“I sentence you to final death.”
Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline breaks from the crowd of Kindred after the trial’s first night concludes. She departs into the night and calls a ride only when she’s a block away from the church. She’s exhausted, worn down by bone-sheering weariness, the kind of fatigue and wear that cuts down mountains. As she heads home she shoots off a text back to her mother.
Early evening is better tomorrow.
GM: The Ryde cab arrives after several minutes and drops Caroline outside the door to her house after several minutes more. No response to the 4:30 AM text arrives from Claire.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t expect one, or perhaps even want one right now. She just wants to get away. Her home is just as wrecked as before, and she picks her way through it with frustration.
GM: The house’s inside is still a complete wreck, though it smells better, as the rotting food over the kitchen floor has been cleaned up. There are some further signs of progress in the living room, with various fallen items righted, and broken ones thrown out, giving the house an even more empty and forlorn look than when Caroline saw it last.
Carla has left a message on Caroline’s phone that this is a big job for one woman and will take her a while, at least if Caroline wants her to clean and re-arrange the various ransacked objects and sundry rather than throw them all out. She’s requesting a higher hourly rate, as she’s going to have to drop some other clients.
Caroline: It’s a rate Caroline is happy to pay. Anything to wash away everything else the house’s wreckage means to her. If she had an alternative, she’d torch the entire building.
As it is, she numbly heads upstairs. She double checks on her hidden blood, stashed in her own off-limits bedroom, but her heart isn’t in anything. With am hour or more to go before sunrise she climbs into the attic once more and hides herself in insulation, wondering why she even bothers.
She tries not to think on what tomorrow will bring.
Monday evening, 21 September 2015
GM: Caroline closes her eyes, and one second later it’s 7:32. The Beast’s hungry pangs are ever so slightly sharper.
Caroline: She sighs and checks her messages for the day.
GM: There’s a response from Claire that she can’t meet today but can do 8 tomorrow. There’s also another message from Ruth Holman, the landlady of Lou’s building, calling over further mundane details related to finalizing the sale. There’s a second message from Caroline’s mortgage broker at Whitney National Bank too.
Caroline: As the Ventrue descends the attic into the rest of the house, she suppresses the urge to throw a fit at the change of plans.
GM: She finds a typed note on her couch saying the sheriff will see her at his Audubon house on Wednesday tomorrow at 4 AM.
Caroline: There’s not even a bat of an eyelash at the casual invasion of her privacy once again. The Ventrue throws the note in her dented steel trash can and pulls up the requirements for the building purchase. She fires a somewhat nasty message to her mother about getting put off. It’s petty and cruel, but so is just about everything else in her life.
Glad I’m a priority, Dad._
The heiress spends most of the next several hours immersed in mundane activities from her home, sitting in the ruins of her life. The silence of the house is deafening. Eventually she washes and dresses for the trial and her potential release, but it’s mostly going through the motions at this point.
Looking at her perfect form in the mirror, all dressed up for the event, she’s overcome by a flash of rage and frustration and rips the standing mirror out of her room. She flings it down the stairs, watching it shatter into a million pieces as it plummets and crashes its way to a stop at the bottom on the hard wood floors. Glass and shattered wreckage join a cry of anguish as she tries and fails to rip at the guardrail before falling into the wall and sliding down to a seated position.
GM: As the glass loudly smashes over the ruined home’s hardwood floor, providing Carla with even more trash to clean up, Caroline’s phone buzzes with a text. The sender is Claire.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t check it. Instead she quietly sobs on the floor. She knows even this is an act, and a petty one. She’s left herself plenty of time. And the knowledge of that only furthers her self-loathing.
In due time, she rises and fixes her face in the bathroom mirror. She checks her dress. She goes through all the motions again. She has a trial to attend, after all, and it wouldn’t do to be late.
She eventually checks the message when it badgers her on unlocking her phone to call a ride.
GM: Spare me the tantrum. Your father and I raised you better. Do you want to meet tomorrow or not?
Caroline: She wants to snarl back a response and apologize at the same time. Raised her better for all the good it’s done her. She texts back that she’ll see her mother then.
Assuming I’m still here, she doesn’t add.
Monday evening, 21 September 2015
Rocco: As Rocco promised, a messenger comes for Caroline. Sharp, steady taps cp,e from her front door. Birds chirping and singing quietly emanate from outside the house.
Caroline: Caroline closes Autumn’s laptop and gestures for the ghoul to wait as she moves to the door and peeks through the glass that surrounds it.
GM: Autumn had added earlier that she could buy Caroline another one tomorrow. Shopping is a lot harder after dark.
Rocco: A trio of beady-eyed finches perch idly by on a nearby branch, overlooking Caroline’s doorway, as a fourth one continues to tap at her front door. An enveloped wrapped in purple string is tied to one of its legs. Caroline’s name is emblazoned in stylish calligraphy.
Caroline: The Ventrue eyes the birds with some interest as they don’t flee or seek to attack her, then bends to retrieve the envelope. For all the abnormality of the delivery of a letter by carrier finch, it somehow makes her feel normal. At least in a way.
Rocco: The bird frees itself from the purple string with minimal fuss, joining its brethren in a quartet.
Caroline: She keeps an eye on the birds as she opens the letter, keenly aware of the last letter delivery and the trouble it caused.
Rocco: The quartet of finches break out in a sweet serenade as Caroline opens the letter.
To Miss Malveaux,
I wish to invite you to a dinner party at Harrah’s New Orleans on Wednesday, the 23rd of September. The 26th floor of the hotel has been booked out for a night of fun and merriment. It is my wish to foster friendship and goodwill.
In this endeavor, Miss Malveaux, I wish to inform you in hopes of better preparing you that Sheriff Donovan plans to expel you from his domain in one night’s time. I want to use the night to discuss the business of potentially taking you on as a tenant instead.
Yours in good faith,
P.S. Please burn after reading.
Caroline: Caroline stares at the note. ‘Plans to expel you’ and ‘fun and merriment’. She’s never been on the receiving end of an eviction notice before, but she doubts they usually include both sentences.
She looks back uneasily at the singing birds and offers a muted thank you, more uncertain of how to respond than anything else.
Rocco: The finches conclude their birdsong and take off in different directions, flying away into the night.
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM
GM: The trial is re-convened at midnight in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There is less pomp and ritual than the previous night: neither mass nor communion is held. Vidal gives a brief sermon notably emphasizing the theological as well as practical necessity of the Masquerade.
“The question arose: If we are meant to be tormentors of humanity, driving them to the path of righteousness, why must we conceal our holy mission? Did not Christ’s early disciples die as martyrs for their faith?”
Leaving aside the practical necessity of the Masquerade, and how war between Kindred and kine would devastate both, Vidal states that instigating such a conflict would betray the Kindred’s divinely mandated role as God’s wolves.
“Kindred en masse, known to mankind en masse, would be a terrifying evil,” the prince acknowledges. “Yet such evil would be a known adversary for mankind to rally against. Hidden, we meet our prey face to face. Each victim is isolated not only by the terror of our presence, but by his isolation from his fellows. The wolf does not announce its presence until its jaws are closed fast around the lamb’s throat: so too must it be with us as Kindred.”
Caroline: The ancient devil’s charm is still there, still burning brightly in her mind, captivatingly, and though she knows it’s from more than simply the power of his words and his presence—his blood flowing through her veins gives truth enough to the unearthly power he’s exercised over her, Caroline finds it hard to turn away as his voice calls to her despite the malaise that hangs over her.
GM: After praising the wisdom of Longinus and the Monachus, Vidal leads the crowd through a collective prayer and formally convenes the trial of Gabriel Hurst. Karena Cingolai reprises her role as the prosecution. Camilla Doriocourt serves as the defense.
Cingolai wastes no time in tearing into the specifics and gritty details of Hurst’s claim to have planted the M34 phosphorus grenades in Smith’s bags. She demands to know where Hurst obtained them. She calls several ghoul and kine witnesses (the latter clearly mesmerized) to the stand, including John McCullem. All of them testify that Gabriel Hurst had no ties of note to either the military or criminal underworld. Several Kindred with such ties, whose names include Rocco Agnello’s, testify that Hurst had no dealings with them in recent nights. Hurst claims to have worked solely through mortals, as he did not want to alert other Kindred as to his activities. Cingolai demands the names of his contacts, when and where he met them, how he paid them, and dozens of other details that steadily make his story unravel under sustained questioning.
Doriocourt is able to discredit a good number of witnesses, and draw connections between them and Kindred puppet-masters with known vendettas against Clan Ventrue or the Lancea et Sanctum, but she can at best slow the tide.
Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue watching the exchanges. It’s hard for her to have the same level of investment as many seem to have, with no knowledge of Hurst. But she can well imagine that many are just as happy to see anyone burn as they are to see him burn for whatever grudges they might hold against him—or his sire.
GM: Cingolai then calls Doriocourt’s own sire, Donovan, to the stand. The sheriff details the results of his own investigation into the M34 grenades. He explains that George Smith recently purchased a small container of them from Guilo Matranga, a ghoul to Rocco Agnello who worked as an explosives expert in Afghanistan. Matranga confirms that he sold the grenades to Smith, and that he obtained them from two kine named Brett Cuellar and Riley Hitchcock, who serve in the Louisiana National Guard and its local New Orleans base. Both kine are called to the stand, and give their mesmerized testimony that they sold the M34 grenades to Matranga. Hitchcock, the NCO, has been claiming they were used in explosives exercises, and Lt. Cuellar has been falsifying the necessary documents. They have been careful not to sell too much hardware to the Mafia, and never anything not used in regular munitions or explosives training. It’s provided a small but steady stream of extra income to the jaded servicemen.
Vidal orders both National Guardsmen executed on the spot for dereliction of duty. Some Kindred watch with apparent distaste as Donovan slits the terrified men’s throats. Others keep their expressions neutral. Some seem to enjoy the spectacle.
Caroline: It’s a gruesome, painful, and long in coming way to go. Caroline reflects numbly from far back in the rows, away from the scent of it and with even the sight detached. The combination of choking on their own blood and a lack of blood flow to the brain creates simultaneous feeling of drowning and that lightheaded push towards darkness.
Caroline doesn’t envy them. It’s a rare sentiment from the Ventrue.
GM: Brown raises an objection over the testimony, claiming that Smith’s trial is over, but Vidal overrules him and sternly reminds the crowd that he has yet to pronounce Smith’s verdict—words that are all-too poignant as ghouls haul away the two kine’s corpses and clean up the blood from their deaths.
Caroline: Or, Caroline cannot help but note, her own. She squirms uncomfortably in her seat.
GM: Several further kine and ghoul witnesses confirm Smith’s dealings with the Mafia, and that Smith openly walked about the Windsor Court after surviving the explosion at Slidell (in a horrifically wounded state), using Caine’s gifts to overawe any kine who saw him. Further unhappy murmurs go up at his continued irreverence for the Masquerade.
