

Caroline: Caroline winces. The trouble with family that has both taste and money.

“I’ll call you when I have something. May take me a while to run this down off the books with people,” she demurs.

GM: “Very well. I’ll be in town until whatever’s happened with your brother is sorted out.”

Caroline: “All right, Mom, I’ll talk to you later.” A momentary pause. “I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, Caroline. You do know that,” her mother answers. There’s a shorter pause on her end than there usually is.

Caroline: “I do. I’ll call.” She kills the line.

GM: When Caroline glances down, she sees that her new phone has a new text from Jocelyn.

hey things work out w/ the sewer rats?

Caroline: It’s over. He’s in the prince’s hands, Caroline texts back.

GM: Her phone starts ringing again. Jocelyn.

Caroline: No sigh this time as she slides the accept bar.

GM: “Holy shit, you torped your sire?”

Caroline: A faint smile. “Arranged it. It’s complicated, and I’d rather see you. Meet me in an hour?”

GM: “Yeah, for sure. Your haven?”

Caroline: “I actually need to run out and grab a bite.” She gives a street in Riverbend. “Call me when you’re close and I’ll come meet you?”

GM: “Sounds good. Congrats over your sire.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you soon.”

GM: “Bet on it.” Jocelyn ends the call.

Caroline: Caroline catches a ride from Autumn down to one of her typical stomping grounds. She takes the opportunity to make a couple of phone calls and asks several of her more usefully placed people if they’ve seen anything: hospital, morgue, or arrest line. It’s mostly going through the motions, but it makes her feel better.

GM: Caroline’s contacts have little to report. Jessica White doesn’t see Westley’s name in any (recent) arrest records. Dr. Crawford hasn’t treated him at the ER. Emily Rosure doesn’t find his name in any of TMC’s records. Maybe Westley will turn up later.

Caroline: She doubts it.

GM: Autumn chauffeurs her domitor through Riverbend. Tulane University and the nearby student bars remain off-limits. Now that René’s capture no longer looms over Caroline’s shoulders, her hunting selection feels remarkably limited.

Caroline: It’s better than nothing for now, but she’ll be happy to potentially expand her options. An entire college of victims right around the corner is so tempting.

GM: Caroline ends up returning to Cooter Brown’s. Four hundred beers remain on tap and seventeen TVs continue to blare football games down at the oyster-chowing working-class patrons, who are animatedly discussing the Saints’ new league record for most passing touchdowns. The Ventrue cannot find any college students, and after driving to several further dive bars, she takes what flat and tofu-like blood she can get from the four or five men she lures into Autumn’s car over the course of the evening. The coeds might be scarce tonight, but it’s all-too easy for an attractive, well-dressed young woman to find lustful men who give suggestive whistles, crude catcalls, or pantomime licking a pussy when she passes by them.

Caroline: The experience is miserable, akin to drinking the run-off swill that collects behind a busy bar, complete with filth and dishwater. Their flat blood eventually quiets Caroline’s rumbling hunger, at least to an extent. She can’t get lucky enough to find a fresh young victim every night, even if she’s found some well-deserving ones.

GM: Autumn remarks that “at least these assholes deserve it” and drives her domitor back to Audubon Place when they’re done. Jocelyn’s white Toyota Yaris is waiting at the corner of an adjacent street.

Caroline: Caroline stops at the gate to add Autumn to the access list, then lets the ghoul go for the night, promising that she’ll call if she needs something. “Go spend some time with your family.”

GM: The ghoul seems to find spending time with her family a step down from spending it with Caroline, if the look in her eyes is any indication, but she does as her domitor bids.

Caroline: Caroline makes her way over to Jocelyn’s car, sliding into the passenger seat of the squat little economy vehicle and slipping the seat back all the way to accommodate her long legs.

GM: Jocelyn stares at Caroline full stop as she gets in. “Seriously, I need to hear that again. You staked your sire?”

Caroline: “Well, technically one of my ghouls did.” There’s a hint of mischievousness in Caroline’s answer, but something else is buried underneath: bitterness.

GM: Jocelyn leans forward and places a pale hand over Caroline’s. “What’s wrong?”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth. “They used me. Threw me…” She shakes her head as she trails off.

GM: “It’s over now,” Jocelyn states, the look on her face seemingly preempting any need to elaborate. “And the Storyvilles…” She seems to think for a moment, then declares, “no one who messes with us gets away with it. You’ll get to find out everything, now that your sire’s gone…”

Caroline: “He took my brother,” she seethes. “I tried to report it as an infringement on Father Malveaux’s domain. So the sheriff dropped me in the Quarter. Right in René’s lap.”

GM: “Oh, wait… your brother? Did you…?”

A look at Caroline’s face tells the full story.

Caroline: “They tortured him. The Dungeon.”

GM: Jocelyn seemingly knows better than to hug an on-edge vampire, so she squeezes Caroline’s hand instead.

“I’m so sorry.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what happened to him. Family is in an uproar, all in town.”

GM: “Maybe Father Malveaux knows?” Jocelyn thinks. “You could go to him.”

Caroline: “He tried to kill me when I was driving René in for delivery. Some kind of religious magic. Murdered one of my ghouls when we pulled in. Just out of spite and rage.” Her hand squeezes tightly on Jocelyn’s.

GM: “Oh, geez. That’s…”

What their existence is.

Caroline: “It’s over. But it isn’t. I… they mesmerized me. I’m sorry. I kept all the details out I could, about you, but a scarred ghoul, I think Donovan called him Capitán Gautliterrez, knows I was there with Eight-Nine-Six.” There’s shame on her face.

GM: “I’ll talk to… about it, Caroline. It won’t be a problem,” Jocelyn assures her. “It’s all over now. You’re safe.”

Caroline: “I’m so angry, Jocelyn. All the time. Except when I’m around you.”

GM: The Toreador squeezes her hand again. “I know. I guess… a lot of us are.”

Caroline: “They didn’t seem angry at me over the Eight-Nine-Six reveal. At least they didn’t punish me for it. I just don’t want you to get in trouble or…. well. You know.”

GM: “It’ll all get taken care of. You’re in with us, things are gonna be a lot easier now.”

Caroline: “Just having someone I can talk to.”

GM: Another squeeze. “I’m really lucky to have you too, you know. You’re so strong.”

Caroline: “I’ve been nothing but trouble so far. But I’ll fix that.”

GM: “No matter what gets hurled at you, what happens… you just keep going. I don’t know how you do it.”

Caroline: “I’m going somewhere, Jocelyn. And you’re coming with me. I won’t be a burden forever.”

GM: “You’re not a burden,” Jocelyn repeats. “You took down Eight-Nine-Six. Kelford. Your sire. The rest of the krewe’s… they’ll think I’m kidding when I tell them this.”

Caroline: “Didn’t find Evan for you.”

GM: Jocelyn’s face falls for a moment, but then sets more firmly. “Yet.”

Caroline: “Yet,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “You must feel awful about your brother right now, but if you still wanna celebrate finally nabbing your sire…”

Caroline: “I can’t tonight. I have to make some stops, see if I can find out what they did to my brother. If he’s still alive… tomorrow though.” There’s a hint of happiness amid the morbid topic. “I have someone in mind. Apparently he thought it would be fun to stalk my future sister-in-law. And he’s just the right flavor.”

GM: “A stalker sounds good. Be pretty ironic for him to be the one who gets hunted.”

Caroline: “I thought you might appreciate it.”

There’s a little voice in the back of her mind that cries out over the insanity of the entire proposal, but that voice has grown more quiet with time and is not even a whisper now.

This is what she is. It’s what God wants. It’s what she deserves. It’s what she has left. All that she has left.

GM: “Doubt he will, but that’s the point,” Jocelyn grins.

Caroline: “I had something I wanted to run past you, as a sanity check. The family is in town tearing things apart. Staying in the Quarter…”

GM: The Toreador frowns, but waits for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “How bad of an idea is it to try and clear a visit to calm their nerves on my end? I’ve only heard Savoy’s name mentioned… and never in a positive context.”

GM: “Savoy’s horrible,” Jocelyn declares. “He wants to be prince, and if it weren’t for him, Vidal would’ve crushed the Baron and the city would be a lot better off.”

Caroline: “I gathered. He made my own life much more difficult, that said…”

GM: “Can’t you just meet your family outside the Quarter?”

Caroline: “My father is the junior senator. He isn’t as fond of house calls. Besides, the house isn’t exactly set to receive… I mean, I probably could, with some effort.”

GM: “Oh really? I didn’t move to Louisiana that long ago, I don’t know who the senators are.”

Jocelyn looks like she could sigh as she thinks some more.

“The Quarter’s Savoy’s territory. And he isn’t like Donovan or McGinn. He pretty much always lets Kindred in who wanna do something there. But… just having anything to do with him, that’s bad.”

Caroline: “Is that a ‘call first’ and he’ll let you do whatever or a ‘he doesn’t care as long as you aren’t poaching’ kind of thing?”

GM: “The first. That’s why it’s so bad, because you’d have to go and talk with him. Or his skank herald, I guess.”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress nods. “Bad idea. Got it.” She bites her lip. “I’ll find another way.”

GM: “If there’s an Elysium Primo nearby, you could sneak in,” Jocelyn suggests. “I mean, you don’t need Savoy’s permission to go to those, and there’s a million Elysia in the Quarter. He can’t follow licks everywhere.”

Caroline: Caroline remembers the snap of the whip in the air and searing agony that went on for days, shivering. “Something to keep in mind for the future.”

GM: “Okay, well, that aside. How’d you finally take down your sire?”

Caroline: “When Donovan dumped me in his lap, just before he dominated me, I was able to open a call to a ghoul. We’d already located his haven, so when they realized what was happening they gathered a few others and set a trap when he showed up with me. Set him on fire. Frenzied him… shotguns and swords.”

GM: “Wow. You’re kidding. You and one ghoul?”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “Three.”

GM: “Still. Wow. I don’t think I’d ever be able to take down my sire, even with some renfields for help…”

Caroline: “Hopefully you’ll never have to. He was… terrifying. Almost unstoppable.”

GM: “How old was he?”

Caroline: “Embraced near the end of the 19th century? Somewhere between 120-130?”

GM: Jocelyn lightly punches Caroline’s arm. “What was it you said? ‘I don’t want to be a burden’?”

Caroline: “I just meant I want to do something to help you. This has all been so selfish. What do you want, Jocelyn? Out of this existence, I mean?”

GM: Jocelyn looks somewhat taken aback by the question. “Well, honestly, I’m… still learning the ropes to all this. I was only Embraced a couple years ago.”

Caroline: “Still, you have to have some idea of where of which direction you want to go, even if you don’t know exactly where you’ll end up.”

GM: “Well, sure. I mean…” Jocelyn leans back in her seat, thinking. “I guess there’s a couple big things. I wanna find Evan, first. The Storyvilles haven’t been the same without him.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, reclining against the cloth seat as she listens to the Toreador.

GM: “I want us, the krewe that is, to do well. Score some wins against the Baron, and maybe Savoy. Get some better turf to hunt around. Maybe some more renfields, so life—well, unlife’s—easier.”

Caroline: Another nod. “Is Meg your only one right now?”

GM: “Yeah. I had another one, but… he got killed by the Baron’s licks. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Caroline: “How’d that happen?” she asks.

GM: “The Storyvilles and I went hunting and, well, making trouble in the Ninth Ward one time. We ran into Xola.” The Toreador’s voice is quiet when she finally speaks again. “I didn’t see all of what happened to David, but…”

Caroline: “Xola,” Caroline repeats. “I’ll remember the name.”

GM: “I didn’t really know David that well, but…” her face seems to war. “He didn’t deserve that. My sire was letting me borrow him, too, and she got angry.”

Caroline: “Not to pry, but… why not take on a couple more? If you’re looking for comfort and security, that seems like an easy place to start.”

GM: “Well, finding people to be ghouls is easy, but… finding the right ones is harder.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a light laugh. “Picky?”

GM: “I’ve had two, including David, before Meg. But they… didn’t last. It seems like all I do is get them killed.” Jocelyn’s gaze is tired.

Caroline: “I don’t think it’s you,” Caroline replies. “Admittedly,” she begins, “I’ve only been part of this world for nine days, but no one seems to care about ghouls. Not really. They abuse them, attack them, hurt them. Treat them like trash and throw them away just the same.”

GM: “Yeah. Everyone says they’re basically slaves. I mean, other licks can do whatever they want to yours, unless you stop them. And then there’s the Beast.”

“My first one, Lizzy, I… I warned her to get away, this one time I was hungry, but she wouldn’t. And I just… lost control. I made sure she’d done some bad things before I gave her my juice, but…” Jocelyn trails off. “We still talked about stuff. Caught a few movies. Even braided our hair together. I thought she could also… maybe be my friend.”

The Toreador shakes her head. “I’m sorry, though. That’s old news, and you with your brother…”

Caroline: “Doesn’t sound that old.” Caroline looks at Jocelyn. “And it doesn’t sound like you’ve had much of an opportunity to talk about it.”

GM: “My sire said that’ll happen and to not get attached.”

Caroline: “I think they’re wrong. To treat ghouls the way they do. Not the accidents, but the intentional cruelty. The intentional humiliation and casual murder.”

GM: “But she’s right,” Jocelyn says glumly. “I mean, it did happen.”

Caroline: “I don’t even mean morally or ethically. I just think it’s bad practice.”

GM: “I guess. Not much we can really do about it, beyond how we treat ours.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I didn’t mean trying to lead a revolution of values or some such, I just mean that having servants afraid of you, believing they are expendable, or unwilling to take initiative means you aren’t getting very much out of them. And I think the way that many of them treat their ghouls sets them up to be…”

GM: “Believe me, they’ll do anything for you with the bond. And when it gets down to it… they’re junkies, too. Those things, together, can make them really clingy. Meg’s tried to sleep in my bed with me.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face squeezes in distaste as the anecdote washes away her previous thought. “That’s too much.”

GM: “Sorry,” Jocelyn offers, though she looks somewhat wry at the thought of anything being TMI for their kind. “But, yeah. They’re in love with you. I’m not saying it’s right to be cruel to them, but they’d still love you anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline tries to picture Autumn, Aimee, or Turner in bed with her.

“Are they?” she asks, almost rhetorically.

GM: “Sure. That’s what the collar does. It makes you head over heels in love.”

Caroline: Caroline presumes that’s another name for the blood bond.

“Did you never do anything your partner didn’t want when you were in love?” she asks. “Anything you thought was for their own good?”

GM: “The collar isn’t like normal love, though. That can change. The bond never does.”

Caroline: “Do you only ever love one person?” Caroline asks. “And again, always do what someone you love wants?”

GM: “Well, again, the collar really isn’t like normal love. I’ve heard of it making moms abandon their kids for their domitors.” Jocelyn shrugs. “But I’ll admit I’m not an expert on it. Longest renfield I’ve had is Meg, and only a few years with her.”

Caroline: A shrug. “You know better than me.”

GM: “Well, I guess that makes us both non-experts then.” Jocelyn glances about the car. “Hey, you wanna head back to your haven or drive somewhere? We could still be a while.”

Caroline: “Either or,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Okay, let’s head up then.” Jocelyn starts the car and drives up to Audubon Place’s gated perimeter. Johnson waves the pair through. The Toreador pulls up outside Caroline’s house, gets out, and closes the door. She remarks as she walks up the front steps, “Like I was saying though, I guess I’d like to get some ghouls who can really take care of themselves. Meg doesn’t get into trouble because, well, she’s clingy. Even for a renfield. And other things.”

Caroline: “Other things?” Caroline unlocks the door smoothly.

GM: “I think she’s sad enough already most other licks just don’t see anything else to do to her.”

Caroline: “That’s terrible.” Caroline shakes her head as she heads inside. “Turner’s here, as is Aimee, but I think Aimee might still be out.”

GM: “Still? You should feed her some juice if she’s really sick,” Jocelyn remarks as she steps into the house.

Caroline: “I have been, on and off. Yesterday was… rough.”

GM: “Could introduce her to Meg. I’m sure they’d hit off.”

Caroline: “What could go wrong?” Caroline asks ironically.

GM: Jocelyn plops down on a couch. A mortal host might offer to get drinks or snacks at this point.
“Let me count the ways, but actually, let me not. That’s enough about ghouls though. If I had a casquette girl I’d probably never even have to think about them again.”

Caroline: “A what?” Caroline asks. “Never mind, you can explain it later. You said nothing else about ghouls.”

GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Eh, you might as well hear it from me. It’s a neat story.”

The Toreador relays how the casket girls, or filles à la casquette, are something of a local… well, not legend, but historic mementos. The girls in question were brought from France to serve as wives for early Louisiana colonists and named for the small chests, known as casquettes, in which they carried their clothes. They were conspicuous by reason of their virtue, for women were normally supplied to colonists by raking the streets of Paris for prostitutes and undesirables. The casquette girls, however, were recruited from church charitable institutions, usually orphanages and convents, and practically guaranteed to be virgins. Though it later became a matter of pride in Louisiana to show descent from them, more sinister rumors claim the casket girls were literal casket-bearers and transported vampires from Paris to the New World.

Such rumors are true—at least in part. The filles à la casquette were seen as innocuous and morally upright, and consequently were not targets for suspicion by hunters and vampiric rivals. This made the young girls ideal ghouls to safeguard their domitors during the perilous journey across the Atlantic. Over the years, the surviving filles à la casquette have come to be regarded as living symbols of New Orleans’ history and have changed hands many times. Indeed, it is considered a mark of prestige to own a casquette girl—especially for younger Kindred. This grants the long-lived ghouls a peculiar immunity to the Jyhad, for the city’s elders consider them ‘cultural artifacts’ and do not wish to see them harmed. This protectiveness is not born out of mere sentimentality, for the casquette girls have served many important Kindred and know much of the city’s history and political workings… as well as their former masters’ minds. While it would certainly be convenient for those elders to simply slay the too-knowledgeable ghouls, doing so would be cause for major scandal. Instead, the elders consider it a game to compete for possession of them. They semi-regularly challenge one another to games of chess, bridge, riddles, proxy-fought duels, and countless other contests of chance and skill whose victory prize is ownership of a casquette girl. Each of the centuries-old ghouls has consequently changed domitors dozens of times.

It is also not unheard of for enterprising younger Kindred to possess one of the filles à la casquette. They usually lose the ghouls after a few years, for the elders regularly play for them and are not bested easily. Still, probability dictates that even those puissant Cainites must eventually lose. It’s happened before and will inevitably happen again. Cunning neonates and ancillae have also challenged them to contests that played to their own strengths and the elders’ weaknesses, though such challenges are not made lightly—the loser has to forfeit something, whether they have a casquette girl already or not. But to most Kindred, young or old, that risk is worth it.

Caroline: “And I thought Kelford was old.”

GM: “I guess there’s always a bigger fish,” Jocelyn remarks when the ‘tale’ is done. “The Hussar’s supposed to be pretty old too.”

Caroline: “He felt like it. Will like iron.” She smirks. “Also ugly enough.”

GM: “Oh, you saw him?”

Caroline: “He had to be the one who interrogated me. Can’t be too many old ghouls in that kind of garb.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she might clear her throat. “Guess not. Well, enough about ghouls already.”

Caroline: A hint of smile. “What’s your favorite color?” Caroline asks innocently.

GM: “Same one as every lick’s,” Jocelyn smirks. “Red.”

Caroline: “I’m actually partial to black. Though crimson has a certain appeal.”

GM: “Okay, in seriousness, probably a toss-up between blue and green. So cyan.”

Caroline: “Eye-catching.” Caroline is dressed in black again this evening. The form-fitting ensemble is cinched tight around her waist.

GM: Jocelyn, in comparison, is more casually dressed in a denim skirt and green tank top. “You picked a popular color for your favorite.”

Caroline: “I’m sure it’s all the rage among our kind. But it’s hard to wrong with the classics.”

GM: “Classic’s a pretty popular look for us too. That outfit would fit right in at Elysium.”

Caroline: “We should go shopping. Not tonight, but one night get up early.”

GM: “Oh, that’s perfect,” Jocelyn agrees. “It’s not like we can go out to dinner, but shopping, yeah. How about same evening we deal with your stalker?”

Caroline: “Tomorrow night? I think it would be a nice distraction.”

GM: “It’s a date.”

Caroline: “Did your sire ever tell you why she Embraced you?”

GM: Jocelyn seems to ponder that. “Mostly, I think. It took her a bit to explain, but the short version was that she thought I had the right ‘spiritual temperament’ for the Sanctified, and that together with my art.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “You’re an artist? What medium?”

GM: “Well, yeah. Toreador, remember?” Jocelyn ribs.

Caroline: “The nuances of clan interests wasn’t something I received a lot of tutelage in, remember?” Caroline fires back, similarly amused.

GM: “Well, in seriousness, not all of us are ‘real’ artists. Some of us are critics, patrons, or just Embraced for being beautiful. But those torries are poseurs.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Clan cliques. You still haven’t told me what you do.”

GM: “I do photography and digital image manipulation. I’ve been doing the first since I was a little kid. It’s rough in New Orleans, though. The guilds here are… really conservative. If it wasn’t around in the 1800s, it’s not real art to them.”

Caroline: “What kind of manipulation?” Caroline asks. “Mostly cleaning up, or more major changes to create entirely new images?”

GM: “I got my start just taking peoples’ pictures, and I still do that, but once I started playing around on Photoshop and saw how much more stuff I could do, I didn’t look back. My parents actually thought I should go into CGI design, but I like there being a ‘tether to reality’, I guess, in my work. Taking something that’s ordinary and transforming it into something more. Something mine. I read a quote somewhere that said peoples’ most creative works actually derive from other peoples’.”

“Anyways, I make bigger adjustments to some of my pieces than others, so some of them are all new like you say. But I do minor touch-ups and adjustments to pretty much every picture I take. Which is pretty hilarious for the torries who go on about computers having no place in art, because they wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference in those pieces until you pointed it out to them.”

Caroline: “Age probably. I imagine the city’s torrie elders barely know what a photo is, much less the details of manipulation.”

GM: “Which is bullshit, honestly, art’s been changing and evolving throughout its whole history. If not every piece created by an artist. It’s stupid to set the cut-off date for ‘acceptable’ art at when you happened to take a dirt nap.”

Caroline: “People always fear what they don’t understand. Especially if it diminishes their own relevance.”

GM: “True. Guess you can add ‘catch the guilds up with the last hundred years of art’ to the list of things I want. And probably won’t get.”

Caroline: “Goals.” Caroline shrugs. “They’re what we have left. That and time. And those goals happen with time, but only if you have them, and work towards them. If you never set them…” She shrugs. “It’s why some families sit in poverty for generations and others rise to the top.”

GM: “I guess. Though I don’t really see any way to change their minds even with time, do you?”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger to her lips in thought for a moment. “Replace them. Build your own bloc over time. Gain leverage that forces them to acknowledge you. Have your work circulated publicly under a patsy, perhaps a ghoul, for public acclaim. Alternatively, enjoy your art for what it is.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That last one’s definitely easiest. I’ve uploaded my stuff online to a few places, and it’s nice to read the comments. So it’s not like I’m completely starving for recognition or anything, even if I have to keep things pretty low-key.”

Caroline: “Internet’s a good medium,” Caroline agrees. “Especially if all you’re looking for is a bit of self-affirmation, and not their affirmation. I have trouble imagining any of them over twenty or thirty years old being especially capable online. Hell, my father’s chief of staff can barely work his way around a text message.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “Oh god no. I think barely any of them are online, and I don’t think any are on Fangbook or the special Kindred sites.”

Caroline: “Is that a real thing?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That’s not the ‘real’ name for it, but once it caught on it stuck like blood to hair.”

Caroline: “Not that you’d know anything about that.”

GM: Jocelyn just sticks out her tongue. “It’s where I’ve been able to upload all of my work, too… there’s some stuff that could stretch the Masquerade, so it can’t go on breather sites.”

Caroline: “Stretch in what way? I’d think art would be one medium that was transcendent.”

GM: “Well, I took pictures of Lizzy. After I… killed her.”

“I know, I know,” Jocelyn says defensively, “that sounds creepy morbid. I just… didn’t want to forget her, and pictures last forever.”

Caroline: “No, it makes sense,” Caroline replies softly. “We all deal with things in our own way. It makes a lot of sense that you’d go to art. It’s… it’s sweet, really. And it’s not like I can talk. I’m still trying to put Aimee’s face back together after… well.”

GM: “Yeah, it looked like you went apeshit on her pretty bad. If it makes you feel better, I’ve… done it before too. I never mean to, but sometimes it just… happens.”

Caroline: “She tried to set me on fire. I mean… she was dominated, but…”

GM: “Geez. Well, she’s lucky to still be alive.”

Caroline: “We’re back on the topic of ghouls,” Caroline observes sourly. “But… while we’re here, I’m trying to figure out what to do with Kelford.”

GM: “Oh. Well, uh, that’s actually been decided for us. I’m supposed to take him away.”

Caroline: “The mystery man in the sky?” Caroline asks.

GM: Jocelyn just nods. “But not for much longer, to you. This Saturday, we’re going to… meet. That’s when you’ll get to join the Storyvilles, too.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Any idea what the plan is with him?”

GM: “You mean for Kelford? No idea, sorry. I could ask if you want him back.”

Caroline: Another bite of her lower lip. “Maybe. He’s the only link I have to my sire, tenuous as it is. And after he’s executed, Kelford could be…. potent. If they do want to execute Kelford though, can you ask—and I understand if you can’t—that they make it clean at least?”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “Sure, I’ll ask.”

Caroline: “In the short term though, it’s probably safer for them to have him. I don’t have the manpower to keep a watch on him until the 20th, not since… well. Yesterday.”

GM: Jocelyn nods. “He won’t be going anywhere. I have a sedative, too, to konk him out with for the trip over.”

Caroline: “Looks like you thought of everything.”

GM: “Would like to take the credit, but not my idea.”

Caroline: “Always take credit,” Caroline advises.

GM: “Good advice, though I’ll pass with… mystery-sky-man. Speaking of, I’m also supposed to pass on that you’ll join the Storyvilles this Saturday. I’ll pick you up sometime after 11.”

Caroline: “You know where to find me,” Caroline smiles. “Why Storyville, as an aside?”

GM: “You mean the name?”

Caroline: She nods. “Not exactly a stellar part of the city’s history.”

GM: “Yeah, it was the old red light district. There was also a sign that used to hang around there which said ‘Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women.’ Back then it was just Gwen and me, and well, we both thought it was fitting. Because that’s what we are, sort of, loose women who take things from people.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a short laugh. She looks away, looks back at Jocelyn, and laughs again.

GM: “Okay, it’s funny, but that funny?” Jocelyn can’t help but grin a bit at the reaction, though.

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I guess I’d expected some great theological background based in opposition to the sinful ways of Storyville, and a warning to those who would follow in their path, blah blah blah.” She laughs again. “But you just liked a street sign about loose women.”

GM: “It’s a funny sign!” Jocelyn protests, still grinning.

Caroline: “Any idea where the sign went?”

GM: “There’s a bunch of replicas of it. That’s the one me and Gwen saw. No idea what happened to the original.”

Caroline: “Shame, it’d be a great thing to hang over the clubhouse door.”

GM: Jocelyn laughs. “That’d be great. Don’t think Roxanne would be so hot though. She thought the same thing you did, so far as the name. Must be a blue blood thing. ‘Warning against sinfulness’ is the reason she gives if anyone asks.”

Caroline: “So, earlier, when you said terrorize the Ninth Ward, what exactly do you mean by that?”

GM: “Well, we go in, and we hunt on the gangs and voodoo cultists who might work for the Baron. Even if they don’t, lots of them are sinners.”

Caroline: “Sounds dangerous.”

GM: “They’re just breathers. Kine.”

Caroline: “Not the kine.” The word still feels awkward in her mouth. “That I’d be worried about.”

GM: “The Ninth Ward’s pretty far from Tremé. And it’s part of the barrens. Anyone can be there who wants.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an acknowledging “hmmm” to that.

GM: “You’ll do just fine, after how you did against Eight-Nine-Six,” Jocelyn assures her.

Caroline: “What do the others in the group like?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Like, to hunt? Or something else?”

Caroline: “Just in general. I don’t really know anything about them, beyond that Roxanne and Evan are a thing, Gwen and Wyatt are a thing, and that Gwen was a Quiverfull.”

GM: “Oh no, they’re not a thing, she just brought him into the krewe.”

Caroline: “Ah, sorry, I just assumed when you said they hit it off… I guess it’s different for us.” She smiles nervously. “Well, obviously it is, I guess.”

GM: Jocelyn reaches over to pat her hand. “Let’s see, where to start. Roxanne’s our brains, and I think her dad was a state senator or something. Her sire’s one of the anointed, and she wants to become one too. She’s an abecedarian under him.”

Caroline: There’s a blank look on Caroline’s face.

GM: “An altar girl.”

Caroline: There’s a light of recognition behind her eyes now. “I’m going to have to relearn everything I know about church and faith.”

GM: “Yeah, there’s a lot that’s the same, but a lot that’s different too. Like women being able to serve as priests, because we aren’t really women anymore.”

Caroline: The weight of that statement hits Caroline, and she goes silent.

GM: Jocelyn nods. “That’s why pretty much any priest’d say it’s okay for us to be lezzing out too.”

Caroline: “I’d wondered, but I didn’t want to think about it too much.”

GM: “Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Jocelyn pauses. “Well, more wrong. I mean, we are going to hell.”

Caroline: Hell. The word turns her stomach, or whatever the Kindred equivalent is, but Caroline shoves it away and puts on a smile.

“There’s plenty right with it. But you were talking about the others?”

GM: “Right, well, Gwen you’ve also met. Quiverfull from a pretty weird family, like I said. She’s also a painter, and like you, I don’t think she ever really had a sire.”

Caroline: “She’s a torrie as well?”

GM: “Yep. Her, me, and Evan.”

Caroline: “And what’s Wyatt?”

GM: “He’s a kook. Not a kaintuck, but the only one of us who isn’t a creole.”

Caroline: “A kook?”

GM: “Okay, now that part I do remember explaining to you earlier,” Jocelyn ribs. “But a Malkavian.”

Caroline: “Maybe I just wanted to hear the sound of your voice.”

GM: She laughs. “Nice turnaround.”

Caroline: “I’ve been known to turn a phrase.”

GM: “So far as Wyatt, anyways, he’s a reformed almost-serial killer.”

Caroline: “Almost-serial killer? As in he only killed one person, or he nearly killed a number of people?”

GM: Jocelyn smirks. “Okay, technically neither, I just like introducing him that way. But he kidnapped a girl when he was alive, wanted to go through with it, and didn’t. Until his sire showed up to Embrace him.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers. “Sounds like a charmer.”

GM: “We all get Embraced for a reason,” Jocelyn states seriously.

Caroline: “Any idea what that reason was for everyone else?”

GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “I know Roxanne’s sire, and I know she was a proper Embrace, but not why she got turned. Gwen doesn’t talk a lot about how she got Embraced, back in Houston. I think it was pretty rough on her. And with Evan, it just… never seemed to come up. Honestly, if he weren’t Kindred, you’d think he was the sort of ‘boy next door’ every mom wants their daughter to date.”

Caroline: “Kind, gentle, always dumped in favor of the jock?”

GM: Jocelyn smirks, then seems to think a bit. “Kind and gentle aren’t the first words I’d use, actually. I mean, he’s nice, but not really a pushover ‘oh I understand if you pick the jock’ type. He’s got this sort of quiet confidence that’s really attractive to a lot of girls. But he’s not really in your face about it. I mean, he was happy to let Roxanne take the reins with the Storyvilles and be our leader.”

Caroline: “Sounds like he was pretty likable.”

GM:Is likable,” Jocelyn insists with a somewhat strained-looking expression.

Caroline: “I didn’t mean… sorry. I’m just thinking on it.”

GM: “Well, shoot. We haven’t been able to come up with anything in the weeks he’s been gone.”

Caroline: Caroline snakes her own hand out to take the Toreador’s, even as she bites her lower lip and wrestles with the thought of what Roxanne must be going through.

GM: Jocelyn manages a limp squeeze back and looks up at her. “You’re smart. There’s got to be something we’ve missed, that you could think of.”

Caroline: “I’ll look at it. Once I’m officially in. Maybe a different perspective will help.” She bites her lip. “And unlike a hu-kine, he doesn’t need to eat and drink to survive. A couple of weeks isn’t as damning as it might otherwise be.”

GM: “There’s a lot worse reasons we can go missing than breathers, though.” Jocelyn pauses. “Sorry. I’m glad you’ll be able to help. Really glad.”

Caroline: “If you want to get a head start on it, put together something tonight. A bio on him. Places he frequented, friends or enemies he had, last place he was seen. That kind of thing. There’s obviously some things you won’t be able to tell me until I join the krewe, but it’ll give me a head start that night, or the night after, when I get to look at it.”

GM: Jocelyn nods readily. “Whatever helps.”

Caroline: “On the note of that day… I was told I would be inducted into the Sanctified on the 20th. Any idea what that’ll involve? Things I need to know ahead of time?”

GM: Jocelyn sits back and lets out a needless breath. “Well, you—they, I guess—picked a hell of a day, I mean, night, to join the Sanctified. That’s when the trials are being held. For Matheson, Smith, and Hurst.”

Caroline: “He mentioned it would happen concurrently. What are they on trial for anyway? It seems like justice has been pretty… well, swift.”

GM: “Yeah, it’s really weird. I’ve never heard of there being trials before. I asked my sire, though. She says the prince still decides what happens, but he lets other Kindred testify and present evidence before he makes his decision. She said that it, her words, ‘has more in common with the judgments of Solomon and Hammurabi than modern trials by jury.’”

Caroline: “I guess that makes sense. What did they do anyway? Or are they accused of, I guess.”

GM: “Well, Matheson is the one everyone’s talking about. They say he’s a headhunter. That means he drinks the blood of other licks,” Jocelyn explains preemptively. “But not, well, consensual like it is for you and me. He hunts them the way we hunt kine. He was supposed to have been living in this spooky plantation and been luring neonates over since… well, forever ago.”

Caroline: “Then dominating them into not remembering anything about it? Or killing them?”

GM: “Yeah, he did a bunch of do-overs, if it’s true. There’s supposed to be a bunch of survivors. What happened was George Smith was recruiting a bunch of licks to go live in Matheson’s haven for him.”

“I’m not sure exactly what happened, but Smith, Matheson, and Hurst all wound up in this hick town outside New Orleans, then someone exploded a bomb and killed a bunch of people. The FBI got involved, and the prince is really pissed and gonna execute someone for it.”

“I dunno, I guess the trial’s gonna sort out what happened with Smith and Hurst. It’s Matheson that everyone’s talking about. See, he’d been exiled by the prince forever ago, it turned out, and Vidal never said why.”

Caroline: “So it looks like the prince knew what was going on.”

GM: “And Savoy came forward, right when the bomb went off, and after Smith recruited those neonates, and said that Matheson’s been feeding on them. Been feeding on everyone who came out to his plantation. One of those licks’ sires, who’s a harpy too, backed him up. I’m not really sure what to believe. I guess it makes sense why he’d get exiled, but it is Savoy talking. The prince says the trial’s going to decide if he’s guilty or not.”

Caroline: “I’m a distraction then. Or a diversion at least. Either that or they’re using the trail as a diversion. Well. I guess both makes some sense.”

GM: “How do you think there?”

Caroline: “If it’s happening concurrently then presumably either it’ll attract attention from curious parties, or certain parties will be more invested in the trial than in bothering to deal with a fledgling’s induction. More than that though, there’s also good imaging there no matter what, especially among neonates.”

GM: “Oh, that’d make sense. Like a PR stunt. It might also just be convenient. It’s on Sunday, which is when Midnight Mass gets held. That’s when things like Kindred getting ordained or joining the covenant happen.” Jocelyn pauses. “Or getting executed. I hear there’s supposed to be a few of those too…”

Caroline: “You’d know more about that than I would. The other direction you could look at it as is as a bit of sleight of hand, the same way the government likes to push things people might object to through the legislature when everyone is distracted by some breaking news.”

“Plane crash? Dad’s getting on a plane back to DC that night for some late night votes. Terrorist bombing? Late night vote. Even more mundane things like disclosing documents with Freedom of Information requests.”

GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Huh, you could be right. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s gonna raise much fuss over you joining the Sanctified, but the prince could use the trial and you joining to push other stuff through…”

Caroline: “No matter how you look at it, it’s good imaging and messaging.” Caroline shrugs. “But then I guess you’d expect a prince to be shrewd if he rules over a bunch of our kind.”

GM: “Not a job I’d want.”

Caroline: “Guess that means I still won’t get to see him though, if he’s presiding over a trial. I’ve mostly dealt with the seneschal. He seems… just. Contemplative.”

GM: “What do you mean there?”

Caroline: “About what, the prince or the seneschal?”

GM: “The seneschal. I mean, Vidal doesn’t really talk to anybody these days, so you’re not alone there. My sire says he didn’t used to be like that.”

Caroline: “Must get old. But with regard to the seneschal, they brought me to him when they first, I guess, caught me. Which sounds weird to say because I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. He seemed different than some of the other older Kindred I’ve talked to. More reserved, but also…. not weak, but maybe gentle? At least not intentionally cruel. I got the same feel when I talked to him at an Elysium briefly.”

“I liked him. At least as much as I could, given the awkward circumstances.”

GM: “How was that, ‘cause you hadn’t caught your sire yet?”

Caroline: “Well, yeah. And the fact that I was a condemned criminal under pain of death by his order, stayed only by the opportunity to catch him. And not knowing exactly what to say or do. He was literally the fourth Kindred I met, after my sire, Father Malveaux, and the sheriff—who I didn’t actually speak to. It was the day after René Embraced me.”

GM: “Must’ve been pretty intimidating. All those Kindred way older than you.”

Caroline: “It was awful.” Caroline goes quiet and still for a moment as she relives those moments, before continuing, her voice distant.

“Not knowing what was going on. Getting locked in a cell for what seemed like days, wondering if they were going to just leave me there until I starved—I had no idea how often I had to feed. Then getting hauled out in front of a jeering crowd. Watching a bunch of other Kindred get executed in front of me, not knowing if they were going to spare me until just before the blade fell.”

She slips off her heels and slides her legs under her. “At that point I’d already maimed one person. Killed another. I knew I was going to hell when I died.”

“I still didn’t really know what had happened. What I was. Am,” she corrects.

GM: Jocelyn slowly takes in Caroline’s summary of events. “Wow. That must’ve been so awful, with no sire.”

Caroline: “All I could think though was that if I was going to die, I wasn’t going to do it shaking in fear or trying to run. That I was going to have some dignity. I think that’s the only thing that got me through it. That kept me from frenzing when they started executing people in front of me.”

GM: “That must’ve been scary. Especially if you didn’t know if you were Caitiff?”

Caroline: “I didn’t even know… you should have seen the first poor girl that I ran into when I woke up starving. I half-ripped her throat out. Came to covered in her blood with her unconscious. The next morning a family investigator found me when I was sleeping in a closet. We fought. He shot me in the head.” She shakes her head remembering. “I still need to find out if he had a family.”

GM: Jocelyn stares for a while longer. “What the hell made your sire do that?”

Caroline: “I wish I knew why he Embraced me. Why he just left me there. I tried to ask him, after he dominated me last night. He took me upstairs to taunt me. I kept asking him why he did it. Why he chose me. He just kept taunting me. Bringing up my brother and how he screamed my name when they tortured him. How I was a murderer and a monster.”

She stares straight ahead, deadness in her eyes. “I begged him to tell me. He just said he’d whisper it in my ear as I was dying, when he beheaded me.”

GM: Jocelyn lays her hand down on Caroline’s. She doesn’t hug her. The Beast doesn’t like that. “You didn’t do anything. It’s his fault. All of it.”

Caroline: “There had to be a reason.” There’s a desperation in Caroline’s voice. “Some plot or plan.” Her lip quivers. “I thought for a minute I saw it, caught a glimpse of it. We were getting up to leave and a bunch of Setites came to the door, delivered Donovan…. or at least what looked like Donovan, staked. But… that doesn’t make any sense. Probably a fake memory or something, because Donovan was there after they staked him and… well, you know the rest of that story.”

GM: Jocelyn gives Caroline’s hand another squeeze. “I wish I could give you answers. But your Requiem’s yours now. You can do whatever you want with it. Unlike your sire, he’s probably gonna get ashed at… well, the trial.”

Caroline: Her free hand wipes away the beginnings of tears. “It’s stupid. You’re right. It doesn’t really matter. Not like I’m the first Kindred with a deadbeat daddy. Or even one that just didn’t see fit to explain themselves.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at those red signs of grief trickling down Caroline’s face. There’s concern, sympathy, and shared pain etched on her own, but for that first second, there isn’t.

Just hunger.

Caroline: It takes Caroline a moment to compose herself, and when she looks up that hunger is gone.

“I should get to work. I could spend all night here talking to you, but if I don’t get something to my mortal family things are going to fall apart in a hurry. I don’t suppose you know of a good way to get a message to Father Malveaux short of a visit to him?”

GM: “Sorry. Visiting Perdido House is the only way I know.”

Caroline: “Ugh. Worse than my grandmother. At least I can get someone to hold up the phone on speaker for her.” She laughs a little, trying to set aside her emotions. The Ventrue’s face is no longer tear-streaked, though her eyes remain red-rimmed.

GM: The Toreador looks up at her and traces a hand along the contours of Caroline’s face that aren’t stained red. “I’ve said it before, but you’re so strong. Still thinking about your family, stuff with Father Malveaux, after all that’s happened… I don’t know that dealing with it is gonna get any easier, but stuff usually does with time. And you’ve got a lot of that now.”

Caroline: “It’s easier with you. Having someone I can talk to about it. Just getting it off my chest, you know?” She looks up at Jocelyn. “I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t met you, Jocelyn, but I’d be a mess, wherever it was.”

GM: “Wouldn’t have made any messes with me either,” Jocelyn counters with a smirk. “We’ve got forever ahead of us. Eternity. And whatever else might be shitty, that’s… pretty great.”

“And hey, there’s plenty that isn’t shitty. Like that shopping trip and stalker for our special night.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles, an expression at odds with the rest of her face. “Tomorrow. For now… back to work.”

GM: “Right, back to work… what’s it you’re doing besides stuff with Father Malveaux and your family?”

Caroline: “I need to meet with Primogen Duquette. She has a boon on me, and I’d rather stay on her good side for now. See if I can’t straighten out my school attendance before I fail all my classes and it creates a problem with my family. Talk to the Nossies and see if the info we got still holds any value, especially with the people that were dealing with René on the side behind everyone’s back.”

GM: Jocelyn takes that in. “Well, if you stay on Coco’s good side, she’s in the center of the whole mess with Matheson. Or at least pretty close to it.”

Caroline: “Oh? How so?”

GM: “The Anarchs are going crazy over it. Coco says they should wait until the trial to make up their minds whether Matheson’s a headhunter. But Veronica, she’s that harpy I mentioned, says Matheson’s guilty, that the prince covered up for him, and the Anarchs should all take up with Savoy.”

Caroline: “Of course, why not jump to conclusions before the trial? I bet that they’re the same people that before their Embrace watched that hag Nancy Grace.”

GM: “Veronica’s childe is one of the licks Smith recruited. But you’re right, they’re idiots for not waiting until the prince has a chance to straighten everything out.”

Caroline: “Well, I’ll let you know if she spills any juicy gossip.”

GM: “Sounds like you’ve got a busy night ahead, anyways. Let’s go take care of Kelford.”

Caroline: “Yeah… about everything else. Look… I understand that I’m not going to be able to keep all of this going forever.” She gestures broadly to the house. “I just want to get some things straightened out and have an opportunity to do things on my terms. Move some money around, lay some foundations. If I just go missing or die right now, with my brother still unaccounted for, it’ll destroy my mom. And… it’s not exactly easy to vanish in my family. I went missing for less than ten hours and they had god knows how many investigators combing the city last time.”

