“FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!”
Unknown FBI Agents
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Caroline: Caroline makes preparations to receive Adler atop the Giani Building, as has become her habit. The more professional setting has always felt more appropriate for the just too polite, just a bit distant, elder’s childe. She suspects some of the awkwardness has to do with differences in social status – the near universally well regarded shorter blonde avoiding undue familiarity with the unproven bastard childe of Clan Ventrue. She idly wonders if that will change in the future.
It’s chilly tonight, and Caroline is still warm from feeding earlier, so the Ventrue has the doors to the rooftop patio closed and the heat running.
She sends Widney down to meet the older Ventrue while she waits, filling the spare minutes reviewing the social media feeds of her family, swiping perhaps more aggressively through any photos of food. She’s almost forgotten what it’s like to be alive.
GM: Caroline is met, perhaps unexpectantly, by a ghoul in her older clanmate’s place. She’s a plump-faced but still pretty blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Caroline has seen her hovering beside her mistress before.
“Don’t worry, ma’am, Questor Adler will still be with you this evening,” the ghoul smiles. “She’s just out of town right at the moment. That’s what we’ve got this for.”
The ghoul takes the offered seat, removes a Sunpad from her purse, and sets up the video call app.
Becky Lynne’s face and shoulders appear on the screen. The Ventrue has on a white business jacket rather than her usual knee-length dresses, and her blonde hair is styled into a bun. Her face is made up too, with highlights and dark foundation that make the edges of her face more prominent, giving her a more mature look. The heart-shaped locket she usually wears isn’t visible, though its gold chain still is. The overall effect makes her look older than her 18 years. She looks like she’s in a corporate office. The skyline past the window is unfamiliar.
“Why hello there, Eiren Malveaux-Devilers,” she smiles. “I guess the drink would be doubly wasted on me, but your sofa there looks awful invitin’. Makes me sorry I’m not here in person!”
The ghoul sits down on the sofa and holds up the tablet to just over her chest, giving Caroline a good view of the screen.
Caroline: Caroline greets the ghoul unexpectedly and very unhappily, either unwilling or unable to conceal her disappointment. None of the matters Caroline would have shared with her clan mate are those she’s willing to share with a ghoul.
More than that, it’s a slap in the face. It would be one thing to offer to send the ghoul in her place, but to send her like this under the banner of a meeting between the two of them makes clear exactly how little Adler thinks of her, and how absolutely furiously exhausted she is with being looked down upon by everyone.
For a moment she contemplates simply throwing the ghoul out, but when she breaks out the tablet it’s even worse.
It isn’t just that Adler didn’t consider Caroline worth her time, or even worth sending word that she couldn’t make it, or worth sending a ghoul in place of. It’s the assumption that nothing Caroline might have to say is even worth the aegis of the Masquerade.
For a moment she sees red, but the bubbling fury is drowned under more shame. It reminds her too much of not even getting a phone call from her father on her birthday. This is what she’s allowed herself to be reduced to in the eyes of others. She might hate that Adler sent a Zoom call in place of even a trusted servant, but too much of that hate is devoted internally.
She’d often wondered how the old, atrophied, dying families that used to have money and power lived with their fall into obscurity. She supposes now she knows, and now she knows as well just how difficult it must have been for some of those proud old men and women to swallow their pride and come hat in hand to her own family, how much it must have eaten at them when she arrived in place of her father or mother. It gives her better context on why some had been unable to do it—and how strong those that had were.
She buries the anger, buries it deep. It doesn’t serve anything other than her vanity here. It could have been worse: Adler could have completely ignored her.
The Ventrue first makes an effort to plaster over fake smile across her face as Becky Lynne’s own appears. It’s not the first fake, hollow, smile she’s worn. She’s grateful for the Beast’s hatred of any attempt to capture it as only once the smile is in place does sooth it, allowing herself to shift into focus.
“Oh, Questor Adler, not nearly as sorry as I am. I had the most interesting tale I wanted to share, but you know how it looks when you can’t even wait to do it over the water cooler—and it’s definitely better shared over the kind of drink we both might appreciate.”
GM: She’s hard-pressed to remember the last time her father made a birthday phone call.
Maybe her sire will remember her deathnight. Becky Lynne had said they celebrate those.
She has had so much practice with fake smiles, either way.
In life and death.
“Oh, don’t we both, I’m sure,” the blonde laughs politely back, covering a hand to her mouth as she does. “I suppose a Zoom call can’t substitute for everythin’. People keep saying the medium is the future, but I don’t rightly see what could make it, can you?”
Caroline: “I’m certain there are some people that might more readily adapt to it,” Caroline answers. “But I somehow doubt anyone like you or I will, Questor Adler.”
“There are certain things you just can’t say over the internet.”
GM: “I somehow doubt so too, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “Would you care to come over to my and my brother’s place to chat in person?”
“I don’t expect to be out of town for too much longer, thank goodness. Home is where the heart is and all that.”
Caroline: Caroline is fairly certain, based on fairly extensive experience with her own and those of others, that the heart is actually located slightly to the left of the sternum, but she doesn’t argue the point.
Harder to explain showing up with her new entourage without raising questions she’s confident Becky Lynne can find answers to.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble your brother with our talk. I’m certain he’d be polite enough to smile through it just like anyone with a proper upbringing might, but some things fit better just between girls, don’t you agree, Questor?”
She wonders if the older Ventrue reads through the lines there.
GM: “I certainly do,” smiles Becky Lynne. “So don’t you worry, Eiren, my brother’s practically only there to sleep or entertain company of his own. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Peggy, can you tell us when a good opening in my schedule might be?”
The chubby ghoul lists several dates and times in the near future.
Caroline: Caroline passingly wonders if she should introduce the chubby ghoul to Meg. The two might be good for each other.
Caroline laughs lightly, belying her buried irritation. “Sooner is better, Questor, you know how gossip can age like milk in the sun, but I’d hate to crowd your schedule. I know how many people are clamoring for your attention, and I’d hate for them to be disappointed if this consumed more of your time than you might expect. It’s particularly…. juicy.”
GM: “Is that so? I’ll look forward to hearin’ it, then, and we’ll try to aim sooner without steppin’ on any toes,” smiles Becky Lynne.
“How is the day after tomorrow at 3, ma’am?” asks the ghoul, mirroring her domitor’s expression.
Caroline: Two more nights? Who’s to say at the rate things are going. She hadn’t expected tonight.
She bites her lower lip.
“We can put a cork in this and call that a date, Questor—it won’t be the first time.” Worst case scenario, if she is recalled by her sire, it serves her right for pushing Caroline off.
“We’ve survived this long, and I don’t have any reason to think that the wine is going to go off over a couple days if its kept this long.”
GM: It beats McGinn having her wait a week.
“Splendid,” beams the older Ventrue. “I’ll see you at my place then, Eiren.”
Caroline: “Until then, Questor,” Caroline answers, the fake smile pulled all the tighter.
GM: Becky Lynne smiles back, then frowns and whips her head away.
Caroline hears a door slamming against a wall, then multiple pounding footsteps.
“FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!” bellows a heavy voice.
Becky Lynne immediately puts up her hands and shoots up from her seat.
Caroline: Caroline’s form blurs as the Beast reasserts itself even more quickly than her hand blurs to kill the outgoing feed on the tablet.
She briefly considers killing the entire connection, but the damage is done if they are able to track the call.
She digs out her phone and hits send. “Roger, I need you now.”
Her gaze settles on Adler’s ghoul. “Where is your domitor?”
GM: “En route,” responds the ex-CIA agent before hanging up.
The ghoul’s mouth falls open as she stares down at the tablet in her lap. “G-Gulfport! Mississippi! 2510 14th street, the Whitney Hancock headquarters!”
Caroline: Caroline flips her phone on the side and starts to videotape the exchange as it continues.
“You have Primogen Hurst’s number?” she asks.
GM: “Puh-puh, p-please, don-don’t h-hurt me, I’m j-j-just an in-t-tern!” Becky Lynne’s voice sobs from the tablet.
The white-faced ghoul nods and rattles it off.
Caroline: Caroline’s hand blurs as she writes it down with her right hand, attention divided between filming the exchange and continuing damage control.
She’ll wait for Roger to actually make the call—she knows he’ll have a burner.
Caroline waits for the federal agent to approach.
She can’t help but wonder how the hell Adler ended up with no one to give her even a moment’s warning before they arrived. Clumsy.
They can mock her parade of ghouls all they want, but she’d never be caught in that particular circumstance.
GM: “Step away from the computer!” orders a second voice.
There’s more sounds through the room. Drawers opening. Papers rifling. Footsteps approaching. Becky Lynne sobs some more.
“Zoom call on this,” says a third voice. Caroline sees a grim-faced Caucasian man in his early middle years wearing a white shirt, tie, and blue jacket with yellow FBI letters.
The connection abruptly dies.
Caroline: Gotcha. Caroline videotapes the man as he kills the connection. A face will have a name attached.
GM: “Oh my god!” exclaims Becky Lynne’s ghoul, staring at the blank tablet in her lap.
She looks up at Caroline. “Ma’am, we have to call the primogen!”
Caroline: “We will call the primogen,” Caroline answers more calmly, “just not from any device that is linked to you or Questor Adler.”
Roger will be here shortly, she knows.
The call ending though gives her the opportunity to get ahead. She rises and moves to the door dividing the clubhouse, sliding it open to unleash the elder ghouls.
“Ms. Adler was just seized in her office at the headquarters of Whitney Hancock in Gulfport by federal agents.”
“I will arrange communication with Primogen Hurst, but I presume there are many potentially sensitive matters for others tied to Ms. Adler, and that the prince or seneschal may have more immediate contacts available extra locally than he.”
GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul covers her mouth as she sees the casquette girl.
Kâmil wordlessly looks towards Gisèlle. The casquette girl closes her eyes.
The seneschal’s face appears in Caroline’s mind.
:: Miss Malveaux-Devillers will retrieve her. Inform her she is to return to Perdido House. Transportation to Gulfport will await atop the helipad. ::
Caroline: Eighty miles to Gulfport, Caroline knows. Half an hour by helicopter.
She meets the casquette girl’s eyes.
She bites her lip.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Caroline: “Come along,” Caroline gestures to the shellshocked ghoul, “you will have the drive to Perdido House to bring me up to speed on your domitor’s activities in Gulfport and any other matters of interest.”
She opens the door before Roger can. “We’re going to Perdido House,” she offers by way of explanation, not pausing but extending a hand as she makes for the elevator. “Burner.”
GM: Ferris hands it over without comment as he follows behind, along with the three other ghouls.
“She’s there on business for Whitney Hancock,” Becky Lynne’s ghoul starts.
“This was supposed to be a routine trip.”
Caroline: “That’s how they get you… when it becomes routine,” Caroline muses.
She plugs in the number provided by Adler’s ghoul, trusting that Ferris will pick up on the details as she offers them to the primogen.
GM: The phone picks up after several rings.
“Gabriel Hurst speakin’,” sounds the Ventrue’s lazy Southern drawl.
Caroline: “Gabriel,” she keeps the tone light, informal. They’ve spewed enough information over electronic circuits today. “It’s Caroline. I just heard the news about your sister. You all must be so worried.”
GM: “The news?” he asks slowly.
Caroline: “I’m sure it must be a misunderstanding,” she continues. “I don’t know what could have possible brought authorities to the bank, but I’m certain it has nothing to do with her and she’ll be released soon.”
“I just wanted to make certain your father and the rest of the family knew.”
She slides her own phone into Ferris’ hand as she enters the elevator. It’s open to the most recent recording.
GM: The ghouls troop in after her. Ferris silently takes in the FBI agent’s face.
“We did not know,” Hurst answers gravely. “Well. There will be a few calls to make. How recently was this?”
Caroline: “Very,” Comes Caroline’s blunt response.
“I know for a fact there are already things at work to ensure her welfare, but it’s been a rather rough year for the whole family… I just wanted to ensure everyone else was taking it well.”
She’s already inventorying possibilities in her mind. The timing might simply be a coincidence… or it might not. She hasn’t heard of many FBI raids conducted in the evening, vice the early morning or daylight hours.
GM: “There’s nothing here to take well, Caroline,” the primogen answers in the same grave tone. “I’ll let our father know about this and get started springin’ her out. Thanks for letting us know.”
Ferris continues to look at the phone image, though his eyes are moving across the device’s surface, away from the man’s features.
Caroline: Caroline scowls.
She always figured Becky Lynne was the brains of the operation anyway.
“Happy to have been of help, then. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” She keeps the pitch of her voice sympathetic.
GM: “We’ll be sure to. You stay safe yourself.”
The line dies.
Caroline: Caroline hands the phone back to Ferris. “How many FBI raids have you seen in the evening vice daylight or dawn?” she asks skeptically.
Her professors always said if the feds come for you, they don’t need to hide and prefer a sledgehammer approach.
Mind you, different kinds of coming for someone.
GM: “More often at homes than offices, but still atypical,” Ferris answers. “You raid when people are most likely to be there. Groggy or asleep in the case of homes.”
“Obvious answer is they suspect someone keeps nocturnal hours.”
Caroline: “Our friends?” Caroline speculates.
The doors open to the parking garage and she makes her way to one of the two black SUVs, stopping at the back to briefly rifle through a set of hanging garnet bags before distastefully settling on one.
“We’re flying to Gulfport to get her either way.”
GM: Kâmil wordlessly takes the driver’s seat.