Hurst’s testimony fares little better once the grenades are so conclusively linked to Smith. Cingolai asks Hurst many grenades he supposedly bought from the Mafia; the Ventrue primogen, evidently not nearly as knowledgeable about as explosives as Rocco’s ghoul, quotes a number that the demolitions expert debunks as too small to have created a blast of the force that went off in Slidell.
“The number of M34s I sold Mr. Smith was just right for it,” he adds.
Cingolai then questions the nature of Hurst’s character, and whether a shortsighted ploy to gain a boon over Smith to by detonating so many bombs is really the sort of thing he would do. The prosecutor’s query draws a number of prominent witnesses, including three sitting members of the Cabilo. Coco Duquette, Miss Opal, and Pearl Chastain all concur that although Hurst is their youngest member, and relatively young for his position, he has sat on the Cabildo for ten years and demonstrated a generally patient and levelheaded temperament, as well as a dislike of avoidable violence.
Caroline: The whole thing reeks of pageantry to Caroline. It’s all a show. This isn’t a trial, it’s theater. It’s a justification. The verdict has been in since the beginning.
Looking out at her snarling, entertained, engrossed fellow damned, however, she can’t deny that it’s effective theater.
GM: Hurst’s own sister-in-blood, Becky Lynne Adler, appears all too willing to play her role in the theater as she testifies that, “Oh, I just can’t picture him doin’ a fool thing like that. He’s always been very cautious and methodical, you know. If you examine his business practices, in fact, you’ll find he shies away from speculative investments. He’s always told me how slow and steady wins the race.”
Becky Lynne’s statement is supported by the number of further witnesses who come to Hurst’s ‘defense’, though the only ones Caroline recognizes are Gus Elgin and Roxanne Gerlette. The crowd slowly seems to turning against Smith… his spectacle last night was masterful, but that was last night. The walls are slowly but surely closing in. The crowd loves watching someone, anyone, squirm.
Cingolai draws out the process, then claims Hurst is only taking the fall for Smith’s role in the Slidell incident because of a prestation debt. Hurst’s counsel, Doriocourt, once again finds herself in the peculiar position of the prosecution’s arguments actually helping her client’s defense: after all, it’s better for Hurst to have lied paying back a debt than to have broken the Masquerade.
The question is immediately raised over how Smith might have incurred such a debt. Smith claims that Hurst was behind his attack on the road to Matheson’s, and wanted to stop the neonates he’d recruited from falling into Matheson’s clutches. Cingolai, however, claims the whole attack was staged, and that George hired thugs to shoot up his own car in hopes of claiming a larger prestation debt from Matheson for his troubles (after all, he was the one who agreed to deliver neonates to the elder’s haven). The two Ventrue argue back and forth, each claiming the other one is lying or has manufactured evidence, and the distinction of whose trial is actually being held grows quite blurry. The crowd laps it up.
Cingolai hammers home the irregularities in Smith’s and Hurst’s accounts over the grenades that Smith purchased, as well as Smith’s pattern of repeated disregard for the Masquerade against Hurst’s prudent character. Doriocourt’s own closing statement largely skirts the issue of Hurst’s role in the explosion, and in fact appears to tacitly support it by emphasizing his good character. In the end, while the crowd is not howling for Smith’s blood to the same degree they did Hurst’s, more than a few dirty (or mirthful) eyes glare upon the Ventrue… there is a general sense that his last-ditch maneuver to deflect blame for the Slidell incident has not worked.
Vidal convenes another recess before the long-awaited trial of John Harley Matheson begins.
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM
Caroline: As the crowd breaks into cliques once more, Caroline is again left out in the uncomfortable cold. It’s an experience she’s not terribly familiar with—nor enamored with the more she sees of it.
However uncomfortable it might be in general to someone accustomed to floating through such crowds and picking her own groups at will, it’s all the more uncomfortable in a sea of predators. Some social butterflies like to think themselves ‘social’ predators. She didn’t, but the argument on where you fall in the foot chain socially was one that was at least somewhat convincing to her. Less so now: she’s seen the face of true predators, dozens of them in this very room, and being alone makes her skin crawl. Plucking a similarly alone face from the crowd she makes for a well-dressed but gaunt young man.
“Hello. I think we may shop at the same tailor.”
GM: Caroline catches him as he’s breaking off from conversation with an acne-riddled, revoltingly hideous figure that can only be a Nosferatu. The Ventrue is keenly reminded that few vampires are so alone as she previously was.
The emaciated, hollow-cheeked seemingly young man regards Caroline with faint amusement. He stands in sharp contrast to the vital-looking young woman. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a Kindred, with hollow cheeks and dark circles under his watery gray-blue eyes. He stands about half a head below Caroline and wears a finely-tailored gray suit that partially hides his bony, stick-like limbs. His shoulder-length brown hair is thin and wispy.
“His good luck to clothe a frame as lovely as yours.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “And to have a client like you with such excellent manners and bearing to serve as an ambassador to the world. But then, I suppose some people have all the luck.”
GM: “Or at least streaks of it, but all streaks run out. Anthony Brodowski,” the rail-thin man introduces himself.
Caroline: “We all have our moments. Caroline Malveaux,” the Ventrue replies.
GM: “So what can I do for you, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “Besides regale me with the pleasure of your company? I confess I have no ulterior motive.”
GM: “Really? That’s a funny turn of luck for someone to talk to me about luck,” the sunken-eyed vampire remarks.
Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks. “Is there an inside joke I’ve missed?”
GM: “No joke, though I suppose it’s amusing. My sire operates a casino.”
Caroline: “I suppose we all do something,” Caroline replies. “And I can imagine that he finds plenty to keep him busy with such an enterprise.”
GM: “Yes, plenty. Perhaps you’ll grace the Alystra some night. There’s always a place for beautiful women at casinos.”
Caroline: “By the tables, luring men to their fates, or by the bar, luring them to their doom?” Caroline asks with a flash of a smile.
GM: The dark circles under Anthony’s watery eyes spread as his lips do. “Some would argue they’re one and the same. As my sire likes to put it, ‘Be it in blood or coin, the house always wins in the end.’”
Caroline: Caroline sweeps her gaze up to the front of the Church, where the prince and his pawns are assembled. The sheriff. The seneschal. Hounds and ghouls aplenty.
“Yes, I can’t say that I disagree.”
GM: “Smart. Well, it’s been pleasant making your acquaintance, Miss Malveaux, but I’m afraid duty calls.”
Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline replies politely.
GM: The gaunt vampire takes his leave. The sea of predators stretches before Caroline once more.
It swiftly washes back in.
Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM
GM: The tide of boos is overwhelming as John Harley Matheson takes the stand. His defense, who Caroline recalls could have been her, is Anthony Brodowski. He eloquently introduces his client and proclaims that Mr. Matheson denies all charges against him. The elder Ventrue merely stares imperiously at the prosecution, as if not deigning to respond directly to slander.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t envy the neonate’s job, given the outpouring of hatred against an elder in public.
Well, that and the fact that she knows for a fact that his client is guilty as sin.
GM: Vidal sternly calls the crowd to order, but one does not need to hear their boos to know what they think of the proud elder proclaiming innocence. Matheson’s defender doesn’t spend a second longer trying to sell it. He proclaims to the crowd that others have tried to fool them and play them for dupes. The claim that Matheson feeds on neonates is fiction devised by a treacherous and opportunistic demagogue who sought to plunge the city into chaos for his own gain: George Vernon Smith.
Brodowski (or perhaps Brown, if the former is wearing an earpiece like Caroline planned to) continues that George fabricated the narrative of Matheson being a headhunter in order to frame Vidal as a willing accessory to Matheson’s crime and turn public sentiment against the prince. Brodowski does not mention any Kindred by name, and says merely that George meant to incite a “civil war” among the city’s Kindred, let another claim the princedom, and then depose that claimant while they were new and insecure in their power. More than a few eyes turn towards Antoine Savoy, but the Lord of the French Quarter just grins like he’s listening to a riveting story. George smiles but keeps silent this time as Cingolai asks that Brodowski explain why, then, Matheson was exiled by Prince Vidal if this whole thing is a ploy of Smith’s—surely the hotelier’s influence doesn’t extend that far. Matheson finally replies that he would be only too glad to explain.
Over a century and a half ago, Matheson announces, he belonged to a loosely allied network of plantation-owning Kindred who dwelled in the states that would eventually form the Confederacy. The South’s cities were never so large or numerous as the North’s: regional Kindred politics become something akin to feudal Europe, with individual vampire lords ruling their fiefdoms absolutely, Embracing only when necessary, and thriving in the easy hunting grounds of the slave quarters. Because of their unlives of ease, these plantation-owning vampires grew extremely jealous and protective of their domains—as well as careless. Reports filtered back to the Northern Camarilla that these Southern vampire lords were establishing blood cults and openly flouting their natures before terrified slaves. The Camarilla dispatched archons to investigate the situation. None returned to Boston. This resulted in a justicar announcing his intention to personally visit and inspect the Camarilla’s Southern fiefs, including New Orleans.
Many plantation-owning Kindred threw their support behind the burgeoning Confederacy and declared their independence from the Camarilla—including Matheson. Vidal had cooperated with the archons in their prior investigations, and come to believe Matheson had founded his own blood cult and flouted the Masquerade as his fellows were doing. His plantation was located outside New Orleans, however, where Vidal’s praxis did not extend. In light of the justicar’s pending inspection, the prince decided it would be politically expedient—as well as just—to banish Matheson from New Orleans. Vidal could not regulate what his younger clanmate did in his own domain, but he could deny Matheson the privilege of dwelling in his city.
Vidal never saw fit to disclose the reason. It was of some embarrassment to Clan Ventrue that one of their own would support rebellion against the Camarilla.
The Civil War came and went. The justicar used the Union Army as his fists to shatter the power bases of Matheson and his fellows, then let the Emancipation Proclamation deliver the coup de grace to their power. The nights of easy feeding on cowed plantation slaves were over forever. The survivors pledged renewed loyalty to the Camarilla. The Camarilla was merciful, though they could afford to be. The rebels had lost their lands, their herds, their power, and their prior way of unlife. Vidal never saw fit to disclose this blemish upon Clan Ventrue’s reputation, nor was he prepared to exonerate Matheson’s crime and rescind his exile. Matheson continued to dwell in his plantation outside New Orleans for the next century and a half, inviting neonates—as well as elder Kindred—to visit him and ease his solitude. Numerous older Kindred that they received Matheson’s invitations, including the Cabildo themselves. Many (though not all) declined to visit the elder Ventrue. The journey to his plantation was long and perilous, especially before the advent of modern cars and highways. Only neonates judged gaining an out-of-town elder’s favor to be worth the risk.
