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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Thirteen, Genevieve II, Sterling II

“You make a good Conscience, Gen."
The Man With The Silver Smile

February—March 2013

Sterling: He gives her what she wants.

And gives, and gives, and gives.

Maybe she asks for more ridiculous things, more absurd privileges. The yacht? Easy. He wins it in a craps game with a capo. A pony? He’ll make sure to buy her a range to ride around. That rocket ship? It’ll be hard, but he knows a Kindred with ties to NASA. It’ll take a few years to get him in his pocket, naturally, but if she’s willing to wait…

Vacations, even. When she asks about what would happen if she ran away, he laughs.

And she never does. Not when she’s across the world with enough money to make a go of things, not when she’s out of his reach entirely, not when he all but gives her permission to abandon him.

Why doesn’t she leave?

Genevieve: That first time she’d boarded the plane she’d still thought it was a joke. That he’d somehow be waiting for her on the other side of the world, that he’d sent a tail, that her very body was lit up with some sort of tracking device that would call her back at any moment. She’d expected to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, and thrown into a dank basement somewhere.

But that didn’t happen. She’d had a marvelous vacation. Her thoughts were still with him, of course, even while she laid out on the beach, even while she ate chocolate croissants, even while she saw plays she didn’t understand the words to because they were in foreign languages. She found herself calling him from the phone he’d given her on day three, checking in to make sure that everything was okay. Two days later she was on a flight back, and he’d sent a car to pick her up from the Louis Armstrong International Airport. He’d asked how it went when she got home.

She told him the truth. That she’d missed him. She worried about him. She thought about what had happened to her before, the stories she had heard the other ghouls tell each other, and she’d realized that she had it good. There was no world in which her normal, boring, human life let her enjoy the comforts like this, with the amenities she asked for, the yacht, the parties, the money, the vacations. He never touched her, not like that, never bit off her finger and spat it at her, never gave her to his new packmates to practice reigning in the Beast. Really, he doesn’t ask for much.

She tells herself that if she leaves she’ll always be in hiding. She’ll be on the run, afraid, never sure of who she can trust, where she can sleep. She tells herself she stays to fix him, because she can make him a good person, show him what he’s doing is wrong.

She lies to herself.

Some deep part of her knows the truth: she enjoys it. The privilege. The admiration. She likes being looked at without disgust.

Sterling: The longer the leash, the more eagerly she comes back to her owner.

He’s endlessly amused by her attempts to fix him. Her tight, curt condemnations when they’re alone. He doesn’t punish her for them.

Occasionally, he even seems to listen.

There’s a lot to fix, too, as she comes to learn. He’s a mobster, or so tightly entwined with them as to make it hard to tell the difference. She accompanies him on his hunts a few times. It turns out he stalks gambling addicts at their support groups, isolates them, gives them lucky numbers—and when he gives somebody lucky numbers, they work. He says its about punishing hubris, about teaching them to be thankful for what they have. The few times they don’t give in to temptation, he leaves them be.

But that’s very, very rare.

He’s a moneylender, too. No, that’s the wrong word. A loan shark, more like. People come to him in his seedy gambling den, and they ask in quavering tones for ridiculous sums. They call him the Wizard, Mr. Oz, Mr. Goldilocks, because he always has a fix, always knows the numbers that are just right.

The other mobsters, the real ones high up, call him Smiles.

She sees him turn down pleading men desperate to start a business. When asked why, he’ll say their ideas were boring. The same night he’ll give a thug seed money for a drug buy, in return for points on the package, as long as he expands his territory somewhere interesting.

He runs a numbers racket. It’s his steadiest source of income, next to his frequent high-stakes gambling. He milks desperate people for their petty cash and brings in ten times what he pays out. Hope is a powerful drug, he says.

When people can’t pay him back, he does things to them. Rarely does he maim them. That’s too easy. Instead, he makes them sell their homes, their businesses. He entraps them further in a web of obligations. Occasionally, he adds them to his herd. Or he ghouls them. He goes through most of those ghouls quickly. He offers them as stakes in games with other vampires. Occasionally, he kills one himself.

He’s a monster, like he told her. But he likes that she tells him what she thinks of him, when they’re alone.

“You make a good Conscience, Gen,” he tells her. “I suppose I’ll have to start calling you Connie.”

And that is that.

He makes her responsible for his soul.

Genevieve: On the list of “terrible things my domitor has done,” calling her Connie doesn’t even make top fifty.

Still, she hates it. She’s pretty sure he only does it because he knows she hates it, too, and enjoys the way she flinches, purses her lips, or otherwise makes some tiny annoyed sign with her face. It’s usually all the reaction people get out of her these days, especially when she’s around anyone but him. With him the mask comes down. Sometimes she even smiles.

She’s not smiling the day he killed the man. She’d been there. Watching. Told him not to, even, not that he had listened. She doesn’t even remember why he did that first time. Something about defaulting on a loan, no collateral, not even fun to ruin. Does it matter? She’d watched. It was… awful.

Like being back with the wild bunch of mongrels all over again. She’d told him that, too, when they were alone. That he’s no better than the dogs in the Sabbat if that’s what he’s going to do.

It hadn’t landed well.

Sterling: No. Normally he laughs, or affects a wounded stare at her criticisms. But when she compares him to his cousin, to her old tormentor, she sees it for a moment, in his eyes.

The hurt.

Genevieve: There’s a moment where she thinks she should back down. Where she should apologize, tell him that isn’t what she meant, of course he’s not that bad, she’s sorry.

But she doesn’t. She hears the screams in her head and she knows that she’s right. He’s a monster. She tells him so.

Sterling: It’s a few nights before he calls upon her again, his expression blank. Since she’s so over him, he says, he’s loaning her to a friend of his. If she likes him better, maybe he’ll let him have her.

His friend is one of the ugly ones. The really ugly ones. His mouth looks like he has some kind of cancerous, industrial-strength herpes. His eyes are a sickly green that glitter with cruel amusements. She’s seen him before. He’s in Sterling’s coterie. Normally, he wears a different face. But not tonight. Not for a mere, freakish ghoul. He’s noticed her, too.

He plays with her, that night.

He makes her do things. Crawl through things. The smells alone make her want to cry.

He makes her do things, with… with…

Sterling’s waiting at her apartment, when she’s finally allowed back to it. Dripping with filth and reeking of her punishments.

“So,” he says. “What have we learned?”

Genevieve: The ugly one told her that he was going to fix her. He didn’t understand why she was crying, why she kept screaming. He told her it was annoying.

So he took her tongue.

When she wouldn’t smile for him he carved one into her face. It’s almost as wide as Sterling’s. It’s like the guy in the movie, the one with the clown makeup.

There was worse, but that’s what’s visible on her face when she comes back to Sterling. The thin scar spreading outward from the corners of her mouth. He’d broken her, but he’d put her back together too, and then he’d handed her back to her domitor as if he hadn’t scarred the rest of her more than he had her face.

She doesn’t look at Sterling when she gets back to the apartment. She can’t. She makes to move past him, but his words stop her.

Eyes on the ground, she tells him that she’s sorry, that she didn’t mean it. Her voice is thick, choked with tears.

Sterling: “Oh, Connie,” she hears him say, in his real voice, his cigarette-burned drawl, “I’m sorry, too.”

He feeds her well that night, more than she needs to heal, and stays with her in the hour or so before the sun rises. Soothes her, hugs her. She drinks straight from his veins. Her bond tightens, though there’s still some room left for it to tighten further. A noose half-tied.

He even offers to take some of the memories, if she likes.

He knows she’ll remember the lesson.

Genevieve: There’s no more pretending she’s something other than she is. She is scum. Less than. Nothing. It was drilled into her with the ugly one, and now he does it again: she’s only comfortable because he lets her be.

She doesn’t want the memories, she tells him. She doesn’t want to know what was done to her. What she had to do. The things—

She tucks her face against him. It’s the only time she’s touched him when she wasn’t being fed.

“Please take them.”

But if he takes them, how will she avoid it in the future?

Sterling: He explains, stroking her face, that she’ll remember this. How she felt, when she apologized. How resolved she was.

How much he loves his little Conscience, and never, ever wants to let another monster hold her again.

She does remember that, when she wakes up. She remembers going to the club, too. The horror, he can’t take. The disgust. The trauma. The mental scars are still there.

But when the sun rises that morning, she’s able to forget the wounds that left them.

The lesson remains.

In more ways than one.

He doesn’t kill people for neglecting their debts, anymore.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do it again. She never does it again. She’ll be better.

That’s what she tells herself.

She’s the lucky one.

And maybe his debtors are, too, when he stops killing them. But she doesn’t like the way his coterie looks at her anymore, and sometimes, when the one draws near, she’s pretty sure he’s leering at her. She starts begging off rather than be around him. When that doesn’t work she plasters herself to his side instead. No one can touch her when she’s right next to him.

Maybe that was the lesson, too. Only he can keep her safe.

Sterling: He does keep her safe.

She’s his Conscience, after all. Where would he be without her?

He lets her take a long vacation, after that. He even has somebody deliver a puppy to her front door when she gets back. It’s entirely white, from head to tail.

Just like her.

Genevieve: Its eyes match hers, too. A blue so light they’re almost white. “Glass eyes,” someone at the pet shop told her when she went to get it a collar. Blue, to match its eyes. They asked if she was getting it fixed.

“He’s not broken,” is her response. She lets herself love it.

Maybe she’s happy, for a time. Maybe she stops dreaming about a man lying on a table and a knife in her hand. Maybe she stops sleeping with a nightlight.

Maybe she’s still afraid of Sterling, because her puppy growls at him when he’s around.

Sterling: He takes it all in stride. He feeds the pup a drop of his vitae and it’s content to be around him.

But it’s different now. Her old bond has long faded, and now she dreams of Sterling sometimes. Finds her thoughts dwelling on him, constantly. How she can get him to notice her. Anxiety, over if he’ll find another Conscience.

And gratitude. Of course, the gratitude.

Genevieve: She asks him, one night, what’ll happen to her if he does. If he’ll trade her in a card game to another one of his friends, or if he’ll just… ignore her. Forever.

Somehow, that sounds worse.

She isn’t whole when she’s alone. She’s part of him. His Conscience. Without her, he’d be the monster she thinks he is. She can’t let him get to that point. She makes herself invaluable. Learns how to play the games he plays. Learns the numbers, the percentages, the loans. Trips over herself to find a reason to stay with him.

Maybe it’s enough. She doesn’t have the advantage of being able to read his mind, though.

Sterling: He simply smiles at her and takes her chin in his hand, and whispers in her ear from a foot away without moving his lips at all:

“I could never ignore my Conscience completely, Gen.” It’s been a long time since he’s called her by her real name.

There’s a lot of games. A lot to learn. He says it’s very sweet of her to want to learn. He’s happy to help. He plays with her a lot, too. He always wants a game to play. He often tells her about his night, asks what she thinks of his choices. Is he too cruel? What should he do, to be kinder?

Sometimes he listens. Sometimes he doesn’t. But he rather likes playing with her. Sometimes she even wins, though maybe only because he lets her.

Genevieve: Sometimes, she thinks, it’s embarrassing how easily he can read her thoughts. She doesn’t want him to know how often he is the center of them. Or how hearing her name—her real name, not the nickname he’s given her—sends a thrill through her.

She’s determined to find a game that she can win at. Something new. Something novel. She goes through all the classics with him, chess and checkers, poker, blackjack, and he shows her that the house always wins. She finds novel games to play, too, things from other countries, from joke shops, word games and dice games and card games. The key, she thinks, is to find something where the action is too quick for him to read her mind, or something where his ability to get inside her head won’t matter.

A game of chance. Something that is one hundred percent luck. She’s the luckiest girl in New Orleans, surely she’s got the luck to beat him in a game.

But that’s not very satisfying, is it?

She learns to cheat instead.

Sterling: The first time he catches her, he laughs delightedly, and tells her to cheat better.

The second time, he tsks and tsks, and makes her perform a forfeit. He knows she hates to be looked at. So he makes her take off her clothes. She plays the rest of the night naked, until she can win her clothes back.

His eyes dare her to try and cheat for a third time.

Genevieve: Even with her legs crossed and her shoulders hunched, arms stretched across her torso to cover herself, she can feel his eyes. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t try to play with him for a while after that. But she finds marks for him, people who do try to cheat, people who need more than they have. Maybe that makes up for trying to deceive him.

Maybe it’ll make up for the third time she tries to cheat him, weeks later, after the humiliation from the second has faded from her mind. She palms a card. It’s smooth. She’s been practicing.

Sterling: “Good,” he says, “very good. I don’t know whether you need a punishment or a reward.”

“Hmm. Maybe a little of both?”

Genevieve: She doesn’t like the sound of that.

“How can something be both?”

Sterling: He just smiles.

He feeds her that night by spilling his vitae along the floor. There’s a lot of it, but she has to crawl and lick it up.

After that, she’s suddenly in his lap. Just like the first night.

“No sex,” he whispers in her ear. “But how long has it been since you’ve been touched?”

His hand wanders slowly up her thigh.

Genevieve: Oh.

She’s very, very still. Her heart might have stopped. In fact, she’s sure that it did, or that it’s about to, because she can’t tell him the answer to that question.

Years. She doesn’t have to tell him. She thinks it and he knows, and her cheeks flare red at the thought, bright spots of color on her otherwise alabaster face.

Sterling: “Too long,” he croons. “Poor, lonely Gen. Faithful Gen. Even a conscience needs to be caressed, every once in a while.”

“You’re beautiful, you know. I wouldn’t have noticed you otherwise. Wouldn’t have rescued you.”

His hand crawls under her skirt, brushes the obstacles his fingers find out of the way easily. Her underwear he pulls and slides down her legs, and he bounces her so that those spread.

He doesn’t touch her though. Not yet.

“Would you like me to help you, Genevieve? Would you like to be touched?”

His other hand crawls up her stomach. Fiddles with her brassiere and cups what he finds underneath.

“Tell me, Gen. You’re so good at speaking your mind.”

Genevieve: Her body arches beneath his touch. She’s pliant, moving as he needs her to, thighs spreading open beneath her skirt. Her back rests easily against his chest, her own rising and falling in short little breaths that do nothing to slow the thrum of her heart.

She should tell him no. That’s the safe play. But she wouldn’t be here if she played it safe. She nods instead, a tiny jerk of her head up and down. Always so vocal, now she’s at a loss for words.

Sterling: “Say it.”

Genevieve: She can’t. She bites her lip, eyes closed, and shakes her head.

Sterling: “Gen,” he says, disappointed. “Say. It.”

Genevieve: “Pleasetouchme.”

Sterling: He does.

He plays her like a violin, like some kind of fine instrument. It helps that he moves so fast, but there’s care and intention there, too.

He winds her tighter and tighter.

He’s feeding on her as he does, and she can feel the pleasure melting her like so much sun on an ice cube.

And then, just when she’s about to shatter, like he said—his fingers stop.

Genevieve: She’s quiet. Restrained. She doesn’t know how to cut loose, even when his fingers dance across her, even when he drinks from her. It’s hard to tell when she’s close. Her breathing is irregular, but the shuddering gasp might be his only clue.

Still, he knows. He stops. And that’s the first sound she really makes, the whimper. It’s torn from her as soon as he ceases.

“No.” Her hips shift, pressing against his hand where she wants it. “Please?”

Sterling: “Ah, ah,” he chastises in that garrulous, higher voice. His hands slide teasingly away, the one below her waist pinching her rear before disappearing from her dress. “Unfair, isn’t it?”

He turns her head to stare into her eyes. “If you cum tonight,” he says, “you won’t see me again.”

And just like that, she knows in her bones that he’s telling the truth.

He taps a finger, still slick, against her face. “Cheating isn’t very satisfying. But you still did a good job of it.”

Genevieve: It’s not fair. It’s downright humiliating when she thinks about it later, after he leaves. Even the cold shower hadn’t done anything to cool her off, and she stares at the ceiling in her bedroom, fingers digging into the blankets beneath her hands.

He wouldn’t know. That’s what she tells herself, the lie she wants to make herself believe, that he wouldn’t know. Except he would. And she’d never see him again. And she wants to see him again. Maybe. Probably. Once she gets over the fact that he—that she was… she can’t even think it. Even alone her cheeks are hot, and she flips over onto her side, body curling beneath the blankets of her bed. She pulls them over her head for good measure. No one can see your shame when you’re under the covers.

But she doesn’t risk it. She doesn’t touch herself, doesn’t dip her fingers beneath the waistline of her panties, doesn’t slide them inside or against or—

“Agh.” She can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe if she’d been more vocal. Maybe if she was prettier. Maybe if she had more chest to grab.

Alone, dissatisfied, she finally falls asleep, and a man with silver in his smile dances through her dreams, laughing at her from behind his hand.

It isn’t fair.

March 2013

Sterling: He doesn’t mention it, if that helps. But there’s a knowing gleam in his eye now. Or maybe it was there before. Or maybe she’s just imagining it.

He seems pleased with her, though. He likes having her by his side. Likes hearing her opinions.

He seems proud of her.

Genevieve: She wouldn’t know about the gleam. She doesn’t make eye contact with him anymore. She avoids looking at him, really, because every time she does she thinks about being spread open on his lap, and she gets a little flustered, and that’s… well, that’s humiliating. She’s gone right back to avoiding touch, too, as if that will do anything, and she dreads the next time he’s hungry and wants to bite into her.

She’s always a step behind, now. Pants instead of skirts. Bras that close at the side instead of the front or back. Shirts that don’t do anything for whatever figure she’s hiding beneath it. She doesn’t think it’ll help if he really wants to mess with her, but it makes her feel better. For a time.

She doesn’t talk much when he’s around, either. It’s the sort of humiliation a person doesn’t really bounce back from. But she does what he asks, otherwise. Runs the number. Finds new gambling addicts for him. Stands behind him rather than beside him, like she used to.

She downloads a dating app on her phone, too. Maybe that’ll take her mind off it.

Three terrible first dates later, she has decided it will not.

Sterling: He doesn’t say anything at first, but she starts to detect a faint frustration in his interactions with her.

Finally, he shows up at her apartment one night with a deck of cards.

“Enough of this,” he says, and waves his hand at her. “You feel despoiled, hmm? Perhaps, violated?”

His can thumps against the floor and punctuates his exclamations. “Perhaps you wish to forget your punishment?”

Her pup—did she ever bother to name it?—sniffs at his shoe. He picks it up by the scruff of its neck and tosses it onto the couch, where it sniffles and cowers.

Genevieve: Of course she named it. His name is Ash, which he would know if he ever bothered to ask her about it, but he doesn’t because he’s too busy finding new ways to punish her for perceived slights. She scowls at Sterling and scoops the terrified pup into her arms, scratching his ears.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” She doesn’t have to look at him when she’s holding the puppy.

Sterling: “Fine,” he squeaks in a falsetto that sounds like it ought to shatter glass.

“Fine,” he says in a simpering whine, but his lips don’t move, and the voice comes from behind her.

“FINE,” snarls a deep, cruel voice from somewhere above.

He advances on her, cane gesticulating wildly. “You would lie to me even now, Gen? My own conscience, afraid to speak her mind?”

The voices around her howl in discordant rage.

Ash squirms and buries his little snout into her neck.

Genevieve: Oh. Oh no.

She clutches the puppy to her chest as if he’s going to save her from this wrath coming her way, one hand on his back, the other beneath his soft belly. She takes a step backward for every step that Sterling takes toward her, shaking her head.

No, no, no.

“Stop it, stop. You’re scaring—” me “—him.”

Sterling: He stops, sniffs her fear. “You still think I’m him,” he says, and he doesn’t bother to disguise his voice, or the sadness in it. “You still think nothing more of me than a monster. You who I rescued. You who I saved.”

The silence that follows his words is pierced only by Ash’s soft whines.

Genevieve: "You used me. You humiliated me. You did—did that, and then you just—you stopped, and you walked away, and you… "

She can’t even get the words out. So unlike her with her cool head, normally so eloquent, without trailing sentences. Now she trips over her words.

“Did you have any idea what that would do to me? What it would—God, it had nothing to do with him, it was everything before him, when I was just a—a freak. Something to laugh at.”

Sterling: “Used you? I punished you, exactly as I promised I would if I caught you cheating again. Are you bitter over a little loneliness?” He tilts his head, eyes narrowed. “Tell me, little conscience Gen, how I might kiss it better? Would you like me to bend you over my knee and diddle you more thoroughly? If you’re so tired of me, tell me, did you finish the job that night? Or did you choose to see me again?”

Genevieve: Something flares inside of her at the offer. She looks away from him.

“N-no. Don’t. Don’t touch me, don’t, just don’t.” She clutches the dog closer to her, his whines drowning out the hammering of her heart.

Sterling: “Answer the question.”

Genevieve: “Of course I didn’t.”

Sterling: “Ah, how flattering. So you do prize my company more than a little burst of your ovaries.”

He doesn’t touch her. But he stands close.

Genevieve: She says nothing. She barely breathes. Her fingers are only still because they’re buried in the fur of the dog.

Sterling: “You think you’re a freak, is that it? That my neglect of you was somehow influenced by repulsion, instead of principle?”

Genevieve: Of course. Of course that’s what it was. She nods.

Sterling: “Then why,” he sighs, “am I so proud of you?”

Genevieve: She has no idea what he’s talking about.

“I don’t know.”

Sterling: “Gen, I called you beautiful. I played a game with you and was so impressed with your attempt to cheat that the punishment was pleasure. I could not have asked for a better conscience. I all but said as much. The only person in this room who seems to think less of you for that night is you.”

Genevieve: “It ended in rejection.”

Like it always did.

Sterling: “It ended in denial, my sweet little conscience. A tease to make you regret your own overeager fingers. If I thought you repulsive, would I keep you by my side? Would I pamper you so? Did you need to finish to understand that you are mine?”

Genevieve: "You made me beg for it. And you saw me. You touched me, you… "

She shakes her head. She can’t explain. He won’t get it. He doesn’t get it now. He explains and she thinks it makes sense, until she pictures herself on his lap like that with his fingers… no. The dog whines again and Gen loosens her grip.

Sterling: “Yes, I touched you,” he says. “You are mine to touch. Mine to expose, mine to display, mine to do with as I wish. Ah, but I see. You feel shame, that I treated you so. Feel mocked, perhaps. Do you think I found it funny, sweet Gen?”

Genevieve: “I wouldn’t know,” she snaps, “I don’t posses the same affinity for trawling through brains that you do. Did you find it funny? Did you enjoy laughing at me afterward with your friends? That Connie was panting like a bitch in heat.” Her voice is a close approximation of his.

Sterling: “Should I have? I thought it was a rather sweet moment between the two of us.”

Genevieve: His answer flusters her all over again.

Sterling: “Oh, Gen,” he says. “So shy. So unsure of yourself. Perhaps I should make you dance nude in Jackson Square. You might see your own beauty in the gasps of your admirers.”

It’s an idle threat, but he likes her when she’s flustered.

“Or perhaps you can tell me how to make it better. My sweet, sweet conscience. Little voice of reason.”

Genevieve: “That’s not—that’s not funny.”

He wouldn’t make her do that. Would he make her do that? He can’t make her do that.

Sterling: Except he can. He might have already, and made her forget it.

Genevieve: Oh. That’s… oh. She’s only realizing that now. Does he see the blood drain from her face, or is she already so white that he can’t tell the difference?

She turns away from him. Ash whines. She shushes him.

“I have to take the dog out.” Anything to get away.

Sterling: He laughs, softly. “Would you be rid of me, then? All your gratitude, your loyalty, gone for a little shame?”

Genevieve: No. No, and that’s the worst part, isn’t it? Not that she feels shame, but that she wanted it, that she couldn’t even finish herself off later because that meant giving up him, too. It’s not shame she’s feeling, it’s rejection. He knows she wants him, and that’s… that’s too much for her. She doesn’t even want him to take away the sting because it means giving up the good part, too.

Sterling: “What would you like, Gen? What treat? What salve? I have no use for a conscience too shamed to speak.”

Genevieve: "I don’t know. I don’t know what will make it better. I… "

She trails off, shaking her head. Takes a breath to compose herself. When she speaks again it’s in the cool, detached tone he’s used to.

“Conflict of interest, I can’t advise you on myself.”

Sterling: “Hmm. I suppose you can’t.”

He pauses.

“Ah, but if there’s no moral way… what was the name of the girl you despised in school? Brittney something or other?”

Genevieve: She considers lying. Instead she tells him yes. “Brittney Mitchell.”

Sterling: “Mitchell, yes. All right. Give me a week. Perhaps then you’ll be… cooler.”

He walks away from her, his conscience.

Perhaps he leaves feeling lighter.

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Story Thirteen, Celia II

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

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: A Kindred doll.

What a special doll that would be.

The prize of Elyse’s collection.

Especially one as beautiful as her.

Lucy only holds her hand to her throat.

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

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

Its eyes are so wide and glassy.

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

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

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

He’d tapped her forehead in emphasis.

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Lotus doesn’t know who Paul is.

But she knows who Lucy is.

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

GM: Lotus is a doll.

Lotus knows.

Lotus reads Lucy like a book.

Lucy wants… to talk.

Lucy cannot talk.

Lucy needs help.

Lucy has something to say.

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

Just one word.

It was so, so hard.

Celia: Lotus wants to help.

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

GM: Jade can’t help Lucy to talk.

Celia: Who can help?

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

Elyse knows what Lucy has to say.

Celia: Is it… bad?

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

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

Just dolls like her.

Celia: Grace?

GM: Grace is scared of Lucy.

Grace hates Lucy.

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

GM: Lucy needs to talk.

Lucy needs help.

Jade has to find someone.

Find someone.

Find someone.

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

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

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

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

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

“Sleeping child,” notes Reggie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” says Randy, a little lamely.

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


GM: Dani licks her lips.

Reggie pants heavily.

Alana is flushed.

Randy just sort of stands there.

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

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

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

Celia: Celia smirks.

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

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

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

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

“Fuck, that tastes awful!”

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

“I was afraid of that.”

GM: Dani glares at him.

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

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

Celia: “It’s good enough for me.”

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

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

Dani makes a sound of disgust.

“You’re a pig.”

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

Maybe that will shut him up.

GM: He drinks rapturously.

“Ah, that’s it…!”

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

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

Alana contently settles down on Celia’s lap.

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

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

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

Celia: “Yes. Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Knock it off.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Or Dani.”

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

“Either of ’em.”

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

GM: Reggie just smirks, but says nothing further.

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

Celia: “Enough. All of you.”

“No petty bullshit, not tonight.”

“Not for the next few nights.”

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Dani arrives back with Diana.

The two of them sit together away from Reggie.

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

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

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

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

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

Reggie grins and waves back, wriggling his fingers.

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

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

He clasps his heart in mock hurt.

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

GM: He clasps it with both hands.

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

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

GM: “Got it, babe,” says Randy.

Rusty nods.

“Of course,” says Alana.

“Oh, who?” asks Dani.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reggie takes it all like a breeze.

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

Diana looks uncomfortable at Alana’s present location.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dani looks disgusted. Diana covers her ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “We can do that.”

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

Celia: “Buddy system. Here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Diana pointedly says nothing about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Lucy, too?”

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

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

Celia: “Let me think about it.”

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

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

GM: “No luck, sorry.”

Celia: “The phones didn’t help?”

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

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

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

“I do have another job.”

Celia: “I know, Rusty.”

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

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

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

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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


She thinks of Donovan.

“Shit’s hit the fan, huh?”

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

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

“Real bad.”

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

“Tell me about it.”

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

GM: She misses Donovan more.

Hates being away from him more.

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

But she wouldn’t cry around him, either.

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

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

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

Donovan was, though.

GM: Because he can fly.

He can be anywhere.

There’s nothing that can stop him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her attempt at humor is bleak.

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

“I got to her first. Barely.”

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

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

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

It doesn’t help, she realizes.

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

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

“And now she knows. Everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Ghouling. Yeah.”

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

Celia: “It doesn’t have to be weird.”

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

“She has a kid!

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

“Plenty of them live kind of normal lives.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Where do you think she did?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you think she did earlier?”

Celia: “That was before she had me.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Ah yeah, we should ask him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you still going to Elysium tonight?”

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

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

GM: “Who’s the friend?”

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

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

Celia: “Benson.”

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no muscle.

GM: Roderick smiles anyway.

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

Celia: “But we can still fuck.”

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

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

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

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

Donovan’s better.

Celia: “Details.” Celia waves a hand.

God, he is.

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

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

Not like that.

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

GM: He’s good at everything.

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

“Which, for Jade, is just Flawless.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “That too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Called her?”

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

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

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

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

GM: “That’s pretty hard to imagine.”

Celia: “Yeah, I said the same thing.”

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

“You know, stupid shit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “It’s the same thing.”

“Truth comes out. Truth always comes out.”

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

Celia: Has she?

Celia can’t think of a time.

“No. Never.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At some point it becomes your new normal.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And truth always comes out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Unless you know something I don’t.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Oh. That’s not ideal.”

Celia: “I’m aware.”

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

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

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


She even said it herself.

Celia: “Like an hour ago.”


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

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

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

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

Celia: “I know someone.”

GM: “Okay. Then it’s your call.”

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

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

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

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

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

“But, okay, it’s done.”

“I still need to see her.”

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

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

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

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

GM: Roderick clears his throat unnecessarily.

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

Celia: “Oh.”

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

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

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

Celia: “She hasn’t.”

GM: “Am I being an asshole?”

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

“You can be an asshole, though.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “So you can get her out?”

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

Celia: Celia winces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Less hot than him.

Celia: He’s cold.

Very cold.

It’s a different way to burn.

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

Didn’t he do that last night?

Doesn’t that count?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He fixes her problems, not causes them.

He doesn’t imply she’s stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Well. That’s not entirely true.

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

And foolish last night.

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

She’ll always forgive him.

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “God, no.”

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

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

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

Celia: Flannagan does it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Oh. Well. I’m jealous.”

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

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

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

Celia: “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “I’d like that.”

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

Celia: “After Elysium.”

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Roderick doesn’t look happy.


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

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

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

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

GM: “Or any Malkavians.”

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

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

Celia: “…I was kidding.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you fuck up fucking, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s what her sire would have done.

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

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

Except Roderick.

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

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

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

Celia: The words break her heart.

What she has done breaks her heart.

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

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

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

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

“I love you too,” she whispers back.

She tastes the lie on her tongue.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Genevieve I, Sterling I
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia III

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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia III

Story Thirteen, Genevieve I, Sterling I

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans. If you’ll let me.”
The Man With The Silver Smile

Wednesday, 13 February 2013, AM

Sterling: It’s a nice place.

It’s nicer, than anywhere her last owner could have stayed. Would have stayed? Doesn’t matter. That monster liked to squat, didn’t see much use for finer things.

This monster has finer things to give away. The apartment in Marigny doesn’t look heavily lived in. It has all the trappings of modern life, all the nice things an apartment is supposed to have; a big, expensive-looking television, what looks like a painting on the far side, sleek hardwood floors, stairs leading to an upstairs loft in the corner, and even one of those sculptures in the corner; the ones that exist contorted into an untenable, unending state.

Just like her.

“Welcome to your new home,” the monster says after giving her a moment to take it in.

“I just bought it. Don’t recall how much it cost. Actually, I don’t think I asked. People make such a fuss about the price, but I saw it and had a feeling I would have a use for it soon. So I said, ‘I want it.’ And then I saw your face, and I knew why. You can decorate it however you like, of course. You’ll be the one staying her, most of the time. And it’s right near my other place, or one of them, so we’ll never be too far.”

He strolls in, brandishing the silver-headed cane he carries about the place. He talks with his hands, vividly, almost ceaselessly, his movements flowing like molten steel that’s been poured into the checker-patterned suit he wears, a contiguous, ceaseless ripple of motion that might spill at any moment and scald. Every once in a while, the foot of his cane strikes the hardwood floors softly, a dull thump that punctuates his more emotive exclamations.

When he reaches the center of the room, he pivots to face her, and smiles the smile that she wasn’t sure she had seen right the first time. It’s a smile too crooked to stay on a face, a smile that glints with cursed silver but hides the teeth she knows his kind keep in their mouths.

The smile is all she knows of him. The man with the silver smile has not given her a name yet, but he knows hers. He asked her owner.

“What do you think, Genevieve? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She is more akin to the statue in the corner than she will ever be to this… thing, all smiles and grand motions, incessant movement, ceaseless chatter. She is still. Her movements are minimal. She does not gawk at this new place, all wide eyed and craning necks, but looks instead with a flicker of her eyes.

They’re the only thing that give her away, those eyes, the only color in a field of white. Blue, gray, who can tell. Something soft or stormy. They dart around the room, taking it in, categorizing things into little columns to keep them straight. Her brain does it all without her noticing.

Its attention, though, is on the monster in the middle of the room. The tap, tap, tapping of his cane. Trouble, it says. Danger. Every alarm bell inside her head goes off at that smile.

It’s survival strategy, that stillness, brought on by years of experience. Not just with their kind but the ordinary people as well, the people with color in their skin and hair, the people who point, laugh, stare. It keeps her safe, lets her size them up, figure them out. Who can be mad at a marble carving?

A home. He’s giving her a home. A nicer apartment than she could have afforded before, even with two salaries. This has to be a trick. A joke. Any moment now he’ll laugh at her for thinking this is real.

“Yes.” Sir? Master? Lord on High? What sort of obsequious title does this creature demand?

It’s a yes that tells him to get it over with, to finish laughing, to ask how she could be so foolish as to think she deserved anything so nice as her own abode. Perhaps he’ll put her in a closet somewhere. Or throw a pillow over the softest spot of the hardwood floor.

Sterling: He clucks. “Good, good. If you decide it isn’t, we can always get you another.”

He is very quickly close to her—not blurring like quicksilver but simply too quick to step away from gracefully. Up close, she can look him in the eyes, eyes the color of dollar bills and snakeskins. He doesn’t look so cold as her last. His skin might be greyish, but he breathes in rushed little puffs, and blinks regularly.

He snaps his fingers in front of her eyes, breaking-glass loud and heart-attack quick.

Genevieve: She doesn’t do anything so mundane as stumble. She is too nimble for that, though not so immune to their—his—tricks that she does not react. She flinches. The heels of her feet leave the floor, weight shifting forward. Her shoulders lift a fraction of an inch, though her hands remain at her sides.

She tells herself she was just blinking, but her heart hammers away at her ribcage. Thump-thump. He can see the spot on her neck bounce, racing. It gives her away.

Sterling: “Oh, lovely,” he says simply, that smile returning. He’s positively giddy. “Brilliant. You’re strong. I suppose you must be, if you’ve survived a brute like him for so long.”

He whirls about and before she can regain her breath he’s reclining on the couch, fingers laced behind his head and the cane leaning against his leg.

“Hope it’s okay if I sit,” he says jovially. “You can, of course, join me. It’s your place, after all.”

Genevieve: If it’s her place, can she ask him to leave?

There’s a moment where she considers running. The door is right there. The thought is dismissed as soon as it occurs. She hesitates, eyeing the couch, considering his placement. Sit too close and it’s an open invitation, too far away and it’s a snub. Maybe the couch itself is a test and he’ll want to know what scum like her thinks she’s doing sitting on the furniture. It’s a game.

She hates games. The rules haven’t been explained; she’s off balance and she doesn’t like it.

Five short steps take her across the room to the couch and she sinks onto it as if she hadn’t just been debating the merits of where to place herself. Her feet stay flat on the ground, hands on her knees, back straight. She doesn’t want to look at him so her eyes stare straight ahead instead. She can’t help but think about the changes she would make if this were her place. Swap out the art. Find the support beams to add a hook, then a bar or rings. Pad the floor beneath it…

Dreaming is dangerous. She stops.

She should, she reflects, ask what he wants. What to call him. She opens her mouth to do so.

Sterling: “You could run,” the man with the silver smile says as she opens her mouth. “It would force me to do things I don’t want to do, and which you would enjoy even less. Please don’t. And I think padding the floor is a great idea. And maybe a rug, too. If you need encouragement.”

His voice is different. Before it was garrulous and gay, the voice of a socialite. Now it’s dryer, raspier, the voice of a smoker who started young and kept on smoking as he got older. There’s warmth in that voice, but also amusement.

Genevieve: He’s in her head.

The realization slams into her. She shouldn’t be surprised. He had done it too. Watched her dreams. Found out what would make her break, who he could threaten—her thoughts spin away from her before she can think his name or picture his face.

Her pulse jumps up. She swallows, the sound audible in the otherwise silent room.

“I wasn’t going to run.” She moves on, drowning out the lie with a question. “What do you want with me?”

Sterling: “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” he says in that same wizened voice. “I’d think about running, too, if I were you. But then, I’ve always had an appetite for risk.” Those money-colored eyes twinkle. “As for you—I daresay I’ve already done what I want to you. I’ve rescued you.”

Genevieve: Rescued. As if he hadn’t just stuck her into another cage.

“A gilded cage is still a cage. ‘Rescued’ implies freedom.” She looks pointedly at the door.

Sterling: The giggle that greets her words is several octaves too high, and it ricochets about her ears impossibly. The man raises an eyebrow. “And what do you think freedom means for you now, in this city? Tell me, doesn’t a part of you long to seek out your abuser, even now? Long to be fed, even if that feeding is followed by a beating? I can smell sin, Gen—shall I call you Gen? I think I shall— and pain, and you have the reek of an addict. I could no more set you free than I could save a dope fiend from themselves.There is no such thing as freedom for a ghoul in New Orleans, or anywhere else my kind hunt. Not really.”

The dry, scraped voice turns somber. “Your boldness does you credit, though. You really were a prize worth winning.”

Genevieve: A prize. A rescue. That’s what she is now. Something to be won, bartered, traded. Bought and sold to the highest bidder, and she has no say in it.

Slave. That’s all the word ghoul means. A pretty way to say slave, another term for punching bag.

Fetch my meal. Carve it up. There’s a sweetheart.

She wants to deny his addict accusation, but his words ring true. How often had she debased herself for a drop of it? Even now she’s thinking about it. Running back to him. His eyes float in front of her, mocking.

She turns her head to finally look directly at this new one, sizing him up. He’s fast, but is he strong? Cane implies weakness. Assisted walking. Had he used it to walk, or is it just a prop?

“That’s what rehab is for.”

Sterling: He didn’t seem to be leaning on it, earlier. “Do you think you can find a rehab for the wayward slaves of vampires? Besides, I am a monster myself, and I have duties to my kind, tedious as I might find them. My old man would have a fit if he learned I had turned a renfield loose so cavalierly. No, Gen, I would much rather employ you generously myself. I think if you really took the time to think about it, you’d prefer that too.”

Genevieve: Her lips curl. “Employ?”

“Is that what you’re calling it these days?”

Sterling: “Such moxie,” the vampire sighs. “Such honesty. Yes, I am another domitor. But I am a gentler and more generous one. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake bores me terribly. I would much rather pamper you and reward you for loyal, faithful service. And though I am a beast, I am also a man. Better a servant rescued from a cruel master than one enslaved for no good but my own whims, hmm? It wears rather lighter on my conscience, inasmuch as I bother to carry one.”

Genevieve: He’d rescued her to feel good about himself. Her nose twitches in withheld amusement. She stays silent, considering. Then, “you meant it about this being my place. That wasn’t a game?” How far does generous go? Actual meals? Days off? Familial—no.

Sterling: “Oh, it’s all a game,” he croons. "But it’s one you’re meant to have fun in. This is your home, now, for as long as you serve me or grow tired of it. And how far generous goes… " he smiles slightly. “If you ask, many things might be given. I’ll tell you what. If you come sit on my lap, I’ll pretend to be Santa and we’ll call it Christmas. I like saying yes. It’s rather a thrill.”

“Or you could stay where you are. There’s no game without choice, after all.”

Genevieve: Any warmth in her eyes dies at the thought of touching him. She turns her face away, chin jerking toward the door.

“If it’s my home, I’d like you to leave.”

Say yes to that, deadman.

Sterling: He laughs. “Cute. So cute. How about we play a game, instead?”

There’s a blur of checkers, and then there’s a glass in his hand. A glass filled with red, syrupy, coppery sweetness. The smell is intoxicating.

The man who is no mere man smiles knowingly at her as he daintily licks his wrist clean. "I bet that you can’t walk me to the door without trying to take a sip. If you win, I’ll go. If you lose… " he tilts his head. “Well. If you lose, let’s just say there’s more where that came from, hmm?”

Genevieve: She’s not listening. Her eyes are on the glass in his hand. Her mouth is dry, so dry, and that will quench it. That will make everything better. That will fix the dull ache inside her chest, the one that started when she’d been told she belonged to someone else now.

If he goes, will he leave the glass? The door can’t be that far. She tears her eyes away from him to find it. When had the room gotten so big? It’s zooming away from her, like something out of a horror movie.

She thinks he moved, too. Gotten closer. Because she can smell it, can almost taste it. That’s not fair. That’s not fair, he cheated—but, no, it’s just her who’s leaning forward, reaching.

She rights herself. Shakes her head. If she’s on his lap she can pin him down. Drink until she’s full. Is the gamble worth it? Is touching him worth it?

She stands.

“Door,” she says tightly, pointing.

Sterling: He smiles, silver teeth flashing, and rises too, proffering his arm—the same arm that holds the glass. “If you’ll walk me.”

Genevieve: She can touch his arm. Arms are fine. Arms aren’t laps. Right? She takes his arm in her hands. So close to the cup, to that sweet red. A sip wouldn’t hurt. Just a taste. He’s quick, though. Is he going to snatch it away? No, he wants her to reach for it.

She tells her feet to move but they won’t. They’re stuck. Heavy. Her eyes close and that makes it worse, because now she’s picturing it, can see herself lifting the glass to her lips. It’s heavy in her hand, warmed by the blood. It will slide so smoothly down her throat…

She doesn’t know when she moved, when her hands closed around the glass, but now she isn’t imagining it in her hands, now her fingers are curling around it and she’s tugging to get it away from him.

Sterling: He lets her take it. A part of him feels bad for her, but better she find out this way than another.

She cannot be free from herself.

The taste is phenomenal, and distinct from her usual “drinks.” His blood makes her hear dice rolling, tastes like all the icons in a slot machine aligning. It tastes like victory, like a kiss from lady luck, like everything is going to be alright.

She lost the bet. But she feels like a winner.

He regards her patiently when the last sip is gone, her lips streaked with his vitae. “Well, now. It seems I’ll be staying a while longer.”

He takes her hands in his and leads her to the couch.

“I’m going to make you the luckiest ghoul in New Orleans,” he clucks softly. “If you’ll let me.”

Genevieve: It’s like that first sip of water after being lost in a desert for months. Divine. It doesn’t linger long on her lips once the glass is empty; she licks them clean, following along with him to the couch. She hadn’t gotten far. One step? Two? She doesn’t pull away, sits when and where he tells her to.

“You said more,” she reminds him.

Sterling: “More?” he asks teasingly, pulling her over his lap, bouncing his knee under her. He taps a finger against her nose, like he might a beloved dog. “What more? Is Gen suddenly thirsty, even in her gilded cage?”

His voice grows deeper, warmer, more rumbling.

Like a belly full of jelly.

“What would you like for Christmas, little Gen?” asks Santa’s voice.

Genevieve: It’s not fair. She wants more. Will her teeth break his skin?

“401k, paid vacation, no holidays, dental and vision included?” Her tone is dry. She arches one white-blonde eyebrow at him. “Should I ask for a pony instead?”

Maybe she can try it. Just bite down. She’s already on his lap. She leans in.

Sterling: He laughs.


He bounces her closer as she leans in, so that she’s right next to his cold neck. She can even feel an uneven, but definite pulse there. “Hard to give a 401k to an immortal, little Gen. And that’s what you’ll be. Paid vacation, sure. Pony, what breed? Ask me for something real, Gen. Something precious.”

He runs his fingers through her hair fondly.

Genevieve: “Diamonds, gold, a yacht. A rocket ship.” Nothing she wants. Just a distraction, something to keep him busy. His neck is right there. Isn’t that the place to bite? Her flat teeth touch down on his cold flesh. Only she doesn’t have anything to break the skin. She doesn’t have fangs. She’s just a ghoul on the lap of a vampire who can read her mind.

Her mouth closes.

She wants to forget the past few years ever happened. She wants to be happy and healthy. She wants her husband, and she wants him to be left alone. She wants the child she had promised him seven years ago. She wants a lock on her bedroom door that this one can’t get through.

She doesn’t say any of that. She doesn’t know how.

She nips at his neck instead.

Sterling: She nips. She can feel his laughter, a low rumble, but it fades quickly. His fingers don’t stop, but they start to caress her cheeks, her forehead. “You want to see your husband? Want him provided for and safe?”

He slips a finger to her lips, almost hushing her. “The neck has tougher flesh than a finger, you know.”

Genevieve: She’s brought back to that time, months ago, it was her finger against his lips. She’d had a dream he didn’t like. He’d heard her crying, hadn’t liked it. He’d—

She yanks away. There’s nothing graceful about it.

Sterling: He lets her, regards her sadly. “Oh, Gen. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Genevieve: Her laugh is nothing more than a disbelieving rasp. “You will. Of course you will. That’s what I’m here for. That’s all I am.” She backpedals. The ground is hard beneath her. Her shoulder hits the coffee table and she winces, rising, edging around it. The door is close. She can get outside. Scream. He was fond of telling her she had a nice set of lungs.