Ferris does a head count as everyone climbs in.
“We could have room for more, depending on passenger capacity.”
Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “If we need more than four, we’re biting off more than we can chew anyway, and anyone else identified leads back too readily to everyone else.”
GM: “Five,” Ferris corrects, but otherwise doesn’t disagree.
Kâmil drives them out of the garage.
Caroline: Caroline grins. “She’ll need to prove she has something valuable to offer if she wants to come along.”
She turns her gaze to the plump ghoul.
GM: “I’m basically her personal assistant, ma’am, in so many words,” the ghoul answers.
“As I said, this was supposed to be a very brief, routine trip. She had other business for me to take care of in the city.”
“I imagine the most I can provide here to be of help is information and familiarity with Gulfport.”
Caroline: “How frequent and regular are these trips?” Caroline asks.
GM: “They’ve been more frequent lately, ma’am, with the bank relocating its corporate headquarters in New Orleans—my domitor does so appreciate your service there.” A brief smile. “That’s affected some things in Gulfport, too. Usually once a week.”
Caroline: The Ventrue shimmies out of her dress, tossing it in a pile on the floorboards as she pulls out a business suit from the garment bag.
GM: Gisèlle wordlessly reaches into the bag to see if there are more.
Caroline: There’s an entire set—one for Caroline, Widney, Green, and Autumn.
Whether any fit the ghoul may be another matter, but Widney is probably close.
GM: The casquette girl strips and changes without embarrassment or complaint. The rest of her body is as pale and milky smooth as the rest of her.
Everyone else is already wearing business-appropriate attire.
“If there’s no objection, ma’am, I’m going to let the primogen know y’all are flying to Gulfport,” says the ghoul. “He’s probably acquiring another helicopter right now.”
“My domitor’s already taken the regular one.”
Caroline: “I object,” Caroline answers.
“You should sharply limit your electronic communications along predicable lines until you have an opportunity to verifying the source of this event, and I am not eager to announce my activities and arrival to anyone.”
GM: “He’ll want to come along, ma’am, as it’ll probably take more time than whatever’s arranged at Perdido House,” answers the ghoul. “I don’t need to say he could be of quite a bit of help.”
Caroline: No doubt he might, but Caroline is waiting for no one.
“Phone. Tablet. Any other electronic devices.” She extends a hand to the plump ghoul.
GM: She extends a tablet and smartphone.
Caroline: She powers them off then extends them to the casquette girl. “Please hand them off to someone at Perdido to be taken elsewhere.”
GM: The casquette girl accepts the devices.
Caroline: She meets Adler’s ghoul’s gaze. “My direction was to recover your domitor, and I intend on executing that direction in the most expeditious manner possible, with the lowest probably of blowing this into another, larger, matter.”
GM: “Then we’re on the same page, ma’am,” says the ghoul. “Anythin’ I can do to help, I will.”
Caroline: “Delaying for her brother presents another avenue for complications to arrive, and informing him of our plans puts them in the wind.”
“As the esteemed Mr. Ferris taught me as a child, the best plans are those with the fewest moving pieces.”
And the fewest egos. She doesn’t need to get into a pissing match with Matheson’s older childe.
GM: If the primogen would even presume one could exist between them.
“The more intricate the machine, the more ways something can go wrong,” Ferris concurs.
Caroline: She also meant what she said to Ferris. If two elder ghouls and she are insufficient, they shouldn’t engage at all.
That bringing him along would create the opportunity for him to seize anything they discover or accomplish for himself is also not lost on her. She doesn’t doubt her sire has other servants he could send. The decision to send her is calculated. Far be it for her to rebalance those scales.
GM: The casquette girl’s visage shimmers into that of an older woman with different hair and facial features.
“All right, ma’am. What else can I do to help?” asks Becky Lynne’s ghoul.
Caroline: “Talk to me about your domitor’s activities, answer Mr. Ferris’ questions.” She lets him take the lead, letting the ghoul’s answers fade into the background as she dresses.
Ferris digs around as to typical pattern of life for the Gulfport visits. Did she travel the same route regularly? Meet with the same people? Meet with the same Kindred? Did she carry her phone?
Anything to get a bite on what might have pointed either federal agents or hunters (or worse, both) at Adler.
GM: The ghoul answers that Adler took a similar route every time. She would arrive by means of helicopter at the helipad on the roof of the bank’s headquarters. She did not expect to run into trouble. The city’s Kindred are friendly.
Her visits always included a good deal of time at the bank’s headquarters, where she met with its chief executives. She also sometimes met with them at their homes.
Among Kindred, she met semi-regularly with Robert Landau, who is Gulfport’s prince and one of Gerousiastis Matheson’s more distant descendants. Adler met with Landau on perhaps 50% of her visits. Less frequently, she would meet with Alan Parker, Landau’s childe. Their meeting locations would vary. Sometimes she would attend Elysium, “such as it is” in the small city. There are very few Kindred actually in Gulfport. (Landau is ranked merely an aedile, not a praetor.)
Adler did carry her phone.
Gulfport is friendly territory. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the small city to be his possession. Adler expected less trouble there than she does in New Orleans.
Caroline: “Who else knew her itinerary? Who knew when she was here?” Caroline asked pointedly.
GM: “Gerousiastis Matheson and Primogen Hurst always knew, ma’am. Prince Landau and other Kindred knew when she visited them, but they usually didn’t know if they didn’t.”
“She’d occasionally tell other Kindred she was out of town, but she wouldn’t say she was going to Gulfport, or advertise her sire’s connections there.”
Caroline: The Ventrue listens in silence, drawing her own conclusions. Few enough sources suggests an outside activity. Matheson has plenty enough enemies.
“Any thoughts from the footage?” Caroline asks Ferris.
She slips on some more plausible, professional heels with the more professional wardrobe while she talks.
GM: “Miss Adler had better hope her claim to be just an intern checks out,” says the ex-CIA agent.
“It does,” nods the ghoul. “She is, ostensibly, just an intern.”
“Can’t rightly pose as an executive at the age she was Embraced.”
Caroline: “Interns stuck working late.” She tilts her head. “Plausible.”
They’ll see if it’s plausible enough.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Caroline: It’s not a long drive from the Giani Building to Perdido House. By design.
GM: The group is not stopped on their way up the building. Gisèlle hands off the tablet and phone to another ghoul. Kâmil leads them to Maldonato’s office. The seneschal is occupied at his desk. He offers no greeting as he rises and takes its private elevator to the building’s roof with them. Wind whips at Caroline’s clothes. The night sky stretches endlessly above them. Glittering lights stretch out far below.
There is no waiting helicopter.
“You wish these four to accompany you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Maldonato asks without preamble.
Caroline: “I believe them to be the most efficacious companions for this task, Seneschal,” Caroline replies.
Did we simply arrive more swiftly than he expected? Is the helicopter still en route?
GM: The seneschal closes his eyes. He, Caroline, and the four ghouls rise aloft into the air, then abruptly hurtle through the night sky at incredible speed. Wind blasts across Caroline’s face. Her hair is all but destroyed. Anything not tightly secured to her body flies off. Darkened cityscape rushes past, then wilderness. The ghouls’ rippling cheeks are all but peeling off their faces. Their eyes are tightly, furiously closed despite the incredible view, and their arms are tightly wrapped about their bodies. The experience does not look pleasant for them. Adler’s ghoul is missing her shoes.
Caroline: It’s more akin to being fired from a gun than the flying experience she’d had as an incorporeal being. Completely out of her control and at the mercy of the wind and sky. Only Caroline’s lightning-fast reflexes save her own shoes—and only then because they are significantly more ‘functional’ than her typical footwear.
How quickly are they moving? It’s impossible for her to say as the landscape whips past. Forcing her eyes open is a painful, unpleasant experience, and at this speed it’s impossible to properly orient on any landmark other than the presence and absence of lights in the dark.
A grin spreads across her face, though. They will arrive far swifter than she suspects any might expect, and with considerably less warning than the arrival of a helicopter in the small city might foretell. And certainly far more swiftly than the ‘primogen’ can arrange his own transportation.
It’s also significantly safer and less predictable, part of her notes. Some dark, suspicious part of her mind had floated the idea that in a commercial helicopter, hurtling across the open night far from the city, would be a rather vulnerable position if, say, one had the means to acquire a man-portable surface the air missile.
GM: The fall might easily be enough to torpor her, too, if the explosion didn’t (or destroy her outright). And even if she survived both without succumbing to torpor, there’s do doubt she’d be hurt enough to be much easier pickings.
Jocelyn had once mentioned a trick of the blood, for bolting, that allowed licks to survive great falls unscathed. Even novitiates to the discipline can learn it, as a precursor to powers of levitation and true flight. The Toreador’s sire had offered to teach her, but she’d wanted to learn others instead.
“Falling. Since when does that ever happen to you?” she’d scoffed to Caroline.
Caroline: Only socially.
Caroline sympathized, though: there were plenty of more readily useful devotions in one’s Requiem. If the helicopter took a rocket, odds are she’d have more problems than the fall. Escaping the blazing wreck as it spun would be difficult enough that it might not even matter.
GM: The sound of the shrieking wind is interrupted by thoughts that are not her thoughts.
:: You will arrive at your destination in approximately 5.6 minutes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I suggest you use the time to further plan with your subordinates. Envision their faces within your mind and you may communicate with them. ::
Physical words would doubtless be torn from their mouths.
Caroline: :: Thank you, Seneschal ::
And she means it. The elder facilitating this entire series of events for her, giving her another opportunity to succeed before her sire and her clan at large.
She pictures each of the ghouls in turn, forming a gallery and sends to them group, laying out her plan, such as it is.
:: It is my intention to arrive at the headquarters and, as soon as presentable, enter in the alternating guise as bank employees or federal agents, as most applicable. In the latter, Mr. Ferris or I will take the lead, using his knowledge or my abilities to bluff our way through en route to Ms. Adler. In the former, I expect Ms. Sweet to take the lead cutting through any barriers. ::
:: The first priority is protection of the Masquerade. If these are federal agents, we cannot simply slay them and are best served slipping through them with as few interactions as possible. The second priority is the retrieval and exfiltration of Ms. Adler. The final priority is gathering as much information as available on the cause of the raid, and information on any associated agents we discover, especially if they prove to be motivated by more than simply their civic duties. In that way, identification including names, faces, fingerprints and DNA so far as possible are higher priority than information they might volunteer. ::
:: The first goal then, in any agents we uncover, is identifying to the extent to which their actions are driven by knowledge of Ms. Adler or Mr. Matheson’s ties to the bank. Towards that end, Gisèlle, your abilities are invaluable. Should they become a strain upon you, inform me and I will subsidize you as needed. ::
She doesn’t expect her blood to be as appealing as the elder fair the ghoul typically enjoys, but she does expect it’ll take the edge off.
:: As we do so, Mr. Ferris, it is also vital we identify or arrange our means of departure from the city—likely by car convoy, but possibly via helicopter of the timing if Ms. Adler’s brother-in-blood proves fortuitous. ::
:: Questions. ::
GM: The responses back are not immediate. Caroline can feel the ghouls straining to concentrate on her ‘words’ past the stomach-churning vertigo and hellishly fast air basting across their faces.
But it’s not as if they can use the time for much else.
:: Where… is drop point… going to… be… :: sends Ferris.
:: We’re… going to look… out of sorts… when we arrive… :: sends Sweet.
:: What… is… ETA… :: sends Ferris.
There is a fragmented sense of acknowledgment from the casquette girl. She is capable of reading their thoughts.
There is agreement from all ghouls at minimizing interactions with the federal agents to the greatest extent possible.
:: Prince… Landau… can help… convoy… :: sends Sweet.
Caroline: Caroline sends on Ferris’ question about arrival location to the seneschal, picturing the ancient Moor’s stern face before moving onto the others.
GM: :: That location is your purview to determine, Miss Maveaux-Devillers. ::
Caroline: :: We will land on the roof, :: Caroline sends, encompassing the rest within her thoughts.
There’s no guarantee what might away them on the ground level around the building, though she hopes to get a look before they land.
She counts the time from their initial call—something like thirty minutes total perhaps, to arrival. Odds are the feds will have finished sweeping the building. And if they’re hunters, as she suspects, they’ll be expecting far more from the outside than in at this point.
:: Arrival in less than six minutes.: :
Landing on the roof will also let them sort their appearance, in theory, before interaction with the employees or government agents. Unless they’re lucky enough to have someone on the roof…
:: No outside entities until we determine situation. ::
GM: :: Missing… shoes… will look… strange… :: sends Sweet.
:: Find… employee… to… mesmerize… :: Ferris.
:: Please describe the building’s layout. :: Kâmil’s mental voice sounds steadier, though the ghoul’s eyes are just as tightly closed against the winds.
Sweet does so, including any sites and features Caroline wants to know about.
Caroline: Caroline is grateful to the ghoul for taking the lead.
She listens carefully as Sweet explains the layout of the building and the number of employees within, getting a lay of the land as best she can.
She passes to Sweet that they will ‘liberate’ new shoes for her promptly.
To Ferris that an employee—or agent—in their grasp early is deal.
And all the while the thought flits around: did she bring this down on Adler? Is this the Barrett Commission? What exactly are they walking into?
Time will tell.
GM: Almost as abruptly as the group’s flight began, it immediately ceases.
They’re on the roof of a multi-story office building, not quite tall enough to be a true skyscraper. A smaller city’s skyline stretches out before them. The buildings aren’t nearly so tall or numerous as the Big Easy’s. The draft from high up is weaker.