Caroline: For Caroline it’s an interesting tale, and a valuable history lesson, but she finds herself wondering just how much of Matheson’s specifics are fiction, especially as he lost not his lands, his apparent herds, or his influence in Clan Ventrue.
Just how much of that carefully crafted tale was put together between the accusations and trial with the prince?
Certainly, the fact that most in the room were not party to events that happened more than a century and a half ago must play to his favor. Of course, she also suspects it does not. The crowd here came for blood and humiliation. It came to see squabbles and fights. She doubts many in the crowd are that impressed with the history lesson instead. However clean cut his narrative may be, however it may be grounded in truths, the question in this forum is how it plays to the crowd. A miscalculation, then? The only question is how much of one.
GM: Cingolai is quick to pounce on Matheson’s claim that he was banished for reasons unrelated to his present charges. She does not accuse him of lying, but she insinuates that without evidence they have no choice but to take the elder at his word. The mob starts to grumble and take heart.
Brodowski is happy to produce sheafs of yellowed, faded letters between Matheson and other Southern Kindred wherein the former not only expresses his anti-Camarilla sentiments, but coordinates activities with his fellows to aid the Confederate war effort against the Justicar Baylor’s mortal pawns. Matheson had been embezzling silver and gold reserves from the New Orleans Mint for years by falsifying the results of metallurgical assays. He used that income and much of his other wealth to bankroll the Confederacy and purchase war bonds when international bankers were reluctant to do so. Those war bonds are now historic artifacts he still possesses.
Matheson’s advocate makes a show of bringing out several mesmerized professors from Tulane and museum employees from the Historic New Orleans Collection who confirm the obvious age of Matheson’s letters through prior radiocarbon dating (after all, he certainly wouldn’t falsify evidence). The Ventrue even provides a handwriting sample to identify them as his. Brodowski initially tries to fluster Cingolai throughout the cross-examinations, peppering his arguments with glib wit and making her out as a humorless ice queen.
When she doesn’t rise to the bait, his sire Marcel steps in to bring an element of spectacle to the otherwise exceedingly dry proceedings. Scantily-clad showgirls (and a few boys) set up gambling tables around the church’s pews, inviting Kindred to place bets—be it in blood or cash—on what dates the musty academics will identify for Matheson’s historic mementos. Marcel volunteers drinks from the showgirls to anyone who correctly guesses enough dates in order to further ‘sweeten the pot.’
“If we’re going to violate ‘thou shalt not kill’ in a church, we might as well gamble in one too,” Marcel quips. A chorus of musicians even strikes up a lively tune. In short order, the agitated mob is more excited to be placing bets and lusting after comely vessels than listening to the factual content of Cingolai’s arguments. It’s not without some irony that a few Kindred dryly note they are literally buying into the premise that Matheson’s evidence is genuine.
Caroline: Caroline watches the scene with muted contempt as the show trial is literally turned into a ‘show’ trial, complete with showgirls. She doesn’t place any bets: too many of the girls and boys don’t smell right anyway. On one level, she’s shocked Matheson would stoop to this. On another, she supposes it’s better than other means of playing to the crowd, and doubts it was his idea.
Mostly she tries to stay out of the way.
It can’t go worse for her than the alternative.
Monday night, 21 September 2015, AM
GM: The mob ignores the silent Ventrue in the back and seems more than content to enjoy the bread and circuses. They scream and hawk at one another’s bets. An unmistakable coppery tang fills the air as the winners claim their dues. Gazes are still hungry and canines visibly protrude as the prosecution’s first witnesses are called to testify against Matheson.
Roxandra Adrieux is a seeming teenager with short, dark hair with lighter bangs, thick eyebrows, and a pug nose. Her large, luminous eyes have no whites, and consist solely of an alligator-like slitted pupil surrounded by pale green.
Roxandra testifies that she was invited to Matheson’s plantation on a number of separate occasions as a neonate, and that when she grew old enough, the visits stopped. When asked if she recalls Matheson ever feeding on her, she replies no. Matheson erased her memories. But she has one better.
Caroline: Caroline feels her chest tighten a bit. The seneschal’s declaration about the disclosure of the tape makes this a dangerous moment entirely out of her control. That question as to whether his fear and caution were well placed still lingers.
“I got a tape. Friends of mine picked it up during the day, from a ghoul on her way to the Union Passenger Terminal. She was hurt pretty bad, you could smell the blood on her even if you weren’t blooded yourself. She had a phone. Friends got into it, but one file was encrypted. Homework traced her domitor to a neonate called Caroline Malveaux.”
“Now doing some more homework, it turns out Caroline Malveaux was a visitor to Mr. Matheson, here in New Orleans. Her ghoul was on her way to the trains only a few hours after their last visit.”
Roxandra produces a plastic bag with four fingers in it.
“All that’s left of my ghoul.”
She produces another bag with shards of phone casing and twisted metal.
“All that’s left of her phone.”
“Happened when some friends of mine were trying to break the file’s encryption. Someone didn’t want that getting out.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are narrow slits at Roxandra.
GM: The gator-eyed woman looks towards the prosecution.
“I’d like to call Miss Malveaux to the stand, if she’s here and the prosecution’s okay.”
“Yes, Madam Adrieux, I think we all may benefit from hearing the testimony of Miss Malveaux on this matter,” Cingolai replies. “Miss Malveaux, please come forward.”
Caroline: Caroline’s scowl does not abate, but she stands from within the crowd, moving forward.
GM: Cingolai waits until Caroline has approached the witness’ stand, then inquires of Roxandra, “Madam Adrieux, what is the name of the ghoul you intercepted?”
Cingolai turns to Caroline. “Miss Malveaux, is it true that you are the domitor of a ghoul named Amanda Turner?”
Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingolai.”
GM: “Why are you no longer her domitor, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “Because she is no longer with us, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” Caroline replies, somewhat tightly.
GM: “By which you mean she is dead, Miss Malveaux?” the prosecution inquires patiently.
Caroline: “That’s correct, Prosecutrix Cingolai,” the Ventrue replies.
GM: “Is it true that you visited Mr. Matheson’s estate in the Garden District on Friday the 18th, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “It is, Prosecutrix Cingolai. And again on Saturday the 19th.”
GM: “Please describe the nature of these visits.”
Caroline: “I sought out Mr. Matheson to solicit his assistance in a number of private personal matters. We met briefly, then he was generous enough to arrange for a separate meeting with Ms. Adler about those personal matters. On Saturday my meeting was only with Ms. Adler.”
GM: “Would either of these visits have been an ideal time during which to feed on you and subsequently erase your memory of the incident, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “More than in any other behind closed doors meeting with any other elder capable of altering memories, Prosecutrix Cingolai?” the young Ventrue innocently asks.
GM: “You have been called to the stand as a witness, Miss Malveaux, not an arbiter. You will answer questions, not ask them.”
Laughter goes up from a few pale faces among the crowd.
Caroline: “Certainly, Prosecutrix Cingola, I was simply seeking clarity on the nature of the question. If the question is, ‘could it have happened’, then the answer is yes.”
GM: “Did you believe that Mr. Matheson would be capable of altering your memories, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “The possibility had occurred to me, yes.”
GM: “Were you aware of the allegations that Mr. Matheson was facing when you visited him, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “A few rumors only, Prosecutrix Cingola. Other matters have occupied my time to a greater extent.”
GM: “Were you aware that Mr. Matheson had been accused on feeding upon neonates who visited him, or were you not, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: “I was, Prosecutrix Cingola.”
GM: “Then please answer for me definitively, Miss Malveaux: would the circumstances of your meeting with Mr. Matheson have been a highly convenient time during which to feed upon you and erase your memories?”
Caroline: “Yes, it would have been.”
GM: A few murmurs go up from the crowd.
“Would your ghoul Turner have described you as a cruel domitor, Miss Malveaux? Did you ever beat her for infractions? Did you take amusement in her pain and discomfort?”
Caroline: “No,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Then you would agree that you generally treated her kindly, Miss Malveux?”
Caroline: “I would agree that I attempted to do so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”
GM: “Would you agree that she lacked ready cause to run away from you, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline’s mind races ahead to the direction of the questioning.
“I would agree that I directly gave her no cause in my treatment.”
GM: “Then indirectly, do you believe you gave her cause to wish an end to her servitude under you?”
Caroline: “In my service she had been shot multiple times, nearly had her throat ripped out, and been strangled nearly to death. She’d been maimed and scarred. I could understand how that could lead her to wish to do so.”
GM: “Did she appear resentful of such injuries specifically towards you, Miss Malveaux, or at any point express regret at having entered your service?”
Caroline: At any point. Caroline well remembers at least once.
“Yes. The last time I saw her she was quite belligerent.”
GM: “Did you cause her any significant mental or physical discomfort either during or immediately prior to this belligerency, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline is the essence of patient with the repeated digging into the details of her treatment of ghouls in the midst of a trial about the actions of an elder, but it seems to only underscore the minutia of the matter.
“I don’t believe so, Prosecutrix Cingola.”
GM: “Then you believe she had no reasonable basis to have acted, as you described her, ‘belligerently’?”
Caroline: “Not at all, Prosecutrix Cingola. In fact, in hindsight, the many injuries she suffered would seem to give her ample reason to do so. Especially combined with what may have been existing instability.”
GM: There’s some smiles from Vidal’s partisans at the clever save. More murmurs sound from the crowd.
GM: “Did you kill your ghoul because you believed this ‘instability’ made her an unreliable servant, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue. “There were a number of factors that lead to her death, Prosecutrix Cingola, most of them quite personal and specific, but her instability certainly among them. If there is a particular need before the court I’m willing to discuss them in as much detail as the court requires…”
GM: “Yes, Miss Malveaux, please expound on the circumstances of your ghoul’s death. Did you…”
Cingolai questions Caroline for some further length on the circumstances of Turner’s death, the nature of the encrypted file on her phone, and the nature of her relationship with Mr. Matheson. The prosecutor relies on a highly circuitous line of questioning, asking long series of yes or no questions of no immediate connection to her case. The almost-lawyer can tell that Cingolai is trying to make her build a rigid narrative that advances the prosecution’s and cannot be deviated from without seemingly contradicting her earlier testimony.
Still, Caroline’s years of law school make her better able to recognize such tactics than most. Rather than confront each question as it’s individually posed and try to give as little ground as possible, Caroline tries to put herself in Cingolai’s head and imagine the direction of her questioning. From there it’s a matter of coming out with her own counter-narrative to resolutely stick to: Turner was a liability after having been repeatedly compromised by Kindred mental influence, was already unstable, repeatedly (and possibly intentionally) failed in her duties as a bodyguard to receive more blood, and finally became openly hostile to her domitor. Turner finally snapped and decided to run, seizing Caroline’s phone and perhaps thinking it would be valuable to trade with someone wherever she was going. She had no idea what was on it… information that was common knowledge to Kindred, and utterly useless as a bargaining chip.