GM: Jocelyn looks a bit relieved. “Okay. Just… take my advice, don’t be obvious about it. Staying in touch with your mortal family is a sin. A real sin, one even we aren’t supposed to do.”

Caroline: “Because of the Masquerade?”

GM: “Yeah, the Masquerade, but it’s more than that. We’re wolves. We’re not supposed to pretend we’re sheep… we’re ignoring God if we do that, saying we’re not really damned.”

Caroline: “How does that work with Father Malveaux claiming his entire mortal family as his domain?”

GM: “Well, he probably doesn’t live with or try to pretend he’s one of them. I mean, I can’t imagine he showed up for any family picnics when you were a kid.”

Caroline: Caroline chews on that.

GM: “And if they’re his domain… you probably shouldn’t have too much to do with them anyways. Older Kindred don’t like to share.”

Caroline: “He already laid out the rules.”

GM: “Okay. Just looking out for you.”

Caroline: “On the other hand… it’s complicated. I can’t just up and vanish, and no matter what it’s going to be a headache. Even the other night, at the Elysium, I ran into one of them, much less the many, many people that know them. It’s a mess to sort out, and it’s going to make a Masquerade problem if it’s done clumsily. For now I have to play the part.”

GM: “Sounds like a big headache. I dunno if there’s anything I can do to help, but if there is… well, just lemme know.”

Caroline: “I have your number. You have mine. Actually though…” She pulls out her phone. “Let me give you Autumn’s as well, so you or Meg can reach me through her if you need to, or if my phone gets smashed again.”

GM: “Good idea. Here’s Meg’s, though it’ll probably only be an emergency if you call that.” The two swap the numbers.

Caroline: They proceed upstairs to Kelford.

GM: They find Turner lying in a bloody, beaten, and motionless heap on the floor. Handcuff-link-shaped strangle marks line her throat. A tipped-over, clearly once-full bedpan lies a short ways off from the insensate Blackwatch merc. René’s ghoul is nowhere in sight.

“Ah, shit,” Jocelyn remarks.

Caroline: Caroline’s response is less controlled. She lets the Beast’s presence run wild around her, and her eyes sweep the room for any sign of the wayward elder ghoul.

GM: The Ventrue finds no evidence of such.

Caroline: She lets out a growl of frustration and approaches her fallen ghoul.

GM: Turner does not stir at her domitor’s presence.

Caroline: She bites into her wrist and presses it to the unconscious ghoul’s mouth.

GM: Turner’s eyes snap open. Her good hand reflexively jabs towards Caroline’s sternum, only stopping as she recognizes her domitor’s face.

Caroline: There’s anger and frustration written across Caroline’s face, but it’s not directed towards the mercenary.

“He’s gone,” she growls.

GM: “Yeah,” the Blackwatch merc growls back. Anger and shame war in her eyes. “Came at me when I helped him off the shitter.”

Caroline: “I should have been here,” Caroline growls.

GM: “Still time to catch up with him,” Turner snarls. “Can’t have gone far. Not in this neighborhood.”

Caroline: “And cause a shootout in Audubon Place?”

GM: “You could mindfuck him. Then we could really fuck him.”

Caroline: Caroline glances at Jocelyn, seeing if she has anything to offer.

GM: Jocelyn gives a helpless shrug. “I can call, uh, mystery-sky-man to see if they can… send someone. But that could take some time.”

Caroline: “No.” Caroline’s scowl is unabated. “It’s my mistake, I’ll clean it up.” She glances around “What did he get from you?” she asks Turner.

GM: “My Belgian.”

Caroline: “Is that all?” Caroline shows teeth.

GM: Turner grits her own. “All I’ve made out.”

Caroline: “You want to come?” she asks Jocelyn.

GM: “Don’t think he’d like to chance another fight with you,” the Blackwatch grunts. Still pissed, but more appraisingly. “He looked pretty bad.”

Jocelyn nods. “Yeah, of course. I’ve tasted his blood, so he’ll be easier to find.”

Caroline: Those teeth again. “So have I.” She heads up to her bedroom to gather up an umbrella that is familiar—or should be—to Jocelyn. “Let’s go.”

GM: Turner wants to come. She’s clearly ashamed over failing to prevent Caroline’s prisoner from escaping, as well as pissed off and looking forward to a rematch. She grudgingly remains behind at her domitor’s behest.

Jocelyn and Caroline climb into the former’s car and cruise the neighborhood. Rows of multi-stored, million+ dollar homes slowly roll past the windows. For all Caroline’s familiarity with the neighborhood and Kelford’s likely difficulty in escaping past Blackwatch’s sentries, however, the two Kindred are eventually forced to admit that their quarry has eluded them.

“Well, we gave it a good shot, I guess. I can call mystery-sky-man now if you don’t have any other ideas,” Jocelyn finally concedes.

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “You should probably let him know. I’ll put in a call to some people at the local hospitals I know—with all the wounds he has he’s got to be hurting. And without access to more blood… I’m sorry. I fucked this up.”

GM: “It’s not your fault. He’s the one who tried to run away. And sky-man will get him back.”

Caroline: “I should have just let him suffer.”

GM: “He’s a ghoul. He was just gonna do whatever was better for his domitor.”

Caroline: Caroline grudgingly nods. “Yeah.”

GM: “I’d be glad if you let me piss if I was your prisoner. And, well, still a breather.”

Caroline: “Yeah.” The Ventrue’s tone is still grudging. “You’ve got a phone call to make. I’ve got some trips to make. Thanks for coming out.”

GM: “No problem. You’re worth it.” Jocelyn traces her canines over Caroline’s cheek in an almost-kiss.

Caroline: Caroline lets out a hiss of pleasure. She jerks away as her canines visibly extend.

GM: “Tomorrow,” Jocelyn states emphatically.

Caroline: “You have no idea.” She spends the remainder of the short ride back trying not to stare at the Toreador.

Cletus II, Chapter VII; Jacob II, Chapter IV
Helping Hands

“I’m not fixin’ to start a war, but to prevent one—and a whole lotta somebodies are tryin’ to start arguments in an empty house.”
Cletus Lee Boggs

Saturday night, 19 September 2015, PM

Cletus: A few hours before the midnight chimes announce the soiree’s invocation, a militarized escort consisting of a M706 Commando, an amphibious armored car stocked with a half-dozen guards of stark Boggs ancestry, greets Jacob Grunewald at the obscure bayou coordinates provided by Pervis. Once Jacob is safely inside the old Cadillac Gage juggernaut, the vehicle traverses the swamp, away from prying eyes and public roads, before surfacing and conveying him to the plantation’s Big House. During the ride, the guards are strangely silent, their eyes glinting electric blue in the moonlight.

“Paw’s a’waitin’ side fer ya,” a gunner says, helping Jacob exit the old Vietnam relic before it creaks off into the night.

Jacob: Jacob has a hard time taking the escort seriously, looking around at all the guns and metal and money. Weren’t he and Cletus Embraced around the same time? Yet here he is in business casual, dress pants and white shirt, suspenders, and an old coat from the ‘40s. He holds a large casserole dish of cabbage rolls and a bouquet of flowers. Cletus has quite the financial step up on his guest and it’s rather impressive. But it just makes him hope old Southern hospitality from when they were both alive still counts for something. He climbs into the vehicle and feels rather silly across from those glinting eyes.

Cletus: Armando, the Boggs’ Afro-Nicaraguan butler, awaits his master’s first guest at the pillared entrance of the maison principale. “Master Grunewald,” he says in his high-educated Hispanic accent, “we are so very pleased at your arrival. Master Boggs is awaiting you in the Beautillion Salon. Shall I convey you hence?”

Jacob: Soon enough, there he is, standing in front of the estate and the butler. Christ.

“Yeah—I mean yes. Please.”

Following along with the servant, he scrambles internally to remember his old manners. Food for the party, check, flowers because the food technically can’t be eaten, check. Sunday best, check. Okay, ready. He just hopes he hasn’t made a fool of himself already.

Cletus: The butler bows with requisite deference and smiles, though the expression never touches his sanguine eyes. Unlike his usual attire of imported polos, pressed slacks, and Italian leather loafers, the Afro-Latin ghoul wears the full evening dress of his station, his raiment painting him in cold chiaroscuro. His white-gloved hand motions for a similarly liveried footman to emerge from the shadows and carry Jacob’s gifts.

Unlike Armando, the footman is rather obese, with a dull, vacant gaze whose drool must have been freshly wiped away. A nasty scar runs across the man-thing’s brow, as if something burrowed through the skull and performed a feral lobectomy. The thick-armed, rednecked brute obediently extends its brick-sized hands for the dish and flowers, if Jacob will part with them.

“I will see that your gifts are taken to Chef Majorie,” the butler says with another humorless smile, “and that Master Boggs is made aware of your magnanimity.”

Jacob: Nothing surprises Jacob anymore, but seeing the sudden entrance of the larger lobotomite gives him a bit of a start. He looks down at the footman’s impressively large hands and shifts around to hand him the dish. “The dish only, please. It’s only polite to give flowers in person,” he says, looking the lobotomite in the eye and giving him a polite nod before turning to the ghoul. “Not to be a difficult guest for you. First impressions just make a relationship, and I’m rather nervous for it.”

Giving the larger footman another curt nod to say farewell, Jacob starts down the hall once again, cradling the the flowers like he’s in church. They’re from his own garden as well, and he wants to see them to Cletus out of a bit of sentiment.

“Do you mind if I ask you about my invitation? I’ve not exactly been in the limelight of politics, I’m curious as to why I was on the guest list.”

Cletus: The flaccid hillbilly lobotomite makes no gesture of recognition, save to take the dish and shuffle down and away from Jacob’s view. Meanwhile, the butler bows again, “Of course, Master Grunewald, we are at your service and that of all our honored guests.”

So escorted inside the maison principale, Jacob is swallowed by the mansion’s antebellum charm and genteel opulence. Medallion ceilings soar, supported by towering Corinthian columns. Broad staircases, elegant archways, and massive wooden doors with hand-painted porcelain doorknobs and matching keyhole covers provide access to the manse’s labyrinth of uniquely-tailored debutante ballrooms, formal banquet halls, beutillion card-parlors, and other epicurean leisure chambers.

Above such entrances and along the ceilings are exquisitely detailed plaster-frieze moldings and modillions interspersed with paterae made from Spanish moss and clay from the Bayou Bonfouca. Handsomely curtained windows guard against the now-absent sunlight while glittering, globed cchandeliers fashioned of imported Baccarat crystal and brass engulf the luxury-replete interior with pale gold radiance.

In contrast to the locally predominant French or Early Louisiana design, the Boggs’ mansion follows the colonial English floorplan of a massive central hall running the house’ length. The main hall, which aligns with the seasonal breeze, is decorated with block-printed wallpaper imported from Venice, its delicate black and gold pattern depicting a stately, if disturbing danse macabre. Twin elliptical staircases of Honduran mahogany rise to the second and third floors, each carpeted in dark green velvet carpeting.

“Right this way, Master Grunewald,” Armando intones with a grand gesture, escorting the vampire down the left wing of the main hall. “As for the nature of your invitation, such weighty matters are far above my station, though I have been informed that you are a great guest of honor whose presence graces us—and to whom we should impart the full measure of hospitality.”

Jacob: Jacob has to stop after a bit and just take everything in. Is this the kind of place he would have been able to afford if he’d led a different Requiem? Eventually, as he searches around, he gives a mental sigh and rubs his chin. Too much. After a point one has to wonder whether or not Cletus actually lives in this house, or if he keeps it as a way to show off how much he’s worth to the world. Because if that’s the case, this mansion in the sticks screams the more modest Kindred down into the probably imported flooring. But it seems he enjoys himself making the place up, and it is a beautiful house.

“Above your station? You don’t have to talk to me like that, you know. I’m not exactly important. In fact, this is all kind of overwhelming, Mr. Boggs seems like the finer of the finer things in life. He… this house wouldn’t happen to have a study, or a library perhaps? I’m a trader and collector of rare books and tomes, and as you probably know, the clan your masters belong to are famous for their sorcery.”

That is definitely quite the thing to ask, but since the moment he was picked up, he’s had the inkling that he was brought here to do something. Someone wants him here. He isn’t a pretty doll you’d stick on a pedestal at a fancy party to show how amazing you are. Jacob is a blood mage of Prince Vidal, a devil in the corner with fire licking out of his maw, and a hermit in his haven with mountains of books about things that’d pale an elder more than he already is. But right now, he’s here feeling like a pauper and an idiot, being led to a Kindred he’s rather scared of for more than one reason.

Cletus: The butler smiles again—and once again the angle of his lips never touches his eyes. “Of course, Master Grunewald, if you will permit me, I shall lead you to the Doppio Sanguee Studiolo, or as it more commonly rendered in the common tongue, the Dunsirn Study.”

Armando then leads Jacob to the studiolo. He opens a wide, door of dead-black wood carved with panels of negro slaves flensing away their own skins, embalming their own organs, and finally casting their own bones into flames, as if to transcend the last vestiges of mortality. The heavy door groans, but yawns eagerly like a maw, admitting Jacob inside.

Jacob: Something about that smile kind of twinges the Tremere. Must be a manners thing for the ghoul not to smile with his eyes. Then again, the prince rarely smiles either, especially these nights. Most Sanctified gatherings carry the tone of their prince, if naught but to pay him respect. Jacob wonders if he’s the only one who just wants Vidal to relax these nights.

Having a fake smile on a mortal (or ghoul?) is just a touch saddening to see. But he still lets himself be swept after the servant’s pace. “Shouldn’t we see Mr. Boggs first? Going into the study without asking him first is—well, if someone entered mine without my permission I couldn’t guarantee their safety,” he suggests, but then the doors open.

Cletus: Within is a well-appointed, if antique study. The floor is entirely inlaid in intarsia of ebony and aged ivory, rendered in striking trompe-l’oeil. Resting atop this cold, complex foundation are chairs, footstools, portable desks with slanted surfaces for writing, tables bearing a book-rest with a weighted ribbon of black silk, and a pair of golden globed chandeliers that cast strange, roving shadows into the corners. Shelving runs around the room at the length of the fine plaster-frieze with its incorporation of the Giovannini seal.

On it, are curiso, specimens blurring the lines among the botanical, zoological, geological, and the supernatural. A massive grimoire, clad in black-stained manskin, rests open atop one the tables. Other tomes lay atop the shelves. Oil paintings adorn several walls, depicting the ‘ascendancy’ of Dunsirn cannibalism, their family’s immigration to the Americas, and the founding of Slidell and the Boggs’ dynasty. However, one wall is bereft of paintings, consumed by several towering, open-faced cabinets of precious wood. Within these furnishings, glass-cased fetuses float in preservatives, their deformed features further marred by repeated dissections and experimentations.

The black door shuts. A voice cuts the echo of moaning portal. “Well I’ll be a grinnin’ possum chewin’ on a tater, it’s Jacob Grunewald!” The speaker of course is Cletus Lee Boggs. He sits at one of the desks, but immediately rises to greet Jacob.

Discarding his typical fashion, Cletus is dressed for the regal status of his soon to be arriving guests and the soiree’s stately occasion. His eveningwear is glamorous yet refined, underpinned by exclusively-woven cloths, luxury textures, and sumptuous colors. His rose-pink cotton-flannel cocktail jacket is cut in the single-breasted Eastleigh style with a single button fastening and a rich Mogador ottoman facing on dramatic peak lapels. A perantique, 18-carot rose-gold timepiece rests in his black pin-striped, flat-fronted trousers are hemmed with bespoke alterations. His Angola cotton dinner shirt complements his Venetian leather derby shoes with their mirror-slick polish. His usually half-feral locks are pulled back into a classical tail and smoothed with fragrant pomade. His perpetual stubble is gone, replaced by a straight blade-shaved jaw and neck that is simultaneously smooth and strong. His manicured, scrubbed clean hands are adorned with a single bold ring: aged ivory sculpted into a camellia whose stamen is a skull bearing the rose-gold sigil of Clan Giovannini. His fanged smile and butane eyes, however, retain their obdurate, sociopathic mien.

Jacob: However that carving got there, it sets the scene, and the blood mage stomps a foot on the threshold, refusing to go another step forward as his eyes dart around. Necromancy. Both the bane of his existence, and a goal school of magic he wants to touch on, if only for the protection of someone important to him.

The moment she sees what they did, he can feel her against his back again, gripping his shoulders lightly in reflex to the horror she no doubt sees. But he mutters for her to “stay hidden” and checks around the room again. Casting mortality away, classic scenery of sacrifice-driven beliefs. Mundane. Feng shui of the room seems fine, the floor different colors and the corners shadowered. Though that sets him on edge as well, peeking in all the cardinal directions on the walls. Nothing. Paintings. The Durnsirn. Giovannini clan of Scottish cannibals. Interesting. But actually rather disappointing. This spells it out for him, and the Dunsirn are not known for their magic. But he doesn’t relax for it.

Cletus: Jacob’s inspection, however, does reveal another pair of presences in the room. One physical, one spectral. The former is Isabelica Calero-Pisanob, one of Cletus’ childer—and unlike the Dunsirns, the Aztec-descended Pisanobs were known for their magic. Old, ancient, dark magic.

However, her current attire appears more suited to entertaining than evocation. Tonight, she wears a Mediterranean fil coupe dress, a tonal-pink halterneck gown crafted of peony silk and covered in abstract metallic fil couple forals. A pair of pin-thin stilettos highlight the dress’ dipped hem. Overall, the romantic silhouettes tastefully accentuate the rotund blush of Sugarbelle’s undying pregnancy. The Pisanob’s raven hair cascades down her back like a moonless waterfall. She has shed her customary glasses and is instead adorned in luxurious jewelry that caresses but does not cut the line of decadence. She coughs, muriatic vapors drifting to the floor.

Jacob: This is where they’re meeting? He could swear he’d just gotten swept up in a detour he’s going to have to turn back away from. But that’s fine. What’s not fine is the other two things in the room with him and Cletus. Not to mention the fact Cletus has heavily outdressed him. Which is a little embarrassing given his reputation of dress. Switching the flowers into his left hand, he steps towards Mr. Boggs and offers a hand for him to shake.

“Mr. Boggs! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m afraid I underdressed a little for the occasion, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m very much the hermit, the cue of a formal event went a bit far over my head.”

Despite the greeting, the other two in the room has gotten him nervous, but he does his best to keep his back straight and keep polite. Very interesting, however, how her curse has stalled and not immediately aborted her pregnancy. Maybe that’s what the jars of embrio in various states on the shelves are looking into? Possibly. But he puts his mind back into the task at hand.

“And you’re home! I’d say it’s a bit much, but I’d be lying if it weren’t just me being a little jealous of you and your family! They wouldn’t do anything to add to it, but please. The purples are monkswood, so please be careful.”

This is all highly unusual, and he feels quite out of his element. By that he means bathrobes, but he tries his best to keep to that Texan hospitality his mother instilled in him.

“Thank you for your invitation by the way. I was quite surprised by it. I don’t believe I’ve ever come across one of your clan since the incident with Bobbi Jo. I hope she’s still well?”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile splits into a hearty guffaw as he returns the handshake with the strength of a tank.

“Why Bobbi Jo’s fine as frog hair, she is, and I’ll be sure to let ‘er know ya was askin’. But speakin’ o’ me and mine, let me introduce ya to ma other beloved childe, one far older in blood ‘n far wiser in dem ways of sorcery, ma darlin’ Sugarbelle, Isabelica Calero-Pisanob!”

He motions expansively to her. Her response is rather demure, or at least subdued, in contrast. “A pleasure,” she says, coughing again, “Mr. Grunewald.”

Cletus continues to smile, “Now let’s not be so stuffy, y’all, notwitstandin’ all dis frippery,” he says motioning to his attire and that of his childe’s. “Jus’ a party, after all.” He beckons Isabelica to approach, “C’mon now, Sugarbelle, the man done brought ya purdy flowers. So let’s be a’takin’ ‘em and curtesyin’ all nice and proper.”

She coughs and remains silent, but otherwise complies, accepting the flowers with a cautious, if not clinical, eye. Up close, Jacob can tell that some of her jewelry is made from human bone. She curtsies, a gesture not altogether easy in stilettos.

Jacob: Jacob just keeps smiling, a big smile on his face. Though he hesitates a moment as she takes the flowers, bowing deeply back to her, a motion memorized from town débutante balls from his youth.

“Maddame Calero-Pisanob,” he repeats, turning back to the man afterwards and giving him another small smile. Bone jewelry isn’t an uncommon sight in his research. Having it in the modern age brings with it a few connotations, but he turns a blind eye.

“Mr. Boggs. Excuse my rudeness, but I’m rather curious. Why invite me—as your employee said—as a guest of honor? I’m not an especially important figure, never mind a Tremere and one of Vidal’s Sanctified. My existence in general is a grate to some. Is there something you needed to discuss, or are you just trying to overpower my senses with your station? The former, I should mention, you’d already achieved before I stepped into your home. That was… quite the escort here!”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile momentarily dims, but does not altogether disappear. His blowtorch eyes gleam as he responds, his arms outstretched in a placating manner. “Jacob—might I call ya Jacob?”

Jacob: Jacob heartily nods, offering the man a smile. “Of course, Mr. Boggs. I’d be flattered if you did so.”

Cletus: “Mr. Boggs?” the Giovannini laughs, shaking his head congenially, “Now dat won’t quite do, no siree. Please, I done insist, call me Cletus, or Clete if ya prefer.”

With that formality, or perhaps informality aside, he then proceeds to answer Jacob’s inquiry. “Now as fer excusin’ ya, which ye’ve done asked me twice, I must say I simply cannot—fer the fault’s all me and mine’s. I right apologize dat ma herald didn’t properly explain da situation, and I’ll be sure to give ‘im a tongue lash or two fer makin’ ya feel right uncomfortable.”

“Tonight, we have the honor o’ hostin’ a great many guests, wit a great many o’ whom are quite great in our eyes—and y’all be one o’ dem. At midnite, the seneschal himself will be arrivin’, though not quite in da flesh if yer fixin’ ma meaning. He’ll be a’possessin’ is herald, if I reckon right, and he’ll be accompanied by a might fine entourage as well as some others. The heralds of both Anarch primogen, the hound Rocco and his herald, one o’ Primogen Coco’s childer, and a representative of Savoy’s to boot. I’ve got some of mine as well.”

“Wit all dat hullabaloo, I’m fixin’ to be a’hostin’ a right nice get-together—wit da main goal o’ it bein’ to put to bed some hatchets and gettin’ some good handshakin’ to respect da Fifth Tradition. Cause as y’all no doubt are done aware, there’s been some problems wit dat. Now den, ’ere’s where I see how y’all might could be plum in da middle o’ da puddin’ sauce.”

“Sugarbelle’s witcheries has done showed us dat the Big Mama’s herald is thick as snot involved wit a plot to poison and kill the Big Sister’s herald. It’s right magical poison too if y’all reckon, one of thaumaturgy, which is somethin’ y’all and yers right know ‘bout. Seems da curtain call will happen when Opal’s herald or anyone else triggers da cue, a gesture of shooin’ a fly away from yer face.”

“Now I reckon dat yer a purdy smart fella, so y’all can be a’seein’ how her droppin’ smack dead o’ poison is gonna, if y’all pardon ma pun, poison da water hole fer sure and lead to more unnecessary conflict and chaos. Now I don’t right reckon who’s first hexed her, or why Big Mama’s herald would give her ally’s the great dirt bath—and rightly I’m a’fixin’ to be knowin’. All dat said, I’m first a’fixin’ to be a’haltin’ dat dirt bath before all the hootin’ and a’hollerin’ go plumb chicken sheet mad.” He motions towards a table and set of chairs. “Do I ‘ave yer attention, Jacob, nay maybe e’en yer interest now?”

Jacob: Jacob listens, taking everything in as he twiddles around with his wedding band. It helps him think, and right now there are a lot of things being said he’ll need to commit to memory. Anarchs. Seneschal. Possession. Coco. Territory. Savoy. Cletus. Rocco. Maldonato. Opal. Poison. Plum. Thaumaturgy. Party. Attention. Cletus has it.

Slowly pulling his coat off, he drapes it gently over the chair before he sits down, unbottoning his cuffs and pulling them up to his elbows, revealing his tattoos and sliding his fingers into each other to lock. There are things going on here, he knows. Despite being a hermit, people come to him for advice or help sometimes. Now there’s the choice to make on how he’ll word all of this.

“Cletus, politics and I have a very strange relationship. I can play the game, I’ve lived here long enough that I see the pieces and their rules. Once upon a time I played it avidly! So that I could prove useful until I gained enough power to be useful by existing.” He makes a motion as if to say ‘and here I am.’ “If there is someone at this party who is in danger, just by inviting me here, I’ll do my best to stop the poison. But.” With his finger, Jacob starts to write things on nothing on top of the desk. “Why do you think it’s thaumaturgical? Tremere guard their secrets closely. Bobbi Jo was attacked for coming too close to the chantry’s doorstep on a motorcycle.”

Jacob keeps thinking about it, puffing out his cheeks like a pouting child and writing with his finger again. “I don’t like the secrets and games so much, Cletus, so please fill me in. If you wanted me to come and help you with a magic problem you could have just said so. You can be blunt with me.”

Leaning his head on his hand, he closes an eye and tries to think this out. Cletus has Rocco, he knows that much. But the Giovannini are so involved with so many different things that it’s hard to see where this scheme is going to take him. But he knows he can’t let the ghoul die to magic poison. It wouldn’t be right. But in exchange.

“Excuse my rudeness, Cletus. When I’m hit by mysteries I often go to the place I do when reading a good book, inside myself. I’ll help you, definitely. But I’d appreciate it if you can let me in on whatever you can as to why this is happening. After all, you’re a very powerful man. If you applied yourself, this’d be a four-way war for power, and not a three-way. I wish to avoid that, and more meaningless death. Soon enough the prince’s heart will jump back to life just so he can have a heart attack and die again from the stress!”

Cletus: As Jacob expounds both his intentions and reservations, Cletus and Isabelica take seats beside him. Once the Tremere concludes, Cletus clucks his tongue loudly. “Hearin’ yer gonna ‘elp jus’ dills ma pickle.” He smiles widely. “As fer da why somebody might could spit in our gumbo, I’ve got more than a few BBs rattlin’ round ma boxcar. Misser Shoofly is one slick dick, slippin’ into all kind o’ holes and makin’ messes.”

The Dunsirn-descended vampire continues, drumming lightly on the cypress tabletop, “Maybe Big Mama’s fixin’ to take down Big Sis, fer control o’ their covenant. Or maybe dem Anarchs be wantin’ war between da prince and ma clan to get ‘im off their backs or let ’em strike ’im and ’is when he’s right distracted. Or maybe Misser Shoofly is jus’ da middle man, and it’s yer warlocks fixin’ to be da only sorcery game in town—and they be a’seein’ us as magical rivals. Maybe it’s Savoy pullin’ strings with his own lil’ slick willy. Or the warlocks and Armand might only be stirrin’ their spoons cause o’ some right confusing swappin’ and cashin’ of boons.”

He turns and regards the floating infant cadavers for a moment. “Done hard to say. As fer me ‘n mine, we jus’ want to have a right nice party and have e’embody go home grinning like ol’ yeller wit’ a catfish. Dat, and get some understandin’ ‘bout yer blessed Fifth Tradition that’s been a’needin’ some right respectin’ like Jesus loves dem little ones.”

Cletus then fixes Jacob with his butane gaze, his smile receding as his tone is all-too serious. “Jacob, I don’t want yer prince’s crown or land—I jus’ want mine to be respected. So I’m not fixin’ to start a war, but to prevent one—and a whole lotta somebodies are tryin’ to start arguments in an empty house.”

He leans back, his smile reemerging like an ivory, fanged sun. “So I can’t answer yer why’s, though I’m mighty plannin’ on findin’ em later—as no doubt Primogen Duquette and Prince Vidal will be fixin’ to as well. And that’s right as rain wit me. Now as fer why we done thinkin’ it’s thaumaturgy involved, I’ll let ma darlin’ Sugarbelle explain all the devilish details.”

He then turns to Isabelica, who after clearing her muriatic-drowned lungs, goes on to enumerate the sortilege-provided clues—or those at least pertaining to the divined poisoning and the indications of thaumaturgy at work.

After Sugarbelle finishes her exposition and answers any related inquires, Cletus takes over again. “So, Jacob, y’all talked bout bein’ a mighty fine counselor when yer itchin’ to. So what would y’all advise. We’ve got some ideas, but I’d like to see how the horse trots on a fresh field, if y’all don’t mind.”

Jacob: Jacob misses pickles, though he hadn’t tasted modern pickles. If he ever suddenly becomes mortal again he might just have to pickle his own cucumbers to make it just right. But he turns his mind back to what they’re saying, getting back into the swing of politics fast as he can and biting down on his bottom lip taking things into account. He can’t say for Big Mama or the Anarchs, but he doesn’t really think his own clan would just use a magical poison to solve an issue. It isn’t very inventive. Then again, Kindred have their own language for things. Following the Giovannini’s eyes, he looks over the jars rather placidly. Nothing he hasn’t seen before, but this little passive-aggresiveness from Cletus is new. People must have been putting boots on his bog. Iced gray meets butane blue for a moment as he listens.

Slowly sitting back up straight, he frowns and silently rubs a nail over his chin. Even more information from Sugarbelle to take him, and despite poisons not interesting him, he eyes her almost hungrily as he soaks up the information before he turns right back to Cletus, a serious look over his features.

“Cletus, it’s possible this is my sort of magic. But whether or not that’s true, I’m confident I can cure it. Handling this however, is a lot more delicate. I can’t invocate a protection spell in the middle of a party on top of someone else’s ghoul. It’d embarrass Miss Opal and publicly anger Primogen Duquette. This would put a black mark on your hospitality as well, suggest it’s not safe in your territory. Not only that, but this may be serving as a distraction for… other things.”

Jacob effects a needless sigh and gives Cletus a knowing look. Rocco isn’t coming to the party. By all accounts he’s already here.

“The best case scenario I’d like would be to have both heralds brought to me. Miss Opal’s in restraints. Then have Primogen Duquette and Primogen Opal be summoned to explain the situation to them. So they can settle this privately. It’d be a good first impression for your estate as a location for gatherings in a less tense setting, and the Anarch Movement would be able to save face. And If I had time alone with Duquette’s ghoul I could interrogate or divine the reasons and whereabouts of whoever put her up to this.”

Jacob slowly stretches his arms forward and smooths his fingertips along the desk, a small frown forming on his face as he looks over at Isabelica. Having her and her specter so close to him makes him rather nervous. Wondering if she is aware he can feel it so clearly. Even with his wife keeping the hordes at bay, he is still a medium.

“There’s a chance this is outside interference as well, Cletus. I’ve seen too much in my Requiem to rule out anything. Thaumaturgist voodoo priests don’t sound so far fetched when you’ve seen entire other planes of existence.” Standing up out of his chair, he casts his eye for the first time on that skinbound tome. ‘Klepto verada Nicto’ is the first thing to comes to mind, but then visions of ghosts and the undead hiding beneath the bog do as well. Still, he’s rather glad for their ancestry not being so focused on their clan’s magic.

“This isn’t meant to sound like a threat, Cletus. But please don’t let this party devolve into an excuse for the factions to attack one another. This study is worth protection, and your family is especially, but I’d be forced to go to the aid of the seneschal’s party if they were attacked. Especially since they’re the ones at a disadvantage tonight.”

Cletus: “As I done said, fixin’ lil’ Miss Haley’s da whole point o’ this ’ere hootenanny,” Cletus remarks as he meaningfully swings his finger around to include the room’s occupants. “Jus’ as da main point o’ tonite’s might big hootenanny is to get da cat off the hot tin roof, not throw it in da fire.”

The Boggs’ patriarch rests back on his chair and fiddles with his formal attire like a scab he desperately wants to rip off but somehow refrains. Barely.

“So I done agreed wit ya that if we start a’hexin’ mid-spoonin’ our suppers, it’ll right cause folks to get as nervous as cats in a room full o’ rockin’ chairs. And we can’t have none of that. But clappin’ a guest, much less a high-cotton sheetin’ herald in irons is likely to do da same. Imprisonin’ two o’ ‘em and summonin’ two elders, two primogen, all willy nilly haint gonna fly, no sirree, it haint.”

He shakes his head vigorously. “No, what dis done called fer is a lite touch, like knockin’ up yer sister after gettin’ ’er mighty drunk passed out.” He flicks his nose, then smiles. “How’s this? Right after we’re all done playin’ croquet, we’ll be annoucin’ supper, but right afore, we done gonna excuse all o’ the ladies to use the powder room. That way, we’ll right separate Misser Shoofly from ‘is mark, and from the seneschal. Meanwhile, we have you right waitin’ in the powder-room wit ma Debutantes’ nurse and the gut-pumpin’ equipment and charcoal water I done got shipped from Tulane. Rocco’s herald will be there, and wit yer bein’ there, and not jus’ Isabelica, we’ll right have y’all as witnesses. Altogether, y’all can fix ‘er up right as rain wit Big Mama’s herald none the wiser. Y’all can then join us fer the supper and all dat follows. Which’ll right let y’all keep an eye on the tricky Dutch boy and his lily-white mark. Who knows, he might could try ‘gain, so best to keep ’im guessin’ why ‘is hex won’t work.”

Cletus leans forward, “So first, will that work fer y’all? And second, how quick can y’all perform yer sorcery? E’en da most persnickety ladies don’t fuss fere’er in da powder-room.”

Jacob: Jacob wasn’t considering just walking up to them and slapping the chains on. Most of what he’s used to is always hush-hush business. Grab someone from dark corners, trick them into meets, be horribly sneaky and never be caught. After all, that’s the Tremere’s one rule that they don’t have written down. Don’t get caught. But he’s thinking a while, caught off guard only by Cletus’ mention of knocking up one’s sister. He feels the pressure on his back almost laugh at the statement and reaches up to pat his shoulder. Only not quite. Despite trying his best to bottle them up.

“Having that equipment might not make a difference. Magical poison might even react poorly to normal methods of getting it out. My magic though shouldn’t take long, depending on the kind of magic poison. Despite being adept, there could always be problems,” he claims, rubbing his eyes and nodding slowly. “That all sounds acceptable. I would rather inform the Cabildo so no more harm could be caused by a possibly rogue or controlled ghoul. But it is your home we’re doing this in. Just one thing… why Rocco’s herald?”

Rocco is a big part of why this is all happening, if his sources are correct. Somewhere in the bayou he is being laid into by Cletus’ clan. Hopefully not too badly, but he’s starting to wonder how possible that is.

“If I can keep the magical poison, maybe in a vial, I can try divining its source. So I’ll need a thick bottle with a stopper. And after the deed is done, a vessel to get a drink to top back up of course. If I can’t extract it, I’ll have to try to destroy it. And that might mean I’d have to feed her when the deed is done.”

Cletus: Cletus turns to Isabelica. “We’ll see ya get yer supplies. As fer da medical equipment, we’ll hold off as y’all say, but it’ll be ready n’ waitin’ on standby.”

Turning back to his Tremere guest, he says, “As fer divinin’ ‘er blood, that sounds like a purdy plan. How much o’ the red rum would ya need to top off, do ya reckon? Fer yerself or ’er, dat is?”

After allowing Jacob to answer, Cletus also adds, “As fer Bella’s inclusion, what it’s as simple as shootin’ catfish in a barrel. She’s a girl, so we can’t right uninvite her to da powder room. Plus, she’s a might good witness that can vouch fer yer presence and yer detoxin’ ’elp.”

Jacob: Jacob nodds and starts to redo his sleeves to hide the ink up his arms. “If this is how we’re doing things, it’s best to not make it obvious we’re trying to cure her. I’ve seen too much in my life, Cletus, to rule out a poison that can see you coming for it. Tremere are nothing but not outside of the box thinkers,” he says, taking another look over at the shelves of old tomes as he talks.

“As for the blood I’d need, I won’t know until afterwards. You can’t count on magic for consistency. Would you mind putting it in bottles or jugs? I can hide them with me in the powder room for the cleansing, no vessels complicating things, and an emergency fuel source if something goes wrong. Oh, right, and I’ll require a knife. Something sharp like a construction blade. I left mine at home so as not to send the wrong message.”

Having Isabellica in the same room with him without her sire makes him a little nervous. What can she see of him? Why is this phantom over her shoulder being so protective? The morbid curiosity inside of him suggests it might relate to the baby bump. Anchors are tricky messy things.

“Sounds about right, Cletus. Madame Isabellica sounds like quite the diviner, I’d appreciate her help in tracking down where the poison may have come from. Two magical heads are better than one, as long as we don’t get our witch hats tangled with one another.”

Tearing his eyes away from that tome, he looks back at Cletus and gives him a small smile. “Now I just have to not find myself flustered by the rudeness of being present in the powder room. Flush as I am, I’m no woman. But I’ll get over it. So unless there’s anything else I need to know, Cletus? I’m ready.”

Cletus: Cletus smiles wickedly at the request. “Oh, don’t fret yer sweet tooth, Jacob, I’ll get ya yer drink straight from da tap. And a right menu to boot, something I think all y’all might jus’ love like skunks like stink.”

He slaps his knee and guffaws loudly, only settling when he notices he has ripped his pants with the inadvertently forceful blow. “Damn,” he mutters. “Looks like the holy roller done wins ’gain.” He looks up then, and takes in Jacob’s apparel as if seeing him for the first time. “But speakin’ of new threads, ma friend, how’s ‘bout we done Cinderella up yer dress into somethin’ right purdy? Wouldn’t be wantin’ fer ya to feel might outta sorts ’fore da seneschal, hmm?” He stands, crooking an arm to escort Isabelica before turning back to Jacob. “Yessir, I done insist. Jus’ follow me and mine and we’ll git y’all all done gussied up like maw-maw’s prize hog ‘waitin’ fer its blue ribbon.”

The Aztec-descended Kindred arises and takes her sire’s arm, remaining silent save a stifled cough. Her wraith-chattel follows slavishly like a cold spot in a dark river.

Jacob: Jacob just nods thankfully to him for his hospitality, a million questions burning in his head. He wants to have a closer look at the actual tomes on the shelf. Even if he does recognize a good few of them, a couple look like new prospects. But then again, he doubts he wants to get too near that manuscript unless it’s the centerpiece. Somehow he doubts it’d like anyone but its master clan touching it. He’s seen too much to rule out books that can see you coming, as well. Downside of being a dedicated sorcerer, you start realizing anything and everything can try and getcha.

But at the sound of the rip, he puts a hand over his mouth to stop himself from cracking a smile, clearing his throat and standing up with them. “Ah, yes! That’d be greatly appreciated. I didn’t really grasp the kind of invitation I was getting before I left the house. My apologies. Business casual, not much to impress such a guest list.”

As he grabs his coat and follows them, he picks up pace and walks along beside them on Sugarbelle’s side, staring at her wraith and trying to discern its features.

“Pardon me for asking, Cletus, but I’ve been thinking. You introduced the lovely Madam Isabelica, and I’m already acquainted with Bobbi Jo. How many childer do you have? I’ve only ever had one ghoul even, and I daresay it’s a bit of a marvel to me you’ve got two childer already, being the sort I am.”

Cletus: The question causes to halt mid-stride, turning on his heel to face Jacob, his smile grown wide as a swamp cat’s leap. “No garden’s right more precious than the family a man done grows, and I might could say ma garden’s been growin’ as hot as two hares bumpin’ uglies in a wool sock.”

Jacob: What Cletus ends up saying strikes a bit of note in his gut, and Jacob gives him a rather muted smile at his enthusiasm. Maybe he just thinks of their condition differently, but at the very least they both understand the importance of family.

“That’s refreshing. Under the prince, rights to Embrace are rather strict. Seeing a large Kindred brood is different, especially a colorful one. Bobbi Jo and Isabelica seem night and day on the surface.”

Cletus: Despite Cletus’ seemingly congenial reply, Isabelica’s response instantly alerts Jacob that his words just traipsed into a social mine-field. Indeed, when the Tremere asks how many childer his host has, the Pisanob necromancer startles with the same paralytic panic as if Jacob had announced that Caine himself would be joining them for supper. She nearly barrels over as a bloody, phlegmatic coughing fit robs her of whatever composure she clung to. Even her wraith seems to quail and recede back behind the sudario.

Jacob: Slowly closing his mouth, he bites onto his bottom lip and wonders just how badly he’s fucked up in bringing this up. Isn’t it something to be proud of for Cletus? Reflexively, he leans down and puts a hand on Isabelica’s back to try and sooth her coughing, like one would do for a mortal child. After all, compared to the Kindred with his hand on her, she really is just a child. He was a hundred years old already before she was even born.

“Very sorry, I didn’t know it was a bad topic to approach. I’m quite used to just knowing the answer off the top of my head.”

Cletus: Cletus’ smile hardly falters as he replies, “Da question was might fine, Jacob. I love ma kin, each an’ e’ery one o’ dem. It’s I who mus’ beg yer pardon. Ma childe’s right tuckered out from all ‘er bone-throwin’.”

Then, with remarkable aplomb, he hoists Sugarbelle into his arms, and adds to Jacob, “But fret not, ma darlin’ Sugarbelle will be right as rain for da soiree and yer powder-room hootenanny.” He then carries her off, allegedly for some rest—though he fills in the nearby butler as to his sartorial wishes for the Tremere guest.

As Cletus carries his hacking, trembling childe up the grand staircase, Armando motions to Jacob. “If you’ll follow me, señor,” the dark-skinned ghoul says with a tight face and forced smile. A pair of armed guards and footmen follow in his wake.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Five, Baptiste IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Five, Baptiste Epilogue

Previous, by Cletus: Story Five, Cletus VII, Jacob V, Lavine VII
Next, by Cletus: Story Five, Annabelle IV, Cletus IX, Jacob VIII

Previous, by Jacob: Story Five, Jacob VI
Next, by Jacob: Story Five, Annabelle IV, Cletus IX, Jacob VIII

Mouse I, Epilogue

GM: Three sheriff’s deputies stare down at two broken and bloody bodies.

“Shit. Overdid it.”

“You kept hitting them over the head, you psycho. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it.”

“My old man always hit them over the head, and they pinned a medal on his chest.”

“You didn’t see this shit in the old days, that’s for sure.”

“What shit?”

“All this shit. They’re fucking animals in this place. Even that kid.”

“Yeah. Looks like he cut this guy’s throat in his sleep.”

“These people would eat their own fucking young.”

“The Italians are all right.”

“Yeah, I sure bet they are, Jordan.”

“So how the fuck are we gonna explain this?”

There’s a loud guffaw. “How long you worked here? It happened however the fuck we say it happened.”

The guards slash open both mattresses, check behind the toilet, and spend the next few minutes searching the cell for contraband. They find a stash of heroin and argue over how to split the money.

GM: “…I’m so relieved to hear that. Thank you, Carson,” Luke says as he ends the call. He turns to Cécilia, who’s snuggled up next to him in bed, and tells her the good news. She can sleep in her own apartment again without being afraid.

Cécilia tells him she doesn’t mind staying over at his place. Luke smiles back that he doesn’t mind it either. Still, the pair’s good humor swiftly fades when Cécilia mentions that, “I never wanted him dead, but… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved.”

“He was a killer, Cécilia,” Luke says gravely. “He murdered his own cellmate in his sleep. God knows what he’d have done once he got out. Don’t forget he was tangled up with Emmett Delacroix, too.”

Cécilia slowly nods. “I’m glad it’s off my sisters’ minds, too. Yvette was… so angry about it. Adeline, Yvonne, and Noëlle were all so scared for me. And we hadn’t even told Simmone, I don’t think she could have handled it.”

“You’re not her mom, you know.” Luke then adds more gently, “It’s not your fault what happened that night. To any of them.”

“I know,” Cécilia grants. “But I’m worried about her. Noëlle, too. She doesn’t get enough attention. Maybe that’ll change once Yvette and Yvonne are off to college. And those two…”

“Cécilia, you’re a wonderful big sister to them all. Really. You’re like a second mom. But after this whole thing with Fernandez… look, you know that business trip I mentioned I was taking to Riyadh?”