Sweet doubles over and vomits over the ground.
Ferris follows suit a second later, spewing the contents of his stomach a few feet away.
Gisèlle looks green in the face and clutches her stomach, but holds it in.
Kâmil alone seems unaffected beyond a brief grimace.
Caroline: The speed of the transition is dizzying, but fortunately Caroline doesn’t suffer from the same nausea that the rest do.
They aren’t quite kine, but they’re close enough. Still beset by the weaknesses endemic to their kind.
That the bodyguard is unaffected further ticks up her respect for the Turk.
Caroline surveys the roof while she waits for the ghouls to recover, looking for any ‘guests.’
GM: :: Alas, such flight is rarely agreeable to the living’s constitutions, but better you arrive sick and early than late and hale. God be with you in your efforts, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::
As abruptly as the group arrived, Maldonato is gone. His tall form is briefly visible as a gray blot streaking into the night sky.
Caroline and the ghouls appear alone.
Everyone looks awful, Caroline included. Their hair and clothing are completely disheveled, the long-haired Gisèlle’s most of all. Ferris is missing his wristwatch, Sweet her jewelry in addition to her shoes. The ghouls’ faces are reddened and perspired, and they smell of sweat. The stink of puke hangs heavy in the air, though Gisèlle does not further add to it, and removes her hand from her stomach after a moment’s wait.
The Ventrue, at least, feels fine. Her stomach is as dead as the rest of her.
Caroline: Caroline watches the seneschal depart with mild trepidation. Out from under the umbrella here, at least.
She moves to the edge of the building, looking down into the night around the building for flashing lights, government vehicles, or a perimeter while she lets the others collect themselves.
They need to hit a bathroom, and preferably several offices for fresh changes of clothing, but she has a vague memory of how debilitating nausea was.
GM: The building they’re on looks like one of the tallest in the city, though that’s not saying much next to New Orleans. Gulfport looks like a pretty small city.
True to Caroline’s expectation, she sees a number of black and white vans (some marked with the FBI’s blue letters) assembled around the building’s entrance, replete with flashing lights, a do not cross perimeter, and assorted lawmen maintaining watch. Bystanders look at the building and gossip among themselves from a distance.
Caroline: An actual raid, then? Or a convenient camouflage?
It doesn’t matter, really—either way they need a light touch here.
She does a rough count of the number of vans and vehicles and probable agents on site and pulls back from the edge, looking back to the ghouls.
“We we ready to move?” Caroline asks.
GM: She’s answered by nods.
Caroline: She leads the way to the roof access, proceeding down into the next floor.
It’s advantageous that most CEOs and executives are vane enough to put their offices on the top floor—it provides them the most immediate access to replacement clothing and washrooms.
She slips slow, light feet down the stairs, senses on edge.
GM: Voices and heavy footsteps are audible further in.
Caroline: She slows, holding up a hand to forestall the others, and listens, trying to get a count on the number of voices and what they’re saying.
After a moment she points to Gisèlle, and gestures with one hand in front of her face, as though lowering a veil.
Can the casquette girl continue on undetected?
GM: A nod.
Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to do so, pausing to listen while the centuries old ghoul investigates.
GM: There’s a questioning look, as if to ask her objective. She feels the ghoul’s mind touch hers so she may give silent voice to her thoughts.
Caroline: The ghoul’s touch, as always, is like a feather compared to the seneschal’s anvil.
:: I need to know how many on this floor, if we can easily elude or overcome them, and what their immediate goals are. Are they hunters or simply FBI agents? And, if possible, whether Ms. Adler is still on this floor or if she’s been elsewhere. ::
GM: Without further word, the casquette girl winks out of sight like a snuffed-out candle.
Caroline: Caroline creeps down the stairs to wait near the bottom for her return—and to do some eavesdropping of her own.
GM: Caroline slowly makes her way down the carpeted hallway. Footsteps and voices are audible from nearby offices. They have doors rather than a common area with cubicles. It sounds like the one nearest to her, and at least several others, are still being searched. Drawers are opening and closing and papers being rifled through. She hears several presumed FBI agents inside amiably chatting about how, depending on how things go here, they may be getting “help from the boys at CI.”
“We’re just spread out over so many statutes, especially when counterterror and counterintelligence got big after 9/11,” says a Bureau agent. “CI’s always my first choice for financial crimes.”
“You will love working with those people,” says another man. “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It is wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It is a genuinely impressive thing to watch.”
“Even Al Capone was no match for the IRS,” laughs a younger-sounding man.
“Yeah. Don’t fuck with the tax man,” says the first.
Caroline: Interesting that they’re not all familiar with Bureau procedure. New agents or cross agencies? The plot thickens, despite the mundane topic at hand for the agents. It would be easy to rampage through the building dominating everyone in her path, but she’s content to wait for a moment, to let the elder ghoul do her work and continue to listen in until she gets a better count on the number of nearby agents.
GM: She overhears that “a girl” matching Adler’s description has been arrested and is currently sitting comfy in one of the FBI vans.
Caroline: That is very interesting news for her. Her professors had been pretty clear, the Feds only arrest when they’ve got you dead to rights or they have no other option. Working late is hardly something she believes would drive then to arrest a young white intern with no criminal record. And even if they did, why not hand over to locals?
She withdraws back into the ladderwell to confer with her team while she waits for her spy to report. Sneaking in and out with none the wiser seems increasingly unlikely, so as much as anything this becomes a matter of what kind of footprint she wants to leave.
She relays, quietly, what she’s learned to Ferris, confirming with Adler’s ghoul the Ventrue’s identity here and how well it will stand up to scrutiny.
GM: Sweet says the identity is as real as any identity can be. It has everything from dental records to credit card food purchases. Gerousiastis Matheson arranged only the best for his childe.
Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t know anything about that. Yet.
GM: Ferris thinks that no identity will stand up to sustained scrutiny if you have a team of determined feds actively pouring over it. “If they already think it’s bull they’ll eventually find a string to yank.”
Caroline: The Ventrue agrees. She proposes posing as another agency angry over the feds stomping in and disrupting their investigation. Perhaps pitching Adler’s identify as a fake one in their employ. Treasury seems like a fair bet. Stomp in as a Treasury agent screaming about the mess they made and demanding to see their boss or whoever the hell authorized this shit show.
GM: Caroline’s ghouls raise no objection to the plan. Kâmil and Ferris both consider it wise to have a mundane cover story that Kindred powers can supplement over relying on those alone.
“One thing, ma’am, my domitor’s identity… she’s the niece of Edward Campbell,” says Sweet. “That’s the man with a controlling interest in the bank. And her sire’s identity.”
“That’s why people here listen to her and take her seriously, despite being ‘just’ an intern.”
Caroline: She’d have preferred to slip in and out to pick up Adler and leave none the wiser, but some footprint seems unavoidable. As an additional benefit, if they vanish with Adler into federal bureaucratic minefields attempts to figure out who is responsible among the agencies will leave fingerprints they can follow backwards.
Adler as such a high-profile identify though may create problems. She chews her lower lip.
GM: “He has no children and it’s believed she’s going to inherit everything from him.”
Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t mind making that a reality, truth be told, but this is hardly the audience for that topic.
“I see,” she answers. Is there an answer here that leaves that identity in place? She eyes Sweet. Probably not, but some answers may leave fewer questions than others.
GM: The ghoul smiles back. “Just seems tricky, that way, but maybe she is cooperating with the Treasury? The bank gets up to as many, ah, questionable enterprises as any Kindred-run business.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. And when she doesn’t show up again? Or can’t come in during the day? They’d blow that identity wide open, and with it a great deal more.
“I wonder if any of Mr. Campbell’s other assets were raided,” she muses while they wait.
She needs to get more of her wealth off the grid, make it harder to trace. She has an idea for that. Perhaps Miss Adler will have a similar interest.
GM: “I hope not,” frowns the ghoul, “but they won’t be able to leave him penniless, even if they seize everything attached to the name.”
Caroline: One hell of a stroke of luck to land on Adler in their first raid if she’s only here a few times a month.
GM: Without announcement, Gisèlle reappears.
Sounds and images fill the Ventrue’s head. She sees at least a score of different lawmen methodically searching the office building in teams, tearing through documents and arresting everyone they find. Some wear blue and yellow FBI jackets, but others appear to be local law enforcement. She hears voices talking about financial crimes and political corruption—one of the Bureau’s foremost areas of interest since 9/11. She sees handcuffed bank employees and Miss Adler being moved into the police vans outside.
She sees a middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair being addressed by the others as “sir.” A name floats through her mind. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates.
Mr. Gates and the other lawmen talk about a great deal of things, but Caroline hears nothing about vampires from any of them. Just a specific arrest warrant for Mr. Campbell’s niece.
They’ve got the warrant in hand, too, when Adler asks to see it. It’s signed by Magistrate Judge Samuel Chambers of the Southern District of Mississippi.
Caroline: A patsy. No way any magistrate with a brain in his head would sign off on something this large and sweeping. Caroline glowers. Catspaws at work here. The feds, the justice system. Using a system she has found power in.
Well, two can play at that game. Can they make it to a washroom to freshen up? Did she have an opportunity to snag a spare pair of shoes in her travels for Adler’s ghoul? She imagines that Adler keeps a closet here. Most executives do.
GM: Caroline sees no shoes in the ghoul’s hand. She does see, in her mind’s eye, that same image of lawmen busily searching the offices on the floor. They look busy, but they are there. It likely depends how stealthy the group is.
Caroline: No time like the present. She, Ferris, and Gisèlle will take the lead. Caroline will draw attention if required. She pulls her hair back into a simple ponytail and quickly smooths her appearance. Not perfect, but enough to stand up when layered on top of her powers. She gets concurrence from the others and creeps back down the hall.
GM: There are several hair-rising close calls from the busy federal agents, but the group makes it to the washroom without apparent detection.
Caroline: Caroline takes advantage of the mirror to finish smoothing her own appearance as best she can. There’s limits on what she can, but it looks better than nothing. More attention is directed to the others. They’re not going to be fooling anyone anytime soon under normal circumstances, especially the ghoul without shoes, but Caroline doesn’t intend on this being normal conditions.
GM: The others follow suit in cleaning up as best they can. Ferris and Sweet gargle water to get rid of the vomit on their breath.
Caroline: She looks at herself one more time in the mirror, then smiles.
“Time to make a scene.”
GM: “I look pretty out of sorts without shoes,” admits Sweet, but they follow her lead.
Caroline: “It would have been much better if you hadn’t lost them,” Caroline agrees pointedly. “If you have an opportunity to raid Miss Adler’s closet for a pair, do so.”
She leads them back to the hall, turns on the mojo, and sticks her head into the first room full of agents.
“Where the fuck is Gates?” she demands of the startled federal agents, channeling her best Claire.
GM: The blue-jacketed feds pause in their ransacking of the office and its contents. Four pairs of eyes sweep Caroline with taken aback expressions.
“Excuse me?” one man asks coolly.
Caroline: “Like hell I will,” she snarls. “You clowns just shit on three years of investigations stomping in here like you owned the place and there’s going to be hell to pay before I’m done.”
“Do you have any idea how much time and effort you destroyed? How many scumbags are going to walk free because of your FBI hard-on for jumping in the shit?”
GM: “And just who the hell are you people?” asks another fed in a milder-sounding tone than Caroline wonders if he might muster.
Sweet stays out of sight in the corridor.
Caroline: She turns her wrath on him. “Agent Bueller, Treasury. And who are you, so I can add your name next to your boss’ on the ‘audit every year until you die’ list?”
She looks around at the scattered papers and riffled through drawers and shakes her head.
“Goddamn, no wonder you guys have the same fuckers on your most wanted list for twenty years if this is what you do for investigations.”
GM: The agent gives her a sullen look at the ‘audit’ threat. The all-too real-sounding audit threat.
“We’re just doing our jobs. I didn’t order this raid.”
Caroline: It’s not life-shattering moments of fear that strikes terror into people, it’s lifelong tedious life-eating bureaucratic hell.
Her gaze sweeps across the other agents. “Then where the fuck is your boss? Someone’s ass is going to get roasted over this, and I don’t much care whose.”
GM: “He’s on the next floor down,” glares another fed.
Caroline: “You assholes actually here for something or is this someone flexing their dick on a goose chase?” she asks the more talkative one.
GM: “If you’re this pissy about the raid, I guess you’d know what’s here as well as us,” says the first fed.
Caroline: She rolls her eyes. “Got it, prick waving.” She settles on the fed that she threatened with the audit. “Bring me to him so I can stop having this same conversation with every one of you in sequence.”
GM: The man glowers at her, but moves off.
Caroline: Caroline shows her first smile, a sharp and cruel thing. “Hope you boys have good accountants.” She follows the unhappy agent, confident the others will no longer be so shortly.
GM: He exits the room, then stops and looks down at Sweet’s bare feet.
Caroline: When his gaze comes back up Caroline meets it. The monster inside her runs roughshod over his mind as she unleashes it.
“Forget about her feet and keep leading me as though you never saw them.”
GM: The man gets a glassy look in his eyes, then frowns again as he sees Sweet’s feet still in front of him. He touches his temple, but wordlessly leads Caroline downstairs.
“He cannot long forget what is plain to his sight, bayan,” Kâmil murmurs low in her ear.
“Maybe I should stay out of sight?” floats Sweet.
Caroline: “Can you?” Caroline asks.