It was, however, still quite sensitive, for its materials, if disclosed, could have been a threat to the Masquerade: they contained extensive information on Kindred titles, etiquette, social rules, and the general nature of the all-night society in New Orleans. Caroline discloses that she received this information from Becky Lynne, having lacked a sire to impart it to her.
Cingolai immediately pounces on Caroline’s answer that the damage to the Masquerade would “depend” on who found it. It would have been a direct violation of the Masquerade, the prosecutor admonishes, and a considerable one. A hunter might have killed to obtain such knowledge as Caroline possessed, but even an unaware kine would have had their eyes opened to an entire world they’d never considered. Cingolai attempts to discredit Caroline as another George in the making who can’t even control her own ghouls (didn’t you see her breakdown coming?) and whose judgment cannot be trusted—only her direct parroting of facts, all of which builds up to her ultimate point: who, indeed, would know about Caroline’s missing phone and go to such lengths to obtain it?
Caroline: Caroline, having sat through the exhaustive, extended, and circuitous questioning tilts her head to the side.
“Prosecutrix Cingola, I begin to question who is on trial here, and for what exactly. I am no witness for Mr. Matheson here to be discredited, and while I do so appreciate having my dirty laundry being hung out to dry on the account of a dead ghoul that took it upon himself to steal from my own… I’m not sure what you hope to arrive at.”
GM: “Miss Malveaux, are you Mr. Matheson’s arbiter?” Cingolai inquires.
Caroline: “Prosecutrix Cingola, I confessed my sins. Promptly. If you seek you reveal that it was agents of the prince who took the lead in recovering the phone, then you reveal only my desire to own up to my errors and seek their redress by any means, especially in matters of the First Tradition.”
Her sire’s dark gaze impales Caroline’s like the Lance of Longinus pierced Christ’s flank—and seems to condemn her for a sin equally grave.
“You will answer the questions posed to you, childe, or be held in contempt of court.”
The crowd variously jeers quietly or watches with silent apprehension. George’s hands remain severed stumps at their wrists.
Caroline: “Yes, Your Majesty,” Caroline replies to the prince with deference, a shiver going through her spine as he speaks.
GM: “Miss Malveaux, were you selected to serve as Mr. Matheson’s advocate?” Cingolai repeats.
Caroline: “No, Prosecutrix Cingola,” Caroline replies.
GM: “Then you will cease your speculation as to my motives and conduct, for that is the purview of advocate Guilbeau. Your own, less onerous responsibility is to answer those questions directly asked of you. Now, you claim that…”
Caroline: Caroline’s narrative is not particularly complicated: when she realized that Turner had fled with the tape and was not responsive, she reached out to agents of the prince to confess as to the potential breach and seek aid in recovering the tape: with little time left before dawn she saw little other choice that would not endanger the Masquerade. Most of the matter thereafter was handled while she was at rest. The best lies, after all, begin with the truth.
GM: Alexander Wright is next to step forward, testifying that he sent his own ghouls to ‘recover’ the tape from Roxandra’s.
“Sorry. Couldn’t know she was yours,” the hound admits with a shrug.
The other Kindred’s crocodile-like eyes merely watch him unblinkingly. Father Malveaux confirms that he took Caroline’s confession the next night and granted absolution for her sin. With the matter of the tape seemingly resolved, the next witnesses against Matheson are called forward.
Caroline: Caroline isn’t sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief or await her doom when she returns to her spot among those observing the trial.
It’s a too-familiar feeling.
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM
GM: Some of the next witnesses to speak out against John Harley Matheson seem to include Anarchs, the handsome Kindred who sat next to Caroline yesterday night, and several others who tell the same story of being invited to his plantation, engaging in polite conversation, and then Matheson losing all interest. Several Kindred claim inability to remember the full details of their visits or the physical route there. Brodowski manages to trip up and discredit several of the witnesses. A well-dressed Kindred named David Hansen is “accused” of still visiting Matheson at his haven and consenting to being fed on by by the elder. Hansen the stand to adamantly deny all of these allegations.
The next batch of witnesses (who Caroline notes include every member of Savoy’s clique except the Toreador himself) have less personal connection to Matheson but also a stronger way with words. More than a few members of the crowd sneer or laugh at Alsten-Pirrie after the humiliation she suffered at Smith’s hands, but the scornful harpy rips into Matheson with a smoldering wit that stops only just sort of Vidal ordering her to recant her testimony. Most of the testifying Kindred are strangers to Caroline. Some are fair, others foul. Some are furious, others composed.
Caroline: The young Ventrue does her best to keep tabs on where the party lines fall, where the grudges seem to be dug in, and who is who, but at some point the numbers and variety becomes too much to home to keep track of.
GM: Antoine Savoy personally delivers the prosecution’s closing address. The French Quarter lord does not directly attack Matheson when so many of his allies have already done so. He simply gives an impassioned speech stressing the need for all Kindred to be held accountable and judged impartially for their actions, as well as the deleterious consequences that perceived favoritism has upon “the praxes of even the most well-regarded princes.”
Caroline: It’s a refreshingly modern take from an elder, and one so modern in its character that Caroline has trouble believing he’s not of this century.
Of course, that’s exactly the idea.
GM: The Toreador stresses that such divides fuel resentment between Kindred generations and engender strife that needlessly weakens the Camarilla—but there is a better way. Transparency. Accountability. Impartiality. Savoy’s proposed solution of essentially less leniency towards degenerates like Matheson (who he never names) is not an exceptionally complex or even novel idea, but he makes it appeal even to the crowd’s older Kindred when he adds with a wink that it’s “enlightened self-interest, to boot.” This entire Matheson affair, whether the accusations against him are true or not, was handled wrong from the very beginning. Everyone has been hurt—except for John Harley Matheson.
Savoy sits down to a thunderous standing ovation when his address is finished.
Caroline: Caroline cannot deny feeling moved by the speech, tugging as it does on ideas that the American Kindred in the room—she suspects most—cannot help but possess.
GM: In a gesture of seeming contempt for his rival’s speech, Caroline’s sire does not call a recess or even wait for the applause to subside before he orders the defense to call forward their own witnesses.
Despite the general sentiment throughout the room, Matheson does not lack for defenders and receives them in great numbers, both young and old. Some are ineffectual and cut down by Cingolai’s cross-examining, while others are quite eloquent and turn their testimony into stirring speeches.
Coco Duquette notably calls for the mob not to be swayed by demagoguery. The Camarilla is not a perfect system of government, she freely admits, but she points towards the gains her own covenant has made, obtaining a Regency and two seats on the Cabildo even in “one of the most conservative Sanctified archdioceses in the country.” She stresses that these gains were a cooperative effort, and cautions young licks not to expect perfect solutions from a single savior. Alluding to her own experiences “back in la mère patrie,” she adds that she has learned to beware charming faces offering easy answers. Answers to difficult problems do not come easily—and the only person one can trust to come up with them is oneself.
Antoine Savoy is the first to rise from his seat and applaud the Brujah’s address, adding his own call of, “Well said, Primogen Duquette, well said!”
Caroline: Ultimately, Caroline concludes, no matter how it plays out, the Lord of the French Quarter is likely to profit from this mess.
GM: Indeed, as a few observers throughout the crowd knowingly (and quietly) note, whether or not Matheson is found guilty, Savoy looks like the better prince for trying to bridge divides rather than deepen them.
Caroline: And, she notes, everything he’s said about the divide is true: Matheson is every bit as guilty as accused. He’s a monster that will continue to be a monster if he walks out the doors. It’s so tempting to trust in what he says.
But she also remembers many other conversations recounted for her. Plots to abduct her and turn her into a blood-bound slave. There is no savior waiting in the wings. Those buying into Savoy’s vision are buying a shining city on a hill that is made out of painted cardboard and lit with tea candles.
GM: Caroline does not recognize most of the other witnesses, though among the ones she does are Rocco Agnello, Alexander Wright, Gus Elgin, Gabriel Hurst, and all of the Storyville Krewe. Matheson’s “defense team” seems to have reconsidered their stance on not using her as a witness when the prosecution has done so. She is called to take the stand and testify as to Matheson’s good character.
Caroline: The young Ventrue conceals her surprise at being called up, but only just. She on the stand she does her best to paint Matheson as both a gracious host, and a forgiving one unbowed by the pressures upon him to turn away a neonate like Caroline for the questions it would undoubtedly create: and by the proximity to the trial in which he was willing to take the time to meet with her and provide for her that which she had been so lacking: the beginnings of an education.
GM: If the crowd’s expressions are any indication when Caroline returns to her seat, the young Ventrue’s testimony seems to prove quite helpful in further establishing Matheson’s character as a friend rather than predator to the city’s young and downtrodden.
Caroline: She feels like she needs a shower.
GM: Donovan is next to testify as to the nature of his own extensive investigations into Matheson’s affairs. He produces a great deal of material if circumstantial evidence that confirms there is no basis to the charges that the elder Ventrue is facing. Even Cingolai’s relentless questioning seems to slow in the face of the sheriff’s chill composure.
Matheson’s last and seemingly star witness is Becky Lynne Adler. She delivers a particularly heartfelt eulogy on Matheson’s virtues as a sire. She relates how he was the perfect gentleman to her during the nights before her Becoming (“it felt almost like bein’ courted,” she adds with a light laugh), sensitive with his Embrace (he allowed her to refuse and have her memories erased, which she didn’t), sympathetic to her pain, ever-patient and attentive to her needs, and generous with his wisdom: the very model of everything that a sire could be. Becky Lynne emphasizes several times how he’s “always been there for me” and “treated me just like I was his own daughter.”
“If I had to name his biggest fault, it’s that he can be rather overprotective at times… but, well, so was my mortal father,” the Ventrue adds with a smile.
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t want to hear that. Not any of it. Not the tale of the perfect sire, or the gentle Embrace, or the patience and attention. It’s lies, just like her own testimony. More spin into this wicked web. It has to be. She looks away. Tries to look at something else. Tries to focus on anything else as the other Ventrue speaks. But she can’t get away from the words.
So was my mortal father.
Well, at least they had that in common.
GM: Becky Lynne does one better and produces audio recordings that she says are of her earliest nights with her sire. She thought they might come in handy someday, albeit for sentimental reasons—like family videos. She wanted to make some actual videos, in fact, but Matheson wouldn’t do that. Brodowski asks if the elder Ventrue is usually willing to make audio recordings. Becky Lynne answers no, he’s not. He doesn’t even use phones. But if his childe wanted to make a few recordings, well, “he’s always spoiled me.”