She nods.

“How would you like to come along? I can’t get out of the ‘business’ part,” he smiles, “but I could take some extra time off and we can make it a vacation too. It’ll be just us, with nothing to worry about. How would you like to see Arabia?”

“That sounds wonderful, Luke,” Cécilia beams.

GM: “Sue ma doll, ya done look right as rain,” Bud smiles as he snaps the picture of Sue posing outside of Brielle Fernandez’s house.

“Can we go in?” Sue beams up at him.

“We jus’ may, darlin’, we jus’ may,” Bud grins as he scribbles, Sue loves your ma’s house! Wants to visit again real soon! onto the note he includes with the photo.

Mouse still owes him $200 for this week. He trusts the young man will get the message.

GM: Brielle cries as the phone drops from her trembling fingers. Her baby boy is dead. How? How? He was always such a good boy. Such a sweet boy. He’d never have hurt a fly. How could… how could this have happened?

She cries, and no one is left in the empty house to comfort her.

GM: “He was gonna get eaten alive in here, man,” Big Dawg says. “Us, yeah, we’re frequent fliers. New bootie like him, with a bullet? He wasn’t ever gonna learn to jail.”

“Pretty face like his?” Showerz smirks. “You know how things are for a punk. You want to see him paradin’ around in a skirt and makeup? Puttin’ on kool-aid lipstick? He dead anyway, he started doin’ that. Get the ninja, or just raped to death. You want him to die a june bug?”

“Guess not,” sighs Fizzy, rubbing his head. “Fuck, though. I mean…”

“Fuck, him.” Big Dawg spits to the side. “Villars says this shit’s his fault. Fuck, him.”

“Amen!” repeats Showerz.

GM: “Hey, Angela?” Emma asks as she looks away from her phone.


“You know that guy I called the cops on? The black one, with the bloody face, who tried to break in?”

“I remember that,” Angela nods. “You did the right thing. He sounded super sketchy.”

“He’s dead.”


GM: A knock sounds against Brielle’s front door. She opens it.

“Hello there, ma’am. I’m a friend o’ yer girl’s,” Bud grins. When the woman gives him a confused look, he laughs. “Sorry, slip o’ the tongue. Boy’s. Mighty sorry for yer loss.”

“Hi!” pipes Sue.

Brielle dazedly looks between the two.

“I’m… sorry, this isn’t a good time. Can I help you?”

The big man’s grin widens. It’s fierce, white, and hungry.

“You bet you can.”

He calmly strolls into the house without Brielle’s permission, then closes the door after Sue as she skips in.

They take the back door out several hours later.

That will mean fewer potential witnesses when the police inevitably arrive.

GM: “Hey, Daddy?” Bentley asks.

“Mmm-hmm, sweet pea?”

“Um… my client’s dead.”


“Daddy, I said he’s dead.”

“Mmm-hmm, we’ll get you another, sweet pea.”

“I feel bad I hung up on him.”


“I had a… a dream last night. I was meat. Like, at a grocery store deli, ground up and in a cage, and… I don’t know. But these… wolves were circling around me, sniffing me, and licking their chops. I felt like I was gonna die. Or that I was dead, already.”


“Daddy, are you listening to me?”


GM: Paloma scoffs from behind her desk. “Fizzy’s baby brother killed someone. Yeah.”

Bert Villars grins at her. “Don’t underestimate what people can do when they’re desperate enough. Besides, killers run in that family.”

“Guess it’s late to call off Bud.”

Villars’ grin twitches in place. “Paloma, my dear, it’s always too late to call off Bud.”

GM: Dozens of comments stream below Mouse’s MeVid videos.


this is why we can’t have good things >:(

And this kids is why you don’t wanna become famous

R.I.P. Mouse, a True Legend, a Star and Light, loved and missed by Millions

fuck the police
fuck the pigs

Where do cops hide after committing a crime?
Behind their badge.

> Donut shop

> In your mama pussy :D

> True

> 1 US cops are too fat to hide in a pussy. plus…they ain’t getting none of that

> 1 cops are too fat to see their dicks

> Hiding behind a glass of whiskey or beer because being a cop probably sucks. Probably will lead to suicide and divorce (if they are married) because they have too much pride to change anything

> They already behind the badge

> and you hide behind your screen

> Cops keep you safe, you bunch of dick weeds. Imagine an America with cops. And don’t say it will be a better place.

> This video shows a cop keep the public safe ?and all the other shooting that come from a civil employee and lets not forget about the racist white noise that flows through the conscious of alot of cops in America. This man did nothing to get shot. These are not cops they are racist trigger happy murders with a uniform.

> cops dont shoot anyone in this video


> u mean heart?

That cop needs to be put in jail for atemted murder.

Well that was depressing.

R.I.P All black brother’s and sistah’s.

I would have been nice if you would have included the circumstances surrounding each celebrities death or at least the official cause of death.

> hes a celeb?


Why you shoot me?
I don’t know.
Is this joke?

“Just listen to the cops and you won’t get shot” *still gets shot

my sister has asma this makes me so sad :*(

Support: this hurts my heartz


> yah but dat nigger did!


> You people are what is wrong with America.


GM: Land of the free home of the brave. The police in America are one of the biggest jokes sometimes

Cop needs to be charged with attempted murder!

omg i had no idea these person had died.

RIP mouse :(

A guy walks down the street.
Man: doodoodadoooooo
Police come in and fire 5 shots at him.
Police: u saw him drinking dat apple juice righttttt?!?!!

Rip greatness Amen ===(

Who cares if one more light goes out?
In a sky of a million stars
It flickers, flickers
Who cares when someone’s time runs out?
If a moment is all we are
We’re quicker, quicker
Who cares if one more light goes out?
Well I do

America , the biggest joke


GM: Jocelyn twists her hands in the confession booth.

“…he didn’t seem to actually understand what he’d done wrong. I think he actually thought he was being romantic, stalking that girl back to her apartment. Caroline felt really bad about it, and… honestly, I did too. We seriously tortured him, and all it did… all he did was cry.”

“What does it mean to be sanctified under the kine’s definition of the word, childe?” inquires the cool voice from behind the grill.

“To be holy,” Jocelyn answers after a moment.


Another pause. “I don’t understand, Mother. I mean, I don’t know.”

“Then incline your ears, o child of the night. Sanctify originates from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to be ‘separate’ or to be ‘set apart.’ In the Bible, sanctification relates to a sovereign act of God whereby He ‘sets apart’ a person, place, or thing in order that His purposes may be accomplished. In the Book of Exodus, God sanctifies a place of worship. ‘And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory,’ says Exodus 29:43. Even a day can be sanctified as seen in Genesis 2:3 where the seventh day is ‘set apart’ as a holy day of rest. ‘Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.’”

“Similarly, when a person is sanctified he or she is being set apart by God for a specific divine purpose. The very moment the kine are saved in Christ, they are also immediately sanctified and begin the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. As God’s children they are ‘set apart’ from that moment to carry out His divine purposes unto eternity. Hebrews says, ‘For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.’”

“Sanctification is not salvation. We are condemned to an eternity of suffering and torment for what we are, and yet those who follow the gospel of Longinus are Sanctified. Why is this?”

“We’re following our purpose,” Jocelyn answers, then continues more firmly, “We’ve been set apart, for a specific, holy purpose.”

“That is correct, childe. We have been set apart for the use intended by our designer. Our use is holy, even as we ourselves are damned.”

“So, for that boy, Fernandez…”

The confessional booth’s shadows hang thick and heavy. Jocelyn wrings her hand.

“We’re damned, because we sinned. And we still sin, and do terrible things.” Jocelyn seems to dwell on those final words. “But for a good cause. A holy cause.”

“It is the will of God that you are what you are, and the will of God is that the Damned exist to show the evils of turning from Him,” the cool voice somberly recites.

The Testament’s words are powerful, and speak to Jocelyn’s soul. She closes her eyes, so that the confessional may be truly dark, and knows fear in the shadow of the Almighty. It is by God’s will that she stalks the night. It is by God’s will that she brought suffering and torment upon a baying sheep.

“But, Mother, I’m not… I’m not sure if what I did was right. If what I did was sanctified. All we did was hurt him, and it didn’t… it didn’t change anything. It just hurt him.”

“Do you believe he sinned, childe?”

“Yes, but I don’t think he k…”

“It is what God knows that is material, childe. Were his actions an affront against God?”

“Yes, Mother,” Jocelyn answers. “Caroline said the girl, Cécilia, was god-fearing and going to be her sister-in-law.” Her voice grows harder. “She’d even tried to help the guy when he looked her number up and called her, all out of the blue. Then stalked her back to her apartment like a creep. I had a friend, well, friend of a friend in college, who had to deal with a stalker. I heard it was so awful for her that she dropped out.”

“Do you believe the kine you punished would have committed this sin again, my childe?”

Jocelyn thinks. “Maybe. I don’t think he wanted to scare her, but…” She frowns. “Well, okay, he didn’t. But I’m not sure he cared that he did, honestly. And he seemed really clueless about why a girl wouldn’t like that kind of attention. So, I guess I could see him doing it again.” She continues more weakly, “But I’m not still not completely sure that he would. Or even that… just hurting him would do anything about it.”

“Follow him, my childe,” the cool voice calmly instructs. “Test him. Tempt him as this girl did, but with your own flesh. If he sins again, and ‘stalks’ you as he did his last victim, kill him. The Testament is clear. By visiting God’s vengeance upon the wicked, we fulfill our purpose and are Sanctified.”

Jocelyn bows her head and traces the sign of the lance over her heart.

“Yes, Mother. Thanks be to God.”

GM: Benjamin Edwards, pastor of the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, has presided over many funerals in his time. Few, however, have been stranger than Mercurial Fernandez’.

Brielle’s will left most of her estate to Mouse: she disinherited Fizzy after he walked out on their family as a teenager. The two reconciled after his stepfather died, but Brielle never wrote him back into her will. Not until he stopped hanging around the RidaHoodz, went to college or got a real job, and showed he was on the right track. Neither of them were holding their breaths on that happening.

Louisiana state law, however, imposes no survivorship period on the beneficiaries of wills. All of the will-less Mouse’s estate passes to Fizzy, as his half-brother and next-closest of kin. That modest estate includes all of Brielle’s, and Fizzy receives what initially appears to be a very promising windfall of cash: his mother’s house, car, savings, possessions, and other assorted effects, many of which she had inherited last year from her deceased husband.

The first outstanding debt to settle are Mouse’s court-imposed fees, which come out to $6,300. A much larger problem is the burglary of Brielle’s house. The missing electronics, jewelry, prescription drugs, and other items are inconvenient but expected: the far larger headache is the identity theft. Thieves completely clear out his mother’s bank accounts, rack up fraudulent charges on her credit cards, apply for new cards, take out payday loans, and otherwise use the deceased woman’s identity to drum up as much short-term cash as they can. An arrested prostitute in Central City, subsequently released on bail, gives her name as Brielle Fernandez. Another woman shows up to Tulane Medical Center with Brielle’s insurance card and racks up some very expensive bills. What galls Fizzy most of all, however, is the news that his mother’s car has been stolen. That’s what his gang is supposed to do!

The final kick in the nuts is that he has to pay the federal estate twice. Mouse’s estate paid it once, and now he has to pay it again.

Setting his deceased mother’s affairs in order would normally be quite impossible to do from prison. Dealing with the physical and identity theft as well is simply impossible—until a smiling Bert Villars steps in. The oily lawyer is only too happy to offer to “take care of everything” for Fizzy.

Fizzy makes the grim but calculated choice that he’ll lose less money getting swindled by his lawyer than he will by having no lawyer at all.

The other RidaHoodz, meanwhile, are furious and blame their incarceration on Fizzy’s little brother. They claim that Fizzy is “fucking loaded” now that Bert Villars is selling his mom’s house for him, and demand that Fizzy’s inheritance go towards paying their legal fees, also accrued through Bert Villars. Protestations that he will have very little money left are met with deaf ears. Fizzy makes another grim but calculated choice to pay the gang’s legal bills. One does not wish to be without friends in Orleans Parish Prison.

Bert Villars is true to his word, however, and plugs the monetary holes in the sinking ship that is Fizzy’s inheritance in record time. The grimebag lawyer claims to be genuinely hurt when Fizzy sarcastically wonders if it was an inside job. After all, he remarks to Paloma, just because they do regular business with the man who stole from Fizzy, and indirectly caused the circumstances that led to his mother dying, doesn’t mean it was an inside job. When the obese secretary asks if they’d be making more money if it was an inside job, Villars thinks on that for several moments before leering, “only a little bit more.”

Between Mouse’s court fees, the RidaHoodz’ collective legal counsel and court fees, Bert Villars’ added fees for serving as an estate lawyer, the many thefts from Brielle’s estate, and the taxes associated with selling Brielle’s house and other assets, there is barely any money left. Bert Villars laughs at the comparison with “a plague of fucking locusts!” and tells him he’s lucky still have anything. Fizzy needs that money for commissary: another essential resource towards survival in prison. He makes the brutally pragmatic decision not to pay for his little brother’s funeral. He still tells Villars to make it happen, though. “You fuckin’ owe me, amount of business I brought you!” he rages at his lawyer from across the steel table.

Villars offers another oily smile as he replies that he “may have a way” that will not only pay for Mouse’s funeral, but potentially turn a profit.

That way, of course, is Mouse’s Patreon.

It’s still open and bringing in donations after the two wildly popular MeVid videos he made. Those videos have ignited further interest in his prior videos, which already had a decent number of views. Bert Villars scents an untapped market, and one with a limited shelf life. It’s not as if Mouse is about to make any more videos—or that Patreon donations will continue to trickle in once people realize he’s dead.

Lots of things get smuggled into Orleans Parish Prison. A phone isn’t hard. Fizzy starts his video with, “Look, y’all, my brother’s dead. Cops did it,” before telling an essentially true but highly sensationalized version of Mouse’s death. He leaves out events like following Cécilia Devillers home to her apartment that are unlikely to engender sympathy. He also leaves out details that simply don’t make for a good story, like Bud the loan shark or Mouse knifing a fellow inmate to death in their shared cell. Fizzy weaves a grandiose and outraged narrative where his brother was racially profiled and harassed by police, cruelly beaten and pepper-sprayed, arrested on bullshit charges, and released only to be arrested again less than 24 hours later because he looked like a ‘suspicious character’—due to the injuries he suffered at the police’s own hands. The tale concludes with Mouse being savagely beaten to death by sheriff’s deputies after he protested OPP’s appalling conditions and announced his intention to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the other inmates.

An oily grin spreads over Bert Villars’ face as he watches the funeral’s GoFundMe donations roll in. He bills Fizzy for the time he and Paloma spend processing those. He bills Fizzy for a lot of other things too. All told, Mouse’s death has been more profitable to his business than the young man’s life ever was.

The funeral Father Edwards presides over is a strange affair. For one, it’s a partly ticketed event: Fizzy films another video selling the right to attend his brother’s funeral over Kickstarter. Backers who pledge more than the minimum ticket price can lay flowers over Mouse’s tombstone (bought at a marked up price whose profits go to Bert Villars) or deliver eulogies.

Then there are the attendees themselves.

Mouse’s uncle Clarence attends along with Jerome and Tyronne, the only two other RidaHoodz both able and willing to show up to the funeral. Fizzy, Dontell, and Dauntay have all been arrested. D’Angelo is sour over half the gang getting arrested and spends the afternoon getting high. Dauntay’s amateur porn star girlfriend J’Nelle has “gone off the deep end” in his words, and does not surprise anyone when she fails to attend.

Bentley Downs objects to paying to attend Mouse’s funeral, “out of principle.” She contacts Bert Villars and says some things she shouldn’t. The grimebag lawyer threatens her with a defamation lawsuit he has absolutely no intention of taking to court. Bentley runs to her dad, who has equally little interest in getting into a potential legal battle, and simply tells her he’ll pay for the funeral ticket. She looks slightly huffed and more than a little trepidatious around the RidaHoodz, who are equally bemused by the “rich white girl’s” presence.

The attendee who no one expects, though, is the ‘racist desk check’ Emma McCarthy. Angela Greer accompanies her as “moral support” after she said she wasn’t sure if she should go.

Becca honestly doesn’t know what to make of the varied (and lurid) accounts of Mouse’s activities shortly before his death, but shows up because it seems like “the decent thing to do.” She sighs at the ticket’s cost now that she isn’t making extra spending money from babysitting Westley. The law student isn’t sure off-hand whether it’s legal to charge money for attending Mouse’s funeral, but figures it’s for a good enough cause.

Most of the people who show up, though, are strangers to the Fernandez family. The majority of Mouse’s audience lived outside New Orleans, but there are enough local subscribers to make their presence felt—and, in fact, to outnumber all of the other attendants by a fair margin. The hashtag #ALegendNeverDies trends locally.

Father Edwards starts the service respectfully, but everything goes to shit once the MeViders recognize “the racist desk check.” Boos drown out Bentley’s eulogy before a shouting match ensues over the priest’s indignant protests. An angry MeVider who brought a full bottle of Dr. Pepper (evidently considering the funeral an entertainment event, or perhaps simply cluelessly rude) dumps it over Emma’s face and shirt.

She screams and tries to get away. The MeViders bellow their collective rage, grief, and hilarity—a bizarre combination of emotions that even some of the RidaHoodz, hardened criminals all, find unsettling for its nihilism in the face of a family tragedy.

Angela Greer promptly yanks the empty bottle out of the assailant’s hands and gives him a forceful, “Back off!” that stops the internet tough guy in his tracks, but fails to stop a panicking Emma from hurrying to get away. Someone sticks out their foot and trips her, laughing all the while.

Father Edwards shouts, “Enough!” as he stoops to help the bruised and even more upset woman up, only to get two greasy pizza slices thrown in his face. Someone else laughs and kicks him in the shins, hard, from behind. Someone else yells, “What the fuck man!” and throws a punch at the priest’s attacker. Angela Greer tries to pull him and Emma out as the crowd descends into violence—and at least as many gawking, laughing MeViders whip out their phones to record the whole thing.

Mouse’s funeral degenerates into something between a riot, an entertainment spectacle, and a loved one’s goodbye gone catastrophically wrong. The RidaHoodz flee the scenes before the police arrive. The MeViders who throw food items andcold drinks while yelling “Pigs killed Mouse!” “Fuck you pigs!” “A legend never dies!” pay for it with pepper spray, broken bones, and finally, the explosive roar of a gunshot.

All but the most nihilistic of Mouse’s fans break ranks and flee. All the while, their idol’s voice discordantly booms out over the screams, shouts, and crunches from a dozen phones in almost surreal fashion:

“You call me a pervert…”
“Really I’m just black…”
“You sack of shit desk chick…”
“Fuck y’all and your mob…”

“It’s an allegory for the uninitiated…”
“Derogatory for the uneducated…”
“For all the racist desk chicks out there…”

“Education for your entertain, you fucking racist plebs…”

Police send over a dozen broken, bleeding, and moaning people off to Orleans Parish Prison. Bentley is hysterical as she wipes her pepper-sprayed face and screams for her dad. A broken-ribbed Angela Greer is too preoccupied looking after a barely conscious Emma, whose head wound is bleeding like crazy, think over how much Summer is going to gloat about seeing her in jail. Father Edwards ministers to the wounded and traumatized as best he can and counsels patience. Many MeViders suffer complete breakdowns, screaming louder than Bentley as they try to rub pepper spray from their eyes and question whether this is all a nightmare. A few of them sneer and bitterly laugh: their only regret is losing their phones.

The white girls are released after calls are made, but Bert Villars scents even more profit and presents himself to still-arrested black MeViders as a “racial justice attorney” who “defended Mouse to his dying breath!” and is only too happy to offer “affordable legal representation to all.”

The real kicker is how he really did represent Mouse. He can’t sell his services fast enough.

His favorite client, though, is the shot man who’s in the hospital and barely lucid. It’s all-too easy to get him to sign all the necessary papers. The grimebag lawyer was known as “Twilight Zone Villars” before the first pimp or crack king ever called on his service, and it’s a role he’s come to miss.

Local media outlets, meanwhile, can’t get enough of the “riot at local musician’s funeral” story. It turns up everywhere. A young journalist named David Joffe catches wind first, and is glad: the resultant freelance work for the Times-Picayune and several other outlets helps pay the bills. Another young journalist named Jackson Long hears about Mouse’s funeral second, and is glad too: he didn’t want a police hit piece to be his big break. When his wife Caitlin points out several ways he could have spun a more neutral cast on events, he argues with her that he couldn’t have and goes to bed in a foul mood. Jackson Kibbe publishes a “Stalker Mercurial Fernandez Exposed” hit piece detailing the various criminal charges Mouse faced before his death. Luke Malveaux reads it and coldly tells him to “leave the Devillers out of this. Leave out everything to do with them, or you’re dead to my family.” Kibbe grudgingly acquiesces and “Axis” posts the full story anyways on his private news blog. Slim Ray writes an op-ed for the Times-Picayune about the novel and commercialized nature of Mouse’s funeral. It was funded by GoFundMe donations and attended by MeVid viewers who bought tickets over Kickstarter. What implications does this have? “Has death, too, become another source of likes?” Big Ray tells his son that moments like this remind him why he doesn’t mind being retired, then talks about the Limbo Kings’ next bowling game.

Mouse’s MeVid channel continues to draw thousands of views. It’s inevitable when memes start to circulate.

Just as Mouse’s death became a sensation over the internet, the internet sensationalizes real life. Emma finds the “racist desk chick” epithet impossible to dodge. Students harass her constantly. Members of several hate groups upset her nearly as much when they try to recruit her. The student petition to remove her as JL House’s desk coordinator doesn’t gain traction, but she resigns the job after the sheer amount of stress it brings. Her grades start to slip. The once-apolitical woman grows bitter over how “they never even let me say ’I’m sorry’” joins the College Republicans. Angela Greer promises her another way that she can feel like she’s doing something worthwhile, and invites her to attend one of the Kappas’ meeting.

Fizzy, meanwhile, smells a cash cow and has Bert Villars start new GoFundMe appeals (to raise funds for his legal bills) with more MeVid “from prison” videos. The two start looking into merchandising options and media interviews. Villars scoffs incredulously to Paloma when some of the order-on-demand T-shirts actually sell.

When enough sell, he starts thinking about a web series or book deal. He reaches out to people in the entertainment industry. Fizzy hounds his lawyer to cash in on as many opportunities as possible: the more money he has in prison, the better. The internet’s attention is fickle, too, and what’s viral today is old news tomorrow. There’s no telling how long Mouse’s current stardom will last, so they need to make the most of it. Villars hopes to inflate the “murdered musician’s” life story into the next Michael Brown. Maybe they can even sue the city like Tyrone Johnson did.

Yes, he sees big things ahead for the dead young musician. Bright things. Glorious things.

In Orleans Parish Prison, Fizzy raises a glass of pruno, or prison wine: grape juice, white bread in a sock, raisins, yeast, and as much sugar as they could get ahold of, left to ferment inside three plastic trash bags for a week. He toasts his brother’s memory in a dixie cup alongside Showerz and Big Dawg.

“Here’s t’ my my baby brother.”

“Cash cow,” Big Dawg chimes.

“Meme of the year,” Showerz smirks.

The three dixie cups tap.

“Stone-cold killer!”

Mouse I, Chapter XI
Shiv in the Dark

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”
Orleans Parish Prison sheriff’s deputy

Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, PM

Mouse: Mouse numbly stares up at his cell’s ceiling. He tries not to move too much and bites his knuckles to stop himself from making any pained noises. His ass feels sore and raw with blood. He isn’t sure how long it’s been since his rapist left the cell, but restlessness and agitation gnaw away at him. Part of him wants to deny this even happened. He wants another smoke. He wants anything to help him forget.

Sleep finally overtakes him.

GM: Mouse’s dreams are gray and numb. He wakes up to find a thick and rough hand clamped over his mouth.

The lights are out. The jail cell and common area past the door are shrouded in darkness.

It’s far from quiet, though. Mouse can hear inmates breaking wind, babbling to themselves, masturbating, snoring, and singing mindlessly off-key songs. Iron doors slam and shake as crazies howl apocalyptic insights like dogs baying under a yellow moon.

Mouse: Mouse’s first reaction is to flinch with wide-eyed terror. He looks up at the shadow-shrouded figure clamping his mouth shut. It’s night, or so Mouse assumes. His yells for help weren’t listened to last time, would they be ignored again?

GM: The terrified inmate sees only darkness. A faint voice in the distance cackles, “That’s whaaaat sheeee saiiidd…” but his immediate cell is silent except for a loud and heavy snoring coming from the bunk above him.

He feels something slim and plastic-like being slipped into his hands.

Mouse: Confusion only adds to Mouse’s fear. He stays silent as his pianist’s fingers wrap around the plastic-like item, trying to figure out what it is. He strains his eyes against the darkness.

GM: Its depths are impenetrable, but his fingers brush against a sharp metallic edge. Metallic slamming, shaking, and screaming sounds in the distance.

The hand withdraws from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse notices the sharpness and recognizes what he’s been given. Something to defend himself with. He mouths a silent thank you to the mysterious shadow.

GM: His only answer is distant farts, grunts, screams, and cackling laughter.

Loud, wheeze-like snoring continues to sound from the bunk above him.

The cramped cell smells of dried blood, bile, and semen. Pain stabs through his ass. He feels queasy and lightheaded.

Mouse: A dangerous, almost insane thought crosses Mouse’s mind as the smell haunts him. His eyes are still open as he waits for them to adjust to the darkness of the cell.

GM: The outline of his bunk bed becomes clearer. Loud, wheeze-like snores continue to sound from the upper bunk.

Mouse: The young man tries his best to remain quiet despite the pain. He lifts the sharp object closer to his eyes and wonders what he’s doing. He’s just getting up to pee, right?

His eyes, though, are wide. He knows what he wants.

GM: The hilt is a cylinder-shaped piece of plastic. A long and cruel-looking shard of chickenwire glass is fastened to the end by duct tape.

“My sooouulll is a paperrrr baaag… at the boootom… of your garbage, caaaaaaaaaan…!” a distant voice manically sings.

Mouse: It’s enough. It’s enough for Mouse to do what he wants to do. Doesn’t he?

It’s instinctual, the way his grip tightens around the shiv. His heart beats hard against his chest. His hands shake. Does he really, truly want this? Is this just… desperation? Maybe there’s another way. Some other way that doesn’t involve looming over his rapist’s bed and stabbing him repeatedly until he’s dead.

Mouse doesn’t have an answer to any of those questions. But his body moves on its own. His body knows what it wants, even if his mind is too scared to admit it.

It doesn’t want to be a victim anymore.

GM: The only response to Mouse’s dark thoughts is his cellmate’s steady, wheeze-like snores.

Mouse: It happens in a blur. The scared, wide-eyed young man soundlessly lifts up the shiv and plunges it down. It’s a blind, haphazard attack, but it still gorily punctures his cellmate’s neck with a thick spurt of blood.

It’s an almost out-of-body experience as Mouse watches himself undertake the grizzly deed like a floating spectre. His hair is a mess. He’s coated in bile and blood and filth. It’s surreal. It’s therapeutic. It’s utterly terrifying.

He doesn’t dare breathe as he pulls the shiv out and stabs down again, adrenaline pumping through his veins.

GM: The glass-bladed shiv stabs into the man’s neck with a sickening shk. Mouse can’t see what tattoo it punctures in the dark, but he feels his cellmate’s lifeblood fleck over his face—warm, wet, and coppery.

The man screams.

He reflexively grabs his sheet and half-drags, half-throws it across the air to entangle his indistinct attacker. A thud hits the ground. Mouse pulls the bedding off himself just as the man’s grasping, tattooed arms grab for his scrawny shoulders—just like last time.

Mouse: It happens too fast. Mouse isn’t made for violence, and his chest hurts from its thumping. He loses track of where he is, what’s happening—it’s all a blur.

GM: His back hits the fluid-crusted mattress. His attacker pries at the shiv in his hands. It almost seems to happen in slow motion as Mouse watches him agonizingly tear the chickenwire glass blade from his grip. The man’s eyes are bloodshot and furious. He screams something in Spanish Mouse doesn’t understand. Couldn’t understand. He feels the man’s spit fleck against his face… and then a sudden stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his belly. A second warm flow of blood pools over the mattress he was raped on.

“¡Te alimentaré tus putas bolas!” his wild-eyed cellmate froths, blood and spittle flying from his mouth.

Mouse: Mouse can only a give a high-pitched, guttural scream. It almost feels like he’s been punched and had the air knocked out of him, but it hurts so much worse. He’s being stabbed. The man is stabbing him. He’s going to die.

“I’m sorry!” Mouse yells as his cellmate screams unintelligible obscenities. Tears run down his face. “I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me! Please!”

Mouse can almost taste the man, he’s that close.

“Please don’t kill me!”

GM: There’s another stab of agony as the shiv sinks into his chest. Mouse feels blood welling up in his mouth. Everything is starting to go dark—and it’s not from the lights being out.

Mouse: Am I going to die in here? he thinks once again, gurgling pathetically as he continues to cry.

“I’m sorry…”

He tries to fight the man off of him, maybe he can make a run for it… but he’s not strong enough… he’s never been strong enough…

GM: His cries for forgiveness go unheeded as the furious-eyed, pain-maddened man howls like a demon and drives the shiv towards his throat.

Mouse: As Mouse cries, he reflexively ducks his neck out of the shiv’s path. It hits the bed’s metallic frame with a too-loud, too-brittle scraping snap that seems to sound several times at once. He continues to loudly wail for mercy and help.

“I will do anything! Please stop! Help!”

Wait. That noise. Mouse jerks his eyes towards the steel bedpost and sees shards of the shiv’s glass blade littered everywhere. He continues to scream, “HELP! HEEEEEELP!” while trying to squirm free of the man’s grip. He can make a break for the cell door. He hopes beyond all hope that whoever gave him the shiv left the door unlocked.

GM: His rapist’s grip is as iron as it was before. The profusely bleeding man bellows incoherently in Mouse’s face and clamps his fingers around the screaming boy’s neck. He clamps them tight, and squeezes. They blister like heated iron as Mouse’s head swims. His vision starts to go dark.

Mouse:HELP! HEEELP! HEEEEEEELLLPPP!!!” he continues to scream as consciousness fades. It’s difficult with his attacker’s iron-like hands around his neck, but it’s all he can do.

His mind continues to race. He remembers listening to Becca talk about a Women’s Studies class she took. That feels like a lifetime ago. The unbidden thought seems odd until he connects it with something she told him from that class: “It’s more effective to yell there’s a fire than it is to yell for help.”

Mouse didn’t pay much mind to that idea at the time. It sounded too pessimistic to be true. But it’s obvious by now, after all he’s undergone, that the world really is that self-interested and devoid of kindness.

FIRE!” he screams at the top of his prodigious lungs. “FIIIIRE! FIIIIIIIRE! FIII-IIIIIRRRE! FIIIIIIIIIII-RRRRRRREEEEEEEE!”

And Fizzy always said his music practice was useless.


The sound of footsteps is the last thing he hears before darkness overtakes him.

GM: The door to his cell flies open and cacophonously slams against the wall. Three guards burst in, brandishing nightsticks overhead. Their faces are impossible to discern in the darkness, making them seem spectral apparitions of terrifying violence.

There are no shouts to break it up. No questions. No demands. The billyclubs simply descend—on Mouse and his violator.

The first nightstick smashes over the wounded man’s already bloody face. It shatters his nose with a hideous crunch and messy spurt of red.

The second nightstick descends towards the man’s biceps, but harmlessly clangs against a steel bedpost as Mouse’s gurgling, profusely bleeding cellmate lunges out of its path. The guard curses as the impact runs up his arm, causing him to actually drop the weapon.

The first guard barks a hard laugh. “My old man always said! Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done! ‘Target nerve clusters,’ fucking pussies these days!”

The third nightstick descends towards Mouse’s biceps and quadriceps with two quick, snapping blows. The young man’s muscles scream with numb protest.

Mouse: A defeated gurgle escapes Mouse’s lips as the first hot strikes true. The first of many.

He loses his voice, his sense of time, and his whole body becomes heavy. He struggles for breath. It’s like his body forgets how. It’s terrifying. Beyond terrifying.

He knows what’s coming. It comes slow. But it comes.

He’s a powerless audience to it. To his own demise. To his own end.

GM: As the nightsticks descend upon Mouse in almost surreal rhythm, the last of the lies fall away.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die.

That’s not what Mouse sees.

There’s only one, seemingly impossible question that rings through his mind like a billyclub against the steel bedpost:

How did his life come to this?

To this, being raped and beaten to death on a jail cell’s vomit-, blood-, and cum-crusted mattress?

The past few hours, days, all seem like one nightmarish blur of beatings and threats and cops and everyone who can take a shit, finding some reason to take that shit. The crowd of gawkers at Tulane. The desk chick at Josephine Louise House, what was her name, calling the police over him. Bert Villars, extorting him for money and selling his debt. Bud and that evil little girl, Sue. Becca not returning his call. ‘Cat’ and ‘Giraffe’, those women who looked at him like he was so strange. His roommate disappearing. Maybe he could’ve helped against the cops. Bentley, hanging up on him. Ha ha, she still lives with her dad. Why does she even do that? They’ve got money. She could easily move out.

What happened? When did he cross the threshold, from a normal life as a normal college student with a bright future ahead of him, to… this?

There was Cécilia Devillers. He played that song and left flowers outside her apartment door. He thought it was sweet. She didn’t. She thought it was stalking. She was terrified of him. Did she call the building’s security on him? Or did they just show up? Who called the cops and sent his life flushing down the shitter?

It’s odd he was even there, come to think. Who left the door to her building unlocked? Who let a total stranger just wander down the apartment hall?

Then there was Emmett Delacroix, who asked for money, who he called Cécilia wanting to help. Fizzy always said he was a piece of shit. Fizzy spat on his card. He hasn’t thought about Emmett Delacroix in a while, come to think. Raising money for his legs just slipped his mind, after that first arrest and plea bargain and sentencing. He had other problems. Maybe Em was just using him all along anyway, like Fizzy said he was. Fizzy had beat up the man and called him a sack of shit.

Maybe that’s it.

He was always the sweet, dumb, harmless kid to Fizzy, his mom, and the RidaHoodz. He could never really do any wrong. Nothing on the level of stabbing a man to death in his sleep. He wasn’t capable of it.

His family sheltered him. He went to a good private school, the kind his brother never went to. The teachers who hovered over him so attentively, who were in constant contact with his mom and other helicopter parents, all knew what and who he was: just a sweet and harmless kid. Tulane was more of the same. Just because his professors didn’t send him emails about missed assignments didn’t mean he’d left the protective bubble that sheltered him all his life.

But the moment he did, the moment he stepped outside, he saw what happened. Cécilia Devillers, her building’s security guards, Officer May, Hector Berganza, Judge Boner, that acne-faced public defender, Judge Malveaux, all those cops: to them, he was Emmett Delacroix. A shark. A predator. A sack of shit.

The realization strikes him like the billyclubs raining down on his screaming, bleeding, broken flesh:

They were right.

All of the people who hurt him. All of the people he believed did him wrong.

His entire life was a lie. The world isn’t a fair or kind place. It’s a jungle ruled by the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Hurt or be hurt.

His family shielded him. Lied to him. All but told him he could be weak. That there was a place for the weak.

Blood-spattered nightsticks descend upon his fading vision in almost slow motion. He knows better now.

Innocence is weakness. Sympathy is a lie told by vipers like Emmett Delacroix. In the real world, no one plays romantic songs and leaves flowers outside unfamiliar girls’ doors. They only do that to get close to foolish victims—or foolishly reveal themselves, through their softness, to also be victims.

Victims get raped and beaten to death on a cum- and bile-stained mattress. That is the world. Being raped on a filthy prison mattress. Being beaten to death on a filthy prison mattress where you were raped. That is the real world. That is the entire world.

Bones crunch in Mouse’s ears as the billyclubs mercilessly descend. He supposes it hurts. That’s not particularly novel, so far as his last few days ago. He might be going numb from all the pain anyway. Blood flecks across the cell’s dark walls. Laughter sounds from the indistinct visages of his jeering tormentors. He knows they are but symptoms of the world’s sickness, helpless actors in a perverse and grisly cosmic drama that mandates but one law: kill or be killed.

Mouse’s time to exit stage from that drama fast approaches. The terminal black curtain already descends. There are but two roles he may play as he takes his final bow: victim or monster.

Aren’t there?

Mouse: It’s his last symphony. A bloody swan song.

“Ama… zing grace…”
How sweet… the sound…"
That save… a wretch… like me…"

It comes out in strained, fruitless gurgles. His eyes are wide with fear, but also dawned by understanding.

“I once… was lost… but now’m… found…’
“T’was blin… b’ now I… see…”
“T’was Grace tha… taugh… my heart… to… fear…”

He can’t remember the rest of the lyrics…

The only thing keeping Mouse alive for now is watching his rapist suffer the same fate. He can rest assured that for all the pain he’s suffered, and is currently suffering at the hands of the pen’s overzealous guards, the one who finally made him snap will likely die here, too.

It’s his sole solace as the blows descend and he hacks bloody pulp from his lungs. Perhaps the next world will be kinder. Perhaps there is nothing but darkness after this. Mouse doesn’t know.

He eyes the broken shrapnel from the shiv tried to end his cellmate’s life with.

But at least he can die knowing something else.

Electricity seems to surge through his veins as he wills his dying body up. He grabs at the biggest piece of shrapnel and ignores the edge slicing into his pianist’s fingers. He will make these final few moments his own. He jolts forward, lightning quick, to slash the glass across his cellmate’s throat.

At least he can die knowing the man who raped him is dead, too.

GM: And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Mouse can’t see much. Everything is going black. His rapist lies on the ground. The man’s face is a sheet-white, blood-smeared, smashed-in ruin as he feebly holds up his arms to ward off the guards’ merciless blows.

He doesn’t realize another one carries even less mercy.

He doesn’t even seem to notice as the chickenwire shard in Mouse’s hands stabs towards his too-red, ruined throat.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.

The guards do. There’s more shouts. More noise.

T’was grace that brought us safe thus far

The billyclubs descend.

And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home

Pain in his head. Something wet trickling down his temple. He’s getting used to pain. It’s an acceptable cost. That feels almost freeing, knowing pain isn’t stopping him anymore. That feels like it could open up a lot of things, not to be scared of pain.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me

A warbling voice dimly sounds, as if underwater.

“Over the fucking head, that’s how it’s done!”

I once was lost but now am found

There’s more blood spurting across his face. Distant screams. Fire in his fingers. He doesn’t need them anymore. It wouldn’t matter now that Bud threatened to break them. This is his greatest work. His magnum opus.

T’was blind

He’s not Mouse. Fizzy’s little brother. He’s Mercurial Fernandez. Criminal. Killer. Dangerous man. Dangerous enough the guards are killing him. Dangerous enough his rapist is screaming now.

There’s worse things to die as.

but now I see

That’s funny.

Was blind

He does remember the lyrics.

but now I see…

Mouse I, Chapter X
Price of Weakness

“First time? There’s a way you go to do it.”
Unknown OPP inmate

Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM

GM: Mouse comes to.

His face stings, but doesn’t burn anymore. He’s having what feels like the worst sore throat of his life, but his airways don’t feel like they’re clamping up. His too-empty stomach is a gnawing cancer inside his belly. His surroundings are ripe with the smell of stale sweat, blood, offal, disinfectant, and other less identifiable odors.

Mouse: The skinny kid tries to lift his head and look around to orient himself.

GM: He finds himself handcuffed to a hospital bed with a stained and too-thin mattress. He doesn’t have a room to himself like Em did in the hospital. Rows and rows of beds with their own patients are also visible. Most wear orange jumpsuits or plain white underclothes. Some patients are silent, while others moan, scream, or swear. Some curse their nurses, others their fellows, and some seemingly no one and nothing at all.

Some patients are swaddled in bandages, hooked up to beeping machines, and look barely alive. Almost all of them are handcuffed like Mouse also is. Too few and too-harried-looking nurses weave among the beds.

There’s a zipping sound from the one next to Mouse’s as two uniformed sheriff’s deputies load up a motionless figure into a body bag. His face in invisible. Two light clicks sound as the men undo handcuffs that the jail’s former inmate no longer requires.

Mouse: A small, tired frown appears on Mouse’s face as he watches the body bag get zipped up. “What happened to him?” he asks, testing his voice more than anything.

GM: No one so much as looks at Mouse. The odor in his immediate vicinity seems to marginally improve as the bag gets fully zipped up.

Several beds away, a man raggedly screams and begs for morphine.

Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to look around at everyone, and specifically the color of their skin.

He ignores the screaming. He ignores the smell.

GM: Some patients are black, some are white, and others are Latino. There are no Asians or Native Americans he can make out. A fly drones and buzzes over his head.

Mouse: Mouse blows toward the buzzing sound, trying to scare away the fly. He figures the smell of death is attracting it.

“Can I get a nurse, please?” he asks, looking for someone to remove his cuffs.

GM: The buzzing ceases as the fly lands on his forehead. Its legs tickle his skin.

The uniformed deputies load the body bag onto a steel cart and wheel it away without responding.

“We’re not gonna keep with this paranoia old shit… ’scuse my language…” mumbles a voice from one of the nearby beds.

Mouse: It’s just Mouse’s luck. As the fly makes its home on the skinny ne’er-do-well’s head, all the emotion of the past few days finally hits him like a steel weight clonking against his temple. All he can do is sob in his cot, left alone to his thoughts in the midst of this unintelligible noise.

GM: There’s a tickling sensation over Mouse’s forehead, then around his eye. And a damp feeling. Very light. The fly’s legs are trekking his tears over his face. The young man’s sobs go unheard and unanswered as a voice near his bed drones, “I’m smart. S’what I am. A smartass.”

“So we’re paranoid ’cause you took our angel…”

“So how is tha’ paranoid ‘gain? _I’m_ the one who’s paranoid?”

“Alla this… I tol’ him… the street I had, November 3rd, the night before Thanksgivin’…”

Monday evening, 21 September 2015, PM

GM: Minutes pass.

Then hours.

The fly on Mouse’s face eventually flits off. Minutes pass to hours.

A chorus of voices in the background screams, curses, sobs, moans, or simply babbles nonsensibly. Any nurses Mouse (and the other nearby inmates) call out to offer no response, either content to ignore them or too occupied by their own duties.

It’s impossible to tell when day actually passes to night. There are no windows to look out from.

Eventually, though, someone dims the lights.

Trying to sleep is an exercise in futility. None of the noise dies down. Footsteps sporadically thump throughout the room. Mouse is hungry and thirsty. He needs to piss and take a dump. The room is cold enough to make his teeth chatter, and it’s impossible to adjust his too-thin blanket with his hands uncomfortably cuffed. His neighbor never stops talking.

“He was gettin’ put out. This is not right. This is not right. This is not right. You ain’ heard a dime, you ain’ heard a cent, from Ortega… Sebastian Ortega… he was onea the clowns who started it…”

“Cause when it rains, it pours… an’ the old man, he snores… I don’ know what to do, I’m so excited…”

“Praise God, I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!”

“All those dreams. That he gave you. All comin’ to pass. This dream is so important. All the ones ’fore that.”

“He showed it to me. Showed it to me clear as day. He was white. He is not playing games…”

“The stuff he did was so twisted. There ain’ no excuse for what they doin’…”

“No excuse. No excuse.”

“Praise God, I’m excited!”

“Praise Jesus, I’m excited!”

“Took my angel. I saw him, in my dream last night. He had a sword, a burning sword, an’ he says to me… Ortega, he is not playing games… the path of the righteous is open to you. You got to understand…”

Minutes pass.


More hours.

Lights eventually glare back on.

Some time later, two deputies wordlessly undo Mouse’s handcuffs and march him back to the big round desk under its “Intake” label.

He’s colder. Hungrier. Thirstier. Wearier. His face still stings. And he still really needs to use the bathroom.

