“I know masks, darling. That is my gift.”
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Elysium could have been anywhere else.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is an imposing white rectangular structure whose entrance is supported by four Corinthian pillars. It’s located at the end of a tree-lined avenue surrounded by lagoons and majestic oaks. The neoclassical building feels inspired by ancient Greece, but sufficiently modified to give a subtropical appearance.
It’s also located in City Park.
Mere minutes away from the fight with Carolla.
Every creole in the city is going to be here.
Jade parks her car and gets out, heels clicking against the asphalt leading up to the museum. There’s a few other licks similarly making their way down the avenue.
Celia: It’s unfortunate, but there’s little reason for the Kindred of the city to look into the spot where Carolla had been last seen. She and Roderick had given the pair of Gangrel who discovered them a show, even if they do: Carolla and the nameless whoever-the-fuck he’d been playing Nines with and possibly banging. He hasn’t been missing nearly long enough for anyone to notice he’s gone, though.
Jade pushes the thought of him from her mind as she strolls down the avenue toward the museum proper, though her heels don’t click against the ground so much as swish.
Ordinarily it’s the gown that draws the eye: always high fashion, fitted, flowing. Some elegant color or another, paired with nude or black heels and understated jewelry. Nothing to detract from the girl who wears it. That’s the problem with most women and fashion—they pick outfits who wear them, not the other way around. Jade doesn’t make that mistake.
Tonight, though, it’s not the dress that draws the eye. The gown itself is understated. Still couture, but merely an accompaniment and backdrop to the rest of what she wears. One shoulder, black, floor-length tulle, with lace applique across the bodice to conserve her modesty through chest and groin. It’s fitted through the torso and hips and flares out once it hits mid-thigh, sweeping behind her with every step. The tulle material is translucent at best; it doesn’t hide an inch of her toned, shapely legs.
Nor does it obscure the star of the show. Not around her neck, not dangling from her ears, not on any of her fingers or clasped around her slender wrists. No, the star of the show this evening is at the base of the outfit itself, peeking out from beneath the sheer black lace with every step that Jade takes across the floor.
Vibrant. That’s one way to describe them. Fragrant, too; each time the short train of her gown swishes the floral scent emanating from them gets a little bit stronger, though it’s never even close to overwhelming. It’s a delicate hint of spring, sunshine, and rain. Not the ugly rain of New Orleans, but the sunkissed rain of summer showers and blooming romance.
Long, verdant leaves tie together across the milk-pale skin of her feet beneath the gown. The back of her feet are cradled by a pink and purple lily petal, its stem extending to the ground to serve as heel and point. The green leaves follow the natural arch of her foot, secured by more vines and tendrils that swirl across her skin, the balls of her feet cushioned by petals. Colorful pansies adhere to the natural toebox, her own nails polished to a lustrous sheen to compliment the overall effect. The hue shifts beneath the light, at once turquoise, fushia, or the golden-hued red of a summer sunset.
Jade’s eyes scan the swiftly assembling Kindred, looking for both familiar and unfamiliar faces: Elyse, though her message will be conveyed with eyes and tiny gestures. Amandine, for all that she serves the Baron. Elysium, at least, might be enough to draw her from… whatever she gets up to. The detective as well; perhaps he has pulled himself from work. Her favorite cowboy, though she’ll see him tomorrow if she can find others with whom to occupy her time. The new boytoy from the boat. Her sire, both fictional and true—though she won’t approach the latter, will barely let her eyes skim his form before darting away to find her lover, another resting place her gaze will avoid if it can at all be helped, facial muscles schooled into disdaining neutrality if not.
Any of them will do before the festivities begin.
GM: Jade catches several licks looking at her distinctive footwear.
Some appreciatively. Some jealously.
Another perk of living in the Quarter. She supposes another lick could procure some ‘flower shoes’ if they were willing to send an agent during the day, but just wearing them here would give away what they’d been up to, and this evening the Toreador appears to be the only Kindred sporting one of Dahlia Rose’s designs.
Jade does not see her sire.
He has little need to arrive by foot.
Lebeaux seemingly has not pulled himself from his work, but she espies the boytoy getting out of a car with Marcel and Brodowski, dressed up from his usual jeans and t-shirt in a white blazer, matching pants, and black shirt that he makes look effortlessly stylish and chic, next to the Ventrue in their darker suits (even casual as they may be).
Elyse is approaching alongside her sire and his four masked ghouls. The Malkavian’s flaring-hemmed black dress with its gray collar and belt (no skin visible anywhere on the chest) looks painfully plain next to Harlequin’s domino mask and costume right out of Mardi Gras. Then again, almost everyone looks plain next to Harlequin.
But at least he’s not pretty like she is. Just noticeable. Like a peacock.
Gui, dressed in a sports coat and his signature hat, makes his way up to the museum alone.
Celia: Jade isn’t so gauche as to preen, but she does toss her hair back when her floral footwear catches the eye of several licks, and those with whom she’s on even marginally friendly terms get a wink if they happen to meet her gaze.
She doesn’t let her eyes linger for long on her admirers. They bounce from lick to lick (and sweep across Harlequin’s ghouls as they no doubt desire with their getup this evening) before settling on the exiled prince and his entourage. No doubt Marcel would rather she not approach him directly, and with his Toreador boytoy still unreleased she’d have to feign a reason to approach. Perhaps she’ll just text him later.
No sign of her lover in the cursory sweep of those making their way inside. Now is the perfect time to get a little flirty with someone else to avoid a scene. The others—the masked harpy, the cowboy, the dollmaker—are all approachable on their own, the last of whom she only needs give a long look to get her message across. Years of their secret friendship has let even the simplest gesture convey meaning.
Jade sets her feet on an intercept path toward the Ventrue cowboy, sliding easily into stride beside him.
“Good evening, Mr. Gui.”
GM: “Evening, Miss Kalani.”
Gui looks her over. His eyes rest on her shoes for a moment before returning to her eyes.
“Those look like you plucked them fresh from the botanical garden.”
Celia: “Perhaps I did,” Jade says with a coy smile. “Maybe I’ve moved on from leather to florals.”
He knows just what sort of leather she means, too. Just last week he’d watched her cut open Tantal to fill his body with more muscle.
Jade slides her arm through his, hand resting lightly atop the sports coat that covers his forearm.
“You look dashing, as always. How did that project of yours turn out?” The club. The video. The thin-blood.
GM: “Flowers for the Rose Clan,” Gui remarks amusedly as the two hook arms. “I’d thought leather was more your bailiwick, but I won’t argue with the results.”
“Plants must be less messy, too.”
Celia: Less messy than the blood and viscera that she yanks out of people’s bodies. Quieter than the screaming when her subjects aren’t dead. Jade offers him a smile.
“Dirt under the fingernails, though nothing a little rinse won’t fix.” Her thoughts turn their brief would-be interlude in the shower before the convenient timing of his phone call.
There’s a hint of fang behind that smile now.
GM: There’s fangs behind all smiles, with their kind.
Some are just more obvious about it.
“It’s too bad I wasn’t around,” says Gui. “I could have helped.”
“Especially after last time.”
Celia: “No one likes a tease, Mr. Gui.” But there’s teasing and satisfaction in her tone rather than heat, and she hasn’t forgotten his promise to make her toes curl. She bats her lashes at him to let him know she’s not too put out with his abrupt departure.
GM: “They certainly don’t,” he smiles back. “I find the best way to deal with teases is to charge them interest, once they’re in a position to pay out.”
Celia: “A tease tax?” she muses. “Perhaps I’ll adopt your methods. Consider yourself taxed.”
GM: “And yourself equally taxed,” he rejoinds.
“I checked with Lord Savoy about a few things, so far as the project. You’ll forgive my playing dumb during our last talk.”
Celia: Jade lifts her shoulders in a shrug.
“I’d assumed. How did that go?”
GM: Gui glances briefly at some nearby Kindred.
“I’ll tell you someplace out of the way, lush. Leave the prying eyes and ears guessing.”
Celia: “Perfect. I have a little something for you as well.”
GM: “A mutual exchange is always the best one.”
Jade’s phone gives a buzz.
Celia: Jade favors him with a smile that promises to rock his world, then glances at her phone.
GM: The text is from Celia’s mom.
Youre my cut lil bunny ;)
Celia: It looks like someone hit the bottle tonight. Celia would giggle or smile, but Celia isn’t here right now. Jade only smirks, silences the device, and slides it out of sight.
“Tomorrow?” she asks Gui.
GM: “Tomorrow,” he agrees. “Good time with the party.”
Celia: “Looking forward to it. Did you pick the theme?”
GM: “Yes. I figured the older crowd would enjoy something retro. They always do.”
Celia: “I imagine so. My sire will have a ball with it.”
Celia: “Yours too, I bet.” A slight tilt of her head as she looks up at him.
GM: “He’s not here, sadly. But I think he would.”
“He could just come as himself.”
Celia: “That’d be a sight.” Jade’s gaze sweeps the assembled licks once more. It lingers on Elyse for a moment, though with the way her body has turned toward Gui perhaps it looks as if she is merely caught up in his company. “Sounds like he’d be interesting to meet.”
GM: Elyse, Harlequin, and the latter’s entourage are headed inside the art museum as they speak. Gui and Jade stand surveying the outdoors sculpture garden.
“Maybe you’ll get to see him some night. I still go back to Chicago from time to time.”
Celia: Well. Perhaps she doesn’t catch the Malkavian’s eye as intended. She has the next few hours to do so.
“Are you offering to take me home to meet pops? I didn’t realize we were there yet.”
GM: There’s a faint smirk. “I don’t think he’d read too much into it. Pops has seen me with a lot of girls.”
Celia: Jade huffs at him. “You’re supposed to pretend I’m special, darling. But I’d like to see Kindred Chicago.”
GM: “Not special wouldn’t get an invite back to the Second City, lush. First lick I’ve offered that to.”
“It’s interesting, next to New Orleans.”
“Things there are… angrier, in some ways. Worse Anarch revolts. But there’s not the same sense of decline, of looking backwards.”
“The licks in charge are looking towards the future.”
Celia: Jade can’t deny the flutter that his words bring. She drops her mock scowl to replace it with a smile.
“It sounds like a city worth seeing. I’d be happy to join you on your next visit.”
GM: “Pack some silver and bring a renfield who can handle himself. The road’s always dangerous.”
Celia: “How often have you made the trip?”
GM: “Enough times it’s familiar. Not so many I get cocky. Phones exist for a reason. But there are some things you can only talk about in person.”
Celia: “And the road is safer than flying?”
GM: “Flying is a terrible idea.”
Celia: Jade waits for him to explain further.
GM: “Too high security, especially since 9/11. Too many variables outside of your control. Flight delays can be the final death of any lick if your plane’s grounded until sunup.”
