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Blood & Bourbon

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Celia VI, Chapter XVI
Thugs & Snakes

“This whole thing. It’s just… it’s just sick. It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia."
Danielle Garrison

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia sees the pair have arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They look as if they are barely on time. The last attendees are already making their way inside.

Celia: “Oh look. We’re here. Mask up, Hannah. It’s showtime.”

GM: “Uh, gimme a bit to find a parking space, first.”

There’s no time. Rocco and Wright are both standing outside the cathedral doors. It looks like seconds until they close.

Celia: “No time.” Jade jerks the wheel into a handicapped space and throws it into park, then yanks the keys out of the ignition.

Let them ticket or tow her. She could use a mundane problem after the shitshow her Requiem has become.

She hauls Dani out of the car and throws her bodily over her shoulder, nudging the door shut with her heel before she takes off in a sprint, her clan’s preternatural speed turning her into a blur. Shadow obscures her face as she runs, natural darkness hiding her body, and any eyes peeking outside or down the block are strangely captivated by the large purple hat someone had drawn onto the side of a building, wondering what—

Well, it doesn’t matter what they wonder, by the time the thought finishes occurring Jade has cleared the doors and set Hannah down inside, pleased to deny the Guard a chance to slam them in her face.

Mask up, she reminds herself as they move forward. It’s showtime.

GM: Dani makes a surprised yelp as Jade hoists her up like a sack of potatoes.

The two hounds promptly seize the Toreador and her ‘ghoul’ and hold them fast as she blurs inside the cathedral, pinning their arms to their sides.

Celia: Were she less durable, being snatched out of her headlong flight might steal the breath from her lungs or leave her with a handful of broken bones and bruises. Captured by two of the Guard before she can even enter the building leaves her breathless for a different sort of reason, and this evening she’s glad for the mask wrapped so tightly against her skin.

“Good evening, Hound Agnello, Hound Wright.” Polite. Respectful. Deferential even, and not in the grudging way, the words accompanied by a dip of her head to both of them (even the baby-faced Gangrel that holds her arms to her sides, awkward though the motion is with him behind her).

GM: “Hey, turbo-racing inside church, that’s nice,” says Wright. He’s the one holding Hannah, who remains very still in the Brujah’s grip.

“Good evening, Miss Kalani,” says Rocco, who’s holding Jade, with a very mean-looking smile.

“Oh, you’re kidding! Kalani just broke the Masquerade!” exclaims Amaryllis, clearly relishing the chance to take a pot shot against Jade.

“Off with her head!” smiles Katherine Beaumont, no doubt equally relishing the chance to pounce on Veronica’s childe. “Right here in church, the gall! Really, what was she even thinking?”

“She wasn’t, obviously, the poor dear,” piles on Marguerite Defallier. “Really, Veronica, we’d expect yours to know better…”

The crowd ripples with predatory smiles and furious whispers.

Blood is scented in the air.

Celia: She wonders if, when she dies, it’ll be just her mortal life that flashes before her eyes, or if snippets of her Requiem will make the highlight reel as well. Her eyes sweep past the murder (as well they can given Beaumont’s bulk) to search the sea of sharks for a friendly-ish face.

GM: It’s a full house. The pews are packed with Kindred. All of Elysium’s regulars look as if they are there, and some non-regulars as well to boot.

Celia: Not that any of them will put their necks on the line for her. They’re not that sort. Even if they wanted to—why would they?—their own masks of cruelty or loyalty keep them firmly glued to their seats. She can hardly call on sire or grandsire to bail her out in front of the congregation.

Jade glances back toward the decidedly empty street in front of the church. Midnight on a Sunday, who do they really think she broke the Masquerade in front of? Especially with the streetlights out as they are.

Masks, though. There’s a thought.

Her eyes find Ryllie’s, lips pulling up at the corners in some amusement at the thought of the blood-bound trollop crying Masquerade breach.

Celia: “Darling, it’s dark outside, or didn’t you notice the streetlights are out? We might be able to see in pitch black, but the poor kine can’t. Hard to expose myself if I’m dancing through darkness isn’t it?” Her smile shows teeth. “Bit above your paygrade to cry foul on the Masquerade when there’s a regent to do it for you. Unless you’re implying you’re part of his krewe? But, ah, given your collar…” She trails off with a shrug.

Maybe she wouldn’t have noticed if Behemoth—er, Beaumont—hadn’t converged on her, but Jade’s eyes lock onto the form skulking behind the opera singer and the wheels in her head begin to turn.

Masks, indeed.

“Regardless,” Jade says, returning her attention to the pair of hounds, “I’d wanted to warn you privately, since so many already heard about those holes in your condom, but since you’ve denied me the opportunity… there’s a spy in your midst.”

Jade smiles winningly at the congregation.

“Hope no one has said anything particularly scandalous.”

GM: As soon as the words ‘Masquerade breach’ are out, they’re like blood in the water. All eyes within the cathedral hungrily rest upon the newest two entrants. For a moment, Jade wonders if she will be in the unenviable position of attempting to defend herself against the social onslaught. It is so much harder to prove innocence than guilt.

But this is why Jade Kalani and not Celia Flores wears the girl’s face. The Toreador’s confident smugness and assured demeanor, even manhandled as she is by the hounds, seems to give pause to the would-be shot-takers—pause enough for a second voice to interject.

“Hard indeed,” chuckles Antoine Savoy, rising from his seat. The elder Toreador is dressed tonight in a white leisure suit as he inclines his head towards the front of the cathedral. “I can attest as to Miss Kalani’s proficiency in occulto. I’m quite confident no kine saw her, and that Bishop Timotheus’ first tradition remains faithfully observed.”

“In the future, Miss Kalani, mindfulness of the hour would better facilitate your punctuality than Caine’s gifts,” rings an answering voice from the front of the cathedral.

Philip Maldonato stands behind the preacher’s pulpit, dressed for this evening in a double-breasted gray suit. Jade has rarely had cause to speak with the seneschal before, and according to Veronica, that state of affairs should suit her more than fine. The elder Cainite is a slender and exceedingly tall individual who stands around a head over most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. The Moor’s grave features could be carved from stone at Jade’s last words. Though his gaze initially meets Antoine Savoy’s, it finally turns to regard the younger Toreador.

Philip_Maldonato_Large.jpg
“Mindfulness and piety would both have minimized your disruption to the evening’s proceedings, young one. You stand within a house of God. Comport your tongue appropriately if you wish to remain within His house.”

Celia: Maybe, she reflects as Savoy himself literally rises to her defense, maybe he likes her more than she’d feared after… well, after everything. Particularly after last night.

Any relief that thought brings is short-lived when the seneschal himself addresses her. Jade bows her head, eyes on the floor in a suitably subdued manner at the reprimand.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. I apologize for the vulgarity of my statement.”

GM: The hounds release Jade and Hannah. The ‘ghoul’ masks it well enough if she’s afraid of the hounds, but still glances after her ‘domitor’.

Savoy, meanwhile, resumes his seat among the front-most pews, which also include Coco, Opal, Chastain, Accou, and Sundown. The Baron would doubtless have a place if he attended Elysium, and Gabriel Hurst enjoys one too, albeit by dint of his position than his own merit.

Jade’s sire stands behind the seneschal, cold and dark, along with the other priests—Elgin, Doriocourt, Morrow, d’Gerasene.

As ever, no recognition alights his frigid eyes.

The rows behind Savoy and his fellows include the harpies, regents, and other high-climbing ancillae. Behind them are the Natasha Prestons, Randolph Cartwrights, and Peter Lebeauxes—the Kindred at the middle of the pack. The rows behind them hold the more indolent ancillae and the neonates who’ve achieved something of worth with their Requiems—where Jade is expected to sit. The rows behind them, last of all among Kindred, are the nobodies and the nothings with nothing to their names. The ghouls sit behind these youngest of all vampires, divided into their own pecking order their masters care nothing for.

Celia: Her sire pretending not to know her? There’s a shock.

Licks who care more about preserving their delicate sensibilities over the word “condom” than a spy because a Bourbon pointed it out? Another shock. Christ, what a world they inhabit. It’s like the elders and ancillae who get their panties in a wad over being called “Ms.”

Jade nudges Hannah toward the man in the stolen mask, himself sitting at what she assumes to be the lower end of the pile of ghouls. The place where no Kindred would even bother to look because it’s so far beneath their purview.

Which, of course, makes it perfect for a spy.

She’s pleased with Hannah’s composure in the face of adversity, anyway. So far she’s been quick on the uptake. No doubt she’ll understand the role Jade intends for her by directing her toward the spy, who has a decidedly un-punchable face and thus can’t be Alan.

It’s a subtle gesture, the one she gives Hannah. A quick brush of her hand against the ghoul’s as if quite by accident, a tap, a second, a third on the center of her palm. It’s no Morse code, but it’s a signal all the same: three seats deep, that’s who he is.

Jade herself moves past the rows of ghouls and nobodies and takes the open seat next to the most indolent ancilla of them all, her favorite art thief in the whole wide world. She winks at him as she slides onto the pew beside him, then turns her eyes forward.

It’s going to be a very interesting Elysium.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Donovan delivers the evening’s sermon. The sheriff is a powerful and resonant speaker, whose dark presence seems to fill the entire cathedral. The crowd hushes as though outside under a falling snow. Though Jade’s sire speaks at length, his words are clipped and his sentences are short. It feels like there is so much more he could say, making his chill words all the more precious for their seeming scarceness.

There is perhaps no one to whom they are more precious than Jade. She catches them like falling snowflakes, yet they chill her hands and are gone forever as soon as she does.

Donovan’s sermon chiefly concerns witch-hunters and the threat they pose to the Sanctified’s holy mission. The recently ordained father’s message centers around a passage from the Rule of Golgotha:

“Each one of us is but one starving wolf, culling sheep in the dead of night; through the fellowship of lance and of chapel are we brought together to serve a higher Purpose. Remember that one wolf may be bested by a single youth, but a pack of wolves strikes fear into even the strongest of warriors.”

Communion is administered to the faithful from a bled vessel with much pomp and ritual. No expression passes the face of Jade’s sire when he lets a droplet of transubstantiated vitae fall upon her tongue.

Maldonato convenes court when mass is concluded and announces with a heavy heart that Bishop Malveaux has met final death at the hands of witch-hunters.

The bishop perished nobly in the archdiocese’s defense and destroyed a cell of witch-hunters whose perfidious designs would surely have destroyed further Kindred. The hunters’ corpses are paraded before Elysium. The exsanguinated and barely alive survivors, whose blood was used in the week’s communions, are beheaded by Donovan.

Several Kindred with grudges against Bishop Malveaux were found to worked alongside the hunters, who used and manipulated them to help bring about the bishop’s final death. Each criminal is barefoot and clad in chains and sackcloths. Donovan executes each of them by beheading: Tina Baker, Allison Eskew, Desirae Wells, and Sterling (“The Man With The Silver Smile”).

There are plenty of faces in the crowd that do not look happy. Many, also, look relieved it wasn’t their heads on the chopping block.

Camilla Doriocourt, Maldonato announces, will succeed Bishop Malveaux as bishop. Her consecration will take place next week at the hands of Cardinal Arechavaleta.

Doriocourt is also formally granted permission on Prince Vidal’s behalf to sire a new childe.

Deacon Benson, Maldonato announces, will also be ordained as a priest next week, concurrently with Bishop Doriocourt and at the new bishop’s own hands.

Elsbeth von Steinhäuser and Erwin Bornemann proudly announce that a fledgling of their clan, Kyrstin Grey, successfully discovered the location of Josua Cambridge’s illicit sire, who was apprehended by the Guard de Ville (with further help from Grey). She is likewise dressed in chains and a sackcloth as she’s paraded barefoot before Elysium. She’s a tall, thin, and green-eyed girl who looks no older than 15. Jade has never seen her before.

Josua applauds Grey with the rest of Elysium, but anger smolders in his eyes at the sight of his sire. He and Grey will both be formally released next week; a great honor for both neonates, as Prince Vidal and Cardinal Arechavaleta will both be present to lead the ceremony.

Marcel asks if he might hold “this criminal”, who is named as Julia Cammeron, aboard the Alystra pending her execution next week. Maldonato briefly considers and grants the ex-prince’s request.

Father d’Gerasene, finally, is leaving New Orleans. The Nosferatu announces he has received a vision from one of the Black Saints calling him elsewhere “upon a holy errand” to do the Dark Prophet’s work. Maldonato states the prayers of the faithful will go with him.

Celia: Jade, like the rest of the Sanctified, follows the sermon closely, says the right words at the right time, and takes communion from Father Donovan. When the formality of mass is over and court begins she makes sure to keep a discrete eye on the man with the stolen mask so that any attempt to flee is waylaid.

Her primary attention, however, remains on the court proceedings. Interesting, isn’t it, how as soon as she cries foul on the bishop’s disappearance and points toward a suspect the Guard does everything in their power to wrangle up a handful of patsies. It must be coincidence that Preston’s claim about people missing from Elysium is so neatly wrapped with a bow by the offended party.

And she should have been up there. She doesn’t forget the snarling face of the Gangrel who had ambushed her right outside perceived safety, his weight on top of her pinning her to the ground. The snide remarks of the black hound, and the way one of his goons had fondled her while she lay helpless. Or the fire that licked across her skin for daring to call Savoy “Lord.” The bite of metal in her flesh for a lie that wasn’t a lie.

Up there, executed before the rest of the city. Head stolen from her neck by her own sire’s blade. Would he have felt something for her then? Lost his frosty composure in front of the rest of the city? Or would Savoy have found a way to bail her out, and if not would he have turned her into a martyr for his cause?

She does not look away from the executions, does not shrink or cower from what might have been. What might have been is not what is. She’d freed herself. Used her own tools to get out. Assisted, yes, but not rescued.

She is no longer a damsel.

So she watches, silent and still, and any who happen to look her way might see the curl to her lip as she takes in the Hardliners’ dog and pony show. Who exactly do they think they’re fooling?

The rest of court is unsurprising in that she knows what’s coming, though Grey had implied she’d be released this week rather than next, and Benson had said the same regarding her ordainment. The cardinal is a new twist, then.

So is Josua’s sire. No doubt Grey found the bitch using the blood she’d taken from him the night Jade had walked in on them fucking, much the same as Jade herself has used such things. An interesting turn of events, and one that she wouldn’t mind getting into once she hears that the sire will be held aboard Marcel’s boat. Perhaps she’ll finally get her painting back.

Speaking of licks doing the Guard’s job for them… Jade waits for the right moment to bring the spy forward.

GM: Jade sees the “spy” get up to leave with some other ghouls mid-way through court proceedings.

Celia: She’s just picking up on all sorts of sneaks lately, isn’t she.

Jade isn’t the only lick to rise when the assorted ghouls do, who are no doubt following their domitor’s lead. She meets Hannah’s gaze as she does, giving a terse nod as her lean legs, made longer by the heels, swallow the ground. They might not serve the kine very well, but Jade has never had a problem moving quickly in stilettos. Veronica had made sure of it.

Even so, her Beast salivates at the thought of giving chase to someone fleeing before it. It’s such a rare thing that she gets to pursue, such a rare thing indeed for the predator used to “ordering in.” It sends the blood spinning through her body, propelling her across the floor toward the breather like a fox towards its hare, eagerly anticipating the rich reward of blood in its fragile, human body.

Jade approaches the spy from behind and reaches out to snag him by the collar.

GM: The nondescript-looking man has fair skin, brown hair, brown eyes, and is dressed in black slacks and a white button-up. No one runs, just walks. Jade and Hannah catch up in time to snag him by the collar before he can exit the church’s double doors. The man freezes in place, but doesn’t cause a scene. Rocco and Wright trade looks.

Rocco walks up to the trio, smiles at Jade, and whispers,

“Unhand him, Miss Kalani, if you don’t want me to kill your ghoul later.”

He gently picks up Jade’s hand to remove it from the ‘ghoul’.

Celia: Slowly, Jade uncurls her fingers. For a brief moment it just looks like the pair are holding hands. She wonders if anyone sees. What they think, if they do. What rumors will spread from this.

“I’d wondered where he’s gotten to,” she says in a whisper, her smile positively feral. “Let me know if you’re swinging by, darling, I’ll leave the window open so we can have another tussle on the floor. Bring that big piece of wood again, hm? I’ll show you how to use it.” She winks. Then she’s gone, disappearing into the night with Dani at her heels to find the hunter on her own terms.

GM: “Oh, I think you’ll see me sooner rather than later, Miss Kalani,” smiles the hound as she makes good her exit.

Hannah follows after her ‘domitor’.

Celia: She waits until the doors close behind them to sigh at Hannah, linking her arm through the ghoul’s.

“He’s such a tease, sniffing after my panties like that. Stay with your brother tonight in case he’s decided to sack up. Now, let’s find our friend. He’s got a whole five second lead.”

GM: Hannah squints ahead as she follows after Jade.

“I can’t make out much.”

Apparently her kind can’t even see in the dark.

Celia: That’s inconvenient.

GM: The Toreador, however, hears footsteps coming from behind the cathedral.

Celia: “This way,” she murmurs, pulling Dani with her.

GM: Celia not only swiftly outpaces Dani and her quarry, but she blurs ahead of him in the building’s alleyway, largely ensconced from passersby.

The masked man looks her up and down.

“Bad idea.”

Celia: “Friends nearby, right?”

GM: “Walk away and you won’t get hurt.”

Celia: Jade’s eyes take in the shadows behind him. Unlike the kine, her kind can see perfectly in the dark. How many of them are there? How many waiting just around the corner? What is he going to do to her if she doesn’t back off? Saws? Fire? Another date with four sets of handcuffs, spread open on the bed for whoever wants to use her?

Jade bites her lip, playing the girl. Wide eyes fix on his face.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to corner you. I just—I had a question.”

For just a moment there’s a flicker of uncertainty on her face. For just a moment the hunter can see the girl hiding behind the monster, the young face of someone who was stolen from her prime. He’d heard the boy inside bully her, hadn’t he? How low on the food chain must she be that she’d slunk off with barely a response? How humane must she be to back off over the threat of that boy killing her companion?

Maybe she’s just looking for a friend. It’s not like she’d called him out when she’d had the chance. Maybe she thinks he’s someone else.

GM: The masked man’s impassive facade cracks. Doubt and sympathy swims in his eyes as his features soften.

“All right, but we can’t stay here. Come on.”

Celia: Jade nods, falling into step beside him. She casts a glance over her shoulder for Hannah.

“Sorry for grabbing you back there,” she murmurs, “I, um—you caught my eye when I came in, and—” she breaks off, looking down at the ground, cheeks flushing. “Sorry, this is really stupid. Can you—one sec, please, my friend’s not used to walking in heels—”

She peers through the darkness for Hannah.

GM: The ghoul is briskly making her way up to the two, heels clicking against the ground.

A small gray bird swoops past her head.

Celia: Rocco.

Jade slides her fingers through the hunter’s, smiling at him in a decidedly friendly manner. She gives him a “work with me” sort of warning look with her eyes, squeezing his hand.

“Found you,” she says to Hannah. “You were right. He said we can ride back with him. I told him how they were gonna slam the doors in our face if we didn’t park in the street, whoops.” She giggles. Hopefully he gets it.

GM: The bird lands and transforms into Rocco.

Hannah does her best not gawk.

The man’s body immediately tenses.

The hound smiles at Jade and her new friend.

“I don’t like you, Miss Kalani. I think I am going to hurt you,” he says cheerfully.

“Why don’t you grovel a bit if you want me to reconsider?”

Celia: Jade draws up short. Her fingers stiffen in the hunter’s hand.

“Hound Agnello. You did say you’d see me soon.” She forces a smile. “You took me from right outside the Evergreen last night. Silly of me to try to run for safety now, isn’t it?”

She takes a step forward, putting herself between the two “ghouls” and Rocco.

GM: “Very silly,” Rocco agrees, still smiling.

Celia: “If I get down on my knees for you, will you leave them alone?”

GM: “Maybe.”

Celia: “Darren,” she says over her shoulder, giving the hunter a name as fake as her own, “please ensure that Hannah arrives safely to the Quarter for me. Hannah, if the good hound here detains me this evening and you don’t hear anything further…” she glances at the girl, eyes swimming with… something, “will you tell him that I’m sorry? And that I still love him.”

Jade returns her gaze to the hound. She takes another step forward, arms at her sides and slightly away from her body, palms facing him. It’s a submissive, unarmed pose.

“Your companion burned me last night. Took my arm off with a saw. I had to confess that I had lied about the leak. Just like I lied about the spy.” She makes a sound that might be a laugh. It’s bitter. Maybe even nervous. “Of course no one fell for it. I can’t win against you, can I? And I’m so very, very tired of hurting.”

She sounds tired. Beaten. Defeated, even, and all he had to do was threaten her.

“I’m sorry I lied. It was dumb. Of course no one paid it any mind.”

Jade takes another step forward. Not so close that Agnello can touch her, not yet, but enough that she can lower her voice.

“Can I remove my dress, at least? Getting blood out of it is… well, you know.”

GM: The thin-blood looks between Jade and Rocco.

She’s seen what her brother can do, when his wrath is kindled.

She sees how afraid of this vampire Jade now looks.

Her jaw sets.

“No. I’m not leaving. If you want to hurt her… you’ll have to go through me, too.”

‘Darren’ also looks between Jade and Rocco.

He looks more like he’s thinking of bolting, only the Toreador’s supernal presence still holding his heart fast.

Something odd swims on Rocco’s face.

“You know, Miss Kalani, when I was a young boy, a policeman caught me doing, I don’t remember what, something for the Mafia,” he remarks as he strolls up to Jade. “Something bad. But he thought I was poor and hungry, which I was, so he offered me a job as a janitor. Instead of arresting me. He said he’d help me become a cop too, when I was old enough. He told me how proud I could make my mother.”

He looks wistfully ahead.

“It was the kindest thing someone ever did for me.”

“It was the kindest thing I saw someone ever do.”

“So you know what I did?”

Celia: Jade thinks about arguing with Hannah. Telling her to run. To take Darren and bolt. But then Rocco moves and her eyes stay centered on him, unblinking, unwilling to look away while he stalks closer.

She thinks she knows this story.

But she shakes her head anyway, hoping that she’s wrong. Hoping that this retelling will have a different ending.

GM: The hound’s wistful gaze looks past Jade. For a moment, he doesn’t seem to see her. He doesn’t seem to see anything. He looks lost amidst the ghosts of the past, burdened by a guilt no amount of time can lift from his shoulders—and a Toreador’s manipulations can make so much heavier.

“I killed him.”

Cat-quick, Rocco whips around, seizing Jade by the throat and slamming her back-first against the cathedral’s exterior. Claws so like the Toreador’s own dig into her skin.

“And I liked him a lot more than you.”

Celia: She’d waited too long. Waited too long to hit him with the rest of the manipulation she’d planned, thinking that she wouldn’t have to, that she’d found the memory to tug at to make him feel ashamed for what he wants to do to her when he’s already won, when he’d already beaten her yesterday.

She can’t take him in a fight. She knows that. Knows Dani isn’t going to lend much help even with her borrowed speed. And who knows how long ‘Darren’ will wait before bolting.

What will the hunter do to Hannah if Jade’s charm fades from his mind, if his heart is his own once more? Tear her apart?

“Please,” she whispers, voice strangled by the hold he has on her throat. All she needs is a minute. Just a single moment to hit the hunter with goodwill for Hannah. To make him think that she’s his friend, too. To make sure that he doesn’t hurt her if Jade loses right here. She sends it toward him with her eyes locked on Rocco’s face, shrinking back from him as best she can.

“Please,” she says again, “you—you can—you can pay it forward, here, now.”

She thinks, maybe, it worked. But all she can see in front of her right now is Rocco’s snarling face, claws extended, and she knows there are rules for this sort of thing but she’s so frazzled she can’t think straight and if those two don’t get out of here right now she’s not going to be able to help them. Just go. Run. Then she’ll take her beating, let him assert his dominance, beat his chest if that’s what he really wants.

She only needs to distract him a minute so they can run.

GM: ‘Darren’ looks towards Dani. His unconcerned face, at least towards her, becomes a mask of exactly the opposite.

Rocco laughs cruelly.

“I can, Miss Kalani. I will. By punishing the enemies of our prince!”

Viciously large, knife-sized claws sprout from his other hand, then slash towards Jade’s face.

There’s a sudden crack as a second hand seizes Rocco’s and smashes it into the wall.

“I agree with what you said earlier, Hound Agnello,” says Roderick as his form blurs to a stop.

“I like that policeman a lot more than you, too.”

Rocco tugs his arm, but can’t break the Brujah’s iron grip.

He heaves a needless sigh.

“Mr. Durant, I have two hands. If you don’t let go of that one, I will use the other to beat you into torpor. Then I will kill your ghouls.”

“I’m doing you a solid, Hound Agnello,” answers Roderick.

“Has Kalani here actually done anything? You’re just going to give the Anarchs and Bourbons more ammunition to rail against the prince’s tyranny.”

“So what if they do?” says Rocco.

Celia: She’d wanted to make the joke earlier, on her way in. Something about his two brain cells rubbing together and letting his master do all the heavy lifting for him. She’d refrained. Now, though, she wonders if she was more right than she knew.

Still pinned beneath the Gangrel’s claws, Jade’s voice comes out strained.

“So the temporary satisfaction you’ll get from beating me again isn’t worth the loss of face the Hardliners will take if the Anarchs stir up enough shit about you torping their golden boy.”

GM: Guilt wars in the hound’s eyes.

Guilt at failing his prince.

“I think you had better do something for me, Miss Kalani, if you want to escape a beating,” he declares. “This hasn’t been very satisfying.”

Celia: “That thing I owe,” Jade says, “I’ll give it to you and you can hold it over Doriocourt’s head.”

GM: The hound lets go of Jade’s throat.

“Give it to me,” he smiles, holding out his hand.

He looks at Roderick. The Brujah lets go of his arm.

Celia: “It’s not done yet.”

GM: “You are going to give me something, Miss Kalani, if you want me to leave you alone,” Rocco declares cheekily.

Roderick makes a sound of disgust.

“What about her lunch money?”

Celia: Jade considers the hound for a long moment. Finally she reaches into her purse, pulls out a slip of paper, and writes down a phone number. She hands it over.

GM: Rocco effects another sigh.

“Miss Kalani, you really must give me something better than that.”

“I am feeling a bit peckish, in fact.”

“Perhaps I’ll take a drink from your ghoul.”

He turns around.

Celia: “No.”

“Not from her.”

GM: As Jade follows his gaze, she sees that ‘Darren’ is gone.

Doubtless, the arrival of a third vampire would have convinced the hunter it was high time to bolt off.

Celia: Well. Fuck.

GM: Rocco stalks up to Hannah and seizes her in his arms. She jerks and flails, eyes wide, but doesn’t scream.

Celia: “She’s got Hep C, Agnello. It might not kill you, but it’ll knock you on your ass for a while.”

“You want a drink, I’ll bleed into a damn cup for you.”

GM: Rocco makes a sound of disgust and roughly shoves Hannah face-first onto the pavement. She groans beneath him.

Roderick’s face is deathly still, but Jade can see the violent impulse in his hands. The way they ball into fists. It will take little provocation to kindle the Brujah clan’s legendary wrath.

“I don’t think I want you to give me anything, Miss Kalani,” declares the hound.

“You are too pathetic to take anything from.”

“You have nothing that I want to take.”

Celia: Jade’s lips flatten. She lets him see the hurt in her eyes. Carefully manufactured hurt, as if his words have any effect on her. She looks down. It’s a submissive sort of gesture, letting him kick her around and declare that she’s got nothing worth taking without even talking back.

She does it for them. Not for her. Alone, she’d mouth the fuck off to this asshole and tell him where to shove it. But to prevent Roderick from getting into trouble for attacking a hound, to keep Dani safe? She’ll shut up and take his anger and pretend his empty words mean anything at all to her.

Last night she might have flinched at the word “pathetic.” Since then her skin has hardened. The word does not hurt her as it had when Preston said it. Rocco means nothing to her, and so he cannot hurt her. But she can pretend. She’s so very good at it. And there’s power in being beneath notice. She hides there, knowing that this isn’t the end for them.

She’ll see him again. Somewhere when there’s no rules, when there aren’t dozens of licks nearby waiting for any excuse to rip her apart. She’ll see him again and she will pay back every insult.


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick doesn’t linger after a gray bird flies off from where Rocco once stood. The Brujah loudly proclaims Jade owes him a boon, for having “done her a solid” keeping the hound from carving her up. Footsteps are audible leaving the cathedral. Roderick joins them. Dani picks herself up.

“What a fucking asshole,” she mutters.

“What a… what a bully.

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says in response, offering the girl a hand up. She doesn’t let her eyes linger on Roderick’s departing form, instead turning from him to walk with Dani back the way they’d been heading earlier. “Yeah. It’s like that.”

“Tried to buy you time to run,” she says, giving Dani a sidelong look.

GM: “I don’t want to be someone who runs when people are in trouble.”

Celia: “I know. I just… he’d, uh, he’d rip you apart is all, and he’d be within his right to do so.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda figured he could after Stephen threw me around like a stuffed animal.”

“But he didn’t.”

Celia: “Timely interference.”

“Thought Darren might stick around to help, three on one is better odds.”

GM: “Uh, so what exactly was going on there?”

Celia: Jade glances around, as if looking for someone listening in.

She lowers her voice.

“Spy. Pretty sure.”

GM: “Oh. Good. I swiped his wallet.”

Celia: Jade beams at Dani.

“Let’s find him, then.”

GM: Dani smiles back. “Right now, though?”

“It is a school night for me.”

Celia: Which reminds her…

“Ah, you’re right, I need to head home actually. Come on, let’s get outta here. We can dig something up during the day and look tomorrow.”

GM: “Okay, sounds good,” says Dani, setting off with her.

“And can you pencil me in for a Flawless appointment sometime?”

Celia: “Of course.”

GM: “Awesome,” she smiles. “Doesn’t need to be during normal hours if you’re seeing your, ah, herd then.”

Celia: “Figured.” Jade smiles at her. “That bully, by the way, was the one who nabbed me last night.”

“And kept me from meeting with you.”

GM: “Wow. What the fuck is his problem?”

Celia: “I implied there was a security leak with the Guard. You saw them execute those licks tonight, the ones who they say killed the bishop? Yeah. Probably had nothing to do with it. Hardliners just wanted to give the city a scapegoat.”

GM: “Yeah,” Dani says quietly.

She looks a little sick at the memory.

“That was…”

She leaves it at that.

Celia: Jade only nods. She knows what Dani means. She takes her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“That’s why I’m so protective of you. And my family. I was picked up for saying the wrong thing. They were going to kill me tonight with the others.”

GM: “Oh my god.”

“This whole thing. It’s just…”

“It’s just sick.

“It’s like a scene out of Saudi Arabia.”

“Stephen warned me it would be like this.”

Celia: “It’s hard to be in this world and remain a good person. I hope you hold onto it for a long time. And that… that he can find his way back to it.”

GM: Dani gives that last statement a look, but says,

“I’m gonna head home. This makes me want to spend some time with my dad.”

“It makes me feel good about having a dad.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t push the subject. She only reminds Dani to change before she heads out and to make sure she takes the mask off. She takes the wallet off Dani’s hands but lets her take a photo of the relevant things inside if she wants (since she doesn’t have a phone it makes more sense that she takes the physical stuff).

GM: As the two arrived together in Jade’s car, they take it back to her now (possibly compromised) haven. Dani changes there, surrenders the wallet, takes the photo, and heads home for Uptown.

She hugs Celia before she takes off.

“Love you. Spend some time with your family, too. It isn’t… I can’t imagine what it’s like, to have nothing except… that.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “I’m on my way over there, to be honest. Mom said she’d wait up. Love you too, Dani. Travel safe, yeah?”

GM: “I will,” Dani smiles. “Tell her hi from me.”

Celia: “Of course.”


Monday night, 21 March 2016, AM

Celia: Veronica had taken her to Chakras once a few years ago. She knows it as a club, a tamer, more mild version of the Dungeon (if Caroline can be believed), and knows too that this is where the snakes inside the Quarter can be found. She goes as Dicentra, obscuring her face through the crafting of flesh that she has become so adept at in the past few years, with the usual black leathers pulled over that. A mask over a mask.

Dicentra has a reason to visit the Setites, doesn’t she. She’d done the work for the new one; she can say, if they ask, that it’s the reason she has come now, to call in the favor that he owes. Dicentra, too, seemed to amuse or at least arouse the lick that she seeks out now, and she searches for the woman with the poison eyes.

GM: 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 Dicentra, though, the longer she 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.

She says yes, there are ways to protect against the theft of souls. There are protections against everything

Celia: “How?”

GM: Camille smiles at the night doctor.

“That knowledge has a price.”

Celia: Knowledge always has a price.

“Name it.”

GM: “Favorss,” says Camille.

Celia: Dicentra doesn’t miss the hissed S at the end of the word “favor.” She had expected as much. She asks for a firm number. Like any Kindred, she hates surprises about owed boons.

GM: “We can start with the face underneath those supple, leather-clad curves.”

Celia: The question about her identity doesn’t faze her. People have wanted to rip off the mask since the moment she put it on.

She only hopes that this is worth it.

“Jade.”

GM: “Very interesting,” the Setite replies with another smile. “I’ll have to think of ways to utilize your unique talents.”

She continues that just like there are multiple ways to re-sculpt someone’s face, and many faces to re-sculpt them into, there are multiple ways to steal someone’s soul. Is there a particular means of attack which Dicentra is looking to defend against?

Celia: Dicentra—or Jade, as she’s been outed—asks if she’s willing to expand on that at all. “On how many ways there are to seal souls,” she clarifies.

GM: “There are obviously multiple ways to kill someone,” answers Camille, “but even using the same weapon, there are multiple ways to stab someone with a knife, multiple ways to shoot someone with a gun, and so many different knives and guns. It’s the same with means to steal souls. So it’s all a question of what you are looking to defend against.”

Celia: It’s not the sort of thing that Jade wants to own up to knowing, is it. Beneath the leathers her lips curve into a smile, letting the Setite hear the coyness in her voice—as if it’s nothing more than simple curiosity.

“Multiple ways? How fascinating. What are those?”

GM: “That knowledge isn’t free, either.”

Camille smiles knowingly.

“But then, I doubt you would be here without some idea of what you were looking for.”

Celia: Caught. She inclines her head.

“The direct consumption of the soul from one entity to another.”

GM: The knowing smile looks even more knowing at that.

“Yes. There is a defense.”

“Who do you want to protect?”

Celia: “Does the kevlar vest work differently from one person to the next?” Jade cants her head to one side. Beneath the mask Camille can see the amused flash of her eyes when they catch the light. “It seems that no matter who wears it the bullet will be stopped.”

GM: “Kevlar must be fitted to one’s body and measurements. A good fit for one person may be a poor fit for another.”

“But if you don’t care about getting the size right, it’s no concern of mine.”

“Come to the Dungeon in a few nights.” The Setite’s tongue dabs her lips.

It doesn’t look forked.

“Bring the person you want to defend, or if they’re Kindred, a vitae sample connected to them. The stronger the sympathetic connection, the more effective the protection will be.”

Celia: That causes her some hesitation.

“Will it not work right if you don’t know?”

GM: “As I said. Kevlar without a body measurement. It can still work, for someone it’s too big or small for. It’s just less effective.”

Celia: “How much less effective?”

GM: “How much less effective is improperly fitting Kevlar? It depends who’s wearing it and how improper the fit is.”

Celia: There’s no delicate way to phrase it. Jade says, as best she can, that she’s concerned the identity of the Kindred in question will result in concern on Camille’s end. Another minor concern is that others will find out what she has done and who for.

GM: Camille shrugs. “Kevlar doesn’t care about privacy. If it’s too big, or too small, it won’t be as useful. It’s your choice if that potential trade-off is worth it or not.”

Celia: Silence stretches between them.

“I’ll need to think further on that,” she finally says. “I have the sample you need now, though.”

GM: “So much the better. You can stop by the Dungeon sooner.”

Celia: “Will they know what I’ve done? Once this is finished. Will they feel it?”

GM: “No.”

Celia: “Will you tell me anything else about it? What it entails? What I need to prepare myself for? How it works?”

GM: Camille faintly smirks.

“Would Dicentra like to tell me how she alters flesh?”

Celia: Jade shakes her head. “I don’t want to steal the recipe. I only want to know how it all comes together.”

GM: The smirk stays in place.

“I don’t want to steal the recipe, either. I just want to know how it all comes together. Surely you’ll satisfy my curiosity.”

Celia: “That isn’t what I meant,” she says with an effected sigh. “I only want to know what I’m walking into. But I won’t press the matter further.”

There’s a long moment of silence. Doubts surface within her, words that everyone knows: all knowledge comes with a price. All power, too. She’d traded herself once for power, had traded her life to protect her mother. How could she do no less for him?

“Will I need to die for this to work?” A quiet question, mind already working through the affairs she will need to settle.

GM: There’s another smirk.

“I’d hardly expect any Kindred to be so self-sacrificing.”

Celia: She shouldn’t be this relieved, should she, that she won’t need to give up the rest of her Requiem for him.

“And once they’re protected, what happens when they die?”

GM: “Their soul passes through the Gates of Guinee, like any other, and eventually reaches the deep waters.”

Celia: Guinee. She’s not as versed in African mythologies as she is many others, but the word itself, she knows, is connected to voodoo. No wonder Pete had directed her to the Baron’s people when she’d asked about soul magic; no doubt they would be able to answer her questions. Whether or not they would, though, is a different matter.

Gates, though. Like the gates to the underworld. Almost every mythology and religion has them. She’d spoken of them to Bornemann just the other night when he’d grudgingly given her tiny tidbits of information about demons.

“The gates exist to separate the realms. They stand between the precipice of death and the afterlife. Ancient Mesopotamians had seven of them. To keep bad things inside the City of Dust, they said. The Greeks and Romans had gatekeepers. Cerberus. Half-breeds. Monsters meant to frighten. Ancient Egyptians believed in a series of gates and tests to reach the Field of Reeds. Zoroastrianism has the bridge. Even Christians have the pearly white before you reach Heaven.”

Jade pauses, considering. She’d seen a ghost come back. But asks. Because she has to be sure.

“Is the soul stuck there? Can it be brought back?”

GM: “The ancestors’ souls regularly leave Guinee. The barriers between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead are thin in this city. Any medium can communicate with a departed soul. Any mambo, houngan, or follower of les invisibles can offer themselves as a cheval for the departed soul to ride.”

Celia: “Lands of the dead. The Shadowlands, you mean. Is that where a Kindred’s soul goes when we die, as well?”

GM: “You ask a complex question with an even more complex answer. Kindred souls are not as kine souls. But the simplified answer is, essentially, yes.”

Celia: “And the complex answer?”

GM: A smile.

“That’s not free, either.”

Celia: A faint smile, not that anyone can see beneath the leather.

“No,” she agrees, “I had not thought it would be. I will pay for the answers you provide me.” No doubt Camille will find herself vastly ahead when this exchange is over.

“The Sanctified say that we will burn in Hell for our sin. Because we are damned by God. Is that your ‘deep waters,’ Hell?”

GM: “People are infinitely complex, yet the Sanctified would posit two or three afterlives into which they can be neatly and infallibly sorted.”

“The deep waters are the deeper realms of Guinee, where all souls eventually go. They are cold and damp. Souls there complain often of hunger. But they are no more places of eternal torment or eternal reward than the world we inhabit.”

Celia: “A different sort of Hell, perhaps. Another word for the same concept.” A pause, then, “Do they come back from there at all? A Tremere told me that Hell is a one way trip. That though there are legends surrounding the idea of coming back, but that’s all they are. Legends. If this deep water follows the same idea, then once a soul reaches the waters there is no return?”

GM: Camille shrugs. “As much a hell as this life is. It’s not out to get you. It’s not out to pamper you. It simply is.”

“Souls come and go from Guinee’s deep waters regularly. There’s ample evidence it’s real.”

“I’ve seen no evidence that Hell is anything more than a fable.”

Celia: The words of Camille and the words of Bornemann contradict each other. But she had said the same thing to the Tremere inside the chantry, citing lack of evidence, and been all but scoffed at for it.

“Perhaps this is outside your wheelhouse,” she hedges, tired of trying to mince words, “the Tremere and I had discussed the origins of demons. He said Hell. You would say where, then?”

GM: “The souls of the dead can wield great powers, wear monstrous countenances, and engage in terrible cruelties, if that’s the kind of person their experiences have made them.”

“I’ve seen no proof that Christian demons are a distinct order of entity from such souls.”

Celia: There’s a longer pause at that.

“You would say that demons are just… tortured souls.” She looks to Camille for confirmation. “That would make sense, then, why both are repelled by salt.”

GM: “I would.”

Celia: They’ve gotten off topic and she isn’t sure what to make of this conflicting information. She has seen ghosts, but she has not seen demons (except that thing in her mind that night in the sky, but perhaps that wasn’t a demon after all?), and there are plenty of things in this world that appear as something other than what they are, that people believe are different than their true self.

She should know.

Finally, Jade does something that no lick likes to do: she tells the truth.

“I believe that the soul I am interested in protecting is in danger. Should they die, I wish to bring them back to a body.” Jade fixes her eyes on the Setite, unflinching.

“Is it possible? If the Kindred meets final death and their soul is protected, is it possible to locate the soul in Guinee and summon it back into a body?”

A brief pause follows the bald question, and Jade softens her voice as she continues.

“You brought back Emmett. He was dead. In the Shadowlands. You brought him back and he’s a lick now. But he was human before he died.”

GM: “That answer isn’t free, either.”

Celia: Her heart threatens to do that thing it sometimes does. If the answer were “no,” she’d just say, wouldn’t she? That it’s different because he was mortal?

“I’ll pay.” No hesitation.

It has to be possible. Bornemann only didn’t know because he’d never looked, never done the actual legwork, just experimented behind the safety of the walls in the little room inside the chantry and read what other people discovered, as if that’s the only way to do things. He’d never gotten his hands dirty. He took the book learning route like everyone else.

But Jade is used to getting her hands dirty. She’s been doing it since her Embrace. Roderick might scoff at her online degree but she’d ripped apart more bodies than any med student she knows, has experimented and altered flesh and sculpted things to find out the “why” rather than relying on what she read in some book. She’s had blood and muscle and viscera beneath her pretty nails because she can go further than the researches because she doesn’t have to adhere to ethics boards and morality and the laws of the land. Like the Nazi soldiers, or the Japanese during WWII. Their findings had been thrown out, sure, lack of proper procedure. But she’s not careless about it, like them. She doesn’t make those same mistakes.

It’s like she’d said to North: her work is flawless.

GM: “Emmett only died once,” answers Camille, “to pass the Gates of Guinee. I didn’t actually bring him back. I just turned his death into another type of death, and imbued him with the divine power stolen from Damballah’s heart. What the Sanctified would term the Curse of Caine.”

“A Kindred who meets final death has died twice. Their soul returns to the deep waters, for that is where all souls go, but I know of none that have returned to the world of the living.”

“Maybe the Ghede think two deaths is enough.”

Celia: She was wrong.

She was wrong, because Camille has told her no. She has said it in flowery language, has dressed it up in makeup and heels, but the meaning is very clear: final death is final.

She deflates.

“You said that they come back,” she presses, grasping for a sliver of hope. “The souls can come back from Guinee, even from the deep water. Mambos offer their body to be ridden. So the soul can come back, it just can’t stay. The veil is thin here. It could be thinner elsewhere? Somewhere that they could come back? Or… what if someone went into the deep waters to fetch them out, rather than trying to call them from afar?”

GM: Camille smiles.

“You care about them a lot to be grasping at straws that thin.”

Celia: How can she explain that he is the center of her universe? That without him she is nothing, no one, just a physical body with no soul of her own? How can she say she will move mountains and journey into Hell itself to get him back if that is where they go, because even though Camille and Bornemann think it is impossible to bring someone back the myths of religions say otherwise? Odysseus went into the Underworld and returned. Aeneas went into the Underworld and returned. Lazarus was brought back to life by Christ, Dorcus and Eutychus by his followers. Osiris was torn into twelve pieces and his lover recovered the pieces, his child found the spell that would put him back together again.

What is she, if not his lover and childe both?

She cannot say that she loves him. Kindred do not love. Not like she does. It is her curse and blessing both, hers alone to bear. She only nods.

“Is it possible? Just because you haven’t heard of anyone specifically… is it still possible? A lick’s soul riding a mambo. A lick traveling into the deep water to bring them out.”

GM: Camille gives her an amused smile.

“Kindred have already died once, gone through the Gates of Guinee once, and returned from the lands of the dead once.”

“You paid for what I know. That’s what I know. There’s no one who’s broken the rules twice.”

Celia: It’s not the answer she wants.

Once more, the wind has gone from her sails. She is glad for the mask that obscures her visage. Glad that Camille cannot see the despondent look that sweeps across her face.

“And there’s no one else who might know more?”

GM: “Nobody I know.”

Celia: That’s it, then. Dead end. Licks don’t come back from the dead. That’s why they call it final, isn’t it?

She’d hoped that this, too, would be an area where Camille and Bornemann differed.

“This protection,” she finally says, the words themselves an effort. “It’s not going to turn the person human or make them weaker or more vulnerable to final death? There’s no drawback for the person who receives it? No price they have to pay?”

GM: “Of course not,” says Camille. “That would rather defeat the point of any protection, wouldn’t it?”

Celia: “And if someone attempts to consume their soul, the soul won’t be destroyed? It will go to Guinee?”

GM: “Correct,” says Camilla. “The one who consumes the soul won’t get anything except a full meal—of vitae—for their trouble.”

Celia: “I have the sample already,” she says again, “can we do it tonight?”

GM: Camille smiles.

“No.”

Celia: “I have another question. Unrelated.”

GM: Camille seems always happy to make deals.

Celia: Jade tells her about Marcel.

The casino boat prince has a playmate that he claims was attacked by Setites. She has been torpored and will not rise through the usual methods. He has promised Jade a significant talisman if she can lift her from torpor. She has plans for him. Future plans, that will be benefit from this gesture of goodwill if she can do this thing for him. If she is able to lift Marie from torpor and pull off these plans, she believes the throne will be weakened and leave Lord Savoy in a more powerful position. Should he take over, there is no reason that Camille’s clan will continue to be actively hunted.

“Can you help?”

GM: Camille listens to that, then asks simply,

“What’s in it for me?”

Celia: “Luck,” she says simply. “The talisman provides good luck. I have experienced it firsthand. I had intended to put it inside a mortal vessel and could arrange feeding for you, as drinking the mortal’s blood will transfer the luck. But it may be easier just to put it into a talisman. When you carry it, you get good luck. Things go your way. Cars will swerve around you in traffic. Bullets will whizz right past your head, or ricochet back at your attackers. You will win the games you play.”

GM: “How useful-sounding. No catches, side effects, restrictions?”

Celia: That information isn’t free, she wants to say.

“Superstitions that affect luck will affect the user. Salt. Ladders. Broken mirrors. Black cats. The talismans also have a habit of being lost after a while.”

A fanged smile from beneath the mask.

“I would offer to craft it into or onto you. Less chance of it walking away, I’d think.”

GM: “Mmm. I’ll think it over,” says the Setite.

Celia: I’ll think it over. Familiar words. The same she’d said to Camille when the Setite had asked about the soul Jade wants to protect.

For long moments she is silent.

She doesn’t see the whole picture. She knows that she doesn’t have all the pieces. But she remembers the Ventrue’s words about the Dungeon, remembers her own possibly wild theory that he serves the thing resting beneath the Dungeon, the thing that Vidal defeated twice. She knows he has no loyalty to the prince. And she knows that Savoy, too, wants to get rid of Vidal. He’d told her they’re not working together. But it could have been a lie, couldn’t it? Because she doesn’t need to know, and how often had Pete and others told her that licks only share what others need to know? Would it have benefitted him at all to tell her if he and his sire were working together? Or did he rightly assume that she would find a way to jeopardize it?

And that thing in his mind, the monstrous scenes she had seen… that’s beneath the Dungeon, isn’t it? And the Dungeon is here, in Savoy’s territory, and that is where Camille wants to take her, to that twisted hellscape of pleasure and pain and deviant behavior.

He’d told her not to trust Savoy.

And Savoy had told her not to trust the Setites.

But Caroline had told her that he’d arranged for her to be taken to the Dungeon. Because they were allies? Or because he knew they’d kill her?

It might be a mistake. Or it might be a boon.

Indecision wars within her.

She’s too trusting. She knows that. She overshares. She knows. Just look at what had happened with her mother. Look at her conversation with Roderick. Look at… god, anything. Is this just another mistake? Another episode where she’ll wish she had kept quiet instead of blurting her secrets to the world?

How will Camille use it against her, if she says? Or how will she assist, if her theories and thoughts and plans are true?

Camille thinks he can’t come back. Bornemann thinks he can’t come back. But eternity in the deep waters is better than his soul being consumed and destroyed, isn’t it? The ability to maybe someday reach him, to find someone who knows more, who has been further… there are other supernaturals in this world, others who might have better answers, other licks who are more learned than those in this city. She can find them. Can find her own way to him should the worst come to pass.

She has to make sure that he survives first.

“You asked earlier,” she finally says, “who it is.” Another pause. Then, “the sheriff.”

GM: Camille makes a tsk-tsking noise with her tongue.

“And what does a good little Top Shelf Bourbon care about the big bad sheriff losing his soul, mmm?”

Celia: It’s not what she says. It’s how she says it. Jade knows that she had taken a gamble and she had lost, and she begins to question everything she thought she knew. She was wrong.

But she smiles. Because her will is stronger than this snake’s, and she will not be denied what she came for.

The occlusion of the truth comes naturally to Jade, and combined with her charm, well, who can resist? It seeps out of her, drifting like a mist from her very pores to ensnare Camille in its grasp. Then laughter, light and airy, dismissing the very absurd notion that Jade cares one whit for the sheriff. He’s Vidal’s number three man and Jade is the good little Top Shelf Bourbon that Camille just said; why on earth would she want to protect him?

“I’m in love with him,” she says, with a tilt of her head and a smile half again as wicked as she is. Her tone doesn’t give it away. Not until she follows it up, pausing just long enough, with a derision-dipped, ”Obviously.”

She giggles.

Nothing but a joke. And Camille almost thought she was serious.

How silly.

GM: The Setite looks at Jade.

A moment passes.

What will Camille do if this doesn’t work?

This is her home territory. She has servants here. Maybe there’s other Setites here. Maybe they won’t let Jade leave.

Maybe they’ll still send her to the Dungeon. As a plaything.

Maybe they’ll do who only knows what.

Can Jade take them?

Her own words echo in her head.

The sheriff.

Stupid, whispers a bald man.

The Setite looks at Jade.

“Funny.”

Her lips quirk.

“Run along, now. Show up in something sexy for the club.”

Celia: Jade winks. She thanks Camille for her time and promises to do just that.

View
Celia VI, Chapter XV
Masks & Lies

“You’re lying to him and treating him like a child.”
Danielle Garrison


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Bourbon Heat. It fits tonight, and despite the odd hour—later than she would have been, which only ups her odds—and odd day she pulls into a decent crowd. The Sunday night specials must be doing their fair share of work to attract the breathers, and the music spilling out into the streets is nothing but a siren song to those who wish to spend their Sunday partying rather than getting ready for work in the morning. With more than half the population of the Quarter as tourists, there are plenty of kine for her to feed from that don’t feel the pull of the nine-to-five.

Celia joins the kine, cloaking herself in shadow and mystery, and looks for Dani in the crowd even as she searches for a suitable mark. Not just a vessel, no, but someone else who will serve her purpose this evening. Another mark who will be more than just blood. Luck dances through her veins; she knows, this evening at least, that she will find exactly what she’s looking for.

GM: Dani meets her there after texting her along the way. Roderick’s sister is dressed up for a night out in a silk blouse, tight pants, heels, and dangle earrings. Sexy but not trashy.

“Hi, Celia!” she exclaims, smiling widely as she hugs her brother’s girlfriend.

“It feels like forever since I’ve seen you!”

Celia: Who had she dressed up for, Celia wonders, the lick or the breathers? She has a feeling she knows and she is unsurprised. She, too, feels the pull.

“Hello, darling,” Celia murmurs into the shell of her ear, breathing in the scent of perfume, blood, excitement. Her heart goes pitter-patter in its little cage of bone and tissue, and Celia’s echoes the sentiments. Music pounds in her ears, demanding that she move her body accordingly. So she does, pulling Dani close to her so that their hips align, then using a hand at the small of her back to guide her in a series of elegant moves that end with Dani dipped, long line of her throat exposed. Flashy for a nightclub, but Celia manages to make it look effortless, to make it look as if the music had demanded such a display. Then Celia pulls Dani back in, nuzzling the neck of her lover’s little sister.

She whispers an apology for last night. Trouble, she says, and leaves it at that, content to spend a moment in the arms of someone who adores her.

GM: Dani laughs as Celia pulls her into the dance and matches her pace. Dani isn’t bad on her feet at all, but she can’t match the Toreador’s same easy grace. Music pounds in the pair’s ears as lights flash over their bodies. The smell of sweat, perfume, and tightly packed bodies is omnipresent. So many people in this club, Celia is sure, want to be young forever. To dance and drink and party their nights away over an unending eternity of earthly pleasures.

Only two of them get that wish.

Dani tries to say something as a blue light pulses over her bared throat, but it’s almost inaudible on the dance floor.

Celia: That’s okay, Celia probably doesn’t much care about it anyway. Right now she doesn’t want to talk. She’s had enough talking, enough explaining, enough being told what to do and baring her soul. Right now she wants to feel. To dance. To feed.

She twirls Dani around again, then spins the same way until her back hits Dani’s chest and her butt finds the cradle between her hips, and she shimmies for everything she’s worth when the tempo hits its peak with the thin-blood’s arms around her.

GM: Dani says something again. Celia probably cares just as little. Dani rolls with it, probably aware she can’t be heard, and just dances. She lets Celia lead. They lose themselves in the lights, the music, the undulating sway of bodies, the rhythm pulsing through the crowd. Would someone even notice if Celia fed on them here? That’s what Dani did. Celia sure noticed.

This time, though, Dani doesn’t sink her small fangs into the true-blood’s neck. This time, they are something other than (attempted) predator and prey to each other.

This time, they just dance like 20-something girls on a fun night out.

Celia: It might be important. Celia will ask her later, but no doubt she’ll forget or say it doesn’t matter. It happens. Celia has forgotten plenty of things, too. Always at the worst time.

This thought flees her mind as well, lost to the loud music and the high she rides from everything that has happened this evening. For the first time in a long time, she’s free. Her mother is safe. Lucy is safe. Emily is safe-ish. She’s decided to cut Roderick loose after this last task, and she has… a new sister. Two, if she’s not mistaken, once more spinning with Dani on the floor. She giggles, the sound lost to the strum of the bass as the music throbs overhead. It’s in her bones, in her heart, in her very soul, demanding that she move, twist, bob, weave.

It animates her like nothing else ever has. She comes alive beneath the colored lights in the midst of the throng of sweating, drinking kine. She’s the flame to the moths, a shining jewel in the center of the crowd.

She’s dazzling. Literally. The luck ignites her from the inside out, dancing across her skin and through her hair and down her legs just as she dances upon the club floor. It flutters out of her with every giggle, every stray glance, every “accidental” touch, drawing these kine further into the adoring goddess that has so humbly graced them with her presence. It lights up her brain, connecting neurons and pathways and creating a plan, the plan, to handle Randy’s disappearance.

And it starts here, right now, with Dani.

Celia casts her eye through the crowd for a likely target.

And oh, how she dazzles. A flame amidst the moths, beckoning them ever closer with stray glances and accidental touches. She uses Dani like a prop, letting her hands linger on her stomach just shy of the swell of her breasts, blowing warm air across her neck as she spins close to tease not only the girl but the boys looking as well, the boys who think, I know that face, but can’t remember where, only now that they’ve seen it they know that they want it, want her, want both of them.

The huntress has her pick of the litter; Luck’s hands guide her eyes toward a particular specimen, tall with broad shoulders and eyes that belong on a face ten years younger. A boy’s eyes. Innocent. Eager. Apprehensive even, when the huntress and her disciple traipse toward him under the guise of the crowd pushing them together. He is not so handsome that he thought to win her affection, but the doctor and esthetician inside agree that beauty, as her lover said, is only skin deep.

How fortunate for her that she can mold this one like putty.

The rest of him is right. His size, like his twin, dwarfs her. The heat of his large hands cradle her when she moves close. His chest is the perfect height for her to rest her cheek, just as she has so many times before. She sighs his name into his shirt, the two syllables lost like so many other this evening, and kisses his neck with her lips.

She doesn’t need to speak. Just promise, with eyes and smile and body, a good time if he follows.

So he does.

They always do.

GM: Luck guides Celia’s path… a bit of luck. The guy looks a bit like Randy. Tall and broad and looks as if he spends time at the gym. Tan skin. Short brown hair. Designer stubble beard. A different man with the same general description.

It’s the eyes that are the most different. Brown rather than rather than that seemingly shifting blue and green and hazel. None of the puppydog trust and devotion. The helpless, head over heels infatuation. The kind that made him spend seven years in a ‘relationship’ with a girl who never got around to physically consummating it, but were never so cruel as to take what he wanted by force, like his brother no doubt would have. The eyes of this random partying stranger are a hollow substitute for the real thing.

Then again, so was Randy.

Is a hollow substitute of a hollow substitute actually the truest one she could find?

The boy, meanwhile, laughs when Celia kisses him. He smiles and takes her arm, but unusually doesn’t reciprocate the kiss. He exclaims something that’s lost over the music’s din, then points towards the bar, where it’s marginally quieter.

“Oh my god, you’re Celia Flores!” he gushes when they get there. “I’m gay, sorry. But I love your makeup videos! I’ve been following your MeVid channel for like a year!”

Celia: Gay. Of course he is. On occasion she’d even wondered if Randy was. Strung along for years—who lets a girl do that to them?

But she smiles, pleased that he’s a fan, and takes the out he gives her. The mask laughs, cheeks reddening beneath the cool light from overhead, and her eyes dart away in an almost-nervous fashion before she looks back to him. The embarrassment is clear on her face.

“Sorry! I thought you were someone else, didn’t mean to push myself on you like that. The dark and the crowd—” she waves a hand over her shoulder to indicate the packed floor.

GM: “No, no, it’s okay!” laughs the boy. “I mean, nightclub, what do you expect, right?”

“So what are you doing here if you’re gay?” asks Dani with some amusement, having followed Celia back to the bar.

The bartender has a vaguely nonplussed look when he sees Dani sit down.

“I’m here with my boyfriend,” the boy answers. “Connor’s bi. He’s just tired of going to gay clubs all the time.”

“That’s nice of you to do for him,” smiles Dani.

“Wellll he’s gonna suck me off,” winks the boy, then turns back to Celia.

“Can I get you a drink? All my girlfriends love your videos!”

Celia: Celia laughs again, delighted at the offer. And the turn of events. Two for one, bi boyfriend? She can make that work.

She can make that work all night.

“I was just about to offer to buy you one for the mistaken identity.” She lifts a hand at the bartender. “What’re you having? And wave Connor over, I’ll get him one too. And you, Rach.” A nod to Dani.