“Remove your shoes and put them and any personal items in the tray,” the deputy behind the desk boredly states.

Mouse: Mouse sluggishly removes the pair of shoes from his feet. He places them on the tray as he clicks his dry tongue.

GM: “Step over there.” The deputy points to two yellow footprints painted on the floor. Mouse is then instructed to step backwards and spread his legs until his feet are above them. The deputy orders him to bend forward and put his hands on the counter. It is a very embarrassing and uncomfortable position because he is far from the counter edge and has to lean forward, standing on tiptoes with all his body weight on his arms to reach the counter while keeping his feet on the footprints.

“I’m going to pat you down. Do you have anything on you that is sharp or will prick me?” the deputy asks.

Mouse: “No.” His voice is still raspy.

GM: The deputy sticks his hands up Mouse’s shirt, then feels around his chest, stomach, back, buttocks, and groin. He also inspects the new inmate’s hair and the bottoms of his feet. Mouse is then ordered to turn around and open his mouth wide and lift up his tongue. The deputy inspects this with a penlight, and even pulls his ears forward and feels behind those.

Mouse: Mouse simply stays quiet. He’s more focused on holding his bladder than anything else at this point.
GM: The deputy finally instructs Mouse to pass through a metal detector. On the other side, another identically-uniformed lawman asks him to turn his back to as he wraps and locks a chain around Mouse’s waist. Now-familiar handcuffs are fastened to each side of the chain and re-cuff the young man’s wrists. He is then told to sit on a row of plastic seats near several other handcuffed men and to wait to be called.

Time ticks and passes. One man is called away.

More time passes. Another man is called away.

More time passes. Another man shows up and plops tiredly down on one of the hard seats.

More time passes. More men come. More men go.

No one talks.

Mouse: What’s there to talk about?

GM: After what feels like hours, it’s Mouse’s turn. He’s led led behind a cubicle to the medical assistant. The cyan-uniformed woman looks over a clipboard, has Mouse step onto a scale (removing shoes is again not necessary) and asks him a gauntlet of medical history questions.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Do you suffer from any ailment?”

“Do you have any medical problems?”

“Are you on any drugs?”

The examiner takes Mouse’s blood sample and labels it with his name for drug/alchool testing and finally takes his temperature.

The next stop is mug shots. Mouse has done this before. He is marched to another room by a deputy and stands on a yellow line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off. He is asked another series of questions:

“What is your full name?”

“What is your home address?”

“What is your phone number?”

“Who is your employer?”

“Are you homosexual?”

“Are you involved in any gangs?”

“Do you feel like harming yourself?”

Mouse: Mouse answers each question in a monotone. It almost feels like a waking dream.

“Mercurial Fernandez.”

“None.” He wonders if he’s even still enrolled in Tulane anymore.

He recites his phone number.


“Not gay, but an ally.”

“RidaHoodz for life.”


GM: The medical examiner and deputy record all of Mouse’s answers with the bored detachment of people who’ve done this countlessly many times before—though his last two responses draw some notably dryer looks.

Then comes fingerwiping. The deputy rubs Mouse’s fingers with a sequence of baby wipes and then splays them onto the glass plate of a scanner: images of his fingertips floating in the computer monitor. A series of electronic chirps seems to mean the pictures are keepers.

Mouse is then taken to a holding cell. A deputy opens the door and tells him to get in.

Several tired-, surly-, and disheveled-looking men are already inside. The small cell is approximately 15 feet wide and 10 feet long; three walls are of concrete and the fourth is all glass. There’s a built-in concrete bench along two walls and a steel combo toilet sink in the corner behind a short barrier. Everything looks filthy. The cell smells of urine, sweat, vomit and unwashed bodies.

Mouse: Mouse gives his new bunkmates a disaffected smile. He has bigger priorities, though. He quickly searches for a toilet as his stomach begins to cramp from holding in a shit for so long.

GM: No one smiles back at Mouse. One of the cell’s greener-looking occupants abruptly turns and retches over the floor, prompting to his fellows to shout exclamations of disgust before a deputy loudly clangs his baton along the cell bars and yells it at them to “hold it the fuck in!”

Mouse: Mouse’s own face twists in muted disgust at the wretched smell.

“I need a fuckin’ shit,” he half-breathes, getting impatient.

GM: One or two people glance at Mouse. Most of his neighbors stew in their own misery. Several look on the verge of voiding their stomachs.

Mouse: The smell is nauseating and Mouse’s own gut lurches threateningly. He eyes any nearby guards with a dark-eyed scowl. “I’ll give this five minutes or I’m shitting in the sink.”

GM: Mouse’s statement draws glares, exclamations of disgust, and threatening snarls from his pissed- and queasy-looking neighbors.

“Use the fuckin’ toilet!”

“My god.”

“Shit there and it’ll be your face in it.”

“Shit there and you’ll eat it.”

Mouse: Mouse nervously laughs, happy to get a rise out of them, but wary in case these guys are dangerous.

GM: His laughter awkwardly fills silent air. Some of his cellmates look at him with annoyance. Others with disgust. A few have black expressions that look borderline murderous.

Mouse: The laughter dies in Mouse’s throat like a murder victim meeting an abrupt, untimely end. He looks at his feet awkwardly. The last thing he wants is to antagonize the people who are in prison, too. They are probably victims of circumstance just like him, in all likelihood, or at least that’s what he supposes.

GM: Time crawls.

People come in. They get taken away. They come in. They get taken away. Mouse feels increasingly hungry. And thirsty. Food is not served at any point. That doesn’t stop a queasy-looking man from retching, spraying the cell wall and several unfortunate fellows with runny orange bile. People scream in disgust. The man screams too, after his neighbors start hitting and kicking him. One of them bellows, his bloodshot eyes mad and furious,


The sick man’s screams discordantly ring through the cramped space until sheriff’s deputies barge in, start smashing everyone indiscriminately with their nightsticks, and roughly haul the sick man out. Several people hack out bloody tooths. One burps a thin stream of vomit into his hand. Others stare sullenly ahead with black and swollen eyes. Blood, sweat, and still-fresh bile joins the offal-like stench permeating the cramped cell.

It feels like an eternity before Mouse’s name is finally called and deputies escort him out of the cell. His chains jingle as they lead him to another room. The strip search there is more intrusive: in addition to removing all his clothes, Mouse is told to bend over, cough, and spread his “cheeks” while a deputy closely inspects his anal cavity. After this, his is permitted to shower under lukewarm water for ten minutes. A turd lies in the center of the shower, ripe and fragrant. Mouse has an opportunity to relieve himself in a similar manner, though his surroundings lack toilet paper, or he may continue to hold it in. Deputies issue him his new clothing:

He receives two sets of orange jumpsuits with “OPP Inmate” printed on them in thick black letters, along with tightey-whiteys, white socks, and “Jackie Chan” slide-on shoes. The jumpsuit feels like a clown suit, or at least reminds him of the dunce cap that children used to wear in school. Everyone that is not an inmate looks at him like an animal, and he can feel it. The jumpsuit itself is faded, ripped, rough, stained, sagging (it feels at least several sizes too big) and missing one of its buttons. Mouse can only speculate how many people have worn it before him. The slide-on shoes pinch and hurt his feet.

Laundry is done once a week, Mouse is told. That effectively gives each of his outfits a weekly cleaning cycle, or 3.5 days if he’s willing to strip naked on laundry days. Mouse is given one sheet (relatively clean, but with a large tear), a threadbare towel, and a dirty pillow. All of them smell unpleasant. His clothes are taken away. He is also given a mattress to carry on top of these other items. It’s torn, dirty, and stained.

The items are very heavy for the small and always scrawny young man, and it seems inevitable that several will slip from his overburdened and so-tired grasp. Guards impersonally ferry him along with or without them. Another door swings open. A yellowed and tattered sign reads: “Caution: you are now entering a real jail.”

Mouse: Mouse’s only reprieve is that he took that shit (and piss) in the shower when given the chance. His bottom feels dirty, but that’s better than holding it in.

GM: The jail’s main floor consists of monotonous row after row of featureless metal doors. They actually don’t have any bars like jails are pictured as having. The closest is the hole-filled railing on the metal staircases. Round tables that look bolted to the floor, each with four chairs, fill most of the open space. Equidistant fluorescent lights glare down on the dull linoleum floor.

It’d be an orderly scene, if not for the inmates.

A cursory glance across the cell block’s common area shows clusters of orange-uniformed men sitting around tables or standing together in small groups. Loners mill about between them, or simply remain seated or lying in bed in their cells. Mouse can make out a few dicks from guys using their toilets.
Some of the men seated in groups around the tables are playing cards, checkers, or munching on the odd bit of food. Most simply talk. Some bump fists. Everyone looks as if they’re trying to find ways to kill time. Expressions and body language run the gamut: bored, calm, suspicious, morose, angry, aggressive, dazed, inebriated, noncomprehending. Most faces are black. Many others are brown. A sizable minority are white. Everything smells of stale sweat, cigarette smoke, dried blood, and other, less identifiable odors.

The floor, or at least Mouse can make out of it, is filthy. It’s strewn with cigarette butts, unidentifiable black marks, shoe impressions, a crudely scratched tic tac toe board, and even a wide, foul-smelling splotch of white, half-dried puke in one corner. Most of the chairs and benches look equally dirty. Phones dangle uselessly from scratched and vandalized receivers. One has been torn off and lies uselessly on the floor. The only truly functioning piece of technology looks like the TV, which the largest group of men is clustered around. They variously yell, boo, or simply stare ahead at the sports game that looks like it’s currently on.

Mouse: Mouse’s first instinct is to keep his head down and try his best to stay out of trouble (for now). He keeps his mouth shut except to answer questions and tries his best to keep hold of the dirty bedding items the guards gave him. He dropped his blanket. It’s all he can do to haul along his mattress and pillow.

He doesn’t like this place. It stinks. It’s crowded.

GM: Mouse’s present company speaks little. Deputies escort him and several other men to their cells, or at least some of them do. Mouse’s simply jerks his thumb towards one of the open cell doors that’s maybe half a block away.

Mouse: Mouse follows the guard’s thumb with his eyes and quickly shuffles forward until he reaches the indicated cell door. His teeth clench together in nervousness.

GM: Mouse’s cell is little different from any other jail cell that he has seen on TV. Jails, and their occupants, are not known for their creativity. The rusty-looking toilet would probably stink even if it wasn’t full of dark piss. The air smells of stale sweat, like outside, but the odor of cigarette smoke is particularly pungent. The upper bunk’s mattress is black with body grease. The walls are scratched with the names of prior residents, racial slurs, swastikas, crude scribblings of male and female genitalia, and other facile scatologies. Some enterprising past occupant appears to have climbed atop the cell bunk and burned the rendering of an ejaculating penis across the ceiling with a cigarette lighter.

Mouse: Mouse tiredly moves to set down his mattress and pillow on the lower bunk.

GM: The torn, fluid-stained mattress and lumpy pillow looks like they belong already. Home sweet home.

Mouse: Mouse sits down on the edge of the “bed”, lifts his knees to his chin, and curls into a small, jumpsuit-fitted ball. This is his life now, he thinks sadly.

The scrawny young man chokes back tears and lies still.

GM: His empty stomach pleadingly rumbles. His mouth is dry and parched. His ass feels grainy. In the background, he can make out the indistinct noises of conversation, punctuated by the occasional scream, shout, and unmistakable impact of fists—and harder implements—against too-frail human flesh.

It is against that backdrop that a tall shadow falls over Mouse’s fetal-positioned form.

Mouse: Mouse looks up with rodent-like eyes. He nervously rubs the end of his nose like it’s a reflex.

GM: The shadow’s owner is a large Hispanic man in perhaps his middle years. His bare chest is an intricate mosaic of tattoos depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns, a tan-skinned woman who could maybe be the Virgin of Guadalupe, Pancho Villa, and assorted angels, demons, skulls, racing columns of fire, and several figures who Mouse cannot identify.

The rest of the man is positively mundane in comparison. He’s bald, wide-nosed, and bears a thick mustache and soul patch. His dark eyes roam over the fetal-curled young man with a look of cold indifference that is somehow no less unsettling than the savage mania worn by several of the prior inmates Mouse encountered.

Mouse: “Sorry,” Mouse quietly says to the man as he remains hunched on the bed, pretending he wasn’t caught crying. “I’m Mouse.”

GM: The tattooed man silently stares at him.

Mouse: “I’m sorry!” Mouse squeaks out as he looks down, breaking whatever tentative eye contact the two had before staring at the floor.

He frowns, then looks back up at the man with a scared look in his eye. He forces himself to maintain eye contact as he uncurls into a normal sitting position at the edge of the bed, but can’t help the tears running down his cheeks as his voice cracks. He tries his best to be strong, but it’s impossible to keep a lid on his emotions. “What’s your name?” he asks, meekly.

He sniffs and wipes his eyes. “I’m new. Sorry. I guess it’s normal to cry when you’re in prison, right?” he asks that last bit with a bit of uncertainty.

GM: Mouse’s cellmate wordlessly advances towards the bed, then suddenly grabs at his shoulders.

Mouse: Mouse quickly recoils. His wide, disbelieving eyes turn hot in an instant. “What the fuck!?” he yells, losing his shit as his eyes all but spin in rage.

GM: The man’s head whips around like a wolf tracking a bolting rabbit as Mouse scrambles from the bed, but there’s little space to run in the cramped cell. The man lunges after Mouse, seizes him by his shoulders, and throws him back onto the filthy mattress chest-first. Thickly calloused hands rip at the buttons to his jumpsuit, then speedily work to tug off the overlarge orange garment.

Mouse: Mouse continues to yell at the top of his lungs, straining his already hoarse voice. He furiously struggles to escape the man’s grasp. He tries to knee him in the groin and scratch at his eyes. Anything to free himself.

GM: His assailant’s grip feels implacable. Mouse screams and struggles, but it’s impossible to get in a solid kick or claw at his cellmate’s eyes with the weight of the larger man’s body against him. The man tugs off Mouse’s jumpsuit, then rips down his underwear. He enters Mouse’s anus with one sudden, violent thrust that’s almost impossible to believe is happening. Then there’s another. And another. The pain is excruciating. His rapist’s member feels like a knife, an iron shaft, splitting him open from the inside and ripping through his guts with every thrust. He sees flecks of red from the corner of his eye. He hears the larger man’s grunts and exertions in his ear. He dimly feels hairy balls smacking against his buttocks in sequence with every thrust and spear of agony. He feels something wet and coppery-smelling down tricking his legs. He feels his own disgustingly hardened member pressing against the dirty mattress. His heart thuds and thuds in his chest at a million miles a minute.

Then it just happens. He ejaculates into the mattress. He feels wet, warm cum seep over his stomach hairs.

Mouse: The young man’s muffled and pathetic cries are buried in the bed’s disgusting mattress as his face contorts in anguish.

GM: It’s too much. He vomits. There’s nothing in his stomach, and he spews rancid, orange-yellow liquid over the mattress. It makes his stomach cramp with pain. The next lance of pain makes him retch again. Even less come out. Mostly spit and blood that burns his throat.

Mouse doesn’t know how long it goes on for. It feels like hours. It feels like eternity. It feels like he’s dying. Maybe he is dying. When the man’s member pulls out, it feels like it wrenches out half his stomach along with it, leaving him hollow and empty inside. All of the flesh around his buttocks is numb. His legs are stiff. The mattress is coated in blood, bile, cum, and piss. So is his jumpsuit. And his legs. All is befouled. All has been made filthy.

There’s the flick of a lighter, and the smell of smoke filling the small cell. The man pulls out another joint from the carton and extends it towards Mouse.


Mouse: Mouse accepts the cigarette.

It’s his first.

GM: The man flicks the lighter and holds it underneath the cigarette. His mother always cautioned not to. Even Fizzy, who smoked, told him it was a bad habit.

The smoke feels invasive as it seeps it into his lungs. And irritating. It makes him cough and hack. It hurts even more with his torn throat.

The man laughs. “First time?”

He goes on, “There’s a way you got to do it. Don’t suck. Pull it into your mouth, like it’s a straw. Then open your mouth. Breathe it in.”

Mouse: It doesn’t come naturally. It hurts. Mouse barely has the strength to keep his eyes open as he brings the smoke to his mouth with a shaking hand. The taste of tobacco barely covers up the taste of the bile still on his tongue. He continues to stare at the gloomy floor of his cell, incapable of looking at his rapist.

“Thanks.” His words are hollow, like the feeling of his stomach and the bottom of his heart.

GM: Mouse coughs less doing it the way his still-nameless cellmate describes. The smoke is still irritating and makes him feel more than a bit queasy. But he also feels light-headed and dizzy, a little like motion sickness, but also hot and flushed. It’s even a little relaxing. He doesn’t feel like he’s all here, anymore.

That feels good.

That feels very, very good.

Or at least less awful.

The man grins. “Now you doing it the first time, niño. Make you little dizzy, sí?”

Mouse: Mouse can barely register if he brings himself to answer. He takes another draw from his lit smoke, allowing his ailing and battered conscience to fly away. Out of his body. Out of his cell.

Out of his hell.

GM: The third pull feels better than the second. He feels almost relaxed. He takes a fourth pull, and a fifth, and soon loses count. The head rush that hits him isn’t like others, it has weight and it pulls him down. His heart races but he feels almost calm, detached. Everything is heavy. The man laughs and says he’s, “Seeing Felicity. That her name, niño!” Mouse looks out of the cell’s door, and everything seems to blur together. He feels himself panting like a sunbathing dog and feels as though he’s just run a nice jog.

Then the moment dies. He is back in the filthy cell with the tattooed and grinning man.

His cellmate laughs again. “Felicity don’t stay long, do she? Never as sweet as the first time.”

He shakes his head. “This place is a fucking pigstye. Puto cerdo orzuelo!” He tells Mouse to sleep in his bed on the top bunk, until his mattress dries. He unbuttons his jumpsuit again, and Mouse hears a steady stream of piss falling into a toilet. The man flushes it and leaves the cell. Mouse is left inside and alone.

Mouse: A blank, glazed look remains on Mouse’s face as he remains sitting on his bed, too shocked and pained to even move. All he can think to wonder is one question:

Am I going to die in here?

Mouse I, Chapter I
Friend in Need

“I owe some money to some bad, bad people.”
Emmett Delacroix

Sunday noon, 13 September 2015

GM: Em can make out the voice of one of his nurses just past the door.

“…and he’s in here. Please try not to make any… noise with all that.”

Emmett: He lifts his head, squinting.

Mouse: “I can try, ma’am,” another voice replies with a lilt. It’s pure as water and smooth as black velvet whiskey.

The door handle to Em’s room turns as a svelte man enters. He looks a few years younger than Em, but still old enough to be out of high school. His chocolate-brown hair is an unruly mass of frizz and curls. His sea-green eyes look over Em’s bedridden, crippled form with a juxtaposition of sympathy and oddly unrelenting cheeriness. A tired, beat-up guitar is slung over his right shoulder as he takes a couple soft-footed steps forward. He’s carrying a large card and several balloons in his free hands. He turns back to the nurse and gives her a shy look as he thanks her for showing him the way to Em’s room.

Emmett: Em gives a small spasm.

“Hey, Mouse. Been a while.”

Mouse: Mouse smiles back. “Hi Em.”

He approaches Em and awkwardly proffers the card and balloons.

Emmett: Em flicks his eyes at his cast-bound arms.

“Maybe tie it around my arm?” he suggests weakly.

Mouse: “I can do that,” Mouse answers nervously, still clearly surprised by Em’s condition. He puts the card on the bedside table and ties the balloons to Em’s nearest cast-bound arm with a dextrous flourish.

“What happened?” he asks softly.

Emmett: “Crippling debt,” Em says simply. “I’d… rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. How’s prison? Sorry, Tulane?”

The casual shift in topic feels about as natural as the stumps where his body ends.

Mouse: Mouse gives a humorous smile. “It’s not as bad as a prison, Em.” He laughs quietly at the joke. “They make all student residents adhere to a meal plan, though. How’s the hospital food?”

Emmett: “I haven’t tried it yet. They have stuff that looks like food, though.” Em smiles, painfully. “Fizzy still… Fizzy?”

Mouse: “Yes. Fizzy is still Fizzy.” Mouse beams with pride at the mention of his older brother. He adds in a hushed tone, “I didn’t tell him I was going to see you, of course. He doesn’t really like me hanging out with you.”

Emmett: “What’s he gonna do, break my legs again?” He sighs. “I appreciate you coming, though—” He stops. “You, uh. Still living the high life? Gallery openings, whatnot?”

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes drift conspicuously downwards to Em’s lower half.

“Yeah…” is the most manages, his tone deflated. When he forces himself to meet Em’s gaze again he looks like he’s barely holding back tears. “Are… you hungry? Do you need me to get a nurse for you?”

Emmett: “Hey, man,” says Em. “You don’t need to cry over me. I’m gonna bounce back. It’s going to be—”

He starts coughing, an ugly, ragged noise.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen with alarm.

Emmett: He eases himself out of the fit, shaking his head. “I’ll be fine, really. It’s the money I have to worry about. They may as well break my back, ha ha…”

The joke falls flat, as the bitterness in his voice becomes apparent. He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about my problems.”

Mouse: Mouse shakes his head, drying his eyes with his shirt as inconspicuously as he can manage. “It’s okay, Em,” he says, trying his best to be the strong voice of support. “I don’t mind listening. It’s the least I can do.”

Emmett: “If you’re sure.”

Em talks for a bit. His family’s offered to take him in, until he can find a place he can afford. The hospital isn’t so bad. It’ll be nicer than the jail he’ll stay weekends in.

He trails off when he says he hopes to hit the ground running. Finally, he seems to hesitate.

“Mouse… I can trust you, right? For old time’s sake?”

The artist can’t help but remember the 19-year-old bleeding after his older brother had a ‘conversation’ with him.

Mouse: “You know you can trust me.” Mouse’s smile takes a bit to reemerge, but it never leaves his face.

Emmett: “What do you know about…”

He swallows and pauses.

“…the Dixie Mob?”

Mouse: Mouse just looks confused by the name.

Emmett: “It doesn’t matter,” Em says quietly. “The short of it is, I owe some money to some bad, bad people. People even Francis probably doesn’t fuck with. And… and they’re going to hurt my family.”

He hangs his head.

Mouse: “Why would you owe them money?” Mouse asks. “You should know better than to deal with bad people, Em.” His voice might be soft, but the words are hard, even if unintentionally.

Emmett: Tears start to roll down Em’s humiliated face.

“Yeah, I should. I know, man. It was my damn lawyer. He said he had a way I could pay his fees, and I didn’t realize what I was getting into until it was too late.”

He sighs. “I’m sorry. My problem. I shouldn’t have made it yours. Thanks, anyway.”

Mouse: “No. I’m your friend.” There’s still a strain to Mouse’s voice, but there’s sudden strength to it too. “Who’s your lawyer? What did he do? I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Emmett: “The lawyer’s out of the picture. For better, trust me.” He closes his eyes. “12 grand. I need 12 grand. I can’t ask you to come up with that. It’s out of your hands.”

His hanging head bats one of the balloons tied to his arm out of the way. The image would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes bug out. “I wish I had that kind of money. You know if I did, Em, I would pay for everything right away.”

He looks almost as helpless as his invalid friend for a moment there.

Emmett: “Of course not, man,” he says. “I’d have to ask your brother, if anybody. And that wouldn’t go well, right? Hates my guts.”

Mouse: Mouse pauses for a moment. Then his eyes then light up as if a switch has been pulled inside his mind. “I could go and ask Francis for help!”

Emmett: “Are you sure he’d have the cash?”

There’s hope in Em’s voice for the first time.

Mouse: “I don’t think he does,” Mouse says uncertainly. “But I could ask him if he knows anybody who could possibly help.” He gives Em a hopeful and hopefully encouraging look.

Emmett: Em’s already shaking his head. “No. I won’t make my problems his. I’ve wronged him enough. If he doesn’t have the means…” He pauses. “You’ve still got some friends in high places, right?”

Mouse: Mouse blinks. “High places?”

Emmett: “You’re a musician, man. I went with you to that concert once, remember? You seemed pretty comfortable with some of the… more well-off crowd.”

Mouse: “Thanks!” Mouse beams. “I get along with pretty much anyone.”

Emmett: “Cécilia Devillers,” he snaps, before composing herself. “I think that was her name, anyway. We had a good time, remember? And she said her mother’s got all sorts of non-profit projects. Maybe we could get some help there?”

Mouse: Dawning understanding lights up Mouse’s face. He gives Em his brightest, most hopeful smile yet.

“I could definitely try! I can talk to my agent about getting in contact. She’s the one with all the connections, y’know?”

Emmett: “That would be… awesome, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” He clears his throat. “The only thing is, whatever we do, it has to be quick. Within the next four days.”

Mouse: “Why’s that?”

Emmett: “Because that’s when they promised to hurt the people I love, Mouse,” he says patiently.

Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen in shock. “You can count on me, Em!”

Emmett: “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Mouse,” Em says.

Mouse: “No worries!” he grins. “You’re a really, really great friend, too!”

Emmett: Em finally cracks a smile.

“Thanks, man. That means a lot.”

Caroline III, Epilogue
Just Desserts

GM: A man sets down the phone on his desk. The Washington Monument’s outline looms from the window behind him.

“Get my bags packed, Caleb. Looks like I’m headed home.”

“If this trip is like the last, you’re going to a jazz club,” the dried-up old man notes.

“Yes, that’s true,” answers the younger man. “Get me tickets to a popular club or concert. Turn it into a ‘meet and greet’ where I can interact with constituents.”

The old cottonmouth doesn’t smile so much as bare his fangs.

“I’ll find someone we want a favor over.”

“Yes, do that.”

The senator gives an impatient sigh.

“I may as well get something out of this trip.”

GM: “René Baristheaut is dead, Lord Pierpont. Or as good as.”

The seated Ventrue puffs on his cigar.

“Ah, that’s a shame. Now have ya looked into those vitae-soaked cigars? You know I can’t enjoy the rum-soaked ones, darlin’.”

“Yes, Lord Pierpont, I may have somethin’ lined up. But that fledglin’…”

An effected snort. “What ’bout her?”

“The insults she offered you…!”

The Ventrue laughs. “Darlin’, yer cute as a button when yer angry. But if yer going to be ma childe, you need ta take things less personally. She’s taken ‘er licks. And if scewin’ her over helps us out, her tough luck ta be weak where I’m strong. But we got bigger fish to fry. No need to spend time wranglin’ after shrimp we already done caught.”

“And you believe me, darlin’,” McGinn grins widely as he puffs on the fat Cuban, “in this city we got ourselves one full pond…”

GM: Two figures kneel over the floor in Perdido House. All the thick rubber gloves, containers of bleach, mop buckets, and paint masks in the world won’t make their task any easier.

One of them picks up a blonde ponytail still attached to a clump of cooked flesh and drops it in a trash bag.

“I hate doing this.”

GM: “Luke, what’s wrong?” asks Cécilia from their bed.

Nathan’s next-oldest child sighs as he looks up from his phone.

“It’s my brother. Again.”

“Is he in trouble?”

Luke resists snorting.

“Westley’s always in trouble.”

“This time’s probably not any different.”

GM: A seated figure stares down at the French Quarter from a rooftop garden, lord of all he surveys.

“Well, Nat, I have to say these past few nights have been some especially interesting ones,” Savoy grins from his seat.

“We can destroy the fledgling’s reputation at your word, sir, if that is the course you wish to pursue.” She sneers faintly. “Even what little of it there may be.”

Savoy smiles and waves her off. “I don’t think so right now, Nat. Hold that thought.”

“But I do think,” he continues with another grin, staring down at the French Quarter’s palm trees as they sway beneath the wind and rain, “that it’s high time I met the Big Easy’s newest Kindred.”

“I’ll make the arrangements, sir.”

GM: Camilla Doriocourt strides down Perdido House’s gloomy halls alongside her sire.

“…dragonsbreath rounds were found at the scene of the Masquerade breach. These and the other pieces of evidence lead me to believe this ‘Louis Fontaine’ is a hunter.”

Both of them know the poor penetrative power of dragonsbreath rounds.

The sheriff of New Orleans stares ahead.

“Run the standard tracing procedures.”

“See that this hunter is found.”

GM: Bliss Jackson, Trent Ambrose, Cherry Nines, and Milagrosa Arencibia lie staked together in a concrete room.

That’s all they do.

Lie there.

Time crawls and crawls.

Bliss wants to scream how unfair it is.

She didn’t even do anything!

They attacked her! That Ventrue bitch, who was poaching, and the Storyvilles!

All of them want to scream.

All of them want to turn to one another for comfort.

They can’t.

They can’t move. They can’t speak. They can’t even look at each other, except out of the corners of their eyes.

Time crawls.

Rage slowly gives way to dread.

They have a sinking feeling they aren’t going to get out of this one.

GM: René suppresses an instinctive snarl and stares up as the pool stick is yanked from his chest.

“You’re not who I was expecting.”

A tarp is pulled away, revealing a long assortment of cruel implements whose purpose can only be pain. René’s gaze lingers across the edges of the various brands, pincers, prods, blades, and more esoteric devices.

“Well,” the Ventrue effects with a sardonic smile grotesquely at odds with the bleakness behind his gaze,

“This part I rather was.”

GM: A slender finger traces an ivory chess board’s contours. It slowly travels across the time-worn figurines. None depict humans or animals: merely finger-sized shards of bone carved into faceless circular pieces. A painter’s delicate hand has left faded red and cyan designs over their bodies. There are no blacks and whites in this game.

The finger comes to rest upon one of the smaller figures.

“I shall pray that your wisdom holds true for this game, Rūmī.”

Louis II, Chapter VI
Jacques Beltremieux

“The dead are out there. Anyone who swears otherwise has never stayed up late during a summer storm and listened to their voices.”
Louis Fontaine

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Central City. The clouds cry, gently, as if ashamed of their midnight tears.

Inside the broken-in, Katrina-abandoned United Bakery, Lou listens to the rain’s patter on the roof and watches it slide down the unlit window. Despite his initial and follow-up search, the old man is on edge. It’s the rats. The hurricane waters have long rotted away the old bakery’s wares, but vermin are creatures of habit. Bad habits.

The old man hears their distant scratching and nocturnal scurrying. He can’t not hear them. It feels like they’re dancing, clawing at his hackles. He rubs his bum, sucks his gum, and sighs before turning to his last remaining co-conspirator.

“Chica,” he whispers with a dry, cough-like rattle. He wants a drink. He wants a lot things. He’s used to wanting though. Tonight, though, there’s a new, red-raw kind of want tugging at his soul. Indecision. He’s used to wanting. Used to not getting what he wants. But tonight, he’s not sure what he wants.

“Chica,” he whispers again, his neck hot with the sound of distant rats. He’s already called his cab. There’s not much time. There’s never enough time–unless, when there’s too much god-damned time.

He hears her breathing beside him. The sound is familiar yet haunting, a ghost capable of summoning old memories. Memories when they once shared the same bed. When they wore the clothes of husband and wife. Younger clothes. Clothes that no longer smell right or fit. But he remembers. God, he remembers. For a moment, he wants to reach out to her, for her. But the hand that once bore his wedding ring is gone. Just like their marriage, just like his youth, just like his surety of what he wants.


He turns. Away. He closes his eyes. He shuts out the blackness, and listens to the rain. Rain, which has begun to hammer now, till it drowns out the rats. He sighs with relief, like the outside rain is pouring down his burning neck, cooling his vitae-hot veins. He listens. “Chica, I’ve always loved the rain. Welcomed it.”

“During the summer, when I was a child, no matter how hot it was, there was a shower almost every afternoon. The southern horizon would pile with storm clouds that looked like over-ripe plums, and within minutes, you’d feel the barometer plunge and see the oak trees become a deeper green and the light become the color of brass. You could smell the salt in the air and the odor that was like watermelon that had burst open on a hot sidewalk. Suddenly the wind would shift, and the oak trees would come to life, leaves swirling and Spanish moss straightening on the limbs. Just before the first raindrops fell, Lake Pontchartrain would be dimpled by bream rising to feed on the surface. No more than a minute later, the rain would pour down in buckets, and the surface of the river/lake would dance with a hazy yellow gold that looked more like mist than rain.”

The old man shifts under the weight of old memories. “For me, the rain was always a friend. I think that’s true for all children. They seem to understand its… baptismal nature. The way that it absolves, cleanses, and restores the earth.”

His hand drifts to the cross around his neck. "The most wonderful part of the rain was its cessation. No more than a half-hour, the sun would come out. The air, the air would be cool and fresh. The four o’clock’s would open, full of fragrance and color, and in the shade, children would play hopscotch with an innocence and joy that belied the pain and confusion of adulthood.”

“The rain was part of a testimony that assured us that somehow the summer was eternal–that even the coming of the darkness could be held back by the heat lightning that flickered through the heavens after sunset.” He hand slips, and he opens his eyes. All but blind in the dark, he nonetheless can clearly see into the past as he continues:

“The rain also brought me visitors that convinced me that the dead never left go of this world. After my father, died out on the salt, I’d see him inside the rain, standing knee-deep in the churning water, his hat tilted sideways on his head. When he saw the alarm on my face, he would raise in hand in salute, as if to say life, not death, was the real challenge. I saw lost gens d’armerie crossing rain-flooded streets in the monsoon season, the rain bouncing off their cocked hats and sliding down their deep blue frock coats. Their mortal wounds glowed as brightly as communion wafers, but they would call out to me, ‘Tout va bien!’ In time, others joined their ranks: the Guard de Ville, Chief Youennes’ boys, the Metropolitans, and more. I don’t remember when exactly they stopped shouting ‘All is well!’, but they did.”

“During the rain, I get calls from long dead clients, victims of unsolved cases, or lost loved ones. They call me on the phone during electric storms to check in, to assure me they haven’t forgotten, that they’re still waiting. The polite ones always apologize for the heavy static on the line–after all, it’s not even a long-distance call. It’s local.”

He turns around. “Chica, don’t ever let anyone tell you this is all there is. They’re lying. The dead are out there. Anyone who swears otherwise has never stayed up late during a summer storm and listened to their voices.”

GM: Outside the abandoned bakery, the overcast night sky rumbles as rain pounds and pours. Water slides down windows coated in grime and dust from their insides, seemingly unable to wash away the filth.

Inside, the warehouse’s neglect is all the more apparent. Planks of wood, shards of broken glass, and other debris lie haphazardly strewn about the otherwise vacant, too-large space. Graffiti covers the walls. A black, demonic-eyed cat leers at Lou with a lolling forked tongue too large to fit into its mouth. “Upper class vandals” is ironically sprayed in blocky white letters next to the creature.

It wasn’t always this way. Lou remembers when the cold and deserted building was warm with loaves upon loaves of freshly-baked bread, and filled with the chatter of bakers at work. It was a distinctive light bread they made, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, shaped round and flat like a frisbee. The bread was for muffulettas, an Italian sandwich less iconic than po’boys, but no less tasty—or historied, being only a few decades older. Lou ate his first one before the grandfathers of the building’s former bakers were born.

He remembers an ingredients list seemingly as long as his life. The “salad” alone had olives, black olives, olive oil, celery, cauliflower, carrots, sweet peppers, onions, capers, parsley, pepperoni, oregano, garlic, vinegar, herbs and spices. The salad marinated a salty meat of some kind, usually salami, ham, mortadella, or all three. Melted provolone and mozzarella topped off the confection.

The newer ones came skewered through with toothpicks to hold the sandwich’s many ingredients together. They still couldn’t stop the bread’s sesame seeds from flaking off and making light patters against the paper wrapper.

Lou could go for a muffuletta right about now.

They’re gone, old man, the mutant-tongued cat seems to leer at him. Katrina closed down the bakery, and the owners never reopened. The storm washed away everything that was clean and nothing that was dirty.

Outside, the rain pours, impotent against the grime on the interior windows.

No lights illuminate the warehouse’s cavernous interior. Bereft of the Kindred’s darkness-attuned senses, Lou and Chica must huddle by the rain-slick windows like the rats they can hear scurrying in the distance. He can just make out her silhouette, black as night, imposed against the rain-slick window.

There, in the dark, the wet, and the cold, the old man fills the abandoned bakery with memories as rich as his surroundings are barren. The rain and the gloom do not relent—but buoyed those centuries-old recollections, perhaps they do not need to.

At length, he tapers off like the rainfall itself eventually must. Chica is silent for several moments, then remarks, “Ain’t no rainbow in the darkness.”

“Thas’ what ya get afta every rainfall, Lou. A gay-as-AIDS rainbow. My pops, since I guess we’re flappin’ our gums ‘bout our daddies, said it was God’s promise t’ Noah that he wasn’t gonna drown the earth ‘gain, or some shit. Rainbows are his reminders t’ us. It’s his way of sayin’, ‘hey you fucks, I still rem’ber t’ pull the bath plug!’”

His old paramour chews on silence for another moment. “But there ain’t no rainbows in the dark, Lou. The rain jus’ keeps pourin’. F’ us, it’s no big deal. Night rolls around t’ day, the fags can go all Judy Garland over it. But the licks, who gotta bed down? F’ them, it jus’ stays dark. Sure, the rain stops, but they don’t ever see no promise that it’s always gonna. So they’re wonderin’, in the back of they heads, whether God is really gonna pull the bath plug next time or jus’ laugh an’ say, ‘ha ha, fucks, I’m leavin’ it in!’”

“I hope it rains all night, Lou. I think I’d like t’ see a rainbow.”

Louis: Lou sighs like a man exhaling what might be his last cigarette. “Me too, Chica, me too.”

Time pours like rain. Lou turns again, his gumshoe heel smearing desiccated mouse-droppings like skid-marks in the dark. There’s an awkwardness to his next words. “Chica, you know Cimitière better than most, better than me. What kind of… prince do you think he’d be?” The words seem hard on Lou’s teeth, like a mouth-punch with brass knuckles.

GM: Chica actually looks surprised at Lou’s line of inquiry. Her next words don’t have the sarcastic bite they usually do. “Well, Lou, firs’ thing to keep in mind about the Baron is, he don’ want to be prince. Never did, an’ my guess is, still don’t. What he wants is for the Lance t’ leave everyone into Vodou the fuck alone. That ‘cludes Vidal’s groupies an’ also any licks who’d smile when they fuck ‘em over like Savoy an’ the Cottonmouths.”

“That’s his perfect world. The other Kindred cedin’ all things Vodoun, plus handin’ over Tremé an’ the Seventh, Eighth, an’ Ninth Wards to the Crones. Then leavin’ ‘em completely the fuck alone, t’ run things how they want, answerin’ t’ no prince. City within a city.”

“But that ain’t ever gonna happen, not with Vidal an’ Savoy at least. An’ he knows it. So yeah, the Lance has gotta go down. Both halves of it. What happens after…” Chica shrugs. “Well, that’d leave a pretty big hole. Somethin’s gotta fill it. Gotta be someone who’s prince, even if the Baron don’ want the job.”

“He ain’t really talked too much about what happens then. Guess he thinks we should focus on makin’ that Lance-free city happen first.” Chica spits to the side. “Cottonmouth an’ necro-incestuous-Mafioso-free too, ‘course. Fuckin’ sick the things they do.”

“But anyway. There’s still been talk, what the city’s gonna look like when—not if, we don’t believe in no if—Vidal an’ Savoy are gone. Baron might be prince, if there’s no other option, but he don’ want the job. Might plug his nose and do it anyway, or might foist it off t’ some other lick. It’d be his call though, and he won’t let nobody be prince who don’t run things the way he likes.”

“How he runs Tremé, though. You get a good preview of what he’d be like as prince. Easier for mortals to meet him up close than licks, actually. That says a lot. He’s a houngan who goes by the name Toussaint. Real popular wit’ a lotta folks. Been passin’ himself off as a buncha diff’rent houngans since way the fuck back. Longer than I been around. He’s close t’ the kine, close in a way Vidal an’ Savoy sho’ as shit ain’t. Hell, I don’t even see him livin’ in any digs as sweet as a lotta dealers.”

“He actually gets shit done, too. I heard the stories ‘bout Papa Iblis. Hell, you was around for ’em. What, five times Xola’s age, an’ five times as mean? Vidal had decades to ash him an’ didn’t. Yeah, sure, he was fightin’ a pretty long slog-fest t’ set himself up as prince. Maybe he woulda ashed Iblis, once things was settled down an’ he was comfy on his throne.” Chica rolls her eyes. “Or maybe he wouldn’t, ‘cuz he don’t give a flyin’ fuck ‘bout some poor niggas who call Mary Erzulie, and gave even less back when they was slaves. All I know is, Baron was the one t’ ash that sick shit Iblis.”

“He’s the houngan. The houngan. People in all those neighborhoods, the ones he wants to make his city in a city, he’s the man they go to for… fuckin’ everythin’. Yeah, sure, your usual love potions an’ magic fix-alls. But a lot more shit too. Your kid’s gone missin’, he’s your guy. Cops killed your boyfrien’, he’s your guy. Funeral’s too much f’ you to deal with, he’s your guy. Landlord won’t fix the brown water comin’ out of your sink, he’s your guy. You need money t’ make your boyfrien’s bail, he’s your guy. You pregnant in school an’ don’t know what to do, he’s your guy. You down sick an’ can’t afford no ER visit, he’s your guy. Psycho ex won’t leave you alone, he’s your guy. You want a houngan to say the words at your weddin’, he’s your guy. Hell, neighbor’s playin’ music too damn loud, he’s still your guy. He’s a priest, doctor, judge, shrink, an’ your grandpa who knows best, all rolled into one.”

“An’ he keeps the Masquerade. Des Jumeaux, they or the Baron have ways of making’ them look like him. You can run into Toussaint at Lil’ Dizzy’s, sometimes, chowin’ on po’boys in broad daylight. Or for any of that other shit that only happens at day.”

“An’ the people in his neighborhoods, they’re loyal to him, Lou, loyal ‘cuz he looks out for ’em when no one else does. He’s been there, helpin’ poor niggas out ever since you could buy ‘em as slaves. Kids grow up on stories of the things he, or I guess his ’predecessors’, have done for their grandpas, an’ it ain’t long ‘fore they’re goin’ to him for help with this or that. It’s a goodwill that’s old as dirt an’ strong as iron. Those people will go to fuckin’ war for him if he asks it.”

“Hell, that’s the big reason Vidal an’ Savoy haven’t squashed him. Why you think they haven’t, when you can count all the licks who follow him on two hands, an’ he ain’t got the cash for a suite at the Monteleone? That’s ‘cuz he’s got friends, fuckin’ everywhere. The nigga who waits your tables. The nigga who picks up your garbage. The nigga who mows your lawn. The nigga askin’ for change on your way to work. The nigga who mops the floors there. Them and a thousand more. Ask any of ‘em, odds are, they can tell you a story’ ’bout how… well, I told you what sorta shit the Baron does. Odds are, they can tell you a story ’bout the time when he was their guy.”

Chica pauses. “I ain’t sayin’ he’s a saint, now. He’s still a lick. Still drinks the same juice they all drink. Still serves the loa, an’ that’s mostly the Gehde, an’ that’s mostly Baron Samedi, wit’ a black hand than his white one. An’ sure as shit, you piss off a houngan with as much power as he got, dyin’ will be a fuckin’ mercy. Maybe he’s cursed people who you don’ think deserve it. The loa don’t really see right an’ wrong the way most folks do. An’ neither do he. The way he does see it, he does right by his people, an’ he fucks anyone who fucks them. Fact is, you ain’t ever gonna find an elder who’s as close not just to the kine, but to the little guy as he is, an’ who gives a damn as much as he do. Unless you think you can ash every lick in the city, I say, Baron’s the best one to be in charge of ’em.”

“So yeah, Lou, that ain’t the kind of prince I think he’d make—it’s the one I know he is. Because to the poorest and most fucked-over niggas in this city, guess what, he already is ya goddamn butt-fuckin-ya-slut-motha-till-she-moans-an-drools-like-a-bitch-in-heat prince.”