Celia: Well fuck. There goes her plan to fly to LA.
“So you’ve fought them before and survived to talk about it?” The loops, she means.
GM: Gui just gives an enigmatic smile.
“I’ve tussled with some dangerous things on the road.”
“But I prefer to avoid them. Winning gains nothing and losing can lose everything.”
Celia: Jade runs a hand down his arm, fangs once more long in her mouth at the thought of Gui fighting and winning.
“You’ll have to tell me about it sometime.”
GM: The Ventrue’s faint smile widens slightly at the thought so plainly on her mind.
“Visit the Dark, and you’ll come back with stories.”
“That’s just the way of it.”
“That’s the one thing that never changes.”
“Hearst knows it better than I do, and he says he usually sees something new, when he goes back out.”
Celia: “What, every time?”
GM: “That’s what he says.”
“It’s a strange place out there.”
Celia: “You believe him? That he’s been as far as he says?”
GM: “I don’t know if he’s telling the truth about that town at the bottom of South America, but I know for a fact that he’s been farther than me. There’s worse licks for anyone traveling into the Dark to have at their side.”
Celia: She’ll have to see if he can come to her with LA, if things come to that. She’s already fantasized about being on the back of his bike. Doesn’t leave room for a ghoul, but maybe they can skip the bike…
“Maybe he’ll come with us.”
GM: Gui chuckles.
“Wiser to make plans outside of Elysium, lush. What if someone heard and tried to take us out?”
Celia: Jade rolls her eyes.
“I didn’t say when.”
“But point taken, darling, I’ll stay mum.”
“Though I’ll have you know that taking out two licks as cute as us is definitely a crime. Beyond the Traditions.”
GM: “Yes, it would be. But if other licks can’t be as attractive as us, I suppose they can’t be as civilized either.”
Celia: That earns a smirk from Jade.
“Perhaps we should head inside and grace them with our presence.”
GM: Gui glances to the side at the assorted Kindred entering the building.
“Yes, let’s. We’re already going to be some of the last in.”
Celia: Jade trails a hand down his chest before she pulls away with a smile, pleased with her get for the evening. They have more to discuss, but tomorrow is another night.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Another night sees another Elysium.
The New Orleans Museum of Art, the city’s oldest fine arts institution, has a magnificent permanent collection of almost 40,000 art objects spanning 5,000 years of art, including the Italian Renaissance to the modern era. The collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works, continues to grow. Its furniture collection includes important examples of 18th and 19th century American furniture and a small group of exquisite 18th century French pieces. Highlights include The Rosemonde E. and Emile Kuntz Rooms, exhibiting choice examples of America’s fine and decorative arts heritage in New Orleans. Its collection of European and American works includes works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin, Braque, Dufy, Miró, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum features a comprehensive survey of French art, including several important works painted by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas during his time living with his mother’s family in New Orleans between 1871 and 1872.
Among the permanent exhibition is a survey of local Louisiana artists, as well as other American artists. The museum also features a significant collection of art photography with over 12,000 works from the beginnings of photography to the present. Other holdings include collections of glass, ceramics, portrait miniatures, Native American Art, Central American art from pre-Columbian and Spanish eras, Chinese ceramics, Japanese painting, Indian sculpture and folk arts from Africa, Indonesia, and the South Pacific.
And like any place of value and beauty, it cannot help but call Caine’s children.
They cannot do aught but seek to claim it.
Caine’s damned children descend upon the museum in droves, like carrion flies drawn to a corpse. Some hide their natures underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions.
They flaunt their ownership of the museum and its treasures.
Here, they may dress and comport themselves as they like.
Here, the Masquerade falls away.
Here, any mortal to trespass the museum’s confines will enter a nightmare world they may never leave.
It pleases the Damned to claim such a place, to make it so totally theirs. To carve out their little gilded piece of eternity, just for a night, and proclaim, ‘here, we rule.’
Gus Elgin stands before the crowd of Kindred gathered in the museum’s entrance hall, an almost all-white affair dominated by Corinthian pillars, a sweeping central staircase, potted palms, and assorted works of art previewing the ones contained further in. The Nosferatu master of elysium is a stunted creature with a rounded, crushed-in head—crushed in by the same streetcar he operated during his mortal life, and the origin of his nickname ‘Gutterball.’ His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind people of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He’s dressed in a leather jacket, black pair of slacks, and plain shoes—forgettable and unobtrusive clothes amidst the sea of shark-like fashions. A rosary ending in a lance rather than crucifix dangles from his neck.
Beside him, but over foot taller than him (and over a head taller than most other men), stands Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s frame is slender and his skin dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. Tonight, without the need to hide his true self before mortalkind, he wears a galabiyya and almaizar: traditional gray Arabic men’s robes with a shoulder scarf and head covering.
Whispers abuzz among the crowd of Kindred. There’s talk of vanished licks, snatched up by the Guard de Ville on no apparent pretext—licks like Sterling and Tina Baker, some of them chosen from among Vidal’s enemies, others from friendly factions.
And the bishop. Gone now for so many nights. Incommunicado.
This bodes ill.
Yet most such rumor-mongers number among the young, and their elders swiftly shush them. Elysium is a place of reflection, discourse, and contemplation—not a gossip house. Gus Elgin smiles faintly and adds his own calm voice to the discourse, humbling requesting that the gathered Kindred lend him their attentions.
He begins, as ever, with a brief prayer to Longinus. Most of the gathered Kindred silently bow their heads. The Nosferatu then announces the time and location of next week’s Elysium Primo—a practice done, all of the attendees know, to discourage tardiness. Anyone who arrives late must beg the information from another vampire. Rarely is their kind charitable.
Celia: Gui had said that they would be among the last to arrive. Perhaps Jade had planned it that way, loitering outside with him until the other licks of the city were all present and accounted for to make her grand entrance with carefully selected gown, heels, accessories… including the lick on her arm. Reynaldo Gui and Jade Kalani arm in arm, and what a statement that makes: a power couple of enterprising and upwardly mobile neonates in service to Lord Savoy, both of them eye catching in their own right. Together they’re a statement.
They say the prince’s time is over.
They say that he has suffered significant losses these past months.
They say that their own losses are marginal, that Savoy’s star is on the rise.
They say look how glamorous things are in the Quarter.
They say don’t you want to be with us? To be us?
It’s the heart of every marketing campaign and they pull it off flawlessly, as if they’d been created for this moment, this entrance, this statement. Jade takes a second to smile up at her cowboy—hadn’t they heard the whispers about him taking her home?—before the pair part ways, Gui to his associates and Jade to her adoptive sire’s clique. She’s just in time to not give anyone a moment to ask a thing about her before Elgin draws the murmuring to a close to begin the evening’s festivities.
GM: They really do make a gorgeous pair.
Though some might say she makes a gorgeous anything.
More than a few eyes survey the pair.
One most of all.
He’s not obvious about it. Not standing as he is by his sire’s side. Someone who isn’t looking probably doesn’t see it.
But Roderick Durant is one of the licks who watches Jade Kalani enter Elysium arm in arm with Reynaldo Gui.
He lets nothing cross his face.
He just looks at them, long enough to be sure, then looks back towards Gus Elgin.
Celia: Jade’s eyes dance across Roderick in their sweep of the hall. She doesn’t let it stop the slow spread of the smile across her face, or the very satisfied sway in her step as she takes her spot near Veronica.
Like him, she has a mask to wear. A role to play.
Like him, she’s smart enough to know that’s all it is: a mask. A role.
Perhaps he’ll give her the opportunity to explain before he puts her head through a wall and breaks her jaw. Perhaps he’ll believe her when she tells him that she isn’t fucking Reynaldo.
Or perhaps he’ll simply rip out her tongue for the effort, just like he had in that vision of the future.
GM: Some masks, worn enough, become more than masks.
The harpies are there. Veronica. Katherine. Marguerite. Adelais. Sundown. Harlequin. All of their hangs-on, including Elyse.
Jade’s alleged sire wears a ‘dress’ made out of strategically placed scarlet feathers, each one seemingly dipped in blood, that reveal more than they hide. Rows of talons are covetously positioned around her half-visible breasts and womanhood. Her strappy high heels are made from mummified bird feet. Most prominently of all, however, a full set of wings made from the same red feathers unfurls from her back. She looks like a bird of prey almost ready to take flight. A too-familiar faint sneer rests upon her face.
It’s directed at the newcomers.
Or at least one of them.
He’s a tall and young-looking African-American man with good posture and a clean-shaven face dressed in a crisp navy suit and leather shoes. Jade hasn’t ever seen him before.
Celia: Jade takes a moment to appreciate her sire’s choice in attire before following her gaze to the black lick and his chosen company, if any. You can tell a lot about a person from the company they keep.
GM: He stands by himself.
The second newcomer, though, Jade recalls from John Harley Matheson’s trial. The female ‘prosecutor.’
She’s beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative black evening gown that gives away little of who she is.
She is cold but beautiful. Not entirely unlike Jade’s real sire.
She, though, does not stand alone, but near Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn.
Celia: You are the company you keep. Jade doesn’t think it’s one hundred percent accurate (it’s not like she’s a Mafia doll because she hangs out with Gui), but a brief glance at the woman lets her dismiss the more wild claims that had circulated about her after her last appearance in the city. No doubt the tongues will continue to wag with her reappearance, much as they do about everyone.
GM: Many eyes rests upon the newcomers, too. They are natural subjects for gossip. Whereas the woman simply stares ahead unconcernedly, the lone man meets those eyes and returns a few with faint nods and professional smiles.
He feels green.
Celia: Green can be fun. Jade winks when she catches his eye.
GM: He smiles back at her.
Gus Elgin, meanwhile, enumerates what exhibitions the museum is currently showcasing, and what rooms they may be found in. They include Ancestors in Stone, whose theme is West African ancestor worship; Arte Sacra: Roman Catholic Art from Portuguese India; NEW at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art; Marta Rodriguez Maleck: Morir es Vivir (“To Die Is to Live”), a sound and light installation that weaves together voices from across the New Orleans community; and A Brief History of Photography and Transmission.
The master of elysium will conduct ‘tours’ of these exhibitions at fixed times throughout the evening, and enumerates these times. Present Kindred are free to attend any number of these, to peruse the museum’s permanent collections on their own, or both.
“I would be remiss, too, not to include the sculpture garden,” Gus Elgin smiles. It’s located just outside the museum and features more than 90 works on a picturesque trail through City Park. It, too, is considered Elysium.
Elgin closes with a brief final prayer and declares the evening’s Elysium Primo has begun. Kindred cliques begin to file off throughout the museum. Some walks outside to view the sculpture garden. Others move to accompany the Nosferatu on his first tour.