GM: “Okay, I’ll get you one and you get me one,” smiles the boy. “I’ll have an Agent Orange Explosion. Hey! Connor!”

He waves in his boyfriend’s general direction, then when no one comes over, he places the girls’ orders, gets up, and tells them to save his seat.

“Watch the drinks here,” Dani mutters, not looking away from the bartender as he gets them ready.

Celia: Celia leans in close, murmuring to Dani that she has nothing to fear while Celia is here with her. She won’t let anything happen to her. But she, too, keeps an eye on the drinks as they’re being made after she orders—with quite a bit more subtlety than her friend.

She asks Dani in an undertone if she’ll be okay handling Connor by herself. And mentions that Stephen hates the idea of her “picking up guys at bars,” with a bit of an eye roll and “what can you do” expression.

GM: Dani smiles at Celia’s initial words.

She looks unsure how to answer the question for a moment.

“Um. I kinda don’t want to have sex. I can just feed on him?”

Celia: “Just feed,” she agrees, “and he’ll think he got lucky. You saw it with Alana.”

GM: “Okay. But you’ll stay close?”

The thin-blood sounds like she thinks mere kine could rape her.

Maybe they well could.

Celia: “I was going to take him back to the spa.” She doesn’t mention her intended murder. “I owe your brother,” she tacks on in a lower voice, “so I need to bleed him a little more than what I can safely do here.” It’s a ready excuse. True, even.

Boyfriend is a loose end, though.

“Come with. Flirt a little with the boyfriend on the way. Play with your hair. Laugh at his lame jokes.”

GM: “Okay,” nods Dani. “And we can feed on them at the spa?”

“And what do you mean you owe Stephen?”

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia says to the first question. Then, lowering her gaze for half a second, she debates the merits of turning Dani against her brother again. It’s an easy thing to do, isn’t it? Just tell the truth. She’s gotten so good at that with all of his corrections lately.

“I was injured on Friday. He told me I had to pay it back when we woke up on Saturday and I lost control.”

“Didn’t want to reward bad behavior.” A laugh. Dismissive. But how ugly that tale can get if she expands even slightly.

Not yet, though. Not just yet.

GM: “Oh. So had he loaned you blood or something?” asks Dani.

Celia: “Mm, something like that.”

GM: “Okay, I guess that’s fair.”

Celia: Perhaps. If he hadn’t been the one to wound her in the first place. But she smiles all the same.

GM: “I… didn’t mention this earlier, but I gave your mom some blood, a little while ago. She was really hungry and she’s done so much for me.”

Celia: “Usually that’s a fair trade,” Celia acknowledges. She’s given other halfbloods a hit before. Standard payment. “I don’t think yours sustains her the same. Speaking of.”

Celia turns to fix the girl with a very serious look.

“I found your sire.”

GM: “No, she thought I tasted bad and didn’t ask ag-”

Dani’s eyes widen.

“What?!”

Celia: “Not so loud, Dani.”

“He’s being delivered to me tonight.”

GM: The bartender glares in Dani’s direction as she raises her voice.

Dani doesn’t even look back at him. She has eyes only for Celia as she lowers her voice. Her breath is hitched.

“To Flawless?”

“Who is it?”

“Why did they do this to me?”

Celia: “I don’t know yet, but that’s what I’ll discover tonight. I wanted to keep you in the loop. I know you’ve had a lot of choices ripped away.”

GM: Dani’s knuckles are white as she clutches her newly-arrived drink. Her cheeks are turning red.

“I want to be there, Celia. I want to see him. I want to ask him, to his face. I want to ask him why. I want…”

“I want justice.

Celia: Celia understands the desire all too well. She nods slowly.

“I mentioned it to your brother last night. He said he’d like to meet him first, make sure it’s safe.” She looks away, then back at Dani, touching the side of her own glass as if the act gives her courage. “The guy dropping him off is trouble. I can hold him for tomorrow.”

GM: Dani still grips her glass, but doesn’t take a drink yet. She looks at Celia the whole time.

“So that’s it. Flawless, tomorrow. That’s when I can talk to him.”

Celia: She hadn’t thought Dani would be so accepting of the offer. She nods again.

“Yes.” A pause, then even lower, “don’t tell him I told you already, okay?”

GM: Dani frowns.

“Why not?”

Celia: “I don’t want him to get the wrong idea. We’re… have you seen him since the other night?” The lift of her brows implies the park.

GM: “Yes. And what do you mean by ‘wrong idea’? He obviously wants to catch the guy who did this to me as much as we do.”

Celia: “When did you see him?”

GM: “Last night. What does that matter?”

Celia: “He didn’t seem off to you?” Celia presses.

GM: “Celia’s, what’s going on, and why don’t you want me to tell him this?”

Celia: “We’re in the middle of a fight,” Celia finally says. She looks away. “It’s probably my fault. But he told me he wanted to meet the guy before you and I don’t want him to think I’m disobeying. So can you just…” she looks back to Dani, gesturing between the two of them, “keep it between us, please?”

GM: “It’s not up to him if he wants to meet the guy first,” Dani says crossly. “This is about ME. What he did to ME.”

Celia: Celia the liar winces. “I know.”

GM: “And yeah, I can tell you’re in a fight, considering he also asked me some similar stuff.”

Celia: “About me?”

GM: “He asked me not to share what we talked about until the fight between you guys is resolved.”

Celia: “Is it… is it bad?” Celia asks in a small voice.

GM: Dani squeezes her hand.

“Celia, just tell the truth and it’ll be okay.”

Celia: “About what? I did! I did and he…” Moisture gathers in the corners of her eyes. “He hates me. He hates me. God, Dani, I fucked up, I fucked it all up, I’m so fucking stupid—”

She presses a hand to her face.

GM: Dani quickly hugs her.

“You’re not stupid, and he doesn’t hate you! He just hates the things that have come between you. But he loves you. He loves you and he wants your relationship to work.”

Dani pulls back after a moment.

“Just be honest. Just tell the truth, all of it. No more drama. No more lies, no more things unsaid. Just put out everything on the table and decide together what you want to do from there. Okay? It’ll be fine.”

Celia: “Did he say that?” Celia asks in a voice reminiscent of a child asking if Santa is real.

GM: “Yes, he did,” Dani nods.

“He also said, ‘The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and fear.’

Celia: There’s little enough space for Dani to breathe after that with Celia clinging to her as she does, arms thrown around her and face buried against her neck.

GM: Dani keeps hugging her and runs her hands along Celia’s back.

“I’m going to text him that you told me about my sire. I’m also going to tell him off for wanting to talk to him first. I think less drama and more honesty is the answer here.”

Celia: “You don’t think bringing that up is more drama?”

GM: “Like I said, and like he said, I think we should all just be honest with each other.”

Celia: Maybe she’s right.

Still, Celia has the feeling she’s landed in the center of an even worse storm.

“Dani?” she asks after a quiet moment, pulling away from the girl. “What does… what does that quote mean, exactly? I mean I get the gist, but for he and I..?”

GM: Dani’s answer to that question is interrupted when the boy returns. He’s accompanied by another young man with dark skin, short hair, and a clean-shaven face. He’s the taller of the two and dressed in an unbuttoned white button-up and black jeans.

“Sorry we took so long, ladies,” smiles Connor. He plants a hand on Celia’s and Dani’s shoulders and grins between them. “We’d have hurried back if I knew how hot you were.”

“Oh, you!” laughs the boy, stroking Connor’s back.

Celia: “Smooth,” smirks Celia, instantly moving from one personae to another. She offers almost-Randy (had he introduced himself?) his drink, but holds the second out of Connor’s reach.

“Pop quiz, darling. Who’s hotter?”

GM: “Oh, you’re way hotter than me,” Connor grins as he plops down on a nearby seat with his boyfriend.

Celia: “Mm, almost a party foul, you’re supposed to say your boyfriend. But I’ll allow it.” She offers him the drink.

GM: Connor raises it in almost-toast and drinks.

“I thought you were asking which of us,” Dani remarks with some amusement.

The boy giggles and sips his drink. “It was a good save.”

Celia: “That’s the trap,” Celia says, slinging an arm around Dani’s shoulders. “Watch him sweat while he tries to decide, then hand the drink over to his poor, forgotten boyfriend who dragged himself all the way to the Quarter from… where, again?”

GM: Dani giggles next and snuggles against Celia.

“Well, smarter answer, that you’re hotter than him.”

“All the way from the Quarter,” smirks Connor. “We live here.”

He and his boyfriend look Celia and Dani up and down.

“You two together?” the boyfriend asks slyly.

Celia: Locals. That’s messy, isn’t it. Perhaps Lady Luck has other plans for her this evening.

“We’re testing the waters,” Celia says, just as slyly. “My boyfriend and I split a few weeks back, so I thought I’d see what the other side has to offer.”

GM: Lady Luck already brought her a man in Randy’s likeness.

The boyfriend giggles and sips his drink.

“She’s a bluuuushing!”

Dani is blushing.

Celia: No doubt Dani’s brother would react poorly if she were to try anything with the girl. Not that she isn’t still tempted. She nuzzles Dani’s neck, nipping at the lobe of her ear.

“She’s shy,” Celia tells the boys. “Too many eyes on her in a place like this.”

GM: “How ’bout we go someplace with less eyes?” asks Connor, not missing a beat.

Celia: Those are the magic words.

Celia smiles at the pair and rises to her feet.

GM: Everyone else takes final pulls of their drinks and gets up.

“I’m Rachel. What’s your name?” Dani asks the boyfriend.

“Ryan,” he answers as the four make their way out of the club.

Celia: “What do you do, Ryan? And you, Smooth Talker,” she adds to Connor, winding her fingers through Dani’s so the kid doesn’t get any ideas.

GM: “Usually guys, though I’m okay with girls if there’s also a guy, too,” Ryan answers breezily.

Connor smirks. “We’re in college. Xavier.”

Celia: That young? Celia glances them over again.

“Studying what?”

GM: They look old enough to be legally drinking, though bars and clubs in the Quarter are notoriously lax about checking IDs.

“Well I’m doing engineering, but Ryan’s trying to get by on Fine Arts.”

“Ouch,” says Dani.

Celia: Celia smiles.

“What’s your medium?”

GM: “Theater,” he says. “I wanted to be a movie star when I was a kid, but ha ha, good luck making it in Hollywood today. But I knew I wanted to do acting and there’s less bullshit in theater. It’s just acting without any other bullshit, you know?”

“Purer.”

Celia: “Difficult,” Celia agrees with a nod, “unless you know someone.”

Celia knows someone. The right someone, too. She gives the kid another once-over, forcing herself to look past his resemblance to Randy.

GM: He’s shorter than Randy is, and wearing tight pants she has a hard time seeing Randy in. Perhaps also makeup too, if he follows her videos. It’s hard to see Randy wearing makeup.

“Well I mean that’s everything, right?” shrugs Connor.

“Yeah, but harder in some places,” says Ryan.

“Mmm, like here?” grins Connor, feeling up his boyfriend’s crotch.

Ryan laughs and swats him.

Dani glaces towards Celia, as if asking how she wants to handle things next.

She laughs along with the pair, then asks, “You two from here?”

“Nah, Charlotte,” says Connor.

“Austin,” says Ryan.

“Austin seems like a really fun city,” remarks Dani.

“Yeah, the whole city is basically one big college campus,” says Ryan.

Celia: It’s an idle thought, whatever it is that’s crossing her mind, and she wonders if this is how most Kindred find their future puppets. At bars, walking them toward their death, musing over whether or not it’s more practical to murder them or give them a boost. It’s hard to imagine her sire or grandsire meeting people like this, though.

And really, what’s the use of a movie star pawn? What’s the benefit there? She can think of a few. More than she’d been able to list for a governor.

“Quarter can’t be too big a change, then,” Celia says with a grin, “all the parties and debauchery.”

Austin is on the way to LA, isn’t it? Maybe she’ll pop by.

“Speaking of, is your place far?”

GM: “Oh the Quarter’s better,” says Ryan.

“It’s walkable, but we can take a Ryde if you want,” says Connor.

“I’m gonna change my shoes if we’re walking,” says Dani.

It’s been seven years since shoes pained Celia.

Celia: Good thing, too. Whoever designs heels must make them uncomfortable on purpose. Celia used to wonder why until she found out it’s usually a man.

GM: Emily had a lot to say about that too. “Of course guys don’t care about comfort when they don’t have to wear them.”

Celia: Emily has a lot to say about everything.

It makes her worry about how the rest of the night is going to go, and how deeply Celia wants to involve her in this life, or if she should find someone to erase the memories.

“Extras in your purse, Rachel? Clever.”

GM: Emily learns more and more about this life with every minute Diana spends with her.

“Yeah,” she says. “I like having the option if I want it.”

“You ladies wanna head back to our place or yours?” asks Connor.

Celia: “Yours.”

GM: “Works,” says Ryan.

Dani changes her shoes, though it’s a short enough trip back to the two’s apartment. It’s clean enough (“obviously because Ryan’s gay,” Connor says when Dani remarks) for a low-budget college student’s starter place. Rents in the Quarter aren’t the cheapest, but they’ve been able to make it work between being roommates, part-time jobs, and… “but you don’t wanna hear about that shit,” says Connor, already pulling off Celia’s dress as he pulls her onto the bed.

That says it all on which of them he thinks is hotter.

Celia: Despite herself, she does want to hear about that shit. Maybe it’s because he looks like Randy. Maybe it’s because some part of her, the part that wants to take care of her family after messing them up, thinks learning more about these two will absolve her of some of the guilt she feels over everyone she’s ever murdered. Maybe she sees it as another way to punish herself for the sins she’s committed: finally viewing these juicebags as real people with their own lives rather than just her next meal.

And maybe she just wants to make sure there aren’t any loose ends when she comes back to slaughter them.

But she doesn’t push, not when he’s already willing to bare his throat for her and let her sink in. She hadn’t planned on getting naked, not really, but the more attention paid to her the less is paid to Dani, and both huntress and girl agree that protecting the cub is worth showing a bit of skin.

She makes all the right noises when Connor touches her. She’s warm, inviting, friendly. She helps him out of his clothing, puts the attention on him rather than the newborn, brings in the boyfriend so he, too, has his memories fogged by the kiss. Celia breaks their skin with her fangs and lets Dani drink from one and then the other, and Celia does the opposite so that at all times the boys are ensnared with heady bliss, lost in the sensation of the Toreador’s well-practiced touch. And if a stray hand grazes Dani’s chest in the midst of this pretend fling, if Celia’s lips linger on her mouth after licking the blood from the corner of her lips for half a second too long, if her taut, toned, naked body presses against the girl in untamed desire and she breaks Dani’s skin with her teeth and lets the sour-sweet blood dance across her tongue (like a mortal, she thinks, pleased that Dani is practicing the shadow dancing, and even though she knows the truth she lets the lie fill her mouth)—well, that’s all just part of the experience, isn’t it?

It’s not sex. The act isn’t reciprocated. She’s only protecting Dani from feeling the full effects of the horror of being in bed with two men after suffering from a sexual assault not too long ago, clouding her mind to turn anxiety and distress to bliss. She prods her Beast as she suckles on the blonde, asking it if this blood, even disguised, will sate it beyond what a mortal can provide.

Is there a use for this plague of half-bloods or are they simply a drain on society, hoarding blood that their better-bred cousins deserve?

The thought makes her wonder about other implications. Other things she knows that she buries deep. And it makes her a generous master indeed when she recalls that Dani’s kind functions better with lick blood in their system, that it gives them access to a broad array of powers; Edith’s words float through her mind, the deeper they drink the stronger they get. With the ready availability of these two hapless kine Celia has no problem at all finishing her brief experiment on Dani’s blood to offer her own, slicing herself open so that her vitae trails in red rivulets between her—

No, no, it is sex, this is sex, this is sex with her lover’s sister, and the thought is enough to pull her from the spell, to reach for the glass of water one of the boys left on his nightstand and dump the contents onto the peace lily’s pot beside it, then bite her wrist to pour into the cup for Dani so that she does not need to lick the red from Celia’s chest.

Blood flows freely this evening. Everything Celia loses to the cub she takes back from the boys, and with Dani sated on Toreador vitae the kine are spared from the serious injury of overfeeding. The four pass time in a tangled mass of limb and lip, all of them sated when the magic ends. A wet spot on the mattress and another on the floor shows just how sated the kine are. Pale from blood loss, wounds licked shut, Celia avoids the worst of the semen-splattered stains when she arranges them neatly in bed like she would any drunk, watching their chests rise and fall in deep, even breaths after they lazily murmur their contentment with the evening.

Fast asleep, tucked in by the monster inside their home. It stirs an old memory, a dark hallway—

Celia washes the remnants of the bodily fluids from her with a quick rinse in the shower, dries, and puts her dress back on while Dani waits near the door. And if a set of keys happens to fall into Celia’s purse on the way out, well, that’s just the hazard of picking up girls in bars.

You never know who’s going to rob you blind.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

“Good score,” Celia says to Dani once they’re clear of the house.

GM: “Yeah,” says Dani.

She’s quiet for a bit.

“Is there another way to do this?”

Celia: “You don’t have to go home with them. Or get naked. They won’t usually remember. But my domain includes more than the clubs. You could learn to pick locks and feed on sleepers. Develop a herd, which are just vessels that let you feed. Not that you tell them what you’re doing,” she adds.

GM: “Oh. You mean like your mom?”

“Not that I’m asking to feed on her,” the thin-blood adds. “Is that just an example of what a herd is?”

Celia: “Sort of. She’s a ghoul. We don’t always use them as part of the herd. More like, for example, my clients at the spa.”

GM: “Ah. I’d feel better about doing this consensually, if that’s what a herd involves.”

“I’d only fed a couple times when we met.”

“I just got really close to guys on the dance floor and took a drink there.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah, that’s how you were found, though. Find a private corner rather than doing it out in the open. Bathroom, maybe. Herd isn’t quite consensual, it’s just not violent. Telling them what you’re doing risks people finding out about us, which will get you into trouble.”

She thinks further.

“Blood bank,” she suggests. “You could buy it bagged, just reheat it. Or, ah, there’s a scene guy who walks around in all black claiming he’s a vampire and people let him drink from them because they think it’s kinky. Pretty sure he’s mortal, but you could try something like that too.”

“I’d maybe ask Rod, though. This and the spa is my MO.”

GM: Dani cracks a smile at the guy’s description. “That sounds bad for the Masquerade.”

“That’s a good idea, though. I’ll ask Stephen.”

“I don’t think picking up guys like this is my thing.”

Celia: “Girls?”

GM: “Thanks for… keeping them busy.”

Celia: “Mm. I figured you wouldn’t want them to touch you.”

GM: “I wonder if I could also feed on animals?”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“You can.”

“I don’t, but some people do.”

GM: “Oh. That makes it a lot simpler.”

“The meat industry obviously produces tons of blood.”

Celia: It hadn’t even occurred to her. She doesn’t gain much sustenance from the blood of animals.

“Mhm,” she agrees. “Or you could adopt a bunch of pets. Some outlaws hunt bigger things. Thrill of the chase and all.”

GM: Dani cracks another smile. “I’d feel bad about feeding from dogs, honestly.”

“Makes me wonder, though…”

Dani pulls out her phone from her purse, taps into it, and reads,

“Where does the blood from a slaughter house go? The quantity is vast. It is stored in huge vats until tankers come to collect it. It is taken to rendering plants with blood processing facilities, or disposed of in sewers (which lead into the nearest water body), in landfills or spread over land. Some amount is used to make human food and animal feed.”

Celia: “Find a slaughter house nearby, see if you can buy wholesale.”

“Just, y’know, file for an LLC or something with your name not attached to it and buy it through that.”

GM: Dani scrolls through her phone some more, then looks up and smiles again.

“That’s just what I was thinking. I guess you could’ve been a lawyer too.”

Celia: “Doubt it.” But Celia smiles back all the same.

GM: “Hard to explain what you’re buying a bunch of animal blood for outside a business context like that.”

Celia: “Mm. You mentioned the food. Medical stuff too, I bet. Spa products, beauty things. A lot of… well, maybe not a lot of, but some skincare products use animal parts.”

“And plants. Well. Like they try to use more plants now, like stem cells and stuff.”

“Less controversial.”

GM: “Oh, that’s perfect! Maybe I could set it up so it gets delivered to Flawless? Add an extra layer of legitimacy and all.”

Celia: Celia considers the request. Bit of a tip off to get blood delivered to the spa when she’s already under suspicion, isn’t it?

“I’d, ah, ask your brother that too. Worried huge amounts of blood coming to the spa of a known lick is going to cause problems. He’ll have a better idea if we should use another cover. But if he thinks it’s not a problem then I don’t see why not.”

There you go, Rod, go on and make the hard decisions since you’re so dead-set on controlling everything. Tell your sister no.

“Sorry about last night,” she adds. “Didn’t mean to blow you off.”

GM: “Okay, I’ll do that,” Dani nods. “And it’s fine. I was wondering if I could come with you to church tonight, also? As Hannah. I want to see what that’s like.”

Celia: “That’s… dangerous,” Celia finally settles on. She stops walking, turning to Dani with a grave expression. “I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I don’t think you understand the hatred most of us have for your kind. They barely even let the clanless come, let alone half-bloods. You could pass as a servant, sure, but if you catch the wrong sort of attention? There’s no trial. Just execution.”

Celia reaches for her hand, imploring her to understand.

“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I’m… kind of in trouble with the wrong people, and that’s why I told you to stay home last night. I have a feeling they might be watching me a little more closely right now because I pissed them off, and if you’re seen with me and they take a closer look…”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to put you in danger.”

GM: “But I thought I was safe unless someone tasted my blood. Why would someone do that?”

“Everyone basically just ignored me at that club we went to.”

Celia: “They’re breathers.” Celia considers a moment, then, “did you share blood with another lick recently?”

GM: “You, yes.”

Celia: “Besides me. Did Rod give you any?”

GM: “Yeah, he did.”

Celia: “Hm. I don’t think he’s a shadow dancer, but I guess he could have picked it up. You weren’t cloaking, were you?” Or is Celia just that much prettier than Dani that the girl fades into the background? Rude to ask, isn’t it.

“Did he use a cup?”

GM: “No, I wasn’t.” Dani looks a little puzzled by the question. “And yes, he did.”

Celia: “What did you pick up from him? Speed?”

“I’m just curious about that,” Celia admits. “The totem twisting. Since he and I are different.”

GM: “Speed,” Dani nods. “He’s really fast.”

“Though I’m sure you know that.”

Celia: “Yeah. I was just curious if you picked up anything else. And since I gave you a few hits, if you’ve got more than the charm…” Celia trails off. “Is he still in you? The speed? Because… like, okay, I guess if he thinks it’s okay if I bring you with me, but I really, really don’t want something bad to happen to you.”

“But come on. I need to get dressed anyway. Do you have your mask? You tell him you want to go and we’ll figure it out from there.”

GM: “I think so?” Dani answers Celia’s first question. “I feel pretty light on my feet.”

“And yeah, I have my mask.”

“I don’t see why I need to ask him, though. This is something I want to do.”

Celia: “Because if he finds out I enabled you to do something reckless he’s going to kill me.”

Hard to tell if she’s kidding or not.

GM: “Okay.” Dani fishes out her phone and fires off a text. The pair have since arrived back at their cars.

Celia: Celia doesn’t like how readily Dani accepts the idea of Stephen killing her.

“Follow me, then. You can raid my closet for this.”

GM: “Oh good, I was wondering what I should wear.”

Dani gets into her car and follows after Celia’s.

Celia: She’s moving soon. That’s what she tells herself when she leads Dani to the haven on the edge of the Quarter. Too many people have seen it for her to consider it secret anymore. So she’s moving. Soon. She’ll start looking for places tomorrow.

GM: Dani parks her car when they’re there, gets out, and reads her phone.

“Stephen said it’s not without risk, but it’s up to me. Also that I should probably be more worried about renfields than licks.”

“Since they’ll be the ones I sit with and who might actually talk to me.”

“He said there should be some kind of cover story for how we met and what I do for you.”

Celia: Would he have said the same if Celia had asked?

She leads Dani inside and kicks off her shoes on her way to the closet.

“Mm. Yes, I was going to say the same. You’re new, so we can use that to cover some ignorance, but mind your manners if nothing else. Sir and ma’am. Keep your fangs hidden. No talk of Celia. Or Stephen. Or that Jade and Rod speak to each other. Or that you go to Tulane. Or work in Mid-City.”

Celia browses the racks of clothes while she rattles off other similar instruction, occasionally holding something up to Dani to see how it might look.

“You’re not secretly an artist of any sort are you?”

GM: Dani kicks off her shoes too as she enters the heaven.

“Sorry, nope.”

She looks over the racks and racks clothes appreciatively.

“Also, wow. You have an incredible closet.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her. “Thanks. Feel free to browse. Something elegant but understated. You don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard. Maybe black. I’m going to do my face.”

GM: “Okay. Something I’d wear to a breather church?”

Celia: “You get all sorts at Elysium, but that’s an okay bet. I’ll tell you if it looks wonky.”

Celia picks up a kit that no doubt contains a multitude of makeup brushes and products, but before she goes she peers at the top of the closet, ignoring Dani for a moment. More than one emotion wars for dominance of her face, and it takes a few seconds for the slow smile to finally appear.

“Cute.” Her expression flickers. “But perhaps preemptive.”

Celia excuses herself to make the transformation into Jade, the eyes of her dolls following her.

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GM: One less pair of eyes, now. Their numbers feel diminished without her.

But also, perhaps, more unified. The remaining ones were all made by her.

“Oh,” Dani’s voice calls out, “I don’t know if your mom mentioned, when you were over there, but I decided to move back in with my dad.”

Celia: “Yeah, don’t mention that either,” Celia calls back while she sculpts her face into Jade’s. “No hints of Uptown. You live in the Quarter, if anyone asks.”

GM: “I figured, yeah.”

Celia: “R&D,” comes her voice after another minute. “That’s what you do for me. Not even technically lying. If anyone presses for more than that you just play mum. It’s none of their business.”

GM: It hurts.

Like it always does.

Celia: It centers her, though. The pain. Moving from one form to another.

It reminds her who she is.

GM: “Oh, that’s a good idea. Hannah’s face is a little less, uh, ‘fabulous’ than Alana.”

Celia: “We could make you more fabulous.”

“If you ever want.”

GM: “You mean Hannah’s face?”

Celia: “Mhm.”

GM: “I wonder if not being noticed is better.”

Celia: Or both. She doesn’t care.

“Usually.”

“There’s a guy named Alan you could sit with. He talks enough for three people, let him fill the silences for you. You’ll know who he is by how hard you want to punch him in the face.”

GM: “I think Stephen mentioned that guy!”

“He tried to sell him a watch.”

“Wouldn’t shut up about it.”

Celia: Celia laughs.

“That’s him.”

GM: “He was just telling me some more about ghouls.”

Celia: “His domitor is a friend of mine.”

GM: “Would it help if I name-dropped you with him?”

Celia: “If he asks, just say you’re mine.”

GM: “Okay. Also, speaking of Alana. She said to talk with you about scheduling an appointment at Flawless, because you only take one or two a night and they’re important.”

Celia: “Tell him I told you that he swindled me out of twice the price for those earrings a while back, they were just too cute not to have.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“Feeding,” she says by way of explanation. She pauses to fix her lips in the mirror.

GM: “Oh. Alana didn’t say that.”

Celia: “Wait, when did you talk to Alana?”

GM: “During the day. You know, that whole time you’re sleeping?” Danny’s voice sounds ribbing.

Celia: “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I party all day.”

GM: “Ah, of course.”

“I’m amazed you pull it off with your family.”

“There’s just so much stuff that happens during the day.”

Celia: “That’s why we don’t keep families.”

“Too risky.”

GM: “Like, how do you handle birthday parties?”

Celia: “I send Alana sometimes.”

GM: “Lucy’s especially.”

Celia: “She can pass as Celia pretty well.”

GM: “That makes sense.”

“Me moving in with my dad isn’t going to cause any problems, is it?”

Celia: “Only if you get caught by McGinn’s goons.”

GM: “Who’s McGinn?”

Celia: “Regent of Uptown. Ventrue. Think he’s in the running for prince. Mm, Invictus. He’s… old school. Racist. Nazi type. Ran into his guys the other night and they’re all, uh, neonazis.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“That’s terrible.

Celia: “Married my aunt-in-blood, or… great aunt-in-blood? Who is… well, we have a complicated relationship.”

GM: “I’m not gonna get caught, am I, after that tattoo?”

Celia: “Not unless they drink your blood or see you feed or connect Dani to Hannah. Still safer in the Quarter, though.”

GM: “Okay. I can do all those things.”

“I just feel like it’s been really bad for my dad to live alone.”

“Your mom thought so too.”

Celia: “Could always carry a letter with you. Something like requesting an audience with whatever regent of the territory you’re in.”

GM: “Okay, so as a backup option if I get caught?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “That sounds good, can you write me one?”

Celia: “Will do.”

“Agree about your dad, though.”

GM: “Thanks. And yeah. I couldn’t stay with your family forever, we didn’t think, I’d basically taken over your mom’s bedroom.”

“But she thought it would be good for me to live with someone else too.”

Celia: Celia finishes fixing her face in the mirror and starts on her makeup. This evening, it’s dramatic as Hell.

“I agree there too. Shame Mom didn’t have an extra room, that was probably ideal. I’m probably letting go of my other haven soon. The one you were at that one night? Some young licks share places. I know you mentioned that before.”

“I don’t want to tell you what to do, I just think you’re safer in the Quarter.”

“Then again,” she muses, “I was picked up right outside the Evergreen, so fuck me.”

GM: “I’d be happy to share a place with you, still.”

“Picked up?”

Celia: “Last night. It’s why I told you to stay put.”

“Your brother mentioned maybe getting a place together.” There’s a hesitancy at the end of her statement, a soft lilt that suggests a question.

GM: “You mean for you guys? Yeah, that makes sense to share a place.”

Celia: “Dani?” Celia’s voice. The transformation might be complete, but the dead girl is still controlling the vehicle. “Did he tell you what happened?”

GM: “Uh. Think it might be better if we don’t go into that right now?”

Celia: “Probably,” Celia sighs.

The sound of a buzzer reaches Dani’s ears.

Like something vibrating at high frequency.

GM: “Hey, what’s that?”

Celia: “Trimming my hair.”

GM: “Oh. Stephen said it grows back literally overnight.”

Celia: “Yep. Getting creative tonight.”

GM: Dani walks in, carrying several black dresses with her. She pauses for a second when she sees Jade’s face.

“Geez. I just can’t get over how different you look.”

Celia: Jade catches her eyes in the mirror and smiles at her, fangs flashing.

“That’s the idea, darling.” She holds herself differently with this face. Straighter spine. Lower voice. She wears arrogance like a perfume.

GM: “Yeah, you even feel different too.”

“More… menacing.”

Celia: The smile grows. She turns to face Dani fully, unfolding from the stool in front of the mirror to rise, sliding across the floor.

“Do I scare you, newborn?”

GM: “A little, yeah.” Dani’s still just standing there with the dresses in hand. “I know you’re Celia, it’s just… such a total transformation.”

Celia: Jade stalks toward her with all the grace of the jungle cat whose form she’d stolen.

“Has to be,” she says as she circles the girl like a piece of meat. “Anything less than is sloppy. And I don’t like sloppy,” she whispers in Dani’s ear. Then she’s gone from behind her, standing still in front of the mirror with head cocked to one side. She runs her tongue across the points of her fangs as if she’s itching to sink them into the half-breed.

“Show me what you’ve chosen.”

GM: Dani’s eyes follow Jade warily.

Oh, Jade’s not actually physically striking the thin-blood, like she did Celia’s mother. Jade’s not telling this half-blood that she’s a slave who’ll be punished for getting out of line. Celia’s just changed her face and affect. It’s nothing to protest over, in of itself.

That’s how so many monsters throw their victims off-balance.

Little things. Nothing big enough to make a big deal over.

Dani holds up the dresses.

“Well, as you can see.”

Celia: Celia peruses the selection as Dani lays them out.

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She shakes her head at the first three, pointing out flaws. Too imperious. Too formal. Too on-the-nose.

GM: “I guess they are a little eye-grabbing, yeah,” Dani says, acknowledging the problems.

“That’s a lot of your stuff.”

Celia: “This one, though.”

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“I like this one.”

GM: “Oh. That’s a little risque.”

Celia: “There’s a sheer top you can put under it to cover the girls.”

GM: “That works. Does it have sleeves? I think they’d ruin the look.”

Celia: “No. It’s not a real shirt. Just a cover when things dip too low.”

“Open back, so you won’t ruin that, either.”

GM: “Oh good, that’s perfect.”

Celia: Jade smiles again. It’s a sharp smile, but there’s some measure of warmth to her eyes all the same.

“Excellent.”

“Your brother told me to tell you the truth,” she says in an offhand manner, looking down at her nails while Dani no doubt deliberates where to change (as if Celia hasn’t seen a naked body before).

GM: Dani gathers up the dresses in her arms but doesn’t take off her clothes yet. Perhaps intending to do so in another room.

“What about?”

Celia: Jade waves her hand at Dani, dismissing her to change. She doesn’t bother hiding herself when she strips once more from her own dress, selecting a new pair of panties for the evening before she reaches for her gown.

“I have DID. That’s why I feel different.”

GM: Dani leaves. Celia can faintly hear the unzip of her pants.

“You mean, multiple personality disorder?”

Celia: Was it her nudity that sent the girl scampering? Jade seems amused.

“No one calls it that anymore. But yes.”

GM: “Huh, okay. That’s good you know and can be open about it.” Celia hears Dani taking off her pants.

Celia: “It doesn’t really bother me,” Jade says, sliding the black thong up her lean legs. “But it bothers him.”

GM: “Does it interfere with your daily life?”

“I know it can be comorbid with a lot of other disorders.”

Celia: “That’s a rather complicated question. Yes and no.”

GM: “How so?”

Celia: “Celia is the base, right? The first. And Jade is the lick. And there are others, but we’ll stick with those two for now. They want different things. So it’s like being pulled in a bunch of different directions, and neither one of them ends up happy, and they don’t mean to but they tend to fuck each other over.”

GM: “That sounds like a problem, then.”

“I don’t know how this would work for licks, but DID is obviously treatable with breathers.”

Celia: “He wants me to see someone.”

“To fix it.”

“He says it’s imaginary.”

“That it’s just in my head.”

“That what they do for me isn’t real.”

GM: “What they do for you?”

Celia: “And I don’t know how I feel about that, because Jade…” The girl falters at the question. “Yes. What they do for me.”

GM: “You were saying something about Jade?”

Celia: “She plays the lick game so Celia can play the human game.”

GM: “Celia’s definitely the nicer-feeling one.”

Celia: “Only because you haven’t met Leila.”

GM: “What does Leila do for you, if Jade lets you play the lick game?”

Celia: “She’s… happy. Untouched by all of this.”

GM: “I think it would be healthier if you could integrate all of those feelings and behaviors into your, what’s the term, core personality.”

“All of us are different people in different circumstances. I’m not the same person around my dad that I am with you, or with Stephen, or at work. That’s normal. But I’m still Dani around all of those people.”

Celia: Harlequin had said no one else would understand.

“Mm,” is all she says.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I don’t think it’s the same.”

“And I think his insistence on fixing it is going to damage me further.”

GM: “You say Celia and Jade have been fucking each other over, though. How so?”

Celia: “Celia,” the word is accompanied by such a hard roll of the eyes that Dani can hear it, “is a sap who still believes in love.”

“Jade’s a bit of a cunt. She’s not just fucking me, she’s fucking everyone else, too.”

“Celia is mad that she’ll never get her 2.5 kids and white picket fence. She has a tendency to look—”

“Preston said Jade is pathet—”

“Because you got all weepy on Savoy’s—”

“They’re both wrong,” sighs another voice.

GM: Dani pops back out. She looks like she’s found the top. She’s got on her black sandal heels that she wore out to the club.

There’s wariness on her features. But seemingly more for Celia than at Celia this time.

“Can I ask who just said that?” she asks slowly.

Celia: “Me,” the girl says, as if that explains everything. After a brief second of hesitation she points at herself.

GM: “What’s your name?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Leila.” She smiles, eyes sparkling in delight. “You’re Dani. I know you. You spilled peas once an’ Celia told you how she spilled salad and Daddy was mad. Grampa said she’s… um, he said she’s from the heavens, an’ she’s a flower, so that’s why I’m Leila. Leilani. Star flower. But don’t call me ‘Lani ’cause Joshy does an’ that’s our special thing, ’kay?” The girl sits back on the stool in front of the mirror, kicking her feet while she looks around the haven.

“Didju see the closet? It’s real big. Chase gave her lotsa shinies. Are you gonna wear a shiny? Ceels has, um, she has a—” The voice cuts off in a giggle. “—secret!” she finishes loudly.

GM: “Hi, Leila. It’s nice to meet you,” Dani ventures.

She pauses for a second, then seems to roll with it.

“I probably won’t wear a shiny. I don’t want to stand out too much.”

Celia: “Yeah ‘cause I was gonna say that you can’t wear a necklace ‘cause too much goin’ on up top, but you could do a bracelet or a pair of earrings. Do you have your ears pierced? Did it hurt?”

GM: “I might wear some small earrings. And I do. And it wasn’t too bad. Being scared was worse. I actually chickened out the first time and my mom had to drive me in twice.”

Celia: Leila nods solemnly, eyes wide.

“Mine are clip-ons,” she says in a loud whisper, then presses a finger to her lips.

Dani can see that the earrings dangling from her lobes are in no way clip-ons.

GM: Dani looks at them, then finally nods and gives a wide ‘definitely rolling with this’ smile.

“Smart,” she says.

GM: “Those are some really pretty clip-ons.”

Celia: “Thanks! Chase gave me them. He’s my best friend. Don’t tell him I said that. Don’t tell Alan, either or he’ll tell Chase and then Joshy might find out and I think he thinks he’s my best friend and he’s okay but— oh! Tell Alan, yeah, tell Alan that you need a phone. No, two phones. No, THREE! And one of them has to be pink!” Leila picks up Celia’s purse to rifle through the contents. She finds a stack of bills and pulls them out, waving them at Dani.

“She’s got a lotta money in here, that’s a lotta phones, did you know she has a gun?” Leila looks at Dani, eyes wide. “She dunno how to shoot, though, maybe it’s—oh, Steve was gonna show her, but then also he didn’t, and also I got a book from the liberry do you think he’ll read it to me? Oh! Did he tell you about the bat? It flies.” She flaps her arms to demonstrate. “And he’s got a leash. Two! Two leashes. Are you ready? We gotta go soon. Can you drive? I don’t have a license. Don’t tell Alan I said he’s a butthead when you ask for the phones because I like him even though he talks a lot and I don’t really think he’s a butthead he’s actually kinda nice even though he likes Clem have you met her she’s kind of mean and…”

On she goes.

GM: “She doesn’t?” Dani asks with a frown, but is swiftly drowned out by the childlike alter’s torrent of speech.

She regards it with something between puzzlement and amusement, then glances at her phone.

“Uh, can I talk to Celia, please?” Dani asks, looking up.

“Or Jade? ’Cuz we need to get going pretty soon.”

Celia: “No one ever wants to talk to me,” Leila mutters, crossing her arms.

A moment later they uncross, and the girl rises to her feet.

“We should head out.”

GM: “Uh. So, that was a change,” says Dani, following after Celia.

Celia: “She’s easily excitable,” Celia says by way of explanation. She does have Dani drive, stating that it would be weird for Hannah to show up by herself.

“The burners from Alan aren’t a bad idea, either.”

GM: “Oh. Almost forgot.” Dani fits on the mask and double-checks herself in the mirror.

“You think so? She seemed pretty, uh, excitable, like you say.”

“I wasn’t sure if the idea was from her or you.”

Celia: “Lost my phone last night. The one before that was broken a week ago.” Celia shrugs. “Never hurts to have extras.”

Celia asks if she can borrow Dani’s phone in the meantime, navigating to Cadabra to have a new Solaris shipped overnight to her.

She throws in a few burners while she’s at it, nixing the idea of asking Alan.

All this business with the hunters and the Guard made her realize that, though convenient, a smartphone is only going to get her into trouble.

GM: Dani hands it over.

“Oh, I’m sorry. If you’re losing them often, might just order two.”

“Regular phones, that is, on top of the burners.”

Celia: Celia laughs. “Yeah, I did last time and I’m still down to zero.”

But she adds an extra Solaris to the order.

GM: Dani follows her out to Celia’s car.

“So, does she interfere with your life? Leila, that is?”

Celia: “Not really.”

“She talks a lot.”

A little too much, but Dani hadn’t seemed to realize.

GM: “Well, I guess that’s harmless next to the fight you and Jade sounded like you were having.” She gets in on the driver’s side after Celia unlocks the vehicle.

Celia: Celia hands over the keys and gives her the address. She shrugs, eyes turning to the window.

“We don’t need to talk about it.”

GM: “No, I’m okay! If there’s a problem, I want to help you fix it.”

Celia: “Jade’s a manipulative cunt that ruins everything and Celia is a spineless doormat that thinks she’s in love.”

GM: “I think Celia’s right. You are in love.”

“Celia definitely feels nicer, too.”

Celia: “In love with someone who abuses her,” she says shortly, crossing her arms, “who thinks she’s stupid, who has said she’s stupid, so why—why? Why cling to that. It’s like being Diana.

GM: The old Diana, anyways.

Celia: All Celia needs is to merge herself with a doll, too.

GM: There’s a pause for a moment.

“Oh,” Dani says.

Celia: Yeah. Oh.

GM: “That’s not how he said it was.”

Celia: She effects a snort, unsurprised that he’d paint himself as some sort of hero.

“No. I bet not.”

“He told you I cheated. That I lied. That I’m a whore. That we’re taking a break until I fix it.”

“That I’m desperate for attention and paint myself as a victim.”

“That I’m a black hole and ruin everything I touch.”

“That about right?”

GM: Dani opens her mouth, holds it open for a bit, then finally says,

“Celia, is there any way I can help you two? Or do you just want to end things?”

“Because, whatever else, ending a relationship isn’t abusive.”

Celia: “Why, am I right? Is that what he said?”

GM: “I think I’m just going to make things worse jumping in and that maybe you should talk to each other.”

Celia: Bitter laughter fills the car.

“Yeah. That’s gone well the last few times. Ask him how dinner went tonight. Ask him what he did last night when I called him for help because I was scared because I was being followed and he said he’d always protect me. Ask him what that promise meant last night when I begged him to meet me so I wasn’t alone. Ask him,” she snarls, “if he gave me a second thought when I was abducted and tortured while I was on the phone with him.

GM: “Wait, you got tortured? What happened?!”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia mutters, looking out the window again. “I survived. Nothing a little blood won’t fix. Why don’t you ask him about that, too.”

GM: “Well… okay, look. Things between you and Stephen feel really toxic, and it feels like you’ve had a lot of baggage for a while now.”

“I guess, do you still want to be in a relationship with him, or do you not?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything.

GM: “I still want you in my life either way.”

Celia: Not for long moments.

Then, finally,

“I bought a dress, you know. Years ago. When we got back together.”

“He said he wanted to get married, and I bought a stupid dress.”

GM: “I don’t think that was stupid.”

“I bet it’s a great dress.”

Celia: “It doesn’t matter now. He only wants to marry ‘Celia’ to get close to my dad so he can wield some political power.”

“And if I wanted to be with someone who calls me stupid I could date any other lick in the city.”

“You know the mafioso your brother hates so much treats me better than he has?”

GM: “…how well do you know that mafioso next to Stephen?”

“Because those people are monsters, Celia, just the worst of the worst.”

Celia: “Then what does it say that he’s never been unkind to me but your brother has?”

GM: “How much time have you actually spent with him? How well do you actually know him?”

“And why are you even spending time with a mobster to begin with?”

Celia: “So I could find your sire.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

“I’m grateful for that, Celia.”

“I’m sorry I made you have to deal with a mobster.”

Celia: It’s not like Roderick is any better at this point.

Celia doesn’t bother saying it again.

GM: “But I’d ask again, how well do you actually know this guy.”

Celia: “Jesus Christ,” Celia mutters, “about as well as I know the asshole that took over for your brother on Thursday.”

GM: “Sorry?”

“Actually, never mind. So do you want to break up, if he calls you stupid and only cares about political power, and stay together if he doesn’t?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she finally admits. “There’s… it’s complicated, and now that he knows everything I told him it’s more complicated, and I’m not interested in being blackmailed or pushed around for the rest of my unlife, so fuck me for telling the truth when he asked.”

GM: “I think your guys’ problems go back a lot earlier than this, Celia, and that it’s dishonesty that caused them in the first place.”

Celia: “And if he says something to the wrong person I’m the one who’s going to lose for it.”

“I didn’t lie to him because I wanted to. I lied to him because I had to, because him knowing the full story would get him killed.”

GM: “If you break up neither of you should do that. You should just leave each other alone.”

“And I don’t agree about lying because you had to. That’s what is getting him off so much. He feels like you always defend and justify the lying, and don’t see it as wrong, and that’s why he feels like he can never be sure if you’re going to keep lying, because you don’t see a problem with it.”

Celia: “Okay, Dani. I tell you that someone threw my mother off the roof to teach me a lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Uh.”

Celia: “I tell you that this same person broke every bone in my body to teach me another lesson. What’s your response?”

GM: “Fuck them.”

Celia: “Yeah. Fuck them. Now let’s say they’re a big scary bad guy. Then what?”

GM: “Get help.”

Celia: “Now say you’re Stephen, and you’ve got a boner for justice and morality, and you hear the girl you love is being abused and that her family is in danger. You’re fast and strong and immortal. What do you do?”

GM: “You take out the bad guy.”

Celia: “That’s the fucking problem, Dani, that’s why I fucking lied to him, because he can’t. Because he’d want to and he can’t because he’d fucking lose.”

“And it would be my fault for telling him.”

“But hey, maybe that’s shitty justification.”

GM: “So, why didn’t you tell him that? Why not just tell him what the situation was and decide what to do together?”

Celia: “Maybe not wanting him to die is a terrible fucking thing.”

“Because he’d want to know why I was dealing with the bad guy, and why I can’t walk away, and oops, if I tell him that he dies again.”

GM: “You’re lying to him and treating him like a child, though. He can make decisions about his own safety. What gives you the right to decide he can’t?”

Celia: “Losing him broke me. Even knowing he was out there, just unreachable, that was devastating. How do you think it’s going to feel if something I say to him gets him killed because he misjudged?”

GM: “It’s not about you, though.”

“It’s about him.”

“You owe it to him to be honest about that stuff.”

“Just like he’d owe it to you to be honest if he was in the same situation.”

“It’s just really paternalistic to decide that you know so much better than someone that you’re going to lie to them ‘for their own good’. It’s not treating them like an equal partner.”

“Stephen isn’t an idiot, either. He’s smart. Yeah, I know, we hear it a lot, but he is. If something is as suicidal as you’re making out, I think he’d be smart enough to recognize that and come at the problem from another angle.”

“I mean, doesn’t that sound so much healthier to just be honest and decide what to do together, than get caught in a bunch of lies that destroy your trust?”

Celia: “It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it.”

GM: “Yeah, the milk is spilled, but ultimately, do you think the lying was okay, or do you not?”

“Because if you do think it was okay, then I think you should break up. It’s just too big a thing not to see eye to eye on. Stephen is NEVER going to be okay with it.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “So, is that a yes or a no?”

“Because if you don’t think it was okay, then I think you need to apologize for it, really sincerely apologize, and be honest going forward. No more lies.”

“About anything.”

Celia: “It was an okay, as in okay I hear you, as in okay I understand what you’re saying, okay I need to think about it, okay I need to decide if I’m fine with what he did in response.”

“Not,” she adds bitterly, “that it’s even going to matter after next week.”

GM: “Sorry?”

Celia: “I have a task to complete. I’m pretty sure I only get a week. And if not, I die. Mom dies. Emily and Lucy die. The boys die. Alana dies. They’ll probably kill everyone at Flawless just to be thorough.”

GM: Dani’s mouth falls open.

Celia: She’s not sure if it’s an exaggeration. If they’ll drag her back in. If she can extend the time. If she can give them something else should she fail at her task.

“So, you know,” she continues, “just vampire things.”

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Celia VI, Chapter XIV
Lucy's Reunion

“I’m so proud of you, Mom.”
Celia Flores


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia gets into her car and starts with the practical, logging into her WhatsApp so she can reach out to a handful of people.

GM: Roderick leaves the house with her after exchanging farewells with Celia’s family. He says he’s looking forward to staying in touch with Maxen. He gets into his own car and drives off without saying goodbye.

Celia: It’s okay, she doesn’t say goodbye to Roderick either. She doesn’t even wave or offer to do his face or tell him that she’d had a handful of identities picked out for him.

She’s not even sure why she’s so caught up in the idea of fixing things with him.

She checks to see if Gui called or texted.

Did you move out of my mom’s? she sends to Dani.

Where are you? to Reggie.

GM: Gui has not.

Yeah I moved in with my dad, tonight a good time for us to catch up? answers Dani.

There’s no immediate response from Reggie.

Celia: Possibly, she replies to Dani. In trouble. Need to figure some stuff out. Will call you in a min.

GM: Ok. Let me know if I can help!

Celia: She calls Reggie.

GM: No response.

Celia: “Call me back,” she says to his voicemail. “I need you.”

She hangs up and pulls out of the driveway, then calls Gui.

GM: The Ventrue picks up after a few rings.

“Gui.”

Celia: “Hey, babe. You free? I’d love to explain what happened last night.”

GM: “Sure. Later tonight.”

Celia: “Before or after the party?”

GM: “After. 3’s a good time.”

Celia: “Perfect.” A slight pause. “Are you still going to bring your friend? I wouldn’t have blown you off if I’d had any choice in the matter, baby.”

GM: “You’ll have what I want?”

Celia: “I always have what you want.” She giggles. “But yes, absolutely.”

GM: “Mmm. Some opportunities passed me by. Time-sensitive ones. I can bring along my friend at 4, and you’ll owe me a favor, or it can be just me at 3.”

Celia: Celia, as Jade, huffs into the phone.

“You’re not the only one who lost out last night. But I’ll show you I’m good for it. Consider me in your debt, darling. I’ll see you at four.”

GM: “You got it, lush. It’ll be a party to remember.”

Click.

Celia: At least she’ll still get Dani’s sire out of it. That’s something, right?

Celia glances at the phone, dialing Reggie again.

GM: Her answer is the same.

“Yo. Leave a message.”

Beeep.

Celia: She doesn’t leave another message. She tries his brother instead. The live one.

GM: “Yes?” comes Rusty’s voice after a few rings.

Celia: “Hi, Rusty. You hear from Reggie at all? I’ve been trying to get ahold of him. I’m worried.”

GM: “Recently enough I don’t think he’s missing like Randy.”

Celia: “Has he found anything?” Celia presses.

GM: “No.”

Celia: The phone moves away from her mouth for a moment. Rusty can hear a muffled swear.

“If you see him, have him call me. There’s some shit hitting the fan and I want to make sure you two are safe while we look for your brother.”

GM: “We’re fine,” snorts Rusty. “Randy’s the one who’s probably unsafe.”

Celia: “I was picked up in the heart of the Quarter last night,” Celia all but snarls into the phone, “which means that no one is ‘safe.’”

GM: “You sound fine. So are we.”

Celia: She takes a breath.

“Rusty,” Celia says quietly, “I can’t help find Randy if I don’t know what Reggie found, or where he is. I can’t look for two people at once. I only want to make sure you’re both okay, and that whoever took Randy isn’t going to come for either one of you. Okay?”

GM: “We’re fine, we’ve found nothing, and Mom is very upset,” Rusty says irritably. “Do you have some way in mind to help or is that all?”

It occurs to Celia this is the second family she’s sent on a wild goose chase for a ‘missing’ relative.

Celia: She’s a terrible person.

Roderick is right.

“I have some people to follow up with. I’ll let you know what I find. Stay safe.”

GM: “For the fourth time, we are safe.”

There’s noise in the background. It sounds like angry voices.

“Rusty, get off the phone!” snarls one.

Celia: “I know,” Celia breathes into the phone. “I know you said that.”

She’s a mess. Her entire Requiem has become a mess. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. Her lover, lost. Her allies, lost. Her friends, lost. Even her servants, lost.

She’s alone. Trying to keep the rest of her unlife from hemorrhaging further, ruining everything that she touches in the meantime.

“Keep me updated.”

She hangs up, staring at the phone in her hands.

She’s a monster. Just like he said. She’s a monster.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: For long moments, Celia sits in her car, wondering about the future in store for her. Camilla had said dangerous nights are coming, that she might not survive. What of her sire, will he survive? Will Roderick? Savoy?

Does she care?

None of them had come for her. None of them had lifted a finger to help her. Savoy and Roderick and even her own ghoul had done nothing when she’d told them what happened. Maybe she doesn’t blame Savoy, not really, he has kept her at an arm’s distance since the night she told Donovan his plan.

But the other two? Reggie is supposed to be devoted to her. Roderick is supposed to love her. Even Rusty had been dismissive, and Alana only wanted to fuck.

A knife twists in her gut.

Love. As if such a thing exists among Kindred. Coco was right: maybe it does, but it’s rare. What are the chances that she’s the one who found it? Even if Roderick is in there somewhere, he has turned into an abuser. He has turned into another Maxen, taking out his rage on the girl he’s supposed to love, supposed to protect.

She cannot count on him. Not now. Not ever.

Her whole life she was a puppet for men, used and abused and tormented, and she let it continue on in her Requiem. Her sire. Her lover. She’d had the upper hand with her boyfriend and had gotten on her knees for him the moment he asked.

She truly is the pathetic creature that Preston thinks her.

She’s playing human. Playing victim. Not because Roderick said so, no, but because she’s giving away whatever power she had, letting others control her. She’d heard the truth of her sire from Camilla: how he had shown up and tortured, humiliated, and abused her for losing control. How he had killed whatever feelings of love she’d once had. Killed or demand she bury. She, too, walks the knife’s edge.

Celia is so tired of the cut of that blade. Playing how many sides. How many people. Lying to everyone. She can’t move forward when she’s constantly holding herself back. She’s betrayed her grandsire, the one who looks out for her. Maybe he doesn’t race to her rescue in the middle of the night, but she’s comfortable, secure, even happy in his court. Domain, his ear, the lab—how many other neonates can say they get to see him when they want, even if he makes her wait a few nights? And when her sire comes calling she sells him out. The sire that has done nothing for her. The sire that abandoned her. The sire that beats and humiliates her. The sire that put her mother, her siblings, her lover at risk. That sire. The one who tasked her with destroying everything she loves.

She is a monster.

A rabid dog choking on the edge of its chain, biting the hands that try to pet it because all it has known is suffering.

But not in the way his little brain says. Not in the way his black-and-white worldview offers. For what does he know of monsters? What does the boy born with a silver spoon in life and unlife both know anything of pain? What horrors does he think he faced that he can look at her, who loves more fiercely than any lick in this city, who put herself in danger to save her ghoul, to save her mother (how many times now?), and call her “monster.” What other things has he seen in his Requiem that show him true horror? Hers began with pain. Humiliation. Terror.

No, the monster at her core is the kind that Ocean said. A hybrid signal, a lighthouse: both shelter and warning at once. A monster is not such a terrible thing to be. Neither of this world or the other. Dead, physically. But alive. Blazing. She has let those around her gutter and temper her flame, but she is not the sort of fire to be controlled.

She is inferno, and she will burn them all.

She will give him his blood. She will give him Gui. And then the slates are clean, and she will walk away.

She is no one’s pet, and she is tired of the soft, docile, tamed mask. It no longer fits her face.

It crumbles.

The girl in the mirror needs a new name, but that will come. For now, she shifts her face to what the city of licks expects to see and drives into the night.

She has luck to collect.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: The streets take her to the boat. The boat takes her to the cabin boy. The numbers on her dash show the time of their meeting. Perfect. A bit of cloaking and she’s whoever they want her to be, strolling through the casino to knock upon his door.

GM: Everyone in the casino ignores Celia’s presence utterly. Just another face in the crowd. It’s when she attempts to enter the ‘employees only’ area of the casino, however, that she is stopped by suited security personnel who politely ask her business.

Celia: Just as politely, she explains she has a meeting with Mr. Cambridge.

GM: They ask her name.

Celia: She gives it to them.

GM: One of the men makes a phone call. The person on the other end evidently confirms that Ms. Kalani does have business at the casino. Mr. Cambridge is not currently on the Alystra, she is told, but is expected back at 11 PM (and to be gone again by midnight, no doubt for Midnight Mass). Jade is free to avail herself of the casino’s many entertainments until Mr. Cambridge returns, or to leave and return herself by 11. Mr. Brodowski is also present if she wants to meet with him. He handles more business matters than Mr. Cambridge does.

Celia: Any irritation at that revelation doesn’t cross her pretty face. He’d said now.

She asks if he perhaps left a package for her.

GM: He has not, to their knowledge, though Mr. Brodowski more commonly handles the delivery of important packages than Mr. Cambridge does. He may have one.

Celia: She assents to meeting with him.

GM: Brodowski meets Jade after several minutes in a tastefully appointed office space. The decor is minimalist, though sleekly modern rather than utterly bare like her sire’s haven. Glass, soft lights, and silver-gray and wooden hues predominate. The Ventrue is dressed in a tailored and stylish navy suit at odds with his emaciated frame, hollow cheeks, and discolored eyes. The esthetician is positive he’s wearing makeup to look as ‘good’ as he does. Still, he rises at Jade’s entrance and sits when she sits.

“Package pickup, Miss Kalani?” he smiles.

Celia: Jade takes a seat when prompted, smiling at the Ventrue across the desk from her. It wouldn’t take her long to fix that haunted, gaunt look to him.

“Package pickup, Mr. Brodowski,” she agrees. “Mr. Cambridge is to have it ready for me.” A pause, small tilt of her head, a knowing smile. “Not that sort of package, darling.”

GM: Brodowski chuckles audibly.

“The entendres there are rather too easy, Miss Kalani, so we’ll assume I made a few ‘package’ quips. But here you are.”

He gets up and opens a mini-fridge in the office’s corner.

Celia: Jade smiles at the stiff’s reference, all too real amusement dancing in her eyes. It is, as he said, low hanging fruit.

GM: Brodowski retrieves three bags of blood that he sets down on the desk. The dark red liquid looks ordinary enough, to Jade’s inspection.

“The luckiest blood in New Orleans,” he says as he sits.

Celia: Jade eyes the blood, counting three, then looks back to Brodowski. The smile never fades.

“When shall I stop by for the rest?”

GM: “This is a casino, Miss Kalani. We keep a thorough accounting of all balances and transactions,” Brodowski smiles back.

“Prince Guilbeau promised you half the blood originally in Mr. Gunner’s veins. This amount, and the blood taken from Mr. Cambridge after he fed from Mr. Gunner, comes out to half.”

Celia: She can’t help but let out a tiny, tinkling laugh.

Very thorough, Mr. Brodowski. I have something for your sire. When is good for that exchange?”

GM: “Are you amenable to a Wednesday at 1 or a Thursday at 2, Miss Kalani?”

“You can also make the delivery any time prior, of course, but Prince Guilbeau understands if you’d rather exchange things at the same time.”