Caroline: Caroline clenches her fists so tightly that she thinks they must bleed, but doesn’t look down to check.
GM: Becky Lynne’s voice grows quiet, next, when she talks about the time she learned her mother had terminal cancer. She talks about how she frenzied, sanguine tears rolling down her eyes. Matheson coaxed her out of the Beast’s clutches by gently holding her down and speaking to her “calmly and softly.” Becky Lynne relates how, in thoughtless grief, she begged Matheson for permission to ghoul her own mother. The vitae would put the cancer into remission, wouldn’t it? Becky Lynne’s sire gently but firmly dissuaded her from the idea. He stated that it would only pervert their relationship into something they would both abhor.
Caroline: Your mother’s network destroyed, or put so completely under our control as the New Orleans Police Department.
Caroline can actually feel the blood running in her fists as her perfectly manicured nails dig into dead flesh.
GM: That didn’t stop Matheson, though, from moving heaven and earth to let them say goodbye. His agents all but took over the hospital where Becky Lynne’s mother was spending her final days. They allowed other relatives to say their last farewells, and then effectively quarantined her mother’s room. Becky Lynne revealed her identity to the woman as she lay on her deathbed. She got her daughter back, after thinking Becky Lynne had been lost forever. Mother and child shared a simultaneously joyous and tearful last farewell, the threat to the Masquerade nipped in the bud with the woman’s peaceful, natural death.
Becky Lynne effuses how she “can’t begin to thank my sire enough. It’s a gift that’ll stay with me for eternity.”
Caroline: Caroline refuses to cry. Refuses to break. Not here.
Her eyes sweep the room, wondering how many others present have such touching tales. She doubts many. Anything to keep her mind in the present, instead of on herself. Stay in the moment. Stay focused. It’s all a show. It’s all pageantry.
But she has trouble believing it. Believing herself.
GM: A few of the palest faces among the crowd are contorted into sneers or looks of stern disapproval (such as from Father Malveaux). But most are not. Some are simply unmoved. No one dares look so weak as to actually cry, but a number of (younger?) faces look distant and contemplative as they silently watch. Caroline cannot help but recall that every Kindred in this room was once a human being. Born to mothers who had to have felt at least some scrap of affection towards their children upon birth. She recalls Maldonato speaking of the garden that recalls the one enjoyed by his mortal father. Even her sire was once a human child with human parents.
Monsters are not born. They’re made.
Becky Lynne relays how Matheson pulled even more strings to have her mother’s funeral held at night. He called in a boon from an associate to veil Becky Lynne’s appearance and allow her to attend without endangering the Masquerade. After the service was over, Matheson joined her laying flowers on her mother’s grave. He spoke with his childe long into the night. He shared centuries of accumulated wisdom on matters of life, death, love, and loss—“the only things that are really worth talking about, in the end.” Becky Lynne apologizes if she’s seemed overly maudlin or has “finally talked your ears off, after this many hours listenin’.”
Her final words are brief but emphatic: the sire she knows is decent and kind. The charges leveled against him are inconsistent with the character he’s shown her.
She doesn’t believe he did it.
Her piece said, Becky Lynne curtsies to the prince and withdraws to a place at her sire’s right hand.
Caroline: The return to matters at hand comes at a good time for Caroline. It’s a reminder that whatever else Matheson might be to Becky Lynne, the elder Ventrue is a predator. A monster. The Kindred equivalent of a child rapist.
Plenty of child rapists are caring fathers around their own children.
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM
GM: The last of the witnesses have testified. The crowd looks towards Vidal in anticipation.
“The cases before me have been difficult ones,” the prince announces. “Primogen Gabriel Hurst, for obstructing justice to honor a prestation debt, I sentence you to two draughts of my vitae. May you not forget again to whom your first loyalties must lie.”
Hurst bows his head in acquiescence. “Yes, my prince.”
The Hussar approaches Vidal with a ceremonial silver knife, then bids Hurst approach. The prince cuts his wrist and offers it to the younger Ventrue, who imbibes deeply, bows low, and then leaves the stand at Vidal’s motion.
“Mr. John Harley Matheson,” the prince pronounces, “I find you innocent of the crimes of which you have been accused. My prior judgment and sentence remains. For the crimes of treason and sedition, you shall remain banished from the Archdiocese of New Orleans.”
The prince’s verdict spreads through the crowd like ripples over a vast sea. The response is quiet beyond whispers, murmurs, and long glances, some dirtier than others. Calm enough on the surface, and calm perhaps in truth… or harbingers of a greater storm to come.
Matheson inclines his head at the prince’s verdict in silent acceptance, his expression unchanging.
“Mr. George Vernon Smith,” Vidal continues, “For the crimes of violating the Masquerade, obstruction of justice, and blasphemy in both speech and deed against the Dark Prophet, I sentence you to final death.”
The worn and exhausted-looking George, however, merely meets Vidal’s gaze and smiles faintly, as if to himself.
“Sheriff Donovan, bring forth the condemned.”
Donovan and the hounds lead them before the crowd in chains. The Guard de Ville’s members have changed into identical black garb trimmed with a red sash, but no hoods obscure their faces. All of the condemned walk barefoot and are dressed in humble sackcloth. The four members of Eight-Nine-Six. Three more Kindred in biker leathers who Caroline does not recognize. Another Kindred who is also a stranger: tall, blond, and gangly thin. A monstrous creature with a serpent-like face who can only be Nosferatu. The last two faces are more familiar to Caroline. Lavine, the Native American Kindred who spoke to her at a seemingly long-ago Elysium. And the Ventrue she thought was her sire. Most of them wear the despondent or surly faces of the condemned. René manages an utterly mirthless and hollow-eyed smirk.
Caroline: René. His appearance conjures up more uncomfortable feelings. Memories of being caught in his thrall. Days spent hunting him. Question as to how he ended up caught in the middle of everything: why he came back, why he played the part of her sire, and the nature of his agenda as a whole. Questions she’ll never get answered.
She meets his gaze from the crowd. Or tries to, at least. Justice, she’d once discussed with Lou. But as surely as Matheson’s acquittal was a farce, so to is this. René may be a monster, but no more than any other in this room. The revelation of the truth of her sire has robbed her of any satisfaction she took in his capture: and in any satisfaction she might have otherwise taken here. She feels… apathetic. At best curious. She feels more looking at the group as a whole: at how many are assembled. At how many she put up there. Some small contribution to the world at least.
GM: René does not appear to notice Caroline’s face in the crowd. Their possibly last moment together is as bereft of final meaning as their ostensible blood tie.
The blond man is the first one led up to face the judge’s desk.
“Mr. Grunewald, you are of the faith. Is it your wish to receive last rites, or will you face your sentence immediately?” Vidal asks.
Jacob: Jacob faces his executioner calmly and folds his hands quietly in front of him.
“I wish to make a public confession of my crimes, to prevent further pain caused by my actions.”
GM: The Tremere’s chains clink softly as he moves his hands.
“You may speak,” the prince bids him.
Jacob: The Tremere bows deeply to the prince and turns to the crowd.
“First, I would bid anyone in this crowd who carries any of my belongings, to burn them or bring them to the Guard de Ville for disposal. For my involvement with the restless dead runs deep. The most precious being in creation to me may rise from them and do you harm.”
“Second, I warn those who cling deep to your humanity to not cloister yourself. I realized only when told that I had been feeding from and killing the young kine in my care. Without my mind accepting my grave sin against my intent, I was shutting it out, a hypocrite as well as a monster.”
“Third, the coil of barbed gold around my neck when I was taken. After my final death, I ask it be thrown into the river. For it is cursed and shall visit final death upon the ignorant.”
“Lastly, my greatest sin of all. I request not to be executed by burning at the stake, but to be allowed to bathe myself in fire as I should have over a century ago, with my family. Whom I sought the devil to bring back, and was found by him. By whom exactly, my secret rests at the feet those I leave behind. I ask but do not expect my ashes to be laid to rest in my family’s cemetery in Baton Rouge.”
GM: Jacob’s initial words elicit confusion from some of the crowd’s younger faces and looks of concurrence from older faces. His warning over maintaining one’s humanitas seems lost on few… all Kindred know how easily the Beast can overcome the Man, and Jacob’s wisdom is perhaps harder-won than most.
Vidal motions. Several ghouls heave forward a structure that resembles a metal phone booth bereft of windows. They set it down and carry a stout wooden pole inside, along with several bags of firewood logs and kindling that they remove and lay out inside the booth.
“Your request is denied, Mr. Grunewald,” Vidal answers.
Donovan takes Jacob by his manacled arm and leads him inside the booth. Rocco Agnello, the first face he encountered in New Orleans all those years ago, lashes him to the pole with bonds of rope.
Jacob: The Tremere simply bows with a regretful smile on his face at the denial of his request and does nothing to resist his being tied to a stake. Whoever is tying him doesn’t matter. He looks up with a tired look of regret. Whether he’s talking to the crowd, the prince, or the single person tying him up, it doesn’t matter even if they can’t hear him.
“I only hope God lets me see her face one more time, and guards her soul. If He can do that, I promise to forgive Him.”
GM: Donovan takes a gasoline can and pours pungent-smelling liquid over the logs at Jacob’s feet. Gus Elgin wears priestly garb as he approaches the condemned Kindred, traces a cross over his breast, and intones,
“O God of relentless love,
ferocious God of peace…
We do not want peace.
We are not a people of peace.
We entertain violence in our hearts,
Wanting revenge and seeking it.
We live in sin,
Turning deaf ears to the poor.
O Lamb of God, have no mercy on us.”
Donovan closes the steel door fast.
“Fan in us all desires that breed violence.
Fill us with holy anger.
Longinus, come upon us.
Compel us with the fury of your hate,
until the world is flooded with your reconciling sin.
O Dark Prophet, grant us war,
So that the faithful may know peace.
There’s a barely audible whoosh, then the unmistakable sound of crackling flame. Some of the closer Kindred rear back, their eyes darting towards the cathedral’s exits. The thick, acrid scent of smoke soon hangs heavy in the air. The screams of the condemned ring off the cathedral’s walls. The paintings above the altar of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ serenely stare on.
Jacob’s cries are human-sounding enough at first, but soon degenerate into ravenous snarls and howls that could issue from no sapient being’s throat. Finally they too are lost over the fire’s hungry crackle. A ghoul approaches the back of the steel booth, which the crowd cannot see into. There’s a skreeking noise, a louder crackling, then a fire extinguisher’s thick fsssht. Donovan pulls open the front door, releasing a cloud of billowing white carbon dioxide vapor. Jacob’s charred corpse is virtually unrecognizable. It’s solid black from toe to head. It breaks apart like charcoal when ghouls stuff it into a plastic bag. A broom and dustpan collect the Tremere’s remaining chunks and ashes.