Other Kindred, however, stay behind to watch when the newcomer approaches Philip Maldonato and declares,
“Your Majesty, my name is James Thibodeaux. I am here to present myself before you.”
Smirks flash and titters sound across viewing fanged faces.
“You address me erroneously, Mr. Thibodeaux. I am not a prince,” Maldonato answers.
Celia: Jade’s lips pull upwards in the corners at the newcomer’s mistake. Green indeed, though he wouldn’t be the first to assume Maldonado is the prince. She uses it as an excuse to glance around the harpies and their hanger-ons, as if to share the mirth, and catch Elyse’s eye.
GM: There’s nothing hidden about the contempt on Veronica’s or Adelais’ faces. Or most of the harpies’. Elyse’s face alone retains its doll-like stillness, though she meets Jade’s eye. Nothing further changes on her face.
Mr. Thibodeux looks caught off-guard at the seneschal’s reply. “My apologies, sir. I heard the prince would be the tallest man here. Can you direct me to Prince Vidal?”
There’s more smirks and snickers at his words.
“I cannot, Mr. Thibodeux,” Maldonato answers the newcomer without elaboration.
“But whether foreknowledge or serendipity has led you before me, I am the correct Kindred to present yourself to.”
Thibodeux just nods at the seneschal’s words and goes on, “My name is James Thibodeux of Clan Gangrel. I was born in New Orleans, served abroad in the Navy as a nuclear electrician, and received an honorable discharge. I’d like to return to the city I was born, because I heard it’s going to need a new prince. I’d like to serve my city, work my way through the ranks, and show I’ve got what it takes.”
Celia: Her friendship with Elyse over the years has given both of them an understanding: they don’t converse in public. The pair plays for opposite sides and no matter how well they get along in private it wouldn’t do for either of them to be seen in the other’s company. So Jade doesn’t smile. She doesn’t wink. She doesn’t say hello. She just looks, meeting the Malkavian’s blank stare, and knows that her message is received.
Jade returns her attention to the newcomer.
“That’s certainly… bold,” she murmurs to those nearest her, the pregnant pause in the midst of her sentence conveying the true meaning behind her words: literally fucking insane.
GM: Elysium’s looks and whispers aren’t as unkind as they were before.
They are much worse.
Thibodeux seems to notice this time, if only by volume alone. A frown faintly creases his face, but he doesn’t remove his eyes from the seneschal.
Veronica, the Kindred nearest to Jade, just sneers.
The rest of the murder is eyeing the newcomer like a juicy piece of meat.
Celia: Jade has had her fill of the newcomer. Anyone who blunders that badly their first evening in the city doesn’t bode well for business, and she has some idea of how this will go.
“Dead in the water,” she says with an effected sigh. “Even if he weren’t, wrong tree.” She doesn’t need to practice such human gestures as rolling her eyes; the scorn in her voice is more than enough. It’s altogether too easy.
She moves off with a mutter of “low hanging fruit.” It’s not even worth her time.
He’ll be ripped to shreds and picked clean over before his blood is even cold.
GM: No one stops Jade as she leaves.
Indeed, perhaps the true competition will be who gets to make the kill.
Predators appreciate fewer rivals.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
Celia: The halls of Elysium have rarely fallen so silent, filled as they are by the chattering gossip-mongers, their hanger-ons, and the would-be crowd. Even the noise from the night’s usual games and intrigues isn’t enough to distract from the sudden hush, and Jade’s head turns in the direction of the two whose conversation has drawn enough attention to bring dozens of eyes their way.
GM: A duel. Between Julius B. Baudoin and Christopher Guilbeau. “I challenge you, trash,” says the latter. “Dueling Oak. After Elysium.”
“Or you can apologize for those words.”
Support: Julius’ smile thins, as do his gator-red eyes behind his shades. He does pause, though, to allow the crowd to clearly turn and watch the show. Then he replies, his voice clear and sharp as a trumpet:
“An’ which woids were dose? When I called myself po’? Okay, I ‘pologize fo’ lyin’. I ain’t po’. I’m rich, actually, got millions that I earned wid my own knuckles an’ brains. No handouts from daddy or such.”
“Or wus it when I said you’s had high-clan talents? Dat be a shame to apologize fo’ dat, cuz it’s gottah be true. How could it not, wot wid you being childe of His Grace, da Most Marvelous Marcel Guilbeau, Duke of Baton Rouge, Interpreter and Librettist? I an’ udders look fo’ward to seein’ great dings from you’s.”
“An’ surely you cain’t be sayin’ I should apologize fo’ saying His Grace needs you’s or any other neonate to run the Alysta? Why, he wus a prince, an’ uh great one of uh great city, an’ surely will be once more! He’s a pillar of da Invictus and Camarilla, an’ a delight to dis city. So I’ll not apologize fo’ dat, for dat would be besmirchin’ his great dignitas—an’ not I no’ nobody else should dare do such uh thing, for dat would make one lower den trash.”
Julius then waits for the Ventrue’s answer—and he is no longer smiling.
GM: Elysium watches avidly.
A duel can only end in one of two ways: one Kindred wins, the other loses.
Easy path to glory, at someone else’s expense. One bridge forward and another bridge burned.
So Julius ripostes.
Dig becomes flattery. Slight becomes praise—and Christopher finds himself disarmed of his own weapon.
He quickly raises a shield to fend off the Caitiff’s advance.
“Hmph. I suppose you didn’t know what you were saying,” he declares loftily, in a somewhat bored tone. Like he’s doing Julius a favor.
“You should be more careful how you say things, though. You could offend somebody.”
Yet, though such words may salve the Ventrue’s pride, and save some measure of face, there is little of Julius’ same grace or cleverness in them—and few of Elysium’s ever-watchful eyes can deny that the Caitiff’s words were chosen with great care.
Celia: No duel after all, then. The glib-tongued Caitiff’s words go over well enough.
Guilbeau backpedals so hard that it’s a wonder his foot hasn’t become lodged in his throat.
Jade wants to know how a tantrum-throwing Brujah became the most well-spoken of the Golds, but she keeps the thought to herself. She’s rather fond of the boy’s sire for all that his childe turned out to be nothing but a braying ass. She smirks at the display, looking past where Guilbeau stands to the dark-haired beauty behind him.
Long-lost sister. She’s had a lot of those, hasn’t she? Isabel. Roxanne. Whatever she wants to go by. Emily, if she finds out the bitch slept with her boyfriend. Dani, for all that it was never official. Another one, too. A cold one. Like her sire, only this one doesn’t know that she exists.
She remembers what Roderick had said about Ryllie that night he found out about Dani. Remembers how she pines for someone she can’t have. The bond, presumably, and Jade—or one of the girls inside of Jade—knows what that is like. She’d willingly taken the bond, but to be forced into slavery, to be used like nothing but a juicebag?
Not a hint of emotion crosses her marble face.
She meets her sister’s eye.
And then she lets it show, just for Ryllie, as if she cannot help herself. Pity, mingled with something like genuine remorse. Her eyes swim.
But just for a flash.
Just long enough to look like a crack in the mask.
It’s a look that says, “I know something you don’t, and you wouldn’t like it if you did.” It’s the sort of look fathers give their sons when they take them fishing for the first time and help the boy reel in their catch, knowing that just moments from now their hands will be stained red with the blood and guts of that wriggling, gasping fish, that soon there will be a knife in its side while they slice it down the belly, strip its bones from its flesh, and sautée it over a hot flame.
It’s only there for a instant.
Then she turns her face away.
GM: She really does have so many long-lost sisters.
Biological sisters. Adoptive sisters. In-law-to-be sisters. Kindred sisters. Pretend Kindred sisters. Biological and Kindred sisters.
About half of them hate her.
Well, maybe not ‘hate.’
Does Camilla even spare her enough thought to hate?
Ryllie just gives her a haughty look in response. That same lip-curling sneer learned from their sire.
The younger Toreador doesn’t do it as well, though.
And for all the disdain in expression, Jade feels sure of one thing:
She definitely got under this sister’s skin.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
Celia: Jade’s eyes move from the elders and their game of chance to the new face in the crowd that has come to observe. Newish, at least; he’s been around years longer than her few for all that he doesn’t have the clout to back it up. A step sideways and she’s near enough to Julius B. Baudoin that she can converse in a lowered voice, though not so close that she appears friendly. Veronica has told her not to bother with the riffraff.
“Shame their PR ended up in Houston.”
Support: “Whose PR is dat, sug?” the Caitiff asks quietly, keeping his gaze ahead at the ex-princes.
Celia: “The Golds,” Jade tells him with a vague gesture over her shoulder toward the junior Guilbeau and Veronica’s other childe.
Support: “Ah, dem,” Julius replies softly with his sousaphone timbre. “Thought you’s wus talkin bout da Navy’s Public Affairs. Cuz Mr. Thibodeux coulda used der help.”
He shifts. “But we done lost uh lotta folks to Houston.”
“And uh helluva lot more to da hurricane itself.”
There’s a bitter chord to that last statement, but it’s not directed at the Toreador.
Celia: “Mm, there’s been a lot of foot in mouth tonight,” Jade agrees with a smirk. “But this was after the hurricane. Apparently he tried to stop a massacre and was exiled for the trouble.”
Support: “Oh, dat’s rite. Da hound’s kid, Hez… somethin. Didn’t know he wus der PR. Figure’d it’d be der rose, or da Big Sis kid.”
Celia: “Certainly isn’t your new friend there.” Amusement dances across Jade’s face. “And it certainly couldn’t be the thrall.”
Jade shrugs, one point made. The other worm wiggles free of the hook, but there are fish yet to be had.
“I’m sure he landed on his feet. Make the right friends and things become less bleak.”
Support: “Speakin’ of makin da rite frenz,” Julius adds in a low voice, “Mr. Thibodeux might be joinin da party tomorrow.”
Celia: She gives Julius a tiny nod in answer, the barest dip of her chin.
“A good host would tell him the theme,” she murmurs in response.
Support: “Mmhmm,” Julius says, like a bullfrog savoring a fly. “Gotta first see if he survives Ms. Melton’s jelly-roll. Ain’t too often somebody beats you’s to uh sossidge shoot-da-chute.”
To those close or keen enough to hear the low-spoken remark, it’s clear Julius’ words have no acrimony or venom, but are rather matter-of-fact if not blasé, like someone idly commenting on the shortness of a rain-shower or an early blossomed hydrangea.
Celia: Good thing a certain someone isn’t around, or the Caitiff might be told to eat his words once more.
“I only pursue attractive things, Papa Juju,” Jade remarks idly. “Desperation isn’t attractive.”