Celia: “Oh, it has little to do with exchanging things at the same time and more to do with something else I would offer him that requires a brief discussion. Something bigger.” The smile that stretches across her face is positively predatory. “Thursday at 2 will work splendidly. But I’ll perhaps take you up on that early delivery option.”

GM: “Thursday sounds splendid on multiple counts, in that case,” Brodowski smiles back. Less obviously predatory, but pleased-seeming all the same. “Prince Guilbeau so very hopes that the two of you will have a mutually satisfactory exchange.”

“If there’s no further business tonight, Miss Kalani, I’m sure I’ll see you at Elysium. Enjoy your evening.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.”

Jade deposits the blood into her purse and rises, inclining her head to the Ventrue before she heads for the door.

Another bit of cloaking and she’s free of the casino and on her way to the next big adventure.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

Celia: She has hours yet before she needs to be to Elysium. Hours and no meetings, no appointments, nothing but time to plan and act.

Dani and Alana both want her attention this evening. She has Duke to call. Randy’s death to disguise. Progress of her own to make on the talisman from Marcel, lest the hounds come sniffing ’round her panties once more.

Next time, she thinks, she’ll swat their eager little snouts with a rolled paper.

She starts with the blood, driving back to her haven and heating a single bag of it until it is warm enough to not only drink, but to be satisfying as well. She swallows one of the hits that Marcel set aside for her. Perhaps annoyed that Josua had told them she’d been given more from him, perhaps annoyed at herself for expecting two more pints, the feelings dissipate when liquid luck touch her tongue. It is fire in her veins, static at her fingertips, lightning in her lungs.

It is giddy, electrical energy, and the girl dances through her empty haven while her skirt sweeps out around her, shedding herself of the shy, timid, broken woman she had been like a snake ridding itself of too-tight coils or a butterfly emerging from its goo-cocoon to become a stunning, fluttering creature.

Celia Flores, inferno.

She dresses for the night. She dresses for what she is: strong, passionate, vibrant. She dresses for the fire that does not lick her skin but that lights her up from inside, for the sun that sears her face but does not immolate her, for the shadow that hid her for so long and finally relents to let her have this bright, shining moment.

She stares at herself in the mirror.

And then she undresses, shedding the skin once more to don a black dress that will fit in with the whores at Bourbon Heat, and she packs her wings away for Elysium. She hides the lucky blood, gathers what she will need for the night—including that stake of hers, extra restraints—and sets off with the clicking of her heels heralding the way.

GM: There’s an audible crash before the dressed-up Toreador leaves her haven. Her purse lies on the ground. Lucy is still inside, but it’s tipped over, and the other contents spilled. The doll’s glassy eyes bore unblinkingly into hers.

Celia: The girl stares down at the doll.

“So you do move,” she says to it. “And here I’d thought Diana had stolen you.”

GM: The porcelain lips remain motionless.

Celia: The girl’s knees bend. She brings herself lower to the floor to better observe the doll.

“Maxen is with her this evening. Did you think that a good moment to intrude?”

GM: The doll’s stare bores into the girl.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She glances at the clock on the wall. However long the process takes with Lucy, she’ll still have time for Bourbon Heat. It’s not as if she needs something specific.

“Do you want to do it now?”

GM: The doll only stares at the girl, glass eyes unblinking.

Celia: The girl gives a tiny nod. She reaches for the doll.

“Tonight, then, my little darling Lucy. Tonight we free you.” She holds the doll against her chest, much the same as a mother with her child. “Will I need anything else for you or her, do you know?”

GM: The doll’s blue dress and torso is soft against the girl. She’s long since learned from Elyse how that part of dolls isn’t made from porcelain, even though the head and limbs are.

Lucy does not say so.

Celia: Another nod, as if the doll has indeed spoken to her.

“The books,” she agrees, and with Lucy still tucked against her she gathers the texts that Lucy had wanted from the library. She takes the card as well, tucking it all into the overturned purse with the rest of the spilled contents. The letter she’d had Jade write to her mother is moved from her bedside table to one of the pockets on her purse. A moment in front of the mirror and she is Celia again. She casts her eye around for anything else that might help with the transition. After a second of consideration she moves into her closet to find an old piece of jewelry.

She texts Dani that she’s going to her mom’s for a bit, then probably going dancing. Or they can meet later, after church.

“Come, Lucy. Let us free you from your porcelain prison.”

GM: Dani texts back and asks if she’d like to go dancing together. (She is getting hungry.) Or to go to church together, “with Hannah.” Stephen told her about ‘his’ church.

Celia: Dancing together sounds good. Celia says she’ll meet her there. She says they’ll talk about Hannah at the club.

GM: Dani hashes out a time and replies enthusiastically she’ll meet Celia there.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive for Celia back to her mother’s house. She opens the door and walks into the living room to find her mom snuggled up next to her dad on the couch. There’s a movie playing. Diana doesn’t really look like she’s paying attention to it. Her eyes are half-closed and she’s leaning her head against Maxen’s shoulder, feet pulled up under her knees. Emily watches (the pair) from a nearby chair with a wooden expression.

Celia: A touch has the doll disguised once more. She doesn’t want to frighten Diana any more than she needs to. Celia glances at Emily, then her parents. Gently, she touches Diana’s shoulder.

GM: “Mmm…?” her mom starts, blinking at the contact.

Celia: “Hi, Momma. I need to talk to you for a minute.”

GM: “Oh… right now, sweetie?” Diana asks sleepily.

“Right now sounds good,” agrees Emily. She gets up and rubs their mom’s shoulder. “C’mon, Mom, you need to get to bed soon anyway. School night.”

“That’s probably for the best,” says Maxen. “Things go okay, sweetie?” he asks Celia as he starts to get up.

GM: “I’d like you to stay the night,” Diana says earnestly to her ex. She takes his hand and gently tugs him back down to the couch. “I want to make you breakfast. I want to see you off to work.”

“I couldn’t imagine a lovelier start to my morning,” smiles Celia’s dad. “It’ll have to be pretty early for the commute up to the capitol. And the stop home.”

“Yes, for a replacement shirt,” Celia’s mom laughs softly, touching Maxen’s chest where the stain is.

Celia’s dad just smiles and puts his hand over Diana’s.

Celia’s mom lays her head against Maxen’s chest and closes her eyes.

Celia: “How early is early?” Celia asks idly, gently rubbing a hand up and down Diana’s back. “This kind of can’t wait, Mom, it’s important.”

She finally looks to her dad.

“My friends are aware.” It’s an easy line. Not a lie at all. “They’re going to start looking.”

GM: “Good,” says Maxen. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

The happiness on Diana’s face sinks at that reminder.

But it was a weary-looking and worry-harried happiness to begin with.

She nods slowly in concurrence.

“Okay, sweetie,” she says to Celia after a moment, looking away from her ex. “We could talk in my bedroom?”

Celia: Celia nods, excusing the pair of them.

GM: Her mom leads her into the bedroom, closes the door after them, and sits down on her bed.

“I’m so glad to have him here, Celia,” she says quietly.

“Just so glad.”

Celia: Celia sits beside her, setting her purse down on the floor.

“What about your vision? With Lucy?”

GM: “I think it was just a nightmare or something, sweetie.”

Celia: “You’re an adult, Mom. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life. It makes things difficult with the blood if you don’t stay in the Quarter, but… as long as he’s not abusing you…”

GM: “You saw him, Celia. He was so kind. So gentle.” She closes her eyes. “Oh, I have missed having a man.”

“God has answered my prayers.”

“If anyone can find Isabel…”

Celia: Celia is quiet a moment. She’d had that once, too. She doesn’t want to let the thoughts linger.

“Stephen hits me,” she finally says. “And calls me stupid, and belittles me in other ways. Everything he said tonight in front of the family was a lie.”

She reaches for her mother’s hand.

“I don’t want that for myself anymore. And I don’t want that for you. Promise me, Mom. The minute it starts. The minute he lifts a finger against you or says a harsh word. The minute you feel unsafe, no matter how silly. Promise me you won’t go back to that. That you won’t stay.”

GM: Celia’s mom blinks.

“He what!?

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“It’s not about that right now. This is about you and Dad. I’m just telling you that I have one thing to do for him because my grandsire demands it, and then I’m walking away. I’m done. I’m done being a doormat. And if I’m done, then you’re done.”

GM: “It—oh my god, sweetie!” she exclaims, taking Celia’s hands in hands. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter. “When did this start?!”

“What happened? He was, I thought the nicest boy!”

Celia: She’s doing it again. Making herself the victim.

“Do you remember when I was nineteen and you needed the money,” she says quietly.

GM: “Yes,” her mom nods. “When the collections agency was garnishing my wages. I’m definitely not about to forget that crummy apartment.”

Her mouth hangs open. “He was hitting you then?!

Celia: “No. God, no. He was sweet. He was sweet until… until Friday, really. It just started then. I did some things I’m not proud of.” There’s no emotion to her voice. She might as well be discussing the weather.

“To make a long story short, I cheated on him. I lied to him. Multiple times. About a lot of things. And he’s had a bad week. His sister. His sire. Some other stuff. So Friday reached a boiling point, and he told me how he things would be.” She shrugs. “Then he caught me in another lie.”

“I’m fine. I heal. I’m just telling you that… that I’m not putting up with it anymore, and I’m not letting you put up with it anymore. No matter what we once had, it’s dead now.”

“I was kidnapped last night. He knew. He didn’t come. After what he said to me during dinner today, I’m not interested in trying to mend anything.”

“So if Maxen starts up with his shit again, you are not going to lie there and take it.”

GM: Diana takes all of that in slowly. There’s a very grave look on her face when she opens her mouth.

Then she blinks again.

“You were kidnappd?!”

Celia: “They were going to burn me today.” Celia shrugs. She looks away. “I made a trade to get out.”

“That’s, ah, where I lost my phone, incidentally.”

GM: “Oh my god! Who? Who was going to burn you?!” Diana exclaims, pulling Celia into her embrace. As if scared something else is going to snatch her daughter away.

Celia: Celia lets her mother hold her, but only for a moment. She repeats that she’s fine. That she got out. That she handled it.

GM: “But that’s not fine! I can’t believe, I can’t believe that… are you safe now, sweetie? That’s what matters, are you safe?” Celia’s mom reluctantly lets her pull away, but takes both of her hands.

Celia: She doesn’t know.

“I have to give them the thing I traded,” she says instead, “and they’ve got ways to make me comply. Once that’s done? Yeah. Probably.”

GM: Diana looks less than assured by that answer and squeezes Celia’s hands all the tighter.

“Can I help? Is there anything, anything I can do, Celia, to help keep you safe?”

“I’m not going to lose another daughter. I’m not. I’m not!” her mother’s voice is thick at those words.

Celia: “I think I figured it out. I’ll let you know. But this isn’t about me, Mom, this is about you. Some of us live forever, and some of us have shorter existences than we normally would. I just want to make sure that even if I’m gone you’re not going back to what you were.”

GM: “I am not losing you, Celia!” her mom repeats, still clasping Celia’s hands in hers. “You are going to outlive me and that’s that. So you let me know. Anything you can think of. I don’t care how inconvenient it is or what it costs.”

“I had my lesson with Robby today, and that went well, but he said it’d be… a month or two, before I really had it down! He said I might be able to trim that frame down to two weeks, if I was practicing every day for eight hours.”

“I could take a leave from work. If you think that’d help.”

Celia: “No.” Celia shakes her head. “I don’t want you to do that. I need some time to think, and I need to talk to…” to who? Who hasn’t she disappointed? “…my friend,” she says vaguely, “and I might, um, I might see if I can like dig a secret room or something that I can hide out in here if shit really hits the fan, somewhere I can go as Luna that a human wouldn’t be able to reach, just a safe place to sleep if needed. I might change my face and start a new identity. So I want some security in place around that, if it happens. A code phrase, so you know I’m me and I know you’re you.”

Celia squeezes her mother’s hands.

“Did you bring Lucy back with you the other night? I saw her here earlier.”

GM: “No, I didn’t do that,” Diana answers with a puzzled frown.

“But a place for you to hide out. Cat-sized. Okay, I think I can do that. You want it to be safe from the sun, and hidden,” her mom nods, “is there anything else it needs?”

“Or, sorry, did you mean human-sized, but someplace only a cat can go?”

Celia: “Yes.”

“Small human sized. I don’t get uncomfortable if I sleep in funny positions. Really. I only use a bed out of habit.”

GM: “You do?” her mom asks curiously, then remarks in a wry tone, “Well, you’re the envy of every ballerina there!”

“I also saw you turn into a bird. That might be more secure.”

“If only a bird could get in, that is.”

Celia: “Bird takes more, ah, juice sometimes. Cat is easier. But yeah, we could make that work. So far as what it needs… I mean, safety is really it. No sun. Hidden. Burner phone. Weapon, maybe. Blood never hurts. But that would need to be kept cold, and drawing power into the area is a giveaway. I just… I don’t know, Stephen told me they’re all preparing for war, and I was told the same thing last night. Or similar. I have some supplies but evidently not enough.”

Celia shakes her head.

“We’ll work out the details. In the meantime, Lucy. She was here earlier. I took her with me when I left and she knocked my purse over when it looked like I was going back out without her. Do you still want to merge?”

GM: Diana initially nods at Celia’s haven plans. Her face turns still again at the mention of Stephen. Her eyes look bewildered, but there’s a rising color to her cheeks too.

Then at Celia’s question, she blinks and looks somewhat flummoxed.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “You said you wanted to. That you want yourself back.”

“She’s in my purse. Why don’t you ask her what she wants?”

GM: “Well. I was… a bit tipsy,” says Diana, looking down at the bedsheets.

Celia: Celia doesn’t quite frown.

“She won’t talk to me, Mom. I brought the books she wanted from the library. And her library card. The lady spoke to her and gave her one.” Celia reaches into the purse to pull the books and card out. She shows it to her mom, pointing out the date of birth.

“And this,” she says, pulling the old pendant from the bag as well, “it’s… um, all I have from before the divorce, and you said it’s been in your family forever, so I thought maybe it would… connect you? Or… I… I don’t know. Something.”

Celia looks down at the piece of jewelry in her hands. It had been the only thing she’d saved from the time Maxen threw out all of Diana’s things. Not the trophies. Not the photos. Just this. A trinket. Luana had chastised her for being so selfish, and Celia had taken it to heart. Now, though, it means more than that. Her mother had wanted to give it back to her in the hospital but Celia refused, saying it wouldn’t be safe with Maxen.

She’d gotten it once the family was free of Maxen instead. Freedom. Hope. Courage. That’s what it means to her. She touches it now and remembers the tears in Diana’s eyes when she’d handed it over, the infant Lucy at her chest. She hadn’t needed to say anything.

GM: “Oh, you know that’s my favorite…” Celia’s mom starts when she pulls out the Pride and Prejudice copy, but trails off at the sight of the floral pendant.

She looks at it for a while, then traces a finger along the edge.

“I wanted to give that to you, you know, when you married Stephen. And then when I learned you were together again, and that he was still alive, I wish I’d held onto it. And now that you said he’s…” Diana closes her eyes for a moment, not finishing that thought, and gives Celia a wan smile.

“I guess there’s never really a good time for anything, is there?”

Celia: Celia’s smile turns sad.

“No. The stars never align like we think they will.”

“We just get to turn whatever opportunities we have into the perfect moment and trust ourselves.”

“Jade also… wrote you this,” Celia continues. “She wanted to come here last night after she escaped, but she was afraid you’d turn her away. So I wanted to give you this. To make sure you got it.”

GM: “You can always come to me, Celia!” her mom starts, but looks at the letter after Celia pulls it out.

Celia: It reads:

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GM: Celia’s mom slowly reads through the three pages, eyes scanning back and forth.

Her lip trembles and her eyes bead at the description of Jade’s “birth”. She doesn’t make it through the first page before she drops the letters to embrace Celia, rubbing her back and whispering that she had no idea, that she’s so sorry, that she wishes she’d been there, that she loves Celia, that she’s so sorry—

They’re not unfamiliar words to the two women.

Celia might feel more like she’s comforting her mom, than the other way around. Diana cries a bit. She’s so sorry this happened to Celia. So sorry. She wishes there was some way to take away her pain, to have made things turn out another way, to have protected her—

But, as the letter says when Celia hands it back, that’s where Jade came in.

Her mom sniffs and dabs her eyes as her eyes move across Jade’s flowing handwriting.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Celia,” her mom says with another sniff when she’s finished.

“I do want what’s best for you, of course I do.”

“What does she mean by… cohabitate?”

Celia: Celia offers what comfort she can. Mostly, she’s over it. It was a long time ago.

Her eyes scan the letter at the question, and for a moment she stills. Her eyes seem fixated on nothing. Then she moves, finding a pen in her purse to scratch out the word in question and replace it with another.

“Coexist.” Her voice is slightly off. “Get along. Not be detrimental to each other.”

GM: “Why doesn’t she have a mom, when Leilani does?” Diana asks.

“She said I was her mommy.”

Celia: “Born at different times.”

GM: “Sorry?” Celia’s mom asks.

Celia: Celia—Celia?—

The girl shakes her head.

“Jade and Leilani were born at different times, in different ways. They represent two different sides of me. Jade is survivor, born of suffering. Leilani is innocent, softer. She is… a concept, I think, more than a… more than a person.”

Does it make sense? The girl doesn’t know.

“I don’t know the science behind it, if that’s what it is. I don’t always understand how they work. But it does not matter right now. Only what you wish to do with Lucy. To combine her with you again, to be a full person once more, or to stay cleaved in half.”

GM: Diana opens her mouth as if to reply, but stops when the girl says it doesn’t matter.

“Ah… do you think I should, sweetie?”

Celia: “I wouldn’t have survived without Jade. Without Leilani. Without Luna. I would have lived half a life, and my Requiem would have ended prematurely. Lucy might give the fire back to you that you want. Courage, hope, freedom. Whatever that looks like to you.”

The girl reaches into her bag to find the doll. The illusion breaks. She sets the porcelain thing on her lap.

“She won’t talk to me,” she says again. “Am I afraid it will harm you? Turn you into someone you’re not? Yes. I don’t have the answers on what might happen. But I… I think that, above all, she’ll protect you.”

“And if I’m gone… if anything ever happens like it did last night, I want to know you’re safe.”

GM: Diana gives a soft intake of breath. Her eyes look over the doll, then back to the girl.

“Your father could keep me safe. He’s been good and kind, every since he came back to our lives.”

Celia: “We don’t know if that’s an act.”

“We don’t know what he wants.”

“We don’t know if he lied about the demon.”

GM: “But you’ve seen how good he is to us, sweetie. Why would it be an act?”

Celia: Because his master is the most cold-blooded, ruthless, icy-hearted lick in the city.

GM: “It’s not like he needs me for money or anything.”

Celia: “Image. Another punching bag. I don’t know. Tonight we were supposed to see. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t have the answers. But I’d rather you be safe than submit yourself to him again.”

GM: Diana’s eyes fall to her lap.

“I… I didn’t tell you this, earlier, but… part of me liked, I think, what Jade did. Or part of what she did.”

“Just… being able to submit and let someone else make all the decisions.”

She still doesn’t meet the girl’s gaze.

“I know you and Emi would think… think badly of me, for that.”

“Obviously she was hurting me, and that’s not okay.”

“And she wasn’t my husband, either.”

“I’d just… I’d just really like a husband I can… support. Let make all the big decisions. Be the head of the household.”

She finally looks up.

“What if this will ruin that?”

“What if I turn into, I don’t know, an opinionated shrew?”

Celia: “What, like Emily?” Amusement rather than judgement.

GM: “Emily’s… Emily’s not a shrew,” Diana says with a laugh. “Just… opinionated!”

Celia: “Mm. She’s strong-willed. You think Lucy would make you worse than that?”

GM: “I… maybe…?”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want someone to take care of me, Celia. I just want your father to take care of me. I feel like I’ve got him back. I want him back. So, so much.”

“And if this could ruin that, if there’s even a chance…”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, “there are things that don’t make a lot of sense to me about our family. There are nights and stories you’ve told me that don’t add up. Like everything with Ron, or why Maxen attacked you. I don’t know what Lucy will be like inside of you instead of in a doll. The only person who does know is the one who turned you into Grace. And wanting to take care of someone isn’t a bad thing. Having a spine isn’t a bad thing. You can love him and take care of him and still be strong. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

GM: “But. But your grandma didn’t love me, before I was…” Diana seems to search for words for a moment, “before she sent me there. I caused problems. I kept causing problems.”

Celia’s mom looks down again.

“Maybe she was right to.”

Celia: “Did you love yourself?”

“Because Grandma still doesn’t have a relationship with you now.”

“You can’t base your life on other people. You’ll only ever be disappointed.”

GM: “We don’t. I’m… I’m petty. I’m small.”

“I always feel like you and Emi are disappointed in me, in how… how weak I am.”

Celia: “I’m never disappointed in you. I love you. I want you to be happy. I want you to see the brightness inside of yourself that I do. How strong you are to be through everything you’ve been through but you continue to love with all of your heart.”

“That’s strength, Momma. To go through Hell and back, twice, and come out as you did? Intact? That’s amazingly strong.”

GM: “I know. You’ve told me that before. But it always makes me feel good to hear.” Her mom smiles and gives her hand a squeeze.

“It’s, it’s the one area where I feel like I can tell Emily that she was wrong, but not in a mean way, of trying to put her down.”

“Of… of actually being able to show her a better way, teach her something. Like a mom should.”

“You remember how she wanted to abort Lucy. How she thought a ‘rape baby’ would just bring more grief into our lives.”

Celia: Celia looks away for a moment.

“Maybe it did. I was a rape baby too. But Lucy has brought you joy.”

“Stephen knows what she did to you. I asked him, you know, before things got rough between us… if he thought you could still love me, if Lucy were to rejoin you. And he said that no matter what she did to you, she couldn’t change the core of your being. That ‘happy, loving wife’ doesn’t have a script written into the code about adopting a college-aged daughter and loving her like her own. That’s you. Genuinely you. That’s who you are. And if Lucy gives you a bit of a mouth or temper, well, all the better for it.”

GM: “You have brought joy into my life, sweetie! Unimaginable joy!” Celia’s mom exclaims, hugging her. “Have there been some bad moments, has there been grief, yes, but that’s life. Lucy, ah, the other Lucy, hasn’t been perfect 100% of the time either. There’s no such thing as perfect. You just have to accept that whatever grief and pain there is will be outweighed by the joy.”

Celia: “Then that’s your answer with this Lucy, isn’t it?”

GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.

“Will… will things still be okay with us, if I get opinionated like Emi…?”

“Or worse…?”

Celia: “I hope so. Maybe some growing pains, but nothing we can’t figure out.”

GM: “I just, I just don’t want to ruin what we have, Celia. Things were rough, after you, ah, told me what you were.”

Celia: “Do you think it will get rough?”

GM: “Maybe. That’s what I’m scared of. I don’t ever want us to go back to a place where you don’t want me as your mom. I always want to be your mom.”

Celia: “Then we’ll see how it goes. And we’ll navigate as things come up. Because I do want you as my mom. Always.” Celia squeezes her hand.

GM: Celia’s mom takes a breath and squeezes her hand back.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” she repeats.

“Let’s… do it before I lose my nerve,” she says with a weak chuckle.

Celia: Celia silently offers her the doll.

GM: Diana gingerly takes Lucy into her arms. She looks at the doll, then back towards Celia.

“Is there… something I need to do…?”

Celia: She has no idea.

“Connect with her,” she says, “like you did last time. Heart to heart. There’s energy inside of all of us. Listen to her. She’ll speak to you, through you. Close your eyes if it’s supportive. Imagine yourself as you, Diana Flores, but only half of you. See your face in the mirror. It’s you, but not. Half of your reflection is gone. Feel the weight of Lucy in your arms. Feel the words she has for you. The time you spent apart. The longing. Who she was. Who you were, before you were Grace. Breathe it in. Breathe in Lucy, breathe in her courage and hope and love, breathe in her past, her happiness. Breathe out your fear. It supported you once, that fear, but not anymore. This is your missing half. A piece of you. She is you, and you have nothing to fear from yourself, only the unknown. Lucy will not hurt you. Bring her into you.”

GM: Diana closes her eyes.

Half of herself in the mirror.

That’s an odd mental image, but Celia can think back to another image of her mother in the mirror. A sweat-drenched and delirious-eyed Diana in a ballerina’s costume. Feeding tube down her throat, chains around her limbs, diaper visible below her tutu. Drawn smile plastered over her gag. Grace.

Perhaps her mom is thinking of it too. Diana gives a little shudder.

She holds the doll in her arms, like Celia says. Perhaps she also thinks back to who she was. Who was that? Maxen said she stole Grandma’s car and threatened her with a gun. She spat “Fuck you,” towards Key. That was the second time in her life that Celia heard her mother swear. She said she used to be tough. That she had to be tough, to make it in ballet.

“I started on the big stage at 15, you know. Young. You have to be tough. Everyone looks at us on the stage, sees how pretty and pink and sylph-like we are, floatin’ along en pointe, but they don’t see what goes on backstage. They don’t see the way adults will tell you, to your face, blunt as a frying pan, you are too fat. You are too slow. You are too ugly. You are too stupid. You are not good enough. In front of all the other girls, public as a stroll in the park. Who are all older than you. Some lots older than you. Who all want the choice roles, that only so many dancers are gonna get. And don’t even get me started on the physical training. Or the eating disorders.”

“To do that, at 15? You have to be TOUGH.”

Celia’s mother takes a long breath in.

Then a long breath out.

Then, after a moment, she hugs the doll against her chest.

Without fanfare or denouement, Lucy falls apart. Cracks run through the porcelain. Chunks and pieces spill over Diana’s lap. A brown slurry of sawdust, glue, cornstarch, resin, and wood flour runs over Diana’s dress. It leaves a mess on the bed. More composite runs off the covers and onto the floor. All that’s left of the doll are her clothes.

Celia’s mother blinks and stares at her lap.

Celia: Celia stares.

She hadn’t imagined it would be that easy. Last time it had been tough. Diana had hurt herself; she’d seen it in her face, in her eyes. Celia had expected something similar. A longer battle. A fight.

What had done it this time? Her earlier words about no longer being a doormat? Her determination to set her mother free? The instruction she’d given, the pieces of Lucy she’d gathered with her?

Who is this creature now?

The porcelain prison erupts, and Celia is almost afraid to find out who and what this new woman is. She keeps her hands to herself. They can clean the mess in a moment.

“…Mom?” she asks quietly.

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t respond. Just stares at the mess and the tiny clothes on her lap.

After a moment, she gets up, sets the doll’s outfit on the bed, and wipes the mess off her dress.

Celia: “I’ll get the vacuum. New sheets. I can put these in the wash for you. Do you want to keep the dress…?”

GM: “I need my phone please, Celia.”

Celia: Celia logs out of her account and hands it over.

GM: Celia’s mother takes it, taps it several times, and holds it to her ear. Celia hears the call app ring until it goes to voicemail.

“Hi, Viv? This is Diana. I have a potentially really big case for you. Please let me know when we can meet to talk about it. Thanks!”

Celia’s mom taps again to end the call and sets the phone down on her bedside table.

She wipes her hands along her dress again, then walks out of the room, heels clicking against the floor.

Celia: Mutely, Celia trails after her.

She wonders what sort of mistake she’s just made.

If it’s a mistake.

GM: Celia’s mom walks back into the living room. Maxen looks like he’s dozed off. Emily is still watching him like a hawk. Diana gently shakes him awake.

“Do you remember what you said after you hit me with the dinner plate?”

Celia: Celia stands in the doorway leading to the hall, one arm crossed over her stomach. She doesn’t take her eyes off of her mother.

GM: Celia’s father blinks slowly as he wakes from his doze.

“I’m sorry, Diana?”

“Well, you said a lot of things,” Celia’s mom continues. “But to reply to one of them, seven years late, dance teaches children muscle coordination, teamwork, appreciation for the arts, and a whole lot of other things that have personal and societal benefits. Their brains expand and develop new neural pathways as they try new things and master new skills. It’s the same reason we teach literature to children who won’t become writers, P.E. to children who won’t become athletes, or biology to children who won’t become scientists. It’s to help them grow as people, not train them to become professionals in those fields. Maybe they will decide to, from what they learn in school, or maybe it’ll just make them better-rounded people. That’s what teaching children does, gives them choices and rounds them out as people. Most of my students won’t choose to work as professional dancers, but they’ll all benefit from knowing how to dance at weddings and parties. Also specifically to me, I try to make my classroom a happy space where kids can relax, unwind, and switch mental gears in an academically rigorous school, knowing they’ll get an easy ‘A’ and only need to think about having fun. It makes their days better and helps them succeed at other schoolwork. I have had a lot of girls come to me for help with personal problems, confide in me, or just tell me they love my class and that I’m their favorite teacher. I make a positive difference in their lives.”

Maxen looks somewhat confused, but nods. “You do make a positive difference in their lives. Your job has great v-”

“That’s not what you said seven years ago,” Celia’s mom interrupts. “You said I’d wasted my life on a completely valueless pursuit. That it was worthless. You told me that before you raped me. My job is not valueless. It has great value.”

Celia: Celia glances at Emily.

GM: Emily looks like she’s wondering if she’s dreaming.

Celia: She doesn’t interrupt.

GM: Celia’s mom walks up to the closet. “I suppose this seems a little non sequitur, but, fudge, I’ve wanted to refute that for seven years now. I got more than enough ‘dance is worthless’ talk from my mother before you.”

“Better late than never,” says Maxen. “You’re right, though. I was wrong. Your career has great value.”

Diana retrieves her ex’s coat.

He accepts the coat. “Would you like me to leave?”

“Yes,” answers Celia’s mom. “But there are several things first. The first is alimony.”

“Alimony?”

“Yes. You never paid me alimony after our separation. Just child support. Alimony would have made a big difference in my life. Celia, do you want to tell your father what my old apartment was like?”

“I know he never saw it for himself.”

Celia: Celia speaks up for the first time.

“It was, well, awful. Crummy. She printed out photos from our Facemash profiles because she had none of her own, because nothing was saved. The carpet was threadbare. Holes in the walls. I saw a rat on my way in once. The electrical box blew a fuse a few times, so we never knew if we’d have electricity over dinner. Couldn’t run the toaster and the space heater at the same time. Shared bathroom with everyone else on the floor, where someone OD’d one night. Cracked tiles on the kitchen floor. Slum lords ran it, said they’d fix it but they never did.”

“Pretty sure the insulation went out of it years before she moved in.”

GM: “Sounds like a total shithole,” says Emily.

Celia: “There’s a reason I never took you there,” Celia says with a nod.

GM: “Yes, I was always ashamed to have you over,” Diana says to Celia. “But I was afraid of being seen if I came to Tulane, and couldn’t afford to eat out at restaurants until the collections agency stopped garnishing my wages.”

“That sounds terrible, Diana,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I put you through that. Overdue alimony sounds more than fair.”

“No, it’s less than fair,” says Celia’s mom. “The next thing I want from you is a separate financial settlement to redress the physical, emotional, and financial hardship you’ve put me through over the course of my life. I had to declare bankruptcy to get out of the medical debt I accrued after you illegally dropped me from our insurance plan. It’s still impacting my credit score.”

“Celia, do you want a financial settlement from your father?”

“Emily, I’d ask if you do too, but you luckily only got to hear about the abuse secondhand.”

Celia: That’s a loaded question. Does she want anything from her father? Anything that might tie her to him? Anything that might piss off her sire when he finds out that Diana is no longer a doormat?

Your own money, the plastic man says, and Celia swallows at all of the images it brings up. She’d never told her mom. Never told her dad. Never told Emily. To bring it up now… god, what will they think of her?

Is money really going to make her happy?

“For the abuse? Pain and suffering? The college fund he revoked when I dropped from Tulane?”

Her death. Her literal death.

GM: “Yes,” says her mom. “For physical and emotional hardship. Financial hardship may be harder to argue, but Viv will have a better idea there.”

Celia: It’s not going to bring her back to life. Not going to undo the years of trauma, or the triggering way words hit her now. She shrugs.

“Sure.”

Her sire might kill her.

Oh well.

GM: Celia’s mom nods and turns back to her ex.

“You’ve given me some things already. Emily’s birth certificate. The various ballet memory mementos, though I’m honestly not sure if I still want those. I don’t consider any of those things gifts. They are down payments on a debt still owed. My lawyer will be in talks with yours to determine how much that is. I also don’t want those treatments you mentioned at Texas Medical Center.”

“What about your leg?” asks Maxen, eyebrows raised.

“I’m looking into alternatives.”

Celia’s mom continues, “In 2009, Maxen, you beat our daughter until she could not sit without pain. She broke her arm fleeing your house. You also kidnapped me, beat me, raped me, and sawed off my toes. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations on criminally prosecuting those things has expired, which doesn’t feel right, considering I’m still on pain meds for even older injuries. I may or may not be able to win a civil suit against you, since money plays such a big role in how those play out, but I’m darn sure I can cost you the election if I approach Bill Roberts with all the sordid details of what happened.”

“If you try to skimp out on what you owe us.”

Celia: There’s that fire. There’s the woman that Celia has wanted. There’s the strength hidden behind the meekness, the mother bear who will fight tooth and nail to protect what’s hers.

Celia’s heart swells with pride.

GM: “I see,” says Maxen. “I certainly don’t want to fight you, Diana. I don’t want to cause more hurt among this family. I will need to talk to a lawyer before otherwise deciding how to proceed.”

Celia: A lawyer, or his friend in the shadows? Celia searches his face for the truth.

For the second time this evening she finds it hidden from her. But she will protect her mother this time, no matter what comes.

GM: “You do that,” says Diana. “I’d like you to do that very much, in fact. I want all of our future contact to be through lawyers.”

“Because the next thing I want is for you to permanently cease all contact with me, Lucy, and Emily. And Celia, if she also wants that. You will go through my attorney to help find Isabel. Attorneys are good for that, too.”

“I’ll honor your wishes if that’s what you want, Diana,” says Maxen as he puts on his coat. “Are you sure it’s what you want?”

“Yes and no,” Celia’s mom answers. “I’m not sure whether you’ve changed. I think if you have changed, forgiving you is the sort of thing Jesus would do. And I like to think I could do that. But I’m not sure if you have changed.”

“You don’t have to believe me, Diana. You don’t have to give me a chance, either. It’s up to you if you want to do that.”

Celia’s mom shakes her head. “No. It’s not. This is about our granddaughter, not just me. I am her legal guardian. I am responsible for her welfare. And I cannot take the chance, by inviting you back into our lives, that you will abuse her like you abused our children.”

“If you have any contact with Lucy, I will go to Bill Roberts. I will tell him everything.”

Celia: “There’s one more thing, Dad.” Celia says, taking a step forward. “This will stay between our family and the lawyers.” She meets his eye. “No outside parties.”

“Mom wants to forgive you. Prove you’ve changed. Play by her rules, and maybe there’s a happily ever after for the two of you, if that’s what you both want.”

GM: “No.” Diana crosses her arms and shakes her head. “The ending to our story is right here. Right now. I will not ever take the chance that he is going to abuse Lucy.”

“I will find another man to marry and be the father figure that she needs.”

Celia: Good for her.

It’s about goddamned time.

GM: “And I’ll raise her alone if I can’t find a man.”

“Not alone,” says Emily, wrapping an arm around Diana’s shoulder.

Celia: “Never alone.” Celia takes the other side.

GM: Maxen is quiet for a moment. His eyes silently roam his daughter’s, Emily’s, and ex-wife’s face.

The foot shorter woman folds her arms and stares up at him.

“I will respect all of your wishes,” he says. “This will stay between family and attorneys.”

Celia: Celia is not sure she believes him, but she nods all the same.

GM: Emily walks off to open the front door.

Maxen follows after her and turns when he’s at the door.

“Good night, Diana. Celia. Emily.”

Celia: “Good night, Dad.”

GM: “Goodbye, Maxen,” says Celia’s mom.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, PM

GM: Diana closes the door after her ex-husband leaves. She waits and stares through the window until his car drives off.

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother once he is gone. For the first time since she began speaking to him there is doubt in her eyes. Is she next? She stands alone, apart from Emily, and waits for what might come.

GM: “…what the fuck just happened,” says Emily.

“Who are you and what have you done with our mom.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her sister.

“She’s Mom.”

GM: “Seriously,” Emily repeats. “I’ll, uh, dance with joy and probably cry once the initial shock wears off. But seriously, what the fuck just happened?

Celia: Celia looks back to her mother, pride in her eyes. She lifts her brows a fraction of an inch, as if asking if Diana wants to explain, or if Celia should tackle this one.

GM: Her mother nods towards her.

Celia: “All of it?” she asks.

GM: “I think there are a lot of decisions I should’ve made for myself over the years, Celia,” says her mom. “There are a lot of decisions I do intend to make for myself going forward.”

“But here I’m going to trust your judgment.”

“Okay, all of what?” says Emily.

Celia: Celia turns to look at her sister.

“We’ve trusted you with a lot of things over the years. Like my real dad. And Lucy. Life and death things. You’ve never let us down. You’ve never told anyone anything.”

She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“This is another one of those things. Something you can’t tell. Ever. Life and death. Okay?”

GM: Emily nods.

“Absolutely. Life and death. I get it. I won’t even tell Robby if you don’t want me to.”

“How about we sit back down?” suggests Diana.

Emily nods and follows her back to the couch.

She turns to regard Celia somberly once they’re seated.

Celia: “Maybe a bottle of wine,” Celia suggests with a wry smile. She doesn’t sit, waiting until Emily and her mother have done so to begin.

“You can’t tell Robby. No one.”

GM: “No one,” repeats Emily.

“I haven’t told him about your dad or Lucy. I don’t talk about those things with anyone but you two.”

Celia: Celia nods. She smiles.

“You maybe noticed that I’m not around during the day. That I have excuses as to why not. All sorts of excuses. That I don’t eat. That I’m not at work, despite what I claim.”

She tilts her head to the side.

“Have you wondered why?”

GM: Emily’s silent for a moment.

“Yeah.”

“And there’s been other things too.”

Celia: Celia nods again.

“There’s not really an easy way to say this. So I’m just going to.”

A slight pause. She meets Emily’s eyes.

“I’m a vampire.”

GM: Emily looks at her for a moment, then laughs.

“Okay. I’m a werewolf.”

Celia: “Loup-Garoux,” Celia supplies. Then she’s gone, and on the floor where she was standing is a gray cat.

GM: Emily’s mouth falls open.

Celia: Luna meows at her, stalking forward to rub her face against Diana’s legs, back arching for the scratches she knows are coming.

GM: “Oh, who’s the best kitty,” Celia’s mom murmurs. The pets and scratches come, in ample measure. Scratches behind the ears. Pets along the back.

But Diana’s eyes don’t leave Emily’s face.

Celia: Luna half-closes her eyes in contentment, though they, too, remain fixed on Emily even as she purrs.

GM: “I’m fucking on something,” Emily says dumbly.

“This whole evening. This whole evening has been insane.”

“You don’t do drugs, Emily,” says Diana. As if reminding her.

Celia: Luna lingers for a moment before scooting away, releasing the cat form so that Celia the girl is once more present in the room.

GM: “Celia did not just turn into a c…” Emily starts, then shuts up the minute she sees the transformation repeat.

Reverse.

For a moment, all she can is stare. Her eyes are huge.

“How the fuck did you do that!?”

Celia: “We call it shifting. Mutatio, if you’re old school.”

GM: “This is a spoof. This is a trick. There’s, there’s technology, digital effects. You’re… this is a joke. I’m the joke.”

Diana shakes her head.

“She can do other things too, sweetie.”

Celia: Celia nods. She opens her mouth and shows her fangs, but she keeps her distance.

“Not all of them are as flashy as turning into a cat,” she acknowledges with a smile.

GM: Emily stares again, then walks up and feels the canines with her fingers.

Celia: Celia holds very, very still for her.

GM: Emily pulls out her phone, turns on its flashlight, and shines it in Celia’s mouth.

She peers very close.

Celia: Celia lets her take her time. She wouldn’t believe it, either.

GM: She inspects the fangs for a long while, then puts the tip of her index and long fingers in the groove of Celia’s neck along her windpipe to feel for a pulse in the carotid artery.

Celia: For the first time in a long time, Celia stops her pulse.

GM: Emily places the tips of her index and middle fingers on the inside of Celia’s wrist below the base of her thumb, then presses lightly.

Celia: There’s nothing to feel.

Without the blood circulating through her body, her skin starts to cool.

It takes on the waxy, ashen appearance of so many other walking dead.

GM: “Quash ball under the armpit. Pressure to the right spot under the arm can cut off the pulse distal to that location,” Emily says dumbly, still feeling for the pulse that isn’t there.

“There’s no quash ball, sweetie,” Diana says gently.

Her face stills a bit, though, as she watches the life all but literally leave Celia.

Celia: Celia tries not to let it get to her. She looks away, waiting for Emily to cease her examination.

GM: Diana walks over and hugs an arm around Celia.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re still my daughter.”

Celia: “I know,” she says quietly, “I just don’t like being seen like this. It took a lot of work to put myself back together.”

“It’s hard to… to know what I look like when I stop pretending.”

GM: “You look like death,” says Emily.

“You looked just like this after Maxen raped Mom.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“Yeah. That’s when it happened.”

GM: “There are tests. More tests we could perform at the hospital.”

Celia: “No hospitals, Emily.”

“No tests.”

“No telling.”

“I’m dead. I died in 2009. And I’m walking around. I drink blood. I turn into animals. I am very fast.”

“Can I show you?” She nods towards Emily’s arm.

GM: “Show me… that you drink blood?” says Emily slowly.

Celia: Celia shrugs. “I was going to bite without drinking, so you could feel it, and then mend it. I wouldn’t take from you without your permission.”

GM: “Those… teeth look pretty capable of puncturing,” Emily repeats in the same slow tone.

“What do you mean, mend it?”

Celia: “You’d notice if people walked around with holes in their body. We can fix it after we feed.”

GM: “Maybe you could demonstrate on me first,” says Diana, extending Celia her arm.

Celia: Celia nods. She takes a step towards Diana, lifting her arm to her mouth. Fangs poke out from behind her lips. Gently, Celia punctures the skin. She doesn’t drink, instead pulling away to show Emily the holes, to let her feel them if such is her desire.

GM: The coppery smell of Diana’s blood is positively intoxicating. So is that tantalizing hint of taste. She has yet to sample another vessel as luscious as her mother.

Emily feels the fang marks. She looks at them very closely.

“Shit. These aren’t good. You’re going to have scarring.”

Diana shakes her head.

Celia: Slowly, letting Emily observe, Celia closes the holes with her tongue.

GM: “…how the fuck?” starts Emily.

“Can you do that to all wounds? Seal them by licking them?”

“You’d revolutionize ER medicine!”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “Not all wounds, no.”

GM: There’s finally a look of something other than shock in Emily’s eyes.

Excitement.

Almost… hope.

“What’s the limit, then?”

Celia: “Tiny,” Celia says, “what we create to feed.”

GM: “So what if someone stabbed you with a needle?”

“Or a historic stiletto?”

“Thanks, Robby, I know they’re not just shoes.”

Their mom smiles at the quip.

Celia: “Mm, that’s different. I mend on my own. With blood.”

“It’s… it’s not a miracle cure-all, Em.”

GM: “What do you mean, with blood?”

Celia: “I mean my body repairs itself when I feed.”

“It takes blood. Juice, sometimes we call it.”

GM: “Can you demonstrate that?”

Diana looks like she knows the answer to that question.

Celia: “Ah… I could, but I’d need to feed. I’m actually supposed to meet a friend to hunt…” Celia trails off.

GM: “Another… person like you?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Similar, yes.”

GM: “Another vampire?”

Celia: “Half-vampire, technically. Thin-blooded.”

“…do you want to come?”

GM: “…see you feed?”

Celia: “Meet my friend.”

GM: “Uh.” Emily seems to go through a hundred questions, then settle on, “I thought this was supposed to be just us?”

“How many vampires are there?”

Celia: “Um. A lot.”

“Some cities have more than others. New Orleans is pretty crowded.”

GM: “How crowded is crowded?” asks Diana, curiously.

“You don’t know?” asks Emily.

She frowns in thought.

“…are you a vampire, too?”

Her mom smiles. “No, I’m not.”

“And no, I don’t know. Celia only told me about this pretty recently.”

“The shirt,” says Emily.

“Sorry?” asks Diana.

“You came home in a Flawless tee,” says Emily.

“You said you’d spilled coffee on your blouse.”

“But I was doing the laundry. I didn’t see it.”

“And why would you be drinking coffee at Flawless anyway.”

“Ah. I had a longer fib prepared, but I was going to save it for if you asked me,” says Diana.

“Well, I probably would’ve,” says Emily. “But the blouse being missing.”

“It felt funny. And it wasn’t the first odd thing.”

“What happened to the blouse, anyway?”

“I threw it out,” says Diana. “There was blood on it. Couldn’t get it out.”

“Did you really suspect something was up this whole time?”

“I wasn’t sure,” says Emily. “Didn’t seem worth confronting about, by itself.”

“I figured I’d just wait and watch.”

“The cats,” she then says, looking at Celia.

“They absolutely hate you.”

Celia: “Yeah. They detect the predator in me. Most animals will.”

GM: “Are you actually… harmful, I guess, to cats?”

Celia: “No. Not usually. I don’t eat animals.”

GM: “Well, I’m sorry,” says Emily. “They’re normally total love-balls. Both of them.”

“Can you drink from animals?” asks Diana.

“Is that the, ah, ‘vegetarian’ option for vampires?”

Celia: Celia gives a vague nod.

“Yeah. I can. It doesn’t do much for me. Not very satisfying. Some of us do it more often, but I prefer not to. It’s just… like eating O’Tolley’s instead of the steak mom made tonight.”

GM: “You ate that,” says Emily.

“But you give away tons of her food at Flawless.”

“I see the others with it.”

“Or Randy with it.”

She pauses for a moment.

“Do you kill people?”

“She doesn’t need to kill people to drink from them,” says Diana.

“We might as well be honest about it. I let her drink from me.”

“Oh,” says Emily.

“How, uh… how does it work?”

Celia: “As she said, I don’t need to kill to feed. Most people get woozy. They take a day or two to recover. I see Mom most nights for, ah, dessert. Most of us don’t taste real food anymore. It’s… well, quite gross, honestly, which is why I made up all the stories I did about various fad diets.”

GM: “…those were so annoying,” says Emily.

Diana chuckles.

Celia: Celia grins. “Yeah, for me too.”

“We throw it up, though. The food.”

“So we don’t usually bother, unless it’s to maintain a facade.”

GM: “Oh, do you need to go now?” asks her mom.

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “No, I’m okay right now.”

GM: “Wait a second,” says Emily. “You didn’t have a pulse. Are you clinically dead in every way? Do you still produce stomach acids? Do you actually digest the food?”

Celia: “Nope.”

“No stomach acid. No digestion.”

“It comes out more or less intact.”

GM: “So, the food would just be… chewed up food.”

“I’d actually like to see this. If it has to come out anyway.”

Celia: “Uh… yeah, sure, I guess. To the, er, bathroom then?”

GM: “You might as well put it in the compost, sweetie, if it’s intact.”

Diana gets up, retrieves the compost bin, and brings it back to the living room.

“Figured this might feel better when you’re sitting down.”

“Though you did say holding even uncomfortable positions wouldn’t hurt?”

“Wait, actually. I don’t want to see it get mixed with the rest of the food,” says Emily.

She gets up, goes to the kitchen, and retrieves another green compost bag.

“Do you feel like we’re putting you on the spot, sweetie?” her mom asks concernedly.

She remembers how much Paul enjoyed the sight of her vomiting.

Celia: Celia nods. “Doesn’t hurt. But, ah, here goes… well, here goes.”

She rises, leaning over the new compost bag. It’s not the same as it used to be, vomiting from her old stomach. Her real stomach. The reflexes aren’t quite there. But the muscle control is, and it takes only a second for her to find the foreign objects in her stomach—

And expel them.

Steak, potato, vegetable. Everything she’d taken a bite of at dinner comes up from where she’d stored it, rising up her throat in tiny chunks of chewed food to land with wet plops into the waiting green bag.

GM: Emily takes the bag and looks into it.

“Wow.”

She sticks her head half-inside.

“Emily!” says their mom.

“It doesn’t smell,” says Emily.

She pulls her head out.

“Like vomit, anyways.”

“It’s completely undigested.”

Celia: “Pretty lame, so far as party tricks.”

GM: “I can’t believe you stuck your head in that,” Diana mutters.

“I’ve cut up corpses, Mom. This is little league stuff.”

Celia: Celia smirks into her hand.

GM: “Might be a lame party trick, but honestly, this is one of the more convincing pieces of… evidence I’ve seen,” says Emily, dropping the bag into the larger one.

“A normal person could not produce this. Even if they induced vomiting immediately after eating, there’d still be stomach juices.”

Celia: “So. Not to rush you guys. But I do actually have to meet my friend to hunt, and I have a thing later to attend. Can’t be late. Emily, are we… like we’re cool, right?”

“I mean, obviously there’s a lot to talk about…”

GM: “Uh, yeah, I kind of have a million and one questions.”

Celia: Celia nods. “Yeah. There’s a lot I want to tell you.”

GM: “I can tell you some things, until she gets back,” says Diana.

“They’re probably a lot of the same questions I had.”

“Though I’m not an expert on this stuff. I’ve only known for… what, a week now?”

Celia: “About that, yes.”

GM: “Can you reschedule with your friend?” says Emily. “This is… kind of a big moment here, learning that… Jesus, I can still barely say it.”

Celia: Celia winces. She checks the time.

GM: She needs to get going in a few minutes if she wants time to hunt before church.

Celia: “I blew her off last night because of some things that happened, and she’s really important to me. She’s new to all of this, and she’s not… she’s not really able to take care of herself yet. I mean, if you want to donate to the cause, I can have her come here instead, but you won’t be on the ball tomorrow.”

GM: “Excuse me, I’m also really important to you, last I checked. You can’t just dump something like this on me and bail!” Emily declares offendedly.

“And what the fuck happened with Mom?”

Celia: Celia levels a look at her mother.

“Do you want to take that one and I’ll call her?”

GM: “Honestly, sweetie, I’m not sure what happened either,” says Diana. “Is this friend the same one I know about?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Okay. Why don’t you just tell her to meet you in an hour or two? I’m pretty sure that won’t conflict with her plans.”

Celia: “My plans. I have a meeting tonight. Court. I can’t miss it. I’ve bailed on the last few.”

GM: “Court?” Diana asks.

Celia: “Court. Mass, news, all sorts of stuff. Kind of a big night for me tonight.”

GM: “Well I think this might be the biggest night of my life to learn that vampires are apparently real!” declares Emily.

Celia: “They’ll still be real tomorrow, too. Or after mass.”

GM: “What happens if you miss court?” asks her mom.

Celia: “Physically? Nothing. Unless the hounds pick me up again for failing to deliver. I kind of don’t want to be on the end of a saw blade again in another interrogation room, which is why I’d like to be there.”

GM: “Wait, what the fuck?” says Emily.

“Okay, so you think your safety is at risk if you don’t attend,” says Diana.

Celia: “Long story,” Celia says, “but I’ll tell you about it after mass. I’ll move my later plans.”

“So I’ll have until, like, four.”

GM: “How long is mass?” asks her mom.

Celia: “Hour or two.”

GM: “Okay,” she says. “If you think your safety will be at risk, if you don’t go, then we are the ones who need to be flexible here. An hour or two to wait won’t kill us.”

Celia: Celia nods. “I’m sorry. I know you have questions. This probably could have waited until tomorrow. Why don’t you spend some time figuring out what all you want to ask, and I’ll come right back here after court, and then I don’t need to head out again until later.”

“And I’ll set aside a chunk of time tomorrow for you.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds fair,” nods Emily.

“Yes, it does,” says Diana. “There are some things I want to talk about with you, too. Emi, I can also spend until then answering what questions you have.”

“Like I said, not an expert, but I’ll fill in what I can.”

Celia: “Thank you for understanding, Mom. And you, Emi.”

GM: “This had to happen on a school night,” Emily says dryly.

“I don’t see how I’m falling asleep now.”

Celia: “Call off.”

“Or let me have a sip and you’ll nod right off.” Celia winks.

GM: “Uh. How much do you usually take?”

Emily doesn’t sound sure how she feels about that.

Celia: “Not much. A pint. Not enough to do anything but make you a little drowsy, less on the ball tomorrow. Usually recover in a day. Mom does faster. Think it’s that giving nature of hers.”

GM: “Do you want me to give you blood?” asks Emily. “Since you do with Mom?”

Celia: “No. I mean, I’m curious about what it’d be like, but I only take from Mom so often because of how quickly she recovers. If it were to actually harm her?” Celia shakes her head. “No. Maybe in an emergency. But I have a good block of domain. I don’t often go hungry.”

GM: “Domain?” asks Emily.

Celia: “Turf. Places I can feed.” She rises.

GM: “Okay, two questions. How much do you need and what happens when you don’t get it?”

“Do you starve to death like…” she seems to search for a word, “non-vampires?”

Celia: “No. I enter a state of hibernation and slowly decay until I’m fed again.”

“And I can keep the same amount of blood in my body as you. Less than half and I’m hungry. I get… feral.”

GM: “Feral?” asks Emily.

“I think Celia needs to head out right now,” says their mom. She gives a smile. “She’ll still be a vampire when she’s back, I’m sure.”

Celia: Celia smiles with her mother. “Yes, I will be. I’ll answer more of your questions then. Please, Emi, I’m trusting you not to tell anyone. At all. We’re all in trouble if you do.”

GM: “I won’t,” nods Emily. “This would…. Jesus.”

“How does something like this even stay secret?”

Celia: “People who find out disappear.”

GM: “You said there’s a lot of vampires.”

“And they’re probably telling their families too.”

Celia: “No. Most of them don’t keep families.”

“I have… things I can do to appear mortal. Others don’t. They stage their own deaths.” Celia glances at the clock. “I’m going to head out. I love you both. I’ll be back in a few hours.”

GM: Her mom gets up and hugs her.

“I love you too, sweetie. More than I can ever say in words. I meant to say this before things came up with Emi, but… thank you. Thank you for pushing me to be brave. Thank you for pushing me to take a chance.”

“And thank you for being brave and taking a chance yourself.”

Celia: Celia all but envelopes her mother in a hug.

“Thank you for loving me, even like this. Thank you for trusting me. I’m so proud of you, Mom. I love you. So much.”

GM: “I love you guys too,” says Emily, standing up to hug them both. “Whatever happened, whatever this was… this was something good. I know that. Something incredible. Just, Jesus, Mom, watching you tell Maxen to fuck off like that…”

Emily breaks off for a moment. Her voice is choked, like she might be crying.

“I don’t even know what to say. So I’ll just, just say. Like Celia. I’m so proud of you. So, so proud. You were am… amazi…”

There is no ‘might’. Emily is full-on crying now.

Celia: Celia brings Emily into the hug, holding both of these amazing, incredible women close to her.

“I love you, Emi. I’m so happy you’re in my life, that we’re in yours. There’s so much… just so much good with you, and Mom, and… just… I just… I love you, Emi, I love you.”

GM: Emily makes some more choked noises that sound like agreement. She is smiling, past the tears. Celia makes out another “love you”, too.

Diana smiles, closes her eyes, and just holds her daughters close.

Celia: It isn’t how she’d expected her night to go. But now, more than ever, Celia is proud and glad to have these two women in her life.

Giving up the rest of her friends and allies and loved ones is scary. But she knows that her family will see her through.

Against that, the night doesn’t seem so dark and hopeless anymore.

View
Celia VI, Chapter XIII
Missing Daughters

“You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life.”
Roderick Durant


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia hits the pillows. Then she wakes up. It’s eight hours later than it was a second ago.

She feels great.

Celia: She wakes, for one of the few times in her Requiem, feeling refreshed. The sun may have warned her that the process of transformation and breaking through her own bullshit will be difficult and painful, but waking this evening is a reminder that once she is through the pain she can find peace on the other side.

She takes that for the blessing that it is and rises, throwing back her covers to greet the evening with a whole, healthy body and smile.

GM: Her skin is hale and pristine once more.

Flawless, even.

There’s some texts on her Sunbook’s WhatsApp window.

From Mel, So glad to hear!

From Dani, Hey you wanna get together some other time? Sunday night?

From her mom, Looking forward to seeing you tonight! :)

From Emily, Looking forward to the worst dinner ever?

There’s also some Facemash pictures Celia is tagged in. They’re of her family enjoying brunch at the Ruby Slipper Cafe. Lucy is chowing down a Three Little Pigs Omelet. (That’s what Diana says it’s called—“Lucy saw the name and couldn’t resist!”) Robby at least isn’t in the pictures. He’s not the biggest church fan.

Alana’s also sent, coming by soon with dinner! love you! xoxoxoxo

There’s no response from Gui. She supposes she’s always been an early riser.

There’s nothing from Roderick either.

Maybe that’s because she’s an early riser too.

Celia: Maybe.

She’d never gotten back to him though. Had been debating what to do there. If she should just fake her own death, and if it’s worth giving up all of the privileges of Jade just to escape one person.

Maybe she could just flee the city. Take Gui with her, if she really wants. Go back to Chicago with him.

The thought isn’t as appealing as she thought it would be.

She takes a moment to send Roderick a text now. It’s a brief message: Safe. Explain tonight. Dinner?

She’d imagined it going differently tonight. Using these precious moments to herself to get ready, showing up at his door with everything she’d need for him, the blood and gift and her dress and ideas and plans and, and, and—

Why does it hurt so much?

She texts Dani back that there was an emergency and she will tell her about it soon. She’s sorry she missed their night together.

Another to Emily with an emoji of rolling eyes and a thumbs up.

And a heart to her mom.

She assumes that Alana coming by means Reggie got her message, but he didn’t text back at all. She tries not to worry about it. In the meantime, Celia does her face—flesh and makeup both—and rinses off in the shower before grabbing her clothes for the evening.

GM: There’s a knock at her door soon.

Celia: Celia finishes her look with a spritz of setting spray and moves to answer the door.

GM: It’s Alana. She’s likewise dolled up in a face full of glam, revealing club attire, and strappy high heels. She’s leaning against a 20something and cute enough black man who’s likewise dressed in club clothes.

“Hello, mistress,” she beams. “I was just telling Brayson here all about how you own me.”

The man smirks faintly and looks Celia over.

“Yeah. Kinky.”

He looks a little unsteady on his feet himself. Actually, a little pale, too. Has someone else fed on him recently? The kine can’t tell, or they make excuses, but Celia’s own kind can and don’t. This one might only be up for a shallow feeding.

There’s always “dessert” with her mom, at least.

There’s another message from the woman on her WhatsApp window, too.

Can you come by before dinner, sweetie? There’s some stuff I’d really like to talk with you about!

That’s 8 PM, just as a reminder!

It was 7:36 when she woke up.

Not much time for a fuck between the drive and getting herself ready.

But he’s right there.

They’re both right there.

Willing.

Eager.

And it’s not like she’s going to get laid at her mom’s. Or at Midnight Mass.

When even is she going to get laid tonight?

Celia: Sex can look like a whole bunch of different things, though. For a breather, it’s P in V intercourse. For a lick, it’s the simple swapping of blood. She doesn’t plan to give any to this young boy, and there’s little enough she can safely take from him.

“Brayson,” she purrs, “would you like to fuck my pet?”