Louis: Lou’s silent and still for a long time. He digests her words slowly. The rain ticks out time, a million-droplet metronome. After a while, he grunts, not in dismissal, but like a man who’s just lifted a heavy burden, or at least is bracing himself to do so.

“Chica,” he eventually says, his voice rough and loose like spilled gravel, “I realize you were right.” There’s a slight pause, even almost a chuckle. “Not all the time, but more than I thought. I’ve been sitting on the pot too long. It’s time to piss or get off the pot. It’s been time.” Another pause. “Maybe past time.”

There’s a heavy sigh and the echo of rain bouncing in the empty bakery. “But tonight… tonight forced my hand. Maybe badly. No, definitely badly. Things are going to get ugly. Uglier. Maybe the ugliest they’re ever gotten for me. For us. And that’s… that’s pretty much as ugly as it gets.”

“I was tired, Chica. Tired as Hell’s devils the day after Mardi Gras and then some. But now… now I’m restless. Because tonight, tonight, I learned… something that can change the game. Maybe change it in a way that we haven’t seen in centuries.”

He turns to face his old lover, or at least her lightless shadow. “Just knowing it feels like an armed atomic bomb sitting in my head. I’m not sure how or whether to disarm or launch it. Yet. I need time. Not too much, just a night or two to think and watch and see how the dust settles–_if_ it settles. It probably won’t. Which is why… I need you to leave me.”

He takes a step closer. “They’ll be coming for me, Chica. If and when they find me, you can’t be there. Instead, I need you to go to the Baron. I need you to go back to him, and give him a message. Earn back his trust so he’ll listen to it.”

There’s a reflective instinct to grab a cigarette, to dilute and crowd the naked, raw air with smoke. But he represses it. For now. “Maybe see Vendredi. Josue’s desperate to earn Cimitière’s favor. Maybe use the secret as a chip. Or maybe seek out Kendall. I don’t know if that water-hole’s all poisoned or not for you. But Cimitière trusts her.”

There’s a slight hesitation. “There’s also Curry. She’s got no love for the Lance, especially after mad-dog Meadows ‘got off the chain’ and tried to snuff her out like a decade-old cigar. But… I think the mambo’s a wild card. Better to try one of the others.” Another sigh. “But you know those tracks better than me. It’ll be up to you.”

He takes another final step and embraces her, holding her close in the darkness, and whispers into her ear. Those words are far from sweet nothings:

René’s confession of being as a double agent for Donovan. How the sheriff, Savoy, or Setites betrayed him.

He then also whispers quietly… that she’s to relay that to the Baron. Donovan is either a double agent working for Savoy or he isn’t, but the reality that he has double agents working with Savoy and the Setites should be enough to sow dissent and distrust. Let that leak to the Invictus, the Anarchs, or other groups. Foment dissent. If Donovan can be portrayed as disloyal to the prince, his position and the prince’s weakens. Even if Vidal still trusts him, he might have to act because of appearances.

It also ties into why the sheriff and his goons might be after her—and thus might help justify the Baron hiding her and standing up to them. Donovan clearly wants to hide his cross-factional dealings—or those who know about them. Lou knows enough about sorcery to know that in order to get the right answers, you sometimes need the right questions—and this can help steer the Baron to discover said truth if he wishes.

GM: Chica listens.

“Fuck me sideways wit’ a spatula. How the hell’d you find that out?”

Louis: The old man releases her slowly, like the waning grip of a dying man. His mind lingers for a moment on the fresh odor of sweat, blood, and gunpowder, and the deeper, schizophrenic aroma of spiced rum, fish tacos, bubble-gum, cheap cigarillos, pralines, spray paint, and crack cocaine. And beneath that, the indelible scent of a woman. They’ve changed so much. Lost so much. Of themselves, and of each other.

He steps back and shakes his head. Shakes his head to her, to him, to them, to so many things. “No time to explain, Chica. Just get that to him. He has the juice to confirm I’m not blowing smoke.” As if to underscore his sentiment, a taxi cab’s headlight spills down the street. He turns to go, though his eyes linger on her black pools of Louisiana gold.

GM: “You’re right, Lou. There ain’t time. Never is when you really need it.” Twin pools of Louisiana gold stare back at Lou—and then yank him in as Chica grabs his shoulder and holds him fast, as if refutation of their earlier embrace. “So you can hold the fuck up for a few moments more, ‘cuz I ain’t yo message-runnin’ biatch.”

His old paramour doesn’t chew her lip so much as gnaw. “Firs’, you’re right. I gotta go back t’ the Baron. Not jus’ ‘cuz you jus’ got me a meal ticket.” Chica slowly shakes her head, the glint of the distant headlights catching her gold eyes. “We can’t do this no more, or least I can’t. Runnin’ round fo’ juice, beggin’ fo’ drops, scurryin’ off like rats whenever the hammer come down like it’s about to… my mug ain’t as ugly as yours, Lou, but fuck me. I’m an old lady. I’m tired. An’ I—we—need the backin’ of onea the factions if we’re ever gonna be more than scurryin’ junkie-rats.”

“That tidbit of yours. It’ll get my foot back in the door. But you know the licks, Lou. You know they don’t, won’t ever trust a ghoul they can’t fix the collar on.”

Chica’s jaw sets. “You should hear it from me now, so listen up. I’m goin’ in. All the way.”

Louis: Lou’s heart sinks like it just got flushed down the toilet. His peripheral vision swims till all he can see are the taxi cab’s lights making the rain-splattered window catch golden fire. The rain, pounding in his ears. No, not rain, blood. Half-damned, half-redeemable. Half-mortal, half-monster. His. Hers. He gasps, tries to speak, but his inchoate voice is as haunted and hollow as a ghost’s.

GM: “Like you say, Lou,” Chica stares at him. “It’s time t’ shit. Or get off the pot.

Louis: Lou can’t, doesn’t look her in the eye. He doesn’t yell or struggle. He has no words. He has nothing. Nothing but pain. Loss. Regret.

GM: Chica grabs him by the collar of his shirt and sharply yanks it to force his gaze to meet hers.

Louis: He doesn’t resist. But he doesn’t look at her. Not really. His eyes are flat, empty, like something deep inside just died. Hard.

GM: “You gone stupid, Lou? Or was you just always? D’you really wanna spend eternity beggin’ for scraps? You really think we still human, all those years, all those lives? How much blood we drink, huh, that the licks jus’ happened t’ suck up first? Who’s the real vampires?”

Louis: Lou’s mouth opens like a fish slammed on the sidewalk. Opens, closes. Tries to breathe, but just dies a little, mouth opening and closing again. Are there words? Does he say, ‘I know’? Or ‘go’? Perhaps ‘no’. Lips. Eyes. Heart. They close.

GM: He feels Chica’s hands letting go of his shirt. There’s scorn in her Louisiana-gold eyes, frustration, tiredness, and even pain. “Fuck, Lou. What’s it you wanna do instead? Kill ourselves? Bein’ an indep ain’t an option no more. An’ you know it!”

Louis: The old man sinks as Chica lets go. He sinks, his insides pouring down his spine like a shotgun-blasted sieve. He doesn’t fall, though. That would imply there’s a ground to fall to, something solid underneath him. But he sinks all the same. Sinks into himself. The hurt. The pain. The truth. There’s not much distinction between anymore.

GM: “D’you fuckin’ get off t’ bein’ pathetic an’ miserable?!” Chica snarls.

Louis: Lou’s mouth opens like a razor slit, but his eyes stay shut, his gaze dead.

GM: She grabs his crotch and gives his mandhood a solid yank. “Huh!? Feels pretty limp t’ me, still!”

Louis: Lou doesn’t move. He doesn’t resist. He doesn’t even feel the pain, not the body’s when he’s spirit feels crucified. But his voice slides out like a broken vending machine that refuses to accept a coin.

“I… want… to die. As a man… I want… to see another rainbow… the angel… on the other side of the… bottle.”

GM: “Well, news flash, you ain’t been a man for a long fuckin’ time,” Chica snarls, though she does release his testicles. “But you had ‘nough pretendin’, great. I’ll take you out on a boat like you always wanted, t’ watch the sun go up.”

Louis: His voice is crushed, and each word cuts him like broken glass:

“Ve, Rosario.”

(“Go, Rosario.”)

GM: Chica stares at her old paramour. Her teeth grind as frustration, anger, hurt, and even loss war across her ageless face. Finally she growls, “Apuesto que lo estoy, Juan.”

(“You bet I am, Juan.”)

Echoing footsteps sound as Chica turns and disappears into the warehouse’s yawning depths. But before she vanishes completely, she turns back to Lou and calls, a penumbral figure hovering between shadow and darkness,

“Oh, if there’s one more thing ya want t’ blame yourself over, ‘cuz thas’ what you jack off to? Nonea this, an’ I mean nonea this, would be happenin’ now if we hadn’t gone chasin’ afta ya lil’ cracka bitch’s deadbeat daddy.”

Louis: Lou doesn’t look up or move, but the words pour out of him because there’s no more room inside. He’s too full of loss, hurt, and regret.

“Lo siento.”

(“I’m sorry.”)

He says it to her, to himself, to God, to everyone and no one.

“Lo siento mucho…”

(“I’m so sorry…)

He doesn’t expect an answer. He doesn’t expect forgiveness. He hasn’t earned it.

And he knows it.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Scrape. Scrape. Scraaaaaape.

Lou’s hook scratches away the thin plaster, vandalizing the graffiti cat’s demonic eye. Beneath the spray-paint and dust, the mortar only extends a bullet’s depth. The old man slides out the now loosened cement block that has been broken in half, revealing a cunningly concealed cache.

It hurts. For the old man, it’s like picking at a scab, one that has been left to fester. His thoughts are like the broken cement block: flat, dead, and hollow. With his decision made–or forced–his bones and sinews move on auto-pilot, asking and receiving nothing from the shattered lights upstairs. But his old body obeys. It remembers. It endures.

His knuckle-scarred hand reaches into the clandestine cubby and pulls out a dust caked box. The old bakery box all but falls apart in his grip. He spreads out the items from the decrepit muffulettas box. A paint-faded nursery block with the letters ‘A’ and ‘Z’. A pewter figurine of a dog. A tiny pearl. A pipe. A glass bottle of sparkling water. A patina-touched cross. A large piece of bone-white chalk. And maps. Lots and lots of maps. Street maps, each and every one. All of the same city. His city.

The old man sighs.

He takes the now empty muffulettas and a few other things inside, then dumbly returns the container to its niche. He hefts the cement block with a quiet grunt, grateful for the visceral strain to distract his unraveling heart. He slides the block back inside. Without its mortar, the graffiti covered cache is less clandestine, but it has served its purpose.

Almost, the old man thinks as he turns back to the spread out items. He kneels, aged joints creaking. The rain continues to pour.

Lou takes up the nursery block like a die at Harrah’s. He closes his eyes, mutters a prayer, and tosses it.
The cube rolls and rattles till settles with the A upwards. Lou takes the white chalk and continues his invocation as he draws an elaborate design on the floor of the abandoned bakery.

It begins with a long straight line down, then another across. In the quadrants, four circles are drawn equidistant from the recently completed cross. Within those circles, other crosses are drawn. The design swiftly increases in complexity. Flowing lines, curves, asterisk-esque stars, some symbols resembling a pair of palmettos, fish, or pineapples.

Lou grinds the last stub of the chalk to complete the design, the white powder utterly spent. But the veve is complete. The old man places the old patina cross in the middle of the veve, but inverted, just as St. Peter was crucified. Next, he places objects at the center of each of the four encircled crosses: the pewter dog, the pearl, the pipe, and the water.

His lips continue to murmur their prayer which tastes of cobblestones, concrete, asphalt, and the dirt beneath. And blood. Because there is always blood. He lays the panoply of street maps along the veve’s axes. Still murmuring, he picks up the pipe, which comes alight with white flame. He interrupts his invocation only long enough to take a deep drag from the pipe, his aged lungs sucking in the Voudon smoke. He then closes his eyes and pours out the loa-touched embers onto the maps. They instantly ignite, as if they were doused in all the gasoline ever used to traverse the streets they so depict.

The old mean breathes in the smoke. Heady, pregnant, impossible, but intimate. He continues to pray. He continues to suck in the vapors. He is tired. Each breath makes him as wearied as a whole week working as a beat cop. But he does not stop. Not until he is overflowing with it, not till the smoke is about to pour from his ears does he snatch up the pearl and drop it in his smoke-soaked mouth like a sacramental wafer.

Wasting no time, he uses the pewter dog figurine to pop off the bottle’s cap and then pours the sparkling water over the burnt maps, extinguishing the flames and washing away its ashes and the chalk veve. He picks up the flame-hot cross with his hook and brands his unshod feet with the inverted symbol. He does not ignore the pain, but he embraces it. Still kneeling, he finishes his ritual as he began it: by lifting the painted nursery block, eyes closed, and tosses with with a final benediction:

“Papa Legba.”

The ‘die’ rattles till it lands on the side painted with a Z. The old man does not miss how the object’s shadow looms large. And not just large, but in the shadow of a man, leaning on a cane, with features otherwise obscured by the fraying rim of a broad straw hat.

Then, as the last ember finally dies, all is darkness. And the old man is spent, his spirit and body overflowing with power and knowledge and yet equally spent and empty. He picks up the nursery block and figurine and slips them respectively into his pockets, then puts on his shoes.

A few minutes later, he all but staggers out of the bakery, glass bottle in hand. He ducks down a nearby alleyway, and scans the dark, rain-sodden streets. Once he’s convinced enough that he’s not being followed or pursued, he tosses down the glass bottle. As the glass shatters, he fixes another of the Big Sleazy’s myriad streets into his mind and steps over the debris, his cross-branded foot still red and raw as his bleeding heart.

GM: This time I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m gonna need two pair-a shoes
When I get through walkin’ these blues
When I get back to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Pain lances up his cross-burned foot.

I’ve got my suitcase in my hand

The old man takes a step.

Palm trees sway under a cool summer breeze as the red and yellow St. Charles streetcar roars past. Clang-clang. Clang-clang. How many times has he heard that sound? How little has it changed over the years?

Now ain’t that-a shame?
I’m leavin’ here today
Yes, I’m goin’ back home to stay
Yes, I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Powdered sugar on his lips. Powdered sugar over his shirt. The mess is worth it for Du Monde’s beignets. The coffee is black as oil and smooth as silk. No milk or cream in his joe, or fruit or chocolate in his pastries for him. He can’t remember the last time he looked at their menus. He knows what he wants.

Ya used to be my honey
‘Till you spent all my money
No use for you to cry
I’ll see you by and by
‘Cause I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

The old man takes a step.

Decatur Street, the waterfront, where he eats those beignets. Chartres Street, lined with clubs and ritzy apartments. Royal Street, galleries and restaurants. Bourbon Street, where ritz gives way to kitsch. Dauphine Street. Burgundy Street. Rampart Street. Out of the Quarter now. Basin. Crozat. Tremé. Marais. Villere. Roberson. Claiborne. Derbigny. Roman. Prieur. Johnson. Galvez. Miro. Tonti. Rocheblave. Dorgenois. Broad…

I’ve got no time for talkin’
I’ve got to keep on walkin’
New Orleans is my home
That’s the reason why I’m goin’
Yes, I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans

He knows the street he’s on. Knows the street, like he knows every street in this city. He’s walked its asphalt, its cobblestones, its unpaved mud and dirt, its whatever, since before the wrinkled grandfathers of today’s wrinkled grandfathers could so much as waddle their legs.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans.

That’s all it is. Taking a step. Knowing, not where he wants to go, but where he is. Space is an illusion. Distance a lie. All places touch all places. All paths cross all paths. One need only see the crossroads. Know them, like the old man knows his city.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans.

The power was always his. For as long as he’s known the names of the city’s streets like the back of his palm, it has always been his. Now he knows.

The old man takes a step.

I’m walkin’ to New Orleans
I’m walkin’ to New Orleans…

Lou steps out from behind one of six mausoleum-like structures embracing a monument symbolizing the eye of the storm. Landscaped walkways curve out from it like the paths of encircling hurricane winds.

The distant voice of a rambunctious youth laughs as another rule is broken, another threshold crossed.

Lou ducks behind another granite block. He stumbles out from the gap between the La Belle Esplanade, a red-painted Victorian house converted into a bed & breakfast, and its neighbor.

He knows this street, Esplanade Avenue, like he knows all of the city’s other streets. Four blocks with a bed and breakfast on each one. His trash bags should be outside the Five Continents, four blocks away.

The night is old, damp, and weary, like the old man himself. He’s not sure what hour it might be as rain steadily patters over the sidewalks. 4 AM? Late enough for humanity’s ignorant masses to be fast asleep, oblivious to the shadow wars fought just beyond their homes. Early enough for the Kindred to grow surly and resentful over the limited time they have left—yet not so limited they must flee back to the safety of their havens.

4 AM is a dark hour.

Louis: Mama Wedo’s death–curse echoes in his ears. Darkness…

Lou sighs, a sound lost in the pounding rain. Despite the pain in his freshly burnt feet, the old man presses forward. In his present attire, the old man resembles a bum hunting for booze or a dry place to sleep. Appearances aren’t always deceiving.

GM: The HH Whitney House, perhaps named for the banking family of the same name, is another old-world B&B set in a 19th-century, Italianate-style house offering an outdoor pool and hot tub. A bed past one of the rain-slick windows looks clean and soft. The cozily-illuminated rooms look warm and dry.

Few bums would not stare with longing.

Louis: Lou shuffles past the bed and breakfast, knowing that even if he used the wad of cash he confiscated from René’s haven, the Whitney House would provide no refuge for the weary, half-damned, twice-doomed man.

China’s last words haunt his mind: Nonea this, an’ I mean nonea this, would be happenin’ now if we hadn’t gone chasin’ afta ya lil’ cracka bitch’s deadbeat daddy.

The essence of detection is cyclical. Around and around, chasing each other, footfalls sounding on black pavement, and the rain pouring down forever. Our necks are under persecution: we labor, and have no rest.

Lou continues to walk, hand and hook in his jumpsuit pockets.

GM: The old man eventually reaches one of the bed and breakfast’s black dumpster bins. There’s a thick metal lock clearly meant to keep out people like him, looped through barbed wire that would cruelly cut most bums’ fingers. Lou picks it open as the cold rain patters against his and pulls out “his” trash bags.

He hadn’t wanted to double back to his old office. He’d feared the prince’s agents were already there.

He hadn’t wanted the man responsible for picking up his trash either. Paul Christianbury, former dentist, exposed child molester reduced to driving garbage trucks for a living. A call to Ottis Wiggons saw Paul receive some strongly-worded “advice” to switch routes. He wasn’t “clean enough to pick up their district’s trash.” Another call and minor bribe to his new garbage man saw his bags dropped off here, far away from his office.

Sometimes that’s all man can do in this city. Just move the trash somewhere else.

Lou pulls open one of the newly rain-slick, black polyethylene bags to make sure it’s his. Coffee-stained old shirts. Outdated phone books. A three-year-old print of the Times-Picayune. Empty liquor bottles and greasy take-out boxes. A mummified snapping turtle. Mugshots taken with dusty polaroids and museum-piece daguerreotypes. Apotropes to various loa, black and red. It’s his, all right. The collected junk of too many lifetimes.

His rain-wet hand brushes against a glass vial. He pulls it out. The liquid inside is a dark coagulated red. Swishing the vial makes a sound that’s just barely audible against the rain, but Lou doesn’t see any of its interior liquid move. Some of it is already crusting against the glass.

Any ghoul without completely dumb senses would know what it is.

To Lou, however, it is also the last of his payment from Yi Huang for investigating who’d been threatening the Nosferatu’s mortal employees. Huang was grateful, for a vampire. He hadn’t even mandated that Lou drink it all right there. The rest could be saved for a rainy day.

Dark storm clouds angrily rumble across darker skies as the now-soaked old man looks over his rain-slick prize.

It’s a rainy day indeed.

Louis: As Lou holds the container, his ulcer-eaten heart cannot help but replay Chica’s words, the memory more raw and painful than any burns upon his feet. You gone stupid, Lou? Or was you just always? D’you really wanna spend eternity beggin’ for scraps?

You really think we still human, all those years, all those lives? How much blood we drink, huh, that the licks jus’ happened t’ suck up first? Who’s the real vampires?

The old man clutches the detritus of his lives and the curse of his half-life to his face. He thought he had cried till he was dry.

He was wrong.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou crawls out from the clump of bushes he never walked into. Rows of cloned McMansions bereft of artistic style or individuality stretch endlessly before him. The golf courses sit empty at this late hour. No ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the streets.

He takes a look at the sign he emerged behind.

The affluent suburban neighborhood sits comfortably snug against the south side of Lake Pontchartrain, though Lou cannot see the water from here. He has never seen a single black person during any of his visits to the area. It doesn’t even feel like he’s in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless suburbs across the country.

He hasn’t seen any leeches either. Few of their kind care to hunt, much less make their domains in such a banal corner of the Outlands.

Louis: But the old man isn’t taking chances. Unlike Esplanade Ridge where he cared not whether he was seen by man or monster, here he moves disguised under the obfuscating glamor of the blood.

Drawing upon the half-damned power, however, hurts tonight. Hurts worse than normal. He’s Catholic, after all, and the old man knows how to nurse a bad case of guilt. His destination doesn’t help his heart, either. He looks up into the crying face of night and lets the rain wash away his tears. He only wishes it could drown his sorrows.

You missed a few, Lou says, thinking of the vampire–decimating flood as he looks up the firmament.

GM: Lakeview was one of the most severely flooded areas of the city during Katrina, Lou recalls. It was right in front of Lake Pontchartrain. Almost all of its residents had the means to flee the city before the water engulfed their houses, however. The neighborhood was rebuilt in a fraction of the time that it took the Ninth Ward.

The weary old man shuffles down the suburban sidewalk towards his destination. A black car with PALADIN SECURITY printed on the sides drives past him. The cap- and tie-wearing guards inside do not spare a glance his way.

Lou’s gumshoes sound against the rain-spattered pavement. Lakeview has no poor areas, merely ones further away from the waterfront where property values aren’t as high. His destination is a two- rather than three-story house with a modest garden and roofed porch that provides some respite from the falling rain as he wearily trudges up the steps.

Louis: The old man grunts as he shifts the massive trash bags slung over his back, the weight of a half-dozen lives distilled into several heaps of pseudo-junk. He knocks on the door in a particular pattern, twice, with his now blunt hook.

GM: The house’s lights are off. The old man receives no answer.

Louis: He would call Maria, but he purposefully destroyed his phone. He settles for knocking again until either of the house’s inhabitants let him in.

GM: Lou’s fist solidly raps against the door. He waits and knocks again.

Neither resident answers.

Louis: He considers just sliding down on the porch and fishing out a partially water-logged cigarette. He doubts he has enough non-drenched Marlboro’s to make it to dawn. Wake up, bastard, Lou bitterly thinks in regards to the house’s true owner.

He grunts again as he slides off his trash sacks and kneels, spine and knees popping. I’m on my knees now, you happy? Lou silently complains to his dead mentor.

Of course you’re not, he answers himself. He sighs, then swings open the door’s mail-slot with his hook and peeks in. He doubts Maria has bought a dog, but it pays to check first and save stitches later.

GM: The old man can just barely make out a wood-floored entry hall through the dark. No dog or other inhabitant responds to the mail slot’s opening.

Louis: He then gazes downward, checking to make sure Maria or someone has been picking up the mail.

GM: No mail is visible on the gloom-shrouded floor.

Runoff audibly drains from the house’s downpipe.

Louis: The worm of paranoia is far from satisfied. He shakes his head, water beads shaking from his neck, as he tries to shrug off the creeping fear that “his” safehouse has been compromised. He whispers into the open mailbox:

“Jacques, ouvrez-vous. C’est Jean-Louis.”

(“Jacques, open up. It’s Jean-Louis.”)

GM: His only answer is the rain’s steady falling.

Louis: Lou frowns. He considers trying to tempt or bribe the colonial bokor with news of his ‘favorite’ dysfunctional family from France, but he holds his tongue. Who knows who else might be listening.

“Damn, Jacques, je suis mouillé et fatigué.”

(“Damn it, Jacques, I’m wet and tired.”)

Mumbling similar pleasantries under his breath, he pulls out his tumbler key and pin and starts working on the front door.

GM: Lou finagles until he’s lifted the lock’s key and driver pins to the correct height, which still takes the deft PI fewer tries than he has total remaining fingers. He turns the knob. The door creeks open. The house’s interior yawns as dark as the night outside.

Louis: Stowing his lock-picks, Lou hefts his belongings into the house and closes the door as he steps inside. He cranes his old ears and other less definable senses for any sound of the house’s inhabitants–or other intruders.

GM: The downpour quiets to steady muffled plunks as Lou closes the front door. Bereft of what little light there already was from the overcast moon, the old man’s surroundings are plunged entirely into gloom.

He’s not too old, though, to miss the light padding sounds against the house’s floor.

Louis: Lou creeps after the sound. His hand hesitates but eventually pulls out a Colt Python from his shoulder holster. Much like his life, there’s no safety on his drawn firearm. He leaves his trash–bagged belongings against the now relocked front door for now.

GM: His gumshoes silently tread wood until they reach something soft. If the lights were on, he might be in a living room with out of style furnishings that haven’t been replaced in almost fifteen years.

They’re not on. It’s too easy to remember in the pitch black. The memories rise like phantoms from uneasy graves.

The swamp was just as dark. Juan was up to his knees in bog-water, sweat pouring down his brow as the buzzing mosquitoes hungrily feasted upon his dripping wounds. The wet, treacherous earth squelched beneath his feet and made him alternately sink and stumble as he tried to kill the man who’d taught him so much of what he knew.

Juan had a reason for wanting to kill him. It didn’t seem like it mattered. Not then. Not there. Not in the pitch-dark, godforsaken swamp, with the mosquitoes in his eyes, the hoots and hollers of the bayou’s wildlife in his ears, and the wild-eyed madman with that wickedly precise blade who was trying to kill him too. That’s all it was. Two men trying to kill each other. The swamp had a way of reducing such conflicts to the primeval essence of what they were.

Juan killed him, all right. He took everything the old man taught him and turned it back on him. Stabbed it through him. Rammed his own family’s ancestral blade through his gut until blood came out from his mouth too. “Sloppy footwork, Juan, sloppy,” his former teacher deliriously frothed in his last moments. Juan was gutting him like a pig and he still babbled about sloppy footwork.

Juan had tried to remember his reason for being out there, for killing the still-warm corpse lying at his feet. There were a few moments he couldn’t remember why. They terrified him more than the prospect of Jacques stabbing him to death ever did.

The swamp took away his purpose. His justice. Said it didn’t matter. Swallowed everything up in that fevered battle for survival, to kill or be killed. Swallowed it into the muck. Into the dark.

Rain distantly pounds and thunders against the roof. Here, in the pitch-black house built where Jacques Beltremieux died an ignoble and delirious death in the muck, and surrounded by the shades of his own memories, the old man could swear his rain-spattered gumshoes are not padding against carpet but squelching into the swamp’s muck.

This house is not the home of Mariángel Batifole, agoraphobic painter. It is the grave of a man whose hate burned too hot for even death to conquer. The swamp has not reclaimed it from banal suburbia. The swamp has always claimed it.

One need but turn off the lights to see.

One need but stare into the dark.

Louis: The old man holsters his gun. Not because he’s safe, but because the weapon will do nothing to protect him. Not here. Not now.

His psyche is like a battered pugilist stepping into a ring against a belted heavyweight–right after finishing a ten-round bout. He’s exhausted, spent, and he just raise his mental gloves. Cold sweat breaks out of his rain-drenched skin. His gut clenches, as if drawing away from the darkness. He sinks to his knees.

Juan had his reasons. But that doesn’t change that the fact that he’s a murderer. And what really scares him… what really changes him to shut his eyes like a scaring kid floating on a shark-encircled raft is the nagging question of whether his reasons were good enough.

Maybe the doctor had the right prescription. Or even worse, maybe Jacques has been wrong. About everything.

The old man raises his sole hand over his shut eyes and shivers. Even in sultry Louisiana, the dark night of the soul is always bone-cold.

His hand drops from his face. The distraught man reconsiders drawing his gun, but he’s unsure whether he might aim it at himself. Unsure whether that might not be so bad.

GM: Lou clamps his eyes shut, but the dark follows him. The memories follow him. Outside, the rain continues to thud and pound. Inside, something continues to steadily pad against the floor.

Or perhaps what it really does is squelch.

The noises eventually grow fainter.

The memories do not.

Louis: Lou opens his eyes. He doesn’t want to. But life has a way of moving beyond wants and needs. Then again, so does death.

GM: The darkness presses down nearly as heavily, save for a feebly glowing slit of moonlight around the drapes. Maria keeps them almost constantly drawn.

The steadily receding pad-squelch issues from ahead.

Louis: Lou swallows. His dry throat is like sandpaper. But he rises. And follows. Ultimately, he has nowhere else to go.

GM: The slit of lunar illumination recedes, then dies. The old man feels his feet climbing, like he remembers them doing before he killed Jacques. He’d clambered up the boughs of a cypress tree. Stared down at the older man, who was scrawling a crude cornmeal veve over meticulously arranged rotting logs, and plotted how to kill him.

Louis: Plotted, hesitated, dreaded, and regretted.

GM: Death is regret. It’s all the dead do.

Lou’s feet stop climbing. They’re somewhere level again.

Pad. Squelch. Pad. Squelch.

The noise stops after another minute. Silence stretches.

There’s a low creek. A thud. The pads become thumps. The sound fades, but comes… upwards.

The old man follows, climbing another cypress.

The air is thick and musty. There isn’t light again—just a less absolute dark. Lou can make out looming and indistinct shapes through the black.

There’s another creek.

A low scraping.



A click-like sound.

Faint noises.

Then, the house—the swamp—creaks like a dry spine snapping. The already thick air becomes nigh-feverish, and fetid like a swollen pustule begging for a lancet. The horripilating, emetic pressure builds–then violently bursts. From some unseen tear, an indistinct shape issues into being like a gory afterbirth–or perhaps stillbirth.

Lou doesn’t need to make it out to know what it is. A man. Long dead.

No darkness, however, is too thick to obscure the ghastly visage of Dr. Jacques Beltremieux from his sight—nor pain the shade wears nakedly like an open sore. The right side of his face is a broken jigsaw of cruel scars, the most severe of which runs over the dark void of his right eye-socket. While his left bears a rheumy-yellow orb, the cheek and jaw below it are haunted by sickly bubbling boils that burn and weep like rancid, spermaceti candles. His balding pate is framed by wispy, ash-hued locks that are occasionally caught and pulled desperately by the severed, spectral fists of unborn children. It is some small mercy that Lou cannot see any now.

Jacques_B.jpg The ghost’s never-changing mid-nineteenth century garb has the air of uncomfortable, anachronistic grandeur despoiled not just by time, but by the gaping stomach wounds that have only festered since his death a century and three-score years ago.

Lou would know. After all, he made them. In a gruesome twist of fate that convinces Lou the universe has a sense of justice—or simply macabre humor—a rapier’s basket hilt protrudes from Jacques’ belly, in the same spot where he stabbed Tante Mignon Lescaut to death. With the very same sword.

Yet, as Lou observes the spectral apparition’s outline, relying more on memory than sight, his centuries-honed instincts scream:


It’s as if he isn’t watching the shade of Jacques Beltremieux, but a skin. A facsimile, an inanimate puppet with a too-large hand stuck inside it, all the more grotesque for its lack of effort to even pretend to be the real thing. Just lying there—floating there—in the dark.


Louis: No rest for the weary, Lou groans inwardly with growing distress. Or the wicked, he adds bitterly.

The old man’s mind turns over possibilities like rough stones in a tumbler. Is he looking at Jacques’ true shade, or has another wraith taken his form? Perhaps his darkness and hate have finally, fully swallowed the soul of his dead mentor? Or is the fault in Lou’s own psyche; has another paranormal presence warped his emotions to make him see Jacques as a foe? No matter how he cuts the cards, it’s a bad hand, and the worm of paranoia starts a low keen that rattles the gumshoe’s spine.

Swallowing down the uncertainty–and the danger that lurks behind it–tastes like acid. The gravel in his voice is drier and weaker than usual as he calls out in the gloom:

“Cent lions… ou cent cheins?”

(“A hundred lions… or a hundred dogs?”)

The old man then waits, nearly holding his breath for the secret answer that would–or should–at least signify if another wraith or entity is masquerading as his old tutor.

GM: Napoleon once said, “If you build an army of 100 lions and their leader is a dog, in any fight, the lions will die like a dog. But if you build an army of 100 dogs and their leader is a lion, all dogs will fight like a lion.”

The darkness shifts. Lou cannot make out Jacques’ jigsaw-scarred face, but his old mentor’s equally hoarse and scarred-sounding voice is audible as he replies, “De toute façon, vous êtes sûr d’avoir des puces.”

(“Either way, you’re sure to get fleas.”)

The darkness smiles.

“Jean-Louis. Bienvenue.”

(“Jean-Louis. Welcome.”)

“Vos yeux rapides sont si faibles. Venez, parlons quelque part avec une meilleure lumière.”

(“Your quick eyes are so feeble. Come, let us speak somewhere with better light.”)

Louis: Lou blinks upon hearing the spectral figure correctly provide the secret answer only Jacques and he know. Unless the true Jacques betrayed their secret passwords, the worm of paranoia whispers.

Lou blinks again, refusing to go down that rabbit hole. He considers who might have supernaturally manipulated his senses… and that rabbit hole is even deeper. Darker. Jacques’ magically puissant victim, Tante Lescaut comes to mind, but so do all manner of suspects. Yet, few would know of his relationship with Jacques… he thinks.

But you don’t really know… the worm hisses.

Lou blinks again, his throat dry as his skin is soaked. “Docteur Beltremieux… où se trouve Mariángel?”

(“Dr. Beltremieux… where is Mariángel?”)

GM: The darkness laughs.

“Elle est endormie. Il est très tard.”

(“She is asleep. It is very late.”)

Louis: There is a part of the old man that just wants to sleep. But given his host’s beshadowed state, Lou doubts he’d ever wake. The irony of the slain mentor slaying his protege is not lost on him.

“Oui, très tard et très sombre,” he answers in a neutral tone.

(“Yes, very late and very dark.”)

GM: The darkness smiles back.

“Un moment opportun pour des hommes comme nous, Jean-Louis, si ce n’est pas un lieu commode. Viens. Parlons quelque part, tu peux me voir.”

(“A fitting time for men such as we, Jean-Louis—if a less than convenient place. Come. Let us speak somewhere you can see me.”)

Louis: Lou grunts. When the Devil has your dance card…

His hand slips into his pocket as he follows.

“Les choses ont changé.”

(“Things have changed.”)

And some things have not–maybe cannot, he bitterly muses.

Those thoughts, however, are arrested as Lou discerns that the earnestness of the shade’s attempt to escort him out of the room are motivated by more than poor lighting. He croons his ears and let his peripheral vision scan the area again… leading him to spot the other silhouette hunched in the room.

His hackles instantly rise, as does his previously pocketed hand with the nail and lighter. His nimble fingers rapidly flick open and light the latter. His old sinews tense like bridge-lines, ready to spring at or away from the whatever the light reveals.

GM: The tiny flame flickers into being. It doesn’t seem to illuminate the dark so much as drown in it—and it is still so dark.

The hunched-over figure faces away from Lou. They do not turn at the newly-kindled light, making their facial features impossible to discern. They wear a long, thick-looking garment made of pale green cotton. Its indistinct edges bleed off into darkness.

Louis: Lou takes a slow step forward, restraining his initial and rising distress.

“Est-ce que je suis interrompue, docteur?”

(“Am I interrupting, doctor?”)

“Vous et votre entreprise, c’est,” he adds, glancing back at his ghostly mentor–or at least his spectral form.

(“You and your company, that is.”)

GM: The shadow-drenched figure does not turn at Lou’s address. The tiny flame licks at the darkness.

The darkness smiles back.

“Pas le moindre.”

(“Not in the least.”)

Louis: The old man’s face remains flat as his brow raises.

“Soins à faire des presentations?”

(“Care to make introductions?”)

GM: “Ailleurs que ici, Jean-Louis. Ma société est une entreprise pauvre et ne vous reconnaîtra pas,” the long-dead man answers.

(“Elsewhere than here, Jean-Louis. My company is poor company and will not acknowledge you.”)

Louis: “On dirait beaucoup de dames que je connais,” Lou quips dryly.

(“Sounds like a lot of ladies I know.”)

GM: “Plus que vous le savez peut-être.”

(“More than you may know.”)

The darkness smiles.

“Plus que vous le savez peut-être.”

(“More than you may know.”)

Louis: Lou is so tired. If the figure is a corpse, as he suspects, it should keep a few more hours. Right now, all he honestly wants to do is sit down. In that semi-fugue, he lowers the lighter and the literal coffin-nail hidden behind it.

“À quoi devons-nous ajourner?”

(“To where should we adjourn?”)

GM: The flickering light bows.

The darkness swells.

“Le salon, bien sûr. Je mai être mort, Jean-Louis, mais je suis toujours votre hôte et vous mon invité.”

(“The parlor, of course. I may be dead, Jean-Louis, but I am still your host and you my guest.”)

Louis: Lou feels a tiny rivulet of water drip down his hairline and down his back. Its touch is cold.

“Encore une fois, j’apprécie votre hospitalité. J’ai des nouvelles que le bon médecin voudra peut-être entendre. Et certains, il peut ne pas le faire.”

(“Once more, I appreciate your hospitality. I have news the good doctor may want to hear. And some, he may not.”)

GM: “Les nouvelles sont comme le pronostic d’un docteur. Bon ou mauvais, il faut entendre,” the gloom-swathed shade answers.

(“News is like a doctor’s prognosis. Good or bad, it must be heard.”)

Louis: Lou makes a sweeping motion with his hook, as if to say, “Lead on.”

GM: The darkness recedes.

The cigarette lighter flickers.

Yet even the tiny flame’s dancing illuminations is enough for Lou to make out Jacques’ face. Something seems to spill over the gaunt shade’s already scarred and embittered visage, twisting it from mere suffering into a hatred so black and bitter that Lou feels almost sick staring at it.

Louis: Lou takes the look of hatred like a bullet to his gut. He probably deserves it. That doesn’t change its lethality though–nor the hard reality of what must be done. His hand and feet shift ever so slightly, readying himself should that murderous expression become more than just an expression.

GM: The darkness screams.

A chill wind blasts across Lou’s face as the air splits with the ragged cries of the damned. Barely conscious of whether the screams are his own, his mentor’s, or simply the tormented recollections of his past, the old man springs into action.

Louis: Lou’s own voice rises in pained harmony with the damned chorus. “Putain, je suis crevé!”

(“I’m so fucking tired!”)

With a preternatural grace and quickness utterly incongruent with the old man’s seemingly broken-down body, Lou flicks the aged, rust-gnawed coffin nail that was previously hidden by the lighter and catches it seamlessly with his prosthetic hook. Still moving in a prolix blur of coordinated moments, Lou steps forward, flame raised before his eyes while his other “limb” brandishes the now nakedly revealed nail.

The hook holds it fast and aims it like a raised crucifix against the spirit’s darkness.

“Rappelez-vous, Jacques!? Rappelez-vous, Mardochée? Elle n’était pas votre femme, mais elle portait toujours votre enfant avec des larmes de joie. Mais vous l’avez fait boire ce tonique. Vous avez transformé son ventre en une jeune fille en fer! Saviez-vous qu’elle l’a appelée, le bébé, votre fille à naître? Firline. Fille du Libérateur, Jacques!”

(“Remember this, Jacques!? Remember, Mardochée?! She wasn’t your wife, but she still bore your child with tears of joy. But you made her drink that tonic. You turned her womb into an iron maiden! Did you know she named her, the baby, your unborn daughter? Firline. Daughter of the Deliverer, Jacques!”)

He rushes forward, rain cold against his prickled skin and swollen joints, the nail from the fetus’ coffin held like a miniature stake. His voice grinds down to a whisper, despite the screaming around and inside him.

“Venez à moi, et je ferai ce que je devrais probablement il y a des siècles: je vais pousser ce clou vers le haut de vos yeux bêtises!”

(“Come at me, and I’ll do what I probably should have done centuries ago: shove this nail straight up your dick’s blind eye!”)

GM: The darkness shrieks.

Crashing noises sound from all sides as Lou is blasted off his feet. Even as he feels solid ground vanish out from under him, he lunges forward like a striking serpent, driving the tiny coffin nail into a translucent crotch made all the more incongruent by his knuckles passing cleanly through it.

The darkness wails.

The blue-tinged ectoplasm that leaks from Jacques’ punctured breeches is barely visible against the tiny flicker of Lou’s clutched lighter. The chill sensation is all-too palpable. Once more, the already thick air grows even more feverish and fetid, like a swollen pustule begging for a lancet. The horripilating, emetic pressure builds–then violently bursts.

The old man crashes to the floor, the cries of the damned ringing in his ears. He still cannot say to whom they belong.

Louis: Even if they don’t come from him–they still belong to him. He’s at least half-damned himself, after all, and tonight of all nights, it’s painfully apparent that not just vampires have poison inside their veins.

GM: The darkness looms. The lighter’s feeble illumination flickers. The old house groans and creeks.

Louis: Lou looks up, his bourbon eyes straining, his worm screaming that he cannot trust those eyes, his heart raped by doubt, regret, anger, and bile.

GM: The old man can neither see nor hear his old mentor’s shade—and precious little else.

Louis: “Je ne veux pas vous battre, Jacques!” he shouts, then speaks increasingly softly, weakly, like a deflating punching bag.

(“I don’t want to fight you, Jacques!”)

“Je suis fatigué. Fatigué de se battre… Fatigué de tout…”

(“I’m tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of everything.”)

GM: The weary old man’s only answer is silence.

Louis: Hearing it, he replies in kind. He rises slowly.

GM: The darkness waits. Time, measurable only by the flickering of his lighter, stretches.

Louis: The old man creeps back toward the green-clothed figure.

GM: They do not stir at Lou’s encroaching presence.

Louis: Thoughts break against Lou’s skull. He misses the rain. Honest, hard, and cold. Just like the truth. Here, he’s not sure what to believe. He presses forward.

GM: Lou presses closer with his lighter. The tiny flame illuminates a hunched-over woman on the cusp of old age, the upper crust of middle class, and the brink of a mental breakdown. Her blonde hair is short, her nails and makeup are subdued taupe and beige, and her fingers and wrists are unadorned save for several smudges of oil paint. She wears a thick, floral-patterned nightgown that buttons up to her neck, but Lou knows all-too well that her wardrobe changed little in the last few decades. Her once haute couture fashion has almost (but not quite) since become retro avant-garde. Her once youthful, tan face is marked by short, razor-blade wrinkles that Lou has seen widen into a web of old, unforgotten pain whenever her rain-colored eyes cry–an all-too common occurrence.

She does not react to the old man’s presence. She merely paints.

It is difficult for Lou to see what, in the dark. But the artist’s palette in her left hand, and the steadily moving brush in her right, are unmistakable.

Louis: “Madre mía,” Lou gasps, having utterly expected to find a dead corpse–only to see this…

GM: The brush in Maria’s hand continues to flick up and down against the easel’s canvas.

Louis: The occult gumshoe has encountered his fair share of mundane somnambulism before, but tonight he’s unnerved and unsure. “Mariángel?” he calls gently, not believing for an instant she’ll answer or stir, after failing to respond to the recent violence mere feet away.

GM: The painter’s brush mutely continues to flick.

Louis: The PI leans forward with his flickering light to inspect her artwork.

GM: The subject of Maria’s painting is a monstrous beast of horrific proportions. Six great wings with long, black feathers like grasping fingers, beat at a violently storm-tossed sky. Nine clawed and scaled hands slash through the air like descending lightning bolts. The monster’s lower body ends with innumerable writhing tentacles. Their fleshy underbellies are studded with a squid’s suckers and hungry, tooth-like spikes. The exteriors are dotted with furious, blood-shot eyeballs. The strange placement blurs one’s perception of whether the tentacles are mere appendages or biting, hydra-like heads.