Support: Julius smiles like the rain-shower has past: “Ah, you rite, f’sure, though some like Mr. Silvestri say dat pursuit is attractive in an’ of itself.” He shrugs, then adds, “Den ‘gain, what’s attractive in uh lover versus uh shovelhead are mighty diff’rent. For most folks at least. Dose at da Dungeon might disagree.”
He shrugs once more. “Anywho, da seventh ward has mo’ need of shovelheads den lovers dese days,” he says in reference to the one of the main fronts between Savoy and the Baron’s factions.
Celia: “Pursuit is attractive. My sire would agree; we both enjoy a challenge.”
At the mention of Silvestri she sweeps her eyes through the crowd of assembled licks, looking for the thief. She has something to speak to him about. She doesn’t touch the subject of the Dungeon, just notes its mention and doubles down on her resolve to look into it further.
Later, where there are less inquisitive ears about.
“No doubt Miss Melton will be able to show him where things go.” Easy convert, she means, now that they’ve extended such a personal welcome. “I’m certain he’ll be grateful for the lesson.” And stick around in the Quarter to make himself useful on that front.
The jazzman inspects his fingernails. They’re clean.
“Bin meanin to axe you’s,” he whispers with a slow pour of his liquid-deep voice. “But if it crosses da line, jus tell me to git lost an’ I will.”
He pauses a moment, then, before proceeding, “You got dat Turk crib, rite, da Gardette? If you evah consider subinfeudin it, let’s jus say I might know uh buyer willin’ to pay mo’ den uh few dollahs.”
Celia: “I do,” she confirms. An interesting bit of history in her little slice of the Quarter. All sorts of ghost stories surround the building—though that’s true of most places in New Orleans, particularly in the Quarter.
“I’ll hear out your contact.”
Support: Julius continues his facade of idly watching Marcel and Accou converse, but Jade does not have to wait long before the trombonist replies:
“Dat party is a bit shy. Wants to sus’ out if der offer is acceptable, don’t wunna risk upsettin one of der fellow Bourbons. Makes me da middleman.”
Julius’ face then turns slightly toward Jade as he adds, “Lissenin to udder lil’ birdies, woid is you’d like to git a vacation or two or ten to da Windy City. Drivin’ uh thousand miles ain’t no gud, an’ flyin ain’t much bettah—an’ sometimes a lot mo’ worse. But da rivuh? Ain’t as fast as flyin, but less oversight, an’ way mo’ shade an’ comfort den uh car, van, or wotnot. Especially if you’s git a private yacht. Dey cost mo’ den uh few dollahs, though, half uh mil or mo’, and den dere’s all da paperwoik. Lots of it. An’ knowin which ports an’ folks to grease or avoid an’ how.”
“Now you could do uh private charter, but dere’s mo’ paperwoik, mo’ oversight, an’ you’s cain’t jus up an’ git goin whenevah you be wantin.”
“So I’m authorized to offer you’s a private yacht wid all da paperwork, complete wid membership in da Lakeview Southern Yacht Club wid all of dose perks. Probably could use it to rub shoulders, reel in some whales to Flawless, too. An’ all da vacations to da Windy City or beyond. Da Crescent City is one of da biggest ports in da world.”
“An’ in return, dey want Gardette. A lil’ secret jus between you’s, me, dem, and Lord Savoy, who’s gud wid it, or will be if you are.”
And then, as if sharing an almost irrevelant afterthought, he adds, “Yacht is uh ’03, uh 65 footah. Used to belong to Rich Towers, da famous kine actor.” He shrugs at the last factoid.
Celia: And how, she wonders, did he already hear that she is looking to make a trip to the Windy City with Reynaldo? She doesn’t bother asking; the pair had had their conversation just moments ago outside the doors of Elysium and entered together like the belles of the ball. Whoever had overheard his offer to take her home must have been quick to spread it, and their proximity had only confirmed the rumor.
No wonder her lover looks like he’s one wrong word away from tearing someone’s head off.
“Our little secret,” Jade muses. That he’d just dropped in front of all the ears of Elysium. Surely he realizes the irony when she finally turns to face him fully, one brow lifted.
She’d have preferred to discuss this offer privately—no need to let the licks of the city know that she has a yacht and can come and go as she pleases. But here it stands. Rich Towers’ yacht. A direct line to wherever she wants to go in the world.
But she lets him sweat. Metaphorically.
“I’ll think about it.”
Support: Julius nods. If his gossip-alleged ‘sister’ wishes to contact him, she knows how—even beyond their regular co-appearances at Savoy’s club.
If history predicts the future, Gardette manse isn’t going anywhere—unlike the yacht.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Marcel Guilbeau publicly challenges Accou Poincaré to a game of chance. The wager he proposes is Accou’s casquette girl, a potent status symbol among the city’s elders. The challenge draws the interest of many Kindred. Marcel has been lagging behind Accou’s in the horse race to position himself as Vidal’s heir: he is no doubt seeking to advance his position through besting the Toreador primogen, even despite the friendly setting.
Accou stands less to gain from the water. He’s already ahead of Marcel.
On the other hand, refusal will cost him face, and he is behind Donovan himself in the ‘race’.
Accou glibly questions the growing audience of nearby Kindred what prize he should ask from Marcel, if he wins the game.
Celia: A game of chance. As if the casino owner ever actually chances anything.
Jade doesn’t say a word when she slips into the crowd of Kindred around the elders, though she makes sure that she’s seen by the exiled Ventrue prince without drawing overt attention to herself.
He knows that she knows.
“What’s the worth of a casquette girl?” Jade drawls in an undertone to the lick beside her. “His boat?”
GM: “The Alystra is worth around $150 million,” answers Anthony Brodowski. “Which one would you take, if you had the choice?”
Celia: The boat. There are always more casquette girls. Money can buy all sorts of useful things… and people.
“Seems rather obvious.”
GM: “I’d take the casquette girl,” answers Brodowski. “You can always make more money.”
Celia: A status symbol would be useful to a nobody like him. Jade smiles and inclines her head as if they’d reached the same conclusion.
GM: “I’d take the $150 million,” says Duke Elmhearst with a vaguely scornful look.
Celia: He would. No doubt that empty head of his can’t think of anything worth doing with a casquette girl in his employ.
Or he’s just a sexist fuck.
Support: “Material worth ain’t da matter at hand,” offers Julius in his low, liquidy thunderous voice. “Da filles la casquette are livin history, uh part of da past dat has outlived it, much like da Kindred. But so too is da Alystra. It’s far mo’ dan simply money. Dat ship done carries wid it a noble past, an in her wake, she remembers wot wus an wot wus lost, jus like da girls.”
Celia: Leave it to the Caitiff to outspeak them both.
GM: “Well-spoken, Mr. Baudoin,” replies Marcel.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my Requiem, it’s that material things are easy to acquire and easy to lose. But unless you’re worried about dying soon,” and here the ex-prince cracks a smile echoed on a few of the watching faces, “there’s little point in getting impatient over when fate will deal you a winning hand. You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”
“But history? Once that’s gone, it’s gone forever. They say everything has a price, but to me it feels disrespectful to assign a monetary worth to a casquette girl. Perhaps the only fair thing to wager would be another piece of history.”
GM: “Soundly reasoned, Lord Librettist,” Accou smiles back. “I, too, believe it would be only fair to wager one piece of history for another. Are all here of like mind that the Alystra is of equivalent historic value to a fille à la cassette, or would another piece of history be a more suitable wager?”
Celia: She’ll never get credit for it.
Jade tilts her head to one side, as if considering the offer.
“Where will you go without the Alystra?” Jade quietly asks Anthony, as if the game is already won. Everyone nearby has considered the implications, haven’t they? It’d knock Marcel right out of the line if he can’t hold onto a boat.
Surely that is a worthy prize in and of itself.
Clever, clever grandsire.
GM: “They probably have money outside the Alystra, Miss Kalani,” says Amaryllis DeCuir in a vaguely patronizing tone. “I’m sure they’d manage.”
Celia: “You’re missing the point, darling.”
Jade smiles at her, as if it’s to be expected.
GM: Amaryllis smiles back, like Jade’s too stupid to have considered her own point.
Celia: Hadn’t she just gotten under her little sister’s skin? No doubt this is some petty little thing she thinks she’s won in the wake of that.
What’s it like to be used as a breather? Ryllie could dazzle them all with her stories.
GM: “We’d likely go somewhere on dry land, for one,” Brodowski answers with a smile of his own. “Perhaps we’d even enjoy the change of scenery.”
Celia: Jade doesn’t bother pointing out that New Orleans is a sinking city, or that it sees almost sixty-five inches of rain per year, or that only a decade ago the whole city had flooded.
She’d played her part.
GM: “I would require someone to manage the Alystra, should fortune smile upon me,” declares Accou. “Perhaps you would be interested in continuing to, Lord Librettist.”
“Very generous of you, Alder Councilor,” answers Marcel. “I suppose since my household and I aren’t in any danger of being left homeless, that settles it. Will you accept the Alystra against your casquette girl, Alder Councilor?”
“I shall,” answers Accou. “What game, then, we are to play for these wagers? I would normally propose chess, but you asked for a game of chance, Lord Librettist.”
GM: “So I did, Alder Councilor. Perhaps our audience has further suggestions?” he inquires.
Celia: Few enough actual games of chance to be had in a place like this. Not with all the tricks their kind possess. With Sterling picked up by the hounds she doubts anyone has a pair of dice or cards on hand.
Coins, though. Plenty to be had, aren’t there. Odds are 50-50, each player has an equal chance, and even the professionals in the sports world use them to kick off games.
“Have a quarter, Mr. Browdowski?” Old as they are, she doubts they’d consent to a game of Bingo.
GM: A few calls go out for baccarat, poker, and other casino games before the Ventrue produces a quarter and flips it in the air towards Jade.
The action draws some stares and quiets down the Kindred offering suggestions.
Everyone prefers to watch something happen.
Celia: Oh fuck no. She’s not going to be accused of anything or blamed because she flips the coin.
Still, deft fingers pluck it out of the air, and she winks at the stiff as she moves to a more prominent locale.
“50/50 odds. Best two of three? Three of five? Or just a single flip?”
GM: “I wonder, is a coin toss really a game?” asks Ryllie. “Games take a while. There’s strategy, interplay, back and forth between the players.”
The audience’s eyes settle on Jade.
Celia: “Tell me, Mr. Guilbeau. Is the coin flip offered as a game at your casino?”
She waits for the expected “no,” and nods her head.
“And why is that, Mr. Guilbeau? I know we’re all looking for razzle dazzle, or at least my sister is based on her open scorn, but I’m sure there’s a mathematical reason, isn’t there? Something to do with house odds, isn’t it? Because in baccarat, blackjack, and roulette the odds favor the house, don’t they? And people have this grand debate about luck versus skill in poker, but all the professionals—those are the ones who know more about it than us, Ryllie—they agree that it isn’t luck at all. The casinos only let them play because they take a rake from every hand, so it’s guaranteed money in their pockets.”