She pulls the pair of them inside, giggling as she leads the way to the bed she’d just evacuated. She tells them how she wants it, with Alana on her hands and knees and Brayson filling her from behind. Once they get going she slides in behind the pair, running her hand down Brayson’s body. Cute enough, she thinks, kissing and licking his neck before she bites.

GM: “I’d like to fuck you both,” says Brayson, but he’s happy enough to start with Alana. He’s even more happy when Celia’s canines pierce his neck and the ecstasy of her kiss overcomes him. His blood is sweet with his lust, a taste Celia well knows, but there’s a strongly sour undercurrent. Actually, the sweetness just feels like a mask. She can taste the man’s emptiness. His depression. And here he still is, having sex with two partners at once, or at least thinking he is.

His blood actually doesn’t taste that unfamiliar.

Brayson pumps vigorously into the Toreador’s ghoul but blows his load soon enough. He lies groggily half-asleep in Celia’s bed. Alana tries to pull her domitor after them, crooning how much she wants to “get to the good part, now.”

The time reads 7:55. Five minute drive to be exactly on time for dinner.

“I’ll make your toes curl, mistress…” she purrs, running her hands along Celia’s arm, massaging her shoulders, and planting wantful kisses along her neck.

“We’ll do it any way you like it… I want to show you how much you mean to me… I want to make you feel good, the way you make me feel good…”

“You’re so beautiful… there’s nothing, no one, who compares… I’m so lucky to have you in my life…”

Celia: Celia wants it, too.

But she wants to enjoy it. She wants to take her time and not be rushed. She wants to use the rest of the toys she’d purchased for Alana, to give herself a cock and fuck her, to tease and lick her way down Alana’s body and spread her open in front of her so that she can taste the sweet love and devotion she has for her mistress.

She murmurs that to Alana as she kisses her neck, that she has a few new things she wants to try on her, that she has a surprise for her later and doesn’t want to spoil her appetite now with something quick and less satisfying.

GM: “Okay, Mistress…” Alana murmurs, seemingly placated. “We’ll do it tonight. Without any distractions. Without him. Just us.”

“Just us,” she repeats, planting a tender kiss on Celia’s lips.

Celia: “You don’t want me to share you with my friend? I think you’d enjoy the attention from the pair of us.” Celia gives her a final kiss. “Think about it.”

Then she’s gone, slipping out the door and on her way.


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: Celia drives to her mom’s house. There’s two unfamiliar cars in the driveway, along with the familiar pink Beetle and Emily’s car.

Celia: Two?

Why two.

Who else is here?

Is it Robby?

Maxen? (Obviously, but who is the second? Did he bring someone?)

She’ll find out in a moment. She steps inside.

GM: The door is closed, but Celia has the key. She arrives inside to find Maxen sitting next to Diana and Emily on the living room couch. Emily does not look particularly friendly. Diana looks very friendly and is smiling and holding hands with her ex.

There’s also a second man who Celia doesn’t recognize. He looks around 30. He’s white, black-haired, clean-shaven, and has high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, and proud ‘I know best’ features. He’s dressed in a dark red button-up shirt, black slacks, and matching oxfords.

Celia: She doesn’t need to think too hard on who that is. All the same, she takes half a second to detect the predator inside of him.

GM: He is like her.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Maxen is dressed similarly to the newcomer, tan slacks and a light blue button-up. Diana looks like she’s put a lot of effort into her appearance, to the esthetician’s trained eye: to a man’s, it’s an “I just threw this on” look, like Celia did for her with Henry, but Diana has a redder lipstick, some spritzes of her favorite rose perfume, and nicer jewelry. A floral dress and her favorite pink heels complete the look. It’s casual enough for dinner, but definitely on the dressier side.

Emily just has on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and socks. No makeup, either.

“Oh! Celia!” exclaims her mom, smiling widely and rising first to hug her. “I’m so glad you’re here, sweetie!”

“I sent you some texts, but I don’t know if they got through.”

“Why wouldn’t they have?” asks the other vampire, who then smiles. “But the important thing is that she’s here now.”

Maxen smiles too and rises from his seat, but seemingly waits for Celia to finish greeting her mother.

Celia: Celia smiles at her father and Emily, then hugs her mother fiercely.

“You look beautiful, Momma. I love that color on you. I didn’t get your texts, actually. I lost my phone and had to use the app on my laptop. The find my phone thing didn’t make it magically appear, unfortunately, so I didn’t get anything relatively recent. Hope you didn’t ask me to bring anything but my darling self.” She winks at Emily.

Celia pulls back from her mother to smile at the lick, eyes crinkling in delight.

“Hey, you.” In the same sort of way she’d say “hey baby,” the familiar inflection on the “you” that suggests he isn’t a stranger. Roderick, right? Who else could it possibly be?

GM: “Thank you, sweetie. You look Flawless as ever too,” her mom beams. She never gets tired of saying that. “But I’m so sorry to hear about your phone! When did it go missing?”

“We can order you a new one if you like,” says Maxen, hugging his daughter next as Diana stands aside. “Our treat, if you haven’t done that yet.”

Celia: “Earlier today,” Celia tells her mom. It’s vague enough but also true. “I’m not actually sure when or where, unfortunately. Tried calling it and nothing.” She shrugs, then allows her father to bring her into a hug.

“Hi, Dad. I didn’t yet. I was hoping it would turn up in my car on the way over, but no dice.”

She doesn’t miss the way he says “our,” though. What did she miss?

Once Maxen lets her go she gives Emily a private look, brows lifted.

GM: “It’d be ‘your treat’, technically, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Celia already ordered one,” says Emily, getting up to hug her sister next.

Celia: “Hey cutie,” Celia says to Emily, kissing her cheek.

All that’s left is the lick.

Roderick, right? It has to be. Even if he hadn’t seen Dicentra he’d obviously seen a night doctor. Dr. E., maybe; she knows they’re big in Mid-City, having seen their tag often enough.

She wonders how he’s going to make her pay for this.

Celia slips away from Emily, turning to face the lick as she takes a tiny step forward. There’s a hesitant, questioning look in her eye, as if asking for permission to approach, asking for some sign that he’s who she thinks and not some random because nobody had mentioned him yet and she doesn’t know what he’d already said to them.

Was this why her mom wanted her early? Or was it something with her dad?

She searches for the answer in his face and body. It’s not the outfit she’d picked out. What if she’s wrong?

GM: “Hey cutie,” replies Emily before breaking off the hug. She gives Celia a ‘hey are you going to shoot down his stupid offer or what’ look.

The newcomer smiles and rises to hug her.

“And hello to you too, Celia.”

Maybe he is some random.

Who knows what he’s already said?

“You two look adorable together,” beams her mom.

“Good choice,” echoes her dad,who then chuckles.

“Michael asked for my permission to date you. I told him that was up to you, but I appreciated the good manners.”

“I thought it had troubling implications when your dad used to beat you,” says Emily.

Celia: Why would she shoot down a free phone? Not that she needs the money, but… well, fuck it, right? Might as well roll with the punches. Since that’s what she suffered at his hands as a child. Abuse.

The lick’s reaction, tame as it is, doesn’t give her much confidence in this whole thing. She has to assume it’s her lover, but the lack of affection here…

It shouldn’t hurt. She tries to loosen her body when he comes in for a hug, to put her former love for him into the arms that she puts around him, the way she rests her cheek against his chest. She’d thought once that he was the perfect height for her. And he is. She fits snugly against him.

“Hi,” she breathes against him, looking up with the same question in her eyes. Something. Please. Anything, she needs anything from him.

She doesn’t yet pull away from him when Maxen speaks, but Emily’s comment makes something flicker in her eyes. Shame or guilt or something like pain, and Roderick(?) can feel her stiffen in his arms.

“Well, if he starts that up, Emmy, I’ve heard you’re good with a blade.” She turns to smile at her sister.

GM: “Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” ‘Michael’ preempts when Diana starts to look fretsy. Maxen looks suitably contrite. Michael smiles down at Celia.

“Hi again. How are things with our mutual friend?”

Celia: She doesn’t miss the implication.

The gall. In front of her family! Emily no doubt caught it.

“It’ll be a night to remember,” she says, because there isn’t another answer she can give him right now. She disengages, stepping away from him to focus on her mom.

“Will you come with me to say goodnight to Goose, Mom?”

GM: Michael lets her go without further word.

Emily’s eyes follow the pair.

“Oh, we’ve already put her to bed, sweetie, I’m sorry,” says Diana. “We could check if she’s actually fallen asleep, if you like? Sometimes she stays up reading.”

Celia: Celia nods, happy for any excuse to speak to her mother alone for a moment.

GM: “He doesn’t go,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.

Celia’s dad simply nods. “We’re not there yet.”

“And we’re not ever going to be,” says Emily.

“Emi, please,” says Diana. She lays a hand on Celia as the pair see themselves out.

Celia hears, it though, before they even round the corner.

An eavesdropping Goose is up past her bedtime.

If the sound of small feet trying to quietly sneak away is anything to go by.

Celia: Celia doesn’t rat her out, not verbally. But once she’s out of sight of the people in the living room she sneaks up on the child with all the speed of her clan and scoops her into her arms, whispering about little spies in the corridors.

GM: A nightgown-clad Lucy all but jumps out of her skin and gives a sharp inhalation of breath as she clamps her hands over her mouth. Celia’s caught her red-handed.

“Don’t tell Mommy…!” she whispers.

Celia: “Never,” Celia assures her.

GM: Diana rounds the corner a second later and sees Lucy in Celia’s arms.

She doesn’t frown.

Celia: Whoops.

GM: Her eyes widen for a moment, then she holds a finger to her lips.

Celia: Celia winks at her and carries her prize down the hall, back into her bedroom.

She waves for Diana to come along.

“Company caught your eye, Goose?”

GM: It’s a short walk for the trio Lucy’s bedroom. Or technically, the pair, with Lucy not actually walking. Diana waits to say anything until they’re inside and close the door. The walls are deep blue and decorated with Butterfly stencils. Glow-in-the-dark stars glow down from the ceiling. The bed is heaped with pillows, stuffed animals, and lots of blankets, including a sun and moon patterned quilt Diana made. More stuffed animals, dolls, and other children’s toys sit around the room, along with a desk for schoolwork. That’s expected to see more use in the future.

A bunny-themed nightlight sits in the corner.

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Because monsters in the dark are real.

Someone should’ve told Celia that when she was Lucy’s age.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Celia: She doesn’t imagine that a nightlight would have stopped him any more than the blankets over the head did.

GM: Or her.

Or the one in the living room.

Lucy just gives a timid look.

“We’re not mad, Goose, it’s okay,” says Diana. She smiles as she strokes the child’s back.

Celia: “Not at all, baby. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”

And look how that had turned out for her.

Maybe it’s a bad comparison.

GM: It’s a terrible comparison.

“Mommy Emi was mad…” says Lucy quietly.

Celia: “Not at you, sweetie.”

“She’s not super happy with the company right now.”

Celia glances at her mom.

“I think she’s jealous that Momma was holding someone else’s hand.”

Celia lifts her brows at Diana. What had that been about?

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. She looks like she’d been about to ask why.

Celia’s mom just gives a hapless roll of her shoulders.

Celia: “Let’s get you tucked in, little Luce, so the dinner Momma made for all those boring adults doesn’t get cold.”

GM: “Why can’t I see Grandpa?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Grandpa is… he’s not always the nicest man, Lucy. When I was little he used to make Momma and I pretty sad. Right now we’re trying to fix that and see how things go so he doesn’t make you sad, too.”

Celia pulls back the blankets and sets Lucy down.

“But,” she continues, “if he wants to be nice forever then you will get to see him.”

GM: “That’s right!” smiles Diana, still whispering as she runs a hand along the child’s hair. “We just wanna be sure he’s gonna be nice, and never make you sad, Luce.”

Celia: “And never make Momma or I sad, either. Happy is better.” Celia tucks Lucy in, smiling warmly down at her.

“Maybe if things go well we can all go for ice cream after dinner one night.”

“Get some sleep, Lady Goose. Mommy will tell you all about this tomorrow, I bet.”

Celia leans over to kiss her cheek.

“I love you, Lucy.” She reaches for Diana’s hand.

GM: “Ice cream’s nice,” smiles Lucy. “And you will, Mommy?”

“I will, Lady Goose,” nods Diana, squeezing Celia’s hand, and then Lucy’s too. “Promise.”

“Do I need to say my prayers again?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “It doesn’t hurt,” Celia says with a small smile for Lucy. “I’m sure He enjoys hearing from you more than once a day, baby.”

GM: “Can’t hurt,” Diana echoes. She takes Lucy’s hands, guides them into position, and bows her head with her daughter’s.

Celia: Celia presses her palms together and mimics the movement.

GM: “Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
angels watch me through the night
and wake me with the morning light.
Amen,” they both recite.

Jade remembers reciting it with Butterfly.

“I love you, Lucy,” Diana murmurs, tucking the girl in and kissing her head.

“Sleep tight.”

“Love you too, Mommy, Mommy,” Lucy says in apparent sequence to them both.

Celia: “Love you, baby. Sleep tight.”

Celia gives a tiny wave with her fingers and leads the way out of the room. Once the door is closed behind her she turns to look at her mom.

“What did you need to talk about?” she asks in a whisper.

GM: Diana turns on the nightlight, gives Lucy her favorite stuffed unicorn, and turns off the main light. She likewise gives a little wave and closes the door.

“Oh, it’s… nothin’ important, sweetie, not now,” Celia’s mom murmurs, looking away.

“I’m glad we spotted Luce.”

Celia: “Mom. It is important, but we only have so long before they come looking.”

GM: Diana shakes her head. “No, it… it really isn’t, sweetie, I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here early. There was an incident last night I’ll tell you about later.” Celia hugs her mom. “We’ll share later then, okay?”

“What did… Michael say to you?”

GM: Her mom hugs her back. “Okay, sweetie! That sounds wonderful. I’d love to talk to you after dinner.”

She lowers her voice. “He, ah, told me he’s Stephen.”

Celia: “Nothing else?”

GM: “We talked about some other things, but that was the biggest thing,” her mom nods.

Celia: “How long has he been here?”

GM: “He showed up maybe fifteen minutes before your father? And he was about ten minutes early.” Her mom’s smile widens. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have him over like this, that you two get to be together again!”

Celia: It’s not the time to dim the joy on her mother’s face. She just smiles back.

GM: “That is some disguise he has on, too.”

“I asked him how he did it, he just said not to worry about it.”

Celia: No doubt.

Celia resolves not to ask if he wants to play coy. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction.

“Guess we should get back out there before Emily stabs him again.”


Sunday evening, 20 March 2016

GM: The two head back to the living room. Maxen and Michael are chatting. Emily doesn’t look as if she’s having a particularly fun time.

“Well then, y’all ready to eat?” smiles Diana.

Celia: “I know I am.” Celia touches a hand to her stomach, as if it isn’t an organ she’d ripped out of a dead girl.

“Table set, or can I make myself useful?”

GM: “Ready and eager,” smiles Maxen. “I’ve missed your cooking, Diana.”

“I’ve missed cooking for you,” Diana smiles back.

“Table’s long set. We won’t hear of you havin’ to do any work here!” declares Celia’s mom.

Emily follows behind the others as they set off towards the dining room.

“He’s missed beating her black and blue, too,” she mutters.

Celia: Celia falls into step beside Emily.

“No more,” she murmurs. “No more women from this household will be beaten or abused. Never again.”

She is decidedly not looking at “Michael.”

But maybe she says it loudly enough for someone with above average senses to hear.

GM: If he does, he gives no sign.

“Tell me again why we’re even having this dinner?” Emily mutters.

Celia: So much has happened this week that Celia barely remembers anymore.

“So you could call him on his bullshit in front of Mom.”

It’s not Maxen that she regrets inviting to dinner, though. It’s the man wearing someone else’s face.

GM: “I hope that works.”

She lowers her voice even more.

“I think this was a mistake, Celia. I don’t think we should’ve invited him further into our lives like this.”

Celia: She’s starting to feel the same. There are a million and one things she wants to talk to Emily about right now, another million things she wants to say to Michael, but the walk to the dinner table is only so long.

How can she tell Emily that she thinks she fucked up? That not only was inviting Maxen into this home a mistake, but so is the “boyfriend” who has begun to abuse and belittle her. She’d been spot on earlier with her comment and now Celia doesn’t even know how to get out of it with anything resembling grace, and maybe she should have just given Camilla a doppelganger.

Celia reaches for Emily’s hand and gives a tiny nod. It’s there on her face: the realization that she had fucked up.

She doesn’t know if Bornemann had lied to her with the information about demons. She doesn’t know what longer game Maxen might be playing, and Camilla’s words—knowing something about her family—ring in her mind. Maybe he’s still possessed. She remembers her mother’s vision, how he takes Lucy away.

Celia steps past the dining room table and into the kitchen, moving to the pantry to get a container of salt. Her mother does enough cooking that she keeps plenty of them on hand for all her baking and flavoring needs. At a dollar per canister, why not? She tucks it into the folds of her dress and murmurs something about needing to use the restroom, then takes off down the hall to pour a line of salt in front of the door to Lucy’s room. It takes seconds. She flushes the toilet on her way back down the hall to give her story some plausibility and takes a moment to rinse and dry her hands. She tucks the salt beneath the sink.

Then she’s back, taking her seat with a smile as if nothing happened.

GM: Everyone sits down around the table as Diana heads into the kitchen after Celia to retrieve the food, but then Maxen gets up and volunteers to help. So do Michael, and then Emily, seemingly purely to dilute the impact of Maxen’s help.

Lucy’s door is closed when Celia returns to pour the salt, but the room to door to her mother’s bedroom is ajar.

The ‘other’ Lucy flies on the floor, glassy eyes silently staring towards Celia.

Celia: Celia stops to stare.

“How did you get here,” she whispers, but she doesn’t have time to find out.

“Diana isn’t ready,” Celia says to the doll. She steps inside the room to pick it up, setting it on the bed against the pillows. “Soon, okay?”

The porcelain Lucy gets a kiss on the brow before Celia turns to rejoin her family.

GM: The porcelain is cold under Celia’s lips.

The doll’s unblinking gaze bores relentlessly after her as she leaves.

Celia observes that Dani’s things are gone. The bedroom looks like it’s fully Diana’s again.

Celia: There aren’t enough hours in her night. Right now it feels like one thing after another and her lifelines are getting smaller and smaller.

Is this what her mom had wanted to talk about? Had Roderick moved her? Had someone else?

She hates not knowing. She hates being without her phone, being unable to send a text to check on Dani. They’d spoken earlier, of a sort. That means she’s okay, right?

All the same, Celia sets that anxiety aside to rejoin her family.

She doesn’t even want to ask in front of the guests. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that Roderick will blame her for losing Dani.

But she does, carrying the last of the dishes from the kitchen to the table next to her mother and asking in a quiet voice if Dani had found somewhere else to stay.

GM: Celia finds, to her chagrin, that the dinner’s other four attendees have carried everything out by the time she gets back, and are seated waiting for her.

Dinner is juicy-looking top loin steak, with a side dish of roasted vegetables: corn, mushrooms, yukon potato, asparagus, zucchini, onions, peppers, tomatoes.

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There’s also a fruit salad of mango, papaya, and kiwi with lime juice and mint.

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Maxen and Michael have larger rectangular wooden plates to accommodate a larger portion of unsliced steak, and also have carving knives for their meat. Celia’s, Emily’s, and Diana’s plates are smaller, round, and ceramic. The smaller portions of steak are already pre-cut.

Celia: It looks delicious. In another life she would have enjoyed it, she’s sure.

The differences in serving size and method makes her lift a brow. Michael will find it as bland and tasteless as she does, she’s sure. Why waste the larger portion like that?

“Looks like somebody doesn’t trust us with a blade,” Celia stage-whispers to Emily.

GM: “Oh, it’s not that, sweetie,” Diana says embarrassedly. “It’s just that I already pre-cut some of the steak and I figured you girls wouldn’t want as much as the men. And it’s just nicer presentation, I thought, when you have that much steak, to leave some of it un-cut. And to let the big strong men cut apart theirs from a bigger haunch.” She smiles at the two.

“Real manly for the guys to cut apart a motionless piece of dead cattle,” Emily says dryly. “I guess those of us with vaginas aren’t up to that task.”

“It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with ‘manliness’,” says Michael. “Diana thought it was better presentation not to pre-slice all of the larger steak servings. And since men consume more calories on average than women, she gave us larger servings. Which makes sense considering the company. Maxen and I are larger than you and lead physically active lives.”

“Well I’m bigger than Mom and Celia, should I have gotten more steak?” says Emily.

Celia: “Yep,” Celia says, dumping a few pieces onto her plate. “There you go. Grow up big and strong like Mikey.”

“You know who would get the biggest piece? Robby.”

“Or maybe the Goose. I heard she plans to be seven feet tall. Gotta start ’em young.”

“Whole cow for Lucy, Mom.”

GM: “Personally I’m hopin’ she grows up the same size as you and me. That way we can all share clothes,” smiles Celia’s mom.

“This looks sublime, Diana,” smiles Maxen. “It smells sublime, too. Lucy and Emily are very lucky to eat this well every day.”

“Oh I’m so glad you think so, Maxen,” beams his ex-wife. “Would you like to lead us in prayer?”

Celia: Celia smiles at the thought of sharing clothes with Lucy and her mother, then looks to Maxen at the question.

GM: “How about I lead us in prayer, if my vagina doesn’t disqualify me?” says Emily.

Diana starts to say something, but Maxen merely inclines his head.

“We’re all equally small before Him. I’d be happy if you wanted to, Emily.”

“Right.” Emily clasps her hands together. “Good God, good grub, let’s eat. Amen.”

Celia: “Succinct,” Celia says dryly.

GM: “Amen,” says Diana, hands pressed as she bows her head lower.

“Amen,” repeats Maxen, doing the same.

“Amen,” says Michael with an amused look.

“It’s the thought that counts,” says Emily as she starts on one of Celia’s generously volunteered steak pieces. “And He sees all our thoughts, so.”

Celia: “Mm. The ultimate voyeur.” Celia spears a piece of steak with the tines of her fork. “Amen,” she tacks on belatedly. She lifts it to her mouth to bite, chew, swallow. It tastes as bland and awful as every other bite of food she’s ever tasted, like ash and sludge and what she imagines kissing a Nosferatu must taste like.

At least it’s over soon, sliding down her throat into her stolen stomach.

GM: Michael looks like he’s enjoying his about as much as Celia, but he smiles and compliments Celia’s mother. Emily doesn’t look like she’s particularly paying attention to the food’s taste, and Diana mostly looks like she’s watching her ex-husband. She’s seated him at the head of the table and herself at his right. Maxen enthusiastically compliments her cooking and she glows at the praise.

“I had a hunch steak would go over well,” she says mock-slyly.

Celia: Maybe it reminds Michael of the night Celia had invited a boy named Stephen to dinner to meet her father, and the way he had belittled her in front of her newly christened boyfriend. Or maybe it reminds Maxen of the time he’d made her stand in front of the stove for hours until she’d cooked the perfect steak. How he’d forced her to eat it, then make another one.

She’s quiet as her parents talk, looking down at her plate for a brief moment, then up at her… what, boyfriend? Abuser? She doesn’t even know anymore. There’s grief behind her eyes, wordless pain at the memories, at what should have been but isn’t. She wants nothing more than to take his hand and know that they’re in this together, that the boy she once loved is still inside, even if he’s hidden behind walls of anger and distrust right now.

Beneath the table, she reaches for his hand.

GM: Michael doesn’t seem to notice Celia’s action when Maxen remarks, “Michael was telling me about himself before you got here, Celia. You sound like you’ve picked a very successful man.” He smiles at his daughter.

Celia: Her fingertips brush across his knee instead. She lets the touch linger for a moment. Just in case.

“Yes,” she says with a tiny nod at Maxen, “but, I mean, there’s more to him than just that. Big heart.” She turns her eyes to Michael, offering a small smile.

GM: “Celia’s too kind,” smiles Michael.

“The heart counts for more than the success, I think,” says Maxen.

“I’d say they count equally,” says Michael. “Both are necessary to improve a family’s quality of life.”

Celia: Too kind. Too kind for saying he has a big heart.

It’s like a knife through her own, twisting, rending, tearing.

Too kind.

Because it isn’t true anymore. Because he doesn’t love her. Because he only wants to use her. Because he’s a Maxen waiting to happen, has every intention of hurting her until she breaks like Diana had, and he’s too useful to Savoy for her to do anything but take it.

Her eyes move to her plate. Mechanically, she spears another piece of steak with her fork. She bites. Chews. Swallows. It tastes like the ash she deserves, like broken promises and shattered hearts and ugly lies.

“If that’s the case, Dad, then why did you only focus on success when we were kids?”

Hollow heart, hollow voice, hollow eyes.

“Why did you think that your success made everything you did to me, to Mom, to the others okay?”

She hadn’t intended to bring it up. She’d thought maybe Emily would. That she’d play peacekeeper and avoid muddling the water so that she wouldn’t have to lie to her sire if he ever asked what happened.

But now she turns her gaze to her father, watching his face. She lets him see the agony on hers. She lets him see what the years of living with him had done, how her psyche had fractured, how her heart had hardened, how his own neighbor and master had used and abused her when she was still half a child. How she let her own boyfriend twist her words to humiliate and belittle her, how she turned into a weak woman who let a man put her on her knees because that’s what she experienced growing up.

“What if I told you that I grew up into someone who let her boyfriend or husband abuse her? What if I said Michael hits me? He’s successful, does that make it okay?”

GM: “I did a lot of wrong things when you and your siblings were kids, Celia,” her father says quietly.

He looks into her face. Into all of her pain. All of her fear. All of the hardness.

He lays his hand on her shoulder.

“I don’t think I have the moral authority to tell you what is and isn’t okay. But since you’ve asked me, I’d say no. No, it wouldn’t be okay if Michael hit you, no matter how successful he is. I’d say that would absolutely have to stop, for you to maintain any kind of relationship with him.”

“Oh, sweetie…” Diana murmurs. Her heart looks like it’s breaking for her daughter as she gets up from her seat to hug her daughter.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay… that’s all in the past… the future is better, the future is brighter…”

Emily watches silently.

“We all learn our behaviors from our parents,” says Michael, setting down his fork.

He gets up too, laying his own hand on Celia.

“Intergenerational transmission of trauma is the clinical term for it. I certainly hope Celia wouldn’t be okay receiving abuse like the kind her father committed against her mother.”

“But that’s a behavior learned from only one of her parents. And as bad as picking that up could seem… it could have been even worse. Celia could have become an abuser, too, like her father. Women can abuse men too, in more subtle ways. And combining that abuse with the behaviors Celia learned from her mother… she could have turned into an abuser as terrible as her father was—but one who saw herself as the victim. I can’t think of a more dangerous combination in any relationship. I think that would have driven her to a very sad and lonely life.”

He squeezes Celia’s shoulder and smiles down at her.

“I’m not going to say I thank God every night in my prayers that that didn’t happen. But I certainly have in more than one prayer. Celia could have turned into a black hole. A mindlessly destructive force screaming through space, ignorant of the pain it spawned. She could have sucked in all my light and destroyed me with her.”

His smile widens.

“But instead she’s turned into a sun. A force that brings warmth and life and beauty into everyone’s lives. We’re all here because of her. We’re all happy, because of her. And for all the darkness that’s been visited upon this family, I think it contains even more light.”

Celia: Celia lifts a hand to where he squeezes her shoulder. She looks up at him, searching his face for the truth. She finds it in the tightness around his eyes, the way his lips form the words, the very sound of his voice.

He’s lying through his teeth.

She rises, turning to face him fully, ignoring Diana and Emily and Maxen. She touches a hand to her heart, and then his, as if his words moved her. And they have. But the two of them both know there’s more to what he said than the syllables themselves. She steps forward, lifting her arms to put them around him, face pressed against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, just for him.

Her comment hadn’t even been about him. It had only been directed at her dad, at the damage he had done to her and the rest of them. But there was no way for him to know that. No way for him to see that she was doing more than just playing victim, that she really wanted her dad to think about what he’d done to the lot of them.

“I don’t know if Michael told you how we met,” she says to the table, turning slightly and taking her boyfriend’s hand, “but I was in bad shape. Mentally and emotionally. Burned out. Destructive. I never let you guys see it, but he did. He’s been working with me through everything. Helping me see things more clearly. It’s hard to change, and it’s painful sometimes, and it’s really easy to slip back into old patterns. But he’s been so patient, and I… I just really appreciate him for it.”

She looks once more to Michael, seeking his gaze with her own.

“Thank you. For understanding. For seeing me and not just my ways of being. I don’t mean to get emotional, I’m just… just so happy that you’re in my life and that we’re moving forward together.”

GM: “I am too, Celia,” Michael smiles back, squeezing her hand. “Moving forward is what counts. We can wallow in our past mistakes, or we can correct them and move forward. I know which I’d rather do.”

“I’m so happy for you two,” sniffs Diana. Her hand finds Maxen’s again.

“I am as well,” says Celia’s father, giving her mother’s hand a squeeze. “You’ve found a good man, Celia. I’m very impressed by him. By both of you.”

Emily just watches silently.

Celia: Correct them and move forward. Maybe no one else notices the way her fingers tighten around his, or the tiny tremble that runs down her spine at the word “correct.” But he’s right next to her, touching her, and she doesn’t hide the trepidation writ across her face when she looks up at him. She blinks once to tell him that she understands, and gives a tiny nod of agreement. They’ll move forward. She’ll lure in Gui and the two will move forward, and now that he knows everything they will be a team, and she can trust that he has her best interests at heart.

Right?

That’s what she wants, isn’t it? A partner? Someone she can ask for help?

Doubt clouds her mind. He hadn’t come last night. She’d needed him and he hadn’t come.

But she smiles, turning away to take her seat again.

Dinner has barely started and all she wants to do is run.

GM: “Oh, say, were you able to pick up juice at the store?” Michael asks as he sits back down.

Celia: “I was, yes. Only I got home and dropped one of the bags, just fell right out of my hands.” Celia uses her hands to tell the story, mimicking an explosion of glass and liquid. “All over the floor, all over me.” She gestures to the front of her, making a face as her hands pass her stomach. “Ruined my dress when it splashed up.” A tiny laugh. “We really need a new mop, feels like my shoulder fell off from trying to get it all off the floor. Good as new now, but I didn’t want to be late tonight and make anyone worry, so I planned to grab some on the way home to replace it.”

He gets it. Maybe.

It’s not like he’d given her a deadline, only told her that if she wants to spend the day with him again she needs to bring it.

“There was a spider,” she says with a little lift of her shoulders and color in her cheeks, as if that explains her wild story.

GM: “Oh, too bad your beau wasn’t there to squash it,” says Diana, wriggling her eyebrows. “I hate squishin’ bugs on my own. That’s what men are for!”

“That is what men are for,” Michael echoes in amusement.

“That is too bad, Celia. I would have squashed it for you.”

Celia: “Next time,” she says, but the private look she gives him asks if that’s true.

GM: He just smiles at her and spears a potato piece.

Celia: Celia looks away. There’s nothing left inside of him.

She should have let the Guard burn her.

GM: “I did hear about the spider, though,” says Michael. “Celia sent me some very scared texts.”

“Oh no, was it a really big one?” asks Diana.

“Smaller than I probably thought,” says Michael.

“She’s here now. Doesn’t look like it got her.”

“It is good to have man for that sort of thing,” says Maxen between a bite of steak. “But I’m glad she was able to get it on her own.”

“Yeah, I guess we’re pretty used to that in this family,” says Emily. “Having to take care of bad things on our own.”

She’s barely touched her food.

Maxen just inclines his head. “You are. All of you.”

“Is somethin’ wrong with the food, Emi?” asks their mom.

“No, nothing’s wrong with it, Mom,” says Emily. “I guess I just don’t have much appetite when there’s a wife-beating rapist child abuser in the room. I honestly cannot summon the will to eat.”

“Emi!” Diana exclaims.

Maxen bows his head. “Maybe this is too soon. I don’t want to intrude on this family or be the cause for missed meals. I can leave if I’m not welcome.”

“You’re not,” says Emily. She pushes out her chair and rises from her seat. “I think that’d be for the best. Door’s this way.”

Maxen pushes out his chair and rises with her.

“No! Max, stay. Please. I’d like to have dinner with you.” Diana takes his hand again but doesn’t rise from her seat.

Celia: Celia silently watches her family argue, biting her tongue to keep from interceding. Maxen seems sincere enough about going if that’s what Emily wants, but Emily… she thought they’d agreed. One dinner. She’d even brought “backup” in case Maxen tries anything.

She uses the cover of Emily and Maxen’s motion to reach for the salt shaker, flicking her wrist to pour a small amount of it into her palm. Then she, too, rises to look between the pair.

“Dad, I’m sorry, I think she might be right. I think I rushed this before everyone was ready. I think there’s a lot of unhealed trauma coming up for everyone and stepping into this idea of ‘family’ without giving Emily, Mom, and I the proper time might be doing all of us a disservice.”

Celia bites her lip. She looks to her mom, then Michael, and finally back to her dad.

“I think it might be like using a rug to cover a hole in the floor. I’d like to meet you in the middle, if that’s okay. You and I working through some things. Dinner, maybe. With the boys, if they want, and with Michael if he wants to lend support as well. Sometime this week, maybe.”

GM: “I think that sounds more than reasonable,” says Maxen. “It’s been a while since you’ve seen David, hasn’t it? And had dinner with Logan too.”

“Michael would also be welcome to have dinner with us.”

“Thank you, Mr. Flores. That would be my pleasure,” says Michael.

Celia’s attempt to pour salt unnoticed, however, goes horribly awry.

The Toreador’s preternaturally quick grasp is too swift. The lid, clearly not securely attached, flies off. It hits Maxen’s glass of non-alcoholic wine. Drink spills over his shirt and pants as the glass shatters over the floor.

“Oh, no, Max!” exclaims Diana.

Salt is spilled all over the table, too.

Celia: Shit.

“Sorry,” she blurts, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Mike, can you grab some paper towels? In the kitchen?” She’s already moving to clean up the glass so that no one else risks a cut.

GM: “It’s okay, sweetie. Accidents happen,” smiles Celia’s dad. “Where’s the broom and dustpan?” he asks her mom, who’s already dabbing at the stains on his clothes with a napkin.

“In the closet. But nonsense, you’re a guest!” says Diana.

Maxen rises. “Please. You’ve already gone to so much trouble making this lovely dinner. May I?”

“Forget it, I’ll do it,” says Emily, already rising.

“Sweetie, you don’t need to be so contrary,” says Diana. Someone else might glare, but she sounds more like she’s chiding.

Michael rises and heads for the kitchen.

Celia: Celia ignores the bickering. She focuses on getting the large shards of glass off the floor, then uses a napkin to start scooping up the smaller pieces.

“Hey Emi, broom?”

GM: Maxen joins her on the ground, using his own napkin to help pick up glass pieces. “We can shine a light over the floor, when we’ve got all the pieces we can see. It’s so easy to miss little shards.”

Celia: “I’ve got it, Dad.”

GM: Emily strides back with the broom.

“Yeah. We’ve got it. Butt out.”

Maxen inclines his head and sets down the napkin with the few shards he picked up.

“I’m sorry. I was only trying to hel-”

“We don’t want your fucking help!”

“Emi, you’re being rude!” exclaims their mom.

“You know what’s rude, Mom? Raping someone! He fucking raped you!” Emily is getting red in the face.

Celia: Celia takes the broom and starts sweeping. She’s focused on the glass, on getting it all up, on not having any accidents this evening that she’ll need to explain. Smart, she thinks, to send Michael into the kitchen, an excuse to get away. Right? That’s smart. Just in case.

“Emily,” Celia cuts in, “he’s leaving. Okay? He’s going. I made a mess and it derailed his plan to leave but he’s going.”

GM: Michael is swiftly back with the paper towels.

“No! I’m going to at least get the stain out of his shirt!” says Diana. Her cheeks are flushing too at Emily’s description, but she doesn’t otherwise respond.

Celia: “It’s red wine, Mom,” Celia says gently. “It’s not coming out. I’ll get him a new one, okay?” Celia takes the paper towels from Michael with a nod of thanks and looks to her father, sizing him up. “16 neck, 42 chest?” she asks him.

GM: “Sweetie, if you want to pick up glass, it’s not my house. But I’m going to draw the line at my children buying me clothes outside of Christmas and birthdays,” Maxen chuckles. “It’s fine, I have plenty others. And I think my presence might be causing more harm than good right now, so I’ll take off.” He turns to his ex-wife. “Thank you for the lovely dinner.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” Celia says again, rising from the floor with the wet paper towel in hand. She sets it aside. “I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Emily and Michael are busy cleaning up on the floor.

“No! You and Emi are just—you keep—” Diana exclaims flusteredly, still red in the cheeks. “I guess NO ONE is going to enjoy this dinner now! I spent a lot of time on it!”

“Put it in the oven again at low heat,” Maxen says gently. “It’ll be as good as fresh out.”

“You said you wanted to talk about Isabel! I don’t want to put that off because, because-!” Diana makes an exasperated gesture behind her.

“He doesn’t have anything to say about Isabel, Mom,” preempts Emily. “It’s been almost a decade since she was in touch.”

“Well you’re wrong about that, I know she talks to Logan!” retorts Diana, crossing her arms. “And I know he’s worried about her!”

Celia: “He is,” Celia quietly admits. “He’s spoken to me about it.”

GM: “I want to hear this, Max!” says Diana. “Do you have news about her?”

Celia: “Why don’t I see if he’s left a shirt here you can wear, Dad, and you and Mom can talk, and Emily and I will sit in the other room until you’re done. Michael, it’s up to you if you want to stick around, I’m sorry things got out of hand.”

GM: “Are you joking? I don’t want to leave him alone in a room with her,” says Emily.

“For goodness’ sake, Emily!” Diana exclaims in exasperation.

Michael just nods, but doesn’t move to leave or speak over the quarreling family.

Celia: “The room has a giant open door,” Celia says, gesturing to the living room that is, indeed, not hidden behind a tiny door or opening. It’s one large open area. “You’ll see them the whole time. You’ll even be able to hear them. But you don’t have to interact. Okay?”

Celia takes a step away.

“I’m going to find a shirt. Mike, do you want to..?” She makes a vague gesture about coming with her.

GM: “I don’t have any shirts of Logan’s, sweetie,” says her mom. “I gave them back since you were last here. And we don’t have any clothes in your father’s size.”

“It’s all right,” says Maxen. “I’m going to drive straight home.”

“I want to hear about Isabel,” says Diana. “Please.” She kneels to help with the glass as well.

Celia: “Mom, stop, I’ve got the glass. You two sit. Eat. Emily, other room. Take your plate if you want.” Celia resumes cleaning.

GM: “I’m fine staying, thanks,” says Emily.

“Sweetie, nonsense, you don’t need to clean this all up by yourself,” says Diana.

Celia: Celia gives her mother a look.

A very frank look.

A very frank “yes I do and you know why” look.

“Sit, Mom,” she says gently, “it’s almost done anyway.”

GM: “…all right,” says Diana. “If you’re sure.”

She sits.

Emily looks at her for a moment.

Celia: She finishes cleaning. Once the glass is up there’s just the wine to get, and with paper towels soaking up most of it there’s not much else to be done. She sweeps the rest of the glass off the floor and into the dustbin, then comes back with a wet paper towel to get rid of the wine.

GM: Michael continues to help with the glass and cleanup, but otherwise doesn’t interrupt the family.

Diana looks like she feels bad about him cleaning, but doesn’t press.

“So, Isabel?” she asks her ex, leaning forward.

Maxen nods.

“Logan and I have not been able to get ahold of her for close to two weeks now. That’s not unusual, in of itself. Internet service isn’t always reliable where she is. This isn’t even the longest we haven’t heard from her.”

Emily looks confused by the ‘and I’, but doesn’t butt in.

“But…” says Diana.

“But,” grants Maxen, “she sounded in a very bad place, when she last spoke with us. Her boyfriend had gone missing, as you know-”

“Yes, Evan, that very nice boy,” Diana nods.

Celia: Celia keeps her head down while they talk, working on getting the worst of the spill off the floor. She glances at Michael as he assists, pain in her eyes, and touches the back of his hand.

GM: Michael just gives her an unimpressed look.

Maxen nods again. “And she’s been in touch more regularly, since he disappeared. And she usually gives a heads up, too, when she can’t talk for a while.”

“So you think something’s happened?” asks Diana. “I know it’s very dangerous, where she is.”

Celia: Celia withdraws the touch. She retreats inside of herself, where he can’t hurt her, and her face shutters. She moves to the kitchen to dispose of everything, though she can still hear the words of her parents.

She’s back a moment later.

GM: Everyone has seated themselves again, though no one is eating.

“It is,” says Maxen. “So, Logan and I assumed the worst. And we tried to get in touch with the group she’s doing missionary work with.”

“And that’s when we realized… we didn’t know the group. She never told us.”

“I thought he sent her to a mission,” says Emily, looking at Maxen.

Maxen shakes his head. “Isabel chose to do that on her own.”

“So, anyway. Logan and I called a bunch of different organizations, and I got some of my staffers to help out too.”

“And we didn’t find anything for an Isabel Flores.”

Diana looks worried, but doesn’t interject.

“So I brought in help with some private detectives. Logan and I agreed that we should at least know what mission she’s with, in case… in case of a situation like this.”

Celia: “Are you sure she’s with a mission?” Celia interjects. “She had it rough here. What if she just… moved away? Started fresh?”

GM: “Positive,” says Maxen. “She kept Logan and I updated about a lot of things. She said pretty recently that she was still doing missionary work.”

“But that idea did occur to the detectives, actually.”

“One of them suggested that maybe she had dropped out or moved on, and was still telling us she was doing missionary work. He said she might’ve not wanted to tell us, not been sure how to tell us, and just gone on saying she was still a missionary for a million possible reasons.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s possible.

GM: “He said that he’s seen people do things like that a lot of times. But he did think it was likely she’d at least started with the mission, even if she dropped out later. Because it would’ve given her initial direction, room and board, plane ticket out of the States, et cetera. Not required her to make as many decisions. She was still very young and upset.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges, “but not… I mean, it could be that she just said that and went another way, to throw you off of her tail. You were…” Celia looks down, “Dad, you weren’t always the best father, if I were going to run I’d say something like that too. So no one could find me.”

GM: “That’s possible,” says Maxen. “I told them about the circumstances she left under.”

“I didn’t know if it would help or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

“They said that would help.”

“Because they weren’t able to find anything with any missions.”

“Anything?” asks Diana. “Weren’t there, I don’t know, records?”

“So they started at our family churches,” says Maxen. “Mine and the one you, your mother, and sister all go to. Because they figured that’s where a scared and directionless teen would go, a familiar church, rather than a stranger’s.”

“They interviewed priests, staff, people who were around in 2009. They looked into partnered missionary organizations and visited their headquarters in the city.”

“Nothing.”

Diana looks no less worried.

“Maybe she went with another one, or just didn’t go…?”

“They’re still looking into some other missionary organizations,” Maxen nods, “though they don’t expect much to come of it. They think Isabel might never have worked at one.”

“But why would she lie?” frowns Diana.

“Well, like Celia said,” says Maxen.

“She wanted to escape and throw me off her trail.”

“But to keep up the lie for almost ten years…?” says Diana, frowning even deeper.

“Yes, that’s the thing they found strange. Because we shared our texts with them,” says Maxen.

“They also asked Logan and me a lot of questions.”

“And Isabel spoke at considerable length about the religious work she was doing.”

“I could hear the pride in her voice.”

“She gave a lot of details. We talked about God all the time.”

“She said doing His work was the most fulfilling thing she’d ever done. That this was her life’s work, now.”

“I speak with my share of people who are, I might put it, less than sincere in their faith. That unfortunately comes up in politics.”

“Isabel sounded to me like a true believer.”

“The PIs thought so too.”

“So… why couldn’t they find anything at church, then…?” Diana asks puzzledly.

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says gently, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t assume the worst. There are a lot of churches in the city, a lot in the state. She went to Liberty, maybe she met someone up there, fell in with a different crowd.”

GM: “Isabel never went to Liberty,” says Maxen.

Celia: Celia looks to him.

GM: “Yes, Logan said she did…” starts Diana.

She looks even more worried, now.

“She didn’t,” says Maxen. “We had no contact after she left. I know her college fund was never used.”

Celia: Celia stares.

Is he not going to say?

Is he not going to own up to what he did to her, how he kept her in a cage?

GM: Is that better or worse than killing her?

“The PIs talked to the people at Liberty,” says Maxen. “They thought maybe she took out loans, got a scholarship, or otherwise paid her own way through school.”

“Colleges keep records of all students they’ve ever had, obviously.”

“Liberty had nothing for an Isabel Flores.”

“Though they did have an application she filed back in high school.”

“Now, there is one other thing.”

Celia: “What about another college? Somewhere else? Maybe she just said Liberty because you wouldn’t accept another school…?”

GM: “Isabel didn’t leave New Orleans immediately, after… after the alleged tape was circulated. I know that for a fact.”

“She was still in the city for the better part of a year.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t dare glance at Michael, at Emily, at her mother. She keeps her eyes on her father’s face.

GM: “Well, what was she doing?” asks Diana. She still has that same puzzled tone.

“She was staying at home, where I was continuing to abuse her,” says Maxen.

Celia: She hadn’t thought he’d say it.

Not like that.

Not so frankly.

She swallows, taking a step back as if reeling, watching his face as the words leave his mouth. At her side her fingers curl into fists.

GM: “Oh,” says Diana.

Emily and Michael don’t say anything.

Celia: “Tell us,” says Celia. “Tell us what you did to her.”

GM: “I don’t want to hear that,” says Diana, shaking her head.

“I think he should tell us,” says Emily. “I think he should tell us everything. What was she doing, at home, for the better part of a year, Maxen? Because Logan and the others all said she disappeared. They said she was off at-”

“Emily, stop it!” snaps Diana.

Celia: “Did they know?” Celia asks quietly. “Logan, David, Soph? Did they know she was with you?”

“Did they do nothing?”

GM: “Your brothers and sisters aren’t at fault there,” says Maxen, shaking his head. “I didn’t tell them.”

“That makes no sense,” says Emily. “She was at home, but they didn’t know? What, were you keeping her locked in her room? And isn’t that funny, coming right after that-”

STOP IT!” yells Diana, standing up from her seat. Her face is red now, but not from embarrassment.

“I have not spoken to my daughter in almost ten years! This is not the time to drag up the past! Not now! Do it later! I want to know, Maxen, and I want to know right now: where is our daughter? Has something happened to her? Are we going to see her again?”

Diana’s voice is choked and breathless. Fear is naked and plain in her eyes.

“We don’t know,” Maxen answers quietly. “She’s now a missing person.”

“It’s possible something bad has happened. We don’t know. But the detectives think something might have.”

“They are still looking.”

Celia: Celia retreats further into herself. She knows what happened. Isabel is dead. Isabel is dead and it’s her fault. Isabel is dead and she could have prevented it and she didn’t, because she was petty and jealous and insecure and now she gets to watch it rip her family apart, rip her mother apart.

Her lip trembles, fingers flexing at her sides, and she blinks rapidly to clear the moisture from her eyes before it has a chance to turn into tears. She doesn’t look at anyone. Her gaze stays focused on the ground, hatred and self-loathing in her heart.

GM: Her last sight as she looks away is of her mother sitting down and burying her face against Maxen’s chest.

She sounds like she’s softly crying.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to find her, Diana,” says Maxen. He must have his arms around her. That’s what you do with the mother of your child when she’s crying. The woman’s low sniffs continue to sound. “Dead or alive. I am going to find her. I am going to bring her back to us and back to you.”

“Oh… Isabel…” Diana moans. Her voice is muffled.

Celia: Celia presses her hands to her face. She turns, blindly stepping into the kitchen while her mother’s sobs tear her apart. She doesn’t look for comfort from Michael. She doesn’t think about intruding on this family moment when she has been the cause of so much pain. She silently slips away to let the tears fall.

She’d done this.

All of it.

It’s all her fault.

And there’s no way she can fix it now.

No way to bring her back.

Bornemann had been clear. Final death is final.

GM: She hears footsteps following after her.

Then she feels strong arms encircling her.

Holding her close.

Against a man’s taller frame.

She feels a head brush against hers, and Roderick’s voice breathe in her ear:

“It’s your fault.”

“I told you, didn’t I, that you were a black hole?”

Celia: He doesn’t even know the worst of it.

The words break her all the same. Any control she thought she had slips away; he kicks her while she’s down and it’s all she can do to remain upright, to stay tucked against him, to keep from fleeing into the night so she can find something dangerous to throw herself against.

His words break her. She sobs silently. Her shoulders don’t need to shake. She doesn’t need to breathe. But she sobs all the same, tears leaking from her eyes and down her cheeks, caught by her own hands.

Blood on her fingers. Red-handed. Her fault.

She only nods.

GM: His hands drop from her sides. He pulls her away, then grips her head so he stares directly into her face.

“Madly careening through space, though black holes don’t actually move, blacker than the void. Destroying everything it comes into contact with, sucking away all life and light down an inescapable void.”

“Crying the whole time, like you’re the victim.”

“Your mother, brothers, and sisters are the victims, Celia,” Roderick says patiently.

“Not you.”

“These are crocodile tears.”

“They’re disgusting and pathetic, and they score no sympathy points, not with people who know who you are.”

“Truth always comes out.”

Celia: Every single one of his words slam into her like a physical blow.

The tears stop. Dead eyes stare at him when he captures her head in his hands.

She only nods again.

GM: “I told you this would happen. That your family wasn’t going to let this go.”

“But you were too selfish and too stupid to listen.”

Celia: Celia yanks away.

“Get out,” she says in a low voice.

GM: His grip only tightens, holding her firmly in place.

“You’ve never cared about anything beyond yourself, not really. You literally can’t consider it. You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever known. I finally see you past all the makeup, Celia. Past the superficial prettiness that washes away like so much filth under the sink.”

“When you cheated on me, you never really apologized, did you? No, you always justified it, and broke down in weeping histrionics when your lies were finally exposed. It wasn’t about me. It was about you. How scared you were of losing our relationship. How justified you were to do what you did. How unfair everything all was to you. You, you, you. You didn’t care you hurt me. You were never sorry for what you did. You don’t care about your family, either. You’re the most supremely selfish and rotten-hearted creature to ever exist in my life, and you cry victim the whole time. You’re a monster in denial that it’s even a monster. That’s what makes your act so convincing.”

“But lying is what you do best, isn’t it? You lie to yourself, too. Not just everyone else.”

“How does it feel to look at the truth, Celia? How does it feel to hear what you really are? Not even your family knows the real Celia, not like I do.”

Celia: That’s what she’d wanted to do this evening.

To talk to him about him. To apologize. To start to move past it. To have a conversation that doesn’t result in anger or tears. To speak softly, kindly, to give him the gift she’s been sitting on for years, to tell him that she knows she messed up, that she’s… that she’s sorry. About everything. About not trusting, about cheating, about lying, about all the times she had hurt him. To ask how else she could make it up to him.

Like everything else in her Requiem, it had been ruined.

“Awful,” she says, voice hollow. Her tears cease. They hadn’t been for her, they’d been for her family, but she doesn’t tell him that. It doesn’t matter. “It feels awful to know what I’ve become. It feels awful to know that my truth is ugly, selfish, evil. It’s awful, Michael. I don’t want to be this person anymore.”

She wishes they had kept her. That they’d burn her tonight. But she doesn’t say this, doesn’t tell him about her death wish, doesn’t even say it’s something that had been on the table.

He won’t care.

“I’m supposed to see Gui tonight. I’ll set the new date with him when I do. I’ll make sure it has nothing to do with either one of us. I’ll find out who sired Dani when I meet him as well. I’ll have the name for you tonight. I’ll have the blood for you this evening. All of it. You don’t have to let me stay, just let me know where to drop it off. I’ll make arrangements with Duke, as you asked. And I’ll fix this situation with my family. You were right. I should have already done it. I put it off. I was selfish and… and stupid.”

She stumbles over the word but gets it out.

“I can go now. I’ll go now to meet him, and set the date. Or part of the juice now, if you want it. My mother won’t mind a missing container. Then I’ll say bye. And I’ll go. And I’ll do as you said. Everything you said.”

GM: Roderick folds his arms.

“I guess you’d better get started, Celia.”

“I’ll only believe it when I see it.”

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says to him, even though she knows it doesn’t mean anything. She moves past him, reaching under a cabinet for a glass jar. Her mother prefers them to plastic. Less waste, she says, and Celia is glad for the twist off top. She glances into the dining room to make sure the humans are still occupied.

It’s a risk, even if they are. She steps out the back door, into the little space between Emily’s carriage house and Diana’s main house, and bites into her wrist.

She lets the blood flow.

Her Beast is not pleased. It hates the way she snivels and cowers before this lesser predator. Physically superior he may be, but he is nothing save a crying worm compared to her.

Oh no, my sire lied to me.

Oh no, my girlfriend cheated on me.

Oh no, I’m a sad pathetic sap.

It hates him. And it seethes when the girl wants to give the blood to him. It seethes as she takes from herself to give it up to this pathetic waste of Blood. Smart? Sure. But naïve. Without hiding behind his sire’s skirts he wouldn’t be long for this world.

He’s a spoiled childe playing at pretend.

Celia hisses as her fangs split her skin, hisses again when her Beast makes its displeasure known. One hit. Two. A third. Her Beast hates with every drop, seething inside of her. Claws rip into her stomach, so much worse than what Camilla had done to her last night, so much worse than the burns or the saw.

She’s choosing this. Playing victim again. Letting him control her.

And for what? What benefit has she gotten from this?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

The blood flows. She fills the cup. Three hits, only part of what she owes, but the container can’t take anymore. A flick of her tongue across her wrist closes the wound. She steps back inside, grabbing a plastic bag from her mother’s pantry to wrap around the jar, and offers it to Michael.

GM: He accepts it without a word.

Celia: “I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you want to come with me to meet him tonight we might be able to create an opportunity to jump him. You already have a different face. Otherwise I will… I’ll see you later, with the rest of everything.”

GM: “Get going, Celia,” is all he says.

“You may contact me when you have substantive progress to report.”

Celia: “Yes, sir.”

Sir. It slips out of her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She only bows her head and turns to go, making her excuses to her family.

“One of my clients has connections overseas,” she says, and it’s even true. “If she’s not in the States, he can start looking. I’m going to see him now to tell him about it. I also have police contacts I can pull on, and a PI friend myself.”

Celia hugs her mom.

“I’ll stop by later. Let me take care of these things while everyone is still awake. Dad, I’ll walk you out.”

GM: Michael follows her out. Celia finds her parents’ chairs still pulled up next to each other. Her mom is leaning against her dad’s shoulder, who has his arms around her. Her eyes are red from crying. Dinner looks untouched.

Diana returns Celia’s hug with one arm, but sniffs and shakes her head at her daughter’s last words.

“No. He’s staying.”

“Those sound like great ideas, Celia,” says her dad. “The more people we have looking, the better.”

Celia: Celia only nods.

“Then I’ll see you both later.”

GM: “See you,” says Emily. Her voice doesn’t sound at all irate. She’s still seated where she is, arms folded, watching Maxen and Diana.

Her face doesn’t look mad anymore, either.

She doesn’t once look away from the two.

Dinner looks untouched.

“I’m so sorry you had to see all of this, Michael,” Celia’s mom says in embarrassment.

“It’s perfectly all right, Mrs. Flores,” he answers. “Celia’s already shown me a lot of herself.”

Celia: She feels better knowing that Emily is looking out for them. That she’d protected Lucy from a demon entering through the door, at least.

“I’m picking up a phone first. Call me if you need anything.”

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie,” says her dad. “I was going to order you one online. I can have it delivered overnight. Is that fast enough?”

Celia: “Doesn’t hurt. I’ll grab a cheap thing in the meantime so you guys can reach me.” Most stores sell bullshit phones for a hundred bucks.

GM: “Sounds like a plan. What’s the address I should have it delivered to?”

“You gonna be back tonight?” asks Emily.

Celia: Celia tells him to send it to the spa. She gets most of her mail there anyway.

“Should be.”

GM: Maxen nods and says he’ll send it there.

“I dunno how many stores will still be open this hour on a Sunday,” says Emily.

Celia: It’s not even nine.

“Herrick’s. Any other big box retailer. I’ll find something. Or borrow one.”

GM: Emily pulls out her own phone.

“The nearby Herrick’s is already closed, but there’s one in Gentilly open until 10 and one in Algiers open to 11. 20 minute drive. You need the address?”

Celia: “Sure. Gentilly. Unless you just want to let me borrow your phone, Ma. I can log into my account from there.”

GM: “Oh, feel free,” says her mom. “It’s… where I’d leave it…”

“You can borrow mine if you want,” says Emily.

“Oh, it’s in my bedroom, sweetie. Whichever you’d like.”

“They’re both Solarises, so.”

Celia: “I don’t need to see Robby sending you nudes,” Celia says to Emily with a wink. She moves down the hall to Diana’s bedroom to find the phone, looking for Lucy when she gets there.

GM: “You wish,” says Emily, though her heart doesn’t sound like it’s in the banter. She still has half an eye on their mother and Maxen.

The doll is lying on the ground by the door. The porcelain face is utterly still. The doll’s unblinking eyes bore into Celia’s.

She finds her mother’s phone on the bedside table. There’s a pattern unlock.

Celia: “Lucy,” Celia whispers to the doll, “I put you on the bed. Why are you here?” She picks up the doll and the phone, putting the doll into her purse. Only the doll doesn’t fit. It’s too big, even for the practical bag Celia had worn tonight. The entire head sticks out.

“When I come back tonight,” she tells Lucy, “I’ll merge you, okay? I love you. I love Diana. Just bear with me for a while so she doesn’t scream when she sees you.”

Celia reaches for the doll with that gift Benson had given her, the one that can transform anything she holds into a doll and a doll into anything else. Scarf, she thinks, and the doll’s form blurs into a scarf that trails from her purse. Celia keeps her tucked inside as best she can.

Then she’s back to the living room, asking her mother for the pattern unlock so she can get into it.

GM: The doll offers no response or explanation as Celia picks it up.

Then Celia doesn’t have a doll, but a scarf. At least as far as her mother can see.

Diana takes the phone and shows her daughter the pattern to trace.

Celia: “Appreciate it, Mom. I’ll bring it back in a bit. I love you.”

GM: “I love you too, sweetie,” her mom sniffs, hugging her again. “I’m so glad to have you here, right now. Just so glad.”

Her father and Emily echo both of those sentiments.

Michael, too.

Celia: She shouldn’t be. But Celia doesn’t say. She just smiles, kisses her mom on the cheek, and gets going.

View
Celia VI, Chapter XII
Camilla Doriocourt

“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning.”
Camilla Doriocourt


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade’s car drives a while. It seems to be going at a fairly high speed.

Eventually, it slows down. Jade hears the sounds of traffic and falling rain.

Finally, her car stops.

The trunk opens. Rocco and Alexander Wright stare down at her, their forms superimposed against the night.

The Brujah looks over her body. The wooden stake juts out from the bare skin above her half-exposed breasts.

“Slut-kebob,” says Wright.

Celia: It’s funny. Objectively. She’d laugh if she could.

GM: Rocco laughs for her. So do some nearby men who don’t smell like Kindred.

Celia: Oh.