GM: She shakes her head. “I’m no good at veiling, but I could wait on the roof?” she whispers.
Caroline: She looks at Gisèlle. “Can you veil yourself and let her ‘borrow’ yours?”
GM: The casquette girl silently hands over her shoes. A new ‘pair’ reappears.
Sweet murmurs her thanks and fits them on.
The FBI man leads Caroline and the ghouls downstairs. She sees a scene unfolding much like the one upstairs, but there are more lawmen. Many of them are carrying out computers and other seized pieces of evidence while others methodically tear through the contents of offices. It’s supervised by the figure Gisèlle showed her in her mind’s eye. A middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates. He wears the same dress shirt and tie under a blue FBI jacket as the other on-scene feds.
“And who the hell are you people?” he growls as Caroline and the ghouls show up.
Caroline: “Treasury. What the hell are you people doing here?” Caroline snaps right back.
GM: “Our jobs,” answers Gates in that same low growl.
His eyes suspiciously survey the Ventrue and her ghouls.
“Let’s see some badges.”
Caroline: Irritating. She’d planned on more subtle powers holding out against less marginal scrutiny inside the perimeter. There’s not much to be done for it. Her gaze bores into man’s.
“I already showed my identification,” she doesn’t quite snarl. She releases the Beast to make it truth in his mind.
“How about you show me your warrant for this…” She bites her tongue off short of tearing him down in front of everyone else, glances around, then continues in a lower voice, “How about we step into an office to continue this conversation.”
GM: The man’s agitated expression slackens. “Okay. This way.”
“Sir?” asks one of the other feds.
Gates waves him off and takes Caroline aside into one of the already searched-looking offices.
Caroline: She shuts the door firmly behind them, leaving her ghouls with the rest of the Feds and rounding on him.
“What the devil is going on here? Raiding Whitney Hancock in the middle of night? Not conferring with anyone else?”
GM: “I wasn’t told the Treasury Department had any skin in this,” Gates answers stiffly.
Caroline: “And we had no idea you had an investigation going into them literally at all, much less that you were planning to raid one of our most cooperative ‘partners’ in illicit funds and asset revelation in the region.”
She heaves a sigh and continues in a less aggressive, more business-like tone, at the same time shifting her influence upon him to something gentler, more invasive. She doesn’t lay it on too thick, just… a bit. To take the edge off his irritation and the inherent distrust between feds.
“So why don’t we start the fuck over and then we can find out how we’re going to un-fuck this one. I’m Jessica, you’re Ruben. This is obviously not entirely on the up and up or you’d have done it during the day and with a signature on the warrant from a district judge vice a magistrate one.”
GM: Ruben sighs. “Jessica. Well, you’re right. I didn’t like this either. This was a bad time to do this. This was a bad warrant to do this with. Hearing this steps on someone else’s toes too honestly doesn’t surprise me.”
“But orders are orders.”
Caroline: “Then which idiot gave the order?” she asks, not quite exasperatedly. “Let me point this shit storm at them before it lands on you, you and that poor magistrate you all hoodwinked into signing off on this that’ll be lucky to hold office as local dog catcher when people are done with him. Why the sudden rush to come here and execute this raid?”
“Do you have any idea how many professional relationships have probably been ruined tonight? How many investigations are going back into the garbage? Years of work all gone in an instant… for what?”
GM: “Take it up with my bosses,” answers Ruben. “I got my orders from my ASAC. He got his orders from the DSAC. He mentioned nothing about a Treasury investigation. I was barely in on any of this before the raid. Boss just told me to make it happen.”
“I told him we should get a warrant from a real federal judge, and that we should do this during normal business hours. He said if I didn’t want to lead the raid, someone else would instead, and that I could hand over my badge while I was at it.”
Caroline: ‘Jessica’ purses her lips, then her expression softens.
“That’s fucking ridiculous. And these clowns wonder why we have so many problems keeping talented and motivated people.”
“The shitty government salary and red tape is at least supposed to come with job security and feeling like you aren’t the crook.”
GM: “My wife keeps reminding me how much more I could make in the private sector. I’ve gotten offers.”
Caroline: “Drop an IG complaint and take one,” she offers, but it’s a lifeless joke. Anyone with enough time in the bureaucracy of the government knows the IG only really sticks for fraud waste and abuse and allegations of racism. And you don’t rise to Ruben’s level without the ability to put your frustrations in a box, to take them out in ways that let you keep working for the Bureau like alcoholism or beating your wife.
DSAC, though, that’s interesting piece of information. It takes some real teeth to pull strings at the director level.
GM: Wife-beating and alcoholism work in plenty more jobs than the Bureau, too.
Ruben smiles humorlessly.
“My men are just doing their jobs. So am I. I’m not sure how much we can un-fuck things for the Treasury at this point.”
Caroline: Caroline smiles with more mirth, and some teeth.
“How precise are your orders?”
Career bureaucrats can find plenty of ways to un-fuck—or fuck things up within the letter of the law and their instructions.
GM: There’s another tired smile.
“Un-precise enough, if someone were to need it. The only part of this my boss left no room for error on was arresting the intern.”
“I’m sure you people know who she is.”
Caroline: “Campbell’s niece?” Caroline asks skeptically.
“Little blonde, looks like she stepped out of a cheer squad recruiting video?”
GM: “That’s her.”
Caroline: Caroline gives an incredulous look. “That’s what this is all about? What, did she launder her Girl Scout Cookie profits to Hamas or something?”
GM: Ruben gives Jessica an equally dubious look.
“If your people have been at this for years, you know she’s no Girl Scout.”
Caroline: Caroline gives a guilty grin.
“Can’t blame me for trying. Campbell is going to blow his stack over her in custody.”
GM: “He sure is.”
Caroline: “You don’t sound especially broken up over that.”
GM: “I’ve not been investigating this bank for years, but I’ve been briefed.”
Caroline: On what? Caroline wonders.
Adler’s ghoul hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with what might convince a hardened agent that cute as a button Becky Lynne deserved a trip to prison.
“You figure your boss is trying to provoke him into action?” she asks. “See what comes out of the tree?”
GM: “He didn’t say outright, but that wouldn’t surprise me,” says Ruben. “She’s his hand. You probably know better than I do how hard he is to reach.”
Caroline: “What’s the charge attached to her, or is this a catch and release?”
They both know they can hold her for a while without charging her. It’ll be a headache of the lawyers show up, but with rich girls a trip to the station can be bad enough.
Caroline should know.
That Adler was targeted by name introduces some extra complications. Caroline had hoped to snatch her away amid the confusion associated with the raid, just another intern not worth recording. At worst she’d planned on leaving behind the ghoul in her place—another blonde that looked close enough to her domitor to pass uncareful scrutiny.
Adler vanishing into thin air, though… that’s harder to explain. And they’re not going to accept a vaguely passable double if they had a specific target.
GM: Caroline knows almost as well as another rich girl connected to Matheson.
“Contingent catch and release. Campbell is the real target. But if he doesn’t show his hand, there’s enough here to tie them up in court and make their lives miserable.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, then curses.
“Not much to do for it then. I’ve got to go call my boss, let him know this place is about to dry up like the Sahara Desert. Expect a nasty letter from him through official channels, but I’ll try to paint your ASAC. He have a name?”
GM: “Thanks,” grunts Ruben. “Everyone here is just doing their job.”
“His name’s Anthony Dotson.”
Caroline: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story before,” Caroline agrees, holding up a hand. “No bad actors, just shitty scripts we’re all given.”
She meets his gaze, then bites her lip before continuing, her gaze boring into his own as she unleashes the Beast within his mind.
“Tell me, are we off the record here, no wires or recordings?”
GM: Ruben stares into the Ventrue’s eyes with a sleepy expression.
“No,” he answers tranquilly.
Caroline: A chill runs down her spine.
Someone’s fishing for bigger fish than just an executive.
She looks away, breaking the connection. “Fair enough. I’ll keep my opinions to myself and play the role I was given.”
“Wish I could say I’ll enjoy the fireworks, but they’re more fun when they aren’t going off beside you.”
She smooths over the transition with a flare of the Beast, lowering his inhibitions. Making her just a little easier to trust. To give the benefit of the doubt.
GM: The FBI man blinks slowly as the spell subsides.
The initial spell.
“Hold a moment,” he says. “You keep my guys and me out of your boss’ line of fire, I’ll owe you one.”
Caroline: “I’ll do what I can,” she agrees after a moment.
“If you feel like I’ve done right by you when it’s all said and done, reach out. Maybe I’ll even let you buy me a drink while we bitch about our bosses.”
GM: He gives ‘Jessica’ a long-suffering smile.
“You got a card?”
Caroline: She pats her pocket-less sides, then her pocket-less blouse wryly. “Not enough damn pockets. The failures of gender equality.”
She snags a sticky-note off the desk and dutifully prints her fake name with a pin from beside it.
“Look up me. Shoot me an email if you want to talk.”
GM: Ruben sticks the sticky inside his jacket pocket, then hands ‘Jessica’ a white business card with the FBI’s logo located to the upper left of the text:
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Ruben F. Gates
Supervisory Special Agent
Below is his office address, office phone number, cell number, and email (email@example.com).
“Likewise to you.”
Caroline: She whistles, “Fancy,” and palms the card.
“Good luck, Ruben.”
GM: “Damn should be. $115 for a batch of 300 and they say ‘what an honor’ it is to serve us.”
Caroline: “The dinosaur at the officer says civil servants only got respect right after 9/11. Before my time.”
GM: Ruben grunts. “Not mine. Your people sticking around?”
Caroline: She shakes her head. “No meaningful jurisdiction here, just creates possible headaches down the line. We’ll get out of your hair.”
“I was really hoping you were going to be some podunk sheriff we could run over.”
GM: Ruben glances around the empty office, then reaches inside his jacket again, but doesn’t pull anything out.
“This whole thing stinks, Jessica.”
Caroline: She glances at his jacket, then bites her lip. “What am I missing, Ruben? Even as a short squeeze on Campbell, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are better ways to go about that.”
“Am I about to step in it on this one?”
GM: “I don’t know. The fixation on the intern is bizarre. My boss told me specifically how to arrest her.”
Caroline: “What do you mean, how?” she asks skeptically. “He afraid you were going to forget to mirandize her, or want her roughed up?”
GM: Ruben snorts. “Just bizarre instructions. Like to transport her to the county jail up along the I-10, instead of Gulfport PD’s here in the city. No explanation for the longer drive.”
“But, everyone else we arrest, fine if Gulfport PD holds them.”
Caroline: Caroline’s expression turns grim. She bites her lip nervously.
“I need to go.” She swallows, then looks back at him. “Get away from this one, Ruben. Call in a favor if you have to.”
GM: The Bureau agent glances around the ransacked office again. Muffled sounds of lawmens’ footfalls are audible past the doors.
“Little late for that now.”
Caroline: “Then keep your name off of whatever you can. Turn over early.” She bites her lip again.
GM: He regards her for a thoughtful moment.
“I’ll take that advice.”
Caroline: She starts towards the door, then stops. “And don’t dig on this shit when it gets weirder, because it will.”
GM: Ruben shakes his head as he follows her out.
“I’ll take that too.”
Caroline: He sounds like he will. That’s something.
She hopes for his sake that it’s enough.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Caroline: The Ventrue leaves the FBI agent to his business, leaving office first and heading out to gather the ghouls with a gruff, “We’re leaving.”
They have one stop before they go at the buildings security office downstairs.
GM: The four follow after her without a word.
No one stops them along the way to their destination. It’s a typical enough security office, with rows of screens and monitors and several swivel chairs to sit in. Caroline finds, to her good fortune, that it’s completely empty of security personnel and law enforcement agents alike.
Caroline: The Ventrue sends her agents into action—and joins them—seeking to pry any security tapes of the raid and subsequent events (including their arrival and exploration of the building) from the system.
Given the option she copies them and deletes the originals, making it look like mishandling. Without the option to copy, she simply deletes.
GM: Unsurprisingly, the terminals are password-protected.
Gisèlle meets Caroline’s gaze. In her mind’s eye, the Ventrue sees blood flowing from her wrist, then a bypassed login screen.
Caroline: The heiress nods, turns her wrist over, and brings it to her fangs to draw blood.
GM: The casquette girl sits down, touches the keyboard, then types in a password. She rises for Caroline and Ferris to systematically delete the footage. Sweet has the fortune to find a spare USB stick available for copying.
Caroline: Caroline supposes it’s fortunate the ghoul is good for something. She save her questions until they’re on the road.
The Ventrue works quickly, and they’re careful to wipe their fingerprints when they’re done.
They head out into the night and rolling chaos that is the perimeter, picking through the mess to determine who has been shipped out and who remains. It’s fortunate that those inside a perimeter attract far less attention than those without. They’re much more concerned with those attempting to gain entry.
She has Ferris and Sweet make whatever calls are necessary to arrange their vehicles for immediate pickup as she tries to locate Adler.
GM: Caroline finds that she and her ghouls are not alone with the law enforcement officers in the perimeter.
A short and vaguely bookish-looking man with tan skin and dark hair is also there, talking to one of the Bureau agents. He’s dressed in a tailored black business suit with a blue necktie patterned in white longhorns. He’s trailed by two more men in suits and a woman in similarly professional attire. The larger of the men carries himself like a bodyguard. But Caroline can sense all the subtle predatory cues, from the slowness of the short man’s blinks to the distinct lack of heartbeat.
He is Kindred.