Jade considers her little sis.
“You know what a coin flip has? Even probability. I can ask Papa Juju to belt us out a tune if you need something more invigorating, though. Maybe get some smoke machines or sequins for you.”
GM: Titters, low laughs, and condescending smirks greet the Toreador’s barbed words.
Ryllie’s eyes smolder with scorn as she assumes an equally warmthless smile.
“A coin flip’s not actually even, Jade. You do know that too, right… that fast enough Kindred can basically decide, what side turns up?”
She considers her alleged broodmate ‘thoughtfully’ with a nailed hand raised to her lips.
“Hmm… maybe not. And you know, baccarat does have even odds—between the players, and not the banker? That game seems a lot more fair to me, unless you were volunteering to do the coin flip. I guess with a Kindred who’s graceless enough, it’d be close enough to random…”
More smirks and subdued laughs ripple across the predatory faces as they shift back to Jade.
Celia: “Darling, do you really think we can influence a coin toss and not any of the other suggestions? That we can’t stack a deck the same way? What limited imagination.”
Amusement dances across her face.
“I was going to say that I shouldn’t flip the coin because of my shared blood with a contender. I was going to say that you shouldn’t either, for the same reason. But I’ve heard you still have your fangs planted in a certain someone’s back end, so I guess that’d make you an unbiased party.”
“And it’s not,” Jade says, inspecting a nail, “as if our sire considers you blood anymore.”
GM: Veronica, watching silently as her ‘childer’ feud, only sneers at Jade’s words.
“Funny hearing that from the city’s biggest slut,” Ryllie retorts furiously, eyes flashing as her fangs lengthen in her mouth. “I bet if he’d approached you, you’d have sunk your fangs around his cock and begged for seconds. If half the Kindred here even knew what you did behind closed doors, and with w-!”
“Enough,” Accou preempts. The elder’s face is still as marble, and his eyes equally cool as they fall upon Jade’s ‘broodmate.’
“Many call Elysium a place of reflection and contemplation. And so it is—your actions here reflect upon those beyond yourselves.” His unblinking eyes rest long upon Ryllie, then momentarily take in Jade as well.
“Comport yourselves appropriately.”
Ryllie grits her fangs but inclines her head.
She stares at Jade too, though, and something ugly burns within her eyes.
More titters, sneers, and whispers ripple throughout the crowd of spectating Kindred.
Celia: Calling her a whore. That’s a new one. If Jade had a dollar for every time someone tried to get under her skin that way she’d be as rich as the exiled prince on his boat.
She smirks openly at her broodmate while the laughter trickles in.
Support: The jazzman, in contrast, does not smirk as he steps towards the pair of ex-princes. Not too close, but close enough to be seen waiting. Attentively. Expectantly. Respectfully.
GM: The Toreador primogen regards Julius for a moment.
“Would you speak, Mr. Baudoin?” he invites.
Support: “Only if it pleases da rite most gallant Alder Councilor Poincaré and mighty fine Lord Librettist Guilbeau—an only wid da aim of pleasing y’all.”
“Da latter did graciously ax fo’ further suggestions from da likes of lil’ ol’ us. So given mo’ contemplation, I might humbly propose uh game dressed wid both coins and cards. After all, since you’s both wagerin fo’ uh piece of history, it wud only seem fittin to play uh game of chance steeped in one too, no?”
“Jus like da filles la casquette, dis game rite came from France, an wus often played by sailors to determine who had to stay behind on da boat or go git da company of da ladies ova by da sho’. Like da owners of da casquette girls’ an da fortunes which flow through da Alystra, dis game’s had lots of names. Vieux garçon, le Pouilleux, Le Puant, Pierre Noir, Le Valet Noir, or wot caps wid da vulgar tongue call, Old Boy.”
“It’s uh rite propah game of chance, though some bluffin cain’t hurt. You’s can play it wid jus two, too. An if y’all want to make it uh bit spicier wid some mo’ suspense, git somebody to randomly choose uh card as da Pouilleux by removin it from da pack face down. But who shud git dat honor, hmm? Seems to me dat might be where da coin—or coins—come in.”
He turns to fully face Marcel, praying to Clarice’s ghost—or at least memory—that he’s not about to join her just yet.
“Lord Librettist Guilbeau, yo childe has already done got uh coin an given to one of Alder Councilor Poincaré’s bloodline. If dat wud still please you’s, den Alder Councilor Poincaré might have one of his bloodline rite do da same to one of yo’s. At dat point da coins by chance cud tell us who gits to pick da Pouilleux. Uh game widdin uh game, if it pleases y’all.”
The jazzman’s solo hopefully done, he bows to the ex-princes as any stage performer should, and steps back, waiting to see if he’s lauded, deadpanned, or just made dead. Again.
GM: Silence hangs over Elysium as the two ex-princes consider Julius’ words.
Veronica isn’t the only harpy present. Defallier is there, too. And Beaumont. Plus their hangers-on. They, and so many other Kindred, stare at Julius. Silently. Expectantly. Pitilessly. Perhaps—no, assuredly—already thinking cruel words and sharpening their knives in anticipation of the Caitiff being declared open season.
Their eyes return to the ex-princes. Like a coliseum crowd seeking an emperor’s thumbs up or thumbs down.
“They call it Mistigri and Le Pissous too,” says Marcel. “It’s also Svarte Petter, Černý Petr, Black Peter, Pit Hitam, Swarte Pyt, Svarti Pétur, Musta Pekka, Piotruś, Zwarte Piet, Sorteper, Mutzuris, and Asinello, though some of those names are just ‘Pierre Noir’ in other languages. Personally, I think the most apt name for it is a Dutch one—pijkezotjagen, or ‘chasing the jack of spades’.”
He cracks a smile. “Sometimes I think the game has more names than cards.”
“But Mr. Baudoin speaks truly. It’s an older game than most of the Kindred here. There can be skill as well as chance involved, and to my mind the best games use some of both. I’m hard-pressed to think of any more appropriate for us to play tonight—or of a more appropriate gesture than for my other childe to pass your other grandchilde a second coin, Alder Councilor.”
He, too, pauses as he awaits the the elder ex-prince’s reaction.
But he does not wait overlong.
“Symmetry is the mother of all beauty,” concurs Accou.
He smiles faintly. He does not look at Julius.
“Perhaps we might retire briefly, Lord Librettist, to collect your other childe, some playing cards, and my casquette girl.”
“Splendid, Alder Councilor,” agrees Marcel. “Shall we reconvene here in half an hour?”
“With pleasure, Lord Librettist. Perhaps we might seek Master Elgin’s input, as well, on an appropriate venue in which to play.”
“A splendid idea, Alder Councilor. I’ll see to the cards.”
“Very good, Lord Librettist. I shall see you again soon.”
The two Kindred incline their heads towards one another, then depart. A few hangers-on trail after both. Other Kindred disperse, the entertainment temporarily over, though many of them gossiping among themselves: either Marcel is going to lose his boat, or Accou his casquette girl. What spectacle this will be!
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Natasha Preston gets into another argument with her own patron, Antoine Savoy, by publicly speaking out against the latest examples of Vidal’s tyranny.
“What do we think happened to Sterling? Tina Baker?”
Celia: Again? Hadn’t Jade just diffused some of the tension last week when they’d done the same thing? She lingers nearby to listen in.
GM: Savoy raises that very same fact. They did do this last week. Preston doesn’t mince words. The prince has gotten even worse since last week. Sterling was snatched up by the Guard de Ville. Desirae Wells, unusually, hasn’t shown up to Elysium this week. Two hounds just took away Tina Baker.
“Come now, Nat,” Savoy says amiably. “We’re all here to unwind and appreciate some fine art. We can talk politics elsewhere.”
“Who is going to be next?” the Malkavian asks bluntly. “They were not even charged with anything!”
The pair’s ‘discussion’ has drawn more than a few spectators.
Celia: Well. It’s not like the missing persons are actually anybody. But that’s how it starts, isn’t it?
First they came for the thin-bloods, and I did not speak out because I was not a thin-blood. Then they came for the Caitiff, and I did not speak out because I was not a Caitiff. Then they came for the Bourbons, and I did not speak out because I was not a Bourbon.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
GM: Marcel might say something about quitting while one is ahead.
“Correct, Miss Kalani,” says Preston. “Self-interest should compel other Kindred to speak—for themselves. Anyone who commits a negative behavior will continue it if there are no consequences. It’s useful for the prince, isn’t it? Just ‘disappear’ anyone he wants to disappear! Forget explaining it, at this point! It’s much more convenient when he doesn’t have to, isn’t it? Stop abiding by any kind of rules. Just kill anyone he decides is better off dead.”
The Malkavian looks around the watching Kindred.
“How many of you could he decide are more useful dead than alive? Remember, he doesn’t have to catch you for anything anymore. He can just send his jack-booted thugs to snatch you up, anywhere, if he decides you’re a ‘problem.’ Including Elysium!”
No one who’s watching says anything. The Kindred more sympathetic to Vidal. Or the Kindred more sympathetic to Savoy.
Some are flat. Some are offended.
Some are thoughtful.
The watching harpies, though, look displeased. Sundown and Adelais and Harlequin.
Savoy watches his servant with a patiently humoring expression.
Celia: Jade shares a look with her fellow Kindred, catching the eye of the young, the unprotected, the impoverished. The Caitiff. The Bourbons. The Anarchs, even. No one had stopped Tina Baker from being snatched up by Wright and Rocco. No one had raised a hand to Sterling’s defense when the Guard de Ville infiltrated the Quarter to pluck him from his krewe mate’s club. No explanation about what he’d done wrong—just there, then gone.
“How many are missing tonight?” An innocent question, as if she does not know the answer, as if she challenges Preston’s stance for all that she’d recited old sayings.
Another lie. Another ruse. Another night as a lick.
Does she need to put a name to all the absent faces? Carolla. Bourelle. Gerlette. Wade. Jenkins. Malveaux. Polk. Some of them Hardliners. What was their crime?
GM: “I suppose our prince considers turnabout fair play, after losing his bishop and so many of his other bootlickers,” says Preston. “I suppose this will be par for course, now. Every time a Hardliner disappears, he’ll just disappear however many other Kindred it takes to balance out the scales.”
“I wonder if he considers them balanced yet? Is Malveaux worth Sterling, Baker, and Wells? How about Malveaux and the Storyvilles? Is he even finished yet, or is this just the start of the butcher-”
Looks pass among the gathered harpies. Adelais moves to approach, flanked by Elyse Benson and Camilla Doriocourt. The latter’s cool gaze rests squarely upon Preston.