Oh no.

There’s an audience.

What has she gotten into?

She’s going to die here because Roderick is an asshole.

She’d laugh at that, too, but she’s busy wondering if licks can become ghosts.

And how long it will take anyone to notice she’s missing.

GM: “Take her car,” Wright says to one man.

Another man produces a black hood and secures it around Jade’s face. She can’t see. She feels male hands lifting her out of the trunk. There’s the sound of it slamming shut, then footsteps. Jade feels motion as raindrops patter against her skin.

“Damn, she’s light,” says one nearby voice.

“Damn, she’s a fine piece of ass,” says another one. Grinning. “Toreador?”

“Keep it in your pants,” replies Wright. She can all but hear the Brujah’s eyes roll.

Celia: She’d just gotten that car.

Where’s her phone? Will Reggie think to track it? Will he know who she meant when she said deputy?

She can’t struggle, not staked as she is. Can’t do anything but listen. Appreciate them appreciating her.

There are worse ways to go, right?

When she fails to show up tomorrow at Elysium will the rest of the city know it was the hounds? Is this the price she pays to sell the story of discontent and infighting among the Hardliners?

GM: No answers make themselves immediately known.

Jade hears a trunk open. She’s dumped inside. The space feels bigger than her car’s. She has leg room.

She feels a pair of hands kneading her breasts and squeezing her ass.

“Goddamn, you are fine…” says one of the voices.

The contact abruptly cuts off.

“I said keep it in your fucking pants,” growls Wright. “That’s how they get you.”

Celia: They.

Sluts?

Or Toreador?

She’d like to giggle. But she can’t. The girls inside of her wonder if she can even get wet if they try to fuck her like this. Are her nipples hard? She can’t tell.

The inane thoughts keep the panic at bay.

GM: “She’s staked.”

“If you can’t keep that goddamn thing in your goddamn pants I’m gonna rip it off,” the Brujah answers in an even lower growl.

Celia: She misses the contact, though. If she has to go she’d like to do it with someone’s arms around her. She’d always imagined it would be her sire—and what is wrong with her that she’s gotten off to thoughts of him killing her?—but she’ll take any arms at this point.

Tonight hasn’t gone as she wanted. She’ll take the comfort she can get.

Her body was made to be appreciated. She can’t even blame the guy. Hadn’t changed from her meeting with Savoy. It’s all just there for the taking. Tight clothes, tight body, perfection incarnate.

Too bad Wright is such a buzzkill.

Damn licks can’t get laid anymore so they ruin it for everyone else.

Then again, will Roderick consider it cheating if she’s molested and assaulted while staked?

Probably.

Maybe she’ll thank Wright when this is all over.

GM: More footsteps sound against the rain.

There’s a weary sigh from one of the men. She feels like he’s looking at her. He must be looking at her.

There is so much to appreciate.

Finally, the trunk slams closed. Jade hears more doors opening and closing. The car takes off.

Celia: Someone had told her once that if you’re attacked and taken to a second location the odds of dying go up by a huge percentage. It might have been Pete. Or her dad, when she was young. It’s the sort of thing most young women worry about. Abductions. Rape. Et cetera.

What does it mean if they’re taking her to a third? That she’s already dead?

She doesn’t want to die.

Not like this.

She’s sorry. She’ll be good. She’ll apologize to Rocco on her knees if he needs her to. She’ll let the ghouls fuck her if they want to humiliate her. She’ll stop causing problems.

She’s just not ready to go yet.

GM: The car drives for a while. There’s more sounds of traffic and falling rain.

Celia: Can’t they just… put her on their lap for the ride? She’s staked. It won’t hurt anyone.

She shouldn’t have called Roderick. It’d been a waste of time. So much for protecting her. Reggie at least had been concerned.

What is her mom going to say? Who will take care of her? Does he care that she’d screamed into the phone? Is he tracking her?

What about him? Does he know his goons picked her up?

…is he going to let them hurt her?

She can’t ask. None of them volunteer the information, either. She’s helpless in the car’s trunk. SUV, she thinks. More room.

The knowing doesn’t help.

GM: “So, what you gonna do with her?” asks one of the voices.

“None of your goddamn business,” answers Wright.

Celia: Then why bring them along?

Are Wright and Agnello really afraid of a staked Jade Kalani?

That’s funny, too.

Maybe she’ll die laughing.

Maybe one of these guys can convince them to pass her over to his care. Turn her into a fucktoy, like the sheriff’s ghoul had so long ago threatened.

Maybe they’re taking her to him.

Would that even be a relief? He’d killed her ghoul. Thrown her mother.

And yet…

Saved her. Turned her. Made her his.

He loves her, doesn’t he? He could have let her die.

It’s a small ray of light in the darkness, but she clings to it all the same.

GM: Jade’s—and Celia’s—only answer is the rain’s steady fall.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: The car drives some more. There’s more sounds of traffic. Then a heavy mechanical sound. A feeling of descent. The car comes to a stop.

The trunk opens.

Hands pick up Jade. There’s more movement underneath her.

There’s a noise like an elevator button. Mechanical doors opening.

Celia: An elevator?

Perdido House?

Please not Perdido House.

GM: There’s another pressed button. Another noise she can’t identify. Then movement underneath her.

Celia: All she can do is lie still and listen.

And let her mind run wild with possibilities.

Trash compactor. Docks. Crematorium. Giant hole in the ground that is… mechanical for some reason.

GM: The elevator comes to a stop. The doors open. There’s heavy footfalls against a hard surface, then a pause. There’s a mechanical beeping sound. Another heavy and metallic noise. More footfalls.

Those go on for a bit. Then another stop. A pause. More mechanical beeping.

Another heavy metallic sound.

More footsteps.

A hard metal surface slams against Jade’s body. She feels cold steel against her half-exposed skin.

Celia: Oh, god. Torture room. They’re going to carve her open and make her scream until her throat bleeds.

What other room has steel tables?

Kitchens. Butcher shops. Anywhere that tears people apart because it’s an easy surface to clean.

GM: Jade feels hands spreading her limbs into an ‘X’ position. There’s the sensation and dull clink of heavy cuffs securing her wrists and ankles in place.

Celia: It’s not an unfamiliar position.

GM: Not at all.

There’s more footsteps. Then a slammed metallic door.

Then only silence.

Jade is seemingly left alone.

Celia: They hadn’t even removed the stake.

As if cuffing her inside this fortress isn’t enough.

GM: Time passes. The steel is cold beneath Jade’s skin. Her surroundings are completely silent and still.

Celia: No one is coming for her.

Savoy has no power here. Her boyfriend doesn’t care. Her ghoul won’t get anywhere.

GM: Time passes.

There’s the heavy sound of an opening door. Footsteps. Lighter than the previous ones.

Celia: Feminine? Her long-lost sister?

She’d giggle, but she can’t.

How many hounds does it take to nail a whore?

GM: There’s a metallic rolling sound. Several more higher, still metallic sounds. Then a distinct crunch.

A crackle.

Jade feels heat against her face.

Growing steadily warmer.

Celia: The Beast rails against its steel prison.

The girl doesn’t try to keep it in check.

But that single piece of wood keeps it from doing anything.

GM: The warmth does not directly touch Jade’s skin, but she can feel the increasing heat. Hot. So hot. The pungent smell of smoke reaches her nostrils. Perhaps, if she were mortal, she would sweat.

The hood pulls back. Not enough to see. Gloved hands pry open her mouth, then stuff something inside. It tastes like ash. Like everything tastes. It feels light. Perhaps it would crunch.

The stake is abruptly pulled from her chest.

“Swallow,” sounds a cold female voice.

Celia: She spits.

GM: Whatever is in her mouth flies out.

The stake re-pierces her chest.

Pain suddenly stabs through her throat, cold and sharp and metallic. Flesh tears. Jade’s Beast rages against its prison, but it is impotent. The bladed edge carves open a hole in her neck. Gloves hands dispassionately feel the interior of her trachea, then stuff a foreign object inside.

There’s a click and whir. Jade feels her position rotate, her head elevating, her feet lowering. Fingers push the object down her throat. Clinically massage her neck. She feels the light, odd-textured object work its way down to her stomach.

The heat near her face intensifies. The smell of smoke grows thicker.

The stake is re-pulled from her chest.

“The sentence for infernalism is final death by burning,” rings the cold female voice.

“Supply us with names and your sentence may be commuted.”

Celia: Infernalism?

What the fuck does that even mean?

GM: Jade’s only answer is a low, malevolent crackle that leaves her Beast anxiously whining.

“You may heal your throat.”

Celia: Jade sends the required blood to the area to mend what the knife had done to her, knitting the skin and muscle and tissue back together with but a thought. Maybe it’s the heat so near her face, but the Beast rakes its claws down her insides in protest. It takes more than its fair share.

“Infernalism,” she repeats, the word unfamiliar on her tongue. There’s no rasp to her voice, not even though the blade had torn it open and something had been shoved inside. What had they put in her? A bomb? Something else that will make her explode should she get out? Another sort of chain?

All of the amusement she’d felt at Agnello and Wright needing a handful of goons to take her out falls away in the wake of this accusation. She doesn’t even know if she’s gotten it right, if it means what she thinks it means, but the root of the word is hard to ignore.

“You mean demons.” Not quite a question, but she waits a beat for confirmation.

GM: The heat continues to crackle.

“Yes,” the cool voice replies patiently.

“I mean demons.”

Celia: She’s going to die here.

She’s going to die screaming because even if people knew she was missing they wouldn’t know where to find her, and she doesn’t know that they’d care enough to try.

Even if she tells them what they want to know there’s no guarantee that they’ll let her go. May. That had been the clause in her words. May commute the sentence.

She’d gone for looking for ways to save her sire and she’s going to die in his stead. Who did she think she was trying to protect him?

“I wasn’t consorting with demons,” she says quietly to her captor, “I was only looking for information on them. There was a breather who told me that he’d been possessed and had it exorcised. I’d wanted to know if it was true. I’d wanted to know if I could protect others from the same thing. I think I might have run into one in the Quarter, but I didn’t know how to identify it. I went to the Tremere to find out more about them. Mr. Bornemann collected a handful of boons to share some information. I was going to find a priest next, but there are none in the Quarter.”

She hadn’t done anything. But she doesn’t say that. Guilty people say that.

“I wanted to find out more about the things I saw and heard. I saw a woman in the Quarter who used a spell with blood that smelled… off. Connected to the thing I thought the demon was. She hired someone to spy on me. I wanted to know what I was dealing with.”

GM: “So you have had no personal dealings with infernal powers, nor do you know the names of any individuals who have?” the cool voice asks, in that same patient tone.

The smoldering heat does not relent, though neither does it grow closer.

Celia: It’s not good enough.

Her answers aren’t good enough.

But they’re true.

“I don’t… I don’t think I’ve had any personal dealings with infernal powers. Just the breather, who I have not had contact with in seven years and who recently re-entered my Requiem with the story about the demon and exorcism, but the last I saw him was prior to my Embrace. I never spoke to the woman. I convinced the thing inside the house that might be a demon to let me go. I placed a bug in the house that was of limited value. I can collect it for you, but I did not recognize the voice, and I did not recognize her. I can show you. The memory. If you scry. Or if you permit the use of one hand I can show you another way.”

“But I’ve never… I’ve never had confirmed contact with an infernal being. Nothing that I know for sure. Just suspicions. That’s why I was looking for information about them. I didn’t know if they were or not. I didn’t know who to ask but thought the Tremere or a priest would be the best source.”

She’d only wanted to protect people. And she’s going to burn for it.

“I asked Mr. Bornemann how he collected the information on them but he did not deign to answer.”

“So I don’t know if he collected from a primary or secondary source.”

“I can give you the names of the kine, the priest he saw, the address of the house where I think one resides.”

“Mr. Bornemann said that they could test the kine to see if he’d been possessed. I hadn’t taken him up on it.”

GM: “Name these kine.”

Celia: “Father Connelly was the priest. The house is on Rampart, across from Jackson.” Jade rattles off the address. It’s fresh in her mind, all of it, because she’d been comparing notes for her boyfriend last night but never got the chance to tell him about it. He’d belittled her instead. But she remembers the story. The names are seared into her memory. “Kate Artell, Caleb Hamill, they were two in the house. Their friend, Brittney Rodriguez, and her boyfriend Bill Woke murdered another girl in a similar way. A dancer. Abigail Thompson. They’re still doing time. I checked. I was going to follow up.”

There’s a brief pause. She hadn’t yet said the name of the man possessed. They’ll want to know how she knows. Why she’s speaking to him. What he’d told her.

She takes a breath.

“Maxen Flores.”

GM: Jade’s fears prove all-too prescient.

“Explain how you encountered the entity in the Rampart Street house, why you spoke to Maxen Flores, and why Maxen Flores told you he had been possessed by a demon.”

Celia: “My spa was bugged. Security cameras showed a thin-blood breaking into the premises to plant the bug. I had the thin-blood picked up and I questioned it. It told me that it had been hired by someone to plant the bug and take it back to them on Saturday. Tonight. I questioned it further and it admitted that if it needed an earlier meeting it had been advised it could go to a certain house on Rampart. I took a team with me to do so, with one of my ghouls disguised as the thin-blood, but when she knocked the door just opened. So I… went inside.”

To protect her ghoul. To keep Alana from getting killed if it was an ambush. She cares too much about them. She’s too embedded in the lives of those who serve her. Mel had told her that once, when she was new. That eventually she’d learn to stop caring.

“The door closed. The oven turned on. I could feel the heat. A voice told me that I had until the oven pre-heated to convince it to let me go. I was able to do so. I surmised that it was stuck inside the house as it kept repeating that it was hungry. While I was there my team placed a bug. It’s been largely useless, except for the one night when I heard a woman’s voice speaking to the thing. I went to the house and that’s when I saw the earlier mentioned woman. She did not smell Kindred. I have not been back. I started looking into what it was but I don’t have any proof of anything yet.”

A slight pause. Her secrets? Or her life?

“Maxen is… he’s my dad.”

“We had dinner. He wanted to apologize for everything he did to us when we were younger. He told me that he’d found God, and that he’d seen a priest, and the priest had done an exorcism.”

“I didn’t touch him,” she adds, though it wasn’t asked. “I didn’t use any powers on him. I didn’t feed from him. I hadn’t otherwise had any sort of relationship with him since my Embrace.”

GM: The voice patiently listens.

Then the heat draws closer. Hotter. Her Beast whines. The smoke would make Jade cough and choke were she mortal. Sweat would bead from her glistening skin were she mortal.

“Maxen Flores is not the father of Jade Kalani.”

Celia: Instinct demand she pull away from the source of the heat. She does what she can with what little movement she is allowed, but it’s not enough. The heat is stifling.

She doesn’t want to go out like this. She gives up the secret.

“Celia. Celia Flores. I am Celia, and Maxen raised me. Jade was the name I took when I joined this world.”

GM: The burning heat comes no closer.

But neither does it relent.

There’s a pause. Some faint taps.

The Beast whines as the voice impassively orders,

“Cease your occulto.”

Celia: Another secret.

This, or death?

Does she want to burn to protect something that won’t matter anyway when she’s ash?

She knows the answer.

“It’s not occulto. It’s—” what’s that old word Benson used? “—mutatio.”

GM: “Revert to your mortal form. Prove you are whom you claim.”

Celia: Prove it. How can she prove it? That’s not how morphing works. It’s not an instant transition like that.

“I will need my hands. A mirror. I will need to show you the work. It’s not instant, not this.”

How else can she prove it if she’s not allowed to do the work?

“Or I can tell you things I’d only know if I were Celia. I can tell you about my childhood. About Maxen. About growing up in Audubon. I can show you memories.”

GM: “You do not require your hands. Your fingers are capable of motion. Alter the flesh along your hand.”

Celia: Right. She hadn’t known if that would be enough.

But she does as asked, unsure if this is going to help or hurt her position here. She curls her index finger and bends it until the tip touches the backside of her thumb, then presses into the skin. It gives way at her touch, dragged this way and that with the motion of her. It looks like a cresting wave when she is done with it.

GM: Jade—Celia—cannot see her interrogator’s reaction to the fleshcrafting demonstration.

“Tell me you are Celia Flores, daughter of Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”

Celia: There’s a trap here in the wording. Some sort of truth detection, if such a thing exists. The thing in her stomach? The smoke itself? Something the hound has done to her?

“I am Celia Flores, daughter of Diana Flores, raised by Maxen Flores, of Sheriff Donovan’s domain.”

GM: The burning heat withdraws. Celia can still feel it. Her Beast still whines. But it is not so close as it was before.

“Your sire will have much to answer for, Miss Flores.”

“Tell me of your alleged intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville.”

Celia: “I repeated what my sire told me.”

GM: The heat draws closer. Hotter. Pungent black smoke wafts up Celia’s nostrils.

Celia: Her Beast whines. She had only been free of the heat for a moment and now it’s back, right in her face. She can taste the soot in the back of her throat.

“I don’t know anything else about the leak except what my sire told me. I don’t speak with the hounds. I wasn’t privy to details of the investigation. I was only told there was a suspect, but when it was brought up last night I had to make it sound believable. I implied there was a leak.”

GM: Once again, the heat draws no closer, but neither does it withdraw. A low sizzle crackles in Celia’s ears.

“Repeat everything that your sire told you.”

Celia: Behind the mask, Celia closes her eyes. But only for a moment. Just long enough to bring up the conversation she’d had at Flawless after Randy’s head had come clean off his body. It is not an effort to remember the words. She and her sire speak so infrequently that everything he has ever said to her has lodged itself inside her head.

“My sire said that Caroline Malveaux-Devillers is a leading suspect in the bishop’s disappearance. I was given the time and location of the bishop’s last appearance and asked to look into Caroline’s whereabouts, as well as that of her ghouls and the others she has employed in her service. I was told that she wouldn’t suspect me if I were to look into her the same way she would suspect the Guard de Ville.”

A brief pause. She’s going to ask why Veronica would give a fuck about the bishop, Celia knows it. She continues.

“My sire told me that Savoy and his agents are otherwise the leading suspects. I was told to look into whether or not they were involved.”

GM: The questions come one after another, like steady raps against steel.

“Why did your sire suspect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers of playing a role in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”

“What time and location did your sire give you for Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”

“Why did your sire tell you to investigate the involvement of Mr. Savoy’s agents in Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance?”

Celia: She’s going to die here. The hound will burn her for lying, or burn her because she doesn’t believe her if she tells the truth, or burn her because she does believe it. And if not her sire will take her head or find another cruel, crippling punishment to inflict upon her. Which ghoul will he take next? Which mortal in her life? Emily? Lucy?

She can’t dwell. She can only move forward, can only hope that her tale is compelling enough for clemency.

It’s a tall order. She knows well the mercy of her kind. She starts with the easiest question first, the time and date of the bishop’s last appearance.

“March 7th. Evening. I was not given more specific details other than that. No location.”

A pause. What had she said that her sire had suspected Caroline? The visit. The threat.

“I saw Caroline Malveaux-Devillers one evening at her residence in the CBD, as Jade. She is unaware that I am also Celia. I sought to disabuse her of any notion that I am both Celia and Jade and so I recorded audio of Jade hurting Celia. Miss Malveaux-Devillers became upset and threatened Jade. She said that she had ended older, more powerful licks. That she took on many of them at once and left their corpses behind. Lord Savoy and Madam Preston implied Miss Malveaux-Devillers is ‘lethal’ when we spoke of her. As Celia, she shared that she is suspicious of my sire and implied a threat. There is bad blood between them. I shared this with my sire and was told to look into it. Miss Malveaux-Devillers would not suspect Celia. We knew each other prior to our Embrace. I lied thoroughly to her about the events surrounding Celia’s and how Celia’s Requiem has gone.”

Another pause.

“My sire did not share why I was to investigate Lord Savoy and his agents, only that I was to do so. I did not ask why. I only said I would do it.”

GM: Suddenly.

Pain.

Burning, scaling, screaming, pain.

Her belly feels as though it is on fire. Celia can smell her flesh cooking and burning and melting away like butter against the unyielding torment pressed to her belly.

She screams. She thrashes. The Beast breaks loose. She cannot stop it. She can only wait, and scream, and suffer, until the torment finally ends and the Beast releases its hold. The heat withdraws from her belly, which feels almost wet. She can still smell the cooked flesh.

The cold voice sounds again.

“Mr. Savoy is lord of nothing.”

“You will refer to Mr. Savoy by his proper address.”

Celia: It’s all too similar to the feeling of her broken body being pulled out of the microwave. Burning. Then cold water on her skin. She thrashes. She screams. Her throat would bleed if it could, but her undead body protects itself against that.

It’s only the flames that send signals of agony lancing through her.

When her Beast has disappeared she nods her head again, again, again.

“Mr. Savoy,” she repeats, desperately echoing the hound’s words. “Mr. Savoy, Mr. Savoy. It’s mister. Mister.”

She’d known better.

“I’m sorry,” she tacks on, because it can’t hurt, right?

GM: The questions resume.

“How did your sire know the time of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance?”

“What did Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspect about your sire?”

“Why is there animosity between Miss Malveaux-Devillers and your sire?”

“What did your sire offer you to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents?”

Celia: She’s going to slip up. She can feel it. She’s going to slip up and she’s going to die screaming and no one will know, no one will care.

All she has to do is say it. That the sheriff is her sire. That she’s been spying on Savoy this whole time. Everything will make sense to the hound then.

But it’s not her secret. She tells, she dies.

She doesn’t tell, she dies.

It’s a hopeless situation.

The echoes of pain haunt her stomach. She can’t even laugh about how at least it was already bare.

“I don’t know how my sire knew of Bishop Malveaux’s last appearance. I was not told. I did not ask.” Is that enough? Or does the hound want her guesses? She keeps her tone as polite as she can when she asks. “I can offer a hypothesis, but not concrete fact.”

What had Caroline suspected? Celia has to think back to that night on the roof.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspected that my sire was pretending to be under the sway of a blood bond that is not real. She suspected that my sire is older than claimed. She suspected that my sire is not who or what appearances suggest. I do not have the full story of the animosity between the pair. From what I understand there is a question of being blamed or responsible for Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ torture and Embrace. That my sire called in a marker from Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ sire to have it done.”

Had he offered anything to her? No. He doesn’t need to.

“My sire did not offer me anything to investigate Mr. Savoy and his agents. My sire has interceded on my behalf to prevent my harm and destruction, possibly final death.” Explanation enough, isn’t it? She’d be dead without his mercy.

GM: “Offer your hypothesis.”

“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire was under an ostensible blood bond to?”

“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers suspect your sire is older than claimed?”

“Who did Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire truly is?”

“Why did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute her Embrace to your sire?”

“What torture did Miss Maleaux-Devillers attribute to your sire?”

“Why did your sire seek to arrange Miss Maleaux-Devillers’ Embrace?”

Celia: “My hypothesis is that my sire saw Bishop Malveaux for the last time the night of his disappearance. My other hypothesis is that my sire heard from someone else who saw Bishop Malveaux the last day of his appearance.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not say the name of the person who she believed my sire to be bound to. She only said it was ‘someone else.’”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire’s blood is thicker than it should be at that age.” Celia had not found it so, but she does not offer the contradiction. No doubt the hound will think it a lie.

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer an alternative to who she believes my sire is, only that my sire’s identity is a lie.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers said that my sire called in a marker with René Baristheaut. She advised I ask my sire about ‘the night they carried her into the Dungeon.’ I did not do so. She attributed the torture she received while within the confines The Dungeon to my sire. She then informed me that it is not a sex club, as I had thought, but a place of… of insanity. Paradise for sadists. Torture and agony. She did not specifically say what was done to her, though she gave some examples of things that might happen there. She said that she and my sire are connected.”

“My sire did not claim to have any hand in Miss Malveaux-Deviller’s Embrace.”

GM: “On what business do you believe your sire would have seen Bishop Malveaux?”

“Did you believe your sire was bound to another?”

“Have you found the thickness of your sire’s blood atypical?”

“Do you believe your sire’s identity a lie?”

“On what basis does Miss Maleaux-Devillers believe your sire arranged her Embrace?”

Celia: “I do not know what business my sire would have had with Bishop Malveaux. It could have possibly been a social call, but I find it more likely that my sire heard the date from someone else.”

“I do not have reason to believe that my sire is bound to another aside from what Miss Malveaux-Devillers said to me. I admit that I had not much considered it until then.”

“I have not found the thickness of my sire’s blood atypical.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not offer coherent explanation as to why my sire would arrange her Embrace. She said that my sire ‘choose poorly this kine,’ and seemed to believe that my sire sought her death rather than Embrace. My hypothesis is that she saw things that weren’t real during her time in The Dungeon and it has addled some of her memories, as she indicated a distortion between time and space and no longer knowing who she was.”

She hesitates on the question of her sire’s identity. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t have a good answer. She says as much.

“I don’t… I don’t know if my sire’s identity is a lie. I don’t have a reason to believe so other than what Miss Malveaux-Devillers claims. After I met with her I tasted my sire’s blood and paid more attention to what I was tasting. I did not detect anything off about it. I tasted the connection to my grandsire. My sire has never implied to be anyone else. I have not seen any proof of the ability to fleshcraft, as I have. I did not learn the skill from my sire.”

GM: “Why do you believe your sire would have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux?”

“Why did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire sought her death?”

“To what purpose did Miss Malveaux-Devillers believe your sire invoked a boon from her own sire?”

Celia: “I’m sorry, I don’t know. My sire has never discussed a relationship with Bishop Malveaux with me.” They both know Veronica’s reputation, though. “It could have been any number of things, including confession. I do not know the bishop well enough to speak to his tendencies otherwise and I will not slander his name or person.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers did not share her reason for my sire seeking her death. Only that she suspected. I do not believe she had proof.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again, “I don’t know. I can hypothesize. Miss Malveaux-Devillers came from wealthy, relevant, important mortal families. She was an illegal Embrace who had to hunt down her own sire under penalty of final death. Though successful, she has struggled with her Requiem. It is possible that she has some delusions of grandeur or believes that her Embrace had a larger purpose than what her sire intended, though I do not know what that is or what he intended. I did not know him. I do not know if such a boon existed. I do not know my sire’s relationship with him.”

GM: The stake plunges back into Celia’s heart. She’s paralyzed.

“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux.”

The heat withdraws. Completely.

A sharp metallic whining starts.

There’s a rolling sound across the floor.

The whirring metallic whine draws closer.

“You stated your sire could have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”

Celia: With the stake in her heart she cannot open her mouth to speak. She cannot nod or otherwise indicate that she has heard or has an answer. She can only stare at the black hood that obscures her vision, desperately trying to find an answer on how to get out of this.

She doesn’t know what the whirring is. The relief she might have felt at the loss of heat does not come; anxiety and terror clutch her frozen heart. What is she moving towards?

Images fill her mind. Blades. Saws. Compactors. How much of her will be left? Is this any better than burning?

It can’t be the end. She’d told them what they wanted. She’d answered every question that they could.

GM: Pain shreds through Celia’s shoulder. Flesh tears and yields as steel saws through. The heady coppery smell of Cainite vitae fills her nostrils as the Beast screams in her ears. She hears droplets of blood lightly spattering.

But the pain does not stop. The metallic whirring does not stop.

It gets worse.

Metal saws through her shoulder bone, whining loudly as the hot steel edge cuts and cuts and cuts, god how many rotations per second. Once more, Celia’s howling Beast bursts its chains, only to find itself trapped within a wooden prison. Its rage is impotent. All it can do is suffer. All Celia can do is suffer. Pain saws and rips through her shoulder, until finally, there is a horrible cessation of all physical sensation through her arm. But the wound still weeps. The wound still screams. A mere mortal, Celia knows all too well, could well pass out from shock and/or blood loss upon losing a limb. Almost losing a limb can make someone pass out from shock and/or blood loss.

Celia knows that one from personal observation.

Celia: It’s gone.

Her arm is gone.

There’s nothing left, no bone, no tendon, no muscle. Just a stump. A bleeding stump.

White hot agony tears through her in tandem with the blade. She screams, but no one hears. She cries, but no tears come. She rages, but does not move.

She can only endure. She suffers in silence.

As she has the entirety of her life. The entirety of her Requiem.

The saw buzzes in her ear. She flinches away from the sound of it, but she cannot move, not even with only one shackle on her one wrist. What will that empty side of her do? Flop menacingly?

He said he’d protect her. He said he’d always protect her but she had told him she needed him, had asked him for help, and he hadn’t. He’d called her stupid instead.

They’d promised. Years ago. No matter what happened. No matter how angry they were at each other. If they were in trouble the other would come. They’d sealed it with a kiss, a declaration of love, and she’d felt closer to him in that moment than she had to anyone else, closer than the blood of their clans suggest. She can feel him. He can feel her. Does he feel it now? Her terror? Her pain? Does he care? Or does he think it’s well deserved?

It’s all she has. He’d heard her scream. She’d told him Agnello.

She prays to whatever god is listening, prays to the Father Above and the dark god she thinks her sire is and the Greek goddess she had been compared to that he’s coming.

GM: The cool voice sounds again.

“Your sire would not have paid a social call to Bishop Malveaux.”

The whirring does not shut off. It does not even grow fainter.

“Your sire would not take confession with Bishop Malveaux,” the voice repeats.

Perhaps in case she cannot recall past the pain.

“Explain these discrepancies in your account.”

The stake withdraws.

Then,

“Name every individual you know who has had interactions with the infernal.”

“Describe every interaction you have had with the infernal.”

“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Describe the means by which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Name and describe the infernal entity or entities you intended to summon.”

Tiny metallic teeth continue to run and whir against Celia’s ear.

Hungry for the rest of her.

Celia: She tries to focus on the words. What the hound wants. Anything to make the whirring stop.

Anything to end the pain.

Malveaux. Confession.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t know why my sire would… I don’t know—”

GM: At Celia’s initial answer, a horrible crawling sensation like dozens of skittering, climbing legs fills her throat, then pours out. Beetle-like clicks fill the air as the bugs crawl from her mouth. The taste is ashen and foul.

“Lies,” hisses her interrogator.

The terrible metallic whirring withdraws. Celia can hear it. There’s a lower rolling sound, against the floor. The whirring draws close again. To her other side. To her other arm. So very close. The saw whines and whirs and screams in Celia’s ear as it lowers over her other shoulder—

Celia: The legs in her throat is every horror movie she has ever seen. She tries to shriek around the bugs but nothing passes her lips except a gurgle, making them move faster, making them click quicker, louder, the saw whirs—

She’s going to die.

She’s going to die because she asked too many stupid questions.

She’s going to die because she’s a whore, because she broke the man she was supposed to love, because she’s a disappointment to everyone around her.

She doesn’t know anything about the infernal. The boons she’d paid had gotten her little in the way of information. And now they’ve gotten her here. Sold out to the hounds.

She focuses on one question at a time, pushing through the pain and terror. It’s slow going, trying to organize her thoughts, trying to figure out what to say. It comes down to denial. Not knowing anyone. Not intending to summon a demon.

It comes down to a lot of nothing.

She’d thought she could outwit the hound. That if she referred to her sire only as “my sire” for the entirety of the conversation she’d get out of this alive, if not intact.

Now, though, she doesn’t think that’s the case. Doriocourt had said it last night at Elysium: they’ll question her, and it wouldn’t be too big a loss to the Camarilla if she met her end.

No one is coming for her. She’s wounded. Disoriented. Chained. Captive. Defeated.

And she still hasn’t protected her sire from the threat.

He’ll kill her for it.

But maybe it will save him.

“My sire isn’t who you think,” she frantically whispers. “Madam Alsten-Pirrie isn’t my sire.”

GM: The insects stop actively crawling. But not all of them are gone from her mouth. Celia must spit the remainder out, and she does not get them all out. Tiny carapaces crunch beneath her teeth as she talks.

The whirring saw pauses.

“Who is your sire?”

Celia: It all stops. It all stops and she can breathe again, she can suck in useless air, she can stop her eyes from rolling in panic in her head, she can answer, she can say—

She can say his name.

“Sheriff Donovan.”

It falls from her lips like a plea, a prayer, an answer to a question she has asked a thousand times, her very reason for being, the only spot of light in the dark no matter how much he hurts her, no matter how many of hers he has slain, no matter how she suffers at his hands.

He’d saved her. Hunted for her. Killed for her.

Chosen her.

She has to do this. To stop herself from dying. No one else will protect him the way she can. No one else loves him the way that she does. No one else believes her that there’s a threat to his unlife. No one else will save him. Only her.

GM: Sheriff Donovan.

Two words.

There is a pause.

Then, Celia feels a sharp edge prick her wrist. Her remaining wrist.

There is another pause.

Then, the stake painfully drives back in her chest. She’s paralyzed again.

Footsteps sound.

There’s another noise in the distance.

More footsteps.

The manacle around her wrist comes off, but she cannot move. She feels hands bending her arm, so it reaches off the table. She feels her hand brushing against something. Metallic. Circular.

There’s another sharp prick against her wrist, but deeper. Longer. She feels her blood flow.

Finally, it stops. Hands lift her arm back onto the table. Re-affix the manacle.

Celia: Maybe this is worse.

Shackled again. Less blood. Staked.

Maybe she should have continued her charade.

GM: There’s chanting, in Latin. Like a liturgical prayer. Celia doesn’t know the words, but she feels the power in them as they build and repeat. She feels them call to her blood.

They cease.

There is another pause.

The stake comes out. She can move again.

Celia: She doesn’t attempt to. She’s still chained. She waits. For questions. Demands. Accusations.

She waits. Silent.

GM: “Describe the circumstances of your Embrace and your subsequent interactions with the sheriff.”

The saw continues to whir and whine.

Celia: So she does.

She tells her broodmate, her sister-in-blood, what she can.

She starts, perhaps unnecessarily, at the beginning.

“He came for my father when I was eight. I saw him that night. He saw me, and that’s all I remember. I saw him again when I was fourteen. Maxen had won an election. I wasn’t supposed to be home. Maxen attacked my mother. I threatened him with a gun. Sheriff Donovan appeared. He smoothed things over. I think he altered my memories, but I remember his face before I fell asleep.”

“Maxen was abusive. I made a plan to move against him when I got to college. I set him up to take a political fall, for which I was hospitalized. Maxen was arrested. I met Pietro Silvestri at a bar the next night. He fed from me at his haven, where Veronica Alsten-Pirrie had killed someone. They caught me when I tried to escape, but they were distracted by each other. I got away.”

“Maxen was released from jail. He kidnapped my mother. I wasn’t there. I called the bar where I met Mr. Silvestri because he told me that he was a thief, and I thought he could steal her back. He and Madam Alsten-Pirrie tested me, fed from me, but did not agree to steal her back. They ghouled me. Gave me the power to get her myself. She wanted to Embrace me then, but he told her no. This was their solution.”

“I went to Audubon. I took my mother to the hospital. I went back to get revenge on Maxen. I was interrupted by the sheriff. He took me into the sky. He drained my body. I thought he would drop me. That I was dead.”

“He did. But he gave me his blood first. Then he let me go. I woke up the next evening at the Evergreen. Mr. Savoy told me that he had felt my Embrace through our blood connection. He said that the sheriff had abandoned me. We tried to figure out why, what he wanted. We didn’t know if he had realized what he’d done, but even at the time, not knowing him, I thought it was deliberate. He could have killed me. He didn’t.”

“I told Mr. Savoy about Madam Alsten-Pirrie. He summoned her and she agreed to cover for my Embrace. We didn’t know what the sheriff wanted, though. We thought he was watching the apartment of someone I knew, an associate that assisted with the Maxen scandal. I went there, disguised, and waited.”

“He came for me.”

“He did not tell me why he did this to me. He only asked what Mr. Savoy had planned for Maxen. I told him the plans. He told me that I was well placed to spy on Mr. Savoy. That I should rise in his favor and earn his trust. That I shouldn’t trust him myself. That I should appear genuine, so he did not suspect. That I should tell them he thought I was Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s illicit childe, that she should pretend he has leverage on her.”

“Mr. Savoy took me in. He explained the rules. Granted me domain. I became Jade Kalani and played the part of loyal grandchilde to Mr. Savoy. The sheriff and I meet infrequently for updates. I pass him information on Mr. Savoy and anyone else he asks me to, any threat that I perceive to his being.”

“He told me to never tell. He told me to never let anyone know who I am, who my real sire is. As far as I know he has not told anyone himself. He… told me that if I risked the cover he’d created for us he would risk the lives and unlives of those I care for. I have had to lie. To learn how to be Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s childe. To temper my words and actions with those that would align with her rather than him. I have tried to be careful. I have tried to prevent anyone else from finding out. I have lied and cheated and infiltrated and done everything he has asked of me. We do not trade favors. We do not trade intel. It is one way. I do things for him.”

“No one knows,” she says again. “No one knows what I do for him. No one is supposed to know. He…” Does she need to explain the sheriff to her sister-in-blood? “We were seen together. I was punished. I fear that the next will mean my death. That I can no longer serve him.”

“I tried to get through this without spilling about him. I thought I could make it. But I feared that my death here would mean he went without his plant in the Quarter. I feared that telling you would bring his wrath down upon me, not because you know, but because I told. Because the information has not been shared. Because it jeopardizes you, his acknowledged childe. Because it jeopardizes him.”

“I have tried to avoid you,” Celia continues, “to never do anything against you directly. Last night I was caught in the role the rest expect to see. I… I did not think you would be the one to speak against Madam Preston, that I would have to go toe-to-toe with you. I apologize for my words and actions last night. I can… I will back down, next time, if there is a next time.”

GM: Camilla patiently listens through Celia’s narrative. She does not interrupt with questions or remarks.

Blinded, Celia cannot say what expression crosses her sister-in-blood’s face.

What she might be thinking.

How she feels to have a sister.

Finally, she speaks again.

“Describe the intelligence leak the sheriff described among the Guard de Ville.”

“Describe the nature of your dealings with the infernal.”

“Describe the purpose for which you intended to summon an infernal entity or entities.”

“Describe the extent of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ knowledge of the sheriff.”

“Describe the sheriff’s alleged involvement in Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ Embrace.”

Celia: Celia swallows. She had thought they could have a more personal conversation than this.

Her blood might not be enough to save her.

“The sheriff did not describe a leak. He told me the information I gave to you earlier. He told me about the suspect and asked me to look into them. He knows that I can shift forms. He did not say there was a further leak of intel. He told me how to proceed with Miss Malveaux-Devillers and Mr. Savoy.”

“I have not had any dealings with any confirmed infernals. If Maxen Flores is correct about his possession then I had dealings with one as a mortal, but I was not aware of it. If the house on Rampart hosts an infernal then I dealt with that as well, unknowing.”

“I did not have any intention to summon an infernal. I only asked if it was possible. Mr. Bornemann said that they dwell in Hell. That our souls go there when we die. I wanted to know how the infernals come from Hell to here. If it’s possible for a Kindred soul to do the same. Mr. Bornemann told me it is a one-way trip. He implied it was a waste of time to look further.”

“Miss Malveaux-Devillers suspects that the sheriff is not loyal to the prince. She believes he is loyal to someone else, but she has not told me who. She thinks that he is older than he says. That he is not who he says. She thought that he tried to kill her, but she did not say why. She only said something about him setting her down this path. I don’t know the entirety of their interactions. The sheriff did not say, only told me to find out if she had killed the bishop, and to otherwise avoid the Garden District.”

GM: “What purpose did you seek to effect by alleging an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville in Elysium?”

“Do you know of an intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville?”

“Why did you consult Mr. Bornemann for information about infernal entities and the translocation of Kindred souls?”

“Why did the sheriff tell you to avoid the Garden District?”

Then, a moment after the other queries:

“Who is your mortal father?”

Celia: “I did not want to lose the argument last night at Elysium. I wanted to rise in Mr. Savoy’s favor. I thought that he might trust me more if he saw me publicly working toward his goals. My relationship with Madam Preston is tense, at best, and I thought she would also appreciate the support.” There is a brief pause. “I was wrong.”

“I don’t know of any intelligence leak among the Guard de Ville. I only know what I know because the sheriff told me, because he told me to assist where the Guard could not. With Miss Malveaux-Devillers. With Mr. Savoy. With the Anarchs, who he says hate him.”

“I consulted Mr. Bornemann…” Celia pauses. It is a brief pause, and she can almost hear her broodmate’s mocking response in her ear before she speaks. “The sheriff’s unlife has been threatened by multiple sources this week. I have spoken to him about it. I thought that if I could not physically protect him, I could at least protect his soul. I thought there might be a way to bring him back from final death, if he were to meet it. I did not intend to summon an infernal. Only to find out how they get from Hell to here.”

“When the sheriff learned I had been to the Garden District he punished me by risking the life of my mortal mother. He threw her from the roof. He made me catch her. He said that I had risked the cover he set up for us. That I had been careless. We do not publicly associate. He distances himself from me so that no one knows.”

Another pause at the question. She’d wondered if Doriocourt had picked up on the thing with her dad.

“My mortal father is Ronald Landrenau. He is a pawn of Mr. Savoy. He is aware he is my father. Maxen Flores is not. My mother told me when I was fourteen.”

GM: There is another pause from her interrogator.

“Do you know any individuals who have had potential dealings with the infernal besides Maxen Flores, the woman at the Rampart Street house, the slain kine who previously occupied that house, and the kine associated with them?”

“Describe any connection you have with the aforementioned individuals. Do not describe your connection to Maxen Flores.”

“Do you suspect any individuals besides the aforementioned individuals of having dealings with the infernal?”

“What was your business in the Garden District?”

Celia: “The woman at the Rampart Street house paid a thin-blood to bug my spa. I bugged the house, but did not otherwise interact with her. I have had no dealings with Father Conelly. I have had no dealings with any of the other mentioned individuals. I had planned to contact the two in prison but have not yet had an opportunity. I am unsure if the thing in the house is a demon or some other entity. I have… notes, I can show you, what Mr. Bornemann and I discussed, what I discovered while looking into the house.”

“I don’t know of any individuals who have had dealings with the infernal beings. I thought Mr. Bornemann might have studied them himself, but he did not confirm. Miss Grey told me that Mr. Bornemann was the local expert on infernal beings, but Mr. Bornemann downplayed his knowledge during our chat.”

“My business in the Garden District was to protect my personal Masquerade. I maintain the Celia Flores identity to go where Jade cannot, to better serve the sheriff’s goals. The ability to sculpt flesh has kept the risk of discovery to a minimum. I am careful to keep the two identities separate.”

GM: “Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between the sheriff and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”

“Do not describe the sheriff’s dealings and interactions with Maxen Flores.”

“Describe all dealings and interactions you know of between current and former members of the New Orleans Police Department with yourself and members of your immediate and extended kine family.”

Celia: “As far as I am aware, the sheriff has not had many interactions with my immediate or extended kine family. I spoke of his appearance during the altercation between Maxen and Diana Flores. When he learned that I had been in the Garden District, he used my mother to punish me. He threw her from the roof of my haven. He told me to catch her. Last night he came to me in the Quarter and made my adopted sister forget that she saw him. He sent her inside.”

A brief pause.

“My sister Isabel might have seen him when he came for our father in 1997. I believe he may have altered her memories following the incident in 2009. I do not believe that he had contact with my other kine siblings. I also suspect that he had Maxen’s parents killed, as their will had changed just before their death to make him the sole inheritor, and he used the money to move to Audubon. I suspect that the sheriff has altered the memories of my kine mother multiple times. I do not believe he has had interactions with my kine father.”

“I… I don’t know of many police dealings between the NOPD and my kine family. My maternal kine grandmother is a criminal judge who has had experiences with them over the course of her career, but I only know of one specific. When I set up Maxen prior to my Embrace she gave me the number to call of a man named Gettis, or his partner. She said they would help. I called him the night Maxen was arrested. The Kindred Peter Lebeaux showed up following Maxen’s arrest to question Diana and I while we were at the hospital. He offered her a ride home following the incident and helped her collect my siblings from CPS. He assisted me when I moved her out of the hospital following her abduction by Maxen, but has otherwise not spoken to or interacted with her.”

“I am unaware of other dealings my kine family has or has had with the police dep… ah, Emmett. My cousin. Was arrested in 2009 by Peter Lebeaux. He had the proof of Maxen’s assault. I was unaware that he and I were related at the time. His memories were wiped. He thought he was arrested for drug charges.”

GM: “What memories of your mother’s do you believe the sheriff altered?”

“Name your maternal kine grandmother and describe her relationship with Richard Gettis.”

Celia: “I believe he altered the memories of what happened the night of the altercation between her and Maxen, when he tried to saw off her leg. I also believe he altered her memories following the events of my Embrace, but I have no proof. He altered her memories following the punishment he levied against me on the roof, he told her to think it was a dream and to not wake up until she was back in bed.”

“My maternal kine grandmother is Payton Underwood. I spoke to her following the shooting at the station by Richard Gettis about him, but she did not say that they were friends, only that she knew him. That he was a hard man, that the job and made him unhinged, that he had no friends or family. I am unaware of any other personal relationship between her or other NOPD officers.”

“Wait.”

“Maxen’s father is not who he claims, either. His biological father is Jim Jameson.”

“I am unaware if he has any dealings with the police department.”

GM: There is a pause.

“Describe your feelings towards the sheriff and the nature of your relationship.”

Celia: “He is…”

How can she explain? How does she put the depth of her emotions into words?

“I… I have strong feelings for him. I have strong, intimate feelings for him. I would lay down my unlife for his. I would do whatever he asked of me. I have suffered abuse and punishment at his hands and I have never turned against him. He has beaten me. Threatened people close to me. Made me kill people for him. To show strength. Loyalty. He pushes me to be better. He makes me stronger. He does not coddle me. He punishes mistakes. He corrects the wrong course of action. Until very recently he was more distant. I showed him something recently that… that I think made him value me more, but I…”

She falters.

“He will never care for me the same way as I care for him. I grew up knowing him. His ghoul used me, groomed me, broke me. He let my father abuse me. My family. I’m… I pretend there’s more there, but he’s… he’s practical. He has never said why he Embraced me. I imagine it is because I grew up in the house I did, the way I did. Advantageous byproduct, he said. I was ruthless. He came to kill me that night and I laughed in his face. I was happy to trade my life for my mother’s.”

Another pause.

“I love him,” she whispers it like a dirty secret, “I’m sorry, I love him, I know he isn’t mine, I know he will never be mine, I know that I can only pretend. I want what’s best for him. Whatever that means. Whatever role that puts me in. Whatever danger I have to face or lies I have to tell or people I have to break. He need only ask. I don’t expect anything from him. I wish. I hope. But I don’t expect. I know what I am to him. Tool. Pawn. Hidden dagger. I know. I don’t ask for more than he’s willing to give. I am his spy. I would never willingly harm his interests, never harm you, you’re the… the childe, the chosen, the acknowledged, and I’m… bastard born twice over, secret shame. I’ll never be his equal. I’ll never be your equal. I belong in shadows.”

GM: Camilla listens.

Suddenly, Celia feels the hood withdraw. She can see again. She’s shackled to a steel table. She’s in an unlit torture room, though her eyes penetrate the dark without issue. There are rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function is the causation of pain.

Celia sees her own arm, too, lying at her side. It looks blistered and rotting, like it’s been dead for several days.

Camilla picks up the arm and holds it to Celia’s stump.

Celia: She had expected the stake again for her confession. Not this. Not sight. Not the hood withdrawn. Not… the arm, held against her so she can… can she mend, can she…

“I… I can’t… I lost too much blood, if I try it will… I might lose control.”

Shame in her voice. Her eyes. Weak.

GM: Camilla raises her wrist to her mouth. Celia smells it before she sees it, the coppery flow of red.

The hound holds her wrist to Celia’s mouth.

Celia: She does not question it. She drinks what her sister gives her. She opens her mouth to let it flow down her throat, to nourish her, to give back what was taken. However much Camilla gives, Celia accepts.

GM: Celia gets to drink for a very long time.

Celia: She takes it all. Every drop. Every hit of blood, so close to her sire’s. It’s almost like drinking from him. Her body mends itself while she drinks, flesh and sinew knitting back together while Camilla holds the arm to her severed stump.

She drinks, and she accepts this new family.

She drinks, and she accepts that Camilla is the sister she deserves, that they are the sheriff’s childer, that they serve him.

She drinks, wishing there was a bond, something tangible to tie them together so that she knows this one always has her back.

She drinks and the wounds on her body and soul heal.

GM: The arm looks fresh and hale again, when she’s done. There’s some dried blood over it. But the rot and decay is gone, like it was never severed from her.

Camilla finally retracts her wrist, then walks around the table. She undoes each of the shackles around Celia’s wrists and feet.

Celia: She waits patiently while Camilla goes through the motions. She does not struggle. She does not speak. Only sits up slowly once she is free, looking to her newly acknowledged sister.

GM: Camilla lifts herself onto the table and sits next to Celia. She’s dressed in the same trench Celia has so often seen her in outside of Elysium. A felt hat casts long shadows across her porcelain-pale and utterly still, expressionless face. Her features are attractive enough, even beautiful, but no one could ever love such a face. It’s nothing but stone and shadows.

Pic.jpg
Celia: She has loved such a face. Her sire’s is cut from the same marble and ice. It is not so different.

GM: The hound removes her hat and sets it down. She undoes the clasp around her hair, letting it fall down to her shoulders. She turns to look at Celia.

Then she smiles.

It’s like seeing one of those pictures of Antarctic tundra during summer.

The landscape’s basic shapes and forms are consistent.

But you never realized there could be green.

“You know, Celia, I was once where you are now, many years ago,” says Camilla.

Celia: Celia is struck by the beauty of Camilla when she smiles. She doesn’t realize she’s lifting her hand to the hound’s cheek until she sees the motion. She freezes before her fingers ever touch the woman before her and drops them back to her side, listening to her speak.

“You were?” A question that’s more a breath, it slips out of her before she can stop it.

GM: Camilla’s eyes crinkle as Celia’s hand drops.

“You can touch me, if you like. I’m not made of glass.”

“But yes, I was.”

“I think that if we’d been Embraced at the same time, I’d have been jealous of you.”

“I think I would’ve wanted what you have, what you get to be, more than anything.”

Celia: Celia lifts her hand again once the permission is given, touching the smooth planes of her cheek. She is beautiful. Even if no one gets to see. Even if she hides behind the hat and coat.

“I am jealous,” she finds herself saying. “I wish he acknowledged me. I wish I did not dance upon this delicate knife’s edge, afraid of accidentally blowing my cover, his cover.”

She pauses only a moment, looking deep into the hound’s eyes.

“What do you want to be?”

GM: The woman’s pale and unblemished skin is smooth against Celia’s touch.

“I am what I want to be.”

“But I didn’t always want to be what I am.”

“There was a time, early in my Requiem, when Rocco Agnello and I were lovers. He was a lot older. I thought I was special and important.”

“Then I found out he’d been sharing blood with Veronica Alsten-Pirrie, and that I was just a diversion.”

“I confronted him. I frenzied. He beat me into torpor. He called our sire to revive me.”

The smile drops slightly.

“That ended up hurting worse than the beating. Than the betrayal.”

Celia: “His disappointment,” she says quietly.

GM: “He revived me with his blood. He was disappointed by my weakness, my naivete, and my loss of control. Then he beat, tortured, and humiliated me. While Rocco watched.”

Celia: She hadn’t known.

No one had ever told her this story.

Celia cannot help the way that her lips flatten into a thin line. The way her heart goes out to this older Kindred who has faced their sire’s sense of “justice.”

GM: “Things never really got better.”

“No matter much I accomplished, no matter how many years went by.”

“One error. One mistake. And I was the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”

“I’m going to be the bishop tomorrow. To replace Malveaux. It’s going to be announced at Elysium.”

“I don’t think it means anything to him.”

“It benefits him, yes, and he’s partly responsible for my being named bishop. He wants it to happen.”

“But he hasn’t congratulated me. Said he’s proud. Said anything, beyond telling me I’m going to be the bishop.”

“One error. One mistake. And I’ll be the fledgling who’d fucked up with Rocco again.”

Camilla’s voice isn’t bitter. It’s barely even sad.

Celia: The circumstances are different, but the experiences are the same. Her face shows her understanding: open rather than shuttered. She has shared so much of herself these past few nights that even if she wanted to hold it back she couldn’t, not here, not now that her mask has started to splinter and crack in front of the only other Kindred in the city who completely understands, who had granted mercy because of that understanding.

“I thought it was different with you and him. I was… I was so jealous of what I thought you had with him, I thought I could get there too. But we’re tools, aren’t we?”

Her lips twist. Her eyes search her sister’s face, looking for another answer.

“That’s all, isn’t it. Ways for him to get ahead. To get what he wants, regardless of what we want.”

She wants to share. Her own hurt. Her own pain. The things he has done to her, the things he has let others do to her, the words he has used that have wounded her more deeply than any of the bones he has ever broken.

But it’s not her time.

Her fingers moves from the hound’s cheek to her hand.

“I’m proud of you,” she says instead. “I’m proud of you for being what you want to be. For wanting to be what you are. I’m proud of you for becoming bishop. I am sister rather than sire, but I am proud. I wear the mask in public, but this evening I would offer you my congratulations.”

Maybe Celia’s words means something to Camilla. Maybe they don’t.

But Camilla’s words mean something to Celia.

GM: At Celia’s touch, her broodmate smiles again.

“Thank you. That does mean something.”

Her gaze sweeps across the torture room. The smell of Celia’s spilled, now-dried vitae hangs heavy in the air.

“It’s rare that I get to take the mask off. Everyone assumes I am a copy of him. An extension of him. They look upon me and see only the sheriff, writ small.”

“I’d have envied your freedom, when I was your age. Your ability to be what you choose to be.”

Celia: Is it freedom? Had she donned the masks she chose? Or had they been decided for her through her upbringing? Whore. Stupid. Spoiled. Victim. She’d thought the same of Camilla. Mini-Donovan, ice queen. The older Toreador wears her mask well.

She follows the hound’s gaze through the room. How long has she been missing? How long until the sun scorches the earth?

Celia returns her eyes to Camilla.

“There are so many things I want to say to you. Want to ask you. Tell you. Confide. I…”

She falters, unused to this feeling bubbling inside of her. She’d tried to shut it down so hard recently that its reappearance tonight has disoriented her.

“I’d like to see you again. If this isn’t my end, I mean—” blurted, rushed words, because what if it is? “—if I’m released. I’d like to meet with you. I’d like to get to know you. Not as Jade. But as me. To allow us both to take off the masks.” She adds, almost shyly, “If that’s something you’re amenable to.”

GM: “That is something I’m amenable to. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to remove the mask. There are things I want to tell you, Celia. About him. About myself. About you. About your family. About so much else. There are things I want to ask you, as well. So many things. There are so many secrets and we all have so few pieces of the puzzle. It’s so rare that we find this many pieces at once.”

Celia almost doesn’t notice the fading of her broodmate’s smile, like sunset passing into night.

“But circumstance may not allow us to share those things.”

Celia: She wants that. She wants all of that. Sharing. A sister. Someone else with whom she can be true, be herself, take off the mask and let her hair down like Camilla has literally just done.

But reality knocks, and Celia sets her jaw as the smile fades from Camilla’s face.

“We will navigate the circumstances, or we will create new ones. I can come to you. I can change my face. A new identity. For me. Or you. I can shift. I can pass as mortal. Whatever needs to happen. No one has to know.”

A pause.

He doesn’t need to know.”

A plea.

Keeping secrets from her sire for the first time in her Requiem. The collar chafes.

Unless Camilla means something else. Unless she will burn anyway, and this was just a momentary reprieve. Her fingers tighten around the hound’s hand. Not quite clutching, but seeking… something. Comfort. Reassurance.

“Am I to die tonight,” she asks in a whisper.

GM: “The plan was for you to die Sunday,” Camilla answers, her eyes once more sweeping the torture chamber.

“I would have interrogated you for everything you knew. You would then have been publicly executed as an accomplice in Bishop Malveaux’s murder.”

“I can report, and truthfully, that you aren’t an infernalist and the rumor about an intelligence leak had no basis in fact. But we still have no reason to release a captive Bourbon.”

“You can’t disappear from here without an explanation, either. The rest of the Guard would investigate how you escaped. He would investigate how you escaped.”

“Does anyone outside know you are here?”

Celia: Celia closes her eyes. She breathes. She wants to ask if it was his idea to execute her. Or if it was just… just convenient. If he knew. It shouldn’t hurt.

But it does.

“Durant,” she says, looking back to Camilla. “Roderick Durant. Primogen Duquette’s childe. We were lovers in our mortal life,” she explains. “My ghoul. I saw Rocco tailing me. I told him. Security at the Evergreen, maybe, but I think Hound Agnello distracted them, but if there are cameras… I can try to reach my grandsire with the… the bond.” Savoy has no power here, though.

GM: “Cameras can’t be counted on with Kindred,” says Camilla, shaking her head.

“Durant may be your best option. Trying to reach Savoy also can’t hurt.”

Celia: Celia gives a tiny nod. Cameras. That’s right. They don’t work. She’s not on her game, not now. Not with final death on the line. But Camilla hadn’t called her stupid. Hadn’t mocked her. And for that… for that she’s grateful.

How had someone so decent ended up as Donovan’s childe?

“Durant knows I was grabbed. He heard me scream. I just don’t know if he cares. It’s been rocky this week. He wouldn’t fight his way in. His sire knows who I am, but he’d have had to go to her, and she’d have to find some value in involving herself.” And why would she? Because she’s decent?

“Did Bornemann turn me in? Does my… does our sire know I’m here?”

GM: “Bornemann reported you to the Guard de Ville as a potential infernalist.”

“Donovan is away on business, but he will know soon.”

Celia: She wonders how Bornemann planned to collect his boons if Jade is dead. How much he had lied to her because he thought it wouldn’t matter.

Whether or not she owes him anything now, or if turning her in nullifies her debts. Veronica would know.

“He won’t care,” she says. It’s not a question. He’ll tell her that she’s stupid for getting caught. For asking questions. For digging into something that hadn’t concerned him.

She lets that pain rush through her. The pain of her sire not caring. Giving her up to die. Turned in for being stupid. Roderick’s last words to her. About how she’s stupid. He’s not coming. No one is coming.

It builds inside of her. The emotional pain. The spiritual pain. The lack of love, of self love, the disconnection when she tries so hard to throw a tether onto anyone else to see what lands and how she blames them for not understanding when she holds so much of herself back, the walls so high around her heart that even though she thinks she’s pouring it into other people she’s pouring from an empty cup and there’s nothing but resentment and poison because she lies so well that she’s convinced herself, the victim story she has been stuck in since she was eight years old, the blame and guilt and self-loathing that set her on this path, the martyr mindset, the need to fix everything and everyone around her rather than herself because it’s easier to focus out than focus in—

the lies—

the guilt—

the anger—

the shame—

the hatred—

the rage—

the grief—

the pain—

the story—

the bullshit—

It thrums through her, a secret superpower of self-blame and self-hatred and self-loathing, of feeling so disconnected that she disconnected, the feeling of not feeling, the feeling of numbness and what that brings up inside of her and how many masks she has created and how hard she has fought for every bit of sanity that she clings to—

It coils and bunches inside of her like a well-used muscle because it is a well-used muscle—

She unleashes it. Reaching not for her sire, but for her grandsire. Calling on the bond between them, the pull between them, the satisfaction and pride she has brought him, not giving in to the idea that she had failed him, not letting herself believe that he is done with her, that she is just another pawn.

She reaches. She throws the life line.