Sterling: “Oh, bother.” He’s past her quickly, between her and the door. “Remain still and silent,” He tells her, and she finds that she does.

“Bother, bother,” the man hums. “Don’t overexert yourself. You’ve had enough for one night, and I have other places to be anyways. I won’t chase you from your new home.”

He carries her. He’s a bit of a scrawny man—more than a bit, a stiff wind ought to bruise him—but he isn’t weak, and he carries her up the stairs to a nicer bedroom than she’s been in in years. He tucks her in, saying soothing things, and then he leans over her. She feels the bite, two pinpricks on her neck, and then the pleasure of his steady, soft pulling from her veins.

When he stops, she’s exhausted, and her eyes are fighting to remain open. “The command will desist with the sun,” she heats him say from a great distance. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, and we’ll play something innocent. I’ll give you time. You’ll adjust. I promise.”

He bends over her again, his lips brushing her forehead. “Try to sleep, Genevieve. And here’s a little apology.”

She can’t see what he does, but when he presses his wrist to her lips, she can drink of the same heady brew he shared earlier.

But this time, when it’s over, his smile swims before her eyes, and it seems rather more charming, marginally less sinister.

“Sleep, little pet. Little Gen. There are a great many clouds in your life, I know.” His voice retreats to the far side of the room. “But I hope in time, you’ll see me as what I am; the silver lining.”

The door shuts behind him. She’s left alone, in the dark, with a comfortable bed.

She’s left alone, in the gilded cage.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013, PM

Genevieve: She’s waiting for him the next evening.

She’s seated on the couch, her eyes on the door, waiting. It’s locked, but there’s no part of it that doesn’t think that he doesn’t have a key or another way in. So she sits, and she waits, and she doesn’t dread his arrival.

She has changed since last night. Her hair is still wet from her shower, her skin still pink from the heat of it. That’s the excuse she’ll use for her red eyes, too, if he asks, though she doesn’t think that he will. The clothes are the right size for her; she’d found them upstairs in the closet, and she wondered how he knew. They’re comfortable. Let her put her bare feet on the couch. The TV is black, but music plays from the radio in the corner, nothing she’s familiar with. She keeps hearing songs she doesn’t recognize.

There’s a piece of paper and a pen in front of her, words scribbled across the page in handwriting that can only be described as “rough.” It’s the list he asked for yesterday, the things she wants. She doesn’t know if the offer is still on the table.

Maybe he’ll know that she tried to run. Maybe he’ll look into her mind and see Michael with the other woman, the beautiful woman, with her tan skin and her dark hair and her eyes that aren’t too far apart, her shoulders that aren’t too broad. Maybe he’ll see the child they share, the one she couldn’t give him.

Maybe she won’t have to explain her broken heart.

Sterling: She’s right that he has a key. He blinks when he walks in.

“And here I was expecting you’d have run. Glad I checked.”

He strolls in, but doesn’t make himself comfortable. He regards her, maybe reading her mind or maybe just watching.

“You seem calmer,” he says finally. “How have you found this place? Will it suit you?”

Genevieve: She gestures vaguely toward the couch. He might as well have a seat; it’s silly to pretend that he doesn’t own this place, that he couldn’t just take it back from her on a whim. She knows what she is.

“I had a home in the city once. It wasn’t this nice.” Her eyes dart toward the statue, the art on the walls. None of it is to her taste. “Is redecorating still on the table?”

Sterling: “Of course.” He rummages in a pocket and suddenly holds a sleek, silver card between his fingers, which he offers to her. “I took the liberty of setting you up with an expenses account. I expect two hundred ought to do for the year, but let me know if you need more.”

Genevieve: Two hundred might replace her wardrobe. If she’s thrifty. There’s a secondhand store down the street she can visit. She takes the card from him, setting it on the table next to her list. A second later she crosses spending money off her list.

“Do I have a job to do? Fetching dinner?”

Sterling: He snorts. “What, hunting? Only if I’m particularly lazy. No, I see you in more of an… assistant capacity. You’ll manage some of the things I’m too bored to, help clean up when things get messy, and perhaps carry the occasional message. More than that… what are your skills? Talents?” He waves a hand that glitters with rings. “I could delve through your mind, of course, but I rather prefer to have a conversation.”

He comes closer and eyes the list. “Why’d you cross that off? Does two hundred grand go a shorter way than it used to?”

Genevieve: “…you said two hundred.”

Sterling: He looks offended. “What am I, a coal miner?”

Genevieve: “You’re giving me a card. With a limit of two hundred thousand?”

He’s insane.

Sterling: "Like I said, if you need more… " He shrugs. “Like I was saying last night, you people get so worked up about price. It all comes around, in the end. That’s just a week or two’s winnings, honestly. Besides, you’ll probably be in charge of managing my finances soon enough if you’re adept at that sort of thing. I’d rather pay you the money than encourage you to embezzle it.”

Genevieve: He has to be kidding. This is a joke. There’s no way that he’s just handing over that much money, that much responsibility. He doesn’t even know her. She could clear out the account, buy a plane ticket, be halfway around the country before he even knows.

“Winnings.” He’d won her, too. “You gamble?”

Sterling: He smiles at her roguishly. There’s some charm in it, now that she’s tasted him. “I play, yes. And I’ve made quite a career out of it.”

The man takes a seat next to her, leaning forward on his cane. “I don’t need to poke my fingers in your mind to know what you’re thinking. But money itself means next to nothing to me. And besides, if you were going to run, you would have already. I’m confident that you’ll stick around long enough to appreciate your new situation.”

Genevieve: Her eyes close. She takes a breath. It’s deep, in through the nose, out through the mouth. She has to tell him. Be honest. Otherwise he’ll find out, then it’ll be worse. She opens her eyes again but doesn’t look at him. She’s staring down at her list. How silly it seems now.

“I did run.”

Sterling: “Oh? Where to?”

Genevieve: “I can’t tell you.”

Sterling: He rolls his eyes. “Won’t, you mean.”

Genevieve: Her lips press together. She nods.

Sterling: “Look, Gen, I don’t know how much you know about my kind. Especially living among the Sabbat. But I’m sure I don’t have to point out that I’ve been exceedingly genteel with you. Yes?”

Genevieve: “Yes.” Her voice is tight. Her muscles are already tensing in anticipation.

Sterling: “And there you go. There’s no other shoe that you haven’t seen waiting to drop. No chopper coming to chop off your head. You might think I rescued you from my less cultured cousin for my own moral vanity, and you’d be right. I’m a monster, and I’m not pretending not to be. But what you don’t seem to appreciate is how I have absolutely no desire to threaten you into obedience. There are a thousand and one ways I could have done so already. Tell me, if you think I was interested in tormenting you, there is anything at all you could reasonably do to stop me?”

Genevieve: “No.” That’s the truth. He’s a vampire. She’s a human. Ghoul. Slave, whatever. He’s in charge. Stronger, faster, smarter. Immortal. She’s breakable, frail. He can read her mind. She can… do a back bend. She bets he can’t do a back bend. But that isn’t the purpose of this.

“I spent years with them. Everything I did was wrong. Every word was wrong, every action was wrong, every apology was wrong. I was—am—dirt. Less than. A literal punching bag. You bring me here. Expect me to accept that you’re not going to think of a new, creative way to break me.”

Sterling: “Oh, darling Gen. Why should I break you? You’ve been broken.”

Genevieve: “And you’re the superglue to his hammer?”

Sterling: “So much more fun to put you back together, isn’t it? I enjoy a challenge.”

Genevieve: “And what about when you get bored of that? Dissemble again? I’m not real to you people.”

Sterling: “Oh, who knows what the future holds? Well, some licks, probably, but I’m not one. I rather enjoy not knowing. Yes, there is a chance I will, for reasons inexplicable to myself now, decide to shatter you like an old toy. But now you are new, and shiny, and oh-so-fascinating. Live in the present, Gen. That’s all you have when you live forever.”

Genevieve: She doesn’t appreciate his cavalier attitude about shattering her. But that’s rule number one, then. Don’t let him get bored.

“I don’t live forever,” she points out. She’d seen enough of her kind come and go to know there is a very, very brief life expectancy.

Sterling: “You can,” he replies.

“If you don’t die, of course. But I’m rather invested in ensuring that you don’t.”

Genevieve: “I was married. Before this. I went to see him.”

“He moved on.”

“That’s where I went.”

Sterling: He stares into the middle distance for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he says, in his real voice, the smoker’s rasp. “Sometimes our loved ones forget us. It hurts. I know.”

Genevieve: “I kept thinking if I got out he’d be waiting. We could go somewhere.” Her face doesn’t change, her voice doesn’t crack. There’s nothing to give away what she’s feeling inside. “But it doesn’t matter. He’s not.”

“I don’t want to run. I don’t have anywhere to go. It won’t happen again.”

Sterling: “I’m glad,” he says. “We’ll have more fun without you trying to make a break for it, anyways.”

Genevieve: “Who did you lose?” It’s none of her business. She asks anyway.

Sterling: “My wife. She didn’t handle what happened to me very well.”

“She’s in an institution, now.”

Genevieve: “Oh.” She hadn’t expected that. “I thought you weren’t supposed to tell people.”

Sterling: “We’re not,” he says quietly.

He grips his cane. “How much do you know of the Camarilla?”

Genevieve: “Stuck up. Better than everyone. Rules, rules, rules. Prince Yahoo and the Endless Titles.”

Sterling: “That is the big picture, yes,” he agrees. “I’ll take some time over the next few nights to teach you some of the finer points. If you embarrass me in public, I’m afraid I’ll have to punish you. So don’t.”

Genevieve: Rule number two, then. Her chin jerks downward in a nod.

“I don’t know your name.”

Sterling: The ghost of a smile haunts his face. “I have many, many names.”

“Among those I trust more than not, I go by Sterling.”

Genevieve: “Sterling.” She taps a finger against her lips. There’s no metal in her mouth, but she’d seen his. “Mister Sterling?”

Sterling: “If you like. Now, then. Tell me about that list of yours.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia I
Next, by Narrative: Story Thirteen, Celia II

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Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Genevieve II, Sterling II

Story Thirteen, Celia I

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

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

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

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

She taps away into her phone.

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

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

Celia: A tired meow sounds from the bag.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for having us over on such notice.”

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

“Hi, Randy,” Lucy says tiredly.

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

“It’s, uh, a bit of a mess…”

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

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

“This place is stinky,” says Lucy.

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

Maybe Celia will keep Mabel on as a maid.

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

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

“What’s a bachelor pad?” asks Lucy.

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Great. What’s your favorite channel?”

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

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

“Okay, safe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s obviously been a problem.

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

“Do you need… blood?”

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

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

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

She almost says no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Well, it’s…”

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

“…it’s what it is, I guess.”

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

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

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

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

She settles down to wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, your mom knows…?”

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

Until she figures something else out.

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

Celia: “Yeah. Yeah, it does.”

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

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

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

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

He gives a wide, slightly buffoonish grin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “I’d really like that.”

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

Celia: “I’m looking forward to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sinks to her knees by the tub.

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

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

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

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

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

He’s so right.

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

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

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

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

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

This is love.

This is what love tastes like.

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

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

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

But this.

Oh, this.

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

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

This is what it’s all about.

Celia drinks.

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

Beast and girl swallow the love.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

GM: It’s there.

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

Diana curls up against herself and makes a whimpering noise.

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

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

GM: Her mother’s terrified features slowly calm.

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

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

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

To provide. To feed. To feed her baby.

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

Celia: It’s love.

That’s what it is.

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

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

Is this what she would taste like to him?

She tries not to think about it.

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

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

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

“Was that enough… baby…?”

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

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

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

“All of it… baby… was it… enough…?”

“Do you need… more…?”

Celia: Goddamnit.

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

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


GM: Celia’s mom slumps off the tub and onto the floor.

Her ghoul comes running after the shout. “Yeah, babe—oh,” he says, looking down at her mom.


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

“Is she, uh… dead?”

Celia: “Let me up, she needs blood.”

“Let me up. Now.”

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

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

“Mine wouldn’t have.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And only then does she pull away.

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

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

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

Her eyes are fixed to her daughter’s wrist.

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

“Can I have some more…?”

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

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

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

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

“It’s a drug, Mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Huh?” asks Randy.

Celia: “Keep. Her. Away. From. Me.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Addicts are addicts.”

GM: “I’m not an addict.”

Celia: “She might be.”

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

He eyes her wrist.

Celia: It’s been less than a week.

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, well, there’s Lucy…”

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

Celia: “I’m not feeding on Lucy.”

GM: He trails off.

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

He has enough sense to look ashamed of himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Didn’t find it so tempting then.

And she’d come onto him even harder.

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

Had rubbed up against him, like she does now.

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

GM: He probably regrets it now.

Really regrets it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She drinks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday evening, 13 March 2016

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

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

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

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

GM: She appears to be.

Her phone is on the bedside table.

Celia: She reaches for it to check her messages.

GM: The first one’s from Emily.

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

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

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

We can learn together, seems fun

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

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

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

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

GM: Ohhh drat

I guess I could pull a Mulan

Celia: There you go

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

Celia: Hot.

Get it?

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

Because of the weather

And working up a sweat in all that equipment

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

Celia: oh, when is it?

GM: 3 PM Sunday

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

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

GM: oh. That’s too bad

Celia: Maybe we can 1v1

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

Celia: oh bb ;)

GM: kick your ass not spank it :p

Celia: loser gets spanked

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

GM: that feels like what the winner should get

loser gets theirs kicked, winner spanked

something happens to all involved asses

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

How’d things go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Thank God.

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

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

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

“Well, except Alana.”

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

“Did she not eat or is she not here?”

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

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

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

Celia: Celia purses her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Ah. What did you hear?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like he continues to be hurt by her.

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

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

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

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

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

She should start charging the Maxen in her head rent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are they another vampire, or a renfield?”

Celia: “Vampire.”

“My, uh, my boyfriend actually.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of sex, though.

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

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

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

“Also, he sounds like an abuser.”

Celia: “He’s… he can’t control it.”

GM: “That’s an excuse.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “He’s not my brother.”

“My brother would never hit you.”

Celia: Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You deserve so much better than him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I’ll help.”

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

“Also, ah, about my job.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Sorry, looking for me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dani halts herself.

“Uh. I didn’t mean it like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Yeah. He was,” Dani sighs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia trails off. Finally, she forces a sigh.

“Listen, why don’t you come with me tonight? I have some errands to run and I can bring you with me for some of them.”

GM: Dani nods. “Yes, please! Where I’ll meet other vampires?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I know how much you’ve said duskborn are discriminated against. Should I expect them to be pretty bad?”

Celia: Celia just nods.

GM: Dani looks grim, but nods back. “As long as you think we can handle it.”

Celia: “Finish what you’re working on. I need to talk to my mom and the boys. I’ll collect you before I leave.”

GM: “Okay. There’s only so much I can do on someone else’s laptop without my stuff, anyway.”

“But your mom told me I should spend my time on school if I don’t have anything else to do.”

Celia: “Sounds like Mom,” Celia says with a faint smile.

GM: “Well, she is a teacher,” Dani smiles back.

“It was really nice to have her here. The guys just… kept hitting on me.”

Celia: Celia snorts.

“Yeah, that, uh… doesn’t surprise me.”

GM: “I’m just not interested right now,” Dani says, a little numbly.

Celia: “Just tell them to fuck off.”

GM: “I did.”

Celia: “Good.”

GM: “I just had to do it a million times.”

“Reggie kept saying I was playing hard to get.”

Celia: “Sometimes if you bare your fangs and snarl at them they get the message more clearly.”

GM: “I’ll try that, next time.”

Celia: “Just not to normal humans.”

GM: “Yeah. Just, ugh. Guys.”

Celia: Celia gives her a sympathetic smile and pat on the shoulder before moving off to find the guys in question.

GM: Reggie is not home, but she finds Randy on his back in the exercise room lifting weights. He gives an exclaimed, “Babe!” and drops them with a crash when he sees her, then quickly sits up.

“We moved you to a real bed, you sleep all right?”

Celia: Celia finally sends a text back to Roderick as she moves through the house.

Not really. Shit hit the fan. Trying to figure it out.

Worry flits through her at Reggie’s absence. She thought she had told them to stay here for the day until they could debrief.

“I did. Thank you. Where are your brothers?”

GM: Roderick responds immediately.

Where are you and what can I bring to help?

“Oh. They, uh, said they had other stuff to do. But I wanted to be here when you woke up.”

Celia: God, she loves him. Even without the collar she loves him. Even in love with her sire there’s enough room in her heart for Roderick, too.

With Randy. I don’t know. Feels like drowning. Meet soon?

Her eyes move back to Randy.

“Ah. And Alana?”

GM: Just less room than her sire.

He wouldn’t just ask how to help. He’d fly right there, destroy whatever threatened her, and make sweet (or at least chill) love to his childe upon the ashes of the fallen.

Celia: That’s hot.

GM: Okay. Usual place in an hour?

“Oh, I think she also thought she had more important shit to do.”

Randy’s always been a terrible liar.

Celia: Yes.

“Randy.” Celia gives him another Pete-esque look.

GM: K. See you.

“Ah, she’s closing up at the spa and said she’d be here soon.”

Celia: “Get your brothers here. Now.”

GM: “Ah, they don’t really come running for me, babe, but I can try.”

Celia: “Tell them it’s for me.”

GM: “Kay, babe, I’ll try,” says Randy, firing off some texts.

Celia: Celia closes out of the text with Roderick and dials Alana.

GM: The ghoul picks up on the first ring.

“Hello, Celia,” she says in a dreamy tone that sounds like she’s trying to say ‘mistress’ instead.

Celia: “Hello, darling. Can you come back to Randy’s, please? I need you.”

GM: Alana seems to glow at the words. “I’m already on my way, m-Celia. I’ll be there very soon.”

“They haven’t responded yet,” Randy adds helpfully.

Celia: Celia tells Alana that she will see her soon and ends the call, already worried about her.

“Get me someone here who can deliver a message. One of those courier types,” she says to Randy.

She dials Reggie.

GM: He picks up.

“Hey, sexy.”

“Your mom and friend were hot, but it was still pork rinds next to fillet mignon.”

Celia: “Reggie, I woke up and you were gone.” Celia puts a pout into her voice. “Come back, please, I need to speak with you.”

She’s terribly amused by the comparison.

GM: “I’m at work… but work’s a lot less sexy than you are. Take back all the words between ‘need’ and ‘you,’ and I’m on my way.”

Celia: “I need you,” Celia purrs into the phone.

“Bring your brother.”

GM: “I’ll drag him there in a headlock if he says no.”

Reggie hangs up.

Celia: Celia smiles at Randy, sliding her phone back into her pocket. She reaches for him despite the sweat that glistens on his skin.

“It’s all in how you phrase things.”

GM: “You’re great at phrasing things, babe,” he beams.

“You’re great at a lot of things.”

Celia: “I am,” she agrees. “I was going to ask you to join me in the shower but my mother is here. Why don’t you get cleaned up after you find a courier for me and meet me in the living room so we can all chat.”

GM: “Oh. Well, she’s watching a movie right now, and it’s not her house…” Randy says suggestively.

Celia: Tempting. Except she’s meeting Roderick soon, and Dani is around, and she has limited time.

“I want our first time to be special,” she sighs, pressing a kiss against his cheek.

GM: “Ah. Right,” Randy nods, glowing under the kiss.

“I, uh. Didn’t have much luck finding you a vessel anyway.”

Celia: “Mmm, I assumed. I didn’t see any strangers lounging around. Maybe you can find me another girl rolling on E again next time and we can make a night of it.”

GM: “Oh, you bet, babe. You were just… something else…” Randy grins.

He’s quiet for a moment, then adds, “Reggie was laying it on pretty thick with your friend and your mom.”

Celia: “He hit on my mom?

GM: “Yeah. I mean, she’s not as hot as you, but she’s still hot.”

Celia has worked so diligently to keep her that way.

Celia: “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.”

GM: “Oh, it’s—you’re super hot, babe! There’s no one in the world as hot as you!”

Celia: “I just meant because I work on her face, Randy.”

GM: “Ah, yeah. You’re really great at that too. She’s a MILF.”

Celia: “Thanks for watching over them today. I really needed you and you came through.”

GM: “You bet,” says Randy, his chest puffing a little. “They didn’t like the attention, but I told him to knock it out, they didn’t need that.”

“Grabbed his hand a couple times when he tried to cop some feels.”

Celia: A scowl greets those words.

“Get cleaned up. We’ll talk in a minute.”

GM: “He only touched them a couple times,” Randy adds helpfully as he gets up. “I cockblocked most of it.”

Celia: “Good to know.” Celia leaves him to shower on his own, moving back into the living room to find her mother.

GM: She finds her mother in the same place, watching a movie with a now fully sleeping Lucy on her lap.

“Hi, sweetie,” she whispers, her face lighting up as she sees Celia.

Celia: “Hey, Mom.” Celia smiles at the pair, though Lucy certainly can’t see it with her eyes closed. She keeps her distance, sitting on the edge of the couch rather than right next to her mother.

“You doing okay?”

GM: Diana nods and strokes Lucy’s hair for a moment.

“I met Dani,” she whispers. “It was so nice to see her here.”

“She told me all about what had happened to her, that poor thing…”

“We caught up a bit, and we talked about Stephen. I think she was really happy to hear he’d made such a difference in our lives.”

Celia: “She had a rough time of it,” Celia says with a grimace. “I don’t envy her position. I’m doing what I can for her.”

GM: “She also told me how she was, ah, a… vampire. But she was still able to eat my cooking, I thought you said you couldn’t?”

Celia: “She’s… different.”

GM: “I think you’re doing a very good thing from what she’s said, sweetie,” Diana nods.

“I felt so bad for her. I made her a lot of food.”

Celia: “I’m sure she appreciated that.”

GM: “I hope she did. She told me about all of those… vampire things you told her.”

Celia: “Oh. Good. That’ll save us some time.”

GM: “I’m… not really sure what to make of it, sweetie.”

Celia: “I’m sure you still have some questions. About me. And this life. And what it means. And what’s going on with you and Lucy.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. I tried to keep you from the worst of it.”

GM: “With Lucy?” Diana asks, concern creasing her face as she looks down at her daughter.

Celia: “Because of the phone call you received.”

“The boys and Alana are coming over so we can discuss things. Basically, I pissed off the girl who… did what she did to you.”

GM: Diana’s face turns very still again.

Celia: “So until that’s fixed, I need you to work with me on laying low. Nothing is going to happen to you. It’s me they want.”

“I was going to put you up in a hotel for a few days. Or maybe a trip out of town if you’d prefer. Tell work you’ve got the flu or something.”

GM: Diana looks down at Lucy.

“Okay,” she says meekly. “Whatever you want.”

Celia: “I’m sorry to drag you into this.”

“The other issue…” Celia pauses. “Did she, uh, explain the rules?”

GM: “I just want to be there for you, sweetie. I just want to be your mom,” she says, looking back up at her other daughter.

Celia: How much of it is that first stage of the bond, she wonders, and how much of it is Diana?

GM: “I’m glad… I’m glad we don’t have this between us, anymore.”

Celia: “Normal people, people like you, they can’t know. So there are some options there, but… maybe not ones you’ll like.”

GM: “Oh. What… sort of options, sweetie?”

Celia: “We can permanently relocate you to another city. No one will look at you because you’re not connected to me. Still risky, but less risky than you staying here. We can alter your memories so you don’t remember.”

GM: “My whole life’s here,” Diana protests, but weakly. “So’s Emily’s.”

Celia: “Or I can… do to you what I did to Randy and Alana. But there are a lot of complications that come with that.”

GM: “I love our house, I love my job, I love having most of my kids nearby, I love my friends, I love all the good things here that we have for Lucy… remember, sweetie, she goes to McGehee for free! That’s a very, very good school I’d normally have to pay $20,000 a year for.”

“And Emily’s arranged things to do her residency here, at TMC. Logan’s probably going to ship overseas, after he commissions, but David’s here, and Sophia wants to come back… everything’s all here.”

Celia: “What if Dad becomes governor? Would you move to Baton Rouge with him?”

GM: She’s silent for a moment at that question.

She looks back down at Lucy.

“Sweetie, getting that call…”

She closes her eyes.

“I was so scared for her. So scared for Lucy.”

“I want… I want to take things slow, with your father. I want to be sure he’ll be good to Lucy.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia says, nodding. “I respect that. I don’t want you to rush into anything with him.”

GM: “If I was… yes. I suppose I would move with him. But that’s thinking very far ahead.”

“Even if that is where I’d like us to end up. I want my man back. I want him to be good to us again. I want Lucy to have a dad in her life.”

She strokes the sleeping child’s hair again.

“I just want her to have a good life, the best life.”

Celia: “Then I’ll work things out with the girl I pissed off. Until then, I need you to lay low.”

GM: Diana’s face grows still again at Elyse’s mention. But she nods.

Celia: “I… I saw what she did to you, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”

GM: Diana just hangs her head.

Celia: “You’re stronger than me, you know. I don’t know if I could ever dance again. Or love as fiercely as you do.”

GM: “I’m weak,” she whispers, gently pressing her face against Lucy’s head. Her eyes are closed. “You’re strong.”

Celia: “No, Mom. You are strong. You are the strongest woman I know. You’ve been through Hell and back and you’re still capable of being an amazing person. You didn’t let it turn you into a bitter shrew or withdraw into a shell. You’re a wonderful mother. You only want the best for people.”

“It’s beautiful. I wish I had that much kindness in me.”

GM: Her mom looks up. “Oh, you do, sweetie… with Dani here, with Emily…”

Celia: “It’s different. I haven’t been… I haven’t been through anything like that. And I had you to show me how.”

GM: Diana looks at Celia curiously for a moment.

“Sweetie, can you…?”

She motions at the spot next to her.

Celia: Celia rises and moves to the spot next to her mom.

“I didn’t know if you’d want me close, after…”

GM: Her mom touches her belly.

She tilts her head, her eyes distant, then slowly shakes it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t…”

Celia: “You… what?”

GM: “I don’t… I don’t know… I’m sorry.”

She removes her hand.

Celia: “Oh… oh.”


“You can feel her?”

GM: “You’re… oh sweetie, you’re pregnant?” Diana exclaims in a furious whisper, a smile lighting up her face.

Celia: “Er… not exactly…”

GM: “Oh. Ah, well… it’s a bit of a yes or a no question…”

Celia: “There’s a… there’s a doll inside of me.”

GM: Diana’s face goes still again.

Celia: “She, um. She said you were her mom once. So I… took her.”

GM: Diana gives a hiss-like inhalation of breath and presses her head against Lucy’s again.

The other Lucy’s.

Celia: “Sorry. I told you I wouldn’t talk about it. I’m sorry. I just… wondered if that’s what you were feeling.”

GM: Diana doesn’t answer Celia’s statement.

Celia: “I’m not pregnant. I can’t get pregnant. I’ll never be able to give you grandkids.”

GM: It’s a little while before she looks up again.

Celia: Celia stays quiet while her mother works through her emotions, unsure of what to say.

GM: Her eyes cut to Celia’s belly again, but she swallows and pulls her daughter close into a half-hug (the most she can with Lucy on her lap), and mussels a hand through her dark hair.

“Celia, I will always, always, love you. I don’t know what God thinks of you, or how He’s going to judge you. That’s up to Him, not me. All that’s up to me is being your mom. And I’ll… I’ll always be your mom, baby… okay? I don’t want to leave you, I don’t want to forget this part of you, I want us to stay a family, okay?”

Celia: Her lip trembles at the declaration. She doesn’t know how much of it is Diana and how much of it is the blood she hadn’t mean to give her straight from the wrist earlier, but the acceptance of her—even knowing what she is—deeply touches her. Red appears in the corners of her eyes, leaking slowly down her cheeks while she hugs her mother tight.

“I love you, Mom. I love you so much.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie… with all my heart…” Diana murmurs back, holding her daughter close and stroking her hair.

“We’ll do… we’ll do a night wedding for Emily, and I’ve got six other kids who can give me grandbabies, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s a lot of grandbabies,” Celia says with a watery (bloody?) laugh into her mother’s shoulder.

“I’ll just have to spoil them all.”

GM: Five.

Diana’s still counting Isabel.

Celia: Celia doesn’t correct her.

Six, anyway, for Ethan.

Technically a grandkid already.

GM: “Yes. It is plenty…” Diana laughs. “You can be their cool aunt.”

She looks back down at Lucy.

“And there’s already someone who calls you mommy, anyway…”

Celia: “That’s very true,” Celia says, pulling back. She wipes at her face and smiles down at the goose. “If you and Maxen get back together, what are you going to tell him?”

GM: “Well, at that point… the truth, I think,” Diana answers. “If we are getting back together. I don’t want to rush into it, like I said…”

“Oh. Speaking of the truth, sweetie… there’s Emily.”

Celia: “She can’t know. No one can know, Mom.”

GM: Diana looks at her curiously. “But I know.”

Celia: “And that’s what we need to discuss. Because humans who know break the rules, and if I break the rules I die. Die again. For real this time.”

GM: Diana gives a faint chuckle. “That’s nonsense, we’re not hurting anyone.”

Celia: “This isn’t like human society. If anyone finds out that you know, they kill you. They kill your family. They kill me. There’s no police officers for vampires, there’s no lawyers, there are no second chances.”

“There are people out there who hunt people like me, who kill people like me. Humans like you. The night I came over for dinner and I told you about the break-in? I lied. There was a break-in, but they weren’t after money. They kidnapped me. They tortured me. They cut up Alana. They raped me.”

“That’s what they do to us. That’s why people can’t know. That’s why when someone like you finds out, you die.”

GM: Diana’s mouth falls open.

“They did what to you?!”

Celia: “They… they raped me. I was handcuffed to a bed, and they stabbed me with a knife, and they… he… he kept calling me his vampire slut, and he…”

GM: Diana hugs her close again and starts crying. “Oh, my baby… my poor baby… you’re safe here… you’re safe… I love you…”

Celia: “And that’s… that’s why, Mom, no one can know.”

GM: “My poor baby…” Diana repeats, hugging Celia tight. “It’s not your fault… it’s not your fault… I love you… you’re strong, you’ll get past this…”

Celia: “I’m past it, Mom. It’s fine.”

“But do you see?”

GM: “It’s not fine, sweetie, someone hurt you! Have you been… seeing someone, for help?”

Celia: “Yeah. I have someone that I can talk to.”

GM: Celia has to spend several minutes assuring her mother she’s fine before Diana reluctantly drops the topic.

“Okay, sweetie… we’ll keep this secret, absolutely secret… I won’t tell anyone you’re a vampire, ever…”

“We have practice at that, don’t we, with your dad and Lucy’s dad… what’s another secret.”

Celia: “It’s not like anyone is going to ask about this one,” Celia says with a wry smile.

GM: “That’s right,” Diana smiles just as wryly back.

“But I want to tell Emily, sweetie. She’s kept both of those secrets. We can trust her.”

Celia: “Mom, this isn’t like who my dad is. This is a matter of life and death. This is people coming for you in the middle of the night and killing you. I need you to understand that.”

GM: Diana is quiet for a moment.

“I have always believed your father is a matter of and death, Celia,” she answers slowly.

Celia: “You think he’d kill you for that?”

GM: “I… I don’t think, I pray not now… but that is what I always have believed,” she answers in the same slow tone.

Celia: “Why?”

GM: Her mom looks at her confusedly.

“Celia, baby, I know it’s been a while, but I told you… when you were 14, remember, in the hospital… that you couldn’t tell anyone, anyone, or he’d kill me…”

Celia: “And I never told,” Celia says, “so why are you trying to tell Emily?”

GM: “I did tell that to Emily, sweetie,” her mom says quietly.

“For seven years, I’ve trusted her with that matter of life and death. She hasn’t let us down. She’s your sister. A burden shared is a burden halved.”

Celia: “Not this burden.”

GM: “Yes, this burden! All burdens, sweetie. Just havin’ someone else next to you, who shoulders the load… that doesn’t just make it lighter, it draws you closer. Binds you together.”

“Secrets hurt.”

“I mean, you said it was hurting you, to have to eat all the food I made. Because I thought you… well, ate the same way as… the way you used to.”

Celia: “People like me can read minds. It’s not just not telling. It’s not thinking.”

GM: “Oh. You can read my mind?” Diana asks.

Celia: “No. I can’t. It’s a fairly advanced talent. But others like me can. We all do different things.”

GM: “Oh. Well, I was going to say. You saw when I delivered Lucy, so you’ve seen just about all there is to see with me,” her mom chuckles.

Celia: “Right, but you don’t understand. If someone knows you know they’ll take you and rip through your memories and find out everything about you, about me, about Lucy, about Emily.”

“And then they’ll lock me in an iron box and burn me alive. And I’d like to avoid that. You know?”

GM: Diana holds her hands to her mouth. “Okay, so… we just don’t ever talk about it, outside the house…”

Celia: “You can’t even think about it. That’s the problem. That’s what I’m saying.”

GM: “But… I am going to think about it, sweetie,” her mom says slowly.

“I can’t not think about it…”

Celia: “Right. Which is why we have one of two options. I can erase your memories. Or I can… turn you into a ghoul.”

GM: “Can you… go over what that involves for me, sweetie?”

“Dani did, a bit, but she said she was so new to this. I’d just like to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, you know?”

Celia: “You drink my blood. You stop aging. You develop powers, things sort of like what I can do. But anyone like me who tastes your blood can pick up my blood in you. They can use you against me. You’re subject to the same laws as I am, the same territory disputes. If you want to work at McGehee I’ll need to talk to a night doctor so they can mark you so you don’t taste like a ghoul, so no one can ever know what you are.”

GM: Diana looks unsure of all that.

“Do you think it’s a good idea? If they can… use me against you?”

Celia: “The other option is erasing your memories. Or you leave the city.”

GM: “But I can’t leave, my life is here. My children’s lives.”

“And I don’t want to forget this about you. This is who you are.”

Celia: “Then this is what we do.”

GM: “Plus I’d keep cooking for you, wouldn’t I?” her mom says with a chuckle. “Or trying to.”

Celia: “You would,” Celia says wryly, “and I’d invent new diets to avoid eating.”

GM: “It really does explain so much, how I almost never saw you eat…”

“That felt so bad, though. I thought you were angry at me.”

Celia: “I wasn’t. It just sits in my stomach and I have to throw it back up. And it tastes… uh, not good.”

GM: “Oh. You can’t taste it?” Diana asks.

Celia: “Dani can. It tastes like, um, garbage mostly. Ash.”


GM: “It does? All of it?” her mom asks disbelievingly.

“Oh, sweetie, I am so sorry!”

Celia: “You couldn’t have known. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“I always felt bad turning you down because I knew you were trying to be nice. Randy ate a lot of it.”

GM: “Ah. That explains where it all went.”

“I’m glad someone still got to.”

Celia: “My boyfriend asked the same thing. If you’d be upset if I brought him over for dinner and he threw it up.”

GM: “Randy, you mean? Well, so long as he enjoys it, but it doesn’t sound like he did.”

Celia: “No. My real boyfriend. He’s like me. Randy is a ghoul.”

GM: Diana looks confused.

“But I thought he was…?”

Celia: “He plays my boyfriend for my mortal cover.”

GM: “We’ve had him over for dinner and everything. We talked about how long it was taking him to slip a ring on your finger!”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: Diana blinks.

“Sweetie, that’s… that’s very strange.”

Celia: “…yeah.”

“To be fair, so is having a mortal family. Most of us don’t.”

GM: “I don’t see what’s strange about having a family. It seems strange not to. Very, very strange!”

Celia: “You saw me this morning. What I did. It’s dangerous.”

“I’ve always made sure I wasn’t hungry around you, but… I was last night.”

“If I lose control, there’s nothing to stop me.”

GM: Diana looks fearful. “Okay, so… so that won’t happen again?”

Celia: “It’s something I take every precaution I can to avoid.”

GM: “That was very scary, Celia… I don’t want to be scared of you…” she says slowly.

Celia: “I know, Mom. I don’t want you to be scared of me, either.”

GM: “But… I got over it, I guess. The fear just… I don’t know, maybe it was just a mom’s impulse to feed her baby, but poof, it was gone.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

It wasn’t.

But Celia doesn’t tell her that.

“You can’t give that much, by the way. You need some for you.”

GM: “But you were hungry.”

Celia: “But you’ll kill yourself.”

GM: “You drank it all.”

Celia: “I was hungry. I was very hungry.”

GM: “Well, there you go. I needed to feed you.”

Celia: “You can’t give that much, though. If you die, you can’t feed me. See?”

GM: “Well, I didn’t die. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but here I still am.”

Celia: “Because I had to give you my blood. If I hadn’t, you’d have died.”

GM: Her mom’s eyes glow at the subject. “Your blood tasted wonderful, Celia. Just… just wonderful.”

Celia: “Yeah? Like, ah, like what?”

GM: “Well, ah, it was very sweet. It made me think of all those racy jokes you and Emily like to make, on our girl’s nights. And tucking you in to sleep as a child. Sweet like strawberry shortcake. With makeup icing, but less gross than it sounds.”

Celia: “Yours, too. I could… it was like drinking pure love, Mom. I’ve never had anything like it. It made me warm and fuzzy inside.”

GM: “Oh, was it?” Her mom looks a little misty-eyed. “That’s all I wanted to do, sweetie, when I cooked for you, when I gave you food. I wanted to feed my baby. I wanted you to feel good. Feel loved.”

Celia: “I felt it. I really did.”

GM: “If this is how you eat now… I still want to feed you.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

She shouldn’t.

But the woman is offering.

And it was really, really good.

“Okay,” she says at length. “We can… we can do that. Not all the time. Just sometimes. Never when I’m hungry. Don’t spring blood on me, don’t just cut yourself to feed me and thrust it at me. But… if that’s what you want to do… I, I think I’d like that.”

“Can I see your arm?”

Celia nods toward where she saw the cut this morning.

GM: Her mom nods and holds it out. There’s still a bandage. It’s a long and deep cut.

“Okay. Then I’d like to do that too.”

Celia: Gently, Celia takes the offered arm in her hand. She winces at the cut once she peels the bandage back.

“You don’t need to cut yourself, either. I’ll show you once you’re recovered, but for now…” Celia leans in very slowly, and runs her tongue along the cut to seal it.

GM: Her mom raises her eyebrows. “Oh, sweetie, what are y…”

For a moment, there’s the tantalizing taste of her mother’s vitae, so full of that warm and fuzzy love. Celia’s tongue seals shut what’s left. Her vitae closed most of it already. She notes, however, that there’s still some faint scarring… the wound has had all day to heal naturally.

“Oh, my,” her mom murmurs.

“That’s some band-aid,” she chuckles.

Celia: “Well, otherwise you’d see people running around with holes in their bodies. Bit of a giveaway.”

GM: “That’s a relief I don’t need to cut myself, too… that wasn’t much fun.”

Celia: “No,” Celia agrees, “I imagine it wasn’t. I can work on the scar tissue for you before you go back to work. Not tonight, though. I still need to actually feed and I have… some things to take care of.”

Celia touches a hand to her stomach.

“If you want in on this, then I’m happy to have you. I’ll give you my blood and we’ll finalize it. But not until after I eat.”

“The boys should be here soon. I need to shower and get ready for the night. Are you going to be okay by yourself for a few? Or do you have any more questions..?”

GM: “Who’s your boyfriend?” Diana asks with a sly look.

Celia: “Ha. His name is Roderick. I’d like you to meet him.”

GM: “Good, because when I’d get to was my next question!”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

At least some things aren’t going to change.

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Story Twelve, Emmett Epilogue

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: And now it’s the end, again, only it takes Em a minute to realize it’s also a beginning, which maybe happy endings should be. Are supposed to be. But the truth of the story is always more complicated. The truth of people even more so, especially when those people are also monsters.

It’s a happy ending for Emmett Delacroix, and the beginning of the end for everybody else.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Bertram Villars arrives to find his office broken into one morning. Nothing much is taken, and even the vandalism is minimal. One piece of vicious graffiti catches his eye, though, spray painted in blood red as it is over the law degree on his wall:


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: Cash Money’s having a good night. It’s like all his other good nights. He’s in his club surrounded by his whores and thugs and pathetic petitioners. Even better, he’s surrounded by people. People he doesn’t know but who all know him, because he’s a mean lean Cajun rapin’ machine, and he’s a cop, too, so there’s nobody in this whole world of monsters that can touch him.

Only tonight, he sees something in the crowd that makes him curse and stutter through his debauched carousing. Tonight, among all the jealous gazes that tickle him at his table, one tugs at his attention, holds him in its grip.

They’re terribly familiar, is the thing, though damned if he can place them. He’s damned anyway, though, and he has the unmistakable impression of looking into eyes he had somehow acclimated to never seeing again. None of these are what shake Ricky Mouton to his redbone soul, though.

No, it’s that once when he was a boy he made eye contact with a cottonmouth in the bayou, and that was the last time he saw eyes that shape.

Only snakes don’t have eyelids, so they can’t wink.

But this one does, and after the officer of the law blinks, the eyes are gone.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: The nurses tell the sweet and handsome visitor who swings by that Mrs. Merinelli in the hospital there anymore. She’s no longer under arrest, either. She was discharged a little back. They mention the name “Malveaux.” Apparently some people get happy endings after all.

Except not really. Lena’s still half-awake in the living room, at god knows what hour in the AM, staring at some movie on the TV with glazed eyes and a half-eaten tub of ice cream. She’s already getting fat again.

She eventually slumps forward into a sugar- and depression-fueled stupor. Maybe she doesn’t register the words said by the handsome visitor, stolen into the room like a sandman into that border state between dream and waking. Maybe tomorrow will bring no further news about her missing husband and kids.

But a smile still touches the corners of the sleeping woman’s face.

Eveline Merinelli will have good dreams tonight.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Emmett: The dogs are barking again. Phil can’t get them calm, can’t even make them whine in response to his stern commands. Something in the house is just driving them mad. Some scent, maybe. He turns his attention to the thing he found in his office at work, the anonymous gift from some student or other. He wouldn’t normally keep such a thing, but he really has no idea who sent it to him, and besides, it reminds him of better days. Much better days. He’ll keep it, he decides suddenly. Hell, maybe he’ll dig out some tackle and bait to go with his new rod.

It’s been so long since he’s gone fishing.

In the same room, perfectly still and perfectly invisible, somebody smiles.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: A movie director might say a fishing boat and a dying carp on a hook is where it all began. It is where a movie director had it all begin, after the in media res opening scene. But there’s a sense of closure and everything coming full circle as a visitor walks up the now-familiar steps to 1415 Third Street.

The first time, he was a living boy, looking for affections to toy with and lusts to satisfy. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The second time, he was a dead man, striking a devil’s bargain to avoid a fate worse than death. Desperately fleeing the emptiness inside of him.

The third time, he’s… the others like him all say they’re dead, but the Sandman has died, really died. Whatever he now is, it feels more alive than he used to be.

But this time he doesn’t want anything from the house of nightmares. This time he’s just here to say his goodbyes, and perhaps offer thanks for this third lease on life.

The house’s matriarch is not present to receive him, though some part of her feels like it will always be here. But he isn’t really here for her, anyway.

Cécilia looks good. Really good, even in a sleeping robe and slippers, without her hair or face done up, and another man’s ring on her finger. It might just be because he can see the blonde of her hair, and the rest of her, all in color. Or maybe it’s the heartfelt smile that lights up her eyes, after he says who she is, and the feel of her skin and warm body against his as she hugs him. It’s her first, he realizes, not to Elliot, but to the real him.

He feels his new fangs lengthening in his mouth, too, at her embrace, at the sound of the heart beating in her chest, pumping hot blood through her veins. Some part of him wonders how she would taste. If the flavor of her lifeblood over his tongue would answer whether she is a monster too.

It’s probably for the best, when she pulls away.

For her. For him. He doubts that would make Maman very happy.

She’s happy for him, though. She really is.

“I hope you can find peace here, Em,” she says.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. It’d be nice if he did.

“You have forever,” she says simply. “And now that you’re longer burdened by your dark side… I think this second chance is just what you need. You’ve been through life and death, made mistakes, and come out the other side. I think you’ve gained wisdom from your experiences. I don’t think you’re the same man I met at a McGehee school dance. I think you’re right that you need time and distance to process everything you’ve experienced.”

She smiles.

“And there’s no rush. You have forever.”

She plants a chaste kiss upon his cheek. She wishes him luck. She wishes him well. She tells him to be careful out there. She tells him to stop by if he’s ever in town again.

Is she a monster?

Is this, as he asked another monster, inhuman indifference? Or real forgiveness, real grace?

Perhaps, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

Either way, she’s less of a monster than he is.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Finding shelter from the dawn is tricky, that first night. Camille tells him not to crash at Chakras. He’ll have to get used to finding shelter, if he wants to survive on his own. If he can’t do that in the city he grew up, he can’t do that anywhere.

But he does. It might be inaccurate to say that a man who’s died (twice?) is good at surviving, but Emmett Delacroix always got by on his own, and the Sandman will too.

He did tonight. He will tomorrow. He will for a lot of tomorrows.

This time he isn’t chasing his own death. He caught it, like a dog with a car, but it’s not true that he had no idea what to do with it. It tasted awful and he spat it back out.

So that leaves this.