Celia: Jade’s brow furrows, as if in confusion.
“I think you speak in error, Madam Preston. Isn’t the lead suspect in Malveaux’s disappearance a Hardliner?”
Surely the Malkavian isn’t crazy enough to suggest that the Sanctified would harbor a fugitive and use it as a thin pretext to come after the Bourbons.
She feigns surprise at the sight of Doriocourt striding forward and locks gazes with the hound.
“Perhaps you could clarify while you’re here. Or is it one of those need-to-know, open investigation sort of things?” A tilt of her head, a little smile, like she’s just so dumb she doesn’t know any better.
GM: “What a curious conclusion for you to have reached, Miss Kalani,” replies the hound. “The Guard de Ville typically does not keep the general public apprised as to the nature or existence of its investigations.”
Nothing shows on the impassive face of the sheriff’s childe.
Jade’s remark, though, draws more than a few curious or bemused stares from the onlooking Kindred.
Adelais, Benson, and Preston all silently survey her, too.
Savoy just smiles like they’re discussing favorite menu items at Antoine’s.
Celia: “Of course not, Madam Hound—it wouldn’t do for any of us to know the well has been poisoned.”
Or that even the loyal aren’t safe. That Vidal’s faction is being purged—from the inside. Discontent in the house of the prince, is it?
This sheriff’s childe doesn’t need to hide behind a mask of ice. She has a soul still, and she favors her true sister with a genial smile.
Sisters always were trouble for her.
“Mum’s the word, then.” An exaggerated wink, a miming of a zipper across her lips and a key tossed away.
GM: “I would call this rumor-mongering, but for how there is nothing of sufficient substance to even label a rumor,” the hound replies coolly. “Stick to makeup, Miss Kalani.”
Celia: Jade pauses. Lifts her brows. “Undoes” the zipper, all with exaggerated movements.
“I guess if I were you I’d be more concerned about the leak. But I’m not a dog on a leash, far be it from me to tell you how to do your job. I’ll stick to makeup.”
A pretty smile from the pretty Toreador.
GM: A cold look from the cold Toreador.
“Perhaps the Guard de Ville will soon have cause to interview you, Miss Kalani, if you are so confident of your knowledge as to its inner workings. One should never take chances with leaks.”
The hound’s lip doesn’t curl. Her face and affect remain flat.
But it feels like it could.
“And should such an interview leave you in no state to spread further rumors, I believe the cost to the archdiocese would be minimal.”
There’s a few smiles, from some of the more Vidal-sympathetic Kindred.
But they are faint ones.
Far more onlookers look disconcerted by the hound’s all-too real threat.
There’s a few considering glances at Preston.
The Sanctified aren’t even denying it.
Celia: Only a fool tries to smother hearsay with threats. If the words were empty the hound wouldn’t bother.
Didn’t her daddy teach her that?
Jade knows when she’s ahead, though. She sketches a mocking curtsy to the lady hound, resisting the very real temptation to needle her further, and blows the bitch a kiss.
Maybe Donovan will bend her over his knee.
GM: Savoy smiles and rests an arm around Jade’s shoulders.
“Nothing would please Miss Kalani and I more, Hound Doriocourt, than to assist the Guard de Ville in ensuring its investigative findings remain classified. You and the rest of the Guard are the Kindred who keep us all safe. Stop by the Evergreen anytime, and you can interview Miss Kalani and I at your leisure—and in comfort and style, no less!”
The French Quarter lord chuckles to himself. “Or so I like to presume about my home. You’ll have our full and complete cooperation. I’d be too happy to place my own resources at the Guard de Ville’s disposal in uncovering any intelligence leaks.”
“The security of the archdiocese is paramount to me—as paramount as the welfare of its Kindred.” He turns from Doriocourt’s face to smile at Jade. “For is not the archdiocese the sum of its subjects?”
GM: :: Magnanimity, my dear, :: sounds the elder Toreador’s voice within her thoughts. :: I may shield you within my walls, but the hounds’ threats are not idle ones. ::
Celia: Jade smiles up at her grandsire, as if she had never made mockery of her broodmate.
“Of course, Lord Savoy. I’d be happy to share with the Guard de Ville so that they might plug the leak themselves. No doubt we’ll all enjoy your hospitality.”
Jade turns her head once more to take in her elder sister, nodding her head to echo Savoy’s words.
“I look forward to assisting, Hound Doriocourt. Until then I’ll keep in mind the security of the archdiocese.” Another pretty but vacant smile, like she has no idea what she’s just done. Like it was all a happy little accident.
GM: “Your offer is generous, Mr. Savoy. The Guard de Ville will be mindful of your cooperation,” Doriocourt answers her elder without accepting.
She turns back towards Jade.
“I look forward to our interview as well, Miss Kalani.”
She does not smile back at her sister.
She does not look as if she has ever smiled.
“I am confident you will serve our prince, one way or another.”
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Half an hour later later, the formerly assembled vampires return to one of the museum’s rooms. Accou and Marcel are the focus of everyone’s stares as the two ex-princes smile courteously towards one another. There are more Kindred than there were last time. Four of the five harpies are present now, along with Pierpont McGinn and the ex-princes’ various hangers-on, descendants, allies, and the simply curious.
The casquette girl is present too. She’s a soft-faced young woman in seemingly her late teenage years. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that complements her waist-length blonde hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. She silently shuffles and re-shuffles a deck of antique playing cards.
“So who’s up for some Black Pete?” Marcel smiles at the audience.
In mind of Julius’ suggestion of a “game within a game,” Accou declares that he picks Jade to flip his coin. Ryllie shoots her a none-too-pleased look over not getting pick. Marcel makes a show of tossing a coin over to Jade that she nimbly catches, paralleling the coin Brodowski possesses from Accou.
“Heads gets to pick Pouilleux?” Accou half-asks, half-suggests to Marcel with a smile.
“Heads it is, Alder Councilor,” Marcel agrees amiably.
Jade and Brodowski flip their coins. Both of them get heads.
“Best two of three,” smiles Accou.
The neonates flip again. This time, Jade gets heads and Brodowski tails. The honor goes to her. Brodowski inclines his head as if to accept the ‘loss’ gracefully, and then the casquette girl shuffles the deck of cards. Jade makes a show of picking a card. She gets the two of cards.
That will be Pouilleux. Black Pete.
Jade makes a further show of holding the card up for all to see, then inserts it back into the deck. The casquette girl re-shuffles the cards and deals them out. First to Accou, perhaps because he is eldest, and then to Marcel. The two Kindred look over the cards in their hands, then place the matching pairs on the table. Elysium’s attendees look over the players’ shoulders. Accou has the Black Pete card. The losing card. No one tries to hide their murmurs and exclamations: Marcel knows he doesn’t have it.
But will it stay that way?
With their pairs exhausted, Marcel reaches out to pluck a card from Accou’s deck. The ex-prince milks the spectacle for all it’s worth, holding just away and drifting between, then closes his eyes so as not to give himself “an unfair advantage.” Accou responds graciously.
Finally, he plucks a card.
It’s not Black Pete.
Accou draws a card too. He sets his matched pair aside. The players continue to draw from one another’s hands. Luck is with Marcel, though. The two’s hands shrink and shrink, and the Ventrue does not once pick Black Pete. Finally, they’re down to a single card, held in Accou’s hand.
Exclamations, congratulations, and a few dirty looks. It looks as if no small number of Kindred placed their own bets on who would win. One even questions whether Marcel was cheating. He doesn’t once look at Jade.
Accou’s casquette girl is duly handed over. One doesn’t need to be a genius to realize it’s not the best look for the Toreador… in the running competition among Vidal’s would-be heirs, Marcel clearly just scored a few points, and at the older Invicta’s expense.
For all that, Marcel is gracious in his victory. He tells everyone that luck is a fickle patron—he knows that much from running a casino. He praises Accou’s accomplishments, reminding everyone that the Toreador primogen used to be a prince too, and freely abdicated his praxis to return to New Orleans. Marcel says he hopes to equal the Toreador primogen’s achievements by the time he’s the same age. The words sound sincere enough and Accou responds that the casquette girls are like casino chips—they come and go. Every elder has won them before, lost them before, and doubtless will again. He tells Marcel to enjoy his gift while fortune is with him, "for as you say, Lord Marcel, ". The Ventrue responds that it rather well is.
The ex-prince does not make direct eye contact with Jade or Julius, but his gaze passes over both of theirs. Their parts, that fleeting glimpse seems to say, may not be publicly acknowledged, but will not be forgotten.
All told, it looks like several licks’ lucky nights.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Jade thinks to seek out Harlequin.
The masked Malkavian finds her first.
He cups her face in his velvet-gloved hands, tilting it upwards to the light.
“Yes… very close, now,” he proclaims.
Four mouths behind four masked faces echo:
Celia: Very close? To what? Elyse had said she’s pregnant with another doll (or rather another handful of dolls), but her sire’s words come back to her: Harlequin can see through many deceptions.
Close to her own mask being lifted?
Jade summons a smile for the Malkavian.
“Another?” she asks.
GM: Harlequin giggles.
As one, his entourage hold hands to their masks.
As one, they giggle.
The harpy tilts her face slightly to the side and runs a finger along where her jawbone meets her neck.
“See, all you have to do is look at it from the right angle.”
He tilts her face to its other side, then runs another finger under her jaw.
“Ah! Just look at them!”
Celia: This certainly isn’t the right venue.
“Did you receive my message, Regent Harlequin? I’d love to discuss this with you when we both have a free moment. Perhaps tomorrow night we can reconvene at the party?”
GM: “You are a precious thing, Miss Kalani,” he proclaims, and pats her head. “The whole family is eager to see what happens next.”
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, though. You aren’t that close, darling.”
“Be patient. It will still be very soon.”
Celia: Her smile never falters.
“Then perhaps just a dance.”
GM: There’s another giggle.
“You lead. I don’t like playing the man.”
Celia: “It’s a date.”
GM: :: Sometimes a broken mask needs a helping hand to loosen it. ::
Celia: :: Which mask, Regent, and where do they go when they die? ::
GM: :: How should I know? ::
Harlequin runs his hands along Jade’s body, feeling her from her shoulders to her breasts to her stomach. The Malkavian’s touch feels oddly non-sexual, though. It’s like he’s handling plastic or resin rather than a woman’s body.
Jade knows the difference. She’s had more than her share of people touching her with lust on their minds.
:: When a mask is broken apart, sometimes the edges are too sharp to fit them all back together, and you’ll just cut your fingers. So you need to sand the edges down before you glue them back together. It’s like how you have to cut someone open to perform surgery. ::
Celia: :: One of your descendants implied I should speak to you about it. Perhaps she was mistaken. ::
She does not shy from his touch, though she can’t help but wonder what this looks like to those around them. Particularly—no, he belongs to someone else. The thought stops before it can begin.