She sends her desperation. The terror. The need for assistance. She digs deep, letting it fill her, letting it spiral down the line to her grandsire. Her location. Her terror and impotence and rage, her grief and fear and agony. She sends it all, the strongest she can muster, she sends it to him.

She doesn’t know if it’s enough.

She doesn’t know if he will help.

She doesn’t know if he cares.

How had she ended up here? How had she thought that anyone would ever come for her? How had she let herself become such a victim that she needs someone else to save her?

Steel resolve makes rigid her spine. She turns her eyes to her sister.

“I reached for him. I don’t know if he’s coming. I don’t know if Durant is coming. I can give you a body. If you get me out of here, I can give you a Jade to execute. I will disappear. I have other identities, ones he does not know about.”

She will lose everything she has created.

But that is better than losing her unlife, isn’t it?

GM: “Will the body be able to walk and talk?” asks Camilla.

Celia: “It could. It won’t know the right things to say, if it’s questioned. But I can… I can get you an animated body, yes.”

GM: “Tell me more. It may serve. It also may not.”

Celia: “Fleshcraft. I can find another lick. Or a thin-blood. Or a… something illegal,” she admits.

GM: “A thin-blood won’t work. They’d be executed in front of the entire city.”

Celia: “The illegal thing, then. Unless even suggesting it damns me.”

Celia hesitates. The urge to swallow overwhelms her. When she continues, it’s in a whisper.

“I could turn someone.”

GM: “Hold that thought for now,” Camilla says mildly.

“When I am finished with Jade Kalani, she may be interrogated by the sheriff. A priest will offer to take her last confession. I can ensure the duplicate is subsequently kept mesmerized, as well as cursed to be incapable of speech. Punishment for too much backtalk. She won’t have to do anything at Elysium beyond face execution in front of a crowd.”

“The primary difficulties I foresee are getting the duplicate inside without notice, as well as getting you out if you can’t transform into something small.”

“You can fleshcraft. Can you take the form of a small enough animal to hide inside a coat or container?”

Celia: “Cat. Or bird, if it’s a small container. I can also gift the ability to transform to someone temporarily, if they can be commanded to do so. It’s temporary, the mark will fade after use.”

GM: “How small is the bird?”

Celia: “Nightjar. Rather small.”

GM: “A nightjar could be concealed*Celia:* in one of my pockets.”

Celia: “Cloaking, as well. No one should be able to detect me if I hide the aura.”

GM: “There are cameras outside of these cells. Authorized Kindred know to make themselves visible. If a prisoner escapes, the recordings can be reviewed for anomalies to determine when and possibly how.”

“I could bring a patsy into this room and purge the footage from the camera recordings. They are not frequently reviewed.”

“Prisoners not under active interrogation are kept staked. Escapes are rare. If there is an escape, the recordings will be reviewed, and the missing footage potentially noticed.”

Camilla seems to think further.

“No. The solution is simple. Prior footage could simply be spliced and re-used.”

Celia: “Ghoul.” Celia twists her lips. “One of the ones in the car copped a feel. Do they have access down here? Could they be blamed for missing footage? Say they snuck in here to take advantage of the staked lick?”

GM: “The footage can be taken care of without involving one of Wright’s ghouls. Whatever plan involves the fewest moving parts and individuals outside of our direct control is the least likely to go wrong.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“You’re very… patient.”

GM: “I am,” Camilla agrees.

“A Quarter rat would be the most convenient Kindred to capture and use as a substitute for Jade Kalani.”

The Toreador glances down at her wristwatch.

“Dawn is in approximately one hour.”

“The switch between you and the duplicate could be made tonight or tomorrow night, but should be made at least an hour prior to Midnight Mass.”

“How long would it take you to alter the duplicate’s body?”

Celia: For a moment she wonders what it would be like to have been Camilla’s childe rather than sister. To have someone willing to explain, to be patient, to understand.

She lets the thought to before long. She isn’t. Dwelling won’t make it so.

“Once I get it, not long. Proper burst of speed, a few minutes at most. Need blood for the work, for the speed. For the bird.” She’s already going through targets in her mind.

GM: “Then it is that or wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant to come through. I would wait no longer than two hours before Midnight Mass.”

Camilla considers further.

“There is a third alternative. You could trade us something. Something valuable or apparently valuable enough to be worth your release and which we could not conveniently claim by force.”

Celia: “You mean you wouldn’t release me to take care of it tonight. You’d do it tomorrow.” She looks around the sparse room. Her mother is waiting for her tomorrow. What will they say when they haven’t heard from her?

What will her dad do to them? What will Reggie do, losing his brother and his domitor both? And Alana? Dani? Something reckless?

“What is valuable enough? Information? Skills? Secrets?”

GM: “Two hours before Midnight Mass is the maximum time frame I would wait for Mr. Savoy and Mr. Durant before presuming they are unwilling or unable to help. Whether you wish to wait for them is your decision.”

“Assume you are the prince. What could Jade Kalani offer that you would consider worth releasing her for?”

Celia: “That someone I rely on is false. That my regime is in danger. Plan of attack. Enemies in the city. Allies under attack. Ways to weaken my enemies.”

Celia looks down at her hands.

“Will they know I told? Will I be known as a traitor? The whole city? Or just… just you? The Guard?”

GM: “That depends upon the information,” answers Camilla. “If it is worthwhile information, it will be acted upon.”

Celia: “Does anyone else know that I am here? Just you, the Guard, Donovan tomorrow?”

“Anyone you told. Prince. Seneschal. Whoever.”

GM: “That fact likely makes little difference. All of them will know by tomorrow’s mass.”

Celia: “That’s what I was afraid of,” she tells her hands.

GM: A feeble hope, given the seneschal’s presence at every Midnight Mass.

Stupid, whispers a bald man, to expect he wouldn’t know before then about Jade’s captivity.

Celia: Stupid, whispers the bald man, but Celia doesn’t let it sink in. That’s not what she’d meant.

“The rest of the city won’t know, though. That I was here. Only a few of you, those involved or the witnesses. The average lick in the city won’t?”

GM: “If Jade Kalani is executed before the city, and you were an average Kindred, would you presume she was previously held in Perdido House?”

“We have not otherwise disseminated news of your capture. That serves no purpose.”

Celia: “So if the information is enough to get out of here tonight, no one else will know it was me.”

GM: “Immediately, yes.”

Celia: Celia is silent only for a moment.

“The prince has a childe. I can tell you who it is and who knows. I can tell you what I learned from the childe that will harm his regime. I can tell you… I can… I can get in to, to where it is, the thing.”

GM: “What ‘thing’?” asks Camilla.

She evinces no reaction to the news of the prince’s childe.

Celia: “It’s… I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it. It’s something that he’s defeated before. Twice. In France.” Celia looks at the ground, then up at Camilla. “I think it’s what Donovan serves,” she says in a quiet voice, “and if it’s not time yet then…” she trails off.

“I don’t know how you’d spin to them you let me go for it, not without betraying him. Unless I can… I don’t know, move it, or… set a trap.”

GM: “I am uncertain what you are proposing.”

Celia: That makes two of them.

“Something overly complicated that I wouldn’t be able to pull off anyway.”

GM: “What do you wish to do?”

Celia: “Survive,” she sighs, “I’m trying to figure out what’s worth letting a Bourbon go that will be valuable enough for you to sell to them while also not completely blowing my cover that doesn’t have a dozen moving parts and doesn’t rely on someone coming to ‘rescue’ me.”

GM: “And something the prince still needs you alive for.”

Celia: “That too. It’s… messy. Playing multiple sides.” Maybe it’s better if they just burn her. Who will be outraged enough to jump ship?

GM: “There is a reason more Kindred play a single side.”
-
Camilla checks her watch again.

“Our time to consider courses of action is not unlimited.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I’m panicking. I want to get out tonight, there are personal and political issues I need to resolve this evening and early tomorrow evening. If I betray Savoy he’ll never let me in again and then I’m useless to Donovan, if I don’t give you something useful then there’s no reason to let me go, if I betray Donovan then I’m dead anyway.”

She stares once more at her hands.

“I don’t think Durant is coming,” she says to her fingers, and something resembling emotion tugs at her heart. She’d tried to hide it with anger, had tried to disconnect, but mostly right now she just feels… lonely. Isolated. Disconnected. She’d always kept one foot out the door with him because of the way things had ended twice before. Because she’d thought she was unworthy of someone like him.

“He was supposed to be my forever,” she says, almost to herself, “but I think he hates me now, and that’s my fault. He’s… he’s like you. Or he was. Until I broke him. I saw Rocco tailing me and I called him and he just… just told me I’m stupid.” Her laugh is watery. “So I can’t wait on him to save me.”

Breathe, she thinks, as if it ever does anything for her. As if she’s still human. As if she can actually feel and love and live like she used to as a mortal. As if this unlife is a fairy tale and she’s the main character, the princess who grows up to be a queen, the little girl that marries the prince, the ass-kicking spy that infiltrates compounds and never gets caught and has no flaws.

It’s not.

And if she messes this up she might die.

“An associate of mine has a breather blessed with luck. Five of the pints in his body belong to me for assisting with his capture. It’s possible he only gives me three considering I took two from his lover. If I complete a task for my associate there will be a ritual that allows the breather’s luck to be transferred to a talisman or vessel of my choice. I was going to use it for another purpose, to gift it to a vessel that I could then use over and over again, which I intended to use to accomplish a few major goals: investigating the potential infernal being, finding a way to protect the soul of our sire should any of the thieves in the city seek to claim it, and infiltrating a ring of hunters.”

Celia lifts her gaze to Camilla’s face.

“Are any of those worthy, or the talisman itself?”

GM: “On what basis do you believe that ‘thieves’ seek to claim our sire’s soul?”

Celia: Celia lets out a huff of air.

“I told him about it,” she says, “and he didn’t believe me. There’s a thing in the Garden District that eats souls.”

GM: “On what basis do you believe this entity poses a specific threat to our sire?”

Celia: “Her daughter is the one who thinks that Donovan was responsible for her Embrace. She thinks that he’s in service to another and is fully bonded to her sire.”

GM: The words die in Celia’s throat as she tries to speak.

Celia: Celia touches a hand to her throat.

She tries another word. Any word.

“I.”

GM: “I,” sounds her voice.

Celia: She can speak, but she doesn’t. For a moment she is silent, mind racing as she considers the possibilities.

“I can’t say,” she finally says. “I don’t know.”

GM: “Then it is immaterial to his or our concerns,” says Camilla.

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “How swiftly can you retrieve this ‘lucky’ blood or obtain the talisman?”

Celia: “I have to finish a task for the talisman. A week, maybe. I don’t imagine it will take longer than that. The blood… I thought I could get part of it before Elysium tomorrow, but I’d need to touch base with my associate.”

GM: Camilla checks her watch again.

“Describe their nature and beneficial properties. Quickly.”

Celia: Celia does so. She keeps it brief, but she gives the examples that she witnessed in Gunner. The money, the cars, the bullets.

GM: “Are you willing to gamble our sire’s wrath and the lives of your family upon successfully completing this task?”

Celia: No.

“Yes.”

GM: “Very well. The Sanctified will require collateral to ensure you fulfill your end of the deal.”

“Samples of your blood would suffice for this purpose.”

Celia: Celia looks at the blood she’s already lost, the arm that was just reattached, the stomach where she’d had to mend her burns.

“Okay,” is all she says. Then, “I’m running on fumes. I have a supply in my haven, if it’s possible to collect your sample outside of this cell.”

GM: “No. The blood must be taken from you directly. If you renege on your obligations, the blood may be used to lay curses and cast other spells upon you from across any distance.”

Celia: “I get that. I meant that if I lose more right now I might lose complete control.”

GM: “Then supply us another form of collateral if blood is impractical.”

“Blood taken from your haven is of no use if the blood is not yours.”

Celia: “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m inviting you to come back to my haven so I can feed, take the edge off, and then give you a sample directly from myself so that if you take it from me here I don’t go apeshit.”

GM: “Is that something a loyal agent of our prince would do for a captive Bourbon?”

“Release her from Perdido House, follow her back to her haven in the French Quarter, and then expect to leave with the desired blood sample?”

Celia: She’d blame the panic and hysteria at the thought of losing her family to the Guard, but the excuse sticks in her throat, its way blocked by shame and insecurity.

“No. I don’t have other collateral.”

Celia holds out her arm.

GM: Camilla re-checks her watch.

“I have given you as much as I can spare from my own veins. I may use the remaining time before dawn to hunt, but you will likely race the sun back to your haven.”

Celia: “Sorry,” she murmurs, “I don’t see another way, unless you’d like to stake me and drop me somewhere, which I don’t imagine a loyal agent of the prince would do, unless you were to say it was somewhere inconvenient to hurt me further.”

GM: “I can already hurt you here.”

“Do you wish to risk hunger or the sun?”

Celia: Hunger or the sun. Both are deadly in their own right, either for her or someone else. Hunger might be a bigger mess to clean up, though. What are the odds she makes it out of Perdido without attacking someone? Makes it through the streets without slaughtering a pedestrian?

“The sun.”

GM: Camilla reaches into her coat and produces Celia’s phone.

“Delete everything you do not wish the prince’s agents to have access to.”

“Given the circumstances your device was obtained under, they are unlikely to have technicians attempt to recover missing data.”

Celia: “Thank you.” Celia takes the phone, wondering if it’s too much to hope that it works in this cell.

“I want you to know that if there’s ever anything I can do for you, whatever danger you’re in, whatever impossible task you face, I’m on your side. Come to me. I’ll help however I can.”

GM: “Let us first ensure you survive tonight. Do not call or respond to any of the individuals who have attempted to contact you until you leave Perdido House.”

Camilla looks at her watch again.

“How long will it take you to delete everything?”

Celia: “Not long. It’s new. Haven’t had a chance to do much with it.”

GM: “Hurry.”

The hound does her hair back up and re-dons her hat while Celia occupies herself on the device.

She sees there are new text messages from Roderick, Reggie, and Gui, though her phone says they’ve already been read.

Celia: Celia takes a half second to read them before deleting the texts from Roderick and Gui. She scrubs any trace of her mortal family (including Maxen) from her phone, clears the location data, and removes any contact with those she doesn’t want the prince’s agents to know of. Duke. Josua. Dani. Roderick. Caroline. Any of the rest of the Hardliners she has contact with. There isn’t much to delete; she’s never been so glad that Roderick destroyed her phone. She deletes a handful of apps rather than wasting the time logging out of them individually; even if they’re redownloaded they need to log in again. Finally, she logs out of her Suncloud account.

It’s enough to make it look like she uses the phone without condemning herself or any of the rest of the friends and allies she isn’t supposed to have. Handing over a completely blank phone is more suspicious than only clearing the sensitive files.

GM: Roderick and Reggie are wondering where she is and want her to text them back ASAP. Gui says they’re doing things tomorrow since she no-showed.

Celia: Yeah, that’s the text of a boy in love that’s worried about his girlfriend.

GM: Camilla takes the device back and sticks it in her coat.

“Lie back down. I’m going to stake and restrain you.”

Celia: Celia does as asked.

GM: Camilla does so, then leaves and closes the door behind her.

Celia is left alone with her thoughts.

Celia: They’re negative, spiraling things. Wondering if Roderick really didn’t care enough to look for her. If she’s making a mistake trusting Camilla. If she’ll make it out of Perdido at all, and if she does if she can beat the sun back to her haven. If Roderick’s haven is closer, and whether or not he’d punish her for showing up.

Odds are yes.

She’ll have to explain to Gui tomorrow. Hopefully he won’t be too upset.

What if she doesn’t finish the task? What if her sire shows up for her? Her mom, her daughter, her sister. She can imagine Lucy in his cold hands. Given to Paul to groom.

It’s a downward spiral from there.

GM: Would Paul be into fucking little girls?

Maybe he’s fucked dozens of them, for all she knows.

Though she read somewhere that educated male pedophiles tend to be more into little boys.

Tend.

Or maybe Donovan will just throw her off a roof.

Or maybe not, after how he saw Celia catch her mom.

Who knows what he’ll do with her family.

Time passes.

Finally, the door re-opens. Camilla enters, un-stakes Celia, and removes her restraints.

“I encountered the seneschal. There was insufficient remaining time to hunt after we finished.”

“He has approved the deal.”

She produces a glass container and knife, then slashes Celia’s wrist.

Celia: It’s more blood than she’d thought would be taken, but tonight, at least, her Beast minds its manners. It must know that it has a desperate flight ahead of it.

She nods at Camilla’s words.

“Thank you. What now? I go?”

GM: “No. You are removed. I will stake you again.”

Celia: Celia touches her hand to Camilla’s. She gives her sister a look of gratitude and acceptance, then a tiny nod.

“Thank you,” she says again.

GM: Camilla glances towards the door. With her hair up, her hat down, and her porcelain-pale face unsmiling, Donovan’s elder childe looks the part of the stone-hearted hound again. The mask is back on. Stone and shadow hide her once more.

“The nights ahead are dangerous. I do not know if I am going to survive them. There is something I would leave you with if I do not.”

“It’s better if you don’t remember what. Not until then. I require access to your mind.”

Celia: Dangerous.

There isn’t time to ask what’s coming. Something, though. Everyone has been on edge. She can feel it.

Another nod. She opens her mind to Camilla.

GM: “It is done,” says Camilla. Then she plunges the stake into Celia’s heart.

She pulls the black hood back over Celia’s face.

After a few moments, the door opens. Celia hears heavy footsteps. She feels hands picking up her body.

The steel door closes behind her. There’s more footsteps. A pause. Beeping. A heavy metallic sound. Footsteps. Heavy doors opening. Another beep. A button pressed. Movement underneath her.

There’s some indistinct sounds.

Celia is abruptly, unceremoniously, and painfully dropped to the floor. Someone pulls her hood away. Camilla stares coldly down at her alongside two men in dark suits and glasses.

Camilla wordlessly removes the stake from Jade’s chest.

The elevator stops. Doors ding open. They’re in an underground parking garage. Jade is escorted to her car.

Camilla returns her keys.

No one says anything.

Celia: Celia becomes Jade as soon as the stake comes out. She doesn’t say anything to Camilla or the men, letting her mask slip firmly into place. Unlike Camilla’s, it’s not a mask made of ice.

It’s one of fire.

She smirks at the three of them as if she hasn’t been bothered by this experience one bit, gets into her car, and takes off.


Sunday morning, 20 March 2016

GM: Jade drives.

It’s not that far from Perdido House to the Quarter.

But it’s far enough, and late enough, that Jade can see the night sky’s black slowly giving way to deep blue.

The sun will rise soon.

Celia: It’s not that far to the Quarter. And if Jade were headed any deeper into it than she is she’d be worried about catching the sun. But her haven is close enough to the border that she only has a handful of blocks to go. Less than a mile.

She’d wanted to go to Reggie’s. She would feel safer there, with someone nearby. But there’s a phone in her haven she can use to call him so he can come to her. She wants to crawl into bed with him and know that he’ll watch over her during the day, rest her head on his chest and wonder how her Requiem had become so empty and loveless that she’s looking for comfort from a ghoul rather than her own boyfriend. Early last night Roderick would have come for her, had fought the sheriff for her without knowing what was going on, had planned to kill him because of how much he cared about her.

Tonight she’d been called stupid. Gotten a text demanding a call back. She hadn’t expected him to fight his way into the middle of Perdido House, but… something.

Anything.

Celia pushes the thought from her mind. She’ll figure something out, will either fix it or just… let him go. The manipulative part of her wonders how he’d react if she doesn’t show up to Elysium tomorrow. If she gives Camilla a body to execute in front of them all. If she’d tugged him toward her and he’d found her chained and staked to the table with blackened, crackling skin and an arm on the ground. She’d had half a mind to ask Camilla to drop her at his door like that.

God damn, though, is she tired of playing victim. She can love and be compassionate and care deeply for others without being weak or a doormat.

Celia tightens her grip on the wheel as she heads home.

It’s a new day. A new her.

She’s got this.

GM: Celia drives like mad. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when cop cars are in sight. As fast as she thinks she can get away with, when they’re not in sight. Skyscrapers roll past the window. It’s not that far to Canal Street and her ‘secret’ haven.

Overhead, the sky slowly turns from black to navy as the sun continues its inexorable rise. The sleeping city begins to stir. Even the wildest party animals who reveled all Saturday night are finally stumbling into bed. The party is over. God’s day begins. Her family will probably be up soon, if they aren’t already, getting ready for church. What is their daily routine like on Sundays? She’s never been part of it, even though her mom asked her many times (and has long since stopped asking) if she wants to join them for church.

The sun at this hour is weak. The night has not wholly yielded to the day. Has barely yielded to the day.

But the day is still strong enough to scorch Celia’s unholy flesh. It feels like the worst sunburn ever. Celia remembers a time from her childhood when the family vacationed to Miami during the summer and she didn’t wear enough sunscreen outdoors. The feeling was awful. Her skin turned completely red, dead patches came off in ugly white strips, and no amount of baths and kisses and comforts from her mom returned her skin to its normal fair hue, or eased the pain when she touched it. She doesn’t remember if her dad punished her or not. Maybe he thought that was punishment enough.

This is like that but worse.

It’s her hands that suffer worst, and her face after them. Unsightly rashes, angry red with just tinges of black, mar her perfect skin. Slender columns of wispy gray smoke waft from her hands. The smell of cooking flesh fills her nostrils. It’s fainter than at Camilla’s hands, but only for now.

For all her insistence of a fresh start, Sol’s unforgiving eye burns her no less harshly.

Perhaps there’s symbolism there.

Celia: People can’t change.

That’s something she’s heard many times in her life and unlife, that people can’t or won’t or just don’t change. Not that they don’t want to, not that they don’t try, but that who they are is rooted so deep inside themselves that even if they move through their pain or guilt or shame or whatever it is that’s holding them down they still find comfort in the habits they used to have: hiding out, playing small, not trusting, being angry, disconnecting.

Maybe that’s why she’s so adamant about “fixing” Roderick, because for all that he’s an angry jerk right now, the real him is still in there somewhere. Covered by armor and wearing shackles and letting the pain of the past hold him down, yes, but still there. The boy she used to love is still in there.

Sol’s harsh light—beautiful, in a deadly sort of way—reminds her that people can’t change. It burns. She grits her teeth but carries on, knowing that transformation isn’t a destination, it’s a process. So even though it burns, even though her skin reddens and blackens and wafts smoke into her face and she can smell the dead, sizzling skin, she knows that it’s part of the process. Change is uncomfortable. It hurts. That’s the lesson.

It’s going to hurt.

The trip to her haven is a blur, but before the sun can sink its claws into her she’s at her door, stumbling inside in a decidedly ungraceful way. She shuts the door and locks it behind her.

Celia sweeps her gaze across her empty apartment, heart sinking in bitter disappointment.

She’d thought he might be here.

Stupid, she thinks, not about herself or her own intellect but about the idea that he’d have thought to or cared enough to come here.

The siren song of daysleep calls to her, but Celia bares her teeth in a silent snarl as if to ward off a physical being. She kicks off her heels on the way to her computer and pops open the lid; it takes half a second for the screen to wake. Solid state drive, Rusty had suggested, and she’s glad for it. She opens the WhatsApp window and sends a message to Reggie with her current address.

Safe but hurt. Need you. Bring breakfast, Lana help.

A second message goes out to Gui.

Didn’t blow you off. Explain tomorrow before church. Call me.

Sun reaches for her again. Not yet, she tells it. Not yet.

Mel isn’t her ghoul, but she can give the message to Savoy that she doesn’t need saved.

Safe.

Messages sent, Celia checks the time. She imagines her mother standing at the stove cooking breakfast, flipping pancakes or scrambled eggs for Lucy, pouring a cup of coffee for Emily and pretending that Robby’s early arrival isn’t because he slept over, that his car hasn’t been outside all night.

Celia pictures them sitting at the table while she finds the blood she’d told Camilla she has, warming it in the microwave until it’s warm enough to drink. What would they say if she drank her meal in front of them. If she told them that she’d gambled their lives on a trinket. Is this their last Sunday getting ready for church? What if it takes longer? What if she can’t do it at all?

She didn’t have time to ask. She’ll need to get a message to Camilla at some point. Tail her from Elysium, maybe. And what had she hidden inside Celia’s head? What does she know about Celia’s family?

The microwave dings and Celia pulls the warm blood free. She drinks.

It’s enough to sate her for now, anyway. Hopefully her ghouls will come through with the rest.

Celia strips on her way to bed and crawls beneath the covers, finally succumbing to sleep.

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Celia VI, Chapter XI
Mob Entanglements

“A mask is going to break soon. You can’t keep it up forever.”
Harlequin


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade waits for the downtime between court and the party to approach her mark. It’s not a long journey: from Pietro’s lap a few spaces over, heels clicking delightfully in the ear of the boy she’d nabbed earlier. He follows her on hands and knees like the good little mind-wiped vessel that he is.

She slips onto the cowboy’s lap with a little giggle, fangs tracing a shallow trail down his neck.

“Hello, darling.”

GM: Tonight, at least, Reynaldo is no cowboy. He has on a gangster’s classic black and white pinstriped suit, with a black undershirt and white necktie, and two-toned oxford shoes of the same colors. A fedora substitutes for his usual hat.

It’s not an original look, but the Ventrue wears it well, and the change of headwear makes him stand out from his usual self.

“Hello, lush.”

He smirks faintly, gives her a moment to taste his skin, then pulls back enough to look her costume over.

“You wear the mob look better than I do.”

Celia: “I wear everything better than most,” she says with a smirk. She trails her fingertips up his arms then down his chest, finally returning to the white neck tie. She starts to loosen it.

“I’m confiscating your tie,” she says. “It’ll look better on me. And you made me wait an awfully long time after I shared something cool with you to reach out. That was very, very rude.”

Jade drapes the tie over her shoulders.

“What’s a lick gotta do to get a date if showing off isn’t enough?”

GM: “Good things come to those who wait, lush. We can afford to wait. What’s time to an immortal?” Gui rejoinds.

He watches with amusement as she takes his tie.

“I don’t know if that goes with your shirt and pearls.”

They are the same color.

Celia: “Who said I’m putting it around my neck?” Jade lifts one expertly sculpted brow at him. She slides her fingers up her legs, beneath the hem of the skirt. The tie disappears when her hands come back out.

“Some part of you should get into my panties since someone doesn’t want to put out.” Jade pouts at him. “I brought you a snack to share and everything.”

She shifts, straddling his lap so she can lean in to whisper in his ear.

“I have something exciting to share with you… privately.”

GM: “Black,” remarks Gui, following the motions of her fingers.

“That goes better with white, even if no one but me is going to see it.”

He runs a hand through her hair.

“But tell you what, lush. We can bring the Gamberro, if you like. He’s always hungry for a good time.”

“Consider it a make-up present from me to you.”

Celia: “He’s not nearly as cute as you, Reynaldo,” Jade pouts, “so I hope you’re not trying to pawn me off on him. But you can bring him. I enjoy an audience. And he might even like what I tell you, too.”

Fangs trace the lobe of his ear, her breath warm against his skin when she murmurs the rest of it low enough so that only he can hear.

“He’s got plenty big shoes to fill now that I’ve cleared some space.”

GM: “How intriguing. Let’s get to it, then.”

Gui picks up Jade under her legs, rises, and then sets her down. “You’re very light,” he remarks as he leads her to the Evergreen’s old-fashioned grilled elevator and takes it upstairs. The Ventrue has his own office space. It’s decorated more expensively than Pete’s, but still tastefully enough.

Some of the light fixtures actually wouldn’t look out of place at the ’20s party downstairs.

Celia: What’s a girl got to do to get a date in this place? Last night he was all but eating out of the palm of her hand. At least the Ventrue don’t mix business with pleasure. No reason to think they’re going to do anything but chat in his office.

A snap of her fingers has her chosen vessel following behind the pair of them, sending a shrug Gui’s way if he asks about it. It’s not like the poor dear is going to make it out of this with any of his memories intact. All the same, she tells him to wait outside the door when they step inside Gui’s office, eyes sweeping the space.

“Nice digs.”

She wants an office. Maybe she’ll ask her grandsire for one this evening at their meeting. For the new role in his inner circle she’ll have created.

GM: Gui shoots off a text on their way.

“Nice body,” says the Ventrue.

He pulls her onto the couch.

“I don’t really use them.”

He starts removing her jacket.

Celia: The jacket slides off easily enough. Maybe she was wrong about not mixing business with pleasure. Or maybe he just wants a closer look at her era-appropriate clothing.

“Shame. I use mine all the time.”

“Nice things deserve to be seen.”

GM: “They certainly do.”

Gui leans in close, tracing fangs along skin as his hands methodically unbutton her shirt.

Celia: Jade giggles, pulling back just far enough to smile coyly at him.

“Thought you blue bloods didn’t mix business with pleasure.”

GM: “I don’t use this place for business, lush.”

The Ventrue’s hands resume their work as the door opens. A man strides in. At most angles, the ghoul known as the Gamberro looks like a handsome man: machismo made flesh. At another, though, he could be described as a pretentious boytoy thug. Compared to most men, he’s short, but his lean, prison-yard muscles make him look taller. Compared to most men, he’s young, probably not old enough to legally buy alcohol. But his gang-touting tats, cocaine-dusted nose, and body-bag stare make it clear that carding him would be a fatal mistake. His dark hair is short, freshly cut, and coiffed in that casually messy way that actually takes precise preening. He wears a pinstriped black and red suit with torn-away sleeves to show off his sun-ripe Sicilian-Latino skin and probably peacocking-flexed physique. All in all, he looks like he’s auditioning for a boy band or Tween Bop pin-up.

Roberto_Vaccaro.png
Gamberro looks over Jade’s body hungrily. Without a word, he joins them on the couch and rips at her clothes.

Gui makes a tsking noise. “Leave them intact, will you?”

“Looks better with them off,” says the ghoul.

“Unquestionably, but she does need to put them back on. Intact.”

Gamberro reluctantly slows and starts to unzip her skirt instead. Lust burns in the shorter man’s eyes.

Celia: Well that’s… certainly something. Expected, isn’t it, but also unexpected right this very moment. She thought she’d been clear with Reynaldo that she does have business to discuss with him. The stolen tie lands on the floor when the ghoul’s hands make quick work of her skirt, revealing the lacy black panties and garter belt.

The ghoul isn’t the only one who has lust shining in his eyes after that. It all but blazes out of her, and if she weren’t in the room with another lick the man pulling at her clothes would be able to smell her arousal. But she plays dead for now.

Two at once. This is what dreams are made of. She leans back against him with a soft sigh, enjoying the adoration, the way they’ve agreed how good she’ll look without her clothing—

And Roderick’s face slams into her. Mafia scum. Monogamy. What would he do if he saw her here now? Is going even this far cheating?

What are the rules with him anymore?

Fuck. It’s not like she can avoid him forever. (Can she avoid him forever? She kind of wants to avoid him forever.)

“Boys, boys, boys.” She holds up a hand, forestalling Gamberro and Gui from getting her further out of her clothes, “I do have business, first.”

It’s an effort to get the words out.

GM: Gamberro doesn’t slow down. He seizes Jade’s head between his hands and doesn’t press his lips to hers so much as smash them together. The kisses are rough, forceful, and hungry.

Celia: …well. She’d tried, right? Easier to give in, to let it happen, to cry rape, right?

For a moment she goes along with it. For a moment she loses herself in the feeling of lips on hers, teeth on hers, hands crushing her to him. She makes a noise, low and in the back of her throat, and her fingers curl in his shirt—

Roderick’s face appears in her mind again. His scowl. What’s he going to do to her if he sees her here like this? Put her back in the microwave?

Hatred surges through her at the thought. How dare he. The spoiled little boy found out that his world isn’t as rosy as he’d pretended for so long and he’d taken it out on her. After she told him everything. He needs her. He’s lucky that she wants him. Lucky that she’s willing to change for him. Lucky that she was willing to take his abuse, his vitriol, his—

Fuck him.

She will not be the Diana to his Maxen. She will not let another boy decide what he wants with her and put her in another fucking box and tell her how to live. She’ll tell him dinner was canceled. Then she has five nights to figure out what she wants to do with him.

Celia’s control shatters. Jade growls, straddling Gamberro with her recently-bared legs, grinding down against him when her tongue plunders his mouth.

GM: “Guess this is our business,” Gui remarks with amusement as he unbuttons the rest of Jade’s shirt and pulls off the suspenders. Gamberro rips off her panties (“She doesn’t need those”), undoes his pants, and enters her with his cock. He pumps furiously back and forth, balls smacking against her thighs as he grunts and thrusts, savagely hard. Jade can see a mortal woman yelling for him to slow down, he hurts. Gui tosses away the last of Jade’s clothes, throws away his own, and sinks his fangs into her neck.

Celia: Sometimes pleasure is business. If Gui wants to continue working with her it’s best he find that out now.

Besides, she can always tell him what she wanted to later. And celebrate with another round of fangs in flesh.

The ghoul finds her wet. Wet enough to take his thrusts—which she doesn’t complain about, even urges him on with tiny little noises and requests for “faster” and “there”—and loses the last of her control when Gui bites. She tightens around the cock inside of her, fangs flashing in her mouth when she leans in to drink from the ghoul. Just a sip, then she twists, sinking into Gui instead to drink right from the source without any of that “letting it cool” nonsense. She doesn’t lick closed the wound on the ghoul, letting his blood continue to drip down his neck so she can lap it up when she goes back to him.

Pleasure certainly is business for Jade. She doesn’t give half effort here; everyone gets to be included.

GM: They don’t give half effort either.

Gamberro’s blood is hot and furious, but has a decidedly epicurean flavor; perhaps his Ventrue domitor’s lingering vitae, but Jade can taste the inherent pride and sense of superiority in his blood, admixed as it is the thuggish low-mindedness. The contrast is delicious. Gui’s blood, of course, is bluer than any mere ghoul’s, and cooler too, focused rather than furious, and provides a delectable third contrast to Gamberro’s previous two. Jade could suck between them forever.

Gui lets it cool, much as that might disappoint him. But Jade gets to feel his kiss all over her body, his fangs puncturing her skin from her neck to her arms to her wrists and everywhere between, interspersed by his lapping tongue.

Eventually, though, the Ventrue cannot resist her taste, her scent, her cries and growls, her beauty, everything that is so utterly irresistible about her. He sinks his fangs into her neck and drinks directly.

Gamberro pumps savagely back and forth into Jade’s wet cunt. He gasps and pants under her sweet kiss, sweat beading from his head, then seizes her neck and chokes her, squeezes her, tries the throttle the already departed life out of her. He bites too, as best he can with his flat teeth, sinking them around her breasts and gnawing until hot blood wells forth.

He raises a balled fist as if to beat, her, too, but Gui catches it in his palm with a reproached, “Save that for the kine.”

Celia: Good boy.

She’ll rip the hand off the next person that raises one against her.

She purrs instead, the sound audible despite the hands around her dead throat, and finds purchase on his back with her nails. Not enough to break the skin, no, just enough to leave her mark on him like he’d tried to do with her.

Pain gets him off? She can be that mistress too. She bites again, letting his warm blood fill her mouth.

And when she’s had enough of this being fucked, she switches it up. She flips them, lays the ghoul out on his back, and shows him what it really means to be fucked by a lick. She rides him just as hard and fast as he pumped into her.

A nail across her chest lets the blood spill forth when she leans forward, pinning his arms above his head to take what she wants from this mortal beneath her.

GM: Gamberro hisses with pleasure at the pain across his back. He even lets her flip him over. It’s several seconds after she pins his arms that he snarls, “Soy un vaccaro!” and tackles her off the couch.

(“I am a Vaccaro!”)

The two hit the floor with a crash. Gui dives after them. The floor creeks under their rolling bodies as they pull themselves up and force the others down, each participant trying to establish dominance. Snarling, biting, fucking, fighting. Red spatters across the floor until the ghoul pants and blows his load. Sticky white seed drips from Jade’s dead cunt, but the two licks stop on their own time, not the ghoul’s. It’s several more minutes before the vampires’ Beasts exhaust themselves, glutted on one another’s heady vitae, and the three lie spent and still over the blood-streaked rug.

Gui tsks.

“I’ll have to get that replaced.”

Celia: Jade lies still where she has fallen upon Gui after their Beasts have taken their fill, head resting on his chest as if it has every right to be there. She tugs at Gamberro until the ghoul is at her back, turning herself into the center of the Jade-sandwich between these two thoroughly sated partners of hers.

Amusement tugs her lips into a smile at the Ventrue’s words.

“Dunno, ‘Naldo, gives it a nice little gothic touch. Fresh blood in the mob lick’s office. It’s a classic. What’s not to love?”

GM: “Mm, unprofessional, though. Smart mob licks clean up their messes.”

“I like it,” says Gamberro. “Blood on the ground. Shows you mean business.”

Celia: “Speaking of business,” Jade drawls, “I did have something to tell you.”

GM: The Ventre rises, back to business just like that.

“Let’s hit the showers, then.”


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade finishes her business and waits long enough for the foreign vitae to meld into her own system before she finds a cannister. Two “hits” of blood seep into the open mouth of the container when she bites her own wrist with her fangs, part of the payment due to Roderick.

Her Beast howls its complaints. How dare she give any of their precious vitae to that sap, it snarls. How dare she give away her blood to someone who abused her, who made her beg and plead and get on her knees in order to mend what he had done to her, who demanded reciprocity when she took what she needed from him to mend the body that he had damaged. It makes its fury known when it rakes the insides of her chest with its claws.

She bleeds for every drop.

And once it’s done she takes the elevator down to rejoin the rest of the post-court, pre-party festivities. Her gaze sweeps the assembled licks, head cocking to one side as she surveys the options. Josua and Alana haven’t arrived yet. The Boggs patriarch looks deep in conversation with the rest of his clan—she lifts her chin at Luicia in an I’ll see you soon kind of nod but chooses not to interrupt.

She has another lick to talk to this evening, and she leads Reggie his way—she’s not done with him yet, he’ll be dismissed in a moment so he can question the licks, but she needs him for this next little bit while she speaks to the Caitiff.

Jade slides onto the chair beside the black musician, offering a winning smile.

“Now a good time?”

Julius: “Cud lissenin to you’s evah not be uh gud time?” drawls Papa Juju in his slow, grits-thick accent. His dawning smile causes his diamond-studded fang to shine once more. Both smile and diamond seem genuine, tonight, though appearances can be deceiving as the Toreador well knows.

Celia: “True enough, Papa Jules,” she says with a smile as warm as the long-forgotten summer sun. All the same, Jade can’t help but wonder just what the little snake had whispered in his ear.

“But it was you who claimed a story for me this evenin’,” she reminds him. “Shall we find your friend for the telling?”

Julius: “Fo’sho,” replies the Caitiff with a honeyed ease as he rises from his not-human chair. “Evah bin learned yoself Italiano, dawl?”

The jazzman extends a genteel if gorrila-sized arm to the ‘lady’.

Celia: “Mm, can’t say that I have.” Jade slips her arm through his, palm resting on his forearm. “You going to stick around to translate for me?”

GM: Of course he will.

Because she’s Jade Kalani.

Who’ll turn down time with the prettiest lick in the city?


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: The showers may or may not turn into round two. Eventually, the trio are clothed and clean as they return to Gui’s office. The Ventrue takes a seat at his desk.

“So what’s business, lush?”

Celia: Clean but panty-less (how many nights in a row has this happened?), Jade leans her hip against Gui’s desk rather than take the chair across from him. She glances at Gamberro, as if wondering if he should be here for this, but he’s not her ghoul. If Gui wants him here then he stays.

“You said the whole mob thing in NOLA is a large pie, but I got you another slice of it.”

GM: “Oh?” the Ventrue asks, intrigued.

Celia: “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?” she teases.

GM: “Cross my heart and hope to live.”

Celia: “One of your competitors has been eliminated.” Jade tilts her head to one side, flashing him a smile. “Mr. Carolla’s hold on the local families is yours to claim.”

GM: “Isn’t that some unexpected good news plopped into my lap,” smiles Gui. “How do you know this?”

Gamberro raises his eyebrows.

Celia: “Oh, well, I killed him. Obviously. I figured if you’re taking me home to meet your sire I might as well show I’m worth the trip.”

Jade’s smile turns sharp. She’s just full of little surprises, isn’t she.

GM: Gui’s eyebrows raise too.

“That is more than worth the trip, Miss Kalani. How did it go down?”

Celia: “It started when he hit me while we fucked.” Her eyes cut to Gamberro. “I’d advise against that with me, darling. You’re fun, let’s keep it there.”

Jade crosses her arms, returning her gaze to Gui.

“Then he went after someone that I call friend and thought I’d be happy to assist. And I was. Happy to assist my friend and turn on him when he squeezed the trigger.”

GM: The ghoul crosses his own arms.

“How unfortunate for him,” smiles Gui.

“But then, I suppose he was never much of a judge of character.”

“Or someone who knew how to treat a lady.”

“When was this?”

Celia: Jade winks at the ghoul when his movement draws her attention. She’s happy to go for round three, but she’s not a breather: she won’t suffer abuse from the kine.

“Hold that thought, Reynaldo. I’m happy to tell you everything. I even have proof. But the girl at your club. What did you find out for me?”

GM: Gui seems to consider for a moment.

“Wait outside,” he tells Gamberro.

The ghoul stares at his domitor for a moment. He does not look happy.

But he walks outside.

Celia: Jade watches him go, then returns her eyes to Gui.

GM: “The door, too,” says Gui.

Gamberro closes it.

“Useful, but doesn’t like taking orders,” remarks Gui.

Celia: “Mm. So it seems. There’s some merit in not being a zombie.”

GM: “Yes, there is. But as far as the girl in the club.”

He regards her for a moment.

“You say you have proof. How soon can you have it delivered?”

Celia: “Tomorrow. After Elysium.”

GM: “I see. What do you want to know about the club girl?”

Celia: Jade lifts a brow at his first comment.

“Is that not soon enough for you?”

GM: “It’s workable.”

Celia: “Who turned her.”

GM: “Hmm. I’ll tell you what.”

“Deliver me the proof tomorrow, and I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

“Deliver me the proof tonight, and I’ll deliver you the sire.”

Celia: Jade flashes another smile.

“What’re you doing after the party?”


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade finds the boytoy waiting for her outside Gui’s office when they leave, a time and place set for their meeting tonight after she sees her grandsire, and tugs him after her. She’d meant to crack him open with Gui, but maybe he’s not the Ventrue’s type.

They’d shared plenty of blood as is, hadn’t they.

She scrolls through her phone to find Reggie’s number and sends him another text to the tune of “get the box beneath my bed and meet me at the party.”

She finds a secluded little space of her own to sink into the vessel while she waits, enjoying the way his hands grip her waist and hips. The grip grows more slack the more she takes, though, and before long he’s all but fumbling with stiff fingers at her while the wall supports most of his weight. She finally pulls back, licking the holes closed.

By the time Reggie has joined her she’s already rejoined the party with the spent vessel, though he’s meandered off somewhere now that she’s done with him.

GM: The drained and pale-faced man shakily ambles off.

It’s a little while before the party is due to resume when Reggie shows up with the box.

“You hear from Randy?” he asks.

Celia: Jade asks after an empty room from Fabian so she can speak with Reggie. She starts by shaking her head at his question.

“No. Texted him earlier and he never got back to me. He hasn’t been in touch with you?”

GM: The Louis XIV-style sitting room upstairs is vacant.

“Nope,” says Reggie.

Celia: “That’s not like him.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: A frown crosses her pretty face.

GM: “Especially not getting back to you.”

Celia: “Yeah… I don’t like this, Reg.”

GM: “Everyone except Randy knows you can’t always text a girl back instantly.”

“And he always texts you instantly.”

Celia: “Mm, is that why you always wait?”

GM: “No, I got shit to do. It’s losers who don’t have shit and still make girls wait so they seem like they have shit are, well, fucking losers.”

Celia: Jade hides a smile when she ducks her head to adjust the corner of the box. She smooths it over when she looks back up.

“Is it too soon to be worried about him?”

GM: “Dunno. It’s weird.”

Celia: “I’m trying not to let my mind jump to the worst possible conclusions… but I had a run-in with a few licks last night, and another one told me there’s a race, and I think most of them know he’s the only real ‘racer’ ghoul around…”

She reaches for Reggie’s hand, looking decidedly nervous.

“You don’t think..?”

GM: Reggie frowns.

“It’s been a day. A race, though?”

“You think someone kidnapped him to drive a car?”

Celia: “No. I think someone kidnapped him to keep him from driving for me.”

GM: Reggie doesn’t say anything.

“Who’s got it out for you?”

“Who really wants to win?”

Celia: “If that’s… I mean, the prize isn’t worth killing over, there’s no reason to think they won’t let him go…”

She trails off, looking down at her hands for a second. She takes a useless breath.

“The hounds. Agnello and Doriocourt. Ryllie. None of them are here, though. Maybe one of the Axels want it, but we’re kind of tight most of the time… someone told me Shep has some ugly business with the guy running the race though.”

GM: “You kill him, can’t start shit over him being kidnapped,” Reggie says flatly.

Celia: Her jaw tightens.

“Then we find him, and we make them pay. Whoever it is. We gut them.”

GM: Reggie just looks ahead darkly.

“Who really wants to win this?”

“Are people betting money and shit, too, on the racers?”

Celia: “Prize is a vintage car. I imagine people are betting on the winners. I would.” She’s made bets over less. It’s one of the few times she’d have put money on Randy coming through for her, too. “But it’s not worth killing over. Not worth starting shit if someone didn’t already have beef with me.”

Claws slowly slide free from the tips of Jade’s fingers. Her blood drips down the razor-sharp nails.

“Unrelated, maybe? One of those thin-blooded fucks mad that we killed a few? Mobsters? That… fuck, that bitch that was spying on the spa?”

“A rat,” she snarls, “just to show they can.”

“Agnello looked ready for blood last night. Might have sent that sack of shit he calls a childe after me. Runs in Mid-City with the rest of the morons. Run-in with his krewe a few weeks ago with Randy, too. Couldn’t get to you or I so he took Randy.”

The more she talks the angrier she gets. Not only at this pretend threat she’s creating, but at the sire that took him from her and the lies she has to tell to cover his sins. Fangs erupt from her mouth.

But her mind balks at the thought of being mad at her sire. He was right. Randy was useless.

And it’s still a fucking mess.

She’ll spin his death how she can. She redirects the budding rage toward the unknown assailants.

GM: “Right,” says Reggie. There’s an increasingly black look on his face. “Hold your shit. This point, we don’t know shit. Guessing don’t do shit either.”

“I’m gonna call Rusty. Tell him to find Randy’s phone. Get him to work that angle.”

“I’m gonna work the crowds here. Find out who wants us to lose, or just really wants their guy to win. Who’s got a lot of money riding on this, who really wants that fuckin’ car, what-fuckin’-ever. Who’d want Randy taken out.”

Celia: Hold your shit? She almost snarls at him. In fact, she does snarl at him, but it’s short lived, dying as soon as the first sound passes her lips, face set into an intense look of hatred. But not at Reggie, no. At the death of his brother.

At what she’d done.

Murdered him.

Taken off his head.

He’d trusted her.

Loved her.

She’s gone in a flash of gray, the tip of her tail disappearing beneath the sofa in the sitting room, and a furious yowl comes up from beneath it a second later. Something shreds. The carpet, the underside of the sofa, something soft.

Then she’s back, staring Reggie dead in the eyes.

“Find them. Find them and bring them to me. I’m going to watch them die.”


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade has one last piece of business with Reggie before he gets to go. She finds a less break-able, more private room for them to use and has him stage a “break in” and staking. Attacking Jade in her office. Pained cries. The sound of struggle. Enough to make it look like Jade was taken out and staked by hunters. Not an obvious ploy—he hits her to make it sound real, and she’s always been good at playing victim.

She passes him the bug and tells him to get it to the place they went before around 3:00. Pay a thin-blood to deliver it, she says, she doesn’t have backup for him. He knows how to be discrete, she’s counting on that here. She hands him a wad of cash for the delivery and tells him, in no uncertain terms, that he’s not to engage anything coming out of that house on his own, that he’s not even to go there.

Before they leave the room to rejoin the rest of the Evergreen’s guests she reaches for his hand, yanking him to a halt. Her eyes smolder when she meets his gaze.

“Don’t do anything yet. Just find out. Find out, then we’ll move. I’m not burying two of you.”

GM: Reggie’s pretty good at playing the victimizer, too.

“Hold your shit,” he repeats when he’s finished slugging the shit out of her. Maybe he finds it cathartic. “We don’t know what happened yet. Only been a day. But we’re gonna look now, ’cause the first 48 hours when someone goes missing are the most important.”

He takes the bug and cash.

“I’m gonna be so pissed if this idiot just lost his phone.”

He stares ahead darkly as he takes his leave.

“And even more if he didn’t.”

Celia: Her heart goes with him.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Roderick’s words ring in her mind as Jade moves through the swath of licks and blood dolls toward the masked harpy, hips swaying with every step. Don’t talk to Malkavians, he’d said—or something similar, there had been so many new orders—and Harlequin is the worst. But Roderick is her boyfriend, not her keeper, and he doesn’t get to dictate which friends she keeps.

Besides, her mom told her it was okay.

And this will be the least of her sins this evening.

So off she goes, mask firmly in place as she approaches the lick who sees through it with ease, the sound of jazz and the staccato of her heels on the floor heralding her approach. She eases herself into whichever crowd of licks he’s ensconced himself with, waiting quietly with smile in place while she catches up to their conversation.

He’d been right, in the end. She’d rung the bell and the mask had recalibrated.

GM: Julius’ band is playing and the dance is still in full swing when Jade breaks off from her partner and approaches the Malkavian.

In 2016, jazz is almost always a sit-down concert experience—either in nightclubs where listeners sit at tables sipping overpriced drinks or in theaters where they sit in rows, checking the personnel in their glossy programs. But in the ‘20s, people actually danced to it, and that’s exactly what they do here at the retro-themed party. The music isn’t like today’s pop dance music, where the beat is pumped up to industrial proportions so it becomes unmistakable. With jazz tunes, the beat is buried beneath Julius’ trombone or King Bolden’s cornet solo pulling in another direction while the guitar plays a counter-rhythm. Savoy helpfully advised “those among us newer to the Blood” to “listen with both your ears right down to your feet!”

Harlequin is dressed much as he is in the modern era. His shoes are different, his shirt sleeves are baggier, a slender cape trails from his shoulders, and he wears a jester’s cap atop his head in place of a tricorn hat, but the Malkavian’s domino mask and garish, peacock-like attire would be just as home in the ‘20s as 2016. The biggest difference is the color—or lack thereof. Everything he wears is a light, dark, or in between shade of sepia brownish-gold. It’s as though Jade is viewing him through a vintage photograph. Even the whites of his eyes are awash under sepia tones.

He breaks off from his current partner, Veronica, with a, “Later, darling!” and sweeps up Jade with a giggle.

“A mask is going to break soon. You can’t keep it up forever. Eventually, the dam must break around the boy’s finger, and the water will come rushing in!”

Celia: Jade doesn’t miss a step when she’s swept up by the harpy, winking at her alleged sire as they twirl away on the floor. While these younger licks might not know how to find the beat when it’s not the bump and grind of club music, one of the girls inside of this body had taken extensive lessons as a child that serve her well now. The music flutters through her veins and she moves accordingly with the entirety of her being. She dances with the exuberance of a child who has not yet learned to be ashamed of her vibrant personality, the grace of a ballerina in training, the sensuality of a siren who knows just what notes to hit to lure sailors into her arms. Dancing is a full body hug, a woman had told her, dancing is the body’s way of expressing joy.

She expresses now. Dipping, twirling, jiving. She does more than keep up with her partner: she leads, just like he’d asked her to last night. She only wishes her skirt were longer, that it could flare out when she spins.

Harlequin’s young friend from last night is back when they slow enough to speak, dimples in her smile and stars in her eyes. They dim at the mention of the heartbroken boy.

“He put her in a box,” she confides in a whisper, “and the walls kept getting closer.”

GM: Harlequin titters again when Jade sweeps him up, and remarks approvingly as to the masculine elements of her costume. The harpy doesn’t seem to mind the shorter skirt one bit. He’s also quite light on his feet, but effects a sigh at Leilani’s question.

“We’re all boxed in, darling, and our boxes are boxed inside still other boxes. And this mask is poorly suited to leading.”

Celia: She hadn’t asked a question. But the girl who is, admittedly, poorly suited to leading disappears with a giggle. She’d liked him the most, but she knows when her presence is unwelcome.

“Kitties don’t hunt in pairs,” is all she says before she goes.

The ballerina spins on the tips of her toes when King Bolden squeals a note on the cornet.

Tap. Her heel against the floor. The dead girl stares from behind the mask of mob doll in pearls. Her sire’s words ring heavy in her mind.

Tap. Her heel against the floor. The innocent tilts her head with a dimpled smile, giggling about “scaredy cats.” Another spin, arms uplifted, and she says she’ll see him later when things slow down.

Tap. Her heel against the floor. The lick best suited to leading takes her place. She glides effortlessly across the floor with Harlequin, waiting for the right moment to bend him backwards into a dip. Her hands cradle his hip and low back, exposing the long line of his throat.

“When the box becomes too heavy to bear, what do you put inside to make it lighter?”

GM: Sometimes Harlequin lets Jade lock on the drummer to find the beat; sometimes she locks in on another instrument. The key is finding the pulse beneath everything that’s going on. It’s even easier when she has a dance partner who hears music the same way, which Harlequin seems to.

He giggles as she dips him low and lets go with one hand, dramatically splaying the other all the way to the floor.

“Who ever heard of putting more things inside a box to make it lighter?”

Celia: It’s another riddle. A word game. Jade smiles indulgently at the Malkavian in her grasp, though she does not extract a promise from him this time before she asks, as she rights the pair of them and lets her lips nestle against his throat when the music brings them together, if he’d like a hint.

GM: Harlequin gives another titter.

“Why, one puts in holes, of course.”

Celia: Jade giggles with him, lifting her arm to spin him on the floor. The pair is well suited to dancing with each other: they make it look easy to find the musical heartbeat that stirs their limbs to movement.

“Is it still a box after you’ve drilled the holes?”

GM: Harlequin capers his feet to the rhythm and twists behind her.

“What is a box? A container with a flat base and sides, or a container that may store and transport interior contents?”

“‘What is truth, too?’ asked Pilate.”

“I always say a prayer for pretty Pilate!”

Celia: Pretty Pilate.

Pretty but stupid.

The dead girl giggles. If even the ancients don’t know, who is he to demand it?

“There is no truth, only interpretations.”

GM: “And Masks.”

Celia: Gentle fingertips touch the edges of his when the music lets her pause for just one moment.

“To see the world through yours,” she sighs, but doesn’t pry.

GM: His velvet gloves are the same sepia monochrome as the rest of him, but feel soft against Jade’s skin.

“Masks are all truths, but my truth is not yours.”

Celia: “Sometimes new perspectives can be illuminating.”

The dead girl withdraws her hands from the edges of his mask, linking her fingers through his to spin around the floor once more.

“Once you put them on, though, it’s a challenge to the rest of the world to rip it off.”

GM: “Some masks are worn. Some masks are lost. It is the way of things.”

Celia: “Some are traded,” she responds with a smile, and the hat on her head takes the place of his crown when she swaps them out. The peacock feather she’d stolen from Pietro creates a garish contrast to the rest of his sepia-toned outfit.

“Vibrance is beauty. Beauty, truth.”

_____________________

Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: A peck on Harlequin’s cheek and she’s gone with a wink, cutting into the pair of dancers next to her so that she ends up arm in arm with her own grandsire. Her heels this evening put her at his eye level. She lets him lead, following his well-practiced movements across the floor while the band continues their song.

“Lord Savoy. Dashing, as ever.”

GM: “Miss Kalani. As ravishing and complimentary as ever. I fear I am outmatched!” smiles the French Quarter lord as he takes her arm in arm. He’s a very good dancer, and soon Jade is spinning beneath his upraised right arm as he flings her out and yanks her back. His hips move to the primary beat coming from the drums, while his elbows and shoulders move to the secondary beats suggested by the horns.

Celia: All of the girls inside of the body beam at the Lord of the Quarter’s glib tongue, and the little one, still so close to the surface, sends tiny spots of blood to her cheeks for the flattery.

“Only a reflection of the light you shine.”

She’s happy to let him lead, to spin away and back and away again, to press against him when the music demands their close proximity. Happy, too, to wrap her hands through his and give a tiny, testing tug on the ring around his finger the next time he spins her out.

GM: “Reflections shine brighter light than the source,” Savoy merely smiles back.

Jade finds her hand removed from his with a timely spin when she tugs the ring.

Celia: No, she hadn’t really expected that to work. An apologetic flutter of her lashes puts her back in his arms.

“He makes it look so easy,” she sighs to her grandsire, cheek on his shoulder for the long, slow note the band belts out. She whispers an apology into the shell of his ear.

GM: “He’s had longer to practice. Repetition is the mother of skill,” the French Quarter lord smiles as he leads her about.

Celia: “If I promise to give it back will you take my pearls as collateral?”

She’ll wear nothing but his ring into the jacuzzi this evening.

GM: “I am afraid their value is not nearly equivalent, my dear. And pearls would seem in common supply this evening.”

Another smile.

“Like all clothes and jewels, they are made beautiful only by their wearer. And were it possible to abscond with Miss Kalani’s beauty as easily as her pearls, I should think she’d spend her whole Requiem fending off thieves!”

Celia: Her smile shows dimples. The little girl giggles, but concedes the round.

She’ll find another mark.

With a brush of fangs against his skin she lets the next would-be partner of Lord Savoy cut into their dance.


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s 3 AM when Jade’s grandsire receives her atop the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. He’s changed out of his ‘20s costume into a modern burgundy sports coat and wingtip loafers. Preston, too, is back in her usual slate-gray skirtsuit. Fabian pulls out Jade’s seat.

“My thanks for your patience, my dear,” Savoy states, kissing the younger Toreador’s hand. “But good things come to those who wait! We’ve much to speak of, I’m sure, and much time now to speak. Where shall we begin?”

Celia: Jade dresses down rather than up. While Savoy and Preston both cover their bodies, she lets hers be seen, visible beneath the strips of red cloth she wears that serves as “dress.” A gold circlet around her neck draws the fabric across her chests but leaves the middle and lower parts of her breasts bare, and a strip around the stomach completes the third line of triangle that encompasses her naked flesh. Another loop around her hip leaves one side exposed in an asymmetrical cut that ends in a bow. She’s ditched the pearls and stolen accessories and let her hair down, wearing only a pair of golden heels to complete the look.

There’s little enough material for her to use to curtsy but she manages nonetheless, nodding as she rises to Preston and bidding the woman a quiet “good evening.”

Her smile cuts to Lord Savoy as Fabian pushes the chair back in for her, eyes alight in promised mischief.

“Business first, grandsire, so that we might unburden ourselves to play?”

GM: “Oh, I think just seeing you in such delectable attire is play enough, my dear—play enough to drive men mad with desire,” Savoy grins.

He strokes his half-beard in thought. “The cut feels especially appropriate for maritime play, with waves lapping at your exposed skin. I could see you lounging about on an ocean rock, luring passing sailors to pleasures unimagined.”

“The sirens could stand to take tips.”

Celia: Jade blooms beneath her grandsire’s praise.