The I-10 cuts through sun-baked Texas and Southwest desert before coming to a stop in L.A. Hollywood. The Dream Factory. The movie capital of America. It seems a fitting place for the Sandman to go first, maybe followed by a detour to Vegas and San Francisco, if he doesn’t change his mind. There’s also the Big Apple. Or maybe he’ll head south into Mexico, practice his Spanish. They say Mexico is dangerous because of the Sabbat. They say the Great Plains are dangerous because of werewolves. Frankly, everywhere sounds dangerous.

But the Sandman intends to go everywhere, because Emmett Delacroix was never one to listen to warnings. He’ll either survive or he won’t.

This time, at least, he’ll have help.

Eileen’s arms fit snugly around his chest as he revs up the motorcycle, clad in a leather jacket, no helmet, and a belief in his own invincibility’s entirely justified this time, at least from road accidents. The moon shines brightly in the sky, its silvery outline promising an eternity of nights ahead.

Eternity. It’s more than he honestly knows what to do with. Emmett Delacroix was always good at the chasing, never what came after. Maybe that’s why Sami struck it rich before he did. What would he have even done with all that money? What does someone who’s felt so empty for so long do when he gets everything he’s supposed to want? What comes next?

He didn’t know then. He doesn’t know now.

But Cécilia was right about one thing.

He has time.

He’ll survive or he won’t. He’ll figure it out or he won’t.

He’s seduced the devil’s own daughter. Orchestrated a revenge to make the most jaded elders of his kind proud. Burned down a mob boss’ house and spun his giant cannibal hitman into a friend. Killed a man everyone said was untouchable by the likes of him. Twice. Spat the arrogant and the powerful in their faces, when he wasn’t vomiting into their laps. Done things everyone warned would be the death of him, and were, and bounced right back from the consequences like a kid off a trampoline. Led an army of duped souls into the devil’s hungry maw. Fed his literal dark side to a monster. Outlasted nightmares, danced with demons, woven dreams into bedazzling tapestries.

He absently spins a new dream in the palm of his hand, and listens to Eileen clap and exclaim at the pretty show.

It is a pretty show. It’s a remarkable show. Whatever else might be said of him, Emmett Delacroix’s whole existence has been a remarkable show.

He’s been a man, been a ghost, been a vampire, and been as many things as tales he’s told and dreams he’s spun.

It’s time, now, for him to be something else. Perhaps many things else. He may be a literal bloodsucker, but the cancerous emptiness gnawing at his soul is finally gone. What he decides to fill it with is his choice. An infinity of vistas and an eternity of years stretch before him like the open highway.

He grips the motorcycle’s handlebars and roars off into the night.

Emmett: And what better way could he end his story, by beginning another one?

For a moment, everything is perfect.

Then his new, perfect face wrinkles in consternation. He swears, and his profanity is swallowed by the wind.

He yells at Eileen to hold on as he guns the bike into a wild, reckless turn that would set a man who had something to lose’s teeth on edge.

He’s just realized he’s forgotten something…

Wednesday night, 16 March 2016, AM

GM: The Sandman drives back to the Quarter. He drives back to the place it all began: the pretty little condo in hell.

Technically, it was never a condo. It was an apartment. But ‘condo in hell’ sounded better than ‘apartment in hell’, and that’s what matters. How it all sounds. How it all looks. How the story and all its pretty illusions come together.

He thinks back to the question he asked Cécilia during their goodbye.

“Do vampires become ghosts?”

“I don’t think so,” she’d said, shaking her head. “You, they, go on to whatever final fate awaits you.”

“What do you think that is?”

“The Lancea et Sanctum believe Kindred go to Hell, with the possibility of resurrection and redemption upon Christ’s Second Coming for Kindred who’ve been faithful to the teachings of Longinus. Many Invictus Kindred share that belief. Many Kindred raised in Western cultures without strong religious convictions still seem to accept the belief they go to Hell. Others just don’t think about it. Many Kindred who are atheists believe they simply cease to exist. Kindred who follow non-Christian faiths all have their own explanations. Caroline tells me one of her ghouls is Jewish and believes the same thing her faith teaches: mortals and Kindred who’ve done bad things spend time in Sheol having their souls purified, but even Hitler’s will be clean by the time the Messiah comes. Kindred who’ve made serious study of the occult can believe much stranger and darker things. Maman’s told me about one theory which holds that the Strix, demonic owls made of smoke and hate, are the specters of deceased Kindred.”

“So it’s like the mortal afterlife, in that regard,” she’d answered. “The only people who know for sure are the people who are there.”

“Ah, but I asked you,” he’d said. “Just like the last time we talked about this. What do you think happens to us?"

“I believe in a merciful and all-loving God, Emmett. But I also believe our blood defines us. I believe our blood is perhaps the strongest force in existence. Kindred have inherited the blood of Caine, and with it, his sins. I believe that Kindred go to Hell as a result of the covenant they’ve made with their forefather, even if they made it involuntarily. But," she’d then emphasized, “I also believe in Christ’s grace and mercy. I believe the Kindreds’ suffering doesn’t have to last forever, and that upon the Second Coming, those whose actions were more than their blood can enjoy a final reward not determined by their blood.”

“Maman just laughs whenever we talk about that,” she’d continued with a faint grimace. “I don’t think she shares my belief in that regard. She hasn’t told me exactly what she believes happens to Kindred after they die, but… I have the feeling her answer is much, much grimmer. And she knows so much more than I do. The implications of that can be very dispiriting to think about. I want to believe that something better can await you and Caroline.” She’d paused. “But that’s what it means to have faith: to believe in something better not because you have evidence, but because you trust in God.”

So he goes to Hell. Maybe not permanently, which is a nice thought, but even she acknowledges that he goes to a place of suffering and torment. It’s a refreshingly direct answer.

The truth is, it does’t much bother him. If there is a Hell, then by any reasonable metric, Emmett Delacroix deserves to go there. He’s made his peace with that.

“But ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” he’d repeated, just to be sure.

‘Ashed.’ He’d liked that word when it came up in the car with Sami.

“Ashed licks don’t become ghosts,” Cécilia nodded. “Maman tells me that most rules have exceptions—you’re a fairly obvious one, as I hadn’t thought ghosts could become Kindred—but she was very clear with me, when I asked, that destroyed Kindred don’t become ghosts. Whatever happens to you is final… outside of God’s hands, if you believe in that.”

Well, that’s good enough for him.

The Sandman drives and drives, and the night rolls past. He drives until it’s just the right time when he arrives back at his old place, just one story up from Café Soulé and the chocolate crepes he can no longer enjoy. He exercises a little of his new glamour, and one of the apartment residents happily lets him past the locked door. He walks up to the balcony where he used to take his smokes.

He waits.

He waits.

Then he starts to smoke.

There’s no lighter.

Or cigarette.

No, the smoke is wafting from his blistering, blackening skin. His Beast screams with pain, with rage, with panic. It’s the newest incarnation of pure evil to rent a room in the dilapidated house that is his soul, and it’s just as pissed at him as the last tenant. It wants to get away. It wants anything besides this. The Sandman grips the railing and stares ahead into the rising sun. He’s glad he told Eileen what he was doing, and that he told her to go back to Chakras, or wherever else she wanted to go. She doesn’t need to get burned trying to save him from the flames crackling up his flesh, even if burning other people through his self-destructive behaviors is what he’s best at. Who says he can’t learn?

He smiles and he feels a smoldering ligament in his jaw tear. He looks down at his hands and he sees something the color and texture of burning charcoal. His Beast is an all but physical force trying to throw him out of harm’s way. Soul-deep terror rocks through him like the strongest, longest line of coke he ever snorted (was he trying to kill himself then too, by ODing?), but he grips the railing like a lifeline. A deathline. He grips it and watches the rosy dawn sky.

The truth is, there’s no happy ending for people like Emmett Delacroix. A fresh start was a nice thought. Ending his story by beginning a new one was an even nicer thought. But he’s a walking disaster who’ll always be on the run from his past, no matter how many names and faces he hides behind.

There’s no happily ever for the Kindred, either, he thinks. They just have to enjoy the smaller parts of a very sad song.

That’s the real Requiem. The Swan Song. They might as well skip to the end.

He spent all his life chasing his end.

Gasper spent all his death chasing their end.

His Shadow even offered him Oblivion. Why didn’t he just take it?

Well, the truth was that Gasper pissed him off, and he wasn’t about to let that childish brat get one over on him. The surest way to get Emmett Delacroix to do something is to tell him not to do it, even if that means cutting off the nose to spite the face. This, he thinks savagely as he burns and blisters and blackens, is spiting someone else. His Beast doesn’t want him to do this. As far as he’s concerned, that makes it the right decision. He’d have been too good at being a vampire. It’s better for everyone this way.

And no coming back as a ghost, this time. Abélia’s reward was good for that.

Emmett Miloud Delacroix closes his eyes and lets the sun burn him to a crisp. For all the lies he told, and for all that could be said about his life, death, and undeath, there’s one thing people can now say for sure:

There’s one less monster in the world.

A smile touches the dead man’s face, as it ends where it began, and then he’s ash upon a morning wind.

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Story Twelve, Celia XXIX

“Anyone else would have broken.”
Celia Flores

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: The dolls pull her under, bit by bit. Wave after wave of them, surrounding her, tripping her, pulling at her with their grabby little hands and glaring at her with their hateful little eyes. She isn’t fast enough. She’d hesitated for too long, tried too hard to bring Key to her side, thought too hard on how to fix it. She’s going under, drowning in a sea of porcelain and chiffon.

But the doll in her arms: Lucy. Grace. Diana. One of them had given everything to tell her to flee. She’ll be punished as a traitor. But Jade won’t let that happen. The dolls might get her Kindred body, but they won’t get Lucy’s. She drags sharp claws down her front from sternum to pelvis and stuffs the doll inside. A pinch of her fingers seals the wound. It’s her last action before the enemies catch her, overwhelming her in sheer numbers. Her fingers brush against the door; she’d been so close. Then they’re on her. Around her. Under her. In her.

In her.

She’s there. Then she’s not. Something shatters inside of her, a tinkling chime of porcelain and glass. It tears at her skin, her eyes, her mind.

It breaks.

She breaks.

Leilani’s gentle smile is her smile. Jade’s sneer is her sneer. Celia’s face is her face. The Beast skulks nearby, half-shrouded in shadows, red eyes smoldering in hatred. And more, the others, the dolls: Princess, with the ballet slippers and the daddy who had always loved her. Blossom, whose father had never taken a hacksaw to her mother. Lucy, with the kind eyes and patient smile, a larger part of herself than she will ever admit. And the new ones, the ones she and Elyse would have made together had things not gone so poorly, had she not learned Diana’s truth: Lacey, Daisy, Bambi, Angel, Belle, Bonita, Bellamy. Dolls that don’t exist and never will. They surround her. They pull at her. Out there, in here.

Play with us.

One of us.

Stay forever.

Who are you?

What is its name?

And Lotus. The first, maybe the favored. Lotus watches. Lotus, with her curling black hair and her pretty face and her dress made of memories: her first kiss, first date, first time, first “I love you,” the dress she wore on the eve of her release into Kindred society, the dress she wore when she spoke to her sire for the first time during their rooftop interlude, when he had made love to her and told her that what they had was something special, the dress she wore the evening of her Embrace, when he plucked her from her childhood home and carried her into the sky and she was cold, so cold, and he trailed wintry kisses down her face and neck and sank two points of ice into her veins and drew forth the fire and blood and life from her body and her breath came out in ragged, throaty gasps and she knew without any shadow of doubt that he would drop her, kill her—

Frigid arms embrace her, cradle her against a hard chest. She looks but doesn’t see, eyes blinded by buttons. It’s not him. He’s not real. He’s a figment, imaginary like the rest of them. The nameless one.

Blood assails her senses.


Someone screams.

“You’re killing her!”

Wind whips across her face.

“I’ll tuck you in.”

Is this how it ends? An echo of how it began?

GM: Yes.

This is how it ends.

Him tucking her in.

Because Key’s screaming and there’s blood flying from his severed fingers.

Jade doesn’t see what happens next, doesn’t see if any of the dolls lose their hands too, because she’s soaring through the night air at breakneck speed, scores of feet above the ground and climbing still higher—

Celia: The air, the cold, the movement tug at her. The buttons fall from her eyes. The nameless one beats them back with the saber at his side, cutting through the horde in unchallenged efficiency. He doesn’t need anything, she and Elyse had long ago decided, but maybe he wants something.

Maybe he wants her.

The taste of freedom dances across her tongue as the nameless one slaughters the last of them. He turns to her and extends a hand. He pulls her out.

Only it’s not the nameless one. It’s the dark one. The cold one. And he’s not a doll: he’s real. There. With her. For her.

She’s not in her mind anymore. She’s not in the house anymore. She’s soaring through the sky. In his arms. Safe.




Despite the cold, the altitude, the dread in her belly at his ire, she finds comfort in his embrace. Nothing can touch her when he has her. Nothing but him. Her sire. Cold, merciless, meticulous; his is the composure that she strives for, the the mask she had sought to don this evening.

Now, seeing it in front of her, she knows she had not come close.

Reality comes back to her in little snippets. She touches him, fingers but a whisper against his cheek, and remembers who she is.

Celia. The name. Her name. Not Jade. Not Leilani. Not Star, Neveah, Jasmine, Princess, Blossom, Lotus, Lily, Lucy, Dahlia Rose, Em, Emil, Emily, Caroline, Veronica, Antoine, the Beast, the Beauty, the Bitch, the Madonna or the Whore.

She’s Celia. Just Celia.


Celia, of the heavens. Celia, reborn from the sea. Celia, childe of Donovan, chosen for… something.

CrAaazZYyy… someone giggles.

Celia finds the anchor that she needs in front of her. Uncertainty and the remnants of humanity slip away into the night, falling like the sanguine teardrops from so long ago to splatter against the ground. She touches him and the tips of her fingers freeze. She freezes.

“Celia,” she whispers. Frozen in time. Frozen forever. This is who she is. Everything else is a mask, a lie, a part she plays like a puppet on a string, like the dancer in her chains, each move choreographed in advance by him, for him. For him.

“Donovan.” His name leaves her lips, soft as a sigh, no longer a question but an answer. She curls her fingers in his clothing and tucks her face against his chest. She comes back.

She’s home.

GM: Flight with her sire could last forever. Celia, more than any of her other masks, has perhaps no place she’d rather be than held aloft in his arms. They’re cold, like the rest of him, but strong and unyielding. Like the rest of him.

She can be certain here. She can know who she is here. She can know what role she is supposed to play. The good childe. The obedient childe, working always to please her sire.

She can ignore Leila’s words.

She isn’t crazy. She’s not. She’s not. He won’t allow her to be. He’ll just cut it out of her, like he cuts down anything that would threaten her.

Rain pelts against the pair as they fly. It always rains in this city. Celia’s sire is dressed in the same black, double-breasted trench in which she saw him last. Water runs does down his expressionless, marble-like face.

Their flight feels as if it ends too soon when a familiar rooftop approaches. They land atop Celia’s haven. The one close to Vidal’s border. Donovan sets her down.

Home, in more than one sense now.

Celia sees the blade extending from one of her bracers. Any blood on the edge is long since washed off by the rain. Her sire runs the flat against his palm, wiping off the excess moisture, and retracts the blade back into its sheath.

She doubts he would care if he knew what the leather was made from.

His voice seeps into her thoughts like a chill night mist.

:: Explain. ::

Celia: It ends too quickly. Here, in his arms, she could enjoy the rest of her Requiem and never want for anything else. Petty worries and troubles fade away: there’s just her, him, them, the sky, his arms, the frigid temperature. She doesn’t need to breathe but she does it anyway, taking in long, deep, shuddering gulps of air as they move through the night. She breathes him into her lungs, lets his scent fill her.

The relief at her rescue ends as soon as her feet touch the ground. She has to come back down eventually. He’s not a hero. Her hero, maybe, but not a hero.

All the same, she doesn’t step away. She doesn’t give him the space that she should. The blade he wipes clean could gut her before she has a chance to start the movement. The thought shouldn’t make her shiver as it does. But despite her apprehension she’s glad to see it put to use.

How can she explain? She lost control. She’d let him get away with hurting her mother because it’s him. No one else will be afforded that luxury. A dozen lies flit through her mind, dismissed as quickly as they occur.

She’s in trouble. She’s in so much trouble.

:: We were friends. Then she sought to destroy something that belongs to me. ::

Her eyes don’t leave his face. She refuses to drop her gaze. She will not hide from him. He can see it anyway, watch it play through her mind: her Beast slipping its leash and attacking Elyse.

She’d lost control.

She has never seen him lose control. She’d thought it had been beaten out of her, but tonight just proved that she’s no closer to mastering her Beast now than she had been years ago.

It would have been easy to say that she needed to see him anyway and orchestrated a way to do so with none the wiser. Cause problems in his parish and he’ll be sent to deal with it; who would suspect that there was anything more to it than that?

She had even told Key she was going to call the regent or Elyse’s sire. Now the ghoul will just think that she had done so while he was busy orchestrating the defense and the sheriff had whisked Jade away to mete out his own sort of justice. No one has to know it was a rescue.

GM: His icy eyes linger on hers.

Perhaps he is watching what happened.

Perhaps he is angry at her. Perhaps he is disappointed.

His face gives away nothing.

Like the nameless doll.

She could be in so much trouble, and she cannot even tell.

:: Describe how you have been of use to me since our last meeting. ::

Celia: Of course.

Coming for her had nothing to do with her. He just can’t lose his little spy. His pawn. Not even a toy; at least you play with toys.

Her Beast simmers just beneath the surface, already on edge from the multiple times it had been set free this evening. Maybe if she rakes her claws down his face he’ll finally show something resembling emotion. Had it really only been hours ago that she’d thought he’d chosen her to save him? What a laugh.

What if she says she hasn’t? What if she tells him she’s done absolutely nothing but play house with her boyfriend and fix the mortal family he ripped apart when he decided to get involved?

Finally, she looks away. She stuffs it down deep where it won’t bother her. She turns away to hide the hurt; it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care.

:: Making allies. Gathering intel. Putting plans into motion. ::

Rain slicks down her face, flattening her hair against her scalp and cheeks. She swallows the rejection. It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. It can’t matter.

Be patient. Be patient so he can get what he wants from her and—

She stops the thought in its tracks.

:: You told me not to trust him. But you put me with him. Told me to help him. Weaken the prince, you said, so you could take the city. He says you are the frontrunner for the spot. If I continue down this path with him, will it harm your interests? ::

GM: :: No. ::

Celia: She’s silent for a beat. She sends another thought. A question phrased as a statement. Here, privately, where no one else can listen in, she requests the truth.

GM: The mental answer is the same.

:: No. ::

Celia: It’s not the answer she expected. She hadn’t even expected an answer. The picture begins to fall into place, but it’s a puzzle to which she’s missing pieces. No matter how firm a grasp she thinks she has on things there are parts that continue to elude her.

Until it clicks.

Another piece finds its home. But it brings up more questions, more uncertainty on how she should proceed, on what it means for her, for him, for them.

Celia reminds herself there is no them. Her “them” is down below waiting for her to come home, unaware that she stands twenty feet above his head, so close to the city’s sheriff that she can count the lashes on his eyes. Celia turns back to Donovan, lifting her gaze once more so she can see those same eyes that have long starred in her dreams.

One step separates them. She closes the distance and her eyes search his face, though she expects to find nothing.

Finally, she sends another message. Softer words. For all that she tries to be Celia the childe around him, not too many moments ago she was Celia the broken.

:: I have information. Plans. But I hesitate to take action without a complete picture. I will not be the reason that your goals stall. ::

There’s no one else she can talk to. For all that people say he’s a monster, he is at least the monster that she knows.

He doesn’t stand much taller than her. But this close he’s a giant. This close, when she thinks she’s finally unlocked some of the truth, when the request lingers in the back of her mind, he towers over her. He rises above mere Kindred as something other.

Nameless one. Donovan. It’s hard to keep them straight.

She reaches for him. Not because she does not respect him or the sanctity of his boundaries but because she does; because he is what she holds sacred; because she knows the power that lurks inside his mind and body; because when her fingertips brush his coat, his shoulders, his cheek it creates the tether that she needs to anchor her to reality. She knows exactly who she is.

She is his childe. She trusts him. Loves him. Needs him.

And for all that, she doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants.

GM: He’s there.

He’s not tall, as far as men go, but he’s always felt as though he is.

The rain is cold, but he is colder.

He does not touch her back with his hands. She feels his mind inside of hers, his presence chilling her thoughts like she’s stepped into a freezer. It’s as cold and dark as the rest of him. Others would recoil, but Celia does not. In her sire’s presence, she is secure. Safe. Destined for greatness.

So long as she is worthy of him.

So long as she does what he asks.

So long as she is a good childe.

He wants her to be useful because one can only be useful if they are strong. Only a childe who is strong is worthy to carry his blood. That is why he asks how she has been useful. She wants to be strong for him. She wants to be worthy of him. He wants her to be strong and worthy.

Storm clouds on the horizon. A darkening of his thoughts.

Tonight she showed she was weak.

Ruled by her emotions.

Ruled by her Beast.

Ruled by Elyse’s children, had he not saved her.

He gives her a chance still, to show she is useful. To show she is strong.

Yet bitterness and resentment still welled within her thoughts? For the mercy he now shows her? After his rescue of her?

Celia: The dark clouds of his thoughts gather, but her lightning strikes first.

There was another night where she had stared into his eyes too long. Then, he had pulled her in and showed her his Hell. Tonight she opens the door for him, throws it wide, and invites him into hers.

He fills her. Even here inside her mindscape where she rules his presence looms. But he is no king here. This watery terrain is hers, and while he gets caught up by the roiling storm on the surface—the anger, bitterness, and resentment he thinks he sees—she takes his hand and pulls him under.

Water closes over their heads. Others might think they’re drowning. Perhaps they’re meant to drown rather than swim. A strong current surges against them, half-formed monsters…

…with fins and rows of jagged teeth…

…and luminous little eyes meant to lure you in…

…made of shadow and stray thoughts surround them.

But this is her mind, her domain, and he her welcome guest. The monsters watch, wary of intruders, but keep their distance.

They go deeper.

Light disappears the deeper they go, but they are creatures of the night; when the trench looms before them, silent and dark, she does not hesitate to lead him toward it.

Here, too, the current runs strong. This time she lets it catch her and he comes along for the ride. It yanks them toward a whirlpool…

…chaos waters swirling, swirling, swirling…

…dragging them around, around, around…

…closer and closer toward the point of black in the center.

She dives.

They fall.

The rules of reality don’t apply here. Light bends around them. Space and time distort. He sees things whiz by in their mad descent toward the bottom of her mindscape’s ocean:

a girl in a pink dress, the hum of a ventilator, a green statue, jagged edges, rage in its eyes, a stuffed bear, the long teeth of monsters, eight candles on a chocolate cake, a bullwhip cracking through the air, perfectly painted nails, claws and fang and simmering anger, beautiful lies and ugly truths, ugly lies and beautiful truths, blueberry pancakes, questions asked a thousand times, words spoken by sealed lips, broken bones and severed tendons, mermaids, bubbles, porcelain dolls, a tiger in a gilded cage, a name carved into flesh, a bird with broken wings, the whispered words of long ago…

“I think there’s a monster under my bed”

“it’s all in your head, sweetie”

“Cici was just pretending”


“it’s okay”


“it’s all okay”

“help me”

“you’ll feel better in the morning”

“who are you”

“I love you, Celia”

They plummet.

He wants truth?

She’ll give him truth.

He wants to know what she has done with her time?

She shows him.

A thousand fractured fragments splinter past them, some so quickly he can’t see them all. Everything she has ever done for him. Every lie she has ever told for him. Every mask she has ever worn for him. Every word, every action, every thought, all of it wrapped up in him, him, him, every waking moment, every agonized decision, every betrayal, every hurt, every scar, every drop of blood—his, it’s his, his.


Seven years of his. Seven years of serving without knowing why. Seven years of no questions, no demands, no second-guessing. He had handed her to his enemies and she had made herself a place. She had carved a niche. She had made friends, collected allies, sought the favor or mentors to further his goals, his plans, his schemes, and she has not once ever resented him for it, has not been bitter for it, and her only reason for questioning him now, the only reason she asks anything now is to avoid destroying what he has so carefully wrought these long years because now, finally, everything starts to come together.

She doesn’t want to know his secrets, but she shows him hers. She doesn’t want to see his plans, but she shows him hers. She doesn’t need the answers to her questions, but she shows him hers.

All of it.

Strong? She shows him strength. Obedient? She shows him her devotion. Good childe? She shows him the line she has walked, the masks she has worn, the ways she has bent but never broken. Every night she finds the jagged edges of herself and smooths them over. She paints in her cracks. She fills the holes that this work leaves behind.

Anyone else would have broken.

The vortex batters them from all sides. It pulls them under. It pulls them deeper. It spins them around, over, under, backwards, sideways. It thrashes them, throttles them, pummels them.

Anyone else would have broken.

Night by night, she stitches herself back together.

Anyone else would have broken.

Anyone else would have broken.

Finally, it spits them out into a small cave, the one secret piece of her that no one has ever touched, the thing that the monsters, the lies, the claws and fang all protect. Calm waters lap at their feet, and even his ice isn’t enough to chill it.

The bare rocks hold no further answers for him. There are no words etched across their surfaces that he can peruse, no pictures painted in clay or mud or blood. It’s just them, him and her, the monster and his maiden.

Celia Flores, nineteen years old, in flowing chiffon and silk that match the storm in his eyes stands before him. Waiting for him all this time. Knowing that one night he would come back for her. The girl he had dropped into the ocean has made it her home. And like the rest of the world’s waters, very little has ever been discovered about its depths.

Until now.

The thing about secrets…

… is that the greatest of them are hidden in the most unlikely places…

… and to keep one, you must hide it from yourself.

It starts as a ripple in the water at their feet. No moon controls the tides here, no earth quakes beneath them, but all the same the water ebbs and flows in gentle waves against their shins. Warm, tropical, like the long ago summer sun against their skin. It stirs at her command.

He’d thought she was tapped? That these bare rocks hold no more secrets?

Oh no. She’s just beginning.

The answers aren’t written on the rocks because they reside within the water, hidden away like her cave. She wouldn’t leave them out in the open where anyone could steal them; she’s tied them to her core, to the real her hidden beneath the tons of ocean above, the guardians, the obstacles. Even the empty room is but another trap; were she not with him he would be caught here in this little cave, a prisoner inside her head, crushed beneath the weight of the water that would rush in. Intruders are drowned.

But he is no intruder. She has invited him in, and now she shows him what he has asked for.

She summons the soul.

Drops of water bead together at her urging. They coalesce, lifting, seething higher, disconnecting from the larger body around them. In vaporous rivulets they snake upward like smoke from a fire.

How could he doubt her?

Water takes so many forms.

The molecules bind. They separate, divide, amass. Hues emerge, particles of light glinting off their surfaces. He may be an achromatic creature, but she is made of color.

Wispy tendrils converge on one another, swirling together to form coherency. Translucent bubbles take shape.

Something moves in their midst.

White, it flashes through the orbs like lightning through the sky. Energy. Her energy. Little pieces of her that dance and twist and cavort. It bubbles and froths inside the spheres. Fluid, flexible, mercurial.

Seven orbs form from the waters that separate. One by one they take their place in front of her, between them. Seven orbs for seven chakras, seven memories, seven thoughts, seven plans, seven secrets.

Seven orbs for seven years.

A wave of her fingers sets them to spinning in circular orbits through the air. All he has to do is touch them to learn what’s inside.


She will show him worthy.

Every building and painted face begins with foundation. Everything has a base. So too does her vision for the future, and so too do her goals. She has spent long years building her repertoire, honing her skills, and practicing her craft. Now, she unveils it for him.

She starts with red.

The globule pulses above her hand: crimson, claret, and carnelian, currant, cherry, and carmine. A hundred shades of red reside within the confines of the rondure, bubbling and gurgling in effervescent glee.

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

Red is the base. The root chakra. It ties to the physical identity of every being and oversees their base needs: security, survival, stability. Without the root there is nothing; a building without a solid foundation will crumble into pieces. Red allows her to stand on her own two feet and withstand whatever challenges come her way, but even the strongest king doesn’t rule alone.

Fitting, isn’t it, that the gemstone most associated with the root chakra is onyx.

He is her foundation. Connecting to him, touching him, it centers her. It reminds her who she is, what she is, what their goals are. She can wear a thousand masks and be a thousand things to a thousand different people, but when she is with him she knows the truth: she is Celia Adelaide Flores, childe of Donovan. Nothing else matters.

He had told her once that she has a place with him in his new order. Then, she had not understood what he meant. How could she possibly serve a god? How could she offer anything that he could not take for himself? In time it had come to her: the role he has cast her into, how she can make herself useful. And she has made herself very, very useful.

She shows him her vision: the darkened throne room, and he on the stone chair. He does not want it for himself—(he kneels, he waits, his time will come… they place a crown upon his brow… he assumes the throne, then casts the crown aside… he kneels once more)—but she puts him there on the pedestal in her mind. And beside him, with eyes that burn like green fire, she waits in leather and lace. The door opens, admitting a petitioner that bows before him and says his piece. The Donovan on the throne is silent. He does not do so much as turn to her, but when he speaks the word she knows her orders.

The Chameleon vanishes before her steps have finished carrying her from the room.

That is the place she wants in his new order. So she has set herself up to take it.

Starting with the roots.

Like the rose of her clan, she spreads her roots through the city, an interlocking system of connections that she has forged across all manner of borders. In New Orleans that tangle is the thickest; here is what matters, but their city is not an island cast adrift in the middle of the ocean. The roots reach out to other cities where she has planted seeds, each of them blossoming into little gardens of their own that she has tended over time: allies, mentors, favors, secrets, debts, and safety. Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Miami, DC, Seattle, Las Vegas.

All of them ripe for plucking whenever she needs a hand.

She moves on. The garden grows.

Her name has not been connected to the woman who owns the company, but she has had more than a hand in it all the same.

The thing about insects is that you don’t notice them beneath your feet until they start to bite. They scurry, scurry, scurry through your house and learn your patterns; they catch you with your mistress, watch you do lines of coke before your big meeting, know exactly where and how deep the bodies are buried.

Kindred and kine alike, she has been inside their havens and theirs homes. She has seen their dirty laundry and the skeletons in their closets. Silently, she observes it all.

Bugs catch everything.

She moves on. The garden grows.

In nature, many plants and animals form symbiotic relationships. Some of them are parasitic, where one organism benefits and the other is actively harmed. Some are commensalism, where one organism benefits and the other is neither harmed nor helped.

And some are mutualism, where both organisms benefit.

Star and Stanley both benefit from their arrangement: he gets a hot Latina lover on the side, and she gets to see every single bit of paperwork that passes his desk and overhear every single conversation that takes place in his office. She sees their faces. She hears their stories. She learns their secrets.

And when she wants something looked into she uses him as her intermediary so that her hands stay clean.

She moves on. The garden grows.

Dolls are funny things, aren’t they? Cute. Feminine. They wear what you put them in, stand how you arrange their limbs, smile contentedly even when they witness horrible atrocities.

They see everything. They hear everything. And when they’re living, breathing, things and can move of their own volition they get into even more. They travel in their little boxes, far and wide across the country, but some of them find homes right here in the city.

The little girl shows him her dolls.

“This one is Sunshine. Her father didn’t think she was very bright, so we gave her a name to make her shine. Now she’s married to a political consultant and takes notes at all the meetings.”

“This one is Jewel. She cheated on her husband, so he sent her to us for refining. One of her sons works in media, and the other is a real estate attorney.

“This one is Chastity.” The little girl giggles. “She’s a secret from the mother. Her aunt wanted her to join the family business, and now she makes bank on her back.”

“And this one is Bree. She’s not like the others. She inherited an arms dealership and her daddy just wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t blow up the world in a fit of feminine rage. Girls can be silly like that.”

She moves on. The garden grows.

The foundation has been set. The roots have taken hold. Now that the web has been spun by the spider, she shows him the flies that she has caught.

Once upon a time, the story goes, a singer loved a sculptor and asked him to be hers for eternity. The sculptor was taken by the singer and agreed to her request. But the singer was a fickle sort, and soon her interest waned. The sculptor spent long years vying for her attention before he finally gave up and walked into the sun.

But everyone knows that the Beast won’t let their kind take that sort of easy out.

Wounded, the sculptor left the city. His abandoned clan thought he had been destroyed. But he was only waiting, biding his time to avenge himself upon the singer who so callously threw him aside. One night he met another sculptor, one who deals with flesh instead of marble, and the two sculptors devised a way that they could help each other.

She moves on.

“The thing about kine politics,” Celia explains to a girl whose face is in the process of being transformed, “is that every Kindred wants a piece. They know that ruling the kine can make for a better Requiem. And while Marcel and Marguerite may have years of experience on me, while they can sit back in their plush offices and consult to their heart’s content, I have one thing that they don’t: I can get in on the ground level.”

“To charm them, mistress?”

“No, ‘Lana, not the way you’re thinking. I don’t need the gifts of my clan to wrap someone around my finger.” She adds the finishing touches to the look and steps back, admiring her work. “And the mental and emotional tricks are too heavy-handed to use like that. Start blasting everyone with it and rivals or hunters are sure to come knocking.”

“And tonight, mistress?”

“Tonight,” Celia says as she begins the work on her own face, “we are two pretty co-eds who are oh-so-interested in what Mr. Coxx has to say, and pretty please won’t he take us back to his room and show us a good time.”

Back in the cave, Celia stands in front of him. A single sphere remains unviewed; it pulses and throbs in hues of green, a veritable forest teeming with life and plants.

Green, for the heart. It’s the middle chakra but she saved it for last, and she sends it to him now with a flick of her fingers.

“They say that this one bridges the distance between above and below, spiritual and physical.” Her voice is liquid, it ebbs and wanes as the tide, at once both ancient and innocent. “It’s the ability to connect to others, to give and receive love, to show empathy.”

She will be his bridge. She will touch the people he cannot touch, break them with compassion just as easily as he breaks them with cruelty. She has done it before. She knows how the game is played.

She presents this final creation.

She shows him the bridge that she has already built and the plants that teem along it: the lilies, the crocuses, the violets on their lines of ivy that wind and stretch around every baluster and blanket the space between in floral fragrance. Small things yet, still being tended by the girl who planted the garden and built the bridge with her own two hands; many of them have begun to bear the fruits of her labor, but she would not yet call them “finished.” Some are still just empty stalks, waiting for the right conditions with which to flourish.

Except for two.

There are two here that she wants to show him. Two that have grown larger than all the rest. Two that have flourished under her careful cultivation and can now be harvested as desired. One has heart-shaped blossoms that dangle from slender, arching stems, interspersed with delicate and fernlike foliage that creates the perfect backdrop to the flowers. The other is taller, willowy, with six lobes that fan outward from the center stalk. A common garden plant, no one notices what hides within the petals.

The iris and the bleeding heart have bloomed.

The heartstone is Jade.

The colorful orbs fade. The bubbles pop. Surface tension that had once held the warbling globules together dissipates; teardrops rain from the seven spheres to splash into the water at their feet. It ripples outward in ever-expanding concentric circles before crashing into the edges of the pool.

Tonight she was weak. She doesn’t deny that. Tonight she lost control. Tonight she needed him like she has not before, and the resentment and bitterness he felt coming off of her was not for him; it was for her own failings. For seven long years she has not needed him to hold her hand and guide her through her Requiem. She has been content to make her own way, forge her own alliances, collect her own friends. But tonight, yes, tonight she needed him.

And he came.

How her heart had rejoiced when she emerged from the prison in her mind to find herself in his arms. How could she say that, though? How could she tell him the words etched across her heart and soul, how could she explain that he means everything to her and that letting him see her like this is just another punch in the gut after an evening of abysmal disappointments?

She has only ever wanted to be worthy.

Even now the the events of the night spin through her mind. How she can explain what happened to Elyse. How he can secure the position of cold-hearted, merciless sheriff and prevent anyone from ever knowing that he had saved her. How they can twist a setback into a victory.

She sees it so clearly in her mind: he wakes Elyse, binding her to him, and tells her that Jade Kalani has been apprehended and punished. He tells her that already he has taken a dive inside her mind to see the events of the evening, and that Miss Kalani’s consciousness had unraveled to reveal the truth: she had been given a deeply submerged directive by an enemy of Elyse, the Invictus, the Sanctified, Donovan, or the prince himself. Torpor Elyse so that the enemy can take her place. Torpor Elyse so that it looks like the first shots fired from the lord of the Quarter. Torpor Elyse for personal reasons. It could have been Sabbat. It could have been Tremere. It could have been a Ventrue, and the blue-eyed blonde flashes through her mind; Elyse was a target because of where she lives. The four-toed, raven-haired zealot flashes through her mind; Elyse was a target because of what she had done to Diana, for all she hates the woman. Or it could have been another: A new night doctor who has heard of Jade’s abilities and sought to sour their relations and remove the competition. A Nosferatu who has picked up tricks outside their clan and thought it would be hilarious to watch the two beauty-obsessed Kindred in the city tear each other apart; after all, she made such a decidedly easy target when she wandered so willingly into their sewers and night club. Jade will smooth over the relationship from there and retain her position with Elyse to keep her network secure.

She has only ever wanted his attention.

But not like this. Not this cold fury. Not this dissection of her person and purpose. She wants what Roderick has: she wants to learn. She wants him to show her. Centuries; he has had centuries to hone his skills, and she just wants a small portion of what he can offer. An hour of his time without demands for answers and information and plots and plans and schemes. Just him. Her. Together.

She has only ever wanted him.

Barefoot in the water, Celia Flores lifts her gaze to her sire’s. Darkness swims in the depths of her brown eyes; his storm gathers within her.

GM: Celia dives, and her sire follows under.

He is well at home among the monsters. She’s seen the inside of his mind, after all. He follows the current. He does not need to fight it or to confront its monsters. He has nothing to prove.

He waits, patiently, at her demonstrations of filial loyalty.

He does not reply aloud. There is no need to speak in this place.

But Celia knows.

He told her that she had a place at his side. She did. As a mole and agent by his own sire’s side. If she desired a greater place than that, it was incumbent upon her to envision and incumbent upon her to seize. Competence cannot be bequeathed. Initiative cannot be bequeathed. Vision cannot be bequeathed. Even his own sire, for all his charming veneer, has not declared that he wishes Celia to be his spymaster: others cannot realize one’s ambitions for them. Some Kindred have ambitions and some do not. Some Kindred aspire only to exist from night to night, used by their elders purely as tools, and others aspire to be more.

He believes, now, that she aspires to be more.

Is he pleased?

Even here, so deep within her mind, he shows so little of himself. No warmth radiates from his thoughts. No smile creases his features. But he would not be the same Kindred if he did. Perhaps Celia would not have brought him here if she thought he was capable of such. He is who he is.


There is a place for one who plants gardens and plucks their fruits.

There is a place for one who can become as an insect.

There is a place for a mutualist organism.

There is a place for a dollmaker.

There is a place for a sculptor of flesh.

There is a place for the pretty co-ed.

There is a place for the chakra opener.

There is a place for one who would be his bridge.

There is a place for one who would wear all of these faces and many more.

There is a place for one who would be his spymaster.

There is a place for one whose identity is what she needs it to be.

There is a place for one who would be more than simply a mole.

There is a place for the Chameleon.

He had but waited for her to claim that place. He could not do it for her.

His storm gathers within her, then about her, and she knows its frigid kiss.

Celia: The storm crashes against her. It does not rage for he does not rage; it consumes. It consumes everything in its path and would sweep her along with it, but the mental projection inside her mindscape is a maiden in the monster’s arms; it has long been her safe harbor.

She welcomes the frigid touch of ice and wind and rain against her skin.

She welcomes what it means for her. For them. And for their city.

She gives herself to the storm.

GM: She gives herself to him. His wintry and all-consumptive kiss freezes out all lesser sensations, but is all-too brief.

He is pleased she would be more than a mole.

He is pleased she harbors ambitions for greater things.

But her lapse of control was a weakness.

Weakness must be punished.

Weakness must be purged.

He punishes so that she may improve.

He purges so that she may be all she aspires to be.

She will accept her punishment if she loves him.

He offers her a choice: physical chastisement or a third draught of his blood.

Celia: It’s always too brief with him. Every moment that she has with him ends too quickly, and tonight she will not push for more. Tonight, despite what she has shown him, despite his pleasure with her shared ambition, she knows that she made a mistake and that she must pay for it.

The choice he presents isn’t a difficult one.

She will not shy from her sire’s lessons. She will fix this. She will show him that she will not make the mistake again, that she accepts his judgment and her place. The physical chastisement will correct her behavior and the blood will make sure it never happens again.

Both, she tells him. She will take both.

GM: Reality dissolves around the pair as Celia’s sire withdraws his tendrils from her mind. They’re back on the roof of her haven, rain pouring down around them. Celia is soaked to the bone under her wet clothes. She’s not sure how long they were in there for.

Then, her sire hits her.

The attack comes without warning. His rain-slick fist smashes into her mouth, splitting her lip, crunching her jawbone, sending teeth flying. Celia’s knocked off her feet from the force of the blow. Her ears ring. Her Beast, furious, howls to counterattack.

This is love.

Her sire’s booted foot stomps down on her hand, noisily crunching delicate finger bones, cracking apart her perfect nails.

He lifts it, then stomps down again. Her wrist audibly snaps against the roof.

He yanks her up by her hair. For all the struggles of her Beast, its instinctive urge to flee or fight when confronted with pain, Celia forces it down.

This is love.

His pale fingers reach inside her mouth. Squeeze. Wrench. There’s a burst of pain as her jaw breaks from the force. It dangles almost limply from her head. She can’t close her mouth right. He must have snapped her mandible. Jaw’s weakest point.

This is love.

He takes hold of her lower jaw with his other hand. Shifts position, so they’re at opposite points. Squeezes. Celia feels her lower teeth press against his palms as he squeezes, squeezes, squeezes. She can all but hear the cracks running through her jaw before the bone crunchily fractures again, at two equidistant points under his palms. The pain is horrific. There’s blood, red and coppery, but not a lot. He isn’t cutting her. Her lower face is a ruin.

This is love.

It goes on for a while. Celia thinks he draws it out. He isn’t trying to kill her, just inflict pain. There are so many nonessential bones one can break. So many more that are nonessential to the undead.

This is love.

She hurts, everywhere, as the blows rain down, as his merciless pale hands squeeze, crush, and crack. Maybe he’s going to break every bone in her body. That would take a while, but he could do it, she’s sure. Who knows how much time remains in the night. He could do it faster. Leave her a Kindred slug, like one of Elyse’s fifth-order dolls, helpless to move under its own power, just a useless lump of bruised and bleeding and broken flesh. At least the dolls get their bones removed so they can remain in some way whole. He could just leave her broken everywhere.

This is love.

He seizes her head between his palms. Perhaps to squeeze. To just push his hands together, a horizontal nutcracker with her head as the nut. Squeeze and squeeze until she cracks. He hasn’t spent as much time destroying her face as Roderick did. Perhaps he should. That’s part of her she values most, if one asked her paramour.

This is love.

Yet through it all, Celia smothers her howling Beast, throws herself upon it like a soldier diving onto a grenade to save their unit. She can’t let it get out again. Can’t disappoint him again. Can’t fail him again.

This is love.

And perhaps it is. Her broken body screams with a hundred inflicted pains, but no new ones are visited upon it. Instead, she feels her sire’s pale wrist press against her fangs. Press until they puncture, and heady vitae wells forth. Ice-cool vitae, cold as any corpse’s.

Colder than any corpse’s.

He’s proud of her, for holding the monster in. That has to be it. He’s proud of her.

This is love.

She lies broken and bleeding on the cold, wet, hard ground like a wounded animal left to die, and he kneels to feed her.

This is love.

Celia: It’s love.

He loves her.

He has to love her.

If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t take the time to correct her behavior. If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t care what she got up to or how she spends her time. If he didn’t love her, he wouldn’t care that she is weak.

He loves her.

He does.

And he shows it to her with every blow that he rains down upon her. Over two hundred bones in the body, and she will let him break them all if he thinks it necessary for the lesson to sink in.

Let him. As if she could stop him. As if she would stop him.

The first strike sends her reeling. She stumbles, staggers, and finally drops to the rain slicked roof. His boot upon her hand shatters phalanges and metacarpals, delicate little bones that cannot stand against the weight of his blow. Her nails chip and splinter. Her wrist fractures. Her claws come out—but just as quickly they slide away when she beats her Beast back with her own white-knuckled rage. It has ruined so much for her this evening and she will not let it take this from her, too. She will not hide in the red haze and let someone else—something else—take her punishment.

She deserves this.

She is weak.

He will make her stronger.

Pain blossoms through her body, but she does not shy away from what he does to her. She does not run. She does not beg him to stop. She does not cry, not in front of him, never in front of him. She refuses to, even when her Beast claws at her insides, even when it howls in her ears, even when it demands justice for what he does to her. She fights that internal struggle and stuffs it in, stuffs it down, stuffs it so far within herself that it becomes a backdrop to what he does to her.

With a broken jaw she can’t clench her teeth. There’s nothing to stop the noise from escaping her throat and mouth. Shame burns in her eyes the first time it happens; what must he think of her that she can’t contain the song of pain? More weakness. More failure to be purged.

Fractured fingers try to curl to stop it, but another broken bone draws it out of her, an agonized, formless whimper that drowns out the crack and grind of bone.