He looks at Caroline and gives a faint smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Excuse us,” he says to the Bureau agent.
Caroline: “Let’s,” Caroline agrees. She nods to Ferris and Sweet to continue on their business and breaks away with the two elder ghouls.
GM: They walk away from the perimeter.
“What are you doing in my city?” the vampire asks without preamble.
Caroline: The heiress bites back her initial reaction: venom and spite.
“Prince Landau, I presume,” she answers more mildly, deferentially. Her pride isn’t worth starting a conflict with a neighbor.
“My apologies for not presenting myself more presently, we arrived only minutes ago. I had hoped that Prince Vidal might have had the opportunity to send word ahead.”
“We received word that Questor Adler had been taken into FBI custody, and I was able to arrive much more swiftly than any other.”
GM: “I’ve been made aware,” the small-town prince answers perfunctorily.
“You may present yourself to me now.”
Caroline: “Begging your pardon, my prince, but to show you the respect you are due within your dominion would invite undue scrutiny in this moment: this raid specifically targeted Kindred, down to special handling instructions for the specific target.”
She doesn’t dally before continuing.
“That not withstanding, I am Eiren Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue, and I humbly request both your forgiveness for my trespass, and permission to continue in my duties as ordered by my prince, Strategos Augusto Vidal, within your domain through this night.”
She wonders if even that humble pedigree shames the small-town tyrant.
GM: It’s an estimable enough list of names, at least from Bastien on upwards.
“I’ll give you better than my permission, Eiren,” says Landau.
“You can do it under my supervision. Bring me up to speed on what you’ve found.”
Caroline: She gives a faint bow of gratitude—limited by their publicity. “Very magnanimous, my prince.”
“Questor Adler was taken into custody a little less than an hour ago. This raid was specifically directed by someone with ties to the Domestic Security Alliance Council—presumably a highly placed hunter—with the intention of capturing her. Most of those here are catspaws, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have agents seeded into the group. Given time I’d comb through them, but we lack that.”
“Questor Adler is supposed to be taken not to the local Gulfport PD holding, but to the county jail down I-10. The guidance was specific to the route. I have not ascertained if she has been transported yet, but I do not expect we will see her again if that convoy is not intercepted in a timely manner.”
“It was my intention to locate her, if here, and if not to procure vehicles to intercept the convoy, by force if necessary.”
GM: Landau seems to consider that. He frowns slightly at the mention of procuring vehicles, but answers,
“You can borrow some of mine, then. Eiren Packard will help you. She’s a fair hand behind the wheel.”
Caroline: “As directed, my prince,” Caroline acquiesces without argument.
A ‘fair hand.’
“Is she nearby?”
It’s not lost on her that associating himself here allows him to take credit for this publicly… but nor is it lost on her that an eiren of modest breeding handling such a sensitive matter must raise some concerns for even the pauper prince.
GM: Landau removes a flip phone from his jacket pocket.
“Take two cars to the public library. Lickety-split.”
He ends the call and looks back to Caroline.
“Block and a half down 25th Ave.”
Caroline: “Thank you, Prince Landau,” she replies.
Then, “Was it possible to ascertain whether Questor Adler had been taken away yet?”
GM: “Sure was, Eiren. She’s gone. You and Packard had better be fast.”
Caroline: She refrains from offering a curse at the time wasted with formalities.
“By your leave, then.”
GM: The prince motions, dismissing her, and walks back towards the bank with his people.
Like in so many other things, it looks like it falls to the neonates to do the heavy lifting.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
Caroline: The Ventrue heiress withdraws with Landau’s assent, gathering her ghouls around her as she heads down 25th Ave.
She gives them the bare minimum as they walk. “Ms. Adler is being taken to the country prison. We will intercept the vehicles transporting her with the aid of Prince Landau’s childe, who is graciously providing two vehicles.”
GM: 25th Avenue is Gulfport’s largest thoroughfare and drives home what a small city it is. Only a few buildings are more than several stories tall. Gaps between them feel more spacious. Palm trees line the avenue, swaying in the balmy seaside air.
Ferris and Sweet are gone, having been dismissed to procure vehicles, but meet Caroline outside the public library after being called over Ferris’ phone. It’s closed at this hour of the night and located next to a sleepy O’Tolley’s still seeing some traffic at the drive-thru.
“Which one, ma’am, if I might ask?” asks Sweet.
Caroline: She bites back a more biting response, and not for the first time this evening.
GM: “Ah, good,” smiles the ghoul. “She’ll want to get Questor Adler recovered safe and sound.”
Caroline: “They knew about your domitor,” Caroline snaps. “Apparently she had quite the unsavory reputation.”
GM: Sweet’s eyes widen at Caroline’s first words.
At the latter ones, she just offers a sad smile.
“So do all ghouls and Kindred, ma’am, to people who know our dirty laundry.”
Caroline: “Typically the FBI isn’t on the list of people I’d expect to be read in on that.”
She continues to walk. “Questor Adler was the sole target tonight. They had special apprehension and transportation instructions for her.”
GM: “Oh, no,” the ghoul murmurs. “They knew she was Kindred, then?”
Caroline: “I suspect someone did,” Caroline answers.
Which only further reinforces what she’s come to suspect: that someone is targeting the city’s Ventrue quite aggressively.
GM: “Gisèlle identified no individuals among the Bureau agents who were more than they appeared, bayan,” states Kâmil. “But as you told Prince Landau, it is entirely possible such individuals evaded our limited scrutiny.”
Caroline: Caroline nods. “I expect they will have their agents waiting to take Questor Adler into custody—either on the road or at the jail.”
GM: “Is our primary objective to extract Adler or capture their agents?” asks Ferris.
Caroline: She glances at Sweet. “The former.”
GM: The ghoul looks relieved.
Caroline: “Anything else we get is simply an added benefit.”
GM: “Pros and cons to taking her into custody on the road or at the jail,” considers Ferris. “On the road, fewer witnesses, easier operation. At the jail, more possible coverups. Podunk cops make good patsies.”
Caroline: “May not get a choice. If you were a black team would you take her on the road, knowing her connections, if you wanted to shuffle her off to a site?”
GM: “Road for sure if I wanted to capture her and didn’t mind a more suspicious disappearance. She wouldn’t be in any jail cell for long.”
Caroline: “Have to catch her either way,” Caroline muses.
GM: “I find it remiss that an elder’s favored childe would be caught so easily, bayan,” observes Kâmil.
Caroline: “In what way?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Could you see this same sequence of events happening to you, bayan?”
Caroline: Caroline thinks on that one. “Odd that she was alone, that she was taken so unawares.”
GM: The Turk dips his head in concurrence.
Caroline: “Convenient that I was watching when it happened.”
Caroline turns to Sweet.
GM: “I’m certainly glad you were, ma’am, for it to get this level of response,” nods the ghoul.
Caroline: “How frequently does she do Zoom calls for Kindred business, Ms. Sweet?”
GM: “It depends on the nature of the business, ma’am. Usually Zoom calls are just to set up somethin’ else in person.”
“Though for business that can be discussed in veiled enough terms, she prefers to do over video calls than voice calls.”
“She likes to look people in the face—and let them see hers, too.”
Caroline: “And does she frequently travel to foreign cities alone?” Caroline presses.
GM: “Questor Adler doesn’t consider Gulfport to be foreign, ma’am. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the city his possession, in so many words. She feels, or I suppose felt, safe comin’ here.”
“But ever since the bank’s been relocatin’ its headquarters, she’s usually popped by here once a week.”
“Before then it was once every few weeks or so.”
Caroline: “Routines make us complacent,” the Ventrue observes to the Turk.
“But hurry makes us blind.”
Out on the interstate far from the city with only a fraction of her typical ghouls and with unknown foreign Kindred makes her awfully vulnerable.
“You think it’s a trap.”
GM: “It would be a convenient moment for one,” observes Ferris.
Caroline: She has always trusted her vision, her perspective, but how much of this could be someone playing off her own expectations?
GM: “I am uncertain, bayan,” answers Kâmil.
“It is, as Bay Ferris notes, a convenient moment for a trap.”
“Yet few are the prizes that may be won without struggle or risk.”
Caroline: Dread rolls in the pit of her stomach, and as her gaze settles again on Sweet anger blossoms. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
She rounds on the petite ghoul, her features taking on a darkly wrath.
“You know something,” she snarls.
GM: Sweat beads along the ghoul’s brow as she raises her hands placatingly.
“I-I haven’t told you everything ab-bout Questor Adler’s activities , ma’am, but it’s nothing, nothing harmful.”
Caroline: The aura of palpable menace rolls off Caroline like a dark suffocating cloud.
“Tell. Me. Now.”
GM: Ferris silently falls behind Sweet, his own face dark. He doesn’t say anything about blacksites and CIA interrogation techniques. Sometimes more words dilute the impact of your first ones. He just gets behind the ghoul and lets her feel surrounded, back exposed and vulnerable to a second and very unfriendly-looking face.
Kâmil and Gisèlle watch impassively.
“She has a bodyguard!” spills Sweet, trembling a helpless piece of debris in that darkest tempest.
“He, he was down with poisoning tonight, food poisoning.”
“He couldn’t be, be here with her.”
“I thought, okay, that, that happens, sometimes, I just…”
“Just what?” Ferris breathes behind her.
“I think she did it!” blurts the ghoul. “Poi, poisoned him!”
Caroline: Caroline glowers.
“You maintain her schedule. When did she schedule this trip? Was it after I tried to arrange a meeting?”
She glances as the casquette girl. “Can you reach the seneschal from this far away?”
GM: Gisèlle shakes her head.
Caroline: She looks back to Sweet.
She already knows the answer.
GM: “After, ma’am,” the ghoul answers quietly.
“This, this wasn’t a setup. I know her. She wasn’t acting. She is in trouble.”
Caroline: “I’m sure,” Caroline all but sneers in Sweet’s face.
But it’s not impossible. Adler already holds leverage over her, but her departure and arrival here is something that would have been difficult to predict. There’s another hand at work.
“Who did she meet with between my request and the scheduling of this trip?”
GM: “It doesn’t matter to her either way,” observes Ferris. “If Adler’s not in trouble, and Sweet sends us after her, as planned, she’s being a good ghoul. If Adler is in trouble, maybe we save her, and if we die, oh well.”
“Good ghoul either way.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “And she’s inclined to see the best even if she is genuine in her concern.”
“The list, Ms. Sweet. My patience runs exceptionally thin.”
“And if you lie or misrepresent something to me again I will leave you in a ditch and your domitor wherever she has found herself.”
GM: An image flits through Caroline’s mind’s eye.
Two cars have arrived.
The ghoul, meanwhile, pales at Caroline’s all-too genuine-seeming threat.
“She, I’m sorry, she saw… Primogen Hurst, Gerousiastis Matheson, Lady Speaker Defallier, Hound Doriocourt, Lady Commissioner Preston, Questor Brodowski, and Seneschal Maldonato.”
Caroline: “Wonderful, a who’s who of people that want me dead,” Caroline snaps.
She bores her eyes into the ghoul’s. “Forget this conversation,” she demands before tearing her gaze away.
“-e need to hurry,” she picks up mid sentence. “If she’s already been handed off to a second group we’ll never find her.”
GM: The still-pale ghoul blinks and nods shakily. Dread continues to roll off the Ventrue in a dark yet unseen tide.
Caroline: She brushes a hand on the the casquette girl’s as she advances towards the vehicles and sends feeling through it. Tension. Violent readiness.
“Gisèlle, can you link us across cars if they are in close proximity?”
GM: The casquette girl inclines her head.
Caroline: “Do so, I will have additional instructions once we are on the way. Mr. Ferris, please join Ms. Sweet and Gisèlle in the second vehicle.”
GM: “As you say, ma’am.”
Caroline: Her foul mood has not abated, but she buries it as best she can.
Perhaps it is her temper guiding her. The smarter move tonight is to turn around, to drive these cars back to New Orleans and report to the seneschal.
But she’s been manipulated. She’s been lied to. Deceived.
And by god, someone is going to pay for it.
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: The group proceeds to the cars. They’re a pair of SUVs parked within 10 or so feet of where the conversation took place. The driver inside each is watching them. One, female, smells like Kindred even past the windshield. The other, male, smells human. Kâmil follows at Caroline’s flank.
Caroline: Caroline approaches the Kindred driver, appraising her and sliding around the car to the passenger side door before climbing inside.
GM: Most Kindred, from what Caroline’s seen, are Embraced young. Twenty-somethings, like she is. Sometimes younger, like Becky Lynne and Roxanne. The Kindred behind the wheel doesn’t look young. There are lines across a hard and determined face that looks like it’s seen more scowls than smiles over the years. She’s in her mid-late 30s, maybe, with fair skin and dirty blonde hair cut short. She wears a button-up and gray pants without any makeup or jewelry.
She waits for Caroline, seemingly, to break the silence first.
Caroline: “They tell you what’s going on?” Caroline asks, breaking the silence.
GM: “No,” the woman answers frankly.
Caroline: “Questor Adler was picked up by federal authorities, likely being handed off for transport to a black site. We’re supposed to go get her. Somewhere down I-10 Eastbound.”
Except it’s far from that simple.
She arches an eyebrow. “Sounds like fun, eh?”
GM: “Not one bit,” answers the other vampire, then twists the ignition.
Kâmil sits in the back behind the two.
The car moves. 25th Ave rolls past. It’s not a long drive to the city’s outskirts. The whole city feels like somewhere else’s outskirts.