“I suppose we’ll need to settle for the jacuzzi this evening in lieu of the ocean, and see what nymphs we can call forth from your rooftop garden.”

GM: “Oh, I believe a nymph is already present—and certainly the most comely nymph that shall ever grace my garden, even were we to call up more,” Savoy answers. “Shall we make play in our own small ocean now, or discuss business first?”

Celia: “Business first, grandsire. Unless Madam Preston wishes to join our revelry.” She glances in the Malkavian’s direction, brows lifted, but will begin if Preston has nothing to add to their banter.

GM: The Malkavian does not even glance up from her tablet.

Celia: Some siren song she sings that she can’t even get Preston to glance her way.

Perhaps a different tune.

“Before I begin with my grandsire, Madam Preston, were you able to speak to Regent McGinn about that little tidbit we’d discussed my last visit?”

GM: “It has been less than a week, Miss Kalani,” Preston states flatly, still typing into her Sunpad. “You will be notified when there is news.”

Celia: Ah, but they’d expected Roderick in less than that, hadn’t they. Funny how their sense of time only seems to flow in the direction most beneficial to them.

Amusement dances across her face as Jade returns her gaze to her grandsire.

“Warden Lebeaux and I met earlier this evening. He asked that I bring it to your attention so you could sign off on the next course of action. Those hunters who waylaid our other meeting had friends.”

Briefly, Jade tells them about what they’d found. The recruitment. The special training center in Glynco.

GM: Savoy strokes his half-beard again as he listens to Jade.

“Most intriguing, my dear. And concerning. You’ve done well to discover this information and bring it to me.”

“I’ll discuss options with the warden and a few others. Infiltrating Glynco would be a delicate operation. I’ll let you know how to proceed when I’ve made up my mind.”

“Keep your ghouls away from these hunters for now, but stay ready and alert.”

Celia: Jade nods and promises to do just that.

She’ll need to find a replacement for Randy sooner rather than later. At least the hunt for his killer will keep his brothers busy.

Celia: “Mr. Durant is yours, but he’s not focusing on your goals right now. He’s busy tearing down the rest of your team. Myself. Mr. Gui. It’s wasted time, wasted energy, wasted attention.” A delicate pause. She doesn’t need to tell him all the details, but she does need to make her point known. The burns from the microwave and the knot he cut went more than skin deep.

“The betrayal of his sire broke him. He’s following you from anger at his sire rather than a belief in your goals. I won’t bore you with the details, grandsire, but I do not wish to see him become a detriment to your cause either.”

GM: Savoy chuckles.

“I don’t require Kindred to believe in my goals, my dear. Only that they that they assist those goals. Genuine belief has its uses, but ultimately, it’s lagniappe.”

“You say that he’s tearing down yourself and Mr. Gui, though. How is this?”

Celia: “Would you like the ugly details, grandsire?”

“I don’t wish to bore you with my personal Requiem.”

GM: “Do these domestic squabbles have actual bearing and impact upon Lord Savoy’s political endeavors?” asks Preston.

The sarcasm fairly drips from her voice at ‘domestic squabbles’.

Celia: “Only insofar as much as dead licks matter, Madam Preston.”

“But thank you for pretending you know anything about what I get up to between Elysiums.”

GM: “Your choice in apparel makes that fact more than plain, Miss Kalani,” answers the Malkavian.

Celia: Jade effects a snort.

GM: “Play nice, Nat,” reproaches Savoy, before raising his eyebrows at Jade’s words.

“Dead licks, you say?”

Celia: Doubtless Nat would prefer that everyone wedge a stick up their own ass and call it the height of fashion. Jade tunes her out, turning her attention to her grandsire.

“He told you he’d never work with you while you dealt with members of the Mafia. Did you think his threat an idle one?”

GM: “We spoke concerning Mr. Gui,” smiles Savoy. “But perhaps we didn’t speak enough. What would you tell me, my dear?”

Celia: “He’d like me to lure him to a meeting to kill him,” Jade says flatly.

“Failing that, he plans to beat me into torpor. Is that what you’d know, Nat? That I’ll be too busy being torped to be of use to my own grandsire because Mr. Durant couldn’t handle the fact that his rose-tinted worldview is a lie? Is that relevant enough for you? I might not be an important cog in your book, but I’m a cog all the same.”

She could have gotten a meeting with McGinn by now.

She brought proof of the Ventrue primogen.

She brought Roderick over.

She brought intel from the Cabildo before their spy was ever in place.

She warns him now of an attack on their own man.

She’s the one working to bring the exiled prince to their side as well. Brought his boytoy here. Planted seeds.

GM: Savoy’s smile widens.

“I’m pleased you’ve told me this, my dear.”

“I was hoping you were going to.”

Celia: Jade’s internal tirade ends at the words. She arches a brow at Savoy.

“You knew?”

GM: “Oh, yes. I’ve already sanctioned Mr. Gui’s final death.”

Celia: Claws threaten to erupt from the tips of her fingers. She reins it in.

“I see.”

Another pause. Another game.

Oh, how she hates them.

GM: “Mr. Gui’s final death was one of the terms Mr. Durant and I reached in exchange for his support. I knew that Mr. Gui and Mr. Gurant could never coexist among my followers. Some people just aren’t ever going to play nice together, and you have to pick one or the other. Try to have it both ways and you wind up having it no ways.”

“Mr. Durant knew that he would be the prime suspect if Mr. Gui happened to go missing or turn up dead.” Savoy smiles. “Especially given his paramour’s ability to sculpt faces.”

“He wisely chose to go to me, rather than take ‘justice’ into his own hands.”

“I think he’ll go far among my followers.”

Savoy’s smile widens.

“Just as I think you will too, my dear.”

“You both remember who your first loyalty is towards.”

Celia: Will she?

Or is she another piece to be bartered and sacrificed?

GM: “Unlike Mr. Gui, whose first loyalty was regrettably towards his sire, even though he professed to be my man all along.”

Celia: Jade effects a sigh.

“That’s certainly disappointing. I was just starting to like him. I imagine if you were open to the idea of creating a win/win you’d have brought it up. Is there a timeline you’d like to use him in, or is the matter now up to my discretion with Mr. Durant?”

GM: “Sometimes there are no win-wins, my dear, and addition must be done with subtraction,” Savoy smiles. “Mr. Durant has my blessing to move against Mr. Gui whenever he pleases.”

Celia: Jade merely inclines her head at the words.

“With Gui, Carolla, and Agnello out of the picture, there’s a gap to fill.” Phrased as a statement, but the question is there in her voice.

GM: “Agnello is not out of the picture,” states Preston.

Celia: “No, not yet.”

Perhaps she had forgotten their plan.

Jade doesn’t even look at her.

GM: “Too true, Nat,” states Savoy. “That’s certainly the state of affairs we’d like to see, but we’ll not count our chickens before they’ve hatched either.”

Celia: She lets it go with a shrug.

GM: “Regardless of how things proceed with Hound Agnello, the Mafia will be Mr. Durant’s domain in those territories I control after Mr. Gui is gone.”

Celia: That’s an interesting twist.

GM: “Do you have other business, Miss Kalani?” inquires Preston.

Celia: “No, Madam Preston. You’re free to go. What comes next is more pleasure than business.”

GM: The Malkavian effects a snort and turns back to her tablet.

Celia: Savoy had asked to see her, not the other way around. She waits, smiling pleasantly at her grandsire.

GM: “I believe there is one remaining order of business before pleasure, my dear,” Savoy smiles back. “I did say rewards were your due for your help with Mr. Durant!”

Celia: He could start by asking her what he wants to know rather than rifling through her head with his secretary. Maybe show a little bit of trust to the grandchilde who has done everything he asks and then some.

Take her memories of the tryst with Gui and the ghoul if he’s going digging, keep her from lying to Roderick when he slaps her around in demand of the truth. If they’d met last night she’d have spent her reward on the boy, asked her grandsire for assistance with his new Bourbon identity, maybe lent a bit of credit to the new face and name.

Jade says none of this. She doesn’t even think it, not with the girl who is in control now. Someone deeper, someone wounded lets the raw ache scrape against her flesh and bones.

Bones, though.

Jade effects a sigh, turning her attention to the steward.

“My apologies, Madam Preston. I’ve been rude to you this evening. You’ve been nothing but helpful and practical since my Embrace and I let other, unrelated things color my emotions and influence our interactions. I hope you can forgive the folly of youth.”

A slim leatherbound book makes its way onto the table. Lord knows where she has pulled it from.

“Truth is, Madam Preston, you intimidate me. You don’t need to play the strumpet to get things done. You’re comfortable in your own skin in a way that most others would tear you down for, and I let myself get caught up in that same mentality. I’d rather emulate you than continue down this destructive path.”

“If you have a moment, I’d like your input on a few designs. I’ve been experimenting with Kindred and kine anatomy and physiology and the properties that can be borrowed from or shared between both. I’d like to go bigger with this project, but I’d like to tailor them to what you and Lord Savoy will find useful.”

She flips open the book, turning a handful of pages to show the Malkavian various creatures. Some are winged, some bipedal, some fanged and clawed, some finned, some with tails. Some might pass as ordinary dogs or wolves until she points out the additions: bone spurs, spikes, venom quills.

Aside from the drawings there are pages and pages of notes with human anatomy, questions circled or crossed out, theories, plans, and various work arounds. One page shows the detailed vivisection of a human. Another has clear marks across the skin and arrows referring to where it should go for a different shape. Some pages have letters at the top: RO, RE, AN, NA, AC, CL. Some have designs beneath them. Others just have scribbles.

Her eyes dart between the two licks at the table.

“I’d like… room to work. I don’t know that there’s enough space for this at the spa. I don’t want it connected more than it needs to be to Jade or Celia. I have bigger ideas and plans than what my facilities can currently handle. I’d like to be able to devote time to different areas of study and disciplines, to connect with others who have gone down similar paths so that I don’t need to start from scratch. Your friend introduced me to the fae, but I want more than that. Loops. Mages. Demons. Ghosts. Test subjects. Teachers. I know it’s not always going to be in the city. I have a contact in Atlanta. And your broodmate is in LA, isn’t he? Uncle Q?”

For the first time since she has joined her grandsire she’s become animated, speaking with her whole body rather than just her lips. Her eyes shine in unrepressed, unstifled, unapologetic passion.

“This is what I want. To make these. To create. For you, for me. I want to stand at the edge of our collective imagination and ask what’s next. I want to stretch the limits of what we think is possible and go beyond to a place that everyone ignores because they can’t fathom the idea of things working like that. I want to meld science and magic and the Blood, to find the answers that no one has yet thought to look for, to master this craft beyond the scope of current limitations.”

“I’ve already done some of it. Grafted more muscle onto Tantal. Created a way to break into someone’s mind and learn their thoughts that doesn’t involve scrying. Create mindscapes for them to make them think they’re somewhere that they’re not. But there’s more. So much more.”

“And if Kindred can’t even fathom it, if they don’t think it’s possible? Then they’ll never see it coming. They’ll never stand a chance against you.”

GM: “Very impressive, my dear!” exclaims Savoy, raptly following Jade’s hand through the book’s flipping pages. “I admit the hows and details of this are over my head. You’re a more educated Kindred than I am. In another life, I could perhaps see you as a doctor.” He chuckles. “Or perhaps simply another face. But I can all-too readily see the usefulness and potential in improving upon nature’s designs! I’m to understand it’s what many Tzimisce do with their ghouls and even their own bodies.”

He smiles widely as he looks up from the notes, back towards Jade’s face.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see you like this. To see your knowledge, to feel your passion, to hear your vision. To witness you bloom. You are so much more than just a pretty face, whatever cruel tongues might say.”

“Quentin is in Los Angeles,” he nods in answer to her question. “I don’t think he could be much help with these sorts of things. His interests are less esoteric.”

“But there is another group of Kindred who perhaps could.” Savoy strokes his half-beard in thought. “The Ordo Dracul could explain their philosophy better than me, but I think they share the same goals as you. To take life and unlife apart, figure out what makes it tick, and build it back into superior forms. To investigate our world’s mysteries and unknowns. They’re rather wed to the Baron’s apron strings, lamentably… but it doesn’t need to be Jade Kalani who approaches them, does it now?” he smiles. “Perhaps Dr. Dicentra. Perhaps a new name and face.”

He shrugs and smiles again.

“An idle thought, my dear. I would see you surrounded by those who share your knowledge, your passion, and your vision. I would see the glorious flower that is your mind bloom amidst a field of like flowers.”

“But as to my own role in that, if you’d like separate facilities from Flawless, I think such can be arranged. Would you like them here in the French Quarter, or beyond?”

Preston’s response is less effusive.

“I am not one to fixate upon unproductive past emotions, Miss Kalani. I will be civil for as long as you are.”

She does not criticize—which may be praise enough.

Celia: The praise itself is almost reward enough. Not being dismissed for her ideas, not being laughed at, ridiculed, called crazy or cruel or sadistic.

Because it is. It can be. Experiments on humans, what gives her the right? How dare she play Creator? What makes her think she knows better than whatever divine entity had given them life and unlife in the first place?

She’d almost expected harsh words to that effect. Told that there’s no use for her creatures. That she doesn’t even have the skill to talk to animals and how dare she think that she can handle something like a horde of hellhounds or hellbats or hellcats or hell-whatever-the-fuck (and why hell? It could be any other prefix or adjective and if she’s making these things from scratch and paving the way then why not name them something better, something after herself? Starhounds, with eyes that blaze like diamonds).

But there’s none of that. They’d listened. Approved. Even Preston hadn’t criticized. No snide comments about any of it.

Her flower blooms.

He wants to help. To support. And there’s so much she can do if she has his support. They think she plays with makeup. Her own lover had said as much.

They have no idea. None at all. She will show them what she can do. She will continue to grow and expand and change and scatter roots and seeds across the city, state, and country, will turn the very world into the garden that she cultivates.

Ordo Dracul. It’s not the first time she has heard the word, though those who whisper its name in New Orleans do so as surreptitiously as they can. None want to appear sympathetic to their cause when the prince and his Sanctified hold such emnity toward their beliefs. What easier way to gather goodwill than to turn in a dragon?

Jade slows her thoughts before they can spiral too far down the rabbit hole. He had asked her a question.

“The Quarter is the most convenient. It would be well protected within your borders, easy to get to. I only worry at the lack of space. The crowds. I spoke to a Nosferatu who can build down, basement level and beyond if such is the desire, and the warden said he could perform the spell needed to keep it from flooding.”

Is there an advantage to doing it outside of the Quarter? Space. But she trades safety for that space, the possibility of being discovered. Better to keep it contained underground, isn’t it? Multiple levels. Various terrain. Already she itches to draw the prints.

“I only mentioned Uncle Q as a means to an end. A contact on the west coast should my journey take me there for further research. Just a wider net of connections, to find those who would join in, assist, or teach. Those who are not tied so closely to the Baron.” A brief pause. “For all that the rumors claim Dicentra is part of the Ordo, I do not think that I know any other than the Baron’s Gangrel who claim membership. I could create the new identity for such a venture, though I wonder if there’s anyone closer to home that would be more approachable.”

A tiny lift of her brows is the only indication of her question. Does he have someone he can direct her to?

“There is, ah, one more thing, that’s quite delicate…”

GM: Savoy motions with a hand.

“Proceed, my dear.”

Celia: “Ah, well, test subjects, grandsire. It’s easy for me to pick up kine and even thin-bloods, and I’ve done work on both. Access to the red room has given me plenty of parts to use as well. No trouble there.” She smiles.

“It’s less easy to obtain stronger subjects. Licks. Other supers. I am not asking anyone to hunt for me,” she adds quickly, “but I thought maybe if someone has been marked for death, or if you no longer find them useful I could work with them..? There’s more I can do on a torpid or animated lick than a dead one. I imagine that Mr. Durant would like to slay Gui himself, so perhaps not this instance, but in the future. If you’re amenable. I don’t plan to go slay your subjects on a whim, just thought if they’re already going to die I may as well turn their last nights into something useful.”

GM: “I see no harm in such a thing,” smiles Savoy. “Not with every Kindred marked for death, as you observe. But otherwise, ‘waste not, want not’!”

Celia: Her smile stretches across her face.

“Thank you, grandsire.”

GM: “You are most welcome, my dear. I shall eagerly await your flower’s fruits! I suppose that brings us back to the question of where in the Quarter you’d like the, shall we call it, lab space?”

Celia: “I’d thought to use the space next to the spa, but the business is filled and that seems, ah, too close. I suppose if it’s underground it doesn’t quite matter, as all I’d need is an access door… or a business above to cover it…” Jade hesitates for a moment.

“There’s a spa on Iberville near Decatur. It’s open 24 hours. It has a lot next to it.” Rare in the Quarter, and great for transporting subjects. No doubt she can add a door to the lot if needed. “It’s, ah, well it’s less a spa than a massage parlor, the sort where the kine can pay extra for sexual favors. It could be shut down for that. Or taken over.” It’s not like she has a problem with someone paying for sex. Imagine all the clients she could pick up if they think they’re paying for a happy ending and she gets her fangs in them instead. All the blood she’d have access to for her work.

“Ochsner has an urgent care facility right next door to it, so there are plenty of people coming and going at all hours in various states of disarray.”

GM: “Any of those locations might serve,” Savoy grants. “Which do you desire most?”

Celia: The Iberville location is only a block away from Canal Street and the CBD. Hardly as protected as she’d like it to be, but if no one knows about it then there’s no reason to look for it. Just another seedy parlor. If Flawless ever were infiltrated or attacked—and it has been bugged before; she can’t help but wonder if Reggie passed off the bug okay, or if she’s now in some sort of deeper trouble over it, or if he’d even found someone to drop it off or if right now he’s beating at the door to get out while the oven preheats—then at least the second location will be safe. Less tie to Celia, less tie to Jade, less tie to Dicentra.

“The spa on Iberville, I think.”

GM: “Very good,” says Savoy. “Nat will arrange the details.”

The Malkavian asks whether she wants the spa shut down or taken over, where in the building she wants the lab space (or if it is to simply be the whole building), what equipment she requires, and similar such details.

Celia: Jade gives the Malkavian the information she requires. She doesn’t skimp on the equipment, and makes sure to include things for building and room security, as well as restraints, locks, and adequate sound proofing. She adds a few modifications to the existing business but would like to leave that part of it mostly intact, taking over rather than shutting down. It’s a good cover for what she wants to do, and she won’t turn away a built in client base that can further her goals even if it’s just through the blood in their bodies.

She clarifies if the lab itself will be built down to allow room for growth and additional protection from prying eyes, or if they’ll keep it above ground.

When it’s all sussed out to their satisfaction, Jade looks once more to her grandsire.

“Is there an Ordo member you can direct me towards to get started?”

GM: Preston says that building underground is not viable. Buildings in the French Quarter do not have basements. She asks where on the premises Jade desires the lab space.

Celia: “Oh,” Jade says, “the Nosferatu construction lick said he could do it and I’d just need to find a ‘magic man’ to do a spell for support. Is, ah… were they just playing tricks on me?”

GM: Preston gives her a flat look.

“Not everything is about your insecurities, Miss Kalani. I fail to see why Mr. Korda would waste his time telling you such.”

Celia: “I was going to have some work done on the spa. Then the whole hunter thing happened and I shifted my priorities around.”

Regardless, if it isn’t possible she can make other accommodations within the building itself, and she goes over them with Preston.

GM: Preston says Jade would have to speak with the Nosferatu to see whether constructing a basement under the spa is feasible. The Malkavian can move ahead with a non-basement lab space now or wait until Jade has made arrangements with Mr. Korda for a basement space.

Celia: Jade is happy to begin the process now and expand later, if needed. She thanks Preston for going over everything with her.

GM: Preston gives her a cross look.

“We are not finished, Miss Kalani. The spa, after all, is already owned by kine and frequented by kine. You say you wish the business taken over rather than shut down. Where on the premises do you desire the lab space? How do you wish to ensure your presence and activities are overlooked?”

Celia: Blood races to her cheeks, turning them pink.

“Overly excited,” she murmurs in apology. “Used to you knowing what I’m going to say before I do.” A soft smile, an attempt at levity rather than an accusation.

She pulls a page from her notebook and sketches a rough outline of the business in question, then draws in an estimation of the rooms. She has been inside enough spas and salons in her brief Requiem that, even if the dimensions aren’t an exact match, it will be a close enough approximation. She spends a few minutes explaining her vision for it: turning the business into a front, clearing out the back area / office space for her own work, using a separate entrance directly from the lot next door. She mentions the failsafes she has in place in her own spa, the steel, soundproof room, the “exam tables” attached directly to the ground, the drains, the cold storage. Here she could see mortuary-like boxes built into the walls to hold immobile subjects (bodies or torpid licks), so that all the pieces of them stay together until she uses them.

It’s as she’s considering Preston’s final question—soundproofing, plenty of locks, possibly an anti-tech device to prevent snooping, salt “wards” for the intangible sort of spy—that she thinks it might just be better to close the business down, or divide the lab space from the business entirely. Split it into two separate halves that only share a wall. But then what’s the use of keeping the business itself? She can put a parlor anywhere else in the Quarter to serve the same purpose if such is her desire.

GM: Savoy concurs. Preston thinks it would be more efficacious simply to take over an adjacent building, or close down the massage parlor itself, than to keep the parlor open and make so many modifications to it. Such is likely to arouse the curiosity of the employees.

“It would be a simple enough front to associate the lab with one of Mr. Savoy’s businesses and say it is being used for storage space.”

Celia: Jade nods in agreement. She’d thought to find some of her own people to put in there, but even that will lead to questions, and while she knows there’s some advanced shadow dancing trick to hide a building she doesn’t think she’s yet skilled enough to pull it off.

“Thank you, yes, that is a better idea.”

GM: “Splendid,” smiles Savoy. “The Pavaghis certainly use enough real estate for storage space or keep it vacant altogether. That shouldn’t attract much notice.”

“We can arrange the building’s initial usage for some other purpose, sir, and have that purpose fall through. It is less common to rent or purchase otherwise occupied buildings for storage space. I would suggest arranging for a kine pawn to purchase a building adjacent to the massage parlor, then allowing whatever business is located therein to fail, either on its own or through sabotage.”

“Well-considered, Nat,” smiles Savoy. “Let’s get someone else to foot the bill for this, in fact. Real estate isn’t cheap! Find some other business or entrepreneur we’re not presently associated with. That should further muddy the connection. We’ll allow them to eat the financial loss.”

Celia: Relief spreads through her. Their ideas are better than her own. She’s glad to have them on her side, glad that they’re willing to share their expertise and resources and experience with her. She says as much, thanking them again. It will go much more smoothly this way, will be a further divide between Celia/Jade and the lab.

She thinks that’s it, then. She’d discussed her vision, had been granted the reward, had been supported in her endeavor. She’d brought up the hunters and the death of Gui. All that’s left is the Ordo.

Jade brings it back around to that after a moment. Savoy and Preston have already done so much for her this evening, so she won’t press her luck, but if he does have a name that isn’t the Baron’s pet Gangrel…

GM: “It may also be simpler, sir, just to sabotage the business or its building and drive the owners to sell for a low price,” continues Preston. “Some deficiency in the building could explain it being purchased for simple storage space.”

Savoy nods. “Look into the parlor’s neighboring buildings, Nat. Do whatever’s most cost-effective.”

“Always, sir.”

“And it’s my pleasure, my dear,” her grandsire smiles at her. “As far as the Ordo’s other members in New Orleans, there are no still-unliving ones I recall off-hand. They do keep that a secret!” he chuckles. “I might start by looking into whatever Kindred you think could be secret members of the Ordo on the basis of shared interests and worldviews. Kendall could be dangerous to tangle with, as she may be wise to any apparent animals surveying her movements.”

“Then again, with a new face, you could simply approach her directly.”

“But she is likely to be slower to trust than more junior members.”

Celia: And likely not someone Jade could handle in a confrontation if it comes to that for any reason. Still, there’s some merit to befriending the Baron’s number two girl, isn’t there.

It’s not as if she only has one chance a first impression with any of these people.

Something to look into, anyway. She has a few rocks she can turn over in the meantime.

“Yes, grandsire. Thank you for the advice. I’ll find them.”

Celia: Her eyes move toward the jacuzzi. She recalls the image he’d sent her the other night, the pair of them alone and naked, bloody and sated. Jade relocates, moving around the table to his lap without a word. She’d worn something that can be quickly removed in anticipation of their play.

Unbidden, his voice comes to her.

No.

No, she’d echoed.

Do I need to use a shorter word?

Needlessly, she swallows. She’d thought there could be a future with Gui instead of Durant, but his Requiem will be over within the week, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Even her suggestion to turn it into a win/win had been shot down despite how easy it would be. She could give Roderick a fake body, change Gui’s identity, take him to LA with her while things blow over here, ensure that he’s working toward Savoy’s goals rather than his sire’s…

She blinks back something that might be emotion. After giving so much of herself to Roderick, after the pain he’d put her through the last two nights, she’d wanted someone gentle. For all that he’s in the Mafia, Reynaldo had never treated her poorly. Always like an equal. Always with respect.

Now he’s to be snuffed out by the Brujah’s blind rage. Her fault, isn’t it, if she hadn’t shown up with him—

No, that isn’t right. Grandsire had said this was already agreed to. Durant’s ask for joining the Bourbons. It had nothing to do with her. He’d just taken some of the rest of his fury out on her for being seen with him.

“If you’re in my head,” Jade says quietly to Savoy, “and you think that won’t work, will you take the memory away so he doesn’t try to extract it from me?”

GM: “You presume I am both willing and able to violate the sanctity of your mind, my dear,” answers Savoy.

He winks. “That isn’t the sort of power I’m about to confirm or deny having.”

His expression grows more somber again, though, at Jade’s tone.

“What memory is this you would see removed—and who is it you fear would seek to take it from you?”

Celia: “You’ve answered my questions without me asking before,” Jade points out, but she doesn’t sound as if she minds. She rests her cheek on his shoulder, fingers idly tracing the edge of his lapels. Preston’s earlier comment about domestic squabbles plays in the back of her mind.

“I slept with Mr. Gui and his associate earlier. I thought we could… well, it doesn’t matter, he won’t be around. I don’t want to upset Durant before he’s firmly entrenched on your side.”

It sounds moderately less pathetic than “he’s going to correct me again.”

GM: Savoy chuckles in response to Jade’s first question.

“My dear, I would not divulge the extent of my powers merely to preemptively answer your questions. One need not be able to read minds to read people!”

It’s Preston, though, who responds to Jade’s second statement before her grandsire can. The disdain all but drips from the Malkavian’s voice.

“You are a truly pathetic creature, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Jade says nothing further. She rises and sees herself out.

GM: Savoy frowns and holds up a hand in forestallement.

“That’s quite enough of that, Nat. The two of you were playing nice not so long ago. Temper your tongue.”

“As you say, sir,” Preston answers stiffly.

Savoy turns to Jade.

“If it’s your wish, my dear, I could remove that memory. But I think it’d be treating symptoms rather than causes.”

“Truly, what is it you fear? I doubt very much that Mr. Durant can plumb the depths of a Kindred’s thoughts and memories.”

“Nor that he could compel you to divulge it with sublimitas, if you are already so adverse.”

Celia: The cause, sir, is that I let my neighbor turn me into a whore. The cause is that my father invited that thing into our home and turned it into a place of terror rather than safety. The cause is that I watched him beat my mother for years before he finally tried to kill her. The cause is that I traded my life for hers to Veronica, then was stolen from the sire who wanted me by the bastard who took and then abandoned me. The cause, she wants to snarl, is that I did what you asked of me like the good little pawn that I am. I turned him against his sire. I broke him. And now that I’ve done it, what’s to stop me from being the next piece that’s bartered and sacrificed because Durant has decided he doesn’t want me around anymore? What’s to stop that Ventrue cunt from waltzing in here and demanding my head because I convinced her Celia and I are two separate people and the prince’s childe is more valuable than the whore?

She wants to laugh at his question. But nothing comes out.

No, he thinks himself a genius but lacks the ability to get into my mind. But who needs scrying or domination when he can just beat me until I tell him what he wants. Who cares what he does or if it hurts when a sip of blood can put me back together again. Who cares about having a spine, and this she yearns to spit at Preston, when the only way to not rock the boat and fuck it all up for you is to lie there and take it like a fucking doormat because if I say or do the wrong thing it’s my fault that you lost him before he was ever even useful, so I just shut up and let it happen and act like pathetic creature you think I am. I try to go far enough into my own mind that someone else comes out because that was the only way to survive then and it’s the only way to survive now. Come on, Nat, you’re a Malk. Did you think all these eyes you see staring back at you are because I was happy and healthy and safe during my formative years? Did you think that because I grew up in Audubon and woke up on Antoine’s lap I was spoiled, that I haven’t been raped and abused and traumatized by people who are supposed to be on my side?

The bitch isn’t in control anymore, though. The thoughts halt themselves. They leave nothing behind but the cool kiss of ice. Someone Else smiles as if there’s not a care in the world.

“Nothing that a little blood won’t fix, Lord Savoy.”

GM: Perhaps Jade’s grandsire can and does read her thoughts.

Perhaps he can and chooses not to.

Perhaps he simply cannot.

But at Someone Else’s smile, he simply grins back.

And everything is fine in the world.

“There’s not much a few splashes of the good wine can’t fix,” Savoy agrees.

“The Blood is what it always comes back to, in the end.”


Sunday night, 20 March 2016, AM

Celia: Whoever she is doesn’t stop to dwell on yet another ruined meeting with Lord Savoy. She doesn’t laugh to herself about his attempt to occlude the ability to break into her mind, as if she doesn’t suspect he does it every time. As if she doesn’t know the reason for Preston’s presence at every meeting is to snoop and share and erase whatever memories they don’t want her to keep about what they did to her.

She no longer cares what they think of her. She got her lab. That’s all that matters.

The girl in charge pulls her phone from her pocket to send a text to the asshole she’d contacted earlier with the “date.”

Spa in 45 if you can make it. Before or after. Lmk.

Then she drives, heading back to the spa before her window of time closes with Carolla. She only has so much of it this evening to make it all work.

GM: Before she arrives, Jade spots a bird in the sky following her back to Flawless.

Celia: She doesn’t pull into the spa with a tail. Jade calls Reggie.

GM: “Yeah?”

Celia: “You in the Quarter? I’ve got company.”

Her tone says it isn’t the good kind.

GM: “No. Mid-City.”

Celia: “You drop the thing off okay?”

GM: “I’m looking for Randy.”

“Fucking nothing.”

Celia: It jogs a memory.

Shit.

“Get somewhere safe. Think his trouble just found me.”

She turns. Turns again. Starts heading back to the Evergreen.

GM: The drive is only two blocks.

The bird soon disappears.

“Fuck that. What trouble? Where are you?”

Celia: “Back at the Evergreen. Being followed. Told you I thought it was that prick deputy.” Deputy. Hound. He gets it. “Pissed him off last night. Think I saw him.”

Savoy had said their threats weren’t idle ones. She’d laugh if the situation didn’t leave her in a bad spot.

Is this what she gets for mentally losing her shit? Sold out to the hounds?

Jade keeps Reggie on the line with her. She doesn’t think there’s anyone else to call. None of her friends are fighters. No one but Roderick, and who knows if he’ll come running should she need him.

She can just change. Do her face. One of the other employees, maybe. Louise. She has a reason to be there late at night, at least. Alana’s face is too well known. Or go cat. Call Dani. As if the thin-blood offers any help against this sort of thing.

Gui, maybe.

Get some last use out of him before Roderick tears him apart.

It’s an ugly look no matter what way she slices it.

“Reg, hold on a sec, I’m gonna make a quick call.”

She switches lines and calls the guy that said he’d always protect her.

GM: Reg starts to say something. There’s a “fuck”.

Roderick picks up after several rings.

“Yes?”

Celia: It’s not possible that they got to Reg already, right? That exclamation was for some other reason, right?

Worry ties a knot in her gut.

“Hey. Hate to bother you, think I’m in trouble, can you come get me?”

Maybe it’s nothing.

Maybe it was just a bird.

Maybe she’s fine now.

Maybe she’s going to die tonight.

GM: “Have you done as I told you?”

Celia: “That’s where we’re headed if you can make it.”

GM: “That was very fast, Celia.”

Roderick’s tone sounds more suspicious than pleased.

“What is the meeting time and location, and who’s meeting who?”

Celia: “Well I told him that I had something cool to show him and he cleared his schedule. He said it could be tomorrow, but then mentioned if we made it tonight he’s got a date for Dani too.”

He’s smart enough to know what that means, isn’t he?

“It’s soon, though, and I’m kind of stuck somewhere, which is why I need you sooner rather than later. But it’s short notice, so if you can’t make it then I can set up another time.”

GM: “Who is the meeting between, Celia?” Roderick repeats.

“You and our friend, or our friend and someone else?”

Celia: She knows it’s the wrong answer before she says it.

“Me and him.”

GM: His voice is cold.

“Then you failed to do as I asked.”

Celia: Celia holds back a sigh.

“I thought the additional guest was worth the deviance from our plans. I’ll reschedule and handle this incident on my own. If you don’t hear from me again, it was Agnello.”

She thinks about saying she loves him, but he’d told her he wants the truth. So she says a quiet “goodnight” before she switches lines.

“Reg?”

GM: “We’re not finished yet, Celia,” Roderick interrupts as she starts to say “goodnight.”

“You don’t end our calls. I do. Is that understood?”

Celia: She’s going to gouge her claws through his eyeballs.

Celia finds her inner pathetic creature, the one Preston hates so much. The one who cowers at the sound of a raised voice. She thinks its name might be Grace.

Or maybe Diana.

I’ll be a good wife.

Just until he’s in too deep to get out. Just until he can’t turn away from Savoy. Don’t rock the boat. Not yet.

“Yes, I understand. I’m being followed. I’m in trouble. I needed help. I’ll figure it out so I don’t inconvenience you. I need to get off the phone so I can handle this, is that okay?”

Even locked inside her car within shouting distance of the Evergreen, she doesn’t feel safe. This whole call was a waste of time. She doesn’t know why she’d bothered.

She should have lied.

She’s going to die because Roderick is too much of a prick to listen to her. She’d laugh, but mostly she feels like crying. She keeps it inside, though. He hates that act.

GM: “No, not yet,” Roderick answers.

“You haven’t done as I asked. But finding a date for Dani is worthwhile, so I’ll tell you what. If you want my assistance with something now, that can be your reward.”

Celia: Hatred seethes within her.

“I’m at the Evergreen.”

GM: “I can’t be seen at the Evergreen. If you’re already there, you’ll be safe from Agnello. Spend the day.”

Celia: Staying at the Evergreen means losing the sire.

“Okay,” she agrees.

As if she can’t meet Roderick somewhere else where he can be seen so she can finish her plans this evening. She doesn’t bother suggesting it. Waste of time.

“Thank you.”

Fuck you.

“I need to call Dani to cancel our plans, is that okay?”

At least over the phone she only needs to fake the emotion in her voice. A glance in the mirror shows the flat, dead eyes of someone playing a boring role.

GM: “You know how much Dani wants a date, Celia. I’m sure she’d be happy to have one at the Evergreen. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s good enough.”

Celia: “Oh, great, I’ll call her and let her know. Thanks.”

She smiles in the general direction of her phone, the sort of face-wide, maniacal smile that would make anyone near her pause and take a step back.

GM: “We’re talking about Dani’s date, Celia. A date involves two or more parties. I’d like to meet this guy before he goes out with my sister. You said their date was going to happen tonight. Why are you now saying those plans need to be canceled?”

“Or were you talking about your own plans with Dani, rather than the guy she’s meeting?”

Celia: “Dani and I were going to get together tonight. I meant my plans with her.”

GM: “Canceling those is fine. Tell me about the plans with the guy she’s meeting.”

Celia: “Well. I will when I get them rescheduled. Since we had a different meeting place in mind I need to reach out to let him know.”

“And her, too. Oh boy, lot of calls to make, I better get started.”

GM: “Don’t be sarcastic with me, Celia. You’re not making sense. Maybe it’s because you’re so stupid.”

“You said there were plans with the guy Dani is going to meet. You said those plans were happening tonight. Why are you now saying they need to be rescheduled?”

Celia: Celia starts to respond. She gets a handful of words in before she cuts off in a scream.

The line goes dead.

Fuckwad.

“Reg?” she asks into the other line.

GM: That line is silent.

Celia: “Reggie?”

She waits a beat, phone pressed to her ear.

GM: Her phone app says she has no calls active.

Celia: She dials Reggie.

GM: It doesn’t pick up.

“Yo. Leave a message,” sounds Reggie’s voice.

Beeeeeep.

Celia: She doesn’t leave a message.

Celia sends a quick text to Dani to postpone their plans tonight. Stay home, she says. Don’t leave home.

A second to Gui, letting him know that she’s running late and needs an extra 15 minutes before she sees him. Doesn’t want to keep him waiting.

Then she’s out of the car, moving quickly toward the Evergreen so she can duck inside.

GM: Celia steps out of her car.

Pavement slams against her chin as something seizes her ankles, cat-quick, and suddenly she’s pulled underneath her car. The snarling face of Rocco Agnello looms over hers as a stake drives towards her heart.

Celia: Celia shrieks. She’d been expecting the attack from above, not below.

At least she’d been right.

But he’d fucked up in yanking her toward him. She isn’t some helpless doe in close quarters, not when her very hands are weapons in their own right. She reaches for his face with the fingers that have so frequently sculpted the flesh of others in a messy swipe. Rather than create she simply destroys.

GM: Perhaps Rocco realizes just how deadly those fingers are, and how sharp the rose’s thorns may prick.

If he doesn’t, it’s his lucky night that the stake finds purchase in Jade’s heart so quickly. She goes instantly rigid as the wood pierces flesh.

Agnello pulls her keys out of her hands. He lies still atop her, eyes peeled on the curb beyond the car.

A second scream goes up, loudly piercing the night. Jade can’t make out more than shoes and pant legs exiting the Evergreen. Moving towards it.

Away from her.

Rocco waits until they’re gone, then wastes no time. He crawls out from under the car, opens the trunk with Jade’s keys, then pulls her out cat-quick and dumps her in. The trunk closes. After another moment, she distantly hears a door open and close.

Then, there’s motion underneath her as the car takes off.

Celia: The stake stops her movements, but not her thoughts. Those race while the events carry on around them. Another victim? What are the odds?

Slim.

She’s seen Pietro do the trick often enough to know what it is, to know that Rocco here either has some shadow dancing skill or an accomplice.

At least she’d told Reggie. And Roderick. Maybe the scream tipped him off. A lie at the time, but she’s always been good at playing victim. Maybe he bought it. Maybe he’s worried. Maybe he’s coming.

Maybe he doesn’t care.

But locked in a trunk for the second time in two nights, eyes fixated on the glow in the dark escape lever, she can’t help but think that being right this time hasn’t gotten her anywhere but in trouble.

View
Celia VI, Chapter X; Julius I, Chapter IV
Period Party

“Illusion is perhaps the only reality in life.”
Benito Mussolini, as quoted by Pietro Silvestri


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: CLOSED
For private event


So reads the sign over the Evergreen Plantation’s front doors in stylish gold writing. The club’s regulars have long grown to accept that the Evergreen simply does not open its doors to the public on Saturday nights.

Some patrons take offense that the Quarter’s premier club is closed to them, for all their wealth and connections and means. Some patrons do not take no for an answer. They are not accustomed to being told ‘no.’ Some of these disgruntled patrons take their concerns directly to Leon Gressau. He always seems to have an answer for why the club is closed on Saturdays, and for why the ‘private event’ really isn’t their scene. He’d let them in if it was, of course.

Most such patrons walk away with their feathers smoothed and their pride assuaged. Mr. Gressau always knows just what to say.

But there have been a few would-be attendees of the Saturday ‘private events’ who were just so curious, so persistent, so entitled, that they could not accept ‘no’ for an answer. There have been even more would-be attendees who simply were not important enough to warrant Mr. Gressau’s time and personal assurances. These individuals often make themselves obnoxious to the Evergreen’s staff.

Mr. Gresseau only smiles and instructs his employees to allow these individuals entrance to the private event. Let them have what they wish.

Too late, they learn to be careful what one wishes for.

The Evergreen’s interior tonight is a place out of time. The Art Deco style of the early 20th century reigns supreme. Luxurious fabrics, sharp lines, mixed metallics, and rich color palettes give the décor an air simultaneously glamorous and eclectic. The floor is a black and white checker pattern. Several enormous white and gold vintage chandeliers composed of cut glass hang from the ceiling (each one still lit electrically). Drapes use shiny gold metallic fabric. Modernist art hangs along the walls. Brass combines everywhere with glass. Huge wall-to-wall television screens, currently set to mirror mode, make the space seem bigger than it is. Louis Armstrong jazz, always popular at the Evergreen, feels all the more period-appropriate as it plays from antique bronze phonographs (and perhaps more discretely located modern speakers).

It may be 2016 outside, but within the Evergreen’s walls, the 1920s are back.

Antoine Savoy’s court is more comfortable than Vidal’s. Spacious and comfortable seating is located throughout the room. Anachronistically garbed attendees lounge about on the sharp-angled Art Deco furniture. Pinstripes, coattails, bobbed hair, cloche hats, short dresses, and huge kohl-outlined eyes predominate.

Heroin chic pallid faces, though, remain timeless.

For all that Antoine Savoy might profess to do things differently than his archrival, attendees highest in favor (or greatest in presumption) sit closest to the center of power, like they do anywhere. The Lord of the French Quarter occupies a throne-like seat on an elevated dais at the center of the room, grinning as the attendees file in in their anachronistic garb.

The Toreador himself wears a midnight-blue worsted swallow-tailed coat trimmed with satin, and a pair of matching trousers, trimmed down the sides with satin ribbon. A white bow tie, unworn black silk top hat, white gloves, patent leather Oxford shoes, a white silk handkerchief, and white flower boutonnière complete the outfit. A signet ring bearing the Bourbon coat of arms remains in place on his right hand.

Preston quietly converses with her master. She’s one of the comparatively few female attendees not dressed like a flapper. She still wears a conservative dark skirtsuit, only by the era’s standards instead of the present. Its hem reaches all the way down to the knee.

Blood dolls make their rounds throughout the room, showing attendees to changing rooms or simply lounging alongside them and engaging in conversational foreplay before the inevitable occurs. Those who have previously made nuisances of themselves to the Evergreen’s staff speak the least and wear the most vacant smiles. Their fates are preordained. For now, though, no drinking is allowed.

Pleasure comes after business, even in the French Quarter.

Even when it is so intermingled.

Celia: She could have worn a flapper dress. Pearls, feathers, fringe, or peacocks, all of it dazzling and sparkling. No doubt even Veronica still has things from the era that she could have borrowed if she wanted to go authentic.

But every lick with tits is going to be in a flapper dress. The younger ones will put them on with wide eyes and giggles about the decadence of the “Gatsby” era and throw a feather boa around their necks and coif their hair to the side with one of those little cloche caps or knit caps with a flower on the brim.

Jade could have done that, too. Sequins and feathers and fur: she’d have made it look good.

She makes everything look good.

Like the ensemble she’d selected for the evening: a black high-waisted, hip hugging pencil skirt that goes no further than halfway down her thighs, a white form fitting collared shirt with half the buttons undone from the top, and a tiny half-jacket. Pinstripes. Suspenders over the shirt, under the jacket. A strand of off-white pearls adorn her throat, and a black fedora with a black satin band sits at an angle atop her tamed curls. Stockings rise up her long legs until they hit a garter, the thin line of it disappearing beneath the hem of her skirt. Black and white mary janes with blood red bottoms complete the look.

It’s a mix of feminine and masculine, a play on the typical “mobster” look from the 1920’s, but without the plastic Tommy Gun or tie. A moll, maybe. The kind who doesn’t need a man to hide behind and doesn’t get cheated on or smacked around in public. The kind who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to go for it.

Like a femme fatale. It’s there in the way she smiles with lips that have been stained crimson, and she doesn’t need to flash her fangs for people to get the message: mesmeric, deadly vixen.

She’d wondered, as she dressed, how much it would piss off her lover to see her draped in Mafia colors in an homage to Capone and every other family that he hates, everything that stands in his way of the picturesque, ideal world.

She hadn’t let it stop her.

Savvy Kindred might note that Jade had left with the warden wearing one thing and returned in another, a satisfied smirk in place. She nods to a few licks as she passes the rabble at court, striding through the sea of nobodies and “almost somebodies” to take a seat near Savoy’s opulent throne beside her favorite thief. She smiles prettily at one of the mortal troublemakers and waves him over to serve as cushion beneath her svelte form, cooing in absent delight at whatever mind numbing words he utters.

GM: Jade finds him sitting next to Veronica, wearing a pinstriped black and white suit with a fedora hat. A red silk tie and large, shiny gold watch encrusted with diamonds and several more jeweled rings add some further splashes of color and extravagance. So does a peacock feather tucked into the fedora’s band, gold buttons along the suit, and the red handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket. Jade’s not sure how period-authentic the entire ensemble is,

“Someone guessed the flapper look would be taken,” he remarks appreciatively, looking her up and down.

Celia: “Few enough licks who could pull it off as well as my sire,” Jade says with a nod toward the harpy in question, who indeed has outdone every other “flapper” in attendance with what is no doubt an original-era gown. She leans forward, plucking the peacock feather from his hat as she places a chaste kiss on his cheek with lip and fang.

“Takers keepers, cuz.” It finds a place on her head instead, tucked neatly into the satin band of the hat perched atop her curls.

GM: A 20something shirtless black man wearing similarly pinstriped pants presents himself for Jade to get comfortable on. He regards her with a vacantly pleased smile.

Celia: It’s not that Savoy’s choice of furniture isn’t comfortable. It’s that this man is warm and adoring and she’s going to have a drink with him later. From him. Whichever. She settles on his lap, idly plucking at one of the suspenders over his bare chest.

GM: Veronica, meanwhile, has pulled it off with an original-looking slim-figured mid-thigh dress, pearls, wavy bob cut, and the other accouterments of the age.

But she’s not been content to leave off with just those.

The first thing that’s different is the snake carcass. It’s around the length of a human arm and twisted in loops from her ankle up to her thigh. A blood-smeared (though not blood-smelling) apple is wedged into its open mouth. Twisting Bahari symbols are painfully carved along her exposed legs in reddened scar tissue. The pearl necklace is interspersed with Kindred-sized fangs. Finally, she’s foregone period-appropriate footwear for her usual stilt-high heels, these ones relatively ‘tame’ black mary janes that contrast with the violent bodily decorations above. They’d otherwise be period-appropriate if they were four or so inches shorter. They seem to say she could pull off this look better than any younger lick, but doesn’t care enough to. She’ll dress in the past and dress up the past with her favorite bits of the present.

Jade may wonder if it says anything that both ancillae aren’t even trying to get the period completely right. For that matter, neither is Savoy, with his Bourbon ring.

Micheal is also present. He’s dressed in an old-fashioned prisoner’s uniform: black and white horizontal stripes, replete with a matching cap and ball and chain around his leg. A leather mask with a bulging gag completely obscures his sight and prevents speech. His hands are cuffed together in some sharp and very nasty-looking period-appropriate cuffs. A thick iron collar and chain leashes him to Veronica’s side.

Celia: Of course it says something. Everything they do, every stray look, every piece of clothing and ornamentation—it all says something. It says something that she’s seated here, with them, rather than with the rest of the neonates who compete with her for recognition. It says something that her sire so loudly parades her bitch in front of all the licks inside the Quarter. It says something that Jade has perched herself on this breathing troublemaker.

Everything says something. Everything means something.

Amused eyes take in the bitch in question, overly long nails reaching out to tap against the leather gag that obscures his mouth.

“You look ravishing as ever, my sire. Have you thought further of my offer to borrow him an evening? I do so enjoy the way he screams at my gentle caress.”

GM: Pietro smirks as Jade steals the peacock feather.

“Few licks who can pull off anything as well as her. And I suppose I’ll have to steal something to replace that. Whoever loses an accessory can blame Jade. I was just a victim.”

Celia: “Poor, poor victim,” Jade agrees. She turns her attention from the bitch to the thief, fingertips sliding down the front of his pinstripe jacket. “Make a game of it with me? Whoever steals the most impressive thing wins.”

GM: Veronica doesn’t smile so much as sneer less at the two’s flattery.

Then she kicks Micheal, hard, in his flank.

The Brujah keels over and makes a muffled sound of pain past the leather.

The sneer returns.

“Feel free. The bitch doesn’t appreciate how good he has it sometimes.”

Celia: “I’ll come by to pick him up in a night or two,” Jade tells her sire. “He’ll be begging to get back home to you.”

GM: Micheal makes another muffled protest-like sound past the gag.

Veronica kicks him again.

Micheal groans again.

“Pain teaches, bitch. If you aren’t too stupid to be taught. Praise Lilith.”

Pietro, meanwhile, lays back and smirks as Jade’s lithe fingers start their mischief.

“You’re on. What does the winner win, besides the most impressive thing?”

Celia: Tempting to slide right onto his lap instead of this kine’s. She’s done it plenty of times, perched herself on the lap of older, stronger, more powerful licks. And she’s known Pietro since her first nights. Since before her first night. So it’s an easy decision to make, an easy glide from one man to the next, turning herself so she’s astride his thigh with her legs between his after she tells the breather to stay put. She nuzzles at Pietro’s neck with her teeth, then moves her lips to his ear.

“A secret,” she whispers, nipping at his flesh. “Or a favor.” She pulls back, mischief in her eyes as her fingers slide down his cheek. “Something fun, not the boring sort everyone else wants. I’ll keep you on your toes, darling.” She’s good for it, he knows. She’s done it before: they’ll both enjoy whatever she has in mind.

GM: The kine lets her go with a vacant stare.

Pietro’s lap seems much more welcoming. His hands disappear behind her head as she slides onto him. His fingers are so light. It feels like a breeze where he’s touching her.

It’s really too bad he won’t help her get off with those fingers.

“Let’s keep this interesting, then. The winner gets to pick either. Secret or favor.”

An equally familiar mischief dances in his eyes as he glances towards his cousin.

“Ronny, you can judge whose thing is more impressive if there’s a dispute.”

Veronica makes a noise like agreement as she kicks Micheal in the throat.

Celia: There’s a reason why she likes him so much, and this is it. On nights like these she wonders what it would be like to have been his childe rather than the other’s. Whether the affection he holds for her as surrogate “uncle” would spill over into a more familiar, more intimate relation.

Not that they need it to play.

Jade all but purrs as the thief’s fingers disappear around her head, wondering if he’s decided to begin by lifting the pearls from her very throat.

All the better to get a nip in, isn’t it? Not that he’d be so gauche as to drink from the same place as everyone else.

Jade keeps her arousal to herself, killing the human part of her that he’s so disgusted by. She seals their deal with another brush of fangs against his cheek, then glances down at the Brujah on a leash.

“Stupid can be taught. It just takes longer.”

GM: Veronica just sneers as Roderick’s broodmate gags and awkwardly raises his shackled hands to rub his throat. That earns a kick too.

“There’s nothing left to teach.”

Pietro just smiles, his own fangs showing, and hands Jade back her earrings. She never felt them come off.

“What is there to teach? You don’t do much with him these nights besides filling his holes with new things.”

“Maybe to be less stupid,” Veronica declares contemptuously. “Can you teach that?”

Celia: Jade mock scowls at the thief, sliding the studs back into the lobes of her ears.

“I suppose it’s all in what you want to do with him, isn’t it. Otherwise he’s just a waste of blood.”

GM: “I don’t think so,” answers Pietro.

“You could teach him to enjoy this.”

“What he now is.”

“I don’t want him to enjoy this,” answers Veronica.

She stomps the heel of her shoe over Micheal’s fingers.

The Brujah makes a low sound of pain.

“Clearly,” smirks Pietro.

Celia: “Strip him for parts,” Jade says, touching a finger to her chin. “I bet he’d turn into a nice pair of boots. Thigh high. Stiletto. Could put his eyes in the platform…” She trails off thoughtfully.

“I know just the lick.”

As if it isn’t her.

GM: “He used to at least be a source of muscle,” says Pietro. “He’s not really good for that when he’s always chained up.”

“What do you think about that, bitch? Would you like to be a pair of boots?” sneers Veronica, this time kicking him in his masked face. “We could cut off your legs. You’ll just regrow them anyway.”

“Maybe cut off your arms for gloves.”

“Maybe burn the stumps, too, so they don’t grow back.”

“Leave you staked in a basement somewhere, fed just enough juice to stay awake, and slowly go insane.”

Micheal just lies at her feet.

Celia: “I’ve been working on a new project you might find interesting,” Jade says to the harpy. “He’d be great for the research.”

GM: “Micheal Kelly contribute to research. Will wonders never fucking cease.”

Celia: Jade just smiles, nuzzling Pietro’s neck once more. Her fingers glide down his arm to unfasten the watch on his wrist while she distracts him with her teeth.

GM: Pietro seems happy for the distraction, but Jade finds his wrist bare.

“That’s attached lower down,” he remarks amusedly. “We didn’t keep them on wrists back then.”

Celia: “Further down,” she muses, moving her fingertips to his chest so she can slide them lower. “That an invitation, darling?”

GM: “Just the truth,” he smiles at the sight of Jade stroking down his chest. She finds the gem-crusted pocketwatch attached to a chain on his jacket. “And a lie, too. The ’20s were when wristwatches started to get really popular.”

“Returning soldiers from World War I, wasn’t it?” remarks Peter Lebeaux as he makes his way up to Savoy’s throne. He has on a vintage police uniform with shiny buttons and an ovular hat with a strap around his chin. A bobby club and revolver hang from his belt.

“Yes,” says Pietro. “It was obviously more convenient on a battlefield to have the watch secured to your wrist. So people back home copied it to look more soldier-like, more martial, more masculine.”

Celia: “Warden.” Jade purrs the word, wiggling her fingers at the Tremere as he passes. “Come play with us. I’ll be the robber to your cop.”

GM: “I’m afraid robbery isn’t even worth citing for here, Miss Kalani,” Lebeaux answers dryly as he approaches Savoy, murmuring something into the French Quarter lord’s ear.

Celia: “He doesn’t care that I stole your pocket watch, dear,” Jade whispers to the thief, wrapping the golden chain of the watch in question around her finger with a coy smile. “I s’pose we’ll need to move on to bigger things to get him to frisk us.”

She passes her ill-gotten gains back to him.

Celia: She can’t help but notice how dreadfully empty her grandsire’s lap looks this evening. Her eyes stay on the pair even as she tells Pietro that she “ran into his friend” and “showed him a good time” and “is looking forward to seeing him again soon.”

Julius: Before Jade’s ‘cousin’ can reply, all four of the Levee Hepcats cruise into the scene.

Tonight, the krewe’s leader is dressed in a double-breasted suit, with a houndstooth burgundy and white windowpane weave. The suit’s sack-jacket is straight and boxy, though its shorter cut and felt-backed, flanging peak lapels make clear its sartorial era. Its brass buttons feature an etched profile of a cat against a sunburst pattern, while its striped lining is fashioned of yellow, white, and brown silk. The suit’s matching trousers are straight-legged with turned-up cuffs, high-waisted, and hoisted by suspenders beaded with pale pink tourmalines. His sleeve-gartered dress shirt is coral in color, though its detachable round-club collar is moonflower white, pinned, and fastening a slim cherry, scarlet, turquoise, and white paisley necktie. These garments are further accented with a vintage 14-karat gold Hamilton Gilbert wristwatch; white wingtips, a similarly white homburg with ostrich feather accents; and a boutonnière with fragrant pink datura, night gladiolus, and evening primrose. Such attire, though, is currently swallowed by a giant raccoon fur-coat with a shawl collar, turned-up cuffs, and plentitude of pockets. That coat, though, does nothing to conceal Julius’ eyes. Rather, his gaze is shaded tonight by period-appropriate Crookes lenses with green calobar glass, brass, and black bakelite frames. A new gleam, however, graces his smile, as his top-left canine has a borderline gaudy glued-on diamond.

That gemstone-flashing smile presently falls upon the krewemate currently hanging on his long trombonist arm.

Despite lacking a legitimate sire, Justine Chaudrier clearly displays her Toreador clanship if not artistic panache tonight as she wears a gold lamé coat printed with abstract roses in varied shades of ivory, crimson, and caramel, with black velvet shirred and padded collar, cuffs, and lining. Beneath that wrap-style coat half-hides a knee-length mauve silk Georgette dress with a matching silk slip. That dress is trimmed with bands of self-fabric-pleated ruffles at the waist, skirt, and along the outside of each sleeve from elbow to wrist. A self-fabric bow on the left shoulder and dropped waist sash are finished with pale diamond, celestine, and morganite jewel ornaments. Said jewels match her Art Nouveau long-drop earrings, brown bakelite bangles, and sparkling filigree rings. For foot apparel, she wears burgundy Mary Janes whose heels are sultry enough for the silver screen but sturdy enough for street dancing. Meanwhile, her head is decorated with a shimmering skullcap of gold metallic lace and rhinestones that beautifully contrast with her inky hair and obsidian skin.

Beside her, Justine’s fellow Toreador and krewemate also arrives in chic era-appropriate garb. In Arthur Duchamps’ case, it’s a throwback tweed suit in a lime-cream plaid pattern with a matching scoop vest, side-vented jacket, sharp peak lapel, and patch pockets. No pocket-watch graces the latter; instead, Arthur’s timepiece is an authentic (or authentic-looking counterfeit) of a 1923 Hamilton watch, complete with stainless steel band, gold filigreed case, and radium-painted hands and numbers. His other hand bears a bas-relief hematite Intaglio ring on his pinky, whose dark stone mirrors the iridescent hue of his Parisian Charvet silk-print necktie. That tie is framed by his ivory-white shirt, which features a stiff round-edge club collar, with mother-of-pearl collar buttons that match his shirt-studs and cufflinks. Arthur’s look is finished with brown-and-blonde wingtip Spectactors; a gray Merino wool fedora with a black grosgrain ribbon and tan leather brim-band; and a double-breasted herringbone topcoat with a shearling collar, belted back, welt pockets, horn buttons, and olive bemberg sleeve-lining.

The Hepcats’ last member is dressed—or perhaps half-undressed—in a dark pink silk robe over a pale gold crepe de-chine slip. The former has a full straight cut, side panel under-arm, and high hip snap-closure, with black silk trim on the robe’s slim batwing sleeves, neck, and front edges. The latter garment has net-lace silk appliqué and re-embroidered flowers, asps, and scrolls, with lingerie straps, a straight top, dropped waistband, and an attached skirt wrapped to create a double layer with an open back. A Sautoir of Chanel pearls casually coils around her neck, looping over her shoulder such that its azure-blue tassel teases the curve of her silk-clad ass. In contrast to her typically rustled hairstyle, Laura’s dark locks are presently pressed into sinuous, serpentine finger curls, with a single obelisk drop-earring whose Art Deco Egyptian Revival motif matches her 14-karat gold ring with its turquoise-carved scarab and hieroglyphics-enameled lotuses. That hand also bears a long, white and black vaping stick crafted to resemble a cigarette with an opera-length holder. Oddly—or perhaps not so oddly for a Gangrel—her feet, however, are bare.

The krewe gives a collective nod to the three seated Toreador, particularly the two ancillae—though in Laura’s case, it’s more a bob of her smoke-issuing ‘cigarette’ than her head.