Their owner’s intention, however, is all-too apparent. Dozens of smaller classical monsters, from medusae to cyclopes, are being gorily rent apart by the larger beast’s flailing tentacle-heads. Maria’s painting graphically depicts naked bone jutting from severed limbs, shrieking heads with gouged-out eyes, and fonts of spurting blood as the dismembered lesser beasts are cast into the raging, storm-tossed sea that surrounds the great central terror.

There are people. Men and women. Children, adults, and elderly. All are naked and bobbing helplessly through the sea. Some are being gorily dismembered by the smaller monsters. Others are being yanked into the air by the great terror’s tentacled heads. Their features are variously struck with awe, terror, or bizarrely incongruent calm reverie.

A gaping, fang-toothed maw yawns wide at the center of the great terror’s bodily mass. A naked young woman balances upon the thing’s tongue. She clutches to its jagged-edged teeth with white-knuckled, bleeding fingers, a painful handhold to stop from falling down its throat.

Her expression is a thousand things. Arrogant. Despairing. Wrathful. Outraged. Remorseful. Pained. Jealous. Haughty. Determined. Even… innocent. Maria has truly outdone herself in rendering the woman’s face. There are as many palettes of emotion, and seemingly contradictory ones as that, as there are colors on Maria’s palette. The woman is an almost hidden gem in the painting, so easy to overlook despite her central position within it.

She’s beautiful, too. Long platinum-blonde hair falls across her pinkish, naked breasts, whipped this way and that by the raging storm. Individual droplets of water are lovingly rendered onto each one. Dark shadows line the young woman’s face, and her emerald-green eyes blaze at Lou from the canvas almost pleadingly. Or perhaps accusingly. Even imperiously.

The longer he stares at her, the more alive her gaze feels—and the worse his gut seems to knot up. She could be a victim… or perhaps she deserves what’s happening to her.

Louis: “Madre mía…” Lou gasps, again, and nearly falls over. He’s not sure whether to bow down and worship it–or burn it right here and now. He settles for snapping shut his golden lighter and plunging his eyes in darkness. Some things a man should not see.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Time passes. The old man cannot say how much. No sound disturbs his dark vigil save for the pounding rain against the roof and Maria’s softly flicking brush.

A noise eventually interrupts the dark. Something thick against floor. From Maria’s direction.

Louis: The lighter springs open. Butane and striker produce flame and light.

GM: The tiny flame illuminates a shadow-drenched Maria taking down the painting off its easel.

Louis: He watches the woman. The real one. The other, he tries so very hard to ignore.

GM: The horrid—beautiful?—painting does not remain long in Lou’s vision. Maria turns it around and
stacks it alongside a row of further, wall-facing canvases. She sets aside her palette and brushes, disassembles the easel, moves her stool backwards, and walks away. Darkness swallows the seemingly sleepwalking woman’s receding form.

Louis: Lou is torn. Does he examine the other canvases, turn them over like a hand of blackjack in a dark gamble? Or does he fold and follow the somnambulist? His conscience—or perhaps failing courage—causes him to choose the latter.

GM: Lou follows Maria down the attic’s ladder. He watches as she folds it up, shoves it up, and closes the trapdoor.

The middle-aged woman strides down pitch-black halls and opens a door. She walks inside, turns, and with vacant eyes that do not register Lou’s presence, closes the door in his face.

Louis: Like a lot of ladies I know, Lou quietly grunts and silently repeats his earlier quip to Jacques. His light once more claps shut. The old man pads back to check on his heaps of treasured trash.

GM: He finds the bulging, mildly stinking black bags seemingly undisturbed from whence he left them.

Louis: Flicking open the lighter for hopefully the last time tonight, Lou uses its feeble light to untie the trash bags and rummage through until he finds a particularly nasty-smelling cardboard box. Dented and stained, the box is sealed with biohazard tape and labeled with large black marker letters: CAT URINE SAMPLES.

Lou stashes the coffin nail in a secure, yet easily reachable spot inside his shoe, then uses his hook to open up the taped box. He fishes through its jumbled contents, including a rubber ball and ten jacks, a mummified cat-head, a spare key to Lottie B.‘s trunk, and finally an angler’s head lamp he used on night fishing trips with the former police chief.

Stowing his lighter, Lou slides the last apparatus on his head. He clicks on its red light, then loosely bundles all his possessions back up. He then heads to the house’s spare bedroom–or at least what was spare bedroom last he visited the Lakeview home.

GM: The spare bedroom lies on the house’s second story. The dull crimson light makes Lou’s still-dim surroundings appear coated in a sheen of drying blood. Thick shadows lurk at the periphery of his sight.

Louis: Lou wasn’t lying when he said he was tired. Or maybe he was, because at this point, he isn’t tired. He’s exhausted. Still, old habits, like the old man, die hard. He sweeps the room for bugs or hidden surveillance, also keen to watch for the return of his ‘host’.

GM: Another old man’s voice pierces the gloom before he has any chance to perform his sweep.

“Il est de coutume de s’annoncer aux résidents du domicile avant d’emménager et d’apporter des valises à la place des sacs poubelles.”

(“It is customary to announce oneself to a home’s residents before moving in—and to bring suitcases in place of garbage bags.”)

Louis: The head-lamp’s red light mingles with the crimson dawn as Lou swings his head to check for sight of Jacques’ shade.

“Vous et moi-même avons tous deux évité notre juste part des douanes.”

(“You and I both have skirted our fair share of customs.”)

His hang-dog face hangs glumly.

“Désolé, Jacques. J’ai besoin d’aide. Ton aide.”

(“I’m sorry, Jacques. I need help. Your help.”)

GM: The doctor’s grim phantom swims into view. Bathed in the dim scarlet light, Jacques Beltremieux’s already scarred, bleeding, and one-eyed visage looks truly horrid. The newest dripping gash in the crotch of his breeches does little to improve the dead man’s countenance.

“Parlez-moi de ce besoin, Jean-Louis.”

(“Tell me of this need, Jean-Louis.”)

Louis: Lou tries to gauge the relative sanity or at least homicidality of his spectral mentor. He’s tired though, so very, very tired. Still, he eyes the injured wraith with some wariness as he asks, “Vous souvenez-vous de notre … conversation dans le grenier?”

(“Do you remember our… conversation in the attic?”)

GM: The doctor frowns. It’s an ugly look on an even uglier face.

“Je ne.”

(“I do not.”)

Louis: Lou shakes his head. Stupid, old man, the worm chides him, as he recognizes that the wraith’s wily Shadow would recall but not admit to doing so. Now, you’ve just hurt him. Again. Without needing to. Again.

Lou recalls once again the saint’s admonition to never use the truth to hurt someone, but he feels he at least owes it to his dead mentor.

“J’ai mentionné qu’il y avait des nouvelles que vous apprécierez et des nouvelles que vous n’aurez probablement pas? Vous m’avez attaqué.”

(“I mentioned there being news you’ll enjoy and news you’ll not. You attacked me.”)

“Désolé, Jacques,” he says, again.

(“I’m sorry, Jacques.”)

This night summons too many apologies. Lou’s eyes drop, first in shame, and then in growing unease as he regards the trash bags. He reflects back to how he searched through the bags in Esplanade Ridge for bugs, both insectile or electronic and found none. That you found, taunts the worm.

Lou shakes his head, then looks up at Jacques.

“Que voulez-vous entendre d’abord? Le bon, le mauvais ou le laid?”

(“Which do you want to hear first? The good, the bad, or the ugly?”)

GM: The ghost’s boil-ridden, jigsaw-scarred face stares back at Lou with a resignation only the dead—the truly dead, not the merely unliving Kindred—can possess.

“Tout ce qui est mauvais dans le monde découle de ce qui était autrefois bon. Commencez par cela, Jean-Louis.”

(“All that is bad in the world flows from what was once good. Begin with that, Jean-Louis.”)

Louis: Lou looks around the room, at the carpets, the bed, and other furniture. A hundred little areas where tiny eyes and ears might be eavesdropping. His skin nearly breaks out in a rash from the fact he hasn’t combed over the room. That skin chafes from the soggy utility jumpsuit. But Lou tries hard to ignore all those discomforts. After all, his host is dealing with a much bigger one: death.

He sighs and looks up at his spectral mentor with a fraction of a smile that always rounds down.

“Voilà les bonnes nouvelles, Jacques. Elle était belle…”

(“Here’s the good news, Jacques. She was good-looking…”)

GM: “J’étais vieux même avant ma mort, Jean-Louis. Et vous êtes un homme plus âgé maintenant que j’étais alors,” the dead man answers.

(“I was old even before I died, Jean-Louis. And you are an older man now than I was then.”)

Not tiredly. Not impatiently. Just the indifference to flesh’s pleasures that only the long dead may have.

Louis: Lou takes the comment in stride, and then resumes his tale. The telling is painful for the old man. Not only are the details still raw, but there are secrets, secrets he hasn’t shared with Caroline, or even Chica. Some of them, he’s kept back to protect them. Some, he’s kept back to protect himself.

But now, now he sheds like, and it is a sharp, hard process like scraping off barnacles from a boat’s hull. The worm hates it. It hurts. But life, he desperately hopes, has a way of moving past hate and hurt.

When his tale is told in full, he looks out the window to watch the rainy sunrise. His old bones don’t quite rest in his chair as much as they lay like reliquaries encased in flesh. The old man sighs.

“Vous avez quelque chose à boire?”

(“You got anything to drink?”)

It seems like the only logical thing to say.

GM: True sunrise fortunately remains some time off. Dawn is but a faint glow struggling under a dark horizon’s soggy weight. Lou is well aware that the Shroud will only grow thicker as Sol passes overhead, making Jacques’ own tie to the Skinlands more tenuous. Rare indeed are the wraiths who will discourse with the living under day’s full light.

The mention of “drinks” only elicits an all-too literally dead stare from the centuries-dead shade.

Louis: Since when did the Big Sleazy become a dry county? the alcoholic gumshoe grouses internally, then turns to regard his host.

“Jacques, une pensée ou un sentiment a grimpé ma colonne vertébrale ces derniers temps. Ou peut-être y a-t-il été pendant des siècles, comme une grosse tige qui me draine à sec par millilitres.”

(“Jacques, a thought or feeling has been creeping up my spine lately. Or maybe it’s been there for centuries, like a fat tick draining me dry by milliliters.”)

He continues, slipping the head lamp from his brow and slumping further into the chair, “Mais ces derniers … jours … pas de décennies, Jacques, c’est presque tout ce que je peux penser. J’ai peut-être tort. Peut-être que je me suis trompé tout ce temps, et même si je l’ai atteint au sommet de cette longue échelle, je l’ai trouvé, je ne le trouverais que sur un toit différent de celui que je voulais.”

(“But these past… days… no decades, Jacques, it’s nearly all I can think of. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ve been wrong all this time, and even if I made it to the top of this long ladder I’ve been climbing, I’d only find it leaning against a different roof than I intended.”)

There’s despair in his voice, a dark liquor that’s taken lifetimes to distill. “Je ne dis pas qu’il ne mérite pas une longue sieste au soleil. Il fait. Sinon pour elle, alors pour tous les autres qui ont payé le salaire du péché commis sous son nom. Mais…”

(“I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve a long cat nap in the sun. He does. If not for her, then for all the others who have paid the wages of sin committed under his name. But…”)

“Mais peut-être … peut-être qu’il est la mauvaise échelle … ou le toit. Peut-être que la Savoie est l’échelle droite. L’enfer, peut-être qu’il n’y a pas de toits, pas du tout…”

(“But maybe… maybe he’s the wrong ladder… or roof. Maybe Savoy’s the right ladder. Hell, maybe there are no roofs, not at least like…”)

The old man stops short of delving into theological waters with the ghost who was already a violent atheist before his death.

“Je suis fatigué. Et honnêtement, j’ai l’impression que mon billet est sur le point d’être frappé, Jacques, alors je ferais mieux d’être prêt à attraper ce chariot. Mais si je pars, je veux laisser la station un peu plus propre pour les personnes qui attendent en ligne. Peut-être que le salaud espagnol est trop gros pour nettoyer. Peut-être que j’ai appris cela. Cela ne veut pas dire que je l’ai bien compris. Ou peut-être que je … peut-être qu’il n’est pas le bon geste à nettoyer. Peut-être le pire, celui qui fait la meilleure partie de la station pue le pire, c’est la pile de merde qui vit à Evergreen.”

(“I’m tired. And honestly, I feel like my ticket is about to be punched, Jacques, so I better be ready to catch that trolley. But if I’m leaving, I want to leave the station a little cleaner for the next people waiting in line. Maybe the Spanish bastard is too big a mess to clean. Maybe I’ve learned that. Doesn’t mean I’ve come to terms with it though. Or maybe I… maybe he’s not the right mess to clean up. Maybe the worst one, the one that is making the best part of the station stink up the worst is the pile of shit living in Evergreen.”)

He looks up, not expecting the wraith to argue the point, and adds:

“Mais je suis un vieux chien qui est trop vieux et trop fatigué pour continuer à apprendre de nouvelles astuces. Si je fais cela, je pense que je n’ai qu’une chance, un sprint, un tour ou deux avant d’appeler le combat, d’une manière ou d’une autre. J’ai besoin de votre aide, Jacques. Je dois savoir passer d’une échelle à l’autre. Un mistep, et c’est une longue chute et un arrêt soudain.”

(“But I’m an old dog who’s too old and too tired to keep learning new tricks. If I do this, I figure I’ve only got one chance, one sprint, one round or two before they call the fight, one way or another. I need your help, Jacques. I need to know how to step from one ladder to another. One misstep, and it is a long drop and a sudden stop.")

Or worse, the other way around, Lou murmurs silently, a cold fist of fear around his heart.

He looks at the approaching dawn and cannot help but see it as a looming sunset. He frowns.

“Vous êtes sûr de ne rien boire? Aucun cabinet d’alcool ou une petite bouteille de scotch ou de tequila que Mariangel a caché?”

(“You sure there’s nothing to drink? No liquor cabinet or little bottle of scotch or tequila that Mariangel has hidden away?”)

GM: Jacques regards Lou’s words with the same unearthly patience he has come to expect from any of the restless dead. But where Tante Lescaut’s void-like eyes stared at Lou with vacant almost-noncomprehension, as if she were looking beyond him rather than at him, Jacques’ shade listens with a rapt, feverish attention too undivided in its focus to be anything but inhuman. The scarred-ridden ghost’s simmering wrath is a nigh-literal force when Lou mentions the prince’s archrival. He watches his old mentor’s boil-ridden sores burst in a shower of weeping, boiling-hot ectoplasmic puss. Jacques, however, merely continues,

“Si vous étiez Vidal ou son salaudier shérif, Jean-Louis, que feriez-vous pour appréhender Louis Fontaine, en sachant tout ce que Malveaux sait?”

(“If you were Vidal or his bastard sheriff, Jean-Louis, what would you do to apprehend Louis Fontaine, knowing all that Malveaux knows?”)

Louis: Lou’s expression sours, less due to the ectoplasmic pus–shower rather than his host “dodging” his second request for a drink. He nonetheless answers without hedging:

“J’ai frappé mon bureau. Avoir des yeux et plus regarder cela. Idem avec la fille. Ils s’attendent ou au moins à me préparer à la contacter. Dominez-la pour être son pion et demandez-la de me conduire dans un piège. Encore. Mais cela repose uniquement sur ce qu’elle sait. Vidal pourrait presser les Warlocks pour faire de Peter des ruses ou des secousses. De même, j’utilise mes anciens patrons, partenaires et contacts au sein de NOPD en tant qu’information, optimiser ou pire. Utilisez la sorcellerie pour tout ce qui précède. Demandez aux chasseurs et à leurs goons de parcourir la ville pour un soupçon ou un soupçon.”

(“Hit my office. Have eyes and more watching it. Same with the girl. They will expect or at least prepare for me contacting her. Dominate her into being their pawn and have her lead me into a trap. Again. But that’s just based on what she knows. Vidal could squeeze the Warlocks into making Peter cough up secrets or help with another set-up. Similarly use my old bosses, partners, and contacts within NOPD as intel, leverage, or worse. Use sorcery for all of the above. Have the Hounds and their goons scour the city for any hint or whiff.”)

He continues, “Et puis il y a Chica. Caroline pourrait leur dire peu de Chica, sauf qu’elle était capable de la jeter et qu’elle m’aidait. Polk aurait pu leur en dire un peu plus, mais pas beaucoup d’autre chose. Quoi qu’il en soit, ils vont essayer cette poignée aussi.”

(“And then there’s Chica. Caroline could tell them little of Chica, save that she was capable enough to stake her and that she was helping me. Polk could have told them a bit more, but not much else. Regardless, they will try that handle too.”)

GM: The shade does not nod at any of Lou’s conclusions, but merely continues,

“Je suis certain que vous vous souvenez de ce que le prince a fait pour que les supposés assassins de Bastien se révèlent.”

(“I am certain you recall what the prince did to make Bastien’s supposed killers reveal themselves.”)

Louis: “Avec cette situation, les deux ont des secrets dont il vaut la peine d’être tué, et ce que l’on n’a jamais eu besoin d’une bonne raison.”

(“With this situation, both have secrets worth killing for, not that either ever needed a good reason.”)

GM: “Alors peut-être qu’un autre devrait priver le catholique de ce qu’il veut le plus.”

(“Then perhaps another should deprive the Catholic of what he most wants.”)

“Peut-être qu’un autre devrait sembler tuer Louis Fontaine avant qu’il puisse.”

(“Perhaps another should appear to kill Louis Fontaine before he can.”)

“Il a vécu une longue vie. Il est bientôt dû pour le remplacement.”

(“He has lived a long life. He is soon due for replacement.”)

Louis: Lou sucks on the grim suggestion. It’s one he’s already considered. Been considering.

“Comme je l’ai dit, l’échelle est grande, et un autre échec ne permettra pas une autre.”

(“As I said, the ladder is tall, and another misstep won’t allow another.”)

Lou grows pensive, or more pensive at least, before adding, “Il y a deux autres chemins, Jacques, je dois considérer. L’un est un ancien. L’autre est celui que je n’ai jamais osé pisser.”

(“There are two other paths, Jacques, I must consider. One is an old one. The other is one I have never dared trod.”)

GM: A severed, infant-sized fist tugs at the long-dead doctor’s ashen hair. He stares at Lou with a dead man’s infinitely patient eyes.

Louis: The old man’s face is creased by age, dawn-shadows, and darker memories as he elaborates, “Dans un sprint final, je ne pouvais pas prendre un nouveau nom, mais un ancien, et prendre son rôle ouvertement. Le Loup de la Nouvelle-Orléans.”

(“In a final sprint, I could take not a new name, but an old one, and take its role openly. The Wolf of New Orleans.”)

“Rassemblez les paquets. Une dernière chasse. Allez dans la gorge.”

(“Gather the packs. One last hunt. Go for the throat.”)

He is silent for while as he lets the implications sink in. Then he continues, “Ou…”


“Je vais sous la couverture, plus profond, et dans la direction où ils sont le moins susceptibles de soupçonner.”

(“I go under cover, deeper, and in the direction they are least likely to suspect.”)

He then elaborates the details of this “third” option. When he finishes, he closes his eyes, and it takes him so much effort to reopen them.

“Je suis fatigué, Jacques. Même si je pensais que c’était le mouvement le plus intelligent, je ne pense pas pouvoir recommencer. Encore. Je pense que c’est ma dernière main.”

The words slowly grind out of his throat like diamonds returned to dust.

(“I’m tired, Jacques. Even if I thought it the smartest move, I don’t think I can start over. Again. I think this is my last hand.”)

GM: Blood steadily, soundlessly drips from Jacques’ gaping stomach wounds. Bathed under Lou’s crimson light, it is almost impossible to tell he is bleeding at all, but for the fact his moldering waist and frock coats seem to steadily shift and ripple—like sanguine rain batting against a window’s surface. The centuries-old wraith neither moves nor changes in expression as he rasps,

“Le loup est mort depuis plus de cent ans. Que doivent croire les chasseurs s’il revient? Qu’il soit une goule—ou l’un de leurs maîtres? Gagner leur confiance en l’un d’eux est un obstacle, mais pas impossible. Caiaphas Smith l’a fait. Pourtant, il est connu comme une goule depuis plus longtemps que tout chasseur mortel encore en vie—et beaucoup doutent encore s’il cherche à défendre la Veillée ou à nourrir ses propres faim.”

(“The Wolf has been dead for over a hundred years. What are hunters to believe if he returns? That he is a ghoul—or one of their masters? Winning their trust as one of the former is an impediment, but not impossible. Caiaphas Smith has done so. Yet he has been known as a ghoul for longer than any mortal hunter still living—and many still doubt whether he seeks to uphold the Vigil or feed his own hungers.”)

“Peu de chasseurs ont l’ambition de renverser le prince ou d’autres parasites plus âgés. Nombre d’entre eux ne cherchent qu’à détruire tous les sangsues qu’ils trouvent dans la rue. Les chasseurs plus jeunes et plus impressionnables peuvent se rallier facilement à vos côtés, L’espoir d’exterminer la ligne de parasites de Pascual et encore moins celui de Vidal: rechercher ces alliés, cultiver leur confiance et orchestrer une grève qui ne soit pas une expédition-suicide à laquelle peu de chasseurs peuvent consentir, cela prendra du temps quand il est pourchassé par les agents du prince, mais un autre homme peut le faire. "

(“Few hunters have ambitions of toppling the prince or other elder parasites. Many only seek to destroy what bloodsuckers they find on the street. Younger and more impressionable hunters may rally to your side easily, but you will need tried and seasoned veterans to have any hope of exterminating Pascual’s line of parasites, much less Vidal’s. Seeking out these allies, cultivating their trust, and orchestrating a strike that is not the suicide expedition few hunters besides yourself may consent to—this will take time. Time Louis Fontaine will not have when he is being hunted by the prince’s agents—but another man may.”)

“Vous proposez également d’infiltrer l’une des factions de parasites. Aussi dégoûtant que de prétendre être l’un de leurs esclaves, l’idée n’est pas sans mérite. Ils offrent un accès à l’information, aux ressources et à la proximité des parasites qu’aucun chasseur ne peut obtenir. C’est un endroit où Vidal ne pensera pas à te chercher, mais le prince le fera toujours, et le Krewe de Janus l’aidera peut-être même. Une goule voyous est une menace potentielle pour leur mascarade bien-aimée vos capacités démontrées. Il est plus facile d’infiltrer un groupe qui, en fait, ne vous cherche pas activement. Même s’ils ne le sont pas, la propre recherche du prince ne peut être qu’une pierre de taille autour du cou.”

(“You also propose infiltrating one of the parasites’ factions. As distasteful as pretending to be one of their slaves may be, the idea is not without merit. They offer access to information, resources, and proximity to the parasites that no hunters can. They are a place Vidal will not think to look for you. Yet the prince will still do so, and the Krewe of Janus may even be aiding him in this. A rogue ghoul is a potential threat to their beloved Masquerade—especially one of your demonstrated capabilities. It is easier to infiltrate a group that is not, in fact, actively looking for you. Even if they are not, the prince’s own search can only be a millstone around your neck.”)

“Vous aurez aussi besoin d’alliés, Jean-Louis, si vous voulez éliminer l’un des parasites âgés. Pendant tout le siècle que vous avez passé seul, quels progrès avez-vous réellement accomplis?”

(“You will need allies too, Jean-Louis, if you are to bring down any of the elder parasites. In all the century you have spent alone, what progress have you truly made?”)

The shade’s scarred, boil-ridden features darken.

“Tout cela ignore la malédiction de Wedo, qui selon vous fera de vous l’un des parasites eux-mêmes. Pensez-vous qu’il va simplement disparaître? Ou attendez-vous de mettre de l’ordre dans vos affaires? le pire moment possible—et nous ne devrions pas trouver de réconfort dans le fait que ce n’est pas le cas du vôtre. mais une autre pierre autour du cou. Le chemin de la main noire pour lever la malédiction sera beaucoup plus facile. Qu’y a-t-il d’autre péché sur des consciences aussi souillées et coupables que la nôtre? parasites et commettre d’innombrables autres. Tout cela avant le danger immédiat que votre malédiction peut poser à vos plans et à vos alliés.”

(“All of this ignores Wedo’s curse, which you say will cause you to become one of the parasites themselves. Do you believe it will simply go away? Or wait for you to set your affairs in order? A mambo’s curse is apt to strike at the worst possible time—and we should find little solace in the fact that yours has not. Not yet. Furthermore, earning the forgiveness of two petty criminals for killing their mother, criminals you yourself caused the imprisonments of, is a Sisyphean task and but another millstone around your neck. The black hand’s path to lifting the curse will be far easier. What is another sin on consciences as stained and guilty as ours? Better that you escape the curse through one act of atrocity, than become one of the parasites and commit countless more. All of this before the immediate danger your curse may pose to your plans and allies.”)

“Les parasites ne seront pas exterminés dans un jour, Jean-Louis. Si cela avait été possible, cela aurait été fait depuis longtemps par d’autres. Pourtant, vous dites que vous êtes fatigué et prêt à fixer la Veillée.”

(“The parasites will not be exterminated in a day, Jean-Louis. If that were possible, it would have long since been done by others. Yet you say that you are tired and ready to lay down the Vigil.”)

Two boils abruptly burst around Jacques’ rheumy-yellow eye. Pus runs down his scarred, wrinkled skin like furious tears. His face turns black again with hate that even death could not quench as he spits,

“A quoi dois-je reposer où je ne le fais pas, meurtrier?”

(“What right do you have to rest where I do not, murderer?)

Louis: Unpacking Jacques’ words is like untangling Christmas lights made of barbed wire. It’s…. delicate. Dangerous. And despite all his care, the words cut him. Deeply.

“Ce n’est pas un droit. Mais ce pourrait être le droit.”

(“It’s not a right. But it still might be the right thing to do.")

Lou drags a shovel hand across his face like a long, rough sigh.

“Jacques… ce que vous vouliez faire… ce que vous faisiez… appeler Sousson-Pannan… ça aurait tué tant d’innocents. Innocents, Jacques. Si nous devenons aussi monstrueux que les monstres que nous chassons, nous avons perdu la Vigile.”

(“Jacques… what you were tying to do… what you were doing… calling Sousson-Pannan… it would have killed so many innocents. Innocents, Jacques. If we become just as monstrous as the monsters we hunt, then we have lost.”)

He balls his first into mouth, biting momentarily before looking up with centuries-harrowed eyes.

“J’ai essayé… J’ai plaidé… J’ai échoué…”

(“I tried… I pleaded… I failed…”)

His hand drops slowly, and his voice is like ash in his mouth.

“Mais vous avez raison… J’ai accompli si peu… trop peu… et je suis… Je suis un meurtrier. La malédiction de maman Wedo ou non, j’ai la marque de Caïn.”

(“But you’re right… I’ve accomplished so little… too little… and I’m… I am a murderer. Mama Wedo’s curse or not, I bear the mark of Caine.”)

A grimace of resignation settles on his face like wet concrete as he regards his mentor.

“Peut-être que tu as raison. Peut-être que Louis Fontaine doit mourir, même si Jean-Louis ne le mérite pas.”

(“Maybe you’re right. Maybe Louis Fontaine needs to die—even if Jean-Louis doesn’t deserve to it.”)

GM: “Vous-ASSASSINÉ-moi!” Jacques roars, his sole yellow eye flashing like a bolt of pus-colored lightning. His other socket’s empty pit bores into Lou’s vision like a furious, pitch-black spear.

(“You— MURDERED —me!")

“Moi qui t’ai sauvé de la vie en tant qu’esclave de parasites! Moi qui t’ai appris tout ce que tu savais et fait de toi l’homme que tu es! Moi qui t’ai guidé, conseillé et abrité pendant un siècle et trois ans après ma mort—entre tes mains! Et maintenant, maintenant, tu PENSE même à abandonner ta Veillée, parce que tu es _TIRED?! _ Pfah!”

(“I, who rescued you from life as one of the parasites’ slaves! I, who taught you all that you knew and made you the man you are! I, who have guided you, counseled you, and sheltered you, for a century and three-score years after my death—at your hands! And now—now, you would even THINK to abandon your Vigil, because you are TIRED?! Pfah!")

The shade doesn’t spit so much as snarl. His scarred and chapped lips pull back from broken, bloody teeth teeth as he expels a foul ectoplasmic concoction of blood, puss, and spit at Lou’s feet. The awful residue is still as milk and honey next to the bitterness in Jacques’ voice. His hate-twisted, red-bathed face continues to rave as his cancerous boils furiously pop and weep,

“Tu n’as aucune idée de ce que c’est que d’être fatigué, Jean-Louis! Toi qui marche parmi les Skinlands, qui peut sentir le soleil sur ton visage, et qui peut manger, boire et rire jusqu’à en avoir mal à l’estomac! Vous pouvez toucher le front d’un enfant sans que celui-ci ne recule devant la terreur! Vous qui n’avez jamais senti un tourbillon se fendiller de votre âme, enduré les cauchemars d’un déchirement ou les murmures incessants de votre Lonbraj! Perdu! Vous qui avez tellement moins souffert au cours de ces siècles que moi, vous-même, l’architecte de mes propres souffrances, oseriez même respirer à mon visage ce que vous méritez—REPOS?! "

(“You have no idea what it is to be tired, Jean-Louis! You, who walk among the Skinlands, can feel the sun on your face, and can eat, drink and laugh until your belly aches with pleasure! You, who can touch an infant’s brow without it recoiling in terror! You, who have never felt a maelstrom flay your soul, walked a harrowing’s waking nightmares, or endured the incessant whisperings of your Lonbraj! You, who retain the ti-bon-age I have lost! You, who have suffered so much less over these centuries than I—you, the architect of my own suffering, dare to even breathe to my face that you deserve— REST?!")

Louis: The wraith’s enraged words hit Lou like a stampede of eighteen-wheelers. His already ravished heart becomes roadkill. Bloody, flat, and burst open. He all but falls out of his chair and collapses to his old knees.

“Je suis désolé. Vous méritez beaucoup mieux. Mérite bien plus. Désolé, Jacques. J’étais… confus, perdu. Je suis désolé. Tu as raison. S’il vous plaît, pardonnez-moi. Je le ferai bien, je ne quitterai pas. Je suis désolé.”

(“I’m sorry. You deserve so much better. Deserved so much more. I’m sorry, Jacques. I was… confused, lost. I’m sorry. You’re right. Please forgive me. I’ll make it right, I won’t quit. I’m sorry.”)

GM: The hatred twisting Jacques’ scarred face subsides. It doesn’t disappear so much as drain away to a familiar level of centuries-old bitterness that no words may ever erase.

“Qu’est ce que tu vas faire?”

(“What are you going to do?”)

Louis: Lou utters an old maxim amongst the Knights of St. Balacou:

“Apprendre. Plan. Préparer. Exécuter.”

(“Learn. Plan. Prepare. Execute.”)

The old man looks up and continues to his old mentor as webs begin spinning in his mind, “J’ai besoin de me reposer, puis de toucher soigneusement certains contacts pour voir de quelle manière les coups de coups sont liés à l’affaire Rempart Rue et ses conséquences. Avec votre bénédiction et, espérons-le, une aide, j’ai besoin de planifier la mort de Louis Fontaine. Après cela, un autre mort, Et j’espère que c’est une finale de plus pour les plus doux de la Grande Faiblesse.”

(“I need to lay low, then reach out carefully to some contacts to see which way the spin blows with the Rampart Street affair and its aftermath. With your blessing and hopefully aid, I need to plan Louis Fontaine’s death. After that, another death, and hopefully one more final for the Sleaziest of the Big Sleazy.”)

Caroline III, Chapter XII; Louis II, Chapter V
The Sheriff's Pursuit

“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Chica shouts at Polk as she shuts the van’s back door and helps up the blood-sapped gumshoe inside.

“Shit’s deep, biatch, drive like yo crab-panties’s on fire!”

Lou, meanwhile, provides directions in a voice more weary than weak.

“Left onto Gallier. Now. Road’s narrower and will cut down the number of vehicles that can tail us. One block later, turn left onto St. Claude’s. Keep driving till you see it–and you’ll know it when you see it.”

Chica and Lou then work in tandem, their backs to Polk, blocking her view as their begin shifting and unzipping the two duffel bags with Caroline and René inside.

“Time to CPR yo chedda-flow,” Chica calls back, perhaps even sympathetically before she adds, “But don’t think I’ma gonna forget yo crazy ass bus’ing a cap in ma milkshake maker. Mothafucker hurts like a mission.”

Lou leans over a duffel bag and whispers something low.

“What do you know?”

GM: Like all Cainite magic, there’s no flash or performance to what Lou does. No grand incantations, entreaties to the saints and loa, or sacrifices of animals and obscure reagents. He just demands answers.

The torpid vampire’s pale, half-burnt lips move, whispering secrets that only Lou’s half-damned soul can hear.

Caroline Malveaux is not my childe. Someone set me up to take the fall for her Embrace.

The torpid vampire’s lips silently twist again.

I’ve been working as a double agent for Donovan. He, Savoy, or the Setites double-crossed me.

Louis: Lou’s old eyes only widen slightly–but not in shock. Yet having his suspicions so nakedly confirmed is like drinking the last drop from your bottle and finding it bone-dry empty. There’s no surprise, but the sting still remains. Those same old eyes glance at Caroline’s form.

There’s no time to stare, not now.

There’s no time to ponder all the implications, not now.

Now, a far more primal drive trumps such wants and desires, perhaps the most primal of all:


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Support: In the meantime, a drizzle begins to fall from the sky. Tiny droplets form and run down car windows. A layer of clouds grows darker ahead, obscuring light from badly lit streets. A shadow hangs over New Orleans.

The black Lincoln’s engine roars, its wheels rolling along the wet road. Window wipers swing back and forth. Behind the car’s front window a gaunt-looking man eyes the back of a van with detached interest.

Caroline: The black-suited, blood-drenched bodyguard displays all the defensive driving acumen one might expect from someone that sent half a decade chauffeuring VIPs, blazing in and out of traffic and aggressively ignoring traffic lights.

GM: Rows of dilapidated houses, vandalized cars, broken streetlights, and hollow-eyed streetwalkers madly careen past the van’s windows. Rampart Street’s bleak cityscape can do naught but tiredly stare on. From the corner of his eye, Lou can make out an approaching park. “LOUIS ARMSTRONG” is written over the entrance in dully glowing letters. Gangs of feral youths prowl between the dark trees like predators on the hunt, ignorant of the true, oh so nearby monsters they futilely seek to mimic. Bronze or iron statues depicting a marching band of musicians remain locked in eternal step as the pursuing cars wildly speed on.

The black Chevrolet cuts through the desolate streets like a hungry shark through water. The sheriff’s pale hands spin the wheel with all the adroit familiarity of that same deep-sea predator yawning its jaws wide. Frigid eyes stare implacably after the fleeing vehicle.

The red-eyed priest by his side rasps something indistinct, then clasps his hands in prayer. The black car pulls away, vanishing down a divergent street like some undersea monster into the ocean’s darkest depths.

When the car re-surfaces, it’s no longer a black Chevrolet. It’s a white cruiser with the words “POLICE” written across its side in thick blue letters, along with a crescent badge. The sheriff and his passenger wear blue shirts with black neckties. Police headlights scream red and blue into the night for Lou’s car to pull over.

Louis: Lou regards the flashing lights and sirens behind him. He doesn’t sigh or grunt. But there’s a grimace tugging at his lips like a raw, ripped open ulcer.

“Keep driving,” he says as they round the expressway ramp onto Route 10. Unlike the cramped streets of the Quarter, the interstate is wide and brightly lit.

And not just by the far-stretching line of street lamps.

Dozens of ambulances crowd the expressway. Their loud emergency sirens and flashing lights crash over the raised interstate, interspersed with megaphone-wielding EMTs shouting, “Wake up, New Orleans!” and various other slogans protesting the gentrified emergency service response times to various neighborhoods so ironically divided by class and race rather than distance.

GM: Meanwhile, on Rampart Street, a gunshot rings out. A large gray bird with a bloody hole in its wing plummets from the raining sky like an overlarge piece of hail. It crashes into the police car’s rain-specked windshield, sending the vehicle careening into a street lamp with a resounding crash. The two seated vampires jolt forward in their seatbelts. Father Malveaux’s red eyes burn like hot coals, the blasphemous priest seeming to all but choke on his hatred as he stares after the shakily—seemingly impossibly—retreating bird. Donovan’s still expression does not change in the slightest, but the sheriff’s hands rapidly spin the steering wheel to regain control. An ugly dent now mars the police cruiser’s side.

Louis Lou nudges the bleeding Polk and points. As if on cue, the ambulances part to admit the white van like a brother–especially when Chica rips down their van’s tarp to reveal a similar protest slogan and fires up one of the Ret. Det’s old undercover sirens. Thereafter, with a nod from Lou, they close ranks around them, concealing the van behind their blaring sirens, shouting EMTs, and blinding lights. It won’t last forever, Lou knows. But maybe, just maybe, it might last long enough.

Lou’s thoughts, however, are interrupted by his ex-paramour stabbing him in the butt with a vitae-filled syringe. “Take yo’ medicine, you wrinkly ass crybaby. and get us the fucking hell outta here!”

Louis: Hit by his centuries-old drug, Lou loses the next few seconds. Granted, the past few minutes have taken months off his life, but as René’s drop of vitae seeps into his skin, he shudders, blushes, and swallows down his saliva till all the world tastes red.

GM: Polk abruptly chokes and convulses. She’s burning up from the inside. Liquid fire blisters through her veins as she hacks and coughs up blood. Hellish—or heavenly—mirages swim at the corners of her vision. Dozens of writhing, beating, feathered wings. Burning eyes that glow with the promise of hell’s torments.

Caroline: The mercenary all but collapses on the wheel as only the near incendiary and instinctive burning away of Caroline’s vita keeps her conscious. She lets out a far too girlish scream for the number of weapons she’s carrying, “WHAT THE HELL!” she howls before lapsing into another series of bloody coughs. Fear slides in her eyes and her foot comes off the accelerator, the woman just shy of outright panic and her actions slowing to merely human speed.

GM: The wailing police car finally pulls onto the freeway. The sheriff’s frigid eyes bore after the fleeing van.

In Corbin’s vehicle, the radio crackles to life.

“Do not pursue.”

Further orders sound from the device.

Support: A small, wry smile appears on the skeletal man’s face as his foot eases away from the accelerator pedal. The black Lincoln backs away from its pursuit.

Louis: But when the scarlet fugue fades, Lou’s mind hones to a razor-sharp focus. Sounds of Polk’s bloody screams, the sirens. The red sirens.

Lou rises, old knees protesting with lost days they will never recover. He tears back the carpet, revealing a trap door into the floor. The next few moments are a chaotic, yet somehow preternaturally coordinated series of events that terminate with the ghoul ex-paramours sliding underneath the van’s carriage to a waiting ambulance. Yet before the pair depart, Lou takes one thing and leaves another. The former is the cue stick from Caroline’s chest.

Caroline: Caroline takes an unneeded, but instinctual, gasp when Lou rips the wooden pole from her chest, eyes wide with a combination of confusion and fear.

Louis: The latter is a potentially final word of advice from the PI to his client. It is not spoken, but seemingly carved into the cuestick which now protrudes from René. The parting message is brief. Merely a word and a number:

Lamentations 5

Caroline: Caroline hauls herself up off the floor, taking a moment to reorient herself. She was in what must have been René’s haven. Blood everywhere. Screaming, fire. The smell of gunpowder. René. He’s beside her, a savaged corpse. She remembers the falling star. That impossible speed. And… that cunt driving a pool cue through her chest when she left herself open.

A whimper of terror from the front seat brings her back to reality. The van losing speed. Polk all but panicked. They’re clear some conflagration of red lights behind them, but the bodyguard is a bloody and bloodless mess, her face as white as a sheet.

GM: Outside, the sheriff’s police cruiser screams flashes of red and blue. The Kindred-driven vehicle makes turns no mortal’s reflexes could possibly equal. It doesn’t seems to drive along the roads so much as glide right through them. Donovan’s eyes bore into Caroline’s like ice-rimmed needles as the car rapidly gains on hers.

Caroline: How the hell did he get loose?

She saw those Kindred stake him.

There’s more going on here.

Or that wasn’t actually him.

Or both.

GM: Her Kindred relative’s eyes are another matter. Malveaux’s features are contorted into a festering hatred as black as his albino skin is white. His pinkish-red eyes, never quite human-seeming even when their owner was lucid, burn like blazing coals dropped onto a sheet. The fiend-like creature audibly hisses, thrusts out a skeletal hand, and savagely twists as if he’s ripping apart Caroline’s innards. Polk screams instead as spectral slashes open across her back. The spurting blood runs onto the floor, then twists into two steaming, hate-written words:


Caroline: Caroline leaps over the back of the seats to seize the wheel as the ex-Secret Service agent gives an agonized cry and slips into blissful unconsciousness, buried in pain, terror, and blood loss. Unable to manhandle the woman out of the seat she fights to keep the vehicle from plowing off the road and waits for the already dropping speed to slow to a crawl. The Ventrue’s own sucking chest wound slowly closes.

GM: Lou, meanwhile, drops down his cunningly-hidden trap door with Chica. The road’s yellow-lined asphalt, tinged sanguine red by the blaring ambulance lights, roars past his head.

A second trap door opens on another car’s gray belly. Thickly-muscled, dusky-hued arms haul Lou up into the ambulance.

“Someone called 911,” Malechi states with an impassive expression whose smile still leaks through in his tone.

Past the towering Choctaw’s long black hair, Lou makes out the column of protesting ambulances wailing down the I-10. Their omnipresent flashing lights bathe the highway’s traffic under a sanguine sheen—including the two demons pursuing Caroline’s car, whose neckties and police uniforms do pitifully little to mask their true natures to Lou.

Malechi says something else. Maybe Chica does too. The old man stares out at the onrushing highway, the looming night beyond it, and the uncertain future he careens towards—well past any reasonable speed limit.

Louis: Against that onrushing terminus, the old man’s thoughts start turning like old keys, unlocking silent words long etched into his heart:

Recordare Domine quid acciderit nobis intuere et respice obprobrium nostrum.

(Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider and behold our reproach.)

Pupilli facti sumus absque patre…

(We are become orphans without a father…)

Patres nostri peccaverunt et non sunt et nos iniquitates enrum portavimus.

(Our fathers have sinned, and are not: and we have borne their iniquities.)

In animabus nostris adferebamus panem… (

We fetched our bread at the peril of our lives…)

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Father Malveaux’s smoldering eyes burn impossibly brighter. The damned priest snarls out another black prayer, and pain stabs through Caroline as she feels stigmata opening across her palms, chest and feet—the same five holy wounds endured by Christ. Once more, the blood pools onto the van’s floor:


Caroline: She lets out her own scream as the awful wounds open across her body, blood running freely from half a dozen gaping holes in her pale flesh, and recoils from the driver’s seat like there’s a rattlesnake wrapped around it. The blood is nearly invisible against her black dress, but stands out oh so clearly against her pale skin, running in tiny rivers. The van hasn’t fully coasted to a stop, but she jams open the back loading door and slides out into the street as it keeps rolling, grabbing her sire by his feet as she does so, letting the moving van amd her own weight pull him out with her, broken pole cue in his chest waving like a white flag as his battered body bounces off the pavement.

GM: Father Malveaux’s coal-like eyes flare again. Caroline tugs at the van’s back door, but finds it seemingly stuck fast and unresponsive to her attempts to force it open.

Donovan’s frigid eyes once more bore into Caroline’s. The bond tugs at her—and pulls her head over heels. His voice rings out over the cop car’s megaphone.

“Pull off at the nearest exit.”

The father stares after her, smoldering red eyes still all-but ablaze with loathing.