He wouldn’t scream if someone hurt him. He wouldn’t grunt with each blow, each punch, each splinter of bone. He would silently bear it. She searches for the ice inside of her, willing herself to become as cold as he is, to halt the noises in their tracks. Maybe it works, or maybe at some point the pain hits diminishing returns, but eventually she falls silent.

He shatters her jaw, mandible, clavicles, ribs, sternum. Her chest caves, but her heart doesn’t cease its useless beating. It swells. Through the pain, it swells. Through the agony, it flutters. Through the excruciating torture, it loves.

She loves.

He loves.

They love.

Do strong enough words exist to describe what he does to her? Pain. Agony. Torture. Burning, wrenching, aching. Sharp, gnawing, throbbing. She’s lost in it, drowning in it, and only his hands on her body keep her from disappearing into the red haze. Only his hands on her body keep her grounded. Only the repetition of her name reminds her who she is, who he is, who they are.

Blood drips from her useless jaw when he’s done with her. When he finally lets her fall back onto the roof she sprawls in a dirty puddle, every bit of her broken. She follows him with her eyes and he can see the apprehension, the nerves, that he isn’t done, that he will do more, and she readies herself for another kick, another wallop, another explosion of brutality against her person.

And the trust. He can see that too. It swims in the depths of her eyes, trust and gratitude and steely pride, and something softer, something like affection. But deep. So very, very deep. An endless, bottomless pool of aching, yearning, devotion.

This is love.

The final strike never comes. Wounded and helpless, Celia can only hold still when he presses his arm against her mouth; she can’t even move her jaw to bite, can’t sink the points of her fangs into his flesh, so he does it for her, cradling her like a newborn while she suckles at his wrist. The first drops don’t even make it into her mouth; it’s not until he tilts her head back that she tastes him upon her tongue, her broken jaw hanging uselessly inside its fleshy prison.

Cold. So cold. Had she expected any differently?

She sucks eagerly at what he offers her, replenishing what the Beast had stolen from her earlier. She drinks deeply, savoring the taste of him, ardor curling in her belly and spreading outward in a living ember that engulfs her. While she drinks she sends the blood to the areas of her that have been hurt the most: her fingers snap back into place, her wrist straightens, her jaw clicks. She becomes an active participant in the feeding rather than a passive doll, though she knows better than to grab at him or take more than he is willing to give.

She drinks.

It’s love.

Her fingers brush against his coat.

It’s love.

Her Beast is finally silent, tamed by her sire.

It’s love.

And perhaps even more importantly, it’s acceptance.

GM: It is love.

All she knows is death and cruelty and paranoia. But cold though his vitae is, something within it warms her to her core. It’s comfy and enveloping and makes her feel safe and whole. There’s no more doubt. There’s no more pain. There’s no more fear. There’s no more being alone. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light ends with her sire’s face. She is warm and safe and loved here, deep in her cozy place. The cozy place will be with her always. He will be with her always. She need only close her eyes, and she will be back in the cozy place, the mother’s womb, her sire’s arms snugly around her. And if there are thoughts for Roderick or Diana or Lucy or Emily, they are as bugs spattering against a windshield. They don’t understand her like he does. They are not father and lover and sire and protector like he is. That is what it is to be someone’s everything. To be everything they could ever need. Right there in the cozy place.

She can’t imagine why anyone doesn’t want this.

Celia: One by one, the collars that have been thrown on her by other people snap. The bonds break. Her grandsire, Coco, Veronica, Josua, Pietro, Reynaldo, Caroline, and Roderick.


She sees his face as it snaps. The dead girl inside of her wails at the loss; they were meant to marry, to bond each other, to be happy. Tiny fists beat at the inside of her rib cage, venting ineffectual frustration and heartbreak. How could she do this to Roderick, that dead girl cries, how could you? She had one good thing and now it, too, slips away.

Her heart cracks.

His blood binds it back together. It fills in the gaps and chasms that Roderick leaves behind. He fixes it, enveloping her in warmth.

She chose this.

She wants this.

Roderick will never understand her like her sire does. She has to lie to him constantly, hide the core tenants of herself, deceive him about who and what she is. Donovan demands no explanations when she carves someone apart or ends their life; he just wants her to be strong, to be better, to be great. He chose her.

He chose her.

It means everything.

His blood courses through her. It kills everything else in its path, destroys every part of her that had ever belonged to anyone else. She’ll wear the masks, she’ll pretend, but nothing will ever come close to what it feels like to be wrapped within the comfort and security of his arms. No one will ever be able to pry her away from him. They can’t force her to betray him. They can’t make her work against him. The bond is a punishment, but it’s no prison.

It’s protection.

Celia rises, body returned to its pristine condition. He broke her, rebuilt her, saved her. Gratitude thrums through her in the wake of his blood. Her mind opens to him again, one final thought she would share this evening if he’s listening.

GM: He is the only one who truly listens.

Celia: :: The Malkavian. ::

Elyse’s face swims in her vision: pale and porcelain with painted on freckles, a living doll. Essential to Jade’s operation, or at least a portion of it.

She asks if he will wake her. If he will lie to conceal the truth. If he will use his position as regent and sheriff to plant the falsehood Celia had sent him earlier, the lie that turns setback to scheme and protects the nature of their relationship. It explains away his presence. No one will ever know that they are more than sheriff and harlot. He binds someone further to him. It benefits them both, this small thing.

GM: A single, cool word echoes through Celia’s mind.

:: Foolish. ::

A supporter of the French Quarter lord’s who attempted to slay one of his vassals would never leave the parish.

Not if he caught them.

Jade knew this and fled with her rescuer, whose face the Malkavian’s creations did not see. It is too coincidental that the sheriff and his agents would have noticed Jade’s flight, apprehended her, extracted the story, spared her unlife, and done it all in the remaining hours before dawn.

He will wake Benson. When and if others bring her torpid body to him, and explain to him what has transpired.

Celia can hear it in her ear. A too-familiar voice that tries to pull her out of the cozy place.


Celia: Just like that, her hope of an easy reparation vanishes.

She had told Key she was going to call someone to help, someone to wake her. She had been in the bathroom with Elyse, no dolls in sight, no one to report that she had never used her phone. It had been in her hand when she had left the room to find Lucy on the ground before the dolls attacked. She remembers tucking it back into her pocket so she could use her hands for the doll. She could have made the call.

But if he thinks it has no merit then it has no merit.

The familiar voice knocks at the entrance to her bubble. She closes her eyes against it, keeps it from taking root. Not here. It will not bother her here.

She doesn’t know what to do with Elyse now. If it’s better to stay away or push to fix it immediately. How could she just leave her friend lying naked in the tub like that?

She tells him that she understands.

GM: Were he nearly slain by an adversary lost to their Beast, he would slay any underling pathetic enough to entrust that same adversary to awaken him.

Key will not care what calls she has made or not made.

The ghoul will exercise his own best judgment on how to revive his mistress, if her sire has not already sensed her near-destruction and arrived to investigate.

The too-familiar voice whispers in her ear again.


Celia: Another knock on the door. It’s harder to ignore this time.

A tutor had once told her that it’s okay to be wrong in front of the person who is meant to teach her. That they’re guides and will correct her if she takes the wrong path. She thinks he might have never met the sort of monster to whom failure is not an option; she thinks he might have never had a figure like Donovan in his life, who expects her to be her best at all times. His admonition almost makes her flinch.

All the same, she’s grateful for the correction and explanation.

GM: :: You have struck her. ::

Then, Celia tastes blood in her mouth as her nose gorily crunches in, re-shattering the just-healed bone. Her vitae drips from her sire’s fist.

:: She will strike back. ::

What would she do if she were Benson, and the Kindred who struck her elected to ‘stay away?’

The companion who mauled her nearly to death for showing a tape of a favorite doll?

Celia: Pain explodes across her face. Her head snaps backwards; blood drips from her freshly broken nose to stain her skin and lips. She makes no move to wipe it away or reset it. The lesson needs to sink in.

Strike back, as he said. Find out what made Jade react that way to that doll when she has never had any trouble breaking women to turn them into dolls before, when she has shown such talent for it. Find out and use it.

Her family.

Maxen, Logan, and David are safe behind the walls of Audubon. But Diana, Emily, Lucy, even Sophia… and Celia herself.

They make such pretty little targets. Fragile, defenseless, one of them already trained.

Her mother is once more cast as the damsel, caught up in her daughter’s world. Maybe another city is the best thing for her.

GM: She seems happy enough to get back together with Maxen. Who seems just as happy to make Baton Rouge his new home.

Celia: She had been avoiding the thought. She does not want her sire to see the dinner she had with her father, does not want him to think that she interferes in his plans.

But it’s there in her head.

GM: :: Key will take his mistress to me, as her regent. Her sire’s choice, should he recover her, will depend upon his inclinations. ::

The Krewe of Janus’ leader carefully tries to avoid favoring either bloc of the Sanctified.

But most Kindred believe his personal temperament is far more in line with Savoy’s.

Dawn, however, is fast approaching. Celia will have to act soon if she wishes to avoid Sol’s burning eye.

Celia: If Elyse’s sire sensed the attack and has already arrived on scene there isn’t much she can do. She wouldn’t trust the lick that attacked her childe; most wouldn’t listen to what they had to say before sticking a stake in their heart to let someone else sort them out. And why would Harlequin take his childe to Savoy when one of Savoy’s was the person to attack?

Had she just inadvertently driven a wedge between the pair?

The thought pops whatever is left of the cozy feeling she had enjoyed only moments ago. Maxen’s whispers win.

She doesn’t want him in her head anymore. She doesn’t want him to hear the voice that won’t leave her alone. She doesn’t want him to see the desperation in the half-baked plans that flick through her mind to fix this before she loses Elyse forever. She doesn’t want him to know that she’s lost on how to salvage this, or that she’s afraid to go back into the house again because what if all of those things catch her. She doesn’t want him to see that the thought of being stuck in the sun paralyzes her, that she can’t spend the night elsewhere because she needs to talk to Roderick, needs to go to this dinner, needs to meet with her grandsire on Monday, and if Diana is picked up then she won’t make it to dinner and then Celia will have to explain who she is on their terms instead of hers and what if her family is just a loose end now, what if he expects her to get rid of them, what if he gets rid of them?

He can’t.

He could.

He knows what they mean to her. Knows they’re a weak spot, an easy target of enemies. But he uses them, too, to keep her in line. It’s not something she can afford to think about right now. She has to trust him. She does trust him.

She’ll set a guard, she’ll—

None of it will matter if Harlequin or Elyse really want to get to her. The parish lines don’t matter to the Regent of the Masquerade.

She has to move them. Move them, send a message to Elyse, beg for a chance to explain, balance the social scales. She already knows how she’ll do it.

It will be okay.

It has to be okay.

Her eyes find her sire’s, the storm inside of them finally settling into an icy chill as her panic subsides when she settles on a course of action.

:: Thank you, sire. For tonight. The lessons. And for… for saving me. Thank you. ::

There’s more. There’s always more she wants to tell him, ask him, discuss: the trick with the blood, Savoy, Maxen, the future, their future. But the night draws to a close and she has taken enough of his time this evening.

She doesn’t know when she’ll see him again. The thought shouldn’t hurt as much as it does. If he were anyone else she would reach for him, tell him that she loves him, kiss him goodbye. But he’s not someone else. He’s him.

GM: He’s him.

Just like that, he streaks into the night sky, a darker spot against so much black.

Then he’s gone, and the only answer to Celia’s thanks is falling rain.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: There’s no time to dither on what to do. No time to run downstairs to tell Roderick the problem. No time to even gather any supplies. Her hands blur across her face to set her features into the right visage—it’s painful, made worse by the broken bones that she can’t even set properly because she doesn’t have the blood to spare, her greedy Beast had stolen it from her after her sire had fed her as a petty act of revenge for standing there and letting him hit her—but within a moment the process is over. Her entire body twists and shifts after that, and the nighthawk she has become sweeps off into the night on silent, feathered wings. She flies for her mother’s house, everything else a distant concern to the thought of protecting the woman who has already known so much pain in her life.

GM: The nightjar’s flight takes tortuously long until Celia swoops down over her family’s home. She sees Diana outside, bundled up in a raincoat and leaving the house with a miserable but resigned expression.

She locks the front door, winces, then trudges through the rain on foot, heavily favoring her good leg.

Celia: That’s not what she expected. Where the hell is Diana going this time of night?

Celia tucks her wings into her body and dives, slowing her descent only when she’s leveled off a handful of feet above the ground. A fence provides the cover she needs to change back; she hurries forward after the woman.


GM: Diana almost jumps out of her skin at the exclamation.

“Oh, h-hi, sweetie.”

“What are you doing here, so early…?”

Celia: “Where are you going?”

GM: “Oh, I’m just out for a walk… I was already up, and to give myself a little time to rest before church.”

“Sweetie, what are you doing here so early? You’re soaked to the bone!” she exclaims, looking over Celia’s clothes.

Celia: She’s also bleeding from her face with a broken nose, but bless Diana for being worried about her daughter catching a cold with wet clothes.

“You’re lying to me,” Celia says baldly. “You were going somewhere. Where?”

GM: “Why don’t I get, get you in and make some hot cocoa, you can borrow some of my clothes… you can stay for breakfast, too, it’s been forever since we had breakfast…”

Celia: “Is Emily inside?”

GM: Celia’s mother shakes her head. “She’s with Robby, she spends a lot of her weekends with him,” she says, wincing as she limps closer.

Celia: Diana was going to leave Lucy by herself while she went to do… something?

Celia purses her lips.

GM: “Oh my god, sweetie, you’re bleeding!” she exclaims, her face a mask of shock.

Celia: That makes it easier, though.


GM: Diana takes off her hooded pink raincoat and fastens it around her daughter. She’s wearing a nice, semiformal dress underneath. Church clothes. “Oh my god, my poor baby… let’s get you inside, we’ll call Emily to come take a look…”

Celia: “No,” Celia shakes her head, “leave Emily, don’t bother her, I’ll get it looked at later. We need to talk. Get Lucy. We need to go. Now.”

GM: “My poor baby… you’ll catch cold…” sniffs Diana, only half-seeming to register Celia’s words. It’s as the kine woman gets close to her, fussing over the coat’s buttons, that Celia really breathes in her scent. She’s so warm. So loving. So weak. Exactly what her kind mean when they use the word kine.

And her Beast is so, so hungry…

Celia: It’s her mom, Celia all but snarls at her Beast. She beats it down, stuffing it deep inside of herself where it can’t cause any damage, where it can’t get out to ruin yet another thing for her. It’s the Beast’s fault she’s in this fucking mess; she’s not going to let the damn thing make it worse.

Celia yanks away from her mother. She’d rather be rude than a murderer.

“Stop,” she hisses through her teeth. “Listen. To. Me. I just beat the shit out of the girl who turned you into a doll and she is going to send someone for you so go get your daughter and let’s fucking move.

GM: Diana stares at her for a moment, then starts crying.

“It’s… it’s okay… that won’t happen…”

“Lucy’s safe… she’s going to be safe…”

“Your coat’s not on… let me finish… you’ll catch cold…” she fumbles for the buttons with trembling fingers.

Celia: Celia, once more, yanks away. She takes a handful of steps away.

“Mom. Fucking. Listen. Okay? I literally do not have time to argue with you. Either stop the half sentences or get a move on and get Lucy. And don’t come near me.

GM: “B-but baby, your coat… you’ll catch cold… let me finish your coat, let me get you inside… oh, sweetie, I love you so much, you’ll look after her, you and Emily…” She advances forward and tries to embrace her daughter.

Celia: There’s no time for this. Maybe if she was just hungry and didn’t have the sun about to burn her to a crisp. Or maybe if she was just running out of time. But not both. She can’t fight both.

She dips around her mother’s arms once again and finally does it.

She snarls at her mother.

She pulls her lips back from her teeth to expose long, sharp fangs in her mouth.

GM: Diana’s face blanches. Her eyes go wide.

Oh, the fangs might be enough.

But the snarl emanating from Celia’s throat sounds like nothing out of a human throat. It sounds like nothing out of most vampire’s throats, not with Celia as ravenous and on edge as she is. There is no mistaking that hellish sound for anything even remotely human.

Diana stops trying to hug her daughter.

“C-Celia…?” she gets out. “What…”

For a moment, she just dumbly trails off.

Then she just points.

Celia: Once the woman has finally stopped trying to fucking touch her, Celia lets the fangs fade away.

“Yes. There’s a lot we need to talk about. And we have very, very little time to do it.” Not enough time to get to a hotel to talk. Not enough time to book a room, check in, put the card on file, not before the sun rises. She’ll send her mother with Lucy by themselves once they’ve had this talk.

And she’ll… risk being here today when and if Elyse or Harlequin send someone.

She’s dead. She’s dead, that’s pretty much all there is to it. She’s dead as fuck. All sorts of dead. Really dead this time, not just fake dead, not animated corpse dead, not vampire dead. Truly dead.

“Inside,” Celia says, pointing at the door. “Inside, Mom, so I can explain. Please. And stay… back. Ten feet. At least.”

GM: Her mother’s mouth hangs open for a bit.

Then, falteringly, she nods.

She limps forward and unlocks the door.

She walks in first, looks uncertainly back at her daughter, then leaves the door open and strides backwards.

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat. She doesn’t know how everything had unraveled in one night, or what she’s going to do now. But she’ll figure it out. She always does.

She follows her mother into the house and closes the door behind her.

“We need a room without windows,” she says to Diana.

GM: A furious hiss immediately goes up. It’s Shadow. The calico, so named for her dark markings. Her tail is bushed as thick as a beaver’s as she bares her teeth and slowly backs away from the superior predator.

But Celia barely hears the sound. Barely sees the cat. All she feels is the torturous thirst. All she smells is blood. Poor blood, tofu-like blood, but still blood. Coursing through the feline’s tiny body with every pump of its heart.

“Shadow! Shhh!” her mom exclaims, scooping up the cat. Shadow yowls and claws Diana’s arms.

Celia: Celia can’t even be bothered to hide her contempt for the cat. She starts to snarl at it, too. The Beast starts to appear, rearing its ugly head again. Again. Again. It won’t leave her alone. It’s supposed to be gone. It’s supposed to be tamed.

Is this what she gets for even thinking that? Is this what she gets for sleeping around on Roderick, for killing that girl, for letting Josua fuck her, for letting down her grandsire, for beating the shit out of Elyse?

That a cat, a fucking cat, is going to make her lose her shit in front of her mom and kill the bitch?

Celia clamps down on the thought. She doesn’t move. She summons every single bit of herself that she can, forcing the Beast back into the cage in the middle of her chest where it can’t cause more problems for her. Its nails rake at her insides, snarling, itching to get out. There’s blood inside of it. Weak, shitty blood, but blood all the same. The stupid cat hissed at her, they should destroy it. Drink it.

But Celia wins.

Celia has to win.

Because if Celia doesn’t win then she’s going to destroy her mother, and everything she has ever sacrificed for her will have been in vain.

Tight-lipped, she orders the woman to get rid of the cat, to contain the other one, and to lock the door to Lucy’s room so there are no more surprises.

GM: Diana quickly hurries away with the still-scratching cat. Celia hears several pained “ows!” before it hits the floor unceremoniously and bolts off down the hall. Diana’s mother turns around and rubs her leg, but doesn’t come any closer. Her face is pale and she’s looking straight at Celia’s.

“Ah… her door doesn’t have a lock, sweetie, I’m sorry…”

Celia: Celia uses the time to send a text to Alana. SOS. 911. Mom’s house Now. She sends a similar text to Randy.

Of course Lucy doesn’t have a lock on her door. Diana wouldn’t do that to her; she’d seen Celia, Isabel, and the others locked away often enough after annoying Maxen to not want to do it to Lucy.

“I don’t have a lot of time to explain,” she says to her mom once the woman turns again. “If you hear Lucy get up you need to keep her away from me.”

Her eyes study Diana’s face.

“You don’t seem surprised. Surprised it’s me, but not that people like me exist.”

GM: There is a buzz from Celia’s phone, but not from any of her ghouls. It’s from Roderick.

Getting late. We still on?

Celia: Fucking. Fuck.

No. Thing with fam. Let yourself in. Will explain later. Love you.

GM: K. Love you too.

Diana nods slowly at Celia’s first statement.

“The cats… they’re so sweet, normally… but never around you…”

Celia: “No. And I don’t eat. And you don’t see me during the day.”

GM: “I… I do see you eat, though…” her mom says.

“Do you want some… hot cocoa, sweetie?”

She gives a pale smile.

Celia: “It hurts to eat,” Celia says by way of explanation. “I can force it, but… Mom, I’m happy to explain all of that later. I really am. But we need to talk. I’m going to be a corpse in about twenty minutes.”

GM: “Wh… a corpse…?” she asks, concern clouding her eyes.

“Oh. The… the sun. The sun hurts?”

Celia: “The sun hurts,” Celia confirms. “I lose my… animation, or whatever it is that keeps me walking around.”

She doesn’t take a breath. They never do anything for her anyway. But she wants to. She wants to just be normal.

GM: Her mother swallows. “I’m… afraid the rooms all have windows, this isn’t a big house… but there’s my bedroom closet, or I could wrap you up in a lot of blankies, and cover the windows too…”

“You know, pull the shades, maybe duct tape some blankets or clothes over the windows…”

Celia: At her mother’s offer of protection her composure cracks. She blinks back bloody tears.

“How d’you… how d’you know about..?”

GM: “Oh… is that wrong?” her mom asks, her face flickering. “Would that not be enough…?”

“That’s just how it is in the movies, you know, when Peter Cushing pulls away the curtains, and Christopher Lee starts to burn up…”

Celia: “You just… you’re just… casually accepting that I’m a vampire.”

GM: “I… there’s just… there’s just a lot of things in the world, baby… strange things, that… I don’t know, you said with Max and a demon…. and… well… ah… your…”

She points at Celia’s mouth again.

Celia: “Oh.”

There’s a pause.

“I thought maybe you might have had experience with us. You were named for the goddess of the hunt, and all. It wasn’t very subtle on Payton’s end.”

GM: “S… sorry…?” her mom asks confusedly.

“I think she just liked the name, sweetie…”

Celia: “Right. Okay. We’ll talk about that later. But… listen. The girl who did what she did to you. She’s like me. And she and her friends are very, very angry at me because I kicked the shit out of her. They’ve already tried to kill me.” Celia doesn’t gesture at her broken nose, but the evidence that she’d been in a fight resides on her face.

“I need you to book a room somewhere, or get out of town, or something. Just for a day or two. Call off work on Monday, tell them you’re still not feeling well.”

GM: Diana’s lip quavers.

“They… they called here, Celia… I have to go back… they said they’d take my granddaughter, take Lucy, if I didn’t come back…”

Celia: “They called you again?”

GM: A frown briefly downturns her mother’s face, as if wondering how Celia knew, but it barely has a chance to form before a renewed look of abject hopelessness washes it away.

She nods.

Celia: “I was there when she called you,” Celia says quietly, “that’s why I kicked the shit out of her.”

And it had felt great.

She might feel bad for it, but Elyse had certainly deserved it.

GM: “I… I have to go back…”

“You’ll look after Lucy, please, you and Emily…”

Celia: “You don’t. If you go back, they’ll kill you, and Lucy, and me.”

“That’s what this is. They’re mad at me. I need you to not give in to this. I will keep you safe. I promise you that. I have done it for years. Please, Mom, please trust me.”

GM: Celia’s mom hangs her head, sniffs, and wipes at her eyes.

“I’m such a bad mother… I’ve never, never kept you safe… that’s supposed to be me…”

Celia: “You just offered to wrap your vampire daughter in blankets to keep her safe from the sun.”

“That’s a great mom.”

GM: In spite of herself, Diana gives a low laugh. It’s half-sobbed, and more than a little desperate, but the laugh is there.

Celia: Celia answers that with a weak smile of her own.

“I’m sorry that I don’t have time to tell you everything. I will. Once this day is over, I’ll tell you what I can. Okay? Tonight. I promise.”

GM: “Okay… just… tell me what to do, sweetie.” Her mother closes her eyes for a moment and slumps her shoulders.

“Just tell me what to do.”

Her voice is calmer at those words. They’re comforting words.

Celia: So she does.

Sunday morning, 13 March 2016

Celia: There isn’t much to explain, in the end.

Despite Celia’s penchant for overly-complicated plans, and despite the fact that she really, really wants to see Roderick today, her family has to come first.

She tells her mom, very casually, that she is going to smuggle Celia in a blanket-covered cat carrier to Randy’s house. She explains that Randy knows what she is, but that she can’t let them know that she also knows, and Lucy definitely can’t find out because there are rules and they will all be killed for it. Lucy can watch TV today and hang out with Rusty and Reggie and Randy while Celia sleeps the day away in one of their beds (or closet, literally whatever), cuffed.

She sends another text to Alana to tell her to meet with Randy today, to avoid the usual hangouts, that it’s urgent. She cancels the call to go to her mom’s place. And then a text to Dani with the new address (Randy’s house) and that shit hit the fan and she needs to get there now. And a final text to Mel to alert her that Dani is moving locations, and the new place.

Coded, of course.

She thinks she has all of her bases covered.

Emily, she tells her mom, needs to stay with Robby today.

GM: “All right, so… you want me to stay with Lucy, Randy, and his brothers?” Celia’s mom asks.

Celia: “Yes. They will protect you.”

“They’re uh… they’re kind of like… you read Dracula, right?”

GM: “Ah… sorry, sweetie, only seen the movies. Should I, now?”

Celia: “Some of it is wrong. I’ll explain. But basically Randy and his brothers work for me. Like, uh, butlers.”

That’s a really nice way of putting it.

GM: “Oh, I thought they worked for the bail bond company…?”

Celia: “Yeah. But me on the side. I’ll explain tonight.”

GM: “Okay. When can we come back here, sweetie? I need a while to make dinner for the Garrisons.”

Celia: “Right. So. We’re going to reschedule.” She lets Dani know to tell her dad, too. “Because I don’t think it’s going to be safe tonight, and I’m not putting you in danger.”

“Unless you want to do it at their house.”

“Honestly, Mom, if you want something to do today, I’m pretty sure that Reggie and Randy would love you to cook for them.”

GM: Diana looks apprehensive. “Stephen’s dad is an important man, Celia! We should give at least a couple days’ notice, for something like that.”

“I don’t know that Randy would be a good guest, to be honest. He didn’t know Stephen, I don’t think, and this is probably better if it’s an intimate affair…”

“And, well… he’s a nice young man… but I feel like he might, I guess we could say, care about housekeeping a mite less than I do…”

Celia: “So. Dani is going to come meet us there. Why don’t you discuss it with her? See if her dad can move the date. I just really don’t want to risk them finding you.”

GM: “Oh. What’s she doing there, sweetie?” Diana asks.

Celia: This is very quickly spiraling out of control. She’s not sure she has enough fingers to plug all of these holes.

“Long story. Tell you later.”

GM: “Okay. She’s a sweet girl, by the way, I taught her in my dance classes.” Diana gives a brief smile at the normal-sounding topic.

Celia: “She really liked you,” Celia says with a smile.

GM: “Oh, that makes me happy. I’m sure we’ll be able to have a wonderful dinner together. Maybe she can ask her dad to reschedule, for us, and he’ll take it better from her.”

Celia: “That was my thought, too.”

GM: “How am I, ah, going to get you to Randy’s place in a cat carrier, sweetie?”

Celia: “So, uh, fun fact: I can turn into a cat.”

GM: Her mother blinks.

Celia: “Yep.”

“Please don’t freak out. And please don’t let Lucy pet me. Not right now. Later, she can. But… not tonight.”

GM: It’s so easy to spend time just talking with her mother.

It’s so easy to just be honest.

To finally drop all the lies.

It’s so, so easy. It’s such a relief. A balm upon her ravenous Beast. A cool cloth against the terrible thirst burning her up inside.

But time and tide wait for no man.

Nor does the sun.

The curtains around the house’s windows are un-drawn. Faint rays of early dawn light kiss Celia’s skin, leaving it blackened and sizzling.

Celia: For two seconds, Celia lets herself get distracted.

For two seconds, Celia thinks of a future where she doesn’t have to lie to her mother, where she doesn’t have to force down dinner, where she can say things like, “Stephen is like me and we’re back together and I want to marry him,” and “my sire finally accepts me,” and “Mom can you rub my belly?” She can tell her mom everything she’s been through. She can fix her leg without lying about it. She can tell her why she thinks Maxen might be telling the truth about the demon. She imagines a future where her mom says, “Have you had enough to eat, sweetie?” and means blood instead of casserole.

And then reality rears its ugly head. Her flesh sizzles as soon as the morning sun streams through the windows. Immediately her skin turns black, epidermis seared beneath the hateful rays of dawn’s touch. Celia snarls, Beast rising to the surface, and for a moment girl and Beast are in alignment. For a moment they work together, diving out of the path of the light to sprawl, huddled, beneath the kitchen sink. She knocks aside cleaning supplies, rags and buckets and bottles, and curls her body tightly under the space. It’s a snug fit, but she’s a small girl, and here at least the sun cannot touch her.

The fantasy of the future fades away.

She’s a monster and she has brought trouble to her family.

“Mom,” she calls out from her hiding spot, voice pained, “we need to go. Now. No more questions.” She doesn’t have much longer before the daysleep of her kind claims her. Already she’s fading. “Get the carrier. Get me into the trunk. Pull into Randy’s garage to get me out. Make sure they cuff me before they wake me. Tell Dani to reschedule dinner. Go. Now. Go.”

GM: Diana gasps, “Sweetie! Are you okay!?” and drops to her knees in front of Celia’s hiding spot. She tries to reach inside until her daughter grits out instructions.

“Ah—would a suitcase or picnic basket be better? Something the sun can’t shine through? They’re a tighter fit, for a cat, but the carrier has holes in it…”

“I could get a blanket over it, it just seems a little less secure, since it’s a pretty big carrier, and we use one meant for dogs, since most kitties don’t actually like the normal carriers…”

Celia: “Anything without gaps. Suitcase is fine.”

Go, she urges the woman. Go. Now.

GM: “Okay! Sit tight!” Her mother scrambles off.

She returns with a pink backpack that has stars and a unicorn on it. “Ah, this is Lucy’s, I wasn’t sure where I’d left the suitcase, but this doesn’t have any gaps, so long as we keep it zipped up…”

Celia: It’ll do. Celia gives her mom a grateful smile and a word of warning before it happens—she changes. Her body twists, muscles and bones and organs reworking themselves within her to make her smaller, more compact, feline. She grows fur, a tail, ears that sit at the top of her head. She scoots into the backpack and settles uneasily amongst the pencil shavings and cough drop wrappers at the bottom of the bag.

GM: Diana still gives a start and little gasp of alarm. Actually, more like a big gasp. She drops the backpack at first, then picks it up and holds it open. She zips it up once the cat’s inside.

“Ah—are you okay, sweetie?” she gets out.

Celia: A meow comes from inside the bag.

GM: “Okay, I’ll—take that as a yes,” Diana says with a weak chuckle.

“But… you really are? One meow for yes, two for no, you are okay?”

Celia: Celia the cat meows once to let her mother know that she’s okay.

She’s been through worse. Way worse.

GM: “Okay, that’s… good. I’ll pack some clothes to bring with us, yours are… ah, they sort of…” Transformed with her. “…well, they were soaked anyway.”

“Should I still really hurry, now that you’re safe from the sun? One meow for yes, two for no?”

Celia: A single meow comes up from the bag.

GM: “Okay, I’ll just, just grab what we really need. Sit tight, I’m going to lift you up.”

Celia feels herself getting lifted into the air, then her mother’s back pressing against her.

There’s movement as the woman starts off through the house. Uneven, with her still favoring one leg. Celia hears a door opening, then a closet, and the sound of her mom going through clothes and picking some out.

“I just love how we’re about the same size, you know, sharin’ clothes is something every girl and her mother should get to do.”

Celia: Within the confines of the bag, the cat—does the cat have a name? Cats should have names—curls in on herself, head beneath her paws. Her tail flicks. There’s not much for her to do but wait while her mother gathers what she needs. She doesn’t breathe if she can help it; like all kids, Lucy just tends to stuff things into the bottom of her backpack and forget about them.

Silently, she tells her mother to hurry the fuck up like they’d literally just talked about.

GM: “Oh, here’s the suitcase, silly me.” Celia hears her mother gathering up assorted things, tossing them inside, then making her way to Lucy’s room. Celia hears her opening the girl’s dresser and throwing clothes in.

“Hey, little Goose. We need to go,” her mom says.

The cat feels its position shift.

“Mmmf… Mommy…?”

“Come on, sweetie, let’s get you in your shoes. Your glasses, too. I’ll tell you more in the car, okay? We’re taking a little trip.”

“Mmm… I’m sleepy…”

“Okay, I’ll carry you.” Celia feels Diana bend again, then a sudden weight fill her mother’s arms. “We’re gonna spend the day at Randy’s, won’t that be fun?” she says as they walk out.

Lucy yawns.

They make their way down the hall, the luggage case rolling along behind them. Diana bends again, then tells Lucy, “Hold on to your shoes for me, okay Goose?” as she opens the door. Celia doesn’t feel the dawn’s burning rays from within the backpack, but it’s still like getting into a car that’s had its doors and windows closed for hours on a hot summer day.

The car door opens, followed by the sounds of Diana helping Lucy into her booster seat. The backpack comes off next. Diana gently places it on one of the car’s seats. More doors open and close, then Celia hears the engine’s ignition, followed by movement underneath her.

“Why’re we goin’ to Randy’s…” mumbles Lucy. “I wanna go back to bed…”

“We’re a lil’ sleepyhead, huh?” smiles Diana. “Okay, sweetie, you can sleep when we’re there. That’ll be fun, won’t it, to sleep someplace new?”

“I wonder, how many places have you gone to sleep outside our house? Isn’t that an interesting lil’ question? Can you count how many?”

“Uh… not a lot…” yawns Lucy. “We sleep at home…”

“Oh, that makes this an adventure then, Lucy Goose!” exclaims Diana. “Lucy the explorer, fallin’ asleep someplace brand new!”

The six-year-old yawns again. She’s far from the only one to feel tired. The sun can’t be fully up, because the cat isn’t a corpse yet. Its eyelids just feel heavy.

“Brand new adventure for us all…” their mom murmurs.

Celia: Almost halfway up is enough to keep the cat in the bag. Any other day, if she weren’t hungry and maybe if the windows were tinted, the cat would loose a string of meows to alert the little girl in the front seat to its position in the bag and let the six-year-old cuddle with her. They could fall asleep together, child and cat, and wake up in a new place.

But her hunger and the sun keep her alone in the dark.

Her daydreams will have to wait.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XVII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett Epilogue

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXVIII
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Celia I

Story Twelve, Emmett XVII

“To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires.”
Camille Richlelieu

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Fabian shows Em back to the sitting room in his new face.

“And may I say, sir, what a handsome one it is,” the ghoul smiles.

Emmett: “Thanks, Fabian. I’m sure the guests make their share of passes at you, eh? At least the ones who don’t want to drink you. Which I suppose is its own kind of compliment.”

Em wants to drink him, for example.

GM: “Many do, sir,” Fabian beams. “If the help isn’t attractive enough to drink, after all, how much help can they truly be?”

Emmett: Parrying predatory implications with obsequious good humor. Say what you like about Savoy, his servants know their manners.

He has the vague sense that kind of thing is going to matter a lot in this kind of life.

But then, it always has.

GM: And probably always will.

Fabian sets up another movie for Em, but he doesn’t have long to wait.

Emmett: Good thing, too. It’s Gone with the Wind.

GM: Sami walks through the door. She’s dressed differently in a LBD and red pumps. She looks him over.

“Welcome to the snake cult.”

Emmett: He laughs. “Right? She made it sound like you had the same reaction I did, for the most part. How good’s the inside track, once they have you in their coils?”

He’s wearing a different dead man’s coat, long and warm and with more pockets than it looks like.

“It’s nice to see you again, Sami.” His voice has more roughness to it than it did before his death, but it’s still his voice. Odd, how Dicentra was able to pull that off. “In the flesh, and all that.”

GM: “I bet. Ghost didn’t seem like it suited you.”

“We were always vampires anyway.”

She turns. “C’mon. We’ll talk and drive.”

Emmett: “You driving, I hope. I’m in the mood to ride shotgun.”

Doubtless she’d prefer it, too.

She never was a fan of him behind the wheel, after that night.

GM: “Lucky us.”

Still, it’s hard to picture that happening again.

Or maybe not. Maybe vampires just have their own ways of fucking each other.

Either way, they make their way to Sami’s flashy sports car and get in.

“They’re basically a crime syndicate with a religious mythos,” she answers as they get in.

Emmett: “Doesn’t sound so bad.”

GM: “Or syndicate slash cult, I guess.”

She revs up the engine. “There’s a lot of lying and hoops to jump through to hide it from other licks.”

“There’s risks, if they find out.”

Emmett: “Your girlfriend the medium know the truth?”

GM: “Yep. She’s one of us.”

Emmett: “Does Astride?”

GM: “He’s one of us too.”

“He’s a fuckhead. But he’s good at killing people.”

Emmett: He nods, quiet suspicion rewarded. “I learned where he sleeps, for what that’s worth.”

GM: “Could be worth something. We might have to put him down if he lets his Beast get any more out of control.”

The Quarter rolls past.

“But you asked me how the inside track is.”

“Well, I’m fucking rich.”

“Most things I want, I get.”

“The parties are fun.”

“And Camille… understands.”

“The snake religion bit. Whatever. I never believed in God.”

“But people have been trying to keep me from what I deserved ever since McGehee.”

Emmett: Deserved, huh. But he doesn’t say that. For one thing, he can’t say he hasn’t thought the same thing.

“What does she call them? The Aeons?”

GM: “The Aeons. The people born inside the club.”

“I don’t buy that the snake cult wants to bring everyone inside.”

“But if they bring me inside, what fucking ever.”

Emmett: “It’s hard to argue with that,” Em says, placid. “I’m just wondering about the entrance free. And who pays it. What kinds of things do they ask from us?”

GM: “‘Corrupt’ other licks. Find what they need. Supply them. Get them dependent on us. Or breathers. You’ll probably be good at it.”

“That’s the entrance fee and monthly membership dues. And how we get ahead. It’s basically a pyramid scheme.”

Emmett: “Well, those are old hat, at least. Where are you driving us?”

GM: “Mm, depends. Who’s your first renfield gonna be?”

Emmett: There’s a moment of somewhat surprised silence.

Then a moment of deeper consideration.

“You ever meet Bert Villars?”

GM: “I’ve heard of him. Haven’t had the pleasure.”


Emmett: “Well, let’s fix that.” Em gives her directions to the poisonous bastard’s office. “Bit of a toss-up to see if he’s already taken. If he isn’t, he’ll be a good get for us. And besides.”

“I had plans for him already. Better not to ghoul people you actually like, eh?”

“We’ll have to toss his place to find out where he lives, though.”

GM: Sami shrugs. “I don’t mind some B&E, but he might also just be around tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Since we have forever. Okay, then.” He thinks a little bit harder.

Then he asks for a phone.

He hopes Miranda’s number is the same.

GM: The phones rings for a bit.

“Leave a message,” comes an annoyed-sounding nasally voice.

Em wonders how many people bother to after that.

Emmett: Not him, apparently. He hangs up.

“Forget renfields,” Em says. “I just want to find a place to call home, for tonight at least.”

GM: Sami drives.

“What’s your name now? Camille said you’d have a new one.”

“Some of us do. Some of us don’t.”

“I kept mine. Obviously. If someone wants to go after my stupid family I don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Emmett: He thinks of Lena, handcuffed and anemic in her hospital bed. God knows if she’s still there.

God, and a Malveaux.

“I’ll take a new name,” he says. “Something flashy, probably. Dramatic. You know the sort. This seems like the kind of society that appreciates enigma.”

GM: “Pretty sure at least half the elders all use fake names.”

“So what’s yours?”

Emmett: It’s a few moment of consideration before he chuckles. He doesn’t answer her, not out loud anyways.

But as she drives off, a song flitters to life through her car, haunting but enchanting at the same time. Maybe Sami looks at the radio in surprise, but it’s not on. The sound is ambient, all-encompassing.

Stuck in her head, courtesy of his.

Maybe, but Em isn’t looking at her. He’s only got eyes for the road, the night, the city.

The colors.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Sami and the Sandman drive until they reach a dark building in the Quarter named “Chakras.” The Sandman’s heard of it. Invite-only BDSM club.

“She explain havens yet?” asks Sami.

Emmett: “I think it’s a weird word for a home.”

GM: “They’re where we sleep during the day. We’re weak and vulnerable then. So a haven has to be exactly that. Secure against intruders and the sun.”

Emmett: “And this place is a haven?”

GM: “Anywhere can be a haven in a pinch. We don’t need to eat, shower, or shit. We won’t wake up sore if we sleep on the ground. All we really need is someplace sunproof where breathers won’t disturb us.”

“But some havens, like here, are more secure than others.”

“And comfy.”

Emmett: “Whose is it, then?” The Sandman follows her from the car.

GM: “Camille’s. She owns this club, and a few others.”

Emmett: He whistles. “Fancy. And she’s, what, the matriarch?”

GM: “Matriarch?”

Emmett: “Mama snake. Cult leader. Whatever. She’s in charge?”

GM: “Nah. She’s middle management.”

“She and Elianna.”

Emmett: “Who’s above them, then?”

GM: “That’s complicated,” says Sami. “I’ll let you make up your own mind, when you see it.”

Emmett: It, she says. Interesting.

GM: They walk up to the club’s door.

“This is the Sandman,” Sami says to the bouncer. “He wants in, he gets in.”

The large and cruel-eyed man offers a mute nod.

The inside of the club resembles a lounge and art gallery. Everything is in black and dark red. There’s modern abstract art and iron sculptures along the walls, and a fully-stocked bar. Comfortable leather seats over places to sit down and discuss the art over drinks.

The sculptures nag at Em, though, the longer he stares at them. There’s a looming, grasping quality to their distinctly alien shapes. They seem humanoid, at first, but there’s a distinctly serpentine cast to their posture and anatomy, like they might silently coil around the room’s patrons as they drink their fine drinks and discuss the meanings behind abstract art.

There aren’t many people around this late. Or this early. There’s a handsome man dressed in strategically placed black leather who looks like he’s cleaning. His too-wide smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes. He’s still smiling, even when he’s not looking at Em and Sami.

He holds up a shot glass to the light, polishes it, smiles at Em, then stares away from him, back into the glass.

“Welcome, master…” he whispers.

He touches his teeth with his fingers and gives a little giggle.

Emmett: The ‘master’ glances at his escort. “Who’s the gimp? I remember Camille had another one, way back when we met.”

He trust he doesn’t have to clarify the night he’s talking about.

GM: “She has a lot of them. Their names don’t really matter.”

“There’s always more.”

Emmett: “I figured. Are all renfields kinksters? Or does she just like them that way?”

GM: “The Blood tends to twist them all, to some degree. Some of them eat rats. Some of them get stutters or hair-trigger tempers.”

“I’m not sure if she naturally draws kinksters or just twists them into that.”

“Probably some of both.”

Emmett: “How’d she find you?” he asks this one.

GM: “I heard about her club, master,” answers the smiling man, inclining his head. “I heard about the things that went on here, but it was by invitation only. I tried so hard to get in. Some of the members told stories about me. She decided to let me in, to see how far I would go.”

His grin widens, to the point it looks like his face is half-paralyzed.

“I have not disappointed her.”

Emmett: Well, this is turning out to be as wholesome as I thought it would be.

“Yeah? What kind of things do go on here, beyond getting tugged off with your hands behind your neck and a gag in your mouth?”

GM: “Revelation, master. The loss of illusion. The shattering of the old self. We experience ecstasy, terror, desire, satiety, despair, ignorance, and chaos, all to unwrap our true souls beneath layers of self-deception and social conditioning.”

Emmett: “And you feel wiser, now? Revealed to? Enlightened?”

GM: “I do, master, though I still have far to go.”

Emmett: “And what have you learned? Since I’m just starting.”

Ah, high school again. Telling Ren to explain why there were suddenly letters to deal with in math.

GM: The ghoul smiles.

“We are a visceral religion, master. Damaballah’s revelations must be experienced to be understood. But if you are here as you are, you have experienced some of them already.”

Emmett: Em eyes the leather-clad cultist. “What do I call you?”

GM: “Bitch or toy, if you like,” he grins.

“Also pet, gimp, slave, ghoul…”

Emmett: “…please tell me they’re not all like this,” he directs to Sami.

GM: “The ones here mostly are,” says Sami. “I guess your own will depend.”

Emmett: “Nothing personal, ah, bitch,” the Sandman says to the ghoul.

GM: The man just grins at him. “Let me know if I can ever be of service, master.”

Emmett: “Who else did you want me to meet?” the Sandman asks Sami.

GM: “Right now there’s no licks here but us and Camille. There’s a bigger cult meeting tomorrow.”

Emmett: “What does the cult believe, exactly?”

GM: “She didn’t give you the shpheel?”

Emmett: “It was loose on details. What do the ones who aren’t bloodsuckers believe, is the point.”

GM: “That varies. It’s a mystery religion. Which means, the more you pay in and do things for the cult, the more about its beliefs you actually get to learn.”