Caroline: Caroline is grateful for her seat in the back, away from any radiating heat. She closes her eyes.
What a terrible way to go.
That it’s happening in a church somehow makes it worse. She wonders just how many people have been executed here. More than she knows.
GM: Vidal motions forward the next of the condemned. Eight-Nine-Six and the similarly rough and tumble leather-clad Kindred Caroline does not recognize are executed in identical fashion for the crimes of blasphemy and breaking the Masquerade. Their deaths are neither quick nor painless. None face their end as themselves. Each inevitably succumbs to their Beasts as the fire consumes their dead flesh. Their charred corpses are broken apart and stuffed in trash bags.
The serpentine Nosferatu faces a much longer list of crimes, including violation of the Second Tradition, intention to free criminals sentenced to final death, intention to aid and abet blasphemers against the Masquerade, sedition, and destruction of property. His execution, however, is far cleaner, and he is merely made to kneel before a chopping block as Donovan severs his head with a single blow. The corpse’s two parts instantly age into a dried-out mummy. They are not disposed of in a trash bag, however, but tendered to Miss Opal and the other Nosferatu. The sewer rats solemnly place it in a body bag and bear it out.
Lavine’s crimes are attempted trespass into Bayou Saint John and serving an accessory to the Lost Angels’ violations of the Masquerade. She too is granted a swifter end beneath the sheriff’s saber. Her corpse likewise ages into a leathery-skinned mummy. Ghouls chop it apart and stuff into a trash bag.
Caroline: How many dead? It’s a harsh reminder of how unforgiving this existence is.
GM: George Smith is hauled before the steel chamber that Caroline hears several neonates nickname ‘the fire maiden’ in seeming parody of ‘iron maiden.’ As an excommunicate, the hand-less vampire is denied last rites. He offers a humble smile at the chance to still say some last words as he answers, “Yes, my prince, I do have a few…”
George turns to address the crowd, raising one of his mutilated arms in emphasis.
“Our prince was Embraced in 1212 at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, and had quite a time through the Black Death, Inquisition, and all those other crises during the Late Middle Ages. He became an archon in the 15th century, and together with another archon named Philip Maldonato, they served the Camarilla until the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Archon Maldonato fell into torpor around 1648, and our prince selflessly resigned his position to watch over his lover. When Archon Maldonato rose from the sleep of ages, it was over 100 years later. Not longer afterwards, the Camarilla approached him and Archon Vidal about a certain city in the New World that could use a prince…”
George chuckles to himself at some seemingly private joke, then casually adds,
“Oh, if you’re wondering what my point is, he’s never entered torpor. His time as prince is almost up.”
Caroline: Caroline stares at George and his blunt declaration.
GM: The crowd roars at George’s audacity. Some in incredulity. Others in disbelief. Others still in amusement. Sneers and boos eventually prove the loudest noise.
“Nice try, Smith!” “Cheap shot parting shot!” “Zero out of ten!” “Desperate!” “Pathetic!”
Vidal only motions to Donovan, who seizes George by the arm and hauls him into the ‘fire maiden.’
“Some of you may consider this hearsay, and a last-ditch shot at revenge!” George chuckles, his voice loud even as Rocco lashes him to the wooden pole. “It is revenge, I’ll admit that. But most of us know truth can hurt worse than any lie, and what I have to say is true. We all know how much Katrina took out of our prince.”
“I’ll offer this, too, as a demonstration I know what I’m talking about. There’s a few Kindred here I know it’s not news to,” he chuckles, raising his voice.
He tilts his head in the direction of the judge’s stand. He smiles as Donovan calmly pours gasoline at his feet.
“The succession is a house of cards. We both know that you can never replace Vidal as prince…”
George stares straight at Philip Maldonato, his doughy features lit up with a grin.
Perhaps the crowd reacts. Perhaps Vidal says something. Does something. Caroline cannot tell.
She is burning.
A white-hot tsunami roars through her veins. Thought, emotion, ego: all is burned aside beneath a warpath of undiluted rage. Her Beast’s jaws yawn wide, perhaps to roar in triumph as its chains shatter—or perhaps to shriek as it, too, is swept up in the hellish torrent.
Caroline: The sudden wave of fury is as unexpected as it is overpowering, and Caroline’s too-fragile hold on the Beast snaps. For an instant her body is no longer her own as the Beast surges to its feet with dazzeling speed wearing her skin, vision narrowed to see only the snarling harmless Ventrue.
The thought burns through her mind. She tries to wrest control back, bloody fingers like claws dig into the pew in front of her as she fights for control. But before she knows it she’s flying forward, her rational mind buried behind animal instinct, desire, and rage not her own. Caroline’s always been graceful. Lithe. Athletic. Her transition among the damned has only made her more so. Impossibly so. In the hands of the Beast, however, it’s something else. When she simply lets go no human can match her. None can even try.
GM: No human.
Caroline vanishes from her pew and re-apparates across the room—then slams into the ground. There’s something in front of her. An obstacle in her path. She rips into it. Fire floods her mouth. Not the soul-scorching agony of her sire’s wrath, but hot and sweet and sultry, like red velvet over coals—richer than Jocelyn’s thin blood was.
“What do we have here,” purrs a sneering voice, “neonates frenzying in Elysium.”
Caroline pushes against her Beast, forcing the rampaging monster back into its cage. The red haze recedes. Blood drips from an awful gash across Veronica Alsten-Pirrie’s neck. It’s nearly torn her throat clean open. Even as Caroline watches, however, the wound knits closed until the harpy’s chocolate skin is smooth and perfect once more.
Caroline herself is being held down by a lean, dark-haired and pale-skinned man with something just past a five o’clock shadow. His attire consists of a biker’s thick leather jacket, a worn pair of denim jeans, and workman’s boots.
Beyond the three, the crowd is in uproar. Caroline can make out a single chant being repeated:
“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”
“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”
“Sabbat! Sabbat! SABBAT!”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes move about rapidly, like a cornered Beast, even as she shoves her own back into its cage. She can still feel burning rage in the back of her mind, but it’s contrasted with her fear over having lost control here… and over these two standing over her in particular, holding her down. The competing urge to throw this stranger off of her and apologize cows her into silence for the moment.
GM: Veronica’s eyes, however, swiftly turn back to the cathedral’s altar. The stubbly-bearded male Kindred continues to hold Caroline fast. All across the room, Kindred are rising to their feet. Caroline isn’t sure of precisely what’s happening, but the crowd seems is in an uproar and hardly paying attention to her.
Veronica sneers as the male Kindred persists in holding on to Caroline.
“Let her go, Micheal. What do you think she’s going to do, run?”
Micheal wordlessly releases her.
Caroline: Caroline slides away from him with an unholy grace, even as she turns her attention to the altar. She’s not really sure what happened, doesn’t remember them clearly, but she can put some of the pieces together. One moment she was flying towards George, the next Veronica… tackled her? A bite. Where Micheal came into it she isn’t certain. A childe? A bodyguard? He’s Kindred, but hardly being spoken to as though he’s Veronica’s savior.
The Ventrue wipes the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand as she takes another step back, to keep both them as the altar in her field of vision. The nonchalant way in which Veronica shrugged off the gaping wound and all the blood Caroline can still feel burning in he veins is faintly terrifying—though not so much as what their interference portends: and what this is going to cost her. For the moment she says nothing.
GM: As Caroline returns her gaze towards the front of the cathedral, she sees that the mob’s unruly squabbling has fallen deathly silent.
Her sire’s countenance is alight with wrath. It radiates from him in almost palpable waves. The very shadows seem to writhe under the sheer hatred of his gaze. No one meets his eyes.
Finally, he speaks.
“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.”
Caroline: Caroline all but cowers at that hate, even as it bleeds through, fills her. She wants to stop him, wants to try to calm him, wants to do anything to please him and make this stop.
GM: But he does not stop. The hatred festering in his gaze burns black enough to make her dead stomach churn.
Her sire’s next words are a whisper, yet one terribly audible.
“Kill them. Kill them all.”
Donovan hauls Sofia Andrepont to the firemaiden.
To pervert the sanctity of even denied last rites into sedition is blasphemy, Vidal intones. George has already been sentenced to final death for his crimes. Therefor, the entirety of George’s blood—his childe, and all ghouls who have subsisted upon either of their vitae—shall suffer the same fate. The “traitor’s blood” will be expunged from the city, “lest further poisoned fruits grow from tainted seeds.”
Caroline: Caroline hangs her head at the terrible sentence.
GM: The crowd remains utterly silent at her sire’s pronounciation. George, the full target of the prince’s black stare, finally opens his mouth as if to protest.
“The words of the righteous overflow with wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out,” whispers Vidal.
Donovan rips the Ventrue’s tongue from his mouth. George’s mangled cries are awful as Sofia is lashed to the scorched pole and immolated in his stead. She, too, is inevitably lost to her Beast as the inferno consumes her. She dies screaming.
Caroline: Caroline can hardly bear to watch it all, watch as the neonate is dragged from the crowd to be burned alive.
GM: The executions of George’s and Sofia’s immediately present ghouls, who include a well-muscled Latino bodyguard and a thirty-something woman of less identifiable function, proceed with less fanfare by simple beheading. George is made to watch the entire time and witness what ruin his tongue has wrought. Only then is he hauled forward to be immolated himself. No priest says any prayer. The Guard de Ville uses as little gasoline as possible, to stretch out the burning as long as possible. George’s screams are as frenzied and terrible as his childe’s.
The last Kindred to face execution is René Baristheaut. He accepts last rites at the hands of Father Malveaux, and confesses his sins in violating the Third and Fourth Traditions.
“As well as, I suppose, apostasy,” he reflects.
Caroline: Caroline turns her face back up to watch this.
GM: “I don’t have any regrets, really. The last person I hurt deserved it.”
The crooked half-smirk Caroline last saw on her ’sire’s’ face is absent. The madness, lust, cruelty, and wildness she saw in his eyes feels as if it has guttered out. He doesn’t look afraid. Just tired. Sick of it all.
René shrugs. “I was born a monster with that my first taste of my sire’s blood. I’ll die a monster as well. That’s all there is to say about me.”
His gaze sweeps towards the ‘firemaiden’.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Caroline: He may not be her sire, but she still has questions for him. So many questions. The how and the why of it all. What his part is, and why he saved her before her Embrace. Questions she’ll never get answers to.
GM: A mortal might sigh as he continues, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, savior to the kine, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. I believe in Longinus the Dark Prophet, first among the damned, who pierced Christ’s flank with the Spear of Destiny and was cursed for his sin…”
After René has recited the full prayer, and Father Malveaux has responded with his own, the priest administers communion—a single cup of sinner’s blood, transubstantiated into that of the Dark Prophet.
“This is the Wolf of God who strikes down the sinners of the world,” the Ventrue intones. “Sinful are those who are called to his supper.”