Caroline: Caroline lets them get into the darkness before she looks over. It’s not complicated, a simple ‘hey, what’s this?’ to get the other vampire, the older woman to look at her for a moment, and she sets to work on her mind, even as one hand snakes out lightning quick to catch the wheel and keep it steady.
“Drive as I tell you and when I next say ‘alpha’ freeze and do not move for the rest of the evening..” she demands.
GM: “Fuck y…” growls the woman, eyes hard as they bore back Caroline’s. She feels the other vampire’s will like steel beneath her. The Ventrue’s mouth opens, as if to issue some counter-command.
Caroline: “In your dreams,” she snarls.
GM: A moment passes.
No sound emerges.
The woman’s features gradually still.
She looks back towards the road and calmly resumes driving.
Kâmil is sitting forward, a large hand resting inside his jacket pocket. Upon seeing the woman’s acquiescence, he releases it and sits back.
Caroline: Caroline sighs, then slides out her phone.
“Continue onto I-10 eastbound,” she directs as she dials her sister, letting it ring.
GM: The car drives.
Cécilia picks up promptly.
Caroline: “Cécilia,” Caroline greets her. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late.”
The sound of her sister’s voice is reassuring. Calming. It pats down the anger burning under the surface.
“I’ve found myself in something of a bind. Is Maman available?”
GM: “For us? Of course.”
“And it’s fine. Do you need help?”
Caroline: “Advice at least,” she admits.
GM: “All right. I’ll go find her. What’s the situation?”
Caroline: She’s mindful of how unsecure the line is.
“I thought I was coming to help a ‘friend’ in Gulfport, but now that I’m here the entire thing seems… questionable, and I’m beginning to wonder why they called me at all.”
GM: “Oh, that is difficult,” frowns Cécilia. “Do you feel like you can’t just come home?”
Caroline: “That’s probably the smart move… but you know how I feel about people jerking me around. How much I’d prefer to confront them face to face.”
“This just seems a little… calculated. I was hoping Maman had some ideas to change the odds a bit.”
GM: “I can do that. What do you want me to pass along?”
“You know how phones really don’t agree with her.”
Caroline: “Please,” Caroline indicates. “For what it’s worth, I think that distant relative of mine, the one that lives out in the country, may be involved.”
GM: “Oh no, personally?”
Caroline: “Hard to say, but… starting to think so. I brought a couple old friends out, and there aren’t many other people I can think of that would want to get into it with them if it gets ugly.”
GM: There’s a pause.
“She thinks that’s unlikely.”
“That he’d rather ask someone else to get involved for him.”
Caroline: “Awkward. You know how much I hate backing down from a confrontation.”
GM: “Oh? No, she doesn’t think he’s there himself.”
“Probably one of his friends, children, or employees, if it’s him.”
Caroline: “Funnily enough, the friend I came out to help was one of his daughter. Seemed like if someone wanted to cause trouble they wouldn’t just send her though.”
“Especially since, you know, he knows me.”
GM: “Is there any benefit to sticking around? She says she’d be inclined to leave, do some digging, and confront whoever’s involved on her terms, rather than on someone else’s.”
Caroline: “I involved a couple of other people getting out here. Bummed a ride… and if I’m wrong and his daughter is in trouble she’d be in a pretty bad spot.”
“And I hate backing down.”
GM: “Maman says that’s your pride talking,” Cécilia says in a lightly chiding tone.
“Do you think helping out his daughter is worth the risk of getting burned?”
“Nothing good without effort, and all that, it’s mainly a question of how important this is to you.”
Caroline: “It is. Pride talking,” she admits.
“But you know how it is. If you let people push you around, they’ll just keep pushing.”
GM: “Maman says you should always push back. Just on a battlefield of your choosing, and not someone else’s.”
“What about the daughter, though? Is this a now or never thing?”
Caroline: “Seems likely,” Caroline answers.
“I’m also concerned that if I walk away without making the attempt it’ll disappoint dad.”
GM: “That is tricky, then. What can we do to help?”
Caroline: “Well, if it’s not him, the only thing I’d be concerned about is unfavorable numbers. You know how brave people get when they think they have the advantage.”
“I don’t suppose she could do anything about that?”
“She says your father or his husband might be better able to help you, there.”
Caroline: She gives a faint smile. “I understand, I’d met a friend who could always seem to conjure up friends from out of nowhere, I’d hoped she might do the same.”
GM: Another pause.
“Maman says your friend probably knows nicer friends than she does.”
Caroline: Caroline smirks and pauses to give direction to her dominated driver again.
“Understandable. Does she have any recommendations on not getting psyched out, beyond the norm? I’m a little concerned about them getting in my head.”
GM: “I’m afraid not. That’s something you want to avoid all of the time.”
Caroline: “Well, I feel better having at least talked about it.”
GM: “She thinks maybe using some patsies to feel things out from a distance? That’s very easy for you to set up.”
“Anything that balks their plans and makes things not turn out the way they expect.”
Caroline: “Not going how they expect? Cécilia, that’s my specialty.”
GM: Cécilia laughs.
“That’s too true.”
“Are you going to get help from your dad or stepdad?”
Caroline: “You know how hard they can be to reach. Never picking up their phones.” Caroline observes.
GM: “Oh, their PAs, too?”
Caroline: “No harm in trying, I suppose,” Caroline agrees.
“We’re getting close. Should make that call now. Give Maman my love?”
GM: “She says she loves you too. So do I.”
Caroline: “I’ll see you when I get back,” Caroline answers, ending the call.
GM: Ahead, the highway steadily rolls past the windshield.
Caroline: Caroline picks out Congo’s contact information and hits call.
GM: “Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the ghoul greets.
Caroline: “Good evening Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies.
She wastes little time in explaining the situation to the ancient ghoul as opaquely as she can over the phone without losing context, pausing to answer question as required.
She relays that the circumstances appear suspicious, as does the timing, and that she is increasingly concerned this may be a setup of some kind. The fact that Adler was alone. The damning suspicion she forced from the terrified ghoul that Adler had poisoned her bodyguard. The scheduling of the trip and their video call. The waiting prince with his brood and readily available cars.
She also touches on how few might know that she could get out here this quickly. She intend on proceeding, barring an order to divert, but is far from comfortable with the situation.
GM: Congo receives Caroline’s news gravely. He states that he does not believe his domitor would condone Caroline proceeding into what appears to be a trap—nor does he endorse the same. The seneschal’s ghoul quotes Sun Tzu on avoiding battles fought on the enemy’s terms: “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”
Congo concurs that he finds suspicion in Adler being alone, her bodyguard potentially being poisoned, and the scheduling of the trip.
Congo does not find Prince Landau’s waiting cars to be suspicious. He states that Primogen Hurst called ahead to notify his kin in Gulfport about Adler’s situation (no doubt reasoning they could reach her faster than he), and is in fact en route to Gulfport himself, with such allies as he could muster on short notice.
Caroline: “You would have us turn away, then?” Caroline asks.
GM: “Let me consult my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He shall be available very soon. In the interim, I can provide Mr. Hurst’s contact information if you lack it, so that you might coordinate activities. I do not believe it productive for him to make the trip out to Gulfport if his sister is no longer there.”
Caroline: Caroline takes down the contact info, but caveats, “Better to avoid reaching out to Mr. Hurst until we have confirmed your employer wishes us to proceed. I expect he will take it poorly if we decide not to. I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”
She rolls over scenarios in her mind, the least likely possibilities receding with time.
Does Matheson know that the seneschal can catapult a group a hundred miles away in minutes? Perhaps. Does he know he could do so for Caroline? That she would immediately reach out to the seneschal, that she is within his grace? Perhaps less likely.
So how would this trap work, if it is a trap? The next quickest transport from the city would likely be… with Hurst. With whatever ghouls Hurst might assemble. Perhaps without her own, due to loading requirements on a helicopter.
Is that the play? Hurst and Adler overpowering her with their ghouls, alone out here?
If so, the proper reaction is to move quickly. Take Adler before Hurst can arrive and bring the matter before her sire. Let him discover the truth of it back in New Orleans, where her allies are.
GM: “Mr. Hurst is already en route to Gulfport, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo continues. “The sooner he is notified, the sooner he might join you. I do not believe my employer would object to this, especially when the situation has proven more dire than initially believed.”
“And whatever else has come to pass with Miss Adler, Mr. Hurst is loyal to your father above all other men.”
Caroline: She mulls that thought. “Has the truth of that been disclosed to Mr. Hurst?”
It’s one matter to move against the prince’s childe. It’s another against the troublesome Ms. Malveaux, sireless neonate who has given offense to his own.
GM: “It has not been, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet the company you presently travel in is most unusual for one of your presumed parentage.”
Caroline: “I’ll reach out,” she agrees. “And I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”
GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. We shall speak again soon.”
Caroline: Caroline has ridden in enough helicopters to know that a phone call is a losing proposition. She shifts to text.
Just stopped by to visit your sister but she wasn’t home. I think she headed east with some friends.
GM: The response back is immediate.
Caroline: She drops and sends a pin, not directly on top of the jail but close to it.
Not sure if she’s arrived yet.
GM: Good to know. Who’s she driving with?
Caroline: Not sure, your cousin in Gulfport might know. He told me she’d left.
GM: I’ll get in touch. Where you headed?
Caroline: Was going to try and meet her there. I’m a little ahead of you.
GM: You up for it?
Caroline: Goading her, or doubting her?
GM: Good luck. I’ll try to catch up .
Caroline: She’s left wondering if that’s a good or a bad thing.
GM: “I can confirm Primogen Hurst’s loyalty to our prince, bayan,” states Kâmil. “My domitor believes him trustworthy. One of the most trustworthy Kindred remaining among the Sanctified.”
“I would not refuse his help against adversaries of unknown strength and numbers.”
Caroline: Her sire(s) also believes Donovan to be a loyal servant, and she knows well how folly that belief is.
“I did not decline it, but this matter will be much easier if concluded before the jail.”
GM: “I have little doubt as to that fact, bayan. Yet your continued safety is my foremost duty, above Miss Adler’s retrieval.”
Caroline: “I cannot be made of porcelain,” Caroline answers.
GM: “Perhaps not, bayan. Such matters are above my concern.”
Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is Congo’s.
Caroline: She answers.
GM: “I have consulted my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He is ill-inclined to abandon Miss Adler in her hour of need, if that need is genuine. He is also ill-inclined to fight any battle upon so unfavorable a field. He is attempting to gather further intelligence as to your battlefield’s nature.”
“For now, he wishes you to maintain your present course. I will call you again when there is new information.”
Caroline: Caroline isn’t surprised.
She knows better than most that the seneschal is anything but objective where Adler is concerned. That he blames himself for her Embrace. Not the for the first time, she wonders how it came to pass. Regardless, his vision is clouded.
As clouded as her own is at the prospect of a challenge. At the idea that someone has underestimated her, the idea that they believe they can best her.
She wonders when she became this way. When she stopped running from fights and started running to them. It’s reckless. Foolish. And yet… she can’t help herself.
Maybe it’s her bloodline, the arrogance of her deathright overwhelming her sensibilities. Perhaps it’s the predatory nature of all Kindred.
Regardless, she doesn’t argue. Unwise though it is, she agrees with the seneschal in this matter: let them come.
“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Congo.”
When she’s concluded the call she informs Kâmil of their orders: press on.
GM: Maybe it’s two of her bloodlines.
Her father is no warrior. He was not Embraced into this life. But would he have run from a similar challenge?
Arrogance did not come from her deathright alone.
“Very well, bayan,” concurs Kâmil.
If the Turkish bodyguard believes this course of action unwise, he holds his tongue, and stares motionlessly ahead into the onrushing night.
“Then we commit ourselves wholly to victory.”
Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM
GM: The two cars drive and drive. There is little enough traffic on the remote highway at this late hour. Yellow-stripped asphalt rushes endlessly past under endless night sky.
The hard-faced vampire silently steers the wheel. Kâmil looks at her at one point and remarks, “This one despises subservience,” but says nothing further.
Eventually, Caroline gets another call from Congo.
The seneschal’s ghoul informs her in so many words that Adler is handcuffed in the back of a police van still en route to the county jail. She has enspelled the minds of several police officers on board. They are not breaking their orders, but they view her with great sympathy and arresting her is breaking their hearts. They were engaged in conversation with her. Maldonato believes Adler is counting on being broken out procedurally, rather than attempting to escape through her own powers, but has subverted the officers’ minds as a ‘just in case’.
Caroline: Caroline can’t say much about that, looking at their unwilling driver. She did much the same.
It raises more uncomfortable questions though, about what game Adler is playing at, and why. Why draw Caroline out, if that was even the intention?
GM: “My employer will continue his investigations. Is there aught else you desire to know, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” inquires Congo.
Caroline: “How far are we from them? Can we overtake them? If so, where? Their numbers as well.”
GM: “I shall ask, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Is there further else?”
Caroline: “Does she appear distressed?”
It feels disrespectful using the seneschal as her spy, but it is the position they’re in.
GM: Perhaps he would consider the cause a worthy one, if it has already clouded his judgment.
“You will be able to overtake them in several minutes at your current speed. You will still be on the highway. There are four officers inside the vehicle.”
“Miss Adler is engaging the officers in conversation about their interests and families. She does not appear unduly distressed, but grace during times of trial is a virtue of your family’s.”
Caroline: “Then we’ll see her shortly, and we’ll see what is to come. Thank you for your aid, Mr. Congo.”
GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet if you believe matters here are more than they appear, my employer remains skeptical that four police officers is the totality of the opposition you may face.”
“The circumstances of Miss Adler’s bodyguard’s ‘illness’ remain deeply troubling to him.”
Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “The die is cast, Mr. Congo. Our strength will be sufficient or it will not. If not, there are painfully few that could have anticipated this course of action, and I trust your employer and my father’s wrath will do honor to my memory.”
“Now is the time for action. The analysis may follow.”
She says her goodbyes to the elder ghoul and turns to the plan of action, teaching out mentally to Gisèlle as well to pass the plan to the trusted agents in the other vehicle as she explains to Kâmil.
The intent is for the vehicle Caroline is in to accelerate past the police van, then flip around and accelerate towards it at high speed, leaving Kâmil on the side of the road if necessary prior to doing so. Caroline will bail out just before the collision, trusting her speed to carry her and the other vampire free from the vehicle. She can see no other reason the vehicle carrying a prisoner could be convinced to stop. The collision will likely injure the police inside, and allow them to quickly overpower any remaining resistance and release Ms. Adler.
She is inclined to leave behind Sweet in Adler’s place, warping the memory of applicable police as required… or leaving behind Sweet’s corpse if required. A mangled blonde recovered from the crash site.
She’s also inclined to leave the follow-on cleanup to Hurst. The trap, such as this is, is better avoided by speed.
GM: Kâmil considers Caroline’s proposal.
“I may survive a car crash without undue injury, bayan. A steered vehicle is more likely to hit its mark than an out of control one in any case. If we are to execute this plan, I believe I should remain behind the wheel.”
“I, too, see little we could say to convince the lawmen aboard to stop their vehicle. Perhaps an inconvenience or obstacle placed on the road ahead could do so.”
The Turk gives a sad smile.
“I believe my domitor would seek an alternative to the deaths of these people. But he is not here and your plan is efficacious. I am yours to command.”
Caroline: “A vehicle steered by her,” she gestures to their dominated vampire companion, “is even more likely, and risks not your life. At worst, I can revive her.”
“For what it’s worth, I find it unlikely even a high speed collision with this vehicle will kill any onboard the van. The mass advantage on the van means the collision will be far worse on this vehicle. Casualties are possible, but seem more likely the product of fortune’s cruel hand than foregone,” she offers, trying to assuage the Turk’s conscience.
She doesn’t especially want to murder police officers either. And a drunk driver colliding with the vehicle while suspicious is not impossible, or even implausible.
She hopes Landau has properly insulated his assets from himself. And that he has good insurance.
GM: “I do not believe Primogen Hurst, Prince Landau, or Miss Alder are likely to think well of you for using one of their kin in such a manner, bayan,” Kâmil offers mildly, glancing once more at their driver. “Nor Miss Packard herself.”
Caroline: “Better then that she remember this as her own daring idea, and her the eager participant,” Caroline offers.
She can’t make everyone happy.
GM: “I believe I could serve in the role you intend, bayan, without worsening your clanmates’ esteem of you. My domitor is gravely concerned that too many Kindred view the name of Miss Malveaux-Devillers with indifference or hostility.”
“But if it is your will to use Miss Packard in this manner, I remain yours to command.”
Caroline: “I am disinclined to risk the lives or well-being of those that serve me, even for a brief time, to further nebulous ends,” Caroline answers the elder ghoul starkly.
“But as ill at ease as it would leave me to do so, wisdom would seem as much listening to elder counsel as following your own better inclinations. If you wish it, if you believe it wise…. I will defer to your experience in this matter.”
GM: The large man inclines his head.
“My domitor has tasked me with your protection, bayan. He did not specify whether this protection was to extend beyond ensuring your immediate physical safety, but I believe this course of action is within the spirit of his orders.”
Caroline: “Then we’ll do it your way, Kâmil.”
Caroline confirms that Gisèlle is tracking the plan as well—their second car will be the ‘getaway’ as it were, arriving on the scene immediately after the crash.
GM: Some of the disadvantages of telepathic communication become apparent when Caroline realizes she cannot initiate communication with the casquette girl.
Eventually, though, she feels Gisèlle’s mind touch hers. There is a sense of acknowledgement and images of the other ghouls’ faces as the plan is conveyed to them.
Well, all but Sweet.
Ferris approves of killing the blonde. Good way to throw people off Adler’s trail. She likely won’t get a better time to stage her death.
Caroline: Caroline is hardly shocked by Ferris’ approval. But that’s why he’s there: to provide the ruthless perspective.
The plan comes together neatly: Caroline and the other vampire will bail out when they turn around after passing the van, allowing Kâmil to steer the car into the police van. Ferris and Gisèlle will arrive to follow in the second vehicle and with Caroline subdue the injured police officers and release Adler, staging the scene to look like a drunk driver or joyriding thief struck the vehicle, intending to hand over or further facilitate that stage through the follow on arrival of Hurst.
GM: The casquette girl relays that Ferris and Sweet approve of this plan (or at least, the latter does of what portions she knows). Kâmil repeats that he believes it to be an efficacious one. He takes over the wheel.
The highway continues to roll past the cars as they accelerate to catch up. It’s not long before the police van appears in the headlights of Caroline’s vehicle. There’s little to see that’s out of the ordinary in it. It’s a white van with sirens (not currently wailing red and blue into the night) and a sheriff’s badge on the striped sides.
Kâmil puts his foot on the accelerator as he changes lanes, swerving into the left, then back to the right after he clears the police van. Its sirens start to angrily flash from behind.
Maybe he’ll get a ticket.
Caroline: She expects given the option he’d get worse than that for what’s to come.
GM: Kâmil speeds ahead of the police van, then swerves around back into its lane and drives straight towards it.
Caroline: Caroline, having since given their ‘driver’ her safety word, bails out with her, trusting unholy speed and toughness to soften the blow.
GM: They hit the asphalt as the car roars past them. The motionless woman stares up at Caroline with undisguised hate.
It’s gone as swiftly as it appeared, though, returning to the telltale placidity of the mesmerized.
The police van tries to swerve aside when they see Kâmil’s car is headed straight at them. Sirens scream red and blue.
The ghoul’s vehicle collides into the front of the van with a tremendous crash. Tires screech against tarmac. Glass shatters. Steel and aluminum crumples.
Caroline: She winces.
She can’t help it. She could claim its a result of her heightened, near-superhuman senses, but that would be a lie.
She winces at the violence. At the destruction. At the knowledge that once again she’s ordered others to conduct violence on her behalf, that lives have been damaged if not destroyed in an instance.
It’s ridiculous. Arbitrary. She’s watched her mother snuff out lives by the score. She’s taken so many lives herself that she can barely remember all the faces, much less the names.
But she does nonetheless.
There’s little time to gawk though. They have to take the vehicle and escape. She rises, leaving the frozen vampire where she lies nearby, and blurs towards the van.
GM: The van hasn’t toppled over. Her own car, much as she said, has too little mass. But the police van has careened to the side and come to a final-looking stop. The front of the vehicle is smashed in and one of the headlights has gone out, and the two police in the front seats aren’t moving. The air bag has exploded in the face of the one in the driver’s seat. Caroline can’t make out much of him beyond arms and shoulders. The second man looks in worse shape: he’s smashed his head directly into the dashboard. Neither man moves. She’d need to be up close to see more, but the vampire smells an unmistakable scent:
Her former car looks in worse shape than the van. It’s been totalled. The horn blares ceaselessly, joining the cacophony of the ceaselessly wailing sirens. Caroline sees movement behind the air bag before Kâmil extracts himself from the bent-looking doors. The ghoul’s formerly crisp suit looks rumpled, and there’s glass over his head and shoulders, but he looks little worse for the experience as he brushes it off.
Thoughts then well in Caroline’s head. Ferris’ voice and the image of Sweet.
:: Say when you want her dead. ::
Sounds of movement, meanwhile, are audible from inside the rear of the van.
Caroline: “Check them,” Caroline instructs Kâmil, gesturing to the two officers in the front seats. She moves to the rear of the van.
::Not yet. Let’s see what card Ms. Adler has to play::
GM: Kâmil finds the door locked, then punches in what remains of the crack-lined glass and fiddles with the lock. Moans sound from the front seat.
The second car edges closer, headlights bathing Caroline under their harsh glare.
The van’s rear door opens a few moments later. Becky Lynne climbs out. Her hair is a mess and her once-neat clothes are rumpled, but her dead flesh doesn’t look worse than scuffs and bruises.
The same cannot be said for the two police officers lying in heaps on the floor. Neither was wearing a seatbelt. A pair of handcuffs lies on the ground.
“Why, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, what a surprise to see you here,” the other Ventrue smiles.
Caroline: I bet, Caroline doesn’t observe.
“Happy to be of any service, Questor Adler. I trust your time in their custody was not excessively unpleasant,” Caroline answers, looking at the two crumpled police officers.
“Our vehicle is arriving in a moment, and your brother is on his way via helicopter to help clean this matter up.”
“There’s an outstanding question I will pass to your discretion before we depart.”
GM: “Much less unpleasant for me than it’s turned out for them, but thank you for askin’,” Becky Lynne replies.
“I’d counted on bein’ released by lawyers,” she says with a growing frown. “My gettin’ out this way could cause more headaches than it ends. But if my brother’s on the way, then okay, I’ll trust you’re followin’ whatever plan he thought best.”
She turns back and kneels by one of the fallen officers, feeling his neck.
“He’s got a pulse, but I’m afraid I don’t have your first aid know-how. Will these gentlemen make it without vitae?”
Caroline: Caroline approaches them to find out, speaking at she does. “After speaking with the agents at the scene it felt unwise to trust to an early release in that manner: they’d been cued very irregularly, very swiftly, to specifically pick up the identity you use for these dealings, Questor Adler. This was not simply a random raid.”
She doesn’t mention they wanted her transported separately. Or that Adler sent her guard away. Or that this whole thing appears to have been staged by her.
She doesn’t turn her back on Adler.
“I might propose that it might be best for Mr. Campbell’s niece to have died in this tragic accident.”
GM: The two fallen officers remain motionless on the van’s floor as Caroline approaches them.
“That’s a big decision to make,” says Becky Lynne. “I’ll want to consult with my sire and brother first, and find out what exactly what’s happened at the bank. Somewhat moot anyways without a body.”
“Though I do suppose there’ll need to be an explanation for what’s become of Miss Campbell if I’m not stickin’ around. This is a Masquerade pickle. Who else is here with you, Eiren?”
Caroline: “Ms. Sweet jumps most readily to mind,” Caroline answers. “She’s in the second vehicle.”
GM: “I’m not quite that cold-blooded, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Who else is on-scene?”
Caroline: “Eiren Packard, one of her ghouls, and several of mine,” Caroline answers.
It’s even technically true.
And the seneschal watching.
She tries not to allow the tension that fills her at that admission to show.
If this is a trap for her this is the moment it will spring. Her mind runs through the possibilities. Obfuscated individuals in the van? The two ‘police officers’ in the back as ghouls? Just Adler herself, believing she can slip a stake into the lightning-fast Ventrue?
GM: Caroline knows better than to risk further injury to the cops by moving them. Even a layman could tell, though, that the fact they’re unresponsive is probably not good. Caroline recalls a statistic from her pre-med days that a shocking number of police officers don’t wear seatbelts. They believe it will prevent them from getting to their firearm or or being able to quickly exit their vehicle to address a violent threat. Law enforcement has a lot of people who view themselves as 10 feet tall, bulletproof, and somehow exempt from the laws of physics.
Here, at least, the statistic has proven true. Physical bruises are in abundance. One cop directly smashed his head into the side of the van. He’s unconscious. It looks bad. He’s probably looking at a TBI. Internal injuries might be in the cards. He should be able to make it, though, if he gets to a hospital in time.
The other cop slowly starts to stir and clutches his side. He flew off his seat and crashed into the opposite steel bench at an bad angle. The protruding section slammed right into his stomach. He might as well have gotten hit by a medieval mace. Blood wells from his mouth, definitely indicating internal injuries and uncertain survival (how long before an ambulance can arrive?), as he moans,
Becky Lynne’s eyes sharply cut towards him. “I don’t fancy giving either of these gentlemen a vitae habit, but it beats dying. Are they goin’ to make it?”
Caroline: She gestures. “The first could die, but its not likely. Traumatic brain injury is touchy.”
“He’s in worse shape.” She gestures to the second as he coughs up blood. “Internal injuries. Something’s ruptured, maybe multiple somethings. He could bleed out, and depending on the surgeon on duty, even the hospital could be a question mark.”
“Idiots not wearing their seatbelts.”
GM: “I told them they should,” says Becky Lynne, shaking her head.
She kneels, bites her wrist, and extends it to the wounded lawman’s mouth. He drinks desperately once the taste hits his tongue, but the other Ventrue doesn’t let him do so for long.
“You were knocked out durin’ the crash. You never woke up. Go back to sleep.”
Caroline: Caroline watches but offers no commentary until she’s finished. “I doubt they were inclined to listen to the advice of their charge—especially since you were the specific target of this raid, Questor Adler.”
GM: Becky Lynne frowns.
“We can use these gentlemens’ radios to call for help, though there needs to be an explanation for what happened to Miss Campbell. Bother if this isn’t a Masquerade pickle. I can’t well stay on the lamb.”
Caroline: “Forgive me for observing so bluntly, Ms. Adler, but you do not appear especially surprised or concerned that this identity was compromised.”