GM: “Miss Kalani, my dear, people are either charming or tedious,” Harlequin pronounces. "Everyone says you are very charming, but right now, you are being very tedious. You are supposed to be good at masks and you aren’t even getting dressed up for me. "
“It’s affecting me too, you know. You should think about others more. I don’t feel like my best self around you. Hound Agnello always brings out the best parts of me, the darling. Such a shame for his poor mask!”
His ghouls each place hands to their masks.
Celia: “You’re right, Regent. I’ve been particularly selfish this evening.” Jade cups the velvet hands that linger over her stomach, giving the masked harpy a private smile. A mother’s smile.
“The same object that caused such tedium should be used to soothe, no?”
GM: “Mask the tedium,” Harlequin giggles.
Celia: “A word game?” she asks. She waits for confirmation before reciting:
“Broken, bleeding, don the gown,
Smiling, crying, upside-down.
Shattered, fractured, it adheres,
Simple, complex, everywhere.”
GM: “Glass,” ventures the Malkavian.
Each of his ghouls looks towards him, then towards Jade.
Celia: Jade gives a shake of her head.
“Shall I give you a hint, Regent?”
“The game is yours, Miss Kalani, and fairly won.”
Celia: Jade accepts the victory with a dip of her head.
“Thank you for playing.”
GM: “Don’t thank me, darling, violate and exploit me. For what have we played?”
Celia: “You’ve already promised a dance,” Jade muses, “and I look forward to twirling you about the floor. Walk with me through the garden. I’d like to see your favorite sculpture.”
GM: Harlequin titters at her description and leads her outside. The twelve-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 90 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges.
Some other Kindred are about too, admiring their own sculptures and conversing among themselves.
“That one,” Harlequin declares.
Celia: Jade walks beside the masked regent, observing the Kindred outside as surely as she observes the art itself. She stops beside him, turning her eyes to the sculpture.
“Striding Figure,” she reads from the plaque. “Because you’re always on the move, Regent?”
GM: The Malkavian tsks. “Everyone is on the move until they stop moving.”
He tilts his head back towards the sculpture.
“He wears the scenery as his mask.”
“Walk here. Walk there. Stand upon your tiptoes. Crouch down. He dons a new mask.”
Celia: Jade follows his direction, crouching and moving and taking his hand to step onto a short ledge to view the sculpture from different angles. Each new one sees a change to the mask he wears, and Jade marvels at how effortlessly he slips from one to the other. Effortless, because he does nothing.
“We see what we want to see,” she breathes, “we see based on our own perceptions. Colored by our vantage point.”
GM: “He does nothing,” the Malkavian echoes. “He turns our perceptions back upon us. Our own perceptions become the mask that he wears.”
“He does not fashion his mask.”
“There is much to be learned from him.”
Celia: Had Jade been fashioned from what other people expected to see, or had she been inside all along and only forced out into the open when Celia had need of her? Now, she knows, she plays the game and lets others see what they want, but she had given them the mold. Don’t they all? Isn’t every man, woman, and lick a canvas in their own right that others splatter their paint across? They start as infants, black or white or brown, and the world shapes them. The cleverest subvert or live those expectations as they need.
And here she is with the power to be truly blank. To be nothing. To start new.
“They see what they want. He expends no energy to pour himself into that shape. He simply is.”
Jade stares at the art a moment longer before she looks to the masked Kindred beside her.
“He’s marvelous. Thank you for showing me.”
GM: The harpy inclines his head.
“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art. Perhaps he does both.”
“What of your favorite among the collection, Miss Kalani?”
Celia: Would the harpy say that he wears art or that he is art? Jade doesn’t ask. But she smiles at his question, linking her arm through his (if he’s amenable) to lead him further down the path.
The sculpture that they stop at is multiple sculptures in truth, but all grouped together in one large piece. From afar they look like jagged shards of glass, but as the pair approach both Jade and Harlequin can see their faces—or at least their masks—reflected back from dozens of different surfaces.
The Mirror Labyrinth.
This late at night there are no guards to keep them out, and Jade leads Harlequin through the labyrinth. It spirals around and around and around until it deposits them in the very center of the ring of mirrors, showing them all the sides of themselves. Front. Back. Side. Everything in between. Nothing escapes the gaze of the stationary mirrors. There is nowhere to hide. When Jade gestures, a dozen Jades gesture with her. When she smiles it appears on the face of every reflection in the vicinity.
GM: Harlequin doesn’t.
There are as many Harlequins as there are Jades.
But the eyes are different.
In one reflection, they’re green.
In another, they’re gold.
In another, purple.
Green-, gold-, and purple-eyed Harlequins all titter at once.
“This is, perhaps, how the world looks through Striding Figure’s eyes.”
Celia: Jade doesn’t ask about the eyes. She observes them, her own staring back at her, but that mystery will wait for another evening.
He’d find the asking tedious.
“How he views what he has become,” she offers instead. “Multiple, but one.”
GM: Harlequin smiles and touches Jade’s reflection, pressing his palm to the glass.
“The self is fluid here, but that means the self can drown too, you know. In the fluid.”
Her reflection smiles at her all the same.
Celia: “That’s why I come. To remind myself.”
GM: He presses a second hand to the grass, laying it upon the shoulder of Jade’s reflection.
“They have things to say.”
“All of them.”
Celia: Jade’s eyes find Harlequin’s in the mirror.
“They clamor to be heard.”
“But it’s faint. Far away.”
GM: Harlequin touches the reflection’s lips.
“They will speak. The time will come.”
“Don’t force them. Give them space.”
“I had thought to coax them, but I don’t need to. It’s always better when they come out on their own.”
Celia: Jade’s head tilts to one side and a dozen other Jades echo the movement.
“Do you hear them?”
GM: “I know masks, darling.”
“That is my gift.”
“Masks are easier to know than faces.”
Celia: “There is another.” Jade touches a hand to her chest. “Here. Waiting.”
“She’s come out before. But not fully. Not like the others.”
Jade’s slender shoulders lift in a shrug. “She will when she’s ready.”
“Thank you for the company this evening, Regent. You’ve given me much to think about.”
GM: Harlequin giggles.
“You’ll have to decide, too.”
GM: “Soon, either way.”
“Make your choice, adventurous stranger;
Strike the bell and chance the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad
What would have followed if you had.”
Celia: Jade favors the masked regent with a wry smile.
“No hints?” she teases.
GM: Harlequin’s eyes look boreder again at the direct request.
Celia: She laughs, dismissing the notion with a wave of her hand. She had assumed as much.
“We should rejoin the rest of them before they miss us overmuch.”
GM: “Some cause joy wherever they go. Others, whenever they go.”
“Don’t be the second, darling.”
Celia: “You never asked,” Jade says to him as they move back through the maze of mirrors, “why it’s my favorite.”
“Someone cruel, someone less observant, might think it makes sense that the vapid Toreador favors the sculpture that lets her see herself.”
She looks up at him as they go.
“But you know, don’t you.”
GM: The Malkavian titters.
“I’m very clever. Sometimes I don’t understand half the things I say!”
“You shouldn’t pay too much heed to them, you know. Sometimes I lie about completely random and pointless little things.”
Celia: “Lies are art. Didn’t you say one should be art or wear art? That’s what it does. Deceives. Teases.”
GM: “What is truth? Some say truth is relative. Lies are truth’s relative, too. Lies are truth’s estranged and misbegotten daughter, for one cannot lie without a truth to lie over. But lies are much better at dolling themselves up in the mirror to be pretty.”
Celia: “I had a conversation once about gamblers. I was told I’d never get anything useful out of them. Liars, the lot.” Jade considers him. “But people are most honest when they lie. You learn what they’re afraid of.”
“The kine have a game,” she presses on. “Two truths and a lie. Are you familiar?”
GM: “No, our percentage of lies to truths is much higher.”
“How frightened we Kindred must be!”
Celia: “Many have much to lose.”
GM: “Many have little to lose. But they’re already losers. Only winners can really lose.”
“You’re frightened, too. Will you unleash a terror or the version you always wanted?”
Celia: Jade has never claimed to not be frightened. There is only one place in this world where she is not afraid.
The truth, now. Green steel. Poise and grace and sharp lines, facade pulled free. Corruption incarnate. Reverent, resourceful, resolved. An ornate mirror wrapped in silver filigree and red roses, and on its surface her monster:
They howl and fight like wolves inside of her, growling and scrambling for every morsel. Nails rake their sides. Teeth scrape their necks, jaws closing around their throat, claws slicing open their soft bellies.
They shred her to pieces.
“I no longer know what that is.”
GM: Harlequin stares at her intently. His gold eyes crinkle as if he is smiling. She feels as if his four ghouls are smiling too.
His gloved hands cup her face again.
“A question to answer your dilemma.”
“Does it matter?”
Celia: “To them.”
GM: “A leopard cannot change its spots, except when it can.”
“Does a changed leopard miss its old spots?”
Celia: “Not if they no longer served it. If it adapted to something new. Something better.”
GM: The Malkavian nods sagely.
“You begin to understand.”
Celia: “Like a snake shedding skin it has outgrown. It’s painful at first, but once it’s free it’s relieved. It knows this is how it should be.”
Her eyes search his masked face, looking for an answer he might not have or want to give.
“It can’t go back in once it’s off. It won’t fit. You said it earlier, to sand the edges down or I’ll only bleed for the effort.”
GM: His eyes are smiling inside the mask. The edges are just faintly crinkled. They’re green now.
“But of which leopard do we speak?”
“Which leopard with its bleeding mask?”
“There are at least three.”
Celia: “Two of them bleed. Two of them war. They want different things. They both can’t win.”
GM: “One cannot wear two masks at once,” the Malkavian concurs.
“Well, I suppose one could, but that really defeats the point! Others cannot see more than one mask at once.”
Celia: “Sometimes I wonder if they’re more than masks,” Jade says quietly.
GM: “‘All masks, worn long enough, cease to become masks.’”
“It’s a trite quote. All masks are more than masks.”
“To wear masks around others is the natural state of being.”
“One is a different person around one’s elders, around one’s inferiors, around one’s peers.”
“A mask only becomes ‘more’ than a mask when its presence ceases to cause one discomfort.”
“When one no longer notices it is there.”
Celia: They’re not masks, then. They’re part of her. Three different girls look out at Harlequin through Jade’s eyes. Wide and innocent. Haunted and vulnerable. Wicked and shining.
The masks slip. The brown eyed, brown haired dead girl touches her hand to his chest to show him where it hurts the most.