“Lord I have been rejected by you,” René replies, “but only say the word and my damnation may lead others to Christ’s light.”
“The Blood of Longinus,” Father Malveaux answers.
“Amen,” René softly murmurs.
“May the Lord Jesus protect your victims and lead them to eternal life,” the priest intones.
The rite concludes with prayer and blessing, though to Caroline’s ears it sounds just as much like a curse. René is lashed to a stake like the other condemned. His executioners pour gas over the kindling at his feet. There’s a soft whoosh, the howls of René’s Beast over the crackling flames, and finally silence.
Caroline: Caroline finds herself curiously moved by it all, by the final death of the Kindred who she once held as her damned sire. Who she never understood. Who she never will.
She still hates him for what happened to Westley. Hates him for murdering her brother so terribly.
But watching him burn brings her so little satisfaction. She didn’t win. She didn’t beat him. Perhaps she never could. This is not vengeance. Not even punishment. The politics at the core of it all run so much deeper. His final death simply leaves her feeling melancholy.
GM: Ghouls open the maiden’s rear door and spray a fire extinguisher. Donovan opens the maiden’s front door, revealing another charred, crumbling, and thoroughly soaked mummy. It’s given somewhat more respect and placed in a cloth satchel instead of a trash bag. Several ghouls strain to haul away the heavy and well-used execution device. More clean up the copious stains of death left over the cathedral’s floor.
Vidal’s dark gaze stares across the crowd as he intones, “I am the bearer of the Spear. I am the one who pierced the side of Christ, who bore the curse for my sins as Christ died and rose for the sins of humanity. I set these things down so that you who are Damned, as I am, might understand what I have seen and learn from it, and understand. This is my vision, granted to me by God.”
“I saw these things, and I know they are to come. But I do not know when they are to come, and so you, my descendants in blood and faith, must be prepared. It shall come like a ghost in the night, silent and invisible and made of terror.”
Vidal’s address is bleak. Where his earlier sermons addressed the necessity of the Masquerade and nature of the Kindred’s holy damnation, his final words concern the end of the world and the inevitable judgment that will be faced by all.
“And Vahishtael pointed, and said, ‘See, here comes Christ, to judge the earth in glory.’”
“I looked to the edge of the sky and the horizon of the infinite sea, and saw Christ walk towards us over the water, and saw him in light and power, but saw also that he was in decrepit old age, and only the eyes I recognized as the eyes of Christ, but in those eyes I saw fear and anger.”
“I asked Vahishtael, ‘How long has He waited to come?’”
“Vahishtael replied, ‘Thousands of years.’”
“I lowered my head. But Vahishtael said to me, ‘Wait! They are awakening!’”
“The dead men on the horses awakened like a child awakens, and looked up and recoiled in horror from the sight of Jesus approaching, because he was old and weak, and they had expected the Christ to return in power, not in decrepitude.”
“And one turned and saw me standing in their midst, and he recognized me for what I was, and as one the sleeping cavalry now awakened, reared their dead horses, and rounded on me, and began to pierce me with spears, and Vahishtael was not anywhere.”
“I screamed, then, and felt the wood pierce my heart once more. And I did not know any more. And my dream ended.”
“Listen! My word is the word of one who holds the Spear, the Spear that pierced the side of the Jesus the Living Christ, who lived, and was dead, and rose again and ascended to Heaven, where we cannot go. He will come back and judge the living and the dead, but he will not judge the Damned, for the Damned were judged on Calvary when Jesus looked down upon the Soldier and gave His blood. No judgment awaits you, for you have already been judged! And this is my vision: The Sanctified shall always survive, and this book shall endure, and as long as judgment has been served on us, the Damned shall have the word of this book to stand by.”
“The cities of the living shall become high and wide, and full of blood and sin, and we shall be the vessel through which God shall cast his judgment upon the world, but no more shall judgment fall upon us, for we were Damned at the beginning. If you heed the word of the Soldier, if you take heart in the Spear, you shall have nothing to fear. Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. Know that you are Damned, and rejoice—Caroline Malveaux.”
Vidal motions to several black-clad servants. One of them opens a back wall door and ushers in Father Malveaux, who is clad in long white robe. His head is shaved clean and his eyes are missing, the wounds around the empty sockets indicating that they were removed recently. He stands next to Vidal, clutching something in his hand.
Simultaneously, two other servants lift an unconscious black man from behind the cathedral’s altar and lay him down. Vidal draws a dagger and cuts the man’s arm, draining his blood into a large chalice. He then holds it up and dips his fingers into the blood, saying, “‘Seeing that Christ was dead, the soldiers did not break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.’”
“‘A drop of Christ’s blood fell upon the soldier’s lips, and he wiped it away with his hand. Yet the next day, he slept past the sunrise, and roused from his slumber only at nightfall. And after tasting Christ’s blood, he thirsted for more.’ These were the words of Longinus, who revealed Christ’s divinity and revealed our place as wolves among the mortal flock. You, now, must take your place among us, the Sanctified.”
The prince beckons Caroline towards him and motions for the younger Ventrue to kneel.
With his bloodied fingers hovering near his childe’s forehead, Vidal asks, “Do you join the Lancea et Sanctum, accepting our tenets as yours, our faith as yours, leaving behind the mortal world and walking in darkness forever, as our Lord God intends?”
Caroline: Caroline advances upon her sire more through will, through rote. It is not the first time she has been called in front of a crowd of predators, not even the first time she has stood before a priest to receive an esoteric initiation into a faith, but it is the first time she has entered into it so wholly in the dark—and in so many ways. She spent her life in the Catholic faith long before her confirmation, and her uncle, the archbishop, was quite insistent that she be fully initiated into the faith long before she was called to take a public critique or questioning. The questions were no question.
This is… different. By every measure. Surrounded not by the fellow faithful, she is instead surrounded by a sea of monsters, the greatest of which might stand before her: her sire. Standing so close the darkness he wears seems to drink in the light, and in the holy ground she could swear she could still hear the screams of all those that have burned tonight not far from where she stands. Burned by his order… but how many by her actions? By any measure she’s a monster little different than any other here, if anything her sins only a matter of degree that awaits only time.
Know that you are Damned, and rejoice. The words are haunting, horrifying, expressing a certainty she knew long before she met with any other Kindred. Damned. Fated for hell. Beyond forgiveness, beyond the grace of God. Rejoice. The very idea is blasphemous. It’s reveling in a fate worse than death. And yet… what else can they do? They are damned. She is damned. The worlds of an old man come to her: I only know how to lose more slowly.
Perhaps she should have listened more closely that night, should have heeded his advice. Should have done as he wished. Or perhaps she would have been better served to have never heard those words at all. Part of her wants to hate, to lash out, to blame Lou for all the struggle within her these nights. She knows how unjust that is. He told her what she needed to hear, did nothing more than affirm what she already knew in her dead and unbeating heart. The words of only a few nights past from a far older Kindred also return. I have seen no evidence that it is possible to reverse the Embrace.
There is no return. There is no escape from damnation. The best she can hope do on one path is fight a slide into darkness. And for what? It’s swimming against the current, exhausting herself. Ruining herself. She recalls well Lou’s filthy office, the smell coming off his skin, the ruin of his life. The misery in his eyes. Is that a path she could walk? Perhaps if she believed it would do any good, but that’s ultimately the point of all of this, isn’t it?
Your Damnation is secure, and cannot be changed. It’s a cruelty she didn’t understand at first, that Lou couldn’t, or wouldn’t explain. Delivered by her sire the point of it is so clear, the power of it, the purpose, and even, yes, the mercy. For Kindred, for the Damned, there is no struggle against the darkness. There is no fighting against their fate. There is no call to repent. Instead there is the admonishment of God: there can be no penitence, no struggle, and no fight. They are what He wants them to be, and nothing can change it. She can imagine no worse fate… but isn’t that the point?
There are only two paths then: to deny the will of God, to struggle for absolution that will never come, and to ultimately seek only the embrace of oblivion… or to accept it, to revel in it, and to live as only the immutably damned may. Two paths, the results of which she has seen: one, René, now little more than ash. His professed faith little more than a farce, a cynical joke, the other, standing before her, immutable before time, an immovable object, an unstoppable force. Eternal.
The two war over what little may be left of her soul. Pride and penitence. Glory and debasement. Virtue and vice juxtaposed, set against each other. Her pride, so beaten and battered, so abused, so ravaged by her Requiem seizes hold of the idea as her conscience clings feebly to what remains of her Catholic faith.
That battle between the two ideas is as brief as any conflict might have been between her ‘sire’ and her sire. Perhaps she is a coward afraid of Hell’s flames. Perhaps she is a hedonist unwilling to live as an ascetic. Perhaps she is simply too ambitious, too unwilling to accept a life of mediocrity. Perhaps she is seeking what small comfort has been available to her in her Requiem, those among the Sanctified that have shown her small kindnesses or facilitated her continued existence. Or perhaps she is simply willing to give way to God, to give up, to given in to God. She’s spent her entire life accepting, believing, and even giving way to God, barring one indiscretion (momentous as it might have been). This is the path she has been set upon.
This is her gift, it is her curse. To walk in darkness, to be clad in darkness. To leave behind the mortal world. To be Damned, fated for Hell, and yet beyond the reach of Hell. Here, with her sire, she can see the line of her new lineage. Through him she can trace it back to the beginning, through the eons. Those ancient voices call to her, they bid her to take her place among them, for the Damned… can live… forever.
When she looks up into Vidal’s eyes, the prince’s eyes, her sire’s eyes, when she feels the weight of his gaze upon herself alone as she kneels before him, when she is so close to him that she can see the finer details of his features, she is able to speak in truth.
“Yes, my prince, I do.”
It’s cathartic, a release from a burden she had been carrying, a false hope. A cleaving of a clinging to a life that either has nothing left for her, or very shortly will not. Caroline Malveaux is dead and damned. And still walks.
GM: Caroline’s sire brushes his middle and index fingers along her lips and forehead. Their texture is as hard and lifeless as diamond, and in their wake, she smells an unmistakable coppery tang. Sinner’s blood.
“Welcome to the fold, my child.”
Caroline: The Ventrue sways for a moment, caught in the throes of the moment, but regains herself when his fingers withdraw. She looks up at him with unblinking green eyes.
“Thank you, my prince, for allowing me to dine at the table of God, to fill the my cup with faith.”
She pauses for a moment. “And I swear, my prince, obedience unto you, your laws, the Traditions of the Camarilla, and the Precepts of Longinus: this I swear to God, to Christ, to Longinus, and to you, my prince.”