“Like Scientology. Except we don’t directly bill people.”

“The initiates think we’re just a Vodouisant cult. Worship some loa and get things in return.”

“Here, they’re people who come to Camille’s clubs for a good time and get promised an even better one if they’ll participate in some rituals. Or they’re just outright looking to be bondage slaves, because it’s a bondage club. Or to do things to slaves if they’re tops.”

“She shows them a better time than they’ll find anywhere else. Sex, drugs, kinks, whatever. The people who succumb and can’t live without her she just uses. There are a lot of well-connected people who show up for her sex parties. To a lot of them she isn’t a vampire.”

“The ones who impress her she brings into the next ring of the cult. They get to know more about what she is, the Aeons, and our origins. They get tested harder. They undergo more of the revelations. Which are like bitch over there describes. They’re expected to do more for the cult, and Camille does more for them. The more revelations they undergo, the more they learn about us, and the deeper in they get.”

“A lot of us have our own self-contained little mystery cults like this. We trade favors and contacts and whatevers with each other. To get cultists and prospective cultists the things that hook them.”

Emmett: “What about you? Keep some believers on the side?”

GM: “Yep.”

“I figure you will too. They’re pretty useful.”

Emmett: There are people in this city who would kill for a break from their nightmares, the Sandman thinks but does not say.

“Might be,” he agrees. “What do you tell yours? And how many of ‘us’ are there?”

GM: “I mostly don’t bother with the religion angle.”

“You have to at least partly believe it to really sell it.”

“Like anything.”

Emmett: Especially snake oil.

GM: “There’s a lot of us. More than the Camarilla realizes.”

“Savoy’s happy for us to make ourselves at home.”

Emmett: “I like the sound of that. When do we get together? If we do.”

GM: “I just said. Tomorrow.”

Emmett: “Oh. The entire clan?”

GM: “Probably not all of us, but a lot of us. Wholesome family get-together.”

Emmett: “Wholesome,” he repeats, looking at “bitch” and pacing amongst the serpentine statuary. Not how he’d decorate, but that’s okay.

It has… potential.

“Okay, sure. I’m excited to meet the cousins. Did you bring me here just to meet the help, or was there something else we’re here for?”

GM: “Remember that talk we had about havens?”

Emmett: “Ah, so this is where you’re sticking me for the day? I thought we might come to another arrangement. Like maybe you could take me back to yours.”

GM: “Camille thought we’d all sleep together today. More wholesome family time.”

Emmett: “Oh. Well, you should have said. Lead the way.”

GM: The pair head through another door. The room resembles nothing so much as a medieval torture chamber, replete with stone walls and floors, an iron maiden with a screaming metallic face, racks, wheels, and several other metallic devices whose function Em cannot identify. Some of them look almost like the abstract sculptures in the previous room. Whips, chains, scourges, and assorted leather and metallic implements hang from the walls, along with several gagged and blindfolded men and women bent into extreme positions, naked but for leather gloves and boots. The scent of blood hangs heavy in the air. Em cannot say where it is from, but his fangs lengthen in his mouth. At the sound of Em’s and Sami’s footsteps, some of them start screaming and shaking their restraints. The gagged sounds are raw, desperate, and filled with terror. Others shiver with rapture, the men growing noticeably firm and the women wet.

Most do some amount of both.

“You can practice on them,” mentions Sami. “Any disciplines you’re trying to learn.”

Emmett: “Disciplines… those are the superpowers, right?”

GM: “Yep.”

Emmett: Em does so. His squeamishness over using human beings as things is made much easier to bear by the opportunity to test out his cool new vampire powers. He asks Sami for suggestions of things to try.

He cannot, it turns out, turn into a snake. Nor can he turn invisible, no matter how unmoving and boring he tries to be. He’s just too remarkable.

He can, however, use the same special effects he’s become accustomed to. At a whim, strange noises and sensations dance among the assembled kine. Lights flicker in otherworldly arrays.

One of the women whimpers in confusion at the unreality.

“You’ve got nothing to be afraid of,” Em tells her, instinctively, and for a moment, the air is charged.

Somehow, when her eyes meet his, there’s trust in them. Faith. Belief.

All completely unearned, and like most lies, it’ll make the truth hurt more.

But for the moment, her faith belongs to him.

GM: He feels another woman’s hands upon his shoulders. They’re cold hands, and something seems to almost shudder beneath the palms.

Shudder, or slither.

“Sami said you’d be good at this,” Camille’s voice purrs into his ear. Her cold smile meets his.

He could swear she wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Don’t think of it as hiding. Think of it as telling them who you are. You’re reaching into their heads and telling them what to see, what to believe.”

The woman’s eyes meet his. Sami’s already removed her blindfold. They’re manic eyes, wide and sleep-deprived, hovering on that knife’s edge between suffering and pleasure.

Support: And for all that, there’s something familiar in the shade of blue that stares up at him. Cerulean, he recalls, like the tropical seas he had once told her that he’d take her to, the whispered promises of a new life together away from the desperately degenerate city. He remembers the way those eyes had sparkled at the vision he created for her, the trembling fingers that had finally fumbled at the buttons of her blouse, her nervous stutters that she had “never done this type of thing before.”

Eileen Afflerbach.

The name rings in his mind. He remembers the way she had tasted like strawberries and cream, the delicate floral scent of her perfume, how she had called fifteen times the night her husband disappeared and left increasingly frantic voice-mails. But before all that she had looked at him the way she looks at him now, transfixed by the illusions he creates.

Suffering and pleasure. He’d brought her both.

Emmett: “Eileen,” he murmurs. “Your name is Eileen.” He blinks and looks at Camille, somehow less startled at her sudden appearance than he might expect. “She’s… do you know who she is?”

He’s more surprised, anyways, by the realization that he does.

Not like him to remember a pretty face. They come and go. Or at least, he does.

GM: “I know every slave here,” Camille smiles, stroking the woman’s face. Tenderly.

Emmett: Em nods, satisfied. He reaches for the woman, fingers stopping inches from her flesh. Hesitant.

He’s already touched her, of course. But he was just a human monster then.

GM: “Hesitance is a limit to overcome. A chain placed on you by the Aeons. There are no limits and no chains here.”

Camille turns the woman by her chin to face the Sandman.

“Be all that you would be, Sandman.”

The Sandman doesn’t recall telling her his name.

Emmett: She’s been listening. Natural enough.

But all that he would be? That’s an easy enough prompt.

After all, what does a vampire actually do?


And Em is very thirsty. He doesn’t will his fangs to come out, or so much as remember that he has them. They lead him. Seek her jugular like a freshwater well in the sweltering swamp.

Once, she tasted of strawberries. But now?

Now her taste is more than it ever could have been, before.

Support: A delicate shudder travels down the slave’s spine at her mistress’ touch. She leans into the hand on her cheek, but her eyes don’t leave the Sandman’s.

Even when he leans in.

Even when his fangs grow long in his mouth.

Even when he bites.

Her eyes finally close, cerulean hue disappearing beneath the flutter of her lids. Her lips part and she sighs softly, the same sort of sound he used to get her to make.

GM: Strawberry bliss floods the Sandman’s tongue. It’s not like it was, the first time. The hunger was an inferno within his chest during his dark rebirth. His every vein sang with unholy bliss. This isn’t that. But it’s familiar. It’s the high of cocaine, the orgasm between a girl’s legs, the bite of something delicious and Nutella-lathered. It runs down his throat like red velvet, cooling the heat within his breast, assuaging the monster.

It’s a better hit than any coke he ever did.

He didn’t, he realize as he pulls away, think how to do it. It just comes naturally. As naturally as breathing. As eating. He looks down at her, rolling over the last droplets of coppery bliss in his tongue, and sees there’s a flush to her paler cheeks. A needful shudder running down her body. She looks like she’s enjoyed this almost as much as him.

That’s like last time.

And also not.

But compared to last time, it’s almost refreshingly honest.

“Lick her neck,” says Camille, “and you’ll seal up the fang marks.”

“Always lick a vessel after you feed. Or everyone will know that you did.”

Emmett: The Sandman licks her neck. Feels her hair in his fingers. Tastes the last notes of her vitae on his tongue.

Hears the noises his drinking coaxes from her. Her pains. Her pleasures.

Where do they end? And where do they start?

“Can I keep her?” The questions comes unbidden. He isn’t thinking. He isn’t even being sarcastic. It just seems like the right thing to say, the correct way to word it.

He almost promises to feed her and take her out for walks while he’s at it.

GM: Camille laughs.

“Go on, then. Feed her some of your blood.”

Apparently, ‘feed her’ is part of it.

Emmett: He almost asks for a knife before he remembers the equipment he’s got in his mouth. A flash of fang, the strange flavor of his own vitae—what is that flavor? Hot milk? Chocolate? It’s gone— and his wrist is pressed to Eileen’s lips, his slashed vein an unholy nipple for a blasphemous feeding.

Support: Eileen falls upon his wrist without prompting, her lips closing around the offered flesh to bring the blood into her mouth. She sucks eagerly, like a child at a teat, and he hears the same sort of pleased noises from her that he had given her a moment ago. Her body shudders in want as his blood flows through her.

Emmett: Later, he’ll wonder what it was about her that made him choose that moment, that instant before his marriage to the snakes was consummated. Maybe it was that when he saw the woman whose life he had destroyed, something like regret flashed through the Sandman’s unbeating heart. Something like trepidation. What could she be but a bad men? No matter where he goes, Emmett will be damned to look into the eyes of the people he’s destroyed, and maybe destroy them a little bit harder.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe seeing her is like feeling somebody walk on the grave of his conscience, dead and buried and haunting him since that night he threw somebody who had hurt him to monsters, and become a monster himself. Maybe that ghost of a thing that might never have lived in the first place whispers to him, haunting the gaps between Eileen’s gasps:

It is not too late to make this right.

Maybe. But really, who knows why the vampire previously known as Emmett Delacroix did anything? Certainly most of the people who sentenced him to death must have been perplexed. When he was alive, he chased his death like he was allergic to life, only to find death so wanting he clawed his way back to… well, to this.

And now that he’s neither, perhaps because now that he is neither, he finds himself inclined to think of third options.

His eyes find Camille’s. For a moment, just a moment, they seem a tad vertical.

“We need to talk.”

GM: The Setite strokes Eileen’s face. Smiles. Motions for him to proceed.

The eyes are the same shade of poison as nine years ago.

But they’re a familiar devil, now.

Emmett: The short of it is he’s still processing this. That’s his main sell, anyways. It’s not a malicious deception, but one of convenience. Come to think of it, he’s not actually sure it’s a lie. He’s stopped differentiating between reality and illusion recently.

Between dying, being a ghost, confronting his worse half, committing mass ectocide, and becoming a vampire, he’s gotten a little lost. He needs time, you see.

Time, and space.

He’s very apologetic about the whole thing. He won’t be able to stay away forever, he knows, but still. If high schoolers are entitled to a gap year, reincarnated monsters sure as shit are, too.

That said, he explains he doesn’t know when he might be back, either. There’s a bunch of places he wants to see, cities he hasn’t been to in years.

“You said things were interesting in L.A. these days, right?” he asks.

He doesn’t want Camille to feel like he’s taking advantage of her generosity.

“The truth is I don’t know yet what this existence is like, and my curiosity and natural distrust of authority would taint my usefulness to you. And besides, if I’m not smart enough to survive on my own, I doubt you’d get much value out of me anyways.”

He wouldn’t even need much to be on his way. A little money, a good vehicle, maybe some drugs to make more money, and company.

“She’ll do,” he says, gesturing to Eileen.

GM: Camille listens patiently. Sami glances her way, once or twice. But their mutual sire just smiles.

“I asked what greatness lay within you, Sandman. What purpose you believed yourself intended for.”

“Some call our clan tempters. Corruptors. Pushers. Whatever one calls us, we provide people with what they want.”

Her hand slowly pets the new ghoul.

“Including ourselves.”

“You aren’t sure what you want. Are you?”

Emmett: “No,” he says. “I’m not.”

GM: “To sell desire, one must know one’s own desires. To master others, one must first master oneself. I told you the truth, Sandman. If you want to walk away, walk away. We only desire willing believers.”

“That’s how they get you,” says Sami.

She might or might not be joking.

“Eternity is a long time. Find your purpose,” says Camille. “We will be here when and if you return.”

“Think a motorbike feels more your style than a car, though,” remarks Sami. “You can be that asshole who doesn’t wear a helmet.”

Emmett: “Covering this face would be the biggest accident,” Em agrees, deadpan.

GM: And he doesn’t need to, does he? He can get into a fatal crash and bounce right back up. And if he actually gets hurt, that’s nothing a little blood can’t fix. He can eat someone else to make them eat the bill.

Emmett Delacroix was always good at making other people pay for his mistakes.

And hey. Maybe after feeding his worse half to a monster, he’ll make fewer this time around.

“You don’t need our money,” says Camille. “Our needs are few. Use your new gifts, and kine will open their wallets to you without hesitation. Their trust and admiration is already yours.”

“You have no idea how easy it is for us to get money,” Sami agrees. “You’d have killed for star mode when we were alive.”

“You’ll learn from experience, too, how far you can push them. Warnings never did a lot for you.”

Camille snaps her fingers. ‘Bitch’ appears, then at a glance, starts unfastening Eileen’s restraints.

“It’s funny,” says Sami as the other ghoul goes about his work. “I always knew this was what I wanted.”

“Thought it’d be what you wanted, too. We were already vampires when we were alive.”

She tilts her head.

“But I guess you’ve never really done things any way but your own way, have you?”

“Get her some clothes,” says Camille. ‘Bitch’ disappears again and comes back with something dark and leather.

“He is your master now,” she tells the new ghoul. “You will follow him and obey him.”

“Yes, mistress,” Eileen answers, bowing her head.

“See you around, Sandman,” says Sami as the ghoul dresses. “Watch your back. It’s dangerous out there.”

Is that concern in her voice?

“So is existing, my childe,” smiles Camille. “So is existing.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXVIII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXIX

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Emmett Epilogue

Story Twelve, Celia XXVIII

“Come play with us, Jade.”
The Wedding Cake House dolls

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Celia has some time before dawn to arrive at the Wedding Cake House. The text is from Dani, asking when she’s going to be back. She’s getting “a little stir crazy here.”

Celia: The meeting hadn’t gone as expected. She should have waited for another time, perhaps, to tell them about Hurst. After flipping Roderick. It could have been a night of celebrations rather than… that.

Celia fires off a text to Dani that she’s collecting her things tonight and will be back shortly to drop them off. She asks if there’s anything in particular the girl wants from her house.

GM: Dani replies, My laptop, textbooks, some of my clothes and shoes, and my notebooks would be great!

Celia: Celia assures Dani that she will.

Then, smile in place, Jade slips into another mask.

GM: It’s a moderate drive to reach Elyse’s haven. She’s greeted at the door by Key. Honey and Butterfly are long since graduated (last Jade heard, Gabrielle was doing quite well), but there are new dolls in the house. There are always new dolls in the house. Key shows Jade to a sitting room, where Elyse is standing beside two dolls. The first must be of the second order, judging by its happy expression. The second doll must be of the first order, judging by its tears and the fact that it is writing onto a chalkboard,

Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink. Its name is Pink.

True to its name, the doll is dressed from head to toe in pink, including a pink bonnet to frame its long blonde curls.

Elyse turns to Jade as Key shows her in.

“Lucy has had much to say to me, Miss Jade. She says you are pregnant.”

Celia: Pregnant.

The word almost makes her choke, but Jade maintains her composure.

GM: “Pregnant with new siblings for her that we might deliver into the world.”

“She says also that her first mother weighs heavily upon your mind.”

Celia: She nods at the clarification, and then again at the second statement. Her eyes travel to the new doll, Pink.

“Yes to both, Lady Elyse.” How had Lucy known? She’d been with Elyse the whole time. The bond must be strong. “I had hoped that you might assist me with shedding some light on the topic.”

GM: “Tell me how I may, Miss Jade,” says Elyse, departing the room without a backward glance for the dolls.

“Key, retrieve Lucy and bring her to the birthing room.”

“Yes, mistress,” the ghoul bows.

Celia: It’s a difficult situation, the conversation with Elyse. She doesn’t know how much to share. She doesn’t know how much she’s willing to share. But she has a big mouth, doesn’t she? So she starts at the beginning.

“When I first met Lucy,” Jade says slowly, following after her hostess, “I was reminded of someone I knew. I believe I told you at the time, Lady Elyse. It might be why I felt such a strong connection for her, and she for me. I didn’t mean to pry, but the thought wouldn’t leave me alone.”

GM: “Lucy’s first mother also bears the same surname as Flawless’ kine owner,” Elyse observes as they make their way through the house.

Celia: “Indeed. I was struck by the similarity. Diana Flores was Lucy’s mother?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Her mother brought her in?”

GM: “Yes. With good cause. She was a rebellious and ill-tempered creature.”

Celia: “Your treatment has worked wonders on her. I could hardly believe anyone would say that of her now.”

GM: “Thank you, Miss Jade. I have checked in on her occasionally, as I do many of my former dolls, but especially those whose creation I took greatest pride in.”

Celia: “Are you familiar at all with the details that brought her in, Lady Elyse?”

GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. I familiarize myself with the backgrounds of all of my dolls. Grace assaulted its mother with a firearm, robbed her house, and attempted to run away with a stolen car. By all accounts, a poorly-considered plan. The police easily found and apprehended Grace. Rather than pursue criminal charges, its mother delivered it into my care with the expectation that I would reform its poor character.”

“I named it Grace for how it was a ballet dancer, and for the fact that its aptitude at dance was its sole saving grace.”

Celia: Grace. The name makes sense. Diana had always been graceful. Pity about the leg.

“If I may ask one more question, Lady Elyse. Were you ever given the impression that Grace could buck its lessons for a night? Or rather, was it ever brought back in to recondition shortly following its release?”

GM: “No. It was released prematurely.”

Celia: That gets a look of surprise.

Then her brow furrows.

GM: “Grace’s mother wished to visit it. I do not permit dolls to have contact with the outside world. She made an increasing nuisance of herself. I informed her that she could have the doll released immediately, or she could wait until the work was done. She elected for an immediate release.”

“Much of Grace’s work was already finished. All that remained were several coats of polish. In truth, I released Grace early because I was curious as to what effect this would have.”

Celia: “And how have you found it?”

GM: “I would require closer observation of Grace to say for certain, but the final coats of polish appeared nonessential.”

Celia: “You don’t believe it could have had an extramarital affair of its own volition, then?”

GM: “I find that unlikely but possible, Miss Jade,” Elyse answers thoughtfully. “Dolls are trained to be loyal to their husbands. However, like any porcelain doll, they are subject to wear and tear if poorly cared for.”

Celia: How had she possibly ended up with Ron?

GM: “Dolls are trained to be quiet, but press one’s hand to a stove and it will cry out.”

“So too do I believe the capacity for infidelity exists if a doll’s husband is a poor husband.”

Celia: “But it wouldn’t be likely to happen prior to its marriage or the poor treatment from its husband if it lacked any outside persuasion or coercion.”

GM: “An extramarital affair by definition cannot happen outside of marriage, Miss Jade, unless you were referring to an unmarried romantic partner of the doll’s. I generally do not advise that dolls be placed in such relationships, however. They benefit most from a single life partner whom they know they are permanently subordinate to.”

Celia: “Yes, Lady Elyse. I was asking after both.”

“I was curious if it was something the doll would do on its own, or if being involved in a sexual relationship prior to its marriage would be something unusual for it.”

GM: “That would be atypical, Miss Jade. Dolls are unable to experience sexual pleasure.”

Celia knows her mom wasn’t subject to female genital mutilation, at least. She watched her push out Lucy.

Celia: “And they don’t have the urge to imbibe alcohol?”

GM: “Dolls are taught not to pollute their bodies with alcohol and non-medically prescribed drugs, but the conditioning is typically not as deep as their sexual conditioning. A doll fed alcohol will still become drunk.”

Celia: “Thank you, Lady Elyse.”

So Ron is a rapist. Or someone had fed her shots. Or something else had happened.

GM: “I would consider it a blemish upon my work for any doll to attempt to imbibe alcohol under its own violation. Such a doll would be in clear need of a touch-up.”

Celia: “It was a long time ago,” Jade tells her, “and I do not believe that was the case. I had simply wanted to rule it out.”

GM: “Is Grace in need of a touch-up, Miss Jade?”

Celia: “No, Lady Elyse.”

GM: “I take great pride in the work I did on Grace. I believe it to be one of my finest creations.”

“The great challenge, and my greatest work, lay in breaking it. It was a stubborn and truculent doll. It refused to respond to its name no matter how many times I made it write upon the chalkboard. Or what corporal punishments I administered. I believe it inherited these qualities from its mother, who also struck me as a strong-willed woman.”

Celia: “What broke it, in the end?”

GM: “Do you wish to see a video, Miss Jade?”

Celia: No.

“Yes, please.”

GM: Elyse leads Jade to what looks like a storage or records room on the upper floor. There are a large number of file cabinets with folders organized by name (doll names) and year. Elyse goes through them until she procures Grace’s. She removes a VHS tape from the folder.

Celia: She mentally prepares herself while Elyse gets the video ready, killing everything inside of her before it has a chance to be affected by what she’s about to see. If her feelings are a garden she rips them out, root and stem. She will never be a block of ice like her sire, but tonight at least she is has frozen everything resembling emotion.

GM: Elyse leads Jade down to a sitting room with a large TV. She tells a doll along the way to retrieve Key and to tell him where to bring Lucy. The room is filled with dolls, like every room in the house. Elyse inserts the tape into a VHS player.

Celia: “Grace named its doll Lucy,” Jade says idly as they move. “Was there a reason for that?”

GM: “Yes, Miss Jade. You will see in the video.”

Key arrives and sets down Lucy on Jade’s lap. The doll is dressed in a new, lacy blue dress. She stares up at her mother with silently knowing eyes.

Celia: “Hello, darling,” Jade says to her Lucy. “I missed you.”

GM: Lucy’s large, wide eyes rest endlessly on her mother’s.

She really does look so much like Diana.

“Grace would not break easily,” says Elyse. “I knew it would break, with time. All dolls break after sufficient time. Yet an infinitude of monkeys pounding on typewriters could also produce the works of Shakespeare after sufficient time. An artist does not rely on time alone.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head. “It takes great skill to do what you do.”

GM: Elyse hits play. The screen shows Diana in a classic ballerina costume. Pointe shoes, light pink tutu. She’s younger-looking and has longer hair, rather than the bob cut she gets once a month at Flawless. Manacles hang from her wrists, elbows, and ankles, along with a steel collar around her neck. Slender chains dangle down from the ceiling and attach to each one, like the strings on a puppet. Her face is made up with full ballet makeup. Lots of white, bright red lips, and sharp black and silver wings swooping out from her eyes.

Hate burns in Diana’s eyes. The same hate that burned in Butterfly’s, when Celia first transformed her.

Celia doesn’t think she’s ever seen a ballerina look hateful before. The look is unsettling.

Celia: She has never seen Diana look so hateful before. That is even more unsettling.

She has seen the woman’s attempt at a glare. Like an angry kitten, more adorable than it will ever be fierce. The difference is… startling.

GM: There’s nothing remotely adorable in the look on her face. It’s hate, slow-burning but furious, and renders terrible what should be beautiful.

The chains clink as they pull up and taut. Diana’s arms and legs move with them, a puppet to another’s strings.

“Grace’s passion was ballet,” says Elyse. “It had a very promising career ahead of it, potentially in the London Royal Ballet. It was necessary that Grace practice and maintain its skills.”

“But when it danced, it was free. This would not do.”

Celia: “You took dance away from it.”

Celia had always thought it was her fault that her mother didn’t dance. And perhaps if she hadn’t come along when she did Diana would have gone on to have a long career. But it hadn’t been her fault. It had never been her fault.

Her mother took her dream away when she sent her to become a doll.

And Celia can’t even hate her for it.

Jade watches the tape, transfixed.

GM: “I did more than that, Miss Jade.”

Key and another doll appear. They lift Diana’s tutu and remove her panties. She struggles against her chains and snarls a filthy name at them. The two fasten an adult diaper around her.

“There you go, baby Grace, this’ll keep it nice and clean…” murmurs the other doll.

The second order doll. It has to be.

“Fuck you,” Diana spits.

Celia: She has never heard the woman swear in her life.

GM: Only once. When she was lying broken-armed and bloody-assed over her mother’s lap in the car, after Maxen hurt her too badly to sit down.

“Okay, dolly Grace, this is gonna hurt lots, but I need you to be really brave for us, okay?” says the other doll as she takes a firm grip on Diana’s head and tilts it back. Key inserts a thin yellow tube up her nose. Diana gags, spits, and struggles as she scrunches her eyes. She makes mangled sounds half-cut off by the tube.

Key keeps going and going. The tube has to reach all the way down to Diana’s stomach. She looks sick.

Celia: “What’s in the tube?”

GM: “You will see imminently, Miss Jade,” Elyse replies. Approval is evident in the Malkavian’s china-like eyes.

Celia: Jade simply nods, her eyes on the TV.

GM: Key produces a wad of cloth and tries to insert it into Diana’s mouth. She clamps her mouth shut.

Key pinches his fingers over her nose, just like Jamal did.

Celia: If she had a stomach, she’d be sick.

GM: “Mghphm-mgph!” noises go up from Celia’s mother. She struggles against her chains, increasingly desperately. Her eyes roll up in her head as oxygen deprivation sets in.

She finally opens her mouth to take a great big gasp of air. Key shoves the cloth gag inside.

The other doll wraps a thick roll of tan masking tape around Diana’s mouth several times, keeping the gag secure. She applies some pale white makeup foundation over the tape until it matches Diana’s skin tone.

Then she draws a pair of bright red lips over the gag, set in a huge smile. It’s very realistic. The other doll is a good makeup artist.

She holds up a mirror for Diana to see her reflection.

“There we go, big smile for dolly Grace!” beams the other doll.

Diana’s eyes burn with the same hate, but now she has a huge, happy smile over her mouth. The effect looks even more discordant than before.

“The smile was not my idea,” says Elyse. “Glee showed excellent initiative.”

Celia: “It has a deft hand.”

GM: “Okay, Grace, we’re gonna be right behind the windows the whole time,” smiles Glee. “We can’t wait to see you dance!”

She and Key exit stage right from the camera. The tube going through Diana’s nostril hangs suspended with the other chains.

Then the music starts.

The chains around Diana’s limbs tug. She dances. She is truly a sight to behold on her feet. She glides and turns and spins and leaps like a hummingbird. Celia’s mom always told her that the “point” of dancing en pointe is for the dancer to look like a sylph, a fairy, unfettered by anything except her own joy for her craft. And yet, the dancer here is undeniably fettered. With every second she dances, the chains pull and clink, reminding her of her imprisonment through sound and touch alike. And sight. The room’s walls are mirrors. Diana sees herself the entire time, chained and smiling her huge painted-on smile.

But it’s the music that truly does it.

It sounds classical. It’s powerful. It’s grand. It’s riveting. It’s incredibly loud. With every booming note, the chains tug, forcing Diana to bow as the music crashes over her, making her as small as possible. There’s no soft or delicate or chiming sounds to the music. It’s hard and bass and relentless. It’s imperious and terrible, a wordless declaration as to human insignificance, but beautiful too.

Diana’s chains move as others direct. They must be puppeteered or remote-controlled from the ceiling, because sometimes she stumbles when they’re too fast, interrupting the beauty of her dance (which she watches, the whole time), subliminally driving in that she is too slow, too clumsy, not good enough, even when Celia knows her mother is. She dances, but she is not free.

The dance goes on and on and on. Elyse hits the fast forward button, but the music continues to play from the TV’s speakers. The chained dancer becomes a blur of motion as the time stamp skips ahead. One hour, two hours, three hours. Four. Five. Still she dances. Her eyes are exhausted.

The video plays faster. Six hours. Seven. Eight. Twelve.

The tube leading into Diana’s nostril darkens as substance finally passes through it.

A feeding tube.

The dance goes on. Diana eventually can’t hold it in. She soils the diaper. Her cheeks faintly flush, but she seems only half there. The terrible music endlessly crashes over her, grinding down her spirit as she endlessly dances.

The numbers in the time stamps blur past. Days pass. The chains move for her, when she can’t, dragging her along, making her that much more helpless. She is not allowed to sleep. She eats and drinks through the tube. The diaper turns increasingly brown, but no one changes it.

She’s finally permitted a break when they remove her used-up pointe shoes (Celia remembers her mother saying they’re only good for one performance, or two if you push it). Her bleeding feet are covered in sores and blisters. Elyse appears to inject Diana with a red-filled hypodermic needle, and time turns back for her feet. They’re pink again instead of black and red. Glee fixes new pointe shoes to her feet. Key slaps her every so often so she doesn’t fall asleep, and then she’s right back to dancing.

Two days pass. Three days. Four days.

Five days.


The changings and injections repeat every so often. Jade knows it takes only three or four days before hallucinations start. That might explain why Diana starts screaming and thrashing with renewed vigor. But it just makes everything worse, to interrupt the dance. All she can do is keep going.

Keep dancing.

Celia can’t make out what her mother is trying to say past the gag. Her sweat- and tear-rimmed eyes are mad and delirious. The hatred once burning so hot within them is all but guttered out.

All she wants is for the dance to finally end.

Finally, mercifully, it does. The terrible music dies. The chains release. Diana hits the floor in an unceremonious heap, a puppet with its strings cut. Her diaper spills, further soiling her sweat-, blood-, and feces-stained costume. Elyse, Key, and Glee all approach. The doll removes the gag around Diana’s mouth. Key pinches her nipples so she doesn’t fall asleep.

Elyse tugs the chain attached to the collar around Diana’s neck. She tilts up the ballerina’s chin with her other hand, making eye contact.

“What is its name?” asks Elyse.

Diana’s voice is a croaked, broken, barely audible thing. Jade only hears it because Elyse turns up the volume to max.

“Its… name… is… Grace.”

Celia: It is not beauty. It is not art. It is torture. The breaking of another artist. A mockery of ballet, her chosen craft, turned into nothing but a puppet show. Endless hours of it: spinning, twisting, leaping. Her toes burn to look at it. Her nails must have fallen out. How much blood coats the inside of those shoes? She can’t begin to imagine the feeling of dancing in a soiled diaper for days on end, the fabric getting heavier and heavier as her bowels release, the rash on her skin from foul moisture and semi-solids.

Chained, she is clumsy. Slow. Awkward. Robot dancer, like her daughter had once been. It hurts to watch.

And she had asked about it. Casually. Like she’d had any idea what her mother had been through.

How much love is in her heart for dance that she still does it after all this time? How much passion had she once had that Elyse had not been able to kill it, root and stem?

“You broke it.”

Her voice lacks any emotion.

GM: “Yes,” replies Elyse.

There is no emotion in the Malkavian’s voice either. Dolls don’t show feelings.

But Jade can see it in Elyse’s dolls.

Dolls show so much in their eyes.



“Grace was truly born that day.”

Celia: “Its enjoyment for dance did not die.”

A question. How could Diana dance again after this?

GM: “Yes. Curious. I had expected it would not dance again without inducement.”

Celia: It’s love.

Love that monsters like them will never understand.

Her wings might be clipped, but when she dances she can still soar.

GM: “I had expected further behavior modification to be necessary. But when I offered it the opportunity to dance again, wearing but no longer guided by its chains, it said yes.”

“Grace had learned its place.”

Celia: “It doesn’t dance like that anymore. Its husband broke it further.” Jade finds Elyse with her eyes.

GM: “A pity. But no art save ours lasts forever.”

Celia: She would have lasted longer if the hacksaw had not been taken to her leg.

GM: “I feel in a nostalgic mood.” Elyse presses an intercom button. “Key. Name reminder for Grace.”

Key enters the room shortly later with a phone he hands to Elyse.

The Malkavian taps it twice. Jade hears a ring.

More than several pass before they’re answered with a groggy-sounding,


“What is its name?” asks Elyse. The Malkavian’s voice is as cold, silent, and terrible as a knife to the throat in the middle of the night.

Diana makes a sound between a gasp, a heart attack, and someone attempting to remain deathly silent.

“Its… name is Grace.

Celia can all but hear the woman’s heart pounding in her chest over the phone, pumping distilled terror through her arteries.

“Grace will go back to sleep,” the Malkavian replies pleasantly. “It had a nightmare.”

“Grace will be a good doll.”

Elyse hangs up.

Celia: It’s too much.

She’d known that when she’d said yes to the tape. She should have said no.

And again when she’d heard Elyse call for the phone. She should have stopped it.

But she’d stood. And watched. And listened.

Like a child.

Like an eight-year-old watching her dad shake hands with the devil.

Or the fourteen-year-old watching her dad take the saw to her mother’s leg.

Or the nineteen-year-old, frozen forever, sitting pretty in stony silence while others berate and mock her for her artistic talent, medium, perversions, degrees.





She had never been as strong as her mother. She had never told her tormentors to fuck off. She had been bred weak. Bred by those who meant to control her. Bred to cause strife, cause heartache, cause complications.

It taught you strength.

No. It taught her to bow.

And she is fucking sick of bowing.

She has enough of herself left to set Lucy aside.

Then rage overcomes her, an explosion of snarling, snapping, biting. Claws and fangs erupt from her skin. Her nail beds split. She bleeds.

And the Beast comes tearing out.

How dare she. How dare she break her mother. How dare she take the only thing she loved, her only saving grace, and turn it into savage mockery. How dare she clip that beautiful ballerina’s wings. How dare she call her in the middle of the night to remind her of her place, a place that she never wanted, that was thrust upon her by people too ignorant to the results of those sorts of environments to give a damn about their actions.

She sees red.

And she lunges.

GM: Jade has seen Elyse’s powers of the mind. Seen her invade her doll’s heads, break them in little ways inside, break them like she broke Diana. Force them to be people they are not. Haunt them all their lives. Butterfly is an obedient mother and trophy wife now, last Jade heard.

Jade has seen what the Malkavian can do. Seen the way she terrifies and tortures and breaks the victims in her dollhouse of horrors.

Yet, when the red haze recedes, it’s Elyse’s shredded, barbie doll body that lies broken and gore-spattered on the floor. Her dress is torn off, showing her nipple-less breasts and the smooth flesh between her legs where she used to have a vagina.

Elyse may be a mistress of horrors within her dolls’ minds.

But barbies evidently can’t fight worth a damn.

Celia: Well.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade’s claws slowly recede. She stares down at the body. Her third time losing control this evening. A third victory for her Beast.

It rings hollow. She won this and lost a friend.

Stricken eyes search for Key among the dolls, as if she expects to simply find him there waiting.

GM: Jade does not see the ghoul.

Celia: Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

She can’t just leave Elyse here, she’s not an asshole.


GM: There is no response.

Celia: She searches for the intercom.

GM: It’s there on the wall.

Celia: She presses the button. Calls for him again.

GM: “Yes?” answers the ghoul’s voice after a few moments. He sounds positively… something. His voice is thick.

Celia: She doesn’t know what that emotion is.

“Key. I need your help. The lady interpreter needs your help.” A pause. Then, “please.”

GM: “Of… course, Miss Kalani. What can I… do for her?”

Celia: “I need someone to wake her. Her sire? The regent? Do you know who she can safely drink from? A change of clothes. I’ll get her cleaned up. She shouldn’t be seen like this.”

GM: “I do not… know, Miss Kalani. Either of them… perhaps…”

Celia: Helpful.

“Everything okay, Key?”

GM: “No, Miss Kalani,” Key says slowly. “No, there is nothing okay.”

Celia: Right. She’s aware.

Her eyes finally lift from Elyse’s corpse to survey the room.

GM: Many eyes stare back at her.


Celia: Her vague “call her sire and ask him to wipe Elyse’s memory” plan falls to pieces. The dolls will tell.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers to the room. “I didn’t mean to.”

She presses the intercom again.

“Bring the dress, Key.”

GM: Silence is her only answer.

Celia: Jade grinds her teeth together. She bends, lifting Elyse into her arms. She’s been to the bathroom here enough times—breaking women like her mother, turning them into dolls—and knows exactly where she’s going. It’s the same place Elyse sat for her when she ripped out all of her internal organs and smoothed over her sex and chest. Jade sets the limp body down in the tub and runs the water.

She stares at the phone in her hand. She could call her sire. It’s his territory. She’d been hoping to avoid him pretty much forever, but if he can wake Elyse…

The masked harpy is another option.

Neither of them are particularly appealing choices. Sheriff will likely keep quiet about it. Just mad at her for starting shit in his territory. Again.

Cool. What a fun night. Absolutely nothing has gone right. Even the sex with Josua is now just a quickly fading memory.

She doesn’t have time to fall apart. She needs to make a decision.

Jade takes a breath she doesn’t need. She has to fix this. She will fix this. She isn’t going to let one night ruin her entire Requiem. It’s a setback, that’s all it is. Roderick will come over to her side. Savoy will forgive her for messing up his plans. Elyse will forgive her. She’ll explain, that’s all, just explain. Tell her a secret, maybe. Grace is my mom. Grace was raped and couldn’t defend herself because of this; the fire was snuffed out of her. Grace could have gone on to have a future in ballet if her mother hadn’t forced this on her. Grace is my property, and you’re stepping on my toes. I don’t even know if she’d love me if she were to wake up from what you did to her.

She pushes the negative thoughts of a ruined Requiem from her mind, watching them swirl down the drain with the pinkish water running free from Elyse. She’ll think of something. She always does.

She’ll find Key. Find out what the problem is. Fix Elyse. Make sure she’s presentable. Deal with the anger of one of their sires. The harpy is an unknown quantity; she can’t predict how he will react to finding his childe destroyed on the floor. She doesn’t know if he knows that Jade assists Elyse with her dolls. But Donovan does. He knows Jade comes into his territory. He knows that Elyse pays the toll, that they have some sort of working relationship.

She doesn’t want to see him. She has too much going on in her head right now to want to see him. He’ll berate her for losing her cool. He’ll berate her for causing problems. He’ll demand to know what else she has done, what information she has gathered since Wednesday, and what does she tell him? He’ll look and see and she’ll never know, he’ll mind-fuck her into forgetting, and then Savoy will think she’s causing problems on purpose. She’s not supposed to have any contact with Donovan. What if he keeps her again, like last time? She’ll miss the meeting, the dinner, won’t be able to provide for Dani.

What will she say? “I lost control of my Beast.” They all have a Beast. It’s not an excuse. She should have had a better handle on it. Three times tonight it has caused problems. She killed someone. Murdered her. Like it was nothing.

Was it nothing? Is that who she has become, someone to whom murder means nothing? Will she, too, turn into someone like Veronica who slaughters thin-bloods because they try to go to a party?

Stop it. The thoughts don’t help. She forces them away again.

Jade rises. Elyse isn’t quite clean yet, but she can finish cleaning her once she calls someone. She looks around the bathroom to see if there are any dolls in this room, or if it is one of the few in the house that offer any semblance of privacy.

Then she strides from the room to find Key. She can do it without him, but if there’s another problem, something that happened while her Beast had control, then she’d prefer to fix it now.

GM: Elyse’s body is extremely light. She was already a thin, near-anorexic thing before Jade removed her nonessential organs, and Elyse had the Toreador remove as many of those as she could.

The bathroom appears to be the sole room in the house without any dolls in it. It occurs to Jade that the room’s humidity would likely be bad for any dolls kept there. Even if they had no hair or clothes, the humidity still wouldn’t play well with its composite body. The only doll that could last in a bathroom would be more statue than true doll.

They’re there, though. More of them. Right outside the door.

Jade can’t even begin to recollect how many dolls there are in the Wedding Cake House. But lying right there on the floor, seemingly dropped and abandoned, is an all-too familiar one.

Celia: “Lucy,” Jade murmurs, stooping to pick up the doll. She brushes it off, removing the wrinkles from its new dress and any dirt or lint it has accumulated in its time on the floor. “I’m sorry, darling. Sit tight. I need to fix this.”

She sets the doll down with one of its many siblings, then moves through the house to find Key.

GM: Lucy stares into Jade’s eyes as her mother picks her up. The doll fits snugly in Jade’s arms, and today she feels like a babe desperately clinging to her mother’s breast. It’s uncanny how much she looks like Diana, all the way down to the woman’s present-day bob cut. Even their expressions feel like mirrors of one another’s. Lucy just smiles a little less.

But that isn’t a coincidence. Looking into Lucy’s glassy eyes and wide black pupils, Jade can see the young, angry ballerina who was turned into a doll even as she built her own doll. Every doll has a story inside of them. Every doll has a mouth. But no doll may speak.

Lucy’s porcelain lips do not move. But Jade hears the word, heavy as porcelain, screaming with urgency:


Celia: The doll is halfway down when the word strikes her. Jade swallows. She doesn’t want to leave Elyse. What kind of a monster leaves someone behind that they’ve hurt?

But the urgency does her in. Something had been off with Key. Something had been off with the dolls. She might not speak their language as fluently as Elyse, but even she knows something is off.

“Diana?” Jade whispers down to it. Wary, she tucks the doll against her side and steals through the house.

GM: There is no response from Lucy. There are countless other dolls in the house, and their glassy eyes all bore down on Jade, the Kindred who hurt their mother. There are so many of them. Jade always took it for granted, or perhaps she did not truly realize the depth of the Malkavian’s obsession, but they are everywhere. They’re sitting on the tables. Perched from the lamps. Leaning against the walls. Hanging from the banisters. Peaking out from the chandeliers. They’re like ants. They’re everywhere. They’re fire hazard, a tripping haz—and then Jade’s falling down the stairs, each step slamming into her flank, she must have tripped over a doll, because there are dolls all over the steps, and she’s crushing them, being crushed by them, their hands catching in her hair, stabbing her sides, and the doll with the wooden hands misses her heart by inches as it penetrates her wood-vulnerable Kindred flesh like butter—

She lands at the bottom of the stairs with a crash, aching everywhere as dozens of hateful china eyes bear down on her.

She. Hurt. Mother.

Celia: It was an accident.

She was going to fix it.

But she can’t, not with them all around her. She runs, Lucy tucked against her side.

GM: She.

She. Hurt. Mother.

She. Hurt. Mother.

She. Hurt. MOTHER!


Celia: The hatred coming from the dolls batters against her as she runs through their tiny little bodies. She’d never been afraid of dolls. But their angry, vengeful faces stare at her, and she can’t—won’t—destroy them, too. She flees, feet moving as quickly as they can against the floor in her bid for freedom.

GM: She trips over another doll. How are they always under her feet—

come play with us jade

She scrambles to her feet, running, but there’s more, there’s so many more—

play with us jade

play with us

play with us

you’re just like us

just like us

just like us

She runs, she runs, but there’s more dolls, the living dolls, marching towards her like zombies, throwing themselves in her path with blank, glassy-eyed expressions—

you’re a doll too

doll too

who are you

who are you

one of us

one of us

play with us

one of us

play with us

one of us

play with us

one of us

Celia: No, no, nope, no, not even a little. She’s not a doll. She’s not. Maxen didn’t send her. Payton sent Diana. She did. He told her. He said he didn’t send her. Jade isn’t a doll. She’s not a doll. She’s a lick. A Kindred. A vampire. Childe of Donovan, grandchilde of Antoine Savoy, great-grandchilde of Maria Pascual. She’s a person. She was human once. She’s not now, but she used to be.

Jade. Her name is Jade.

She runs, the only doll who loves her tucked against her body, protecting it from the hateful, savage dolls in the rest of the house. It was an accident, she might scream. It was an accident. She’s sorry. She was going to fix it. She was. Dolls break sometimes. Elyse taught her how to fix them. She would have fixed Elyse.

She’s not a doll. She runs. Daddy didn’t send her to become a doll. She keeps running. She’s not a doll. She runs. She doesn’t want to play. Step by step she moves to the door. She’s Jade. Celia. She’s someone, but she’s not a doll.

She doesn’t want to play.

GM: It’s like running through quicksand. Through a jungle. Her environment fights her at every turn, and every footstep is treacherous. There are so many dolls. Dolls everywhere. They fall all around her like swarms of spiders. She can barely even see the walls and ceilings. Jade isn’t even sure where they’re coming from, there are so many, more than she ever saw—

Living dolls, unliving dolls, and half-living dolls, and Jade remembers now, how she pulled the bones out of those womens’ arms and legs and hands while Elyse watched, left them floppy useless boneless bits of flesh, cut out their tongues, plucked out their eyes and replaced them with shiny buttons—how are they even moving, without bones in their limbs, these half-human, half-dolls—

you did this to us

you did this to us

did this to us

stay with us

stay with us

one of us

one of us

“Stay with us, pretty please?” smiles Leilani.

“There’s so many dolls to play with…”

“So many dollies…”

“She understands you, Celia… all the pieces have a home here…”

Lani’s voice warbles, and it sounds like she said Jade, not Celia.

Jade. Celia. Jade. Celia.

“You don’t have to be confused anymore…”

Celia: Leilani needs to go back where she came from. She isn’t real. She’s just another mask, another lie, another part of her that Celia—Jade? Celia?—Jade ties on when she needs it.

“She’s not my mother,” Celia/Jade says to the figment of her psyche. One face of the dozens, hundreds, thousands in front of her, all around her. Each step is an effort, slogging through the sea of dolls. Her muscles don’t grow weary but she can feel them clinging to her, pulling at her, overwhelming her in their onslaught to keep her here. She’s slowing.