GM: “Questor Adler, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” she corrects, though not unkindly. “Surprise and concern is well and good if it leads to action, but right now there’s not much to be done for it.”
Caroline: “If this identity is compromised, presumably by hunters, the action I would advise is burying it here and now.”
GM: “Perhaps I will, Eiren, but not here and now at Peggy’s expense,” says Becky Lynne.
“We’d best be off. One of your people can call an ambulance for these gentlemen.”
Caroline: “As you wish, Questor.” Caroline isn’t going to argue with the older Ventrue about how to handle their own Masquerade.
She moves around to the front of the van and finds the siren under the slumped over man in the driver seat, turning it off, then raises her voice. “You can come out now.”
On the drive over they’d accounted for several contingencies with Packard, including things going off without a hitch. Better if the secret of her domination was restricted to Kâmil and Caroline, and that they raised as few questions as possible with Adler. That particular command phrase replaced her memories of the drive with the planning for this exact course of action, with Packard hanging back to provide backup in case things went wrong.
GM: The word stabs through Caroline’s mind like a stake to the heart. Her mother’s voice, urgent with warning. To act. Now.
No questions. No time.
Caroline: There are few things Caroline can imagine would set her mother to place fear in her heart.
She doesn’t want to imagine what those things are.
Caroline blurs in the night: back down I-5. Towards New Orleans. Towards the second car. Towards her mother.
She gropes in the night for the casquette girl’s mental touch. We’re going, NOW!
Her rational mind is already working. She’s faster than the car, but blurring down the road makes her a very obvious target. A vehicle can blend with the kine.
She could vanish off-road, but she knows, at least in principle, the monsters that wait out in the wilderness. Out there is no safety there for one of her kind.
No, the best chance is to get back into the car, beside her casquette girl bodyguard, and hurtling through the night at a hundred miles an hour in a cage of steel that works both ways.
GM: Caroline’s hyper-alert and razor-sharp eyes notice it.
A patch of night air, where rain does not fall through.
Then the police van explodes as it’s blasted off the road, as though flung by an unseen hand.
Fire lights up the sky. Caroline’s Beast shrieks in instinctive alarm as her ears ring and shrapnel rains everywhere, though between her inhumanly fast reflexes, her mother’s forewarning, and the vehicle’s sudden dislocation, the Ventrue escapes unscathed. A wooden stake flies into Caroline’s hands as a second voice echoes through her mind.
:: Your foe is accelerating towards you from directly ahead and is armed with a stake. He does not believe you can perceive him. His heart is approximately 70 inches off the ground. ::
Caroline: The fire is a distraction—but not an effective one. Not tonight. There’s only a single moment that matters, a single moment to strike. A moment in which this contest will be decided one way or the other.
The second balances on the edge of a knife, and so she plays her part, obvious to her attacker, confused, torn by her terrified Beast.
She plays it until she’s close enough to strike, luring in her attacker closer and closer, and then the moment slows. She turns slightly, presenting her right side to him. With a heart 70 inches off the ground she knows the attacker has a substantial reach advantage—she needs to buy back distance. Force him to extend further, come in closer. She’d prefer to strike with her left, but space and distance matter much more in this moment than precision.
The second turns into a minute, then an hour, time slowing.
It’s not that different than when she was fencing—the moment you commit, in which a fraction of a second decides winner and loser. Except in this contest its a fraction of a fraction.
And god does she feel alive in this moment.
She wanted this, didn’t she? To spring the trap? To see if she was stronger, was faster, was smarter? To test herself against this enemy here to destroy her, and cast them into the dirt at her feet.
How many times could she have walked away, have broken off, have turned around?
No, she wanted this fight. Because Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will be no princess of spun glass hiding in her sire’s castle. She cannot be. Not just because the moment demands it, but because that is not who she is.
Her stake comes up. She thrusts, her whole body extended, arm held perfectly straight, angled upwards, in line with her shoulder even as she drops her center of gravity, moves her heart from where it was a moment ago, makes her attacker reach down.
The stake drives towards the nothingness she know hides him like a bolt of lightning.
GM: She said it once, not a lifetime ago, but near the end of her lifetime:
“Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways. What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”
Something hard and unyielding painfully stabs into Caroline’s chest.
She collapses forward.
Then the stake becomes visible as the pressure behind it abruptly releases.
It lightly clatters to the asphalt. Something heavier crashes after it.
Rain falls over the road.
It stops short over a body-shaped patch from which a second stake protrudes.
Caroline: A grim smile forces its way over bloodless, tightly stretched lips.
It’s the best way to win. She can almost feel her heart beating in her chest, the feeling of being alive. Even if it does hurt like a son of a bitch.
She cups the protruding shaft from her chest with a hand, ripping it from her breast with a snarl as she reorients on the rest of the world. On the police van, burning, destroyed. On the approaching car. On Kâmil, wherever he may lie. And on the source of this little excursion.
She grips the stake intended for her heart with death in her eyes.
They gambled. They believed they could take her. They lost.
It’s her turn.
She plants a foot on the chest of her attacker, her defeated foe, driving the stake further in.
Surrounded by death, destruction, and violence, she is in this moment content. Controlled. Commanding.
GM: As Caroline turns to regard Kâmil, she sees that he is exchanging gunfire with two camo-garbed men. No sound is audible as the muzzles of their firearms flash. The ghoul looks badly scored by shrapnel and fire alike, but also seems to be more than holding his own as his .44 magnum drops both attackers to the ground. Becky Lynne, who looks at least as bad, crosses the distance in the blur and orders one man, “Freeze,” as she yanks his gun from his hands.
Gunshots split the night. Some come from the trees. Others come from the nearby parked car, where Packard is shooting from behind a door’s cover.
Then the car explodes in a conflagration of fire and shrapnel. The nearby Ventrue howls as she burns, then races across the asphalt to sink her fangs into the man not yet disarmed by Becky Lynne.
Caroline: She gropes in the darkness of her mind for the voice that pointed her at the first Kindred.
:: Where is the second, the sorcerer? ::
She overcame her initial attacker, but the battle is turning into a muddy brawl where anything that can go wrong will, and they still do not have identities on their attackers—or knowledge of their strength.
They need to make their escape, but with the destruction of the second vehicle leaping into a third at the moment, without addressing the source of the explosions, feels like suicide.
GM: Footsteps thump against asphalt. Gisèlle blurs down the highway, half-dragging Ferris after her. The parked car with the other ghouls explodes behind them. The casquette girl and ex-CIA agent drop to the ground.
Two simultaneous images fill Caroline’s mind. Two more camo-garbed men armed with rocket launchers.
Her body is directly in the target scopes.
Caroline: There’s a moment of intellectual fear—she can conceptualize what a weapon like that will do to her body—that she shoves down. She’s grateful that the Beast does not understand things like rockets and explosives. It’s just as well, this is a task for Caroline, not a Beast.
It’s trivial to extrapolate their position—relatively—based on how her profile fills their scope, and then she’s off.
Fortunately for her, large tube-launched rockets are designed to kill vehicles—especially large bulky ones. Not lightning fast human sized targets in the night at relatively close range. Maybe from a mile off they might have had a chance—the field of view wide enough. But they’re not a mile off.
They’re humans, and they’re in the dark with a nearly bulletproof vampire that moves faster than they can think.
It’s almost criminal, especially as she moves away from the light cast by the burning vehicles.
She zips into the night. A stake isn’t an ideal weapon against a human, but humans are so fragile.
GM: Two more explosions rock the night as the spot where Caroline stood erupts in flame. The Ventrue blurs out of the incendiary missiles’ pathways, fast enough to only suffer moderate burns instead of complete immolation, but she cannot outrun the Beast within. Rational thought burns away as the red haze descends.
When Caroline comes to, she’s standing over a dead man with his throat ripped out. The stake formerly in her hands is gruesomely buried into his chest with its once-all-too alive and beating heart. Adrenaline-spiked blood lingers on her tongue as it runs down her chin. Not piss-tasting, like so much other mortal vitae.
Her lucky night. The man must have been attending college.
Caroline: If she feels any remorse for the murder, it doesn’t show. Even were she human, even were her conscience not a whimpering, simpering voice locked deep in her mind, even if she knew him as anything more than a fool that came out here with a weapon—he was literally trying to murder her.
It was him or her. She’s satisfied that it was him.
She wipes the worst of the blood from her face with the back of her hand, resisting the temptation to lick it up like the sweet nectar it is. Charred flesh flakes away, replaced by first pink, then pale flesh beneath.
GM: :: The others have dispatched your remaining assailant. I can account for no other foes in your immediate area. Rendezvous with Primogen Hurst and return to Perdido House with Miss Adler and the assassin. ::
Caroline: She nods, “By your will, Seneschal,” not trusting to the coming and going of his telepathic touch.
She turns and heads back out to the street and the Masquerade nightmare.
GM: She finds the other ghouls and vampires regrouping near the totaled police van. Everyone looks burned and hurt, except for the disarmed man, who stares ahead with a sleepy look on his face.
Caroline’s invisible foe has been dragged up along with the others, if the stake seemingly hovering in the air is any indication.
Caroline: Brazen doesn’t begin to describe the attack. Automatic weapons. mortals and ghouls. Explosives. Rocket launchers. And an obfuscated assassin.
She almost admires their gall.
There are four dead police officers to explain, three torched vehicles hit with rocket launchers. Two dead ghouls and multiple dead attackers.
On the bright side, they have a charred corpse to replace Adler in the van.
She looks over the injured faces of her ghouls, and of the other two vampires. “We’re leaving as soon as Primogen Hurst arrives. Who needs blood before that?”
GM: “Gisèlle and I shall recover, bayan,” says Kâmil. As he speaks, the two’s charred and perforated skin begins to return to their normal hues, though the ghouls’ clothes remain in shreds.
Ferris similarly waves her off as his wounds start to heal.
“My brother should be here soon to help with the Masquerade cleanup,” says Becky Lynne. “We need to get these cars off the road, to start with. It’s anyone’s guess how long before another motorist will come along.”
Caroline: “I’m sorry for your losses tonight,” Caroline tells the ill-tempered woman.
“Rockets. Fucking madness,” she spits.
“They paid.” She gestures to the woods. “And he,” she kicks the staked vampire, “will answer for it all.”
The Ventrue digs out the burner she’s been using and tosses it to Adler. “Your brother is the most recent call. It’s not a secure line, but it isn’t linked to me.”
“Kâmil, do what you can to help stage the scene, move the worst off the road. Ferris, help him.”
She kneels before the staked vampire.
“While we wait I’m curious as to what’s behind door number one.” She digs a finger around the stake, wetting it with the vampire’s blood, and brings it to her lips. “Who thought they could kill me.”
Her expression twists, then vanishes behind the Ventrue mask.
Someone has gone through a great deal of trouble to arrange this. She’ll be fascinated to discover who and what parts the players tonight played. The late breaking meeting. The missing bodyguard. The suspiciously well-timed attack.
Her gaze sweeps over Packard, Adler, and her prisoner.
Fortunately, most of the players are here. She doesn’t play her hand just yet. Not until they’re back in the city. But she doesn’t forget, and she doesn’t forgive.
She’s much like her sire in that way.
GM: Kâmil and Ferris incline their heads and move off towards the nearest ruined car.
Becky Lynne presses a delicate finger to the same spot around the stake, then dabs it against her tongue.
“The helicopter has room for a pilot and three passengers,” she then says. “So that’s me, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, and our guest, though my brother knows how to fly it—I expect he’ll want to see me back himself. I expect he’s brought some more ghouls he can leave to help with things.”
She taps into the phone.
“Fucking wonderful way to spend a night,” snaps Packard. “I lose a ghoul, get chewed out by my sire for losing his ghoul, plus the cars, and get stranded here cleaning up someone else’s Masquerade breach. You big city licks are all the same.”
“Peggy is dead,” Becky Lynne responds quietly. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s happy with tonight’s events, Eiren Packard.”
Caroline: “I’m certain, too, that Questor Adler’s sire will be rather pleased to hear of the part you played in her rescue,” Caroline observes.
“Your actions will be recognized.”
The prospect of crawling into a helicopter with Hurst and Adler turns Caroline’s stomach, but she says nothing for now of it.
GM: “Yes, I’m mighty obliged to you and Eiren Malveaux-Devillers both,” says Becky Lynne, inclining her head towards both clanmates. “I thought staying put was the right call, but that looks as if it would have gotten me incinerated.”
“All actions tonight will be recognized.”
“I suppose that’ll be something,” says Packard.
Caroline: Caroline can hear the doubt in her voice. She doesn’t blame the other Ventrue. She’s seen firsthand the nepotism inherent in even the Clan of Kings.
“Remember me, Eiren Packard.” Caroline fixes the other woman with a stare. “Remember my name. I’ll remember yours when this matter stands before Prince Vidal. You have my word.”
GM: There’s less doubt in the Ventrue’s voice than bitterness. Familiar bitterness.
The hard-featured woman actually looks surprised by Caroline’s words, of all things. Her promise does not seem a familiar one. Then Packard simply grunts, “Guess we’d better get to work either way. Though I don’t know what the fuck explanation there is for a police van getting attacked with rocket launchers.” She looks at Becky Lynne. “Who the hell wants you dead this badly, sunshine?”
Becky Lynne gives a faint, joyless smile and glances at the adjacent casquette girl.
“There’s a lot to untangle here, to be certain. But I’ve no doubt that interested parties will soon get to the bottom of this.”
Caroline: Of that she can be certain.