Caroline: She returns to the wheel of the still slowing van, trying to maneuver the van despite the unconscious and bleeding out woman occupying the driver’s seat.

GM: Caroline breaks off from the column of protesting ambulances, pulling off at the nearest exit from the roaring freeway. Donovan’s car stops behind her. The sheriff gets out and walks up to her window. He’s seemingly dressed in a policeman’s blue uniform and black necktie.

It almost looks as if he’s about to write her a ticket for speeding.

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress looks awful. The sucking hole in her chest still remains where the makeshift stake was driven through it, and the fresh wounds opened by Father Malveaux’s curse all send trails of crimson across her pale flesh, up and down her arms and filling her heeled shoes.

GM: Without warning, a stake plunges into Caroline’s heart. She sees no motion. She’s just frozen again. Petrified. The car door hangs open.

The black ghoul who punched Caroline across the face in front of Eight-Nine-Six is there, too. He gives the staked vampire a very ugly leer before hefting her over his shoulder. He opens the back of the van and throws Caroline inside with all the respect he might dump a sack of potatoes. She painfully lands on her face. She can’t see anything except floor.

Caroline: She rages inside. She came so close. She did everything they asked…

GM: “‘The first tradition: Reveal yourself only to your Kindred,’” Father Malveaux rasps, that awful hate still licking at the edges of his tone like a dying fire’s embers. He murmurs several benedictions in Latin, and Caroline hears bodies being moved. The van’s door closes again, then it takes off.

The drive passes in silence and darkness. Eventually, the van stops, and Caroline hears its doors being opened again. She feels herself being carried outside, then dumped inside the back of another car. It, too, revs off.

After another dark and silent ride, the second car stops. The van’s doors open. Rough hands seize the staked Ventrue and pull her out. The cruel-looking ghoul hefts her over his shoulder. She’s in the underground parking garage of Perdido House. Father Malveaux and the sheriff are present, once more clad in their respective black clothes and priestly habits. Suited security personnel are hauling out René’s and Polk’s motionless forms.

The group proceeds to an elevator. Donovan swipes a keycard and presses a button. The doors ding open into a dark and yawning stretch of hallways.

Caroline: She can offer no defense. Can’t even move. Can’t point out he was in the process of murdering her. Can’t observe his own reckless and rash actions that created the circumstance. She can only rage silently at the sheer unfairness of it all. Of their sudden interest only when the battle was won, of how they set her up, dumped her in René’s lap, and left her to die. She hopes that Polk is okay. Hopes that Lou got away.

But mostly she rages. In spite of all their interference, in spite of everything, she was so close…

GM: “Have you scrutinized the ghoul’s mind, sheriff?” Father Malveaux rasps.

“I have,” the sheriff answers.

Father Malveaux savagely motions with a spindly hand. Caroline can feel the building heat as Polk’s skin turns lurid red. Smoke wafts from visibly writhing warts and boils. After a second, the unconscious mercenary’s head explodes in a gory shower that leaves sizzling chunks of cooked gore, bone, and brain matter sliding down the walls.

The dark-skinned ghoul holding Caroline gives a low, belly-deep snicker and taps an ear radio.

“Trash disposal.”

Father Malveaux wordlessly stalks away from the scene.

Caroline: She would scream if she could at the casual disregard for life.

GM: Donovan answers a ringing cellphone.


A moment of silence.

“Contain the situation pending my arrival,” the sheriff orders before ending the call.

“Leave her,” he orders the ghoul without looking at Caroline as he does something on his phone.

The ghoul wordlessly dumps Caroline onto the floor like a sack of potatoes.

Donovan hits a number on his phone.

“Capitán Gautliterrez.”

A pause.

“René Baristheaut and the fledgling have been apprehended. They are outside the elevator on the 35th floor. I am unavailable to process them.”

There’s another pause. The sheriff does not reply before hanging up. He wordlessly retraces his steps back to the elevator, stepping over the gore left from Polk’s exploded head. His ghoul follows after him and presses a button. Donovan presses some more buttons on his phone. The doors close.

A minute later, the doors re-open receptionist appears. She looks at Caroline’s and her sire’s bodies. She looks at Polk’s gory remains. She says nothing. She does nothing. Just stands and waits.

Time passes. Caroline waits on the ground.

Caroline: Apprehended. As though she were to blame for this. As though she were doing something wrong.

She had him! For a brief and fleeting moment, she had her sire in her grasp, ground giving way to do exactly what they’d ordered.

My domain. As though he could begin to imagine her own sense of loss over Westley. As though his own rage were somehow more valid, or valid at all in the face of her own.

Everything hurts. The bleeding at her wrists, blood running down her hands to drop, pitter-patter on the floor. The blood filling her heels, coating her feet, staining her flesh. The wind-sucking hole in her chest. All unclosed.

GM: Caroline can do little but ferment in her misery and wrath. Eventually, the elevator doors ding open. A ghoul steps out. His face is a horribly burned, dark mass of scars. He is half-bald, with his remaining black hair neatly combed back from his scalp. His thick mustache and short beard are only partially successful in hiding the teeth visible through his right cheek. His eyes are dark and hooded.

He wears a pair of crisply pressed black pants and jacket, not a business suit’s, but one reminiscent of a military’s Class A Uniform. Its gold buttons and his black leather shoes are polished so meticulously that Caroline can see her reflection in them. Medals also hang from his chest.

The ghoul’s hooded eyes bore into Caroline’s. “Carry Baristheaut,”he commands in a sharp staccato. Once more, the Ventrue feels her will crushed beneath another’s. The ghoul pulls the stake out of Caroline’s chest. She robotically hefts her sire’s body over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

“Follow me,” the ghoul orders.

He looks at the receptionist.

“You may return to your duties.”

She wordlessly departs. The scarred ghoul walks back into the elevator with Caroline. He swipes a keycard and presses a button to a higher floor, though the wait is significantly shorter before the doors ding open. He leads Caroline down another maze of dark, bare halls. Not so much as a sound disturbs the pair, leading the fledgling Ventrue alone to her equally dark thoughts.

The ghoul finally opens a door and leads into a gray room empty of all furnishings but for a clock, table, and chairs.

“Leave your sire upon the floor,” he orders. “Tell me everything that has occurred to you since September 1st.”

“You may sit.”

Caroline: She dumps her sire’s body onto the ground with the same reverence the other ghoul showed her own. Getting off her bloody wounded feet is a relief, but there’s little else in his demand. Her secrets are laid as bare before the ghoul as her body and flesh were before McGinn. One look at the charred face convinces her, long before she spends hours relating her tale, that this is not the man to raise an objection with, and she spends most of the time that she’s robotically relating her actions with a growing sense of dread, certain of her own pending doom.

GM: The ghoul patiently listens to Caroline’s lengthy tale. By the time she is finished, the clock reads several hours later, and perhaps several more before dawn.

“You are free to return to your haven, or to spend the remainder of your night however you wish,” he states when she is finished.

“The ceremony for your release and induction into the Sanctified will be held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 12 o’clock, September 20th, concurrently with the trials of Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis Smith, and Questor Hurst.”

Caroline: His pronounced judgment catches her completely by surprise, and for a moment she forgets to breathe. As that moment passes emotions war in her pierced breast. Anger and relief, joy and pain, hope and heartbreak. And questions. She has so many questions. She sits still for a long moment, caught up in her feelings. At last she stands, her wounds beginning to knit, and she chokes back questions and sobs behind a demurred, “Thank you.”

It burns her pride, stings like McGinn’s whip, but she feels so numb that it hardly matters. She just needs to get away. Away from the insanity and horror of this place.

GM: The ghoul removes a phone from his pocket and dials a number.

“Escort Miss Malveaux out of Perdido House.”


“Can I make a phone call for a ride?” she asks, with some trepidation and without the accompanying ‘since you murdered my driver.’

GM: “You may make such inquiries to one of lesser station,” the ghoul declares haughtily.

Caroline: She nods her understanding. “By your leave, then?”

She motions to the door.

GM: “By our prince’s, Miss Malveaux.” His hooded eyes glint. “Maintain the Masquerade or you shall be executed alongside your sire.”

Caroline: She departs without another word.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline is escorted down to the 34th floor by another ghoul. She is permitted to use a phone to maintain the Masquerade. She calls Autumn.

She is not permitted to leave the floor in her present state. Autumn takes the service elevator up and wraps a blanket around her to conceal the most obvious of her injuries. The ghoul is clearly fraught over the state her domitor is in, and finally asks, “So… what happened?” on the ride down to the garage.

Bleeding from both her body and sanity, it’s hard for the now hungry-Ventrue to ignore the heady aroma wafting off her servant. The hot blood pumping under the ghoul’s veins. She can feel her fangs extending in her mouth. Autumn is just what she needs…

Caroline: The worst of those wounds are no longer evident by the time the ghoul arrives, but Caroline’s eyes are close to ravenous, and she refuses to let Autumn touch her.

She climbs into the back seat of the girl’s car, as far away as possible, and rolls down the window to try and get some fresh air, anything to ignore the tempting morsel dangling in front of her. Once they’re out of the parking lot however she all but growls, “It’s over. He’s in their hands now.”

GM: The minicooper swoops out of the parking garage’s jaw-like gate.

“Wow. You caught your sire? I… wasn’t actually sure if you were going to.”

Caroline: “Neither was I.”

The words are bitter.

GM: “Well, congratulations.”

Caroline: The thought of congratulations is so bitter across her tongue. It scrapes across her raw and thirsty throat. She feels awful, and worse the further she gets from downtown. Dirty. Worthless. Used. Like a filthy rag used to clean up some unmentionable fluid and tossed away.

She looks away, out the open window. She remembers a moment when life was so much less awful. It feels so long ago.

GM: Autumn looks into the car’s mirror. She makes out Caroline’s face, then stops talking.

Caroline: Time passes. At last Caroline speaks again, practical considerations winning out against self-pity.

“I need blood. Contact the Krewe. If I fall on someone right now… I won’t stop.”

GM: Worry colors the ghoul’s features. “They’ll know your feeding restriction, though… I could bleed Aimee for you. Into a bowl, like last time. I mean, when was the last time she helped out? Besides by bleeding out.”

Caroline: Flashes of violence. Breaking glass. Blood everywhere. A ruined face sliced apart. Blood on her own hands.

“It wouldn’t be enough. Just buy in bulk, don’t disclose.” She does some math. “Up to 11 bags shouldn’t arouse suspicion in tracking.”

GM: “Actually… I could bleed Aimee, and then bleed myself too. You could give me a hit later, to make up for it.”

Autumn tries to sound casual posing the idea. But the addict’s want is all-too plain.

Caroline: She’s too tired to even argue the point.

“Call the Krewe. We’ll see after that.”

GM: “All right. Though… they could take a little while. It’s not on-delivery service.”

Caroline: “Get a time.”

GM: “I’ll do my best.”

Caroline: She never looks away from the window. Never faces the ghoul, but at least, as an almost aftermath, “Thank you.”

GM: Autumn actually looks a little surprised by the thanks.

“You’re welcome.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: The pair pull into Caroline’s house at Audubon Place. Never has it looked more bare. Caesar is gone. Furnishings and electronics wrecked by Wright’s thugs gone. The coffee table she smashed Aimee’s face into, gone. Aimee herself upstairs, mind-controlled into compliance. Autumn mentions that she got the other ghoul to shower and eat something, but she’s been crying a lot.

Turner is upstairs, still keeping vigilant watch over the storage closet Kelford has been locked inside. Caroline’s surviving bodyguard grudgingly admits, “Gonna konk out at some point. Need someone else to watch him in shifts, and Leaf isn’t qualified.”

Autumn bristles but doesn’t say anything, all-too aware of her domitor’s mood.

Caroline: Caroline relieves her of the firearm.

“I’ll watch him for now. Go get some sleep.”

Turner is the only one in the building Caroline doesn’t want to fall upon.

GM: “Not too long before dawn,” the still-injured merc grunts. “I’ll catch a few winks.”

She slowly makes her way into one of the bedrooms, and Caroline suspects will be out like a log.

Caroline then hears Autumn’s voice calling from Aimee’s bedroom. “Don’t get mad, I just… don’t wanna see the Krewe take advantage of you.”

A full red plastic bag lands in the upstairs hallway with a wet plop. The door quickly slams closed.

Caroline: She wants to be angry. She wants to lash out. She wants to make sure Aimee is okay.

But at the end of the day she wants the blood so much more. Caroline falls on the bag.

GM: Her former friend’s blood is as delicious as last time, flowing over her tongue like red velvet. But this time it’s not so much a guilty pleasure. Some part of Caroline whispers that this is earned. Recompense.

Caroline: It’s not enough to close her wounds completely, not enough to make her feel whole but it’s enough to ease that burning thirst, just for a moment. She loses herself in the blood for the long moment it takes her to guzzle it down, and in that moment all of her troubles seem far away. It’s a poor substitute for Jocelyn, but it’s better than nothing, even if it leaves her feeling empty at the end.

GM: “I can give some too, if you still need it… you can hit me back later…” Autumn calls from behind the still-closed door.

Caroline: When she’s done she distantly hears Autumn’s voice in the back of her head, even as she stares at the empty bag, resisting the urge to lick it clean. She looks back at the closet containing Kelford, then at Aimee’s door.

“Come out, Autumn.”

GM: Autumn opens the door with a more than apprehensive look.

Caroline: Caroline drops the bag and motions for the woman to come over.

“Come here.”

GM: The ghoul approaches her. Slowly.

Caroline: Caroline reaches out with her still-damaged hand and touches the ghoul’s face.

“I understand why you did it, Autumn. I’m not mad at you.”

GM: “Okay, that’s… I just wanted to help you,” Autumn answers, though doesn’t look wholly at ease with the touch. “That’s all I want.”

Caroline: There’s a quick flash of teeth, gentle rather than savage, and she feels the ghoul’s hot blood roll across her tongue. The sensation lasts only a few moments before she releases her.

GM: Autumn’s cry of alarm all-too quickly muffles into gasps of pleasure at her domitor’s Kiss. When Caroline pulls away, she’s breathing hard and her cheeks are flushed, but there’s visible fear in her eyes too.

“I’m sorry. I-I won’t do it again,” Autumn apologizes, trying to step back away.

Caroline: “But I gave you specific instructions.” She looks the ghoul in the eyes, but there is only her green eyes waiting, not the Beast. “Call the Krewe. Get the blood. When it arrives I’ll give you what you want.”

That hand runs down Autumn’s face gently teases her wrist across the girl’s mouth.

“I know you care. But I also need you to listen. Or do you think that money matters more to me than your health? Or Amanda’s?”

GM: “But it could take a while, I just didn’t want you on edge…” The ghoul responds, but her heart clearly isn’t in the words. Her eyes follow the wrist like a starving dog being dangled a bone.

Caroline: She can’t deny that it felt oh so good. That even as her wounds close across her body, as pain fade into memory she’s grateful.

“I understand. I’m not mad at you, Autumn.”

GM: “I’ll call the Krewe though, if there’s… nothing else,” Autumn ventures.

Caroline: “But I need more than you have to give right now.”

GM: “I’ll do what you say. Nothing else,” the ghoul readily echoes.

Caroline: “You did the right thing, Autumn. You just didn’t do all of it.” She pulls the ghoul in close again and kisses her hair before releasing her. “Just go finish.”

GM: Autumn doesn’t fight the kiss, but Caroline can feel the tension in her servant’s body as she plants it. Once the Ventrue lets go, Autumn repeats she’ll get on it and quickly sets off.

She returns after a few minutes on the phone.

“I need to drive there. They want me to pick it up.”

Caroline: Caroline has seated herself in Turner’s former chair. There’s an emptiness to her eyes.

“I understand. Be safe. I’ll be here when you get back.”

GM: Autumn looks into Caroline’s eyes and settles for, “All right. See you later.”

A few moments later, the car’s engine sounds from outside.

Caroline: With Autumn gone and Turner resting the house is eerily quiet. The life that once filled it is as dead as Caroline. She’s alone with her thoughts. Lou’s last message comes back to haunt her in the darkness. And his first.

When the dark thoughts grow unbearable, images of Westley’s fate, of Polk’s death, and of her own horrors, she gathers a pen and paper to write some notes for Autumn tomorrow. Her stomach twists at how she’s used, and is still using the poor girl, but beside the greater sins of her unlife, it pales.

GM: Much like Caroline’s ‘life’ after that death, the silence seems to stretch on for an eternity. Turner is asleep, Aimee bled back into a near-coma, Autumn and Caesar gone.

The faces of her victims, all the lives she’s ruined in two weeks, flash across her mind as she writes. Paxton, dead in a hotel bathtub. Trenton, savaged to death mere feet away. Polk, murdered for seemingly no reason at all after her head was mined. Lauren Peterson, the unknown mother and son, sent to the hospital. McGinn’s and Eight-Nine-Six’s ghouls, casualties in the conflicts between their masters. Aimee, turned from someone with a future into a crying, sniveling, beaten junkie. Autumn, already half-damned but with a ‘future’ among the Krewe, pulled under her thrall. Turner, witlessly forced into slavery.

Her brother. Her son.

Some lives she mourns. Some she feels nothing for.

The night is old. What is left feels as if it will be all-too long and all-too lonely.

Autumn comes back only minutes before dawn with a duffel bag full of smaller, red-filled plastic bags. Caroline is out over three thousand dollars, but she’s lucked out. All of it is from her preferred prey, if the smell is any indication.

‘Lucked out’ being relative.

Caroline: Caroline praises Autumn’s success and sucks down the blood rapaciously, chasing away nightmares. It isn’t as good as Jocelyn. It isn’t even as good as Autumn or Aimee, but it is far better than the thin slop she’s subsisted on too many times. When each of the packs is long empty she smiles at the ghoul. “Thank you, Autumn.”

She brings her wrist to her mouth where her fangs still slow, lightly showing red, and makes two pinprick holes in it, before extending the wrist to Autumn.

“You earned it.”

GM: Autumn falls upon Caroline’s wrist just like that. All her earlier trepidation melts away as she blissfully sucks the Ventrue’s vitae, and then all-too reluctantly pulls herself from that blissful font. Her eyes shine in the afterglow. She whispers how much she cares about her domitor, how she’d do anything for her. How she’s so grateful Caroline isn’t mad at her for disobeying. How all she wants to do is help her.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates only so much of that praise before handing off her shopping list to the ghoul for that day, starting with another replacement phone. She instructs Autumn to pick up several given the way she keeps going through them. One of the benefits of Sunburst is that configuring and setting them up is as simple as plugging them into her computer at home and resyncing her data.

GM: Autumn looks somewhat hurt by the brush-off, but also equally eager to please while she’s still riding the “high.” The ghoul makes off with the shopping list to follow her domitor’s instructions. Once again, the house is left as dead and silent as its unliving occupant.

Weariness weighs heavily upon Caroline’s soul, and in short order, equally heavily upon her body. It’s similar to the sluggish feeling she got staying up late as a mortal, but far more acute, as if someone had injected her veins with sand. René Baristheaut’s hold over her life may be broken, but the sun will burn her flesh just as surely.

Nor will her Beast thirst any less ravenously.

Dawn comes—and it’s still a long night ahead.

Many, many long nights.

Caroline: She does rounds, checking in on Kelford, ensuring he’s still securely bound and blind. She looks in on Turner and Aimee. She wanders the shattered home, knowing deep in her core that her remaining nights in it are likely numbered.

Signs of violence from the last ten days are everywhere. The fitfully sleeping women. The absence of Caesar. The destroyed and missing furniture and electronics. The thick shades over her bedroom, which will once again lay empty tonight. Read carefully, there’s a story of a life defiled. For Caroline, it’s something else. It’s a life all but left behind, at last. Tomorrow is a new night with new challenges.

But she can’t deny that things have changed.


Caroline III, Chapter XI; Louis II, Chapter IV
René Baristheaut

“And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”
René Baristheaut

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Chica’s lime-green ‘84 Ford EXP Turbo Coupe pulls up by the curb to Lou’s office. Today, if the interior contents are any indication, she’s probably calling it Whoopty Whoop Yo’ Ass. There’s a body bag laid out on the floor by the back seat, along with a second, smaller, and noticeably bulging ruffle bag that Lou knows she stores many of her favorite instruments of violence within.

Chica waits for Lou to close the door, but not to buckle his seatbelt as she hits the accelerator and asks, “Whozza lick an’ where he at?”

Louis: Lou grunts as the muscle car’s acceleration slams him back into the seat. He looks at Chica, feeling the equal press of years.

“Got to pay a gas bill, Shatoya,” he answers meaningfully, then raises a finger to his lips.

GM: Chica grunts but doesn’t lift her foot. Her driving is usually okay on the days she takes her pills. Those days aren’t every day.

“Where to?”

Louis: Lou gives her an address, but it isn’t René’s, its Paola Quiñones’, who happens to Alejandra’s roommate and Lou’s friend but perhaps most importantly an ‘lineman’ at Entergy NOLA’s electric and natural gas utility provider.

The old PI then makes a sweep of the car, grunting and contorting in wince-worthy angles and sudden-swerve jostles.

GM: Lou plucks out the the tiny microphone hidden in the grills of the car’s front seat heater. Chica’s face contorts into a half-snarl, half-“not again” look of fatigued annoyance. This time, however, his former paramour keeps her mouth closed.

Louis: A less cynical or weary man might look smug. Lou, however, just frowns as the gut-wrenching worm of paranoia wriggles in his gut. He expertly places the well-concealed bug back, then speaks.

“But you didn’t come to hear about me begging for an extension on my utilities…”

GM: “God knows nobody’d give you one, th’ way you fuckin’ smell.”

Louis: Lou pauses for a moment, stung by his old paramour’s words but unable to protest. Alter all, he knows all too well how much truth hurts. Instead, he coughs, then rattles his briefcase pointedly.

“I got it, Chica. The con worked. I duped Ms. Silver Spoon that I found her sire even though I’ve turned up nothing. I rattled off an address in the French Quarter that’s undergoing renovation–and the best part is she can’t go investigate because of being forbidden by her bosses or something.”

He rattles the gator-skin compartment again, then adds, “Or well, that’s almost the best part. The best part is I scored. She gave me a drop, Chica.”

GM: For once Chica doesn’t say anything. She just stares ahead. Lou knows how she scored huge last month, something to do with the Baron’s people, and won’t have to worry about the Blood for months if she doesn’t do anything rash… which is never out of the question.

Lou still notes how pronounced her swallow is. The way her hands tighten around the steering wheel. How she shifts just so slightly in her seat.

Louis: The tells are all too familiar. The need. The emptiness. The thirst. He feels it too, after all. Keenly. More keenly in fact, as Lou’s last ‘dose’ was a while ago. A long while. Too long. There’s a reason why he didn’t bring out the vial. Didn’t and hasn’t flashed it. Multiple reasons.

Kindred aren’t the only ones who frenzy. Junkies comes in all stripes.

GM: “I’m stuffed t’ the gills, Lou,” Chica eventually replies.

She doesn’t turn to face him. Not because she wants to keep her attention on the road. This kind of avoidance is deliberate.

Louis: Lou’s own reply comes slowly, as if he has to reach deep into the bitter recesses of his gut and slowly, painfully drag it out of his mouth an into the painfully exposed air.

“I promised, Chica. I owe you.”

In this moment, there’s no pantomime for the electronic voyeur. The pain’s too real, too personal.

GM: The Green Machine’s tires screech as Chica pulls the car to an abrupt and all-too familiar stop. Lou jolts forward in his seat as the belt pulls taut against his chest. Chica doesn’t grit out the words so much as grind them out. She doesn’t turn to face Lou.

“Drink it now.”

Louis: Lou’s mouth goes dry. He mumbles something about how ‘he can’t’, but it’s barely audible or sensical over the unlocking click of the briefcase. The old man, whose face seems visibly older since he entered her car, stares at the woman, seeing at her naked heart and hunger and love, yes even love for the old pathetic man. But he can also sense the madness lingering at those emotions, the need that’s gnawing open her mind with the knowledge that the vitae is so close, so near, so available. Lou’s hand brushes against the vial. Not his real hand of course, but his prosthetic one. He doesn’t trust himself to get his skin so near to the substance again. Not now. Not when he’s promised. His hook clasps the vial. Its grip is neither sure nor steady, but it raises the vial and extends it to the bleach-haired woman with her manic, yet still so beautiful eyes of black Louisiana gold.

“I promised…” the man croaks. “…and we… keep our promises…”

He closes his bourbon-leaking eyes and half-moans, “Take it, Chica. Now. Please.”

GM: Those Louisiana-black gold eyes bulge wide and furious like cracked saucers as Lou draws out the vial in Chica’s presence. There’s a hunger there, a want, more desperate than any vampire’s. At least they can count on regular meals. The other ghoul’s pupils have actually dilated, her breath coming in ragged, faltering pants as she stares at Caroline’s bottled vitae. She’s not sweating, but only yet. If her eyes are Louisiana gold, it’s boiling and bubbling “gold” right now as they move between Lou’s hand and his face. Chica’s isn’t so visibly old as his, but right now, its lines seem to show every century that she’s lived.

Lou honestly can’t say whether she loves him or hates him in this moment.

Louis: Poison. The thought cuts through Lou’s mind like a cold, jagged scalpel. It’s poison. And he wants it. She wants it. Worse, they need it.

GM: “Fuckin’ blue blood vitae…” Chica hoarsely croaks.

Then without warning, she slams his head against the seat with one hand, yanks the vial out his hook with the other, pulls out the cork with her teeth, and spits it out.


Lou desperately fights back as Chica drives the vial towards his face.

Louis: Lou grunts, the impact and struggle smearing sweat and saliva on the dashboard.


This is what it does to them, makes them do to each other.


It’s why they keep leaving each other–and keep coming back together.


It’s what they want, what they hate, what they need.


GM: Lou drives his hook-hand into her stomach, cutting her off in mid-profanity-laden ranting. His other hand shoots out, grappling with Chica’s own all-too full hand. Clenched, sweaty fingers twist and awkwardly jostle. The vial slips out and plummets to the car’s floor like a falling star.

Shared horror flashes across the faces of both combatants.

With cat-like reflexes barely eclipsed by Lou’s own, Chica doesn’t catch the vial, but yanks Lou forward by his dishwater-hair, twists him around, and awkwardly slams the back of his head onto the car’s floor with a painful crack. The vial plunks against his face, Chica’s open hand trailing behind it like a catcher’s mitt. Caroline’s blood spills over Lou’s lips.

Louis: Or, would, if the old man were only an old man. But he’s not just old–he’s got one foot already firmly set in Hell. In an irony which no doubt draws the lament of angels and rueful mirth of fiends, Lou draws upon that same damned power from which he seeks to presently escape. He wills the fetid, dregs of false blood in his aged veins to quicken and flood his muscles and marrow with inhuman speed. He snags the vial from his cheek in the camera-flash instant before Chica’s hand smashes down. The vial flies outward, tumbling, and spinning. Lou tries to clasp it, crush it, and fling it into the mouth of his swearing, screaming ex-lover and fellow blood-junkie.

He tries. But supernatural swiftness means little when crushed to the ground in all-too cramped confines. It’s too little. Too late.

GM: Chica’s reflexes are too slow to react to Lou’s faster-than-human squirming and thrashing. But they don’t need to be, in the confined space. Her hand clamps down over Lou’s mouth—and the vial with it. He tastes the telltale junkie-sweat off her palms. The plastic of the vial. And something else hasn’t tasted for a very, very long time. That he swore he’d never taste again. Chica spits to the side and snarls, her Louisiana-gold eyes mad with rage and a denied junkie’s terrible want,

Fuck yo stupid oath.

Louis: The droplet of damned blood tastes like hell and hurts like heaven. It burns his throat like a falling star. One tiny God-damned droplet crashing into his heart, a meteorite catching on fire, violent and beautiful and terrible, somehow containing all the false joys, regrets, and hopes of a hundred million dreams, something you watch fall and make an asinine wish, like a kid pleading for a bicycle as he watches the whole world about to end. It makes a hell of a crater. It makes a hell of a man.

Lou cries, wretches, moans, and pisses himself in a minute of ecstasy, shame, rage, confusion, and enlightenment that lasts for three hours. His aged body lies crumpled in the front seat of Chica’s car like well-used, but ill-regarded trash. His soul and psyche, however, drift away like spider eggs scattered by the wind, settling and forming miniature webs across centuries and the wider chasms of the heart. His blood-stained lips gurgle and mouth words like a transcendent lush intoning incoherent, forbidden scripture:

“I was thinking about that dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me, and I wanted to see her again, close, without that damned staircase between us…”

He remembers the first time he kissed her. He never forgot, never could forget, but now, now he remembers. God, he remembers. It was at twilight under the evangeline oaks at the bayou. The sky was lavender and pink and streaked with fire along the horizon. She looked up into his face like an opening flower, and when his lips touched hers, she came against him, and he felt the heat in her sun-tanned body, and suddenly realized that he never had an idea what a kiss could be. She opened and closed her mouth slowly at first, then wider, changing the angle, her chin lifting, her lips dry and smooth, her face confident and serene, and loving. She let her hands slide down on his chest, and rested her head against his. He could hardly swallow, and the fireflies spun webs of red light amidst the black-green tangle of oak limbs overhead, and the sky from horizon to horizon was filled with the roar of cicadas.

He remembers the roar of flames, he feels their heat now, coursing through his old, broken body, his marrow smoldering. He tries to shed his clothes, writhing, on fire. God, on fire! The whole god-forsaken city is on fire! No bells, no bells, no bells, no bells, NO BELLS, NO BELLS, NO BELLS!!!!

He froths at the mouth, a red spray along his tongue, his own, and hers. He tastes her. Hot, red. So very, very red. “Et visum est aliud signum in cælo: et ecce draco magnus rufus habens capita septem et cornua decem et in capitibus suis septum diademata…”

Heaven is silent. No bells weep…

Just an old man defiled and broken.

He weeps.

He weeps for the Heavens.

He weeps for Hell.

He weeps for her.

Above all, he weeps for himself.

Slowly, painfully slowly, he unfurls like a war-torn flag, a blanch-white flag of surrender.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline waits and waits as the minutes of her brother’s life tick by. Wright calls her back when there’s five left.

“Donovan says you’re drivin’ to Perdido House. Black Chevrolet’s gonna be parked outside. You’ll get in.”

Caroline: A chill runs through her.

“You’re trading me.”

GM: There’s an effected snort.

“We do not fuckin’ negotiate with Tradition breakers. Sheriff’s gonna be pissed if you ain’t there in ten.”

Caroline: “I’ll be there.”

Caroline’s heeled feet are already descending the stairs from Lou’s office, the gumshoe having already since beat feet while she waited on the hound.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou is brought careening back down to earth by a slap across his face and three words all but shouted into his ear:


There’s a disgusted-sounding sniff.

“Pissed y’self like a goddamn baby.”

Louis: Lou’s only half present. At this point, he’s only half-dressed.

GM: There’s another slap across the other side of his face.

“You want me t’ change you too, or what?”

Louis: Lou finally registers the blow. Reflexively he tries to block it with his former boxing and sword hand, but it’s missing. For half a century, it’s been missing. His prosthetic arm dangles flaccidly, its harnessed jostled off during their scuffle and subsequent sanguineous catechisms.

“Rosa-” he begins but stops, looking down at his absent limb and mangled mechanical replacement.

He hauls himself awkwardly up, peeling himself away from his own filth and debasement like the rind of a rotten fruit.

GM: Chica looks at Lou for a long moment. It’s been even longer since she heard that name.

“Onea those trips, huh?”

Louis: He tries again, the blood in his mouth hot and pounding like a jackhammer hangover.


His eyes scan the streets, not in shame as much as slowly dawning remembrance. Coherence. Purpose.

“Help me up. I need… I just need a moment.”

His eyes cut meaningfully to the heater vent and the bug within it.

GM: Chica grunts and hefts Lou all the way up onto the driver’s seat, the previous site of their scuffle.

“I can kick yo ass, sure as hell can lift it up.”

Louis: The old man grunts, maybe even mumbles an apology to Chica. Yet, meanwhile, Lou expertly detaches the bug and hefts it carefully in his grasp. Then, the stained man half-stumbles out the car door.

“Just a moment.”

GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “Do NOT tell me you gonna hurl…”

Louis: Lou sits on the back of the lime-green muscle car, and lights up a cigarette, his eyes casually drinking in the street and its cars.

GM: The pair have left Lou’s office behind but are still in Mid-City. Car traffic is not so thick as it is in the CBD, but Lou can make out numerous vehicles on the road, their headlights flashing through night.

Louis: Fragments of tiny spiderwebs still float in his mind, tearing free of their old, ancient cellar corners.

The tragedy of life, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.

How many years ago had he heard that?

He takes a long drag to vainly calm his racehorse nerves and laughs bitterly. “Demasiado largo. Follando demasiado tiempo. Pero ella tenía razón. No en el camino que yo y ella pensamos. Pero ella tenía razón. Así que por todas las razones equivocadas…”

(“Too long. Fucking too long. But she was right. Not in the way I and she thought. But she was right. So right for all the wrong reasons…”)

Lou flicks the cigarette, watching it spin, bounce, and sputter into the gutter, just like so many of his dreams and former lives.

GM: Lou patiently waits for the next car to come along. It doesn’t take much waiting. He steps out into the center of the road, an indistinct phantom all-too difficult to notice at the best of times, and even harder in the middle of the night.

One moment, to a hapless driver, there’s nothing ahead of them but illuminated asphalt. Then there’s a man.

Headlights painfully flash in Lou’s eyes, momentarily blinding him. Absolute dark is encircled by absolute light that spills out to more dark, like an automotive-made halo. The car swerves, and Lou with it, his centuries-honed reflexes faster than any motorist’s control of their vehicle. The car pulls to a stop at the road’s side as a middle-aged African-American man wearing a blue dress shirt and yellow necktie steps out. He’s red in the face as he all but yells, “WHAT THE HELL, ASSHOLE!?”

Louis: Lou milks the ‘crash’. He rolls over the hood, letting his cursed half-dead flesh soak the little actual impact his inhuman reflexes choose not to evade. He rises from the asphalt, his shredded, half-ripped off and stained clothes and dangling hook creating an image that blurs the boundaries between pathetic, disgusting, and horrifying. Lou charges the man, spitting the blood from his bit tongue at the driver’s face and begins yelling back, rambling and ranting about nearly being killed, Chica’ car being struck, and other similarly falsely enraged accusations.

Still yelling, he throws a seemingly drunken punch only to accidentally miss, causing him to unintentionally stumble into the other man’s car, bashing his head and body against the consul and grill, his fist actually still expertly cradling the bug–which he attempts to cunningly plant.

GM: The man awkwardly jerks away and yells back in alarm at Lou’s awful visage, his flailing and seemingly ineffectual assault, or both. As the rancid PI’s bloodied head smacks against the dashboard, the man grabs Lou’s shoulders with the panicked, jerkish motions of someone who hasn’t had any formal combat training and shoves him onto the asphalt. He then all but flies back into his car, slams the door closed, and speeds off while yelling behind him, “I’LL SUE YOU FOR THIS, FUCKWAD!”

Lou’s only half-listening to the words. Now that he considers it, the man’s voice sounds a great deal like his own… that should leave whoever is listening on the device’s other end confused for a while longer.

Louis: A little while longer, the old man muses with a bitter hope and burning conviction.

Just a little while longer…

He scrapes himself up off the asphalt and falls into Chica’s car.

GM: Chica snorts at him.

Louis: “Moment’s passed. Let’s ride.”

GM: “Still got piss on yo leg. Fuckin’ baby.”

Louis: “And your hair still looks a polar bear’s ass. Crack ho.”

Lou gives her a smile. It’s bloodied and ugly, but all the more fierce.

GM: “An’ you’re the chewed-up fish I’ll shit out afta I beat yo wrinkly ass f’ the, oh, how many times is it now?”

Louis: “Not enough, Chica, not enough.”

GM: “Thas’ what your lovers say. Oh, wait. You don’t got any ‘cuz you’re a baby who pisses hisself an’ looks like polar bear shit.”

Louis: Lou laughs, and he surprises himself upon hearing the rising strength in it. Like a man coming awake after a long coma.

“Save some of that heat, Chica. I’ve got another white man’s ass for you to kick tonight.”

GM: “Yeah,” Chica says with another disdainful snort, “cuz yours is way too fuckin’ easy.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Caroline pulls outside of Perdido House. The black Chevrolet, a similar model to the Suburban provided by Blackwatch, is parked by the curb of the looming gargoyle-festooned skyscraper.

Caroline: She’s spent the breakneck drive giving instructions to Polk and firing off texts for Turner and Autumn, and slides the black leather bag she’s taken to throwing into her arranged transportation out of the back seat. She gives a last smile to the bodyguard. “Never boring at least?”

To the mercenary’s practiced eye it’s an act. A strong appearance put on to cover up weakness. Her employer is hurting, torn, conflicted.

GM: Polk just clenches her jaw and eyes the similar car. Meanwhile, its passenger door opens. A mirror-shaded man in a black suit and ear radio steps out and wordlessly holds it open for Caroline.

Caroline: She closes the door on Polk and the crisp sound of her heels snap and echo across the asphalt as she makes her way to the awaiting transportation. She extends a hand to the suited mirror of Polk.

“Check a lady’s back, will you?”

GM: “Get in,” the man orders, not taking Caroline’s hand.

Caroline: The pause gives her a moment to examine what awaits her inside the vehicle.

GM: The passenger seat is empty. There’s another suited ghoul occupying the driver’s. The pale, black-haired man sitting next to him does not wear a suit, but a sweater of the same color and dark gray slacks. A sword hangs from the back of his seat.

Caroline: Her temper flares, and her nerves, already worn thin stretch and tear even as her unbeating undead heart quickens in the presence of her regent. Only his presence spares the ghoul more than her withering gaze. She slides into the waiting seat.

GM: The car takes off as soon as Caroline and the suited ghoul get in. Donovan does not turn his head to look at her as he coolly intones,

“Inform me of everything you have learned pertaining to your sire and his activities since your previous night’s phone call to Hound Wright.”

Caroline: She hangs on each icy word like it’s the too-infrequent praise from her absent father, and takes a moment after he finishes speaking to realize it was a demand that requires a response. Then she starts speaking, remembering his response last time to deception. She speaks of the allies he’s courted, the ghouls he’s acquired, and his interest in her capture. She talks about his manipulation of the Eight-Nine-Six in the preceding nights against Caroline until they broke away from him, of the abduction of her ghoul and the plot to use her to capture Caroline. All the while she watches him, eyes shifting from the back of his headrest to the rear view mirror, waiting for some sign of his favor at the information.

GM: The black Chevrolet drives through the CBD’s clusters of skyscrapers, galleries and restaurants, passes through Canal Street’s wide thoroughfare, and continues on through the French Quarter’s low-rise posh hotels, bars, and tourist traps. The sheriff’s car stops a block away from a single-story red building unassuming but for the executioner’s axe hanging over the wooden front door.

Donovan does not turn from his seat to face Caroline throughout her exposition. He does not speak until she is finished.

“I have no further use for you. Leave.”

Caroline: Caroline, despite the lack of physical sensation, can’t help but have her skin crawl. Back in the Quarter again. Back where this nightmare began. She can almost feel the eyes staring at her from out in the street. It just feels wrong. Unwelcoming.

As does the entire situation. It’s too contrived, too easy. It screams trap.

“They’re going to expect this,” she chokes out to the sheriff, the concern for him too obvious in her voice. “It may even be what they want.”

Nonetheless, her hand moves to the door handle, and she starts to slip out.

GM: The sheriff offers no response to Caroline’s words as she exits the car. Once more, she stands naked and alone in the French Quarter’s dark streets.

In contrast to the teeming throngs that were present for Southern Decadence, however, the Vieux Carré feels next to barren of living souls on a late Tuesday night. No motion is evident past the black car’s tinted windows. Sickly green light from the nearby club spills over the Dungeon’s red, casting a ghoulish pallor over Caroline’s pale skin. Her shadow stretches long and uninterrupted across Toulouse Street’s asphalt.

She’s over ten minutes late for Westley.

Caroline: Caroline spares a glance towards “The Dungeon” and sets off away from it towards one of the Quarter’s many open bars, carrying the leather bag she brought with her in one hand. She needs to get off the street, where she feels so vulnerable.

GM: A lurid red neon sign winks out at Caroline from the dark. Saints and Sinners.

Caroline: Caroline flows towards the beacon like a star on a cloudy night.

GM: Leather and red velvet envelop Caroline like awaiting arms. Subdued lights glint from gold fixtures, a bare pittance next to the neon red that spills everywhere and bathes the already indistinct patrons in a sanguine sheen. A band blasts thumping music from the stage in tune to the audience’s writhing bodies.

Caroline: The scene near the stage is too self-indulgent and tacky, but Caroline is grateful for the crowd cover and picks up a drink at the bar before finding a table and digging out her phone.

GM: The bartender mixes up Caroline a “sinner”—Southern Comfort, Amaretto, house bourbon, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, sweet and sour.

“You don’t look like much of a saint,” the low-voiced man smirks as he slides it over.

Caroline: Caroline’s looks up from her phone, from which she’s just sent a text to Lou’s burner. Her gaze sweeps across the room seeking out other Kindred, or their thralls, before settling on the bartender. She’s not exactly dressed for this crowd, but she can make it work.

“Professional opinion?” she asks with a smirk.

GM: A new wave of red light spills over the man’s tattooed arms.

“I see enough to know.”

Caroline: The heiress crosses her legs and looks him over.

“I bet you do. And far more sinners than saints. Even if they walked in as the latter?”

GM: The bartender mixes up another drink and slides it off to a nearby patron.

“It takes a lifetime to be a saint and only one night to be a sinner.”

Caroline: “I’m sure you’d know all about that.”

GM: “You’re right. I do.”

Caroline: A smile as she nurses the drink and he makes another. Upon his return.

“So is this your typical crowd?”

GM: “Sometimes we have fuller nights than others. But the party never stops. Or the sins.”

Caroline: “I’m sure that suits you just fine.”

She looks down at her phone again. Another text goes out, this time to Polk. And another to Autumn.

GM: Polk texts back that she’s on her way.

Autumn confirms the message is received.

Caroline: Caroline casts another glance around the bar after sending off her last message as she locks the screen. Hostile. Uninviting. She feels like she’s back in that alley again with the Eight-Nine-Six. Twisting in the wind. Out of place. Unprepared.

There’s a twisting in her insides as she tries not to think on how much time has passed since Westley’s call.

How long he’s been in the hands of monsters.

How close at hand he is.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: Lou’s phone buzzes.

Louis: Lou bites back, or at least saves in reserve, whatever sardonic quip he had in store and looks at the phone to read the number.

GM: Caroline’s.

Louis: He motions for Chica to burn rubber, then flips open the phone, cradling it to his ear with his asphalt-scrapped hand.

GM: There’s two cross streets in the French Quarter. Right by the Dungeon, Lou notes. And five more words:

Sheriff went fishing with me.

Louis: Lou grunts. He had expected a phone call, not a text, and it takes the anachronistic man a brief moment to reorient himself to the device. He considers ignoring it, the worm inside his gut more than disquieted by her text appearing mere seconds after ditching the bug. But something else compels his fingers as they awkwardly, one-handedly type back his reply:

You catch anything?

Caroline: Worm on the hook. Sinners & Saints.

A moment later:

I’m afraid.

Louis: Lou curses. He eyes Chica, then the phone. He recalls the perfect arc of his flicked cigarette as it spun its last swan dance. Perfect until it smashed into the oil-slick concrete and iron gutter. His thumb hovers over the phone’s keys. He hesitates another moment only to eventually find himself texting again–against his better judgment:

Tell me what you need.

Caroline: No response is immediately forthcoming.

Then, after several minutes:

I don’t know.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Caroline: That tattered conscience tears at her like a dress caught in the wind, trying to pull her along or rip free entirely, and her hand shakes. She buries it in her lap to hide the tremor.