Her hands bat them away. She keeps Lucy next to her as if the doll will lead the way to safety, a shield against the horde. Boneless fingers reach for her, rubbery skin slipping off her frame, and she shrieks at what she has done, what she will become.

“Let go, let go, let go!”

She swims through porcelain.

“I’m not confused.”

Another step.

“You’re not real.”

More faces peer down at her.

“It’s just pretend!”

It was a game. Wasn’t it?

“I can’t stay.”

She’s cracking.

“It was an accident.”


“I didn’t mean to!”

She would have fixed it.

“Go away.”


“Let me go!”


“You’re not real.”


“You’re not real.”


“You’re not real.”


“You’re not real!”


GM: “Why are you talking to me if I’m not real?” smiles Leila.

“Unless I am… or if you’re crazy…”


I’m real or you’re crazy…

GET IT!” screams Key, thrusting a finger out at her. “Get that doll! Runaway doll!”

“Craaaazy…” goes Leila.



Laughter spills from a million throats as the porcelain sea swallows Jade. Her free hand only just brushes the front door when scores of rubbery and porcelain ones seize her from all sides and pull her back, drowning her under the weight of their numbers.

Too slow.


Too weak.

“The mistress is avenged!”

Too stupid.

“You’ll play with us, Jade… you’ll play with us forever, now…”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline XVI, Celia XXVII
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Story Twelve, Caroline XVI, Celia XXVII

“Most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: The Giani Building isn’t far enough into the Central Business District that Celia is worried about being picked up as an interloper. It’s not even far enough away that she needs to drive, which further cuts down on the probability that she’ll be detected. Flanagan had proved the other night that the licks who patrol the borders pay attention to make and model of vehicles, but this evening Celia skips it all.

She walks. Just another girl alone at night, aura drawn in to prevent any of her kind from looking at her and simply knowing what she is. Masking her smell, she calls it. Hiding in plain sight. She wears her Celia face tonight, made up with spots of color on her cheeks, lips, and lids.

Quick steps take her across Canal Street to the building’s front door. The doorman asks who she is here to see and she gives him Caroline’s name, smiling sweetly all the while.

In the end, there had been no way for her to ascertain that this is not a trap. Trust does not come readily to her kind, but trust she does. Trusts herself to react accordingly. Trusts the Ventrue to offer her this visit on an act of goodwill. Trusts that she will not meet her final death if she steps into this building as soon as the clearance comes down.

Caroline: If the shapely young woman didn’t have the doorman’s full attention when she walked in, she certainly has it when she mentions Ms. Malveaux-Devillers. He inquires as to what name he should give when he calls up.

Celia: Celia tells herself she isn’t offended when the man doesn’t recognize her. How many middle-aged men really browse Instagram or MeVid, anyway, and how many of those who do meander on over to the makeup side of things? Soon, though, she’ll be recognized everywhere, not just by teens and tweens and young women. L.A. is calling her name. As soon as Rick comes through, she’s out of New Orleans and on her way to something better.

“Celia Flores,” she tells the doorman, her smile never slipping. “I believe Ms. Malveaux-Devillers is expecting me.”

She hopes so, anyway. The call from her ghoul had implied as much. Awkward, if not.

Caroline: The doorman buzzes up. Celia’s sharp hearing is enough to her her name clearly. He answers affirmatively several times then returns his attention Celia. “Someone will be right down for Ms. Malveaux-Devillers,” he informs her.

“You can wait in the lobby if you’d like.”

Celia: As if she has another choice. Still, she smiles at him and steps inside, thanking him for his time. Her eyes scan the lobby while she waits. She’s poised enough to not tap her heels on the ground no matter how nerve-wracked this waiting makes her.

Her grandsire’s missive weighs heavily on her mind. Coincidence, maybe, that the call from the ghoul had come shortly after she’d left the Evergreen. She hadn’t voiced her concerns to her grandsire, but they pace through her thoughts now like a caged tiger, back and forth, back and forth. Sire and grandsire. One wants to destroy the blonde, the other wants to offer her friendship and an alliance. Both of them want her assistance with the matter. What does she want to be? The knife in the dark, or the smiling friend?

She supposes this meeting will let her know.

Caroline: The lobby feels more spacious than it is. Marble floors and high ceilings give it an robust elegance, and the entire space is decorated in whites and golds. Several comfortable looking leather chairs sit to one side, a handful of magazines arrayed in the end table between them.

To one side Celia can make out a short hall that terminates in a mail room, complete with the array of numbered boxes. Branching off of it is another room with an opaque frosted glass door.

Several security cameras beat down from various angles. The small round black ones, rather than the more conspicuous ones of gas stations and resteraunts.

Two keycarded elevators sit on the north wall.

Celia doesn’t have long to wait before a serious-looking blonde in a black suit emerges from one of the elevators and makes her way to her.

“Ms. Flores?” she asks.

Celia can smell it before she gets close.


Celia: She hadn’t even had time to enjoy the magazine she’d picked up and begun to leaf through, one leg crossed over the other in that bank of leather chairs.

She doesn’t recognize the girl. Smells like vitae, though. Should she recognize her? Probably. She should pay better attention to people’s ghouls; apparently someone is paying enough attention to hers to start fucking with them.

She rises.

“That’s me,” she says to the ghoul, setting the magazine aside. “Lead the way, Miss…?”

Caroline: “Widney, ma’am,” the ghoul replies easily. “Ms. Malveaux-Devillers’ last appointment ran late, but she told me she would be along shortly, and instructed me to extend every courtesy in her absence. She’ll receive you in the penthouse.”

Celia: Irritation surges through her. Not the ghoul’s fault, she reminds herself, so she keeps her tongue in her mouth and her lips pressed together.

She couldn’t have called? Texted?

And this is, what, another game? From a fledgling? No matter who her sire is, the girl is a scant few months old.

How dare she.

“How unfortunate,” she says dryly. “This is why I make it a point to be the first one in the morning to visit the doctors, you know. But I’m happy to see the penthouse in the meantime.” She sounds chipper, at least.

Caroline: “It shouldn’t be long at all, ma’am. If you follow me, I’ll get you settled in. Can I offer you anything? Sparkling water? Cocktail?” The blonde leads her to one of the elevators and swipes a badge.

Celia: Sparkling blood. There’s a thought. She wonders if carbonation would improve the fare any. Either Widney doesn’t know what she is—which means Caroline is preserving the secret for her—or she’s pretending not to know because of the public locale. Maybe she should accept. Keep up the ruse.

No, no reason to waste the blood just to choke it down and throw it up later. She’s had enough of that.

“Oh I couldn’t,” she says, Southern accent coming through a little more thick than normal. She waves a hand, stifling a giggle. “I’m already jumpy as a rabbit in a teakettle as is, I doubt liquor would do me any good.”

Caroline: Widney nods, business-like. “If you should change your mind, don’t hesitate to ask. Ms. Malveaux-Devillers maintains a fully stocked bar.”

She swipes the badge across another scanner inside and the dim ‘th floor’ button illuminates. She presses it quickly. The trip to the rooftop is short.

“Would you prefer inside or outside, ma’am?” the ghoul inquires.

A pool and array of seating arrangements beckon on the patio.

Celia: “Outside.”

Always outside. She follows the ghoul onto the rooftop venue, scanning the area for any sort of… anything. Traps, maybe. More ghouls. People. Does she have this whole area to herself? Plant a few trees, she thinks, and Caroline will have her very own rooftop garden.

With a pool, though. Now that’s tempting. What would the Ventrue do if she showed up to find Celia naked in the pool? She’s often wondered that about her grandsire, too. If he came upstairs one evening to find her waiting for him.

Ah, well, the blonde has already seen everything she has to offer, anyway. Something something mystery of modesty and all that. It looks like Emily described, at least, which means that her memories weren’t altered. Maybe. Aren’t you supposed to make small changes, though? She’d sigh but she doesn’t need to.

Celia takes an offered seat and waits for her host.

Caroline: Widney pauses after the elevator arrives to send a brief message on her phone, before leading Celia out to a high round table with a black umbrella jutting from the center and two stool height chairs. A small portable electric heater sits off to the side, and the ghoul stops to turn it on as well.

There’s not a soul to trouble them, though the faint sounds of the street reaches them up here. The dull hum of cars going by and occasional peels of laughter from tourists.

There’s no dedicated lighting on the patio on other than those that ring the pool: it’s left to bathe in the faint lights of the city and cast in a modest gloom.

Celia doesn’t have long to wait, perhaps enough time to briefly check her Instagram.

From her seat facing the club house the Toreador can see the doors to the elevator open once more to discharge the Ventrue and two others.

The first she recognizes as the same ghoul that was with Caroline in the Garden District.

What was her name? Spring? Summer? Some kind of season name.

She says something that Celia can’t quite catch to Caroline as she exits the elevator that makes the Ventrue snap shut the leather portfolio she’s holding and all but shove it towards her, whatever words exchanged lost in the wind.

The second individual with Caroline is short, stocky, and bald. He wears black cargo pants with a gray shirt and a matching dark jacket that doesn’t fit him as well as it should. Everything about him almost screams military, not the least of which is the pistol on his hip and matching magazines on the opposite.

Then comes the Ventrue herself.

That Caroline doesn’t expend the same effort as Celia in her daily makeup routine is obvious. Just as obvious is how little she needs such a thing. Her blonde hair seems to fall in exactly the right way to frame her face, especially those piercing blue eyes.

She’s not quite dressed for Elysium in her black dress, but it’s far from casualwear, hugging her body in all the right places and standing out sharply against her so pale skin. Paler perhaps than the night before. Even more inhuman.

Her heels make her seemingly endless legs just go on further. They snap across the deck as the blonde makes her way out towards Celia with casual lack of effort.

Celia: She should, she reflects, get more ghouls like this. The useful sort that flank her when she visits other licks, instead of a boy who disobeys and a girl who can’t be bothered to protect the sanctity of the Masquerade. Christ, she’s still waiting on the blowout from that. An excuse to strip her of everything useful she’s accumulated over the past years. The heads of the ghouls she’s currently bemoaning, even.

No, no, she won’t let her mind go down that road. No one that knows who she is has any reason to want to mess with her. No reason to check Celia’s phone.

Except the reason in front of her.

The beautiful, deadly reason in front of her. Scion of two powerful houses, childe of the prince of the city, apparently bested Meadows in combat… power, beauty, what’s not to like?

The pull of her clan, thankfully, lies dormant this evening. She blames it for her actions in the Garden District.

Her eyes follow the assembled ghouls—Winter, she thinks, which is similar to Widney, which definitely makes sense if you’re too busy to learn their names—until Caroline starts towards her. Then it’s all she can do to avoid staring. Were she still alive the lick might take her breath away. As it is, only conscious effort reminds her to breathe and blink.

She rises as the Ventrue draws close, a smile tugging the corners of her lips upward. The corners of her eyes would never dare crinkle, but there’s warmth there all the same.

She’s less formally dressed than her counterpart, in any case. This must have come from the Celia side of her closet, and soon it’ll be too warm to pull it off, even at night. Still, she does so enjoy her sweater dresses, and this wide-necked tan (beige? who cares) one hugs her hips and waist before giving way around mid-thigh to dark gray boots. Even the heels don’t make her tall enough to look the Ventrue in the eye.

Not that she would. Celia studiously avoids doing so, looking at her lips instead.

No, wait, that’s dangerous too.

What a mess.

Caroline: Celia may not have heard the jokes at Elysium about Caroline, but Jade certainly has.

Not from the harpies (why would they spare their attention for some fledgling?) but from the would-be crowd. About how clearly the reason the Ventrue has so many ghouls is because no lick wants anything to do with her. How she has to lord over someone. How it’s a pathetic commentary on her existence. The lost fledgling surrounding herself with slaves and bodyguards in some pretentious imitation of the powerful and important. Unable to accept her irrelevance, not realizing how foolish it makes her look. Who would bother with her anyway?

On the other hand, Caroline doesn’t look very pathetic as she outpaces the bald ghoul on her way towards Celia.

She intentionally doesn’t bite her lip like she wants to as she approaches, as she takes in the Toreador. Caroline’s skin is too pale to pull off a dress like that, but it works on Celia. Works very well, especially paired with the boots.

She forces away the irritation Autumn’s last news left her with and puts a smile on. Smile’s are good, right? Not threatening? Celia’s smiling at her. Because she’s trying to be non-threatening as well? Or because she’s genuinely happy to see Caroline?

The Ventrue shoves that latter thought away along with her irritation. Why would Celia be happy to see her?

More to, why did she accept the invitation? How confident must she be, of either her rouse or her abilities to waltz into Caroline’s lion’s den here.

Well, she’s not the first.

And then she’s there, in front of the Toreador, and she realizes she doesn’t know what she’s going to say.

“Celia, I’m so glad you could come. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

Offer an excuse? The truth? No. That’d just look weak, wouldn’t it? She’s been on the receiving end of the ‘make people wait’ game other licks play often enough to know what it means, how irritating it is. What it looks like, no matter how good the reason.

On the other hand, does Celia? Caroline admits to herself she honestly don’t know. She’s never seen her at Elysium. Never heard of her. Is it possible that Celia’s been mostly isolated? Then there’s that ugly secret between them. How does that play in?

Celia: Could be the bond Caroline forced on her. Celia had tried so hard to prevent it from taking hold in the bedroom and Caroline had all but shoved it on her in the shower.

The smile seems genuine enough, in any case. Hard to imagine Celia without a smile, really. Maybe it’s her default expression. Maybe she hasn’t been a lick long enough to know she shouldn’t smile like this, like she hasn’t been around long enough to know she shouldn’t trespass in the Garden District. It’s not as if Caroline has heard anything about a Celia Flores among the Damned.

She’s glad they’re skipping the titles, in any case. Caroline’s nonchalant familiarity puts her more at ease than anything else probably would.

“It’s not a problem,” Celia tells her, “I’m sure you have plenty of things to keep you busy these nights.” It was only a moment, anyway. Not like when the elders do it.

Maybe she’s not used to those games, either. How much digging did Caroline do about the Toreador?

Caroline: “You have no idea,” Caroline answers with a light laugh.

Or does she?

She glances at Widney. “There shouldn’t be anything else tonight.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The ghoul nods and withdraws.

And just like that the two of them are standing out on the roof alone.

She’ll never get a better chance.

And yet Caroline can’t bring herself to fear. Perhaps she’s being foolish tonight, but nothing ventured is nothing gained, and she’s not so exposed here as others might believe.

Celia: She probably doesn’t. Still posting photos on Instagram, isn’t she?

Must be new. Hadn’t even tried to put off the ghoul for a night when she’d called for a meeting. Doesn’t seem bothered by waiting.

Very new.

She watches the ghoul depart. Now it’s just two monsters on the roof.

“Is all of this yours up here?”

An idle question. As if she hadn’t grilled Emily about it. Not that the girl would know, but even some information is better than none, isn’t it?

Caroline: “In practice. I don’t own the building, but I have some… influence over it. Officially, the roof closes at sundown. Most people’s cards won’t even let them select it as an option in the elevator.”

Her eyes meet Celia’s. “We won’t be disturbed.”

Celia: Is that a threat or an invitation?

“And for anyone who tries to take the stairs it’s a simple matter of telling them to leave, I imagine.”

Not that it would stop certain others in the city from appearing if they so chose. She turns to look out across the city, perhaps to keep the lick from doing the trick she’d just alluded to. Not wanting the girl in her head is what had gotten her into this mess. The building isn’t the tallest in the city, but the view across Canal Street to the lights and merriment of the Quarter is appealing all the same.

“It’s nice up here. I see why you invite people.”

Caroline: “Roof doors lock out too, at least from the inside. Building security is pretty extensive. Something about upgrades after an unfortunate incident a few months ago,” Caroline answers, turning her own gaze to the city.

It’s not quite the equal of her sire’s view, but it’s not bad.

“I worked hard to make something mine after my Embrace.” She bites her lip. “It wasn’t easy.”

An invitation.

Celia: “I should upgrade my security,” Celia admits. She’s seen what other people do now and hers is decidedly lacking. Not just at her haven, but the spa as well. One suite is well guarded, the rest…

“Hard to carve a niche in a city that seems like it’s been picked clean over by everyone at the top.”

No heat, just steady facts. What’s left for the little people in this game of giants?

“But it seems like it’s going well for you. Maybe I can pick your brain about it sometime. Borrow some tactics about developing things. "

Caroline: “I mean, it’s not all that different than our last lives. All about what parts of yourself you’re willing to sell or cut away to get ahead.”

She wishes she had a drink.

“Get in line behind someone. March to the beat of their drum. They’re no more accepting of individuals than either of our fathers.”

Celia: “Isn’t that the truth.”

What would they be like if their fathers hadn’t been the monsters they are? Would she chafe more at the rules of her Requiem, join the Anarchs to fight for equality? Maybe. That’s the way the world works, though. The strong rule at the top.

“Someone—” her sire “—once told me that growing up as I did taught me strength.”

Caroline: “There’s a reason a lot of us come from those kinds of backgrounds.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.

“Your sister, for instance.”

“A good Sanctified would also tell you that your sins in life are part of why you have this existence. I think we all had our own sins long before the Embrace.”

Celia: Turned away as she is, maybe Caroline doesn’t see the overlong blink at the mention of her sister. She has half a second to decide how to play this. Tell Caroline who she is, let her know she’s been Embraced far longer than her, that she knows about Roxanne.

Or feign ignorance. Play the innocent, wide-eyed childe, so new to all of this. Harder to explain how she fits into their society if she’s more than a handful of months old, isn’t it?

It had worked with the hunters.

And, in the end, it’s not her secret to tell. The noose makes her do what she does best: lie.

“My sister?” Celia furrows her brow. “I don’t think the scandal made either one of them strong. Sophia left for college, and Isabel… she’s been in Sudan since she graduated.”

Caroline: Does she really not know? How many masks are they wearing with each other tonight?

Still, if she really doesn’t know, she deserves to.

“Isabel has been one of us for years,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She leads her own krewe. Or, at least she did. They had a difficult year.”

Celia: What’s the appropriate response to this? She’d been furious when she found out initially, but her feelings since then have long cooled.

Dismay, maybe. Who would want this for their siblings? Wounded betrayal that Isabel hadn’t told her. Sadness. Regret. She reaches for the old wounds she has carried on her heart since the night she made Maxen rape his daughter. The story Roxanne had told her about her pregnancy moments before she’d ripped out her heart. Or what she should have felt, anyway, if she weren’t the monster that she is.

It’s a real mixing pot of emotions across her face, eyes widening, lips parting, fingers moving to cover her mouth while she takes a completely unnecessary breath.

“Isabel has… oh, oh no…” She turns away.

And the Oscar goes to…

Caroline: Celia’s either a fantastic actress (which Caroline knows is true) or she’s genuinely been kept in the dark about most of Kindred society.

She supposes, on reflection, both could be true, despite what she knows about her. Caroline certainly was.

She shrugs. “It’s not all bad. Someone observed to me once that this thing can be what breaks relationships, what destroys us with others, but it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with someone under different circumstances.”

Never mind that she murdered that person. Someone who trusted her, or at least cared for her. Cared enough to stick her neck out for Caroline.

“For what it’s worth, I think your sister would be happy to see a familiar face, and that she could use one.”

Celia: Huh. Too bad Celia killed her sister.

Not that she shares that tidbit.

She shoves the thought from her mind as quickly as it comes. It takes her a moment to put herself back together after that blow. Or at least that’s what she makes it look like she’s doing. She doesn’t dab at her eyes—Caroline won’t smell blood and would see through the ruse more easily than a mortal—but she hunches her shoulders slightly for a moment and gives a shake of her head.

“I didn’t know. I had no idea…” she trails off. “We weren’t close, you know, after our parents split… I just thought she… with everything that happened…”

Her face plastered all over the internet. Maxen between her legs. It’s a dark thought.

“I would have wanted to get out, too.”

Caroline: Not close? How are you ‘not close’ with a sister. The entire idea is alien to Caroline. She tries to imagine what it would take to split her from her sisters. Probably a hacksaw.

“She’s a clanmate. I could put you two in touch. Or at least pass along your number, if you wanted.”

What say you to that? How far does she take the game? If it even is a game.

Celia: Good luck.

“Y-yeah,” Celia finally says. “Thank you. I should speak to her. Maybe together we can…” she trails off again.

Bury the hatchet. She really had wanted to bury the hatched with Isabel. Only she’d become unhinged, either after her Embrace or had been all along, and Celia’s attempt at bridging that gap had ended disastrously.

Caroline: “Few enough reasons to trust someone, among the Damned. You could do worse than shared blood.”

Of course, Caroline did far more than destroy the only Kindred that shared her blood as a mortal, so maybe she’s not the best authority on that topic.

“Remind me to give you her number before you go, and I’ll pass on yours next time I see her.”

Celia: She should unburden herself of that guilt. They can swap stories about the terrible things they’ve done to their families.

Call it a bonding exercise.

“I don’t know if she’d want to see me,” Celia admits, “but… I guess she and Logan still talk. I messaged her, you know, recently. There’s this app he showed me, because I thought she was in Sudan… but she never got back to me. But… you know, dying, it made me think of all the things I should have fixed. And now I have the chance. And to hear that maybe we could fix it…”

She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“Thank you, Caroline. I really appreciate that.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She goes by Roxanne now. Apparently that’s a thing a lot of licks do: change their name after the Embrace.”

Not that Caroline will. The time for that is long past—if it ever existed for her.

Celia: “Oh. I should… probably do that too. Roxanne.” She tries it out, lets it roll off her tongue.

As if she doesn’t know.

What had Coco and Roderick told her? Truth comes out. Maybe she should stop spinning tales.

“I never understood how she could do it, you know. Take his side. I saw him. I watched it happen.”

This, at least, isn’t a lie.

Caroline: That makes Caroline pause. What would she have done, if she’d seen her father beating Claire? Would she have defended her now-stepmother against him? Have stood up against him? Would she have gone with Claire if they’d split, knowing she was right? Or would she have stayed with her father, who she loved?

She knows the answer.

“I could say that you were kids, and that to kids who’s right matters a lot less than who you love. I could say that he appeared strong and your mother appeared weak. Maybe your sister thought she was backing the side she had to because it was going to win anyway. I could blame the entire thing on who you were then… but that’s not really true, is it?”

“The truth is most of us will excuse almost anything from someone we love, no matter how awful. We’re myopic in our view. The only thing that matters is what we care about.”

She pauses. “Your sister made clear who she did.”

Celia: “Isabel—Roxanne—she had no reason to side with Dad. None. He used to… God, he was awful. The last nice thing I remember him doing was my birthday party when I was eight. And then we moved into Audubon and everything became shit. Just shit. He just… changed. Not overnight, it wasn’t that dramatic, but what kind of person takes a hacksaw to a ballerina’s leg? How can you do that to someone? And then everything after… what he did to her, to me… watching my mom live in literal squalor because of him…”

Celia shakes her head.

“I don’t even know what they were fighting about, why he suddenly went after her. He said she was cheating, but she… Christ, Caroline,” Celia looks up at her, and the truth is there in her eyes. “She’s still in love with him. He’s trying to get back into her life and she’s going to let him. Would it really be so bad, she keeps asking. It’s… it’s sick. It’s so messed up.”

As if she isn’t doing the same thing with her sire. Letting him use and abuse her to fulfill his own twisted ends and meekly accepting it because she hopes he’ll care enough about her one day to not.

Caroline: And he’s the puppet of your sire, Celia. What do you think that says about what his view was on what happened to you?

Does she really not know? Or is she just like Caroline? Too broken to care.

“And yet, making peace with that level of cognitive dissidence is a daily part of our Requiem. I sit in rooms across from other licks who literally tortured me, tried to enslave me, and humiliated me every week and have to do more than pretend to be nice,” she observes pointedly.

“As I said, there’s a reason people like us are attractive to our sires—and by ‘us’ I include your sister. Like a beaten dog, we’re not inclined to bite our masters, even if we show our teeth to everyone else.”

It’s an ugly thing to say, an ugly truth to put out in the open, but Caroline made her peace with it. What was it the seneschal had said? “Your background made you a compelling candidate for the prince’s Embrace.” She doubts he was talking only about her achievements.

Who else but the daughter of a man who spent most of his life ignoring her, expecting perfection of her, and using her for political purposes, would fight so hard to stand beside a sire who just wants to do the exact same thing.

It’s like poetry, how her Requiem echoes her life. Not that she’s ever much cared for poetry.

Celia: Celia blanches. The effect might be lost beneath the foundation, but the blood she sends spinning through her body drains from her face regardless. Beaten, humiliated, enslaved. She hasn’t had it that bad. She’s been relatively privileged, even.

“Sorry,” she says quietly. “I didn’t know. He just… I hate him. I thought he was out of my life and he’s back and…” she wrings her hands, finally shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be airing this to you, anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on my family drama. Breather drama.” She lifts her brows, as if unsure of the term.

Caroline is more right than she knows, anyway. Celia might show her teeth to anyone else, but not to him. Never him. Even denying him the night he’d have made her lick blood from the ground had stung. He’d tried to kill her mother and she’d stood by like some… pathetic, weak mortal while it happened. As if it were okay. What would she have done if she hadn’t managed to save her mom? Bow her head and politely accept her failure?

“Why are they all so awful?

Caroline: “How many people have you killed?” Caroline asks in turn.

“In your Requiem, I mean.” She remembers the loaded gun.

She waits a beat, then continues, “I’m sorry, that’s a rude question. But what I mean is, when life gets cheap, there’s only so many things left that can end up shocking you. Extend that out a hundred years, or two hundred years, or five hundred years.”

She shrugs. “I mean, it probably doesn’t help that they probably all started as fucked as we are. The ones that were normal, well, they don’t make it very long.”

Celia: Five, this week. Three of them were hunters, though, so she’s not sure that it counts. Plus her sister. One innocent, and even then who knows how innocent the bitch actually was. She’d goaded someone else into killing two more and wonders if they count.

“Maybe,” Celia admits. She doesn’t answer the question about death. “Maybe they don’t last long. But if they keep taking the beaten and the broken, they’re going to end up with a society of broken people. That just continues to the problem. Isn’t it better to grant someone the Embrace if you know they’re going to do good with it? If we have eternity, as they say we do, why not make it better?”

She sounds like Roderick. She remembers how Garcia sneered at him in Elysium, spitting the word “idealist” as if it were a curse. She glances away.

“We become jaded, you mean,” she continues, “inured to doing what we need to do. We become like them. If not, we die.”

And isn’t she worried about that very thing with Roderick? That he doesn’t know how to bend so he’ll break instead, rush off to do something heroic and die for it, let his temper get the best of him at the wrong time? He’d cried over killing hunters. That doesn’t bode well for his future.

Or maybe her lack of care for their lives speaks to what’s wrong with her.

Caroline: “Going to end up with a society of broken people? Have you met many of us?” There’s a brittle smile in her eyes.

Celia: Ah, whoops. Here’s the delicate part. The lie she needs to spin.

“There are different ways of being broken.”

Caroline: “Of course there. Elysium is like a case study in a mix of borderline personality traits. The sadists, the masochists, the control freaks, the lushes, the hedonists. But normal people can’t say normal people and be Kindred too.”

“Even the most wannabe moral lick with no ghouls they’ve addicted and enslaved to their will, who has never killed or frenzied by some miracle, is still a rapist that goes out every night to prey on and hurt people. We’re obligate predators by creation.”

“And even if they avoid the petty politics, even if they navigate the Masquerade perfectly, it’s only a matter of time. Eventually they’ll frenzy and hurt or kill someone. If you really want to be the good person, the best thing you can do for the world is get a tan. Otherwise you’re just another monster justifying your existence of hurting and killing with some bullshit excuse about the greater good.”

“Mind you, the kine can be little better—the greater good is the excuse of every tyrant for five thousand years.”

“I think it was Sophocles that said, ‘The soul that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter.’ He wasn’t being subtle about the idea that you can’t fight evil while being evil. Fruit of the poisoned tree and all that.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t have much of a counter to that. Roderick probably would, but she’s not him, and she’s never pretended to not be the monster that Caroline speaks of.

Except for right this very minute.

“There are levels of crimes,” she finally says, “things you can do that are worse than the others. Hunting doesn’t need to end in death. You could even argue that we’re better than the mortals who slaughter cows and pigs for their meals.”

She sounds delusional.

Caroline: “Or you can just make peace with it.” Caroline shrugs, tilting her head to the side.

“How much do you really care about some random kine on the street?” She arches an eyebrow.

Celia: “I care more for my family. But I think anyone would say that.”

Part of her family, anyway.

“Are you suggesting,” she asks at length, “that we round up a few and kill them to stop caring?” She sounds intrigued rather than accusing, if that’s any consolation.

Caroline: “I mean, it would help most licks figure out pretty quickly if they could stomach the Requiem.”

Didn’t it help her? It wasn’t the killing that shattered her. As it turned out, blood wiped off porcelain easily enough. Like all china dolls, it was the fall that broke her.

Celia: “Is this what passes for a date when you’re dead?”

Caroline: “Is this a date?” Caroline asks, amused. “I’d have brought a bottle of kine.”

Celia: Celia giggles, delighted at the play on words.

“It can be.”

She honestly has no idea why she’d been invited over, but they’d been in the shower together last time they spoke of it. If she misjudged… well, awkward. Then again, she’s also in a relationship, so it’s awkward either way.

Caroline: A moment of weakness or a genuine temptation? The game wears at her patience—better not to pretend there are truly friends among the Damned. Better to slam the door than gaze into the abyss.

“And here I thought you were here to kill me.”

Celia: She falters. Her smile dips, stopped short by the bold accusation.

“I’m doing a poor job of it, if so.”

A brief pause. Then,

“You asked to see me again. After we were intimate. Or at least I thought that’s what you meant. If I was mistaken, then I apologize for the trouble.”

Caroline: “I meant everything I said,” Caroline answers too quickly.

She pauses for a moment, seemingly realizing the eagerness of her answer.

There’s a wistfulness to her tone when she speaks again. “They told me to be careful, you know. To be watchful. But God, I didn’t see you coming at all. Not even after you dropped the veil.”

There’s something in her gaze.

“Then… then I got a taste of you. I’ve tasted your sire’s blood often enough that I had no doubt who you were, and I knew it was coming. A blade. A poison. Something more subtle, maybe, but an end all the same.”

“I’d grown accustomed to looking for it. To expecting it. There were worse ways than in your arms.”

She stares at the sheriff’s childe. “Except it didn’t come. I couldn’t figure out why. But I had a sort of hope, about the reason.”

Celia: Tasted her sire’s blood enough times.

This is who he gives it to, the prince’s childe. Not Celia. Not his own childe. There’s another beast inside of her that surges at the words. Not the Beast, capital B, but the other one. The colder one, named for the green-eyed bitch. And a little girl who used to believe that monsters weren’t real, a teenager who had been whisked away from the horror of reality by too-cold hands. They fight for dominance inside of her: the Beast, the Beauty, and the Innocent.

You’ll never be good enough, one of them whispers. The Bitch.

Caroline might see the way her face turns to stone while it happens. A micro-expression where, for a blink, Celia becomes just as dead as the rest of them. It’s replaced almost as instantly with something like uncertainty. Apprehension. Nervous, maybe, at the mention of her sire… or Caroline’s confessed desire, the suggestion in her words.

She’s playing with fire. Walking the edge of the knife, where each step cuts into the soles of her feet. She has too many secrets. Too many people vying for her attention, too many people pulling her in different directions, too many people demanding her loyalty. Her sire. Her lover. Her grandsire. Caroline.

She doesn’t know if Caroline is bluffing. If she knows who Celia’s sire truly is. To lie here… one misstep and everything will come crumbling down around her. Will she tell? Celia will lose her head, she’s sure. She can spin it. She’s done it before. Make a bluff of her own. Mutually assured destruction if Caroline tells. But she can’t confess. The noose around her neck tightens at the very thought, his blood warning her to keep quiet. Play stupid, it says, you’re so good at that.

When had his voice replaced her father’s?

“I didn’t come to the Garden District for you,” Celia says. She wonders if her mouth is always this dry. If words are always so difficult to form. Even the truth she speaks rings hollow to her ears. “I didn’t know you’d be there. I came to see my mom, my daughter, your sister. It’s been too long since we…”

You give up friends when you die. That’s the sad truth of it. She’s managed to make it work with some of them, but there will always be those who slip through the cracks. She has held onto Cecilia for years, but now she wonders if that time is up. If Caroline will stake her claim on her family, like Celia would do for hers if another lick were getting too friendly.

“And then I saw you, and I just…”

Blame her clan. Easy, isn’t it. But it had been more than that. She and Caroline had never been close as mortals, but they’d known each other. They could have been friends. If Celia hadn’t died that night…

“I didn’t know who you were. Whose childe. I didn’t know. I wasn’t sent there.”

None of it is a lie. None of it even stretches the truth.

The pause is long enough to set her head to spinning. She looks away, licks her lips, and finally looks back.

“Is that why I’m here? Are you going to… to kill me? Hurt me?” Turn her in? Her weight shifts, as if she might flee. Laughable, really. She knows how fast Caroline is. The railing is close, though. She can jump. Preferable to being executed. To having her blood spill the truth of it. It will hurt less than watching them take his head.

Caroline: She’s such a good liar that Caroline wants to believe it. The naivete of believing in the serendipity of just happening to meet each other again. The night after the sheriff was let in on the secret. She wants to believe that. And she doesn’t want to believe it. Because she’d built up the idea in her head that if Celia, perhaps, could refuse an order from her sire, if she could make her own way, that maybe Caroline could as well. Stupid. There’s no room for sentiment or wishes in her Requiem, only what is.

And what is now? She came back. ’Didn’t know whose childe’ suggests she knows now. Few enough places she could have learned that. Did she go asking questions? Knows now, and still came back. What the hell does that mean?

And then there’s the fear. What does Celia have to fear from Caroline? Celia’s sire is arguably the most feared lick in the city. Certainly the one Caroline fears the most. Well, other than her own sire. Kill her? Hurt her? Who the hell does she think Caroline is?

She was the same way back at her mother’s house as well, though, wasn’t she? Almost skittish. How does that happen?

Except, Caroline suspects she knows exactly how that happens. How many times has she wanted to run? How many times has she been terrified? She pictures Donovan. Cold. Efficient. Demanding. Distant. He’s like a mirror image of her own. Is it really that simple?

“I think I already signed your death warrant once, in life. Once is enough for eternity.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what that means. The tape? That’s hardly a concern anymore. If Maxen had just stayed in Audubon where he belongs she doesn’t think she’d have given him a second thought. But her sire had offered him to her. Silver platter. All she has to do is deliver Caroline.

And she doesn’t want to, that’s the kicker. She doesn’t care about the bald boogey monster from her past anymore. She was finally happy. Finally free. For all that Lebeaux thinks this isn’t her sire finding another way to interfere in her life, Celia still has her doubts. And her grandsire had given her another out, another way forward. Still delivering Caroline, just in a less deadly way.

That’s all she is to them. A tool. A pawn. Someone else to use and manipulate into doing what they want.

Her Beast snarls at the thought. She’s more than that. She has to be.

“I don’t understand,” she admits, as if her inner debate had never happened. “Covering up the scandal hurt Isabel more than it did me.”

Easier, maybe, if she weren’t collared to someone else, if the bonds didn’t tug her half a hundred different directions. What is it like to have free will? She hasn’t known since she was nineteen.

Caroline: “You asked for help, for someone to help save you from the monster in your home, who tucked you in at night. And we threw you back to him.” She runs her tongue over her fangs.

“I told you, I meant everything I said. I regret that day.”

Celia: It takes her a moment to realize Caroline means Maxen and not Donovan. Her mind, as ever, is with the sire that stole her from her home. That kept her there. And he had tucked her in. Does Caroline know that? Know what happened when she was fourteen, when he’d carried her down the hall to her bedroom and told her that she was his special little girl?

“You’re hardly the only one to blame for that event.”

She’d been the one to sell out her family to her sire as soon as he asked.

Caroline: “Wouldn’t it be doing the exact same thing?” she asks.

Her expression softens, almost playful. “There’s nothing stylish about repeating yourself.”

Celia: “Why would you think that he sent me to do something to you?” She doesn’t say his name. She still isn’t sure if Caroline is bluffing. “He serves your sire, why would he want to hurt you?”


Caroline: Other than the fact that he probably arranged my death to lure the seneschal to his own?

“Does he? If so, he’s proven an incapable servant indeed over the last years.”

Celia: Celia wouldn’t know anything about that, though, if she’s as new as she pretends to be.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“But he didn’t…” Celia falters. She’s as good as admitted that he’s her sire. What is he going to do if he finds out that Caroline knows? “He didn’t send me. When he found out I was there…”

She looks away again, closing her eyes briefly. The pain that flickers across her expression when she looks back to Caroline says it all: it was ugly.

Caroline: A flash of anger. She knows that expression intimately. She’s worn it plenty. She’s so tired of it.

How much of her hand to tip, though? Is this all just bait? A subtler knife?

The Toreador stares at her with those big eyes brown eyes, and they seem to pry secrets from her better than a crowbar.

“Then I imagine he was especially unhappy. I’m sorry.”

,An ally, perhaps? Can she turn the knife around?

“The night before I’d graduated from source of irritation to genuine problem. I think you know why.”

Celia: “I shouldn’t have been there,” Celia says quietly. Just like her mom: blaming herself. Her fault. Nothing would have come of it if she hadn’t let her libido get the best of her, either. She could have been in and out and Caroline wouldn’t have had any idea, and then when her sire came… well, no, she would have still be in trouble for going there.

Her fault.

She doesn’t know what to say to Caroline. The stories in her head become more muddled with every word she speaks.

“Nobody knows I exist. That I’m his.” The words pour out of her before she can stop them. Her eyes search the Ventrue’s face. “That’s why I’m not…” she gestures down at herself, the way she masks the Beast. “I’m just… hiding.”

A beat. Then,

“Are you going to tell?”

There it is. The heart of the matter: will Caroline turn her in for being the sheriff’s unknown childe, thereby sentencing them both to… well, she’s seen her sire’s sense of justice in that regard.

Caroline: “How little you must think of me,” Caroline answers.

She waits until the Toreador is about to speak again, before continuing, “That you think we need so many lies between us.”

Celia: That earns a smile from the Toreador, at least.

“Would you have me spill my soul to you, then?”

Caroline: “Maybe I would,” Caroline answers. “When you lie to everyone all the time, you either forget the truth or become the lie.”

Celia: “You wouldn’t need to turn me in, if I did.” There’s no sense of humor on her face. “He’d do it himself.”

Caroline: “So you spend your Requiem in fear of him, but also in thrall to him. You’re his pet. His tool. His slave.” Caroline’s voice is soft, almost gentle.

Celia: Her jaw tightens, but she doesn’t deny it. She jerks her chin down in an approximation of a nod.

Caroline: “Do you love him?”

Celia: “That’s… that’s… you can’t love someone like him.”

Caroline: The Ventrue arches a skeptical eyebrow.

Celia: “He doesn’t have feelings. Loving him would be… stupid.”

Caroline: A silent stare.

Celia: “He murdered me. He kept me in that house, knowing what my dad did. He was there the night he tried to kill my mom. With a hacksaw. He was there. He protected him.”

Caroline: The blonde nods, her attention entirely focused on Celia.

Celia: She breaks eye contact, dropping her gaze to the rooftop beneath her shoes. She finally nods. She blinks at her feet, red liquid threatening to spill out of her eyes.

“Yes,” she says.

“But it doesn’t matter. Because he doesn’t. He never will.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in agreement.

“It’s just what they are.”

Celia: “Is it? They have to be that way? Or do they just choose to be?”

Caroline: “Would you love him if he wasn’t?” Caroline asks back.

Celia: “I suppose that depends on your view of Freud, and whether or not you think every girl grows up wanting to fuck her dad.”

Caroline: “A man just like him,” Caroline agrees.

Celia: “Is yours? Do you love him?”

Caroline: “We’re not even pawns on the board to them,” Caroline answers with more bitterness than she wants to admit.

After all, a pawn might someday become a queen.

Celia: There’s no prince on a chess board. She’s doing herself a disservice to forget that.

“Tools, like you said. Pets. Not even that.” Her voice is just as bitter. At least Savoy gives her affection. From her sire… nothing.

“He cares more about my father than he ever will me.”

“Why do it, then. Why create someone. If you’re just going to… throw them away.”

Caroline: Hadn’t she answered that already? They’re all broken in different ways. Even their sires.

She wishes she had a drink. Instead, she takes her eyes off the Toreador for a moment. She doesn’t want to look at her when she admits this.

“I’d hoped, when you didn’t strike me down at my mother’s home, that it was some act of rebellion. Defying his will. Showing that we were more than that, even if we weren’t to them.”


But then it has to start with someone, doesn’t it? She has every reason to bring this other fledgling forward. To stake her and deliver her as the irrefutable evidence of the sheriff’s treachery. The collar digs in tight around her throat. There’s a stake under the table. It wouldn’t be so difficult.

She tugs against it and her next words catch in her throat, like a dog at the end of her chain. Straining. Digging into her flesh as she tugs towards something she wants.

But she’s not just a fucking dog, is she? Isn’t she something more? Can’t she be something more?

Caroline Malveaux, her father’s dutiful daughter, is dead. She’s something more now, isn’t she? Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, and for all of her mother’s desire for her happiness, she knows too that she wants more for her daughter. Caroline didn’t even know the concessions she was making until she cataloged them, the list of everything he silently demanded of her. But she sees it now. And her mother is right.

The collar tugs, its chain tied to the far end of marble monolith, and she bleeds. But Caroline’s bled before. It chokes her, but she doesn’t need air. It makes her feel like she’s failing him, but she’s failed before. It makes her feel like she’s nothing, but he’s made her nothing before. The collar’s sharp edges do not bite into the tender flesh of her earliest nights, but calcified scars.

She doesn’t finish the thought to Celia. Doesn’t need to, because her next words give birth to it. She grips the table edge like she’s holding on for her life.

“Your secrets are safe with me.”

The words take something out of her, and just for a blink, Celia can see what’s behind the porcelain mask. The weariness. The exhaustion of dragging everything she’s supposed to be with her at all times. The cracks in the marble puttied over and faded paint haphazardly sprayed over in desecration of the beautiful thing once beneath.

It’s only a blink, though, and the moment is gone. Gone so quickly that it must make Celia wonder if it was only her imagination. The Ventrue stands there, tall, haughty, in control of everything around her. Poised and unbowed.

Celia: Celia remains blissfully unaware of the internal struggle that her very existence brings to Caroline. Blissfully unaware except for that single blink, gone in a flash. Not real. It can’t be. She’s the prince’s childe, why would she be anything less than the golden goddess Celia turned her into that evening at her mother’s house?

Roderick’s words come back to her, though. Powerful families. Sireless nobody. Bowing and scraping and trying to keep herself above it all. Arrogant. Her own words, too. Beaten, enslaved, humiliated.

Your secrets are safe with me.

It’s a risk. A big risk. But Caroline already knows the biggest one, doesn’t she: that Celia Flores is Donovan’s childe. Other people know Celia is dead, other people know Celia is Jade, but only a handful know about that. None of them part of the prince’s regime. None of them with any incentive to turn her in.

“He didn’t know,” she says again. She sounds surer this time, more secure in the truth that she speaks. “I wasn’t sent there. I went of my own volition. He didn’t send me there.”

There’s a pause. A brief pause, while she collects her thoughts.

“And I’m not interested in the rest of it. Hurting you. Killing you. Spying. Whatever you think this is, why I came. It was for you. Not for someone else.”

Caroline: For her.

What does that even mean? What the hell are they doing? Celia even admitted it, she’s in love with Donovan. Caroline knows better than anyone how impossible it is to break that kind of hold.

They’re both circling black holes, caught in the gravity, being drawn further and further in by their sires.

For you.

It’s a terrible idea, but maybe that’s why she likes it.

Celia has every reason to run away, and she didn’t. They both know there’s nowhere for this to go, both hopelessly enthralled to their sires. But here they are.

There’s no pathetic desperation like Jocleyn… or even like Caroline and her sire. Just… whatever this is. Whatever they are to each other.

“Would you like to step inside?”

Celia: It is a terrible idea. More than Caroline realizes. His demands weigh on her. His chain pulls at her. So easy, it would be so easy to use this, to find a way to twist this to her advantage, his advantage…

None of which keeps her from saying no.

She nods instead. Closes the distance between the pair of them, standing just in front of the Ventrue. Prince’s childe. Heiress. Daughter of a soul-eater. The biggest threat to her Requiem, but Celia holds out her hand.


Caroline: Caroline is heedless of that danger. Maybe she assumes Celia is bound. Maybe she just doesn’t care.

The Ventrue takes the hand, but slides in close, slipping an arm around Celia’s hip.

She’s always like that.

The smile on her face as she leads Celia to the elevator is almost girlish.

Celia: Celia doesn’t complain. She’s probably the last lick in the city that will throw a fit over some casual touching. It’s easy to imagine getting used to this. Being on her arm, in her arms, whatever. Who else could she ever share this much of herself with? Celia falls into step beside her, tugged along by the hand on her hip—how did she know?—and the sheer presence of the Ventrue.

Into the lion’s den? God, she hopes not. Hopes this isn’t a mistake. A trap. Luring her inside to… well, she’s seen what their kind can do.

Caroline had said her secrets were safe. That means the rest of her is too, doesn’t it?