GM: Vidal extends his ring for Caroline to kiss. The heavy gold band is set with a gleaming ruby that seems to devour nearby light. A coat of arms is worked into the gem’s face, depicting a dragon coiled around a shield. The shield is divided into four smaller fields depicting a scepter, crown, lance, lion, eagle, and an empty field of stripes. A lance and crucifix are emblazoned near the dragon’s head, with the lance subordinate to the crucifix, and several Latin phrases are inscribed along the coat of arms’ borders, but Caroline does not have time to read them as her lips brush against the blood-red gem.
“As your aforesaid prince and liege, I receive your oath by the grace of God, and swear in turn to be a good and faithful lord, and to honor faithful and obedient service with wise and just rulership. Rise now as a subject of the Sanctified Archdiocese of New Orleans.”
Tuesday night, 22 September 2015, AM
GM: The crowd begins to break apart as the Hussar proclaims his master’s formal closing of tonight’s court. Father Malveaux leads the evening’s final prayer and entreats the assembled Kindred to, “Go forth, and sin once more.”
Veronica keeps Caroline close while the crowd disperses. She does not speak a word to the newly-released Ventrue, even as several of her acquaintances stop to offer Caroline their congratulations and platitudes.
In contrast to earlier in the evening, conversations are low and hushed. Repeated glances are cast towards the prince and seneschal. The tenor is the air is both fragile and grim, as if no one is entirely sure how to proceed next… at least those not among the increasing number of eyes staring towards Antoine Savoy. Matheson may have been found innocent, but there is little doubt that the Lord of the French Quarter departs St. Patrick’s Cathedral in a stronger political position than when he entered it.
Caroline: Caroline is forced smiles as she is all but led around by the harpy she maimed. Exactly what happened is still a blur, but ripping out the other Kindred’s throat cannot end well.
GM: The cathedral gradually empties. Before Veronica takes her leave, she traces a long-nailed finger over Caroline’s face, then grips the Ventrue by the chin and tilts her gaze to meet her own, like one would do with a small child.
“You owe me, you foolish brat.”
Caroline: Caroline meets her gaze.
“Of course. How fortunate for me that you kept such a close eye upon me, Madam Alsten-Pirrie,” the Ventrue replies without a hint of sarcasm.
GM: The Toreador’s lips curl as she releases Caroline’s chin and takes her leave, trailed by Micheal and several comely ghouls.
The Ventrue observes that the cathedral is now all but empty, consisting of somewhere between ten and twenty remaining Kindred. Among their number, she recognizes Father Malveaux, Becky Lynne Adler, John Harley Matheson, Cingolai, Gabriel Hurst, Anthony Brodowski, Roxanne Gerlette, Pierpont McGinn, Christopher Guilbeau, and a few others who testified during the three trials, but whose identities are unfamiliar to Caroline.
In contrast to the earlier crowd, whose miens ranged from fair to foul, the remaining Kindred are garbed in formal and conservative evening wear. Suits and floor-length dresses predominate, with the exception of Father Malveaux and another male Kindred, who remain clad in priest’s dark habits. Expressions range from impassive to aloof. Caroline does not appear out of place at this gathering.
Caroline: Few enough friendly faces, but plenty of familiar ones.
GM: Her sire broods from an almost throne-like gilded chair with gold armrests that end with lion’s heads. A tapestry with an ornate coat of arms has been hanged up behind him. Caroline reads the Latin on the scroll-work at the bottom:
Regnare in sanguine est in veritate imperare.
(“To rule in blood is to rule in truth.”)
The prince’s chair sits in the former place of the judge’s tableau, adjacent to the church’s altar. Caroline wonders if he would consider it improper to sit on the bishop’s throne so frequently occupied by her Uncle Orson. But as both the literal and ecclesiastical seat of the Catholic archdiocese is located in the French Quarter’s St. Louis Cathedral, the point is moot.
Now that the church is empty of so many Kindred, it is more easily recognizable as one. The interior is highly ornate, with stained-glass windows and tiny frescoes of serene-visaged saints. A pipe organ sits unused in the far corner of the church. Slender columns support the fan vaulting of the ceiling, which is particularly elaborate above the altar, incorporating sixteen stained glass windows in a half-dome. Three large paintings of St. Patrick, St. Peter, and Jesus Christ are by now quite familiar to Caroline’s eyes, but were even before. Adam was made the grand church’s presiding priest as a “present” for his thirtieth birthday, or so Great-Uncle Thomas had quipped, though Adam merely replied it was a grave responsibility.
The gathered Ventrue assume their seats in the front rows of pews. Vidal’s gaze burns like a black flame as he pronounces that Mister Smith was responsible for leaking clan secrets, slander against the dignitas of his clanmates, sedition against the rightful praxis of an elder clanmate, and numerous further incidents of disgraceful conduct. For these acts, he is to be condemned to damnatio memoriae. His name and works are to never again be spoken of among the clan.
Caroline: While the precise gravity of the punishment is somewhat lost on Caroline, to have one’s memory, as well as legacy, exterminated weighs heavily enough upon her. She can still almost hear his screaming childe as she was dragged into the box for her sire’s errors.
GM: The heat in the gaze of Caroline’s sire is a nigh-palpable thing. The object of its wrath has already been consumed, yet still it would be fed. Still it would burn.
George’s works, Vidal pronounces, are to be destroyed. His crowning achievement, the Windsor Court—a hotel that once received U.S. President Jim Marshall as its guest during Hurricane Katrina—will be closed and demolished. Its ghouls will be executed, as decreed earlier. The lives of its kine employees, down to the lowliest janitors and bellboys, are also forfeit. Not immediately, nor even within the year, for the Windsor Court has received overmuch scrutiny for incidents on the premises and the Masquerade must be maintained. Yet any former Court employees who do not leave New Orleans forever are to be considered open feeding to all and are not to die natural deaths.
“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” Vidal reiterates.
In contrast to the looks of disquiet and heavy silence that greeted the execution of George’s childe, the profound silence among Caroline’s clanmates feels solidarious. Many of them bow their heads at Vidal’s pronouncement. The clan as a whole seems ashamed of George’s conduct. As if it has reflected poorly upon all of them, they who are meant to be leaders among the Camarilla.
Caroline: Caroline is among them in action, if not in feeling. However grounded it may be in Kindred common law, after feeling Vidal’s anger so keenly, she cannot help but feel as though this is savagely vindictive.
GM: “…unto the Final Night and the Second Coming, we shall never again speak of this stain upon our clan’s dignitas,” her sire pronounces in conclusion.
The gathered Ventrue bow their heads.
“But although our clan has shed blood,” Vidal resumes after a moment of silence, “we have also gained new blood.”
His gaze settles upon Caroline and John Harley Matheson.
Matheson steps forward alongside Caroline and leads her before the prince’s seat as he intones,
“We have indeed gained new blood, Strategos Vidal. May I present to you the childe of René Baristheaut, Caroline Malveaux—the newest scion of our clan. Cruel misfortune has denied her a sire to educate her in our ways. But where fortune fails, dignitas may succeed. I have taken it upon myself to educate Miss Malveaux in Questor Baristheaut’s stead.”
Matheson speaks a few more pretty words simultaneously crediting Questor Adler and himself with making Caroline presentable enough to speak before Clan Ventrue tonight, then finally turns the show over to her.
Their gathered clanmates turn to regard the newly-released fledgling.
Caroline: “Strategos Vidal.” Caroline meets the prince’s eyes. “Gerousiastis Guilbeau. Gerousiastis McGinn,” She nods to each in turn, meeting their eyes. “Gerousiastis Matheson.” She turns to meet his eyes and puts on a smile, conjuring up for herself not the voice of a monster, but the image of him offering Becky Lynne comfort and assurance, then back to the crowd. “Lictors, aedile, questors, and eirens. It is my great honor and privilege to stand in your presence, and to share not only the same time and place, but the same blood and heritage.”
The Ventrue’s gaze seems to sweep the crowd, seeking each pair of eyes in turn as she speaks, before returning back to her elder, and finally eldest among them. “First, I must sincerely apologize,” her gaze sweeps over McGinn, “for any shame or discredit I have, by proxy, brought upon this gathering, or any offense I have given. I knew little of the proud lineage I had inherited, nor of its great responsibilities until Gerousiastis Matheson, Gerousiastis McGinn, and their own,” her gaze works its way through McGinn to Matheson, “were noble enough to initiate me into the scantest sliver of the magnificent history of the Ventrue. It is by their firm hands and grace that I come before this distinguished assembly wiser and older to announce my intention to pursue the agoge, and seek, by the collective will and direction of this council, a day in which I might stand not only in the presence of this assembly, but among it as a part of the Structure.”
GM: The assembled Ventrue neither smile nor applaud at Caroline’s speech. None of them frown either at her reference to ‘a day’, though she can tell from their eyes… such language, in hindsight, betrays a still-mortal perspective. Nevertheless, none seem overly disappointed, and a few might even be relatively pleased, if she’s not off her mark.
It’s an improvement over her past reception.
Her sire seems finally disturbed from his brooding as his dark gaze settles on Caroline.
“You have discovered that a clanmate has been poaching in the domain of a Kindred who is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: The question hits quite close to home.
“Strategos Vidal,” Caroline acknowledges her sire as he has never acknowledged her, “such actions are not only a violation of the Second Tradition, they’re of such a nature as to discredit themselves and all Ventrue in the city. If they were a peer or lesser, offer correction, and ensure that correction is followed—failing that, or if they were of superior station, bring it to another Ventrue of greater station. Preferably yourself, Strategos Vidal.”
GM: “A clanmate under lextalionis approaches you and invokes the Ethic of Succor. The prince is not of our blood. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?” the strategos demands.
Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip for a moment.
“Strategos Vidal, the Ethic of Succor is inviolate once invoked. I would be obligated to provide what aid I could, assuming such aid did not undermine the dignitas of the clan as a whole. Presumably, however, only a rarely relatively-low minded—or falsely accused Ventrue—would put another member of the clan in that position.”
GM: The strategos’ gaze narrows.
“You have discovered that your strategos is consorting with the Birds of Dis. What is your course of action, Miss Malveaux?”
Caroline: Caroline teeters on the edge of the question. The Birds of Dis?
“Bring it to the elders of the Gerousia, as the next-highest rung that I might reach. While they may or may not be able to take appropriate action, they are more capable of reaching those who might, as needed.”
GM: No reaction crosses her sire’s seemingly marble-cast features. Time seems to skip a century in a second before he pronounces,
“Go forth into the night, Miss Malveaux. Complete your agoge as did the Spartan youths of old. Return before us as a homoios whose prowess struck fear into the hearts of Sparta’s foes.”
The Hussar wordlessly approaches Caroline to escort the church’s youngest Ventrue out.
Caroline: As has been the case since the first moments she heard the word sire, Caroline departs with no knowledge of her own’s thoughts. A disappointment? A success? A joke? Thrust alone into the night again, she has no answers. Only another task before her.
One of many.