GM: The bar’s blood-red lights continue to pulsate, bathing the writhing patrons underneath their sanguine sheen. At the seat next to Caroline’s, a girl pushes her drink away and grogs something about not feeling well. A scarlet-faced man murmurs something, places his arm around her shoulder to guide her off, then fondles her breasts. The bartender absently polishes a glass and glances at Caroline’s untouched drink.

“Yours doesn’t have anything like that.”

Caroline: Her hand snakes out to the girl before she can slip out of arm’s reach. “Why don’t you stay with me for now?”

She should let it go. It’s not only none of her business, but it’s actively the opposite of what she needs right now. She flashes what she hopes a friendly smile to the girl.

GM: The man tugs back as Caroline tries to pull away the dazed-looking girl. “Hey, I’m her boyfriend.”

Caroline: “And I’m her roommate,” Caroline replies, locking eyes with him. “Don’t worry, sweetie, I’ll make sure she gets home safe.”

GM: The man laughs cruelly and flashes Caroline a crimson-painted sneer.

“There’s plenty more.”

He lets go and vanishes into the pulsating throng of bodies.

Caroline: “But not this one,” she growls after him as she slides the girl into the seat beside her and looks her over.

GM: The girl rubs her head and grogs something inarticulate. Her age is hard to make out under the dark crimson “light.” She could be anywhere from her teens to twenties. She’s wearing a tight-fitting, mid-thigh, strapless club dress whose indigo color (it looks more like black contrasted by the club’s deep red) matches her dyed wavy hair.

The bartender smirks at Caroline. “I see enough sinners to know one. I still don’t see any saints.”

Caroline: “Even the devil has standards,” she snaps back as reaches for the girl’s bag and digs out her ID.

GM: Riley Nielsen, born 1991, it dimly reads.

“He doesn’t, I’ve found, though he enjoys fooling himself,” the bartender answers with a shrug.

Caroline: Caroline focuses on the girl. “How are you doing, honey?” she asks, looking up, then glancing at her phone.

She texts out a short answer with one hand to Lou.

GM: “Uuuhhhhh…” is the girl’s only answer. She lays her arms down over the bar, and her head over her arms.

“But you know,” the bartender continues, “there’s one thing I’ve found that drives sinners to play saints. Guilt. Guilt over some sin so awful, that’s crossed so many lines, they feel they have no choice but to make up for it and become a saint. Or at least try.”

Caroline: Caroline flinches like he’s just punched her in the face.

GM: The scarlet-faced man smirks.

“I’m not really one for the ‘wise bartender’ stereotype. But I see so many sinners.”

Caroline: “I guess you see right through me,” Caroline all but sneers back.

“Or maybe I just don’t need to wear a mask. I know what I am.”

GM: “A sinner that knows what they are doesn’t pretend to be a saint.”

Caroline: She leans over the bar, voice just loud enough to be heard over the music and crowd.

“I’m a Catholic, darling. We’re all sinners. And we’re all doing the best we can.”

She leans back. “And among those bests, I think I can draw a hard line at ‘casually watching a girl get dragged off to get raped.’”

GM: The bartender doesn’t quite smirk at Caroline’s declaration, but his eyes glint against the bar’s scarlet light.

“Her ‘boyfriend’ was right. He’ll find someone else.”

His gaze lazily drifts towards the slumped-over girl.

“And someone else is going to find her, if she keeps going out like that. What have you accomplished besides making yourself feel like a saint for a moment, o sinner?”

Caroline: She clenches her teeth.

“I hate to break it to you, but disengaging and pretending there’s nothing you can do isn’t being a ‘sinner.’”

GM: “Hopefully for your friend you’ll still be around tomorrow. And the night after. And after.”

Caroline: “Were you always this bitter?”

GM: “Will you always be this… caring, I think, is the question.”

Caroline: She looks down at her ringing phone and unfamiliar number. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She slides the accept bar on the phone.


Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Meanwhile, Lou fills in Chica on his plan as they cruise across the French Quarter. The buzz of his phone interrupts his line of thought. He stares down at the text and frowns. He checks his mental rolodex on Caroline’s reported whereabouts, but it’s a poor hand: a pair of nines at best. Nothing to wager good money on, much less throw good money after bad.

But sometimes, all you can do is play the hand you’re dealt. Spotting a payphone, Lou motions for Chica to pull over. “Just a moment,” he says, then adds pointedly, “A shorter moment that doesn’t involve car-hopping or asphalt kissing.”

GM: “As if,” Chica snorts. The Green Machine still pulls over.

Louis: Lou steps out, bizarrely content at his visible disarray, and makes a collect call to Caroline’s number. As the operator begins to patch through the call, Lou scans the streets and surroundings for any suspiciously attentive cars or pedestrians.

GM: Lou can see none.

Can see none, the worm of paranoia wriggles.

Louis: Lou sucks his gums, the taste of blood and worse long replacing the rich bourbon that served as his breakfast. A few seconds later, after Caroline accepts the collect call from “A skeptical fisherman,” Lou leads with a question.

“Ms. Malveaux, any change in your situation?”

Caroline: Loud music can be heard in the background, the chatter of a crowd, the sound of glasses against a bar. The Ventrue’s voice cuts through.

“Would you believe my date just dumped me out on the street?”

Louis: Lou’s answer sounds more sad and bitter than sardonic. “He’s not your type.”

Caroline: She looks around the bar and eyes the bartender.

“Do you still have plans tonight?”

Louis: “You know what they said about plans.”

A minor pause, then, “But yes, provided my date doesn’t me up too. For all I know, he might hook up with old ones.”

“But for now,” he adds, “let’s focus on the now. I think you better do some bailing of your own.”

Caroline: “So I’m not invited to the party?”

Louis: “One thing at a time, angel.”

Lou’s next words come out fast, like an old stenographer banging out words with little thought, or at least indelible familiarity:

“I don’t know if you have a ride, but I wouldn’t advise leaving in the same one. If they’re fishing, it’s time to pull a bait and switch, or at least jump off the hook. You say you’re at the Saints and Sinners, ok, let’s work with that. The place is used by the CDC to incubate sexually transmitted diseases, which is why it’s a frequent hot spot for Detective Mouton. Given the date and time, there’s a good chance he’s there. Look around. If he’s there, you can’t miss him. Guy looks like a beanpole decided to grow limbs and get a lip job with all the world’s spare collagen.”

Caroline: “There’s a complication. I have a passenger.”

Louis: There’s only the slightest pause.

“So long as she’s a… civilian, that’s even better. If eyes are watching for you to run, they won’t be expecting a pair and police escort. But do you see him?”

Caroline: Her eyes sweep the room for his described detective.

GM: It’s hard to make out specific people through the crowd and under the scintillating red lights, but Ricky Mouton is hard to miss, resembling nothing so much as a beanpole that decided to grow limbs. His narrow head is only slightly widened by his black sideburns and ‘70s style coiffure. His puffy lips are pressed into a smile, as if life is a joke whose punchline he alone knows. Even the bar’s pulsating red lights can’t hide the almost iridescent sheen that his contagious sleaze lends to his tan skin. His clothes consist of a ballooning yellow silk leisure shirt, a long white leather coat, bell-bottom dress slacks, and brown crocodile wingtips. All things told, the man looks like he’d have a pretty hard time with the ladies, which might explain the falsely eager expression of the scantily-attired woman he’s talking to. His hand is reaching underneath their shared table to stroke an exposed thigh her tight club dress doesn’t cover.

Louis: “Well?” Lou asks, readjusting his prosthetic hook.

Caroline: “Slimeball. I see him.”

Louis: “Yep, Detective Mouton makes slugs seem dry as a drunk in a twelve-week rehab. Anyways, that slimeball you see might be your ticket. You see, the boys in blue and those they bust refer to Ricky Mouton as ‘Cash Money.’ Despite what his badge might say, Ricky there worships the almighty dollar.”

Caroline: Despite. Caroline bites back a laugh.

“What’s the approach? Dangle the hook? Blunt or subtle?”

Louis: “Blunt. Give cash, promise more. Make sure you stiff-arm any attempts at sleaze. Ricky’s learned not to lose meal tickets by disrespecting big shots, so make sure he knows you’re a big shot. Say you and your friend need a discrete ride home right away. Have him put whatever ridiculous jacket he’s wearing over your head, handcuff the other one, and lead you both out the back. If he needs any more incentive, claim you can make his current Internal Affairs investigation go away. I have no clue if he actually has one right now, but a guy like him is always flirting with at least five. And that’s being generous.”

Another pause. “He gives you anymore flack with those fat lips, tell him you’re going to make a call to Sal’s wife, Gina. Then tell him, ‘If the dragon ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.’ But don’t use those last two cards unless you have to, since they’re mostly paper tigers.”

Caroline: “Is he read in?”

Louis: “He’s not drinking the juice, if that’s what you mean. Not last I checked. But you don’t need poison to make a dirty rat stink. He’s on more pads than most Ninth Ward prostitutes, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the local red-tabbers bribe him to run errands for them. That’s the ugly beauty of Mouton, he serves the higher bidder. So if they have him on a money leash, just bid more to make a tighter leash.”

“Your call. If you want, I can call some cleaner cops to pick you up. But that will take time. And frankly, Ms. Malveaux, I don’t know how much you have.”

Caroline: “Out the back is dangerous.”

Louis: “Front door, then,” Lou replies, nodding to an increasingly impatient Chica who sits in the idling EXP Turbo. “You want me to call someone else?”

Caroline: “No. I’ll reach you when I break clear.”

Louis: “Please do. And Ms. Malveaux, try to not to die. Again.”

Caroline: Caroline ends the call on that morbid topic.

“Trying, old man,” she grumbles to herself.

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Caroline: Caroline shifts her attention to ‘Cash Money.’ She lets the Beast slip a blood-soaked appendage out of the cage, just a bit, a hook, to reel the detective in with rather than abandon her charity case at the bar. Besides, it’s not like she’s going to walk over and compete for attention with his chosen tramp.

GM: Cash Money’s beanpole-like face immediately looks up from the woman whose crotch he’s moved on to fingering. The sleazy, self-contented smirk is gone from his face. Bereft of it, there doesn’t seem to be much of anything left.

“That’s very touching you aren’t leaving her behind like you left your brother, you sickening hypocrite,” the bartender answers with a lazy smirk that all but drips venom.

He’s a lean man. Slightly taller than average for a man. Around the same height as her in tall shoes. Not exceptionally muscled. No excess body fat though. Lean and languid. Ink tattoos, their patterns indistinct in the dark, coil up his arms like incestuously knotted snakes. He’s dressed casually in a short-sleeved navy polo shirt, black belt, and dark slacks.

His face is long and high-cheekboned, just slightly darker than Caroline’s. It’s faded to a healthy tan, yet a century of undeath has simultaneously bleached it pale and left it seemingly neither alive nor dead—the struggle of Man and Beast writ across the contours of his face.

His eyes, perhaps a clear gray outside of Saints & Sinners, seem to drink in the bar’s pulsating, blood-red lights with the same thirst that has claimed God only knows how many lives—one of the bar’s present occupants among them. They glow an angry crimson, promising a damnation more real and immediate than Uncle Orson ever could. There’s a wildness dancing through those eyes in tune to the bar’s teeming throngs. It’s a mixture of cruelty, amusement, lust, madness, bitterness, and melancholy. His crooked smirk promises equal parts mirth and mockery, gallantry and monstrosity.

“Are you still lost, little lamb?”

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress slide her gaze back to the bartender, all the while keeping her Beast focused on Cash Money. Drawing him in.

“I’m sorry, am I supposed to be surprised?”

She digs something out of her bag with one hand. She doesn’t quite meet his eyes.

“The too-insightful bartender picking a fight with his patron? A little obvious, don’t you think?”

GM: A smirk traces her sire’s red-painted lips.

“Release Cash Money.”

The redbone cop all-too eagerly returns to his impatient tramp as her Beast dies.

Caroline: “What do you want?”

GM: René strides outside the bar.

“Follow me upstairs. Take your friend with you.”

Caroline: Caroline feels her body moving at his command.

“Why are you doing this? Why do you even care, pops?” she demands. She’s waited what feels like years to throw that word in his face.

GM: The two vampires depart the throngs of teeming revelers. René proceeds towards a back door, smirks and holds it open for Caroline, as if to say ‘ladies first.’

Caroline: She unwillingly continues on, the drugged girl leaning heavily on her shoulder.

“Why are we going upstairs?” she growls. “Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”

GM: René closes the door behind Caroline and follows her up the building’s stairs. The blaring music and dancing crowd fades to an increasingly low din with every step the pair climb.

They reach the top, and Caroline’s sire pauses to get the door for her again. It leads past a short halfway into an almost ordinary-looking office space: desk with computer and printer, swivel chair, and couch that a motionlesss woman in business casual is slumped over.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t wait for the command. She walks in.

GM: René pulls the woman off with neither brusqueness nor gentleness and lays her on the floor. He motions to the now-unoccupied seat. “Do sit down, Caroline.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth as she slides into the seat. “Why thank you.”

She drags the girl down beside her.

GM: The barely conscious woman groans and lolls against Caroline’s shoulder. René, meanwhile, pulls out the chair from behind the desk and sits down, facing Caroline.

“Your brother said all the usual things you’d expect from someone in his situation. I won’t bother repeating them. But there was one thing that stood out to me. He thought you ‘understood’ him where no one else in your family did, except for your mother.”

Caroline: Her face twists between fury and grief.

“Fuck you.”

GM: “That you were one of the only two who actually loved him.”

Caroline: “I’m going to… I’m going to kill you. I swear to god.”

GM: René offers a mirthless laugh. “Robert already beat you to the punch there by a hundred years. Still, I was surprised by what your brother had to say. I hadn’t been expecting you to actually stride into the Dungeon, before I kidnapped him, but the way he went on…”

Caroline: There’s anguish written across her face.

GM: “I’m not one to relish pain to the same extent that others there do. But there is a certain… beauty to such moments.”

Caroline:WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS!?” she all but screams in his face. All pretense of pride and composure is gone beneath a mask of rage, hate, and grief, a boiling pot of mixed emotions fit to be called gumbo.

GM: Amusement glitters in René’s wild, now clear-gray eyes.

“All masks, all deceptions, all the little white lies people tell themselves… they fall away like snowflakes when someone is staring death in the eye. When they know, truly know, that their time on God’s earth is about to run out. There’s no longer any point in keeping up the lies, and that’s when you see what a man is made of. What ideals he cherishes. What people he loves. Who he truly is, underneath it all. I relish those moments, Caroline.”

“It was your name Westley screamed past all the blood. Yours and your mother’s.”

Caroline: Her fingers dig into the sofa, and there’s a sound of tearing fabric as Caroline’s teeth grind together. Her eyes well with crimson and the deluge opens up, scarlet raindrops rolling down her cheeks. The creature inside her lashes out screaming, trying to break free, and she holds on only in her grief, clinging to it, cling to her own pain. Refusing to let the Beast have its way. It’s her suffering. She isn’t going to hide behind a rabid animal.

“Is he dead?” she chokes out.

GM: Her sire throws back his head and laughs.

“That’s a child’s fantasy. No, you made your choice for poor Westley. It’s not the one he would have made for you if his last words were any indication.”

“You’d know better than me, though. Was he really that selfless, or just desperate for whatever scraps of affection someone in your family tossed his way?”

Caroline: “What did you do to him?”

GM: “Enough that he was begging to die rather than live by the the end.”

Caroline: “I HATE YOU!” she snarls, blood dripping from her face. “WHY!? WHY ARE YOU DOING ALL OF THIS?!”

GM: “Why didn’t you do anything for your brother?” René poses. “Do you enjoy this life, enough for it to be worth more than his? Or are you simply afraid to die and go somewhere even worse?”

Caroline: A crack appears in her enraged mask, but only for a moment.

“You wouldn’t have let him go.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sure that’s easy to believe, Caroline. Or at least something you’d like to believe. Lets you wash your wash of him, keep your conscience clean. But wouldn’t the alternative be so much worse?”

Caroline: “They’ll catch you. Eventually.” She shakes her head. “Regardless of what you do to me. They’ll catch you. And you’ll burn with me.”

GM: Her sire gives another bleak laugh. “We’re all going to burn. Maybe in two weeks, maybe in a hundred years, maybe in a thousand. But unless you don’t believe in God, there’s going to be a final reckoning for all of us. Immortality is a lie.”

Caroline: “You know I believe in God.”

GM: “Then you know it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Caroline: “Then I’ll take cold comfort in the fact that I’ll see you in Hell.”

If Caroline were alive at this point, she might be sobbing. She might be spraying snot everywhere. Instead there’s only blood rolling down her face. Rivers of blood.

GM: “A very cold comfort, if Dante was right,” René smiles. “Betrayers to family, after all, are condemned to the second ring of the ninth circle of hell. It’s quite a chilly place.”

Caroline: “Why? Why do this? Isn’t this existence awful enough? How could you do this to someone? Why me?”

GM: “You know,” René blithely continues, “to a casual reader, how Dante assigned sins to hells appears completely arbitrary. But there’s actually a very precise order to it. The cardinal of all virtues to Dante, you see, was love.”

Caroline: “Did you just want to destroy someone? Ruin their lives and everything they ever touched? Everyone?”

GM: “The hells are ranked according to the degree by which they are removed from love. So lust occupies the uppermost circle—Limbo notwithstanding—as it’s simply ‘misguided’ love. While Cocytus occupies the lowest circle for reasons you’re far more personally acquainted with than I am. Because traitors twist love, use it to hurt those who loved them, and consequently reject it to the greatest degree.”

René smiles and traces one of the faded ink tattoos over his arms. “Semper fidelis. I’m sure you know the saying, one of your ghouls is a former Marine.”

Caroline: “Congratulations. You succeed. You ruined me,” she spits. “You fucking coward.”

She focuses on her rage. Her hate. On anything to avoid thinking about Westley’s last moments. On what he must have gone though. What he must have thought.

GM: “Also a far less grave sin, if Dante was right. But we’ve strayed from the subject, Caroline. Do you actually enjoy this life, or are you simply afraid to face what comes next?”

Caroline: “What does it matter? What do you care?”

GM: “I suppose it doesn’t, in the end. We’re both going to burn.” He smiles. “Or freeze.”

Caroline: “Do you just want some other way to torture me, René? Looking for your next dagger?”

GM: “No, I’m sure your brother’s fate wounded you more deeply than anything I can say here.”

Caroline: “You’re a monster.”

GM: “The retort to that is rather obvious, isn’t it? On the other hand, I’ve never left any of my brothers behind to die.”

Caroline: “If I thought, for a moment, that I could save him I’d have been there.”

GM: “Mmm. You could have tried to negotiate with me. You can’t ever replace a brother, true, but it’ll take my entire Requiem twice over to replace Kelford. He’d have been quite an asset to bargain with.”

Caroline: “This would be the part where I’d taunt you about him, but I’m not a fucking monster like you. He cared about you. Loved you. For a century.

GM: “No, just someone who abandoned her own flesh and blood when he needed her most. And please, if you’re mistaking the blood bond for love, it’s as close to that as we are to being human.”

Caroline: “He said he was worried about you. How you’d become so self-loathing.”

GM: “Well, perhaps if he’s lucky he’ll get to roast in one of the upper hells.”

Caroline: “You still haven’t answered my question.”

GM: “And what’s that question, why I did this to you? Why anyone could possibly be so cruel as to inflict this monstrous parody of an existence upon any living, thinking, feeling being, no matter what their crimes?”

Caroline: She says nothing, only stares at him. The tears have stopped, for now, but the blood remains, awful rivers charted down her porcelain face.

After a moment, “And why bring Westley into it. Why did you care about capturing me? What’s the point of this?”

GM: René leans back in his chair.

“Well, I’ll say this much to begin with, it wasn’t out of some misguided religious zeal. If you ask me, which you have, I think the Sanctified’s entire dogma is a load of claptrap. Not that God cursed us, or that we’re monsters, but that He’d actually trust creatures as flawed and broken as us to do His work. We simply aren’t very good tools. How many of our kind really only prey upon sinners? How many innocents have you murdered in all of two weeks?”

Caroline: Her face hardens.


GM: “That’s leaving out poor Westley, but congratulations, you’re walking proof the Sanctified are deluding themselves.”

Caroline: “They would disagree.”

GM: “Oh yes, and they’d punish me for speaking blasphemy too, but that’s among the least of my sins.”

“That wasn’t an ‘I disagree,’ though. You haven’t bought into their little fantasy that our existence has purpose, have you?”

Caroline: “I don’t know. I’ve been too preoccupied to bury myself in dogma. I do know that my… victim,” the word does not come out easily, “wasn’t what they would describe as an innocent though.”

GM: “Did they deserve death, then? Were you a righteous wolf of God, dispensing His judgment upon a wayward sinner?”

Caroline: “I was starving and in agony, and completely out of control. Is that God acting through me?”

The words sound hollow even to her.

“It doesn’t really matter, does it? Not right now. Not to either of us. Either you’ll kill me or they will. Either I’ll kill you or they will. Either way, I’m not sure it’s a productive topic for contemplation in our final hours.”

GM: “If you ascribe to the idea that God is present in or simply acts through the Beast, how do you explain the Sanctified being perfectly willing to frenzy at the people Longinus says not to kill? Wave vitae in front of a starving Kindred and they’ll lose control, God’s will be damned.”

Caroline: “You want a firm answer? I don’t think God would let us exist without some purpose. Maybe though if you’d hung around instead of leaving me I wouldn’t have ended up with what you consider the wrong crowd.”

GM: “Oh, I could care less which of the covenants’ drivel you fill your ears with, I’m probably going to kill you in a few minutes.”

Caroline: “Then tell me why in the hell you did it in the first place!” The anger is back.

GM: René sits down on the couch across from Caroline and lifts up her chin with a slender hand. His eyes travel the length of her face.

“You’re beautiful, you know. I’m sure you do. Death becomes you.”

Caroline: “As beautiful as a corpse when a mortician is done with it.”

GM: “Yes. But those last only so long before crumbling apart. Besides. Even dead, there’s a life to you no mortician’s hand could impart.”

Caroline: “Why did you have to drag my family into it? Why couldn’t you just ruin me? Kill me? Embrace me? Whatever the hell you wanted. Why ever you wanted?”

GM: René hasn’t removed his hand from Caroline, continuing to study the contours of her face.

“Well, Westley was to get you here. Which it still did, I might add. Donovan will be just at home as you in Hell’s lowest circle. I think the temperature rather becomes him already.”

Caroline: “What are you talking about?”

But she already knows. Or at least suspects.

“Either he set me up, or you used me to set him up. Or both.”

GM: René smirks and finally withdraws his hand.

“Yes, those things do get to be a rather incestuous mess where our kind are concerned. Plots within plots crossbred with other plots. You ask me, the whole thing is worth swearing off, but I suppose it’s inevitable you’ll get pulled back in too. Such is the Jyhad.”

Caroline: “The what?”

GM: “The Jyhad. The Great Game, the Eternal Struggle, the Danse Macabre, or whatever sobriquet you want to call it by. I think ‘petty bickering’ is the most fitting, but what else are our kind supposed to do with eternity if we can’t bicker?”

René offers a sallow parody of a smile.

“Let it not be said I haven’t taught my childe anything.”

Caroline: “Are you done gloating, then? Going to leave me as you found me? In the dark.”

GM: “Mmm. Tell you what, Caroline, when you’re a moment away from being ashes, I’ll whisper it in your ear. But if things don’t turn out that way, well, I am petty enough to think it’s amusing if you never find out.”

Caroline: “So, what are we waiting for then, dad. Having trouble getting it up?”

GM: “If you’d like, I can try my hand on your friend and see.”

René smiles as he glances towards the slumped-over girl on the couch.

Caroline: Caroline’s mouth slams shut.

GM: Her sire laughs.

“Pick her up.”

Caroline: She mechanically complies.

GM: René walks behind the room’s desk, strips off his shirt, and pulls on a long-sleeved white dress shirt and casual dark outer jacket. He smiles back at Caroline.

Caroline: “Leave her the fuck alone!”

GM: “Robert always thought I was something of a clotheshorse. Said a Toreador probably would’ve Embraced me if he hadn’t. But depending on how things turn out, well, I may as well meet my end well-dressed.”

Caroline: She grinds her teeth.

GM: René picks up a cane and pulls out the handle, revealing a slender blade. He turns it over, puts it back, and hooks the cane to his belt.

“Always check your weapons.”

He then picks up a wooden stake and looks it over in turn.

Caroline: She can do little but watch.

GM: “It’s time for us to go. In…” He glances down at his watch. “Three, two, one…”

The office’s door explodes open.

An eyeblink passes. René is crouched over a body on the floor. There’s two more bodies, suited men wearing mirrored shades, missing their heads. Caroline spots them several feet away. Blood leaks from their amputated necks. More blood is spattered over the couch and desk.

René pulls away. The corpse on the ground is Donovan, with a stake in his chest. Caroline’s sire looks up. There’s several more figures past the doorway. Dark men, with darker smiles. Blades in their hands. Kindred.

René nods at them. “Well done. He’s all Savoy’s.”

“Now, my childe and I have somewhere to be.”

Caroline: “Donovan!” Caroline croaks out. “Who are they? What did you do?”

GM: One of the beshadowed men offers René a dead smile.

“May the Ghede continue to bless you.”

“Yes, I’m sure they will. Caroline, follow.”

Caroline: She robotically follows after her sire, drugged woman in hand.

GM: “And please, you know he wouldn’t be crying over you.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down as she goes. Care about her or not, Donovan was her last hope here. Her last real hope.

After all, what’s a washed-up, one-handed old bum going to do?

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

Louis: Lou’s barely stepped off the curb when his pink bedazzled burned lights up. Lou curses, but flips open the phone. What he hears, however, causes him to curse a lot more. Silently, but no less furiously.

GM: Chica rolls her eyes. “You havin’ a fight wit’ your boyfriend over that?”

Louis: In a flurry of movements that would ordinarily seem impossible for the decrepit drunk, Lou mutes his phone, jams it against his ear, races to Chica’s car, barreling his torso through the rolled down driver’s side window, and explains the situation as he steals enough coinage to make a single call from the payphone. A preternaturally short time later, Lou’s punching in a number he hadn’t expected to call. Not tonight at least.

GM: “Who the fuck izzis?” snaps a man’s voice.

It’s the last thing he says. Lou has to check to make sure he’s not been disconnected. Wright’s kind, after all, don’t breathe.

Louis: The PI doesn’t answer, not with his own words. Not yet at least. He turns the phone, angling it and increasing its volume so that the hound can hear Caroline explain in her own all-too raw words:

“Why are we going upstairs? Is this where you explain what’s going on? Why you FUCKING did this to me? Or are you just going to kill me. Again.”

Lou lets the clandestine, if makeshift conference call continue for just long enough so he’s sure Wright understands the situation–or at least the players involved. Lou then cuts in, supplying another key piece of information: the setting. “Upper floor, Saints and Sinners.”

He listens for a response.

GM: None is forthcoming.

Louis: By the time René laughs and explains how Robert already beat Caroline “to the punch there by a hundred years” and explains kidnapping and torturing her brother in the Dungeon, Lou cuts in a second time.

“Either piss or get off the pot. The party line’s about to die.”

GM: There is still no response.

Louis: Lou no longer waits for one. He hangs up.

GM: Chica waits impatiently from the Green Machine.

Louis: She doesn’t have to wait long. Lou all but leaps into the car.

“Drive, Chica, drive like the motherfucker of all fucking bleeding periods is about to hit.”

Wednesday night, 16 September 2015, AM

GM: The two vampires proceed down the stairs. The music’s pounding and crowd’s roar washes back over them. René does not leave through the bar’s entrance, but takes a back door out, methodically scanning his surroundings with the same careful look Caroline has seen Turner wear.

Caroline: “You’re making a play. For who?”

GM: “Myself. I’ve debts to pay. The sheriff more than pays them back.”

“Oh, now let’s take care of how he found us.”

René reaches into Caroline’s purse and smashes her phone against the building’s outside wall. He drops the ruined device into a trash bin.

Caroline: She glowers behind a crimson-stained face.

GM: Her sire tsks. “I’m sure you can afford another. Did you even check to see if that thing was being used as a listening device?”

Caroline: “I’d rather hoped it was.”

GM: René looks up at the waiting cab. He gets in, followed by Caroline and the all-but unconscious girl she’s dragging along. The driver gapes at Caroline’s bloody face, only for René to curtly order him to drive them to a Rampart Street address. The man instantly settles down and complies. The French Quarter’s dark cityscape speeds past.

Caroline: “Who’s your actual target, René? You used me to draw out the sheriff. Used the Setites to take him down. Used Savoy… and still are. You came back here for a reason.” Caroline’s mind is working, her emotions pushed back.

GM: René methodically continues to scan the surrounding streets, his eyes not meeting Caroline’s.

“Well, I’m getting the hell out now. God knows I’m not going to be welcome after staking the sheriff.”

Caroline: She reads off a street sign as she passes, then another, quietly, trying to make sense of their destination. “So where are you going?”

GM: “Anywhere but here, really. Maybe Los Angeles. I’ve always liked the sun.”

Caroline: She snorts darkly in spite of herself.

“Do it in the city. Please.”

GM: René’s eyes are still fixed on the surrounding streets.

“What? Oh, of course, it’s a needless loose end hauling you across the country. Travel is hard enough with just one Kindred.”

“Word of advice, if you ever do. It’s about as dangerous for us now as it was for the kine a thousand years ago. Weeds out the weak and insincere, though. Only the strong and committed make it in the dark places between cities. Where no prince rules.”

Caroline: “Seems pretty unlikely right now. But I know what happens when we die again. I’d rather not have my ashes scattered all over some swamp.”

GM: “Would you like them in an urn? I can have it sent to your family.”

Caroline: She gives another snort. “What a mystery this is going to be. The stories they’ll tell.”

The weight of it all comes crashing down on her, and she’s grateful she’s facing away, out the window, where he can’t see her tears.

“The missing Malveaux.”

GM: “The missing Malveauxes,” her sire corrects.

Caroline: She has nothing further to say to that.

GM: On the west side of the French Quarter is Rampart Street, favored by the Kindred because of its easy prey. A divided, two-lane road, the sorry section of the French Quarter is known for the prostitutes, pushers and junkies who regularly hang out there. It’s the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off to.

Caroline: “Never thought I’d end up in a gutter.”

GM: “You’d be surprised at the places this existence can take you.”

Caroline:Oh, the Places You’ll Go? I hated that book.”

GM: René only gives her a blank look.

Caroline: “Really? You… of course not.”

GM: The cab stops outside a run-down apartment complex marred by graffiti, peeling paint, and crusty-haired gutter punks sleeping in the streets. René orders Caroline to wipe her face and then tells the driver how he ferried some perfectly ordinary passengers from Point A to Point B. The driver nods calmly along at René’s words. He even pays the man as he gets out with Caroline and their all-but unconscious third wheel.

“It’s little touches like that, you know, to maintain the Masquerade. I don’t imagine you’ve had anyone to teach you.”

Caroline: She does the best she can, using the car window as a mirror as René deals with the driver.

“No. I didn’t. I got to pay in blood for all of my mistakes. Too often not my own.”

GM: “The Lasombra believe in survival of the fittest. Facing trials by fire. Maybe there’s something to that if you managed to eliminate my elder ghoul.”

Caroline: “That was a nasty touch, shooting at me right after Eight-Nine-Six attacked.”

GM: The two make their way up the apartment’s stairs.

“Yes, I’m sure it was. And now they’re being executed for violating the Masquerade, while you are blameless.”

Caroline: She frowns but says nothing.

GM: The pair proceed down a filthy, debris-strewn hallway lined with doors that aren’t numbered. Black mold grows on the peeling walls. The place has barely been maintained. Caroline can hear something, though, past the door of the unit René approaches. Heartbeats. Pumping that precious blood through veins.

René abruptly turns and retreats back down the hall, motioning for Caroline to follow. His hand clasps the hilt of his swordcane.

Caroline: “Things suddenly not going according to plan?” she asks.

GM: “Be quiet,” her sire hisses in a low voice. The two begin to make their way back down the stairs.

Caroline: She can do little besides comply, but a hint of a smile rolls across her face.

GM: “Attack anyone who assaults me,” René whispers. He produces a hand knife and extends it towards Caroline.

Caroline: She makes no move to take the knife.

GM: “Take it,” he impatiently orders.

Caroline: Reluctantly she does so. Or at least, with mental reluctance. Physically her actions remain on autopilot.

GM: The two vampires make their way down to the building’s equally dilapidated ground story. René approaches the front door. He pauses for a fraction of a second, clearly listening, and then pulls it open with his sword drawn.

Louis: The door slowly opens to reveal the inviting darkness of night. But a man stands in their way. He’s dressed in the gray-bland service uniform of Entergy Gas and Electric Utilities. He’s old. He hefts a gator-skinny briefcase to his chest and asks with a grim grin,

“Excuse me, sir, but do you have time to hear about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”

He doesn’t wait for the answer, though, just flips open the briefcase to one-handedly grip a pistol-handed sawed-off shotgun which he promptly points at René.

GM: Revulsion twists René’s face at the crucifix around Lou’s neck. He doesn’t so much as pause before running the old man’s belly through with his sword in a barely visible blur.

But the motion is suddenly arrested as if by an invisible barrier. The blade swings, jerkingly, as René stumbles in place.

Caroline: The woman that pokes her head out of a door from which René backed away is is dressed in a conservative business suit. The shotgun in her hand is not conservative, nor is the rifle strapped across her chest but hanging to her side. The shotgun belches flame at the sword-armed man.

Caroline unwillingly and mutely leaps at Polk, knife flashing at the talented bodyguard. It comes up woefully short.

GM: The dragonsbreath rounds explode into René, leaving burning holes in his chest and turning his black jacket into a funeral pyre. The burning monster lets loose in an unintelligible howl and blurs up the stairs, his blade moving too fast to follow. Screams and thudding footsteps sound from inside the apartment units.

Louis: Yet, before the inhumanly fast vampire so escapes, the old man also moves with inhuman grace or at least hellish power to aim and fire his own shotgun filled with dragonsbreath. The wooden cross around his neck swings, his heart beats, and his bourbon eyes soak in the screams and burning flesh.

Caroline: The knife against snakes out with inhuman quickness despite the frown and frustration plastered across Caroline’s face. Fortunately, for all her swiftness, Polk is better trained. It finds no purchase in the former Secret Service agent.

Louis: The same former secret service agent is suddenly yanked inside the room by Chica, who herself steps back inside the blood-smeared room, a sword-cane wickedly gleaming in her other hand.

“Come get yo white ass slapped like yo motha fucka daddy did!”

GM: Lou’s shotgun roars with all the fury of a true wyrm, belching a veritable column of fire at the staircase. René is gone the moment the hot shell casings eject, but the old hunter notes with some satisfaction how his preternaturally fast (and still-burning) prey shrieks and stumbles, then re-apparates in front of Polk. None of the combatants can even follow his sword’s motions. One moment, the former Secret Service agent is fending off her own employer. The next, she’s a ravaged bleeding mess, all but ready to topple over.

René bares his fangs, letting out a strangled scream that, for once, sounds more human than bestial. The other combatants can’t make out his motions. There are crashing sounds against the floor and walls, then suddenly his jacket’s roaring flames are extinguished, though his clothes themselves remain charred tatters. His eyes bulge, nearly mad with the effort to contain his Beast.

Caroline: The ex-Secret Service agent doesn’t need to look to know she’s been hurt badly. Warm blood runs across her skin and soaks through her white shirt. She snaps off another booming, red-hot round in the narrow confines of the building, the weapon smoking in her hand.

“Incoming,” Polk growls to Chica. “Multiple vehicles.”

Louis: Lou surreptitiously drops the shotgun in the bushes as the black vans pull up. His hale hand rests lightly on his sabre beneath his jumpsuit.

Caroline: Caroline leaps past her sire into the room after her employee. The knife’s reach is all wrong for her, or maybe her heart isn’t in it as she fights against her sire’s programming. Whatever the case, her woes continue.

GM: René barely dodges Polk’s shotgun blast, and the dragonsbreath rounds only leave further scorches across his already perforated torso. Caroline’s sire looks like nothing so much as a walking burn victim. His clothes hang off his blackened, bullet-chewed chest in tatters, and enough hair is incinerated that he’s almost bald. He shows far too many teeth as he stares at Caroline and snarls,

“Dominate everyone to kill each other.”

The older Ventrue abruptly vanishes in place as if he were never there. The building’s fire escape bursts open as if by a poltergeist.

Louis: Another ghost follows after him.

The old man pushes his body beyond its limits, the vitae in his veins bleeding away like Louisiana fog at noonday. His skin tightens, his gums withdraw, his hair whitens and thins, as he burns away his mantle of false sanguineous life. No mortal man could or should ever run so fast, so far. His scream tears from his own mouth, disappearing in the stream of sliced air in front of him. Driven by a drive and desperation honed by centuries, the old man overtakes the fleeing ancilla.

Then, there’s a bright flash of old steel, a glint in the darkness like a falling star.

GM: For the others, it happens too fast to process.

For two men, time slows to a crawl.

To them, Lou’s blade seems to hang suspended in the air, in defiance of gravity, of human limitations, of all the self-important laws of physics that are woefully incapable of describing reality as it truly is. The rest of the world stares on at them, frozen in place, a snapshot of eternity that could last for ten milliseconds or ten thousand years.

René Baristheaut stares back at the old man, who in this out-of-time instant has no need for the false names that are so transient.

There’s much that’s written on his face. Pain. Fury. Fear. The cardinal three, right now. And hate. Bitterness. Loss. Despair. Madness. Disdain. Mockery. Amusement—black, bitter, and howling with laughter at his own fate, at Lou’s, at Caroline’s, mocking and laughing at it all, because if he didn’t laugh, the only alternative would be to weep—and once René started, once he saw his race for what it truly was, he might not ever stop.

Lou knows. He’s seen Caine’s children for what they are.

The blade falls.

He knows them for what they are. Monsters. No matter how they try to coat it.

The blade falls.

Not all the excuses, not all the rationalizations, not all the mockery in the world can hide it from him.

The blade falls.

René stares back up at Lou’s face. Perhaps he seeks some sin, some failing, some vulnerability to mock. Perhaps he expects to see a pathetic drunk. He sees iron. He sees the implacable resolve of a man whose centuries-spanning existence has been sustained not by vitae, but by purpose, and one greater than he could ever know.

The blade falls.

Fueled by Caroline’s vitae, guided by Lou’s hand, and inspired by a righteousness no son of Caine could ever lay claim to, the falling sword descends upon René Baristheaut like a long-evaded divine judgment. His judgment.

The vampire screams as Lou’s remorseless blade sheers through his spine and flays open his back. Blood pours forth. Droplets of red scatter like a child’s flung marbles—each one stolen from some human being, some victim who, no matter their crimes, did not deserve to be fed upon like cattle by this monster.

The old man’s blade delivers their justice—and more.

Time, held frozen, speeds forward like a spun clock as René Baristheaut buckles to his knees. He reaches out a hand as if to rage, to plea, to protest—but his words would fall upon deaf ears. The vampire crashes to his face. Time’s halted march resumes in full force as the grizzled old hunter stares down at his defeated quarry.

Justice has been served.

Louis: Justice.

The old man turns his gaze up to the heavens. Unlike purgatory below, the dark heavens are soft and quiet. The white moonlight is cold and clear, like the justice men dream of but don’t find–save for rare nights like these.

He lets the pale moonlight bathe his face, mingling with his tears. His knees give out, bereft of vitae and overcome by emotions. He kneels against his ancient blade. Holding the cross to his lips, he prays. It is a silent prayer said for only the angels and God to hear.

But it is a short prayer, for purgatory is far from quiet and many devils run free. Justice may be served, but the law, both of the quick and the damned, is far from sated.


Law isn’t justice. It’s an imperfect mechanism. If one presses exactly the right buttons–and are oh so lucky–justice may show up in the answer.

The old man sighs. The cross falls to his neck, the blade is tossed back into his briefcase. He keeps his forensic glove on his hand, however, for the dirty work is not yet done. It’s never done, he thinks with a weariness to his brittle bones.

He fishes out Chica’s borrowed burner and texts Polk according to their plan, Fat Lady’s singing. He then unfolds the large duffel bag he retrieved from his case and shoves the torpid vampire into the bag.

Caroline: It’s like watching the wrath of Heaven descend. Through leaden limbs and iron bound orders she sees it happen, just peripherally, out of the corner of her eye. When dodging bullets she’d once thought she was fast. That she was nearly invincible. Faster than a speeding bullet. But Lou… the old man. The washed-up hack that smells of booze and crushed dreams. One minute he’s there feet from her, and the next René is on the ground in a heap of blood and flesh.

It’s over.

Whatever happens to her. Whether or not she survives this night and any other, at least there’s a closed loop. Justice? Maybe for Westley. Justice though is too sharp a word for her to touch. It’s a blade without a handle.

Vengeance is fullness of recompense, it’s satisfaction. And she’s not satisfied. She’ll never be able to take from René what he took from her. Her life. Her brother. Maybe her soul. There can be no accounting made of what’s been done. How can you repay in full what you can’t measure? What’s the price of a smile? The cost of a sunrise? The value of salvation?

And yet there’s something that stirs within her. That beats within her dead heart other than rage, and fear, and all too raw grief. Relief. A crushing, suffocating weight off her chest. In the smoke-filled, gunpowder-blasted, roaring-hot apartment she can breathe for the first time in weeks.

Louis: That breath, however, is soon stolen after Chica slams a broken cue-stick into her heart, causing the Ventrue to collapse like a string-cut marionette. Meanwhile, the mentally enslaved Polk shoots Chica–its bullet bloodily sinking a mere inch into the ghoul’s inhumanly tough breast. In retaliation, the black woman slaps the injured bodyguard with the flat of her sugarcane sword, literally beating the mind-control out of Polk’s skull.

“Cracker biatches, please,” Chica snorts. She turns to Polk. “Stick to the plan, which means clean up yo shit. This nigga ain’t yo mothafuckin’ maid.”

Lou’s text interrupts any further retort, as both woman rush to complete their and the PI’s earlier preparations. Doors fly open, bodies are hurled down a pre-arranged shute, and the gas utility van is loaded up with the duffel-bag staked Caroline while the apartment’s original inhabitants are less unconscious but unbound and safely on a nearby patio below. And then, like a domino tipped to create a chain reaction, Chica lobs a lit lighter across the balcony and bounces into the kitchen with its long gas-pumping oven. By the time Chica and Polk pick up Lou and his own duffel-bag body, the smoke from the violent but expertly crafted flash-gas explosion has vanished into the night.

GM: And so do they–or so they hope.

Black vans have by now surrounded the apartment complex. It’s a testament to Lou’s and the women’s skills that the process happens as fast as it does, like an assembly line in motion. They can smell the smoke as they leap into the white utility van, hit the accelerator, sand take off. Thudding feet, shouts of alarm, and screams of terror sound from behind them.

Two figures in the black Chevrolet don’t startle.

The first is the vehicle’s driver: a pale, clean-shaven man, with short, neatly combed black hair. He is dressed in a long-sleeved black polo shirt and navy slacks, and apart from the saber hanging by his seat, he would look like the host for a gallery opening or wine tasting… were it not for his eyes. They are the same sea-gray color as New Orleans’ troubled skies, and seem to pierce through to the very soul of whoever meets them.

Sitting next to him is the second figure, clad in a priest’s black habit. He is a slightly short, cadaverously thin man with limbs like a scarecrows, and skin so pale one would think he poured flour over it. His short, slicked-back hair is similarly white, and his eyes are an unhealthy reddish-pink. His nose is just a little large, his features just a little off: an albino. His head is bowed and his hands clasped in prayer.

“Baristheaut is in that van,” Father Malveaux rasps as he looks up.

The sheriff of New Orleans does not reply, but merely presses his foot down on the accelerator.

Meanwhile, a black Lincoln rounds the bend. The angel-faced, boyish-looking young man smiles to himself as he reaches the same conclusion.

The prince’s fugitive will be apprehended.