Caroline: The way to the elevator gives lie to the idea they were totally alone—there’s yet another ghoul waiting inside the clubhouse—but Caroline strolls without giving her a moment of attention. The doors to the elevator open and close behind them with the swipe of a keycard, but the moment they do Celia has Caroline’s undivided attention.

The prim Ventrue abandons her hold on the brunette’s hip and hand in favor of cupping Celia’s chin in both hands, turning her head up to meet Caroline’s demanding kiss, even as she all but body checks Celia into the wall her into the wall, the Ventrue grinding against her.

Celia: If she still had a need for such human frivolities, she might lose her breath at the assault. Back against the wall, Caroline pressing her into it, the forceful way she takes what she wants? Oh, yes, Celia is into it. It’s not the same as it was last time; there’s nothing shy about the way she responds. Mindful of cameras—don’t all elevators have cameras?—Celia keeps her fangs where they belong. But that’s it. The rest of her is eager, lips parting, hands sliding up the Ventrue’s body. One settles around her back, the other at the back of her head, pulling her further against Celia.

Caroline: Further against Celia, further into Celia, getting lost in her. There’s no need to break from the kiss, no need for such pretty kine things as breathing, and Caroline takes full advantage of it. Her fangs catch Celia’s tongue, and suddenly there’s the taste of blood in her mouth that Caroline can’t resist.

The elevator doors open. The elevator doors close. It takes a moment for Caroline to realize, for a hand to blindly snake back to mash buttons. The other snakes around Celia’s head to match the brunette’s own hold on her.

Celia: Caroline’s fangs pierce her tongue and a shudder runs down her entire body. Her dead flesh responds like a living person’s would: beneath her dress her nipples tighten, heat rises to her cheeks, and she makes a noise that is entirely human. She slides her hands down the Ventrue’s body, stroking and squeezing.

Caroline: Celia’s reaction electrifies Caroline, urges her on. It’s almost as though the other neonate is still alive. They don’t miss their stop this time, and Caroline practically drags Celia down the hall, still entwined with the Toreador, her feet nimbly dancing around obstacles with a deftness that seems more than human. That is more than human.

They arrive at the last door on the left, and Caroline brings them to a stop, Celia’s back against the door.

One hand snakes behind Celia, under her dress, rakes her back. The other frantically, almost frustratedly, works the door. She breaks the kiss, moves to Celia’s throat, and though fangs drag themselves across her skin, they draw no blood. Instead they settle for a far more human touch.

Celia: Celia totters after Caroline as best she can, her hands and lips busy upon the Ventrue’s body. The breath left in her lungs leaves her body in a woosh when Caroline slams her back against the door. Heedless of whatever audience lingers in the halls, Celia gives herself fully to the sensation of Caroline’s lips at her neck. Her head tilts to one side, throat exposed to the mouth and fang of the Ventrue that towers over her. Blood wells in the scratches down her back, dress hiked up over her hips to expose a pair of black panties.

Celia reaches a hand behind her back, searching for the doorknob. She wiggles it and it doesn’t move. Locked. A frustrated growl passes her lips; half a second later her hands are at Caroline’s shoulders and her entire body leaves the floor. She wraps her legs around the Ventrue’s waist and nips at her neck, her fangs leaving shallow cuts behind. She laps at the blood without even bothering to let it cool.

Caroline: Caroline arches her back in ecstasy as Celia’s fangs find her flesh. Seconds tick by as she continues to fight the door. Blood runs down the Toreador’s back, stains her dress. At last the door gives way and the two almost tumble in, Celia’s weight supported entirely by Caroline in a moment of weakness. For all her grace, she lacks the puissance of either of their sires.

She stumbles in, one hand slamming the door behind them, bouncing first off an empty counter, then off a pair of stools, and finally landing on top of Celia on the sprawling black leather sofa. The blonde pauses, looking down, long enough to slip either end of her dress off her shoulders, to slide her hands free of sleeves and let it fall around her belted hips.

Pale flesh and a strapless bra await Celia, as the Ventrue leans back in over her, arms free. She’s eager, demanding even, but not rough. That’s happened once before.

She knows the truth. Knows that neither of them is who the other really wants. She knows it somewhere deep down. Tonight, though, perhaps they’re enough. And if not, who’s to know? What’s the harm? They’re both slaves to their sires, enslaved by blood and their very beings the men who will never be what either wants or needs. And she needs something tonight.

Oscar Wilde said all sex was about power, but there’s nothing of it here. She neither wants power over Celia nor is willing to concede power to her. She needs something more fundamental than even her sex drive.

One hand traces up Celia’s leg, bunching her dress above her hips even as they slide under her panties as they slide across the Toreador’s perfect skin. The other hand buries itself in the girl’s dark hair, traces the pint of her chin. She’s like a reflection of Caroline through a darker mirror in so many ways.

Maybe that’s what draws her in, what consumes her in Celia. What drives her lips back to the Toreador tenderly, her hands to caress her, what makes so shy her fangs. What pulls her eyes to Celia’s own eyes. She wants to see something in Celia. Needs to see something in Celia. Something she can’t see in herself.

Celia: It might be a giggle, the high-pitched noise that comes out of her as Caroline stumbles through the door with Celia in her arms. Someone had told her once that laughing during sex isn’t funny, but someone else had said it’s one of the most intimate things people can do together: laugh during a time when two people are extremely vulnerable. She doesn’t see the path of destruction in their wake, the scattered items, the stool that crashes to the ground, but she pictures it clearly in her mind, and it brings a moment of levity to an otherwise frantic situation.

Frantic? No, that’s not right. Sprawled across the couch, her back covered in blood and scratches, her dress destined for the garbage bin, that may have been. But now? …slowing. Tender. Not ripping and tearing and snarling. Stroking, caressing, the Ventrue’s fingers soft against her. She leans into that touch, mimics it with her own.

Her fingers start at her shoulders and work lower, slide around the back of her, reach for the hooks that keep her contained. At her touch they pop free, and Celia drops the material to the side. Bare from the waist up. It’s a beautiful sight. She is a beautiful sight. Poised, strong, steady; she wants to know what it was that Caroline had to conquer, what earthquakes she weathered, what scars weave their tapestry across her back, because there is no star without the collapse of a nebula. But here she stands, shining as brightly as any sun.

Pervert, they call her, and Caroline learns the truth of it when she finds the Toreador wet. Her eyes rake the blonde’s form, taking it all in; a shiver runs down her spine. Anticipation. Need. More than that, though: want. Someone who knows the truth of her. The full truth, not the carefully concocted lies and half-truths she shares with everyone else, but the honest, raw, awful truth—that she’s in love with the monster who ruined her family and murdered her. That she’d give him everything, if only he opened his mouth to ask for it.

Two sires whose childer were accidents, that’s the truth of it. Two girls who grew up with dads that never loved them the way they needed to be loved. Two women who want more than the hand they’ve been dealt. One manipulated by a knife, the other a smile. A mirror, a coin, an echo; a flame and her shadow, perhaps. Dark and light: there is not one without the other.

Celia traces Caroline’s face with her hands, her thumb across the brow, the cheekbone, her lips. She lifts up off the couch to press her lips against the blonde’s, fangs hidden away inside her mouth.

Caroline: Gentle. Soft. Tender, even. So very different than sex with other vampires, than even their first coupling.

Does it help or hurt that they both wish it was someone else with them there? Someone so very different than each of their current partners. Ultimately, Caroline doesn’t care.

She loses herself in Celia’s lips, in the roam of her hands across the Toreador’s body. She finds the secret between her legs with a spike of curiosity, then a surge of satisfaction, and perhaps a bit of jealousy as she discovers its effect on Celia.

One hand finds its home there, even as she nips Celia’s writhing tongue with her fangs, thrilling as the taste of the Toreador’s vitae fills her mouth.

Celia: There’s a sound she makes that’s too close to human to fit in with the idea of normal vampire sex. A delicate inhale of breath as Caroline moves her hand between her legs, then a shudder that travels down her entire body. Even the foundation doesn’t do its job in keeping her cheeks from turning pink as Caroline discovers this last secret of hers.

Her back arches, mouth pulling away from the Ventrue for one long moment as the inhale turns into a shaky, needful sound. Not the hissing and spitting and growling that Caroline might have come to expect; no, Celia seems all too alive for that sort of reaction.

Fangs, though, like all the rest of their kind, and when she leans in again they find purchase on Caroline’s skin. She bites, drinks, and licks a series of cuts across her chest until her mouth fastens around the tip of one breast. She loses herself to the taste of thick, potent blood on her tongue.

Caroline: Caroline pulls her close, loses herself in the ecstasy of Celia’s kiss, even as the Beast rolls inside, growls as she takes from her. She bottles that up, bottles up the Beast so she can be ‘just’ the woman. So she can pretend this tenderness means something.

A moment where she can pretend that they’re not two undead monsters that thrive on pain and suffering, two killers without conscience and a trail of bodies, and two slaves without hope or future—all too happy to wear their chains.

It’s not rebellion if their sires don’t know. It’s not betrayal if their feelings don’t matter. It’s not monstrous if they keep the monsters locked in the cage of their souls.

Celia: Of course it means something.

It has to mean something.

They’re not ripping and snarling and tearing. They’re just… two girls on a couch, both of them trying to figure it out, to get around whatever ties bind them to their sires, to their families, to their respective factions. Two girls dancing to someone else’s tune, pulled along by someone else’s strings, because… because fuck being anything other than a pawn, maybe.

So their Beasts rattle their cages. And the women beat them back so that they can have this one moment together where it’s just about them. What they like. What they want. Soft and sweet.

Caroline: They don’t make it past the couch, but it’s just as well. It’s expensive. It’s comfortable. Her bed is both of those things as well, but it’s also large. Sprawling, even. The couch isn’t so large, and when they’ve exhausted each other there’s nowhere they can get away from each other.

Caroline ends up on her back eventually, Celia pulled tightly against her. An intimacy that makes the Beast uneven, but there’s nowhere else for Celia to go, not on the couch. They can’t get away from each other here.

One hand runs idly through Celia’s hair.

Celia: Celia snuggles contentedly against the golden-haired girl beneath her. Her Beast is quiet in its cage, sated on blood, and Caroline’s fingers bear the evidence of the other girl’s enjoyment as well. Celia moves her lips against her throat, lingering in the moment with whisper soft kisses on her skin.

Peace settles across her like a warm blanket on a cold night. Or is she the warm blanket to Caroline’s cold skin?

She’d always thought herself more as fire than ice.

She could say something. Should say something. But what does one say after something like this? How does she put it into words? ‘This was nice’ lacks her usual eloquence. But it is. Nice.

What a silly thought from the silly Toreador.

Caroline: Maybe that’s why Caroline is content to lay in silence, not even the sound of someone’s breathing to disturb them. What is there to say?

But silence cannot persist forever. Both have others that have laid claim to them. She would take the time they have left.

“They’re taking me away soon.”

Celia: Celia shifts, lifting her chin so that she can look upon Caroline’s face.

“Are you in trouble?”

She can get her out. She knows people. Knows plenty of people. Can change her face. Give her a new identity. She’s leaving for L.A. soon anyway, just… take Caroline with her.

Caroline: A smile. Is it a sad smile?

“The opposite, I think. I’ve done well. Done everything they asked and then some. Enough that I no longer have to wander the desert and hide who I am.”

Celia: “Oh.”

How is it possible that a single syllable, nothing more than the sound of a letter, carries so much emotion? Loss. Longing. And… yes, underneath it all, jealousy. She’ll be recognized as the prince’s childe. She’ll get whatever that means in terms of respect from others of their kind. And Celia will… stay in the shadows, where no one knows who she is, and watch it all happen from a comfortable distance.

“Like for training?”

Caroline: Training. Like for a dog. She supposes that isn’t entirely wrong.

“My sire, I’m told, has extremely high standards. Standards I am expected to meet before I can be introduced to polite society.”

She sounds… almost melancholic at the idea.

“This has been the worst year of my life. They killed me, ruined me in the eyes of the world, made me worse than a nobody. And the worst part wasn’t all the things they did to me, or that were done to me… it was knowing that it should be better. That there was another path.”

She looks at Celia. “I could live with being a failure, in its own way. But to be his failure?”

“You know?”

Celia: She does know. She knows the things they say about Caroline. The way Roderick speaks of her. The way the Anarchs see her. The mess she has made of her Requiem these past few months.

She knows, too, what it feels like to be a failure in her sire’s eyes.

“I do. I always…” she pauses. Maybe it’s the collar telling her it’s safe. Maybe it’s the body beneath her, what they just shared. Maybe she’s just so tired of lying and just wants someone she can talk to and just be her. Just be Celia.

“I always wondered what it would be like if I wasn’t… if I didn’t have to hide who I am. If he told people I belonged to him. If he taught me… anything.”

There’s another brief pause.

“I think it’s a good sign, though. That they’re taking you away. So you can be what they want, or need, or… better now than… than never, isn’t it?”

Caroline: “You could have that for yourself,” Caroline muses. “If you came forward, you elevate yourself in a single swoop.”

“But never as high as he might raise you… and the cost would be him. I had that choice. Your grandsire offered it to me, in so many words.”

She bites her lip. “I wanted to. To spit in his face, declare myself before everyone and scream, demand to know why he didn’t want me enough. Why it was better to abandon me.”

“But I couldn’t do that any more than you can.”

Silence. A knowing silence.

“And now I’m going away, and this nightmare ends. Faith rewarded, fidelity rewarded. He made me his.”

“There were times this year when I considered just ending it all, stepping into the sun.”

“And yet… though I hated it. Though I despised it and everything it made me—a groveling whore to half a hundred petty tyrants—I think in some ways I’ll miss it.”

“I wasn’t ever free—not really. They always stood over me, ready to snuff out my flame if even its direction changed in the wind, but I think flying around the locked room, even with the net armed man watching, even with the pain of bouncing off of things I didn’t understand, was the closest I’d ever been to being free, the farthest I’d ever been from the cage.”

Celia: The cost would be him.

It’s a price she’ll never pay. Not him. Anything else, but not him.

But that’s not true, is it? She’d spat in his face last time he’d come to her. Turned him down. And she’s doing it again, here and now, as she lies with Caroline on the couch. Maybe she isn’t as attached to him as she once thought. Maybe Caroline’s freedom can be her freedom, too.

“It’s a change from the mortal life. The Requiem. A difference in what is expected from us. Their rules… they chafe, sometimes, and it scares me—what someone could do with the right whisper in the wrong ear—but it’s… I can understand what you mean about the freedom. Part of it, but above it. You were living, in those moments, for you. Not him. Not them. Just you. Figuring it out on your own. Making your own mistakes. Winning your own victories.”

Jealousy again. Even though he had abandoned her, she had still always been his.

“Do you think they’ll put you back in the cage?”

Caroline: “For a while, for a brief while before I learned the truth,” Caroline agrees. “When I was free to be proud of what I carved out, rather than weighing it against what he would say of it. I could say to myself, ‘no one could do better.’ Now I know what he would say, ‘I expect better.’”

She gives a short, bitter little laugh. “Like a child proud of their macaroni picture right up until they see the disappointment in their parent’s eyes.”

Not that she knows anything about that. Or of trophies scoffed at. Or report cards ignored. Praise was faint and she contented herself with silence: it was better than the alternative.

“Do they ever have to put us in the cage?” Caroline answers. “Don’t we hop back in like eager birds able to return home?”

Celia: “When I was nineteen I stood up against my father. You saw the result of that. The tape that was leaked. And that might have been the worst of what he had done, but it wasn’t the only thing he had done. Nights prior, when he was arrested? He beat me bloody. He locked me my bedroom, took out the mattress so I had nothing to sleep on, and promised to do it again the next night if I didn’t admit… if I didn’t admit that I was stupid. My siblings sat and watched him do it. None of them said anything. No one ever stood up for me. And I broke my arm going out the second floor window so I could get out.”

She doesn’t need to shift or blink or clear her throat. She’s dead. But she does all three regardless.

“While I was waiting at the hospital… and later, when he took my mom and… and tortured her, and I saw what he did to her, I wondered if I could have prevented it. If I had just gone back like a good girl, and told him I was sorry, and that I am… that I was stupid. He won anyway, didn’t he? Got off.”

She makes a bitter sound. A laugh, maybe. Short and choked.

“I never went back. I looked at that life, at what he wanted from me, what he wanted me to be, all the… the monsters that kept him safe, and I walked away. How could I not? How could I submit myself to what he wanted after seeing what he truly is?”

“And then… and then he comes along, and he… snaps his fingers and tells me to jump, and I go on leaping, and I wonder… would he like me more if I didn’t? Would they like us more if we went on carving out a place for ourselves, or will they only ever see us as pawns and tools?”

“What if we didn’t go back in the cage? What if we stopped being the tamed birds and just… flew away?”

Caroline: “What if,” Caroline muses quietly.

But they’re not words of wishful thinking. The very idea makes her almost sick to her stomach. It tears at her thoughts—like the cornerstone of her carefully created home getting ripped out with all the rest to collapse on her.

Run away? Flee her sire, her responsibilities. Would it be to accept being something less than she could be or to seek something greater than she ever will be? She doesn’t know if she physically could, but she knows a deeper truth.

It’s there, half formed and obvious only by the crimson color. She sits in the silence and stillness only the damned can for a long moment.

Finally, she draws a breath. “Domesticated. It’s a sweet word for a bitter truth.” Her face contorts for a moment, an ugly grief threatening to tear a sob from her, but the sound never comes. Instead she forces it to stillness and continues.

“I never wanted to fly. I never learned.” Her voice cracks, almost choked. “And now I never will.”

Celia: Celia goes so far as to blink at the words. She shifts, lifting a hand to touch the side of Caroline’s face. Fingers against her cheek, the pads of them soft against her skin. Warm fingers, still so full of life; how bad can she really be if she’s still so… human?

Perhaps the frosty severity of her sire hasn’t rubbed off on her. Maybe there is something inside of her that rebels at imagined orders given by the dark one. Maybe his brutality has not crushed whatever spirit stays alive within her heart; maybe even his chill cannot quench her fire. Difficult to imagine a less fitting childe to the city’s sheriff.

Perhaps this is why he does not acknowledge her.

Or perhaps it’s for the reason Caroline guessed earlier, and Celia is just the pretty wrapping paper that hides the blade.

When was the last time the Ventrue left herself so vulnerable?

“They want us in the cage. To look pretty behind the bars. To eat what they tell us, when they tell us, how they tell us. To make pretty little songs for them. Happy noises, little toy. And on we go, chirp, chirp, chirping. Even the wild ones follow the leader. The Vs, you’ve seen them. Back and forth across the world. Same route, year after year.”

“So they beat us and threaten us and humiliate us until we fall in line.”

Celia locks her gaze upon the Ventrue.

“They broke our wings and forgot that we have claws.”

The knife never comes. Not for Caroline. It twists inside of Celia instead, buried up to the hilt where her heart should be. Phantom fingers squeeze her throat, threatening to choke her, warning her to stay silent, that she’s doing it wrong… but the words keep coming.

“You,” Celia whispers to the dead girl, “are Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Daughter of two influential families, childe of the prince of New Orleans. If you want to learn how to fly there is absolutely nothing that will stand in your way.”

There’s no moment of hesitation. Nothing to suggest that she’s shy, uncertain, or faltering. Not now that the fire has been lit.

Celia finds her feet. Naked, bloody, she stands before Caroline with claw marks down her back and red stains on her skin. A mess. But a beautiful mess, for all that her wild mane of hair has pulled free from the confines of the tie to curl down her back and around her face.

“Come with me.”

Celia extends a hand.

Caroline: The choking near sob dries up as Celia speaks, replaced by an almost wistful, sad smile.

Caroline looks at the hand and Celia can almost see the old order trying to reassert itself. The Ventrue call to decorum. The Malveaux drive to dominion.

Why show vulnerability here, to this childe of her enemy? To her enemy?

But she knows why: Donovan already thinks so little of her there’s nothing to lose. She’s neither losing face nor burdening her family. Not her mother, not her sister, with the truth. There’s an honesty to not having to put on any masks between them: the lines are well-drawn.

“Don’t you see, though? That’s it: they didn’t have to break my wings or beat me, or even force me in the cage. I hopped in eagerly, bowed before him joyously. I just didn’t expect him to weld the cage closed.”

“It’s not like your sire’s. What he did was forever. Long after he is laid to rest I’ll still be in the cage, alone, singing for the memory of him.”

She brings Celia’s offered hand to her lips, kisses the top of it softly.

Not that she wouldn’t have been singing that song anyway.

Celia: Dead muscles don’t get tired. Celia doesn’t need to let the hand drop; it stays extended in the air between them even after Caroline’s lips brush against her skin.

Not like your sire’s. What does that mean? His cage? The… hold over her?

Realization dawns, though her body does not betray her thoughts. Not until she swallows, looks down, and finally makes a noise that might be a laugh. One corner of her lips quirk upward.

“How silly,” she says at length, “that they weld shut the cages and forget that there are keys and shovels and dynamite.”

Her fingers close around Caroline’s, but she doesn’t tug. She won’t drag the Ventrue out of her self-imposed captivity.

“Come with me,” she says again, “I want to show you something.”

Caroline: The Ventrue allows herself to be drawn from the sofa by the Toreador, her bare skin pale in the darkness.

“Where are we going?”

Celia: “Upstairs.”

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: They have to dress first, and clean the worst of the blood off of them. Celia spends a minute mending the raw, jagged marks Caroline had left on her skin. Her dress, shredded, is unfortunately unsalvageable, but she borrows something from the taller girl to cover her nudity and the pair make it to the roof in mere moments. The hem of her borrowed pants drag the floor even after she has rolled them, and the shirt looks more like a tunic than a tee. Still, she makes it work, like a kid in her mother’s clothes.

Barefoot, Celia leads the way across the roof to where the railing keeps the kine contained within the confines of the safety zone. But Celia doesn’t stop. One leg and then the other slide across the metal railing, until she’s perched on the small strip of steel that keeps her from plummeting to the cement waiting stories below.

She stands with her back to the railing, staring out across the city. The people are not so far away to be like ants from up here—and there are few enough to be found this time of night—but the fall would shatter anyone. The moon lights her profile when she turns her face to one side, watching Caroline from the corner of her vision.

“I didn’t tell you what he did,” she remarks after a moment. Her eyes unfocus slightly, as if recalling the events of that night. “He knows where my mother lives. Where I live… where I stay. He heard that I had trespassed and wanted to teach me a lesson. What are the kine to those like us? Just lessons.”

She blinks. Her lips twist in bitter mockery of a smile.

“You gave me a gift that night. Without it, I wouldn’t have been fast enough to catch up when he threw her from the roof.”

Celia extends a hand to Caroline.

“I’d like to return the favor.”

Caroline: Celia’s words turn Caroline’s stomach. Taught her a lesson. Using her mother.

Caroline wonders if she’s lying to her, making it up, but it’s so very believable. Wasn’t the bishop willing to destroy Orson just to make a point with Caroline? And Orson is a far more useful pawn than the broken and forgotten dance teacher.

Just lessons. Or toys. Or pets.

She supposes in the eyes of her sire few kine are worth more than a properly trained childe. Whatever she thinks of Donovan’s loyalty, the two have always felt cut from the same cloth.

“Is she all right?”

Why does she care? Isn’t Celia her enemy?

Perhaps, but that doesn’t make her mother one. And she’s seen Donovan’s lessons firsthand.

Or maybe the idea of dead mothers just sits particularly poorly with her tonight. She’s slain one and seen another beheaded this week — both memories seared into her mind, still raw and throbbing.

Celia: “I kept her from splattering, if that’s what you mean. Got her home. Put her back to bed.”

The extended hand finally drops. Maybe this is stupid. Maybe there’s nothing here, maybe they’re not as similar as she thinks. Maybe their similarities ended when they died.

Maybe Caroline is just another lick who sees Celia as stupid but pretty, and she’s taken what pleasure she can from the girl.

“She got sick,” Celia hears herself say. “From the rain. The cold. The nightmare. I wasn’t… I wasn’t there for her.” A breath comes in. Shaky. Her fingers curl around the top of the railing.

“Daddy was, though.”

Caroline: Caroline knows better than most how real the animosity is between Celia and her father. Animosity that goes back years, to before their Embraces. She knows the truth about the tape — that it was oh so real. Knows the monster he is, and how far the mortal Celia was willing to go.

It would be a long way to go, make that trade in her life, just to get closer to Caroline.

No, it feels… real.

Callously threaten the kine she cares about, then wrap coils around them, slowly squeeze. It’s not just about punishment. It’s also about control. Yes, their sires are not so different.

“He’ll kill her eventually, you know. It’s only a matter of time.”

They can’t have anything else so important in their lives.

“You should get her out while you can. If you can.”

Celia: “Bleak.”

True though, isn’t it? There are a handful of people she cares about and he’s familiar with each and every one of them. The noise that she makes might be called a giggle if there weren’t a hysterical edge to it.

“Emily stabbed him. Maxen, I mean. When she saw him in bed with Mom.” Her face turns again, fixing her eyes on Caroline. There’s nothing insincere about the wariness that borders on fear. “I’ve been waiting for him to show up and do something about it. But it’s been…” she trails off. “Nights. And nothing.”

“They won’t leave.”

And I don’t want to be alone. Selfish. She could push harder.

“Is that what you’re doing, with yours? Getting them out? So yours can’t… turn them into lessons?”

Caroline: Caroline’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes, an empty thing. “Didn’t I? Cut away my father, my brothers, more. That ruin did not come from carelessness.”

Celia: “The girls, I meant. Your mom.”

The inhuman one. Who knows how much of a lie that had been; ghosts dancing through dreams with her hardly need to tell the truth.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s expression turns positively wolfish in every possible sense, eyes narrowed, cheeks pulled tight, her perfectly white teeth exposed in a way that leaves no doubt of their vicious potential.

“A good Sanctified can have no attachments to their kine family. It’s my blessing then that I have none.”

There’s a glimmer in her eyes, the mischievous savagery of a fox let loose in the chicken coop that’s almost a smile.

Celia: The look is enough to make her glance away.

“Right,” she finally says to the open air. Then, “Convenient that the catechisms so closely mirror the Traditions. Less for the laity to confuse.”

Except for how Caroline hovered over the child when Celia did her makeup that night. But she doesn’t bring it up.

She’d lie about her family, too. Does so now, even.

She waits a beat.

“You’re right, though.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shrugs, the tension leaving her shoulders. “There’s a great deal of wisdom shared by different belief systems. I may hold it originates from God, but whether you share that belief, I’d as soon you accept it for what it is.”

“You have to come to terms with it. Something is going to take her from you. Whether its your own actions, your sire’s, or time. As one of the kine there’s no future for the two of you.”

Caroline approaches the lip where Celia waits, effortlessly tiptoeing to it alongside her. After the fall from grace, a fall from the building doesn’t scare her.

She lays a hand on the Toreador’s shoulder. “That doesn’t make it easy to accept, and some ways of losing them are easier for them, and others easier for us.”

Celia: “Self-imposed isolation,” Celia muses. “It wreaks havoc on the psyche, you know, to be alone like they want us. No one to turn to. No one to trust. Cut your mortal ties, rely on the system, let them be the hands that guide you…”

It’s a cult.

Like any religion.

Make a list of the characteristics of each and you’ll get the same words. It keeps the people in charge powerful and the “others” disenfranchised and marginalized.

But it’s not what she came up here to talk about. Her fingers close around where the Ventrue’s rest on her shoulder.

“And one day… one day I’ll lose her. And my siblings. My daughter. I’d lose them anyway. Everyone dies. Can you blame me for holding onto it while I can?”

Caroline: A sympathetic smile greets her. “When I said you should get them out of you can, I didn’t just mean if you physically could.”

“Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and whatever I might counsel, I could never judge another Kindred for their attachments. Some lessons you have to learn for yourself… and even then, some costs are worth paying. Something about those without sin throwing the first stone.”

She gives a short, sad laugh. “Most Kindred like to forget that part.”

Celia: She might afford the words more weight if she hadn’t managed the juggling act already for seven long years. What’s the worst that could happen?

Not that she can share. No one is supposed to know about Celia.

“One more thing to add to the long list of things to figure out,” she says instead. “Lying to them has been… both more difficult and easier than I anticipated.”

Celia finally turns. She shouldn’t, but she does. One hand stays on the railing, back to the open air and the long drop. The other stays steady on Caroline’s. Once, it might have scared her. Now, though, she’s more nervous about a different sort of leap.

“It would be nice to have someone with whom I don’t have to pretend.”

Caroline: “I think that’s what knights and generals of old waxed about poetically,” the blonde answers, her hair catching in the wind over the long drop.

“It’s easier to have no lies when there are no expectations.”

“You and your sire are the only ones that won’t think less of me for the truth.”

Celia: “I don’t know what you mean. Which truth is that?”

Caroline: “That I have doubts. Fears. Insecurities.” She smiles, looking out over the city.

“That neither my love for him nor the bond to him blinds me to what he’s done to me.”

“To him, to all the city, to all Ventrue, to all Sanctified, to all the world I must be the perfect childe. Flawless.” She turns to Celia, half her face cast in shadow.

And yet, Celia can still hear it. In the way Caroline says it. Him. The only ‘him’ in her life.

Celia: Flawless.

Her lips twist, bitterness crossing her features before they smooth once more. She knows well of what Caroline speaks. The same ideal she has pursued these long nights of her Requiem, though the closer she thinks she has come the further away it dances, always out of reach.

“It’s a heavy burden, I think, to be the childe of an elder, let alone a prince. The stiffs expect no less than perfection from their childer.” Her shoulders lift.

“And yet… and yet he chose you for a reason. Embraced you for a reason. I have not met him, I admit, but does anyone that age choose their progeny lightly? Accidents seldom spring from their blood. They are not kine that they make a mistake, forget a pill, and whoops, there’s a childe.”

“We’re young. We want their approval. The father figures we never had.” Her grip on the rail tightens, knuckles white. “I do. Insecurity, fear, doubt… I know it well.”

Caroline: Caroline’s faint laugh is like breaking glass when Celia speaks of chosen progeny, but she says nothing.

The wind catches her white dress, whipping it around her as she lets Celia’s admission hang in the air.

“Well, there’s your truth. As alone as our suffering makes us, we’re not alone in our suffering.”

Celia: She doesn’t know if that laughter is directed at her or with her. Heat rises to her cheeks, dead though they are. Her gaze drops.

“That hardly makes us less lonely. I still want what I’ll never have.”

Caroline: “It’s not Vidal,” Caroline says after a moment.

“Everyone assumes he’s bound to the prince, but he’s not. It’s someone else. Someone got to him first.”

Her eyes meet Celia’s. “I don’t know if you knew. I don’t know if it helps.”

Celia: There’s a fist around her heart. She’d never even considered it, that their shared blood hadn’t cast a hold over him. Just the once they’d shared, a second time the night the truth of Caroline came out… she remembers the blood on his lips when he’d finished kissing her.

What had he done instead?


What does that even mean? If he’s not bound to her, why come for her? Why protect her? Why kiss her?

Every time. Every time she has seen him he has kissed her. Just once they took it further, but even before that… she well recalls the feel of his lips on hers. The insistent, cold way he demands her attention, her affection, her… everything.

Is that all pretend? Or is her secret fantasy, her dawning realization at her father’s words, based more in reality than she dares hope?

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head, blonde hair streaming in the breeze.

“Someone playing a longer, deeper game.”

Does she tip her hand?

Celia: A name tugs at her memory. It never meant anything. She’d never looked into it. Not enough. She hadn’t known how to, not without betraying… everything. She still doesn’t know if he meant to show her, or if she had simply taken it.

“How do you know?”

Caroline: “He and I are tied together.”

“Quite unintentionally, and undesirably, he set me on this path.”

There’s a fluttering laugh. “Or at least he thinks he did.”

Celia: “You’re tied together,” she echoes. There’s a pang inside her chest. A desire to throw the girl from the roof. Jealousy, that ugly brute, comes snarling to the surface.

She beats it back. Pushes it down. Keeps her nails from shredding through the blonde’s face.

Of course there are others. But she knows—he’d told her, hadn’t he? She knows the truth. Part of the truth.

Why won’t anyone tell her the truth?

Her brow furrows at the final words.

“What do you mean?”

Caroline: "That I should have died a meaningless kine in every sense of the word. A means to an end for him. "

“But that end went unfulfilled, because he chose poorly his kine. Or another chose well where their to lay their feather’s weight upon the scale.”

Celia: “I’m not familiar with the story,” she admits. Her shoulders lift once more, almost a shrug, the apology in her eyes. She’s not even lying.

Caroline: “You should ask him, about the night I was made. The night he called in his marker with René. The night they carried me into the Dungeon.”

Celia: She doesn’t mean to huff, but the sound escapes her lips before she can stop it.

“He’s so very forthcoming.”

A pause, then her brows lift.

“Isn’t the Dungeon a sex club?”

Caroline: The Ventrue almost shivers, but shakes her head. “Only to the Masquerade.”

“The Dungeon is a place for Kindred and kine connoisseurs of agony, explorers of the furthest reaches of experience. The rapists finished with their mothers and daughters, the murderers jaded of strangling their victims with their own guts.”

“For sadists, it’s a paradise. An orgy of flesh in which they can subject victims to things beyond imagination, with each descent into a lower level a trip beyond the possible into a new realm of agony.”

“The further you go, the more divorced time and even reality become from what you see and experience, and the more divorced the lines between victim and victimizer become.”

“If you go far enough down, it’s a hell from which not even death can release you, in which time has no meaning, your suffering is without end, and in which all reality becomes subjective.”

“Are you the crying child being ripped from their mother’s womb or the mother screaming as she’s sawed open from twat to sternum? Are you the skin suit on the rack being pulled apart or the flayed mass of writhing flesh on the floor slow roasting over coals? Are you the teeth chewing on your raw flesh or raw flesh being devoured? It doesn’t matter, because you’ll be all those things, and it will not stop, ever.”

Celia: Everything clicks into place.

It’s Hell.

The Hell inside his mind.

She’s thought it was a different time, a different place, but as Caroline speaks the words wash over her, drowning her in visions of the past. High above the city. Safe, she’d once thought; but she had been there. Inside of him. Brought into his mind, into the horror within, the vile wretchedness that had made her sanity slowly slip away.

She had seen him. His truth. His… master.

It’s here.

This city.

Beneath her feet.

Blocks from her home.

“Please,” she whispers. She reaches, groping blindly for the girl in front of her, the girl he wants her to destroy. The girl with the answers. The enemy. His enemy. But her salvation. The desires of her sire and grandsire fade away when the answers dangle themselves in front of her, nothing but insignificant moves and countermoves that pale in comparison to what she desires.

Set him free. That’s what she wants, isn’t it? And if this Dungeon is not the sex club it professes to be, if what Caroline says is the truth, if he serves a different sort of monster…

She’d seen the truth that night, never realizing what it meant. The name dances across her heart. The marquis.

Demon. Monster. Master. It’s all tangled together, and she… where does she fit in?

He’s stuck. Captive. Like so many others who get caught up in a game of more powerful pieces.

She can free him.

That’s what she thinks, isn’t it? Why he’d chosen her. Embraced her. The sickness—the demon—had spread to her father, to his other childe, to the ghouls of his that have no souls. Paul, with his plastic smile. Jamal, with the anger in his eyes. And the mimic. The empty thing that pretends to be him.

But not her. She’s still… her. Half-alive, someone had once sneered, with a heart that beats and feels and loves. Even without the collar, even without his blood on her lips, she loves.

Coco had told her it was rare. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

It’s like every twisted fairy tale she’d ever seen growing up.

She reaches for Caroline. Reaches, because her knees threaten to give, and the ground is suddenly so far away, and right here—right here—these are the answers she needs.

He loves her. He had saved her. Had hunted for her. Killed for her.

Can she do any less for him?

“There’s a demon.” Urgent, whispered words. Stupid. She sounds stupid. The coppery, tangy scent of blood wafts from where the tiny droplets pool in the corners of her eyes, threatening to fall. Her mask slips.

“If he’s… if it has him…”

There’s no one else to talk to about it. How could there be? She’s been lying since before she died.

Caroline: Caroline stares at the crying girl latched onto her with a knowing expression.

She nods. “You know what he serves.” Her mother had called it a thing that God could not permit to desecrate the very earth it walked on.

“Bury that deep. It’s a secret he’d kill to keep. Has killed to keep.”

She considers, then continues, “It’s possible to break free. Not easy, but possible. But not so long as that thing is here to rule over him.”

Celia: Celia wipes at her eyes. Her hands come away bloody. She swallows, the motion useless. All it does is show the frayed edges of her nerves.

“He doesn’t know that I know. I don’t even…” she trails off, shakes her head. “He’s in there. He’s in there, I know he is.”

He cares about her. Has proven that he does. It’s not something she can say, not something she can share, that the city’s cold, scary sheriff has a weakness in his armor and its name is Celia. Even the thought makes her look away. Another stupid fairy tale.

She waits a beat. Another. Pushes the emotions down. Dries her bloody tears. And finally looks back to Caroline.

“Then I’ll find it.” She sets her jaw. “And I’ll kill it.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls her tongue across her fangs.

“Vidal.” The word sends a shiver through her. “He defeated it twice before. There’s a reason it has used your sire to cut him down, that they’re trying so hard to drive him into torpor.”

Celia: The name almost makes her shiver, though for an altogether different reason than Caroline.

“Then why isn’t it dead? Why is it here?

Caroline: “An excellent question that perhaps your sire could answer.” Caroline replies.

Celia: “It would be the last thing I’d ever do, asking that.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Something else we have in common.”

Celia: “Realistic expectations of my sire?”

“Not him,” Celia continues after a moment. She looks as if she wants to pace, but the edge of the roof is too narrow for her to try. Not that she’s afraid of falling. Not anymore. “The results of that would be disastrous. But maybe… maybe someone else. Someone who has been there. Who knows, even if they don’t know they know.”

Caroline: Caroline flashes a wry smile at Celia’s joke, balancing effortlessly on the edge beside her.

“That’s a path you’ll have to walk alone, but you can find them, can bring them forward, I can pull it out of their mind.” She flashes a fang-filled smile. “I’m very good at it.”

Celia: “I thought the stiffs were better at hiding things,” Celia says, amused. She can’t help but think back to their meeting in the Garden District, her mother’s addled memories. “I was going to say that I’m very familiar with ways of making them sing.”

She shares a conspiratorial smile, the tips of her fangs just barely visible behind her lips.

“You’d be amazed what comes out on the spa table… so I suppose that means between us no secret is safe.”

Her smile falters, dims just slightly.

“Your memory manipulation,” she says after a second, “have you ever known it to cause… visions? Of the future?”

Caroline: Caroline might be less shocked than Celia thinks: it’s amazing what she’s heard other girls talk about to hairdressers.

She frowns at Celia’s question, then shakes her head. “No. Maybe some obscure devotion might, but I’ve only ever been able to deal with the past and present, and even then I’m not as skilled as some are. I can only play with the memory itself, not the underlying feelings.”

“That’s where unsubtle licks screw it up, actually, trying to superimpose memories that don’t match the target’s emotional state. It’s why, for instance, I left your mother with the memory of me with Autumn instead of wiping the slate clean. If I’d papered it over, it would have left a mental scab she might have picked at. Honestly, she still might with what I left. She might ask herself why my being ‘homosexual’ set her off so badly.”

She flashes a strained smile. “Best case, she simply attaches it to mixed feelings about her bigotry.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation, though it does little to set her at ease.

“She… had a vision,” Celia says slowly, “after we left. In your driveway, she started crying about falling, and Maxen taking Lucy away from us.” A brief pause. “She did fall. My sire saw to that. I had just wondered if losing my daughter is something I need to be worried about, or if she was simply hysterical. He has recently re-entered my… orbit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. She knows who lays claim to her father. “It’s more likely that it set off previous trauma. Has your mother been subject to memory manipulation in the part?”

Celia: “I don’t have proof,” Celia sighs, “but I would say so. The incident with the hacksaw, at least.”

Caroline: Caroline winces. That’s gruesome even by Kindred standards. “Lots of mental scar tissue, lots of wounds that never properly healed. Your father had custody for a while, right? Might have been a return to past traumas.”

She bites her lower lip. “I didn’t think of how that might affect her, how that might interact. Small amounts of manipulation, carefully done, isn’t really much worse than minimally invasive surgeries, but if she’s been subjected to significantly more…”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It wasn’t my intention to make you feel bad about it, just simple curiosity. I haven’t developed the ability to manipulate memories like that, and… there are few enough Kindred I can discuss my mother with. You averted awkward family conversations, at the very least.”

A tilt of her head, eyeing the blonde sidelong.

“And forced me to reveal myself… though I am not unhappy with how that has turned out.”

Her brows lift, lips twisting into a satisfied smile.

Caroline: A whisper of a smile dances across Caroline’s face. It fades.

“You might have more luck than you expect digging into his past. He’s older than people think. Significantly so.”

Celia: The abrupt change in subject makes her pause.

“My… sire?”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Unless you, he, and your broodmates are all diablerists.”

Celia: “I… what?”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “All of your blood is abnormally potent. Your broodmate’s is as thick as mine. Only two reasons for that.”

“I’m betting it’s the same reason mine is.” She casts a dark smile. “Unless you have something to confess.”

Celia: There’s other ways of pulling that off. And getting strong blood.

The warden’s words to her hadn’t made much sense at the time. Now, here, a key piece of information she’s missing.

“I’m… not familiar with that word,” she finally confesses. “Diablerist.”

The root, she knows, is Latin or Greek. Diabolos. Demon. Her brother had played a game with a similar name, and her ghouls as well enjoyed the series, though she had never been much for gaming.

It still doesn’t mean anything to her.

And even this hint about her sire’s past—his true age—doesn’t pique her interest quite the same way, though it’s certainly something she’s going to circle back to. After the chat with her father she has been searching for any sort of anything about demons.

Caroline: Caroline supposes not every vampire has a mother like hers. She can’t remember a time where other Kindred even mentioned the word ‘diablerie’ around her. Would she have gone her entire Requiem without knowing she could devour an older vampire’s strength, if not for Abélia’s dark gift during the car ride?

She can’t see many elders being displeased by her ignorance. Becky Lynne’s purchased lessons certainly never touched on the subject.

“I suppose it’s not the sort of thing good sires teach their childer about.”

“There’s references in Sanctified theology, though it’s taught in a more obsfucated way these days. About not hastening one’s own descent into torpor by seeking to unnaturally thicken your blood.”

Celia: Souls for power.

The ghost had told her that was the trade, that the inhuman thing in the Garden District eats them. Pete and her grandsire had told her about the soulthieves, how they had stolen souls as well as blood from their victims. The blackest sort of magic, he’d said. And they’d worshipped demons.

It doesn’t fit, though. She had certainly never done anything like that.

“I’ve done a lot of questionable things since my Embrace,” Celia tells Caroline, “but not… whatever it is you’re talking about.”

It’s confirmation, though, isn’t it? That her sire is older than he pretends to be. That the ghoul who’d said as much to her hadn’t been lying. But how would Caroline know?

Caroline: “I suppose you should know, since if his age and generation came out, you’d be a target just like me,” Caroline muses darkly.

“It’s simple, really, and that’s why the elders are so terrified of it. The Sabbat even makes a practice of it. When you drink a lick past the last drop, you can actually keep going. Keep taking. You can take so much that it’ll destroy them.”

“The stronger their blood, the closer their lineage to Caine, the more you take. The children of elders are thus prime targets. Too weak to defend themselves, with thick enough blood to promise a payoff. And the weaker your own blood is, the bigger the payoff.”

Celia: You are what you eat. Absorb the soul, absorb the power. Tale as old as time, isn’t it?

“All you have to do is take away the last chance someone has at an afterlife. Destroy any lingering sense of immortality.”

No wonder Pete had said it was a vile, black sort of magic. A nasty trick. Lucky Caroline that her mother is… whatever she is. Warned her about it.

There are so many things to consider. So many implications. She tries not to dwell; it’s not spoken of for a reason, she’s sure.

“And you think he either did that, or he’s older than he is.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It’s punishable by final death if caught, and most of them get caught. They keep doing it over and over until they make a mistake. Not that it’ll make you feel any better when they’ve eaten your soul.”

“Diablerists are the serial killers of our kind. Not that it stops the Sabbat from actively encouraging it.”

Maldonato mentioned a great Anarch Revolt, hundreds of years ago. He didn’t mention what she says next, but it doesn’t take a genius to imagine what a bunch of furious Anarchs would have done to elders they were destroying anyway.

“Or even the Anarchs back in the day. I’m sure diablerizing elders was all the rage.”

The Ventrue laughs. “It’s funny, I’ve heard the whispers in Elysium. People aren’t whispering not to be heard. About how pathetic I am with all my ghouls. A neonate playing at something beyond their station. A rich girl that needs someone to boss around.”

“The truth is rather more nuanced, you see.” She nods back to the deckhouse where a rifle-armed woman stands casually alert.

“Anonymity is a poor shield given how widely my secret is known.”

Celia: She doesn’t contradict Caroline’s words. She’s right about what they say about her, how the Anarchs snicker behind their hands, how the harpies don’t bother lowering their voices. Jade has heard all sorts of things about Caroline Malveaux-Devillers.

But Celia isn’t Jade. And she’s not supposed to know.

She takes the warning for what it is.