Then she’s gone, and a blue eyed beauty shows him dimples when she smiles. She touches the edge of his mask, eyes curious, but doesn’t tug. It’s not her place to know.
GM: The domino mask is white and traced with vine-like patterns. There’s gold and silver to do with the white, jewels around the eyes, and sparkles on the lips.
It is pretty.
“Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated,” smiles the Malkavian. “For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.”
Celia: This is the sort of girl who still believes in fairytales. Who made friends with a fairy and twirled around her workshop in flower shoes and a flowing dress. She likes the jewels around the eyes and the sparkles on the lips, likes the velvet gloves and matching ghouls. And she likes the smiling eyes gazing out at her from behind the mask.
The girl in Jade’s body can hear the emphasis on his final word.
“She broke her beautiful thing,” she whispers in his ear, “trying to make it practical.”
GM: “Maybe things were meant to be this way,” says Harlequin. “If you bring an ice mask somewhere hot—and there are some marvelous ice masks—what’s going to happen?”
Celia: “It melts.”
GM: “There you go, darling. Maybe the beautiful thing wasn’t meant to be.”
“At least where it was.”
“Or maybe its broken self isn’t broken. Maybe it’s beautiful.”
Celia: “Kintsugi,” she says. “It’s different. But it’s still beautiful.”
GM: “Then you must love its mask now for what it is—or you must take better care if you loved what it was.”
Celia: If they broke you, you must know that you can never go back. It doesn’t matter how much you love them or think that this time will be different. The fact is they didn’t care enough to keep you intact.
“Stars form from collapsing nebulae,” she says. “It crumbles so something better can begin.”
GM: “Stars wear masks too. They’re more subtle, but they’re there if you look for them.”
Celia: The dimples are back.
“I’ve never seen a star in a mask.” She looks up, as if to survey the sky above him, exposing the long line of her throat. “I’ll look again, and tell you what I find.”
GM: “Everything is in a mask, darling. Everything.”
He leans in close and whispers, “There are turning points for two masks you know tonight. Not just one!”
Celia: It’s an intimate position, her eyes skyward while he leans in close, their bodies almost touching. Another girl might flush and wonder at his motivation, but this one only revels in the familiarity. She closes her eyes at his words, wondering which of the masks the other girl wears will crack, or if they’re hers at all.
As he said, everyone wears masks.
Leila accompanies Harlequin back through the winding paths of the sculpture garden to the museum itself, her eyes moving across the art—exhibits and Kindred alike. She searches for the boy whose heart has been twice broken, though she knows that she shouldn’t be the one to speak to him. Especially not here. He isn’t enlightened like her companion… and the thought makes her stop in her tracks.
Just for a moment. She catches up quickly.
She’d wanted to tell him. She’d wanted to show him all the pieces and parts of herself. The boy he’d once been might have taken care of them, kept them safe. She’s worried that this new one will be too rough with her fragile edges.
“Not everyone will understand,” she ventures, not quite a question.
GM: Harlequin merely dips his head somberly.
“Enlightenment is often called madness by the ignorant.”
“Madness,” echoes his first ghoul.
Celia: He’ll call her crazy.
The dimples disappear when her smile dims.
“You can’t force them to see.”
It’s not a question, not really, but she looks to him all the same. He understands. His childe. The librarian. The boy from the boat. That’s enough.
GM: “No,” agrees Harlequin. “One can persuade. One can appeal. One can bare one’s heart with pretty speeches.”
“But one cannot force them to accept.”
“One cannot force them to understand.”
Celia: “She’ll be sad. But she has us.”
GM: “Yes. All of the Family Malkavian understands.”
Celia: Maybe that’s enough. A whole clan of people who know and accept. Maybe this is her place.
“Thank you for the stroll. We look forward to our dance tomorrow.”
GM: The broken-hearted boy, meanwhile, is talking with Maxzille Babineaux.
“Oh, so I am, darling,” answers the Malkavian. “I can hardly wait to share a dance with you.”
A smile spreads across his purple eyes.
:: With all of you! ::
Saturday night, 19 March 2016, AM
Celia: One of the girls inside of Jade takes her time moving past the pair of Anarchs once the masked harpy takes his leave. She occupies herself with other art, other conversations, looks for all the world as if she is not watching him. As if she has not noticed him. As if his mere proximity has not left her dead heart racing.
She broke him.
But they can still be beautiful.
She waits for an opening. She makes idle chatter with one of the Baron’s girls, the one she’d needed to speak to anyway, and through veiled comments and clever word play sets up a meeting outside of Elysium where the pair of them can let their hair down.
She speaks to the thief about something similar.
She sends a text to a cabin boy about a party and a new friend his friend might like to meet, and maybe they should set them up. She’d love to bring her by.
And another text to a jock with a smile worthy of a rattler asking if he has a moment to “chill.”
The broken-hearted boy stays in her peripheral.
GM: Amandine is sour but at the prospect of meeting with one of Savoy’s people, but willing to do so in return for an owed boon.
The thief, in contrast, is happy to do so. They can talk after Elysium tonight or at the party tomorrow.
The cabin boy texts back that he’s always happy the meet new friends. Especially fuckable ones.
Well, more like only fuckable ones.
Ditto attending parties.
The jock does have a free moment that chill.
The broken-hearted boy is keeping her in his peripheral.
And beneath the carefully neutral mask, he does not look happy.
Celia: Jade agrees to the boon with a tight smile and says she’ll see the girl later. She’s happy the thief is happy to see her, at least, but opts for tomorrow. She has another meeting this evening, unfortunately. She lets the cabin boy know that the theme is the ’20s and asks if he wants her to doll him up to be a fuckable little bitch again. Maybe Joy would like to go. She can meet him beforehand. The jock gets a time and place.
At some point Jade excuses herself from her present company to take a final stroll. Alone. Maybe towards the car lot, if no one is going that way, or deeper into the park if so. The bait is set if the boy wants to follow.
GM: It’s a date with the first too.
The cabin boy is happy to go as a cabin girl. Easier to get with, too.
The jock will see her there.
The boy waits a good amount of time, so they don’t seem to be leaving together.
Then he follows her off.
The mask drops away. His face is angry.
Celia: When isn’t it?
Jade disappears, the coward, and Leila has already decided that this isn’t her talk. Celia meanders toward her car, but there’s nowhere to have this conversation. Even the appearance of being alone doesn’t actually mean anything. She’d thought she was alone in the shower, too, and the shadow dancer had shown her the error there.
GM: That’s why Veronica had chastised her for not learning to soul scry. Does she want to be caught with her pants down?
Celia: It’s so boring. Her mind has much more going on than the normal person’s. There are so many of her. But she’d be happy to learn that trick her sire and Harlequin can do.
Celia pulls her phone from her pocket as if it had rung, answering with a brief, “hello?” A pause. A smile. Then, “Hey, babe. Yeah, I have a free minute. I’ll swing by. Talk to you soon.”
Surely he knows she means him. He can follow her to another location and they can have it out. She gets into her car and starts to drive, trusting that he’ll follow. There’s only one road out of here; nothing suspicious about that.
GM: Her trust proves aptly placed. He gets in and follows with his own car.
Celia: Celia sends a text to Reggie that she’s on her way to his place. Might as well stop by while she’s already in the area. And it’s less weird if Roderick stays in Mid-City. He doesn’t want to be seen entering the Quarter, but Jade’s face isn’t unwelcome here. She drives in the general direction of Legal Wings, then pulls her car into an out of the way spot and turns off her lights. She unlocks her passenger door for him.
GM: He gets out of the car, seizes her by the throat, lifts her off her heels, and slams her hard against the vehicle’s side.
“Not what it looks like?” he asks conversationally, vice-like fingers cutting off the air supply she doesn’t need.
Celia: This is certainly not how she thought it would go.
Perhaps that was stupid of her.
The last of her air is forced from her lungs when he slams her against her own car, hands flying to his wrist as if to pry him off of her. But she stops before she even starts, simply holding onto his wrist. There’s no fear in her eyes. She knows how much he hates the scared woman act. Still, pinned as she is, she can’t speak. There’s no air left for her. Her lips move soundlessly, then she finally gives a tiny nod. She taps against his fingers to silently ask him to release her.
GM: His fingers un-clench. Slightly.
But he doesn’t release her.
Her Beast snarls in her ears.
Celia: There’s a lot of snarling in her ears these nights. From Beasts and masks and personalities. From her sire and Harlequin and Alana, all of them clamoring for something else. Another piece of her. Another part of her.
And now Roderick has come to demand his piece, too.
She sucks down what air she can. Not to breathe, just to speak.
“Set up,” she gets out. The sound is tiny; it’s an effort to keep it from sounding strangled. “Cover up. Can explain.”
GM: He just waits.
Just holds her.
Crushed against her car.
His expression is flat.
Celia: Jade wriggles her pinky between his fingers and her throat. She doesn’t otherwise move, eyes locked on his face.
“Taking down Agnello. Needed assistance. He has reason to help. Once he’s gone, two down. Just him. Shift the blame his way. Get him out too. Easier to take down the rest of who you want. Meantime, gather intel. Who, what, where. For you. It’s for you.”
GM: “Really,” he says.
“Working with Mafia scum.”
“Without asking me.”
Celia: Her Beast snarls at that, too. She doesn’t need his permission.
There’s another part of her that likes it, though. Her throat bobs against his palm when she swallows.
“You have other things on your mind. I wanted to help.”
GM: Lightning-fast, a stake appears in Rod’s hand and rams towards her heart.
She feels her limbs go completely stiff as the wood pierces bone like flesh.
Her lover just looks at her with that same calm-faced expression.
Celia: All she can do is stare back.
GM: Roderick picks her up, returns to his car, and unlocks the trunk, and lays her inside. He doesn’t dump her in, but neither is he gentle. She gets a last look at his face, as he removes her car keys, and then the lid slams down.
A short while passes, and then she feels movement underneath as the car drives.
Maybe this was how her mom felt, seven years ago.
Trussed up and helpless in the back of a car.
Being driven off towards an unknown fate.
Celia can even see the glow-in-the-dark release lever.
Did her mom see one, too?
Celia: Terror takes her firmly in its grasp. She can’t move. Can’t see. Can’t cry for help or press the release button or shift forms.
And unlike when her sire has hold of her, the fear of this new, unknown Roderick is very, very real. Thick and cloying, it fills the trunk.
Where is he taking her?
What is he going to do to her?
Her mind races with possibilities: leaving her for the sun. Dumping her in a fire, or trash compactor, or saw mill. Turning her in for her bastard blood. Taking her to his sire to rip apart.
The tears come but they don’t fall. Nothing in her body works. She can only lie where he set her, eyes on the glowing lever, and pray that something inside of him still cares for her.