After greeting each of those Kindred by name (with the Brujah ‘bitch’ being passed-over), Julius gives another individual, sweeping bow to Veronica, his white homburg doffed with a Vaudeville flourish, as he says:

“Da hunerd years lookin rite fine on yo’…. everywhere, ma’am.”

Celia: It’s hard for the licks to overlook Jade, perched as she is on Pietro’s lap. She pretends the nods are for her and catches Melton’s eye, tossing the Gangrel a lascivious wink.

GM: Everyone at the Evergreen tonight has put a lot of effort into their outfits.

They have the money.

They have the memory.

They have the motivation.

There’s nowhere better than a gathering of vain, peacocking, wealthy, and nostalgic immortals to transport oneself a century back into the past. The costumes are all but perfect, at least on the older Kindred.

Then Julius and the Hepcats come in.

And show everyone else how it’s done.

Faint oohs and ahs from the outermost seats greet the results of Julius’ handiwork. The attention to detail. The careful selection of every article and accessory. The brass buttons. The Hamilton wristwatch. The diamond tooth. The rose coat. The Art Nouveau jewels. The tweed suit. The morher-of-pearl cufflinks. The period-authentic (still extant, but declining) Egyptomania. The opera-length cigarette holder.

What is there to say?

It’s perfect. It’s all perfect. Even those who know the knockoff king for what he is cannot tell what is vintage and what is a modern recreation. It’s the mark of a true master, Savoy once told Julius—to fool someone even when they think you’re trying to fool them.

The Hepcats’ outfits look more authentic than the Kindred actually from that era.

And why should they not? Memory is fallible. Memory is subjective. The past is a fluid and fallible thing even to those who were there for it. It’s given shape and form only by the hands of craftsmen. Storytellers. Illusionists.

And Julius is a maestro among those illusionists. Where the younger licks ooh and ah over the authenticity of the Hepcats’ outfits, the older Kindred are silent and contemplative. They see someone who has claimed the past they so proudly wore like a royal mantle. They see something new who has draped it even more resplendently about his own shoulders. They see someone who has seized power thought barred to clanless whelps bereft of any past or history—and who now wields it even more adroitly than they do. They see someone who has laid claim to their past and made it his.

Because his clothes are better.

It seems silly, to the young and the ignorant. Mere peacockry.

But to those with the eyes to see and the enduring Requiems to know, the conclusion is as apparent as the diamond glint in Julius’ mouth:

This Caitiff is not to be taken lightly.

Veronica’s smoldering eyes take in Julius. The harpies have never have been kind to any Caitiff, nor has this harpy been kind to this Caitiff. Julius has heard more than one cruel barb from her perfect lips on how the best this clanless trash can do is ape the creative labors of others. Pathetic. Fitting, but still pathetic.

Those have mostly stopped since the Anarch split. Bad practice, to dunk too hard on the court musician of one’s new patron.

But a Caitiff’s choices are rarely good and bad options—merely bad and worse.

And for all this fellow jazz musician’s snide remarks, they paled against the venom spat and the subtle cruelties devised by her jazz-hating cousin Katherine.

Bad and worse indeed.

Then Veronica’s lip pulls back in something like a smile, like she and Julius are friends.

“You don’t look too bad yourself, gleamfang.”

Celia: She’s not ignorant of the entrance he made with his krewe, so much louder than the way she’d slipped through the crowd on her own. She’s not immune to the way the younger licks get quiet as they pass, or how even Veronica and Pietro fall silent for a moment as he approaches. And that almost-smile on her sire’s lips.

Twice in two nights that he’s stolen the spotlight from her, isn’t it?

And yet who did he come to when he had fun things to share, and who did he ask for a sliver of her domain? Who had he endured to be on his lap while she played her games and riled him up while she whispered and murmured in his ear scant half an hour ago, just as she does now to the Toreador beneath her.

Jade’s eyes dance across the four-large krewe, idly cataloguing items for her game, and after she winks at Melton she focuses her eyes on their leader.

“Saved you a seat, Jules,” she says at last, nodding her chin to where the breather she’d corralled earlier sits. A motion of her hand has the man on the floor, settled between her legs “like a good boy,” she coos at him, petting his head. Astride Pietro as she is, there’s enough room for one more to join their little party.

Quid pro quo and all that.

GM: Laura’s kohl-lined turn up in a sly smile as she blows a kiss at Jade.

Celia: “Have a seat for you too, sweetling,” Jade says to the Gangrel, lifting a hand to rub across her face.

GM: “I’m sure you have a lot more than that,” purrs the Gangrel as she deftly saddles atop the lap of the already lap-seated Jade.

Yet, as the second Hepcat assumes an invited seat, an invisible line is crossed, casting the others’ status suddenly into question. Veronica’s smoldering eyes burn hotter as they settle first upon Justine, drawing stares from Harlequin, Pietro, Reynaldo Gui, and Shep Jennings.

The younger Toreador approaches no closer. It is well that she does not as Veronica sneers,

“Rats sit in the back.”

Laughter sounds from the nearby Kindred.

Celia: There’d been no invitation for the others. Surely no one is ignorant enough to have missed that.

Jade doesn’t speak up as they go, watching in idle amusement. As if they’d get to sit among this gathering. It’s only Melton’s prior interactions with Jade that gets the lick an invitation to the party near the throne.

Her hand wanders up the Gangrel’s thigh, lips busy at her neckline.

GM: Arthur does not try to reach beyond his station. For now. At least so visibly. Already hanging behind the others, he moves to find a seat around the middle. Perhaps closer than he might normally. Still, there’s a familiar (to Julius) bitterness in his eyes.

Celia: “I have a surprise for you later,” Jade whispers to the lick on her lap.

Julius: If Julius’ shaded eyes could speak, they’re whispering ‘in time’ to the young Toreador from the Little Easy. To Justine, those same Crookes-shaded eyes offer a different, but not too different, refrain:

In Savoy’s time. Prince Savoy’s time.

But in the meantime, the Caitiff turns back to the seated Toreador, and joins them. Perhaps for him, it’s finally ‘his time’. Longinus knows he’s put in his own time at the back of the bus.

Homberg still in hand, he bows again at the harpy, smiling:

“Not lookin too bad is dollahs to dinnah too generous comin from uh jass legend, like you’s.”

He then bounces the hat off his bicep, setting it atop his head to give another dip of its brim. Next, Julius smoothly slides off his raccoon coat and drapes it over his ‘seat’ in a swirl of fur. Turning to Jade, his literal diamond smile shines:

“An ma thanks too, shug, fo’ yo most kind invitation.”

And it is kind—especially given how their last social exchange started. The large man then squats down on his now-‘upholstered’ seat, silently hoping it holds. Settling in, his smile continues as he adds:

“Though I reckon me, dat Lollie rightchere don got da bettuh sittin.”

He chuckles, then, “But I den suppose dat maybe it’s Mr. Silvestri who’s bin gots da best seat.”

He offers a complimentary smile at the Italian.

Celia: “His wandering hands would assuredly agree with you, Papa Juj,” Jade says to the Caitiff, her own busy with Miss Melton. Now he’s got a pair of them for double the good time.

GM: “I love surprises,” Melton answers with a giggle.

The kneeling man almost buckles under Julius’ considerable weight, but doesn’t protest. The Caitiff’s ‘seat’ feels shaky.

The metaphor is obvious.

Veronica’s ego looks stroked at ‘jazz legend’, though she looks even more amused by the kine struggling under Julius. She kicks her feet over Micheal’s back.

Pietro smirks from underneath the two ladies. He turns over Melton’s Sautoir of Chanel necklace in his hands, though no one saw him remove it.

“This one looks genuine. Interspersing forgeries among the reals is what I’d do.”

“You mean what you do do?” Melton smiles winsomely.

“That too,” agrees Pietro.

Celia: Pleased with the turn of events—lack of attention from Gui withstanding—Jade doubles down with the attention she demands from the pair she’s sandwiched between, passing time with idle strokes and fondling that promises a better time once the party is started in earnest.

Julius: Julius’ smiles takes on a different tone at Pietro’s implied praise and related question.

“You’s got dat rite bout interspersin,” he says, “Da pearlz are da real thang, wus part of strings wid settin’s done by Duke Fulco di Vedura in ‘28, but da settin’s done got broke an da loose pearlz wus sold on iBid fo’ biscuits. Dat dere settin is a replica, but da tassel’s all ma doin. Trick’s in usin old silk dat I got from uh antique throw pillow from da Mint dat got ruined by Kat.”

He pauses a moment, as if considering the other precious things ruined by the hurricane.

But such dark musings pass as his smile returns. “But dey say uh magician shouldn’t evah give away his secrets, so maybe I’m jus lyin through my lips.”

Celia: “Mm, Pietro knows all about that. Magicians not giving away their secrets.” Jade shoots the Toreador in question a look. He’d said the same the first time they met.

GM: Jade receives attention, caresses, and fang-drags in spades from the other two licks. Where Laura lets her Beast rise to the surface, losing herself in kisses and touches, Pietro answers,

“Old antiques to make new antiques. It’s a good idea whether you did it or not.”

He smiles.

“It doesn’t matter whether you did it or not. Jade’s always been curious how magicians do their tricks, but one of my countrymen had a quote. ‘Illusion is perhaps the only reality in life.’”

Celia: Lucky Jade that Pietro had finally shown her some of those secrets.

Julius: Julius nods at Pietro’s remark, rubbing a hand along the raccoon upholstery. “Or as uh certain jass-man done said, ’Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there’.”

“But den, music is magick, if it’s da gud kind.”

Turning to Veronica, he then adds, "An speakin of magical music… I’s wus wonderin, should Lawd Savoy, da Hawt Licks, an da rest of us po’ caps an dawls, git da noive to look fo’ward to lissenin to yo’s buttah-lip-liscious pipes tonite?”

GM: “I haven’t decided if I feel like it,” the harpy answers airily, turning away from a conversation with Harlequin and Gui. As far as Julius knows, Veronica hasn’t been specifically scheduled to sing. That isn’t uncommon at the Evergreen or other Kindred parties, though, for musically inclined licks to drop in and out as they feel like it.

Kindred musicians are even more temperamental than living ones.

“I’d need someone to look after my bitch, too.”

Julius: Julius’ smile becomes demure, “Well, uh lady’s got to do what she rite feels like doin. As fo me, I jus wud feel real rite by later lissenin to uh stuffy op’ra has-bin hear how you’s blew off da roofs an all da pants ritchere at dis party.”

“As fo someone mindin yo bitch, I reckon me dat I jus dun overheard how uh certain young delicious dawl wus achin to hold his lease fo’ uh while.”

His face—if not shade-covered gaze—glances meaningfully in Jade’s directions.

Celia: Jade seems to have a sixth sense for when licks are talking about her. She pulls her attention away from Melton and Pietro, nodding in accord with Julius’ words.

“I’ll keep him nice and pretty for you, Ronnie.”

GM: The dig against Katherine earns a curl of Veronica’s lip.

She drops Micheal’s leash on Jade’s lap, tugs down his black and white pants with one hand, then drives the heel of her shoe up his asshole. The Brujah gives a muffled cry and buries his face against the ground as Veronica twists it around and then pushes it deeper with a bored expression.

Celia: Jade picks up the offered leash, amusement dancing across her face at Veronica’s treatment of Micheal.

“I can take him tonight,” she offers, “if you really want me to find a use for him.”

GM: “A useful purpose for Micheal Kelly. That should be hard,” the harpy sneers, twisting around the heel in another rotation.

Celia: She can think of several, most of them involving removing the skin from his limbs. She favors her “sire” with a smirk and caresses the leash between her fingers.

Julius: Julius chuckles, “Well, by ma count, dat’s one impediment dun wid… now’s we jus gotta see if uh gawddess of jass will take to da stage as she bin did during da first Roarin Twenties.”

“If she did, though, I wonder, what lick wud it be? May-haps something from da old vinyls of Sweet Barrett or Lizzie Miles, or something cut wholecloth?”

He gives a clearly feigned shrug of nonchalance, before rising. Giving another doffed homberg-bow to the harpy, he adds, “But no mattah, Papa Bleu an da Hawt Licks will be ready to aid da goddess if she be havin da rite _feelin.”

Turning back to Jade, the jazzman says, “Meanwhile, Jade, I’ll be swappin dis ‘seat’ rite here for dat one.”

He motions to the nearby unoccupied inanimate chair. Lifting the raccoon coat off the spine-strained man, Julius drapes his fur outerwear over the chair’s back before re-seating himself with a diamond-studded smile.

“No offense, boo, but dis one sweats less ovah da furs.”

So resettled, Julius and the other Kindred notice the arrival of another predator.

Cletus: True to the themed decade’s sobriquet, Don Cletus Lee Boggs literally roars into the party, chauffeured in a ’28 Duesenberg J. As the antique luxury car slows down before Savoy’s establishment, the automobile’s sleek lines and chrome accents gleam and purr like a supine Art Deco goddess draped in naught but diamonds and moonlight. A liveried footman opens a rear door to that opulent vessel, allowing the Inviato of Clan Giovannini to slide out and wade into the soiree with all the predatory grace of Bayou Bonfouca’s infamous albino alligator.

Tonight, the Sindaco of Slidell is, much like his transportation, an anachronistic if well-heeled sight. Rather than thrift-store overalls stained with blood, barbecue sauce, and cannibalistic lard, the Dunsirn-descended ancilla presently wears a seersucker suit worthy of its Persian name of ‘milk and sugar’. The bespoke suit’s two-toned stripes keenly mirror the vampire’s ivory skin and blowtorch-blue eyes. Accenting the emblematically southern suit is a pair of scallop-buttoned gloves and boot-shod sprats the shade of fresh-frenzied blood, monogrammed cufflinks and a collar-pin made of opal and gold, and a green-and red pocket-square whose tartan cloth matches his bowtie and the ribbon around the straw boater jauntily crowning Cletus’ head.

Notwithstanding such high class, if century-old, accoutrements, only fools miss the monster lurking under tonight’s sartorial masquerade. Inhuman and inhumane, here is a monster of hard, rangy lines of taut muscles, coiled puissance, and barely simmering savagery. Unblinking eyes burning bright and hungry as acetylene. Sepulchral flesh slick with the night’s humidity and the palpable scent of libido and heat lightning. A mesmerically feral, fanged smile that teases supple lips and promises pleasure, pain, perdition. The strange melange of peckerwood perversion, Southern aristocracy, and undying sociopathy.

Surveying the scene, the monster flashes a moonshine smile.

“Well kiss my go-to-hell if this party rightchere hain’t busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox!”

The Capo of St. Tammany Parish stalks through the crowd, flashing fanged smiles and giving hearty backslaps that would better pass for a full-throttle jackhammer rather than a greeting, at least if he were amidst mere mortals.

Regardless, the monster carves his way to the inner circle, where he takes off his boater mid-gentlemanly bow to the party’s host.

“Lord Savoy, forgive a feller fer ahootin’ and ahollerin’, but I must say: yer party and yerself are lookin’ finer than froghair done split four ways!”

Celia: It’s quite possible that Jade had some witty repartee to sling back at the musician after he abandons her offered chair, but whatever it is will need to be uttered another night as the opening door and arrival of another guest steals the breath from her dead lungs. Even warned that he’d been coming there’s still no “getting ready” for the arrival of the cannibal from Slidell, and she’s not the only lick whose eyes dart towards the newcomer. Nor, she’s sure, is she the only lick whose eyes then proceed to rake him from head to toe, taking in every piece of finery he wears, every accoutrement, every era-appropriate garnishment upon his frame.

Been a while, hasn’t it, since the Giovannini stalked into the halls of Vidal’s court with a carcass slung over his shoulder and accusation in his eyes.

Dibs, she thinks, as if any of the rest of them have a chance against Jade Kalani, Veronica’s childe. Shame that she’s already sandwiched between the two licks as she is; she’d show him a warmer welcome if not. She settles for the unflinching gaze of a lick who knows what she wants when she sees it, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips that answers his promise of pleasure and pain with one of her own.

All the same, she displaces the Gangrel on her lap with a murmured word of apology, rising in her Mafia-esque getup as the blue-eyed monster passes them by. The lift of her hand is aborted before it begins, waiting for him to finish with her grandsire before she thinks to summon him to their circle of “haves” amidst the wider range of “have nots.”

Julius: It’s hard to say whether Jules follows Jade’s gaze, or just follows the object of that gaze. It’s even harder to know what the Caitiff might be thinking about the non-Camarilla ancilla who could be a poster-child of the Knights of the White Camelia.

Regardless, such thoughts are swiftly derailed, as Julius’ krewemate is de-seated. To her, the jazzman motions with a long-fingered hand at the still-prostrate ‘man-seat’ as well as his own lap:

“Cain’t say why da music stopped, shug, or if either of dese udder chairs might be as musical…”

Celia: “I just wanted a better look,” Jade huffs at Julius. Indeed, even in heels she’s on the shorter end of the spectrum, but she resumes her seat on Pietro’s lap all the same. Her eyes cut to the other Mafiosa in the crowd.

Julius: “Well den, dats an awrite reason to pause da music,” Julius replies nonplussed.

GM: The shirtless man collapses with (physical) relief as the bulky quarterback turned undead jazz musician finally gets off.

The seat was wobbly anyway.

Cletus’ entrance elicits stares and looks of a different variety than the Hepcats’. He’s dressed well, but not so well for his garb to be the talk of the hour. Instead, the lick himself is. Cletus Lee Boggs, prince of Slidell. A lick with you do not fuck.

The Giovannini receives his warmest welcome, as the necromancers always do, from clan and kin. Don Vico, his childe Lucy, and Catfish Freddy are sequestered in their own corner of the room, simultaneously among yet distinctly apart from the mass of Camarilla licks.

Vico and Freddy return the backslaps with sapling-felling clouts of their own, and Lucy offers a more ladylike extended hand, but none of the three’s greetings take overly long or distract Cletus from his approach of the evening’s host.

“Inviato Boggs!” exclaims the white-garbed French Quarter lord, breaking off from his silent conversation with Preston and Lebeaux to greet the evening’s guest with a broad smile.

“Forgiveness requires that a sin be committed, and what sin is there in so warm a greeting and such kindly offered words? Far from requiring forgiveness, your presence betters this humble gathering, and may now permit it to begin in earnest!”

“I dare say our chosen color becomes us both, too,” he chuckles, his gaze passing between the two Kindred’s distinctly cut but identically colored suits. “In fact, I think I recall you also wearing that suit for… ah, yes… the great party of last ’44?”

The half-milllennial anniversary of Clan Giovannini’s overthrow of the Cappadocians.

Boston’s worth might have eclipsed New Orleans’ in Genoa’s eyes. Then as now.

But no one doubted which branch of the clan threw the better party.

“That was a party to remember,” grins the French Quarter lord. “Here is to many more such memories formed tonight!”

Melton huffs with displeasure as Jade dislodges her for a look at Cletus and settles herself onto Julius’ lap with a whisper in his ear.

But she’s still sitting closer to the throne than normal.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: “I can’t believe she dumped me, to stare at another lick. I don’t like her anymore, Jules,” the ‘Gangrel’ pouts.

Julius: Julius chuckles quietly at Melton.

“Somehow, shug, I think you’s gonna survive—well except fo’ da fact dat you’s, me’s, an all da udders is already dead.”

Smiling, he adds, “Sides, I bet her lap will come round gain.”

He shifts slightly, as if aligning them both to better glance at their krewemates in the corner of their eyes. “But how bout dose two? How dey ain’t gonna pout? How dey gonna feels like we didn’t dump dem?”

GM: Melton gives another initial hmph.

“No room for rats,” the ‘Gangrel’ shrugs. “She’s never gonna sit up here. We already lucked out that we got to, didn’t we?”

Julius: “Justine’s ain’t no thin-blood, but uh true an through Rose. She just ain’t got no blood-mama or -daddy.” He gestures lightly at the Italian Giovannini. “Dem? Dey step outta da Quartah, an da prince’ll curb-stomp ‘em cus he don’t like ‘em. Ain’t no different den how it is wid Justine. Or say, da Setites. I cain’t imagine you’d be walkin up to Don Vico or da Ministry’s grand poo-bah an callin dem Rats.”

GM: “Yeah, but they got puissance,” says Melton.

“I called that bad boy a rat,” she says with an appreciate glance at Cletus, “I bet he’d make me really regret it.”

“What it all comes down to, doesn’t it?”

“Power.”

Julius: “F’sure,” he says, giving her a slow, yet almost violently coiling, embrace. Tickling her neck with his diamond-studded fang, he ever-so slightly adjusts her glancing gaze to fall upon Savoy. “Which is why we done back his play fo’ power, cus he’s gots it, an when he gits mo’, so do we. As prince, he’d have the power to turn a rat into a rose, which wud be a purdy trick if you’d bin askin me’s.”

GM: Melton giggles as the Caitiff’s so-strong arms encircle her. She leans in close, brushing her own fangs across his cheek as her fingers encircle his cherry- scarlet-turquoise-white paisley necktie and give it a playful tug.

“No purdier than the ones he’s pulled off so far,” smiles Melton. “It’s just been win after win after win lately, hasn’t it? The hardasses and their poor bishop…”

“Justine just has to wait a lil’ longer. I don’t think it’s gonna be very long.”

“And then the rat will be a rose.”

Julius: “An what den will you’s be, hmm?” he asks in a liquid, bullfrog-bass whisper even as his long, vice-like fingers caress the appliqué of her silk slip, tracing its flowers, scrolls, and snakes.

GM: Does she know he knows?

“Happy for Justine, not least of all,” smiles Melton, twisting her fingers along the tie’s folds.

“And happy for me, too. I expect Prince Savoy’s going to make this city a lot more fun for licks like me.”

Julius: “Well, happy is uh gud bit bettah den da alternative,” the Caitiff answers no longer in a whisper, even as one of his hands slithers beneath her mauve robe to the exposed back of her slip. There, that hand kneads her flesh like a content if increasingly hungry cat.

Does she know?

Does he care?

After all, the knockoff mogul has little scruples about counterfeits—so long as they are profitable.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: Gui, meanwhile, remains engrossed in conversation with Harlequin and Shep Jennings. He’s regarding the latter with a bemused look while Harlequin giggles and holds a gloved hand to his painted lips.

Celia: Why, she wonders, does everyone need to get their panties in a wad because she’d stood up for thirty whole seconds to get a better look at the new guy. It’s not like she’d shoved the bitch off her, just literally gotten to her feet after she’d excused herself. Hadn’t moved. Hadn’t taken steps. Hadn’t told the Gangrel to get lost. They’d both been standing in the same space, right up against each other.

Julius gets an annoyed look from where she’s resettled on Pietro’s lap for his interference. This is the last time she’ll invite him to sit with them.

Julius: At the moment, Julius’ attention seems diverted away, perhaps back to his twice distanced krewemates—or perhaps he’s staring at the Giovannini. It’s hard to say. There’s a lot to stare at.

Cletus: Cletus, meanwhile, beams back at Savoy. If lips could ruefully wag, the Boggs’ patriarch might, as if playfully conceding Savoy’s better turn of phrase—and praise.

“To such memories, and mo’, ma ever-gracious friend! May we be happier tonite and tomorrow den ol’ Yeller layin’ on the porch chewin’ on a big ol’ bucket of catfish heads. And with yerself as our host, hain’t been any other way!”

With that de facto toast, he bows again to Savoy, before playfully leaning in as if to kiss Preston in greeting. Only the vigilant notice the Giovannini uses the act to whisper something to the Bourbon’s innermost circle, and only the most vigilant can make out that whisper:

“Day I say the only right proper way to repay yerself fer dis party is to be done hostin’ one meself. Been lookin into a venue in Concordia. Perhaps later y’all might wanna shuck some corn and whittle out an invite list?”

Pulling back, Cletus smooths his straw boater back on his head. He doesn’t wait for a reply—not now or here—but rather carves his way back to his clan’s corner.

Julius: Ironically, such occurs just as Julius’ attention returns to the room’s inward circles. Jade and the others nearby likely notice as Julius’ arms coil around Melton’s much smaller frame, his diamond-studded fang tickling her neck. As he does so, he whispers again in her ear—perhaps another sweet nothing—or maybe an unsweet something.

Either way, Julius’ eyes peer over his downturned shades at Jade, with a look that could be apologetic or inviting—or both—depending on one’s perspective.

GM: Cletus’ seeming-almost-kiss, for all those caveats, still draws its shared of amused looks. The inviato even hears, “…thing for him,” from someone, though the Malkavian’s face remains all-business.

Savoy grins widely at Cletus’ idea and makes a flourishing motion in the direction of the latter’s clan in seeming agreement—they’ll discuss this later.

“Hear that, Nat? We’d better let Mr. Gui know to get started on some names!” exclaims the Toreador as Cletus withdraws.

“Very well, sir.”

Melton, meanwhile, giggles as the Caitiff’s so-strong arms encircle her. She leans in close, brushing her own fangs across his cheek as her fingers encircle his cherry- scarlet-turquoise-white paisley necktie and give it a playful tug.

Pietro pulls Jade fully back onto his lap, smirking as his arms descend around her and he preemptively ‘steals’ her from a possibly returning Melton. His murmur sounds in the younger Toreador’s ears.

“I’d say I knew he couldn’t keep his dick out of you, but that’s like saying I know it’s going to rain again.”

The thief smirks.

“What was he like in bed?”

Celia: Jade only has long enough to wonder if the Caitiff and his new lap ornament are talking about her—good things? bad things? what does that look mean—before Pietro’s deft fingers make the decision on relocating or not for her. Even the cannibal’s loud entrance and actions become nothing but background noise when she finds herself curled on the thief’s lap, held securely within the circle of his arms. His lips against her ear threaten to send shivers down her spine. She giggles at the soft touch, turning her face toward him to respond in kind.

“Eager,” she says with a smirk of her own, recalling how the cop had fumbled to keep up with them both. “Inexperienced. I could tell when he kissed me that it had been a while for him, but he was more than happy to let me lead and show him what goes where. Very generous, too. He made sure ’Lana and I both had our share of attention.”

“Made noise about not looking for something long term, but I suspect after that show he’s hungry for more.”

“He mentioned you,” she adds coyly.

GM: Pietro is more than happy that keep Jade entertained with his fearher-light fingers, especially at that news. They’re like whispers along her skin.

“I told you he has a giant hard-on for me. He’s like a dog with a bone.”

“He actually mentioned me around you and Alana?”

The thief smirks.

“Not the sort of topic you pick up girls with.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade says absently, flicking her tongue across her lips. “Out of practice. Told me about how he almost drowned in prison during Katrina, too. Not exactly a panty-dropper of a story.”

GM: “So he was out of practice. But he wasn’t looking for sex?”

“That’s funny. Wonder why.”

Celia: “Said he’s not really looking.” Now that Pietro mentions it, though, she did have to work rather more than usual to get him to agree to fuck. “Avoided mentioning he’s a cop. Wouldn’t let me see his car.”

Hadn’t even wanted road head.

GM: “Mm That’s not surprising he wouldn’t say he’s a cop. Lot of them don’t.”

“Try to keep their work lives and ‘civilian lives’ separate.”

“Sometimes criminals send girls to sleep with cops. Snoop on them or get them in trouble.” He smiles.

Celia: “You mean like you did,” Jade says wryly.

GM: “Yes,” the thief agrees without missing a beat. “Lots of ways people can try to fuck with known cops off the job.”

“They have their own bars in some cities. Cop bars.”

Celia: “I suppose I’ll just have to show him that I only want to fuck him rather than fuck with him.”

GM: “Wonder what’s up with his car.”

“Detectives on the take make all right money.”

Celia: Jade shrugs. “First contact. My goal was to get him into bed and make sure he didn’t forget me. I can dig into other things now if you’re curious.”

“Maybe he’s not, though. On the take. Reynaldo said he’s not really part of the family or something.”

Hard to remember what he’d said when the three of them had been busy fucking.

GM: Pietro laughs.

“Every fucking cop is on the take.”

Celia: “Apparently. One of my girls had a run-in last week with some.”

GM: “They fuck her, shake her down, or both?”

Celia: “Shakedown.”

GM: “Yeah. Tons of ways for cops to make money. So he probably isn’t embarrassed because the car is cheap or damaged or whatever.”

Celia: “I’d hoped it was something exciting like a body in the back.”

GM: Pietro laughs. “You never know with cops.”

Celia: “I’ve been handling the other side of things,” Jade tacks on, referring to their reason for messing with Vinny in the first place, “so when the timing is right it’ll be an easy in and out.”

Like it is for Vinny.

GM: The thief smirks. “Because it hasn’t been already for one of you?”

Celia: Jade giggles as the thief echoes her thoughts.

GM: “Good, though. I want to start really fucking with him soon.”

Celia: “Your friend or the other one?”

GM: “My friend.”

Celia: “Mm. Seeing him soon.”

GM: “Good. Plant some seeds. Wonder if there’s anything to the car, too.”

Celia: “I’ll find out.”

Celia: “Do you think Ronnie would really mind if her bitch is turned into boots? He’s just so…” She waves a hand at the Brujah, indicating the lack of usefulness as anything more than an assortment of holes.

GM: “Of course she’ll mind. He’s hers. If anyone’s going to kill him, she’ll want it to be her.”

“She’ll eventually get bored with him.”

Celia: “Mm,” Jade muses, “I was just thinking about how embarrassing it would be for his sire if Ronnie shows up to next week’s or tomorrow’s Elysium in Kelly-skin.”

GM: “I think Coco’s washed her hands of him. Washed them a while ago.”

“Always liked Roderick more.”

Celia: “Golden childe.”

GM: “Kellyskin is funny.”

Celia: Jade smiles. “Thanks.”

GM: “I wonder what those boots would be like. If they’d be much different from leather.”

Celia: “Leather is animal skin,” she points out. “Tanned and treated to prevent decay. There’s just no waiting period this way. No need to dry and stretch and mix chemicals together. Could be firm, or soft and supple, any color, pattern, ornamentation…” She keeps her voice low, so as not to be overheard by anyone near them. She doesn’t need people thinking she’s the lick who can turn others into leather. Quiet as she is, her lips almost brush his ear. She nips at the lobe with her teeth. “Some people use ash to treat hides, did you know? And there’s enough brain matter in every animal to tan its own hide. Imagine skinning an elder and using the traditional method to turn them into a hat with their own brain and ash.”

GM: Pietro snickers.

“I think you’ll be out of luck when it comes to getting brain matter from Micheal Kelly.”

Celia: “No, darling, he still has one, it’s just failed to retain anything. Though I wonder if someone adding a few folds will mean he can actually learn…” Jade trails off thoughtfully.

GM: “Odds are against that. Veronica glamours him at least every night.”

Celia: “For what, adoration?”

GM: “Adoration. Keeping him compliant. Keeping him oblivious. Maybe just to permanently fuck his head.”

“Take your pick of reason.”

Celia: She bets she could get in there still. Strap him down to a table and let her fingers work their magic on him, dig into the soft folds of his mind and suss out whatever secrets he’s holding onto. Veronica has only had him a few months, hasn’t she?

Jade itches to get her hands on him. She fingers his leash in quiet contemplation.

“Don’t think she’d come off him, then? So many little projects and curiosities he can assist with if I can dig in… think she’d trade? I’d love to show her what I’ve been working on.”

GM: Pietro shrugs. “Maybe. Depends on the trade. Like anything.”

“I doubt he’s going to keep her entertained like this forever.”

Celia: “Mm.” Something to consider, then. As they say, timing is everything.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Julius: The Caitiff breaks his own whispered exchange with a mirthful comment clearly directed to Melton but which makes no pretense at privacy:

“Well, happy is uh gud bit bettah den da alternative.”

No less modest, one of his hands slithers beneath his krewemate’s mauve robe to the exposed back of her slip. There, that hand kneads her undead flesh like a content if increasingly hungry cat.

Celia: Jade only has long enough to wonder if the Caitiff and his new lap ornament are talking about her—good things? bad things? what does that look mean?—before Pietro’s deft fingers make the decision on relocating or not for her. Even the cannibal’s loud entrance and actions become nothing but background noise when she finds herself curled on the thief’s lap, held securely within the circle of his arms. His lips against her ear threaten to send shivers down her spine. She giggles at the soft touch, turning her face toward him to respond in kind.

GM: Antoine Savoy motions and the jazz music dies. Eyes turn to the French Quarter lord’s throne.

GM: “I see we’ve got some new faces here tonight,” smiles the Toreador. “To them I say: be welcome in the Vieux Carré! We consider it our solemn duty—and it will surely be our great pleasure!—to make this party a night for y’all to remember,” he grins.

“Just so everyone knows who doesn’t already, this part is the boring part. The business before the pleasure. That’ll start once court is over! If anyone wishes to excuse themselves until then, we’ll be no pleased to receive you through the Evergreen’s doors.” Savoy motions in their direction.

Some glances follow the Toreador’s hand, but no one moves to leave.

“Full house, then!” Savoy beams. “Let’s cut to the chase. Nat, if you’ll be so kind as to start us with…”

GM: The Toreador doesn’t spend long on ritual. Preston reads items from a document, reading decrees or calling Kindred to come forward. Kindred not on the list who desire public audience with the French Quarter lord simply raise their hands.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

GM: Karena Cingolai is first to approach the throne.

Celia: Jade shamelessly listens in while she outwardly occupies her attention with the thief upon whom she perches.

GM: She offers the seated French Quarter lord a short bow.

GM: “Greetings, Lord Savoy. It my desire to attend the French Quarter Festival while I am in New Orleans, and to have temporary hunting rights along the parade route. In return for this privilege, I offer a vessel’s worth of vitae, and one additional vessel for every week I am in the area.”

Murmurs sound among the gathered Kindred. About Cingolai. About her offer. About her earlier tiff with Donovan.

Other Kindred, though, seem to tune the Ventrue out or only half pay attention as they converse among their neighbors.

Celia: Jade had tried that once. Offering an extra vessel for access to an area to avoid doing any favors that would sell out her own people. The elder in question had smiled, amused, and said something about people like her not needing additional vessels when they have so many others to do their hunting for them.

Elders rarely go hungry.

Jade lifts her gaze from Pietro for just a moment, long enough to take in the dolls and kine already waiting to be fed from. He does this every week. It’s a cheap offer when he’s rolling in blood.

Or maybe, years later, she’s still just salty about the way the negotiations had gone down. Even if the lick had been nice about it in the end.

“What’s the parade route?” she murmurs to the thief. Whose toes will she be stepping on?

Julius: “As fo’ me—,” the Caitiff says, not quite cutting in but speaking in a low voice that carries to their small circle but no further, “—I’s wonderin wot kinda music at da Festival wud be catchin her fancy. She binlookin like uh jass, blues, gospel, funk, folk, or zydeco fan to any of you’s?”

Celia: The “debate” with Donovan last night hadn’t done much to make her think that it was anything less than a setup. Like he does with her. Like Savoy does with Preston. Everything is deliberate.

She’s looking for something.

“Oh, definitely gospel,” Jade murmurs back. “Only, well, the best place to hear them perform is St. Patrick’s.”

Julius: “Longinus’ gospel, no doubt,” Julius responds with a ghost of a smile, “But she don’t strike me as singin along wid da likes of Mahalia Jackson covers. Color me wrong, but she don’t rite look black or Baptist nough…”

He shrugs, letting the bolstered implication hang.

Meanwhile, he watches for Savoy’s response—or more specifically for Preston to ‘honestly’ respond for the Toreador elder.

Celia: Jade gives a tiny nod of her head at the Caitiff’s words, attention likewise returning to the throne and the Malkavian that will give the answer for the lord perched upon it.

“Dare you to steal something from her,” she breathes into the thief’s ear.

GM: “Bourbon Street. Jackson Square. Some other parts I don’t remember,” the thief answers with a shrug.

Laura giggles again.

“I can’t see her singing either.”

Bourbon Street, though. I wish I got to hunt along there.”

Veronica’s lip curls at the Gangrel’s expressed wish.

She probably gets to feed along there.

Pietro gives Jade an amused look.

“If she has the most impressive things to steal, would you be giving me the idea?”

Savoy, meanwhile, seems to consider Cingolai’s request for a moment and strokes his half-beard.

Preston leans in to whisper something in his ear.

“Granted, Madam Cingolai!” he finally beams. “On two conditions. Please have the vessels delivered alive to the Evergreen by Saturday night. We do need to wrangle them up somewhere, after all!”

Cingolai inclines her head. “An equitable arrangement, Lord Savoy.”

There are a few murmurs from the crowd.

“Oh fuck that bitch!” Laura whiser-hisses to Julius. “What does she even do, huh, to get to feed along Bourbon?”

“If your steward can find time in your lordship’s interary, there is another matter I would speak of in private.”

“Of course, Madam Cingolai,” answers the French Quarter lord. “Nat, I’m sure we can pencil our guest in somewhere?”

“We can, sir.” She turns to the Ventrue. “I will available during tonight’s festivities, Madam Cingolai, should you then wish to review your and Lord Savoy’s respective schedules.”

“Of course she never goes to them,” Laura mutters.

“Very good, Madam Preston. I will see you then,” answers Cingolai.

“Enjoy your stay in New Orleans, Madam Gingolai,” smiles Savoy, which soon grows into a grin. “And may you enjoy your stay in the Vieux Carré most of all!”

“Thank you, Lord Savoy,” offers Cingolai.

She offers another inclination of her head and then assumes a seat next to Harlequin, close to Savoy’s own.

Celia: She hadn’t expected the petition to feed along Bourbon to be granted, especially for so miserly an offer.

Is that what she can expect when she’s old and important, too? Small favors to get her what she wants? The thought of sharing her turf with the Ventrue makes her lip curl; surely she’s not going to be going into the clubs and stealing from the licks who hold those domains.

Jade shrugs at the thief, returning her attention to him once the matter is settled with Cingolai.

“I only thought it would be amusing to make a stiff wonder where all her things had gone.”

GM: “Mmm,” says Pietro. “Maybe after I steal the more impressive thing, first. Always keep your eye on the prize.”

Celia: “I suppose I’ll have to distract you some other way,” Jade murmurs, nibbling at his neck.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Julius: Julius does the same, ruefully if quietly wagering with Laura as to whether Cingolai’s conversation tonight will include any critiques of Edgar Degas’ paintings.

“Den gain, I’s always bin takin uh shine to da man’s sculpture. Da lil’ dawlin dancer. You’s bin reminded me of her in uh ways or two’s.”

GM: Laura giggles.

“Is she a sexy dancer?”

The real Laura never was big on art.

Is the counterfeit ignorant, or just playing?

Julius: And does Julius care?

Does he miss the real Laura? And if so, what does he miss? And if he doesn’t, what does that say about him?

Perhaps at the end of the night, it’s not just ‘Laura’ who’s the counterfeit, but the krewe.

And tonight, as with so many nights, Julius must consider the knockoff to be shoddy.

Nowhere good as the real thing.

The old thing.

His old thing.

His krewe.

His old one.

The real one.

The lost one.

After all, isn’t Arthur just a thinner-blooded, less artistically talented version of his sire and ex-Numidian?

And what does that make Julius, then? A knockoff Remy?

GM: Caitiff versus Toreador.

Artistic Caitiff.

Many might say yes.

Julius: He’s been dead too long to sigh.

But he’s also survived too long to let his sadness show.

He maintains the charade.

There are many masquerades to uphold.

GM: Having a Gangrel at least is new, even if it’s a fake one.

But the old krewe had plenty of fakes and knock-offs too, didn’t it?

What else was Julia?

Julius: She was beautiful. To him, at least. And that his opinion was so rarely shared made her all the more beautiful to him.

After all, anyone can buy a Chanel necklace and see its quality. But to notice the diamond in the rough, to spot the brand-less, nameless, unappreciated masterpieces?

GM: Perhaps it’s a projection.

Hoping others will see the same in him.

The diamond amidst his clanless blood.

Julius: Perhaps.

He glances at Jade. Flawless. She’s gorgeous, plain as the sun is hot.

But scars can have their own beauty. And Julia had scars.

Had.

It’s a hard word.

But it’s a hard world.

Even for the damned.

Maybe especially for the damned.

GM: What else is the Requiem, if not its own knockoff?

A poor one, some might say.

But fewer in the Evergreen’s walls might say.

Laura tilts her head at Julius, still smiling.

“Penny for your thoughts, Papa J?”

Julius: Julius could answer her question. Honestly. He could tell her how La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans was noted for extraordinary realism yet denounced for being ugly. Truth was too ugly, and the critics could not stomach it. Rather, the nearly life-size, brown-skinned wax figure with real hair and cloth tutu, was described by Huysmans as a “terrible reality” that “produces uneasiness in the spectators.”

He could tell her how in 2004, his ring counterfeited 73 plaster casts made to more or less closely resembling Degas’s original wax sculptures. He sold them to the Airaindor-Valsuani for song. Did they know they were fakes? Maybe. But if so, it didn’t stop them from using the casts to pump out a plethora of bronzes statues for the next 12 years. Production only increased when critiques were raised concerns over the authenticity of these plasters—and their bronzes—as well as the circumstances and date of their proposed creation. Julius himself—indirectly— even bought a few, selling off most at significant markup. Especially after Julius applied some strategic manipulation, both mundane and otherwise, for a few museum and academic professionals to accept them as presented—and a few more of those “truth-bearers” followed like lemmings. Sure, most of the recognized Degas scholars have maligned or declined to comment on the pieces, but that hasn’t hurt auction prices. If anything, they’ve risen. After all, controversy sells.

Truth rarely does.

So the counterfeit mogul lies.

Again.

Lighting up a butter-warm smile, Julius laughs lightly, “Only two pennies, dawl? Didn’t know I wus dat cheap, but fo’ you’s, I’ll give you’s da frenz an family discount.”

“Yeah, dat dancer is rite sexy, jus’ like you is.”

“But you’s bettuh, of course,” he adds with a wider smile.

“I got some b-boys dat would f’sure like to see you’s grindin an twerkin in ways ol’ stiff Degas ain’t nevah dun dreamed.”

He then bounces her on his lap a bit, not enough to make a scene, but enough to accentuate his point. Vapid, carnal, and half-hearted though it is.

GM: No one cared about the truth.

Not now.

Not then.

Father Albright said there was no sin (religious or artistic) in selling counterfeits to kine rubs.

Louis had just shrugged and said, “Do what you gotta do to make a buck. Lick’s gotta eat.”

Half of Julia thought that maybe he should just maybe consider saying they were, um, recreations. Just a thought. To the buyers. If he thought he should. This maybe wasn’t her business, after all—

The other half told that half it wasn’t their problem.

And Lisette? She’d just shrugged and said there were worse sins in the world, that art fakes were sold all the time. Anyone willing to buy a Degas sculpture in the first place obviously had money to spare. It’s hardly as if Julius was robbing orphanages.

She’d also enjoyed setting masks on a few of them.

So maybe truth isn’t worthless.

Some of them cared.

But only so much.

Truth wasn’t worth enough to sell.

“How ‘bout two hits of juice, then. Who’s cheap around friends and family, right?” smiles Melton.

“But a dancer, huh.”

“So is she a pole dancer, or something fun, or just a ballerina?”

The Gangrel makes a hmph.

“The sculptures are always ballerinas.”

Julius: Julius strokes a long, strong finger across Laura’s arm, tracing the edge of the black silk batwing-sleeve. His eyes are clearly admiring—though whether the clothes or the ‘woman’ in them is uncertain.

“See’s, dat you’s mindin me’s of her gain. She’s uh ballerina, tutu an all, but one gud look at her face, an f’sure you’s can tell she’s bin made to do somethin she don’t rite wanna do.”

He squints, as if trying to force a memory or old factoid into focus.

“An come to think of it… da dawl dat posed fo’ da sculpture, uh Marie… somethin or udder, she wus uh ballerina at da Paris Royal Ballet, but she done quit an became uh prostitute, or so dey say. Den gain, Marie an da udder young ballerina boos wus expected to be givin sexual favors to da male patrons dat went backstage to watch da boos be practicin. So not too diff’rent den uh pole dancer when you’s think bout it.”

GM: “Oooh. I like this ballet,” says Laura, batting her koh-lined eyes.

“Ballerina blowjobs.”

She giggles.

“You think they still do that, at many ballet shows?”

Julius: Julius shrugs. “I ain’t never bin to no ballet.”

GM: “I bet they still do. The girls are super flexible, right? All the guys in the audience must want to fuck them.”

“Savoy should do a ballet night.”

“And just skip the dancing to feed on the dancers.”

Feeding.

Isn’t that what it always comes down to?

View
Celia VI, Chapter IX
Yachts & Hunters

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, alive or dead, it’s that sex causes more problems than it solves.”
Peter Lebeaux


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia checks the time after their conversation wraps up and says she needs to get going. She hugs her mom a final time and wishes her a good evening, uses her bathroom to change her face and dress, and heads out for the night. She’s tempted to stop for a drink on the way… but there will be plenty to do at the party, and the bars don’t close for some time yet even if not. She can always pop out for a bit if she gets peckish.

It’s a quick trip to the Evergreen after that.


Saturday night, 19 March 2016, PM

Celia: The Cat’s Meow. World famous, if you believe the sign on the door. Jade hasn’t been around the world (though she’s done some traveling) so she can’t say for sure whether or not it’s actually world famous, but she supposes, so far as domains go, that maybe it’s a good thing. The Quarter already sees its share of interlopers and poachers during Mardi Gras—she doesn’t need them eyeing her club in particular.

Tonight it’s crowded. More than crowded, really. Saturday evening is prime party time, and this evening is no exception. Even the multiple bars that line the walls are no match for the press of bodies streaming in off the streets, and people wait three or four deep for their 32oz Hurricanes in plastic cups or Jello tooter shots (which Jade thinks are inherently messy considering the small opening and long body, and she’s seen plenty of drunk people attempt to stick their tongues into the little plastic tubes to get at the jello still clinging to the bottom—why don’t they just do normal shots?), while music blares from the speakers near the stage. The two drink minimum means there’s plenty of unaware vessels that don’t notice the predator in their midst.

Short. Young. Comely. No, perhaps not comely. Perhaps comely is too ordinary or too soft a word to describe the predator that stalks the night. Striking, maybe. Luscious. Bewitching. Desirable.

Desirable. That’s the one. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her shadow to the wing of her liner to the fresh coat of polish on her nails. Her dark hair is loosely curled and pulled back from her face, highlighting the dark lashes that frame her large eyes, the delicate hollow of neck and collarbone, the high cheekbones and sharp chin. Her tan skin is offset by the scarlet dress—if the strips of fabric that cling to her hips and bust but bare her sides with open cutouts could be called a dress—and a pair of nude stilettos add another few inches to her height.

Standing room only by now. Or it would be for a mortal, but a dip of her head and a promise in her smile means that the boys who had occupied the table she’d wanted, the one upstairs that overlooks the stage, had freely offered it to her and gone off to find another place to enjoy their evening.

Two drink minimum, but there’s six in front of the predator now, and the empty plastic cups on the table are nearest the girl. A large black man with a smattering of tattoos peeking out from beneath a tight black tee occupies a seat at the table, and the other is taken by another black man. Not quite as muscular as the first, with a little more facial hair and padding around the middle. Not fat. But large. Probably more of a football player than a baseball player, that kind of look. His attention alternates between the two at the table, though the girl—the pretty one, remember?—has her eyes on the stage where a gaggle of women in sky-high heels and cat ears, one of whom wears a white tank top with the saying “Buy me a shot I’m tying the knot”, butcher that popular Journey song about a small town girl and a city boy.

Jade doesn’t mask her presence this evening. Her contact will no doubt be able to sniff her out as soon as he steps inside. A glance at her phone’s clock tells her that they have a solid three-quarters of an hour before Savoy’s court starts. Long enough for this little meeting if they don’t dawdle.

Julius: And her guest doesn’t dawdle. After all, the jazz musician knows how to stay on tempo.

Jules wades into the Cat’s Meow, an odd old whale amongst young, sleek sardines. Tonight, the knock-off king is dressed in what appears to be a a dark magenta velour tracksuit made by Gucci, a pre-release pair of Yeezy 700 V3 Dark Glow sneakers, Dior black-mask sunglasses, a Versace Palazzo empire bracelet watch, and a David Yurman dog-tag necklace with Pavé black diamonds, cognac diamonds, and color-change garnets.

Beyond such accoutrements, the Caitiff is unaccompanied, as he has left Tyzee and Dashonte to wait outside, idling in the latter’s supped-up T-bird.

Approaching the table, the undead jazzman considers that call doubly wise as he notes not only his host seated at the front-stage table, but that all three of that table’s seats are occupied. The black Caitiff, however, is used to metaphorically carving out his own seat at table of the All-Night Society. And tonight, he does so quite literally, as he makes his way to Jade’s table, only pausing long enough to snatch his own chair from a nearby table. That said chair was occupied doesn’t seem to bother Julius in the least bit, as if the chair and its former occupant weighed no more than a red solo cup. Moreover, when the seat’s prior occupant, a bridesmaids-hunting frat boy, spills onto the floor alongside his shattering Hurricane, Julius cuts off his flustered shout of shock and anger with a smooth dip of his sunglasses, flash of a hard smile, and his bullfrog-bass voice:

“You wuz jus’ ‘bout to offer me yo chair, bid deese dawls uh gud nite, an git yoself home now, ain’t dat rite?”

Julius doesn’t wait for the young man’s reply to his question. After all, it wasn’t really a question. Just like it’s no question whether the kine can resist his supernatural command. So undisturbed, the vampire finishes sauntering towards Jade’s table, plopping down his chair and himself to join his hostess, if not her hospitality.

“Lookin gud as always, Ms. Kalani. Scarlet suits you’s like uh pearl in uh ersta.”

Celia: Julius is a hard sight to miss in a club like this. Particularly with that… getup. Her eyes follow him once she notices his appearance in the door, tracking him up the stairs to the second floor where her table juts up against the railing. Room enough for three, but leave it to Julius to bring his own chair over, even timing it perfectly while the singers belt out the chorus—joined by everyone watching who knows the lyrics—so that not a single stray glance cuts his way.

“Evenin’, Papa Juj.” L…“oo” sound in the center there, like jew, then a soft J at the end. A nickname on top of a nickname. And why not? The lick has enough of them, what’s another. She flashes a smile his way at the compliment, then moves her seat to the side to give him room at the table. It’s crowded with the four of them. The poor boys across from them look positively cramped.

“Mm. I was going to offer you mine and find another place to perch.” On a lap, perhaps. She’s seen on them often enough. Court starts soon. She’d missed it last week and doesn’t intend to repeat the behavior this week; she cuts to the heart of things.

“I’ve been thinking about your offer, Jules.”

Julius: ‘Papa Juj’ smiles at the nickname, as if hearing a hot, innovative trumpet note. Her mention of his offer sustains that smile like a piano’s foot pedal.

Notwithstanding, he lets the silence linger till she fills it.

Celia: There’s nothing obvious in the way she does what she does. No snapping fingers. No flashing eyes. Not even a head tilt and smile. But as soon as Jade rises, moving her chair aside to free up some of that cramped space for the boys, and settles on Julius’ lap both black boys that accompanied her turn their eyes toward the stage, as if they can’t quite get enough of the bride-to-be and her entourage. The stools nearby hold plenty of bodies, but they, too, seem fixated on the music rather than the cute girl on the old man’s lap.

Even when the performers change, swapping to a young couple singing about summer love from that late 70’s musical, their attention stays on the stage. They ignore whatever it is that goes on between the two licks.

“I’d like to know who’s going to be coming and going from my space. So I don’t pick them up as a trespasser, you understand.” She flashes a casual smile over her shoulder at him.

Julius: Julius bristles at the unexpected contact. Not like a frat pledge having his first lap dance, but more like a tiger suddenly put in a tight cage with another. For all the Camarilla’s social pretenses, the Beast is ultimately a solitary predator. But as the Sindaco of Slidell might suggest, that predator is also cannibalistic.

Up close, Julius cannot help but smell the Toreador’s vitae as it courses through her arteries, veins, and sanguine-plump organs. Those are the ‘curves’ that sing to him, that arouse his lust—or more precisely bloodlust—and make it hard to concentrate. Which is probably why the social-savvy vampiress is saddling him. Unlike the full table, it’s a power move that catches him off-guard. It also impresses the hell out of him. None of which makes the subsequent negotiations any easier—for the Caitiff.

“Yeah, you… rite,” the clanless vampire lamely responds as he tries to force his thoughts away from how delicious the tantalizingly wrapped blood bag atop his lap would taste.

“Cain’t fault you’s fo’ axin.”

It takes some effort to keep his hands from squeezing her like a cherry snow cone, to crush her so he could suck out every. Last. Drop.

There’s some small measure of self-pride that he doesn’t next cough to clear an unbreathing throat.

“If you dink da trade is gud, I’ll introduce y’all rite an propuh as podnas. Tonite if we git da time, or after us skeetas are done makin dodo. F’sure ya gotta be knowin whoose a’comin into an outta yo part of da Quartuh. Dey’ll jus’ be wantin you’s to udderwise keep it mums. I dink I said ‘fo dat dis cat is uh public fren of Lawd Savoy, but der blood-daddy is uh tad… controllin. Tight lease an all dat jass. Cain’t fault a cap fo’ wantin der own stoop an zink to wrench off der hands widdout daddy-dearest watchin yo every step.”

Celia: She’s a pretty enough package on his lap. Warm, too, with a heart that beats regularly and continues to pump that deliciously scented vitae through every inch of her body. Tiny. No doubt his hands would go right around her waist or neck or wherever it is he wants to squeeze.

“The yacht, the paperwork, the membership… I’ll send my boy here to check it out when we’re done, but I’m interested. I’ll meet your friend and play mum.”

She knows all about controlling blood daddies.

“And how,” she asks id…“did you come across his boat?”

Towers. Twice in a week the name has been brought up to her. Fortuitous timing, perhaps, or things are simply more connected than she’d assumed.

Julius: It takes Julius half-a-heartbeat (though clearly not his own) to process the lapcat’s words. Looking away from Jade to ‘her boy’ reminds Julius of being a little boy trying to swim against the Tchefuncte’s current. He’s not entirely sure he looked at the right ‘boy’ before her riptide voice pulls him back to her.

Another half-heartbeat passes before Julius replies. Not with words, not at first, but rather with a hand shuffling into his pants. Perhaps the undead nymphomaniac is disappointed when Julius’ jostling only produces a business card.

The card is jet-black with equally dark but glossy lettering. To a kine, those letters would be nigh-impossible to read in the dim-lit Cat’s Meow, but Julius holds the card for Jade to clearly see an embossed image of stylized smoke in the shape of a serpent, next to which letters read:

Black Vyper Vaping, LLC.
302 Decatur Street | Office 420B


“Git yo bra to ax fo’ De’Lanice Gaines. She’s uh lawyer of mine who can git yo cap all da deets.”

“As fo’ how I done come by dat boat, da shoit answer is dollahs. Uh lotta dollahs. But da long answer, dawl, wud cost ya somedin.”

He doesn’t lick his lips at that last statement, but his tone might as well have drooled.

Celia: Not even an absent fondle. Veronica’s childe certainly seems suited to the bloodline when she all but huffs at the produced card.

Snakes, though. Now there’s a thought.

“Reg,” she says to one of the boys, ending whatever charm she’d placed on them to turn their attention to the stage. She plucks the card from Julius’ hand to slide into the large black palm waiting for it. “De’Lanice. Take your friend. Find me after.”

He knows where.

The men leave without a word, and it’s just Jade and her new friend at the table without them. She makes no motion to remove herself from his lap.

“Something like a favor,” she purrs, “or can I offer you a drink while we’re here?”

Julius: Papa Juj’s reply is as swift as it’s greedy:

“Some wud say uh drink is uh favor—at least if it’s da gawddamn rite kinda drink, f’true?”

Celia: “Then it’s settled.” She lifts her hand in a lazy wave to encompass the club. “Who catches your eye, Jules?”

Julius: It’s no question of who’s caught his eye. She’s been reeling him this entire time: hook, line, and sinker. And she’s done it so skillfully, he can’t even complain. Instead, the hoary jazzman laughs lecherously:

“As if dat contest wusn’t rigged from da git-go.”

Celia: Roderick is going to be so mad. Her smile sharpens.

“Here and now, Papa Juj, or do you prefer the… anticipation?” She shifts to look at him, trailing her fingertips down the Gucci velour.

Julius: Those fingertips elicit another dark, husky laugh.

“As a dimeback in college,” he says, slipping a cement-thick hand beneath one of her dress straps, “I told ma bras dat you’s don’t git no mo’ points fo’ savin uh touchdown till da fourth quartuh.”

He tenses then as if about to violently rip off her dress. She can tell that it would be easy for him, too. Like pulling apart cobweb.

“But being uh musician has learned me a ding or two ‘bout tempo. Timin an tension. Da slow-berlin heat. Make ’em beg fo’ da climax, an it makes da cool-down all da sweeter, no?”

As if punctuating that point, his one hands stops, then retreats from beneath the scarlet thread, only to snatch her own wandering hand. Rising suddenly, he allows her voluptuous body to slide down his much larger, velour-clad frame. Maintaining his vice-like grip, he raises her capillary-rich fingers to his lips.

“But dat jus ma opinion,” he adds, his lips parting into a fanged smile, “an ma mawmaw done learned me to always ax uh dawl fo’ hers.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to let her dead body respond to his touch. She doesn’t have to let her heart stutter inside its cage, or let her unnecessary breath hitch in her throat, or pull the color from the rest of her to stain her cheeks.

But she enjoys the game, and he seems the sort to appreciate a show. That’s where she draws the line, though; she keeps her other perversions tightly under wraps.

Wide eyes gaze up at him from beneath long lashes—a head taller than her, even in heels—and there’s an answering flash of fang behind her slightly parted lips.

“Your momma was right, Jules. I’d hate to make you rush through things so we aren’t late. Let’s call it a celebratory sip after our deal goes through.”

Julius: Julius nods, but doesn’t let go. Not before kissing the tip of Jade’s index finger, the digit with the greatest bloodflow, courtesy of the radialis indicis artery and its thick spiderweb of sensitive capillaries. Julius’ kiss upon that digit’s tip doesn’t last long, but it’s forceful: a hurricane-strong sucking motion that threatens—or perhaps teases—to burst the finger’s capillaries and drain its artery straight through her pores.

But he doesn’t. Not here. Not now. And not for a lack of want.

Making that ample desire perfectly clear, he slowly releases her hand.

“Cain’t say I won’t be countin da clock til den. But I guess dat’s da point.”

He then glances down at matte black steel and gold-accented Versace timepiece, “An speakin of clocks an not wantin to be late to da party, I got one last thing I binlookin to run by you, boo.”

His bloodlust is far from cooled, but it’s no longer threatening to boil over with the lapdance over (for now). As such, the mogul returns to his more typical businessman mien.

“Last sec scoop I done heard from a lil’ birdie bout da party. Wuz one of dose boys yo street-racin cap?”

Celia: He’s not the only one. Not after that.

The mention of racing doesn’t make her do more than lift one expertly shaped brow at the Caitiff. It doesn’t give away anything going on inside of her—the screaming, the broken smile, the crack of parting ribs, a cold hand bursting through a chest cavity to seize a still heart and squeeze it for every last drop.

Randy.

“D’you need a little racer boy for somethin’, Papi?

Julius: “Something like dat, shug.” He pauses to scan the crowd as if checking for familiar faces or too-eager eavesdroppers. Spotting none—which doesn’t mean there aren’t a