“I hope, then, that mine stays buried a while longer yet.”

Caroline: Caroline nods knowingly, but her words hold a different message. “Don’t trust to hope. Be ready when it comes out.”

“Your sire’s secret won’t stay buried forever. His master is approaching the end game and pieces are trading off the board with alarming swiftness.” That’s the mark of a grandmaster—that willingness to race to an endgame, confident that they can execute flawlessly while others falter.

She turns her gaze back to the city again, drinking in the lights. “I have no love for Donovan. I never will, even if he did serve my sire in truth.”

“But he’s a valuable piece in the board. I should rather flip him from that hold than trade what would be required to remove him.” To say nothing of how she’s the most likely piece to trade him for. A final nail in her sire’s coffin, driving him into the earth with the dual blow of betrayal and loss.

Celia: She can’t even tell Caroline what worries her the most: that if the truth of her sire comes out she has more to fear than someone trying to steal her soul from her body. It’s worse than all of that. It’s her head rolling across the floor. It’s Veronica’s head joining hers for covering up the crime. It’s Preston and Lebeaux and Savoy and everyone else who knew and didn’t say. It’s seeing the revulsion in Roderick’s eyes as he realizes she’s the worst sort of monster, and no wonder she was always so fucked up. It’s her family dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. All of her renfields executed with her.

And it’s her sire. Him most of all. Would he care if they took her head? Would his position at the prince’s side prevent him from catching the worst of it? Would he be exiled rather than executed, decades of planning down the drain because his childe couldn’t keep it in her pants?

The old wound reopens. Stupid. Worthless. Whore. Only it’s not her father’s voice, it’s her sire’s. It’s Jade’s. It’s Roderick’s. It’s her own.

No. That’s not quite true, is it? She’d be the only one who paid for the crime. Not her choice, not her fault, but that is the sort of justice she’ll receive in the All Night Society.

It’s a cruel thing her sire has done, putting her in this position.

Sometimes she thinks that is all they know: cruelty. What are the fleeting lives of the kine and childer compared to such centuries? Her lover had pointed it out to her before and she hadn’t listened: life is cheap.

Theirs too?

She is afraid that she knows the answer to that question.

She doesn’t know what Caroline expects her to say. She will hardly confirm the girl’s thoughts as to her sire’s true motivations and master. She wishes she didn’t know. That he hadn’t told her. That he hadn’t shown her.

He kneels before a throne. All are blind in the dark.

Why her.

Why show her.

Why tell her.

Why trust her.

He hadn’t meant to. He doesn’t know she knows. That’s all it comes back to, that he doesn’t know he had shared it with her. He was so busy killing her that he doesn’t realize what she had ripped from his head.

…none of which explains their interlude atop the roof, the secrets shared, his demands of her.

He’s in there. He has to be. There’s a reason for it, no matter how much her rational self rolls her eyes at the idea. She can’t just be another pawn on the board. The old wounds threaten to tear her apart at the seams. The words hiss in her ear.

“I’ll find it,” she says again, drowning them out. She straightens her spine, hardens her heart, finds her resolve. “And I’ll kill it.”

What is she compared to a demon? A mere slip of a girl. A young nobody.

Souls for power. She’s made that trade before. She’ll do it again.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia doesn’t let herself linger overlong on the thoughts that plague her. She had known since the first nights of her Requiem that her Embrace would eventually be used against her sire. She had only thought that she would have longer to enjoy immortality before they sent for her; she hopes that she has been useful enough to her grandsire that he will not discard her when he is done with her. Lebeaux had implied he isn’t that sort of lick, but Celia frets all the same.

And this girl in front of her. Malveaux-Devillers. Childe of the prince. Daughter of a soul-eater (if the ghost can be believed). Soon-to-be announced heir, possibly, for all that she is young yet. Enemy.

If it were only that, Celia would have no trouble throwing her from the roof. Watching her body splatter. Staking her, delivering her to her sire. Taking her place at his side.

To finally be acknowledged… the collar pulls. Her hands clench. She is not a dog.

There’s more between the pair of them than that. A fellow daughter of the perfect family tree. Expectations heaped upon her. Someone who had once helped, for all that she claims she assisted with the cover-up. How can Celia blame her when it was from her own lips that the plan spilled forth? Apologies, years late, but apologies all the same.

A fellow bird whose wings have been broken, who hops and chirps and sings for her sire and hopes only that it has been enough. She recognizes that. And she hates it. Hates them, for what could have been. For what isn’t.

That’s the true definition of evil, isn’t it? What could have been. What should be, but isn’t. Death may no longer threaten them, but their existences are fragile all the same.

Fragile, like the body she’d once had that he had dropped into the Gulf. Shattered. As her mother would have been. As Caroline might be.

“Earlier, you said that you will never fly.” Celia turns her back to the city, her eyes falling upon the golden-haired Ventrue. “You are lying to yourself if you believe that. Worse, you are letting them hobble you and tell you how far you may go.”

“I have a theory, you know, about why people become so complacent in the middle of the mountain. Not because they do not want to go higher, but because they are afraid to fall and lose everything that they have gained. Without risk there is no reward.”

Celia steps backwards into the night. The roof gives way beneath her feet…

And yet, she doesn’t fall. Her body remains suspended in the air. The rolled cuffs of her borrowed pants unfurl, wind tugging at loose hair and clothing. Curls dance across her face. Lit from behind by the light of the moon, she is every bit the ethereal goddess she had turned Simmone into that evening in the Garden District: Celia, reborn in the sky, come down to pass on a gift from the heavens themselves.

Celia extends a hand.

“Let me show you how to soar.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes light up at Celia steps into the night, into the emptiness. Her hand dives into the darkness for the Toreador’s like a striking serpent even before Celia’s own hand extends, catching it, holding it, a second pale hand locked in a death grip with the railing.

She looks down, then back at Celia almost incredulously.

Balanced on nothing. An elder’s words come back to her and she takes a shallow breath.

Without risk there’s no reward. Doesn’t she know it. But does she dare presume to flirt with the sky in this way?

It’s not just the fall that scares her.

Slowly, finger by finger, she loosens her grip on the rail, until only her fingertips test it.

A trap? A poor one if so. She isn’t afraid of the fall, not really. And she’d like to pretend there’s more than just their sires between them.

Celia: Celia has every reason to want her dead.

She knows the truth of her sire. She’d fucked with her mom. She’d covered up the scandal with her father.

But there she waits, eyes on Caroline, hand extended. A warm hand, so different than the sire from which she came. So different than the rest of their kind with their cool temperatures and their frigid temperaments.

She watches the play of emotions across her face and says nothing, waiting for the girl to come to her. She doesn’t rush. Doesn’t push. Just waits, until only the tips of her fingers remain on the rail.

“Let go,” she finally says.

Caroline: A leap of faith? Well, not exactly a leap. Just the gentlest kiss of her fingers leaving the rail.

Celia: Celia is not her sire. Not Roderick. She has never been that strong, and to look at her one might wonder how she can hold the weight of the other lick. But the moment Caroline’s hand leaves the railing Celia is beneath her, one arm behind her back and the other under her knees; the Ventrue hangs suspended in the air, held aloft bridal style by the levitating Toreador. For a long moment they simply float.



Wind whips past their faces.

It claws at Caroline’s dress, their hair, Celia’s borrowed garments.

It howls in their ears.

The ground is suddenly not so far away. Every second it looms closer and closer. It can’t kill them, and might not even torpor them, but it will certainly hurt to have their bodies splatter across the pavement, and—

They slow.

Celia’s giggles are all but breathless in Caroline’s ear as their movement halts. Still two stories above the ground, their bodies tucked so closely against the building that they appear as no more than shadows in the night, the wild descent becomes something much more manageable. She might not be able to make them invisible, but she can certainly make other things more interesting, and she directs any stray attention elsewhere as the girls slowly descend to the pavement.

Caroline: Caroline’s hold on Celia becomes a deathgrip as they plummet, holding her tighter and tighter, pulling her closer and closer until…

They slow, and Celia’s giggle replaces the rush of the wind.

If she were mortal she might be breathless, but death has robbed her of that. Finally, her eyes on Celia, she cracks a grin.

“That’s some ride,” she whispers.

Celia: “Falling is the first step toward flying.”

Amusement dances in her eyes. Her feet touch pavement and she lets the Ventrue down, once more the smaller unit in the party. She gazes up at Caroline, lips lifted in the corners to echo her grin.

“The first time I fell, no one caught me. I made sure that I would never shatter again.” Light tone for such a heavy topic.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Fell.”

She lets the word hang. “I’m certain you just tripped off a building, right? Or did you fall down some stairs like your mom?”

She regrets the words as soon as they’re out of her mouth. But that’s how it goes, isn’t it? Mistakes are always easier to see after the fact.

Celia: “I said the same thing to my sister when we were younger. ‘Our ballerina mother just fell down the stairs, did she?’

Celia still remembers the fallout from that. Things were never the same; the little sister she had once tried to protect was turned into… whatever she became. She could lie here, but why bother? Caroline knows what sort of monster he is.

Her shoulders lift in an aborted shrug.

“Things he does to me… it’s not lasting. I can come back from it. He never took my leg.”

Just her life.

Caroline: It’s not lasting. But isn’t it? The physical wounds are the least they suffer. He never took my leg. No, only her wings, only her spirit, only her future.

And here Celia is, making excuses for him, hopelessly in his thrall. Hopelessly tied to a demon given flesh. Even though he hurts her, maims her, tortures her. Even though he threatened, nearly murdered her mother. Even though he serves a devil in the pit. Celia still loves him unconditionally.

If she could hate Donovan more she would.

And yet, for that, she recognizes the hypocrisy of it. Would she turn away from her sire if he beat her? If he threw her through a wall? If he ordered those close to her murdered?

She doesn’t pretend that she doesn’t know the answer. She wonders if Celia sees it the same way—each of them blind to themselves but wide-eyed.

Does Celia see in her the same Caroline sees in Celia? Reflected through a mirror darkly.

Words visibly catch in her throat.

She could offer sanctuary. Could offer help. Could offer shelter from him and aid. But Celia can no more take it than Caroline would in turn.

Her gaze settles solemnly on Celia’s own. “Thank you for the evening.”

Celia: There’s more she could say. Should say. Wants to say. To wipe away whatever look it is that Caroline gives her, pity or grief or… something. Something she doesn’t like.

He’s not a monster. Whatever you think he did to me, he has been good as well. Merciful. I loved him before he took me completely.

The words stay dormant within her. It doesn’t matter. It can’t matter.

He’s the only one who understands her. The only one who understands him.

Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear, eyes once more finding the Ventrue’s.

“It was nice to… not pretend.”

Caroline: Caroline stares into her eyes. “It was.”

How many lies have we told each other tonight?

The more meaningful question among the damned: how many truths?

“We should do it again.”

Celia: Celia shouldn’t smile. The offer shouldn’t send butterflies rippling through her stomach. But it does. And she does. It lights up her face, lifts the corners of her eyes; there’s nothing insincere in that smile, or the words that follow.

“I’d like that.”

Caroline: “You don’t have to pretend when you’re with me.”

Wouldn’t ever have to pretend if you were with me.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXVII

Previous, by Caroline: Story Twelve, Caroline XV
Next, by Caroline: Story Thirteen, Caroline I, Celia

Previous, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI
Next, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia XXVIII

Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI

“Appearances usually are deceiving.”
Antoine Savoy

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Savoy, Preston, and Camille spend a little while filling in Em on the basics of his condition and the city’s politics. Prince Vidal bears little love indeed for the Snake Clan, and will likely order Em’s execution if he or his agents discover the fledgling’s true lineage.

“Most of us claim to be Toreador or Caitiff when we leave the Quarter, or do so in stealth,” explains Camille.

Em is technically an illegal Embrace too, but against the fact of his lineage, it’s largely moot. The prince will seek his destruction for that fact alone, should he ever learn.

He also learns what night it is (they don’t say day), as well as the fact that it has been multiple nights since he first arrived at the Evergreen. Rosa Bale was able to tell them around when to expect Em back—“in some form of other,” Savoy remarks amusedly.

Emmett: So time… passed differently where he was?

Whatever. He’s a vampire now.

His mind is still swimming with the new names and minutiae from the other three. “But won’t I be expected to have a legitimate sire to claim as my own if I ever want to appear in… Elysium, you called it?”

GM: “Lie,” says Camille. “Sami says you’re rather good at that. Claim to have been Embraced somewhere else.”

“Mr. Delacroix could also claim an established Kindred as his sire, which carries its own drawbacks and advantages,” states Preston.

Emmett: “Ah. Well enough, then. Being an immigrant seems simpler, as far as that goes.”

Em continues to be an attentive listener, particularly interested in the finer points of etiquette related to ghouls and human pawns.

He has a couple of ideas there. He asks Camille point-blank about her relation to Mouton, who he has designs on himself. He does not wish to ruin the cop’s usefulness to his sire, but would be interested in holding his leash, or purchasing him from whoever currently does.

GM: “Mouton is a considerable asset to myself and Lord Savoy,” says Camille. “Establish yourself somewhere and I’ll consider selling him.”

Emmett: “I have thoughts on that. Does Ron Landrenau belong to anybody?”

GM: “He’s a man in demand,” chuckles Savoy. “He’s one of mine, though I haven’t blooded him. Camille says something about you having an interest in movies, Mr. Delacroix?”

Emmett: “Indeed. I also have an interest in him specifically. To be frank, I am deeply interested in maintaining a relationship with my uncle beyond but including using him to realize creative projects. Lord Savoy, rather than attempting to purchase him from you, I would rather like to oversee his work on your behalf, and perhaps act as a sort of…creative consultant, overseeing projects that further your interests politically while bringing an understanding of the specifics of film to his oversight. Please, don’t spare my feelings; do you see value in such an arrangement? I would never want to involve myself with your pawn without benefiting you in the bargain. The same, of course, goes for Mouton.”

GM: “See? This one’s already wheeling and dealing,” Savoy grins towards Camille. “You could’ve found someone much worse for your second Embrace!”

Emmett: Em acknowledges the point with a smile.

GM: He turns back to Em. “Movies are mostly incidental to my interests, Mr. Delacroix. I think there’s value in your proposition. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t blooded your uncle.”

Emmett: “Well, that’s encouraging. I would try to make the most of his cultural influence, which I know to be considerable. It sounds like youth is a bit of a millstone on this side of the grave, but I think this is an area where my relative proximity to breathing days and my growing understanding of the Kindred world creates opportunities others might not be able to parse. Vampire media exists, despite the Masquerade you’ve described. I’m sure there’s risks playing with such material, but perhaps rewards as well—do Kindred not wish to see something of themselves on the screen, and attach meaning to stories that capture their hearts? And if course there are subtler games to play with entertainment, towards whatever other goals you might have that benefit from popular consumption of this or that idea. Stories do make us who we are, after all.”

GM: “Indeed they do, Mr. Delacroix. There’s a lot of power in stories, among the dead and living alike. We think they affect us less, because there’s no mass market for Kindred-exclusive books and films, but we’re wrong. We still tell stories.”

“And those Kindred-exclusive films that do exist… well, I’ll just say you need to see them to believe them,” the French Quarter lord winks.

“I remember when Dracula was published. You wouldn’t have believed the panic. Many kine had stopped thinking about vampires by then. We swore that book would shatter the Masquerade. And it did—but it reforged it, too, into something better and stronger. Successful vampire films can repeat that book’s feat, by telling the stories we want to tell. Films can make the kine view us more sympathetically and spread disinformation about our strengths and weaknesses.”

“All before the artistic value inherent to them.” Savoy chuckles. “That timeless advice to write what you know. Or film what you know.”

Emmett: “I was going to ask about Dracula,” Em admits. “But I believe you about all of it, especially the Kindred-exclusive movies. I’d be interested in seeing that kind of thing. You can learn a lot about people if you know the stories they know.”

GM: “One surely can. I’ll see what can be arranged as far as those movies. And I’ll offer you some further advice when it comes to kine besides your uncle, Mr. Delacroix.”

“The best pawns are the ones who owe what they are to you. I’ve seen my share of young Kindred who approached established and successful kine, turned them into ghouls, and relied on the Blood alone to secure their loyalty. Love and addiction tug at one half of them, but resentment and ingratitude pull at their other half. They ultimately don’t need their domitors, but their domitors need them. That isn’t a position you want to be in.”

“But, when you approach someone who doesn’t have what they want, as the smiling devil in a sharp suit, offering the opportunity of a lifetime… that’s another matter. That cultivates lasting loyalty and dependence, if you set up a gangster as head of his gang, help a first-time politician get elected, or take a chance producing a young director’s experimental film. Make someone who they are, and they’ll owe you what they are. They won’t soon forget.”

“It takes a little more time and trouble to arrange. But the dividends pay that back and then some.”

Emmett: “Sage advice, my lord,” Em says unironically. “I couldn’t have picked a better place to be reborn.”

GM: When the question of thanking Savoy for his hospitality and continuing to operate in the French Quarter arises, the Toreador chuckles.

“The more operators we have in the Quarter, the better, Mr. Delacroix. What questions do you have for me?”

Emmett: “The Quarter is prime real estate,” Em says directly, “even if I’m a quiet tenant. I’d like to know whose toes to avoid stepping on and how to walk around them. And, by the same token, where I can find friends to run with. I imagine this life is lonely without them, just like the one before.”

Well, before he got executed, anyways.

GM: Savoy chuckles again. “The other students will always give you better advice where to make friends than the principal, Mr. Delacroix. You might start by asking your sister-in-blood that.”

“Your sire will also steer you straight, as far as toes to avoid. You’ll have her and the rest of your clan backing you up. There are a lot more of them than just her.” Savoy offers a knowing wink, then drums his fingers. “But as some immediate advice, many of the border and poorer areas of the Quarter—Rampart and Canal Street, mainly—are pretty crowded. Full of… how might you describe them, Nat?”

“Weak-blooded vagabonds, riffraff, outcasts, clanless, and scum other cities didn’t want,” notes Preston.

“That’s one way,” grins Savoy. “They’ve been pushed around a lot. They aren’t too dangerous by themselves, but in large numbers they can be. They’re popularly known as Quarter rats.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen some of that crowd,” Em agrees amiably. “I know what you mean.”

He steers the conversation towards Abélia next. “I confess there’s still a lot of things I’m unsure of about her nature. If I’m right about her reasons for sending me here, she probably wants a contact in your camp. I might be better positioned towards how to navigate her if I knew more about her; and of course, that would go a long way if you wish to use me as an intermediary with her.”

GM: Em hears a voice echo in his head as he starts to broach the topic, but before he can say her name.

:: If you’ll oblige me, Mr. Delacroix, let’s speak of her more privately. ::

The French Quarter lord’s lips, though, continue to mouth other words.

“1020 Esplanade and the surrounding area is where the Giovannini make their domain. Watch your step around them, too, but they can be valuable allies to enterprising Kindred.”

:: I’m to understand she facilitated your Embrace as payment for services rendered, though using you as a contact may well have occurred to her—and also has to me! You’ve certainly dealt with her more intimately than any other intermediary I might send. There aren’t many Kindred who’ve entered her lair and emerged to tell of it. ::

Emmett: The thrill of the sudden telepathic subterfuge would set the stolen body’s pulse racing if it still had one, but as is Em feels every muscle (does this guy have more muscle than him? that’s a nice change) in his new cadaver twinge with rigor mortis at the shock. His response is stumbling, but electric

:: You’re in my head this is new sorry let me orient. Ahem. Yes, in the interest of utter honesty I’ve seen an awful lot of her and what she can do but still don’t know what she is, and knowledge that lets me respect her better is very precious to me right now, as, to be blunt, I’m sure direct experience with her is valuable to you. Lord Savoy. Sorry, it’s harder to be polite in your own head. ::

A mental pause. He can’t help himself with the honesty. It’s like talking to somebody when you’re naked. Pretense goes out the window.

:: You’re very dashing, by the way. Since you’re listening in. And I don’t use the word dashing often. I don’t even think the word dashing often. ::

“I’ll keep that in mind, too,” he replies a moment later to the spoken comment.

“Thank you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: There’s a mental chuckle as Savoy continues to talk about various spots in the Quarter.

The voice in Em’s head is more controlled. He ‘sounds’ like he’s done this before.

:: Practice makes perfect, Mr. Delacroix. It can help to visualize the words when you’re new. Like you’re writing a letter. ::

:: As to Madam Devillers, she is a predator, much like us. Perhaps you know something of her diet already? I think she only prefers the taste of incorporeal flesh, though. Anything with a soul can sate her hunger. ::

Emmett: :: And… her daughters? ::

Unbidden, Cécilia’s face swims to the front of his mind. Perhaps Savoy can see it, or feel the sudden longing to stand before her that consumes the fledgling.

:: What is their nature? ::

GM: Another mental chuckle.

:: They seem human in all the ways that count, though appearances usually are deceiving. I doubt they’re wholly so with parentage like theirs. I confess to having had more dealings with their mother. ::

:: You want her, don’t you, Mr. Delacroix? That can be achieved. ::

:: What is success without a beautiful woman to share it with? ::

Emmett: :: I don’t know what I want. Except… to know. If she’s a monster, too. ::

He manages to articulate a mental cough. :: Sorry. Bit maudlin, that. ::

GM: :: Perhaps you know the answer already. What makes a monster? A frightening appearance? Preternatural powers? A diet like ours? How one treats others? ::

Emmett: :: I suppose in her case, I’d say it’s what she’s willing to tolerate from those she loves. But I don’t know if that’s some kind of inhuman indifference—or real forgiveness. Real grace. ::

GM: :: That second quality is precious, isn’t it? I’m afraid I can’t answer you there, but perhaps you might ask her yourself. We can find reasons to send you to her mother’s on my behalf, I’m sure. ::

:: If I may also advise—a whiter face may make her easier to pursue, should you choose to. Even if she sees past skin, many of her friends and acquaintances likely don’t. ::

Emmett: :: Then I guess I should talk to your Dr. Dicentra about that, at least. ::

GM: :: It’ll be well within her talents, I’m certain. The color of one’s skin is a small thing to us. ::

:: White or black, you’ll find it all tastes the same. ::

Emmett: :: I’m new to vampirism, but not to predation. I was a bad man. A wicked ghost, too. I understand the value of secrets. So I understand if this one isn’t yours to give, or if it costs me more. Is there a word for the kind of predator Abélia is? ::

GM: :: The answer to that is both, Mr. Delacroix. It’s a costly secret, and not mine to share. ::

Emmett: He inclines his head, seemingly at some recommendation flowing from the vampiric lord’s lips. Neat bit of multitasking, that.

GM: :: Understand that most of our kind aren’t aware she exists, so I’d be cautious whom you share that secret with. We’re exploitative beings by nature and she doesn’t desire much company outside of her daughters. Kindred who disturb or seek to investigate her rarely survive to regret their mistake. ::

:: I’m impressed you’ve made it as far as you have with her. ::

Emmett: :: I’m lucky. It’s my best feature. Especially now. ::

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Em and his sire depart the Evergreen’s rooftop garden after Preston says Dr. Dicentra has been contacted. Camille spends further time explaining the basics of Kindred existence to him in a Louis XIV-style sitting room.

They’ve been in conversation for perhaps an hour when the night doctor arrives.

Celia: They look as if they’ve taken care to hide their identity. Red has long been the Kindred color of choice, but the night doctor has taken the night for their own in their garb: black on black on black. Black combat boots with a chunky heel laced to mid-shin, black leather pants that cling to every curve, a black shirt that shows off an ample chest and well-muscled arms, and black gloves with black nails that longer than any lick’s should be. They look sharp, those nails. Even her hair is black, and the eyes that peer out from truly ebon skin obscured by some sort of glamour are black as well.

The form is feminine enough to call it “her,” though perhaps that is yet another way to mask their true identity.

The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.

“My services have been requested,” she says without preamble.

Emmett: “Which services were those again,” Em mutters, looking her over. “You’ve made me forget everything except how to ask for you name.”

Celia: The black-clad doctor might smile, but it’s hard to tell beneath the mask. She steps into the room.

“Your appearance. You wish it altered, I have been told.”

Emmett: “I think so,” Em says, “But I’m on the fence about what I need it altered to. You might be able to help me decide.”

“This face isn’t really mine to begin with, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if I should ask for a new one altogether, or try to make do with my old self.”

GM: “What advantages do your old face and a new face have?” Camille poses.

Emmett: “My old face is dead, at least to those who know me. If I show it to them, they’ll recognize me, which breaks the Masquerade. But I am easily disguised, and it might be useful to reveal my identity to certain people. For, ah, dramatic flourishes, if nothing else.”

“But a new face is a chance to start over, and this is a new beginning. Not many people ever get that chance, and besides, there’s a lot of baggage in that old face. A lot of hate, too. Maybe it’s better to wear a new one.”

Em considers the night doctor. “Whoever you are, you’ve done this before. What do you think?”

Celia: “Many Kindred seek my services for different reasons,” she answers. “They want to be stronger, bigger, more imposing. They want to erase old scars from their bodies. They tire of the nightly shave and a haircut routine.”

The doctor studies Emmett.

“If your former face is known to be dead, let it stay dead. Do not break the Masquerade. There are other ways to prove your identity than a face should you desire to seek out old acquaintances. But appearances are everything. A charming smile will get you far when you pair it with quick wit and a silver tongue.”

The doctor nods toward Camille, though she continues to speak to Emmett.

“Kindred and kine alike remember the eyes. Should you seek a face easily disguised, something plainer will do. Then you can become your own canvas. Alternatively, I can create an ideal version of the old you with enough changes that no one who was not intimately familiar with your face will recognize.”

“If you are still undecided… I am a sculptor. Sometimes the flesh speaks to me and tells me what it wants to be.”

Emmett: “Sculpt,” Em says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before.

But… you said the eyes have something of the soul. If you saw a picture of me, could you give me my old eyes back?”

Celia: “Yes. I could. I will warn, however, that eye modifications are among the most painful bodily altercations I can perform.”

Emmett: Em smiles faintly.

“Well. Maybe you can give me a treat if I don’t cry, afterwards.”

He looks at Camille. “Do you happen to have an image of my old face in your phone, or something?”

GM: His sire only gives that question a thin smile.

Emmett: “Fine,” Em says. “I’ll get it.”

He holds out his hand. He does it without thinking about it, flexing that part of him that still hasn’t processed that he’s no longer a being of spirit rather than flesh.

A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth — but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke.

They’re Emmett Delacroix’s eyes, he realizes. The dream of his eyes, gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.

GM: “Well done,” Camille purrs. “Veiling can also be used to resume your old face, should the need arise.”

“Or should I say, the rest of your old face.”

Celia: It’s difficult to tell whether the display leaves an impression on the doctor or not. The black mask gives nothing away.

“I can see,” she says mildly, “why you’d like them back.”

“Consider it done.”

Emmett: “Then let’s get started. Where do you want me?”

“Um. Also. Do I need to be naked for this?”

Celia: “Not yet.” A flash of fangs accompanies her amused tone.

Dicentra looks to Camille.

“I do not allow others to observe my process. I will take him to the Red Room and send for you when we are done.”

Emmett: Red Room. Sounds, dare he think it, erotic?

What else would red signify?

GM: “Of course, doctor,” answers Camille as she rises from her seat. A smile plays across her caramel features as she brushes past the masked Kindred. One of her hands strokes the night doctor’s breasts as lightly and idly as a serpent’s flicking tongue.

“What luscious thoughts swim underneath the mask, I wonder…” she murmurs into Dicentra’s ear, “that one with the power to alter flesh would wear so luscious a form, even disguised… I bet you’d be a lot of fun, with it off.”

She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address Em as well.

“Sami will swing by in an hour or so. Think of a new name to go with your new face. It can be real-sounding, or something poetic like Harlequin or Sundown.”

Celia: The doctor looks as if she might follow in Camille’s wake at that touch; she reaches out, snagging the snake’s wrist in her hand before she can go too far.

“Perhaps,” the voice from beneath the mask purrs, “one night I shall seek you out and grant your wish to see beneath the leather.”

Dicentra only turns to Em once his sire has taken her leave and beckons for him to follow her. She leads him through the halls of the Evergreen with casual certainty, obviously familiar with the layout of the club. She makes no idle chatter as she walks, though the vibe that he gets from her is less “foreboding” than it is “contemplative.”

Eventually they reach the Red Room. She takes him inside and closes the door behind her, ensuring their privacy with the click of a lock. Looking around, Emmett can see the reason it is called the Red Room: though they have been drained of blood, bodies sit on metal shelves around the room. Some of the corpses have had their throats torn out. Others have been split from sternum to groin. Still others carry a multitude of marks upon their skin, holes from which they bled their last. Male, female, black, white, and in between, but all of them have been stripped of their clothing and their life.

It might be cold to the kine, but the freshly dead fledgling does not feel the chill upon his skin. A table has already been set up in the middle of the room.

“You can remove your clothing now.”

She gestures toward the table. Metal, like the shelves, reminiscent of the sort of gurney found in a coroner’s office. Holes have been drilled into it to allow for easy cleanup; beneath Emmett’s feet the tile floor slopes gently toward a drain set in the middle.

Emmett: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts, only somewhat belied by his relative inexperience in this passenger. He pulls stolen cloth from stolen flesh and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.

“This seems uneven,” he says wryly, as he sits the stolen body on the table.

Celia: The doctor watches from behind her impassive mask. It’s hard to tell how she thinks or feels when her features are thus hidden.

“You must be new,” she says, though the words aren’t unkind. “You will get used to being naked in front of other Kindred.”

Emmett: “Oh, I’ve been a whore. That’s not the hard part. It was more of an invitation by way of observation.”

Celia: “Clever,” she purrs, “I can see why your sire chose you. Shall I call her in and let you share me?”

Emmett: “Is it wrong that I don’t want to share my first time?”

Celia: Low, throaty laughter sounds from beneath the mask.

“Perhaps if you don’t scream that will be the aforementioned treat.”

Dicentra tells him to lie back and removes the gloves from her hands, reaching for his face. She stops just shy of touching him.

“May I?”

Emmett: “Please.”

Celia: Her fingers stroke his skin, their touch cool.

“Young,” she murmurs.

The pad of her thumb traces his lips. He can feel it shift beneath the gentle pressure; pain flares, but it is fleeting, banished by the light touch that follows. A moment later it dissipates.

“Made for smiles.”

Two fingers slide down the bridge of his nose, squeezing as they go. For a moment he’s blinded by the pain. Then it, too, flees before the words that come.


The doctor pauses.


Cool fingertips brush against his skin from his hairline to his jaw. They trail down his cheek, a whisper-soft touch that reminds him of butterfly kisses and the wind on his face. They remind him of every girl he’s ever embraced, every longing thought, every moment of ecstasy.

“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Go inside.”

Emmett: He does so. It’s easy to listen to her. She’s been right enough, so far.

And those fingers, besides. There was nothing like them in the Shadowlands.

Celia: The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is motion behind the mask the doctor wears, the slight suggestion of a smile.

Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes:

A sitting room in Madam Devillers’ house, devoid of life.

Cafe Soulé, where a smiling Madeline delivers a pair of hurricanes to a younger Emmett and a beautiful girl in a sling.

A hotel suite. He doesn’t linger long in this doorway. Hotels have never been kind to Emmett Delacroix.

The Giacona manse, where a woman with poison eyes asks him how much he’ll give to get what he wants.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, his final resting place.

The rooftop garden he just vacated, the place of his rebirth.

All of them speak of his past. It is the door in front of him, however, that speaks to his future. White wood inlaid with swirls and whorls of gold and silver that dance before his eyes, slithering across the frame. A golden handle waits for his touch.

Emmett: He touches it, hopes his fingers can do the same thing to it the night doctor’s touch does to him as he turns it—

Celia: It opens into a well-appointed suite. A king-sized bed sits in the center of the room, its ornate bedspread covered in rose petals that have spilled from the bed to the floor in a puddle of red. To one side another set of doors open onto what he imagines is a closet, beside it a mahogany armoire and floor length mirror. The windows look out over the city he has called home for most of his life, an idealized, colorful version of it that makes the Shadowlands’ grayscale a far distant memory. The yellow, green, and purple of the Quarter dominate the scene.

A champagne bottle rests on ice in the center of the bed, but when he pops the cork the heady scent of blood reaches him. Blood. The bread and butter of their kind now. The only thing he will ever taste again. A glass waits beside it should he choose to quench his thirst.

Emmett: He drinks. When has he not?

But there’s such a large bed, and plenty to drink, yet nobody to share it with.

Celia: Despite the ice the blood within the bottle is hot. It slides down his throat, viscous and warm; it tastes like a comforting embrace, like the mythological siren of Poseidon or Hades beckoning him down into the depths of the water to deprive him of his last breath; it tastes like unrequited love, like ruby red lips and kohl liner, like leather and lace. It sets a fire in his belly, unfurling outward to sing through his veins.

“Delicious, isn’t it?”

A black-clad woman reclines on the bed beside him. Black gauze obscures her face; there’s no movement beneath the fabric, no way to tell if she has a mouth or eyes or features beyond the flat mask. Different than Dicentra, but somehow Emmett knows: it’s her.

“You’re like me,” she tells him, “a man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”

He looks into the mirror and sees that she’s right. He has no face.

Her voice echoes through his mind and body.

“Who are you?”

Emmett: His voice answers hers in a murmur, one that tugs his lips in the waking world as surely as they responded to the taste of blood.

“A bad, bad man. I’m worried I might be too good at being a vampire. People have always been disposable to me.”

Celia: The mask over her face moves, suggesting a smile.

“You are in good company, then. Those whom you call friend and ally will tell you that to be good at one thing you must be bad at another. They will ask you to shed your human shackles.”

Emmett: “Do you believe something different?”

Celia: “Not in so many words, though as in all things I believe there is balance to be found within your Requiem.”

“Strong enough connections can keep you tethered to your humanity. You need not be a purveyor of wanton destruction to succeed, though many will say that is the swiftest path.”

“But this is your rebirth. Who do you want to be?”

Emmett: “I want to be free,” he says truly. “To love who I love and fuck over who I don’t. Free to watch movies and maybe make one when I get bored. Free so… mmh.”

Free so the souls I destroyed went for something other than Abélia’s larders, he’d been about to but just barely does not say, mindful of the French Quarter lord’s warning. He’s not normally this open, is he?

Damn her hands.

“I want to be on top,” he finishes without so much as stuttering.

And winks.

Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.

Celia: “Big dreams for the freshly dead,” the masked woman tells him, “but we all start where you are now. I’ll give you the advice that was given to me when I was still a greenfang: make yourself useful to someone. You’re at the bottom of the mountain now, but it is not insurmountable.”

There’s definitely a smile beneath the wrapping. The hands touching his body have moved from his face lower; beyond the scene in his mind he feels the tips of her fingers against his traps, unwinding muscle fiber.

“The great thing about hierarchies is that they change. As do people, Kindred included. Take your time to try on new masks as you will, but you need a face beneath that.”

Emmett: “Could I be of use to you?” He pushes on, lost in her touch.

Celia: “Aside from the favor you will owe me for this work?”

There’s a momentary pause, though the hands on his body do not cease their work.

“Perhaps I will see what you make of your Requiem and seek you out. Pick a pretty enough face and I know a former whore with whom you might compare notes.”

Emmett: “And what if I wish to find you?”

Celia: “I have a phone. Unlike the Anarchs, you won’t need to rely on tagging a random surface and hoping that I find you.”

Emmett: “Anarchs are which ones again? Vampire communists?”

Celia: “Rebels who think they have a cause.”

Emmett: “I didn’t even have to die to meet those.”

He lifts a hand to her obscured face. “Could I see yours? Since you’re the first ever to see mine.”

Celia: The doctor does not resist his touch. His fingertips brush against the gauze and it fades away like smoke, dissipating into the air.

His own face stares back at him.

Emmett: He blinks.

Not the smartest cookie, but he can figure this one out.

“You know me.”

Celia: “We’re inside your head. You know yourself.”

Emmett: “How are you doing this? This dreaming thing.”

Celia: “Shadow dancing,” she tells him. “Not dreaming. You can get out of it at any time. The lick I mentioned earlier taught it to me in exchange for some work. If this is truly your face, she has a pet that might be interested in knowing. She can tell you more.”

“But we’re here to pick a new face for you. The man you were is dead. Who are you now?”

Emmett: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”

But maybe not, of course.

Celia: Dicentra considers him for a moment. A wave of her hand opens the set of double doors to the side of the room, where a thousand faces hang from a thousand gilded hangers. A crook of her fingers summons one to them.

“Tired and old,” she tells him, “and perhaps some wisdom in there somewhere. Is this the face you seek?”

Emmett: He laughs. “Some men age gracefully, don’t they? I want a face people trust, for all that. Thirties, more than forties.”

Celia: She laughs with him., dismissing the first face into smoke and shadow.

“Your own face, but better? Older?”

Another takes its place. Him. The two sides of him: young and old, light and dark, dead and alive. Wicked and innocent.

Emmett: “Older,” he agrees. I always wanted to be grow up, some day. Now I suppose I have forever.”

He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there. His hair can afford to be messier now than it once was, he expects.

His face lies. Makes him a new man.

But his eyes will tell the truth.

Celia: The face of the man floating in front of the two of them shifts as Emmett speaks. Dicentra controls the movements with a twitch of her fingers, and every word that comes out of Em’s mouth makes another alteration to the flesh in front of them. They build the ideal face together. Dicentra remains predominantly silent; she just sculpts. She is the paintbrush and he the hand that directs it, and only when he asks for input does she speak to offer a word of advice—“that scar will suit you better on this side,” or “the symmetry is off.” She offers guidance without judgement.

She asks if anyone has explained how their bodies work, and tells him that any changes she makes will be permanent, though any that he himself makes will only ever be temporary. He could shave his head one night and will find that the next it has regrown to its original length and color. Some Kindred find ritual in their daily grooming, while others despise the wasted time and curse the styles that were en vogue when they died.

Younger, he says, and she teases him with a boy.

Messy hair, he says, and laughingly she gives him a mop of curls that will never be tamed.

He wants a smile that can shatter hearts, and she smiles at him with his old face and gives him the smirk of someone who might have cut those same hearts out of their chests.

Less like a serial killer, he asks, and it changes again.

Distantly, Emmett feels the doctor’s hands across his body. His flesh shifts beneath her touch; there’s pain, dull and sharp by turns, and inside the suite of his mind the doctor tells him to keep going. She distracts him with this game of faces, preventing the pain from overwhelming him, teasing and coaxing him to make absurd changes to make him laugh. He feels it, but it’s muted, and all the while the new face comes together.

When they’ve decided on a face she asks about the body, and the pain that flares at her touch shifts to something less red hot while she reworks muscle and skin at his direction. Buff or willowy, hard or soft, big or little—yes, even there—she gives him what he wants.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the work finally ends. But the Dicentra in his head smiles at him and tells him it is done.

She withdraws from his mind, her black-clad form dispersing into smoke and shadow.

When he opens his eyes, she holds out a mirror.

Emmett: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than his father, as far as that goes. Younger than his uncle, too.

But this face looks like maybe its been to prison. Like maybe its seen the ugliest parts of being human, from the inside looking out.

But for all the ugly inside him, Em thinks he comes out looking pretty good.

Maybe a little soviet, at that.

Celia: As if Lord Savoy or his sire would give him some second-rate night doctor.

Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.

“There are showers to rinse yourself of blood,” she tells him. Her hands, he sees, are bloody up to the elbow, and his body is covered in it.

Emmett: “Oh,” he says. His new voice sounds strange, but also comforting to new ears.

“How do you feel about saving water?”

Celia: “I’d hate to waste such a renewable resource.”

Emmett: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises, tests the feeling of his new, undead flesh.

Celia: “I hope you’re not looking to bump uglies,” the doctor drawls, eying his new form with blatant interest. “The breather way doesn’t do it for us anymore.”

Too bad, that thing between his legs looks rather nice.

“But it’s this way.”

The Red Room isn’t too far from the semi-public showers that Savoy has had installed for his guests. Dicentra tells him on the way that there’s a “lost and found” closet if he needs clothing for his new form, as well. She leaves the discarded parts behind.

The Boggs will eat well.

Emmett: “What uglies?” he says easily, following her like a satisfied puppy. “Your work is flawless.”

“I suppose I’ll have to find somebody to teach me how vampires fuck, then. Otherwise I’m going to be all awkward at parties.”

Celia: “Fangs, mostly.” But she smiles at the compliment. “Blood. Like everything. If you’re looking to lose your V-card, Lord Savoy hosts parties on Saturday evenings after court. There are plenty of horny licks around.”

Emmett: “V-card? Really? That’s a long lost cause, even if this is a new body. Anyways, what day is it?” He reaches for the knob that activates the shower, and a pink mist levitates off of his skin and spatters the both of them.

“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”

Celia: “It’s Monday,” the doctor tells him, “but I’d be stunned if your sire doesn’t fuck you before then. She has quite a reputation.”

Blood from her hands rinses down the drain. She has yet to remove her leathers.

Emmett: “You’re letting me start off my Requiem with a rejection?” He pouts. “I was just trying to thank you.”

Celia: “You already owe me a boon, pretty boy. Didn’t anyone tell you how our economics work?”

It’s not a no, though.

Emmett: “I’ve worked very hard to become a man,” he protests, “with a few wrinkles and facial hair and everything. And besides. Economics is one thing. I’m talking about gratitude. Completely different phenomenon.”

He turns his back on her. Blood runs between his shoulder blades down the channel of his spine. “But if you prefer your privacy, I won’t look.”

Celia: “Don’t blame me if your sire is upset she didn’t have you first,” Dicentra says to that.

But she turns around and gestures at the zipper in the back of her suit, letting him have the fun of unveiling her.

Emmett: It takes him a minute to realize she has also turned around.

But he obliges her, running his new fangs against the nape of her neck as he sheds the layers between them.

He hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.

Like, a long while.

He’s almost nervous.

Celia: He shouldn’t be. Dicentra seems more than happy to explain the rules to him and let him get his feet wet; she’s been patient enough so far. Em knows he doesn’t need to breathe anymore, but there’s a little gasp of pleasure and a shiver that runs down her spine at the touch of fang to neck. Her blood pools in the wound, waiting for him to lick it clean.

The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied.

It’s the face that might throw him off. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips. Pretty but… familiar.

Almost like the girl he’d met on the roof. The one who hadn’t smiled at all.

Way prettier, though. He can’t imagine Preston ever wearing makeup, taking her glasses off, or letting her hair down.

Emmett: Indeed, the very comparison is one he feels immediately guilty for even making.

Nobody deserves to be compared to Nat.

“You’re sure I don’t know you? You’ve got one of those faces,” he deadpans, albeit with a note of sensuality since he’s talking quietly into her ear. She has a feeling the question is ceremonial more than earnest.

For one thing, he is not looking at her face when he says it.

Celia: The question makes her laugh.

“I think you’d remember me,” she purrs in his ear. But she seems to like the attention all the same; she stretches luxuriously, arms above her head to lift that beautiful rack even higher, as if now that her outfit has come out she can finally breathe again.

Then her fangs come out and his back is against the wall when she puts a hand on his chest to shove him back, the tile cool against his skin, her body cool against his, but the water is warm. So very, very warm. His blood flows where she nips at his neck and chest and shoulder, letting it sit for long, precious seconds before she comes back to drink.

Emmett: It’s been a long time. But he knows better than to keep talking.

It’s bizarre, this vampire fucking. Rougher than he was into, for sure. More about the nuances of pleasure that is ripped from your other’s pain, and learning that pain enjoyed the right way can breed enormous pleasure.

They hurt each other, and it is glorious, and the sordid details of the coupling are lost in blood and drainwater.

When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and does not know if he is soiled or clean.

Only that he is happy.

“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?” he mutters to her.

Celia: Despite the tile, neither one of them are uncomfortable. Dicentra seems content to rest next to him with her head on his shoulder while the water rinses away the evidence of their coupling. Her fingers trace idle circles across his chest and lower stomach.

“No other shoe to this, just fun. The Saturday parties I mentioned earlier almost always end up something like this.” He can hear the delight in her voice at the thought.

Emmett: “Maybe not to this. But you?” He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m in danger of actually liking you, Dr. Dicentra.”

“I suppose I’ll have to come back on Saturday, then. You mentioned a phone, earlier? It seems a shame to wait so long before we… talk.”

Celia: “You’re a shameless flirt,” the doctor laughs. “I don’t even know your name and already you’re asking for round two?”

“But yes. I’ll give you my number before we go. You have seventy-two hours to decide you want minor modifications before it costs you more. For your… gratitude.”

Emmett: “Finally. A woman who appreciates my nobler qualities.”

“The least of which is my name, really.”

Celia: “Shame the best part of you doesn’t work anymore. I heard it’s rather enjoyable to have it sucked if you give a little nip.”

Emmett: “That’s a strange way to talk about my eyes.”

Celia: Her eyes find his face.

“Mm,” she muses, “I stand corrected. Those are gorgeous. I’d say I good do work—and I do—but that was some great starting material.”

The doctor finally rolls off of him, rising to her feet to rinse off the results of their tryst beneath the spray of the shower.

“I’ll get you that number. And the one for my friend. I think she’ll like you if you make it a habit of showing gratitude with sex.”

Then she’s gone, plucking her outfit from where it had been left on the ground on her way out the door, and just a card with a hastily scrawled name and a pair of numbers is all the memento he has from his time with the night doc.

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